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Huxley, Thomas Henry / Collected Essays, Volume V Science and Christian Tradition: Essays
Produced by Suzanne Lybarger, Marilynda Fraser-Cunliffe
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at






"For close upon forty years I have been writing with one purpose; from
time to time, I have fought for that which seemed to me the truth,
perhaps still more, against that which I have thought error; and, in
this way, I have reached, indeed over-stepped, the threshold of old
age. There, every earnest man has to listen to the voice within: 'Give
an account of thy stewardship, for thou mayest be no longer steward.'

"That I have been an unjust steward my conscience does not bear
witness. At times blundering, at times negligent, Heaven knows: but,
on the whole, I have done that which I felt able and called upon to
do; and I have done it without looking to the right or to the left;
seeking no man's favor, fearing no man's disfavor.

"But what is it that I have been doing? In the end one's conceptions
should form a whole, though only parts may have found utterance, as
occasion arose; now do these exhibit harmony and mutual connexion? In
one's zeal much of the old gets broken to pieces; but has one made
ready something new, fit to be set in the place of the old?

"That they merely destroy without reconstructing, is the especial
charge, with which those who work in this direction are constantly
reproached. In a certain sense I do not defend myself against the
charge; but I deny that any reproach is deserved.

"I have never proposed to myself to begin outward construction;
because I do not believe that the time has come for it. Our present
business is with inward preparation, especially the preparation of
those who have ceased to be content with the old, and find no
satisfaction in half measures. I have wished, and I still wish, to
disturb no man's peace of mind, no man's beliefs; but only to point
out to those in whom they are already shattered, the direction in
which, in my conviction, firmer ground lies."[1]

So wrote one of the protagonists of the New Reformation--and a
well-abused man if ever there was one--a score of years since, in the
remarkable book in which he discusses the negative and the positive
results of the rigorous application of scientific method to the
investigation of the higher problems of human life.

Recent experience leads me to imagine that there may be a good many
countrymen of my own, even at this time, to whom it may be profitable
to read, mark and inwardly digest, the weighty words of the author of
that "Leben Jesu," which, half a century ago, stirred the religious
world so seriously that it has never settled down again quite on the
old foundations; indeed, some think it never will. I have a personal
interest in the carrying out of the recommendation I venture to make.
It may enable many worthy persons, in whose estimation I should really
be glad to stand higher than I do, to become aware of the possibility
that my motives in writing the essays, contained in this and the
preceding volume, were not exactly those that they ascribe to me.

I too have reached the term at which the still, small voice, more
audible than any other to the dulled ear of age, makes its demand; and
I have found that it is of no sort of use to try to cook the accounts
rendered. Nevertheless, I distinctly decline to admit some of the
items charged; more particularly that of having "gone out of my way"
to attack the Bible; and I as steadfastly deny that "hatred of
Christianity" is a feeling with which I have any acquaintance. There
are very few things which I find it permissible to hate; and though,
it may be, that some of the organisations, which arrogate to
themselves the Christian name, have richly earned a place in the
category of hateful things, that ought to have nothing to do with
one's estimation of the religion, which they have perverted and
disfigured out of all likeness to the original.

The simple fact is that, as I have already more than once hinted, my
story is that of the wolf and the lamb over again. I have never "gone
out of my way" to attack the Bible, or anything else: it was the
dominant ecclesiasticism of my early days, which, as I believe,
without any warrant from the Bible itself, thrust the book in my way.

I had set out on a journey, with no other purpose than that of
exploring a certain province of natural knowledge; I strayed no hair's
breadth from the course which it was my right and my duty to pursue;
and yet I found that, whatever route I took, before long, I came to a
tall and formidable-looking fence. Confident as I might be in the
existence of an ancient and indefeasible right of way, before me stood
the thorny barrier with its comminatory notice-board--"No
Thoroughfare. By order. Moses." There seemed no way over; nor did the
prospect of creeping round, as I saw some do, attract me. True there
was no longer any cause to fear the spring guns and man-traps set by
former lords of the manor; but one is apt to get very dirty going on
all-fours. The only alternatives were either to give up my
journey--which I was not minded to do--or to break the fence down and
go through it.

