WE have now reached the extreme limit of time within which we think it in any degree worth while to seek for evidence as to the date and authorship of the Synoptics, and we might now proceed to the fourth Gospel; but before doing so it may be well to examine one or two other witnesses whose support has been claimed by apologists, although our attention may be chiefly confined to an inquiry into the date of such testimony, upon which its value, even if real, mainly depends so far as we are concerned. The first of these whom we must notice are the two Gnostic leaders, Ptolemaeus and Heracleon.
Epiphanius has preserved a certain "Epistle to Flora" ascribed to Ptolemaeus, in which, it is contended, there are "several quotations from Matthew, and one from the first chapter of John." [408:1] What date must be assigned to this Epistle? In reply to those who date it about the end of the second century, Tischendorf produces the evidence for an earlier period to which he assigns it. He says: "He (Ptolemaeus) appears in all the oldest sources as one of the most important, most influential of the disciples of Valentinus. As the period at which the latter himself flourished falls about 140, do we say too much when we represent Ptolemaeus as working at the latest about 160; Irenaeus (in the 2nd Book) and Hippolytus name him together with Heracleon; likewise pseudo-Tertullian (in the appendix to De Praescriptionibus Haereticorum) and Philastrius make him appear immediately After Valentinus. Irenaeus wrote the first and second books of his great work most probably before 180, and in both he occupies himself much with Ptolemaeus." [408:2] Dr. Westcott, beyond calling Ptolemaeus and Heracleon disciples of Valentinus, does not assign any date to either, and does not, of course, offer any further evidence on the point, although, in regard to Heracleon, he admits the ignorance in which we are as to all points of his history, [408:3] and states generally, in treating of him, that "the exact chronology of the early heretics is very uncertain." [408:4]
Let us examine the evidence upon which Tischendorf relies for the date he assigns to Ptolemaeus. He states in vague terms that Ptolemaeus appears "in all the oldest sources" (in allen den ältesten Quellen) as one of the most important disciples of Valentinus. We shall presently see what these sources are, but must now follow the argument: "As the date of Valentinus falls about 140, do we say too much when we represent Ptolemaeus as working at the latest about 160?" It is obvious that there is no evidence here, but merely assumption, and the manner in which the period "about 160" is begged is a clear admission that there are no certain data. The year might with equal propriety upon those grounds have been put ten years earlier or ten years later. The deceptive and arbitrary character of the conclusion, however, will be more apparent when we examine the grounds upon which the relative dates 140, and 160 rest. Tischendorf here states that the time at which Valentinus flourished falls about AD 140, but the fact is that, as all critics are agreed, and as even Tischendorf himself elsewhere states, [409:1] Valentinus came out of Egypt to Rome in that year, when his public career practically commenced, and he continued to flourish for at least twenty years after. [409:2] Tischendorf's pretended moderation, therefore, consists in dating the period when Valentinus flourished from the very year of his first appearance, and in assigning the active career of Ptolemaeus to 160, when Valentinus was still alive and teaching. He might on the same principle be dated 180, and even in that case there could be no reason for ascribing the Epistle to Flora to so early a period of his career. Tischendorf never even pretends to state any ground upon which Ptolemaeus must be connected with any precise part of the public life of Valentinus, and still less for determining the period of the career of Ptolemaeus at which the Epistle may have been composed. It is obvious that a wide limit for date thus exists.
After these general statements Tischendorf details the only evidence which is available. (1) "Irenaeus (in the 2nd Book) and Hippolytus name him together with Heracleon; likewise (2) pseudo-Tertullian (in the appendix to De Praescriptionibus Haereticorum) and Philastrius make him appear immediately after Valentinus," etc. We must examine these two points a little more closely in order to ascertain the value of such statements. With regard to the first (1), we shall presently see that the mention of the name of Ptolemaeus along with that of Heracleon throws no light upon the matter from any point of view, inasmuch as Tischendorf has as little authority for the date he assigns to the latter, and is in as complete ignorance concerning him as in the ease of Ptolemaeus. It is amusing, moreover, that Tischendorf employs the very same argument, which sounds well although it means nothing, inversely to establish the date of Heracleon. Here, he argues, "Irenaeus and Hippolytus name him (Ptolemaeus) together with Heracleon"; [410:1] there, he reasons, "Irenaeus names Heracleon together with Ptolemaeus," [410:2] etc. As neither the date assigned to the one nor to the other can stand alone, he tries to get them into something like an upright position by propping the one against the other -- an expedient which, naturally, meets with little success. We shall in dealing with the case of Heracleon show how untenable is the argument from the mere order in which such names are mentioned by these writers; meantime we may simply say that Irenaeus only once mentions the name of Heracleon in his works, and that the occasion on which he does so, and to which reference is here made, is merely an allusion to the Aeons "of Ptolemaeus himself, and of Heracleon, and all the rest who hold these views." [410:3] This phrase might have been used, exactly as it stands, with perfect propriety even if Ptolemaeus and Heracleon had been separated by a century. The only point which can be deduced from this coupling of names is that, in using the present tense, Irenaeus is speaking of his own contemporaries. We may make the same remark regarding Hippolytus, for, if his mention of Ptolemaeus and Heracleon has any weight at all, it is to prove that they were flourishing in his time: "Those who are of Italy, of whom is Heracleon and Ptolemaeus say ..." [410:4] etc. We shall have to go further into this point presently. As to (2) pseudo-Tertullian and Philastrius, we need only say that even if the fact of the names of the two Gnostics being coupled together could prove anything in regard to the date, the repetition by these writers could have no importance for us, their works being altogether based on those of Irenaeus and Hippolytus, [410:5] and scarcely, if at all, conveying independent information. [410:6] We have merely indicated the weakness of these arguments in passing, but shall again take them up further on.
The next and final consideration advanced by Tischendorf is the only one which merits serious attention. "Irenaeus wrote the first and second book of his great work most probably before 180, and in both he occupies himself much with Ptolemaeus." Before proceeding to examine the accuracy of this statement regarding the time at which Irenaeus wrote, we may ask what conclusion would be involved if Irenaeus really did compose the two books in AD 180 in which he mentions our Gnostics in the present tense? Nothing more than the simple fact that Ptolemaeus and Heracleon were promulgating their doctrines at that time. There is not a single word to show that they did not continue to flourish long after; and as to the "Epistle to Flora," Irenaeus apparently knows nothing of it, nor has any attempt been made to assign it to an early part of the Gnostic's career. Tischendorf, in fact, does not produce a single passage nor the slightest argument to show that Irenaeus treats our two Gnostics as men of the past, or otherwise than as heretics then actively disseminating their heterodox opinions; and, even taken literally, the argument of Tischendorf would simply go to prove that about AD 180 Irenaeus wrote part of a work in which he attacks Ptolemaeus and mentions Heracleon.
