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The Origins of the New Testament

The Origins of the New Testament: Chapter 3

Chapter III


WE shall presently describe the birth and growth of the evangelical teaching, or catechesis, as far as it is possible to do so, that is, by means of near and reasonable conjecture. But before proceeding to this it is necessary to examine thoroughly the external evidence, known as the evidence of tradition, concerning the documents which contain the catechesis, that is, the Gospels. Of the external evidence at our disposal the most striking is that which Irenaeus attributes, in regard to the fourth Gospel, to the "Elders" who had known John. This evidence about the fourth Gospel, as we shall see, is bound up, in the utmost possible closeness, with the sayings of Papias about the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, making a unity of the two testimonies; there is nothing of equal antiquity concerning the Gospel of Luke. The result is, that if the united testimony of Irenaeus and Papias should turn out to be worthless, no resource, or nearly none, will be left to the historian of the pretended tradition save that of a conscientious analysis of the internal evidence in the texts themselves. In addition we shall find that the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts contain an attestation about themselves the meaning and bearing of which will need to be disengaged.


To begin with, let us see how Irenaeus commends the fourth Gospel to honour among Christians. In Heresies (ii, 22, 5), speaking of the gnostics, he writes of them as follows:

Under pretext that "the year of the Lord's favour," of which the prophet speaks (Isaiah lxi, 2), support their chimera, they pretend that the Lord preached only for one year, and that he died in the twelfth month of that year.

Irenaeus would here seem to be charging only gnostics with error. In reality, he is attacking the common perspective of the first three Gospels, where the events and teaching of Jesus


ministry are assembled in a way which gives them the appearance of occupying a short time, ending with the Passover which brought him to Jerusalem, where he met his death. The third Gospel, in fact, specifies the providential year as the fifteenth of Tiberius (Luke iii, i), and is at pains to give in full the text of Isaiah, relating to this "year of grace," in the discourse attributed to Jesus by which he inaugurated his public preaching at Nazareth, "where he had been brought up." It would seem, then, that the opinion of the gnostics had been originally professed, and that publicly, by Jesus himself.

Let us now see how Irenaeus accommodated the statement in Luke to the chronology which he claims to be that of the fourth Gospel:

They suppress the period in the Lord's life which was the most important and the most honourable, that of his complete maturity when his teaching won for him universal respect. How can he have had disciples if he had not taught? And how can he have taught if he had not reached the age of a master?

Strange reasoning; especially when we remember that, in the view of his Person taken by the fourth Gospel, the Incarnate Logos, the Son of God had no need to graduate, before he could speak with authority. But this is a case of propping up a thesis, in which the interest to be defended determines the quality of the argument brought forward to support it.

For at the time he presented himself for baptism, he had not yet reached the age of thirty, and was only entering on his thirtieth year.

This at least is how Irenaeus understands the somewhat confused statement in Luke iii, 23. But immediately following there is a notice in the text which contradicts the sense of the whole passage and can only be a clumsy interpolation:

Beginning from his baptism he preached for one year only and died at the end of his thirtieth year, still young and before attaining a ripe age.

If this sentence be authentic it can only be an "indignant exclamation" of Irenaeus against the holders of an opinion judged by him to be preposterous. More probably it is, as Turmel maintains, [1] the work of an interpolator who "shamelessly makes

[1] Histoire des Dogmes, i, 319, note I.


nonsense of the thought of Irenaeus." In any case the most careless of critics would hardly make Irenaeus say, in the quoted sentence, that the Elders support the opinion which the same Elders and Irenaeus have vigorously combated in the whole course of the argument. But he proceeds:

Now thirty years is the age of youth which, as all men agree, continues to forty years. Between forty and fifty begins the age of maturity, at which our Lord gave his teaching, as the (fourth) Gospel attests; and all the Elders who in Asia were in contact with John, the disciple of the Lord, declare that they hold that from John, who remained with them to the time of Trajan.

We shall presently see how the fourth Gospel corroborates the testimony of the Elders. The Elders had good ground for knowing the corroboration and we can make a shrewd guess as to why they knew it. From what follows it results that this "John, disciple of the Lord" was also an apostle. The designation is somewhat loose, but tends to support the opinion now called traditional, namely, that the fourth Gospel is of apostolic origin. As it was then well known that the Gospel in question had but lately come into being, pains were taken to put on record that John had lived to a great old age — "till the time of Trajan" (98-117). These Elders who had conversed with John would have heard him in the early years of the second century. If we go by the Johannine chronology, this John would have been much younger than Jesus, but even so he would have been of a ripe old age at the beginning of the second century. In addition, those who drew up the appendix to the fourth Gospel (xxi) have also been at pains to inform us that "the brethren believed he would not die" (23), and have not failed to add that it was this disciple, so old, so unusually old, who wrote the Gospel and that they knew, yes, they knew, that his witness was true (24). All of which very plainly comes from the same workshop and serves the same cause.

