John E. Remsberg
[HTML and editing by Cliff Walker, 2000]
The Four Gospels
Farrar, in his Life of Christ, concedes and deplores the dearth of evidence concerning the subject of his work. He says: "It is little short of amazing that neither history nor tradition should have embalmed for us one certain or precious saying or circumstance in the life of the Savior of Mankind, except the comparatively few events recorded in four very brief biographies."
With these four brief biographies, the Four Gospels, Christianity must stand or fall. These four documents, it is admitted, contain practically all the evidence which can be adduced in proof of the existence and divinity of Jesus Christ. Profane history, as we have seen, affords no proof of this. The so-called apocryphal literature of the early church has been discarded by the church itself. Even the remaining canonical books of the New Testament are of little consequence if the testimony of the Four Evangelists be successfully impeached. Disprove the authenticity and credibility of these documents and this Christian deity is removed to the mythical realm of Apollo, Odin, and Osiris.
In a previous work, The Bible, I have shown that the books of the New Testament, with a few exceptions, are not authentic. This evidence cannot be reproduced here in full. A brief summary of it must suffice.
The Four Gospels, it is claimed, were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, two of them apostles, and two companions of the apostles of Christ. If this claim be true the other writings of the apostles, the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, and the writings of the early Christian Fathers, ought to contain some evidences of the fact.
Twenty books -- nearly all of the remaining books of the New Testament -- are said to have been written by the three apostles, Peter, John, and Paul, a portion of them after the first three Gospels were written; but it is admitted that they contain no evidence whatever of the existence of these Gospels.
There are extant writings accredited to the Apostolic Fathers, Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Hermas, Ignatius, and Polycarp; written, for the most part, early in the second century. These writings contain no mention of the Four Gospels. This also is admitted by Christian scholars. Dr. Dodwell says: "We have at this day certain most authentic ecclesiastical writers of the times, as Clemens Romanus, Barnabas, Hermas, Ignatius, and Polycarp, who wrote in the order wherein I have named them, and after all the writers of the New Testament. But in Hermas you will not find one passage or any mention of the New Testament, nor in all the rest is any one of the Evangelists named" (Dissertations upon Irenaeus).
The Four Gospels were unknown to the early Christian Fathers. Justin Martyr, the most eminent of the early Fathers, wrote about the middle of the second century. His writings in proof of the divinity of Christ demanded the use of these Gospels had they existed in his time. He makes more than three hundred quotations from the books of the Old Testament, and nearly one hundred from the Apocryphal books of the New Testament; but none from the Four Gospels. The Rev. Dr. Giles says: "The very names of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are never mentioned by him [Justin] -- do not occur once in all his writings" (Christian Records, p. 71).
Papias, another noted Father, was a contemporary of Justin. He refers to writings of Matthew and Mark, but his allusions to them clearly indicate that they were not the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. Dr. Davidson, the highest English authority on the canon, says: "He [Papias] neither felt the want nor knew the existence of inspired Gospels" (Canon of the Bible, p. 123).
Theophilus, who wrote after the middle of the latter half of the second century, mentions the Gospel of John, and Irenaeus, who wrote a little later, mentions all of the Gospels, and makes numerous quotations from them. In the latter half of the second century, then, between the time of Justin and Papias, and the time of Theophilus and Irenaeus, the Four Gospels were undoubtedly written or compiled.
These books are anonymous. They do not purport to have been written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Their titles do not affirm it. They simply imply that they are "according" to the supposed teachings of these Evangelists. As Renan says, "They merely signify that these were the traditions proceeding from each of these Apostles, and claiming their authority." Concerning their authorship the Rev. Dr. Hooykaas says: "They appeared anonymously. The titles placed above them in our Bibles owe their origin to a later ecclesiastical tradition which deserves no confidence whatever" (Bible for Learners, Vol. III, p. 24).
