Before leaving our consideration of the New Testament, it may be well to look at some more of the alleged inaccuracies with which infidels and professing Christians have unscrupulously assailed the holy scriptures.
Three Days and Three Nights
It has been said, that because our Lord died on Friday at the ninth hour, was buried that day, and rose again from the dead on Sunday, the first day of the week, that, therefore, it is not true to say He was "three days and three nights in the heart of the earth," as our Lord declared that the Son of man would be. (Matt. 12:40.) But let it be observed, that according to the Jewish mode of calculating time, there is no inaccuracy in this statement. In our day man has changed the scriptural order of almost everything possible, and instead of speaking of an evening and morning being a day, modern Gentiles say that a day consists of a morning and evening, and so calculate accordingly. And if the Jews reckoned any part of a day, as part of a night and a day (for the evening and the morning in Genesis 1 made a day), the alleged inaccuracy wholly disappears. For Friday, up to six o'clock, would be spoken of as one night and day, Friday evening and Saturday morning another night and day, and thus the difficulty is removed.
Our Lord's Temptations
It has been alleged, that because Matthew and Luke, who both recorded in their gospels our Lord's temptations from the devil, do not narrate them in the same order, there must be inaccuracy. But suppose one of the Evangelists, Matthew, relates them in their chronological order, and Luke puts them in moral sequence, or according to the severity of the temptations, and therefore puts the severest, when Satan quotes scripture, last, where then is the difficulty?
Drink no longer water
It has been said by learned men, Can we believe that to be inspired which tells Timothy to "drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake, and thine often infirmities"? And again, "The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments"? Why not? Does it not show that the Holy Spirit considers our bodily need, and the books and writings His servants find helpful in His blessed service?
Feeding the Multitude
One of the boldest attacks on the truth of late years has been the statement that when our Lord fed the thousands on a few loaves and fishes, with baskets of fragments remaining as not needed, it is impossible they could have all eaten, and must have had a meal before. But such infidel statements completely leave out God, and it may be said to those who so speak, "Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God." As to the miracle of feeding so many on so little, we are told "they were all filled," and on referring to Psalm 132:15, we see it was only the fulfilment of what had been predicted ages before, as a true sign of Messiah, "I will abundantly bless her provision; I will satisfy her poor with bread." Could there have been a more beautiful fulfilment of this prophecy than our Lord's feeding the multitude? And ought not the Jews to have known by it that He was the Messiah?
The Passover and Lord's Supper
In a theological work just published, among many other charges against the holy scriptures, we are told that Matthew, Mark, and Luke made a "mistake" in assuming "that the Lord's Supper was the Passover feast;" "that the two were regarded as identical;" and also that our Lord had desired to eat the Passover with them, but He did not eat it." There is nothing new in these charges, though they are very far from the truth.
1. On turning to the gospels, we find that Matthew, Mark, and Luke, each, according to the line of things given him by the Spirit, supplies us with particulars as to the eating of the Passover. John usually takes the divine side, and enters little into Jewish circumstances. His gospel is founded on their rejection of the Messiah, as stated in the beginning, "He came unto his own, and his own received him not."
With regard to the Passover, Matthew says that our Lord sent some of His disciples into the city to make ready the Passover. They said unto Jesus, "Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the Passover? And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples . . . . and they made ready the passover. Now when the even was come, he sat down with the twelve. And as they did eat etc. (Chap. 26.)
Mark's account is the sending forth of two of His disciples into the city, much in the same way. They were to say to the good man of the house, "Where is the guest-chamber where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? . . . . and they made ready the passover. And in the evening, he cometh with the twelve. And as they sat and did eat," etc. (Chap. 14.)
Luke gives the same account as to the furnished room. He tells us, that the two disciples sent were Peter and John. They were to say, "Where is the guest-chamber where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? . . . and they made ready the passover. And when the hour was come he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him. And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer. For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God." (Chap. 22.)
Thus far the account of these three Evangelists is entirely about the Passover. Where, then, is the mistake? Where is there the smallest evidence, that up to the actual eating of the Passover the disciples had an idea of its being anything but the Passover feast? Where, then, are the writers' mistakes? Where is there the faintest intimation that the Passover and Lord's Supper were assumed by these inspired writers to be identical? How appalling are such rash charges, and how calculated to promote infidelity, and to bring the holy scriptures into contempt!
