Page images
[blocks in formation]

reader to reconstruct for himself as nearly as possible the life of Christ; to see before him the scenes being once again enacted; to hear, and to understand as he hears, the words flowing from Christ's lips. From this standpoint that which is common to all the Gospels will be allimportant. The special features of each, in so far as they cannot be easily harmonised with the other Gospels, will be treated as a difficulty to be explained away. Where two Gospels differ in detail, the commentator upon one of them will feel it to be his duty to account for the difference, and to try and ascertain what the actual historical fact was which underlies, and accounts for, the two divergent records. The atmosphere in which the commentator works will be one of effort to harmonise apparent discrepancies, and, so far as possible, to represent the Gospels as in essential agreement.

The very important element in the Gospels which such a treatment of them overlooks, or minimises, is the individuality of the respective Evangelists. It leaves no room for the obvious fact that, as they penned their Gospels, these writers selected, arranged, compiled, redacted, with the intention of trying to set before their readers the conception of the Christ as they themselves conceived Him. In its haste to arrive at the actual facts of Christ's life, it tends to obliterate individual characteristics of each separate Gospel, and to lose sight of the contribution to a complete impression of the Christ which is made by each individual Evangelist.

Further, the assumptions by which this method seeks to justify itself are thoroughly artificial and mechanical. The Gospels, of course, are not all, and, in their every component part, of exactly equal historical weight and value. For practical purposes, the ordinary Christian may safely regard them as such, and he will not be far wrong. But it is impossible for the student of life to allow such rough generalisations to keep him from studying the Gospels in the best and latest method that the science of

fot for qui


refi bril part but disc

of fi



inves meth result

history can suggest to him; and historical method is always improving year by year. Precious stones, e.g., have a value for their beauty and brilliance to the ordinary public. But such wide generalisations as that "diamonds are beautiful" cannot deter the student of life from endeavouring to investigate the life-history of diamonds, and to discover the cause of their radiance by scientific analysis. And the results of his investigation, that a diamond consists of such and such chemical elements, does nothing whatsoever to destroy the value which diamonds have for the unscientific purchaser; nay, rather would a thousand times enhance their value and interest, if he understood but a thousandth part of the extraordinary process which has gone to produce the stone which he buys.

The method of dealing with the Gospels upon the basis of these artificial assumptions seems to the modern student of life to cast an atmosphere of unreality round them, and to lead to results which are of the nature of theories without foundation in actual fact. Of course, it may ultimately prove to be the truth that these assumptions are in reality intuitions of facts of first-rate importance. And that is, indeed, my own belief. The Synoptic Gospels are, I think, historical sources for Christ's life of nearly equal value, and the reader is, I believe, in large measure in immediate touch with the acts and words of the historical Christ. The impression which he obtains of the Person of the Lord from one Gospel is, with very slight reservation, the same as that which is given him by another. In all of them it is the same Christ who acts and speaks. But these impressions or intuitions become vicious when they are used as grounds for treating the Gospels in a quite artificial and mechanical way. So far from being, from the point of view of the student of history, axioms with which he starts, they themselves need to be proved and justified by historical investigation.

The fact that the study of the Gospels is in such a chaotic condition, is partly due to this radically false

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]


method of studying them. On the one hand, traditional commentators have used these assumptions as a ground for treating the Gospels in a wholly artificial manner. By force of reaction the modern critic has often not only (and quite rightly) insisted on studying the Gospels on historical methods, but has also too often, and with fatal effect, refused to see that these assumptions are of the nature of brilliant intuition of elements in the Gospel, which are in part outside the range and scope of his scientific analysis, but which in some measure his analysis should have discovered, if he had not been wilfully blind to them.

When, if ever, the irritating and provocative influence of false and artificial methods of dealing with the Gospels ceases to create an equally false opposition method of studying them, it will, I believe, be found that the scientific investigation of the Gospels, upon the best historical methods that the future can ever give us, will lead to results which will in large part coincide with the old conservative and traditional intuitions. On the one hand, it will be found that the sources of our Gospels are early in date, and that, with some slight reservations, they describe for us the historical life of the Saviour of Mankind. It will be seen that the personality of the Evangelists plays a relatively very small part in their records, whilst these agree in an astonishing degree in giving to us an harmonious and consistent account of a unique Personality.

No real student of life will ask, “Why then all his critical investigation of the Gospels, if it is simply to give us the old results ?” and if the simple-minded should ask this, it is to be feared that no answers which could be given would satisfy him. But two obvious reasons are these. First, that false and antiquated methods of exegesis do incalculable harm to the young and simple, and to the coming generation of men. The science of history has within the last century undergone a revolution. It has adopted new methods of research, which are every day being improved and perfected. Nothing is more calculated to shake the faith of the men of the new age in the historical character of the Gospels, than to find that the Christian commentator still interprets the Gospels on the basis of purely a priori assumptions which should themselves be first proved, and by methods which are outworn and unlike the methods used by students in every other department of history. On the other hand, nothing will so reassure the faith of the younger generation of thoughtful men as the discovery that the Gospels, when studied and interpreted along the lines of ordinary historical research, still present to our love and adoration the figure of the Divine Saviour, and that the efforts to prove the Gospels to be late and legendary growths are in large measure a failure, because they start from unscientific presuppositions, and employ unscientific methods of historical inquiry.

And, secondly, the consideration of value must, of course, always be kept out of sight by the student. A very large part of historical and scientific research will always seem to the practical man to be of little immediate value. But the student will care nothing for that. He investigates because he must. And the Gospels cannot, any more than any other element in life, be hidden away from the curious search and restless probing of the human intellect.

It will hardly be necessary to add now that I have deliberately set aside the methods which I have just tried to describe. I have not employed the other Gospels in order to weaken impressions left by the words of the First Gospel, nor have I allowed myself to approach it as an exact representation of Christ's sayings and words.

It remains, therefore, to describe the method which I have adopted.

In accordance with this method, the work of a commentator upon a Gospel should form only one stage in a complicated process of historical investigation and inquiry. The first stages of this process should belong to the textual critic, and to the scholar whom, in default of a better name, we may term the literary critic. The former should give us a Greek text of the Gospel upon which to work the latter should have decided for us such questions as the relationship of the Gospels one to another, and to any source or sources which have been embodied in them. Properly speaking, this first stage of textual and literary criticism should have been completed before the commentator begins his work. But, unfortunately, the day is not yet when we can believe that we have a final Greek text of the Gospels, and the work of literary analysis is probably much nearer its beginning than its end. I have, however, reduced to as small an amount as possible the textual critical element in this Commentary. Handbooks to textual criticism, and editions of the text with full critical apparatus, are now easily accessible. On the other hand, whilst assuming what I believe to be the one solid result of literary criticism, viz. the priority of the Second to the other two Synoptic Gospels, I have thought it desirable to try and prove, by a detailed and full comparison of the first two Gospels, that, so far as they are concerned, this assumption everywhere justifies itself as an explanation of the relationship between them. This will explain the large part which S. Mark's Gospel plays in the following pages. S. Luke's narrative, in so far as it is parallel with the Second Gospel, lies, of course, on this assumption, outside the range of a commentator on the First Gospel.

The second stage in the process should be the work of the commentator on the text of each separate Gospel. Starting with the results given to him by the literary critic, and equipped with the Greek text supplied by the textual critic, the commentator will approach each separate Gospel with the purpose of ascertaining what were the conceptions of the life and Person of Christ which governed and directed the Evangelist in his work. From this point of view the main interest of the commentator will lie rather in what is characteristic of, and peculiar to, each Gospel, than in what is common to them all. He will

« PreviousContinue »