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   Chapter 14 THAT THE FOUR GOSPELS ARE GENUINE FROM EXTERNAL TESTIMONY.

The Truth of Christianity By William Harry Turton Characters: 19252

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


(A.) The Undisputed Testimony.

End of second century; Iren?us, his evidence of great value.

(B.) The almost Undisputed Testimony.

(1.) Justin Martyr, A.D. 150, refers to some Apostolic Memoirs, which were publicly read among Christians; and his quotations show that these were our Four Gospels.

(2.) Tatian, Justin's disciple, A.D. 175, wrote the Diatessaron, or harmony of Four Gospels.

(3.) Marcion, A.D. 140, wrote a Gospel based on St. Luke's.

(C.) The Disputed Testimony.

(1.) Papias, mentions the first two Gospels by name.

(2.) Aristides, A.D. 125, alludes to some Gospel as well known.

(3.) The Apostolic Fathers, Polycarp, Ignatius, Clement, Barnabas, and the Teaching of the Twelve, seem to contain references to our Gospels.

Having shown in the last chapter that the Christian Religion is credible, we have next to consider what evidence there is in its favour. Now that it was founded on the alleged miracles and teaching of Christ, and chiefly on His Resurrection, is admitted by everyone. So we must first examine whether we have any trustworthy testimony as to these events; more especially whether the Four Gospels, which appear to contain such testimony, are genuine. By the Four Gospels, we of course mean those commonly ascribed to SS. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; and by their being genuine, we mean that they were written, or compiled by those persons. And we will first consider the external testimony borne by early Christian writers to these Gospels, leaving the internal evidence from the Books themselves for the next chapter.

It may be mentioned at starting that we have no complete manuscripts of the Gospels earlier than the beginning of the fourth century; but there is nothing surprising in this, as for the first two centuries books were generally written on papyrus, an extremely fragile material. Therefore, with the exception of some fragments preserved in Egypt, all documents of this period have entirely perished. A much better material, vellum, began to take the place of papyrus in the third century; but did not come into common use till the fourth. Moreover, during the persecutions, which occurred at intervals up to the fourth century, all Christian writings were specially sought for, and destroyed. So the absence of earlier manuscripts though very unfortunate, is not perhaps unnatural; and it is anyhow no worse than in the case of classical works. I have seen it stated, for instance, that there are no manuscripts of either Cicero, C?sar, Tacitus, or Josephus, within 800 years of their time.

(A.) The Undisputed Testimony.

Passing on now to the testimony of early writers; we need not begin later than the end of the second century; since it is admitted by everyone that our Four Gospels were then well known. They were continually quoted by Christian writers; they were universally ascribed to the authors we now ascribe them to; and they were always considered to be in some sense divinely inspired.

As this is undisputed, we need not discuss the evidence; but one writer deserves to be mentioned, which is Iren?us, Bishop of Lyons. His works date from about A.D. 185; and he not only quotes the Gospels frequently (about 500 times altogether), but shows there were only four of acknowledged authority. Since the fanciful analogies he gives for this, likening the four Gospels to the four rivers in Paradise, and the four quarters of the globe, render it certain that the fact of there being four, neither more nor less, must have been undisputed in his day.

Moreover he had excellent means of knowing the truth; for he was born in Asia Minor, about A.D. 130, and brought up under Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna. And in later years he tells us how well he remembered his teacher. 'I can even describe the place where the blessed Polycarp used to sit and discourse-his going out, too, and his coming in-his general mode of life and personal appearance, together with the discourses which he delivered to the people; also how he would speak of his familiar intercourse with John, and with the rest of those who had seen the Lord; and how he would call their words to remembrance.'[182]

[182] Iren?us, Fragment of Epistle to Florinus. The translations here and elsewhere are from the Ante-Nicene Christian Library.

