The New Zealand Evangelist
Remarks On John, XX. 19, 26
Remarks On John, XX. 19, 26.
“When the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst.” “Then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst.”
It is reported that since the present Pope fled from Rome, seventy thousand copies of the Scriptures have been sold or circulated in the Imperial city. If this report is true, the conclusion may safely be drawn, that the Pope's religion is not a Bible religion. On the other hand, from a superficial examination of the strictures, made upon our brief remarks on transubstantiation, by the representative of the Roman Pontiff in this place, one would be led to suppose, that the Pope's religion here, is pre-eminently a Bible religion. We should be delighted were this really the case. The expressions of pious horror at our supposed perversions of scripture, we could easily tolerate, could we perceive any evidence that they proceeded from a mind that was placing itself implicitly under the teaching of the Word of God. But of this we see no evidence. On the other hand we are menaced with the exegesis of authority; the interpretation of the Church is held up as infallible and authoritative, and private judgment, however carefully and prayerfully exercised, is denounced in the strongest terms; and on the other hand, we see these so-called infallible interpretations completely at variance with the whole analogy of scripture, with the best established facts of science, and with the plainest dictates of common sense. We are therefore forced to the conclusion, that Popery in Italy, where the scriptures appear to be so much interdicted, and Popery in New Zealand, where the scriptures seem to be so much reverenced, is very much the same system. The page 232 Church without the scriptures, and the Church above the scriptures, are practically almost the same; although to superficial observers they may appear somewhat different.
We have selected this passage as the subject of a few remarks, not for its intrinsic importance in this controversy—not for any weight we attach to the charge of rationalism and infidelity preferred against our interpretation of it in a former number; but because it will afford us a further opportunity of pointing out the thoroughly unsound principles of scripture interpretation, by which writers of the Church of Rome support one, at least, of their leading doctrines.
To the objection that Christ's body cannot be in two places at one time, it was answered by Mr. O'Reily that “it is no more impossible that a body be in distant places at once, in a spiritual and supernatural manner; than it is for two bodies to be in the same place by penetration, which yet may be proved from the scriptures;” and this place is referred to as the proof. According to this reasoning, the matter of Christ's body and the matter of the door, must have occupied the same space at the same time; a thing that is inconceivable; since it is an axiom in Natural Philosophy—a self-evident truth—that two bodies, or two particles of matter, cannot occupy the same space at the same time.
To show that our interpretation is neither so new, nor so revolting, as Mr. O'R.'s remarks upon it would lead one to infer, we shall make a few quotations, from some of the most eminent Scripture Expositors, that the last two centuries have produced.
Two hundred years ago the same objection was answered by the learned Bishop Jeremy Taylor, than whom no man was ever freer from either German rationalism, or any kindred sentiment. We abridge his remarks (Works vol. ii. p. 738. Lon. 1837, Svo.) Speaking of Transubstantion he says, “But against all the evidences of essential and natural reason some overtures of Scripture must be pretended. For that page 233 two bodies can be in one place appears, (say they,) because Christ came into the assembly of the apostles, ‘the doors being shut.’ To this I answer, that this infers not a penetration of bodies, or that two bodies can be in one place. Because, there are so many ways of effecting it, without that impossibility. The Door might be made to yield to his Creator, as easily as water which is fluid be made firm under his feet. The wordslin the text are in the past tense, ‘the gates or doors having been shut’ but that they were shut in the instant of his entry, it says not; they might, if Christ had so pleased, have been insensibly opened, and shut in like manner again; and if the words be observed, it will appear that St. John mentions the shutting the doors in relation to the apostles fear; not to Christ's entering; he intended not (as far as appears) to declare a miracle. But if he had, there are ways enough for him to have entered strangely, though he had not entered impossibly. For when a thing can be done without a penetration of dimensions, and yet by a power great enough to beget admiration, though without contending against the unalterable laws of nature, to dream it must be this way, is to challenge confidently, but to be careless of our warrant; I conclude, that it hath never yet been known, that two bodies ever were, at once, in one place,”
The venerable, apostolic Mathew Henry says, in his Commentary on this passage, “He came though the doors were shut. This does not at all weaken the evidence of his having a real human body after his resurrection; though the doors were shut he knew how to open them without any noise, and come in so that they might not hear him; as formerly he had walked on the water, and yet had a true body.”
The sensible and judicious Scott, in his Commentary on this passage, (Dr. Symington's edition, Glasgow, 1843.) says, “The disciples had shut the doors for fear of the Jews; as perhaps they were apprehensive, lest they should be prosecuted for stealing the body from the sepulchre. But when they page 234 seem to have had no expectations of the kind, Jesus himself came and stood in the midst of them, having miraculously, but silently, opened the doors of the room, and entered by them.” He then adds the following quotation from Whitby. “Though it be an ancient opinion that Christ made his body penetrate through the doors; yet it is both groundless and absurd; and contrary to the very design of Christ's coming in to them. It is groundless, for why might not he, by his power, secretly open the doors, his disciples not perceiving; as the angel opened the prison-doors and gate to let out Peter? (Acts xii, 10.) It is absurd; for since Christ rose in that natural body which was crucified and laid in the grave; philosophy informs us, that such a body could not penetrate through another more solid body. And this fancy destroys not only the end of Christ's coming among them, but of all that he had said and done to convince them that it was the same body that was crucified in which he appeared to them. It being as certain that flesh and bones cannot penetrate through a door, as that ‘a spirit hath not flesh and bones.’ (Luke xxiv, 39.)”
