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three Gospels were written respectively by Matthew, Mark, and Luke? The Johannine authorship of the fourth is also very widely questioned. The first three, called from their similarity the Synoptic Gospels, are now admitted by all moderate and well-informed theologians to be, more or less, of the nature of compilations, and to be void of the stamp of personal testimony to the events they record. For example, we are told by M. de Pressensé, of the Orthodox Section of the French Reformed Church,* “All those who have not gone into the question with an inflexible bias have agreed to place the composition of our three first Gospels between the years 71-80, and to see in our canonical narratives the reflection of an anterior tradition. The time allowed is very short, as it appears to us, for such a legendary manipulation of facts as should have entirely transformed them."
It will be remembered that the Boyle Lecturer for 1863 stated, that even the modern critics opposed to Christianity admitted that “All the books of the New Testament were the productions of the authors whose names they bear”; but if we take up the Boyle Lectures of three years later (1866) by the well-known Professor (now Dean) Plumptre, we find, on pp. 39 and 40, comparing the Gospels with the Pentateuch and the historical books of the Old Testament, he says, “So three out of the four bear every mark, in their agreement and their differences, of having been compiled, in like manner, from that diffused tradition, and those many memoirs of the life of Christ. How far the names which the prescriptive tradition of the Church has affixed to the four Gospels indicate actual authorship, has been, and may be, questioned. The substance of the books themselves contains no statement by the writer as to his own name and position ; and the names affixed by transcribers are not in themselves more convincing than the headings, often doubtful, of the Psalms, or the notes, often misleading, appended to St. Paul's Epistles.”
* See p. 142 of “ Jesus Christ,” Annie Harwood's translation.
Mr. Sanday, in his work written at the request of the Christian Evidence Society," says, p. 151, “The theory that we have in the second Gospel one of the primitive Synoptic documents is not tenable.” And of the first he says, p. 152, “It is both secondary, and secondary in a lower stage than St. Mark: it has preserved the features of the original with a less amount of accuracy."
We thus see that the ground taken by Paley, in reference to the authorship of the Synoptic Gospels, has been abandoned as no longer tenable ; and, however pardonable ignorance of this fact might have been in 1863, it may be presumed no future Boyle Lecturer will put forth a statement similar to that quoted from Canon Garbett, since even in so widely diffused a work as that of Canon Farrar's “Life of Christ,” we find the fragmentary nature of the Synoptic Gospels distinctly affirmed, thus: “ The Gospels are, of their very nature, confessedly and designedly fragmentary,
* “The Gospels in the Second Century.” Macmillan, 1876.
and it may be regarded as all but certain that the first three were mainly derived from a common oral tradition, or founded on one or two original, and themselves fragmentary, documents.”
The question of the authorship of the fourth Gospel occupies a different position. Its Johannine origin has been earnestly contended for by Neander, Ewald, and other eminent modern critics, and as stoutly denied by Baur, and by a constantly increasing number of those who have learned of him and of his school. “Who shall decide when doctors disagree?”
We can, however, question the critics again as to how far they agree or disagree on certain other points affecting the authority of the Gospels. For instance, all are agreed that they were ascribed respectively to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John some twenty years before the close of the second century.
All are agreed that each of the four was written before 180 ; that the fourth Gospel is rightly placed after the others, having been written last; and that the third was written or compiled by the author of the Acts of the Apostles, and previously to his publication of that work: most of them are also agreed in giving the priority of time to Matthew, as did the ancient Church.t
* See vol. ii. p. 171 (eighth edition, 1874).
“St. Matthew's is certainly the oldest of the Canonical Gospels, and therefore it served as a pattern for the two others. That he wrote first, and wrote in Hebrew, is the tradition of the ancient Church, represented by a line of witnesses stretching back into apostolic times, and commencing with Papias, which was never questioned by any He says
Matthew wrote in Hebrew according to Papias, who flourished about the middle of the second century; but that, says Mr. Sanday, “the large majority of modern critics deny to have been the case with our present Gospel.”
It is, however, probable, we think, that its compiler used the work of Matthew as his principal source for the discourses of Jesus.
With regard to the date of the first Gospel, modern critics are far from being unanimous.
Some there are who confirm the testimony of Irenæus (see above, 63-67), but these are extremists; and those who, like the author of “Supernatural Religion,” take the other extreme, refuse to admit any positive proof of its existence till a century after.
Many of those, however, who name a date as early as 70, do so only for the nucleus or foundation of the Gospel. Keim is one of the most strenuous contenders for the early composition of this gospel. (“ Jesus of Nazara," vol. i. p. 73, T.T.F.L.*), “The book, and not only its source, is written about A.D. 66, and "most modern critics ascribe this Gospel, or its earliest germ, to this time, or, in general, to the years 60-70, as indeed Irenæus named the date of the preaching of Peter and Paul at Rome (A.D. 64); Baur, however, which is quite untenable, has suggested the years 130–134, the date of the second fall of Jerusalem under the emperor Adrian ; Volkmar, the year 115, or, of late, 105-110."
ancient authority. St. Irenæus adds, that he wrote when intending to leave Palestine at the time of the common labours of Peter and Paul in Rome, i.e. between 63 and 67 A.D.”—Dr. Dollinger's “ First Age of Christianity and the Church.” Translated by H. N. Oxenham, M.A.
* See p. 13.
Nevertheless, Keim affirms of the Gospels generally, that “the accounts of eye and ear-witnesses were a source which had long been dry, and in the oldest we possess there is already a world of myths.'
Dr. Samuel Davidson happens to take the mean between the extremes, and names 100 as an approximate date for the first Gospel ; he thinks the other two Synoptics were written within twenty years after.
It is true, Dr. Davidson's Biblical criticism proceeds a long way on the negative side, yet here we find him in substantial agreement with one of the most recent Christian apologists, the Rev. Prebendary Row, Bampton Lecturer for 1877.
In these lectures, entitled “Christian Evidences viewed in Relation to Modern Thought," the Prebendary of St. Paul's makes a candid statement of the difficulties in the way of a decision, and, in presenting us with his own conclusion, is careful to avoid extremes.
We, in fact, see no reason why we should not accept his finding as, at least, probable. He says, “ The evidence afforded by the earlier writers amounts only to a very high degree of probability, which diminishes in force as we ascend upwards, and will in no case carry us higher than the last ten years of the first century. But our greatest difficulty is this, that the evidence is made up of the balance of so large a