Vol. 1, Chapter II. Jesus Christ

14. Sources and Literature

A. Sources

Christ himself wrote nothing, but furnished endless material for books and songs of gratitude and praise. The living Church of the redeemed is his book. He founded a religion of the living spirit, not of a written code, like the Mosaic law. (His letter to King Abgarus of Edessa, in Euseb., Hist. Eccl., I. 13, is a worthless fabrication.) Yet his words and deeds are recorded by as honest and reliable witnesses as ever put pen to paper.


I. Authentic Christian Sources

(1) The four Canonical Gospels. Whatever their origin and date, they exhibit essentially the same divine-human life and character of Christ, which stands out in sharp contrast with the fictitious Christ of the Apocryphal Gospels, and cannot possibly have been invented, least of all by illiterate Galileans. They would never have thought of writing books without the inspiration of their Master.

(2) The Acts of Luke, the Apostolic Epistles, and the Apocalypse of John. They presuppose, independently of the written Gospels, the main facts of the gospel-history, especially the crucifixion and the resurrection, and abound in allusions to these facts. Four of the Pauline Epistles (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians) are admitted as genuine by the most extreme of liberal critics (Baur and the Tübingen School), and from them alone a great part of the life of Christ might be reconstructed. (See the admissions of Keim, Gesch. Jesu v. Naz., I. 35 sqq.)


II. Apocryphal Gospels

The Apocryphal Gospels are very numerous (about 50), some of them only known by name, others in fragments, and date from the second and later centuries. They are partly heretical (Gnostic and Ebionite) perversions or mutilations of the real history, partly innocent compositions of fancy, or religious novels intended to link together the disconnected periods of Christ’s biography, to satisfy the curiosity concerning his relations, his childhood, his last days, and to promote the glorification of the Virgin Mary. They may be divided into four classes: (1) Heretical Gospels (as the Evangelium Cerinthi, Ev. Marcionis, Ev. Judae Ischariotae, Ev. secundum Hebraeos, etc.); (2) Gospels of Joseph and Mary, and the birth of Christ (Protevangelium Jacobi, Evang. Pseudo-Mathaei sive liber de Ortu Beatae Mariae et Infantia Salvatoris, Evang. de Nativitate Mariae, Historia Josephi Fabri lignarii, etc.); (3) Gospels of the childhood of Jesus from the flight to Egypt till his eighth or twelfth year (Evang. Thomae, of Gnostic origin, Evang. Infantiae Arabicum, etc.); (4) Gospels of the passion and the mysterious triduum in Hades (Evang. Nicodemi, including the Gesta or Acta Pilati and the Descensus ad Inferos, Epistola Pilati, a report of Christ’s passion to the emperor Tiberius, Paradosis Pilati, Epistolae Herodis ad Pilatum and Pilati ad Herodem, Responsum Tiberii ad Pilatum, Narratio Josephi Arimathiensis, etc.). It is quite probable that Pilate sent an account of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus to his master in Rome (as Justin Martyr and Tertullian confidentially assert), but the various documents bearing his name are obviously spurious, including the one recently published by Geo. Sluter (The Acta Pilati, Shelbyville, Ind. 1879), who professes to give a translation from the supposed authentic Latin copy in the Vatican Library.

These apocryphal productions have no historical, but considerable apologetic value; for they furnish by their contrast with the genuine Gospels a very strong negative testimony to the historical truthfulness of the Evangelists, as a shadow presupposes the light, a counterfeit the real coin, and a caricature the original picture. They have contributed largely to medieval art (e.g., the ox and the ass in the history of the nativity), and to the traditional Mariology and Mariolatry of the Greek and Roman churches, and have supplied Mohammed with his scanty knowledge of Jesus and Mary.

See the collections of the apocryphal Gospels by Fabricius (Codex Apocryphus Novi Testamenti, Hamburg, 1703, 2d ed. 1719), Thilo (Cod. Apocr. N. Ti., Lips. 1832), Tischendorf (Evangelia Apocrypha, Lips. 1853), W. Wright (Contributions to the Apocr. Lit. of the N. T. from Syrian MSS. in the British Museum, Lond. 1865), B. Harris Cowper (The Apocryphal Gospels, translated, London, 1867), and Alex. Walker (Engl. transl. in Roberts & Donaldson’s “Ante-Nicene Library,” vol. xvi., Edinb. 1870; vol. viii. of Am. ed., N. Y. 1886).

Comp. the dissertations of Tischendorf: De Evang. aproc. origine et usu (Hagae, 1851), and Pilati circa Christum judicio quid lucis offeratur ex Actis Pilati (Lips. 1855). Rud. Hofmann: Das Leben Jesu nach den Apokryphen (Leipz. 1851), and his art., Apokryphen des N. T, in Herzog & Plitt, “R. Encykl.,” vol. i. (1877), p. 511. G. Brunet: Les évangiles apocryphes, Paris, 1863. Michel Nicolas: Études sur les évangiles apocryphes, Paris, 1866. Lipsius: Die Pilatus-Acten, Kiel, 1871; Die edessenische Abgar-Sage, 1880; Gospels, Apocr., in Smith & Wace, I. 700 sqq.; Holtzmann Einl. in’s N. T., pp. 534-’54.


III. Jewish Sources

The O. Test. Scriptures are, in type and prophecy, a preparatory history of Christ, and become fully intelligible only in him who came “to fulfill the law and the prophets.”

The Apocryphal and post-Christian Jewish writings give us a full view of the outward framework of society and religion in which the life of Christ moved, and in this way they illustrate and confirm the Gospel accounts.


