The Silence of the Gospels BY J. F. MCFADYE .

IF men who belong to the talking professions some times take cynical views of the importance of human speech, a study of the Gospels will not altogether reassure them. The silent figures of the Gospels play a large part in the story. The Good Samaritan utters only one sentence, and that is not good advice. 1 He gives instructions for the nursing of the wounded man and arranges to pay the expenses. The wounded traveller lying on the road, half-dead and perhaps unconscious, utters no syllable ; yet as the passers-by approach one after the other, he classifies them as unerringly as the botanist sorts his specimens. Dives speaks but Lazarus is silent. There are in the Gospels two stories of a woman anointing Jesus ; 3 in each case the woman is criti cised ; in each case the discussion goes on around her ; in neither case do we hear the voice of the woman herself. In the scene in which Martha criticises her sister, Mary is silent. 4 Our Lord, too, knew when silence was the most effective speech.5 We constantly discuss the teaching of the Gospel records. It is hardly too much to say that what they * Luke io3ff. a Luke 16*98. 3 Luke y3?ff ; Mark 143^4 Luke ioJ8ff. 5 e.g., Matt. 26 6 3. 71

Jesus and Life leave unsaid is as impressive and instructive as

what they say. It would have been so easy to be guilty of errors of taste or judgment ; but the Spirit of Jesus so controlled the mind of the early Church that the records are worthy of the Life. It seems as if the records themselves conspired to deprive us of all material props for our faith, to compel us, if we would worship Jesus Christ, to worship Him in spirit. We do not know for certain the date or even the year of His birth. There is the great gap in His life between the infancy and the baptism. Over this period a veil is drawn which is lifted only once, at the scene in the Temple when He was twelve years old. Yet there were many who knew Him during this period. Can we imagine that among the first followers no reminiscences were current ? We know nothing whatever of our Lord s personal appearance, of His voice and accent, nothing of His dress beyond what we can infer from the customs of the time. He spoke in Aramaic, so that even those who read the Gospels " in the original " are reading only Greek translations of His actual words. We are told that He was a joiner 1 ; yet we get no glimpse of Him working at His trade, nor do we know for certain whether His career as a tradesman ended when His public ministry began. We should have loved to know something of His home life, but our curiosity is not satisfied. We never see Him in the home at azareth (except in two very general verses Mark 63. 72

The Silence of the Gospels

at the end of the second chapter of Luke), and hardly ever in the pages of the Gospels is He brought into contact with the inmates of His old home. After the childhood of Jesus Joseph drops out of the story. Of Jesus brothers from the Gospel records we know practically nothing but the names 1 ; of His sisters we do not know even the names. And so it is with the men and women we meet on the pages of the four Gospels. The kind of infor mation a modern biographer or novelist delights to give us of the characters to whom he introduces us is almost completely lacking. Physical appear ance is never described simply to gratify curiosity. If physical peculiarities are mentioned, it is only to explain some point otherwise unintelligible ; as when Luke tells us that Zacchaeus was a little man to explain why he ran on in front of the crowd and climbed a tree when he wanted to see Jesus. * As a rule we are not told whether the people with whom Jesus has dealings are rich or poor, educated or uneducated, good or bad, if such points are not essential to the story. Even in the apostle circle, while in some cases we know what occupation they followed, in most cases even the social stratum to which they belonged is beyond our knowledge. The Gospel writers never dream of discussing their individual characteristics, and we are left to infer these somewhat precariously from the scenes in which they were actors. We have not even a momentary glimpse of the wife or children of any of the apostles. Mark 63. 2 Luke 19?. 73

Jesus and Life

There are so many in the Gospel stories of whom we should have liked to know more. What became of the sick people that Jesus healed ? What was their subsequent attitude to Him, and was their bodily healing accompanied by any moral change ? What was the ultimate fate of the rich ruler ? Why did the Baptist not join the disciple band, and why did he continue to have disciples of his own ? There are times when an unanswered question compels the questioner to search his conscience for the answer. Jesus was silent when the High Priest adjured Him to say whether He were the Christ. 1 He made no answer to the accusations of the high priests and elders before Pilate.* To all Herod s questions He makes no reply.3 To many of our questions, too, though for a different reason, Jesus gives no answer. We ask Him how to guide our lives, how to direct our industry and our commerce, how to govern the state, how to rule the Church ; and in reply Jesus gives us His Spirit, and His great law of love. He will answer no questions He would have us answer for ourselves. We ask Him about life beyond the grave ; and He tells us that God is not the God of the dead but the God of the living,4 that they who have chosen Jesus here will be with Him hereafter,5 that the conditions of the life beyond are adapted to spiritual beings, 6 and that the gulf between good and evil is as deep in the life to come as it is in this life. 7 He has gone to prepare a place * Matt. 26 6 3. > Matt. 27". See v. 14. J Luke 23!. 4 Mark i27. 5 John 141. Mark 12*1- 7 Luke i6. 74

