An Introduction to the New Testament

By Adolf Jülicher


Chapter 1 - Section 29


§ 29. The Historical Value of the Synoptic Gospels

[For the literature of the subject see supra, §§ 23-27. Also A. Resch, ʽAgrapha,ʼ and ʽAusserkanonische Paralleltexte zu den Evangelien,ʼ in ʽTexte und Untersuchungen,ʼ v. 4 (1889), x. 1-4 (1893-6). J. H. Ropes, ʽDie Spriiche Jesu,ʼ in ʽTexte und Untersuchungen,ʼ xiv. 2 (1896), a critical revision of the material which had been brought together with prodigious industry, but not sifted, by Resch. A. Resch, ʽDie Logia Jesu nach dem griech. und hebr. Texte wiederhergestelltʼ (1898). At the same time appeared the edition of the Hebrew text ספר תולדות ישוע המשיח ,דברי ישוע which was the crown of the fantastic edifice erected by Reschʼs brain.]

1. Since it is not for their own sake, but for that of the story which they tell, that we prize the Synoptics so highly, the most important question, after all, is how far they will serve in the reconstruction of the life of Jesus,—what is their value as historical documents. This, it may be said at once, is not unlimited. In any case, the narrative of the Synoptists cannot be called complete; Mark did not even aim at making his work complete, nor could we fail to believe (even if we had no knowledge of the many profound and probably genuine words of Jesus which have come down to us through non-Canonical literature) that what the Synoptists have preserved to us is only a fractional part of all that Jesus must have said and done during his Ministry. Their material is not sufficient to delineate even the outlines of the life of Jesus, except where a fruitful imagination ventures to supply the missing indications as to the date or occasion of individual occurrences, or the connection between them. But it is not only that the Synoptics know far less than we could wish about Jesus: what they know and tell is a mixture of truth and poetry. The sayings they report in absolutely identical form—apart from possible variations in translation— would not take long to count, and wherever we can observe their methods we see how little they valued strict accuracy in the reproduction of their authorities, and how fully they felt themselves justified in treating the details with literary freedom, now curtailing and now amplifying them. The fear of impairing historical truth was evidently unknown to them. Even if the remarkably different versions of the parable of the marriage-feast,1 for instance, did not compel us to assume that one of the narrators at least deliberately modified the original version, the hand of the reporter is unmistakable in countless cases where the sayings of Jesus are concerned. So improbable a touch as that of Matt. xxii. 6, where the guests who are bidden to the banquet by the King, but who refuse to come, lay hold on his servants and Kill them, was certainly not introduced into the parable by its original author, but by the Evangelist, who, in his eagerness for interpretation, was not thinking of ordinary guests, but of the Jews who persecuted the Lordʼs Apostles. Mark iv. 10-12 and 34 may serve to show how misunderstandings of many kinds could also injure the tradition; here Jesus describes the perverseness of the people as the reason for his speaking in parables, whereas according to the most natural interpretation of iv. 33 he was actuated by the opposite and only credible motive—that of speaking in similes because he could in that way be better heard and understood.

