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THE ROMANS . . . -32 

2 CORINTHIANS . . . .33 

1 THESSALONIANS . - . -33 
PHILIPPIANS . . . -33 
COLOSSIANS . . . -34 
PHILEMON . . . . -35 

2 THESSALONIANS . . . .40 
EPHESIANS . . . . -40 




II. THE GOSPELS . . -45 


MARK . -53 

MATTHEW . .54 

LUKE . . . . .56 


JESUS . . . . .66 



TESTAMENT . . . .91 




2 PETER . . . . .no 

JUDE . . . . .Ill 

I PETER . . . . .112 







* I ^HE present brief and crisp treatise on The 
A Origin of the New Testament was originally de- 
livered by the late Professor Wrede to an educated 
audience of lay folk in the form of lectures. The 
reader will not fail to perceive marks of this in 
the direct personal style of address throughout. 

A certain melancholy interest attaches to it as 
a posthumous publication. It is among the literary 
remains of the late Professor William Wrede, 
published by his brother with the assistance of a 
friend of the deceased theologian. The present 
work is intended for, and suited to, a much wider 
circle of readers than more elaborate and techni- 
cal works. The interested layman, or the busy 
cleric with insufficient time at his disposal for 
wider special study, will here find a plain and, 
considering the limits of space, exhaustive account 
of the present condition of criticism of New 
Testament origins from what is commonly known 


as the standpoint of the " advanced " school. 
The work itself sufficiently explains and makes 
clear its point of view. 

The student or the thoughtful reader will 
scarcely be in need of being reminded that it is 
obviously impossible within the limits of so few 
pages, in so small and popular a treatise, that the 
arguments which may be advanced in favour of 
the more conservative and traditional, not to say 
orthodox, positions should be stated at length. 
The interested student must go elsewhere for 

An example may be given. On the question of 
the early decease by martyrdom of S. John as 
bearing on the authorship of the gospel tradition- 
ally ascribed to him, Wellhausen makes the confi- 
dent statement that John suffered martyrdom 
with his brother James in Jerusalem ; on which 
Harnack, in a review of an article, which appeared 
in the Irish Quarterly for 1908, on the Tradi- 
tions as to the death of John, the son of Zebedee, 
says that the positiveness of this statement does 
not make it more certain. It rests on two ques- 
tionable arguments apart from the controversial 
interpretation of S. Mark x. 35, while it has half a 


dozen of the strongest arguments against it. 
Wrede, indeed, admits in the thoroughly plain and 
candid manner which characterises his style in 
this book that this is a doubtful point. In the 
article alluded to Bernard shows how the probably 
false tradition of this martyr- death may have 
arisen. This may serve alike to illustrate how the 
interested student may extend his reading, and 
gather up fixed points, distinguishing them from 
those which are far from settled, but also of the 
fine candour which marks the style of the author. 
He nowhere dogmatically decides where something 
like certainty is not obtainable. 

In a much longer published article on S. Paul, of 
which what is here said of the Apostle is in some 
sense an echo, Wrede draws out a contrast, and, 
so to speak, antinomy between S. Paul and Jesus. 
Of this there are no traces in the present brief 
dealing with the same subject, while sufficient is 
said to give a medallion portrait of the author of 
the epistles with whose origin he deals in so 
compact a fashion. 

The most fastidious student cannot find fault 
with the work on the score of want of due reverence, 
or of consideration for the opinions and feelings of 


others, while all who are at once interested in the 
subject, and unprejudiced in opinion, will feel 
glad to possess in so wonderfully clear and com- 
pact a form the results of labour on such serious 
and important problems. Not a word is wasted 
from beginning to end. Only an expert, thoroughly 
master of his subject, could have packed so much 
into so small a compass. 

March, 1909. 



EF us go back in thought two hundred years, 
to that time when the subject of the origin 
of the New Testament was not one of widely 
extended interest and things were in a wholly 
different position. The question how did that 
book, small, but extraordinarily influential, and 
so infinitely important for mankind, which we 
call the New Testament, come into existence ? 
did not exist at that time at all for the wider 
circles of learning, and scarcely for theological 
science itself. Only the very merest beginnings of 
a scientific treatment were then present, and almost 
another hundred years elapsed before the extra- 
ordinarily zealous and enduring labour was com- 
menced which theological science has been applying 
ever since to obtain an answer to the question. 

To be sure, even to-day the result of this labour 
is as yet in no way the common property of the 
educated classes ; still it has so far penetrated 
into the wider circles that there is everywhere a 
sense for and interest in the problem, and par- 
ticularly among all those who are seeking a recon- 
ciliation between the interests of religion and the 


results of modern science ; and also among many 
who have little of religious interest, and desire 
simply, as educated men, to know what is the 
state of the case with the classical sources of 
Christianity that is the New Testament. 

This openness for the subject, this interest in 
the questions which are here put give to a scientific 
expert the right to speak plainly on these matters. 
It is perfectly true that it is a subject of special 
delicacy, because intellectual and emotional in- 
terests are everywhere bound up with it. But it 
is just as true to say that it is impossible for science 
to remain obscurantist. It must be permitted to 
communicate honestly and openly what it has 
honestly investigated to those who honestly in- 

Now inquiring is : wanting to know, therefore an- 
swering is communicating knowledge. This quite 
briefly indicates what I intend in my work. I intend 
to explain what we know of the origin of the New 
Testament, and how much we know. That is all. 
I emphasise this because some might easily expect 
something from this work which it is not intended 
to offer. I have neither the design to defend the New 
Testament against objections, nor even to attack 
and confute certain ideas on the New Testament, 
and its value. That sort of subordinate design 
is aside from my purpose. It is the legitimate 
privilege of real, genuine science to ignore all that 
has to do with the theological passions, and 


controversies of the day, and undeviatingly to 
aim at one end only namely, to get right down 
to the bottom of the facts. I wish to make use 
of this privilege at this present time. 

