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by Editor - Joseph Exell
Formation of the Gospels
Christ our Lord was the great subject of the teaching of the apostles. They began, generally speaking, as we see them in the Acts of the Apostles, with His resurrection from the dead; they knew His resurrection to be effected, from personal experience; and by saying over and over again that they had seen Him risen, they carried conviction at last to the minds of their hearers. Then they went on to describe His crucifixion, and its wonderful meaning for the lost race of man. Besides this, they appear to have repeated, in a simple way, what they had seen our Lord do, and had heard Him say, during the years of their companionship with Him,-thus giving, indirectly, but most fully, a complete impression of His character. And here, as it seems, we have the true account of the way in which the experience came to be written. Looking to the composition of the Gospels, looking to their structural method, it is hardly probable that each evangelist sat down one day to write his narrative straight off, as a modern writer might sit down to write a book from memory, or out of the contents of old documents lying before him. The Gospels are evidently made up of the contemporary preaching of the apostles, and their difference in method and style is largely to be accounted for by the difference in the audiences the apostles addressed. St. Matthew, no doubt, preached in Judea, and to populations who required, first of all, to be satisfied that Jesus corresponded to the Messiah of prophecy; hence his frequent “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet.” St. Mark takes notes from the preaching of St. Peter to audiences which were still Jewish, but more in contact than those of Judea with the Greek and Roman world. St. Luke grouped together those features of our Lord’s work and teaching, which were repeated again and again in the cities of Greece and Asia Minor, as illustrating the aspects of the redemption especially insisted on by St. Paul. St. John supplies what earlier narratives had omitted; in his Gospel we have the record of a teaching addressed to the populations, whether at Ephesus or elsewhere, deeply influenced by Alexandrian modes of thought. The Gospels, as we have them, grew out of the oral teaching of the apostles, and were reduced to writing, to order, to system, either (as in the case of the first and the last) by the apostles themselves, or (as in that of the other two) by persons in their confidence. This will explain differences of order in the narratives, the repetitions, the expansions, even some of the apparent discrepancies. The Gospels are not systematized narratives; they are collections of popular instructions on the birth, work, words, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, addressed by those who had lived with Him from His baptism to His ascension, to the various populations whose conversion or edification they were engaged in promoting. (Canon Liddon.)
The Oral and the Written Gospels
We may fairly take the following conclusions as established. That the apostles of Christ felt it to be their main duty to preach Christ, not to write about Him; that they were disposed to speak rather than to write, by character, by habit, by all the influences of their time and race: That, consequently, the original Gospel was rather an oral tradition than a written book; That this oral tradition was historic, setting forth in a lively and natural way the things which Jesus said and did: That it was the theme and substance of their Discourses and of their Epistles: That the constant delivery of this oral Gospel was a Divine expedient for teaching them what of all they remembered concerning Christ was most potent on the hearts and minds of men, and so for securing a more perfect written Gospel when the time for writing had come: That in the four written Gospels-four and yet one-we have a record of the deeds and words of Christ in the fullest accord with the message originally delivered by the apostles: And that whosoever believes in the blameless life and beneficent ministry of Christ, in His death for our sins, and in His resurrection as the crowning proof of life everlasting, holds a true and adequate Gospel. (S. Cox, D. D.)
Gospel and gospels
It is a matter of interest and significance that, in the biblical records, we have not only gospel but Gospels. We have gospel, running like a golden thread through the whole Bible, connecting history, precept, proverb, prophecy, and binding the entire constituents of “the volume of the Book” into unity. We should certainly have had no Bible at all had there been no gospel. But in particular portions of the progressive revelation the golden gospel line becomes doubled as it were, or trebled, or multiplied in some still higher ratio. The whole texture of certain paragraphs or large sections gleams and glows with gospel. Such are the Messianic Psalms. Such is the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. And such, of course, are the four Gospels of the New Testament. The gospel is so efflorescent in these Gospels that the lovers of the Bible have, from a very early period of the Christian era, agreed to call them, ‘par excellence,’ the Gospels. (James Morison, D. D.)
People are eager to hear about the latest excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum, cities on the slopes of Vesuvius, which were destroyed (before the end of St. Paul’s life) in A.D. 63. The Gospel documents are of more consequence than Pompeii and Herculaneum. They, too, have been dug out, in a sense, almost within the memory of man. History is the field of their excavation. The ashes of exploded theories-the lava streams of controversy and dogma-have, in times past, submerged the origin of the New Testament; indeed, I think they have scarcely cooled down yet, for the angry subsoil still smoulders with theological rancour whenever it is stirred. Still, there is at length a set resolve on the part of the people to get at what lies beneath the surface. The Christian world of the nineteenth century is asking-not what it is possible to induce people to believe about the Christian records of the first and second centuries, chief among which stand the four Gospels-but what is true. Now, what is true is, to some extent, certainly known, and may, to some extent, be probably inferred. We must transport ourselves in imagination to Jerusalem in the first century; we must follow the written rills of narrative, then the oral freshets of tradition wherever we come upon them; we must take our divining rod of sound historical criticism and mark jealously the spots where the living streams gush forth; we must follow the direction they take, until, in a few short years, they are seen to converge and swell into the Gospel rivers of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Crucifixion took place about A.D. 33, in the reign of Tiberias Caesar-up to that time there is no trace of a written Gospel. The Acts give a retrospect from 33 to about 63 when Nero’s monstrous reign was drawing to a close. The main points stand out with considerable distinctness. We note the Church’s comparative peace-the rise of persecution, the first martyrdom, the first imprisonments, the growing differences between the old Jews and the Judeo-Christians-between the Judeo-Christians like James of Jerusalem, and the Greek and Roman Christians like Paul and his followers. Still there is no written Gospel. St. Paul scours the Mediterranean from 54 to 67-9, founds his churches in Asia Minor and at Rome, writes his Epistles, and disappears about 68-9. Still there is no written Gospel. Meanwhile, what was going on at Jerusalem?