2. We have just seen that the Lord desired to eat the Passover with His disciples; that He sent Peter and John to procure a room where He might eat the Passover with His disciples; that at the appointed hour He and the twelve sat down, and as they sat and did eat, Jesus said, "I will not eat any more thereof." Referring to Judas, He also said, "He that eateth bread with me," etc. Can there be a doubt, then, that our Lord did eat the Passover? How very serious for any one without a shadow of proof to say, "He did not eat of it"!
The fact is, that the Passover having been eaten by our Lord with His disciples according to Jehovah's mind, for the last time on earth, before the kingdom comes, in the immediate anticipation of His rejection as Messiah, and His death as a Sacrifice for sin, His resurrection and ascension, He institutes another thing which was not a Jewish feast, but a Christian ordinance, and of very different import. Though they both set forth to faith the Saviour's death and blood-shedding, the Passover was a memorial of the blood of the paschal lamb in Egypt, sheltering from judgment; but in the Lord's Supper, the wine is to faith the memorial of the blood of Christ which speaks to the believer of remission of sins, and of his being perfected for ever by that one offering. (Matt 26:28; Heb. 10:2-20.) The blood of Christ assures us of redemption accomplished, sins purged, conscience purged, and the worshipper purged, thus having boldness to enter into the holiest. It would, therefore, be impossible for those who received God's testimony to the eternal efficacy of "the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all," to regard the Passover and the Lord's Supper as identical. It is then impossible that Matthew, Mark, and Luke could have assumed that "the Lord's Supper was the Passover feast."
As to the Supper being instituted, Matthew says, "As they were eating;" Mark, "As they did eat." Luke gives a fuller account of the details of the Passover feast, and adds that our Lord said, in reference to eating it, "I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God." After this, "he took bread [a loaf], and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you." Mark says, "shed for many," and Matthew, "shed for many for the remission of sins." We ask, then, was there anything like this in the Passover feast? Is it not clear that it was at the close of the eating of the Passover that our Lord instituted His Supper? It is well, however, to remember, that since then our Lord has spoken from heaven about His supper; and as, by His rejection by the nation, the kingdom is in abeyance, He has taught us that, "As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till He come." (1 Cor. 11:23-26.) We need scarcely add, that His "coming" for His saints will be before His "appearing and his kingdom."
The Call of Abraham
It has been widely taught by learned men, that discrepancies abound in Stephen's speech before his martyrdom; it, therefore, calls for a few remarks.
It is well to remember, that Acts 6 tells us that Stephen was "full of the Holy Ghost . . . full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles . . . they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake . . . and they saw his face as it had been the face of an angel." We ask, then, was he likely to have spoken with accuracy, or not?
Add to all this, that his faithful speech was before the Sanhedrim, who were well instructed in the history of the people of Israel, and especially as to Moses and Abraham, and the Pentateuch, so that any historical discrepancy would have at once been detected by them. But of such a thing there is not a trace.
Let us now look at some of the charges of modern philosophers. One is, that in Acts 7:4, we are taught concerning Abraham, that the death of his father was after the call, and not, as according to Genesis 11:32, before it. If the accounts of the call of Abraham be carefully examined, no such phrase can be found, as "the call," because there was evidently more than one. Stephen speaks of the God of glory having appeared to Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, and said, "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall show thee." (Acts 7:2, 3.) The effect of this was, that he left his country, and, it may be, many of his kindred; but his father accompanied him, and Sarah, and Lot, and dwelt in Haran. There they remained long enough for souls to be gotten in Haran. (Gen. 11:31; 12:5.) Then it seems God called him to get out from his country, kindred, and father's house, and come into a land that He would show him. (Gen. 12:1 .) The effect of this call was, that he departed out of Haran. This is confirmed by Stephen saying, "from thence [Haran] when his father was dead, he [God] removed him into this land;" showing unquestionably that there was a second interposition on the part of Jehovah. Now, where is there discrepancy between the account in Genesis, and the testimony of Stephen? Nay, rather, Is not the comparison of the two accounts a further testimony to the perfect accuracy of scripture, and of both having divine authorship?
The Years of Moses
It is alleged that there is in Acts 7:23, 30, 36, the distinct mention of three periods of forty years, of which only the last is mentioned in the Pentateuch. But if we turn to Exodus 7, we are told that "Moses was fourscore years old . . . . when they spake unto Pharaoh." (Ver. 7.) Now these fourscore years of Moses exactly agree with Stephen's account, that he was forty years old when it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel, and was forty years after in Madian. This also fits in perfectly with Exodus 2:11, 15, and 7:7. Stephen makes the age of Moses to be one hundred and twenty years altogether; and in Deuteronomy 31:2, and 34:7, he is said to have died at the age of one hundred and twenty years. Now, where is there any discrepancy?
