The Apostolic Preaching and Its Developments by C. H. Dodd
C.H. Dodd is recognized as one of the great New Testament scholars of the twentieth century. Dr. Dodd was for many years Professor of New Testament at Cambridge University. This book of three lectures was published by Harper and Row, 1964.
Chapter Three: Paul and John
In the last lecture we traced one line of development from the original apostolic Preaching; that, namely, which starting from the eschatological valuation of facts of the past—the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ— resulted in the production of that distinctively Christian form of literature known as Gospels. We have now to turn once more to the primitive kerygma, with special attention to that part of it which attributed an eschatological significance to facts of the present.
We have seen that the apostolic Preaching according to Acts ii included an appeal to the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in the Church as evidence that the age of fulfilment had dawned, and that Jesus Christ was its Lord. "This is that which was spoken by the prophet. . . . I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh. . . . He being exalted at the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, has poured out that which you see and hear"; and it includes also an assurance that those who join the Christian community "receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
It is true that in other forms of the kerygma in Acts there is no such explicit reference to the Spirit in the Church, except in v. 32, which belongs to what is probably a secondary doublet of the story given in iii-iv. It is true also that Paul does not expressly say that the gift of the Spirit was a part of what he proclaimed as Gospel. But in Acts and epistles alike it is clear that the fact of life in the Spirit is presupposed. The primitive Church, in proclaiming its Gospel to the world, offered its own fellowship and experience as the realization of the Gospel. This is of the essence of the matter. In the Christian experience as it was enjoyed in the fellowship, the early believers were confident that they were in possession of the supernatural blessings which the prophets had foretold.
Quite naïvely, they were impressed by the abnormal psychical phenomena—faith-healing, second sight, "speaking with tongues," and the like—which broke out at Pentecost, and accompanied the extension of Christianity beyond the borders of Judaea. The reality of these phenomena there is not the slightest reason to doubt. Paul himself declares that his missionary work was accomplished "in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of Holy Spirit" (Rom. xv. 19), and he regards "works of power, gifts of healing, divers kinds of tongues" (i Cor. xii. 28) as normal in the life of the Church. We have now sufficient records of similar phenomena at other times of religious "revival," not only within Christianity, to justify the view that they are usual accompaniments of religious emotion raised to a certain pitch of intensity.
But it is clear that behind them lay, as Paul saw, a new quality of life, with which this intense emotion was associated. The naïve interest of the author of Acts in the miraculous should not prevent us from recognizing that he is in fact describing a corporate life which had this new quality. One thing he definitely sets forth as the result of life in the Spirit, namely, the social unity created by it, which expressed itself alike in a remarkably intimate fellowship in worship and in the sharing of needs and resources.1. For this special type of social unity Paul found the fitting expression: "the communion of the Holy Spirit" (a Cor. xiii. 13, Phil. ii. I). The phrase is his; the thing was there from the outset. And his critical analysis of " gifts of the Spirit" (I Cor. xii-xiv), which results in giving a relatively low place to abnormal phenomena, and exalting moral and intellectual endowments, and, above all, agape, love or charity, to the highest places, is a genuinely scientific estimate of the situation as it was from the beginning. This does not mean a reduction of the supernatural character of the primitive Christian experience. It is a recognition of the essential quality of the supernatural as revealed in Christ.
The primitive Church, while it enjoyed the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and appealed to the manifest work of the Spirit (somewhat naïvely conceived) as evidence of the dawn of the new Age, did not reflect upon it. Nor did it embody any clear doctrine of the fellowship in its preaching. Such a doctrine first appears in the epistles of Paul.
