In this issue a series of papers on the Gospels is starting. For many years past the preoccupation of many of us with "dispensationalism" has tended to lead them to overlook the importance of the Gospels for us all. The time has come to make some redress, not only in the interests of truth, but for our spiritual welfare as well. One-sidedness cannot be either healthy or right. Moreover, a better understanding of God's purpose has shown that we cannot do without the Gospels, as many have tacitly assumed. Fifty years ago, much was made of Acts, particularly the closing verses; yet more recent research has proved that the great frontier for Israel in those times was Matt. 13:14, 15. So even from that point of view the vast importance of the Gospels is now established. The truth is, nobody ought at any time to have disputed this; for if the ministry on earth of the Lord Jesus Christ is not of major importance for us, it is hard to see how the ministry of the Apostle Paul can be, since he based his message on the Gospels. Because Paul does not repeat the words of the Gospels we must not assume that his teaching is inferior to them; neither must we assume that theirs is inferior because they do not contain Paul's distinctive teaching. We need all Scripture, not selected readings to suit our personal whims. Let us not forget that Paul based his Evangel on the fact that "Christ dies for our sins according to the Scriptures." (1. Cor. 15:3).
"It is very probable that
no Gospel is a
This quotation is well worth pondering on as a fine specimen
of irreverent guesswork reinforced by complete absence of
clear thinking. Its author makes a show of candour by asserting that
his idea is "very probable," but it does not need much
penetration for anyone to perceive that for him the probability
is so great as to amount to complete certainty. That the
whole thing calls for evidence, and for evidence so strong as
to constitute proof, is plainly an idea that has never entered
his head. In fact, no such evidence exists.
account of 'what Jesus did' and 'what Jesus said,' but that
each writer selects and arranges material available to him,
and composes his own, to present a Christ who will evoke the
response of faith and obedience into which the evangelist and
his church have begun to enter."
Nor is there any evidence that the authors of the Gospels. selected or arranged any material at all other than material known to them by personal experience to be fact. Neither is there any that the authors composed or invented their own material in default of sufficient material available to them from others. Such an imputation of barefaced dishonesty is an affront to every Christian, and would be so regarded if, collectively, we were anything like what we ought to be; and the suggestion that this offence was committed in order to induce "faith" is altogether abominable. What this person is, in reality, alleging is that "the evangelist and his church" conspired together to fabricate a "Christ" in order to acquire the sort of followers they needed for their purposes. That the apostles and their companions were people who could stoop to such despicable behaviour does not seem to surprise the author of the letter quoted above. That anyone claiming to be a Christian should regard such faking with anything other than horror and loathing is the measure of the decline of the nominal church.
Next, the writer of this letter tells us that this vile
"approach to the Gospels" is
"to some extent taken for granted in the majority of works
No doubt this allegation is true, more shame to them all, but
not his deduction:
used to-day in theological faculties and colleges."
"Therefore the Church has got to face up to the question of
Would it not be better for "the Church" instead "to face up
to" the fact that if this is what its theological
colleges teach, they are denying the Faith and building on a
foundation about as solid as a quicksand.
what is an authoritative appeal to scripture."
Significantly; this writer gives no answer to his question.
Instead, he admits that there is "no ready answer" and
urges us to "go on in finding the answer"; but he
even attempt to explain how he is to manage to "go on"
when he has not even begun to locate the way to find it. In conclusion
"Have we to put our final and definitive trust in the
The whole letter is a pathetic mass of confused thinking.
poor fellow is stuck fast in a quagmire of illusion. If we
possess no certain records, whether in a book or anywhere
else; we do not know and never can know anything for certain about "the
living Lord," or even that he is "living" and not a handful of dust
scattered somewhere in Jerusalem
(if, indeed, he ever died there at all), merely a vague and
pathetic myth. So how can we "put our final and definitive
trust in him" or, for that matter, in "the Holy Spirit"?
living Lord, who lives in his Church by the Holy Spirit,
and not in the words of any book whatever?"
Nevertheless, it is equal folly on our part to pretend to ourselves that no problem exists concerning the composition of the Gospels; for there is an immense problem awaiting solution, and all the more intractable on account of the way it has been mishandled by the men from whom this writer has derived his ideas.
Briefly, these men start with the assumption that Mark's was the first written Gospel (composed anything between twenty-five and fifty years after the Ascension) and that both Matthew and Luke later used it, in different ways, as part of the source-material from which they are alleged to have composed their own Gospels.
Here is must be said at once that no supporting evidence of any sort exists for this assumption. It is simply a guess.
The declared basis of the assumption is the fact that all three Gospels give some accounts of the same events in language that is often nearly the same.
That is a striking fact; but it should not be permitted to strike all reason or common-sense out of our minds. The existence of parallel passages in Matthew, Mark and Luke does not furnish any evidence at all that Mark wrote his account first, or for that matter, that Luke wrote his first or Matthew wrote his first. All that it proves is that all three used material in common, for that is the only reasonable assumption to cover the fact.
Many critics have dimly perceived this truth, so they have put forward the assumption that Mark, being the shortest, is this common material in documentary form reinforced by other material common to Luke and Matthew which they assume once occurred in another written document which they have named "Q" (from the German quelle, source), long since vanished. Once again, we should observe that these two assumptions are guesses and no more, and that not a scrap of direct evidence exists for either.
Nevertheless, if for a moment we assume their truth, two conclusions emerge at once; each used only a part of Mark and, according to the critics, probably only part of the other source Q also, and both added a great deal of other material. It is difficult to conceive any good reason for such selective treatment of the two supposed sources; and, in fact, these two conclusions add enormously to the unlikelihood of the critical theory. It is fair to say that every such complication involved in any theory adds considerably to the logical difficulty of accepting that theory.
Let us, for the sake of argument, suppose instead that the three Gospels in question (Matthew, Mark and Luke) are eye-witness accounts. To what reasonable conclusions would such a supposition lead?
First, that the accounts would agree in many matters. Second, that unless there were deliberate comparisons by their writers of the drafts of each of the three, their accounts would seldom agree exactly, but each would embody points that specially struck their authors or accorded best with the particular aim each had in mind when preparing his account.
Third, that only here and there would any two of the three, and even less often would all three, choose to record the same event.
Fourth, that each writer would be particularly interested in certain matters concerning which the others would be so much less interested that, to save space, they would omit them altogether.
These four conclusions correspond exactly with the facts. revealed by comparison of the Gospels with one another; and they involve none of the difficulties entailed in the critical theory. If we accept them, we need not search for sources such as the hypothetical Q, proto-Matthew and proto-Luke. On that ground alone, the probability that the Gospels are independent accounts by eye-witnesses is very high. And this probability is reinforced by other considerations.
To begin with, we are faced with the question why these sources disappeared, assuming that they ever existed? Also, why did the authors of Matthew and Luke trouble to compile accounts of their own from such sources at all, instead of leaving these supposed sources to bear their own testimony? And why did they merely paraphrase Mark instead of generally quoting him verbatim?
The last of these raises more complicated issues than are apparent on the surface, owing to another phenomenon that occurs with all four Gospels. This is the existence of what are alleged to be conflicting accounts of what, at first glance and always to the Critics, appear to be of the same event. For any scientific examination of the problems of the Gospels, it is absolutely essential to distinguish between such accounts and those which are indubitably parallel accounts of the same event.
