THE ORIGIN AND PERMANENT VALUE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
CHARLES FOSTER KENT, PH.D.
WOOLSEY PROFESSOR OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE IN YALE UNIVERSITY
"Ye shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make you free"
During the past generation the Old Testament has commanded equally with the New the enthusiastic and devoted study of the great body of biblical scholars throughout the world. Two out of every three graduate students in our universities who specialize in the general field of biblical literature choose the Old as the special centre of their work. At the same time the tendency of the rank and file of the Christian church within the past decade has undoubtedly been to neglect the older Testament. Preachers as a rule select less than a fourth of their texts from it; the prevailing courses of Bible study devote proportionately less time to it; and teachers and scholars in the great majority of cases turn to the Old Testament with much less enthusiasm than they do to the New. Why are these two great currents setting in opposite directions, and what are the causes of the present popular neglect of the Old Testament? If the Old Testament should be relegated to a second place in our working canon of the Bible, let us frankly and carefully define our reasons. If, on the other hand, the prevailing apathy and neglect are due to ignorance of the real character and value of the Old Testament, let as lose no time in setting ourselves right.
The present volume has been suggested by repeated calls from ministerial bodies, popular assemblies, and groups of college students for addresses on the themes here treated. The aim has been to give in concise, popular form answers to some of the many questions thus raised, with the conviction that they are in the mind of every thoughtful man and woman to-day, and especially on the lips of earnest pastors, missionaries, and Sunday-school teachers. There are indications on every side of a deepening and far more intelligent interest in the needs and possibilities of religious education. Its vital importance to the life of the Church and the nation is being understood as never before. Earnest and fruitful efforts are being put forth to improve the methods and courses of instruction. The first essential, however, is a true understanding and appreciation of that Book of Books, which will forever continue to be the chief manual "for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction, in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, completely fitted for every good work." The supreme importance and practical value of the New Testament are recognized by all, but we usually forget when we quote the familiar words of Paul that he had in mind simply the Scriptures of the Old Testament.
In divine Providence mighty forces have been quietly at work during the past century removing false rabbinical traditions and misconceptions that had gathered about these ancient Scriptures, while from other sources has come new light to illumine their pages. The result is that in the Old Testament the Christian world is discerning a new heritage, the beauty and value of which is still only half suspected even by intelligent people. This fact is so significant and yet so little recognized that one feels impelled to go out and proclaim it on the housetops. The Old Testament can never be properly presented from the pulpit or in the class-room while the attitude of preacher and teacher is apathetic and the motive a sense of duty rather than an intelligent acquaintance with its real character and genuine admiration and enthusiasm for its vital truths. The irresistible fascination which has drawn many of the most brilliant scholars into the Old Testament field is a proof that it has lost nothing, of its power and attractiveness. Already the circle of those who have rediscovered the Old Testament is rapidly broadening. Observation and experience confirm the conviction that all that is lacking to make that devotion universal is a right attitude toward it and an intelligent familiarity with its real origin, contents, and teachings. The sooner this is realized the sooner some of the most difficult problems of the Church, of the Sunday-school, and of popular religious education will be solved.
As the repository of a great and varied literature, as a record of many of the most important events in human history, and as a concrete revelation of God's character and will through the life and experiences of a race and the hearts of inspired men, the Old Testament has a vital message marvellously adapted to the intellectual, moral, social, and spiritual needs of to-day and supremely fitted to appeal to the thought and imagination of the present age.
This little volume is intended to be simply a very informal introduction to it. Since of the two Testaments the New is by far the more easily understood and the better known, it is made the point of departure in the approach to the more complex field represented by the Old. Many unexpected analogies will aid in understanding the intricate literary history of the older Scriptures. The point of view assumed throughout is that of the busy pastor, missionary, Sunday-school teacher, and scholar, who have little time for technical study, but who are not afraid of truth because it is new and who firmly believe that God is ever revealing himself more fully to men and that his truth shall make us free. It is hoped that this general survey will prove for them but an introduction to a far deeper and more profitable study.
To the Reverend J.F. McFarland, D.D., of the Bible Study Union, to the Reverend S.A. Cooke, D.D., of the Methodist Book Concern, to Mr. John H. Scribner of the Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sunday-school Work, to the Reverend M.C. Hazard, D.D., of the Pilgrim Press, and to the Reverend F.K. Sanders, Ph.D., of the Congregational Sunday-school and Publishing Society, who have generously read the manuscript of this book, I am deeply indebted, not only for their valuable suggestions, but also for their strong expressions of personal interest in the practical ends which it seeks to conserve, I am also under great obligation to the Reverend Morgan Miller, of Yale, for his untiring vigilance in revising the proof of a volume written within the all too brief limits of a Christmas vacation.
I. THE ECLIPSE AND REDISCOVERY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
II. THE REAL NATURE AND PURPOSE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
III. THE EARLIEST CHAPTERS IN DIVINE REVELATION
IV. THE PLACE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT IN DIVINE REVELATION
V. THE INFLUENCES THAT PRODUCED THE NEW TESTAMENT
VI. THE GROWTH OF THE OLD TESTAMENT PROPHETIC HISTORIES
VII. THE HISTORY OF THE PROPHETIC SERMONS, EPISTLES, AND APOCALYPSES
VIII. THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE EARLIER OLD TESTAMENT LAWS
IX. INFLUENCES THAT GAVE RISE TO THE PRIESTLY LAWS AND HISTORIES
X. THE HEBREW SAGES AND THEIR PROVERBS
XL THE WRITINGS OF ISRAEL'S PHILOSOPHERS
XII. THE HISTORY OF THE PSALTER
XIII. THE FORMATION OF THE OLD TESTAMENT CANON
XIV. THE INTERPRETATION OF THE EARLY NARRATIVES OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
XV. PRACTICAL METHODS OF STUDYING THE OLD TESTAMENT
XVI. RELIGIOUS EDUCATION—THE FUNDAMENTAL PROBLEM OF TO-DAY
THE ECLIPSE AND REDISCOVERY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
[Sidenote: Jesus' study of the Old Testament]
The opening chapters of the Gospels record only three or four meagre facts regarding the first thirty years of Jesus' life. The real history of those significant years ran so far beneath the surface of external events that it completely escaped the historian. The history of the mental and spiritual life of the Master is recorded in his mature character and teachings. The fugitive hints, however, vividly illustrate the supreme fact that he ever grew stronger, becoming filled with wisdom;—and the grace of God was upon him (Luke ii. 40). They reveal a soul not only in closest touch with God and with human life, but also in eager quest for the vital truth regarding God and man recorded in the Scriptures of his race. It requires no imagination to picture the young Jew of Nazareth eagerly studying in the synagogue, at the temple, and alone by himself the sacred writings found in our Old Testament, for this fact is clearly recorded on every page of the Gospels.
[Sidenote: His familiarity with all parts of it]
The events of Hebrew history, and its heroes —Abraham, David, Elijah— were all familiar to him. The Old Testament was the background of a large portion of the Sermon on the Mount. From Deuteronomy vi. 4, 5, and Leviticus xix. 18 he drew his marvellous epitome of all law and duty. In the wisdom literature, and especially in the book of Proverbs, he found many of those practical truths which he applied to life with new authority and power. From the same storehouse of crystallized experience he derived certain of those figures which he expanded into his inimitable parables; he adopted also, and put to new use, the effective gnomic form of teaching of the wisdom school. As in the mouth of his herald, John the Baptist, the great moral and spiritual truths, first proclaimed by the ancient prophets, live again on the lips of Jesus. At every point in his teachings one recognizes the thought and language of the older Scriptures. At the moments of his greatest temptation and distress, even in the last agony, the words of the ancient law and psalms were on his lips and their consoling and inspiring messages in his mind.
[Sidenote: Attitude of the apostles]
What is so strikingly true of Jesus is equally true of the apostles and disciples who have given us the New Testament books: the atmosphere in which they lived, the thoughts which they thought, and the language in which they spoke, were those of the Old Testament. Not bowing slavishly before it, as did their Jewish contemporaries, but with true reverence, singling out that which was vital and eternal, they made it the basis of their own more personal and perfect message to humanity. But for them, and for the early Church, until at least the middle of the second Christian century, the only scriptures regarded as authoritative were those of the Old Testament. Even then, only gradually, and under the pressure of real needs, were different groups of Christian writings added and ascribed an authority equal to that of the older Scriptures.