Paul had reflected deeply upon the new life realized in the Christian community. It may well be that before his conversion his attention had been arrested by the free, joyful, and enthusiastic fellowship of these sectaries. However that may be, when he became a Christian he fully accepted the belief of the primitive disciples that this new life was a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. The miraculous unity of the fellowship, he believed, was the creation of the Spirit, "for in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body " (i Cor. xii. 13) ; and the diversity of gifts, by the same Spirit, were divinely intended as the equipment of members of the body for function in its life. He also believed, as is implied in the citation of prophecy in Acts ii. 17-21, that this life in the Spirit marked the Church as being the true "Israel of God" in its final, "eschatological," manifestation (Gal. vi. 15-16). But his reflection upon this idea led him to a more profound interpretation of it. In order to appreciate it we must give some consideration to the background of the idea.
The idea of a supernatural Messianic community developed in Jewish prophecy and apocalypse. We may find it already in Isaiah’s doctrine of the Remnant.
"It shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even everyone that is written among the living in Jerusalem; when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning.(Cf. Mt. iii, 7-12) And the Lord will create over the whole habitation of Zion, and over her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire (Cf. Acts ii. 3, 19) by night" (Is. iv. 3-5).
Ezekiel pictures the emergence of this ideal Israel in the figure of the resurrection of the dry bones:
"Thus saith the Lord God: Behold I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, 0 my people . . . and I will put My spirit into you and ye shall live." (Ezek xxxvii. 12-14)
In Malachi the Remnant idea appears in a strongly eschatological context:
"Then they that feared the Lord spake one with another; and the Lord hearkened and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before Him, for them that feared the Lord and that thought upon His name. And they shall be Mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in the day when I act, even a peculiar treasure. . . . For behold the day cometh, it burneth as a furnace, and all that work wickedness shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear My name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings"( Cf. 2 Cor. iv.6). (Mal. iii. 16-17, iv. 1-2).
In the Book of Daniel the ideal Israel appears as "the people of the saints of the most High," identified with the "Son of Man" of Daniel’s vision, to whom the kingdom is given (Cf. Rom v. 17, I Cor. vi. 2) (vii. 13-14, 22-27). In the Similitudes of Enoch, the " congregation of the righteous," also called " the elect " and "the holy," appear along with the Elect, Righteous, or Holy One, who is also called the Son of Man.
"From the beginning the Son of Man was hidden,
And the Most High preserved him in the presence of his might,
(Enoch lxii. 7-8, 14-16).
It is unnecessary to point out how much of the imagery and ideas of such passages as these, which could be greatly multiplied, reappears in various parts of the New Testament.
For Paul, with his strongly eschatological background of thought, the belief that the Church was the "people of the saints of the Most High," now revealed in the last days, carried with it the corollary that all that prophecy and apocalypse had asserted of the supernatural Messianic community was fulfilled in the Church. But the eschatological scheme of the apocalypses had been profoundly disturbed by the fact that the Messiah had come and the Kingdom of God had been revealed, while yet this world continued to exist, and the people of God were still in the body. The Messiah indeed had Himself passed into the eternal order, but His followers still lived "in the flesh" (though not "after the flesh "). How, then, could it be true that the prophecies were fulfilled which spoke of the congregation of the righteous being transfigured into the glory of an immortal life ?
Paul found the answer to this question through a restatement in more thoroughgoing terms of the unity existing between the Messiah and the Messianic community. Christ, said the keryigma, was Son of God "according to the Spirit of holiness." The same Spirit dwelt in His Church. Thus the "communion of the Holy Spirit" was also "the communion of the Son of God" (i Cor. i. 9). It was not enough to say that Christ, being exalted to the right hand of God, had "poured forth" the Spirit. The presence of the Spirit in the Church is the presence of the Lord: "the Lord is the Spirit" (a Cor. iii. 17). Thus the "one body" which the one Spirit created is the Body of Christ. To be " in the Spirit " is to be " in Christ," that is to say, a member of the Body of Christ. The personality of Christ receives, so to speak, an extension in the life of His Body on earth. Those " saving facts," the death and resurrection of Christ, are not merely particular facts of past history, however decisive in their effect; they are re-enacted in the experience of the Church. If Christ died to this world, so have the members of His body; if He has risen into newness of life, so have they (Rom. vi. 4); if He being risen from the dead, dieth no more, neither do they (Rom. vi, 8-9); if God has glorified Him, He has also glorified them.(Rom. viii, 29-30). They are righteous, holy, glorious, immortal, according to the prophecies, with the righteousness, holiness, glory, and immortality which are His in full reality, and are theirs in the communion of His Body—" in Christ."