Unfortunately for their efforts, John, the son of Zebedee, never set foot in Asia and cannot have died of old age, having perished, along with his brother James, at the hand of Agrippa I, in the year 44, long before the idea occurred to anybody of making him the author of the Apocalypse or of the fourth Gospel. The Gospel of Mark (x, 37-40) is here an unimpeach-


able authority. It represents the two brothers, John and James, asking Jesus to give them the two chief seats by his side in the Kingdom:

And Jesus said to them: "Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink the cup I have to drink or to be baptized with the baptism wherewith I must be baptized?" They said to him: "We are able." But Jesus said to them: "The cup that I have to drink ye shall drink, and with the baptism wherewith I have to be baptized, ye shall be baptized. As to sitting on my right hand and my left, that is not mine to give: it is for those for whom it has been prepared."

This scene was conceived independently of the Ephesian legend about John and long before it gained credit in the churches. Whoever described it (whether he invented it or not matters little) knew or believed he knew for a certainty that John and James had suffered martyrdom, probably on the same occasion. James was put to death by order of Agrippa I in the spring of 44, and the clumsiness of the formula used by the editor of the Acts in recording the matter (xii, 2) gives ground for thinking that the execution of John, mentioned in the source document before that of James, was afterwards suppressed out of consideration for the Ephesus legend which by that time had become established. A jealous care for this legend is perceptible in other passages in Acts and even in the third Gospel, from which the above story of Mark (x, 35-40) has been deliberately omitted. The critic has other grounds for affirming as a certainty that neither the Apocalypse nor the fourth Gospel is the work of John the son of Zebedee and one of Jesus' first disciples. But, though fictitious, the testimony of the "Elders who had known John" gives abundant food for thought.

Irenaeus continues:

But some of them saw not only John but other apostles, and heard the same things from them, attesting a similar story.

So we are to believe that all the apostles met together in Asia. Polycrates of Ephesus in his letter to Pope Victor mentions only Philip, and mistakes him for another, for the Philip of whom he speaks was he whom Acts presents as one of the Seven, a companion of Stephen. Irenaeus amplifies the evidence. Finally he


returns to the argument furnished by the fourth Gospel concerning the age of the Christ:

Moreover the Jews themselves who then disputed with the Lord Jesus Christ make the matter clear. When the Lord told them that their father Abraham had desired to see his day, they answered him: "Thou art not yet fifty years old and thou hast seen Abraham!" (John viii, 56-57). Now this saying has no sense except as addressed to one who was over forty, is not yet fifty, but not far short of it.

Nothing could be clearer, and Irenaeus might have strengthened his case by quoting another passage of the Gospel connected with the foregoing. After the expulsion of the traders from the Temple the Jews say to Jesus (John ii, 18-22):

"What sign showest thou, that thou hast done this thing?" And he answered them and said: "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said: "Forty-six years was this temple in building, and thou, wilt thou raise it up in three days?" But he, he spoke of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture, and the word that Jesus has spoken.

All the elements of this picture are taken from the Synopsis, but with a different marking of time and place, and with nothing new except the interpretation. The variation "destroy this temple" renders inoffensive, and full of mystic meaning, the saying brought up in evidence against Jesus at the trial which ended in his condemnation: "I will destroy this temple and rebuild it in three days." In that form of the saying would lie the proof of his messianic pretension. Here the same pretension is implied, but with a totally different meaning. The temple, we are plainly told, is now the body of the Christ; the Jews are challenged to destroy it by putting him to death, and Jesus undertakes to restore it by raising it from the dead. But this conversation does not belong to the realm of historical fact; it is a mystic vision, a kind of enigma, to which the key is not to be found in anything we can learn from history about the building of the Temple. Commentators, therefore, walk blindly into a trap when they attempt, as many have done, to explain the forty-six years by connecting them, as the old interpreters did, with the time occupied by the building of Solomon's Temple, or with


