At this stage of investigation consideration must be given to the sources of information regarding Jesus Christ, the apostles, the New Testament, and any other reliable information concerning the Christian faith.
I. THE SOURCES OF INFORMATION
The sources of information fall into three classes: heathen, Jewish, and Christian.A. Heathen
Little information regarding Christ and Christianity can be gleaned from heathen sources. In A.D. 64 Emperor Nero burned Rome and laid the blame upon innocent Christians in order to divert attention from himself and to cast ignominy and shame upon the despised Christians. Both Tacitus and Suetonius, Roman historians, refer to Christ and the Christians in their accounts of the burning of Rome. Since the Christians were a despised group of people, these historians said as little as they could in their narrations concerning why Rome was burned. About A.D. 117 Pliny the Younger¹ reported to Emperor Trajan concerning the Christians that were in his province. His letter is a famous document, which gives an insight into Christianity as it existed in that province of the Roman Empire at that date.B. Jewish
Such enemies of Christianity as Lucian, Julian the Apostate, Porphyry, and Celsus refer to Christ, but in a disparaging mannersome of them in a bitter and hostile spirit. Though derogatory to Christianity, their statements nevertheless have some evidential value in that they throw a faint glimmering light upon the beginnings of Christianity and upon the life of Christ himself.
Little authentic information concerning Christ and primitive Christianity can be gathered from purely Jewish sources. Josephus, the great Jewish historian, who wrote Antiquities of the Jews and Wars of the Jews, was born about A.D. 37 and lived to the turn of the century. In the Antiquities he has a paragraph concerning Jesus. He also speaks of John the Baptist and of James the brother of the Lord Jesus. Scholars are divided in their opinions relative to the historical value of any of these quotations. Arguments can be advanced in favor of the genuineness of these passages. At the same time other arguments can be brought which seem to mitigate the circumstances and to throw discredit upon the testimony of Josephus. Little, therefore, that is genuine and unquestioned can be gathered from these sources regarding Jesus and early Christianity.C. Christian
One would expect references to Jesus of Nazareth in the Talmud and the early writings of the Jewish sages, but they contain no direct unambiguous references that can be pointed to as positive testimony regarding Him. A few passages are interpreted by some scholars as referring to Him, but they are so very vague and indiscriminate that they have little or no historical value.
Why the silence of these Jewish sages? Did Jesus actually live and, in His short lifetime, do the things ascribed to Him in the Gospel Records? Dr. Joseph Klausner, in his book Jesus of Nazareth, calls attention to the fact that very little is said in the Talmud of that which occurred during the time of the Second Temple. If many of those things that pertain to the heart of the Jewish religion are passed by in the Talmudical writings, there is no wonder that the sages of Israel would likewise pass by Jesus, since His movement was a despised one, which they thought would fade out and disappear.
Some opponents of Christianity claim that, if Jesus did live and perform the labors reported of Him, there would certainly be evidence in some form among the Jews that would show the historicity of Jesus and the beginnings of Christianity. This conclusion is not necessary. An analogous case to this one is Israel's sojourn in Egypt. Jacob and his family, seventy strong, went down into Egypt and resided there for 215 years.² When they came out of the land of bondage, they were a host of approximately three million people. Yet no evidence whatsoever has been discovered upon the monuments of Egypt showing that they ever dwelt there. Certainly one would argue that, if, as the Scriptures state, such a nation of people so miraculously escaped from Egypt, there should be some record of their residence in Egypt and of their escape from the country. But this conclusion is not necessary, especially since the Hebrews were a Semitic peopleAsiatic. The Egyptians, on account of the Hyksos kings, hated all Asiatics. They would, moreover, naturally hate the Hebrews because of their successful flight from Egypt and the consequent disgrace which settled down over the country. These facts are ample reason for the destruction of all evidence of the sojourn of the Hebrews in Egypt.
