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pamphlets. The purely objective interest of the life they portray must have been absorbing in the highest degree. Yet even this could not obliterate the incidental reflection of that religious and social background, with its interests, oppositions, changes, developments, and beliefs, during the years 65–105; this the gospels, along with the other Christian documents and the Jewish literature, enable us to fill in with some detail of historical acquaintance. The synoptic narratives carry us into the life lived by Jesus among men. They also carry us into the life men set themselves to live" in Jesus," a life moulded by his sayings and directed by his spirit, yet including ideas and experiences which could not have existed previously to A.D. 30.
The gospels, then, are not relentless automatic photographs. They are pictures, or rather portraits. Adequate justice is not done to them by resting, as we commonly and naturally tend to do, upon them as objective records which represent with substantial accuracy the life and teaching of Jesus. They are that, first and especially. But they are something more.? In all of them lies an element due to the questions and movements of the age in which they rose. It was their function not only to exhibit conceptions of Jesus which were dominant in the primitive communities, but also to present these impressions accurately and vividly in view of the religious and moral needs which pressed upon various circles of Christendom at the time of their composition. From and for the church of the second generation they were compiled. In
i Vide, for example, Holtzmann, Die Synoptischen Evglien. chap. v., “Die s. Evglien, als Geschichtsquellen,” especially S8 26-28, and HC, i. pp. 18, 19; Weiss, NTTh, ii. pp. 161-166, 283-310 ; Bovon, NTT'h, i. pp. 47–198; Harnack, HD, i. SS 3, 4; Gardner, Explor. Evangelica, pp. 478 f., and Bacon, INT, pp. 195 f.
? Especially in the fourth gospel, it is not easy to determine always where the record ends and the interpretation begins, either in regard to the sayings or to the events. For the latter, cp. a significant concession from the conservative side by Dr. Sanday (Contemporary Review, October 1891); also his articles in Erp. iv., v., in reply to Schürer's Vortrag.
* For their use as addresses in the church of the second century, cp. Justin Martyr's Apol. i. 67. On this “historical” element and its religious significance for modern faith, cp. Prof. Mackintosh's Essays tow. New Theology, pp. 384-396, and Herrmann's Verkehr (Eng. tr.), pp. 56-64, 177-183, with his article in ZTEK (1892), pp. 232-273. The topic is often discussed in contemporary Ritschlianism. Also Kähler, Der sogen. historische Jesus u. der geschichtliche, biblische Christus, “ Die Evangelien als biographische Quellen,” pp. 14–127.
this factor of contemporary and practical reference, partly deliberate and partly unconscious, are involved the selection, omission, alteration, and addition of incidents and sayings in the tradition of Christ's life, possibly the creation of certain scenes, the naïve and actual attribution to him of ideas which were ultimately due to his spirit (as the later OT writers anticipate the course of development, and attribute to the pioneers and founders of Israel institutions and ideas which actually represent the later issues of their influence on the nation), the standpoint from which he is viewed in relation to Jew and Gentile, the hopes and experiences by which his life is coloured, and finally, the arrangement of the whole story. In many cases the authors could not help being subservient to the general tone and spirit of their age, or of the particular circle in which they moved. In some cases we can see they did not care to be indifferent. Even the opening words of Mark are a reminder that the evangelic motive in composition was devotional and didactic (to narrate history as “a normal precedent for religious belief and conduct": Zeller), and it was natural—indeed necessary—that the visible and pressing interests of the church should occasionally dominate and modify their minds 2 as they worked upon the materials of the record. They express and they interpret. As will be noticed below, the variety of the synoptic gospels implies even more than this general atmosphere. Either their sources existed in very divergent forms—that is to say, different recensions had come into circulation under the memory and creative spirit of the primitive church to meet varied requirements—or the insight of criticism must be carried further on, past the common atmosphere, to clear up the individual characteristics which are prominent in each gospel. This latter method of research into their idiosyncrasies and predilections holds true, quite apart from questions of their authorship. Unless these extant peculiarities are merely differences which have previously grown up in a varied tradition, and been more or less unconsciously transcribed by an editor from his sources (as, e.g., Weizsäcker inclines to imagine, AA, ii. pp. 32–71), they must be due chiefly to his own initiative and personal intuitions. The motives of this initiative are often hard to discover. But the variations 1 can usually be explained by considerations of the unconscious affinities and conscious prejudices of the writer through whose mind the truth was filtered, the special requirements of the circle for which he was writing, and the character (not to say the amount) of the sources to which he had access, and in the use of which he exercised his own discretion. Several of these prepossessions are quite patent, e.g. Matthew's delight in making Jesus fulfil the Messianic rôle (Baldensperger, Selbstbewusstsein Jesu,2 pp. 46–67), his antagonism to the libertine tendencies of Gentile Christians (723 1341 2412) in Asia Minor, and his general reflection of a more liberal Jewish Christianity, such as that for which Peter furnished the prototype; along with Luke's (a) palpable interest in the Twelve who become “apostles” in his pages, and are less unflinchingly treated than in the preceding gospels (cp. the omission of Mk 1035, Mt 2020, and the insertion of itò tñs Nútrns, Lk 2245 b), his (6) more frequent use of the term “Lord” (kúpios) for Jesus upon earth, and (c) his