THE CANDOUR OF THE WRITERS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
I make this candour to consist in their putting down many passages, and noticing many circumstances, which no writer whatever was likely to have forged; and which no writer would have chosen to appear in his book who had been careful to present the story in the most unexceptionable form, or who had thought himself at liberty to carve and mould the particulars of that story according to his choice, or according to his judgment of the effect.
A strong and well-known example of the fairness of the evangelists offers itself in their account of Christ's resurrection, namely, in their unanimously stating that after he was risen he appeared to his disciples alone. I do not mean that they have used the exclusive word alone; but that all the instances which they have recorded of his appearance are instances of appearance to his disciples; that their reasonings upon it, and allusions to it, are confined to this supposition; and that by one of them Peter is made to say, “Him God raised up the third day, and showed him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before of God, even to us who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.” (Acts x. 40, 41.) The most common understanding must have perceived that the history of the resurrection would have come with more advantage if they had related that Jesus appeared, after he was risen, to his foes as well as his friends, to the scribes and Pharisees, the Jewish council, and the Roman governor: or even if they had asserted the public appearance of Christ in general unqualified terms, without noticing, as they have done, the presence of his disciples on each occasion, and noticing it in such a manner as to lead their readers to suppose that none but disciples were present. They could have represented in one way as well as the other. And if their point had been to have their religion believed, whether true or false; if they had fabricated the story ab initio; or if they had been disposed either to have delivered their testimony as witnesses, or to have worked up their materials and information as historians, in such a manner as to render their narrative as specious and unobjectionable as they could; in a word, if they had thought of anything but of the truth of the case, as they understood and believed it; they would in their account of Christ's several appearances after his resurrection, at least have omitted this restriction. At this distance of time, the account as we have it is perhaps more credible than it would have been the other way; because this manifestation of the historians' candour is of more advantage to their testimony than the difference in the circumstances of the account would have been to the nature of the evidence. But this is an effect which the evangelists would not foresee: and I think that it was by no means the case at the time when the books were composed.
Mr. Gibbon has argued for the genuineness of the Koran, from the confessions which it contains, to the apparent disadvantage of the Mahometan cause. (Vol. ix. c. 50, note 96.) The same defence vindicates the genuineness of our Gospels, and without prejudice to the cause at all.
There are some other instances in which the evangelists honestly relate what they must have perceived would make against them.
Of this kind is John the Baptist's message preserved by Saint Matthew (xi. 2) and Saint Luke (vii. 18): “Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, and said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or look we for another?” To confess, still more to state, that John the Baptist had his doubts concerning the character of Jesus, could not but afford a handle to cavil and objection. But truth, like honesty, neglects appearances. The same observation, perhaps, holds concerning the apostacy of Judas.*
* I had once placed amongst these examples of fair concession the remarkable words of Saint Matthew in his account of Christ's appearance upon the Galilean mountain: “And when they saw him they worshipped him; but some doubted.” (Chap. xxviii. 17.) I have since, however, been convinced, by what is observed concerning this passage in Dr. Townshend's Discourse (Page 177.) upon the Resurrection, that the transaction, as related by Saint Matthew, was really this: “Christ appeared first at a distance; the greater part of the company, the moment they saw him, worshipped, but some as yet, i.e. upon this first distant view of his person, doubted; whereupon Christ came up to them, and spake to them,”+ &c.: that the doubt, therefore, was a doubt only at first for a moment, and upon his being seen at a distance, and was afterwards dispelled by his nearer approach, and by his entering into conversation with them.
+ Saint Matthew's words are: kai proselthon o Iesous elalesen autois [and having come toward them, Jesus spoke]. This intimates that when he first appeared it was at a distance, at least from many of the spectators. Ib. p. 197.
John vi. 66. “From that time, many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” Was it the part of a writer who dealt in suppression and disguise to put down this anecdote? Or this, which Matthew has preserved (xii. 58)? “He did not many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.”
Again, in the same evangelist (v. 17, 18): “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil; for, verily, I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle, shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” At the time the Gospels were written, the apparent tendency of Christ's mission was to diminish the authority of the Mosaic code, and it was so considered by the Jews themselves. It is very improbable, therefore, that, without the constraint of truth, Matthew should have ascribed a saying to Christ, which, primo intuitu, militated with the judgment of the age in which his Gospel was written. Marcion thought this text so objectionable, that he altered the words, so as to invert the sense. (Lardner, Cred., vol. xv. p. 422.)
Once more (Acts xxv. 18): “They brought none accusation against him of such things as I supposed; but had certain questions against him of their own superstition, and of one Jesus which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.” Nothing could be more in the character of a Roman governor than these words. But that is not precisely the point I am concerned with. A mere panegyrist, or a dishonest narrator, would not have represented his cause, or have made a great magistrate represent it, in this manner, i.e. in terms not a little disparaging, and bespeaking, on his part, much unconcern and indifference about the matter. The same observation may be repeated of the speech which is ascribed to Gallio (Acts xviii. 15): “If it be a question of words and names, and of your law, look ye to it; for I will be no judge of such matters.”
Lastly, where do we discern a stronger mark of candour, or less disposition to extol and magnify, than in the conclusion of the same history? in which the evangelist, after relating that Paul, on his first arrival at Rome, preached to the Jews from morning until evening, adds, “And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.”
The following, I think, are passages which were very unlikely to have presented themselves to the mind of a forger or a fabulist.
Matt. xxi. 21. “Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done unto the fig-tree, but also, if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou east into the sea, it shall be done; all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, it shall be done.” (See also chap. xvii. 20. Luke xvii. 6.) It appears to me very improbable that these words should have been put into Christ's mouth, if he had not actually spoken them. The term “faith,” as here used, is perhaps rightly interpreted of confidence in that internal notice by which the apostles were admonished of their power to perform any particular miracle. And this exposition renders the sense of the text more easy. But the words undoubtedly, in their obvious construction, carry with them a difficulty which no writer would have brought upon himself officiously.
Luke ix. 59. “And he said unto another, Follow me: but he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead, but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.” (See also Matt. viii. 21.) This answer, though very expressive of the transcendent importance of religious concerns, was apparently harsh and repulsive; and such as would not have been made for Christ if he had not really used it. At least some other instance would bare been chosen.
The following passage, I, for the same reason, think impossible to have been the production of artifice, or of a cold forgery:—“But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire (Gehennae).” Matt. v. 22. It is emphatic, cogent, and well calculated for the purpose of impression; but is inconsistent with the supposition of art or wariness on the part of the relator.
The short reply of our Lord to Mary Magdalen, after his resurrection (John xx. 16, 17), “Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended unto my Father,” in my opinion must have been founded in a reference or allusion to some prior conversation, for the want of knowing which his meaning is hidden from us. This very obscurity, however, is a proof of genuineness. No one would have forged such an answer.
John vi. The whole of the conversation recorded in this chapter is in the highest degree unlikely to be fabricated, especially the part of our Saviour's reply between the fiftieth and the fifty-eighth verse. I need only put down the first sentence: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give him is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Without calling in question the expositions that have been given of this passage, we may be permitted to say, that it labours under an obscurity, in which it is impossible to believe that any one, who made speeches for the persons of his narrative, would have voluntarily involved them. That this discourse was obscure, even at the time, is confessed by the writer who had preserved it, when he tells us, at the conclusion, that many of our Lord's disciples, when they had heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can hear it?”
Christ's taking of a young child, and placing it in the midst of his contentious disciples (Matt. xviii. 2), though as decisive a proof as any could be of the benignity of his temper, and very expressive of the character of the religion which he wished to inculcate, was not by any means an obvious thought. Nor am I acquainted with anything in any ancient writing which resembles it.
The account of the institution of the eucharist bears strong internal marks of genuineness. If it had been feigned, it would have been more full; it would have come nearer to the actual mode of celebrating the rite as that mode obtained very early in the Christian churches; and it would have been more formal than it is. In the forged piece called the Apostolic Constitutions, the apostles are made to enjoin many parts of the ritual which was in use in the second and third centuries, with as much particularity as a modern rubric could have done. Whereas, in the history of the Lord's Supper, as we read it in Saint Matthew's Gospel, there is not so much as the command to repeat it. This, surely, looks like undesignedness. I think also that the difficulty arising from the conciseness of Christ's expression, “This is my body,” would have been avoided in a made-up story. I allow that the explication of these words given by Protestants is satisfactory; but it is deduced from a diligent comparison of the words in question with forms of expression used in Scripture, and especially by Christ upon other occasions. No writer would arbitrarily and unnecessarily have thus cast in his reader's way a difficulty which, to say the least, it required research and erudition to clear up.
Now it ought to be observed that the argument which is built upon these examples extends both to the authenticity of the books, and to the truth of the narrative; for it is improbable that the forger of a history in the name of another should have inserted such passages into it: and it is improbable, also, that the persons whose names the books hear should have fabricated such passages; or even have allowed them a place in their work, if they had not believed them to express the truth.
The following observation, therefore, of Dr. Lardner, the most candid of all advocates, and the most cautious of all inquirers, seems to be well founded:—“Christians are induced to believe the writers of the Gospel by observing the evidences of piety and probity that appear in their writings, in which there is no deceit, or artifice, or cunning, or design.” “No remarks,” as Dr. Beattie hath properly said, “are thrown in to anticipate objections; nothing of that caution which never fails to distinguish the testimony of those who are conscious of imposture; no endeavour to reconcile the reader's mind to what may be extraordinary in the narrative.”