its reconstruction by Zerubbabel, while many of the moderns, with a candour wholly scientific, imagine they have found the key in the reconstruction begun by Herod in the year of Rome 734-5 (29-19 B.C.) and finished about 63-64. The forty-six years would bring us to 27-28 of our era. Is not that a marvellous coincidence? But more marvellous still than the pretended coincidence is that our learned exegetes, speculating on this conversation as though it had really taken place in the circumstances indicated, should have overlooked the fact that the redactors of the fourth Gospel, who between 125 and 135 arranged the story, were little concerned with Herod and his temple building, and the further fact that, while they found the forty-six years somewhere, it was certainly not in personal recollections, of which they had none, nor in Josephus, whom they had not consulted, but in some passage of Scripture which they had opportunely dug out to serve as base for their chronological arrangement of the age of Jesus — the passage which the disciples are said to have believed later. This text exists: it is the passage in Daniel (ix, 24-27) where the angel discourses about the seventy week-years which are to elapse before the messianic age. The seven weeks which pseudo-Daniel sets apart in this prophecy were to be understood as covering the temple of Zerubbabel and the age of the Christ, and the half-week, which is distinguished from them, as referring to the duration of his ministry. In this way Jesus would be about fifty years old when he died (John viii, 57) and exactly forty-six when, shortly after the beginning of his ministry, he drove the traffickers out of the Temple. This explanation of the forty-six years was given long ago by the author of the treatise de Montibus Sina et Sion, a treatise preserved among the works of St. Cyprian (edition, Hartel, iii, 108). This is the only explanation that fits the mystical character of the story. So explained, we are not surprised on reading (ii, 22) that the disciples did not understand the mystery until after the resurrection, and that then "they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken," having by that time perceived the meaning of Daniel's prediction and of the Christ's declaration about the temple destroyed by the Jews and raised again after three days. All that balances perfectly, if we place ourselves outside history, as the authors of the story did, and inside the realm of mythical fiction.


It follows that Irenaeus, and the Elders before him "who had known John," were not deceived in saying that their assertions concerning the Christ's age were authorized by the Gospel; they are indeed to be found there either logically implied or plainly announced. It appears, moreover, that this edifying concert of "Elders" and Gospel cannot have been fortuitous, the nature of the case making that impossible, and that both the construction of the testimony of the Elders who had seen not only John but other apostles, and the introduction into the Gospel of the passages where we read indications of the Christ's age, are, at all points, the work of one and the same group. Who were these persons? They were the very men who edited the Gospel and first presented it to the Christian public, and at the same time constructed the testimony of the "Elders who had seen John and other apostles." Gospel and testimony are the offspring of one and the same fiction, of which the object was to guarantee the apostolic origin of the book, so as to assure its acceptance by the churches. In the end the fiction took hold, and it is no exaggeration to say that modern criticism has not escaped from its grip, though it seldom has the hardihood to maintain that Jesus at the time of his death was approaching his fiftieth year.

Be it noted, however, that when we here speak of the Gospel we have in mind the book as it was first presented to the churches of Asia, without prejudging the greater part of the elements which entered into the composition. Some of these elements are later than this first publication, having been added to procure the acceptance of the book, alongside the Synoptics, by the whole body of Christian churches, and not only by those of Asia. In the other direction, the first version of the book embraced elements of older date than itself. But these considerations belong to the history of what is commonly called evangelical tradition, for which we prefer the exacter name of evangelical catechesis. Our task has been to examine the so-called traditional witness to the fourth Gospel, and our conclusion is that no such witness exists, what claims to be such being in truth a colossal fiction, one of the most noteworthy in the entire history of the New Testament and one of the easiest to verify (cf. Remarques, 172, n. 1).



The common opinion has hitherto been that the testimony of Papias of Hierapolis in the name of John the Elder concerning the Gospels of Mark and Matthew has no connection with the testimony of the Elders, who claimed to have known John, in regard to the fourth Gospel. "We have just seen that the latter testimony was aimed at the Synopsis or, more exactly, against all Gospels of the synoptic type with the object of assuring a greater, if not an exclusive, authority to the Johannine type. Now it may well be that the sayings of Papias are, in their origin and primary intention, co-ordinated with the pleading in favour of John, in which case we shall be led to attach no more historical weight to them than we have found due to the Elders who claimed John's authority. Let us see, then, how the matter stands with these sayings of Papias, on which there has been endless dissertation among exegetes, but perhaps without perception of their real significance.

Papias wrote in five books an Explanation of the sentences of the Lord which has not been preserved. Eusebius calls attention to it in his Ecclesiastical History (iii, 39), gives some extracts and at the end reproduces "the tradition which Papias has passed down to us concerning Mark who wrote the Gospel." It is therefore a fragment taken out of the context that Eusebius offers to the consideration of his readers. It runs as follows:

And the Elder said this: "Mark, having become Peter's interpreter, wrote accurately, but not in order, all that he remembered, of the sayings and doings of the Lord. For he had not heard the Lord nor been of his company, but later, as I have said (he accompanied) Peter. Peter gave the teaching, as the need arose, but without arranging the sayings of the Lord in their order, so that Mark was not mistaken in thus writing down certain things as he remembered them; for his only care was to omit nothing of what he had heard and to insert nothing false."

