Chapter Two: The Gospels

The Apostolic Preaching and Its Developments
by C. H. Dodd

Chapter Two: The Gospels

The preaching of the primitive Church had, as we have seen, an eschatological setting. Its terms were borrowed from the traditional eschatology of Judaism. But it differed from all earlier prophecy and apocalypse in declaring that the eschatological process was already in being. The Kingdom of God had made its appearance with the coming of the Messiah; His works of power and His "new teaching with authority" had provided evidence of the presence of God among men; His death "according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" had marked the end of the old order, and His resurrection and exaltation had definitely inaugurated the new age, characterized, as the prophets had foretold, by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the people of God. It remained only for the new order to be consummated by the return of Christ in glory to judge the quick and the dead and to save His own from the wrath to come. The whole was conceived as a continuous, divinely directed process, in which past, present, and future alike had eschatological significance. In the recent past lay the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; the experience of the present attested His power in the Church through the Spirit; the near future would bring the final revelation of the meaning of the whole.

When the unexpected delay in the consummation broke up the continuity of the eschatological process, some readjustment of outlook was called for. The lines along which it took place depended upon the relative emphasis placed upon the past, the present or the future aspect of the primitive Gospel.

For some minds, the most intense emotion gathered about the thought of the expected advent of the Lord. The finished work of Christ, and its results in the present experience of the Church, existed in the mind as a permanent background of faith, producing that atmosphere of "joy and simplicity of heart" which the author of Acts (ii. 46) notes as characteristic of the early days. But all this was, after all, in some sort provisional and incomplete; it was preparatory to the glory yet to be revealed when the Lord should return on the clouds of heaven. As the revelation still delayed, the believers were driven to conclude that they had been mistaken in thinking that the Lord would return immediately, but a more attentive study of His teaching, and observation of the signs of the times, they thought, would enable them to divine the time of His coming, as well as the reason for its delay. The Church therefore proceeded to reconstruct on a modified plan the traditional scheme of Jewish eschatology which had been broken up by the declaration that the Kingdom of God had already come. Materials for such a reconstruction were present in profusion in the apocalyptic literature. The reconstructed eschatology of the Church therefore drew heavily on Jewish sources.

The earliest document of this tendency is to be found in z Thessalonians. The eschatological passage in the first chapter of that epistle (7-Jo), which most critics have noted as being in style unlike that of Paul, is best understood as a virtual quotation of some current apocalypse, whether Jewish or Jewish-Christian. There is nothing distinctively Christian either in its contents or in its general tone, apart from the fact that the figure of the Messiah is identified with Jesus. In the second chapter (3-10) we have a peculiar doctrine which may have been contained in the same apocalypse. It is clearly an adaptation of the ancient myth of Anti-Christ or Beliar, who now appears in the guise of the " Man of Sin." Clearly the motive underlying it is the problem, Why has the Lord not yet come? The answer is, that His coming must be preceded, as ancient apocalypses had foretold, by the outbreak of final anarchy, and this outbreak is delayed by the " restraining power," which is probably to be understood as the power of the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, " the Mystery of Iniquity" is already at work. Shortly, the restraining power will be removed. The Man of Sin will appear, claiming divine honours, and will commit a horrible sacrilege in the Temple of God. That will be the signal for the immediate coming of the Lord to judgment.

It may well be that those critics are right who suggest that the model who sat for this portrait of the Man of Sin was the mad Emperor Caligula, whose attempt to set up his image in the Temple had deeply affronted Jewish sentiment, recalling, as it did, the sacrilege of Antiochus Epiphanes, which Daniel had described as "the abomination of desolation." That attempt failed, but it showed that the Mystery of Iniquity was already at work, and a second such attempt would precipitate the final crisis. The point to be observed is that an explanation is being offered of the delay of the Lord’s advent, along with an indication of the infallible signs which will precede that event.

A similar motive is to be discerned in the "Little Apocalypse" of Mark xiii. It is unnecessary to demonstrate over again that this apocalypse, though it contains embedded in it sayings belonging to the primitive tradition of the teaching of Jesus, is inconsistent with the purport of His teaching as a whole, and presupposes knowledge of events after His death. The writer has in view the disturbed political situation of the late fifties or early sixties, the "wars and rumours of wars " upon the eastern frontier of the Empire, the famines and earthquake shocks recorded under Claudius and Nero, and the growing isolation and unpopularity of the Christian Church; but he is concerned to assure his readers that " the end is not yet." First the horrible sacrilege must take place—" the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not," and then will come the final tribulation, the collapse of the physical universe and the appearance of the Son of Man upon the clouds of heaven.

