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makes for the intelligibility of the NT as a religious authority, just as it is an axiom of the expositor. But our concern here is mainly with its value for presenting the NT as a series of historical documents. The method puts the reader unequivocally at the right stand point, and prompts him to ask the right questions. The inquiry must be not only, “What do these pages mean ?” but— te ouvéoty kai őtty kaì ŐTOS—“ Why was this book written in this particular way, at this particular time? Why now and not earlier ? or not later ? Why precisely in this temper, style, spirit ? Is there any special significance in its method, omissions, date, character ? and if so, what ?” Questions like these have often to be left imperfectly or dubiously answered. They bring more in some quarters than in others, and it is hardly possible to be explicit anywhere on detail after detail. Some writings have a flavour of the soil in them, due either to the connection of their author with his time, or to the contemporary nature of their subjects. Upon occasion a book actually dates itself and illuminates its period. But other writings seem, at least on a first impression of their contents, to be in the air.1 Others, again, are more definite, yet exhibit
which followed the death of Jesus, and that the gospels themselves were not composed until the period 65-105 ; to realise these facts will show-(i.) that the gospels are not purely objective records, no mere chronicles of pure crude fact, or of speeches preserved verbatim ; (ii.) that they were compiled in and for an age when the church required Christ not as a memory so much as a religious standard, and when it reverenced him as an authority for its ideas and usages; (iii) that they reflect current interests and feelings, and are shaped by the experience and for the circumstances of the church ; (iv.) that their conceptions of Christ and Christianity are also moulded to some extent by the activity and expansion of the church between 30 and 60, by its tradition, oral and written, and by its teaching, especially that of Paul. The interval between the death of Jesus and the earliest date at which it can be seriously maintained that a deliberate record of his life existed (c. 65 A.D.), almost exactly corresponds to the interval between the death of Francis of Assisi and the issue of his authoritative biography by Bonaventura, who wrote for practical purposes and under contemporary influence.
1 Allowance must be made for the element of timelessness in some of these early discussions and records. A NT writer was not always keeping his eye on some contemporary phase of thought or action. Also, it is irrelevant to expect in the early Christian literature allusions to events within the Empire which bulk largely in the common history of the age. For example, because an earthquake
conflicting signs of their day and atmosphere, pointing this way and that. Still, although it cannot always be said of a NT writing, ý lalıá oov onlóv de Toleī, this method of historical interrogation, seeking the period as well as the literary product, is richest in aperçus and results, however often it may be baffled. Certainly in the field of NT literature one cannot hope to hear the grass growing. The utmost that can be reasonably expected is to catch and preserve some sense of development upon the whole, and in its more prominent stages. But the method seems to be the one available mode of rendering the history of early Christian thought something better than the mere series of loosely joined enigmas which it too often resembles in current text-books. This literature is not a succession of dark lonely pools; and to take up the books of the NT as isolated pieces of theology or history, to group them on any artificial or a priori principles of criticism, is to court gratuitous error, and often to make such knowledge as may be actually secured, both vain and vague.
One outcome of this method is that a writing has to be taken as a problem before it can be expected to resolve itself into a picture. Primarily, though not exclusively or even chiefly, its function is to give evidence of a stage in the process by which the great movement of thought and experience went forward. How suggestive a clue to the experience and hopes of people at any period is furnished by their literature—the books they produced, the writings they enjoyed, the records on which they were sustained ! These, we may be sure, were no mere jeux d'esprit, isolated or capricious. They give a transcript of their origin and vital function. And what significance, in turn, lies within that experience for the proper understanding of the books in question! That a book like Acts, for example, was probably composed under the Flavian régime, is a fact that speaks volumes. What a satisfactory criticism should attempt to do, is to fairly analyse the meaning of such a fact, to infer from it some of the troubles and triumphs of early Christianity within the Empire, and to detect the precise conditions of internal and external life which prompted the composition of the book there and then. After this historic scrutiny of its antecedents and environment, the book can be used more freely and safely as evidence for the earlier age sketched in its pages. A similar test has to be applied in the case of the other histories in the NT. Each has the signs of its time. Occasionally they are difficult to read, but they are there in greater or less numbers. And if anything is calculated to stir and direct the historical imagination, it is the presentation and study of the relevant documents springing one after another from an underlying life which might otherwise pass undetected or lie misunderstood; just as the charm and fascination of Oriental cities partly consists in the freedom of observing the naïvely open activity and manufacture in street and in bazar. One feels present at the making and shaping of things. It is the engrossing sense of a process, and of a process seen at work. For this the records may prove defective. But although the historic instinct has the duty of supplying carefully the gaps in the rise and course and change of institutions or ideas, a prompted imagination 1
is said to have taken place in the Lycus valley during the seventh decade, it is deduced by many scholars that Colossians and the Apocalypse (2-3) must have been written either just before or long after that catastrophe, as it would have been alluded to in these writings if they had been sent to the district shortly afterwards. The inference is untrue. Early Christian writers were not interested in physical geography, nor ought we, in all fairness, to expect from them information upon the outward details of their age. The man who is absorbed in gazing at the stars grows oblivious to the wind upon his face and the mud and insects at his feet.
