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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Jesus Christ

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JESUS CHRIST . There is no historical task which is more important than to set forth the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, and none to which it is so difficult to do justice. The importance of the theme is sufficiently attested by the fact that it is felt to be His due to reckon a new era from the date of His birth. From the point of view of Christian faith there is nothing in time worthy to be set beside the deeds and the words of One who is adored as God manifest in the flesh, and the Saviour of the world. In the perspective of universal history. His influence ranks with Greek culture and Roman law as one of the three most valuable elements in the heritage from the ancient world, while it surpasses these other factors in the spiritual quality of its effects. On the other hand, the superlative task has its peculiar difficulties. It is quite certain that a modern European makes many mistakes when trying to reproduce the conditions of the distant province of Oriental antiquity in which Jesus lived. The literary documents, moreover, are of no great compass, and are reticent or obscure in regard to many matters which are of capital interest to the modern biographer. And when erudition has done its best with the primary and auxiliary sources, the historian has still to put the heart-searching question whether he possesses the qualifications that would enable him to understand the character, the experience, and the purpose of Jesus. ‘He who would worthily write the Life of Jesus Christ must have a pen dipped in the imaginative sympathy of a poet, in the prophet’s fire, in the artist’s charm and grace, and in the reverence and purity of the saint’ (Stewart, The Life of Christ , 1906, p. vi.).

1. The Literary Sources

(A) Canonical

(1) The Gospels and their purpose . It is now generally agreed that the Gospel according to Mk . is the oldest of the four. Beginning with the Baptism of Jesus, it gives a sketch of His Public Ministry, with specimens of His teaching, and carries the narrative to the morning of the Resurrection. The original conclusion has been lost, but there can be no doubt that it went on to relate at least certain Galilæan appearances of the risen Lord. This Gospel supplies most of our knowledge of the life of Jesus, but its main concern is to bring out the inner meaning and the religious value of the story. It is, in short, a history written with the purpose of demonstrating that Jesus was the expected Messiah. In proof of this it is sufficient to point out that it describes itself at the outset as setting forth the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God ( Mark 1:1 ), that the faith of the disciples culminates in Peter’s confession that He is the Christ ( Mark 8:29 ), that the ground of His condemnation is that He claims to be ‘the Christ, the Son of the Blessed’ ( Mark 14:61-62 ), and that the accusation written over His cross is ‘The King of the Jews’ ( Mark 15:26 ).

The Gospel according to Mt . is now usually regarded as a second and enlarged edition of an Apostolic original. The earlier version, known as the Logia on the ground of a note of Papias (Euseb. HE iii. 39), was a collection of the Memorabilia of Jesus. As the Logia consisted mainly of the sayings of our Lord, the later editor combined it with the narrative of Mk. in order to supply a more complete picture of the Ministry, and at the same time added fresh material from independent sources. Its didactic purpose, like that of Mk., is to exhibit Jesus as the Messiah, and it supports the argument by citing numerous instances of the fulfilment in the life of Jesus of OT prediction. It is sometimes described as the Gospel of the Jewish Christians; and it appears to have addressed itself specially to the difficulties which they felt in view of the destruction of Jerusalem. Could Jesus, they may well have asked, be the Messiah, seeing that His mission had issued, not in the deliverance of Israel, but in its ruin? In answer to this the Gospel makes it plain that the overthrow of the Jewish State was a punishment which was foreseen by Jesus, and also that He had become the head of a vaster and more glorious kingdom than that of which, as Jewish patriots, they had ever dreamed ( Matthew 28:18-20 ).

The Gospel according to Luke is also dependent on Mk. for the general framework, and derives from the original Mt. a large body of the teaching. It follows a different authority from Mt. for the Nativity, and to some extent goes its own way in the history of the Passion; while ‘the great interpolation’ ( Luke 9:51 to Luke 18:14 ), made in part from its special source, forms a priceless addition to the Synoptic material. Lk. approached his task in a more consciously scientific spirit than his predecessors, and recognized an obligation to supply dates, and to sketch in the political background of the biography ( Luke 2:2 , Luke 3:1 ; Luke 3:23 ). But for him also the main business of the historian was to emphasize the religious significance of the events, and that by exhibiting Jesus as the Saviour of the world, the Friend of sinners. He is specially interested, as the companion and disciple of St. Paul, in incidents and sayings which illustrate the graciousness and the universality of the gospel. Prominence is given to the rejection of Jesus by Nazareth and Jerusalem ( Luke 4:16-30 , Luke 19:41-44 ), and to His discovery among the Gentiles of the faith for which He sought ( Luke 17:18-19 ). It is also characteristic that Lk. gives a full account of the beginnings of the missionary activity of the Church ( Luke 10:1-20 ).

The author of the Fourth Gospel makes considerable use of the narratives of the Synoptists, but also suggests that their account is in important respects defective, and in certain particulars erroneous. The serious defect, from the Johannine point of view, is that they represent Galilee as the exclusive scene of the Ministry until shortly before the end, and that they know nothing of a series of visits, extending over two years, which Jesus made to Jerusalem and Judæa in fulfilment of His mission. That there was a design to correct as well as to supplement appears from the displacement of the Cleansing of the Temple from the close to the beginning of the Ministry, and from the emphatic way in which attention is drawn to the accurate information as to the day and the hour of the Crucifixion. And still more designedly than in the earlier Gospels is the history used as the vehicle for the disclosure of the secret and the glory of the Person of Jesus. The predicate of the Messiah is reaffirmed, and as the Saviour He appears in the most sublime and tender characters, but the Prologue furnishes the key to the interpretation of His Person in a title which imports the highest conceivable dignity of origin, being, and prerogative: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only-begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth’ ( John 1:1 ; John 1:14 ).

