Gospels, the Synoptic
1. Scope of This Article
2. The Gospels in Church Tradition
II. THE SYNOPTIC PROBLEM
1. Nature of the Problem
2. Proposed Solutions
(1) Oral Gospel
(2) Mutual Use
(3) Hypothesis of Sources
(4) Other Sources
III. LITERARY ANALYSIS AND ORAL TRADITION
1. The Problem not Solely a Literary One
2. Influence of Oral Instruction
IV. ORDER OF EVENTS AND TIME OF HAPPENINGS IN THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS
1. Range of Apostolic Witness
2. Bearing on Order
3. Time of Happenings
V. DATING OF THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS
1. Return to Earlier Dating
2. The Material Still Older
VI. THE MESSIANIC IDEA IN ITS BEARINGS ON HISTORICITY OF THE GOSPELS
1. The Jewish and Christian Messiah
2. Originality of the Christian Conception
3. The Messianic Hope
VII. THE OLD TESTAMENT IN ITS BEARINGS ON THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS
VIII. THE JESUS OF THE GOSPELS AS THINKER
1. The Ethics of Jesus
2. Jesus as Thinker
IX. THE PROBLEM OF THE GOSPELS
1. Scope of Article:
The present article is confined to the consideration of the relations and general features of the first 3 Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke)--ordinarily named "the Synoptic Gospels," because, in contrast with the Fourth Gospel, they present, as embodying a common tradition, the same general view of the life and teaching of Jesus during His earthly ministry, and of His death and resurrection. The Fourth Gospel, in itself and in its relation to the Synoptics, with the Johannine literature and theology generally, are treated in special articles.
2. The Gospels in Church Tradition:
The place of the Gospels in church tradition is secure. Eusebius places the 4 Gospels among the books that were never disputed in the church (Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 25). It is acknowledged that by the end of the 2nd century these 4 Gospels, and none else, ascribed to the authors whose names they bear, were in universal circulation and undisputed use throughout the church, stood at the head of church catalogues and of all VSS, were freely used, not only by the Fathers of the church (Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement, Origen, etc.), but by pagans and heretics, and by these also were ascribed to the disciples of Christ as their authors. Justin Martyr, in the middle of the century, freely quotes from "Memoirs of the Apostles," "which are called Gospels," "composed by the apostles and those that followed them" (1 Apol. 66-67; Dial. with Trypho, 10, 100, 103). What these Gospels were is made apparent by the Diatessaron, or Harmony of Four, of his disciple Tatian (circa 170), constructed from the 4 Gospels we possess. The first to mention Matthew and Mark by name is Papias of Hierapolis (circa 120-30; in Euseb., HE, III, 39). Dr. Sanday is disposed to carry back the extracts from Papias to about 100 AD (Fourth Gospel, 151); Dr. Moffatt likewise says, "These explanations of Matthew and Mark must have been in circulation by the end of the 1st century" (Introduction to Lit. of New Testament, 187). The gist of the testimony of Papias is: "Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though he did not record in order, that which was either said or done by Christ"; "Matthew composed the Oracles (Logia) in Hebrew (Aramaic), and each one interpreted them as he was able." Eusebius evidently took what he quotes about Matthew and Mark from Papias to refer to our present Gospels, but a problem arises as to the relation of the Aramaic "Logia" said to be composed by Matthew to our canonical Greek Gospel, which was the only Gospel of Mt known to the early Fathers. There is no ground for the supposition that the Jewish-Christian GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE HEBREWS (which see) was the original of the Greek Matthew; it was on the other hand derived from it. The Gnostic Marcion used a mutilated Luke. Compare further, below on dating, and for details see special articles on the respective Gospels; also BIBLE; CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT.
