A Historical Introduction to the Study of the Books of the New Testament

By George Salmon

Chapter 17




There is one class of objections to the Johannine author ship of the fourth Gospel which I might decline to discuss, as being outside the limits I have assigned myself in this course of lectures: I mean objections founded on real or apparent contradictions between the fourth and the Synoptic Gospels. For this is an argument which the objectors, on their own principles, have no right to urge. They do not believe that the writers of New Testament books were aided by any supernatural assistance, and therefore they have no right to demand from them more minute exactness of detail than other writers exhibit under similar circumstances. Now, we feel lively interest when a veteran statesman or soldier gives us his recollections of stirring events in which in his younger days he had taken part. But when such recollections are published, and compared with records made at an earlier date, it is the commonest experience in the world to find discrepancies, and these sometimes in particulars by no means unimportant. Yet we simply conclude that on these points the old man's memory may have played him false, and are not tempted to doubt the genuineness of the book which purports to be his memoirs. If, then, we have found reason to believe that the fourth Gospel contains an aged Apostle's recollections of the life of the Master whom he had loved, we should have no reason to give up that belief, even if we were unable to refute the allegation that these recollections are in some points at variance with earlier records. It would be possible to grant that the later account in some points needed correction, while yet we might believe the picture it presents of the life and work of our Lord to be, on the whole, one of the highest interest and value. But, though for the sole purpose of an inquiry as to the authorship of the fourth Gospel, we might set aside as irrelevant a great deal of what has been said as to contradictions between this Gospel and its predecessors; yet so many of these alleged contradictions melt away on examination, that I think it well to give some little discussion to a subject important from other points of view.

A very important question to be settled in using the fourth Gospel is, What verdict are we to think the Evangelist means to pass on those things which are related in the Synoptic Gospels, but omitted in his? It is notorious that the things recorded in this Gospel are, for the most part, different from those related by the other Evangelists, so that it may be regarded as exceptional when St. John goes over ground which they have traversed. Among the things omitted by St. John are some of the most important events of our Lord's life. Thus, the institution of the rite of the Lord's Supper finds no place in his account of the night before the Passion, nor does he mention the Agony in the Garden. Now Renan, and a host of Rationalist critics with him, in using St. John's Gospel, go on the principle that he is to be understood as bearing testimony against whatever he does not relate; that we are to assume that he either had never heard of the things which he passes over in silence, or else means to imply that they never occurred. There is no better instance on which to test Renan's principle than that to which he confidently applies it in the opening sentence of his Life of Jesus, Jesus was born at Nazareth, a little town of Galilee. When we inquire on what authority Renan has ventured on this correction of the traditional account of our Lord's birthplace, we find his main reliance is on the fact that John knows nothing of the journey to Bethlehem; that for him Jesus is simply of Nazareth or of Galilee, on two occasions when it would have been of the highest importance to make mention of the birth at Bethlehem.1 Now, if you have not read your Bible with care it may surprise you to learn that it is quite true (as De Wette before Renan had pointed out) that not only does St. John's Gospel contain no assertion of the birth at Bethlehem or of the descent from David, but it reports more than one uncontradicted assertion of the opposite. In the first chapter (vv. 45, 46) Philip tells Nathanael, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph, to which Nathanael answers, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? an objection to which Philip makes no direct reply. Again, in the 7th chapter (vv. 41, 42) we are told of the difficulty which the birth of Jesus put in the way of His reception: * Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee? Hath not the Scripture said, that Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was? No answer is given to these difficulties; nor, again, are we told that Nicodemus had any reply to make when his brother members of the Sanhedrim exclaimed, on his taking our Lord's part, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet (vii. 52). Thus St. John tells us expressly that there were current objections to the acknowledgment of our Lord's claims, which ran thus: Jesus is not of David's seed, as it was foretold the Messiah should be. Jesus was born at Nazareth, but the prophet fore told that the Messiah should be born at Bethlehem; there fore Jesus is not the Messiah of whom the prophets spoke. And the Evangelist does not give the slightest hint how these difficulties are to be got over.

There are two ways of explaining his silence: one is that he did not know what answer to give to these objections; the other, that he knew his readers did not require any answer to be given. If it were not that the first is the explanation adopted by Renan, I should have thought it too absurd to need serious refutation. It is certain that the Evangelist believed that Jesus was the Messiah, and also that he believed in the Old Testament. How is it possible that he could take pleasure in bringing out the fact that the Jews held that there was a contradiction between acknowledging the Messiahship of Jesus, and acknowledging the truth of the Old Testament prophecies, unless he had in his own mind some way of reconciling this alleged contradiction? And since critics of all schools hold that John's Gospel was written at so late a date that the Synoptic accounts of our Lord's birth at Bethlehem, of the seed of David, must then have been many years in circulation, and have had time to become the general belief of Christians, it is ridiculous to think that John had any way of answering the Jewish objection different from that which must have occurred to all his readers.

