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apostolic age did not take the form of what a diary composed by a contemporary and companion of Jesus would have been. Yet at the same time this difference is not necessarily a drawback. For in observing the lineaments of Jesus, the right focus was given not by his death nor even by his departure, but in the subsequent discipline of memory and obedience among his followers. Their increasing distance from the object tendeđ in some degree to correct earlier mistakes of judgment in the direction of exaggeration or of undervaluing; by removing certain obscurities the very lapse of time helped to purify and widen in the Christian community the powers of accurate appreciation. Hence the character and date of our extant gospels. Just as the full significance of the traits and issues bound up in the faith of Jesus could not be grasped by his original disciples until he ceased to move beside them — he left them and they knew him—so it proved practically an impossibility for them, even after their subsequent experience of reflection and reminiscence, to achieve the task of creating a final and adequate record. For that they could merely supply materials. It was enough in this for the disciples to be as their Master. Like Sokrates and Epiktetus, he was no author. He wrote once—and that upon the dust. His real epistles were to be found in the character and experience of his followers (2 Co 33). Nor was it otherwise with them. For other hands than theirs the work of evangelic composition was reserved. It was completed, as perhaps it only could have been, by the epigoni. Even those who had received the tradition of the historical Jesus, katà oápka, from his personal companions, found that his life in subsequent years opened out for them (Jo 1216 1426 1613); it
“Orbed into the perfect star
But this insight of a second generation was not necessarily
inferior at all points. On the contrary, it had some in| valuable advantages. In the strict sense of the word, the
gospels are not contemporary records. Even the earliest of them implies an interval between the facts and their record
-bridged though that interval may be by continuous tradition and surviving witnesses. But so far from this distance being an altogether regrettable defect, it is in some aspects a profit. Until development has reached a certain stage, analysis will always remain inadequate; indeed, it is hardly possible for it to exist. Lapse of time is essential to a real conception of this as of any other history, for it is only after such an interval of experience and reflection that the meaning and bearings of the life in question come out in their true and sure significance. Interpretation is not bound fast to the contemporary standpoint. It requires facts, but it requires them in perspective. The gospets in reality do more for us, written between 65 and 105, than they would have done if composed before 35. "Drawn up after at least one generation had passed away, and written in a world rich with religious passion, speculation, and achievement, these writings give a wider and deeper account of their subject than any that would have been afforded by records composed in the morning of the Christian religion. During the actual lifetime of Jesus, or even immediately after his death, the vital principle of the Life was not to be grasped in its real unity and relationships. Paul understood the secret of Jesus more thoroughly than many who had trodden the roads of Galilee in his company, and listened to his arguments and teaching in the synagogues ; and the writers of the Christian biography were not necessarily placed at any serious disadvantage for their task and mission by the fact that their vision was one not of sight but of insight, not of memory but of sympathy. The living do not give up their secrets with the candour of the dead; one key is always excepted, and a generation passes before we can ensure accuracy."I That canon applies most forcibly to the synoptic gospels, and their subject. Their best
i Lord Acton, The Study of History (1895), p. 4; cp. Caird's Evolution of Religion, vol. 11. pp. 215–228.****
teen If we qualify its second statement, Keim's remark à propos of Matthew (in his view, the earliest gospel) holds true of all the three synoptists : " The interval was too short really to sweep away a historical life, the circles of Judaism and Christianity were too disciplined and sober to replace facts by
purposes were excellently served by this interval of years; in fact, it was essential to their value. Letters are immediate and contemporary; they touch directly the things of the day. Histories can only be written from materials gathered close to the period and subject, but they cannot be written until after the lapse of years, during which the past has come to be seen in its true bearings and intelligently construed. Thus, while the materials for this history consist in part of contemporary evidence, furnished by the quick and eager memory of the church, the handling of them belongs to later days. Working with a sympathetic conscience and a religious aim, this age could best produce due records of the earlier period. They are not primitive, indeed, but they are primary. In their present form the synoptic gospels are not the work Revi comercing of men who were originally disciples of Jesus. The latter, blader ya la with their Jewish habits and Christian hopes, were evidently ill adapted for a task which rightly fell to the activity and insight of a later generation, whose very position of remoteness turned out to be in some respects a vantage-ground for appraising the great Past. Upon the whole the age of Jesus was understood, its essence grasped, its significance reached by means of the refracted light thrown by its issues and expression across the institutions and character of rising Christianity, more adequately than it would have been at a time when its inner nature had only the promise and rudiments of life in which to reveal its inner self. Had it not been for the experience of the church, the character of
dreams, an Eastern memory was naturally too tenacious, and, moreover, witnesses
Cp. Zahn on “the unwritten gospel” (Einl. ii. pp. 158–172). The
2 This general atmosphere of early Christian experience is as important for the criticism of the gospels, as are the idiosyncrasies of the individual evangelists. Even were the personalities of the latter better known than they are, the transmission of Christ's words and deeds, upon which they all depend, is affected in the first instance by the experience, needs, and aims of the apostolic communities rather than by the special cast and colour of particular reporters,
Jesus, we may say, would not have been portrayed with such sympathy and understanding. It needed the four decades between 30 and 70 to render the period before 30 luminous. Facerē cetebranda and celebrare facta are two different forms of human energy. It is not often given to one age to accomplish both, and certainly it was not given to the first three decades of our era.