I beg leave to cite also another author, (Duchal, pp. 97, 98.) who has well expressed the reflection which the examples now brought forward were intended to suggest. “It doth not appear that ever it came into the mind of these writers to consider how this or the other action would appear to mankind, or what objections might be raised upon them. But without at all attending to this, they lay the facts before you, at no pains to think whether they would appear credible or not. If the reader will not believe their testimony, there is no help for it: they tell the truth and attend to nothing else. Surely this looks like sincerity, and that they published nothing to the world but that they believed themselves.”
As no improper supplement to this chapter, I crave a place here for observing the extreme naturalness of some of the things related in the New Testament.
Mark ix. 23. “Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” This struggle in the father's heart, between solicitude for the preservation of his child, and a kind of involuntary distrust of Christ's power to heal him, is here expressed with an air of reality which could hardly be counterfeited.
Again (Matt. xxi. 9), the eagerness of the people to introduce Christ into Jerusalem, and their demand, a short time afterwards, of his crucifixion, when he did not turn out what they expected him to be, so far from affording matter of objection, represents popular favour in exact agreement with nature and with experience, as the flux and reflux of a wave.
The rulers and Pharisees rejecting Christ, whilst many of the common people received him, was the effect which, in the then state of Jewish prejudices, I should have expected. And the reason with which they who rejected Christ's mission kept themselves in countenance, and with which also they answered the arguments of those who favoured it, is precisely the reason which such men usually give:—“Have any of the Scribes or Pharisees believed on him?” (John vii. 48.)
In our Lord's conversation at the well (John iv. 29), Christ had surprised the Samaritan woman with an allusion to a single particular in her domestic situation, “Thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband.” The woman, soon after this, ran back to the city, and called out to her neighbours, “Come, see a man which told me all things that ever I did.” This exaggeration appears to me very natural; especially in the hurried state of spirits into which the woman may be supposed-to have been thrown.
The lawyer's subtilty in running a distinction upon the word neighbour, in the precept, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” was no less natural than our Saviour's answer was decisive and satisfactory. (Luke x. 20.) The lawyer of the New Testament, it must be observed, was a Jewish divine.
The behaviour of Gallio (Acts xviii. 12-17), and of Festus (xxv. 18, 19), have been observed upon already.
The consistency of Saint Paul's character throughout the whole of his history (viz. the warmth and activity of his zeal, first against, and then for, Christianity) carries with it very much of the appearance of truth.
There are also some properties, as they may be called, observable in the Gospels; that is, circumstances separately suiting with the situation, character, and intention of their respective authors.
Saint Matthew, who was an inhabitant of Galilee, and did not join Christ's society until some time after Christ had come into Galilee to preach, has given us very little of his history prior to that period. Saint John, who had been converted before, and who wrote to supply omissions in the other Gospels, relates some remarkable particulars which had taken place before Christ left Judea, to go into Galilee. (Hartley's Observations, vol. ii. p. 103.)
Saint Matthew (xv. 1) has recorded the cavil of the Pharisees against the disciples of Jesus, for eating “with unclean hands.” Saint Mark has also (vii. 1) recorded the same transaction (taken probably from Saint Matthew), but with this addition: “For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands often, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders: and when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not: and many other things there be which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups and pots, brazen vessels, and of tables.” Now Saint Matthew was not only a Jew himself, but it is evident, from the whole structure of his Gospel, especially from his numerous references to the Old Testament, that he wrote for Jewish readers. The above explanation, therefore, in him, would have been unnatural, as not being wanted by the readers whom he addressed. But in Mark, who, whatever use he might make of Matthew's Gospel, intended his own narrative for a general circulation, and who himself travelled to distant countries in the service of the religion, it was properly added.
IDENTITY OF CHRIST'S CHARACTER.
THE argument expressed by this title I apply principally to the comparison of the first three Gospels with that of Saint John. It is known to every reader of Scripture that the passages of Christ's history preserved by Saint John are, except his passion and resurrection, for the most part different from those which are delivered by the other evangelists. And I think the ancient account of this difference to be the true one, viz., that Saint John wrote after the rest, and to supply what he thought omissions in their narratives, of which the principal were our Saviour's conferences with the Jews of Jerusalem, and his discourses to his apostles at his last supper. But what I observe in the comparison of these several accounts is, that, although actions and discourses are ascribed to Christ by Saint John in general different from what are given to him by the other evangelists, yet, under this diversity, there is a similitude of manner, which indicates that the actions and discourses proceeded from the same person. I should have laid little stress upon the repetition of actions substantially alike, or of discourses containing many of the same expressions, because that is a species of resemblance which would either belong to a true history, or might easily be imitate in a false one. Nor do I deny that a dramatic writer is able to sustain propriety and distinction of character through a great variety of separate incidents and situations. But the evangelists were not dramatic writers; nor possessed the talents of dramatic writers; nor will it, I believe, be suspected that they studied uniformity of character, or ever thought of any such thing in the person who was the subject of their histories. Such uniformity, if it exist, is on their part casual; and if there be, as I contend there is, a perceptible resemblance of manner, in passages, and between discourses, which are in themselves extremely distinct, and are delivered by historians writing without any imitation of, or reference to, one another, it affords a just presumption that these are what they profess to be, the actions and the discourses of the same real person; that the evangelists wrote from fact, and not from imagination.
The article in which I find this agreement most strong is in our Saviour's mode of teaching, and in that particular property of it which consists in his drawing of his doctrine from the occasion; or, which is nearly the same thing, raising reflections from the objects and incidents before him, or turning a particular discourse then passing into an opportunity of general instruction.
It will be my business to point out this manner in the first three evangelism; and then to inquire whether it do not appear also in several examples of Christ's discourses preserved by Saint John.
The reader will observe in the following quotations that the Italic letter contains the reflection; the common letter the incident or occasion from which it springs.
Matt. xii. 47—50. “Then they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother; and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand towards his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren: for whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
Matt. xvi. 5. “And when his disciples were come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread; then Jesus said unto them, Take heed, and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have taken no bread.—How is it that ye do not understand, that I speak it not to you concerning bread, that ye shall beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees? Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the DOCTRINE Of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.”
Matt. xv. 1, 2; 10, 11; 15—20. “Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the traditions of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.—And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man, but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth the man.—Then answered Peter, and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable. And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? Do ye not understand that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? but those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart, and they defile the man: for out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies; these are the things which defile a man: BUT TO EAT WITH UNWASHEN HANDS DEFILETH NOT A MAN.” Our Saviour, on this occasion, expatiates rather more at large than usual, and his discourse also is more divided; but the concluding sentence brings back the whole train of thought to the incident in the first verse, viz. the objurgatory question of the Pharisees, and renders it evident that the whole sprang from that circumstance.
Mark x. 13, 14, 15. “And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them; and his disciples rebuked those that brought them: but when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God: verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”
Mark i. 16, 17. “Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea, for they were fishers: and Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Luke xi. 27. “And it came to pass as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked: but he said, Yea, rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it.”
Luke xiii. 1—3. “There were present at that season some that told him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices; and Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye, that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”
Luke xiv. 15. “And when one of them that sat at meat with him heard these things, he said unto him, Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God. Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many,” &c. The parable is rather too long for insertion, but affords a striking instance of Christ's manner of raising a discourse from the occasion. Observe also in the same chapter two other examples of advice, drawn from the circumstances of the entertainment and the behaviour of the guests.
We will now see how this manner discovers itself in Saint John's history of Christ.
John vi. 25. “And when they had found him on the other side of the sea, they said unto him, Rabbi, when camest thou hither? Jesus answered them and said, Verily I say unto you, ye seek me not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you.”
John iv. 12. “Art thou greater than our father Abraham, who gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle? Jesus answered, and said unto her (the woman of Samaria), Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again; but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him, shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water, springing up into everlasting life.”
John iv. 31. “In the mean while, his disciples prayed him, saying, Master, eat; but he said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of. Therefore said the disciples one to another, Hath any man brought him aught to eat? Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish his work.”
John ix. 1—5. “And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth: and his disciples asked him, saying, Who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. I must work the works of Him that sent me while it is day; the night cometh when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
John ix. 35—40. “Jesus heard that they had cast him (the blind man above mentioned) out: and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? And he answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. And he said, Lord, I believe; and he worshipped him. And Jesus said. For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.”
All that the reader has now to do, is to compare the series of examples taken from Saint John with the series of examples taken from the other evangelists, and to judge whether there be not a visible agreement of manner between them. In the above-quoted passages, the occasion is stated, as well as the reflection. They seem, therefore, the most proper for the purpose of our argument. A large, however, and curious collection has been made by different writers, (Newton on Daniel, p. 148, note a. Jottin, Dis., p. 218. Bishop Law's Life of Christ.) of instances in which it is extremely probable that Christ spoke in allusion to some object, or some occasion then before him, though the mention of the occasion, or of the object, be omitted in the history. I only observe that these instances are common to Saint John's Gospel with the other three.
I conclude this article by remarking, that nothing of this manner is perceptible in the speeches recorded in the Acts, or in any other but those which are attributed to Christ, and that, in truth, it was a very unlikely manner for a forger or fabulist to attempt; and a manner very difficult for any writer to execute, if he had to supply all the materials, both the incidents and the observations upon them, out of his own head. A forger or a fabulist would have made for Christ, discourses exhorting to virtue and dissuading from vice in general terms. It would never have entered into the thoughts of either, to have crowded together such a number of allusions to time, place, and other little circumstances, as occur, for instance, in the sermon on the mount, and which nothing but the actual presence of the objects could have suggested (See Bishop Law's Life of Christ).