Trustworthiness of the Gospels . It is impossible to proceed on the view that we possess four biographies of Jesus which, being given by inspiration, are absolutely immune from error. The means by which they were brought into shape was very different from the method of Divine dictation. The Evangelists were severely limited to the historical data which reached them by ordinary channels. They copied, abridged, and amplified earlier documents, and one document which was freely handled in this fashion by Mt. and Lk. was canonical Mk. That mistakes have been made as to matters of fact is proved by the occurrence of conflicting accounts of the same events, and by the uncertainty as to the order of events which is often palpable in Mt. and Mk., and which to some extent baffled Lk. in his attempt ‘to trace the course of all things accurately.’ There is also considerable diversity in the report of many of our Lord’s sayings, which compels us to conclude that the report is more or less inaccurate. Whether giving effect to their own convictions, or reproducing changes which had been made by the mind of the Church on the oral tradition, writers coloured and altered to some extent the sayings of our Lord. At the same time the Synoptics, when tested by ordinary canons, must be pronounced to be excellent authorities. They may be dated within a period of forty to fifty years after the death of Christ Mk. about a.d. 69, Mt. and (probably) Lk. not later than a.d. 80. ‘The great mass of the Synoptic Gospels had assumed its permanent shape not later than the decade a.d. 60 70, and the changes which it underwent after the great catastrophe of the fall of Jerusalem were but small, and can without difficulty be recognized’ (Sanday, Outlines ). Further, that Gospels composed in the second generation can be trusted to have reproduced the original testimony with general accuracy may be held on two grounds. There is every reason to believe the ecclesiastical traditions that the contents of original Mt. were compiled by one of the Twelve, and that the reminiscences of Peter formed the staple of Mk. (Euseb. HE iii. 39). It is also certain that the Synoptic material was used throughout the intervening period in the Christian meetings for worship, and the memory of witnesses must thus have been in a position to ensure the continuity of the report, and to check any serious deviations from the oldest testimony. The general trustworthiness is further supported by the consideration of the originality of the Synoptic picture of Jesus and His teaching. The character of Jesus, and the acts in which it is revealed, form a whole which has the unmistakable stamp of historical reality, and forbids us to think that to any great extent it can have been the product of the collective Christian mind. Jesus, in short, is needed to explain the Church and cannot be Himself explained as the product of His own creation. It is also to be noticed that the Synoptic teaching has a clear-cut individuality of its own which shows that it has sturdily refused to blend with the Apostolic type of theology.

With the Fourth Gospel the case stands somewhat differently. If it be indeed the work of John the ‘beloved disciple, its authority stands higher than all the rest. In that case the duty of the historian is to employ it as his fundamental document, and to utilize the Synoptics as auxiliary sources. In the view of the present writer the question is one of great difficulty. It is true that there is a powerful body of Patristic testimony in support of the tradition that the Fourth Gospel was composed by the Apostle Johnin Ephesus in his old age about a.d. 95. It is also true that the Gospel solemnly stakes its credit on its right to be accepted as the narrative of an eye-witness (John 19:35 ; John 21:24 ). And its claim is strengthened by the fact that, in the judgment even of many unsympathetic witnesses, it embodies a larger or smaller amount of independent and valuable information. On the other hand, it is a serious matter that a Gospel, appearing at the close of the century, should practically recast the story of Jesus which had circulated in the Church for sixty years, and should put forward a view of the course of the Ministry which is not even suspected in the other Apostolic sources. Passing to the teaching, we find that the process which was in discoverable in the Synoptic report has here actually taken place, and that the discourses of Jesus are assimilated to a well-marked type of Apostolic doctrine. There is reason to believe that for both history and doctrine the author had at his disposal Memorabilia of Jesus, but in both cases also it would seem that he has handled his data with great freedom. The treatment of the historical matter, it may be permitted to think, is more largely topical, and the chronological framework which it provides is less reliable, than is commonly supposed. The discourses, again, have been expanded by the reporter, and cast in the moulds of his own thought, so that in them we really possess a combination of the words of Jesus of Nazareth with those of the glorified Christ speaking in the experience of a disciple. The hypothesis which seems to do justice to both sets of phenomena is that John was only the author in a similar sense to that in which Peter was the author of Mk., and Matthew of canonical Mt., and that the actual composer of the Fourth Gospel was a disciple of the second generation who was served heir to the knowledge and faith of the Apostle, and who claimed considerable powers as an executor. In view of these considerations, it is held that a sketch of the life of Jesus is properly based on the Synoptic record, and that in utilizing the Johannine additions it is desirable to take up a critical attitude in regard to the form and the chronology. There is also much to be said for expounding the teaching of Jesus on the basis of the Synoptics, and for treating the Johannine discourses as primarily a source for Apostolic doctrine. It is a different question whether the interpretation of Christ which the Fourth Gospel supplies is trustworthy, and on the value of this, its main message, two remarks may be made. It is, in the first place, substantially the same valuation of Christ which pervades the Pauline Epistles, and which has been endorsed by the saintly experience of the Christian centuries as answering to the knowledge of Christ that is given in intimate communion with the risen Lord. Moreover, the doctrine of Providence comes to the succour of a faith which may be distressed by the breakdown of the hypothesis of inerrancy. For it is a reasonable belief that God, in whose plan with the race the work of Christ was to be a decisive factor, took order that there should be given to the after world a record which should sufficiently instruct men in reply to the question, ‘What think ye of Christ?’

(2) The Epistles . From the Epistles it is possible to collect the outstanding facts as to the earthly condition, the death, and the resurrection of Christ. Incidentally St. Paul shows that he could cite His teaching on a point of ethics ( 1 Corinthians 7:11 ), and give a detailed account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper ( 1 Corinthians 11:23 ff.). It is also significant that in allusions to the Temptation ( Hebrews 4:15 ), the Agony ( Hebrews 5:7 ), and the Transfiguration ( 2 Peter 1:17 ), the writers can reckon on a ready understanding.