In due course we will have to examine some at least of the definitely parallel accounts, and this examination is of funda mental importance; because in reality this is the crucial issue as regards the reliability of the accounts in the Gospels. For if it could be shown beyond dispute that two accounts of unquestionably the same event contradict one another irreconcilably, then gone, once and for all, is the reliability of the two Gospels in which the accounts are found. As James points out, translated literally: "For anyone the whole Law should be keeping, yet should be tripping in one thing, he has become for all things liable" (James 2:10). The same principle applies to the Gospels: if they can be shown beyond any doubt to have tripped even in only one particular; by their very nature they must become suspect throughout; for those who relate such happenings as they do simply cannot afford to make mistakes. When one looks at the matter in the cold light of reason, it is obvious that a proved error in any Gospel makes reliance on it impossible; for in matters so far from ordinary experience, who in his senses would put his trust on a document that has been proved to be unreliable? It is not as ir we possessed any means of separating the wheat from the chaff, if there be any chaff, for we definitely have none.
Presently, also, we shall have to consider also the various similar, but often incompatible, accounts of events that are not, in fact, the same event. Here such incompatibility actually supports the veracity of the witness of the Gospels. For suppose two Gospels had accounts of, say, a miracle in almost the same words, but one placed it near the start of the Lord's ministry and the other near the close: which is the easier to believe? That an obvious chronological blunder had been made and permitted to pass unnoticed at the time? Or that two similar miracles had occurred? Here the three accounts of the cleansing of the Temple, in Matt. 21:12, 13, in Mark 11:15-17 and its parallel Luke 19:45-47 and in John 2:14-17 come to the mind. The events are somewhat similar in themselves, and all three are remarkable, to say the least, but their chronological settings are entirely different. That, however, has not prevented some of the Critics from asserting the differences are due to faulty recollection of some event; in spite of the fact that these incompatible accounts are not related in approximately the same words. It is easy to imagine how joyful the hostile critics would have been if the accounts had been practically identical, apart from their chronological settings! However, examination of similar passages in distinct chronological contexts invariably discloses differences in detail that indicate plainly that they cannot be records of the same event. These differences, which would be discrepancies if only one event were being recorded, form an important and fruitful field for investigation.
This particular instance is, so far as the accounts in the first three Gospels are concerned, involved in the problem of the chronology of the days immediately preceding the Crucifixion, and must therefore be examined as part of that problem. For our immediate purpose the important point is that John's account of a cleansing of the Temple cannot possibly be identified with those in the others.
A simpler, though less striking, instance of different accounts being confused by the destructive critics is found where the healing of the blind men is related in Matt. 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43.
The third of these is first in order of time, as it occurred while the Lord Jesus was nearing Jericho on His way ascending into Jerusalem (Luke 18:36 and 31 respectively). Mark's account comes next, relating how at His going out from Jericho, "Bar-Timeus, blind and a beggar, sat beside the road" (Mark 10:46). Lastly, apparently almost immediately afterwards, two blind men cry for help (Matt. 20:30). This is fairly certainly the last of the three miracles, for the "considerable throng" of Mark's account had swollen to a numerous or vast one. Also, Mark says that many rebuked the single beggar; but Matthew says that the throng rebukes the two men, who, incidentally, are not called beggars.
Furthermore, a whole night passes between the healing of the first blind man and the healing of the other three, during which the Lord Jesus was in the house of Zaccheus (Luke 19:1-27). This makes easier to understand the curious wording of Mark 10:46, with its abrupt transition from the entering to the leaving. It is plain what happened. The tidings of the first cure of a blind man preceded.the Lord into Jericho, hence the haste of Zaccheus. Next morning, at His going out,. Bar-Timeus, who had already learnt what had happened, was waiting till the "considerable throng" arrived; then the throng grows, till it becomes vast by the time the two blind men are reached.
Placed in order in this manner, the complete account becomes entirely natural and credible. Even in modern times there is no shortage of blind men, though in civilized regions they do not have to sit in the streets and beg. In those days, blindness was much commoner, and still is in some lands. What more natural, then, that the report of the healing of the first blind man should spread around and tempt three others to hope themselves for healing next morning?
The accounts of the three miracles are analysed carefully in the Companion Bible, Appendix 152, which leaves little to be said beyond that, given the first healing, there is nothing at all remarkable about the occasion for the other two. In fact it would have been remarkable in the circumstances if, after a night spent by the Lord Jesus in the town, no other blind men had presented themselves. If Luke alone had mentioned the visit, the absence of any other blind men from his account might well have been adduced by the Critics against its authenticity. Lest anyone might think that the idea of so carping a criticism is absurd, one need only quote Alford's comment about Mark 10:48 and Matt. 20:30, where he writes about "the absurd improbabilities involved in two men, under the same circumstances, addressing our Lord in the same words at so very short an interval." For, in fact, they do not use the same words. Even in Mark 10:48 and Luke 18:38 the from of words is not exactly the same; for the former has "Son of David be merciful to me" and the latter "Jesus, Son of David, be merciful to me"; and, anyhow, a whole night separates the two.
This sort of thing makes one wonder whether the authors of the Gospels would not have been wrong in the eyes of the Critics whatever they did. Apparently, in sceptical eyes, because the three narratives are different, two at least of the three writers must have been at best careless and inaccurate at worst liars. If all three had set out complete the full account of the four men, no doubt two of them must needs have copied from the third! If Matthew's and Luke's stories had been in almost the same words as Mark's, that would have "proved" that they had taken their account from him—and so on! Alford speaks contemptuously about "harmonists"; and here he is right; for the worst offence of all is to try to twist the accounts to mean, somehow, the same thing. Let us be scientific, and that means reasonable; and accept these as distinct accounts of three different healings.
Here, then, are lines of scientific study of the Gospels: first, of the parallel accounts of the same event; second, of the similar accounts of different events. In addition these further lines of study call for investigation: third, of parallel accounts of the same event that occur in three of the Gospels; fourth, of parallel accounts that occur in all four. Then there are passages peculiar to each Gospel. Actually, some of these areas overlap. For instance, the trial of the Lord Jesus is recorded in all four Gospels; each is a connected account, yet a good deal in each Gospel is peculiar to it, so its study comes both under the fourth heading and also the passages peculiar to each.
So far as I can discover, apart from the extremely valuable researches of Sewell, Jukes, Bullinger and more recently A. G. Secrett (A Combined Analysis of The Four Gospels. London: Chas. J. Thynne & Jarvis, Ltd., 1927), this investigation has been wholly neglected. Yet my reading of these writers together with my own studies from time to time has convinced me that if it were thoroughly carried out it would furnish an overwhelming answer to the sceptical critics. The heresies of these men now hold the field practically unchallenged, and this in spite of the intellectual feebleness and empty triviality of nearly everything nowadays written on the subject. A case in point is, again, the opinion, almost universally held, that Mark's Gospel was written before Matthew's.
Here is an alleged proof taken from a standard work of
reference on the subject (The Documents of the New Testament by G. W.
