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—Historical Books:

The name of "New Testament" was given by the Christian Church, at the close of the second century, to the gospels and to other apostolic writings, inasmuch as they were composed with the purpose of showing that by the advent of Jesus of Nazareth the Messianic prophecies had been fulfilled and a new covenant (LXX., διαϑέκη; Vulgate, "testamentum") or dispensation had taken the place of the old Mosaic one (Gal. iii. 15-22; Luke xxii. 20; Heb. ix. 15-22; comp. Ex. xxiv. 7; II Kings xxiii. 2, 23; Ecclus. [Sirach] xxiv. 23). The idea of the new covenant is based chiefly upon Jer. xxxi. 31-34 (comp. Heb. viii. 6-13, x. 16). That the prophet's words do not imply an abrogation of the Law is evidenced by his emphatic declaration of the immutability of the covenant with Israel (Jer. xxxi. 35-36; comp. xxxiii. 25); he obviously looked for a renewal of the Law through a regeneration of the hearts of the people. To Paul and his followers, however (see Rom. x. 4; II Cor. iii. 14), the Mosaic dispensation ended with Jesus, and consequently the Hebrew Scripture became the "Old Covenant," or "Testament," while Jesus was regarded as the mediator of the "New." But the names "Old" and "New Testament," when used by Jewish writers, serve only as terms of identification, and do not imply acceptance of the principle implied.

Jewish Orphans' Home, New Orleans, La.(From a photograph.)Contents of the New Testament.

The early Church had no other sacred books than those in use in the Synagogue, and on these were based the claims of the Messiahship of Jesus as "the fulfilment of Scripture." In the course of time, however, the custom adopted from the Synagogue of reading at the service epistles of apocalyptic or Messianic character (see Tan., Wa'era, ed. Buber, p. 4; Baruch i. 3; Apoc. Baruch lxxviii.) not merely established the regular reading of the apostolic epistles in the Church, but made the reading of the story of the advent and doings of Jesus as the good tidings or gospel ("good spell" =εὐαγγέλιον; Mark i. 1, 15; Luke iv. 18; comp. Isa. lii. 7, lxi. 1) an essential part of the service; readings from the Old Testament were selectedas containing the prophecy or preparation, and those from the New as showing the fulfilment ("Apostolic Constitutions," ii. 55; Justin, "Apologia," i. 67; comp. 28; idem, "Dialogus cum Tryphone," §§ 18, 48, 49).

Concerning the mode of composition and the dates of the various New Testament writings a wide divergence of opinion prevails among the several schools of Christian theologians and critics. It is solely from the Jewish point of view that they are considered here, the attempt being made to indicate to what extent their contents may be called Jewish in origin and character, and to what extent they contain anti-Jewish elements.

The New Testament consists of the following books: I. The historical books: the Four Gospels—(1) according to Matthew; (2) according to Mark; (3) according to Luke; (4) according to John—and the Acts of the Apostles. II. The Pauline epistles: (1) to the Romans; (2 and 3) to the Corinthians; (4) to the Galatians; (5) to the Ephesians; (6) to the Philippians; (7) to the Colossians; (8 and 9) to the Thessalonians; (10 and 11) to Timothy; (12) to Titus; (13) to Philemon; (14) to the Hebrews. III. The so-called Catholic epistles: (1) the Epistle of James; (2 and 3) of Peter; (4, 5, and 6) of John; (7) of Jude; and (8) the Apocalypse of John, called also the Revelation of St. John the Divine. Of these works it is necessary here to deal with only the first section.

The Four Gospels:

The gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, were in the main composed between 80 and 150 C.E.; each relates, with a characteristic tendency of its own, the story of Jesus from the time of the appearance of John the Baptist until the "resurrection," with the purpose of showing that he was the looked-for Messiah of the Jewish prophecies. But while the first three gospels, called the "synoptic gospels," bear the same character and agree as to the plan of the work and the conception of Jesus as the Messiah, the son of David, the fourth gospel attempts to put a metaphysical and mystical construction upon the doings and sayings of Jesus narrated in the other three, with the view of presenting him as the son of God in the cosmic sense of the word.

The gospels do not claim to have been written by any of the apostles, but only to have been transmitted orally as tradition emanating from them. Thus Luke i. 1-3 refers to the existence of many gospels resting upon the report of "eye-witnesses and disciples," and Papias, an early second-century authority, relates that Mark wrote down what he, in a rather disconnected way, heard from Peter, and that Matthew had made a collection of the sayings of Jesus in the Hebrew (Aramean) without the historical framework, which was given differently by each commentator (Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl." iii. 39, § 16).

These two facts—a collection by Matthew of the sayings of Jesus in the Aramean language, and a gospel by Mark, as the oldest connected narrative of Jesus' sayings and doings—have served modern critics as the basis of their investigations. Finding a striking similarity in the arrangement, and at times even an identity in the diction, of the larger part of the three gospels, they have arrived at the conclusion that the second gospel, which presents the whole record of Jesus in the simplest form and the best chronological order, was the original composition and was used by the other two; whereas the stories and sayings offered either by the other two gospels in common or by each separately rest on collections and traditions clustering around those of Matthew and others.

Still, there are other criteria by which the Jewish investigator is able to ascertain the origin and authenticity of the gospel stories and trace the various stages of their growth. A careful analysis corroborates the conclusion, assumed to be axiomatic by Jewish scholars, that the older and more genuine the records, written or unwritten, of the doings and teachings of Jesus, the more they betray close kinship with and friendly relations to Jews and Judaism; but that the more remote they are from the time and scene of the activity of Jesus, the more they show of hostility to the Jewish people and of antagonism to the Mosaic Law. The changing attitude and temper of the new sect influenced the records at every stage, and this accounts for the conflicting statements found beside each other in the various gospels and gospel stories.

The Different Versions.