This is the basis of Paul’s so-called " Christ-mysticism." It is noteworthy that as his interest in the speedy advent of Christ declines, as it demonstrably does after the time when he wrote I Corinthians the "futurist eschatology" of his earlier phase is replaced by this "Christ-mysticism." The hope of glory yet to come remains as a background of thought, but the foreground is more and more occupied by the contemplation of all the riches of divine grace enjoyed here and now by those who are in Christ Jesus. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ!" (Eph. i. 3).
This was the true solution of the problem presented to the Church by the disappointment of its naïve expectation that the Lord would immediately appear; not the restless and impatient straining after signs of His coming which turned faith into fantasy and enthusiasm into fanaticism; but a fuller realization of all the depths and heights of the supernatural life here and now. The prayer of the Church as taught by Paul was no longer, "Let grace come and let this world pass away. Our Lord, come! (Didaché, x. 6) but "to be strengthened by His Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ that passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fullness of God" (Eph. 16-19).
This transformation of eschatology into "mysticism" (if that is the right word) had consequences in the practical sphere. That there is a certain tension or even contradiction between eschatology and ethics has often been observed. It is indeed possible to defend eschatology on the charge of being non-ethical. No doubt the thought of judgment to come may provide a powerful motive, and the exhortation to watch and pray lest the Day come upon you like a thief in the night is never altogether out of place. But an exclusive concentration of attention upon glory to come, with the corresponding devaluation of the present, its duties and opportunities, its social claims and satisfactions, obscures the finer and more humane aspects of morality. We have already noticed how lamentably the outlook of the Revelation of John falls below the ethical ideals of the Gospel. Now, in the epistles of Paul the doctrine of the Church as the Body of Christ, the sphere of divine grace and of supernatural life, is the foundation for a strong, positive, and constructive social ethic, which develops in a remarkable way the ethical teaching of Jesus.
If Christ lives in His Church, then love shown to the brethren is a part of that communion with Christ which is life eternal. "Be of one mind; have the same love. Do nothing in strife or vainglory, but in lowliness of mind think each other better than yourselves. Do not seek your own ends, but one another’s. In a word, have the same thoughts among yourselves as you have in your communion with Christ Jesus,2. who being in the form of God humbled Himself and became obedient even unto death; for which reason God exalted Him and gave Him the name above every name" (Phil. ii. 3 .rqq.). Here we have ethics developing directly out of" Christ-mysticism." It is noteworthy that while Paul’s reflection upon the saving facts of the death and resurrection of Christ leads him to the love of God as the supreme principle exhibited in these facts, it is his reflection upon the Spirit and the charismata or gifts of the Spirit in the Church that leads him to love or charity as at once the greatest of all charismata—" the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us" (Rom. v. 5)—and the root principle of all morality.’ The true supernatural life, now brought into being by Christ, is the life distinguished by the "fruits of the Spirit" as described in Gal. v. 20, and exhibiting the dispositions set forth in the hymn of charity in i Cor. xiii.
It is in the epistles of Paul, therefore, that full justice is done for the first time to the principle of" realized eschatology" which is vital to the whole kerygma. That supernatural order of life which the apocalyptists had predicted in terms of pure fantasy is now described as an actual fact of experience. In its final form, it is true, the consummation of life is still a matter of hope, but the earnest (arrbabon) of the inheritance is a present possession; and an arrhabon is a first instalment of a sum due accepted as a guarantee for the payment of the whole. In masterly fashion Paul has claimed the whole territory of the Church’s life as the field of the eschatological miracle.
