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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Criticism

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CRITICISM.1. A little more than seventy years ago (1835–1905), a turning-point was reached in NT criticism, the importance of which is generally admitted.* [Note: See, e.g., Schwarz, Zur Gesch. der neutest. Theol.; Pfleiderer, Development of Theology, p. 133; Nash, History of the Higher Criticism, p. 123: ‘Altogether 1835 is something more than a date in the history of literature. It stands for a new turn and direction in the Higher Criticism.’] In the year 1835 David Strauss published his Leben Jesu (to be followed exactly ten years later by F. C. Baur’s Paulus). The mythical theory was remorselessly applied by Strauss to the whole of the Gospel history.

It must not be forgotten that from the middle of the preceding century Semler had applied the word ‘myths’ to some of the OT narratives, as, e.g., to the exploits of Samson; and later סם at the beginning of the 19th cent. de Wette had not hesitated to point out the important part which, in his judgment, was played both by myth and by legend in the writings of the OT. [Note: For a discussion of the differences between myth and legend, reference may be made to Knowling, Witness of the Epistles, p. 16 ff.] At the same time he had not hesitated to accentuate, in language very similar to some of the utterances familiar to us to-day, the difference which lay between the application of the mythical and of the legendary theory to the OT and to the NT. [Note: See, e.g., Dr. Driver’s remarks, LOT p. xvii, and further below.] There were, indeed, two parts of our Lord’s life, the beginning and the end, which this earlier criticism did not scruple to regard as shrouded in darkness, and to relegate to the same domain of myth or legend. The supporters of this kind of criticism were content, as Strauss himself expressed it, to enter the Evangelical history by the splendid portal of myth and to leave it by the weary paths of a natural explanation. This method of so-called natural explanation, which in its most crude form was characteristic of Paulus and the school which bore the name of Rationalists, a method which Strauss remorselessly attacked, became discredited and gave place to the mythical theory, which at least laid claim to thoroughness. But it is not too much to say that an explanation of the miraculous which is often akin to the crude exegesis of Paulus, meets us not infrequently in Strauss himself and in much more recent attempts to prove that miracles did not happen.§ [Note: Lichtenberger, History of German Theology in the 19th Century, p. 328.]

But by another path of inquiry the way was being prepared for Strauss. In 1750, J. D. Michaelis published his Introduction to the NT, and in the fourth edition of that work he examined with caution and candour the origin of all the NT books. Michaelis was followed by Semler in his Treatise on the Free Investigation of the Canon, the very title of which seemed to mark the new principle of inquiry which was abroad. Semler has been recently called ‘the father of criticism’; and if that title is not always appropriate to him, we may, at all events, speak of his epoch-making influence, and of the break which he caused between the traditional views of inspiration and the free examination of the authority and origin of each sacred book.|| [Note: | Cf. B. Weiss, Einleitung in das NT3, p. 5 ff.] The new century was marked by Eichhorn’s Introduction. This writer applied systematically the principle laid down by his forerunners, like Semler and Herder, and continued the attempt ‘to read and examine the writings of the NT from a human point of view.’ His rule was that the NT writings are to be read as human books, and tested in human ways.* [Note: Nash, op. cit. p. 114.]

But up to this time and even later, no systematic attampt, if any, was made, as by F. C. Baur, to place the NT in relation to the varying phases and circumstances of early Church history and life. Even de Wette, one of the best representative men of the period, who combined so remarkably deep evangelical piety with freedom from prejudice and with thoroughness of learning, was often undecided in his judgment, and his conclusions were vague and uncertain. The criticism characteristic of the time was carried on, as it were, piecemeal: one book was defended or attacked, or the alleged author was accepted or rejected, but there was no attempt to bring the books of the NT under one general conception.

There were henceforth two great critical movements proceeding side by side—the effort to interpret the Gospel narratives, and the effort to investigate the origin of the NT books.

To the former of these efforts Strauss stood in the closest relation, and he claimed to introduce a theory of interpretation which should be complete and final. [Note: On the unsatisfactoriness of the attempt to apply the mythical theory to the rise of the primitive Christian tradition, see esp. Fairbairn, Philosophy of the Christian Religion, p. 467 ff.] To the latter Baur stood in the closest relation, and he claimed to make good a theory which treated the books of the NT from the point of view not only of their origin, but of their purpose. Baur’s book on the Pastoral Epistles, published in the same year as Strauss’ Life of Jesus (1835), showed that his intention was to treat the NT books in connexion with their historical setting.

Some of the most successful attacks upon the first edition of Strauss’ book were based upon the fact that he paid so little attention to the Gospel sources. A few pages are all that he devotes to the authorship of the Gospels, and it is no wonder that men like Tholuck rightly fastened on this weakness in their opponent’s position, and that much of Strauss’ own subsequent vacillation was due to the same cause. [Note: O. Zockler, Die christliche Apologetik im neunzehuten Jahrhundert, 1904, p. 16.]

But in 1864, apparently stirred by the reception given to Renan’s Vie de Jésus, Strauss published his popular edition for the German people. And here he showed how thoroughly he was prepared to endorse Baur’s view of the late dates of the Gospels, and to assimilate the methods and conclusions of the Tübingen school.§ [Note: See Lichtenberger, op. cit. p. 333; and. J. E. Carpenter, The Bible in the Nineteenth Century, pp. 277, 278.] But, as Dr. Matheson and other writers have so forcibly pointed out, the two theories of Strauss and Baur are incompatible. The conscious tendencies and the dogmatic purpose discovered by Baur in the composition of the NT books cannot coexist with the purely unconscious working of myth.|| [Note: | Baur saw in the NT literature the workings of a compromise between the two radically antagonistic parties of Judaism and Paulinism. In the exigencies of his theory he divided the period of literary development into three divisions—(1) Extending to a.d. 70, a period including the Hauptbriefe of St. Paul and the Apocalypse of St. John. Here the antagonism was at its height between the original Ebionitic Christianity and Paulinism. (2) Extending to about a.d. 140, in which period we have the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke, the former being Petrine, the latter (with the Acts) Pauline, but bearing marks of conciliation with reference to the above antagonism, and later the Gospel of St. Mark (also of a conciliatory type), whilst Ephesians and Colossians were invented by the Pauline party for the same conciliatory purpose. (3) Extending to a.d. 170, when the controversy was finally settled, and the conflicting extremes rejected by the ‘Catholic’ Church, a period marked by the Gospel and Epistles which bear the name of St. John, as also by the Pastoral Epistles assigned to St. Paul.]

