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tells its own tale. On the other hand, the more historical narratives point often this way and that; their standpoint is considerably later than their subject, and sometimes different from it. In the criticism of these books—more especially of the synoptic gospels—the real problem is raised. Each falls to be read in its own character and circumstances; and the consequence is that as books they have all to be placed far down the history, considerably later than the events which they discuss and narrate, subsequent even to the Pauline letters. The best defence of this arrangement is an explanation of its significance for the study either of the literature itself or of the age, along with some account, given in suggestion rather than in detail, of the character and functions which actually belong to the gospels as historical records of the NT.
The conception of Jesus in the gospels represents not only the historical likeness so far as its traits were preserved in the primitive evangelic tradition, but also the religious interests of the age in which and for which these narratives were originally drawn up. It is in the balance and adjustment of these two elements that one real problem of NT criticism will always lie. For while such interests were in part created by the original and impressive personality of Jesus as his spirit continued to work upon receptive natures in the church (“ ut quisque meminerat, et ut cuique cordi erat,” Augustine), some of them (and in particular the Messianic idea) are also to be viewed as later and partially independent reflections; for all their filiation to, or sympathy with, the primitive Christian consciousness, these cannot have exactly corresponded to it in every feature, and therefore may be conjectured to have inevitably coloured in some degree the delineation of its contents. Year by year the spirit of the historical Jesus went on quickening his receptive followers, and shaping in them a life of wider and wider capacities. They remembered him, and they awaited him. Tradition was the main channel through which this force came to be transmitted. Christ's words were a law, his service and reign a life. The disciples, realising more freshly and fully than ever as the years passed, the contents of their original faith in him, turned ultimately back to reflect with increasing solicitude upon the facts of its historic origin. The reflection had to be put into writing. To preserve these recollections was quite a spontaneous form of literature, and it was from such rudimentary sketches and reminiscences that the first gospels germinated by a process whose intermediate stages are no longer articulate. “La plus belle chose du monde est ainsi sortie d'une élaboration obscure et complètement populaire.” Dr. Abbott (Common Tradition of the Synoptic Gospels, p. xi) suggests an interesting parallel in the oral tradition of the Mishna, whose contents have been handed down in a concise and even elliptical form, obscure through its very brevity. If the original evangelic tradition was transmitted by notes compiled in so condensed a fashion, and occasionally requiring some expansion to render them intelligible, a clue might be got to explain the divergent interpretations of the same incident or saying in the synoptists. Some passages, at least, are cleared up in this way (op. cit. pp. xxvii-xxxix). And in any case the Mishna throws light upon two facts-(a) the retentiveness of memory, and (b) the persistence of oral tradition, among the contemporaries of the evangelists. Whatever may have been the steps, however, in the process of this literary evolution whose results lie before us in the synoptic gospels, the point is that its motives and surroundings differed seriously from those which would have belonged to the environment of a similar attempt some thirty or forty years earlier. It stands to reason that the outcome of the moment for their contemporaries. Consequently one must differentiate between the disciples' careful memory for Jesus and the subsidiary interest and impression produced by the early disciples themselves upon one another. That is to say, one cannot fairly argue from the early composition of “logia” to the equally early composition of notes and reminiscences like Ac. 1-5 (16). See below, pp. 413 f., 657 f., and Jülicher's Einl. pp. 351-353.