IV. Josephus

The famous testimony of the Jewish historian Josephus (d. after a.d. 103) deserves special consideration. In his Antiqu. Jud., l. xviii. cap. 3, § 3, he gives the following striking summary of the life of Jesus:

Now there rose about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works (παραδόξων ἔργων ποιητής), a teacher of such men as receive the truth with gladness. He carried away with him many of the Jews and also many of the Greeks. He was the Christ (ὁ Χριστὸς οὖτος ἦν). And after Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, his first adherents did not forsake him. For he appeared to them alive again the third day (ἐφάνη γὰρ αὐτοῖς τρίτην ἔχων ἡμέραν πάλιν ζῶν); the divine prophets having foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things (ἄλλα μυρία θαυμάσια) concerning him. And the tribe of those called Christians, after him, is not extinct to this day.”

This testimony is first quoted by Eusebius, twice, without a misgiving (Hist. Eccl., I. II; and Demonstr. Evang., III. 5), and was considered genuine down to the 16th century, but has been disputed ever since. We have added the most doubtful words in Greek.

The following are the arguments for the genuineness:

(1) The testimony is found in all the MSS. of Josephus.

But these MSS. were written by Christians, and we have none older than from the 11th century.

(2) It agrees with the style of Josephus.

(3) It is extremely improbable that Josephus, in writing a history of the Jews coming down to a.d. 66, should have ignored Jesus; all the more since he makes favorable mention of John the Baptist (Antiqu., XVIII. 5, 2), and of the martyrdom of James “the Brother of Jesus called the Christ” (Antiqu. XX 9, 1: τὸν ἀδελφὸν Ἰησοῦ τοῦ λεγομένου Χριστοῦ, Ἰάκωβος ὄνομα αὐτῷ). Both passages are generally accepted as genuine, unless the words τοῦ λεγομένου Χριστοῦ should be an interpolation.

Against this may be said that Josephus may have had prudential reasons for ignoring Christianity altogether.

Arguments against the genuineness:

(1) The passage interrupts the connection.

But not necessarily. Josephus had just recorded a calamity which befell the Jews under Pontius Pilate, in consequence of a sedition, and he may have regarded the crucifixion of Jesus as an additional calamity. He then goes on (§4 and 5) to record another calamity, the expulsion of the Jews from Rome under Tiberius.

(2) It betrays a Christian, and is utterly inconsistent with the known profession of Josephus as a Jewish priest of the sect of the Pharisees. We would rather expect him to have represented Jesus as an impostor, or as an enthusiast.

But it may be urged, on the other hand, that Josephus, with all his great literary merits, is also known as a vain and utterly unprincipled man, as a renegade and sycophant who glorified and betrayed his nation, who served as a Jewish general in the revolt against Rome, and then, after having been taken prisoner, flattered the Roman conquerors, by whom he was richly rewarded. History furnishes many examples of similar inconsistencies. Remember Pontius Pilate who regarded Christ as innocent, and yet condemned him to death, the striking testimonies of Rousseau and Napoleon I. to the divinity of Christ, and also the concessions of Renan, which contradict his position.

(3) It is strange that the testimony should not have been quoted by such men as Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, or any other writer before Eusebius (d. 340), especially by Origen, who expressly refers to the passages of Josephus on John the Baptist and James (Contra Cels., I. 35, 47). Even Chrysostom (d. 407), who repeatedly mentions Josephus, seems to have been ignorant of this testimony.

In view of these conflicting reasons, there are different opinions:

(1) The passage is entirely genuine. This old view is defended by Hauteville, Oberthür, Bretschneider, Böhmert, Whiston, Schoedel (1840), Böttger (Das Zeugniss des Jos., Dresden, 1863).

(2) It is wholly interpolated by a Christian hand. Bekker (in his ed. of Jos., 1855), Hase (1865 and 1876), Keim (1867), Schürer (1874).

(3) It is partly genuine, partly interpolated. Josephus probably wrote Χριστὸς οὖτος ἐλέγετο (as in the passage on James), but not ἦν and all other Christian sentences were added by a transcriber before Eusebius, for apologetic purposes. So Paulus, Heinichen, Gieseler (I. § 24, p. 81, 4th Germ. ed.), Weizsäcker, Renan, Farrar. In the introduction to his Vie de Jésus (p. xii.), Renan says: “Je crois le passage sur Jésus authentique. Il est parfaitement dans le goût de Joseph, et si cet historian a fait mention de Jésus, c’est bien comme cela qu’il a dû en parler. On sent seulement qu’une main chrétienne a retouché le morceau, y a ajouté quelques mots sans lesquels il eút été presque blasphématoire, a peut-étre retranché ou modifié quelques expressions.”

(4) It is radically changed from a Jewish calumny into its present Christian form. Josephus originally described Jesus as a pseudo-Messiah, a magician, and seducer of the people, who was justly crucified. So Paret and Ewald (Gesch. Christus’, p. 183, 3d ed.).

It is difficult to resist the conclusion that Josephus must have taken some notice of the greatest event in Jewish history (as he certainly did of John the Baptist and of James), but that his statement — whether non-committal or hostile — was skillfully enlarged or altered by a Christian hand, and thereby deprived of its historical value.

In other respects, the writings of Josephus contain, indirectly, much valuable testimony, to the truth of the gospel history. His History of the Jewish War is undesignedly a striking commentary on the predictions of our Saviour concerning the destruction of the city and the temple of Jerusalem; the great distress and affliction of the Jewish people at that time; the famine, pestilence, and earthquake; the rise of false prophets and impostors, and the flight of his disciples at the approach of these calamities. All these coincidences have been traced out in full by the learned Dr. Lardner, in his Collection of Ancient Jewish and Heathen Testimonies to the Truth of the Christian Religion, first published 1764-’67, also in vol. vi. of his Works, ed. by Kippis, Lond. 1838.


V. Heathen Testimonies

Heathen testimonies are few and meager. This fact must be accounted for by the mysterious origin, the short duration and the unworldly character of the life and work of Christ, which was exclusively devoted to the kingdom of heaven, and, was enacted in a retired country and among a people despised by the proud Greeks and Romans.