But one thing must certainly be clearly said in 
advance, for no misunderstanding must be allowed 
to arise on this head. The former conviction which 
for many still remains unshaken in respect to the 
supernatural origin of the Bible, especially of the 
New Testament, science cannot share. For science 
itself has destroyed that idea. It is shattered 
even by the simplest facts ; for example, by the 
manifold contradictions which exist in the narra- 
tives of the four gospels. It is, besides, demon- 
strable that when the New Testament writings 
arose this idea was not in existence ; and it 
really represents a later judgment of the Church 
on those writings. No, the books of the New 
Testament were not, as was once thought, literally 
dictated to the human authors by God Himself ; 
rather were they written by men in a way entirely 
human ; in a word, it is a question of historical 
origins, memorials of a religious history, the 
history of Christianity at the epoch of its com- 

This does not impugn the religious value of the 
New Testament, or affect the sublimity of its 
ideas. But it is really quite plain that the ques- 
tion as to the origin of the New Testament is 
a historical, and a purely historical question. 


The theologian who is busied with it is in truth 
a historical scholar. He inquires in quite the 
same way as he who strives to ascertain from 
ancient documents the primitive history of the 
Roman State or the origin and age of the books 
of the Hindoos. Even the so-called orthodox 
theologians do not theoretically act in a different 
way. They propound the same questions as 
the theologians of the liberal or critical school, 
and they decide them by historical considerations. 

But in all this there lies the fact that the in- 
vestigation demands (as it will bear) full freedom. 
The results of research cannot possibly be as- 
sumed at the outset ; the line of march cannot 
be prescribed, or otherwise the whole inquiry is 
mere illusion, and child's-play. And the inter- 
mixture of any kind of theological opinions, of 
any kind of prejudices every scholar earnestly 
deprecates, and, so far as he is concerned, anxiously 
avoids. The point is to ascertain the facts of the 
case in regard to a long-past event. How, then, 
can subjective opinions, personal theological con- 
victions, possibly contribute to its elucidation ? 
They can only be a continual source of disturbance. 
Knowledge of what once was and what once 
happened can never be settled by subjective con- 
siderations, but only from existing historical 
documents and sources. 

But is the question as to the origin of the New 
Testament capable of any solution ? To this 


we can neither answer by a mere affirmation, 
nor a mere negative. Over the origins of all 
great historical movements there usually lies a 
certain gloom or twilight. Is not this true in 
many respects also of Christianity ? It is as with 
the seed-corn ; the first stage of its growth is 
completed under the covering of the soil. Of 
course any one who lived in the period of the 
commencement of Christianity might probably 
have noted its growth. But it is naturally the 
case that a newly arisen religion does not, to 
begin with, feel the need of self-observation, and 
of laying by in store a fund of information for a 
later time. A religion in the course of formation 
is full of intensive life, but it does not busy itself 
with self -study. Such interest does not arise 
until a later time, and then a good deal of the 
early period has become obscure, or quite dis- 
appeared from view. As regards the writings of 
the New Testament, trustworthy information of 
the kind that may be derived from later ecclesi- 
astical writers is very sparse. Our knowledge 
depends in the main wholly on the New Testament 
itself. But since this did not aim at imparting 
information about itself, it is easily intelligible 
that there must always be many gaps in our 
knowledge, even in important matters ; and 
that elsewhere we can only get closer to the truth 
by inference and hypothesis. In fact, scientific 
assumption, hypothesis, plays no small part in 


this department. And wherever this is the case, 
there is always present the possibility of error. 
This is gladly made a reproach against free 
theological inquiry when it is said, it works so 
much on hypothesis, and so many of these hy- 
potheses turn out to be untenable. But only 
those who are but partially informed are terrified 
by this charge. Hypothesis is an absolutely 
necessary means for gradually advancing to better 
knowledge in an obscure region of inquiry. It 
is only he who builds up a flimsy hypothesis, and 
does not distinguish between hypothesis and 
assured results, that is blameworthy. For the 
rest it is true in manifold ways : we must have 
the courage to make mistakes. For an error may be 
fruitful, it may contain elements of truth, and 
assist in finding out the right way. That it 
shall do no injury, science itself will take care, for 
it is a ceaseless process of self-correction. 

However, I have no desire at all to awaken the 
impression that in our department everything is 
insecure and doubtful. That is really not the 
case. By unwearying labour research has suc- 
ceeded in actually solving, or partially solving, 
a great number of problems. If, therefore, we 
must be quite content to be ignorant of much, 
and possibly never know many things, while 
acquaintance with other points is only tentative 
and uncertain, it is still, in no way whatever, 
purposeless to face the question as to the origin 


of the New Testament. We are able after all to 
draw a definite picture, and frequently to rectify 
current ideas. 

The observations which I have so far made I was 
compelled to say in advance in order briefly to 
make it clear in what sense I am thinking of 
treating my problem. I now turn to the subject 

The theme embraces in reality not one question, 
but two, which are to be separately treated. In 
the first line we ask as to the origin of all the 
separate twenty- seven writings which are brought 
together in the New Testament. This problem 
will form the main element in my work. How- 
ever, it is at once obvious that twenty-seven 
separate writings do not of themselves constitute 
the New Testament. The further question is 
raised : how did it come to pass that these writings 
were formed into one whole ? or how did the 
collection of writings and the special distinction 
which belongs to them above all other writings 
arise ? In a word, what was the origin of that 
which we call the New Testament canon ? To 
this question I will devote some attention at the 
close of the present work. 


WHEN Jesus died there remained to His fol- 
lowers the heritage of the powerful impres- 
sions which they received from His personality. 
There remained also the remembrance of His words 
and of the substance of His teaching. But no 
written heirloom was left to them. For Jesus wrote 
nothing. He was no learned author, no theologian. 
He was more than this, a free-grown son of the 
people. He was not busied with books, or with 
the exposition of the maxims of the Law, like 
men whose profession it was, but with living men, 
and most of all with those among whom books 
were scarcely read, let alone written. It is 
correspondent to His whole inner nature that He 
who lived in the spirit troubled not about the 
written letter. When the Master was gone, the 
disciples were to begin with nothing more than 
a Jewish sect whose speciality properly consisted 
in the fact that they saw in Jesus the Messiah 
whom the Jews expected. Its adherents \vere 
most naturally and first of all formed among the 
lowly and simple, not amongst the educated 
classes. That at once makes it intelligible to us 
how it was that on this commencement of the 


new religion no adequate writings were produced. 
Besides, the hope was cherished of a speedy 
coming of Jesus in His Messianic glory, and this 
too was perhaps a hindrance to the thought of 
putting into writing their cherished recollections. 
But finally they also possessed a book, which 
Jesus also reverenced ; a book which at first 
completely satisfied all needs the Old Testament. 
Of this we shall have more to say. 

