« AnteriorContinuar »
habits of expression, or hold individual genius, as one might catch a song-bird, passive and palpitating, in the grasp of his Almighty hand.... The successive sparks of divine illumination were struck, all of them, out of the necessities of the times.- Old Faiths in New Light, pp. 39, 43.
Similarly another, as to the Acts and the Epistles:
Little did St. Paul pause to consider how his confidential utterances, born of the pressing exigencies of the moment, might be turned into the formulæ of a literal creed. He was writing for the needs of the hour, and thus gives us, unwittingly, a chapter from the history of his own times. . . The value of his letters for religious inspiration is indeed very great. But, we should bear in mind that they were designed to meet special questions and special difficulties.
By about A.D. 64, all Paul's Epistles had probably been written. They constituted, so far as is known, the entire Christian literature of that period. Soon after his death appeared the Epistle to the Hebrews, written by some unknown person who sympathized with Paul in believing that the old covenant was virtually superseded by the new. But he differed from Paul in putting an allegorical interpretation upon the Old Testament. Everything there contained was but a type of something to be fulfilled in the Church of Christ. But other writers took other views. The Epistle of James was written to counteract the tendency of Paul's doctrine as to the efficacy of faith. Avoiding all metaphysical discussion, he addresses himself with great beauty and force of language to the purely practical side of Christian duty, and, like many a preacher of reconciliation to-day, urges the followers of Christ to forget their wordy disputations and devote themselves to good works. Peculiar in style, though Jewish in sentiment, the Apocalypse appeared before the fall of Jerusalem, and predicted the coming of the Messiah.
But the Messiah did not come, and the little band of Christians must address themselves to the necessities of the present. They must organize, and collect for immediate use the teachings and memories of their Master. No memoranda of word or act had been kept, and the companions and witnesses of his ministry had been dropping away year by year. Certain local traditions survived, and many personal reminiscences had been orally transmitted. But these were vague and contradictory. They did not agree, for instance, whether the family of Christ sprang from Bethlehem or from Nazareth, whether his ministry lasted one year or three years, whether he taught chiefly in Jerusalem or almost entirely in Galilee. But, such as they were, these traditions were collected, freed from their more palpable legendary accretions, and woven into the form of biographical sketches or collections of the Master's "sayings." Just when this was first done, we cannot tell. But we know (Luke i., 1) that many had taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which were most surely believed; and that, of these numerous collections, three, to which in the second century the names of Mat
thew, Mark, and Luke were attached, have survived, and give us the best knowledge we have of the beginnings of Christianity.
Soon after these three Gospels were written, the author of the third undertook to collect all the traditions still existing as to the lives of the apostles and the fortunes of the early Church. The materials for this compilation were also fragmentary and vague; but the book, as it stands, is our first ecclesiastical history. This is the Book of the Acts, which, like all historical narratives written in an uncritical age, betrays clearly enough the writer's own feelings and opinions. Consciously or unconsciously, it is written in a harmonizing spirit, to reconcile the conflicting tendencies of the Church.
But there was another school of theology besides that of the rabbis, whose influence, after Paul's time, imposed itself more and more upon Christianity. At Alexandria, in Egypt, had long existed a school of thinkers of Greek descent, inheriting the methods and traditions of Platonic philosophy; and with this school the Jewish Christians in Egypt had been brought for several generations into close contact. Prominent among these Hellenistic Jews was one Philo, who sought by means of allegorical interpretation to make the Mosaic scriptures the vehicle of philosophic mysticism. In the same spirit, another follower of the same school sought to interpret the new phenomena of Christianity; and in the Fourth Gospel we have Christianity pervaded by the spirit of the Alexandrian philosophy. Here, the incidents of the earlier Gospels are given with their interior significance; their kingdom of heaven is a spiritual realm; their Messiah is the pre-existent world. A tradition of the second century ascribes this Gospel to the Apostle John. There are many difficulties in the way of this supposition, and not least among them is the difficulty of supposing that a disciple who had the training of a Galilean fisherman, and who during his Master's lifetime begged a place at his Master's side in the Messianic kingdom, should, in his old age, prove the most spiritually-minded of Christ's followers, and deeply versed in mystic philosophy.-E. H. Hall (Saratoga Essay, 1880).
Prof. Ezra Abbot exhaustively considers four points of historical evidence of the genuineness of the Fourth Gospel, namely: (1) The general reception of the Four Gospels as genuine among Christians in the last quarter of the second century; (2) The question respecting the inclusion of the Fourth Gospel in the Apostolical Memoirs of Christ appealed to by Justin Martyr; (3) Its use by the various Gnostic sects; (4) The attestation to this Gospel which has come down to us appended to the book itself. The few statements made by Justin, in his two "Apologies" written to the Roman emperor and senate, c. 147 A.D., that are not authorized by the Four Gospels,-e.g., that Jesus was born in a cave, that the Magi came from Arabia, and that Jesus made ploughs and yokes,Prof. Abbot would explain as "founded on oral tradition, or
as examples of that substitution of inferences from facts for the facts themselves, which we find in so many ancient and modern writers, and observe in every-day life.”*
Several of Justin's additions of detail seem to have proceeded from his assumptions of the fulfilment of what he regarded as Old Testament prophecy.
