Vol. 1, Chapter II (Cont’d) – Apocryphal Tradition


We add some notes of minor interest connected with the history of Christ outside of the only authentic record in the Gospel.


I. The Apocryphal Sayings of Our Lord

The canonical Gospels contain all that is necessary for us to know about the words and deeds of our Lord, although many more might have been recorded (Joh_20:30; Joh_21:25). Their early composition and reception in the church precluded the possibility of a successful rivalry of oral tradition. The extra-biblical sayings of our Lord are mere fragments, few in number, and with one exception rather unimportant, or simply variations of genuine words.

They have been collected by Fabricius, in Codex Apocr. N. T., I pp. 321-335; Grabe: Spicilegium SS. Patrum, ed. alt. I. 12 sqq., 326 sq.; Koerner: De sermonibus Christi ἀγράφοις (Lips. 1776); Routh, in Reliq. Sacrae, vol. I. 9-12, etc.; Rud. Hofmann, in Das Leben Jesu nach den Apokryphen (Leipz. 1851, § 75, pp. 317-334); Bunsen, in Anal. ante-Nic. I. 29 sqq.; Anger, in Synops. Evang. (1852); Westcott: Introd. to the Study of the Gospels, Append. C. (pp. 446 sqq. of the Boston ed. by Hackett); Plumptre, in Ellicott’s Com. for English Readers, I. p. xxxiii.; J. T. Dodd: Sayings ascribed to our Lord by the Fathers (1874); E. B. Nicholson: The Gospel according to the Hebrews (Lond. 1879, pp. 143-162). Comp. an essay of Ewald in his “Jahrbücher der Bibl. Wissenschaft,” VI. 40 and 54 sqq., and Geschichte Christus’, p. 288. We avail ourselves chiefly of the collections of Hofmann, Westcott, Plumptre, and Nicholson.

On the Apocryphal Traditions of Christ, comp. throughout

Alfred Resch: Agrapha. Aussercanonische Evangelienfragmente gesammelt und untersucht. With an appendix of Harnack on the Gospel Fragment of Tajjum. Leipzig, 1889 (520 pp.). By far the most complete and critical work on the extra-canonical sayings of our Lord, of which he collects and examines 63 (see p. 80), including many doubtful ones, e.g., the much-discussed passage of the Didache (I. 6) on the sweating of aloes.

(1) “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Quoted by Paul, Act_20:35. Comp. Luk_6:30, Luk_6:31; also Clement of Rome, Ad Cor. c. 2, ἥδιον διδόντες ἢ λαμβάνοντες, “more gladly giving than receiving.” This is unquestionably authentic, pregnant with rich meaning, and shining out like a lone star all the more brilliantly. It is true in the highest sense of the love of God and Christ. The somewhat similar sentences of Aristotle, Seneca, and Epicurus, as quoted by Plutarch (see the passages in Wetstein on Act_20:35), savor of aristocratic pride, and are neutralized by the opposite heathen maxim of mean selfishness: “Foolish is the giver, happy the receiver.” Shakespeare may have had the sentence in his mind when he put into the mouth of Portia the golden words:

“The quality of mercy is not strained,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath: it is twice blessed;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes;

‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown.”

(2) “And on the same day Jesus saw a man working at his craft on the Sabbath-day, and He said unto him, ‘O man, if thou knowest what thou doest, then art thou blessed; but if thou knowest not, then art thou accursed, and art a transgressor of the Law.’” An addition to Luk_6:4, in Codex D. or Bezae (in the University library at Cambridge), which contains several remarkable additions. See Tischendorf’s apparatus in ed. VIII. Luc. Luk_6:4, and Scrivener, lntrod. to Criticism of the N. T. p. 8. ἐπικατάρατος is used Joh_7:49 (text. rec.) by the Pharisees of the people who know not the law (also Gal_3:10, Gal_3:13 in quotations from the O. T.); παραβάτης τοῦ νόμου by Paul (Rom_2:25, Rom_2:27; Gal_2:18) and James (Jam_2:9, Jam_2:11). Plumptre regards the narrative as authentic, and remarks that “it brings out with a marvellous force the distinction between the conscious transgression of a law recognized as still binding, and the assertion of a higher law as superseding the lower. Comp. also the remarks of Hofmann, l.c. p. 318.

(3) “But ye seek (or, in the imperative, seek ye, ζητεῖτε) to increase from little, and (not) from greater to be less.” An addition in Codex D. to Mat_20:28. See Tischendorf. Comp. Luk_14:11; Joh_5:44. Westcott regards this as a genuine fragment. Nicholson inserts “not,” with the Curetonian Syriac, D; all other authorities omit it. Juvencus has incorporated the passage in his poetic Hist. Evang. III. 613 sqq., quoted by Hofmann, p. 319.

(4) “Be ye trustworthy money-changers,” or, proved bankers (τραπεζῖται δόκιμοι); i.e. expert in distinguishing the genuine coin from the counterfeit. Quoted by Clement of Alexandria (several times), Origen (in Joann, xix.), Eusebius, Epiphanius, Cyril of Alexandria, and many others. Comp. 1Th_5:21: “Prove all things, hold fast the good,” and the parable of the talents, Mat_25:27. Delitzsch, who with many others regards this maxim as genuine, gives it the meaning: Exchange the less valuable for the more valuable, esteem sacred coin higher than common coin, and highest of all the one precious pearl of the gospel. (Ein Tag in Capernaum, p. 136.) Renan likewise adopts it as historical, but explains it in an Ebionite and monastic sense as an advice of voluntary poverty. “Be ye good bankers (soyez de bons banquiers), that is to say: Make good investments for the kingdom of God, by giving your goods to the poor, according to the ancient proverb (Pro_19:17): ‘He that hath pity upon the poor, lendeth to the Lord’” (Vie de Jésus, ch. XI. p. 180, 5th Par. ed.).