Now I was and am, by nature, a law-abiding person, ready and willing
to submit to all legitimate authority. But I also had and have a
rooted conviction, that reasonable assurance of the legitimacy should
precede the submission; so I made it my business to look up the
manorial title-deeds. The pretensions of the ecclesiastical "Moses" to
exercise a control over the operations of the reasoning faculty in the
search after truth, thirty centuries after his age, might be
justifiable; but, assuredly, the credentials produced in justification
of claims so large required careful scrutiny.

Singular discoveries rewarded my industry. The ecclesiastical "Moses"
proved to be a mere traditional mask, behind which, no doubt, lay the
features of the historical Moses--just as many a mediæval fresco has
been hidden by the whitewash of Georgian churchwardens. And as the
æsthetic rector too often scrapes away the defacement, only to find
blurred, parti-coloured patches, in which the original design is no
longer to be traced; so, when the successive layers of Jewish and
Christian traditional pigment, laid on, at intervals, for near three
thousand years, had been removed, by even the tenderest critical
operations, there was not much to be discerned of the leader of the

Only one point became perfectly clear to me, namely, that Moses is not
responsible for nine-tenths of the Pentateuch; certainly not for the
legends which had been made the bugbears of science. In fact, the
fence turned out to be a mere heap of dry sticks and brushwood, and
one might walk through it with impunity: the which I did. But I was
still young, when I thus ventured to assert my liberty; and young
people are apt to be filled with a kind of _sæva indignatio_, when
they discover the wide discrepancies between things as they seem and
things as they are. It hurts their vanity to feel that they have
prepared themselves for a mighty struggle to climb over, or break
their way through, a rampart, which turns out, on close approach, to
be a mere heap of ruins; venerable, indeed, and archæologically
interesting, but of no other moment. And some fragment of the
superfluous energy accumulated is apt to find vent in strong language.

Such, I suppose, was my case, when I wrote some passages which occur
in an essay reprinted among "Darwiniana."[2] But when, not long ago
"the voice" put it to me, whether I had better not expunge, or modify,
these passages; whether, really, they were not a little too strong; I
had to reply, with all deference, that while, from a merely literary
point of view, I might admit them to be rather crude, I must stand by
the substance of these items of my expenditure. I further ventured to
express the conviction that scientific criticism of the Old Testament,
since 1860, has justified every word of the estimate of the authority
of the ecclesiastical "Moses" written at that time. And, carried away
by the heat of self-justification, I even ventured to add, that the
desperate attempt now set afoot to force biblical and post-biblical
mythology into elementary instruction, renders it useful and necessary
to go on making a considerable outlay in the same direction. Not yet,
has "the cosmogony of the semi-barbarous Hebrew" ceased to be the
"incubus of the philosopher, and the opprobrium of the orthodox;" not
yet, has "the zeal of the Bibliolater" ceased from troubling; not yet,
are the weaker sort, even of the instructed, at rest from their
fruitless toil "to harmonise impossibilities," and "to force the
generous new wine of science into the old bottles of Judaism."

But I am aware that the head and front of my offending lies not now
where it formerly lay. Thirty years ago, criticism of "Moses" was held
by most respectable people to be deadly sin; now it has sunk to the
rank of a mere peccadillo; at least, if it stops short of the history
of Abraham. Destroy the foundation of most forms of dogmatic
Christianity contained in the second chapter of Genesis, if you will;
the new ecclesiasticism undertakes to underpin the superstructure and
make it, at any rate to the eye, as firm as ever: but let him be
anathema who applies exactly the same canons of criticism to the
opening chapters of "Matthew" or of "Luke." School-children may be
told that the world was by no means made in six days, and that
implicit belief in the story of Noah's Ark is permissible only, as a
matter of business, to their toy-makers; but they are to hold for the
certainest of truths, to be doubted only at peril of their salvation,
that their Galilean fellow-child Jesus, nineteen centuries ago, had no
human father.

