The Life of Jesus of Nazareth by Rush Rhees

Produced by Distributed Proofreaders The Life of Jesus of Nazareth _A Study_ By Rush Rhees 1902 _Copyright, 1900,_ By Charles Scribner’s Sons To C. W. McC. In Recognition of Wise Counsel, Generous Help and Loving Appreciation “_I would preach … the need to the world of the faith in a Christ, the claim that Jesus
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The Life of Jesus of Nazareth

_A Study_


Rush Rhees


_Copyright, 1900,_
By Charles Scribner’s Sons


C. W. McC.

In Recognition of Wise Counsel, Generous Help and Loving Appreciation

“_I would preach … the need to the world of the faith in a Christ, the claim that Jesus is the Christ, and the demand for an intelligent faith, which indeed shall transcend but shall not despise knowledge, or neglect to have a knowledge to transcend._”–John Patterson Coyle


The aim of this book is to help thoughtful readers of the gospels to discern more clearly the features of him whom those writings inimitably portray. It is avowedly a study rather than a story, and as a companion to the reading of the gospels it seeks to answer some of the questions which are raised by a sympathetic consideration of those narratives. These answers are offered in an unargumentative way, even where the questions are still in debate among scholars. This method has been adopted because technical discussion would be of interest to but few of those whom the book hopes to serve. On some of the questions a non-committal attitude is taken in the belief that for the understanding of the life of Jesus it is of little importance which way the decision finally goes. Less attention has been given to questions of geography and archæology than to those which have a more vital biographical significance.

A word concerning the point of view adopted. The church has inherited a rich treasure of doctrine concerning its Lord, the result of patient study and, frequently, of heated controversy. It is customary to approach the gospels with this interpretation of Christ as a premise, and such a study has some unquestionable advantages. With the apostles and evangelists, however, the recognition of the divine nature of Jesus was a conclusion from their acquaintance with him. The Man of Nazareth was for them primarily a man, and they so regarded him until he showed them that he was more. Their knowledge of him progressed in the natural way from the human to the divine. The gospels, particularly the first three, are marvels of simplicity and objectivity. Their authors clearly regarded Jesus as the Man from heaven; yet in their thinking they were dominated by the influence of a personal Lord rather than by the force of an accepted doctrine. It is with no lack of reverence for the importance and truth of the divinity of Christ that this book essays to bring the Man Jesus before the mind in the reading of the gospels. The incarnation means that God chose to reveal the divine through a human life, rather than through a series of propositions which formulate truth (Heb. i. 1-4). The most perennially refreshing influence for Christian life and thought is personal discipleship to that Revealer who is able to-day as of old to exhibit in his humanity those qualities which compel the recognition of God manifest in the flesh.

An Appendix is added to furnish references to the wide literature of the subject for the aid of those who wish to study it more extensively and technically; also to discuss some questions of detail which could not be considered in the text. This appendix will indicate the extent of my indebtedness to others. I would acknowledge special obligation to Professor Ernest D. Burton, of the University of Chicago, for generous help and permission to use material found in his “Notes on the Life of Jesus;” to Professor Shailer Mathews, also of Chicago, for very valuable criticisms; to my colleague, Professor Charles Rufus Brown, for most serviceable assistance; and to the editors of this series for helpful suggestions and criticism during the making of the book. An unmeasured debt is due to another who has sat at my side during the writing of these pages, and has given constant inspiration, most discerning criticism, and practical aid.

The Newton Theological Institution, April, 1900.


Part I



The Historical Situation

Sections 1-19. Pages 1-20

Section 1. The Roman estimate of Judea. 2, 3. Herod the Great and his sons. 4. Roman procurators in Palestine. 5. Taxes. 6. The army. 7. Administration of justice. 8. The Sadducees. 9,10. The Pharisees. 11. The Zealots. 12. The Essenes. 13. The Devout. 14. Herodians and Samaritans. 15. The synagogue. 16. Life under the law. 17. The Messianic hope. 18. Contemporary literature. 19. Language of Palestine.


Sources of Our Knowledge of Jesus

Sections 20-35. Pages 21-37

Section 20. The testimony of Paul. 21. Secular history. 22. The written gospels. 23. Characteristics of the first gospel. 24. Of the second. 25. Of the third. 26-30. The synoptic problem. 31-32. The Johannine problem. 34. The two narrative sources. 35. Agrapha and Apocrypha.


The Harmony of the Gospels

Sections 36-44. Pages 38-14

Section 36. The value of four gospels. 37. Tatian’s Diatessaron. 38. Agreement of the gospels concerning the chief events. 39. The principal problems. 40. Relation of Mark and John. 41, 42. Matthew and Luke. 43. Doublets. 44. The degree of certainty attainable.


The Chronology

Sections 45-57. Pages 45-56

Sections 45-48. The length of Jesus’ public ministry. 49. Date of the first Passover. 50. Date of the crucifixion. 51-56. Date of the nativity. 57. Summary.


The Early Years of Jesus

Sections 58-71. Pages 57-69

Section 58. Apocryphal stories. 59. Silence of the New Testament outside the gospels. 60-62. The miraculous birth. 63. The childhood of Jesus. 64. Home. 65. Religion, Education. 66. Growth. 67. Religious development. 68. The view from Nazareth. 69 The first visit to Jerusalem. 70-71. The carpenter of Nazareth.


John the Baptist

Sections 72-84. Pages 70-81

Section 72. The gospel picture. 73. Notice by Josephus. 74. Characteristics of the prophet 75-78. John’s relation to the Essenes; the Pharisees; the Zealots; the Apocalyptists. 79. John and the Prophets. 80-82. Origin of his baptism. 83. His greatness. 84. His limitations and self-effacement.


The Messianic Call

Sections 85-96. Pages 82-91

Sections 85, 86. John and Jesus. 87. The baptism of Jesus. 88, 89. The Messianic call. 90. The gift of the Spirit. 91-94. The temptation. 95. Source of the narrative. 96. The issue.


The First Disciples

Sections 97-105. Pages 92-97

Section 97. John at Bethany beyond Jordan. 98. The deputation from the priests. 99. John’s first testimony. 100. The first disciples. 101. The early Messianic confessions. 102. The visit to Cana. 103. The miracles as disclosures of the character of Jesus. 104. Jesus and his mother. 105. Removal to Capernaum.

Part II

The Ministry


General Survey of the Ministry

Sections 106-112. Pages 101-105

Section 106. The early Judean ministry. 107. Withdrawal to Galilee; a new beginning. 108. The ministry in Galilee a unit. 109. Best studied topically. 110. The last journey to Jerusalem. 111. The last week. 112. The resurrection and ascension.


The Early Judean Ministry

Sections 113-124. Pages 106-114

Outline of events in the Early Judean ministry. Section 113. The opening ministry at Jerusalem. 114. The record incomplete. 115. The cleansing of the temple. 116. Relation to synoptic account. 117. Jesus’ reply to the challenge of his authority. 118. The reserve of Jesus. 119. Discourse with Nicodemus. 120. Measure of success in Jerusalem. 121. The Baptist’s last testimony. 122. The arrest of John. 123. The second sign at Cana. 124. Summary.


The Ministry in Galilee–Its Aim and Method

Sections 125-149. Pages 115-137

Outline of events in the Galilean ministry. Section 125. General view. 126, 127. Development of popular enthusiasm. 128. Pharisaic opposition. 129, 130. Jesus and the Messianic hope. 131. Injunctions of silence. 132-135. Jesus’ twofold aim in Galilee. 136, 137. Character of the teaching of this period: the sermon on the mount. 138. The parables. 139. The instructions for the mission of the twelve. 140. Jesus’ tone of authority. 141. His mighty works. 142-144. Demoniac possession. 145. Jesus’ personal influence. 146. The feeding of the five thousand. 147, 148. Revulsion of popular feeling. 149. Results of the work in Galilee.


The Ministry in Galilee–The New Lesson

Sections 150-165. Pages 138-152

Section 150. The changed ministry. 151. The question of tradition. 152. Further pharisaic opposition. 153. Jesus in Phœnicia. 154. Confirmation of the disciples’ faith. 155. The question at Cæsarea Philippi. 156. The corner-stone of the Church. 157-159. The new lesson. 160. The transfiguration. 161. Cure of the epileptic boy. 162. The feast of Tabernacles. 163. Story of Jesus and the adulteress. 164. The new note in Jesus’ teaching. 165. Summary of the Galilean ministry.


The Journey through Perea to Jerusalem

Sections 166-176. Pages 153-165

Outline of events. Section 166. The Perean ministry. 167. Account in John. 168, 169. Account in Luke. 170. The mission of the seventy. 171. The feast of Dedication. 172. Withdrawal beyond Jordan. 173. The raising of Lazarus. 174. Ephraim and Jericho. 175,176. Summary.


The Final Controversies in Jerusalem

Sections 177-188. Pages 166-180

Outline of events in the last week of Jesus’ life. Section 177. The cross in apostolic preaching. 178. The anointing in Bethany. 179. The Messianic entry. 180. The barren fig-tree. 181. The Monday of Passion week. 182-186. The controversies of Tuesday. 187. Judas. 188. Wednesday, the day of seclusion.


The Last Supper

Sections 189-195. Pages 181-187

Section 189. Preparations. 190,191. Date of the supper. 192. The lesson of humility. 193. The new covenant. 194. The supper and the Passover. 195. Farewell words of admonition and comfort; the intercessory prayer.


The Shadow of Death

Sections 196-208. Pages 188-200

Sections 196, 197. Gethsemane. 198. The betrayal. 199. The trial. 200. Peter’s denials. 201. The rejection of Jesus. 202. The greatness of Jesus. 203, 204. The crucifixion. 205. The words from the cross. 206. The death of Jesus. 207. The burial. 208. The Sabbath rest.


The Resurrection

Sections 209-222. Pages 201-216

Section 209. The primary Christian fact. 210. The incredulity of the disciples. 211-216. The appearances of the risen Lord. 217-220. Efforts to explain the belief in the resurrection. 221. The ascension. 222. The new faith of the disciples.

Part III

The Minister


The Friend of Men

Sections 223-229. Pages 219-225

Section 223. The contrast between Jesus’ attitude and John’s towards common social life. 224. Contrast with the scribes. 225, 226. His interest in simple manhood. 227. Regard for human need. 228, 229. Sensitiveness to human sympathy.


The Teacher with Authority

Sections 230-241. Pages 226-237

Section 230. Contrast between Jesus and the scribes. 231. His appeal to the conscience. His attitude to the Old Testament. 234. His teaching occasional. 235. The patience of his method. 236. His use of illustration. 237. Parable. 238. Irony and hyperbole. 239. Object lessons. 240. Jesus’ intellectual superiority. 241. His chief theme, the kingdom of God.


Jesus’ Knowledge of Truth

Sections 242-251. Pages 238-248

Sections 242, 243. Jesus’ supernatural knowledge. 244. His predictions of his death. 245. Of his resurrection. 246. His apocalyptic predictions. 247, 248. Limitation of his knowledge. 249, 250. Jesus and demoniac possession. 251. His certainty of his own mission.


Jesus’ Conception of Himself

Sections 252-275. Pages 249-269.

Section 252. Jesus’ confidence in his calling. 253. His independence in teaching. 254. His self-assertions in response to pharisaic criticism. 255. His desire to beget faith in himself. 256,257. His extraordinary personal claim. 258. His acceptance of Messianic titles. 259-266. The Son of Man. 267-269. The Son of God. 270, 271. His consciousness of oneness with God. 272. His confession of dependence; his habit of prayer. 273. No confession of sin. 274, 275. The Word made flesh.


