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victs no person of falsehood, accidental or intended; the latter always
does. But it must be clearly and unequivocally proved.

That there are seeming contradictions in every narrative which
I have read, political, religious, or common, I think is probable. But
in almost every instance these seeming contradictions are only proofs
of my ignorance of some of the incidents, and not of the falsehood of
the narrator. Often, very often, these seeming contradictions are in
more perfect coincidence with the fact, than assertions free from such
appearances could have been.

But a contradiction is neither more nor less than a contradiction.
It is not a seeming, or a possible; but a positive, irreconcilable con-
trariety of statement which constitutes a contradiction. Of this there
is not an instance in the New Testament. Remember, sir, I have


But we may, on the subject of contradictions, go still farther, and
affirm, that even a contradiction in terms is not always, nor neces-
sarily, a contradiction in fact, unless the terms be all used in the
same sense. Of this innumerable instances might be given. For
example; a Jew affirms, that "Elihu was the brother of Samuel;" a.
Grecian affirms, that "Elihu was not the brother of Samuel." This is
a positive contradiction in terms; but yet it is not a contradiction in
fact. Both writers speak of the same Elihu and of the same Samuel,
and yet both declare the truth. The apparent and positive contradic-
tion in terms is removed when it is ascertained that the term brother
with a Jew frequently denotes a cousin, but never with a Greek. Now
had the term brother been of the same acceptation in both propositions
there would have been a contradiction in fact as well as in terms. It
is an ambiguous word, not only because in the instances given it rep-
resents different natural relations; but because it also denotes nat-
ural, political, and religious relations. Even among us persons may
be natural, and neither political nor religious brothers; they may be
political, and neither natural nor religious brothers; and they may


be religious, and neither political nor natural brothers. How many
contradictions in terms, and not in fact, might be framed on the
ambiguity of this very definite term I need not enumerate for your

You can have many similar instances in the term day. The Baby-
lonians reckoned a day from one sunrising to another; the Italians,
from one sunsetting to another; other nations reckoned their day
from noon to noon; we, from midnight to midnight; and the Jews,
from evening to evening. Now suppose a Chaldean historian had
asserted that Cyrus finished the destruction of Babylon in one day;
and an Italian writer affirms that Cyrus did not finish the destruction
of Babylon in one day; we would have a contradiction in terms, but
none in fact. In our own acceptation, the term day is ambiguous,
for in our civil sense a day is twenty-four hours. It sometimes
includes both the light and the darkness — the day and the night; at
other times, it is used in contradistinction from the night. How
many contradictions in terms concerning the incidents of a single day,
without a single contradiction in fact, could be formed, the humblest
capacity may apprehend. It is unnecessary to multiply specifications
— any one can furnish them in abundance. To constitute a contradic-
tion in fact, it appears to be incontrovertible that all the terms must
be used in the same sense, and that the statements made must be
irreconcilable upon every conceivable possibility. From all of which
we argue, and we hope, sir, with your conviction of its force, that
if a contradiction in terms is often no contradiction iri fact, with
how much caution ought we to speak of contradictions in fact, when
our premises are only mere circumstantial differences of statementi

If only one person had written the memoirs of Jesus Christ and
the introduction of Christianity into the world, you, it seems, would
have been a believer; for you are so fond of consistency, and so great
a lover of truth, that nothing prevents your being a Christian but
the contradictions between the four historians. Now, if but one had
written these transactions, you must have believed, as then there
would have been none of your contradictions: for you have not dared
because you are too honest, to censure any one of these hiptorians for
contradicting himself. If you apprehend the force of this, as I doubt
not you do, then you must see it increases the difficulty tenfold on
your part, to make them contradict one another. A thousand consid-
erations explanatory of discrepancies between historians not writing
in the same country, not exactly contemporaneous, can be adduced to
solve difficulties which could not be made to bear upon the testimony
of the same individual, presented to the same persons. And, indeed,
the same individual, in telling the same story four times over to four
different audiences, though more frequently appearing to contradict


himself, ia not so easily convicted of real contradiction as he
would be in telling the story once to the same audience; for one
reason among many others, he may, for the sake of his audience, omit
some things and enlarge upon others, which will cause more apparent
discrepancies than could appear in addressing the same audience. In
the ratio, then, of these reasons for varieties in narratives, is the diffi-
culty of proving contradictions in fact, from any verbal differences
or oppositions in statements made.

