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The first three gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, are known as thebecause they share a common outline of events as contrasted with the Fourth Gospel. Their basic similarity of structure, however, allows for considerable variation in the order of separate units of narrative. The similarity stretches not only to the considerable quantity of common material, but also to verbal agreements in much of the material. It is the combination of similarity and dissimilarity which constitutes the synoptic problem mentioned below.
These gospels are of utmost importance as sources of knowledge for the life of Christ. Since information from noncanonical sources is almost nonexistent, and since the character of the fourth gospel has caused many to question its validity as a historical source, the historian ofhas relied almost exclusively on the synoptic gospels. From the Acts* and Epistles* only the barest outline of the historical Jesus is possible, while the secular evidence can do little more than establish the bare fact that he lived and died. Although the quest for the historical Jesus has itself been considered invalid by some modern schools of interpretation (notably form- criticism*), historians find it difficult to account for the subsequent emergence of the Christian Church unless some historical validity is granted to the records of his life and work. The synoptic gospels have therefore been in the forefront of the modern critical debate concerning Jesus Christ.
As documents which purport to be historical, the question of origin is of basic importance. It has engaged the attention of scholars throughout the period of criticism. The types of solution which have been proposed may be summarized in the following way.
(1) One theory is that all three synoptic gospels were composed from basically the same oral tradition and that the variations are the result of each author's choice regarding the material to be used. But most scholars do not see how so much common material in a fixed sequence could have been preserved by oral tradition. It is possible that insufficient weight has generally been given to the remarkable facility of memory possessed by the oriental mind and the Jewish religious practice of preserving the traditions of the elders by oral means.
(2) The most widely accepted theory is that Mark was the basic gospel, which both Matthew and Luke used as the core of their gospels. In addition to Mark, they both used another basic source (“Q”) from which they derived their additional material. A modification of this proposes to restrict “Q” to material common to Matthew and Luke and postulates other sources for their special material (“M” and “L” respectively). Although this theory has wide support it is not without its problems. Many who accept some form of it do so for want of a better.
(3) A development of the source theory outlined above is the form-critical approach. This explains the origin of the sources by postulating that these were composed out of traditional material circulating in units, which can be classified according to the literary form in which they were preserved. This approach is therefore an attempt to describe the methods by which the oral tradition circulated. It is when its advocates assess historicity on the basis of “forms” that serious differences arise, some like Bultmann* taking a skeptical view which accepts very little as authentic history, and others treating the forms simply as literary units and declining to assess historical validity on this basis.
(4) A still further development from form-criticism is redaction-criticism, which sees the evangelists as theologians rather than as historians. There is clearly some advantage in emphasizing the personal contribution of the authors rather than thinking of the synoptic gospels as collections of isolated units. But there is a tendency to place theological interest over against historical data, with the result that many redaction- critics place little reliance on these gospels as sources of information regarding the historical Jesus. It must be noted that gospels written with a theological purpose need not be treated as unhistorical. Indeed a theological end would be better served by historically valid data than by data which was the product of imagination.
The three gospels possess individual characteristics which show their distinctive importance. Matthew's main theme is the messianic position of Jesus, who is seen as the fulfillment of OT predictions with special emphasis on His kingship. It is Matthew who records most of the attitude of Jesus toward the Law; it is clearly seen that He did not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it. Moreover He went beyond it to bring out the true spiritual implications of the Law. A characteristic expression of Jesus in this gospel is “Moses said, . . . but I say.” In some respects the teaching of Jesus, which in this gospel is arranged in five great blocks of material, appears in the role of a new Law for the Christian Church.
Mark's gospel places considerably more stress on the activity of Jesus than on His teaching. The dominant portrait of Jesus is as the. Unlike Matthew's gospel there is no interest in the pre-ministry experience of Jesus, except a bare mention of the temptation and baptism. Mark launches his account immediately with a sequence of incidents in which he illustrates the relationships of Jesus with various groups with whom He mixed. The climax of the ministry of Jesus in his gospel, as also in Matthew and Luke, is found at with Peter's confession, which marks the beginning of that period which led up to the cross and resurrection.