In Mark xi.2 we are told that when Jesus was on his way from Bethany to Jerusalem he sought fruit from a fig-tree in vain and therefore cursed the tree, and that as his disciples passed by with him again the next morning they found it withered to the root. Matthew also relates the incident,3 but postpones Jesusʼ curse till the day after the cleansing of the temple, while in Mark it had taken place before it; thus in Matthew the withering of the tree occurs immediately, to the astonishment of the disciples. Is it possible to deny a tendency towards the increase of the marvellous in this example? Markʼs anecdote of the feeding of the four thousand4 is a mere duplicate of that of the feeding of the five thousand which he had told just before5; the parallelism between the two is so far-reaching that no other explanation is even arguable,—the one version simply arose through exaggeration of the other. In the one case four thousand persons after three daysʼ fasting are fed with seven loaves and a few fishes, and leave seven basketfuls of broken pieces over, and in the other, five thousand men (Matthew expressly adding ʽbeside women and childrenʼ) are fed with five loaves and two fishes, leaving twelve basketfuls of broken pieces. Again, the story of Jesus walking on the sea6 is a kind of Docetic exaggeration of the beautiful tale of his stilling the storm,7 while the instance brought forward by all three Synoptists, but most complacently by Mark,8 of his power over demons—that of the Gerasene swine—is nothing but the purest legend. Jesus is represented as having met ʽa man with an unclean spiritʼ (or two, according to Matthew9) in the country of the Gerasenes, from whom he expelled a legion of devils; these, however, he allowed to enter into a herd of two thousand swine which were feeding close at hand, and which then immediately rushed down the steep into the sea—to the consternation, as may well be imagined, of the much injured owners. Mark and Matthew give us but one instance of a raising from the dead—that of the daughter of Jairus10—but Luke also tells that of the widowʼs son at Nain,11 placing it before the other,12 and the older Evangelists would certainly not have passed over so edifying and convincing a miracle as this of their own free will. In any case the public raising from the dead at Nain cannot, with Luke, be placed earlier than the secret one in the house of Jairus, but should probably be regarded as a later growth after the type of the primitive Jairus miracle. The Birth-story of Matthew (and still more certainly that of Luke) is wholly and entirely the work of pious fancy, and if in the relatively exact account of Jesusʼ last suffering and death we may reasonably expect particular trustworthiness—for who could possibly have invented the story of the denial of Peter,13 for instance, or the cry of Jesus on the Cross, ʽMy God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?ʼ14—yet even here, and in the oldest source, the legendary elements are not lacking, such as the statements about the darkness that covered the whole land, and the rending of the veil of the temple.15 Fresh touches were of course continually being added, like that of the guarding of the sepulchre16¯ (which tended to assist the belief in the Resurrection), or like the words of Jesus on the Cross as given by Luke, ʽFather, forgive them,ʼ etc., or the few words to the malefactor—those infinitely touching illustrations of a love which, even in the midst of death, sought only to excuse its tormentors, and held itself open to the anguished prayer of the meanest sinner.

By far the greater part of this material, the authenticity of which is more than doubtful, was not invented by the Synoptists, but was derived by them from oral or written authorities. They themselves were generally responsible only for the form, in the arrangement of which they certainly exhibited considerable freedom, though always in the full belief that they were able to reproduce the traditional material more effectively than anyone else had done before them. It is true that they did not apply historical criticism to the materials they used, but if they had, no Gospels would have been written, and their artificial productions would have fallen into oblivion a few decades after they appeared. Edification was for them the standard of credibility; their task was, not to understand and estimate the historical Jesus, but to believe in him, to love him above all else, to teach men to hope in him: they did not describe the Jesus of real life, but the Christ as he appeared to the hearts of his followers, though of course without dreaming of the possibility of such an antithesis.

2. Nevertheless the Synoptic Gospels are of priceless value, not only as books of religious edification, but also as authorities for the history of Jesus. Though much of their data may be uncertain, the impression they leave in the readerʼs mind of the Bearer of Good Tidings is on the whole a faithful one. Brandt is not wrong, but he does not say enough, when he calls the Synoptic picture of Christ the finest flower of religious poetry. The true merit of the Synoptists is that, in spite of all the poetic touches they employ, they did not repaint, but only handed on, the Christ of history. They indeed omitted many of his great words, either through forgetfulness or ignorance, they misunderstood many of them, and altered the form of others, and it may even have chanced that they or their authorities wrongly attributed to Jesus some saying which, though worthy of him, really came from the lips of some other master. But the modern Jewish attempts to treat the Logia of Jesus given by the Synoptics as a partisan selection of ʽrays of lightʼ from the far richer wisdom of the Rabbis—merely because there exist some parallels, sometimes of remarkable closeness, between them and the Mishna or the Talmud—are just as irrational as the views of that school of criticism run wild, which regards these sayings as the mere deposit of thelmoods and ideals which held sway among the first three generations of Christians. The mass of homogeneous parables alone, which we find in the Synoptics, compels us to fall back upon a single personality as the author of a mode of teaching not elsewhere adopted at the time, or at least not in the same way; for how could the age of the Synoptics, which degraded and deformed the parables into allegories, have first produced them, to its own bewilderment? And the same may be said of nearly all those isolated sayings of Jesus which the Evangelists misunderstood, or the interpretation of which causes them so much trouble—as in Matt. xxiii. 36, where the author makes the awkward addition of τοῦ ποτηρίου to τὸ ἐντός, thereby destroying the meaning of the word; while the sayings actually invented by the Synoptists—such as the frequent references of Jesus to his approaching sufferings—immediately betray their external origin by their monotony and their absence of life. But, as a rule, there lies in all the Synoptic Logia a kernel of individual character so inimitable and so fresh that their authenticity is raised above all suspicion. Jesus must have spoken just as the Synoptists make him speak, when he roused the people from their torpor, when he comforted them and lovingly stooped to their needs, when he revealed to his disciples his inmost thoughts about his message of the Kingdom, when he guided them and gave them laws, when he contended fiercely with the hostile Pharisees and Sadducees, or worsted them by force of reasoning:—for no otherwise can we explain the world-convulsing influence gained by so short a lifeʼs work. The impression that they are veritably the words of Jesus is by no means altered by the fact that they contain side by side things Jewish and things anti-Jewish, things revolutionary and things conservative, things new and things old, freedom and conventionality in judgment, crudely sensuous hopes and a spiritual idealism which fuses present and future into one; for he who was destined to become ʽall things to all menʼ in a far higher sense than Paul must have been able to comprehend within himself the elements of truth in all antitheses.

