The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 37
Our first step will, clearly, be to ascertain what these Books say of themselves upon this point.
1. St. Matthew's Gospel,* said to have been written by a constant follower of the Lord Jesus, describes the Jewish Temple as standing in all its magnificence, unscathed yet by the Roman fire and sword. In the 23rd chapter Jesus saith, "Behold your House is left" unto you desolate. "The Disciples, understanding well His meaning, call His attention, as if in utter astonishment, to the buildings of the Temple, to the strength of the walls, as if such a ruin could not be. St. Mark, in his account, is still more particular." Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings "are here," is his version of the words of the Disciples. St. Luke, in the corresponding chapter, in his Gospel, makes the Lord to foretell accurately the coming destruction of the city. We know that Jerusalem was taken A.D. 70. Thus these three Gospels claim to have been written before that event. There is not a single word to tell of the desolation of the city, and of the consequent fulfilment of our Lord's words, as, we feel sure, would have been the case had they been written by man only, and after the city's overthrow. An event of such importance to a Jew, could not then have been by any page 8 possibility altogether ignored. Some mention would have been made by him of the bravery of the Jews in the war; of the fierce determination of the Romans, and of their success. He most certainly would have spoken of the noble stand of his people against all the might of their foes, thus casting, in their utter ruin, a light upon the darkness by this remembrance of their courage. The belief of the Christian Church is that these Scriptures are not mere human compositions; that the narrators of facts which themselves witnessed, or of which they could have been informed by eyewitnesses, were always directed of God what to write. But if these Gospels are not inspired, and of late date, then most certainly a Jewish writer would not have passed by the destruction of Jerusalem, or have lost the opportunity of magnifying his nation from the very magnitude of her distress.
2. St. John, who was, as St. Matthew, a constant follower of Jesus, writes his Gospel at Ephesus nearly at the close of the first century. Eusebius tells that the Bishops of Asia brought to him the Three Gospels; that he declared them to be Scripture; and that he wrote his own Gospel to supplement the omissions of the other Evangelists, and to oppose the Gnostic heresy of the day. Generally speaking, he rather narrates what Jesus said than what He did. But St. John most distinctly asserts that he saw what he describes. When the dead body of Jesus is pierced he writes, "Forthwith there came out blood and water;"—and he continues, He that saw it bare record, and his record is true, and he knoweth that he saith true." Again, appealing to his known character amongst the Ephesians, he writes in the last chapter, "This is the disciple which" testifieth of these things, and wrote these things, and "we know that his testimony is true."page 9
3. In the Acts of the Apostles, which Book was often considered to be but a continuation of St. Luke's Gospel, the writer places himself in the midst of his narrative. He writes of things which had passed before him. It is especially noteworthy that St. Paul, in his defence before King Agrippa and the Roman Governor Felix (Acts xxvi. 26) appeals to this publicity of the Christian history. "The King knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that these things were not hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner."
The belief of the Church is, as I have said, that these Gospels are God-inspired, that they therefore are true;—that three of them were written early in the first century, and narrate truly facts which were well known. It is not necessary to our present object to prove carefully that they are God-inspired. It is quite sufficient to show that they were written in the very life-time of many who had witnessed the miracles of Jesus; who had shared in the events narrated; who could easily therefore have disproved any falsehood, if there had been any. The whole story is thus of miracle, and it is but a very little step onward to hold that the writers share in this miraculous energy; that they wrote not what they chose to write, but as men directed of God to write. We believe that we have this double security. But it is enough for the establishment of our faith to show that these Books were published in the midst of those who themselves were well acquainted with what was written. No after narrator could write, without inspiration, as the Evangelists have written.
Thus the three first Gospels claim to have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem. St. John claims to have written his Gospel as an eye-witness of what he describes. We have now to search why it is page 10 that these Three Gospels are ascribed to St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke;—why they are believed to have been written at an early date;—and to see whether St. John's claim is just, and not that of a forger, writing thus to gain an appearance of truthfulness for his manufacture.
* St. Matthew's Gospel was written in Greek by the Apostle. The word in The Lord's Prayer for "daily" was, Origen writes, formed by St. Matthew. Probably he wrote another edition in Hebrew.