Index of Names and Subjects

Index of Biblical References

Map of Palestine

Part I



The Historical Situation

1. When Tacitus, the Roman historian, records the attempt of Nero to charge the Christians with the burning of Rome, he has patience for no more than the cursory remark that the sect originated with a Jew who had been put to death in Judea during the reign of Tiberius. This province was small and despised, and Tacitus could account for the influence of the sect which sprang thence only by the fact that all that was infamous and abominable flowed into Rome. The Roman’s scornful judgment failed to grasp the nature and power of the movement whose unpopularity invited Nero’s lying accusation, yet it emphasizes the significance of him who did “not strive, nor cry, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street,” whose influence, nevertheless, was working as leaven throughout the empire.

2. Palestine was not under immediate Roman rule when Jesus was born. Herod the Great was drawing near the close of the long reign during which, owing to his skill in securing Roman favor, he had tyrannized over his unwilling people. His claim was that of an adventurer who had power to succeed, even as his method had been that of a suspicious tyrant, who murdered right and left, lest one of the many with better right than he should rise to dispute with him his throne. When Herod died, his kingdom was divided into three parts, and Rome asserted a fuller sovereignty, allowing none of his sons to take his royal title. Herod’s successors ruled with a measure of independence, however, and followed many of their father’s ways, though none of them had his ability. The best of them was Philip, who had the territory farthest from Jerusalem, and least related to Jewish life. He ruled over Iturea and Trachonitis, the country to the north and east of the Sea of Galilee, having his capital at Cæsarea Philippi, a city built and named by him on the site of an older town near the sources of the Jordan. He also rebuilt the city of Bethsaida, at the point where the Jordan flows into the Sea of Galilee, calling it Julias, after the daughter of Augustus. Philip enters the story of the life of Jesus only as the ruler of these towns and the intervening region, and as husband of Salome, the daughter of Herodias. Living far from Jerusalem and the Jewish people, he abandoned even the show of Judaism which characterized his father, and lived as a frank heathen in his heathen capital.

3. The other two who inherited Herod’s dominion were brothers, Archelaus and Antipas, sons of Malthace, one of Herod’s many wives. Archelaus had been designated king by Herod, with Judea, Samaria, and Idumea as his kingdom; but the emperor allowed him only the territory, with the title ethnarch. Antipas was named a tetrarch by Herod, and his territory was Galilee and the land east of the Jordan to the southward of the Sea of Galilee, called Perea. Antipas was the Herod under whose sway Jesus lived in Galilee, and who executed John the Baptist. He was a man of passionate temper, with the pride and love of luxury of his father. Having Jews to govern, he held, as his father had done, to a show of Judaism, though at heart he was as much of a pagan as Philip. He, too, loved building, and Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee was built by him for his capital. His unscrupulous tyranny and his gross disregard of common righteousness appear in his relations with John the Baptist and with Herodias, his paramour. Jesus described him well as “that fox” (Luke xiii. 32), for he was sly, and worked often by indirection. While his father had energy and ability which command a sort of admiration, Antipas was not only bad but weak.

4. Both Philip and Antipas reigned until after the death of Jesus, Philip dying in A.D. 34, and Antipas being deposed several years later, probably in 39. Archelaus had a much shorter rule, for he was deposed in A.D. 6, having been accused by the Jews of unbearable barbarity and tyranny,–a charge in which Antipas and Philip joined. The territory of Archelaus was then made an imperial province of the second grade, ruled by a procurator appointed from among the Roman knights. In provinces under an imperial legate (propraetor) the procurator was an officer for the administration of the revenues; in provinces of the rank of Judea he was, however, the representative of the emperor in all the prerogatives of government, having command of the army, and being the final resort in legal procedure, as well as supervising the collection of the customs and taxes. Very little is known of the procurators appointed after the deposition of Archelaus, until Tiberius sent Pontius Pilate in A.D. 26. He held office until he was deposed in 36. Josephus gives several examples of his wanton disregard of Jewish prejudice, and of his extreme cruelty. His conduct at the trial of Jesus was remarkably gentle and judicial in comparison with other acts recorded of his government; yet the fear of trial at Rome, which finally induced him to give Jesus over to be crucified, was thoroughly characteristic; in fact, his downfall resulted from a complaint lodged against him by certain Samaritans whom he had cruelly punished for a Messianic uprising.

5. There were two sorts of Roman taxes in Judea: direct, which were collected by salaried officials; and customs, which were farmed out to the highest bidder. The direct taxes consisted of a land tax and a poll tax, in the collection of which the procurator made use of the local Jewish courts; the customs consisted of various duties assessed on exports, and they were gathered by representatives of men who had bought the right to collect these dues. The chiefs as well as their underlings are called publicans in our New Testament, although the name strictly applies only to the chiefs. These tax-gatherers, small and great, were everywhere despised and execrated, because, in addition to their subserviency to a hated government, they had a reputation, usually deserved, for all sorts of extortion. Because of this evil repute they were commonly drawn from the unscrupulous among the people, so that the frequent coupling of publicans and sinners in the gospels probably rested on fact as much as on prejudice.

6. In Samaria and Judea soldiers were under the command of the procurator; they took orders from the tetrarch, in Galilee and Perea. The garrison of Jerusalem consisted of one Roman cohort–from five to six hundred men–which was reinforced at the time of the principal feasts. These and the other forces at the disposal of the procurator were probably recruited from the country itself, largely from among the Samaritans. The centurion of Capernaum (Matt. viii. 5; Luke vii. 2-5) was an officer in the army of Antipas, who, however, doubtless organized his army on the Roman pattern, with officers who had had their training with the imperial forces.

7. The administration of justice in Samaria and Judea was theoretically in the hands of the procurator; practically, however, it was left with the Jewish courts, either the local councils or the great sanhedrin at Jerusalem. This last body consisted of seventy-one “elders.” Its president was the high-priest, and its members were drawn in large degree from the most prominent representatives of the priestly aristocracy. The scribes, however, had a controlling influence because of the reverence in which the multitude held them. The sanhedrin of Jerusalem had jurisdiction only within the province of Judea, where it tried all kinds of offences; its judgment was final, except in capital cases, when it had to yield to the procurator, who alone could sentence to death. It had great influence also in Galilee, and among Jews everywhere, but this was due to the regard all Jews had for the holy city. It was, in fact, a sort of Jewish senate, which took cognizance of everything that seemed to affect the Jewish interests. In Galilee and Perea, Antipas held in his hands the judicial as well as the military and financial administration.

8. To the majority of the priests religion had become chiefly a form. They represented the worldly party among the Jews. Since the days of the priest-princes who ruled in Jerusalem after the return from the exile, they had constituted the Jewish aristocracy, and held most of the wealth of the people. It was to their interest to maintain the ritual and the traditional customs, and they were proud of their Jewish heritage; of genuine interest in religion, however, they had little. This secular priestly party was called the Sadducees, probably from Zadok, the high-priest in Solomon’s time. What theology the Sadducees had was for the most part reactionary and negative. They were opposed to the more earnest spirit and new thought of the scribes, and naturally produced some champions who argued for their theological position; but the mass of them cared for other things.

9. The leaders of the popular thought, on the other hand, were chiefly noted for their religious zeal and theological acumen. They represented the outgrowth of that spirit which in the Maccabean time had risked all to defend the sanctity of the temple and the right of God’s people to worship him according to his law. They were known as Pharisees, because, as the name (“separated”) indicates, they insisted on the separation of the people of God from all the defilements and snares of the heathen life round about them. The Pharisees constituted a fraternity devoted to the scrupulous observance of law and tradition in all the concerns of daily life. They were specialists in religion, and were the ideal representatives of Judaism. Their distinguishing characteristic was reverence for the law; their religion was the religion of a book. By punctilious obedience of the law man might hope to gain a record of merit which should stand to his credit and secure his reward when God should finally judge the world. Because life furnished many situations not dealt with in the written law, there was need of its authoritative interpretation, in order that ignorance might not cause a man to transgress. These interpretations constituted an oral law which practically superseded the written code, and they were handed down from generation to generation as “the traditions of the fathers.” The existence of this oral law made necessary a company of scribes and lawyers whose business it was to know the traditions and transmit them to their pupils. These scribes were the teachers of Israel, the leaders of the Pharisees, and the most highly revered class in the community. Pharisaism at its beginning was intensely earnest, but in the time of Jesus the earnest spirit had died out in zealous formalism. This was the inevitable result of their virtual substitution of the written law for the living God. Their excessive reverence had banished God from practical relation to the daily life. They held that he had declared his will once for all in the law. His name was scrupulously revered, his worship was cultivated with minutest care, his judgment was anticipated with dread; but he himself, like an Oriental monarch, was kept far from common life in an isolation suitable to his awful holiness. By a natural consequence conscience gave place to scrupulous regard for tradition in the religion of the scribes. The chief question with them was not, Is this right? but, What say the elders? The soul’s sensitiveness of response to God’s will and God’s truth was lost in a maze of traditions which awoke no spontaneous Amen in the moral nature, consequently there was frequent substitution of reputation for character. The Pharisees could make void the command, Honor thy father, by an ingenious application of the principle of dedication of property to God (Mark vii. 8-13), and thus under the guise of scrupulous regard for law discovered ways for legal disregard of law. Their theory of religion gave abundant room for a piety which made broad its phylacteries and lengthened its prayers, while neglecting judgment, mercy, and the love of God.

10. Yet the earnest and true development in Jewish thinking was found among the Pharisees. The early hope of Israel was almost exclusively national. In the later books of the Old Testament, in connection with an enlarged sense of the importance of the individual, the doctrine of a personal resurrection to share the blessings of the Messiah’s kingdom began to appear. It had its clear development and definite adoption as part of the faith of Judaism, however, under the influence of the Pharisees. Along with this increased emphasis on the worth of the individual came a large development of the doctrine of angels and spirits. Towards both of these doctrines the Sadducees took a reactionary position. Politically the Pharisees were theocratic in theory, but opportunists in practice, accommodating themselves to the existing state of things so long as the _de facto_ government did not interfere with the religious life of the people. They looked for a kingdom in which God should be evidently the king of his people; but they believed that his sovereignty was to be realized through the law, hence their sole interest was in the obedience of God’s people to that law as interpreted by the traditions.

11. The theocratic spirit was more aggressive in a party which originated in the later years of Herod the Great, and found a reckless leader in Judas of Galilee, who started a revolt when the governor of Syria undertook to make a census of the Jews after the deposition of Archelaus. This party bore the name Cananeans or Zealots. They regarded with passionate resentment the subjection of God’s people to a foreign power, and waited eagerly for an opportune time to take the sword and set up the kingdom of God; it was with them that the final war against Rome began. They were found in largest numbers in Galilee, where the scholasticism of the scribes was not so dominating an influence as in Judea. Dr. Edersheim has called them the nationalist party. In matters belonging strictly to the religious life they followed the Pharisees, only holding a more material conception of the hope of Israel.

