« PreviousContinue »
whole attention had been directed to the principal object, and by whom these circum- From the bestances would be soon forgotten, or, if remembered at all, remembered confusedly. To §. . the the order of time in which the miracles were performed, the evangelists appear to have M. s. paid very little regard, but to have recorded them, as Boswell records many of the say-o. ings of Johnson, without marking their dates; or as Xenophon has recorded the memo-oorabilia of Socrates in a work which has been, in this respect, compared to the Gospels. I beg leave to introduce what I have to say on the harmony of the Gospels, in the only other details in which that harmony is remarkable, by a short extract from some learned and judicious Remarks on Michaelis's Introduction to the New Testament, (published in 1802) By way of caution to Students in Divinity. “Our historians, says the author (a) of that valuable tract, are labouring to report accurately the speeches and discourses of another; in which case, even common historians would endeavour to preserve the exact sense, and, as far as their memory would serve them, the same words. In seeking to do this, it is not to be wondered at, that two or three writers should often fall upon verbal agreement; nor, on the contrary, if they write independently, that they should often miss of it, because their memory would often fail them. With regard to the sacred writers, it is natural to suppose them studious of this very circumstance; and we have also reason to think, that they had assistance from above to the same effect: and yet it is not necessary to suppose that either their natural faculty, or the extraordinary assistance vouchsafed them, or both, should have brought them to a perfect identity throughout; because it was not necessary for the purposes of Providence, and because it would have affected their character of original independent witnesses. Let me add, that these discourses, before they were committed to writing by the evangelists, must have been often repeated amongst the apostles in teaching others, and in calling them to remembrance among themselves. St Matthew had probably of. ten heard, and known, how his fellow-labourers recollected the same discourses which he had selected for his own preaching and writing. We know not how much intercourse they had with each other, but probably a great deal before they finally dispersed themselves. St Mark and St Luke had the same opportunities, even if they were not original eye-witnesses. I admit, then, of a common document; but that document was no other than the preaching of our blessed Lord himself. He was the great prototype. In looking up to him, the author of their faith and mission, and to the very words in which he was wont to dictate to them, (which not only yet sounded in their ears, but were also recalled by the aid of his Holy Spirit promised (b) for that very purpose) they have given us three Gospels, often agreeing in words, though not without much diversification, and always in sense.” - To this cogent reasoning I beg leave to add, that such of the disciples as could write the language which they daily spoke, probably committed their Master's discourses, or at least the substance of them, to writing, each for his own use, on the evening of the very day on which they were spoken. Though not very apt scholars, they appear to have been at least desirous of learning; for when alone with their Lord, they were perpetually asking the meaning of his parables; and St Mark assures us (c) that on those occasions “he expounded all things to his disciples.” Such expositions were not surely either asked or given to be instantly forgotten ; and the best way to preserve them, was to commit them in writing to paper or parchment. We speak indeed commonly of the apostles and evangelists as illiterate fishermen, incapable of writing or even of reading the language of their native country; but they were not all fishermen, nor is it by any means probable that such of them as had moved even in that humble sphere of life, were so totally illiterate as not to be able to read the versions or paraphrases, in com
(a) Universally known, I believe, to have been Dr Randolph, the late learned and excellent Bishop of London. (b) St John xiv. 26. (c) Ch. iv. 34.
Wol. III. O
A. M. 4034, mon use, of their own Scriptures. As a tax-gatherer, St Matthew must have been able ‘. . to keep accounts, not only in the language vulgarly called Hebrew, but probably in Lann. Dorn. - - - - - 3. &." tin or Greek, Hebrew perhaps being unintelligible to his employers; and St Luke, who, Vulg. Ær 28, though not an apostle, was undoubtedly, for some time at least, a follower of Christ, as he was afterwards a companion of the apostles, appears to have been capable, before his conversion to the faith, of writing not only the vernacular dialect of Judea, but even Greek almost classically pure. It is not conceivable that such men would content themselves with treasuring up, merely in their memories, discourses which they were so desirous to understand, when they could so easily have made memorandums in writing, both of the discourses themselves, and also of their meaning as expounded by their Master. They were called upon by every motive which can influence the mind of man, by interest, ambition, duty, and reverence, to preserve his doctrines in his very words; and indeed if they had not by some means or other contrived to preserve his words, they could not have preserved his doctrines, of which they appear not to have understood the full scope till they were illuminated by the Spirit of God on the day of Pentecost. That it was the practice of the Jews of that age to commit to writing, notes at least of such doctrines as they wished to remember, is rendered unquestionable by the account which St Luke gives of the unauthorized attempts of many to write regular Gospels from the preaching of the apostles and other ministers of the word. It is the practice indeed of students everywhere at present, in those colleges where the sciences are taught by lectures from the professorial chair; and in the university of Edinburgh, so accurately are these notes taken by the small number of students who are really desirous of profiting by what they hear, and so judiciously are they sometimes connected together, that