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ON ST. LUKE'S PREFACE TO HIS GOSPEL.
By J. VON GUMPACH.
WHAT imparts to the few words of dedication to Theophilus, by which St. Luke prefaces his Gospel, so important a character in regard to biblical criticism, is the light which, when correctly interpreted, they are calculated to throw upon the origin of the Gospels generally. Unfortunately the Greek text is couched in terms, admitting of an unusual latitude of meaning, and thus presenting a corresponding scope for interpretation.
Among the various translations of the New Testament, our Authorized Version occupies a distinguished, if not the very first place. With all its excellencies, however, it must yet be allowed to combine also many defects, the most prominent of which arise from too anxious an attempt at literality, and from a calculated ambiguity of wording in cases of difficulty and doubt. Owing to the great superiority of the Greek language (even as idiomised by the sacred writers) in comparison with our own, for richness and variety of form and copiousness of expression, a literal translation is frequently a matter of impossibility; whilst that vagueness of meaning, embodied in a quaint and unaccustomed combination of sounds, which lends in so high a degree the baneful charm of mystery to our version, is not, it ought to be remembered, the attribute of the divine word, but, on the very contrary, the offspring of mere human want of understanding. The English translation, in common with all others, would seem to require that, by disencumbering it of the dead letter, it should be made more freely to breathe the living spirit of the original.
Admitting the general truth of these remarks, it will not be thought presumption on our part, we hope, if, in calling the attention of our readers to the preface of St. Luke, we do so with a view to a critical revision of the Authorized Version of the same, transcribing the latter to our pages, for the sake of more convenient comparison, collaterally with the Greek text.
ST. LUKE, i. 1-4.
(1) Ἐπειδήπερ πολλοὶ ἐπεχείρησαν ἀνάταξασθαι διήγησιν περὶ τῶν πεπληροφορημένων ἐν ἡμῖν πραγμάτων, (2) καθὼς παρέδυσαν
Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, 2. Even
δοσαν ἡμῖν οἱ ἀπ ̓ ἀρχῆς αὐτόπται καὶ ὑπηρέται γενόμενοι τοῦ λόγου· (3) ἔδοξε κἀμοί, παρηκολουθηκότι ἄνωθεν πάσιν, ἀκριβῶς [,] καθεξῆς σοι γράψαι, κράτιστε Θεόφιλε, (4) ἵνα ἐπιγνῷς περὶ ὧν κατηχήθης λόγων τὴν ἀσφάλειαν.
2. Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word;
3. It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,
4. That thou mightest know the certainty of those things wherein thou hast been instructed.
The whole of our prooemium, we thus perceive, forms but one period, composed of several sentences, and divided into two main parts, the protasis, as they are called in grammatical language, and the apodosis, the latter being marked by doge nåμoi.
Our translators render the Greek conjunction έidnmeg, v. 1, in its causal signification. We hold this to be an error, considering that St. Luke, who not only must have included St. Matthew and St. Mark, who wrote before him, among the 'many' to whom he alludes; but who, moreover, was about to make a large, and frequently a literal use, of their very Gospels, cannot possibly have intended to represent the existence of the latter as a reason for the publication of his own-such a reason necessarily implying either a justification in behalf of the writer, which it does not constitute; or else a censure on the compositions of his predecessors and authorities. Both suppositions are equally out of the question. On the contrary, the real sense which St. Luke evidently meant to convey, would seem to us to be that, in faithfully delineating the primitive history and the fundamental doctrines of Christianity for the use of Theophilus and the circle of his friends, as St. Matthew and St. Mark had done for the instruction of their friends, he had even from their excellent example derived encouragement to imitate it. The Greek word rednπep is composed of the conjunction of time and, though less frequently, of causality, ad, since, after, as, because, and the enclitical particle Tép; and in the Latin version of the New Testament is with sufficient correctness rendered quoniam quidem, taking quoniam quum jam, in the sense of as already. This, for the reasons adduced, we believe to be here the true meaning of the original term. 'Exegev, to take in hand, i. e. to undertake. 'AvataσoɛÓÐAL Synov, literally to dispose an account all along in order, i. e. to render a connected account (of certain things); the proper meaning of dynois being a narrative, not a declaration. As a noun, the word certainly appears only this once in the New Testament; frequently,
frequently, however, in its radical form of a verb, and as such, though a few times rendered by our translators to declare,' exclusively in the strict sense of to relate. A double construction may be put upon the words περὶ τῶν πεπληροφορημένων ἐν ἡμῖν Tęαyμάтwv, according to the sense of to be surely believed or to be fulfilled, i. e. to come to pass, which we attach to the passive verb πληροφορεῖσθαι. Either interpretation is linguistically admissible. In our version the former has been adopted-an error we judge it to be of importance, inasmuch as the translation in question would appear to render the existence of our Saviour, in a word the entire historical foundation of Christianity, a matter of abstract faith rather than of concrete fact, thus opening a wide door to incredulity and doubt, and so greatly favouring the mythical speculations of modern infidels. St. Luke describes the events which he relates, not only as a contemporary, upon the testimony of eye-witnesses, whose intimacy he enjoyed; but, from an early period, as one of the chief actors in those selfsame events from personal knowledge and experience. Under such circumstances it cannot for one moment be supposed that the Evangelist should have spoken of occurrences which he knew to have actually taken place, as occurrences which were most surely believed' among the early Christians. True, the Authorized Version renders rà ρayuara 'things' instead of events, and by inference leaves the word to be construed in the sense of doctrines; we need hardly say, however, that such a construction is utterly inadmissible, for though the Greek term in our passage, certainly, does comprise the doctrines as well as the acts of our Lord and his disciples; yet the former so exclusively in virtue of their historical character, i. e. as doctrines delivered, or, in other words, as acts of instruction.
