§1. Biographical

Mark (Marcus) was a common Roman praenomen. His Jewish name was John.1 He was converted through Peter (1 Peter 5:13; cf. Acts 12:12).2 At the very outset of his Christian course Barnabas (his relation) and Paul took him with them on their missionary travels (Acts 12:25, Acts 13:5). John Mark had that light idea of the responsibility of Christian service which is so common: he thought he could take up and put down God’s work as he liked, and he left the two leaders to go on with the work by themselves, whilst he went off home again (Acts 13:13, Acts 15:36; cf. Acts 4:36). Then we lose sight of him for six or seven years, which, for all we know, may have been so much lost time; and after that he becomes the passive cause of an exceedingly unfortunate dispute. Paul and Barnabas arrange a further mission, and Barnabas “determines” to take his relation again with them, while Paul “thought not good” to take one who had already deserted his post. This gave rise to so sharp a contention that the two veterans separated. . . . Most of us, perhaps, would have thought it best to leave Mark alone after that; and it comes as quite a surprise that we find him finally charged with the high honour of writing one of the four Gospels. Not only, does Peter take him in hand with that affectionate care which we should expect from one of his nature, but Paul, who had such a disparaging judgment of him in former times, is able to recognise and acknowledge the value of Mark’s subsequent service. He mentions him as being one of his five fellow-workers who were “a comfort” to him (Col. 4:11; cf. Philemon 24) in Rome about A.D. 64, and two years subsequently he tells Timothy to “take Mark and bring him with thee, for he is profitable to me for the ministry” (2 Tim. 4:11).1

This evangelist, as Luke — mentioned together in 2 Tim. 4:11 — was doubtless a prophet. It is the prophetic character of gift which especially is in exercise for writing Scripture (Rom. 16:26). This explains the true source of the authority in such holy writings. To attribute it to Peter 2 for the one and to Paul for the other betrays the worthless character of early tradition, such as it appears in the speculations of Eusebius of Caesarea.2

§2. Divine Design

The second Gospel 3 has for its design the setting forth of the service “of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” He who at first failed, but at length was pronounced “profitable for ministry,” was just as suitable in the power of the Holy Spirit for that task as Matthew, called from the receipt of customs to be an Apostle, was for the first Gospel. Christ Himself serves in the Gospel, and does mighty works accompanying it, as Mark describes.3

The precision which Mark furnishes, partly by his characteristic “straightway” that so often occurs, partly by a perhaps still more definite specifying of time — e.g., in Mark 4:35 — enables us to clear up some difficulties in the different order of the events4 related in the three Synoptic Gospels.3 From a careful comparison it results that, of the four inspired writers, two were led to abstain save in the rarest degree from chronological order; two from their respective designs subordinate that order where requisite to a grouping of events or discourses independently; and of the two, in each case one was an Apostle, the other not. Matthew and Luke were from time to time not bound to simple historic sequence, whereas Mark and John as the rule adhere to it.4

None can be justly called “fragmentary,”5 for each has a specific design impressed on the work, and all that is inserted or omitted may be accounted for on this principle. Where an incident illustrates that which belongs to the scope of all four, they all introduce it, as, for instance, the miracle of the five loaves and the two little fishes. Where it falls in with the province of one only, there it is given, and nowhere else; as the Temple tax in Matt. 17, the deaf stammerer in Mark 7, the penitent woman in Luke 7, and the Samaritan woman in John 4, to mention but one of the many facts, signs, and discourses peculiar to each, and to John abundantly. In some cases three give the same subject-matter, in others but two.

