The Origin of the Gospels and the Bishop of Bombay
Theosophist, October, 1882
The ignorance which commonly prevails among English Christians concerning the history of their own religious books and, it is feared, of their contents—has been amusingly illustrated by a few letters, recently exchanged in the Pioneer between the supporters and the critics of the Bishop of Bombay—the controversialists breaking their lances over the pastoral concerning the divorce and remarriage question. Much ink was split during the correspondence, and still more saintly ignorance shown on both sides. “ONE OF THE LAITY,” who supports, and “TÜBINGEN,” who criticises, close the rather lengthy polemics. A letter from the former, framed in a style that might as well stand for veiled sarcasm as for religious cant (see the Pioneer of August 19) runs as follows:
Sir,—I have read, in this and many other newspapers, articles and letters respecting the Bishop of Bombay’s pastoral. But it seems to me that they all miss the mark, turning simply on human opinion. The question is a very simple one: Our Blessed Lord whilst on earth, being Almighty God as well as man, and consequently perfectly knowing every controversy that would rage in the future over His words (this one among others) said words plainly and distinctly. This is, I suppose, undeniable—at least by Christians. His servant, the Bishop of Bombay (I suppose no one will deny that the Bishop of Bombay is our Lord’s servant in a more especial sense than he is the servant of the State) has repeated these words plainly and distinctly. And these same words will be repeated plainly and distinctly, and, to some, with terrible emphasis, on the Day of Judgment. That is all, enough—too much perhaps. Human respect, public opinion, civil law—all these things will pass away; but the words of Almighty God will never pass away. Personally, I am satisfied with knowing that the Church, having been endowed by our Blessed Lord with absolute and infallible authority in all questions of faith and morals, has put forth certain discipline with respect to marriage; but I know Protestants refuse to allow this. Perhaps a little reflection on the subject of the Day of Judgment may cause them to see that the Bishop of Bombay is right in what he has put forth. If a person can calmly make up his mind to bring forward at the Day of Judgment public opinion, human respect, civil law, as excuses for what he has done, or not done, on earth, by all means let him—and abide the result. Here, on earth, individuals, good and bad, made mistakes. There, there will be none—except those already made on earth; and, as Faber says, it will be an exceedingly awkward time for finding them out. I do not pretend to argue against persons who do not believe in revelation, being only, as my card will show you.—ONE OF THE LAITY.
This is very plain; and yet can hardly be allowed to pass without comments. For instance, if “Our Blessed Lord” who was “Almighty God” knew beforehand “every controversy that would rage in the future” (the Pioneer correspondence among others) then one cannot be very far from truth in supposing that he also knew of the remarks and criticisms in store for “ONE OF THE LAITY” in the THEOSOPHIST? This is very encouraging, and really dissipates the last hesitation and doubts felt about the propriety of passing remarks, however respectful, on the Bishop of Bombay’s last pronunciamento. Our logic is very simple. Since that, which we are about to say could never have escaped Our Lord’s attention eighteen centuries ago, and that up to date we have received no intimation to the contrary (silence meaning with us—as with every other trusting mortal—consent) we feel serenely confident that this column or two was so preordained from the beginning; hence—it can give offence to no one. But, before offering any personal remarks, our readers must see what “TÜBINGEN” had to say in reply to “ONE OF THE LAITY .” The above-quoted letter elicited the following answer in the Pioneer of August 25:
Sir,—Your LAYMAN correspondent, who knows so much about our Lord’s utterances on the subject of divorce, seems to forget a few points which bear on the matter, especially that the “certain words” which he and the Bishop of Bombay rely upon, were certainly not spoken by our Lord, who did not express Himself in English, but are merely a translation of an Alexandrian Greek translation of some documents, the origin of which I thus find spoken of in Chambers’ most orthodox Encyclopaedia:—“The inquiry has been treated in an extremely technical manner by many critics. The object of these theories has been to find a common origin for the Gospels. Eichhorn and Bishop Marsh presume an original document, differing from any of the existing gospels, and which is supposed to pass through various modifications. Another and more probable supposition is that the Gospels sprang out of a common oral tradition. This theory . . . is of course widely separated from the well-known Tübingen theory, which carries the period of tradition down to the middle of the second century, and supposes the Gospels to have been then called forth by the influence of opposing teachers.” Under the head “Tübingen,” in another part of the Encyclopaedia, I read that the place is celebrated “as a school of historico-philosophical theology . . . the influence of which, on religious thought, has been very great, and is likely to prove permanent.” Thus, I am afraid, your LAYMAN, though doubtless a very good man, is not quite so accurately informed concerning our Lord’s language, as he imagines himself; and that, considering the unfortunate uncertainty that attends our fragmentary records of these, the Bishop of Bombay is not so wise in regulating his views of divorce according to the exact English test of the Bible, as Parliament has been in regulating the law according to what common sense leads us to imagine must probably have been the views of our Lord.—TÜBINGEN.
