Edward Evanson.

The dissonance of the four generally received evangelists, and the evidence of their respective authenticity, examined; with that of some other scriptures deemed canonical online

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Online LibraryEdward EvansonThe dissonance of the four generally received evangelists, and the evidence of their respective authenticity, examined; with that of some other scriptures deemed canonical → online text (page 2 of 18)
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up" That the hour would come when men should neither
worship God in the mountain of Samaria, nor yet at Je-
rusalem That the Jews, though they would not receive
him coming in his father's name, would receive another
Messiah, who should come in his own name Our Lord's
assertion, that if a man keep his saying, he shall never
see death His promise to his disciples of divine inspira-
tion after his death His assertion, that his disciples
should be immediately scattered, every one to his own
home, and should leave him alone ........ ........... 299

CHAP. VII. Of the Epistles.

J. Reasons for extending this disquisition to several of the
Epistles Epistle to the Romans .................... 305

II. The Epistle to the Ephesians And to the Colossians 312

III. The Epistle to the Philippians To Titus And to Phi-

lemon ..... . ...................................... &14,

IV. The Epistle to the Hebrews And the Epistle of James 321
V. The first Epistle of Peter Second Epistle of Peter And

the Epistle of Jude ................................ 329

VI. The three Epistles attributed to the Apostle JohnThe

want of that internal testimony of the spirit of prophecy

in all these Epistles, which accompanies Paul's Epistles

to the Corinthians, Galatians, Thessalonians, and Timothy 332

VII. Reasons for objecting to the Epistles to the seven Churches

of Asia, introduced into the Book of the Apocalypse." 336
CONCLUSION .................................... 340








A FTER so many writers, some of them
^ -^ of great erudition and distinguished
abilities, in almost all ages of what is called
the Christian Church, have undertaken to
harmonize and shew the perfect agreement of
the four generally received Evangelists, and
to reconcile all the seeming differences in both
the facts and order of their several narrations;
it will undoubtedly appear the highest degree
of presumptuous arrogance to attempt now at
last to demonstrate, that so much learned and
ingenious labour hath been bestowed in vain.
Yet after all that hath been said and written
upon the subject, those Evangelical histories
contain such gross, irreconcileable contradic-



tions, that no close reasoning, unprejudiced
mind can admit the truth and authenticity of
them all.

It is an obvious axiom, that, in the inves-
tigation of the doctrines of Christianity, the
first necessary step is to inquire into the truth
and authenticity of those original writings in
which they are contained : but the misfor-
tune is, that nobody takes this important,
necessary step of the inquiry, in any firm and
satisfactory manner. If we examine, for in-
stance, upon what grounds professed Chris-
tians of the present age are convinced, that the
four Gospels (as they are usually called) were
really written by the men whose names they
bear, we are referred to the concurring, testi-
mony of a,ll the ecclesiastical historians and
divines from the age of Constautine to our own;
and to the consent of even the most formida-
ble adversaries of the Church, Cclsus, Por-
phyry, and Julian, who all allowed the Gospels
to be written by these. Apostles,, and their dis-
ciples, to whom they are universally attributed.
But, it must be observed by the way, that the
Consent of those early adversaries of Christi-
anity, is very far from being, in any degree, a
proof of the point in question. They were
ail much too great masters of argument not


l/TTTf "'
to see how greatly that very concession was

in their favour. And were not the author of
these pages convinced, as he really is, upon
better and firmer grounds^ of the truth and
divine authority of the revelation by Jesus
Christ ; and had he an inclination to preju-
dice the gospel in the opinion of thinking men ;
he cannot imagine a stronger argument than
might be drawn against it, from the objection-
able, contradictory passages contained in those
books, on a supposition that they were all ac-
tually written by its first and most authorita-
tive teachers : but he has no object in view,
in this publication, besides he investigation of
truth, and the promotion of moral virtue and
human happiness, by endeavouringto demon-
strate the sure and certain grounds upon which
the genuine religion of Christ is founded;
which, he is persuaded, can only be effected by
clearing the pure and simple seed of the divine
word, not from any chaff, from any native in-
cumbrances of its own, for it has none, but
from the gross, fictitious varnish and filthy
rubbish with which idolatrous superstition
hath so long clogged and overwhelmed it,
that not only its natural beneficial powers of
vegetation remain suspended ; but it is even
become exceedingly difficult for mankind to

