The Four Gospels
Dealing with the sources of the four Gospels of the Christian faith, the Encyclopedia Biblica comments as follows:
“These documents are of varying value from a historical point of view. Critical opinion is much divided as to the fourth, that which bears the name of John, the judgment of many critics being, that it is the least Trustworthy as a source, whether for words or for the acts of Jesus. By comparison, the first three, from their resemblances called synoptical, are regarded by many as possessing a considerable measure of historical worth, but even these, from a critical point of view are not of equal value, nor do the contents of any of them possess a uniform degree of historical probability. They present to the critic a curious interesting, and perplexing problem, still far from final solution. By their resemblances and differences, agreements and disagreements, they raise many questions as to origin, relative dates, and literary connections, which have called forth a multitude of conflicting hypotheses and a most extensive critical literature.”
In the opinion of the best English scholars of the New Testament, the Gospels are not to be looked upon as revealed books, the sole source of which should have been God and not man. But they are to be regarded, on the other hand, as inadequate attempts, made by pious but not talented followers of Christ, at the description of his life. It is a great pity, that the world never availed itself of the collection of those life-inspiring words that were uttered by the Prophet of Nazareth. However, piety and veneration, for a long time, assured the credulity of the early Christians, that the Gospels revealed the Word of God, and in consequence were infallible. There was a time, when every article of it was firmly and reverently believed to have directly proceeded from God. In short, what had been written by man, passed for the word of God. This is clear to those clergy who have undergone university training. But the pity of it is, that they have not the moral courage to enlighten their congregation on the subject. It would only seem, that pious anxiety dictates, that a character of infallibility should still be given to what has been written by human hands, and that crude attempts at the biography of the Prophet of Nazareth should continue to be believed to have been revealed by God Himself.
Anyhow, what scholarship and research have now brought to light was revealed over thirteen centuries ago in the Koran:
“Do they not know, that God knows, what they keep secret, and what they make known; and there are among them ignorant, who know not the Book, but only idle stories and they do but conjecture; woe, then, to those who write the book with their own hands, and then say. This is from God, so that they may obtain therewith a small gain; therefore woe to them, for what their hands have written, and woe to them, for what they have earned.” 
Dr. Murray’s illustrated “Bible Dictionary” which is a valuable commentary enlightens us thus:
Gospels: - “The first point which attracts our notice in reading the Gospels is, that the first three Gospels are distinct from the fourth. The first three Gospels confine themselves almost exclusively to the events which took place in Galilee, until Christ’s last journey to Jerusalem. If we had three Gospels alone, we could not definitely say, that our Lord went to Jerusalem during his ministry, until he went there to die. The difference in character is no less, than the difference in scene. Further, the synoptists do no claim to be eyewitnesses of our Lord’s work; the first three Gospels are usually called the synoptic Gospels… It is obvious that not only all three synoptic Gospels differ from John, but they differ, widely from each other. The account of the birth and infancy of Christ in Matthew differs widely from that in Luke. The incidents of the temptation of our Lord are recorded in a different order in Matthew and Luke, and the temptation is recorded without these incidents in Mark. All three Gospels give a slightly different account of the inscription on the cross, and the words spoken by the centurion at the death of Jesus, vary in Luke from the words in Matthew and Mark. Also the language differs and differs in a very singular manner.
From the above quotations it is very clear, that the material for Marks, Gospel was supplied by St. Peter’s preaching, and that Mark was freely drawn upon by Matthew and Luke; which establishes the fact, that the synoptic Gospels are no revelations at all, but are purely and simply human compilations. It remains to deal with St. John Gospel.
