JMC : Witness of the Gospels / by A.S. Barnes

The History of St Luke's Gospel

We have now gone through the whole of one Gospel, and have examined with some amount of detail into the sources from which the Evangelist seems to have drawn his information. So far the theories we have suggested remain mere conjectures, depending solely upon inferences made from the internal evidence the Gospel affords. We will now go on to consider how far the particular conclusions arrived at are compatible with the actual facts of St Luke's life and with the general conditions of the time, so far as those are known to us from history. It is always a good thing to test one's ideas in this way, and to do so will often lead to fresh light being thrown on a subject, and also sometimes to the discovery that theories which look perfect as long as they are regarded simply in the abstract are plainly impossible when considered in connection with facts and figures.

A.D. 57

The period of St Luke's life when, so far as we know, he was most likely to have found himself in a position to collect the requisite information to produce a Gospel was the two years when, as he tells us in the Acts (xxi. 8), he abode with Philip the Evangelist at Caesarea. The date ordinarily given for this is about A.D. 57; and we need not trouble ourselves much about its accuracy, since the exact year does not affect the argument. How far, then, is it probable that the materials of which we have been speaking would have been available for a resident in Caesarea about that time? We will go through them one by one.


St Mark's Gospel in its present form would clearly not have been available, unless, indeed, we are to give up the strong tradition that it was written at Rome, and at a later date. But then, as we have said, it does not seem to have been quite the present form of the Gospel that St Luke employed, but an earlier draft of it, and there is no reason why such an earlier draft may not have been in existence at that time. On the contrary, as I have elsewhere tried to show,{1} there is a good deal of reason for thinking that such a draft was actually existing at that time; and more, that the place at which it was written, and where it would naturally have been preserved, was precisely this very town of Caesarea at which St Luke was living. So far, then, there is no difficulty, but rather the reverse; and the same is true of the early edition of the Sayings of Christ and the special account of the Passion of which we have spoken. These two were probably among the earliest Christian writings, and will have been produced at Jerusalem itself. Caesarea was so near to Jerusalem that any documents current at the capital would also have been known at the provincial town, even if we are to suppose that St Luke never availed himself of his proximity to Jerusalem to go there himself. He would, therefore, have been able to possess himself of both of these without any difficulty. The "great insertion" we have already connected with the name of the Philip in whose house he was staying, and who would naturally have placed any special information he may have possessed at the disposal of his guest and fellow-worker. Here again the facts fit in perfectly well with the theory, nor is any difficulty presented by the first two chapters. Our Lady must almost certainly have been dead before that date, and consequently her testimony must already, if it was to be preserved at all, have been available either in writing, or at the very least in the memory of someone to whom she had committed it. There would be no impossibility involved did our theory require the supposition that St Luke obtained his knowledge here also at this same period, though, as I shall try to show you directly, this was probably not the case.

The critics are apparently right in their contention that the Gospel of St Luke in its present form cannot be earlier than A.D. 80; yet he seems to have had his materials ready as early as A.D. 57, perhaps earlier still. Are we to suppose that he carried these materials about with him for more than twenty years, and that only at the end of that period did the idea of combining them into a single volume occur to his mind? Or may we suppose that the same thing is true of this Gospel as of St Mark, and that here also we have to do with two separate recensions, the later of which is the one which we now have in our Bibles?

Two Editions

There is a good deal of evidence which tends to make us think that there were two editions. The state of the text, for instance, seems to require some such explanation. It is not a subject which I can go into now in any detail, but the point is that there exist a large number of manuscripts of this particular Gospel which exhibit readings widely different from the text generally received. The best known of these manuscripts is the Codex Bezae in the Cambridge library. Professor Blass,{1} who is a very high authority on such a subject, maintains that this striking variation of text can only be due to there having been two separate editions, varying a good deal one from the other, put forth at different times, and both regarded as authoritative, so that the readings from one edition have, in the course of copying and through the desire of getting the best possible text, been incorporated into the other. If this is the true explanation of these variations, there seems further reason for supposing that the earlier edition did not contain any narrative of the Birth, but began, like the Gospel of St Mark, with the preaching of St John the Baptist and the Baptism of our Lord. This is made probable by many small indications, and especially by one piece of direct evidence,

