William Paley.

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serving of credit, or never indeed to have obtained
any. Whatever fables they have mixed with the
narrative, they preserve the material jjarts, the
leading facts, as we have them ; and, so far as they
do this, although they be evidence of nothing else,
they are evidence that these points were fixed, were
received and acknowledged by all Christians in the
ages in which the books were written. At least,
it may be asserted, that, in the places where we
were most likely to meet with such things, if
such things had existed, no relicks appear of
any story substantially different from the present,

* Ad Smyr. c. iii. f Ap. Eiiscb. H. E lib. 4. c. 2.

t Just. Dial, cam Tryph. p. 2d8. ed. Tliirl.

as the cause, or as the pretence of the institu

Now that the original story, the story delivered
by the first preachers of the institution, should
have died away so entirely as to have left no re-
cord or memorial of its existence, although so many
records and memorials of the time and transaction
remain ; and that another story should have step-
ped into its place, and gained exclusive possession
of the belief of all who professed themselves dis-
ciples of the institution, is l)eyond any example
of the corruption of even oral tradition, and still
less consistent with the experience of written his-
tory : and this improl)ability, which is very great,
is rendered still greater by the reflection, that no
such change as the oblivion of one story, and t!ie
sulistitution of another, took place in any future
period of the Christian era. Christianity hath
travelled through dark and turbulent ages ; never-
theless it came out of the cloud and the storm,
such, in substance, as it entered in. Many ad-
ditions were made to the primitive history, and
these entitled to dilferent degrees of credit ; many
doctrinal errors also were from time to time grafted
into the public creed ; but still the original story
remained, and remained the same. In all its princi-
pal parts, it has been fixed from the beginning.

Thirdly : The religious rites and usages that
prevailed amongst the early disciples of Chris-
tianity, were such as belonged to, and sprung out
of, tfie narrative now in our hands ; which ac-
cordancy shows, that it was the narrative upon
which these persons acted, and which they had
received from their teachers. Our account makes
the Founder of the religion direct that his disci-
ples should be baptised: we know, that the lirst
Christians were baptised. Our account makes
him direct that they should hold religious assem-
blies : we find, that they did hold religious as.sem-
blies. Our accounts make the apostles assemble
upon a stated day of the week: we find, and that
from information perfectly independent of our ac-
counts, that the Christians of the first century did
observe stated days of assembling. Our histories
record the institution of tlie rite which we call the
Lord's Supper, and a command to repeat it in
perpetual succession : we find, amongst the early
Christians, the celebration of this rite universal.
And indeed, we find concurring in all the above-
mentioned observances. Christian societies of many
diiferent nations and languages, removed iVoin one
another by a great distance of place and dissimili-
tude of situation. It is also extremely material to
remark, that there is no room for insinuating that
our books were fabricated with a studious accom-
modation to the usages which obtained at the time
they were written ; that the authors of the books
found the usages established, and framed the story
to account for their original. The Scripture ac-
counts, especially of the Lord's Supper, are too
short and cursory, not to say too obscure, and, in
this view, deficient, to allow a place for any such

Amongst the proofs of the truth of our proposi-
tion, viz. that the story, which we have noiv, is, in
sul>stance, the story which the Christians had

* The reader who is conversant is these researches,
by comparini; the sliort Scripture accounts of the Chiin
tian rites above-mentioned, with the minute and cir-
cumstantial directions contained in the pretended apos-
tolical constitutions, will see the force of this observa
tiun : the ditFerence bet»veen truth and forgery.