II. There appears to me to exist an affinity between the history of Christ's placing a little child in the midst of his disciples, as related by the first three evangelists, (Matt. xviii. 1. Mark ix. 33. Luke ix. 46.) and the history of Christ's washing his disciples' feet, as given by Saint John. (Chap. xiii. 3.) In the stories themselves there is no resemblance. But the affinity which I would point out consists in these two articles: First, that both stories denote the emulation which prevailed amongst Christ's disciples, and his own care and desire to correct it; the moral of both is the same. Secondly, that both stories are specimens of the same manner of teaching, viz., by action; a mode of emblematic instruction extremely peculiar, and, in these passages, ascribed, we see, to our Saviour by the first three evangelists, and by Saint John, in instances totally unlike, and without the smallest suspicion of their borrowing from each other.
III. A singularity in Christ's language which runs through all the evangelists, and which is found in those discourses of Saint John that have nothing similar to them in the other Gospels, is the appellation of “the Son of man;” and it is in all the evangelists found under the peculiar circumstance of being applied by Christ to himself, but of never being used of him, or towards him, by any other person. It occurs seventeen times in Matthew's Gospel, twenty times in Mark's, twenty-one times in Luke's and eleven times in John's, and always with this restriction.
IV. A point of agreement in the conduct of Christ, as represented by his different historians, is that of his withdrawing himself out of the way whenever the behaviour of the multitude indicated a disposition to tumult.
Matt. xiv. 22. “And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitude away. And when he had sent the multitude away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray.”
Luke v. 15, 16. “But so much the more went there a fame abroad of him, and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by him of their infirmities; and he withdrew himself into the wilderness and prayed.” With these quotations compare the following from Saint John: Chap. v. 13. “And he that was healed wist not who it was, for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place.”
Chap. vi. 15. “When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.”
In this last instance, Saint John gives the motive of Christ's conduct, which is left unexplained by the other evangelists, who have related the conduct itself.
V. Another, and a more singular circumstance in Christ's ministry, was the reserve which, for some time, and upon some occasions at least, he used in declaring his own character, and his leaving it to be collected from his works rather than his professions. Just reasons for this reserve have been assigned. (See Locke's Reasonableness of Christianity.) But it is not what one would have expected. We meet with it in Saint Matthew's Gospel (chap. xvi. 20): “Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.” Again, and upon a different occasion, in Saint Mark's (chap. iii. 11): “And unclean spirits, when they saw him, fell down before him, and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God: and he straitly charged them that they should not make him known.” Another instance similar to this last is recorded by Saint Luke (chap. iv. 41). What we thus find in the three evangelists, appears also in a passage of Saint John (chap. x. 24, 25): “Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt: If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.” The occasion here was different from any of the rest; and it was indirect. We only discover Christ's conduct through the upbraidings of his adversaries. But all this strengthens the argument. I had rather at any time surprise a coincidence in some oblique allusion than read it in broad assertions.
VI. In our Lord's commerce with his disciples, one very observable particular is the difficulty which they found in understanding him when he spoke to them of the future part of his history, especially of what related to his passion or resurrection. This difficulty produced, as was natural, a wish in them to ask for further explanation: from which, however, they appear to have been sometimes kept back by the fear of giving offence. All these circumstances are distinctly noticed by Mark and Luke, upon the occasion of his informing them (probably for the first time) that the Son of man should be delivered into the hands of men. “They understood not,” the evangelists tell us, “this saying, and it was hid from them, that they perceived it not; and they feared to ask him of that saying.” Luke ix. 45; Mark ix. 32. In Saint John's Gospel we have, on a different occasion, and in a different instance, the same difficulty of apprehension, the same curiosity, and the same restraint:—“A little while and ye shall not see me; and again, a little while and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father. Then said some of his disciples among themselves, What is this that he saith unto us? A little while and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while and ye shall see me: and, Because I go to the Father? They said, therefore, What is this that he saith? A little while? We cannot tell what he saith. Now Jesus knew that they were desirous to ask him, and said unto them,—” &c. John xvi. 16, et seq.
VII. The meekness of Christ during his last sufferings, which is conspicuous in the narratives of the first three evangelists, is preserved in that of Saint John under separate examples. The answer given by him, in Saint John, (Chap. xviii. 20, 21.) when the high priest asked him of his disciples and his doctrine; “I spake openly to the world: I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing. Why askest thou me? ask them which heard me what I have said unto them,” is very much of a piece with his reply to the armed party which seized him, as we read it in Saint Mark's Gospel, and in Saint Luke's:(Mark xiv. 48. Luke xxii. 52.) “Are you come out as against a thief, with swords and with staves to take me? I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and ye took me not.” In both answers we discern the same tranquillity, the same reference to his public teaching. His mild expostulation with Pilate, on two several occasions, as related by Saint John, (Chap. xviii. 34; xix. 11.) is delivered with the same unruffled temper as that which conducted him through the last scene of his life, as described by his other evangelists. His answer, in Saint John's Gospel, to the officer who struck him with the palm of his hand, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou me?” (Chap. xviii. 23.) was such an answer as might have been looked for from the person who, as he proceeded to the place of execution, bid his companions (as we are told by Saint Luke; Chap. xxiii. 28.) weep not for him, but for themselves, their posterity, and their country; and who, whilst he was suspended upon the cross, prayed for his murderers, “for they know not,” said he, “what they do.” The urgency also of his judges and his prosecutors to extort from him a defence to the accusation, and his unwillingness to make any (which was a peculiar circumstance), appears in Saint John's account, as well as in that of the other evangelists. (See John xix. 9. Matt. xxvii. 14. Luke xxiii. 9.)
There are, moreover, two other correspondencies between Saint John's history of the transaction and theirs, of a kind somewhat different from those which we have been now mentioning.
The first three evangelists record what is called our Saviour's agony, i.e. his devotion in the garden immediately before he was apprehended; in which narrative they all make him pray “that the cup might pass from him.” This is the particular metaphor which they all ascribe to him. Saint Matthew adds, “O, my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.” (Chap, xxvi. 42.) Now Saint John does not give the scene in the garden: but when Jesus was seized, and some resistance was attempted to be made by Peter, Jesus, according to his account, checked the attempt, with this reply: “Put up thy sword into the sheath; the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (Chap. xviii. 11.) This is something more than consistency—-it is coincidence; because it is extremely natural that Jesus, who, before he was apprehended, had been praying his Father that “that cup might pass from him,” yet with such a pious retraction of his request as to have added, “If this cup may not pass from me, thy will be done;” it was natural, I say, for the same person, when he actually was apprehended, to express the resignation to which he had already made up his thoughts, and to express it in the form of speech which he had before used, “The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” This is a coincidence between writers in whose narratives there is no imitation, but great diversity.
A second similar correspondency is the following: Matthew and Mark make the charge upon which our Lord was condemned to be a threat of destroying the temple; “We heard him say, I will destroy this temple made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands:” (Mark xiv. 58.) but they neither of them inform us upon what circumstance this calumny was founded. Saint John, in the early part of the history, (Chap. ii. 19.) supplies us with this information; for he relates, that on our Lord's first journey to Jerusalem, when the Jews asked him “What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? He answered, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” This agreement could hardly arise from anything but the truth of the case. From any care or design in Saint John to make his narrative tally with the narratives of other evangelists, it certainly did not arise, for no such design appears, but the absence of it.
A strong and more general instance of agreement is the following.—The first three evangelists have related the appointment of the twelve apostles; (Matt. x. 1. Mark iii. 14. Luke vi. 12.) and have given a catalogue of their names in form. John, without ever mentioning the appointment, or giving the catalogue, supposes, throughout his whole narrative, Christ to be accompanied by a select party of disciples; the number of these to be twelve; (Chap. vi. 70.) and whenever he happens to notice any one as of that number, (Chap. xx, 24; vi. 71.) it is one included in the catalogue of the other evangelists: and the names principally occurring in the course of his history of Christ are the names extant in their list. This last agreement, which is of considerable moment, runs through every Gospel, and through every chapter of each. All this bespeaks reality.
ORIGINALITY OF OUR SAVIOUR'S CHARACTER.
The Jews, whether right or wrong, had understood their prophecies to foretell the advent of a person who by some supernatural assistance should advance their nation to independence, and to a supreme degree of splendour and prosperity. This was the reigning opinion and expectation of the times. Now, had Jesus been an enthusiast, it is probable that his enthusiasm would have fallen in with the popular delusion, and that, while he gave himself out to be the person intended by these predictions, he would have assumed the character to which they were universally supposed to relate.
Had he been an impostor, it was his business to have flattered the prevailing hopes, because these hopes were to be the instruments of his attraction and success.
But what is better than conjectures is the fact, that all the pretended Messiahs actually did so. We learn from Josephus that there were many of these. Some of them, it is probable, might be impostors, who thought that an advantage was to be taken of the state of public opinion. Others, perhaps, were enthusiasts, whose imagination had been drawn to this particular object by the language and sentiments which prevailed around them. But whether impostors or enthusiasts, they concurred in producing themselves in the character which their countrymen looked for, that is to say, as the restorers and deliverers of the nation, in that sense in which restoration and deliverance were expected by the Jews.
