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gathered from the conflicting special investigations of scholarship only by some such self-denying ordinance of abstinence from minutiae. Fortunately, for most practical purposes it is not necessary to go further into details. As a rule the relative date of a writing is sufficient, i.e. its place in the general scheme before or after certain other books, previous or subsequent to some fixed point in history. More than this often cannot and need not be demanded. In NT criticism, as emphatically as elsewhere, the Aristotelian canon holds : Be content with attaining so much precision and accuracy as the nature of the subject in hand allows. Generally, with the exception to which I have referred, it is a matter of small moment to know the exact month or even year in which a writing was composed, and the mere passion for a date, as for a theological label to a writing, is easily carried over the bounds of healthy scholarship. Beyond à certain point, absorption in such minutiae becomes a distraction. It is not impossible—witness certain lines of hypercriticism—to neglect the cedar of Lebanon through the amount of wasteful attention paid to the hyssop on the wall. The balance needs to be more correctly struck in many cases. In fact the purposes of interpretation are excellently served, as a rule, by assigning to the various writings of the NT and their dates a range which refuses to be unduly precise, and is content for the most part with ascertaining their relative order. One might almost declare with Dr. Bosanquet, that vocabulary and syntax can be felt as one passes, e.g., from the older narratives of Sam-Kings to Deutero-Isaiah and the memoirs of Ezra-Nehemiah ; similarly, to the criticism of writings like Ecclesiastes, Daniel, and Esther, the linguistic evidence of Aramaisms proves at many points invaluable. Unfortunately this aid of language fails in the criticism of the NT almost entirely. Differences can be traced between the Greek of one writing and another, but the scale of the literature is too confined and the time too brief for such idiosyncrasies to afford reliable data towards determining the chronology of the writings. Hellenistic Greek, as employed in the NT, does not fall into periods. Its varied elements help to differentiate one group of writings from another ; but Latin. isms or Hebraisms seldom if ever yield any sure materials for fixing or even verifying the relative position of this book and that. The principle upon which stylistic features can be safely used as a criterion for the date or grouping of a writer's various compositions, are stated carefully by Zeller, Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie, neue Folge, iv. 1. pp. 1-12, “Sprachstatistisches."
occasionally it is something at least “to know when they were not written.” 1
Just as these limitations do not interfere with the genuine advantage and aim of a chronological order, neither is that order disqualified by the fact that the grounds upon which it rests are partially tentative. To some extent, it is true, criticism has cleared the area of debate and sensibly reduced the more extravagant theories. There are signs that the trouble of the documents at least is abating. But this does not apply to every point or side of the question. To write with anything like justice and accuracy upon the criticism of the NT, even in regard to the dates of its literature, one is often obliged to employ a staccato and chilling repetition 2 of “perhaps ” and “probably ”; while to take any line of one's own means opposition here and there to a more or less
weighty body of critics. Several of the writings still abide Four question. Indeed, in almost every department of research
upon the beliefs and customs of the early Christian age, gaps are discovered, points between which no connection is easily visible, intermediate stages that must have once existed and cannot now be reconstructed with sureness, blanks in the
course and sweep of life which only the historical imagination L can be relied on to fill up. All this affects the arrangement of the literature. Such employment of surmise and hypothesis puts the literary problems on conjectural ground; it forbids robust and unambiguous statements, and frequently makes any approach to unanimity impossible. Still, this is a risk that has to be taken and will have to be taken with any arrangement and at any time. Besides, it must be added, recent movements in NT criticism have made such an attempt at a chronological order much more feasible than has hitherto been the case, by clearing up one or two difficulties to the verge of actual probability. The days are past when the beginning of knowledge in many quarters seems to have been contempt for Eusebius and his authorities. Tradition is being wonderfully, though far from entirely, rehabilitated, and that implies a wider province of common agreement 1 upon the individual and relative positions of the NT writings. This is true even when one hesitates to accept in toto Harnack's seductive and exuberant vindication of tradition, or the particular theories which he applies to the NT writings. There can be no doubt that by this critical tendency, of which his famous
1“How to read the New Testament,” Essays and Addresses (1891), p. 159. Cp. Rainy, The Bible and Criticism, pp. 14-23. Some of the more recent movements in criticism are occasionally described as a “retreat from the second century” ; but this phrase needs considerable qualification, and certainly does not support the vague impression which seems to prevail in some circles, that to assign a document to the second century is to stamp it as second-rate. Such an idea is an unhistorical misapprehension. No evidence exists to prove that about the year 100 A.D. a night of unclean and inferior things descended upon early Christianity, when the “good things of the day” began “to droop and drowse.”
2 Though this is often practised to quite a needless extent. It is useless to follow the first part of Cicero's well-known maxim for the historian-ne quid falsi dicere audeat-without adding courage to caution and proceeding—deinde ne quid veri non audeat. Much more is definite in NT criticism than is commonly allowed, and the affectation of reticence and hesitation is due as often to intellectual looseness or incapacity, as to a proper desire to be scrupulously fair and accurate in judgment.
