A Series of Ten Lectures
The Four Gospels
MUTUAL RESEMBLANCE OF THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS.
-- THEIR SAMENESS OF STYLE AND LANGUAGE ACCOUNTED FOR.
- GENEALOGIES IN MATTHEW'S AND LUKE'S GOSPELS.
- PROOFS OF THE GENUINENESS OF JOHN'S GOSPEL.
-ITS RELATION TO THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS.
- PROOF OF ITS ANTIQUITY FROM THE HISTORY OF GNOSTICISM.
I HAVE presented in previous Lectures the grounds on which we may affirm the genuineness and authenticity of our canonical Gospels. But I have confined myself to considerations common to the four. There are, however, certain special objections urged against the authorship of the first three Gospels in their present form in the Apostolic age, and against their editorship by any person of firsthand authority; and there are objections - which demand our most careful examination - to the authorship of the fourth Gospel by John or in his lifetime. We will consider, first, the questions that relate to the synoptic Gospels.
These Gospels coincide with one another in the main, not only as to their contents, but often in language. There frequently occur long passages which are the same, almost word for word, in the three, or in two of the three. There are many passages in hearing which it would be impossible for one familiar with the Scriptures to say from which of the three it was taken. A common origin or free copying from one another, it is said, alone can account for these phenomena; and, on either supposition, these Gospels are in no sense three separate, independent, and original authorities. Even though the names of the authors be correctly given, still if two of them needed to copy from the other - Mark and Luke from Matthew - we have no ground for the assurance that those two had personal knowledge of the facts they recorded; or if they all copied from older documents, then are they all alike unworthy of our implicit confidence.
That they did not copy from one another appears, as I have already said, from the no inconsiderable amount of material of the highest interest peculiar to each, which it is inconceivable that the others, with his record before them, should not have borrowed. This is emphatically the case as to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke; it is also the case with Mark's Gospel as compared with Matthew's or Luke's alone, though it contains little that may not be found substantially in one of the other two.
The hypothesis more generally entertained is that these Gospels, as they now exist, did not originally proceed from individual authors; that they were formed by successive accretions, the nucleus of all three having been a collection of the discourses and parables of Christ with some connecting thread of narrative, to which additions were made by different hands, in part from documents of which we see traces in two of the three, in part from tradition. Matthew, Mark, and Luke may or may not have had something to do with the first crude germs of the Gospels bearing their names: but in their present form they were not written or made; they grew, and are composed of materials of different dates and sources, and of widely varying degrees of authority.
The first comment that suggests itself as to this hypothesis is, that the books themselves do not correspond to it. They have not the appearance of being made up of fragments, nor do they show the slightest traces of having been written, either of them, by more than one author. Each of them has its own peculiarities of style, its own modes of quotation from the Hebrew Scriptures, its own distinguishing words and phrases, its own marks of a specific use, purpose, or destination. Each is a complete work by itself, with no breaks or abrupt transitions, with no tokens of the intrusion of heterogeneous materials here and there. Such materials, if they existed, would be as easily recognized as are boulders from a distant locality among the native rocks on which they lie. These boulders, though borne to their present site on glaciers that were broken up before man trod the earth, still show themselves out of place, and will so show themselves till the end of time. We have no such boulder in either of the first three Gospels; but we have one lying loose in our common editions of the Gospel of John, and I regard it as of so pre-eminent value in refutation of any patchwork theory as to the composition of the synoptic Gospels, as to be worth our special consideration.