On the other hand, the possibility of such an interval developing less desirable qualities in the tradition (Iren. III. 2. 2, 12. 12) must also be admitted. For example, the two main requirements for the genesis of what is supposed to have been the mythical process, are (a) the Messianic and miraculous 1 conceptions of the early Christians, and (b) a certain time to allow of these ideas passing 2 into concrete form as incidents and stories (for a list of passages, cp. Stanton, Jewish
| Indeed, the position of the gospels as compositions in and for the apostolic age supplies one of the most valid criteria for distinguishing the words of Jesus from those of his reporters. That the latter have given a trustworthy and accurate impression of his life is outside reasonable doubt. But the large amount of material which authenticates itself as genuine is bound up with materials which are as patently evidence for the mental and moral inferiority of Christ's reporters to himself. Such inferiority occasionally has caused misapprehension in the record, but on the whole it ensured a good report, better perhaps than would have come from men less impressed by their own subordinate ability, and therefore more apt to have given rein to the activity and inventiveness of their imagination. The profile of Jesus is clear in the gospels, chiefly because the writers were content to view it from below.
4 The supernatural excitement of the first century seems to have made the rabbis who lived towards its close extremely shy of miracles as a religious proof (vide Schechter's Studies in Judaism, p. 230 f.).
2 On the quick transformation of fact in Eastern popular tradition, and the bearing of this upon the historicity of the NT, Professor Ramsay has a good statement (SPT, pp. 368–370). The miracles of Thomas à Becket are a suggestive illustration of this rapid growth under different conditions. Some of these miracles, as Freeman has shown, were chronicled at the very moment of their occurrence, several within half a dozen years after his death. For a recent discussion of this quick legendary growth in its relation to historic testimony, especially upon the NT, see Dr. E. A. Abbott's Kernel and Husk, pp. 158–224, and his St. Thomas of Canterbury (1898); also Mackintosh's Natural History of Christian Religion (1894), chaps. xi-xiii, and Réville's, chapter ii. pp. 61-85. More conservative statements upon the miraculous elements in the woof of the gospels are given by Bruce, Miraculous Element in Gospels 2 (1890), pp. 79–153, and Steude, Der Bewers đ. Glaubens (1897), pp. 897., 138 f., 189 f.
and Christian Messiah, pp. 368–370). “The simple historical / structure of the life of Jesus," wrote Strauss,“ was hung with the most varied and suggestive tapestry of devout reflections and fancies, all the ideas entertained by primitive Christianity relative to its lost Master being transformed into facts and woven into the course of his life. The imperceptible growth of a joint creative work of this kind is made possible by oral tradition being the medium of communication.” The modicum of truth which underlies this exaggerated estimate is not visible until the age and conditions of the gospels are understood. It was not a pre-dogmatic age. The Jews brought many dogmas into the Church, including scenic, semi-inaterial, Messianic categories, and the evidence shows us how much activity in primitive Christianity was devoted to fixing the relations between the old dogmas and the new experience (cp. Cone, The Gospel and its Interpretations, 1893, pp. 138–151). The fresh movement triumphed by mastering its inheritance and developing original forms for itself under the limitations of that inheritance. For the nascent religion had to formulate itself. Intuition turned to reflect and justify itself, and by the time that the gospels and even the Pauline letters were composed this tendency had been widely felt in most quarters of Christendom. So with the didactic aim. This again did not necessarily involve any deliberate looseness in reporting facts of history; but it seems to have fostered methods of adapting or creating 1 narrative, according to the
1“Can we conceive of an evangelist stepping out of the actual into the possible, in order that he might have ampler scope for the embodiment of his conception of Jesus than the grudging data of reality supplied, especially in the case of a life of so short duration ? ... Viewing the matter in the abstract, we are not perhaps entitled to negative dogmatically as inadmissible such use of ideal situations for evangelic purposes” (Bruce, Apologetics, pp. 459, 460). The question is one of the subtlest problems in NT criticism, either as an inquiry into the deliberate aims of the evangelists or as an analysis of the unconscious tendencies under which they worked. Upon the intellectual temper in these days and its relation to religious truth, see Dr. Percy Gardner's Exploratio Evangelica, pp. 148–158; also, for the influence of subsequent ideas upon the narration of facts and events, Dr. A. B. Davidson in Exp.6 i. p. 16 f. The Alexandrian temper and spirit probably affected even the earliest synoptic tradition to a larger extent than is commonly suspected or admitted. The