When did Irenaeus, however, really write his work against Heresies? Although our sources of credible information regarding him are exceedingly limited, we are not without materials for forming a judgment on the point. Irenaeus was probably born about AD 140-145, and is generally supposed to have died at the beginning of the third century (AD 202). We know that he was deputed by the Church of Lyons to bear to Eleutherus, then Bishop of Rome, the Epistle of that Christian community describing their sufferings during the persecution commenced against them in the seventeenth year of the reign of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (7th March, 177-178). [411:1] It is very improbable that this journey was undertaken, in any case, before the spring of AD 178, and, indeed, in accordance with the given data, the persecution itself may not have commenced earlier than the beginning of that year, so that his journey need not have been undertaken before the close of 178 or the spring of 179, to which epoch other circumstances might lead us. [411:2] There is reason to believe that he remained some time in Rome. Baronius states that Irenaeus was not appointed Bishop of Lyons till AD 180, for he says that the See remained vacant for that period after the death of Pothinus in consequence of the persecution. Now, certain expressions in his work show that Irenaeus did not write it until he became Bishop. [411:3] It is not known how long Irenaeus remained in Rome, but there is every probability that he must have made a somewhat protracted stay for the purpose of making himself acquainted with the various tenets of Gnostic and other heretics then being actively taught, and the preface to the first book refers to the pains he took. He wrote his work in Gaul, however, after his return from this visit to Rome. This is apparent from what he himself states in the Preface to the first Book: "I have thought it necessary," he says, "after having read the Memoirs (hupomnêmasi) of the disciples of Valentinus, as they call themselves, and having had personal intercourse with some of them and acquired full knowledge of their opinions, to unfold to thee," [412:1] etc. A little further on he claims from the friend to whom he addresses his work indulgence for any defects of style on the score of his being resident amongst the Keltae. [412:2] Irenaeus no doubt, during his stay in Rome, came in contact with the school of Ptolemaeus and Heracleon, if not with the Gnostic leaders themselves and, being shocked, as he describes himself, at the doctrines which they insidiously taught, he undertook, on his return to Lyons, to explain them that others might be exhorted to avoid such an "abyss of madness and blasphemy against Christ." [412:3] Irenaeus gives us other materials for assigning a date to his work. In the third Book he enumerates the bishops who had filled the Episcopal Chair of Rome, and the last whom he names is Eleutherus (AD 177-190), who, he says, "now in the twelfth place from the apostles, holds the inheritance of the episcopate." [412:4] There is, however, another clue which, taken along with this, leads us to a close approximation to the actual date. In the same Book, Irenaeus mentions Theodotion's version of the Old Testament: "But not as some of those say," he writes, "who now (nun) presume to alter the interpretation of the Scripture: 'Behold the young woman shall conceive, and bring forth a son,' as Theodotion, the Ephesian, translated it, and Aquila of Pontus, both Jewish proselytes." [412:5] Now we are informed by Epiphanius that Theodotion published his translation (hiring the reign of the Emperor Commodus [412:6] (AD 180-192). The Chronicon Paschale adds that it was during the Consulship of Marcellus, or, as Massuet [412:7] proposes to read, Marullus, who, jointly with Aelianus, assumed office AD 184. These dates decidedly agree with the passage of Irenaeus and with the other data, all of which lead us to about the same period within the episcopate of Eleutherus († c. 190). [413:1] We have here, therefore, a clue to the date at which Irenaeus wrote. It must be remembered that at that period the multiplication and dissemination of books was a very slow process. A work published about 184 or 185 could scarcely have come into the possession of Irenaeus in Gaul till some years later, and we are, therefore, brought towards the end of the episcopate of Eleutherus as the earliest date at which the first three books of his work against Heresies can well have been written, and the rest must be assigned to a later period under the episcopate of Victor († 198-199). [413:2]
At this point we must pause and turn to the evidence which Tischendorf offers regarding the date to be assigned to Heracleon. [413:3] As in the case of Ptolemaeus, we shall give it entire, and then examine it in detail. To the all-important question, "How old is Heracleon?" Tischendorf replies: "Irenaeus names Heracleon, together with Ptolemaeus (2:4, § 1), in a way which makes them appear as well-known representatives of the Valentinian school. This interpretation of his words is all the more authorised because he never again mentions Heracleon. Clement, in the 4th Book of his Stromata, written shortly after the death of Commodus (193), recalls an explanation by Heracleon of Luke 12:8, when he calls him the most noted man of the Valentinian school (ho tês Oualentinou scholês dokimôtatos is Clement's expression). Origen, at the beginning of his quotation from Heracleon, says that he was held to be a friend of Valentinus (ton Oualentinou legomenon einai gnôrimon Herakleôna). Hippolytus mentions him, for instance, in the following way (6:29): 'Valentinus, and Heracleon, and Ptolemaeus, and the whole school of these, disciples of Pythagoras and Plato ...' Epiphanius says (Haer. 41): 'Cerdo (the same who, according to Irenaeus 3:4, § 3, was in Rome under Bishop Hyginus with Valentinus.) follows these (Ophites, Kainities, Sethiani), and Heracleon.' After all this, Heracleon certainly cannot be placed later than 150 to 160. The expression which Origen uses regarding his relation to Valentinus must, according to linguistic usage, be understood of a personal relation." [414:1]
We have already pointed out that the fact that the names of Ptolemaeus and Heracleon are thus coupled together affords no clue in itself to the date of either, and their being mentioned as leading representatives of the school of Valentinus does not in any way involve the inference that they were not contemporaries of Irenaeus, living and working at the time he wrote. The way in which Irenaeus mentions them in this, the only passage throughout his whole work in which he names Heracleon, and to which Tischendorf pointedly refers, is as follows: "But if it was not produced, but was generated by itself, then that which is void is both like, and brother to, and of the same honour with, that Father who has before been mentioned by Valentinus; but it is really more ancient, having existed long before, and is more exalted than the rest of the Aeons of Ptolemaeus himself, and of Heracleon, and all the rest who hold these views." [414:2] We fail to recognise anything special here, of the kind inferred by Tischendorf, in the way in which mention is made of the two later Gnostics. If anything be clear, on the contrary, it is that distinction is drawn between Valentinus and Ptolemaeus and Heracleon, and that Irenaeus points out inconsistencies between the doctrines of the founder and those of his later followers. It is quite irrelevant to insist merely, as Tischendorf does, that Irenaeus and subsequent writers represent Ptolemaeus and Heracleon and other Gnostics of his time as of "the school" of Valentinus. The question simply is, whether in doing so they at all imply that these men were not contemporaries of Irenaeus, or necessarily assign their period of independent activity to the lifetime of Valentinus, as Tischendorf appears to argue? Most certainly not, and Tischendorf does not attempt to offer any evidence that they do so. We may perceive how utterly worthless such a fact is for the purpose of fixing an early date by merely considering the quotation which Tischendorf himself makes from Hippolytus: "Valentinus, therefore, and Heracleon and Ptolemaeus and the whole school of these, disciples of Pythagoras and Plato ..." [415:1] If the statement that men are of a certain school involves the supposition of coincidence of time, the three Gnostic leaders must be considered contemporaries of Pythagoras or Plato, whose disciples they are said to be. Again, if the order in which names are mentioned, as Tischendorf contends by inference throughout his whole argument, is to involve strict similar sequence of date, the principle applied to the whole of the early writers would lead to the most ridiculous confusion. Tischendorf quotes Epiphanius: "Cerdo follows these (the Ophites, Kainites, Sethiani), and Heracleon." Why he does so it is difficult to understand, unless it be to give the appearance of multiplying testimonies, for two sentences further on he is obliged to admit: "Epiphanius has certainly made a mistake, as in such things not unfrequently happens to him, when he makes Cerdo, who, however, is to be placed about 140, follow Heracleon." [415:2] This kind of mistake is, indeed, common to all the writers quoted, and when it is remembered that such an error is committed where a distinct and deliberate affirmation of the point is concerned, it will easily be conceived how little dependence is to be placed on the mere mention of names in the course of argument. We find Irenaeus saying that "neither Valentinus, nor Marcion, nor Saturninus, nor Basilides" possesses certain knowledge, [415:3] and elsewhere "of such an one as Valentinus, or Ptolemaeus, or Basilides." [415:4] To base an argument as to date on the order in which names appear in such writers is preposterous.