12. Another development in Jewish religious life carried separatist doctrines to the extreme. Its representatives were called Essenes, though what the significance of the name was is no longer clear. Although they were allied with the Pharisees in doctrine, they show in some particulars the influence of Hellenistic Judaism. This is suggested not only by the attention which Philo and Josephus give to them, but also by certain of their views, which were very like the doctrines of the Pythagoreans. They carried the pharisaic demand for separateness to the extreme of asceticism. While they were found in nearly every town in Palestine, some of them even practising marriage, the largest group of them lived a celibate, monastic life near the shores of the Dead Sea. This community was recruited by the initiation of converts, who only after a novitiate of three years were admitted to full membership in the order. They were characterized by an extreme scrupulousness concerning ceremonial purity, their meals were regarded as sacrifices, and were prepared by members of the order, who were looked upon as priests, nor were any allowed to partake of the food until they had first bathed themselves. Their regular garments were all white, and were regarded as vestments for use at the sacrificial meals,–other clothing being assumed as they went out to their work. They were industrious agriculturists, their life was communistic, and they were renowned for their uprightness. They revered Moses as highly as did the scribes; yet they were opposed to animal sacrifices, and, although they sent gifts to the temple, were apparently excluded from its worship. Their kinship with the Pythagoreans appears in that they addressed an invocation to the sun at its rising, and conducted all their natural functions with scrupulous modesty, “that they might not offend the brightness of God” (Jos. Wars, ii. 8, 9). Their rejection of bloody sacrifices, and their view that the soul is imprisoned in the body and at death is freed for a better life, besides many features of their life that are genuinely Jewish, such as their regard for ceremonial purity, also show similarity to the Pythagoreans. It has always been a matter of perplexity that these ascetics find no mention in the New Testament. They seem to have lived a life too much apart, and to have had little sympathy with the ideals of Jesus, or even of John the Baptist.

13. The common people followed the lead of the Pharisees, though afar off. They accepted the teaching concerning tradition, as well as that concerning the resurrection, conforming their lives to the prescriptions of the scribes more or less strictly, according as they were more or loss ruled by religious considerations. It was in consequence of their hold on the people that the scribes in the sanhedrin were able often to dictate a policy to the Sadducean majority. Jesus voiced the popular opinion when he said that “the scribes sit in Moses’ seat” (Matt, xxiii. 2). Their leaders despised “this multitude which knoweth not the law” (John vii. 49), yet delighted to legislate for them, binding heavy burdens and grievous to be borne. Many of the people were doubtless too intent on work and gain to be very regardful of the _minutiæ_ of conduct as ordained by the scribes; many more were too simple-minded to follow the theories of the rabbis concerning the aloofness of God from the life of men. These last reverenced the scribes, followed their directions, in the main, for the conduct of life, yet lived in fellowship with God as their fathers had, trusting in his faithfulness, and hoping in his mercy. They are represented in the New Testament by such as Simeon and Anna, Zachariah and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary, and the majority of those who heard and heeded John’s call to repentance. They were Israel’s remnant of pure and undefiled religion, and constituted what there was of good soil among the people for the reception of the seed sown by John’s successor. They had no name, for they did not constitute a party; for convenience they may be called the Devout.

14. Two other classes among the people are mentioned in the gospels,–the Herodians and the Samaritans. The Herodians do not appear outside the New Testament, and seem to have been hardly more than a group of men in whom the secular spirit was dominant, who thought it best for their interests and for the people’s to champion the claims of the Herodian family. They were probably more akin to the Pharisees than to the Sadducees, for the latter were hostile to the Herodian claims, from the first; yet in spirit they seem more like to the worldly aristocracy than to the pious scribes. The Samaritans lived in the land, a people despising and despised. Their territory separated Galilee from Judea, and they were a constant source of irritation to the Jews. The hatred was inherited from the days of Ezra, when the zealous Jews refused to allow any intercourse with the inhabitants of Samaria. These Samaritans were spurned as of impure blood and mixed religion (II. Kings xvii. 24-41). The severe attitude adopted towards them by Ezra and Nehemiah led to the building of a temple on Mount Gerizim, and the establishment of a worship which sought to rival that of Jerusalem in all particulars. Very little is known of the tenets of the Samaritans in the time of Jesus beyond their belief that Gerizim was the place which, according to the law, God chose for his temple, and that a Messiah should come to settle all questions of dispute (John iv. 25).

15. Although the religious life of the Jews centred ideally in the temple, it found its practical expression in the synagogue. This in itself is evidence of the relative influence of priests and scribes. There was no confessed rivalry. The Pharisee was most insistent on the sanctity of the temple and the importance of its ritual. Yet with the growing sense of the religious significance of the individual as distinct from the nation, there arose of necessity a practical need for a system of worship possible for the great majority of the people, who could at best visit Jerusalem but once or twice a year. The synagogue seems to have been a development of the exile, when there was no temple and no sacrifice. It was the characteristic institution of Judaism as a religion of the law, furnishing in every place opportunity for prayer and study. The elders of each community seem ordinarily to have been in control of its synagogue, and to have had authority to exclude from its fellowship persons who had come under the ban. In addition to these officials there was a ruler of the synagogue, who had the direction of all that concerned the worship; a _chazzan_, or minister, who had the care of the sacred books, administered discipline, and instructed the children in reading the scripture; and two or more receivers of alms. The Sabbath services consisted of prayers, and reading of the scriptures–both law and prophets,–and an address or sermon. It was in the sermon that the people learned to know the “traditions of the elders,” whether as applications of the law to the daily life, or as legendary embellishments of Hebrew history and prophecy. The preacher might be any one whom the ruler of the synagague recognized as worthy to address the congregation.

16. The religious life which centred in the synagogue found daily expression in the observance of the law and the traditions. In the measure of its control by the scribes it was concerned chiefly with the Sabbath, with the various ablutions needful to the maintenance of ceremonial purity, with the distinctions between clean and unclean food, with the times and ways of fasting, and with the wearing of fringes and phylacteries. These lifeless ceremonies seem to our day wearisome and petty in the extreme. It is probable, however, that the growth of the various traditions had been so gradual that, as has been aptly said, the whole usage seemed no more unreasonable to the Jews than the etiquette of polite society does to its devotees. The evil was not so much in the minuteness of the regulations as in the external and superficial notion of religion which they induced.

17. Optimism was the mood of Israel’s prophets from the earliest times. Every generation looked for the dawning of a day which should banish all ill and realize the dreams inspired by the covenant in which God had chosen Israel for his own. In proportion as the rabbinic formalism held control of the hearts of the people, the Messianic hope lost its warmth and vigor. Yet the scribes did not abandon the prophetic optimism; they held to the letter of the hope, but as its fulfilment was for them dependent on perfect obedience to the law, oral and written, their interest was diverted to the traditions, and their strength was given to legal disputations. Of the rest of the people, the Sadducees naturally gave little thought to the promise of future deliverance, they were too absorbed with regard for present concerns. Nor is there any evidence that the Essenes, with all their reputed knowledge of the future, cherished the hope of a Messiah. The other elements among the people who owned the general leadership of the scribes looked eagerly for the coming time when God should bring to pass what he had promised through the prophets. While some expected God himself to come in judgment, and gave no thought to an Anointed one who should represent the Most High to the people, the majority looked for a Son of David to sit upon his father’s throne. Even so, however, there were wide differences in the nature of the hope which was set on the coming of this Son of David. The Zealots were looking for a victory, which should set Israel on high over all his foes. To the rest of the people, however, the method of the consummation was not so clear, and they were ready to leave God to work out his purpose in his own way, longing meanwhile for the fulfilment of his promise. One class in particular gave themselves to visionary representations of the promised redemption. They differed from the Zealots in that they saw with unwelcome clearness the futility of physical attack upon their enemies; but their faith was strong, and at the moment when outward conditions seemed most disheartening they looked for a revelation of God’s power from heaven, destroying all sinners in his wrath, and delivering and comforting his people, giving them their lot in a veritable Canaan situated in a renewed earth. Such visions are recorded in the Book of Daniel and the Revelation of John. They are found in many other apocalypses not included in our Bible, and indicate how persistently the minds of the people turned towards the promises spoken by the prophets, and meditated on their fulfilment. The Devout were midway between the Zealots and the Apocalyptists. The songs of Zachariah and Mary and the thanksgiving of Simeon express their faith. They hoped for a kingdom as tangible as the Zealots sought, yet they preferred to _wait_ for the consolation of Israel. They believed that God was still in his heaven, that he was not disregardful of his people, and that in his own time he would raise up unto them their king. They looked for a Son of David, yet his reign was to be as remarkable for its purification of his own people as for its victories over their foes. These victories indeed were to be largely spiritual, for their Messiah was to conquer in the strength of the Spirit of God and “by the word of his mouth.” Such as these were ready for a ministry like John’s, and not unready for the new ideal which Jesus was about to offer them, though their highest spiritualization of the Messianic hope was but a shadow of the reality which Jesus asked them to accept.

18. This last conception of the Messiah is found in a group of psalms written in the first century before Christ, during the early days of the Roman interference in Judea. These Psalms of Solomon, as they are called, are pharisaic in point of view, yet they are not rabbinic in their ideas. Their feeling is too deep, and their reliance on God too immediate; they fitly follow the psalms of the Old Testament, though afar off. Of another type of contemporary literature, Apocalypse, at least two representatives besides the Book of Daniel have come down to us from the time of Jesus or earlier,–the so-called Book of Enoch, and the fragment known as the Assumption of Moses. These writings have peculiar interest, because they are probably the source of quotations found in the Epistle of Jude; moreover, some sayings of Jesus reported in the gospels, and in particular his chosen title, The Son of Man, are strikingly similar to expressions found in Enoch. Can Jesus have read these books? The psalms of the Devout were the kind of literature to pass rapidly from heart to heart, until all who sympathized with their hope and faith had heard or seen them. The case was different with the apocalypses. They are more elaborate and enigmatical, and may have been only slightly known. Yet, as Jesus was familiar with the canonical Book of Daniel, although it was not read in the synagogue service in his time, it is possible that he may also have read or heard other books which had not won recognition as canonical. If, however, he knew nothing of them, the similarity between the apocalypses and some of Jesus’ ideas and expressions becomes all the more significant; for it shows that these writings gave utterance to thoughts and feelings shared by men who never read them, which were, therefore, no isolated fancies, but characteristic of the religion of many of the people. With these ideas Jesus was familiar; whether he ever read the books must remain a question.

19. This literature exists for us only in translations made in the days of the early church. Most of these books were originally written in Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, or in Aramaic, the language of Palestine in the time of Jesus. Traces of this language as spoken by Jesus have been preserved in the gospels,–the name _Rabbi; Abba_, translated Father; _Talitha cumi_, addressed to the daughter of Jairus; _Ephphatha_, to the deaf man of Bethsaida; and the cry from the cross, _Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani_ (John i. 38; Mark xiv. 36; v. 41; vii. 34; xv. 34). It is altogether probable that in his common dealings with men and in his teachings Jesus used this language. Greek was the language of the government and of trade, and in a measure the Jews were a bilingual people. Jesus may thus have had some knowledge of Greek, but it is unlikely that he ever used it to any extent either in Galilee, or Judea, or in the regions of Tyre and Sidon.


Sources of Our Knowledge Of Jesus

20. The earliest existing record of events in the life of Jesus is given to us in the epistles of Paul. His account of the appearances of the Lord after his death and resurrection (I. Cor. xv. 3-8) was written within thirty years of these events. The date of the testimony, however, is much earlier, since Paul refers to the experience which transformed his own life, and so carries us back to within a few years of the crucifixion. Other facts from Jesus’ life may be gathered from Paul, as his descent from Abraham and David (Rom. i. 3; ix. 5); his life of obedience (Rom. v. 19; xv. 3; Phil. ii. 5-11); his poverty (II. Cor. viii. 9); his meekness and gentleness (II. Cor. x. 1); other New Testament writings outside of our gospels add somewhat to this restricted but very clear testimony.