To begin with the crucifixion story, the older version knows only that the chief priests and scribes constituting the Sanhedrin condemned Jesus to death and handed him over to the Romans, who mocked, scourged, and killed him (Mark x. 33; Matt. xx. 17-19; comp. Mark xiv. 14; also Matt. xxvi. 45, where the term "sinners" is used for "heathen"). Later on (see Mark viii. 31; Matt. xvi. 21; Luke ix. 22), the reference to the Romans as the crucifiers has been altogether omitted, while in Mark ix. 31, Matt. xvii. 22, Luke ix. 44 the general term "men" is used instead. With the older version tallies the story according to which the cause of his condemnation by the Sanhedrin was Jesus' hostility toward the Temple (Mark xiv. 58; Matt. xxvi. 61; comp. Mark xi. 15-18, xiii. 2, xv. 29, and parallels; comp. also John ii. 19; see Wellhausen, Commentary to Mark, 1903, pp. 131-133), a crime termed "pashaṭ yado ba-zebul" (he stretched out his hand against the Temple; Acts vi. 13; Tos. Sanh. xiii.; R. H. 17a; comp. Yer. Sanh. vi. 23c—"pashaṭ yado be-iḳḳar").

It was at a later time and in contradiction to facts showing their friendly attitude (Luke xiii. 31) that the Pharisees were represented as having conspired against the life of Jesus, either with the Herodians or high priests (Mark iii. 6, xii. 13; Matt. xvi. 6, 11; xxii. 15-16; but comp. Luke xx. 19, where the Pharisees are not mentioned, and Matt. xxvii. 62; John vii, 32, 45; xi. 47; xviii. 3) or without them (Matt. xii. 14 [comp. vi. 7], xvi. 11; Luke xi. 53, xii. 1). Accordingly, the charges singled out to account for his persecution by the Pharisees were violation of the Sabbath (Mark ii. 23-iii. 6, et al.) and the claim of being the son of God (Mark xiv. 61-64, et al.).

Again, in the original version the Jewish multitudes side with Jesus to the very last (Luke xx. 19, xxiii. 27; Mark xii. 12); later on, both Herod, thepersecutor whom Jesus called "that fox" (Luke xiii. 32), and Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect (Luke xiii. 1, xix. 1), are transformed into friends and protectors of Jesus (Luke xxiii. 8, 15; Mark xv. 14; Luke xxiii. 4; Matt. xxvii. 17-25; John xviii. 38; xix. 4, 6, 12, 16), and the Jews described as his real crucifiers (Mark xv. 13-14; Matt. xxvii. 22-23; John xix. 12; Acts iv. 10); nay, more, the Jews become synonyms for fiends and bloodthirsty tyrants (John vii. 1, 13; viii. 44; x. 31; et al.).

For and Against the Law.

The same irreconcilable differences are found in the sayings attributed to Jesus concerning the Jews and the Law. According to the older version (Matt. v. 17-19; Luke xvi. 17), he declared that he had not come to destroy but to fulfil—that is, to practise—the Law. In fact, he urged the sacrifice of the sin-offering for the leper (Mark i. 43, and parallels). It was the abuses of the Law and the hypocrisy of the Pharisees that he rebuked in scathing language (Matt. xxiii.; Mark vii. 11; Luke xi. 42-43; comp. similar denunciations of Pharisaic hypocrisy in Soṭah 22b, Yer. Ber. ix. 14b, Ab. R. N. xxxvii.), while demanding a higher standard of righteousness of his disciples (Matt. v. 20, 37, 48). He expressly stated that he had been "sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel" and found it "not meet to take the children's bread and cast it to the dogs" (that is, to the heathen), enjoining even his disciples to go not to the Gentiles, but to the lost sheep of Israel (Matt. x. 5-6, xv. 24-27). He shows special love for a daughter of Abraham and a son of Abraham (Luke xix. 9). His name, Jesus (Joshua), is interpreted "he who shall save his people [from their sins]" (Matt. i. 21, ii. 6), and those whom he has healed "glorify the God of Israel" (Matt. xv. 31).

On the other hand, he is declared to be the hope of "the Gentiles" (Matt. xii. 21; comp. "Savior of the world" of John iv. 42), and he becomes the exponent of the Pauline ideas that the old must give way to the new (Mark ii. 21-22; Luke v. 36-38; comp. 39); that the gospel should "be preached unto all nations" (Mark xiii. 10; Matt. xxiv. 14); nay, more—that the Kingdom of God be taken away from the Jews and given to another nation (Matt. viii. 11-12; xxi. 43).

Unhistorical Character of the Gospels.

As a matter of fact, the discrepancies in the records extend over all parts of the Four Gospels and invalidate the claim of historicity advanced for Mark or for any other of the gospels. For instance, it is very singular that the only possible date for the crucifixion is found in the late fourth gospel (John xviii. 28), according to which it took place on Friday, the eve of Passover, and not on Passover, as Mark xiv. 12, Matt. xxvi. 17, and Luke xxii. 7 have it. True, a trace of the correct date has been discovered in Mark xiv. 1 (see Wellhausen on the passage); but then the Last Supper can no longer be the paschal feast, as John xiii. 2 has no reference at all to it. So Jesus is reported to have defended his claim to the Messiahship by proving (from Ps. cx. 1) that the Messiah need not be a son of David (Mark xii. 35-37), while the all-knowing demons of the possessed call him "Jesus, son of David" (Mark x. 47). Here, too, John's gospel is more consistent. It knows nothing of the Davidic descent of Jesus; on the contrary, his legitimacy of birth is disputed (John viii. 48), while stress is laid upon the view that Jesus is the son of God. The genealogies in Matthew (i. 1-17) and Luke (iii. 23-28), while conflicting with each other, are late attempts at establishing his Davidic descent, actually disproving the claim of his supernatural origin (Matt. i. 18; Luke ii. 5). The claim that Jesus was "Christ the son of God" all the gospels endeavor to establish.

