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Who Wrote the Bible? by Washington Gladden

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in the book; it does not in any wise reduce the moral and spiritual
value of it. The age of the Maccabees, when this book appeared, was one
of the great ages of Jewish history. Judas Maccabeus is one of the first
of the Israelitish heroes; and the struggle, in which he was the leader,
against the dissolute Syrian Greeks brought out some of the strongest
qualities of the Hebrew character. The genuine humility, the fervid
consecration, the dauntless faith of the Jews of this generation put to
shame the conduct of their countrymen in many ages more celebrated. And
it cannot be doubted that this book was both the effect and the cause of
this lofty national purpose. "Rarely," says Ewald, "does it happen that
a book appears as this did, in the very crisis of the times, and in a
form most suited to such an age, artificially reserved, close and
severe, and yet shedding so clear a light through obscurity, and so
marvelously captivating. It was natural that it should soon achieve a
success entirely corresponding to its inner truth and glory. And so, for
the last time in the literature of the Old Testament, we have in this
book an example of a work which, having sprung from the deepest
necessities of the noblest impulses of the age, can render to that age
the purest service; and which, by the development of events immediately
after, receives with such power the stamp of Divine witness that it
subsequently attains imperishable sanctity." [Footnote: Quoted by
Stanley, _History of the Jewish Church_, iii. p. 336.]



The poetical books of the Old Testament now invite our attention,--"The
Lamentations," "Proverbs," "Ecclesiastes," "The Song of Solomon," "Job,"
and "The Psalms." Ecclesiastes is not in poetical form, but it is a
prose poem; the movement of the language is often lyrical, and the
thought is all expressed in poetic phrases. The other books are all
poetical in form as well as in fact.

LAMENTATIONS, called in the Hebrew Bible by the quaint title "Ah How,"
the first two words of the book, and in the Greek Bible "Threnoi,"
signifying mourning, is placed in the middle of the latest group of the
Hebrew writings. In the English Bible it follows the prophecy of
Jeremiah. It is called in our version "The Lamentations of Jeremiah."
This title preserves the ancient tradition, and there is no reason to
doubt that the tradition embodies the truth. "In favor of this opinion,"
says Bleek, "we may note the agreement of the songs with Jeremiah's
prophecies in their whole character and spirit, in their purport, and in
the tone of disposition shown in them, as well as in the language.... As
regards the occasion and substance of these songs, the two first and the
two last relate to the misery which had been sent on the Jewish people,
and particularly on Jerusalem; the middle one, however, chiefly refers
to the personal sufferings of the author." [Footnote: Vol. ii. p. 102. ]

These five parts are not the five chapters of a book; they are five
distinct poems, each complete in itself, though they are all connected
in meaning. You notice the regularity of the structure, which is even
exhibited to some extent in the Old Version. The first and second, the
fourth and fifth, have each twenty-two verses or stanzas; the third one
has sixty-six stanzas. All but the last are acrostical poems. There are
twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet; each of these letters, in
regular order, begins a verse in four of these songs; in the third
lamentation there are three verses for each letter.

The time at which these elegies were written was undoubtedly the year of
the capture of Jerusalem by the army of Nebuchadnezzar, 586 B.C. The
Chaldean army had been investing the city for more than a year; the
walls were finally broken down, and the Chaldeans rushed in; as they
gained entrance on one side, the wretched King Zedekiah escaped on the
other with a few followers and fled down the Jericho road; he was
pursued and overtaken, his sons and princes were slain before his face,
then his own eyes were put out, and he was led away in chains to
Babylon, where he afterward died in captivity. After a few months' work
of this sort, a portion of the Chaldeans under Nebuzar-adan returned to
the dismantled and pillaged city and utterly destroyed both the city and
the temple. It is supposed that Jeremiah, who was allowed to remain in
the city during this bloody interval, wrote these elegies in the midst
of the desolation and fear then impending. "Never," says Dean Milman,
"was ruined city lamented in language so exquisitely pathetic. Jerusalem
is, as it were, personified and bewailed with the passionate sorrow of
private and domestic attachment; while the more general pictures of the
famine, common misery of every rank and age and sex, all the desolation,
the carnage, the violation, the dragging away into captivity, the
remembrance of former glories, of the gorgeous ceremonies, and of the
glad festivals, the awful sense of the Divine wrath, heightening the
present calamities, are successively drawn with all the life and reality
of an eye-witness." [Footnote: _History of the Jews_, i. 446.] The
ethical and spiritual qualities of the book are pure and high; the
writer does not fail to enforce the truth that it is because "Jerusalem
hath grievously sinned" that "she is become an unclean thing." And in
the midst of all this calamity there is no rebellion against God; it is
only the cry of a desolate but trusting soul to a just and faithful

THE PROVERBS, in the Hebrew Bible, is called "Mishle," or sometimes
"Mishle Shelomoh." The first word signifies Parables or Proverbs or
Sayings; the second word is the supposed name of the author, Solomon. By
the later Jews it is sometimes called "Sepher Chokmah,"--the Book of
Wisdom,--the same title as that which is borne by one of the apocryphal

Here, doubtless, we have again, in the name of the author, what
Delitzsch calls a common denominator. On this subject the words of
William Aldis Wright, in Smith's "Bible Dictionary," express a
conservative judgment:--

"The superscriptions which are affixed to several portions of the Book
of Proverbs in i. 1, x. 1, xxv. 1, attribute the authorship of those
portions to Solomon, the son of David, king of Israel. With the
exception of the last two chapters, which are distinctly assigned to
other authors, it is probable that the statement of the superscriptions
is in the main correct, and that the majority of the proverbs contained
in the book were uttered or collected by Solomon. It was natural and
quite in accordance with the practice of other nations that the Hebrews
should connect Solomon's name with a collection of maxims and precepts
which form a part of their literature to which he is known to have
contributed most largely (1 Kings, iv. 32). In the same way the Greeks
attributed most of their sayings to Pythagoras; the Arabs to Lokman, Abu
Obeid, Al Mofaddel, Meidani, and Samakhshari; the Persians to Ferid
Attar; and the northern people to Odin.

"But there can be no question that the Hebrews were much more justified
in assigning the Proverbs to Solomon than the nations which have just
been enumerated were in attributing the collections of national maxims
to the traditional authors above mentioned." [Footnote: Art. "Book of

This is, undoubtedly, as much as can be truly said respecting the
Solomonian authorship of these sayings. Professor Davidson, writing at a
later day, is more guarded.

"In the book which now exists we find gathered together the most
precious fruits of the wisdom of Israel during many hundreds of years,
and undoubtedly the later centuries were richer, or at all events
fuller, in their contributions than the earlier. The tradition, however,
which connects Solomon with the direction of mind known as 'The Wisdom'
cannot be reasonably set aside.... Making allowances for the
exaggerations of later times, we should leave history and tradition
altogether unexplained if we disallowed the claim of Solomon to have
exercised a creative influence upon the wisdom in Israel." [Footnote:
Art. "Proverbs," _Encyc. Brit._]

The book is divided into several sections:

1. A general introduction, explaining the character and aim of the book,
which occupies the first six verses.

2. A connected discourse upon wisdom, not in the form of maxims, but
rather in the manner of a connected essay, fills the first nine

3. The next thirteen chapters (x.-xxii. 16) contain three hundred and
seventy-four miscellaneous proverbs, each consisting of two phrases, the
second of which is generally antithetical to the first, as "A wise son
maketh a glad father, but a foolish son is a heaviness to his mother."
There is only one exception (xix. 7), where the couplet is a triplet.
Probably one phrase has been lost. The heading of this section is "The
Proverbs of Solomon;" the section ends with the twenty-second chapter.

4. From xxii. 17 to xxiv. 22 is a more connected discussion, though in
the proverbial form, of the principles of conduct. This is introduced by
a brief exhortation to listen to "the words of the wise."

5. At xxiv. 23, begins another short section which extends through the
chapter, under this title: "These also are sayings of the wise."

6. The next five chapters (xxv.-xxix.) have for their caption this
sentence: "These also are proverbs of Solomon, which the men of
Hezekiah, king of Judah, copied out."

7. Chapter xxx. is said to contain "The words of Agur, the son of Jakeh,
the oracle." The author is wholly unknown.

8. Chapter xxxi. 1-9, contains "The words of King Lemuel, the prophecy
that his mother taught him." He too stands here upon the sacred page but
the shadow of a name.

9. The book closes with an acrostical poem---twenty-two verses beginning
with the Hebrew letters in the order of the alphabet--upon "The Virtuous
Woman." The word "virtue" here is used in the Roman sense; it signifies
rather the vigorous woman, the capable woman.

Of these sections it seems probable that the one here numbered 6 is the
oldest, and that it contains the largest proportion of Solomonian
sayings. Professor Davidson thinks that it cannot have taken its present
form earlier than the eighth century.

The character of the teaching of the book is not uniform, but on the
whole it is best described as prudential rather than prophetic. It
embodies what we are in the habit of calling "good common sense." There
is an occasional maxim whose application to our own time may be doubted,
and now and then one whose morality has been superseded by the higher
standards of the New Testament; but, after making all due deductions, we
shall doubtless agree that it is a precious legacy of practical counsel,
and shall consent to these words of Professor Conant:--

"The gnomic poetry of the most enlightened of other nations will not
bear comparison with it in the depth and certainty of its foundation
principles, or in the comprehensiveness and moral grandeur of its
conceptions of human duty and responsibility." [Footnote: Smith's
_Bible Dictionary_, iii. 2616. ]

Ecclesiastes, or the Preacher, bears in the Hebrew collection the name,
"Koheleth," which means the assembler of the people, and therefore,
probably, the man who addresses the assembly. Ecclesiastes is the Greek
name of the book in the Septuagint; we have simply copied the Greek word
in English letters.

The first verse is, "The words of Koheleth (the Preacher), the son of
David, King in Jerusalem." The only son of David who was ever king in
Jerusalem was Solomon; was Solomon the author of this book? This is the
apparent claim; the question is whether we have not here, as in the case
of Daniel, a book put forth pseudonymously; whether the author does not
personate Solomon, and speak his message through Solomon's lips. That
this is the fact modern scholars almost unanimously maintain. Their
reasons for their opinion may be briefly stated:

1. In the conclusion of the book the author speaks in his own person,
laying aside the thin disguise which he has been wearing. In several
other passages the literary veil becomes transparent. Thus (i. 12), "I
Koheleth was king over Israel in Jerusalem." This sounds like the voice
of one looking backward and trying to put himself in Solomon's place.
Again, in this and the following chapter, he says of himself: "I have
gotten me great wisdom above all that were before me in Jerusalem;" "I
was great, and increased more than all that were before me in
Jerusalem," etc.,--"all of which," says Bleek, "does not appear very
natural as coming from the son of David, who first captured Jerusalem."
Nobody had been before him in Jerusalem except his father David.

2. The state of society as described in the book, and particularly the
reference to rulers, agree better with the theory that it was written
during the Persian period, after the Captivity, when the satraps of the
Persian king were ruling with vacillating arbitrariness and fitful

3. The religious condition of the people as here depicted, and the
religious ideas of the book represent the period following the
Captivity, and do not represent the golden age of Israel.

4. More important and indeed perfectly decisive is the fact that the
book is full of Chaldaisms, and that the Hebrew is the later Hebrew, of
the days of Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, and Esther. It could not have been
written by Solomon, any more than the "Idylls of the King" could have
been written by Edmund Spenser. There are those, of course, who maintain
that the book was written by Solomon; just as there are those who still
maintain that the sun revolves around the earth. The reason for this
opinion is found in the first sentence of the book itself. The book
announces its own author, it is said; and to question the truth of this
claim is to deny the veracity of Scripture. On this question we may
call, from the array of conservative writers who have given us Smith's
"Bible Dictionary," such a witness as Professor Plumptre:--

"The hypothesis that every such statement in a canonical book must be
received as literally true is, in fact, an assumption that inspired
writers were debarred from forms of composition which were open, without
blame, to others. In the literature of every other nation the form of
personated authorship, when there is no _animus decipiendi_, has
been recognized as a legitimate channel for the expression of opinions,
or the quasi-dramatic representation of character. Why should we venture
on the assertion that if adopted by the writers of the Old Testament it
would make them guilty of falsehood?...There is nothing that need
startle us in the thought that an inspired writer might use a liberty
which has been granted without hesitation to the teachers of mankind in
every age and country." [Footnote: Art. "Ecclesiastes," vol. i. p.

