Outlines Of New Testament History -Rev. Francis E. Gigot D.D.



              1. Its Contrast with Ordinary History or Biography.


              2. Difficulty in Harmonizing Details.






(April–December A.D. 27):

              1. The First Pasch in Jerusalem:

              The cleansing of the Temple.


                            Conversation with Nicodemus.





              2. Ministry through Judæa (its character and duration).






              1. The Province of Samaria and its Inhabitants in the Time of Our Lord.


              2. Jesus and the Samaritans (John 4:1–44).






              1. The City of Capharnaum and its Importance in the Public Life of Christ.


              2. Principal Features of Our Lord’s Work in Galilee.


§ 1. Leading Features of the Gospel Narrative

1. Its Contrast with Ordinary History or Biography. It is particularly in their narrative of Christ’s public ministry that our canonical Gospels approach the form of ordinary history or biography. Here the Evangelists record in detail a large number of His words and deeds, and picture Him in the most varied circumstances of His public and private life. With their assistance we can follow Him in His journeys through Galilee or on His way to Jerusalem; we can hear Him reasoning with His enemies, teaching the multitudes, or imparting special instructions to His disciples; we can observe Him performing ordinary actions or working great miracles, passing “the whole night in the prayer of God,” or giving vent to His inmost feelings in public prayer to His heavenly Father. As we peruse the sacred pages we naturally admire the transparent simplicity of the narrative, together with its skilful selection and arrangement of events which gradually enable us to grasp the very spirit of Christ and to realize the principal features of His life and character. In a word, we feel instinctively that in their narrative of Our Lord’s public ministry the Gospels exhibit, more than anywhere else, the general characteristics of a faithful though brief history of the public life of Christ.

Even here, however, the leading feature of the Gospel records is much less that of resemblance to, than that of contrast with, ordinary history or biography, ancient or modern.

While in ordinary history or biography the circumstances of place and time rule the narration, in the Gospels it is the spiritual import or some other aim which predominates. In none of them is the strict chronological sequence the standard of the arrangement of facts, and hardly any of them supplies distinct connections of detailed events. Indeed, as Westcott justly observes, “the style of St. Matthew produces the greatest appearance of continuity, though probably he offers the most numerous divergences from chronological order.”

No less striking than this absence of chronological order is the fact that the Gospel narrative does not aim at completeness. Events of such importance as the raising of Lazarus, or the solemn promise of the Holy Eucharist, are recorded by one Evangelist alone, although they must needs have been known to the other three writers. Further, time and again, general formulas sum up entire categories of facts and discourses, and prove that each narrator simply purposed to give to his contemporaries, after a special design of his own, an extract of the deeds and teachings of the Son of God.

Thus the unchronological and fragmentary character of the Gospels, even in their narrative of Our Lord’s public life, clearly proves that they are memoirs rather than histories or biographies generally so called.

2. Difficulty in Harmonizing the Details of the Gospel Narrative. The contrast just pointed out between the Gospel narrative and ordinary history or biography accounts to a large extent for the difficulty which has ever been felt in harmonizing its details. Incompleteness in the description of the same event by several Evangelists gives rise naturally to many variations in detail, while it oftentimes deprives us of the data necessary for showing the perfect harmony of the several accounts. True, in such cases, commentators or harmonizers are seldom at a loss to suggest plausible ways of reconciling opposite statements; but in the absence of positive information their suggestions hardly ever appear more than probable solutions of a difficulty. To secure for their theories something like certainty, it would be necessary for them to throw upon the events about which the discrepancy has been noticed the full light of the circumstances of time and place in the midst of which these events occurred, as this light would in some measure make up for the lack of details afforded by the Gospel narrative. But in most cases the exact circumstances of time and place can be so imperfectly determined that the same fact which is assigned by one writer to the very beginning of Christ’s public life is considered by another as belonging to a much later period, or is even placed towards the very end of Our Lord’s mortal career, while a third declines to assign it to any specific period, or even endeavors to prove its identity with another fact from which most writers distinguish it.