But this is not all. Whilst there are notable phrases and words common to all,6 there are quite as notable differences7 in the mode of communication. Hence speculative minds are tempted to irreverent cutting of the knot they cannot untie;8 whilst unexercised souls fail to gather the profit intended of the Spirit through every shade of difference. For it is a perversion of the truth that the writers were inspired, but not the writings. If 2 Peter 1:21 warrants the former, still more explicit and distinctly applicable is the claim for the latter in 2 Tim. 3:16. In the verse preceding we have the “sacred” title of the Old Testament; but in verse 16 the Spirit of God pronounces for “every” thing that falls under the designation of “Scripture.” It is not a question of human infirmity, but of God’s power. Every Scripture is inspired by God (
θεόπνευστος). Not only were the men inspired, but so, according to the Apostle Paul, is the result. Ordinarily their writing, like their words, would have been liable to the imperfections of human speech and the limitations of human thought; but every Scripture, every writing that comes under this category, is God-breathed, and in no way “left” to the mere accidents of human faculties. To mix up with inspiration the manifold errors of copyists in the lapse of ages is illicit and illogical, not to say dishonest, for this is quite another question. All we contend for is the Divine character of indisputable Scripture.

Differences, then, there are; but instead of being the discrepancies which unbelief hastily and improperly calls them because of ignorance, they are the beautiful and instructive effect and evidence of God’s varied designs. Take Matt. 8 as an instance — “a solemn assembly of witnesses,” as one justly calls it. The leper came, in fact, long before what is called the Sermon on the Mount. “And, behold,” in verse 2 ties us down to no date. But as the Holy Spirit had already given a summary of the Lord’s deeds of gracious preaching and power in Matt. 4:23, 24, so He presents details of His teaching in chapters 5:6, 7, and of His miracles in chapter 8, and again in another way in chapter 9, where the date yields to deeper considerations, and selected proofs are grouped together designedly. In Mark 1:40-45, where no such purpose operates, we see its place historically. Luke confirms the fact that it was on “one of those days” when Christ was in Capernaum, and before the healing of the paralytic, which in Matthew is reserved for the first case in Matt. 9.

But, to look into details, the leper’s cure fitly attested the present power of Jehovah-Messiah which opens Matt. 8. And as this proved His grace toward the Jew that came in his uncleanness and faith (however faltering), the Gentile centurion’s great faith next follows, and here only is connected thus. In the Gospel of Luke it has a different place, in Mark it has none. The third fact in chapter 8, the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, so interesting to a Jew, and assuring that grace to the Gentile did not turn Messiah’s heart from Israel, seems here inserted with that design, whereas historically it preceded both the previous miracles in date, as shown in Mark 1 and Luke 4. So, of course, did the healing of many demoniacs and sick on that evening after the Sabbath, in fulfilment of Isa. 53:4. It is not in the least difficult to believe that the Holy Spirit led Matthew to introduce at this point what Luke presents in quite a different connection (Luke 9:57), and with an addition too. The harmonists who imagine duplicates are no more faithful than the commentators who tax the inspired with discrepancies. The conversation, whenever it occurred, seems given in the first Gospel to show the great vessel of Divine power and grace — i.e., the Messiah consciously rejected, the Son of Man having nowhere to lay His head, yet claiming from a disciple to be followed, even if a father lay dead. We know, too, for certain that the storm which He rebuked and the deliverance of the demoniacs took place after the parables of Matt. 13 were heard and explained.

The septenary of chapter 9 is a similar collection of witnesses following that of chapter 8, which indicates not only His Divine power displayed in Israel, but the growing hatred and jealousy which it excited in the scribes, till it culminated in the Pharisees who sought to poison the multitude with their blasphemy: “By the prince of the demons He casteth out demons.” But no more evidence is needed that Matthew was led, where it was required, to state facts and words so as best to give dispensational order, as Luke was led in no less a degree to present moral order. Take the Lord’s genealogy as a clear proof, not in Luke 1, but in Luke 3, after the statement of John put in prison, and of the wondrous scene of His baptism following, though, of course, it long preceded what is here recounted. Take, again, the temptation, where Luke puts the third act in the second place as the moral order; whereas the actual fact as represented by Matthew coincided with the dispensational, which it was his function to make known. This necessitated the remarkable omission which the true and ancient text testifies, as distinguished from the common error introduced by copyists, harmonists, and the like, whose false assimilations provoke the rather more evil doubts of their opponents.

