1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Jesus Christ
JESUS CHRIST. To write a summary account of the life of Christ, though always involving a grave responsibility, was until recent years a comparatively straightforward task; for it was assumed that all that was needed, or could be offered, was a chronological outline based on a harmony of the four canonical Gospels. But to-day history is not satisfied by this simple procedure. Literary criticism has analysed the documents, and has already established some important results; and many questions are still in debate, the answers to which must affect our judgment of the historical value of the existing narratives. It seems therefore consonant alike with prudence and reverence to refrain from attempting to combine afresh into a single picture the materials derivable from the various documents, and to endeavour instead to describe the main contents of the sources from which our knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ as an historical personage is ultimately drawn, and to observe the picture of Him which each writer in turn has offered to us.
The chief elements of the evidence with which we shall deal are the following:—
1. First, because earliest in point of time, the references to the Lord Jesus Christ in the earliest Epistles of St Paul.
2. The Gospel according to St Mark.
3. A document, no longer extant, which was partially incorporated into the Gospels of St Matthew and St Luke.
4. Further information added by St Matthew’s Gospel.
5. Further information added by St Luke’s Gospel.
6. The Gospel according to St John.
With regard to traditional sayings or doings of our Lord, which were only written down at a later period, it will suffice to say that those which have any claim to be genuine are very scanty, and that their genuineness has to be tested by their correspondence with the great bulk of information which is derived from the sources already enumerated. The fictitious literature of the second and third centuries, known as the Apocryphal Gospels, offers no direct evidence of any historical value at all: it is chiefly valuable for the contrast which it presents to the grave simplicity of the canonical Gospels, and as showing how incapable a later age was of adding anything to the Gospel history which was not palpably absurd.
1. Letters of St Paul.—In the order of chronology we must give the first place to the earliest letters of St Paul. The first piece of Christian literature which has an independent existence and to which we can fix a date is St Paul’s first Epistle to the Thessalonians. Lightfoot dates it in 52 or 53; Harnack places it five years earlier. We may say, then, that it was written some twenty years after the Crucifixion. St Paul is not an historian; he is not attempting to describe what Jesus Christ said or did. He is writing a letter to encourage a little Christian society which he, a Jew, had founded in a distant Greek city; and he reminds his readers of many things which he had told them when he was with them. The evidence to be collected from his epistles generally must not detain us here, but we may glance for a moment at this one letter, because it contains what appears to be the first mention of Jesus Christ in the literature of the world. Those who would get a true history cannot afford to neglect their earliest documents. Now the opening sentence of this letter is as follows: “Paul and Silvanus and Timothy to the Church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you, and peace.” Three men with Greek or Latin names are writing to some kind of assembly in a city of Macedonia. The writers are Jews, to judge by their salutation of “peace,” and by their mention of “God the Father,” and of the assembly or society as being “in” Him. But what is this new name which is placed side by side with the Divine Name—“in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”? An educated Greek, who knew something (as many at that time did) of the Greek translation of the ancient Hebrew Scriptures, if he had picked up this letter before he had ever heard the name of Jesus Christ, would have been deeply interested in these opening words. He would have known that “Jesus” was the Greek form of Joshua; that “Christ” was the Greek rendering of Messiah, or Anointed, the title of the great King for whom the Jews were looking; he might further have remembered that “the Lord” is the expression which the Greek Old Testament constantly uses instead of the ineffable name of God, which we now call “Jehovah” (q.v.). Who, then, he might well ask is this Jesus Christ who is lifted to this unexampled height? For it is plain that Jesus Christ stands in some close relation to “God the Father,” and that on the ground of that relation a society has been built up, apparently by Jews, in a Greek city far distant from Palestine. He would learn something as he read on; for the letter makes a passing reference to the foundation of the society, and to the expansion of its influence in other parts of Greece; to the conversion of its members from heathenism, and to the consequent sufferings at the hands of their heathen neighbours. The writers speak of themselves as “apostles,” or messengers, of Christ; they refer to similar societies “in Christ Jesus,” which they call “churches of God,” in Judaea, and they say that these also suffer from the Jews there, who had “killed the Lord Jesus” some time before. But they further speak of Jesus as “raised from the dead,” and they refer to the belief which they had led the society to entertain, that He would come again “from heaven to deliver them from the coming wrath.” Moreover, they urge them not to grieve for certain members of the society who have already died, saying that, “if we believe that Jesus died and rose again,” we may also be assured that “the dead in Christ will rise” and will live for ever with Him. Thus the letter assumes that its readers already have considerable knowledge as to “the Lord Jesus Christ,” and as to His relation to “God the Father,” a knowledge derived from teaching given in person on a former visit. The purpose of the letter is not to give information as to the past, but to stimulate its readers to perseverance by giving fresh teaching as to the future. Historically it is of great value as showing how widely within twenty or twenty-five years of the Crucifixion a religion which proclaimed developed theological teaching as to “the Lord Jesus Christ” had spread in the Roman Empire. We may draw a further conclusion from this and other letters of St Paul before we go on. St Paul’s missionary work must have created a demand. Those who had heard him and read his letters would want to know more than he had told them of the earthly life of the Lord Jesus. They would wish to be able to picture Him to their minds; and especially to understand what could have led to His being put to death by the Romans at the requisition of the Jews. St Paul had not been one of his personal disciples in Galilee or Jerusalem; he had no memories to relate of His miracles and teaching. Some written account of these was an obvious need. And we may be sure that any such narrative concerning One who was so deeply reverenced would be most carefully scrutinized at a time when many were still living whose memories went back to the period of Our Lord’s public ministry. One such narrative we now proceed to describe.
2. St Mark’s Gospel.—The Gospel according to St Mark was written within fifteen years of the first letter of St Paul to the Thessalonians—i.e. about 65. It seems designed to meet the requirements of Christians living far away from Palestine. The author was not an eye-witness of what he relates, but he writes with the firm security of a man who has the best authority behind him. The characteristics of his work confirm the early belief that St Mark wrote this Gospel for the Christians of Rome under the guidance of St Peter. It is of the first importance that we should endeavour to see this book as a whole; to gain the total impression which it makes on the mind; to look at the picture of Jesus Christ which it offers. That picture must inevitably be an incomplete representation of Him; it will need to be supplemented by other pictures which other writers have drawn. But it is important to consider it by itself, as showing us what impress the Master had made on the memory of one disciple who had been almost constantly by His side.
The book opens thus: “The beginning of the Gospel of
Jesus Christ.” This “beginning” is shown to be itself rooted
in the past. Hebrew prophets had foretold that
God would send a “messenger”; that a voice
would be heard saying, “Prepare the way of the
of Christ’s Mission. Lord.” And so, in fact, John came, baptizing in the wilderness and turning the heart of the nation back to God. But John was only a forerunner. He was himself a prophet, and his prophecy was this, “He that is stronger than I am is coming after me.” Then, we read, “Jesus came.” St Mark introduces Him quite abruptly, just as he had introduced John; for he is writing for those who already know the outlines of the story. “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee.” He was baptized by John, and as He came out of the water He had a vision of the opened heavens and the Holy Spirit, like a dove, descending upon Him; and He heard a Voice saying, “Thou art My Son, the Beloved: in Thee I am well pleased.” He then passed away into the wilderness, where He was tempted by Satan and fed by angels. Then He begins His work; and from the very first we feel that He fulfils John’s sign: He is strong. His first words are words of strength; “the time is fulfilled”—that is to say, all the past has been leading up to this great moment; “the kingdom of God is at hand”—that is to say, all your best hopes are on the point of being fulfilled; “repent, and believe the Gospel”—that is to say, turn from your sins and accept the tidings which I bring you. It is but a brief summary of what He must have said; but we feel its strength. He does not hesitate to fix all eyes upon Himself. Then we see Him call two brothers who are fishermen. “Come after Me,” He says, “and I will make you fishers of men.” They dropped their nets and went after Him, and so did two other brothers, their partners; for they all felt the power of this Master of men: He was strong. He began to teach in the synagogue; they were astonished at His teaching, for he spoke with authority. He was interrupted by a demoniac, but He quelled the evil spirit by a word; He was stronger than the power of evil. When the sun set the Sabbath was at an end, and the people could carry out their sick into the street where He was; and He came forth and healed them all. The demoniacs showed a strange faculty of recognition, and cried that He was “the holy one of God,” and “the Christ,” but He silenced them at once. The next morning He was gone. He had sought a quiet spot for prayer. Peter, one of those fishermen whom He had called, whose wife’s mother had been healed the day before, found Him and tried to bring Him back. “All men are seeking Thee,” he pleaded. “Let us go elsewhere” was the quiet reply of one who could not be moved by popular enthusiasm. Once again, we observe, He fulfils John’s sign: He is strong. This is our first sight of Jesus Christ. The next shows us that this great strength is united to a most tender sympathy. To touch a leper was forbidden, and the offence involved ceremonial defilement. Yet when a leper declared that Jesus could heal him, if only He would, “He put forth His hand and touched him.” The act perfected the leper’s faith, and he was healed immediately. But he disobeyed the command to be silent about the matter, and the result was that Jesus could not openly enter into the town, but remained outside in the country. It is the first shadow that falls across His path; His power finds a check in human wilfulness. Presently He is in Capernaum again. He heals a paralysed man, but not until He has come into touch, as we say, with him also, by reaching his deepest need and declaring the forgiveness of his sins. This declaration disturbs the rabbis, who regard it as a blasphemous usurpation of Divine authority. But He claims that “the Son of Man hath authority on earth to forgive sins.” The title which He thus adopts must be considered later.