I desire to draw attention to these points, 
because it is important to make it clear that the 
beginnings of the Christian society are older than 
the first beginnings of the New Testament, and 
generally of a Christian literature. A Christian 
society existed at least two decades before the 
first of the New Testament writings was written ; 
about a hundred years before the last arose, about 
one hundred and fifty years before the foundation 
of a collection of New Testament writings was 
in existence, and quite three to four hundred 
years before this collection in its present shape 
was completed and generally recognised. 

Which of the writings of the New Testament 
have we to put at the beginning of the develop- 
ment ? The ordinary layman for the most part 
has the idea that it is the gospels. For they open 
the series of the New Testament books, and they 
convey information of the beginning, i.e. of Jesus 
Himself. This idea is doubtless wrong. But also the 
epistles of James and Peter do not stand in the 


forefront. The oldest Christian writings that we 
possess are rather the epistles of S. Paul. The 
epistles of Paul, therefore, naturally form the 
first subject for our consideration. 

To-day we are accustomed to regard these 
letters as literary products. For do we not find 
them in a book, read them in printed pages ? 
But the man who composed them never thought 
of himself as an author, and it never occurred to 
him that his utterances would one day be multi- 
plied and get into the form of a book. It did 
not even occur to him that they would at all 
be preserved, and soon after his death would be 
dispersed through the whole of Christendom. 

Each genuine epistle is the product of a definite 
time, and designed for a single purpose such as 
never repeats itself ; it has a definite situation of 
the recipient before the eye of the author. And 
every genuine letter is only designed for a par- 
ticular recipient, whether of a single person or a 
single group of persons, as a church. Nothing is 
farther from the intention of the writer of letters 
than the idea of publication, otherwise he could 
only write an " open letter." But then this is only 
the form of a letter, and not the real thing. 

Consequently, then, the epistles of S. Paul are 
not as to their origin literature, they are through- 
out products of the occasion, designed for a 
wholly private circle, and in this way their first 
recipients regarded them. We herewith note an 



important difference between the epistles of Paul 
and the other portions of the New Testament. 
A gospel, for example, or the Acts of the Apostles, 
was never written for an individual person or a 
single church ; such a work according to its 
nature is designed for an indefinite public, appears, 
and is diffused, reckons on diffusion ; whoever 
likes can read it, and it is therefore always a 
literary product. It is precisely in this distinction 
that there lies a good portion of the peculiar 
charm which the Pauline epistles exercise on 
every one who gives himself the trouble to read 
them connectedly, and is able in some measure to 
understand them. A genuine letter, if it is not 
a merely business one, continually bears a personal 
impress, and at the same time the confidential and 
familiar stamp. It is therefore a bit of life, no 
mere product of thinking, but a bit of real inter- 
course between man and man. It is in truth 
a substitute for the spoken word, for living, 
moving conversation ; it is personal interest in 
definitely real circumstances, and mirrors the 
frames of mind which are awakened by living 
intercourse, inspiring the words of joy and sorrow, 
of sympathy or aversion, of disappointment, 
annoyance, or hope. 

It is important in any writing to know the author. 
But whoever writes a book or a treatise, e.g. a 
gospel, for the most part only deals out to us what 
he thinks or knows ; his thoughts or his information 


may be understood even if he himself is un- 
known. But he who writes a letter of importance 
deals out what he is. And if we would really 
fully comprehend letters of a distant past, we 
must know the personality of which they are the 
effluence. Even the epistles of Paul will not be 
truly living so long as we do not possess a clear 
picture of the man who wrote them. The man 
himself is the explanation of his letters. On that 
account we must be permitted to sketch him at 
least in hasty outlines. We must not, however, 
merely think of his personal character, but also of 
his religious and theological views. 
... Paul belongs to the few (even in the religious 
sphere few) men whose life is separated into two 
halves by a single event. He experienced such 
a breach striking down to the very depths. From 
that moment when he experienced the vision at 
Damascus which made it a certainty to him that 
the Jesus, whom he hated, and whose followers 
he persecuted, was risen from the dead from that 
moment onward he is a different being, and lives 
henceforth in the feeling that he has so become. 

This, of course, must not be erroneously con- 
ceived. In a certain sense we might properly say 
of Paul that he remained after his conversion the 
same that he was before. There remained not 
merely the peculiarities of his temperament, but 
also'his moral qualities, the essential traits of his 



The conversion of Paul did not consist in his 
turning away from a life of sin in order to become 
a saint. The guilt of his life he only sees in his 
denial of Jesus, in his unconscious blindness to 
that which he subsequently regarded as truth. 
It lies properly, therefore, in the region of con- 
viction, of belief, and only indirectly in that of 
act so far as that act i.e. the persecution of the 
followers of Jesus was the expression of con- 
viction. Therefore the conversion itself belongs 
in his case to the region of conviction, and of 
belief. And so it may be said of him with a 
certain correctness, that although converted and 
transformed, he still remains the same. Paul 
the Pharisee is as to character more similar in 
fact to that of the Christian Paul than we com- 
monly suppose. Even Paul the Pharisee strove 
to serve God with passionate zeal, and with deep 
sincerity, only in another way. And even the 
Christian Paul shows a certain severity, harshness, 
passionateness, such as once characterised the 

Nevertheless, it remains true that Paul was 
really another through his conversion. All his 
capacities and peculiarities certainly are impressed 
with a new spirit. Above all, the feeling in him 
is never weakened that he is a subject of grace, 
and to that corresponds a deep and pure gratitude. 
Besides this there is also the consideration that he, 
the whilom persecutor, feels himself called to be a 



chosen instrument. But the principal thing is 
the feeling of a great freedom which has fallen to 
his lot. He is freed from this whole world of the 
flesh, of sin and of death, and at least in his belief 
he feels that he is already transplanted into a new 
and higher existence, which will really become his 
own when he has put off the body of the flesh. 
" Behold, all things are become new." 