…Early in 68 the little band of Christians fled to the mountains beyond Jordan, and settled on the other side of the Peraea hills, at Pella … Shall we look once more and for the last time upon the faces of that saintly group-upon the aged mother of our Lord-upon Lazarus, perchance upon Nicodemus, Nathaniel, Joseph of Arimathea, and the Marys who ministered unto Jesus in the days of His earthly career? Some, if not all, of these, must have been among the refugees at Polls. Undoubtedly they had the evangelic tradition-chaste guardians of the sacred relics, second founders of Christianity-and all who wished to know about Jesus would make a pilgrimage to visit these holy personages, around whose heads the aureole was already beginning to gather. Apostles and evangelists must have been there-remnants of the twelve and of the seventy sent out two and two-and Peter must have paid his farewell visit, previous to his departure for Italy. Matthew may have been there more than once when collecting materials for a Gospel, or perchance the Logia, “sayings,” of Christ which went by his name. O far-off light that forever hangs over those distant Peraean hills! O heavenly radiance that forever rests upon those saintly faces! O distant voices still echoing down the ages, ye will be forever dear and sacred to all who love the Divine Master! Truly as we follow in imagination that little group of obscure Jews, in that lonely mountain village, we can almost see the springs of evangelic history bubbling up from the virgin soil, a thousand little rills of tradition flowing from those distant hills, until they find their congenial channels, and flow forth to line with their four silver streaks the whole field of future history. From mouth to mouth were the words and deeds of Jesus passed by the Christian exiles of Pella. The little forms of oft-repeated words (bunches of sentences) would have a tendency to fix themselves. The most happy and expressive would be apt to suffer but little variation, but no one would be in a hurry to write them down-what is deeply engraved upon the heart need not be written. We do not write down our central thoughts for fear of forgetting them; but we are ready to repeat them at any time. As one after another Evangelist or Apostle passed out into the world to teach, he might bear with him little “forms of sound words”; the oft-repeated sentences would doubtless get written down in time, especially when Epistles came to be sent round. Between the years 66 and 70 there were probably a great many of these groups of evangelic sentences-acts, incidents of Christian life-floating about all over Asia Minor, along the line of Paul’s great missionary voyages. Not a Jewry from Jerusalem to Rome (and, even before the dispersion of the Jews, little Jewish quarters were to be found in most Greek and Roman cities) but would have some bunches of sayings, miracles, parables, anecdotes, episodes in the life of Jesus … At once we see that dislocated fragments of the same, or similar, utterances have been in the hands of the different compilers, sometimes with a context, sometimes without; that selections more or less appropriate have been made, according to the method, opportunity, capacity, or even literary taste, or absence of literary taste, in the sacred compiler. (H. R. Haweis, M. A.)
The synoptic gospels
The writers of the first three Gospels deal in the main with the same parts of our Lord’s life history, and hence their writings may be read side by side for illustration of each other. For this reason these Gospels have been called synoptic, i.e., comprehended in one view. They narrate events which took place for the most part in Galilee and the lands adjacent thereto, and speak of no visit made by Jesus to Jerusalem, except that final one, which was terminated by the Crucifixion. For the history of His other visits to the Holy City, we have only the accounts given in the Gospel of St. John. The question arises, How can this similarity be accounted for? And how, with so much similarity, does it come to pass that there are such great differences? First of all, the resemblances are so many and so close, that we must admit at once, in spite of the different arrangement of the materials, that what we are reading was in some way drawn by the three evangelists from a common source. But the differences in their narratives are also very striking. In those portions which are most completely common to all three, each writer omits some things and adds others which give a special character to his version of the Gospel history. Compare, e.g., the three accounts of the Transfiguration. In the seven or eight verses devoted to this event by each evangelist, the great lines of the picture are the same in all. Yet St. Matthew alone tells of the shining of the face of Jesus, and that He touched the disciples to rouse them after the vision was over. It is St. Mark alone who compares the whiteness of the Lord’s raiment to snow, and adds the graphic detail, “so as no fuller on earth can white them”; while St. Luke is the only one who records that the visit to the mount of Transfiguration was made for the purpose of private prayer; that Moses and Elias, in their discourse, spake of our Lord’s approaching Passion; and that the disciples of Jesus were overcome by sleep. Yet amid these and other minor variations, what we may term the salient points of the history, the expression of St. Peter that it was good to be there, and the words spoken by the heavenly voice, are in such close accord that they might be supposed, if standing alone, to have been drawn from the same document, or at all events, to be different close translations of the same original. Hence some have suggested an original Gospel in Aramaic, as a means of accounting for such exact agreement where it exists. But such near resemblances are but few in each section of the common story, while the variations are numerous. We cannot, therefore, believe that the form of the synoptic Gospels is to be explained by supposing that the writers had some common materials from which to translate. And in the setting (as we may name it) of the events which he relates, each evangelist differs so much from his fellows, that it is impossible to conceive that any of the three made, after any sort, a copy from the others. We are therefore driven to consider the way in which the Gospel narrative was first published, to see if that may help us to an explanation. The first converts heard Christ’s life history by word of mouth. After the day of Pentecost the apostles and disciples went forth preaching, but did not at once set about writing a Gospel. As they preached, they would tell, now of one phase of the Lord’s words and works, and now of another, as best suited their purpose, adding such exhortations as seemed needful. That this was so we can see from Acts. When the hearers of these first Christian sermons became interested, that which they would most desire to remember would be what the Master had said and done. Of these things narratives would from time to time be written; but as the speakers would not always in the same account preserve exactly the same phraseology, it is easy to see how narratives might become current, varying, within certain limits, in their words. The chief matters, and those on which lessons were to be specially founded, would be kept always very much the same, but the rest of the diction might be modified in various ways. The variations which appear in parallel portions of these three Gospels are just such as oral teaching, oft repeated, might be expected to exhibit; for we should bear in mind that the oral tradition of the Gospel history was different from any other oral tradition with which we are acquainted. It was not the transmission of a narrative through different mouths, and at distant intervals of time; it was a repetition, by the same persons, of the same story, almost day by day. And thus, from the preaching of the apostles, resulted the close resemblances in the separate histories of Jesus. The Gospels, in their variety and in their simplicity, are a true picture of what the first teachers must have spoken; and the differences which we thus accept, in the language used by those who were eyewitnesses of Christ’s life, and fitted by His Spirit to be ministers of the Word, are not without their lesson. They tell of unity, but show that uniformity is by no means necessary thereto. (J. R. Lumby D. D.)
