|Vol. VII, No. 8
Marcheshvan 5610, November 1849
Paley’s Evidences of Christianity.
Hackney, August 15th, 1849.
At the present time, when there are at least three societies in Great Britain, whose processed object is the conversion of the Jews to Christianity, and who are in receipt of vast pecuniary resources, and are supported by the learning and eloquence of clergymen and zealots in other ranks of society, it becomes the duty of a Jew to search the evidence and arguments by which they support their doctrines, that he may be able to point out the reasons which induce him to withhold his assent, and not be obliged merely to state his unbelief. With that view I examined Bishop Pearson’s Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed, thinking I should there find an elucidation of the mystery I found in the creed, and have a full understanding of the fundamental dogmas of Christianity. I have already pointed out to you the of that examination, and that I found the principal dogmas of Christianity entirely explained away in one part, and insisted on in another.
Expecting to find something more positive, I have been perusing Paley’s View of the Evidences of Christianity, a book which is held in high estimation by Christians, and in which I looked for as strong arguments as he has brought forward in his Natural Theology. He begins with the admonition “that in judging of Christianity it may be remembered that the question is between this religion and none; for if the Christian religion be not credible, no one with whom have to do will support the pretensions of any other.” Here, in the usual style of the advocates of Christianity, he broadly asserts a proposition which he afterwards modifies and almost explains away. The question, he says, is Christianity or no religion; for no one with whom he has to do will advocate any other. This can only mean that Christians will not support any other scheme of religion; but the professors of all other religions—will they assent to the credibility of Christianity? Very true; but he has not anything to do with them; he writes to convince those who believe, to furnish them with reasons for their belief, but not to convert unbelievers.
Now a revelation is a communication from God to man, sometimes accompanied by miracles, and sometimes not so accompanied, of which many instances of both cases are found in the Bible; and miracles have been performed at the instances of holy men, without any other revelation than the power of the Deity so manifested. Miracles by themselves are not a proof of the doctrine in support of which they are adduced being a revelation from God.* The Jews were early warned against false prophets, even when supported by miracles.
A Jew cannot doubt the miracles recorded in the Bible; but he cannot, on the faith of those attributed to Jesus, believe in the doctrine promulgated by him or his followers. These are the preliminary considerations of the author on which he assumes the truth of Christianity. We shall now see what evidence he brings in support of his assumption. That Jesus did not deem miracles a test of revelation; is evident. John† told him that he had seen one who was casting out devils in his name, and had forbidden him, “because he followeth not with us.” Jesus said, “Forbid him not, for he who is not against us is for us.” He warns his disciples that there should arise false Christs‡ and false prophets, and shall show signs and wonders.
The first proposition laid down is, “There is satisfactory evidence that many professing to be the original witnesses of the Christian miracles passed their lives in dangers, labour, and <<397>>sufferings, voluntarily undergone in attestation of the accounts which they delivered, and solely in consequence of their belief of said accounts, and that they also submitted, from the same motives, to new rules of conduct.” Now let us see how much of this assertion can be proved by the Gospels, the book of Acts, and the Epistles.
It appears that Jesus commenced preaching at about thirty years of age, and from the history given in the gospels, that he was crucified about three years afterwards. Shortly after he had begun to preach, walking by the sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Peter and Andrew, fishing. He induced them to leave their employment to become “fishers of men.” Going farther, he saw two other fishermen, James and John, sons of Zebedee, whom he called, and they immediately left their father and followed him. These four apostles were increased to twelve, whom he sent forth commissioned to preach to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” but not to enter into the cities of the Samaritans, or the way of the gentiles; not to put gold or silver into their purses, nor make any provision for the journey, “for the workman is worthy of his meat.” This was levying contributions by the way.
This certainly was not a very hard life for the poor fishermen, or the other eight, who most likely had been men in an humble rank of life. Jesus advises them, on arriving at any city or town, to inquire who in it was worthy, (doubtless meaning, any of those who had heard him preach,) and to abide with them till they left the place, an act not likely to be attended by much “trouble, danger, or sufferings.” Of the result of their mission we have not any account in that place (Matt. xi.); but in the next chapter we have them walking out with Jesus through a field of corn, the ears of which they plucked and ate. The Pharisees (who seem always to have been on the spot, to enable Jesus to promulgate parts of his doctrine,) reproach him with violating the Sabbath, and subsequently with healing the paralytic on that day. We have next the anecdote of casting out the devil from the deaf and dumb man, at which the people were amazed, and said, “Is not this the son of David?”
Now the Messiah, (who is certainly meant by “the son of David,”) is not anywhere described as having the power to cast out devils, nor were the people ignorant that there were persons who pretended to have that power; for in the sequel, when the Pharisees account <<398>>for the fact by alleging that Jesus cast out devils by Beelzebub, he asks them, “If I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out?”
It is very probable that Jesus did not in his lifetime gain many followers, notwithstanding the assertion that a great number* were gathered to him. His mother and brethren were not of the number; he discarded them. The cities where most of his mighty works were done believed not in him; Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum are threatened for their want of faith. When he came into his own country, he preached in the Synagogues; but his countrymen were offended in him, and “he did not many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.” It appears that, notwithstanding the power which Jesus had conferred on the disciples, when he sent them abroad to make converts, they could not cast out the devil from the child.† Peter said to Jesus,‡ “Behold, we have forsaken all and followed thee; what shall we have, therefore?” Jesus answered, “Ye who have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel; and for whatever ye have given up, ye shall receive an hundred fold, and shall inherit eternal life.”