The reply is very good as far as it goes, but it does not go very far; because, the point made that “our Lord did not express himself in English” does not cover the whole ground. He could have expressed himself in any presumably dead or living Oriental language he liked, and yet—since he was Almighty God, who knew the tremendous weapon he was furnishing the present infidels with—he might have avoided “ONE OF THE LAITY,” as well as the Bishop, “his own servant,” the humiliation of being taught their own Scriptures by the infidel THEOSOPHIST. Indeed, while the former has evidently either never read or has forgotten his Bible, the latter who cannot be held ignorant of its contents, has very arbitrarily made a selection of the one that suited him the best, since there are several such commands in the Bible to pick out from, in reference to the remarriage question. Why did not his Lordship refer to those also? And why should the Christian Laity be forbidden the privilege of making their choice, since the Bible affords them the opportunity of suiting every taste, while adhering as strictly in the one case as in the other to the Commands of Almighty God? If “ONE OF THE LAITY” is personally satisfied with knowing “that the Church having been endowed by our Blessed Lord with absolute and infallible authority in all questions of faith and morals,” has the right to “put forth certain discipline with respect to marriage,” then he must know more than anyone else knows. For, if “Protestants refuse to allow this,” it is not from excess of modesty, but simply that such a claim on their part would be really too preposterous in the face of the Bible. Jesus Christ, though in one sense a Protestant himself, knew nothing of Protestantism; and endowed—if he ever endowed anyone with anything—Peter with such authority, leaving Paul out in the cold. Protestantism, having once protested against the dictates of the Roman Catholic Church, has no right to assume out of the many alleged prerogatives of Peter’s Church that which suits it and reject that which it finds inconvenient to follow or to enforce. Moreover, since Protestantism chose to give equal authority and infallibility to both the Old and the New Testament, its Bishops should not, in deciding upon social or religious questions, give preference only to the latter and ignore entirely what the former has to say. The fact that the Protestant Church, acting upon the principle of “might is right,” is, and has always been, in the habit of resorting to it to cut every Gordian knot—is no proof that she is acting under Divine authority. The claim, then, made by “ONE OF THE LAITY,” as “TÜBINGEN” will see, does not rest so much upon the correctness of the translation made of Christ’s words, or whether it was rendered by a Greek or a Hebrew, as upon the self-contradiction of these very words in the Bible—assuming, of course, that Christ and Almighty God are one and identical. Otherwise, and if Jesus of Nazareth was simply a man, then he can neither be accused of flagrant contradiction nor of inciting his prophets to break the seventh commandment, as done by God in the case of Hosea. And it is also, we suppose, “undeniable at least by Christians,” that what was good for a prophet of the Lord God cannot be bad for a Christian, even though he be an Anglo-Indian Civilian. In truth, as “ONE OF THE LAITY” has it, “the question is a very simple one.” It is one of Unitarianism and a matter of choice. “Choose ye, this day,” might say a modern Joshua, “whom you will serve”; whether the God which the Jews served, and who contradicts on every page of the Old, the New Testament—the wrathful, revengeful, fickle Jehovah; or him whom you call “Christ”—one of the noblest and purest types of humanity. For there can be no mistake about this: if Christ is one with the Lord God of Israel—all this ideal purity vanishes like a dream, leaving in its place but bewilderment, doubt, and disgust—usually followed by blank atheism.