* * * * *

Well, we will pass the item of 1860, said "the voice." But why all
this more recent coil about the Gadarene swine and the like? Do you
pretend that these poor animals got in your way, years and years after
the "Mosaic" fences were down, at any rate so far as you are

Got in my way? Why, my good "voice," they were driven in my way. I had
happened to make a statement, than which, so far as I have ever been
able to see, nothing can be more modest or inoffensive; to wit, that I
am convinced of my own utter ignorance about a great number of things,
respecting which the great majority of my neighbours (not only those
of adult years, but children repeating their catechisms) affirm
themselves to possess full information. I ask any candid and impartial
judge, Is that attacking anybody or anything?

Yet, if I had made the most wanton and arrogant onslaught on the
honest convictions of other people, I could not have been more hardly
dealt with. The pentecostal charism, I believe, exhausted itself
amongst the earliest disciples. Yet any one who has had to attend, as
I have done, to copious objurgations, strewn with such appellations as
"infidel" and "coward," must be a hardened sceptic indeed if he doubts
the existence of a "gift of tongues" in the Churches of our time;
unless, indeed, it should occur to him that some of these outpourings
may have taken place after "the third hour of the day." I am far from
thinking that it is worth while to give much attention to these
inevitable incidents of all controversies, in which one party has
acquired the mental peculiarities which are generated by the habit of
much talking, with immunity from criticism. But as a rule, they are
the sauce of dishes of misrepresentations and inaccuracies which it
may be a duty, nay, even an innocent pleasure, to expose. In the
particular case of which I am thinking, I felt, as Strauss says, "able
and called upon" to undertake the business: and it is no
responsibility of mine, if I found the Gospels, with their miraculous
stories, of which the Gadarene is a typical example, blocking my way,
as heretofore, the Pentateuch had done.

I was challenged to question the authority for the theory of "the
spiritual world," and the practical consequences deducible from human
relations to it, contained in these documents.

In my judgment, the actuality of this spiritual world--the value of
the evidence for its objective existence and its influence upon the
course of things--are matters, which lie as much within the province
of science, as any other question about the existence and powers of
the varied forms of living and conscious activity.

It really is my strong conviction that a man has no more right to say
he believes this world is haunted by swarms of evil spirits, without
being able to produce satisfactory evidence of the fact, than he has a
right to say, without adducing adequate proof, that the circumpolar
antarctic ice swarms with sea-serpents. I should not like to assert
positively that it does not. I imagine that no cautious biologist
would say as much; but while quite open to conviction, he might
properly decline to waste time upon the consideration of talk, no
better accredited than forecastle "yarns," about such monsters of the
deep. And if the interests of ordinary veracity dictate this course,
in relation to a matter of so little consequence as this, what must be
our obligations in respect of the treatment of a question which is
fundamental alike for science and for ethics? For not only does our
general theory of the universe and of the nature of the order which
pervades it, hang upon the answer; but the rules of practical life
must be deeply affected by it.

The belief in a demonic world is inculcated throughout the Gospels and
the rest of the books of the New Testament; it pervades the whole
patristic literature; it colours the theory and the practice of every
Christian church down to modern times. Indeed, I doubt if, even now,
there is any church which, officially, departs from such a fundamental
doctrine of primitive Christianity as the existence, in addition to
the Cosmos with which natural knowledge is conversant, of a world of
spirits; that is to say, of intelligent agents, not subject to the
physical or mental limitations of humanity, but nevertheless competent
to interfere, to an undefined extent, with the ordinary course of both
physical and mental phenomena.

More especially is this conception fundamental for the authors of the
Gospels. Without the belief that the present world, and particularly
that part of it which is constituted by human society, has been given
over, since the Fall, to the influence of wicked and malignant
spiritual beings, governed and directed by a supreme devil--the moral
antithesis and enemy of the supreme God--their theory of salvation by
the Messiah falls to pieces. "To this end was the Son of God
manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil."[3]

The half-hearted religiosity of latter-day Christianity may choose to
ignore the fact; but it remains none the less true, that he who
refuses to accept the demonology of the Gospels rejects the revelation
of a spiritual world, made in them, as much as if he denied the
existence of such a person as Jesus of Nazareth; and deserves, as much
as any one can do, to be ear-marked "infidel" by our gentle shepherds.