It is claimed that the Gospel of Matthew originally appeared in Hebrew. Our version is a translation of a Greek work. Regarding this St. Jerome says: "Who afterwards translated it into Greek is not sufficiently certain." The consequences of this admission are thus expressed by Michaelis: "If the original text of Matthew is lost, and we have nothing but a Greek translation then, frankly, we cannot ascribe any divine inspiration to the words."
The contents of these books refute the claim that they were written by the Evangelists named. They narrate events and contain doctrinal teachings which belong to a later age. Matthew ascribes to Christ the following language: "Thou art Peter, and Upon this rock I will build my Church" (xvi, 18). This Gospel is a Roman Catholic Gospel, and was written after the beginning of the establishment of this hierarchy to uphold thc supremacy of the Petrine Church of Rome. Of this Gospel Dr. Davidson says : "The author, indeed, must ever remain unknown'. (Introduction to New Testament, p. 72).
The Gospel of Luke is addressed to Theophilus. Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch, who is believed to be the person addressed, flourished in the latter half of the second century.
Dr. Schleiermacher, one of Germany's greatest theologians, after a critical analysis of Luke, concludes that it is merely a compilation, made up of thirty-three preexisting manuscripts. Bishop Thirlwall's Schleiermacher says: "He [Luke] is from beginning to end no more than the compiler and arranger of documents which he found in existence" (p. 313).
The basis of this Gospel is generally believed to be the Gospel of Marcion, a Pauline compilation, made about the middle of the second century. Concerning this Gospel, the Rev. S. Baring-Gould in his Lost and Hostile Gospels, says: "The arrangement is so similar that we are forced to the conclusion that it was either used by St. Luke or that it was his original composition. If he used it then his right to the title of author of the Third Gospel falls to the ground, as what he added was of small amount."
Mark, according to Renan, is the oldest of the Gospels; but Mark, according to Strauss, was written after the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were written. He says: "It is evidently a compilation, whether made from memory or otherwise, from the first and third Gospels" (Leben Jesu, p. 5I). Judge Waite, in his History of Christianity, says that all but twenty-four verses of this Gospel have their parallels in Matthew and Luke. Davidson declares it to be an anonymous work "The author," he says, "is unknown."
Omitting the last twelve verses of Mark, which all Christian critics pronounce spurious, the book contains no mention of the two great miracles which mark the limits of Christ's earthly career, his miraculous birth and his ascension.
Concerning the first three Gospels, the Encyclopedia Britannica says: "It is certain that the Synoptic Gospels took their present form only by degrees." Of these books Dr. Westcott says: "Their substance is evidently much older than their form." Professor Robertson Smith pronounces them "unapostolic digests of the second century."
The internal evidence against the authenticity of the Fourth Gospel is conclusive. The Apostle John did not write it. John, the apostle, was a Jew; the author of the Fourth Gospel was not a Jew. John was born at Bethsaida; the author of the Fourth Gospel did not know where Bethsaida was located. John was an uneducated fisherman; the author of this Gospel was an accomplished scholar. Some of the most important events in the life of Jesus, the Synoptics declare, were witnessed by John; the author of this knows nothing of these events. The Apostle John witnessed the crucifixion; the author of this Gospel did not. The Apostles, including John, believed Jesus to be a man; the author of the Fourth Gospel believed him to be a god.
Regarding the authorship of the Fourth Gospel, Dr. Davidson says: "The Johannine authorship has receded before the tide of modern criticism, and though this tide is arbitrary at times, it is here irresistible" (Canon of the Bible, p. 127).
That the authenticity of the Four Gospels cannot be maintained is conceded by every impartial critic. The author of Supernatural Religion, in one of the most profound and exhaustive works on this subject ever written, expresses the result of his labors in the following, words: "After having exhausted the literature and the testimony bearing on the point, we have not found a single distinct trace of any of those Gospels during the first century and a half after the death of Jesus" (Supernatural Religion, Vol. II, p. 248).
Fifteen hundred years ago, Bishop Faustus, a heretical Christian theologian, referring to this so called Gospel history, wrote: "It is allowed not to have been written by the son himself nor by his apostles, but long after by some unknown man who, lest they should be suspected of writing things they knew nothing of, gave to their books the names of the Apostles."