Such, then, is what Papias has to tell us about Mark. And here is what he says about Matthew:

"Matthew made a collection of sentences in the Hebrew tongue, but everyone translated them as he could."

It is to be noted that, in another passage quoted earlier, Papias says that he had questioned those who had seen Andrew, Peter,


Philip, Thomas, James, John, Matthew, and was also informed of what was said by "John the Elder and Aristion, disciples of the Lord." Clearly then he distinguishes two Johns, the Apostle and the Elder, as Eusebius remarks. In addition Eusebius affirms that Papias has been in direct contact with John the Elder and with Aristion, though this is not deducible from the texts he quotes. In any case the distinction between the two Johns is important, and for Papias it is John the Elder alone who came into Asia. Thus it is clear that "the Elders who had known John" have passed off John the Elder as the Apostle John.

A further point of importance is that Papias is paraphrasing the sayings of John the Elder about Mark. Plainly it is he who explains and excuses what John the Elder denounces in Mark's lack of order. But the Mark of Papias is a legendary figure, as John the Elder's Mark already was: he is the Mark of the first Epistle of Peter (v, 13) — which is not authentic — whom this Epistle, in all probability, would discreetly commend as an evangelist for the good reason that the Gospel of Mark had been in existence for some time when the Epistle was written. The information furnished about him by the Elders and by Papias may well be less dependable and go back less far into the past than is commonly believed, since it belongs to the same family, as we shall presently perceive more clearly, with the information about the fourth Gospel furnished by the Elders who had known John, the value of which we have already assessed. The praise of Mark's accuracy comes only from Papias, who was in no position to verify it, but whose intention was to paraphrase the assertion of the Elder in a manner favourable to Mark. All that we have to examine is this assertion; the intentions of those who formulated it in the name of the Elder may well have been less disingenuous than those of Papias.

About the notice concerning Matthew interpreters are divided, some maintaining that it comes from the Elder, others that Papias alone is responsible for it. The latter opinion is improbable. On his own responsibility the good Papias would never have depreciated the Gospel of Matthew (which he certainly knew) as this notice does. There is no doubt that he failed to catch what the Elder's assertion was aiming at and so .reproduced it without commentary. But the two statements about Mark and


Matthew run parallel, and aim, together, at putting a measure of disqualification on two Gospels, widely used by the churches, in comparison with another Gospel, doubtless regarded by their author as superior to the other two.

Nor have we to search far to find the Gospel more unquestionably apostolic, better ordered than Mark and more reliable than the translations of Matthew. This incomparable Gospel is assuredly the fourth, said to come from an immediate disciple of Jesus, the Gospel with the admirable chronology, whose merits are praised by the Elders who had known John, and which, moreover reproduces the Lord's discourses as the beloved disciple of the Christ had heard and collected them, that disciple of whom the Elders themselves emphatically attest that his "witness is true" (John xxi, 2.4; xix, 35). The conclusion is that the sayings of die Elder about the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, transmitted to us by Papias, and the sayings of the Elders, piously preserved by Irenaeus, about the fourth Gospel, the duration of the Christ's earthly life of fifty years and the length of his ministry, issue from one and the same source.

With all this before us there is no need to engage in controversy on secondary points, for example whether the Gospel of Mark, to which the Elders and Papias refer, was identical with that of Christian tradition; or whether the "sentences" or "oracles" of Matthew are a source only of the first Gospel, that from which the discourses of the Christ have been taken and which may really come from the apostle Matthew. What imports before all else is the value of the evidence as such, and this, being nothing at all, discussion of these details is superfluous. As to Mark, the reference is certainly to our second Gospel, but from what we are told about it nothing can be deduced as to the stage to which the drafting of it had arrived in the time of John the Elder (that is, at the time of those who put words in his mouth) or in the time of Papias. The judgment before us refers to the Gospel as a whole, an erroneous judgment as we shall presently see, but which, even if it held together, would not permit us to prejudge the re-arrangements, retouches and additions undergone by Mark from the time of its first drafting to the time when the fixing of the canon of the four Gospels determined also the fixation of their text.


As to the notice about Matthew, it also certainly points to our first Gospel, and not to one of its sources. Neither the Elder nor Papias had any acquaintance with the theory, formulated by modern critics, of the two sources of Matthew — Mark and the Login. If they speak in particular of the Lord's discourses, it is because these discourses formed, in their eyes, the distinctive matter of the Gospel, apart from what it had in common with Mark. What their purpose required them to say about them is what they tell us, namely, that they were first given out in the Aramean language, of which we have only the untrustworthy translations into Greek. As to the stories in Matthew, neither the Elder nor Papias was concerned to know whether they came from Mark or from another source; but these stories shared in the defect attributed to Mark, which is also represented as originally a translation of information which must have been received in Aramean from Peter. These testimonies taken as a whole are marked, by their very character, as insusceptible of the discussion proper to documentation truly traditional and historical. Their evidence is tendentious, constructed for a purpose and non-historical.