Emperor Julian the Apostate was an inveterate enemy of Christianity who did his utmost to suppress Christianity in order to revive and re-establish the old pagan religions. Concerning him the historian Philip Schaff declared: "The ruling passion of Julian, and the soul of his short but most active, remarkable, and in its negative results instructive reign, was fanatical love of the pagan religion and bitter hatred of the Christians, at a time when the former had already forever given up to the latter the reins of government in the world. He considered it the great mission of his life to restore the worship of the gods, and to reduce the religion of Jesus first to a contemptible sect, and at last, if possible, to utter extinction from the earth" (Hist. of the Christian Church, III, 46-47).
Concerning Julian, John Fletcher Hurst declared: "It was a pleasing fancy among some of the Christians that just before his death he confessed failure with the words, 'Tandem vicisti, Galilaee' [At length Thou has conquered, O Galilean]"(Hist. of the Christian Church, I, 421; see, also, Schaff, III, 58, note 2).
In such fanatical, blind, unremitting zeal to re-establish paganism, Julian doubtless destroyed much evidence that would support Christianity.
Notwithstanding the terrific fires of persecution that burned against the early Church and doubtless destroyed much evidence, an abundance of proof yet remains which indicates the source and genuineness of the Christian religion. Archeology is bringing to light many facts that prove the genuineness of the claims of Jesus. In the Graeco-Roman world, for example, the remains of churches from different periods of the early stages of Christianity are silent witnesses to the existence of the Christian religion. Some few inscriptions here and there point the finger of positive historicity to the origin, source, and development of Christianity. Literary remains are likewise infallible proofs of its divine origin. In this investigation one can start in the year A.D. 300 and wend his way backward through the debris of the times to Jesus and John the Baptist. Here and there all along the road he will find bits of evidence of Christianity. Giant defenders of the faith have left literary remains of their activities. Catalogues of the Books constituting the New Testament also bear silent, yet incontrovertible, evidence. Eusebius (260?-340?), called the father of Church History, who had access to original sources and records, and who did special research in the records of the churches of the early centuries, wrote an invaluable history of the beginnings and the spread of Christianity up to his day, the early decades of the fourth century. The testimony of such men as Origen, Irenaeus, Papias, Polycarp, and Justin Martyr take one back to the Apostolic Era. Polycarp, for instance, was personally acquainted and closely associated with the Apostle John, who wrote five of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. The Didache, the teaching of the Twelve, is one of the most primitive and important Christian Documents extantexcept the New Testament writings. The voluminous writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathersten large volumescontain the writings of the exponents of Christianity during the first three centuries of the religion of Christ. These works bear ample testimony to Christ and Christianity. The existence, also, of foreign versions of the Scriptures in the early centuries likewise bears unimpeachable evidence of the existence and genuineness of the Christian religion.
The consideration of the Books of the New Testament and their historical testimony is of first importance. In the New Testament there are twenty-seven Books. The first are the Gospel Records, written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They give accounts of the life of Jesus. According to the law of Moses, every legal procedure had to be established at the mouth of two or three witnesses. Two of these writers, Matthew and John, were eyewitnesses of the events which they recount, because they were associated with Jesus during His earthly ministry. One of these writers, Mark, was associated with Peter and was his interpreter, according to Papias, an early Christian writer. Thus Mark in reality presents the testimony of the Apostle Peter, who was an eyewitness from the beginning.
The relationship between Peter and Mark is parallel to that between the prophet Jeremiah and Baruch, his attendant. Originally, God said to Jeremiah, "Take thee a roll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken unto thee against Israel, and against Judah and against all the nations, from the day I spake unto thee, from the days of Josiah even until this day" (Jer. 36:2). According to this verse, God gave the very words that Jeremiah used in delivering this oracle to the people. In explaining to the princes of Judah how the scroll had been written, Baruch said that Jeremiah pronounced all these words (the words that Jehovah had spoken to Jeremiah originally) unto him, and that he, Baruch, had written all of them in a book with ink. This incident shows how the Scriptures were given. God inspired the thought and led the writer to choose from his own vocabulary and style the words and expressions by which the ideas were to be conveyed. Peter was inspired by the Lord and delivered his messages. Mark accompanied him on some of his travels, according to Papias, and was his interpreter. Probably Mark wrote down the very words that were spoken by the inspired apostle and preserved the account in the form of the second record of the Gospel, which bears his name.