That which is mythical grows up unconsciously. But if our Gospels were constructed to meet or to modify certain special historical circumstances, if they are to be regarded as artistic creations, or as ‘tendency’ writings, they cannot be mythical, as Strauss maintained, nor can they be regarded as the spontaneous and unconscious workings of the human mind in its efforts to impart reality to its hopes. One cannot, in short, have the ‘mythical’ Gospels of Strauss and the ‘tendency’ Gospels of Baur.* [Note: Matheson, Aids to the Study of German Theology, p. 151; cf. also B. Weiss, Leben Jesu4, i. p. 153.]

But while Strauss thus attempted to adapt this later work to some of the results and methods of the Tübingen school, he also came nearer to Baur in that he gave in this popular edition of his famous book an account of Jesus utterly incommensurate with the greatness of His influence and of the position which He achieved. Baur had taken little or no account of Jesus Himself and His Person, and now Strauss, by withdrawing what he had conceded in the second edition of his Leben Jesu as to the greatness and moral perfection of Jesus, was in a position no less impracticable than Baur’s, so far as any satisfactory explanation of the work and person of the Founder of Christianity was concerned. We cease to be so much surprised that Strauss should regard the history of the resurrection of our Lord as a piece of colossal humbug, when the Jesus whom he depicted was so insignificant; or that Baur should regard this same account of the resurrection as a fact outside the province of historical inquiry, when he made no serious attempt to answer the question who Jesus was, or to understand Him and His life.

This supreme importance of the Person of Jesus had been rightly emphasized by earlier writers of the century. Paulus, with all his faulty method, had at least recognized that the miraculous in Christianity was Christ Himself, His Person. Schleiermacher had seen in Christ ‘the greatest fact in history, the one only sinless and perfect Man, in whom the Divinity dwelt in its fulness.’ Herder, of whom it has been said that his Christliche Schriften gave the first impulse to the immense literature generally known under the name of the Life of Christ, did not forget even in his constant denunciations of the corruptions of Christianity to hold up to admiration the Person of Jesus as the Prophet of the truest humanity.

This primary importance of the fullest consideration of the Person of Christ is nowhere seen more strikingly than in one of the earliest and most effective replies to Strauss’ work, by C. Ullmann, a reply which so influenced Strauss that he modified his position, at least for a time, so far as to concede to Christ a place historically unique as a religious genius. As Ullmann insisted, Strauss was by his own fundamental philosophical assumptions debarred from doing justice to the Person of Jesus. [Note: To the same effect Weinel, Jesus im neunzehuten Jahrhundert, 1904, p. 42.] But if Strauss’ position is correct, then it is impossible to understand why the disciples of Jesus should have regarded Him as the Messiah; for they could scarcely have done so, and with such surprising success, unless there had been something extraordinary about Him. The dilemma, therefore, which Ullmann proposed was really this—Did Christ create the Church, or did the Church invent Christ? If the former, Jesus must have been no mere Jewish Rabbi, but a personality of extraordinary power; if the latter, we have an invention which would make the history of Christianity quite incomprehensible. It was, of course, open to Strauss to reply that whilst the powerful personality of Jesus had created the Church, yet subsequently mythical hopes and conceptions might have been at work, transforming and magnifying the idea of the Christ. [Note: See Pfleiderer, op. cit. p. 220. For Ullmann and his reply to Strauss, reference may be made to Knowling, Witness of the Epistles, pp. 20, 132.] But at all events for a time Strauss hesitated. He not only acknowledged the supremacy of Jesus in the sphere of religion, but he maintained that He possessed such power over the souls of men, to which there may have been conjoined some physical force like magnetism, that He was able to perform cures which were regarded as miraculous. He even went so far as to consider the Fourth Gospel as a possible historical authority.* [Note: Lichtenherger, op. cit. p. 328.]

In face of all this confusion, and of the number of replies to Strauss and the position which they took up, it is easy to understand that the question of the sources of the Gospel history and a criticism of them assumed a growing importance. This importance Strauss had practically ignored, and now Baur’s theory of early Church history and of the origin of early Christian documents was to be worked in to supply the want, and to be adopted by Strauss as a remedy for his own indecision or indifference as to the Gospel sources. Strauss felt, it would seem, the justice of Baur’s reproof, viz. that he had written a criticism of the Gospel history without a criticism of the Gospels. [Note: See Schwarz, op. cit. p. 545 f.]

But just as it may be affirmed that Strauss had started with dogmatic philosophical assumptions, so the same judgment must be passed upon Baur’s starting-point. No one has admitted this more fully than Pfleiderer, so far as the first three Gospels are concerned (op. cit. pp. 231, 232).

Wilke and Weisse had already proved, says Pfleiderer, the priority of Mark (and had thus, with Herder, anticipated much later criticism), and it could only have been the fact that Baur was wedded to his dogmatic method which prompted him to place Mark’s Gospel at least as late as a.d. 130, and to see in it a Gospel consisting of extracts from Matthew and Luke.

The impossibility of separating any account of the life of Christ from its sources became more and more evident in the succeeding literature.