The feeling of this freedom fills Paul to the 
depth of his soul, but anything like inactive 
indulging in it is far from him. This feeling 
prompts him to action. His gratitude expends 
itself, as it were, in a burning zeal to work, and 
to woo for Him whose grace he has experienced ; 
and so much the more as in this way he atones for 
the guilt of the past. In fact, Paul must, after 
his conversion, according to his whole nature, be 
as active for the Gospel as he once was antagonistic 
to it. And thus he became the unique messenger 
of the Gospel whose life is simply spent in his 

He who gives himself the trouble to dissect 
dispassionately what the apostle attempts in his 
working will perhaps here and there observe that 
a certain ambition to accomplish the highest is 
not foreign to him. Paul is in no way quite 
indifferent to the question as to what he ac- 
complishes. However deeply he feels that all 
that he does he owes to the grace of God, yet he is 
not in the usual sense modest or diffident ; he is 



not without a strong self -consciousness, and knows 
well enough that he has " laboured more than they 
all " (i Cor. xv. 10). He makes it his special boast 
that he has done more than his mere duty, and 
especially in so far as he declined any recompense 
for his work in the Church, or any support. He 
declares that he would rather die than that any 
one should take away this boasting from him. 
He hopes also to find a special reward from God 
for special service (i Cor. ix. 15 fL). All this 
may be shown from his letters. But this am- 
bition is, however, doubtless not the essential 
element, it is only an accompanying chord. The 
chief motive of his zeal still remains his enthusiasm 
for the cause of Christ, and the consciousness that 
he is set apart for and called to his work. 

Paul belongs essentially to those who are in a 
special sense religious personalities. The converse 
side of this is that he felt himself as regards the 
world a stranger to it. He says in fact " all is 
yours " (i Cor. iii. 21), but it is a misunderstanding 
if we take this saying to mean that he had a 
frame of mind open to the world. In this point 
he feels quite differently from Luther. He 
despises the wisdom of " the world," and does not 
find enjoyment in its pleasures. He knows 
nothing of family life, and does not feel that this 
is any loss ; he even boasts of it as a gift of grace 
that he feels no desire to marry. Nowhere in 
his epistles does it appear that he had any senti- 



mental feeling for nature. The lilies of the field 
and the birds of the air do not trouble him. In 
short his idea of the worldly and natural life has 
undeniably something gloomy in it. He does 
not see the brighter side of things, but, above all, 
he sees sickness, misery, the ruin of sin. This is 
explicable, not merely from the fact that he (as all 
contemporary Christians were with him) is con- 
vinced that they are near to the end of the world, 
but it lies deep down at the base of the whole of 
his religious conceptions. Of course we cannot be 
greatly surprised at this since this pessimistic 
temper of mind was widely spread throughout 
cotemporary Judaism. And, as above said, this 
is only the converse side of his personality being 
wholly concentrated on the world of faith and the 
cause of God. 

Paul must have been a person of overmastering 
energy. His letters lead us to feel this. It was shown 
in his relations with his converts, his churches, his 
opponents. How winsome he can be to men is 
likewise shown by his letters. But his manner, we 
may suppose, was not alike attractive to all. He is 
easily abrupt, often ironical, brusque, and bitter, 
passionate and hasty in front of his opponents, and 
can even call them " dogs " (Phil. iii. 2). It may be 
questioned whether he was always quite correct 
in his judgment. Justice is often hard to those 
natures whose feeling is that they exclusively are 
the representatives of a divine cause. But of 


course it is certain that this man was not devoid 
of love, he who has sung the praises of love 
in so sublime a manner. Especially when he is 
met with confidence as in the church of Philippi, 
there he is warm, there he can discover the true 
tones of affection. 

The most important natural characteristic of 
the apostle is of course his tough, unbending 
energy. His life is a battle, everything shapes 
itself into a combat. He is just as extraordinary 
in carrying out plan after plan, and in his 
expeditions through wide stretches of country, 
winning one piece of ground after another ; as, 
on the other hand, in enduring the sufferings 
which his calling brings with it, in un- 
wearying self - sacrifice. The pictures of these 
sufferings, for instance, in 2 Corinthians iv. 6-u, 
are amongst the most pathetic of anything he 

This energy is still the more worthy of admira- 
tion when we remember that his body appears to 
have been only a rather feeble organ of his activity. 
His opponents say of him, " his letters are weighty, 
but his bodily presence is weak and contemptible " 
(2 Cor. x. 10). He himself in Corinth, the city of 
commerce and of culture, had to battle with a feeling 
of timidity such as results from weakness of this 
kind (i Cor. iii. 2), and he speaks especially of a 
bodily weakness repeatedly recurrent, " a thorn in 
the flesh given to him, a messenger of Satan to 
c 17 


buffet him " (2 Cor. xii. 7). This is supposed to 
have been a kind of epilepsy. 

We are tempted to bring into connection with 
this suffering a certain visionary excitability and 
irritability which we must suppose from his own 
statements. He repeatedly experienced visions 
and revelations. This is indeed only another 
side of his religious enthusiasm, the energy with 
which he was filled does not therefore stand in con- 
tradiction thereto. But what one would not expect 
to find united with this tendency to the visionary, 
namely, thoughtful wisdom, practical prudence, is 
that which the apostle undoubtedly manifested in 
questions of church life. The finest memorial of 
this is in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, where 
he, in a magnanimous way, shows how in church 
life he can reconcile the extremes which were 
manifest, and knows how to bring the spirit of 
order to bear on all sorts of abuses. 

If we take all these things together, Paul is a 
character which certainly had its human limita- 
tions, but which we can without exaggeration call 
great and noble, great by the power of faith, great 
by the pure sacrifice of the whole man for his cause. 

In what, then, consists the significance for the 
history of the world of this apostle of Jesus ? 
We will first of all think of the fact that he carried 
the new faith to a great number of the most 
important centres of civilisation, for he worked 
throughout in the most considerable cities. 