That such is the character of the book and that it appeared some time
during the Persian age are well-ascertained results of scholarship.

The doctrine of the book is not so easily summarized. It is a hard book
to interpret. Dr. Ginsberg gives a striking _résumé_ of the
different theories of its teaching which have been promulgated. There is
no room here to enter upon the great question. Let it suffice to say
that we seem to have in these words the soliloquy of a soul struggling
with the problem of evil, sometimes borne down by a dismal skepticism,
sometimes asserting his faith in the enduring righteousness. The
writer's problem is the one to which Mr. Mallock has given an
epigrammatic statement: "Is life worth living?" He greatly doubts, yet
he strongly hopes. Much of the time it appears to him that the best
thing a man can do is to enjoy the present good and let the world wag.
But the outcome of all this struggle is the conviction that there is a
life beyond this life and a tribunal at which all wrongs will be
righted, and that to fear God and keep his commandments is the whole
duty of man. There are thus many passages in the book which express a
bitter skepticism; to winnow the wheat from the chaff and to find out
what we ought to think about life is a serious undertaking. It is only
the wise and skillful interpreter who can steer his bark along these
tortuous channels of reflection, and not run aground. Yet, properly
interpreted, the book is sound for substance of doctrine, and the
experience which it delineates, though sad and depressing, is full of
instruction for us. Dean Stanley's words about it are as true as they
are eloquent; they will throw some light on the path which lies just
before us:--

"As the Book of Job is couched in the form of a dramatic argument
between the patriarch and his friends, as the Song of Songs is a
dramatic dialogue between the Lover and the Loved One, so the Book of
Ecclesiastes is a drama of a still more tragic kind. It is an
interchange of voices, higher and lower, mournful and joyful, within a
single human soul. It is like the struggle between the two principles in
the Epistle to the Romans. It is like the question and answer of 'The
Two Voices' of our modern poet.... Every speculation and thought of the
human heart is heard and expressed and recognized in turn. The
conflicts, which in other parts of the Bible are confined to a single
verse or a single chapter, are here expanded into a whole book." And
after quoting a few of the darker and more cynical utterances, this
clear-sighted teacher goes on: "Their cry is indeed full of doubt and
despair and perplexity; it is such as we often hear from the melancholy,
skeptical, inquiring spirits of our own age; such as we often refuse to
hear and regard as unworthy even a good man's thought or care, but the
admission of such a cry into the Book of Ecclesiastes shows that it is
not beneath the notice of the Bible, not beneath the notice of God."
[Footnote: _History of the Jewish Church_, ii. 283, 284.]

"THE SONG OF SONGS" is another of the books ascribed to Solomon. It may
have been written in Solomon's time; that it was composed by Solomon
himself is not probable.

It has generally been regarded as an allegorical poem; the Jews
interpreted it as setting forth the love of Jehovah for Israel; the
Christian interpreters have made it the representation of the love of
Christ for his Church. These are the two principal theories, but it
might be instructive to let Archdeacon Farrar recite to us a short list
of the explanations which have been given of the book in the course of
the ages:--

"It represents, say the commentators, the love of God for the
congregation of Israel; it relates the history of the Jews from the
Exodus to the Messiah; it is a consolation to afflicted Israel; it is an
occult history; it represents the union of the divine soul with the
earthly body, or of the material with the active intellect; it is the
conversation of Solomon and Wisdom; it describes the love of Christ to
his Church; it is historico-prophetic; it is Solomon's thanksgiving for
a happy reign; it is a love-song unworthy of any place in the canon; it
treats of man's reconciliation to God; it is a prophecy of the Church
from the Crucifixion till after the Reformation; it is an anticipation
of the Apocalypse; it is the seven days' epithalamium on the marriage of
Solomon with the daughter of Pharaoh; it is a magazine for direction and
consolation under every condition; it treats in hieroglyphics of the
sepulchre of the Saviour, his death, and the Old Testament saints; it
refers to Hezekiah and the Ten Tribes; it is written in glorification of
the Virgin Mary. Such were the impossible and diverging interpretations
of what many regarded as the very Word of God. A few only, till the
beginning of this century, saw the truth,--which is so obvious to all
who go to the Bible with the humble desire to know what it says, and not
to interpret it into their own baseless fancies,--that it is the
exquisite celebration of a pure love in humble life; of a love which no
splendor can dazzle and no flattery seduce."

These last sentences of Canon Farrar give the probable clew to the
interpretation of the book. It is a dramatic poem, celebrating the story
of a beautiful peasant girl, a native of the northern village of Shunem,
who was carried away by Solomon's officers and confined in his harem at
Jerusalem. But in the midst of all this splendor her heart is true to
the peasant lover whom she has left behind, nor can any blandishments of
the king disturb her constancy; her honor remains unstained, and she is
carried home at length, heart-whole and happy, by the swain who has come
to Jerusalem for her rescue. This is the beautiful story. The phrases in
which it is told are, indeed, too explicit for Occidental ears; the
color and the heat of the tropics is in the poetry, but it is perfectly
pure; it celebrates the triumph of maiden modesty and innocence. "The
song breathes at the same time," says Ewald, "such deep modesty and
chaste innocence of heart, such determined defiance of the over-
refinement and degeneracy of the court-life, such stinging scorn of the
growing corruption of life in great cities and palaces, that no clearer
or stronger testimony can be found of the healthy vigor which, in this
century, still characterized the nation at large, than the combination
of art and simplicity in the Canticles." [Footnote: _History of
Israel_, iv. 43.]

The Book of Job has been the subject of a great amount of critical
study. The earliest Jewish tradition is that it was written by Moses;
this tradition is preserved in the Talmud, which afterward states that
it was composed by an Israelite who returned to Palestine from the
Babylonian Captivity. It is almost certain that the first of these
traditions is baseless. The theory that it was written after the
Captivity is held by many scholars, but it is beset with serious

The book contains no allusion whatever to the Levitical law, nor to any
of the religious rites and ceremonies of the Jews. The inference has
therefore been drawn that it must have been written before the giving of
the law, probably in the period between Abraham and Moses. It seems
inconceivable that a devout Hebrew should have treated all the great
questions discussed in this book without any reference to the religious
institutions of his own people. It is equally difficult to understand
how the divine interposition for the punishment of the wicked and the
rewarding of the righteous could have been so fully considered without a
glance at the lessons of the Exodus, if the Exodus had taken place
before the book was written. But these arguments for an early origin are
quite neutralized by the doctrine of the book. The view of divine
providence set forth in it is very unlike that contained in the
Pentateuch. It is not necessary to say that there is any contradiction
between these two views; but the subject is approached from a very
different direction, and the whole tone of the book indicates a state of
religious thought quite different from that which existed among the
Hebrews before the Exodus. "If we are to believe that Moses wrote it,"
says a late critic, "then we must believe that he held these views as an
esoteric philosophy, and omitted from the religion which he gave to his
people the truths which had been revealed to him in the desert. The book
itself must have been suppressed until long after his day. The ignorant
Israelites could not have been trained under the discipline of the Law
if they had had at the same time the fiery, cynical, half-skeptical, and
enigmatical commentary which the Book of Job furnishes. There is nothing
abnormal or contrary to the conception of an inspired revelation in the
development of truth by wider views and deeper analysis through
successive sacred writers. But it is repulsive to conceive an inspired
teacher as first gaining the wider view, and then deliberately hiding
it, to utter the truth in cruder and more partial forms." [Footnote:
Raymond's _The Book of Job_, p. 18.] The fact that neither the
person nor the Book of Job is mentioned in the historical books of the
Jews, and that the first reference to him is in the Book of Ezekiel,
would indicate that the date of the book must have been much later than
the time of Moses. This argument could not be pressed, however, for we
have noted already the silence of the earlier historical books
concerning the Mosaic law.

The dilemma of the critics may be summed up as follows:--

1. The absence of allusion to the history of the Exodus and to the
Mosaic system shows that it must have been written before the Exodus. 2.
The absence of all reference to the book in the Hebrew history, and more
especially the doctrinal character of the book, shows that it could not
have been written before the age of Solomon. The latter conclusion is
held much more firmly than the former; and the silence respecting the
history and the Law is explained on the theory that the book is a
historical drama, the scene of which is laid in the period before Moses,
and the historic unities of which have been perfectly observed by the
writer. _The people of this drama_ lived before the Exodus and the
giving of the Law, and their conversations do not, therefore, refer to
any of the events which have happened since. The locality of the drama
is the "Land of Uz," and the geographers agree that the descriptions of
the book apply to the region known in the classical geographies as
"Arabia Deserta," southeast of Palestine. It is admitted that the
scenery and costume of the book are not Jewish; and they agree more
perfectly with what is known of that country than with any other. That
Job was a real personage, and that the drama is founded upon historical
tradition cannot be doubted. It is probable that it was written after
the time of Josiah.

I need not rehearse the story. Job is overtaken by great losses and
sufferings; in the midst of his calamities three friends draw near to
condole with him, and also to administer to him a little wholesome
reproof and admonition. Their theory is that suffering such as he is
enduring is a sign of the divine displeasure; that Job must have been a
great sinner, or he could not be such a sufferer. This argument Job
indignantly repels. He does not claim to be perfect, but he knows that
he has been an upright man, and he knows that bad men round about him
are prospering, while he is scourged and overwhelmed with trouble; he
sees this happening all over the earth,--the good afflicted, the evil
exalted; and he knows, therefore, that the doctrine of his miserable
comforters cannot be true. Sin does bring suffering, that he admits; but
that all suffering is the result of sin he denies. He cannot understand
it; his heart is bitter when he reflects upon it; and the insistence of
his visitors awakes in him a fierce indignation, and leads him to charge
God with injustice and cruelty. They are shocked and scandalized at his
almost blasphemous outcries against God; but he maintains his
righteousness, and drives his critics and censors from the field.
Finally Jehovah himself is represented as answering Job out of the
whirlwind, in one of the most sublime passages in all literature,--
silencing the arguments of his friends, sweeping away all the reasonings
which have preceded, explaining nothing, but only affirming his own
infinite power and wisdom. Before this august manifestation Job bows
with submission; the mystery of evil is not explained; he is only
convinced that it cannot be explained, and is content to be silent and
wait. The teaching of the book is well summarized in these words of Dr.

"The current notion that calamity is always the punishment of crime and
prosperity always the reward of piety is not true. Neither is it true
that the distress of a righteous man is an indication of God's anger.
There are other purposes in the Divine mind of which we know nothing.
For instance, a good man may be afflicted, by permission of God, and
through the agency of Satan, to prove the genuine character of his
goodness. But whether this or some other reason, involved in the
administration of the universe, underlies the dispensation of temporal
blessings and afflictions, one thing is certain: the plans of God are
not, will not be, cannot be revealed; and the resignation of faith, not
of fatalism, is the only wisdom of man." [Footnote: _The Book of
Job_, p. 49.]

I have reserved for the last the most precious of all the Hebrew
writings, the _Book of Psalms_. The Hebrews called it "Tehillim," praise-
book or hymn-book, and the title exactly describes it; in the form in
which we have it, it was a hymn-book prepared for the service of the
later temple.

If the question "Who wrote the Psalms?" were to be propounded in any
meeting of Sunday-school teachers, nine tenths of them would
unhesitatingly answer, "David." If the same question were put to an
assembly of modern Biblical scholars some would answer that David wrote
very few and perhaps not any of the psalms; that they were written
during the Maccabean dynasty, only one or two hundred years before
Christ. Both these views are extreme. We may believe that David did
write several of the psalms, but it is more than probable that the great
majority of them are from other writers.