(B) Extra-Canonical Sources

(1) Christian

( a ) Patristic references . The Fathers make very trifling additions to our knowledge of the facts of the life of Jesus. There is nothing more important than the statement of Justin, that as a carpenter Jesus made ploughs and yokes ( Dial . 88). More valuable are the additions to the canonical sayings of Jesus (Westcott, Introd. to the Gospels 8 , 1895; Resch, Agrapha 2 , 1907). Of the 70 Logia which have been claimed, Ropes pronounces 43 worthless, 13 of possible value, and 14 valuable ( Die Sprüche Jesu , 1896). The following are deemed by Huck to be noteworthy ( Synopse der drei ersten Evangelien 3 , 1906):

(1) ‘Ask great things, and the small shall be added to you; and ask heavenly things, and the earthly shall be added to you’ (Origen, de Orat . § 2).

(2) ‘If ye exalt not your low things, and transfer to your right hand the things on your left, ye shall not enter into my kingdom’ ( Acta Philippi , ch. 34).

(3) ‘He who is near me is near the fire, he who is far from me is far from the kingdom’ (Origen, Hom. in Jeremiah 20:3 ).

(4) ‘If ye kept not that which is small, who will give you that which is great?’ (Clem. Rom. ii. 8).

(5) ‘Be thou saved and thy soul’ (Exc. e. Theod. ap . Clem. Alex. [Note: lex. Alexandrian.] § 2).

(6) ‘Show yourselves tried bankers’ (Clem. Alex. [Note: lex. Alexandrian.] Strom . i. 28).

(7) ‘Thou hast seen thy brother, thou hast seen God’ ib. i. 19).

More recent additions to the material are to be found in Grenfell and Hunt, Sayings of our Lord (1897) and New Sayings of Jesus (1904).

( b ) Apocryphal Gospels . These fall into three groups according as they deal with the history of Joseph and Mary ( Protevangelium of James ), the Infancy ( Gospel of Thomas ), and Pilate ( Acts of Pilate ). They are worthless elaborations, with the addition of grotesque and sometimes beautiful fancies (‘Apocryphal Gospels, Acts and Revelations,’ vol. xvi. of the Ante-Nicene Library , 1870). Of more value are the fragments of the Gospels of the Hebrews , the Egyptians , and Peter (Hilgenfeld, NT extra canonem receptum 2 , 1876 84; Swete, The Akhmim Fragment of the Gospel of Peter , 1903).

(2) Jewish sources . Josephus mentions Jesus ( Ant . XX. ix. 1), but the most famous passage (XVIII. iii. 3) is mainly, if not entirely, a Christian interpolation. The Jews remembered Him as charged with deceiving the people, practising magic and speaking blasphemy, and as having been crucified; but the calumnies of the Talmud as to the circumstances of His birth appear to have been comparatively late inventions (Huldricus, Sepher Toledot Jeschua , 1705; Laible, Jesus Christus im Talmud , 1900).

(3) Classical sources . There is evidence in the classical writers for the historical existence, approximate date, and death of Jesus, but otherwise their attitude was ignorant and contemptuous (Tac. Ann . xv. 44; Suetonius, Lives of Claudius and Nero ; the younger Pliny, Epp . x. 97, 98; Lucian, de Morte Peregrini ; Celsus in Origen; cf. Keim, Jesus of Nazara [Eng. tr. [Note: translate or translation.] ], 1876, i. pp. 24 33).

2. Presuppositions . It is impossible to write about Christ without giving effect to a philosophical and religious creed. The claim to be free from presuppositions commonly means that a writer assumes that the facts can be accommodated to a purely naturalistic view of history. As a fact, there is less reason to construe Christ in naturalistic terms than to revise a naturalistic philosophy in the light of ‘the fact of Christ.’ A recent review of the whole literature of the subject (Schweitzer, Von Reimarus zu Wrede , 1906) shows how profoundly the treatment has always been influenced by a writer’s attitude towards ultimate questions, and how far the purely historical evidence is from being able to compel a consensus sapientium . There are, in fact, as many types of the Life of Christ as there are points of view in theology, and it may be convenient at this stage to indicate the basis from which the work has been done in the principal monographs.

Types of the Life of Christ

I. Elimination of the supernatural, from the standpoint of (1) Eighteenth Century Deism Paulus, Das Leben Jesu , 1828; (2) Modern Pantheism D. F. Strauss, Leben Jesu , 1835 36 (Eng. tr. [Note: translate or translation.] 1846); (3) Philosophical Scepticism Renan, La Vie de Jésus , 1863 (Eng. tr. [Note: translate or translation.] 1864).

II. Reduction of the supernatural, with eclectic reservation, from the standpoint of Theism Seeley, Ecce Homo , 1866; Hase, Die Gesch. Jesu , 1876; Keim, Die Gesch. Jesu von Nazara , 1867 72 (Eng. tr. [Note: translate or translation.] 1873 77); O. Holtzmann, Das Leben Jesu , 1901 (Eng. tr. [Note: translate or translation.] 1904).

Within the rationalistic school there have emerged somewhat radical differences in the conception formed of Jesus and His message. One group conceives of Him as a man who is essentially modern because the value of His ideas and of His message is perennial (Harnack, Das Wesen des Christenthums , Eng. tr. [Note: translate or translation.] 1901); another regards Him as, above all, the spokesman of unfulfilled apocalyptic dreams (J. Weiss, Die Predigt Jesu vom Reiche Gottes , 1892). Bousset mediates between the two views ( Jesus . 1906).

III. Reproduction of the Biblical account in general agreement with the faith of the Church Neander, Das Leben Jesu Christi , 1837 (Eng. tr. [Note: translate or translation.] 1848); B. Weiss, Das Leben Jesu , 1882 (Eng. tr. [Note: translate or translation.] 1883); Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah , 1884; Didon, Jesus Christ , 1891; Sanday, Outlines of the Life of Christ , 1906.

The books of this group have a second common feature in their acceptance of the Fourth Gospel as a valuable history. The works of Weiss and Sanday dispose of the arrogant assumption of Schweitzer ( op. cit. ) that competent scholarship now regards the cardinal questions as settled in a negative sense. (For a full bibliography see Schweitzer, op. cit. , art. ‘Jesus Christ’ in PRE [Note: RE Real-Encykl. für protest. Theol. und Kirche] 3 ).

