« PreviousContinue »
open; he awakes the others, they find the grave empty; the dead body must have been stolen in the interval, and none, but the adherents of Jesus, could have stolen it; but even it remains a very improbable narration, that several soldiers, at the least four, should have been sentries from three to six, that they should all have fallen asleep, and so soundly too, that the disciples should have been able to roll away the great stone from the grave, and carry away the dead body, without being perceived ; this is not probable.
14. Pilate was to be easily softened down with money, and he was, besides, desirous of gratifying the chief priests, because he was afraid his exactions in Judea might be a subject of complaint at Rome.
15. “ And this saying is commonly reported amongst the Jews until this day.”] It it satisfactory to us, to know the real objections, which the Jews of those days made to the resurrection of Jesus, and as Matthew wrote in Palestine, we may be tolerably well assured, what was the real objection, and the current rumour of Jerusalem. If this saying, the disciples of Jesus had stolen his body, whilst the keepers slept,” had not been current
in Jerusalem, Matthew would not have had the confidence to have written it, and to have exposed himself both to Jews and Christians, as an evident liar, since every reader would immediately have said, that, of such a report, they had not heard one syllable. But if this was, in point of fact, the town talk of Jerusalem, and the objection of the enemies of Christianity, two propositions became essentially confirmed by the admission of its adversaries.
1st. The sepulchre was, up to the third day, under a guard of Roman soldiers, and
2nd. The same sepulchre was at the commencement of the third day found open, empty, and without a dead body.
Justin Martyr in his correspondence accuses the Jews of having sent people into all parts of the world to propagate the story of the stolen body. But this does not appear probable to me, as the other evangelists, who wrote out of Palestine, do not find it necessary to mention the report. It could not have been so at Rome, Alexandria, or Ephesus, Acts xxviii. 21, 22. Justin Martyr, in historical facts, is not the most authentic writer, whom
one should believe, without scruple. The enemies of Christianity contend, 1. That it is not likely a
numerous and learned body should consist of intentional deceivers, who bribe soldiers to speak to an evident falsehood.
2. Nicodemus was a member of the synod, and must have given his vote for the propagation of the falsehood. To this it must be answered, that he would have exposed the falsehood, if he had been present at the consultation, and the riches and respectability, for which he is celebrated in the Talmud, would have given him the means, if the fear of man had not overpowered him.
3. The discourse of Gamaliel (Acts v. 3439,) would be unintelligible, if the high council itself, as well as Gamaliel, who speaks here, already knew for a certainty, the resurrection of Jesus. All these objections vanish, as long as we suppose, without reference to Matthew, that the meeting of the Sanhedrim was not general, These objections are merely fanciful, or the result of bad illustrations, heard in youth, never proved in age, and then adopted as the genuine sense of Matthew. It is true,
that such miserable illustrations are the cause of most of the objections which have been raised against the Bible, and because the history of the resurrection has been explained and tortured from the pulpit by people who have never learnt the rules of right reasoning, the great majority of doubts have risen. But these are objections, not to Matthew, but to the manner of illustrating him. The other arguments
1. If the resurrection is true, why did not the apostles appeal to the Sanhedrim at Jerusalem ? why did they not appeal to foreigners, to synagogues, to tribunals, against this report of the keepers ? Why did they not require a judicial examination of the soldiers before Pilate? For the keepers, although they had received money, would still have had no scruple of telling the truth before their own countrymen. Now, as nothing of this kind was done, it follows that the narration of Matthew must be an imposture.
Such is the general objection. The answer must be more detailed. The apostles were in the first year several times before the Sanhedrim at Jerusalem. (Acts iii. iv. v.) Why did they not then appeal to the Judges, that they should
really state the truth, and permit an examination of the soldiers. The answer is easy : because they themselves were ignorant of what Matthew only knew eight, or perhaps even fourteen, years afterwards, and because the keepers themselves had divulged the story. But even then, if they had known it, it would have been very unwise to have relied on the examination of a corrupt soldiery, who would have been still more decided in their statement, especially if the chief priests gave them more money. .
But if the question is of foreign synagogues, as for instance in Asia Minor, in Macedonia, or in Greece, or before the tribunals in those countries, before which Paul was conducted, (Acts xiii. 16, 17, 18,) the objection becomes ridiculous. The apostle was to rely upon unknown Roman soldiers, who lay in garrison at Jerusalem, and whom no one knew there. The judges might tell by the appearance of Paul, whether he looked like an honest man, but with respect to the soldiers they could not tell whether they existed or not? He was to require from the multitude before whom he preached, or from the judges, who dismissed his accusers, and who considered the charge as so unfounded, that they released him the next day, that they