The Terror of Moses
We believe there is no remedy if men have not the fear of God before their eyes. Take another example, to show with what levity and trifling some of the learned in our day have published their views — some more of the last words of God's faithful martyr, when full of the Holy Ghost, and wisdom, and faith. It is said, that "the terror of Moses at the bush spoken of in Acts 7:32, is not mentioned in Exodus 3:3." It is quite true it is not mentioned in the third verse, but in the sixth verse we find the words, "And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God." Could any testimony more clearly confirm the agreement of the martyr's teaching with the prophet's statement?
Saul's Sight of the Lord Jesus
It is widely taught that there are contradictions in the two accounts of the conversion of Saul, in Acts 9:7 and 22:9. Let us carefully compare them. Both Saul and those who travelled with him are mentioned. Saul saw the Lord Jesus Christ, was blinded by the light, heard Him speak words to him personally, addressing him in the Hebrew tongue, calling him by name, and Saul replied. The men who were with him saw the light, were alarmed, did not speak a word, saw no one, but heard a voice or sound. In Acts 9:7 we read, "The men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice [or sound] but seeing no man." In chapter 22:9, we read, "They that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me." In these scriptures there is surely no discrepancy.
Holding Jesus by the Feet
It is often said that the statement that "the women held Jesus by the feet and worshipped him," is a palpable contradiction of His command to Mary not to touch Him.
In Matthew 28:9, we read that as "they went [according to the angel's word] to tell his disciples, behold Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet and worshipped him."
In John 20:17, when Mary seems ready to approach the Lord in her accustomed manner, "Jesus said unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God."
It seems to us impossible that any one can see the beauty of these two scriptures, and the entire absence of contradiction, unless the different lines of truth and the relationships of which each evangelist treats are discerned. This too resolves many other difficulties. The moral perfection of scripture is then most striking.
In Matthew we have, from first to last, facts which are for the most part narrated as having a Jewish bearing. Hence we find much of that kind of instruction which is not found in the other gospels. When our Lord spake of His death and resurrection, He added, "But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee." (Matt. 26:32.) The Messiah having been rejected by the Jews and Jerusalem, He now intimates that when raised from among the dead, He will still recognise the "poor of the flock" in Galilee, who will thus be a sample of the future remnant spoken of by the prophets that will be brought into their promised blessing at His appearing and kingdom. This is doubtless why we have no ascension in Matthew. This is also why the angel sent the message to the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee, which was afterwards confirmed by our Lord, and acted on by the disciples. (Matt. 28:5, 10, 16.) It is here that Jesus as Messiah, having died for that "nation," is now able, on the ground of His work, to recognise relationship with the faithful residue. Hence, in keeping with this, the women are allowed to hold Him by the feet and worship Him; for the Jewish thought is to have Messiah bodily with them on earth. This will be manifested in due time.
But John's is a different line of things. All through his gospel we have the Father and the Son. Jesus is here looked at as having taught believers that they were loved of the Father, given to Him by the Father, and that their destiny was the Father's house. When He went back to the Father, He spake of sending the Holy Spirit to be with us and in us during all the time of His absence; and that He would come again and receive us unto Himself, that where He is there we might be also. Therefore, in John 20:17, we have the new relationships of being God's children, and Christ's brethren, announced, not in connection with a Messiah seen on earth, but with the Lord of glory, not here but in heaven. It is in principle Christianity and not Judaism. Mary therefore was forbidden to "touch" Him, but was sent to tell others of His sphere henceforth being in ascension and not on earth. They were to know Him, serve Him, and honour Him as gone back to the Father. The Christian's relationships therefore are heavenly, and for ever. Precious message! "Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God." O, the untold blessedness of these new relationships, founded on Christ's work of eternal redemption!
Sin and Transgression
Though the books of Moses and the Gospels have been the portions of the sacred writings against which the shafts of scepticism have been more generally thrust, yet the Epistles have not wholly escaped their censure. We only select one instance, out of many, from a published pamphlet now before us.