The oldest heathen testimony is probably in the Syriac letter of Mara, a philosopher, to his son Serapion, about a.d. 74, first published by Cureton, in Spicilegium Syriacum, Lond. 1855, and translated by Pratten in the “Ante-Nicene Library,” Edinb. vol. xxiv. (1872), 104-114. Here Christ is compared to Socrates and Pythagoras, and called “the wise king of the Jews,” who were justly punished for murdering him. Ewald (l.c. p. 180) calls this testimony “very remarkable for its simplicity and originality as well as its antiquity.”

Roman authors of the 1st and 2d centuries make only brief and incidental mention of Christ as the founder of the Christian religion, and of his crucifixion under Pontius Pilate, in the reign of Tiberius. Tacitus, Annales, I. xv. cap. 44, notices him in connection with his account of the conflagration at Rome and the Neronian persecution, in the words: “Auctor nominis ejus [Christiani] Christus Tiberio imperitante per procuratorem Pontium Pilatum supplicio affectus erat,” and calls the Christian religion an exitiabilis superstitio. Comp. his equally contemptuous misrepresentation of the Jews in Hist., v. c. 3-5. Other notices are found in Suetonius: Vita Claudii, c. 25; Vita Neronis, c. 16; Plinius, jun.: Epist., X. 97, 98; Lucian: De morte Peregr., c. 11; Lampridius: Vita Alexandri Severi, c. 29, 43.

The heathen opponents of Christianity, Lucian, Celsus, Porphyry, Julian the Apostate, etc., presuppose the principal facts of the gospel-history, even the miracles of Jesus, but they mostly derive them, like the Jewish adversaries, from evil spirits. Comp. my book on the Person of Christ, Appendix, and Dr. Nath. Lardner’s Credibility, and Collection of Testimonies.


B. Biographical and Critical

The numerous Harmonies of the Gospel began already a.d. 170, with Tatian’s τὸ διὰ τεσσάρων (on which Ephraem Syrus, in the fourth century, wrote a commentary, published in Latin from an Armenian version in the Armenian convent at Venice, 1876). The first biographies of Christ were ascetic or poetic, and partly legendary. See Hase, Leben Jesu, §17-19. The critical period began with the infidel and infamous attacks of Reimarus, Bahrdt, and Venturini, and the noble apologetic works of Hess, Herder, and Reinhard. But a still greater activity was stimulated by the Leben Jesu of Strauss, 1835 and again by Renan’s Vie de Jésus, 1863.

J. J. Hess (Antistes at Zürich, d. 1828): Lebensgeschichte Jesu. Zürich, 1774; 8th ed. 1823, 3 vols. Translated into Dutch and Danish. He introduced the psychological and pragmatic treatment.

F. V. Rienhard (d. 1812): Versuch über den Plan Jesu. Wittenberg, 1781; 5th ed. by Heubner, 1830. English translation, N. York, 1831. Reinhard proved the originality and superiority of the plan of Christ above all the conceptions of previous sages and benefactors of the race.

J. G. Herder (d. 1803): Vom Erlöser der Menschen nach unsern 3 ersten Evang. Riga, 1796. The same: Von Gottes Sohn, der Welt Heiland, nach Joh. Evang. Riga, 1797.

H. E. G. Paulus (Prof. in Heidelberg, d. 1851): Leben Jesu als Grundlage einer reinen Geschichte des Urchristenthums. Heidelb. 1828, 2 vols. Represents the “vulgar” rationalism superseded afterwards by the speculative rationalism of Strauss.

C. Ullmann (d. 1865): Die Sündlosigkeit Jesu. Hamb. 1828; 7th ed. 1864. Eng. translation (of 7th ed.) by Sophia Taylor, Edinb. 1870. The best work on the sinlessness of Jesus. Comp. also his essay (against Strauss), Historisch oder Mythisch? Gotha, 1838.

Karl Hase: Das Leben Jesu. Leipz. 1829; 5th ed. 1865. The same: Geschichte Jesu. Leipz. 1876.

Schleiermacher (d. 1834): Vorlesungen über das Leben Jesu, herausgeg. von Rütenik. Berlin, 1864. The lectures were delivered 1832, and published from imperfect manuscripts. “Eine Stimme aus vergangenen Tagen.” Comp. the critique of D. F. Strauss in Der Christus des Glaubens und der Jesus der Geschichte. Berlin, 1865.

D. F. Strauss (d. 1874): Das Leben Jesu kritisch bearbeitet. Tübingen, 1835-’36; 4th ed. 1840, 2 vols. French transl. by Emile Littré, Par. 1856 (2d ed.); Engl. transl. by Miss Marian Evans (better known under the assumed name George Eliot), Lond. 1846, in 3 vols., republ. in N. York, 1850. The same: Das Leben Jesu für das deutsche Volk bearbeitet. Leipz. 1864; 3d ed. 1875. In both these famous works Strauss represents the mythical theory. It has been popularized in the third volume of The Bible for Learners by Oort and Hooykaas, Engl. transl., Boston ed. 1879.

A. Neander (d. 1850): Das Leben Jesu. Hamb. 1837; 5th ed. 1852. A positive refutation of Strauss. The same in English by McClintock and Blumenthal, N. York, 1848.

Joh. Nep. Sepp (R. C.): Das Leben Jesu Christi. Regensb. 1843 sqq. 2d ed. 1865, 6 vols. Much legendary matter.

Jordan Bucher (R. C.): Das Leben Jesu Christi. Stuttgart, 1859.

A. Ebrard: Wissenschaftliche Kritik der evangelischen Geschichte. Erl. 1842; 3d ed. 1868. Against Strauss, Bruno Bauer, etc. Condensed English translation, Edinb. 1869.

J. P. Lange: Das Leben Jesu. Heidelb. 1844-’47, 3 parts in 5 vols. Engl. transl. by Marcus Dods and others, in 6 vols., Edinb. 1864. Rich and suggestive.