Seventy-three psalms of the book seem to be ascribed to David in their
titles. "A Psalm of David," "Maschil of David," "Michtam of David," or
something similar is written over seventy-three different psalms.
Concerning these titles there has been much discussion. It has been
maintained that they are found in the ancient Hebrew text as constituent
parts of the Psalms, and are therefore entitled to full credit. But this
theory does not seem to be held by the majority of modern scholars. "The
variations of the inscriptions," says a late conservative writer, "in
the Septuagint and the other versions sufficiently prove that they were
not regarded as fixed portions of the canon, and that they were open to
conjectural emendations." [Footnote: _Speaker's Commentary_, iv.
151.] Dr. Moll, the learned author of the monograph on the Psalms in
Lange's "Commentary," says in his introduction: "The assumption that all
the inscriptions originated with the authors of the Psalms, and are
therefore inseparable from the text, cannot be consistently maintained.
It can at most be held only of a few.... There is now a disposition to
admit that some of them may have originated with the authors

The probability is that most of these inscriptions were added by editors
and transcribers of the Psalms. You open your hymn-book, and find over
one hymn the name of Watts, and over another the name of Wesley, and
over another the name of Montgomery. Who inserted these names? Not the
authors, of course, but the editor or compiler of the collection.
Compilers in these days are careful and accurate, but they do make
mistakes, and you find the same hymn ascribed to different authors in
different books, while hymns that are anonymous in one book are credited
in another, rightly or wrongly, to the name of some author. The men who
collected the hymn-book of the Jews made similar mistakes, and the old
copies do not agree in all their titles.

But while the inscriptions over the psalms do not, generally, belong to
the psalms themselves, and are not in all cases accurate, most of them
were, no doubt, suffixed to the psalms at a very early day. "On the
whole," says Dr. Moll, "an opinion favorable to the antiquity and value
of these superscriptions has again been wrought out, which ascribes them
for the most part to tradition, and indeed a very ancient one."

Even if the titles were rightly translated, then, they would not give us
conclusive proof of the authorship of the Psalms. But some of the best
scholars assert that they are not rightly translated. The late Professor
Murray of Johns Hopkins University, whose little book on the Psalms is
vouched for as one of the most admirable productions of Biblical
scholarship which has yet appeared in this country, says that "whenever
we have an inscription in our version stating that the psalm is 'of
David' it is almost invariably a mistranslation of the original." It
should be written "to David," and it signifies that the compilers
ascribed the psalm to a more ancient collection to which the name of
David had been appended, not because he wrote all the poems in it, but
because he originated the collection and wrote many of its songs. This
older collection was called "The Psalms of David" something as a popular
hymn-book of these times is called Robinson's "Laudes Domini," because
Dr. Robinson compiled the book, and wrote some of the hymns. This old
Davidic collection is not in existence, but many of the psalms in our
book were taken from it, and the titles in our version are attempts to
credit to this old book such of them as were thus borrowed.

This method of crediting is not altogether unknown in this critical age.
In the various eclectic commentaries on the Sunday-school lessons I
often find sentences and paragraphs credited to "William Smith" which
were taken from Dr. Smith's "Bible Dictionary," the articles from which
they are taken being signed in all cases by the initials of the men who
wrote them. I find, also, quotations from the "Speaker's Commentary," of
which Canon Cook is the editor, ascribed to "F. C. Cook," or to "Cook,"
though the table of contents in the volume from which the quotation was
taken bears in capital letters the name of the writer of the commentary
on this particular book. In like manner "Lange" gets the credit of all
that is written in his famous "Bibelwerk," though he wrote very little
of it himself. The power to distinguish between editorship and
authorship was not, probably, possessed by ancient compilers in any
greater degree than by modern ones; and the inscriptions over the psalms
must be estimated with this fact in view.

I have spoken of the present collection of the Psalms as one book, but
it is in reality five books. It is so divided in the Revised Version.
The concluding verse of the Forty-first Psalm is as follows: "Blessed be
the Lord God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and amen."
This doxology marks the close of the first hymn-book prepared by the
Jews for the worship of the second temple. It was probably formed soon
after the first return from the Exile. All the Psalms except the first,
the tenth, and the thirty-third are credited to the old Davidic Psalm
Book. The title of the thirty-third has probably been omitted by some
copyist; the ninth and tenth in some old Hebrew copies are written as
one psalm, and there is an acrostical arrangement which shows that they
really belong together. The psalm may have been divided for liturgical
purposes, or by accident in copying. The title of the ninth, therefore,
covers the tenth. The first and second are, then, the only psalms that
are not ascribed to the old book of which this book was simply an

At the end of the Seventy-second Psalm is the doxology which marks the
close of the second of these hymn-books. After a while the psalms of the
first book grew stale and familiar, and a new book was wanted. "Gospel
Hymns No. 1," of the Moody and Sankey psalmody, had to be followed after
a year or two by "Gospel Hymns No. 2," and then by "No. 3" and "No. 4"
and "No. 5," and finally they were all bound up together. I may be
pardoned for associating things sacred with things not very sacred, and
poetry with something that is not always poetry, but the illustration,
familiar to all, shows exactly how these five hymn-books of the Jews
first came to be, and how they were at length combined in one.

The last verse of the Seventy-second Psalm has puzzled many readers:
"The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended." After this you find
in our collection several psalms ascribed to David, some of which he
undoubtedly wrote. The probable explanation is that the Seventy-second
Psalm was the last psalm of the old Davidic hymn-book; the compiler made
it the last one of this second book, and carelessly copied into this
psalm the inscription with which the old book ended.

The second of these hymn-books begins, therefore, with Psalm xlii., and
ends with Psalm lxxii., a collection of thirty-one songs of praise.

Number three of the temple-service contains eighteen psalms, and ends
with Psalm lxxxix; this book, as well as the one that precedes it, is
ascribed by a probable tradition to Nehemiah as its compiler.

The last verse of Psalm cvi. indicates the close of the fourth book. It
contains but seventeen psalms, and is the shortest book of the five. The
fifth book includes the remaining forty-four psalms, among them the
"Songs of David," or Pilgrim Songs, sung by the people on their journeys
to Jerusalem to keep the solemn feasts. It is probable that this fifth
book was compiled by the authorities in charge of the temple worship,
and that they at the same time collected the other four books and put
them all together, completing in this way the greater book of sacred
lyrics which has been so precious to many generations not only of Jews,
but also of Christians.

Various unsuccessful attempts have been made to classify these books
according to their subject-matter. It is plain that the first two are
composed chiefly of the oldest psalms and of those adapted to the
general purposes of worship; the third book reflects the grief of the
nation in the Captivity; the fourth, the joy of the returning exiles;
the fifth contains a more miscellaneous collection. The Jewish scholars
recognize and sometimes attempt to explain this arrangement of the
Psalms into five books. The Hebrew Midrash on Psalm i. I., says: "Moses
gave the five books of the law to the Israelites, and as a counterpart
of them, David gave the Psalms consisting of five books." This is, of
course, erroneous; the present collection of Psalms was made long after
the time of David; but it is not unlikely that some notion of a
symmetrical arrangement of the Psalms, to correspond to the five-fold
division of the Law, influenced the compilers of this Praise Book.

Of the contents of this book, of the peculiar structure of Hebrew
poetry, and of the historic references in many of the psalms, much might
be said, but this investigation would lead us somewhat aside from our
present purpose.

It may, however, be well to add a word or two respecting some of the
inscriptions and notations borne by the Psalms in our translation. Many
of them are composed of Hebrew words, transliterated into English,--
spelled out with English letters. King James' translators did not know
what they meant, so they reproduced them in this way. There has been
much discussion as to the meaning of several of them, and the scholars
are by no means agreed; the interpretations which follow are mainly
those given by Professor Murray:--

First is the famous "Selah," which we used to hear pronounced with great
solemnity when the Psalms were read. It is a musical term, meaning,
perhaps, something like our "Da Capo" or, possibly, "Forte"--a mark of
expression like those Italian words which you find over the staff on
your sheet music.

"Michtam" and "Maschil" are also musical notes, indicating the time of
the melody,--metronome-marks, so to speak; and "Gittith" and "Shiggaion"
are marks that indicate the kind of melody to which the psalm is to be

"Negiloth" means stringed instruments; it indicates the kind of
accompaniment with which the psalm was to be sung. "Nehiloth" signifies
pipes or flutes, perhaps wind instruments in general.

The inscription "To the Chief Musician" means, probably, "For the Leader
of the Choir," and indicates that the original copy of the psalm thus
inserted in the book was one that had belonged to the chorister in the
old temple. "Upon Shemimith" means "set for bass voices;" "Upon
Alamoth," "set for female voices." "Upon Muthlabben," a curious
transliteration, means "arranged for training the soprano voices."
Professor Murray supposes that this particular psalm was used for
rehearsal by the women singers.

Some of these inscriptions designate the airs to which the psalms were
set, part of which seem to be sacred, and part secular. Such is "Shushan
Eduth," over Psalm lx., meaning "Fair as lilies is thy law," apparently
the name of a popular religious air. Another, probably secular, is over
Psalm xxii., "Aijeleth Shahar," "The stag at dawn," and another, over
Psalm 1vi., "Jonathelem Rechokim," which is, being interpreted, "O
silent dove, what bringest thou us from out the distance?"

These inscriptions and many other features of this ancient Hebrew poetry
have furnished puzzles for the unlearned and problems for the scholars,
but the meaning of the psalms themselves is for the most part clear
enough. The humble disciple pauses with some bewilderment over
"Neginoth" or "Michtam;" he classes them perhaps among the mysteries
which the angels desire to look into; but when he reads a little farther
on, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want;" or "God is our refuge
and strength, a very present help in trouble;" or "Create in me a clean
heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me," he knows full well
what these words mean. There is no life so lofty that these psalms do
not lift up a standard before it; there is no life so lowly that it does
not find in them words that utter its deepest humility and its faintest
trust. Wherever we are these psalms find us; they search the deep things
of our hearts; they bring to us the great things of God. Of how many
heroic characters have these old temple songs been the inspiration!
Jewish saints and patriots chanted them in the synagogue and on the
battle-field; apostles and evangelists sung them among perils of the
wilderness, as they traversed the rugged paths of Syria and Galatia and
Macedonia; martyrs in Rome softly hummed them when the lions near at
hand were crouching for their prey: in German forests, in Highland
glens, Lutherans and Covenanters breathed their lives out through their
cadences; in every land penitent souls have found in them words to tell
the story of their sorrow, and victorious souls the voices of their
triumph; mothers watching their babes by night have cheered the vigil by
singing them; mourners walking in lonely ways have been lighted by the
great hopes that shine through them, and pilgrims going down into the
valley of the shadow of death have found in their firm assurances a
strong staff to lean upon. Lyrics like these, into which so much of the
divine truth was breathed when they were written, and which a hundred
generations of the children of men have saturated with tears and
praises, with battle shouts and sobs of pain, with all the highest and
deepest experiences of the human soul, will live as long as joy lives
and long after sorrow ceases; will live beyond this life, and be sung by
pure voices in that land from which the silent dove, coming from afar,
brings us now and then upon her shining wings some glimpses of a glory
that eye hath never seen.

NOTE. The reference on pages 200 and 201 to the Gospel Hymns is not
strictly accurate. "Number Five" has not been bound up with the other



The books of the New Testament are now before us. Our task is not
without its difficulties; questions will confront us which have never
yet been answered, and probably will never be; nevertheless, compared
with the Old Testament writings, the books of the New Testament are
well-known documents; we are on firm ground of history when we talk
about them; of but few of the famous books of Greek and Latin authors
can we speak so confidently as to their date and their authorship as we
can concerning most of them.

We have in the New Testament a collection of twenty-seven books, by nine
different authors. Of these books thirteen are ascribed to the Apostle
Paul; five to John the son of Zebedee; two to Peter; two to Luke; one
each to Matthew, Mark, James, and Jude, and the authorship of one is

Of these books it must be first remarked that they were not only written
separately but that there is no trace in any of them of the
consciousness on the part of the author that he was contributing to a
collection of sacred writings. Of the various epistles it is especially
evident that they were written on special occasions, with a certain
audience immediately in view; the thought that they were to be preserved
and gathered into a book, which was to be handed down through the coming
centuries as an inspired volume, does not appear to have entered the
mind of the writer. But this fact need not detract from their value;
often the highest truth to which a man gives utterance is truth of whose
value he is imperfectly aware.