The importance of this passage, especially in regard to the Fourth Gospel, can scarcely be exaggerated. For is it conceivable that Iren?us would have ascribed it to St. John, unless his teacher Polycarp had done the same? Or is it conceivable that Polycarp, who personally knew St. John, could have been mistaken in the matter? The difficulties of either alternative are very great; yet there is no other, unless we admit that St. John was the author.

It should also be noticed that Iren?us, when discussing two readings of Rev. 13. 18, supports one of them by saying that it is found in all the most approved and ancient copies; and was also maintained by men who saw John face to face.[183] He had thus some idea as to the value of evidence; and he is not likely to have written as he did about the Four Gospels, unless he had seen of them equally approved and ancient copies.

[183] Iren?us, Bk. 5. 30.

(B.) The almost Undisputed Testimony.

We next come to the testimony of some earlier writers, which was formerly much disputed, but is now admitted by nearly all critics.

(1.) Justin Martyr.

By far the most important of these is Justin Martyr; whose works-two Apologies (or books written in defence of Christianity) and a Dialogue-date from about A.D. 145-50. He was no ordinary convert, but a philosopher, and says that before he became a Christian, he studied various philosophical systems and found them unsatisfactory; so we may be sure that he did not accept Christianity without making some inquiries as to the facts on which it rested.[184] And as his father and grandfather were natives of Palestine, where he was born, he had ample means of finding out the truth.

[184] Dial., 2.

Now Justin does not allude to any of the Evangelists by name, but he frequently quotes from the 'Memoirs of the Apostles,' which he says were sometimes called Gospels,[185] and were publicly read and explained in the churches, together with the Old Testament Prophets. And he gives no hint that this was a local or recent practice, but implies that it was the universal and well-established custom. These Memoirs, he tells us,[186] were written by the Apostles and their followers, which exactly suits our present Gospels, two of which are ascribed to Apostles (St. Matthew and St. John), and the other two to their immediate followers (St. Mark and St. Luke). And as Justin was writing for unbelievers, not Christians, there is nothing strange in his not mentioning the names of the individual writers.

[185] Apol. 1. 66; Dial., 100.

[186] Dial., 103.

He has altogether about sixty quotations from these Memoirs, and they describe precisely those events in the life of Christ; which are recorded in our Gospels, with scarcely any addition. Very few of the quotations however are verbally accurate, and this used to be thought a difficulty. But as Justin sometimes quotes the same passage differently, it is clear that he was relying on his memory; and had not looked up the reference, which in those days of manuscripts, without concordances, must have been a tedious process. Also when quoting the Old Testament, he is almost equally inaccurate. Moreover later writers, such as Iren?us, who avowedly quoted from our Gospels, are also inaccurate in small details. It is hence practically certain that Justin was quoting from these Gospels.

(2.) Tatian.

And this is strongly confirmed by Justin's disciple, Tatian. He wrote a book about A.D. 175, discovered last century, called the Diatessaron, which, as its name implies, was a kind of harmony of Four Gospels. It was based chiefly on St. Matthew's, the events peculiar to the others being introduced in various places. And its containing nearly the whole of St. John's Gospel is satisfactory; because it so happens that Justin has fewer quotations from that Gospel, than from the other three. We may say then with confidence, that our four Gospels were well known to Christians, and highly valued by them, in the middle of the second century.

(3.) Marcion.

Another important witness is Marcion. He wrote (not later than A.D. 140), a kind of Gospel, so similar to St. Luke's that one was evidently based on the other. And though his actual work is lost, Tertullian (about A.D. 200) quotes it so fully that it is fairly well-known; and that St. Luke's is the earlier is now admitted by critics of all schools. Therefore as Matthew and Mark are generally allowed to be earlier than Luke, this shows that all these Gospels were in circulation before A.D. 140.

(C.) The Disputed Testimony.

We pass on now to the testimony of still earlier writers, all of which is more or less disputed by some critics.

(1.) Papias.

