there are few more fruitful sources of error in religious thought than the use of metaphors.
In every metaphor there is apt to lie, open or concealed, an 'argument from analogy'.
An idea is never true or 'proved' because an analogy to it can be found in another department of life.
A signal instance is seen in the word Inspiration.
The word 'inspire' means 'breathe into'; and it is quite commonly supposed that its meaning is self-evident when it is used metaphorically to describe the part played by the Spirit of God in the production of the books of the Bible.
To the primitive Hebrew it was no metaphor; the Divine Spirit was the Breath of God breathed as though physically into men.
But we cannot use it to define or explain the action of God, but only to express in picturesque or illustrative form what we find His action to be.
Some of the ideas, which have been held on the inspiration of the New Testament, correspond exactly with those on the Old Testament held by some early Christian writers.
'For the study of the attitude of the early Church towards the Old Testament, a starting-point is afforded by three passages in the New Testament.
Rom. xv. 4: "All things that were written before were written for the purpose of instructing us, in order that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope."
St. Paul declares that the Old Testament is of abiding value for us Christians, in that it encourages us to keep fast to the Christian virtue of hope.
Similarly, but more specifically, in 2 Tim.iii.15, it is stated, not how Scripture was inspired, but for what purposes it is profitable.
It is said to be profitable not for the study of science, history, philosophy, poetry, and so forth, but simply for spiritual improvement.
The "sacred writings are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
Every divinely inspired writing is also profitable for instruction, for conviction, for correction, for discipline which is in righteousness, that the man of God may be equipped, thoroughly equipped, for every good work."
And in 2 Pet.i.21 the writer says that "holy men spake from God, being carried along by [the influence of the] Holy Spirit".
This states the divine source of the inspiration, but provides no definition of its nature and purpose.
"Carried along by the Holy Spirit."
Carried for what purpose?
To what end?
In what sense?
It will be noticed that the last two passages occur in what are probably two of the latest epistles in the New Testament. Christians were just beginning to reflect upon the inspiration of the Old Testament, but there is not one syllable in the whole of Scripture that ties us down to any particular theory or definition...
The apostolic fathers are not more definite.
They quoted the Old Testament as a divine book, but did not examine the nature of its inspira?tion.
'The first Church writer who gives a more explicit statement is Justin Martyr.
'It was not possible' [he says] 'for men to know things so great and divine by the light of nature, or by human intuition, but by the gift, which came down at that time upon the holy men.
They did not need the art of words, nor to speak in the spirit of rivalry or competition; all they needed was to offer themselves in purity to the activity of the Divine Spirit, in order that, as a plectron makes use of the harp or lyre as an instrument, so the divine influence, making use of righteous men, might reveal to us the knowledge of divine and heavenly things.'
'Now it is not right to say
that this is a purely mechanical theory of inspiration, because a stringed instrument, when it is played on, will give a sound the
nature of which is determined by the structure of the instrument itself.
It is not certain whether Justin had this in mind, but at any rate his words do not exclude the thought that the personal differences of the prophets might produce different results when the Divine Spirit played upon them.
And it must be noted further that Justin reaches a conclusion that does not differ from that which we have seen in the New Testament, that Scripture was inspired in order to give the knowledge that is necessary for salvation...
And in the Odes of Solomon we read: "As the hand plays upon the harp, and the strings sound, so speaks the Spirit of the Lord in my members."
Hippolytus uses the same metaphor of the plectron, but adds the important thought that the musical instrument must be tuned to give forth the harmony rightly.
And Theophilus teaches the same without metaphor.
Though he marks a new departure in definitely ascribing to divine inspiration the correctness, e.g., of the chronology in the writings of Moses and other similar subjects, yet he says that the prophets were men of God who were "deemed worthy" to be his instruments: they had to display a personal and moral fitness for their work.
'On the other
hand, Athenagoras holds the extreme mechanical theory characteristic of the Montanists.
He says that the reasoning powers of the writers were thrown by the Divine Spirit into a state of ecstasy, and they uttered that which was enacted in them, the Spirit using them as His instruments, like a flute-player playing on a flute.
Here is sheer mechanism.
That which a flute-player blows into a flute is his own breath, and that breath comes out again unchanged, but uses the instrument in its passage.
Irenaeus is no less strict.
"The Scriptures", he says, "are perfect, since they were spoken by the word of God and His Spirit..."
This idea of inspiration is a relic from very primitive thought.
In the early days of Israel the prophets were men of the Dervish type, who threw themselves into ecstatic frenzy by music and dancing.
And when Israel, at a later time, came into contact with Greek thought, this popular and inadequate notion of prophecy found its counterpart in the art of divination, as it was seen, for example, in the oracle priestess of Pytho or Delphi.
Philo the Jew was the first who explicitly transferred this to afford an explanation of the written prophecies of the Old Testament.
[There has been a growing recognition since 1900 that the prophets often conceived in mystic trance the messages which they delivered.
See Holscher, Die Profeten, 1914, followed by T. H. Robinson, Prophecy and the Prophets, and ed., '944; J- Hanel, dos Erkennen Gottes hei den Schriftpropheten, 1923, but contrast H. H. Rowley, Harvard Theol. Rev., xxxviii, 1945, pp. 1-38; cf. his edition of The Old Testament and Modern Study, 1951, pp. 141-5, by 0. Eissfeldt.]
But the idea found its way into Christian writings, especially into those of the Montanists, who attached supreme importance to the utterance of their own prophets and prophetesses when they spoke in a state of ecstatic unconsciousness.
It is noteworthy that the word Inspiratio - a breathing into - seems to have been introduced into theological language by Tertullian, who became a Montanist.
'Another fact which strengthened the idea of the divine inspiration of the Old Testament
was the gradual acceptance of the inspiration of the New.