Tischendorf draws an inference from the statement that Heracleon was said to be a gnôrimos of Valentinus, that Origen declares him to have been his friend, holding personal intercourse with him. Origen, however, evidently knew nothing individually on the point, and speaks from mere hearsay, guardedly using the expression "said to be" (legomenon einai gnôrimon). But according to the later and patristic use of the word, gnôrimos meant nothing more than a "disciple," and it cannot here be necessarily interpreted into a "contemporary." Under no circumstances could such a phrase, avowedly limited to hearsay, have any weight. The loose manner in which the Fathers repeat each other, even in serious matters, is too well known to everyone acquainted with their writings to require any remark. Their inaccuracy keeps pace with their want of critical judgment. We have seen one of the mistakes of Epiphanius, admitted by Tischendorf to be only too common with him, which illustrates how little such data are to be relied on. We may point out another of the same kind committed by him in common with Hippolytus, pseudo-Tertullian, and Philastrius. Mistaking a passage of Irenaeus [416:1] regarding the sacred Tetrad (Kol-Arbas) of the Valentinian Gnosis, Hippolytus supposes Irenaeus to refer to another heretic leader. He at once treats the Tetrad as such a leader named "Kolarbasus," and after dealing (6:4) with the doctrines of Secundus, Ptolemaeus, and Heracleon, he proposes (§ 5) to show "what are the opinions held by Marcus and Kolarbasus." [416:2] At the end of the same book he declares that Irenaeus, to whom he states that he is indebted for a knowledge of their inventions, has completely refuted the opinions of these heretics, and he proceeds to treat of Basilides, considering that it has been sufficiently demonstrated "whose disciples are Marcus and Kolarbasus, the successors of the school of Valentinus." [416:3] At an earlier part of the work, he had spoken in a more independent way in reference to certain persons who had promulgated great heresies: "Of these," he says, "one is Kolarbasus, who endeavours to explain religion by measures and numbers." [416:4] The same mistake is committed by pseudo-Tertullian [416:5] and Philastrius, [416:6] each of whom devotes a chapter to this supposed heretic. Epiphanius, as might have been expected, fell into the same error, and he proceeds elaborately to refute the heresy of the Kolarbasians, "which is Heresy XV." He states that Kolarbasus follows Marcus and Ptolemaeus, [416:7] and after discussing the opinions of this mythical Heretic he devotes the next chapter, "which is Heresy XVI," to the Heracleonites, commencing it with the information that "A certain Heracleon follows after Kolarbasus." [416:8] This absurd mistake [416:9] shows how little these writers knew of the Gnostics of whom they wrote, and how the one ignorantly follows the other.
The order, moreover, in which they set the heretic leaders varies considerably. It will be sufficient for us merely to remark here that while pseudo-Tertullian [417:1] and Philastrius [417:2] adopt the following order after the Valentinians: Ptolemaeus, Secundus, Heracleon, Marcus, and Kolarbasus; Epiphanius [417:3] places them: Secundus, Ptolemaeus, Marcosians, Kolarbasus, and Heracleon; and Hippolytus [417:4] again: Secundus, Ptolemaeus, Heracleon, Marcus, and Kolarbasus. The vagueness of Irenaeus had left some latitude here, and his followers were uncertain. The somewhat singular fact that Irenaeus only once mentions Heracleon, whilst he so constantly refers to Ptolemaeus, taken in connection with this order, in which Heracleon is always placed after Ptolemaeus, [417:5] and by Epiphanius after Marcus, may be reasonably explained by the fact that, whilst Ptolemaeus had already gained considerable notoriety when Irenaeus wrote, Heracleon may only have begun to come into notice. Since Tischendorf lays so much stress upon pseudo-Tertullian and Philastrius making Ptolemaeus appear immediately after Valentinus, this explanation is after his own principles.
We have already pointed out that there is not a single passage in Irenaeus, or any other early writer, assigning Ptolemaeus and Heracleon to a period anterior to the time when Irenaeus undertook to refute their opinions. Indeed, Tischendorf has not attempted to show that they do, and he has merely, on the strength of the general expression that these Gnostics were of the school of Valentinus, boldly assigned to them an early date. Now, as we have stated, he himself admits that Valentinus only came from Egypt to Rome in AD 140, and continued teaching till 160, [417:6] and these dates are most clearly given by Irenaeus himself. [417:7] Why, then, should Ptolemaeus, and Heracleon, to take an extreme case, not have known Valentinus in their youth, and yet have flourished chiefly during the last two decades of the second century? Irenaeus himself may be cited as a parallel case, which Tischendorf at least cannot gainsay. He is never tired of telling us that Irenaeus, was the disciple of Polycarp, [417:8] whose martyrdom he sets about AD 165; and he considers that the intercourse of Irenaeus with the aged Father must properly be put about AD 150, [417:9] yet he himself dates the death of Irenaeus AD 202, [417:10] and nothing is more certain than that the period of his greatest activity and influence falls precisely in the last twenty years of the second century. Upon his own data, therefore, that Valentinus may have taught for twenty years after his first appearance in Rome AD 140 -- and there is no ground whatever for asserting that he did not teach for even a much longer period -- Ptolemaeus and Heracleon might well have personally sat at the feet of Valentinus in their youth, as Irenaeus is said to have done about the very same period at the feet of Polycarp, and yet, like him, have flourished chiefly towards the end of the century.