2. Closely related in point of time to Strauss’ popular book is that of the Frenchman Renan. To attempt any examination of the defects of this famous work would be beyond our province. But just as Strauss was blamed for his indifference to any treatment of the sources, i.e. the Gospels, so Renan was blamed for his half-and-half treatment of the same Gospels. For this he is severely taken to task by Schwarz. [Note: cit. pp. 538–540; see also B. Weiss, Life of Christ, i. pp. 203, 205, Eng. tr.] He blames Renan for passing so lightly over the inquiries of a man like Baur as to the origin of our Gospels; and he points out that Renan’s half-and-half treatment of these same Gospels, especially of the Gospel of John, avenges itself upon him, in that it leads him on from half-rationalistic explanations of the miracles to explanations which are adopted even at the cost of the moral perfection of Jesus. And in this connexion he refers, like other writers, to the explanation which Renan gives of the resurrection of Lazarus. Of course the earlier Renan placed the Gospels, the more difficult it was for him to account for the miracles which gathered around Jesus; and it is not too much to say that the earliest Gospel, St. Mark, the Gospel which Renan himself regarded as the earliest, is bound up with the miraculous. Renan’s short and easy method was to declare dogmatically that there was no room in history for the supernatural. Like Strauss and Baur, Renan too had his assumption as to the historical worth of the Gospels; he too sets out with a general and comprehensive judgment as to their contents; for him the Gospels are not biographies, after the manner of those of Suetonius, nor are they legends invented after the manner of Philostratus; they are legendary biographies. ‘I would compare them with the Legends of the Saints, the Life of Plotinus, Proclus, Isidorus, and other similar writings, in which historic truth and the purpose of presenting models of virtue are combined in different degrees.’ It is not, perhaps, surprising that B. Weiss should speak of Renan’s Vie de Jésus as not a history but a romance, and should add that, as our sources in their actual form were in many respects out of sympathy with, indeed almost incomprehensible to him, he could not escape the danger of rearranging them according to his own taste, or in a merely eclectic way.* [Note: Weiss, op. cit. pp. 184, 187.]

3. If we turn to Theodor Keim (1867–1872), to whom has sometimes been attributed the ‘Life of Jesus’ from a rationalistic standpoint, we notice that he too is severely taken to task by Pfleiderer for his unsatisfactory and fluctuating criticism of the Gospels as sources, and for his too close adherence to the views of Baur, especially in regard to the relation of the Synoptics to each other. St. Mark, e.g., is a compilation from St. Matthew and St. Luke, and St. Matthew’s is regarded as the earliest Gospel. In comparing Keim’s various works relating to the life of Jesus, we certainly find a strange fluctuation with regard to his statements as to the sources and their validity. Thus he actually places St. Matthew in its primitive form as early as a.d. 66, and supposes it to have been revised and edited some thirty years later; St. Mark he places about 100; and St. Luke, in which he sees a Gospel written by a companion of St. Paul, about 90.

But in 1873 Keim issued a book of a more popular character, and in this we find that the revision of St. Matthew is placed about 100, St. Mark about 120, St. Luke also about 100, while it is no longer referred to a companion of St. Paul. Some years later (1878) Keim’s position with regard to the Gospels was again differently expressed, and he seems to be prepared to make certain concessions to his opponents, and to attach more weight to the two-document theory as the result of a fresh study of Papias. [Note: Sanday, art. ‘Gospels’ in Smith’s DB 2 ii. p. 1218.] But it will be noticed that Pfleiderer has nothing but praise for Keim’s treatment of the Fourth Gospel, which in 1867 he places between 100 and 117, and a few years after (1873) as late as a.d. 130. It must not, however, be forgotten that, as Dr. Drummond rightly points out, Keim’s position with regard to St. John’s Gospel marks a very long retreat in date from the position of Baur, whilst Pfleiderer himself is the sole critic of importance who still places the Gospel in question at the extravagant date, 170, demanded by the founder of the Tübingen school.

But with all these variations as to dates, and with the free concession of the presence of mythical elements in the accounts of the great events of our Lord’s life, Keim takes up a very different position from Strauss and Baur, and at all events the early members of the Tübingen school, with regard to the importance of the Person of Jesus and of our knowledge of Him. Nowhere is this more plainly seen than in the remarkable stress which he lays upon St. Paul’s references to the facts of our Lord’s earthly life and upon his high Christology. Baur and his followers had fixed men’s attention upon Paul, Keim insists upon the unique and supreme importance of Jesus, and he sees in Him the Sinless One, the Son of God.

But Keim’s portraiture of Jesus is marred by many inconsistencies. Thus he is prepared to admit that the miracles of healing may have happened in response to the faith evoked by the peraonality of Jesus, or he is thrown back in his treatment of the miraculous upon the old rationalistic methods; the atory, e.g., of Jesus walking upon the sea had its origin in the words, ‘Ye know not at what hour of the night your Lord Cometh.’ In some respects it is not too much to say that even the moral sinlessness of Jesus is endangered, if not sacrificed. Keim rejects, it is true, the visionary hypothesis, but he finds no alternative except the conviction that nothing irrefutable can be known concerning the issue of the life of Jesus, an assertion equally unsatisfactory with that of Baur. He speaks sometimes of the early and Apostolic teatimony rendered to the appearances of the risen Jesus, while at times be seems unable to realize the full force of this early teatimony and its marked reserve. In his chronology we note another instance of Keim’s arbitrary method, for he knows of no going up to Jerusalem before the last Passover, and the public career of Jesus is comprised within a single year.

In spite of much that savours of subjectivity, Keim, however, stands out as the writer who, in the ‘Life of Jesus movement,’ as Nippold has called it, has hitherto treated most fully of the Gospels as authorities, with the exception, perhaps, of Weizsäcker. We have seen how this need of a full treatment of the Gospels as sources had been felt since the days of Strauss’ first edition of his Leben Jesu, and we shall see that this need is still further felt and emphasized.

4. Within a few years of the latest publication of Keim’s work, two important Lives of Jesus, which are often mentioned together, issued from the press in Germany, viz. B. Weiss’ Leben Jesu and Beyschlag’s book bearing the same title. These books are of interest not only as important in the ‘Life of Jesus movement,’ but as further and valuable attempts to deal with our Gospels and their sources. Here it must be sufficient to say that they testify to the new importance which had been given to the Synoptic problem by H. Holtzmann’s book, Die Synoptischen Evangelien, 1863.

5. Holtzmann’s book gains its value not only by its rejection of the ‘tendency’ theories with regard to the composition of the Gospels, but also because, in its advocacy of the two-document hypothesis, as we now call it, it marks a new departure, and lays down a foundation for future study.* [Note: See also J. Estlin Carpenter, The Bible in the Nineteenth Century, p. 301, and his remarks on the two-document hypothesis. He points out that the conclusion of Weizsacker’s investigations pointed in the same direction (cf. his Untersuchungen über die Evangelische Geschichte, 1869, 2nd ed. 1901).] Holtzmann’s investigations had been published in the year before Strauss gave to the German people his popular Life of Jesus, in which, as we have seen, his account of the Gospels was still based upon the Tübingen researches; but Holtzmann’s theory has a permanent interest for us to-day, while the author’s subsequent statements of his views may be found in his published commentaries. It has indeed been said of the two-document theory that it may almost be reckoned to have passed out of the rank and number of mere hypotheses; [Note: Moffatt, Historical HT2, p. 264.] and at all events any account of the life and teaching of Jesus, or any investigation as to the historical character of the Gospels, will have to take note of it not only in itself, but in its many possible combinations with other sources.