then, or, in other worJs, that the accounts in our
Gospels are, as to their principal parts at least, the
accounts which the apostles and original teachers
of the religion delivered, one arises from observing,
that it appears b}' the Gospels themselves, that the
story was pubhc at the time; that the Christian
community was already in possession of the sub-
stance and principal parts of the narrative. The
Gospels v/ere not the original cause of the Chris-
tian history being believed, but were themselves
among the consequences of that belief This is
expressly affirmed by Saint Luke, in his brief,
but. as I think, very important and instructive
preface : — " Forasmuch (says the evangelist) as
many have taken in hand to set forth in order a
declaration of those things which are most surely
bcliered amongst us, even as they delivered them
unto us, which, from the beginning, were eye-
witnesses and ministers of the word; it seemed
good to me also, having had perfect understand-
ing of all things from the very lirst, to write unto
thee in order, most excellent Tlieophilus, that
thou micjhtest know the certainty of those things
wherein thou hast been instructed." — This short
introduction testifies, that the substance of the
history, which the evangelist was about to write,
was already believed by Christians; that it was
believed upon the declarations of eye-witnesses
and ministers of the word ; that it formed the ac-
count of their reliaion in which Christians were
instructed ; that the office which tlie historian
proposed to himself, was to trace each particular
to its origin, and to fix the certainty of many
things which the reader had before heard of. In
Saint John's Gospel, the same point appears
hence, that there are some principal facts, to
which the hi.storian refers, but which he does not
relate. A remarkable instance of this kind is the
ascension, which is not mentioned by Saint John
in its place, at the conclusion of his history ; but
which is plainly referred to in the following words
of the sixth chapter :* — " What and if ye shall see
the Son of man ascend up where he was before Y'
And still more positively in the words which
Christ, according to our evangelist, spoke to Mary
after his resurrection, " Touch me not, for I am
not yet ascended to my Father : but go unto my
brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my
Father and 3'our Father, unto my God and
your God."t This can only be accounted for
bv the supposition that Saint John wrote un-
der a sense of the notoriety of Christ's ascen-
sion, amongst those by whom his book was likely
to be read. The same account must also be given
of Saint Matthew's omission of the same import-
ant fact. The thing was very well known, and
it did not occur to the historian that it was neces-
sarv to add any particulars concerning it. It
agrees also with this solution, and with no other,
that neither ^Matthew, nor John, disposes of the
person of our Lord in any manner whatever.
Other intimations in Saint John's Gospel of the
then general notoriety of the story are the ibllow-
ing : His manner of introducing his narrative (ch.
i. ver. 1.5:) "John bare witness of him, and cried,
saying," — evidently presupposes that his readers
knew who John was. His rapid parenthetical
reference to John's imprisonment, " for John was
not yet cast into prison,"? could only come from a

writer whose mind was in the habit of consider
ing John's imprisonment as perfectly notorious
The description of Andrew by the addition " Si-
mon Peter's brother,"* takes it lor granted, that
Simon Peter was well known. His name had
not been mentioned before. The evangelist's
noticingt the prevaihng misconstruction of a dis-
course, which Christ held with the beloved dis-
ciple, proves that the characters and the discourse
were already public. And the observation which
these instances afford, is of equal vahdity for tlie
purpose of the present argument, whoever were
the authors of the histories.

These/our circumstances ; first, the recognition
of the account in its principal parts, by a series of
succeeding WTiters; secondly, the total absence of
any account of the origin of the religion substan-
tially diflierent from ours ; thirdly, the early and
extensive prevalence of rites and institutions,
which result from our account ; fourthly, our ac-
count bearing, in its construction, proof that it is
an account of facts, which were known and be-
lieved at the tune; — are sufficient, I conceive, to
support an assurance, that the story which we
have now, is, in general, the story which Chris-
tians had at the beginning. I say in general ;
by which term I mean, that it is the same in its
texture, and in its principal facts. For instance,
I make no doubt, for the reasons above stated, but
that the resurrection of the Founder of the reli-
gion was always a part of the Christian story.
Nor can a doubt of tliis remain upon the mind of
any one who reflects that the resurrection is, in
some form or other, asserted, referred to, or as-
sumed, in everj' Christian writing, of every de-
scription, which hath come down to us.

And if our evidence stopped here, we should
have a strong case to offer : for we should have to
allege, that in tue reign of Tiberius Caesar, a cer-
tain number of persons set about an attempt of
establishing a new religion in the world: in the
prosecution of which purpose, they voluntarily
encountered great dangers, undertook great la-
bours, sustained great sulTerings, all./or a miracu-
lous story which they published wherever they
came ; and that the resurrection of a dead man,
whom during his life they had followed and ac-
companied, was a constant part of this story. I
know nothing in the above statement which can,
with any appearance of reason, be disputed : and
I know nothing, in the history of the human spe-
cies, similar to it.