B 2


discern what it is. For this purpose, after
the mature deliberation of a greater number
of years than the Roman Poet thought fit to
prescribe for publications of a less import-
ant kind, the author presumes to trace the
abuses and corruptions of Christianity to their
source; and to distinguish the truth of re-
veakd religion from the fables of credulous
superstition, in those very scriptures which
have be^n hitherto regarded as being all of
equal authority and credibility, and as con-
taining, in common, the fundamental truths
and essential doctrines of the Gospel of Jesus

When we consult that succession of eccle-
siastical writers, to which we are referred,
from the establishment of the Church by Con-
stantine, we find they received the four Gos-
pels, which they have transmitted tons, upon
the authority of those professed Christians of
the second and third centuries, whom they
have thought fit to denominate orthodox;
and who, rejecting all those numerous Evan-
gelical histories which Luke informs us were
written in his time, admitted and preserved
these four alone, and attributed them to
the authors under whose names they now


This, it is apprehended, is a true, impar-
tial state of the historical evidence, that
Matthew and John the apostles, and Mark
and Luke disciples of the apostolic age, were
the writers of the several histories which bear
their name. But this evidence, satisfactory
as it hath been thought to be, is really at-
tended with such suspicious circumstances as
make it liable to much reasonable distrust ;
for either the orthodox religion established by
the Emperor Constantine, is a blasphemous,
idolatrous superstition, an apostasy from the
Gospel of Jesus Christ, which it has sup-
planted, and, of course, the Fathers of that
Church of the preceding centuries, were by
no means fit judges of the genuine Evangeli-
cal writings; or else the Gospel itself cannot
be admitted to be true. For thus stands the

II. A DIVINE Revelation, being a super-
natural interposition of the Deity in human
affairs, cannot, by any prudent person, be
acknowledged as such upon common and
merely natural evidence of any sort whatever.
To gain it admission and belief at first, it
must ever be attested by a display of miracu*

B 3


lous supernatural power, as in the case of
Moses and the prophets under the Jewish
Law, and of Jesus and his apostles under the
Gospel ; and to all future ages, prophecy,
the completed prediction of events out of the
power of human sagacity to foresee, is the
only supernatural testimony that can be
leged in proof of the authenticity of any
relation. To those, for example, of the pre-
sent age, who have any doubt about the cer^
tainty of the Christian Revelation, $nd conse-
quently of the truth and authenticity of those
histories in which it is recorded, it cannot be
of the least use to allege the miraculous acts
there, and there only, related to have been
performed by the first preachers of that Re-
velation ; because those acts making a very
considerable part of the narration, the Autho-
rity and credibility of the histories must be
firmly established, before the miracles con-
tained in them can reasonably be admitted
as real facts. But with prophecy the case is
widely different. The testimony it adduces
depends not in the least upon the veracity or
credibility of the writer, but every man ca-
pable of understanding the meaning of the
predictlop, and of comparing it with the cor-.


responding events whereby it hath been Ofr is
compleated, is a competent judge of the de-
gree of proof it affords.

Prophecy^, therefore, is by far the most sa-
tisfactoiy, and the only lasting, supernatu-
ral evidence of the truth of any Revelation.
To this the Jewish, to this the Christian Reve-
lation both appeal, as the great criterion of
their divine origin and authority. In the old
Testament, God, by his prophet Isaiah,* de-
clares this to be the proper distinguishing
mark between false religions and the true.
"^Produce your cause, saith the Lord ; bring
" forth your strong reasons, saith the King of
" Jacob. Let them bring them forth, and
" shew us what shall happen ; let them shew
" the former things what they be, that we
" may consider them, and know the latter end
" of them ; or declare us things for to come,
" shew the things that are to come hereafter,
" that we may know that ye are gods" And
again /f- " Thus saith the Lord, I am the
" first and I am the last, and besides me there
" is no God. And who, as I, shall call and
" shall declare it, and set it in order for me,
" since I appointed the ancient People ? And
" the things that are coming and shall come, let

* Is,xli, 21, &c. f Is, xlii.6, &c

B 4?