The Twentieth Century New Testament makes the following observation on John:
“The writer apparently proposed to himself to illustrate the spirit of the ‘Gospel of Love’ by such incidents in the life of Jesus, as best suited his purpose. There is no attempt at a regular connected narrative; and the writer allows himself such freedom in commenting upon the teaching of Jesus that it is not always easy to tell where that teaching ends and the writer’s comments begin. It is to the great struggle between Light and Darkness, Death and Life-words much in use and much debated in the current philosophy of Ephesus, that the writer devotes his attention, rather than to the external incidents of a story which has already been told, and which is plainly viewed by him from a greater distance of time, than is the case with the compliers of the three other Gospels”
Another eminent authority, namely Dr. Weymouth, in his introduction to John observes:
“It must be owned that, although the fourth Gospel makes no assertion which contradicts the character of Teacher and Reformed attributed to Him by the synoptists, it presents to us a personage so enwrapped in mystery and dignity, as altogether to transcend ordinary human nature. This Transcendent personality is indeed, the avowed centre of the whole record, and his portrayal is its avowed purpose. 
Now, these quotations point very clearly to the fact, that there is a general agreement, as to John having played the role of an interpreter or a commentator of the three other Gospels. There is not an allusion or a reference, made to John having received a revelation from Heaven, or having been inspired to furnish the world with an explanation of the doctrines of Christ. We learn on the other hand, that, while the authors of the three other Gospels complied the incidents of the life of Jesus, John gave a mystical meaning to them. He himself does not lay claim to revelation, or to consequent perfection. He has, on the contrary, confessed the imperfection of his attempts, to depict the incidents of the life of Jesus. Likewise he admits, that he is but a recorder of incidents or signs. “There were also a great number of signs which Jesus performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not recorded in this book; but these have been recorded, in order that you may believe, that he is the Christ, the son of God, and that, through believing, you may have Life through his name.”  This text, which reveals the object of the fourth Gospel, announces that this is a partial record of some of those signs which Jesus performed before his disciples. To record events or signs which are known to many, or all, of the disciples and others, does not require the aid of revelation which supplies information which is not already in the possession of human beings.
Some Important Discrepancies
Jesus said to them (who took offence, and who were not prepared to recognise his claims simply because he was a carpenter’s son and had other humble ties): “A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house” (Mark). This statement was curtailed by Matthew, and still more by John. Luke ignored it altogether.
“But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father” (Mark xiii, 32). This text embodies a confession by Jesus, eloquent of his limited knowledge and avowed ignorance; while Luke and John however make no mention of that humiliating reference.
The Rev. Dummelow’s Commentary makes the following remake on “Neither the Son”: “This is the true reading not only here (in Mark) but in Matthew xxiv, 35, where it has been altered in many MSS., probably as being a difficulty to faith.” Peake’s Commentary offers the following note on it:
“Mark xiii 32- This is one of Schmiedel’s pillar–passages,” A passage admitting a limit to Christ; knowledge must be trustworthy history, according to Schimiedel. Certainly later commentators found the verse difficult.
“My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? (Mark xv. 34) these words have been copied by Matthew only. They picture the inborn weakness of Jesus. This expression of his human nature was unworthy of record, in the opinion of Luke and John.
Of many interpolations, mention will be made here of a few only: (A) John vii 53 and viii. 1-11, that is, the last verse of the seventh chapter, with its continuation in the first eleven verses of the eighth chapter, which relates the story of an adultress, is an interpolation. This is admitted universally. The Rev. Dummelow’s Commentary has the following observations on it: “The woman taken in adultery- All modern critics agree, that this section (vii. 53-viii-1-11) is no original part of the fourth Gospel. It is not in the author’s style; it breaks the sequence of our Lord’s discourses, and is omitted by most of the ancient authorities.
Peake’s Commentary comments on the story at the end of John vii. 53 viii-1-11, Jesus, and the woman accused of sin: “The well known story of the woman taken in adultery has no claim to be regarded as part of the original text of this … It is supported by no early Patristic evidence. The evidence proves it to be an interpolation of a “western” character”.