We may note, as we pass on, that He has again, in the exercise of His power and His sympathy, come into conflict with the established religious tradition. This freedom from the trammels of convention appears yet again when he claims as a new disciple a publican, a Attitude towards Religious Tradition. man whose calling as a tax-gatherer for the Roman government made him odious to every patriotic Jew. Publicans were classed with open sinners; and when Jesus went to this man’s house and met a company of his fellows the rabbis were scandalized: “Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?” The gentle answer of Jesus showed His sympathy even with those who opposed Him: “The doctor,” He said, “must go to the sick.” And again, when they challenged His disciples for not observing the regular fasts, He gently reminded them that they themselves relaxed the discipline of fasting for a bridegroom’s friends. And He added, in picturesque and pregnant sayings, that an old garment could not bear a new patch, and that old wine-skins could not take new wine. Such language was at once gentle and strong; without condemning the old, it claimed liberty for the new. To what lengths would this liberty go? The sacred badge of the Jews’ religion, which marked them off from other men all the world over, was their observance of the Sabbath. It was a national emblem, the test of religion and patriotism. The rabbis had fenced the Sabbath round with minute commands, lest any Jews should even seem to work on the Sabbath day. Thus, plucking and rubbing the ears of corn was counted a form of reaping and threshing. The hungry disciples had so transgressed as they walked through the fields of ripe corn. Jesus defended them by the example of David, who had eaten the shewbread, which only priests might eat, and had given it to his hungry men. Necessity absolves from ritual restrictions. And he went farther, and proclaimed a principle: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath, so that the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” For a second time, in justifying His position, He used the expression “the Son of Man.” The words might sound to Jewish ears merely as a synonym for “man.” For Himself, and possibly for some others, they involved a reference, as appears later, to the “one like to a son of man” in Daniel’s prophecy of the coming kingdom. They emphasized His relation to humanity as a whole, in contrast to such narrower titles as “Son of Abraham” or “Son of David.” They were fitted to express a wider mission than that of a merely Jewish Messiah: He stood and spoke for mankind. The controversy was renewed when a man with a withered hand appeared in the synagogue on the Sabbath, and the rabbis watched to see whether Jesus would heal him. For the first time, we read that Jesus was angry. They were wilfully blind, and they would rather not see good done than see it done in a way that contradicted their teachings and undermined their influence. After a sharp remonstrance, He healed the man by a mere word. And they went out to make a compact with the followers of the worldly Herod to kill Him, and so to stave off a religious revolution which might easily have been followed by political trouble.
Up to this point what have we seen? On the stage of Palestine, an outlying district of the Roman Empire, the home of the Jewish nation, now subject but still fired with the hope of freedom and even of universal domination under the leadership of a divinely anointed King, a new figure Recapitulation. has appeared. His appearance has been announced by a reforming prophet, who has summoned the nation to return to its God, and promised that a stronger than himself is to follow. In fulfilment of this promise, who is it that has come? Not a rough prophet in the desert like John, not a leader striking for political freedom, not a pretender aiming at the petty throne of the Herods, not even a great rabbi, building on the patriotic foundation of the Pharisees who had secured the national life by a new devotion to the ancient law. None of these, but, on the contrary, an unknown figure from the remote hills of Galilee, standing on the populous shores of its lake, proclaiming as a message from God that the highest hopes were about to be fulfilled, fastening attention on Himself by speaking with authority and attaching a few followers to His person, exhibiting wonderful powers of healing as a sign that He has come to fulfil all needs, manifesting at the same time an unparalleled sympathy, and setting quietly aside every religious convention which limited the outflow of this sympathy; and as the result of all this arousing the enthusiasm of astonished multitudes and evoking the opposition and even the murderous resentment of the religious guides of the nation. Of His teaching we have heard nothing, except in the occasional sentences by which He justified some of His unexpected actions. No party is formed, no programme is announced, no doctrine is formulated; without assuming the title of Messiah, He offers Himself as the centre of expectation, and seems to invite an unlimited confidence in His person. This, then, in brief summary, is what we have seen: the natural development of an historical situation, a march of events leading rapidly to a climax; an unexampled strength and an unexampled sympathy issuing inevitably in an unexampled liberty; and then the forces of orthodox religion combining with the forces of worldly indifference in order to suppress a dangerous innovator. Yet the writer who in a few pages presents us with so remarkable a representation shows no consciousness at all of artistic treatment. He tells a simple tale in the plainest words: he never stops to offer a comment or to point a moral. The wonder of it all is not in the writing, but in the subject itself. We feel that we have here no skilful composition, but a bare transcript of what occurred. And we feel besides that such a narrative as this is the worthy commencement of an answer to the question with which its readers would have come to it: What was the beginning of the Gospel? How did the Lord Jesus speak and act? and why did He arouse such malignant enmity amongst His own people?
We have followed St Mark’s narrative up to the point at which it became clear that conciliatory argument could have no effect upon the Jewish religious leaders. The controversy about the Sabbath had brought their dissatisfaction to a climax. Henceforth Jesus was to them a revolutionary, who must, by any means, be suppressed. After this decisive breach a new period opens. Jesus leaves Capernaum, never again, it would seem, to appear in its synagogue. Henceforward He was to be found, with His disciples, on the shore of the lake, where vast multitudes gathered round Him, drawn not only from Galilee and Judaea, but also from the farther districts north and east of these. He would take refuge from the crowds in a boat, which carried Him from shore to shore; and His healing activity was now at its height. Yet in the midst of this popular enthusiasm He knew that the time had come to prepare for a very different future, and accordingly a fresh departure was made when He selected twelve of His disciples for a more intimate companionship, with a view to a special mission: “He appointed twelve that they might be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach and to have power to cast out the devils.” The excitement and pressure of the crowds was at this time almost overwhelming, and the relatives of Jesus endeavoured to restrain Him; “for they said, He is mad.” The scribes from Jerusalem offered a more sinister explanation, saying that He was possessed by the prince of the devils, and that this was why He was able to control all the evil spirits. He answered them first in figurative language, speaking of the certain downfall of a kingdom or a family divided against itself, and of the strong man’s house which could not be looted unless the strong man were first bound. Then followed the tremendous warning, that to assign His work to Satan, and so to call good evil, was to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit—the one sin which admitted of no forgiveness. Presently, when He was told that His mother and brethren were calling for Him, He disclaimed their interference by pointing to a new circle of family relationship, consisting of all those who “do the will of God.”
Again we find Him teaching by the lake, and the pressure of the multitude is still so great that He sits in a boat while they line the shore. For the first time we are allowed to hear how He taught them. He gives them a parable from nature—the sower’s three kinds of failure, compensated by the rich produce Christ’s Teaching. of the good soil. At the close He utters the pregnant saying: “He that hath ears to hear let him hear.” When His disciples afterwards asked for an explanation, He prefaced it by saying that the inner circle only were intended to understand. The disciples might learn that the message would often prove fruitless, but that nevertheless an abundant harvest would result. For the light was intended to shine, and the hidden was meant to be revealed. Another parable compared the kingdom of God to seed which, when once planted, must inevitably germinate; the process was secret and slow, but the harvest was certain. Again, it was like the tiny mustard-seed which grew out of all proportion to its original size, till the birds could shelter in its great branches. These enigmatic speeches were all that the multitudes got, but the disciples in private were taught their lesson of hope. As we review this teaching it is very remarkable. The world of common things is seen to be a lesson-book of the kingdom of God to those who have eyes to read it. What that kingdom is to be we are not told; we are only taught that its coming is secret, slow and certain. If nature in its ordinary processes was thus seen to be full of significance, the disciples were also to learn that it was under His control. As the boat from which He had been teaching passed to the other side, the tired Teacher slept. A sudden storm terrified the disciples, and they roused Him in alarm. He stilled the storm with a word and rebuked their want of faith. “Who then is this,” they whispered with awe, “that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” On the opposite hills a solitary spectator had watched the rise and the lull of the tempest, a fierce demoniac who dwelt among the tombs on the mountain-side. He believed himself to be possessed by a regiment of demons. When Jesus bade them go forth, he begged that they might be allowed to enter into a herd of swine which was hard by. His request was granted, and the swine rushed over a steep place into the lake. It is worth while to note that while most of the cures which Jesus had performed appear to have belonged to this class, this particular case is described as an exceptionally severe one, and the visible effect of the removal of his tormentors may have greatly helped to restore the man’s shattered personality.