Why therefore Jesus, if he was, like them, either an enthusiast or impostor, did not pursue the same conduct as they did, in framing his character and pretensions, it will be found difficult to explain. A mission, the operation and benefit of which was to take place in another life, was a thing unthought of as the subject of these prophecies. That Jesus, coming to them as their Messiah, should come under a character totally different from that in which they expected him; should deviate from the general persuasion, and deviate into pretensions absolutely singular and original—appears to be inconsistent with the imputation of enthusiasm or imposture, both which by their nature I should expect would, and both which, throughout the experience which this very subject furnishes, in fact, have followed the opinions that obtained at the time.
If it be said that Jesus, having tried the other plan, turned at length to this; I answer, that the thing is said without evidence; against evidence; that it was competent to the rest to have done the same, yet that nothing of this sort was thought of by any.
One argument which has been much relied upon (but not more than its just weight deserves) is the conformity of the facts occasionally mentioned or referred to in Scripture with the state of things in those times, as represented by foreign and independent accounts; which conformity proves, that the writers of the New Testament possessed a species of local knowledge which could belong only to an inhabitant of that country and to one living in that age. This argument, if well made out by examples, is very little short of proving the absolute genuineness of the writings. It carries them up to the age of the reputed authors, to an age in which it must have been difficult to impose upon the Christian public forgeries in the names of those authors, and in which there is no evidence that any forgeries were attempted. It proves, at least, that the books, whoever were the authors of them, were composed by persons living in the time and country in which these things were transacted; and consequently capable, by their situation, of being well informed of the facts which they relate. And the argument is stronger when applied to the New Testament, than it is in the case of almost any other writings, by reason of the mixed nature of the allusions which this book contains. The scene of action is not confined to a single country, but displayed in the greatest cities of the Roman empire. Allusions are made to the manners and principles of the Greeks, the Romans, and the Jews. This variety renders a forgery proportionably more difficult, especially to writers of a posterior age. A Greek or Roman Christian who lived in the second or third century would have been wanting in Jewish literature; a Jewish convert in those ages would have been equally deficient in the knowledge of Greece and Rome. (Michaelis's Introduction to the New Testament [Marsh's translation], c. ii. sect. xi.)
This, however, is an argument which depends entirely upon an induction of particulars; and as, consequently, it carries with it little force without a view of the instances upon which it is built, I have to request the reader's attention to a detail of examples, distinctly and articulately proposed. In collecting these examples I have done no more than epitomise the first volume of the first part of Dr. Lardner's Credibility of the Gospel History. And I have brought the argument within its present compass, first, by passing over some of his sections in which the accordancy appeared to me less certain, or upon subjects not sufficiently appropriate or circumstantial; secondly, by contracting every section into the fewest words possible, contenting myself for the most part with a mere apposition of passages; and, thirdly, by omitting many disquisitions, which, though learned and accurate, are not absolutely necessary to the understanding or verification of the argument.
The writer principally made use of in the inquiry is Josephus. Josephus was born at Jerusalem four years after Christ's ascension. He wrote his history of the Jewish war some time after the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened in the year of our Lord Lxx, that is, thirty-seven years after the ascension; and his history of the Jews he finished in the year xc-xx, that is, sixty years after the ascension. At the head of each article I have referred, by figures included in brackets, to the page of Dr. Lardner's volume where the section from which the abridgment is made begins. The edition used is that of 1741.
I. [p. 14.] Matt. ii. 22. “When he (Joseph) heard that Archclaus did reign in Judea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee.”
II. In this passage it is asserted that Archclaus succeeded Herod in Judea; and it is implied that his power did not extend to Galilee. Now we learn from Josephus that Herod the Great, whose dominion included all the land of Israel, appointed Archelaus his successor in Judea, and assigned the rest of his dominions to other sons; and that this disposition was ratified, as to the main parts of it, by the Roman emperor (Ant. lib. xvi. c. 8, sect. 1.).
Saint Matthew says that Archclaus reigned, was king, in Judea. Agreeably to this, we are informed by Josephus, not only that Herod appointed Archclaus his successor in Judea, but that he also appointed him with the title of King; and the Greek verb basileuei, which the evangelist uses to denote the government and rank of Archclaus, is used likewise by Josephus (De Bell. lib. i. c. 3,3, sect. 7.).
The cruelty of Archelaus's character, which is not obscurely intimated by the evangelist, agrees with divers particulars in his history preserved by Josephus:—“In the tenth year of his government, the chief of the Jews and Samaritans, not being able to endure his cruelty and tyranny, presented complaints against him to Caesar.” (Ant, lib. xii. 13, sect. 1.)
II. [p. 19.] Luke iii. 1. “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea, and of the region of Trachonitis—the word of God came unto John.”
By the will of Herod the Great, and the decree of Augustus thereupon, his two sons were appointed, one (Herod Antipus) tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, and the other (Philip) tetrarch of Trachonitis and the neighbouring countries. (Ant. lib. xvii. c. 8, sect. 1.) We have, therefore, these two persons in the situations in which Saint Luke places them; and also, that they were in these situations in the fifteenth year of Tiberius; in other words, that they continued in possession of their territories and titles until that time, and afterwards, appears from a passage of Josephus, which relates of Herod, “that he was removed by Caligula, the successor of Tiberius;” (Ant. lib. xviii. c. 8, sect. 2.) and of Philip, that he died in the twentieth year of Tiberius, when he had governed Trachonitis and Batanea and Gaulanitis thirty-seven years. (Ant. lib. xviii. c. 5, sect. 6.)
III. [p. 20.] Mark vi. 17. “Herod had sent forth, and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison, for Heredias' sake, his brother Philip's wife: for he had married her.” (See also Matt. xiv. 1—13; Luke iii. 19.)
With this compare Joseph. Antiq. 1. xviii. c. 6, sect. 1:—“He (Herod the tetrareh) made a visit to Herod his brother.—Here, failing in love with Herodias, the wife of the said Herod, he ventured to make her proposals of marriage.”*
* The affinity of the two accounts is unquestionable; but there is a difference in the name of Herodias's first husband, which in the evangelist is Philip; in Josephus, Herod. The difficulty, however, will not appear considerable when we recollect how common it was in those times fer the same persons to bear two names. “Simon, which is called Peter; Lebbeus, whose sum me is Thaddeus; Thomas, which is called Didymus; Simeon, who was called Niger; Saul, who was also called Paul.” The solution is rendered likewise easier in the present case by the consideration that Herod the Great had children by seven or eight wives; that Josephus mentions three of his sons under the name of Herod; that it is nevertheless highly probable that the brothers bore some additional name by which they were distinguished from one another. Lardner, vol. ii. p. 897.
Again, Mark vi. 22. “And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in and danced.”
With this also compare Joseph. Antiq. 1. xviii. c. 6, sect. 4. “Herodias was married to Herod, son of Herod the Great. They had a daughter, whose name was Salome; after whose birth Herodias, in utter violation of the laws of her country, left her husband, then living, and married Herod the tetrarch of Galilee, her husband's brother by the father's side.”
IV. [p. 29.] Acts xii. 1. “Now, about that time, Herod the king stretched forth his hands, to vex certain of the church.”
In the conclusion of the same chapter, Herod's death is represented to have taken place soon after this persecution. The accuracy of our historian, or, rather, the unmeditated coincidence which truth of its own accord produces, is in this instance remarkable. There was no portion of time for thirty years before, nor ever afterwards, in which there was a king at Jerusalem, a person exercising that authority in Judea, or to whom that title could be applied, except the last three years of this Herod's life, within which period the transaction recorded in the Acts is stated to have taken place. This prince was the grandson of Herod the Great. In the Acts he appears under his family-name of Herod; by Josephus he was called Agrippa. For proof that he was a king, properly so called, we have the testimony of Josephus, in full and direct terms:—“Sending for him to his palace, Caligula put a crown upon his head, and appointed him king of the tetrarchie of Philip, intending also to give him the tetrarchie of Lysanias.” (Antiq. xviii. c. 7, sect. 10.) And that Judea was at last, but not until the last, included in his dominions, appears by a subsequent passage of the same Josephus, wherein he tells us that Claudius, by a decree, confirmed to Agrippa the dominion which Caligula had given him; adding also Judea and Samaria, in the utmost extent, as possessed by his grandfather Herod (Antiq. xix. c. 5, sect. 1.).
V. [p. 32.] Acts xii. 19—23. “And he (Herod) went down from Judea to Cesarea, and there abode. And on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them: and the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man; and immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.”
Joseph. Antiq. lib. xix. c. 8, sect. 2. “He went to the city of Cesarea. Here he celebrated shows in honour of Caesar. On the second day of the shows, early in the morning, he came into the theatre, dressed in a robe of silver, of most curious workmanship. The rays of the rising sun, reflected from such a splendid garb, gave him a majestic and awful appearance. They called him a god; and intreated him to be propitious to them, saying, Hitherto we have respected you as a man; but now we acknowledge you to be more than mortal. The king neither reproved these persons, nor rejected the impious flattery. Immediately after this he was seized with pains in his bowels, extremely violent at the very first. He was carried therefore with all haste to his palace. These pains continually tormenting him, he expired in five days' time.”
