The Origin and Permanent Value of the Old Testament Part 4

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.

[Sidenote: _Influences that produced the apocalypses_]

More complex were the influences which produced the single example of the third type of New Testament literature,--the Apocalypse, or Book of Revelation. The so-called apocalyptic type of literature was a characteristic product of later Judaism. The Book of Daniel is the most familiar example. Although in the age of scribism the voice of the prophets was regarded as silent, and the only authority recognized was that of the past, the popular Messianic hopes of the people continued to find expression anonymously in the form of apocalypses. In the periods of their greatest distress Jews and Christians found encouragement and inspiration in the pictures of the future. Since the present situation was so hopeless, they looked for a supernatural transformation, which would result in the triumph of the right and the establishment of the rule of the Messiah. Underlying all the apocalypses is the eternal truth voiced by the poet: "God's in his heaven and all's right with the world."

[Sidenote: _Origin of the Book of Revelation_]

The immediate historical background of the Apocalypse is the bitter struggle between Christianity and heathenism. Rome has become _drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus_ (xvii. 6). The contest centres about the worship of the beast,--that is, Caesar. The book possibly includes older apocalypses which reflect earlier conflicts, but in its present form it apparently comes from the closing years of Domitian's reign. The obvious aim of its Jewish Christian writer was to encourage his readers by glowing pictures of the coming victory of the Lamb, and thus to steel them for unfaltering resistance to the assaults of heathenism. The purpose which actuated the writer was therefore in certain respects the same as that which led Paul to write his letter to the persecuted church of Thessalonica, although the form in which that purpose was realized was fundamentally different.

[Sidenote: _The literary activity of the first four centuries_]

Many other apocalypses were written by the early Christians. The one recently discovered and associated with the name of Peter is perhaps the most important. Thus, the second half of the first century after the death of Jesus witnessed the birth of a large Christian literature, consisting of epistles, gospels, and apocalypses. The work of the next three centuries was the appreciation and the selection of the books which, to-day constitute our New Testament. The influences which led to this consummation may be followed almost as clearly as those which produced the individual books.

[Sidenote: _Influences that led to the canonization of the Gospels_]

Early in the second century the motives which had originally led certain Christians to write the four Gospels induced the Church to regard those books as the most authentic, and therefore authoritative, records of the life and teachings of the Master. We have no distinctive history of the process. It was gradual, and probably almost unconscious. The fact that three of the Gospels were associated with the names of apostles and the other with Luke, the faithful companion of Paul, undoubtedly tended to establish their authority; but the chief canonizing influence was the need of such records for private and public reading. The production, early in the second century, of spurious gospels, like the Gospel of Marcion, written to furnish a literary basis for certain heretical doctrines, also the desire of the Church Fathers to have records to which they could appeal as authoritative hastened the formation of the first New Testament canon. The use of the Gospels in the services of the church, which probably began before the close of the first Christian century, by degrees gave them an authority equal to that of the Old Testament Scriptures. The earliest canon consisted simply of these four books. They seem to have been universally accepted by the Western Church by the middle of the second century. About 152 A.D. Justin Martyr, in proving his positions, refers to the _Memoirs of the Apostles compiled by Christ's apostles and those who associated with them_, and during the same decade his pupil Tatian made his _Diatessaron_ by combining our present four Gospels.

[Sidenote: _The second edition of the New Testament_]

Meantime the natural desire to supplement the teachings of Jesus by those of the Apostles led the Church to single out certain of the epistles and associate them with the Gospels. Already in the first century the apostolic epistles and traditions were cherished by the individual churches to which they had been first directed. In time, however, the need for a written record of the apostolic teachings and work became widely felt. Hence, by the end of the second century, Acts and the thirteen Pauline epistles, First Peter, First John, and the Apocalypse, were by common consent placed side by side with the Gospels, at least by the leaders of the Western Church.

[Sidenote: _The disputed books_]

Regarding the authority of the remaining New Testament books, Hebrews, James, First and Second John, and Jude, opinion long remained undecided.

