Imagini ale paginilor


PERHAPS no one, especially during the last thirty years, has undertaken to write a Commentary on one of the Canonical Gospels, without experiencing again and again, during the process of production, that he had undertaken a task which was beyond both his strength and his equipment. That has certainly been my own experience in writing this Commentary on the First Gospel. For a commentator upon this book, who is to do his work efficiently, should have many qualifications. He should be a competent Greek scholar, versed in the Hellenistic Greek literature, and acquainted with the bearing of modern archæological discovery upon the history of the language. He should be acquainted also with the Hebrew of the Old Testament, with the various Aramaic dialects, and with the later dialects of the Talmuds and Midrashim. If the writings of Deissmann on the one hand, and of Wellhausen and Dalman on the other, have shown what new light can be thrown upon the New Testament by experts in their own department, they have also illustrated the defective character of a one-sided knowledge, and have given indications of the sort of work that may be done by a scholar of the future, who shall be at the same time a Grecian and an Orientalist. The commentator should further be a master of the material for the textual criticism of the Gospel, which is in itself the study of a lifetime. He should have a thorough knowledge of the literature dealing with the so-called Synoptic Problem, and should have formed a

judgement based upon independent investigation as to the literary relationship between the Canonical Gospels and the sources which lie behind them. He should have studied the growth of theological conceptions as illustrated in the Old Testament, and in the apocryphal and apocalyptic literature up to and during the period in which our Gospels were written. And he should have mastered the Talmudic and Midrashic theology at least sufficiently to be able to form an independent judgement as to the possibility of using it for the purpose of illustrating theological conceptions and religious institutions in the first century A.D. I can lay claim to no such qualifications as these. Nevertheless, within the limits to be mentioned presently, I venture to hope that the present volume will give some help to those who desire to find out what this Gospel meant to the Evangelist as he wrote it. How much may here be done Dalman has shown us, but much still remains to be done; and it is probably the case that, in some measure, the secret of the Gospels will never altogether disclose itself to those who cannot approach them from the Jewish-Oriental view of life, as well as from other aspects. In view of what has been said, it will be understood that the following Commentary has been, of necessity and intentionally, made one-sided in its method and aim, and it will be desirable to try and explain the principles upon which it has been written.

There are, I think, roughly speaking, two methods of commenting upon one of the Synoptic Gospels. One, and that the traditional and familiar one, is based upon the two assumptions, first, that all three Gospels are sources for the life of Christ of equal value; and, second, that the commentator is in direct contact with the words of Christ as He uttered them (due allowance being made for translation from Aramaic into Greek). From this point of view the commentator will always be mindful that it is his duty to elucidate and explain the words of the Gospel upon which he is at work, in such a way as to enable the

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

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

« ÎnapoiContinuă »