The third record, the Gospel of Luke, was written by one of the most highly educated men of that day. He was a master in the use of the Greek language. He did special research, gathering all possible data regarding the life and labors of Jesus. He then wrote an account of the life of Jesus in a chronological order. He was associated with the Apostle Paul, who wrote thirteen of the books of the New Testamentpossibly fourteen.³ Having gathered the information from all available sources, and being led by the Spirit of God and associated with the inspired Apostle Paul, this scientific historian wrote his record of the life of Christ and also the Acts of the Apostles.
We have, therefore, four records of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, each of which supplements the information that is found in the others. Each was written by an inspired apostle or one most closely associated with the Apostles. These facts give weight and authority to the records. The Acts of the Apostles, the history of the early Church (A.D. 30-63), was written by Luke and is the second volume by this noted, scientific, inspired writer. The first three Records of the Gospel, called the Synoptics, were written around A.D. 60-63. The Gospel of John, in all probability, was written around A.D. 80 to 85. Knowing what was in the first three records, he gave additional information, especially of the ministry of Christ in Judæa when He attended the annual feasts at Jerusalem. The first three writers give more details concerning the great Galilean ministry, also the Perean and the latter Judæan ministries.II. THE CREDIBILITY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT TESTED BY THE LAWS OF EVIDENCE
There are twenty-one Epistles written to different churches and to young ministers of the Word, instructing them in Christian doctrine and proper conduct. Here and there the writers make a historical reference to events in the life of Jesus. Their statements, of course, are equal in value, from a historical standpoint, to the Records of the Gospel.
It is now proper to look at the Gospel Records and the Epistles in the light of the laws of evidence. To this end I wish to call attention to a work by Simon Greenleaf, LL.D., Late Dane Professor of Law in Harvard University, author of "Treatise on the Law of Evidence," namely, The Testimony of the Evangelists Examined by the Rules of Evidence, Administered in the Courts of Justice. Though Greenleaf is especially examining, in this volume, the testimony of the evangelists, the same principles of evidence that govern the testimony offered in courts of justice in support of any historical proposition obtain with reference to any of the New Testament. Thus these laws of evidence are universal principles to which he calls attention, and to which he subjects the testimony of the evangelists regarding the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
In introducing his examination, he gives the following advice:
"1. In examining the evidences of the Christian religion, it is essential to the discovery of truth that we bring to the investigation a mind freed, as far as possible, from existing prejudice, and open to conviction. There should be a readiness, on our part, to investigate with candor, to follow the truth wherever it may lead us, and to submit, without reserve or objection, to all the teachings of this religion, if it be found to be of divine origin. 'There is no other entrance,' says LORD BACON, 'to the kingdom of man, which is founded in the sciences, than to the kingdom of heaven, into which no one can enter but in the character of a little child.' The docility which true philosophy requires of her disciples is not a spirit of servility, or the surrender of the reason and judgment to whatsoever the teacher may inculcate; but it is a mind free from all pride of opinion, not hostile to the truth sought for, willing to pursue the inquiry, and impartially to weigh the arguments and evidence, and to acquiesce in the judgment of right reason. The investigation, moreover, should be pursued with the serious earnestness which becomes the greatness of the subjecta subject fraught with such momentous consequences to man. It should be pursued as in the presence of God, and under the solemn sanctions created by a lively sense of his omniscience, and of our accountability to him for the right use of the faculties which he has bestowed.
"2. In requiring this candor and simplicity of mind in those who would investigate the truth of our religion, Christianity demands nothing more than is readily conceded to every branch of human science. All these have their data, and their axioms; and Christianity, too, has her first principles, the admission of which is essential to any real progress in knowledge. 'Christianity,' says Bishop Wilson, 'inscribes on the portal of her dominion "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, shall in no wise enter therein." Christianity does not profess to convince the perverse and headstrong, to bring irresistible evidence to the daring and profane, to vanquish the proud scorner, and afford evidences from which the careless and perverse cannot possibly escape. This might go to destroy man's responsibility. All that Christianity professes, is to propose such evidences as may satisfy the meek, the tractable, the candid, the serious inquirer.'