In view of these, and other such obscurities which surround the details of the Gospel narrative, we shall not make in the following pages elaborate attempts to show that these details can be forced into the semblance of a complete and connected narrative. We shall, rather, confine ourselves to a summary view of the principal events of Christ’s public ministry, and mention only incidentally the differences in detail noticeable in the sacred records.

§ 2. Events in Judæa (April–December, A.D. 27)

1. The First Pasch in Jerusalem (April 11–18). After the wedding festivities at Cana were over, Jesus, together with His mother, His brethren, and His disciples, went down to Capharnaum, a town some 20 miles distant from Cana and situated on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The Pasch of the Jews was near at hand, and Capharnaum would be a convenient place to join the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Leaving Capharnaum after only a few days’ sojourn, Our Lord probably took the road usually followed at that time by the caravans which left the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. This road passed through Scythopolis, Archelais, Phasaelis, and Jericho, crossed in a westerly direction the wilderness of Judæa, and traversing Bethany and Bethphage, led to the Mount of Olives and the Holy City.

After a journey of about 90 miles Jesus reached Jerusalem, probably a few days before the Paschal celebration, which this year fell on the 11th of April, and which marks the beginning of Our Lord’s public ministry in Judæa. St. John, who alone records the events connected with this sojourn of Our Lord in Jerusalem, mentions first a cleansing of the Temple by the Son of God, and this cleansing is plainly distinct from the later one recorded by Matthew 21:12–16; Mark 11:15–19; Luke 19:45–48. On the occasion of this the greatest Jewish solemnity, the Outer Court of the Temple had gradually been transformed into a market-place particularly for the convenience of the Jews who, coming from distant countries, were obliged to purchase in this court the victims for their offerings, and to exchange their foreign money, stamped with idolatrous images, into the sacred shekel with which alone the Temple dues could be paid. From the strong language of Our Lord in driving out of the place the traders in sheep, cattle, and pigeons, and in overthrowing the tables of the moneychangers, it seems probable that not only a fair and honest, but even an extortionate, traffic was carried on within the Court of the Gentiles. Be this as it may, it is plain that the close neighborhood of a noisy market must have greatly interfered with the religious stillness requisite within the Inner Courts for either the silent prayer of the solitary worshipper or the deep recollection of the multitude when attending the more important ceremonies. All this was, indeed, a great desecration of God’s house, but the Jewish priests derived a large profit from the whole traffic, and hence they had sanctioned what they should have considered as an intolerable profanation of the Temple.

It was, then, the honor of His Father’s house that Jesus came forward to vindicate when driving out the buyers and sellers. With an irresistible majesty, as St. Jerome says, He exclaimed, “Make not the house of My Father a house of traffic.” Any Jew might rise up in a holy zeal against public abuses, but the most ardent zealots generally justified their proceedings by unquestionable signs of the divine approval. By His conduct Jesus had rebuked not only the people at large, but also the Jewish leaders. The Temple officials came, therefore, to Him and requested a sign whereby He would prove His authority “to do these things.”

“Destroy this temple,” replied Jesus, “and in three days I will raise it up.” These words seemed to refer to the Temple in which He and His questioners were standing; but they referred to a much holier sanctuary of the divinity. “He spoke of the temple of His body.” The great proof which Our Lord was to give to all was indeed His resurrection; but this connection between His answer and their question was not realized even by His disciples until a much later day, when they remembered His prophetic words and derived from their fulfilment an increase of their faith. The words of Jesus were therefore understood as referring to the magnificent edifice, the rebuilding of which, begun long years before by Herod, was still in progress; and they were maliciously construed by His enemies into a blasphemous boast against the house of Jehovah.

In addition to the cleansing of the Temple, St. John records that during the Paschal festivities Our Lord performed in Jerusalem several miracles which he does not report in detail. They made such an impression that “many believed in His name,” that is, believed Him to be the Messias. But Jesus, knowing that these believers were far from possessing deep convictions, showed towards them the greatest reserve.