Relation to St. Matthew and St. Luke
The Gospels of St. Mark and St. Matthew have so much in common, sometimes with each other only, sometimes with St. Luke also, that it is clear that they must have drawn more or less from a common source. Nothing, however, can be more against the whole tenor of internal evidence than the hypothesis that St. Mark epitomised from St. Matthew, or that St. Matthew expanded from St. Mark. The narrative of the second Gospel is in almost every instance fuller than that of the first, and its brevity is obtained only by the absence of the discourses and parables which occupy so large a portion of the other. On either of these assumptions the perplexing variations in the order of events are altogether inexplicable; comp. e.g., Matthew 8:1-34 with Mark 1:4-5. What is, with our scanty data, the most probable explanation is, that the matter common to both represents the substance of the instruction given orally to disciples in the Church of Jerusalem and other Jewish-Christian communities coming, directly or indirectly, under the influence of St. Peter and St. James, as the apostles of the Circumcision (Galatians 2:9). The miracles that had most impressed themselves on the minds of the disciples, the simplest or most striking parables, the narratives of the Passion and Resurrection, would naturally make up the main bulk of that instruction. St. Matthew, the publican apostle, conversant with clerkly culture, writing for his own people, closely connected with James, the Bishop of Jerusalem, would naturally be one exponent of that teaching. St. Mark, the disciple and “interpreter,” or secretary, of St. Peter, would as naturally be another. That they wrote independently of each other is seen, not only in the addition of new facts, the graphic touches of description, but from variations which would be inexplicable on any other assumption; such, e.g., as Mark’s Dalmanutha for Matthew’s Magdala, Syro-Phoenician woman for Canaanite, Levi, the son of Alphaeus, for Matthew. Short as the Gospel is, too, there is one parable in it (Mark 4:26-29), and one miracle (Mark 7:31-37), which are not found in St. Matthew. It is remarkable, moreover, that there are some incidents which St. Mark and St. Luke have in common, and which are not found in St. Matthew: that of the demoniac in Matthew 1:23-25; Luke 4:33-37; the journey through Galilee; the pursuit of the disciples; the prayer of the demoniac; the complaint of John against one that cast out devils; the women bringing spices to the sepulchre. Of these phenomena we find a natural and adequate explanation in the fact that the two evangelists were, at least at one period of their lives, brought into contact with each other (Colossians 4:10; Colossians 4:14; Philemon verse 1:24). It is probable that neither wrote his Gospel in its present form until the two great apostles whom they served had entered on their rest; but when they met each must have had the plan formed and the chief materials collected, and we may well think of them as comparing notes, and of the one, whose life had led to less culture, and whose temperament disposed him to record facts rather than parables or discourses, as profiting by his contact with the other, and while content to adhere to the scope and method which he had before marked out for himself, adding here and there what he learnt from his fellow worker whose “praise was in the Gospel” (2 Corinthians 8:18). (Dean Plumptre.)
The Second Gospel Confirms the First
In those passages where St. Mark’s narrative coincides in substance and language with that of St. Matthew, he rarely fails to introduce some slight incident, marking his own minute personal acquaintance with what he is relating. Consequently, he repeats St. Matthew, not because he does not know, of his own individual knowledge, the truth of what he is writing, but because he does know it; and because he also knows that his predecessor St. Matthew has given a faithful account of it: and therefore he adopts that account; and this adoption, by such a writer, is the strongest confirmation of the truth of the narrative of St. Matthew which he adopts. Surely this was a wise course of procedure. It was one that might well have been suggested to the evangelist St. Mark by the Holy Spirit of truth. The Holy Ghost Himself had inspired the Evangelist St. Matthew, who had proved his love for Christ by leaving all for His sake; and who, as one of the chosen Twelve, was a constant companion of Christ, and thus, in human respects, was a competent witness of His actions; and who received the supernatural effusion of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost, and was led by Him into all truth, and was enabled by Him to remember what Christ had said to the apostles. Therefore the Gospel of St. Matthew was the work of the Holy Ghost. Doubtless the Apostle St. Matthew was chosen by Divine providence, on account of his personal graces and qualifications, as a fit instrument for the work of an evangelist; but in writing a Gospel for the perpetual edification of the Church, he wrote as he was moved by the Holy Ghost, and accordingly his Gospel has ever been acknowledged by the Spirit of God, speaking in the Church, and receiving that Gospel as divinely inspired Scripture. In like manner, St. Mark was prepared for the work of an evangelist by human discipline and earthly opportunities; but his Gospel is the work of the Holy Ghost. We should therefore be taking a low and erroneous view of the subject if we were to say that St. Mark copied St. Matthew, or that the Holy Spirit transcribed any passage of a human writer. The true statement of the case is this. The Holy Spirit, Who had been pleased to choose and to employ the appropriate instrumentality of St. Matthew to write the first of the four Gospels, chose also and employed the appropriate agency of St. Mark for the work of an evangelist; and by his instrumentality He vouchsafed to repeat some portions of that sacred message which He, the same Spirit, had been pleased to deliver by St. Matthew; and thus, by choosing fit instruments for the work, He condescended to give such evidence of the truth of the Gospel as would be of weight with reasonable men, arguing on earthly premises and considerations; and at the same time by repeating in a second Gospel what He had spoken in a preceding one, He imparted greater solemnity to what had been uttered, and gave to the world the strongest assurance of its truth by this reiteration, and showed by this specimen that though the Gospels written by St. Matthew and St. Mark had not only a general design for the edification of all, but also a special purpose and peculiar direction-the one being intended particularly for Jewish readers, the other specially for Romans, and for a mixed society of Gentiles and Jews; yet that in substance, and also in great measure in letter, there is one and the same Gospel for all. This process of repetition is by no means derogatory to the dignity of the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, it is one of the characteristics of Inspiration. It pervades the whole volume of Revelation. It is a consequence of the dignity of the subject, and of the love of God, who desires to afford the clearest proofs of the truth of what He delivers, and of its unspeakable importance to man. (Bishop Christopher Wordsworth.)
The Gospel ascribed to St. Mark was neither by himself, nor by the subsequent compilers of the New Testament canon, designated the Gospel “of” Mark. The word gospel was not specifically employed, in the time of the evangelists, to denote a particular kind of book or biography. It had a more generic import. It meant good news; and just because it had that meaning, it was specially applied by Christians to the best of all good news, the news regarding Jesus Christ as the Divine Saviour of sinners. Hence the united compositions of the four evangelists were often, in the post-apostolic ages, called collectively the Gospel. And each evangelical record in particular was the gospel “according to” the particular evangelist who compiled it. The gospel in each case was one, “the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1); but it was that one gospel under the peculiar phase of a particular biographical presentation. Hence the phrase “according to.” It is not, as some have contended, precisely equivalent to “of,” for the gospel was not regarded as an emanation from the mind of the writer. It was not, in its essence, the product of any human compiler or composer; but, as delivered by the evangelists, it assumed in its form as distinguished from its essence, a peculiar phase in harmony with the size, shape, and symmetry of “the earthen vessels” in which it was “handed out,” that it might be “handed on.” In the great majority of manuscripts, the title of this Gospel is either substantially, or entirely, the same as in our common English version. In the Syriac Philoxenian version the word holy is introduced before the word Gospel, and the phrase according to is merged: the Holy Gospel of Mark. In the Syriac Peshito version there was an attempt, though not remarkably felicitous, to do more justice to the idea suggested by the preposition: the Holy Gospel, the Announcement of Mark the Evangelist. (J. Morison, D. D.)