II. The Synoptic Problem.
1. Nature of the Problem:
Arising from their peculiar nature, there has always been a Synoptic problem, ever since the 3 Gospels appeared together in the Canon of the New Testament. No one could read these Gospels consecutively with attention, without being aware of the resemblances and differences in their contents. Each writer sets forth his own account without reference to the other two, and, with the partial exception of Luke (1:1-4), does not tell his readers anything about the sources of his Gospel. A problem thus arose as to the relations of the three to one another, and the problem, though it approaches a solution, is not yet solved. A history of the Synoptic problem will be found in outline in many recent works; the most elaborate and best is in Zahn's Introduction, III. In it Zahn briefly indicates what the problem was as it presented itself to the church in the earlier centuries, and gives in detail the history of the discussion from the time of Lessing (1778) to the present day. It is not possible within the limits of this article to refer otherwise than briefly to these discussions, but it may be remarked that, as the discussion went on, large issues were raised; every attempt at solution seemed only to add to the difficulty of finding an adequate one; and at length it was seen that no more complex problem was ever set to literary criticism than that presented by the similarities and differences of the Synoptic Gospels.
2. Proposed Solutions:
Of the hypotheses which seek to account for these resemblances and differences, the following are the most important.
(1) Oral Gospel:
The hypothesis of oral tradition: This theory has rather fallen into disfavor among recent critics. Dr. Stanton, e.g., says, "The relations between the first 3 Gospels cannot be adequately explained simply by the influence of oral tradition" (Gospels as Historical Documents, II, 17; similarly Moffatt, in the work quoted 180 ff). Briefly stated, theory is this. It assumes that each of the evangelists wrote independently of the others, and derived the substance of his writing, not from written sources, but from oral narratives of sayings and doings of Jesus, which, through dint of repetition, had assumed a relatively fixed form. The teaching of the apostles, first given in Jerusalem, repeated in the catechetical schools (compare Lu 1:4, the Revised Version (British and American)), and entrusted to the trained memories of the Christian converts, is held to be sufficient to account for the phenomena of the 3 Gospels. The oral Gospel took its essential form in Palestine, and written editions of it would by and by appear in more or less complete form (Lu 1:1). The first distinguished advocate of the oral hypothesis was Gieseler (1818). It was upheld in Britain by Alford and Westcott, and is today advocated, with modifications, by Dr. A. Wright in his Synopsis of the Gospels in Greek (2nd edition, 1908).
(2) Mutual Use:
As old as Augustine, this hypothesis, which assumes the use of one of the Gospels by the other two, has been frequently advocated by scholars of repute in the history of criticism. There have been many variations of theory. Each of the 3 Gospels has been put first, each second, and each third, and each in turn has been regarded as the source of the others. In fact, all possible permutations (6 in number) have been exhausted. As the hypothesis has few advocates at the present day, it is not necessary to give a minute account of these permutations and combinations. Two of them which may be regarded as finally excluded are (a) those which put Luke first; and (b) those which put Mark last (the view of Augustine; in modern times, of F. Baur and the Tubingen school).
(3) Hypothesis of Sources:
This is theory which may be said to hold the field at the present time. The tendency in criticism is toward the acceptance of two main sources for the Synoptic Gospels. (a) One source is a Gospel like, if not identical with, the canonical Gospel of Mark. As regards this 2nd Gospel there is a consensus of opinion that it is prior to the other two, and the view that the 2nd and 3rd used it as a source is described as the one solid result of literary criticism. Eminent critics of various schools of thought are agreed on this point (compare W.C. Allen, Matthew, Pref. vii; F.C. Burkitt, Gospel History and Its Transmission, 37). It has been shown that most of the contents of Mark have been embodied in the other two, that the order of events in Mark has been largely followed by Matthew and Luke, and that the departures from the style of Mark can be accounted for by the hypothesis of editorial amendment. (b) The other source (now commonly named Q) is found first by an examination of the matter not contained in the 2nd Gospel, which is common to Matthew and Luke. While there are differences as to the extent and character of the 2nd source, there is something like general agreement as to its existence. It is not agreed as to whether this source contained narratives of events, as well as sayings, or whether it was a book of sayings alone (the former is thought to be the more probable view), nor is it agreed as to whether it contained an account of the Passion week (on the differing views of the extent of Q, see Moffatt, op. cit., 197 ff); but while disagreement exists as to these and other points, the tendency, as said, is to accept a "two-source" theory in some form as the only sufficient account of the phenomena of the Gospels.
