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SYNOPTICAL STUDY OF THE GOSPELS, AND RECENT LITERA.
TURE PERTAINING TO IT.
(With special reference to Dr. Robinson's New Harmony of the Greek Gospels.')
By H. B. Hackett, D. D., Prof. of Biblical Literature in Newton Theol. Institution.
STRICTLY speaking, a distinction should be made between a Synopsis of the Gospels, a Harmony of the Gospels, and a Life of Christ A Synopsis of the Gospels contents itself with ascertaining what passages or sections in the different Evangelists are probably parallel to each other, that is, have reference to the same occurrences or subjects; but it makes no attempt to arrange them in their chronological order. In this case, the credibility of the sacred historians may be denied, and the endeavor to synchronize their accounts discarded as futile, because what they wrote rests in fact upon no historical basis; or their credibility may be admitted, and yet our means for ascertaining the exact order of events may be considered as so deficient as to render all labor for this purpose of no avail.
A Harmony of the Gospels aims at something more positive than this. It proposes to discover not only what narratives in the different Evangelists correspond to each other, but in what order the events and instructions recorded took place or were delivered ; and how the scriptural text should be arranged so as to exhibit
' A Harmony of the Four Gospels in Greek, according to the text of Hahn. Newly arranged, with explanatory notes, by Edward Robinson, D. D. LL. D. Boston: published by Crocker and Brewster, 1845. VOL. III. No. 9.
this result. In other words, a Harmony assumes, first, that the narratives of the Evangelists, though diverse to some extent in style and contents, yet constitute essentially the same history; secondly, that they are composed according to no uniform method, but upon a plan in each case more or less dissimilar; and, thirdly, that they contain at the same time various chronological data which enable us to combine their histories into a connected and consistent whole.
A History of the Saviour coincides with a Harmony, so far as the latter extends, but embraces more. The Harmonist is expected to confine himself to the materials which the Evangelists have furnished. Having formed his judgment as to the place which these should occupy in his arrangement, he has accomplished his work. The Biographer moves in a wider sphere. His object is to reproduce as nearly as possible the entire, original history. The imagination has here an important office to discharge, as well as the judgment. In a Life of Christ, the writer is at liberty to expand the simple hints and statements of the Evangelists into greater fulness of representation. He is to spread around us the external scenery, amid which the Saviour lived and moved. The actions of life always owe much of their significancy to that which is transient and momentary at the time of their performance. The skilful Biographer seeks to restore these effaced lines. He is to unfold allusions, trace back events to their causes, ascend from single incidents to a general comprehension of character; and, in a word, having before him merely specimens, as it were, of the things which were transacted, he strives out of these parts to re-construct the whole. The well known Life of Christ by Hess is distinguished for much of this picturesque power. It is in general correct also in point of theological sentiment, and pervaded by a glow of earnest Christian feeling. Its defects are, that too frequent digressions from the direct path of the narrative occur in it, that it is often too diffuse even in treating of appropriate topics, and has less critical precision than the present times demand.
The character of the Gospels, as constituting in the main parallel accounts of the life, death and resurrection of the Saviour, is now very universally acknowledged. Yet there have been periods in the church when this relation of the Evangelists to each other was overlooked or denied; and men of considerable reputation have arisen at different times, who have contended strenuously against such a view. One of the best known representa
1846.) False views of Osiander and others.
3 tives of this class of men was Osiander, who published a Harmony of the Gospels, so called, in 1537, a work which was several times reprinted, and which, in the Lutheran church at least, for a period of some duration, controlled the opinions of theologians on this subject. He maintained that each of the Gospels forms a complete and distinct history. According to him, the Evangelists have all pursued in their narratives the exact order of time from beginning to end. Hence in every instance of a deviation in their method, they record different actions or discourses. The incidents related may be precisely the same in their character and in the attendant circunstances; but if they are introduced by the writers in a varied connection, they could not have been the same in fact; they must have been repeated on different occasions. His notion was a legitimate deduction undoubtedly from the false views which he and many of his contemporaries entertained respecting the nature of inspiration. If the Evangelists were inspired, and wrote consequently what was true, he argued, they must have given to us the precise words of Christ, when they profess to record his discourses. It is not sufficient that they agree in substance of meaning. The slightest verbal difference destroys their identity, and makes it necessary to expand the history so as to provide for them a separate place and time. From the same source sprang the idea that all the occurrences which the Gospels relate, must be different, if stated in a different order. It would be a violation of truth, it was alleged, to introduce them in any other than the succession in which they actually took place; and historians who are inspired, must conform of course to the truth. In two instances only was Osiander untrue to his principle. The passages which relate to the plucking of the ears of corn, and to the healing of the withered hand, have a different position assigned to them by the Evangelists; and yet he explained them as referring to the same transactions. His followers, however, as Molinaeus?, Codmann' and others, perceived the inconsistences into which he had fallen; and, to save their system from such a virtual abandonment, they maintained that
| Its title was-Harmoniae Evang. libri 4, Gr. et Lat.
item elenchus Harmoniae : adnotationum liber unus. Basel, 1537.