We can well believe that John would not have cared to repeat the objection if he knew no answer to it; but it is easy to understand why, knowing the answer, he did not trouble himself to state it formally. When we repeat the story of a blunder committed by ignorant persons, we do not think it necessary to demonstrate their error if we are addressing persons who understand the subject. For example, a very worthy man, some fifty years ago, declaiming against the necessity of human learning in an ambassador of Christ, exclaimed, Greek, indeed! I should like to know if St. Paul knew Greek. In repeating such a story to educated persons, we leave it to speak for itself. We do not think it necessary to expand into formal argument the statement that St. Paul did know Greek, and that the fact that he wrote Epistles in that language is one of the reasons why it is desirable that persons should learn it whose duty it will be to expound these Epistles. Every disputant is pleased to find his opponent relying on an argument which he is sure he can in a moment demolish. And so every Christian reader of St. John's Gospel has read with a certain satisfaction and triumph how the Jews would have been willing to acknowledge the Messiah- ship of Jesus, only for this, that it was necessary the Messiah should be born at Bethlehem, and be of the seed of David. We are all ready with the answer, Why, so Jesus was. And now we are asked to believe that the Evangelist did not sympathize with his readers in this matter; that he wrote in perplexity what they read in triumph. A critic who can so interpret the Gospel commands admiration for his ingenuity in contriving to go wrong on a point which scarcely any previous reader had been able to misunderstand.

I should not have cared to spend so many words on this matter, if it were not that the study of this example calls attention to some peculiarities of the Evangelist's style, and also throws some light on the question whether the fourth Evangelist had seen the preceding Gospels. I ask you, then,, in the first place, to observe that no writer is more in the habit than St. John of trusting to the previous knowledge of his readers: and it is not strange that he should; for at the late period when he wrote, he was not addressing men to whom Christianity was a novelty, but men to whom the facts of the history were already known. In the very first chapter (v. 40) he describes Andrew as Simon Peter's brother, taking for granted that Simon Peter2 was known. A reference to the Baptist (iii. 24) is accompanied by the parenthetical remark, for John was not yet cast into prison, evidently intended for men who knew that John's career had been thus cut short, but who needed the explanation that the events which the Evangelist is relating occurred while the Baptist was still in activity. He does not directly tell of the appointment of the twelve Apostles, but he assumes it as known (vi. 70), * Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? His narrative does not inform us that Joseph was the reputed father of our Lord, but this appears incidentally when the Jews ask, Is not this Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? (vi. 42: see also i. 45). The Baptism of our Lord is not expressly mentioned, but is implied in the account the Baptist gives of his having seen the Spirit descending on him (i. 32). The Ascension is not related, but it is thrice referred to (iii. 13, vi. 62, xx. 17). As a general rule this Evangelist prefers to leave unspoken what he can trust his readers to supply. He does not claim to be the un named disciple who heard the testimony of John the Baptist (i. 40), nor to be the unnamed disciple through whose interest Peter was admitted to the high-priest's palace (xviii. 16); yet there can be little doubt that in both cases the impression received by most readers is that which the writer intended to convey. I have already (p. 63) noted the most striking example of this writer's ignorance, that he knows nothing of the Apostle John; yet few dispute that if he were not that Apostle himself, he was one who desired to pass for him.

This Evangelist repeatedly brings the knowledge which he assumes to be shared with him by his readers into contrast with the ignorance of the actors in the events he relates. Hobbes explained laughter as arising from a sudden conceit of our own superiority to someone else; and though it may be doubted whether this gives a sufficient account of all our mirthful emotions, it is certain that it is by exciting this conceit of superiority that literary artists have produced some of their most telling effects. Even a child is pleased when he can boast to his fellows that he knows something which they do not; and this is a kind of pleasure through which, when they can give it to their spectators, dramatic authors have found the surest way to win applause. No scenes are more effective than when the character on the stage is represented as ignorant of something known to the spectators, and in his ignorance using expressions which have a reference the speaker does not dream of. The staple of most comedies is that someone on the stage is deceived, or is under a misapprehension, while the spectators are in the secret; and their pleasure is all the greater the more convinced the deceived person is that he knows everything. Thus the duped father in Terence believes that he is the only wise man of the family

Primus sentio mala nostra; primus rescisco omnia,
Primus porro obnuntio:

but the slave presently puts the feelings of the spectators into words

Rideo mine; se primum ait scire, is solus nescit omnia.