These two documents illustrate clearly the character of the reconstructed eschatology of the early Church. It has undoubtedly influenced the tradition of the teaching of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels.1. The First Gospel is most deeply affected by it, but none of the three is entirely exempt. This is natural, since the tradition had undergone considerable development before it was embodied in our canonical Gospels, and during this time it had been exposed to the influence of what we may call the "futurist eschatology," as distinct from the " realized eschatology " which gives its character to the earliest preaching, as well as to the earliest tradition of the teaching of Jesus.

This " futurist" tendency reaches its climax, within the New Testament, in the Revelation of John. As a piece of apocalyptic literature it takes its place naturally in the series which begins with the Book of Daniel, and includes such works as the Book of Enoch, the Assumption of Moses, the Apocalypse of Baruch, and 2 Esdras. The whole apparatus of Jewish apocalyptic is here adapted to Christian use. In cryptic imagery the writer refers to current and immediately impending events—the political conflicts of the time, the Parthian menace, the fear of a return of Nero, the growth of Caesar-worship, and the intensification of persecution — and interprets these as the infallible signs of the approaching advent of the Lord. The whole emphasis falls upon that which is to come.

The other elements in the kerygma are indeed present as a background. The death and resurrection of the Lord are presupposed as the condition of His ultimate triumph, and He is seen in vision walking in the midst of the golden candlesticks which are the churches. But all this is subordinated to the intense expectation of glory yet to come, which absorbs the writer’s real interest. And if we review the book as a whole, we must judge that this excessive emphasis on the future has the effect of relegating to a secondary place just those elements in the original Gospel which are most distinctive of Christianity—the faith that in the finished work of Christ God has already acted for the salvation of man, and the blessed sense of living in the divine presence here and now.

Under the influence of this revived Jewish eschatology, Christianity was in danger of falling back into the position of the earlier apocalyptists. Minds dominated by the fantastic visions of the Revelation of John might easily lose the sense that all had been made new by the coming of Christ, and that in the communion of His people the life of the Age to Come was a present possession, through the Spirit which He had given. They would then be in no better case than, say, the authors of the apocalypses of Baruch and Ezra, for whom the present had no divine significance, but all the energy of faith was absorbed in picturing that which should come to pass. That would amount to a denial of the substance of the Gospel.

The effects of this relapse into a pre-Christian eschatology are evident in the tone and temper of the Revelation itself. With all the magnificence of its imagery and the splendour of its visions of the majesty of God and the world to come, we are bound to judge that in its conception of the character of God and His attitude to man the book falls below the level, not only of the teaching of Jesus, but of the best parts of the Old Testament. Our Lord’s proclamation of the Kingdom of God was associated with a new conception of the infinite loving-kindness of the heavenly Father. It was " a new teaching, with authority." Where shall we find its echoes in the Revelation of John? At most, in a verse or two here and there. The God of the Apocalypse can hardly be recognized as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, nor has the fierce Messiah, whose warriors ride in blood up to their horses’ bridles, many traits that could recall Him of whom the primitive kerygma proclaimed that He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, because God was with Him.

This line of development led into a blind alley. In the second century its stream of thought ran out into the barren sands of millenarianism, which in the end was disavowed by the Church. Attempts to revive it in later periods have always had something artificial and fanatical about them. When their authors claim to be returning to primitive Christianity, they ignore the fact that it is impossible ever to revive the belief that the Lord would in literal truth arrive to judgment upon the clouds of heaven during the thirties of the first century. He did not do so. To work up a fantastic expectation that He will arrive in the thirties of the twentieth century is not primitive Christianity, whatever it may be.

The possibility of eschatological fanaticism was no doubt present in the outlook of the primitive Church, but it was restrained by the essential character of the Gospel as apprehended in experience. The exposure of the illusion which fixed an early date for the Lord’s advent, while it threw some minds back into the unwholesome ferment of apocalyptic speculation, gave to finer minds the occasion for grasping more firmly the substantive truths of the Gospel, and finding for them a more adequate expression.

