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I am not sorry, however, to have this opportunity of removing a misapprehension on the part of many openminded correspondents, who feel not unjustified scruples at advancing to a critical position upon the NT which they are accustomed to associate, or to hear associated, with indifference, if not antagonism, to what may be called "the supernatural." It may serve to reassure them in some degree if one calls attention once more to the precise tendency and the exact scope of any volume like the present. It is strictly limited in range. It is provisional in many parts, and (as I have frequently urged) preliminary. It deals primarily with the literary sources and historical setting of the NT as a religious growth, and although the basal ideas and conceptions of the faith inevitably enter the discussion here and there, my volume is not in any sense an attempt to deal with them. Let it be borne in mind also, that all who employ similar methods of criticism are by no means to be credited with identical religious presuppositions (surely OT criticism offers sufficient proof of that!), and that a writer must not be supposed to covertly question or to ignore whatever is omitted from his pages, either through lack of space or through restriction of scope. For example, I conceive it would be alike unscientific and dishonest if discussions like those in this edition were conducted on the a priori assumption that the miraculous is impossible. Nor is it otherwise with the deity of Christ, the evangelical authority inherent in God's word for faith and Christian experience, and the abiding value of the Community of believers. These and other presuppositions of the NT lie behind this and any other critical investigation into that literature which happens to be conducted by one who lives inside a Christian communion; and while nothing in the following pages is consciously untrue to the principles of thorough historical research, as these must be vigorously applied to the early Christian records, there is not anything, so far as the present writer is aware, which will be found ultimately irreconcilable with that literature when viewed, in its directly religious aspect, as the witness to a gospel and the outcome of a revelation. Doubtless this assertion may
be challenged. The critical position adopted by writers who share the standpoint of this volume is not absolutely identical with what has been hitherto considered either safe or needful by dominant theologies within this country. But two considerations may be adduced. In the first place, it represents in general a coherent, sane, and unprejudiced attitude to the NT, which in the present bearings of faith continues to be found both tenable and healthy by a great and growing number of scholars in all countries; and (what is more important) it indicates—so far as the present writer at any rate is concerned—a critical basis upon which the essentials of the evangelic faith can be held, and held triumphantly as well as reasonably, in face of the severest literary investigation prosecuted by historical acumen. Some think this a dangerous situation. To some it may seem insincere. Others, again, hold it a beautiful and temporary delusion. But it is at least the honest conviction of those most immediately concerned, and possibly they are not altogether the worst judges of what is involved and gained by a position which is never adopted by a serious thinker without long pains and care, or propounded without a due sense of responsibility. In the second place, the whole business of liberal criticism as conceived and applied to the NT by those who adhere to the standpoint of this volume, springs from the cardinal principle of the Beformed Church: namely, that the Scripture (in this case, the NT) conveys, contains, or represents the Word of God; that it puts man's faith in contact with the Christ who lives and reigns; that it enables us to hear God speak to us his comforts, promises, commands; and that it affords to the experience of trust and penitence a means of fellowship with God the Father. Such is holy Scripture. It is not the Word of God. It is as our Confession properly defines it, the Word of God written. The growth and transmission of this record of revelation, under the ordinary conditions of human life, constitute a whole series of problems and questions, which criticism may discuss without any prejudice whatever. Our experience of God, as mediated through Scripture, is calmly independent of all such inquiries. The interminable and subordinate matters of date, authorship, and sources, questions of historicity and accuracy, the presence of naive and sensuous conceptions, of discrepancies and errors—these fall to be treated by the ordinary methods of scientific research. Their solution may sometimes involve the introduction of factors that seem unsatisfactory and dangerous to our modern minds. Some theological reconstruction may from time to time be necessitated. Traditional ideas may require restatement, modification, or expansion. Certain arguments may have to be reset. But through all this providential movement required of criticism, one thing persists—the witness of Scripture to faith; the fact that in this written record, with all its literary imperfections and obscurities, God can still make us understand both words and works that are a gospel to mankind, searching and luminous and redemptive. To assert, either in fear or in hope, that the strenuous but relative activity of historical research can of itself affect the certainty and real content of the believer's life in Christ, is a contradiction in terms, credible only when overweening pretensions are met by panic and half-educated zeaL Those who are inside the department of sensible historical research, as well as within the influence of Jesus Christ, know that these are concentric circles for the human spirit, and that when extravagance is discounted on all sides, there is no reason why they themselves should not safely and sincerely inhabit a critical position based on Buch results as are indicated in this volume, or even (it may be) upon others more advanced.
I have a life with Christ to live,
But, ere I live it, must I wait
Of this or that book's date?
I have a death in Christ to die;—
All doubts a full reply?
Nay rather, while the sea of doubt
Let me but creep within
Take but the lowest seat,
These lines of the late Principal Shairp would express the habitual relation of faith to any reasonable conclusions of contemporary research into the stages and forms through which the Christian revelation passed into its classic record in the NT. To explain how all this is possible, or to sketch even in outline the connection of the devotional with the scientific use of Scripture, lies far beyond the limits of this preface. I content myself with generally affirming the reality and permanent significance of the NT as conceived upon the principle of the Eeformers, which from the days of Calvin onwards has had to be restated and recovered from time to time within the bounds even of the Eeformed Churches themselves. From that principle the whole mass of methods and results within these pages, so far as they are cogent and unbiassed, flows by a logical and legitimate sequence. They could not have been anticipated, but they are naturally covered, by it. They may not yet prove necessary to very many as a basis for belief in the historic credentials of the Christian faith. But they are essential to some of us. Otherwise this volume, and others like it, would hardly be composed. Recent movements of opinion, by which all that is vital in Christianity has proved capable of readjustment to developments in geology and biology which, it was passionately asserted at one time, would turn out absolutely hostile; the closer outcome of OT criticism, which in removing amid opprobrium much of our traditional prepossessions, has only contributed a stronger and richer footing for belief in the Divine providence over ancient Israel: these are but instances which may reassure us at any similar crisis of transition, since they illustrate the wisdom of discounting extreme statements upon either side, the need of patiently apprehending the exact issues of a question, and especially the native independence and divinity of faith. Ylavra V/jwv—even the critic and the saint.
Historical research, of course, cannot propose to itself the task of advocating any past programme of dogma, or of supporting, much less supplanting, ecclesiastical tenets; and one should perhaps apologise to dispassionate investigators for the introduction of the above sentences into an historical and critical discussion. My excuse must be that this volume may fall—as I am interested to find it has already fallen— into the hands of some who, in order to appreciate its subject, require to have their mental focus readjusted and to study these pages in the light of obvious presuppositions. Many can supply these presuppositions for themselves. But others cannot. And in order to gain a respectful and intelligent hearing for certain conclusions which may seem at first disconcerting or ambiguous, it is not inexpedient for the critic patiently and lucidly to orientate his work. This is neither redundant nor evasive. It is the plain duty of NT scholars in this country,