The very learned Dr. A. Clarke says in his Commentary on this passage, (London, 1817.) “Jesus came in, the doors being shut, i.e., while they continued shut. But how? By his almighty power; and farther we know not. Yet it is quite possible, that no miraculous influence is here intended. The doors might be shut for fear of the Jews; and Jesus might open them and enter in the ordinary way. Where there is no need for a miracle, a miracle is never wronght.”
That eminent classical scholar Dr. Bloomfield, in his Greek Testament with English notes, (3 edition, London, 1839,) says on this passage, “Some Commentators understand by this, that our Lord miraculously penetrated through the closed doors. This view, besides involving an insuperable philosophical difficulty (well stated by Whitby and Lampe,) supposes a sense which can by no means be shown to page 235 exist in the words, and which would have required dia ton thyron kekleismenon. …… The words undoubtedly point to something supernatural; thoughnot I apprehend, what the above Commentators suppose, —that our Lord penetrated through the doors as they were. But (as a beautiful economy, similar to that which we observe in nature, may be discerned in our Lord's working of miracles, by which no more power is employed than is necessary to accomplish the purpose in view,) we may suppose with the best Commentators, (as Calvin, Grotius, Whitby and Campbell,) that our Lord caused the doors to preternaturally open of themselves, as the angel, Acts v. 19–23, ‘opened the doors of the prison,’ in which the apostles were confined; see also Acts, xii. 10. Thus, as it is observed by Calvin, ‘the circumstance of the doors being barred, was purposely introduced, as containing in it an illusttrious specimen of the Divine power inherent in our exalted Saviour; who, we may suppose, by thus entering not without a miracle, intended to afford his disciples a striking proof of his Divinity.”
We may clearly see, that if Christ's body did not possess the properties of other matter, the whole evidence of his resurrection would be overthrown, and “if Christ be not risen,” says the Apostle Paul, “our preaching is vain, and your faith is also vain.” Christ took special care to convince the chosen witnesses of his resurrection; not only that he was alive, but also, that he was not simply a spirit, but had a real body—yea, the very identical body that was crucified; and so clear were the proofs of his materiality and identity, that incredulity itself was satisfied, and even unbelieving Thomas exclaimed ’ My Lord and my God!”
The word and the works of God, coming from the same author, must ever agree. The truths of religion, when rightly understood, can never be at variance with the facts of science, when clearly ascertained; and hence every interpretation of Scripture, that is contrary to any clearly established fact of page 236 natural science, must be wrong. Truth of every kind is important; is to be diligently sought; and, when found, is to be cheerfully embraced and earnestly retained. Ignorance or error respecting natural or scientific truth, may be quite compatible with the knowledge and belief of all the leading scriptural truths; but error in the one is not favourable to truth in the other; and although it may have an imposing effect upon superficial or superstitious readers, for a writer to soar aloft into the regions of authority, expatiate in a mystified style about faith and prayer, and even indulge in rhapsodies of sublime nonsense about things mysterious and sacred; while he is bidding defiance to the laws of scripture criticism, to the facts of science, and to the principles of common sense—although this course may be favourable for evading irresistible arguments, and for giving currency to priest-exalting errors; yet a system, that requires to be thus upheld, cannot be the simple truth.
One error almost necessarily leads to another; and if men will deny self-evident truths, and set aside the evidence of their senses, we need not be surprised to see them rejecting mathematical demonstrations also—to see them believing every thing or nothing—believing against evidence or without proof, as may best answer their purpose. After believing penetration and transubstantiation, men may believe or reject any thing; hence we are not surprised that the Popish ecclesiastics—yea, an assembly of Cardinals—condemned poor Galileo once and again to the dungeon, as a heretic, for teaching the diurnal and annual motions of the earth—a proposition declared by “the beautiful Exegesis of authority” to be “absurd in its very nature, false in philosophy, heretical in religion, and contrary to the Holy Scriptures.” Had this been a solitary instance of false reasoning, we should have readily overlooked it, and yielded to the plea that “no good Catholic ever held such doctrines;” but it is quite in keeping with their system of interpretation. Galileo's doc-page 237trine was contrary to the “formal words of the Holy Spirit,” (Eccle. i. 5.) “The sun also ariseth and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose,” and other similar passages. For although the one is as certain as the other, yet it is much more difficult to prove, that the sun is the centre of our system, and that the earth revolves daily round its own axis, and annually in its orbit round the sun; than to prove that two pieces of matter—as a body of “flesh and bones” and a door,—cannot occupy the same space at the same time—or that one real body of flesh and blood cannot be in a thousand places at once—or that wherever all the accidents, attributes, or properties of matter are, there must also be the essence or substance of matter; and that where there is none of the attributes of matter, there can be none of the substance—that where the senses can discover all the properties of bread and wine, and nothing but these properties, that must be the substance of bread and wine; and cannot possibly be the substance of the body and blood, soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But as one error requires other errors to preserve the consistency of a system, it is no wonder, then, that the false in religion should seek support from the false in science. And when we see a community where the teachers teach, and the people believe, such two-fold errors, we have certainly a melancholy example of “the blind leading the blind.” And knowing the peril of such a situation, the purest benevolence points out the duty of exposing, in the clearest and strongest manner, the danger of such a course, and the true character of—not harmless speculative opinions—but decidedly destructive errors. But while we oppose the doctrines, as false and dangerous, the same principle of benevolence leads us to cherish the kindliest feelings, and to perform the kindest offices in our power to the persons holding them, and who—it may be unconsciously, and with the best intentions—are supporting, what we believe to be, an anti-Christian system.