J. J. van Oosterzee: Leven van Jesus. First publ. in 1846-’51, 3 vols. 2d ed. 1863-’65. Comp. his Christologie, Rotterdam, 1855-’61, 3 vols., which describe the Son of God before his incarnation, the Son of God in the flesh, and the Son of God in glory. The third part is translated into German by F. Meyering: Das Bild Christi nach der Schrift, Hamburg, 1864.

Chr. Fr. Schmid: Biblische Theologie des N. Testaments. Ed. by Weizsäcker. Stuttgart, 1853 (3d ed. 1854), 2 vols. The first volume contains the life and doctrine of Christ. The English translation by G. H. Venables (Edinb. 1870) is an abridgment.

H. Ewald: Geschichte Christus und seiner Zeit. Gött. 1854; 3d ed. 1867 (vol. v. of his Hist. of Israel). Transl. into Engl. by O. Glover, Cambridge, 1865.

J. Young: The Christ of History. Lond. and N. York, 1855. 5th ed., 1868.

P. Lichtenstein: Lebensgeschichte Jesu in chronolog. Uebersicht. Erlangen, 1856.

C. J. Riggenbach: Vorlesungen über das Leben Jesu. Basel, 1858.

M. Baumgarten: Die Geschichte Jesu für das Verständniss der Gegenwart. Braunschweig, 1859.

W. F. Gess: Christi Person und Werk nach Christi Selbstzeugniss und den Zeugnissen der Apostel. Basel, 1878, in several parts. (This supersedes his first work on the same subject, publ. 1856.)

Horace Bushnell (d. 1878): The Character of Jesus: forbidding his possible classification with men. N. York, 1861. (A reprint of the tenth chapter of his work on, “Nature and the Supernatural,” N. York, 1859.) It is the best and most useful product of his genius.

C. J. Elliott (Bishop): Historical Lectures on the Life of our Lord Jesus Christ, being the Hulsean Lect. for 1859. 5th ed. Lond. 1869; republ. in Boston, 1862.

Samuel J. Andrews: The Life of our Lord upon the earth, considered in its historical, chronological, and geographical relations. N. York, 1863; 4th ed. 1879.

Ernest Renan: Vie de Jésus. Par. 1863, and often publ. since (13th ed. 1867) and in several translations. Strauss popularized and Frenchified. The legendary theory. Eloquent, fascinating, superficial, and contradictory.

Daniel Schenkel: Das Charakterbild Jesu. Wiesbaden, 1864; 4th ed. revised 1873. English transl. by W. H. Furness. Boston, 1867, 2 vols. By the same: Das Christusbild der Apostel und der nachapostolischen Zeit. Leipz. 1879. See also his art., Jesus Christus, in Schenkel’s “Bibel-Lexikon,” III. 257 sqq. Semi-mythical theory. Comp. the sharp critique of Strauss on the Characterbild: Die Halben und die Ganzen. Berlin, 1865.

Philip Schaff: The Person of Christ: the Perfection of his Humanity viewed as a Proof of his Divinity. With a Collection of Impartial Testimonies. Boston and N. York, 1865; 12th ed., revised, New York, 1882. The same work in German, Gotha, 1865; revised ed., N. York (Am. Tract Soc.), 1871; in Dutch by Cordes, with an introduction by J. J. van Oosterzee. Groningen, 1866; in French by Prof. Sardinoux, Toulouse, 1866, and in other languages. By the same: Die Christusfrage. N. York and Berlin, 1871.

Ecce Homo: A Survey of the Life and Work of Jesus Christ. [By Prof. J. R. Seeley, of Cambridge.] Lond. 1864, and several editions and translations. It gave rise also to works on Ecce Deus, Ecce Deus Homo, and a number of reviews and essays (one by Gladstone).

Charles Hardwick (d. 1859): Christ and other Masters. Lond., 4th ed., 1875. (An extension of the work of Reinhard; Christ compared with the founders of the Eastern religions.)

E. H. Plumptre: Christ and Christendom. Boyle Lectures. Lond. 1866.

E. de Pressensé: Jésus Christ, son temps, sa vie, son oeuvre. Paris, 1866. (Against Renan.) The same transl. into English by Annie Harwood (Lond., 7th ed. 1879), and into German by Fabarius (Halle, 1866).

F. Delitzsch: Jesus und Hillel. Erlangen, 1867; 3rd ed. revised, 1879.

Theod. Keim (Prof. in Zürich, and then in Giessen, d. 1879); Geschichte Jesu von Nazara. Zürich, 1867-’72, 3 vols. Also an abridgment in one volume, 1873, 2d ed. 1875. (This 2d ed. has important additions, particularly a critical Appendix.) The large work is translated into English by Geldart and Ransom. Lond. (Williams & Norgate), 1873-82, 6 vols. By the same author: Der geschichtliche Christus. Zürich, 3d ed. 1866. Keim attempts to reconstruct a historical Christ from the Synoptical Gospels, especially Matthew, but without John.

Wm. Hanna: The Life of our Lord. Edinb. 1868-’69, 6 vols.

Bishop Dupanloup (R. C.): Histoire de noire Sauveur Jésus Christ. Paris, 1870.

Fr. W. Farrar (Canon of Westminster): The Life of Christ. Lond. and N. York, 1874, 2 vols. (in many editions, one with illustrations).

C. Geikie: The Life and Words of Christ. Lond. and N. York, 1878, 2 vols. (Illustrated. Several editions.)

Bernhard Weiss (Prof. in Berlin): Das Leben Jesu. Berlin, 1882, 2 vols., 3d ed. 1888. English transl. Edinb. 1885, 3 vols.