"The Gospel which stands second in the current arrangement
One can only marvel how a man can become a Doctor of
Divinity with so insignificant an understanding of Logic and
so complete an absence of ordinary common sense. No wonder
the inference is reached quickly, for it bears no mark of
intelligence at all. How does the comparison prove that Mark
was written first? How do we know from it that Matthew
was not written first and that Mark did not make use of
Matthew? Or, similarly, that Luke was not first? How, in
fact, do we know from the comparison that each Gospel was
not written independently by actual eye-witnesses? That
would explain the facts, and cover them much more adequately
than the far-fetched idea that one writer copied from another
and, what is more, did so very inaccurately. Perhaps the
brilliant intellect of this mighty Doctor could perceive at a
glance the answers to these problems. What a shame it is that
he did not condescend to disclose them to the lesser people
who read his book.
of the New Testament writings is really the earliest in chrono-
logical order. This becomes apparent when it is compared with
the First and Third of the Synoptic Gospels, for the inference is
quickly reached that the writers of these have made much use
of it, sometimes reproducing passages from it very closely
( though seldom word for word), at other times freely, with
compression or modification."
Frivolous superficially such as is to be found in this pronouncement is. one of the main reasons why Christianity is on the decline everywhere. How can intelligent people be expected to accept such absurd inferences as this? Naturally they assume that men who are esteemed as so learned must be accepted as the best possible exponents of their subject: so the inference is quickly reached that the subject itself must be absurd. And so it is—when these destroyers have finished with it! The tragedy is that in these days the truth cannot get a general hearing.
The difficulty with the first two solutions is that they involve the consequence that two at least of the three Gospels covered by them are not honest, straightforward history at all, but compilations cleverly made to look like it. Such a conclusion is seriously derogatory to the moral worth of the two men who, supposedly, perpetrated the compilations. Much of the efforts of the critics has been devoted to sorting out their alleged sources of Matthew and Luke; and an immense amount of argument, and the literature such argument generates, has resulted from their researches. The trouble is that even if the first solution, above, were the truth, there would still be no objective standard whereby these sources could be isolated. The whole business is a mass of subjective guessing masquerading as scientific analysis. A quaint and amusing sample of what is regarded as an "assured result" of the efforts of these modern. critics is the splitting up of Matt. 12:46—14:12 between these three supposed sources used by "Matthew." The abbreviations used beside each section are "Mk" for Mark's Gospel; "Q" for a supposed source from which Matthew and Luke drew; and" M," the supposed original Source used by "Matthew" exclusively. This all works out thus: 12:46—13:13 (Mk), 13:14, 15 (M), 13:16, 17 (Q), 13:18-23 (Mk), 13:24-30 (M), 13:31, 32 (Mk), 13:33 (Q), 13:34 (Mk), 13:35-52 (M), 13:53—14:4 (Mk), 14:5 (M), 14:6-12- (Mk), 14:-12 (M). Could fantasy go further?
Any theory that works out into such a ridiculous patch work must by any reasonable person be treated with deep scepticism, and received, if at all, only when other solutions have been proved to be even more irrational. In Matthew 13 alone there are no less than ten distinct patches, according to the theory; yet if the chapter be perused with the mind free from prejudice it certainly reads as one entity. The eight parables in it form a complete and connected set, they follow a logical pattern into which each dovetails perfectly, there are no loose ends anywhere. It forms one of the key chapters of the whole Greek Scriptures, being not only the climax of Matthew's Gospel but of the history covered by the Gospels; because from the moment the recorded history reached the climax rounded off by Matt. 13:14, 15, the majestic and tragic sequence of events that followed became manifestly inevitable.
And yet we are expected to believe that Matthew 13 was a deliberate fake of ten pieces from three different sources; that poor "Matthew"—I refuse to name him in this context without inverted commas, for the application to one of God's Apostles of such folly is, in plain speech, downright blasphemy—sorted out his three "sources" like bits of a jigsaw puzzle, and from them managed to produce one of the most wonderful passages of all Scriptures, albeit a dishonest imposition made all the worse by being put into the mouth of his Lord.
According to the theory of the critics, Luke's Gospel is another such faked document. Here is a sample from Luke 17:22-37, the symbol "L" standing for the supposed special source Luke used: v.22 (L), v. 23 (Mk), v. 24 (Q), v. 25 (L), vv. 26, 27 (Q), vv. 28-30 (L), v. 31 (Mk), v. 32 (L), v. 33 (Q), V. 34 (L), vv. 35, 36 (Q), v. 37 (first half L, second half Q). This means thirteen patches in sixteen verses, an almost incredible phenomenon!
So I was mistaken in my question about Matthew 13, after all, for surely it is here, in this treatment of Luke, that fantasy has reached the limit of absurdity. What must restrain any feeling of merriment over the whole ridiculous business is the circumstance that in all this we are dealing with God's Holy Word. If the subject were, say, an analysis of one of Shakespeare's sonnets, we could rightly laugh and turn away; but when applied to the Gospels such fantasy becomes blasphemy and no longer a suitable subject for laughter, but for deep sorrow. The true Christian, then, has no option but to reject without qualification such treatment of God's Holy Word. It would be far better to abandon the Word altogether as a faded dream than to accept it, when such a poor maimed thing as the destructive critics have left it—that is to say, if we eventually find untenable the view that each Gospel is a separate record written by someone with personal experience of the events it records. So we are left with no choice but to examine all the available evidence and find out how we stand.
There still remains the inescapable fact that all three Gospels contain matter in common set out in similar words. In fact, most of the matter any two or all three, Matthew, Mark and Luke, have in common exhibits this phenomenon. The critics insist that this proves that the matter in common must come from a common source. They insist, too, that this must be a written source. They are undoubtedly right as regards the former contention; but the latter depends on the correctness of their assumption that none of the Gospels were written till at the very least thirty years after Pentecost, and no evidence of any sort has ever been produced to support this assumption. Strangely enough, one argument for this view is the contention that in those days, when few could read and any sort of writing was extremely scarce, people's verbal memories were far keener than in our times, and there was no need for written Gospels, as evangelists and others could recite from memory what we would have to read from books. In some measure that may well have been the case; but if so, it proves too much for the critics, because if the memories of the authors were so good as all that, they could well have remembered the words uttered by the Lord Jesus, as well as the events they witnessed, without having to bother about written sources, even after a considerable lapse of time, particularly as they may have related them again and again.
All, no doubt, are agreed that the material the Gospels record in common must have had a common source; and the Christian believes that this common source was, to a large extent, the mouth and the actions of the Lord Jesus Himself. And why not? Moreover, if that were the common source, one would expect the accounts to have some passages in common and in almost, if not quite, the same words. When one looks at the problem without bias or the sort of prejudice that is so characteristic of the critics, the surprising thing is not that there is a number of common passages, but that there is not a great deal more than we do actually find. It is that which calls for explanation, and I cannot find that any of the destructive critics have ever examined it. Research of this sort has been left to the despised folk who really believe that Scripture is the Word of God; and so little has been thought of it that the results of their researches are unknown except among a few of the scholars who are contemptuously dubbed "Fundamentalists."
Another aspect of the problem calls for research which, except for Andrew Jukes' book "The Characteristic Differences of the Four Gospels," has never been attempted, namely, some endeavour to answer the question why each writer of a Gospel chose the matter he actually used. With this arises the further, and possibly even more important, question why each left out material the others used and, where the accounts dovetail as with the four blind men of Jericho and the trial of the Lord Jesus, why each writer chose the particular events he did feature and not those chosen by the others. Even at a cursory glance, it is evident that this research is exceedingly difficult, and perhaps insuperable except as far as Jukes took it; but we cannot be certain that this impression is the truth until we have made the attempt, a task that has hardly yet been examined and certainly not tackled. Knowledge breeds knowledge; and what seems impossible to the ignorant often turns out to be possible and even easy in the light of fuller understanding.