" them shew unto them" with many other pas-
sages of the like import. In Deuteronomy,*
prophecy is particularly referred to as the only
satisfactory proof of the divine mission of the
mediator of the new covenant, who is there
expressly promised to the Jewish nation. " If
" thou say in thine heart, how shall we know
" the word which the Lord hath not spoken ?
" when a prophet speaketh in the name of
" the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come
" to pass, that is the thing which the Lord
" hath not spoken, but the prophet hath
"spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not
" be afraid of him/' And in the New Testa-
ment, in conformity to this criterion given us
by Moses, we are assured upon the highest
authority ,-j- that " the testimony of Jesus is
" the spirit of prophecy." We are necessarily
reduced to this alternative, either to adruit
that, therefore, those predictions contained in
the New Testament, which relate to the pre-
sent time and to times alreadj^ past, have
been fulfilled, or that the Gospel itself is an
imposture and of no authority at all.

Now the obvious purport of almost $11 the
prophecies of the Gospel, as they are dis-
persed indifferent scriptures of the New Tes-

*fcC xvjii. 21 and 22. f Apoc, xix. 10.


tainent, is to predict the circumstances of a
inost unhappy corruption of the genuine reli-
gion of Jesus, which began to operate even
in the days of the apostles themselves, and
was to end in an entire apostasy from the
truths of the Gospel, and the establishment
of a false, fahuloiis, irrational, idolatrous,
blasphemous superstition, first by the civil
power of the Roman Empire, under some
signal change in its circumstances, and after-
wards by the civil power of all those separate
western kingdoms, into which that Empire,
at its dissolution, was to be divided* And the
same prophecies assure us, that the true reli-
gion of Christ -would be no where generally
received, till after the same civil powers which
established it, shall have abolished and de-
stroyed the Antichristian Church thus pre-
dicted. - Unless therefore the testimony of
these prophecies fail us entirely, and the Gos-
pel itself be false, the orthodox Church estab-
lished by Constantino, which is now and has
been ever since his time, in some modification
of it or other, the only religion established by
the civil :powers, of Europe, is the very object
of these prophecies, the completion of the pre-
dicted apostasy :/or no other is to be found.*

* If there'be, let the zealous advocate* "of the doctrines of that
Church, and her canonical scriptures, point it out to us j or if that be


III. FOR this reason, to an impartial inves-
tigator of the truth of Christianity, the mere
testimony of any writer whom the long estab-
lished European Church hath denominated
orthodox, is so far from affording satisfactory
proof of the authenticity of the several books
of the New Testament, that, unless it be con-
firmed by evidence of another kind, it even
affords, not merely strong grounds of suspi-
cion, but absolute proof, that they are not,
either in the whole, or, at least, in some
parts, the works of the apostles or primitive
disciples of Jesus Christ: because part of the
prophetic description of the antichristian
Church is, that its members should* t urn away
their ears from the truth, and listen to fables,
and believe falsehoods; circumstances of the
prediction which, taken together, cannot have
been fulfilled, unless fables and falsehoods
are, at least, intermixed with disregarded
truth, in those writings to which the Church
of Constantine hath, in all ages, appealed as
containing the grounds and foundation of
every doctrine she hath taught. What ren-
ders this still more probable is, that before
the invention of printing it was very easy for

net in their power, let them honestly and candidly yield to the force
ft' arguments founded upon the infallible word of the God of truth.
*^ ( 2 Tim, iv. 4 ; and 1 Tim. iv. i ? &c.


artful or superstitious copyists, not only to in-
terpolate authentic writings with such altera-
tions and additions as accorded with their
own credulity or cunning, but even to pro-
duce entire pieces of their own or others' for-
gery under the name of any writer they
pleased. And this practice was actually so
common amongst several who called them-
selves Christians, in the second and succeed-
ing centuries, that if w r hat we call the scrip*
tures of the New Testament were not so tam-
pered with, they are almost the only writings
upon the same subject of those early times,
which have escaped free.

