« AnteriorContinuar »
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 Take any writing as a historical document in this light, and three elements have to be adjusted—(a) the directly retrospective reference of the book to the period of which ostensibly it treats; (b) the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 writingalways 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 age 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 “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.
In common with any other period, the apostolic age calls into play that faculty of sympathetic judgment, comparative analysis, and historical appreciation, by the exercise of which the relevant literary expression and evidence 2 become transformed into an uncoloured window looking out directly upon the actual field and horizon of the time. One primary principle of such research is a careful and clear recognition of the difference which may exist between the literary date of a writing and the period of time to which its contents principally refer. The two certainly reflect upon each other. Not infrequently their positions are determined through a comparison of their relative aspects. But initially and ideally they must be held separate. Any document may be avowedly a witness to previous facts and feelings. Unconsciously and as really, however, it carries now and then traces of its immediate environment; and it is with this latter, secondary, and indirect relationship that historical criticism has to begin its work. In some cases a NT writing is almost exactly contemporaneous with the period of which it treats : the epistle to the Galatians and that to Philippi are ex
i In a recent novel (of all places !) by Thomas Hardy, the idea has been curiously and roughly anticipated. “Jude, will you let me make you a new New Testament, like the one I made for myself at Christminster ?” “Oh yes. How was that made ?” “I altered my old one by cutting up all the epistles and gospels into separate brochures, and rearranging them in chronological order, as written, beginning the book with Romans, following on with the early epistles, and putting the gospels much further on. My University friend, Mr.
-, said it was an excellent idea. I know that reading it afterwards made it twice as interesting as before, and twice as understandable” (Jude the Obscure, p. 187).
2 Heinrici, Theologische Encyklopädie (1893), pp. 51-53. On the use of historical method in relation to documents, see Hatch, Organisation of Early Christian Churches (1882), pp. 2–17; and, for the importance of sourcecriticism in modern research, Professor J. B. Bury's edition of Gibbon, vol. i. pp. xlv, xlvi. “We have lived to see an age of source-criticism," says Preuschen, referring to NT research, “which can only be compared to the morphological and biological investigations of natural science” (ZNW, 1900, p. 3).
cellent instances. Indeed, taking the word in a fair although somewhat loose sense, we may argue that all the epistles, as well as the sources which underlie the synoptic gospels and the Acts, are “contemporary.”i In this respect they compare not unfavourably even with most ancient histories, as will be seen from the appended table, which roughly gives some instances of the relative distance between events and their record in the older Jewish and classical literatures. In fact, judged by ordinary standards, the bulk of the NT
literature affords a fairly direct and clear witness to its period. Still, even here, with so remarkable a measure of historic credibility (though trustworthiness does not necessarily increase as the gap between fact and writing diminishes),
1 In a note to chap. iii. book iv. of his History of the Conquest of Peru, Prescott incidentally defines "contemporary” evidence. Speaking of Herrera, the author of Historia General de las Indias, he points out that this Spaniard's evidence is “little short of that of a contemporary, since it was derived from the correspondence of the Conquerors, and the accounts given him by their own sons.”