(4) Other Sources:
To make the source-theory probable, some account must be taken of other sources beyond the two enumerated above. Both the 1st and the 3rd Gospels contain material not borrowed from these sources. There is the fore-history of Mt 1:2, which belongs to that Gospel alone, with other things likewise recorded by Mt (Mt 9:27-34; 12:22; 14:28-33; 17:24 ff, etc.). Then not only has Luke a fore-history (chapters 1; 2), but a large part of his Gospel consists of material found nowhere else (e.g. 7:11-16,36-50; 10:25 ff; parables in chapters 15; 16; 18:1-14, etc.). This Sondergut of Matthew and Luke will be more appropriately treated in the articles which deal with these Gospels respectively. Here it is sufficient to point out that the criticism of the Synoptic Gospels is not complete till it has found a probable source (a) for what is common to them all, (b) for what is common to any two of them, and (c) for what is peculiar to each. The literature on the subject is so voluminous that only a few references can be given. In addition to those named, the following works may suffice to set forth the present condition of the Synoptic problem: B. Weiss, Introduction to New Testament, and other works; Harnack, Luke the Physician, The Sayings of Jesus, The Acts of the Apostles, Date of the Acts of the Apostles and of the Synoptic Gospels (English translations); Wellhausen, Einleitung in die drei ersten Evangelien, and works on each of the Synoptic Gospels, especially Studies in the Synoptic Problem, edited by Dr. Sanday.
III. Literary Analysis and Oral Tradition.
1. The Problem Not Solely a Literary One:
Looked at merely as a problem of literary analysis, it is scarcely possible to advance farther than has been done in the works of Harnack, of Sanday and his co-adjutors, and of Stanton, referred to above. The work done has been of the most patient and persevering kind. No clue has been neglected, no labor has been spared, and the interrelations of the three Gospels have been almost exhaustively explored. Yet the problem remains unsolved. For it must not be forgotten that the materials of the Synoptic Gospels were in existence before they assumed a written form. Literary analysis is apt to forget this obvious fact, and to proceed by literary comparison alone. The Gospel was confessedly at first and for some years a spoken Gospel, and this fact has to be taken into account in any adequate attempt to understand the phenomena. It is not enough to say with Dr. Stanton that "the relations of the first three Gospels cannot be adequately explained simply by the influence of oral tradition"; for the question arises, Can the relations between the first three Gospels be explained simply by the results of literary analysis, be it as exhaustive and thorough as it may? Let it be granted that literary analysis has accomplished a great deal; that it has almost compelled assent to the two-source hypothesis; that it has finally made good the priority of Mk; that it has made out a probable source consisting mainly of sayings of Jesus, yet many problems remain which literary analysis cannot touch, at least has not touched. There is the problem of the order of events in the Gospels, which is so far followed by all three. How are we to account for that sequence? Is it sufficient to say, as some do, that Mark set the style of the Gospel narrative, and that the others so far followed that style? All Gospels must follow the method set by Mark, so it is affirmed. But if that is the case, how did Matthew and Luke depart from that copy by writing a fore-history? Why did they compile a genealogy? Why did they give so large a space to the sayings of Jesus, and add so much not contained in the Gospel which, on the hypothesis, set the pattern of what a Gospel ought to be? These questions cannot be answered on the hypothesis that the others simply followed a fashion set by Mark. Sometimes the 2nd Gospel is described as if it were suddenly launched on the Christian world; as if no one had ever heard of the story contained in it before Mark wrote it. From the nature of the case, it is obvious that the church had knowledge of many of the facts in the life of Christ, and was in possession of much of His teaching before any of the Gospels were written. So much is plain from the Epistles of Paul. How many facts about Jesus, and how much of His teaching may be gathered from these epistles, we do not inquire at present. But we do learn much from Paul about the historical Jesus.
