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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.†
* 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
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
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.
years 130-134, the date of the second fall of Jerusalem under the emperor Adrian ; Volkmar, the year 115, or, of late, 105-110."
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
number of intricate probabilities, which vary greatly in weight, as to require an intellect highly trained in such studies to estimate them at their proper value; and it is, moreover, a kind of evidence which will be estimated differently by different persons” (p. 276). And on p. 273, “ The whole of the evidence, however, if taken together, may be considered as establishing beyond reasonable doubt that the Synoptics were in existence during the first twenty years of the second century.
As far, then, as concerns the Synoptic Gospels, we cannot perhaps do better than rest here, where Dr. Davidson joins hands with Mr. Row.
All critics of note are agreed in dating the fourth Gospel at least about a generation after the first. Some place it over half a century after. But between the earliest and latest dates named there is (as in regard to the first) a difference of some seventy or eighty years, the dates ranging from 90 to 160 or 170.
Dr. Keim, who unhesitatingly denies its apostolic origin, while he admits there are traces of its existence in Justin, in Barnabas, and as far back as the year 120 —and to that extent has become, as he says
“almost the warmest defender of the antiquity of the Gospel” --closes his long discussion of its date by saying, “While, therefore, the ancients, and recently Ewald and Weizsäcker, as well as Tischendorf-who thinks that all the four Gospels 'must' have been extant soon after the destruction of Jerusalem-have fixed the origin of the fourth Gospel at the close of the first
century, the Tübingen school has, with many variations, supposed that it took place in the latter half of the second century, 160-170: we maintain that it was, according to all appearance, at the beginning of the second century, the time of that emperor Trajan in whose reign John, according to Irenæus, must have lived, about A.D. 110-115” (“ Jesus of Nazara,” vol. i. p. 207, T.T.F.L.).*
In a note at the same page, Dr. Keim tells us that Hilgenfeld and Volkmar also firmly maintain about A.D. 160 as the date of the fourth Gospel.
But Keim has himself since approached some fifteen or twenty years nearer to the Tübingen critics on this question, for in vol. iv. of the same work, he tells us (in a footnote to p. 264), "The supposition that Barnabas had John ii. ii in mind, I no longer maintain, because I believe I am now able to show the somewhat later date of that Gospel (about A.D. 130).”
We find that Dr. Davidson, in his “ Introduction to the New Testament,” takes 150 as a probable date.
Mr. Sanday agrees with Tischendorf in placing
“the latest of our Gospels” within the first century, except that he does so with far greater diffidence. In fact, a page or two further on he enables the reader to qualify this judgment. Thus, “When we say that the very names of the first two evangelists are not mentioned before a date that may be from 120–166
* All our quotations from Keim, Baur, etc., are through the medium of these translations.