Luke's most distinctive feature is the concluding section of his gospel in which he incorporates in the form of an extended travel section from Galilee to Jerusalem much material which either does not occur at all in the other gospels or else occurs in a different context. Luke's portrait of Jesus is said to be less tragic than the others. But the passion narrative still occupies a major part of the gospel and shows the importance which Luke gave to the events surrounding the death of Christ. He includes more than the others on the theme of joy and on the activity of the Spirit. He also records more incidents which reflect the human interests of Jesus. Although each of the three gospels contains its own particular emphasis, it cannot be denied that they are alike in showing general agreement on the personality and purpose of Jesus.
It was not long before these gospels were received by the early church as part of their Scriptures. The need for authoritative books about the life and teaching of Jesus to be read alongside the OT arose at a very early stage. The fact that the synoptic gospels were known and used by the Gnostics of the early second century shows that they must have circulated long before that time in orthodox circles. In spite of a spate of pseudo-gospels, many showing dependence on the synoptic gospels, there was no serious consideration given to any other than these gospels and the gospel of John (see John, Gospel of). That true apostolic connection was the criteria used is evident from Tertullian's comment that, whereas Matthew and John were the work of apostles, Mark and Luke were written by pupils of apostles and could therefore be regarded as coming from Peter and Paul respectively. Although form-critics would discount this line of argument, there is no doubt that it played an important part in the final acceptance of the synoptic gospels and the gospel of John.
B.H. Streeter, The Four Gospels (1924); W.L. Knox, Sources of the Synoptic Tradition (1953-57); L. Vaganay, Le Problème synoptique (1954); R. Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition (ET 1963); N.B. Stonehouse, Origins of the Synoptic Gospels (1963); D. Guthrie,Introduction (3rd ed., 1970).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
1. Scope of This Article
2. The Gospels in Church Tradition
II. THE SYNOPTIC PROBLEM
1. Nature of the Problem
2. Proposed Solutions
(1) Oral Gospel
(2) Mutual Use
(3) Hypothesis of Sources
(4) Other Sources
III. LITERARY ANALYSIS AND ORAL TRADITION
1. The Problem not Solely a Literary One
2. Influence of Oral Instruction
IV. ORDER OF EVENTS AND TIME OF HAPPENINGS IN THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS
1. Range of Apostolic Witness
2. Bearing on Order
3. Time of Happenings
V. DATING OF THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS
1. Return to Earlier Dating
2. The Material Still Older
VI. THE MESSIANIC IDEA IN ITS BEARINGS ON HISTORICITY OF THE GOSPELS
1. The Jewish and Christian Messiah
2. Originality of the Christian Conception
3. The Messianic Hope
VII. THE OLD TESTAMENT IN ITS BEARINGS ON THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS
VIII. THE JESUS OF THE GOSPELS AS THINKER
2. Jesus as Thinker
IX. THE PROBLEM OF THE GOSPELS
1. Scope of Article:
The present article is confined to the consideration of the relations and general features of the first 3 Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke)--ordinarily named "the," because, in contrast with the Fourth Gospel, they present, as embodying a common tradition, the same general view of the life and teaching of Jesus during His earthly ministry, and of His death and resurrection. The Fourth Gospel, in itself and in its relation to the Synoptics, with the Johannine literature and theology generally, are treated in special articles.
2. The Gospels in Church Tradition:
The place of the Gospels in church tradition is secure. Eusebius places the 4 Gospels among the books that were never disputed in the church (Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 25). It is acknowledged that by the end of the 2nd century these 4 Gospels, and none else, ascribed to the authors whose names they bear, were in universal circulation and undisputed use throughout the church, stood at the head of church catalogues and of all VSS, were freely used, not only by the Fathers of the church (Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement, Origen, etc.), but by pagans and heretics, and by these also were ascribed to the disciples of Christ as their authors., in the middle of the century, freely quotes from "Memoirs of the Apostles," "which are called Gospels," "composed by the apostles and those that followed them" (1 Apol. 66-67; Dial. with Trypho, 10, 100, 103). What these Gospels were is made apparent by the Diatessaron, or Harmony of Four, of his disciple Tatian (circa 170), constructed from the 4 Gospels we possess. The first to mention Matthew and Mark by name is Papias of Hierapolis (circa 120-30; in Euseb., HE, III, 39). Dr. Sanday is disposed to carry back the extracts from Papias to about 100 AD (Fourth Gospel, 151); Dr. Moffatt likewise says, "These explanations of Matthew and Mark must have been in circulation by the end of the 1st century" (Introduction to Lit. of , 187). The gist of the testimony of Papias is: "Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though he did not record in order, that which was either said or done by Christ"; "Matthew composed the Oracles (Logia) in Hebrew (Aramaic), and each one interpreted them as he was able." Eusebius evidently took what he quotes about Matthew and Mark from Papias to refer to our present Gospels, but a problem arises as to the relation of the Aramaic "Logia" said to be composed by Matthew to our canonical Greek Gospel, which was the only Gospel of Mt known to the early Fathers. There is no ground for the supposition that the Jewish-Christian GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE HEBREWS (which see) was the original of the Greek Matthew; it was on the other hand derived from it. The Gnostic Marcion used a mutilated Luke. Compare further, below on dating, and for details see special articles on the respective Gospels; also BIBLE; CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT.