It must also be remembered that these books of the New Testament were
nearly all written by apostles. The only clear exceptions are the Gospel
of Mark, the Gospel of Luke, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Epistle
to the Hebrews; and the authors of these books, though not apostles,
were undoubtedly in the closest relations with apostolic men, and
reflected their thought. These apostolic men had received a special
training and a definite commission to bear witness of their Master, to
tell the story of his life and death, and to build up his kingdom in the

We must admit that they possessed unusual qualifications for this work.
Those who had been for three years in constant and loving intercourse
with Jesus Christ ought to have been inspired men. And he promised them,
before he parted from them, that the Spirit of truth should come to them
and abide with them to lead them into all truth.

Now although we may find it difficult to give a satisfactory definition
of inspiration; though we may be utterly unable to express, in any
formularies of our own, the influence of the Infinite Spirit upon human
minds, yet we can easily believe that these apostolic men were
exceptionally qualified to teach religious truth. No prophet of the
olden time had any such preparation for his mission as that which was
vouchsafed to them. No school of the prophets, from the days of Samuel
downward, could be compared to that sacred college of apostles,--that
group of divine peripatetics, who followed their master through Galilee
and Perea, and sat down with him day by day, for three memorable years,
on the mountain top and by the lake side, to listen to the words of life
from the lips of One who spake as never man spake.

To say that this training made them infallible is to speak beyond the
record. There is no promise of infallibility, and the history makes it
plain enough that no such gift was bestowed. The Spirit of all truth was
promised; but it was promised for their guidance in all their work, in
their preaching, their administration, their daily conduct of life.
There is no hint anywhere that any special illumination or protection
would be given to them when they took the pen into their hands to write;
they were then inspired just as much as they were when they stood up to
speak, or sat down to plan their missionary campaigns,--just as much and
no more.

Now it is certain that the inspiration vouchsafed them did not make them
infallible in their ordinary teaching, or in their administration of the
church. They made mistakes of a very serious nature. It is beyond
question that the majority of the apostles took at the beginning an
erroneous view of the relation of the Gentiles to the Christian church.
They insisted that Gentiles must first become Jews before they could
become Christians; that the only way into the Christian church was
through the synagogue and the temple. It was a grievous and radical
error; it struck at the foundations of Christian faith. And this error
was entertained by these inspired apostles after the day of Pentecost;
it influenced their teaching; it led them to proclaim a defective
gospel. This is not the assertion of a skeptic, it is the clear
testimony of the Apostle Paul. If you will read the second chapter of
his Epistle to the Galatians you will learn from the mouth of an
unimpeachable witness that the very leaders of the apostolic band, Peter
and James and John, were greatly in error with respect to a most
important subject of the Christian teaching. In his account of that
famous council at Antioch, Paul says that Peter and James and John were
wholly in the wrong, and that Peter, for his part, had been acting

"But when Cephas came to Antioch, I resisted him to the face, because he
stood condemned. For before that certain came from James, he did eat
with the Gentiles: but when they came, he drew back and separated
himself, fearing them that were of the circumcision. And the rest of the
Jews [the Jewish Christians] dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that
even Barnabas was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw
that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I
said unto Cephas before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest as do the
Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, how compellest thou the Gentiles to
live as do the Jews?"

Now it is evident that one or the other of these opposing parties in the
apostolic college must have been in error, if not greatly at fault, with
respect to this most vital question of Christian faith and doctrine.
When one apostle resists another to the face because he stands
condemned, and tells him that he walks not uprightly, according to the
truth of the gospel, it must be that one or the other of them has, for
the time being, ceased to be infallible in his administration of the
truth of the gospel. And if these apostolic men, sitting in their
councils, teaching in their congregations, can make such mistakes as
these, how can we be sure that they never make a mistake when they sit
down to write, that then their words are always the very word of God? We
can have no such assurance. Indeed we are expressly told that their
words are not, in some cases, the very word of God; for the Apostle Paul
plainly tells us over and over, in his epistles to the Corinthians (1
Cor. vii.; 2 Cor. xi.), that upon certain questions he is giving his own
opinion,--that he has no commandment of the Lord. With respect to one
matter he says that he is speaking after his own judgment, but that he
"thinks" he has the Spirit of the Lord; two or three times he distinctly
declares that it is he, Paul, and not the Lord, that is speaking.

All of these facts, and others of the same nature clearly brought before
us by the New Testament itself, must be held firmly in our minds when we
make up our theory of what these writings are. That these books were
written by inspired men is, indeed, indubitable; that these men
possessed a degree of inspiration far exceeding that vouchsafed to any
other religious teachers who have lived on the earth is to my mind
plain; that this degree of inspiration enabled them to bear witness
clearly to the great facts of the gospel of Christ, and to present to us
with sufficient fullness and with substantial verity the doctrines of
the kingdom of heaven I am very sure; but that they were absolutely
protected against error, not one word in the record affirms, and they
themselves have taken the utmost pains to disabuse our minds of any such
impression. That is a theory about them which men made up out of their
own heads hundreds of years after they were dead. We shall certainly
find that they were not infallible; but we shall also find that, in all
the great matters which pertain to Christian faith and practice, when
their final testimony is collected and digested, it is clear,
harmonious, consistent, convincing; that they have been guided by the
Spirit of the Lord to tell us the truth which we need to know respecting
the life that now is and that which is to come.

Furthermore, it is a matter of rejoicing when we take up these books of
the New Testament to find their substantial integrity unimpeached. There
is no reason to suspect that any important changes have been made in any
of these books since they came from the hands of their writers. Whatever
may be said about the first three Gospels (and we shall come to that
question in our next chapter), the remaining books of the New Testament
have come down to us, unaltered, from the men who first wrote them.
There is none of that process of redaction, and accretion, and
reconstruction whose traces we have found in many of the Old Testament
books. There may be, here and there, a word or two or a verse or two
which has been interpolated by some officious copyist, but these
alterations are very slight. The books in our hands are the very same
books which were in the hands of the contemporaries and successors of
the apostles.

I shall not attempt any elaborate discussion of these twenty-seven
books. I only propose to go rapidly over them, indicating, with the
utmost brevity, the salient facts, so far as we know them, respecting
their authorship, the date and the place at which they were written, and
the circumstances which attended the production of them.

From the fact that the Gospels stand first in the New Testament
collection it is generally assumed that they are the earliest of the New
Testament books, but this is an error. Several of the Epistles were
certainly written before any of the Gospels; and one of the Gospels,
that of John, was written later than any of the Epistles, except the
three brief ones by the same author.

The first of these New Testament books that saw the light was, as is
generally supposed, the First Epistle to the Thessalonians. It was in
the year 48 of our era that St. Paul set out on his first missionary
journey from Antioch through Cyprus and Eastern Asia Minor, a journey
which occupied about a year. Two years afterward, his second journey
took him through the eastern part of Asia Minor and across the Ægean Sea
to Europe, where he preached in Troas, Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens,
and Corinth. His stay in Thessalonica was interrupted, as you will
remember, by the hostility of the Jews, and he remained but a short time
in that place; long enough, however, to gather a vigorous church.
Afterward, while he was in Corinth, he learned from one of his helpers
that the people of Thessalonica had misunderstood portions of his
teaching, and were in painful doubt on certain important subjects. To
set them right on these matters he wrote his first epistle, which was
forwarded to them from Corinth, probably about the year 52.

This explanation was also misunderstood by the Thessalonians, and it
became necessary during the next year to write to them again. These two
letters are in all probability the first of the Christian writings that
we possess. They contain instruction and counsel of which the Christians
of Thessalonica were just then in need. The question which had most
disturbed them had relation to the second coming of Christ. They
expected him to return very soon; they were impatient of delay; they
thought that those who died before his coming would miss the glorious
spectacle; and therefore they deplored the hard fate of some of their
number who had been snatched away by death before this sublime event. In
his first epistle the apostle assures them that the dead in Christ would
be raised to participate in their rejoicing. "We who are alive when the
Lord returns," he says, "will have no advantage over those who have been
called to their reward before us; for they will be raised from their
graves to take part with us in this great triumph." It is manifest that
Paul, when he wrote this, expected that Christ would return to earth
while he was alive. Alford and other conservative commentators say that
he here definitely expresses that expectation; others deny that these
words can be so interpreted, but concede that he did entertain some such
expectation. "It does not seem improper to admit," says Bishop Ellicott,
"that in their ignorance of the day of the Lord the apostles might have
imagined that he who was coming would come speedily." [Footnote: _Com.
in loc._] "It is unmistakably clear from this," says Olshausen, "that
Paul deemed it possible that he and his contemporaries might live to see
the coming again of Christ." "The early church, and even the apostles
themselves," say Conybeare and Howson, "expected their Lord to come
again in that very generation. St. Paul himself shared in that
expectation, but being under the guidance of the Spirit of truth, he did
not deduce any erroneous conclusions from this mistaken premise."
[Footnote: _Life and Epistles of St. Paul_, i. 401.] It is evident,
then, that St. Paul and the rest of the apostles were mistaken on this
point; this is one of the evidences which they themselves have taken
pains to point out to us of the fact that though they were inspired men
they were not infallible.

Paul's first letter to the Christians at Thessalonica was interpreted by
them, very naturally, as teaching that the return of the Lord was
imminent; and they began to neglect their daily duties and to behave in
the same foolish way that men have behaved in all the later ages, when
they have got their heads full of this notion. His second letter was
written chiefly to rebuke this fanaticism, and to bid them go right on
with their work making ready for the Lord's coming by a faithful
discharge of the duties of the present hour. St. Paul might have been
mistaken in his theories about the return of his Master, but his
practical wisdom was not at fault; it was his spirit that survived in
Abraham Davenport, the Connecticut legislator, who, in the "dark day" of
1780 when his colleagues thought that the end of the world had come,
refused to vote for the adjournment of the House, but insisted on
calling up the next bill; saying as Whittier has phrased it:--

"'This well may be
The Day of Judgment which the world awaits;
But be it so or not, I only know
My present duty, and my Lord's command
To occupy till he come. So at the post
Where he hath set me in his providence,
I choose, for one, to meet him face to face,--
No faithless servant frightened from my task,
But ready when the Lord of the harvest calls;
And therefore, with all reverence, I would say,
Let God do his work, we will see to ours.
Bring in the candles.' And they brought them in."

These two letters are, then, the earliest of the New Testament writings.
Like most of the other Epistles of Paul they begin with a salutation.
The common salutation with which the Greeks began their letters was
"Live well!" that of the Roman was "Health to you!" But Paul almost
always began with a Christian greeting, "Grace, mercy, and peace to
you." In these letters he associates with himself in this greeting his
two companions, Timothy and Silas.

The last words of his epistles are almost always personal messages to
individuals known to him in the several churches,--to men and women who
had "labored with him in the gospel,"--casual yet significant words,
which "show a heart within blood-tinctured, of a veined humanity." The
letters were written by an amanuensis,--all save these concluding words
which Paul added in his own chirography. He seems to desire to put more
of himself into these personal messages than into the didactic and
doctrinal parts of his epistles. At the end of the second of the letters
to the Thessalonians we find these words: "The salutation of me Paul
with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write;"
better, perhaps, "This is my handwriting." This signature and this
concluding greeting are to be proof to them of the genuineness of the
letter. It appears from other references in the same epistle (ch. ii. 2)
that some busybody had been writing a letter to the Thessalonians, which
purported to be a message from Paul; he puts them on their guard against
these supposititious documents. At the end of the letter to the
Galatians you find in the old version: "Ye see how large a letter I have
written unto you with my own hand;" but the right rendering is in the
new version: "See with how large letters [what a bold chirography] I
have written unto you with my own hand." "These last coarse characters
are my own handwriting." It is almost universally assumed that Paul was
a sufferer from some affection of the eyes; the large letters are thus
explained. Mr. Conybeare, in a foot-note on this passage, speaks of
receiving a letter from the venerable Neander a few months before his
death, which illustrates this point in a striking manner: "His letter,"
says Mr. Conybeare, "is written in the fair and flowing hand of an
amanuensis, but it ends with a few irregular lines in large and rugged
characters, written by himself and explaining the cause of his needing
the services of an amanuensis, namely the weakness of his eyes (probably
the very malady of St. Paul). It was impossible to read this autograph
without thinking of the present passage, and observing that he might
have expressed himself in the very words of St. Paul: 'Behold the size
of the characters in which I have written to you with my own hand.'"
[Footnote: _Life and Epistles of St. Paul_, ii. 149.]