"Yangéτns, v. 2, in a general sense a servant, an assistant, a dependent agent; To óyou of the doctrine, i. e. the doctrine of Christ, Christianity: thence vanpéтns тоυ λóyou, a propagator of Christianity, which we hold here to be the most appropriate translation. Οἱ ἀπ' ἀρχῆς αὐτόπται κ. τ. λ., those, who from the beginning were. . . i. e. the earliest eye-witnesses, &c. Can the Apostles, who are evidently thus alluded to, for one moment be supposed to have communicated to their fellow-labourers those events in the life and the ministry of our Lord, of which the later disciples were possessed of no personal knowledge, by__means of written statements, instead of familiar discourses? Hardly. Пagadidova is consequently in this place to be taken in the sense of to verbally deliver,' i. e. to relate, and in which it occurs in numerous passages of the New Testament.
The second part of our preface opens (ver. 3) with the anti
thesis ἔδοξε καμοί, it has seemed good also to me, ἀκριβῶς καθεξής σοι reatai, ngάTIOTE EOQINE, to write unto thee, most excellent Theophilus, accurately in order, i. e. to send thee, most excellent (or most worthy) Theophilus, the present record [of the said events (to be supplied as an ellipsis)], arranged in accurate order and succession. 'Anpißes is almost invariably, and so in our Authorized Version, connected with the verb of the intervening sentence agnκολουθηκότι ἄνωθεν πᾶσιν [ἀκριβῶς]; but, as already Luther has rightly perceived, in complete defiance of the grammatical position occupied by our term in regard to that verb. As to the latter sentence, it is generally held to express St. Luke's authority for his undertaking, and the text being rendered, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first,' the inquiries of the Evangelist into the early history of Christianity are as generally considered to constitute the presumed authority. Duly considered, however, the somewhat dubious sense of that translation conveys nothing more than an excuse, or at the best a justification. Let us, on the other hand, take the verb naganoλov@ɛīv in its proper meaning to accompany, to be constantly at the side of, to be the constant companion of (Mark xvi. 17; Xen. Symp. viii. 23; Dem. cclxxxi. 22; Diod. Sic. xx. 29, &c.), and refer nas, as, according to strict grammatical rule and the natural connection of the context it should be done, to those who, from the beginning, were eye-witnesses,' &c.; our sentence will then read thus, 'having from the first been the constant companion of all [these men],' and in the close personal intimacy of the Evangelist with every one of the principal members of the earliest Christian society, we possess, indeed, a real, and with reference to the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark, we may say the only legitimate authority which could warrant St. Luke in composing a new, though extended work on a subject upon which a similar work, written by one of the Apostles themselves, already existed. Nor does the Authorized Version of our passage appear to us to be consistent with the inspired character of the sacred volume, inasmuch as the Evangelist is made to assure Theophilus that he had perfect understanding of ALL things from the very first, whilst yet a reference to the Gospel of St. Matthew, and more especially to that of St. John, will show that in the account of St. Luke some highly important discourses, several visits of our Lord to the Jewish capital, and other interesting circumstances connected with his life, are left unrecorded. We are consequently to infer that Luke either knowingly omitted, or rather suppressed such information, or that unknowingly his assurance was not made in conformity with truth; and both suppositions we hold to be equally irreconcilable with a belief in the inspiration of his Gospel.
Thus grammatical as well as internal reasons fully entitle us to reject the common version of our sentence.
̓Επιγινώσκειν, ver. 4 (composed of the verb γινώσκειν to learn, and the augmentative particle ènì) to obtain a more accurate, a fuller knowledge. Karnxioμaι (nxw), to hear a report, to receive information, to be instructed. 'Aopaλia, that which is firm, the real truth of a thing, the real fact as to a reported occurrence. This ἀσφάλειαν Theophilus is to learn, the Evangelist writes, περὶ ὧν κατηχήθης λóywv, which words may be interpreted either in a doctrinal or a historical sense. According to the former our Authorized Version reads, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things wherein thou hast been instructed.' We hold this translation to be inadmissible for several reasons. In the first place, St. Luke, as a non-Apostle (in the more restricted acceptation of the term apostle) being but the equal of any other authorized teacher of the Christian doctrine, did, consequently, not possess that superior authority which the translators of our Bible would have him arrogate to himself. In the second place, the Gospel of St. Luke is not, properly speaking, so much a doctrinal as a historical work. Lastly, the plural form of λóyo (77) is never made use of to express doctrines, the implied, but erroneous sense of the correct, but only ostensibly employed term 'things' of the Authorized Version.
Having thus explained what we believe to be the true meaning of the original text of our preface, we are enabled to give a corresponding translation of it. Here it is, placed, for comparison's sake, in juxta-position to the accustomed phraseology.
Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word; it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things wherein thou hast been instructed.
Already many having undertaken to publish a connected account of such events as have come to pass among us, even as they were related to us by the earliest eye-witnesses and propagators of Christianity; it has seemed good also to me, who have been from the first the constant companion of all these men, to write unto thee, most worthy Theophilus, in accurate order and succession, to the end that thou mayest more fully become acquainted with the real truth of those things, regarding which thou hast received information.