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PAGE 4

Agnosticism: A Rejoinder
by [?]

Again–

The main question at issue, in a word, is one which Professor Huxley has chosen to leave entirely on one side–whether, namely, allowing for the utmost uncertainty on other points of the criticism to which he appeals, there is any reasonable doubt that the Lord’s Prayer and the Sermon on the Mount afford a true account of our Lord’s essential belief and cardinal teaching (p. 355.)

I certainly was not aware that I had evaded the questions here stated; indeed I should say that I have indicated my reply to them pretty clearly; but, as Dr. Wace wants a plainer answer, he shall certainly be gratified. If, as Dr. Wace declares it is, his “whole case is involved in” the argument as stated in the latter of these two extracts, so much the worse for his whole case. For I am of opinion that there is the gravest reason for doubting whether the “Sermon on the Mount” was ever preached, and whether the so-called “Lord’s Prayer” was ever prayed, by Jesus of Nazareth. My reasons for this opinion are, among others, these:–There is now no doubt that the three Synoptic Gospels, so far from being the work of three independent writers, are closely interdependent,[67] and that in one of two ways. Either all three contain, as their foundation, versions, to a large extent verbally identical, of one and the same tradition; or two of them are thus closely dependent on the third; and the opinion of the majority of the best critics has of late years more and more converged towards the conviction that our canonical second gospel (the so-called “Mark’s” Gospel) is that which most closely represents the primitive groundwork of the three.[68] That I take to be one of the most valuable results of New Testament criticism, of immeasurably greater importance than the discussion about dates and authorship.

But if, as I believe to be the case, beyond any rational doubt or dispute, the second gospel is the nearest extant representative of the oldest tradition, whether written or oral, how comes it that it contains neither the “Sermon on the Mount” nor the “Lord’s Prayer,” those typical embodiments, according to Dr. Wace, of the “essential belief and cardinal teaching” of Jesus? Not only does “Mark’s” gospel fail to contain the “Sermon on the Mount,” or anything but a very few of the sayings contained in that collection; but, at the point of the history of Jesus where the “Sermon” occurs in “Matthew,” there is in “Mark” an apparently unbroken narrative from the calling of James and John to the healing of Simon’s wife’s mother. Thus the oldest tradition not only ignores the “Sermon on the Mount,” but, by implication, raises a probability against its being delivered when and where the later “Matthew” inserts it in his compilation.

And still more weighty is the fact that the third gospel, the author of which tells us that he wrote after “many” others had “taken in hand” the same enterprise; who should therefore have known the first gospel (if it existed), and was bound to pay to it the deference due to the work of an apostolic eye-witness (if he had any reason for thinking it was so)–this writer, who exhibits far more literary competence than the other two, ignores any “Sermon on the Mount,” such as that reported by “Matthew,” just as much as the oldest authority does. Yet “Luke” has a great many passages identical, or parallel, with those in “Matthew’s” “Sermon on the Mount,” which are, for the most part, scattered about in a totally different connection.

Interposed, however, between the nomination of the Apostles and a visit to Capernaum; occupying, therefore, a place which answers to that of the “Sermon on the Mount,” in the first gospel, there is in the third gospel a discourse which is as closely similar to the “Sermon on the Mount,” in some particulars, as it is widely unlike it in others.