1. Nature of the Problem:
Arising from their peculiar nature, there has always been a Synoptic problem, ever since the 3 Gospels appeared together in the. No one could read these Gospels consecutively with attention, without being aware of the resemblances and differences in their contents. Each writer sets forth his own account without reference to the other two, and, with the partial exception of Luke (1:1-4), does not tell his readers anything about the sources of his Gospel. A problem thus arose as to the relations of the three to one another, and the problem, though it approaches a solution, is not yet solved. A history of the Synoptic problem will be found in outline in many recent works; the most elaborate and best is in Zahn’s Introduction, III. In it Zahn briefly indicates what the problem was as it presented itself to the church in the earlier centuries, and gives in detail the history of the discussion from the time of Lessing (1778) to the present day. It is not possible within the limits of this article to refer otherwise than briefly to these discussions, but it may be remarked that, as the discussion went on, large issues were raised; every attempt at solution seemed only to add to the difficulty of finding an adequate one; and at length it was seen that no more complex problem was ever set to literary criticism than that presented by the similarities and differences of the Synoptic Gospels.
2. Proposed Solutions:
Of the hypotheses which seek to account for these resemblances and differences, the following are the most important.
(1) Oral Gospel:
The hypothesis of oral tradition: This theory has rather fallen into disfavor among recent critics. Dr. Stanton, e.g., says, "The relations between the first 3 Gospels cannot be adequately explained simply by the influence of oral tradition" (Gospels as Historical Documents, II, 17; similarly Moffatt, in the work quoted 180 ff). Briefly stated, theory is this. It assumes that each of the evangelists wrote independently of the others, and derived the substance of his writing, not from written sources, but from oral narratives of sayings and doings of Jesus, which, through dint of repetition, had assumed a relatively fixed form. The teaching of the apostles, first given in Jerusalem, repeated in the catechetical schools (compare
(2) Mutual Use:
As old as Augustine, this hypothesis, which assumes the use of one of the Gospels by the other two, has been frequently advocated by scholars of repute in the history of criticism. There have been many variations of theory. Each of the 3 Gospels has been put first, each second, and each third, and each in turn has been regarded as the source of the others. In fact, all possible permutations (6 in number) have been exhausted. As the hypothesis has few advocates at the present day, it is not necessary to give a minute account of these permutations and combinations. Two of them which may be regarded as finally excluded are
(a) those which put Luke first; and
(b) those which put Mark last (the view of Augustine; in modern times, of F. Baur and the Tubingen school).
(3) Hypothesis of Sources:
This is theory which may be said to hold the field at the present time. The tendency in criticism is toward the acceptance of two main sources for the Synoptic Gospels.
(a) One source is a Gospel like, if not identical with, the canonical. As regards this 2nd Gospel there is a consensus of opinion that it is prior to the other two, and the view that the 2nd and 3rd used it as a source is described as the one solid result of literary criticism. Eminent critics of various schools of thought are agreed on this point (compare W.C. Allen, Matthew, Pref. vii; F.C. Burkitt, Gospel History and Its Transmission, 37). It has been shown that most of the contents of Mark have been embodied in the other two, that the order of events in Mark has been largely followed by Matthew and Luke, and that the departures from the style of Mark can be accounted for by the hypothesis of editorial amendment.
