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probably no part of the New Testament so important to us as the life and discourses of our Lord. Yet how many difficulties do we encounter, in interpreting his concise and often parabolic language; his broad and half-enigmatic maxims. Now the very fact of our having four narratives preserved to us, instead of one continuous tale, may well excite intelligent interest, as well as inspire an augury that this method was providentially adopted. The advantage of such a state of things to the ascertainment of truth is obvious. A false tale would break down under its own contradictions; a true one, by its minor variations and substantial agreement, carries conviction to the reader, in proportion as he is diligent in sifting all the accounts. By placing the same discourses, as related in different evangelists, side by side, we can often learn whether it is in any case probable, that we have the precise words uttered by the Saviour : whether the sentiments which precede and follow were probably spoken by him in that very order and connexion, or not: what was the immediate scope and purport of his address : all which things are sometimes of much weight in determining his meaning.
It is a common practice with inconsiderate readers to treat all four narratives as one: provided that what they read is in “ the Bible,” they care not whether it come from Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. But the peculiarities of the different writers of Scripture are not trifling; nor were they permitted for nothing. A careful student cannot overlook the significant fact, in the case of the four evangelists; and if Christians universally were ever so disposed to overlook it, we are not permitted to do so, because of the objections urged against us by unbelievers. They have a just plea in claiming to disprove one narrative by the other, if they can : nor are they slow in alleging numerous contrarieties, which, in their apprehension, amount to such disproof. It then, of necessity, devolves on Christians either to refute the supposed fact; or, admitting that there are minor inconsistencies, to show reason why they may be made light of. But we cannot know, in numerous cases, which of the two is the right reply, until we have critically compared the four accounts, side by side: and in the endeavour to do this, we presently find that we are unawares making a “Harmony."
If any one, moreover, shall succeed in establishing the chronology of Christ's ministry on a basis so certain as to convince all intelligent and assiduous readers, there will assuredly be another most valuable result; namely, the increased vividness of conception which may then be attained concerning the details of those few months, the interest of which will only be understood in eternity. To be able to follow in one's mind the path of Jesus, as he went from place to place teaching ; to apprehend the intervals of time, the measures of space; exceedingly helps to impress
the whole tale on the memory and on the heart. It is, we apprehend, very principally with this object, that Dr. C. has entered on his laborious computations. Having settled certain outlines which must regulate the chronology, he borrows from astronomers the means of ascertaining when the Passover fell in those years; and has constructed a calendar, to exhibit the very days of the month on which (or nearly on which) each event must, according to his view, have happened. In prosecution of the same endthe giving vividness to the evangelical narrative—he has added a highly-interesting detailed discussion on the localities of Palestine, compiled of course from numerous modern travellers. He has also made good use of Josephus, in the description of Jerusalem and of the temple; both of which are illustrated by maps. This, though a useful and praiseworthy task, is not one of theological difficulty, nor involving any arduous questions.
The Preliminary Dissertations are in all four. I. On the duration of our Saviour's ministry. II. On the structure of the first three gospels, in relation to the succession of events. III. On the political and geographical state of Palestine, at the period of our Lord's ministry. (This is that of which we just spoke.) IV. On the succession of events recorded in the gospels. The fourth topic must of course be chiefly determined by the opinion held concerning the first; and this again, the duration of the Lord's ministry, is dependent on the question, how many passovers his ministry embraced.
Three principal opinions have been maintained on this subject —that there were two, or three, or four* passovers, between the baptism and crucifixion of Jesus. Dr. C. discusses the reasons that can be advanced, for or against each of these three hypotheses. He exhibits the opinions of the ancient Christian writers: which may be roughly expressed by saying, that the earliest opinion favoured two passovers, in the third century some held three, and Eusebius in the fourth century held four. He apprehends, that if there is any weight at all in tradition, to which however he ascribes but little, it is on the side of the dipaschal theory; which he has embraced himself; while he attributes it, with Bishop Marsh, to the influence of Eusebius, that the quadripaschal theory prevailed for full thirteen centuries. Yet, in his judgment, this last is far less tenable than the tripaschal.
Without the gospel of John, no one would have dreamed of more than two passovers; and it is principally on the sixth chapter of that evangelist, (where we read, ver. 4, ' The passover, a
* Dr. C. informs us, that Whiston, Macknight, Scaliger, Sir I. Newton, and Stillingfleet, held five passovers; but he regards this view as entirely abaddoned by the learned, and needing no special refutation.