The effect of tragedy is equally heightened when a personage is represented as ignorant of his real position. In the Œdipus Rex3 of Sophocles much of the tragic effect is derived from the king's unconsciousness that he is himself the object of the wrath of heaven; while, as the spectators hear him denounce the author of the city's calamities, they are thrilled by the knowledge that it is on himself he is imprecating vengeance.

Touches of the same kind are as effective in historical narrative as in the drama. Every reader remembers the effect of Isaac's question, when bearing the fuel for Abraham's sacrifice: My father, behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering? In one touch the contrast is brought out between the boy's ignorance and the father's and the reader's knowledge that he is himself the destined victim. If the ending of the story were not happy, nothing could have a more tragic effect than this simple question. To the same principle is due the effectiveness of another Scripture story, Nathan's parable, by which David's indignation against tyrannical injustice is raised to the highest point before he knows that he is himself the culprit on whom he pronounces sentence.

Now passages of the character I have described occur to an unusual amount in St. John's Gospel. I believe that in that Gospel can be found as many cases as in all the rest of the New Testament where the characters are introduced as speaking under misapprehensions which the reader knows how to correct. Sometimes the Evangelist himself tells how their mistakes are to be corrected, as where the Jews say (ii. 20), Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt Thou rear it up in three days? the Evangelist adds but He spake of the temple of His body. But in the majority of cases no explanation is given. A few verses before one of the passages relied on by Renan, the Jews ask (vii. 35, 36), Whither will He go that we shall not find Him? Will He go unto the dispersed among the Gentiles and teach the Gentiles? What manner of saying is this that He said, Ye shall seek Me, and shall not find Me: and where I am, thither ye cannot come? But no explanation is given of the true answer to this question. Nicodemus asks (iii. 4), How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb and be born? Yet the meaning of the answer made him would be unintelligible to one not already impregnated with Christian ideas. The woman of Samaria misunderstands our Lord's saying when she says (iv. 15), Sir, give me this water that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw; yet the Evangelist passes on without remark. And so, in like manner, when the Jews ask, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? (vi. 52). But the most striking examples of the introduction of characters speaking truths of which they have themselves no conscious ness, are that of Caiaphas (xi. 50), declaring that it was expedient that one man should die for the people; and that of Pilate (xix. 21), insisting, in spite of the chief priests remonstrance, in inscribing on the title on the cross, not that our Lord said He was the King of the Jews, but that He was the King of the Jews.

I have given proof more than sufficient to show that no writer is more in the habit than St. John of trusting to his reader's previous knowledge, and that no one understands better the rhetorical effect of leaving an absurdity without formal refutation, when his readers can be trusted to perceive it for themselves. For the secret of an orator's success is if he can contrive that his hearers minds shall not be passive, but shall be working with him, and even running before him to the conclusions which he wishes them to draw. It is to me amazing that Renan, who professes to value this Gospel so highly, should never have discovered this characteristic of its style, but should treat the book as if he had to do with an author like Euclid, who is careful to guard matter-of-fact readers from misapprehension by appending quod est absurdum to the conclusions which he does not wish them to believe. It would not have been worth while to make so much comment on Kenan's want of literary tact in misunderstanding St. John's statements about our Lord's birthplace, if this had been an isolated piece of stupidity; but full discussion was necessary, because if Renan is wrong in this case it is because he proceeds by a faulty method, which misleads him equally whenever he has to deal with incidents omitted by St. John.