(b) The other source (now commonly named Q) is found first by an examination of the matter not contained in the 2nd Gospel, which is common to Matthew and Luke. While there are differences as to the extent and character of the 2nd source, there is something like general agreement as to its existence. It is not agreed as to whether this source contained narratives of events, as well as sayings, or whether it was a book of sayings alone (the former is thought to be the more probable view), nor is it agreed as to whether it contained an account of the Passion week (on the differing views of the extent of Q, see Moffatt, op. cit., 197 ff); but while disagreement exists as to these and other points, the tendency, as said, is to accept a "two-source" theory in some form as the only sufficient account of the phenomena of the Gospels.
(4) Other Sources:
To make the source-theory probable, some account must be taken of other sources beyond the two enumerated above. Both the 1st and the 3rd Gospels contain material not borrowed from these sources. There is the fore-history of
(a) for what is common to them all,
(b) for what is common to any two of them, and
(c) for what is peculiar to each.
The literature on the subject is so voluminous that only a few references can be given. In addition to those named, the following works may suffice to set forth the present condition of the Synoptic problem: B. Weiss, Introduction to New Testament, and other works; Harnack, Luke the Physician, The, The Ac of the Apostles, Date of the Ac of the Apostles and of the Synoptic Gospels (English translations); Wellhausen, Einleitung in die drei ersten Evangelien, and works on each of the Synoptic Gospels, especially Studies in the Synoptic Problem, edited by Dr. Sanday.
III. Literary Analysis and Oral Tradition.
1. The Problem Not Solely a Literary One:
Looked at merely as a problem of literary analysis, it is scarcely possible to advance farther than has been done in the works of Harnack, of Sanday and his co-adjutors, and of Stanton, referred to above. The work done has been of the most patient and persevering kind. No clue has been neglected, no labor has been spared, and the interrelations of the three Gospels have been almost exhaustively explored. Yet the problem remains unsolved. For it must not be forgotten that the materials of the Synoptic Gospels were in existence before they assumed a written form. Literary analysis is apt to forget this obvious fact, and to proceed by literary comparison alone. The Gospel was confessedly at first and for some years a spoken Gospel, and this fact has to be taken into account in any adequate attempt to understand the phenomena. It is not enough to say with Dr. Stanton that "the relations of the first three Gospels cannot be adequately explained simply by the influence of oral tradition"; for the question arises, Can the relations between the first three Gospels be explained simply by the results of literary analysis, be it as exhaustive and thorough as it may? Let it be granted that literary analysis has accomplished a great deal; that it has almost compelled assent to the two-source hypothesis; that it has finally made good the priority of Mk; that it has made out a probable source consisting mainly of sayings of Jesus, yet many problems remain which literary analysis cannot touch, at least has not touched. There is the problem of the order of events in the Gospels, which is so far followed by all three. How are we to account for that sequence? Is it sufficient to say, as some do, that Mark set the style of the Gospel narrative, and that the others so far followed that style? All Gospels must follow the method set by Mark, so it is affirmed. But if that is the case, how did Matthew and Luke depart from that copy by writing a fore-history? Why did they compile a genealogy? Why did they give so large a space to the sayings of Jesus, and add so much not contained in the Gospel which, on the hypothesis, set the pattern of what a Gospel ought to be? These questions cannot be answered on the hypothesis that the others simply followed a fashion set by Mark. Sometimes the 2nd Gospel is described as if it were suddenly launched on the Christian world; as if no one had ever heard of the story contained in it before Mark wrote it. From the nature of the case, it is obvious that the church had knowledge of many of the facts in the life of Christ, and was in possession of much of His teaching before any of the Gospels were written. So much is plain from the Epistles of Paul. How many facts about Jesus, and how much of His teaching may be gathered from these epistles, we do not inquire at present. But we do learn much from Paul about the historical Jesus.