From the standpoint of an intelligent and dispassionate outsider, the late Mr. G. J. Romanes was on the whole justified in claiming that the outcome of the great battle upon the Christian texts had been, “impartially considered, a signal victory for Christianity.” As he pointed out,“ prior to the new (biblical] science, there was really no rational basis in thoughtful minds either for the date of any one of the NT books, or, consequently, for the historical truth of any one of the events narrated in them. But now all this kind of scepticism has been rendered obsolete” (Thoughts on Religion (1895), pp. 155, 156). At the same time, as the Notes and Appendix will show, there are several points at which the need is to follow up tracks of fresh inquiry rather than to halt in any final conclusions.
2 In the Vorrede to his “Chronologie” (1897). It is unnecessary to quote the well-known sentences, particularly as their foundation has been rather shaken by the subsequent discovery of compositions like the Coptic “ Acts of Paul” (cp. Dr. Schmidt, the editor, in ThLz (1898), 316, and Harnack himself, ibid. (1897), 629). That a work of this kind should be accepted by subapostolic tradition does not tend to increase one's confidence in that tradition, and certainly warrants any cautious investigator in refusing to accept statements simply because they are current in the church by the time of Irenaeus. Tradition, as an accurate channel for the transmission of genuinely canonical literature, does not deserve the blank certificate which Harnack seems or seemed inclined to award it. Further, the standpoint of his scheme with regard to the NT literature cannot be said to be exactly representative, nor does it afford any adequate grounds for the belief that it implies a conservative reaction in NT criticism.
volume is one of the most outspoken representatives, the outlines of the NT literary order have been brought into greater distinctness, and now approximate more nearly to. finality. The limits within which doubt and guess are tenable have been sensibly contracted; and in this way an attempt like the present cannot be pronounced either premature or illegitimate, although several of its problems still remain complex and unmapped. Of the individual documents, the majority bear so plainly the date and character of their origin, that there is little risk of an uncertain answer to the question,“ Whose image and superscription is this?” It is only the minority that resemble defaced coins upon which the marks of place and time either have turned illegible or else have never been cut at all. In the order adopted in the present edition, were Ephesians and 1 Peter put (say) ten or twenty years later, Acts brought down nearer to the opening of the second century than I have been able at present to place it, and Matthew (Luke ?) similarly thrown back, these slight changes would be almost sufficient to represent an arrangement of the NT literature upon which a large body of liberal criticism at the present day is agreed with practical unanimity.
The prospects of such a healthy state of matters in NT criticism depend, however, upon the straightforward rejection of any eirenicon like that which is occasionally offered in this country by some influential writers (e.g. Gore, Lux Mundi,10 mli! pp. xvii f., xxix f., 240 f., 258 f., etc.; and Driver, Introd. Lit. OT,2 p. xvii f.), who, conceding the rights of criticism within the province of the OT, decline to admit the legitimacy of similar historical research in the NT literature, upon the ground either that the latter collection possesses certain qualities of finality and authority which exempt it from being judged by the canons of ordinary treatment, or that it was “ produced under very different historical conditions.” This rôle of the theological Canute is due to excellent motives ; but it must be pronounced not merely indefensible but injurious to the best interests of faith and truth. The compromise rests on a misapprehension, and is as unnecessary as
it is illegitimate. It has no basis in the facts which come under discussion. The condition of early Christianity in the first and second centuries, it is true, was such as to render the limits within which tradition could be modified considerably less than in the older Semitic literature. In the latter we often deal with centuries where in the former the unit is a decade. Besides, the contexture and vitality of the early Christian communities naturally made testimony upon the whole less ambiguous and remote than in the long spaces of Hebrew development. But the comparative brevity of this period and its internal excellence do not imply that its record must ipso facto be strictly historical, nor do they absolutely preclude the activity of such influences as elsewhere modify, develop, and transmute existing traditions under recognised tendencies of human life. As any tyro in NT criticism is aware, during the period between 30 and 130 A.D. such influences were particularly keen, owing to the mental atmosphere of the time and the religious ferment excited by the new faith. Between the quality of the testimony in the OT and that of the NT the difference is patent and material; still it
is a difference not of kind but of degree. The principles v and standards of historical proof are the same, whatever
literature be the subject of inquiry, although the scale of application naturally varies in proportion to the character of the materials. Early Christianity does not indeed require the same elaborateness or methods of literary science as are demanded by the condition in which the OT documents have reached the modern scholar; but unless the character of the first and second centuries A.D. be estimated by historical methods, in as thorough and free a spirit as the age of Samuel or Isaiah, it will continue to remain a province for arbitrary guess-work, and to present the average reader with a series of writings whose sense and connection lie at the
i Hort, as usual, occupies the correct standpoint (Hulsean Lectures, 1894, pp. 175, 176): “No line is possible between what has come to men, and their interpretation of what has come to them. ... The words and facts of gospel history and of apostolic history, as historical and literary phenomena, demand to be subjected to historical and literary criticism."