« PoprzedniaDalej »
the Church at all times, as that of text to commentary.
But we may also discern the historical reasons for this abiding distinction and superiority. Christianity at an early period was detached from its Hebrew mother soil and transplanted into the foreign field of Greek culture, where, like a plant in foreign soil, it could not but change its form and be subject to the critical and theologising spirit of the Hellenic schools. But the New Testament embraces that primitive Christian literature which was in existence before that great transition. For these writings are rooted in that mother soil of New Testament revelation, in naïve connection with the Old Testament views which were fulfilled and transfigured in Christ, and they are produced by the prophetic spirit which had its home in Palestine, and which Jesus unsealed afresh. They are thus able to mirror the New Testament revelation to which they stand so near in time, with a directness which all later writings of the Church naturally and necessarily lack.
What is right and legitimate in the view of the New Testament writings which we have just rejected, lies in what we a little while ago designated as the other presupposition of our biblical theology, “ the historical character of the biblical revelation.” In fact, the biblical religion, together with the sacred writings which attest it, is, in spite of its divine origin, something truly historical, originating according to the laws of human nature. In modern times, in contradistinction to earlier periods, the view has become widely prevalent that development, that great law which we perceive in all natural and spiritual life, belongs also to the sphere of biblical religion, and that within the Bible there is a great progress from the elementary and imperfect to the richer and more complete. And the Bible itself, which proclaims the greatest progress of humanity and history in passing from the old covenant to the new, is very far from raising any objection to this view. Development can only be predicated of what is in some sense imperfect and human, not of what is eternally perfect and divine; and therefore a human and imperfect side of the biblical religion and its documents is, in principle, conceded with that historical view. The sum total of all those various kinds of imperfections, from the want of religious and moral knowledge of the Old Testament men of God up to the defects
of the New Testament tradition which sets Christ before us, the marks of the human which a close examination of the Bible cannot fail to perceive, no longer disconcerts us. That the genesis of the religion of the Bible itself, as well as of its records,-notwithstanding the divine soul in both,—proceeded just as naturally and humanly as any other historical development, we freely admit, and therefore in no way limit the right of historical criticism in either case. But how is this compatible with our belief in a true revelation of God underlying the religion of the Bible, and finding its literary monuments in the Bible ? It would not indeed be compatible with this belief if we were to retain the earlier view of the revealed religion of the Bible as something abstractly divine and not as something divine-human; or if with an awkward antiquated conception of religion we were to regard revelation as an aggregate of doctrines which are communicated by God to the human spirit ready made,—which that spirit could not of itself discover, and Holy Scripture as the infallible rule sent down from heaven which contains these doctrines, A view which requires the first page of the Bible to contain the same pure doctrine as the last, and will not allow any mention of human imperfections, or even of different individual conceptions of the one doctrine, would justify the reproach that such a revelation does violence to the human spirit, and surprises it with communications which it cannot even truly appropriate. But instead of this, we now understand by revelation, in consequence of our better knowledge of the nature of religion, rather an awakening and enlightening of the inmost life of the soul, a divine fertilisation of all in the inner man that has affinity with God, which certainly affects and fully engages his intellect also, but does not overwhelm it by thrusting upon it a doctrine above the reach of reason. We understand by it a self-communication of the Divine Spirit to the human such as is in keeping with the nature of religious intercourse with God, and is conditioned of itself by the measure of human receptivity and capacity.