[(5) “The Son of God says, (?) ‘Let us resist all iniquity, and hold it in abhorrence.’” From the Epistle of Barnabas, c. 4. This Epistle, though incorporated in the Codex Sinaiticus, is probably not a work of the apostolic Barnabas. Westcott and Plumptre quote the passage from the Latin version, which introduces the sentence with the words: sicut dicit Filius Dei. But this seems to be a mistake for sicut decet filios Dei, “as becometh the sons of God.” This is evident from the Greek original (brought to light by the discovery of the Codex Sinaiticus), which reads, ὡς πρέπει υἱοῖς θεοῦ and connects the words with the preceding sentence. See the edition of Barnabae Epistula by Gebhardt and Harnack in Patr. Apost. Op. I. 14. For the sense comp. 2Ti_2:19: ἀποστήτω ἀπὸ ἀδικίας Jam_4:7: ἀνίστητε τῷ διαβόλῳ, Psa_119:163: ἀδικίαν ἐμίσησα.]

(6) “They who wish to see me, and to lay hold on my kingdom, must receive me with affliction and suffering.” From the Epistle of Barnabas, c. 7, where the words are introduced by “Thus he [Jesus] saith,” φησίν. But it is doubtful whether they are meant as a quotation or rather as a conclusion of the former remarks and a general reminiscence of several passages. Comp. Mat_16:24; Mat_20:3; Act_14:22: “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”

(7) “He that wonders [ὁ θαυμάσας with the wonder of reverential faith] shall reign, and he that reigns shall be made to rest.” From the “Gospel of the Hebrews,” quoted by Clement of Alexandria (Strom. II. 9, § 45). The Alexandrian divine quotes this and the following sentence to show, as Plumptre finely says, “that in the teaching of Christ, as in that of Plato, wonder is at once the beginning and the end of knowledge.”

(8) “Look with wonder at the things that are before thee (θαύμασον τα παρόντα).” From Clement of Alexandria (Strom. II. 9, § 45.).

(9) “I came to abolish sacrifices, and unless ye cease from sacrificing, the wrath [of God] will not cease from you.” From the Gospel of the Ebionites (or rather Essaean Judaizers), quoted by Epiphanius (Haer. xxx. 16). Comp. Mat_9:13, “I will have mercy and not sacrifice.”

(10) “Ask great things, and the small shall be added to you: ask heavenly and there shall be added unto you earthly things.” Quoted by Clement of Alexandria (Strom. I. 24, § 154; comp. IV. 6, § 34) and Origen (de Oratione, c. 2), with slight differences. Comp. Mat_6:33, of which it is probably a free quotation from memory. Ambrose also quotes the sentence (Ep. xxxvi. 3): “Denique scriptum est: ‘Petite magna, et parva adjicientur vobis. Petite coelestia, et terrena adjicientur.’”

(11) “In the things wherein I find you, in them will I judge you.” Quoted by Justin Martyr (Dial. c. Tryph. c. 47), and Clement of Alexandria (Quis dives, § 40). Somewhat different Nilus: “Such as I find thee, I will judge thee, saith the Lord.” The parallel passages in Eze_7:3, Eze_7:8; Eze_18:30; Eze_24:14; Eze_33:20 are not sufficient to account for this sentence. It is probably taken from an apocryphal Gospel. See Hofmann, p. 323.

(12) “He who is nigh unto me is nigh unto the fire: he who is far from me is far from the kingdom.” From Origen (Comm. in Jer. III. p. 778), and Didymus of Alexandria (in Psa_88:8). Comp, Luk_12:49. Ignatius (Ad Smyrn. c. 4) has a similar saying, but not as a quotation, “To be near the sword is to be near God” (ἐγγύς μαχαίρας ἐγγύς θεοῦ).

(13) “If ye kept not that which is little, who will give you that which is great? For I say unto you, he that is faithful in the least is faithful also in much.” From the homily of Pseudo-Clement of Rome (ch. 8). Comp. Luk_16:10-12 and Matt, Mat_25:21, Mat_25:23. Irenaeus (II. 34, 3) quotes similarly, probably from memory: “Si in modico fideles non fuistis, quod magnum est quis dabit nobis?”

(14) “Keep the flesh pure, and the seal [probably baptism] without stain that we (ye) may receive eternal life.” From Pseudo-Clement, ch. 8. But as this is connected with the former sentence by ἄρα οὖν τοῦτο λὲγει, it seems to be only an explanation (“he means this”) not a separate quotation. See Lightfoot, St. Clement of Rome, pp. 200 and 201, and his Appendix containing the newly recovered Portions, p. 384:. On the sense comp. 2Ti_2:19; Rom_4:11; Eph_1:13; Eph_4:30.

(15) Our Lord, being asked by Salome when His kingdom should come, and the things which he had spoken be accomplished, answered, “When the two shall be one, and the outward as the inward, and the male with the female, neither male nor female.” From Clement of Alexandria, as a quotation from “the Gospel according to the Egyptians” (Strom. III. 13, § 92), and the homily of Pseudo-Clement of Rome (ch. 12). Comp. Mat_22:30; Gal_3:28; 1Co_7:29. The sentence has a mystical coloring which is alien to the genuine Gospels, but suited the Gnostic taste.

(16) “For those that are infirm was I infirm, and for those that hunger did I hunger, and for those that thirst did I thirst.” From Origen (in Matt. xiii. 2). Comp. Mat_25:35, Mat_25:36; 1Co_9:20-22.

(17) “Never be ye joyful, except when ye have seen your brother [dwelling] in love.” Quoted from the Hebrew Gospel by Jerome (in Eph. v. 3).

(18) “Take hold, handle me, and see that I am not a bodiless demon [i.e. spirit].” From Ignatius (Ad Symrn. c. 3), and Jerome, who quotes it from the Nazarene Gospel (De Viris illustr. 16). Words said to have been spoken to Peter and the apostles after the resurrection. Comp. Luk_24:39; Joh_20:27.