[Sidenote: Attitude of the later Church, and especially Puritanism]
Throughout the Middle Ages and in the eyes of the Protestant reformers the two great divisions of the Bible continued to command equal respect and attention. From the Old Testament and its reflection in the teachings of Paul, Puritanism and the theology of the past three centuries derived most of that which revealed their strength as well as their weakness. From the law, the prophets, and the book of Proverbs they drew their stern spirit of justice, their zeal for righteousness, and their uncompromising condemnation of everything that seemed to them wrong. Their preachers nobly echoed the thunders of Sinai and the denunciations of an Elijah, an Amos, and an Hosea. They often failed, however, to recognize the divine love which prompted the stern words of the prophets, and to see that these denunciations and warnings were simply intended to arouse the conscience of the people and to make them worthy of the rich blessings that God was eager to bestow. Misinterpretation of the spirit of the later Old Testament reformers, who dramatically portrayed Jehovah's hatred for the abominable heathen cults in the form of commands to slaughter the peoples practising them, frequently led the Puritan fathers to treat their foes in a manner neither biblical nor Christian. To this narrow interpretation of the letter rather than the spirit of the Old Testament, and the emphasis placed upon its more primitive and imperfect teachings can be directly traced the worst faults of that courageous band who lived and died fighting for what they conceived to be truth and right.
[Sidenote: Reaction against the Bible of Puritanism]
It is undoubtedly true that during the past two decades the Old Testament has in fact, if not in theory, been assigned to a secondary place in the life and thought of Christendom. This is not due to the fact that the Christ has been exalted to his rightful position of commanding authority and prestige. All that truly exalts him likewise exalts the record of the work of his forerunners which he came to bring to complete fulfilment and upon which he placed his eternal seal of approval. Rather, the present eclipse of the Old Testament appears to be due to three distinct causes. The first is connected with the reaction from Puritanism, and especially from its false interpretation of the Bible. Against intolerance and persecution the heart of man naturally rebelled. These rang true neither with life nor the teaching of Jesus. Refuge from the merciless and seemingly flawless logic of the earlier theologians was found in the simple, reassuring words of the Gospels. The result was that, with the exception of a very few books like the Psalter, the Old Testament, which was the arsenal of the old militant theology, has been unconsciously, if not deliberately, shunned by the present generation.
[Sidenote: Doubts aroused by the work of the "Higher Critics"]
Within the past decade this tendency has been greatly accelerated by the work of the so-called "Higher Critics." Because it presents more literary and historical problems, and because it was thought, at first, to be farther away from the New Testament, the citadel of the Christian faith, the Old Testament has been the scene of their greatest activity. With what seemed to the onlooker to be a supreme disregard for the traditions long accepted as established by the Church, they have persistently applied to the ancient Scriptures the generally accepted canons and methods of modern historical and literary study. In their scientific zeal they have repeatedly overturned what were once regarded as fundamental dogmas. Unfortunately the first reports of their work suggested that it was only destructive. The very foundations of faith seemed to be shaking. Sinai appeared to be enveloped in a murky fog, instead of the effulgence of the divine glory; Moses seemed to become a vague, unreal figure on the distant horizon of history; David's voice only faintly echoed through the Psalter; and the noblest messages of prophet, sage, and psalmist were anonymous.
[Sidenote: The mistakes of the critics]
Little wonder that many who heard only from afar the ominous reports of the digging and delving, and vague rumors,—all the more terrifying because vague,—either leaped to the conclusion that the authority of the Old Testament had been undermined or else rallied in a frantic effort to put a stop, by shouting or compulsion, to the seemingly sacrilegious work of destruction. When the history of the Higher Criticism of the Old Testament is finally written, it will be declared most unfortunate that the results first presented to the rank and file of the Christian Church were, as a rule, largely negative and in many cases relatively unimportant. In their initial enthusiasm for scientific research scholars, alas! sometimes lost the true perspective and failed to recognize relative values. The date, for example, of Isaiah xl.-lv. is important for the right understanding and interpretation of these wonderful chapters, but its value is insignificant compared with the divine messages contained in these chapters and their direct application to life. Moreover, instead of presenting first the testimony and then patiently pointing out the reasonableness and vital significance of the newer conclusions, scholars sometimes, under the influence of their convictions, made the fatal mistake of enunciating those conclusions simply as dogmas.
[Sidenote: Resulting loss of faith in the Old Testament]
History demonstrates that established religions and churches always hold tenaciously to old doctrines, and therefore regard new conclusions with suspicion. This tendency is clearly illustrated in the experience of Jesus; for with all his divine tact and convincing authority, he was not able to win the leaders of Judaism to the acceptance of his revolutionizing teachings. Yet one cannot escape the conviction that if in this age of enlightenment and open-mindedness, the positive results of modern scholarship had been presented first, this latest chapter in God's revelation of himself to man would have been better understood and appreciated by the leaders of the Church, and its fruits appropriated by those whose interests are fixed on that which is of practical rather than theoretical import. At least many open-minded people might have been saved from the supreme error of writing, either consciously or unconsciously, Ichabod across the pages of their Old Testament.
[Sidenote: Difficulties in understanding it]
The third reason why the Old Testament has suffered temporary eclipse in so many minds is more fundamental; it is because of the difficulties in understanding it. The background of the New Testament is the Roman world and a brief century with which we Western readers are well acquainted; but the background of the Old is the ancient East—the age and land of wonder, mystery, and intuition, far removed from the logical, rushing world in which we live. The Old Testament contains a vast and complex literature, filled with the thoughts and figures and cast in the quaint language of the Semitic past. Between us and that past there lie not merely long centuries, but the wide gulf that is fixed between the East and the West.
[Sidenote:The new light from the monuments]
With three such distinct and powerful currents—reaction, suspicion, and misunderstand—bearing us from the Old Testament, it might be predicted that in a decade or two it would lie far behind our range of vision. Other forces however are, in divine providence, rapidly bringing it back to us again, so that we are able to understand and appreciate it as never before since the beginning of the Christian era. The chasm between us and it is really being bridged rather than broadened. The long centuries that lie back of the Old Testament have suddenly been illuminated by great search-lights, so that today we are almost as well acquainted with them as with the beginning of the Christian era. From ancient monuments have arisen, as from the dead, an army of contemporary witnesses, sometimes confirming, sometimes correcting, but at all times marvellously supplementing the biblical data. Now the events and characters of Old Testament history no longer stand alone in mysterious isolation, but we can study in detail their setting and real significance. At every point the biblical narrative and thought are brought into touch with real life and history. The biographies and policies, for example, of Sennacherib and Cyrus, are almost as well known as those of Napoleon and Washington. The prophets are not merely voices, but men with a living message for all times, because they primarily dealt with the conditions and needs of their own day. The vital relation and at the same time the infinite superiority of the religious teachings of the Old Testament to those of earlier ages and peoples are clearly revealed.
[Sidenote: Modern aids in interpreting the Old Testament]
Interpreted in the light of contemporary literature and language, most of the obscurities of the Old Testament melt away. Modern research in the fields of Semitic philology and syntax and the discovery of older texts and versions have put into the hands of translators new and valuable tools for making clear to all the thoughts in the minds of the original writers of the Old Testament. Studies in comparative religion, geography, and modern Oriental life and customs have illuminated and illustrated at every point the pages of the ancient writings. To utilize all these requires time and devotion, but he who is willing to study may know his Old Testament to-day as well as he does the New.
[Sidenote: Rejection of rabinical traditions]
Fully commensurate with the great light that has been shed upon it from without, is that which has come from a careful study of the testimony of the Old Testament itself. Until recent times the Church has been content to accept blindly the traditions of the late Jewish rabbis regarding the origin, history, and interpretation of their scriptures. Handed down through the Church Fathers and interwoven with creeds and popular beliefs, they have been identified in many minds with the teaching of the Bible itself. Yet, when we analyze their origin and true character, we find that many of them have absolutely no support in the Scriptures, and in many cases are directly contradictory to the plain biblical teachings. Too often they are but the fanciful conjectures of the rabbis. Developed in an uncritical age, and based upon the unreliable methods of interpretation current among the Jews in the early Christian centuries, they are often sadly misleading. A close analogy is found in the traditional identifications of most of the Palestinian sacred sites. To-day the Oriental guide shows the skull of Adam beneath the spot where tradition places the cross of Christ. If the traveller desires, he will point out the very stones which Jesus declared God could raise up to be children of Abraham. Every question which curiosity or genuine interest has raised is answered by the seemingly authoritative voice of tradition. Investigation, however, proves that almost all of these thousand identifications are probably incorrect. The discovery is a shock to the pious imagination; but to the healthy mind uncertainty is always better than error. Furthermore, uncertainty often proves the door which leads to established truth.
[Sidenote: Acceptance of the testimony of the Old Testament regarding its origin and history.]