The trouble throughout is that the real problems of the Gospels have never been noticed, and so never investigated, because so few have approached them with the assumption that their authors were honest and capable men who were setting out what they knew to be records of actual experience. The sceptical critics, however moderate some may profess to be, have always in practise rejected this assumption. The defenders of Scripture have, all too often, attributed to the Gospel writers a sort of "inspiration" which is not only unrealistic but unnecessary: an idea that the Holy Spirit dictated the Gospels to their writers. That sort of thing tends only to discredit Scripture; for all these writers had to do was to put down on parchment rolls an account of events known to them and remembered by them with the aid of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). The limit to the practicable size of a roll fixed the maximum length of the accounts; so each writer had to make a selection from the mass of material recollected by him. Here is where the Holy Spirit would act: in controlling the material selected. It is in this that "inspiration" subsists. So we have to distinguish between the study of the total material contained in the four Gospels and the study of the distinctive material of each. The inspiration of the former resides in the fact that it is the record of what the Lord Jesus said and did and of the circum stances connected therewith. The inspiration of the latter resides partly in the limitation of what is said by each and partly in what is not said by him.
If this distinction had been understood from the start, an immense amount of rubbish might never have been written, and much might have been accomplished towards the solution of the problems raised by the Gospels.
According to the critics' view, for many years after the Ascension of the Lord Jesus nobody was greatly interested in what. He had done or said. All the disciples, the apostles and the great numbers who believed at and after Pentecost were (in this view) quite happy to drift on, making do with random recollections of His ministry, until these had become so extremely random that they became the weird patchwork which is what the critics have decided is the true character of Luke 17:22-37 (see above). Many of us have long realized that the visible church fell into decay and near chaos after the close of the Apostle Paul's ministry; but it is incredible that this collapse occurred before Luke could write his Gospel and, by the time he did, had gone so far that the best he could accomplish was the mess the critics have decided was the' sort of thing he managed to devise.
Let us bear in mind that Luke himself did not own up to being such a futile bungler. On the contrary, he prefaces his. Gospel thus:
Suppose that instead of following these foolish dreams of the critics we pause to consider what we would have done if we had been among those who witnessed the wonders of Pentecost.
Surely the very first thing any normal person would do would be to record something of the marvellous events that had been witnessed, either by committing details to memory or by writing them down. And this is precisely what Luke tells us that many did and what he felt led to do himself. It is not at all surprising that four such accounts have survived for us; what, humanly speaking, is indeed surprising is that there were not, more. Perhaps it is not too much to say that there would have been, had God through His apostles not seen to it that only those accounts survived which were in accord with His plan and that superfluous accounts were allowed to subside into oblivion. This at least can be affirmed confidently: that the four accounts we have are pre-eminently suitable for their plain purpose and that it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine how a fifth or sixth could add anything worth while to them. That there, are some matters about which we might like to know more is well known, that such knowledge would have any spiritual value beyond what we have already is doubtful in the extreme. Take the introductory section of each of the four Gospels,for instance, and try to think out how to introduce a fifth in some way not only individual but also capable of bearing comparison with them. No more difficult task could be imagined. Not only so, but the problem of how to introduce fresh matter afterwards would be well nigh insuperable, as perusal of the many attempts in the early centuries to write fresh Gospels will show. In spite of John 21:25, we must believe that what we have in the Gospels is the sum total of what we need to have, and that any further accounts would serve only to draw our attention away from essentials. There is in the Gospels plenty of material for a lifetime of study, and more. When we have mastered what we have been given, there will be some excuse for fretting for what has not been related.
"But," it might be asked, "what about the many questions raised by the Gospels which the accounts they embody fail to answer?" For instance, there is the in junction by the Lord Jesus early in His ministry, in Matt. 6:33: "Seek ye first God's kingdom and its righteousness." No hint is given anywhere in the Gospels how this search is to be accomplished. For such a hint we have to turn to Acts 13:39; for the complete answer, to Paul's Epistles. And in them we have it in full, set out in Romans and Galatians with such completeness that no further question can arise.
But why was not all this embodied in a fifth Gospel, written perhaps by the Apostle Peter, who refers to righteousness in his epistles six times? Part of the answer is to be found in 2. Peter 3:15, 16 where the Apostle Peter refers his readers for doctrine on one subject, and by implication on all other relevant subjects, to "our beloved brother Paul." These subjects were the Apostle Paul's special sphere, and no other man cared or dared to venture into it. Nor did the Lord Jesus Himself make this venture: not indeed because He did not care to or dare to, but for the reason He gives explicitly in John 16:12, 13: "much still have I to be saying to you, but ye are not able to bear it at present. Yet when ever that may be coming—the Spirit of the truth—It will be guiding you,.into all the truth," The barrier was not on His side, but on theirs. Until they were ready for such doctrine, it had to be withheld from them. And so a fifth or even a sixth gospel could have added, to the four nothing of any material significance. And for some evidence of the truth of this, we need only turn to the attempts made later on, somewhere about or after the end of the First Century, to provide such supplementary Gospels. They are pathetically childish and foolish and often irreverent and heretical as well.
Human perversity can go to great lengths. One remark able example is the way Dr. Wade (see Chapter 1) has managed to turn the first of the two questions just answered to stand on its head, so to speak. He says:
Faith and knowledge advance step by step together. An advance in knowledge of God's Word is not only its own reward, it brings the further reward of greater faith; and in turn this greater faith enables us to move forward to greater knowledge. Conversely, a false step, a turning aside from the way of knowledge and understanding, involves a corresponding diminution in faith. Such a false step was the severance of the Gospels so radically from Paul's Epistles that the former, came to be regarded as obsolete for us. Dr. Bullinger has, rather unfairly, been blamed to a large extent for this; but actually, until near the close of his ministry, when he had fallen under the spell of J. J. B. Coles, he never wavered in recognition of the importance of the Gospels. The section of his "Companion Bible" covering them is in many respects his most important work; and here I would like to put on record my dependence on it and deep respect for the very fine work he did. In many matters no praise can be too high for his replies to the destructive ideas of the critics.
Although the Gospels certainly were not produced to answer questions raised by the Epistles, they supply necessary answers to many general questions raised by investigation of the Scriptures, all questions concerning Israel. That these answers concern and are of importance to us followers simply from the fact, enunciated by the Apostle Paul, that as Gentiles we owed our all to Israel's casting away. It is on this account that we simply cannot do without the knowledge of Israel's affairs disclosed in the Gospels.
Another "Father," Eusebius, also writes to the Same effect as the second part of the quotation of a tradition from Papias, and speaks of Mark as "interpreter of Peter" (though why Peter should have needed one is not stated) and also implies that he wrote from recollection of what Peter said.