3. The present design, however, is not to enter upon any general examination of the evidences of Christianity, but to confine the inquiry to the testimony of the Four Evangelists, bringing their narratives to the tests to which other evidence is subjected in human tribunals. The foundation of our religion is a basis of factthe fact of the birth, ministry, miracles, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. These are related by the Evangelists as having actually occurred, within their own personal knowledge. Our religion, then, rests on the credit due to these witnesses. Are they worthy of implicit belief, in the matters which they relate? This is the question, in all human tribunals, in regard to persons testifying before them; and we propose to test the veracity of these witnesses, by the same rules and means which are there employed. The importance of the facts testified, and their relations to the affairs of the soul, and the life to come, can make no difference in the principles or the mode of weighing the evidence. It is still the evidence of matters of fact, capable of being seen and known and related, as well by one man as by another. And if the testimony of the Evangelist, supposing it to be relevant and material to the issue in a question of property or of personal right, between man and man, in a court of justice, ought to be believed and have weight; then, upon the like principles, it ought to receive our entire credit here. But if, on the other hand, we should be justified in rejecting it, if there testified on oath, then, supposing our rules of evidence to be sound, we may be excused if we hesitate elsewhere to give it credence."
Greenleaf enters into a brief, yet adequate, discussion of the definite fundamental principles which obtain in law courts regarding evidence, and which apply to the writings of the New Testament. He prefaces the first principle with this statement:
"8 ... The genuineness of these writings really admits of as little doubt, and is susceptible of as ready proof, as that of any ancient writings whatever. The rule of municipal law on this subject is familiar, and applies with equal force to all ancient writings, whether documentary or otherwise; and as it comes first in order, in the prosecution of these inquiries, it may, for the sake of mere convenience, be designated as our first rule.
"Every document, apparently ancient, coming from the proper repository or custody, and hearing on its face no evident marks of forgery, the law presumes to be genuine, and devolves on the opposing party the burden of proving it to be otherwise."
When the principles set forth in this statement are applied to the Gospel Records and other New Testament writings, it is seen that they come within the scope of this general law. Any document meeting these qualifications is accepted as evidence in the law courts according to Greenleaf, whose name is a household word in the circles of the legal profession.
In contrast to certain bogus religious documents, Greenleaf declares of the Gospel Records:
"9 ... they are received as the plain narratives and writings of the men whose names they respectively bear, made public at the time they were written; and though there are some slight discrepancies among the copies subsequently made, there is no pretense that the originals were anywhere corrupted. If it be objected that the originals are lost, and that copies alone are now produced, the principles of the municipal law here also afford a satisfactory answer. For the multiplication of copies was a public fact, in the faithfulness of which all the Christian community had an interest; and it is a rule of law, that,
"In matters of public and general interest, all persons must be presumed to be conversant, on the principle that individuals are presumed to be conversant with their own affairs."
After a brief introductory paragraph, Greenleaf discusses at length the principle involved and then applies it to the four Records of the Gospel. Then he shows that they are within the bounds and limits of this principle. At this point the noted jurist plunges into his subject by making the following statement:
"26. Such are the brief histories of men, whose narratives we are to examine and compare; conducting the examination and weighing the testimony by the same rules and principles which govern our tribunals of justice in similar cases. These tribunals are in such cases governed by the following fundamental rule:
"In trials of fact, by oral testimony, the proper inquiry is not whether it is possible that the testimony may be false, but whether there is sufficient probability that it is true."
Having stated the third general principle, Greenleaf declares, "It should be observed that the subject of inquiry is a matter of fact, and not of abstract mathematical truth. The latter alone is susceptible of that high degree of proof, usually termed demonstration, which excludes the possibility of error, and which therefore may reasonably be required in support of every mathematical deduction. But the proof of matters of fact rests upon moral evidence alone; by which is meant not merely that species of evidence which we do not obtain either from our own senses, from intuition, or from demonstration. In the ordinary affairs of life we do not require nor expect demonstrative evidence, because it is inconsistent with the nature of matters of fact, and to insist on its production would be unreasonable and absurd. And it makes no difference, whether the facts to be proved relate to this life or to the next, the nature of the evidence required being in both cases the same. The error of the skeptic consists in pretending or supposing that there is a difference in the nature of the things to be proved; and in demanding demonstrative evidence concerning things which are not susceptible of any other than moral evidence alone, and of which the utmost that can be said is, that there is no reasonable doubt about their truth."
