Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

tent. The literature represents, as it were, a further and supplementary phase of that social vitality in which the few were called upon to supply instruction and personal stimulus for the rest. In this respect the NT literature attaches itself to the prophetic sections of the Hebrew Canon. So far as the character and motives of the writings are concerned, the religious continuity is genuine. Old and new alike specify a life, with its complex of relationships and responsibilities, in which recourse to authorship occurs neither along the line of a merely literary impulse, nor among the initial and primary conditions of the religious movement. Consequently there is significance even in the gaps which precede and divide the groups of writings. They excite legitimate conjecture and surmise. They indicate the presence of tendencies and forces not yet articulate, apart from which the subsequent literature is inexplicable. The epistles, and more especially the gospels, are results. Like the silence of the persons now and then in the dramas of Aeschylus, the very absence of historical expression (for example, in the first forty years of the Christian religion) is pregnant with meaning. Little is articulate, yet much is being done. A full and fair estimate of this unrecorded period conduces greatly to the appreciation of the subsequent writings, which at once presuppose it and throw back light upon it; they become intelligible when they are viewed as the outcome of a process and progress which is suggested by the very appearance of their origin.

The synoptic gospels, then, are the resultant of several factors. They represent not merely the contemporary feeling and opinion actually abroad within Christian circles between 70 and 100, but also the processes of reflection, the dominant interests and activities of faith, the mental and devotional attitude to Jesus, which must have been current through the memory and teaching of the early Christians during the years that intervened between 30 and 70. And this, not exclusively in the primitive Jerusalem or Palestinian circles. The claims of realism and the historical Jesus were evidently felt even by some who were in sympathy with the .main positions of Paulinism.1 It is natural to regard Paul " in his passion for ideas and apparent indifference to biographic detail, as an exception, and to think of the majority of his followers as men who, while sympathising with his universalism, shared in no small measure the common Jewish realism" (Bruce, ExGT, i. pp. 13-15). This is a valid and attractive supposition, though it lacks definite evidence. It is doubtless a shrewd surmise, like the similar suggestion of Weizsiicker, that Paul had collaborateurs, Barnabas, Apollos, and others, whose independent but allied work in the sphere of dogma helped the later fusion of Jewish-Christian and Gentile tendencies. Certainly there is significance at least in the tradition which attributes the earliest narrative of the historical Jesus to one (Mark) who was a coadjutor and adherent of Paul, and the third gospel to his companion and physician Luke.2 But whatever may have been the extent of this retrospective interest, its surviving products are to be viewed as authorities for the apostolic age; they give evidence of a widespread instinct which had arisen for the historical Jesus, and also of the

1 On the "historical Christ" of Paul, see especially Dr. Matheson's suggestive papers, Exp.2 i., pp. 43 f., 125 f., 264 f., 352 f., 431 f. ; ii., pp. 27 f., 137 f., 287 f., 357 f. ; Schmoller's essay, SK (1894), pp. 656-705, and the monograph by Roos (Die Briefe d. Aposteh Paul, und die Iiedcn Jem, 1887). It is unfortunate that a passage like Eph 420"21 ("as the truth is in Jesus") cannot be safely used as evidence for Paul's ideas, since it would in that case prove that he felt the need of emphasising the decisive authority of the historical Jesus. Otherwise, if sub-Pauline, it corroborates the far from imaginary danger prevalent in spite of the synoptic tradition, by which Jesus came to be evaporated into a metaphysical and shadowy abstraction (2 Jn 7,1 Jn 42>3, etc). Hence the need of historical records. It is true that much later again Doketisni and historical composition became allies (e.g. the gospel of Peter), but there can be little doubt that this subsequent disposition to record and yet undervalue the humanity of the actual Christ was kin to the earlier tendency which found little gain in preserving any connection with the historical base of Christianity.

2 Modern estimates of Luke as an author vary from eulogy to depreciatory criticism. A rather sensible and moderate view of his learning is that of Blass: Mutatis mutandis fere de eo dici poterit quod de Sophocle dixit Ion Chius: Ta iroXiri/ca (in rebus ecclesiae) offre oo(f>6s aire ^ocr^pios tp>, dXX' lis tv nt efs w Xp-qaTur 'ABrpmlwr (Christianorum) . . . omnino, cum ad minora minimaque descenderis, evanescit ars, apparet saepe incuria; nam perpolitus scriptor neque est Lucas neque esse voluit. The last three words, however, are somewhat gratuitous. Abbott's appreciation of the gospel is admirable (EBU ii. 1789-1794).

chief tendencies which that instinct was obliged to satisfy or to correct. The gospels were not composed in the interstellar spaces. They are derivative and expressive. They betray, on page after page, their age and situation in a breathing world of human facts and feelings. In the phrase of the old Jewish theosophy, the upper Light never comes down unclothed; and even the gospels, which transmit the light of lights, are clothed upon.1 In their pages the period of Jesus and the period of the growing church meet:2 to unravel the one it is necessary to use inferences drawn from the other. It is for reasons and objects like these that the gospels have been placed in this edition strictly in accordance with the principle of their literary growth. Such general considerations as have been adduced or remain to be noticed, justify, it is thought, the printing of these evangelic records after the Pauline epistles, in spite of the fact that the latter presuppose the main events and ideas which find expression in the former.