In the Fourth Gospel the crudely eschatological elements in the kerygma are quite refined away. It is true that the eschatological outlook survives in the anticipation of a Day when those who are in the tombs will hear the voice of the Son of God, and come forth to the resurrection of life or of judgment (v. 28-29). But the evangelist points out with emphasis that this is not the resurrection to which the Gospel primarily refers. "I know," says Martha, "that he will rise at the resurrection on the Last Day" and Jesus replies, "I am the resurrection and the life". He who is alive and believes on me will never die" (xi. 24-26). That is to say, eternal life is a present and permanent possession of believers in Christ. Again, in the farewell discourse Jesus is made to promise that He will "come again," but it is made clear that this promise of a second coming is realized in the presence of the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, in the life of the Church (xiv. 16-19, xvi. 12-16). The evangelist, therefore, is deliberately subordinating the "futurist" element in the eschatology of the early Church to the "realized eschatology" which, as I have tried to show, was from the first the distinctive and controlling factor in the kerygma. His theme is life eternal, that is to say, in eschatological language, the life of the Age to Come, but life eternal as realized here and now through the presence of Christ by His Spirit in the Church.
The fact is that in this Gospel even more fully than in Paul, eschatology is sublimated into a distinctive kind of mysticism. Its underlying philosophy, like that of the Epistle to the Hebrews, is of a Platonic cast, which is always congenial to the mystical outlook. The ultimate reality, instead of being, as in Jewish apocalyptic, figured as the last term in the historical series, is conceived as an eternal order of being, of which the phenomenal order in history is the shadow or symbol. This eternal order is the Kingdom of God, into which Christians have been born again, by water and the Spirit (iii. 3-8). That is to say, life is for them fully real; they are nurtured by the real Bread and abide in the real Vine. This is the Johannine equivalent for the primitive Christian declaration that the age of fulfilment has dawned, or the Pauline declaration that if any man is in Christ there is a new creation. Its organic relation to primitive eschatological conceptions can be illustrated in various ways.
In prophecy the promise of the future was associated with the knowledge or vision of God. When Jeremiah speaks of the new covenant by which the true Israel of the future shall be constituted, he gives as its outstanding feature, "They shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord" (xxxi. 34). Again, in Is. lii, "Awake, awake, put on thy strength, 0 Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, 0 Jerusalem! Ye were sold for nought, and ye shall be redeemed without money. Therefore My people shall know My name: they shall know in that day that I am He."’ The significance of such declarations becomes clearer when we observe that while the prophets repeatedly speak of the knowledge which God has of His people, their knowledge of God is almost always the object of prayer, aspiration, command, or promise. Ideally, Israel knows God as God knows him; but actually such knowledge is, in any full sense, reserved for the glorious future. The Fourth Evangelist takes up the idea, and declares that now, as never before, authentic knowledge of God is available for men in union with Christ, the Son who knows the Father as He is known by Him; and such knowledge is eternal life.(John x. 15, xvii.3.)
Here the language of the Fourth Gospel approximates to that of contemporary Hellenistic mysticism, which taught that by gnosis man might enter into union with God, and so become divine and immortal. It seems clear that the evangelist’s intention was to reinterpret the Christian Gospel in terms agreeable to the most elevated kind of religious experience, outside Christianity, with which he was acquainted, recognizing that in it there was something of the light that lighteneth every man that cometh into the world.
But it would be a mistake to suppose that the Johannine doctrine of eternal life through knowledge of God is merely a variety of the current teaching of Hellenistic mysticism. The knowledge of God of which the evangelist speaks is a function of the Christian fellowship. As Paul recognized in the Christian Church the marks of the supernatural Messianic community, in so far as it was the Body of Christ, so John teaches that knowledge of God and eternal life are enjoyed by those who are united to Christ. To be united to Christ means to be the object of His love in laying down His life for His friends, and in return to love Him, to trust and obey Him, and to love all those who belong to Him.(John x. 11-15, xv. 13-17, xiv. 23-24, xiii. 34-35). This divine love was the power which in Christ brought eternal life within reach: "God so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life " (iii. 16). This agrees with the Pauline interpretation of the character of the supernatural life given to the Church: God commended His love in that Christ died for us, and that love is shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
We can hardly call this anything but mysticism, but it is mysticism with a difference. It arises directly out of the primitive Christian valuation of the facts of history and experience as eschatological facts, that is, as the ultimate manifestation in time of the eternal counsel of God.