It was different, however, with Nicodemus, a personage whom St. John introduces as a Pharisee, and a member of the Sanhedrim.| This man feared, indeed, the hostility of most of his colleagues, who were already opposed to Jesus; yet, having seen the miracles which Our Lord had performed, and being convinced that Jesus was a teacher truly sent by God, he desired to inquire from Him the nature of the kingdom of heaven and the manner in which men were to enter into it. He therefore came to Jesus during the night, and learned, to his great astonishment, that, far from belonging to the new kingdom by natural right, the Jews had “to be born again of water and the Holy Ghost,” that is, to be spiritually regenerated in the vivifying waters of Christian baptism, in order that they might be admitted into the kingdom of God. The action of the Spirit which gives to the waters of baptism their vivifying power is, indeed, hidden, but because of its hiddenness its action should not be denied, any more than that of the wind, the presence of which is ascertained only by its effects.

After his summary of Our Lord’s dialogue with Nicodemus, the beloved apostle reports the substance of a beautiful discourse delivered by Jesus, apparently in connection with His interview with Nicodemus.

2. Ministry through Judæa. When the companies of pilgrims started from Jerusalem for their homes, Our Saviour went with His disciples “into the land of Judæa,” that is, into the province of that name, as distinguished from its chief city. It is impossible to determine the extent of Judæan territory through which Our Lord went at this time. From St. John (3:22 b, and 4:3, 4), it may, however, be inferred that He visited several parts of Judæa, and from Acts 10:37 it seems probable that He went through most, if not all, the rural districts of that province.

The same uncertainty prevails about the character of Our Lord’s teaching during this same period. It may be conjectured, however, that His preaching was of the same preparatory kind as we find described a little later in St. Matthew (4:17), where we read: “FROM THAT TIME JESUS BEGAN TO PREACH AND TO SAY: DO PENANCE, FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS AT HAND,” and that consequently it was substantially the same as the preaching of His holy precursor. Those who listened to His words received from the hands of His disciples a baptism which was most likely identical with the rite administered by St. John the Baptist.|

Meanwhile the forerunner of Jesus was still baptizing in a place called “ENNON, NEAR SALIM,” which it is impossible to identify at the present day. It was more probably on the west side of the Jordan, in Judæa, and apparently not far distant from the place where Our Lord’s disciples baptized the repentant multitudes.

This circumstance of Jesus and John teaching and baptizing at the same time in the vicinity of each other naturally excited some speculation among the people. Some of John’s disciples fell into an argument “concerning PURIFICATION”—that is, concerning baptism—with a Jew, and they referred the question to John himself for his decision. These disciples were jealous of their master’s honor and could not bear that Jesus, whom they thought greatly indebted to John, should baptize and attract more followers than did the holy precursor. But John, far from sharing this feeling of jealousy, earnestly endeavored to remove it from the heart of his disciples. He reminded them that he had always asserted that he was not himself the Christ, but greatly inferior to Him; and in the most emphatic manner he reasserted his own secondary station. He was but the humble attendant on the bridegroom; Christ was the bridegroom Himself; his own doctrine was that of earth, that of Christ was of heaven; it was only right that the Son of God and the author of eternal life “should increase,” and his precursor “decrease.”

Our Lord’s ministry in Judæa extended until the month of December, A.D. 27, as we may infer from His words to His disciples when passing by Sychar: “there are yet FOUR MONTHS, and THEN THE HARVEST COMETH,”| for these words can be understood only of the first crops which, in Palestine, are gathered during the month of April. His departure was a hasty one, most likely because of an imminent danger due to the very great offence which His success, far greater than that of John, gave to the Pharisees who, at the time, wielded so much power in the province of Judæa. We learn, moreover, from the Synoptists that the imprisonment of John the Baptist, which probably-occurred at this time, contributed to Our Lord’s return into Galilee.