We must not attempt to trace in detail the whole of St Mark’s story. We have followed it long enough to see its directness and simplicity, to observe the naturalness with which one incident succeeds another, and to watch the gradual manifestation of a personality at once strong and sympathetic, wielding extraordinary powers, which are placed wholly at the service of others, and refusing to be hindered from helping men by the ordinary restrictions of social or religious custom. And we have seen as the consequence of all this the development of an historical situation in which the leaders of current orthodoxy ally themselves with the indifferentism which accepts existing political conditions in order to put down a disturber of the peace. We must now be content with a broader survey of the course of events.
Two notable cures were wrought on the western side of the lake—the healing of the woman with the issue and the raising of Jairus’s daughter. In each of these cures prominence is given to the requirement and the reward of faith—that is to say, of personal confidence in the Healer: “Thy Healing Powers. faith hath made thee whole.” “Fear not, only believe.” After this Jesus passed away from the enthusiastic crowds by the lake to visit His own Nazareth, and to find there a strange incredulity in regard to one whom the villagers knew as the carpenter. Once more we come across a mysterious limitation of His powers: “He could not do there any miracle,” save the cure of a few sick folk; and He marvelled because of their want of faith. The moment had now come when the twelve disciples were to be entrusted with a share of His healing power and with the proclamation of repentance. While they are journeying two and two in various directions St Mark takes occasion to tell us the current conjectures as to who Jesus really was. Some thought him Elijah or one of the ancient prophets returned to earth—a suggestion based on popular tradition; others said He was John the Baptist risen from the dead—the superstition of Herod who had put him to death. When the disciples returned, Jesus took them apart for rest; but the crowds reassembled when they found Him again near the lake, and His yearning compassion for these shepherdless sheep led Him to give them an impressive sign that He had indeed come to supply all human needs. Hitherto His power had gone forth to individuals, but now He fed five thousand men from the scanty stock of five loaves and two fishes. That night He came to His disciples walking upon the waters, and in the period which immediately followed there was once more a great manifestation of healing power.
We have heard nothing for some time of any opposition; but
now a fresh conflict arose with certain scribes who had come down
from Jerusalem, and who complained that the
disciples neglected the ceremonial washing of their
hands before meals. Jesus replied with a stern
Scribes. rebuke, addressing the questioners as hypocrites, and exposing the falsity of a system which allowed the breach of fundamental commandments in order that traditional regulations might be observed. He then turned from them to the multitude, and uttered a saying which in effect annulled the Jewish distinction between clean and unclean meats. This was a direct attack on the whole Pharisaic position. The controversy was plainly irreconcilable, and Jesus withdrew to the north, actually passing outside the limits of the Holy Land. He desired to remain unknown, and not to extend His mission to the heathen population, but the extraordinary faith and the modest importunity of a Syrophenician woman induced Him to heal her daughter. Then He returned by a circuitous route to the Sea of Galilee. His return was marked by another miraculous feeding of the multitude, and also by two healing miracles which present unusual features. In both the patient was withdrawn from the multitude and the cure was wrought with the accompaniment of symbolic actions. Moreover, in one case Jesus is described as groaning before He spoke; in the other the cure was at first incomplete; and both of the men were strictly charged to observe silence afterwards. It cannot be a mere coincidence that these are the last cures which St Mark records as performed in Galilee.
In fact the Galilean ministry is now closed. Jesus retires northwards to Caesarea Philippi, and appears henceforth to devote Himself entirely to the instruction of his disciples, who needed to be prepared for the fatal issue which could not long be delayed. He begins by asking them Messianic Teaching. the popular opinion as to His Person. The suggestions are still the same—John the Baptist, or Elijah, or some other of the prophets. But when He asked their own belief, Peter replied, “Thou art the Christ.” He warned them not to make this known; and He proceeded to give them the wholly new teaching that the Son of Man must suffer and be killed, adding that after three days He must rise again. Peter took Him aside and urged Him not to speak so. But He turned to the other disciples and openly rebuked Peter. And then, addressing a yet wider circle, He demanded of those who should follow Him a self-sacrifice like His own. He even used the metaphor of the cross which was carried by the sufferer to the place of execution. Life, he declared, could only be saved by voluntary death. He went on to demand an unswerving loyalty to Himself and His teaching in the face of a threatening world; and then He promised that some of those who were present should not die before they had seen the coming of the kingdom of God. We have had no hint of such teaching as this in the whole of the Galilean ministry. Jesus had stood forth as the strong healer and helper of men; it was bewildering to hear Him speak of dying. He had promised to fulfil men’s highest expectations, if only they would not doubt His willingness and power. He had been enthusiastically reverenced by the common people, though suspected and attacked by the religious leaders. He had spoken of “the will of God” as supreme, and had set aside ceremonial traditions. He had announced the nearness of the kingdom of God, but had described it only in parables from nature. He had adopted the vague title of the “Son of Man,” but had refrained from proclaiming Himself as the expected Messiah. At last the disciples had expressed their conviction that He was the Christ, and immediately He tells them that He goes to meet humiliation and death as the necessary steps to a resurrection and a coming of the Son of Man in the glory of His Father. It was an amazing announcement and He plainly added that their path like His own lay through death to life. The dark shadows of this picture of the future alone could impress their minds, but a week later three of them were allowed a momentary vision of the light which should overcome the darkness. They saw Jesus transfigured in a radiance of glory: Elijah appeared with Moses, and they talked with Jesus. A cloud came over them, and a Voice, like that of the Baptism, proclaimed “This is My Son, the Beloved: hear ye Him.” They were bidden to keep the vision secret till the Son of Man should have risen from the dead. It was in itself a foretaste of resurrection, and the puzzled disciples remembered that the scribes declared that before the resurrection Elijah would appear. Their minds were confused as to what resurrection was meant. Jesus told them that Elijah had in fact come; and He also said that the Scriptures foretold the sufferings of the Son of Man. But the situation was wholly beyond their grasp, and the very language of St Mark at this point seems to reflect the confusion of their minds.
The other disciples, in the meantime, had been vainly endeavouring to cure a peculiarly violent case of demoniacal possession. Jesus Himself cast out the demon, but not before the suffering child had been rendered seemingly lifeless by a final assault. Then they journeyed secretly through Galilee towards Judaea and the eastern side of the Jordan. On the way Jesus reinforced the new lesson of self-renunciation. He offered the little children as the type of those to whom the kingdom of God belonged; and He disappointed a young and wealthy aspirant to His favour, amazing His disciples by saying that the kingdom of God could hardly be entered by the rich; he who forsook all should have all, and more than all; the world’s estimates were to be reversed—the first should be last and the last first. They were now journeying towards Jerusalem, and the prediction of the Passion was repeated. James and John, who had witnessed the Transfiguration, and who were confident of the coming glory, asked for the places nearest to their Master, and professed their readiness to share His sufferings. When the other ten were aggrieved Jesus declared that greatness was measured by service, not by rank; and that the Son of Man had come not to be served but to serve, and to give His life to ransom many other lives. As they came up from the Jordan valley and passed through Jericho, an incident occurred which signalized the beginning of the final period. A blind man appealed to Jesus as “the Son of David,” and was answered by the restoration of his sight; and when, a little later, Jesus fulfilled an ancient prophecy by mounting an ass and riding into Jerusalem, the multitudes shouted their welcome to the returning “kingdom of David.” Hitherto He had not permitted any public recognition of His Messiahship, but now He entered David’s city in lowly but significant pomp as David’s promised heir.
Two incidents illustrate the spirit of judgment with which He approached the splendid but apostate city. On His arrival He had carefully observed the condition of the Temple, and had retired to sleep outside the city. On the following morning, finding no fruit on a fig-tree in full leaf, Entry into Jerusalem. He said, “Let no man eat fruit of thee henceforth for ever.” It was a parable of impending doom. Then, when He entered the Temple, He swept away with a fiery zeal the merchants and merchandise which had turned God’s House into “a robbers’ den.” The act was at once an assertion of commanding authority and an open condemnation of the religious rulers who had permitted the desecration. Its immediate effect was to make new and powerful enemies; for the chief priests, as well as their rivals the scribes, were now inflamed against Him. At the moment they could do nothing, but the next day they formally demanded whence He derived His right so to act. When they refused to answer His question as to the authority of John the Baptist He in turn refused to tell them His own. But He uttered a parable which more than answered them. The owner of the vineyard, who had sent his servants and last of all his only son, would visit their rejection and murder on the wicked husbandmen. He added a reminder that the stone which the builders refused was, after all, the Divine choice. They were restrained from arresting Him by fear of the people, to whom the meaning of the parable was plain. They therefore sent a joint deputation of Pharisees and Herodians to entrap Him with a question as to the Roman tribute, in answering which He must either lose His influence with the people or else lay Himself open to a charge of treason. When they were baffled, the Sadducees, to whose party the chief priests belonged, sought in vain to pose Him with a problem as to the resurrection of the dead; and after that a more honest scribe confessed the truth of His teaching as to the supremacy of love to God and man over all the sacrificial worship of the Temple, and was told in reply that he was not far from the kingdom of God. Jesus Himself now put a question as to the teaching of the scribes which identified the Messiah with “the Son of David”; and then He denounced those scribes whose pride and extortion and hypocrisy were preparing for them a terrible doom. Before He left the Temple, never to return, one incident gave Him pure satisfaction. His own teaching that all must be given for God was illustrated by the devotion of a poor widow who cast into the treasury the two tiny coins which were all that she had. As He passed out He foretold, in words which corresponded to the doom of the fig-tree, the utter demolition of the imposing but profitless Temple; and presently He opened up to four of His disciples a vision of the future, warning them against false Christs, bidding them expect great sorrows, national and personal, declaring that the gospel must be proclaimed to all the nations, and that after a great tribulation the Son of Man should appear, “coming with the clouds of heaven.” The day and the hour none knew, neither the angels nor the Son, but only the Father: it was the duty of all to watch.