Even so the modern historical and critical spirit has led men to turn from the generally accepted but exceedingly doubtful rabbinical traditions regarding, for example, the date and authorship of many of the Old Testament books, to the authoritative evidence found in those writings themselves. In this they are but following the example of the Great Teacher, who repeatedly appealed from the same rabbis and their misleading traditions to the same ancient Scriptures. The saddest fact is that many of his followers, even to-day, hesitate to follow his inspired leadership. Fortunately, as the varied, strata and formations of the rocks tell the story of the earth's early history, so these early writings furnish the data for reconstructing the illuminating history of their origin, growth, and transmission. Often the testimony of the facts differs as widely from the familiar inherited traditions as the conclusions of modern science from the vague guesses of primitive man regarding the riddles of existence. Neither may represent absolute and final truth, and yet no serious-minded man can question which is really the more authoritative. To-day one of the most vital issues before the Christian. Church is whether it will follow the guidance of its Founder and accept the testimony of the Bible itself or cling blindly to the traditions of the rabbis and Church Fathers.
[Sidenote: Historical significance of the modern movement]
The student of history at once recognizes in the modern movement, of which the watchword is, "Back to the testimony of the Bible," the direct sequel to the Protestant Reformation. The early reformers took the chains off the Bible and put it into the hands of men, with full permission to study and search. Vested interests and dogmatism soon began to dictate how it should be studied and interpreted, and thus it was again placed practically under lock and key. It is an interesting fact that a young Zulu chief, a pupil of Bishop Colenso of South Africa, first aroused the Anglo-Saxon world to the careful, fearless, and therefore truly reverential study of its Old Testament. With this new impetus, the task of the Reformers was again taken up, and in the same open, earnest spirit. For two generations it has commanded the consecrated energies of the most thorough scholars of Christendom. Those of England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, America, and Canada have worked shoulder to shoulder, dividing the work, carefully collecting and classifying the minutest data, comparing results, and, on the basis of all this work, formulating conclusions, some assured and some hypothetical, which best explain the facts.
[Sidenote: The unveiling of the Old Testament]
Often, to those who have not followed the detailed steps, these conclusions have seemed only destructive. Many of them are assuredly so; but the vital question which every honest man should ask is, Do they destroy the Bible, or simply the false traditions that have gathered about it? Fortunately, most of the leaders of the Church and most intelligent laymen have already discerned the only emphatic answer to this question. The Church is undoubtedly passing quietly through a revolution in its conception and attitude toward the Bible, more fundamental and far-reaching than that represented by its precursor the Protestant Reformation; but its real significance is daily becoming more apparent. Not a grain of truth which the Bible contains has been destroyed or permanently obscured. Instead, the debris of time-honored traditions and dogmas have been cleared away, and the true Scriptures at last stand forth again in their pristine splendor.
[Sidenote: The true Old Testament]
Freed from the misconceptions and false traditions which have gathered about it, the true Old Testament rises from amidst the dust and din of the much digging and delving. To those who have known only the old it is a fresh revelation. Its literary beauty, its naturalness, its dignity, its majestic authority are a surprise to those who have not followed its unveiling. The old vagueness and mystery have in part disappeared, and instead it is found to contain a thousand vital, living messages for to- day. Its human as well as its divine qualities command our interest and attention. Through it all God speaks with a new clearness and authority. Thus, that which we thought was dead has risen, and lives again to inspire us to noble thought and deed and service.
THE REAL NATURE AND PURPOSE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
[Sidenote: A large and complex library]
Turning from the Jewish and mediaeval traditions and theories which so easily beset us, we ask, What is the real nature of the Old Testament as it is revealed in this new and clearer light? The first conclusion is that it is a library containing a large and complex literature, recording the varied experiences, political, social, ethical, and religious, of the Israelitish race. The fact that it is a library consisting of many different books is recognized by the common designation of the two testaments. As is well known, our English word Bible came originally from the Papyrus or Byblus reed, the pith of which was widely used in antiquity as the material from which books were made. It was natural, therefore, that in the Greek a little book should be designated as a biblion. About the middle of the second Christian century the Greek Christians (first in the so-called Second Epistle of Clement xlv. 2) began to call their sacred scriptures, Ta Biblia, the books. When this title was transferred to the Latin it was, by reason of a natural and yet significant error, treated as a feminine singular, Biblia, which, reappears In English as Bible. This most appropriate name emphasizes the fact that the books thus described are a unit and yet a collection of little books, selected from a larger literature and given their present position of preeminent authority.
[Sidenote: The record of God's vital, personal relations to the Israelitish race]
The term Testament suggests not the form and authority of the books, but their theme. It is the English translation, through the Latin and Greek, of the Hebrew word, berith, usually rendered, covenant. It means a bond or basis of agreement. It implies a close and binding contract between two parties, and defines the terms to which each subscribes and the obligations which they thus assume. The Old Covenant or Testament, therefore, is primarily the written record of the origin, terms, and history of the solemn agreement which existed between the Israelitish nation and Jehovah. The early narratives preserve the traditions of its origin; the lawgivers endeavored to define its terms and the obligations that rested upon the people; the prophets interpreted them in the life of the nation, and the sages into the life of the individual; and the historical books recorded its practical working. The significant fact is that back of the Old Testament records exists something greater and deeper than pen can fully describe: it is a vital, living connection between Jehovah and his people that makes possible the unique relation which finds expression in the remarkable history of the race and in the experiences and souls of its spiritual leaders. Thus through life, and in the concrete terms of life, God reveals himself to the life of humanity.
[Sidenote: Written in history and human minds and hearts]
In the light of this truth the Jewish and medieval dogma that every word, and even every letter of Scripture, was directly dictated by God himself, seems sadly mechanical and bears the marks of the narrow schools of thought in which it took form. Hebrew was not, and probably will never be, the language of heaven! Not on skins and papyrus rolls, but in the life of the Israelitish race and on the minds and consciences of enlightened men, God wrote his revelation. History and the character and consciousness of the human race are its imperishable records. Fortunately he also aroused certain men of old, not by word and act only, but by the pen as well, to record the revelation that was being perfected in the life of their nation and in their own minds and hearts. He did not, however, dictate to them the form of their writings nor vouch for their verbal inerrancy. In time, out of their writings were gradually collected and combined the most significant passages and books, and to these was finally attributed the authority that they now rightfully enjoy.
[Sidenote: Secondary sources of its authority]
The ultimate basis of that authority, however, is not their presence in the canon of the Old Testament. At the same time their presence there is deeply significant, for it represents the indorsement of many ages and of countless thousands who, from the most varied points of view and amid the most diverse experiences, have tested and found these ancient scriptures worthy of the exalted position that has gradually been assigned to them. It is not the support of the Church, although this also for the same reason is exceedingly significant. It is not the calm assumption, of authority that appears at every point throughout the Old Testament, although this is richly suggestive; the sacred writings of other religions make even more pretentious claims. It is not that its commands and doctrines come from the mouths of great prophets and priests, like Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. This fact undoubtedly had great weight with those who formed the final canon of the Old Testament, and the authority of a strong, noble personality is supremely impressive; but divine authority never emanates primarily from a man, however great be his sanctity. Furthermore, to establish the authority derived from a Moses or a Samuel it is necessary in every case to prove that the books attributed to them by late tradition actually came from their pens. Even if this could in every case be done, some of the noblest passages in the Old Testament remain avowedly anonymous; for the tendency of the great majority of its authors was clearly to send forth their messages without any attempt to associate their own names with them.
[Sidenote: Its ultimate basis of authority]
The ultimate authority of the Old Testament, therefore, is not dependent upon devoted canon-makers, nor the weighty testimony of the Church, nor upon its own claims, nor the reputation of the inspired men who have written it, nor the estimate of any age. Its seat of authority is more fundamental. It contains the word of God because it faithfully records and interprets the most important events in the early religious history of man, and simply and effectively presents God's revelation of himself and of his will in the minds and hearts of the great pre-Christian heralds of ethical and spiritual truth. Back of the Old Testament is a vast variety of vital experiences, national and individual, political and spiritual, social and ethical, pleasurable and painful. Back of all these deeply significant experiences is God himself, through them making known his character and laws and purpose to man.
[Sidenote: Its authority ethical and religious, not scientific]
Students of the rediscovered Old Testament also recognize, in the light of a broader and more careful study, the fact, so often and so fatally overlooked in the past, that its authority lies not in the field of natural science, nor even of history in the limited sense. Time and patience were destined to increase man's knowledge in these great departments and also to develop his mind in attaining it. The teaching of the Old Testament is authoritative only in the far more important realm of ethics and religion. Paul truly voiced its supreme claim when he said that it was profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, completely fitted for every good work (II Tim. iii. 16, 17). The assertion by the Church in the past of claims nowhere made or implied by the Old Testament itself is unfortunately still a fertile source of perplexity and dissension to many faithful souls. Their salvation is to be found in a clear and intelligent appreciation of the real nature and claim of these ancient writings.
