THE NEW TESTAMENT
OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST
As the whole revelation of the will of God to mankind is usually called the BIBLE, from the Greek Βιβλος, Biblos, that is, the BOOK, by way of eminence; so this sacred code with us Christians is usually divided into the OLD and NEW TESTAMENT, or rather New Dispensation, Law, or Covenant, as the original expression, η καινη διαθηκη, might be more properly translated. The latter word, indeed, rendered “testament,” originally and primarily signifies “a disposition” or “appointment of things:” and, because among men things are ordered, disposed, or appointed, by a law, or by contract or covenant, or by will and testament, the word has been often used to signify any of these. But, inasmuch as a testament is of no force until the testator be dead, and Christ did not die, nor indeed come into the world, till after the law and the prophets (that is, the writings containing the law of Moses, and what other holy men, termed prophets, delivered by inspiration from God) were finished, it does not appear to be quite proper to call those ancient records by the name of “testament;” especially considering that one part of them, namely, the ceremonial law, was abolished by the testator’s death, and another great part of them fulfilled in his coming and dying. The name of “testament,” however, belongs more properly to the books of the evangelists, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Epistles, which not only contain the “New Law,” (so far as it is new, either in respect of the full and proper interpretation of the moral law, or in regard of the law concerning the worship of God under the gospel, and the government of the church,) but also the new covenant, or “New Dispensation” of the covenant of grace. For, whereas the covenant of grace was first made with, and revealed to Adam, and in and by him to the following patriarchs, and through them to the ages in which they lived; and was declared and set forth a second time, chiefly in types and shadowy representations, to Israel by Moses; it is much more clearly and fully revealed in these books, which contain a third, and more perfect, and indeed the last dispensation of it, and are also the last will and testament of our blessed Lord and Saviour.
It may be observed further here, nearly in the words of Dr. Campbell, that although the expression, η καινη διαθηκη, by which the religious institution of Christ is frequently denominated, “is almost always in the writings of the apostles and evangelists rendered by our translators, ‘the New Testament;’ yet the word διαθηκη by itself, except in a very few places, is always there rendered, not testament, but covenant; and is the Greek word whereby the LXX. have uniformly translated the Hebrew, ברית, berith, which our translators in the Old Testament have invariably rendered ‘covenant.’ That the Hebrew term corresponds much better to the English word ‘covenant,’ though not in every case perfectly equivalent, than to ‘testament,’ there can be no question; at the same time it must be owned, that the word διαθηκη in classical use, is more frequently rendered ‘testament;’ the proper Greek word for covenant being συνθηκη, which is not found in the New Testament, and occurs only thrice in the Septuagint. But that the Scriptural sense of the Greek word is more fifty expressed by our term ‘covenant,’ will not be doubted by any body who considers the constant application of the Hebrew word, so rendered in the Old Testament, and of the Greek word, in most places at least, where it is used in the New. What has led translators, ancient and modern, [sometimes,] to render it ‘testament,’” seems to be, “the manner wherein the author of the epistle to the Hebrews argues, Hebrews 9:16-17, in allusion to the classical acceptation of the term. But however much it was necessary to give a different turn to the expression in that passage, in order to make the author’s argument as intelligible to the English, as it is in the original to the Greek reader, this [certainly] was not a sufficient reason for giving a version to the word in other places that neither suits the context, nor is conformable to the established use of the term in the sacred writings.
“The term, ‘new,’ is added to distinguish it from the ‘old covenant,’ that is, the dispensation of Moses.” It may be observed here, by the way, “that often the language of theological systems, so far from assisting us to understand the language of holy writ, tends rather to mislead us. The two covenants are always in Scripture the two dispensations, or religious institutions; that under Moses is the ‘old,’ that under the Messiah is the ‘new.’ It is not denied that, in the latitude wherein the term is used in holy writ, the command under the sanction of death, which God gave to Adam in paradise, may, like the ordinance of circumcision, with sufficient propriety be termed a ‘covenant;’ but it is pertinent to observe that it is never so denominated in Scripture; and that when mention is made in the epistles of the two covenants, the ‘old’ and the ‘new,’ or the first and the second, (for there are two so called by way of eminence,) there appears no reference to any thing that related to Adam. In all such places, Moses and Jesus are contrasted, the Jewish economy and the Christian, mount Sinai, in Arabia, whence the law was promulgated, and mount Sion in Jerusalem, where the gospel was first published. It is proper to observe further, that, from signifying the two religious dispensations, they came soon to denote the books wherein what related to these dispensations was contained; the sacred writings, of the Jews being called η παλαια διαθηκη, and the writings superadded by the apostles and evangelists, η καινη διαθηκη. We have one example in Scripture of this use of the former appellation. The apostle says, speaking of his countrymen, ‘Until this day remaineth the veil untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament,’ 2 Corinthians 3:14, επι τη αναγνωσει της παλαιας διαθηκης. The word, in this application, is always rendered in our language, ‘testament.’ We have in this followed the Vulgate, as most modern translators also have done. In the Geneva French, the word is rendered both ways in the title, that the one may serve for explaining the other, in which they have copied Beza, who says, Testamentum novum, sive Fœdus novum, ‘the New Testament,’ or ‘the New Covenant.’ That the second rendering of the word is the better version, is unquestionable; but the title appropriated by custom to a particular book is on the same footing with a proper name, which is hardly considered a subject of criticism. Thus we call Cesar’s Diary, ‘Cesar’s Commentaries,’ from their Latin name, though very different in meaning from the English word.”
The title of this part of the Scriptures, in some of the original or Greek copies is, της καινης διαθηκης απαντα, all the books, or rather, all the things of the New Covenant: a title which, according to Dr. Hammond, refers to “the consent of the catholic church of God, and the tradition which bears testimony to these books as those, and those only, which complete the canon of the New Testament;” or all the books which have been handed down to the church so as to be received into the number of writings confessedly endited by the apostles and disciples of Christ. “I cannot indeed find,” says Dr. Whitby, “that this title is of any considerable antiquity, but the more ancient title of η καινη διαθηκη, the New Covenant, prefixed to these books, doth plainly intimate the full and general persuasion of the ancient church, that in these books was comprised the whole new covenant, of which the blessed Jesus was the Mediator, and the apostles were the ministers and dispensers; and therefore they must surely contain all that is requisite for Christians to believe and do in order to salvation.” It may be proper to observe here, that in this latter dispensation, the divine authority of the former is presupposed and built upon; and “the knowledge of what is contained in that introductory revelation is always presumed in the readers of the New Testament, which claims to be the consummation of an economy of God for the salvation of man; of which economy the Old Testament acquaints us with the occasion, origin, and early progress. Both are, therefore, intimately connected. Accordingly, though the two Testaments are written in different languages, the same idiom prevails in both; and in the historical parts at least, nearly the same character of style.” The books of the New Testament obviously divide themselves into the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles of the Apostles, and the Apocalypse or Revelation of St. John. The evangelists, through whom we have the gospels, are four, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. Their histories are termed ευαγγελια, gospels, or good tidings, as the word signifies, because they contain tidings of the appearance of the Messiah, and a circumstantial account of his birth, life, doctrine, miracles, sufferings, death, resurrection, ascension, and exaltation to God’s right hand, as the Redeemer and Saviour, the Mediator, Advocate, and Forerunner of his people. These sacred writers are therefore not called evangelists in the sense in which the same expression is used Ephesians 4:11, where it signifies a certain class of extraordinary officers in the Christian Church, such as Philip, Acts 8:5-29; and Acts 21:8; Timothy, 2 Timothy 4:5; and many others: but as they were evangelical historians. Of those, however, Matthew and John were apostles, and preachers of the gospel, the other two were only disciples of the apostles; but, nevertheless, they doubtless occasionally laboured “in the word and doctrine.”
