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Such a view of Him as is given to us in the words of those who have inwardly appropriated the message they have read in His life and death need not be antagonistic to anything recorded to have been done and said by the historic Christ, while it will possess a value to all who are in quest of religious certainty, additional to that which can be claimed for the picture that is taken wholly from historical material. It is the Christ of faith, present often when the sublime figure of the Gospels could only be discerned through a distorting medium, that has proved a living power in the hearts and lives of men. My meaning will become more apparent if we devote this lecture to some introductory remarks on the general character of Paul's conception of Christ, the genesis of it in his personal experience, its relation to other Christological conceptions in the New Testament that have a similar origin, and also to the dogmatic conception that has been evolved in the course of theological thought; and the result will bring out more clearly the scope of this inquiry, and the course that is to be followed.
In taking a general survey of the Epistles of Paul with a view to gathering up the scattered information they contain of the historical Christ, we cannot help being struck by the poverty of detail that characterises them. When we remember that at the time Paul wrote the generation had not passed away that had seen and heard Jesus, and when we consider that the recollections of Him must have formed the most precious legacy of believers, we might have expected to find frequent allusions in the writings of the apostle to the gracious acts and words of the Lord Jesus ; but in this expectation we are disappointed. Paul frequently
appeals to the Old Testament, but his references to the teachings of his Master are exceedingly scanty, and do not bear on the great principles of religion so much as on matters that are of comparatively trifling import. And while he does give great prominence to the death and resurrection of Christ, and mentions one or two incidents, such as the institution of the Lord's Supper, in connection with these events, there is a quite remarkable silence as to the life and ministry of Christ as a whole, and as to scenes and incidents that might well have been appealed to in illustration of the grace of Jesus and of those features of character in which He is an example to His people. It is possible of course to exaggerate this characteristic of the Epistles ; and good service has been done by writers who have investigated very carefully the various allusions to the gospel history, and have been able to show that a firm historical basis for the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth can be constructed from the writings of Paul.?
In the Epistle to the Galatians there are ten quotations from the 0. T., in Romans about fifty.
2 See e.g. i Cor. vii. 10 (comp. Mark x. 12); ix. 14 (comp. Matt. x. 10). The Lord's words are quoted in these passages in a free way, showing that Paul took them in the spirit rather than in the letter. In i Cor. xi. 23 we are not required to believe that he received the words of the institution direct from the Lord. He wishes to trace the institution back to Christ Himself; but he does not mean that the words that follow were put into his mouth by Christ; they were received by the apostle doubtless through tradition. In 1 Thess. iv. 15 the reference may be to some saying of Christ's that is not contained in the Gospels. Paret, in accounting for the absence in Paul of details of Christ's teaching, urges first, that had he indulged in such details he would thereby have been following the practice of the Pharisaic Scholasticism of his day, which adduced in order quotations from the sayings of the ancient Rabbis; and second, that in the principles and inward spirit of his teaching he was conscious that he was in perfect harmony with the mind of Christ, so that he did not need support or proof from individual quotations (Jahr. f. Deuts. Theol. III. i. p. 45).
3 This has been done by Dr. Matheson in a series of articles in the Expositor (Second Series, vols. i. and ii.) on “ The Historical Christ of St. Paul.” The author has gone over the allusions in the Pauline
Still, the fact remains that there is a surprising dearth of detail, and that a very few sentences would embody all that we are expressly told by the apostle of the historic life of Jesus. How is this to be accounted for ?
The supposition of ignorance cannot, it seems to me, be seriously entertained. Some knowledge of the earthly career of Jesus must have been possessed by Paul, even before his conversion ; we cannot imagine him undergoing so radical a change in the absence of all impressions of Jesus' personality and in ignorance of the truths He was reported to have taught. Impressions of the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth were widespread in Jewish society at the time, and Paul must have shared them. And on that occasion to which he refers in the Epistle to the Galatians, when, after his conversion, he went to Jerusalem on a visit to the apostles, and remained with them fifteen days, he had the opportunity of making himself acquainted with the course and incidents of our Lord's life, and the principles of His teaching. He seems, moreover, to have had access to sources of information about the historical Christ apart from the common tradition, which probably owed its origin to apostolic circles ; for once he quoted a saying of Jesus' that is not recorded in the Gospels (Acts xx. 35). But if we are right in supposing on Paul's part an intimate knowledge of the human life of Jesus, the difficulty seems all the greater of explaining the fact that the image of Him that was most vital to the apostle's faith,
Epistles, both in thought and language, to the earthly life of Jesus, and out of these has constructed a life-portrait of the historical Christ that is identical with that in the Gospels. His conclusion is : "In the light of St. Paul's Epistles the facts recorded in these Gospels are proved beyond a shadow of doubt not merely to belong to the first Christian century, but to be the product of the first Christian age and the objects of implicit belief with the first Christian converts." Dr. Matheson is sometimes fanciful, but his argument on the whole is well put, and is valuable from an apologetic point of view. See Note A on Paul and the Historical Christ.