Admittedly there is a slight embarrassment in reaching and maintaining this attitude. A set of (evangelic) facts, A, is followed in the order of time by a set (apostolic), B; but the literary record (a) of A may be composed subsequently to

A

that (/8) of B. Hence the series should come to be B /S,

a

1 See Martineau's chapter, "The Veil Taken Away," Seat of AulJiority, pp. 573-601. Also Dr. Abbott's fine but sometimes strained treatment, EBi. ii. 1 Gospels.'

* The work of distinguishing these is the great problem set to the historical sense in dealing with the gospels. Martineau (Seat of Authority, p. 577) lays down three canons to be applied by competent historical feeling: (1) "Whenever, during or before the ministry of Jesus, any person in the narrative is made to speak in language, or refer to events, which had their origin at a later date, the report is incredible as an anachronism." (2) "Miraculous events cannot be regarded as adequately attested, in presence of natural causes accounting for belief in their occurrence." (8) "Acts and words ascribed to Jesus which plainly transcend the moral level of the narrators authenticate themselves as his; while such as are out of character with his spirit, but congruous with theirs, must be referred to inaccurate tradition." It is obvious, however, that the whole value of these rules depends upon their definition and application. They will always be taken according to the presuppositions of each critic, and are apt to be used in a rather subjective fashion. At the same time, their general standpoint is of course unimpeachable.

if the strict chronological order of documents is to be preserved, and the fact disengaged from its record. The apparent confusion thus occasioned has simply to be reckoned with; its adjustment is part of the mental discipline required as a preliminary to historical study. In regard to the NT where a = the gospels, and 0 (roughly) = the epistles of Paul, the church rightly and naturally has reverted to the scheme

A a

- -, practically ignoring the documents upon the side of

their literary birth. The difficulty thus occasioned and increased by the canon will be noticed later on. Meanwhile it is enough to remark that historical study cannot dispense

A with the scheme B /3. Its earnest endeavour at the outset

a is to consider each writing, especially if it be directly historical, in the atmosphere of its own age, and as a possible, though never a very minute, clue to contemporary life. That determined, it can venture to proceed back and use the book as a guide to previous events. A writing is never intelligible unless we read it as close as possible to the situation at which it was composed. Then the significance of its contents appears—the omissions which at first surprise us, the selection of incidents, the grouping of sayings, the stress put upon this crisis and that, the pragmatism, the general idealisation. Hence the value of this historical method in two directions. To ascertain the contemporary reference is of service not merely for its own sake, for the light thus gained in the task of deciphering the conditions of the age, but also for the sake of the retrospective reference. Dependence can be placed upon the historicity of a writing only after one has thoroughly weighed and allowed for the amount of later tendency which may have affected it. A classic instance of the former gain is to be seen (Weizsacker, AA. ii. pp. 32-69, etc.; Hausrath, ii. 147-156; Ecville, ii. p. 149 f., etc.) in the partial reconstruction of the earlier apostolic age, 30—70 AD., out of the materials presented in the synoptic gospels. The latter gain is most obvious, perhaps, in the case of the fourth gospel, which contains a reflection of traits and tones in the stir and drift of Asiatic Christianity towards the close of the first century,1 under the pressure of Hellenistic speculation and of Judaistic controversy. The book is intelligible as a reproduction of the primitive tradition only when it is taken upon the basis of a careful estimate of that reflection. Put in a diagram, the result comes out thus:—

[graphic]

This environment of the fourth gospel embraces points like these: the controversy of Christianity with Judaism upon the OT as a religious codex and creed, accentuated between 70 and 150 (1033-36, etc.); the general rivalry2 with Judaism upon the score of authority and prestige; the relation of Christianity to John the baptizer and his followers (l9f- 322f-, etc.)—a practical problem3 which had already agitated the church (e.g. Ac 191-10)—the relation of Christianity to the Samaritans (Lk, Ac, Jo 4), with their tradition and religious

1 Cp. Westcott, Gospel of St. John, Introd. pp. xxxv-xl; Wrede, Uebcr Aufgabe u. Method* der sog. NTTh (1898), pp. 33-41, 73-76; Weizsiicker, Uniersuchungen* (1891), erster Theil, AA, ii. pp. 206-236; Havet, Le Chrislianismc ct scs oriijincs (1884), iv. p. 345 f.; Bruckner, Die vier Evantjelicn nuch dem gegenwdrtigen Stamle dcr Evglien.-Kritik (1887); and most recently Holtzmann, NTTh, ii. pp. 351-389, besides the full discussions in Thoma, Die Genesis des Johannes-Emngeliums (1882), pp. 771-781; Wendt, Das Johannes-Evanrjclium (1900), pp. 216-228; Wernle, ZNW (1900), pp. 52-64 ; and Cone, The Gospel and its Interpretations, pp. 267-317.

5 The deftness with which the Jewish opponents of Jesus are made to further his dialectic triumph (especially in chaps, v.-ix.) reflects the contemporary polemic of the author and his age. It has been rightly compared to the similar phenomenon in the Sokratic dialogues of Plato, where "the opponents of Socrates are usually lay figures skilfully arranged as a foil to set forth the method and the teaching of the great philosopher" (Dr. Gardner, Explor. Erang. p. 165). Cp. Bacon, INT, pp. 257 f., on the speeches as compositions.

3 A point worked out with conspicuous ability, though not without some exaggeration (Holtzmann, ThLz (1899), 202 f.), by Baldensperger in his Prolog des vierten Evglms. Scin poUmisch-apologetischc Zirec/c (1897).

« AnteriorContinuar »