How full of interest, as bearing on Divine purpose, to observe that in the Gospel of Mark there is no account of the Lord’s reading of Isa. 61 and preaching in the synagogue at Nazareth, any more than Matthew or John gives it! For Luke 4 it was reserved, as Christ’s grandly suited introduction to public witness, as we shall see more fully in its place. The introduction for Matthew’s Gospel was the striking but wholly different application of Isa. 9, where the light shining in despised Galilee was promised. Nor was Mark given to state this, but only Matthew, whose also it was, above all, to point out the fulfilment of prophecy in the still more despised Messiah, as he only had mentioned the visit of the Magi, and the flight into Egypt, and the slaughter of the babes, all bearing in the same direction.

Again, Mark was not led to present the remarkable healing of the centurion’s servant, which has so prominent a position in the first Gospel, and a still greater length in the third. The leper’s cleansing Mark does give, followed by the healing of the paralytic, and very graphically in both cases; but there was no design by him to bring in the witness that Jehovah’s power would call in Gentiles when Israel should be cast out, as in Matt. 8, any more than to show, as in Luke 7, the faith of the Gentile, not so seen in Israel, which recognised the power of God in Jesus to command sovereignly and in love, and this in a soul so humbled by grace as to discern His people in the degenerate Jews, loved and honoured for His name’s sake.

So, further, in the first Gospel and the second we have no account whatever of the widow’s son raised from the dead outside Nain. It had no connection with their scope in particular, and we may presume that it was therefore here omitted. But it had the utmost importance for illustrating Divine power in the highest form, united in our Lord Jesus with the fullest human sympathy, and so it is exactly in accord with the special aim of Luke’s Gospel, where alone it is found.

On the same principle we may account for a vast deal of intermediate matter given in the central parts of the first and third Gospels, which does not appear in the Gospel of Mark.9 We are thus delivered from the theories which have occupied many learned men, to the hurt of themselves and of those who trust them. For they have sought on human grounds to explain the different phenomena of the Synoptic Gospels, some advocating a common document,10 others only a general apostolic tradition.11 Again, a supplemental intention has been attributed to those that followed successively the first, for his own contribution to the sum as it gradually appeared and grew.12 Had they believed in the special design imprinted by the Holy Spirit on each and every one of them, erroneous speculation had been spared, to the honour of God’s word and to the spiritual profit of His children. The differences which undoubtedly occur would then have been known to be in no case discrepancy, but springing from God’s wisdom, not man’s weakness, and adding incalculably to the witness of Christ, and consequently to the spiritual intelligence of him that accepts all from God in faith of His truth and love.5

Legitimate criticism may seek to gather the true text from reliable documents, in time differing more or less through human infirmity or fault. But it nightly supposes an original Divine deposit. No intelligent person would mix this question with God’s inspiration; various readings belong to the distinct region of man’s responsibility, as Scripture does to Divine grace. The problem of the true critic is to use all means, external and internal, to recover what was originally written (See §3). What is called “higher criticism” is essentially spurious, either denying God as the Author or impudently pretending to speak for Him, if they go not so far. Even Christians are in danger of heeding what these enemies of the written word assume, when it is said that it nowhere claims Divine authority. Nor is it only inferential evidence that is given throughout the Bible in general, as well as the conclusive proof of the reverence to all then written shown by our Lord, the Lord of all. It is dogmatic truth that God’s inspiration is claimed for every Scripture — not merely for all given before the Apostle Paul wrote his last epistle, but for that part which remained to be written. For nothing less is the force of 2 Tim. 3:16 Every scripture [is] inspired of God and profitable,” etc. Had the existing body been meant the article would have been requisite, as in verse 14, which speaks only of the Old Testament. Its absence was no less correct for accrediting with the same source and character all that God might be pleased to vouchsafe till the canon was complete.