(19) “Good must needs come, but blessed is he through whom it cometh; in like manner evil must needs come, but woe to him through whom it cometh.” From the “Clementine Homilies,” xii. 29. For the second clause comp. Mat_18:7; Luk_17:1.

(20) “My mystery is for me, and for the sons of my house.” From Clement of Alexandria (Strom. V. 10, § 64), the Clementine Homilies (xix. 20), and Alexander of Alexandria (Ep. ad Alex. c. 5, where the words are ascribed to the Father). Comp. Isa_24:16 (Sept.); Mat_13:11; Mar_4:11.

(21) “If you do not make your low things high and your crooked things straight ye shall not enter into my kingdom.” From the Acta Philippi in Tischendorf’s Acta Apost. Apocr. p. 90, quoted by Ewald, Gesch. Christus, p. 288, who calls these words a weak echo of more excellent sayings.

(22) “I will choose these things to myself. Very excellent are those whom my Father that is in heaven hath given to me.” From the Hebrew Gospel, quoted by Eusebius (Theophan. iv. 13).

(23) “The Lord said, speaking of His kingdom, ‘The days will come in which vines will spring up, each having ten thousand stocks, and on each stock ten thousand branches, and on each branch ten thousand shoots, and on each shoot ten thousand bunches, and on each bunch ten thousand grapes, and each grape when pressed shall give five-and-twenty measures of wine. And when any saint shall have laid hold on one bunch, another shall cry, I am a better bunch, take me; through me bless the Lord.’ Likewise also [he said], ‘that a grain of wheat shall produce ten thousand ears of corn, and each grain ten pounds of fine pure flour; and so all other fruits and seeds and each herb according to its proper nature. And that all animals, using for food what is received from the earth, shall live in peace and concord with one another, subject to men with all subjection.’” To this description Papias adds: “These things are credible to those who believe. And when Judas the traitor believed not and asked, ‘How shall such products come from the Lord?’ the Lord said, ‘They shall see who come to me in these times.’” From the “weak-minded” Papias (quoted by Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. V. 33, 3). Comp. Isa_11:6-9.

This is a strongly figurative description of the millennium. Westcott thinks it is based on a real discourse, but to me it sounds fabulous, and borrowed from the Apocalypse of Baruch which has a similar passage (cap. 29, first published in Monumenta Sacra et Profana opera collegii Doctorum Bibliothecae Ambrosianae, Tom. I. Fasc. II. Mediol. 1866, p. 80, and then in Fritzsche’s ed. of Libri Apocryphi Veteris Test. Lips. 1871, p. 666): “Etiam terra dabit fructus suos unum in decem millia, et in vite una erunt Mille palmites, et unus palmes faciet mille botros, et botrus unus faciet mille acinos, et unus acinus faciet corum vini. Et qui esurierunt jucundabuntur, iterum autem videbunt prodigia quotidie …. Et erit in illo tempore, descendet iterum desuper thesaurus manna, et comedent ex eo in istis annis.”

Westcott quotes eleven other apocryphal sayings which are only loose quotations or perversions of genuine words of Christ, and may therefore be omitted. Nicholson has gathered the probable or possible fragments of the Gospel according to the Hebrews, which correspond more or less to passages in the canonical Gospels.

Mohammedan tradition has preserved in the Koran and in other writings several striking words of Christ, which Hofmann, l.c. pp. 327-329, has collected. The following is the best:

“Jesus, the Son of Mary, said, ‘He who longs to be rich is like a man who drinks sea-water; the more he drinks the more thirsty he becomes, and never leaves off drinking till he perishes.’”


II. Personal Appearance of Jesus

None of the Evangelists, not even the beloved disciple and bosom-friend of Jesus, gives us the least hint of his countenance and stature, or of his voice, his manner, his food, his dress, his mode of daily life. In this respect our instincts of natural affection have been wisely overruled. He who is the Saviour of all and the perfect exemplar for all should not be identified with the particular lineaments of one race or nationality or type of beauty. We should cling to the Christ in spirit and in glory rather than to the Christ in the flesh So St. Paul thought (2Co_5:16; Comp. 1Pe_1:8). Though unseen, he is loved beyond all human beings.

“I see Thee not, I hear Thee not,

Yet art Thou oft with me;

And earth hath ne’er so dear a spot,

As when I meet with Thee.”

Jesus no doubt accommodated himself in dress and general appearance to the customs of his age and people, and avoided all ostentation. He probably passed unnoticed through busy crowds. But to the closer observer he must have revealed a spiritual beauty and an overawing majesty in his countenance and personal bearing. This helps to explain the readiness with which the disciples, forsaking all things, followed him in boundless reverence and devotion. He had not the physiognomy of a sinner. He had more than the physiognomy of a saint. He reflected from his eyes and countenance the serene peace and celestial purity of a sinless soul in blessed harmony with God. His presence commanded reverence, confidence and affection.

In the absence of authentic representation, Christian art in its irrepressible desire to exhibit in visible form the fairest among the children of men, was left to its own imperfect conception of ideal beauty. The church under persecution in the first three centuries, was averse to pictorial representations of Christ, and associated with him in his state of humiliation (but not in his state of exaltation) the idea of uncomeliness, taking too literally the prophetic description of the suffering Messiah in the twenty-second Psalm and the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. The victorious church after Constantine, starting from the Messianic picture in the forty-fifth Psalm and the Song of Solomon, saw the same Lord in heavenly glory, “fairer than the children of men” and “altogether lovely.” Yet the difference was not so great as it is sometimes represented. For even the ante-Nicene fathers (especially Clement of Alexandria), besides expressly distinguishing between the first appearance of Christ in lowliness and humility, and his second appearance in glory and, majesty, did not mean to deny to the Saviour even in the days of his flesh a higher order of spiritual beauty, “the glory of the only-begotten of the Father full of grace and truth,” which shone through the veil of his humanity, and which at times, as on the mount of transfiguration, anticipated his future glory. “Certainly,” says Jerome, “a flame of fire and starry brightness flashed from his eye, and the majesty of the God head shone in his face.”

