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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
i 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 25-11 51-11 192-7. 11-20, as characteristic and representative. Like the similar series in Matthew (22-12 328-33 1240 1724-27 212-5 2651-53 2751-53. 62-66 2811-15). they rather correspond to the dark lines in the spectrum.
and change of institutions or ideas, a prompted imagination 1
—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 imaginat. ive 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 Ueber 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).
the two latter methods presuppose the first; and the first involves this need and practice of accurate chronological handling. To ascertain the relative order of the NT writings in general, to take them up one by one as they were given to the early Christian communities, to approach a document as it lies, warm and alive, within its special period, to let each successively make its characteristic and precise impression upon the mind, to follow the varied courses, thus lighted up, of the early Christian reflection as it worked upon the facts of the evangelic consciousness, to trace the varied implicates of the Christian spirit in their evolution—this, a mental discipline to start with, is an invaluable apprenticeship for acquiring some keener insight not merely into the individual contributions and traits of special writers and writings, but also into the sweep and scope of what is “ beyond question the most momentous fact in history, the effect produced by the teaching of Jesus and his disciples,” 2 so far as that effect falls within the scope of the NT literature.
Such a rearrangement of the literature as that offered in this volume is therefore intended to serve as a sort of map. With its aid the reader will be enabled more successfully to make his way into and throughout the varied phases of the apostolic age in natural succession, as well as to gain a standpoint for any further surveys of its theology or organisation. A distinct effort is needed if the modern mind is to realise the situation of any NT document. There is always work to be done in the way of rendering explicit circumstances and conditions which are vitally important for the interpretation
1 One must demur, however, to descriptions of the NT literature as “the documents formally put before the world by a society-as adequate accounts of its cwn origin, and tests of its future teaching and practice” (Lock, Exegesis of the NT, p. 10), or of an individual book like Acts as “an authorised account of the deeds of apostles" (Robinson, EBi, i. 675). This is the ecclesiastical or canonical standpoint, not the historical. It reflects the mind not so much of the original writers of the NT literature as of the later generations who used that literature for the wider purposes of the catholic church.
2 Goldwin Smith. On the richness of present NT research in the matter of historical points of view, see Harnack's remarks, Contemp. Rev. (1886), pp. 221-225.
of a writing, and yet are mostly taken for granted in its pages. To bring these assumed, sub-conscious facts together is a task awaiting the historical imagination at almost every step, part of its province including the mastery of those facts and relationships which are implied in the structure and connection of a given record, and with which one must sedulously learn to feel at home. A subsidiary and provisional aid to this can be furnished often by a study of the documents in question. History, as Niebuhr used to declare, has two methods for supplying the deficiencies of her sources; she has criticism and the divining faculty. Plainly, both must work together. Indeed, in exegesis and interpretation, criticism constantly depends upon the faculty of intuition. But, on the other hand, the divining power of the historical imagination cannot see to contribute its final and special gift of reconstruction until criticism has attempted as far as possible to discharge its preliminary task and arrange the materials in some approximately reliable scheme. Appreciation of past ages is frequently hindered by nothing more serious than some trifling amount of obscurity which has been allowed to remain secreted in the traditional presentment of the materials for modern study. An equally slight alteration of position will occasionally put the observer in the way of considerable results. That is the hope and aim of the present edition with regard to the NT. Here, no less than elsewhere, the very sequence of writings is at times full of significance ; any literary method which promotes the comparative study and use of these writings has a value of its own for the larger work of historical and religious appreciation, in forcing attention to some aspects and relations of the NT which lie in shadow, as well as in bringing the mind closer to the original design and actual shape of the literature in question. Within the NT, of all places, one cannot afford to dispense with any plain mechanical assistance to the imaginative faculty, as it
1“ If the critical education of the historian suffice, he can lay bare, under every detail of architecture, every stroke in a picture, every phrase in a writing, the special sensation whence detail, stroke, or phrase had issue; he is present at the drama which was enacted in the soul of artist or writer ; the choice of a