Certainly that is a great, but it is not his sole 
service. It is still almost more important that 
he raised the faith in Jesus which so far was bound 
to the narrowness of the Jewish religion high 
above this level. Paul set free Christianity from 
Judaism ; he produced this great division by his 
work as Missionary to the Gentiles, as well as by 
his theory of making Gentile Christians free from 
the duty of fulfilling the Jewish ceremonial law. 
By this he further was the first to establish 
Christianity as a new, independent religion, 
designed for all nations. The preliminary con- 
dition for this lay in the fact which also belongs 
to his world-wide historical importance that he 
was in a certain sense the first Christian theologian, 
i.e. the first who really thought on the new faith ; 
who, reasoning, contrasted the Christian religion as 
a religion of redemption with the Jewish religion 
of the law, and attempted to account for this 

Of course, when we call Paul a theologian, we 
are not to think of this in the modern sense of 
the word. He was neither in the present sense 
of the term scientifically trained, nor did he think 
through his thoughts on all sides, and develop 
them connectedly and logically. But according 
to the idea of the times he was a theologian. 

That is a conclusion from his life- history. As 
the son of strict Jewish parents born in the Cilician 
city of Tarsus, he went as a young man to Jeru- 



salem, certainly with the intention of becoming 
a learned Jew, a rabbi. It might be supposed 
that against this is the fact that he learnt the trade 
of a worker in leather. But the carrying on of a 
trade was among the rabbis no unusual thing. 
We find among them shoemakers, smiths, and so 
forth. The epistles of S. Paul show us in many 
places that he really had received a rabbinical 
training, and brought it with him into Christianity. 
He has indeed also much natural acuteness, a gift 
of developing thoughts ; but the manner in which 
he divides a proposition and proves it, the way 
in which he arrives at conclusions and various 
objections, in order directly to refute them, shows 
at once the rabbinical training. This accounts 
for his acuteness often becoming subtlety. For 
example, on one occasion he lays stress on the 
proposition that the promise of Abraham's seed 
must refer to Christ, because the word "seed" 
is used in the singular (Gal. iii. 16). That is pure 
rabbinism. Luther himself said that this reason 
was too weak to stand the test. 

Especially does this method of training exhibit 
itself in his exposition and application of the 
Old Testament. In this respect Paul shares the 
methods of his time, which appear to us to be 
quite impossible. He insists on the letter, he 
takes passages out of their context, he neglects 
the actual sense of the words, and explains them 
allegorically, i.e. he assumes that behind the 


proper sense there lies still another presumably 
deeper. Only those who do not understand the 
period can be surprised at this. All these pecu- 
liarities fall away when he turns in simple speech 
to his churches ; while they are particularly 
prominent, when the question concerns the 
establishment of propositions and the confutation 
of opponents. 

But he who freed himself and others from 
Judaism and the Jewish law, still brought much 
more Judaism into his Christianity. That is fre- 
quently unrecognised, but it cannot be denied. 
What was more natural ? When Paul was con- 
verted he was a Jewish theologian. How, then, 
could he free himself from all the ideas which he 
had hitherto held ? No one who has such a long 
spiritual development behind him can suddenly 
make himself into a blank sheet of paper. If he 
gains new ideas, then they will reasonably mingle 
with the old ones. Indeed, if we compare the 
utterances of the Pauline epistles with the Jewish 
writings of the times, then the convincing proof 
is at hand, that Paul held many more originally 
Jewish opinions as a Christian than is commonly 
supposed. To these belong his statements con- 
cerning angels and demons, on the last things, on 
sin, on the fall of Adam, on the divine predestina- 
tion, and many other points. 

Of course this Jewish heritage is now appre- 
hended and penetrated, partly transformed, by 



ideas proper to Christianity. And these naturally 
form the important and peculiar elements in his 

In the centre of his thoughts stands the person 
of Christ, but it is not the life of Jesus, not His 
words, His teaching, not His sublime personality 
in its purity, love, and goodness, on which he 
insists. That is for him quite subordinate. 
Rather to him Christ is a divine being, who has 
descended from heaven to earth and taken the 
form of a man, and apart from this doctrine of 
incarnation he dwelt, properly speaking, only on 
two things, on the death of Christ on the cross and 
on His resurrection. According to Paul it might 
even be said that Christ really only became man 
to die and rise again. In the crucifixion and in 
the resurrection of Christ he finds the divine 
secret of our redemption. The death of Christ 
has freed the whole of mankind from the service of 
sin and of the law, nay, from the whole of this 
worldly existence ; the resurrection has opened 
to it a correspondingly higher glorious life in 
heavenly glory. There are scarcely any Christians 
to-day who hold the opinion of Paul closely in 
this sense, and make it their own, as he has in- 
tended it ; but it cannot be gainsaid that the 
teaching of Paul bears a strong relationship to 
strict Church teaching 

There are those who have actually called the 
Apostle Paul the proper founder of Christianity. 


That is an opinion which cannot be maintained. 
But we shall be compelled to confess that the 
teaching of Paul is in no way a mere repetition, 
or even a mere development and enlargement of 
the teaching of Jesus. There really exists a 
striking difference between the teaching of Jesus 
and that of S. Paul, and the apostle has laid the 
stress on thoughts which were not present in the 
original preaching of the Master. The explana- 
tion and illustration of this I am unable to enter 
upon here. It is moreover important to note that 
Paul never saw Jesus during His life, or, at any 
rate, did not know Him personally, nor come 
under His influence. Any one may make the dis- 
tinction clear to his own mind by simply reading 
consecutively the Sermon on the Mount and the 
Epistle to the Romans. In the case of Jesus no one 
can speak of His dogmas. The step to dogma is 
taken by Paul. But if we must so decide, we must 
then not overlook four points. First, it was just this 
theological, dogmatic manner of Paul that was a 
means of giving firmer stability to the Christian 
faith in the world of that day for every religion 
which is to have a future will somehow produce 
a theology, shape out definite connected ideas, 
such as are not essential to mere simple piety. 
Secondly, Paul remains the liberator from Jewish 
narrowness and the Jewish law ; and thirdly, he 
has in his teaching on justification by grace, 
through faith although in a form variously 



misunderstood to-day given expression to a 
thought which is the core of what has everywhere 
and always been characteristic of genuine religion, 
that man in relation to God recognises himself as 
a recipient, and does not boast before God of his 
excellence. Fourthly, his epistles, beside their 
peculiar teaching of redemption, which is the 
central thought, contain numerous expressions 
such as are related to the spirit of the Master, 
and ever and again will edify the sympathetic soul. 