Both these, and also other ancient writers, assume that a "Gospel" was a narrative embodying the discourses of the Lord Jesus; but what we call "the Gospels" contain much more than that, anyhow; and what the Apostle Paul calls "evangel" does not quote anything from them. So it is evident that in this, as in all other matters, these early " Fathers" were in a state of great mental confusion. Origen, also as quoted by Eusebius, to some extent contradicts Papias by saying that Mark put his Gospel into execution as Peter directed him, thus insisting that Peter not only commanded the work but supervised its execution. This last seems quite a reasonable idea and is not inconsistent with the Gospel having been written at a very early date.
The generally accepted rendering of the remark by Irenaeus is that "Matthew wrote a Gospel," but what he actually stated was that Matthew produced a Scripture. Thus, in his view, Matthew's Gospel was Scripture.
The Gospels themselves use this word of the Hebrew Scriptures alone, for those were the only Scriptures in existence while the Lord Jesus was on earth. Yet Irenaeus described Matthew's Gospel as itself "Scripture"; so it becomes important to discover if his view is itself scriptural.
The first occurrence of graphE, scripture in Acts is in Acts 1:16. This and the next two (8:32, 35) plainly from their context refer to the Hebrew Scriptures. But when we come to Acts 17:2 we find the position somewhat different, for here Paul's action falls into two carefully distinguished parts: "opening up and placing before them" (1) "that the Christ must suffer and arise from among dead ones, and" (2) "that this is the Christ—the Jesus Whom I am announcing to you." Now the first of these two parts, beyond any doubt, belongs to the Hebrew Scriptures. But equally beyond any doubt, the second is the theme of the four Gospels and of them alone. And, in fact, this same truth is deliberately asserted by the Apostle John towards the close of his Gospel: "Yet these are written that you should be believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that, believing, you may have life eonian in His name." So here we have a statement that is deliberately divided into two parts, and, in view of this rather emphatic division, makes sense only if the first part refers to the Hebrew Scriptures and the second to some written Gospel or Gospels.
This (to me) wholly unexpected conclusion is fully confirmed, if confirmation were necessary, by the next occurrence of graphE in the plural, in Acts 17:11: "Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, who receive the Word with all eagerness, daily examining the Scriptures, whether these things be so." No doubt, between us we have read those words hundreds of times, gratuitously assuming that the Hebrew Scriptures were meant, but never asking ourselves where they searched. Yet, when one comes to reflect, it is obvious that they could not possibly verify the matters under (2), above, from the Hebrew Scriptures. The only possible source of verification would be written Gospels, and only those now in existence can be recognized as Scripture.
So we reach the position that by the time the events narrated in Acts 17 took place, a synagogue of the Jews, outside the Land of Israel itself, possessed (or at least were shown) Greek Scriptures to which the Apostle Paul could appeal to prove that the Jesus he was announcing was the Christ, and which the Jews themselves could search. This implies that the Gospels had at that early date not only been written and accepted as Scripture by Christian believers but been sufficiently widely distributed and accredited for the Apostle Paul to be able to use them as authoritative history in his efforts to convince Jews of Thessalonica and Berea of the truths he was opening out to them.
Nevertheless, it is plain from Acts 18:24-26 that such facilities were still only sporadic, and that the Gospels were not yet available to all Jews, even to such a man as Apollos at first. Yet, thanks to Priscilla and Aquila (v. 26), he soon was able, in Achaia, to carry on an active ministry; "for he strenuously and thoroughly confuted the Jews, publicly exhibiting, through the Scriptures, that Jesus is the Christ." (v. 28).
He publicly exhibited that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures; and he exhibited it through the Scriptures. If he had meant what hitherto most, if not all, of us have supposed he meant, that Jesus corresponded so well with the Messiah foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures that He must actually have been the Messiah, Luke could not honestly have worded his statement in that way. He would have had to write something like this: "publicly exhibiting, by the personal testimony of those who had seen and heard Him, that Jesus is the Christ." So Apollos must have had some Scriptures which proved that the actual person he was speaking of was not just some Jewish fanatic but the Lord Jesus, the Christ. There was nothing else in existence he could expound to prove that thesis!
When the foregoing suddenly dawned On me, I was utterly taken aback by its total unexpectedness; but after thinking about it, what is now most surprising about it all is that it does not appear to have occurred to any of us before; even though some of the more enlightened students of God's Word had grasped the vitally important point that in Rom. 16:25-27 "prophetic Scriptures" refers to Paul's own writings—and this in spite of the fact that the two other occurrences of the plural, Scriptures, in Romans (1:2 and 15:4) as well as the four in the singular, all refer to the Hebrew Scriptures. For this discovery they deserve great credit. Yet such is our blindness that I and others received this discovery, yet never, apparently, thought to carry it beyond Rom. 16:26. It suited the aspect of "Dispensational Truth" which was then being expounded, so it was hailed as an important advance; but apart from that it did not appear to be regarded as of sufficient importance to be worth pursuing further. It is highly revealing that where the annotator of the C.V. does comment on the foregoing passages, and on 1. Cor. 15:3, 4 which we will examine next, he completely misses their significance. However, no one of us has any right to blame him for this, for have we not ourselves missed it too? My recent researches in James' Epistle and now in this matter, have brought home to me some idea of the extent of my own blindness. That others have been. blind also furnishes no excuse. Here I would draw special attention. to the words of the Lord Jesus to Nicodemus (John 3:10-21), which near their close read thus: "Now he who is doing the truth is coming toward the light." By "doing the truth"—seeking it, searching for it, living in. the service of it, and by no other means whatsoever—can we come toward the light. Thus we may rest assured that as we persist in putting truth first and foremost in our thoughts we shall draw even nearer to the light. There is no other way.
Yet even Dr. Bullinger managed to miss the point. In his very fine book, "The Church Epistles," he refers (p. 209) to the Apostle Paul's original approach to the Thessalonians (1. Thess. 1:5, 9; 2:1), asking "what there was so peculiar or remarkable" in it, and giving the correct answer in Acts 17:2. He points out admirably the vast gulf between this and modern "missionary" methods, and then he even goes on to refer to the first half of v. 3 at considerable length—and there he stops.
I have an impression, but I cannot confirm it or even trace its origin, that he, or some other expositor with similar leanings, refers to Acts 17:3 as covered completely by the Hebrew Scriptures; the argument being something like this: "All this verse is a matter of Hebrew Prophecy. Again and again the words of the Prophets were fulfilled in the life, the actions, the sufferings, the death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. So all that the Thessalonians, and later, the Bereans, had to do was carry out a patient and thorough examination of the Hebrew Scriptures to verify that the Lord Jesus did, in fact, fulfil the words of the Prophets."
Most convincing at first glance! But it collapses at once when we look again at Acts 17:3. There is nothing in the least remarkable about making forecasts of the future: anyone can try it and many do. Only when the forecasts are consistently fulfilled is there any room for wonder. That the Prophets delivered certain forecasts about Messiah proves nothing of itself. Only if records exist that can be rigorously examined as well may a set of forecasts by the Prophets be shown to be prophecies that have in the Lord Jesus been truly and accurately fulfilled. The Thessalonians could, perhaps, have taken Paul's word for it that the Jesus he was announcing to them was the Christ—but neither Acts 17:2, 3 nor 17:11 says either that he requested this or that they or the Bereans did anything of the sort. In the former "he argues with them from the Scriptures." In the latter the Bereans are found examining the Scriptures daily, if these things be so, the Thessalonians and the Bereans were neither requested to accept Paul's bare word, or anyone else's, nor did they make any such attempt. Paul opened up the Scriptures to the former. The latter, "more noble," examined the Scriptures for themselves. To see if these things had been prophesied? No! Simply, "if these things BE SO."
