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§ III. Mode of Primitive Evangelization. Origin of the First Three Gospels.

Having now described the missions of the primitive Church in their rapid and fruitful expansion, we must characterize the method adopted at this period in the propagation of the truth. "Faith cometh by hearing," says St. Paul, (Rom. x, 17,) and he sums up, in these words, the leading principle and practice of the apostolic Church, which was much more occupied with preaching the Gospel than with the composition of new sacred books. The Apostles were, for the most part, unlettered men, and they would not be likely to write except under pressure of necessity. 217 Their Master had left them no instructions on this point, and he himself had written nothing. He had founded the Church by his word.204204We have mentioned the absurd legend given by Eusebius about the correspondence of Jesus Christ with the King of Edessa. (Eusebius, "Hist. Eccles.," i, 13.) Again, the expectation of his speedy return in glory was then general. They thought that at any moment he might appear in the clouds to judge the world. They had, therefore, no motive for concerning themselves with a distant future, and for committing to writing memories which were still living in the heart of the Church. The Church itself, but partially freed from the bondage of Judaism, found in the sacred books of God's ancient people a solid foundation for its faith; and the incontestable truth of what they believed was sufficiently confirmed to the Christians by the declarations of the prophets. Endowed with the richest gifts of the Spirit, they were perpetually conscious of the pure and life-giving breath of inspiration. Paul boldly declared that the new covenant was not in the letter, but in the Spirit. 2 Cor. iii, 3-7; Rom. vii, 6.

None of the expressions by which preaching is spoken of in the New Testament can apply to written documents. That which is intended is always the living word, the solemn proclamation of the truth from the lips of witnesses.205205Λόγος. (James i, 22.) Λόγος ἀκοῆς. (1 Thess. ii, 13.) Κηρύγμα. (Titus i, 3; 1 Cor. ii, 4; 1 Tim. i, 11; 2 Tim. ii, 2.) When the Gospel is spoken of, the reference is not to a book, but to the substance of the apostolic preaching—to the good tidings of salvation, as the etymology of the word signifies. "The Apostles of Christ," says Eusebius, 218 "purified in life, and adorned with all the virtues of the soul, but rough and uncultivated in speech, upheld simply by the power of Christ, through which they worked so many miracles—preached the kingdom of God to the whole world. They were not concerned to write books, being put in charge with a far grander and superhuman ministry."206206Σπουδῆς τῆς περὶ τὸ λογογραφεῖν μικρὰν ποιούμενοι φροντίδα. (Eusebius, "Hist. Eccles.," iii, 24.)

For a long time the Church preferred the living to the written word. "If I met," says Papias, "a brother who had known the Apostles, I asked him carefully what they had said—what Andrew, Peter, Philip, Thomas, James, John, and Matthew had said. I thought I could gather more from a living testimony than from books."207207Οὐ γὰρ τὰ ἐκ τῶν βιβλίων τοσοῦτόν με ὡφελεῖν ὑπελάμβανον ὅσον τὰ παρὰ ζώσης φωνῆς. (Eusebius, " Hist. Eccles.," iii, 39.) It was very natural that, at a time when the first generation of Christians was still alive, their words should have been preferred to their writings. The Apostles themselves attached more importance to their preaching than to their letters; they thought they could gain a stronger influence over the Churches by their presence than by their epistles, else they would have been willing to remain at a distance from them, and would not have so frequently expressed a desire to visit them again. Rom. xv, 32; 1 Cor. xvi, 5, 6; 2 Cor. xiii, 10. "Having many things to write unto you," says John, "I would not write with paper and ink, but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full."2082082 John 12. On this question see Gieseler, "Historisch-kritischer Versuch über die Enstehung der Evangelien," p. 70.

It is in no degree our intention to detract from the 219 importance of the written Gospels, but to throw, as far as may be possible within the limits imposed by our subject, some light on the question of their origin. It is proved that during many years the word of God was freely propagated by the living voice, and that the most flourishing Churches the world has known were founded by the preaching of the early missionaries. It was of vital importance, however, that the great facts of Christianity should be transmitted to posterity through a safer medium than mere oral tradition. After being set forth in several writings, which were not handed down beyond the first century, (Luke i, 1,) they were cast into a permanent form in our canonical Gospels, which bear so manifestly the seal of inspiration. We shall not do more here than indicate the origin of the first three Gospels, which date from this period.209209On the question of the sources of the synoptics, see my work, "Jesus Christ: His Life and Times," Book I, c. iv.

The origin of the Gospel of Mark is thus stated by Papias, who is himself only the echo of John the Presbyter, or the Elder: "Mark, having been Peter's interpreter, wrote down carefully, but not in order, the words and actions of Jesus Christ. His one great concern was to give, unaltered and unadulterated, that which he had heard."210210Μάρκος μὲν ἑρμηνευτὴς Πέτρου γενομένος ὅσα ἐμνημόνευσεν ἀκριβῶς ἔγραψεν, οὐ μὲν τοι τάξει. (Eusebius, "Hist. Eccles.," iii, 39; vi, 14.) It has been maintained that these words could not apply to our Gospel of Mark, which has, say the objectors, as much order as the rest. Let us observe, however: 1st. That the discourses of the Saviour are not grouped in Mark as in Matthew. 2d. That we do not find in it the chronological order followed by Luke. 3d. That there are in Mark strange omissions; for instance, there is no account of the birth of Jesus Christ. The expression οὐ τάξει seems, therefore, justified. (Tholuck, "Glaubwürdigkeit der evangel. Gesch.," 2d ed., p. 242.) There are a number of Latinisms in Mark's Gospel which confirm the testimony of Papias as to its being written at Rome. Clement of Alexandria adds, that Mark wrote his Gospel at the express 220 request of the hearers of Peter.211211Eusebius, iii, 24. Luke himself clearly informs us of the motive which led him to write an account of the Gospel history. "Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus." Luke i, 1-3. Matthew, according to Eusebius, wrote his Gospel in Hebrew on the eve of starting on his distant missions. Papias says, "Matthew made a collection in Hebrew of the discourses of the Lord Jesus, and each interpreted them as he was able."212212Ματθᾶιος μὲν οὖν Ἑβραῖδι διαλέκτῳ τὰ λόγια συνεγραψάτο. Ἡρμήνευσε δ᾽ αὐτὰ ὡς ἤν δυνατὸς ἕκαστος. (Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl.," iii, 39.) According to Schleiermacher, the meaning of the last phrase was, that each gave his own interpretation of the discourses of Christ. It appears to us, that by comparing the word ἡρμήνευσε with the word ἑρμηνευτῆς, applied to Mark, we arrive at the sense we have given. From this passage it appears that we have only a translation of the first Gospel. This explains those points in the narrative which to the direct statement of an eye-witness present real difficulties, as for instance, Matt. xxi, 2, 5, 7.


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