We now come to the final scenes. The passover was approaching, and plots were being laid for His destruction. He Himself spoke mysteriously of His burial, when a woman poured a vase of costly ointment upon His head. To some this seemed a wasteful act; but He accepted it as Final Scenes. a token of the love which gave all that was in its power, and He promised that it should never cease to illustrate His Gospel. Two of the disciples were sent into Jerusalem to prepare the Passover meal. During the meal Jesus declared that He should be betrayed by one of their number. Later in the evening He gave them bread and wine, proclaiming that these were His body and His blood—the tokens of His giving Himself to them, and of a new covenant with God through His death. As they withdrew to the Mount of Olives He foretold their general flight, but promised that when He was risen He would go before them into Galilee. Peter protested faithfulness unto death, but was told that he would deny his Master three times that very night. Then coming to a place called Gethsemane, He bade the disciples wait while He should pray; and taking the three who had been with Him at the Transfiguration He told them to tarry near Him and to watch. He went forward, and fell on the ground, praying that “the cup might be taken away” from Him, but resigning Himself to His Father’s will. Presently Judas arrived with a band of armed men, and greeted his Master with a kiss—the signal for His arrest. The disciples fled in panic, after one of them had wounded the high priest’s servant. Only a nameless young man tried to follow, but he too fled when hands were laid upon him. Before the high priest Jesus was charged, among other accusations, with threatening to destroy the Temple; but the matter was brought to an issue when He was plainly asked if He were “the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One.” He answered that He was, and He predicted that they should see the fulfilment of Daniel’s vision of the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power. Thereupon He was condemned to death for manifest blasphemy, and a scene of cruel mockery followed. Meanwhile Peter in the court below had been sitting with the servants, and in his anxiety to escape recognition had thrice declared that he did not know Jesus. Thus the night passed, and in the morning Jesus was taken to Pilate, for the Jewish council had no power to execute their decree of death. Pilate’s question, “Art Thou the King of the Jews?” shows the nature of the accusation which was thought likely to tell with the Roman governor. He had already in bonds one leader of revolution, whose hands were stained with blood—a striking contrast to the calm and silent figure who stood before him. At this moment a crowd came up to ask the fulfilment of his annual act of grace, the pardon of a prisoner at the Passover. Pilate, discerning that it was the envy of the rulers which sought to destroy an inconvenient rival, offered “the King of the Jews” as the prisoner to be released. But the chief priests succeeded in making the people ask for Barabbas and demand the crucifixion of Jesus. Pilate fulfilled his pledge by giving them the man of their choice, and Jesus, whom he had vainly hoped to release on a satisfactory pretext, he now condemned to the shameful punishments of scourging and crucifixion; for the cross, as Jesus had foreseen, was the inevitable fate of a Jewish pretender to sovereignty. The Roman soldiers mocked “the King of the Jews” with a purple robe and a crown of thorns. As they led Him out they forced the cross, which the sufferer commonly carried, upon the shoulders of one Simon of Cyrene, whose sons Alexander and Rufus are here mentioned—probably as being known to St Mark’s readers; at any rate, it is interesting to note that, in writing to the Christians at Rome, St Paul a few years earlier had sent a greeting to “Rufus and his mother.” Over the cross, which stood between two others, was the condemnatory inscription, “The King of the Jews.” This was the Roman designation of Him whom the Jewish rulers tauntingly addressed as “the King of Israel.” The same revilers, with a deeper truth than they knew, summed up the mystery of His life and death when they said, “He saved others, Himself He cannot save.”
A great darkness shrouded the scene for three hours, and then, in His native Aramaic, Jesus cried in the words of the Psalm, “My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken Me?” One other cry He uttered, and the end came, and at that moment the veil of the Temple was rent from top to bottom—an omen of fearful import to those who had mocked Him, even on the cross, as the destroyer of the Temple, who in three days should build it anew. The disciples of Jesus do not appear as spectators of the end, but only a group of women who had ministered to His needs in Galilee, and had followed Him up to Jerusalem. These women watched His burial, which was performed by a Jewish councillor, to whom Pilate had granted the body after the centurion had certified the reality of the unexpectedly early death. The body was placed in a rock-hewn tomb, and a great stone was rolled against the entrance. Sunset brought on the Jewish sabbath, but the next evening the women brought spices to anoint the body, and at sunrise on the third day they arrived at the tomb, and saw that the stone was rolled away. They entered and found a young man in a white robe, who said, “He is risen, He is not here,” and bade them say to His disciples and Peter, “He goeth before you into Galilee; there ye shall see Him, as He said unto you.” In terror they fled from the tomb, “and they said nothing to any man, for they feared . . .”
So with a broken sentence the narrative ends. The document is imperfect, owing probably to the accidental loss of its last leaf. In very early times attempts were made to furnish it with a fitting close; but neither of the supplements which we find in manuscripts can be regarded as coming from the original writer. If we ask what must, on grounds of literary probability, have been added before the record was closed, we may content ourselves here with saying that some incident must certainly have been narrated which should have realized the twice-repeated promise that Jesus would be seen by His disciples in Galilee.
3. Document used by St Matthew and St Luke.—We pass on now to compare with this narrative of St Mark another very early document which no longer exists in an independent form, but which can be partially reconstructed from the portions of it which have been embodied in the Gospels of St Matthew and St Luke.
When we review St Mark’s narrative as a whole we are struck, first of all, with its directness and simplicity. It moves straightforward upon a well-defined path. It shows us the Lord Jesus entering on the mission predicted by the Baptist without declaring Himself to be the Messiah; attracting the multitudes in Galilee by His healing power and His unbounded sympathy, and at the same time awakening the envy and suspicion of the leaders of religion; training a few disciples till they reach the conviction that He is the Christ, and then, but not till then, admitting them into the secret of His coming sufferings, and preparing them for a mission in which they also must sacrifice themselves; then journeying to Jerusalem to fulfil the destiny which He foresaw, accepting the responsibility of the Messianic title, only to be condemned by the religious authorities as a blasphemer and handed over to the Roman power as a pretender to the Jewish throne. That is the story in its barest outline. It is adequate to its presumed purpose of offering to distant Gentile converts a clear account of their Master’s earthly work, and of the causes which led to His rejection by His own people and to His death by Roman crucifixion. The writer makes no comment on the wonderful story which he tells. Allusions to Jewish customs are, indeed, explained as they occur, but apart from this the narrative appears to be a mere transcript of remembered facts. The actors are never characterized; their actions are simply noted down; there is no praise and no blame. To this simplicity and directness of narrative we may in large measure attribute the fact that when two later evangelists desired to give fuller accounts of our Lord’s life they both made this early book the basis of their work. In those days there was no sense of unfairness in using up existing materials in order to make a more complete treatise. Accordingly so much of St Mark’s Gospel has been taken over word for word in the Gospels of St Luke and St Matthew that, if every copy of it had perished, we could still reconstruct large portions of it by carefully comparing their narratives. They did not hesitate, however, to alter St Mark’s language where it seemed to them rough or obscure, for each of them had a distinctive style of his own, and St Luke was a literary artist of a high order. Moreover, though they both accepted the general scheme of St Mark’s narrative, each of them was obliged to omit many incidents in order to find room for other material which was at their disposal, by which they were able to supplement the deficiencies of the earlier book. The most conspicuous deficiency was in regard to our Lord’s teaching, of which, as we have seen, St Mark had given surprisingly little. Here they were happily in a position to make a very important contribution.
For side by side with St Mark’s Gospel there was current in the earliest times another account of the doings and sayings of Jesus Christ. Our knowledge of it to-day is entirely derived from a comparison of the two later evangelists who embodied large portions of it, working it in and out of the general scheme which they derived from St Mark, according as each of them thought most appropriate. St Luke appears to have taken it over in sections for the most part without much modification; but in St Matthew’s Gospel its incidents seldom find an independent place; the sayings to which they gave rise are often detached from their context and grouped with sayings of a similar character so as to form considerable discourses, or else they are linked on to sayings which were uttered on other occasions recorded by St Mark. It is probable that many passages of St Luke’s Gospel which have no parallel in St Matthew were also derived from this early source; but this is not easily capable of distinct proof; and, therefore, in order to gain a secure conception of the document we must confine ourselves at first to those parts of it which were borrowed by both writers. We shall, however, look to St Luke in the main as preserving for us the more nearly its original form.