Nor should the Synoptic accounts of the deeds and sufferings of Jesus be judged in a less favourable light. It matters little how many of the miracle-stories fall to the ground, whether he healed one blind man or three, and how often and under what circumstances he waged his victorious war against sin and its attendant miseries, illness, want and death: the main point which each of these more or less embroidered stories seeks to illustrate, and which only a very sorry rationalism can deny, is that he not only taught but acted ʽas one that hath authority.ʼ The fact that he wrought miracles principally upon the mentally diseased, as in Mark i. 32-34, and the observation made by Mark17 that because of the unbelief of his countrymen at Nazareth ʽhe could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them,ʼ enable us in some degree to guess the secret of his success. Stories like that of the ʽTalitha cumiʼ of Mark were not elaborately invented, nor was the Messiah who in his night-watch in the Garden of Gethsemane, though his ʽsoul was sorrowful even unto death,ʼ yet won through prayer the strength to go forward to the end, in spite of the blindness of his disciples, the wickedness of his foes and the agony of a horrible death—such a Messiah was not the creation of the idealising fancy of any class of believers, which would have employed far different colours.

Again, the figure of the traitor among the Twelve, or the story of Peter denying his Master before the cock crew, are not the mere products of Christian imagination, however much may have been imported into their details by legend or theology. Must Pilate and his favourable opinion of Jesus have been invented, merely because the washing of his hands and his wifeʼs dream seem improbable touches? Our confidence is especially won by the sober reserve with which Mark ventured to know nothing of Jesus before his appearance in public, and almost nothing of him after his death. But even the extraneous element which finds its way into the beginning and end of Matthew, and still more plentifully into that of Luke, is not really inconsistent with the tone of the rest; everything is dominated, within the Synoptic limits, by the same spirit, and the insertions assimilate themselves as though of their own accord to the over-mastering original. And if the total picture of Jesus which we obtain from the Synoptics displays all the magic of reality, (in Luke just as much as in Matthew and Mark) this is not the effect of any literary skill— often indeed defective—on the part of the Evangelists, nor is it the result of the poetic and creative power of the authorities lying behind them; but it is rather owing to the fact that they, while modestly keeping their own personalities in the background, painted Jesus as they found him already existing in the Christian communities, and that this their model corresponded in all essentials to the original. The simplest faith, like the highest art—we learn this from the Synoptists, who drew from the sources of such a faith—has a wonderfully fine perception for the peculiar traits of its hero; in reconstructing the precious image from memory, it flings reflection and the critical faculty aside, it omits much and adds new touches, but it attains at last, in spite of all apparent weakness and caprice, to a picture such as no master of historical writing, though furnished with all the aids of science and initiated into all the technicalities of his craft, can produce in the case of his favourite figures.