I refer to the narrative of the woman taken in adultery (see Appendix II, Note F), which no respectable critic supposes to belong by birthright where it stands. It not only has no connection with what precedes and follows it, and makes what follows it self-contradictory and absurd, but, when we leave it out, the preceding and following sentences run together at once, and show that they belong to the same continuous narrative. Short as it is, it contains several features of style unlike John's, and two designations - one of a place, one of persons - which John never uses, though very often speaking of the same place and persons. What is of still higher importance, it is the only story in the four Gospels that is in any degree repugnant to the moral sense which they have educated, and out of keeping with their general tone and spirit; the only passage which many who hold the highest views of inspiration would willingly and gladly see expunged from the sacred pages : for it alone gives a one-sided view of the character of Christ, representing pity for the sinner as almost lapsing into indulgence for the sin. This passage, with almost every possible mark of spuriousness on its face, is wanting in the four oldest Greek manuscripts, and in most of the oldest extant manuscripts of the early versions. Such manuscripts as contain it generally have it written in the margin, or, when inserted in the text, marked with an asterisk or an obelisk. Nor does it always occupy the same place, but is sometimes put as an appendix at the end of the fourth Gospel, and sometimes inserted, where it is equally out of place, near the end of Luke's Gospel. Thus there is not the slightest probability that it formed a part of John's Gospel at the outset, or was at first intended to be read as a portion of it. It was perhaps a garbled reminiscence of some story told by St. John, or perhaps a tradition, without any special authority, which some possessor of a copy of John's Gospel wrote in the margin of his copy, where he could find room to insert it. A copyist of this copy transcribed it in the same place, thinking that there was some good reason why it should be there. Thus it passed from copy to copy, till at length it was taken into the text as a passage that might have been omitted by mistake, but then not without a mark to indicate a doubt whether it belonged there or not.
I have introduced this passage as of the highest importance in the question now under discussion. It shows how utterly impossible it is so to incorporate alien materials that they shall seem of the same fabric with the work into which they are inserted. Yet, on the supposition of the gradual growth of the first three Gospels from a common original document, this process must have been performed many times over by the hands of many different authors, without leaving the slightest trace of displacements, rough edges, or awkward joinings, where new fragments were inserted,- without any tokens of diversity of style or inconsistency of representation. The existing marks of homogeneousness in diction and sentiment, of the continuous work of a single hand, in each of these Gospels, could not by any possibility have been counterfeited.
Yet the coincidences of which I have spoken are so close and so peculiar a feature of these books, that those who call their genuineness in question have a right to claim an explanation of them. On examination we find, in the first place, that the coincidence, close as it is, is such as would result from common recollections rather than from the same manuscript. There are, in every instance, slight verbal variations, such as would undoubtedly be observable were any three of us to repeat from memory the parable of the talents, or that of the prodigal son. The coincidence is closer in the discourses and sayings of Jesus than in the mere narrative, as if each of the three had been at special pains to give a correct report of what the Master had said. The coincidence is most frequent and continuous between Mark and Luke, who often agree in deviating from Matthew, alike in the report of words, in the details of events, and in the order in which they occurred.
As for their agreement in reporting the discourses and parables of Jesus, it was but natural that each should have made it his prime endeavor not only to put into writing the substance of what was said, but to reproduce, so far as they could be rendered into another language, the very words that had been uttered. And is it not conceivable that Jesus purposely prepared the way for reports thus minutely literal? We have but little of what he said transmitted to us, and probably this little, embodying as it does the fundamental truths and laws of religion and ethics, was repeated more than once by Jesus in substantially the same forms, so as to penetrate by reiteration the somewhat slow and hard minds of the hearers, and to make an indelible impression on their memory. For nearly three years, at the least, after the departure of Jesus, the apostles and their most intimate friends remained together at Jerusalem. They met almost daily at one another's houses, for conference as to the great interests devolved upon them by their Master, and for such propagandism as was invited by the curiosity of the inhabitants or of strangers in the city. Their chief employment at these meetings must have been to refresh their own recollections, and to instruct those who met with them, by rehearsing what Jesus had said and done. Except as to the last scenes of his life, in which their tender and intense interest could never have waned, their discourse would have dwelt chiefly on his ministry in Galilee; for they must have always or often had those present who had seen and heard Jesus in Jerusalem, but not in Galilee, and much of what had taken place with Jesus or had been said by him at Jerusalem, prior to his last passover, may have been on visits in which he was accompanied by none or by only one of the apostles. It must have been a foremost aim with them to recall the very words that had fallen from their Master's lips, and they would have helped one another's memories toward this end, so that when they came to repeat his discourses separately, their verbal diversities would have been few and slight. Then, too, though without any special painstaking, they would have fallen into very much the same way of relating the incidents of their Master's life; for while persons of taste and culture have each his own method of telling the same story, you must, I think, have noticed the strong tendency among comparatively uncultivated persons, in telling a story, to copy one another's precise form and style of narrative. There would thus have grown up among the disciples, before they began to be scattered, an oral Gospel common to them all, the chief staple of their preaching when they were dispersed, and to our three evangelists, especially to Mark and Luke, the germ of their written Gospels.