1 Similarly the developed state of the Christian churches at that epoch helps to explain the author's omissions as well as his choice of incidents and emphasis upon certain points (e.g. the name “Christian," 1126) which had acquired in subsequent years especial prominence. The varied degrees of historicity in Acts are patent enough, but they do not interfere with the total impression of purpose and function which the book bears upon the mind. It is a narrative, accurate upon the whole, written by one who endeavoured to state the facts honestly and impressively so far as they bore upon his main design, but who had probably to depend upon secondhand, inferior tradition at various points in the course of his story. It is scarcely fair to take passages like 118. 19 23-11 51-11 192-7, 11-20, as characteristic and representative. Like the similar series in Matthew (22-12 828-33 120 1724-27 212-5 2651-53 2751-53, 62-66 2811-15). they rather correspond to the dark lines in the spectrum.
—together with a sense of real if half-hidden order—can readily be disciplined till it becomes the very eye of accurate research. Only, its materials need to be arranged, and arranged (as far as possible) naturally. It is always something to be looking at them unwarped. The NT literature constitutes in itself a series of ranged results and successive reflections. It is that, even when—as in the historical sections—it is infinitely more. The consequence is that when the writings are taken thus as an outcome of life, the scheme of their arrangement affords some aid in the work of correcting one's first impressions into greater exactness : the result being that in this supremely difficult field of early Christianity the mind is able to trace with less and less obscurity the dim processes of thought and half-suppressed transitions that over and again occur between phases apparently broken and writings superficially dissimilar.
This habit of reading oneself into the continuity of a period of history by means of sympathetic and accurate insight is in any case hardly won, nor does it become altogether simple in regard to the NT. There also one has to win at the outset a view of the records and documents in their separate rise and relative positions. One by one they come up on the horizon, coherent and successive. It is imperative that their inclusive life be rendered visible and distinct. But the amount of that distinctness will depend largely upon a previous, comparative study of the literature which contains all that is extant of the life's expression.? The point is to work with the documents, and to work with them in some reliable scheme or sequence. Method, order, system—that is an essential of research. Work done in the atmosphere of order develops insensibly a mental justice. It produces a trained and accurate sense for understanding the details and mastering the broad lines of a subject, as in this way the various departments come to offer less and less difficulty or embarrassment to the imagination and the judgment. This faculty of determining the place and worth of any fact or phase in the historical development, and of ascertaining and arranging what are the really salient points, is a cardinal element in all critical inquiry, and it particularly applies to NT criticism. To be put en route with these early Christian writers is the pressing need for their interpretation. Consequently it is clear gain to have some reliable scheme of the literature kept before the mind until we come to think instinctively along its lines, while the figure of it rises to the historical imagination, unsought and indispensable.
1 “By veracious imagination, I mean the working out in detail of the various steps by which a political or social change was reached, using all extant evidence and supplying deficiencies by careful analogical creation. How triumphant opinions originally spread-how institutions arose—what were the conditions of great inventions, discoveries, or theoretic conceptions; ... all these grand elements of history require the illumination of special imaginative treatment” (George Eliot, Leaves from a Notebook).
? Literary criticism and historical criticism, it is plain, are correlative. In the balance of both lies the only method of attaining anything like reasonable certainty. Exaggerate the latter, and you are liable to read into the writings a priori tendencies which impose on each document a place and purpose in some preconceived scheme. Exaggerate the former, and you are at the mercy of
All this is introductory, but there is truth and fruit in it. No amount of acquaintance with the verbal contents of the literature can avail unless it is capable of finding the various documents in natural contact with the periods and crises from which they actually emerged. Contemporaries understood these writings from their age. So, in a sense, do we. But, on the other hand, whatever knowledge we possess of the age is usually due to our study of the writings. Mainly from their own evidence, partly from the general nonChristian literature of the period, partly from the available inscriptions, this reconstruction has to be contrived. But verbal arguments and the insufficient evidence of style, while the historical situation lacks definiteness and content. The latter is perhaps the bias to be feared in modern criticism. As Gunkel puts it, though for another purpose, die Welt besteht nicht nur aus Menschen, die Bücher schreiben, und die sie abschreiben. Die moderne Kritik hat bisher die Bedeutung der mündlichen Tradition vielfach übersehen und ist allzu geneigt, bei jeder Berührung zweier Schriften auf litterarische Abhängigkeit zu schliessen (Schöpfung und Chaos, p. 58). See Wrede's arguments in GGA (1896), 517 f., and Veber Aufgabe u. Methode der sog. NT Theologie (1898), pp. 25-34, 49.-51 ; also Preuschen's article (ZNW (1900), pp. 1-15), “Idee oder Methode ?” and the essay by Bousset (TR (1899), pp. 1-15).