To return to the primitive kerygma, we recall that in it the expectation of the Lord’s return was held in close association with a definite valuation of His ministry, death, and resurrection as constituting in themselves an eschatological process, that is, as a decisive manifestation of the mighty acts of God for the salvation of man. Eschatology is not itself the substance of the Gospel, but a form under which the absolute value of the Gospel facts is asserted. The second advent is not the supreme fact, to which all else is preparatory; it is the impending verification of the Church’s faith that the finished work of Christ has in itself absolute value.

Thus the authentic line of development, as the expectation of an immediate advent faded, led to a concentration of attention upon the historical facts of the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, exhibited in an eschatological setting which made clear their absolute and final quality as saving facts.

This line of development can be traced in the Pauline and other epistles.

We have already seen that Paul’s preaching was centred in the proclamation of the facts of the death and resurrection of Christ. His interpretation of these facts starts from the application to them of eschatological categories. Thus he says that in the death of Christ God manifested His righteousness (Rom. iii, 21-16) and condemned sin in the flesh (Rom. viii, 3). The manifestation of righteousness and the condemnation of sin are functions of the Last Judgment. Again, he says that in the Cross God triumphed over principalities and powers (Col. ii, 15). The overthrow of the "kingdom of the enemy" is in eschatological tradition the coming of the Kingdom of God, that is, the ultimate divine event. Similarly, the resurrection of Christ is for Paul the first stage of that transfiguration of human nature into a heavenly condition which the apocalypses predicted. He is the "first-fruits of them that sleep,"(I Cor. xv. 20) the "first-born from the dead,"( Col. i. 18) and in union with Him Christians have already experienced the "new creation," and are "being transfigured from glory to glory."( 2 Cor. v. 16) Thus the death and resurrection of Christ are interpreted as the divinely ordained crisis in history through which old things passed away and the new order came into being.

It is in this light that we must understand all that Paul says about redemption, justification, and the end of the Law. The "redemption" of Israel out of Egyptian slavery had already become for the prophets a foreshadowing of the ultimate "redemption" of the people of God from all the evil of this present age.(See Exod. xv. 13, Deut. vii 8, Is i 27, etc.) It is this ultimate (eschatological) "redemption" that Paul sees to have been accomplished through the death and resurrection of Christ. Again, the very idea of "justification" implies a judgment which has already taken place. The righteousness of God is already revealed, and it has taken the form, as the prophets had foreseen that it would, of the "justification" of His people. And nothing short of the appearance of the Age to Come could supersede the Law, which was the complete expression of the purpose of God for man in "this age." In dying to the Law, and rising into newness of life, Christ had made the decisive transition, on behalf of the whole people of God.

Finally, the philosophy of history expounded in Rom. ix-xi, and more allusively elsewhere, with its acute and convincing valuation of the stages of Hebrew and Jewish history, implies a corresponding valuation of the events in which, for Paul, that history reached fulfilment, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These events have the actuality which belongs to the historical process as such, and at the same time they possess the absolute significance which belongs to the eschaton, the ultimate fulfilment of the divine purpose in history.

In the First Epistle of Peter the reader is aware of an atmosphere which seems in some respects nearer to that of the primitive Church, as we divine it behind the early chapters of Acts, than anything else in the New Testament. That in general its thought follows the apostolic Preaching is clear, and we could easily believe that in places its very language is echoed. For this writer the theme of all prophecy is "the sufferings of Christ and the glory to follow" (i. ii). His death, which took place "at the end of the times," is the fulfilment of the eternal counsel of God (i. 20). He died for sins, rose again, ascended into heaven, and is on the right hand of God, angels, principalities, and powers being subject to Him (iii. 18-22). In the light of our previous study, we shall not be so ready as some critics have been to put all this down to "Pauline influence." It is a clear echo of the apostolic Preaching which lies behind Paul and the whole New Testament.

But it is of particular interest to observe that this writer does not dwell exclusively on the bare fact that Christ died for our sins, but attaches saving significance to His character, and His behaviour on trial: "He did no sin, neither was any guile found in His mouth. When He was abused, He did not retort with abuse. Under suffering He uttered no threats, but committed Himself to Him who judges justly" (ii. 22-23). It has often been pointed out that this description is partly modelled on Isaiah liii, which describes the sufferings of the Servant of the Lord; but I venture to think that the wrong inference has often been drawn from this fact. It has been said that the writer is not following any historical tradition of the life of Jesus, but drawing freely from prophecy an ideal picture of the suffering Messiah. This is to miss the point. For this writer, as for other early Christian thinkers, the important thing is the correspondence of prophecy with the facts. That Isaiah foretold such behaviour on the part of the Servant of the Lord is important just because Jesus did in fact so behave:

this is that which was spoken by the prophet." Here, therefore, not simply the fact that Jesus suffered and died, but the way in which His character was exhibited in His sufferings, is a part of the "eschatological" fulfilment. This goes beyond anything that is explicitly said by Paul, though it may be said to be implied in such passages as Rom. v. 19, xv. 3; Phil. ii. 8.