Dr. Weymouth’s “New Testament in Modern English” mark’s the section as an interpolation. “The Twentieth Century New Testament has excised it, and placed it in such a place as indicates clearly, that it has no connection with John. ‘The Complete Bible in Modern English’ writes in a footnote: “The narrative of the sinful woman (chap. Vii. 53 to viii-1-11) is rejected by the most competent authorities as a spurious interpolation.”
(B)John xxi: - In the opinion of the Rev. Dummelow the last two verses at least, 24 and 25- are really doubtful, and they “may gave been added by the Ephesian elders, who first put the Gospel in circulation, after the death of the Apostle, and who wished to testify to its genuineness and trustworthiness.
(C) Mark xvi 9-20 is another interpolation. Dummelow’s Commentary observes that “Internal” evidence points definitely to the conclusion, that the last twelve verses are not by St. Mark.” It further supplies the following information on the subject: “When at the close of the apostolic age, an attempt was made (probably in Rome) to collect the authentic memorials of the Apostles and their companions, a copy of the neglected second Gospel was not easily found. The one that was actually discovered and was used to multiply copies had last leaf, and so a fitting termination (the present appendix) was added by another hand.”
The unanimous verdict given in the New Testaments of Dr. Weymouth Dr. Moffat, Ferrar Fenton, and in the Twentieth Century New Testament, is that Mark xvi-9-20, is an addition.
(D) Luke xxiv- 51 is another interpolation, as is conceded on all hands. It elicits the following comment from the Rev. Dummelow: “A few ancient authorities omit these words. If they are omitted it is possible to regard this event, not as the ascension, but as a miraculous disappearance of Jesus at the end of the interview begun in verse 36.”
Peake’s Commentary makes similar remarks; “The words ‘and was carried up into heaven’ are omitted in some of the best MSS.. and have probably crept in from Acts i-9 f”
The Twentieth Century New Testament and Dr. Moffat’s New Testament” make it as an interpolation.”
Our co-religionist. Maulvi Sadr–ud–Din, BA., from whose interesting essay. “Are the Gospel inspired.”  I have chiefly reproduced the above chapter, makes the following conclusion to his work::
“If according to Christ and Mohammed (peace be upon them and all the other prophets,) the essence of religion lies in our perfect love of God which can only be manifested in out willing obedience to His Divine will, we must be assured, as rational beings, of the genuineness and credibility of God’s message, as much as of the soundness of the truth, that it reveals. It is this natural craving, that has led to what is known as the higher criticism of the Bible. A similar test has been applied to the Holy Koran as well, to which reference has been made previously. The result of the higher criticism of the four Gospels has partially been presented in this treatise, with the object of making the laity and non–Christians in general acquainted with it. In doing so, I have purposely refrained from quoting the opinions expressed in the learned commentaries of the nonconformists, and in the books issued on the subject by the Rational Press. I have, on the contrary, restricted the treatment to the views expounded by the Clergy of the Church of England, in the main and to the views of those who are rather conservative. I have also deliberately overlooked the question, whether we can ascribe with certainty the authorship of the Gospels to the Evangelists, whose names they bear now. All the commentaries are agreed upon the fact that the original copies of the Gospel, were without indication as to the authors’ names. It was guessed, later, who were the most probable writers of them. The probable conjecture has not yet reached certainty. The authenticity of the names, to which, the Gospels are attributed, is open to doubt, as can be seen by referring to any commentary.”