Although there is not the slightest ground for asserting that Ptolemaeus and Heracleon were not contemporaries with Irenaeus, flourishing like him towards the end of the second century, there are, on the other hand, many circumstances which altogether establish the conclusion that they were. We have already shown, in treating of Valentinus, [418:1] that Irenaeus principally directs his work against the followers of Valentinus living at the time he wrote, and notably of Ptolemaeus and his school. [418:2] In the preface to the first book, having stated that be writes after personal intercourse with some of the disciples of Valentinus, [418:3] he more definitely declares his purpose: "We will, then, to the best of our ability, clearly and concisely set forth the opinions of those who are now (nun) teaching heresy, I speak particularly of the disciples of Ptolemaeus, (tôn pero Ptolemaion) whose system is an offshoot from the school of Valentinus." [418:4] Nothing could be more explicit. Irenaeus, in this passage distinctly represents Ptolemaeus as teaching at the time he is writing, and this statement alone is decisive, more especially as there is not a single known fact which is either directly or indirectly opposed to it.
Tischendorf lays much stress on the evidence of Hippolytus in coupling together the names of Ptolemaeus and Heracleon with that of Valentinus; similar testimony of the same writer, fully confirming the above statement of Irenaeus, will, therefore, have the greater force. Hippolytus says that the Valentinians differed materially among themselves regarding certain points which led to divisions, one party being called the Oriental and the other the Italian. "They of the Italian party, of whom is Heracleon and Ptolemaeus, say, etc. ... They, however, who are of the Oriental party, of whom is Axionicus and Bardesanes, maintain," etc. [418:5] Now, Ptolemaeus and Heracleon are here quite clearly represented as being contemporary with Axionicus and Bardesanes, and, without discussing whether Hippolytus does not, in continuation, describe them as all living at the time he wrote, [418:6] there can be no doubt that some of them were, and that this evidence confirms again the statement of Irenaeus. Hippolytus, in a subsequent part of his work, states that a certain Prepon, a Marcionite, has introduced something new, and "now, in our own time (en tois kath' hêmas chronois nun), has written a work regarding the heresy in reply to Bardesanes." [419:1] The researches of Hilgenfeld have proved that Bardesanes lived at least over the reign of Heliogabalus (218-222), and the statement of Hippolytus is thus confirmed. [419:2] Axionicus again was still flourishing when Tertullian wrote his work against the Valentinians (201-226). Tertullian says: "Axionicus of Antioch alone to the present day (ad hodiernum) respects the memory of Valentinus, by keeping fully the rules of his system." [419:3] Although on the whole they may be considered to have flourished somewhat earlier, Ptolemaeus and Heracleon are thus shown to have been for a time at least contemporaries of Axionicus and Bardesanes. [419:4]
Moreover, it is evident that the doctrines of Ptolemaeus and Heracleon represent a much later form of Gnosticism than that of Valentinus. It is generally admitted that Ptolemaeus reduced the system of Valentinus to consistency, [419:5] and the inconsistencies which existed between the views of the Master and these later followers, and which indicate a much more advanced stage of development, are constantly pointed out by Irenaeus and the Fathers who wrote in refutation of heresy. Origen also represents Heracleon as amongst those who held opinions sanctioned by the Church, [419:6] and both he and Ptolemaeus must indubitably be classed amongst the latest Gnostics. It is clear, therefore, that Ptolemaeus and Heracleon were contemporaries of Irenaeus at the time he composed his work against Heresies (185-195), both, and especially the latter, flourishing and writing towards the end of the second century.
We mentioned, in first speaking of these Gnostics, that
Epiphanius has preserved an Epistle, attributed to Ptolemaeus,
which is addressed to Flora, one of his disciples. [420:1] This Epistle is neither
mentioned by Irenaeus nor by any other writer before Epiphanius.
There is nothing in the Epistle itself to show that it was really
written by Ptolemaeus himself. Assuming it to be by him, however,
the Epistle was in all probability written towards the end of the
second century, and it does not, therefore, come within the scope
of our inquiry. We may, however, briefly notice the supposed
references to our Gospels which it contains. The writer of the
Epistle, without any indication of a written source from which he
derived them, quotes sayings of Jesus for which parallels are found
in our first Gospel. These sayings are introduced by such
expressions as "he said," "our Saviour declared," but never as
quotations from any Scripture. Now, in affirming that they are
taken from the Gospel according to Matthew, apologists exhibit
their usual arbitrary haste, for we must clearly and decidedly
state that there is not a single one of the passages which does not
present decided variations from the parallel passages in our first
Synoptic. We subjoin for comparison in parallel columns the
passages from the Epistle and Gospel:
|EPISTLE (HAER. 33, § 3).||MATT. 12:25.|
|Oikia gar ê polis meristheisa eph' eautên hoti mê dynatai stênai, ho sôtêr hêmôn apephênato ...||... pasa polis ê oikia meristheisa kath' eautês ou stathêsetai.|
MATT. 19:8 and 6.
|§ 4 ephê autois hoti Môusês pros tên sklêrokardian humôn epetrepse to apoluiein tên gynaika autou, ap' archês gar ou gegonen outôs, Theos gar, phêsi, synezeuxe tautên tên syzugian, kai ho synezeuxe ho kurios, anthrôpos mê chôrizetô, ephê.||legei autois hoti
Môusês pros tên sklêrokardian humôn
epetrepsen humin apolusai tas gynaikas humôn, ap' archês
de ou gegonen outôs.|
6. ... ho oun ho ho theos syrezeuxen, anthrôpos mê chôrizetô.
|§ 4. Ho gar Theos, phêsin, eipe, tima ton patera sou kai tên mêtera sou, hina eu soi genêtai. Humeis de, phêsin, eirêkate, tois presbyterois legôn, dôron tô theô ho ean ôphelêthês ex emou,||Ho gar theos eneteilato, legôn, Tima ton
patera kai tên mêtera, kai ho kakologôn,
5. Humeis de legete, Hos an eipê tô patri ê tê pêtri, Dôron, ho ean ex emou ôphelêthês, kai ou mê timêsei ton patera autou, ê tên mêtera autou,
|kai êkurôsate ton
nomon tou theou, dia tên paradosin tôn presbyterôn
Touto de Hêsias exephônêsen eipôn,
|6. Kai êkurôsate ton
nomon tou theou dia tên paradosin humon.|
7. Hupokritai, kalôs eprophêteusen peri humôn Hêsaias, legôn,
|Ho laos outos, k.t.l. ...||8. Ho laos outos, k.t.l.|
to gar, Ophthalmon anti ophthlamou, kai odonta anti
§ 6. egô gar legô humin mê antistênai holôs tô ponêrô alla ean tis se rhapisê strepson autô kai tên allên siagona. [421:1]
Ophthalmon anti ophthalmou, kai odonta anti odontos.|
39. Egô de legô humin, mê antistênai tô ponêerô all' hostis se rhapisei epi tên dexian sou siagona, strepson autô kai tên allên.