The Old and the New became inseparably connected, and both were needed to make up the Word of God. Irenaeus says: "God did not teach that the one Testament offered old truths and the other new truths, but He taught that they were one and the same."
Their contents are different - one is a law for slaves, the other, precepts for free men - but both are given by the same Father of the family.
Tertullian says: "The same Divine Power was preached in the Gospels which had been known in the Law, though the teaching was not the same."
And he declares that the Church should drink in the faith made as a potion by mixing the Law and the Prophets with the evangelical and apostolic writings.
And, lastly, Origen: "The sacred volumes breathe the fullness of the Spirit, and there is nothing in the Law, in Gospel, or in Apostle which does not descend from the fullness of the divine majesty."'
[This sketch of early Christian ideas on inspiration is quoted from A. H. McNeile's The Old Testament in the Christian Church, 1913.]
Since, then, the idea of 'verbal inspiration' among Christians was a gradual growth, and
the word 'Inspiration' is not defined in the Bible, we can discover what is the right application to give to the metaphor only
by examining the books of the New Testament themselves, and discovering what they reveal to us of their nature and value.
And the study of them establishes as an underlying principle that God inspires not books but men.
If He had inspired the books in the sense of dictating the words to the writers' minds, they would all have reached the same uniform level of perfection.
There could have been no disagreement in detail, and therefore no divergences from perfect accuracy; and there could have been no growth or development in the Christological or any other elements in Christian doctrine.
But generations of study have made in?creasingly clear both the divergences and the development.
Those who still cling to the idea of verbal inspiration do so because they are honestly convinced that to hold any other idea of the meaning of inspiration is disloyalty to God.
It would be if God had ever made it clear by even a single statement that that was the true meaning.
But since He has not done so, they are in danger, by their very loyalty, of shutting their eyes to His guidance.
If He inspired not the books but the men, the way is left open for manifold differences in the temperament, environment, capacity of grasping truth and of appreciating facts, spiritual development, and so on, of the several writers.
The inspiration of the Gospels is inseparably bound up with their historical value.
On the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ as historical events rests the Christianity of the Catholic Church; but it rests on them as the Catholic Church interprets them.
And therefore the spiritual value of the Gospels, in other words their inspiration, is to be measured, not by the 'photographic' accuracy of their details, but by the extent to which they embody and express that which is the life of Christianity.
All history is a record of human life at earlier stages, a record that accounts for, and helps to the understanding of, human life in the present; it is a record of experience, and also a guide to behaviour.
To gain a bare acquaintance with past events merely as events, to accumulate knowledge of what was, with no relation to what is, or what ought to be, is barren and useless.
If we are to use history rightly, the modern mind feels it to be important, of course, that a narrative of the events should be as far as possible accurate.
But absolute accuracy is impossible.
Even an eyewitness of an event which occurred yesterday is psychologically incapable of recalling details literally as they were.
His report of them is something, which has passed through himself, with his limitations and presumptions, before it reaches his hearers.
And when we read history we can gain no more than approximate knowledge, and that only of such few facts, among millions of others, as the narrator was led to select as being from his point of view salient and important.
History is never an automatic or mechanical recital of events; it is the attempt of the narrator to present them as he understood them.
Furthermore, in a record of which a single human being is the main subject the difficulty of accurate knowledge is heightened, because it is not only a report of facts but also, and primarily, a portraiture of personality.
No one can 'accurately' apprehend the personality of another; and still less can he accurately convey his impressions of it to others.
He can only try, with the crude and inadequate instrument of language, to make others feel the effects which his apprehension of it has produced upon himself.
There could be no guide to action more valuable than a real and full knowledge of a personality with all the conditions that developed it; but that we can never get, human nature being what it is.
It is of the utmost importance to apply these considerations to the Synoptic Gospels if we are to understand them aright.
(1) They are three records containing a very small selection of events, actions, and words in
the life of Jesus.
Not one of the three writers was an eyewitness or an αὐτήκοος - autekoos of all that he reports.
And each account has passed not only through the writer himself but also through many before him, all of them with limitations and presuppositions.
If the inspiration of the evangelists was such as to be independent of all that we know of human nature and psychology, and of a kind which forced them passively to produce 'accurate' reports of what they had received, we must postulate the same kind of inspiration for every Christian who had contributed to the oral tradition, and to the primitive Aramaic written sources, and to the primitive Greek reproductions of them.
But an inspiration of that sort would not have resulted in three accounts widely differing from, and in a multitude of details disagreeing with, one another.
However much we may regret it, an 'accurate' knowledge of details of the Lord's life is impossible.
(2) We are concerned with the Personality, which transcends all others as the central
mystery of mankind.
Eyewitnesses could record only the effects, which their limited apprehension of it produced upon them.
And many Christians tried to hand on by oral tradition and writings those features and aspects in the Portrait which formed themselves in their minds from hearing the record, until finally the evangelists put down on paper, each in his own way, the portraiture as they had received it, according to the different effects which it had produced upon them.
And no two readers from then till now can have apprehended these portraits with identical results, because no two minds are identical.
It is well to begin our study of the
problem by realizing how far we necessarily are from possessing an 'accurate' knowledge of facts of the life of Jesus, or of His
Personality, which it is beyond the power of man fully to apprehend and therefore to delineate.
'Men were trying to apprehend that character; they had a glimpse here and a glimpse there; but they cannot have had more than a dim and vague surmise as to what it was as a whole' (Sanday [Hastings's D.B. ii. 626 b, and Outlines of the Life of Christ, p. 110 (ed. 2, 1906).]).
This has led some into almost
complete scepticism about the historical value of the Gospels, though the extreme position represented by Drews [The Christ Myth, trans. Burns, 1910.] that Jesus was a purely
mythical figure, created in the imagination of Christians under the influence of pagan thought, has been completely discredited by
some of the keenest critics of the New Testament.
