by Samuel C. Bartlett
The Princeton Review, January 1880, pp. 23-56.
The subject of Inspiration shares the common lot in needing an occasional re-statement. All themes require from time to time additional explanations, limitations, and reinforcements to meet fresh inquiries. The attempt definitely to formulate the doctrine of Inspiration is confessedly difficult. It has given occasion to many unsafe propositions, unsound arguments, and rash assertions, quite as often on the part of the assailants as the defenders of the doctrine. Thus Professor Jowett ventured to say that “the word itself [inspiration] is but of yesterday” (“Essays and Reviews,” p. 586); and the editor of a popular American monthly, speaking ostensibly in the interests of religion, was bold enough to speak quite lately of “the pernicious doctrine of Inspiration.”
The notion and the term Inspiration, are of no ecclesiastical or modern origin, but come from the Scriptures themselves. The responsibility is not with theologians and metaphysicians, but with the apostles and their Master and ours. It should be needless to remind any reader of the New Testament how Christ and his apostles always referred to the Old Testament scriptures—with what profound reverence, and as to the ultimate and divine authority. To whatever portion of those scriptures they allude, it is “the word of God,” “the commandment of God,” “the oracles of God,” “spoken unto you by God;” “David saith by the Holy Ghost;” “the Holy Ghost spoke by the mouth of David;” “well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias;” “God had showed by the mouth of all his prophets;” “God spake unto the fathers by the prophets;” “God hath spoken by the mouth of all his prophets since the world began;” “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost;” “all scripture, given by inspiration of God.” To Christ, “the scripture cannot be broken,” “it must be fulfilled.” They, therefore, who reject all claims of this nature for the Old Testament have something to adjust with the Founder of Christianity. It is often convenient to abridge the discussion concerning the older scriptures by resting upon these declarations made by him and his disciples. The explanation and application of these teachings to all the diverse aspects of the Old Testament involves some elements which do not so distinctly appear in the New Testament, and is a field too broad to enter upon, except incidentally, in this article. We propose to inquire into the Inspiration of the New Testament.
One chief error in the discussion of this subject has been the attempt, in part, to settle the question on a priori considerations rather than by a simple appeal to the facts, to the actual phenomena and the competent witnesses. It has often been argued, from the alleged necessity of the case, from God’s character or man’s needs, that God’s communication to man must or must not have had certain qualities of matter, method, or style. This mode of argument, found both among defenders and opponents, must be renounced. We must accept the wise statement of Butler that “we are in no sort judges beforehand, by what methods or in what proportion it were to be expected that this supernatural light and instruction would be afforded us.” We must ascertain how it has been done in fact.
Leaving behind us, then, all preliminary postulates, arguments, and definitions, and coming to this question simply as a question of evidence, let us see what we find that may satisfy a reasonable man. Let us begin with Christianity as a historical fact. We may accept as a starting-point the historic fact as stated by one who denies to the New Testament the character of a Divine Revelation, but who nevertheless is constrained to write thus:
We may take another step with another celebrated writer who has shown himself still less a believer in Revelation. In his “Three Essays on Religion,” Mr. John Stuart Mill makes this deliverance: “It is of no use to say that Christ, as exhibited in the gospels, is not historical, and that we know not how much of what is admirable has been superadded by the tradition of his followers. The tradition of followers suffices to insert any number of marvels, and may have inserted all the miracles which he is reputed to have wrought. But who among his disciples or among their proselytes was capable of inventing the sayings ascribed to Jesus, or of imagining the life and character revealed in the gospels? Certainly not the fishermen of Galilee; as certainly not St. Paul, whose character and idiosyncrasies were of a totally different sort; still less the early Christian writers, in whom nothing is more evident than that the good which was in them was all derived, as they always professed it was derived, from a higher source” (p. 254). After placing “the prophet of Nazareth in the very first rank of the men of sublime genius of whom our species can boast,” Mr. Mill also pronounces him “probably the greatest moral reformer, and martyr to that mission, who ever existed on earth.”
Given, then, this “Founder” of the church, this “ideal character,” this “highest pattern of virtue” and “highest incentive to its practice” “through eighteen centuries,” this“sublime genius” and “greatest moral reformer who ever existed upon earth,” this “well-spring of whatever is best and purest,” this “Christ historical as exhibited in the gospels,” we inquire for the mode in which this mighty influence “to regenerate mankind” asserted itself. The answer comes from the simple and concurrent statement of the earliest records, some of them admitted by all parties to be from his contemporaries, and from those who were intimately, confidentially associated with him in the great work.
If we are asked how we justify a resort to the New Testament writings for our testimony, we answer, because, their general honesty and truthfulness being conceded, the wonderful work wrought by this group of men of whom Christ was the central power, and the singular qualities they exhibited, mark them as not only suitable witnesses, but the only competent witnesses in the case. As the first Napoleon, had he been truthful, was the man of all men to have given a correct, central, and complete insight into his extraordinary military career, so are the men whose position is so wholly unique in the effects wrought on humanity the only persons capable of speaking for themselves.
In dealing with this testimony we are not to look for formal and technical statements, nor scientific forms and arrangements. This would be counter to their method in the enunciation of all other truth. Nor may we expect here, more than on other topics with which they deal, testimony so absolute, express, and overwhelming as to silence all cavil; but that which is satisfactory and convincing to a reasonable mind.
Still it is not to be understood that the evidence of the divine authority of the New Testament writers is weak. On the contrary, it is peculiarly strong, not being confined to any limited number of phrases and sentences, but incorporated into the substructions of the Gospel as well as spread out on its surface. A mistake has sometimes been made of looking too exclusively for certain distinct and separate texts, and losing the weight of the whole underlying basis of which these are but the outcroppings. The argument is cumulative, and this teaching of a divine inspiration is but the topstone of the pyramid. We ascend by stages.
1. The records show that the Founder of Christianity did not plan nor arrange to carry out his great enterprise wholly or chiefly by his own personal presence and activity. He was early cut off, as he had predicted. Three years afford no time to complete or insure such a vast movement, not for a nation only, but for the race. Yet that was all the time he devoted to his mission. Nor did he himself leave on record one line of writing. This “sublime genius” and “greatest reformer” looked to other agencies.
2. The Founder of Christianity entrusted the work of fully organizing and carrying forward his great agency of “regeneration” to his immediate followers or disciples. He founded an apostolic church. This fact cannot be too strongly emphasized, spread out as it is on the whole face of the records and the whole history of the transaction. He was here but “a little while,” but before he withdrew to the Father, he made provision for what Mr. Lecky calls “an enduring principle of regeneration.” He “chose twelve, whom he named apostles” (Luke vi. I3), whom he “ordained that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach” (Mark iii. 14). They were to be “the light of the world,” “the salt of the earth.” To them was committed the function of further organizing and completing the great work only begun by himself. After a steady and constant training of them during his short public life, to them he gave a final charge under circumstances and with assurances of the highest moment and gravest solemnity. Nothing lies more plainly in the records than this apostolic establishment of the church: while “Jesus Christ” was “the chief corner-stone,” it was “built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles”—the New Testament church clearly on the latter. This fact is a fundamental one. It supplies the basis and clue to all else. It is not only the antecedent and germ of all further and more specific legislation, but it carries with it the solution of some collateral questions of much importance.