That these four persons were the inspired authors of the four narratives which bear their names, we have, as Dr. Whitby shows at large, the clear and decisive testimony of the ancient fathers of the Christian Church. 1. A passage from Polycarp, (who, as Irenæus informs us, was made bishop of Smyrna by the apostles, and conversed with many who had seen the Lord,) is cited by Victor Capuanus, in which we have the names of these four gospels, as we at present have them, and the beginning of their several histories. 2. Justin Martyr, who, according to Eusebius, lived, μετ’ ου πολυ των αποστολων, not long after the apostles, shows that these books were then well known by the name of “gospels,” and were read by Christians in their assemblies every Lord’s day. Yea, we learn from him that they were read by Jews, and might be read by heathens; and that we may not doubt that, by the “Memoirs of the Apostles, which,” says he, “we call Gospels,” he meant these four, received then in the church, he cites passages out of every one of them, declaring that they contained the words of Christ. 3. Irenæus, in the same century, not only cites them all by name, but declares that there were neither more nor fewer received by the church, and that they were of such authority that though the heretics of his time complained of their obscurity, depraved them, and endeavoured to lessen their authority, yet they durst not wholly disown them, or deny them to be the writings of those apostles whose names they bore. Moreover, he cites passages from every chapter of St. Matthew and St. Luke, from fourteen chapters of St. Mark, and from twenty chapters of St. John 4. Clemens of Alexandria, having cited a passage from “the Gospel according to the Egyptians,” informs his readers, “that it was not to be found in the four gospels delivered by the church.” 5. Tatianus, who flourished in the same century, and before Irenæus, wrote συναφειαν τινα και συναγωγην των ευαγγελιων, a chain or harmony of the gospels, which he named, το δια τεσσαρων, the gospel gathered out of the four gospels. And the “apostolical constitutions” name them all, and command “that they be read in the church, the people standing up at the reading of them. 6. Inasmuch as these gospels were “written,” says Irenæus, “by the will of God, to be the pillars and foundation of the Christian faith,” the immediate successors of the apostles, who, says Eusebius, did great miracles by the assistance of the Holy Ghost, and performed the work of evangelists in preaching Christ to those who had not yet heard the word, made it their business, when they had laid the foundation of that faith among them, την των θειων ευαγγελιων παραδιδοναι γραφην, to deliver to them the writing of the holy gospels.
If it be objected here, that other gospels, bearing the names of other apostles, or gospels used by other nations, are mentioned as having existed in the early ages of Christianity, it may be answered, that this is so far from being derogatory from, or tending to diminish, the tradition of the church concerning these four gospels, that it tends highly to establish and confirm it, as will be evident from these considerations: 1. That we find no mention of any of these gospels until the close of the second century, and of few of them till the third or the fourth century; that is, not until long after the general reception of these four gospels by the whole church of Christ. For Justin Martyr and Irenæus, who cite large passages from these four gospels, take not the least notice of any other gospels, mentioned either by the heretics or by the orthodox. 2. They who speak of them in the close of the second, or in the following centuries, do it still with this remark, that “the gospels received by the tradition of the church were only four,” and that the others belonged not to them, nor to the evangelical canon. For authorities the reader must be referred to Dr. Whitby, from whom the two last paragraphs are taken. He sums up the argument as follows: “Seeing, then, 1. That these four gospels were received without any doubt or contradiction by all Christians from the beginning, as the writings of those apostles and evangelists whose names they bear; and that these first Christians both acknowledged and testified that these writings were delivered to them by the apostles as the pillars or fundamental articles of their faith: seeing, 2. That these same gospels were delivered by the immediate successors of the apostles to all the churches which they converted or established, as the rule of their faith: seeing, 3. They were read from the beginning, as Justin Martyr testifies, in all assemblies of Christians, on the Lord’s day, and so must have been early translated into those languages, in which alone they could be understood by some churches; namely, the Syriac and Latin: seeing, 4. They were generally cited in the second century for the confirmation of this faith, and the conviction of heretics, and the presidents of the assemblies exhorted those who heard them to practise and imitate what they heard: seeing, 5. We never hear of any other gospels till the close of the second century, and then hear only of them with a mark of reprobation, or a declaration that they were ψευδεπιγραφα, falsely imposed upon the apostles, that they belonged not to the evangelical canon, or to the gospels delivered to the churches by a succession of ecclesiastical persons, or to those gospels which they approved, or by which they confirmed their doctrines, but were to be rejected as the inventions of manifest heretics: — All these considerations must afford us a sufficient demonstration that all Christians then had unquestionable evidence that these four gospels were the genuine works of those apostles and evangelists whose names they bear, and so were worthy to be received as the records of their faith. What reason, then, can any persons of succeeding ages have to question what was so universally acknowledged by those who lived so near to that very age in which these gospels were endited, and who received them under the character of the holy and divine Scriptures?”