From the facts that have been stated I draw the further inference that, at the time when St. John wrote, he knew that other Gospels had been written. The thing is in itself likely. We may gather from the last chapter that it, at least, was not written until after the death of Peter. It is true that this last chapter has been imagined to be the work of another hand, but I know no good reason for thinking so. It is not a good reason that the Gospel has seemed to come to an end in the preceding chapter; for there is nothing strange in an author's adding a postscript to his work, whether before publication or in a second edition.4 There is no external evidence of any kind to induce us to separate the authorship of the last chapter from that of the rest, and there is complete identity of style. It is not only those who have been nicknamed apologists who defend the genuineness of this chapter. Hilgenfeld, for instance (Einleitung, p. 719), notices the mention of the Sea of Tiberias, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael of Cana of Galilee, and the disciple whom Jesus loved; and I would add that the reference in v. 20 to the pre ceding history is quite in St. John's manner (see vii. 50, xi. 2, xviii. 14, xix. 39). Hilgenfeld also points out the resemblance of the phrases ὡς ἀπὸ πηχῶν διακοσίων, v. 8, with ὡς ἀπὸ σταδίων δεκαπέντε (xi. 18); of the bread and fish (ὀψάριον καὶ ἄρτον), v. 9, with the same words (vi. 11), the word ὀψάριον being, in the N. T., peculiar to St. John; and the ὁ μαρτυρῶν περὶ τούτων, v. 24, with i. 34, xix. 35. And I think there is a wonderful trait of genuineness in the words (v. 22), If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? The great age of the Apostle had seemed to justify the interpretation which some disciples had put on these words, viz. that that disciple should not die. The Evangelist evidently accepts it as a possibility that this may be the true interpretation of them, but he contents himself with recording what the words of Jesus actually were, and pointing out that they do not necessarily bear this meaning. I do not believe that a forger of the next century could have given such a picture of the old age of the beloved disciple, looking and longing for the reappearance of his Master, thinking it possible that he might live to see it, yet correcting the belief of his too eager followers that he had any guaranteed promise that he should. Now, if this 2ist chapter be an integral part5 of the Gospel, John must have written after the death of Peter; but at that late period other Gospels had been written, and John did not live so completely out of the Christian world as not to be likely to have seen them. But what to my mind proves decisively that he had is the fact that he can venture to state most formidable objections to the Messiahship of Jesus with out giving a word of refutation. If Christians were then dependent on traditional rumour for the belief that Jesus was born at Bethlehem, that He was of the seed of David, that Joseph was not his real father, I cannot believe that John would have refrained from giving his attestation to the truth of these beliefs, or have left his readers without his assurance that the answer they might be expected to give to the Jewish objectors was the right one. The fact, then, that John felt himself called on to give no answer to the objection that Christ must, according to the prophets, be of the seed of David, and of the town of Bethlehem, appears to me to be a proof that he knew that his readers had in their hands at least one of the Gospels which contain the genealogy tracing our Lord's descent from David, and which relate the birth at Bethlehem.

I draw the same inference from the supplemental character of St. John's Gospel. As I think that mere accident will not account for the likeness to each other of the Synoptic Gospels, so also do I think that mere accident will not account for the unlikeness of St. John's to the others. If he had written an account of our Saviour's life without any know ledge that other accounts had been written, it is incredible that he could have so successfully avoided telling what is related in these other accounts. It is exceptional if we find in St. John anything that had been recorded by his predecessors; and when we do, there is usually some obvious reason for its insertion. Thus the miracle of feeding the five thousand is used by St. John to introduce a discourse peculiar to his Gospel. The true explanation, I am persuaded, is that which has commonly been given, viz. that this Evangelist, knowing what accounts Christians already had in their hands, wrote his Gospel with the intention of supplementing these previous accounts. When he omits what his predecessors had related, he is not to be supposed to discredit them, or to wish to contradict them; but it is part of his plan not to bear testimony to what had been sufficiently attested already.

That St. John's silence is neither the silence of ignorance nor of disparagement becomes still plainer when we examine each instance severally. Thus he does not relate the institution of the Eucharistic Feast; and Renan takes this omission as a proof that our Lord did not then institute the rite, a conclusion in which Strauss on other grounds agrees. And certainly for anyone who does not acknowledge our Lord's Divinity, it is an important thing to overthrow, if possible, the Synoptic account of this part of the history. For see what is involved in the acceptance of this account. That Jesus should on this night have spoken of his approaching death Strauss believes to be possible enough. He thinks that he must have seen what feeble support followers, who understood him but imperfectly, were capable of giving against relentless foes. His idea is that when Jesus, as master of the household, broke the bread, and poured out the wine, for distribution among his disciples, the thought may have involuntarily presented itself to him that even so would his body soon be broken, even so his blood soon be poured forth, and that he may have expressed some such gloomy forebodings to his disciples. But if we grant, what Strauss admits to be possible, that Jesus, looking on his death as a sacrifice, may have regarded his blood as the consecration of a new covenant between God and mankind, and that in order to give a living centre to the community which he desired to found, he may have commanded the perpetual repetition of this distribution of bread and wine, we are led to views of our Saviour which can hardly fall short of those held by the Church. At the moment when our Lord sees that death can be no longer escaped, and that the career which he had planned has ended in failure, he calmly looks forward to the formation of a new society which shall own him as its founder. He foresees that the flock of timorous followers, whose dispersion on the next day he ventures to predict, will recover the shock of their disappointment and unite again. As for the shameful death, the thoughts of which oppress him, instead of anticipating that his followers will put it from their thoughts, and blush to remember their credulity when they accepted as their Saviour one unable to save himself, he commands his disciples to keep that death in perpetual memory. Notwithstanding the apparent failure of his course, he conceives himself to be a unique person in the world's history; and, in Strauss's words, he regards his death as the seal of a new covenant between God and mankind. Further, he makes it an ordinance of perpetual obligation to his followers that they shall seek the most intimate union with his body and blood, and holds out to them this closeness of perpetual union with himself as the source of all spiritual life. He intimates that the rite then being enacted was comparable with the first setting apart of the Jewish nation to be God's peculiar people; and as Moses had then sprinkled the people with blood, saying, Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord hath made with you (Ex. xxiv. 8), so now he calls his own the blood of the new covenant. This legislation for a future Church was made at a moment when his most attached disciples could not be trusted to remain with him for an hour, and when he had himself predicted their desertion and denial. Surely, in the establishment of the Christian Church, with its perpetual Eucharistic celebrations, we have the fulfilment of a prophecy, such as no human forecast could have dreamed of at the time the prophecy was uttered.

