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PART FIVE

THE DIRECT EVIDENCE FOR MIRACLES

CHAPTER 1.

THE EPISTLES AND THE APOCALYPSE

TURNING from the Acts of the Apostles to the other works of the New Testament, we shall be able very briefly to dispose of the Catholic Epistles, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the Apocalypse. The so-called Epistles of James, Jude, and John do not contain any evidence which, even supposing them to be authentic, really bears upon our inquiry into the reality of miracles and Divine Revelation; and the testimony of the Apocalypse affects it quite as little. We have already, in examining the fourth Gospel, had occasion to say a good deal regarding both the so-called Epistles of John and the Apocalypse. It is unnecessary to enter upon a more minute discussion of them here. "Seven books of the New Testament," writes Dr. Westcott, "as is well known, have been received into the Canon on evidence less complete than that by which the others are supported" (On the Canon, 4th ed., p. 357). These are "the Epistles of James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, to the Hebrews, and the Apocalypse." We have already furnished the means of judging of the nature of the evidence upon which some of the other books have been received into the Canon, and, the evidence for most of these being avowedly "less complete," its nature may be conceived. Works which for a long period were classed amongst the Antilegomena, or disputed books, and which only slowly acquired authority as, in the lapse of time, it became more difficult to examine their claims, could not do much to establish the reality of miracles. With regard to the Epistle to the Hebrews, we may remark that we are freed from any need to deal at length with it, not only by the absence of any specific evidence in its contents, but by the following consideration. If the Epistle be not by Paul -- and it not only is not his, but does not even pretend to be so -- the author is unknown, and therefore the document has no weight as testimony. On the other hand, if assigned to Paul, we shall have sufficient ground in his genuine Epistles for considering the evidence of the Apostle, and it could not add anything even if the Epistle to the Hebrews were included in the number.

The first Epistle of Peter might have required more detailed treatment, but we think that little could be gained by demonstrating that the document is not authentic, or showing that, in any case, the evidence which it could furnish is not of any value. On the other hand, we are averse to protract the argument by any elaboration of mere details which can be avoided. If it could be absolutely proved that the Apostle Peter wrote the Epistle circulating under his name, the evidence for miracles would only be strengthened by the fact that, incidentally, the doctrine of the Resurrection of Jesus is maintained. No historical details are given, and no explanation of the reasons for which the writer believed in it. Nothing more would be proved than the point that Peter himself believed in the Resurrection. It would certainly be a matter of very deep interest if we possessed a narrative written by the Apostle himself, giving minute and accurate details of the phenomena in consequence of which he believed in so miraculous an event; but since this Epistle does nothing more than allow us to infer the personal belief of the writer, unaccompanied by corroborative evidence, we should not gain anything by accepting it as genuine. We are quite willing to assume, without further examination, that the Apostle Peter in some way believed in the Resurrection of his Master. For the argument regarding the reality of that stupendous miracle, upon which we are about to enter, this is tantamount to assuming the authenticity of the Epistle.

Coming to the Epistles of Paul, it will not be necessary to go into the evidence for the various letters in our New Testament which are ascribed to him, nor shall we require to state the grounds upon which the authenticity of many of them is denied. Accepting the Epistles to the Galatians, Corinthians, and Romans in the main as genuine compositions of the Apostle, the question as to the origin of the rest, so far as our inquiry is concerned, has little or no interest. From these four letters we obtain the whole evidence of Paul regarding miracles, and this we now propose carefully to examine. One point in particular demands our fullest attention. It is undeniable that Paul preached the doctrine of the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus and believed in those events. Whilst, therefore, we shall not pass over his supposed testimony for the possession of miraculous powers, we shall chiefly devote our attention to his evidence for the central dogmas of Supernatural Religion, the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. We shall not limit our examination to the testimony of Paul, but, as the climax of the historical argument for miracles endeavour to ascertain the exact nature of the evidence upon which belief is claimed for the actual occurrence of those stupendous events. For this our inquiry into the authorship and credibility of the historical books of the New Testament has at length prepared us, and it will be admitted that, in subjecting these asserted miracles to calm and fearless scrutiny -- untinged by irreverence or disrespect, if personal earnestness and sincere sympathy with those who believe are any safeguards -- the whole theory of Christian miracles will be put to its final test.
 


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