2 Collatio et unio quatuor Evv. eorum serie et ordine absque ulla confusione, permistione, vel transpositione servato, cum exacta textus illibati recognitione. Par 1565, 4.
• Laurent Cud:nann, Harmonia Evangelistarum Narnb. 1563. This was designed for the use of schools.
these two incidents also must be supposed to have occurred repeatedly during the lifetime of Christ.
In the Reformed church, Calvinl who viewed this subject in a much more intelligent light, prevented by his example the very extensive adoption of such false principles. In the Lutheran church likewise, more just opinions gradually made their appearance, till at length Chemnitz? at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and especially Bengel somewhat later, effected a permanent reformation in the condition of this study. The merits of these two men in bringing about this result were different. The service which Chemnitz performed, was negative rather than positive. He exposed several of the most important errors of those who had preceded him in this field of inquiry; he pointed out some of the obstacles to success, and led the way to a freer and more rational treatment of the subject. He recognized indeed in his Harmony most of the fundamental principles to which the assent of critics is now accorded; but with him they were happy conjectures rather than established principles, and, applied by him, were connected with many erroneous results. In his attempt to settle the chronology of the Gospels, he was particularly unfortunate. He proposed to himself here more than is possible to be accomplished. Not content with those general divisions of time, which the Evangelists seem to have indicated with sufficient clearness, he endeavored to fix, for the most part, even the month and day of each occurrence. He has shown in his efforts to carry out this design no ordinary industry and ingenuity; but, from the nature of the case, has been unable to win any very sure ground for many of the conclusions which he was compelled to admit, in filling up a system of such minute computation. The arrangement which Bengel adopted for harmonizing the Gospels, may not be, in the aggregate, more certain than that of Chemnitz; but it exhibits a more careful study into the actual
" J. Calvin, Harmonia ex tribus Evangelistis composita, adjuncta seorsum Johan. Genev. 1553, fol.
? Mart. Chemnitz Harmonia quatuor Evangelistarum, etc. The immense work which passes under this title, is the production of several hands. It was commenced by Chemnitz, but only the first volume, extending as far as John U: 47, was completed by him. It was afterwards continued by Leyser and Gerhard. The first part by Chemnitz was published after his death by Leyser in 1593, who followed it by a second volume from himself in 1603, and by a third in 1608. Gerhard added a fourth and final volume in 1626.
* J. A. Bengel, Richtige Harmonia der vier Evangelisten, etc. Tab. 1736, 1757, 1766.
Principles of the English Farmonists.
structure of the Gospels, and a more consistent adherence to the rules which he professed to follow. He may be considered as hav. ing effectually put to flight what still remained of that dogma of Osiander and the older theologians, that the only species of history to which the influence of inspiration can be extended, is that which pursues the chronological order of narration. Bengel, on the contrary, allowed himself to transpose freely the contents of the Gospels. He perceived that there were certain sections common to all of them, and sustaining a certain fixed relation to each other. The position of these he regarded as established; but felt at liberty to adjust the rest, as the plan which he had formed seemed to him to require.
The English Harmonists appear to have emancipated them. selves more readily from this false idea respecting a strict historical method in each of the Evangelists, or rather they do not seem at any period to have been much under the influence of it. The earliest of them who have any name as critics, so far as we know, assumed in this respect the true position. Lightfoot, Cartwright, Lardner, Newcome, Doddridge, Carpenter and others differ not a little in their judgment on subordinate questions of arrangement; but they all agree, that some transposition is necessary, in order to bring the Evangelists into harnony with each other. They may suppose that some one of them has adhered to the order of time more exactly than the others, and may vary, in placing at the foundation of their Ilarmonies Luke or Matthew or John, according to their several preferences of one to another as the surest historical guide. But none of them suppose, merely because the Evangelists narrate those events in a different order, that our Saviour healed the mother-in-law of Peter two or three times, that he cured two women of an issue of blood—that he twice still. ed a tempest on the sea, and that the mother and relations of Christ sought to speak with him through the crowd on three different occasions.
It is unquestionably true, as we learn from the account of the same narrator, that several incidents of the same character took place more than once during the life of the Saviour. Thus we can readily believe that the Scribes and Pharisees may frequently have demanded miracles of Jesus as a proof of his Messiahship; and accordingly we find that Matthew speaks of such a demand as having been repeated at different times.
i See Matt. 12: 38. 16: 1 sq.