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for us. 1 There is much more, very much more, that we should like to know ; but Jesus is silent. Perhaps nowhere is the reticence of the Gospels more marked than in dealing with the apostles. The early Church must have been deeply interested in the personality and the history of the apostles ; but from beginning to end their place is subsidiary. The Gospels are in no sense biographies of the apostles, not even of the greatest of them. When they are introduced it is not to shed light on them, but to shed light on Jesus ; when this purpose is accomplished they are withdrawn. Except for one or two general statements we never actually see the twelve working miracles, and they fail in the only case where we see them trying. 3 The Evan gelists must, one would think, have been sorely tempted to tell the story of Judas. They cannot hide their horror of the man ; at every mention of his name it leaps out ; they cannot forget that the man who did this was " one of the twelve, "3 and even in the list of the apostles he is " Judas Iscariot who was to be a traitor. "4 Judas made money by the treachery, we are tolds ; we can hardly imagine it was with him a mere question of money. The whole story must have been widely canvassed ; but the psychology of Judas is a side issue and the Evangelists pass on. The refusal to speculate on motive is, on the whole, characteristic. Was it that the Evangelists were

John 14 . * Mark g^ff. I Matt. 26*4. 4 Luke 6 . i Matt. 26 1 *. 75

Jesus and Life following Jesus advice not to criticise others 1 ? Was it that they realised the difficulty of reading another s mind, the difficulty of reading even one s own mind, with its complexity of impulses ? Or was it perhaps that they recognised the superfluity of such discussion in a world where facts are things done ? Whatever Judas motive may have been, the result was the arrest and crucifixion of the Master. The silence of the Gospels is in the first place part of the answer of the early Church to the question : Who is Jesus ? The works of Matthew and Mark, Luke and John, are not biographies ; they are Gospels. They are not lives of Jesus ; they are testimonies to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Other biographies are written to give us information ; the Gospels are written to give us life : and this is as true of the first three Gospels as it is of the fourth. Their aim is to set before us, in all His saving power, Jesus, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. othing that does not contribute to this aim can have any place in the Gospel record. It would have been interesting and edifying to see Jesus in His boyhood and young manhood, to study Him in the workshop, to get some glimpses of His home life. But the Evangelists feel instinctively that the long years of preparation were not for the public gaze. It is no mere idle curiosity that leads us to want to knowmore of the people mentioned in the Gospels what they looked like, how they Matt. 7 .

The Silence of the Gospels spoke, what had been their past history, what was their subsequent career. It is natural that we should want to know more fully why they did the things they did and said the things they said. But these are not the all-important things, and in the Gospels there is no place for anything that is not of supreme importance. The things that interest us in connection with other men in the presence of Jesus are not even worthy of mention. The Gospel writers have but one subject, the Kingdom of God and Jesus Christ as the King of that Kingdom. To them nothing else counts. That there are other interests in life they know ; but on the pages of the Gospels the King and His Kingdom are not so much the central theme as the only theme. The difference between Gospels and Epistles does not lie in the position assigned to Jesus. In Gospel as in Epistle Jesus is Lord and Lord alone. The new thing in the Gospels is the recognition that what Jesus is to-day as the exalted Lord is only the perfecting of what He was in the days of His flesh ; that our conception of the Christ, the Risen Lord, can only be filled with content by a knowledge of Jesus " after the flesh," the knowledge of Him as He healed and preached and taught and prayed and suffered. But if the first Christians, strong in their direct communion with the Risen Christ, were tempted to think they had no need to remember the earthly Jesus, the generation that gave us in the Gospels a picture of Jesus as He dwelt among us, full of grace and truth, are all the time not calling on 77

Jesus and Life us to admire a dead saint but to worship and trust a living Saviour. In the first three Gospels there is little discussion of what we call the Person of Christ ; but the question could never be far from the minds of the writers. In the early chapters of our earliest Gospel, 1 we seem to hear the writer at the close of each scene challenging us : " ow who was this who did such things ? " In incident after incident he delights to picture Jesus as Master, Master of Satan, Master of the wills of men, so that when He says " Come," men must come, a Master teacher, Master of unclean spirits, Master of leprosy and other diseases, Lord over sin so that He can forgive it, Lord of convention and tradition, Lord of the Sabbath. The Gospels were written in response to many needs, but to one need in particular. At first apparently the Old Testament continued to be the Scriptures of the Christians. But the Old Testa ment could never of itself nurture the devotion or inspire the activities of the Christian Church. If we are to follow Jesus we must know where Jesus went. If the Saviour is to save us in every part of our being, He must become to us more than a dim splendour. Even the crucifixion has little power over us till we know who it was that was crucified. Has the Church ever fairly faced the question as it presented itself to the infant Churches, as it presents itself to us to-day ? The custom in the Church of England of standing Mark. 78

The Silence of the Gospels while the Gospel passage is read is at least a testi mony to the fact that the Gospels are not just one portion of the Bible among others ; but there must still be multitudes of people in our Church who, when they open their Bibles for edification, turn to any one part almost as readily as to any other. In particular we have to deal more frankly than we have done in the past with the relation of the Christian Church to the Old Testament. The present position is that without remark or explanation we bind the two Testaments into one volume, giving the im pression that they are equally authoritative as Christian Scriptures. Individual scholars have done much to guide Christian thought on the subject, yet mischievous ideas are still widely entertained. If Jesus freely distinguished in the Old Testament between the temporary and the abiding, may not His Church frankly do the same ? The writer recently saw a newspaper letter, the writer of which announced that she had no use for the Christian Church, because in the Jewish Scriptures a man s wife is classed with his ox and his ass ! Are we ourselves not in large measure to blame that this confusion of thought exists within the Church as well as outside ? And in non-Christian countries failure to distinguish between Jewish and Christian Scriptures is even more serious than at home.



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