The fifteenth College conference was held last night in Sever 11, and Professor Thayer delivered a very interesting lecture on the "Mutual Relations of the Gospels." After starting that Professor Hart expected to lecture a week from tonight, Professor Thayer spoke as follows:
It is very possible that the thought may have come into someone's mind whether it would not be much more convenient if there were only one story of the Gospel. In this way, they might think, all contradictory points would be done away with, and all the questioning over these things would be at an end. A number of attempts have been made to write a connected story, but they have all fallen through, sooner or later.
Four minds are usually better than one, and a story written from four different standpoints has a completeness which is unattainable in only one. The very variations attest, in a way, the independence of the narrators.
The four Gospels of the Bible group themselves into two parts,- the first, Matthew, Mark and Luke, and the second, John. The first division is totally different from the second in its times, and places which it describes, and in its materials.
Furthermore, in the first three books our Lord is represented as teaching in a concrete way, by means of parables, and in John there is scarcely anything of this sort.
Notwithstanding the connection between the first three books, there is, in each, a marked individuality. According to an old conception, they have been divided as follows: Matthew wrote a Hebrew Gospel, Mark a Roman, and Luke a Hellenistic. In Matthew's writing we find a genealogy of Christ, extending back as far as David and Abraham. Later there are statements which are fulfillments of ancient prophecies, and all through his writings Matthew is intend in showing to the Jews that Christ is the long-looked-for Messiah.
Mark is terse, brief, and to the point in all his Gospel. He attempts, in presenting an idea, rather to brand it than to picture it. In his book are more Latinisms than in any of the others. He shows, further, that he is writing for foreigners by translating exactly the words of Christ, and by explaining usages which would be entirely out of place in writing to Hebrews.
It is, possibly, a little more difficult to explain the peculiarities of Luke. He was very particular about his specifications of times and places, and inmentioning localities he goes into great detail over them, explaining their situations minutely. Moreover he has a great regard for literary effects, and his Gospel has been called of all the "Gospel of poetry." In addition to these various individualities, there are many others, in the use of words and connectives, etc. While on the one hand each writer shows these peculiarities, underneath we find a dependence which is indisputably proved.
This state of things gives rise to the so-called "Synoptic Problem,"-i. e. "How can the agreements and disagreements be accounted for satisfactorily?" There have been many theories put forward on this question, which have more or less probability in them, and Professor Thayer expounded the more important of them at length, ending with a sort of "combination" theory. That theory is a blending of all the good points in these other theories.
Professor Thayer closed his lecture by showing how great an opportunity there was for careful study of these problems, and how the scholars of this age are beginning to give more attention to these things than formerly.