To this general and uncontrolled tradition respecting the authenticity of the gospels, we may add further strength from the following considerations: 1. That since our Jesus was a Prophet or Teacher sent from God, he must have left to his church some records of his doctrines and his Father’s will; since he was a King, and was to reign for ever, he must have left some laws by which his subjects were to be for ever governed; as the Saviour of the world, he must have delivered to the world an account of the terms on which they might obtain the great salvation purchased by him; otherwise, he must have been a Prophet, Priest, and King in vain. Hence we infer that some certain records of those doctrines, laws, and conditions of salvation, must be extant. Now, unless these gospels and other scriptures of the New Testament contain those records, they must be wholly lost, and we must all be left under a manifest impossibility of knowing, and, therefore, of doing the will of God. For to say tradition might supply the want of writing is to contradict experience; since the traditions of the Jews made void that word of God they had received in writing; and how much more would they have done it had no such writing been delivered! Moreover, our blessed Lord spake many things which were not committed to writing. He taught the multitude “by the sea;” Mark 2:13; “beyond Jordan;” Mark 10:1; “in the synagogues of Galilee;” Luke 4:15; “at Nazareth;” Luke 4:22; “Capernaum;” Luke 4:31; “out of Simon’s ship;” Luke 5:3; and very often “in the temple;” John 7:14; John 8:2. He interpreted to the two disciples going to “Emmaus, throughout all the Scriptures, the things concerning himself;” Luke 24:27. He discoursed to his disciples, after his resurrection, “touching the things of the kingdom of God;” Acts 1:3; and St. John assures us there were exceeding many miracles which Jesus did that were not written; John 20:30. Now, whereas accounts of all those miracles and sermons which were written are entirely preserved, and firmly believed, tradition hath not preserved an account of one miracle or sermon which was not written; and, therefore, tradition can be no sure record or means of making known the doctrine or the laws of Christ. In a word, it is evident that even the church catholic hath lost a tradition delivered to her by St. Paul; for he says, “I told you these things,” (namely, concerning antichrist,) “when I was with you; and now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time;” 2 Thessalonians 2:5-6. He also intimates, in the same chapter, at verse 15, where he exhorts them to hold fast these traditions, that they were of great moment to be known and retained; and yet these traditions have neither been retained by the Roman, nor by the catholic church, and it is confessed by Anselm and Esthius on the place, that, “though the Thessalonians knew, yet that we know not what they were;” so that the tradition which the church received touching this matter is wholly lost. How then can the church be relied on as a sure preserver and true teacher of unwritten tradition, since she has confessedly lost one of great moment deposited with the Thessalonians. and the primitive church.
2. That it was necessary that the Christian doctrine or revelation should be preserved in some writing, may be fairly concluded from the Holy Scriptures themselves. For, if St. Paul thought it necessary to write to the church at Rome, “to put them in remembrance of the grace of God given to them,” Romans 15:15, as also to send to his Corinthians in writings “the things they had heard and did acknowledge,” 2 Corinthians 1:13, and to write “the same things” which he had taught to his Philippians; Php 3:1; — if St. Peter thought it needful to write to the Jewish converts, “to stir up their sincere minds by way of remembrance, that they might be mindful of the commands of the apostles,” 2 Peter 3:1-2, though they at present knew them, and were “established in the truth;” 2 Peter 1:12-13; and St. Jude to write to the same persons, to remind them “of the common salvation;” verse 3; — if the beloved evangelist closes his gospel with these words, “These things were written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, and believing ye might have life through his name;” — surely these persons could not but think it necessary that the essential doctrines of Christianity should be recorded in writing; and yet we are sure they have only been so recorded in those gospels and other writings contained in the canon of the New Testament; and, therefore, we cannot reasonably doubt of the authority of these gospels and other writings. Add to this, the apostles, and the Holy Spirit, who influenced them in the inditing of these gospels for the church’s use, would certainly not be wanting in causing them to be transmitted to those Christians for whose use they were intended, because they would not be wanting to pursue the end for which these gospels were written; and they were therefore written, that the disciples “might know the certainty of those things in which they had been instructed,” Luke 1:4, and might be engaged more firmly to believe that Jesus was the Christ.
3. It is evident that the age immediately succeeding could not be ignorant of what was thus delivered to them by the church from the apostles, as the pillar and ground of their faith; nor is it easy to conceive, that either they would have thus received these gospels, had not the apostles given them sufficient authority and indication of their duty so to do; or that these writings would have been esteemed so readily as the charters of the Christian faith, had not the apostles delivered them unto the churches under that character.
And lastly. We have good reason to suppose that the providence of God, which was so highly interested in the propagation of the Christian faith, and making it known to the world, would not permit false records of that faith to be so early and so generally imposed upon the Christian world.
From the same consent and suffrage of the primitive church, we may conclude, with the strongest evidence of reason, that these four gospels, and the other Scriptures, received then without doubt or contradiction by the church, were handed down to them uncorrupted in the substantial articles respecting faith and practice. For, 1. These records were generally dispersed through all the Christian churches, though at a great distance from each other, from the beginning of the second century. 2. They were universally acknowledged and consented to by men of great parts and learning, and of different persuasions. 3. They were preserved in the originals in the apostolical churches, among whom, says Tertullian, authenticæ eorum literæ recitantur, “their original letters are recited;” it being not to be doubted that they who received the originals from the apostles, and who had authentic copies of them given to them by their immediate successors, would carefully preserve them to posterity. 4. They were multiplied into divers versions, almost from the beginning, as we may rationally conclude, because the Church of Rome, and other churches which understood not the original Greek, having been founded in the apostles’ days, cannot be reasonably supposed to have been long without a version of those Scriptures which were to be read by them in public and private. 5. They were esteemed by them as digesta nostra, “our law books,” says Tertullian; libri deifici deificæ Scripturæ, “divine books of God’s inditing,” or, “books which instruct men to lead a divine life,” say the martyrs; and believed by all Christians to be θειαι γραφαι, “divine Scriptures,” says Origen, and, therefore, as the records of their hopes and fears. 6. They were so constantly rehearsed in their assemblies by men whose office it was to read, explain, and enforce them, and exhort to the performance of the duties they enjoined, and so diligently read by the Christians, that they were riveted in the memories of many, and, according to Eusebius, some had them all by heart. 7. They were so frequently referred to in their writings, and passages of them so often cited by Irenæus, Clemens of Alexandria, and Origen, exactly as we now have them; — that it must be certain, from all these considerations, they were handed down to succeeding generations pure and uncorrupt.
And, indeed, from these considerations, we may with greater certainty infer, that the Scriptures were preserved entire from any designed corruption, than any person can, that the statutes of the land, or any other writings, histories, or records whatsoever, have been so preserved; because the evidence thereof depends upon more persons, and those more holy, and of consequence more averse to deceive, and more concerned that their writings should not be corrupted, than any men are, or have reason to be, respecting other writings. So that we must renounce all certainty of the authenticity of any record, or grant that it is certain these are the genuine records of the Christian faith. Again: The corruption of the word of God, or the substitution of any other doctrine in the place of that which had been delivered by the apostles, could not have been effected by any part or sect of Christians, without its being soon discovered by those who had embraced the Christian faith, and used the true copies of the word of God, in other churches of the Christian world. And, therefore, this supposed corruption, if it could at all have taken place, must have been the work of the whole body of Christians. But surely it cannot be reasonably supposed that the ages immediately succeeding the apostles should universally conspire to substitute their own inventions in the place of the word of God, and yet continue steadfast in, and suffer so much for, that faith which denounced the severest judgments against them who should corrupt his word: or that so many men should, with the hazard of their lives and fortunes, avouch the gospel to be the truth of God, and yet make such a change even in the frame and constitution of its doctrine, as rendered it ineffectual, both to their own salvation and that of their posterity. Lastly, that these sacred records of the word of God have not been so corrupted as to cease to be an authentic and sufficient rule of faith and practice, may be argued from the providence of God. For nothing seems more inconsistent with his wisdom and goodness, as the Governor of the world and of his church, than to influence his servants to write the Scriptures, to be a rule of faith and manners for all future ages, and to require the belief of the doctrines, and the practice of the duties contained therein, and yet to suffer this divinely-inspired rule to be corrupted in things necessary to faith and practice. Who can imagine that God, who sent his Son into the world to declare this doctrine, and inspired his apostles to indite and preach it, and who by so many miracles confirmed it, should suffer any weak or ill- designing persons to corrupt or alter any of those terms on which the salvation of the world depended? Surely none can think this rational but such as are of opinion that it is not absurd to say that God repented of his goodness and love to mankind in vouchsafing them the gospel; or that he was so unkind to future generations, that he suffered wicked men to rob them of all the benefits intended them by this new declaration of his will. For since those very Scriptures, which have been received as the word of God, and used by the church as such, from its first ages, profess to contain the terms of our salvation; to be Scriptures indited by men commissioned from Christ, and such as avouched themselves “apostles by the will of God, for the delivery of the faith of God’s elect, and for the knowledge of the truth, which is after godliness, in hope of eternal life;” they must either be the word of God in reality, or providence must have permitted such a forgery as renders it impossible for us to perform our duty in order to salvation; for if the Scriptures of the New Testament should be corrupted in any essential requisite of faith or practice, they must cease to be “able to make us wise unto salvation,” and so they must fail of answering the end which God intended they should answer when he indited them.