3. It sounds paradoxical to say so, but the history of the Synoptic tradition stretches back to the very lifetime of Jesus. Within a short time after the appearance of the Messiah, certain particularly strikmg words of his were spread abroad in ever widening circles, while the fame of his miracles penetrated through the length and breadth of the Jewish lands; no wonder, then, that mistakes and exaggerations should soon have found their way in. It is absurd to characterise the Gospels as late productions simply because they contain much legendary matter; the adherence of this deposit to the tradition—a process which may be observed with all great historical figures—cannot be placed too early in the case of Jesus. The unbelieving Saul himself may have heard in Jerusalem of his healings of the blind, of his raisings of the dead, and of his power over wind and waves, and even his mortal enemies, the Pharisees, believed a certain amount of these things. Everything in this man, who worked upon the conscience, feelings and imagination of the people so miraculously seemed surrounded with a halo of miracle; the thirst for the marvellous which the Master himself struggled against18 found nevertheless its satisfaction among his followers, and it was certainly owing solely to his own temperate and quiet truthfulness, naturally averse as it was to any such glorification—let him only be compared with Mahomet in this respect!—that the tendency towards legendary amplification contented itself in his case with adding some brightly coloured ornament to the original picture. It is true that it never occurred to him or to any of his friends while he was yet working on earth to organise a sort of official report of his deeds. And even after his death his followers would rather wait with longing hearts for his return than hasten to draw up a catechism of his life for the instruction of later generations;—no trace of a primitive Gospel of pre-Pauline date is to be discovered anywhere. But the remembrance of Jesus did not therefore die out. As soon as the circle of his intimate companions bad recovered from their dismay at his death on the Cross, each would seek to encourage the other with the help of what they still possessed of him; his words became the substitute for the departed one himself: the favourite consolation and at the same time the absolute standard of the life of the new community. Paul himself treated the sayings of the Lord as binding upon every Christian as a matter of course, and the few that he quotes in his Epistles he received from the primitive communities, which were justly proud of such possessions. Words of Jesus were, of course, still more necessary to the Christians of Palestine in their continual discussions with their fellow-countrymen, of whose conversion they would not despair, than they were to the Apostle of the Gentiles, whose object was to arouse faith in a forgiveness of sins and in an eternal life and blessedness through Christ; and it was these words, whose super-Jewish sublimity and anti-Pharisaic boldness no one could deny, which did still more than the scandalon of the death on the Cross to repel the majority of Israelites from such a Messiah.

Neither in Palestine nor among the Gentiles in foreign lands, however, could the preachers of Christ confine themselves to handing on the characteristic utterances of their Lord: every catechumen as well as every believer must have been repeatedly told the story of his death and resurrection, and his miracles were also appealed to as the proof of his having been anointed ʽwith the Holy Ghost and with power.ʼ19 This primitive interest in his history, both in his deeds and his fate, should not be underrated; in discussion with the unbelieving Jews it was important to be able to prove by concrete examples that his life corresponded closely with the Messianic prophecies (or expectations), that he had walked the earth possessed of divine power, endowed with supernatural majesty, and in every way as the Son of God, and that he had fulfilled the will of God just as much by his suffering and death as he had sealed it by his Resurrection. But the mission to the Gentiles was no less in need of this witness to the Saviour, afforded by deeds of omnipotence and by the fulfilment in him of ancient prophecy; it was not only the school of apologists inspired by Justin (A.D. 150), but Paul himself, who brought the κατὰ τὰς ’γραφάς20 into the foreground in dealing with possible Hellenic converts, side by side with reports of the life and death of Jesus. And, in spite of his contempt21 for the Jewish demand for ʽsigns,ʼ he must have regarded the signs and wonders which were the necessary credentials of an Apostle22 as absolutely natural in the case of the Messiah, and must have extolled them in fitting language before his hearers. From this point of view, as the foundation of trust in Jesus, his gospel, and his revelation, the acts (πράξεις) of Jesus might well seem the most important matter of all.