3. The Master clothed his chosen apostles with a most complete and absolute authority. This is another vital fact. He not only selected the twelve from the whole number of his disciples (Luke vi. 13) and ordained them “that they should be with him,” and “that he might send them forth to preach, and to have power to cast out devils” (Mark iii. 14, 15), but he still more distinctly invested them with plenipotentiary authority and supremacy in his kingdom. He “gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases, and sent them to preach the kingdom” (Luke ix. and parallel passages), closing his charge with the declaration that “whosoever will not receive you nor hear your words,” it “shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment.” The remarkable utterance to Peter, understood for good reasons by the Protestant Church to be made to him as representative of the twelve, gives “the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” and the power of binding and loosing on earth so as that it should be bound and loosed in heaven. A similar declaration is made to the disciples (Matt. xviii. 18): “Verily I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The commitment of authority goes so far that after breathing on them, with the words “Receive ye the Holy Ghost,” he adds: “Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted, and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.” When he met the eleven by appointment on the mountain in Galilee (Matt. xxviii. 18), he said unto them: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I command you: and lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world.” In the last recorded interview (Acts i. 3-9) he promises them “power after the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and ye shall be my witness both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and in Samaria and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.” These are remarkable declarations. In terms the most complete and unqualified they confer power to speak and act in Christ’s name, to be his witnesses, to organize, legislate, and even forgive sins, and that, too, because of the aid of the Holy Ghost and his own perpetual presence. They contain all that is essential to a valid theory of full divine guidance and authority. But the case does not rest here.
4. The Saviour gave to his disciples the distinct promise of the Holy Ghost to guide them infallibly in their communications.
(a) When he instructed and sent them forth (Matt. x. 1, seq.), and forewarned them of being brought before governors and councils, he promised them for their guidance (vers. 19, 20) an objective influence—“it shall be given you,” “it is not ye that speak;” that influence “the spirit of your Father,” “the Holy Ghost” (Luke); removing all occasion for anxiety—“take no thought;” extending to matter and manner—“what or how” (πως η τι). Le Clerc’s objection is that this is only a promise for certain occasions. We reply it is (1) a promise for supreme occasions, the most difficult, and (2) it rests, as we have seen, on a general commission of complete authority. If it be said this is an inspiration not of written but of spoken words, we answer it is neither, but of the men that were to speak or write. It is quite surprising to hear Mr. Row say in his Bampton Lectures (p. 455) that this promise “has no bearing on the present question, being only a promise that when they should be summoned to answer before the tribunals, the Spirit would suggest the proper materials for their defence.” For, the thing which he finds there is not in the passage, viz., “their defence,” and the thing which he does not find certainly is there, viz., it is “for my sake, for a testimony against [to] them and the gentiles.”
(b) The same promise (almost in the same words as given by Mark xiii. 11) occurs during the last week of Christ’s life, as he sat on the Mount of Olives (Luke xxi. 12-15) that when brought before kings and rulers “for my name’s sake” “it shall turn to you for a testimony. Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer: for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist.” The “mouth and wisdom” include both the thought and utterance.
(c) Still more complete and specific declarations occur in the discourse at the Last Supper. He promises them (John xiv. 16, 17) “another Comforter that he may abide with you forever, even the spirit of truth,” who “dwelleth with and shall be in you.” Again (ver. 26), “The Comforter, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” In chapter xv. 26, 27, this “Comforter whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, he shall testify of me: and ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.” The presence of this Comforter rendered it even “expedient” that Christ himself should “go away” (xvi. 7); and “when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all [the] truth,” and “he will show you things to come” (ver. 13), And again (ver. 14, 15): “He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine; therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you.”
Now glance over these several statements, and see if it is not a positive rejection of Christ’s own plain and explicit affirmations not to find here the following things clearly promised to his apostles: The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit as a Spirit of truth, more important than Christ’s personal presence, not alone fully to recall his teachings, but to teach them things which the Master had not said to them (“ye cannot bear now”—xvi. 12); unrestricted in his communications and infallible in his guidance (“shall guide you into all the truth”), making known to them the things of Christ and of the Father, teaching them by direct communication, additional to and cooperative with their own personal knowledge (“he shall testify of me, and ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning”). Their own personality was to remain, but under the control of the infallible guide.
5. As a correlative to these promises, we find the apostles claiming the powers and authority thus conferred by the Master. They asserted the absolute right to speak for their Master as his authorized representatives; to give commandments in his name and in God’s name; to declare truth received by direct revelation from God, as well as that brought by natural observation and recollection; to make annunciations and requisitions from which there was no appeal, and to brand all conflicting claims and teachings as false.
These things they say, not by formal and technical discourses on the topic, but by assertions incidentally made as occasion required. And these occasional assertions, be it observed, rest on the steady and permanent assumption of truth and authority. Their directions are commands. Their statements are not to be questioned. The implication is more than the expression, distinct as is the latter. John’s claims, if brief, are peremptory. His Apocalypse was a communication “in the Spirit,” and closes with a solemn curse on the man who should add or take away. An equal air of authority pervades his epistles. He has “fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ;” he can give “a new commandment,” determine the presence of “antichrist,” and absolutely forbid the reception of certain teachers or the bidding of them “God speed.” In one portion of his gospel he asserts the absolute truthfulness of the record (xix. 35), and again affirms his truthfulness (xx. 30, 31) as a sure basis of faith in Christ, and of eternal life. The same tone of command and assurance runs through Peter’s first epistle. He asserts his apostleship in the outset, affirms that the things testified beforehand by the Spirit of Christ in the prophets are “now reported by them who have preached the gospel with [in, εν] the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven,” and proceeds with utterances quite as imperative as those of Christ himself. The second epistle (though we quote it reservedly in this discussion) is still more distinct in its declarations on the subject of inspiration, and in coupling the communications of the apostles with those of the Old Testament in authority. Paul’s writings, as more extensive and various, are still more abundant and distinct on this point. We will but refer to the opening chapter of Galatians; I Cor. vii. 12, 25; 2 Cor. ii. 13, xiv. 37; I Thess. iv. 8, and many other passages. Mr. Warington, after rigidly ruling out all passages referring to specific revelations received, and expressions fully explained by reference to those ordinary gifts which the apostles shared with believers generally, gives us the following result as the remainder, which we quote the more readily because of the freedom with which he treats the whole subject:
Such were the claims steadily set up by the apostles as the counterpart to the promises made to them by the Saviour.
6. These assertions have been understood by the church, since that day, with remarkable unanimity, as claims of a divine guidance and authority. While the fathers from the beginning steadily ascribed the Scriptures to the Holy Ghost (“the Scriptures, the true sayings of the Holy Ghost,” Clemens Rom. ad Cor. xlv.), they also recognized the New Testament as “Scripture” equally with the Old. Thus Polycarp (ad Philip. xii.), in referring to the Scriptures, combines in one quotation a passage from the Psalms and one from Ephesians. Barnabas, as it is now well established, cites Matthew as “Scripture” (γεγραπται). Justin informs us that in the Sunday worship of his time “the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as long as the time permits” (First Apol. lxvii.). One who wishes to see the chain of patristic testimony to the inspiration of the New Testament as well as the Old, including the use of the word “inspiration” (by Justin Martyr ad Gracc. xxxviii.), may find it in the text, and especially in the Appendix (G), of Lee on “Inspiration.” Whoever would know the views put forth in various confessions of faith made by the reformers may examine the Bohemian, Helvetic, Gallican, Belgic, and Scottish Confessions, all uttering in diverse words the same sentiment.