[Sidenote: Its dominant purpose to teach spiritual truth]
One dominant aim determines the form of each book and the selection of individual passages and binds together the whole: it is effectively to set forth spiritual truth and to mould in accordance with God's will the characters and beliefs of men. It was the supreme bond that bound together prophets, priests, sages, and psalmists, although the means by which they accomplished their common purpose differed widely. Many a current tradition, and the crude conceptions of the ancients regarding the natural world, are recorded in the Old Testament; but they are not there merely to perpetuate history nor to increase the total of scientific knowledge, but rather because they concretely illustrate and impress some vital ethical and spiritual truth. Such singleness of religious purpose is paralleled nowhere else except in the work and teachings of Jesus and his apostles.
[Sidenote: Its present fruits the proof of its inspired authority]
The ever-present evidence of the divine authority back of the spiritual teachings of the Old Testament as a whole is that they ring true to life and meet its needs. By their fruits we know them. It is the demonstration of the laboratory. We know that they are inspired because they inspire. The principles underlying the social sermons of Amos are as applicable to present conditions as when first uttered. The sooner they are practically applied the sooner our capitalistic civilization can raise its head now bowed In shame. The faith that breathes through the Psalms is the faith that upholds men to-day in the midst of temptation and trial. The standards of justice, tempered by love, which are maintained in the Old Testament laws make good citizens both of earth and heaven. As long as men continue to test the teachings of the Old Testament scriptures in the laboratory of experience and to know them by their fruits, nothing can permanently endanger their position in the Christian Church or in the life of humanity. Neglect and indifference, not Higher Criticism, alone permanently threaten the authority of the Old Testament as well as that of the New.
[Sidenote: Significance of the variations and inconsistencies]
Recognizing the real nature and purpose of these ancient records, the true student neither denies nor is disturbed by the marks of their human authorship. As in the case of the Gospels, the variations between the parallel narratives are all evidence of their genuineness and of the sincerity of their purpose. They demonstrate that God's revelation is adapted to the needs of life and the comprehension of man, because it was through life and expressed in the terms of life. Their individual peculiarities and minor errors often introduce us more intimately to the biblical writers and help us to understand more clearly and sympathetically their visions of truth and of God. Above all, they teach us to look ever through and beyond all these written records to the greater revelation, which they reflect, and to the infinite Source of all knowledge and truth.
[Sidenote: The record of a gradual revelation]
The inconsistencies and imperfect teachings which are revealed by a critical study of the Old Testament are also but a few of the many indices that it is the record of a gradually unfolding revelation. Late Jewish tradition, which is traceable even in the Old Testament itself, was inclined to assign the origin of everything which it held dear to the very beginnings of Hebrew history, and in so doing it has done much to obscure its true genesis. Fortunately, however, the history of God's gradual training of the race was writ too plainly in the earlier Old Testament scriptures to be completely obscured by later traditions. The recognition that God's all-wise method of revealing spiritual as well as scientific truth was progressive, adapted to the unfolding consciousness of each succeeding age, at once sweeps away many of the greatest difficulties that have hitherto obscured the true Old Testament. Jesus with his divine intuition appreciated this principle of growth. Unhesitatingly he abrogated certain time-honored Old Testament laws with the words, Ye have heard that it was said ... but I say to you. His own interpretation of his relation to the sacred writings of his race was that he came to bring them to complete fulfilment. Rearranged in their approximately chronological order, the Old Testament books become the harmonious and many-sided record of ten centuries of strenuous human endeavor to know and to do the will of God and of his full and gracious response to that effort. The beatitude of those who hunger and thirst after righteousness was as true in the days of Moses as it was when Jesus proclaimed it.
[Sidenote: Its different books of very different values]
Finally, the right and normal attitude toward the Old Testament leads to the wholesome conclusion that its different books are of very different values. The great critic of Nazareth again set the example. As we have just seen, certain of the Old Testament laws he distinctly abrogated; others he quietly ignored; others, as, for example, the law of love (Deut. vi. 5, and Lev. xix. 19) he singled out and gave its rightful place of central authority. A careful study of the Gospels, in the light of the Old Testament, demonstrates that a very important element in his work, as the Saviour of men, was in thus separating the dross in the older teachings from the gold, and then in giving to the vital truth a clearer, more personal, and yet more universal application. For the intelligent student and teacher of to-day the Old Testament still remains a great mine of historical, ethical, and religious truth. Some parts, like Genesis, Deuteronomy, Hosea, Jeremiah, Isaiah xl.-lv., and the Psalter, are richly productive. Others, like Numbers, Chronicles, and Esther, are comparatively barren.
[Sidenote: Application of this truth]
Since the Old Testament is the record of a progressively unfolding revelation, it is obvious that all parts do not possess an equal authority. To place the example of the patriarchs or of David, who lived when ethical standards and religious beliefs were only partially developed, on an equality with the exalted ideals of the later prophets, is to misinterpret those ancient Scriptures and to reject the leadership of the Great Teacher. At the same time, studied from the newer point of view, the examples of those early heroes are found to illustrate vital principles in human life and to inspire and warn the child of to-day as effectively as they did far back in the childhood of the race.
[Sidenote: The Old Testament not a fetish but a spiritual guidebook]
In these later days God has taken the Bible from the throne of infallibility on which Protestantism sought to place it. By a gradual yet benign process, which we were nevertheless at first inclined bitterly to resent, he has opened our eyes to its true character and purpose. Again, he has pronounced his Thou shall not to the natural and yet selfish human desire to transfer moral and intellectual responsibility from the individual conscience to some external authority. Again, he has told us that only in the sanctuary of the human soul is the Infallible One to be found. Yet in order that we each may find him there, the cumulative religious experience of the countless thousands who have already found him is of inestimable value. The Old Testament contains not merely the word of God, but, together with its complement the New, is the great guide-book in finding and knowing him, It blazes the way which, the pilgrim of to-day, as in the past, must follow from his cradle to the throne of God. At each point it is richly illustrated by the actual religious experiences of real men and women. Their mistakes and their victories, are equally instructive. From many vantage-points reached by prophets and priests and psalmists, we are able to catch new and glorious visions of God's character and purpose for mankind. Through its pages—sometimes dimly, sometimes brightly, But growing ever clearer—shines the giving light of God's truth and revelation, culminating in the Christ, the perfected revelation and the supreme demonstration that man, though beset by temptation, baffled by obstacles, deserted by friends, and maligned by foes, can nevertheless, by the invincible sword of love and self-sacrifice, conquer the world and become one with God, as did the peerless Knight of Nazareth.
THE EARLIEST CHAPTERS IN DIVINE REVELATION
[Sidenote: The nature of inspiration]
Since the days of the Greek philosophers the subject of inspiration and revelation has been fertile theme for discussion and dispute among scholars and theologians. Many different theories have been advanced, and ultimately abandoned as untenable. In its simplest meaning and use, inspiration describes the personal influence of one individual upon the mind and spirit of another. Thus we often say, "That man inspired me." What we are or do under the influence of that intellectual or spiritual impulse is the effect and evidence of the inspiration. Similarly, divine inspiration is the influence of God's spirit or personality upon the mind and spirit of man. It may find expression in an exalted emotional state, in an heightened clarity of mental perception, in noble deeds, in the development of character, indeed in a great variety of ways; but its seat is always the mind of man and its ultimate cause the Deity himself.
[Sidenote: In the Old Testament]
The early Old Testament expression most commonly used to describe inspiration was that the Spirit of God rushed upon the man, as it did upon Saul, causing him to burst forth into religious ecstasy or frenzy (I Sam. x. 6, 10), and upon Samson, giving him great bodily strength or prowess in war (Judg. xiv. 6, 19, xv. 14). Skill in interpreting dreams and in ruling was also regarded as evidence that the Spirit of God was in a man like Joseph (Gen. xli. 38); but above all the prophetic gift was looked upon as the supreme evidence of the presence of the Spirit of Jehovah (Hos. ix. 1; Micah ii. 7, iii. 8). The word spirit as thus used in the Old Testament is exceedingly suggestive. It means primarily the breath, that comes from the nostrils. Though invisible to the eye, the breath was in the thought of primitive man the symbol of the active life of the individual. In the full vigor of bodily strength or in violent exercise it came quick and strong; in times of weakness it was faint; when it disappeared, death ensued; the living personality was gone, and only the play remained. The same Hebrew word, ruach, described the wind—unseen, intangible, and yet one of the most real and irresistible forces in all the universe. Thus it was a supremely appropriate term to describe the activity of God, as it produced visible effects in the minds and lives of men. In the later Old Testament literature its use was extended, so that to the Spirit of God was ascribed activity in the natural world and in human history.