Nevertheless, the relation between the two sides of Gospel tradition, the sayings and the narratives, has been very aptly compared with that which exists in the eyes of Jewish orthodoxy between the Halacha (doctrine, interpretation of the Law) and the Haggada (continuation of the sacred history). The stories seemed merely to lead the reader to Jesus, while it was in the sayings that men possessed his actual self. This division is frequently to be met with; Irenaeus,23 for instance, boasts of having heard Polycarp relate both the teaching and the miracles of Jesus (καὶ περὶ τῶν δυναμέων αὑτοῦ καὶ περὶ τῆς διδασκαλίας), and wherever we find any comment on the relationship between them, the miracles are looked upon as the preparation for the teaching. And, above all, we must remember that the Logia of Jesus were already in existence in the form which he himself had given them, so that any alteration of their wording could only be a change for the worse, while in the case of the stories about the Lord his followers had first to learn how to tell them, so that there the form was merely human handiwork. Indeed, a later comer with an entirely different version might perhaps materially improve the narrative of a fellow-believer who had already told the story of some miracle many times. Thus the stereotyping of the Gospel material—as far as it occurred at all— took place much earlier and more successfully in the case of the sayings of Jesus than in that of the stories of his life; though since the Christian communities, even in Palestine, were from the outset much scattered, it could never become complete even in the case of the sayings. Expressions would be forgotten here which were remembered elsewhere; recollections would be revived in one place and left in obscurity in another; thoughts would be strung together here and left in their separate form there, and so on, and we should be obliged to assume a sort of central inspection of the Gospel tradition, exercising its functions with great rigour and still greater good fortune, in order to make it seem probable that there was any considerable uniformity in that tradition before the period of the written propagation of the Gospel.

Papias tells us that the Apostle Matthew inaugurated this period by writing down (of course in the popular dialect of Palestine) a collection of Sayings of the Lord. None but certain modern theologians who are anxious to reproduce the Original Gospel by re-translation from the Greek, but who do not know Aramaic, declare that Matthew wrote in the sacred language, the Hebrew of the Old Testament. We do not doubt the statement of Papias,24 and it is to the eternal credit of the primitive community that it preserved to the Church the Jesus of history, as well as the Christ of the believerʼs reflection. We know nothing definite as to the motives which induced this Apostle to take up his pen, but it can only have been when the number of ear-witnesses of the words of Jesus had considerably diminished, and the need arose of handing on the substance of his Gospel, under the authority of an eye-witness and in permanent form (i.e. in writing), to a rising generation who had neither heard nor seen the Lord. The author probably aspired as little to any exhaustive completeness as he did to accuracy of chronological sequence; nor could he have attained to either, since his memory and his opportunities for investigation had their limits, and the community, moreover, had never been at all anxious to know when Jesus had uttered a particular saying (any more than when he had wrought a particular miracle), but only what he had revealed and what he had promised. The Logia document of Matthew probably consisted in a selection of the most important words of Jesus known to the writer, made with all possible fidelity and with a timid endeavour to reproduce some larger groups by arranging them according to their subjects. Greek literature possessed similar collections of the utterances of wise men (ἀποφθέγματα) in considerable numbers. And that such logia-books were renewed even in later times is proved by the discovery at Oxyrhynchos, published in 1897 by Messrs Grenfell and Hunt under the title of Λόγια Ἰησοῦ (‘ Sayings of our Lord, from an early Greek Papyrusʼ), in which apparently we have a Christian of about 300 A.D. making a collection of sayings pure and simple, all of them introduced by the words λέγει Ἰησοῦς. How opportune was the undertaking of Matthew was proved by its success; even in the Greek communities it was soon felt to be indispensable, and preachers interpreted it as well as they could until good written translations did away with the necessity for such separate efforts, and at last actually supplanted the Aramaic original altogether. The collection as such was not regarded as Scripture, and only the word of Jesus which it contained was sacred; how can we wonder, then, that the copyists were no more servile in their treatment of its text than the unknown translators? Wherever it was possible to make an edifying insertion, to explain, to correct by the light of a different tradition, or perhaps even to rewrite in another form, it was done; one translation would be corrected by another, and thus perhaps not two copies of the Logia document would finally have been exactly similar in every part. This would have been another reason for its disappearance. But it probably did not entirely disappear till the complete Gospels rendered further competition impossible, and made the document itself superfluous by appropriating all its contents.