Such verification would have been impossible had Paul no confirmatory Scriptures to open to the Thessalonians, or for the Bereans to examine.
Yes; and it was a verification from the Scriptures, not from the sort of records Luke had in mind when he penned Luke 1:1. The Thessalonians and the Bereans were not being expected to accept as authoritative the memoirs of unauthorized biographers. By the time Paul had reached Thessalonica, certain Gospels were already recognized as Scripture, which recognition no one has yet dared to deny.
The records Luke referred to were plainly not recognized as Scripture, else they would have been approved by the apostles and would have been handed down to us. No doubt, from the tone of Luke's remarks, they were either inaccurate, incorrectly arranged in sequence, or unbalanced, for any of these defects would have ruled them out as Scripture. And when we come to look at the four that were approved, we must admit that it would have been very difficult to write another Gospel that had any chance of competing with the four for recognition.
For our present purpose the next two occurrences of graphE are the vitally important ones from Paul's Epistles. These are in 1. Cor. 15:3, 4: "For I give over to you first what I accepted also: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was entombed, and that He was roused the third day according to the Scriptures." Now, note particularly, what is twice said with such special emphasis to be "according to the Scriptures" is not some prophecy that He would die, or some prophecy that He would be roused. If the Apostle Paul had been able to write here about such a thing as that, we would have perceived clearly that he was referring to the Hebrew Scriptures. But what he declares in this statement is found in the Greek Scriptures, and nowhere else.
Consequently, we again find the Gospels as a whole written of as something actually in existence and already accepted as part of the Scriptures—and this in 1. Corinthians, one of the earliest of the epistles, though not earlier than the history narrated in Acts 17.
Gal. 3:8 clearly refers to the Hebrew Scriptures, but Gal. 3:22 looks back to Romans 1-3 and historically to the accounts of the Crucifixion in the four Gospels. Gal. 4:30 refers back to the Hebrew Scriptures. The matter is clinched finally by 1. Tim. 5:18; for in it are two quotations prefaced by: "for the Scripture is saying." The former is from Deut. 25:4, the latter from the word of the Lord Jesus in Luke 10:7. For Paul, both are equally" Scripture" and both stood already on an equal footing of authority.
A cavil might possibly arise from 2. Tim. 3:15: "From a babe with the Sacred Scriptures thou art acquainted, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through the faith (which is) in Christ Jesus." If the critics are correct, the Gospels, except perhaps Mark, had only recently been written (if yet written at all) when Paul wrote this to Timothy. So much the worse for the critics! This epistle reads as if it embodied the closing words of Paul's ministry, so it might easily have been written A.D. 65-70. So if the Gospels had already been written and accepted as Scripture when the events narrated in Acts 17 took place, it was perfectly possible for Timothy to have been taught from them as a babe. The first record of him is in Acts 16:1, and the passage reads as if he might well have been only a boy at that time, which may have been somewhere about A.D. 54. Thus it is possible that the Gospels, or the first two at any rate, had by then been in existence for over twenty years; so Timothy could have been taught from them anything from ten to twenty years before Acts 16:1. Thus, 2. Tim. 3:15 adds its testimony to the other passages we have adduced that the Gospels were written and accepted as Scripture at a very early date. The next verse adds its testimony, for it was not true when written unless such Scriptures as vv. 16, 17 envisage were in existence.
Two of the three occurrences in James' Epistle refer to the Hebrew Scriptures. The third, James 4:5, is something of a mystery, but apparently it has no bearing on our present discussion. The occurrence in 1. Peter 2:6 refers to the Hebrew Scriptures, and 2. Peter 1:20 refers to all Scripture. Lastly 2. Peter 3:16 is of value for our present purpose, in that by it Peter himself testifies that Paul's Epistles are part of Scripture.
Where has all this led us? First, there is the fact that Scripture knows nothing of any written euaggelion, so that to call any writing a "gospel" is, strictly, unscriptural. The trouble is that custom has so firmly attached the word to the four accounts of the ministry of the Lord Jesus that it is now impossible to dislodge it. So, as matters stand, we had best call them Gospels and give the word evangel to the Greek word euaggelion. When any aspect of the evangel is written, it becomes Scripture.
Second, by the time of the Apostle Paul's visits to Thessalonica and Berea, accounts of the ministry of the Lord Jesus had become Scripture. This implies that they had been written down and recognized as authoritative, and this in turn implies that Matthew's and Mark's accounts, at any rate, were available in that form. And if, as some have thought, it was Luke and his Gospel that was Paul's primary source of information concerning the Lord's ministry, that Gospel must also have been available. Here we are, frankly, in the realm of conjecture at present; nevertheless why should not these things be so? As two at least of the Gospels were written very Soon after Pentecost (if not, as I have elsewhere suggested, during the days of waiting before Pentecost), it is difficult to think of any reason why the others should not have been. Luke in his preface assures us that when he began to write it, many others had thought it incumbent on them to compose their own narratives of the events they had witnessed. And why not? No more natural and reasonable desire can be imagined. The circumstance that only four survived simply means that only those four were judged by the apostles to rank as Scripture. As Luke is the only one to refer to these attempts, we may quite reasonably suppose that the apostles commissioned him to go through these accounts and other sources, including his own experiences, and prepare the narrative we now have in his Gospel. This, too, would serve to silence any who might claim to prefer some of the unauthorized Gospels. He would naturally have known with his wide outlook, better than anyone else, how to prepare the narrative displaying the Lord Jesus, not so much as Messiah, like Matthew, or the Servant of God, like Mark, but the Man, Christ Jesus.
John's Gospel is very different from the others; but there is no cogent reason why it should have been written much later than them.
This brings us to the third conclusion. The Apostle Peter endorsed the Apostle Paul's writings as Scripture; the Apostle Paul emphatically endorsed the Gospels as Scripture. As we have seen, Luke's account of "Acts of Apostles" endorsed them too, as also did Apollos after he had been instructed by Priscilla and Aquila. At one stroke this disposes of the teaching, carefully put out by "Catholic" propagandists, that it was "the Church"—Councils, popes and learned doctors—who determined and finally fixed the Canon of Scripture. It was nothing of the sort! The whole Canon was, plainly, determined by the Apostles and those like Luke and Mark who worked for and with them, that is to say, by those specially commissioned by God at Pentecost and in the further calling by God of Barnabas, Paul and others to be apostles thereafter. These were all Jews by descent, as is only befitting in the face of the fact laid down in Rom. 3:1, 2. It was to such men, and to them alone, that the oracles of God were entrusted. Determining the Canon of Scripture was an apostolic function carried out by the Apostles or under their immediate orders. We read also of Paul's function to complete the Word of God, a thing which he could not possibly have done if, at the time of his death, two or more of the Gospels: had yet to be written. No. The changes initiated at Pentecost brooked no unnecessary delay, and God's servants saw to it that there would be none.
