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TO THE PRESENT EDITION,
BY PROFESSOR OTTO PFLEIDERER, D.D.
THE Leben Jesu of David Friedrich Strauss, which was published in the year 1835, marked an epoch in the history of theology. On the one hand, this book represents the crisis in theology at which the doubts and critical objections of centuries as to the credibility of the Bible narratives had accumulated in such overwhelming volume as to break through and sweep away all the defences of orthodox apologetics. On the other hand, in the very completeness of the destructive criticism of past tradition lay the germs of a new science of constructive critical inquiry, the work of which was to bring to light the truth of history. It is quite true that the Life of Jesus of 1835 was far from perfect, as judged by the present standard of scientific criticism, and Biblical science has long since advanced beyond it. Nevertheless, it cannot be disputed that it takes rank amongst the standard works which are secure of a permanent place in literature for all time, for the reason that they give final expression to the spirit of their age, and represent typically one of its characteristic tendencies. The liberating and purifying influence which such works exert
on their own time, as well as the service they render in opening out new lines of thought, lends to them, for all coming generations, a peculiar value as admirable weapons in the great fight for truth and freedom. Indeed, if our scientists are to be believed, when they tell us that the development of the individual is only an abbreviated repetition of the similar but much slower phases of the development of the species, it is hardly too much to maintain, that in the present and in the future every individual who determines to make his way from the bondage of a naïve trust in authority and tradition into the freedom and light of mature thought must pass through precisely that stage of thorough-going logical negative criticism which is represented by Strauss's work in a unique manner. As, according to Christian ethics, the formation of a pure moral character is possible only by the death of the old Adam, the rise of true religious convictions is by a similar Stirb und werde, die and come to life. The imaginary lights of mythological tradition must be put out, that the eye may distinguish the false from the true in the twilight of the Biblical origins of our religion. The ancient structures of belief, which the childish fancy of men had constructed of truth and poetry, Wahrheit und Dichtung, must be taken down and cleared away, in order that a new erection of more durable materials may be raised. To all earnest seekers after truth, the Leben Jesu of Strauss may be helpful, not as supplying the truth ready to hand, but as stripping the bandages of prejudice from the eyes, and so enabling them clearly to see and rightly to seek it.
For these reasons it is obvious that the publication of a new edition of the English translation of
this work needs no justification. It is only those who consider the first appearance of the book inexcusable and unfortunate that can call in question the desirability of its republication. But no one can hold such an opinion who is able to follow the course of the history of the religious thought of Protestantism. The critical process which reached its conclusion in Strauss's book, with its negative or revolutionary results, was latent from the beginning in the life-blood of Protestantism. The theologians of the Reformed Churches of the sixteenth century subjected the traditions of Catholic Church history to keen historical criticism; and if they did not then think of extending its operations to Biblical tradition, we are justified in recognising in the wellknown declarations of Luther, as to the inferior value of certain books of the Bible, and as to the unimportance of physical in comparison with spiritual miracles, plain predictions of the line of development which Protestant theology was destined ultimately to take.
It is intelligible enough that the criticism of the Bible could not arise amongst the orthodox theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They were restrained by a rigid doctrine of inspiration from an unprejudiced treatment of the Bible, and were moreover too much absorbed in dogmatic controversies and the defence of their confessions of faith, to feel the need of more searching Biblical studies. It was amongst English Free-thinkers and Deists that the credibility of the Biblical narratives was first seriously assailed, and with so much temper as to greatly detract from the scientific value of the result. Thomas Woolston's Discourses on the Miracles of our Saviour (six in number, 1727-1729)