In the Epistle to the Hebrews eschatology has been reinterpreted in terms of a Platonic scheme. The "Age to Come "is identified with that order of eternal reality whose shadows or reflections form the world of phenomena. The death of Christ, therefore, which irs the primitive preaching was the crisis of the eschatological process, is here His passage into the eternal order (ix. 12, 24). By dying He has "consecrated a new and living way through the veil" which separated human experience from the world of supreme reality (x. 20). The death of Christ, therefore, is the point at which history becomes fully real, exhibiting no longer mere shadows, but "the very image of realities (x. i). The eschatological valuation of the death of Christ thus receives a new interpretation, which gives the clue to this writer’s doctrine of His eternal priesthood.

In the Pauline epistles, therefore, in i Peter, and in Hebrews, the primitive valuation of the death and resurrection of Christ as "eschatological" events is developed in striking ways. But in none of these writings is there any sustained attempt to give an eschatological interpretation to the facts of the ministry of Jesus apart from His passion, death, and resurrection, even though all three writers are aware that His death was the final expression of a character and a moral purpose which displayed itself in His whole incarnate life. Paul records that Jesus was born under the Law,(Gal.iv.4) that for our sakes He became poor, (Cor. viii 9) that He pleased not Himself (Rom. xv.3), that He humbled Himself (Phil. ii.8), and that He was obedient in all things to the will of God (Rom. v. 19, Phil ii.8); and these facts he sees to be essential to the saving effect of His death. In I Peter, as we have seen, His innocence and humility under trial are part of His fulfilment of the divine purpose as declared in the prophets. In Hebrews, the sacrificial character of His death is described in the Psalmist’s words, "Lo, I am come to do Thy will, 0 God" (x. 5-9); and for this writer His trials and temptations, ( Heb. ii. 18, iv. 15) is discipline of suffering, (v.7) and His agony in prayer -- are all factors in the act by which He consecrated the new and living way through the veil. But the fact remains that for all these writers the life of Jesus is rather the preparation for His death and resurrection than itself a part of the decisive eschatological event. None of them does full justice to the place which the recital of the facts of the ministry holds in some forms of the apostolic Preaching.

For a more thoroughgoing valuation of the life of Jesus in eschatological terms we must turn to the Synoptic Gospels, and in the first instance to Mark.

I have elsewhere1. tried to show that we can trace in the Gospel according to Mark a connecting thread running through much of the narrative, which has some similarity to the brief summary of the story of Jesus in Acts x and xiii, and may be regarded as an expanded form of what we may call the historical section of the kerygma.

Let us recall the general scheme of the kerygma. It begins by proclaiming that "this is that which was spoken by the prophets"; the age of fulfilment has dawned, and Christ is its Lord ; it then proceeds to recall the historical facts, leading up to the resurrection and exaltation of Christ and the promise of His coming in glory; and it ends with the call to repentance and the offer of forgiveness. Now, if the Gospel according to Mark may be regarded as based upon an expanded form of the middle, or historical, section, we must observe that this section is not, in Mark any more than in the kerygma, isolated from the general scheme. The theme of Mark’s Gospel is not simply the succession of events which ended in the crucifixion of Jesus. It is the theme of the kerygma as a whole. This is indeed indicated as the evangelist’s intention by the opening phrase which gives the title of the work: "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ." Some patristic writers refer to the Gospels as "memoirs," thereby placing them in a well-defined class of Greek literature. But the earliest evangelist does not so describe his work. He describes it as" Gospel," and this word, as we have seen, is a virtual equivalent for .kerygma. Mark therefore conceived himself as writing a form of kerygma, and that his Gospel is in fact a rendering of the apostolic Preaching will become clear from an analysis of the book itself.