It is impossible to say whether in this transition between the Apostolic and Post-Apostolic ages, other similar collections arose—either suggested by the example of Matthew or else independently of him—or not. But even if they did, they would not have included all the sayings of Jesus which were in circulation at that time, and thus it would be possible even after 100 years and more had passed away to draw from the fuller, though certainly less limpid, oral tradition certain sayings—beside much that was of little value—which, though not Biblical (ʽAgraphaʼ), yet have the true ring about them, like the ʽBe ye true money-changersʼ (γίνεσθε δόκιμοι τραπεζῖται) so often quoted by the Fathers, or the logion from the Gospel according to the Hebrews, ʽAnd ye should never be glad except when ye look upon your brother in love.ʼ

The first step in the conversion of the Gospel material into literature was necessarily followed by others. A legitimate need of the community for an account of their Saviour in full, especially in his suffering and death, but, above all, the need felt by the Christian teachers of possessing a document to which they could appeal in their battles for the true Messiah against unbelievers, which would provide them with the means of demonstrating that Jesus was the Beloved Son of God, in spite of all apparent failure and defeat—such needs were met soon after 70 by Mark. Hither, however, because he knew that his readers were already fairly familiar with the Sayings of the Lord, or else because they were less necessary for his purpose, he laid special stress upon the narrative side. He may have been assisted in this task by his recollections from his intercourse with Peter, but as a matter of fact he did not care very much whence he drew any particular episode, so long as it suited his book. Mark is, moreover, obviously influenced by theological considerations; certain features in his account of the Passion clearly betray their origin in the authorʼs desire to see the prophecies of the Old Testament fulfilled. Thus the spitting upon Jesus,25 the buffeting and scourging,26 come from Isaiah l. 6, the silence of Jesus27 from Isaiah liii. 7, his crucifixion between two robbers from Isaiah liii. 12, the casting of lots for his raiment from Psalm xxi. 19 (and xxii. 18). But the fact that he does not quote the Old Testament parallels seems to favour the view that Mark did not think out these things for himself, but followed the tradition here as elsewhere. And in the case of the trial and execution of Jesus—events for which the Christian community itself was not able to procure any trustworthy witness—the process of reconstruction naturally began on the very first day. The task of depicting in accordance with Godʼs Word the manner in which the Messiah must have suffered and died was one to which the Apostles themselves might gladly have given their assistance.

Similar productions must have arisen in considerable numbers between the years 70 and 100, for Luke speaks of many predecessors; ʽmanyʼ may not indeed mean 25 or 100, but certainly more than two, and this is sufficient evidence that the demand again and again exceeded the supply, and that the idea of the stability and uniformity of the tradition is imaginary. The mutual relationship of these productions was probably very much confused; but we may assume that all of them made use of oral traditions in various degrees as well as of written authorities. Those of them which were not saved, like Mark and Matthew, by admission into the Canon, disappeared; the apocryphal Gospels of the second century, such as those according to the Hebrews, to the Egyptians, to Peter, of which some parts have been preserved, and probably also a Gospel fragment from a papyrus found at Fayoum (a parallel to Matt. xxvi. 29-34), to which Professor G. Bickell of Vienna enthusiastically assigns a very high place —all these are in reality modified versions of the Canonical Gospels, written to suit sectarian or heretical tendencies; but that is no reason why occasional fragments of primitive tradition should not have found their way into them. Luke and Matthew, however, seem already to stand at the point where the production of Gospels ceased to be a gain to the Church and began to mean danger only, and even John must share in this judgment to some extent; from Luke onwards the writing of Gospels fell into the hands of romancers and religious philosophers, or rather perhaps of theologians and theologasters, and the Church did well to pay but scant attention to their productions. Moreover Luke set up a fatal ideal with his ʽall things accurately from the first, for the later writers omitted his inward qualification, ʽas far as I could find out anything about them,ʼ and peopled with the creations of their own fancy just those periods of the life of Jesus which had till then remained almost empty—i.e. his youth and the days immediately following his resurrection. These Gospels of the Childhood and the Ascension have no longer any connection with the tradition, except where they borrow from the Canonical Gospels, and it would be absurd to take them seriously into account as authorities for the history of Jesus, especially in the case of those Gospels which were only composed in order to furnish ʽEvangelisticʼ proofs for the peculiar dogmas of some Gnostic school. In both these genres the Gospel story merely serves as the means to some ulterior end. Matthew produces the impression of being slightly further removed from this sort of writing than Luke, because, in spite of his additions to Mark at the beginning and end, he is still fairly reticent about the history of the Risen Christ, and contents himself in his Birth-story also with two or three edifying pictures. Luke, on the other hand, has a very highly coloured early history, which extends as far as Jesusʼ twelfth year; his Resurrection chapter is nearly three times as long as Matthewʼs, and instead of the one cry which according to Mark and Matthew Jesus uttered on the Cross—ʽEloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?ʼ—he puts three other sayings into the mouth of Christ which express, not torture and anguish of soul, but their contrary.28 These three words were unquestionably unknown to Mark and Matthew, nor can they, in spite of their beauty, have been founded on tradition; they are rather the expression of what the faith of later Christians saw in the heart of their dying Redeemer. But Luke readily poetised, and incorporated poetry, while Matthew did so only in case of need; this difference, however, between the personalities of the two writers need not imply a difference of date between their respective productions. Each of the three Synoptics contains some elements invented independently of the tradition, but even these have their value, since they were not the products of mythologising art, but the half naive conversions into fact of things of which Jesus was believed capable, closely connected, too, both in style and tone, with the best-attested passages in the Gospels. That Luke contains a far greater abundance of those elements than either Matthew or Mark is, however, compensated for by the fact that he alone has preserved to us a succession of the noblest gems of the Gospel tradition, which, but for his fortunate hand, would have been lost to mankind.