We proceed now to give an outline of the contents of this document. To begin with, it contained a fuller account of the teaching of John the Baptist. St Mark tells us only his message of hope; but here we read the severer language with which he called men to repentance. We hear his warning of “the coming wrath”: his mighty Successor will baptize with fire; the fruitless tree will be cast into the fire; the chaff will be separated from the wheat and burned with unquenchable fire; the claim to be children of Abraham will not avail, for God can raise up other children to Abraham, if it be from the stones of the desert. Next, we have a narrative of the Temptation, of which St Mark had but recorded the bare fact. It was grounded on the Divine sonship, which we already know was proclaimed at the Baptism. In a threefold vision Jesus is invited to enter upon His inheritance at once; to satisfy His own needs, to accept of earthly dominion, to presume on the Divine protection. The passage stands almost alone as a revelation of inner conflict in a life which outwardly was marked by unusual calm.
Not far from the beginning of the document there stood a remarkable discourse delivered among the hills above the lake. It opens with a startling reversal of the common estimates of happiness and misery. In the light of the coming kingdom it proclaims the blessedness of the poor, the hungry, the sad and the maligned; and the The Sermon on the Mount. of the rich, the full, the merry and the popular. It goes on to reverse the ordinary maxims of conduct. Enemies are to be loved, helped, blessed, prayed for. No blow is to be returned; every demand, just or unjust, is to be granted: in short, “as ye desire that men should do to you, do in like manner to them.” Then the motive and the model of this conduct are adduced: “Love your enemies . . . and ye shall be sons of the Highest; for He is kind to the thankless and wicked. Be merciful, as your Father is merciful; and judge not, and ye shall not be judged.” We note in passing that this is the first introduction of our Lord’s teaching of the fatherhood of God. God is your Father, He says in effect; you will be His sons if like Him you will refuse to make distinctions, loving without looking for a return, sure that in the end love will not be wholly lost. Then follow grave warnings—generous towards others, you must be strict with yourselves; only the good can truly do good; hearers of these words must be doers also, if they would build on the rock and not on the sand. So, with the parable of the two builders, the discourse reached its formal close.
It was followed by the entry of Jesus into Capernaum, where He was asked to heal the servant of a Roman officer. This man’s unusual faith, based on his soldierly sense of discipline, surprised the Lord, who declared that it had no equal in Israel itself. Somewhat later messengers arrived from the imprisoned Baptist, who asked if Jesus were indeed “the coming One” of whom he had spoken. Jesus pointed to His acts of healing the sick, raising the dead and proclaiming good news for the poor; thereby suggesting to those who could understand that He fulfilled the ancient prophecy of the Messiah. He then declared the greatness of John in exalted terms, adding, however, that the least in the kingdom of God was John’s superior. Then He complained of the unreasonableness of an age which refused John as too austere and Himself as too lax and as being “the friend of publicans and sinners.” This narrative clearly presupposes a series of miracles already performed, and also such a conflict with the Pharisees as we have seen recorded by St Mark. Presently we find an offer of discipleship met by the warning that “the Son of Man” is a homeless wanderer; and then the stern refusal of a request for leave to perform a father’s funeral rites.
Close upon these incidents follows a special mission of disciples, introduced by the saying: “The harvest is great, but the labourers are few.” The disciples as they journey are to take no provisions, but to throw themselves on the bounty of their hearers; they are to heal the Other Sayings of Jesus. sick and to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of God. The city that rejects them shall have a less lenient judgment than Sodom; Tyre and Sidon shall be better off than cities like Chorazin and Bethsaida which have seen His miracles; Capernaum, favoured above all, shall sink to the deepest depth. If words could be sterner than these, they are those which follow: “He that heareth you heareth Me; and he that rejecteth you rejecteth Me; but He that rejecteth Me rejecteth Him that sent Me.” This reference to His own personal mission is strikingly expanded in words which He uttered on the return of the disciples. After thanking the Father for revealing to babes what He hides from the wise, He continued in mysterious language: “All things are delivered to Me by My Father; and none knoweth who the Son is but the Father; and who the Father is but the Son, and he to whom the Son chooseth to reveal Him.” Happy were the disciples in seeing and hearing what prophets and kings had looked for in vain.
When His disciples, having watched Him at prayer, desired to be taught how to pray, they were bidden to address God as “Father”; to ask first for the hallowing of the Father’s name, and the coming of His kingdom; then for their daily food, for the pardon of their sins and for freedom from temptation. It was the prayer of a family—that the sons might be true to the Father, and the Father true to the sons; and they were further encouraged by a parable of the family: “Ask and ye shall receive. . . . Every one that asketh receiveth”: for the heavenly Father will do more, not less, than an earthly father would do for his children. After He had cast out a dumb demon, some said that His power was due to Beelzebub. He accordingly asked them by whom the Jews themselves cast out demons; and He claimed that His power was a sign that the kingdom of God was come. But He warned them that demons cast out once might return in greater force. When they asked for a sign from heaven, He would give them no more than the sign of Jonah, explaining that the repentant Ninevites should condemn the present generation: so, too, should the queen of Sheba; for that which they were now rejecting was more than Jonah and more than Solomon. Yet further warnings were given when a Pharisee invited Him to his table, and expressed surprise that He did not wash His hands before the meal. The cleansing of externals and the tithing of garden-produce, He declares, have usurped the place of judgment and the love of God. Woe is pronounced upon the Pharisees: they are successors to the murderers of the prophets. Then citing from Genesis and 2 Chronicles, the first and last books in the order of the Jewish Bible, He declared that all righteous blood from that of Abel to that of Zachariah should be required of that generation. After this the disciples are encouraged not to fear their murderous opponents. The very sparrows are God’s care—much more shall they be; the hairs of their head are all counted. In the end the Son of Man will openly own those who have owned Him before men. For earthly needs no thought is to be taken: the birds and the flowers make no provision for their life and beauty. God will give food and raiment to those who are seeking His kingdom. Earthly goods should be given away in exchange for the imperishable treasures. Suddenly will the Son of Man come: happy the servant whom His Master finds at his appointed task. In brief parables the kingdom of God is likened to a mustard-seed and to leaven. When Jesus is asked if the saved shall be few, He replies that the door is a narrow one. Then, changing His illustration, He says that many shall seek entrance in vain; for the master of the house will refuse to recognize them. But while they are excluded, a multitude from all quarters of the earth shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the prophets in the kingdom of God.
His eyes are now fixed on Jerusalem, where, like the prophets, He must die. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often have I desired to gather thy children together, as a bird her brood beneath her wings, but ye refused.” “Ye shall not see Me, until ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.” After this we have the healing of a dropsical man on the Sabbath, with a reply to the murmuring Pharisees; and then a parable of the failure of invited guests and the filling of their places from the streets. A few fragmentary passages remain, of which it will be sufficient to cite a word or two to call them to remembrance. There is a warning that he who forsakes not father and mother cannot be a disciple, nor he who does not bear his cross. Savourless salt is fit for nothing. The lost sheep is brought home with a special joy. “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.” Scandals must arise, but woe to him through whom they arise. The Son of Man will come with the suddenness of lightning; the days of Noah and the days of Lot will find a parallel in their blind gaiety and their inevitable disaster. He who seeks to gain his life will lose it. “One shall be taken, and the other left.” “Where the carcase is, the vultures will gather.” Then, lastly, we have a parable of the servant who failed to employ the money entrusted to him; and a promise that the disciples shall sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. We cannot say by our present method of determination, how this document closed; for in the narratives of the Passion and the Resurrection St Matthew and St Luke only coincide in passages which they have taken from St Mark.
Now that we have reconstructed in outline this early account of the Lord Jesus, so far as it has been used by both the later evangelists, we may attempt to compare the picture which it presents to us with that which was offered by St Mark. But in doing so we must remember Comparison with St Mark. that we know it only in fragments. There can be little doubt that much more of it is embedded in St Luke’s Gospel, and something more also in St Matthew’s; but in order to stand on firm ground we have considered thus far only those portions which both of these writers elected to use in composing their later narratives. To go beyond this is a work of delicate discrimination. It can only be effected by a close examination of the style and language of the document, which may enable us in some instances to identify with comparative security certain passages which are found in St Luke, but which St Matthew did not regard as suitable for his purpose. Among these we may venture, quite tentatively, to mention the sermon at Nazareth which opened with a passage from the Book of Isaiah, the raising of the widow’s son at Nain, and the parable of the good Samaritan. These are found in St Luke, but not in St Matthew. On the other hand, it is not improbable that the wonderful words which begin, “Come unto Me all ye that labour,” were drawn by St Matthew from the same document, though they are not recorded by St Luke. But here we have entered upon a region of less certainty, in which critical scholarship has still much to do; and these passages are mentioned here only as a reminder that the document must have contained more than what St Matthew and St Luke each independently determined to borrow from it. Looking, then, at the portions which we have indicated as having this two-fold testimony, we see that in their fragmentary condition we cannot trace the clear historical development which was so conspicuous a feature of St Mark’s Gospel; yet we need not conclude that in its complete form it failed to present an orderly narrative. Next, we see that wherever we are able to observe its method of relating an incident, as in the case of the healing of the centurion’s servant, we have the same characteristics of brevity and simplicity which we admired in St Mark. No comment is made by the narrator; he tells his tale in the fewest words and passes on. Again, we note that it supplies just what we feel we most need when we have reached the end of St Mark’s story, a fuller account of the teaching which Jesus gave to His disciples and to the people at large. And we see that the substance of that teaching is in complete harmony with the scattered hints that we found in St Mark. If the fatherhood of God stands out clearly, we may remember a passage of St Mark also which speaks of “the Heavenly Father” as forgiving those who forgive. If prayer is encouraged, we may also remember that the same passage of St Mark records the saying: “All things whatsoever ye pray for and ask, believe that ye have received them and ye shall have them.” If in one mysterious passage Jesus speaks of “the Father” and “the Son”—terms with which the Gospel of St John has made us familiar—St Mark also in one passage uses the same impressive terms—“the Son” and “the Father.” There are, of course, many other parallels with St Mark, and at some points the two documents seem to overlap and to relate the same incidents in somewhat different forms. There is the same use of parables from nature, the same incisiveness of speech and employment of paradox, the same demand to sacrifice all to Him and for His cause, the same importunate claim made by Him on the human soul.