Now the authenticity of the gospels being thus demonstrated, or that they are the genuine and uncorrupted writings of the persons whose names they bear, their truth and divine inspiration follows of course. For, first, with respect to the evangelists Matthew and John, we may observe with Dr. Macknight, as they were apostles, “they were eye-witnesses of most of the things they have related. They attended our Lord during his ministry; they heard him preach all his sermons, and saw him perform the greatest part of his miracles; they were present at his crucifixion; they conversed with him after his resurrection; and they beheld his ascension. Besides, as apostles, they possessed the gifts of illumination and utterance. By the former they were absolutely secured from falling into error, in any point of doctrine, or matter of fact, relating to the Christian scheme. By the latter they were enabled to express themselves clearly and pertinently upon every subject of Christianity which they had occasion to treat of, either in their sermons or writings. These gifts our Lord had expressly promised to all his apostles. See John 14:25-26.” He also promised that, when they should be brought before governors and kings, it should be given them what they should speak; that he would give them a mouth and wisdom which their adversaries should not be able to gainsay or resist; yea, that the Spirit of their Father should speak in them. Matthew 10:18; Matthew 10:20; Luke 21:15. The whole of these promises were punctually fulfilled. For, about ten days after our Lord’s ascension, the disciples received a glorious effusion of the Holy Ghost, while they tarried in Jerusalem, according to their Master’s order, in expectation of being “endued with power from on high.” See Acts 2:3.
“From that moment forth the Spirit gave clear indications of the reality of his presence with them; for he enabled them, all at once, to speak the various languages under heaven as fluently as if they had been their native tongues, and thereby qualified them to preach the gospel in all countries immediately upon their arrival, without the necessity of submitting to the tedious and irksome labour of learning the languages of those countries. Moreover, he gave them the power of working all manner of miracles; nay, he enabled them to impart unto those whom they converted the power of working them, and the faculty of speaking with tongues, and of prophesying or preaching by inspiration. The apostles of the Lord, having such convincing proofs of their inspiration always abiding with them, did not fail on proper occasions to assert it, that mankind might everywhere receive their doctrine and writings with that submission which is due to the dictates of the Spirit of God. Hence we find them calling the gospel which they preached and wrote, “the word of God, the commandment of God, the wisdom of God, the testimony of God;” also, “the word of Christ, the gospel of Christ, the mind of Christ, the mystery of God the Father, and of Christ.” Wherefore, Matthew and John being apostles, and having received the gifts of the Spirit with the rest of their brethren, there can be no doubt of their inspiration. Their gospels were written under the direction of the Holy Ghost, who resided in them; and upon that account they are venerated by all Christians as the word of God, and have deservedly a place allowed them in the sacred canon. 2. “The characters of Mark and Luke come next to be considered. They were not apostles, it is true, yet they were qualified to write such a history of our Lord’s life as merits a place in the canon of Scripture.” For as they were, in all probability, early disciples, it is not unlikely that they were eye- witnesses of most of the things which they have related; and were even in the apostles’ company on the day of pentecost, and then received the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit together with them; consequently they wrote by divine inspiration also. But, if that were not the case, it must be granted that these two evangelists accompanied the apostles in their travels. “The matter is certain with respect to Luke; for, in his history of the Acts, he speaks of himself as Paul’s companion; and, in the preface to his gospel, he expressly mentions the information of the ministers of the word, as distinct from that of the eye-witnesses, to lead us, probably, to think of Paul, with whom he had long travelled, and who had not the knowledge of Christ’s history by personal acquaintance, but by revelation. See Galatians 1:11-12; 1 Corinthians 11:23. As for Mark, he is generally reported by antiquity, and currently believed, to have been Peter’s assistant. And, in conformity to this opinion, all interpreters, both ancient and modern, suppose that Peter speaks of Mark the evangelist in 1 Peter 5:13 : ‘The church that is at Babylon salutes you, and so does Marcus my son.’ This appellation Peter gives to Mark, because of the great intimacy and friendship which subsisted between them, agreeable to the Apostle Paul’s description of Timothy’s affection. See Php 2:22. If Mark was Peter’s companion and fellow-labourer in the gospel, although he was neither an apostle nor an eye-witness, he must have been well acquainted with our Lord’s history, because he could not but learn it from the conversation and sermons of Peter, who was both. Wherefore, to use the words of Luke, since these evangelists took in hand to write the history of our Lord’s life, according to the informations which they had received from the eye-witnesses and ministers of the word, and executed their design while they accompanied the persons from whom they received those informations, we may reasonably suppose they would submit their works to their examination. Accordingly, Clemens Alexandrinus, quoted by Eusebius, Matthew 6:14, tells us that Mark’s gospel was revised by Peter. And Mr. Jones, in support of this opinion, has collected eight particulars from the other gospels, all tending to the honour of Peter, which are entirely omitted by Mark, because Peter’s humility, as he supposes, would not allow him to tell these things to that historian. But if it be true that Mark and Luke wrote according to the information of the apostles, and had their gospels revised by them, it is evidently the same as if their gospels had been dictated by the apostles.