The earliest pictures of Christ, in the Catacombs, are purely symbolic, and represent him under the figures of the Lamb, the good Shepherd, the Fish. The last has reference to the Greek word Ichthys, which contains the initials of the words Ἰησοῦς Χριστός Θεοῦ Ὑιὸς Σωτὴρ. “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour.” Real pictures of Christ in the early church would have been an offence to the Jewish, and a temptation and snare to the heathen converts.

The first formal description of the personal appearance of Christ, which, though not authentic and certainly not older than the fourth century, exerted great influence on the pictorial representations, is ascribed to the heathen Publius Lentulus, a supposed contemporary of Pilate and “President of the people of Jerusalem” (there was no such office), in an apocryphal Latin letter to the Roman Senate, which was first discovered in a MS. copy of the writings of Anselm of Canterbury in the twelfth century, and published with slight variations by, Fabricius, Carpzov, Gabler, etc. It is as follows:

“In this time appeared a man, who lives till now, a man endowed with great powers. Men call him a great prophet; his own disciples term Him the Son of God. His name is Jesus Christ. He restores the dead to life, and cures the sick of all manner of diseases. This man is of noble and well-proportioned stature, with a face full of kindness and yet firmness, so that the beholders both love Him and fear Him. His hair is of the color of wine, and golden at the root; straight, and without lustre, but from the level of the ears curling and glossy, and divided down the center after the fashion of the Nazarenes [Nazarites?]. His forehead is even and smooth, his face without wrinkle or blemish, and glowing with delicate bloom. His countenance is frank and kind. Nose and mouth are in no way faulty. His beard is full, of the same hazel color as his hair, not long, but forked. His eyes are blue, and extremely brilliant. In reproof and rebuke he is formidable; in exhortation and teaching, gentle and amiable. He has never been seen to laugh, but oftentimes to weep, (numquam visus est ridere, flere autem saepe). His person is tall and erect; his hands and limbs beautiful and straight. In speaking he is deliberate and grave, and little given to loquacity. In beauty he surpasses the children of men.”

Another description is found in the works of the Greek theologian, John of Damascus, of the 8th century (Epist. ad Theoph. Imp. de venerandis Imag., spurious), and a similar one in the Church History of Nicephorus (I. 40), of the 14th century. They represent Christ as resembling his mother, and ascribe to him a stately person though slightly stooping, beautiful eyes, blond, long, and curly hair, pale, olive complexion, long fingers, and a look expressive of nobility, wisdom, and patience.

On the ground of these descriptions, and of the Abgar and the Veronica legends, arose a vast number of pictures of Christ, which are divided into two classes: the Salvator pictures, with the expression of calm serenity and dignity, without the faintest mark of grief, and the Ecce Homo pictures of the suffering Saviour with the crown of thorns. The greatest painters and sculptors have exhausted the resources of their genius in representations of Christ; but neither color nor chisel nor pen can do more than produce a feeble reflection of the beauty and glory of Him who is the Son of God and the Son of Man.

Among modern biographers of Christ, Dr. Sepp (Rom. Cath., Das Leben Jesu Christi, 1865, vol. VI. 312 sqq.) defends the legend of St. Veronica of the Herodian family, and the genuineness of the picture, of the suffering Saviour with the crown of thorns which he impressed on her silken veil. He rejects the philological explanation of the legend from “the true image” (vera εἰκών = Veronica), and derives the name from φερενίκη (Berenice), the Victorious. But Bishop Hefele (Art. Christusbilder, in the Cath. Kirchen-Lexikon of Wetzer and Welte, II. 519-524) is inclined, with Grimm, to identify Veronica with the Berenice who is said to have erected a statue to Christ at Caesarea Philippi (Euseb. VII. 18), and to see in the Veronica legend only the Latin version of the Abgar legend of the Greek Church. Dr. Hase (Leben Jesu, p. 79) ascribes to Christ manly beauty, firm health, and delicate, yet not very characteristic features. He quotes Joh_20:14 and Luk_24:16, where it is said that his friends did not recognize him, but these passages refer only to the mysterious appearances of the risen Lord. Renan (Vie de Jésus, ch. X-XIV. p. 403) describes him in the frivolous style of a novelist, as a doux Galilèen, of calm and dignified attitude, as a beau jeune homme who made a deep impression upon women, especially Mary of Magdala; even a proud Roman lady, the wife of Pontius Pilate, when she caught a glimpse of him from the window (?), was enchanted, dreamed of him in the night and was frightened at the prospect of his death. Dr. Keim (I. 463) infers from his character, as described in the Synoptical Gospels, that he was perhaps not strikingly handsome, yet certainly noble, lovely, manly, healthy and vigorous, looking like a prophet, commanding reverence, making men, women, children, sick and poor people feel happy in his presence. Canon Farrar (I. 150) adopts the view of Jerome and Augustine, and speaks of Christ as “full of mingled majesty and tenderness in — 

‘That face

How beautiful, if sorrow had not made

Sorrow more beautiful than beauty’s self.’”

On artistic representations of Christ see J. B. Carpzov: De oris et corporis J. Christi forma Pseudo-Lentuli, J. Damasceni et Nicephori proso-pographiae. Helmst. 1777. P. E. Jablonski: De origine imaginum Christi Domini. Lugd. Batav. 1804. W. Grimm: Die Sage vom Ursprung der Christusbilder. Berlin, 1843. Dr. Legis Glückselig: Christus-Archäologie; Das Buch von Jesus Christus und seinem wahren Ebenbilde. Prag, 1863 4to. Mrs. Jameson and Lady Eastlake: The History of our Lord as exemplified in Works of Art (with illustrations). Lond., 2d ed. 1865 2 vols. Cowper: Apocr. Gospels. Lond. 1867, pp. 217-226. Hase: Leben Jesu, pp. 76-80 (5th ed.), Keim: Gesch. Jesu von Naz. I. 459-464. Farrar: Life of Christ. Lond. 1874, I. 148-150, 312-313; II. 464.