2. Influence of Oral Instruction:
The Christian church in its earlier form arose out of the teaching, example and influence of the apostles at Jerusalem. It was based on apostolic testimony as to the life, character, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That testimony told the church what Jesus had done, what He had taught, and of the belief of the apostles as to what He was, and what He continued to be. We read that the early church "continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship" (Ac 2:42). The "teaching" consisted of reminiscences of the Lord, of interpretations of the facts about Jesus and of agreements between these and the Old Testament. The first instruction given to the church was oral. Of this fact there can be no doubt. How long oral teaching continued we may not say, but it is likely that it continued as long as the apostles dwelt together at Jerusalem. To them an appeal could constantly be made. There was also the strictly catechetical teaching given to the converts, and this teaching would be given after the manner to which they had been accustomed in their earlier education. It consisted mainly in committing accurately to memory, and in repetition from memory (see CATECHIST;CATECHUMEN ). There would thus be a stricter tradition, as it was taught in the catechetical classes, and a looser tradition which consisted of as much as the people could carry with them from the preaching of the apostles at the weekly assemblies. Those, besides, who were present at the day of Pentecost, and others present at the feasts at Jerusalem, who had passed under Christian influence, would carry with them on their return to their homes some knowledge of the life and death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. It may have been a meager Gospel that these carried with them to Antioch, to Rome, or to other cities in which the diaspora dwelt. But that they did carry a Gospel with them is plain, for from their testimony arose the church at Antioch, where the Christians had without question a knowledge of the Gospel, which informed their faith and guided their action.
IV. Order of Events and Time of Happenings in the Synoptic Gospels.
1. Range of Apostolic Witness:
It is known from Acts that the main topic of the preaching of the apostles was the resurrection of the Lord. "With great power gave the apostles their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus" (Ac 4:33). It is evident, however, that the apostolic witness would not be limited to the events of the Passion week, or to the fact of the resurrection. There would arise a thirst for information regarding the life of Jesus, what He had done, what He had said, what manner of life He had lived, and what teaching He had given. Accounts of Him and of His work would be given by the apostles, and once these accounts were given, they would continue to be given in the same form. Tell a story to a child and he will demand that it be always given in the form in which he first knew it. Hearers of a story are impatient of variations in the subsequent telling of it. Memory is very tenacious and very conservative.
2. Bearing on Order:
It is clear that the first lessons of the apostles were accounts of the Passion week, and of the resurrection. But it went backward to events and incidents in the life of Jesus, and as we read the Synoptic Gospels, we soon see that the order was dictated by the events themselves. They are grouped together for no other reason than that they happened so. Most of the incidents are hung on a geographical thread. In the 2nd Gospel, which seems to preserve most faithfully the traditional order, this is obvious to every attentive reader; but in all the 3 Gospels many of the narratives go in well-established cycles. To take only one illustration, where many might be instanced, the healing of the woman with the issue of blood is represented as occurring in the course of the walk to the house of Jairus (Mr 5:21 ff). The only explanation is that this was the actual mode of its happening. Events happened, incidents arose, in the course of the journeys of Jesus and His disciples, words were also spoken, and in the memories of the disciples, when the journey was recalled, there arose also what had happened in the course of the journey. In fact, as we follow the journey through Galilee, to the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, through Samaria, down the valley of the Jordan, through Jericho to Jerusalem, we find that the grouping of the material of the Gospels is determined by the facts. Most of what is recorded happened in the course of the journeys, and was borne in the memories of the disciples in the order of its happening. The order, then, is not arbitrary, nor is it the product of reflection; it is the outcome of the facts. It is true that in pursuance of their several plans, Luke sometimes, Matthew frequently, deserts the order of Mark, but it is noteworthy that they never do so together. As Professor Burkitt says, "Matthew and Luke never agree against Mark in transposing a narrative. Luke sometimes deserts the order of Mark, and Matthew often does so; but in these cases Mark is always supported by the remaining Gospel" (op. cit., 36). In Matthew, after 19:1, the events follow each other quite as in Mark.