6 came to
feast of the Jews, was nigh,') that the belief of three passovers rests. Dr. C. is not moved by this argument, because that sixth chapter describes the same event as is recorded in Luke ix. 10–17; and, in the 51st verse of the same chapter it is said It
when the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.' Hence he infers, * that the miracle of the five thousand took place only a little before the death of Jesus, and that the passover intended in John vi. 4, was that at which he was crucified. This requires us to suppose that chapter (John vi.) to be out of chronological order. He thinks it possible, that because the event there narrated, took place at a different part of the country, namely, the lake of Galilee, the writer was unwilling to interpose it between the seventh chapter and the eighteenth, which record occurrences at Jerusalem or in the neighbourhood. He
He is confirmed in the opinion, that there is such a transposition, chiefly, (as appears to us) by our Lord's very remarkable reference, in John vii. 21, to the miracle of Bethesda : “I have done one work, and ye vel.' For, if between John v. and John vii. we interpose (according to the tripaschal theory,) an entire year and more, during which time also the same theory supposes the numerous Galilæan miracles to take place ; such a reference to his doing one work’ appears unnatural. Besides, it becomes almost needful to suppose that he was absent from Jerusalem that whole year; whereas Dr. C. thinks, that in obedience to the law of Moses our Lord doubtless presented himself punctually at Jerusalem at each of the three great annual feasts. Farther, the nature of the discourse in John vi., (it is urged by Dr. C.,) favours the belief that Jesus saw his death as already impending; and to this agree the words with which the evangelist closes the chapter, Judas Iscariot, who, •ñuellɛ zapadidovai aŭròv, was on the point of betraying him;' which sense the Greek, according to classical usage, most naturally affects. Nor is it credible that Jesus would have denounced one of his apostles as a false accuser, (improperly translated “a
devil' in the authorized version,) when full thirteen months remained for him to associate with his brethren.
These considerations appear so weighty to Dr. C.'s mind, that he regards the point as proved. The next question which needs to be discussed, is, whether the order of events in Matthew or in Luke adheres the more nearly to chronological accuracy. He sets aside, most justly, a fine-drawn argument advanced by some, from Luke's introduction, where that writer states his intention
* We see little weight in this argument. On his own showing, Luke does not at all adhere to the order of time: we have no right, then, to urge, that the events in his ninth chapter are at all consecutive or near together.
to set forth in order the things delivered to him. But even a
I. That our Lord's ministry contained two passovers only.
the last passover was approaching.
or Luke's. IV. That Luke's Gnomology is to be arranged, according as any
indications in Matthew or John may seem to lead. V. That portions connected by contiguity, in any one of the
gospels are not to be needlessly separated from each other. Certain difficulties to this view arise out of the walk through the corn-fields ; which in Matthew's gospel (xii. 1—18) is found after the mission of the twelve, and before the miracle of the five thousand. His scheme requires the mission of the twelve to be in November, and that miracle to be in March ; in which interval it is obvious that no ripe corn could be found. The doubtful sense of Luke's word DEUTEQOTOÚTY, (Luke vi. 1, unintelligibly rendered, the second sabbath after the first,' for the excellent reason, that the translators were utterly unable to decide its meaning,) tantalizes those who look to it for exact information on the time of this occurrence. But as in vi. 6, the same evangelist distinctly declares, that the man with a withered arm was healed on ANOTHER sabbath, while the language in Matthew would have led us to suppose that it was on the same sabbath, Dr. C. concludes that Matthew was not here precise in his chronology, and may well have deviated from the order of events. His calendar represents the walk through the corn fields as taking place on the 21st of May.
But we must now notice an additional labour which he has imposed on himself, irksome to a scholar, but of much value to the English reader --that of so modifying the common translation, that the same Greek words occurring in the corresponding passages of several evangelists, shall be represented by the same English; and that, as far as possible, different Greek words shall be denoted by a difference in the English. Where this could not
be effected with precision and good taste, it is made up for by marginal notes, in which also the Greek word is given. Such a change is absolutely requisite to enable an English reader to apprehend the existing phenomena of the first three gospels. We think his labour has been alike praiseworthy and successful. He adheres so closely to the spirit and tone of the familiar version, that, in reading his translation, we are but seldom aware of the changes. There are indeed special cases, in which it cannot but be noticed: because, if he touched the renderings at all, consistency obliged him to innovate in avoiding some well-known errors; such as that of using the word "devil for demon,' when the two Greek words are never confounded.
Even when we are obliged to regard it as uncertain, whether the chronology has been rightly fixed, many great advantages result from reading the three gospels side by side, in any or every harmony. In no other way can any one intimately understand the real nature and relationship of those narratives; the peculiar phenomena which they exhibit of agreement and diversity. He who has not studied them thus can scarcely touch on the subjects debated between Christians and unbelievers, without imminent risk of damaging his good cause by unwarranted and erroneous assertions concerning their composition. Yet we have no doubt,
Christians for this very reason dislike 'harmonies ;' becuse it cannot but be that they will suggest inquiries concerning the discrepancies of the writers, and other difficulties, which laziness and little faith would dread, but in which a more intelligent confidence in God, the God of truth, would be satisfied that much solid instruction is to be found. For, in truth, a Protestant must brace his heart and soul to fear no inquiry, in the name of him, trusting in whom he has disowned the mere traditions of men.
It did not fall within Dr. C.'s scope to discuss generally points of this nature; only in the appendix to his fourth dissertation, when engaged in settling the chronology of our Lord's ministry, it became requisite to determine the meaning of Luke iii. 1, 'fif• teenth year of the reign of Tiberius Cæsar,' which involves him in the question, whether the second chapter of Matthew can be reconciled with that date. He argues, that it cannot with propriety be computed from any other era than the death of Augustus, and accession of Tiberius to the empire: for though it is true that Tiberius, on becoming joint tribune with his stepfather some time before, became associated with him in the provinces as a coordinate authority, yet no instance occurs in the Roman historians in which his reign is computed from his tribuneship; nor is it even ascertainable at what time he first became tribune. To this he adds, that the early fathers followed a chronology which manifests that it had never occurred to them to understand the vypovía of Tiberius to mean any thing else than his sole impe