The reader will perceive the accordancy of these accounts in various particulars. The place (Cesarea), the set day, the gorgeous dress, the acclamations of the assembly, the peculiar turn of the flattery, the reception of it, the sudden and critical incursion of the disease, are circumstances noticed in both narratives. The worms mentioned by Saint Luke are not remarked by Josephus; but the appearance of these is a symptom not unusually, I believe, attending the disease which Josephus describes, viz., violent affections of the bowels.
VI. [p. 41.] Acts xxiv. 24. “And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul.”
Joseph. Antiq. lib. xx. c. 6, sect. 1, 2. “Agrippa gave his sister Drusilla in marriage to Azizus, king of the Emesenes, when he had consented to be circumcised.—But this marriage of Drusilla with Azizus was dissolved in a short time after, in this manner:—When Felix was procurator of Judea, having had a sight of her, he was mightily taken with her.—She was induced to transgress the laws of her country, and marry Felix.”
Here the public station of Felix, the name of his wife, and the singular circumstance of her religion, all appear in perfect conformity with the evangelist.
VII. [p. 46.] Acts xxv. 13. “And after certain days king Agrippa and Berenice came to Cesarea to salute Festus.” By this passage we are in effect told that Agrippa was a king, but not of Judea; for he came to salute Festus, who at this time administered the government of that country at Cesarea.
Now, how does the history of the age correspond with this account? The Agrippa here spoken of was the son of Herod Agrippa, mentioned in the last article; but that he did not succeed to his father's kingdom, nor ever recovered Judea, which had been a part of it, we learn by the information of Josephus, who relates of him that when his father was dead Claudius intended at first to have put him immediately in possession of his father's dominions; but that, Agrippa being then but seventeen years of age, the emperor was persuaded to alter his mind, and appointed Cuspius Fadus prefect of Judea and the whole kingdom; (Antiq. xi. c. 9 ad fin.) which Fadus was succeeded by Tiberius Alexander, Cumanus, Felix, Festus. (Antiq. xx. de Bell. lib. ii.) But that, though disappointed of his father's kingdom, in which was included Judea, he was, nevertheless, rightly styled King Agrippa, and that he was in possession of considerable territories, bordering upon Judea, we gather from the same authority: for, after several successive donations of country, “Claudius, at the same time that he sent Felix to be procurator of Judea, promoted Agrippa from Chalcis to a greater kingdom, giving to him the tetrarchie which had been Philip's; and he added, moreover, the kingdom of Lysanias, and the province that had belonged to Varus.” (De Bell. lib. li. c. 12 ad fin.)
Saint Paul addresses this person as a Jew: “King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.” As the son of Herod Agrippa, who is described by Josephus to have been a zealous Jew, it is reasonable to suppose that he maintained the same profession. But what is more material to remark, because it is more close and circumstantial, is, that Saint Luke, speaking of the father (Acts xii. 1—3), calls him Herod the, king, and gives an example of the exercise of his authority at Jerusalem: speaking of the son (xxv. 13), he calls him king, but not of Judea; which distinction agrees correctly with the history.
VIII. [p. 51.] Acts xiii. 6. “And when they had gone through the isle (Cyprus) to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Bar-jesus, which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, prudent man.”
The word which is here translated deputy, signifies and upon this word our observation is founded. The of the Roman empire were of two kinds; those belonging the emperor, in which the governor was called proprietor; those belonging to the senate, in which the governor was proconsul. And this was a regular distinction. Now it from Dio Cassius, (Lib. liv. ad A. U. 732.) that the province of Cyprus, which, in original distribution, was assigned to the emperor, had transferred to the senate, in exchange for some others; and after this exchange, the appropriate title of the Roman was proconsul.
Ib. xviii. 12. [p. 55.] “And when Gallio was deputy (proconsul) of Achaia.”
The propriety of the title “proconsul” is in this still more critical. For the province of Achaia, after passing from the senate to the emperor, had been restored again by the emperor Claudius to the senate (and consequently its government had become proconsular) only six or seven years before the time in which this transaction is said to have taken place. (Suet. in Claud. c. xxv. Dio, lib. lxi.) And what confines with strictness the appellation to the time is, that Achaia under the following reign ceased to be a Roman province at all.
IX. [p. 152.] It appears, as well from the general constitution of a Roman province, as from what Josephus delivers concerning the state of Judea in particular, (Antiq. lib. xx. c. 8, sect. 5; c. 1, sect. 2.) that the power of life and death resided exclusively in the Roman governor; but that the Jews, nevertheless, had magistrates and a council, invested with a subordinate and municipal authority. This economy is discerned in every part of the Gospel narrative of our Saviour's crucifixion.
X. [p. 203.] Acts ix. 31. “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria.”
This rest synchronises with the attempt of Caligula to place his statue in the temple of Jerusalem; the threat of which outrage produced amongst the Jews a consternation that, for a season, diverted their attention from every other object. (Joseph. de Bell lib. Xi. c. 13, sect. 1, 3, 4.)
XI. [p. 218.] Acts xxi. 30. “And they took Paul, and drew him out of the temple; and forthwith the doors were shut. And as they went about to kill him, tidings came to the chief captain of the band that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. Then the chief captain came near, and took him and commanded him to be bound with two chains, and demanded who he was, and what he had done; and some cried one thing, and some another, among the multitude: and, when he could not know the certainty for the tumult, he commanded him to be carried into the castle. And when he came upon the stairs, so it was, that he was borne of the soldiers for the violence of the people.”
In this quotation we have the band of Roman soldiers at Jerusalem, their office (to suppress tumults), the castle, the stairs, both, as it should seem, adjoining to the temple. Let us inquire whether we can find these particulars in any other record of that age and place.
Joseph. de. Ball. lib. v. e. 5, sect. 8. “Antonia was situated at the angle of the western and northern porticoes of the outer temple. It was built upon a rock fifty cubits high, steep on all sides.—On that side where it joined to the porticoes of the temple, there were stairs reaching to each portico, by which the guard descended; for there was always lodged here a Roman legion; and posting themselves in their armour in several places in the porticoes, they kept a watch on the people on the feast-days to prevent all disorders; for as the temple was a guard to the city, so was Antonia to the temple.”
XII. [p. 224.] Acts iv. 1. “And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them.” Here we have a public officer, under the title of captain of the temple, and he probably a Jew, as he accompanied the priests and Sadducees in apprehending the apostles.
Joseph. de Bell. lib. ii. c. 17, sect. 2. “And at the temple, Eleazer, the son of Ananias the high priest, a young man of a bold and resolute disposition, then captain, persuaded those who performed the sacred ministrations not to receive the gift or sacrifice of any stranger.”
XIII. [p. 225.] Acts xxv. 12. “Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, Hast thou appealed unto Caesar? unto Caesar shalt thou go.” That it was usual for the Roman presidents to have a council consisting of their friends, and other chief Romans in the province, appears expressly in the following passage of Cicero's oration against Verres:—“Illud negare posses, aut nunc negabis, te, concilio tuo dimisso, viris primariis, qui in consilio C. Sacerdotis fuerant, tibique esse volebant, remotis, de re judicata judicasse?”
XIV. [p. 235.] Acts xvi. 13. “And (at Philippi) on the Sabbath we went out of the city by a river-side, where prayer was wont to be made,” or where a proseuche, oratory, or place of prayer was allowed. The particularity to be remarked is, the situation of the place where prayer was wont to be made, viz. by a river-side.
Philo, describing the conduct of the Jews of Alexandria, on a certain public occasion, relates of them, that, “early in the morning, flocking out of the gates of the city, they go to the neighbouring shores, (for the proseuchai were destroyed,) and, standing in a most pure place, they lift up their voices with one accord.” (Philo in Flacc. p. 382.)
Josephus gives us a decree of the city of Halicarnassus, permitting the Jews to build oratories; a part of which decree runs thus:—“We ordain that the Jews, who are willing, men and women, do observe the Sabbaths, and perform sacred rites, according to the Jewish laws, and build oratories by the sea-side.” (Joseph. Antiq. lib. xiv. c. 10, sect, 24.)
Tertullian, among other Jewish rites and customs, such as feasts, sabbaths, fasts, and unleavened bread, mentions “orationes literales,” that is, prayers by the river-side. (Tertull. ad Nat, lib. i. c. 13.)
XV. [p. 255.] Acts xxvi. 5. “After the most straitest sect of our religion, I lived a Pharisee.”
Joseph. de Bell. lib. i. c. 5, sect. 2. “The Pharisees were reckoned the most religious of any of the Jews, and to be the most exact and skilful in explaining the laws.”
In the original, there is an agreement not only in the sense but in the expression, it being the same Greek adjective which is rendered “strait” in the Acts, and “exact” in Josephus.
XVI. [p. 255.] Mark vii. 3,4. “The Pharisees and all the Jews, except they wash, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders; and many other things there be which they have received to hold.”
Joseph. Antiq. lib. xiii. c. 10, sect. 6. “The Pharisees have delivered up to the people many institutions, as received from the fathers, which are not written in the law of Moses.”
XVII. [p. 259.] Acts xxiii. 8. “For the Sadducees say, that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit; but the Pharisees confess both.”
Joseph. de Bell. lib. ii. c. 8, sect. 14. “They (the Pharisees) believe every soul to be immortal, but that the soul of the good only passes into another body, and that the soul of the wicked is punished with eternal punishment.” On the other hand (Antiq. lib. xviii. e. 1, sect. 4), “It is the opinion of the Sadducees that souls perish with the bodies.”