We return to the EPISTLES OF S. PAUL. We 
have to start with spoken of them as letters of 
occasion. The occasions which called them forth 
originated with the missionary activity of the 
apostle, the extraordinary extent of which the 
known names of the epistles, Corinth, Thessa- 
lonica, Galatia, etc., remind us. To the missionary 
work of Paul belonged not merely the winning 
of converts, but besides this the confirmation 
and training of those already converted, the care 
and edification of the churches already in existence. 
The epistles are nothing else but a part of this 
edifying and pastoral activity, for they are all 
addressed to those already won to Christianity 
and existing Churches. 

Paul availed himself in his epistolary corre- 
spondence of a means of intercourse which pre- 
sumably was already in use throughout the whole 
world of the scattered communities of the Jewish 
diaspora. Possibly he may have taken from 



thence also certain set forms which regularly 
recur in his epistles, especially at the beginning 
and end of his letters. The salutations which 
stand at the head of his epistles, with the usual 
name of the sender, of the persons addressed, 
which contain a wish (Grace be with you), answer 
generally to ancient usage ; only this wish has 
in the case of S. Paul a specially religious and 
Christian colouring. But even this religious 
colouring, and the manner of placing greetings 
at the conclusion, and of again giving utterance 
to prayers for blessing ; further the habit of 
giving expression at the outset to thanks for the 
prosperity of the church all such things may 
very well be influenced by Jewish examples. 
The Judaism of the Greek- speaking world and 
Greek was then the universal language has, 
generally speaking, served for a certain preparation 
for the mission of Christianity. 

There is no doubt whatever that Paul wrote 
far more letters than we possess to-day. At one 
time, of course, it was not allowed that epistles 
of Paul could be lost, because the fact appeared 
to cast a doubt on the teaching of the divine in- 
spiration of the Scriptures. But the fact is most 
definitely clear from the evidence of the received 
epistles. The First of Corinthians in chap. v. pre- 
supposes that Paul had already written a letter 
to Corinth, which we no longer possess. Between 
the First and Second of Corinthians, there was, in 



all probability, another letter to the Corinthians, 
now lost, which Paul says he wrote with tears. 
In the Epistle to the Colossians he mentions a 
letter to the neighbouring church of Laodicea (in 
Phrygia). This too has disappeared. But there 
is scarcely need of such testimonies. Before 
Paul traversed, in a bold expedition, the wide 
region of Asia Minor, and then passed over on to 
the soil of Europe in Macedonia and Greece, he 
was actively engaged in Syria and his native 
Cilicia for a period of fourteen years. We have 
not a line of his belonging to this period. Is it 
likely that he wrote no letters during this period ? 

The fact that numerous, and quite certainly not 
merely unimportant, epistles of Paul have been 
lost is not merely of significance because we can 
very well perceive from this how little the writings 
of S. Paul were looked upon as inspired, but it 
also shows us that in our present epistles we have 
only a fragment of the whole. Nor do we know 
completely, but only fragmentarily, all the views 
of the apostle. For in none of his acknowledged 
letters has he developed his whole thoughts. 

Still we may be glad for that which has been 
preserved. The whole of the present epistles fall, 
of course, into a period of about ten years: the 
first, i.e. the First Epistle to Thessalonica, and the 
oldest Christian document generally, apparently 
written in the year A.D. 54, belongs to the later 
mission period, while the last, probably that of 


the Epistle to the Philippians, was written during 
the Roman imprisonment. But on the interven- 
ing time the received epistles cast a very clear 
light. They show us Paul in most active relation 
to his churches. Besides this they are so different 
in their kind that they suitably complement one 
another. In the Epistle to the Romans we have a 
letter to a church unknown to the writer ; in the 
Epistle to the Colossians also ; but the latter 
church was founded by an intimate disciple of 
Paul (Epaphras), and recognised the apostle's 
authority. All other epistles concerned his own 
churches. The short letter to Philemon, again, 
was to a private person. We have letters 
which show a close, warm relation of Paul 
to his churches, as the i Thessalonians and the 
Epistle to the Philippians, and again others, as 
the Epistle to the Galatians, where he appears as 
critic and combatant. In the one the questions 
concerning the life of the church are prominent, 
as in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, in the 
other we have notices of the person and life of 
Paul, and the Epistle to the Romans is strongly 
impersonal in its style. We have quite simple, un- 
assuming letters like i Thessalonians, Philippians, 
and again such as those in which the didactic 
elaboration occupies the largest space. In short, 
the scanty material is at the same time very varied. 
Whoever applies to the letters of Paul the test 
of formal correctness, smooth expression, polished 


style, will be compelled to say that the defects 
are numerous. The Greek language was of 
course Paul's native speech. But the style is 
often rugged, often too many thoughts are forci- 
bly compressed into one proposition. There is 
no absence of obscure sentences ; the metaphors 
are often not, as regards style, carried to com- 
pletion. Paul himself would surely not have 
claimed the praise of an artistic letter-writer, just 
as little as that of orator. He has himself admitted 
that he would not satisfy conventional taste in 
his speech (2 Cor. x. 10). But they are not the 
greatest orators who know how to speak in ornate 
propositions without flaw or fault at least if 
that is their whole secret. He is the greatest 
orator who sways the souls of all hearers, who 
understands how to charm the listener by his 
personality, as by his subject. Such an orator 
Paul must have been. And accordingly his 
letters too, merely as letters, merely in the matter 
of style, although not faultless, yet exhibit a 
considerable and rare originality. They take the 
readers captive, because they are a true expression 
of the living personality, and also because there 
is no pretence about them. At the same time 
there is also no absence of rhetorical passages ; 
without effort he employs, too, the means which 
the orator loves, play on words, antithesis, etc. 
When he is soaring his highest he is able to write 
passages which the first stylists in the world 


might envy. A Swiss author has lately spoken 
scornfully of the epistolary stylistic monstrosities 
of Paul. Now this critic would hardly be able to 
write anything comparable to that panegyric of 
love : " Though I should speak with the tongue 
of men, and of angels, and had not charity, I 
should be as sounding brass, and a tinkling cymbal" 
(i Cor. xiii. i). 