There is another touching sentence at the end of Paul's letter to the
Colossians which was written from Rome when he was prisoner there: "The
salutation of me Paul with mine own hand. Remember my bonds. Grace be
with you. Amen." This seems to say: "There is a manacle, you remember,
on my wrist. I cannot write very well. Grace be with you." I will only
add that the subscriptions which follow the epistles in the old version
are no part of the epistles, and in several cases they are erroneous.
They embody conjectures of later copyists, or traditions which are
without foundation. These letters to the Thessalonians, for example, are
said to have been written from Athens; but we know that they were
written from Corinth. For Paul expressly says (iii. 6) that the letter
was written immediately after the return of Timothy from Thessalonica,
and we are told, in Acts xviii. 5, that Silas and Timothy joined him at
Corinth after he had left Athens and had gone to Corinth. Besides, he
associates Silas and Timothy with himself in his greetings, and they
were not with him at Athens. The evidence is therefore conclusive, that
the subscription is incorrect. You will not find any of these
subscriptions in the new version. Some of them are undoubtedly correct,
but some of them are not; and in no case is the subscription an integral
part of the epistle. The excision of these traditional addenda was one
of the first results of what is called the "Higher Criticism," and
admirably illustrates the uses of this kind of criticism, which, to some
of our devout brethren, is such a frightful thing. Why should it be
regarded as a dangerous, almost a diabolical proceeding, to let the
Bible tell its own story about its origin, instead of trusting to
rabbinical traditions and mediæval guesses and _a priori_ theories
of seventeenth century theologians?

These two letters were, no doubt, read in the assemblies of the
Thessalonian Christians more than once, and were sacredly treasured by
them. They were the only Christian documents possessed by them; and
there was, at this time, no other church so rich as they were. The
Gospels, as we have them now, were not then in the possession of any
Christian church. The story of the gospel had been repeated to them by
Paul and Silas and Timothy, and had been diligently impressed upon their
memories; but it was only an oral gospel that had been delivered to
them; the written record of Christ's life and sayings was not in their
hands. They remembered, therefore, the things which had been told them
concerning the life and death of Jesus Christ; they repeated them over
one to another, and they explained and supplemented these remembered
words by the two letters which they had received from the great apostle.

The next year after Paul wrote these letters to the Thessalonians from
Corinth, he returned to Jerusalem and Antioch (Acts xviii. 18-23), and
the year following, probably 54, he set out on his third missionary
journey, which took him through Galatia and Phrygia in Asia Minor to
Ephesus, where his home was for two or three years. While there, perhaps
in the year 57, he wrote the first of his letters to the Christians in
Corinth. Shortly after writing it he went on to Macedonia, whence the
second of his letters to the Corinthians was written; presently he
followed his letters to Corinth, and while there, probably in 58, he
wrote his letter to the Galatians. Galatia was a province rather than a
city; there may have been several churches, which had been established
by Paul, in the province; and this may have been a circular letter, to
be handed about among them, copies of it to be made, perhaps, for the
use of each of the churches. It was in the spring of the next year,
while he was still in Corinth, that he wrote his letter to the Romans,
the longest, and from some points of view, the most important of his
epistles. He had never, at the time of this writing, been in Rome (ch.
i. 13), but he had met Roman Christians in many of the cities of the
East where he had lived and taught; and, doubtless, since all roads led
to Rome, and the metropolis of the world was constantly drawing to
itself men of every nation and province, many of Paul's converts in Asia
and Macedonia and Achaia had made their way to the Eternal City, and had
joined themselves there to the Christian community. The long list of
personal greetings with which the epistle closes shows how large was his
acquaintance in the Roman church, and, doubtless, by his correspondence,
he had become fully informed concerning the needs of these disciples. He
tells the Romans, in this letter, that he hopes to visit them by and by;
he did not, however, at that time, expect to appear among them as a
prisoner. This was the fate awaiting him. Shortly after writing this
epistle he returned from Corinth to Jerusalem, bearing a collection
which had been gathered in Europe for the poor Christians of the mother
church; at Jerusalem he was arrested; in that city and in Cæsarea he
was for a long time imprisoned; finally, probably in the spring of 61,
he was sent as a prisoner to Rome, because he had appealed to the
imperial court; and here, for at least two years, he dwelt a prisoner,
in lodgings of his own, chained by day and night to a Roman soldier.
During this imprisonment, probably in 62, he wrote the letters to the
Colossians, the Ephesians, the Philippians, and Philemon. From the first
imprisonment he seems to have been released; and to have gone westward
as far as Spain, and eastward as far as Asia Minor, preaching the
gospel. During this journey he is supposed to have written the first
letter to Timothy and the letter to Titus. At length he was re-arrested,
and brought to Rome where, in the spring of 68, just before his death,
he wrote the second letter to Timothy, the last of his thirteen

Much of this account of the late years of Paul's life, following the
close of his first two years at Rome, where the narrative in the Acts of
the Apostles abruptly leaves him, is traditional and conjectural; I do
not give it to you as indubitable history; it furnishes the most
reasonable explanation that has been suggested of that productive
activity of his which finds its chief expression in the letters that
bear his name.

Of these letters it is impossible to give any adequate account in this
place. Let it suffice to say that the principal theme of the two
epistles to the Thessalonians is the expected return of Christ to earth;
that those to the Corinthians are largely occupied with questions of
Christian casuistry; that those to the Galatians and the Romans are the
great doctrinal epistles unfolding the relation of Christianity to
Judaism, and discussing the philosophy of the new creed; that the
Epistle to the Philippians is a luminous exposition of Christianity as a
personal experience; that those to the Colossians and the Ephesians are
the defense of Christianity against the insidious errors of the
Gnostics, and a wonderful revelation of the immanent Christ; that the
Epistle to Philemon is a letter of personal friendship, embodying a
great principle of practical religion; and that the letters to Timothy
and Titus are the counsel of an aged apostle to younger men in the

"May we go farther," with Archdeacon Farrar, "and attempt, in one or two
words, a description of each separate epistle, necessarily imperfect
from the very brevity, and yet perhaps expressive of some one main
characteristic. If so we might perhaps say that the First Epistle to the
Thessalonians is the epistle of consolation in the hope of Christ's
return; and the second of the immediate hindrances to that return, and
our duties with regard to it. The First Epistle to the Corinthians is
the solution of practical problems in the light of eternal principles;
the second, an impassioned defense of the apostle's impugned authority,
his _Apologia pro vita sua_. The Epistle to the Galatians is the
epistle of freedom from the bondage of the law; that to the Romans of
justification by faith. The Epistle to the Philippians is the epistle of
Christian gratitude and of Christian joy in sorrow; that to the
Colossians the epistle of Christ the universal Lord; that to the
Ephesians, so rich and many-sided, is the epistle of the 'heavenlies,'
the epistle of grace, the epistle of ascension with the ascended Christ,
the epistle of Christ in his one and universal church; that to Philemon
the Magna Charta of Emancipation. The First Epistle to Timothy and that
to Titus are the manuals of a Christian pastor; the Second Epistle to
Timothy is the last message of a Christian ere his death." [Footnote:
_The Life and Work of St. Paul_, chap. xlvi.]

The genuineness of several of these books has been assailed by modern
criticism. The authorship of Paul has been disputed in the cases of nine
out of the thirteen epistles. The Epistle to the Galatians, that to the
Romans, and the two to the Corinthians are undisputed; all the rest have
been spoken against. I have attended to these criticisms; but the
reasons urged for denying the Pauline authorship of these epistles seem
to me in many cases far-fetched and fanciful in the extreme. Respecting
the pastoral epistles, those to Timothy and Titus, it may be admitted
that there are some difficulties. It is not easy for us to understand
how there could have been developed in the churches at that early day so
much of an ecclesiasticism as these letters assume; and there is force
in the suggestion that the peculiar errors against which some of these
counsels are directed belong to a later day rather than to the apostolic
age. To this it may be replied that ecclesiasticism is a weed which
grows rapidly when once it has taken root, and that the germs of
Gnosticism were in the church from the earliest day. And although the
vocabulary of these epistles differs in rather a striking way, as Dr.
Harnack has pointed out, [Footnote: _Encyc. Brit._, art. "Pastoral
Epistles." ] from that of Paul's other epistles, I can easily imagine
that in familiar letters to his pupils he would drop into a different
style from that in which he wrote his more elaborate theological
treatises. One could find in the letters of Macaulay or Charles Kingsley
many words that he would not find in the history of the one or the
sermons of the other. Putting all these objections together, I do not
find in them any adequate reason for denying that these epistles were
written by St. Paul. Indeed, it seems to me incredible that the Second
Epistle of Timothy should have been written by any other hand than that
which wrote the undoubted letters to the Corinthians and the Romans.

When we come to the other disputed epistles, those to the Thessalonians,
the Ephesians, the Philippians, and the Colossians, I confess that the
doubts of their genuineness seem to me the outcome of a willful
dogmatism. What Archdeacon Farrar says of the cavils respecting the
epistles to the Philippians applies to much of this theoretic criticism:
"The Tübingen school, in its earlier stages, attacked it with the
monotonous arguments of their credulous skepticism. With those critics,
if an epistle touches on points which make it accord with the narrative
of the Acts it was forged to suit them; if it seems to disagree with
them the discrepancy shows that it is spurious. If the diction is
Pauline it stands forth as a proved imitation; if it is un-Pauline it
could not have proceeded from the apostle." [Footnote: _Life and Work
of St. Paul_, chap, xlvi] One grows weary with this reckless and
carping skepticism, much of which springs from a theory of a permanent
schism in the early church,--a theory which was mainly evolved from the
inner consciousness of some mystical German philosopher, and which has
been utterly exploded.

We may, then, receive as genuine the thirteen epistles ascribed to St.
Paul; and we have good reason for believing that we have them in their
integrity, substantially as he wrote them.

The title of one of these epistles, that to the Ephesians, is, however,
undoubtedly erroneous. As Mr. Conybeare says, the least disputable fact
about the letter is that it was not addressed to the Ephesians. For it
is incredible that Paul should have described a church in whose
fellowship he had lived and labored for two years as one of whose
religious life he knew only by report (ch. i. 15); and it is strange
that he should not have a single word of greeting to any of these
Ephesian Christians. Several of the early Christian fathers testify that
the words "at Ephesus" are omitted from the first verse of the
manuscript known to them. The two oldest manuscripts now in existence,
that of the Vatican and that known as the Sinaitic manuscript, both omit
these words. The destination of the epistle is not indicated. The place
filled by the words "at Ephesus" is left blank. Thus it reads: "Paul, an
apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, to the saints which are
and the faithful in Christ Jesus." Some of the old fathers
expatiate on this title, drawing distinctions between the saints which
_are_ and the saints which _seem to be_,--an amusing example of
exegetical thoroughness. Undoubtedly the letter was designed as a
circular letter to several churches in Western Asia,--Laodicea among the
number; and a blank was left in each copy made, in which the name of the
church to which it was delivered might be entered. Some knowing copyist
at a later day wrote the words "at Ephesus" into one of these copies;
and it is from this that the manuscript descended from which our
translation was made.

That these letters of Paul were highly prized and carefully preserved by
the churches to which they were written we cannot doubt; and as from
time to time messengers passed back and forth between the churches,
copies were made of the letters for exchange. The church at Thessalonica
would send a copy of its letter to the church at Philippi and to the
church at Corinth and to the church at Ephesus, and would receive in
return copies of their letters; and thus the writings of Paul early
obtained a considerable distribution. We have an illustration of these
exchanges in the closing words of the Epistle to the Colossians (iv.
16): "And when this epistle hath been read among you, cause that it be
read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that you also read the
epistle from Laodicea." It is probable that the last-named epistle was
the one of which we have just been speaking, called in our version, the
Epistle to the Ephesians.

