Preface part 2 of 2

The Preface continued:

And when we have thus been led to see and to believe that the only religion of the world which has established the ideal of a perfect holiness, and rendered common attainment of that ideal, has received in conspicuous measure the blessing of God, we examine its truths with a deeper reverence. The record of these truths—the record of that teaching which made them familiar to the world—we find in the Gospel narrative. And that narrative reveals to us much more. It not only furnishes us with an adequate reason for the existence and for the triumphs of the faith we hold, but it also brings home to us truths which affect our hearts and intellects no less powerfully than “the starry heavens above and the moral law within.” Taught to regard ourselves as children of God, and common brothers in His great family of man, we find in the Gospels a revelation of God in His Son, which enables us to know Him more, and to trust Him more absolutely, and to serve Him more faithfully, than all which we can find in all the other books of God, whether in Scripture, or history or the experience of life, or those unseen messages which God has written on every individual heart. And finding that this revelation has been recorded by honest men in narratives which, however fragmentary, appear to stand the test of history, and to bear on the face of them ever mark of transparent simplicity and perfect truthfulness—prepared for the reception of these glad tidings of God’s love in man’s redemption by the facts of the world without, and the experiences of the heart within—we thus cease to find any overwhelming difficulty in the record that He whom we believe to have been the Son of God—He who alone has displayed on earth the transcendent miracle of a sinless life—should have walked on the Sea of Galilee or turned the water into wine.

And when we thus accept the truth of the miracles they become to us moral lessons of the profoundest value. In considering the miracles of Jesus we stand in a wholly different position to the earlier disciples. To them the evidence of the miracles lent an overwhelming force to the teachings of the Lord; they were as the seal of God to the proclamation of the new kingdom. But to us who, for nineteen centuries, have been children of that kingdom, such evidence is needless. To the Apostles they are the credentials of Christ’s mission; to us they are but fresh revelations of His will. To us they are works rather than signs, revelations rather than portents. Their historical importance lies for us in the fact that without them it would be impossible to account for the origin and spread of Christianity. We appeal to them not to prove the truth of Christianity, but to illustrate its dissemination. But though to us Christianity rests on the basis of a Divine approval far more convincing than the display of supernatural power—though to us the providence which for these two millenniums has ruled the destinies of Christendom is a miracle far more stupendous in its evidential force than the raising of the dead or the enlightenment of the blind—yet a belief in these miracles enables us to solve problems which would otherwise have found no illustration. To one who rejects them—to one who believes that the loftiest morals and the divinest piety which mankind has ever seen were evoked by a religion which rested on errors or on lies—the world’s history must remain, it seems to me, a hopeless enigma or a revolting fraud.

Referring to another part of the subject, I ought to say I do not regard as possible any final harmony of the Gospels. Against any harmony which can be devised some plausible objection could urged. On this subject no two writers have ever been exactly agreed, and this alone is sufficient to prove that the Gospel notices of chronology are too incomplete to render certainty attainable. I have, of course, touched directly, as well as indirectly, on such questions as the length of the ministry; and wherever the narrative required some clear and strong reason for adopting one view rather than another on some highly disputed point, I have treated the question as fully as was consistent with brevity, and endeavored to put the reader in possession of the main facts and arguments on which the decision rests. But it would have been equally unprofitable and idle to encumber my pages with endless controversy on collateral topics which, besides being dreary and needless, are such as admit of no final settlement. In deciding upon a particular sequence of events, we can only say that such a sequence appears to us a probable one, not by any means that we regard it as certain. In every instance I have carefully examined the evidence for myself, often compressing into a few lines, or even into an incidental allusion, the results of a long enquiry. To some extent I agree with Stier and Lange in the order of events which they have adopted, and in this respect, as well as for my first insight into the character of several scenes, I am, perhaps, more indebted to the elaborate work of Lange than to any others who have written on the same subject. When an author is writing from the results of independent thought on the sum total of impressions formed during a course of study, it is not always possible to acknowledge specific obligations; but whenever I was consciously indebted to others, I have, throughout the book, referred especially to them.

It is needless to add that this book is almost wholly founded on an independent study of the four Gospels side by side. In quoting from them I have constantly and intentionally diverged from the English version, because my main object has been to bring out and explain the scenes as they are described by the original witnesses. The minuter details of those scenes, and therewith the accuracy of our reproduction of them, depend in no small degree upon the discovery of the true reading, and the delicate observance of the true usage of words, particles, and tenses. It must not be supposed for a moment that I offer these translations—which are not unfrequently paraphrases—as preferable to those of the English version, but only that, consistently with the objects which I had in view, I have aimed at representing with more rigid accuracy the force and meaning of the true text in the original Greek. It will be noticed that in most of my quotations from the Gospels I do not slavishly follow the English version, but translate from the original Greek. It will be seen, too, that I have endeavored to glean in illustration all that is valuable or trustworthy in Josephus, in the Apocryphal Gospels, and in traditional particulars derived from the writings of the Fathers.