Paul usually dictated his letters. In the Epistle to 
the Romans, e.g., a certain Tertius speaks of himself 
as his amanuensis. From this usage much obscurity 
and much of the incorrectness of his method of 
writing may be explicable. We must in reading 
always bear in mind : these are dictated letters. 
At the conclusion of the letter Paul then willingly 
took the pen in his hand, and added greetings, 
and perhaps a few short pithy sentences. In 
various ways he emphasises this : " The salutation 
of me Paul with mine own hand " (i Cor. xvi. 21) ; 
in the Epistle to the Galatians he writes : " See 
with what large letters I have written to you with 
mine own hand," and in this way indicates the 
difference between his own perhaps large hand- 
writing and the smaller script of the amanuensis. 

Of the content and character of single epistles 
no complete picture can be given in brief. It 
must suffice to draw out some main features. 

In historical value the FIRST EPISTLE TO THE 
CORINTHIANS takes, above all, the first place. And, 
in fact, just because Paul here enters on such a 


large number of questions, and occurrences in 
relation to church life, and in part gives precise 
answers to a series of inquiries which the church 
in Corinth had made in a letter no longer extant. 
What invaluable information we have here on 
the prevailing usages, and on the method of divine 
worship ; of the celebration of the Supper of the 
Lord ; of enthusiastic speaking with tongues and 
prophesying of those filled with the Spirit ; of 
the veiling of women in public worship ; of the 
position of Christians in regard to the use of food 
which had been offered to idols ; of eating flesh 
presented in the heathen temple and then offered 
for sale ; of the doubt in the minds of many 
Christians on marriage ; of lawsuits before heathen 
judges ; of those who denied a bodily resurrection 
all these subjects are treated. We gaze on an 
extraordinarily active life, full of fresh movement, 
but full of leavening energy, full of extremes and 
dangers. The picture of the Church is no way a 
mere picture without shade ; strife and party 
spirit have already entered ; there is a tendency 
to divisions ; and how traceable is the old 
heathenish spirit observable in the relations of 
the sexes. In short this epistle is a true mine of 
information, a document of the first importance 
to the investigator of the oldest Christianity. 

Of emphatically original value is next the 
shorter letter which Paul sent to the Galatians, 
the Christians of the small Asiatic province of 


Galatia. It is the outcome of powerful excitement 
on the part of the apostle, in which his impetuous 
and combative disposition reveals itself. It 
exhibits to us a situation which justifies the 
excitement. It has not all happened so peacefully 
and harmoniously in that first Christian com- 
munity as one might easily imagine. The mis- 
sionary work to the heathen was for Paul not 
merely heroic effort, but even a real battle, a 
battle against those who were not content with 
a Christianity which was not at the same time 
Judaic. The Epistle to the Galatians itself con- 
tains, besides other important information on 
the life of Paul, the much- discussed report of 
an interview between S. Paul and the Judaistic 
Christian apostles in Jerusalem ; in which these 
apostles, in spite of differences at the outset, 
convinced by the success of the apostle, gave 
a formal recognition to his Gospel freed from 
the law, although not sacrificing the law. 
There were, however, Judaistic Christians who 
were not satisfied with this. They organised a 
regular agitation against Paul. They sent their 
emissaries into his own churches, in order to 
seduce his disciples from their allegiance. This 
agitation was now being carried on in Galatia, 
and the churches of Paul are on the point of 
yielding, and adopting circumcision, according 
to the Jewish law. This is the significant situation 
in which Paul despatches this epistle. And this 



explains the passion and the displeasure which 
permeate it : he sees the work of his life threatened 
precisely on this point. In opposing the Judaisers 
he at the same time uses his theological weapons, 
and develops thoughts on justification by faith 
alone which are of the greatest value for the 
knowledge of his opinions. In this respect, how- 
ever, as a didactic epistle, the Epistle to the 
Galatians is considerably surpassed by an epistle 
nearly related to it, that to the Romans. 

The Epistle to the Romans was intended to^be 
a message preparatory to a personal visit to Rome, 
which, of course, was only regarded as a halting- 
place in carrying out his designed journey to 
Spain. Paul had so far never been in Rome ; the 
Roman Church was not even founded by one of 
his disciples. He was therefore a stranger to it. 
We can thus easily understand that this epistle 
has a very impersonal ring about it, and reads 
more like a treatise. Paul develops, above all, 
two thoughts : first he defends his gospel of justifi- 
cation without the works of the law ; and then 
his design is to make the fact comprehensible 
that his own Jewish people, for whom he has a 
patriotic regard, could, in spite of the promises 
which have been given to it, be cast away ; and, 
at the same time, he gives expression to his convic- 
tion that these promises would one day be ful- 
filled in the conversion of Israel. The statements 
in this epistle present difficulties to the under- 



standing which in themselves are great. But the 
most difficult problem consists in understanding 
what Paul intends, with all his explanations of the 
law and of the Jewish people, to say to a church 
which, according to clear evidence, consisted of 
men of Gentile birth. This problem according to 
my idea has not, in spite of numerous attempts, 
been really solved. 

Impersonal as the Epistle to the Romans is, the 
Second Epistle to the Corinthians is the most 
personal of all. But this too is particularly 
difficult, of course, on quite different grounds from 
that of the Epistle to the Romans ; simply be- 
cause it is hard to judge from the information 
given what the events in Corinth were to which 
Paul alludes. In other respects, however, we 
again meet in this epistle with the Judaising 
agitators. There is, however, no lack of the most 
important teaching. And still more valuable are 
the materials which we find for the biography of 
the apostle, especially as to his sufferings and 
revelations. Less important than these four 
letters are the First Epistle to the Thessalonians 
and the Epistle to the Philippians (both there- 
fore sent to Macedonia), and yet with all their 
unassumingness they have their special charms. 
The ist Thessalonians is especially instructive 
in that it concerns a still young and scarcely 
established community. The Epistle to the 
Philippians is the warmest and most affectionate 

D 33 


of all the Pauline epistles, and in this respect a real 
jewel. For the doctrine of the person of Christ, 
the epistle to the church of Colosse, or Colasse, is 
important. Paul is here treating of a special 
phase of thought, i.e. with the so-called false teach- 
ing which has a half- Jewish colouring and half not ; 
and which perhaps was one of those religious 
mixtures such as, in that period, particularly in 
the East, were everywhere so frequent. This 
teaching laid stress on Sabbaths, feasts, and new 
moons ; besides, it demanded abstinence from 
flesh and wine ; it was ascetical, and united with 
this a peculiar worship of angels. 