This statement can be easily verified by a perusal of recent expositions of their views by representative writers. We turn, e.g., to Wendt’s Die Lehre Jesu, and we see how he allows a connexion in all likelihood between the statement of Papias as to St. Mark being the interpreter of St. Peter, and the actual contents of our earliest Gospel, and how he finds in the Logia of St. Matthew an uncommonly rich and valuable material of Apostolic tradition, which may be placed by the side of St. Mark as a complementary source for a knowledge of the teaching of Jesus. Bousset, in his little but important book, Was wissen wir von Jesus?, is loud in his praises of the way in which modern research as to the original sources of the Synoptics harmonizes so strikingly with the famous statement of Papias. So, too, von Soden refers to the previous work of Weizsacker and Holtzmann, and speaks of two Urevangelien (although he uses this term with some hesitation), which go back one to St. Peter and the other to St. Matthew, and he finds it possible to trace a connexion between the familiar statement of Papias and our Gospela of St. Mark and St. Matthew (Die wichtigsten Fragen im Leben Jesu, 1904, pp. 42, 62). [Note: So, too, Deissmann, ‘Evangelium und Urchristentum’ in Beiträge zur Weiterentwicklung der christlichen Religion, p. 128. Deissmann seems inclined to attach some considerable weight to oral tradition and its trustworthiness, a very important consideration.]

It must, of course, be remembered that, like H. Holtzmann, these other writers referred to did not regard the two-document theory as alone sufficient to explain the origin of the Gospels. Other material was no doubt present in the Synoptics in addition to the two documents, as we can see in the case of St. Luke (cf. art. Luke).* [Note: The two-document theory is sharply criticized by M. Lepin (Jésus Messie et Fils de Dieu, p. xxxvi, 1905), although he admits that it is adopted by a certain number of Romanist writers, e.g. Loisy, Batiffol, Minocchi, Lagrange. M. Lepin’s contention is that the theory in question is not in agreement with the most ancient testimony, which regards St. Matthew as the first of the Gospels, composed for the Jewish Christians of the first days, and as an authentic work of the Apostle. He admits at the same time (p. xxxvi) that some Protestant writers claim to make this two-document theory accord with the full authenticity of the First Gospel (i.e. St. Matthew), and that admission is at least made of the semi-authenticity of this Gospel by those who claim to recognize in the primitive document, the Logia of Papias, the actual work of St. Matthew. He also observes that even Schmiedel allows that if St. Matthew was not the author of the Logia, he may at all events have been the author of a writing, more ancient still, upon which the Logia depended (Encyc. Bibl. art. ‘Gospels,’ ii. 1891). See also Stanton. The Gospels as Historical Documents, pp. 17, 18, for the fact that the Gospel which bears the name of St. Matthew is the most often quoted of the Synoptics in early days: and it is difficult, as even Jülicher allows, to account for the attribution of a Gospel to an Apostle so little known as St. Matthew.]

And it must also be remembered that Holtzmann did not start with a belief that the sources of the first two Gospels, St. Mark and St. Matthew, must correspond with the two documents referred to by Papias. On the contrary, the investigation of the Gospels showed him that there were two sources at the base of our Synoptic writings, which closely resembled the statements of Papias with regard to the documents which he referred to St. Mark and St. Matthew.

6. But some half dozen years before Holtzmann’s book was published, another, and in many respects a more serious, opposition to the methods of the Tübingen School, had made itself felt in the breaking away of Albrecht Ritschl from his former standpoint. In 1857 this final break was made, and for more than thirty years Ritschl was destined to be a great and growing factor of interest in the German theological world. Ritschl was keenly alive to the importance to be attached to the Person of Christ. In his treatment of the books of the NT he was to a great extent conservative, inasmuch as he accepted the traditional authorship of so many of those books, as, e.g., of the Gospel of St. John.

But, on the other hand, it is urged that Ritschl’s own peculiar doctrine and the paramount stress which he laid on our experimental knowledge of Christ’s power to confer spiritual freedom and deliverance, no doubt tended to make him independent of, if not indifferent to, the results of criticism. Ritschl and his distinguished follower W. Herrmann lay the greatest stress, and would have us lay the greatest stress, upon the impression made upon us by the ‘historical’ Christ. But it is not easy to ascertain what is meant by this ‘historical’ Christ, by loyalty to whom the true Christian is known, This is the favourite Ritschlian position, this insistence upon the impression which Christ makes upon the soul historically confronted with Him. But we naturally ask, From whence and from what is this impression derived? Not, surely, from the impression of the earthly life of Jesus alone, as Herrmann maintained, but from what Kähler has called the ‘Biblical Christ’; the Christ of the NT is the Christ not only of the Gospels, but of the Epistles and of the Church.

It is urged, indeed, by the Ritschlians represented by Herrmann, that this faith in the historical Christ guarantees that, whatever criticism may effect, it cannot interfere with the truth and power of the position already won, and with the response made by the human soul to the perfection of Christ presented to us in the Gospels. But whatever may have been the case with Ritschl himself, it can scarcely be said that his method has prevented those who claim in some measure to be his followers from dealing very loosely with the Gospel miracles, or with such events as the Virgin-birth and the Resurrection of the Lord. And it is difficult to see how this process of solution can fail to weaken the impression made by the ‘historical’ Christ, and our confidence in the revelation which we owe to His life.

Many of those who are classed as Ritschlians dismiss in a somewhat arbitrary fashion sayings and deeds of our Lord which seem to them to admit of difficulty. The manner, e.g., in which J. Weiss has dealt with the oldest Gospel, that of St. Mark, in his Das älteste Evangelium, cannot be said to inspire a conviction of the truthfulness of many of the most familiar Gospel narratives. Herrmann’s own statements help us to see how subjective his method may become. He maintains, e.g., that through the impression which Christ makes upon us and our experimental knowledge of His power to confer freedom and deliverance, all uncertainty as to whether the figure of Jesus, which works thus upon us, belongs to legend or to history is in the nature of the case impossible.* [Note: See, e.g., Communion with God, p. 177, and cf. p. 81 ff. Eng. tr., for other statements made above.]