“I cannot but observe, however,” proceeds the doctor, “that though none of all the suppositions just now mentioned should be granted, there is one unquestionable matter of fact, which fully establishes the authority of the two gospels under consideration; namely, that they were written by the persons whose names they bear, and while most of the apostles were alive. For, in that case, they must have been perused by the apostles, and approved; as is certain from their being universally received in the early ages, and handed down to posterity as of undoubted authority. The apostolical approbation was the only thing, without the inspiration of the writers, which could give these books the reputation they have obtained. And had it been wanting in any degree, they must have shared the fate of the many accounts which Luke speaks of in his preface; that is, must have been neglected, either as imperfect or spurious, and so have quickly perished. But, if the gospels of Mark and Luke were approved by the apostles immediately upon their publication, and for that reason were received by all Christians, and handed down to posterity as of undoubted authority, it is the same as if they had been dictated by the apostles. Hence they are justly reckoned of equal authority with the other books of Scripture, and admitted into the canon together with them. Such proofs as these, drawn from the sacred writings themselves, are sufficient to make all Christians reverence the gospels as the word of God. And, therefore, they are fitly produced for the confirmation of our faith.”
It must be observed further, here, that while we believe the sacred historians have recorded nothing but what is true, we must not suppose they have related all the things which with truth they might have related. “Each of them, indeed, has delivered as much of Christ’s doctrine and miracles as is necessary to our salvation. Nevertheless, many important sermons and actions are omitted by each, which, if the rest had not preserved, the world must have sustained an unspeakable loss. We have even reason to believe that it is but a small part of our Lord’s history which is preserved among them all;” for John has said expressly, that “there were many other things which Jesus did, which, if they had been written every one,” he supposed “that even the world itself could not contain the books that would have been written.” The other evangelists affirm, in effect, the same thing, in the summaries which they give of such discourses and miracles as they did not think proper to relate particularly. Thus we read, “Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. And his fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy, and he healed them,” Matthew 4:23-24. In Luke 7:21 it is said, “And in that same hour he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and to many that were blind he gave sight.” See also Matthew 14:35-36; Matthew 15:30-31; Matthew 19:1-2; John 2:23; and John 3:2; and the passages referred to above in the paragraph respecting the insufficiency of tradition, page 6.
And, “as the evangelists did not intend to relate all the sermons and actions of Christ, so it was not their purpose to mention every circumstance of those which they undertook to relate. Each evangelist, directed by the Spirit, makes his own choice. This circumstance is mentioned by one, and that by another, as they judged most proper.” And “we must by no means urge omissions, whether of facts, or circumstances of facts, in such a manner as to fancy that the inspired authors rejected all the things they have omitted, or even that they were ignorant of them. For, from the summaries above mentioned, it is plain they have passed over many particulars with which they were well acquainted.”
But it must be observed, though Jesus performed many miracles, which the evangelists have not recorded, and probably many equal in greatness to those which they have recorded; yet, it is likely “that those recorded were more remarkable than the rest, either for the number of the witnesses who were present at them; or for the character and quality of those witnesses; or for the places where they were performed; or for the consequences which they gave rise to; or for the reports which went out concerning them, and fame which accrued to Jesus from them. This observation, which may be applied likewise to our Lord’s sermons, deserves the rather to be attended to, because it accounts for what would otherwise be very difficult to be understood, namely, how the evangelists, notwithstanding they had such an infinity of sermons and miracles to make a choice from, came all of them, except John, who designed his gospel as a supplement to the rest, to mention, in most instances, the same sermons and miracles; I say, in most instances, because in a few cases each evangelist has departed from this rule, omitting things, which on account of their importance, their notoriety, their consequences, and other reasons, are recorded by the rest; while he has taken notice of particulars which, to appearance, are not so material. Thus, Mark 14:51, the cure which our Lord performed on the high- priest’s slave, whose ear Peter cut off, is omitted; while the young man who followed him with a linen cloth cast round his naked body, is mentioned. In these, and such like instances, the evangelists seem not to have considered how their readers would be affected with the transactions recorded by them. If that had been a matter of care with them, they would in every case, have made choice of those particulars only which might have prejudiced their readers in favour of their Master, or led them to form a high idea of him. Wherefore, as they have not done so, they possess evidently the character of writers who have no distrust of their cause, but who tell the truth as it presented itself, without artifice or disguise.
“According to this view of the matter, it appears that the evangelists, in their histories, have given only a faint sketch, as it were, of our Lord’s life, and not a full delineation. However, though the miracles and sermons which they have recorded be few in respect of the whole, it is certain that the miracles mentioned do put Christ’s mission beyond all reasonable possibility of doubt; and the sermons related give a just idea of his doctrine. Nay, such is the importance of the things related, that each evangelist must be acknowledged singly to have comprehended in his gospel as much of the knowledge of Christ as is sufficient to the salvation of the world. At the same time, by confining themselves to the principal miracles which our Lord performed, and to some select sermons which he preached in the course of his ministry, they made their histories such small books, that every Christian had it in his power to purchase some one of them. And although at first sight this may seem but a matter of little moment, it was, in reality, a singular benefit to mankind, especially in those ancient ages, before printing was invented, when a book of any considerable bulk amounted to a large sum. Brandt, in his History of the Reformation in the Low Countries, (vol. 1., p. 23,) tells us, that for one copy of the Bible, tolerably written on vellum, it was usual to pay four or five hundred crowns; and, even after the invention of printing, sixty for a printed copy, till the art grew more common. We may therefore presume, that it was not without the particular direction of the Spirit, that the evangelists, in writing their histories, thus consulted the benefit of the poor; who, if they got any one of the gospels into their own possession, could be at no loss for the knowledge of Christ necessary to eternal life. “Concerning the words and phrases which the inspired writers have made use of,” it may not be improper to subjoin the following observations from the same judicious author. “If two or more evangelists, on any occasion, ascribe to our Lord the same words, we may safely believe they have preserved the words which he uttered on that occasion. However, when they introduce him speaking, they do not always mean to repeat the precise words, but to give the sense of what he said; nothing more being intended oftentimes by those who undertake to relate what was spoken by another. This, I think, is plain, from Acts 10:4, compared with verse 31. In the former of these passages, the angel says to Cornelius, ‘Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God;’ in the latter, Cornelius, rehearsing the angel’s words to Peter, delivers them thus: ‘Thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.’ Wherefore, both Cornelius and the historian thought the angel’s words were repeated, when the sense of them was delivered. This observation reconciles all those passages in the gospels, wherein our Lord is introduced expressing his sentiments in different words on the same occasion. Nevertheless, where different expressions are found, it is possible that all of them may have been uttered by him, especially if they convey different thoughts, and, when joined together, make a connected discourse. In most cases, however, the former is the more natural solution; because, if the evangelists have given the true meaning of what our Lord said on every occasion, they have certainly delivered what may be called the words of Christ, though the expressions in each gospel should be different, or even to appearance contradictory. A remarkable example of this we have Matthew 10:9, where Jesus is introduced speaking to his apostles thus: ‘Provide — neither shoes nor yet a staff;’ but, in the parallel passage, Mark 6:8, which exhibits the repetition of those instructions, he commanded them, that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; words in sound contradictory to the former, though in sense perfectly the same. Such of the apostles as had staves in their hands might take them, but those who were walking without them were not to provide them; for, as the providence of God was to supply them with all necessaries, to have made the least preparation for their journey would have implied a disbelief of their Master’s promise. In like manner, the words of the voice at Christ’s baptism, Matthew 3:17, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,’ though different as to sound from the words Mark 1:11, ‘Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased;’ yet being the same in sense, they are truly repeated. So likewise are the words of institution in the history of the sacrament, and the words of the title that was affixed to our Lord’s cross.