* Also Jolin iii. 13: and .xvi. 28.
J John iii. 24.

t John XX. 17.


TTiere is satisfactory evidence that many -profess-
ing to he original witnesses of tlie Christian
miracles, passed their lives in labours, dangers,
and sufferings, voluntarily undergone ni at-
testation of the accounts which they delivered,
and solely in consequence of their belief of
tliose accounts ; and tliat they also submitted,
from the same motives, to new rules of conduct.

That the story which we have now is, in the
main, the story which the apostles published, is
I think, nearly certain, from the consideration?
which have been proposed. But whether, whei
we come to the particulars, and the detail of tl.«

John i. 40.

t Ibid, xxi 24.



mrrative, the historical books of the New Tes-
tament be deserving of credit as liistories, so that
a fact ought to be accounted true, because it is
fouifll in them; or whether they are entitled to be
considered as representing the accounts which,
true or false, the apostles published; — whether
their authority, in either of these views, can be
trusted to, is a point which necessarily depends
upon what we know of the books, and of their

Now, in treating of this part of our argument,
the first and most material observation upon the
subject is, that such was the situation of the au-
thors to whom the four Gospels are ascribed, that,
if any one of the four be genuine, it is sufficient
for our purpose. The received author of the first,
was an original apostle and emissary of the re-
ligion. The received author of the second, was
an inhabitant of Jerusalem at the time, to whose
house the apostles were wont to resort, and him-
self an attendant upon one of the most eminent
of that number. The received author of the third,
was a stated companion and fellow-traveller of the
most active of all the teachers of the religion, and
in the course of his travels frequently in the
society of the original apostles. The received au-
thor of the fourth, as well as of the first, was one of
these apostles. No stronger evidence of the truth
of a history can arise from the situation of the
historian, than what is here offered. The authors
of all the histories lived at the time and upon the
spot. The authors of two of the histories were
present at many of the scenes which they de-
scribe; eye-witnesses of the facts, ear-witnesses
of the discourses ; writing from personal know-
ledge and recollection; and, what strengthens
their testimony, writing upon a subject in which
their minds were deeply engaged, and in which,
as they must have been very frequently repeating
the accounts to others, the passages of the history
would be kept continually alive in their memory.
Whoever reads the Gospels (and they ought to be
read for this particular purpose,) will find in them
not merely a general affirmation of miraculous
powers, but detailed circumstantial accounts of
miracles, with specifications of time, place, and
persons ; and these accounts many and various.
In the Gospels, therefore, which bear the names
of Matthew and John, these narratives, if they
really proceeded from these men, must either be
true, as far as the fidelity of human recollection is
usually to be depended upon, that is, must be true
in substance, and in their principal parts (which
is sufficient for the purpose of proving a super-
natural agency,) or they must be wilful and medi-
tated falsehoods. Yet the writers wlio fabricated
and uttered these falsehoods, if they be such, are
of the number of those who, unless the whole
contexture of the Christian story be a dream, sa-
crificed their ease and safety in the cause, and for
a purpose the most inconsistent that is possible
with dishonest intentions. They were villains
for no end but to teach honesty, and martyrs
without the least prospect of honour or advan-

The Gospels which bear the name of Mark
and Luke, although not the narratives of eye-wit-
nesses, are, if genuine, removed from that only
by one degree. They are the narratives of con-
temporary writers ; or writers themselves mixing
with the business; one of the two probably living
m the place which was the principal scene of ac-

tion; both living in habits of society and corres«
pondencc with those who had been present at the
transactions which they relate. The latter of them
accordingly tells us, (and with apparent sincerity,
because he tells it without pretending to ]jersonal
knowledge, and without claiming for his viork
greater authority than belonged to it,) that the
things which were believed amongst Christiairs,
came from those who from the beginning were
eye-witnesses and ministers of the word ; that
he had traced accounts up to their source ; and
that he was prepared to instruct his reader in the
certainty of the things which he related.* Very
few histories lie so close to their facts ; very lew
historians are so nearly connected with the sub-
ject of their narrative, or possess such means of
authentic information, as these.