III. The Testimony of Josephus on John the Baptist

Antiq. Jud. xviii. c. 5, § 2. Whatever may be thought of the more famous passage of Christ which we have discussed in § 14, the passage on John is undoubtedly genuine and so accepted by most scholars. It fully and independently confirms the account of the Gospels on John’s work and martyrdom, and furnishes, indirectly, an argument in favor of the historical character of their account of Christ, for whom he merely prepared the way. We give it in Whiston’s translation: “Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, who was called the Baptist; for Herod slew him, who was a good man (ἀγαθὸν ἄνδρα), and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body: supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise), thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it should be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Machaerus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God’s displeasure to him.”


IV. The Testimony of Mara to Christ, a.d. 74

This extra-biblical notice of Christ, made known first in 1865, and referred to above § 14) reads as follows (as translated from the Syriac by Cureton and Pratten):

“What are we to say, when the wise are dragged by force by hands of tyrants, and their wisdom is deprived of its freedom by slander, and they are plundered for their [superior] intelligence, without [the opportunity of making] a defence? [They are not wholly to be pitied.] For what benefit did the Athenians obtain by putting Socrates to death, seeing that they received as retribution for it famine and pestilence? Or the people of Samos by the burning of Pythagoras, seeing that in one hour the whole of their country was covered with sand? Or The Jews [by the murder] of their Wise King, seeing that from that very time their kingdom was driven away [from them]? For with justice did God grant a recompense to the wisdom of [all] three of them. For the Athenians died by famine; and the people of Samos were covered by the sea without remedy; and the Jews, brought to destruction and expelled from their kingdom, are driven away into every land. [Nay], Socrates did not die, because of Plato; nor yet Pythagoras, because of the statue of Hera; nor yet The Wise King, because of the new laws he enacted.

The nationality and position of Mara are unknown. Dr. Payne Smith supposes him to have been a Persian. He wrote from prison and wished to die, “by what kind of death concerns me not.” In the beginning of his letter Mara says: “On this account, lo, I have written for thee this record, [touching] that which I have by careful observation discovered in the world. For the kind of life men lead has been carefully observed by me. I tread the path of learning, and from the study of Greek philosophy have I found out all these things, although they suffered shipwreck when the birth of life took place.” The birth of life may refer to the appearance of Christianity in the world, or to Mara’s own conversion. But there is no other indication that he was a Christian. The advice he gives to his son is simply to “devote himself to wisdom, the fount of all things good, the treasure that fails not.”


19. The Resurrection of Christ

The resurrection of Christ from the dead is reported by the four Gospels, taught in the Epistles, believed throughout Christendom, and celebrated on every “Lord’s Day,” as an historical fact, as the crowning miracle and divine seal of his whole work, as the foundation of the hopes of believers, as the pledge of their own future resurrection. It is represented in the New Testament both as an act of the Almighty Father who raised his Son from the dead, (Act_2:24, Act_2:32; Rom_6:4; Rom_10:9; 1Co_15:15; Eph_1:20; 1Pe_1:21) and as an act of Christ himself, who had the power to lay down his life and to take it again. The ascension was the proper conclusion of the resurrection: the risen life of our Lord, who is “the Resurrection and the Life,” could not end in another death on earth, but must continue in eternal glory in heaven. Hence St. Paul says, “Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death no more hath dominion over him. For the death that he died he died unto sin once: but the life that he liveth, he liveth unto God.”

The Christian church rests on the resurrection of its Founder. Without this fact the church could never have been born, or if born, it would soon have died a natural death. The miracle of the resurrection and the existence of Christianity are so closely connected that they must stand or fall together. If Christ was raised from the dead, then all his other miracles are sure, and our faith is impregnable; if he was not raised, he died in vain and our faith is vain. It was only his resurrection that made his death available for our atonement, justification and salvation; without the resurrection, his death would be the grave of our hopes; we should be still unredeemed and under the power of our sins. A gospel of a dead Saviour would be a contradiction and wretched delusion. This is the reasoning of St. Paul, and its force is irresistible.

The resurrection of Christ is therefore emphatically a test question upon which depends the truth or falsehood of the Christian religion. It is either the greatest miracle or the greatest delusion which history records.

Christ had predicted both his crucifixion and his resurrection, but the former was a stumbling-block to the disciples, the latter a mystery which they could not understand till after the event. They no doubt expected that he would soon establish his Messianic kingdom on earth. Hence their utter disappointment and downheartedness after the crucifixion. The treason of one of their own number, the triumph of the hierarchy, the fickleness of the people, the death and burial of the beloved Master, had in a few hours rudely blasted their Messianic hopes and exposed them to the contempt and ridicule of their enemies. For two days they were trembling on the brink of despair. But on the third day, behold, the same disciples underwent a complete revolution from despondency to hope, from timidity to courage, from doubt to faith, and began to proclaim the gospel of the resurrection in the face of an unbelieving world and at the peril of their lives. This revolution was not isolated, but general among them; it was not the result of an easy credulity, but brought about in spite of doubt and hesitation; it was not superficial and momentary, but radical and lasting; it affected, not only the apostles, but the whole history of the world. It reached even the leader of the persecution, Saul of Tarsus one of the clearest and strongest intellects, and converted him into the most devoted and faithful champion of this very gospel to the hour of his martyrdom.

This is a fact patent to every reader of the closing chapters of the Gospels, and is freely admitted even by the most advanced skeptics.

The question now rises whether this inner revolution in the life of the disciples, with its incalculable effects upon the fortunes of mankind, can be rationally explained without a corresponding outward revolution in the history of Christ; in other words, whether the professed faith of the disciples in the risen Christ was true and real, or a hypocritical lie, or an honest self-delusion.