[Sidenote: Nature of revelation]
Of the two terms, revelation is broader than inspiration. Sometimes it is used collectively, to designate the truth revealed, but it more properly describes the means or process whereby it is made apparent to the human mind. It implies that truth is always existent, but only gradually recognized. Inspiration is one of the chief means whereby the human vision is clarified so as to perceive it. Natural phenomena, environment, and above all experience, are also mighty agents in making the divine character and truth clear to the mind of man. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews declares, with true insight, that God spoke in divers manners. All the universe, all history, and all life reveal him and his ultimate truths, for each is effective in opening the mental and spiritual eye of man to see the realm long awaiting him as conqueror.
[Sidenote: Man's role in the process of revelation]
For countless ages electricity has inscribed its magic tracery on the storm-cloud and performed its all-important functions in organic life, but not until men's eyes were opened by experience and trained observation to recognize its laws, was it practically applied to the needs of civilization. Similarly, unchanging moral and spiritual laws have existed through all time, but they have not become operative in human life until the eye of some seer is opened by a great experience, or under the direct influence of the Spirit of God he is led to see and proclaim them. Thus God is in all and reveals himself through all nature and life, but it is only through the mind and on the lips of his highest creature, man, that truth is fully appreciated, formulated, and applied.
[Sidenote: The revelation recorded in the Bible]
In the broader sense all revelation is divine, for it reveals God and his laws; and yet it is obvious that there is a real difference between the revelation recorded in a scientific book and that of the Bible. It is a difference both in subject-matter and in the ends to which the truth thus made manifest shall be applied. The one relates to the objective world, the world of things; the other relates to human beliefs, emotions, and acts.
[Sidenote: Its breadth and gradualness]
Moreover, it is evident that the spiritual revelation which is in part recorded in the Bible was not limited to the Israelitish race or to the twelve centuries represented by the Old and New Testaments. The biblical writers themselves assume this fact. According to the early Judean prophetic narratives, Enoch, who lived ages before Abraham and Moses, was a worshipper of Jehovah (Gen. iv. 26). Cain and Abel are both represented in the familiar story of Genesis iv., as bringing their offerings to Jehovah. One of the chief teachings of the earliest stories in the Old Testament is that men from the first knew and worshipped God and were held responsible for their acts according to their moral enlightenment. History, science, and the Bible unite in testifying that the revelation of spiritual truth to mankind was something gradual, progressive, and cumulative; also that it is dependent upon the ability of men to receive it. This capacity of the individual to receive is, after all, the determining factor in the process of divine revelation; for God's truth and his desire to impart it are always the same. Hence, whenever conditions favor, or national or private experiences clarify the vision of a race or group of men, a revelation is assured.
[Sidenote: Antiquity of human civilization and religion]
In the light of ancient history and the result of recent excavations it is possible, now as never before, to study the varied influences and forces employed by God in the past to open the spiritual eyes of mankind to see him and his truth. The geological evidence suggests that man, as man, has lived on this earth, fifty, perhaps one hundred thousand years. Anthropology, going farther back than history or primitive tradition, traces the slow and painful stages by which early man learned his first lessons in civilization and religion. From the beginning, man's instincts as a religious being have asserted themselves, crude though their expression was. The oldest mounds of Babylonia and Egypt contain ruins of ancient temples, altars, and abundant evidence of the religious zeal of the peoples who once inhabited these lauds. The earliest examples of human literature thus far discovered are largely religious in theme and spirit.
[Sidenote: Primitive unfolding of the innate religious instinct]
All these testify that early man believed in a power or powers outside himself, and that his chief passion was to know and do the will of his god or gods. Jesus himself bore witness in the opening words of the prayer which he taught his disciples, that this is the essence of religion. It was natural and inevitable that primitive man, with his naive view of the universe, should believe not in one but in many forces or spirits, and that he should first enthrone the physical above the ethical and spiritual. It is the instinctive tendency of the child to-day. The later identification of the divine powers with the sun, that gave light and fertility to the soil, or with the moon, that guided the caravans by night over the arid deserts, or with the other heavenly bodies, that moved in majestic array across the midnight sky, was likewise a natural step in the evolution of primitive belief.
[Sidenote: Reasons why Babylonia developed an early civilization]
Civilization and religion in antiquity developed, as a rule, side by side. The two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, commanding the trade of the north and the south; proximity to the desert with its caravans of traders going back and forth from the Euphrates to the Nile; the rich alluvial soil, which supported a dense population when properly drained and cultivated; and the necessity of developing in a higher degree the arts of defence in order to maintain the much contested territory,—these were a few of the many conditions that made ancient Babylonia one of the two earliest if not the oldest centre of human civilization. The commercial habits and the abundance of the plastic clay, which could easily be moulded into tablets for the use of the scribe, also fostered the early development of the literary art. The durability of the clay tablets and the enveloping and protecting qualities of the ruined mounds of ancient Babylonia have preserved in a marvellous way its early literature. The result is that we can now study, on the basis of contemporary documents, this early and yet advanced chapter in that divine revelation, the later culmination of which is recorded in the Bible.
[Sidenote: Progress during the period of city states]
It begins as far back of Moses as he is removed from us in point of time. Its political background at first is the little city states of Babylonia, each with its independent organization and its local schools of artists, whose products in many respects surpass anything that comes from the hands of later Semitic craftsmen. Each city had its temple, at which the patron god of the local tribe and district was worshipped. In some places it was the moon god Sin, as at Haran and Ur beside the desert; elsewhere, as at Nippur, Bel, or at Eridu near the Persian Gulf, Ea, the god of the great deep, was revered. In the name of the local deity offerings were brought, hymns were sung, and traditions were treasured, which extolled his might. The life of these little city states centred about the temple and its cult. To make it more glorious the artisans vied with each other, and the kings made campaigns that they might dedicate the spoils to the deity.
[Sidenote: The growth of extensive empires]
In time, perhaps as early as 4000 B.C., certain more energetic and ambitious kings succeeded in conquering neighboring cities; they even broadened their boundaries until they ruled over great empires extending to the Mediterranean on the west and the mountains of Elam on the east. In the name of the local god, each went forth to fight, and to him was attributed the glory of the victory. Naturally, when the territory of a city state grew into an empire, the god of that city was proclaimed and acknowledged as supreme throughout all the conquered territory. At the same time the local deities of the conquered cities continued to be worshipped at their ancient sanctuaries, and many a conquering king won the loyalty of his subjects by making a rich offering to the god and at the temple of a vanquished foe.
[Sidenote: Its effect in developing the pantheon and popular theology]
The logical and inevitable result of political union was the development of a pantheon, modelled after the imperial court, with the god of the victorious city at its head and the leading deities of the other cities in subordinate positions. When, during the latter part of the third millennium before Christ, Babylon's supremacy was permanently established under the rule of Hammurabi. Marduk, the god of that city, was thus placed at the head of the Babylonian pantheon. The theologians of the day also recast and combined the ancient legends, as, for example, those of the creation, so as to explain why he, one of the later gods, was acknowledged by all as supreme. A relationship was also traced between the leading gods, and their respective functions were clearly defined. Corresponding to each male deity was a female deity: thus, the consort of Marduk was Ishtar, while that of Bel was Belit. Furthermore, the ancient myths appear to have been, cooerdinated, so that from this time on Babylonian, theology presents a certain unity and symmetry, although one is constantly reminded of the very different elements out of which it had been built up.
[Sidenote: Development of ethical standards and laws]
Parallel to the evolution of Babylonian religion was that unfolding of ethical ideals and laws which finds its noblest record and expression in the remarkable code of Hammurabi (about 2250 B.C.). In its high sense of justice; in its regard for the rights of property and of individuals; in its attitude toward women, even though it comes from the ancient East; and above all in its protection of widows and orphans, this code marks almost as high a stage in the revelation of what is right as the primitive Old Testament laws, with which it has points of striking resemblance.
[Sidenote: A general comparison between the religions and laws of Egypt and Babylonia]
The evolution of ancient Egyptian civilization and religion was parallel at almost every stage with that of Babylonia, only in the dreamy land of the Nile the pantheon and the vast body of variant myths were never so thoroughly cooerdinated. The result is that its religion forever remains a labyrinth. Since all interest centred about the future life, instead of commercial pursuits, there is no evidence that the Egyptians ever produced a legal code at all comparable with that of Hammurabi. They did, however, develop a doctrine of sin which anticipates that of the Hebrew prophets. While the Babylonians conceived of sin as simply the failure to bring offerings, or to observe the demands of the ritual, or, in general, to pay proper homage to the gods, the Egyptians held that each individual was answerable, not only to the state, but also to the gods, for his every act and thought.
