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THE OBJECTIONS OF J. D. MICHAELIS TO THE CANONICAL AUTHORITY OF THE GOSPELS OF MARK AND LUKE, CONSIDERED AND ANSWERED.
J. D. MICHAELIS, in his introduction to the New Testament, as translated from the German by Bishop Marsh, in the third section of the third chapter, speaking of the gospels of Mark and Luke, and of the Acts of the Apostles, and of the grounds of placing them in the Canon, says, “I must confess that I am unable to find a satisfactory proof of their inspiration, and the more I investigate the subject, and the oftener I compare their writings with those of Matthew and John, the greater are my doubts.” He then goes on to say, that in a former edition of this work he had stated the arguments on both sides of the question, but although uncertain which he should prefer, yet he had rather inclined to the affirmative. But now he tells us, that he is strongly inclined to the negative.
The first argument for the inspiration of these gospels, which the learned professor considers, is derived from the fact, that Mark and Luke were companions and assistants of the apostles. This, he says, can afford no proof of their inspiration, even if it could be shown that they were endowed with the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost, of which, however, there is 180no historical proof. Because a disciple might possess these gifts, and yet his writings not be inspired. And if we ground the argument for their inspiration on the character of an apostle’s assistant, then we must receive as canonical the genuine epistle of Clement of Rome, and the writings of other apostolical Fathers.
The next argument which he considers is, that the apostles themselves have recommended these gospels as canonical in their epistles. That the passages depended on for proof, do refer to these or any other written gospels, the professor denies: but even if they did, he considers the evidence unsatisfactory; for he supposes that they might have commended a book as containing genuine historical accounts, without vouching for its inspiration.
The testimony of the Fathers, that these gospels were approved by Peter and Paul respectively, and with Matthew’s gospel were shown to the apostle John, the learned professor sets aside with very little ceremony.
And, finally, he demurs, in regard to the evidence of the canonical authority of these books, derived from the testimony of the whole primitive church, by which they were undoubtedly received into the Canon; and suggests, that the apostles might have recommended them and the primitive church have accepted them, as works indispensable to a Christian on account of the importance of their contents, and that by insensible degrees they acquired the character of being inspired.
On these reasonings and objections against the inspiration and canonical authority of several important 181books, which have hitherto held an unquestioned place in the Canon of the New Testament, and coming from the pen of a man, too, of such extensive Biblical learning, I think it necessary to detain the reader with some remarks, which I hope will have the effect of counteracting the pernicious influence of the opinions which have been exhibited above.
1. In the first place, then, I would observe, that it will be admitted that Mark and Luke were humble, pious men; also that they were intelligent, well informed men, and must have known that the committing to writing the facts and doctrines comprehended in the gospel, was not left to the discretion or caprice of every disciple, but became the duty of those only who were inspired by the Holy Ghost to undertake the work. Now, if these two disciples had been uninspired, or not under the immediate direction of apostles who possessed plenary inspiration, it would have argued great presumption in them, without any direction, to write gospels for the instruction of the church. The very fact of their writing, is, therefore, a strong evidence that they believed themselves to be inspired. There is then little force in the remark of the learned professor, that neither Mark nor Luke have declared in any part of their writings that they were inspired; for such a declaration was unnecessary; their conduct in undertaking to write such books, is the best evidence that they believed themselves called to this work.
And the objection to this argument, from the writings of other apostolical men, is not valid; for none of them ever undertook to write gospels for the use of the church. All attempts at writing other gospels 182than the four were considered by the primitive church as impious; because the writers were uninspired men.
2. But the universal reception of these books by the whole primitive church as canonical, and that while some of the apostles were living, is the evidence, which to my mind is conclusive, that they were not mere human productions, but compared by divine inspiration. That they were thus universally received, I think is manifest, from the testimonies which have already been adduced. There is not in all the writings of antiquity a hint, that any Christian belonging to the church ever suspected that these gospels were inferior in authority to the others. No books in the Canon appear to have been received with more universal consent, and to have been less disputed. They are contained in every catalogue which has come down to us. They are cited as Scripture by all that mention them; and are expressly declared by the Fathers to be canonical and inspired books.
Now, let it be remembered, that this is the best evidence which we can have that any of the books of the New Testament were written by inspiration. I know, indeed, that Michaelis places the whole proof of inspiration on the promise made by Christ to his apostles; but while it is admitted that this is a weighty consideration, it does not appear to be equal in force to the testimony of the universal church, including the apostles themselves, that these writings were penned under the guidance of the Holy Spirit; for it is not perfectly clear, that the promise referred to was confined to the twelve. Certainly Paul, who was not of that number, was inspired in a plenary manner, and 183much the larger part of the twelve never wrote anything for the Canon. There is nothing in the New Testament which forbids our supposing, that other disciples might have been selected to write for the use of the church. We do not wish that this should be believed, in regard to any persons without evidence; but we think that the proof exists, and arises from the undeniable fact, that the writings of these two men were from the beginning received as inspired. And this belief must have prevailed before the death of the apostles; for all the testimonies concur in stating, that the gospel of Mark was seen by Peter, and that of Luke by Paul, and approved by them respectively. Now, is it credible, that these apostles, and John who survived them many years, would have recommended to the Christian church the productions of uninspired men?