3. The Conditions in Palestine (Schürer, GJV [Note: JV Geschichte des Jüdischen Volkes.] 3 [ HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] ii. i. 1 ff.]). The condition of the Jews at the birth of Christ may be summarily described as marked by political impotence and religious decadence.

(1) The political situation . From the age of the Exile, the Jews in Palestine were subject to a foreign domination Persian, Greek, Egyptian, Syrian, in rapid succession. Following upon a century of independence under the Maccabees, the country was incorporated in the Roman Empire as a division of the province of Syria. In certain circumstances, which have a parallel in British India, the Romans recognized a feudatory king, and it was with this status that Herod the Great reigned over Palestine. At his death in b.c. 4, his dominions were divided among his three sons; but on the deposition of Archelaus in 6 a.d., Judæa and Samaria were placed under a Roman procurator. Herod Antipas and Philip continued to rule as vassal princes, with the title of tetrarchs, over Galilee and Ituræa respectively. The pressure of the Roman rule was felt in the stern measures which were taken to suppress any dangerous expressions of national feeling, and also in the exactions of the publicans to whom the taxes were farmed. Internal administration was largely an affair of the Jewish Church. To a highly spirited people like the Jews, with memories of former freedom and power, the loss of national independence was galling; and their natural restlessness under the foreign yoke, combined as it was with the Messianic hopes that formed a most vital element of their religion, was a source of anxiety not only to the Roman authorities but to their own leaders.

(2) The religious situation . From the religious point of view it was a decadent age. No doubt there is a tendency to exaggerate the degradation of the world at our Lord’s coming, on the principle that the darkest hour must have preceded the dawn; and in fairness the indictment should be restricted to the statement that the age marked a serious declension from the highest level of OT religion. It had, in fact, many of the features which have re-appeared in the degenerate periods of the Christian Church. ( a ) One such feature was the disappearance of the prophetic man, and his replacement as a religious authority by representatives of sacred learning. As the normal condition of things in the Christian Church has been similar, it cannot in itself be judged to be symptomatic of anything worse than a silver age that the exponents of the Scriptures and of the tradition were now the chief religious guides of the people (see Scribes). Moreover, a very genuine religious originality and fervour had continued to find expression in the Apocalyptic literature of later Judaism (see Apocalyptic Literature). ( b ) A more decisive proof of degradation is the exaltation of the ceremonial and formal side of religion as a substitute for personal piety and righteousness of life. This tendency had its classic representatives in the Pharisees. The best of their number must have exhibited, as Josephus shows, a zeal for God and a self-denial like that of Roman Catholic saints otherwise the veneration of the people, which Josephus shared, would be inexplicable ( Ant . XVII. ii. 4); but as a class our Lord charges them with sins of covetousness and inhumanity, which gave the colour of hypocrisy to their ritualistic scruples ( Matthew 24:1-51 ; see Pharisees). ( c ) A further characteristic of decadence is that the religious organization tends to come in the place of God, as the object of devotion, and there appears the powerful ecclesiastic who, though he may be worldly and even sceptical, is indispensable as the symbol and protector of the sacred institution. This type was represented by the Sadducees in their general outlook men of the world, in their doctrine sceptics with an ostensible basis of conservatism, who filled the priestly offices, controlled the Sanhedrin, and endeavoured to maintain correct relations with their Roman masters. It can also well be believed that, as Josephus tells us, they professed an aristocratic dislike to public business, which they nevertheless dominated; and that they humoured the multitude by an occasional show of religious zeal (see Sadducees).

In this world presided over by pedants, formalists, and political ecclesiastics, the common people receive a fairly good character. Their religion was the best that then had a footing among men, and they were in earnest about it. They had been purified by the providential discipline of centuries from the last vestiges of idolatry. It is noteworthy that Jesus brings against them no such sweeping accusations of immorality and cruelty as are met with in Amos and Hosea. Their chief fault was that they were disposed to look on their religion as a means of procuring them worldly good, and that they were blind and unreceptive in regard to purely spiritual blessings. The influence which the Pharisees had over them shows that they were capable of reverencing, and eager to obey, those who seemed to them to speak for God; and their response to the preaching of John the Baptist was still more to their honour. There is evidence of a contemporary strain of self-renouncing idealism in the existence of communities which sought deliverance from the evil of the world in the austerities of an ascetic life (Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant . XVIII. i. 5; see Essenes). The Gospels introduce us to not a few men and women who impress us as exemplifying a simple and noble type of piety nourished as they were on the religion of the OT, and waiting patiently for the salvation of God. Into a circle pervaded by this atmosphere Jesus was born.

4. Date of Christ’s Birth (cf. art. Chronology, p. 135 b , and in Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] ). If John began to baptize in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Cæsar ( Luke 3:1 ) being a.d. 29 and if Jesus Was thirty years of age when He was baptized (v. 23), the traditional date fixed by Dionysius Exiguus would be approximately correct. But it is probable that the reign of Tiberius was reckoned by Lk. from his admission to joint-authority with Augustus in a.d. 11 12, so that Jesus would be thirty in a.d. 25 6, and would be born about b.c. 5. This agrees with the representation of Mt. that He was born under Herod, since Herod died b.c. 4, and a number of events of the Infancy are mentioned as occurring before his death. A reference in John 2:20 to the forty-six years during which the Temple had been in course of construction leads to a similar result viz. a.d. 26 for the second year of the Ministry, and b.c. 5 for the Birth of Jesus.