Such, in general, do we understand to be the basis of the received doctrine of Inspiration. And we understand the substance of the doctrine to assert a divine guidance of the Holy Spirit over the sacred writers, which brought to their minds all truth requisite for the establishment of Christ’s kingdom, whether gained by the use of their own faculties or by direct communication from God (revelation), and so controlled them in the utterance as to make their teachings true and authoritative. This divine influence, as is clearly implied and distinctly to be seen, used the speakers not as passive instruments but as living agents, being exerted in and through their faculties so as to leave throughout the traces of the human agent, though guided by the divine afflatus. We may accept the words of the careful Ellicott: “The Holy Ghost was so breathed into the mind of the writer, so illumined his spirit and pervaded his thoughts, that while nothing that individualized him as a man was taken away, everything that was necessary to enable him to declare divine truth in all its fulness was bestowed and superadded” (“Aids to Faith,” p. 472).
But here we meet a disposition to resist all further and more specific statements. For two reasons. One class thereby gain the opportunity to magnify the human aspect of the case and withdraw various matters at their own convenience and pleasure from the sphere of inspiration. This tendency is quite conspicuously exhibited in reference to Paul, the fullest of the writers, and to many the most objectionable. Another class prefer an indefinite statement as an easy mode of escaping difficulties. Thus Mr. Row (“Bampton Lectures,” p. 450) and others. But discussion cannot be arrested here. The phenomena of the case offer materials for more definite opinions and statements, and we must meet them. And inasmuch as the writers do not themselves set forth the details and specifications, our resort must be not to a priori reasonings, but to an examination of the phenomena. In so doing we will, as far as may be, dispense with the use of technical terms which have not always retained a definite signification, e.g., plenary, verbal, mechanical, dynamical, functional, to reach the facts.
And, first, we meet the question how far the inspiration extends to the language. Were all the sentences, phrases, and words dictated throughout by the Holy Ghost, so as to make the writer but an amanuensis? One might apologize for answering this question, were it not that the old theory of Quenstedt still makes its appearance occasionally. It is not only the view imputed by Coleridge to the church at large, but scarcely a generation ago Gaussen said, “The Bible is not a book which God has charged men already enlightened to make under his protection; it is a book which God dictated to them” (“Theopneusty,” p. 61; see also pp. 39-41, etc.). And Dr. William Cunningham, in his “Theological Lectures,” republished recently in this country (1878), though perhaps not always quite consistent, declares that “the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures [advocated by him] implies in general that the words of Scripture were suggested or dictated by the Holy Spirit, as well as the substance of the matter, and this not only in some portion of the Scriptures but through the whole” (p. 349).
Two passages have been cited for this view. One is I Cor. ii. 13: “Which things we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth.” But the term here is λογος, which denotes rather propositions than mere “words;” in fact, say Liddell and Scott (12th edition), it “never means words in the strict grammatical sense, or as the mere name of a thing or act (which are expressed επος, ονομα, ρημα), but rather the material, not the formal part. Such is Paul’s usage clearly, I Cor. i. 17, 18; ii. 1-5. Another cited passage is one of those already quoted (Matt. x. 19, 20): “It is not ye that speak,” etc. But this no more precludes personal agency than does the statement in Peter, “It is God that worketh in you both to will and do,” preceded as it is by the injunction, “Work out your own salvation.” The one statement requires no more than the other the notion of an automatic agency. And when we look at the actual phenomena, we find that the human personality and personal peculiarities of Peter, Paul, and John appear as clearly as possible in their writings. We therefore do not hesitate to say that they are there, and that the words were not “dictated” from without but evolved from within. Gaussen’s reply that God “borrowed the personality” (p. 63), or imitated the style, of the several writers passes the domain of rational thinking, one of whose fundamental and Baconian rules is, when a phenomenon is fully accounted for by a present and known cause, not to assign an unnecessary cause. The facts preclude the theory of a universal dictation. But of course they include occasional dictations whenever it is so asserted.
And as each writer speaks in his own style, though guided and controlled, so each and all speak in the thoroughly human style, the popular idioms of speech. Man could be addressed only in the speech of man; men everywhere and of all conditions, only in the idioms of common life. The idiom, when analyzed, may be strictly untrue, as multitudes of idioms are; but their established meaning is true. Neither “bowels of compassion” nor our word “heart” is correct in itself; but it conveys the truth. Luke’s “all the world” (ii. 1) means the same as in the designation of the Roman empire in the inscriptions, and Matthew’s statement, “All the city was moved,” the same as our “universal excitement;” and the like. It is a principle never to be forgotten by the expositor.
These principles recognized—the language of the people, and the personal style of the writer, in opposition to a divine dictation—at once dispose of whole pages of variant phraseologies cited (e.g., by Mr. Warington) as though they militated against inspiration. When once the amanuensis theory is discarded, the gathering up of verbal variations, that do not affect the sense, whether in duplicate narratives or reported sayings, or even in the inscription on the cross, is a waste of writing.
But to reject the theory of universal dictation is not to deny all control of the language. In some cases a direct message from God is asserted, although in these instances often the substance seems to be more insisted upon than the phraseology. In some cases, again, the argument turns on the very words used, as John x. 34, Gal. iii. 16; and we must concede a guidance that cares for the phraseology. Still further, it is true that as language is but the incarnation of thought, so the proper guidance of the writer’s mind would carry the legitimate speech, were the writer so trained that his thoughts certainly clothed itself in suitable words. This, however, had not been the training of the apostles. And it would seem but a fair interpretation of the promise given and the powers claimed, to hold with Ellicott that, while there was not a universal dictation, there was such a guidance as would prevent the use of wrong forms of statement, and “in all passages of importance, wheresoever the natural powers would not have supplied the befitting word or expression, there it was supplied by the real though probably unperceived influence of the Holy Spirit.” It is difficult to see how less than this can meet the claims positively put forth. To abandon this would be to give up the doctrine of a sure divine guidance in their teachings. There would not be the “mouth and wisdom,” the “what and how,” “all the truth,” nor the “λογοι which the Holy Ghost teacheth.” Correct statements were secured by a control in regard to which we might use Lee’s phrase, and say that it was not mechanical but “dynamical”—and effectual. The Holy Spirit guided them as agents, not as instruments.
But, secondly, another grave—we will hardly say graver—question, but more difficult, meets us when we apply in detail the Scripture doctrine to the subject-matter of the message. How far does the writers’ infallibility cover the facts embraced in their statements?