“By the way, these principles afford an easy solution of the difficulties which arise upon comparing the citations in the New Testament with the passages of the Old, from whence they are taken; for, if the meaning of the passage is truly given, we must allow that the quotation is justly made. Hence, though the words, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene,’ Matthew 2:23, are not to be found in the writings of the prophets, yet, as the thing meant by these words frequently occurs in them, the application is made by the evangelist with sufficient propriety.
“But further, it ought to be considered, that our Lord’s discourses were all delivered, and his conferences managed, in a language different from that wherein they are handed down to posterity, namely, the Syro-Chaldaic, called ‘the Hebrew tongue,’ Acts 21:40, because it was a dialect thereof. For which cause, though all the evangelists had remembered the precise words of every person introduced in their histories, when they related them in a different language, they could hardly avoid making use of different expressions, even on supposition that they wrote by inspiration, unless that inspiration absolutely deprived them of the use of their own faculties; or unless the Holy Spirit, who inspired them, could not suggest different words to each, equally proper for conveying the sentiment he designed to express.
“According to this view of the matter, the four evangelists differ from one another no otherwise than any of them might have differed from himself, had he related the same passage of the history twice. Both narrations would have been the same as to the sense, though different words might have been made use of in each. Wherefore, it can be no good argument against the inspiration of the evangelists, that their accounts are different. Let the reader compare the two histories of our Lord’s ascension, given by Luke, the one in the end of his gospel, the other in the beginning of the Acts; also the three accounts which the same historian gives of Paul’s conversion, the first in the ninth, the second in the twenty-second, the third in the twenty-sixth chapter of the last-mentioned book; and he will acknowledge the truth of what I have been saying.”
In the mean time, let him observe that, while these apparent inconsistencies, thus rightly understood, are easily reconciled, they prove undeniably that the evangelists were in no combination to make up their histories and deceive the world: so far from it, that these inconsistencies are of such a kind, as would lead one to believe the subsequent historians did not so much as compare the accounts of particular transactions, which they were about to publish, with those that were already abroad in the world, but that each evangelist represented the matters which are subjects of his history, as his own memory, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, suggested them to him, without considering how far they might be agreeable to the accounts which his brethren historians had already given. And as this admirably discovers the sober spirit of truth by which those writers were guided in every part of their narrations, so the modesty wherewith they have written their histories is very remarkable. For not only none of them singly has related all the transactions of our Lord’s life, or affected to give a complete history thereof, but, “such things as they have thought fit to mention, though great and wonderful above measure, they have not painted with the gaudy colourings of rhetoric, nor heightened with the magnificence of pompous language, but have told them with a simplicity unexampled in so great a subject. And as they have not studied human eloquence in the composition of their histories, so they have not followed human prudence in the choice of their subjects. For although they must have been sensible that the transactions they were about to relate were not likely to be believed by the generality, being many of them opposite to the established course of nature, it is evident they were at no pains to consider what particulars were least liable to exception, nor so much as to obviate the difficulties which arose from them. This thought a late writer has well expressed. ‘It does not appear,’ says he, ‘that it ever came into the mind of the evangelists to consider how this or that other action would appear to mankind, or what objections might be raised against them. But, without attending at all to this, they lay the facts before you, at no pains to think whether they would appear credible or not. If the reader will not believe their testimony, there is no help for it. They tell the truth, and attend to nothing else.’ To conclude, it is remarkable that through the whole of their histories, the evangelists have not passed one encomium upon Jesus, or upon any of his friends, nor thrown out one reflection against his enemies, although much of both kinds might have been, and no doubt would have been done by them, had they been governed either by a spirit of imposture or enthusiasm. Christ’s life is not praised in the gospels, his death is not lamented, his friends are not commended, his enemies are not reproached, nor even blamed, but every thing is told naked and unadorned, just as it happened; and all who read are left to judge and make reflections for themselves; a manner of writing which the historians never would have fallen into, had not their minds been under the guidance of the most sober reason, and deeply impressed with the dignity, importance, and truth of their subject.”
Upon the whole, by the force of the arguments now advanced, and others of a similar nature, “has the gospel history gained a belief next to universal in ages past, and by these it stands at present firmly established against the manifold violent attacks of its enemies, who, with unwearied application, are assaulting it on all quarters. In a word, founded upon these arguments, it can never be overturned in any age to come; but, while men are capable of discerning truth, will be believed and received to the end of the world.” Observe well, reader, from the undoubted truth of the gospel history, we infer with certainty that the Christian religion is divine.
GOSPEL OF SAINT MATTHEW.
Although the word ευαγγελιον, here rendered “gospel,” from ευ, “good,” and αγγελια, “a message,” properly denotes “good news, or glad tidings,” and in many parts of the epistles signifies the whole doctrine of Christ, or of the New Covenant, in contradistinction to that of the dispensation of Moses, or the Old Covenant; yet when applied to the narratives written by the four evangelists, the expression properly means the history of the incarnation and life, doctrine and miracles, humiliation and exaltation, sufferings and glory of the Messiah, the Son of God. The reason why this history is termed “good news, or glad tidings,” is because it really contains such, yea, the best news and most joyful tidings that ever reached any human ear; for surely no tidings can be better, or more calculated to give joy to a sinful and guilty world, exposed to the wrath of God, and liable to suffer the vengeance of eternal fire, than that the Son of God, the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of his person, the Maker and Lord of all things, and the final Judge of men and angels, came into the world to seek and save lost sinners. Hence, when the angel announced his birth to the shepherds, as is recorded Luke 2:10, his words were, Ιδου, ευαγγελιζομαι υμιν χαραν μεγαλην, ητις εσται παντι τω λαω, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” As to the English, or rather Saxon word, “gospel,” it seems originally to mean no more than “God’s spell,” or “God’s word,” and therefore is a very imperfect translation of the Greek expression.