Mark, we know, must have been intimate with this company of disciples; and, even were he not so, Peter, whose amanuensis Mark is believed to have been, held the first place among the authors of this oral Gospel, nor is there any thing in Mark's Gospel which we cannot easily conceive of his having learned from Peter.
Matthew, as one of the original twelve, had the best first-hand opportunities of information, so that he would have been likely to possess some materials peculiarly his own; and as he was, so far as we know, the only one of the twelve whose business would have led him to the ready handling of writing materials, it is by no means improbable that he used memoranda taken from time to time, which would have been substantially, and often verbally, in accordance with the oral Gospel which he helped to make, yet would have covered wider ground.
Luke alone relates the mission of the seventy, and he gives a series of parables not recorded elsewhere. If he was one of the seventy, this may be accounted for; for it would appear from his narrative that the mission of the seventy took place, and that these parables were uttered after their return, while the twelve were absent on their mission. Luke's introductory chapters are peculiar to him; there is no sufficient critical ground for supposing them not to have formed a part of the Gospel as first written; and we may account for these details of the infancy and childhood of Jesus by the author's intimacy with Cleopas, a near kinsman of the mother of Jesus, - an intimacy proved by the narrative of the walk to Emmaus; for if Luke was not - as I believe he was - the actual companion of Cleopas on that occasion, it is evident that he heard the story from one who was present, and, if so, certainly from the one whom he expressly names.
We thus see that the coincidences and the differences of the first three Gospels are precisely such as may be accounted for by recorded and admitted facts with reference to their reputed authors. In our time, or in any time, three persons who had spent two or three years in daily intercourse, talking over the same portions of their common experience, would, in recording that experience, coincide with one another fully as much and as often as Matthew, Mark, and Luke coincide, while each would show somewhat of his own peculiar individuality, and each would probably have some things to tell which the others had not known or did not recollect when writing.
There is one discrepancy, striking and peculiarly open to cavil, between Matthew and Luke, which merits our special consideration. I refer to that between their genealogies of Joseph, the reputed father of Jesus. In Matthew's Gospel, Joseph is the son of Jacob; in Luke's, the son of Heli; and there are numerous other differences between the two lines by which the ancestry of Joseph is traced back to David. The first thing to be said with reference to these genealogies is that it is inconceivable that either of them should be a forgery. A genealogy is the most unlikely of all things to be forged by simple, unimaginative writers such as Matthew and Luke, if they wrote these Gospels, evidently were. Nor yet does the mythical theory or any theory of gradual elaboration account for their existence. They must both have been copied from actual documents, and from documents supposed to be genuine.
In the next place, as descent from David, at a time when the Messiah was expected from among his posterity, must have been a dearly cherished prerogative, if there were two ways in which such descent could be reckoned, tables conformed to both modes would have probably been in the possession of members of the family. That there were two such modes among the Hebrews is rendered certain by the levirate law, according to which, if an elder married brother died childless, the next brother married his widow, and the first child of the marriage was accounted as the son of the deceased brother. That this custom, if it no longer had the force of an imperative law, was not obsolete, may be inferred from the case of the seven brethren propounded to Jesus by the Sadducees. Now, if we suppose Jacob the actual father of Joseph, and Heli Jacob's elder brother by the same mother, but by a different father, we have the discrepancy fully explained. Even without pressing this explanation, we can conceive that there were among the Jews, as we know there were among both the Greeks and the Romans, other modes of legal adoption, by which a man might be in the eye of the law the son of a person other than his actual father. The phraseology of the two genealogies not only admits, but, rightly understood, necessitates the supposition of an actual descent in the one case, a legal descent in the other. Matthew evidently means to give the actual descent. Luke expressly designates his as the legal genealogy, and why should he have so designated it, unless he was aware that it diverged from the line of actual descent? The words, awkwardly rendered in our translation " being, as was supposed* the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli," literally mean " being, as he was legally reckoned, the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli." Had this obvious and unquestionable meaning of the mistranslated word been taken into the account, much needless questioning and hypothesis might have been spared.
