« AnteriorContinuar »
excepted. It is preserved by Eusebius, l. vi. 14. and is to this purpose, “ Those gospels were written first which contain our Lord's genealogies.” Wherefore, according to this author, Luke wrote before Mark. From the conclusion of Mark's book it would appear, that he did not write till it was very late ; for he tells us, that the gospel was then published everywhere : « They went forth and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following." But of this in the next chapter.
Upon the whole, since the proofs in this matter, drawn from testimony, are so vague, Eusebius having said nothing about it, and the tradition mentioned by Irenæus carrying an evident falsehood in its bosom, there being a church founded at Rome before Paul came thither, we are certainly at liberty to form any opinion about it that seems most probable. But though the testimonies of antiquity were much more full and determinate than they are in favour of the opinion commonly received, arguments drawn from the gospels themselves, to settle the order and time of their being written, deserve a much higlier degree of regard than can be claimed by tradition, which at best is but an uncertain thing, and in many cases took its rise from wrong senses put upon texts of Scripture, which those traditions were designed to support. Hence they were too hastily and indiscriminately received by the writers of the fourth and subsequent centuries, as all know who are conversant in matters of antiquity. It seems the presecuted state of the charch in its infancy, rendered such mistakes unavoidable, till better times came, wherein they were happily discovered and rectified. The tradition under consideration is without doubt one of this kind; the fathers affirming that Matthew and Mark wrote before Luke, for no other reason but because the latter speaks of some who had composed histories of Christ's life before him. The ancients in general were very apt to mistake the meaning of texts, for want of the light which arises from comparing scripture with scripture. For as was before observed, the sacred books being written at different times, and by different authors, for the use of particular churches, it was long before they came to be universally known, insomuch that the canon of Scripture was not settled for several centuries. We may therefore reasonably suppose, that the whole of the inspired writings were not generally in the possession of particular Christians, in the very early ages.
64. But if Luke wrote before the other evangelists, it may be asked who the writers were of whom he speaks in the beginning of his work : « Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely belie ved among us, 2. Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eye-witnesses, and ministers of the word: 2
3. It seemed good to me also,” &c. At first the apostles, and other ministers of the word, contented themselves with preaching the gospel, which then consisted chiefly of simple narrations, setting forth the doctrine and miracles of Christ. See Acts. ii. 22,-36. x. 34,-43. xxvii. 30, 31, But when Christianity began to spread itself, those narrations passing through many hands, were in danger of being corrupted, at least they could not find that credit which written accounts well attestal might claim. For their own sakes, therefore, as well as for the instruction of those who were still unconverted, the first Christians would very early compose narratives of our Lord's actions, as far as they could collect them, whether from the sermons or conversations of the eye-witnesses. Probably these are the histories referred to by Luke; for he tells us they were narrations of things most surely believed by Christians, that they were composed according to the informations received from the eye-witnesses, and that they were extant before his own gospel was published. But these narratives being imperfect, both as to matter and order, the evangelists were moved by the Spirit to write their gospels, in which the doctrine of Christ is fully, though succinctly, related ; and his actions, especially a number of his miracles, delivered in order, and with their several circumstances. When these inspired and well-attested histories appeared, the other little narrations, being of no use, were quickly lost. Afterwards, indeed, many false gospels were published by different heretics, some of which we have still remaining. But as none of these gospels contain narrations of things delivered to their authors by the apostles, and most surely believed by Christians, we cannot reasonably think Luke had
any of them in his view. Besides, none of them can pretend to be of equal antiquity with Luke's gospel. On the contrary, all of them seem to owe their existence to that evangelist's having mentioned writings that were afterwards lost. Fabricius in the second and third volumes of his Codex Apocryphus, and Jones in his History of the Canon, have published several of those spurious gospels. Or, if the reader has Dr Mill's Prolegomena at hand, he will find there, No. 38, &c. an account of two of the most celebrated of them: I mean the gospel according to the Hebrews, and that according to the Egyptians. Thus far concerning the order in which the gospels were published.
CHAP, II. Of the time when the gospels were written. $1. From what has been said in the third section of the preceding chapter, it appears that the date of the publication of Matthew's gospel cannot be fixed with any certainty. The common opinion which determines it to the third year of Caligula's reign, or about eight years after our Lord's ascension, is without foundation. For as we have already observed, the passage of EuVOL. I.
sebius's history, appealed to in support of that date, teaches ro such matter. Those who fix the publication of Matthew's gospel to A. D. 62, follow Irenæus, who tells us from Papias, that Matthew published his gospel while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundation of a church there. But how uncertain this testimony likewise is, may be gathered from the remarks made upon it, Obs. vi. p. 46. And as the date of Matthew's gospel is uncertain, so are the dates of the gospels published by Luke and Mark. The truth is, antiquity furnishes us with nothing precise on this point. Wherefore, as in determining the order wherein the gospels were published, so in settling the time when they were published, the only means left us is to search the gospels themselves for internal characters, whereby we may form at least some conjecture about the æra of their publication.
