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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 go 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.
(or 155) A.D., and the third and fourth not before 170 175 A.D., this alone is enough, without introducing other elements of doubt, to show that the evidence must needs be inconclusive.” *
On the same page, he says in respect to the testimony of Irenæus, so firmly relied on in some quarters, “The cases are not quite parallel, and the difference between them is decidedly in favour of Irenæus; but if Clement of Alexandria could speak of an Epistle written about 125 A.D., as the work of the apostolic Barnabas, the companion of St. Paul, we must not lay too much stress upon the direct testimony of Irenæus when he attributes the fourth Gospel to the Apostle St. John."
From all this it is clear we do not know by whom any one of the Gospels was written, nor do we certainly know when ; while for the fourth Gospel we may assume as probable that the most moderate critics are nearest the truth, and we may regard as somewhat of an approximation to the date of its issue any year from 130 to 150.
We get, however, one evident result, which is, that moderate criticism, in relation the external evidences for the Johannine authorship of the fourth Gospel, leads inevitably to a negative conclusion.
How different is the situation from that existing in the time of Paley! He could speak (as any one from the time of Irenæus might have done) of Matthew,
* “The Gospels in the Second Century,” by W. Sanday, M.A., p. 346. Macmillan, 1876.
Mark, Luke, and John as “the received authors' of the respective Gospels that bear their names, but now not one of them is even generally received, by those best able to decide, as the author of a Gospel.
Paley asked why the received authorship of the Gospels should be called in question any more than that of profane histories. “Because,” says Professor Goldwin Smith, although not, we believe, in reply to Paley, “In no one of the five cases (Herodotus, Livy, etc.) could there be the slightest motive for attributing the work to the person whose name it bears, if it was not known to be his, whereas there was obviously the strongest motive for attributing a Gospel of uncertain authorship to an Apostle." *
The second century abounded, as a matter of fact well-known and admitted by Paley, in spurious Gospels and other writings falsely ascribed to apostles. “There was any number of such apocryphal Gospels, as Irenæus says.” † “It would be idle,” says Professor Plumptre, “to pause on these fables were it not that they have leavened, and still continue to leaven, the theology of so large a portion of Christendom.” The question with Rome is, to an increasing extent, he says, whether the creed of Christendom is to be based on the canonical or apocryphal Gospels. But if, in the canonical Gospels, we have not evidence at first hand (as our estimable professor himself admits of the Synoptics, see the words quoted from him a page
* “Rational Religion and Rationalistic Objections,” p. 105.
or two back), if these were not written by witnesses of the events, are they not also, to some extent, apocryphal? It is now abundantly clear that the universal consent of the Church for 1600 years is no guarantee to us of the genuineness of any book of the New Testament, and the fact that "forgeries” were so common in the first two centuries after the apostles forms a third reason for extra caution in our inquiries for evidence, before accepting the events recorded in the Gospels as facts.
We have, then, already seen that ordinary secular history is not to be firmly relied on without careful examination and comparison of authorities, and that the New Testament records demand that this scrutiny shall, in their case, be still more severe, because of first, The paramount importance of the issues depending on them ; secondly, The marvellous character of the events recorded ; and thirdly, The uncertainty as to the authorship of the records.
If, now alive to the strictness which truth demands, we leave the critics, and question the Gospels themselves for ourselves, let us see how we may reasonably be affected by their general characteristics ; how a perusal with this object may affect our judgment of their value as testimony.
It is generally admitted that such a perusal is calculated to impress the reader with a conviction of the sincerity of the writers; we feel that they were men who believed what they wrote, and whose testimony may be accepted as to events witnessed by