3. Time of Happenings:
When one studies the rather kaleidoscopic political geography of Palestine in the first 40 years of our era, he will find many confirmations of the historic situation in the Synoptic Gospels. The birth of Jesus was in the time of Herod the Great, when the whole of Palestine was under one government. After the death of Herod, Palestine was under several rulers. Archelaus had possession of Judea until the year 9 AD. Galilee was under Herod Antipas until the year 37, and the tetrarchy of Philip had a distinct government of its own. About the year 40 Palestine was again under one government under Herod Agrippa. Now it is clear that the events of the Gospels happened while Herod Antipas ruled in Galilee and Peraea, and while Pilate was procurator in Judea (see CHRONOLOGY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, and JESUS CHRIST). Nor is the significance of this environment exhausted by the reference to the time. As Professor Burkitt has shown (op. cit., in his chapter entitled "Jesus in Exile"), in the itinerary recorded in Mr 5:1-43, the parts avoided are the dominions of Herod Antipas. It is said in Mr 3:6, "And the Pharisees went out, and straightway with the Herodians took counsel against him, how they might destroy him." The significance of this alliance between the Pharisees and the Herodians is well drawn out by Professor Burkitt in the work cited above. It is simply noted by Mark, and on it the evangelist makes no remark. But the conspiracy had a great effect on the work of Jesus. A little later we find Jesus no more in any of the synagogues. He devotes Himself to the training of the Twelve, and is outside of the dominions of Herod Antipas. It is not to be forgotten that during these months Jesus is an exile from His own land, and it was during that period of exile that the issue of His work became clear to Him, and from the time of the great confession at Caesarea-Philippi He began to tell His disciples of the decease that He should accomplish at Jerusalem (Mt 16:13 ff parallel).
V. Dating of the Synoptic Gospels.
1. Return to Earlier Dating:
The question as to the dates at which the Synoptic Gospels appear in a published form may more suitably be dealt with in connection with the articles on the separate Gospels. It need only be observed here that opinion is tending toward much earlier dates than were common till lately. By all but extreme writers it is now admitted that the first 3 Gospels fall well within the limits of the apostolic age. In the Preface to his work on Luke (1906), Harnack reminded his readers that 10 years before he had told them that "in the criticism of the sources of the oldest Christianity we are in a movement backward to tradition." The dates he formerly favored were, for Mark between 65 and 70 AD, for Matthew between 70 and 75, for Luke between 78 and 23. Harnack's more recent pronouncement as to the date of Acts, which he states with all the emphasis of italics, "It seems now to be established beyond question that both books of this great historical work were written while Paul was yet alive" (Date of the Acts and the Synoptic Gospels, 124, English translation), must have a determining influence on critical opinion. If Acts were written during the lifetime of Paul (compare Ac 28:30 f), then the 3rd Gospel must have been written earlier. It is likely that Lk had all his material in hand during the imprisonment of Paul at Caesarea. If he made use of the 2nd Gospel, then Mark must have had a still earlier date, and the whole problem of the dating of the Gospels is revolutionized. The essential thing is that the 3 Gospels were probably written and published before the destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD). There is nothing in their contents that makes this view untenable.
2. The Material Still Older:
It is still to be remembered, however, that the materials of which the Gospels are composed existed before they were put into a written form. Every discussion must take note of that fact. The literature of the New Testament presupposes just such accounts of the life of Jesus as we find in the Synoptic Gospels, and readers of the Gospels have a right to rest on their veracity and sufficiency as accounts of Jesus, of what He was, what He said, and what He did. They are their own best witnesses.
VI. The Messianic Idea in Its Bearings on Historicity of the Gospels.
1. The Jewish and the Christian Messiah:
In a striking passage in his Das Evangelium Marci (65, 66), Wellhausen vividly sets forth the significant contrast between the Jewish and the Christian conceptions of the Messiah. We quote the words, notwithstanding the fact that Wellhausen does not regard the passage, Mr 8:31 ff, as historical. With him what is set forth there is not the figure of the historical Jesus, but a picture of the persecuted church.