It must not be forgotten that Irenaeus makes very explicit statements as to the recognition of other sources of evangelical truth than our Gospels by the Valentinians, regarding which we have fully written when discussing the founder of that sect. [421:2] We know that they professed to have direct traditions from the Apostles through Theodas, a disciple of the Apostle Paul; [421:3] and in the Epistle to Flora allusion is made to the succession of doctrine received by direct tradition from the Apostles. [421:4] Irenaeus says that the Valentinians profess to derive their views from unwritten sources, [421:5] and he accuses them of rejecting the Gospels of the Church; [421:6] but, on the other hand, he states that they had many Gospels different from what he calls the Gospels of the Apostles. [421:7]
With regard to Heracleon, it is said that he wrote Commentaries on the third and fourth Gospels. The authority for this statement is very insufficient. The assertion with reference to the third Gospel is based solely upon a passage in the Stromata of the Alexandrian Clement. Clement quotes a passage found in Luke 12:8, 11, 12, and says: "Expounding this passage, Heracleon, the most distinguished of the school of Valentinus, says as follows," etc. [421:8] This is immediately interpreted into a quotation from a Commentary on Luke. [421:9] We merely point out that from Clement's remark it by no means follows that Heracleon wrote a Commentary at all; and, further, there is no evidence that the passage commented upon was actually from our third Gospel. [421:10] The Stromata of Clement were not written until after AD 193, and in them we find the first and only reference to this supposed Commentary. We need not here refer to the Commentary on the fourth Gospel, which is merely inferred from references in Origen (c. AD 225) but of which we have neither earlier nor fuller information. [422:1] We must, however, before leaving this subject, mention that Origen informs us that Heracleon quotes from the Preaching of Peter (Kêrygma Petrou, Praedicatio Petri), a work which, as we have already several times mentioned, was cited by Clement of Alexandria as authentic and inspired Holy Scripture. [422:2]
The epoch at which Ptolemaeus and Heracleon flourished would, in
any case, render testimony regarding our Gospels of little value.
The actual evidence which they furnish, however, is not of a
character to prove even the existence of our Synoptics, and much
less does it in any way bear upon their character or
A similar question of date arises regarding Celsus, who wrote a work entitled Logos Alêthês, True Doctrine, which is no longer extant, of which Origen composed an elaborate refutation. The Christian writer takes the arguments of Celsus in detail, presenting to us, therefore, its general features, and giving many extracts; and, as Celsus professes to base much of his accusation upon the writings in use amongst Christians, although he does not name a single one of them, it becomes desirable to ascertain what those works were, and the date at which Celsus wrote. As usual, we shall state the case by giving the reasons assigned for an early date.
Arguing against Volkmar and others, who maintain, from a passage at the close of his work, that Origen, writing about the second quarter of the third century, represents Celsus as his contemporary, [422:3] Tischendorf, referring to the passage, which we shall give in its place, proceeds to assign an earlier date upon the following grounds: "But, indeed, even in the first book, at the commencement of the whole work, Origen says: "Therefore, I cannot compliment a Christian whose faith is in danger of being shaken by Celsus, who yet does not even (oude) still (eti) live the common life among men, but already and long since (êdê kai palai) is dead.' ... In the same first book Origen says: 'We have heard that there were two men of the name of Celsus, Epicureans, the first under Nero; this one' (that is to say, ours) 'under Hadrian and later.' It is not impossible that Origen mistakes when he identified his Celsus with the Epicurean living 'under Hadrian and later'; but it is impossible to convert the same Celsus of whom Origen says this into a contemporary of Origen. Or would Origen himself, in the first book, really have set his Celsus 'under Hadrian (117-138) and later,' yet in the eighth have said: 'We will wait (about 225) to see whether he will still accomplish this design of making another work follow'? Now, until some better discovery regarding Celsus is attained, it will be well to hold to the old opinion that Celsus wrote his book about the middle of the second century, probably between 150-160," etc. [423:1]
It is scarcely necessary to point out that the only argument advanced by Tischendorf bears solely against the assertion that Celsus was a contemporary of Origen, "about 225," and leaves the actual date entirely unsettled. He not only admits that the statement of Origen regarding the identity of his opponent with the Epicurean of the reign of Hadrian "and later" may be erroneous, but he tacitly rejects it, and, having abandoned the conjecture of Origen as groundless and untenable, he substitutes a conjecture of his own, equally unsupported by reasons, that Celsus probably wrote between 150-160. Indeed, he does not attempt to justify this date, but arbitrarily decides to hold by it until a better can be demonstrated. He is forced to admit the ignorance of Origen on the point, and he does not conceal his own.
