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Lardner adds, “ I have all my days read and admired the first three Evangelists, as independent witnesses; and I know not how to forbear ranking the other opinion among those bold as well as groundless assertions,* in which critics too often indulge themselves, without considering the consequences." Nevertheless, if it be allowed, that the assertion has been shewn to be well grounded, the consequences, whatever they be, must be admitted.
It is undeniable that the repetition of Matthew's statements, by writers so near to him in time, and who had access to some of the original eye-witnesses, does, in a great measure, confirm those statements; and the more so, as Mark and Luke appear to have exercised some discretion in the selection. Therefore, there is a strong probability that the accordant portions of these three histories contain a tolerably correct outline of the chief events of Christ's life; but some errors might also find their way into all three by the same channels, viz. the mistakes or inventions of the first writer, or the traditions on which they all depended. In the case of miracles in particular, it is to be considered whether the same motives which led Matthew to exaggerate or receive exaggerations, might not have led men, circumstanced so similarly to himself as Mark and Luke were, to repeat a part of his statements. They have shaken Matthew's general credibility by rejecting some of his most prominent miracles ; and it may be questioned whether their own position, as men of the same views and feelings, and defenders of the same cause, enables them to add from their own credibility what they have taken from him, in the case of the miracles which they confirm.
* The objections of Lardner are, that no Christian writers before Augustine appear to have supposed that the first three Evangelists had seen each other's Gospels; that it was not suitable to the character of any of the Evangelists to transcribe another historian; that there would have appeared no need to repeat things already written; that there are many seeming contradictions and numberless small varieties in the three, also some omissions, and some things peculiar to each. See Hist. of Apost., chap. X.
The most sublime writings frequently proceed from men of inferior literary qualifications, but of warm imaginations, and who write under the pressure of some unusually interesting circumstances. From such men proceeds the simple and energetic narrative style which is universally found the most impressive.*
This style belongs eminently to the first three Gospels. The tremendous catastrophe of God's holy city, the violent persecutions to which the elect were exposed, the expectation of the end of the world, and of the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven, gave to the minds of the Christians an elevation and solemnity which became impressed on their writings of that period, and thus have appeared to countenance the claim set up for them of divine inspiration.
* The Scriptures of the Old Testament, like most writings of an early period of civilization, are chiefly in this style.
« God said, Let there be light, and there was light." And these Scriptures were the principal models for the early Christians.
ON THE DATE AND CREDIBILITY OF THE GOSPEL OF ST. JOHN.
The other three Gospels agree very well in the style of the discourses attributed to Christ, which are chiefly parables and short pithy sayings. They represent him as beginning his public preaching in Galilee, proceeding after some time to Jerusalem, and suffering there. The chief topic dwelt upon is the approach of the kingdom of heaven; and they contain much concerning the fall of Jerusalem.
But the Gospel of John is of a very different character. The discourses of Christ are here long controversial orations without any parables: he is made to journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, and back again, many times; the kingdom of heaven is nearly lost sight of; the fall of Jerusalem never alluded to; and we have, instead of these, several new subjects, viz. the incarnation of the word or logos in the person of Christ ; his coming down from heaven; his relationship to the Father; and the promise of the Comforter or Holy Spirit. Also, with few exceptions, a new set of miracles is attributed to Christ.
From the resemblance of style, the author of this Gospel and of the three Epistles appears to be the same. In the first Epistle, he says, that he had been an eyewitness of the word of life. In the last two he calls himself “the elder." There was a John, usually called the elder or presbyter, to distinguish him from John the Apostle, the brother of James; and Papias calls* him also
a disciple of Jesus.” But the name “elder" was very commonly given to the heads of the church (1 Pet. v. 1), and might be assumed by John the Apostle. In the Gospel, the writer is often said to be the disciple whom Jesus loved. That this is the same as the brother of James is confirmed by this, that the other three Evangelists often name this John amongst the more confidential disciples of Jesus; whilst the other John, the presbyter mentioned by Papias, does not appear at all. And since the church in general has attributed this Gospel to John the Apostle, there seems to be sufficient reason to believe that he and the beloved disciple were the same. Consequently, this Gospel contains what is equivalent to an assertion that it was written by the Apostle John, and thus differs from the rest in stating its author.
* Euseb. H. E., 1.3., c. 29.
The result of the external evidence from Irenæus downwards is, that this Gospel was written for the use of the church of Ephesus, and, probably, in the year A.D. 97 or 98.*
We find in ch. xxi. 24, as follows, “ this (the beloved disciple) is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true," Grotius conjectures that “we” meant the church at Ephesus. In this case, the chapter in question, and possibly the whole Gospel, does not come before us strictly as the writing of St. John, but rather as the report of what he wrote, given by some member or members of the Ephesian church. The Gospel has the appearance rather of a collection of detached writings and discourses than of a continuous work; and it seems highly probable that some other person than the aged Apostle himself should have been employed to put these together and transcribe them. And whether this compiler, transcriber, or amanuensis, may not have been so zealous as to add not only the last chapter, but also in some other parts to improve somewhat upon the Apostle's own words, is difficult to determine. Yet the general identity of the style is an argument that such liberties could not have been very extensive.
The later date of this Gospel would account in a great measure for the difference of its tone and sentiments from those of the other three. But, besides this difference, there are many glaring inconsistencies in its order and description of events as compared with its predecessors; insomuch that it is difficult to avoid concluding that sometimes the one, and sometimes the others, are mistaken.
* Mill, Fabricius, Le Clerc, and Jones, are for 97 or 98. Lardner“ does not presume to say exactly the year, but thinks it might be written in the year 68.” The first probable quotation from it is in Hermas, A.D. 100.
For instance, John i. 43, Jesus goes into Galilee the second day after his baptism, and on the third day (ii. 1) we find him arrived at Cana in Galilee. The others say that immediately after his baptism he remained forty days in the wilderness, Mark i. 12.
John ii. 13, Jesus comes up to Jerusalem, and drives the buyers and sellers out of the temple, soon after his baptism, and before his public preaching in Galilee. The other three place this near the end of his history.
John v. 1, Jesus comes up a second time to Jerusalem, before the feeding of the five thousand, of which visit no notice is taken in Matthew, who first mentions Jesus's intention to go up to Jerusalem after that miracle. “ From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things, &c.” Matt. xvi. 21. This does not agree with the supposition that Jesus had already been twice to Jerusalem since the beginning of his public preaching
John vi. 21, After Jesus had walked on the sea and entered the ship, "immediately the ship was at the land whither they went.”
The others lead us to suppose that it reached the place by ordinary sailing. Matt. xiv. 34; Mark vi. 53. John vii
. 10, Another journey to Jerusalem not noticed by the others.
John xii. 17, 18, On his public entry into Jerusalem, the people met him, because they heard that he had raised Lazarus. The others say nothing at all concerning Lazarus, although they describe minutely this entry into Jerusalem, and the conduct of the multitude.
John xii. 28, 29, A voice from heaven in the hearing of the people, not noticed by the others.
The additional miracles in this Gospel are mostly of a more bold and marvellous character than those in the others. They are generally represented as done in the most public manner, without the injunctions to secrecy