The case I have been considering must be added to the proofs given above (p. 217) that the Synoptic Gospels represent our Lord as using, concerning His own claims, no less lofty language than does St. John's. For what mere man has dared to set such a value on his own life as to speak of it as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, the source of all good to mankind? If with respect to the institution of the Eucharist St. John is to be regarded as contradicting the account of the Synoptics, we must inquire which account is the more credible; and then we have to consider that the Synoptic account is not only the earlier, but is confirmed by the perpetual practice of the Church. The very first time we read of Christian communities after the day of Pentecost we are told of their breaking of bread (Acts ii. 42, 46); and if we want more information about the rite, we obtain it from a document earlier than either the Synoptic Gospels or the Acts, namely, St. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians, in which, having spoken of eating the Lord's Supper (xi. 20), he goes on to give an account of the institution of the rite, in strict agreement with that in St. Luke's Gospel. How great value Christians, from the earliest times, attached to the eating Christ's flesh and drinking His blood, appears from words which I cite without scruple, since the progress of criticism has tended to dispel the doubts once entertained about the genuineness of the Ignatian epistles, I wish for the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and as drink I desire His blood, which is love incorruptible (Ignat. Ep. ad Rom. 7).

But now comes the most singular part of the discussion. So far is it from being the case that such language must be regarded as at variance with a Gospel which tells nothing of the institution of the Eucharist, that these words of Ignatius, or, if you will, of pseudo-Ignatius, have been generally accepted as evidence that the writer was acquainted with St. John's Gospel. When St. John wrote, Eucharistic celebrations were prevailing widely, if not universally, over the Christian world; and many years before, St. Paul had told how our Lord had commended the rite with the words, This is My body, this is My blood. Renan would have us believe that St. John intended by his silence to negative that account, yet no writer has done so much to strengthen the belief which we are told he desired to oppose. In fact one of the arguments which sceptical writers have used to induce us to assign a late date to the fourth Gospel is the resemblance of the language of the sixth chapter to the Eucharistic language of the writers of the second century. They say that in the Synoptic Gospels the Eucharist is but a memorial, or that at most there is a reference to some atoning efficacy attached to the Passion of Christ. In Justin Martyr, on the other hand, the Eucharist is a means by which spiritual nourishment is mystically conveyed to the soul. He speaks of these elements as no longer common bread and wine, and he teaches that as the Divine Logos became flesh and blood for our salvation, so our flesh and blood, by partaking of this heavenly nourishment, enter into communion with a higher spiritual nature (Apol. i. 66). This is evidently the same doctrine as that taught (John vi. 55), My flesh is meat in deed, and My blood is drink indeed. He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood dwelleth in Me and I in him. And in Lecture vi. I have taken pains to show that Justin derived his doctrine from St. John.

I own I do not think it possible satisfactorily to explain John vi. if we exclude all reference to the Eucharist. If both the Evangelist knew and his readers knew that our Lord had on another occasion said, Take, eat, this is My body; drink this, this is My blood, they could hardly help being reminded of these expressions by that discourse about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. On this point St. John's Gospel throws light on the Synoptic account. It softens the apparent harshness and abruptness of these words at the Last Supper, when we learn that this language about eating His flesh and drinking His blood was not then used by our Lord for the first time. We are told that in a discourse delivered at the Passover season of the preceding year (John vi. 4), our Lord had prepared the minds of His disciples to receive the idea of communion with Him by eating His flesh and drinking His blood. His language, then, at the Last Supper, instead of causing perplexity to the disciples, would remind them of the discourse spoken at the preceding Passover season, and would remove the perplexity caused by His previous dark sayings. The words, * Take, eat, this is My body, would then mean to them, Hereby can you do that which perplexed you when I spoke of it before.