abridgment of Christ's polemic against contemporary Pharisaism. But explicit or not, the fact of variation in temper and attitude among the synoptists is conspicuous and irrefragable. Instances are too numerous and familiar to require quotation. They can be found in any good edition of the gospels. Still it is of essential importance to keep the general principle steadily in mind as one reads the historical narratives, so as to understand by dint of legitimate inference the bent and motive of the author. Each gospel has a cachet of its own, as it gives not a mere reproduction of external objects and past events, but the writer's attitude to these and his impressions of them. Each is looking back into the previous history. But the way in which each looks on things necessarily qualifies the character of the narrative; and the amount of qualification that is due to this refraction, whether serious or insignificant, is far from being uniform. The relationship between each writer and the subject varied with the personal endowment and environment of the former. Their common business was to exhibit the actual life of Jesus impressively, to stir the inward vision, to raise the mind, to discipline the conscience; yet none could carry through the task without allowing some characteristic infusion of personal hopes, convictions, and experiences to affect the form and even the contents of the narrative (cp. Holtzmann, NTT, i. pp. 28–110, 399–453, and Brandt's too radical discussion, Die evangelische Geschichte u. der Ursprung des Christenthums, 1893, pp. 512-550; also M. Arnold's Literature and Dogma, chaps. v., vi. ; Toy, Christianity and Judaism, chaps. ii., iii. ; and Cone, Gospel Criticism, 1891, pp. 291-336). A partial illustration of the same process can be found in Paradise Lost. Milton's epic is no political pamphlet, nor is it a religious treatise. Yet it is impossible to miss in its dialogues and descriptions either the theology of current Puritanism with its controversies and abstractions, or the republican tendencies by which the author's conceptions of government were shaped, or finally his instinctive distrust for the intellectual passion wakened by the Renaissance. These elements could not be kept out. They do not form a cardinal feature of the poem, but they cannot be neglected by anyone who wishes to frame an estimate either of the epic or of its age.
1 Renan (Les Evangiles, p. 441): Ecrire l'histoire ad narrandum, non ad probandum, est un fait de curiosité désintéressée, dont il n'y a pas d'exemple aux époches créatrices de la foi. Cp. the important paragraphs in von Soden's essay, “ Das Interesse des a post. Zeitalters an der evang. Geschichte ” (ThA, pp. 135-165), and Reischle’s article, ZTH K (1897), pp. 171-264.
2 The failure to make tangible allowance for this reflex influence exerted upon the gospels by the age of their composition, is one flaw in Keim's great study of Jesus. No attempt to understand the age of Jesus or the age of the apostles will prosper if it uses the gospels as absolutely achromatic documents. 1 Every historian works by a similar process of sifting and selection, which is regulated partly by his own point of view, partly by the materials which he has at his command. He chooses certain definite aspects, brings the central elements into prominence, and keeps the ancillary in due subordination. For a brilliant and sane discussion, in English, chiefly of the Lucan variations and characteristics, cp. Professor Bruce's Kingdom of God (5th ed. 1893), espec. pp. 1-37 ; Carpenter's First Three Gospels (2nd ed. 1894), a careful, lucid sketch, written mainly from the stand point of Pfleiderer's Urchristenthum, covers a wider field. Havet's paragraphs are dominated as usual by an ultra-radical scepticism (Le Christianisme et ses Origines, iv. pp. 225-296), and add little or nothing to the classical discussion in Weizsäcker's Untersuchungen über die crangelische Geschichte (1891), erster Theil. In a recent work, Horae Synopticae (1899), the Rev. Sir John C. Hawkins, Bart., has made a candid and original attempt on scientific lines to exhibit statistically the linguistic evidence of the synoptic gospels, with its characteristics and implicates; and Wernle's Synoptische Frage (1899), pp. 1-108, is a reliable summary of the whole case.
A history of the NT, then, would be simply unintelligible if it were severed from any conception of the tendencies and habits existing in that Christian society of which the NT literature is at once an outcome and a reflection. To become legible these books need the context of the religious situation. The significance and connection of the writings cannot be fully grasped until these are approached with some adequate idea of the whole Christian movement during the first and second centuries. From the historical standpoint, Luther's touchstone for an apostolic writing, namely, “Does it preach and urge Christ ?” hits off more accurately than many pseudo-literary standards the essential characteristics of the literature; for that literature sprang from the memory and devotion of a Christian consciousness which was at once the product and the partial expression of the self-consciousness of Jesus. This is true of gospels and epistles alike. When those early Christians wrote of themselves and to themselves, they reflected him. When they reported and pictured him, they revealed their inner selves in hints and stray suggestions. The epistles presuppose this personal relation and religious motive, rising as a rule out of previous intercourse between writer and readers, and forming the substitute for that (2 Th 22 314; 2 Jn 12, Jud 3). But a similar characteristic is not absent even from the historical narratives, which have their affinities with the epistles
It is hardly correct to define the post. Pauline epistle as the literary form of an evangelical writing in which an unknown writer came into relations with an unknown public comprising practically the whole of Christendom. It is certainly nearer a religious treatise than a letter ; but the epistles preserved in Apoc. 2-3, to say nothing of Heb 137-end and 2-3 John, demand a closer definition. On the epistolary form of the NT letters, see F. Zimmer's careful analysis, 2KWL (1886), 443-453, and Deissmann, EBi, ii. 1323–1329.