John, however, takes a step beyond Paul. Paul, as we have seen, derives from the eschatological valuation of the Church’s life in the Spirit a " Christ-mysticism" which represents a conclusive reinterpretation of eschatology; and he also presents the death and resurrection of Jesus in their full meaning as eschatological facts. But of the life of Jesus he makes little except as preparation for His death. Here the Synoptic Gospels do more justice to that part of the kerygma which recited the facts of the life of Jesus as an integral element in the eschatological process. Now for John the whole life of Jesus is in the fullest sense a revelation of His glory. What was true of Christ’s work in the Church after His resurrection was already true of His words and works in the flesh. By them, as truly as by His death and resurrection, He brought life and light into the world. John therefore draws together two separate strains in the development of Christian thought: that which started from an eschatological valuation of the facts of present experience, and that which started from a similar valuation of the facts of past history. Accordingly, he has given to his work the form of a "Gospel," that is to say, of a restatement of the kerygma in historical terms.
In the Fourth Gospel we can discern, no less clearly than in Mark, and even more clearly than in Matthew and Luke, the fixed outline of the historical section of the kerygma as we have it in Acts x and xiii: the ministry of John the Baptist, the "anointing" of Jesus with the Holy Spirit, His teaching and works of mercy and power in Galilee; His ministry in Judaea and Jerusalem, His arrest and trial before Pilate, His crucifixion, burial, and resurrection.
The close affinity of the Fourth Gospel with the apostolic Preaching will become plainer if we attempt an analysis of it somewhat on the lines of our analysis of Mark.
The theme of "fulfilment," which in Mark is represented by the citations of prophecy with which the Gospel begins, is in John represented by the Logos doctrine of the Prologue. Whatever else the Johannine Logos may be, it is on one side of it the Word of the Lord, by which the heavens were made; which in the prophets came to His own, and His own received it not. The Prologue represents this Word of the Lord as the Light which, shining in the darkness, stage by stage grows in intensity to the point at which all its rays are focused on one spot of blinding glory in the Incarnation. For the background of the idea we might cite such prophetic passages as Is. lx, which speaks of the ideal Israel of the future: " The Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory" (lx. 19). The same symbolism recurs everywhere in the apocalypses. It is not simply that the prophets spoke words which now at last found their verification in the great divine event. It is that this event is the emergence into full operation of that very Word which in past history struggled for utterance. This is surely a more profound rendering of the idea of the fulfilment of prophecy.
The evangelist next records, in traditional manner, the ministry of John the Baptist. His function, as in Mark, is to bear testimony to the coming of the Messiah, and in particular to the fact that He will "baptize with Holy Spirit." In order to do this the Messiah is, again as in Mark, Himself "anointed" with Holy Spirit. To this also the Baptist bears witness, The theme of the testimony to Christ is here expanded by the addition of several further witnesses, who apply to Him the traditional eschatological title—Messiah, Son of God, King of Israel. At last Jesus Himself speaks, and claims for Himself, as in Mark, the most mysterious and august of all these titles, " Son of Man"(i. 51).