[See, for example, F. C. Conybeare, The Historical Christ, 1914, and contrast M. Goguel, Jesus of Nazareth, Myth or History (trans. Stephens, 1926) and The Life of Jesus (trans. 0. Wyon, 1933), pp. 61-69.]
Still, it is asked, if the Gospels represent only the gradually evolved ideas of a generalization of Christians, are they not practically worthless as real accounts of the Lord?
This seems to the present writer to be quite unwarranted for several reasons:
1. The general course of His
ministry, as they relate it, appeals to us as psychologically natural and probable.
He emerged from obscurity, carried to His work by the driving force of prophetic inspiration.
For a short time He enjoyed a growing success; but soon His revolutionary handling of traditional ideas and customs raised official opposition.
He retired for a time with a small group of His followers, but was at last done to death.
If this main outline is true to fact, excessive scepticism as to further details is unnecessary, though each must, of course, be judged on its merits.
K. L. Schmidt [Der Rahmender Geschichte Jesu, 1919.], like other Form-critics (see Ch. Ill above), reduces the trustworthiness of the 'framework' of the Gospels to a minimum.
'The oldest tradition of Jesus is the tradition of pericopes, a tradition of individual scenes and utterances, handed down in the Church, and for the most part lacking any definite indication of time and place.'
But if, as is probable, the general course of the history as we have it was due mainly to the preaching and teaching of the first disciples, although individual stories and sayings were undoubtedly handed down orally as isolated units, for which the evangelists found places in such a way as to suit their several purposes, yet the main outline must go back to the reminiscences of eyewitnesses.
2. Among His words certain sayings
are attributed to Him which it is extremely difficult to imagine tradition placing in His mouth if they were not substantially
'Why callest thou Me good? None is good but One? [that is] God' (Mk.x.18).
'Of that day or that hour none knoweth, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father [only]' (i.32).
'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?' (xv.34).
Similarly, statements are made about Him which no Christian would have invented or imagined: 'His relations (?) (οἱ παρ᾽ αὐτοῦ - ohi par autou) came out to lay hold on Him, for they said.
He is beside Himself (iii. 21). 'He could not there do any mighty work, save that He laid His hands on a few sick folk and healed them; and He marvelled at their unbelief (vi. 5-6).
These are among the nine passages, which P. W. Schmiedel [Encycl. Bibl. ii, 1891, 1881 f.] describes as 'absolutely credible', and 'the foundation-pillars for a truly scientific life of Jesus'.
But the presence of such passages inspires confidence in St. Mark's source or sources, which must have contained many other perfectly genuine traditions about our Lord and His words.
The writer who was faithful in a few matters may be trusted to have been faithful also in many.
3. The actions and words of Jesus, as
the Gospels relate them, are to a very considerable extent entirely in keeping with His time, country, and race.
As Sanday says, 'There was a certain circle of ideas which Jesus accepted in becoming Man in the same way in which He accepted a particular language with its grammar and vocabulary'. [Hastings's D.B. ii. 624 b, and Outlines..., p. 103.]
This conviction has been deepened for modern students by the growing knowledge of Jewish life and literature in recent years.
4. And yet, conversely, His
actions and words came like an exhilarating breeze, a grateful shower of rain upon a sultry and thirsty land.
The surprise and delight of the poor and ignorant, the scorned and neglected masses, is evident throughout the record of the ministry.
And even if it were true that His character and life were gradually idealized in the course of oral and written tradition, owing to a gradual development and heightening of Christological beliefs, it would remain very difficult to credit first-century writers with the literary skill which could convey a general impression of exhilaration and spiritual uplift if His contemporaries had not, in fact, experienced it.
5. Above all, the portraiture of His Personality, i.e., as has been said, of the effects
which were produced on the minds of the narrators by the traditions which they received, is altogether outside the region of
Its combination of humility with majestic claims, of denunciation of sin with tenderness towards sinners, of flaming hatred of hypocrisy with that which in any other would be hypocrisy or worse - a complete absence of any consciousness of sin in Himself - is a paradox which no Christological idealization could produce.
It is sometimes said that the enthusiasm of the first Christians, due to their belief that certain of them had seen the risen Lord, that He was exalted to the right hand of God as the Messiah, and that He was still present with them by His Spirit, which was the Spirit of God, was the result of 'mystical' experiences, generated by auto-suggestion, in the minds of those who claimed to have seen Him.
But the more the argument is pressed, the greater becomes the need of postulating a depth and strength and mystery in the Character and Personality of the Man with whom they had a few days before walked and talked sufficient to account for the universal and immovable conviction.
And the measure of the historical value of the Gospels is primarily and ultimately the extraordinary success with which they portray such a Character and Personality.
That there are limitations to the historical value we have already
recognized; it is only equivalent to saying that the writers were human.
In no single sentence can we be entirely certain that we possess the ipsissima verba of Jesus, even if it could be assumed that the Greek translations that have come down to us were always adequate.
The variations in the reports of the same sayings in the different Gospels would alone be enough to render that certain.
And yet we may feel confident that we possess to a considerable extent the real substance of them, because the substance of His words forms a large and indispensable factor in the production of the total Portrait that is required to account for the coming into existence of Christianity.
And the same must be said of His deeds. It was doubtless easier for first-century writers to
heighten the wonder of deeds than of words.
And the possibility must remain open that some of His miracles - e.g. the withering of the fig tree (cf. Mk.xi.12 ft., 20-25 with Lk.i.6-9) - were originally parables or other utterances translated into actions in the course of tradition.
But it is gratuitous to claim that all His recorded miracles must be so explained, simply because they are miracles.
His Character and Personality were miraculous, and it is in the last degree improbable that none of the wonderful deeds were actually performed, which contributed an integral element in the impression of Him that was handed on in tradition.
The miracles of healing are mostly accepted today because some light is being thrown upon them by modern researches into the relation between the psychical and physical in man.