There are four possible theories which have been tried again and again, and defended with as much learning and ingenuity as can be summoned to their aid. Historical questions are not like mathematical problems. No argument in favor of the resurrection will avail with those critics who start with the philosophical assumption that miracles are impossible, and still less with those who deny not only the resurrection of the body, but even the immortality of the soul. But facts are stubborn, and if a critical hypothesis can be proven to be psychologically and historically impossible and unreasonable, the result is fatal to the philosophy which underlies the critical hypothesis. It is not the business of the historian to construct a history from preconceived notions and to adjust it to his own liking, but to reproduce it from the best evidence and to let it speak for itself.

1. The historical view, presented by the Gospels and believed in the Christian church of every denomination and sect. The resurrection of Christ was an actual though miraculous event, in harmony with his previous history and character, and in fulfilment of his own prediction. It was a re-animation of the dead body of Jesus by a return of his soul from the spirit-world, and a rising of body and soul from the grave to a new life, which after repeated manifestations to believers during a short period of forty days entered into glory by the ascension to heaven. The object of the manifestations was not only to convince the apostles personally of the resurrection, but to make them witnesses of the resurrection and heralds of salvation to all the world. (Mat_28:18-20; Mar_16:15, Mar_16:16; Luk_24:46-48; Joh_20:21-23; Act_1:8)

Truth compels us to admit that there are serious difficulties in harmonizing the accounts of the evangelists, and in forming a consistent conception of the nature of Christ’s, resurrection-body, hovering as it were between heaven and earth, and oscillating for forty days between a natural and a supernatural state of the body clothed with flesh and blood and bearing the wound-prints, and yet so spiritual as to appear and disappear through closed doors and to ascend visibly to heaven. But these difficulties are not so great as those which are created by a denial of the fact itself. The former can be measurably solved, the latter cannot. We, do not know all the details and circumstances which might enable us to clearly trace the order of events. But among all the variations the great central fact of the resurrection itself and its principal features “stand out all the more sure.” The period of the forty days is in the nature of the case the most mysterious in the life of Christ, and transcends all ordinary Christian experience. The Christophanies resemble in some respect, the theophanies of the Old Testament, which were granted only to few believers, yet for the general benefit. At all events the fact of the resurrection furnishes the only key for the solution of the psychological problem of the sudden, radical, and permanent change in the mind and conduct of the disciples; it is the necessary link in the chain which connects their history before and after that event. Their faith in the resurrection was too clear, too strong, too steady, too effective to be explained in any other way. They showed the strength and boldness of their conviction by soon returning to Jerusalem, the post of danger, and founding there, in the very face of the hostile Sanhedrin, the mother-church of Christendom.

2. The theory of fraud. The apostles stole and hid the body of Jesus, and deceived the world.

This infamous lie carries its refutation on its face: for if the Roman soldiers who watched the grave at the express request of the priests and Pharisees, were asleep, they could not see the thieves, nor would they have proclaimed their military crime; if they, or only some of them, were awake, they would have prevented the theft. As to the disciples, they were too timid and desponding at the time to venture on such a daring act, and too honest to cheat the world. And finally a self-invented falsehood could not give them the courage and constancy of faith for the proclamation of the resurrection at the peril of their lives. The whole theory is a wicked absurdity, an insult to the common sense and honor of mankind.

3. The Swoon-Theory. The physical life of Jesus was not extinct, but only exhausted, and was restored by the tender care of his friends and disciples, or (as some absurdly add) by his own medical skill; and after a brief period he quietly died a natural death.

Josephus, Valerius Maximus, psychological and medical authorities have been searched and appealed to for examples of such apparent resurrections from a trance or asphyxy, especially on the third day, which is supposed to be a critical turning-point for life or putrefaction.

But besides insuperable physical difficulties-as the wounds and loss of blood from the very heart pierced by the spear of the Roman soldier — this theory utterly fails to account for the moral effect. A brief sickly existence of Jesus in need of medical care, and terminating in his natural death and final burial, without even the glory of martyrdom which attended the crucifixion, far from restoring the faith of the apostles, would have only in the end deepened their gloom and driven them to utter despair.

4. The Vision-Theory. Christ rose merely in the imagination of his friends, who mistook a subjective vision or dream for actual reality, and were thereby encouraged to proclaim their faith in the resurrection at the risk of death. Their wish was father to the belief, their belief was father to the fact, and the belief, once started, spread with the power of a religious epidemic from person to person and from place to place. The Christian society wrought the miracle by its intense love for Christ. Accordingly the resurrection does not belong to the history of Christ at all, but to the inner life of his disciples. It is merely the embodiment of their reviving faith.

This hypothesis was invented by a heathen adversary in the second century and soon buried out of sight, but rose to new life in the nineteenth, and spread with epidemical rapidity among skeptical critics in Germany, France, Holland and England.

The advocates of this hypothesis appeal first and chiefly to the vision of St. Paul on the way to Damascus, which occurred several years later, and is nevertheless put on a level with the former appearances to the older apostles (1Co_15:8); next to supposed analogies in the history of religious enthusiasm and mysticism, such as the individual visions of St. Francis of Assisi, the Maid of Orleans, St. Theresa (who believed that she had seen Jesus in person with the eyes of the soul more distinctly than she could have seen him with the eyes of the body), Swedenborg, even Mohammed, and the collective visions of the Montanists in Asia Minor, the Camisards in France, the spectral resurrections of the martyred Thomas à Becket of Canterbury and Savonarola of Florence in the excited imagination of their admirers, and the apparitions of the Immaculate Virgin at Lourdes.

Nobody will deny that subjective fancies and impressions are often mistaken for objective realities. But, with the exception of the case of St. Paul — which we shall consider in its proper place, and which turns out to be, even according to the admission of the leaders of skeptical criticism, a powerful argument against the mythical or visionary theory — these supposed analogies are entirely irrelevant; for, not to speak of other differences, they were isolated and passing phenomena which left no mark on history; while the faith in the resurrection of Christ has revolutionized the whole world. It must therefore be treated on its own merits as an altogether unique case.