The following is the verdict of the world's greatest Bible critic, Baur: "These Gospels are spurious, and were written in the second century."
Acts, Catholic Epistles, and Revelation.
The Acts of the Apostles is supposed to have been written by the author of the Third Gospel. Like this book it is anonymous and of late origin. It contains historical inaccuracies, contradicts the Gospel of Matthew, and conflicts with the writings of Paul. Concerning the last, the Bible for Learners (Vol. III, p. 25) says: "In the first two chapters of the Epistle to the Galatians, he [Paul] gives us several details of his own past life; and no sooner do we place his story side by side with that of the Acts than we clearly perceive that this book contains an incorrect account, and that its inaccuracy is not the result of accident or ignorance, but of a deliberate design."
This book purports to be the product chiefly of three minds: that of the author who gives a historical sketch of the early church, and those of Peter and Paul whose discourses are reported. And yet the three compositions are clearly the products of one mind -- that of the author. The evident purpose of the work is to heal the bitter dissensions which existed between the Petrine and Pauline churches, and this points unmistakably to the latter part of the second century as the date of its appearance, when the work of uniting the various Christian sects into the Catholic church began. Renan considers this the most faulty book of the New Testament.
The seven Catholic Epistles, James, First and Second Peter, First, Second and Third John, and Jude, have never been held in very high esteem by the church. Many of the Christian Fathers, rejected them, while modern Christian scholars have generally considered them of doubtful authenticity. The first and last of these were rejected by Martin Luther. "St. James' Epistle," says Luther, "is truly an epistle of straw" (Preface to Luther's New Testament, ed. I524). Jude, he says, "is an abstract or copy of St. Peter's Second, and allegeth stories and sayings which have no place in Scripture" (Standing Preface).
The First Epistle of Peter and the First Epistle of John have generally been accorded a higher degree of authority than the others; but even these were not written by apostles, nor in the first century. Dr. Soury says that First Peter "dates, in all probability, from the year 130 A.D., at the earliest" (Jesus and the Gospels, p. 32). Irenaeus, the founder of the New Testament canon, rejected it. The Dutch critics, who deny the Johannine authorship of the Fourth Gospel, and assign its composition to the second century, say: "The First Epistle of John soon issued from the same school in imitation of the Gospel" (Bible for Learners, Vol. III, p. 692).
Second Peter is a forgery. Westcott says there is no proof of its existence prior to 170 A.D. Smith's Bible Dictionary says "Many reject the epistle as altogether spurious." The brief epistles of Second and Third John are anonymous and of very late origin. They do not purport to be the writings of John. The superscriptions declare them to be from an elder, and this precludes the claim that they are from an apostle. The early Fathers ignored them.
Revelation is the only book in the Bible which claims to be the word of God. At the same time it is the book of which Christians have always been the most suspicious. It is addressed to the seven churches of Asia, but the seven churches of Asia rejected it. Concerning the attitude of ancient churchmen toward it, Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria, says: "Divers of our predecessors have wholly refused and rejected this book, and by discussing the several parts thereof have found it obscure and void of reason and the title forged."
"The most learned and intelligent of Protestant divines," says the Edinburgh Review, "almost all doubted or denied the canonicity of the book of Revelation." It is a book which, Dr. South said, "either found a man mad or left him so." Calvin and Beza both forbade their clergy to attempt an explanation of its contents. Luther says: "In the Revelation of John much is wanting to let me deem it either prophetic or apostolical" (Preface to N.T., 1524).
Considered as evidences of Christ's historical existence and divinity these nine books are of no value. They are all anonymous writings or forgeries, and, with the possible exception of Revelation, of very late origin. While they affirm Christ's existence they are almost entirely silent regarding his life and miracles.
The Epistles of Paul.
Of the fourteen epistles ascribed to Paul, seven -- Ephesians, Colossians, Second Thessalonians, First and Second Timothy, Titus, and Hebrews -- are conceded by nearly all critics to be spurious while three others -- Philippians, First Thessalonians, and Philemon -- are generally classed as doubtful.