We will now give our attention to the peculiar objections urged against
the genuineness of the (so-called) Gospel of John. It is alleged that the
conception of Jesus in the fourth Gospel differs radically from that of
the other evangelists; that this Gospel belongs, as regards its Messianic
features, to a later age; and that it bears indubitable traces of opinions
that cannot have attained shape and currency in the lifetime of the apostles.
I would remind you, in the first place, that the evidence of the antiquity of the fourth Gospel from the testimony of the early Christian writers is at least equal to that in behalf of the other three, and in one respect even superior; for the accounts which Irenaeus gives of Polycarp's intercourse with John enhance very essentially the weight and authority of his full and undoubted recognition of the fourth Gospel as John's.
Here it is pertinent to ask, If John did not write this Gospel, who could have written it? Except the last two verses, - which were professedly and manifestly by another hand, probably by loving disciples, through whose agency, in his extreme old age or after his death, the book was put into circulation, - it bears throughout the tokens of a single author : the same style; the same habitual words and phrases; the same, often peculiar, designations for the same persons, places, and objects. The internal evidence on this point is so clear and strong that, among all the theories with regard to the fourth Gospel, that of its composition by two or more authors has seldom been maintained.
This Gospel is the most remarkable book in the world. Whether it be fiction or fact, there is in all human literature no narrative which so blends majesty and tenderness, sublimity and pathos, as that of the raising of Lazarus. The discourses ascribed to Jesus in controversy with his Jewish adversaries manifest as much dialectic skill as moral energy, and are on a level, both in their intellectual and their spiritual aspects, with the highest Messianic conceptions of the Christian Church. The communings and intercessions at, the paschal table are an unexhausted treasury of holy thought and heavenward aspiration, the loss of which would bereave Christendom more sorely than the extinction of all that has been written in a similar vein for the last seventeen centuries, and especially would rob the dying and those who survive them in sorrow of peace, consolation, and hope, which not even the glowing words of hallowed genius and poetry to which they have given tone and spirit could begin to replace. Even in the working up of materials common to the four, there is, if you will pardon the word for the thought, an interiorness, a vividness of realization, not manifested by the synoptics; in fine, that closest approach of biography to autobiography, which occurs only when the biographer and his subject are associated by a spiritual twinship, in which the author of the fourth Gospel may be contrasted rather than compared with the other evangelists. As a single instance out of several that might be selected, I will refer you to the narratives of our Saviour's resurrection. Though this event can never be forgotten in the last offices of piety over the mortal form of one who has fallen asleep in Jesus, it seems more natural and appropriate to read on such an occasion from Paul's glorious chapter on the resurrection than from the account given of that event by either of the synoptics, who describe the fact as careful historiographers and devout and grateful recipients of the blessedness with which it is fraught, yet rather as those who are fully persuaded of it than as conscious partakers in it. But the spirit of the risen Jesus so throbs in every trait of the successive acts of that sublime drama as portrayed in the fourth Gospel, that the sacred volume contains no words more congenial than the very words of that narrative, with the moment when kindred are gathered for the last time around the lifeless body from which the soul has passed on to its Redeemer.
The fourth Gospel has had more influence upon the civilized world than any and all other books. Paul, indeed, by the obscurity, for the most part needless, which has been suffered to hang over his epistles, has led to a larger amount of speculation, often worthless, - of system -building, often with the " wood, hay, and stubble," of which he speaks contemptuously. But in the nurture of purity, sanctity, and loftiness of thought, soul, and life; in the unifying of the heart of Christendom through and with the heart of Christ; in the creation of the men in whom the beauty of holiness glows with a radiance which distance cannot dim or the lapse of years obscure; in the inspiration of the most beneficently influential Christian literature, and especially of those sacred lyrics which have been at once vehicle and nurse of the highest devotion of all the Christian ages, - the Gospel of John (so-called) has held the foremost place, to such a degree that its suppression, while it would still have left more of spiritual worth and power in Christ and his Gospel than in the whole world beside, would have circumscribed and attenuated the growth and working force of Christianity, and have robbed the Church of a very large proportion of its beauty, grandeur, and glory. There is, indeed, a low naturalistic view of Christ, which, not utterly rejecting him as the Sent of God, admits as little of him and in him as it can, which would find confirmation in repudiating the fourth Gospel, and which would be equally glad to expurgate the synoptics and St. Paul. But even those who occupy this sunken plane, as they have grown more spiritual, have grown into the love of the fourth Gospel; while all the saints of inmost initiation - those in and through whom the Church has shone with the purest lustre and wrought with the divinest efficacy - have found their choicest nutriment in the bread that has come down to them from heaven in this wonderful book.