It is alleged as a proof of contradiction, that in the second chapter of Romans it is said, "For as many as have sinned without law, shall also perish without law;" and in the fourth chapter, "Where no law is, there is no transgression." In the accuser's mind sinning and transgression are here the same thought, hence to perish without law, and yet for there to be no transgression without law, to him is a contradiction; but it is not so. We are told that "all have sinned," from Adam downwards; but the people of Israel were also transgressors, because they went across God's positive commands. Adam also transgressed in doing what God prohibited. (Rom. 5:12, 14.)
The accuracy of Romans 2:12 is seen in that not having been under the law, they will not be judged by it: but having a conscience and the knowledge of good and evil since "sin entered into the world," they will be judged on other grounds. Such may be referred to in Romans 1:18 and following verses. The accuracy of Romans 4:15, is seen in the holiness of the principle, that if there had been no law given, there could be nothing to be disobeyed, no transgression. Speaking generally, then, all Gentiles and Jews are sinners by nature, and practice — all are "under sin," "have sinned, and come short of the glory of God "; but the children of Israel, who willingly put themselves under law, have been proved to be transgressors, and when Jews and Gentiles are classed together another word is used, the word "offences," for all are offenders, though not all transgressors, inasmuch as Gentiles have not the law — "Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." (Rom. 4:25.)
It may be well to add, that the word "sin" is used about thirty times in only two chapters in Romans, the sixth and seventh. It is called "the old man," "the flesh," which the believer is not in as to his standing, though it is still in him, but to faith he is righteously delivered from, because "our old man is crucified" and "dead with Christ." "Sins" are forgiven, because they have been borne, suffered for, and atoned for by Christ, whose blood "was shed for many for the remission of sins." We read, therefore, of remission of sins, and of our old man (the nature that did the sins) being crucified with Christ; and these are important distinctions. We find "sin," "sins," "offences," and "transgression," used in this epistle and elsewhere with the greatest precision.
The Sixth Hour in John 19:14
The question is, If Mark tells us that Jesus was crucified at "the third hour," and Matthew in accordance with Mark's testimony, says, "from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour," how can John possibly be correct in saying that the trial of our adorable Lord before Pilate was not ended till "about the sixth hour"?
If, however, it be true, as is generally accepted, that John's gospel was the last book of scripture which was written, say about thirty years after the destruction of Jerusalem, and by that time the Jewish mode of reckoning a day, from about six of one evening to about six in the next evening, had pretty generally given way to the Roman mode of reckoning a day, as we now do, from midnight to midnight, then all thought of discrepancy in these passages of scripture vanishes. This would make the ending of the trial to be at six in the morning, and the time of crucifixion to be nine.
Accepting, then, the above-named thought that John, unlike the other evangelists, used Roman time, and that about three hours intervened between the end of the trial and the actual crucifixion of our precious Lord and Saviour, let us see, from the brief scripture record we have, what transpired during these three hours. What hours of sorrow and suffering they must have been to Him!
First of all, we read, after the wicked trial by infuriated men led on by Satan, that the holy Sufferer was "scourged," which must have taken up some time; then He was brought into the Pretorium, and the whole band of soldiers were gathered unto Him. There they stripped Him of His own clothes, and put on Him a scarlet robe. There too they "platted a crown of thorns," "put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, king of the Jews!" The enmity of the heart of man to the Holy Son of God was further manifested by their spitting upon Him, and taking the reed and smiting Him upon the head. All this outrage and other indignities must have extended over some time, for, in addition to all that we have noticed, it is said, "After that they had mocked him," etc., intimating that the Saviour was publicly held in derision for some time. Lastly, we find that they took the robe from off Him, and put His own raiment on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him.
All through these three hours the two malefactors were most likely being tried by Pilate; for, as our Lord was the first to be crucified, it is more than probable that He had the precedence in the trial. The whole account seems to imply this. And as the scriptures of the prophets could not but have their fulfilment, the thieves must be crucified with Him, for He must not only bear the sins of many, but "be numbered with the transgressors." Considering all these things, the three hours' interval between the end of the Saviour's trial and His crucifixion may easily be accounted for.
The Lamb of God is now led on to Calvary, bearing His own cross till they compelled a man of Cyrene to bear it after Him. On the road, He addressed the weeping women, and enjoined them not to weep for Him, but for themselves and their children, because of what was coming upon them. Then reaching Calvary, He was most cruelly nailed to the cross, fulfilling truly the words of the prophet, "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted; yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth." It was also blessedly true that "He made intercession for the transgressors," and that "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities," for "it pleased the Lord to bruise him." (Isa. 53:5-12.) After hanging three hours on the cross in agony and shame, there was darkness over the whole land from the sixth to the ninth hour, at the close of which, He so bitterly felt the anguish of being forsaken of God as our Sin-bearer, that He cried out, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" and having fulfilled what had been written of Him, He said, "It is finished," committed Himself to the Father, and gave up the ghost. The rending of the veil in the temple was, no doubt, God's own testimony to the eternal efficacy of the death of the cross, by which He can now come out to sinners with the gospel, and the believer draw nigh to God by the blood of Jesus.