Two extreme views may at once be laid out of the account, at least for the class of persons for whom this discussion is intended: the theory of an unaided human fallibility on the one hand, and the implication of omniscience on the other. Probably no writer has directly maintained that to be inspired was to be endowed with God’s omniscience; yet many objections and some replies would carry the implication; as when men attack or defend the writers for their non-acquaintance with, or their avowed ignorance of, other facts than those they communicate; or when it is urged as an objection to an unerring inspiration that the writer mentions his “diligent investigations,” or that “the apostles claim credence for the story which they told because they were telling what they had seen and heard” (Fisher’s “Beginnings of Christianity,” p. 405). No judicious writer now maintains that the sacred writers learned by direct revelation from God all that they have communicated to us. The distinction between the pervading inspiration which enabled them rightly to communicate what was to be communicated, however learned, whether by their own observation, the use of documents (as genealogies), or even trustworthy information on the one hand, and occasional direct revelation from God on the other hand, of that which they could not otherwise know, has been too often pointed out to call for a repetition here. There is no reason to assert that God deviated here from his usual method with his people of not doing supernaturally that which can as well be done naturally. The thing to be shown in order to have a bearing on the case is, not that the apostles “claimed credence because they were telling what they had seen and heard,” but that they did not claim credence and obedience also on any higher ground. The same able and usually careful writer makes another negative point thus: “We find that the apostles limit their testimony to the period of their personal acquaintance with Christ; the first thirty years of his life—with the exception of a few incidents relating to his infancy and boyhood which were gathered up from oral sources—being passed over in silence.” Such an argument raises the following inquiries: (1) What is the authority for saying that these few incidents were gathered from oral sources? (2) Are not some of the “exceptions” in direct conflict with the writers’ theory and statement? What “oral source” could stand voucher for the “incident” that Mary was “with child by the Holy Ghost”? (3) How can any man say or imply that the sole reason for thus “limiting their testimony”—with these grave exceptions—was the lack of personal acquaintance? Is not the generally-accepted reason, the relation of the transactions to his ministry, a good and sufficient reason? (4) Would the limitation of statements to a certain portion (the necessary portion) of the facts on any given theme, or even the ignorance of them, disprove the infallible inspiration of the writer, unless by inspiration we mean omniscience? 1
It is to be kept distinctly in mind that correct and absolutely certain knowledge of certain facts in the case is compatible with entire ignorance of many other attendant facts. The apostles were inspired not to communicate “all truth” (as our translation has it), but “all the truth” (πασαν την αληθειαν) needful for a certain end in view. The rest “the Father hath kept in his own power.” Their function was prescribed and limited. They were not empowered to know and declare everything. Enough that everything which they do declare as truth is true.
We may also, as already suggested, lay out of this discussion the view that the apostles had in their communications no aid beyond their natural faculties and ordinary means of information. The affirmation of Professor Jowett (“Essays and Reviews,” p. 379) that “there is no appearance in their writings that the evangelists or apostles had any inward gift or were subject to any power external to them different from that of preaching or teaching which they daily exercised,” if it means what it seems to mean, is as much at variance with Paul’s own statement of the case as the additional rash affirmation (ib. p. 386) that “the word ‘inspiration’ itself is but of yesterday, not found in the earlier confessions of faith,” is in conflict with the facts of history—an affirmation well refuted by Canon Wordsworth.
Closely akin, however, to this view, though perhaps somewhat higher, is a theory which reduces the inspiration of the apostles to the level of that of all good men, conceding a difference in degree. This was one of the crude utterances of the brilliant preacher, F. W. Robertson. Indeed his opening sentence even identifies inspiration with genius: “The difference between Moses and Anaxagoras, the Epistles and the ‘Excursion,’ I believe is in degree” (“Robertson’s Life and Letters,” i. p. 270). But he apparently modifies this view, and, after some uncertain statements, gives preference to the Epistles: “By how much our spiritual nature is higher than our sensitive and moral, so much are the Epistles above the Excursion. Higher in kind, and higher also in degree of inspiration; for the apostles claim, in matters spiritual, unerring power of truth.” But again he returns to his position, “All is properly inspiration” (all kinds and degrees of knowledge), and makes his meaning finally quite distinct by his closing paragraph: “This view of the matter is important, because in the other way some twenty or thirty men in the world’s history have had a special communication, miraculous and from God. In this all have it, and by devout and earnest cultivation of the mind and heart may have it increased illimitably.” To such a declaration we need only say that it is in plain conflict with the peremptory authority given to and asserted by the apostles themselves; that it also appears to be an immature speculation, not fairly representative of Robertson’s real spirit, and better not given to the world by a too officious biographer.
The next stage upward is one which describes “the inspiration of the evangelists as having its effect in an elevation of mind and in spiritual insight,” in contradistinction from an influence which would “secure impeccability of memory” or “perfection of judgment and memory” in what they declare (Fisher’s “Beginnings of Christianity,” p. 404). The difficulty of such a theory is to be found in its unfortunate collision with Christ’s own promises which did guarantee both these things, “impeccability of judgment and memory,” when he promised that the Comforter “shall bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you,” and “I will give you a mouth and wisdom which your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist.” Equally little will a mere elevation of mind and spiritual insight comport with the extraordinary claims of the apostles to speak the mind of God and of the Holy Spirit.
Another inadequate view, though still in advance, is that inspiration qualified them to utter infallibly religious truth, and that alone: “Their doctrinal and practical teaching was pure and divine, while in regard to all else, including historical statements, they were left wholly to themselves both as to sources of information and accuracy of statement.” This is Mr. Warington’s theory (“Inspiration,” pp. 238, 239, and elsewhere), and that of other writers. Were this view sustained by facts, we should, of course, accept it. We might question how the historical events can be so divorced from the doctrinal deliverances that lack of certainty in the one should not remove the foundation from the other—as, for example, how the chief historic facts of Christ’s life and death can be questioned without thereby questioning the great doctrines of redemption. But it is quite obvious throughout the gospels and epistles alike that the apostles do everywhere insist on certain facts of occurrence as vitally related to the religious truths they proclaim. Their very “preaching of Christ,” as on the day of Pentecost and at the gate of the temple, was at first largely a setting forth of the historic facts of his life and death.
To meet this aspect of the case some have risen to a higher form of statement, and regarded the claim to infallibility as covering all those facts which were essentially involved in religious teachings. Undoubtedly, if this be all that we are warranted to hold, we must be content to rest here. We might be reminded of the difficulty of drawing the line between the statements that are and those that are not essential. It might be said, however, that in general the line is clear: thus, that Christ died under the circumstances recorded is plainly vital, the hour of the day at which he died is not essential; the institution of the Lord’s Supper is a great fundamental fact, the day of the month, whether the actual Passover or not, non-essential. To hold fast this position certainly is to hold much. But it as certainly leaves to its advocates a wide opportunity of ruling out facts as unimportant at their own pleasure. It sets up an imperium in imperio. Should we, in that case, be bound to accept the positive declaration of demoniacal possessions, or of the miraculous conception of Christ without human father? Should we accept the miracles, all or any, or set them aside as unessential and, indeed, a burden upon the Gospel? Is the fact of Christ’s own resurrection at all needful to the injunctions to imitate his holy life and to love God; or have we here, as Matthew Arnold says, “a legend growing before our very eyes”? Shall we then accept the statement that he was “without sin,” or, with the late Mr. Parker, reject it as “the dream of girls”? Were not the writers, however honest, yet ignorant, superstitious, and constantly mistaken, full of the “Aberglaube”? Very instructive is the descent from Thomas Arnold to Matthew his son. The former taught (Sermons, ii. p. 385) that “when God chooses a being of finite knowledge to be the medium of his revelation, it is at once understood [!] that the faculties of this being are left in their natural state, except so far as regards the especial message with which he is entrusted.” The latter, while affirming that the New Testament “exists to reveal Jesus” (“Literature and Dogma,” p. 149), also remarks that “no acuteness can save such notions [as miracles] from being seen to be mere extravagances” (p. 130); that “the belief is due to man’s want of experience, to his ignorance, agitation, and helplessness” (p. 136); that “his [Christ’s] reporters saw thaumaturgy in all that Jesus did, and they bend his language accordingly” (p. 144) —and so on through a volume. In truth, according to him, “one of the very best helps to prepare a way for the revelation of Christ is to convince one’s self of the liability to mistake in his reporters” (p. 134); yea, “the first thing to be done is to make it perfectly clear that the reporters could and did err” (p. 137).