Who wrote it? If it be true; if Jesus of Nazareth was all that it describes and relates, and the record was written by his nearest friend, - we can account for its authorship, and can believe that the writer, though a pure and holy man, was but a man of his time, brought into intimate communion with him who is " the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever." If, however, this is not a literal biography, but a semi-mythical narrative and a series of monologues founded on the life and sayings of a wise and virtuous, but illiterate Galilean peasant, then we have a far greater than Jesus in its author. We have in him the true founder of the Christian Church; for it is built and rests this day on no other Christ than the Christ, real or imaginary, of the fourth Gospel. Were this Gospel proved to be a fiction, the most advanced Christians of every section of the Church would exclaim, " They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him." Who was this wonderful man, this transcendent creator, this unparalleled religious genius? As we run over the list of Christian writers for the century succeeding the apostolic age, there is not one of them whom we can pronounce equal to such an achievement,- not one of them who is above mediocrity. The few remains of the apostolic fathers fall very far below the mark. We should have to come down to Augustine or Jerome before we could find one who could even be imagined capable of such an endeavor; and they and their most gifted successors breathe more than all else the very inspiration caught from this record, and but for this would have left behind them far less illustrious names than they bear. It is impossible that such a writer should not have made his ineffaceable mark on his own time", and left a name for the admiration and reverence of all times. The apostle John is the only man of the first two centuries, the traditions of whose life and character represent him as adequate to this work; and if he was the author, we know that his record is true.
Even Renan, whose candor we have frequent reason to praise, admits a large Johannine element in the fourth Gospel, and supposes that it was compiled by John's disciples, in great part from their recollections or memoranda of his teachings. But no one who reads this book with an unbiassed mind can suppose it a composition by prentice hands; a compilation; a work of other than single authorship; an infiltration through secondary channels. Whoever wrote it had either seen and heard what he records, or else had a vividness of conception and a power of realistic description of his imaginings surpassing all that has been embodied in the literature of the ages.
But it is said that the Jesus of the fourth Gospel is an entirely different character from the Jesus of the synoptics. So far, however, is this from being the case that the most that we can say is that he is all of their Jesus, and more. The human traits are the same in the four. The narrative, so far as it is parallel, is coincident, the only difference being that the fourth Gospel bears the marks of a closer intimacy, a more realizing sympathy with its subject, as must have been the case if the author held that peculiar relation of Christ's confidential friend in which he professes to stand. But is Jesus even more or greater in the fourth Gospel than in the other three? Have we not in them intimations of all that is more fully developed in the fourth? As regards outward incident, the raising of Lazarus seems to us unique, from the intense vividness and lifelikeness of the narrative. But can it have presented a grander spectacle, or implied a more godlike sympathy or a more sovereign power in the Conqueror of death, than the scene at the gates of Nain, when Jesus meets the funeral procession, sees the widow in her desolate agony following her only son to the grave, arrests the bier, raises the lifeless form, and gives the youth to his mother's embrace, while for the wild wail of the mourners rises the glad shout, " God hath visited and redeemed his people"? Then, as to the alleged peculiarities in John's representations of the exalted personality of Jesus, are they peculiar to him? Have we not as full and emphatic, though generally less detailed, indications of them in the synoptics? Nay, one of the loftiest of these representations is drawn out by Matthew with an amplitude far transcending that of the fourth Gospel. In the latter Jesus repeatedly speaks of himself as the Judge of the world; but what are those dogmatic statements compared with the discourse recorded by Matthew, in which the Son of man sits on the throne of his glory, and all nations are gathered before him, and divided as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats, the sheep on his right hand, the goats on his left? What higher claims does Jesus make for himself in the fourth Gospel, than when he says, "All things are delivered unto me of my Father;" "All power is given unto me in heaven and on earth;" "Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven;" "Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world ''? Nor is the promise of the Holy Spirit, which fills so large a space in the fourth Gospel, wanting in the synoptics. "Take no thought how or what ye shall speak; for it shall be given you in the same hour what ye shall speak; for it is not ye that speak, but the spirit of your Father that speaketh in you;" and again, "Tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high."