Archbishop Wake took the pains to collect
all the writings extant, except those that have
been received into the canon of the church,
which are attributed to any Christian writer,
within the first half of the second century ;
and every competent, impartial judge must
agree with the truly learned and candid Pro-
fessor Mosheim, that, of the whole collec-
tion, there is no satisfactory proof that any
one piece worth notice, is really the work of
the writer w r hose name it bears, except the
first Epistle of Clemens the Roman : and
even that hath been evidently corrupted by


an interpolation of the absurd Pagan fable of
the Phoenix. Irenaeus informs us* that the
different sectarists of those early ages, had
published an innumerable multitude of apo-
cryphal and spurious scriptures to astonish
the weak and ignorant. And Tertullian-f-
mentions that an Asiatic priest had been de-
tected in ascribing to Paul a work entirely
his own. And that the writings of Luk<% on
many accounts by far the most respectable
historian in the canonical collection, did not
escape untouched by the hands of the inter-
polators, even after the second century, we
have the clearest conviction; forOrigen tells
us that several believers in his time were of-
fended with that part of Luke's Gospel,
wherein our Lord promises the penitent thief
upon the cross that he should that day be
with him in Paradise, as being absolutely in-
consistent with the history of our Lord's own
circumstances and situation from his death to
his resurrection ; and declared, that passage
was not in the older copies, but a late addition
of some of the interpolators.;]: And though
Origen himself does not agree with them, yet

* Lib. I. c. xvii. -j- De Bap. sec. xvii.

See his Comm. on John.


they were assuredly in the right ; for neither
Justin, nor Irenseus, nor Tertullian, take the
least notice of so very remarkable a circum-
stance, though they have quoted almost every
other passage of Luke relating to the cruci-
fixion ; and though Tertullian in particular has
written a treatise upon the soul, in which he
expressly considers the different opinions con-
cerning the intermediate state of the souls of
good and bad men between their death
and resurrection, repeatedly quotes the pa-
rable of the rich man and Lazarus, from
which, as being only a parable constructed
upon the popular notions of the Jews, no sa-
tisfactory argument can be deduced ; whereas
that single passage of Luke's history, had it
existed in his time, must have settled the
point beyond all dispute: and consequently
it could not have been omitted by him when
writing on such a subject. It is clear there-
fore that as the doctrine of an intermediate
state of Purgatory and Paradise gained
ground in the orthodox church after the se-
cond century, that particular passage was in-
terpolated to give the sanction of holy scrip-
ture to the newly received doctrine ; as Sir
Isaac Newton has proved to the conviction


of every unprejudiced* mind, the famous
venth verse of John's first Epistle was inserted
some ages later, to countenance another long
controverted doctrine of the same Church,
the Trinity in Unity.

IV. THE whole weight of the historical
evidence in favour of the authenticity of the
four Gospels, amounts to no more than this,
that those books, in the main of their con-
tents, were extant in the latter end of the se-
cond century, and were received by all the
Christian writers, whose works have been
suffered to come down to us, as the writings
of the several apostles and apostolic men
whose names they bear. But besides the
suspicious circumstance already mentioned,
arising from the prophecies of the Gospel,
this evidence is defective in such essential
points as render it wholly unsatisfactory and
insufficient to prove any matter of conse-
quence, even in the ordinary courts of jus-
tice: for neither the competency nor veracity
of the witnesses can be depended on.

* Even the prejudiced and uncandid must surely, now y be si-
lenced, at least, by the learned and ingenious letters of Mr. Person
to Archdeacon Travis.


To convince me, for instance, that histo-
ries recording such very extraordinary, use-
less, ill-supported, improbable facts as are
contained in the Gospels of Matthew and
John, are really the works of those apostles,
and not either some of the many spurious
productions with which, we learn from Ire-
naeus, that early age abounded, calculated to
astonish the credulous and susperstitious, or
else writings of authors, of the same $ge, who
were themselves infected with the grossest su-
perstitious credulity ; of what use can it be
to adduce the testimony of the very few
writers of the same or the next succeeding age,
when the very reading their works shews me
that they themselves were tainted with that
same superstitious credulity of which I sus-
pect the real authors of the histories in ques-
tion ? When one* of them illustrates and
pleads for the toleration of the orthodox doc-
trine of the generation of the Word by the hea-
then Emperors, because of its resemblance
to the fabulous origin of their own Deities
Mercury and Minerva ; and justifies the doc-
trine of the incarnation by its similarity to the
births of Esculapius and Hercules, and thu
other illustrious God-men of pagan, niytholo*