[Cf. P. Dearmer, Body and Soul, 1909; P. Janet, Psychological Healing, 1925.]
And we cannot say that future research will throw no light on other miracles concerning which we are at present in the dark.
We have moved away from the materialism of the earlier part of the nineteenth century, and it is becoming scientific to think of Spirit as lying in and behind the energy displayed in the constitution of the atom.
And if Science has only just begun to discover Spirit, we cannot place any limit on the extent to which it may reach a conception of the modes and possibilities of free and purposive action of the Spirit upon matter.
In the days of our Lord such action was simply taken for granted, with no reasoned conception at all of modes and possibilities; the miracles of Jesus were one and all equally miraculous.
The truth is that the historian who tries to construct a reasoned picture of
the Life of Christ finds that he cannot dispense with miracles.
He is confronted with the fact that no sooner had the Life of Jesus ended in apparent failure and shame than the great body of Christians - not an individual here and there, but the mass of the Church - passed over at once to the fixed belief that He was God.
By what conceivable process could the men of that day have arrived at such a conclusion, if there had been really nothing in His life to distinguish it from that of ordinary men?
We have seen that He did not work the kind of miracles that they expected.
The miracles in themselves in any case came short of their expectations.
But this makes it all the more necessary that there must have been something about the Life, a broad and substantial element in it, which they could recognise as supernatural and divine - not that we can recognize, but which they could recognize with the ideas of the time.
Eliminate miracles from the career of Jesus, and the belief of Christians, from the first moment that we have undoubted contemporary evidence of it (say AD 50), becomes an insoluble enigma. [Sanday, in Hastings's D.B. ii. 627 a.]
And if we cannot claim exact knowledge of His words and deeds, still less can
we accept as certain the order of events or the positions in which the evangelists place His utterances.
The order and position often differ widely in the different Gospels.
The general course of the Ministry, as said above, is natural and probable.
But many of the events and utterances current in Q, and many others which must have reached the evangelists from oral or written sources as separate and unrelated items, not infrequently reaching them in two or more forms, were an almost haphazard bundle of treasures, which they grouped and disposed each in his own way for his own reasons.
Another limitation must also be recognized.
The reports of our Lord's words and of statements about Him may here and there reflect Christological and ecclesiastical conceptions arrived at in later years.
But the extent to which this has occurred has been greatly exaggerated by some writers; ,and the tendency has been to attribute this for the most part to the influence of St. Paul.
There will always, probably, be differences of opinion as to the amount, which Pauline and other later ideas have contributed to the Gospels.
Every alleged instance needs examination.
They cannot be altogether denied; but most of them stand out pretty clearly, and the wonderful' Portrait is seen to be independent of them.
The records of the Virgin Birth are
approached from different directions by different minds.
Some will ask, Is not the historical value of the Gospels so high that this miraculous event must be accepted because it is recorded in them?
Others will put their question more cautiously:
Is the event so intrinsically congruous with the miraculous Character and Personality of Jesus that it may be accepted in spite of any literary difficulties which may be found in the records?
Our study of the formation and transmission of the Gospels forbids us to speak of their 'inerrancy' in matters of fact, but allows us to feel confident that they are substantially trustworthy in their portraiture of the miraculous Person whom Christians learnt to worship as God.
The second question, therefore, represents much better than the first the line of approach that is open to us.
The Virgin Birth, if it is an historical event, must have become known from statements made either by the Lord's mother, or St. Joseph, or both.
And it has often been thought that the former may have given rise to the account in Luke and the latter to that in Matthew.
Whether this was so we have, of course, no means of knowing.
The two Gospels contain wholly different accounts, coinciding only in the central fact; but both are purely Jewish, and emanate from Palestinian circles in which not only Aramaic but Hebrew appears to have been understood.
This intensely Jewish character of the narratives makes it very improbable that they took their rise under the influence of pagan myths of heroes and virgin goddesses.
[ So Schmiedel, art. 'Mary', Encycl. Bibl.; Usener, art. 'Nativity', ibid.; W. Soltau, The Birth of Jesus Christ (trans. M. A. Canney, 1903), and others.]
And it is doubtful if there is anything in the Old Testament that would suggest that the Messiah would be born of a Virgin; if there is, it is in the LXX, not in the Hebrew of Is.vii.14, which the writer of Matthew quotes (i.23).
The narratives in Matthew which form the framework of the central fact contain much which must probably be regarded as midrash rather than history; [See Box, The Virgin Birth of Christ, pp. 19ff., and A. H. McNeile's St. Matthew, p. 23.] but that does not necessarily make the central fact less credible.
Some have thought that St. Luke's source did not relate that the Birth was from a Virgin, and that the indications of it in i.34-35 are due to the evangelist. (If so, v. 36 must be included, which relates of Elizabeth that 'she also' was giving birth to a son not in the ordinary course of nature.)
But even if this were the case it is not impossible for the source to have been written by one who did not know of the Virgin Birth and for St. Luke to have added to it the fact, which he had learnt by tradition.
This would explain the parenthetical ὡς ἐνομίζετο - hos enomizeto in iii.23.
The narratives, which surround the mysterious and unique event, contain difficulties from the point of view of their historical accuracy.
But some of them arise from its very uniqueness and mystery, and none of them are such as to supply positive evidence against it. In the last resort the evidence for it is not only literary but also doctrinal.
[See F. H. Chase, The Gospels in the light a Historical Criticism, pp. 72 f. (reprinted from Cambridge Theological Essays, ed. Swete, pp. 414 f.).]
The reports of the Resurrection stand on a different footing from those of the earthly Life.
The traditions of the Lord's deeds and words arose out of the statements of those who saw and heard them.
The traditions of His Resurrection arose out of a deduction.
Strictly speaking there is no record of the Resurrection; there could not be, since no one saw Him rise.
Those who saw Him alive after His death and burial inferred that He must have risen.
