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sible to discover when it could be; for John alone mentions a second appearance to the general body of the disciples, viz., when Thomas was with them. The meeting in a place with closed doors, and the promise of the power to remit sins, given to the same company, imply that the writer did not intend to speak of so numerous an assembly as five hundred. But twenty or thirty years afterwards some might be ready to say, that five hundred had seen him. The speeches in the Acts only assert that Jesus was shewn to "chosen witnesses" (x. 41, xiii. 30), which surely could not mean so many as five hundred. This story is important, because it assists us to estimate the weight due to Paul's testimony. Now, since it is impossible to believe that so important an appearance could have been omitted by all those who wrote professedly on the subject, if they believed it, it follows that Paul adopted a story which they disbelieved or neglected, and consequently that he was far from rigid in investigating the accounts of the re-appearances of Jesus. This is confirmed by Paul's citing an appearance to James, which none of the Evangelists have noticed, but which is found in a fragment of the Gospel according to the Hebrews.
In the Acts, Luke says Jesus was seen by the disciples, and spoke to them during forty days; which agrees very ill with all the preceding stories, in which Jesus is represented as appearing and vanishing suddenly, in different forms, different parts of the country, and only at intervals.
V. It was undoubtedly very easy to invent stories like these during the sixty years between the death of Jesus and the writing of the last Gospel; and there can be as little doubt that the disposition of the Church in general was such as to encourage the invention.
Peter and the other Apostles believed their master to be the Messiah, and that he would become miraculously king of Israel: they were disappointed and perplexed by his death; but, still believing in his divine mission, and
finding his body gone, they received readily the idea that he was risen, and would soon re-appear to fulfil his promises.* Such a belief was not unnatural to men in their circumstances, whose religion contained histories of several persons taken from the earth miraculously,† and who fancied that they perceived a correspondence between their master's life and sufferings and the prophecies. Once thoroughly possessed with the belief that Jesus was the Messiah, the king of Israel, they could find no solution of the mystery of his death but in the idea that he was soon to return to claim his kingdom: "Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?" Consequently the reports which soon arose amongst the more ignorant and eager of their followers, that Jesus had been actually seen in different places, were not only a pleasing relief to their distress for his sudden loss, but agreed with the view which now seemed to disclose itself, of the divine plans concerning him. They knew not but that some of these stories might be true. Most men are not very rigid in their examination of a belief which agrees well with their interests and feelings. The apostles did not at first believe them which said they had seen Jesus; but the influence of these tales, so pleasing to their own minds, and so powerful in promoting the faith of the church, afterwards
* John believed that he was risen instantly on finding the tomb empty. "Then went in also that other disciple which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw and believed." John xx. 8. Peter was more slow. Luke xxiv. 12.
+ It may deserve attention as a conjecture, that the words, "For I am not yet ascended," John xx. 17, refer to an early impression of some of the disciples that Jesus, on being raised, ascended immediately to heaven. As, however, the stories of Jesus's appearance on the earth multiplied, the ascension was postponed; and when Luke wrote the Acts, it was placed forty days after the resurrection,
led them, perhaps sincerely, to blame their own incredulity as hardness of heart.
Nevertheless it may be said, that the tales of the reappearance of Jesus, if really false, could not have obtained a general reception without considerable opposition; and that traces of this opposition would be found. They are found in the tone adopted towards the unbelievers; for this shews that the objections of such were neither unfrequent nor unimportant: "He upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen." Mark xvi. 14. "Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen me, and yet have believed." John xx. 29. "But some doubted." Matt. xxxviii. 17. "He that believeth not, shall be damned." Mark xvi. 16. The ascription of such sayings as these to Jesus, shews that the difficulty of overcoming the disbelief of many in the church was by no means insignificant. Thus at the very time, the very hour when Jesus was said to have appeared again, scepticism seems to have been as prevalent as it is at the present day, and among the first disciples themselves. While the harshness of tone observable in the writers of the early church on this point, joined to the confused manner in which they give their own accounts of the resurrection, leads us to think that they found difficulty in overcoming the scepticism by an appeal to the testimony then existing.
VI. Upon the whole, the accounts of the appearances of Jesus after his death are incredible; because,
Firstly, Not one of them comes down to us attested in such a manner as would be commonly thought sufficient to establish a fact of importance. With the exception of John, (for a faithful report of whose testimony we depend on the integrity of the Ephesian church), not one of the supposed eye-witnesses gives direct evidence. Matthew says that Mary Magdalene saw Jesus; Paul says the same for Peter; Luke says that he appeared to Cleopas; the author
of the Gospel according to the Hebrews speaks for James; and in each case the probability is that the account had passed through many intermediate narrators. The accounts individually are insufficient evidence; nor can they together make up a cumulative proof, because they proceed from witnesses only nominally independent, but in reality influenced by the same views and feelings. Secondly, These accounts present irreconcilable contradictions.
Thirdly, They resemble very much other tales of paritions in the sudden coming and vanishing of Jesus.
Fourthly, It has been very common in the Jewish and Christian, as well as other churches, for those who wished to enforce a particular precept or doctrine to say that some eminent prophet, angel, or saint, had appeared to reveal it to them. Jesus appears to the two disciples, to tell them that he suffered in fulfilment of the prophecies; to the eleven in Galilee, in order to give them the baptismal commission to all nations; to the disciples at Jerusalem, to give them the power of remitting or retaining sins; and to Thomas, to proclaim the necessity of believing in his resurrection without having seen him.
Fifthly, There were many who disbelieved these accounts in the earliest times.
Sixthly, Most of the attestations of the resurrection of Jesus in the apostolic writings do not of necessity apply to these accounts of his appearance, but to the general doctrine that he was risen, which might be in an invisible or spiritual manner. And those which bear a further sense seem to allude to stories of visions.
VII. The ascension of Jesus into heaven is related only by Luke, and by the author of the last twelve verses of Mark.* It is alluded to John xx. 17, but no account is
*It is remarkable that, if these twelve verses be omitted, as Jerome and Gregory Nyssen say was generally done in the early copies, Mark, the follower of Peter, relates neither the miraculous birth, the resurrection, nor the ascension of Christ.
given of it. That in the appendix to Mark is given in a careless manner in one verse, and places the transaction immediately after the first appearance to the eleven at Jerusalem. Luke in the Gospel seems to agree with this as to the time; but in the Acts, where he is more circumstantial, he says it took place forty days afterwards. A more striking event could hardly be imagined than the ascent of Jesus in the presence of his disciples; yet one of the Evangelists says not a word concerning it; another, supposed to have been one of the witnesses, stops short when he approaches it; and only those two of the four, who are allowed not to have been eye-witnesses (and only one of these, if Mark did not write the last twelve verses) give any account of it. The belief that Jesus must have ascended into heaven like Enoch and Elijah was likely to give rise to some dramatic descriptions of the event, as of a real scene; and one highly-coloured representation has been preserved or drawn by Luke.
The ancient Jewish prophets, like many eastern writers, were accustomed to mix facts, visions, and allegories, in the same narrative, without marking clearly where one sort of writing ends and another begins;* and this vivid manner of writing was imitated by their readers and admirers, the early Christians. Looking at the matter in this way, the stories of the temptation, the preaching to the spirits in prison, the appearances of Jesus after his death, and the ascension, are pleasing romances. But in considering them as matters of fact, we become as much embarrassed as if we were to endeavour to explain in the same way the books of Ezekiel, Daniel, and the Revelations.
The most beautiful fictions are those which bring to
* The passage of the Lord before Moses (Exod. xxxiv. 6) is related as much in the style of facts as the rising up of Moses early in the morning, verse 4.