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PROLEGOMENA It may be said of all that is told of Jesus Christ, that it is written as a lesson for us. That is a consideration which in our controversies is often unduly overlooked ; but it is in keeping with the object of the oldest writers, and the practice of the oldest teachers. In matters of religious tradition it is the peculiarity of much that passes for historical, that the spiritual meaning to be found in it is its most important feature. Where something is maintained as an historical fact, it is more often than not a defence of the article of faith bound up with it. -Harnack.

Just as the mind which comes to the New Testament has grown historical, it has become more historical to the mind, i.e. the mind has been able to discover a more historical character in the literature.-A. M. Fairbairn.

Criticism is part of historical exegesis. Criticism is the effort of exegesis to be historical. The effort can never be more than partially successful. But though there may be many failures, the idea of historical exegesis is valuable, because it gives us the right idea of Scripture, which is the reflection of the presence of the living God in human history.-A. B. Davidson.


This edition of the NT literature has been planned with the single purpose of exhibiting the documents in a special arrangement, which may be called “historical.” The term is slightly ambiguous, but it has been chosen in default of one more suitable. As employed in the title it bears upon the order of the writings, not of the events, and in this way comes to possess a double reference. Primarily it denotes that one after another the books are consistently arranged as they were composed. In this aspect “historical” becomes practically equivalent to “chronological,” when that term is taken in a literary sense; so that a “historical” order amounts to the same thing as the successive and natural order of the writings, when these are considered as literary products. Such a principle has its own value and interest. But from it flows a further inference. Writings thus arranged seriatim reveal themselves more vividly than before as expressions of a contemporary and continuous movement in thought, action, and feeling, for which again they furnish indirectly much evidence. Now in this sense also the “historical” principle has helped to determine the present edition. Here the NT writings are viewed and sorted in their original sequence as a collection of evidence for the history of early Christian reflection and experience. Take any writing as a historical document in this light, and three elements have to be adjusted—(a) the directly retrospective reference of the book to the period of which ostensibly it treats; (b) the semi-retrospective reference, which it implicitly contains, to changes in the social and inward situation of things between that period and the date of the book's composition, along with (c) the contemporary reference of the writing always indirect but often of supreme value—which helps to expose its own surroundings, authorship, and motives. The last - named is the starting - point of historical research. Criticism always requires to have access to this standpoint as a subsidiary base, and it is partly in order to facilitate such access that the present arrangement of the literature has been compiled. “Historical” study in this, no less than in the other, sense of the term has been intended and included in the following pages.

The special advantage which is claimed for this principle of arrangement, is that it preserves one of the vitally significant features in a NT writing, namely, its witness to the period and situation at which it happened to be composed, and into which it is able, when properly interpreted, to throw some rays of light. This correspondence of book and period requires to be emphasised in historical research, particularly as neither the devotional nor the dogmatic use of the NT suggests it, although in reality both rest upon it. The historical spirit has this task placed before it in the field of the NT literature, to examine and determine the successive forms of the Christian consciousness with their change and flow and sequence, so far as these are consecutively preserved by the extant records, in order that through the literature, as Mommsen somewhere remarks upon the evidence for the provincial life of the early Roman Empire, one may “work out by means of the imagination—which is the author of all history as of all poetry—if not a complete picture, at any rate a substitute for it.”

Hence the project of presenting the NT1 literature as far as possible simply in the order of its literary growth, any given book being placed not according to the time of the event which it records, but purely with reference to the date at which that record is known to have been substantially or finally composed. Chronology of documents is the leading concern. Each writing is allowed to lie in its locality, or as close to its original venue as can be ascertained from the extant data. This order of the books in point of composition furnishes, I believe, a fairly good order for not a few purposes of study, and the practical compensations of naturalness and reality must be allowed to outweigh the loss of elegance and symmetry. The idea is to set out the various strata of the literature as these indicate themselves to have been laid down. One after another, as the history proceeds, the records are found to have been deposited in a certain structural order, neither uniform nor—as we handle them usually—undisturbed from their original position, but showing traces of process and accumulation. This is acknowledged upon all hands. Why should it not be expressed ? To some degree the very fragmentariness which occurs in the geological record of organic life is paralleled by gaps and fractures in the extant expression of early Christian thought and feeling; but it is common sense to recognise at any rate what may be described as the stratified character of the latter, admitting, e.g., that the Galatian epistle precedes that to the Colossians, and Colossians again the fourth gospel, just as one places the Cambrian formation below the Devonian, the Devonian under the Cretaceous, and the Pliocene over all three.

1 “New Testament,” of course, is a phrase which rises out of a later ecclesiastical terminology not long before the aye of Tertullian. Strictly speaking, one has no right to use it in a historical discussion of the writings in question, especially as it is associated with ideas of formality and exclusiveness which are foreign to the literature grouped under its title. Still the term may be retained, like "gospel,” for the sake of practical convenience. It must

Some such rearrangement, it has been felt, is among the present desiderata of NT study. The practical necessity for it rests upon two grounds: the general considerations involved in historical research, as well as the special character of the ordinary canonical collection of the writings in remain one of the paradoxes in this subject, that the age commonly named “s the New Testament times" is precisely the age in which no New Testament existed. A similar proviso attaches to the employment of “Mark,” “Matthew," “Luke,” “John,” throughout the following pages. They are used merely as convenient titles for the canonical gospels, and have no reference to the supposed authors or compilers of these books.

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