Alfred Edersheim: The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. London and N. Y. 1884, 2 vols. Strictly orthodox. Valuable for rabbinical illustrations.,

W. Beyschlag: Das Leben Jesu. Halle, 1885-’86, 2 vols.; 2d ed. 1888.

The works of Paulus, Strauss, and Renan (also Joseph Salvador, a learned Jew in France, author of Jésus Christ et sa doctrine, Par. 1838) represent the various phases of rationalism and destructive criticism, but have called forth also a copious and valuable apologetic literature. See the bibliography in Hase’s Leben Jesu, 5th ed. p. 44 sqq., and in his Geschichte Jesu, p. 124 sqq. Schleiermacher, Gfrörer, Weisse, Ewald, Schenkel, Hase, and Keim occupy, in various degrees and with many differences, a middle position. The great Schleiermacher almost perished in the sea of scepticism, but, like Peter, he caught the saving arm of Jesus extended to him (Mat_14:30, Mat_14:31). Hase is very valuable for the bibliography and suggestive sketches, Ewald and Keim for independent research and careful use of Josephus and the contemporary history. Keim rejects, Ewald accepts, the Gospel of John as authentic; both admit the sinless perfection of Jesus, and Keim, from his purely critical and synoptical standpoint, goes so far as to say (vol. iii. 662) that Christ, in his gigantic elevation above his own and succeeding ages, “makes the impression of mysterious loneliness, superhuman miracle, divine creation (den Eindruck geheimnissvoller Einsamkeit, übermenschlichen Wunders, göttlicher Schöpfung).” Weiss and Beyschlag mark a still greater advance, and triumphantly defend the genuineness of John’s Gospel, but make concessions to criticism in minor details.

Samuel J. Andrews: Life of our Lord. “A new and wholly revised edition.” New York, 1891 (651 pp.). With maps and illustrations. Maintains the quadripaschal theory. Modest, reverent, accurate, devoted chiefly to the chronological and topographical relations.


C. Chronological

Kepler: De Jesu Christi Servatoris nostri vero anno natalicio. Frankf. 1606. De vero anno quo aeternus Dei Filius humanam naturam in utero benedicitae Virginis Mariae assumpsit. Frcf. 1614.

J. A. Bengel: Ordo Temporum. Stuttgart, 1741, and 1770.

Henr. Sanclemente: De Vulgaris Aerae Emendatione libri quatuor.

C. Ideler: Handbuch der Chronologie. Berlin, 1825-226, 2 vols. By the same: Lehrbuch der Chronologie, 1831

Fr. Münter: Der Stern der Weisen. Kopenhagen, 1827.

K. Wieseler: Chronolog. Synopse der vier Evangelien. Hamb. 1843. Eng. trans. by Venables, 2d ed., 1877. Supplemented by his Beiträge zur richtigen Würdigung der Evangelien. Gotha, 1869.

Henry Browne: Ordo Saeclorum. London, 1844. Comp. his art. Chronology, in the 3d ed. of Kitto’s “Cycl. of Bib. Lit.”

Sam. F. Jarvis (historiographer of the Prot. Episc. Ch. in the U. S., d. 1851): A Chronological Introduction to the History of the Church. N. York, 1845.

G. Seyffarth: Chronologia sacra, Untersuchungen über das Geburtsjahr des Herrn. Leipzig, 1846.

Rud. Anger: Der Stern der Weisen und das Geburtsjahr Christi. Leipz. 1847. By the same. Zur Chronologie des Lehramtes Christi. Leipz. 1848.

Henry F. Clinton: Fasti Romani. Oxford, 1845-’50, 2 vols.

Thomas Lewin: Essay on the Chronology of the New Testament. Oxford, 1854. The same: Fasti Sacri (from b.c. 70 to a.d. 70). Lond. 1865.

F. Piper: Das Datum der Geburt Christi, in his “Evangel. Kalender” for 1856, pp. 41 sqq.

Henri Lutteroth: Le recensement de Quirinius en Judée. Paris, 1865 (134 pp.).

Gust. Rösch: Zum Geburtsjahr Jesu, in the “Jahrbücher für Deutsche Theol.” Gotha, 1866, pp. 3-48.

Ch. Ed. Caspari: Chronologisch-Geographische Einleitung in das Leben J. C. Hamb. 1869 (263 pp.). English translation by M. J. Evans. Edinburgh (T. Clark), 1876.

Francis W. Upham: The Wise Men. N. York, 1869 (ch. viii. 145, on Kepler’s Discovery). Star of Our Lord, by the same author. N. Y., 1873.

A. W. Zumpt: Das Geburtsjahr Christi. Leipz. 1869 (306 pp.). He makes much account of the double governorship of Quirinus, Luk_2:2. Comp. Pres. Woolsey in Bibl. Sacra, April, 1870.

Herm. Sevin: Chronologie des Lebens Jesu. Tübingen, 2d. ed., 1874.

Florian Riess: (Jesuit): Das Geburtsjahr Christi. Freiburg i. Br. 1880.

Peter Schegg: (R. C.): Das Todesjahr des Königs Herodes und das Todesjahr Jesu Christi. Against Riess. München, 1882.

Florian Riess: Nochmals das Geburtsjahr Jesu Christi. Reply to Schegg. Freib. im Br. 1883.

Bernhard Matthias: Die römische Grundsteuer und das Vectigalrecht. Erlangen, 1882.

H. Lecoultre: De censu Quiriniano et anno nativitatis Christi secundum Lucam evangelistam Dissertatio. Laussanne, 1883.


15. The Founder of Christianity

When “the fulness of the time” was come, God sent forth his only-begotten Son, “the Desire of all nations,” to redeem the world from the curse of sin, and to establish an everlasting kingdom of truth, love, and peace for all who should believe on his name.