But it seems a curious argument to maintain that the impression which Jesus makes upon us is the positive revelation made by God in Christ, while the Gospels from which we derive that impression may or may not consist in this instance or in that of legendary and untrustworthy matter. Herrmann himself says that, in face of the seriousness of a desire for a salvation which means forgiveness of sins and life in spiritual freedom, the miracles in the NT necessarily become of minor importance … he who has found Jesus Himself to be the ground of his salvation has no need of those miracles (op. cit. p. 180). But if Jesus is ‘found’ through the portrait of His life presented to us in the NT, it is not too much to say that that life is inextricably bound up, from its beginning to its close, with the miraculous, and that the impression which that life has made upon the world has been made by a record from which the miraculous cannot be eliminated. Conviction of sin, e.g., must precede deliverance from it; and St. Peter’s cry, ‘Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord’ (Luke 5:8), resulted not only from Christ’s teaching, but also from the proof of His miraculous power.

7. It is in this attitude towards the miraculous, and in this effort to lessen its scope, that we may find a point of contact between what we may call the ‘scientific’ and the Ritschlian school. In a large and growing number of German critics who might be described as ‘scientific,’ if not as radical, there is an acceptance of the miracles of healing as due to the power of the personality of Jesus and to the response of faith which He evoked. We may see this in more or less degree in the statements of O. Holtzmann (Leben Jesu, pp. 58, 149, 166), or in those of Furrer (Das Leben Jesu Christi, pp. 129, 130), or in Bousset (Was wissen wir von Jesus?, p. 56). So, too, statements of a similar kind meet us again and again in the account of the miracles of Jesus given us in the series of popular little books on the religious-historical aspects of Christianity, which is now in course of publication in Germany (cf. Die Wunder im NT, pp. 32 ff., 51 ff, by Traub). [Note: See on the value of these little books the Hibbert Journal, January 1906.] And in our own country we remember how decisively Dr. P. Gardner would discriminate between mere wonders of healing and ‘miracles proper,’ and how he describes Jesus as a healer of disease as historic.* [Note: A Historic View of the NT, p. 141 ff.]

But at the same time it is evident how much there is which is arbitrary in this modern treatment of the miraculous. Thus Lepin justly criticises Schmiedel’s attitude in this connexion. [Note: Jésus Messie et Fils de Dieu, 1905, pp. lxvi, lxvii.] Schmiedel distinctly affirms that it would be wrong in any investigation of the miracle-narratives of the Gospels to start from any such postulate or axiom as that miracles are impossible (Encyc. Bibl. art. ‘Gospels,’ col. 1876). But a few pages later in the same article (col. 1885) he writes that it is quite permissible for us to regard as historical only those cures of the class which even at the present day physicians are able to effect by psychical methods—as, more especially, cures of mental maladies (cf. also Harnack, Das Wesen des Christentums, p. 18). The same occasional power is ascribed to Jesus by Professor N. Schmidt, The Prophet of Nazareth, p. 264.

So, too, Schmiedel (op. eit. col. 1882) and Wendt (Die Lehre Jesu, p. 471) agree in interpreting the words in our Lord’s message to the Baptist as referring to the spiritually dead, ‘the dead are raised’ (Matthew 11:5, Luke 7:22), just as in their opinion the preceding words are to be interpreted of the spiritually lame and blind. But, in the first place, there is no proof that the previous clauses are to be interpreted in any such spiritual sense, and the Evangelists evidently did not so interpret them. It is urged that we can find a precedent for this spiritual interpretation in the familiar passage Isaiah 35:5; but nothing is said in Isaiah of the raising of the dead, a fact entirely ignored by N. Schmidt, who is at one with Schmiedel and Wendt in their interpretation (i.e. p. 238). Moreover, it is very open to question if there was any Jewish expectation that the Messiah would raise the dead, so that St. Matthew and St. Luke had no ground of general belief upon which to base the raisings of the dead which they so evidently attributed to Jesus of Nazareth. Even if there are isolated statements in Jewish theology which attribute to the Messiah the power of raising the dead, it would seem to have been far more generally believed that God would Himself raise the dead. Further, even in those passages which do attribute this power to the Messiah, it is most important to remember that they refer to the resurrection of all the dead, and that there is no allusion of any kind in Jewish writings to the raising by the Messiah of single individuals (cf. Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, i. p. 632).

But this attitude, maintained by some of Ritschl’s followers and by the representative critics of the ‘scientific’ school, extends to a crucial question and a crucial miracle, viz. the Resurrection of our Lord from the dead. We may readily grant Ritschl’s own acceptance of this fundamental historical fact of Christian belief. [Note: See the remarks of Garvie, The Ritschlian Theology, p. 225.] But what is to be said of a large number of his followers? Some of them would no doubt allow that Christ awoke to a heavenly life with God, or they would labour to draw a distinction between the Easter faith and the Easter message; or they would allow that the Resurrection was a fact of religious faith, or that, whilst the traditional record is often doubtful, the essential contents of the record are, and mean, everything.§ [Note: Orr, Ritschlian Theology, p. 203.] But it is upon this question of the Resurrection that Feine rightly takes his stand, and upon the inclusion or exclusion of this fact in any satisfactory picture of the historical Christ.* [Note: Thus, in dwelling upon the contending parties and their disputes as to the ‘historical’ and the ‘biblical’ Christ, Feine writes: ‘Die Streitfrage lief also darauf hinaus, ob die Auferstehung Jesu mit in der Bild des geschichtlichen Chriatus einzubezichen aei oder nicht’; cf. Das Christentum Jesu und das Christentum der Apostel, 1904, p. 54.]