"The confession of Peter, `Thou art the Messiah,' affords," he says, "the occasion for the setting forth of what up to this time was latent. He has elicited the confession and accepted it. Nevertheless, He accepts it with a correction; a correction that follows as a matter of course. He is not the Messiah who will restore the kingdom of Israel, but another Messiah altogether. Not to set up the kingdom does He go to Jerusalem, but He goes in order to be crucified. Through sorrow and death He goes into glory, and only by this way can others also enter. The kingdom of God is no Judaistic kingdom; the kingdom is destined only for some chosen individuals, for disciples. The thought of the possibility of a metanoia of the people has wholly disappeared. Into the place of a command to repent addressed to all steps the command to follow, and that can be obeyed only by a very few. The conception of following loses now its proper forces and takes a higher meaning. It does not mean what it meant up to this time, namely, to accompany and to follow Him during His lifetime; it overflows that meaning; one is to follow Him even unto death. The following is an imitatio possible only after His death, and this is to be attained only by a very few. One must bear his cross after Him. .... The situation of the oldest congregation and its tone is here foreshadowed by Jesus as He goes to meet his fate."
A similar passage occurs in the Einleitung, which ends with the significant sentence, "All these are noteworthy signs of the time in which He takes His standpoint" (81).
2. Originality of the Christian Conception:
Elsewhere Wellhausen admits that the sections of the Gospels following the scene at Caesarea-Philippi contain what was known as the distinctive Gospel of the apostolic church. But this Gospel owed its origin to the apostolic church itself. It is a question of the highest importance, and the answer cannot be determined by mere literary criticism: Is the Christian conception of the Messiah due to Jesus? or is it due to the reflection of the church? Which is the more probable? It is agreed, Wellhausen being witness, that the Christian conception was subversive of the Jewish outlook, that the two were in contradiction in many ways. One can understand the Christian conception, and its triumph over the Jewish among the Christian people, if it had been set forth by the Master; but it is unintelligible as a something which originated in the congregation itself. The conception of a crucified Messiah, of a suffering Saviour, was a conception which was, during the years of His earthly ministry, in the mind of Jesus alone. It was not in the minds of the disciples, until He had risen from the dead. And it was not in the minds of His contemporaries. But it was the ruling conception in the Jerusalem church as it is in the Epistles of Paul. No: the conception of the suffering Saviour was not the invention of the church, nor did it rise from her thought of her own needs; it was a gift to her from the suffering and risen Lord. Not without a great impulse, nor without a strong source of persuasion, do men displace notions which they have cherished for generations, and substitute notions which are contradictory and subversive of those fiercely and firmly held.
We take these chapters therefore as historical, and as descriptive of the historical Jesus. If we can do so, then the matter is intelligible, not otherwise. It is also to be observed in this relation that the needs of the church are new needs. There is no provision in the New Testament for the needs of the natural man. The critical view often puts the cart before the horse, and this is one illustration of the fact. The needs of the church are the creation of Christ. They are new needs, or needs only imperfectly felt by humanity before Jesus came.
3. The Messianic Hope:
Be the needs of the church as great as they may, they are not creative; they are only responsive to the higher call. Nor is it a possible hypothesis that lies at the basis of the criticism of Wellhausen and of many others. Since the time of Baur it has often been said or assumed that it was the Messianic hope that gave concreteness to Christianity; that through the prevalence of the Messianic hope, Christianity was enabled to enter on its career of victory. This is another case of the husteron proteron. It is the historical Jesus that has given concreteness and definiteness to the Messianic conceptions which were current in His time. Because at the heart of the Christian conception there was this concrete gracious figure, and because of the commanding influence of Jesus Christ, this form of Messianism entered into human life, flourished and endured, and is with us today. Other forms of Messianism have only an antiquarian value. They may be discussed as of literary interest, but their practical significance is as nothing. No doubt Messianic categories were ransacked by the church to see if they could be used in order more fully to set forth the significance of Jesus Christ. But the essence of the matter did not lie in them but in Him, whom they had known, loved and served. It is time that a newer critical assumption should be found than the obsolete, worn-out one that the church invented the Christ. We know a little of the early church, and we know its immaturity and its limitations. We have learned something, too, of the Jews at the time of our Lord, and we note that in the Gospels their limitations have been transcended, their immaturity has been overcome, and how? By the fact of Christ. He is so great that He must be real.
