The Christian Religion revolves round one central article of faith:
|Credo in unum Deum ...||I believe in one God|
|Et in unum Dominum Jesum Christum||And in one Lord Jesus Christ|
|Qui propter nos homines,||Who for us men|
|Et propter nostram salutem||and for our salvation|
|Descendit de coelis,||Came down from heaven,|
|Et incarnatus est:||And was incarnate:|
|Et homo factus est.||And was made man.|
|Crucifixus etiam pro nobis:||And was crucified also for us|
|Sub Pontio Pilato passus,||under Pontius Pilate.|
|Et sepultus est.||He suffered and was buried.|
(In the modern Latin version under Pontius Pilate is taken with the verb suffered and not with the verb crucified. The English version is a correct translation of the original Greek.)
When the Catholic Christian kneels at the words Incarnatus est or at the words and was incarnate, he marks with proper solemnity his recognition that the Christian religion has its origin neither in general religious experience, nor in some peculiar esoteric mysticism, nor in a dogma. He declares his faith to rest upon a particular event in history. Nor is the Catholic Christian peculiar in this concentration of faith. This is Christian orthodoxy, both Catholic and Protestant. In consequence, the Christian religion is not merely open to historical investigation, but demands it, and its piety depends upon it. Inadequate or false reconstruction of the history of Jesus of Nazareth cuts at the heart of Christianity. The critical and historical study of the New Testament is therefore the prime activity of the church. The recognition of the paramount importance of a particular history and of the necessity of a critical reconstruction of it is not new in the life of the church. What is new is the emergence during the past two centuries of a precise method of handling historical evidence and an unshakable confidence in the adequacy of the new method.
It is commonly supposed that the modern method of historical investigation has been perfected outside the field of Biblical studies, and that it has then been applied to the Bible. The opposite is, however, nearer to the truth. The method emerged from the heart of Christian study, and was developed by Christian theologians in order to enable them to handle literary and historical problems presented by the Scriptures. The method thus evolved has exerted a creative influence upon the general study of history. Nor is this fortuitous. Christian theology has been creative in the field of historical investigation, because the theologian has been compelled to a delicate sense for the importance of history by a faith that is grounded upon a particular event.
The purpose of this book is to display the critical method at work upon the New Testament documents in the hope that some who are engaged elsewhere may be enabled to appreciate what has been and still is being achieved behind the scenes in the sphere of Christian historical theology. This purpose might at first seem to have been attained if the reader were provided with a number of assured critical results. But this would completely misrepresent the present situation. It is a strange paradox that precisely as the critic grows in confidence in the adequacy of his method, so he becomes increasingly diffident of his ability to catalogue 'assured results'. It is therefore difficult, if not impossible, to point to a number of critical achievements as though they were information to be handed out to the general reader. For example, the critic is unable with any confidence to date the New Testament documents precisely; nor can he, except in the case of the majority of the Pauline epistles, discover who wrote the various books. More serious is his inability to pronounce a final judgement as to whether isolated events happened or did not happen as they are recorded in the gospels. He is dealing almost wholly with anonymous books in which no reference is made to events familiar to the historian of the Roman Empire. (In the Lucan writings ‑the third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles‑the beginnings of the Christian religion are, it is true, set definitely within the framework of the history of the Roman Empire; but in this the Lucan writings are peculiar.) The problem of historicity is even more subtly elusive. Nowhere in the New Testament are events recorded or referred to simply as events. The events are set in a theological context and their record serves a theological purpose. This use of the word theological, however, raises the whole problem of the meaning of the Christian religion and, very particularly, of the historical events recorded in the Bible.
Consequently, if the general reader requires from the critic assured results concerning date, authorship, and historicity, set forth in tabulated form, he must be disappointed. The progress of critical historical investigation of the New Testament cannot be compared to a gradual mounting the steps of a ladder. One generation does not achieve a number of results, which pass into the text‑books, so that the next generation is enabled to mount a few steps higher. Rather, as each advance is made, the problem as a whole begins to look different; and the 'assured results' of the previous generation require constant reconsideration when seen in a new perspective. This does not, of course, mean that the modern critic stands aloof from the older criticism. He is completely dependent upon the work of his predecessors. But, where they supposed that they had reached definite and final conclusions, he sees new problems; and the older conclusions appear in their new context almost irrelevant, and, at times, trivial. It would therefore be to misrepresent the modern living criticism of the New Testament to catalogue a number of conclusions and present them as the fruits of the critical method. For this reason we have attempted to show the critical method at work; and to show it working not upon isolated problems of dates or authorship or historicity, but upon the main problem of the New Testament which lurks behind every fragment of it.