In any case there can be no doubt of the fact that the discourse recorded in John vi. has had the effect of greatly increasing the value attached by Christians to the Eucharistic rite, and it cannot plausibly be maintained that this effect was one which the narrator neither foresaw nor intended; that he was ignorant of this ordinance or wished to disparage it. And if the result of the previous investigation has been to establish that this Evangelist habitually relies on the previous knowledge of his readers, we cannot doubt that in this as in other cases he speaks words φωνᾶντα συνετοῖσιν; and that he gives no formal account of the institution of the Eucharist, only because he knew that his readers had other accounts of it in their hands.

Very nearly the same things may be said about St. John's omission of our Lord's command to His disciples to go and baptize all nations. If by his silence he intended to disparage the rite of baptism, it is a strange accident that it is words of his which caused Christians to entertain an even exaggerated sense of the absolute necessity of that rite, and which suggested the name ἀναγέννησιςis, by which in the middle of the second century baptism was generally known (Justin Martyr, Apol. i. 61, with an express reference to our Lord's words to Nicodemus).

And so likewise as to the Ascension. Although John does not formally relate it, he not only refers to it in two texts already quoted, What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before? J (vi. 62); Touch Me not, for I am not yet ascended to My Father (xx. 17); but he assumes the fact, not in a single verse, but throughout the Gospel. The Evangelist is never weary of teaching that Jesus is a heavenly person, not an earthly; His true home heaven, not earth. The doctrine of the pre-existence of Christ is made to smooth away all difficulties in admitting the fact of the Ascension. No man hath ascended up to heaven but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is in heaven. If, then, St. John, who so frequently declares that Jesus had been in heaven before He came to earth, does not bear formal testimony to the fact that Jesus returned to heaven after He left earth, it can only be that he was aware that this was already well known to his readers by the attestation of others.6

I think it needless to multiply proofs that St. John did not write for men to whom the story of our Lord's life was un known; but that, on the contrary, he constantly assumes his readers knowledge of the leading facts. Instead of taking it as our rule of interpretation that he contradicts whatever he does not report, we should be much nearer the truth if we held that he confirms what he does not contradict. And the more we study this Gospel, the more weight, we find, deserves to be attached to the Evangelist's even indirect indications of opinion. The Synoptic Gospels may fairly be described as artless narratives of such deeds and words of Jesus as had most fastened themselves on His disciples recollection; but the fourth Gospel is avowedly written with a purpose, namely, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through His name (xx. 31). The Gospel bears the marks of having being written after controversy concerning our Lord's Person had arisen. The writer seems like one who has encountered objections, and who therefore anticipates difficulties by explanations. For example, he meets the difficulty, If Jesus walked on the sea because there was no boat in which he could follow His disciples, how was it that the multitude was able subsequently to follow Him? (vi. 23). He meets the more formidable difficulty, How could Jesus be divine if He was deceived in His judgment of one whom He had chosen to be an Apostle? (ii. 24, vi. 71, xiii. u.) All this gives the more weight to those passages in the Gospel which assert or imply the doctrine of the Godhead of our Lord. We know that we are not wresting chance expressions to a use different from that which the writer intended; but that these utterances are the deliberate expression of the Evangelist's firm conviction.

If we find reason to think that St. John knew of previous Gospels, it is difficult to believe that these were other than those we have now, which all own were written before his. There are several coincidences between St. John's Gospel and the Synoptics, but perhaps hardly sufficient of them selves to prove his obligation to them. He refers (iv. 44) to words of our Lord which he had not himself recorded, For Jesus himself testified that a prophet hath no honour in his own country (see Matt. xiii. 57). In the story of the miracle of feeding the five thousand, which is common to all four Gospels, there are coincidences which, however, may be explained as arising from independent familiarity with the facts. The mountain unto which our Lord ascended to pray is, as in the other Gospels, the mountain τὸ ὄρος. In Matthew and Mark a distinction is carefully made between the two miracles of feeding the multitude, the baskets taken up being in the former case κόφινοι, in the latter σπυρίδες a distinction, by the way, scarcely to be accounted for if we assume that the common element of those Gospels was only Aramaic. St. John agrees with the earlier Gospels in the use of the word κόφινοι. St. John preserves a feature that distinguishes Mark from Matthew, the 200 pennyworth of bread which the disciples exclaim would be needed to supply the people. Some minute critics have accused John of love of exaggeration because he says (vi. 7) that Mark's 200 pennyworth (vi. 37) would not be enough. It is odd that there is another coincidence between John and Mark in which the difference is the other way. The ointment with which our Lord was anointed might, according to John (xii. 5) have been sold for 300 pence; according to Mark (xiv. 5) for more than 300 pence. The most striking coincidence between these two Evangelists is in the words by which this ointment is described, μύρου νάρδου πιστικῆς, the last a word which puzzled even Greek commentators. If the conclusion of St. Mark's Gospel be genuine, there is a further coincidence in the relation of the appearance to Mary Magdalene. John agrees with Luke in naming one of the Apostles Judas, not Iscariot, who is otherwise named in Matthew and Mark. We could not build much on the mere fact that Mary and Martha are named by both; still less on the name Lazarus, which in Luke occurs in a different connexion; but the description (xii. 2) of Martha as serving, and the part ascribed to the two sisters in ch. xi. are in close harmony with St. Luke's account. Again, both Evangelists speak of Satan entering into Judas (Luke xxii. 3, John xiii. 27); and of the Holy Spirit as sent by Jesus (Luke xxiv. 49, John xvi. 7). There appears to be a reference to an incident more fully recorded by John, in Luke xxiv. 12, but there is uncertainty as to the reading.