Without dwelling on such a reductio ad absurdum, we may properly advert to the painful position in which we should find ourselves in the effort to receive as absolute truth, on the highest and gravest of all themes, the declarations of certain witnesses who show themselves incapable of testifying truly on the common facts of history and life, and incapable of stating correctly their own Master’s sayings; in the endeavor to believe with implicit confidence their assurances in regard to things unseen and unknown to us, when in regard to the things we can see and know they prove credulous and mistaken. It is an awkward dilemma. It is in quite manifest conflict with the recorded method of Christ, who verified his own unseen powers and higher declarations by visible results and illustrations, who symbolized his invisible spiritual healing by works of bodily cure, foreshowed his final victory over Satan’s kingdom by his visible control over the “evil spirits,” and, so to speak, demonstrated his power to forgive sins by his ability to deliver from the bitter bodily penalties of sin, and who, in every form, took pains so to commend his teaching by the analogies of common life, common-sense, and common morality as to make his rejecters “without excuse.”
The general methods of the Saviour and his teaching furnish no parallel to such a conflict of evidence, such “a house divided against itself,” such a breaking down of his own witnesses. Surely such witnesses as Mr. Arnold describes would not carry much weight in a civil court, whether on higher themes or lower.
Are we then compelled to pause with the flexible position that inspiration qualified the writers to teach infallibly religious matters and those facts directly involved in them? Or may we retain the comfortable persuasion that not only this, but whatever they distinctly declare to be true, is thoroughly trustworthy? Let the statement be observed: whatever they affirm to be true. It does not cover all knowledge, nor all knowledge on those themes, but simply what they vouch for, and as they vouch for it, even to the assertion sometimes of their own ignorance. It concerns also their real statement, its true meaning under whatever current idioms or figures of speech conveyed. This view must undoubtedly be tested by the data given, and not by our preconceptions or alleged necessities. These data are threefold: the promise, the corresponding claim, the apparent result.
Now, in the promise given there is no such exception made. The Holy Ghost was to guide them “into all the truth,” naturally all the truth they had occasion to utter, and his language does not limit to a partial truthfulness mixed with larger or smaller amounts of error. It is not found in his declaration. And when he said that the Comforter “shall bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you,” he certainly seems to prompise so far an unrestricted “impeccability of memory.” His promise is of “how” and “what.” What forces us to abridge the assurances?
Nor do the writers concede mistakes. Their declarations are positive, unhesitating, unqualified. John makes the correctness of his narrative the foundation of the believer’s faith. Paul speaks after the same manner (I Cor. xv., etc.); Peter insists on his statements (2 Pet. i. 16). The declarations of the evangelists are all put forth with the same air of undiscriminating positiveness. Luke’s careful gathering and statement of the facts was made that Theophilus might “know the certainty [την ασφαλειαν] of those things.” The facts of a purely secular character are, as though of set purpose, welded to those that might be called most sacred. Christ’s baptism and his age are most deliberately bound up not alone with John’s preaching, but with the reign of Tiberius and the government of Pilate, Herod, Philip, and Lysanias, as well as the priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. The facts ascertainable by ordinary means are coupled with those guaranteed only by higher knowledge; as, in Matthew, the miraculous conception and the birth at Bethlehem with the doings of Herod and the revelations of God to the Magi and to Joseph. Luke in the same sentence states both that Christ returned from Jordan into the wilderness and that in so doing he was “led by the Spirit.”
Such inseparable and deliberate interlockings of both classes of facts, with the most distinct commitment to both alike, would show that the writers acknowledged in their own minds no distinction as to the validity of the two classes of statements.
We may go further and add that the principle itself that Scripture vouches for only the truth of doctrinal and practical teaching and the facts directly involved breaks down most manifestly in the case of prophecy. A large part of the Old Testament prophecies concerning Babylon, Nineveh, Egypt, and other nations direct themselves to the most purely secular facts. Christ’s prophecy concerning the destruction of Jerusalem deals in its details with the facts of ordinary history.
If, then, the promises are not restricted to a single class of statements, and if the writings themselves bear no evidence of such limitation, but the contrary, and if the principle itself clearly will not go through the book, why should we commit ourselves to a position so unstable? If the theory of an inspiration limited to strictly religious truths and the involved facts be adopted for the reason given by Mr. Row and others, to avoid collision with the progress of secular knowledge, the question arises whether the movement is not singularly ill-timed now when the researches of seventy years or more have been steadily removing difficulties. Why arrange terms of surrender when the progress is towards victory? The archaeology of the present century has been wonderfully coming to the rescue of the Scriptures, at the very time when historical scepticism had become most audacious, and in some provinces, as in Egypt, has fairly driven it from the field.
Many of the chief difficulties have occurred in the Old Testament, a field not at present under consideration. We may say, in passing, that we have no anxieties there. We feel prepared to show, e.g., that the narrative of creation, the grand piece de resistance, when taken for what it is, a phenomenal account, marvellously compressed (averaging perhaps two or more millions of years to a verse) and designed for comprehension in all ages by all classes, is, when laid by the side of the latest results of science, a matchless outline sketch of the very facts of geological history—no “Semitic tradition” nor “grand poem of creation,” but a narrative of the main characteristic facts in their order and truth, as they would have appeared to the eye, yet beyond the range of human knowledge till within this century. For the whole world and all time no words could better tell the story in the same compass. In view of the tendency of linguistic and ethnological researches, we are not concerned for the unity of the race. When science has said her last word on the antiquity of the race we will meet that biblical question. We listen calmly while Virchow virtually rebukes Haeckel and President Allman Tyndall; and we seem to hear John S. Mill lift up his voice from the tomb to tell us that “once admit a God, and the product by his direct volition of an effect [i.e., a miracle] which in any case owed its exertion to his creative will must be reckoned with as a sober possibility.”
But confining ourselves, as proposed, to the New Testament, alleged occasions for disputing the minute correctness of the narrative have been steadily diminishing till they have almost reached the vanishing-point. The history of the process shows cause not for vacillation, but firmness. By the law of progressive approach it would indicate a probability that, if we were placed in possession of all the facts, the last difficulty would pass away. We cannot repeat here the oft-told tale. Notwithstanding its long line of exposure, the outer historical difficulties seem reduced to the solitary question of the taxing under Cyrenius, and this is all but extinguished by Zumpt’s showing that about the time of Christ’s birth and a year or two later he was actively employed in Cilicia, a province of Syria, where he might, as Dr. Woolsey remarks, “well have superintended the census of Syria, and be popularly called ηγεμων,” soon becoming actually its president, as he was also ten years later. 2
We might dwell on alleged erroneous quotations from the Old Testament. Warington, after devoting many pages to the subject of these “blemishes,” concludes thus: “Amidst all the blemishes we have noticed above we have not in any instance had to notice a really inapposite quotation ... The pertinency of the quotations may be marred by their inaccurate citation, but pertinent notwithstanding they always are. In a word, while, as we say, the letter is often faulty, the spirit is ever divinely true” (p. 107). What more do we ask? We leave the subject with such a testimony.
The endeavor to find issues with external history having proved so fruitless, attention has been concentrated on finding internal contradictions. Certainly the opportunity is ample for such a cross-questioning and comparison of the witnesses. Paley’s “Horę Paulinę,” and the forced concessions of the Tübingen writers in regard to four great epistles of Paul, show how impregnable are the epistles. The chief search for “discrepancies” has thus been turned to the four gospels. With what results? Few themes have elicited more loose thought and speech, more arbitrary maxims and standards of judgment, or more of unfounded assertion, often from able and good men. The truth is that when we set aside the really irrelevant instances, the residuum is small indeed.