manuscript copies of the lectures of some of the professors are everywhere to be found in the possession of those who heard them read. The celebrated Dr Black, who has been called the father of the pneumatic chemistry, was one of those popular professors, of whose lectures many copies were, in this manner, taken so accurately, that the late Dr Robison, who published an authentic edition from the manuscript of the author after his death, had frequent recourse to those copies to ascertain the sense of passages in the author's manuscript, which from some cause or other had become illegible. Of copies of Dr Black's lectures, thus taken from his mouth by students, I have seen one or two, which differed not more from each other, or from the authentic edition, which has now been long in the hands of the public, than the three first Gospels differ from each other; and surely such of our Lord's disciples as could write, had more powerful motives to take notes of his discourses at the time when they heard them, than any student of a human science, even the most fascinating, had to take notes of the lectures of the most eminent professor. But it will be said, that though the harmony as well as discrepancies of St Matthew and St Luke's Gospels may be thus accounted for, we have no evidence that St Peter and St John were capable of taking notes of their Master's discourses till after they were endowed with power from on high. That we have no positive and direct evidence that they were capable of this, must perhaps be granted; but the presumptive and circumstantial evidence that they were not such ièvra, as were incapable of reading or writing their mother-tongue, is strong and abundant. It is indeed true, that when Pes ter and John were brought before “the rulers of the people, and elders of Israel,” they were perceived to be what the council called “unlearned men;” but the original word —dy;&vazrat-does not necessarily mean persons who knew not the letters of the alphabet, but only such as had not studied in the schools of the Pharisees, and were of course ignorant of the rabbinical learning and traditions of the Jews. In proof of this being its meaning, it is sufficient to appeal to the exclamation of Festus to St Paul— “Thou art beside thyself; much learning—ra road youazza (a)—doth make thee mad;”
(a) See Schleusner on the words 4x44*are; and yedusa.
for surely the governor could not suppose that any man might be made mad by the From the bemere knowledge of the alphabet, or by being able to read and write even a variety of É. gue languages. It was therefore a total deficiency of that kind of learning, of which Festus Matth. ix. 8. thought St Paul possessed too much, that the council perceived in Peter and John, who . . .” were doubtless as capable, as the generality of their countrymen of the same station with = themselves, of reading and writing the language which they spoke. That the Jews in the humbler walks of life were generally capable of reading at least the language which they called Hebrew, may be confidently inferred from the book of the prophet Esaias being delivered to Jesus to read in the synagogue of Nazareth where he was brought up, at the very commencement, as it appears (a), of his ministry, and before he had completely established his prophetical character by his miracles. If the account which we have in the Gospel by St John (b) of the woman taken in adultery be authentic, it may likewise be inferred with confidence, that even writing the vernacular dialect was no uncommon accomplishment among the lower orders of the people of Judea; for the Jews appear to have expressed no surprise at our Lord's writing on the ground as men still do in the East; but when they heard him teach in the temple, “they marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters”—you warg—the interpretation of the Scriptures, having never learned in the schools of the Pharisees, nor studied under the scribes and doctors of the law 2 + = There are indeed a variety of reasons which lead me to believe that the knowledge of letters—or the ability to read and write their own language, prevailed more generally among all classes of the Jews than among those of any other nation—the Scottish nation, for the two last centuries, perhaps excepted. The law which was pronounced from the top of Mount Sinai amid scenes so awful and stupendous, that not only the * people withdrew to a distance least they should die, but even Moses himself “ said, I exceedingly fear and quake,” was delivered to them in written tables; they were commanded to meditate upon that law, and to teach it to their children; and backsliding as they were, it is hardly conceivable that the generation who heard it proclaimed, could ever forget, or wish to forget it. Their Egyptian prejudices made the majority of them indeed soon disregard the second precept of the decalogue; but long after that transgression, and the severe punishments which were inflicted on them for it and for similar transgressions, their illustrious Lawgiver said to them, at a time when his words . must have made on their minds the deepest impression,-" These words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart. And thou shalt teach them diligently to thy children, and thou shalt talk of them, when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy ates (c).” g I o onal, aware that Bishop Patrick understands that part of this injunction, which relates to the binding of the laws or part of them for a sign upon their hand, and as frontlets between their eyes, in a metaphorical sense; but he gives no good reason for so understanding the passage; and if it be true, as he says, that the idolatrous nations of that age armed themselves with superstitious amulets on their foreheads, the grovelling minds of the Israelites, so prone to idolatry, and the principal purpose for which the ceremonial law was given, authorise us to interpret the words literally. Accordingly they were so interpreted by Aristeas, Josephus, and Onkelos, among the Jews; by Justin Martyr, Chrysostom, and Isidore of Peleusium, among the ancient Christians; and by Scaliger and others among the moderns. Bishop Patrick himself admits, that the command to write the law on the posts of their houses and on their gates, is to be
(a) St Luke iv. 17. (b) Ch. viii. (c) Deut. vi. 6-10.