So this brings us to a fourth conclusion: the Greek Scriptures are now seen to be more definitely a unit than we ever supposed before. Instead of dragging on over two or more generations, the launching of the Greek Scriptures was immediate. The Gospels, narrating an accomplished fact, appeared very early indeed; the epistles as soon as the ground was prepared for them. All Paul's churches had! the Gospels in their possession, or available for their use as soon as Paul began to evangelize them; so the myth that Paul preached Christ to people who had no means of knowing about Him, and so preached Christ that only the bare facts of His death, entombment and resurrection were necessary, vanishes, as it deserves to vanish. If it were undesirable for the Thessalonians and the Colossians to have copies of the Gospels, it must be just as undesirable for us. The Gospels can do no harm at all provided they are not misused by attempts to substitute them for the Epistles, as Christendom too often does.
Thus we reach by a fresh route the conclusion already reached after examination of dispensational theories: that the Greek Scriptures are one unit; and though parts are addressed exclusively to us, the whole is intended for our learning and none of it is to be written off as unimportant or irrelevant.
Once all this is understood and its implications appreciated, our approach to the study of the Gospels is transformed. Instead of having to deal with four haphazard compositions, put together with scissors and paste as it Were, many years after the events they were supposed to cover had taken place; we are confronted with four eyewitness accounts, written hard on the heels of the events they record and, what is much more, tested and accepted by the Apostles and their entourage, not only as sound accounts of those events, but as Scripture. Paul himself accepted them as Scripture; and so did the Thessalonians, the Bereans and the Jews of Achaia, at any rate in the sense that the latter were confuted by them. Later on, Paul presented them to the Corinthians as authoritative. He even could do this at the intellectual metropolis of the whole world, Athens; for "he evangelized to them the Jesus and the resurrection" (Acts 17:18, literally); which could only have meant the accounts related in the Gospels, not what he calls in his Epistles "God's Evangel" or "my Evangel." Acts 17:30, 31 also implies the Gospel accounts.
How different would have been his reception in the intellectual centres of the modern world! The Athenians jeered at hearing of the resurrection of dead people. Our moderns in their wisdom would go much further. They might perhaps agree that we must accept the idea of "a spiritual resurrection" (whatever that may mean, if anything at all), but they would point out that, as the Gospels are relatively late and very defective compilations from all sorts of sources, the most we can do is agree "that Jesus' insight into spiritual truth was full and unerring," even though "we cannot escape the responsibility of deciding what is now authoritative," as one of these pundits recently declared (The Church Times of June 2nd, 1961). What this amounts to is that We can believe nothing for certain, but we must believe it very fervently. In short, though the Athenians were in the dark, at least they were not in art impenetrable fog as well. For in our days the light of truth shines more brightly than ever; but our moderns shut it out with heavy clouds of unbelief and an even denser fog of confused thinking.
Luke gives little space to the wilful darkness of the Athenians, and no doubt would have given less to the wilful muddle-headedness of our own unbelievers; for they all are relatively of little account. Those who believed, and received the Evangel, did truly believe, and they did receive the Word in much affliction with joy of holy spirit (1. Thess. 1:5); and they were the ones he was interested in. So what would he have thought of our modern "believers" who accept only those sections of the Word they want to accept and who in effect treat the Gospels as second-class matter? That is the heresy which has paralysed most of the Christians I have met during some fifty years. Yet if they were to view the matter with rational balance, they could not help seeing that although the Prison Epistles are for us the highest peak of revelation, their loftiness is only relative and is buttressed not only by the other epistles of Paul but by the whole of the Greek Scriptures. It is good to seek the topmost peaks, but if we seek them on foot we have no choice but to climb the heights around them; and if we have the opportunity to fly over them, behold, their relative loftiness becomes wholly unimportant.
For the establishment of the fact the Gospels were acknowledged Scripture by the time the Apostle Paul started his ministry revolutionises our understanding of them. It cannot do otherwise; for at one stroke it completely destroys the concept of them as compiled and edited from various traditions many years after the events they purport to relate, coming into existence almost haphazard and surviving other such compilations only by accident or chance. Instead, we now visualize them as original Scripture, committed to writing immediately, or very soon, after the Ascension, either by the Apostles or under their direct control. This implies that instead of being four isolated compilations they are true memoirs, records written from personal knowledge or special sources of information. This further implies that their number and their special characteristics must have been deliberately planned by the Apostles themselves. These, therefore, must not only be suitable objects for investigation and research by ourselves but also highly profitable.
Such investigation, however, is not so simple as many seem to think. As Jukes pointed out, each Gospel is concerned with some special aspect of the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, but not exclusively or in any narrow sense. With this idea in mind, the Fathers applied to the four the emblem of the Four Cherubim. Jukes thought, and I agree with him, that this idea is right; though personally I would prefer to put it "right, up to a point." One reason for this is that there is no unanimity among Christians as to which of the Cherubim corresponds with each Gospel. The Roman Catholic Church fallows Jerome, Ambrose and other Fathers in making the Four Gospels correspond with the order of the faces in Ezekiel 1:10, that is, the man, the lion, the ox and the eagle. But Augustine dissented, seeing the man in Mark and the ox in Luke. Jukes contends strongly for the order set out in Rev. 4:7; and he remarks, reasonably, "If we were, like Ezekiel's captives, in Babylon, We perhaps must take the view he does, that is, from beside the river Chebar;" and he adds, "for here as elsewhere our view depends on our position." This view assigns the lion to Matthew, the ox or calf to Mark, the man to Luke and the eagle to John; so that primarily Matthew regards the Lord Jesus as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, Mark as the labourer for others and the perfect sacrifice, Luke as the manifestation of human sympathy, the Son of Mankind, and John as the One from heaven—primarily, but not exclusively.
Jukes presents much evidence for all this and, again, I am certain he is right, up to a point—but not the whole way. The other reason for this view is the fact, which he himself admits and indeed dwells on at length, that the distinctions are by no means clearly defined or constant.
Jukes was a wonderfully honest expositor, a fact which strongly inspires confidence in everything he wrote, even when such confidence may be mistaken. It has also prevented him from receiving the fame he justly deserved. Yet it is given to few men to approach so close to the ideal of absolute honesty as he does. So he says: "Imperfect views of Christ's offering continually unite or confuse its different aspects, mixing the sin side of it with what was a sweet savour; while on the other hand a more perfect apprehension shows many views in each aspect; either of which causes will account for the difference of judgment here. And as to the various views of St. Mark, where one sees the man, others the ox, a special reason may be found in St. Paul's words, 'He took on Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of man.' (Phil. 2:7). The one relation is so close to the other, that one runs into the other: one therefore very easily may be substituted or mistaken for the other. For as it is said of the living creatures, 'two wings of everyone were joined one to another' (Ezek. 1:9, 11), so in certain places the view peculiar to one Gospel seems to run into another view." (The Characteristic Differences of the Four Gospels, p. 14).
Nor need we leave it at that; for we can readily test for ourselves the idea, noted above, that Luke manifests Christ as the Son of Mankind. So he does; but the fact remains that while Luke uses the title 25 times, Matthew uses it at least 30 and Mark 14 and John 12. This does not mean that the general idea enunciated by Jukes is erroneous, but simply that his warning must on no account be forgotten. In these matters, as indeed in all Scripture studies, balance IS imperative. If, then, we look on the Four Gospels in the way Jukes suggests, we must also be careful to follow his advice and his example by refraining from any attempt to bind them within those ideas. This point is so important that we ought to give it further attention. Let us, then, look into the distribution in the Gospels of certain key words.