Now it is clear that the statement of Origen in the preface to his work, quoted above, that Celsus, against whom he writes, is long since dead, [423:2] is made in the belief that this Celsus was the Epicurean who lived under Hadrian, [423:3] which Tischendorf, although he avoids explanation of the reason, rightly recognises to be a mistake. Origen undoubtedly knew nothing of his adversary, and it obviously follows that, his impression that he is Celsus the Epicurean being erroneous, his statement that he was long since dead, which is based upon that impression, loses all its value. Origen certainly at one time conjectured his Celsus to be the Epicurean of the reign of Hadrian, for he not only says so directly in the passage quoted, but on the strength of his belief in the fact he accuses him of inconsistency. "But Celsus," he says, "must be convicted of contradicting himself; for he is discovered from other of his works to have been an Epicurean; but here, because he considered that he could attack the Word more effectively by not avowing the views of Epicurus, he pretends, etc. ... Remark, therefore, the falseness of his mind," etc. [424:1] And from time to time he continues to refer to him as an Epicurean, [424:2] although it is evident that, in the writing before him, he constantly finds evidence that he is of a wholly different school. Beyond this belief, founded avowedly on mere hearsay, Origen absolutely knows nothing of the personality of Celsus or the time at which he wrote, [424:3] and he sometimes very naively expresses his uncertainty regarding him. Referring in one place to certain passages which seem to imply a belief in magic on the part of Celsus, Origen adds: "I do not know whether he is the same who has written several books against magic." [424:4] Elsewhere he says: "…the Epicurean Celsus (if he be the same who composed two other books against Christians)," etc. [424:5]
Not only is it apparent that Origen knows nothing of the Celsus with whom he is dealing, but it is almost impossible to avoid the conviction that, during the time he was composing his work, his impressions concerning the date and identity of his opponent became considerably modified. In the earlier portion of the first book [424:6] he has heard that his Celsus is the Epicurean of the reign of Hadrian; but a little further on [424:7] he confesses his ignorance as to whether he is the same Celsus who wrote against magic, which Celsus the Epicurean actually did. In the fourth book, [424:8] he expresses uncertainty as to whether the Epicurean Celsus had composed the work against Christians which he is refuting, and at the close of his treatise he seems to treat him as a contemporary. He writes to his friend Ambrosius, at whose request the refutation of Celsus was undertaken: "Know, however, that Celsus has promised to write another treatise after this one … If, therefore, he has not fulfilled his promise to write a second book, we may well be satisfied with the eight books in reply to his Discourse. If, however, he has commenced and finished this work also, seek it and send it in order that we may answer it also, and confute the false teaching in it," etc. [424:9] From this passage, and supported by other considerations, Volkmar and others assert that Celsus was really a contemporary of Origen. [425:1] To this, as we have seen, Tischendorf merely replies by pointing out that Origen, in the preface, says that Celsus was already dead, and that he was identical with the Epicurean Celsus who flourished under Hadrian and later. The former of these statements, however, was made under the impression that the latter was correct, and, as it is generally agreed that Origen was mistaken in supposing that Celsus the Epicurean was the author of the Logos Alêthês, and Tischendorf himself admits the fact, the two earlier statements, that Celsus flourished under Hadrian, and consequently that he had long been dead, fall together, whilst the subsequent doubts regarding his identity not only stand, but rise into assurance at the close of the work, in the final request to Ambrosius. [425:2] There can be no doubt that the first statements and the closing paragraphs are contradictory, and, whilst almost all critics pronounce against the accuracy of the former, the inferences from the latter retain full force, confirmed as they are by the intermediate doubts expressed by Origen himself.
Even those who, like Tischendorf, in an arbitrary manner assign an early date to Celsus, although they do not support their conjectures by any satisfactory reasons of their own, all tacitly set aside these of Origen. [425:3] It is generally admitted by these, with Lardner [425:4] and Michaelis, [425:5] that the Epicurean Celsus, to whom Origen was at one time disposed to refer the work against Christianity, was the writer of that name to whom Lucian, his friend and contemporary, addressed his Alexander or Pseudomantis, and who really wrote against magic, [425:6] as Origen mentions. [425:7] But although on this account Lardner assigns to him the date of AD 176, the fact is that Lucian did not write his Pseudomantis, as Lardner is obliged to admit, [426:1] until the reign of the Emperor Commodus (180-193), and even upon the supposition that this Celsus wrote against Christianity, of which there is not the slightest evidence, there would be no ground for dating the work before AD 180. On the contrary, as Lucian does not in any way refer to such a writing by his friend, there would be strong reason for assigning the work, if it be supposed to be written by him, to a date subsequent to the Pseudomantis. It need not be remarked that the references of Celsus to the Marcionites, [426:2] and to the followers of Marcellina, [426:3] only so far bear upon the matter as to exclude an early date. [426:4]
It requires very slight examination of the numerous extracts from, and references to, the work which Origen seeks to refute, however, to convince any impartial mind that the doubts of Origen were well founded as to whether Celsus the Epicurean were really the author of the Logos Alêthês. As many critics of all shades of opinion have long since determined, so far from being an Epicurean, the Celsus attacked by Origen, as the philosophical opinions which he everywhere expresses clearly show, was a Neo-Platonist. Indeed, although Origen seems to retain some impression that his antagonist must be an Epicurean, as he had heard, and frequently refers to him as such, he does not point out Epicurean sentiments in his writings, but, on the contrary, not only calls upon him no longer to conceal the school to which he belongs and avow himself an Epicurean, [426:5] but accuses him of expressing views inconsistent with that philosophy, [426:6] or of so concealing his Epicurean opinions that it might be said that he is an Epicurean only in name. [426:7] On the other hand, Origen is clearly surprised to find that he quotes so largely from the writings, and shows such marked leaning towards the teaching, of Plato, in which Celsus indeed finds the original and purer form of many Christian doctrines; [426:8] and Origen is constantly forced to discuss Plato in meeting the arguments of Celsus.
The author of the work which Origen refuted, therefore, instead of being an Epicurean, as Origen supposed merely from there having been an Epicurean of the same name, was undoubtedly a Neo-Platonist, as Mosheim long ago demonstrated, of the school of Ammonius, who founded the sect at the close of the second century. [427:1] The promise of Celsus to write a second book with practical rules for living in accordance with the philosophy he promulgates, to which Origen refers at the close of his work, confirms this conclusion, and indicates a new and recent system of philosophy. [427:2] An Epicurean would not have thought of such a work -- it would have been both appropriate and necessary in connection with Neo-Platonism.
We are, therefore, constrained to assign the work of Celsus to at least the early part of the third century, and to the reign of Septimius Severus. In it, Celsus repeatedly accuses Christians of teaching their doctrines secretly and against the law, which seeks them out and punishes them with death, [427:3] and this indicates a period of persecution. Lardner, assuming the writer to be the Epicurean friend of Lucian, supposes from this clue that the persecution referred to must have been that under Marcus Aurelius († 180), and, practically rejecting the data of Origen himself, without advancing sufficient reasons of his own, dates Celsus AD 176. [427:4] As a Neo-Platonist, however, we are more accurately led to the period of persecution which, from embers never wholly extinct since the time of Marcus Aurelius, burst into fierce flame, more especially in the tenth year of the reign of Severus [427:5] (AD 202), and continued for many years to afflict Christians.