[Sidenote: Significance of this early religious progress]
If they admitted of a comparison, it would be safe to say that the Babylonian religion and law in the days of Hammurabi were as far removed from the crude belief in spirits and the barbarous cults and practices of primitive man as the teachings of Jesus were from those of the kingly Babylonian lawgiver and his priestly advisers. Humanity's debt is exceedingly great to the thousands of devoted souls who, in ancient Babylonia and Egypt, according to their dim light, groped for God and the right. In part they found what they sought, although they never ceased to look through, a glass darkly.
[Sidenote: Its arrest and decline]
The sad and significant fact is that from the days of Hammurabi to those of Nebuchadrezzar, Babylonian religion, law, and ethics almost entirely ceased to develop. No other great kings with prophetic insight appear to have arisen to hold up before the nation the principles of justice and mercy and true piety, The old superstitions and magic also continued in Babylonia as in Egypt to exercise more and more their baneful influence. Saddest of all the priesthood and ceremonialism, which had already reached a point of development commensurate and strikingly analogous to that of later Judaism, became the dominant power in the state, and defined religion not in terms of life and action, but of the ritual, and so constricted it that all true growth was impossible. Hence the religions of the Babylonians and Egyptians perished, like many others, because they ceased to grow, and therefore degenerated into a mere worship of the letter rather than the spirit.
THE PLACE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT IN DIVINE REVELATION
[Sidenote: Advent of the Hebrews]
Modern discovery and research have demonstrated that the truth revealed through the Babylonians and with less definiteness through the people of the Nile was never entirely lost. Such a sad waste was out of accord with the obvious principles of divine economy. As the icy chill of ceremonialism seized decadent Babylonia and Egypt, there emerged from the steppes south and east of Palestine a virile, ambitious group of nomads, who not only fell heir to that which was best in the revelation of the past, but also quickly took their place as the real spiritual leaders of the human race. Possibly their ancestors, like those of Hammurabi, belonged to that wave of nomadic emigration which swept out of overpopulated northern Arabia about 2500 B.C., part of it to settle finally in Babylonia and part in Palestine.
[Sidenote: Why were they the chosen people?]
Whatever be the exact date of their advent, the much mooted and more fundamental question at once presents itself, Why were the Hebrews "the chosen people"? It is safe to assert at once that this was not arbitrary nor without reason. Moreover, the choice was not that of a moment, but gradual. Rather the real question is, By what divine process were the Israelites prepared to be the chosen people that their later prophets and the event of history declare them to be? Certain definite historical reasons at once suggest themselves; and these in turn throw new light upon the true relation of the Old Testament to divine revelation as a whole.
[Sidenote: Their preparation to be the chosen people: genius for religion]
There is undoubtedly a basis for what Renan was pleased to call, "the Semitic genius for religion." It is a truly significant fact that the three great conquering religions of the world, Judaism, Christianity, and Mohammedanism, sprang from Semitic soil. To this might be added the religion of Babylonia, which, was unquestionably the noblest of early antiquity. In general the Semitic mind is keen, alert, receptive, and intuitional rather than logical. Restless energy and the tendency to acquire have also tended to make them leaders in the widely different fields of commerce and religion. The patriarch Jacob is a remarkable example of these combined qualities and results. By day he got the better of his kinsmen, and by night he wrestled with God. These combined and highly developed characteristics of mind and nature at least suggest why the Semites have furnished the greatest prophets and prophet nations for the moulding of the faith of the world.
[Sidenote: Inheritance through their Arabian antecedents]
In contrast with contemporary Semitic nations, and especially the highly civilized Babylonians, the Hebrews were fortunate in their immediate inheritances through Arabian or Aramean ancestors. The wandering, nomadic life leaves no place for established sanctuaries, with their elaborate ceremonial customs and debasing institutions inherited from more primitive ages. Instead, that life imposes limitations that make for simplicity. The mysteries and constant dangers of the wild desert existence also emphasize the constant necessity of divine help. The long marches by night under the silent stars inspire awe and enforce contemplation. The close unity of the tribe suggests the worship of one tribal god rather than many. From the desert the ancestors of the Hebrews brought strong bodies, inured to hardship, and a grim austerity that found frequent expression on the lips of their prophets and a response in the minds of the people, when luxury threatened to engulf them. They also inherited from their desert days those democratic ideas and high ideals of individual liberty which, enabled Elijah and Isaiah to stand up add champion the rights of the people even though it involved a public denunciation of their kings.
[Sidenote: Contact with Babylonian civilization]
On the other hand, the Israelites undoubtedly became in time the inheritors of the best in religion and law that had been attained by the older Semitic races. Their late traditions trace back their ancestry to ancient Babylonia. Already for long centuries, by conquest and by commerce, the dominant civilization of the Euphrates valley had been regnant in the land of Canaan, The Tell-el-Amarna letters, written from Palestine in the fourteenth century, employ the Babylonian language and system of writing, and reveal a high Semitic civilization, closely patterned after that of Babylonia. When the Israelites settled in Canaan and began to intermarry and assimilate with the older inhabitants, as the earliest Hebrew records plainly state (cf. Judg. I.), they found there, among the Canaanites, established civil and religious institutions and traditions which were largely a reflection of those of Babylonia. Also, when in the eighth and seventh centuries Assyrian armies conquered Palestine, they brought Babylonian institutions, traditions, and religious ideas. We know that during the reigns of Ahaz and Manasseh these threatened to displace those peculiar to the Hebrews. Again, during the Babylonian exile the influence of the same powerful civilization upon the thought and religion of Israel was also strongly felt. Thus the opportunities, direct and indirect, for receiving from Babylonia much of the rich heritage that it held were many and varied.
[Sidenote: Heirs of the older Semitic civilizations]
Certain parts of the Old Testament itself testify that the wealth of tradition, of institutions, of laws, and religious ideas, gradually committed to the Semitic ancestors of the Hebrews and best preserved by the Babylonians, was not lost, but, enriched and purified, has been transmitted to us through its pages. A careful comparison of the biblical and Babylonian accounts of the creation and the flood leaves little doubt that there is a close historical connection between these accounts. Investigation reveals in language, spirit, and form many analogies between the laws of Hammurabi and those of the Old Testament which suggest at least an indirect influence. Many of the ceremonial institutions of later Judaism are almost identical with those of Babylonia. While it is exceedingly easy to over or under estimate this influence, it is a mistake to deny or ignore its deep significance.
[Sidenote: Recipients of all that was best in earlier revelation]
Thus one of the chief elements in the providential training of the Hebrews as the heralds and exponents of the most exalted religious and ethical truths revealed before the advent of the Prophet of Nazareth was the fact that they were the heirs and interpreters of the best that had been hitherto attained. Babylonia, Egypt, and later, Persia and Greece, each contributed their noblest beliefs and ideals. In the Israelites the diverse streams of divine revelation converged. The result is that, instead of many little rivulets, befouled by errors and superstitions, through their history there flowed a mighty stream, ever becoming broader and deeper and clearer as it received fresh contributions from the new fountains of purest revelation that opened in Hebrew soil.
[Sidenote: In close geographical relations to the earlier civilizations]
Clear evidences of the divine purpose to be realized through the obscure peasant people who lived among the uplands of central Canaan are found in a study of the characteristics of the Old Testament world. It is indeed the earliest and one of the most significant chapters in divine revelation. Most of its area is a barren wilderness, supporting only a small nomadic population. The three fertile spots are Babylonia, Canaan, and Egypt. The first and last are fitted by nature and situation to be the seats of powerful civilizations, destined to reach out in every direction. Canaan, on the contrary, is shut in, with no good harbors along the Mediterranean; and its largest river system leads to the Dead Sea, far below the surface of the ocean,—an effective negation to all commerce. Although thus shut in by itself, Canaan lies on the isthmus of fertile land that connects the great empires of the Nile and the Euphrates. On the east and south it is always subject to the influences and waves of immigration, that come from the Arabian desert. It attracted from their nomadic life the ancestors of the Israelites, and during their early period of development gave them a secluded home. When they were ready to learn the larger lessons in the stream of life, Egypt and the great empires of the Tigris and Euphrates valley contended for them, conquered and ultimately scattered them throughout the then known world. While their conquerors, Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome, the greatest powers of the ancient world, took from them their gold and their freedom, from the same conquerors they appear to have received the infinitely more precious treasures of tradition and thought.