In Jesus Christ a preparatory history both divine and human comes to its close. In him culminate all the previous revelations of God to Jews and Gentiles; and in him are fulfilled the deepest desires and efforts of both Gentiles and Jews for redemption. In his divine nature, as Logos, he is, according to St. John, the eternal Son of the Father, and the agent in the creation and preservation of the world, and in all those preparatory manifestations of God, which were completed in the incarnation. In his human nature, as Jesus of Nazareth, he is the ripe fruit of the religions growth of humanity, with an earthly ancestry, which St. Matthew (the evangelist of Israel) traces to Abraham, the patriarch of the Jews, and St. Luke (the evangelist of the Gentiles), to Adam, the father of all men. In him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily; and in him also is realized the ideal of human virtue and piety. He is the eternal Truth, and the divine Life itself, personally joined with our nature; he is our Lord and our God; yet at the same time flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. In him is solved the problem of religion, the reconciliation and fellowship of man with God; and we must expect no clearer revelation of God, nor any higher religious attainment of man, than is already guaranteed and actualized in his person.

But as Jesus Christ thus closes all previous history, so, on the other hand, he begins an endless future. He is the author of a new creation, the second Adam, the father of regenerate humanity, the head of the church, “which is his body, the fulness of him, that filleth all in all.” He is the pure fountain of that stream of light and life, which has since flowed unbroken through nations and ages, and will continue to flow, till the earth shall be full of his praise, and every tongue shall confess that he is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. The universal diffusion and absolute dominion of the spirit and life of Christ will be also the completion of the human race, the end of history, and the beginning of a glorious eternity.

It is the great and difficult task of the biographer of Jesus to show how he, by external and internal development, under the conditions of a particular people, age, and country, came to be in fact what he was in idea and destination, and what he will continue to be for the faith of Christendom, the God-Man and Saviour of the world. Being divine from eternity, he could not become God; but as man he was subject to the laws of human life and gradual growth. “He advanced in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” (Luk_2:52) Though he was the Son of God, “yet he learned obedience by the things which he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.” (Heb_5:8, Heb_5:9) There is no conflict between the historical Jesus of Nazareth and the ideal Christ of faith. The full understanding of his truly human life, by its very perfection and elevation above all other men before and after him, will necessarily lead to an admission of his own testimony concerning his divinity.

“Deep strike thy roots, O heavenly Vine,

Within our earthly sod!

Most human and yet most divine,

The flower of man and God!”

Jesus Christ came into the world under Caesar Augustus, the first Roman emperor, before the death of king Herod the Great, four years before the traditional date of our Dionysian aera. He was born at Bethlehem of Judaea, in the royal line of David, from Mary, “the wedded Maid and Virgin Mother.” The world was at peace, and the gates of Janus were closed for only the second time in the history of Rome. There is a poetic and moral fitness in this coincidence: it secured a hearing for the gentle message of peace which might have been drowned in the passions of war and the clamor of arms. Angels from heaven proclaimed the good tidings of his birth with songs of praise; Jewish shepherds from the neighboring fields, and heathen sages from the far east greeted the newborn king and Saviour with the homage of believing hearts. Heaven and earth gathered in joyful adoration around the Christ-child, and the blessing of this event is renewed from year to year among high and low, rich and poor, old and young, throughout the civilized world.

The idea of a perfect childhood, sinless and holy, yet truly human and natural, had never entered the mind of poet or historian before; and when the legendary fancy of the Apocryphal Gospels attempted to fill out the chaste silence of the Evangelists, it painted an unnatural prodigy of a child to whom wild animals, trees, and dumb idols bowed, and who changed balls of clay into flying birds for the amusement of his playmates.

The youth of Jesus is veiled in mystery. We know only one, but a very significant fact. When a boy of twelve years he astonished the doctors in the temple by his questions and answers, without repelling them by immodesty and premature wisdom, and filled his parents with reverence and awe by his absorption in the things of his heavenly Father, and yet was subject and obedient to them in all things. Here, too, there is a clear line of distinction between the supernatural miracle of history and the unnatural prodigy of apocryphal fiction, which represents Jesus as returning most learned answers to perplexing questions of the doctors about astronomy, medicine, physics, metaphysics, and hyperphysics.

The external condition and surroundings of his youth are in sharp contrast with the amazing result of his public life. He grew up quietly and unnoticed in a retired Galilean mountain village of proverbial insignificance, and in a lowly carpenter-shop, far away from the city of Jerusalem, from schools and libraries, with no means of instruction save those which were open to the humblest Jew — the care of godly parents, the beauties of nature, the services of the synagogue, the secret communion of the soul with God, and the Scriptures of the Old Testament, which recorded in type and prophecy his own character and mission. All attempts to derive his doctrine from any of the existing schools and sects have utterly failed. He never referred to the traditions of the elders except to oppose them. From the Pharisees and Sadducees he differed alike, and provoked their deadly hostility. With the Essenes he never came in contact. He was independent of human learning and literature, of schools and parties. He taught the world as one who owed nothing to the world. He came down from heaven and spoke, out of the fulness of his personal intercourse with the great Jehovah. He was no scholar, no artist, no orator; yet was he wiser than all sages, he spake as never man spake, and made an impression on his age and all ages after him such as no man ever made or can make. Hence the natural surprise of his countrymen as expressed in the question: “From whence hath this men these things?” “How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?” (Mar_6:2, Mar_6:3; Mat_13:54-56; Joh_7:15)

He began his public ministry in the thirtieth year of his age, after the Messianic inauguration by the baptism of John, and after the Messianic probation in the wilderness — the counterpart of the temptation of the first Adam in Paradise. That ministry lasted only three years — and yet in these three years is condensed the deepest meaning of the history of religion. No great life ever passed so swiftly, so quietly, so humbly, so far removed from the noise and commotion of the world; and no great life after its close excited such universal and lasting interest. He was aware of this contrast: he predicted his deepest humiliation even to the death on the cross, and the subsequent irresistible attraction of this cross, which may be witnessed from day to day wherever his name is known. He who could say, “If I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto myself,” (Joh_12:32) knew more of the course of history and of the human heart than all the sages and legislators before and after him.