Indeed, the Apostle had at an earlier date made in substance the same claim in 1 Cor. 2. Where the Hebrew oracles stopped, the New Testament revealed all that is for God’s glory and goodness to communicate (verses 9-12): “Which things also we speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those Spirit-taught, communicating spirituals by spirituals,” or, if we supply the gap, “spiritual [things] by spiritual [words].” The words were as positively of the Holy Spirit as the thoughts.13 Such is the essential property of Scripture. Thus all was of the Spirit of God — the revelation, the communication, and also the reception. Rationalism denies God in them all, attributing them to man’s spirit, which he may elevate in effect to that of God, being in darkness and walking in darkness, and knowing not whither he goes, because darkness blinded his eyes.

Translation, again, like interpretation, as well as editing the text from the varying witnesses, belongs to the responsible use of Scripture, and is quite distinct from the fact of its Divine inspiration. No doubt the conviction that God inspired every Scripture would act powerfully on the spirit of every believer who undertook works so serious, and is intended to make him feel his dependence on God in the use of all diligence and every means duly to attain the end in view. But inspiration means, as one of those employed in it says, that men spoke from God, moved (or borne along) by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). Hence Scripture is not of man’s wit or will, but of God, as no one more clearly than our Lord ever shows, and so of final and Divine authority. Hence, too, the danger and evil for anyone to give, whatever the cause of failure, his own mind and not God’s in editing, translating, or interpreting. What God communicated is able to make one wise unto salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus. “Is it not written?” if truly applied, is absolutely conclusive in His judgment who will judge living and dead. “And the Scripture cannot be broken.”

How immense, too, is the privilege! In its later portion it is the revelation of God, not merely from God, but of Himself, and of God speaking to us in a Son — not the Firstborn merely, but the Only-begotten, the revelation of the Father and the Son by the Holy Spirit. Oh, the grace, too, of His Son deigning to become man, that we might have what is absolute made relative to us in the tender affections of very man, yet of One who was and is God as His Father. Hence the total change for us in looking at things, seen or unseen, according to God, where the greatest are brought down to our hearts, and the least we learn to be near to God’s love; nothing too great for us, nothing too little for God, as said another departed from his labours to be with Christ. Christ alone, Christ fully, accounts for both, and Scripture is the true treasure-house as well as standard of it all, as the Spirit was sent forth from heaven to make it good in us in every way. No tradition could avail for such a stupendous task.

The Spirit of God in recording does not limit Himself to the bare words that Jesus spoke. This I hold to be a matter of no little importance in forming a sound judgment of the Scriptures. The notion to which orthodox men sometimes shut themselves up, in zeal for plenary inspiration, is to my mind altogether mechanical; they think that inspiration necessarily and only gives the exact words that Christ uttered. There seems to me not the slightest necessity for this. Assuredly the Holy Spirit gives the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The differences are owing to no infirmity, but to His design, and what He has given us is incomparably better than a bare report by so many hands, all meaning to give the same words and facts. . . . Matthew and Luke alike give us the parable of the sower, but Matthew calls it the word of the kingdom, while Luke calls it the word of God. The Lord Jesus may have employed both in His discourse at this time. . . . The Spirit of God did not give us to have both in the same Gospel, but acts with Divine sovereignty. He does not lower the Evangelists into mere literal reporters. . . , The mere mechanical system can never explain inspiration. It finds itself entirely baffled by the fact that the same words are not given in all the Gospels. Take Matthew “Blessed are the poor” (verse 3), and Luke (verse 20) “Blessed are ye poor.” This is at once an embarrassing difficulty for the mechanical scheme of inspiration; it is none at all for those who hold to the Holy Spirit’s supremacy in employing different men as the vessels of His various objects.6

§3. Textual Criticism.