The name “Mark.”
Marcus or Mark was a Latin name, and became a common Latin proenomen, as, for instance, “Marcus” Tullius Cicero. The diminutive Marcellus was a surname of the Claudian family, a distinguished member of that family, Marcus Claudius Marcellus, defeated Hannibal at Nola. Cicero has an oration “Pro Marco Marcello.” The Evangelist Mark, however, was, notwithstanding his Latin name, a Jew. His entire Gospel bewrays his nationality, and breathes the spirit of an Israelite who, though delivered from Jewish narrowness and bigotry, was still “an Israelite indeed.” In the letter too, as well as the spirit of his composition, the mark of a Jewish mind is indelibly impressed. The reason why the evangelist either assumed, or got imposed on him his Latin name, is now unknown; probably he found it convenient, when out in the wide world, to wear a Gentile name. It might be even to himself, as well as to his friends, and to all with whom he had to do, a significant badge, indicating that he was now a Christian cosmopolitan. (J. Morison, D. D.)
The name of Mark is by some supposed to be derived from the Latin “marcus,” a hammer; not “marcellus,” a little hammer, but “marcus,” a strong hammer, able to crush the flinty rock, and thus indicative of the spiritual power wielded by the evangelist, and enabling him to break the stony hearts of the Gentiles, and to rouse them to penitence and faith and a holy life. (Dean Bickersteth.)
John Mark was the son of one Mary, who dwelt at Jerusalem. There he was probably born (Acts 12:12). He was the cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10). The theory that he was one of the seventy disciples has no warrant. His mother seems to have been a person of some means and influence, and her house a rallying point for Christians in those dangerous days. Her young son, already an inquirer, would soon become more anxious to work for Christ. He went with Paul and Barnabas as their “minister” on their first journey; but at Perga he turned back (Acts 12:25; Acts 13:13). On the second journey St. Paul would not accept him again as a companion, but Barnabas his kinsman was more indulgent; and thus he became the cause of the memorable sharp contention between them (Acts 15:36-40). Whatever were the reasons for Mark’s infirmity of purpose, they did not separate him forever from Paul, for we find them together at Rome (Colossians 4:10; Philemon 1:24). St. Paul speaks of a possible journey of Mark to Asia. Somewhat later he is with St. Peter at Babylon (1 Peter 5:13). Of this journey we have no more evidence; of its date, causes, results, we know nothing. It may be conjectured that Mark journeyed to Asia Minor (Colossians 4:10), and thence went on to join Peter at Babylon. On his return to Asia he seems to have been with Timothy at Ephesus when Paul wrote to him, during his second imprisonment, and Paul was anxious for his return to Rome (2 Timothy 4:11). (Archbp. Wm. Thomson.)
According to the testimony of St. Jerome, St. Mark wrote a short Gospel at Rome, at the request of the brethren there; and St. Peter, when he had heard it, approved of it, and appointed it to be read in the churches by his authority. St. Jerome says, further, that St. Mark took this Gospel and went into Egypt; and, being the first preacher of Christ at Alexandria, established a Church with so much moderation of doctrine and of life, that he constrained all those who had opposed Christ to follow his example. Eusebius states that he became the first bishop of that Church, and that the catechetical school at Alexandria was founded under his authority. It is further stated that he ultimately died a martyr’s death at Alexandria. But the evidence upon this latter point is not sufficiently trustworthy. Tradition says that the body of St. Mark was translated by certain merchants from Alexandria to Venice, A.D. 827, where he was much honoured. The Venetian Senate adopted the emblem of St. Mark-the lion-for their crest; and when they directed anything to be done, they affirmed that it was by the order of St. Mark. (Dean Bickersteth.)
Mark, the Citizen
John, alias Mark, was essentially a man of towns. In early life he was known as John of Jerusalem; he was at one time a close adherent of Paul, and to the end, notwithstanding their early differences of opinion, he remained in the eyes of that Apostle to the Gentiles profitable to the ministry. Later in life he was known as Mark of Rome, where tradition declares him to have been the near friend and secretary of Peter, the substance of whose teaching is generally admitted to be set down in Mark’s Gospel, which was written from memory after Peter’s death. Mark’s mother, Mary, seems to have been a person in comfortable circumstances. The family lived at Jerusalem, and Mary’s house was much frequented by St. Peter and his adherents. It was probably the attraction of Mary’s home, with its friendly circle of reformed Jews-its social gatherings and stirring routine of city life-that attracted mark, the citizen, when he left Paul and Barnabas to plunge by themselves into the wild regions of Pamphylia and Lycaonia. He attached himself to Peter. Peter never had Paul’s passion fur travelling, though necessity drove him now and again up and down Palestine, and, in all probability, once at least-and once too often-to Rome, where Mark was still his faithful companion. There he may have seen the last of Peter, crucified head downwards; perhaps, too, of Paul-after his second trial before Nero-beheaded outside Rome. He himself disappears, and makes no sign-leaving behind him, however, a name associated with the greatest of the Jewish Apostles, and with the greatest of all Apostles; and a Gospel-derived from Peter-but not untouched with the spirit of Paul. (H. R. Haweis, M. A.)