These few passages from the Gospel of Matthew will show that, as regards the doctrine which the writers of the gospels and other books of the New Testament promulgated, it is much to be doubted whether it was believed by them during the three years which Jesus presided over them. When he sat down with them to keep the Passover, on the night in which he was apprehended, he told them one of them had or should betray him; he had told them two days before that he should be betrayed and crucified; on that night he pointed out Judas as the traitor. He was afterwards apprehended and carried before the high priest, where he was asked “whether he was the Christ, the son of God,” when he confessed that he was (“thou hast said”); he was thereupon convicted of blasphemy, and judged to have incurred the penalty of death. He was then carried before the governor, whose first question was, “Art thou the king of the Jews?” And he answered him, “Thou saidst.”
To the accu<<399>>sations of the chief priest and elders he did not make any answer. Pilate apparently considered his confession sufficient to demand punishment, pronounced the sentence which the Roman law awarded to rebellion, he having declared himself king of a nation tributary to the Roman people. That he was executed as a political criminal, and not for a religious offence, is evident from the inscription placed over his head: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” How firmly the disciples believed in him, may be learned from the fact that “all the disciples forsook him and fled.” It was not a sudden panic; they had been warned by him of the impending catastrophe, the traitor and almost the hour pointed out; but they did not believe him, and when the event took place they fled. Peter alone had the courage to follow him, but afar off; and when challenged as being one of Jesus’s followers, he denied him three several times.
Jesus had placed the evidence of his truth on his resurrection after three days; the disciples apparently did not believe him. It does not appear that they had recovered from their fright or were present at the execution. The text mentions many women were there, (beholding from afar,) which had followed Jesus from Galilee ministering unto him; but does not mention any of the men who composed the multitudes who followed him. Among the women are mentioned Mary Magdalen, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children. The care of claiming his body, and of interring it, devolved on Joseph of Arimathea, one of Jesus’s disciples, and whose interference does not appear to have subjected him to any inconvenience. We may, therefore, consider that any of the other disciples might have performed, or at least have joined in performing, the last duty to their master.
It is stated that Mary Magdalen and the other Mary were sitting over against the sepulchre. These two Marys went down on the first day of the week to see the sepulchre, when there was an earthquake, for the angel* of the Lord descended from “Heaven and came and rolled back the stone from the door and sat upon it.” The angel tells them, “He is risen from the dead,” and bids them tell the disciples preceding them to Galilee, where they would see him. They <<400>> accordingly ran to tell the disciples, and on their way were met by Jesus who repeats the message given by the angel. Accordingly, the eleven went into Galilee unto a mountain where Jesus had appointed them, and when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted. This, with an injunction to preach and baptize, is all that Matthew relates with regard to Jesus after the resurrection.
This exposition of the Gospel of Matthew will show what was the Christianity Jesus taught, and how far the apostles believed it. On examining all the four gospels it will be seen that the doctrine of the Triad, of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is never mentioned or even hinted at. It will be seen that Jesus did not at first assume any divinity; when he was at Caesarea Philippi, he asked the disciples “Whom do men say that I the son of man am?” they answered, “Some say thou art Elias, some John the Baptist, others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” This vague description did not appear satisfactory to Jesus; he put the question to them personally: “But whom say ye that I am?” This seems to have startled them; but Simon Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar Jona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven.”
From this we may infer that Jesus had not yet assumed the divine character; consequently flesh and blood could not have revealed it to Peter, who seems to have received his cognomen on that occasion.
This review of the history of Jesus, as recorded by Matthew, was necessary to show what foundation there is for the assertion that “many professing to be the original witnesses of the Christian miracles passed their lives in labours, difficulties, and sufferings voluntarily undergone in attestation of the accounts they delivered, and solely in consequence of their belief in these accounts, and that they also submitted from the same motives to new rules of conduct.” I have taken Matthew’s account from its being the first in the collection.
Paley seems to have imposed on himself the task of proving that the books which are now included in the canon of the New Testament, were, from the time of their publication, received by the votaries of his religion as his true records of the dogmas <<401>>promulgated by Jesus, and supported by the miracles alleged to have been performed by him. I think we may allow a part of his assertion that the four gospels, whether actually written by the person whose names are affixed to them or not, were certainly written in a very early age of Christianity; but we must, at the same time assert, that they contain more or less than what is now received by Protestant Christianity; the doctrine of transubstantiation certainly is not inculcated in the gospels. We never can believe that, when he told the men of Capernaum that he was the bread come down from heaven, and that bread was his flesh, he meant it to be understood literally; but when he repeated over and over again, that unless they ate his flesh and drank his blood they had no life in them, they could no longer doubt his meaning; accordingly many of the disciples left him.
He asked the twelve whether they would also go away? Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.” This doctrine the disciples in after times insisted on, but with the utmost caution, and in the most ambiguous phrases, only imparting the mystery to those who had been prepared for it. Paul* tells the converts that it was impossible for those who were once enlightened and had tasted of the heavenly gift, and partaken of the Holy Ghost, if they should fall away to renew them again to repentance. By adopting in advance the whole doctrine of Christianity, they could not withdraw themselves when this startling dogma was presented to them.