Looking briefly at the other parts of John's gospel in which hours are named, we notice that our Lord said, in the eleventh chapter, "Are there not twelve hours in a day?" which may be regarded as true, whether we look at time according to the Jewish or Roman mode of calculation.
In the first chapter, we read that the two disciples came to Jesus "about the tenth hour," which looks like ten in the morning, for they abode with Him that day, and we are not told of anything having been done by them on that day before that hour. (Chap. 1:35-39.)
In the fourth chapter we find our Lord wearied with His journey, sitting on the well "about the sixth hour." The time seems to have been six in the evening, for the disciples were gone away into the city to buy food, which might have been for the evening meal. After this the Lord went into the city, and many of the Samaritans believed, and besought Him to tarry with them: a kindness often shown in the East when the day was far spent. (Vers. 6, 8, 31, 40.)
At the close of the fourth chapter we are told, that the nobleman's son was healed "at the seventh hour," which most probably was seven in the evening. Our Lord said unto him, "Go thy way, thy son liveth . . . . and he went his way." Now as Capernaum was a distance of several miles from Cana of Galilee, if he took his journey that night so as to reach his home in the morning, then it can easily be understood that when his servants met him, they should have said, "Yesterday, at the seventh hour the fever left him," "So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus had said unto him, Thy son liveth; and himself believed, and his whole house." (Chap. 4:46-54.)
Every student of scripture meets with difficulties, and finds much that he cannot understand; but, as we have said before, waiting on God in humility of mind, and in unfeigned dependence on the Holy Spirit, it is astonishing how He clears up the difficulties for us. It is, however, very remarkable how the Lord seems to have anticipated many of the objections which are raised by learned and scientific men, who rely on their own reasonings instead of simply accepting what God has said. In addition to some instances already pointed out, we may notice that the Lord authenticated the doctrine of the descent of the human race from one pair of parents from the beginning of the creation (Mark 10:6); of the taking away of all by the Deluge, except those who were in the ark (Matt. 24:37-39); of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone; of the miraculous supply of the manna; and the story of Jonah and the fish (some great fish, not necessarily a whale), and his mission to Nineveh and its effects.
In meditating on the Gospels it is scarcely possible not to notice the reverence and honour paid by our Lord to "the scriptures." Only think of Him as to this when on the cross. After being bodily suspended there for six hours with nails in His hands and His feet, in unmitigated and indescribable pain, with all the sorrow too that pressed upon His spirit of being betrayed by one, denied by another, and forsaken by all; when lover and friend had been put far from Him, and His acquaintance into darkness; when consciously too bearing our sins in His own body on the tree, the Holy One made sin for us; the wrath of God, the forsaking of God, the judgment of God for our sins falling upon Him, so that His soul was made an offering for sin; so occupied was He with the perfect will of Him who sent Him, that the silence of the unparalleled crisis was broken by the words, "I thirst;" and why? There remained one little scripture that had not as yet had its fulfilment. What was it? "In my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink." (Ps. 69:21.) We therefore read, "Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar; and they filled a spurge with vinegar and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. When Jesus, therefore, had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished, and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost." (John 19:28-30.) And we may well ask, when pondering such a scene as this, could anything be more perfect as sealing the divine authority of scripture with His own blood? What true reverence for the sacred writings! What perfect subjection to every word of it! In a moment too of unutterable agony, depths of deepest sorrow, hours of darkness and unutterable woe, and above all, the forsaking of God. His heart broken with reproach, Satan bruising, men deriding in hateful enmity, every bone out of joint, yet manifesting perfect love to the Father, perfect obedience to His word, perfect subjection to His will, perfect reverence for what is written, and perfect love to all who trust in Him. What perfections cluster around the cross at Golgotha! Happy those who know Him risen and ascended as the Object of their faith, and the One in whom they trust. What lessons this unparalleled scene reads to us as to reverence for scripture, because it is the will and word of God; and how truly the Holy Spirit says of Him, that He hath "left us an example, that we should follow his steps."