§ 3. Jesus in Samaria

1. The Province of Samaria and its Inhabitants in the Time of Our Lord. Between Judæa and the northern province of Galilee lay the district of Samaria. Since the accession of Herod to the throne it had been a province of the Jewish kingdom, and after the deposition of Archelaus, had passed, together with Judæa, under a Roman procurator. According to Josephus the Samaritan territory “begins at a village in the great plain (the plain of Esdrælon) called Ginæa and ends at the district, or toparchy, of Akrabim, and is entirely of the same nature as Judæa. Both countries are made up of hills and valleys, the soil is suitable for agriculture, and is very fertile.… They are not watered by many rivers, but derive their chief moisture from the rains. The river water is exceedingly sweet, and the cattle fed upon the excellent grasses yield more milk than those of other places. Both countries are very populous.”

As already remarked in a preceding chapter (Chapter VI.) the inveterate enmity between Jews and Samaritans reached its climax in the time of Christ. They both utterly despised each other,| and the Jews, in their pilgrimages to Jerusalem, usually avoided passing through Samaria in order to escape words of abuse or deeds of violence. Josephus loses no occasion to tell us of Samaritan tricks and outrages, and there is no reason to question his statements; and if we had a Samaritan historian we would undoubtedly hear quite as much that was no less true on the other side.

“This people were, nevertheless, of the same faith as Israel. They adored the one God of the patriarchs of old, and avoided carefully all practices of heathenism in their worship of Jehovah. The only sacred books in their possession were the Mosaic writings, and so far as their exclusion from the sanctuary in Jerusalem permitted, they kept strictly to the statutes of the Pentateuch. The popular Jewish expectation of the Messias was indeed foreign to them, for the politico-national element in it could not but find them unsympathetic, since they were excluded from the “Kingdom.” They, too, hoped for the Messias; but on the ground of a passage from the Law, they thought of Him more as an ethical reformer than a mighty converter or restorer.”

2. Jesus and the Samaritans. Such were, briefly, the country and the people which Jesus had to visit as He wished to reach quickly the friendly province of Galilee. A rapid and fatiguing journey brought Him to the neighborhood of Sychar, a small Samaritan town most likely to be identified with a village known as ’Askar, on the southern base of Mount Hebal, some 40 miles north of Jerusalem. At the foot of Mount Garizim, on the other side of the valley of Sichem, was the well which the patriarch Jacob had dug when he bought the ground “of the children of Hemor, the father of Sichem.” This well still exists, although it seems there is water in it only during the rainy season. It has a diameter of 9 feet and its present depth is about 75 feet. It is on the low wall of masonry built around the brim of Jacob’s well that Our Lord sat to rest Himself while His disciples entered the town to purchase provisions. It was about the sixth hour, or midday, according to the Jewish manner of reckoning from sunrise to sunset; the usual hour, indeed, for the principal meal of the Jews, but not the usual one for women to come to fetch water. While, however, Jesus sat waiting at the well a woman came from the town with her waterpot on her shoulder to draw water from this famous spring.

Then occurred between Our Lord and the Samaritan woman a conversation too well known to be repeated here. Its summary in our fourth Gospel reveals the zeal of Jesus for the conversion of souls, makes known to us the Messianic hopes of the Samaritans, and proves that from the beginning of His public mission the Saviour of the world had a perfect knowledge both of His Messianic dignity and of the manner of divine worship He was to introduce into the world.

The conversation was interrupted by the return of the disciples with the provisions they had bought. They wondered that Jesus talked with one of the hateful race, but they did not dare to question Him about it. Meanwhile the woman had quickly returned to the town and made known to the inhabitants what had occurred between her and One who might be the Messias. Accordingly, the Samaritans went forth to see Our Saviour, and invited Him to tarry with them. Complying with their request, He remained two days in Sychar; and to the number of those who had believed in Jesus on the woman’s report of His supernatural knowledge, many more were added who, having heard His sacred words, were convinced that He was “indeed the Saviour of the world.”