An interesting question is, Where could John have read the story of our Lord's Ascension? If I have been right in contending that John would not have omitted to state formally where our Lord had been born unless he knew that this had been done already, it seems also that he would not have omitted to tell of the Ascension unless he had known it to have been previously related. But if this be so, we have only the choice of three suppositions, and the acceptance of any of them leads to interesting consequences. Either (1) John read Mark xvi. 19, and then it would follow that words, which have been questioned because they were not in some of the copies seen by Eusebius, were in the copies used by St. John; or (2) he read the words ἀνεφέρετο εἰς τὸν οὐρανόν in Luke xxiv. 51, and this is also opposed to the decision of modern critics; or (3) John was acquainted with the Acts of the Apostles, and read the account of the Ascension in the first chapter.

I have spoken of the things omitted by John and told by the Synoptics. I had intended to speak of the things told by John and omitted by the Synoptics; but I have not left myself time to speak of more than one. I refer to the fact, of which notice has often been taken, that the Synoptics relate no visit of our Lord to Jerusalem during His public ministry save that which ended in His death; while the scene of almost all the discourses recorded by John is laid at Jerusalem, and he relates visits of our Lord on the occasion of more Jewish feasts than one. In fact it is by the help of St. John's Gospel, and by the feasts there mentioned, that the duration of our Lord's ministry is calculated. If we had none but the Synoptic Gospels we might acquiesce in the notion taken up by some of the early fathers from the phrase, the acceptable year of the Lord, that His ministry lasted but one year.

It used to be one of the stock objections to St. John that he is here opposed to the more credible account given by the Synoptics. But the tide has now turned, and Renan has pronounced that on this question there is a signal triumph for the fourth Gospel. In the first place, it would be extremely improbable that our Lord should have failed to do what every devout Jew made a point of doing attend the Jerusalem feasts. We know that our Lord's parents com plied with this ordinance, and brought Himself up to Jerusalem, when He was only twelve years of age. We know that our Lord's Apostles scrupulously attended the feasts. After the Passover at which He suffered, they still came up to the following Pentecost. Even St. Paul, who was not considered sufficiently national, made it a point to attend the feasts; and we are told how on one occasion he resisted the pres sing entreaties of Gentile converts to make a longer stay with them, because he was anxious to attend a feast at Jerusalem (Acts xviii. 20: see also xx. 16). What, then, can we suppose to have been the conduct of Jesus Himself, who more than once declared that He came not to destroy the law but to fulfil it? Further, if our Lord made His appearance in Jerusalem for the first time at His last Passover, it seems incredible that the Jerusalem priests and rulers should have conceived so sudden a jealousy of their visitor, should instantly come to the conclusion that His existence was incompatible with the safety of the nation, should at once concert measures for His destruction, should immediately succeed in finding one of His followers accessible to bribery, and carry all their schemes into execution within a space less than a week. All becomes plain and intelligible, if we accept John's account that Jesus and the Jewish rulers had been on more than one previous occasion in collision, so that he was well known to these rulers, who had resolved on His death before His last visit to the city. St. John like wise gives a reason why on this last visit a crisis was brought about. According to him, it was the miracle of the raising of Lazarus which on the one hand made the Jews feel that it was necessary to take some decisive step in contravention of the claims of Jesus; and on the other hand roused the hopes of His adherents to such a pitch that they went out to meet Him, and led Him in triumphal procession into the city. Matthew harmonizes with this account, although He does not state distinctly, as John does, that the procession which escorted Jesus was made up of Galilean Jews who had come up to the feast. For Matthew (xxi. 10, u) represents the multitude as crying, This is Jesus the Prophet of Nazareth, of Galilee; while the inhabitants of Jerusalem are moved, saying, Who is this? There seems to be no ground for the common illustration of popular fickleness in the change of the cries from Hosanna to Crucify Him It would seem to be multitudes of Galileans who cried Hosanna; of the native citizens who shouted Crucify Him.