To make the matter plain, if the Lord Bishop, with “ONE OF THE LAITY,” insists that Christ being Almighty God said certain words plainly and distinctly, and he “Our Lord’s servant . . . has repeated these words,” as given in Matthew, v. 32, namely, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of—etc., causeth her to commit adultery; and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery”—then the so-called infidels and the parties concerned, have a right to respectfully insist on his Lordship showing them why he, the servant of the same God, should not repeat certain other words pronounced far more plainly and distinctly, in the book of Hosea, chapter i, verse 2, and chapter iii, 1-5? For certain good reasons—one among others that the THEOSOPHIST, not being a holy book, is neither privileged, nor would it consent to publish obscenities—the said verses in Hosea cannot be quoted in this magazine. But everyone is at liberty to turn to the first Bible on hand, and, finding the above passages, read them and judge for himself. And then he will find that Almighty God commands Hosea not only to take unto himself a “divorced wife,” but something unpronounceably worse. And if we are told by some Bible expounders, as that class will often do, that the words must not be taken literally, that they are allegorical, then the burden of proof remains with the Bishop to show why, in such case, the words in Matthew should not be also regarded as a parable; and why this one solitary command should be enforced literally, while nearly every other that precedes or follows it, is regarded, explained, and has to be accepted simply as a parable. If he would be consistent with himself, the Bishop should insist that as a consequence of temptation every Christian would “pluck” out his right eye, “cut off” his right hand—(and who can pretend, that neither his eye nor his hand has ever tempted or “offended” him?)—would moreover refuse to take his oath in a Court of Justice, turn his cheek to every bully who would smite his face, and present with his cloak the first thief who would choose to rob him of his coat. Every one of these commands has been “explained away” to the satisfaction of all parties concerned—amongst others that which commands never to swear at all, i.e., to take the prescribed oath—“neither by heaven nor by earth,” but let the affirmation be “yea, yea; nay, nay.” And if, His Lordship would have no one deny that he “is Our Lord’s servant in a more especial sense than he is the servant of the State,” whose law, disregarding Christ’s injunction, commands every one of its subjects to swear upon the Bible, then the Bishop would perhaps but strengthen his claim and silence even the infidels, if, instead of losing his time over divorced wives, he would use his eloquence in supporting Mr. Bradlaugh, at any rate, in his refusal to take his oath in Parliament. In this respect, at least, the Christian clergy should be at one with the celebrated infidel.
No doubt, a little reflection on the subject of the “Day of Judgment” may go a good way toward explaining the inexplicable; with all this, it has to be feared, it will never account for all of the above enumerated inconsistencies. Nevertheless—nil desperandum. There is a pretty story told of the present English Premier by James T. Bixby, in which the objection made to a pleasant plan of marrying the late General Garibaldi to a wealthy English lady, viz., that the hero of Capera had already one wife—is triumphantly met by the suggestion that Mr. Gladstone could be readily got to explain her away. Perchance, His Lordship of Bombay, having heard of the story, had an eye on the “grand old man,” to help him. At any rate, he seems to be as easy a reconciler of the irreconcilable, and manifests, to use an expression of the same author, “a theological dissipating power of equal strength” with that of the reconcilers of Science and Scripture.
Had “TÜBINGEN,” instead of getting his inspiration from “Chamber’s most orthodox Encyclopaedia,” turned to consult what the Fathers of the Church have themselves to say about the Gospel of Matthew in which the certain words “ONE OF THE LAITY” and “the Bishop of Bombay” rely upon, are made to appear—then he would have been far better qualified to upset the arguments of his opponent. He would have learned, for instance, that out of the four, the Gospel of Matthew is the only original one, as the only one that was written in Hebrew or rather in one of its corrupted forms, the Galilean Syriac—by whom or when it was written not being now the main point. Epiphanius tells us that it was the heretic Nazarenes or the Sabians “who live in the city of the Beroeans toward Coeli-Syria and in the Decapolis towards the parts of Pella, and in the Basantis” who have the Evangel of Matthew most fully, and as it was originally written—in Hebrew letters; and that it was St. Jerome who translated it into Greek: “Quod nuper in Graecum de Hebraeo: ermone transtulimus, et quod vocatur a plerisque Matthaei authenticum (Epiphanius I., p. 123-24; Dion Petav., animadv., p. 54; Hieronymus., in cap. XII., Matth. Cap. 13).” Matthew, the despised publican, be it remembered, is the only identified and authenticated author of his Gospel, the other three having to remain probably forever under their unidentified noms de plume. The Ebionites and the Nazarenes are nearly identical. Inhabiting a desert between Syria and Egypt beyond Jordan called Nabathaea, they were indifferently called Sabians, Nazarenes, and Ebionites. Olshausen (Nachweis der Echtheit der Sämmtlïchen Schriften des Neuen Test, p. 35) finds it remarkable that, while all Church Fathers agree in saying that Matthew wrote in Hebrew, they all use the Greek text as the genuine apostolic writing without mentioning what relation the Hebrew Matthew has to the Greek one. “It had many peculiar additions which are wanting in our Greek Evangel,” he remarks; and as many omissions, we may add. The fact ceases at once to be remarkable when we remember that confession made by Hieronymus (or St. Jerome) in his letter to Bishops Chromatius and Heliodorus, and in several other passages in his works:
“Matthew who is also Leuis (Levi) an apostle from Publicans, in Ioudaca first with a view to those believing in circumcision put together an Evangel of the Anointed, in Hebrew letters and words, it is not known who (first) translated it into Greek,” he writes. “The Hebrew (Syriac) up to this time is in the library of Caesarea. I received permission from the Nazaraeans, who at Beroca of Syria used this (evangel) to translate this” (De viris illustr, cap. 3). “In the evangel according to the Hebrews, which, indeed, was written in the Chaldean (lingua Chaldaica quam vocat hie Syriacam) and Syrian language, but with Hebrew letters, which the Nazarenes use today according tot he apostles, or as most suppose according to Matthew, which is also contained in the library at Caesarea, the history narrates: ‘Lo the mother of the Lord and his Brothers said to him, Joan the Baptist baptizes unto remission of sins; let us go and be baptized by him. Be he (Iasous) said to them: what sin have I committed that I should go and be baptized by him?’” (Hieronymus adv. Pelagianos III., 2.)