Most incompatible with the Jewish mode of thinking and speaking is the story, in Matt. i. 18-23 (with which Luke i. 27, 34, ii. 5, and iii. 23 were afterward harmonized), of his conception by the virgin from the Holy Ghost ("Ruaḥ" = "Spirit," being feminine both in Hebrew and Aramaic). The older view was that Jesus became the son of God through the descent of the Holy Ghost at the moment of his rebirth by baptism, when the heavenly "bat ḳol" spoke to him, "Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee" (Acts xiii. 33; comp. Mark i. 11; Luke iii. 22; see Justin, "Dialogus cum Tryphone," §§ 88, 103), and the Holy Ghost lifted him to the "ḥayyot" of the heavenly throne, even above the angels (comp. Mark i. 13; Matt. iv. 11).

Mythical as is this story at the beginning of Mark, it is but the reflex of the older tale of his transfiguration, representing him as having been lifted to a high mountain, where he was enveloped in a cloud, together with Moses and Elijah (comp. Targ. Yer. to Ex. xii. 42), while the heavenly voice said, "This is my beloved son" (Mark ix. 2-9, and parallels). Probably this was originally applied to the "resurrection" (comp. Acts i. 9-10; Wellhausen on Mark ix. 2-9). Not the living but the departed Jesus became the son of God. As such, he was first seen by Peter and the other apostles in Galilee, six days after his death (Mark xvi. 7; comp. ib. ix. 2 and John xxi. 1-29, which is the continuation of Mark xvi. 8). The story of Peter having recognized him as "Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt. xvi. 16; Mark viii. 29; Luke ix. 20), is accordingly as mythical as is the beginning of the story, according to which he had foretold to his disciples his crucifixion and his resurrection on the third day in fulfilment of the Scripture (comp. Hosea vi. 1-2)—a story discredited by the very attitude of these disciples (Mark xvi. 8; Luke xxiv. 21; John xx. 9).

It is superfluous to say that the story of the feeding of the five thousand (Mark vi. 30-46; recorded also in John vi. 1-15) is legendary, as well as its counterpart, the story of the feeding of the four thousand recorded in Mark viii. 1-9. So is the story of Jesus' apparition on the water (Mark vi. 47-56; Matt. xiv. 24-36; John vi. 16-21)—probably originally a Galilean fishermen's tale referring to the time after the death of Jesus—given a different version in Mark iv. 35-41, and parallels. The stories of the centurion's servant (Luke vii. 1-10), of the nobleman's son (John iv. 46-50), and of the raising of Jairus' daughter (Mark v. 21-43) have many features showing their common origin in tradition (see Wellhausen, "Das Evangelium Mattheus," 1904, p. 36); but while the last-mentionedhas preserved its Judæo-Christian character, the other two are anti-Jewish in conception. The story of the anointment of Jesus in the house of Simon the leper (Mark xiv. 3-9; Matt. xxvi. 6-13; recorded also in John xii. 3) is identical with the one told of the sinner (Magdalene?) in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Luke vii. 36-50), the name = "Simon the Essene" having been misread = "the leper" (as Chajes, "Markus-Studien," p. 74, suggests).

Altogether, the story of Jesus was built up upon Bible passages, which Mark, who writes for non-Jewish readers, omits in most cases, just as he omits the debate with Satan. Only in i. 2, xiv. 27, 49, xv. 28 does he refer to the Scripture, while in i. 11 and ix. 7 reference to Ps. ii. 7, and in viii. 31 reference to Hosea vi. 1-2, are indirectly made. In Matthew the statement "This is come to pass, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord" is repeated in various forms (i. 22; ii. 5, 15, 17, 23; iii. 3; iv. 14; viii. 17; xii. 17; xiii. 14, 35; xxi. 4; xxii. 31; xxvi. 54, 56; xxvii. 9, 35); also in the latter but much older part of John (xii. 38; xiii. 18; xv. 25; xvii. 12; xviii. 9, 32; xix. 24, 36), as well as in Luke (i. 20; iv. 21; xx. 37; xxi. 22). In most cases the Messianic, or alleged Messianic, passages suggested the story, rather than the story suggesting the passages.

The Sayings of Jesus.

The sayings of Jesus were collected and grouped together by several writers before they were embodied in the first and third gospels; and they were circulated in many forms afterward as "Logia" ("Oracular Sayings of Christ"). This accounts for the repetition and dislocation of many of them. As they were handed down originally in the Aramaic language, traces of which are still preserved in Mark (iii. 17; v. 41; vii. 34; xv. 34), they were often misread; as, for instance, in Luke iv. 26: "armalita" (widow) for "aramaita" (heathen; see Wellhausen, "Das Evangelium Lucæ," 1904, p. 10); or Matt. vii. 6: "ḳudsha" (holy thing) for "ḳodosha" (ring, parallel to pearls); or Matt. viii. 22, where the original reading was "Sheboḳ li-bene mata de-yikberun yat metehon" (= "Let the men of the town bury their dead"; see Credner, "Einleitung ins Neue Testament," 1836, i. 75).

Misunderstood Passages.

Often the "Logia" were misunderstood by the translator, as in the case of the expressions "'ayin ṭob" and "'ayin ra'" (= "a good [friendly], unbegrudging eye" and "a malevolent, begrudging eye" (Matt. vi. 22-23; Luke xi. 34-36). Similarly, the fourfold meaning of "barnasha" ("son of man," "man," "I," and "the Messiah") was misunderstood by the first three evangelists (see Man, Son of). So with the words (Luke xvii. 20-21), "The kingdom of God cometh not by calculation" (comp. the rabbinical "cursed be the calculators of the end" ["meḥashbe ḳiẓẓim"], Sanh. 97b), "but suddenly, imperceptibly it is with you" (comp. "The Messiah comes when the thought of him is absent" ["be-ḥesseaḥ ha-da'at"], Sanh. 97a). The "heathen" of Matt. vi. 7 (comp. Ber. 24b, xviii. 17) seems to be a mistranslation of the term "'amme ha-araẓot" (the ignorant class of men).