21. Secular history knows little of the obscure Galilean. The testimony of Tacitus is that the Christians “derived their name and origin from one Christ, who in the reign of Tiberius had suffered death by the sentence of the procurator, Pontius Pilate” (Annals, xv. 44). Suetonius makes an obscure and seemingly ill-informed allusion to Christ in the reason he assigns for the edict of Claudius expelling the Jews from Rome (Vit. Claud. 25). The younger Pliny in the second century had learned that the numerous Christian community in Bithynia was accustomed to honor Christ as God; but he shows no knowledge of the life of Jesus beyond what must be inferred concerning one who caused men “to bind themselves with an oath not to enter into any wickedness, or commit thefts, robberies, or adulteries, or falsify their word, or repudiate trusts committed to them” (Epistles X. 96). This secular ignorance is not surprising; but the silence of Josephus is. He mentions Jesus in but one clearly genuine passage, when telling of the martyrdom of James, the “brother of Jesus, who is called the Christ” (Ant. xx. 9. 1). Of John the Baptist, however, he has a very appreciative notice (Ant, xviii. 5. 2), and it cannot be that he was ignorant of Jesus. His appreciation of John suggests that he could not have mentioned Jesus more fully without some approval of his life and teaching. This would be a condemnation of his own people, whom he desired to commend to Gentile regard; and he seems to have taken the cowardly course of silence concerning a matter more noteworthy, even for that generation, than much else of which he writes very fully.

22. The reason for the lack of written Christian records of Jesus’ life from the earliest time seems to be, not that the apostles had a small sense of the importance of his earthly ministry, but that the early generation preferred what at a later time was called the “living voice” (Papias in Euseb. Ch. Hist. iii. 39). The impression made by Jesus was supremely personal; he wrote nothing, did not command his disciples to write anything, preferring to influence men’s minds by personal power, appointing them, in turn, to represent him to men as he had represented the Father to them (John xx. 21). But the time came when the first witnesses were passing away, and they were not many who could say, “I saw him.” Our gospels are the result of the natural desire to preserve the apostolic testimony for a generation that could no longer hear the apostolic voice; and they are precisely what such a sense of need would produce,–vivid pictures of Jesus, agreeing in general features, differing more or less in details, reflecting individual feeling for the Master, and written not simply to inform men but to convince them of that Master’s claims. One evidence of the reality of the gospel pictures is the fact that we so seldom feel the individual characteristics of each gospel. This is especially true of the first three, which, to the vividness of their picture, add a remarkable similarity of detail. Tatian, in the second century, felt it necessary to make a continuous narrative for the use of the church by interweaving the four gospels into one, and he has had many successors down to our day; but the fact that unity of impression has practically resulted from the four pictures without recourse to such an interweaving, invites consideration of the characteristics of these remarkable documents.

23. The first gospel impresses the careful reader with three things: (1) A clear sense of the development of Jesus’ ministry. The author introduces his narrative by an account of the birth of Jesus, of the ministry of John the Baptist, and of Jesus’ baptism and temptation and withdrawal into Galilee (i. 1 to iv. 17). He then depicts the public ministry by grouping together, first, teachings of Jesus concerning the law of the kingdom of heaven, then a series of great miracles confirming the new doctrine, then the expansion of the ministry and deepening hostility of the Pharisees, leading to the teaching by parables, and the final withdrawal from Galilee to the north. This ministry resulted in the chilling of popular enthusiasm which had been strong at the beginning, but in the winning of a few hearts to Jesus’ own ideals of the kingdom of God (iv. 18 to xvi. 20). From this point the evangelist leads us to Jerusalem, where rejection culminates, the sterner teachings of Jesus are massed, and his victory in seeming defeat is exhibited (xvi. 21 to xxviii. 20). (2) The evangelist’s interest is not satisfied by this clear, strong, picture; he wishes to convince men that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah, hence, throughout, he indicates the fulfilment of prophecy. The things in which he sees the fulfilment are striking, for, with but one or two exceptions, they are features of the life of Jesus objectionable to Jewish feeling. This fact, taken in connection with the emphasis which the gospel gives to the death of Jesus at the hands of the Jews, and to the resurrection as God’s seal of approval of him whom his people rejected, forms a forcible argument to prove the Messiahship of Jesus, not simply in spite of his rejection by the Jews, but by appeal to that rejection as leading to God’s signal vindication of the crucified one. (3) This evangelist, while proving that Jesus is the Messiah promised to Israel, recognizes clearly the freedom of the new faith from the exclusiveness of Jewish feeling. The choice of Galilee for the Messianic ministry (iv. 12-17), the comment of Jesus on the faith of the centurion (viii. 10-12), the rebuke of Israel in the parable of the Wicked Husbandmen (xxi. 33-46), and especially the last commission of the risen Lord (xxviii. 18-20), show that this gospel sought to convince men of Jewish feeling not only that Jesus is Messiah, but also that as Messiah he came to bring salvation to all the world.

24. The second gospel is much simpler in construction than the first, while presenting essentially the same picture of the ministry as is found in Matthew. To its simplicity it adds a vividness of narration which commends Mark’s account as probably representing most nearly the actual course of the life of Jesus. While it reports fewer incidents and teachings than either of the others, a comparison with Matthew and Luke shows a preference in Mark for Jesus’ deeds, though addresses are not wanting; and, while shorter as a whole, for matters which he reports Mark’s record is most rich in detail, most dramatic in presentation, and actually longer than the parallel accounts in the other gospels. The whole narrative is animated in style (note the oft-repeated “immediately”) and full of graphic traits. The story of Jesus seems to be reproduced from a memory which retains fresh personal impressions of events as they occurred. Hence the frequent comments on the effect of Jesus’ ministry, such as “We never saw it on this fashion” (ii. 12), or “He hath done all things well” (vii. 37), and the introduction into the narrative of Aramaic words,–_Boanerges_ (iii. 17), _Talitha, cumi_ (v. 41), and the like, which immediately have to be translated. The gospel discloses no artificial plan, the chief word of transition is “and.” While some of the incidents recorded, such as the second Sabbath controversy (iii. 1-6) and the question about fasting (ii. 18-22), may owe their place to association in memory with an event of like character, the book impresses us as a collection of annals fresh from the living memory, which present the actual Jesus teaching and healing, and going on his way to the cross and resurrection. After the briefest possible reference to the ministry of John the Baptist and the baptism and temptation of Jesus (i. 1-13), this gospel proceeds to set forth the ministry in Galilee (i. 14 to ix. 50). The narrative then follows Jesus to Jerusalem, by way of Perea, and closes with his victory through death and resurrection (x. 1 to xvi. 8).

25. The third gospel is more nearly a biography than any of its companions. It opens with a preface stating that after a study of many earlier attempts to record the life of Jesus the author has undertaken to present as complete an account as possible of that life from the beginning. The book is addressed to one Theophilus, doubtless a Greek Christian, and its chief aim is practical,–to confirm conviction concerning matters of faith (i. 1-4). The author’s interest in the completeness of his account appears in the fact that it begins with incidents antecedent to the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus. Moreover, to his desire for completeness we owe much of the story of Jesus, otherwise unrecorded for us. Like the first two gospels, Luke represents the ministry of Jesus as inaugurated in Galilee, and carried on there until the approach of the tragedy at Jerusalem (iv. 14 to ix. 50). It is in connection with the journey to Jerusalem (ix. 51 to xix. 27) that he inserts most of that which is peculiar to his gospel. His account of the rejection at Jerusalem, the crucifixion, and resurrection, follows in the main the same lines as Matthew and Mark; but he gained his knowledge of many particulars from different sources (xix. 28 to xxiv. 53). It is characteristic of Luke to name Jesus “Lord” more often than either of his predecessors. With this exalted conception is coupled a noticeable emphasis on Jesus’ ministry of compassion; here more than in any other gospel he is pictured as the friend of sinners. Moreover, we owe chiefly to Luke our knowledge of him as a man of prayer and as subject to repeated temptation. An artificial exaltation of Christ, such as is often attributed to the later apostolic thought, would tend to reduce, not multiply, such evidences of human dependence on God. This fact increases our confidence in the accuracy of Luke’s picture. The gospel is very full of comfort to those under the pressure of poverty, and of rebuke to unbelieving wealth, though the parable of the Unjust Steward and story of Zacchæus show that it does not exalt poverty for its own sake. If our first gospel pictures Jesus as the fulfilment of God’s promises to his people, and Mark, as the man of power at work before our very eyes, astonishing the multitude while winning the few, Luke sets before us the Lord ministering with divine compassion to men subject to like temptations with himself, though, unlike them, he knew no sin.

26. The first three gospels, differing as they do in point of view and aim, present essentially one picture of the ministry of Jesus; for they agree concerning the locality and progress of his Messianic work, and the form and contents of his teaching, showing, in fact, verbal identity in many parts of their narrative. For this reason they are commonly known as the Synoptic Gospels. Yet these gospels exhibit differences as remarkable as their likenesses. They differ perplexingly in the order in which they arrange some of the events in Jesus’ life. Which of them should be given preference in constructing a harmonious picture of his ministry? They often agree to the letter in their report of deeds or words of Jesus, yet from beginning to end remarkable verbal differences stand side by side with remarkable verbal identities. Some of the identities of language suggest irresistibly that the evangelists have used, at least in part, the same previously existing written record. One of the clearest evidences of this is found in the introduction, at the same place in the parallel accounts, of the parenthesis “then saith he to the sick of the palsy” which interrupts the words of Jesus in the cure of the paralytic (Mark ii. 10; Matt. ix. 6; Luke v. 24). When the three gospels are carefully compared it appears that Mark contains very little that is not found in Matthew and Luke, and that, with one or two exceptions, Luke presents in Mark’s order the matter that he has in common with the second gospel. The same is also true of the relation between the latter part of the Gospel of Matthew (Matt. xiv. 1 to the end) and the parallel portion of Mark; while the comparison of Matthew’s arrangement of his earlier half with Mark suggests that the order in the first gospel has been determined by other than chronological considerations. In a sense, therefore, we may say that the Gospel of Mark reveals the chronological framework on which all three of these gospels are constructed. Comparison discloses further the interesting fact that the matter which Matthew and Luke have in common, after subtracting their parallels to Mark, consists almost entirely of teachings and addresses. Each gospel, however, has some matter peculiar to itself.

27. In considering the problem presented by these facts, it is well to remember that no one of these gospels contains within itself any statement concerning the identity of its author. We are indebted to tradition for the names by which we know them, and no one of them makes any claim to apostolic origin. The earliest reference in Christian literature which may be applied to our gospels comes from Papias, a Christian of Asia Minor in the second century. He reports that an earlier teacher had said, “Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not, indeed, in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ, for he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teachings to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord’s discourses. So that Mark committed no error when he thus wrote some things as he remembered them, for he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard and not to state any of them falsely…. Matthew wrote the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language [Aramaic], and every one interpreted them as he was able” (Euseb. Ch. Hist. iii. 39). The result of many years’ study by scholars of all shades of opinion is the very general conclusion that the writing which Papias attributed to Mark was essentially what we have in our second gospel.

28. It is almost as universally acknowledged that the work ascribed by the second century elder to the apostle Matthew cannot be our first gospel; for its language has not the characteristics which other translations from Hebrew or Aramaic lead us to expect, while the completeness of its narrative exceeds what is suggested by the words of Papias. If, however, the matter which Matthew and Luke have in such rich measure in addition to Mark’s narrative be considered, the likeness between this and the writing attributed by Papias to the apostle Matthew is noteworthy. The conclusion is now very general, that that apostolic writing is in large measure preserved in the discourses in our first and third gospels. The relation of our gospels to the two books mentioned by Papias may be conceived, then, somewhat as follows: The earliest gospel writing of which we know anything was a collection of the teachings of Jesus made by the apostle Matthew, in which he collected with simple narrative introductions, those sayings of the Lord which from the beginning had passed from mouth to mouth in the circle of the disciples. At a later time Mark wrote down the account of the ministry of Jesus which Peter had been accustomed to relate in his apostolic preaching. The work of the apostle Matthew, while much richer in the sayings of Jesus, lacked the completeness that characterizes a narrative; hence it occurred to some early disciple to blend together these two primitive gospel records, adding such other items of knowledge as came to his hand from oral tradition or written memoranda. As his aim was practical rather than historical, he added such editorial comments as would make of the new gospel an argument for the Messiahship of Jesus, as we have seen. Since the most precious element in this new gospel was the apostolic record of the teachings of the Lord, the name of Matthew and not of his literary successor, was given to the book.