[Sidenote: Trained by remarkable national experience]
Great as was their heritage from the past, the truth that came through the Hebrews themselves constitutes by far the greatest and most significant part of that revelation which the Old Testament records. Their history suggests the ways in which, Jehovah opened the spiritual eyes of the people. From the beginning to the present day it has been characterized by a series of crises unparalleled in the life of any other race. Experiences, intense and often superlatively painful, have come to them in rapid succession, forcing them to think and develop. The little street Arab, alert, resourceful, uncanny in his prematurity, is a modern illustration of what grim necessity and experience can produce. It was in the school supremely adapted to divine ends that Jehovah, trained his people to be his spokesmen to the world.
[Sidenote: Guided by unique spiritual teachers]
Other peoples, however, had their crises and yet had no such message as did the Israelites. What made the crises in the history of the Israelites richly fruitful in ethical and spiritual truth was the presence within their midst of certain devoted, responsive teachers, and especially the prophets, who guided them in their time of peril, interpreted its significance, and appealed to the awakened conscience of the nation. Like begets like. At the beginning of Israel's history stands the great prophet Moses, and during the long centuries that followed the voice of the prophets was rarely hushed.
[Sidenote: Taught by inspired prophets]
In seeking the ultimate answer to our question, How were the Israelites prepared to be the chosen people, we are confronted by a miracle that baffles our power to analyze: it is the supreme fact that the Spirit of the Almighty touched the spirit of certain men in ancient Israel so that they became seers and prophets. This is their own testimony, and their deeds and words amply confirm it. The experiences of men to-day also demonstrate its possibility. Indeed it is not surprising, but most natural, that the one supreme Personality in the universe should reveal himself to and through human minds, and that the most enlightened men of the most spiritually enlightened race should be the recipients of the fullest and most perfect revelation. It is the truth that they thus perceived, and then proclaimed by word and deed and pen, that completed the preparation of the chosen people, for it was none other than the possession of a unique spiritual message that constituted the essence of their choice. Furthermore, as the greatest of the later prophets declares (Is. xl.-lv.), that divine choice did not mean that they were to be the recipients of exceptional favors, but rather that they were called to service. By the patient enduring of suffering and by voluntary self-sacrifice they were to perfect the revelation of God's character and will in the life of humanity.
[Sidenote: Jesus' relation to the Old Testament]
The Old Testament, therefore, is the final record of a revelation extending through thousands of years, finding at last its most exalted expression in the messages of the Hebrew prophets, and its clearest reflection in the thoughts and experiences of the priests, sages, and psalmists of ancient Israel. In varied literary forms and by many different writers the best fruits of that revelation have been preserved. Ancient traditions, songs, proverbs, laws, historical narratives, prophecies, and psalms, each present their precious truth. The Israelitish race, however, never fully completed the work to which it was called. A master was needed to distinguish between the essential and the non-essential, to simplify and unify the teachings of the Old Testament as a whole, and to apply them personally to individual life, A man was demanded to realize fully in his own character the highest ideals of this ancient revelation. A divinely gifted prophet was required to perfect man's knowledge, and to bring him into natural, harmonious relations with his Eternal Father. The world awaited the advent of a Messiah who would establish, on the everlasting foundations of justice and truth and love, the universal kingdom of God. These supreme needs were met in fullest measure by the Master, the perfect Man, the Prophet, and the Messiah, whose work the New Testament records.
[Sidenote: Points of likeness and contact between the two Testaments]
While there are many superficial points of difference in language, literary form, background, and point of view between the Old and the New Testaments, these are insignificant in comparison with the essential points of likeness and contact. Each Testament is but a different chapter in the history of the same divine revelation. The one is the foundation on which the other is built. The writers of the New constantly assume the historical facts, the institutions, and the teachings of the Old. Although in Greek garb, their language and idioms are also those of the Old. On many themes, as, for example, man's duty to society, Jesus said little, for the teachers of his race had fully developed them and there was little to add. Repeatedly by word and act he declared that he came not to destroy the older teachings, but simply to bring them to full perfection. The Old Testament also tells of the long years of preparation and of the earnest expectations of the Israelitish race; the New records a fulfilment far transcending the most exalted hopes of Hebrew seers. The same God reveals himself through both Testaments. One progressively unfolding system of religious teachings, one message of love, and one divine purpose bind both together with bonds that no generation or church can break.
THE INFLUENCES THAT PRODUCED THE NEW TESTAMENT
[Sidenote: Importance of the study of origins]
The present age is supremely interested in origins. Not until we have traced the genesis and earliest unfolding of an institution or an idea or a literature do we feel that we really understand and appreciate it. Familiarity with that which is noble breeds not contempt but reverence, and intelligent devotion. Acquaintance with the origin and history of a book is essential to its true interpretation. Therefore it is fortunate that modern discovery and research have thrown so much light upon the origin of both the Old and the New Testaments.
[Sidenote: The growing recognition that the natural is divine]
Equally fortunate is it that we are also learning to appreciate the sublimity and divinity of the natural. The universe and organic life are no less wonderful and awe-inspiring because, distinguishing some of the natural laws that govern their evolution, we have abandoned the grotesque theories held by primitive men. Similarly we do not to-day demand, as did our forefathers, a supernatural origin for our sacred books before we are ready to revere and obey their commands. With greater insight we now can heartily sing, "God moves in a natural way his wonders to perform." Our ability to trace the historical influences through which he brought into being and shaped the two Testaments and gave them their present position in the life of humanity does not in a thoughtful mind obscure, but rather reveals the more clearly, their divine origin and authority.
[Sidenote: Value of the comparative study of the origin of both Testaments]
Through contemporary writings and the results of modern biblical research it is possible to study definitely the origin of the various New Testament books and to follow the different stages in their growth into a canon. This familiar chapter in the history of the Bible is richly suggestive, because of the clear light which it sheds upon the more complex and obscure genesis and later development of the Old Testament. It will be profitable, therefore, to review it in outline, not only because of its own importance, but also as an introduction to the study of the influences that produced the older Scriptures; for almost every fact that will be noted in connection with the origin and literary history of the New has its close analogy in the growth of the Old Testament.
[Sidenote: The threefold grouping of the New Testament books]
We find that as they are at present arranged, the books of the New Testament are divided into three distinct classes. The first group includes the historical books: the Gospels and Acts; the second, the Epistles—the longer, like the letters to the Romans and Corinthians, being placed first and the shorter at the end; while the third group contains but one book, known as the Apocalypse or Revelation. The general arrangement is clearly according to subject-matter, not according to date of authorship; the order of the groups represent different stages in the process of canonization.
[Sidenote: Why the Gospels are not the earliest]
Their position as well as the themes which they treat suggest that the Gospels were the first to be written. It is, however, a self-evident fact that a book was not written—at least not in antiquity, when the making of books was both laborious and expensive—unless a real need for it was felt. If we go back, and live for a moment in imagination among the band of followers which Jesus left behind at his death, we see clearly that while the early Christian Church was limited to Palestine, and a large company of disciples, who had often themselves seen and heard the Christ, lived to tell by word of mouth the story of his life and teachings, no one desired a written record. It is not surprising, therefore, that the oldest books in the New Testament are not the Gospels. The exigencies of time and space and the burning zeal of the apostles for the churches of their planting apparently produced the earliest Christian writings.
[Sidenote: Origin of the earliest epistles]
In his second missionary journey Paul preached for a time at Thessalonica, winning to faith in the Christ a small mixed company of Jews and proselyte Greeks. His success aroused the bitter opposition of the narrower Jews, who raised a mob and drove him from the city before his work was completed. But the seed which he had planted continued to grow. Naturally he was eager to return to the infant church. Twice he planned to visit it, but was prevented. In his intense desire to help the brave Christians of Thessalonica, he sent Timothy to inquire regarding their welfare and to encourage them. When about 50 A.D. Timothy reported to Paul at Corinth, the apostle wrote at once to the little church at Thessalonica a letter of commendation, encouragement, and counsel, which we know to-day as First Thessalonians and which is probably one of the oldest writings in our New Testament, Galatians perhaps being the earliest.
[Sidenote: Paul's later epistles]
Another letter (II Thess.) soon followed, giving more detailed advice. As the field of Paul's activity broadened, he was obliged more and more to depend upon letters, since he could not in person visit the churches which he had planted. Questions of doctrine as well as of practice which perplexed the different churches were treated in these epistles. To certain of his assistants, like Timothy, he wrote dealing with their personal problems. Frankly, forcibly, and feelingly Paul poured out in these letters the wealth of his personal and soul life. They reveal his faith in the making as well as his mature teachings. Since he was dealing with definite conditions in the communities to which he wrote, his letters are also invaluable contemporary records of the growth and history of the early Christian church. Thus between 30 and 60 A.D., during the period of his greatest activity, certainly ten, and probably thirteen, of our twenty-seven New Testament books came from the burning heart of the apostle to the Gentiles.
