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

Appendix I

Questions Asked at the Lecture and Afterwards

Q. 1. Does not this theory of incorporated sources involve charging the Evangelists with plagiarism?

A. No. To say that would be totally to misapprehend the object which the Evangelists had in view. St Luke, for instance, was not writing to make money, or even for literary fame. His object was to provide Christians with a trustworthy record of the events of the life of Christ and of His general teaching. The task was probably undertaken at the request of authority; and the materials were ready to his hand, though in a more or less disjointed condition. The work which St Luke had to do was, therefore, not so much to compose a new account, as to bring the existing materials into order and to give them a proper literary form. It was, consequently, his plain duty to change as little as possible, and never when the change involved a real alteration of sense. Plagiarism cannot under such circumstances be said to exist.

Q. 2. How do you account for the earlier documents having disappeared without leaving any trace behind? A. The reason of their disappearance is, no doubt, to be found in the very fact of their practical incorporation in the later and authoritative Gospels. When that had once been done they would have ceased to possess any importance of their own in the eyes of Christians of that period, who would not realise their antiquarian interest for future generations, and still less understand their evidential value for puzzled inquirers two thousand years afterwards. There would be no inducement to copy them if they seemed to be merely fragments of the Gospels in general use, and if they were not copied constantly they would soon disappear by the natural decay of the papyrus upon which, no doubt, they were originally written. The Christians of the first century, especially in Palestine, were not rich enough to have their documents engrossed on parchment. Another reason for their disappearance may be found in the fact that they were all, or almost all, written in Aramaic, a language which soon ceased to be spoken except in a very limited district. The Gospels survived because they were in Greek; the earlier Aramaic documents have all disappeared.

Another cause of the loss of a great number of early Christian writings may be found in the fact that search was made for all such in the time of the great persecution of Diocletian, when to be found in the possession of Christian writings was sure to bring a man into serious trouble. Great numbers of Christian books perished through the action of the persecutors, and we cannot doubt also that much must have been lost through the action of the Christians themselves, who must often have been obliged to destroy valuable documents in order to prevent their being found, and used in evidence against their possessors.

Q. 3. Does not this theory seem inconsistent with the doctrine of Inspiration?

A. It certainly does involve a somewhat different idea of the method of the inspiration of the Scriptures from that which has generally been received. But that idea has not any real authority, and has grown up because it was the simplest way of imagining the process. We are not required to believe that any of the books of the New Testament are actually by the authors whose name they bear, or that those writers made no use of earlier materials, or that the books as we now have them may not be composite, but only that all the books which the Church has included in her Canon of Holy Scripture have God for their principal Author, and, therefore, are perfectly designed for their purpose of instructing us in those things which belong to our salvation. The Church has defined very little about the human side of this double authorship, and has left us free to find out what we can about the exact way in which the Holy Spirit effected His work. We know very little at present about the process to which we give the name of Inspiration, and it may be that when we do learn more, we shall discover that the process we have hitherto conceived as simple is in reality much more complex than we thought.

Q. 4. Would you say that, in consequence of the way in which they were composed, we cannot look to the Gospels to give us an accurate chronological history of the life of Christ?

A. The main object which the Evangelists had before them was not the production of a history which should necessarily give all events in their exact order of time. That order has no real value except from an antiquarian point of view, and what they sought to do was to give an account of these events which would put their real meaning as strongly and clearly before readers as was possible. While, therefore, the general order and plan of the whole is necessarily chronological, it does not seem likely that they would have considered it a matter of grave importance to ascertain, even if it would still have been possible to do so, the exact period and sequence of the events which they record. Those harmonists, therefore, who insist on endeavouring to make all the Gospel accounts square exactly with one another in every detail are probably often wasting their time in a fruitless effort.

Q. 5. If the document containing the narrative of the birth of our Lord was written early, and from the evidence of the Blessed Virgin, how do you account for its not being known to St Luke when he was at Caesarea?

A. The period at which a document is written has no necessary connection with the time at which it becomes generally known. In other words, to write a book is one thing, to publish it is another. The question, then, comes to this, whether we can suggest any good reason why such a document as this should not have been made public at once, but should have been at first privately preserved. In this case there is no difficulty at all in suggesting a good reason why the publication should have been delayed. The bitter attacks and calumnies which, we know, did actually result from the doctrine of the Supernatural Conception at a later time are sufficient to show what must have been the inevitable sequence of any general dissemination of such a doctrine. It is scarcely conceivable that any such publication can have been thought of during our Lady's own lifetime. As there is no evidence that any attacks of the kind were made until a later period, this is so far in favour of the opinion that the publication was delayed.

Q. 6. Would it not be inconsistent with the Catholic religion to suggest that St Paul and the other Apostles did not know the fact of our Lord's Supernatural Conception as recorded in the first two chapters ?

A. When one suggests that a certain document may, perhaps, not have been generally known to everyone in the way that publication would imply, one does not necessarily assert that no one at all knew anything either of the document itself or of the truths which it records. It is, of course, conceivable that the Apostles, and even St Luke himself, may have been well acquainted with all this, and yet that it may not have been thought wise to make it all public property by actual publication. It is best to keep an open mind on these matters, and not to go beyond the evidence. Whether the Apostles were acquainted with the actual document or not there can be, of course, no doubt in any Catholic's mind that they knew the main fact. St Paul is the only one of whom we have much direct evidence, and it seems clear that he did know this document, at any rate in his later years, for there are a number of literary coincidences to be found in his later Epistles which seem to prove such a knowledge. A German Professor, named Resch, has written at some length on this subject, and is generally considered to have proved his point. ("Das Kindheitsevangelium nach Lucas und Matthaeus, Texte und Untersuchungen," 1896.)

Q. 7. You have suggested that the so-called "Western" readings are due to an earlier edition of the Gospel used by St Paul in his missionary work in Asia Minor, and that Marcion's Gospel was mainly this earlier edition. In that case it follows that Marcion's Gospel ought to show a "Western" type of text. Indeed, the whole theory would break down if it does not. Will you tell us how the matter stands on this point?

A. There can be no better authority on this point than Professor Blass of Halle-Wittenberg. He says (" Philology of the Gospels," p. 245): "It cannot be doubted that Marcion's text of Luke's Gospel did not exhibit the form commonly known, but that attested by other Western evidence, such as D. and Latin versions, and in this way a different Western text of the Gospels is proved to have existed as early as the first half of the second century." It may, perhaps, be well to add that scholars have for a long time been clear that the name "Western," by which these readings are commonly known, is misleading, and must not be taken as more than a convenient designation, with no necessary connection with their actual history. They are better described as Syro-Latin.

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