5. Birth and Infancy (cf. Sweet, The Birth and Infancy of Jesus Christ , 1907). Mt. and Lk. have a narrative of the Infancy, and agree in the following points that Jesus was of David’s line, that He was miraculously conceived, that He was born in Bethlehem, and that the Holy Family permanently settled in Nazareth. The additional incidents related by Mt. are the appearance of the angel to Joseph ( Matthew 1:18-24 ), the adoration of the Magi ( Matthew 2:1-12 ), the flight into Egypt ( Matthew 2:13-15 ), the massacre at Bethlehem ( Matthew 2:16-18 ). Lk.’s supplementary matter includes the promise of the birth of John the Baptist ( Matthew 1:5-23 ), the Annunciation to Mary ( Luke 1:26-38 ), the visit of Mary to Elisabeth ( Luke 1:39-56 ), the birth of the Baptist ( Luke 1:57-80 ), the census ( Luke 2:1 ff.), the vision of angels ( Luke 2:8-14 ), the adoration of the shepherds ( Luke 2:15-20 ), the circumcision ( Luke 2:21 ), the presentation in the Temple Luke 2:22-23 ).

The narratives embody two ideas which are singly impressive, and in conjunction make a profound appeal to the feelings and the imagination. The humiliation of the Saviour is emphasized by one set of events the lowly parentage, the birth in a stable, the rage of Herod, the flight of His parents to a distant land. The other series shows Him as honoured and accredited by heaven, while earth also agrees, in the representatives of its wealth and its poverty, its wisdom and its ignorance, to do Him honour at His coming. ‘A halo of miracles is formed around the central miracle, comparable to the rays of the rising sun’ (Lange, Life of Christ , Eng. tr. [Note: translate or translation.] i. 257, 258).

At this point the influence of theological standpoint makes itself acutely felt. In the ‘Lives’ written from the naturalistic and Unitarian standpoints, the mass of the material is described as mythical or legendary, and the only points left over for discussion are the sources of invention, and the date at which the stories were incorporated with the genuine tradition. The residuum of historical fact, according to O. Holtzmann, is that ‘Jesus was born at Nazareth in Galilee, the son of Joseph and Mary, being the eldest of five brothers and several sisters, and there He grew up’ ( Life of Jesus , Eng. tr. [Note: translate or translation.] p. 89). The chief grounds on which the negative case is rested may be briefly considered.

(1) The narratives of the Infancy are not a part of the original tradition, since they are known to only two of the Evangelists, and have no Biblical support outside these Gospels. To this it seems a sufficient reply that additions may have been made later from a good source, and that there were obvious reasons why some at least of the incidents should have been treated for a time with reserve.

(2) The two Gospels which deal with the Infancy discredit one another by the incompatibility of their statements. Mt., it is often said, supposes that Bethlehem was Joseph’s home from the beginning; Lk. says that he made a visit to Bethlehem on the occasion of a census. According to Mt., the birth in Bethlehem was followed by a flight into Egypt; according to Lk., they visited Jerusalem and then returned to Nazareth. But the difficulties have been exaggerated. Though it is quite possible that Mt. did not know of an original residence in Nazareth, he does not actually deny it. And although neither Evangelist may have known of the other’s history, it is quite possible, without excessive harmonistic zeal, to work the episodes of Mt. into Lk.’s scheme. ‘The accounts may be combined with considerable plausibility if we suppose that Joseph and Mary remained a full year in Bethlehem, during which the presentation in the Temple took place, and that the visit of the Magi was much later than the adoration of the shepherds’ (Gloag, Introd. to the Synoptic Gospels , pp. 136, 137).

(3) The events narrated are said to be inconsistent with the indirect evidence of other portions of the Gospels. If they really occurred, why was Mary not prepared for all that followed? and why aid Jesus’ brethren not believe in Him? (Mark 3:21 ; Mark 3:31 ff., Matthew 12:46-50 ). In particular, the body of the Gospels contains, it is said, evidence which is inconsistent with the Virgin-birth. The difficulty is a real one, but hardly greater than the difficulty presented in the fact that the mighty works of the Ministry did not overbear doubt and disbelief in those who witnessed them.

(4) The narratives in question are also said to have had their origin in man’s illusory ideas as to the proper manner of the coming of a Divine messenger. The history of the founders of other religions e.g. Confucius and Gautama shows a fond predisposition to invest the birth of a Saviour or a mighty prophet with a miraculous halo; and it is suggested that similar stories were invented about Christ, with the effect of obscuring the distinctive thought and purpose of God. They are ‘deforming investitures, misplaced, like courtdresses on the spirits of the just’ (Martinean, Loss and Gain ). There is undeniable force in this, but it will be noticed that it is an observation which would make an end, as indeed those who use it intend, of the whole miraculous element in the life. If, on the other hand, we believe that the life of Christ was supernatural, it is easily credible that the rising of the Sun was heralded, in Lange’s image, by rays of glory.

Of the events of the glorious cycle which have the joint support of Mt. and Lk. there are three which have been felt to have religious significance.

(1) The Davidic descent . It was an article of common belief in the primitive Church that Jesus was descended from David ( Romans 1:3 ). Mt. and Lk. supply genealogies which have the purpose of supporting the belief, but do not strengthen it prima facie , as one traces the descent through Solomon ( Matthew 1:6 ), the other through a son of David called Nathan ( Luke 3:31 ). The favourite way of harmonizing them is to suppose that Mt. gives the descent through Joseph, Lk. through Mary, while others think that Mt. gives the list of heirs to the Davidic throne, Lk. the actual family-tree of Jesus. It may well be believed that descendants of the royal house treasured the record of their origin; and on the other hand it seems unlikely that Jesus could have been accepted as Messiah without good evidence of Davidic origin, or that a late fabrication would have been regarded as such.