Date of Publication
It is not possible, at present, to determine the particular year of the publication of this Gospel. Not even is it possible to determine the decade of years within which the publication must have taken place. All is mere conjecture regarding years and decades. Still there are certain data on which an approximate date may be assigned. The succession of Patristic testimonies back to Papias makes it certain that the Gospel was in existence, and well known, in the first century. Since, moreover, it is all but certain that the John Mark of the Acts was the writer of the Gospel, and since it is probable that he was quite “a young man” at the time of the crucifixion, and consequently still young when he was assumed by Paul and Barnabas as their ministerial attendant, we may reasonably suppose that he would not defer the composition of his Gospel till he was overtaken by extreme old age. If he did not, then we have something like a foothold on which to reach some data for an approximate date. It is not likely, at all events, that the composition of the Gospel would be deferred to a period later than the year 70, the date of the overthrow of Jerusalem. Indeed, it is most unlikely that it would be deferred till that period. If St. Mark was about twenty years of age at the time of the crucifixion, he would be nearly sixty about the year 70. Besides, there seems to be, in the peculiar inter-stratification of the contents of chap. 13, taken in conjunction with the statement in chap. 9:1, evidence on which we may, with probability, support the conclusion that Mark, at the time he composed his Gospel, connected in his mind, as a matter of “private interpretation” and expectation, the glorious personal appearing of our Lord with the anticipated destruction of Jerusalem. The precise “times and seasons” were not distinctly and minutely unrolled to the eyes of evangelists and apostles. The prophetical perspective did not show the length of the intervals that intervened along the path of the future, and the inspired writers were consequently left, like the prophets of old, to search “what and what manner of times” were referred to. This being the case, there is in the inter-stratification referred to, evidence that increases the probability that the Gospel must have been written before the year 70. There is another incidental item of evidence that leans and leads toward the same conclusion. Why should the evangelist (Mark 15:21) particularize the fact that Simon of Cyrene was the father of Alexander and Rufus? Obviously because Alexander and Rufus were living at the time when the Gospel was published. Simon himself seems to have been deceased. His identity is remembered by means of his surviving sons. He would probably be in middle life, or beyond it, when he undertook his journey to the city of his fathers to celebrate the passover. But it was “the beginning of days” to him; and not to himself only, it would appear, but to all his household. His sons became men of mark in the Christian circle. It would, however, be quite improbable and unnatural to go forward to a period near the close of the century for the time of their prominence. A period before the destruction of Jerusalem is far more likely to have been the season when they were conspicuous. At all events, we could not, with the least shadow of probability, pass the terminating decades of the first century and go over into the second. (J. Morison, D. D.)
The first readers of the Gospel
The position which St. Mark occupied in relation both to St. Paul and St. Peter-his connection with the former being resumed after a long interval-would make it probable that he would write with a special eye to Gentile rather than Jewish readers; and of this the Gospel itself supplies sufficient evidence in the full explanation of the customs of the Jews as to ablutions and the like in Mark 7:3-4, in the explanation of the word corban in 7:11, perhaps also in his description of “the river of Jordan” in Mark 1:5. A closer study suggests the thought, in full agreement with the traditional testimony, that he wrote with a special view to Christians of the Roman Church. He alone describes Simon the Cyrenian as the father of Alexander and Rufus (Mark 15:21), as though that fact had a special interest for his readers. There is but one Rufus mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament, and he meets us in Romans 16:13 as one who was prominent enough in the church of that city for St. Paul to send a special message of remembrance to him; and it may be inferred, with some likelihood, that the wife or widow of Simon of Cyrene (having previously met St. Paul at Corinth, for some personal knowledge is implied in the words “his mother and mine”) had settled with her two sons in the imperial city, and had naturally gained a position of some importance. The very name of Marcus indicates some Latin affinities; and it is noticeable, in this connection, that a larger number of words Latin in their origin appear in this Gospel than in any of the others. (Dean Plumptre.)
Relation of this Gospel to St. Peter
The Holy Scripture tells us nothing whatsoever respecting the writing of this Gospel. There is no preface to it fixing its authorship, as in the case of St. Luke’s Gospel, of the Acts, and of most of the Epistles; but if there be one single fact of the early Church more certain from the united concurrence of all Church history then any other, it is that the composition of his Gospel was occasioned by, and closely connected with, St. Mark’s intimacy with St. Peter. Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, and Eusebius are alike in their testimony on this … They all testify to the same fact, which is the entire dependence of St. Mark’s Gospel on the preaching of St. Peter. Most of them teach that it was an accurate reproduction, and yet there is sufficient discrepancy between them to show that they were not all derived from the same source. The differences in the statements are principally upon the matter of the extent of St. Peter’s superintendence, from that of Origen, who tells us that St. Peter “guided” St. Mark in his composition, to that of one of the statements of Clement, “which when Peter understood, he directly neither hindered nor encouraged it,”-but this latter seems to refer rather to the publication than to the writing. The contents fully bear out the external evidence for the Petrine origin of this Gospel, for they present the extraordinary phenomenon of one who was certainly not an eyewitness of the acts of the Lord, describing them as if he had not only been an eyewitness, but a very observant one. It is a remarkable fact that St. Mark’s real Gospel, i.e., that which presents his peculiarities of close observance and faithfulness in minute detail, really commences with St. Peter’s first entrance into close companionship with the Lord, i.e., at chap. 1:18. Immediately following upon this, we find a very detailed description of a miracle of the casting out of an evil spirit in the synagogue, an account only found in Mark; then the going to Peter’s house, and the healing of his wife’s mother, present two or three slight touches true to nature which are not in St. Matthew. Then the sojourn in Peter’s house is given with many details, which would not be preserved in a body of tradition, but which would abide in a loving memory, such as that the Lord rose up early, a great while before day, and went out to a solitary place to pray. Again, in the beginning of the next chapter we have the healing of the sick of the palsy, “borne of four,” given with a fulness of incidental detail which is in extreme contrast with the somewhat bare and hurried notice of the same in St. Matthew. For another thing, St. Mark more than any other Evangelist, notices the looks and gestures of the Lord: He looked round about to see her that had done this thing; He beheld the rich young ruler, and loved him; He looked round about upon His disciples when He warned them of the danger of riches. Whether, then, we look to the extraordinary unanimity in ecclesiastical records, or to the contents of the Gospel, nothing can be more certain than that it is based upon the teaching and preaching of St. Peter, and indeed reproduces it, so that we may adopt the words of Tertullian: “The Gospel which Mark published may be affirmed to be Peter’s, whose interpreter Mark was,” and of Origen, “Mark composed it as Peter guided him.” (M. F. Sadler, M. A.)