As long as the Gospel material was still in a plastic state, before the canonisation of certain definite forms of it, three different periods may be distinguished: first, that of oral transmission (between the years 30 and 60), when the holders of the tradition, unconcerned for the wishes of future generations, but compelled by the religious duties of the moment, kept the main outlines of the Gospel story fresh and living in the minds of the community; secondly, that of the Synoptic record (from about 60 to about 100), when, after an Apostle had laid the foundation of a Gospel literature, ʽmanyʼ writers, among them Mark, Matthew and Luke, created in similar fashion (since all were in closest touch with the tradition) and by selection from the materials still available, a written presentation of the Gospel story, clear, connected, and neglecting none of the points of primary importance; and thirdly, that of the fabrication (from the beginning of the second century onwards) of apocryphal Gospels, when the living tradition was exhausted, the religious necessities of the majority satisfied by the great existing Gospels, and the passion for further production, if it did not manifest itself solely in the emendation of older Gospels to suit various dogmatic prejudices, found an outlet in the actual manufacture of new material. The first period was the richest in its aggregate possessions, but the individual, even a Paul, for instance, possessed but fragments; the second effected by crystallisation into writing a consolidation which, in spite of the decrease of material, was yet a step in advance; and after 100 begins the decadence. Later generations sought to conceal their imitation of the ancients and to produce the appearance of wealth by remodelling well-attested matter in accordance with later tastes, or else by bringing together a mass of fables that were wholly unattested. The Gospel descended to the market-place, while the prominent appearance in it of other personalities robbed it of all its peculiar charm. The Church showed great tact in refusing to countenance these so-called Gospels, and we have good grounds for supposing that in the Synoptics she has handed down to us the best that ever existed under that title, and that the Gospel story. was never and nowhere so truly, fully and plainly told as in Mark, Matthew and Luke.



1) Matt. xxii. 1 etc.; Luke xiv. 16 etc.

2) Vv. 12-14 and 19-22.

3) xxi. 18-21.

4) viii. 1 etc.

5) vi, 34 etc.

6) Mark vi. 45 etc.

7) Mark iv. 35 etc.

8) Vv. 1-20:

9) viii. 28.

10) Mark v. 22 etc.; Matt. ix. 18 etc.

11) vii. 11-17.

12) viii. 40 etc.

13) Mark xiv. 66 etc.

14) Mark xv. 34.

15) Mark xv. 33 and 38.

16) Matt. xxvii. 62 etc. and xxviii. 11-15.

17) vi, 5.

18) Matt. xii. 38 etc.

19) Acts x. 38.

20) 1. Cor. xv. 3.

21) 1. Cor. i. 22.

22) Rom. xv. 19; 2. Cor. xii. 12.

23) Euseb. Hist. Hccles. V. xx. 6.

24) See pp. 306, 307.

25) xiv. 65.

26) xv. 15, 19.

27) xiv. 61.

28) xxiii, 34, 43 and 46,