i This obvious and practical interest prompted the composition of early notes which contained sayings or deeds of the Master. But there is no evidence to prove any similar interest in the primitive apostolic deeds and speeches. These were occasional, not authoritative, and had no special importance at the
apostolic age did not take the form of what a diary composed by a contemporary and companion of Jesus would have been. Yet at the same time this difference is not necessarily a drawback. For in observing the lineaments of Jesus, the right focus was given not by his death nor even by his departure, but in the subsequent discipline of memory and obedience among his followers. Their increasing distance from the object tended in some degree to correct earlier mistakes of judgment in the direction of exaggeration or of undervaluing; by removing certain obscurities the very lapse of time helped to purify and widen in the Christian community the powers of accurate appreciation. Hence the character and date of our extant gospels. Just as the full significance of the traits and issues bound up in the faith of Jesus could not be grasped by his original disciples until he ceased to move beside them — he left them and they knew him—so it proved practically an impossibility for them, even after their subsequent experience of reflection and reminiscence, to achieve the task of creating a final and adequate record. For that they could merely supply materials. It was enough in this for the disciples to be as their Master. Like Sokrates and Epiktetus, he was no author. He wrote once—and that upon the dust. His real epistles were to be found in the character and experience of his followers (2 Co 33). Nor was it otherwise with them. For other hands than theirs the work of evangelic composition was reserved. It was completed, as perhaps it only could have been, by the epigoni. Even those who had received the tradition of the historical Jesus, katà oápka, froin his personal companions, found that his life in subsequent years opened out for them (Jo 1 216 1426 1613); it
“Orbed into the perfect star
But this insight of a second generation was not necessarily inferior at all points. On the contrary, it had some invaluable advantages. In the strict sense of the word, the gospels are not contemporary records. Even the earliest of them implies an interval between the facts and their record
-bridged though that interval may be by continuous tradition and surviving witnesses. But so far from this distance being an altogether regrettable defect, it is in some aspects a profit. Until development has reached a certain stage, analysis will always remain inadequate; indeed, it is hardly possible for it to exist. Lapse of time is essential to a real conception of this as of any other history, for it is only after such an interval of experience and reflection that the meaning and bearings of the life in question come out in their true and sure significance. Interpretation is not bound fast to the contemporary standpoint. It requires facts, but it requires them in perspective. The gospels in reality do more for us, written between 65 and 105, than they would have done if composed before 35. Drawn up after at least one generation had passed away, and written in a world rich with religious passion, speculation, and achievement, these writings give a wider and deeper account of their subject than any that would have been afforded by records composed in the morning of the Christian religion. During the actual lifetime of Jesus, or even immediately after his death, the vital principle of the Life was not to be grasped in its real unity and relationships. Paul understood the secret of Jesus more thoroughly than many who had trodden the roads of Galilee in his company, and listened to his arguments and teaching in the synagogues; and the writers of the Christian biography were not necessarily placed at any serious disadvantage for their task and mission by the fact that their vision was one not of sight but of insight, not of memory but of sympathy. “The living do not give up their secrets with the candour of the dead; one key is always excepted, and a generation passes before we can ensure accuracy."1 That canon applies most forcibly to the synoptic gospels, and their subject. Their best
? Lord Acton, The Study of Ilistory (1895), p. 4; cp. Caird's Evolution of Religion, vol. ii. pp. 215–228.
? If we qualify its second statement, Keim's remark à propos of Matthew (in his view, the earliest gospel) holds true of all the three synoptists : “The interval was too short really to sweep away a historical life, the circles of Judaism and Christianity were too disciplined and sober to replace facts by
purposes were excellently served by this interval of years; in fact, it was essential to their value. Letters are immediate and contemporary; they touch directly the things of the day. Histories can only be written from materials gathered close to the period and subject, but they cannot be written until after the lapse of years, during which the past has come to be seen in its true bearings and intelligently construed. Thus, while the materials for this history consist in part of contemporary evidence, furnished by the quick and eager memory of the church, the handling of them belongs to later days. Working with a sympathetic conscience and a religious aim, this age could best produce due records of the earlier period. They are not primitive, indeed, but they are primary. In their present form the synoptic gospels are not the work of men who were originally disciples of Jesus. The latter, with their Jewish habits and Christian hopes, were evidently ill adapted for a task which rightly fell to the activity and insight of a later generation, whose very position of remoteness turned out to be in some respects a vantage-ground for appraising the great Past. Upon the whole the age of Jesus was understood, its essence grasped, its significance reached by means of the refracted light thrown by its issues and expression across the institutions and character of rising Christianity, more adequately than it would have been at a time when its inner nature had only the promise and rudiments of life in which to reveal its inner self. Had it not been for the experience of the church, the character of
dreams, an Eastern memory was naturally too tenacious, and, moreover, witnesses of the life of Christ still lived” (i. 78). Réville's discussion is in the main quite fair and accurate (i. p. 255 f.).
1 Cp. Zahn on “the unwritten gospel” (Einl. ii. pp. 158–172). The allusion “to this day" (Mt 1112 278 2815) betrays accidentally, as in the case of Deuteronomy (222, ctc.), the lapse of time between the period and its record in literature.
2 This general atmosphere of early Christian experience is as important for the criticism of the gospels as are the idiosyncrasies of the individual evan. gelists. Even were the personalities of the latter better known than they are, the transmission of Christ's words and deeds, upon which they all depend, is affected in the first instance by the experience, needs, and aims of the apostolic communities rather than by the special cast and colour of particular reporters.