Concerning them an earnest discussion was carried on for the next two centuries. By certain leaders in the Church they were regarded as authoritative, while elsewhere and at different periods, other books, like the Gospel to the Hebrews, the Epistle of Barnabas, Clement's Epistle to the Corinthians, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the Apocalypse of Peter, were included in the canon and even given the priority over the disputed books later included in our New Testament.

[Sidenote: _Final completion of the New Testament canon_]

The final decision represents the result of an open and prolonged and yet quiet consideration of the merits of each book and of its claims to apostolic authority. The ablest scholars of the early Christian Church devoted their best energies to the problem. Gradually, thoughtfully, prayerfully, and by testing them in the laboratory of experience, the Christian world separated the twenty-seven books which we find to-day in our New Testament from the much larger heritage of kindred writings which come from the early Christian centuries. Time and later consideration have fully approved the selection and confirmed the belief that through the minds of consecrated men God was realizing his purpose for mankind. As is well known, at the Council of Carthage, in 397 A.D., the Western world at last formally accepted them, although the Syrian churches continued for centuries to retain a somewhat different canon.

[Sidenote: _Conclusions from this study of the influences that produced the New Testament_]

This brief historical study of the origin of our New Testament has demonstrated twelve significant facts: (1) That the original authors of the different books never suspected that their writings would have the universal value and authority which they now rightfully enjoy. (2) That they at first regarded them as merely an imperfect substitute for verbal teaching and personal testimony. (3) That in each case they had definite individuals and conditions in mind. (4) That the needs of the rapidly growing Church and the varied and trying experiences through which it passed were all potent factors in influencing the authors of the New Testament to write. (5) That certain books, especially the historical, like Luke and Matthew, are composite, consisting of material taken bodily from older documents, like Matthew's _Sayings of Jesus_ and the original narrative of Mark. (6) That our New Testament books are only a part of a much larger early Christian literature. (7) That they are unquestionably, however, the most valuable and representative writings of that larger literature. (8) That they were only gradually selected and ascribed a value and authority equal to that of the Old Testament writings. (9) That there were three distinct stages in the formation of the New Testament canon: the gospels were first recognized as authorative; then Acts, the Apostolic Epistles, and the Apocalypse; and last of all, the complete canon. (10) That the canon was formed as a result of the need felt by later generations, in connection with their study and worship, for reliable records of the history and teachings of Christianity. (11) That the principles of selection depended ultimately upon the intrinsic character of the books themselves and the authority ascribed to their reputed authors. (12) That the process of selection continued for fully three centuries, and that the results represent the thoughtful, enlightened judgment of thousands of devoted Christians.

Thus through definite historical forces and the minds and wills of men, the Eternal Father gradually perfected the record of his supreme revelation, to humanity.



[Sidenote: _Analogies between the influences that produced the two Testaments_]

Very similar influences were at work in producing and shaping both the Old and the New Testaments; only in the history of the older Scriptures still other forces can be distinguished. Moreover, the Old Testament contains a much greater variety of literature. It is also significant that, while some of the New Testament books began to be canonized less than a century after they were written, there is clear evidence that many of the Old Testament writings were in existence several centuries before they were gathered together into a canon and thus crystallized into their final form. The inevitable result is that they bear the marks of much more elaborate editorial revision than those of the New. It is, however, not the aim of the present work to trace this complex process of revision in detail, nor to give the cumulative evidence and the many data and reasons that lead to each conclusion. These can be studied in any modern Old Testament introduction or in the volumes of the present writer's _Student's Old Testament_.

[Sidenote: _The present classification of the Old Testament books_]

In their present form, the books of the Old Testament, like those of the New, fall into three classes. The first includes the historical books.

In the Old, corresponding to the four Gospels and Acts of the New, are found the books from Genesis through Esther. Next in order, in the Old, stand the poetical books, from Job through the Song of Songs, with which the New Testament has no analogy except the liturgical hymns connected with the nativity, preserved in the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke. The third group in the Old Testament includes the prophecies from Isaiah through Malachi.