The situation oi' the writers applies to the truth
of the facts which they record. But at present we
use their testimony to a point somewhat short of
this, namely, that the facts recorded in the Gos-
pels, whether true or fiilse, are the facts, and the
sort of facts, which the original preachers of the
religion alleged. Strictly speaking, I am con-
cerned only to show, that what the Gospels con-
tain is the same as what the apostles preached.
Now, how stands the proof of this point '? A set
of men went about the world, pul)lishing a story
composed of miraculous accounts, (for miraculous
from the very nature and exigency of the case
they must have been,) and, upon the strength of
these accounts, called upon mankind to quit the
religions in which they had been educated, and to
take up, thenceforth, a new system of opinions,
and new rules of action. What is more in attes-
tation of these accounts, that is, in support of an
institution of which these accounts were the foun-
dation, is that the same men voluntarily exposed
themselves to harassing and perpetual laboiu's,
dangers, and sufferings. We want to know what
these accounts were. We have tlie particulars,
i. e. many particulars, from two of their own num-
ber. We have them from an attendant of one of
the numl)er, and who, there is reason to believe,
was an inhabitant of Jerusalem at the time. We
have them from a fourth writer, who accompanied
the most laborious missionary of the institution in
his travels ; vs^ho, in the course of these travels,
was frequently brouglit into the society of the
rest ; and who, let it be observed, begins his nar- '
rative by telling us that he is about to relate the
things which had been delivered by those who
were ministers of the word, and eye-vidtnesses of
the facts. I do not know what information can
be more satisfactory than this. We may, perhaps,
perceive the force and value of it more sensibly, if
we reflect how requiring we should have lieen if
we had wanted it. Supposing it to be sufficiently
proved, that the religion now professed among us,
owed its original to the preaching and ministry
of a number of men, who, about eighteen cen-
turies ago, set forth in the world a new system of
religious opinions, founded upon certain extraor-
dinary things which they related of a wonderful
person who had appeared in Judea; suppose it to

* Why should not the candid and modest pre faLt" of
this historian be believed, as well as that which Dion
Cassius prefi.xes to his Life of Comniodus? "These
things and the following I write not from the report o!
others, hot from my own knowledge and observation."
I see no reason to doubt but that both passages describa
truly enough the situation of the authors.



be also sufficiently proved, that, in the course and
prosecution of their ministry, these men had sub-
jected themselves to extreme hardships, fatigue,
and peril ; but suppose the accounts which they
published had not been committed to writing till
some ages after their times, or at least that no
histories, but what had been composed some ages
afterwards, had reached our hands; we should
have said, and with reason, that we were willina
to Ijelieve these men imder the circumstances in
which they delivered their testunony, but that we
did not. at this day, know with sufficient evidence
what their testimony was. Had we received the
particulars of it from any of their own number,
from any of those who lived and conversed with
them, from any of their hearers, or even from any
of their contemporaries, we should have had some-
thing to rely upon. Now, if our books be genuine,
we have all these. We have the very species of
information which, as it appears to me. our imagi-
nation would have caned out for us, if it had been

But I have said, that if any one of the four
Gospels be genuine, we have not only direct his-
torical testimony to the point we contend for, but
lestimony which, so far as that point is concerned,
cannot reasonably be rejected. If the first Gospel
was really written by Matthew, we have the narra-
tive of oneof the number, from which to judge what
were the miracles, and the kind of miracles, which
the apostles attributed to Jesus. Although, for
argument's sake, and only for argument's sake,
we should allow that this Gospel had been erro-
neously ascribed to Matthew ; yet, if the Gospel
of Saint .lohn be genuine, the ob.servation holds
with no less strength. Again, although the Gos-
pels botli of Matthew and John could be suppoi-ed
to be spurious, yet, if the Gospel of Saint Luke
were truly the composition of that person, or of
any person, be his name what it might, who was
actually in the situation in which the author of
that Gospel professes himself to have been, or if
the Gospel which bears the name of ]\Iark really
proceeded from him ; we still, even upon the low-
est supposition, possess the accounts of one writer
at least, who was not only contemporary with the
apostles, but associated with them in their minis-
try : whif h authority seems sufficient, when the
question is simply what it was which these apos-
tles advanced.