And since the earliest appearances were on the third day they drew the further inference that He must have risen on the third day.
All the accounts, differing widely in detail, so that the actual facts cannot be determined with certainty, are accounts not of the Resurrection but of the appearances, some of them emanating from Galilee and some from Jerusalem.
The disagreements and obscurities- in the narratives render them insecure as chronicles of detailed happenings, but they leave us as certain as we can be of anything in history that the stories arose from appearances of the Lord in which His spiritual body produced sense impressions, which were real experiences of certain persons.
The inference, which they drew from them, formed the immediate basis of the Church's belief that He had risen.
But the credibility of the Resurrection does not rest only on the appearances or on the inference.
It rests also on doctrinal grounds and considerations of probability.
Could physical death have been the end of One whose miraculous Character and Personality were such as the evangelists portray?
Could Christianity and the Church be such as they have been, and are, if physical death had been the end?
- and so on.
The mode of the Resurrection, the empty tomb, and the third day, are matters on which opinions differ.
The historical value of the Resurrection narratives, simply as narratives, lies in the unmistakable witness which they bear to the central fact that the apostles proclaimed: 'This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.'
And with regard to the work of the
evangelists as a whole Sanday's words [Hastings's D.B. ii. 625 b, and Outlines
of the Life of Christ, p. 106.] remain as true (despite the Form-critics) as when he wrote them in
1899: 'The tendency of the researches in recent years has been to enhance and not to diminish the estimate of the historical
character of the Gospels.'
To which may be added Harnack's testimony: 'Sixty years ago [The words were written in I900.]David Friedrich Strauss thought that he had almost entirely destroyed the historical credibility not only of the fourth but also of the first three Gospels as well.
The historical criticism of two generations has succeeded in restoring that credibility in its main outlines.' [What'is Christianity? p. 21 (trans. Saunders, 3rd ed., 1904).]
The Fourth Gospel was planned with a definitely religious purpose.
The writer lived at a time when Christians had learnt, by the experiences of Easter and Pentecost that Christ was to be adored and worshipped as divine.
At first the experiences were enough; but the need was soon felt of explaining how He who had lived a human life on earth could be identified with the eternal and universal Object of Christian devotion.
In the New Testament writings the problem is approached, broadly speaking, from four different directions:
(a) St. Paul shared the general view that Christ was the Messiah, but he was more influenced
by his own mystical experience of His indwelling and oneness with the Christian Body.
Such universality of Being is in its nature eternal, and has a cosmological significance which he finally worked out in Colossians (and Ephesians ?).
(b) The writers of the
Synoptic Gospels and the Acts were not appreciably affected by St. Paul's distinctive doctrines.
They contented themselves with showing that Christ was the destined Messiah, the Son of God, but in a higher and better sense than any Jewish speculations had reached,
(c) In Hebrews also the mystical idea is absent; the thought of Christ is on the lines of a Priesthood; He is the Ideal which annuls the old earthly copy, but He was fitted for this function by being completely representative of man in virtue of His true Humanity perfected through suffering,
(d) The Fourth Evangelist, while he shares St. Paul's mysticism, makes a different use of the
The cosmological idea scarcely appears, though it is seen in his Prologue, where Jewish Wisdom speculations are transferred to Jesus Christ: 'All things were made through Him, and apart from Him was not anything made that was made' (i.3).
His main object was to picture as a Man Him who was eternally the Logos.
His thought starts with the universal, divine Christ as the accepted and recognized Object of worship, and he aims at showing that, by becoming Man and living a human life, He brought eternal life into mankind.
For this purpose an epistle would not serve; he must write a Gospel, which should portray the eternal Son of God in human features.
Any accurate knowledge that he possessed of the details of that life he would naturally use.
The extent to which he possessed accurate details, and the circumstances that contributed to his knowledge of them, are matters of dispute.
It would certainly seem as if he was well informed, perhaps in some cases better informed than the synoptists, on matters of topography, and personal names, and dates.
It is quite gratuitous to suppose that he introduced these artificially to lend verisimilitude to his narrative.
As regards correctness each detail, of course, must be judged on its merits, and the decision must not be influenced by any preconceived idea of authorship.
But the whole Gospel was planned, not for biography or history such as the modern scientific mind desires, but to draw a portrait, to convey by means of narrative the profound mystery of the Logos on earth, and what that means for mankind.
He makes a larger use - very likely he possessed more knowledge - of our Lord's words and deeds in Jerusalem than in the North; he would certainly find more material for his picture in the controversies with scholarly and intellectual Jews at the capital than in the simpler teaching given to Galileans.
That the discourses are His ipsissima verba is impossible, but there is no good reason for doubting that they were based on traditions of real utterances; and the work of Rabbinic scholars in recent years has tended to increase this probability.
But his object must be kept steadily in view.
'These things', he says himself, 'have been written that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in His name' (xx. 31).
When a writer avows his object, by that object alone ought he to be judged.
And his inspiration, and the value of his work, can be estimated by the success with which, during the long lapse of the Christian centuries, he has accomplished his purpose.
The historical value of the Acts, in the sense of its trustworthiness as a record of events,
has been discussed on pp. 103-23.
It is a precipitate of early traditions and personal experiences in which a picture of the Church as it was accounts, and at the same time supplies a norm, for the Church as it is.
St. Luke was inspired, not for the purpose of writing an accurate chronicle, however great the extent of the accuracy may be which modern research may find in it, but to portray the early life of the new people of God in such a way that it has provided the Church ever since with an inspiration and an ideal. In the first volume of his work he related what Jesus began to do and to teach until the day when He was taken up.
In the second he related what He went on to do and to teach afterwards by the energy of His Spirit, i.e. by the Spirit of God Himself.
The author's inspiration was such that he was able with wonderful success to describe on paper, and to make his readers feel, the ferment, the effervescence, of the young life of the Spirit-filled community, insurgent and expanding.