Yet it must be admitted that there are in the fourth Gospel numerous discourses of Jesus, coinciding in sentiment with his utterances in the synoptics, yet pitched, so to speak, on a higher key, more abstract, more spiritual, dwelling with greater length and with more minuteness of specification on his own personality, his relations to the Father, and his mission as the world's Redeemer. But these discourses, in the first place, contain nothing which the Jesus of the synoptics might not have said if he was what they represent him to have been. Then, the first three Gospels, confessedly in general circulation when the fourth Gospel was written, were doubtless in the possession of its author; and, whatever our theory of its composition, it was manifestly his purpose, not so much to cover the same ground as to supply their deficiencies. Accordingly, except in the events of the crucifixion and resurrection, which obviously could not have been omitted in any biography of Jesus, he hardly relates any incident which they record, unless in connection with some discourse which they had omitted. Then, too, it is perfectly manifest that the first three Gospels were written with a missionary purpose, addressed to those who were strangers to the events recorded; and they would naturally have contained only such of the discourses of Jesus as could have been readily understood by those who had not yet been initiated into the rudiments of the new religion. For such a purpose a large portion of the contents of the fourth Gospel would have been not only inappropriate, but even a hinderance to the reception of the teachings which were more nearly level with the un-instructed mind. It is equally manifest that the fourth Gospel was designed for readers who were already Christians; who had, in St. Paul's expressive figure, been fed with milk till they were able to bear meat. Perhaps, too, many of the discourses recorded in the fourth Gospel were not heard by the apostles collectively. This Gospel gives intimations of several visits to Jerusalem not mentioned by the synoptics. On these occasions John may have been his Master's only friendly companion.
But, after all, may not a difference of receptivity among the members of the sacred college have been a prime reason and a sufficient reason for the difference between the synoptics and the fourth Gospel? We will suppose a strictly parallel case with regard to Socrates. We will leave Plato out of the account; for his Socrates is Socrates plus Plato. He undoubtedly meant to be understood as often using the name of Socrates as an interlocutor, in dialogues for which his own thought furnished the whole material. But in Xenophon we undoubtedly have a faithful biographer of Socrates. He occupied toward the great philosopher the position, first of a disciple, and then of an intimate, admiring, and loving friend; in fine, very much the relation which John is said to have sustained to Jesus. He was a man of high culture, and he gives numerous specimens of his master's discussions of philosophical subjects. Now suppose that three men of Athens, not educated men, not philosophers, had become similarly attached to Socrates, so that they followed him round from place to place, deposited the good things that fell from his lips by the wayside in faithful memory, were profoundly interested when he talked on common subjects to plain, simple people like themselves, but when he entered on a formal discussion or an elaborate argument, though they delighted to listen, yet remembered very little. If these men had written their several books of "Memo rabilia" of Socrates, their books would have borne about the same relation to Xenophon's " Memorabilia " which the synoptic Gospels bear to the fourth Gospel. They would have omitted a large part of what Xenophon has recorded, because if they heard it with the outward ear, they had not taken it in; it was above the standard of their culture, above their receptivity. If St. Paul had been among the personal followers of Christ, he would undoubtedly have written a Gospel like John's; but we may reasonably believe that such a record would have" transcended the ability of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Here let me remind you, in passing, of what I dwelt upon more fully in a former Lecture, with regard to all the Gospels, that, though Paul gives and naturally would have given in his epistles few biographical details, his conception of Christ is not one whit less grand and lofty than that of the fourth Gospel; and his epistles were written considerably earlier than the earliest date assigned to that Gospel. The conception, therefore, was full-grown in the Church in John's lifetime; consequently there is no need, in order to leave time for its development, of fixing a later date for the Gospel.