Marcion's Gospel

In the second century, about A.D. 140, there arrived at Rome a certain heretic of the name of Marcion. This man came from Pontus, in the north of Asia Minor, and brought with him a Gospel, which he said was the only one received, or even known, in the regions from whence he came. It was not by him attributed to any individual author, but was described as the "Gospel of the Lord," though he seems to have connected it in some way with the name of St Paul. Of this Gospel we have a considerable knowledge from the writings of Tertullian and Epiphanius, though neither of them can be at all implicitly trusted where any critical question is involved. Marcion's Gospel turns out to have been nothing else than the Gospel of St Luke, but apparently with a good many omissions, and especially lacking the first two chapters. It was, of course, inevitable at that time that Marcion should be accused of having wilfully mutilated the Gospel for his own purposes, and this is accordingly the main ground of the attacks made upon him. But of late years there has been a tendency, especially on the part of German critics, to reverse the charge, and to say that Marcion's Gospel was in reality the original, and that it is the Gospel now generally received which has been interpolated and corrupted. That accusation has been completely refuted by Professor Sanday of Oxford, who has shown conclusively, by an exhaustive linguistic argument, that the so-called interpolations are by the same hand as the rest of the Gospel. This, while it is, of course, conclusive against any attack upon the authenticity of these portions, does not exclude the possibility, which does not seem to have occurred to Professor Sanday, that the Gospel of Marcion may still represent an earlier form of St Luke's Gospel, and that the critics may so far be right in their conclusions; while our present Gospel is a later recension, made by St Luke himself when additional material had come into his possession.

This short statement puts us into a position to discuss, or rather for me to lay before you, for we shall not have time to discuss it at length, the solution which seems to me to fit in best with all the requirements of the case. I should suggest, then, that the materials for the Gospel were for the most part collected by St Luke during the two years that he was living at Caesarea.

St Paul's Gospel

The need of a compilation which would give in a single narrative all that required to be known concerning the life and teaching of Christ must have been keenly felt by St Paul in the course of his missionary work, and nothing can be more probable than that it was by his direction and with his advice that the work was originally put in hand. If we assume that the book was completed during the stay at Caesarea it would have been available for use on the third missionary journey, which commenced immediately afterwards, and in this way would have become known throughout Asia Minor -- copies of it being, no doubt, left at each city or church that was visited. We can understand that at that time, when as yet no other Gospel was current, there would be no need for the work to be distinguished by the name of any author. It would naturally be known by the very names that Marcion said his Gospel was called by -- as "The Gospel," or the "Gospel of the Lord." This explanation, too, gives an intelligible meaning to those words of St Paul: "according to my Gospel," and "the brother whose praise is in the Gospel," which the ancients unanimously referred to the Gospel of St Luke, but which are otherwise so difficult to reconcile with the evidence, which seems to show that this Gospel was not written till after the Apostle's death. It also gives a clear meaning to the saying of Tertullian, that Paul was the "illuminator" of Luke (c. Marc. iv. 2); and again: "Lucae digestum Paulo adscribere solent" (ibid. iv. 5).

That this earlier recension did not contain the history of the Birth seems probable, alike from the fact that Marcion's Gospel lacked it, as also from the absence of any clear allusion to that history in the writings of St Paul. We conclude, therefore, that this document was not among those obtained by St Luke during his stay at Caesarea, which, of course, in no way involves the conclusion that it was not yet in existence, but only that it had not then become the common property of the Church.

Final Revision

At some much later time, then, we must imagine St Luke, who by this time had come into possession of additional information including the most important document of all, determining to go through his work again -- beginning this time not with the Baptism, but as he himself tells us, "tracing the course of all things accurately from the first," and going on to correct details where necessary, and to add any additional information which he judged authentic and important. It must have been at this time that the preface was composed and prefixed to the finished work, which now was identical with our present Gospel. We may readily agree with the critics, and especially with Professor Harnack, that from internal evidence the date of this final revision cannot have been much earlier than A.D. 80. The point which I hope I have succeeded in making is that there is no reason why there should not have been an earlier form of the Gospel, substantially the same as regards the bulk of its contents, written and current at a much earlier date.

{1} Monthly Review, 1904.

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