But the contrast between the two writers is even more important for our purpose. No one can read through the passages to which we have pointed without feeling the solemn sternness of the great Teacher, a sternness which can indeed be traced here and there in St Mark, but which The Element of Warning. does not give its tone to the whole of his picture. Here we see Christ standing forth in solitary grandeur, looking with the eyes of another world on a society which is blindly hastening to its dissolution. It may be that if this document had come down to us in its entirety, we should have gathered from it an exaggerated idea of the severity of our Lord’s character. Certain it is that as we read over these fragments we are somewhat startled by the predominance of the element of warning, and by the assertion of rules of conduct which seem almost inconsistent with a normal condition of settled social life. The warning to the nation sounded by the Baptist, that God could raise up a new family for Abraham, is heard again and again in our Lord’s teaching. Gentile faith puts Israel to shame. The sons of the kingdom will be left outside, while strangers feast with Abraham. Capernaum shall go to perdition; Jerusalem shall be a desolate ruin. The doom of the nation is pronounced; its fate is imminent; there is no ray of hope for the existing constitution of religion and society. As to individuals within the nation, the despised publicans and sinners will find God’s favour before the self-satisfied representatives of the national religion. In such a condition of affairs it is hardly surprising to find that the great and stern Teacher congratulates the poor and has nothing but pity for the rich; that He has no interest at all in comfort or property. If a man asks you for anything, give it him; if he takes it without asking, do not seek to recover it. Nothing material is worth a thought; anxiety is folly; your Father, who feeds His birds and clothes His flowers, will feed and clothe you. Rise to the height of your sonship to God; love your enemies even as God loves His; and if they kill you, God will care for you still; fear them not, fear only Him who loves you all.
Here is a new philosophy of life, offering solid consolation amid the ruin of a world. We have no idea who the disciple may have been who thus seized upon the sadder elements of the teaching of Jesus; but we may well think of him as one of those who were living in Palestine in the dark and threatening years of internecine strife, when the Roman eagles were gathering round their prey, and the first thunder was muttering of the storm which was to leave Jerusalem a heap of stones. At such a moment the warnings of our Lord would claim a large place in a record of His teaching, and the strange comfort which He had offered would be the only hope which it would seem possible to entertain.
4. Additions by the Gospel according to St Matthew.—We have now examined in turn the two earliest pictures which have been preserved to us of the life of Jesus Christ. The first portrays Him chiefly by a record of His actions, and illustrates His strength, His sympathy, and His The Earlier Narratives. freedom from conventional restraints. It shows the disturbing forces of these characteristics, which aroused the envy and apprehension of the leaders of religion. The first bright days of welcome and popularity are soon clouded: the storm begins to lower. More and more the Master devotes Himself to the little circle of His disciples, who are taught that they, as well as He, can only triumph through defeat, succeed by failure, and find their life in giving it away. At length, in fear of religious innovations and pretending that He is a political usurper, the Jews deliver Him up to die on a Roman cross. The last page of the story is torn away, just at the point when it has been declared that He is alive again and about to show Himself to His disciples. The second picture has a somewhat different tone. It is mainly a record of teaching, and the teaching is for the most part stern and paradoxical. It might be described as revolutionary. It is good tidings to the poor: it sets no store on property and material comfort: it pities the wealthy and congratulates the needy. It reverses ordinary judgments and conventional maxims of conduct. It proclaims the downfall of institutions, and compares the present blind security to the days of Noah and of Lot: a few only shall escape the coming overthrow. Yet even in this sterner setting the figure portrayed is unmistakably the same. There is the same strength, the same tender sympathy, the same freedom from convention: there is the same promise to fulfil the highest hopes, the same surrender of life, and the same imperious demand on the lives of others. No thoughtful man who examines and compares these pictures can doubt that they are genuine historical portraits of a figure wholly different from any which had hitherto appeared on the world’s stage. They are beyond the power of human invention. They are drawn with a simplicity which is their own guarantee. If we had these, and these only, we should have an adequate explanation of the beginnings of Christianity. There would still be a great gap to be filled before we reached the earliest letters of St Paul; but yet we should know what the Apostle meant when he wrote to “the Church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” and reminded them how they had “turned from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivereth us from the wrath to come.”
If these two narratives served the first needs of Christian believers, it is easy to see that they would presently stimulate further activity in the same direction. For, to begin with, they were obviously incomplete: many incidents and teachings known to the earliest disciples found no place in them; and they contained no account of the life of Jesus Christ before His public ministry, no record of His pedigree, His birth or His childhood. Secondly, their form left much to be desired; for one of them at least was rude in style, sometimes needlessly repetitive and sometimes brief to obscurity. Moreover the very fact that there were two challenged a new and combined work which perhaps should supersede both.
Accordingly, some years after the fall of Jerusalem—we
cannot tell the exact date or the author’s name—the book
which we call the Gospel according to St Matthew
was written to give the Palestinian Christians a
full account of Jesus Christ, which should present
Matthew. Him as the promised Messiah, fulfilling the ancient Hebrew prophecies, proclaiming the kingdom of heaven, and founding the Christian society. The writer takes St Mark as his basis, but he incorporates into the story large portions of the teaching which he has found in the other document. He groups his materials with small regard to chronological order; and he fashions out of the many scattered sayings of our Lord continuous discourses, everywhere bringing like to like, with considerable literary art. A wide knowledge of the Old Testament supplies him with a text to illustrate one incident after another; and so deeply is he impressed with the correspondence between the life of Christ and the words of ancient prophecy, that he does not hesitate to introduce his quotations by the formula “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet.”
His Hebrew instinct leads him to begin with a table of genealogy, artificially constructed in groups of fourteen generations—from Abraham to David, from David to the Captivity, and from the Captivity to the Christ. The royal descent of the Messiah is thus declared, and from the outset His figure is set against the background of the Old Testament. He then proceeds to show that, though His lineage is traced through Joseph’s ancestors, He was but the adopted son of Joseph, and he tells the story of the Virgin-birth. The coming of the Child draws Eastern sages to his cradle and fills the court of Herod with suspicious fears. The cruel tyrant kills the babes of Bethlehem, but the Child has been withdrawn by a secret flight into Egypt, whence he presently returns to the family home at Nazareth in Galilee. All this is necessarily fresh material, for the other records had dealt only with the period of public ministry. We have no knowledge of the source from which it was drawn. From the historical standpoint its value must be appraised by the estimate which is formed of the writer’s general trustworthiness as a narrator, and by the extent to which the incidents receive confirmation from other quarters. The central fact of the Virgin-birth, as we shall presently see, has high attestation from another early writer.
The next addition which St Matthew’s Gospel makes to our knowledge is of a different kind. It consists of various important sayings of our Lord, which are combined with discourses found in the second document and are worked up into the great utterance which we call the Sermon Discourses and Parables. on the Mount. Such grouping of materials is a feature of this Gospel, and was possibly designed for purposes of public instruction; so that continuous passages might be read aloud in the services of the Church, just as passages from the Old Testament were read in the Jewish synagogues. This motive would account not only for the arrangement of the material, but also for certain changes in the language which seem intended to remove difficulties, and to interpret what is ambiguous or obscure. An example of such interpretation meets us at the outset. The startling saying, “Blessed are ye poor,” followed by the woe pronounced upon the rich, might seem like a condemnation of the very principle of property; and when the Christian Church had come to be organized as a society containing rich and poor, the heart of the saying was felt to be more truly and clearly expressed in the words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” This interpretative process may be traced again and again in this Gospel, which frequently seems to reflect the definite tradition of a settled Church.