VII. The Old Testament in Its Bearing on the Synoptic Gospels.
It is always to be remembered that the Old Testament was the Bible of the early Christians. They accepted it as the Word of God, and as authoritative for the guidance of life and conduct. It is one thing to admit and assert this; it is another thing to say that the story of the Old Testament molded and directed the story of Jesus as it is in the Synoptic Gospels. This has been widely asserted, but without adequate proof. As a matter of fact Christianity, when it accepted the Old Testament as the word of God, interpreted it in a fashion which had not been accented before. It interpreted it in the light of Jesus Christ. Tendencies, facts, meanings, which had been in the Old Testament came into light, and the Bible of the Christians was a Bible which testified of Christ. That on which the Jews laid stress passed into the background, and that which they had neglected came into prominence. This view is set forth by Paul: "Unto this day, whenever Moses is read, a veil lieth upon their heart" (2Co 3:15). Or as it is put in Luke, "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Behooved it not the Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into his glory?" (24:25 f). In the Christian interpretation stress was laid on meanings which Jewish readers had neglected, and so the church read the Old Testament in the new light, and things formerly hidden leaped into view. So the suffering servant of Yahweh became for them the keystone of the Old Testament, and the ritual sacrifices and ceremonies of the Old Testament obtained a new meaning. The story of Israel and of its patriarchs, lawgivers, priests, kings and prophets, became full of significance for the new religion, and its psalms and prophecies were searched because they testified of Christ. This is not the place to inquire into the truth of the Christian interpretation, but the fact is undeniable. The inference is that the Old Testament did not, as it was understood by the Jews, influence the conceptions which the church had of Christ; rather the influence of Christ, His commanding personality, and His history gave a new meaning to the Old Testament, a meaning undreamed of before. The Epistle to the Hebrews might have as an alternative title, "How to find Christ in the Old Testament." So powerful was the impression made on the disciples by the personality of Jesus, by His whole demeanor, by His teaching, His life, death and resurrection, that they saw all things in the light of it. The difficulty we have in justifying the references to prophecy, in the light of historical criticism, is a testimony to the fact that the prophecy did not dictate the fact; it was the fact that dictated the accommodation of the prophecy. In this relation also, the supreme fact is the personality of Jesus.
VIII. The Jesus of the Gospels as Thinker.
1. The Ethics of Jesus:
Turning from the conception of the suffering Saviour in the Synoptics, we come to the aspect of Jesus as teacher and thinker, and here also we find abundant evidence of the historical character of the Gospel presentation. As the ethics of Jesus are treated in another article, it is sufficient to say here that the conception of the ethical man and His conduct set forth in His teaching is of unusual breadth, and when worked out in detail, yields an ideal of man in himself, and in relation to others, which transcends all other ethical teaching known to mankind. This, too, we must trace to His unique personality, and not to the reflection of the church.