It is not a peculiarity of style, it is of the essence of his work that 'Spirit' is spoken of more than sixty times in his twenty-eight chapters.
The facts which he relates illustrated for all time the truth that a Christian community which is to reach the freedom wherewith Christ has made it free cannot keep its Christianity confined within the shell of Judaism.
The apostles at Jerusalem were convinced by the pressure of events that they must recognize the working of the Spirit of God in the Gentile mission, and that circumcision must not be forced upon its converts.
This mission had started some time before St. Paul's conversion; it was, in fact, the direct continuation of our Lord's ministry in Galilee and Samaria, Tyre and Sidon, and the semi-Gentile cities of the Decapolis.
But by the whirlwind activity of the Apostle of the Gentiles the sparks were fanned into a flame which swept from Palestine through Syria and Greece to the capital of the Empire.
Granting all the compilation that literary and historical criticism demand, it is the pen of the inspired writer himself which has made the history a spiritual thing, and a record of the divine and irresistible growth of the Spirit-filled Church.
But if the members of a community have life in them, there is internal as well as outward
A growing love to God results in an intensifying of the moral life of obedience to Him, and a deepening intellectual understanding of His nature and purposes.
This healthy internal life is guided and sustained by the teaching of the epistles.
The best proof of their worth is the history of the formation of the Canon.
In the large intercommunication between the Churches the numerous letters of bishops and other leaders were as a rule read to the congregations.
Many - such, for example, as commendatory letters for Christians who were travelling, or brief notes on small matters of the moment - might not be read a second time.
But if they were felt to be helpful for the spiritual or practical needs of the Church, they were read again and again at the will of the presbyters, and no doubt often at the request of members of the congregation.
The proof of inspiration was the permanence of the books.
After the first generation of Christians had passed away, another factor, it is true,
contributed to their permanence - the prestige of an 'apostolic' name.
A good name is as ointment poured forth.
Because a writing was believed to be the work of an 'apostolic' man, it was felt that he was in a peculiar sense inspired.
Nevertheless, many pseudonymous works bearing apostolic names, though they were read sporadically, and survived for a time, fell out for various reasons.
In the last resort it was the felt reality of the writers' inspiration, generally speaking, that caused books to be treasured by the verdict of the collective consciousness of the Catholic Church.
But the inspiration of the writers was such as to fit them for a particular work, not the
dictation by God of infallible words, which they were to put on paper.
All the writings are not on the same level. 2 Peter, for example, stands a long way below Ephesians.
And that is true even of different parts of the same book.
When St. Paul teaches the Corinthians that the troubles which will accompany the End of the present world-order will be so severe, and are so immediately imminent that it is wiser for married people to live as though they were unmarried, and for everyone to hold himself detached from things of this life (i Cor.vii.29-31),
[Dr. K. E. Kirk thinks that St. Paul advances other reasons for preferring celibacy, which do not depend for their validity on the imminence of the Lord's corning.
Marriage brings troubles and distractions (The Vision of God, 1928, pp.75ff).]
he is obviously not writing in the same intensity of inspiration as when he pours out his paean of Love in ch.i. 'It is as sunlight through a painted window.
The light must come to us coloured by the medium.
We cannot get it in any other way. In some parts the medium is denser and more imperfect; in others the golden glory comes dazzlingly through.'
[J. Paterson Smyth, How God inspired the Bible, p.131.]
The various media hold back some of the rays in varying degrees, but the New Testament, as a kaleidoscopic whole, reveals to us the 'many-coloured (πολυποίκιλος - polypoikilos) wisdom of God' (Eph.iii.10).
The epistles with the Apocalypse, which is one of them, may be said broadly to deal with four main subjects:
St. Paul began in 1, 2 Thessalonians by treating it as a matter of profound importance; it
may be said, despite J. Lowe, that he ended in Colossians (and Ephesians?) by reducing it almost to the vanishing point.
If, then, we are to choose between his earlier and his riper thoughts, the decision is not doubtful.
The expectation of the imminent Advent of Christ, which pervaded the Church of the first century, was a heritage from their Jewish ancestry which no writer was so nearly able to transcend as St. Paul.
In the Apocalypse the calamities that usher it in, and the terrors of judgment upon the sinful Roman Empire, are pictured for the comfort and encouragement of the Christians who 'conquer' in steadfast loyalty to Christ.
Their bliss and glory in the new heavens and the new earth are portrayed in word-painting, the thrill and beauty of which have been the support of suffering and tempted Christians ever since.
Thus the moral and spiritual value of the book is enormous.
It is the classical expression of Christian optimism in its unconquerable certainty of the final victory of God's cause.
So long as sin, oppression, and the pride of power and wealth remain will the humble and meek give full value to the work of the inspired genius who laid himself out to fulfil- the command, 'Comfort ye, comfort ye My people'.
The enduring value of all apocalyptic is beautifully expressed by F. C. Burkitt in his essay, 'The eschatological Idea in the Gospels', in Cambridge Biblical Essays, pp. 195-213, cf. H. H. Rowley, The Relevance of Apocalyptic, 1944.
But the spiritual value of the Apocalypse does not lie in the details of the programme of events that it lays down, or of its descriptions of punishment and bliss.
The Jewish limitations of the writer show themselves in the fact that for him Rome is the one and only enemy, in whom the supernatural powers of evil find their embodiment; in the expectation of a millennial reign of Christ on earth; and in the greater part of his imagery, which can today be taken only as the outward vehicle - determined by his age and environment - which the writer employed to convey his spiritual consolation, warnings, and hopes.
Other New Testament writers express the same consolation, warnings, and hopes in simpler language.
The warnings in Jude and 2 Peter take a particular form: the destruction of libertine heretics; and of these heretics the writer of 2 Peter has especially in view those who denied the immediacy and certainty of the coming of the Day of Wrath - characteristics, again, which were determined by the age and environment of the authors.