(a) The first insuperable argument against the visionary nature, and in favor of the objective reality, of the resurrection is the empty tomb of Christ. If he did not rise, his body must either have been removed, or remained in the tomb. If removed by the disciples, they were guilty of a deliberate falsehood in preaching the resurrection, and then the vision-hypothesis gives way to the exploded theory of fraud. If removed by the enemies, then these enemies had the best evidence against the resurrection, and would not have failed to produce it and thus to expose the baselessness of the vision. The same is true, of course, if the body had remained in the tomb. The murderers of Christ would certainly not have missed such an opportunity to destroy the very foundation of the hated sect.

To escape this difficulty, Strauss removes the origin of the illusion away off to Galilee, whether the disciples fled; but this does not help the matter, for they returned in a few weeks to Jerusalem, where we find them all assembled on the day of Pentecost.

This argument is fatal even to the highest form of the vision hypothesis, which admits a spiritual manifestation of Christ from heaven, but denies the resurrection of his body.

(b) If Christ did not really rise, then the words which he spoke to Mary Magdalene, to the disciples of Emmaus, to doubting Thomas, to Peter on the lake of Tiberias, to all the disciples on Mount Olivet, were likewise pious fictions. But who can believe that words of such dignity and majesty, so befitting the solemn moment of the departure to the throne of glory, as the commandment to preach the gospel to every creature, to baptize the nations in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and the promise to be with his disciples alway to the end of the world — a promise abundantly verified in the daily experience of the church — could proceed from dreamy and self-deluded enthusiasts or crazy fanatics any more than the Sermon on the Mount or the Sacerdotal Prayer! And who, with any spark of historical sense, can suppose that Jesus never instituted baptism, which has been performed in his name ever since the day of Pentecost, and which, like the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, bears testimony to him every day as the sunlight does to the sun!

(c) If the visions of the resurrection were the product of an excited imagination, it is unaccountable that they should suddenly have ceased on the fortieth day (Act_1:15), and not have occurred to any of the disciples afterwards, with the single exception of Paul, who expressly represents his vision of Christ as “the last.” Even on the day of Pentecost Christ did not appear to them, but, according to his promise, “the other Paraclete” descended upon them; and Stephen saw Christ in heaven, not on earth.

(d) The chief objection to the vision-hypothesis is its intrinsic impossibility. It makes the most exorbitant claim upon our credulity. It requires us to believe that many persons, singly and collectively, at different times, and in different places, from Jerusalem to Damascus, had the same vision and dreamed the same dream; that the women at the open sepulchre early in the morning, Peter and John soon afterwards, the two disciples journeying to Emmaus on the afternoon of the resurrection day, the assembled apostles on the evening in the absence of Thomas, and again on the next Lord’s Day in the presence of the skeptical Thomas, seven apostles at the lake of Tiberias, on one occasion five hundred brethren at once most of whom were still alive when Paul reported the fact, then James, the brother of the Lord, who formerly did not believe in him, again all the apostles on Mount Olivet at the ascension, and at last the clearheaded, strong-minded persecutor on the way to Damascus — that all these men and women on these different occasions vainly imagined they saw and heard the self-same Jesus in bodily shape and form; and that they were by this baseless vision raised all at once from the deepest gloom in which the crucifixion of their Lord had left them, to the boldest faith and strongest hope which impelled them to proclaim the gospel of the resurrection from Jerusalem to Rome to the end of their lives! And this illusion of the early disciples created the greatest revolution not only in their own views and conduct, but among Jews and Gentiles and in the subsequent history of mankind! This illusion, we are expected to believe by these unbelievers, gave birth to the most real and most mighty of all facts, the Christian Church which has lasted these eighteen hundred years and is now spread all over the civilized world, embracing more members than ever and exercising more moral power than all the kingdoms and all other religions combined!

The vision-hypothesis, instead of getting rid of the miracle, only shifts it from fact to fiction; it makes an empty delusion more powerful than the truth, or turns all history itself at last into a delusion. Before we can reason the resurrection of Christ out of history we must reason the apostles and Christianity itself out of existence. We must either admit the miracle, or frankly confess that we stand here before an inexplicable mystery.

Remarkable Concessions. — The ablest advocates of the vision-theory are driven against their wish and will to admit some unexplained objective reality in the visions of the risen or ascended Christ.

Dr. Baur, of Tübingen (d. 1860), the master-critic among sceptical church historians, and the corypheus of the Tübingen school, came at last to the conclusion (as stated in the revised edition of his Church History of the First Three Centuries, published shortly before his death, 1860) that “nothing but the miracle of the resurrection could disperse the doubts which threatened to drive faith itself into the eternal night of death (Nur das Wunder der Auferstehung konnte die Zweifel zerstreuen, welche den Glauben selbst in die ewige Nacht des Todes verstossen zu müssen schienen).” Geschichte der christlichen Kirche, I. 39. It is true he adds that the nature of the resurrection itself lies outside of historical investigation (“Was die Auferstehung an sich ist, liegt ausserhalb des Kreises der geschichtlichen Untersuchung”), but also, that “for the faith of the disciples the resurrection of Jesus became the most solid and most irrefutable certainty. In this faith only Christianity gained a firm foothold of its historical development. (In diesem Glauben hat erst das Christenthum den festen Grund seiner geschichtlichen Entwicklung gewonnen.) What history requires as the necessary prerequisite of all that follows is not so much the fact of the resurrection itself [?] as the faith in that fact. In whatever light we may consider the resurrection of Jesus, whether as an actual objective miracle or as a subjective psychological one (als ein objectiv geschehenes Wunder, oder als ein subjectiv psychologisches), even granting the possibility of such a miracle, no psychological analysis can penetrate the inner spiritual process by which in the consciousness of the disciples their unbelief at the death of Jesus was transformed into a belief of his resurrection …. We must rest satisfied with this, that for them the resurrection of Christ was a fact of their consciousness, and had for them all the reality of an historical event.” (Ibid., pp. 39, 40.) Baur’s remarkable conclusion concerning the conversion of St. Paul (ibid., pp. 44, 45) we shall consider in its proper place.