But to proceed with my argument, that the first visit of our Lord and His Apostles to Jerusalem was not that Passover at which He suffered. What is decisive is the fact, that when we turn to the Acts of the Apostles we find the headquarters of the disciples and the centre of the Apostolic mission at once established in Jerusalem: which would be highly improbable if they had arrived there for the first time only a few days before the Crucifixion. Thus, if there was a real contradiction between St. John and the Synoptic Gospels (and contradiction there is none, for his account is plainly only supplementary to theirs; but if contradiction there were) we must, on all grounds of historic probability, accept John's account as the true one. But when we examine the Synoptic Gospels a little more closely, we find several traces of a Judaean ministry. I will not lay stress on the last verse of the 4th of Luke, though, according to the chief modern critics, we ought to read, 1 preached in the Synagogues of Judaea, not Galilee. This is the reading of Codd. א, B, and C, three of the most ancient extant MSS. But I may remark, in the first place, that, according to the Synoptic Gospels, Judas the traitor was (as the name by which he is commonly known indicates) a native of Kerioth in Judaea (Josh. xv. 25); that Joseph of Arimathea, a city of the Jews (Luke xxiii. 51), or Ramathaim, was a disciple; that the account of the borrowing of the ass at Bethphage implies that our Lord was already known there; as does also the demand of the room at Jerusalem in which to eat the Passover. The supper given at Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, was clearly given by friends, not by strangers. But most decisive of all are these words, recorded both by St. Matthew and St. Luke: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together, which plainly implies previous warnings and visitations. The result is, that on this point, on which a former school of rationalist critics had pronounced John's Gospel not historically trust worthy, because opposed to the Synoptics, he turns out not to be opposed to them, and to state nothing but what, on grounds of historic probability, we must pronounce to be true. We have here, then, as Renan has said, a signal triumph for the fourth Gospel.



1) Vie de Jesus, p. 22.

2) It may be mentioned that John (i. 43) gives Peter the name Cephas, which is not found in the Synoptic Gospels, but is recognized by St. Paul (1 Cor. i. 12, iii. 22, ix. 5, xv. 5; Gal. ii. 9).

3) Much of what is said here I have said elsewhere in a Paper contained in a volume of sermons now out of print, called The Irony of St. John; the title of which, as well as its use of the word irony, were borrowed from Bishop Thirlwall's celebrated Essay on The Irony of Sophocles (Philological Museum, ii. 483).

4) Quite similar phenomena present themselves in the conclusion of the Epistle to the Romans.

5) It has been attempted to separate the last two verses from the rest, and to ascribe them to John's disciples. But with regard to * We know that his testimony is true (v. 24), Renan owns that very nearly the same words occur again in 3 John 12 (where, however, οῖδας seems the true reading); and he might have added that they have a close parallel in John xix. 35. οἴδαμενs a favourite Johannine word, occurring five times in the six verses I John v. 15-20.

Renan states ( Vie de Jesus, p. 535) that v. 25 is wanting in the Sinaitic MS.; but this is a slip of memory. What Renan had in his mind was that Tischendorf had expressed his opinion that this verse was in a different hand from the rest. He thought that the scribe, whom he calls A, who wrote the rest of the Gospel, had stopped at the end of v. 24, and that v. 25, with the subscription, was added by the corrector, whom he calls D, and who, he believes, was also one of the transcribers of this and of the Vatican MS. If this were so, it would be probable that v. 25 had been wanting in the archetype of the Sinaitic, and had been added by the corrector from a different source.

But Tregelles did not share Tischendorfs opinion as to there being a difference of handwriting; and Dr. Gwynn has noted that the same indications, whence Tischendorf infers (see p. 160) that the scribe D wrote the conclusion of St. Mark, prove that he did not write the conclusion of St. John. Contrary to the practice of that scribe, the name Ἰωάννης is written in the subscription here with two ν's; and the final arabesque, as Tischendorf calls it, or ornament drawn with a pen between the last line and the subscription, is exactly of the same pattern as that found in the other books written by the scribe A, and is quite different from the four written by the scribe D, viz. Tobit and Judith, St. Mark and I Thess. (the last leaf in each of these two N. T. books, having been cancelled and rewritten by D). There is, therefore, no ground to imagine that v. 25 is in any way discredited by the testimony of the Sinaitic MS.

6) Renan remarks (iv. 408) that the story of our Lord's ascension was known to the writer of the Apocalypse; for that on this story is based the account of the resurrection, followed by an ascension, of the two witnesses, xi. 12.