And first as to Papias. He was bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor (about a hundred miles from Ephesus) early in the second century; and only a few fragments of his writings have been preserved by Iren?us and Eusebius. We learn from the former that he was a disciple of St. John and a companion of Polycarp; and considering that Iren?us was himself Polycarp's pupil, there is no reason to doubt this.[187] Now Papias tells us himself what were his sources of information: 'If, then, anyone who had attended on the elders came, I asked minutely after their sayings,-what Andrew or Peter said, or what

was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the Lord's disciples: which things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I imagined that what was to be got from books was not so profitable to me as what came from the living and abiding voice.'

[187] Iren?us, Bk. 5. 33.

He had thus very good means of knowing the truth, for though the Apostles themselves were dead, two of Christ's disciples (Aristion and the presbyter John) were still alive when he made his inquiries. And he refers to the first two Gospels by name. He says, 'Matthew put together the oracles in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could.' And 'Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter.'[188]

[188] Eusebius, Hist., iii. 39.

And his testimony in regard to St. Matthew is specially important, because in the passage just quoted he says that he had spoken to those who had known St. Matthew personally; and had carefully questioned them about what he had said. And this makes it difficult to believe that he should have been mistaken as to his having written the Gospel. Nor is it likely that the work of St. Matthew known to Papias was different from the Gospel which we now have, and which was so frequently quoted by Justin a few years later. Whether Papias was acquainted with the Third and Fourth Gospels cannot be decided for certain, unless his works should be recovered; but there are slight indications that he knew them.

(2.) Aristides.

Next as to Aristides. He was a philosopher at Athens, and addressed an Apology to the Emperor, Hadrian, in A.D. 125, which was recovered in 1889. He has no quotation from the Gospels, but what is equally important, he gives a summary of Christian doctrine, including the Divinity, Incarnation, Virgin-Birth, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ; and says that it is taught in the Gospel, where men can read it for themselves. And this shows that some Gospel, containing this teaching, was then in existence, and easily accessible.

(3.) The Apostolic Fathers.

The last group of writers to be examined are those who lived soon after the Apostles. The chief of these are Polycarp of Smyrna, the disciple of St. John, martyred in A.D. 155, when he had been a Christian 86 years; Ignatius of Antioch, also martyred in his old age, about A.D. 110; Clement of Rome, perhaps the companion of St. Paul;[189] and the writers of the so-called Epistle of Barnabas, and Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. Their dates are not known for certain, but it is now generally admitted by rationalists as well as Christians that they all wrote before A.D. 120, and probably before 110. Thus the Encyclop?dia Biblica (article Gospels) dates their works, Polycarp 110; Ignatius (7 Epistles) before 110; Barnabas, probably before 100; Clement 95; Teaching 80-100.

[189] Phil. 4. 3.

Now none of these writers mention the Gospels by name; but this is no argument to show that they were not quoting them, because the same writers, when admittedly quoting St. Paul's Epistles, also do it at times, without in any way referring to him. And later Christian writers do precisely the same; the Gospels are often not quoted by name, but their language is continually employed, much as it is by preachers at the present day. If, then, we find in these writers passages similar to those in our Gospels, the inference is that they are quoting from them; and, as a matter of fact, we do find such passages, though they are not numerous. A single example may be given from each.

Polycarp. 'But being mindful of what the Lord said in His teaching; Judge not, that ye be not judged; forgive, and it shall be forgiven unto you; be merciful, that ye may obtain mercy; with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again; and once more, Blessed are the poor, and those that are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.'[190]

[190] Polycarp, ch. ii.; Luke 6. 36-38; Matt. 5. 3, 10.

Ignatius. 'For I know that after His Resurrection also, He was still possessed of flesh, and I believe that He is so now. When, for instance, He came to those who were with Peter, He said to them, "Lay hold, handle Me, and see that I am not an incorporeal spirit."'[191]

[191] Ignatius to Smyrn?ans, ch. iii.; Luke 24. 39.