After the opening phrase, which I have already quoted, the Gospel begins : "As it is written in Isaiah the prophet." This recalls the first words of the kerygma according to Acts ii: "This is that which was spoken by the prophet." The theme of fulfilment is at once in view. The prophecies cited here are those which speak of the immediate prelude to the Day of the Lord, and these Mark sees fulfilled in the appearance of John the Baptist, of whose ministry a brief account is given, just sufficient to introduce the significant words, "A stronger than I is coming after me.2. I baptized with water, but He will baptize you with Holy Spirit." Once again we have an echo of the kerygma of Acts, which finds in the descent of the Spirit the sign of the new Age. John’s proclamation is followed immediately by the Baptism of Jesus, accompanied by a vision of the Holy Spirit, and the divine voice which acclaims Him as the Son of God. We know from Acts x. 38 that this event was interpreted as the "anointing" of Jesus, by which He was designated Messiah, i.e. the Anointed, in fulfilment of the prophecy in Isa. lxi. i. So far, therefore, Mark serves as a commentary on the kerygma, and explains why in even the very brief summaries of it which we have in Acts x and xiii so much stress is laid on the part taken by John the Baptist.

Mark now relates how Jesus came into Galilee preaching the Kingdom of God, and his summary of this preaching would serve, as we have seen, equally well for a skeleton outline of the preaching of the primitive Church: "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has drawn near. Repent and believe the Gospel."

Down to this point we are reading the exordium of the book, which serves quite definitely to place the whole narrative within the framework of the kerygma. From this point detailed narrative begins, chiefly in the form of more or less detached episodes, loosely strung upon the thread of an outline whose form can be recognized in the comparatively colourless summaries which link the episodes together, until with the story of the Passion we enter upon a continuous and highly wrought dramatic narrative.

The Passion-narrative itself occupies a disproportionately large section of the Gospel, almost exactly one-fifth of the whole. Not only so, but rather more than half the Gospel, from the middle of chapter viii, is dominated by the thought of the approaching Passion. From the first announcement, "The Son of Man must suffer," in viii. 31, onward, the shadow of the Cross falls upon the whole story. This corresponds to the emphasis of the apostolic Preaching, both in its formulation in Acts, and in its development in Paul and Hebrews. The earliest Gospel is pre-eminently a Gospel of the Passion.

The story of the Passion, however, is prefaced, in chs. i-viii, as it is in Acts x, by an account of the ministry of Jesus in Galilee when He went about doing good and healing those who were oppressed by the devil. Here again Mark serves as commentary on the kerygma, for his

apparently artless series of episodes from the Galilean ministry builds up a cumulative impression of the decisive significance of the facts. The works of Jesus are works of divine power. With authority He commands the unclean spirits, and Satan’s dominion is at an end; for no one could plunder the strong man’s house if he had not first bound the strong man. Not only in His death, Mark means to say, but in His ministry, Jesus overcame the principalities and powers. As the prophets had declared that in the Age to Come the eyes of the blind should be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped, so Jesus heals the blind and the deaf, and restores strength to the palsied and life to the dead. He teaches, again, with authority and not as the scribes. He dispenses men from the obligations of the law and the tradition, and pronounces the forgiveness of sins. By His sovereign will He calls men, even those who are without the law, and they rise and follow. And to those who follow He says, "To you is given the mystery of the Kingdom of God."

This all leads up to the momentous question, "Who do you say that I am P" and Peter’s reply, "Thou art the Messiah," puts into words the conviction that the whole narrative has been intended to create in the mind of the reader. The Messiah has appeared, and in Him the Kingdom of God has come. The story takes on its eschatological significance. So now the way is clear for the proclamation of Christ and Him crucified. "The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected, and rise again." The theme of the rest of the Gospel is " the sufferings of Christ and the glory to follow," which, as the First Epistle of Peter says, is the theme of all prophecy.

Observe how subtly the story of the Passion is set within a frame of glory. The first announcement of suffering is followed immediately by the vision of the glory of Christ in the story of the Transfiguration. The Lord appears attended by the historic figures of Moses and Elijah. Then the cloud of the divine glory descends upon Him and a voice declares, " This is my beloved Son"; and forthwith Moses and Elijah are seen no more; the law and the prophets have vanished in the moment of their fulfilment, and "they saw no one but Jesus alone." Then follows the fateful journey to Jerusalem, punctuated with renewed predictions of the sufferings that await Him there, and ending with the Messianic entry into the city and the cleansing of the Temple. We recall the words of prophecy, "The Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to His temple, but who may abide the day of His coming?" (Mal. iii.1-2)

And so the stage is set for the description of the Passion itself, which is given in a tone of unrelieved tragedy, with none of those alleviating touches which the other evangelists have allowed themselves. In its grim realism it is almost overwhelming to read. But once again, the tragedy is framed in glory. In ch. xiii Mark has interrupted the narrative to insert the apocalyptic discourse to which I have already referred. Considered as an independent composition, which it appears originally to have been, the Little Apocalypse must be held to belong to a line of development which had no real future before it. But as incorporated in the Gospel of the Passion it acquires a different perspective. For it serves to assure the reader that the story of suffering and defeat to which it is the immediate prelude has for its other side that eternal weight of glory which Christ attained through His passion. The balance of the original kerygma is restored.