Another ground on which the Johannine or early origin of the fourth Gospel has been denied is the alleged tendency to Gnosticism, according to some critics, at least the undoubted reference to it, in the proem to the Gospel, which, it is said, implies a date later than the close of the first century. That there are allusions to Gnostic notions in the proem seems to me certain beyond a question; but it is in antagonism, not in acquiescence. Yet these allusions do not impair the validity of the date traditionally assigned to the Gospel. Gnosticism has not, indeed, a defined place in the history of the Church till early in the second century; but it must in its essence, from the very nature of the case, have been coeval with the earliest propagation of Christianity. A mould already existed for it in the Zoroastrian dualism and the systems of æons, which prevailed throughout Asia Minor, had become largely incorporated with the Neo-Plato-nism of Alexandria, and had gained some measure of currency in every part of the Roman Empire. When Christianity was nominally embraced by the adherents of this philosophy, it lent its sacred names to their pre-existing notions; and thus was formed a strange compound in which an apostle could have recognized only the faintest vestiges of his own spiritual faith. It is certain that Gnostic errors are referred to in the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians, the Pauline authorship of which there is no good reason for doubting, and for which even those who deny their genuineness assign a date earlier than that which we would claim for the fourth Gospel. Cerin-thus was undoubtedly a Gnostic, and ecclesiastical tradition that bears all the marks of authenticity represents him to have been contemporary with St. John, and to have been regarded by the venerable apostle as an atrocious perverter of the truth. Irenæus expressly says that John had the doctrines of the Gnostics in view in the composition of his Gospel.
The Gnostics represented the Logos, the Monogenes or Only-begotten, Life, and Light as æons distinct from the Supreme Being; they regarded the Creator of the world and Author of the Jewish dispensation as an inferior, imperfect, and - according to some of their teachers - malignant being; and maintained that Christ was sent by the Supreme God to deliver men from his tyranny and from the yoke of Judaism. Ephesus, where St. John is believed to have passed the last years of his life and to have written his Gospel, was the metropolis of Gnosticism. If the author of the fourth Gospel lived where these opinions were taking root, it was incumbent on him to show that Life, Light, and the Logos were not distinct from, but identical with, the Supreme God; that the Supreme God created the world and gave the Jewish law; and that the same God sent the Mono-genes Jesus Christ not to destroy, but to complete the law; not to deliver men from its tyranny, but to consummate for and in them the blessedness of which it was the pledge and promise. I need not say how thoroughly this work is accomplished in the first eighteen verses of the fourth Gospel, in which the author, as with a prophet's wand, waves back to their native nothingness the chimeras of an arrogant and presumptuous philosophy.
An anti-Gnostic purpose is, then, perfectly evident in this introduction of the fourth Gospel But it deals with Gnosticism only in its first stages, in its rudiments. Had it been written, as it is said to have been, in the second century, there would have been a heavier and a more complex task devolved upon the author. The system which he opposed grew rapidly. The Valen-tinians, whose founder flourished about A.D. 140, numbered no less than thirty æons, in pairs, male and female. Basilides, who lived about fifteen years earlier, promulgated a system not less complicated, and even more grotesque and absurd. Still earlier in the century, there sprang up in the East the Ophitic form of Gnosticism, in which the serpent in Eden, the serpents that bit the Israelites in the wilderness, the rod which became a serpent in the hand of Moses, and the brazen serpent, all represented spiritual agencies, - the former two malignant, the latter two beneficent. Had the fourth Gospel been written after this heresy grew rife, it is impossible that the reference to the brazen, serpent in the conversation with Nicodemus should have passed without comment. In fine, there are in this Gospel no traces whatever of several forms which we know that Gnosticism assumed in the second century; while there are evident references to opinions which must have been held by Cerinthus and his Gnostic contemporaries, and with which St. John must have been conversant in the latter years of his life.
I have shown you that the fourth Gospel must have been written in the first century, that John could have written it, that it is too remarkable a book to have passed into circulation anonymously, and that of all the early Christians whose names have come down to us there is none but John who could have written it. These reasons for believing in the genuineness of the fourth Gospel as the work of John, stand by their own validity and need no corroboration. Yet they are confirmed by the critical consciousness of the sincere and loving follower of Jesus, who, the more intimate his kindred with his. Lord, feels only the fuller assurance that this record can have come from none other than the nearest and best beloved of the disciples.
(For an eminently able treatment of the points at issue among critics
concerning the fourth Gospel, the reader is referred to " The Fourth Gospel
the Heart of Christ," by Rev. Edmund H. Sears, D.D., - a work remarkable
equally for its acute reasoning and its truly Johannine spirit of devotion.)