There is a riddle in the New Testament. And it is a riddle neither of literary criticism, nor of date and authorship, nor of the historicity of this or that episode. The riddle is a theological riddle, which is insoluble apart from the solution of an historical problem. What was the relation between Jesus of Nazareth and the primitive Christian church? That is the riddle. The New Testament documents all of them, emerged from the primitive church. They reflected piety and encouraged faith. Was there, or was there not, a strict relationship between this rich piety and exuberant faith and the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth? Did the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth control the life of the primitive church? or were his life and death submerged by a piety and faith wholly beyond his horizon? We know the primitive church from the New Testament documents. We do not as certainly know Jesus of Nazareth. The adequacy of the modern historical critical method is therefore finally tested by its success or failure in answering the problem of the Jesus of history. The authors of this book are confident that the critical method does survive this does disclose results, even very severe test, and that it assured results; but they are also persuaded that these results are very few, very surprising and very inconvenient. Inconvenient, because they do nothing to bring the New Testament within the orbit of modern humanitarian or humanistic teaching. Nothing, because the New Testament cannot speak of any human behaviour without first defining what men and women are.
Much that would properly have been included in a larger and more comprehensive work upon the New Testament has been omitted as not strictly relevant to the particular problem with which we are dealing. For example, the Acts of the Apostles would have been of prime importance had we been concerned to sketch the history of the primitive church. Since this is not our aim, the book has been almost wholly left out of account. The reader will, of course, notice many other glaring omissions. Questions of authorship and date have been dealt with, very inadequately, in an appendix. The reason for this is partly that no answer can be given to these questions, and partly that, even if answers could be given, very little would be gained thereby, since the further the critic advances in his work, the more certainly do these questions seem to be irrelevant, though the Christian status of the author is always supremely important. Yet it seemed desirable to give for reference some indication of the present position in regard to them. The names Matthew, Mark. Luke, John have been retained to denote the unknown authors of the final form of the four gospels, or to denote the books themselves. The use of these venerable names involves, however, no judgement upon the identification of Matthew and John with the Apostles, or of Luke with the companion of St. Paul, or of Mark with the interpreter of St. Peter.
We have not disturbed the reader by continuous references to current theological literature or to the works of famous critics of the last century. It has seemed more important to focus attention upon the New Testament documents and to illustrate the critical method, than to attach this or that theory to the critic who originated or developed it. Should this book fall into the hands of the expert, we ask him to forgive us when we have failed to assign due credit to the pioneers of New Testament criticism by omitting to name them or to give references to their books; and to forgive us also for having touched too lightly upon matters which will seem to him to be far more controversial then we have allowed. For example, we have not followed Dr. Streeter in his reconstruction of the stages in the literary composition of the third gospel. We regard Luke's editing of Mark to be still a prime fact in New Testament criticism, and we
have judged that Professor Creed in his recent commentary upon St. Luke's Gospel has made Dr. Streeter's Proto‑Luke theory untenable, at least in the form in which he stated it in Chapter VIII of his book on the Four Gospels. We have also treated the Epistle to the Ephesians as a Pauline epistle. The definite ascription of the Epistle to St. Paul is, of course, doubtful. But it seems to us legitimate to use it as, at least, throwing important light upon the theology of the Apostle, and as accurately representing what he had said and written.
A word is necessary to explain the form in which citations have been introduced from the Old and New
Testaments. Normally, citations are taken from the Authorized Version. But we have quoted from the Revised Version or from the marginal readings in the Authorized or Revised Versions where they have seemed to us preferable; at times we have dared to translate from the Septuagint Greek version of the Old Testament, where it seemed important for the understanding of an allusion in the New Testament. Very rarely have we ventured upon our own translation of any portion of the Old Testament or of the New.
Should the reader desire to check in detail the argument in Chapters IV‑VI of this book, he can do so the more easily if he has access to some modern synopsis of the first three Gospels, in which they are set out in parallel columns. For this we would recommend either The Synoptic Gospels, by J. M. Thompson, published by the Oxford University Press, where they are set out in English; or A Synopsis of The First Three Gospels, by A. Huck, published by J. C. B. Mohr, Tifflingen, where they are set out in Greek.
Finally, we cannot allow this book to go to press without thanking our friend the Rev. Charles Smyth, sometime Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, not only for his patience in looking through the proofs, but more particularly for his generous encouragement.
In preparing the third edition, the bibliography has been expanded, but otherwise, except for a few particularly necessary modifications, the text has been left, as Sir Edwyn Hoskyns approved it for the second edition.