Thomas Paine and most of his admirers have licensed themselves
to call omissions contradictions. Hence the numerous contradictions
alleged against the four Evangelists, because some of them have omit-
ted to record certain incidents which the sceptics think ought to have
been recorded, and because they have not all recorded the same inci-
dents in the same words. In the free and declamatory style of scep-
tical writers, every omission is called a contradiction. Of this I hope
to convict you in the sequel. You have kept so much of their com-
pany that you have not only received their spirit, but caught their

But it is not only because some of the Evangelists have omitted to
record what the others have mentioned, that they are so often ar-
raigned before the merciless bar of sceptical criticism; but because
Josephus, or some other writer, has omitted to state all that they
have written, or more than they have recorded. The following in-
stances and remarks from Chalmers are worthy, sir, of your atten-
tian; and, therefore, I will take the pains to lay them before you:

"In the gospel, we are told that Herod, the Tetrarch of Galilee,
married his brother Philip's wife. In Josephus, we have the same
story; only he gives a different name to Philip, and calls him Herod;
and what adds to the difficulty, there was a Philip of that family,
whom we knew not to have been the first husband of Herodias. This
is at first sight a little alarming. But, in tbe progress of our inquiries,
we are given to understand from this same Josephus, that there were
three Herods in the same family; and therefore, no improbability in
there being two Philips. We also know from the histories of that
period, that it was quite common for the same individual to have two
names; and this is never more necessary, than when employed to
distinguish brothers who have one name the same. The Herod who
is called Philip, is just as likely a distinction, as the Simon who is
called Peter, or the Saul who is called Paul. The name of the high
priest, at the time of our Saviour's crucifixion, was Caiaphas, accord-
ing to the Evangelists. According to Josephus, the name of the high
priest at that period was Joseph. This would have been precisely a
difficulty of the same kind, had not Josephus happened to mention that
this Joseph was also called Caiaphas. Would it have been dealing


fairly with the Evangelists, we ask, to have made their credibility de-
pend upon the accidental omission ol another historian? I3 it con-
sistent with the acknowledged principle ot sound criticism, to bring
four writers so entirely under the tribunal ot Josephus, each ot whom
stands as hrmly supported by all the evidences which can give author-
ity to a historian, and have greatly the advantage ot him in this, that
they can add the argument of their concurrence to the argument of
each separate and independent testimony? It so happens, however,
in the present instance, that even Jewish writers, in their narrative
of the same circumstance, give the name of Philip to the first hus-
band of Herodias. We by no means conceive, that any foreign tes-
timony was necessary for the vindication of the Evangelists. Still,
however, it must go far to dissipate every suspicion of artifice in
the construction of their histories. It proved that, in the confidence
with which they delivered themselves up to their own information,
they neglected appearance, and felt themselves independent of it. This
apparent difficulty, like many others of the same kind, lands us in
a stronger confirmation of the honesty of the Evangelists; and it is
delightful to perceive how truth receives a fuller accession to its
splendor from the attempts which are made to disgrace and to
darken it.