and that is stamped most unmistakably on his letters, is not made up of historical reminiscences, is not drawn from the tradition of the earthly life and teaching of Jesus, is not taken directly from history, but from a different source altogether.
There is no evidence, it must be borne in mind, that Paul ever met Jesus in the flesh, or that he had personal associations of a human sort with Him such as the other apostles had. We may speculate as to what might have happened if he had come under the personal influence of Jesus in His lifetime. It is hard to think that, bigoted though he was in his Pharisaism, he would have resisted the impression which Jesus made on all noble-hearted men who thirsted, as Paul must ever have done, after a perfection which was above them. Be that as it may, the fact is that he first came to know Jesus and to believe in Him, on the way to Damascus, after He had Risen from the dead and had been Exalted, so that his direct knowledge of Him began where that of the other disciples ended; and the knowledge that dates from that period, and was derived from the impressions of the Saviour thus apprehended as the Lord, who was Spirit, retained to the end the character thus given to it at the first. It is always of the Exalted Jesus Paul speaks, of whom he predicates what he believes to be true regarding Him. The supreme worth of Christ for Paul was one that belonged to Him in His present and invisible heavenly life. In his view, the Christhood of Jesus was not an accomplished fact till He had risen from the dead and had entered on the higher stage of Being and Activity that followed. The historic Jesus alone was no Messiah to Paul. His earthly career, with all that distinguished it, was simply a preparation for, and a prelude to, a fuller life
In i Cor. ix. I Paul asks : “ Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord ?” but this reference must be to the appearing to him of the Risen Christ on his way to Damascus. This constituted him a witness to the Resurrection.
and a vaster progress in the souls of men that was to reveal Him in His true proportions as the Divine Christ. The knowledge of the Risen Lord then was to him the essential thing in the understanding of Christ. And since only they who knew Him as Glorified, knew Him as the Christ of God, understood the real significance of His mission, and shared in the blessings that He had come to give to men, we can see how natural it was for Paul to pass by the memories of Christ's earthly course in his anxiety to set forth the greater glories of the Risen Lord. There is a disposition among popular writers on theological subjects to exalt Christ at the expense of Paul. They dwell on the superiority of the teaching of the former to that of the latter, and limit the acceptance of Paul's authority to those doctrines of his that are found as well in the teachings of his Master. But Christ and Paul were not rival teachers; and, before we criticise the apostle, it is necessary that we should understand him and the precise relation in which he stood to the Lord. He does not come before us as a commentator, or an interpreter of the words of Christ, but as an interpreter of Christ Himself, and of the relation of His death and Risen Life to the religious wants of men. Jesus' own work was primarily not to teach, but to live the Life; not to say something, but to be and do something. And
1 In this connection the infrequency of the name of “Jesus ” alone (the earthly designation), in the Epistles of Paul, may be noted. In Colossians it does not occur at all ; in Galatians, Philippians, i Corinthians, only once ; in i Thessalonians twice ; in Romans three tinies ; in 2 Corinthians twice. The formula “The Lord Jesus Christ," occurs in the undisputed Epistles seventy-three times ; the “Lord Jesus” alone a little over a dozen times ; Kúpros alone, where the reference is to Christ, is found about one hundred and thirty,“ Christ ” alone one hundred and eighty times.
2 Strong (Christian Ethics, Bampton Lecture, 1895) observes that there is “extraordinarily little of positive moral exhortation in the Gospels” (p. 48); and that “the important element in the Gospels is the life historically described rather than the moral precepts which emerged in the course of it” (p. 50).