* Justin Martyr, Apol 1-


gy ; and accounts for this similarity between
the orthodox doctrines and the fables of the
Poets, by asserting that the Poets delivered
them through the inspiration of Demons and
evil geniuses, in order to prejudice the world
against the reception of those orthodox tenets,
when the time should come for their promul-*
gation. When another,* describing the Mil-
lennium, gravely assures me, upon the autho-
rity of the apostle John himself, not only that
every productive part of the vine from the
stem to the bunch, and of wheat from the
root to the ear, shall be multiplied by ten
thousand, every bunch containing ten thou-
sand grapes, and every ear ten thousand grains,
but that every grain of wheat shall yield ten
pounds of pure fine jftour, and every grape four
hogsheads of wine, and that when any of the
Saints shall be going to gather one of these
hunches, another will cry out, I am a better
bunch, take me and bless God by me. When a
third-}- asserts, upon his own knowledge, that
the corpse of one dead Christian, at the first
breath of the prayer made by the Priest, on
occasion of its own funeral, removed its hands
from its sides, into the usual post tire of a suppli-
cant, and, when the service was ended, restored

* Jrenaeus Lib, v, c. xxxiii. f Tertullian, De, A n - c &


them again to their former situation; and re-
lates as a fact, which he and all the ortho-
dox of his time credited, that the body of
another Christian already interred moved it-
self to one side of the grave., to make room for
another corpse, which was going to be laid by
it. It is an obvious rule in the admission of
evidence in any cause whatsoever, that the
more important the matter to be determined
by it is, the more unsullied and unexcep-
tionable ought the characters of the witnesses
to be. And when no court of justice, in de-
termining a question of fraud to the amount
of a few pounds, will admit the testimony of
witnesses who are themselves notoriously con-
victed of the same crime of which the de*
fendant is accused; how can it be expected,
that any reasonable, unprejudiced person
should admit similar evidence to be of weight,
in a case of the greatest importance possible,
not to himself only, but to the whole human
race ?

V. BUT there is still a greater defect in the
testimony of those early writers, than even
their superstitious credulity. I mean their
disregard of honour and veracity in what-



ever concerned the cause of their particu-
lar system.

Though Luke assures us, that many, even
before he wrote his histories for the use of his
friend Theophilus, had written upon the same
subject, who of course were chiefly converts
from amongst the Jews; and many more
must have written afterwards, some of them,
without doubt, like Timothy, educated from
their infancy in the religion of Jesus Christ,
as taught by the Apostles themselves, whose
writings, on that very account, would have
been particularly valuable: so singularly in-
dustrious have the Fathers and succeeding
Sons of the orthodox Church been in destroy^
ing every writing upon the subject of Christi-
anity, which they could not by some means
or other apply to the support of their own
blasphemous superstition, that no work of
importance of any Christian writer within the
three ' first centuries hath been permitted to
come down to us ? except those books which
they have thought fit to adopt and transmit
to: .us,, as the canon of apostolic scripture;
and the works of a few other writers, who
were all of them, not only converts from Pa-
ganism, but men who had been educated and


well instructed in the philosophic schools of
the later Platonists and Pythagoreans.

The established maxim of those schools
was, that it was not lawful only, but com-
mendable, to deceive and assert falsehoods,
for the sake of promoting, what they thought,
the cause of truth and piety : and the effects
of this maxim, which was soon adopted by
the orthodox and other sects of nominal Chris-
tians, produced that multiplicity of false q,nd
spurious writings, wherewith the latter end
of the second and succeeding centuries
abounded. For, as Professor Mosheim hath
very justly observed,* *' the Christian teach-
" ers, who had been instructed in the schools
" of Sophists and Rhetoricians, transferred
" the arts of their masters to the Christian
" discipline, and adopted that mode of con-
" tending with their adversaries, in which
*' truth was not 30 much their aim as victory ;
"and they were confirmed in this practice
" by the Platonists, who asserted, that a man
'* did no wrong who supported tru^h, when

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Online LibraryEdward EvansonThe dissonance of the four generally received evangelists, and the evidence of their respective authenticity, examined; with that of some other scriptures deemed canonical → online text (page 2 of 18)