2. Influence of Oral Instruction:
The Christian church in its earlier form arose out of the teaching, example and influence of the apostles at Jerusalem. It was based on apostolic testimony as to the life, character, teaching, death and resurrection of
IV. Order of Events and Time of Happenings in the Synoptic Gospels.
1. Range of Apostolic Witness:
It is known from Ac that the main topic of the preaching of the apostles was the resurrection of the Lord. "With great power gave the apostles their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus" (
2. Bearing on Order:
It is clear that the first lessons of the apostles were accounts of the Passion week, and of the resurrection. But it went backward to events and incidents in the life of Jesus, and as we read the Synoptic Gospels, we soon see that the order was dictated by the events themselves. They are grouped together for no other reason than that they happened so. Most of the incidents are hung on a geographical thread. In the 2nd Gospel, which seems to preserve most faithfully the traditional order, this is obvious to every attentive reader; but in all the 3 Gospels many of the narratives go in well-established cycles. To take only one illustration, where many might be instanced, the healing of the woman with the issue of blood is represented as occurring in the course of the walk to the house of Jairus (
3. Time of Happenings:
When one studies the rather kaleidoscopic political geography of Palestine in the first 40 years of our era, he will find many confirmations of the historic situation in the Synoptic Gospels. The birth of Jesus was in the time of Herod the Great, when the whole of Palestine was under one government. After the death of Herod, Palestine was under several rulers. Archelaus had possession of Judea until the year 9 AD. Galilee was under Herod Antipas until the year 37, and the tetrarchy of Philip had a distinct government of its own. About the year 40 Palestine was again under one government under Herod Agrippa. Now it is clear that the events of the Gospels happened while Herod Antipas ruled in Galilee and Peraea, and while Pilate was procurator in Judea (see Chronology of the New Testament, and JESUS CHRIST). Nor is the significance of this environment exhausted by the reference to the time. As Professor Burkitt has shown (op. cit., in his chapter entitled "Jesus in Exile"), in the itinerary recorded in
V. Dating of the Synoptic Gospels.
1. Return to Earlier Dating:
The question as to the dates at which the Synoptic Gospels appear in a published form may more suitably be dealt with in connection with the articles on the separate Gospels. It need only be observed here that opinion is tending toward much earlier dates than were common till lately. By all but extreme writers it is now admitted that the first 3 Gospels fall well within the limits of the apostolic age. In the Preface to his work on Luke (1906), Harnack reminded his readers that 10 years before he had told them that "in the criticism of the sources of the oldest Christianity we are in a movement backward to tradition." The dates he formerly favored were, for Mark between 65 and 70 AD, for Matthew between 70 and 75, for Luke between 78 and 23. Harnack’s more recent pronouncement as to the date of Acts, which he states with all the emphasis of italics, "It seems now to be established beyond question that both books of this great historical work were written while Paul was yet alive" (Date of the Ac and the Synoptic Gospels, 124, English translation), must have a determining influence on critical opinion. If Ac were written during the lifetime of Paul (compare
2. The Material Still Older:
It is still to be remembered, however, that the materials of which the Gospels are composed existed before they were put into a written form. Every discussion must take note of that fact. The literature of the New Testament presupposes just such accounts of the life of Jesus as we find in the Synoptic Gospels, and readers of the Gospels have a right to rest on their veracity and sufficiency as accounts of Jesus, of what He was, what He said, and what He did. They are their own best witnesses.
VI. The Messianic Idea in Its Bearings on Historicity of the Gospels.
1. The Jewish and the Christian Messiah:
In a striking passage in his Das Evangelium Marci (65, 66), Wellhausen vividly sets forth the significant contrast between the Jewish and the Christian conceptions of the Messiah. We quote the words, notwithstanding the fact that Wellhausen does not regard the passage,
"The confession of Peter, `Thou art the Messiah,’ affords," he says, "the occasion for the setting forth of what up to this time was latent. He has elicited the confession and accepted it. Nevertheless, He accepts it with a correction; a correction that follows as a matter of course. He is not the Messiah who will restore the kingdom of Israel, but another Messiah altogether. Not to set up the kingdom does He go to Jerusalem, but He goes in order to be crucified. Through sorrow and death He goes into glory, and only by this way can others also enter. The kingdom of God is no Judaistic kingdom; the kingdom is destined only for some chosen individuals, for disciples. The thought of the possibility of a metanoia of the people has wholly disappeared. Into the place of a command to repent addressed to all steps the command to follow, and that can be obeyed only by a very few. The conception of following loses now its proper forces and takes a higher meaning. It does not mean what it meant up to this time, namely, to accompany and to follow Him during His lifetime; it overflows that meaning; one is to follow Him even unto death. The following is an imitatio possible only after His death, and this is to be attained only by a very few. One must bear his cross after Him. .... The situation of the oldest congregation and its tone is here foreshadowed by Jesus as He goes to meet his fate."