What, we have learnt, with respect to the origin of the Christian Gospels, and the creed preached therein, can be recapitulated in a few words. Mark was the first Gospel, and not Matthew, as is generally indicated by the present arrangement of the four books. Mark, who was a convert and interpreter of St. Peter penned at the instance of ‘his hearers’, what St. Peter had adopted and preached to his Roman audiences Mark has been incorporated into Matthew and Luke. But Matthew has represented the words and works of Jesus as fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament. No less than sixty-five references have been made to Old Testament texts, to establish that the advent of the Messiah was in strict accordance with the Jewish ideals. This conception and purpose pervade the whole of Matthew, and distinguish it from the other three. Luke represents St. Paul’s views, which are in conflict with St. Peter’s. Thus we have in Luke an altogether different point of view. It opposes Matthew and Mark most boldly, and places its literal and Catholic description of Christianity in a striking contrast to Matthew and Mark, who confine God’s blessings and ministrations to the elect alone. John strikes an entirely different note. It offers, to interpret Christianity for us. We may respect his opinion, as an individual one, and as different from the other three; but we cannot be assured, that his vague and mythical representation of Christianity is identical with the definite and plain teachings of the prophet Jesus. In a word, the Gospels are as divergent, in expressing the Christian doctrines, as their versions are discrepant, in the reproduction of the words and works of Jesus. They have not been safeguarded against mistakes and interpolations. On the contrary, they are replete with extraneous matter. Sometimes glosses and editorial notes have been absorbed in the body of the book, and sometimes irrelevant additions have been made. Matthew and Luke have either toned down or omitted what they deemed objectionable in Mark. They do not teach that, because the deepening anxiety of Jesus in alliance with a fear of treacherous betrayal on the part of some of his disciples, led to his sudden and skillfully planned disappearance; we should believe that he soared upwards to heaven. Their accounts of the incident of the crucifixion do not show that God saved Jesus from the cursed death on the cross. The plain and useful teachings of Jesus, as pronounced in the Gospels, however make the belief in the atoning and propitiating powers of the crucifixion unnecessary. His disciples also betray total ignorance of such a dogma as the vicarious atonement. Jesus himself believed in one God, worshipped Him, and prayed to Him, and laid all possible stress on good living and cherishing love for one’s neighbour.
This brings the treatment to a close with my sincerest hopes that it will be of some interest and benefit to God’s people.
As to the Koran, it consists exclusively of the revelation or commands which the Prophet professed, to have received from time, as a message direct from God; and which under divine direction, the Prophet delivered to those about him.
Every syllable of the Koran is of divine origin, eternal and ‘uncreated’ as the Deity Himself. It is one of the Islamic arguments against the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, that they are not exclusively oracles professing to proceed from the mouth of God.
At the moment of inspiration or shortly after, each passage was recited by the Prophet in the presence of friends or followers, and was generally committed to writing by someone amongst them, at the time or afterwards upon palm-leaves, leather, stones, or such other rude material as conveniently came to hand. These divine messages continued throughout the twenty-three years of his prophetic life, so that the last portion was not received till near the time of his death.
The Koran, being the divine revelation and the corner stone of Islam, the recital of a passage from it formed an essential part of daily prayer, public and private; and its perusal and repetition were considered to be a great privilege. The preservation of the various chapters during the life–time of the Prophet, was not altogether dependent on their being committed to writing. The Koran was committed to memory by almost every adherent of Islam, and the extent, to which it could be recited, was one of the chief sources of distinction, in the early stages of Islam. Amongst a crowd of warrior martyrs, he who had been the most versed in the Koran, was honoured with the first burial. The person who in any company could most faithfully repeat the Koran, was ipso facto entitled to conduct the public prayers, and in certain cases to pecuniary rewards.
The retentive faculty of the early Arabs favoured the task; and it was applied with all the ardour of an awakened spirit, to the Koran. Several of the Prophet’s followers could during his life–time repeat with scrupulous accuracy, the whole as then in use. Four or five such persons are named; and several others also who could very nearly repeat the whole before the Prophet’s death. 
“However retentive the Arab memory, remarks Sir William Muir, we should still have regarded with distrust a transcript made entirely from that source. But there is good reason for believing, that many fragmentary copies, embracing amongst them the whole Koran, or nearly the whole were during his life–time made by the Prophet’s followers.