XVIII. [p. 268.] Acts v. 17. “Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and were filled with indignation.” Saint Luke here intimates that the high priest was a Sadducee; which is a character one would not have expected to meet with in that station. This circumstance, remarkable as it is, was not however without examples.
Joseph. Antiq. lib. xiii. c. 10, sect. 6, 7. “John Hyreanus, high priest of the Jews, forsook the Pharisees upon a disgust, and joined himself to the party of the Sadducees.” This high priest died one hundred and seven years before the Christian era.
Again (Antiq. lib. xx. e. 8, sect. 1), “This Ananus the younger, who, as we have said just now, had received the high priesthood, was fierce and haughty in his behaviour, and, above all men, hold and daring, and, moreover, was of the sect of the Sadducees.” This high priest lived little more than twenty years after the transaction in the Acts.
XIX. [p. 282.] Luke ix. 51. “And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before his face. And they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem.”
Joseph. Antiq. lib. xx. c. 5, sect. 1. “It was the custom of the Galileans, who went up to the holy city at the feasts, to travel through the country of Samaria. As they were in their journey, some inhabitants of the village called Ginaea, which lies on the borders of Samaria and the great plain, falling upon them, killed a great many of them.”
XX. [p. 278.] John iv. 20. “Our fathers,” said the Samaritan woman, “worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”
Joseph. Antiq. lib. xviii. c. 5, sect. 1. “Commanding them to meet him at mount Gerizzim, which is by them (the Samaritans) esteemed the most sacred of all mountains.”
XXI. [p. 312.] Matt. xxvi. 3. “Then assembled together the chief priests, and the elders of the people, unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas.” That Caiaphas was high priest, and high priest throughout the presidentship of Pontius Pilate, and consequently at this time, appears from the following account:—He was made high priest by Valerius Gratus, predecessor of Pontius Pilate, and was removed from his office by Vitellius, president of Syria, after Pilate was sent away out of the province of Judea. Josephus relates the advancement of Caiaphas to the high priesthood in this manner: “Gratus gave the high priesthood to Simon, the son of Camithus. He, having enjoyed this honour not above a year, was succeeded by Joseph, who is also called Caiaphas.” (Antiq. lib. xviii. c. 2, sect. 2.) After this, Gratus went away for Rome, having been eleven years in Judea; and Pontius Pilots came thither as his successor. Of the removal of Caiaphas from his office, Josephus likewise afterwards informs us: and connects it with a circumstance which fixes the time to a date subsequent to the determination of Pilate's government—“Vitellius,” he tells us; “ordered Pilots to repair to Rome: and after that, went up himself to Jerusalem, and then gave directions concerning several matters. And having done these things he took away the priesthood from the high priest Joseph, who is called Caiaphas.” (Antiq. lib. xvii. c. 5, sect 3.)
XXII. (Michaelis, c. xi. sect. 11.) Acts xxiii. 4. “And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God's high priest? Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest?” Now, upon inquiry into the history of the age, it turns out that Ananias, of whom this is spoken, was, in truth, not the high priest, though he was sitting in judgment in that assumed capacity. The case was, that he had formerly holden the office, and had been deposed; that the person who succeeded him had been murdered; that another was not yet appointed to the station; and that during the vacancy, he had, of his own authority, taken upon himself the discharge of the office. (Joseph. Antiq. 1. xx. c. 5, sect. 2; c. 6, sect. 2; c. 9, sect. 2.) This singular situation of the high priesthood took place during the interval between the death of Jonathan, who was murdered by order of Felix, and the accession of Ismael, who was invested with the high priesthood by Agrippa; and precisely in this interval it happened that Saint Paul was apprehended, and brought before the Jewish council.
XXIII. [p. 323.] Matt. xxvi. 59. “Now the chief priests and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against him.”
Joseph. Antiq. lib. xviii. e. 15, sect. 3, 4. “Then might be seen the high priests themselves with ashes on their heads and their breasts naked.”
The agreement here consists in speaking of the high priests or chief priests (for the name in the original is the same) in the plural number, when in strictness there was only one high priest: which may be considered as a proof that the evangelists were habituated to the manner of speaking then in use, because they retain it when it is neither accurate nor just. For the sake of brevity, I have put down from Josephus only a single example of the application of this title in the plural number; but it is his usual style.
Ib. [p. 871.] Luke ill. 1. “Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Juries, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John.” There is a passage in Josephus very nearly parallel to this, and which may at least serve to vindicate the evangelist from objection, with respect to his giving the title of high priest specifically to two persons at the same time: “Quadratus sent two others of the most powerful men of the Jews, as also the high priests Jonathan and Ananias.” (De Bell. lib. ix. c. 12, sect. 6.) That Annas was a person in an eminent station, and possessed an authority coordinate with, or next to, that of the high print properly so called, may he inferred from Saint John's Gospel, which in the history of Christ's crucifixion relates that “the soldiers led him away to Annas first.” (xviii.13.) And this might be noticed as an example of undesigned coincidence in the two evangelists.
Again, [p. 870.] Acts iv. 6. Annas is called the high priest, though Caiaphas was in the office of the high priesthood. In like manner in Josephus, (Lib. ii. c. 20, sect. 3.) “Joseph the son of Gorion, and the high priest Ananus, were chosen to be supreme governors of all things in the city.” Yet Ananus, though here called the high priest Ananus, was not then in the office of the high priesthood. The truth is, there is an indeterminateness in the use of this title in the Gospel:(Mark xiv. 53.) sometimes it is applied exclusively to the person who held the office at the time; sometimes to one or two more, who probably shared with him some of the powers or functions of the office; and sometimes to such of the priests as were eminent by their station or character; and there is the very same indeterminateness in Josephus.
XXIV. [p. 347.] John xix. 19, 20. “And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross.” That such was the custom of the Romans on these occasions appears from passages of Suetonius and Dio Cassius: “Pattrem familias—canibus objecit, cure hoc titulo, Impie locutus parmularius.” Suet. Domit. cap. x. And in Dio Cassius we have the following: “Having led him through the midst of the court or assembly, with a writing signifying the cause of his death, and afterwards crucifying him.” Book liv.
Ib. “And it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.” That it was also usual about this time in Jerusalem to set up advertisements in different languages, is gathered from the account which Josephus gives of an expostulatory message from Titus to the Jews when the city was almost in his hands; in which he says, Did ye not erect pillars with inscriptions on them, in the Greek and in our language, “Let no one pass beyond these bounds”?
XXV. [p. 352.] Matt. xxvii. 26. “When he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.”
The following passages occur in Josephus:
“Being beaten, they were crucified opposite to the citadel.” (P. 1247, edit. 24 Huds.)
“Whom, having first scourged with whips, he crucified.” (P. 1080, edit. 45.)
“He was burnt alive, having been first beaten.” (P. 1327, edit. 43.)
To which may he added one from Livy, lib. xi. c. 5. “Pro ductique omnes, virgisqus caesi, ac securi percussi.”
A modern example may illustrate the use we make of this instance. The preceding of a capital execution by the corporal punishment of the Sufferer is a practice unknown in England, but retained, in some instances at least, as appears by the late execution of a regicide in Sweden. This circumstance, therefore, in the account of an English execution, purporting to come from an English writer, would not only bring a suspicion upon the truth of the account, but would in a considerable degree impeach its pretensions of having been written by the author whose name it bore. Whereas, the same circumstance in the account of a Swedish execution would verify the account, and support the authenticity of the book in which it was found, or, at least, would prove that the author, whoever he was, possessed the information and the knowledge which he ought to possess.
XXVI. [p. 353.] John xix. 16. “And they took Jesus, and led him away; and he bearing his cross went forth.”
Plutarch, De iis qui sero puniuntur, p. 554; a Paris, 1624. “Every kind of wickedness produces its own particular torment; just as every malefactor, when he is brought forth to execution, carries his own cross.”
XXVII. John xix. 32. “Then came the soldiers and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him.”
Constantine abolished the punishment of the cross: in commending which edict, a heathen writer notices this very circumstance of breaking the legs: “Eo pius, ut etiam vetus veterrimumque supplicium, patibulum, et cruribus suffringendis, primus removerit.” Aur. Vict Ces. cap. xli.
XXVIII. [p. 457.] Acts iii. 1. “Now Peter and John went up together into the temple, at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.”
Joseph. Antiq. lib xv. e. 7, sect. 8. “Twice every day, in the morning and at the ninth hour, the priests perform their, duty at the altar.”
XXIX. [p. 462.] Acts xv. 21. “For Moses of old time hath, in every city, them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath-day.”
Joseph. contra Ap. 1. ii. “He (Moses) gave us the law, the most excellent of all institutions; nor did he appoint that it should be heard once only, or twice, or often, but that, laying aside all other works, we should meet together every week to hear it read, and gain a perfect understanding of it.”
XXX. [p. 465.] Acts xxi. 23. “We have four men which have a vow on them; them take, and purify thyself with them that they may shave their heads.”
Joseph. de Bell. 1. xi. c. 15. “It is customary for those who have been afflicted with some distemper, or have laboured under any other difficulties, to make a vow thirty days before they offer sacrifices, to abstain from wine, and shave the hair of their heads.”
Ib. v. 24. “Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads.”
Joseph. Antiq. 1. xix. c. 6. “He (Herod Agrippa) coming to Jerusalem, offered up sacrifices of thanksgiving, and omitted nothing that was prescribed by the law. For which reason he also ordered a good number of Nazarites to be shaved.” We here find that it was an act of piety amongst the Jews to defray for those who were under the Nazaritic vow the expenses which attended its completion; and that the phrase was, “that they might be saved.” The custom and the expression are both remarkable, and both in close conformity with the Scripture account.