Apart from the important parables of the tares, the pearl and the net, the writer adds little to his sources until we come to the remarkable passage in ch. xvi., in which Peter the Rock is declared to be the foundation of the future Church, and is entrusted with the keys of the kingdom of heaven. The function of “binding and loosing,” here assigned to him, is in identical terms assigned to the disciples generally in a passage in ch. xviii. in which for the second time we meet with the word “Church”—a word not found elsewhere in the Gospels. There is no sufficient ground for denying that these sayings were uttered by our Lord, but the fact that they were now first placed upon record harmonizes with what has been said already as to the more settled condition of the Christian society which this Gospel appears to reflect.
The parables of the two debtors, the labourers in the vineyard, the two sons, the ten virgins, the sheep and goats, are recorded only by this evangelist. But by way of incident he has almost nothing to add till we come to the closing scenes. The earthquake at the moment of our Lord’s death and the subsequent appearance of departed saints are strange traditions unattested by other writers. The same is to be said of the soldiers placed to guard the tomb, and of the story that they had been bribed to say that the sacred body had been stolen while they slept. On the other hand, the appearance of the risen Christ to the women may have been taken from the lost pages of St Mark, being the sequel to the narrative which is broken off abruptly in this Gospel: and it is not improbable that St Mark’s Gospel was the source of the great commission to preach and baptize with which St Matthew closes, though the wording of it has probably been modified in accordance with a settled tradition.
The work which the writer of this Gospel thus performed received the immediate sanction of a wide acceptance. It met a definite spiritual need. It presented the Gospel in a suitable form for the edification of the Church; and it confirmed its truth by constant appeals to the Old Testament scriptures, thus manifesting its intimate relation with the past as the outcome of a long preparation and as the fulfilment of a Divine purpose. No Gospel is so frequently quoted by the early post-apostolic writers: none has exercised a greater influence upon Christianity, and consequently upon the history of the world.
Yet from the purely historical point of view its evidential value is not the same as that of St Mark. Its facts for the most part are simply taken over from the earlier evangelist, and the historian must obviously prefer the primary source. Its true importance lies in its attestation of the genuineness of the earlier portraits to which it has so little to add, in its recognition of the relation of Christ to the whole purpose of God as revealed in the Old Testament, and in its interpretation of the Gospel message in its bearing on the living Church of the primitive days.
5. Additions by St Luke.—While the needs of Jewish believers were amply met by St Matthew’s Gospel, a like service was rendered to Gentile converts by a very different writer. St Luke was a physician who had accompanied St Paul on his missionary journeys. He undertook a history of the beginnings of Christianity, two volumes of which have come down to us, entitled the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. His Gospel, like St Matthew’s, is founded on St Mark, with the incorporation of large portions of the second document of which we have spoken above. But the way in which the two writers have used the same materials is strikingly different. In St Matthew’s Gospel the original sources are frequently blended: the incidents of St Mark are rearranged and often grouped afresh according to subject matter: harsh and ambiguous sentences of both documents are toned down or interpreted. St Luke, on the contrary, chooses between parallel stories of his two sources, preferring neither to duplicate nor to combine: he incorporates St Mark in continuous sections, following him alone for a time, then leaving him entirely, and then returning to introduce a new block of his narrative. He modifies St Mark’s style very freely, but he makes less change in the recorded words of our Lord, and he adheres more closely to the original language of the second document.
In his first two chapters he gives an account of the birth and childhood of St John the Baptist and of our Lord Himself, gathered perhaps directly from the traditions of the Holy Family, and written in close imitation of the sacred stories of the Old Testament which were familiar to him in their Greek translation. The whole series of incidents differ from that which we find in St Matthew’s Gospel, but there is no direct variance between them. The two narratives are in agreement as to the central fact of the Virgin-birth. St Luke gives a table of genealogy which is irreconcilable with the artificial table of St Matthew’s Gospel, and which traces our Lord’s ancestry up to Adam, “which was the son of God.”
The opening scene of the Galilean ministry is the discourse at Nazareth, in which our Lord claims to fulfil Isaiah’s prophecy of the proclamation of good tidings to the poor. The same prophecy is alluded to in His reply to the Baptist’s messengers which is incorporated subsequently from the second document. The scene ends with the rejection of Christ by His own townsfolk, as in the parallel story of St Mark which St Luke does not give. It is probable that St Luke found this narrative in the second document, and chose it after his manner in preference to the less instructive story in St Mark. He similarly omits the Marcan account of the call of the fishermen, substituting the story of the miraculous draught. After that he follows St Mark alone, until he introduces after the call of the twelve apostles the sermon which begins with the beatitudes and woes. This is from the second document, which he continues to use, and that without interruption (if we may venture to assign to it the raising of the widow’s son at Nain and the anointing by the sinful woman in the Pharisee’s house), until he returns to incorporate another section from St Mark.
This in turn is followed by the most characteristic section of his Gospel (ix. 51–xviii. 14), a long series of incidents wholly independent of St Mark, and introduced as belonging to the period of the final journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. Much of this material is demonstrably Characteristic Section of St. Luke’s Gospel. derived from the second document; and it is quite possible that the whole of it may come from that source. There are special reasons for thinking so in regard to certain passages, as for example the mission of the seventy disciples and the parable of the good Samaritan, although they are not contained in St Matthew’s Gospel.
For the closing scenes at Jerusalem St Luke makes considerable additions to St Mark’s narrative: he gives a different account of the Last Supper, and he adds the trial before Herod and the incident of the penitent robber. He appears to have had no information as to the appearance of the risen Lord in Galilee, and he accordingly omits from his reproduction of St Mark’s narrative the twice-repeated promise of a meeting with the disciples there. He supplies, however, an account of the appearance to the two disciples at Emmaus and to the whole body of the apostles in Jerusalem.
St Luke’s use of his two main sources has preserved the characteristics of both of them. The sternness of certain passages, which has led some critics to imagine that he was an Ebionite, is mainly, if not entirely, due to his faithful reproduction of the language of the second document. The key-note of his Gospel is universality: the mission of the Christ embraces the poor, the weak, the despised, the heretic and the sinful: it is good tidings to all mankind. He tells of the devotion of Mary and Martha, and of the band of women who ministered to our Lord’s needs and followed Him to Jerusalem: he tells also of His kindness to more than one sinful woman. Zacchaeus the publican and the grateful Samaritan leper further illustrate this characteristic. Writing as he does for Gentile believers he omits many details which from their strongly Jewish cast might be unintelligible or uninteresting. He also modifies the harshness of St Mark’s style, and frequently recasts his language in reference to diseases. From an historical point of view his Gospel is of high value. The proved accuracy of detail elsewhere, as in his narration of events which he witnessed in company with St Paul, enhances our general estimation of his work. A trustworthy observer and a literary artist, the one non-Jewish evangelist has given us—to use M. Renan’s words—“the most beautiful book in the world.”
6. Additions by St John.—We come lastly to consider what addition to our knowledge of Christ’s life and work is made by the Fourth Gospel. St Mark’s narrative of our Lord’s ministry and passion is so simple and straightforward that it satisfies our historical sense. We trace a natural development in it: we seem to see why with such power and such sympathy He necessarily came into conflict with the religious leaders of the people, who were jealous of the influence which He gained and were scandalized by His refusal to be hindered in His mission of mercy by rules and conventions to which they attached the highest importance. The issue is fought out in Galilee, and when our Lord finally journeys to Jerusalem He knows that He goes there to die. The story is so plain and convincing in itself that it gives at first sight an impression of completeness. This impression is confirmed by the Gospels of St Matthew and St Luke, which though they add much fresh material do not disturb the general scheme presented by St Mark. But on reflection we are led to question the sufficiency of the account thus offered to us. Is it probable, we ask, that our Lord should have neglected the sacred custom in accordance with which the pious Jew visited Jerusalem several times each year for the observance of the divinely appointed feasts? It is true that St Mark does not break his narrative of the Galilean ministry to record such visits: but this does not prove that such visits were not made. Again, is it probable that He should have so far neglected Jerusalem as to give it no opportunity of seeing Him and hearing His message until the last week of His life? If the writers of the other two Gospels had no means at their disposal for enlarging the narrow framework of St Mark’s narrative by recording definite visits to Jerusalem, at least they preserve to us words from the second document which seem to imply such visits: for how else are we to explain the pathetic complaint, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thee, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings; but ye would not”?
St John’s Gospel meets our questionings by a wholly new series of incidents and by an account of a ministry which is concerned mainly not with Galileans but with Judaeans, and which centres in Jerusalem. It is carried on to a large extent concurrently with the Galilean ministry: it is not continuous, but is taken up from feast to feast as our Lord visits the sacred city at the times of its greatest religious activity. It differs in character from the Galilean ministry: for among the simple, unsophisticated folk of Galilee Jesus presents Himself as a healer and helper and teacher, keeping in the background as far as possible His claim to be the Messiah; whereas in Jerusalem His authority is challenged at His first appearance, the element of controversy is never absent, His relation to God is from the outset the vital issue, and consequently His Divine claim is of necessity made explicit. Time after time His life is threatened before the feast is ended, and when the last passover has come we can well understand, what was not made sufficiently clear in the brief Marcan narrative, why Jerusalem proved so fatally hostile to His Messianic claim.