Now the history of these good tidings, which is first offered to our consideration in this volume, termed the New Testament, or New Covenant, is that composed by St. Matthew. Of him we know no more than what we learn in the four gospels, which is very little. He was the son of one Alpheus, and was also called Levi, Mark 2:14. He was of Jewish original, as both his names manifest, and probably of Galilee, as the rest of Christ’s apostles were; but of what city in Galilee, and of which of the tribes of Israel, is not known. Before he was called to be a disciple of Christ, he was a publican, or tax-gatherer to the Romans, an office of bad repute among the Jews, on account of the covetousness and oppressive exactions of those who managed it. St. Matthew’s office is thought to have consisted in collecting the customs imposed on all merchandise that came by the sea of Galilee, and the tribute required from passengers who went by water. And here it was that Christ found him sitting at the receipt of custom, when he first called him to be his disciple. Matthew immediately obeyed the call, and followed Jesus, although, it is probable, not statedly till he had made up and settled his accounts with those by whom he was employed. Living at Capernaum, a place where Christ frequently resided, Matthew might probably both have heard him preach and witnessed the performance of some of his miracles before this his call. Some time, but it seems not long, after this, according to the account given by both Mark and Luke, he entertained Christ and his disciples at a great dinner at his own house, whither he invited his friends and acquaintances, with many of his own profession, intending, probably, not only to take a friendly farewell of them, but to give them an opportunity of seeing and hearing that heavenly Teacher whose doctrine he had found to be the power of God to his salvation. He was soon chosen by Christ to be one of his apostles, (see Matthew 10:3,) and sent, with the other eleven, during the time of Christ’s ministry on earth, to preach to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, in different parts of Judea. And they accordingly went through the towns and villages “preaching the gospel, and healing everywhere,” Matthew 10:6; Luke 9:2-6. Matthew continued to be associated with the other apostles till after our Lord’s ascension, and the day of pentecost following; on which day, doubtless, he received the Holy Ghost with the rest of the disciples, or, as it is expressed Luke 24:49, was “endued with power from on high.” From this time, it seems, for at least eight, if not more years, he preached to the Jews in Judea, and the parts adjacent. Afterward, according to the tradition of the church, he devoted his labours to the propagation of the gospel among the heathen: travelling into Ethiopia, or Abyssinia, and making that country the scene of his apostolical labours; and there, it is said, he sealed the truth with his blood. But of this there is no clear evidence in any of the writings of the primitive fathers, nor that he suffered martyrdom, as some have asserted, in Persia, or elsewhere. Indeed we have no certain information when, where, or how he died.
As to the time when this gospel was composed, it has not been precisely ascertained by the learned. Some have thought it was written as early as A.D. 41, or about the eighth year after Christ’s ascension. Others, and especially some modern critics, have contended that it was not written till about the year 61, or between that and 65. All antiquity, however, seems agreed in the opinion that it was the first gospel that was published; “and in a case of this kind,” says Dr. Campbell, “I should not think it prudent, unless for very strong reasons, to dissent from their verdict. Of the few Christian writers of the first century whose works yet remain, there are in Barnabas, a companion of Paul, Clement of Rome, and Hermas, clear references to some passages of this history. For though the evangelist is not named, and his words are not formally quoted, the attentive reader must be sensible that the author had read the gospel which has uniformly been ascribed to Matthew, and that on some occasions he plainly alludes to it. Very early in the second century, Ignatius, in those epistles which are generally acknowledged to be genuine, and Polycarp, of whom we have no more but a single letter remaining, have manifest allusions to different parts of this gospel. The writers above named are those who are denominated ‘apostolic fathers,’ because they were contemporary with the apostles, and had been their disciples. Their testimony, therefore, serves to show not only their knowledge of this book, but the great and general estimation wherein it was held from the beginning.”
It has been a matter of much debate among the learned, whether this gospel was originally composed in Greek or in Hebrew. But Dr. Campbell seems to have satisfactorily proved it was first written in the latter language. “The first person,” says he, “upon record, who has named Matthew as the writer of this gospel, is Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, in Cesarea, who is said to have been a companion of Polycarp, and a hearer of John. Concerning Matthew, that venerable ancient affirms, that ‘he wrote his gospel in the Hebrew tongue, (Εβραιδι διαλεκτω,) which every one interpreted as he was able.’ See Euseb. Hist. Eccl., lib. 3. cap. 39.” Here we have Papias’s testimony, not only that Matthew was the writer of this gospel, but that he wrote it in Hebrew. “The former of these testimonies,” says Dr. Campbell, “has never, as far as I know, been controverted. On the contrary, it has been confirmed, and is still supported by all subsequent Christian authors who have touched the subject; and the latter, that this evangelist wrote his gospel in Hebrew, had a concurrence equally uniform of all succeeding writers in the church for about 1400 years.” In the last two centuries, however, this point has been strongly contested, particularly by Erasmus, Cardinal Cajetan, Whitby, and several others. “The next authority,” which may be brought, “is that of Irenæus, bishop of Lyons, in Gaul, who in his youth had been a disciple of Polycarp. He says, in the only book of his extant, that ‘Matthew among the Hebrews wrote a gospel in their own language, (τη ιδια διαλεκτο αυτων,) while Peter and Paul were preaching the gospel at Rome, and founding the church there.’ Euseb. Hist., lib. 5. cap. 8. And in a fragment of the same author, which Grabe and others have published, it is said, ‘The gospel according to Matthew was written to the Jews, for they earnestly desired a Messiah of the posterity of David. Matthew, in order to satisfy them on this point, began his gospel with the genealogy of Jesus.’ The third witness to be adduced is Origen, who flourished in the former part of the third century. Eusebius, in a chapter wherein he especially treats of Origen’s account of the sacred canon, (Hist., lib. 6. cap. 25,) quotes him as saying, ‘As I have learned by tradition concerning the four gospels, which alone are received, without dispute, by the whole church of God under heaven; the first was written by Matthew, once a publican, afterward an apostle of Jesus Christ, who delivered it to the Jewish believers, composed in the Hebrew language, γραμμασιν Εβραικοις συντεταγμενον.’ In another place (Comment. in Johan.) he says, ‘We begin with Matthew, who, according to tradition, wrote first, publishing his gospel to the Hebrews, or the believers who were of the circumcision.’ Again, ‘Matthew, writing for the Hebrews, who expected him who was to descend from Abraham and David, says, The lineage of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham.’” “It would be endless,” says Dr. Campbell, “to bring authorities. Jerome, Augustine, Epiphanius, Chrysostom, Eusebius, and many others, all attest the same thing, and attest it in such a manner as shows that they knew it to be uncontroverted, and judged it to be incontrovertible. ‘But,’ say some modern disputants, ‘all the witnesses you can produce in support of this fact may, for aught we know, be reducible to one. Irenæus, perhaps, had his information only from Papias, and Origen from Papias and Irenæus, and so of all the rest downward, how numerous soever; so that the whole evidence may be at bottom no more than the testimony of Papias!’ But is the positive evidence of witnesses, delivered as of a well-known fact, to be overturned by a mere supposition, a ‘perhaps?’ For that the case was really as they suppose, no shadow of evidence is pretended. Papias is not quoted on this article by Irenæus, nor is his name mentioned, or his testimony referred to. Nor is the testimony of either urged by Origen. As to Irenæus, from the early period in which he lived, he had advantages for information little inferior to those of Papias, having been in his younger years well acquainted with Polycarp, the disciple of the Apostle John. Had there then subsisted any account, or opinion, contradictory to the account given by Papias, Irenæus must certainly have known it, and would probably have mentioned it, either to confirm or to confute it. As the matter stands, we have here a perfect unanimity of the witnesses, not a single contradictory voice; no mention is there, either from those fathers or from any other ancient writer, that ever another account of this matter had been heard of in the church. Shall we then admit a mere modern hypothesis to overturn the foundations of all historic evidence?