That this is the real character of the evidence results from the way in which it is presented, which rules out the possibility of assigning it a very early date. It treats the Gospels as catechism, and this is important, since the catechism in question, the manual of Christian initiation, is presented as a narrative of the earthly career of the Christ up to the climax of his death and resurrection. They tell the story of a divine epiphany, which forms an introduction to the mystery of salvation. Without a doubt the Gospels are precisely such a catechesis and not a history of Jesus. But neither can there be any doubt that this conception and form of catechesis are not primitive in any sense, since the original instruction of converts at the so-called apostolic age was essentially moral and eschatological, and so remained for a considerable time afterwards. Now the evidence we have been considering reveals a complete and radical transformation of the original catechesis, which has become, at the date of the evidence, not only the Gospel or evangelical message, but is now fixed in written Gospels, of which there are already a goodly number. Plainly Mark and Matthew are supposed to be earlier than John,


which is now being put forward to supplant them. This carries us far, very far, from Gospel origins. Nor do our witnesses show signs of having even a suspicion of the evolution which produced the books whose merits they discuss and whose comparative values they assess.

Considered from this point of view, the information they profess to give us is amazingly puerile. In the notice relating to Mark it is implied that Peter was a kind of universal missionary, which he never was, except in a legend of late origin. But this active missionary, who would seem to have made the round of the known world (he is supposed to have come to Rome, as the two Epistles of Peter make out), could probably express himself only in Aramean, no small drawback for an apostle to the world at large, even were his ministry limited to the Jews dispersed about the world, as our texts in no wise indicate that it was. Peter, so the evidence runs, not knowing Greek, would teach his hearers in Aramean; but he had Mark for interpreter; what he taught his hearers was what Mark the interpreter has reproduced in his Greek Gospel; and Mark, though accurate, has put no more order into his book than Peter put into his preaching. Let us attend carefully to what this is meant to convey. Certainly it does not mean that Peter, in his preaching, would sometimes place the passion of the Christ before his baptism; what it is intended to convey, and to convey nothing else, is that Peter's catechizing, reproduced by Mark, does not give a correct picture of the Christ's career. And that is why we are to think that Mark is not the best catechism for the initiation of Christians; the true catechism, and the only true, is that of John. This, for a wilfully contrived anachronism, is cleverly done; but it was contrived at the moment when the Gospel ascribed to John was a newcomer in process of being introduced to the Christian public, while the Gospel attributed to Mark was an old-timer, possessed and used by many churches. Moreover, as our coming analysis will soon show, the Gospel of Mark is very far from being a translation of apostolic teaching, Peter's or another's.

The Gospel of Matthew, whatever else it may be, was not translated from Aramean any more than that of Mark was. It was imagined to be so because, just as the apostle Peter spoke in Aramean, so the apostle Matthew must have written in the same


language. The difference was that Matthew, unlike Peter, had no disciple to act as his translator into Greek; the first-comers undertook the operation without further credentials. To risk this statement the authors of it had no need to be acquainted with the different versions of the first Gospel. The idea of translation had suggested itself spontaneously and was found useful for disqualifying Matthew, as well as Mark, in favour of the Johannine Gospel. The only historical fact to be got out of the statement is that the first Gospel was known to the churches of Asia and attributed to the apostle Matthew, at the time the statement was made. That this or that element in Mark or in Matthew was first written in Aramean is probable enough; but that is not the question now before us. The same may be said about the sources of the fourth Gospel.

The fiction on which all this evidence rests is concerned with the Gospel of John. It implies that Gospels of the synoptic type were in existence and held in credit, and we can name two of them without hesitation — Mark and Matthew, reserving the case of Luke for the time being. The two Gospels are discreetly denounced as not having known the real duration of the earthly life of Jesus and of his public ministry, or at least for not rendering them correctly. Moreover, it is certain that the Elders did not fix the duration in question in accordance with any historical tradition, but were moved only by considerations of theological fitness according to a typology constructed for a purpose, in which the concept of a Christ purely divine was combined with that of a teaching Christ, a Christ come to earth and in the flesh, to live for a time among men and teach them the secrets of God in a mystery. This framework for the life and activity of the incarnate Logos, presented as though it were historical, is manifestly the work of a gnosis which the Gospel has incorporated into itself. It follows that the elaboration of the Gospel, as such, is, in large measure, the work of the very persons who invented the fiction by which they commend it as superior to the others already in use. Thus the Johannine Gospel is proclaimed by its own showing to be later than the Gospels of synoptic type, in comparison with which its champions exalted its value as a Gospel book, a catechism transcendently exact; the one, therefore, to be preferred above all the rest.