29. The third gospel is ascribed, by a probably trustworthy tradition, to Luke, the companion of Paul. The author himself says that he made use of such earlier records as were accessible, among which the chief seem to have been the writings of Mark and the apostle Matthew. To Luke’s industry, however, we owe our knowledge of many incidents and teachings from the life of Jesus which were not contained in these two records, and with which we could ill afford to part. Some of these he doubtless found in written form, and some he gathered from oral testimony. His close agreement with Mark in the arrangement of his narrative suggests that he found no clear evidence of a ministry of wider extent in time and place. He therefore used Mark as his narrative framework, and of the rich materials which he had gathered made a gospel, the completest of any written up to his time.

30. Such in the main is the conclusion of modern study of our first three gospels; it explains the general identity of their picture of Jesus and of their report of his teaching; it leaves room for those individual characteristics which give them so much of their charm; and it traces the materials of the gospels far back of the writings as we have them, bringing us nearer to the events which they describe. The dates of these documents can be only approximately known. It is probable that the “logia” collected by the apostle Matthew were written not later than 60 to 65 A.D., while the Gospel of Mark dates from before the fall of Jerusalem in 70. Our first gospel must have been made between 70 and 100, and the Gospel of Luke may be dated about the year 80,–all within sixty or seventy years after the death of Jesus.

31. The fourth gospel gives us a picture of Jesus in striking contrast to that of the other three. These present chiefly the works of the Master and his teachings concerning the kingdom of God and human conduct, leaving the truth concerning the teacher himself to be inferred. John opens the heart of Jesus and makes him disclose his thought about himself in a remarkable series of teachings of which he is the prime topic. This gospel is avowedly an argument (xx. 30, 31); its selection of material is confessedly partial; its aim is to confirm the faith of Christians in the heavenly nature and saving power of their Lord; and its method is that of appeal to testimony, to signs, and to his own self-disclosures. The opening verses of the gospel have a somewhat abstract theological character; the body of the book, however, consists of a succession of incidents and teachings which follow each other in unstudied fashion like a collection of annals. This impression is not compromised by the recognition, at some points, of accidental displacements, like that which has placed xiv. 30, 31 before xv. and xvi., or that which has left a long gap between vii. 23 and the incident of v. 1-9, to which it refers. The theme of the gospel is the self-disclosure of Jesus. This seems to have determined the evangelist’s choice of material, and, as the gospel is an argument, he does not hesitate to mingle his own comments with his report of Jesus’ words, for example (iii. 16-21, 30-36; xii. 37-43). The book is characterized by a vividness of detail which indicates a clear memory of personal experience. While it is evident that the author has the most exalted conception of the nature of his Lord, this seems to have been the result of loving meditation on a friend who had early won the mastery over his heart and life, and who through long years of contemplation had forced upon his disciple’s mind the conviction of his transcendent nature. The book discloses a profoundly objective attitude; the Christ whom John portrays is not the creature of his speculations, but the Master who has entered into his experience as a living influence and has compelled recognition of his significance. The Son of God is for John the human Jesus who, though named at the outset the Word–the Logos,–is the Word who was made flesh, that men through him might become the sons of God.

32. The contrast which the Gospel of John presents to the other three concerns not only the teaching of Jesus, but the scene of his ministry and its historic development as well. Whatever may be the final judgment concerning the fourth gospel, it is manifestly constructed as a simple collection of incidents following each other in what was meant to appear a chronological sequence. It has been seen that the biographical framework of the first three gospels is principally Mark’s report of Peter’s narrative. Now it is a fact that in portions of Matthew and Luke, derived elsewhere than from Mark, there are various allusions most easily understood if it be assumed that Jesus visited Jerusalem before his appearance there at the end of his ministry. Such, for instance, are the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke x. 25-37), the story of the visit to Mary and Martha (Luke x. 38-42), and the lamentation of Jesus over Jerusalem (Luke xiii. 34, 35; Matt, xxiii. 37-39). All three gospels, moreover, agree in attributing to emissaries from Jerusalem much of the hostility manifested against Jesus in his Galilean ministry (Luke v. 17; Mark iii. 22; Matt. xv. 1; Mark vii. 1), and presuppose such an acquaintance of Jesus with households in and near Jerusalem as is not easy to explain if he never visited Judea before his passion (Mark xi. 2, 3; xiv. 14; xv. 43 and parallels; compare especially Matt, xxvii. 57; John xix. 38). These all suggest that the narrative of Mark does not tell the whole story, a conclusion quite in accordance with the account of his work given by Papias. It has been assumed that Peter was a Galilean, a man of family living in Capernaum. It is not impossible that on some of the earlier visits of Jesus to Jerusalem he did not accompany his Master, and in reporting the things which he knew he naturally confined himself to his own experiences. If this can explain the predominance of Galilean incidents in the ministry as depicted in Mark, it will explain the predominance of Galilee in the first three gospels, and the contradiction between John and the three is reduced to a divergence between two accounts of Jesus’ ministry written from two different points of view.

33. The question of the trustworthiness of the fourth gospel is greatly simplified by the consideration of the one-sidedness of Mark’s representation. It is further relieved by the fact that a ministry by Jesus in Jerusalem must have been one of constant self-assertion, for Jerusalem represented at its highest those aspects of thought and practice which were fundamentally opposed to all that Jesus did and taught. Whenever in Galilee, in the ministry pictured by the first three gospels, Jesus came in contact with the spirit and feeling characteristic of Jerusalem, we find him meeting it by unqualified assertion of his own independence and exalted claim to authority, altogether similar to that emphasis of his own significance and importance which is the chief characteristic of his teachings in the fourth gospel. If it be remembered that that gospel was avowedly an argument written to commend to others the reverent conclusion concerning the Lord reached by a disciple whose thought had dwelt for long years on the marvel of that life, and if we recognize that for such an argument the author would select the instances and teachings most telling for his own purpose, and would do this as naturally as the magnet draws to itself iron filings which are mingled with a pile of sand, the exclusively personal character of the teachings of Jesus in this gospel need cause little perplexity. Nor need it seem surprising that the words of Jesus as reported in John share the peculiarities of style which mark the work of the evangelist in the prologue to the gospel and in his epistles. His purpose was not primarily biographical but argumentative, and he has set forth the picture of his Lord as it rose before his own heart, his memory of events being interwoven with contemplation on the significance of that life with which his had been so blessedly associated. In a gospel written avowedly to produce in others a conviction like his own, the evangelist would not have been sensible of any obligation to draw sharp lines between his recollection of his Lord’s words and his own contemplations upon them and upon their significance for his life. If these considerations be kept in mind we may accept the uniform tradition of antiquity, confirmed by the plain intimation of the gospel itself, that it is essentially the work of John, the son of Zebedee, written near the close of his life in Ephesus, in the last decade of the first century.

34. We have in our gospel records, therefore, two authorities for the general course of the ministry of Jesus,–Mark and John. Even if the fourth gospel should be proved not to be the work of John, its picture of the ministry of Jesus must be recognized as coming from some apostolic source. A forger would hardly have invited the rejection of his work by inventing a narrative which seems to contradict at so many points the tradition of the other gospels. The first and third gospels furnish us from various sources rich additions to Mark’s narrative, and it is to these two with the fourth that we turn chiefly for the teachings of Jesus. Each gospel should be read, therefore, remembering its incompleteness, remembering also the particular purpose and individual enthusiasm for Jesus which produced it.

35. A word may be due to two other claimants to recognition as original records from the life of Jesus. One class is represented by that word of the Lord which Paul quoted to the Ephesian elders at Miletus (Acts xx. 35). Scattered here and there in writings of the apostolic and succeeding ages are other sayings attributed to Jesus which cannot be found in our gospels. A few of these so-called Agrapha seem worthy of him, and are recognized as probably genuine. The most important of them is the story of the woman taken in adultery (John vii. 53 to viii. 11), which, though not a part of the gospel of John, doubtless gives a true incident from Jesus’ life. They represent the “many other” things which John and the other gospels have omitted, but their small number proves that our gospels have preserved for us practically all that was known of Jesus after the first witnesses fell asleep. It is certainly surprising that so little exists to supplement the story of the gospels, for they are manifestly fragmentary, and leave much of Jesus’ public life without any record. The other class of claimants is of a quite different character,–the so-called Apocryphal Gospels. These consist chiefly of legends connected with the birth and early years of Jesus, and with his death and resurrection. They are for the most part crude tales that have entirely mistaken the real character of him whom they seek to exalt, and need only to be read to be rejected.


The Harmony of the Gospels

36. The church early appreciated the value and the difficulty of having four different pictures of the life and teachings of the Lord. Irenæus at the close of the second century felt it to be as essential that there should be four gospels as that there should be “four zones of the world, four principal winds, and four faces of the cherubim” (Against Heresies III. ii. 8).

37. Before Irenæus, however, another had sought to obviate the difficulty of having four records which seem at some points to disagree, by making a combination of the gospels, to which he gave the title “Diatessaron.” Tatian, the author of this work, was converted from paganism about 152 A.D., and prepared his unified gospel, probably for the use of the Syrian churches, sometime after 172. His work is one of the treasures of the early Christian literature recovered for us within the last quarter-century. It seems to have won great popularity in the Syrian churches, having practically displaced the canonical gospels for nearly three centuries, when, owing to its supposed heretical tendency, it was suppressed by the determined effort of the church authorities. It is a continuous record of Jesus’ ministry, beginning with the first six verses of the Gospel of John, passing then to the early chapters of Luke. It closes with an account of the resurrection interwoven from all four gospels, concluding with John xxi. 25. The arrangement follows generally the order of Matthew, additional matter from the other gospels being inserted at places which approved themselves to Tatian’s judgment. Some portions–in particular the genealogies of Jesus–were omitted altogether, in accordance with views held by the compiler.

38. From Tatian’s time to the present there have been repeated attempts to construct a harmonious representation of events and teachings in the ministry of Jesus, generally by setting the parallel accounts side by side, following such a succession of events as seemed most probable. Our evangelists cared little, if they thought at all, about the requirements of strict biography, and they have left us records not easy to arrange on any one chronological scheme. Concerning the chief events, however, the gospels agree. All four report, for instance, the beginning of the work in Galilee (Matt. iv. 12, 17; Mark i. 14, 15; Luke iv. 14, 15; John iv. 43-45); the feeding of the five thousand when Jesus’ popularity in Galilee passed its climax (Matt. xiv. 13-23; Mark vi. 30-46; Luke ix. 10-17; John vi. 1-15); the departure from Galilee for the final visit to Jerusalem (Matt. xix. 1, 2; Mark x. 1; Luke ix. 51; John vii. 1-10); and the week of suffering and victory at the end (Matt. xxi. 1 to xxviii. 20; Mark xi. 1 to xvi. 8 [20]; Luke xix. 29 to xxiv. 53; John xii. 1 to xxi. 25).