This third principle, under examination, declares that one is not to discuss the question as to whether a narration is possible, but whether "there is sufficient probability that it is true." This principle is of the utmost importance in the quest for truth on this subject.
Continuing the investigation of this crucial subject, this learned legal expert makes the following statement:
"27. In proceeding to weigh the evidence of any proposition of fact, the previous question to be determined is, when may it be said to be proved? The answer to this question is furnished by another rule of municipal law, which may be thus stated:
"A proposition of fact is proved, when its truth is established by competent and satisfactory evidence.
"By competent evidence, is meant such as the nature of the thing to be proved requires; and by satisfactory evidence, is meant that amount of proof, which ordinarily satisfies an unprejudiced mind, beyond any reasonable doubt. The circumstances which will amount to this degree of proof can never be previously defined; the only legal test to which they can be subjected is, their sufficiency to satisfy the mind and conscience of a man of common prudence and discretion, and to convince him, that he would venture to act upon that conviction in matters of the highest concern and importance to his own interest."
Greenleaf next considers "on which side lies the burden of establishing the credibility of the witnesses." In this respect he cites from municipal law the following rule, which is constantly applied in all trials by jury:
"28. In the absence of circumstances which generate suspicion, every witness is to be presumed credible, until the contrary is shown; the burden of impeaching his credibility lying on the objector.
"This rule serves to show the injustice with which the writers of the Gospels have ever been treated by infidels; an injustice silently acquiesced in even by Christians; in requiring the Christian affirmatively, and by positive evidence, aliunde, to establish the credibility of his witnesses above all others, before their testimony is entitled to be considered, and in permitting the testimony of a single profane writer, alone and uncorroborated, to outweigh that of any single Christian. This is not the course in courts of chancery, where the testimony of a single witness is never permitted to outweigh the oath even of the defendant himself, interested as he is in the cause; but, on the contrary, if the plaintiff, after having required the oath of his adversary, cannot overthrow it by something more than the oath of one witness, however credible, it must stand as evidence against him. But the Christian writer seems, by the usual course of the argument, to have been deprived of the common presumption of charity in his favor; and reversing the ordinary rule of administering justice in human tribunals, his testimony is unjustly presumed to be false, until it is proved to be true. This treatment, moreover, has been applied to them all in a body; and, without due regard to the fact, that, being independent historians, writing at different periods, they are entitled to the support of each other: they have been treated, in the argument, almost as if the New Testament were the entire production, at once, of a body of men, conspiring by a joint fabrication, to impose a false religion upon the world. It is time that this injustice should cease; that the testimony of the evangelists should be admitted to be true, until it can be disproved by those who would impugn it; that the silence of one sacred writer on any point, should no more detract from his own veracity or that of the other historians, than the like circumstance is permitted to do among profane writers; and that the Four Evangelists should be admitted in corroboration of each other, as readily as Josephus and Tacitus, of Polybius and Livy.
"29. But if the burden of establishing the credibility of the evangelists were devolved on those who affirm the truth of their narratives, it is still capable of a ready moral demonstration, when we consider the nature and character of the testimony, and the essential marks of difference between true narratives of facts and the creations of falsehoods. It is universally admitted that the credit to be given to witnesses depends chiefly on their ability to discern and comprehend what was before them, their opportunities for observation, the degree of accuracy with which they are accustomed to mark passing events, and their integrity in relating them. The rule of municipal law on this subject embraces all these particulars, and is thus stated by a legal text-writer of the highest repute.
"The credit due to the testimony of witnesses depends upon, firstly, their honesty; secondly, their ability; thirdly, their number and the consistency of their testimony; fourthly, the conformity of their testimony with experience; and fifthly, the coincidence of their testimony with collateral circumstances."