* * * * *

Now that which I thought it desirable to make perfectly clear, on my
own account, and for the sake of those who find their capacity of
belief in the Gospel theory of the universe failing them, is the fact,
that, in my judgment, the demonology of primitive Christianity is
totally devoid of foundation; and that no man, who is guided by the
rules of investigation which are found to lead to the discovery of
truth in other matters, not merely of science, but in the everyday
affairs of life, will arrive at any other conclusion. To those who
profess to be otherwise guided, I have nothing to say; but to beg them
to go their own way and leave me to mine.

I think it may be as well to repeat what I have said, over and over
again, elsewhere, that _a priori_ notions, about the possibility, or
the impossibility, of the existence of a world of spirits, such as
that presupposed by genuine Christianity, have no influence on my
mind. The question for me is purely one of evidence: is the evidence
adequate to bear out the theory, or is it not? In my judgment it is
not only inadequate, but quite absurdly insufficient. And on that
ground, I should feel compelled to reject the theory; even if there
were no positive grounds for adopting a totally different conception
of the Cosmos.

For most people, the question of the evidence of the existence of a
demonic world, in the long run, resolves itself into that of the
trustworthiness of the Gospels; first, as to the objective truth of
that which they narrate on this topic; second, as to the accuracy of
the interpretation which their authors put upon these objective facts.
For example, with respect to the Gadarene miracle, it is one question
whether, at a certain time and place, a raving madman became sane, and
a herd of swine rushed into the lake of Tiberias; and quite another,
whether the cause of these occurrences was the transmigration of
certain devils from the man into the pigs. And again, it is one
question whether Jesus made a long oration on a certain occasion,
mentioned in the first Gospel; altogether another, whether more or
fewer of the propositions contained in the "Sermon on the Mount" were
uttered on that occasion. One may give an affirmative answer to one of
each of these pairs of questions and a negative to the other: one may
affirm all, or deny all.

In considering the historical value of any four documents, proof when
they were written and who wrote them is, no doubt, highly important.
For if proof exists, that A B C and D wrote them, and that they were
intelligent persons, writing independently and without prejudice,
about facts within their own knowledge--their statements must needs be
worthy of the most attentive consideration.[4] But, even
ecclesiastical tradition does not assert that either "Mark" or "Luke"
wrote from his own knowledge--indeed "Luke" expressly asserts he did
not. I cannot discover that any competent authority now maintains that
the apostle Matthew wrote the Gospel which passes under his name. And
whether the apostle John had, or had not, anything to do with the
fourth Gospel; and if he had, what his share amounted to; are, as
everybody who has attended to these matters knows, questions still
hotly disputed, and with regard to which the extant evidence can
hardly carry an impartial judge beyond the admission of a possibility
this way or that.

Thus, nothing but a balancing of very dubious probabilities is to be
attained by approaching the question from this side. It is otherwise
if we make the documents tell their own story: if we study them, as we
study fossils, to discover internal evidence, of when they arose, and
how they have come to be. That really fruitful line of inquiry has led
to the statement and the discussion of what is known as the _Synoptic

In the Essays (VII.--XI.) which deal with the consequences of the
application of the agnostic principle to Christian Evidences,
contained in this volume, there are several references to the results
of the attempts which have been made, during the last hundred years,
to solve this problem. And, though it has been clearly stated and
discussed, in works accessible to, and intelligible by, every English
reader,[5] it may be well that I should here set forth a very brief
exposition of the matters of fact out of which the problem has arisen;
and of some consequences, which, as I conceive, must be admitted if
the facts are accepted.

These undisputed and, apparently, indisputable data may be thus

I. The three books of which an ancient, but very questionable,
ecclesiastical tradition asserts Matthew, Mark, and Luke to be the
authors, agree, not only in presenting the same general view, or
_Synopsis_, of the nature and the order of the events narrated; but,
to a remarkable extent, the very words which they employ coincide.