It is evident that the dates assigned by apologists are wholly
arbitrary, and even if our argument for the later epoch were very
much less conclusive than it is, the total absence of evidence for
an earlier date would completely nullify any testimony derived from
Celsus. It is sufficient for us to add that, whilst he refers to
incidents of Gospel history and quotes some sayings which have
parallels, with more or less of variation, in our Gospels, Celsus
nowhere mentions the name of any Christian book, unless we except
the Book of Enoch; [427:6] and
he accuses Christians, not without reason, of interpolating the
books of the Sibyl, whose authority, he states, some of them
The last document which we need examine in connection with the synoptic Gospels is the list of New Testament and other writings held in consideration by the Church, which is generally called, after its discoverer and first editor, the Canon of Muratori. This interesting fragment, which was published in 1740 by Muratori in his collection of Italian antiquities, [428:1] at one time belonged to the monastery of Bobbio, founded by the Irish monk Columban, and was found by Muratori in the Ambrosian Library at Milan in a MS. containing extracts of little interest from writings of Eucherius, Ambrose, Chrysostom, and others. Muratori estimated the age of the MS. at about a thousand years, but so far as we are aware no thoroughly competent judge has since expressed any opinion upon the point. The fragment, which is defective both at the commencement and at the end, is written in an apologetic tone, and professes to give a list of the writings which are recognised by the Christian Church. It is a document which has no official character, but which merely conveys the private views and information of the anonymous writer, regarding whom nothing whatever is known. From any point of view, the composition is of a nature permitting the widest differences of opinion. It is by some affirmed to be a complete treatise on the books received by the Church, from which fragments have been lost; whilst others consider it a mere fragment in itself. It is written in Latin, which by some is represented as most corrupt, whilst others uphold it as most correct. [428:2] The text is further rendered almost unintelligible by every possible inaccuracy of orthography and grammar, which is ascribed diversely to the transcriber, to the translator, and to both. Indeed, such is the elastic condition of the text, resulting from errors and obscurity of every imaginable description, that, by means of ingenious conjectures, critics are able to find in it almost any sense they desire. Considerable difference of opinion exists as to the original language of the fragment, the greater number of critics maintaining that the composition is a translation from the Greek, whilst others assert it to have been originally written in Latin. [428:3] Its composition is variously attributed to the Church of Africa and to a member of the Church in Rome.
The fragment commences with the concluding portion of a sentence "… quibus tamen interfuit et ita posuit" -- "at which nevertheless he was present, and thus he placed it." The MS. then proceeds: "Third book of the Gospel according to Luke. Luke, that physician, after the ascension of Christ when Paul took him with him…, wrote it in his name as he deemed best (ex opinione) -- nevertheless he had not himself seen the Lord in the flesh -- and he too, as far as he could obtain information, also begins to speak from the nativity of John." The text, at the sense of which this is a closely approximate guess, though several other interpretations might be maintained, is as follows: Tertio evangelii librum secundo Lucan Lucas iste medicus post ascensum Christi cum eo Paulus quasi ut juris studiosum secundum adsumsisset numeni suo ex opinione concribset dominum tamen nec ipse vidit in carne et idem prout asequi potuit ita et ad nativitate Johannis incipet dicere.
The MS. goes on to speak in more intelligible language "of the fourth of the Gospels of John, one of the disciples" (Quarti evangeliorum Johannis ex decipolis), regarding the composition of which the writer relates a legend, which we shall quote when we come to deal with that Gospel. The fragment then proceeds to mention the Acts of the Apostles -- which is ascribed to Luke -- thirteen epistles of Paul in peculiar order, and it then refers to an Epistle to the Laodiceans and another to the Alexandrians, forged, in the name of Paul, after the heresy of Marcion, "and many others which cannot be received by the Catholic Church, as gall must not be mixed with vinegar." The Epistle to the Ephesians bore the name of Epistle to the Laodiceans in the list of Marcion, and this may be a reference to it. [429:1] The Epistle to the Alexandrians is generally identified with the Epistle to the Hebrews, although some critics think this doubtful, or deny the fact, and consider both Epistles referred to pseudographs attributed to the Apostle Paul. The Epistle of Jude and two (the second and third) Epistles of John are, with some tone of doubt, mentioned amongst the received books, and so is the Book of Wisdom. The Apocalypses of John and of Peter only are received, but some object to the latter being read in church.
The Epistle of James, both Epistles of Peter, the Epistle to the Hebrews (which is, however, probably that entitled here the Epistle to the Alexandrians), and the first Epistle of John are omitted altogether, with the exception of a quotation which is supposed to be from the last-named Epistle, to which we shall hereafter refer. Special reference is made to the Shepherd of Hermas, regarding which the writer expresses his opinion that it should be read privately but not publicly in church, as it can be classed neither amongst the books of the prophets nor of the apostles. The fragment concludes with the rejection of the writings of several heretics.
It is inferred that in the missing commencement of the fragment the first two Synoptics must have been mentioned. This, though of course most probable, cannot actually be ascertained, and so far as these Gospels are concerned, therefore, the "Canon of Muratori" only furnishes conjectural evidence. The statement regarding the third Synoptic merely proves the existence of that Gospel at the time the fragment was composed, and we shall presently endeavour to form some idea of that date. Beyond this, the information given does not at all tend to establish the unusual credibility claimed for the Gospels. It is declared by the fragment, as we have quoted, that the third Synoptic was written by Luke, who had not himself seen the Lord, but narrated the history as best he was able. It is worthy of remark, moreover, that even the Apostle Paul, who took Luke with him after the Ascension, had not been a follower of Jesus, nor had seen him in the flesh; and certainly he did not, by the showing of his own Epistles, associate much with the other Apostles, so that Luke could not have had much opportunity while with him of acquiring any intimate knowledge of the events of Gospel history. It is undeniable that the third Synoptic is not the narrative of an eye-witness, and the occurrences which it records did not take place in the presence or within the personal knowledge of the writer, but were derived from tradition, or from written sources. Such testimony, therefore, could not in any case be of much service to our third Synoptic; but when we consider the uncertainty of the date at which the fragment was composed, and the certainty that it could not have been written at an early period, it will become apparent that the value of its evidence is reduced to a minimum.
We have already mentioned that the writer of this fragment is totally unknown, nor does there exist any clue by which he can be identified. All the critics who have assigned an early date to the composition of the fragment have based their conclusion, almost solely, upon a statement made by the author regarding the Shepherd of Hermas. He says: "Hermas in truth composed the Shepherd very recently in our times in the city of Rome, the Bishop Pius his brother, sitting in the chair of the church of the city of Rome. And, therefore, it should indeed be read, but it cannot be published in the church to the people, neither being among the prophets, whose number is complete, nor amongst the apostles in the latter days." [431:1]
Muratori, the discoverer of the MS., conjectured for various reasons, which need not be here detailed, that the fragment was written by Caius the Roman Presbyter, who flourished at the end of the second (c. AD 196) and beginning of the third century, and in this he was followed by a few others. [431:2] The great mass of critics, however, have rejected this conjecture, as they have likewise negatived the fanciful ascription of the composition by Simon de Magistris to Papias of Hierapolis, [431:3] and by Bunsen to Hegesippus. [431:4] Such attempts to identify the unknown author are obviously mere speculation, and it is impossible to suppose that, had Papias, Hegesippus, or any other well-known writer of the same period composed such a list, Eusebius could have failed to refer to it, as so immediately relevant to the purpose of his work. Thiersch even expressed a suspicion that the fragment was a literary mystification on the part of Muratori himself. [431:5]
The mass of critics, with very little independent consideration, have taken literally the statement of the author regarding the composition of the Shepherd "very recently in our times" (nuperrime temporibus nostris), during the Episcopate of Pius (AD 142-157), and have concluded the fragment to have been written towards the end of the second century, though we need scarcely say that a few writers would date it even earlier. On the other hand, and we consider with reason, many critics, including men who will not be accused of opposition to an early Canon, assign the composition to a later period, between the end of the second or beginning of the third century, and some even to the fourth century.