§ 2. In reading the gospel of Matthew, every one must be sensible that the author thereof considered himself as addressing a people who were well acquainted with the matters which are the subject of his history. For notwithstanding the particulars mentioned by him are of the most wounderful nature, it is plain he was at no pains to obviate the objections which he must have been sensible would occur to persons who were unacquainted with those things. He hath given no explication of the manners and customs of the Jews. Throughout the whole of his history he has not offered so much as one date, whereby the reader can form a judgment of the age in which the transactions happened which he has recorded. And were it not that he has mentioned the names of Herod, Archelaus and Pilate, we might have supposed that the matters narrated by him had happened in any period we pleased to place them in. This I think implies, that Matthew considered himself as writing to the people of Judea, who had seen our Lord's miracles, had heard his sermons, and were fully acquainted with the state of their own country. (See the last paragraph of section 2. of the following chapter.) Wherefore we may
safely give credit to the tradition of the ancients concerning Matthew's gospel, namely, that it was published in Judea. And from this fact we may infer, that it was written while the disciples had the conversion of their countrymen at heart, and consequently before they left Judea to preach to the Gentiles. According to this view of the matter, they certainly come nearest to the truth, who give this gospel an early date. Yet whether it was published so early as in the third of Caligula, may justly be called in question, because, as we have shewed already, Luke's gospel, though written so late as Paul's first imprisonment at Rome, came abroad a considerable time beford Matthew's was published.
§ 3. If it be objected to the early publication of the gospels in general, that the disciples would hardly venture to commit their
Master's history to writing, while any of the great men were alive who had been accessary to his death, the answer is, that the boldness wherewith they preached the things which concerned the Lord Jesus, even in the presence of the council themselves, without regarding the consequences, would animate them to write his history freely, not only for the information of such as had not the happiness of hearing it delivered in sermons, but to rivet thc transactions of his life more firmly in the minds of the disciples themselves. Nor is this all : To write and publish our Lord's history early, was the greatest confirmation possible of its truth, being an earnest appeal to the public, at a time when the enemies of the gospel had every opportunity they could wish for disproving it, the persons said in these books to have been concerned in the transactions of Christ's life, being most of them then alive.
ý 4. Some have endeavoured to prove that Matthew and Luke wrote their gospels so late as the year 63 or 64, from this circumstance, that they have recorded several declarations and prophecies concerning the reception of the Gentiles into the church of God. But the argument is not conclusive. For the evangelists, as historians, might deliver the words of Jesus, without understanding them. In the gospel of John indeed, the passages relative to the calling of the Gentiles are so expressed, as to shew that they were already received into the church, which doubtless is a demonstration that he wrote after the gospel had been preached to the idolatrous Gentiles. We meet with a passage of this kind in the very entrance of his book. Chap. i. 11. “He came to his own, and his own received him not. 12. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name. 13. Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” On the other hand, any declarations concerning the conversion of the Gentiles to be met with in Matthew and Luke, are delivered in the precise words of our Saviour, which on this head are generally pretty obscure, and not a syllable is added by either of them to shew that they had the most distant apprehension of the joyful truth; a circumstance which must appear very unaccountable, if these historians wrote after the gospel was preached to the idolatrous Gentiles. We may therefore believe, that the gospels of Luke and Matthew were published not very long after our Lord's ascension.
Mark, in the conclusion of his work, seems to hint at the event under consideration, when he tells us, that the apostles “ went forth and preached every where.” For this shews, that at the time he wrote, the apostles had preached to the Gentiles. If so, in all probability he sent his history abroad long after Luke's was published. Mark is generally by the fathers supposed to have written his gospel in Rome, for this reason, that Paul, in his second
epistle, orders Timothy to bring Mark with him to Rome, because he was profitable to him for the ministry, 2 Tim. iv. 11. They imagined, that in consequence of this order Mark came with Timothy to Rome. And as Peter was supposed by them to have been with Paul in Rome during this his second imprisonment, they think Mark associated more especially with Peter. Hence sprang the tradition which prevailed universally among the ancients, that Mark wrote his gospel in Rome, under the inspection of Peter, whose companion more especially he was, and with whom he had cultivated the strictest friendship. This tradition may the rather be admitted, that it agrees very well with the late publication of Mark's gospel, established by the sentence with which he concludes it.
§ 5. It is commonly thought that John wrote his gospel in Ephesus, A. D. 97 or 98, when he was extremely old. But Lampe, Witsius, Lardner, and other learned moderns, observing that this evangelist's design in writing was to supply the deficiencies of the other three, they gathered from that circumstance that his gospel came abroad not very long after the others were published. For they think it unnatural and improbable to suppose that John, having this view, would defer writing any considerable time. Their argument, however, is not absolutely conclusive, because John might wait to see whether any other of the apostles, who were older than himself, would be directed by the Spirit to publish an additional account of their Master's life.' Or he might have other reasons for delaying writing, which at this distance of time, it is not possible for us so much as to guess at. There seems to be greater strength indeed in the other reason, whereby Lampe supports his opinion. He observes, that in the first twelve chapters especially of John's gospel, there are more frequent and plain declarations of Jesus being the Messiah, than in the other gospels; and from this he infers that it was John's intention in writing to shew the great crime of the Jews who rejected our Lord, and consequently to vindicate the Providence of God, which for that crime had already punished the nation, or was soon to punish it. See John xx. 31. Agreeably to this observation he remarks, that John has recorded principally our Lord's transactions at the great festivals, on which occasion he proposed the evidence of his Messiahship in the plainest manner to the whole nation.---The other arguments proposed by the authors above mentioned, to prove that John wrote his gospel earlier than is generally supposed, are drawn from particular passages of the work itself. Such as chap. v. 2. where, in the history of the infirm man who was miraculously cured at the pool of Bethesda, the evangelist speaks of the sheep-gate, and of the pool, as both subsisting at the time he wrote. The tradition, indeed, which the ancients have handa ed down to us concerning the motives which induced John to