(2) The Virgin-birth (cf. Gore, Dissertations on the Incarnation , 1895; Lobstein, The Virgin-Birth of Christ , Eng. tr. [Note: translate or translation.] 1903). The student is referred for a full statement on both sides to the works above cited, but a remark may be made on the two branches of the evidence. ( a ) The objections based on historical and literary grounds, as distinct from anti-dogmatic prejudice, are of considerable weight. No account of Mk.’s purpose satisfactorily explains his omission if he knew of it, and it seems incredible that, if known, it would not have been utilized in the Pauline theology. Upon this it can only be said that it may have been a fact, although it had not yet come to the knowledge of Mk. and Paul. Further, Mt. and Lk. themselves raise a grave difficulty, since the whole point of the genealogies seems to be that Jesus was descended from David through Joseph. The usual, though not quite convincing, answer is, that Jesus was legally the son of Joseph, and therefore David’s heir. It must probably be admitted that the original compilers of the genealogies shared the ignorance of the earliest Gospel, but ignorance or silence is not decisive as to a fact. ( b ) It has been common to exaggerate the doctrinal necessity of the tenet. It is usually held to have been necessary to preserve Jesus from the taint of original sin; but as Mary was truly His mother, an additional miracle must have been necessary to prevent the transmission of the taint through her, and this subsidiary miracle could have safeguarded the sinlessness of Jesus without the miraculous conception. Nor can it be said that it is a necessary corollary of the Eternal Sonship of Christ; since it is found in the Gospels which say nothing of His pre-existence, and is absent from the Gospel which places this in the forefront. And yet it would be rash to say that it has no value for Christian faith. The unique character of Christ, with its note of sinless perfection, cannot be explained by purely natural factors; and the doctrine of the Virgin-birth at least renders the service of affirming the operation of a supernatural causality in the constitution of that character. It must also be said that the negation is generally felt to be a phase of an anti-supernatural campaign to which the overthrow of this position means the capture of an outwork, and a point of departure for a more critical attack. It is also difficult for a Christian thinker to abandon the dogma without feeling puzzled and distressed by the alternative explanations which open up.

(3) The Birth at Bethlehem (cf. Ramsay, Was Christ born at Bethlehem? 1902). For the birth at Bethlehem we have the statement of the Gospels. Lk. seems to have investigated the point with special care, and explains the presence of Joseph and Mary at Bethlehem as due to a census which had been ordered by Augustus ( Luke 2:1 ). It has frequently been assumed that Lk. has blundered, as Quirinius was not governor of Syria until a.d. 6, when he made an enrolment; and the impossible date to which we are thus led seems to discredit the whole combination. In defence of Lk. it is pointed out that Quirinius held a military appointment in Syria about b.c. 6 which may have been loosely described as a governorship, and that there is evidence for a twelve years’ cycle in Imperial statistics which would give a first enrolment about the same date.

6. Years of Preparation (cf. Keim, vol. 2 Peter 2 ). The silence of the Gospels as to the boyhood and early manhood of Jesus is broken only by the mention of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem ( Luke 2:41 ff.). Even if it be true that none of His townsfolk believed on Him, it might have been expected that the piety of His disciples would have recovered some facts from the public memory, and that in any case the tradition would have been enriched at a later date by members of the family circle. The only possible explanation of the silence is that during the years in Nazareth Jesus did and said nothing which challenged notice. It is also evident that the silence is an indirect testimony to the credibility of the great events of the later years, as there was every reason why the tradition, had it not been bound by facts, should have invested the earlier period with supernatural surprises and glories.

(1) Education of Jesus . Earliest in time, and probably chief in importance, was the education in the home. The Jewish Law earnestly impressed upon parents, especially upon fathers, the duty of instructing their children in the knowledge of God, His mighty acts and His laws, and also of disciplining them in religion and morality. ‘We take most pains of all,’ says Josephus, ‘with the instruction of children, and esteem the observation of the laws, and the piety corresponding with them, the most important affairs of our whole life’ (c. Apion , i. 12). ‘We know the laws,’ he adds, ‘as well as our own name.’ It was the home in Nazareth that opened to Jesus the avenues of knowledge, and first put Him in possession of the treasures of the OT. It also seems certain that in His home there was a type of family life which made fatherhood stand to Him henceforward as the highest manifestation of a love beneficent, disinterested, and all-forgiving. It is probable that Jesus had other teachers. We hear in the course of the same century of a resolution to provide teachers in every province and in every town; and before the attempt was made to secure a universal system, it was natural that tuition should be given in connexion with the synagogue to boys likely to ‘profit above their equals.’ Of the officers connected with the synagogue, the ruler and the elders may sometimes have done their work as a labour of love, and there is evidence that it could be laid on the chazzan as an official duty. The stated services of the synagogue, in which the chief part was the expounding of the Scriptures by any person possessed of learning or a message, must have been an event of the deepest interest to the awakening mind of Jesus. From early childhood He accompanied His parents to Jerusalem to keep the Feast the utmost stress being laid by the Rabbis upon this as a means for the instilment of piety. It has also been well pointed out that the land of Palestine was itself a wonderful educational instrument. It was a little country, in size less than the Scottish Highlands, of which a great part could be seen from a mountain-top, and every district visited in a few days’ journey; and its valleys and towns, and, above all, Jerusalem, were filled with memories which compelled the citizen to live in the story of the past, and to reflect at every stage and prospect on the mission of his people and the ways of God (Ramsay, The Education of Christ , 1902). To these has to be added the discipline of work. Jesus learned the trade of a carpenter, and appears to have practised this trade in Nazareth until He reached the threshold of middle age ( Mark 6:3 ). It is perhaps remarkable that none of His imagery is borrowed from His handicraft. One has the feeling that the work of the husbandman and the vinedresser had more attraction for Him, and that His self-sacrifice may have begun in the workshop. The deeper preparation is suggested in the one incident which is chronicled. The point of it is that even in His boyhood Jesus thought of God as His Father, and of His house as His true sphere of work ( Luke 2:49 . The holy of holies in the silent years was the life of communion with God in which He knew the Divine Fatherhood to be a fact, and became conscious of standing to Him in the intimate relationship of a Son.