Some readers will perhaps be surprised by the frequency of the allusions to Jewish literature. Without embarking on “the sea of the Talmud” (as the Rabbis themselves call it)–a task which would require a lifetime—a modern reader may find not only the amplest materials, but probably all the materials it can offer for the illustration of the Gospel history, in the writings not of Christians only, but also of learned and candid Rabbis. Not only in the well-known treatises of Lightfoot, Schöttgen, Surenhuys, Wagenseil, Buxtorf, Otho, Reland, Budaeus, Gfrörer, Herzfeld, McCaul, Etheridge, but also in those of Jews by birth or religion, or both, like Geiger, Jost, Grätz, Derenbourg, Munk, Frankl, Deutsch, Raphall, Schweb, Cohen, any one may find large quotations from the original authorities collected as well by adversaries as by reverent and admiring students. Further, he may read the entire Misna (if he have the time and patience to do so) in the Latin version of Surenhusius, and may now form his judgment respecting large and important treatises even of the Gemara, from such translations as the French one of the Berachoth by M. Moïse Schwab. I have myself consulted all the authorities here named, and have gained from them much information which seems to me eminently useful. Their researches have thrown a flood of light on some parts of the Gospels, and have led me to some conclusions which, so far as I am aware, are new. Nothing of the slightest importance can be gleaned from the Talmudists about our Lord Himself. The real value of the Rabbinic writings in illustrating the Gospel’s is indirect, not direct—archaeological, not controversial. The light which they throw on the fidelity of the Evangelists is all the more valuable because it is derived from a source so unsuspected and so hostile.

If in any part of this book I have appeared to sin against the divine law of charity, I must here ask pardon for it. But at least I may say that whatever trace of asperity may be found in any page of it, has never been directed against men, but against principles, or only against those men or classes of men in long-past ages whom we solely regard as the representatives of principles. It is possible that this book may fall into the hands of some Jewish readers, and to these particularly I would wish this remark to be addressed. I have reason to believe that the Jewish race have long since learnt to look with love and reverence on Him whom their fathers rejected; nay, more, that many of them, convinced by the irrefragable logic of history, have openly acknowledged that He was indeed their promised Messiah, although they still reject the belief in His divinity. I see, in the writings of many Jews, a clear conviction that Jesus, to whom they have quite ceased to apply the terms of hatred found in the Talmud, was at any rate the greatest religious Teacher, the highest and noblest Prophet whom their race produced. They, therefore, would be the last to defend that greatest crime in history—the Crucifixion of the Son of God. And while no Christian ever dreams of visiting upon them the horror due to the sin of their ancestors, so no Jew will charge the Christians of to-day with looking with any feeling but that of simple abhorrence on the long, cruel, infamous persecution to which the ignorance and brutality of past ages have subjected their great and noble race. We may humbly believe that the day is fast approaching when He whom the Jews crucified, and whose divine revelations the Christians have so often and so grievously disgraced, will break down the middle wall of partition between them, and make both races one in religion, in heart, and life—Semite and Aryan, Jew and Gentile, united to bless and evangelize the world.

One task alone remains—the pleasant task of thanking those friends to whose ready aid and sympathy I owe so much, and who have surrounded with happy memories and obligations the completion of my work. First and foremost, my heartiest and sincerest thanks are due to my friends, Mr. C. J. Monro, late Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and Mr. R. Garnett, of the British Museum. They have given me an amount of time and attention which leave me most largely indebted to their unselfish generosity; and I have made claims on their indulgence more extensive than I can adequately repay. To my old pupil, Mr. H. J. Boyd, late scholar of Brasenose College, Oxford, I am indebted for the Table of Contents. I have also to thank the Rev. Professor Plumptre and Mr. George Grove, not only for the warm interest which they have taken in my work, but also for some valuable suggestions. There are many others, not here named, who will believe, without any assurance from me, that I am not ungrateful for the help which they have rendered; and I must especially offer my best acknowledgments to the Rev. T. Teignmouth Shore—but for whose kind encouragement the book would not have been undertaken—and to those who with so much care and patience have conducted it through the press.

And now I send these pages forth not knowing what shall befall them, but with the earnest prayer that they may be blessed to aid the cause of truth and righteousness, and that He in whose name they are writen may, of His mercy,

“Forgive them where they fail in truth,

and in His wisdom make me wise.”

Frederic W. Farrar

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