Their inspiration is felt in the spiritual truths that their writings enshrine, not in the distinctively Jewish dress in which they clothe them.
Further, the epistles at least echo the faith of the apostolic kerygma.
In a deep and true sense the Messianic Kingdom of Jewish expectation has arrived and the King has come.
In so far as Christians have thrown themselves 'into Christ' by Baptism and all that that implies, they are in Him by mystical union, members of a new world and a new creation, making up together His Body, the Church; already .they taste the powers of the Age to Come (Heb. vi. 5); they are bound to their King by the Spirit, who is given to them as a pledge or first instalment of full redemption.
[Cf. C. H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments, 1936; O. C. Quick, The Gospel of the New World; O. Cullmann, Christ and Time (trans. F. V. Filson, 1951).]
In the Hebrew religion, as represented by its highest and best minds, the expectations for
the future were the immediate product of the morality to which the Israelite nation gave a higher value than any other nation on
Insight to the Jew is foresight.
The inseparable oneness of a perfectly moral God with His people involved the conception that, ideally.
His people also were perfectly moral.
And God, at His Advent, would punish the wicked and avenge the righteous.
In the period in which our Lord was born there was a humble class of Jews, the 'quiet in the land', in whom Hebrew morality was exhibited in its best and most beautiful form.
The family of Jesus belonged to it; and through Him Hebrew morality was, from the first, a primary element in the essence of Christianity.
He put into it new content and depth; He 'fulfilled' what the Law and the Prophets had taught.
And the epistle-writers do not decline from the high level which the first Christian missionaries had reached under His influence, reinforced by the mighty experience of Pentecost.
The moral ideal for the Church filled with His Spirit is nothing short of divine perfection; and the degree of beauty with which weak and limited men were enabled to portray it is a measure of their inspiration for this purpose.
The spur of His example, the motive - 'for His sake' - and the method - 'by His Spirit' - are the momenta in the New Testament moral appeal which places the writings beyond all price.
In the late pre-Christian centuries there was a growing tendency to avoid the use of language
that implied God's close, personal contact with men, and His personal activity in the world.
Angels and other mediators performed his will, the will of a loving but majestic King.
In line with this tendency was the growing definiteness and precision in the ideas about the
All that was expected of God in the great day of His coming would be performed through the agency of the Messiah.
This conception passed over into the Christian Church, but it underwent a final transformation in the certainty that this Messiah was, in fact, the Man Jesus.
Before His death many thought that He might be the political Messiah of popular expectation, though He did His best to show that He was not.
But after His death and resurrection the belief in the latter led Christians along a gradually rising scale of their comprehension of what He was.
His exaltation taught the first disciples that He had entered upon His heavenly office of Messiahship, and all Christian hearts speedily enthroned Him as 'Lord'.
Up to that point His glorified human personality comprised all that they knew of Him.
But the mystical experience of St. Paul led him to ascribe to Him a spiritual universality in which the human individual was understood to be endowed with all that is divine.
And this led men to think back into the past, and to meditate upon the mystery of His nature from the first.
It was endorsed by the Transfiguration, by His own vision at the Baptism, then by the Virgin Birth, and lastly the fullness of the Divine Nature 'in the beginning' was realized.
That the doctrine of the three Persons in the Godhead had begun to shape itself before the end of the first century is shown by the baptismal formula in Matt.xxviii.19, [For the genuineness of the text of Matt.xxviii.19 cf. C. S. C. Williams, Alterations to the Text of the Synoptic Gospels and Acts, pp. 33-36.] cf. 2 Cor.i.13, Rom.viii.14-17, 26-29, but nowhere in the New Testament is there definite teaching of the metaphysical threeness in oneness at which the Church arrived later in conflict with heresy.
But the Christological value of the writings lies in their gradual approach to the truth, itself inexplicable, which explains the universe.
To the Jew salvation was always in
The judgment on sinners and the salvation of God's faithful people were the obverse and reverse of the eschatological hopes. It was salvation from sinners rather than from sin.
The present salvation from sin was not thought of under that term.
Atonement for unwitting transgressions of the ritual law was provided for by means of the sin offering.
But for transgressions of the moral law God's forgiveness could be gained by contrition, and salvation from sin meant simply keeping free from it by obedience to God's moral commands.
The writer of James, in his Jewish
Christianity, adheres honestly and wholeheartedly to this position, but the specifically Christian belief from the first was
that 'there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved but only the name of the Lord Jesus'.
In the spiritual value of the New Testament, which is the measure of the inspiration of the writers, the soteriology and the Christology hold an equal place, and are inseparably connected.
It was firmly believed that Jesus Christ came to save His people - not from their earthly enemies; that would take place at His second coming, but - from their sins.
How, was not at first clearly formulated; but in very early days the sufferings of Christ began to gain significance in the light of Isa.liii, which spoke of the vicarious value of the sufferings of the 'Servant of Yahweh', words which Jesus may have applied to Himself.
[One cannot be so dogmatic as was J. Moffatt, 'The suffering Servant conception was organic to the consciousness of Jesus and ...
He often regarded His vocation in the light of this supremely suggestive prophecy' (The Theology of the Gospels, 1912, p. 149) for apart from Mk. ix. lab, which R. Otto stresses (The Kingdom of God and the Son of Man, 1938, pp. 244 ff.) we have only allusions in Mk. such as i.11, x.45, and xiv.24, which despite H. Rashdall are no doubt authentic sayings of Jesus.
For a full expression of the identification of Jesus with the Suffering Servant we turn to later strata than Mk.; Lk.x.37 (L), Matt.viii.17 and .18 (M), Acts iii.4 and esp. viii; Rev.v.6, 12; Jn.i.29 (despite C. H. Dodd); 1 Pet.ii; 1 Clem.xvi.