“Such as the condition of the next during Mohammed’s life time, and such it remained for about a year after his death, imprinted upon the hearts of his people, and fragmentary transcripts increasing daily” 
Further the same writer states: “The contents and arrangement of the Koran speak forcibly for its authenticity. All the fragments have, with artless simplicity, been joined together…
Even the frailties of the Prophet, as noticed by the Deity, have with evident faithful-ness, been entered in the Koran…
In fine, we posses every internal guarantee of confidence (namely in the authenticity of the Koran, as it exists in the present copies).
…. There is otherwise every security, internal and external, that we possess that text which Mohammed himself gave forth and used.
So carefully, indeed, has it been preserved that there are no variations of importance– we might almost say no variations at all– to be found in the innumerable copies scattered throughout the vast bound of the Empire of Islam.
Yet, but One Koran has been current amongst them; and the consentaneous use by all of the same Scripture, in every age to the present day, is an irrefragable proof, that we have now before us the very text prepared by command of the Caliph Othman who was murdered some time after the compilation of the Koran.
There is probably in the world no other work, which has remained twelve centuries (1861), with so pure a text. This is only because the various revelations in the Koran, regarding its divine nature, and its remaining forever free from corruption or contradistinction, are rightly confirmed. Here are a few verses bearing on this point:
“We have surely sent down the Koran; and we will certainly preserve the same from corruption. (Chap. XV)
“This Koran could not have been composed by any, except God; but it is a confirmation of that which was revealed before it, and an explanation of the scripture; there is no doubt therefore; sent down from the Lord of all creatures. Will they say, (Mohammed) hath forged it? Answer, Bring therefore a chapter like unto it; and call whom ye may (to your assistance) besides God, if ye speak truth.” (Chap. X)
“Say, Verily if men and genie were purposely assembled, that they might produce (a book) like this Koran, they could not produce one like unto it, although they assisted each other. And we have variously propounded unto men in this Koran, every kind of figurative argument; but the greater part of men refuse to receive it, merely out of infidelity.” (Chap. XVII.)
The Rev. Rodwell states:
“It must be acknowledged too, that the Koran deserves the highest praise for its conception of the divine nature, in reference the attributes of Power, Knowledge and universal Providence and Unity- that its belief and trust in the One God of Heaven and Earth, is deep and fervent.”
“It is due to the Koran that the occupants, in the sixth century, of an arid peninsula, whose poverty was only equaled by their ignorance, become not only the fervent and sincere votaries of a new creed, but, like Amru and many more, its warlike propagators.”
“The simple shepherds and wandering bedouins of Arabia, are transformed, as if by a magician’s wand, into the founders of empires, the builders of cities, the collectors of more libraries, than they at first destroyed, while cities like Fostat, Baghdad, Cordova and Dehli, attest the power, at which Christian Europe trembled. And thus, while the Koran, which underlies this vast energy and contains the principles which are its springs of actions, reflects to a great extent the mixed character of its author, its merit as a code of laws, and as a system of religious teaching, must always be estimated by the changes which it introduced into the customs and beliefs of those who willingly or by compulsion embraced it. In the suppression of their idolatries, in the substitution of the worship of Allah for that of the powers of nature and genii with Him, in the abolition of child murder, in the extinction of manifold superstitious usages, in the reduction of the number of wives to a fixed standard it was to the Arabians an unquestionable blessing, and an accession through not in the Christian sense a Revelation of Truth; and while every Christian must deplore the overthrow of so many flourishing Eastern churches by the arms of the victorious Moslems, it must not be forgotten that Europe, in the middle ages, owed much of her knowledge of dialectic philosophy, of medicine and architecture to Arabia writers, and that Moslems formed the connecting link between the West and the East for the importation of numerous articles of luxury and use.”
“For if he (Mohammed) was indeed the illiterate person the Moslems represent him to have been, then it will be hard to escape their inference, that the Koran is, as they assert it to be, a standing miracle.”
() For a fuller treatment of the subject of the higher criticism of the New Testamant see very interesting treatise entitled ‘ Are the Gospels inspired?’ by Maulvi Sadar-ud-Din, B.A., from whose work the foregoing passage has been chiefly reproduced.