Mark is more engaged with the acts than with the discourses of our Lord. Why? Perhaps because the events struck Peter’s mind forcibly, but, being an uneducated man, his account of words and speeches was somewhat imperfect; his memory for anything like a sustained sermon was not good. But the life of love was all in all to him. That he could not help remembering. One act of mercy and pity and wonder is set down after another, until Mark’s sacred gallery is hung with vivid pictures, unconnected, indeed, with each other, but all marked by the central presence of the same Divine Figure, who went in and out amongst men doing good. Now it is the synagogue thronged with eager faces, but the sermon has been forgotten; or a house in Capernaum besieged by an impatient crowd outside; a poor creature, who could not be got in at the door, suddenly let down in the midst of the astonished assembly, through the mud roof. Or it is sunset, after the heat of the day, in the sudden twilight, with the last red streak dying out of the sky, the sick are brought on mats and laid about in the open streets and bazaars, and the work of healing is prolonged by the glare of torches or the dazzling light of the Syrian moon far into the night. It is ever the sweet and tender nature of the Son of Man which impresses Peter, the rugged fisherman, and which is held up before us. The good Physician, who confined not His attention to the soul, but ministered also to the body; the kind Jewish Rabbi, who had a word of sympathy even for the Gentile woman, a friendly greeting for the outcasts of the city, and a healing touch for the lepers. Aye, and Peter was touched, too, sympathetically by his Master’s feelings; he watched His looks, he caught the ebb and flow of His Divine emotions. And Mark has set it all down for us. He has told us how the beloved Teacher’s eye flashed with anger upon those who would have interfered with the cure of palsied men; how He sighed deeply over the stupidity and insensibility of His hearers, and at once set to work with some still more simple parable; how He could not bear to see anyone suffer without hastening to their relief; and how He was moved with compassion when He saw the poor people dropping by the wayside with hunger and fatigue. Who, as he reads, might not well lift up his eyes to heaven, and say, “So would I have seen my Lord, so would I have marked the mercy posts of His earthly career, so would I have beheld Him sigh and weep, and work and suffer, and pray for man, so may I even now listen to the words of Him who spake as never man spake, as they drop from the lips of the aged Peter, and are recorded for me by John Mark, his faithful interpreter and friend.” Too brief, but infinitely precious is that record-Mark, earliest and most undogmatic of Gospels, yet containing all that it is vital for us to know about Christianity. (H. R. Haweis, M. A.)
A question naturally suggests itself here. If St. Mark’s Gospel was written under the inspection of St. Peter, and, as some ancient writers have said, from his dictation, why was it not rather inscribed with the name of that apostle? Would it not have had greater weight, if it had borne that name? Perhaps, with reverence be it said, the Holy Spirit may have intended to teach some practical lessons by this arrangement. St. Mark is known from Holy Scripture as “the son” of St. Peter. The Gospel written by St. Mark’s instrumentality has ever been regarded by the Church as having been composed under the sanction and authority of his spiritual father. It may be considered virtually as much the Gospel of St. Peter as if St. Peter’s name were prefixed to it. It therefore, in fact, possesses the weight of that apostolic name. But the adoption of another name in its title has its proper use and significance. It may be recognized as a silent token of the humility of the Apostle St. Peter, not ambitious for the exhibition of his own name in the eye of the world. Perhaps also he was of opinion that, as one Gospel had been already written by an apostle, St. Matthew, it might be more conducive to the edification of the Church, if the next gospel were not designated with the name of any of the apostolic body, lest it might be imagined by some that the graces of the Holy Ghost and the gift of inspiration were limited to particular persons; or that the apostles of Christ had a Gospel of their own, which was not equally received by the whole body of believers. The Holy Spirit might deem it expedient to employ St. Mark, who was not an apostle, in delivering the same Gospel as had been preached by word of mouth and in writing by apostles, in order to show the unity and universality of that Gospel; and that it signifies little who the organ is, by whom the Holy Ghost speaks, or who the instrument is, by which He writes; but that the main thing to be considered is, what is spoken and what is written, and from whom the message comes. Who is Paul? Who is Apollos? Who is Cephas? Who is Mark? but ministers, by whom ye believed, as the Lord gave to every man. (Bishop Christopher Wordsworth.)
Only the public ministry of Christ is here recorded. This is presented in two portions-the first giving the whole ministry in Galilee to its close (chaps. 1-9), and the second the last ministry in Jerusalem to the ascension (10-16). In each of these there are three parts. The first part of the first book is a brief introduction to the whole, noticing the preaching of John, the baptism, and the temptation of Christ. In the second part the ministry in Galilee is given, until the mission of the apostles; there being after the account of a few days in Capernaum, an account of the first journey in Galilee, when four disciples accompanied their Lord; and then an account of a second journey with the twelve apostles. Before this is related, some account is given of the opposition of the Scribes and Pharisees, which, appearing immediately after the return to Capernaum from the first journey, was renewed on other occasions. The mission of the twelve for a few weeks separates the two parts of the ministry in Galilee; the account of the later period beginning with the death of John the Baptist and the return of the apostles. At this time the increased opposition of the rulers led to many removals from Galilee; first to the other side of the lake, then to the Gentiles in the district near Tyre, and afterwards to the country about Caesarea Philippi. The occasions of these changes are related, and some of the miracles and discourses which belonged to the different journeys. The Transfiguration of Christ, at the close of this period, was one of a series of events manifesting His glory, and foreshadowing His death. The second book begins, after an interval of several months, with the last journey to Jerusalem, chiefly on the other side the Jordan. Here, too, the first part is introductory, presenting in a series of incidents and discourses the lessons on self-denial and love which our Lord gave the disciples when on the way; these lessons having respect to family relations, to outward riches, and to worldly ambition. The next part contains an account of the ministry of Christ when He came to Jerusalem. Some important events are first given, and then a series of discourses, controversial and didactic, belonging to the first three days of the week; which are followed by the predictions spoken afterwards to a few of the apostles. The last part of the history gives the humiliation and exaltation of Christ. Preceding preparatory events being first recorded, the last evening with the disciples is then related. This is followed by the account of the two trials-before the Jewish Sanhedrin, and the Roman governor. The last two divisions give the death and burial of Christ, His resurrection and ascension. Certainly no part is without order; the chronological order is followed, with a few exceptions easily explained. Selection and purpose may be discerned everywhere; an order befitting the subject and object, both human and Divine. (J. H. Godwin.)
The contents of the Gospel may be divided generally into four sections.
I. The Introduction (Mark 1:1-13).
II. The works of Jesus, the Son of God, in Galilee (Mark 1:14-45; Mark 2:1-28; Mark 3:1-35; Mark 4:1-41; Mark 5:1-43; Mark 6:1-56; Mark 7:1-37; Mark 8:1-38; Mark 9:1-50).
