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Being an Inquiry into the Origin
of the Four Gospels
“I do not call to mind any problem of natural science which has come
-T. H. Hurley
WAS in the first instance led to write on the subject dealt
with in this book by a sentence or two in an article by Professor J. T. Marshall in the Critical Review for July, 1892. Ever since I was a boy I had had, in common with all who have devoted much attention to the critical study of the Bible, a keen desire to know in what manner the four Gospels had come into existence. I had long felt that all current theories were inadequate ; and I had, moreover, a vague impression that at least some portions of the Gospel narratives were written contemporaneously with the events they record. Several years ago this impression was strengthened by a statement which I read somewhere that the art of writing shorthand was practised in the times of the New Testament. But the impression took no definite shape, and I continued to be puzzled by those features of the Gospels which throughout this century have been a leading subject of discussion in the learned world. It was not until I read, soon after its appearance, the article above referred to, that I found the first clue to the solution of the Problems.
The article was a review on a book by Dr. Paul Ewald on The Chief Problem of the Gospel Question, in which Professor Marshall, after describing the author's views and arguments, and showing their insufficiency, concludes as follows:
“Is it not high time that some different method of investigation was attempted? There must be a fault in the method that leads every investigator to a separate goal. We never arrive at certainty. The multitudinous theories all hover between greater or less plausibility. In the pages of the Expositor, I have recently advocated the employment of a linguistic method. I must not presume to occupy space here with a repetition of what is accessible to all readers of the Critical Review. If substantiated, my theory will, at all events, give us a basis of facts. The results thus far arrived at are deeply interesting, as they lead one to believe that a record of most of the events of the Galilean ministry was at one time extant in Aramaic; and that in these portions the Synoptists translated from an Aramaic exemplar. The events of the Judæan ministry, on the other hand, give no evidence of having existed other than in Greek. We wish, however, to proceed with caution, and if we can only lay a substratum of facts which will stand the test of scientific investigation, it will be preferable to the building of a gigantic structure, so attenuated that it only endures till the next investigator assails it.
I had always felt a desire to know in what language Christ was accustomed to speak. But the evidence was conflicting. On the one hand it seemed absolutely certain that He spoke in Aramaic, the language which in Palestine had taken the place of Hebrew. But then again there seemed also to be strong reasons for holding that He spake in Greek. As I read the sentences quoted above the truth flashed into my mind. Our Lord used both languages ! According to the people He was addressing, or the subject upon which He was discoursing, He spake--sometimes in Aramaic, sometimes in Greek. And the utterances recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke were those which He spake in Aramaic, while those recorded in John were those which He spake in Greek. I felt too that the importance of this discovery was inestimable, for, if the fact were so, it was proof absolute and incontrovertible that the reports of Christ's sayings were written at the very time or immediately after they were spoken.
I took the first opportunity to refer to Professor Marshall's articles in the Expositor. I was, however, much disappointed to find that the view he maintained was not that which his words in the Critical Review seemed, to my mind, naturally to suggest. He held that the first three Gospels were based upon original documents written in Aramaic, while the original manuscripts of the fourth Gospel existed only in Greek; but he seemed to be of opinion that no portion of either was written until several years after the close of our Lord's life on earth. This obviously was no solution except of a very small part of the difficulties. At the same time the articles struck me as of great value, inasmuch as, making all allowances, they certainly to my mind proved that many of the diversities in parallel passages in the Synoptic Gospels were the result of independent translation of manuscripts which, in the places referred to, were in the originals alike.
During the six years that have elapsed since I first read Professor Marshall's article in the Critical Review, I have devoted most of the time I could spare from the duties of a busy life to the study of the subject. I was already fairly well acquainted with the opinions respectively held in the various schools of thought on the different questions that are included