This, then, is the introduction of the Passion-story. It ends on a similar note. The darkness which was upon the face of the whole earth while Christ died broods over the narrative until His dying cry is stilled. And then—" The veil of the Temple was rent in two from top to bottom." This rending of the veil we have already met with. It is the veil that lay between men and the presence of God. Christ has now consecrated a new and living way through the veil: God is revealed, in His kingdom, power, and glory. Not Paul himself could have set forth more startlingly the divine paradox of the glory of the Cross. "And when the centurion saw that He so died, he said, ‘ Truly this man was the Son of God.’ " As Peter’s confession prepared the way for the story of the Passion, so the confession of the pagan soldier provides the final comment upon it.

Mark then proceeded, according to the formula of the kerygma in i Cor. xv, to record how Christ was buried, and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. But unfortunately only a fragment of his resurrection narrative has survived; enough, however, to show what the climax of the Gospel was. The story of the saving facts is complete.

We see clearly, therefore, how fitly Mark’s work is described not as "memoirs " of Jesus, but as " Gospel." Whether the other early attempts to "compose a narrative of the facts that were accomplished among us," to which Luke refers in his preface, had the same character, it is impossible to say. But in any case the scheme of Gospel-writing laid down by Mark became the model on which the other canonical Gospels were composed.

We discern, however, in Matthew and Luke a certain departure from the original perspective and emphasis of the kerygma. In both of them the narrative of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus occupies a smaller proportion of the whole: in Matthew roughly one-seventh, in Luke about one-sixth, as compared with one-fifth in Mark; and in estimating these proportions we must remember that when Mark was complete, its resurrection-narrative was certainly a good deal longer.

In both Matthew and Luke, however, an element in the kerygma receives emphasis which is not prominent in Mark, that, namely, which declared that Christ was "born of the seed of David," and so qualified for Messiahship according to prophecy. The genealogies which both supply are intended as documentation of this fact, and in Matthew the descent from David is frequently mentioned. The nativity narratives, on the other hand, which are in formal contradiction to the genealogies (since these trace the Davidic descent of Jesus through Joseph, though he was not, according to the nativity narratives, His father) cannot be derived from the kerygma.3.

Matthew further emphasizes the theme of "fulfilment" by his practice of systematically citing prophecies which he regards as fulfilled in various episodes of the life of Jesus. The connections which he suggests sometimes appear to the modern reader artificial, but in substance his view is conformable to the apostolic Preaching. For the rest, there are two main tendencies to be discerned in the First Gospel.

On the one hand, it contains, in addition to the Marcan narrative, a large collection of sayings of Jesus, arranged so as to form a fairly systematic account of His teaching. It is presented as a new Law given by the Messianic King. In the apostolic Preaching, as we have seen, there is only slight allusion to the work of Jesus as Teacher. The incorporation of this fresh material has the effect of modifying in some degree the character in which Christianity is presented. It is not so much a Gospel of" realized eschatology," as a new and higher code of ethics. This change was natural enough; for when it became necessary to readjust the Christian outlook to the indefinite postponement of the second advent and judgment, the Church had to organize itself as a permanent society living the life of the redeemed people of God in an unredeemed world. Everything, therefore, in the tradition of the teaching of Jesus which could afford guidance for the conduct of the community in this situation came to be of especial value. Matthew is, in fact, no longer in the pure sense a" Gospel." It combines kerygma with didaché, and if we regard the book as a whole, the element of didaché predominates.4.

On the other hand, Matthew compensates for this change of emphasis by a marked development of" futurist eschatology." The expectation of the second advent has a larger place in this Gospel than in any other. We might express the distinctively Matthaean view of the Gospel somewhat after this fashion; Christ came in fulfilment of prophecy as Messiah; but His Messianic activity at His first coming consisted chiefly in the exposition of the new and higher Law by which His people should live until His second coming. This line of thought clearly had great influence in determining the form in which popular Christianity emerged in the second century.