(2) Knowledge of Jesus . There is no reason to suppose that Jesus studied in the Rabbinical schools. Nor is there more ground for the belief, which has been made the motive of certain ‘Lives of Christ’ (Venturini, Natürliche Gesch. des grossen Propheten von Nazareth , 1800 2), that He had acquired esoteric wisdom among the Essenes. It has also become difficult for those who take their impressions from the historical records to believe that, while in virtue of His human nature His knowledge was progressive and limited, in virtue of His Divine nature He was simultaneously omniscient. All we can say is that He possessed perfect knowledge within the sphere in which His vocation lay. The one book which He studied was the OT, and He used it continually in temptation, conflict, and suffering. He knew human nature in its littleness and greatness the littleness that spoils the noblest characters, the greatness that survives the worst pollution and degradation. He read individual character with a swift and unerring glance. But what must chiefly have impressed the listeners were the intimacy and the certainty with which He spoke of God. In the world of nature He pointed out the tokens of His bounty and the suggestions of His care. The realm of human affairs was to Him instinct with principles which illustrated the relations of God and man. He spoke as One who saw into the very heart of God, and who knew at first hand His purpose with the world, and His love for sinful and sorrow-laden men.

7. Jesus and the Baptist . The religious common-placeness of the age, which has been described above, was at length broken by the appearance of John the Baptist, who recalled the ancient prophets. He proclaimed the approach of the Day of the Lord, when the Messiah would take to Himself His power and reign. He rejected the idea that the Jews could claim special privileges on the ground of birth ( Matthew 3:9 ), and proclaimed that the judgment, with which His work would begin, would be searching and pitiless. Along with other Galilæans Jesus repaired to the scene of the ministry in the lower Jordan valley, and received baptism ( Mark 1:9 ), not, indeed, as though He needed repentance, but as a symbol and means of consecration to the work which lay before Him. The Gospels are more deeply interested in the impression made by Jesus on John, modern writers in the influence exerted by John upon Jesus. According to all the Synoptics, John proclaimed the near advent of the Messiah; according to Mt., he may have implied that Jesus was the Messiah ( Mark 3:14 ); while the Fourth Gospel states that he explicitly pointed Him out as the Messiah to his disciples ( Mark 1:29 ; Mark 1:36 ). If we suppose that Jesus held intercourse for a time with the Baptist, it is easy to believe that the stainlessness and commanding greatness of His character at least evoked from the Baptist an avowal of his own inferiority. That he went so far as to declare Him the Messiah whom he preached is a statement which it is difficult to accept literally, or as meaning more than that the school of the Baptist pointed to its consummation in the school of Christ. On the other hand, contact with the Baptist’s ministry evidently precipitated the crisis in the life of Christ. The man who re-discovered the need and the power of a prophetic mission was an instrument in bringing Jesus face to face with His prophetic task; while his proclamation of the impending advent of the Messiah must have had the character for Jesus of a call to the work for which, as the unique Son, He knew Himself to be furnished. It is evident that the act of baptism was accompanied by something decisive. According to Mk., Jesus then had a vision of the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove, and heard a voice from heaven, ‘Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’ ( Mark 1:10-11 ). This is more probable than the statement that it was a public revelation ( Luke 3:21-22 ), or that it was the Baptist to whom the vision was vouchsafed ( John 1:32 ). We shall hardly err if we suppose that Jesus spoke to the disciples of His baptism as the time when His Messianic consciousness became clear, and He received an endowment of strength for the task to which He was called.

8. The Temptation . The view taken of the significance of the Baptism is confirmed by the narrative of the Temptation, which would naturally follow closely upon the acceptance of the Messianic vocation ( Mark 1:12-13 , Matthew 4:1-11 , Luke 4:1-13 ). Like the scene at the Baptism, the temptations probably came to Jesus in the form of a vision, which He afterwards described to His disciples. It has generally been agreed that the temptations must be understood as growing out of the Messianic commission, but there is wide difference of opinion as to their precise significance. The view which seems most probable to the present writer may be briefly set forth, it being premised that Luke’s order seems to answer best to the logic of the situation. Assuming that in the Baptism Jesus accepted the Messianic call, the possibilities of the ensuing ordeal of temptation were three that He should recoil from the task, that He should misconceive it, or that, rightly apprehending it, He should adopt wrong methods. The first temptation, accordingly, may very naturally be supposed to have consisted in the suggestion that He should choose comfort rather than hardship that He should turn back, while there was yet time, from the arduous and perilous path, and live out His days in the sheltered life of Nazareth. This He rejected on the ground that there are higher goods than comfort and security; ‘man shall not live by bread alone’ ( Matthew 4:4 ). The heroic course resolved on, the great question to be next faced was if He was to aim at establishing a kingdom of the political kind which the people generally expected, or a kingdom of a spiritual order. To found and maintain an earthly kingdom. He knew, meant the use of violence, craft, and other Satanic instruments; and of such means, even if the end had approved itself to Him as His vocation, He refused to make use ( Matthew 4:8 ff.). This decision taken, the question remained as to the way in which He was to win belief for Himself and His cause. For one with perfect trust in God it was a natural suggestion to challenge God to own Him by facing risks in which His life could be saved only through the interposition of a stupendous miracle (4:5ff.). But this He put aside as impious, and cast upon the Father the care of making His path plain, while He awaited, prudently as well as bravely, the gradual disclosure of His call to work and danger.

9. Duration of the Ministry (cf. art. Chronology above and in DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] ). The Synoptics give no certain indication of the length of the period. It is argued that the incident of plucking the ears of corn ( Mark 2:23 ) points to April or June of one year, and that at the feeding of the five thousand we are in the spring (‘green grass,’ Mark 6:39 ) of the year following; while at least another twelve months would be required for the journeys which are subsequently recorded. The chronological scheme usually adopted is based on the Fourth Gospel, which has the following notes of time: a Passover ( John 2:13 ), four months to harvest ( John 4:35 ), a feast of the Jews ( John 5:1 ), another Passover ( John 6:4 ), the feast of Tabernacles ( John 7:2 ), the feast of Dedication ( John 10:22 ), the last Passover ( John 11:55 ). The first four ‘can be combined in more than one way to fit into a single year e.g. (a ) Passover May any lesser feast Passover; or ( b ) Passover January Purim (February) Passover.’ ‘From John 6:4 to John 11:55 the space covered is exactly a year, the autumn Feast of Tabernacles ( John 7:2 ), and the winter Feast of Dedication ( John 10:22 ), being signalized in the course of it’ (art. ‘Chronology’ in DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] i. 409 a , 408 a ).