II. Nevertheless, there are many equally marked, and some
irreconcilable, differences between them. Narratives, verbally
identical in some portions, diverge more or less in others. The order
in which they occur in one, or in two, Gospels may be changed in
another. In "Matthew" and in "Luke" events of great importance make
their appearance, where the story of "Mark" seems to leave no place
for them; and, at the beginning and the end of the two former Gospels,
there is a great amount of matter of which there is no trace in

III. Obvious and highly important differences, in style and substance,
separate the three "Synoptics," taken together, from the fourth
Gospel, connected, by ecclesiastical tradition, with the name of the
apostle John. In its philosophical proemium; in the conspicuous
absence of exorcistic miracles; in the self-assertive theosophy of the
long and diffuse monologues, which are so utterly unlike the brief
and pregnant utterances of Jesus recorded in the Synoptics; in the
assertion that the crucifixion took place before the Passover, which
involves the denial, by implication, of the truth of the Synoptic
story--to mention only a few particulars--the "Johannine" Gospel
presents a wide divergence from the other three.

IV. If the mutual resemblances and differences of the Synoptic Gospels
are closely considered, a curious result comes out; namely, that each
may be analyzed into four components. The _first_ of these consists of
passages, to a greater or less extent verbally identical, which occur
in all three Gospels. If this triple tradition is separated from the
rest it will be found to comprise:

_a_. A narrative, of a somewhat broken and anecdotic aspect, which
covers the period from the appearance of John the Baptist to the
discovery of the emptiness of the tomb, on the first day of the week,
some six-and-thirty hours after the crucifixion.

_b_. An apocalyptic address.

_c_. Parables and brief discourses, or rather, centos of religious and
ethical exhortations and injunctions.

The _second_ and the _third_ set of components of each Gospel present
equally close resemblances to passages, which are found in only one of
the other Gospels; therefore it may be said that, for them, the
tradition is double. The _fourth_ component is peculiar to each
Gospel; it is a single tradition and has no representative in the

To put the facts in another way: each Gospel is composed of a
_threefold tradition_, two _twofold traditions_, and one _peculiar
tradition_. If the Gospels were the work of totally independent
writers, it would follow that there are three witnesses for the
statements in the first tradition; two for each of those in the
second, and only one for those in the third.

V. If the reader will now take up that extremely instructive little
book, Abbott and Rushbrooke's "Common Tradition" he will easily
satisfy himself that "Mark" has the remarkable structure just
described. Almost the whole of this Gospel consists of the first
component; namely, the _threefold tradition_. But in chap. i. 23-28 he
will discover an exorcistic story, not to be found in "Matthew," but
repeated, often word for word, in "Luke." This, therefore, belongs to
one of the _twofold traditions_. In chap. viii. 1-10, on the other
hand, there is a detailed account of the miracle of feeding the four
thousand; which is closely repeated in "Matthew" xv. 32-39, but is not
to be found in "Luke." This is an example of the other _twofold
tradition_, possible in "Mark." Finally, the story of the blind man of
Bethsaida, "Mark" viii. 22-26, is _peculiar_ to "Mark."

VI. Suppose that, A standing for the _threefold tradition_, or the
matter common to all three Gospels; we call the matter common to
"Mark" and "Matthew" only--B; that common to "Mark" and "Luke"
only--C; that common to "Matthew" and "Luke" only--D; while the
peculiar components of "Mark," "Matthew," and "Luke" are severally
indicated by E, F, G; then the structure of the Gospels may be
represented thus:

Components of "Mark" = A + B + C + E.
" "Matthew" = A + B + D + F.
" "Luke" = A + C + D + G.

VII. The analysis of the Synoptic documents need be carried no further
than this point, in order to suggest one extremely important, and,
apparently unavoidable conclusion; and that is, that their authors
were neither three independent witnesses of the things narrated; nor,
for the parts of the narrative about which all agree, that is to say,
the _threefold tradition_, did they employ independent sources of
information. It is simply incredible that each of three independent
witnesses of any series of occurrences should tell a story so similar,
not only in arrangement and in small details, but in words, to that of
each of the others.