§ 4. Ministry in Galilee

1. The City of Capharnaum and its Importance in the Public Life of Christ. Proceeding from Sychar, Our Lord soon entered Galilee and directed His steps towards Cana. As He went along He preached repentance and the near coming of the kingdom of God. In the various villages He traversed people welcomed Him, for they had witnessed His miracles at the Pasch, which they also had celebrated in Jerusalem. Not long after His arrival at Cana the rumor of His return reached Capharnaum, only about 20 miles distant. Thereupon “a certain ruler, whose son was sick in Capharnaum,” and who is thought by many to have been Chusa, the steward of Herod Antipas, came to Jesus beseeching Him to come down to that city and heal his son, but Jesus wrought the miracle requested of Him without departing from Cana.

Soon after this great miracle Christ was Himself on His way to Capharnaum, which was at the time one of the most important towns of Galilee. Situated on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee—whether at Khan Minyeh, at the northeastern end of the plain of Genesareth, or at Tell Hum, about 2½ miles northeast of Khan Minyeh, does not appear,| um stood on one of the great caravan roads between the East and Egypt. It was a customs-station, and had a Roman garrison under the command of a centurion, who thought it worth while to ingratiate himself with the Jewish population by building them a synagogue.

After His rejection by Nazareth, Jesus selected this flourishing city as His own home,| and as the centre of His work. Capharnaum had much to recommend it to Our Saviour for this twofold purpose. He could feel more at home in a place far removed from the Judæan authorities, amid a mixed and consequently less fanatic population, and near the residence of the grateful courtier of Herod, whose son He had quite lately healed. Again, in this fishing-town His disciples could easily pursue their avocation of fishermen and He himself could at any time be carried to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, where He could find greater quiet and security. Finally, from Capharnaum, as from a centre of operation, He could easily start on His missionary journeys through Galilee on the west, Trachonitis on the north, Decapolis and Peræa on the east and south.

2. Principal Features of Our Lord’s Work in Galilee. It was not long after settling in Capharnaum, that Jesus, not satisfied with preaching and performing miracles in that city, resolved to pay a visit to other places in Galilee.*

Accordingly, He started with His disciples—to whom He had but lately extended a second call on the occasion of the miraculous draught of fishes† His first circuit or missionary journey through that province. “We have no sufficient data to determine the local order of these visitations; but it is only natural to suppose that He would first visit the places near Capharnaum and then those more remote.”‡

In going “through all Galilee His common mode of action was apparently this: on entering a city where there was a synagogue, He availed Himself of the privilege which His reputation as a rabbi and prophet gave Him, to teach the people from the Scriptures. This He did upon the Sabbaths and synagogue days.… At other times He preached in the streets or fields, or sitting in a boat upon the sea; in every convenient place where the people were willing to hear Him. His fame as a healer of the sick caused many to be brought to Him, and He appears in general to have healed all. His sojourn in any single village was necessarily brief, and therefore those who had been really impressed by His works or words, and desired to see or hear Him more, followed Him to the adjoining towns or sought Him at Capharnaum. The disciples do not appear to have taken any public part as teachers. The expenses of these journeys were probably borne by the contributions of the disciples, and by the voluntary offerings of those who had been healed, and of their friends.… It should also be noted as a characteristic of the beginning of His ministry, that we do not find any open avowal of His Messianic claims.”

The Gospel narrative affords us no particulars of Our Lord’s first missionary journey. Only one miracle, the healing of a leper, is recorded in detail, and this because the cure of a leper was in every instance and by all traced to the direct agency of God. This helps us to understand why Jesus, knowing perfectly the stupendous effect which the news of such a miracle would produce on the people’s minds, strictly imposed silence on the healed man, lest erroneous Messianic hopes should be confirmed among the Jewish people.

After Christ’s return to Capharnaum two events occurred which do not require more than a passing mention here. The first was the healing of a paralytic, which Jesus effected as a proof that “the Son of Man” had the power to remit sins, and which filled the Pharisees and Doctors of the Law who witnessed it with indignation towards one whom they considered as a blasphemer. The second is the call of Levi the tax-gatherer, who, while sitting at the receipt of custom—probably at the point where the great road from Damascus comes to Capharnaum—heard from Jesus these simple words, “Follow Me.” And the publican Levi—called also Matthew—leaving all things, rose up and followed Christ.

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