In Luke the change is more subtle. We may describe it as due to an increased interest in Jesus as a human wonder-worker, as the Friend and Lover of men, especially of those who were without the law, as the ideal for Christian conduct. All this is no more than is implied in the phrase of the kerygma which describes Him as "going about doing good, because God was with Him," and it affords a necessary and valuable supplement to the Marcan picture of the strong Son of God, and the Matthaean picture of the royal Lawgiver. But again it represents a certain modification of the original perspective. It is in some measure a rationalized and humanitarian rendering of the Gospel, designed to appeal to the average man of feeling. The exceptional powers of sympathetic imagination and of literary expression possessed by this evangelist make his work the most effective of all as a human and, so to speak, secular approach to the "Jesus of History," but it does not lie on the main classical line of development from the apostolic Preaching.

For the sake of brevity and emphasis, I have perhaps exaggerated the differences between Mark and the other Synoptic Gospels. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke do, after all, fall well within the general scheme of the kerygma, though they subtly alter its perspective. It is, however, in the Fourth Gospel that we return to the main line of development which runs through Mark from the original apostolic Preaching; though here the eschatological framework has been transformed into something widely different. One of the points in which the criticism of the last century was most notably at fault was its assumption that the line ran from Mark through Matthew and Luke to John. In some important respects Matthew and Luke represent side-tracks from the main line. But I shall have to return to the Fourth Gospel in the last lecture.

It is surely clear that the fourfold Gospel taken as a whole is an expression of the original apostolic Preaching. Of this the early Church was well aware. The Muratorian Canon, probably representing the work of Hippolytus, the dissenting Bishop of Rome about the end of the second century, justifies the presence of four separate Gospels in the Canon of the New Testament in these terms

"Although various principles are taught in the several Gospel-books, this makes no difference to the faith of believers, since by one governing Spirit in them all, the facts are declared concerning the Nativity, the Passion, the Resurrection, His converse with the disciples, and His two advents, the first which was in humility of aspect, according to the power of His royal Father, and the glorious one which is yet to come."

Hippolytus means that the four Gospels embody the original apostolic Preaching of the "saving facts," and are as such accepted as authoritative by the Church.

I have not here considered the question of the historical value of the Gospels as a record of facts. That question is aside from the immediate purpose of these lectures. But I would observe that the latest developments in Gospel criticism have somewhat shifted the incidence of the problem of historicity. We are not to think of the record in the Gospels as the ultimate raw material, out of which the Preaching was constructed. The kerygma is primary, and it acted as a preservative of the tradition which conveyed the facts. The nearer we are in the Gospels to the stuff of the kerygma, the nearer we are to the fountain-head of the tradition. There never existed a tradition formed by a dry historical interest in the facts as facts. From the beginning the facts were preserved in memory and tradition as elements in the Gospel which the Church proclaimed.

This, no doubt, means that we cannot expect to and in the Gospels (except by accident, as, for example, in Mark xiv. 51-52) bare matter of fact, unaffected by the interpretation borne by the facts in the kerygma. But it also means that wherever the Gospels keep close to the matter and form of the kerygma, there we are in touch with a tradition coeval with the Church itself. For, as we have seen, a comparison of Paul and Acts enables us to trace the essential elements in the apostolic Preaching to a very early date indeed. The history of Jesus, even as history, was of decisive importance for the tradition, just because in the Preaching the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus were held to be the climax of all history, the coming of the Kingdom of God. I believe that a sober and instructed criticism of the Gospels justifies the belief that in their central and dominant tradition they represent the testimony of those who stood nearest to the facts, and whose life and outlook had been moulded by them.


1. See my book, The Parable: of the Kingdom (Nisbet, 1935), chas iv - vi.

2. According to Acts xiii. 25, this was actually included in some forms of the apostolic Preaching, though as it does not usually enter into such details, we may perhaps suspect some influence of the Gospels reflected back upon the kerygma out of which they developed.

3. In Theologiscbe Bid//er, Decembet 1935, pp. 289-297, Professor Karl Ludwig Schmidt suggests that the story of the Virgin Birth was derived from a form of tradition handed down in relative secrecy. Whether or not that was so, it has no direct connection with the kerygma which was in its nature a public proclamation.

4. It has always been recognized that the document known as the Didachi or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, has a special affinity with the didactic portions of the First Gospel.