But see Vincent Taylor, Jesus and His Sacrifice, 1937.
Further, there is some evidence that even in pre-Christian Judaism the doctrine of a suffering Messiah was not unknown to the Jews, cf. W. D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism, 1948, pp.276-84; Wm. Manson, Jesus the Messiah, 1943, pp.171-4.]
St. Paul received this interpretation
in the Christian tradition of his day, but his own distinctive contribution to the doctrine of the Atonement was of a different
He was possessed by the thought that Christ, by His birth into the world, put Himself into union with man; put Himself under the Law, under the Curse which the Law involved (owing to the fact that no man could obey it perfectly), under the malign domination of the tyrant Sin (which used the Law as its instrument), and under the evil, supernatural, angelic Powers by which this age was governed.
And then by death He burst free from them all, 'stripped them off', and left them behind nailed to His Cross.
Every Christian who threw himself into union with Christ by 'faith', and was 'baptized into Christ', becoming a member of the Body of Christ and therefore a sharer in His Spirit by which that Body lived, was thenceforth 'in Christ', and - all that had happened to Christ happened mystically to him.
In Him he burst free from Sin, Law, and Curse, and the evil Powers, to live in the divine atmosphere of the Spirit (as a butterfly bursts free from his chrysalis fetters to revel in the free air of heaven), and thereby necessarily shared in His righteousness as his own.
There is much more in St. Paul's teaching which is connected with this, but that is the kernel of his thought.
He was an inspired man, but not in such a way that he could set forth
'infallibly' the doctrine of the Atonement in its complexity.
The sacrificial aspects of Christ's death, which played a very small part in his teaching, are seen in 1 Peter, 1 John, the Apocalypse, and above all Hebrews, the typology of which formed the chief basis of the conceptions that Christians have formed about Christ as Victim and Priest.
Since 1925 scholars have placed increasing emphasis upon the idea of
revelation and on the essential unity, not only of the New Testament, but of the Bible as a whole, interpreting the Bible by the
Bible, the focal point of which is Christ, who is the perfect divine self-disclosure.
This study of the nature of the inspiration of the New Testament helps to point to an answer
to the difficult question of the nature of its authority.
The word covers two quite different conceptions.
On the one hand there is the authority of the expert.
When a great physicist makes a statement about radioactivity, or a physiologist about muscular activity, it is not difficult for the layman, who knows nothing about it, to accept his judgment in faith and trust.
On the other hand there is the authority of an official - a king, a magistrate, a schoolmaster.
The one can be represented by auctoritas, the other by potestas.
Both come into consideration in connexion with the authority of the Bible.
The Jewish Church gave a gradual, diffusive consent to the marking off of certain books as sacred; and Jews submitted to their Church's authority, the potestas thus exercised.
Christians accepted the same Old Testament canon from them.
A similar diffusive consent of the Christian Church gradually marked off the New Testament canon, which comes to us by the potestas of the Church of the first two and a half centuries.
We must never forget that the Church was there first.
It made the New Testament by gradually differentiating certain books from all others.
One aspect, then, of the authority of the Bible is the authority of the Church.
But the question must, of course, be asked, What was it that led the Church gradually to rule in those particular books into the Canon and to rule out all others?
Why was St. Matthew's Gospel felt to be sacred and not the Gospel according to the Hebrews?
Why was the Epistle of Jude admitted and not the Epistle of Barnabas?
The Apocalypse of St. John and not the Apocalypse of St. Peter - and so on?
That brings us to the other aspect of authority, the auctoritas of the Bible, the inherent right of the authors to offer us their teaching and impart their ideas because they were experts.
And the real centre of the problem is - experts in what?
A thinking man will not bow to the authority of a mathematician when he happens to talk about botany or medicine.
And we cannot be expected to bow to the authority of a biblical writer on whatever subject he may happen to write: on history, for example; the expert writing of history is quite a modern science; no one in the first century approached the standard of accuracy now required.
Or natural science; how can any of them speak to us with infallible authority on natural science when they all, without exception, believed that the earth was the centre of the universe?
Or psychology; what deference should we pay, on the subject of psychology, to any one in the twentieth century who held that the bowels were the organs of grief and compassion and other emotions?
When we go to an expert we want him on his subject.
It is quite certain that the Church of the second century did not reverence the books of the New Testament because of their science or psychology.
They reverenced them for one reason only, and that was that the writers had lived so near to God, so intimate with Jesus Christ, or with those who had been intimate with Him, so deeply influenced by His Spirit, that they could write authoritatively on the things of God, on things spiritual and moral, on the great, main facts of history on which the Christian religion depended.
Not absolutely free from errors even on their own subject.
The greatest musician in the world does not always write perfect music.
But when we want our soul to be filled with the spirit of music, we turn to Beethoven, Bach, Schubert, Chopin, and so on.
Each of them does it differently for us, but on his subject each of them is a supreme expert.
And every book of the Bible gives us something different.
Some of the writers are more spiritual, more profoundly inspired, than others, and in parts of the books more than in other parts.
But their authority on the things of God, which the test of centuries has only enhanced, ranks higher for us than that of any other writers in the world.
The New Testament is a collection of masterpieces of spiritual music.
Its authority is that of spiritual experts, and we treat it as we should treat the authority of any supreme expert on his subject.
C. H. Dodd,
The Bible Today, 1946.
A. E. J. Rawlinson,
'Authority as a Ground of Belief, in Essays Catholic and Critical, ed. E. G. Selwyn, 1926.
A. Richardson and W. Schweitzer,
Biblical Authority/or To-day, 1951, especially pp.112-26, 129-54, 181-97, 219-39.
H. H. Rowley,
The Relevance of the Bible, 1941.
T. B. Strong,
Authority in the Church, 1903.
L. S. Thornton,
Revelation and the Modern World, 1951.
?? The Common Life in the Body of Christ, 1941.