In discarding the mechanical theory of constant dictation, and recognizing—what must be recognized—the writers’ individuality as fully retained, we set aside at once as requiring no attention all mere diversities of phraseology where the substantial meaning is the same. With the recognition of this obvious fact many long discussions collapse.
We may also lay aside all “discrepancies” where the only difference is between a more and a less complete statement—such as the mention of one blind man by one writer, and of two by another. Here is no conflict, any more than if one newspaper should say that President Hayes attended the Bennington Centennial; another, the President and Mrs. Hayes; and a third, the President and his Cabinet; or a fourth, the President, Mrs. Hayes, and a majority of the Cabinet. Yet such things are often arrayed as conflicting, and by very respectable writers. Yet it is simply a difference of completeness, and of various selection. Some motive, conscious or unconscious, leads one writer to omit what another presents. “Locutiones varię, sed non contrarię,” said Augustine; “diversę sed non adversę.”
Mr. Farrar, who freely recognizes this distinction, and in general the distinction between a “difference” and “an irreconcilable discrepancy” (“Life of Christ,” i. p. 335, note 3), himself stumbles over simple inexactness of statement which he calls “inaccuracy” (i. p. 279, note 2) and alleges to be in conflict with “supernatural” inspiration. It is in regard to the centurion’s application on behalf of his son, which Matthew ascribes to the centurion, while Luke says it was made by “sending” elders and friends. Yet Mr. Farrar answers himself when he says that “Matthew’s briefer and less accurate [exact] narrative represents the request as coming from the centurion himself, on the every-day principle qui facit per alium facit per se.” Thus, Pilate “scourged Jesus;” James and John made a request of Christ, though their mother presented it; “Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, though Jesus himself baptized not, but only his disciples.” In each case the statement is inexact but not “inaccurate,” that is, erroneous. In the centurion’s case, it is noticeable that Matthew, who apparently was present, gives the abridged statement and makes the narrative consistent throughout, although one of his expressions implies the absence of the centurion; for Christ commented on his great faith “to those who followed him.” We can even suggest a reason for the difference, growing out of the different method and aim of the two gospels. Matthew uses the facts to impress and rebuke the Jews, Luke to commend the faith of a gentile. Matthew compresses the opening facts, as unessential to his purpose; Luke gives them, as necessary for his.
Men advance to the settlement of these questions often with incredible dogmatism. So candid a man as Dean Alford, in treating of the Gergesene demoniacs, first calls the narrative a “report,” though the narrator (Matthew) to all appearance was present. Then he lays down this dictum: “I cannot for a moment consent to accept the lame solution which supposes one of the demoniacs not to be mentioned by Mark and Luke,” giving as his reason that Matthew’s is the briefer, “less circumstantial” narrative. But how quickly such dogmatism goes down before common facts. Winslow’s Journal (of Plymouth Plantation) speaks of a ship sent out “by Master Thomas Weston.” But Bradford, in his far briefer narrative of the matter, mentions it as sent by “Mr. Weston and another.” A case precisely in point. It is indeed remarkable how all the phenomena of the “discrepancies” are matched by these two plain and truthful narratives; and how only the same kind of explanations, freely admitted in order to make them fully coincident, are equally effectual with the Scripture narratives. We had prepared a collection of examples to insert at this point, but for brevity’s sake omit them. Let these two accounts of Plymouth be dissected after the manner of Strauss’s “Life of Jesus,” or of some much fairer reasoners, and the reductio ad absurdum of this style of criticism is complete.
But after eliminating these various “discrepancies,” which are no contradictions and no indications of error in the writers, but the best proof of their independent truthfulness, although the chaff and dust of controversy, we reach a few cases of seeming collision, slight indeed, but at first sight furnishing difficulty of reconciliation. We might call them stock cases. They are few and often cited. Intelligent objectors who manifest any historic sense, usually at some stage of their discussion concede their unsubstantialness. Quite commonly and noticeably one objector freely surrenders the insuperable difficulty of another; as when, in regard to the number of Gadarene demoniacs, on which Alford takes his solemn stand, Farrar, who is equally free in his criticisms, thinks that “probably we should see no shadow of difficulty if we knew the actual circumstances.”
So able a writer as Dr. G. P. Fisher (in his “Beginnings of Christianity”), after carefully surveying the ground and selecting his instances, rests his case against the complete harmony of the writers on five examples. His cases and his admissions are deserving of notice: One instance is the Sermon on the Mount, chiefly in two respects: (1) its chronological place, Matthew placing it on the mountain, Luke after a descent to the plain; (2) the phraseology, whether simply “poor” or “poor in spirit.” On the first point Dr. Fisher virtually disposes of his difficulty by saying that “a reconciliation, if one seeks it, is not impossible;” that is, supposing we accept the Latin tradition that the mountain was Kurun Hattin, the descent from the highest peak to the flattened ridge or “plain” (Robinson) between the two horns, yet still on “the mountain,” is the easy explanation. As to the question of “poor” or “poor in spirit,” Dr. Fisher again answers himself thus: “Which is the more exact [note the word] report? Did Luke abridge, or did Matthew amplify? Our own opinion is that the statements of Luke correspond most nearly to those actually uttered. The poor were gathered about Jesus; their temporal condition, the hard circumstances in life, awakened in them spiritual longing. For the reason, partly, that they were poor in purse, they were poor in spirit. Christ said, ‘Blessed be ye poor,’ the implied condition being that spiritual poverty, which was shown by the way in which they flocked after him while the rich stood aloof, was the concomitant. Matthew’s addition is explanatory. It guards against a misunderstanding.” Well explained. The meaning is the same, and is recognizable; but Matthew guards against a misunderstanding of that meaning. Where is the conflict? Or we might take the other alternative: Matthew gives the “exact” words, Luke abridges them as sufficiently intelligible in the circumstances. Or a third permissible supposition: Christ used both expressions, the second time explaining himself as he sometimes did. Surely there is nothing in this case.
Another of his chosen instances is the case of the centurion. This we have explained already. And Dr. Fisher himself comes to the rescue thus: “Here it may be considered probable that the first evangelist abridges the tale by the omission of incidents that were familiar to him” or unnecessary to his purpose—with which Mr. Farrar is satisfied. Then what call for “the suggestion that possibly two traditions appear”? The attempt to impeach a writer’s statement, satisfactorily explained, must rest on more than a suggested “possibility.” If all narratives which briefly ascribe to principals the acts done through their agents were pronounced incompatible with correct writing, it would go hard with history.