The name John guarantees nothing, for the apostle John is out of the question; nor is there ground for supposing that John the Elder played any part in the fiction which takes him as its point of departure. Speaking strictly, "John" is no more than a date or a label affixed to the monumental fraud which commended the fourth Gospel to the high consideration of the Christian churches. Fundamentally, John the Elder has as little to do with the fourth Gospel as with the Apocalypse. His person and his name, deliberately identified with the person and name of the apostle John, were exploited by those whom we may politely describe as the author-editors of the Johannine library.

But what dates are to be assigned to the birth and evolution of the Gospel catechesis? For the moment, when our concern is less with the catechesis itself than with the external evidences regarding it, we note that the work of John the Elder in the churches of Asia was finished about the year no. A point is made of telling us that he died at a great age, having lived to the time of Trajan; and this may be true. At the other end of the chain of evidence is Papias. We cannot state precisely the age in which Papias wrote his Explanation of the Lord's sayings, seeing that this excellent but rather limited man (according to Eusebius who had read the book) was somewhat behind his times. But he must have written long before Irenaeus. If he wrote after the outbreak of Marcionism we can hardly suppose that so great an explosion of heresy would have left him untouched. Let us then suppose that he wrote about 140. The launching of the Johannine group of books was not much earlier than this date. But it is improbable that Papias had personally known John the Elder; he merely repeats what has been told him. There is nothing, therefore, to prevent us placing the first publication of the Johannine Gospel, and the attribution of the Apocalypse to the same author as the Gospel, towards the years 130-135. The way in which the Gospel was offered to the churches proves that Mark and Matthew were known previously, not indeed in the rigorously fixed form of the canon, but with their traditional attributions. Matthew therefore would be earlier than 130, and Mark, on whom Matthew certainly depends for the framework of his story, would go still further back. Thus the existence of these


two Gospel catechisms, with attributions of authorship either apostolic or equivalently so, is almost certainly guaranteed by the first third of the second century.

Since these attributions of authorship are false, there are no signs to carry us further back. It is noteworthy that so late as 140 Basilides was putting out a Gospel under the name of Glaucias a disciple of Peter — probably following the example of Mark — and that Valentinus who, about the same time, perhaps a little earlier and before Marcion, had published his, set his "Gospel of the Truth" under the authority of Theodas, a supposed disciple of Paul. It is possible, even probable, that some first drafts of the Gospel catechesis, with no author's name attached, may have existed before the year 100; but it must be confessed that we know nothing about them.

The conclusions to which we have come will not be accepted by scholars who defend the authenticity of the letter of Ignatius of Antioch, who place the letter of Polycarp to the Philippians about 110, carrying back the letter of Clement to the Corinthians to 95 and the Epistle to the Hebrews to about 80. We have given elsewhere [1] the weighty reasons which tell against that opinion. The letters named after Ignatius of Antioch are, in their first form, apocryphal; they are the work of the Marcionist bishop, probably named Theophorus, who wrote about the year 170; they were interpolated in the catholic interest about 200, and the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, written about 150-160, was interpolated to give them weight. The letter of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians is by the Clement named in the Shepherd of Hermas (Vision, iii) about 130-140, and we have already seen the date of the Epistle to the Hebrews. The values and the dates commonly assigned to these documents are highly convenient for building up an apologetic system. We have abandoned them because they seemed to us, on examination, to be wholly false and incompatible with the real evolution of primitive Christianity.


The reader will probably be asking why, in the preceding discussion, no mention has been made of the writings ascribed

[1] Remarques sur la Litterature Epistolaire du Nouveau Testament, 103-105, 113, 147-l69.


to Luke, namely the third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. The answer is that our witnesses, the Elders and Papias, say nothing about them. Beginning with Irenaeus, ecclesiastical authors proclaim with one voice that both books are the work of Luke, a disciple of Paul, the Gospel of Luke having the same relation with Paul as that of Mark with Peter. But when Irenaeus affirms (Heresies, i, 1, 1) that "Luke, the companion of Paul, put into a book the Gospel preached by him," the assertion is as groundless and false as the Elders' presentation of Mark as a translation into Greek of Peter's teaching. Before Irenaeus Justin seems to have counted Luke among the "Memoirs of the Apostles"; and before Justin there was Marcion whose Gospel was regarded by Irenaeus, Tertullian, and other writers who knew it, as a mutilated Luke.