"On this branch of the argument the impartial inquirer must be
struck with the little indulgence which infidels, and even Christians,
have given to the evangelical writers. In other cases, when we com-
pare the narratives of contemporary historians, it is not expected that
all the circumstances alluded to by one will be taken notice of by the
rest; and it often happens that an event or a custom is admitted upon
the faith of a single historian; and the silence of all other writers is
not suffered to attach suspicion or discredit to his testimony. It is an
allowed principle that a scrupulous resemblance between two histories
is very far from necessary to their being held consistent with one
another. And what is more, it sometimes happens that, with cotem-
porary historians, there may be an apparent contradiction, and the
credit of both parties remain as entire and unsuspicious as before.
Posterity is in these cases disposed to make the most liberal allow-
ances. Instead of calling it a contradiction, they often call it a
difficulty. They are sensible that, in many instances, a seeming
variety of statements has, upon a more extensive knowledge of an-
cient history, admitted of a perfect reconciliation. Instead, then, of
referring the difficulty in question to the inaccuracy or bad faith
of any of the parties, they, with more justness and more modesty,
refer It to their own ignorance, and to that obscurity which necessarily
hangs over the history of every remote age. These principles are
suffered to have great influence in every similar investigation, every


ordinary principle is abandoned, and tlie suspicion annexed to the
teachers of religion is carried to the dereliction of all that candor and
liberality with which every other document of antiquity is judged of
and appreciated. How does it happen that the authority of Josephus
should be acquiesced in as a first principle, while every step in the
narrative of the Evangelists must have foreign testimony to confirm
and support it? How comes it that the silence of Josephus should be
construed into an impeachment of the testimony of the Evangelists,
while it is never admitted for a single moment that the silence of the
Evangelists can impart the slightest blemish to the testimony of
Josephus? How comes it that the supposition of two Philips in one
family should throw a damp of scepticism over the gospel narrative,
while the only circumstance which renders that supposition necessary
is the single testimony of Josephus; in which very testimony it is
necessarily implied that there are two Herods in that sajne family?
How comes it that the Evangelists, with as much internal, and a vast
deal more of external evidence in their favor, should be made to stand
before Josephus, like so many prisoners at the bar of justice? In
any other case, we are convinced, that this would be looked upon as
rough handling. But we are not sorry for it. It has given more tri-
umph and confidence to the argument. And it is no small addition
to our faith that its teachers have survived an examination which,
in point of rigor and severity, we believe to be quite unexampled in
the annals of criticism."

But, with a full reference to your notions of contradictions, and to
give you an idea with how much ease they can be dissipated, I will
give you the following specimen of a case generically, if not specifi-
cally in point; only with this difference, that the circumstance is a
very trivial one; but so much the better, as it can be examined with-
out any movement of the passions or feelings from interest, or any
other temptation :

Four persons who, as they passed along, witnessed the salvation of
a drowning man, reported in the village where they stopped, as fol-
lows: A said he "saw a man in the act of being drowned in the river;
but he was saved by a man on the bank." B reported that he "saw a
man sinking in tbe river; but he was saved by a plank." C stated
that he "saw a person narrowly escape drowning, and that he would
have been drowned in the river, but for a skiff which came to his re-
lief." And D afl!irmed that he "saw a man in the act of drowning,
but was saved by a lad who threw him a rope." Each of these wit-
nesses told this matter in his own neighborhood of the town in which
they lived. After a short time their reports spread through the whole
town, and the contradictions became a matter of criticism. Hitherto
they had sustained a good reputation for veracity; but -S, a very cap-


tious gentleman in town, said it was all a fable, and he believed nothing
01 it. It was to no purpose that his neighbor spoke of the general
character of the witnesses, and that he alleged they could have no
interest in fabricating such a thing. How can you believe such con-
tradictions.* he rejoined. Some of them falsifies, and which of them
to believe, or whether any of them, I know not how you can decide.
A says he was saved by a man on the bank of the river; B. that he
was saved by a plank; C, that he was saved by a skiff; and D affirms
that he was saved by a lad casting to him a rope. It is irreconcilable!
Incredible! Who can believe such palpable contradictions? Perhaps,
rejoins 0, there is a possibility of reconciling all these seeming con-
tradictions were we to hear all the circumstances.