Dr. Ewald, of Göttingen (d. 1874), the great orientalist and historian of Israel, antagonistic to Baur, his equal in profound scholarship and bold, independent, often arbitrary criticism, but superior in religious sympathy with the genius of the Bible, discusses the resurrection of Christ in his History of the Apostolic Age (Gesch. des Volkes Israel, vol. VI. 52 sqq.), instead of his Life of Christ, and resolves it into a purely spiritual, though long continued manifestation from heaven. Nevertheless he makes the strong statement (p. 69) that “nothing is historically more certain than that Christ rose from the dead and appeared to his own, and that this their vision was the beginning of their new higher faith and of an their Christian labors.” “Nichts steht geschichtlich fester,” he says, “als dass Christus aus den Todten auferstanden den Seinigen wiederschien und dass dieses ihr wiedersehen der anfang ihres neuen höhern glaubens und alles ihres Christlichen wirkens selbst war. Es ist aber ebenso gewiss dass sie ihn nicht wie einen gewöhnlichen menschen oder wie einen aus dem grabe aufsteigenden schatten oder gespenst wie die sage von solchen meldet, sondern wie den einzigen Sohn Gottes, wie ein durchaus schon übermächtiges und übermenschliches wesen wiedersahen und sich bei späteren zurückerinnerungen nichts anderes denken konnten als dass jeder welcher ihn wiederzusehen gewürdigt sei auch sogleich unmittelbar seine einzige göttliche würde erkannt und seitdem felsenfest daran geglaubt habe. Als den ächten König und Sohn Gottes hatten ihn aber die Zwölfe und andre schon im leben zu erkennen gelernt: der unterschied ist nur der dass sie ihn jetzt auch nach seiner rein göttlichen seite und damit auch als den über den tod siegreichen erkannt zu haben sich erinnerten. Zwischen jenem gemeinen schauen des irdischen Christus wie er ihnen sowohl bekannt war und diesem höhern tieferregten entzückten schauen des himmlischen ist also dock ein innerer zusammenhang, so dass sie ihn auch jetzt in diesen ersten tagen und wochen nach seinem tode nie als den himmlischen Messias geschauet hätten wenn sie ihn nicht schon vorher als den irdischen so wohl gekannt hätten.”

Dr. Keim, of Zürich (d. at Giessen, 1879), an independent pupil of Baur, and author of the most elaborate and valuable Life of Christ which the liberal critical school has produced, after giving every possible advantage to the mythical view of the resurrection, confesses that it is, after all, a mere hypothesis and fails to explain the main point. He says (Geschichte Jesu von Nazara, III. 600): “Nach allen diesen Ueberlegungen wird man zugestehen müssen, dass auch die neuerdings beliebt gewordene Theorie nur eine Hypothese ist, welche Einiges erklärt, die Hauptsache nicht erklärt, ja im Ganzen und Grossen das geschichtlich Bezeugte schiefen und hinfälligen Gesichtspunkten unterstellt. Misslingt aber gleichmässig der Versuch, die überlieferte Aufs Auferstehungsgeschichte festzuhalten, wie das Unternehmen, mit Hilfe der paulinischen Visionen eine natürliche Erklärung des Geschehenen aufzubauen, so bleibt für die Geschichte zunächst kein Weg übrig als der des Eingeständnisses, dass die Sagenhaftigkeit der redseligen Geschichte und die dunkle Kürze der glaubwürdigen Geschichte es nicht gestattet, über die räthselhaften Ausgange des Lebens Jesu, so wichtig sie an und für sich und in der Einwirkung auf die Weltgeschichte gewesen sind, ein sicheres unumstössliches Resultat zu geben. Für die Geschichte, sofern sie nur mit benannten evidenten Zahlen und mit Reihen greifbarer anerkannter Ursachen und Wirkungen rechnet, existirt als das Thatsächliche und Zweifellose lediglich der feste Glaube der Apostel, dass Jesus auferstanden, und die ungeheure Wirkung dieses Glaubens, die Christianisirung der Menschheit. On p. 601 he expresses the conviction that “it was the crucified and living Christ who, not as the risen one, but rather as the divinely glorified one (als der wenn nicht Auferstandene, so doch vielmehr himmlisch Verherrlichte), gave visions to his disciples and revealed himself to his society.” In his last word on the great problem, Keim, in view of the exhaustion and failure of the natural explanations, comes to the conclusion, that we must either, with Dr. Baur, humbly confess our ignorance, or return to the faith of the apostles who “have seen the Lord” (Joh_20:25). See the third and last edition of his abridged Geschichte Jesu, Zürich, 1875, p. 362.

Dr. Schenkel, of Heidelberg, who in his Charakterbild Jesu (third ed. 1864, pp. 231 sqq.) had adopted the vision-theory in its higher form as a purely spiritual, though real manifestation from heaven, confesses in his latest work, Das Christusbild der Apostel (1879, p. 18), his inability to solve the problem of the resurrection of Christ, and says: “Niemals wird es der Forschung gelingen, das Räthsel des Auferstehungsglaubens zu ergründen. Nichts aber steht fester in der Geschichte als die Thatsache dieses Glaubens; auf ihm beruht die Stiftung der christlichen Gemeinschaft … Der Visionshypothese, welche die Christuserscheinungen der Jünger aus Sinnestäuschungen erklären will, die in einer Steigerung des ‘Gemüths und Nervenlebens’ ihre physische und darum auch psychische Ursache hatten, … steht vor allem die Grundfarbe der Stimmung in den Jüngern, namentlich in Petrus, im Wege: die tiefe Trauer, das gesunkene Selbstvertrauen, die nagende Gewissenspein, der verlorne Lebensmuth. Wie soll aus einer solchen Stimmung das verklärte Bild des Auferstandenen hervorgehen, mit dieser unverwüstlichen Sicherheit und unzerstörbaren Freudigkeit, durch welche der Auferstehungsglaube die Christengemeinde in allen Stürmen und Verfolgungen aufrecht zu erhalten vermochte?”