2. Jesus as Thinker:
A glance may be taken at Jesus under His more general aspect as thinker. As thinker, Jesus stands alone. He speaks with authority, and whoever understands must obey. The Synoptic Gospels, in this respect, are unique. There is nothing like them in literature. Not even in the Bible is there anything to compare with them. Even in the other books of the New Testament we do not find anything like the attitude of Jesus to the common things of life. The world's literature shows no parallel to the parables of the Gospels. Here, at any rate, we are on safe ground in saying that these are not due to the reflection of the church. They have an individual stamp which accredits them as the product of one mind. But a great deal more may be said on the characteristic features of the thinking of Jesus. He is the only thinker who goes straight from the common things of daily life and daily experience into the deepest mysteries of life. The deepest thoughts which man can think are suggested to Him by what everybody sees or does. It is not easy within reasonable limits to do justice to this feature of the Synoptic Gospels. Jesus is at home amid the common things and common occupations of life, because He discerns the Father's presence in them all. What a series of pictures of the world, and of occupations of men, could be gathered from these Gospels! This feature of them was neglected until men under the teaching of poets and painters returned into sympathy with external Nature. We are only beginning to see what wealth, from this point of view, is in the Gospels. Poetic sympathy with Nature is a comparatively modern attainment, yet it is in the Gospels. Wind and weather, mountain and valley, seedtime and harvest, summer and winter, sowing and reaping, buying and selling, all are there, transfigured into higher meanings, and made vocal of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. Other thinkers rise gradually, and by many steps, from common experience, into what they have to describe of the higher thought and wider generalizations through which they seek to interpret the mystery of life and of the universe. But this thinker needs no middle terms. He sees, e.g., a woman preparing bread for the use of the family, and in this process perceives the mystery of the kingdom of heaven. Whenever He touches on these common things, immediately they are transfigured. They become luminous with the presence of the spiritual world, and earth becomes full of heaven, and every bush is aflame with God.
We note these things because they have a close bearing on the origin and character of the Synoptic Gospels. They bear the stamp of a unique, a creative personality. Be the processes through which the materials of the Gospels have passed what they may, yet these have not obliterated nor blurred the essential characteristics of that unique personality. When the comparisons of the similarities and differences of the Gospels have been exhausted, the problem of their origin remains, and that problem can be solved only by the recognition of a creative personality who alike by word and work was unlike any other that the world has ever seen.
IX. The Problem of the Gospels.
The Jesus of the Gospels is the Son of God. Stated in its highest form, the problem which the evangelists had in hand was how to represent a Divine being under human conditions, and to set Him forth in such a way that in that presentation there should be nothing unworthy of the Divine, and nothing inconsistent with the human conditions under which He worked and lived. This was the greatest problem ever set to literature, and how the evangelists presented and solved it is found in the Gospels. There it has been solved. Even a writer like Bousset admits: "Already for Mk is Jesus not only the Messiah of the Jewish people, but the miraculous eternal Son of God, whose glory shone in the world. .... For the faith of the community, which the oldest evangelist already shares, Jesus is the miraculous Son of God, in whom men believe, whom men put wholly on the side of God" (Was wissen wir von Jesus? 54, 57). The contrast between the Jesus of the Synoptics and the Pauline and Johannine Christ, so often emphasized, thus begins to disappear. The purpose of the Synoptics, as of John, is to lead men to "believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God," that, believing, they "may have life in his name" (Joh 20:31).
Besides the works mentioned in the article, reference may be made to the following: E.A. Abbott, article "Gospels" in Encyclopedia Britannica (11th edition), edition 9 (with Rushbrooke), Common Tradition of the Synoptic Gospels, and other works; Sanday, Gospels in the 2nd Century, The Life of Christ in Recent Criticism; Sir John Hawkins, Horae Synopticae; G. Salmon, Introduction to New Testament; H. Chase, "The Gospels in the Light of Historical Criticism," Essay X in Cambridge Biblical Essays, edited by Dr. Swete (1905); H. L. Jackson, "The Present State of the Synop, tic Problem," Essay XIII in Cambridge Biblical Essays, edited by Dr. Swete (1909); Peake, Introduction to New Testament; A. Loisy, Les evangiles synoptiques (1907-8); J.M. Thomson, The Synoptic Gospels, Arranged in Parallel Cols. (1910; this scholarly work does for English Versions of the Bible what such works as Greswell's Harmonia Evangelica, Rushbrooke's Synopticon and Wright's Synopsis have done for the Greek texts); A.A. Hobson, The Diatessaron of Tatian and the Synoptic Problem (The University of Chicago Press, 1904).