In the meantime, A drawing near, they agreed to refer to him their
difficulties. A observed that the reports of B, C, and D, were as cor-
rect as his own. But as he did not suppose it necessary to his being
believed that he should narrate all the circumstances, he presumed
neither did they. But, gentlemen, continues he, as you seem to take
much interest in the matter, I will circumstantially narrate the whole
of it: —

The person of whom we spoke had gone into the river to bathe, and
after swimming some distance into the river, was returning to the
shore; but having become faint and exhausted, he began to sink and
called for help. At this crisis a person on the bank of the river ran to
the shore, seized a small plank, and pushed it with all his might into
the river. The exhausted stranger had just as much strength as to
lay hold of it and raise his breast upon it, but the current was carry-
ing him down the river with considerable velocity. After descending
a few rods, a lad who was returning from the opposite shore, hastened
out of his course to relieve him, and had nearly approached him before
he was seen by the man on the plank, who, upon turning round
to seize the skiff, lost the plank, and failed in reaching the skiff.
In this crisis the lad threw him a rope which he succeeded in
grasping, and by this means he was taken into the boat and brought
safe to shore.

exclaimed, I thought if the matter had been explained minutely,
all the difficulties might have been overcome. But S, abruptly turn-
ing round, departed without making a single remark.

Thus, sir, the four testimonies are all true; the alleged contra-
dictions vanish upon a careful examination of all the circumstances.
It will be easy for you to make the application to your "plenty of con-
tradictions" in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, touching the resurrec-
tion of the Saviour of the world. This task I will, with all respect tor
your intellect, assign you till you next hear from me.

In the next letter Mr. Campbell adds:


In my last letter to you I have, without going into details, disposed
of upon principles which can not be argued against, all your ' plenty
of contradictions." You can not overturn those principles ; and admit-
ting them, you can not find a single contradiction in the book. But
more desirous to convince than to confute you, I wish to direct your
inquiries to the state of mind in which you approach your "private
studies" upon the evidences of Christianity.

Ridicule, you know, is no test of truth. You may ridicule th3 most
exalted character, and the most brilliant virtue which adorns it. You
may call patriotism, rebellion; heroism, knight errantry; humility,
madness; generosity, extravagance; piety, superstition; and devotion,
fanaticism. You may ridicule the forgiveness of injuries under the
character of cowardice, and laugh at the courteous in the character
of a parasite. Thus you are able to laugh at Mary and Martha, and
Susannah and Joanna, under the character of gossips; and you can fill
a few pages upon Mary Magdalene, as a woman of no good fame. You
can take the words "some doubted," at the close of Matthew's testi-
mony, and fill a page upon the incompetency of the witnesses. You
can make a sentence for Peter or Paul, and then ridicule it as if Peter
and Paul had spoken or written as yourself.

What a stupid impostor or knave must Matthew have been to have
told that some of the disciples doubted whether it was the same Jesus
when he meditated, as you allow, to give all the verisimilitude to hia
narrative possible! And what stupid souls have been all who have
believed upon the testimony of those who declare that the witnesses
themselves doubted whether he that appeared to give the commission
was the same who was crucified!

Truly you represent Matthew as a very shrewd impostor! But il
this shrewdness should be a proof of honesty, and the doubts expressed
bo only whether it was Jesus who appeared, and if these doubts were
entertained only while he was at some distance, and vanished when
he drew near, what then? Your wit and humor are your own! The
laugh is at yourself.

But to explain the frequent appearances of the risen Saviour, you
have only to assume that the Apostles had chosen one to personate
him, and that Thomas was absent, and being an honest man was
deceived by the others into a renunciation of his doubts. Again, you
tell us that the historian Mark sends Jesus to heaven the day after he
rose from the dead, while John keeps him on earth for five or six
weeks — and a hundred other things about his resurrection which no
man of sense can regard in any other light than as the most con-
temptible puerilities of an undiscerning mind; oppressed with some
evil genius, or laboring under some species of alienation, either from
infirmity, or from a conscience haunted with the recollections of many


years devoted to such practices as unfit a man lor the enjoyment of
immortality, and divest him of the desire for it.