III. A journey to Jerusalem, and residence there (Mark 10:1-52; Mark 11:1-33; Mark 12:1-44; Mark 13:1-37).
IV. The sufferings, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord. (Archbishop Wm. Thomson.)
I. Jesus is Lord, not only of nature and the world of spirits, not only of storms and diseases, but of the sick, stormy, guilty, sorrowing, passionate, ignorant, yet yearning heart of man. He speaks, men are “astonished and amazed.” He moves from place to place; wherever He goes, He is the magnet of the human soul. “All men seek for Him.” Even when He is shrouded far in the silence of the desert, even when He is in the house, “He cannot be hid.” Still as He walks His way of life, rays of supernatural light stream from the sky, that is usually so cold and passionless, round the pathway of the Galilean peasant. They fear, as we all fear, when the sound of the tide of eternity suddenly breaks upon our ear, and we see for a moment the heaving and glimmer of its awful waves. “They fear exceedingly,” and “are astonished with a great astonishment,” and “are sore amazed in themselves.” As that master hand sweeps without effort the chords of the human soul, its deepest and finest tones-amazement, wonder, reverence, trust, adoration-answer to the marvellous touch.
II. The life of Jesus is one of alternate rest and victory, withdrawal and working. So, in chap. 1, we find the retirement in Nazareth, the coming forth to be baptized; the withdrawal into the wilderness, the walk in Galilee; the rest in the cool sanctuary, where the dawn breaks upon the kneeling man, and the going forth to preach to the heated and struggling crowd. Thus, once more, the withdrawal to the Mount of Olives is followed by the great conflict of the Redeeming Passion, while that is succeeded by the withdrawal into the Sepulchre. It is the book of the wars of the Lord, and the rest of the Lord. The first rest was in Nazareth; the first trophies were the four apostles. The last rest is in the heaven of Heavens, in the privacy of glorious light; the last victory (for this great book never ended with the words “they were afraid”) is diffused over all time-“the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.” (Bishop William Alexander.)
Peculiarities of this Gospel.-
I. Sayings of Jesus. Without this Gospel we should not have possessed the great axiom (the safeguard at once against superstition and irreverence in regard to all positive institutions whatever), “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The two great words would be away, “Peace, be still!” Something surely would be wanting to the Parables, if we had lost that exquisite illustration of the development of God’s kingdom-the seed growing, not mechanically, or in virtue of cultivation, but from within outwardly, by the energy of its hidden life. Here, too (“cleansing all meats:” 7:19), we see one ray of moral light, falling upon the corruption from which the fastidious imagination turns away sickened. Here, again, in its fullest and most emphatic form, stands that saying which has nerved so many of God’s children to face the syllogism, the epigram, and the scaffold. In St. Luke, “whosoever shall be ashamed of Me and Mine;” in St. Mark, “Whosoever shall be ashamed of Me and of My words, in this adulterous and sinful generation.” In this Gospel only, the closing words of Isaiah are taken up and thrice repeated, “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” Here alone occurs that awful image taken at once from the Jewish ritual, and from the realm of nature. The Judge of mankind tells us that as every offering was offered with salt, so every human soul must be seasoned by the flame of self-sacrifice and sanctified suffering, or by that of wrath; that it must be bathed in heavenly fire, or preserved undying in the fire of hell (Mark 9:44; Mark 9:50). Peculiar to St. Mark’s version of the discourse upon the last things, is that sudden reiterated note as of a trumpet, or tolling as of a bell, “Take ye heed, watch ye therefore, watch and pray, watch” (13). In the same connection we must not forget three memorable words. He who in the unity of that undivided Person is God and Man, sometimes speaks as if (to use human language) He forgot that He was not in heaven, looking upon all things in the calmness of the perfect and eternal light: sometimes, again, as if earth were indeed His home for a season, as if His prospects were bounded for a while by our lower horizon: “Of that day or hour knoweth none, neither angel in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Mark 13:32). Let it not be forgotten that the word of commendation is found in these pages exclusively, which, even within the last few years, dwelt as a burning fire in one woman’s heart (Agnes Jones); enabling her to persevere in a work for the pauper-sick, which will never pass away, “She hath done what she could.” Here, also, we find the definite prediction to St. Peter, “Even in this night, before the cock crow twice.”
II. Incidents. The second Adam with the wild beasts in the wilderness, while the whole forty days are filled up with one long silent suggestion of the evil one; His mother and brethren taking steps to arrest Him, on the score of ecstatic absorption; His sleeping in the storm on the pillow; that one ray of light in the other storm, “He saw them toiling in rowing”; the restoration of the deaf man with an impediment in his speech, and of the blind man at Bethsaida; His design of remaining hidden in a house; His return to the sea of Galilee; the disciples having one loaf with them in the ship; the history of His work along the Gaulonite range, east of Jordan; His speaking openly the sayings about His Passion; the sudden disappearing of the heavenly visitants from the Mount of Transfiguration; “the questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean;” the awe of the multitude at the yet unfaded brightness of His countenance; the loving displeasure against the disciples who forbade the little children to come to Him; the not suffering any vessel to be carried through the Temple; the breaking of the alabaster box in the noble extravagance of love; the emphatic record that all drank of the Eucharistic cup; the repetition of the words in Gethsemane; the young man, probably St. Mark himself, who left the linen cloth, and fled away naked; the High Priest standing in the midst; Peter beneath in the palace; the first crowing of the cock; the bowing of the soldier’s knees in mockery; the names of the sons of the Cyrenian; and, finally, the special appearance to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection. (Bishop Wm. Alexander.)
St. Mark’s the Gospel of Incidents
It is particularly mentioned by Papias that St. Peter gave Mark such instruction as was necessary, but “not to give a history (or connected narrative) of our Lord’s discourses.” Now it is the characteristic of St. Mark’s Gospel to be a gospel of incidents, particularly miracles, but not of discourses or parables as St. Matthew’s. St. Mark gives only four parables, while St. Matthew gives fourteen; and yet they both alike record that “without a parable spake He not unto them.” The omission then of so many parables must have been intentional on the part of St. Mark or St. Peter. Then there is not a single line in St. Mark’s Gospel of the sort of teaching which we have in the Sermon on the Mount, whereas in St. Luke’s Gospel we have much of the teaching of that Sermon reproduced. Take, again, the charge of the apostles. In St. Matthew 10:1-42 it occupies thirty-six verses. In St. Mark 6:7-11, it occupies four or five. Take, again, the denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees. In St. Matthew it runs over a chapter of thirty-nine verses. In St. Mark it occupies but three verses of chapter 12. I need scarcely mention that St. John’s Gospel is principally a Gospel of discourses. So that, compared with the other three Gospels, St. Mark’s is so absolutely without didactic matter that it must have been intentionally omitted. To have given more could not have fallen in with the plan of St. Mark or St. Peter. Now why was this? Evidently because in the body of tradition which St. Peter preached, which is virtually the same as St. Matthew’s Gospel as we now have it, there was sufficient didactic instruction, and that given in as perfect a form as possible, whereas in that same body of tradition, the incidents of the Lord’s life were not given in as graphic and full a manner as they might have been. The hearers of Peter had been particularly struck with this. The Apostle Peter in his teaching added nothing to the discourses of the Lord, as embodied in the tradition reproduced in St. Matthew (or in some collection of tradition answering to it, but now lost), whereas he did add very materially to the account of the incidents and miracles of the Lord’s life. He added those details, those touches of nature which made his accounts that photographic representation, if one may reverently use the expression, which we have in this Gospel, as compared with St. Matthew. God, who gives to each man his particular gift, one after this manner, another after that, may have given to St. Matthew a retentive memory to reproduce faithfully parables and long discourses. He gave to St. Peter an eye observant of all the lesser details which add lifelike charm to a narrative. And these it was which the Roman Christians desired to have preserved, and so they begged St. Mark to reproduce the accounts of miracle and incident, and as the oldest historian tells us, “not to give a history of our Lord’s discourses.” (M. F. Sadler, M. A.)