[Sidenote: Growth of the other epistles]
Similar needs impelled other apostles and early Christian teachers to write on the same themes with the same immediate purpose as did Paul. The result is a series of epistles, associated with the names of James, Peter, John, and Jude. In some, like Third John, the personal element is predominant; in others, the didactic, as, for example, the Epistle of James.
[Sidenote: Purpose of the Epistle to the Hebrews]
A somewhat different type of literature is represented by the Epistle to the Hebrews. Its form is that of a letter, and it was without doubt originally addressed to a local church or churches by a writer whose name has ever since been a fertile source of conjecture. The only fact definitely established is that Paul did not write it. It is essentially a combination of argument, doctrine, and exhortation. The aim is apologetic as well as practical. Most of Paul's letters were written as the thoughts, which he wished to communicate to those to whom he wrote, came to his mind; but in the Epistle to the Hebrews the author evidently follows a carefully elaborated plan. The argument is cumulative. The thesis is that Christ, superior to all earlier teachers of his race, is the perfect Mediator of Salvation.
[Sidenote: Value of the Epistles]
Thus the Epistles, originally personal notes of encouragement and warning, growing sometimes into more elaborate treatises, were made the means whereby the early Christian teachers imparted their doctrines to constantly widening groups of readers. At best they were regarded simply as inferior substitutes for the personal presence and spoken words of their authors. Like the Old Testament books, their authority lies in the fact that they faithfully reflect, in part at least, the greater revelation coming through the lives and minds of the early apostles.
[Sidenote: The larger group]
As is well known, the twenty-one letters in our New Testament were selected from a far larger collection of epistles, some of which were early lost, while others, like the Epistles of Barnabas and Polycarp and Clement, were preserved to share with those later accepted as canonical, the study and veneration of the primitive Church.
[Sidenote: Influences that gave rise to the earliest Gospels]
The influences which originally produced the Gospels and Acts were very different from those which called forth the Epistles. The natural preference of the early Christians for the spoken word explains why we do not possess to-day a single written sentence in the Gospels which we can with absolute assurance assign to the first quarter-century following the death of Jesus. Two influences, however, in time led certain writers to record his early life and teachings. The one was that death was rapidly thinning the ranks of those who could say, I saw and heard; the other was the spread of Christianity beyond the bounds of Judaism and Palestine, and the resulting need for detailed records felt by those Christians who had never visited Palestine and who had learned from the lips of apostles only the barest facts regarding the life of the Christ.
[Sidenote: Testimony of Luke's Gospel]
The opening verses of Luke's Gospel are richly suggestive of the origin and growth of the historical books of the New Testament:
Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us, even as they delivered them unto us,—they who from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having traced the course of all things accurately from the first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty concerning the things wherein thou wast instructed.
This prologue states that many shorter Gospels had previously been written, not by eye-witnesses, but by men who had listened to those who had themselves seen. Luke leaves his readers to infer that he also drew a large number of his facts from these earlier sources as well as from the testimony of eye-witnesses. The implication of the prologue is that he himself was entirely dependent upon written and oral sources for his data. This is confirmed by the testimony of the Muratorian Fragment:
Luke the physician, after the ascension of Christ, when Paul had taken him, as it were, as a follower zealous of the right, wrote the gospel book according to Luke in his own name, as is believed. Nevertheless he had not himself seen the Lord in the flesh, and, accordingly, going back as far as he could obtain information, he began his narrative with the birth of John.
His many literal quotations from it and the fact that he makes it the framework of his own, indicate that Mark's Gospel was one of those earlier attempts to which he refers.
[Sidenote: Luke's motive in writing]
The motive which influenced Luke to write is clearly stated. It was to prepare a comprehensive, accurate, and orderly account of the facts in regard to the life of Jesus for his Greek friend Theophilus, who had already been partially instructed in the same. His Gospel confirms the implications of the prologue. It is the longest and most carefully arranged of all the Gospels. The distinctively Jewish ideas or institutions which are prominent in Matthew are omitted or else explained; hence there is nothing which would prove unintelligible to a Greek. The book of the Acts of the Apostles, dedicated to the same patron, is virtually a continuation of the third Gospel, tracing, in a more or less fragmentary manner, the history and growth, of the early Christian Church, and especially the work of Paul.
[Sidenote: Purpose of Mark's Gospel]
Very similar influences called forth the shortest and undoubtedly the oldest of the four Gospels, the book of Mark. The testimony of the contents confirms in general the early statement of Papias and other Christian Fathers that it was written at Rome by John Mark, the disciple and interpreter of the apostle Peter, after the death of his teacher. The absence of many Old Testament quotations, the careful explanation of all Jewish and Palestinian references which would not be intelligible to a foreigner, the presence of certain Latin words, and many other indications, all tend to establish the conclusion that it was written for the Gentile and Jewish Christians, probably at Rome, and that its purpose was simply historical.
[Sidenote: The two-fold purpose of the Gospel of Matthew]
The memoir of Jesus, which we know as the Gospel of Matthew, is from the hand of a Jewish Christian and, as is shown by the amount of material drawn from Mark's Gospel, must be placed at a later date. The great number of quotations from the Old Testament, the interest in tracing the fulfilment of the Messianic predictions, and the distinctively Jewish- Christian point of view and method of interpretation, indicate clearly that he wrote not with Gentile but Jewish Christians in mind. Nevertheless, like that of Mark and Luke, his purpose was primarily to present a faithful and, as far as his sources permitted, detailed picture of the life and teachings of Jesus. His arrangement of his material appears, however, to be logical rather than purely chronological. The different sections and the individual incidents and teachings each contribute to the great argument of the book, namely, that Jesus was the true Messiah of the Jews; that the Jews, since they rejected him, forfeited their birthright; and that his kingdom, fulfilling and inheriting the Old Testament promises, has become a universal kingdom, open to all races and freed from all Jewish bonds. [Footnote: Cf. e.g., x. 5, 6; xv. 24; viii. 11, 12; xii. 38-45; xxi. 42, 43; xxii. 7; xxiii. 13, 36, 38; xxiv. 2; xxviii. 19] This suggests that the First Gospel represents a more mature stage in the thought of the early Church than Mark and Luke.
[Sidenote: Origin of Matthew's Sayings of Jesus]
Its title and the fact that the Church Fathers constantly connect it with Matthew, the publican, and later apostle is explained by the statement of Papias, quoted by Eusebius:
Matthew accordingly composed the oracles in the Hebrew dialect, and each one interpreted them as he was able (H.E., iii. 39). These oracles evidently consisted of a written collection of the sayings of Jesus. Since they were largely if not entirely included in our First Gospel, It was therefore known as The Gospel of Matthew. There is no evidence that the original Matthew's Sayings of Jesus contained definite narrative material. The fact that the First Gospel draws so largely from Mark for its historical data would indicate that this was not supplied by its main source. The Sayings of Jesus was probably the oldest written record of the work of Jesus, for, while oral tradition, easily remembers incidents, disconnected teachings are not so readily preserved by the memory. Their transcendent importance would also furnish a strong incentive to use the pen. It was natural also that, of all the disciples, the ex-customs officer of Capernaum should be the one to undertake this transcendently important task.
[Sidenote: Aim of the The Fourth Gospel]
The Fourth is clearly the latest of the Gospels, for it does not attempt fully to reproduce the facts presented in the other three, but assumes their existence. Its doctrines are also more fully developed, and its aim is not simply the giving of historical facts and teachings, but also, as it clearly states, that those reading it might believe that Jesus was the Christ, the son of God, and that believing they might have life in his name (xx. 31). The motive that produced it was, therefore, apologetic and evangelical rather than merely historical.
[Sidenote: Review of growth of the Gospels]
A detailed comparison of the differences between the Gospels, as well as of their many points of likeness which often extend to exact verbal agreement, furnishes the data for reconstructing their history. In general the resulting conclusions are in perfect harmony with the testimony of the Church Fathers. Mark, the shortest and more distinctively narrative Gospel, is clearly the oldest of the four. Possibly it was originally intended to be the supplement of the other early source, Matthew's Sayings of Jesus, now known only through quotations. These two earliest known Christian records of the work of the Master in their original form were the chief sources quoted in the First and Third Gospels. So largely is Mark thus reproduced that, if lost, it would be possible from these to restore the book with the exception of only a few verses. But in addition, Matthew and Luke each have material peculiar to themselves, suggesting other independent written as well as oral sources. To such shorter written Gospels, and also to the oral testimony of eyewitnesses, Luke refers in his prologue. In the Fourth Gospel, the doctrinal motive already apparent in Matthew, and prominent in the Church at the beginning of the second Christian century, takes the precedence of the merely historical. A distinct source, the personal observation of the beloved disciple, probably also furnishes the majority of the illustrations which are here so effectively arrayed.