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17. VALUE OF THESE “EXTERNAL EVIDENCES.”

But if from this date it is almost generally regarded as the work of the Apostle, in order to be able to determine the value of this assertion, we must know in the first place the general idea which leading persons of the time had of the books of the New Testament.

On this point Irenaeus (about 185) is specially instructive. To prove that there are just four true Gospels (there were still many others in existence), he points to the fact that there are four quarters of the world and four winds; since, then, the Church is scattered over the whole earth and the Gospel constitutes its pillar and support and the spirit of its life, it is appropriate that the pillars which on all (four) sides blow upon it with the airs of imperishability should be four in number—in other words, the four Gospels. Such was the idea of so distinguished a person as Irenaeus; when it was a question of deciding whether the Fourth Gospel was composed by John the Apostle, he took his stand on the fact that the quarters of heaven and the chief winds are four in number. To understand how he could do this while speaking of the spirit of life, as well as of the winds, we must be aware that in Greek “wind “and “spirit “are represented by the same word (pneuma). So that by means of a play upon words, to sustain which he has further to think of pillars (i.e., the Gospels) as blowing, he is prepared to decide a question of such great importance. Surely we are justified in practically ignoring the 195proof which a person of this stamp brings forward to show that such and such a person was the author of a book in the New Testament.

But we will take a few more cases as tests of the care fulness of Irenaeus and those of his contemporaries who agreed with him in claiming that the Fourth Gospel was composed by John the Apostle; they will serve to test their critical powers as well. Irenaeus regards the James who is said in Acts xv. to have been present at the already-mentioned (p. 174) meeting with Paul as one of the three pillars of the Church at Jerusalem as that brother of John and personal disciple of Jesus whose execution has been recorded three chapters further back (xii. 2). In the Gospel of Lk. again he thinks that the discourses of the Apostle Paul concerning the Life of Jesus are committed to writing just as those of Peter are in the Gospel of Mk.—and this in spite of the fact that Paul never met Jesus, and continued to persecute the Christians even after Jesus’ death. Dealing with the question of eternal happiness, Irenaeus is able to tell us that there will be vines with 10,000 stems, on each stem 10,000 branches, on each branch 10,000 shoots, on each shoot 10,000 clusters, on each cluster 10,000 berries, and that every berry will yield 900 to 1000 litres of wine. The most important point, however, is not the size of these vines, but Irenaeus statement, that Jesus himself prophesied this; the aged men whom he so often mentions had told him so, and had added that they had heard it from John the Apostle. And this Irenaeus believes, although he assures us so emphatically that this same person wrote the Fourth Gospel which makes Jesus appear so superior to all such expectations.

Clement of Alexandria, one of the most learned and 196most venerated teachers in the Church (about 200), quotes as an utterance of the Apostle Paul(!) the words, “take also the Greek books, read the Sibyl and see how it reveals one God and the future, and read Hystaspes, and you will find in them the Son of God described much more clearly.” Hystaspes was the father of Darius, the Persian king who reigned from 521 to 485 B.C. The words of Clement give us some idea of the kind of fabrication that was put forth in his name. The credulous Clement also quotes the book of Zoroaster of Pamphylia in which he recorded after his resurrection all that had been taught him in the under world by the gods. The jurist Tertullian (about 200) is able to tell us that in the official account of Jesus condemnation which Pilate sent to the Emperor Tiberius, he mentioned, amongst other things, the eclipse of the sun at the time of Jesus’ death, the guarding of the sepulchre, the resurrection of Jesus and his ascension, and that in his inmost convictions he was already a Christian. If Tertullian is not giving free rein to his imagination here, but has used some book (“Acts of Pilate”), we shall be glad to think that the author of it was a Christian.

But enough. We can see clearly the kind of people we have to deal with when the witnesses in support of the usual statements about the origin of the New Testament books are brought forward. Instead of insisting so emphatically that the fact that the Fourth Gospel was composed by John the Apostle is already borne witness to by Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria and others, it ought in truth to be said that no one did so until they bore witness to it—or, rather, asserted it.

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