It was a wide-spread opinion in Patristic times, supported by the phrase ‘the acceptable year of the Lord’ (Luke 4:19 ), that the ministry lasted only one year; and in the opinion of some modern scholars it can be maintained that even the Fourth Gospel includes its material between two Passovers (Westcott and Hort, Greek Test. ; Briggs, New Light on the Life of Jesus ). On the other hand, it was asserted by Irenæus ( adv. Hær . ii. 22) on the ground of John 8:57 , and of an alleged Johannine tradition, that from ten to twenty years elapsed between the Baptism and the Crucifixion. John 8:57 is quite inconclusive, and the best authority for the Johannine tradition must be the Gospel, the evidence of which may be summed up by saying that ‘while two years must , not more than two years can , be allowed for the interval from John 2:13 ; John 2:23 to John 11:55 ’ (art. ‘Chronology’ in DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] ).

10. Periods of the Life of Christ . The divisions are necessarily affected by the view which is taken of the value of the chronological scheme of the Fourth Gospel.

Keim, who generally follows the guidance of the Synoptics, divides as follows:

Preliminary period of self-recognition and decision.

1. The Galilæan spring-time, beginning in the spring of a.d. 34 [certainly much too late], and lasting for a few months. Characteristics: the optimism of Jesus, and the responsiveness of the people.

2. The Galilæan storms, extending over the summer and autumn of a.d. 34 and the spring of the following year. Scene: Galilee and the neighbouring regions. Characteristics: increasing opposition, and intensification of the polemical note in the teaching of Jesus.

3. The Messianic progress to Jerusalem, and the Messianic death at the Passover of a.d. 35. Scene: Peræa and Jerusalem ( Jesus of Nazara ).

The Johannine material can be combined with the Synoptic in two periods, each of which lasted about a year. The following is the scheme of Hase:

Preliminary history.

1. The ‘acceptable year of the Lord,’ marked by hopefulness, active labour, and much outward success. Scene: Judæa and Galilee. Time: from the Baptism to the Feeding of the Multitude (some months before Passover of the year a.d. 30 or 31 to shortly before Passover of the following year).

2. The year of conflict. Scene: Galilee, Peræa, Judæa. Time: from the second to the last Passover.

3. The Passion and Resurrection. Scene: Jerusalem. Time: Passover ( Gesch. Jesu ).

The months between the Baptism and the first Passover may be regarded as a period with distinct characteristics, and we may distinguish (1) the year of obscurity, (2) the year of public favour, (3) the year of opposition (Stalker, Life of Jesus Christ , 1879).

The division into sub-periods has been most elaborately carried out by Dr. Sanday ( Outlines of the Life of Jesus Christ ).

A. Preliminary period from the Baptism to the call of the leading Apostles. Sources: Matthew 3:1 to Matthew 4:11 , Mark 1:1-13 , Luke 3:1 to Luke 4:13 , John 1:6 to John 4:54 . Scene: mainly in Judæa, but in part also in Galilee. Time: winter a.d. 26 to a few weeks before Passover, a.d. 27.

B. First active or constructive period. Sources: Matthew 4:13 to Matthew 13:53 , Mark 1:14 to Mark 6:13 , Luke 4:14 to Luke 9:6 , John 5:1-47 . Scene: mainly in Galilee, but also partly in Jerusalem. Time: from about Pentecost, a.d. 27, to shortly before Passover, a.d. 28.

C. Middle or culminating period of the active ministry. Sources: Matthew 14:1 to Matthew 18:35 , Mark 6:14 to Mark 9:50 , Luke 9:7-50 , John 6:1-71 . Scene: Galilee. Time: Passover to shortly before Tabernacles, a.d. 28.

D. Close of the active period the Messianic crisis in view. Sources: Matthew 19:1 to Matthew 20:34 , Mark 10:1-52 , Luke 9:51 to Luke 19:28 , John 7:1 to John 11:57 . Scene: Judæa and Peræa. Time: Tabernacles, a.d. 28, to Passover, a.d. 29.

E. The Messianic crisis the last week, passion, resurrection, ascension. Sources: Matthew 21:1 to Matthew 28:20 , Mark 11:1 to Mark 16:8 [ Mark 16:9-20 ], Luke 19:29 to Luke 24:52 , John 12:1 to John 21:23 . Scene: mainly in Jerusalem. Time: six days before Passover to ten days before Pentecost, a.d. 29.

Weiss’s scheme agrees with the above so far as regards the duration of the ministry (from 2 Timothy 3 years), and the date of the Crucifixion (Passover, a.d. 29). His periods are: (1) the preparation, corresponding to Dr. Sanday’s ‘preliminary period’ down to the wedding in Cana of Galilee; (2) the seed-time, including the remainder of ‘the preliminary period,’ and the first active or constructive period; (3) the period of first conflicts, and (4) the period of crisis, corresponding to the ‘middle or culminating period’; (5) the Jerusalem period, corresponding to the close of the active period; (6) the Passion and the subsequent events.

Useful as the above schemes of Weiss and Sanday are for arranging the subject-matter, and deserving as they are of respect for their scholarly grounding, the writer doubts if we can pretend to such exact knowledge of the course of events. Even if we assume that the Fourth Gospel gives a reliable chronological framework, it is a very precarious assumption that the Synoptic material, which is largely put together from a topical point of view, can be assigned its proper place in the scheme. Further, it is by no means clear that we are right in supposing that there was a Judæan ministry which ran parallel with the Galilæan ministry. There is much to be said for the view that the narratives of the Fourth Gospel presuppose a situation towards the close of them inistry, and that in interweaving them with the Synoptic narratives of the Galilæan perio


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Jesus Christ'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/j/jesus-christ.html. 1909.

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Friday, November 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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