In Marcion, it was simply "the Gospel" without the addition of an author's name. The book of Antitheses, in which Marcion explained his system and justified his biblical canon, not having been preserved, we are ignorant how Marcion understood the relation of his own Gospel book to that which the great Church guarded under the name of Luke. It is in the highest degree improbable, not to put it more strongly, that the Church received a Gospel hitherto unknown to it from the hand of Marcion, [1] and equally probable, on the contrary, that, among the various types of catechesis current in the great Church, Marcion would choose for his own use that one among them which he judged to have the best credentials, lacking only adaptation to his doctrine; it was, indeed, a moral necessity of his situation that he should do so. On the other hand we should probably be wrong in thinking that Marcion found the Gospel of Luke exactly in the form in which the canonical version preserved it, and that this version contains no line added to it after Marcion's time. But it cannot be admitted for a moment that Marcion is responsible for having, in any sense, created the Christian catechesis and that the whole Gospel literature proceeds, in any way, from him. It is impossible to make Mark depend on Marcion, for it is Luke, in Marcion's version, as in the others, which depends on Mark. To be sure, Marcion complicates the problem of the

[1] Thesis of P. L. Couchond in The Hibbert Journal, January 1936, pp. 265-277; Is Marcion’s Gospel one of the Synoptics? refuted by the author of the present book in the same Review, April 1936, pp. 378-387, Marcion's Gospel.


Gospel catechesis, but he does not suppress it. Nor is it easy to see how, from this anonymous book, there could have arisen the twin books, the Gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, together with the prefaces connecting the one with the other. In reading the Marcionite Gospel, so far as known to us, it is easy to see how Marcion has, so to say, rubbed down pre-existing Gospel materials to prevent them contradicting his doctrine, but he does not invent them. Moreover, the total invention of such a book, in the conditions in which he is supposed to have achieved it, is quite inconceivable. We conclude that Marcion was not the founder of Gospel catechesis. He took it up at a given point in its development in a given type, that of the third Gospel, which, in the part common to the two writings, was not very different from the canonical text.

The opening of Marcion's Gospel shows that his most drastic cuts were made at the beginning. It opens as follows with a combination of Luke iii, la, and iv, 31-32:

The fifteenth year of Tiberius, in the time of Pilate, Jesus descended at Capernaum and taught in the Synagogue. And they were all astonished at his doctrine for he spoke with authority.

The cure of the demoniac (iv, 33-35) immediately follows; then, considerably contracted, comes the previous scene of the preaching at Nazareth, with the conclusion (iv, 28-30) fully retained; next, the story resumes its thread from Capernaum (iv, 40-43); next, the calling of the four chief disciples and the miraculous draught of fishes. All that compared with our Luke gives the impression of abridgment and arbitrary re-arrangement. From the omissions at the beginning of chapter iii we gather that Marcion decided not to preserve the baptism by John, the genealogy and the temptation in the wilderness. As to the omitted stories of the miraculous birth, it is impossible to say whether Marcion omitted them deliberately or whether the copy he had before him did not contain them. But what he has preserved shows that Marcion was working on a text already in existence as he did, in another book, with Paul's Epistles.

One would give much to know why Papias had nothing to say about the third Gospel. But had he nothing to say? If we begin by supposing that he must have known it we shall have to con-


clude either that he said nothing or that Eusebius thought his remarks about it might be neglected as of no interest. But these are not precisely the terms in which the question ought to be faced. What most concerns us to know is why the "Elders" who knew John did not bring the third Gospel under a condemnation similar to that which they passed on Mark and Matthew. For it is evident that, if they had passed any such judgment on Luke, Papias would not have failed to reproduce it, nor Eusebius to call attention to it. From which we may infer that the patrons of the fourth Gospel refrained from judging Luke. Was it that they did not know it, because the Gospel according to Luke had no circulation among their Asiatic churches? Or, on the contrary, did they know the Gospel and prudently keep silence about it because it was held in honour among their people at the time when they were laying plans to make their pretended Gospel of John prevail over the others?

Since they knew Mark and Matthew it is hardly probable that they knew nothing of Luke, whose original area of diffusion seems to have been Rome and Greece proper, besides some points of contact with the Syrian Orient implied by the birth-legend and the Book of Acts. We know, moreover, that the Gospel named after John was not the oldest Gospel catechism; "the Elders who had known John" make that clear enough. In [heir time, as we have shown, the catechism had become evangelical, in the sense that it was understood as being, naturally and necessarily, a presentation of the doings and teachings which had characterized the messianic career of Jesus, these doings and teachings forming henceforward the authentic manual for instructing the Christian initiate. Under these conditions is there any serious objection to the conjecture that the Gospel called Luke's was the very Gospel most widely authorized in the Asiatic churches before the introduction of the Gospel named after John? If this hypothesis be admitted we can understand why our worthy Elders did not risk an open attack on the text in use, among their churches, for initiation into the Christian cult.