The key to this Gospel seems to be that the writer was minded to write an account of the wonderful life and power of Jesus, the Son of God. He conveys, and in a marked manner, the shortness of the time in which all was transacted, and the rapidity and wonderful activity of this great life. Doctrinal discourses are foreign to this purpose. The relation of Jesus to the Jewish Scriptures is likewise made less prominent. The word “straightway,” or “immediately,” is used forty-one times in this shortest Gospel; a marked peculiarity. The wonder-working Son of God sweeps over His kingdom, swiftly and meteor-like; and men are to wonder and adore. His course is sometimes represented as abrupt, mysterious, awful to the disciples; He leaves them at night; conceals Himself from them on a journey. The disciples are amazed and afraid (Mark 10:24; Mark 10:32). And the evangelist means the same impression of awe to be imparted to the reader. Periods of solitude and rest are interposed in this stormy, hurried life … Some speak slightly of this picture of what is called a “restless” career and contrast it with the calmer and more sculpture-like representation which they pretend to find in St. Matthew. But the sketch in this Gospel is true to history. The constant persecutions, from which it was needful to flee, even sometimes beyond the bounds of Herod’s kingdom, to Tyre, or to some solitary spot on the seashore; the crowds that followed Him in wonder, forgetful of food and shelter, that they might see with eyes what others told in their ears; the pitiable cases of sickness and mutilation from which that loving eye is never turned away; the constant presence of the twelve disciples, with all their doubts, and crude beliefs, and problems to solve: a fife made up of such elements must have been one of constant pressure, not indeed of “hurry” in the usual sense of the word; for if there is one truth more than another that we may learn from the lives of those who have lived by the Spirit of God, it is that the soul may be kept in peace in the midst of great outward pressure. Hence, the representation of this Gospel can be seen to be true and faithful, if only it be granted that Jesus lived, and that in a ministry of three years He went about teaching, and preaching, and healing, the object of constant persecution, yet never abating His zeal on account of His enemies. (Archbishop Wm. Thomson.)
Characteristics-with special reference to the last twelve verses
What St. Mark brings out, with those swift and vivid touches which all careful readers of his Gospel have noticed, is the personal action and work of the Son of God as Lord of the world, and conqueror of the hearts and faith of men. He represents Him as establishing an increasing dominion over evil and over nature, and overcoming the powers that oppose Him till at last He rises from the grave. He recalls the words of command addressed to the raging evil spirits, to the wild and overwhelming waves, to the barren yet leafy fig tree. As he goes on, he describes the works of healing and of power wrought by the Son of God over more violent or more subtle forms of evil. First, a devil is cast out-then it is a legion and army of devils. First, a fever is assuaged-then it is a vehement storm that is stilled. First, a leper is cleansed, whose outward man is tainted-then a poor woman suffering for many years an inward plague. First, a paralytic, with suspended energy, is restored-then the daughter of Jairus is brought back from actual death. And this gradual revelation by potent word and mighty work, goes on side by side with another. Our Lord must indeed conquer the spirits of evil, and prove Himself the God of Nature, but He has also, and as His chief work, to achieve dominion over the wills and affections of mankind. And here there is a different method to be put in practice. He will only conquer those who will receive Him. He could, indeed, force belief, as He drove the legion to acknowledge Him, and as He rebuked the wind, and said to the waves, “Peace, be still.” But this is not the method of His wisdom. There is, it would seem, in the eyes of God, and under the rule of the laws by which He governs the human race, no value but in willing service-in service where the man consents, even though he do it with difficulty and labour. And so St. Mark sets before us how the Son of God gradually reveals Himself in opposition to dulness of perception and want of faith, and how some accept Him after long and patient education, and some to the end refuse. How, then, does the last chapter fit on, as a conclusion to the body of the Gospel? With a perfect and exact harmony, we reply, such as no mere compiler could have attained, and it continues, without a break, all the threads which run through the main texture of the book. It describes, in short, how even after the Resurrection, the faith of the disciples still was slow, and their hearts still hard. How the women at the tomb fled in trembling and amazement. How the disciples disbelieved Mary Magdalene. How the two who met Him going into the country failed to convince the rest. How at last He appeared to all Himself, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, and thus finally, and after a long and gradual process, gained a conquest over their wills. Then it was that He addressed them with the discourse at the close of the book, bidding them go and preach the Gospel to every creature, offering salvation to believers, and threatening condemnation to disbelievers. Promising fourfold powers like His own to those who believe-a power over spiritual evil, an increase of natural gifts, a superiority to physical dangers, and a virtue of healing diseases. Then, and not till then (when He reveals His full majesty by the transfer of these graces to others), does He receive the title of Lord. “The Lord (it is said), after He had spoken with them, was received up to heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.” And they-they are now no longer faithless, but believing. Having convinced and gained them, He has gained the instrument which He came down on earth to fashion, the only instrument which in His wisdom He thinks fit to use in the conversion of the world-the instrument of personal faith begetting faith. And thus endowed, they go forth and preach everywhere, but not in their own strength, but His, for the Lord works ever with them, and confirms their doctrine by means of suitable miracles, just as in His own ministry He worked such marvels as had a moral relation to the truths He came to teach. “And they went forth (we read) and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.” Anyone who will read this last chapter carefully, will observe how it gathers up in a wonderful way the chief points of the whole Gospel. The lives which run through it are brought to a point; and there is, as it were, an unveiling of the system of which they are the constructing elements. (John Wordsworth, M. A.)
the Second Week of Advent