A third stumbling-block is the narrative of Peter’s denial: (1) “There is not a precise accordance of localities.” (2) “With regard to the second denial, Mark says that the same maid put the question, Matthew says ‘another maid,’ while Luke makes it ‘another man.‘” As to the first (1) we can find no collision whatever. Peter’s first denial is in the open court (αυλη) according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the last writer adding by the light or “fire” which was “in the midst of the court,” and John fixing on the same place by saying that he was warming himself by the “fire.” Matthew describes it as “without” (outside of the room where the high-priest was), and Mark “below,” on a lower level, as was the “court.” The second denial Matthew places at the gate, or larger entrance-door (πυλωνα), and Luke, a little less definitely, in the entrance-way (προαυλιον). The place of the third is not given. There is no disagreement here. As to the other matter (2), the whole force of the objection stands or falls, as Alford well remarks, with the assumption that we are obliged to limit the narrative to three sentences from Peter’s mouth, each expressing a denial and no more. Can this be maintained? It cannot, although Dr. Fisher rather peremptorily affirms that the denials were “unquestionably three in number,” “no more as well as no less,” apparently meaning three sentences. Dean Alford hastily took this view in his first edition, but afterwards fully retracted it, pronouncing it his “main fallacy” to have required “the recognitions and recognizers to have been identical in the four gospels.” But as he truly remarks, “On three occasions during the night he was recognized, and on three occasions was a denier of his Lord! Such a statement may well embrace reiterated expressions of recognition and reiterated and importunate denials on each occasion; and these remarks being taken into the account, I premise that all difficulty is removed from the synopsis.” This supposition is not only admissible, but sustained by probabilities and by intimations in the narrative. When the portress who had first questioned him saw him (as he was leaving), it was natural for her to call attention to him by making to the bystanders an assertion of what was before but a question to him. And “it would be strange indeed,” says Alexander, “if this suggestion had excited no attention and awakened no inquiry. All experience and analogy would lead us to expect precisely what we find recorded in the gospels, viz., that several began at once to question him, another woman (Matthew xxvi. 71), a man (Luke xxii. 58), and some who had been around the fire (John xviii. 25), especially a kinsman of the person whom Peter had wounded.” This inherent probability is sustained by the narratives. Matthew and Mark both say of the third time “then he began to curse and to swear,” which, says Alford, is “a plain intimation that he spoke not one sentence only but a succession of vehement denials.” And further, in the narrative of the second denial (where the difficulty is raised) we have a clue to this very state of the case; for while Matthew mentions “another maid,” and Mark “the [probably the same] maid,” and Luke “another man,” John uses the plural “they said.” Dr. Fisher overlooks this last statement in which, as Dr. Gardner remarks, “is the key to the whole.” With the denial of an arbitrary and unwarranted assumption the difficulty vanishes.
A fourth case is that of the blind man at Jericho. Dr. Fisher wisely admits it to be “quite possible that there were two,” and that point is removed. The difficulty is the well-known one: Matthew and Mark say it was when Christ was leaving the city, Luke, “when he drew nigh to it.” Our author mentions but one explanation, to render εγγιζειν “was near,” not drew nigh. While he admits it to be a possible rendering, he thinks it “quite unexpected,” “forced and unnatural.” We assent to this last statement. But there are two much better explanations, neither of them forced or unnatural. The first of them was satisfactory to Professor Greenleaf, of the Harvard Law School (“Testimony of the Evangelists,” pp. 369, 370), as well as to many others, and is this: Premising the extreme brevity, abruptness, and even isolation of the two incidents at Jericho, where Christ appears without a word of the journey thither or thence, or expressly of the time of his stay, we do find that he remained some time and perhaps some days (it being his only recorded visit); for he said to Zaccheus, “Today I must abide at thy house;” and “that he did spend the Jewish Sabbath there is evident from the fact that he arrived at Bethany on the first day of the week” (Robinson). Jesus, therefore, says Professor Greenleaf, “may be represented not as finally leaving Jericho, but as occasionally going out of Jericho” into the vicinity, “intent on his great work” as usual, and on his return restoring the blind men. “A miracle performed when he had thus gone into the country and was nearing the city on his return,” adds Dr. Gardner, “might naturally be described by one evangelist as taking place when he had gone out of the city, and by another with more particularity [exactness] as being performed on his return.” It was on the excursion, though, precisely, on the return from the excursion. 3 A man may properly be said to have been killed while taking a drive out of Boston, although it occurred near the city on his way back. The other explanation (Bengel, Lange, Ellicott) supposes that as Jesus came from Ephraim to Jericho, he naturally left the city by the same gate by which he entered; that on his entrance he was accosted by a blind man (or men) who was threatened and restrained by the crowd (so reads the narrative); that he did not heal him at once (the narrative shows intervening conversation), but to test him, perhaps, kept him waiting till his own exit, then yielded to the renewed importunity. Some add—though unimportant—that the second man joined him meanwhile. Luke finished the whole account in connection with the opening request, Matthew and Mark with the completed transaction—neither of them caring to cumber their brief narratives with needless details. Neither of these last two solutions seems to us to require any “great strength of dogmatic bias” to accept, in dealing with writers who generally prove themselves so impeccable even in details. One who cannot admit their complete validity must shut his eyes to scores of cases in secular narratives, where greater seeming diversities are admitted to be no contradictions whatever. Thus, to take an instance given by Dr. Fisher (“Beginnings,” p. 399), John Adams in two different letters gives the story told him by the daughter of Otis concerning her father’s destruction of his own manuscripts, using, he says, “her own expressions.” Among other diversities, he makes her say that “in one of his unhappy moments he committed them all to the flames;” yet in the second letter she is made to say that “he was several days in doing it.” The only difference that the author sees in the narratives (including other diversities) is that “the same fact is narrated in the one briefly, in the other more in detail.”
The same writer remarks emphatically how differences of detail disappear when the whole transaction is presented. Sometimes a single additional hint solves the whole complication. Take an example given by Professor Greenleaf: “In the case of Cooper vs. Franklin, Croke says it was not decided but adjourned; Godbolt says it was decided in a certain way which he mentions; Moor also reports it as decided, but gives a different account of the question raised; while Bulstrode gives a still different report of the judgment of the court, which he says was delivered by Croke himself.” Here is confusion and seeming contradiction enough. “But,” proceeds Professor Greenleaf, “by Bulstrode’s account it appears that the case was twice previously argued, and thus at length it results that the other reporters relate only what fell from the court on each of the two previous occasions.” The seeming contradiction vanishes at once with this additional fact. Many other examples are at hand, but one is sufficient. We have dwelt a little more at length on this instance of the blind men because it is actually the most specious case of trivial contradiction, and does duty on all occasions. But we submit that it cannot be shown to be other than an abridged narrative, and one who rules out that supposition shows little knowledge of the variations of absolutely true testimony and little of the judicial spirit.
A fifth case cited by the author in question concerns the time of the Last Supper, and the allegation that the synoptic gospels place it on the evening of the Passover, and John the night before. To this we reply that we do not admit the allegation. Very able and eminent men (besides the Tübingen critics) do indeed maintain that John takes the position indicated. But equally able and eminent men deny the alleged fact, and they maintain their case by reasons (in Dr. Robinson’s words) “valid and irrefragable.” We cannot enter on the argument. But any reader who desires to see, in the briefest compass, the light of noonday let in on a topic on which, as the writer says, “the very floodgates of learning have been opened to cover it with darkness,” are referred to Appendix A in Dr. E. H. Sears’ “The Fourth Gospel.”
We have thus examined the cases selected by a very able writer as test cases on the question of discrepancies. We might add one or two others (as the hour of the crucifixion and Christ’s words to Peter, “deny me twice”), did our space admit, which are sometimes cited. But they offer no greater, if so great, difficulty, and were not deemed by him of sufficient importance to cite in addition. The conclusion we reach is that, in view of the singular general accuracy and consistency of the New Testament narratives along their vast line of exposure, and the entire feasibility of solving the few cases of difficulty; in view also of the steadily-increasing supports which fresh investigations are bringing from year to year, we do not see cause to yield to the rising tide of foreign laxity, we do not find reason to rule out of the sphere of “truth” into which the Comforter was to guide the disciples all facts except those directly concerning our salvation or necessarily involved in them. Before we concede that any of the facts which they affirm to be true are really unfounded and erroneous, we shall wait till the proof comes. 4
It seems indispensable to say a word as to the writings which are to be included among the “inspired.” The subject, though it cannot be here discussed, cannot be altogether dismissed without a few words of suggestion, since the question is sometimes introduced to give countenance to the notion of placing the gospels on the same level with other histories written by honest and good men. In this connection we read (“Beginnings of Christianity,” p. 404): “As three out of five histories were not written by apostles, it has been assumed that the relation of Mark to Peter and of Luke to Paul gives an apostolic authority to non-apostolic evangelists. That the second and third gospels and the Acts were ever submitted to the apostles for their revision and sanction is a proposition which no enlightened scholar would venture to sanction.” The last sentence contains a singular limitation of alternatives—as though no enlightened scholar could hold the inspired authority of the gospels unless he also held that they had been thus submitted.