[Sidenote: _Close correspondence between the Old Testament prophecies and the New Testament apocalypses and epistles_]

One book in this group, Daniel, and portions of Ezekiel and Joel, are analogous to the New Testament Apocalypse, but otherwise the prophetic books correspond closely in character and contents to the epistles of the New. Both are direct messages to contemporaries of the prophets and apostles, and both deal with then existing conditions. Both consist of practical warnings, exhortations, advice, and encouragement. The form is simply incidental. The prophets of Jehovah preached, and then they or their disciples wrote down the words which they had addressed to their countrymen. When they could not reach with their voices all in whom they were interested, the prophets, like the apostles, committed their teachings to writing and sent them forth as tracts (_cf_. Jer. xxxvi.).

At other times, when they could not go in person, they wrote letters.

Thus, for example, the twenty-ninth chapter of the prophecy of Jeremiah opens with the interesting superscription:

Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem unto the residue of the elders of the captivity, and to the priests, and to the prophets, and to all the people, whom Nebuchadrezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon; by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan, and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent unto Babylon to Nebuchadrezzar.

If it were not for this superscription, no one would suspect from the nature of the letter which follows that it was anything other than a regular spoken or written prophecy. Its contents and spirit are exactly parallel to those of Paul's epistles. Undoubtedly many prophecies were never delivered orally, but were originally written like Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, and sent out as circular letters. The Babylonian exile scattered the Jews so widely that the exilic and post-exilic prophets depended almost entirely upon this method of reaching their countrymen and thus became writers of epistles.

[Sidenote: _The oldest literature poetry_]

Like the Epistles in the New, certain of the prophecies,--as, for example, those of Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah,--are among the earliest writings of the Old Testament. But in the light of modern biblical study, it has become apparent that prose was not the earliest form of expression among the Hebrews, In this respect their literary history is parallel with that of other early peoples; for first they treasured their thought in heroic song and ballad. While they were nomads, wandering in the desert, and also while they were struggling for the possession of Canaan, they had little time or motive for cultivating the literary art. The popular songs which were sung beside the camp-fires, at the recurring festivals, and as the Hebrews advanced in battle against their foes, were the earliest records of their past. There is evidence that many of the primitive narratives now found in the opening chapters of Genesis were also once current in poetical form. In some cases the poetic structure has been preserved.

[Sidenote: _Israel's early song-books_]

The earliest collections of writings referred to in the Old Testament bear the suggestive titles, _The Book of the Upright_ (i.e., Israel), and, _The Book of the Wars of Jehovah_. From the quotations which we have from them it is clear that they consisted of collections of songs, recounting the exploits of Israel's heroes and the signal victories of the race.

[Sidenote: _The Song of Deborah_]

That stirring paean of victory known as the Song of Deborah was perhaps once found in the Book of the Wars of Jehovah. It is one of the oldest pieces of literature in the Old Testament, and breathes the heroic spirit of the primitive age from which it comes. Through the eyes of the poet one views the different scenes in the mighty conflict. [Footnote: The translation is from "The Student's Old Testament," Vol. I., pp.


[Sidenote: _Exordium_]

That the leaders took the lead in Israel, That the people volunteered readily, Bless Jehovah!

Hear, O kings, Give ear, O rulers.

I myself will sing to Jehovah, I will sing praise to Jehovah, the God of Israel.

[Sidenote: _Advent of Jehovah_]

Jehovah, when thou wentest forth from Seir, When thou marchest from the land of Edom, The earth trembled, the heavens also dripped, Yea, the clouds dropped water.

The mountains quaked before Jehovah, Yon Sinai before Jehovah, the God of Israel.

[Sidenote: _Conditions before the war_]

In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, In the days of Jael, the highways ceased to be used, And travellers walked by round-about paths.

Chapter end

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