Misunderstanding of the term "be-ḥad le-shabba tinyana" (on the first of the second week after Passover), preserved only in Luke vi. 1, caused the confusion of the law concerning the new produce of the year (Lev. xxiii. 11-14) with the Sabbath law (see Jew. Encyc. vii. 168, s.v. Jesus). In the one case Jesus, referring to David, defended his disciples, who in their hunger plucked the new corn in the field and ate it without waiting for the offering upon the altar; in the other case he himself disregarded the Sabbath law in view of the "pikkuaḥ nefesh" (peril of life), a case in which the Rabbis admitted the suspension of the law, upon the principle, "The Sabbath is given over to you ["the son of man"], and not you to the Sabbath" (see Mek., Wayaḳhel, 1; Chwolson, "Das Letzte Passahmahl," 1892, pp. 59-67, 91-92).

Many of the sayings attributed to Jesus have been literally taken over from the Didache; others were Pharisaic teachings well known in the rabbinical schools, as has been shown by Lightfoot ("Horæ Hebraicæ et Talmudicæ," 1684), Shöttgen ("Horæ Hebraicæ et Talmudicæ," 1737), Nork ("Rabbinische Quellen und Parallelen zu Neutestamentlichen Schriften," 1839), Zipser ("The Sermon on the Mount," 1852), Wünsche ("Neue Beiträge zur Erläuterung der Evangelien," 1878), and others. It has been pointed out by Schreiner ("Die Jüngsten Urtheile über das Judenthum," 1902, pp. 27-29) that while Jesus' sayings are simply assertions without support of Scripture, the Rabbis show that they were derived from Scripture and thereby establish their claim to priority. Thus, the injunction to pray for the offender (Matt. v. 44) is derived (Tos. B. Ḳ. ix. 29) from the example of Abraham and Job (Gen. xx. 17; Job xlii. 8, 10); the idea of heavenly treasures (Matt. vi. 20) is derived from Deut. xxxii. 34, in connection with Isa. iii. 10 and Ps. xxxi. 20 (A. V. 19; Sifre, Deut. 324; comp. Tosef., Peah, iv. 8); the deprecation of lengthy prayers (Matt. vi. 7-8), from Ex. xv. 21 and Num. xii. 13 (Mek., Beshallaḥ, 3; Sifre, Num. 105; comp. Ber. 39a). So also with the sentence, "Let your speech be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay" (Matt. v. 37, R. V.), which is derived from Lev. xix. 36 (Sifra, Ḳedoshim, viii. 7; B. M. 49a; comp. Tos. Soṭah vii. 2; Giṭ. 35a; Num. R. xxii.); and the condemnation of the lustful look (Matt. v. 28), from Deut. xxiii. 9 ('Ab. Zarah 20a) and Job xxxi. (Midr., Yalḳuṭ, to the passage).

When in his dispute with the Sadducees concerning resurrection Jesus cites the passage, "I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," to prove that the Patriarchs shall come to life again, because "God is the God of the living, not of the dead," the argument fails to convince the believer in Scripture; but when Gamaliel refers the Sadducees to Deut. xi. 21, or Ex. vi. 4, ". . . the land which the Lord sware unto your fathers to give them," the argument is logical and convincing: "The dead can not receive, but they shall live again to receive the land" (Sanh. 90b). The originality, then, is with the Rabbis. In like manner the beautiful story of the widow's two mites (Mark xii. 42-44) betrays its midrashic origin in the words, "she has given all her living," which are an allusion to the Biblical phrase "we-nefesh ki taḳrib" (Lev. ii. 1), interpreted in Lev. R. iii. as signifying,"The gift of the poor who includes his or her very life in the gift counts for more before God than the hecatombs of Agrippa the king." So the strange words of Jesus in regard to the adulteress: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" (John viii. 7), are possibly merely an echo of the rabbinical saying, "Only when the husband is without sin will the ordeal of the wife suspected of adultery prove effective" (Sifre, Num. 21, based upon Num. v. 31). Expressions such as "If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out," and "if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off" (Matt. v. 29-30), are explained by similar rabbinical utterances (Niddah 13b). For other instances of New Testament sayings derived from Scripture see Jew. Encyc. iv. 588-592, s.v. Didascalia.

The "sayings" attributed to Jesus may be divided, according to form and contents, into (1) Ethical Teachings, (2) Parables, (3) Apocalyptic (Messianic) Utterances, (4) Essene Polemics.

