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THE FOUR GOSPELS, AND THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES.
GOSPEL is a word of Saxon origin, corresponding with the Latin term evangelium in the Vulgate, and signifying glad tidings, or a message of good. Any agreeable news is, therefore, a Gospel. The announcement of any soul-gladdening truth, awakening emotions of philanthropy, may with the utmost propriety be desig nated by this title. The term is, however, applied by way of distinction to the collective instructions of Jesus-the moral and religious principles which constitute what we term Christianity. By the Gospel of Jesus we mean his Religion. And for the purposes of convenience we also apply the same word to the writings which contain a record of his life and teaching. The works of this class which we propose to consider at the present time, are four in number; and bear the names of the following persons, viz. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; who were reputed early disciples of Christ, and the first and last mentioned of whom were among his associates and fellow-travellers.
The prefixing of "Saint" to their proper names, and to the names of other New Testament writers, as Saint Matthew, Saint Mark, &c., is of Roman Catholic ori
gin-the Romish Church being apparently governed by an unconquerable propensity for canonizing, not only parchments and relics, but departed souls. I, for one, heartily wish that the term Saint, in every case where it is used as a title, were stricken from our version of the New Testament; as it serves for scarcely any other purpose than to remind us of the superstitious foolery of a long, dark period in the world's history. It is impossible for us to tell precisely, though we may conjecture, what would have been the emotions of the modest, childlike John, and the unassuming Paul, could they have foreseen the title-dignities which the after-ages bestowed upon them, and the irrational degree of veneration with which they have since been regarded.
As far as theoretical Christianity may be concerned with records, the four Gospels are, perhaps, of more vital importance than any or all of the other documents of the Bible and for this reason the examination of them must, I think, be the most deeply interesting to the generality of Christian believers.
When, and by whom, were these books written? They contain, professedly, a narrative of the life and public transactions of Jesus Christ. How long after his death were they composed? Something depends upon the answer which may be given to these questions. I do not feel myself warranted in saying that I have been able to arrive at any thing which can be considered a well-assured, positive result, in relation to these points
of inquiry-especially in regard to the time at which the several Gospels were written. I find that there is a considerable variety, and some direct contrariety of opinion, on this point, among the most eminent writers upon the origin of the Scriptures. And it requires some patient labor to select the diverse opinions of his torians and commentators, and fairly weigh and measure the historical probabilities in behalf of each.
The Gospel of MATTHEW is generally agreed to be the oldest of the four which are now reckoned as canonical; and on this account it precedes the others in our Biblical arrangement. When it was written, is a matter of uncertainty.* Different writers, who have enjoyed the highest advantages for acquainting themselves with all that may be known in relation to this particular, and who have been, perhaps, equally well fitted, one with another, to judge discriminatively concerning the authentic or doubtful nature of the historic materials which they have gathered, (abating, of course, their various predilections) are mostly undecided on this point; opin. ions and conjectures being nearly all they have ventured to express. That no injustice may be done to any of the persons to whom I have thus referred without specific designation, let me mention the names and official
*Indeed, it is difficult to ascertain in what language it was first written. Some contend that the original MS. was in the corrupted Hebrew commonly spoken in Palestine, at the time of Jesus, and called SyroChaldaic; others believe the original copy to have been written in Greek. Respecting this matter, Prof. ROBINSON, (Professor Extraordinary of Sacred Literature in Andover Theological Seminary) makes the following remark: "Critics of the greatest name are arranged on both sides of the question."
stations of some of them, with the opinions they have severally advanced.
HENRY OWEN, D. D., author of "Observations on; the four Gospels," and who was the Rector of St. Olave, Hart Street, London, in the latter part of the last century, conjectured that Matthew's Gospel was written about A. D. 38; only two years after the death of Jesus, according to the chronological reckoning of those who suppose him to have been crucified at the age of thirty-six.*
Rev. JEREMIAH JONES, an English dissenting minister, who died in 1724, in a work entitled "A New and Full Method of settling the Canonical Authority of the New Testament," assigns a date somewhat later, viz. A. D. 41-five years after Christ's death, supposing that he died in the year 36: eight years afterward, if we regard A. D. 33 as the year of his demise.
NATHANIEL LARDNER, D. D., (among Protestants generally, one of the most reputable critics) in his "Supplement to the Credibility of the Gospel History," published in London, in 1756, fixes upon A. D. 64,
It should be recollected, however, that historians are by no means agreed respecting this particular. Civil, as well as ecclesiastical writers differ in regard to it, as a historical event-some thinking it probable that the death of the illustrious Teacher and Reformer took place A. D. 33. A variety of opinion likewise exists, among the most learned, respecting the exact time of Christ's birth. Rev. WILLIAM HALES, D. D., in a very elaborate work, first published in London, in 1809, entitled "A New Analysis of Chronology," places this event four years previous to the Common Era, or the A. D. from which we now generally reckon; which would make Christ forty years of age when he died, adopting 36 as the year of his crucifixion. The various opinions upon this, as on many other points concerning Jesus, are, however, but conjectures, more or less probable.
(twenty-eight years, at the least, after the Crucifixion) as the probable date at which Matthew's Gospel was written.
EPIPHANIUS, a writer of some renown, was of the opinion that it was written while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, about A. D. 63.
Rev. ALBERT BARNES, a distinguished Presbyterian, of Philadelphia, who quotes this last-named author, in the Preface to his "Notes on the Gospels," says: "It is now generally supposed that this Gospel was written about this time":-i. e. the time mentioned by Epiphanius, A. D. 63-twenty-seven years after the death of Jesus.
Professor HUG, a German writer of great erudition, author of an "Introduction to the writings of the New Testament," also supposed that Matthew might have written his book about this time, or a little later-perhaps A. D. 65; twenty-nine years subsequent to Christ's death.
I have now presented you with a statement of the deliberate suppositions of some of the most emirent men in the department of Scripture antiquity. On the basis of their conjectures, each individual hearer will, I presume, form such an opinion as shall seem to him the most plausible. For my own part, I think it the most probable, (though I do not rely implicitly on the supposition) that the Gospel of Matthew was not written, at the earliest period which may reasonably be supposed,