Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Warfield on the historical Christ-2

By the side of this ancient body of narrative must be placed another equally, or perhaps, even more ancient source, consisting largely, but not exclusively, of reports of "sayings of Jesus." This underlies much of the fabric of Luke and Matthew where Mark fails, and by their employment of it is authenticated as containing, as Luke asserts, the trustworthy testimony of eyewitnesses Its great antiquity is universally allowed, and there is no doubt that it comes from the very bosom of the Apostolic circle, bearing independent but thoroughly consentient testimony, with the narrative source which underlies all three of the Synoptists, of what was understood by the primitive Christian community to be the facts regarding Jesus. This is the fundamental fact about these two sources that the Jesus which they present is the same Jesus; and that this Jesus is precisely the same Jesus found in the Synoptic Gospels themselves, presented, moreover, in precisely the same fashion and with the emphases in precisely the same places. This latter could, of course, not fail to be the case since these sources themselves constitute the main substance of the Synoptic Gospels into which they have been transfused. Its significance is that the portrait of Jesus as the supernatural Son of God who came into the world as the Messiah on a mission of mercy to sinful men, which is reflected even in the scanty notices of him that find an incidental place in the pages of heathen historians, which suffused the whole preaching of Paul and of the other missionaries of the first age, and which was wrought out into the details of a rich dramatization in the narratives of the Synoptic Gospels, is as old as Christianity itself and comes straight from the representations of Christ’s first followers.

Valuable, however, as the separation out from the Synoptic narrative of these underlying sources is in this aspect of the matter, appeal cannot be made from the Synoptics to these sources as from less to more trustworthy documents. On the one hand, these sources do not exist outside the Synoptics; in them they have "found their grave." On the other hand, the Synoptics in large part are these sources; and their trustworthiness as wholes is guaranteed by the trustworthiness of the sources from which they have drawn the greater part of their materials, and from the general portraiture of Christ in which they do not in the least depart. Luke’s claim in his preface that he has made accurate investigations, seeking to learn exactly what happened that he might attain certainty in his narrative, is expressly justified for the larger part of his narrative when the sources which underlie it are isolated and are found to approve themselves under every test as excellent. There is no reason to doubt that for the remainder of his narrative (and Matthew too for the remainder of his narrative) not derived from these two sources which the accident of their common use by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, or by Matthew and Luke, reveals, he (or Matthew) derives his material from equally good and trustworthy sources which happen to be used only by him. The general trustworthiness of Luke’s narrative is not lessened but enhanced by the circumstance that, in the larger portion of it, he has the support of other evangelists in his confident use of his sources, with the effect that these sources can be examined and an approving verdict reached upon them. His judgment of sources is thus confirmed, and his claim to possess exact information and to have framed a trustworthy narrative is vindicated. What he gives from sources which were not used by the other evangelists, that is to say, in that portion of his narrative which is peculiar to himself (and the same must be said for Matthew, mutatis mutandis), has earned a right to credit on his own authentication. It is not surprising, therefore, that the portions of the narratives of Matthew and Luke which are peculiar to the one or the other bear every mark of sincere and well-informed narration and contain many hints of resting on good and trustworthy sources. In a word, the Synoptic Gospels supply a threefold sketch of the acts and teachings of Christ of exceptional trustworthiness. If here is not historical verity, historical verity would seem incapable of being attained, recorded, and transmitted by human hands.