I think it material to have this well noticed.
The New Testament contains a great number of
distinct writings, the genuineness of any one of
which is almost sufficient to prove the truth of the
religion : it contains, however, four distinct histo-
ries, the genuineness of any one of which is per-
fectly sufficient. If therefore, we must be con-
sidered as encountering the risk of error in as-
signing the authors of our books, we are entitled
to the advantage of so many separate probabilities.
And although it should appear that some of the
evang«>lists had seen and used each other's works ;
this discovery, whilst it subtracts indeed from
their characters as testimonies strictly independ-
ent, diminishes, I conceive, little, either their se-
parate authority (by which I mean the authority
of any one that is genuine,) or their mutual con-
firmation. For, let the most disadvantageous
supposition possible be made concerning them ;
let it be allowed, what I should have no great dif-
ficulty in admitting, that Alark compiled his his-
tory almost entirely from those of Matthew and

Luke ; and let it also for a moment be supposed
that these histories were not, in fact, written by
Matthew and Luke; yet, if it be true that Mark,
a contemporary of the apostles, living in habits of
society with the apostles, a fellow-traveller and
fellow-labourer with some of them; if, I say, it be
true that tliis person made the compilation, it fol-
lows, that the writings from which he made it
existed in the time of the apostles, and not only
so, but that they were then in such esteem and
credit, that a companion of the apostles formed a
history out of them. Let the Gospel of Mark be
called an epitome of that of Matthew; if a person
in the situation in which Mark is described to
have been, actually made the epitome, it aflbrds
the strongest possible attestation to the character ^
of the original.

Again, parallelisms in sentences, in words, and
in the order of words, have been traced out between
the Gospel of Matthew and that of Luke ; which
concurrence cannot easily be explained otherwise
than by supposing, either that Luke had consulted
Matthew's history, or, what appears to me in no-
wise incredible, that minutes of some of Christ's
discourses, as well as brief memoirs of some pas-
sages of his hfe, had been committed to writing at
the time ; and that such w ritten accounts had by
both authors been occasionally admitted into their
histories. Either supposition is perfectly consist-
ent with the acknowledged formation of St. Luke's
narrative, who professes not to write as an eye-
witness, but to have investigated the original of
every account which he dehvers : in other words,
to have collected them from such documents and
testimonies, as he, who had the best opportunities
of making inquiries, judged to be authentic
Therefore, allowing that this writer also, iu some
instances, borrowed from the Crospel which we
call Matthew's, and once more allowing, for the
salve of stating the argument, that that Gospel was
not the production of the author to whom we
ascribe it; yet still we have, in Saint Luke's Gos-
pel, a history given by a writer immediately con-
nected with the transaction, with the witnesses of
it, with the persons engaged in it, and composed
from materials which that person, thus situated,
deemed to be safe sources of intelligence : in other
words, whatever supposition be made concerning
any or all the other Gospels, if Saint Luke's Gos-
pel be genuine, we have in it a credible evidence
of the point which we maintain.

The Gospel according to Saint John appears to
he, and is on all hands allowed to be, an independ-
ent testimony, strictly and properly so called. Not-
withstanding, therefore, any connexion, or sup-
posed connexion, between some of the Gospels, I
again repeat what I before said, that if any one of
the four be genuine, we have, in that one .strong
reason, from the character and situation of the
writer, to believe that we possess the accounts
which the original emissaries of the religion de-

Secondly : In treating of the written evidences

Online LibraryWilliam PaleyThe works of William Paley ... : containing his life, moral and political philosophy, evidences of christianity, natural theology, tracts, Horae Paulinae, clergyman's companion, and sermons, printed verbatim from the original editions, complete in one volume → online text (page 76 of 161)