When we examine the ground upon which alone an early date can be supported, it becomes apparent how slight the foundation is. The only argument of any weight is the statement with regard to the composition of the Shepherd; but, with the exception of the few apologists who do not hesitate to assign a date totally inconsistent with the state of the Canon described in the fragment, the great majority of critics feel that they are forced to place the composition not earlier than the end of the second century, at a period when the statements in the fragment may better agree with the actual opinions in the Church, and yet sufficiently accord with the expression, "very recently in our times," as applied to the period of Pius of Rome, 142-157. It must be evident that, taken literally, a very arbitrary interpretation is given to this indication, and in supposing that the writer may have appropriately used the phrase thirty or forty years after the time of Pius, so much license is taken that there is absolutely no reason why a still greater interval may not be allowed. With this sole exception, there is not a single word or statement in the fragment which would oppose our assigning the composition to a late period of the third century. Volkmar has very justly pointed out, however, that in saying "very recently in our times" the writer merely intended to distinguish the Shepherd of Hermas from the writings of the Prophets and Apostles: it cannot be classed amongst the Prophets whose number is complete, nor amongst the Apostles, inasmuch as it was only written in our post-apostolic time. This seems an accurate interpretation of the expression, which might with perfect propriety be used a century after the time of Pius. We have seen that there has not appeared a single trace of any Canon in the writings of the Fathers whom we have examined, and that the Old Testament has been the only Holy Scripture they have acknowledged; and it is therefore unsafe, upon the mere interpretation of an elastic phrase, to date this anonymous fragment earlier than the very end of the second or beginning of the third century, and it is still more probable that it was not written until an advanced period of the third century. The expression used with regard to Pius, "Sitting in the chair of the Church," is quite unprecedented in the second century or until a very much later date. It is argued that the fragment is imperfect, and that sentences have fallen out; and in regard to this, and to the assertion that it is a translation from the Greek, it has been well remarked by a writer whose judgment on the point will scarcely be called prejudiced: "If it is thus mutilated, why might it not also be interpolated? If, moreover, the translator was so ignorant of Latin, can we trust his translation? And what guarantee have we that he has not paraphrased and expanded the original? The force of these remarks is peculiarly felt in dealing with the paragraph which gives the date. The Pastor of Hermas was not well known to the Western Church, and it was not highly esteemed. It was regarded as inspired by the Eastern, and read in the Eastern Churches. We have seen, moreover, that it was extremely unlikely that Hermas was a real personage. It would be, therefore, far more probable that we have here an interpolation, or addition by a member of the Roman or African Church, probably by the translator, made expressly for the purpose of serving as proof that the Pastor of Hermas was not inspired. The paragraph itself bears unquestionable marks of tampering," [433:1] etc. It would take us too far were we to discuss the various statements of the fragment as indications of date, and the matter is not of sufficient importance. It contains nothing involving an earlier date than the third century.
The facts of the case may be briefly summed up as follows, so
far as our object is concerned. The third Synoptic is mentioned by
a totally unknown writer, at an unknown, but certainly not early,
date -- in all probability during the third century -- in a
fragment which we possess in a very corrupt version, much open to
suspicion of interpolation in the precise part from which the early
date is inferred. The Gospel is attributed to Luke, who was not one
of the followers of Jesus, and of whom it is expressly said that
"he himself had not seen the Lord in the flesh," but wrote "as he
deemed best (ex opinione),"and followed his history as he
was able (et idem prout asequi potuit). [433:2] If the fragment of
Muratori, therefore, even came within our limits as to date, its
evidence would be of no value, for, instead of establishing the
trustworthiness and absolute accuracy of the narrative of the third
Synoptic, it distinctly tends to discredit it, inasmuch as it
declares it to be the composition of one who undeniably was not an
eye-witness of the miracles reported, but collected his materials
as best he could long after their supposed
We may now briefly sum up the results of our examination of the
evidence for the synoptic Gospels. After having exhausted the
literature and the testimony bearing on the point, we have not
found a single distinct trace of any of those Gospels, with the
exception of the third, during the first century and a half after
the death of Jesus. Only once during the whole of that period do we
find even a tradition that any of our Evangelists composed a Gospel
at all, and that tradition, so far from favouring our Synoptics, is
fatal to the claims of the first and second. Papias, about the
middle of the second century, on the occasion to which we refer,
records that Matthew composed the Discourses of the Lord in the
Hebrew tongue, a statement which totally excludes the claim of our
Greek Gospel to apostolic origin. Mark, he said,
wrote down from the casual preaching of Peter the sayings and
doings of Jesus, but without orderly arrangement, as he was not
himself a follower of the Master, and merely recorded what fell
from the Apostle. This description, likewise, shows that our actual
second Gospel could not, in its present form, have been the work of
Mark. There is no other reference during the period to any writing
of Matthew or Mark, and no mention at all of any work ascribed to
Luke. The identification of Marcion's Gospel with our third
Synoptic proves the existence of that work before A.D. 140; but no
evidence is thus obtained either as to the author or the character
of his work; but, on the contrary, the testimony of the great
heresiarch is so far unfavourable to that Gospel, as it involves a
charge against it of being interpolated and debased by Jewish
elements. The freedom with which Marcion expurgated and altered it
clearly shows that he did not regard it either as a sacred or
canonical work. Any argument for the mere existence of our
Synoptics based upon their supposed rejection by heretical leaders
and sects has the inevitable disadvantage that the very testimony
which would show their existence would oppose their authenticity.
There is no evidence of their use by heretical leaders, however,
and no direct reference to them by any writer, heretical or
orthodox, whom we have examined. If it be considered that the
Diatessaron of Tatian is based upon our Synoptics, all that
is established by the fact is their existence about the last
quarter of the second century, and no appreciable addition is made
to our knowledge of their authorship. It is unnecessary to add that
no reason whatever has been shown for accepting the testimony of
these Gospels as sufficient to establish the reality of miracles
and of a direct Divine Revelation. [434:1] It is
not pretended that more than one of the synoptic Gospels was
written by an eye-witness of the miraculous occurrences reported;
and, whilst no evidence has been, or can be, produced even of the
historical accuracy of the narratives, no testimony as to the
correctness of the inferences from the external phenomena exists,
or is now even conceivable, The discrepancy between the amount of
evidence required and that which is forthcoming, however, is
greater than under the circumstances, could have been thought