There now follow, as in Mark, stories of the miracles of Jesus, accompanied by discourses which explain their meaning in the light of the Johannine "sublimated eschatology." The miracle of Cana speaks of the coming of that new order which is to the old as wine to water. The cleansing of the Temple foreshadows the new Temple which is the Body of Christ (ii. 21). In the healings at Cana and Bethesda Christ gives life, as in the healing of the blind at Siloam He gives light. In the Feeding of the Multitude the bread is interpreted by the help of the symbol of the manna, which had in Jewish tradition come to stand for the spiritual food of the Age to Come. Christ is in fact giving to the world the "real bread," which conveys eternal life. That the bread is Himself is agreeable to the experience of the Church that in the "communion of the Holy Spirit," which constituted the new life, it enjoyed the presence of the Lord.
The record is interspersed with sayings which emphasize the truth that in this historical ministry of Jesus " the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has drawn near." Thus, "Do you not say, Four months, and then the harvest comes ? " (The harvest is an old prophetic symbol.) "I say to you, lift up your eyes and behold the fields: they are already white for harvest" (iv. 35). Again, " The hour is coming, and now is, when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth" (iv. 23). " The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will come to life" (v. 25). And this latter saying receives illustration on the grand scale in the story of the raising of Lazarus, which exhibits Christ as "the resurrection and the life," through whom eternal life is a present possession, and no longer a hope for the "last day."
Like Mark again, John traces in the ministry that growing opposition to Jesus which led to His death. But he gives to it a more profound interpretation. Since with Christ the eternal light has come into the world, to sin against the light is to be judged. And this is in fact the "last judgment" of which prophecy and apocalypse spoke, and which, if the coming of Christ is indeed the fulfilment of prophecy, must have taken place when He came. "This is the judgment: that the Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light" (iii. 19). Hence, when the opposition has reached its height, and Jesus stands in prospect of death, He can declare, "Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out" (xii. 31). It is a more pointed and even more logical statement of the Pauline doctrine that in the death of Jesus God condemned sin in the flesh and triumphed over principalities and powers. The eschatological idea of judgment has received a conclusive reinterpretation.
As we approach the narrative of the Passion, the place of the Apocalyptic Discourse in Mark is taken by the discourse in the Upper Room. In this discourse, as we have seen, the prediction of the second advent of Christ is interpreted in the sense of His presence in the Church through His Spirit. The Passion itself is set forth as the event in which Christ is more fully "glorified" than in any of His words or works (xii. 23-33), because on the one hand it is the most complete revelation of His love for His friends, and on the other hand it is, as the kerygma had insisted from an early date, the means by which He finally effected the salvation of man. "For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in reality" (xvii. 19). In these words the "holiness," that is, the supernatural character, of the Messianic community is directly related to the saving fact of the death of Christ. The last words of His earthly life are "It is finished" (xix. 30). They are an impressive statement of the conviction that in the life and death of Jesus the whole counsel of God is fulfilled, as the eschatological valuation of these facts had implied from the beginning.
Finally, the resurrection is recorded, as in the other Gospels, and in agreement with the form of the kerygma. But in the Fourth Gospel it is not so much a new act in the drama of redemption, for the victory of Christ is already complete, and His glory already manifested in His life and death. It is narrated as the sign which seals for the disciples the reality of that which He has accomplished, and the finality of His Person: "Thomas said, My Lord and my God! " (xx. 28).
In this profound restatement of the apostolic Preaching the Fourth Evangelist has succeeded in bringing into one picture those elements which in its earlier forms appear as past, present, and future. On the one hand all that the Church hoped for in the second coming of Christ is already given in its present experience of Christ through the Spirit; and on the other hand this present experience penetrates the record of the events that brought it into being, and reveals their deepest significance. " The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory." All the sense of finality that eschatology strove to express is in that amazing declaration, which is at once a comprehensive summary of the life of Jesus, and contains in itself all that the highest hopes of man can aspire to; for beyond the vision of God we cannot aspire.
The work of Paul and John represents the most significant and far-reaching developments of the apostolic Preaching in the New Testament. As we have seen, their writings, as well as those of other New Testament writers, betray a direct acquaintance with the traditional forms of the kerygma. We could not otherwise account for the way in which they all recur to certain guiding ideas, and even certain arrangements of these ideas, and formulae for expressing them. The primitive kerygma lived on.