The Epistle to the Hebrews is ascribed in its title to "Paul the
Apostle." But the title was added at a late date; the Greek Testaments
contain only the brief title "To the Hebrews," leaving the question of
authorship unsettled. Of all the other epistles ascribed to Paul his
name is the first word; this epistle does not announce its author. In
the early church there was much controversy about it; the Eastern
Christians generally ascribed it to Paul, while the Western church,
until the fourth century, refused to recognize his authorship. One
sentence in the epistle (ch. ii. 3) is supposed to signify that the
writer was of the number of those who had received the gospel at second
hand, and this was an admission that Paul always refused to make; he
steadily contended that his knowledge of the gospel was as direct and
immediate and copious as that of any of the apostles. For these and
other reasons it has been contended that the letter was written by some
one not an apostle, but an associate and pupil of apostolic men; the
most plausible conjecture ascribes it to Apollos. The date of it is not
easily fixed; it was probably written before the destruction of
Jerusalem; such an elaborate discussion of the Jewish ritual would
scarcely have been made after the temple was destroyed, without any
reference to the fact of its destruction.

Following the letter to the Hebrews in our New Testament are seven
epistles ascribed to four different authors, James, Peter, John, and
Jude. These are commonly called the "Catholic Epistles,"--catholic
meaning general or universal,--since they are not addressed to any one
congregation, but to the whole church, to Christians in general. Two of
them, however, the Second and Third of John, hardly deserve the
designation, for they are addressed to individuals.

The author of the Epistle of James is not easily identified. There are
numerous Jameses in the New Testament history; we do not readily
distinguish them. It was not James the son of Zebedee, for he was put to
death by Herod only six or seven years after the death of our Lord (Acts
xii. 2). Probably this was the one named James the Lord's brother, who
was a near relative of Jesus, brother or cousin, and who was the leading
man--perhaps they called him bishop--of the church at Jerusalem. He may,
also, be identical with that James the son of Alpheus, who was one of
the apostles. The letter was issued at an early day, probably before the
year 60. It was addressed to the "twelve tribes which are of the
Dispersion,"--that was the name by which the Jews scattered through Asia
and Europe were generally known. To Christians who had been Jews,
therefore, this letter was written; in this respect it is to be classed
with the letter to the Hebrews; but in the tenor of its teaching it is
wholly unlike that letter; instead of putting emphasis on the ritual and
symbolical elements of religion, it leaves these wholly on one side, and
makes the ethical contents of the Christian teaching the matter of
supreme concern. There is more of applied Christianity in this than in
any other of the epistles; and both in style and in substance we are
reminded by it of the teaching of our Lord more strongly than by any
other portion of the New Testament.

The First Epistle of Peter is addressed to the same class of persons,--
to "the elect who are sojourners of the Dispersion" in various provinces
of Asia Minor. The only intimation of tha locality of the writing is
contained in one of the concluding verses: "She that is in Babylon,
elect together with you, saluteth you." What Babylon is this? Is it the
famous capital of the Euphrates? So some have supposed, for there is a
tradition that Peter journeyed to the distant East and founded Christian
churches among the Jews, who, in large numbers, were dwelling there.
Others take it to be the mystical Babylon,--Rome upon her seven hills.
This theory helps to support the contention, for which there is small
evidence, that Peter was the first bishop of Rome. The first conjecture
has a firmer basis. But who is "she" that sends her salutations to these
Asian saints? Was it the church or the wife of the apostle? Either
interpretation is difficult; I cannot choose between them. Of the origin
of this letter we know little; but there is nothing in it inconsistent
with the unbroken tradition which ascribes it to the impetuous leader of
the apostolic band. Like the Epistle of James it is full of a strenuous
morality; while it does not disregard the essentials of Christian
doctrine it puts the emphasis on Christian conduct.

The Second Epistle of Peter is the one book of the New Testament
concerning whose genuineness there is most doubt. From the earliest days
the canonicity of this book has been disputed. It is not mentioned by
any early Christian writer before the third century; and Origen, who is
the first to allude to the book, testifies that its genuineness has been
doubted. The early versions do not contain it; Eusebius marks it
doubtful; Erasmus and Calvin, in later times, regarded it as a dubious
document. It seems almost incredible, with such witnesses against it,
that the book should be genuine; but if it is not the work of St. Peter
it is a fraudulent writing, for it openly announces him as its author
and refers to his first epistle. There is a remarkable similarity
between this letter and the short Epistle of Jude; it would appear that
this must be an imitation and enlargement of that, or that a
condensation of this. There are some passages in this book with which we
could ill afford to part,--with which, indeed, we never shall part; for
whether they were written by Peter or by another they express clear and
indubitable verities; and even though the author, like that Balaam whom
he quotes, may have been no true prophet, he was constrained, even as
Balaam was, to utter some wholesome and stimulating truth.

The three epistles of John are the last words of the disciple that Jesus
loved. The evidence of their genuineness, particularly of the first of
them, is abundant and convincing; Polycarp, who was John's pupil and
friend, quotes from this book, and there is an unbroken chain of
testimony from the early fathers respecting it. Of course those who have
determined, for dogmatic reasons, to reject the Fourth Gospel, are bound
to reject these epistles also; but that procedure is wholly unwarranted,
as we shall see in the next chapter. These epistles were probably
written from Ephesus during the last years of the first century. The
first is a meditation on the great fact of the incarnation and its
mystic relation to the life of men; it sounds the very depths of that
wonderful revelation which was made to the world in the person and work
of Jesus Christ. The other two are personal letters, wherein the
fragrance of a gracious friendship still lingers, and in which we see
how the spirit of Christ was beginning, even then, to transfigure with
its benignant gentleness the courtesies of life.

The Book of Jude, the last of the epistles, is one of whose author we
have little knowledge. He styles himself "the brother of James," but
that, as we have seen, is a vague description. Of the close relation
between this letter and Second Peter I have spoken. It is not in the
early Syriac version; Eusebius and Origen question it, and Chrysostom
does not mention it; we may fairly doubt whether it came from the hand
of any apostolic witness. One feature of this short letter deserves
mention; the writer quotes from one of the old apocryphal books, the
Book of Enoch, treating it as Scripture. If a New Testament citation
authenticates an ancient writing, Enoch must be regarded as an inspired
book. We must either reject Jude or accept Enoch, or abandon the rule
that makes a New Testament citation the proof of Old Testament
canonicity. The abandonment of the rule is the simplest and the most
rational solution of the difficulty.

I have now run rapidly over the history of twenty-one of the twenty-
seven books of the New Testament,--all of the Epistles of the inspired
book. The end of the first century found these books scattered through
Europe and Asia, each probably in possession of the church to which it
had been sent; those addressed to individuals probably in the hands of
their children or children's children. Some exchanges, such as I have
suggested, had taken place; and some churches might have possessed
several of these apostolic letters, but there was yet no collection of
them. Of the beginning of this collection of the New Testament writings
I shall speak in the chapter upon the canon.

I said at the beginning that these writers probably had no thought when
they composed these letters that they were contributing to a volume that
would outlast empires, and be a manual of study and a guide of conduct
in lands to the world then unknown, and in generations farther from them
than they were from Abraham. But each of them uttered in sincerity the
word that to him seemed the word of the hour; and God who gives life to
the seed gave vitality to these true words, so that they are as full of
divine energy to-day as ever they were. It is easy to cavil at a
sentence here and there, or to pick flaws in their logic; but the
question always returns, What kind of fruit have they borne? "By their
fruits ye shall know them." One of the most precious gifts of God to men
is contained in these twenty-one brief letters. It is not in equal
measure in all of them, but there is none among them that does not
contain some portion of it. The treasure is in earthen vessels; it was
so when the apostles were alive and speaking; it is so now; it always
was and always will be so; but the treasure is there, and he who with
open mind and reverent spirit seeks for it will find it there, and will
know that the excellency of the power is of God, and not of men.



We have arrived in our study of the Sacred Scriptures at the threshold
of the most interesting and the most momentous topic which is presented
to the student of the Biblical literature,--the question of the origin
of the Gospels. These Gospels contain the record of the life and the
death of Jesus Christ, that marvelous Personality in whom the histories,
the prophecies, the liturgies of the Old Testament are fulfilled, and
from whom the growing light and freedom and happiness of eighteen
Christian centuries are seen to flow. Most certain it is that the
history of the most enlightened lands of earth during these Christian
centuries could not be understood without constant reference to the
power which came into the world when Jesus Christ was born. Some
tremendous social force made its appearance just then by which the whole
life of mankind has been affected ever since that day. The most powerful
institutions, the most benign influences which are at work in the world
to-day, can be followed back to that period as surely as any great river
can be followed up to the springs from which it takes its rise. If we
had not these four Gospels we should be compelled to seek for an
explanation of the chief phenomena of modern history. "We trace," says
Mr. Horton, "this astonishing influence back to that life, and if we
knew nothing at all about it, but had to construct it out of the
creative imagination, we should have to figure to ourselves facts,
sayings, and impressions which would account for what has flowed from
it. Thus, if the place where this biography comes were actually a blank,
we should be able to surmise something of what ought to be there, just
as astronomers surmised the existence of a new planet, and knew in what
quarter of the heavens to look for it by observing and registering the
influences which retarded or deflected the movements of the other
planets." [Footnote: _Inspiration and the Bible,_ p. 65.]

That place is not a blank; it is filled with the fourfold record of the
Life from which all these mighty influences have flowed. Must not this
record prove to be the most inspiring theme open to human investigation?
Is it any wonder that more study has been expended upon this theme than
upon any other which has ever claimed the attention of men?

What do we know of the origin of this four-fold record? Origin it must
have had like every other book, an origin in time and space. That there
are divine elements in it the most of us believe; but the form in which
we have it is a purely human form, and it would be worthless to us if it
were not in purely human form. The sentences of which it is composed
were constructed by human minds, and were written down by human hands on
parchment or papyrus leaves. When, and where, and by whom? These are the
questions now before us.

Let us go back to the last half of the second century and see what
traces of these books we can find.

Irenæus, Bishop of Lyons, in France, who died about 200, speaks
distinctly of these four Gospels, which, he declares, are equal in
authority to the Old Testament Scriptures, and which he ascribes to the
four authors whose names they now bear. With the fanciful reasoning then
common among Christian writers, he finds a reason in the four quarters
of the globe why there should have been four Gospels and no more.

Clement of Alexandria was living at the samq time. He also quotes
liberally in his writings from all these four books, of which he speaks
as "the four Gospels that have been handed down to us."

Tertullian, who was born in Carthage about 160, also quotes all these
Gospels as authoritative Christian writings.

It is clear, therefore, that in the West, the East, and the South,--in
all quarters where Christianity was then established,--the four Gospels
were recognized and read in the churches in the latter half of the
second century. Let us go back a little farther.

Justin Martyr was born at Rome about the year 100, and was writing most
abundantly from his fortieth to his forty-fifth year. In one of the
books which he has left us, in describing the customs of the Christians,
he uses the following language: "On the day which is called Sunday there
is an assembly in the same place of all who live in cities or in country
districts, and the records of the apostles or the writings of the
prophets are read as long as we have time. Then the reader concludes,
and the president verbally instructs and exhorts us to the imitation of
these excellent things. Then we all rise up together and offer our
prayers." In another place he speaks of something commanded by "the
apostles in the records which they made, and which are called Gospels."
Justin does not say how many of these Gospels the church in his day
possessed, but we find in his writings unmistakable quotations from at
least three of them. Dr. Edwin Abbott, of London, whom Mrs. Humphry Ward
refers to as master of all the German learning on this subject, says
that it would be possible "to reconstruct from his (Justin's) quotations
a fairly connected narrative of the incarnation, birth, teaching,
crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord;" that this
narrative is all found in the three Synoptic Gospels, and that Justin
quotes no words of Christ and refers to no incidents that are not found
in these Gospels. [Footnote: _Encyc. Brit.,_ vol. x. p. 817.]