39. These facts are enough to give us a clear and unified impression of the course of Jesus’ ministry. When, however, we seek to fill in the details given in the different gospels, difficulties at once arise. Thus, first, what shall be done with the long section which John introduces (i. 19 to iv. 42) before Jesus’ withdrawal into Galilee? The other gospels make that withdrawal the beginning of his public work. A second difficulty arises from the unnamed feast of John v. 1. By one or another scholar this feast has been identified with almost every Jewish festival known to us. Another problem is furnished by the long section in Luke which is so nearly peculiar to his gospel (ix. 51 to xviii. 14). If the section had no parallels in the other gospels we might easily conclude that it all belongs to a time subsequent to the final departure for Jerusalem; but it contains at least one incident from the earlier ministry in Galilee (Luke xi. 14-36; compare Mark iii. 19-30), and many teachings of Jesus given by Matthew in an earlier connection appear here in Luke. Furthermore, the section has to be adjusted to that portion of the Gospel of John which deals with the same period and yet reports none of the same details.

40. If Mark has furnished the narrative framework adopted in the main by the first and third gospels, the problem of the order of events in Jesus’ life becomes a question of the chronological value of Mark, and of the estimate to be placed on the narrative of John. If the fourth gospel is held to be of apostolic origin and trustworthy, the task of the harmonist is chiefly that of combining these two records of Mark and John. The testimony of the Baptist, with which the fourth gospel opens, must have been given some time after he had baptized Jesus, and the ministry which preceded Jesus’ return to Galilee (i. 19 to iv. 42) belongs to a period ignored by the other gospels. The first three gospels contain indications that Jesus must have visited Judea before the close of his life. They give no hint, however, of the time or circumstances of such earlier Judean labor. In giving the emphasis they do to the work in Galilee, they present a one-sided picture. When, therefore, we find in John a narrative of work in Judea, confirmed by hints in the other gospels, we may justly assume that the arrangement which fills out the ministry of Jesus by inserting at the proper places in Mark’s record the events found in John is essentially true.

41. The consideration of the one-sidedness of Mark’s narrative simplifies the problem of harmony, but it does not solve all of the perplexities. Matthew and Luke have much matter, some of it narrative, which Mark has not, and for which he suggests no place. Where shall we put, for instance, the cure of the centurion’s servant (Matt. viii. 5-13; Luke vii. 1-10), or John the Baptist’s last message (Matt. xi. 2-19; Luke vii. 18-35)? It would simplify matters if we could take Luke’s statement that he had “traced the course of all things accurately from the first” (Luke i. 3), as indicating that he had arrived at exact certainty concerning the order of events of Jesus’ life. It is probable, however, that his statement was simply a claim that he had carefully gathered material for a record of the whole life of Jesus, from the annunciation of his birth to his ascension. While we may believe that some trustworthy tradition led him to give the place he has to many of the incidents which he adds to Mark’s story, it seems impossible to follow him in all respects; for instance, in severing the account of the blasphemy of the Pharisees (xi. 14-36) from the place which it holds in Mark (iii. 19-30).

42. Still more uncertainty exists concerning the historic connection of teachings of Jesus to which Matthew and Luke give different settings; for example, the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. vi. 9-15; Luke xi. 1-4), and the exhortations against anxiety (Matt. vi. 25-34; Luke xii. 22-31). We have seen that much of the teaching common to these gospels is probably derived from the collection of the “oracles” of the Lord made by the apostle Matthew. Everything that we can infer concerning such a collection of oracles indicates that, while some of the teachings may have been connected with particular historic situations (compare Luke xi. 1), many would altogether lack such introductory words. A later example of what such a collection may have been has come to light recently in the so-called “Sayings of Jesus,” discovered in Egypt and published in 1897. In these the occasion for the teaching has been quite lost; the sole interest centres in the fact that Jesus is supposed to have said the things recorded. If Matthew’s book contained such “logia” or “oracles,” it is probable that the original connection in which most of them were spoken was a matter of no concern to the apostle, and consequently has been lost This in no way compromises the genuineness of these sayings of Jesus. The treatment of Luke ix. 51 to xviii. 14 is much simplified by this consideration. To Luke’s industry (i. 1-4) we owe the preservation of some events and very many teachings which no other evangelist has recorded. Some of this new material (for instance, vii. 11-17, 36-50) he has assigned a place in the midst of Mark’s narrative. Most of it, however, he has gathered together in what seems to be a sort of appendix, which he has inserted between the close of the ministry in Galilee and the final arrival in Judea. For many of the teachings it is now impossible to assign a time or place. That this is so will cause no surprise or difficulty if we remember that in the earliest days the report of what Jesus said and did circulated in the form of oral tradition only. It was the knowledge that first-hand witnesses were passing away that led to the writing of the gospels. During the period of oral tradition many teachings of the Lord were doubtless kept clearly and accurately in memory after the historic situations which led to their first utterance were quite forgotten.

43. This fact helps to explain another perplexity in our gospel narratives. A comparison of the two accounts of the cure of the centurion’s servant reveals differences of detail most perplexing, if we ask for minute agreement in records of the same events. When we see that of two accounts evidently reporting the same incident, one can say that the centurion himself sought Jesus and asked the cure of his servant (Matt. viii. 5, 8), while the other makes him declare himself unworthy to come in person to the Lord (Luke vii. 7), the question arises whether other accounts, similar in the main but differing in detail, should not be identified as independent records of one event. Were there two cleansings of the temple (John ii. 13-22; Mark xi. 15-19), two miraculous draughts of fishes (Luke v. 4-11; John xxi. 5-8), two rejections at Nazareth (Mark vi. 1-6; Luke iv. 16-30), two parables of the Leaven, of the Mustard Seed (Matt. xiii. 31-33; Luke xiii. 18-21), and of the Lost Sheep (Matt, xviii. 12-14; Luke xv. 4-7)? Such similar records are often called doublets, and the question of identity or distinctness can be answered only after a special study of each case. It is important to notice that a given teaching, particularly if it took the form of an illustration, would naturally be used by Jesus on many different occasions. When, on the other hand, we find two accounts of specific doings of Jesus similar in detail it is needful to recognize that definite historic situations do not so often repeat themselves as do occasions for similar or identical teachings.

44. All these considerations show that while the general order of events in the life of Jesus may be determined with a good degree of probability, we must be content to remain uncertain concerning the place to be given to many incidents and to more teachings. Such uncertainty is of small concern, since our unharmonized gospels have not failed during all these centuries to produce one fair picture, to the total impression of which each teaching and deed make definite contribution quite independently of our ability to give to each its particular place in relation to the whole. The degree of certainty attainable justifies, however, a continued interest in the old study of harmony, because of the more comprehensive idea it gives of the ministry depicted in the partial narratives of our several gospels.


The Chronology

45. The length of the public ministry of Jesus was one of the earliest questions which arose in the study of the four gospels. In the second and third centuries it was not uncommon to find the answer in the passage from Isaiah (lxi. 1, 2), which Jesus declared was fulfilled in himself. “The acceptable year of the Lord” was taken to indicate that the ministry covered little more than a year. The fact that the first three gospels mention but one Passover (that at the end), and but one journey to Jerusalem, seems at first to be favorable to this conclusion, and to make peculiarly significant the care taken by Luke to give the exact date for the opening of Jesus’ ministry (iii. 1, 2). In fact, the second century Gnostics, relying apparently on Luke, assigned both the ministry and death of Jesus to the fifteenth year of Tiberius Cæsar,–an interpretation which may have given rise to the widely spread, early tradition, found, for example, in Tertullian (Ante-nicene Fathers, in. 160), which placed the death of Jesus in A.D. 29, during the consulship of L. Rubellius Geminus and C. Fufius Geminus.

46. The theory that the ministry of Jesus extended over but little more than one year is beset, however, by difficulties that seem insuperable. The first is presented by the three Passovers distinctly mentioned in the Gospel of John (ii. 13; vi. 4; xii. 1). The last of these is plainly identical with the one named in the other gospels. The second gives the time of year for the feeding of the five thousand, and agrees with the mention of “the green grass” in the account of Mark and Matthew (Mark vi. 39; Matt. xiv. 19). John’s first Passover falls in a section which demands a place before Mark i. 14 (compare John iii. 24). Hence it must be shown that this first Passover is chronologically out of order in the Gospel of John, or the one year ministry advocated by the second century Gnostics, by Clement of Alexandria, by Origen, and of late years by Keim and others, is seen to be impossible. The fact that at this Passover Jesus cleansed the temple, and that the other gospels assign such a cleansing to the close of the ministry, suggests the possibility that John has set it at the opening of his narrative for reasons connected with his argument. This interpretation falls, however, before the perfect simplicity of structure of John’s narrative. The transitions from incident to incident in this gospel are those of simple succession, and indicate, on the writer’s part, no suspicion that he was contradicting notions concerning the ministry of Jesus familiar to his contemporaries. Whatever the conclusion reached concerning the authorship of the gospel, the fact that it gained currency very early as apostolic would seem to prove that its conception of the length of Jesus’ ministry was not opposed to the recognized apostolic testimony. It is safe to conclude, therefore, that time must be allowed in Jesus’ ministry for at least three Passover seasons.

47. With this conclusion most modern discussions of the question rest, and it is possible that it may finally win common consent. The order of Mark’s narrative, however, challenges it. This gospel records near the beginning (ii. 23) a controversy with the Pharisees occasioned by the fact that Jesus’ disciples plucked and ate the ripening grain as they passed on a Sabbath day through the fields. As Mark places much later (vi. 30-34) the feeding of the five thousand, which occurred at a Passover, that is the beginning of the harvest (Lev. xxiii. 5-11), his order suggests the necessity of including two harvest seasons in the ministry in Galilee, and consequently four Passovers in the public life of Jesus. Two considerations are urged against this conclusion. (1) Papias in his reference to the Gospel of Mark criticises the order of the gospel; (2) Mark ii. 1 to iii. 6 contains a group of five conflicts with the critics of Jesus, which represents a massing of opposition that seems unlikely at the outset of his Galilean work. The remark of Papias must remain obscure until his standard of comparison is known. Some suggest that he knew John’s order and preferred it, others that he agreed with that adopted by Tatian in his Diatessaron. Mark is in accord with neither of these. No one, however, knows what order Papias preferred. The early conflict group does appear like a collection drawn from different parts of the ministry. Yet the nucleus of the group–the cure of the paralytic (ii. 1-12) and the call of Levi (ii. 13-17)–is clearly in its right place in Mark (see Holtzmann, Hand-commentar, I. 10). The question about fasting (ii. 18-22) may have been asked much later, and its present place may be due to association in tradition with the criticism of Jesus’ fellowship with publicans (ii. 16). In like manner the cure of the withered hand (iii. 1-6) may have become artificially grouped with the incident of the cornfields. It is possible, also, that both Sabbath controversies owe their early place in the gospel to traditional association with the early conflicts (ii. 1-17). If so, the plucking of the grain actually occurred some weeks after the feeding of the five thousand, and probably after the controversy about tradition (vii. 1-23), with which, according to Mark, Jesus’ activity in Galilee practically closed. It is not clear, however, what principle of association drew forward to the early group the Sabbath conflict, and left in its place the controversy about tradition. It is thus possible that the incident of the cornfields belongs also to the early nucleus of the group; and in this case the longer ministry, including four Passovers, must be accepted. The decision of the question is not of vital importance, but it affects the determination of the sequence of events in Jesus’ life. Whatever the explanation of the remark of Papias, the more the gospels are studied the more does Mark’s order of events commend itself in general as representing the probable fact. Many students have inferred the three year ministry from the Gospel of John alone, identifying the unnamed feast in John v. 1 with a Passover. But John’s allusion to that feast is so indefinite that the length of Jesus’ ministry must be determined quite independently of it.