XXXI. [p. 474.] 2 Cor. xi. 24. “Of the Jews, five times received I forty stripes save one.”
Joseph. Antiq. iv. c. 8, sect. 21. “He that acts contrary hereto let him receive forty stripes, wanting one, from the officer.”
The coincidence here is singular, because the law allowed forty stripes:—“Forty stripes he may give him and not exceed.” Deut. xxv. 3. It proves that the author of the Epistle to the Corinthians was guided not by books, but by facts; because his statement agrees with the actual custom, even when that custom deviated from the written law, and from what he must have learnt by consulting the Jewish code, as set forth in the Old Testament.
XXXII. [p. 490.] Luke iii. 12. “Then came also publicans to be baptized.” From this quotation, as well as from the history of Levi or Matthew (Luke v. 29), and of Zaccheus (Luke xix. 2), it appears that the publicans or tax-gatherers were, frequently at least, if not always, Jews: which, as the country was then under a Roman government, and the taxes were paid to the Romans, was a circumstance not to be expected. That it was the truth, however, of the case appears from a short passage of Josephus.
De Bell. lib. ii. c. 14, sect. 45. “But Florus not restraining these practices by his authority, the chief men of the Jews, among whom was John the publican, not knowing well what course to take, wait upon Florus and give him eight talents of silver to stop the building.”
XXXIII. [p. 496.] Acts xxii. 25. “And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman and uncondemned?”
“Facinus est vinciri civem Romanum; scelus verberari.” Cic. in Verr.
“Caedebatur virgis, in medio foro Messanae, civis Romanus, Judices: cum interea nullus gemitus, nulla vox alia, istius miseri inter dolorem crepitumque plagarum audiebatur, nisi haec, Civis Romanus sum.”
XXXIV. [p. 513] Acts xxii. 27. “Then the chief captain came, and said unto him (Paul), Tell me, Art thou a Roman? He said Yea.” The circumstance to be here noticed is, that a Jew was a Roman citizen.
Joseph. Antiq. lib. xiv. c. 10, sect. 13. “Lucius Lentulna, the consul, declared, I have dismissed from the service the Jewish Roman citizens, who observe the rites of the Jewish religion at Ephesus.”
Ib. ver. 28. “And the chief captain answered, with a great sum obtained I this freedom.”
Dio Cassius, lib. lx. “This privilege, which had been bought formerly at a great price, became so cheap, that it was commonly said a man might be made a Roman citizen for a few pieces of broken glass.”
XXXV. [p. 521.] Acts xxviii. 16. “And when we came to Rome the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was suffered to dwell by himself, with a soldier that kept him.”
With which join vet. 20. “For the hope of Israel, I am bound with this chain.”
“Quemadmedum cadem catean et custodiam et militem copulat; sic ista, quae tam dissimilia sunt, pariter incedunt.” Seneca, Ep. v.
“Proconsul estimare solet, utrum in carcerera recipienda sit persona, an militi tradenda.” Ulpian. l. i. sect. De Custod. et Exhib. Reor.
In the confinement of Agrippa by the order of Tiberius, Antonia managed that the centurion who presided over the guards, and the soldier to whom Agrippa was to be bound, might be men of mild character. (Joseph. Antiq. lib. xviii. c. 7, sect. 5.) After the accession of Caligula, Agrippa also, like Paul, was suffered to dwell, yet as a prisoner, in his own house.
XXXVI. [p. 531.] Acts xxvii. 1. “And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy, they delivered Paul, and certain other prisoners, unto one named Julius.” Since not only Paul, but certain other prisoners were sent by the same ship into Italy, the text must be considered as carrying with it an intimation that the sending of persons from Judea to be tried at Rome was an ordinary practice. That in truth it was so, is made out by a variety of examples which the writings of Josephus furnish: and, amongst others, by the following, which comes near both to the time and the subject of the instance in the Acts. “Felix, for some slight offence, bound and sent to Rome several priests of his acquaintance, and very good and honest men, to answer for themselves to Caesar.” Joseph. in Vit. sect. 3.
XXXVII. [p. 539.] Acts xi. 27. “And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch; and there stood up one of them, named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be a great dearth throughout all the world (or all the country); which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.”
Joseph. Antiq. 1. xx. c. 4, sect. 2. “In their time (i. e. about the fifth or sixth year of Claudius) a great dearth happened in Judea.”
XXXVIII. [p. 555.] Acts xviii. 1, 2. “Because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome.”
Suet. Gland. c. xxv. “Judeos, impulsero Chresto assidue tumultuantes, Roma expulit.”
XXXIX. [p. 664.] Acts v. 37. “After this man, rose up Judas of Galilee, in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him.”
Joseph. de Bell. 1. vii. “He (viz. the person who in another place is called, by Josephus, Judas the Galilean, or Judas of Galilee) persuaded not a few to enrol themselves when Cyrenius the censor was sent into Judea.”
XL. [p. 942.] Acts xxi. 38. “Art not thou that Egyptian which, before these days, madest an uproar, and leddest out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers?”
Joseph. de Bell. 1. ii. c. 13, sect. 5. “But the Egyptian false prophet brought a yet heavier disaster upon the Jews; for this impostor, coming into the country, and gaining the reputation of a prophet, gathered together thirty thousand men, who were deceived by him. Having brought them round out of the wilderness, up to the mount of Olives, he intended from thence to make his attack upon Jerusalem; but Felix, coming suddenly upon him with the Roman soldiers, prevented the attack.—A great number, or (as it should rather be rendered) the greatest part, of those that were with him were either slain or taken prisoners.”
In these two passages, the designation of this impostor, an “Egyptian,” without the proper name, “the wilderness ;” his escape, though his followers were destroyed; the time of the transaction, in the presidentship of Felix, which could not be any long time before the words in Luke are supposed to have been spoken; are circumstances of close correspondency. There is one, and only one, point of disagreement, and that is, in the number of his followers, which in the Acts are called four thousand, and by Josephus thirty thousand: but, beside that the names of numbers, more than any other words, are liable to the errors of transcribers, we are in the present instance under the less concern to reconcile the evangelist with Josephus, as Josephus is not, in this point, consistent with himself. For whereas, in the passage here quoted, he calls the number thirty thousand, and tells us that the greatest part, or a great number (according as his words are rendered) of those that were with him were destroyed; in his Antiquities he represents four hundred to have been killed upon this occasion, and two hundred taken prisoners:(Lib. xx. c. 7, sect. 6.) which certainly was not the “greatest part,” nor “a great part,” nor “a great number,” out of thirty thousand. It is probable, also, that Lysias and Josephus spoke of the expedition in its different stages: Lysias, of those who followed the Egyptian out of Jerusalem; Josephus, of all who were collected about him afterwards, from different quarters.
XLI. (Lardner's Jewish and Heathen Testimonies, vol. iii p. 21.) Acts xvii. 22. “Then Paul stood in the midst of Marshill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious; for, as I passed by and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.”
Diogenes Laertius, who wrote about the year 210, in his history of Epimenides, who is supposed to have flourished nearly six hundred years before Christ, relates of him the following story: that, being invited to Athens for the purpose, he delivered the city from a pestilence in this manner;—“Taking several sheep, some black, others white, he had them up to the Areopagus, and then let them go where they would, and gave orders to those who followed them, wherever any of them should lie down, to sacrifice it to the god to whom it belonged; and so the plague ceased.—Hence,” says the historian, “it has come to pass, that to this present time may be found in the boroughs of the Athenians ANONYMOUS altars: a memorial of the expiation then made.” (In Epimenide, l. i. segm. 110.) These altars, it may be presumed, were called anonymous because there was not the name of any particular deity inscribed upon them.
Pausanias, who wrote before the end of the second century, in his description of Athens, having mentioned an altar of Jupiter Olympius, adds, “And nigh unto it is an altar of unknown gods.” (Paus. l. v. p. 412.) And in another place, he speaks “of altars of gods called unknown.” (Paus. l. i. p. 4.)
Philostratus, who wrote in the beginning of the third century; records it as an observation of Apollonius Tyanseus, “That it was wise to speak well of all the gods, especially at Athens, where altars of unknown demons were erected.” (Philos. Apoll. Tyan. l. vi. c. 3.)
The author of the dialogue Philoparis by many supposed to have been Lucian, who wrote about the year 170, by others some anonymous Heathen writer of the fourth century, makes Critias swear by the unknown god of Athens; and, near time end of the dialogue, has these words, “But let us find out the unknown god at Athens, and, stretching our hands to heaven, offer to him our praises and thanksgivings.” (Lucian. in Philop. tom. ii. Graev. pp. 767, 780.)
This is a very curious and a very important coincidence. It appears beyond controversy, that altars with this inscription were existing at Athens at the time when Saint Paul is alleged to have been there. It seems also (which is very worthy of observation) that this inscription was peculiar to the Athenians. There is no evidence that there were altars inscribed “to the unknown god” in any other country. Supposing the history of Saint Paul to have been a fable, how is it possible that such a writer as the author of the Acts of the Apostles was should hit upon a circumstance so extraordinary, and introduce it by an allusion so suitable to Saint Paul's office and character?