There is, indeed, one serious objection that can be brought against the above hypothesis. It is that Luke contradicts the Easter usage adopted, at least to the end of the second century, by the Asiatic churches. These churches celebrated Easter on


the variable day of the week when the Jews celebrated the Passover, while Luke, in its canonical form, like Mark and Matthew, authorizes celebration on Sunday only. To resolve this difficulty we must briefly examine the exact position revealed, by the prologues to Theophilus (Luke i, 1-4, and Acts i, 1-2), as the position of the third Gospel in the evolution of evangelical catechesis.

Later on we shall undertake a more thorough discussion of the writings ascribed to Luke, but the two prologues to Theophilus interest us, at this point, as witnesses to the history of the Christian catechesis, because they permit us to determine the character, the purpose and the age of the first book to Theophilus, which tradition made later into the Gospel according to Luke. Now what does the first prologue tell us (Luke i, 1-4)? It tells us that "many having undertaken to compose a narrative of the acts accomplished (among believers) according as they have been handed down by those who were from the beginning witnesses of the word, it has seemed good (to the author, after serious and long observation of the matter) to write in continuous sequence (the matter needed) for the sound instruction of the catechumen."

The man who wrote this did not belong, and was far from belonging, to the very first age of Christianity. Gospels have been written before his; Mark certainly and others probably, such as the primitive form of Matthew, or various versions of the original eschatological teaching which might have been considered as narratives of the first origin of Christianity (such as the Apocalypse of Peter). The writer, like many in our own day, has no suspicion that the primitive teaching was an exclusively eschatological catechesis; he thinks that it has always been .evangelical, and a story told by the first witnesses of Jesus. Papias and the "Elders who had known John" thought the same; our author cannot be much earlier than they. Let us place him, without hesitation, at the beginning of the second century, and with no insistence on the first years of it. At length he has decided that he, too, will write "exactly and in order," late as it is! This is not a man of the first Christian generation, nor even of the second; we need not hesitate to place him in the third or the fourth; therefore, he is not Luke.


Whoever he was, and for us he is anonymous, he decided, when he came to write the prologue to the second book, to follow good usage by summarizing what he had put into the first. Let us listen to what he says and reflect on it:

I composed the first book, to Theophilus, about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning (of his ministry), until the day when he was carried up (to God).

What follows after the first part of the prologue to Acts (i, 1-2) is merely a clumsy surcharge intended to bring in, by hook or crook, the long interpolation substituted for the second part of the prologue, in which the original author states what he proposes to put into this, his second book, destined to become later the Acts of the Apostles. Enough that we know what he purposed to present in his first book, namely, "the doings and sayings" which had given its character to the messianic ministry of Jesus. Note that our author uses terms similar to those of Papias; but note further, and especially, that the stories of the miraculous birth are not included in his summary description of the content of his Gospel, but rather excluded. No doubt there were many other differences between the first book addressed to Theophilus and the canonical Gospel of Luke. Whence it follows that Marcion, before he came to Rome, and while still in his own country of Asia Minor, may have known a version of Luke from which the birth-stories were absent.

And we have to remark also, and in the first place, that, as we shall later prove, the story of die Last Supper in the canonical edition of Luke is evidently founded on an original version in which the last meal was not the Passover meal, and that this original has been altered after the event, and additions made to it so as to bring the story into line with the observance of Easter on Sunday only.

The internal evolution of our author's first book to Theophilus would, then, lead us to conclude that, in its original form, it corresponded with the usage of the quartodecimans as preached in the Asiatic churches. The same may be said with equal truth of Mark, in which it is generally agreed to recognize the presence or an ancient Roman Gospel. Thus we see that the evolution of the Gospel catechesis is linked with the general evolution of


Christian belief as was also, from the first, the substitution of the Gospel catechesis for the eschatological. All this, taken together, was a unitary movement, the reality of which is not to be contested, but which we must avoid the mistake of over-simplifying. And all this we offer as prelude to our investigation of the Gospel catechesis in the Gospel books. It is possible, indeed rather probable, that the churches of Asia, before accepting the Gospel named after John as their regular manual of Christian initiation, had made use of another Gospel in harmony with their quartodeciman celebration of Easter and that this Gospel was a pre-canonical form of Luke. Certain points of contact between the third Gospel and the fourth would thus be explained, but this is not the place to discuss the matter. We have now to analyse the books representing the Gospel catechesis, in detail and with all possible precision.

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