He chose twelve apostles for the Jews and seventy disciples for the Gentiles, not from among the scholars and leaders, but from among the illiterate fishermen of Galilee. He had no home, no earthly possessions, no friends among the mighty and the rich. A few pious women from time to time filled his purse; and this purse was in the bands of a thief and a traitor. He associated with publicans and sinners, to raise them up to a higher and nobler life, and began his reformation among them lower classes, which were despised and neglected by the proud: hierarchy of the day. He never courted the favor of the great, but incurred their hatred and persecution. He never flattered, the prejudices of the age, but rebuked sin and vice among the high and the low, aiming his severest words at the blind leaders of the blind, the self-righteous hypocrites who sat on Moses’ seat. He never encouraged the carnal Messianic hopes of the people, but withdrew when they wished to make him a king, and declared before the representative of the Roman empire that his kingdom was not of this world. He announced to his disciples his own martyrdom, and promised to them in this life only the same baptism of blood. He went about in Palestine, often weary of travel, but never weary of his work of love, doing good to the souls and bodies of men, speaking words of spirit and life, and working miracles of power and mercy.

He taught the purest doctrine, as a direct revelation of his heavenly Father, from his own intuition and experience, and with a power and authority which commanded unconditional trust and obedience. He rose above the prejudices of party and sect, above the superstitions of his age and nation. He addressed the naked heart of man and touched the quick of the conscience. He announced the founding of a spiritual kingdom which should grow from the smallest seed to a mighty tree, and, working like leaven from within, should gradually pervade all nations and countries. This colossal idea, had never entered the imagination of men, the like of which he held fast even in the darkest hour of humiliation, before the tribunal of the Jewish high-priest and the Roman governor, and when suspended as a malefactor on the cross; and the truth of this idea is illustrated by every page of church history and in every mission station on earth.

The miracles or signs which accompanied his teaching are supernatural, but not unnatural, exhibitions of his power over man and nature; no violations of law, but manifestations of a higher law, the superiority of mind over matter, the superiority of spirit over mind, the superiority of divine grace over human nature. They are all of the highest moral and of a profoundly symbolical significance, prompted by pure benevolence, and intended for the good of men; in striking contrast with deceptive juggler works and the useless and absurd miracles of apocryphal fiction. They were performed without any ostentation, with such simplicity and ease as to be called simply his “works.” They were the practical proof of his doctrine and the natural reflex of his wonderful person. The absence of wonderful works in such a wonderful man would be the greatest wonder.

His doctrine and miracles were sealed by the purest and holiest life in private and public. He could challenge his bitterest opponents with the question: “Which of you convinceth me of sin?” well knowing that they could not point to a single spot.

At last he completed his active obedience by the passive obedience of suffering in cheerful resignation to the holy will of God. Hated and persecuted by the Jewish hierarchy, betrayed into their hands by Judas, accused by false witnesses, condemned by the Sanhedrin, rejected by the people denied by Peter, but declared innocent by the representative of the Roman law and justice, surrounded by his weeping mother and faithful disciples, revealing in those dark hours by word and silence the gentleness of a lamb and the dignity of a God, praying for his murderers, dispensing to the penitent thief a place in paradise, committing his soul to his heavenly Father he died, with the exclamation: “It is finished!” He died before he had reached the prime of manhood. The Saviour of the world a youth! He died the shameful death of the cross the just for the unjust, the innocent for the guilty, a free self, sacrifice of infinite love, to reconcile the world unto God. He conquered sin and death on their own ground, and thus redeemed and sanctified all who are willing to accept his benefits and to follow his example. He instituted the Lord’s Supper, to perpetuate the memory of his death and the cleansing and atoning power of his blood till the end of time.

The third day he rose from the grave, the conqueror of death and hell, the prince of life and resurrection. He repeatedly appeared to his disciples; he commissioned them to preach the gospel of the resurrection to every creature; he took possession of his heavenly throne, and by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit he established the church, which he has ever since protected, nourished, and comforted, and with which he has promised to abide, till he shall come again in glory to judge the quick and the dead.

This is a meager outline of the story which the evangelists tell us with childlike simplicity, and yet with more general and lasting effect than could be produced by the highest art of historical composition. They modestly abstained from adding their own impressions to the record of the words and acts of the Master whose “glory they beheld, the glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Who would not shrink from the attempt to describe the moral character of Jesus, or, having attempted it, be not dissatisfied with the result? Who can empty the ocean into a bucket? Who (we may ask with Lavater) “can paint the glory of the rising sun with a charcoal?” No artist’s ideal comes up to the reality in this case, though his ideals may surpass every other reality. The better and holier a man is, the more he feels his need of pardon, and how far he falls short of his own imperfect standard of excellence. But Jesus, with the same nature as ours and tempted as we are, never yielded to temptation; never had cause for regretting any thought, word, or action; he never needed pardon, or conversion, or reform; he never fell out of harmony with his heavenly Father. His whole life was one unbroken act of self-consecration to the glory of God and the eternal welfare of his fellow-men. A catalogue of virtues and graces, however complete, would give us but a mechanical view. It is the spotless purity and sinlessness of Jesus as acknowledged by friend and foe; it is the even harmony and symmetry of all graces, of love to God and love to man, of dignity and humility of strength and tenderness, of greatness and simplicity, of self-control and submission, of active and passive virtue; it is, in one word, the absolute perfection which raises his character high above the reach of all other men and makes it an exception to a universal rule, a moral miracle in history. It is idle to institute comparisons with saints and sages, ancient or modern. Even the infidel Rousseau was forced to exclaim: “If Socrates lived and died like a sage, Jesus lived and died like a God.” Here is more than the starry heaven above us, and the moral law within us, which filled the soul of Kant with ever-growing reverence and awe. Here is the holy of holies of humanity, here is the very gate of heaven.

Going so far in admitting the human perfection of Christ — and how can the historian do otherwise? — we are driven a step farther, to the acknowledgment of his amazing claims, which must either be true, or else destroy all foundation for admiration and reverence in which he is universally held. It is impossible to construct a life of Christ without admitting its supernatural and miraculous character.