With the idea of a lion we naturally associate the name of Judah, ioudas. The convenient distinction in ordinary English usage between Judah the land, Judas (Iscariot) and Jude (the brother of James) does not exist in the Greek, and no less than eight men are named Juda, ioudas, in the Greek Scriptures. The land of Judah is spoken of in Matt. 2:6 and referred to in Matt. 2:6 also and in Luke 1:39, the tribe in Heb. 7:14; 8:8; Rev. 5:5; 7:5. On the other hand, Judea, ioudaia, occurs eight times in Matthew, four in Mark, nine in Luke and seven in John. The name ioudaios, Jew, occurs five times in Matthew, seven in Mark, five in Luke and no less than seventy-one times in John; yet Israel, israEl occurs twelve times in Matthew, twice in Mark, twelve in Luke and four in John. These certainly create something of a puzzle.
Conspicuously in the opening words of Matthew are the names David and Abraham. The former occurs seventeen times in Matthew, seven in Mark, thirteen in Luke and twice in John; and the latter seven times in Matthew, once in Mark, fifteen times in: Luke and eleven in John. Elias occurs nine times in Matthew, nine in Mark, eight in Luke and two in John; so again the distribution of names gives us no special lead. The Pharisees are named quite frequently in each Gospel; but the Sadducees occur seven times in Matthew, but once each in Mark and Luke and not at all in John.
Jerusalem occurs in two forms. The Greek form, which is declined, occurs eleven times in Matthew, nine in Mark, five in Luke and twelve in John; but the Hebrew form occurs twice in Matthew, once in Mark, twenty-eight times in Luke and not at all in John. This is strange, if we are to regard Matthew as the essentially Hebrew Gospel, as many do.
The foregoing shows that the distribution of certain key names in the Gospels is only a minor factor in determining the scope and purpose of anyone of them, and that a deeper study is necessary. When we come to think of it, we ought not to be surprised at this, for everyone knows or should know that the first three Gospels contain a great deal of matter in common, and, after all, it is the ministry of the Lord Jesus that all are describing, even though from somewhat different points of view. There certainly would be something to be surprised about if they all were completely different. Since they were all acknowledged Scripture by the time the Apostle Paul started his ministry, they must have been written while the Twelve were, if not together, at any rate in close touch with one another. This means that any of the four writers could have consulted one or more of the Apostles whenever he thought fit and that, broadly speaking, the Twelve were collectively responsible for the whole set. Otherwise, they could hardly have been acknowledged as Scripture. What discussions and consultations took place, we have no means of knowing or even guessing. Nevertheless, the fact that the Apostles deemed it necessary to have four distinct accounts is, by itself, proof that they must have had some deep, subtle and well-considered purpose in mind. Whether we can ever discover it fully now is an open question. Perhaps we can— but of one thing we can be sure, it will not be revealed by devising any simple formula. Such a formula can be a useful help; but if we rely on it entirely, it can only be a burden.
The fallacy of supposing that the distribution of certain key-words is an infallible means of determining the scope and object of any document is not confined to study of the Gospels. It has helped to create confusion in the study of the Epistles. This is a digression, but worth while to bring home the point.
When the Acts 28:28 "frontier" theory was first propounded, Mr. C. H. Welch applied this method in its support. He showed (The Berean Expositor, Vol. 1, p. 13; Vo1. 2, p. 22; Things to Come, May, 1909, p. 57) that the words Jew, Israel, Israelite and Abraham occurred a total of sixty-one times in Paul's Epistles written before Acts 28:28 and only three times altogether in those written after. He comments: "Surely this comparison tells us that an important change must have taken place." We are expected to see how prominent these words are in the earlier epistles and how rare they are in the later epistles. Undeniably, all this is most convincing at first glance. The fallacy becomes apparent when we take a closer look, adding a few other words for good measure. Then we get the following table, in which the first three columns refer to Paul's Epistles:Word 1&2 Thess. Prison Epistles Remainder General Epistles Hebrews
From this table the reader can now perceive at a glance the utter worthlessness of Mr Welch's argument from the distribution of words. If the table proves from the occurrences of these words that some epistles are "Jewish," and from their absence that others are not; then it proves far too much. If Paul's later epistles are not "Jewish," neither is Thessalonians. Dr. Bullinger airily handed over our "meeting the Lord in the air" to Israel, notwithstanding that the Thessalonians Epistles not only do not mention Israel and only incidentally the Jew, but are less "Jewish" in their vocabulary than the Prison Epistles themselves The one occurrence, "Jew" in 1. Thess. 2:14 shows beyond any doubt that the Thessalonians were not Jews. Nor is this all. Mr. Welch later strongly contended that Galatians was the earliest of Paul's Epistles. On his argument, this is borne out by the fact that in it the words in this list occur thirty-one times in all. Yet 1. and 2. Thessalonians, by any reckoning almost as early, have only one of them, once.
Mr. Welch prepared his table in order that his "readers may see the great contrast between the Epistles written before and after Acts 28"; what he called "this change of dispensation." Then, by his own showing, we must place Paul's earlier Epistles (except 1. and 2. Thessalonians) with Hebrews in the earlier bygone "dispensation," and the Prison and Thessalonians Epistles with the General Epistles (those of James, Peter, John and Jude) in the later, and present, "dispensation," collectively what he calls "the Epistles of the Mystery."
The dating of the epistles is uncertain and not very important. Such matters as these are outside and beyond what is specifically revealed, so are worthless as a basis for doctrine. Nevertheless, suppose we accept his ideas for the sake of argument, and place the Thessalonians and the General Epistles among the Prison Epistles. The idea is absurd; and in any case it destroys Dr. Bullinger's argument that 1. Thess. 4:13-17 belongs to Israel and not ourselves.
Why have those words which are specially connected with Israel so relatively great a frequency in some of the earlier epistles of Paul and in Hebrews? The answer is simple, so simple that one can only marvel at any expositor failing to see it. The Secret of Eph. 3:6-12 comes through the evangel of which the Apostle Paul became minister. Before anyone can receive the Secret, it is necessary for him to believe Paul's Evangel. It would be very extraordinary if those epistles which are concerned with Paul's Evangel and therefore with faith-righteousness, had nothing whatever to say about Abraham's faith or, for that matter, about law and covenant. Cut these ideas out of Romans 1 to 5 and Galatians, and their meaning has gone. Paul's Evangel points back to Abraham, so its statement and exposition involves discussion of Abraham, Israel, the Jew, and covenant. Thus, the epistles that expound the subject use these words. How else could they manage to consider it at all? If we look at the matter the other way round; we can see, too, how out of place references to Abraham, etc., would have been in 1. and 2. Thessalonians. In them, the Apostle Paul was considering one particular subject. What a mess he would have made of it if he had intruded a whole series of irrelevant ideas!
That is not to say that genuine problems of this kind do not exist. For instance, why does John's Gospel use the name "Jew" so much? This is a far harder question than the one we have just answered; and I, at any rate, cannot even suggest an answer at present.
Attempted short cuts to knowledge, such as Mr. Welch's notion of counting the number of occurrences of "Abraham," etc., in Paul's earlier and later epistles, are very attractive to the modern mind. Such ideas have their uses, undeniably, but they are no substitute for deep study. Such study takes time and effort, commodities which few people can spare in these days.
R.B.W. Last updated 28.3.2006