On this topic of the canon we must rest satisfied, as on many others (for example, the Lord’s day), with evidence that is reasonable. We can never insist on excluding all cavil or objection.
We start, then, with the fundamental principle already set forth as the basis of this whole discussion, that the church was apostolic in its whole organization, early government, and legislation—made so by the Saviour himself. It was committed into the hands of his apostles, and these men could and did impart spiritual gifts to others. We then proceed thus:
1. A portion of the New Testament came directly from these divinely-commissioned apostles. We have the productions of Matthew, John, Peter, and Paul—to say no more. Here we have, on direct apostolic testimony, all that forms the main history and doctrine of the New Testament. Subtract all that the most unreasonable critic demands, and the rounded body of truth is here given us as a firm basis and a sure standard and test of all the remainder.
2. A large part of the remainder can be fairly and conclusively inferred to have apostolic sanction. (1) There is, in the first place, their wonderful harmony with the writings already mentioned. (2) There is clear evidence of the writers sustaining special relations to the apostles. Luke was Paul’s chosen associate in his journeyings, and, as appears by many allusions, his tried and constant friend as well as his sole companion near the close of his life (2 Tim. iv. 11). Mark was his earlier companion for a time, was specially desired and commended by him in his last letter, was with Peter at Babylon as “my son” (I Pet. v. 13), and his narrative gives clearer tokens of the eye-witness than either of the others. We may fairly add the report of Papias, Ireneus, and Tertullian that he wrote as Peter’s interpreter, and the statement of Clement (given by Eusebius) that his gospel received Peter’s special sanction. Whether James, author of the epistle, was the apostle the son of Alpheus, or the Lord’s brother, or, probably, both in one, and whether Jude was an apostle or simply the Lord’s brother and brother of James the author of the epistle, they had been both closely associated with our Lord and with the apostles. (3) Their writings all appeared and were received during the lifetime of some of the apostles and passed unchallenged. Late admissions are beginning to recognize even the supplementary character of John’s gospel.
3. All the writings included in our canon (we will except 2 Peter, not to embarrass the argument) were very early received by the churches founded and watched over by the apostles. Most of them—twenty books of twenty-seven—by all the churches and from the very first, so far as we can trace the matter, and unquestioned; the remainder apparently from the first in the regions where they could be early known; and all universally as soon as their claims could be made known by the more distant churches. So that before the close of the second century every book of the New Testament (except 2 Peter, and nothing else) was accepted in the church either in its eastern or its western half. It has come down to us like the Lord’s day. Westcott well says: “The strength of the negative criticism lies in ignoring the existence of a Christian society from the apostolic age, strong in discipline, clear in faith, and jealous of innovation. ... It is impossible to insist on this too often or too earnestly. To make use of a book as authoritative, to assume that it is apostolic, to quote it as inspired, without preface or comment, is not to hazard a new or independent opinion, but to follow an unquestioned judgment. ... If it can be shown that the epistles [and other books] of the New Testament were first recognized exactly in those districts in which they would naturally be best known; that from the earliest mention of them they are assumed to be received by churches and not recommended only by private atuthority; that the canon, as we now receive it, was fixed in a period of strife and controversy; that it was generally received on all sides; that even those who separated from the church and cast aside the authority of the New Testament scriptures did not deny their genuineness; if it can be shown that the first references are perfectly accordant with the express decision of a later period, and that there is no trace of any other book; if it can be shown that the earliest forms of Christian doctrine and phraseology exactly correspond with the different elements preserved in the canonical epistles [and gospels]—it will surely follow that a belief so widely spread throughout the Christian body, so deeply rooted in the inmost consciousness of the church, so perfectly accordant with all the facts we do know, can only be explained by admitting that the books of the New Testament are genuine and apostolic, a written rule of Christian faith and life.” All this can be shown.
4. The marvellous coincidence of the several writings with the known apostolic nucleus sustains the united testimony of the churches.
5. And this result is further and impressively sustained by the vast interval in quality between the canonical books, not excepting the most questioned one of them, and the best of the “fathers” or of the Apocrypha.
Such considerations as these give all the weight of intellectual conviction and of satisfaction which we can reasonably demand or expect in questions of this kind; and this is crowned by the conscious knowledge, the certainty, that the whole volume, to use Mr. Coleridge’s words, “finds us” as does nothing else.
1. Professor Fisher in this connection, among similar remarks, says that “contemporary evidence is furnished; and the departures from this practice are the exceptions that prove the rule.” No doubt the phrase we have italicized is often thus applied. But is not the application as great an error in reasoning as it is in the interpretation of this law maxim? Every conflicting fact so far disproves an alleged “rule,” without the slightest tendency to confirm it, but the contrary. In the sense intended by this writer, all “exceptions” tend to impair, and enough of them to destroy, the “rule.” The law maxim, so often misapplied, announces that an exception stated as an exception thereby determines the meaning of the “rule” to which it is expressly made an exception. Thus in the statutes of New Hampshire the laws concerning “spirituous and intoxicating liquors” contain one clause providing that “nothing in this chapter shall be construed to prevent the sale or keeping for sale of domestic wine or cider, except when sold to be drank on the premises where sold.” This specific exception, as such, proves the general rule concerning such liquors to include “cider and domestic wine” in other cases—e.g., “when drank on the premises.”
2. Dr. Woolsey remarks, as we think incautiously, that Zumpt’s solution brings Matthew and Luke into “irreconcilable variance,” because “Cyrenius could not have commanded before Herod’s death.” But he furnishes a solution of the case, as given above—“popularly called ηγεμων.”
3. The English version of Luke xix. 1, “Jesus entered and passed through Jericho,” is misleading. It is the imperfect “was going through” and may be going about through, or going throughout, as Acts xv. 41, xviii. 23, xx. 2. It was after this that he spent the day with Zaccheus, according to the narrative.
4. In this discussion the course of argument has superseded the necessity of referring to many writers in detail, whose views are canvassed in the discussion. The more evangelical writers of Germany, even Tholuck, are too free in conceding errors. Rothe, e.g., holds that the individual portions of Scripture are not errorless, yet as a whole the Bible is an infallible religious guide. “Its infallibility lies in its total effect as resulting from the self-correction of the one-sidedness of its single parts by other of its single parts.” The careful reader of Rothe will perceive that he steadily confounds incompleteness with positive error, and the marks of human personality with proofs of the absence of divinity; that he has no distinct conception of the various alternatives to choose between; and that after rejecting other views (chiefly the dictation theory) he fails to show any valid foundation for his own, and, while distinguishing between Christ and his apostles, he makes in reference to the latter this damaging admission: “It is clear, then, that the orthodox theory of inspiration is countenanced by the authors of the New Testament.” A careful following of his discussion would reveal not a little of very inconsequent reasoning and arbitrary assertion throughout—more than it would be profitable to accompany in detail.