A similar passage occurs in the Einleitung, which ends with the significant sentence, "All these are noteworthy signs of the time in which He takes His standpoint" (81).
2. Originality of the Christian Conception:
Elsewhere Wellhausen admits that the sections of the Gospels following the scene at Caesarea-Philippi contain what was known as the distinctive Gospel of the apostolic church. But this Gospel owed its origin to the apostolic church itself. It is a question of the highest importance, and the answer cannot be determined by mere literary criticism: Is the Christian conception of the Messiah due to Jesus? or is it due to the reflection of the church? Which is the more probable? It is agreed, Wellhausen being witness, that the Christian conception was subversive of the Jewish outlook, that the two were in contradiction in many ways. One can understand the Christian conception, and its triumph over the Jewish among the Christian people, if it had been set forth by the Master; but it is unintelligible as a something which originated in the congregation itself. The conception of a crucified Messiah, of a suffering Saviour, was a conception which was, during the years of His earthly ministry, in the mind of Jesus alone. It was not in the minds of the disciples, until He had risen from the dead. And it was not in the minds of His contemporaries. But it was the ruling conception in the Jerusalem church as it is in the Epistles of Paul. No: the conception of the suffering Saviour was not the invention of the church, nor did it rise from her thought of her own needs; it was a gift to her from the suffering and risen Lord. Not without a great impulse, nor without a strong source of persuasion, do men displace notions which they have cherished for generations, and substitute notions which are contradictory and subversive of those fiercely and firmly held.
We take these chapters therefore as historical, and as descriptive of the historical Jesus. If we can do so, then the matter is intelligible, not otherwise. It is also to be observed in this relation that the needs of the church are new needs. There is no provision in the New Testament for the needs of the natural man. The critical view often puts the cart before the horse, and this is one illustration of the fact. The needs of the church are the creation of Christ. They are new needs, or needs only imperfectly felt by humanity before Jesus came.
3. The Messianic Hope:
Be the needs of the church as great as they may, they are not creative; they are only responsive to the higher call. Nor is it a possible hypothesis that lies at the basis of the criticism of Wellhausen and of many others. Since the time of Baur it has often been said or assumed that it was the Messianic hope that gave concreteness to Christianity; that through the prevalence of the Messianic hope, Christianity was enabled to enter on its career of victory. This is another case of the husteron proteron. It is the historical Jesus that has given concreteness and definiteness to the Messianic conceptions which were current in His time. Because at the heart of the Christian conception there was this concrete gracious figure, and because of the commanding influence of Jesus Christ, this form of Messianism entered into human life, flourished and endured, and is with us today. Other forms of Messianism have only an antiquarian value. They may be discussed as of literary interest, but their practical significance is as nothing. No doubt Messianic categories were ransacked by the church to see if they could be used in order more fully to set forth the significance of Jesus Christ. But the essence of the matter did not lie in them but in Him, whom they had known, loved and served. It is time that a newer critical assumption should be found than the obsolete, worn-out one that the church invented the Christ. We know a little of the early church, and we know its immaturity and its limitations. We have learned something, too, of the Jews at the time of our Lord, and we note that in the Gospels their limitations have been transcended, their immaturity has been overcome, and how? By the fact of Christ. He is so great that He must be real. VII. The Old Testament in Its Bearing on the Synoptic Gospels.
It is always to be remembered that the Old Testament was the Bible of the early Christians. They accepted it as the Word of God, and as authoritative for the guidance of life and conduct. It is one thing to admit and assert this; it is another thing to say that the story of the Old Testament molded and directed the story of Jesus as it is in the Synoptic Gospels. This has been widely asserted, but without adequate proof. As a matter of fact Christianity, when it accepted the Old Testament as the word of God, interpreted it in a fashion which had not been accented before. It interpreted it in the light of Jesus Christ. Tendencies, facts, meanings, which had been in the Old Testament came into light, and the Bible of the Christians was a Bible which testified of Christ. That on which the Jews laid stress passed into the background, and that which they had neglected came into prominence. This view is set forth by Paul: "Unto this day, whenever Moses is read, a veil lieth upon their heart" (
VIII. The Jesus of the Gospels as Thinker.
1. The Ethics of Jesus:
Turning from the conception of the suffering Saviour in the Synoptics, we come to the aspect of Jesus as teacher and thinker, and here also we find abundant evidence of the historical character of the Gospel presentation. As the ethics of Jesus are treated in another article, it is sufficient to say here that the conception of the ethical man and His conduct set forth in His teaching is of unusual breadth, and when worked out in detail, yields an ideal of man in himself, and in relation to others, which transcends all other ethical teaching known to mankind. This, too, we must trace to His unique personality, and not to the reflection of the church.