48. So long a ministry as three years presents some difficulties, for all that is told us in the four gospels would cover but a small fraction of this time. John’s statement (xx. 30) that he omitted many things from Jesus’ life in making his book is evidently true of all the evangelists, and long gaps, such as are evident in the fourth gospel, must be assumed in the other three. Recalling the character of the gospels as pictures of Jesus rather than narratives of his life, we may easily acknowledge the incompleteness of our record of the three years of ministry, and wonder the more at the vividness of impression produced with such economy of material. This meagreness of material is not decisive for the shorter rather than the longer ministry, for it is evident that to effect such a change in conviction and feeling as Jesus wrought in the minds of the ardent Galileans who were his disciples, required time. Three years are better suited to effect this change than two.

49. Closely related to the question of the length of Jesus’ ministry is another: Can definite dates be given for the chief events in his life? For the year of the opening of his public activity the gospels furnish two independent testimonies: the remark of the Jews on the occasion of Jesus’ first visit to Jerusalem, “Forty and six years was this temple in building” (John ii. 20), and Luke’s careful dating of the appearance of John the Baptist, “in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Cæsar” (iii. 1, 2). John ii. 20 leads to the conclusion that the first Passover fell in the spring of A.D. 26 or 27, since we learn from Josephus (Ant. xv. 11. 1) that Herod began to rebuild the temple in the eighteenth year of his reign, which closed in the spring of B.C. 19. Luke iii. 1 gives a date contradictory to the one just found, if the fifteenth year of Tiberius is to be counted from the death of his predecessor, for Augustus died August 19, A.D. 14. Reckoned from this time the opening of John’s work falls in the year A.D. 28, and the first Passover of Jesus’ ministry could not be earlier than the spring of 29. This is at least two years later than is indicated by the statement in John. The remark in John is, however, so incidental and so lacking in significance for his argument that its definiteness can be explained only as due to a clear historic reminiscence; but it does not follow that Luke has erred in the date given by him. Although Augustus did not die until A.D. 14, there is evidence that Tiberius was associated with him in authority over the army and the provinces not later than January, A.D. 12. One who lived and wrote in the reign of Titus may possibly have applied to the reign of Tiberius a mode of reckoning customary in the case of Titus, as Professor Ramsay has shown (Was Christ born at Bethlehem, 202). If this is the fact, Luke reckoned from the co-regency of Tiberius; hence the fifteenth year would be A.D. 25 or 26, according as the co-regency began before or after the first of January, A.D. 12. This would place the first Passover of Jesus’ ministry in the spring of 26 or 27, in agreement with the hint found in John.

50. If the public ministry of Jesus began with the spring of 26 or 27, the close of three years of activity would, come at the Passover of 29 or 30. The former of these dates agrees with the early Christian tradition already mentioned. But before accepting that traditional date another matter must be considered. Jesus was crucified on the Friday at the opening of the feast of the Passover. Whether it was the day of the sacrifice of the Passover (14 Nisan) or the day following (15 Nisan), is not essential for the present question. As the Jewish month began with the first appearance of the new moon, it is evident that, in the year of Jesus’ death, the month of Nisan must have begun on a day that would make the 14th or the 15th fall on Friday. Now it can be shown that in the year 30 the 14th of Nisan was Thursday (April 6) or Friday (April 7), for at best only approximate certainty is attainable. The tradition which assigns the passion to 29, generally names March 25 as the day of the month. This date is impossible, because it does not coincide with the full moon of that month. The choice of March 25 by a late tradition may be explained by the fact that it was commonly regarded as the date of the spring equinox, the turning of the year towards its renewing. Mr. Turner has shown (HastBD. I. 415) that another date found in an early document cannot be so explained. Epiphanius was familiar with copies of the Acts of Pilate, which gave March 18 as the date of the crucifixion; and it is remarkable that this date coincides with the full moon, and also falls on Friday. Such a combination gives unusual weight to the tradition, particularly as there is no ready way to account for its rise, as in the case of March 25. From this supplementary tradition the year 29 gains in probability as the year of the passion. Without attempting to arrive at a final conclusion,–a task which must be left for chronological specialists,–it is safe to assume that Jesus died at the Passover of A.D. 29 or 30.

51. Concluding that Jesus’ active ministry fell within the years A.D. 26 to 30, is it possible to determine the date of his birth? Four hints are furnished by the gospels: he was born before the death of Herod (Matt. ii. 1; Luke i. 5); he was about thirty years of age at his baptism (Luke iii. 23); he was born during a census conducted in Judea in accordance with the decree of Augustus at a time when Quirinius was in authority in Syria (Luke ii. 1, 2); after his birth wise men from the East were led to visit him by observing “his star” (Matt. ii. 1, 2). From these facts it follows that the birth of Jesus cannot be placed later than B.C. 4, since Herod died about the first of April in that year (Jos. Ant. xvii. 6. 4; 8. 1, 4). The awkwardness of having to find a date _Before Christ_ for the birth of Jesus is due to the miscalculation of the monk, Dionysius the Little, who in the sixth century introduced our modern reckoning from “the year of our Lord.”

52. But is it impossible to determine the time of Jesus’ birth more exactly? Luke (ii. 1, 2) offers what seems to be more definite information, but his reference to the decree of Augustus and the enrolment under Quirinius are among the most seriously challenged statements in the gospels. It has been said (1) that history knows of no edict of Augustus ordering a general enrolment of “the world;” (2) that a Roman census could not have been taken in Palestine before the death of Herod; (3) that if such an enrolment had been taken it would have been unnecessary for Joseph and Mary to journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem; (4) that the census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria is definitely assigned by Josephus to the year after the deposition of Archelaus, A.D. 6 (Ant. xviii. 1. 1; see also Acts v. 37); (5) that if Luke’s reference to this census as the “first” be appealed to, it must be replied that Quirinius was not governor of Syria at any time during the lifetime of Herod. This array of difficulties is impressive, and has persuaded many conservative students to concede that in his reference to the census Luke has fallen into error. Some recent discoveries in Egypt, however, have furnished new information concerning the imperial administration of that province. Inferring that a policy adopted in Egypt may have prevailed also in Syria, Professor Ramsay has recently put forth a strong argument for Luke’s accuracy in respect of this census (Was Christ born at Bethlehem, 95-248). That argument may be condensed as follows: We have evidence of a system of Roman enrolments in Egypt taken every fourteen years, and already traced back to the time of Augustus, the earliest document so far recovered belonging, apparently, to the census of A.D. 20. It is at least possible that this system of Egyptian enrolments may have been part of an imperial policy, of which all other trace is lost excepting the statement of Luke. It is significant that the date of the census referred to by Josephus (A.D. 6) fits exactly the fourteen-year cycle which obtained in Egypt. If the census of A.D. 6 was preceded by an earlier one its date would be B.C. 8; that is, it would be actually taken in B.C. 7, in order to secure the full acts for B.C. 8.

53. The statement of Tertullian (Against Marcion, iv. 19) that a census had been taken in Judea under Augustus by Sentius Saturninus, who was governor of Syria about 9 to 7 B.C., certainly comes from some source independent of the gospels, and tends to confirm Luke’s account of a census before the death of Herod. That a Roman census might have been taken in Palestine during Herod’s life is seen from the fact that in A.D. 36 Vitellius, the governor of Syria, had to send Roman forces into Cilicia Trachæa to assist Archelaus, the king of that country, to quell a revolt caused by native resistance to a census taken after the Roman fashion (Tacitus, Ann. vi. 41). Herod would almost certainly resent as a mark of subjection the order to enrol his people; and the fact that he was in disfavor with Augustus during the governorship of Saturninus (Josephus, Ant. xvi. 9. 1-3), suggests to Professor Ramsay that he may have sought to avoid obedience to the imperial will in the matter of the census. If after some delay Herod was forced to obey, the enrolment may have been taken in the year 7-6. Since it is probable that the Romans would allow Herod to give the census as distinctly Jewish a character as possible, it is easy to credit the order that all Jews should be registered, so far as possible, in their ancestral homes. Hence the journey of Joseph to Bethlehem; and if Mary wished to have her child also registered as from David’s line, her removal with Joseph to Bethlehem is explained. Such a delay in the taking of the census would have postponed it until after the recall of Saturninus. The statement of Tertullian may therefore indicate simply that he knew that a census was taken in Syria by Saturninus.

54. The successor of Saturninus was Varus, who held the governorship until after the death of Herod. How then does Luke refer to the enrolment as taken when Quirinius was in authority? It has for a long time been known that this man was in Syria before he was there as legate of the emperor in A.D. 6. There seems to be evidence that Quirinius was in the East about the year B.C. 6, putting down a rebellion on the borders of Cilicia, a district joined with Syria into one province under the early empire. Varus was at this time governor, but Quirinius might easily have been looked upon as representing for the time the power of the Roman arms. If Herod was forced to yield to the imperial wish by the presence in Syria of this renowned captain, the statement of Luke is confirmed, and the census at which Jesus was born was taken, according to a Jewish fashion, during the life of Herod, but under compulsion of Rome exacted by Quirinius, while he was in command of the Roman forces in the province of Syria-Cilicia. This gives as a probable date for the birth of Jesus B.C. 6, which accords well with the hints previously considered, inasmuch as it is earlier than the death of Herod, and, if born in B.C. 6, Jesus would have been thirty-two at his baptism in A.D. 26.

55. The account given in Matthew of “the star” which drew the wise men to Judea gives no sure help in determining the date of the birth of Jesus, but it is at least suggestive that in the spring and autumn of B.C. 7 there occurred a remarkable conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn. This was first noticed by Kepler in consequence of a similar conjunction observed by him in A.D. 1603. Men much influenced by astrology must have been impressed by such a celestial phenomenon, but that it furnishes an explanation of the star of the wise men is not clear. If it does, it confirms the date otherwise probable for the nativity, that is, not far from B.C. 6.

56. Can we go further and determine the time of year or the month and day of the nativity? It should be borne in mind that our Christmas festival was not observed earlier than the fourth century, and that the evidence is well-nigh conclusive that December 25th was finally selected for the Nativity in order to hallow a much earlier and widely spread pagan festival coincident with the winter solstice. If anything exists to suggest the time of year it is Luke’s mention of “shepherds in the field keeping watch by night over their flock” (ii. 8). This seems to indicate that it must have been the summer season. In winter the flocks would be folded, not pastured, by night.

57. It therefore seems probable that Jesus was born in the summer of B.C. 6; that he was baptized in A.D. 26; that the first Passover of his ministry was in the spring of 26 or 27; and that he was crucified in the spring of 29 or 30.


The Early Years of Jesus

Matt. i. 1 to ii. 23; Luke i. 5 to ii. 52; iii. 23-38

58. It is surprising that within a century of the life of the apostles, Christian imagination could have so completely mistaken the real greatness of Jesus as to let its thirst for wonder fill his early years with scenes in which his conduct is as unlovely as it is shocking. That he who in manhood was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Heb. vii. 26), could in youth, in a fit of ill-temper, strike a companion with death and then meet remonstrance by cursing his accusers with blindness (Gospel of Thomas, 4, 5); that he could mock his teachers and spitefully resent their control (Pseudo-Matthew, 30, 31); that it could be thought worthy of him to exhibit his superiority to common human conditions by carrying water in his mantle when his pitcher had been broken (same, 33), or by making clay birds in play on the Sabbath and causing them to fly when he was rebuked for naughtiness (same, 27);–these and many like legends exhibit incredible blindness to the real glory of the Lord. Yet such things abound in the early attempts of the pious imagination to write the story of the youth of Jesus, and the account of the nativity and its antecedents fares as ill, being pitifully trivial where it is not revolting.

