Historical Champions

Francis W. Upham’s “Thoughts on the Holy Gospels” (part two)

In chapter 2, on the “Intent to Have a Written Gospel,” Upham begins with a quick allusion to Milton’s Paradise Lost:

Surely it was not the “Archangel ruined” who deluded men into saying that the Witnesses [of Christ] never thought of putting their witness into writing! …

The ancient genealogies of the people of whom the Witnesses were born, prove their record-keeping habit. Their people treasured up writings that were from before Abraham’s day; they treasured up, in writing, the family histories of the patriarchs …

The unrolling of the Scriptures on every Sabbath made the use of books known to the most illiterate of that people. In the schools of the synagogues they all had the means of learning how to read and write. The Witnesses could secure the precision and permanency of their witness only by putting it in writing; and yet we are told [by the skeptics] to believe that they never thought of doing so! The demand awakens more of scorn even than of wonder; yet infidels, whether misunderstanding or misrepresenting, are curiously ingenious in arguing on the wrong side of every question—and let them be heard.

They strangely fancy that they were the first to mark that Jesus himself wrote nothing; and some of them intimate that he knew not how to write. Their argument requires this; and all they say of the origin of Christianity shows an ignorance of Hebrew civilization, dishonors the intelligence of the Disciples, and of our Master and theirs.

Francis W. Upham, Thoughts on the Holy Gospels: How They Came to Be in Manner and Form as They Are (New York, NY: Phillips & Hunt, 1881), 39–40.

Upham goes on to push back on the additional claim that the disciples virtually lost themselves “gazing up into heaven,” with the anticipation that Christ’s return was so immanent that they never thought to publish a record of their Savior.1 And yet, the skeptics neglect to note Paul’s reaction to those who, in his day, failed to work and fulfill their responsibilities (2 Thess. 3:6–12). Indeed, Christians remained concerned with the activities of daily life. Paul likewise “was busy with large plans” of future travels and ministry. 2

Against the claim that that the early church favored only the “oral Gospel,” Upham responds that

Among the three thousand converts [in Jerusalem] there must have been many who could have written out the oral teaching of the Witness. There must have been some who tried to do so; and to think that the writing out of the oral Gospel could have been put off till the second century is foolish … It is so natural that some should have written out the Gospel, as they heard it from “the eye-witnesses’’ of the Lord, that it would be certain, even if St. Luke had not told us, that “‘many”’ took this “in hand.”

No doubt such were unsatisfactory; and the Witnesses must then have seen, if they had not seen before—which is not possible—that it was their duty to have the Gospel properly written out by one or more of themselves.

Upham, Thoughts, 44–45.

Further, Upham speaks of the literary instinct of that generation of Jews, expounding on the historical books of Justus of Tiberius, “whose historical books are now lost … Josephus; and Philo of Alexandria, who, like all the apostles save St. Matthew, wrote in Greek.”3 Our author concludes the chapter with a reminder that Jesus was referring to the oracles of the sacred book of the Hebrews, when he told them that, “Your Scriptures testify of me.”4 Yet now the “Prophet greater than Moses, the Messiah” had come to save his people.5 “Such a book [the Hebrew Scriptures] called aloud for a book that should recite the fulfilling of itself in Christ Jesus, and the construction of his Gospel proves that Matthew heard and answered that call.”6

  1. Francis W. Upham, Thoughts on the Holy Gospels: How They Came to Be in Manner and Form as They Are (New York, NY: Phillips & Hunt, 1881), 40–41. ↩︎
  2. Upham, Thoughts, 41. ↩︎
  3. Upham, Thoughts, 47. I have contended elsewhere that the church fathers can be understood as asserting that Matthew wrote in Greek, rather than Hebrew. Daniel B. Moore, A Trustworthy Gospel: Arguments for an Early Date for Matthew’s Gospel (Eugene, OR: Wipf  and Stock, 2024), 30–32. ↩︎
  4. Upham, Thoughts, 51. ↩︎
  5. Upham, Thoughts, 51. ↩︎
  6. Upham, Thoughts, 51. ↩︎

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