Barnabas. 'Let us beware lest we be found, as it is written, Many are called, but few are chosen.'[192]

[192] Barnabas, ch. iv.; Matt. 22. 14.

Clement. 'Remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, how He said, Woe to that man! It were better for him that he had never been born, than that he should cast a stumbling-block before one of my elect. Yea, it were better for him that a millstone should be hung about (his neck), and he should be sunk in the depths of the sea, than that he should cast a stumbling-block before one of my little ones.'[193]

[193] Clement, ch. xlvi.; Luke 17. 1. 2.

Teaching. 'Having said beforehand all these things, baptize ye in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost in living water.'[194]

[194] Teaching, ch. vii.; Matt. 28. 19.

The passage from Barnabas deserves special mention, since here we have words which only occur in our Gospels, introduced with the phrase as it is written, which is only used of Scripture quotations. And this shows conclusively that at the time of the writer, some Gospel containing these words must have been well known, and considered of high authority. And the attempts to explain it away as being from the Book of Esdras,[195] where the words are, 'There be many created, but few shall be saved;' or else as an error on the part of the writer, who thought they came somewhere in the Old Testament, are quite inadmissible.

[195] 2 Esdr. 8. 3.

But it may be said, may not all these quotations be from some Lost Gospel? Of course they may. It is always possible to refer quotations not to the only book in which we know they do occur, but to some imaginary book in which they might occur. There is, however, no need to do so in this case, as all the evidence points the other way. Though, even if we do, it does not materially affect the argument; for while it weakens the evidence for our Gospels, it increases that for the facts which they record; and this is the important point.

Suppose, for instance, the passage in Ignatius was not taken from St. Luke's, but from some Lost Gospel. It could not then be quoted to show that St. Luke's Gospel was known to Ignatius. But it would afford additional evidence that Christ really did rise from the dead, that when He appeared to His Apostles, they at first thought He was a spirit; and that He took the obvious means of convincing them, by asking them to handle His Body. All this would then be vouched for, not only by St. Luke's Gospel; but also by some other early Christian writing, which as Ignatius quotes it in A.D. 110 must certainly have been written in the first century, and must have been considered by him as conclusive evidence. For he is careful to distinguish between what he thus knows (that Christ had a Body after His Resurrection) and what he merely believes (that He has one now). And the same applies in other cases.

And if it be further urged that these writers would have referred more frequently to the Gospels, had they really known them, we must remember that their writings are generally short; and while a single quotation proves the previous existence of the document quoted, ten pages without a quotation do not disprove it. Moreover when they refer to the sayings of Christ, or the events of His life, they always do so without the slightest hesitation; as if everyone acknowledged them to be true. And as we have seen, their allusions often begin with the words remember or be mindful of, clearly showing that they expected their readers to know them already. Hence some books must then have existed which were well known, containing a life of Christ; and the improbability of these having perished, and a fresh set of Gospels having been published in a few years, is very great.

And the evidence in regard to the Third Gospel is particularly strong, since it was addressed to Theophilus, who was clearly a prominent convert; and he must have known from whom the book came, even if for some reason this was not stated in the heading. And as he is not likely to have kept it secret, the authorship of the book must have been well known to Christians from the very beginning. Therefore the testimony of early writers, like Iren?us, who always ascribed it to St. Luke, becomes of exceptional value; and makes it almost certain that he was the author.

We may now sum up the external testimony to the Four Gospels. It shows that at the beginning of the second century they were well known to Christian writers, and this alone would necessitate their having been written in the first century, or at all events before A.D. 110. And thanks to modern discoveries, especially that of the Diatessaron, this is now generally admitted. It may indeed be considered as one of the definite results of recent controversies. But if so, it is, to say the least, distinctly probable that they were written by the men to whom they have been universally ascribed. We have thus strong external testimony in favour of the genuineness of the Four Gospels.

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