59. How completely foreign all this is to the apostolic thought and feeling is clear when we notice that excepting the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke the New Testament tells us nothing whatever of the years which preceded John the Baptist’s ministry in the wilderness. The gospels are books of testimony to what men had seen and heard (John i. 14); and the epistles are practical interpretations of the same in its bearing on religious life and hope. The apostles found no difficulty in recognizing the divinity and sinlessness of their Lord without inquiring how he came into the world or how he spent his early years; it was what he showed himself to be, not how he came to be, that formed their conception of him. Yet the early chapters of Matthew and Luke should not be classed with the later legends. Notwithstanding the attempts of Keim to associate the narratives of the infancy in the canonical and apocryphal gospels, a great gulf separates them: on the one side there is a reverent and beautiful reserve, on the other indelicate, unlovely, and trivial audacity.

60. The gospel narratives have, however, perplexities of their own, for the two accounts agree only in the main features,–the miraculous birth in Bethlehem in the days of Herod, Mary being the mother and Joseph the foster-father, and Nazareth the subsequent residence. In further details they are quite different, and at first sight seem contradictory. Moreover, while Matthew sheds a halo of glory over the birth of Jesus, Luke draws a picture of humble circumstances and obscurity. These differences, taken with the silence of the rest of the New Testament concerning a miraculous birth, constitute a real difficulty. To many it seems strange that the disciples and the brethren of Jesus did not refer to these things if they knew them to be true. But it must not be overlooked that any familiar reference to the circumstances of the birth of Jesus which are narrated in the gospels would have invited from the Jews simply a challenge of the honor of his home. Moreover, as the knowledge of these wonders did not keep Mary from misunderstanding her son (Luke ii. 19, 51; compare Mark in. 21, 31-35), the publication of them could hardly have helped greatly the belief of others. The fact that Mary was so perplexed by the course of Jesus in his ministry makes it probable that even until quite late in her life she “kept these things and pondered them in her heart.”

61. No parts of the New Testament are challenged so widely and so confidently as these narratives of the infancy. But if they are not to be credited with essential truth it is necessary to show what ideas cherished in the apostolic church could have led to their invention. That John and Paul maintain the divinity of their Lord, yet give no hint that this involved a miraculous birth, shows that these stories are no necessary outgrowth of that doctrine. The early Christians whether Jewish or Gentile would not naturally choose to give pictorial form to their belief in their Lord’s divinity by the story of an incarnation. The heathen myths concerning sons of the gods were in all their associations revolting to Christian feeling, and, while the Jewish mind was ready to see divine influence at work in the birth of great men in Israel (as Isaac, and Samson, and Samuel), the whole tendency of later Judaism was hostile to any such idea as actual incarnation. Some would explain the story of the miraculous birth as a conclusion drawn by the Christian consciousness from the doctrine of the sinlessness of Jesus. Yet neither Paul nor John, who are both clear concerning the doctrine, give any idea that a miraculous birth was essential for a sinless being. Some appeal to the eagerness of the early Christians to exalt the virginity of Mary, This is certainly the animus of many apocryphal legends. But the feeling is as foreign to Jewish sentiment and New Testament teaching as it is contradictory to the evidence in the gospels that Mary had other children born after Jesus.

62. Moreover, the songs of Mary (Luke i. 46-55) and Zachariah (Luke i. 68–79) bear in themselves the evidence of origin before the doctrine of the cross had transformed the Christian idea of the Messiah. That transformed idea abounds in the Epistles and the Acts, and it is difficult to conceive how these songs (if they were later inventions) could have been left free of any trace of specifically Christian ideas. A Jewish Christian would almost certainly have made them more Christian than they are; a Gentile Christian could not have made them so strongly and naturally Jewish as they are; while a non-Christian Jew would never have invented them. Taken with the evidence in Ignatius (Ad Eph. xviii., xix.) of the very early currency of the belief in a miraculous birth, they confirm the impression that it is easier to accept the evidence offered for the miracle than to account for the origin of the stories as legends. The idea of a miraculous birth is very foreign to modern thought; it becomes credible only as the transcendent nature of Jesus is recognized on other grounds. It may not be said that the incarnation required a miraculous conception, yet it may be acknowledged that a miraculous conception is a most suitable method for a divine incarnation.

63. These gospel stories are chiefly significant for us in that they show that he in whom his disciples came to recognize a divine nature began his earthly life in the utter helplessness and dependence of infancy, and grew through boyhood and youth to manhood with such naturalness that his neighbors, dull concerning the things of the spirit, could not credit his exalted claims. He is shown as one in all points like unto his brethren (Heb. ii. 17). Two statements in Luke (ii. 40, 52) describe the growth of the divine child as simply as that of his forerunner (Luke i. 80), or that of the prophet of old (I. Sam. ii. 26). The clear impression of these statements is that Jesus had a normal growth from infancy to manhood, while the whole course of the later life as set before us in the gospels confirms the scripture doctrine that his normal growth was free from sin (Heb. iv. 15).

64. The knowledge of the probable conditions of his childhood is as satisfying as the apocryphal stories are revolting. The lofty Jewish conception of home and its relations is worthy of Jesus. The circumstances of the home in Nazareth were humble (Matt. xiii. 55; Luke ii. 24; compare Lev. xii. 8). Probably the house was not unlike those seen to-day, of but one room, or at most two or three,–the tools of trade mingling with the meagre furnishings for home-life. We should not think it a home of penury; doubtless the circumstances of Joseph were like those of his neighbors. In one respect this home was rich. The wife and mother had an exalted place in the Jewish life, notwithstanding the trivial opinions of some supercilious rabbis; and what the gospel tells of the chivalry of Joseph renders it certain that love reigned in his home, making it fit for the growth of the holy child.

65. Religion held sway in all the phases of Jewish life. With some it was a religion of ceremony,–of prayers and fastings, tithes and boastful alms, fringes and phylacteries. But Joseph and Mary belonged to the simpler folk, who, while they reverenced the scribes as teachers, knew not enough of their subtlety to have substituted barren rites for sincere love for the God of their fathers and childlike trust in his mercy. Jesus knew not only home life at its fairest, but religion at its best. A father’s most sacred duty was the teaching of his child in the religion of his people (Deut. vi. 4-9), and then, as ever since, the son learned at his mother’s side to know and love her God, to pray to him, and to know the scriptures. No story more thrilling and full of interest, no prospect more rich and full of glowing hope, could be found to satisfy the child’s spirit of wonder than the story of Israel’s past and God’s promises for the future. Religious culture was not confined to the home, however. The temple at Jerusalem was the ideal centre of religious life for this Nazareth household (Luke ii. 41) as for all the people, yet practically worship and instruction were cultivated chiefly by the synagogue (Luke iv. 16); there God was present in his Holy Word. Week after week the boy Jesus heard the scripture in its original Hebrew form, followed by translation into Aramaic, and received instruction from it for daily conduct. The synagogue probably influenced the boy’s intellectual life even more directly. In the time of Jesus schools had been established in all the important towns, and were apparently under the control of the synagogue. To such a school he may have been sent from about six years of age to be taught the scriptures (compare II. Tim. iii. 15), together with the reading (Luke iv. 16-19), and perhaps the writing, of the Hebrew language. Of his school experience we know nothing beyond the fact that he grew in “wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke ii. 52),–a sufficient contradiction of the repulsive legends of the apocryphal gospels.

66. The physical growth incident to Jesus’ development from boyhood to manhood is a familiar thought. The intellectual unfolding which belongs to this development is readily recognized. Not so commonly acknowledged, but none the less clearly essential to the gospel picture, is the gradual unfolding of the child’s moral life under circumstances and stimulus similar to those with which other children meet (Heb. iv. 15). The man Jesus was known as the carpenter (Matt. xiii. 55). The learning of such a trade would contribute much to the boy’s mastery of his own powers. Far more discipline would come from his fellowship with brothers and sisters who did not understand his ways nor appreciate the deepest realities of his life. Without robbing boyhood days of their naturalness and reality, we may be sure that long before Jesus knew how and why he differed from his fellows he felt more or less clearly that they were not like him. The resulting sense of isolation was a school for self-mastery, lest isolation foster any such pride or unloveliness as that with which later legend dared to stain the picture of the Lord’s youth. Four brothers of Jesus are named by Mark (vi. 3),–James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon,–the gospel adds also that he had sisters living at a later time in Nazareth. They were all subject with him to the same home influences, and apparently were not unresponsive to them. The similarity of thought and feeling between the sermon on the mount and the Epistle of James is not readily explained by the influence of master over disciple, since the days of James’s discipleship began after the resurrection of Jesus. In any case there is no reason to think that the companions of Jesus’ home were uncommonly irritating or in any way irreligious, only Jesus was not altogether like them (John vii. 5), and the fact of difference was a moral discipline, which among other things led to that moral growth by which innocence passed into positive goodness. If the home was such a school of discipline, its neighbors, less earnest and less favored with spiritual training, furnished more abundant occasion for self-mastery and growth. The very fact that in his later years Jesus was no desert preacher, like John, but social, and socially sought for, indicates that he did not win his manhood’s perfection in solitude, but in fellowship with common life and in victory over the trials and temptations incident to it (Heb. ii. 17, 18).

67. Yet he must have been familiar with the life which is in secret (Matt. vi. 1-18). He who in his later years was a man of much prayer, who began (Luke iii. 21) and closed (Luke xxiii. 46) his public life with prayer, as a boy was certainly familiar not only with the prayers of home and synagogue, but also with quiet, personal resort to the presence of God. It would be unjust to think of any abnormal religious precocity. Jesus was the best example the world has seen of perfect spiritual health, but we must believe that he came early to know God and to live much with him.

68. It is instructive in connection with this inwardness of Jesus’ life to recall the rich familiarity with the whole world of nature which appears in his parables and other teachings. The prospect which met his eye if he sought escape from the distractions of home and village life, has been described by Renan: “The view from the town is limited; but if we ascend a little to the plateau swept by a perpetual breeze, which stands above the highest houses, the landscape is magnificent. On the west stretch the fine outlines of Carmel, terminating in an abrupt spur which seems to run down sheer to the sea. Next, one sees the double summit which towers above Megiddo; the mountains of the country of Shechem, with their holy places of the patriarchal period; the hills of Gilboa, the small picturesque group to which is attached the graceful or terrible recollections of Shunem and of Endor; and Tabor, with its beautiful rounded form, which antiquity compared to a bosom. Through a gap between the mountains of Shunem and Tabor are visible the valley of the Jordan and the high plains of Perea, which form a continuous line from the eastern side. On the north, the mountains of Safed, stretching towards the sea, conceal St. Jean d’Acre, but leave the Gulf of Khaifa in sight. Such was the horizon, of Jesus. This enchanted circle, cradle of the kingdom of God, was for years his world. Indeed, during his whole life he went but little beyond the familiar bounds of his childhood. For yonder, northwards, one can almost see, on the flank of Hermon, Cæsarea-Philippi, his farthest point of advance into the Gentile world; and to the south the less smiling aspect of these Samaritan hills foreshadows the dreariness of Judea beyond, parched as by a burning wind of desolation and death.” In the midst of such scenes we are to understand that, with the physical growth, and opening of mind, and moral discipline which filled the early years of Jesus, there came also the gradual spiritual unfolding in which the boy rose step by step to the fuller knowledge of God and himself.

69. That unfolding is pictured in an early stage in the story given us from the youth of Jesus. It was customary for a Jewish boy not long after passing his twelfth year to come under full adult obligation to the law. The visit to Jerusalem was probably in preparation for such assumption of obligation by Jesus. All his earlier training had filled his mind with the sacredness of the Holy City and the glory of the temple. It is easy to feel with what joy he would first look upon Zion from the shoulder of the Mount of Olives, as he came over it on his journey from Galilee; to conceive how the temple and the ritual would fill him with awe in his