If we turn again to one of the most prominent critics who may be classed as Ritschlians, A. Harnack, we are not only met by his famous distinction between the Easter faith and the Easter message, but we also become aware that his classification of the Gospel miracles is not calculated to increase our belief and confidence in the character of the Gospel narrative. Harnack admits, indeed, that the spiritual power of Jesus was so great that we cannot dismiss offhand as an illusion the reports that He could make the blind to see or the deaf to hear. But, apart from these reports of surprising cures, Harnack would regard the stories of the miraculous which are connected with Jesus as arising from exaggerations of natural and impressive events, or from the projection of inner experiences on to the outer world, or from an interest in the fulfilment of OT records, or from various parables and sayings. In these and in similar ways the miraculous stories arose. And yet, after all is said, it will be noticed that there are narratives of miracles which do not fall under the above heads, and these Harnack comprises under one category as impenetrable stories, the secret of which we cannot solve. [Note: See especially the reply of Prof. W. Walther of Rostock to Harnack’s Das Wesen des Christentums5, 1904, pp. 47, 48. Harnack’s last category is expressed by the word ‘Undurchdringlichea.’ Reference should also be made to T. H. Wright’s The Finger of God, 1903, p. 194, and his valuable Appendix on the view taken by Dr. Percy Gardner and by Dr. Harnack of our Lord’s miracles, and also on early Christian and mediaeval miracles.]

8. One other and important point in which the ‘scientific’ German theologians and the left wing of Ritschl’s followers agree is in the rejection of the Apostolic authorship of the Fourth Gospel. And with this rejection there must needs be a serious weakening of the evidence as to our Lord’s Deity, although no doubt this evidence may be substantiated from the Synoptists alone. The remarkable thing is that both Ritschlian and ‘scientific’ critics are alike impressed with the indications that in the Fourth Gospel we are dealing with a source or sources full of minute details and vivid recollections.

Thus Wendt, while he refers the Gospel to some Christian of Asia Minor, admits that this Evangelist, whoever he was, belonged to the same circle in which the old Apostle St. John had lived, and that he thus had access to written information and to oral tradition received from the beloved disciple (Das Johannesevangelium, p. 216 ff.). P. W. Schmidt, in his Die Geschichte Jesu (1904, p. 95), cannot help feeling the force of the exact and minute geographical references which the Fourth Gospel contains, although he rejects the Johannine authorship. Von Soden, although he refuses to rank the Fourth Gospel amongst the historical sources for a ‘Life’ of Jesus, admits on the same page that the writer of that Gospel had access to good traditions in his notices of place and time, in the small details which mark his recitals, and in his information as to various personalities (Die wichtigsten Fragen im Leben Jesu, 1904, p. 5). [Note: See, further, Lepin, op. cit. p. 360. He rightly emphasizes the fact that Jülicher, in the last edition of his Einleitung (p. 324), dismisses the attribution of the Fourth Gospel to a preahyter John as without value, and regards the Gospel as composed by a Christian, dependent upon the Apostle John, at the opening of the 2nd century.] If we turn to English critics we find Dr. Percy Gardner inclined to follow Dr. Harnack’s view that the Fourth Gospel was the work of John the Elder, who was a disciple of John the son of Zebedee. Dr. Gardner, too, is so impressed with the writer’s precise local knowledge, that he thinks it may well have been derived from one of the Apostles, and very likely from John the son of Zebedee.§ [Note: A Historic View of the NT, pp. 153, 184.]

So far as English criticism is concerned, it cannot be said that anything which has been urged has broken down the strong lines of defence which we owe to Lightfoot, Westcott, Sanday, and more recently to Dr. Drummond. As Dr. Stanton has rightly urged, there must have been good grounds for believing that the Fourth Gospel was founded upon Apostolic testimony, in order to overcome the prejudice which would be created by the contrasts between it and accounts which had been more generally received.* [Note: The Gospels as Historical Documents, i. p. 277; and cf. to the same effect, Sanday, The Criticism of the Fourth Gospel, 1905, pp. 15, 41; see also Dr. Chase, Cambridge Theological Essays, 1905, p. 383. Mr. Conyheare has the boldness to assure ua that any modern scholar who upholds the hypothesis of the Apostolic authorship of the Fourth Gospel is at least as wanting in perspective and insight as the much derided upholders of the view that the Pauline Epistles were only concocted in the 2nd cent. (Hibbert Journal, July 1903, p. 620). But he takes no notice of Dr. Drummond’s defence, and, whilst he is loud in his praises of the Abbé Loisy, it may be of interest to note that another liberal Romanist, Père Calmes, has now given us an admirable defence of the Johannine authorship, l’Evangile selon Saint Jean, 1906. For a sharp and decisive reply to the extraordinary attack by Kreyenbühf upon the authorship, see Gutjahr, Die Glaubenswürdigkeit des Irenäischen Zeugnisses über die Abfassung des vierten kanonischen Evangeliums, 1904, p. 4 ff.]

9. But whilst, in the respects which we have mentioned, the position of the Ritschlian School is so unsatisfactory, we may welcome, with those who are not at all in sympathy with Ritschl’s views or with the views of his followers, the witness borne by so many Ritschlians to a living Lord and the unique place which they assign to the Person of Christ in any account of Christianity. [Note: See Orr, The Christian View of God and the World, pp. 53, 79, on the central place of Christ’s Person in His religion. ‘Ritschlianism is perhaps nothing more nor less than a determined attempt to find the whole contents of Christianity in the Person of Christ’ (Cambridge Theological Essays, 1905, p. 517).]

Among those, e.g., who are classed as Ritschlians we have on the one hand men like Troeltsch supporting strongly and ardently the value of the study of Comparative Religion for a right knowledge of Christianity, and maintaining that the religious-historical method should be applied to every department of theological thought; whilst Harnack, with Reischle, hesitates to follow, and is evidently alive to the fact that the method in question may be carried too far. Dr. Harnack’s words on the subject are remarkable. He expresses his desire that the German theological Faculties may remain as for the pursuit of inquiry into the Christian religion, because Christianity is not a religion by the side of other religions, but the religion, and because Christ is not one Master by the side of other Masters, but the Master; the disciples were conscious that they possessed in Christ not merely a Master, but that they knew themselves to be men, new men, redeemed by Him, and that therefore they could preach Him as Saviour and Lord. [Note: Die Aufgabe der theol. Facultaten und die allgemeine Religionsqeschichte, pp. 16, 17.] It is quite true that the American writer, Professor W. A. Brown, sees in some of Harnack’s statements, and in his recognition of the gospel of Jesus as that which satisfies the deepest depths of humanity, the promise of a better understanding between the two parties in the Ritschlian ranks: ‘With this recognition of the anima naturaliter Christiana, of a preparation for Christianity within the very nature of man, we find Harnack, even while insisting with Ritschl upon the originality of Christianity, admitting the complementary truth for which the speculative school contend.’§ [Note: The Essence of Christianity, 1903, pp. 286, 287.]