The "Sayings."
  • 1. Ethical Teachings: These were grouped together in the Sermon on the Mount as if to form the program of the new dispensation (Matt. v. 1-vii. 27; in less elaborate form in Luke vi. 20-49), but are partly found, in varying order, elsewhere (Mark ix. 43-47, x. 11, xi. 25; Matt. xviii. 8-9; Luke xi. 2-4, 9-13, 34-36; xii. 22-31, 33-34). The main characteristic of these teachings is not, as Matthew puts it, antagonism to the Law, but what the Rabbis term "li-fenim mi-shurat ha-din"—"a withdrawing within the line of the Law" (B. Ḳ. 101a) as behooves the esoteric circle of the pious; in other words, their main ethical characteristic is Hasidean (comp. B. Ḳ. 30a; B. M. 83a, with reference to Prov. ii. 20; see Essenes). Hasidean views similar to those contained in Matt. vi. 25-34 are voiced also (Ḳid. iv. 14; Tos. Ḳid. v. 15; Mek., Beshallaḥ, Wayissa'u, 2-4).
  • 2. Parables: The parables follow the rabbinical "meshalim," illustrative of some ethical truth, either in the form of similitudes, like the rabbinical "Mashal le-mah ha-dabar domeh" ("A similitude: To what may this be likened? To a man," etc.; see Levy, "Neuhebr. Wörterb."; Parables), or in the form of a longer narrative. The former kind is found in Mark iii. 23, iv. 1-9 (the parable of the sower), 26-32, and xii. 1-12; the latter is especially developed in Luke xv.-xvi. and xix. 11-28 (the parables of the lost sheep, the lost piece of silver, the prodigal son, the unrighteous steward, and the ten talents), and in Matt. xxv. 1-30 (the parables of the wise and foolish virgins, and of the unprofitable servant). Some of these parables have their parallels among the sayings of first-century rabbis, and it may, therefore, justly be claimed that they originated among these. Compare, for instance, the parable of the wise and foolish guests of the king told by R. Johanan b. Zakkai with reference to the Messianic banquet, in commenting upon Isa. lxv. 13 and Eccl. ix. 8 (Shab. 153a). The simple meaning of these parables, however, was lost later on, and they were taken to be allegories and mysteries, especially when they alluded to the Messianic expectations, about which it was not safe to speak in public, as they assumed the end of the kingdom of Satan (Rome; comp. Mark iv. 11, 34; Matt. xiii. 1-52, especially 35 and 39). Thus "the parable of the fig-tree" (Mark xiii. 28; see Wellhausen, who is at a loss to explain it) is actually a "symbol" of the Messianic advent, according to the Midrash (Cant. R. ii. 13), but was no longer understood by the evangelists, either as an allegory or as a sign of Messianic success or failure, in the story of the blasted fig-tree (Mark xi. 13-14, 20-23).
  • 3. Apocalyptic (Messianic) Utterances: For the most part, these are taken over from Jewish apocalypses and embodied in the gospels as discourses of Jesus (Matt. xxiv.-xxv. 31-45; comp. Midr. Teh. Ps. cxviii. 17; Mark xiii. 7-23; Luke xiii. 24-30, xvii. 22-35, xxi. 7-36).
  • 4. Essene Polemics: These are directed chiefly against (a) Herodian high priests (Mark xi. 27-xii. 27, xiii. 1-2; Luke xi. 47-xii. 8) and are encountered also in rabbinical records (Tos. Men. xiii. 21-22), and against (b) Pharisaic hypocrisy (Matt. xxiii., et al.); the latter also have their parallels in rabbinical writings (Ab. R. N. xxxvii.; Soṭah 22; Pesiḳ. R. xxii.: "Thou shalt not utter the name of the Lord in vain; that is, Thou shalt not wear phylacteries and long fringes [ẓiẓit] while at the same time thou art bent upon sin"). See Pharisees.
Matthew: Characteristics of the Gospels.

The gospel of Matthew stands nearest to Jewish life and the Jewish mode of thinking. It was written for Judæo-Christians and made ample use of an Aramaic original. This is evidenced by the terms: "kingdom of heaven," found exclusively in Matthew, a translation of the Hebrew "malkut shamayim" (= "kingdom of God"); "your heavenly Father," or, "your Father in the heavens" (v. 16, vi. 14, et al.); "son of David" for "the Messiah" (ix. 27, et al.; comp. the rabbinical "ben David"); "the holy city" (iv. 5, xxvii. 53) and "the city of the great King" (v. 35) for "Jeru salem"; "God of Israel" (xv. 31); the oft-repeated phrase "that it might be fulfilled, which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet"; the retention of Judæo-Christian conceptions (v. 17, x. 6, xv. 24); the genealogy of Jesus, based upon specific haggadic views concerning Tamar, Ruth, and Bath-sheba, so drawn as to make the assumption of his Messianic character plausible (i. 1-16); and the assignment of the twelve seats of judgment on the Judgment Day to the Twelve Apostles in representation of the twelve tribes of Israel (xix. 28; Luke xxii. 30). It has embodied Jewish apocalyptic material, in ch. xxiv.-xxv., more extensively than have the other gospels; and in the Sermon on the Mount (v.-vii.) it shows a certain familiarity with rabbinical phraseology.

On the other hand, it manifests a spirit of intense hostility to the Jews in the crucifixion story, to a greater degree than do the other gospels (xxvii. 25). In fact, its late composition is shown by its artificial systematization of the whole story of Jesus: There are seven beatitudes in v. 3-10 (verse 5 is a quotation), and accordingly seven "woes" in xxiii. 13-32 (Luke vi. 21-26 has five beatitudes and four "woes"); seven parables in xiii. 1-52 (comp. the four in Mark iv. 1-34), and the twice-seven generations for each of the three periods of the genealogy of Jesus (i. 1-17). All the miraculous cures narratedin Mark are enlarged upon both as to the number of the persons cured and as to their incidents, so as to adjust them to the Messianic claim (xi. 5; comp. Luke vii. 22; Isa. xxxv. 5; Pesiḳ. R. 42). Somewhat artificial, and in contrast to such genuine legends as those in Luke, are the birth-stories in ch. ii., woven together from Num. xxiv. 17 (referred to the Messiah), Micah v. 1, Isa. lx. 6, and from Moses' childhood story, to which that of Jesus formed a parallel, just as the Law of Mount Sinai was paralleled in the Sermon on the Mount.

Significant is the reference to the established (Judæo-Christian) Church under Peter (xvi. 18; comp. "Petra" ["the rock"] Abraham as foundation of the world [Yalḳ. i. 243; Levy, l.c., s.v. ]), to the secession of which from the Jewish state the story of Peter and the fish seems to allude (xvii. 24-27). On the other hand, the Trinitarian formula (xxviii. 19) and the way the Jews are spoken of (xxviii. 15; so throughout John) betray a very late final composition. But there are other late additions (v. 10, 11, 14; x. 16-39).