Along with the Synoptic Gospels there has been handed down by an unexceptionable line of testimony under the name of the Apostle John, another narrative of the teaching and work of Christ of equal fullness with that of the Synoptic Gospels, and yet so independent of theirs as to stand out in a sense in strong contrast with theirs, and even to invite attempts to establish a contradiction between it and them. There is, however, no contradiction, but rather a deep-lying harmony. There are so-called Synoptical traits discoverable in John, and not only are Johannine elements imbedded in the Synoptical narrative, but an occasional passage occurs in it which is almost more Johannine than John himself. Take, for example, that pregnant declaration recorded in Mt 11:27-28, which, as it occurs also in Luke (10:21-22), must have had a place in that ancient source drawn on in common by these two Gospels which comes from the first days of Christianity. All the high teaching of John’s Gospel, as has been justly remarked, is but "a series of variations" upon the theme here given its "classical expression." The type of teaching which is brought forward and emphasized by John is thus recognized on all hands from the beginning to have had a place in Christ’s teaching; and John differs from the Synoptics only in the special aspect of Christ’s teaching which he elects particularly to present. The naturalness of this type of teaching on the lips of the Jesus of the Synoptists is also undeniable; it must be allowed and is now generally allowed that by the writers of the Synoptic Gospels, and, it should be added, by their sources as well, Jesus is presented, and is presented as representing Himself, as being all that John represents Him to be when he calls Him the Word, who was in the beginning with God and was God. The relation of John and the Synoptists in their portraiture of Jesus somewhat resembles, accordingly, that of Plato and Xenophon in their portraiture of Socrates; only, with this great difference that both Plato and Xenophon were primarily men of letters and the portrait they draw of Socrates is in the hands of both alike eminently a sophisticated and literary one, while the Evangelists set down simply the facts as they appealed to them severally. The definite claim which John’s Gospel makes to be the work of one of the inner circle of the companions of Jesus is supported, moreover, by copious evidence that it comes from the hands of such a one as a companion of Jesus would be a Jew, who possessed an intimate knowledge of Palestine, and was acquainted with the events of our Lord’s life as only an eyewitness could be acquainted with them, and an eyewitness who had been admitted to very close association with Him. That its narrative rests on good information is repeatedly manifested; and more than once historical links are supplied by it which are needed to give clearness to the Synoptical narrative, as, for example, in the chronological framework of the ministry of Jesus and the culminating miracle of the raising of Lazarus, which is required to account for the incidents of the Passion-Week. It presents no different Jesus from the Jesus of the Synoptists, and it throws the emphasis at the same place on His expiatory death and rising again; but it notably supplements the narrative of the Synoptists and reveals a whole new side of Jesus’ ministry, and if not a wholly new aspect of His teaching, yet a remarkable mass of that higher aspect of His teaching of which only occasional specimens are included in the Synoptic narrative. John’s narrative thus rounds out the Synoptical narrative and gives the portrait drawn in it a richer content and a greater completeness.

This portrait may itself be confidently adduced as its own warranty. It is not too much to say with Nathaniel Lardner that "the history of the New Testament has in it all the marks of credibility that any history can have." But apart from these more usually marshaled evidences of the trustworthiness of the narratives, there is the portrait itself which they draw, and this cannot by any possibility have been an invention. It is not merely that the portrait is harmonious throughout in the allusions and presuppositions of the Epistles of Paul and the other letter-writers of the New Testament, in the detailed narratives of the Synoptists and John, and in each of the sources which underlie them. This is a matter of importance; but it is not the matter of chief moment; there is no need to dwell upon the impossibility of such a harmony having been maintained save on the basis of simple truthfulness of record, or to dispute whether in the case of the Synoptics there are three independent witnesses to the one portrait, or only the two independent witnesses of their two most prominent "sources." Nor is the most interesting point whether the aboriginality of this portrait is guaranteed by the harmony of the representation in all the sources of information, some of which reach back to the most primitive epoch of the Christian movement. It is quite certain that this conception of Christ’s person and career was the conception of his immediate followers, and indeed of himself; but, important as this conclusion is, it is still not the matter of primary import. The matter of primary significance is that this portrait thus imbedded in all the authoritative sources of information, and thus proved to be the conception of its founder cherished by the whole of primitive Christendom, and indeed commended to it by that founder himself, is a portrait intrinsically incapable of invention by men. It could never have come into being save as the revelation of an actual person embodying it, who really lived among men. "A romancer," as even Albert Reville allows, "can not attribute to a being which he creates an ideal superior to what he himself is capable of conceiving." The conception of the God-man which is embodied in the portrait which the sources draw of Christ, and which is dramatized by them through such a history as they depict, can be accounted for only on the assumption that such a God-man actually lived, was seen of men, and was painted from the life. The miracle of the invention of such a portraiture, whether by the conscious effort of art, or by the unconscious working of the mythopeic fancy, would be as great as the actual existence of such a person. Of this there is sufficient a posteriori proof in the invariable deterioration this portrait suffers in its secondary reproductions in the so-called "Lives of Christ," of every type. The attempt vitally to realize and reproduce it results inevitably in its reduction. A portraiture which cannot even be interpreted by men without suffering serious loss cannot be the invention of the first simple followers of Jesus. Its very existence in their unsophisticated narratives is the sufficient proof of its faithfulness to a great reality.