As the Church produced a settled organization of its life, the content of the kerygma entered into the Rule of Faith, which is recognized by the theologians of the second and third centuries as the presupposition of Christian theology. Out of the Rule of Faith in turn the Creeds emerged. The so-called Apostles’ Creed in particular still betrays in its form and language its direct descent from the primitive apostolic Preaching.
At the same time, the kerygma exerted a controlling influence upon the shaping of the Liturgy. While theology advanced from the positions established by Paul and John, the form and language of the Church’s worship adhered more closely to the forms of the kerygma. It is perhaps in some parts of the great liturgies of the Church that we are still in most direct contact with the original apostolic Preaching.
In this survey of the apostolic Preaching and its developments two facts have come into view: first, that within the New Testament there is an immense range of variety in the interpretation that is given to the kerygma; and, secondly, that in all such interpretation the essential elements of the original kerygma are steadily kept in view. Indeed, the farther we move from the primitive modes of expression, the more decisively is the central purport of it affirmed. With all the diversity of the New Testament writings, they form a unity in their proclamation of the one Gospel. At a former stage of criticism, the study of the New Testament was vitalized by the recognition of the individuality of its various writers and their teachings. The results of this analytical stage of criticism are of permanent value. With these results in mind, we can now do fuller justice to the rich many-sidedness of the central Gospel which is expressed in the whole. The present task of New Testament criticism, as it seems to me, is the task of synthesis. Perhaps, however, "synthesis" is not quite the right word, for it may imply the creation of unity out of originally diverse elements. But in the New Testament the unity is original. We have to explore, by a comparative study of the several writings, the common faith which evoked them, and which they aimed at interpreting to an ever-widening public.
It is this task which I have tried to plot out in these lectures. It should be evident that there is room for a great deal of investigation at every point. Work which has been done during the present century, and particularly since the War, has provided us with fresh standpoints, and with fresh illustrative material. There are new methods of Gospel-criticism, and there is an almost bewildering mass of material supplied by the comparative study of religion in and about the New Testament period, from Jewish, Hellenistic, and Oriental sources. Indeed, it has sometimes seemed as if the study of Pauline and Johannine thought, in particular, might resolve itself into a study of religious eclecticism. But as we master this mass of material, instead of being mastered by it, it will enable us to define more precisely the meaning of the terms employed by these teachers, and I am convinced that the result will be to bring into more startingly clear relief the fundamental Christian message which Paul and John proclaim in fresh and invigorating forms.
There is one further part of the task, to which in these lectures I have done no more than allude, and that is, to ascertain the relation between the apostolic Preaching and that of Jesus Christ Himself. I have said something about it elsewhere.3. I will here only state my belief that it will be found that the primitive kerygma arises directly out of the teaching of Jesus about the Kingdom of God and all that hangs upon it; but that it does only partial justice to the range and depth of His teaching, and needs the Pauline and Johannine interpretations before it fully rises to the height of the great argument. It is in the Fourth Gospel, which in form and expression, as probably in date, stands farthest from the original tradition of the teaching, that we have the most penetrating exposition of its central meaning.
In conclusion, I would offer some brief reflections upon the relation of this discussion to the preaching of Christianity in our own time.
What do we mean by preaching the Gospel? At various times and in different circles the Gospel has been identified with this or that element in the general complex of ideas broadly called Christian; with the promise of immortality, with a particular theory of the Atonement, with the idea of "the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man," and so forth. What the Gospel was, historically speaking, at the beginning, and during the New Testament period, I hope these lectures have in some measure defined. No Christian of the first century had any doubt what it was, or any doubt of its relevance to human need. How far can it be preached in the twentieth century?
A well-known New Testament scholar has expressed the opinion that "the modern man does not believe in any form of salvation known to ancient Christianity."4.