We may fully accept Dr. Abbott's testimony so far as the quotations of
Justin from the first three Gospels are concerned; but his arguments,
which are intended to prove that there is no certain reference to the
fourth Gospel in Justin's works, appear to me inconclusive. When Justin
says: "For indeed Christ also said, 'except ye be born again, ye shall
not enter into the kingdom of heaven,' but that it is impossible for
those who were once born to enter into their mother's womb is plain to
all," he is quoting words that are found in the fourth Gospel, and not
in any of the other three. The attempt to show that he found these and
similar citations in the same sources from which the author of the
fourth Gospel derived them is not successful.

Several indirect lines of evidence tend to confirm the belief that
Justin possessed all four of our Gospels. This, then, carries us back to
the first half of the second century. Between 100 and 150 Papias of
Hierapolis, Clement of Rome, and Polycarp of Smyrna were writing.
Papias, who wrote about 130-140 A. D., composed five books or
commentaries on what he calls "The Oracles of the Lord." He gives us
some account of the origin of at least two of these Gospels. "Mark," he
says, "was the interpreter of Peter;" "Matthew wrote his scriptures
(_logia_) in Hebrew, and each man interpreted them as best he
could." "Interpreted" here evidently means translated. Elsewhere he
repeats a tradition of "the elder," by which word he apparently means
the Apostle John, whom he may have known, in these words: "Mark, having
become Peter's interpreter, wrote down accurately all that he
remembered,--not, however, in order,--both the words and the deeds of
Christ. For he never heard the Lord, nor attached himself to him, but
later on, as I said, attached himself to Peter, who used to adapt his
lessons to the needs of the occasion, but not as though he was composing
a connected treatise of the discourses of our Lord; so that Mark
committed no error in writing down some matters just as he remembered
them. For one object was in his thoughts, to make no omissions and no
false statements in what he heard." [Footnote: Quoted by Abbott, as
above.] This is a perfect description of the Gospel of Mark as we have
it in our hands to-day. And the testimony of Papias to its authorship,
and to the spirit and purpose of the author, is significant and
memorable. Evidence of this nature would be regarded as decisive in any
other case of literary criticism.

Polycarp, who was the friend and pupil of John the Apostle, was born
about the year 69, and suffered martyrdom about 155. In his writings we
find no express mention of the Gospels, but we do find verbally accurate
quotations from them. It is clear that he was acquainted with the books.
Polycarp was the teacher of Irenæus of Lyons whom I first quoted, and
he was the pupil and friend of St. John and the other apostles; and
Irenæus, who quotes all these Gospels so freely, bears this testimony
respecting Polycarp, in a letter which he wrote to Florinus.

"I saw you, when I was yet a boy, in Lower Asia with Polycarp.... I
could even point out now the place where the blessed Polycarp sat and
spoke, and describe his going out and coming in, his manner of life, his
personal appearance, the addresses he delivered to the multitude, how he
spoke of his intercourse with John, and with the others who had seen the
Lord, and how he recalled their words, and everything that he had heard
about the Lord, about his miracles and his teaching. Polycarp told us,
as one who had received it from those who had seen the Word of Life with
their own eyes, and all this in complete harmony with the Scriptures. To
this I then listened, through the mercy of God vouchsafed to me, with
all eagerness, and wrote it not on paper, but in my heart, and still by
the grace of God I ever bring it into fresh remembrance."

These living witnesses give us solid ground for our statement that the
Gospels--the first three of them at any rate--were in existence during
the last years of the first century. Indeed, not to prolong this search
for the origin of the books, it is now freely admitted, by many of the
most radical critics, that the first three Gospels were written before
the year 80, and that Mark must have been written before 70.

It is interesting to contrast the course of New Testament criticism with
that engaged upon the Old Testament. In the study of the origin of the
Pentateuch the gravitation of opinion has been steadily downward, toward
a later date, so that the great majority of scholars are now certain
that the books must have been put into their present form long after the
time of Moses. In the study of the origin of the Gospels the date has
been steadily pushed upward, to the very age of the apostles. The
earlier critics, Strauss and Baur, insisted that they must have appeared
much later, far on in the second century; but the more recent and more
scientific criticism has demolished or badly discredited their theories,
and has carried the Gospels back to the last part of the first century.

Are we entitled, then, to say that these Gospels were written by
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? We should be cautious, no doubt, in
making such a statement. The Gospels themselves are not so explicit on
this point as we could desire. Their titles do not warrant this
assertion. It is not "The Gospel of St. Matthew" or "The Gospel of St.
Mark;" it is the "Gospel according to St. Matthew" or St. Mark. The
import of the title would be fully satisfied with the explanation that
this is the story as Matthew or Mark was wont to tell it, put into form
by some person or friend of his, in his last days, or even after his
death. But the testimony of Papias, to which I have referred, is to my
own mind good evidence that these Gospels were written by the men who
bear their names. In the case of Luke, as we shall presently see, the
evidence is much stronger. And after going over the evidence as
carefully as I am able, the theory that the four Gospels were written by
the men whose names they bear, all of whom were the contemporaries of
our Lord, and two of whom were his apostles, seems to me, on the whole,
the best supported by the whole volume of evidence. The case is not
absolutely clear; perhaps it was left somewhat obscure for the very
purpose of stimulating study. At all events, the study which has been
given to the subject has confirmed rather than weakened the belief that
the Gospels are contemporary records of the life of Christ. Mr. Norton,
a distinguished Unitarian scholar, sums up the evidence as follows: "It
consists in the indisputable fact that throughout a community of
millions of individuals, scattered over Europe, Asia, and Africa, the
Gospels were regarded with the highest reverence, as the works of those
to whom they are ascribed, at so early a period that there could be no
difficulty in determining whether they were genuine or not, and when
every intelligent Christian must have been deeply interested to
ascertain the truth.... This fact is itself a phenomenon admitting of no
explanation except that the four Gospels had all been handed down as
genuine from the apostolic age, and had everywhere accompanied our
religion as it spread throughout the world."

When we turn from the external or historical evidence for the
genuineness of the Gospels to study their internal structure and their
relations to one another, we come upon some curious facts. These
Gospels, in the form in which we possess them, are written in the Greek
language. But the Greek language was not the vernacular of the Jews in
Palestine when our Lord was on the earth; the language which was then
spoken by them, as I have before explained, was the Aramaic. It is true
that Palestine was, to some extent, a bilingual country,--like Wales,
one writer suggests, where the English and the Welsh languages are now
freely spoken,--that Aramaic and Greek were used indifferently. I can
hardly imagine that a people as tenacious of their own institutions as
the Jews could have adopted Greek as generally as the Welsh have adopted
the English tongue. Even in Wales, if a Welshman were speaking to a
congregation of his countrymen on any important topic, he would be
likely to speak the Welsh language. And much more probable does it seem
to me that the discourses and the common conversation of Jesus must have
been spoken in the vernacular. The discourses and sayings of our Lord,
as reported for us in these Gospels, are not therefore given us in the
words that he used. We have a translation of his words from the Aramaic
into the Greek, made either by the writers of the Gospels, or by some
one in their day. We have quoted the testimony of Papias, that the
Gospel of Matthew was originally written in Hebrew (by which he
undoubtedly means Aramaic), and that each one interpreted it as best he
could; and if this be true, then that copy first made by Matthew did
contain many of our Lord's very words. But that Aramaic copy has never
been seen since that day; we have no manuscript of any New Testament
book except in the Greek language. There are a few cases in which the
writers of the Gospels have preserved for us the very words used by
Christ. Thus in the healing of the deaf man in the neighborhood of
Decapolis, of which Mark tells us (vii. 34), Jesus touched his ears, and
said unto him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." The Evangelist gives
us the Aramaic word which Jesus used, and translates it for his readers
into Greek. Likewise in the healing of the ruler's daughter (Mark v. 41)
he took her by the hand, and said unto her, "Talitha cumi, which is,
being interpreted," the Evangelist explains, "Damsel, I say unto thee,
Arise." Doubtless most readers get the impression that our Lord used
here some cabalistic words in a foreign tongue; the fact is that these
are the words of the common speech of the people; only the Evangelist
seems to have thought them especially memorable, and he has given us not
merely, as he generally does, a translation into the Greek of our Lord's
words, but the Aramaic words themselves, with their meaning appended in
a Greek phrase. The same is true of our Lord's words on the cross: "Eli,
Eli, lama sabachthani?" These are Aramaic words, the very words that
Jesus uttered. The Roman soldiers who stood near might not know what he
meant; but every Jew who distinctly heard him must have understood him,
for he was speaking in no foreign tongue, but in the language of his own

When we speak, therefore, of the Greek as the original language of the
Gospels, we do not speak with entire accuracy. The Greek does not give
us our Lord's original words. These we have not, except in the cases I
have named, and a few others less important. No man on earth knows or
ever will know what were the precise words that our Lord used in his
Sermon on the Mount, in his conversation with the woman at the well, in
his last discourses with his disciples. We have every reason to believe
that the substance of what he said is faithfully preserved for us; the
fourfold record, so marvelously accordant in its report of his
teachings, makes this perfectly clear. But his very words we have not,
and this fact itself is the most convincing dis-proof of the dogma of
verbal inspiration. If our Lord had thought it important that we should
have his very words he would have seen to it that his very words were
preserved and recorded for us, instead of that Greek translation of his
words, made by his followers, which we now possess. These evangelists
could have written Aramaic, doubtless did write Aramaic; and they would
certainly have kept our Lord's discourses and sayings in the Aramaic
original if they had been instructed to do so. The fact that they were
not instructed to do so, but were permitted to give his teachings to the
world in other words than those in which they were spoken, shows how
little there was of modern literalism in Christ's conception of the work
of revelation.

The first three of these Gospels exhibit many striking similarities;
they appear to give, from somewhat different standpoints, a condensed
and complete synopsis of the events of our Lord's life; therefore they
are called the Synoptic Gospels. The fourth Gospel differs widely from
them in matter and form. It will be more convenient, therefore, to speak
first of the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

The singular fact respecting these Gospels is the combination in them of
likeness and difference. A considerable portion of each one of them is
to be found, word for word, in one or both of the others; other
considerable portions of each are not found in either of the others;
some passages are nearly alike, but slightly different in two or in all
of them. Did these three authors write independently each of the other?
If so, how does it happen that their phraseology is so often identical?
Did they copy one from another? If so, why did they copy so little? Why,
for example, did each one of them omit so much that the others had
written? And why are there so many slight differences in passages that
are nearly identical? If we accepted the theory of verbal inspiration,
we might offer some sort of explanation of this phenomenon. We might say
that the Holy Ghost dictated these words, and that that is the end of
it; since no explanation can be offered of the reason why the Holy Ghost
chose one form of expression rather than another. But the Gospels
themselves contain abundant proof that the Holy Ghost did not dictate
the words employed by these writers.

The two genealogies of our Lord, one in Matthew and the other in Luke,
are widely different. From Abraham to David they substantially agree;
from David to Christ, Matthew makes twenty-eight generations, and Luke
thirty-eight; only two of the intermediate names in the one table are
found in the other; the one list makes Jacob the father of Joseph, and
the other declares that the name of Joseph's father was Heli. All sorts
of explanations, some plausible and others preposterous, have been
offered of this difficulty; the one explanation that cannot be allowed
is that these words were dictated by Omniscience. In the story of the
healing of the blind near Jericho, Matthew and Mark expressly say that
the healing took place as Christ was departing from the city; Luke that
it was before he entered it. Matthew says that there were two blind men;
Mark and Luke that there was but one. About these details of the
transaction there is some mistake,--that is the only thing to be said
about it. The various explanations offered are weak and inadmissible.
But what difference does it make to anybody whether the healing took
place before or after Jesus entered the city, or whether there was one
man healed or two? The moral and spiritual lessons of the story are just
as distinct in the one case as in the other; and it is these moral and
spiritual values only that inspiration is intended to secure.

Similarly, Luke (iv. 38-39) expressly tells us that the healing of
Peter's wife's mother took place before the calling of Simon and Andrew;
while Matthew and Mark tell us with equal explicitness that the calling
took place before the healing. No reconciliation is possible here;
either Luke or Matthew and Mark must have misplaced these events.