Only an outline of this portrait can be set down here. Jesus appears in it not only a supernatural, but in all the sources alike specifically a divine, person, who came into the world on a mission of mercy to sinful man. Such a mission was in its essence a humiliation and involved humiliation at every step of its accomplishment. His life is represented accordingly as a life of difficulty and conflict, of trial and suffering, issuing in a shameful death. But this humiliation is represented as in every step and stage of it voluntary. It was entered into and abided in solely in the interests of His mission, and did not argue at any point of it helplessness in the face of the difficulties which hemmed Him in more and more until they led Him to death on the cross. It rather manifested His strong determination to fulfil His mission to the end, to drink to its dregs the cup He had undertaken to drink. Accordingly, every suggestion of escape from it by the use of His intrinsic divine powers, whether of omnipotence or of omniscience, was treated by Him first and last as a temptation of the evil one. The death in which His life ends is conceived, therefore, as the goal in which His life culminates. He came into the world to die, and every stage of the road that led up to this issue was determined not for Him but by Him: He was never the victim but always the Master of circumstance, and pursued His pathway from beginning to end, not merely in full knowledge from the start of all its turns and twists up to its bitter conclusion, but in complete control both of them and of it.

His life of humiliation, sinking into His terrible death, was therefore not his misfortune, but His achievement as the promised Messiah, by and in whom the kingdom of God is to be established in the world; it was the work which as Messiah he came to do. Therefore, in his prosecution of it, He from the beginning announced himself as the Messiah, accepted all ascription’s to him of Messiahship under whatever designation, and thus gathered up into His person all the preadumbrations of Old-Testament prophecy; and by His favorite self-designation of "Son of Man," derived from Daniel’s great vision (7:13), continually proclaimed Himself the Messiah he actually was, emphasizing in contrast with His present humiliation His heavenly origin and His future glory. Moreover, in the midst of His humiliation, He exercised, so far as that was consistent with the performance of his mission, all the prerogatives of that "transcendent" or divine Messiah which He was. He taught with authority, substituting for every other sanction His great "But I say unto you," and declaring Himself greater than the greatest of God’s representatives whom He had sent in all the past to visit His people. He surrounded Himself as He went about preaching the Gospel of the kingdom with a miraculous nimbus, each and every miracle in which was adapted not merely to manifest the presence of a supernatural person in the midst of the people, but, as a piece of symbolical teaching, to reveal the nature of this supernatural person, and to afford a foretaste of the blessedness of His rule in the kingdom He came to found. He assumed plenary authority over the religious ordinances of the people, divinely established though they were; and exercised absolute control over the laws of nature themselves. The divine prerogative of forgiving sins he claimed for Himself, the divine power of reading the heart He frankly exercised, the divine function of judge of quick and dead he attached to His own person. Asserting for Himself a superhuman dignity of person, or rather a share in the ineffable Name itself, He represented Himself as abiding continually even when on earth in absolute communion with God the Father, and participating by necessity of nature in the treasures of the divine knowledge and grace; announced Himself the source of all divine knowledge and grace to men; and drew to Himself all the religious affections, suspending the destinies of men absolutely upon their relation to His own person. Nevertheless he walked straight onward in the path of His lowly mission, and, bending even the wrath of men to his service, gave Himself in his own good time and way to the death He had come to accomplish. Then, His mission performed, He rose again from the dead in the power of His deathless life; showed Himself alive to chosen witnesses, that He might strengthen the hearts of His people; and ascended to the right hand of God, whence He directs the continued preparation of the kingdom until it shall please Him to return for its establishment in its glorious eternal form.

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