The Gospel we have of Matthew tells quite a different story; and yet Jerome, speaking of the evangel which Nazarenes and Ebionites use, mentions it as the one “which we recently translated from a Hebrew sermon into Greek and which by many has been declared to be the authentic Matthew” (Book 2nd, Com. to Matthew, XII-13). But the whole truth dawns at once on him, who reads Jerome’s letter and remembers that this famous Dalmatian Christian had been before his full conversion a no less famous barrister, well acquainted with both ecclesiastical and legal casuistry; and that, therefore, he must have transformed the genuine Hebrew Gospel into something quite different from what it originally was. And such, indeed, is his own confession. Hear him saying:
“A difficult work is enjoined, since this (the translation of Matthew) has been commanded me by Your Felicities Bishop Chromatius and Heliodorus), which St. Matthew himself, the Apostle and Evangelist, did not wish to be openly written! For it this had not been SECRET, he would have added to the Evangel that he gave forth was his; but he (Matthew) made this book sealed up in the Hebrew characters; which he put forth even in such a way that the book written in Hebrew letters and by the hand of himself, might be possessed (only) by the men most religious; who also in the course (successus) of time received it thus (secretly) from those who preceded them. But this very book they (the most religious, the initiates) never gave to any one to be transcribed: and its text they related, some one way and some another (aliter atque aliter). And it happened that this book (the original Gospel of Matthew) having been published by a disciple of Manichaeus, named Seleucus, who also wrote falsely the acts of the Apostles, exhibited matter not for edification, but for destruction; and that this (book) was approved in a synod which the ears of the Church properly refused to listen to” (St. Jerome, V.445)
And, to suit the ears of the Church who “properly refused to listen” to the original Gospel, St. Jerome candidly tells us:
“ Matthew first in Judea issued in Hebrew an Evangel of the Anointed. This, at least, when in our word (our text) it differs and assumes different sideways of rills (et diversos rivulorum tramites ducit) is to be sought for (accounted) from one source” (the original Gospel). Therefore—“I pass over those codices mentioned by Lucian and Hesychius, which the perverse contention of a few men affirms” . . .
In other words, the venerable compiler of the Latin version of the Scriptures—the basis of the present vulgate—in what is called by Alban Butler “his famous critical labours on the Holy Scriptures,” distorted the original Gospel of Matthew beyond recognition. And it is such sentences as now stand in the Gospel of Matthew, and which ought to be properly called the “Gospel according to St. Jerome,” that the Bishop of Bombay and “ONE OF THE LAITY“ would have anyone but the Christians regard and accept as words of Almighty God, that “will never pass away.” Pro pudor! Words copied with all kind of omissions and additions, out of notes, taken from various oral renderings of the original text—“a book they (its possessors) never gave to anyone to be transcribed,” as St. Jerome himself tells us—still claiming a divine origin! If the orthodox exponents of “historico-philosophical theology” in Europe have hitherto handled all these questions which relate to the authenticity of the Bible with a very timid hand, it has not in the least [prevented] others to examine them as critically as they would Homer’s Iliad. And, having done so, they found embodied in that heterogeneous literature the production of a hundred anonymous scribes. Its very Greek plural name of ta Biblia, meaning “the Books,” or a collection of small pamphlets, shows it to be a regular hotchpotch of stories having a meaning but for the Kabalist. Every child will very soon be taught that even the Epistles have been regarded as sacred and authoritative a great deal earlier than the Gospels; and that for two centuries at least, the New Testament was never looked upon by the Christians as sacred as the old one. And, as we can learn from St. Jerome’s writings just quoted above, at the end of the fourth century (he died in 420) there was no New Testament canon as we now have it, since it was not even agreed upon which of the Gospels should be included in it and regarded as sacred and which should be rejected. As well may we, Theosophists, claim (and perhaps with far better reasons) that some of the words as occasionally found in our journal, “WILL NEVER PASS AWAY.”