understood literally; and though he thinks that the practice, which unquestionably pre-
, and it seems to have been at a very low ebb in the kingdom of Judah before that king
dom was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar, but on the return of the people from captivity, Ezra and Nehemiah appear to have been at the utmost pains to restore, in all its purity, the national system of education, as were the schools of Tiberias and Jericho in the days of our Lord. In those days, St Paul, who, being by occupation a tent-maker, cannot be supposed to have been born in any of the higher stations of life, yet studied in the school of Gamaliel, where he was not only taught to read and write his mother tongue, but also instructed in the language and learning of Greece, as well as in all the Rabbinical traditions of the Pharisees. When to all this we add that of the many, who, according to St Luke, had undertaken to write, from the preaching of the apostles, regular memoirs of our Blessed Lord, there was not probably one scribe or doctor of the law, or a single individual, whom the high priest and council of the Jews would not have classed among unlearned men, it is impossible, I think, to doubt, but that the Jews
(a) Horae Hebraica in Evangel. Matt. cap. xxiii. v. 5. (b) These sections were four, viz. Exod. xiii. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Exod. xiii. 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16. Deut. vi. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Deut. xi. 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21. (c) See Deut. xvii. 18. xxvii. passim. (d) 2 Chro
nicles, xxxv. 3.
of that age were all, except the very lowest and poorest of the people, who could not from the be. afford the expence of even the rudiments of education, taught to read and write the floo language which they spake. But Peter and John, though fishers, appear not to have M. s. been of this class of people. James and John, who, before their call, were partners Moi, o, with Peter, had hired servants in the ship with them and their father; and John was oft– sufficient consequence to be known even to the high priest +. They could not therefore have been so obscure as to render the rudiments of education of no importance to them, nor so poor as to be unable to afford the expence of it. Peter and John therefore were unquestionably capable of committing their Lord's discourses to writing as well as St Matthew and St Luke; and if so, we may safely infer, that in matters of such transcendent importance, they reposed not implicit confidence in their own memories. The miracles and discourses of our Lord formed the constant subject of the preaching of the apostles and other ministers of the Word. By comparing these with the prophecies recorded in the Old Testament, they proved to the Jews that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Messiah who had been promised to their forefathers; and there can be no reasonable doubt, but that to preserve themselves from all danger of falling into error, they made memorandums of those miracles and discourses, whilst they were yet fresh in their memories, frequently comparing their several memorandums with each other, during the many years which they appear to have remained in Jerusalem and its neighbourhood after the ascension. Of this, I say, there can be no reasonable doubt, because such has ever been the conduct of men of good sense and integrity in similar circumstances; and such, St Luke says, was the conduct of many with respect to the preaching of the apostles, though they were under no such obligation to record the substance of that preaching with accuracy, as the evangelists were to record with accuracy the doctrines and miracles of our Lord. Until very lately it was the general opinion of Christians, that the Holy Ghost the Comforter, whom the Father sent to the apostles in Christ's name, for that very purpose, brought all things so distinctly to their remembrance, whatsoever the Lord Jesus had said during all the time that “he went in and out among them,” as to supersede the necessity of written memorandums or of any other artificial aid to their memories. Should any man be disposed to maintain that opinion still, I will have no controversy with him; for it is certainly a harmless opinion, and involves in it nothing that is impossible, or even difficult to be conceived. Instances of men possessing such tenacious memories, that they could repeat verbatin long speeches, which they had distinctly heard the day before, are so numerous and so well attested, that it is impossible to question the fact. I knew myself a man who contrived by means of such a memory . to earn a scanty subsistence in a very singular manner. Being a mimic as well as possessing uncommon powers of retention, he made it his business on Sunday to frequent different places of worship in the county where he lived; and having treasured up the sermon in his memory, he went from house to house during the week, repeating it with great exactness, but in a ludicrous manner, to all who would listen to him and pay for their amusement. I have frequently heard him repeat sermons in that manner, and been assured by some of the preachers whom he was thus making ridiculous, that the
+ St John xviii. 15, 16. Whitby thinks that the other disciple here mentioned was not John, because he being a Galilean as well as Peter might have been equally suspected on that account. This is surely a very weak argument; for John—or whoever was the disciple—presumed on his being known to the high-priest, not only that he would be safe himself, but that he would even have interest to preserve his friend, whom he did not venture to bring into the hall till he had first spoken to her who kept the door.
It is to be observed too, that St John was much less