The gospel of Mark is written in the Pauline spirit, for pagans. Being, however, the oldest attempt at presenting the story of Jesus in full, it shows greater simplicity and better historical and geographical knowledge than the rest. It intentionally omits the term "the Law" ("Nomos"; comp. xii. 28 with Matt. xxii. 36), although it preserves the "Shema'" omitted in Matthew; it omits also Biblical quotations, only a few of which have been allowed to remain (i. 1, iv. 12, ix. 48), and expressions offensive to pagans. Characteristic is the addition of the words "a house of prayer for all the nations" (xi. 17; comp. Matt. xxi. 13 and Luke xix. 46). The Aramaic terms used by Jesus in his exorcisms (v. 41, vii. 34) seem to have been retained purposely.

Luke: Historical Character.

The gospel of Luke is confessedly (i. 1) a compilation from older sources. It contains genuine legends about the birth of John the Baptist and of Jesus as they were current in Essene circles. The whole picture of John the Baptist and of Jesus as bearers of good tidings to the poor (iv. 14; vi. 20, 24-26) has the stamp of greater historical truthfulness. Here more than in the other gospels is Jesus represented as the friend of sinners (vii. 37-50; xv. 11-32; xviii. 10-14; xix. 1-10; xxiii. 39-43) and of the poor (xvi. 19-31). Especial interest is shown in the women in Jesus' company (viii. 2-3; xxiii. 55; xxiv. 10).

The story of the good Samaritan (x. 25-37), possibly, was told differently in the original version (see Brotherly Love; Jesus of Nazareth). The compiler of Luke has, however, infused his Pauline spirit into his record (iv. 25-30, vii. 1-10); hence, instead of the twelve, the seventy apostles, for the seventy nations (x. 1; comp. xxiv. 47), and Adam in place of Abraham (iii. 38); though traces of the original Judean spirit are found in passages such as xxii. 30, where only the twelve tribes of Israel are spoken of as being judged in the future kingdom of Jesus. Luke differs from the other synoptic gospels in that it ignores Galilee as the rallying-point of the disciples of Jesus (Mark xvi. 7; Matt. xxviii. 7) and makes Jerusalem the starting-point and center of the new sect (xxiv. 52).


The gospel of John is the work of a Christian of the second century, who endeavors to construe a history of Jesus upon the basis of a belief in his supernatural existence. To him Jesus is no longer the expected Messiah of the Jews, but a cosmic being (viii. 23, 58), one with God his Father (x. 30; xiv. 10), through whom alone life, salvation, and resurrection are obtained (xiv. 6), while on the other hand the Jews were from the beginning his implacable enemies, with whom he had nothing in common (vii. 1, 13; viii. 41-47, 59; x. 8, 10, 31; et al.). All his discourses reiterate the same idea: God's fatherhood is understood only through the recognition of Jesus as His son (vi. 29, 46; xiv. 2; xv. 8-10, 26; et al.). The teaching of Jesus is summed up in the words, "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another" (xiii. 34); and yet this teaching of love is combined with the most intense hatred of the kinsmen of Jesus. All the miracles performed by Jesus assume in John a symbolical character (vi. 26, and frequently). The Temple (ii. 21), the manna (vi. 32-59), the water libation on Sukkot (vii. 37), the light of Ḥanukkah (viii. 12, x. 22), the vine (xv. 1-17), "the way" (xiv. 6)—all these are turned into symbols of the Christ. In the preface, in place of the genealogies in Luke and Matthew, a heavenly pedigree is given him (i. 1-18), written by one who desired to represent his advent as a new Creation.

The Older Traditions.

On closer observation, however, there is discernible in this gospel a substratum which points to an older tradition. Not only has it, alone of all the gospels, preserved the one possible date of the crucifixion of Jesus, the 13th of Nisan (xviii. 28); but the remark of Caiaphas the high priest, expressing fear of the Romans as the motive of his action against Jesus (xi. 48-50; xviii. 14) as well as Pilate's act (xix. 1), seems to be part of the older tradition. In fact, the historic chapters in the latter part of the gospel, which represent Jesus with all the pathos of human suffering, differ altogether in character from those, in the earlier part, that represent the superhuman Jesus. The oft-repeated formula, "that the saying might be fulfilled," which occurs in the latter part only (xii. 38, xiii. 18, xv. 25, xvii. 12, xviii. 9, xix. 24, 36), as throughout the entire first gospel, also betrays an older source. A greater familiarity with Jewish rites (vii. 7), with Jewish personalities (see Nicodemus), and with the geography of Palestine (ii. 1, iii. 23, iv. 5, v. 2, xii. 21, xix. 13) is shown than in the other gospels—another indication of an older tradition (see Güdemann in "Monatsschrift," 1893, pp. 249-257, 297-303, 345-356). There are, besides, genuine popular legends which can scarcely be the invention of an Alexandrian metaphysician (comp. ii. 1-11; v. 2-12). The last chapter certainly emanated from another source. Possibly the original gospel bore the name of John, to whom frequent allusion is made as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (xiii. 23; xix. 26, 27; xx. 2; xxi. 7, 20), and a late compiler elaborated it into a gospel of Christian love and Jew hatred.Güdemann thinks that the whole book was written by a born Jew.