Your representing the Apostles as laboring to induce the belief of
a lie in which their fortune and fame were concerned, is so opposite
to all prol>ability that I never knew a deist who had the hardihood to
make such an assertion. Great lame and fortune indeed! to lose all
respectability among men, to suffer all privations, and the most severe
death which deists, and atheists, and polytheists could inflict upon

The whole mind and strength of your pamphlet is fairly drawn to
a focus in one proposition, viz.: The four Evangelists have not
recorded a single miracle, the crucifixion, resurrection or ascension of
the Saviour, in precisely the same words, or in words representing
e.xactly the same ideas; therefore their narratives are tissues of lies,
falsehoods, fables, and the whole is incredible. Now the fact is, that
were the testimonies of the original witnesses just such as you would
make them, or have them to be, neither yourself nor any person else
could believe them.

Peter and Paul are the two most noted preachers of the gospel men-
tioned in the Acts of the Apostles — the former to the Jews, the latter
to the Gentiles. We have several of their sermons on record. They
always preached the gospel; and one of tliem said that if man or angel
should proclaim any other gospel than he proclaimed, he ought to D?
accursed. Now in your mode of reasoning, neither of these men, nor
any other men, ever did preach twice the same gospel; for they never
used the same words, nor expressed ou any two occasions all the same
ideas — nay, there is on your principles no credible history in the world.
Of some eight or ten histories of England, of Germany, of France, of
the American Colonies and Revolution, there is not one credible; they
are all a tissue of lies and fables, for no two of them agree in narrating
any one prominent event: that is, no two of them use exactly the same
words, or give exactly the same ideas.

You make much use of one sentence in my debate with Mr. Owen
which you either totally misunderstood or greatly pervert. It is an
attempt to discriminate between what in the Jewish and Christian
Scriptures is worthy of the name of Divine Revelciion. \Ve contem-
plate not everything said by everybody whose name is found in the
books in the light of a communication from heaven to men: and with
us the phrase "//le toord of God" or "Ihc word of the Lord," in the
Ai;cFtolic writings, indicates only the last communication, called the
gosptl, or new institution of the Saviour. And, indeed, that which
declares the philanthropy of God in the mission of his Son to be the
Saviour of the world, that word of reconciliation which purifies the
heart and reforms the life of man, is, the pospcl. or word n' God, con-


tradistinguished from all other things written in the book. It is as
much the object of these writings to reveal man to himself, to gave a
fair outline of the best and worst things in the history of man, and in
God's government over man, as to reveal the character of God and his
purposes concerning man. Much of both Testaments is occupied with
all details necessary for this purpose. Besides, the prophecies of the
future, and the record of the past, are all intended to g-ive proper
emphasis to, and to accumulate light upon, the goodness concerning
the Saviour, whom all good men love, honor, and obey, and whom all
wicked men insult and traduce, as did his betrayers and murderers.

But, sir, your attack, scurrilous, abusive, and common as it is,
upon the witnesses, is only a lying in ambush, like the dragon in the
wilderness, to devour a certain child as soon as born: for no testimony
could induce you to believe in such a miracle as the resurrection of a
dead man! This is your own confession. But as I have shown you,
long since, you do admit that one man, the father of the race, was
raised from the dead, or that life was communicated to one man
miraculously. In this you are at war with your own theory; and until
you give some reconciliation of this matter with your own principles,
it is preposterous to make that an objection to the second Adam which
you ascribe to the first.

In this letter I only intended to call your attention to the state of
mind in which you enter upon your private studies of the Evidences of
Christianity; but lifting up your pamphlet, and glancing over a few
pages of it, to find if there was anything unnoticed in my former let-
ters worthy of attention, I have been led to make the above general
and disconnected remai'ks. Whenever you can furnish me with one,
and only one contradiction in the New Testament, on the principles
submitted in my last, I will specially attend to it. If you please to

Online LibraryAlexander CampbellThe Millennial Harbinger abridged (Volume 1) → online text (page 41 of 70)