No doubt all the churches at that time looked up to the apostles for guidance in all matters that related to the rule of their faith; and a general opinion that these gospels were canonical could not have obtained without their concurrence. The hypothesis of Michaelis, that they were recommended as useful human productions, and by degrees came to be considered as inspired writings is in itself improbable, and repugnant to all the testimony which has come down to us on the subject. If this had been the fact, they would never have been placed among the books universally acknowledged, but would have been doubted of, or disputed by some. The difference made between inspired books, and others in those primitive times, was as great as at any subsequent period; and the line of distinction was not only broad, but great pains were taken to 184have it drawn accurately; and when the common opinion of the church respecting the gospels was formed, there was no difficulty in coming to the certain knowledge of the truth. For thirty years and more before the death of the apostle John these two gospels were in circulation.
If any doubt had existed respecting their canonical authority, would not the churches and their Elders have had recourse to this infallible authority? The general agreement of all Christians over the whole world, respecting most of the books of the New Testament, doubtless, should be attributed to the authority of the apostles. If, then, these gospels had been mere human productions they might have been read privately, but never could have found a place in the sacred Canon. The objection to these books comes entirely too late to be entitled to any weight. The opinion of a modern critic, however learned, is of small consideration when opposed to the testimony of the whole primitive church, and to the suffrage of the universal church in every age since the days of the apostles. The rule of the learned Huet already cited is sound, viz. “That all those books should be deemed canonical and inspired, which were received as such by those who lived nearest to the time when they were published.”
3. But if we should for the sake of argument concede that no books should be considered as inspired, but such as were the productions of apostles, still these gospels would not be excluded from the Canon. It is a fact, in which there is a wonderful agreement among the Fathers, that Mark wrote his gospel from the mouth of Peter; that is, he wrote down what he had 185heard this apostle every day declaring in his public ministry. And Luke did the same in regard to Paul’s preaching. These gospels, therefore, may, according to this testimony, be considered as more probably belonging to these two apostles, than to the evangelists who penned them. They were little more it would seem, if we give full credit to the testimony which has been exhibited, than amanuenses to the apostles on whom they attended. Paul we know dictated several of his Epistles to some of his companions; and if Mark and Luke heard the gospel from Peter and Paul so often repeated, that they were perfect masters of their respective narratives, and then committed the same to writing, are they not virtually the productions of these apostles which have been handed down to us? And this was so much the opinion of some of the Fathers, that they speak of Mark’s gospel as Peter’s, and of Luke’s as Paul’s.
But this is not all. These gospels were shown to these apostles and received their approbation. Thus speak the ancients as with one voice; and if they had been silent, we might be certain from the circumstances of the case, that these evangelists would never have ventured to take such an important step as to write and publish the preaching of these inspired men, without their express approbation. Now let it be considered, that a narrative prepared by a man well acquainted with the facts related, may be entirely correct without inspiration; but of this we cannot be sure, and therefore it is of great importance to have a history of facts from men who were rendered infallible by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It should be remembered, however, that the only advantage 186of inspiration in giving such a narrative, consists in the proper selection of facts and circumstances, and in the infallible certainty of the writing. Suppose, then, that an uninspired man should prepare an account of such transactions as he had seen or heard from eyewitnesses of undoubted veracity, and that his narrative should be submitted to the inspection of an apostle, and receive his full approbation; might not such a book be considered as inspired? If in the original composition there should have crept in some errors, (for to err is human,) the inspired reviewer would of course point them out and have them corrected; now, such a book would be for all important purposes an inspired volume; and would deserve a place in the Canon of Holy Scripture. If any credit then is due to the testimony of the Christians Fathers, the gospels of Mark and Luke are canonical books; for, as was before stated, there is a general concurrence among them, that these evangelists submitted their works to the inspection, and received the approbation of the apostles Peter and Paul.
4. Finally, the internal evidence is as strong in favour of the gospels under consideration, as of any other books of the New Testament. There is no reason to think that Mark and Luke were capable of writing with such perfect simplicity and propriety without the aid of inspiration, or the assistance of inspired men. If we reject these books from the Canon, we must give up the argument derived from internal evidence for the inspiration of the sacred Scriptures altogether. It is true the learned professor whose opinions we are opposing, has said, “The oftener I compare their writings (Mark’s and Luke’s) with those 187of Matthew and John, the greater are my doubts.” And speaking in another place of Mark, he says, “In some immaterial instances he seems to have erred,” and gives it as his opinion, “That they who undertake to reconcile Mark with Matthew, or to show that he is nowhere corrected by John, experience great difficulty, and have not seldom to resort to unnatural explanations.” But the learned professor has not mentioned any particular cases of irreconcilable discrepancies between this evangelist and Matthew; nor does he indicate in what statements he is corrected by John. Until something of this kind is exhibited, general remarks of this sort are deserving of no consideration.