“Let it be observed, Papias, in the words quoted from him, attested two things; that Matthew wrote the gospel ascribed to him, and that he wrote it in Hebrew. These two points rest on the same bottom, and are equally, as matters of fact, the subjects of testimony. As to both, the authority of Papias has been equally supported by succeeding authors, and by the concurrent voice of antiquity. Now there has not any thing been advanced to invalidate his testimony, in regard to the latter of these, that may not with equal justice be urged to invalidate his testimony in regard to the former. This may be extended also to other points; for that Mark was the writer of the gospel commonly ascribed to him, rests ultimately on the same authority. How arbitrary then is it, where the evidence is the same, and exposed to the same objections, to admit the one without hesitation, and to reject the other! — I shall conclude the argument with observing, that the truth of the report, that Matthew wrote in Hebrew, is the only plausible account that can be given of the rise of that report. Certain it is, that all the prejudices of the times, particularly among the Greek Christians, were unfavourable to such an opinion. Soon after the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem, the Hebrew Church, distinguished by the name of ‘Nazarene,’ visibly declined every day; the attachment which many of them still retained to the ceremonies of the law; in like manner, the errors of the Ebionites, and other divisions, which arose among them, made them soon be looked upon by the Gentile churches as but half-Christian at the most. That an advantage of this kind would have been so readily conceded to them by the Greeks, in opposition to all their own prejudices, can be attributed only to their full conviction of the fact.
“Having said so much on the external evidence, I shall add but a few words to show, that the account of this matter given by the earliest ecclesiastical writers, is not so destitute as some may think of internal probability. In every thing that concerned the introduction of the new dispensation, a particular attention was for some time shown, and the preference, before every other nation, given to the Jews. Our Lord’s ministry upon the earth was among them only. In the mission of the apostles, during his own life, they were expressly prohibited from going to the Gentiles, or so much as entering any city of the Samaritans, Matthew 10:5; and when, after our Lord’s resurrection, the apostolical commission was greatly enlarged, being extended to all nations throughout the world, still a sort of precedency was reserved for God’s ancient people, and they were commanded to ‘begin’ preaching ‘at Jerusalem,’ Luke 24:46-47. The orders then given were punctually executed. The apostles remained some time in Jerusalem, preaching and performing miracles in the name of the Lord Jesus with wonderful success. See also Acts 13:26. And even after the disciples began to spread their Master’s doctrine through the neighbouring regions, we know, that till the illumination they received in the affair of Cornelius, which was several years after, they confined their teaching to their countrymen the Jews. And even after that memorable event, wherever the apostles came, they appear first to have repaired to the synagogue, if there was a synagogue in the place, and to have addressed themselves to those of the circumcision, and afterward to the Gentiles:” see Acts 13:46; where this matter is set in the strongest light. “Have we not then reason to conclude from the express order, as well as from the example, of our Lord, and from the uniform practice of his disciples, that it was suitable to the will of Providence, in this dispensation of grace, that every advantage should be first offered to the Jews, especially the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and that the gospel which had been first delivered to them by word, both by our Lord himself and by his apostles, should be also first presented to them in writing, in that very dialect in which many of the readers, at the time of the publication, might remember to have heard the same sacred truths, as they came from the mouth of Him who spake as never man spake, the great Oracle of the Father, the interpreter of God?” This dialect, or language, it must be observed, was not what we commonly call Hebrew, or the language of the Old Testament; for this was not then spoken either in Palestine, or anywhere else, being understood only by the learned. But it was what Jerome very properly calls Syro-Chaldaic, having an affinity to both the Syrian and Chaldean language, though much more to the latter than the former. It was, in short, the language which the Jews brought with them from Babylon after the captivity, blended with that of the people whom they found in the land at their return, and in the neighbouring regions. It is this which is invariably called Hebrew in the New Testament. It is true, this merciful dispensation of God to the Jewish Christians, in giving them the first written gospel in their own language, was, in effect, soon frustrated by their defection; but this is only of a piece with what happened in regard to all the other advantages which the Jews enjoyed. “The sacred deposite was first corrupted among them, and afterward it disappeared; for that ‘the gospel according to the Hebrews,’ used by the Nazarenes, (to which, as the original, Jerome sometimes had recourse, and which, he tells us, he had translated into Greek and Latin,) and that the gospel also used by the Ebionites, were, though greatly vitiated and interpolated, the remains of Matthew’s original, will hardly bear a reasonable doubt. Their loss of this gospel proved the prelude to the extinction of that church. But we have reason to be thankful, that what was most valuable in the work is not lost to the Christian community. The version we have in Greek is written with much evangelical simplicity, entirely in the idiom and manner of the apostles.” “And I freely acknowledge,” adds Dr. Campbell, “that if the Hebrew gospel were still extant, such as it was in the days of Jerome, or even of Origen, we should have much more reason to confide in the authenticity of the common Greek translation, than in that of an original, wherewith such unbounded freedoms have been taken.” This translation was undoubtedly made and published at a very early period; but who the translator was we have no knowledge, nor is it likely that, at this distance of time, it should be determined: probably it was the evangelist himself.
St. Matthew appears to be distinguished from the other evangelists: I. By more frequently referring to the prophecies of the Old Testament, and pointing out their fulfilment in Christ, for the conviction of the Jews: and, II. By recording more of our Lord’s parables than are mentioned by the others. He begins his history with an account of the genealogy of Christ; which, agreeably to the custom of the Jews, and to prove Christ’s title to the kingdom of Israel, he gives in the line of his supposed father Joseph, whom he shows to be legally descended from Abraham through David. He then bears witness to his miraculous conception, and relates some circumstances concerning his birth and infancy, particularly his being visited by the wise men from the East, and his flight into Egypt and return. He gives a brief account of the ministry of John the Baptist, and its promising effects, and of the baptism and temptation of Christ, and his entrance on his public ministry. He then proceeds with the history of his miracles and discourses, till he comes to his apprehension by the Jewish rulers, his condemnation, crucifixion, death, and burial, the circumstances of all which he relates at large. He then bears witness to his resurrection, the earthquake attending it, and the appearance of a glorious angel, attesting it to the women, who had come to the sepulchre with a view to anoint his body. Of the many appearances of Christ to his disciples, Matthew only records two; namely, one to these women, and one to all the disciples collected together in Galilee. His history concludes with the important testimony borne by Christ, immediately before his ascension, to the exaltation of his human nature to the highest dignity and power; to which is subjoined his solemn charge to the apostles, and their successors in the ministry, to teach and baptize all nations, and his gracious promise that his presence should be with them to the end of the world.