Unfortunately, however, the advocates of the religious-historical method, at least in its extreme form, show no disposition to confine themselves to the comparison of Christianity with other religions in respect to its inward witness alone; they extend this comparison to the historical facts of the NT, and they do as in a manner which savours of recklessness and extravagance.|| [Note: | See, e.g., Dr. Blass on Gunkel’a extraordinary theory as to the resurrection of our Lord on the third day. Expos. Times, xvi. [1904] p. 14; and the present writer may refer to The Testimony of St. Paul to Christ, pp. 526, 527, or A. Meyer’s Die Auferstehung Christi, 1905, p. 167.] The need of caution seems to be admitted even by Pfleiderer when he writes, ‘Before all things, we must guard against the constant practice of imagining that the inward affinity of religious conceptions implies a connexion in their external history.’ [Note: Early Christian Conception of Christ, pp. 153, 154.]

And when we turn to the Ritschlians, it is evident that men like Reischle are well aware of the many safeguards with which the religious-historical method and its study should be guarded.** [Note: * See his Theologie und Religionsgeschichte, 1904, p. 27 ff.] His criticism, e.g. that we should note not only points of likeness but points of unlikeness in any pursuit of the method in question, is endorsed by Heinrici and others, who have Joined with Harnack in opposing the religious-historical study of Christianity as if it were only one of many religions. Thus Heinrici insists with great force that if the resurrection of Jesus is considered from the religious-historical point of view it is unique; and in the same manner A. Jeremias, in answer to Gunkel, insists that the resurrection of Jesus, as it is described as taking place, is without analogy in any other religion.* [Note: Heinrici, Urchristentum, 1902, p. 38; A. Jeremias, Babylonisches im NT, p. 43: ‘Die Tatsache der Auferstehung Jesu Christi ist in der Religionageschichte analogielos.’] In the same pamphlet Reischle warns us against the danger of attaching too great value to analogies, and transforming them into relations of dependence. He does not deny that analogies exist between Oriental religions and Christianity, but he is keenly alive to the fact that their right and correct appreciation is a very difficult matter. He allows, e.g., the existence of a Jewish Gnosticism in the Apostolic Age, but he regards as a fantastic hypothesis Gunkel’s attempt to attach to this Jewish Gnosticism an important role in establishing points of connexion between Christianity and other religions (op. cit. pp. 30, 31). So, too, he rightly draws attention to the danger of overvaluing the form of an expression to the neglect of the actual meaning of its contents, and he quotes the sphorism, ‘Si duo dicunt idem, non est idem’ (op. cit. pp. 31, 33). He further illustrates this position by the use of the familiar formula, ‘In the Name of Jesus,’ of which Heitmüller has made so much. [Note: Im Namen Jesu, 1903, p. 197 ff.] Such words might, no doubt, be employed as a magical or superstitious formula, but they might also be used as a confession of Christian faith in Jesus, or as an invocation to Him in prayer, or as an appeal to Him as the Mediator with God.

Once more, and above all, Reischle rightly insists upon the insurmountable limits which beset the religious-historical method in any endeavour to solve the problem of the personal religious life of great religious personalities. If this is difficult in the case of Paul, it is still more so, urges Reischle, in the case of Jesus (op. cit. pp. 42, 43). [Note: See on this pre-eminence belonging to the Person of Christ in contrast to other religions, Fairbairn, Philosophy of Religion, pp. 532, 533; and Söderblom, Die Religionen der Erde, 1905, pp. 62–64.]

10. But this acknowledgment of the marvellous personality of Jesus may not only be seen in the writings of the Ritschlian School and its various and variant members. We may recognize it—it is not too much to say—in German writers of every school and in German works which appeal to all sorts and conditions of men.

Amongst modern Church historians in Germany no name stands more deservedly high than that of von Dobschûtz. ‘The Apologist,’ he tells us in the concluding words of his work on Primitive Life in the Early Church, ‘could point triumphantly to the realization of the moral ideal among Christians of every standing. That was due to the power which issued from Jesus Christ, and actually transformed men. In the midst of an old and dying world this new world springs up with the note of victory running through it. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” “And this is the victory which overcometh this world, even our faith.” … Christianity possessed what the speculations of Neo-Platonism lscked, the sure historical basis of Jesus Christ’s Person.’ But the remarks of von Dobschütz are of further interest, because he again emphasizes the importance to be attached to the Person and work of Jesus, in his contribution to the ‘Religionsgeschichtlichs Volkabücher,’ in the course of publication in Germany. Here, too, he dwells upon the Apostolic Age, and he points out that in it we do not only find Judaism with a strong addition of Messianic expectation; Jesus had transformed the stiff monotheistic belief in God into a living trust in God, and a joyous spirit of adoption as God’s children had taken the place of Pharisaic self-satisfaction and timorous fear.§ [Note: Das Apostolische Zeitalter, p. 5.] Or we turn to another series of books, of a somewhat larger and more expensive kind, entitled Lebensfragen, and here, too, we meet with the same emphatic testimony. Thus Weinel tells us that the Hegelian philosophy hindered Strauss from estimating or understanding the greatness of the personality of Jesus (Jesus im neunzehnten Jahrhundert, p. 42, 1904). Again, a little later on (p. 64), in summing up the significance of modern criticism, he declares that no century has striven so earnestly to discover the features of the true historical Jesus as the nineteenth; and he points out that whilst almost all the witnesses whom he cites in proof of this occupy a critical standpoint in dealing with tradition, they show at least respect, and for the most part reverence, for Jesus of Nazareth, and have recognized the power of salvation in the gospel which He taught. And as this image of Jesus in its living reality and in its purity is placed before the eyes of men, he prophesies that it will win the heart of humanity until all men are more and more transformed into its likeness.