The Fourth Gospel thus offers us a most important supplement to the limited sketch of our Lord’s life which we find in the Synoptic Gospels. Yet this was not the purpose which led to its composition. That purpose is plainly stated by the author himself: “These things have been The Purpose of St John’s Gospel. written that ye may believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that believing ye may have life in His name.” His avowed aim is, not to write history, but to produce conviction. He desires to interpret the coming of Jesus Christ into the world, to declare whence and why He came, and to explain how His coming, as light in the midst of darkness, brought a crisis into the lives of all with whom He came in contact. The issue of this crisis in His rejection by the Jews at Jerusalem is the main theme of the book.
St John’s prologue prepares us to find that he is not writing for persons who require a succinct narrative of facts, but for those who having such already in familiar use are asking deep questions as to our Lord’s mission. It goes back far behind human birth or lines of ancestry. It begins, like the sacred story of creation, “In the beginning.” The Book of Genesis had told how all things were called into existence by a Divine utterance: “God said, Let there be . . . and there was.” The creative Word had been long personified by Jewish thought, especially in connexion with the prophets to whom “the Word of the Lord” came. “In the beginning,” then, St John tells us, the Word was—was with God—yea, was God. He was the medium of creation, the source of its light and its life—especially of that higher life which finds its manifestation in men. So He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and yet the world knew Him not. At length He came, came to the home which had been prepared for Him, but His own people rejected Him. But such as did receive Him found a new birth, beyond their birth of flesh and blood: they became children of God, were born of God. In order thus to manifest Himself He had undergone a human birth: “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory”—the glory, as the evangelist has learned to see, of the Father’s only-begotten Son, who has come into the world to reveal to men that God whom “no man hath ever seen.” In these opening words we are invited to study the life of Christ from a new point of view, to observe His self-manifestation and its issue. The evangelist looks back across a period of half a century, and writes of Christ not merely as he saw Him in those far-off days, but as he has come by long experience to think and speak of Him. The past is now filled with a glory which could not be so fully perceived at the time, but which, as St John tells, it was the function of the Holy Spirit to reveal to Christ’s disciples.
The first name which occurs in this Gospel is that of John the Baptist. He is even introduced into the prologue which sketches in general terms the manifestation of the Divine Word: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John: he came for witness, to witness to the Light, that through him all might believe.” This witness of John holds a position of high importance in this Gospel. His mission is described as running on for a while concurrently with that of our Lord, whereas in the other Gospels we have no record of our Lord’s work until John is cast into prison. It is among the disciples of the Baptist on the banks of the Jordan that Jesus finds His first disciples. The Baptist has pointed Him out to them in striking language, which recalls at once the symbolic ritual of the law and the spiritual lessons of the prophets: “Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”
Soon afterwards at Cana of Galilee Jesus gives His first “sign,” as the evangelist calls it, in the change of water into wine to supply the deficiency at a marriage feast. This scene has all the happy brightness of the early Galilean ministry which St Mark records. It stands in sharp contrast with the subsequent appearance of Jesus in Jerusalem at the Passover, when His first act is to drive the traders from the Temple courts. In this He seems to be carrying the Baptist’s stern mission of purification from the desert into the heart of the sacred city, and so fulfilling, perhaps consciously, the solemn prophecy of Malachi which opens with the words: “Behold, I will send My Messenger, and He shall prepare the way before Me; and the Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to His Temple” (Mal. iii. 1–5). This significant action provokes a challenge of His authority, which is answered by a mysterious saying, not understood at the time, but interpreted afterwards as referring to the Resurrection. After this our Lord was visited secretly by a Pharisee named Nicodemus, whose advances were severely met by the words, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” When Nicodemus objected that this was to demand a physical impossibility, he was answered that the new birth was “of water and spirit”—words which doubtless contained a reference to the mission of the Baptist and to his prophecy of One who should baptize with the Holy Spirit. Towards the end of this conversation the evangelist passes imperceptibly from reporting the words of the Lord into an interpretation or amplification of them, and in language which recalls the prologue he unfolds the meaning of Christ’s mission and indicates the crisis of self-judgment which necessarily accompanies the manifestation of the Light to each individual. When he resumes his narrative the Lord has left Jerusalem, and is found baptizing disciples, in even greater numbers than the Baptist himself. Though Jesus did not personally perform the rite, it is plain once again that in this early period He closely linked His own mission with that of John the Baptist. When men hinted at a rivalry between them, John plainly declared “He must increase, and I must decrease”: and the reply of Jesus was to leave Judaea for Galilee.
Away from the atmosphere of contention we find Him manifesting the same broad sympathy and freedom from convention which we have noted in the other Gospels, especially in that of St Luke. He converses with a woman, with a woman moreover who is a Samaritan, and who is of unchaste life. He offers her the “living water” which shall supply all her needs: she readily accepts Him as the expected Messiah, and He receives a welcome from the Samaritans. He passes on to Galilee, where also He is welcomed, and where He performs His second “sign,” healing the son of one of Herod’s courtiers.
But St John’s interest does not lie in Galilee, and he soon brings our Lord back to Jerusalem on the occasion of a feast. The Baptist’s work is now ended; and, though Jesus still appeals to the testimony of John, the new conflict with the Jewish authorities shows that He is moving The Ministry at Jerusalem. now on His own independent and characteristic lines. In cleansing the Temple He had given offence by what might seem an excess of rigour: now, by healing a sick man and bidding him carry his bed on the Sabbath, He offended by His laxity. He answered His accusers by the brief but pregnant sentence: “My Father worketh even until now, and I work.” They at once understood that He thus claimed a unique relation to God, and their antagonism became the more intense: “the Jews therefore sought the more to kill Him, because He had not only broken the Sabbath, but had also said that God was His own Father, making Himself equal to God.” His first reply is then expanded to cover the whole region of life. The Son beholds the Father at work, and works concurrently, doing nothing of Himself. He does the Father’s will. The very principle of life is entrusted to Him. He quickens, and He judges. As Son of Man He judges man.
The next incident is the feeding of the five thousand, which belongs to the Galilean ministry and is recorded by the three other evangelists. St John’s purpose in introducing it is not historical but didactic. It is made the occasion of instruction as to the heavenly food, the flesh and blood of Him who came down from heaven. This teaching leads to a conflict with certain Judaeans who seem to have come from Jerusalem, and it proves a severe test even to the faith of disciples.
The feast of tabernacles brings fresh disputes in Jerusalem, and an attempt is made to arrest Jesus. A climax of indignation is reached when a blind man is healed at the pool of Siloam on the sabbath day. At the feast of the dedication a fresh effort at arrest was made, and Jesus then withdrew beyond the Jordan. Here He learned of the sickness of Lazarus, and presently He returned and came to Bethany to raise him from the dead. The excitement produced by this miracle led to yet another attack, destined this time to be successful, on the life of Jesus. The Passover was at hand, and the last supper of our Lord with His disciples on the evening before the Passover lamb was killed is made the occasion of the most inspiring consolations. Our Lord interprets His relation to the disciples by the figure of a tree and its branches—He is the whole of which they are the parts; He promises the mission of the Holy Spirit to continue His work in the world; and He solemnly commends to His Father the disciples whom He is about to leave.
The account of the trial and the crucifixion differs considerably from the accounts given in the other Gospels. St John’s narratives are in large part personal memories, and in more than one incident he himself figures as the unnamed disciple “whom Jesus loved.” In the Resurrection scenes he also gives incidents in which he has played a part; and the appearances of the risen Lord are not confined either to Jerusalem or to Galilee, but occur in both localities.
If we ask what is the special contribution to history, apart from theology, which St John’s Gospel makes, the answer would seem to be this—that beside the Galilean ministry reported by St Mark there was a ministry to “Jews” (Judaeans) in Jerusalem, not continuous, but occasional, taken up from time to time as the great feasts came round; that its teaching was widely different from that which was given to Galileans, and that the situation created was wholly unlike that which arose out of the Galilean ministry. The Galilean ministry opens with enthusiasm, ripening into a popularity which even endangers a satisfactory result. Where opposition manifests itself, it is not native opposition, but comes from religious teachers who are parts of a system which centres in Jerusalem, and who are sometimes expressly noted as having come from Jerusalem. The Jerusalem ministry on the contrary is never welcomed with enthusiasm. It has to do with those who challenge it from the first. There is no atmosphere of simplicity and teachableness which rejoices in the manifestation of power and sympathy and liberty. It is a witness delivered to a hostile audience, whether they will hear or no. Ultimate issues are quickly raised: keen critics see at once the claims which underlie deeds and words, and the claims in consequence become explicit: the relation of the teacher to God Himself is the vital interest. The conflict which thus arose explains what St Mark’s succinct narrative had left unexplained—the fatal hostility of Jerusalem. It may have been a part of St John’s purpose to give this explanation, and to make other supplements or corrections where earlier narratives appeared to him incomplete or misleading. But he says nothing to indicate this, while on the other hand he distinctly proclaims that his purpose is to produce and confirm conviction of the divine claims of Jesus Christ.