The general verdict concerning the first seven is thus expressed by the Rev. Dr. Hooykaas: "Fourteen epistles are said to be Paul's; but we must at once strike off one, namely, that to the Hebrews, which does not bear his name at all.... The two letters to Timothy and the letter to Titus were certainly composed long after the death of Paul.... It is more than possible that the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians are also unauthentic, and the same suspicion rests, perhaps, on the first, but certainly on the second of the Epistles to the Thessalonians" (Bible for Learners, Vol. III, p. 23).
The author of Second Thessalonians, whose epistle is a self-evident forgery, declares First Thessalonians to be a forgery. Baur and the Tubingen school reject both Epistles. Baur also rejects Philippians: "The Epistles to the Colossians and to the Philippians ... are spurious, and were written by the Catholic school near the end of the second century, to heal the strife between the Jew and the Gentile factions" (Paulus). Dr. Kuenen and the other Dutch critics admit that Philippians and Philemon, as well as First Thessalonians, are doubtful.
That the Pastoral Epistles are forgeries is now conceded by all critics. According to the German critics they belong to the second century. Hebrews does not purport to be a Pauline document. Luther says: "The Epistle to the Hebrews is not by St. Paul, or, indeed, by any apostle" (Standing Preface to Luther's N.T.).
Four Epistles -- Romans, First and Second Corinthians, and Galatians -- while rejected by a few critics, are generally admitted to be the genuine writings of Paul. These books were written, it is claimed, about a quarter of a century after the death of Christ. They are the only books of the New Testament whose authenticity can be maintained.
Admitting the authenticity of these books, however, is not admitting the historical existence of Christ and the divine origin of Christianity. Paul was not a witness of the alleged events upon which Christianity rests. He did not become a convert to Christianity until many years after the death of Christ. He did not see Christ (save in a vision); he did not listen to his teachings; he did not learn from his disciples. "The Gospel which was preached of me is not after man, for I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it" (Gal. i, II, 12). Paul accepted only to a very small extent the religion of Christ's disciples. He professed to derive his knowledge from supernatural sources -- from trances and visions. Regarding the value of such testimony the author of Supernatural Religion (p. 970) says: "No one can deny, and medical and psychological annals prove, that many men have been subject to visions and hallucinations which have never been seriously attributed to supernatural causes. There is not one single valid reason removing the ecstatic visions and trances of the Apostle Paul from this class."
The corporeal existence of the Christ of the Evangelists receives slight confirmation in the writings of Paul. His Christ was not the incarnate Word of John, nor the demi-god of Matthew and Luke. Of the immaculate conception of Jesus he knew nothing. To Him Christ was the son of God in a spiritual rather than in a physical sense. "His son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Rom. i, 3, 4). "God sent forth his son, made of a woman [but not of a virgin], made under the law" (Gal. iv, 4).
With the Evangelists the proofs of Christ's divinity are his miracles. Their books teem with accounts of these. But Paul evidently knows nothing of these miracles. With him the evidences of Christ's divine mission are his resurrection and the spiritual gifts conferred on those who accept him.
The Evangelists teach a material resurrection. When the woman visited his tomb "they entered in and found not the body of Jesus" (Luke xxiv, 3). The divine messengers said to them, "He is not here, but is risen" (6). "He sat at meat" with his disciples; "he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them" (30). "Then he said to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side" (John xx, 27). This is entirely at variance with the teachings of Paul. "But not is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead" (I Cor. xv, 20, 21). "But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die; and that which thou sowest thou sowest not that body that shall be" (35-37). "It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body" (44). "Now this I say brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (50).
The Christ that Paul saw in a vision was a spiritual being -- an apparition; and this appearance he considers of exactly the same character as the post mortem appearances of Christ to his disciples. "He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve; after that he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; ... after that, he was seen of James; then all of the Apostles. And last of all, he was seen of me also" (I Cor. xv, 5-8).