It has been observed that each of the four evangelists aims not merely to give a biography, but also to maintain his own particular thesis: Matthew, that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah; Mark, that he was the son of God; Luke, that a Catholic Christianity is possible, inclusive of Petrine and Pauline elements; John, that Jesus was the incarnate Word of God.t
Between the Synoptics and the Fourth Gospel, Mr. Chadwick has drawn a well-contrasted parallel, substantially as follows:
In the Synoptics, Judaism, the temple, the law, the Messianic kingdom, are omnipresent. In John, they are remote and vague. Matthew, Jesus is always yearning over his own nation. In John, he often has for it a sentiment of scorn. In Matthew, the sanction of the prophets is his great credential. In John, his dignity can tolerate no previous approximation: all that came before him were "thieves and robbers.". The Synoptics represent him as dying on the 15th Nisan, and as eating the paschal supper on the 14th. John represents him as dying on the 14th, and as not partaking of the passover at all. His cleansing of the temple is, in the Synoptics, the climax of his opposition to the prevailing orthodoxy, and the immediate precursor of his arrest and crucifixion. John puts it at the beginning of his ministry. The Synoptics confine his ministry principally to Galilee, and bring him up to Jerusalem at the end. In John, his ministry is mainly in Judea. In the Synoptics, his ministry is only one year long; in John, from two to three. In the Synoptics, we have a natural and human representation of the Jew, some stiffly orthodox, others liberal. In John, they are the chief priests and Pharisees: the Sadducees, the Herodians, the scribes, so prominent in the Synoptics, do not appear at all. In the Synoptics, the emphasis is upon conduct; in John, upon belief. In the Synoptics, miracles are acts of mercy. In John, they are manifestations of the divine glory. The Synoptics narrate. John demonstrates.—See The Bible of To-day, pp. 291–294.
In view of these distinct characteristics, some writers have sought to set forth the early schools of Christian doctrine as four: (1) the Jewish, of James and Peter; (2) the Gentile, of Paul; (3) the Alexandrian, of [Apollos?] the writer of the
*The Authorship of the Fourth Gospel, 1880. p. 24.
Epistle to the Hebrews; and (4) the intuitional of John. This may be adverted to in a future chapter.
The idea of the Logos or Word came into Jewish thought from two sides, from Persia by way of Babylon, from Greece by way of Alexandria. The Persian-Zoroastrian religion taught that God created all things by his Word. The cosmology in Genesis is of Persian origin. "God said, Let there be light; and there was light." His word is the creative power. Before the time of Jesus, tnis Word of God had become personified in Jewish thought, most frequently under the name of Wisdom. "Wisdom hath been created before all things," we read in Proverbs, also in Ecclesiasticus; and in the Wisdom of Solomon, "She is a reflection of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of his goodness. The Greek influence contributed to the same tendency of thought. The later followers of Plato, the Neo-Platonists, had personified his doctrine of the divine idea or reason. They called it the first-born Son of God, born before the creation of the world, itself the agent of creation. It was the image of God's perfection, the mediator between God and man. Philo-Judæus, who was born about twenty years before Jesus, was possessed with these ideas, and endeavored to connect them with the Old Testament teachings. He quoted, "Let us make man in our own image," to prove that God had an assistant who did all the work, thus saving God from any contact with matter,―a necessity of the Persian system imported into Jewish thought. He calls the Logos the "first-born Son of God," "Second God," and even "God," but this always in a qualitative, never in a quantitative sense.
On the one hand, then, the writer of the Fourth Gospel found this doctrine of the Logos; and, on the other hand, he found a conception of Jesus expressed in terms the most exalted, and bearing a very strong resemblance to the terms of the Logos doctrine of Philo. True, Philo had never dreamed of a human incarnation of the Logos; and Paul had never identified his exalted Christ with the Alexandrian Word. The first to do this was pretty certainly not the writer of the Fourth Gospel. It occurred to many writers at about the same time. To effect an alliance between Christianity and Alexandrian Platonism was the one passionate enthusiasm midway of the second century. Of this enthusiasm, the Fourth Gospel is the grandest monument. The opening verses might have been written by Philo-Judæus,—"In the beginning was the Word, . . . and the life was the light of men." But Philo never could have written, " And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us," etc. To Philo, this incarnation of the Logos in a human personality would have seemed a blasphemous proceeding; and, even in John, the union of the Logos with the human personality of Jesus is purely verbal.... "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father."... "As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself.”—J. W. Chadwick (The Man Jesus, p. 240).
What is the Order of the Principal Events narrated in the Four Gospels?
THIS it is impossible to determine. Dr. James Strong, the indefatigable harmonist (Methodist), believes Luke probably intended to observe the chronological order; but the evangelists do not generally.* In the Synoptics, he thinks "the facts themselves in the respective accounts agree too well in time and circumstances, and the narrators confine themselves too evidently to the position of writers of memoirs, to allow the supposition of a (conscious) transformation of the events or any such developments from Old Testament prophecy. Moreover, if truth and pious poetry had already become mingled in the verbal traditionary reports, the eye-witnesses, Matthew and John, would have known well in a fresh narration how to distinguish between each of these elements, with regard to scenes which they had themselves passed through." He, however, concedes that "the four Gospels were all written down a long time after the occurrences."t
Another writer thinks we can only rely upon "the triple tradition," the element in common of the Synoptics, except where the text indicates that the disciples misinterpreted Jesus. For instance, had they known that Jesus had commanded them to "disciple all nations," the early and bitter dispute as to the admission of the Gentiles to the Church would never have arisen.‡
In the Matthew report of the Sermon on the Mount, Mr. Chadwick and others perceive that we have fragments of a great many different discourses arbitrarily joined together. Some famous hillside talk became a nucleus around which
*Harper's Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, article "Harmony." Minot J. Savage, Talks about Jesus, p. 4.
Idem, article "Jesus Christ."