The divinity of Christ, and his whole mission as Redeemer, is an article of faith, and, as such, above logical or mathematical demonstration. The incarnation or the union of the infinite divinity and finite humanity in one person is indeed the mystery of mysteries. “What can be more glorious than God? What more vile than flesh? What more wonderful than God in the flesh?” Yet aside from all dogmatizing which lies outside of the province of the historian, the divinity of Christ has a self-evidencing power which forces itself irresistibly upon the reflecting mind and historical inquirer; while the denial of it makes his person an inexplicable enigma.

It is inseparable from his own express testimony respecting himself, as it appears in every Gospel, with but a slight difference of degree between the Synoptists and St. John. Only ponder over it! He claims to be the long-promised Messiah who fulfilled the law and the prophets, the founder and lawgiver of a new and universal kingdom, the light of the world, the teacher of all nations and ages, from whose authority there is no appeal. He claims to have come into this world for the purpose to save the world from sin — which no merely human being can possibly do. He claims the power to forgive sins on earth; he frequently exercised that power, and it was for the sins of mankind, as he foretold, that he shed his own blood. He invites all men to follow him, and promises peace and life eternal to every one that believes in him. He claims pre-existence before Abraham and the world, divine names, attributes, and worship. He disposes from the cross of places in Paradise. In directing his disciples to baptize all nations, he coordinates himself with the eternal Father and the Divine Spirit, and promises to be with them to the consummation of the world and to come again in glory as the Judge of all men. He, the humblest and meekest of men, makes these astounding pretensions in the most easy and natural way; he never falters, never apologizes, never explains; he proclaims them as self-evident truths. We read them again and again, and never feel any incongruity nor think of arrogance and presumption.

And yet this testimony, if not true, must be downright blasphemy or madness. The former hypothesis cannot stand a moment before the moral purity and dignity of Jesus, revealed in his every word and work, and acknowledged by universal consent. Self-deception in a matter so momentous, and with an intellect in all respects so clear and so sound, is equally out of the question. How could He be an enthusiast or a madman who never lost the even balance of his mind, who sailed serenely over all the troubles and persecutions, as the sun above the clouds, who always returned the wisest answer to tempting questions, who calmly and deliberately predicted his death on the cross, his resurrection on the third day, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the founding of his Church, the destruction of Jerusalem — predictions which have been literally fulfilled? A character so original, so complete, so uniformly consistent, so perfect, so human and yet so high above all human greatness, can be neither a fraud nor a fiction. The poet, as has been well said, would in this case be greater than the hero. It would take more than a Jesus to invent a Jesus.

We are shut up then to the recognition of the divinity of Christ; and reason itself must bow in silent awe before the tremendous word: “I and the Father are one!” and respond with skeptical Thomas: “My Lord and my God!”

This conclusion is confirmed by the effects of the manifestation of Jesus, which far transcend all merely human capacity and power. The history of Christianity, with its countless fruits of a higher and purer life of truth and love than was ever known before or is now known outside of its influence, is a continuous commentary on the life of Christ, and testifies on every page to the inspiration of his holy example. His power is felt on every Lord’s Day from ten thousand pulpits, in the palaces of kings and the huts of beggars, in universities and colleges, in every school where the sermon on the Mount is read, in prisons, in almshouses, in orphan asylums, as well as in happy homes, in learned works and simple tracts in endless succession. If this history of ours has any value at all, it is a new evidence that Christ is the light and life of a fallen world.

And there is no sign that his power is waning. His kingdom is more widely spread than ever before, and has the fairest prospect of final triumph in all the earth. Napoleon at St. Helena is reported to have been struck with the reflection that millions are now ready to die for the crucified Nazarene who founded a spiritual empire by love, while no one would die for Alexander, or Caesar, or himself, who founded temporal empires by force. He saw in this contrast a convincing argument for the divinity of Christ, saying: “I know men, and I tell you, Christ was not a man. Everything about Christ astonishes me. His spirit overwhelms and confounds me. There is no comparison between him and any other being. He stands single and alone. And Goethe, another commanding genius, of very different character, but equally above suspicion of partiality for religion, looking in the last years of his life over the vast field of history, was constrained to confess that “if ever the Divine appeared on earth, it was in the Person of Christ,” and that “the human mind, no matter how far it may advance in every other department, will never transcend the height and moral culture of Christianity as it shines and glows in the Gospels.”

The rationalistic, mythical, and legendary attempts to explain the life of Christ on purely human and natural grounds, and to resolve the miraculous elements either into common events, or into innocent fictions, split on the rock of Christ’s character and testimony. The ablest of the infidel biographers of Jesus now profess the profoundest regard for his character, and laud him as the greatest sage and saint that ever appeared on earth. But, by rejecting his testimony concerning his divine origin and mission, they turn him into a liar; and, by rejecting the miracle of the resurrection, they make the great fact of Christianity a stream without a source, a house without a foundation, an effect without a cause. Denying the physical miracles, they expect us to believe even greater psychological miracles; yea, they substitute for the supernatural miracle of history an unnatural prodigy and incredible absurdity of their imagination. They moreover refute and supersede each other. The history of error in the nineteenth century is a history of self-destruction. A hypothesis was scarcely matured before another was invented and substituted, to meet the same fate in its turn; while the old truth and faith of Christendom remains unshaken, and marches on in its peaceful conquest against sin and error

Truly, Jesus Christ, the Christ of the Gospels, the Christ of history, the crucified and risen Christ, the divine-human Christ, is the most real, the most certain, the most blessed of all facts. And this fact is an ever-present and growing power which pervades the church and conquers the world, and is its own best evidence, as the sun shining in the heavens. This fact is the only solution of the terrible mystery of sin and death, the only inspiration to a holy life of love to God and man, and only guide to happiness and peace. Systems of human wisdom will come and go, kingdoms and empires will rise and fall, but for all time to come Christ will remain “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”