Greenleaf applies these five standards of measurement to the testimony of the gospel writers and finds that they meet the standards in every particular. He concludes, therefore, that in the four Records of the Gospel is testimony of the highest order, given by men who were honest, who knew what they were talking about, who gave a consistent story, and some of whom sealed their testimony with their blood in martyrdom.
Having shown the unshakable character of the evangelists' testimony when examined according to the laws of evidence by an open-minded, honest-hearted person, Greenleaf concludes:
"48. Lastly, the great character they have portrayed is perfect. It is the character of a sinless Being; of one supremely wise and supremely good. It exhibits no error, no sinister intention, no imprudence, no ignorance, no evil passion, no impatience; in a word, no fault; but all is perfect uprightness, innocence, wisdom, goodness and truth. The mind of man has never conceived the idea of such a character, even for his gods; nor has history or poetry shadowed it forth. The doctrines and precepts of Jesus are in strict accordance with the attributes of God, agreeably to the most exalted idea which we can form of them, either from reason or from revelation. They are strikingly adapted to the capacity of mankind, and yet are delivered with a simplicity and majesty wholly divine. He spake as never man spake. He spake with authority; yet addressed himself to the reason and the understanding of men; and he spake with wisdom, which men could neither gainsay nor resist. In his private life, he exhibits a character not merely of strict justice, but of overflowing benignity. He is temperate, without austerity; his meekness and humility are signal; his patience is invincible; truth and sincerity illustrate his whole conduct; every one of his virtues is regulated by consummate prudence; and he both wins the love of his friends, and extorts the wonder and admiration of his enemies. He is represented in every variety of situation in life, from the height of worldly grandeur, amid the acclamations of an admiring multitude, to the deepest abyss of human degradation and woe, apparently deserted of God and man. Yet everywhere he is the same; displaying a character of unearthly perfection, symmetrical in all its proportions, and encircled with splendor more than human. Either the men of Galilee [the apostles] were men of superlative wisdom, and extensive knowledge and experience, and of deeper skill in the arts of deception, than any and all others, before or after them, or they have truly stated the astonishing things which they saw and heard."
Greenleaf closes this primary, preparatory discussion with the following comment:
"The narratives of the evangelists are now submitted to the reader's perusal and examination, upon the principles and by the rules already stated. For this purpose, and for the sake of more ready and close comparison, they are arranged in juxtaposition, after the general order of the latest and most approved harmonies. The question is not upon the strict propriety of the arrangement, but upon the veracity of the witnesses and the credibility of their narratives. With the relative merits of modern harmonists, and with points of controversy among theologians, the writer has no concern. His business is that of a lawyer, examining the testimony of witnesses by the rules of his profession, in order to ascertain whether, if they had thus testified on oath, in a court of justice, they would be entitled to credit; and whether their narratives, as we now have them, would be received as ancient documents, coming from the proper custody. If so, then it is believed that every honest and impartial man will act consistently with that result, by receiving their testimony in all the extent of its import. To write out a full commentary or argument upon the text, would be a useless addition to the bulk of the volume; but a few notes have been added for illustration of the narratives, and for the clearing up of apparent discrepancies, as being all that members of the legal profession would desire."
In the main part of the book, Greenleaf presents a Harmony of the Gospels* and calls upon members of the legal profession, especially, to examine by the principles that obtain in all courts of law the testimony of the evangelists which he has conveniently arranged in juxtaposition.
¹ It is my rule, my lord, to refer myself to you in all my doubts; for who is more capable of removing my scruples or informing my ignorance? Having never been present at any trials of the Christians I am unacquainted, not only with the nature of their crimes or the measure of their punishment, but how far it is proper to enter into an examination concerning them. Whether, therefore, any difference is usually made with respect to the ages of the guilty, or no distinction is to be observed between the young and the adult; whether repentance entitles them to a pardon; or, if a man has once been a Christian, it avails nothing to desist from his errors; whether the mere name unattended with crime, or only the crimes themselves associated with the name are punishable; in all these points I am greatly doubtful.