Hence it follows, either that the Synoptic writers have, mediately or
immediately, copied one from the other: or that the three have drawn
from a common source; that is to say, from one arrangement of similar
traditions (whether oral or written); though that arrangement may have
been extant in three or more, somewhat different versions.

VIII. The suppositions (_a_) that "Mark" had "Matthew" and "Luke"
before him; and (_b_) that either of the two latter was acquainted
with the work of the other, would seem to involve some singular

_a_. The second Gospel is saturated with the lowest supernaturalism.
Jesus is exhibited as a wonder-worker and exorcist of the first rank.
The earliest public recognition of the Messiahship of Jesus comes from
an "unclean spirit"; he himself is made to testify to the occurrence
of the miraculous feeding twice over.

The purpose with which "Mark" sets out is to show forth Jesus as the
Son of God, and it is suggested, if not distinctly stated, that he
acquired this character at his baptism by John. The absence of any
reference to the miraculous events of the infancy, detailed by
"Matthew" and "Luke;" or to the appearances after the discovery of the
emptiness of the tomb; is unintelligible, if "Mark" knew anything
about them, or believed in the miraculous conception. The second
Gospel is no summary: "Mark" can find room for the detailed story,
irrelevant to his main purpose, of the beheading of John the Baptist,
and his miraculous narrations are crowded with minute particulars. Is
it to be imagined that, with the supposed apostolic authority of
Matthew before him, he could leave out the miraculous conception of
Jesus and the ascension? Further, ecclesiastical tradition would have
us believe that Mark wrote down his recollections of what Peter
taught. Did Peter then omit to mention these matters? Did the fact
testified by the oldest authority extant, that the first appearance of
the risen Jesus was to himself seem not worth mentioning? Did he
really fail to speak of the great position in the Church solemnly
assigned to him by Jesus? The alternative would seem to be the
impeachment either of Mark's memory, or of his judgment. But Mark's
memory, is so good that he can recollect how, on the occasion of the
stilling of the waves, Jesus was asleep "on the cushion," he remembers
that the woman with the issue had "spent all she had" on her
physicians; that there was not room "even about the door" on a certain
occasion at Capernaum. And it is surely hard to believe that "Mark"
should have failed to recollect occurrences of infinitely greater
moment, or that he should have deliberately left them out, as things
not worthy of mention.

_b_. The supposition that "Matthew" was acquainted with "Luke," or
"Luke" with "Matthew" has equally grave implications. If that be so,
the one who used the other could have had but a poor opinion of his
predecessor's historical veracity. If, as most experts agree, "Luke"
is later than "Matthew," it is clear that he does not credit
"Matthew's" account of the infancy; does not believe the "Sermon on
the Mount" as given by Matthew was preached; does not believe in the
two feeding miracles, to which Jesus himself is made to refer; wholly
discredits "Matthew's" account of the events after the crucifixion;
and thinks it not worth while to notice "Matthew's" grave admission
that "some doubted."

IX. None of these troublesome consequences pursue the hypothesis that
the _threefold tradition_, in one, or more, Greek versions, was extant
before either of the canonical Synoptic Gospels; and that it furnished
the fundamental framework of their several narratives. Where and when
the threefold narrative arose, there is no positive evidence; though
it is obviously probable that the traditions it embodies, and perhaps
many others, took their rise in Palestine and spread thence to Asia
Minor, Greece, Egypt and Italy, in the track of the early
missionaries. Nor is it less likely that they formed part of the
"didaskalia" of the primitive Nazarene and Christian communities.[6]

X. The interest which attaches to "Mark" arises from the fact that it
seems to present this early, probably earliest, Greek Gospel
narrative, with least addition, or modification. If, as appears likely
from some internal evidences, it was compiled for the use of the
Christian sodalities in Rome; and that it was accepted by them as an
adequate account of the life and work of Jesus, it is evidence of the
most valuable kind respecting their beliefs and the limits of dogma,
as conceived by them.