2. Jesus as Thinker:
A glance may be taken at Jesus under His more general aspect as thinker. As thinker, Jesus stands alone. He speaks with authority, and whoever understands must obey. The Synoptic Gospels, in this respect, are unique. There is nothing like them in literature. Not even in the Bible is there anything to compare with them. Even in the other books of the New Testament we do not find anything like the attitude of Jesus to the common things of life. The world’s literature shows no parallel to the parables of the Gospels. Here, at any rate, we are on safe ground in saying that these are not due to the reflection of the church. They have an individual stamp which accredits them as the product of one mind. But a great deal more may be said on the characteristic features of the thinking of Jesus. He is the only thinker who goes straight from the common things of daily life and daily experience into the deepest mysteries of life. The deepest thoughts which man can think are suggested to Him by what everybody sees or does. It is not easy within reasonable limits to do justice to this feature of the Synoptic Gospels. Jesus is at home amid the common things and common occupations of life, because He discerns the Father’s presence in them all. What a series of pictures of the world, and of occupations of men, could be gathered from these Gospels! This feature of them was neglected until men under the teaching of poets and painters returned into sympathy with external Nature. We are only beginning to see what wealth, from this point of view, is in the Gospels. Poetic sympathy with Nature is a comparatively modern attainment, yet it is in the Gospels. Wind and weather, mountain and valley, seedtime and harvest, summer and winter, sowing and reaping, buying and selling, all are there, transfigured into higher meanings, and made vocal of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. Other thinkers rise gradually, and by many steps, from common experience, into what they have to describe of the higher thought and wider generalizations through which they seek to interpret the mystery of life and of the universe. But this thinker needs no middle terms. He sees, e.g., a woman preparing bread for the use of the family, and in this process perceives the mystery of the kingdom of heaven. Whenever He touches on these common things, immediately they are transfigured. They become luminous with the presence of the spiritual world, and earth becomes full of heaven, and every bush is aflame with God.
We note these things because they have a close bearing on the origin and character of the Synoptic Gospels. They bear the stamp of a unique, a creative personality. Be the processes through which the materials of the Gospels have passed what they may, yet these have not obliterated nor blurred the essential characteristics of that unique personality. When the comparisons of the similarities and differences of the Gospels have been exhausted, the problem of their origin remains, and that problem can be solved only by the recognition of a creative personality who alike by word and work was unlike any other that the world has ever seen.
IX. The Problem of the Gospels.
The Jesus of the Gospels is the
Besides the works mentioned in the article, reference may be made to the following: E.A. Abbott, article "Gospels" in Encyclopedia Britannica (11th edition), edition 9 (with Rushbrooke), Common Tradition of the Synoptic Gospels, and other works; Sanday, Gospels in the 2nd Century, The Life of Christ in Recent Criticism; Sir John Hawkins, Horae Synopticae; G. Salmon, Introduction to New Testament; H. Chase, "The Gospels in the Light of Historical Criticism," Essay X in Cambridge Biblical Essays, edited by Dr. Swete (1905); H. L. Jackson, "The Present State of the Synop, tic Problem," Essay XIII in Cambridge Biblical Essays, edited by Dr. Swete (1909); Peake, Introduction to New Testament; A. Loisy, Les evangiles synoptiques (1907-8); J.M. Thomson, The Synoptic Gospels, Arranged in Parallel Cols. (1910; this scholarly work does forof the Bible what such works as Greswell’s Harmonia Evangelica, Rushbrooke’s Synopticon and Wright’s Synopsis have done for the Greek texts); A.A. Hobson, The Diatessaron of Tatian and the Synoptic Problem (The University of Chicago Press, 1904).