Although able critics have for a century sought to edit the Greek Testament on documentary evidence of Greek manuscripts, ancient versions, and early citations, none as yet have succeeded in commanding more than partial confidence. Hence it has been a necessity for any careful and conscientious scholar who would really know the sources to compare several of these editions, and search into the grounds on which their differences depend, so as to have anything like a correct and enlarged view of the text, and to judge fairly of the claims of conflicting readings. . . . Mature spiritual judgment, with continual dependence on the Lord, is just as essential as a sound and thorough familiarity with the ancient witnesses of all kinds.7

Lachmann published a manual edition of the New Testament professedly based on Bentley’s idea of exhibiting the text as read in the fourth century . . . at one fell swoop sentenced the mass of the surviving witnesses to an ignominious death, and presented us with a text formed on absolute principles of singular narrowness . . . . 14 The neglect of internal evidence is a fatal objection. But the grand fallacy involved is that a manuscript of the fourth or fifth century must give better readings than one of the seventh or eighth. Now this is in no way certain. There is a presumption in favour of the more ancient manuscript, because each successive transcription tends to introduce new errors in addition to those it repeats. On the other hand, a copy of the ninth century may have been made from one older than any now extant, and certainly some old documents are more corrupt than many of the more recent witnesses. Every ingenuous scholar must own, to say the least, that the oldest manuscripts have some bad readings, and that the modern manuscripts have some that are good.15 Hence the distinction is not between the united evidence of the most ancient documents (Manuscripts, Versions, Fathers), and the common herd of those more recent; for rarely, if ever, is there such unanimous ancient testimony without considerable support from witnesses of a later day. The truth is that almost always, where the old documents really agree, there is large confirmation elsewhere, and where the ancients differ, so do the moderns. It is quite unfounded, therefore, to treat it as a question pure and simple between old and new. Nor is it the important point of research what particular readings existed in the days of Jerome. For notoriously errors of various kinds had then crept into both Greek and Latin copies, and no antiquity can sanctify an error. The true question is: What, using every available means to form a judgment, was the primitive text? It is often forgotten that our oldest documents are but copies. Several centuries elapsed between the original issue of the New Testament Scriptures and any manuscripts now existing. All, therefore, are on the ground of copyists differing only in degree. It is not, then, a comparison between a single eye-witness and many hearsay reporters, unless we have the original autographs. And, in fact, we know that an historian’s account, three centuries after alleged facts, may be, and often is, corrected, five hundred or a thousand years after, by recurrence to sources more trustworthy, or by a more patient, comprehensive, and skilful sifting of neglected evidence.

My own conviction is that in certain cases, especially in single words, the most ancient copy that exists may be corrected by another generally inferior, not only in age, but in almost every respect besides, and that internal evidence ought to be used, in dependence upon the Spirit of God,16 where the external authorities are conflicting.8

1 Bible Treasury, vol. xx., p. 28 ff.

2 “Exposition of 2 Timothy,” pp. 138, 172.

3 Cf. “Lectures Introductory to the Study of the Gospels,” pp. 152, 156 ff.

4 “Lectures Introductory to the Study of the Gospels,” pp. 140-151.

5 On “Divine Design” traced chapter by chapter, see continuation of the above in B.T., vol. xiii., p. 124 ff., reproduced in “The Inspiration of the Scriptures,” pp. 320-329. As to “Divine Design” being discredited as an a priori theory, see “Lectures on Matthew,” p. 8 ff.

6 The last paragraph has been drawn from “Lectures on the Gospels,” pp. 287-289. See further note 13 in Appendix.

7 From a review of the Revised Version of the New Testament in B.T., vol. xiii., p. 287 (June, 1881).

8 From Preface to “The Revelation of John,” edited in Greek, with a new English version and a statement of the chief authorities and various readings (London: Williams and Norgate, 1860). For a commendation by Ewald of the views above expressed, see that distinguished scholar’s notice of what he describes as this “very useful English work in Jahrbücher (Göttingen, Dieterich, 1861), No. xi., p. 247ff.