The Acts of the Apostles:

The Acts of the Apostles is a continuation of the gospel of Luke (comp. i. 1-3 with Luke i. 1-3), and relates the history of the spread of the gospel in apostolic times, taking Jerusalem as the starting-point while ignoring, like Luke xxiv. 52, the dispersion of the disciples after the crucifixion (alluded to in Mark xiv. 27 and Matt. xxvi. 31; see Weizsäker," Das Apostolische Zeitalter," 1892, p. 1) and their first rallying in Galilee (Mark xiv. 28, xvi. 7; Matt. xxvi. 32, xxviii. 7, 10). Forty days' intercourse with the resurrected Jesus (i. 3; comp. Mark i. 13, and parallels), which preceded the transfiguration (i. 9; comp. Mark ix. 2-13), prepared the Apostles, who hitherto had looked for the establishment of a Jewish kingdom by Jesus (i. 6), for their work. The growth of the Church is given in round numbers. Beginning with 120 members under the leadership of Peter, chief of the Twelve Apostles (i. 15-26)—Matthew having taken the place of Judas, the relation of whose end here differs from that in Matt. xxvii. 3-10—the new sect is said to have increased to 3,000, as a result of the miracle of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the multitude at Pentecost, which won converts from all the nations represented in Jerusalem (ii. 1-2; comp. I Cor. xv. 6, where "five hundred brethren" are referred to). This undoubtedly echoes the rabbinical Pentecost legend of the flashing forth of the Sinaitic word in seventy languages to reach the seventy nations of the world (Shab. 88b; Midr. Teh. to Ps. lxviii. 12; Philo, "De Decalogo," §§ 9-11; Spitta, "Apostelgeschichte," 1891, pp. 28 et seq.).

The description of the communistic life of the early Christians, their regular gathering in the Temple hall to spend the time in prayer and in works of charity, after the manner of the Essenes (ii. 42, iii. 2, iv. 32-37, v. 12, 25), seems to rest on facts. The institution of seven deacons who were elected by the laying on of hands and under the power of the Holy Spirit (vi. 3, 5) has its parallel in the Jewish community (Josephus, "Ant." iv. 8, § 14; idem, "B. J." ii. 20, § 5; Meg. 7a). It is interesting to note that the enemies of Jesus are correctly represented as the Sadducees (iv. 1, v. 17) and not, as in the gospels, the Pharisees, who are rather on his side (v. 17, xv. 5, xxiii. 6), though in the fictitious speeches of Peter, Stephen, and others, the Jews and not Pontius Pilate are spoken of as his crucifiers (iii. 13-15, vii. 52). Like the gospel according to Luke, the Acts of the Apostles is a compilation. The story of the death of Stephen (vi. 8-vii. 59) is, like the crucifixion story in the gospels, written in a spirit of hatred toward Jews; reference to the Romans is omitted when persecution of the new sect is mentioned (viii. 1).

Peter and Paul.

Two mythical narratives are given of the conversion through Peter of the Samaritans and of Simon the magician (viii. 4-24; comp. "Ant." xx. 7, § 2, and Simon Magus), and of the eunuch of the Queen of Ethiopia through the apostle Philip (viii. 25-39). Very dramatic, but in conflict with his own account (Gal. i. 15 et seq.; I Cor. ix. 1, xv. 8), is the story of the conversion of Paul, which follows (ix. 1-30; comp. xxii. 6 et seq., 26). By visions, and by the imparting of the Holy Spirit through Ananias, Saul, the persecutor of the Christians, is transformed into Paul, "the chosen vessel" to spread the new faith among both Jews and Gentiles. First, however, Peter is represented as having converted the heathen by miraculous cures (ix. 31-42), the proselytes being in Jewish terms called "yere shamayim" (= "God-fearing ones"; x. 2, 7, 22, 28, 35; xiii. 16, 26-50; xvi. 14; xvii. 1, 17); he succeeded in having the Holy Spirit poured out also upon uncircumcised converts (x. 45).

Finally, Peter is described as having been won over by a special vision to the Pauline view disregarding the dietary laws (xi. 1-18). The whole story is intended to reconcile the wide differences existing between Peter's and Paul's teachings and to bridge over the gulf between the Judæo-Christian sect under the leadership of James and the Pauline church. From this point of view the origin of the name of "Christian" in the community of Antioch can be explained, Barnabas being ranked above Paul, and the Antioch church being represented as an offshoot of the Jerusalem church. Peter is dismissed with a miraculous story describing his release from prison and the punishment of Herod by a sudden death (xii. 1-24); and the missionary travels of Paul are related in the latter part of the book (xiii.-xxviii.).

Spirit of Jewish Proselytism in Christianity.

However much these reports differ from Paul's own writings (see Gal. i. 21, ii. 1, et al.), they interest the Jewish investigator, inasmuch as they describe the progress of the Church along the lines of the synagogue and of Jewish proselytism. The apostles Barnabas and Paul engaged in the work of collecting gifts for the holy church at Jerusalem (xii. 25, xvii. 1, 10), traveled as prophets and teachers wheresoever the Holy Spirit of the Church, invoked through prayer and fasting, bade them go (xiii. 1-4), and preached the Gospel in the Jewish synagogue (xiii. 5, 14; xiv. 1; xviii. 4, 19; xix. 8), addressing Jews and proselytes (xiii. 16, 26, 43; xviii. 7). They won the heathen chiefly by miraculous cures, which even caused their own deification (xiv. 8-13; xxviii. 6), but encountered fierce opposition from the Jews (xiii., xiv.-xvii., et al.).

Three great journeys by Paul are reported. The first, through Cyprus and Asia Minor, culminated, according to Acts xv. 1-31, in the establishment of the fundamental rule laid down by the church of Jerusalem for the admission of proselytes. For great as was the success of Barnabas and Paul in the heathen world, the authorities in Jerusalem insisted upon circumcision as the condition of admission of members into the church, until, on the initiative of Peter, and of James, the head of the Jerusalem church, it was agreed that acceptance of the Noachian Laws—namely, regarding avoidance of idolatry, fornication, and the eating of flesh cut from a living animal—should be demanded of the heathen desirous of entering the Church.