It is indeed clear that the primitive formulation of the Gospel in eschatological terms is as strange as it could well be to our minds. It is no wonder that it has taken a long time, and stirred up much controversy, to reach the frank conclusion that the preaching of the early Church, and of Jesus Himself, had its being in this strange world of thought. For many years we strove against this conclusion. We tried to believe that criticism could prune away from the New Testament those elements in it which seemed to us fantastic, and leave us with an original "essence of Christianity," to which the modern man could say, "This is what I have always thought." But the attempt has failed. At the centre of it all lies this alien, eschatological Gospel, completely out of touch, as it seems, with our ways of thought.
But perhaps it was not much less out of touch with the thought of the Hellenistic world to which the earliest missionaries appealed. Paul at least found that the Gospel had in it an element of " foolishness" and "scandal" for his public. But he and others succeeded in reinterpreting it to their contemporaries in terms which made its essential relevance and truth clear to their minds. It is this process of reinterpretation that we have been studying. Some similar process is clearly demanded of the preachers of the Gospel in our time. If the primitive " eschatological" Gospel is remote from our thought, there is much in Paul and John which as it stands is almost equally remote, and their reinterpretations, profound and conclusive though they are, do not absolve us from our task.
But the attempt at reinterpretation is always in danger of becoming something quite different; that which Paul called, "preaching another Jesus and another Gospel."’ We have seen that the great thinkers of the New Testament period, while they worked out bold, even daring ways of restating the original Gospel, were so possessed by its fundamental convictions that their restatements are true to its first intention. Under all variations of form, they continued to affirm that in the events out of which the Christian Church arose there was a conclusive act of God, who in them visited and redeemed His people; and that in the corporate experience of the Church itself there was revealed a new quality of life, arising out of what God had done, which in turn corroborated the value set upon the facts.
The real problem for the student of the New Testament is not whether this or that incident in the life of Jesus is credibly reported, this or that saying rightly attributed to Him; nor yet whether such and such a doctrine. in Paul or John can be derived from Judaism or the "mystery religions." It is, whether the fundamental affirmations of the apostolic Preaching are true and relevant. We cannot answer this question without understanding the Preaching, nor understand it without painstaking study of material which in some of its forms is strange and elusive; but without answering this question, we cannot confidently claim the name of Christian for that which we preach. To select from the New Testament certain passages which seem to have a "modern" ring, and to declare that these represent the "permanent element" in it, is not necessarily to preach the Gospel. It is, moreover, easy to be mistaken, on a superficial reading, about the true meaning of passages which may strike us as congenial. Some of them may not be as "modern" as they sound. The discipline of confronting the Gospel of primitive Christianity, in those forms of statement which are least congenial to the modern mind, compels us to re-think, not only the Gospel, but our own prepossessions.
It is for this reason that I conceive the study of the New Testament, from the standpoint I have indicated, to be of extreme importance just now. I do not suggest that the crude early formulation of the Gospel is our exclusive standard. It is only in the light of its development all through the New Testament that we learn how much is implied in it. But I would urge that the study of the Synoptic Gospels should be more than an exercise in the historical critic’s art of fixing the irreducible minimum of bare fact in the record; and that the study of Paul and John should be more than either a problem in Comparative Religion or the first chapter in a History of Dogma. Gospels and epistles alike offer a field of study in which the labour of criticism and interpretation may initiate us into the "many-sided wisdom "which was contained in the apostolic Preaching, and make us free to declare it in contemporary terms to our own age.
1. Acts ii. 44-47, lv. 32-37. It is noteworthy that each of these accounts of the ‘"Communism" of the primitive Church, which are thought to emanate from separate sources, is given as the immediate sequel to an account of the descent of the Holy Spirit.
2. This translation, which follows that of Erich Haupt in Meyer’s Cornrnentary, seems to me to give the correct sense of this difficult sentence. The Current rendering does violence to the Greek.
3. In The Parables of/be Kingdom (Nisbet, 1935).
4. Kirsopp Lake, Landmarks of Early Christianity, p. 77.
Viewed 128113 times.