So in Matthew xxvii. 9, certain words are said to have been spoken by
Jeremiah the prophet. These words are not in Jeremiah; they are in
Zechariah xi. 13. It is simply a slip of the Evangelist's memory.

So in the record of the inscription on the cross when Jesus was
crucified. Each of the four Evangelists copies it for us in a different
form. The meaning is the same in all the cases, but the copy was not
exactly made by some of them, perhaps not by any of them. If the Holy
Ghost had dictated the words, they must, in a case like this, have been
exactly alike in all the Evangelists. The substance is given, but the
inexactness of the copy shows that the words could not have been
dictated by Omniscience. It is sometimes explained that this inscription
was in three languages, Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, and that we may have
the exact translations of the different inscriptions. This might account
for three of them, but not for four.

From these and many other similar facts, we know that the theory of
verbal inspiration is not true; but that these Evangelists were allowed
to state each in his own language the facts known by him concerning our
Lord, and that nothing like infallible accuracy was so much as
attempted. The only inspiration that can be claimed for them is that
which brought the important facts to their remembrance, and guarded them
against serious errors of history or doctrine.

But now the question returns, if they wrote these Gospels in their own
language and independently of one another, how happens it that they use
so often the very same words and phrases and sentences? Take, for
example, the following verses from parallel narratives in Matthew and in
Mark, concerning the calling of the first apostles:--

MATTHEW iv. 18-22.

And walking by the sea of Galilee, he saw two brethren, Simon who is
called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for
they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Come ye after me, and I will
make you fishers of men. And they straightway left the nets, and
followed him. And going on from thence he saw two other brethren, James
the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their
father, mending their nets; and he called them. And they straightway
left the boat and their father, and followed him.

MARK i. 16-20.

And passing along by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the
brother of Simon casting a net in the sea: for they were fishers. And
Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become
fishers of men. And straightway they left the nets, and followed him.
And going on a little further, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John
his brother, who also were in the boat mending the nets. And straightway
he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the
hired servants, and went after him.

There are slight verbal variations, but in general the words are the
same, and the corresponding sentences are in precisely the same order in
both narratives. Now, as Archbishop Thomson says, in Smith's "Bible
Dictionary," "The verbal and material agreement of the first three
Evangelists is such as does not occur in any other authors who have
written independently of each other."

Besides many such passages which are substantially alike but verbally or
syntactically different, there are quite a number which are identical,
word for word, and phrase for phrase. These verbal agreements occur most
frequently, as is natural, in the reports of our Lord's discourses and
sayings; but they also occur in the descriptive and narrative portions
of the gospel. This is the fact which is so difficult to reconcile with
the theory that the books were produced by independent writers.

Suppose three competent and truthful reporters are employed by you to
write an exact and unvarnished report of some single transaction which
has occurred, and which each of them has witnessed. Each is required to
do his work without any conference with the others. When these reports
are brought to you, if they are very faithful and accurate for
substance, you will not be surprised to find some circumstances
mentioned by each that are not mentioned by either of the others, and it
will be strange if there are not some important discrepancies. But if on
reading them, you find that the reports, taken sentence by sentence, are
almost identical,--that there is only an occasional difference in a word
or in the order of a phrase,--then you at once say, "These reporters
must have been copying from some other reporter's note-book, or else
they must have been comparing notes; they could not have written with
such verbal agreement if they had written independently." Suppose, for
example, that each of the three reports began in just these words: "The
first object that attracted my notice on entering the door was a chair."
Now it is extremely improbable that all these writers, writing
independent reports of a transaction, should begin in the same way by
mentioning the first object that attracted the attention of each. And
even if they should so begin, it is wholly beyond the range of
possibilities that they should all select from all the multitude of the
words in the English language the very same words in which to make this
statement; and should put these words in the very same order, out of the
multitude of different orders into which they could grammatically be
put. There is not one chance in a million that such a coincidence would
occur. But such coincidences occur very often in the first three
Gospels. How can we account for it? We say that they wrote
independently, that their words were not dictated to them; how does it
happen that there is so much verbal agreement?

We may get some hint of the manner in which these biographies were
produced if we turn to the beginning of Luke's Gospel:--

"Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning
those matters which have been fulfilled among us, even as they delivered
them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers
of the word, it seemed good to me also, having traced the course of all
things accurately from the first, to write unto thee in order, most
excellent Theophilus; that thou mightest know the certainty concerning
the things wherein thou wast instructed." The marginal reading of this
last phrase is, "which thou wast taught by word of mouth." This is the
more exact meaning of the Greek. The passage contains these statements:--

1. Theophilus had been orally taught the Gospels.

2. Many persons, not apostles, had undertaken to write out parts of the
gospel story, as they had heard it from eyewitnesses and ministers of
the word.

3. Luke also, as one who had full and accurate information, had
determined to reduce his knowledge to an orderly written narrative, for
the benefit of his friend Theophilus.

It appears from this clear statement that written memoranda of the
discourses of our Lord and of the incidents of his life had been made by
many persons. Numbers of these had undertaken to combine their memoranda
with their recollections in an orderly statement. This fact itself shows
how powerful an impression had been made by our Lord's life and death
upon the people of Palestine. Everything relating to him was treasured
with the utmost care; Luke, for his part, believing that he had gained
by careful investigation sufficient knowledge to warrant the
undertaking, sets out to collect the facts and present them in a
consecutive and intelligible literary form. Yet Luke, in this
announcement of his purpose, betrays no consciousness that he is using
any different powers from those employed by the many others of whom he
speaks. Rather does he most clearly rank himself with them, as one of
many gleaners in this fruitful field. He does claim thoroughness and
painstaking accuracy; I believe that every honest man will concede his

This, then, was the way in which Luke went to work to write his Gospel.
This is not guesswork; it is the explicit statement of the author
himself. Have we not good reason for believing that the Gospels of
Matthew and Mark were composed in much the same way?

In addition to the written memoranda of Christ's life which were in the
hands of the apostles, and of many others, there was another source from
which the Evangelists must have drawn. Luke alludes to it when he speaks
of the fact that Theophilus had received much of his narrative "by word
of mouth." There was, unquestionably, an oral gospel, covering the
larger part of the deeds and the words of Jesus, which had been widely
circulated in Palestine and in the whole missionary field. When it is
said (Acts viii. 1-4; xi. 19) that they which were scattered abroad by
the early persecutions went everywhere preaching the word, it must be
understood that they went about simply telling the story of Jesus, his
birth, his life, his deeds, his words, his death upon the cross.
Sometimes, when preaching to Jews, they would show the correspondence
between his life and the Old Testament prophecies, to prove that he was
the Messiah; but the substance of their preaching was the telling over
and over again of the story of Jesus. It was upon this oral gospel that
the apostles and the first missionaries mainly relied. What they desired
to do was to make known as speedily and as rapidly as possible the words
of his lips and the facts of his life. And it is highly probable that
before they set out on these missionary tours, they took great pains to
rehearse to one another the story which they were going forth to tell.
"The apostles," says Professor Westcott, "guided by the promised Spirit
of truth, remained together in Jerusalem in close communion for a period
long enough to shape a common narrative, and to fix it with requisite

It was these concerted recollections and rehearsals that gave to so many
passages of the gospel its identity in form. Some of the sentences often
and devoutly repeated were remembered by all, word for word; in some of
them there were verbal differences and discrepancies, as they were
repeated by one and another. The verbal resemblances as well as the
verbal differences are thus explained by this theory of an oral gospel,
prepared at first for preaching by the apostles, and held only in their

The preservation of so many passages in words and sentences nearly or
exactly similar is nothing miraculous. Even in our own time there are,
as we are told, secret societies whose ritual has never been written,
but has been handed down with nearly verbal accuracy, from generation to
generation. For the Hebrews, who were a people at this time greatly
disinclined to write, and thoroughly practiced in remembering and
repeating the sayings of their wise men, this task would not be

The apostles and the early evangelists, as Westcott suggests, were
preachers, not historians, not pamphleteers. They believed in living
witnesses more than in transmitted documents. They did not write out the
record at first, partly because they were naturally disinclined to
write, and partly, no doubt, because they expected the immediate return
of our Lord to earth. Their gospel was therefore for many years a spoken
and not a written word. As they went on repeating it, changes would
occur in the repetition of the words; to the remembrance of one and
another of them the Spirit of truth would bring facts and circumstances
that they did not think of at first; words, phrases, gestures of our
Lord would reappear in the memory of each, and thus the narrative became
varied and shaded with the personal peculiarities of the several

Years passed, and the expected return of the Lord to earth did not take
place. The churches were spreading over Asia and Europe, and the
apostles were unable personally to instruct those who were preaching the
gospel in other lands. Thus the need of a written record began to make
itself felt; and the apostles themselves wrote out the story which they
had been telling, or it was written for them by their companions and
fellow-helpers in the gospel. The oral gospel as it lived in their
memories would form, no doubt, the substance of it, and the written
memoranda of the discourses and incidents, to which Luke refers, would
be drawn upon in completing the biography. The oral gospel thus
carefully prepared and transmitted by memory would be substantially the
same, yet many differences in arrangement of words and phrases would
naturally have crept in; the written memoranda would in many cases be
verbally identical. And each Evangelist, gleaning from this wide field,
would collect some facts and sayings omitted by the others.

There are other explanations of the origin of the Synoptic Gospels, some
of which are ingenious and plausible, but I shall not burden your minds
with them, since the theory which I have presented appears to me the
simplest, the most natural, and the most comprehensive of them all.

The Fourth Gospel, it is evident, must have had a different origin.
Beyond question it is a consecutive narrative, composed by a single
writer, and not, like the Synoptics, a compilation of memoranda, oral or
written. It appears to be, in part at least, a supplementary narrative,
omitting much that is contained in the other Gospels, supplying some
omissions, and correcting, possibly, certain unimportant errors. Mr.
Horton illustrates the supplementary work of this Evangelist by several
instances. "The communion of the Lord's Supper," he says, "was so
universally known and observed when he wrote that he actually does not
mention its institution, but he records a wonderful discourse concerning
the Bread of Life which is an indispensable commentary on the unnamed
institution, and by filling in with great detail the circumstances of
the last evening, he furnished a framework for the ordinance which is
among our most precious possessions. On the other hand, because the
common tradition was very vague in its date he gave precision to the
event which they had recorded by fixing the time of its occurrence....
In Matt, iv. 12 and Mark i. 14, the temptation, immediately following
Christ's baptism, is immediately followed by the statement, 'When he
heard that John was delivered up, he withdrew into Galilee; and leaving
Nazareth he came and dwelt in Capernaum.' But this summary narrative had
excluded one of the most interesting features of the early ministry of
Jesus. Accordingly the Fourth Gospel enlarges the story and emphasizes
the marks of time. After the Baptism, according to this authority, Jesus
'went down to Capernaum, he and his mother and his brethren and his
disciples, and there they abode not many days' (ii. 12). Then he went up
to the Passover at Jerusalem, where he had the interview with Nicodemus.
After that he went into the country districts of Judea, where John was
baptizing in Ænon, and then the writer adds, as if his eye were on the
condensed and misleading narrative of the common tradition, 'For John
was not yet cast into prison.' The two great teachers, the Forerunner,
and the Greater-than-he, were actually baptizing side by side, and it
was because Jesus saw his reputation overshadowing John's that he
voluntarily withdrew into Galilee, passing through Samaria. So that
while there had been two journeys to Galilee before John was imprisoned,
and that early period of the life was full of unique and wonderful
interest, all had been compressed and crushed into the brief statement
of Matt. iv. 12 and Mark i. 14. In this case we seem to see the
Evangelist deliberately loosening and breaking up the current history in
order that he might insert into the cramped and lifeless framework some
of the most valuable episodes of the Lord's life. If the fourth
Evangelist had treated the triple narrative in the way that many of us
have treated it, regarding it as a sin against the Holy Spirit to
suggest that there was any incompleteness or any misleading
abbreviations in it, we should have lost the wonderful accounts of the

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