The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 37
We have, as testing points of the times at which the Gospels appeared, in the Books themselves many points of agreement with what is narrated by other writers.
1. St. Matthew tells that Herod, disappointed in his expectation that the Magi would conduct him to the King of the Jews, gives orders that the young male children at Bethlehem should be slain. Josephus tells how ruthlessly he committed greater cruelty than this—that he swept away every opposer to his rule, not hesitating to slay his wife and child because of some fancied treachery.
2. We find in the Gospels a curious and complicated Government Herod is King of Judea. We read of Roman Governors ruling in part of the land, while members of Herod's family reign in another part. In the very midst of this double Government there is a Jewish Government with very large powers of administration, and, stranger still, having authority to collect tribute for the Temple service. This tribute is that referred to when the fish is caught by St. Peter to pay the sum required for himself and Jesus. (St. Matthew xvii. 24.) But, strange as this admixture of ruling powers may seem, we know from Josephus that while the Romans were the real rulers in the land, they permitted these Jewish forms of Government to exist, taking only away the power of life and death.page 11
3. St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke, call the Lake of Galilee by various names, as the Sea, the Sea of Galilee, the Lake of Gennesaret, the Lake. And these titles are used indifferently. But St. John calls the Lake the Sea of Tiberias—a title which is used by him only. Now, we know that the titles used by the three first Evangelists were in common use before the Roman war; but afterwards, as the City of Tiberias had been spared by the Romans when they destroyed the other cities of Galilee, and had grown quickly into great importance, the Lake was called by the title which St. John uses. Had, then, the three first Evangelists used St. John's title, or he theirs, all would have been wrong; a very grave mistake would have been committed. But late writers could not have been so exact, or so truthful, in a point apparently of so little consequence.
4. Again, from Josephus we know of the bitter contempt in which the Samaritans were held by the Jews. We read in these Gospels the words of envy and hatred spoken by the Pharisees against Jesus—" Say "we not well that Thou art a Samaritan?" St. John records that when Jesus, sitting by the well of Sychar, asks the woman who had come to draw water to relieve His thirst, He is answered, not rudely, but in utter astonishment that He could condescend to ask, "How is" it that Thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which "am a woman of Samaria?"
5. One other instance only would I give. When St. Luke narrates the circumstances that led to the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem, he writes—"There went out a decree from Cæsar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was Governor of Syria." It is well known that he was Governor some ten years afterwards, and page 12 those who would disprove the authority of the Gospels caught eagerly at this discrepancy. Here, at least, was a manifest mistake—a mistake quite sufficient to prove the untruthfulness of the Gospel. Many explanations of the difficulty have been given. One of these is satisfactory enough; that the taxing was ordered by Augustus, and the census for the taxing was at once made; but, Herod dying, the tax was not collected until Cyrenius was Governor. The true explanation is, as was discovered by Zumpt, that Cyrenius was twice Governor. St. Luke, whether the word taxing refers to the census or to the collection of the tax, was, after all, exactly right.
Many other instances could be given of similar import. They can easily be found in such books as Paley's Evidences, or Home's Introduction to the Scriptures.
I believe that we might fairly enough rest the matter here. There is in these exact narrations sure proof of truthfulness, the more valuable because found in unimportant matters, just in those places where any forger would not have been so exact; or if he had, by giving like detail, sought to throw an air of reality about his imposture, he would most certainly have been readily detected in some misstatement. This exactness could not have been in a late writer, writing in the second century, unless he were inspired of God to write. And this claim for inspiration is utterly disallowed by those who object to the faith of the Christian Church concerning the Gospels. I would yet add that if there be this thorough exactness in places which can be tested, surely the same truthful, exact writer may be trusted when he is speaking of matter which cannot be thus inquired into. We may believe him still, even if his narrative involve a miracle. He is still narrating, as exactly as before, what was done miraculously.page 13
This, then, is our second point. The Gospels themselves contain many proofs that they were written in the first century.