The Origin and Permanent Value of the Old Testament Part 3

[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.



[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:

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