After the separation of Paul from Barnabas, owing to differences regarding the fitness of Mark as their companion (xv. 35-41), and after the Abrahamicrite had been performed upon his companion Timothy (xvi. 1-3; comp. Gal. ii. 3-18), Paul is represented as having undertaken his second journey at the bidding of the Holy Spirit. He went to Phrygia, Galatia, and Macedonia to preach the Gospel, but avoided Asia and Mysia (xvi. 6-xxii. 14). In Philippi he founded the first church in Europe, owing his success (according to xvi. 14-40) chiefly to miracles and winning especially women for the Gospel (xvii. 4, 12). The climax of his second trip was his address, delivered at the Areopagus, to the men of Athens. With a witty reference to the insciption, "To an unknown god" (that is, to undiscovered deities), found upon some of the Greek altars, he admonished the idolatrous people to turn to the God of heaven and earth, the Father of all men, in whom they all lived and moved and had their being, but whom they knew not; to cast aside their gods of gold and silver and stone, and prepare themselves in repentance for the great Day of Judgment, on which the crucified and arisen Christ will judge the world (xvii. 16-34). The tenor of this discourse is so thoroughly monotheistic and un-Pauline that the presumption is that, with the exception of the closing sentence, which refers to Jesus as judge of souls, it is copied from one of the many Jewish propagandist writings which circulated in Alexandria.

Paul the Miracle-Worker.

In Corinth, where he stayed for a year and a half, Paul won, notwithstanding the opposition of the Jews, many adherents, especially among the proselytes, Aquila of Pontus and his wife Priscilla also having been engaged there in the work of proselytism (xviii. 1-17). In Ephesus he met Apollos of Alexandria, a follower of John the Baptist, and he succeeded—so the story goes—in persuading him and his eleven disciples to identify their "Way of God" with his own. By the laying on of his hands he communicated the Holy Spirit to them, so that, like the converts at the Pentecost miracle, they "spake with tongues and prophesied" (xviii. 18-xix. 7.). His two years' stay in Ephesus was especially productive of miraculous cures, which so eclipsed the works of the magicians who made the Ephesian scrolls famous throughout the world, that, "in the sight of all, they burned these scrolls, which were valued at 50,000 pieces of silver." The idol-traders of Diana of the Ephesians created a riot because idols were no longer bought by the people, owing to Paul's preaching, and the consequence was that he was compelled to leave the city with his companions (xix. 8-41).

Paul's third journey had Rome for its goal. He first traveled through Asia Minor and Greece, again warning the people against the Gnostic heresies; there were "wolves in sheep's clothing" that would do great harm to the faith. Then he went to Judea, and, in spite of the warnings he received through the Holy Ghost and the seven daughters of the evangelist Philip, who were prophetesses, and a Jewish prophet by the name of Agabas, he went to Jerusalem and appeared before James and the other authorities of the Church. Reproached for not having observed the rules regarding the admission of converts, he purified himself, went with his companions to the Temple, and offered a Nazarite's sacrifice; but when pointed out as the one who wandered through the lands preaching against the Law and the Temple, he was cast out of the Temple and almost killed by the enraged people. Summoned before the Roman captain, he related the history of his life, so stating his belief in the resurrection as to please the Pharisees but provoke the Sadducees (xxi.-xxiii. 9).

Paul before Felix.

Before the prefect Felix in Cæsarea, Paul was charged with having made insurrectionary speeches in various countries and with having profaned the Temple (xxiii. 10-xxiv. 6). In answer to this charge he points out that he had all along been collecting money for the Temple treasury and had himself brought sacrifices there, and that he is only being arraigned for his belief in the resurrection (xxiv. 10-21). The prefect, known as a Jew-hater of the worst type, is deeply impressed by Paul's plea for the Christian faith; but his greed induces him to hand Paul over as prisoner to his successor Festus (xxiv. 24-27). Paul recounts the history of his life before Agrippa, the King of Judea, who is so impressed as to exclaim, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian" (xxvi. 1-28). But because Paul desired, as a Roman citizen, to be judged by the emperor himself, he was sent to Rome (xxv. 11, xxvi. 32). The voyage was the occasion of new proof of the miraculous powers of Paul; he predicted the storm that, but for him, would have wrecked the ship, was recognized as a benefactor and savior by the captain, and was treated with great consideration (xxvii.). Other miracles performed by him on the ship caused the people to regard him as a god. As in Asia Minor, he won the people of Italy by his wonderful cures. The book closes with the story of his arrival at Rome, where for the first time he met Jews without being able to win them for the new faith, though during a two years' stay he succeeded in making converts among the heathen (xxviii. 1-31).

The whole work, like the Gospel of Luke, is a compilation from several sources, among which one is a historical document written by a companion of Paul who had kept a journal of his travels, the so-called "We" source (xvi. 10-17; xx. 5-6, 13-15; xxi. 1-18; xxvii. 1-xxviii. 16). The greater part is written with the ostensible purpose of reconciling Paul's acts with the views of the Judæo-Christian Church. The miracle tales, however, appear to be drawn from popular tradition and to have been committed to writing, possibly at an early date.

For the Jewish investigator the Acts of the Apostles is of twofold interest. It shows how the propagandic work of the Jews extended over the entire Greek and Roman world, Jewish proselytism having paved the way for Paul as well as his followers to win the pagan world. In all the cities where Greek was spoken the synagogues formed the centers of instruction for Jews and the "God-fearing" proselytes, and their mention in connection with all the places visited by Paul shows how the Jewish settlements extended over the highroads of commerce under the Roman empire. The story of the Acts also indicates that the progress of Christianity in its earlieststages was due not to the learned arguments of Paul and his dogmatic views, however potent a factor they afterward became in the formation of the creed, but to the miracles thought to have been wrought by him and the rest of the apostles and other leaders of the Church. These appealed to the masses and made converts in large numbers. In this respect the Acts of the Apostles is the logical sequence of the gospels.

See, for the Pauline epistles, Saul of Tarsus; for the Petrine epistles, Simon Cephas; for the Apocalypse of John and the epistles ascribed to John, Revelation; for the gospels in the Talmud, Gilyonim. See also James, General Epistle of.

E. C. K.