To harmonize the evangelists has always been found a difficult task, but this does not prove that they contradict each other, or that their accounts are irreconcilable. Many things which, at first sight, appear contradictory, are found, upon closer examination, to be perfectly harmonious; and if there be some things which commentators have been unable satisfactorily to reconcile, it is no more than what might be expected in narratives so concise, and in which a strict regard to chronological order did not enter into the plan of the writers. And if this objection be permitted to influence our judgment in this case, it will operate against the inspiration of the other evangelists as well as Mark; but in our apprehension, when the discrepancies are impartially considered, and all the circumstances of the facts candidly and accurately weighed, there will be found no solid ground of objection to the inspiration of any of these gospels;—certainly nothing which can counterbalance the strong evidence arising 188from the style and spirit of the writers. In what respects these two evangelists fall short of the others, has never been shown; upon the most thorough examination and fair comparison of these inimitable productions, they appear to be all indited by the same Spirit, and to possess the same superiority to all human compositions.
Compare these gospels with those which are acknowledged to have been written by uninspired men, and you will need no nice power of discrimination to see the difference; the first appear in every respect worthy of God; the last betray, in every page, the weakness of man.
I beg leave here to use the words of an excellent writer, in a late work: “The gospel of Luke was always, from the very moment of its publication, received as inspired as well as authentic. It was published during the lives of John, Peter, and Paul, and was approved and sanctioned by them as inspired; and received as such by the churches, in conformity to the Jewish Canon, which decided on the genuineness or spuriousness of the inspired books of their own church, by receiving him as a prophet, who was acknowledged as such by the testimony of an established prophet. On the same grounds Luke must be considered as a true evangelist; his gospel being dictated and approved by an apostle, of whose authority there can be no question. There is, likewise, sufficient evidence to warrant the conclusions of Whitby—that both Mark and Luke were of the number of the seventy, who had a commission from Christ to preach the gospel, not to the Jews only, but to the other nations—that the Holy Ghost fell on these among 189the numbers of the seventy, who formed a part of the hundred and twenty, assembled on the day of Pentecost, and from that time they were guided by the influences of the Holy Spirit, in writing or preaching the gospel. And if the universal church, from the first ages, received this gospel as divinely inspired, on these satisfactory grounds, distance of time cannot weaken the evidences of truth, and we are required to receive it on the same testimony. That which satisfied those who had much better means of judging, should certainly satisfy us at this time.”6464New Testament, by the Rev. George Townsend. Vol. i. p. 5.
There is something reprehensible, not to say impious, in that bold spirit of modern criticism, which has led many eminent Biblical scholars, especially in Germany, first to attack the authority of particular books of Scripture, and next to call in question the inspiration of the whole volume. To what extent this licentiousness of criticism has been carried, I need not say; for it is a matter of notoriety, that of late the most dangerous enemies of the Bible have been found occupying the place of its advocates; and the critical art which was intended for the correction of the text, and the interpretation of the sacred books, has, in a most unnatural way, been turned against the Bible; and finally, the inspiration of all the sacred books has not only been questioned, but scornfully rejected by Professors of Theology! And these men, while living on endowments which pious benevolence had consecrated for the support of religion, and openly connected with churches whose creeds contain orthodox opinions, have so far forgotten their high responsibilities, and neglected the claims which the church had 190on them, as to exert all their ingenuity and learning to sap the foundation of that system which they were sworn to defend. They have had the shameless hardihood to send forth into the world, books under their own names, which contain fully as much of the poison of infidelity as ever distilled from the pens of the most malignant deists, whose writings have fallen as a curse upon the world. The only effectual security which we have against this new and most dangerous form of infidelity, is found in the spirit of the age, which is so superficial and cursory in its reading, that, however many elaborate critical works may be published in foreign languages, very few of them will be read, even by theological students, in this country.
Even among those who profess to be orthodox in doctrine, a new and dangerous opinion of the nature and degree of inspiration possessed by the writers of the New Testament, has been broached. It is, that all true Christians as they possess the Holy Spirit, are, in a measure, inspired; and that the inspiration of the apostles differed from that of other Christians only in degree. But that such plenary inspiration as precludes the possibility of error, was never granted to any man.
According to this theory, inspiration differs not at all from that spiritual illumination which is granted to every true Christian. But this brings no new truths to light, and secures none from all error in his opinions, and in his manner of communicating them. It is a theory which destroys the certainty and infallibility of the rule of faith. For if the apostles were subject to error, every man when he finds anything in their writings which he dislikes, will be at liberty to 191suppose that the sacred writer has, in that particular, fallen into error. Unless the sacred Scriptures can be referred to as an infallible standard, their use is in a great measure destroyed. No inspiration but that which is infallible will at all answer the purpose for which the Bible was written.192
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