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consequently, our doctrine of inspiration must be received with some modification. And here, I think, Lessing was justified, when he asserted, that admitting this to be a fact, the cause of religion would not suffer by it. When he was attacked upon this subject, he, in order to show that he held this doctrine in common with
many strenuous advocates of the Christian religion, recapitulated the observations I have previously made, and part of which I will here subjoin :“ The question of the inspiration of the books of the New Testament is not so important as their authenticity. Christianity does not depend upon it. Supposing Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul not to have been inspired by God, still their writings were old, genuine, and credible, and Christianity would equally be true. The miracles, by which it is supported, do not rest upon the evidence, which relates them, being inspired; when we examine them, we rely on their credibility, as brought forward by human witnesses. If the miracles are true, the precepts of Christ, as delivered to us, would be infallible, only with this distinction, that those who have related them may, perhaps, have erred in some minute details; and even supposing any clerical mistakes to have crept into
the writings of the apostles, the fundamental
passage, extend to historical facts, or to matters of hearsay. More than this, I do not pretend to say. But supposing the four evangelists not to have been inspired, so far as relates to the recollection of facts, I do not see what we should lose by it. We use the history of the life, the miracles, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus, against every species of unbelievers, without presuming the divine inspiration of the history. I have known Jews admit, (who, of course, did not admit the divine inspiration,) that Jesus must have been sent from God. The reverse would only be an interminable argument, if we reasoned upon the Christian religion without appealing to the evangelists, as human testimony. I cannot see, I repeat, what we should lose, if we consider the evangelists not as inspired, but as honest, credible men. They say nothing themselves of their inspiration, and Luke expressly states in his beginning, that he has acquired his knowledge from the information of others, and had taken great pains to ascertain whether it was accurate.
I am not certain, whether we should not gain by admitting, that the evangelists were fallible, like other men, and that John, who wrote his gospel last of all, had constantly in
his eye the other gospels, and where there was any thing either defective or incorrect, gently rectified and supplied both. For, after all, the great argument of the adversaries of Christianity rests upon ostensible and partial contradictions, and frequently upon points of such insignificance, that they would not be noticed in other historians. But, besides this, our published harmonies of the gospels have, occasionally, a forced and artificial character, which we are not accustomed to find even in contradictory historians of minor importance, and which consequently leave in our minds, an unpleasant or a suspicious feeling. He, who has read the defence of Lessing may easily judge of his sentiments, which seem to have been grounded upon this feeling. No man better understood the force of language, but he is now dead, and I have, therefore, no means of ascertaining the extent of our agreement. I must here make another, and a very important observation. We should always inquire, “ Who is it, that contradicts, or seems to contradict, the other evangelists?” for some contradictions, although they appear so evident and unanswerable, have no connection with our dcxtrine of inspiration, and we merely confine
ourselves to contradictions, between the two apostles, Matthew and John. These cases are,
1. The last twelve verses of Mark xvi. 920, contradict another evangelist. But here the doctrine of inspiration does not apply, for no man can say, whether these last twelve verses were written by Mark or not. It is here, that the most prominent contradictions are said to occur; these I have endeavoured, with what success the reader will judge, to obviate; at all events, they may be admitted, without affecting the doctrine of inspiration.
2. The remaining or genuine part of Mark contradicts another evangelist.
3. The gospel of Luke contradicts another evangelist. In all these cases, the doctrine of inspiration is not affected, as these evangelists were not apostles, and it was to these last alone the promise of recollecting the words of Jesus was given, upon which promise we found the inspiration of the apostolic writings. In the case of Luke, this is more particularly striking, as he himself states, he was not an eye-witness, and, consequently, if he had no supernatural infallibility, was more likely to fall into error, and hence it is, we find in his gospel, those difficulties, which are the most