In such case, a good Roman Christian of that epoch might know nothing
of the doctrine of the incarnation, as taught by "Matthew" and "Luke";
still less of the "logos" doctrine of "John"; neither need he have
believed anything more than the simple fact of the resurrection. It
was open to him to believe it either corporeal or spiritual. He would
never have heard of the power of the keys bestowed upon Peter; nor
have had brought to his mind so much as a suggestion of trinitarian
doctrine. He might be a rigidly monotheistic Judæo-Christian, and
consider himself bound by the law: he might be a Gentile Pauline
convert, neither knowing of nor caring for such restrictions. In
neither case would he find in "Mark" any serious stumbling-block. In
fact, persons of all the categories admitted to salvation by Justin,
in the middle of the second century,[7] could accept "Mark" from
beginning to end. It may well be, that, in this wide adaptability,
backed by the authority of the metropolitan church, there lies the
reason for the fact of the preservation of "Mark," notwithstanding its
limited and dogmatically colourless character, as compared with the
Gospels of "Luke" and "Matthew."

XI. "Mark," as we have seen, contains a relatively small body of
ethical and religious instruction and only a few parables. Were these
all that existed in the primitive threefold tradition? Were none
others current in the Roman communities, at the time "Mark" wrote,
supposing he wrote in Rome? Or, on the other hand, was there extant,
as early as the time at which "Mark" composed his Greek edition of the
primitive Evangel, one or more collections of parables and teachings,
such as those which form the bulk of the twofold tradition, common
exclusively to "Matthew" and "Luke," and are also found in their
single traditions? Many have assumed this, or these, collections to be
identical with, or at any rate based upon, the "logia," of which
ecclesiastical tradition says, that they were written in Aramaic by
Matthew, and that everybody translated them as he could.

Here is the old difficulty again. If such materials were known to
"Mark," what imaginable reason could he have for not using them?
Surely displacement of the long episode of John the Baptist--even
perhaps of the story of the Gadarene swine--by portions of the Sermon
on the Mount or by one or two of the beautiful parables in the twofold
and single traditions would have been great improvements; and might
have been effected, even though "Mark" was as much pressed for space
as some have imagined. But there is no ground for that imagination;
Mark has actually found room for four or five parables; why should he
not have given the best, if he had known of them? Admitting he was the
mere _pedissequus et breviator_ of Matthew, that even Augustine
supposed him to be, what could induce him to omit the Lord's Prayer?

Whether more or less of the materials of the twofold tradition D, and
of the peculiar traditions F and G, were or were not current in some
of the communities, as early as, or perhaps earlier than, the triple
tradition, it is not necessary for me to discuss; nor to consider
those solutions of the Synoptic problem which assume that it existed
earlier, and was already combined with more or less narrative. Those
who are working out the final solution of the Synoptic problem are
taking into account, more than hitherto, the possibility that the
widely separated Christian communities of Palestine, Asia Minor,
Egypt, and Italy, especially after the Jewish war of A.D. 66-70, may
have found themselves in possession of very different traditional
materials. Many circumstances tend to the conclusion that, in Asia
Minor, even the narrative part of the threefold tradition had a
formidable rival; and that, around this second narrative, teaching
traditions of a totally different order from those in the Synoptics,
grouped themselves; and, under the influence of converts imbued more
or less with the philosophical speculations of the time, eventually
took shape in the fourth Gospel and its associated literature.

XII. But it is unnecessary, and it would be out of place, for me to
attempt to do more than indicate the existence of these complex and
difficult questions. My purpose has been to make it clear that the
Synoptic problem must force itself upon every one who studies the
Gospels with attention; that the broad facts of the case, and some of
the consequences deducible from these facts, are just as plain to the
simple English reader as they are to the profoundest scholar.

