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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 reasoning's 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 1.” 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 the 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
1 Acts, X. 40, 41.
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 any thing 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 ? 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 St. Matthew (xi. 2), and St. 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 appear2 Vol. ix. c. 50, note 96.
The same observation, perhaps, holds concerning the apostacy of Judas.
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,
? I had once placed amongst these examples of fair concession, the remarkable words of St. Matthew, in his account of Christ's appearanice upon the Galilean mountain: “ And when they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted *.” I have since, however, been convinced, by what is observed concerning this passage in Dr. Townshend's discourse t upon the resurrection, that the transaction, as related by St. Matthew, was really this: “Christ appeared first at a distance; the greater part of the company, the moment they saw him, worshiped, 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,
Chap. xxviii. 17.
† Page 177. I St. Matthew's words are, Kai apogelowy ö Ingovs, ealnoev αντοις. . This intimates that, when he first appeared, it was at a distance, at least from many of the spectators. Ib. p. 197.
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 *.
Once more (Acts, xxv. 19): “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
4 Lardner, Cred. vol. xv. p. 422.
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 cast into the sea, it shall be done; all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, it shall be done 5.” 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." 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 have 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
5.See also chap. xvii. 20. Luke, xvii. 6.