"In the meanwhile the method I have observed toward those who have been brought before me as Christians is this: I asked them whether they were Christians; if they confessed I repeated the question twice again, adding threats at the same time, when, if they still persevered, I ordered them to be led away to punishment; for I was persuaded, whatever the nature of their opinions might be, that a contumacious and inflexible obstinacy certainly deserved punishment. There were others also brought before me, possessed with the same infatuation; but being citizens of Rome I directed them to be carried thither. But this crime spreading (as is usually the case) while it was actually under prosecution, several instances of the same nature occurred. An anonymous paper was presented to me containing a charge against several persons, who, upon examination, denied they were Christians, or had ever been so. They repeated after me an invocation to the gods, and offered religious rites with wine and frankincense before your statue (which for this purpose I had ordered to be brought, together with those of the gods), and even reviled the name of Christ; whereas there is no forcing, it is said, those who are really Christians into a doing of any of these things.
"I thought proper, therefore, to discharge them. Some of those who were accused by an informer at first confessed themselves Christians, but immediately after denied it; while the rest owned, indeed, that they had been formerly, but had now (some above three, others more, and one even twenty years ago) forsaken that error. They all worshipped your statue and the images of the gods, and cursed Christ. They affirmed that the whole of their guilt or error was that they met on a certain stated day before it was light, and sang antiphonally a hymn to Christ, as to some god, binding themselves by a solemn oath, not for the purpose of any wicked design, but never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery; never to falsify their word nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up. After which it was their custom to separate and then to reassemble, to eat in common a harmless meal. From this custom, however, they desisted after the publication of my edict, by which, according to your orders, I prohibited fraternities (hetaeriae). After receiving this amount I judged it so much the more necessary to endeavor to extort the real truth, by putting two female slaves to the torture, who were called deaconesses (ministrae); but I could discover nothing more than a depraved and excessive superstition.
"I thought proper, therefore, to adjourn all further proceedings in this affair in order to consult with you. For it appears to be a matter highly deserving your consideration, more especially as great numbers must be involved in the danger of these prosecutions, this inquiry having already extended, and being still likely to extend, to persons of all ranks and ages and even of both sexes. For this contagion of this superstition is not confined to the cities only, but has spread its infection among the villages and in the country. Nevertheless, it still seems possible to remedy this evil and restrain its progress. The temples, at least, which are almost deserted, begin now to be frequented, and the sacred solemnities, after a long intermission, are again revived, while there is a demand for fodder for the victims, for which previously hardly a buyer was to be found. From hence it is easy to imagine what numbers might be reclaimed if a pardon were granted to those who shall repent."JOHN FIETCHER HURST, History of the Christian Church, I, 167-68.
² The usual opinion among Bible students is that the Hebrews were in Egypt either 400 or 430 years. But a glance at the data embedded in the Scriptures shows that this statement is incorrect. Abraham reached the land of Palestine in the year 2083 A.H. (in the year of man). At that time he was 75 years of age (Gen. 12:4). It was then that God entered into a covenant with him (Gen. 12:7). In Galatians 3:17 Paul states that the law came 430 years after the covenant. Since the covenant was made in the year 2083 A.H., and since the law was given 430 years after it, the law was, therefore, given in the year 2513 A.H. Abraham, as one sees, was 75 years old when the covenant was made. Isaac was born 25 years later, when Abraham was 100 years old. Isaac was 60 years old when Jacob and Esau were born. Jacob was 130 years of age when he and his family went down into Egypt. Thus the first 215 years of the 430 had passed when Jacob and his family entered Egypt. Since they came out at the end of the 430 years, and since 215 years of that period had passed before they went into Egypt, they were in Egypt only 215 years. For further facts in the case, see my volume Messiah: His First Coming Scheduled.
³ Personally, I am strongly inclined to believe that Paul wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews.
*I wish it were possible for everyone who reads this volume to have access to Greenleaf's treatise entitled The Testimony of the Evangelists Examined by the Rules of Evidence, Administered in the Courts of Justice. Since this work appeared in 1874, it is probably out of print and unobtainable except in a secondhand bookstore or in some public library. To the one who wants to examine the case thoroughly, this volume is indispensablethere is nothing comparable to it.
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