One of these consequences is that the threefold tradition presents us
with a narrative believed to be historically true, in all its
particulars, by the major part, if not the whole, of the Christian
communities. That narrative is penetrated, from beginning to end, by
the demonological beliefs of which the Gadarene story is a specimen;
and, if the fourth Gospel indicates the existence of another and, in
some respects, irreconcilably divergent narrative, in which the
demonology retires into the background, it is none the less there.

Therefore, the demonology is an integral and inseparable component of
primitive Christianity. The farther back the origin of the gospels is
dated, the stronger does the certainty of this conclusion grow; and
the more difficult it becomes to suppose that Jesus himself may not
have shared the superstitious beliefs of his disciples.

It further follows that those who accept devils, possession, and
exorcism as essential elements of their conception of the spiritual
world may consistently consider the testimony of the Gospels to be
unimpeachable in respect of the information they give us respecting
other matters which appertain to that world.

Those who reject the gospel demonology, on the other hand, would seem
to be as completely barred, as I feel myself to be, from professing to
take the accuracy of that information for granted. If the threefold
tradition is wrong about one fundamental topic, it may be wrong about
another, while the authority of the single traditions, often mutually
contradictory as they are, becomes a vanishing quantity.

It really is unreasonable to ask any rejector of the demonology to say
more with respect to those other matters, than that the statements
regarding them may be true, or may be false; and that the ultimate
decision, if it is to be favourable, must depend on the production of
testimony of a very different character from that of the writers of
the four gospels. Until such evidence is brought forward, that
refusal of assent, with willingness to re-open the question, on cause
shown, which is what I mean by Agnosticism, is, for me, the only
course open.

* * * * *

A verdict of "not proven" is undoubtedly unsatisfactory and
essentially provisional, so far forth as the subject of the trial is
capable of being dealt with by due process of reason.

Those who are of opinion that the historical realities at the root of
Christianity, lie beyond the jurisdiction of science, need not be
considered. Those who are convinced that the evidence is, and must
always remain, insufficient to support any definite conclusion, are
justified in ignoring the subject. They must be content to put up with
that reproach of being mere destroyers, of which Strauss speaks. They
may say that there are so many problems which are and must remain
insoluble, that the "burden of the mystery" "of all this
unintelligible world" is not appreciably affected by one more or less.

For myself, I must confess that the problem of the origin of such very
remarkable historical phenomena as the doctrines, and the social
organization, which in their broad features certainly existed, and
were in a state of rapid development, within a hundred years of the
crucifixion of Jesus; and which have steadily prevailed against all
rivals, among the most intelligent and civilized nations in the world
ever since, is, and always has been, profoundly interesting; and,
considering how recent the really scientific study of that problem,
and how great the progress made during the last half century in
supplying the conditions for a positive solution of the problem, I
cannot doubt that the attainment of such a solution is a mere question
of time.

I am well aware that it has lain far beyond my powers to take any
share in this great undertaking. All that I can hope is to have done
somewhat towards "the preparation of those who have ceased to be
contented with the old and find no satisfaction in half measures":
perhaps, also, something towards the lessening of that great
proportion of my countrymen, whose eminent characteristic it is that
they find "full satisfaction in half measures."

_December 4th, 1893_.


[1] D.F. Strauss, _Der alte und der neue Glaube_
(1872), pp. 9, 10.

[2] _Collected Essays_, vol. ii., "On the Origin of
Species" (1860).

[3] 1 John iii. 8.

[4] Not necessarily of more than this. A few centuries
ago the twelve most intelligent and impartial men to be
found in England, would have independently testified
that the sun moves, from east to west, across the
heavens every day.

[5] Nowhere more concisely and clearly than in Dr.
Sutherland Black's article "Gospels" in Chambers's
_Encyclopædia_. References are given to the more
elaborate discussions of the problem.

[6] Those who regard the Apocalyptic discourse as a
"vaticination after the event" may draw conclusions
therefrom as to the date of the Gospels in which its
several forms occur. But the assumption is surely
dangerous, from an apologetic point of view, since it
begs the question as to the unhistorical character of
this solemn prophecy.

[7] See p. 287 of this volume.


(_Controverted Questions_, 1892).











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