Accordingly, the course of the divine revelation, as it completes itself for the whole of humanity and history within definite historical limits, must be a more and more inward union of the Holy Spirit of God with the devout human spirit, and the offspring of this union, the religion of revelation, will naturally and necessarily bear divine as well as human features. The revelation of God can only be perfected in the climax of this course of history where an ideal humanity presents itself as a vessel for God's eternal fulness, and even here it is at the outset a heavenly glory in an earthly servant form. It must at the beginning come down to the deepest poverty and feebleness of man, and thence, stage by stage, increase the receptivity to which it can more and more fully impart itself in ever richer communications. And that is just how it is in the artlessly composed Bible history. The divine revelation addresses itself to those men pre-eminently religious, who then turn what they have received to account in the founding of a community, and out of this community again issue those who can receive a higher stage of revelation. The smoking flax of true religion is nursed into flame in the hearth of a family and tribe community by the childlike intercourse with the living God which an Abraham cultivates in the midst of a world sinking into heathenism. From this proceeds Moses, to whom the Eternal appears in the fiery flame of His holiness, and he makes his vision of God the basis of a national community, a divine commonwealth in Israel. From this national community again proceed the prophets, the living conscience of the nation, to whom God makes Himself known in an ever clearer light, and whom He, in view of the downfall of the outer commonwealth of God, convinces of His eternal love and faithfulness, with which He will yet crown His work in Israel. From them at length the quiet community of the poor and suffering draw their living hope in the deepest outward ruin of the nation, and thus become the historical environment of Him in whom the gracious fulfilment comes down from heaven, the Son of Man and Son of God, whose perfect humanity filled with divine love became the fit vessel and instrument for a revelation which was to master the world. And even He, the perfect one and the perfecter, could only speak in the forms of His time and people, could only speak from the course of an as yet incomplete life-work, and was forced in a sense to be His own prophet. His life in its completed issue has, so to say, outstripped His teaching, and therefore could only sufficiently be made the subject of expository preaching by His disciples and successors. These also, in the form of their culture, being in diverse ways children of their age, are again differently affected by their disposition and mode of life, in their exposition of the Saviour's life, so as to give a peculiar aspect of the common theme in the preaching of each. All this enables us to describe the divine revelation, not, of course, in its abstract divinity,—in this it remains the indescribable, mysterious source of the historical revelation that is to be exhibited, but the biblical revelation in its divine human aspect, the religion of revelation bearing the stamp both of the eternal and the temporal.
§ 3. SKETCH OF THE TREATMENT OF OUR SUBJECT UP
TO THE PRESENT
This human and historical nature of the biblical religion has not at all times been prized as it should within the Church ; in fact, the Church for long failed to apprehend it, and therefore biblical theology, in the sense described above, has only of late become possible. The human, historical nature of the Bible came to be completely misapprehended, not only by conceiving the divine revelation in a onesided and exaggerated way as doctrine above reason, but by directly confounding it with its literary productions and documentary attestations, viz. the biblical writings. The Bible, from beginning to end, had to be the uniform oracular book of revealed doctrine. That did not promote, but prevented the understanding of it. The presupposition that the Bible must everywhere teach with the same divine perfection, caused the Church to fall into the most arbitrary allegorical exposition, and in spite of appeals to Holy Scripture made the Church's doctrine more and more unlike the announcement of salvation which Scripture contains. The reformation certainly went back in earnest to the Scriptures, re-established principles of reason for its exposition, and would allow nothing to be regarded as Church doctrine but the biblical gospel. But it suffered so much of that erroneous assumption to remain, might render a more biblical dogmatic possible, but not a historical knowledge of the doctrinal contents of the Bible.
And the rigidity of the Protestant system of doctrine soon led back to a new scholasticism which again closed the Bible that had scarcely been opened. If Melanchthon and Calvin developed their dogmatic text-books immediately from the Scriptures, especially from the Epistles of Paul, their successors did not continue on this path, but rather based their dogmatic on the creeds of the Church, contenting themselves with confirming the doctrines thence deduced with biblical dicta probantia, proof passages taken without distinction from different parts of Scripture, and torn out of the connection to which they belonged. It was therefore reserved for the time of the decay of this Protestant scholasticism, and the beginning of the historical and critical study of the Bible, to advance gradually to the idea of a biblical theology as now understood. Genuine friends of orthodoxy were the first, from a sense of the insufficiency and obsoleteness of its scholastic form, to endeavour to regenerate it from the utterly neglected Bible, and thus did the name biblical theologyin the sense of a biblical as distinguished from a scholastic dogmatic—first become current in the latter part of the eighteenth century. Büsching of Göttingen advanced the idea of a theologia e solis literis sanctis concinnata, and wrote of the advantage of biblical dogmatic theology over scholastic” (1756-1758); and Zachariä, who likewise taught in Göttingen, composed (1775 ff.) a “ Biblical Theology, or Examination of the Biblical Grounds of the principal Christian Doctrines.” That which was here meant to be a new support of the dogmatic of the Church came to undermine it, as rationalism soon succeeded orthodoxy dying of old age. Bahrdt and Ammon started from the same didactic conception of the Scriptures as the orthodox, but applied it in their own rationalistic sense, and therefore the old traditional violence to the meaning of Scripture for the sake of a dogmatic system, seemed as if it were only to be replaced by a new kind of violence. in these circumstances that the Altorf theologian J. Ph. Gabler clearly disentangled the matter in his academic lecture “de justo discrimine theologiæ bibliæ et dogmaticæ " (1789), by putting the two entirely different questions: “What in point of fact do the Scriptures teach ?” and “What is dogmatic truth for us?” This cleared the way for an impartial dogmatic and