The examples here collected will be sufficient, I hope, to satisfy us that the writers of the Christian history knew something of what they were writing about. The argument is also strengthened by the following considerations:
I. That these agreements appear not only in articles of public history, but sometimes in minute, recondite, and very peculiar circumstances, in which, of all others, a forger is most likely to have been found tripping.
II. That the destruction of Jerusalem, which took place forty years after the commencement of the Christian institution, produced such a change in the state of the country, and the condition of the Jews, that a writer who was unacquainted with the circumstances of the nation before that event would find it difficult to avoid mistakes, in endeavouring to give detailed accounts of transactions connected with those circumstances, forasmuch as he could no longer have a living exemplar to copy from.
III. That there appears, in the writers of the New Testament, a knowledge of the affairs of those times which we do not find in authors of later ages. In particular, “many of the Christian writers of the second and third centuries, and of the following ages, had false notions concerning the state of Judea between the nativity of Jesus and the destruction of Jerusalem.” (Lardner, part i. vol. ii. p. 960.) Therefore they could not have composed our histories.
Amidst so many conformities we are not to wonder that we meet with some difficulties. The principal of these I will put down, together with the solutions which they have received. But in doing this I must be contented with a brevity better suited to the limits of my volume than to the nature of a controversial argument. For the historical proofs of my assertions, and for the Greek criticisms upon which some of them are founded, I refer the reader to the second volume of the first part of Dr. Lardner's large work.
I. The taxing during which Jesus was born was “first made,” as we read, according to our translation, in Saint Luke, “whilst Cyrenius was governor of Syria.” (Chap. ii. ver. 2.) Now it turns out that Cyrenius was not governor of Syria until twelve, or at the soonest, ten years after the birth of Christ; and that a taxing census, or assessment, was made in Judea, in the beginning of his government, The charge, therefore, brought against the evangelist is, that, intending to refer to this taxing, he has misplaced the date of it by an error of ten or twelve years.
The answer to the accusation is founded in his using the word “first:”—“And this taxing was first made:” for, according to the mistake imputed to the evangelist, this word could have no signification whatever; it could have had no place in his narrative; because, let it relate to what it will, taxing, census, enrolment, or assessment, it imports that the writer had more than one of those in contemplation. It acquits him therefore of the charge: it is inconsistent with the supposition of his knowing only of the taxing in the beginning of Cyrenius's government. And if the evangelist knew (which this word proves that he did) of some other taxing beside that, it is too much, for the sake of convicting him of a mistake, to lay it down as certain that he intended to refer to that.
The sentence in Saint Luke may be construed thus: “This was the first assessment (or enrolment) of Cyrenius, governor of Syria;"* the words “governor of Syria” being used after the name of Cyrenius as his addition or title. And this title, belonging to him at the time of writing the account, was naturally enough subjoined to his name, though acquired after the transaction which the account describes. A modern writer who was not very exact in the choice of his expressions, in relating the affairs of the East Indies, might easily say that such a thing was done by Governor Hastings; though, in truth, the thing had been done by him before his advancement to the station from which he received the name of governor. And this, as we contend, is precisely the inaccuracy which has produced the difficulty in Saint Luke.
* If the word which we render “first” be rendered “before,” which it has been strongly contended that the Greek idiom shows of, the whole difficulty vanishes: for then the passage would be,—“Now this taxing was made before Cyreulus was governor of Syria;” which corresponds with the chronology. But I rather choose to argue, that however the word “first” be rendered, to give it a meaning at all, it militates with the objection. In this I think there can be no mistake.
At any rate it appears from the form of the expression that he had two taxings or enrolments in contemplation. And if Cyrenius had been sent upon this business into Judea before he became governor of Syria (against which supposition there is no proof, but rather external evidence of an enrolment going on about this time under some person or other +), then the census on all hands acknowledged to have been made by him in the beginning of his government would form a second, so as to occasion the other to be called the first.
+ Josephus (Antiq. xvii. c. 2, sect. 6.) has this remarkable message: “When therefore the whole Jewish nation took an oath to be faithful to Caesar, and the interests of the king.” This transaction corresponds in the course of the history with the time of Christ's birth. What is called a census, and which we render taxing, was delivering upon oath an account of their property. This might be accompanied with an oath of fidelity, or might be mistaken by Josephus for it.
II. Another chronological objection arises upon a date assigned in the beginning of the third chapter of Saint Luke. (Lardner, part i. vol. ii. p. 768.) “Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,—Jesus began to be about thirty years of age:” for, supposing Jesus to have been born as Saint Matthew and Saint Luke also himself relate, in the time of Herod, he must, according to the dates given in Josephus and by the Roman historians, have been at least thirty-one years of age in the fifteenth year of Tiberius. If he was born, as Saint Matthew's narrative intimates, one or two years before Herod's death, he would have been thirty-two or thirty-three years old at that time.
This is the difficulty: the solution turns upon an alteration in the construction of the Greek. Saint Luke's words in the original are allowed, by the general opinion of learned men, to signify, not “that Jesus began to be about thirty years of age,” but “that he was about thirty years of age when he began his ministry.” This construction being admitted, the adverb “about” gives us all the latitude we want, and more especially when applied, as it is in the present instance, to a decimal number; for such numbers, even without this qualifying addition, are often used in a laxer sense than is here contended for.*
* Livy, speaking of the peace which the conduct of Romulus had procured to the state, during the whole reign of his successor (Numa), has these words: “Ab illo enim profectis viribus datis tautum valuit, ut, in quaaraginta deiade annos, tutam proem haberet:” yet afterwards in the same chapter, “Romulus,” he says, “septera et triginta regnavit annos. Numa tres et quadraginta.” (Liv. Hist. c. i. sect. 16.)
III. Acts v. 36. “For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who were slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered and brought to nought.”
Josephus has preserved the account of an impostor of the name of Theudas, who created some disturbances, and was slain; but according to the date assigned to this man's appearance (in which, however, it is very possible that Josephus may have been mistaken), (Michaelis's Introduction to the New Testament [Marsh's translation], vol. i. p. 61.) it must have been, at the least, seven years after Gamaliel's speech, of which this text is a part, was delivered. It has been replied to the objection, (Lardner, part i. vol. ii. p. 92.) that there might be two impostors of this name: and it has been observed, in order to give a general probability to the solution, that the same thing appears to have happened in other instances of the same kind. It is proved from Josephus, that there were not fewer than four persons of the name of Simon within forty years, and not fewer than three of the name of Judas within ten years, who were all leaders of insurrections: and it is likewise recorded by this historian, that upon the death of Herod the Great (which agrees very well with the time of the commotion referred to by Gamaliel, and with his manner of stating that time, “before these days") there were innumerable disturbances in Judea. (Antiq. 1. 17, c. 12. sect. 4.) Archbishop Usher was of opinion, that one of the three Judases above mentioned was Gamaliel's Theudas; (Annals, p. 797.) and that with a less variation of the name than we actually find in the Gospel, where one of the twelve apostles is called, by Luke, Judas; and by Mark, Thaddeus. (Luke vi. 16. Mark iii. 18.) Origen, however he came at his information, appears to have believed that there was an impostor of the name of Theudas before the nativity of Christ. (Orig. cont Cels. p. 44.)
IV. Matt. xxiii. 34. “Wherefore, behold I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes, and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city; that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.”
There is a Zacharias whose death is related in the second book of Chronicles,* in a manner which perfectly supports our Saviour's allusion. But this Zacharias was the son of Jehoiada.
* “And the Spirit of God came upon Zacharias, the son of Jehoiada the priest, which stood above the people, and mid unto them, Thus saith God, Why transgress ye the commandments of the Lord that ye cannot prosper? Because ye hive forsaken the Lord, he hath also forsaken you. And they conspired against him, and stoned him with stones, at the commandment of the king, in the court of the house of the Lord.” 2 Chron. xxiv. 20, 21.
There is also Zacharias the prophet; who was the son of Barachiah, and is so described in the superscription of his prophecy, but of whose death we have no account.
I have little doubt but that the first Zacharias was the person spoken of by our Saviour; and that the name of the father has been since added or changed, by some one who took it from the title of the prophecy, which happened to be better known to him than the history in the Chronicles.
There is likewise a Zacharias, the son of Baruch, related by Josephus to have been slain in the temple a few years before the destruction of Jerusalem. It has been insinuated that the words put into our Saviour's mouth contain a reference to this transaction, and were composed by some writer who either confounded the time of the transaction with our Saviour's age, or inadvertently overlooked the anachronism.
Now, suppose it to have been so; suppose these words to have been suggested by the transaction related in Josephus, and to have been falsely ascribed to Christ; and observe what extraordinary coincidences (accidentally as it must in that case have been) attend the forger's mistake.
First, that we have a Zacharias in the book of Chronicles, whose death, and the manner of it, corresponds with the allusion.
Secondly, that although the name of this person's father be erroneously put down in the Gospel, yet we have a way of accounting for the error by showing another Zacharias in the Jewish Scriptures much better known than the former, whose patronymic was actually that which appears in the text.
Every one who thinks upon the subject will find these to be circumstances which could not have met together in a mistake which did not proceed from the circumstances themselves.
I have noticed, I think, all the difficulties of this kind. They are few: some of them admit of a clear, others of a probable solution. The reader will compare them with the number, the variety, the closeness, and the satisfactoriness, of the instances which are to be set against them; and he will remember the scantiness, in many cases, of our intelligence, and that difficulties always attend imperfect information.