11. But then we have to face the remarkable fact that this picture of the wondrous personality of Jesus is most frequently derived by advanced critics from the Synoptics alone. The Fourth Gospel is ruled out of court, or at the best reduced to a testimony of secondary worth. The account, e.g., of the raising of Lazarus, if it is no longer treated after the manner of Renan as a flagrant deception to which Jesus lent Himself, is regarded not as historical but as allegorical.* [Note: See, e.g., the remarks of Loisy, Autour d’un petit livre, 1903, p. 97 ff.; and, on the other hand, Loisy’s fellow-countryman and religionist Th. Calmes, L’Evangile selon Saint Jean, 1900, pp. 68, 75.] But even in what is allowed to us of the Synoptic record, doubt is thrown upon our Lord’s claim to judge the world, or upon His declaration that He would give His life as a ransom for many, to say nothing of the refusal to admit, as we have already noted, a large proportion of His miracles as historical.

In like manner the significance of St. Paul’s testimony to the facts and teaching of the Gospels, as also the significance of his claim to work miracles in the power which Christ bestowed, is minimized, if not disregarded.

We thus owe this wonderful picture of a great personality mainly, if not entirely, to documents bearing the names of three writers of whom we are assured that we know very little, and whose claims to be the authors of the books (in their present shape at all events) which bear their names must be very largely and seriously discounted. And yet these obscure writers have given us the picture of a life and of a teaching the beauty and the excellence of which mankind has never ceased to acknowledge.

‘Here,’ says a learned and cultured Jew, alter allowing that the Synoptic Gospels do contain teaching which in comparison with average Judaism is both valuable and original, both new and true, ‘we have religion and morality joined together at a white heat of intensity. The teaching often glows with light and fire.… The luminous juxtaposition of even familiar OT doctrines may be novel and stimulating. The combination of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 with Leviticus 19:18—the love of God with the love of man—in Mark 12:29; Mark 12:31 was surely a brilliant flash of the highest religious genius.’ [Note: G. Montefiore, ‘The Synoptic Gospels and the Jewish Consciousness,’ in the Hibbert Journal, July 1005, p. 658.] Elsewhere he speaks of ‘the first-classness’ of the Synoptics, and points out that there are one or two facts which still tend to weaken the effect of the best Rabbinic teachings and sayings upon the average Jewish consciousness. The first fact is that ‘these nobler sayings and teachings are buried in a mass of greatly inferior matter, so that they are difficult to unearth. They are not collected together in a lovely setting, united and illumined by the story of a noble life.’ He further remarks that, suppose we make a selection of the great sayings and teachings of the Talmud and the Midrash, it must be admitted that the same ‘powerful, driving, and emotional effect as the sayings and teachings of the Gospels’ is not produced. [Note: p. 652.]

12. But we note that this picture is in many respects entirely opposed to current Jewish conceptions of the day. No one has emphasized this more strongly than Bousset in relation to the Jewish anticipations and expectations of the Kingdom of God. He insists, indeed, upon the Messianic consciousness of Jesus, without which he regards not only the whole work of Jesus, but the conduct of His disciples after His death, as unintelligible. But if Jesus regarded Himself as the Messiah, it is evident, continues Bousset, that He did so in a manner totally opposed to the predominant and current Jewish expectations. Spiritual conceptions of the Messiah were not altogether wanting, but political hopes always occupied the central place in the picture. In the sense of such hopes Jesus was not the Messiah, and would never have become so. He expected the sovereignty of God and not that of Israel, the victory of good and the judgment of evil, not the triumph of the Jew and the annihilation of the Roman; He preached a kingdom in which the vision of God was granted to the pure, and as the preparer for and the ruler in that kingdom He regarded Himself.§ [Note: See Bousset’s remarks in his Was wissen wir von Jesus? p. 61.] But the Synoptists no less than St. John furnish us with another picture which was even more decisively opposed to the current conceptions of the Jewish nation, the picture of a suffering Messiah. It is not too much to say that ‘the idea of the Messianic sufferings and death is one that wakes no echo in the heart of any Jewish contemporary of our Lord, not excepting even His disciples.’* [Note: Muirhead, Eschatology of Jesus, 1904, p. 256. See, further, Fairbairn, Studies in the Life of Christ, p. 308 ff.; J. Drummond, The Jewish Messiah, 1877, pp. 356, 357; Row, Jesus of the Evangelists4, pp. 140, 213; Bishop Gore, Bampton Lectures, p. 192. The whole appendix in Schürer’s GJV3 ii. p. 553 ff., eotitled ‘Der leidende Messias,’ should be consulted.] In short, the words of Dalman are amply justified, ‘Suffering and death for the actual possessor of the Messianic dignity are in fact unimaginable according to the testimony of the Gospels’ (Words of Jesus, p. 265, English translation).

‘Nothing could mark more strongly the contrast between Jewish Messianic notions and the picture of the Messiah as realized in our Gospels, than the following passage from the Jewish Encyclopedia: “Jesus’ word on the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” was in all its implications itself a disproof of the exaggerated claims made for Him after His death by His disciples. The very form of His punishment would disprove those claims in Jewish eyes. No Messiah that Jews could recognise could suffer such a death.” ’ [Note: Professor Votaw (Chicago), ‘The Modern Jewish View of Jesus,’ in the Biblical World, xxvi. No. 2 [Aug. 1905], p. 110. The passage above is cited from the Jewish Encyc. vii. p. 166; and the present writer would venture to refer for further literature to the Witness of the Epistles, pp. 23, 360.]

This representation of a suffering Messiah which the Gospels presented so uncompromisingly, pressed hard for a solution upon the famous founder of the Tübingen School:

‘Never was that which bore the outward appearance of ruin and annihilation turned into such signal and decisive victory, and so glorious a passage into life, as in the death of Jesus. Up to this time there was always a possibility that He and the people might come to agree on the ground of the Messianic faith … but His death made a complete and irreparable breach between Him and Judaism. A death like His made it impossible for the Jew, as long as he remained a Jew, to believe in Him as the Messiah. To believe in Him as the Messiah after His dying such a death involved the removal from the conception of the Messiah of all the Jewish and carnal elements which were associated with it’ (Church History, i. p. 42, English translation)

Baur’s solution of the difficulty forms one of the

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Criticism'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/c/criticism.html. 1906-1918.

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