Five epistles which stand in the New Testament 
as letters of Paul I have not so far mentioned : the 
Epistles to Timothy and that to Titus, the second 
to the Thessalonians, and that to the Ephesians ; 
the reason of this is, I do not consider them to 
have been written by Paul. 

But have we any certainty at all that we 
actually possess letters from the pen of Paul, and 
that they are from the Paul to whom we have 
ascribed them ? There have been and are a 
number of critics, especially in Holland, who 
deny this. They have held the opinion that these 
epistles all originated in the second century A.D. 
In this opinion I can only recognise an extra- 
ordinary retrogression of criticism. Surely there 
are really quite definite marks of an authentic 
letter, and those are present in full measure in the 



epistles of Paul. A quite definite personality 
speaks in them, and such a one as is conceivable 
only at the commencement of the Christian 
development. The utterances on the circum- 
stances are so vivid, concrete, and at the same 
time so spontaneous that every idea that they 
concern only fictitious statements must be absurd. 
We may take one single example only, the most 
unpretentious and perhaps the least known 
among all the epistles of Paul, the "note" to 
Philemon. Philemon was a distinguished man 
from Colosse. A slave named Onesimus had run 
away who had probably been guilty of some 
fault against his master. This Onesimus had met 
with Paul, remained with him a time, and won his 
regard. Then he sends him back to his master, 
gives him a letter, and begs Philemon to receive 
back his slave in a friendly spirit, and forgive him. 
He does this in an affectionate and courteous 
manner, and he covers the fault of Onesimus by 
making his cause in a certain measure his own 
cause. " Whom I have sent again : thou therefore 
receive him, that is, mine own bowels." " Receive 
him as myself." 

Now how can any one suppose that this letter 
is a mere artificial piece of work ? It has, however, 
been said that the letter really only represents a 
general idea, namely, how Christianity makes a 
slave the brother of his master. But this idea is, 
in fact, by no means put didactically, and set out 



in general propositions, but it is simply an incident 
of actual life which is treated. That this incident 
should be invented would be more unintelligible 
than that it actually occurred. In this way 
the other epistles have their actual origin from 
Paul most plainly stamped on them. To-day 
then, in Germany, the following epistles are 
admitted by as good as all the learned to be 
genuine : the Epistle to the Corinthians, the 
Galatians, the Romans, the ist Thessalonians, 
Philippians, and the Epistle to Philemon. On the 
other hand, it is not generally recognised that 
Paul wrote the Epistle to the Colossians. It is 
especially considered that the teaching of this 
epistle deviates from that of the rest. I consider 
this epistle genuine. That Paul makes statements 
somewhat different from common is quite natural, 
because in this case the angel worship of the false 
teachers determines his utterance. For the rest 
there are for all the teaching of this letter points 
of contact with the other letters which may be 

Notwithstanding, this is not, of course, saying 
that all these genuine epistles were published by 
Paul in the shape we read them to-day. Prob- 
ably this is true of the Epistle to the Romans. 
In the final chapter we have an exceedingly long 
list of greetings which Paul sends. Plainly those 
thus greeted are, for the most part, personally 
and intimately known. This is clear from the 



adjuncts to the names. Now Paul had not been in 
Rome when he wrote this epistle. How is it then 
that there were so many to whom he was known ? 
This difficulty has led to the supposition that the 
greatest part of this sixteenth chapter belonged 
originally to another Pauline epistle, and thus 
had by some accident become attached to the 
Epistle to the Romans, and much may be said 
for this supposition. Probably it is a question of 
an epistle to the Ephesians. If we conceive of it 
in this way it is possible by acute exegesis actually 
to obtain a short history of the church of Ephesus 
from this long list of names. Also of the Second 
Epistle to the Corinthians it has been thought 
that a separate epistle may be separated from it, 
which orginally constituted another epistle to 
the Corinthians. As a matter of fact the tone of 
Paul in this portion changes so suddenly and 
surprisingly, he becomes so bitter and sharp, that 
such an idea is probably worth considering al- 
though it has not yet been actually demonstrated. 

We must, however, return to these five letters 
of which I have said that Paul did not write 
them. Very many experts agree with me in this 
opinion ; most at least deny the Pauline authorship 
of four, the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and the 

But do not these epistles claim to be Paul's ? 
His name stands at their forefront. They bring 
guarantees which have only meaning if Paul is 



their author. The Second Epistle to the Thessa- 
lonians says at the end : " The salutation of me 
Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in 
every epistle. So I write." 

Then are we dealing with falsifications and 
deceitful pretence, a morally doubtful author ? 
This will be the impression which will, of course, 
easily arise in the mind of the layman, and it 
is quite intelligible. Of course, we ought not to 
be led astray in our judgment. For if there are 
actually decisive reasons for supposing a forgery, 
we must honestly acknowledge them. 

But our judgment will be somewhat different 
if we fix our eyes upon certain literary phenomena 
of that period. That writings should be pseudo- 
nymous, be put forth under another name, was 
then not so uncommon as it is to-day, and was by 
no means infrequent. In the time just subsequent 
to the New Testament we find, for example, 
a " Revelation of Peter" " a Gospel of Peter," " a 
Discourse of Peter" all of them pseudonymous 
works. We have the same phenomenon in the 
domain of Judaism. All the numerous apocalypses, 
that is, revelations which there were written in 
this time, do not appear under the name of 
their actual author, but under a name famous of 
yore Enoch, Moses, Isaiah, Ezra, Daniel. But 
also in the sphere of the heathen educated world 
there are analogous facts. For example, under 
the name of Pythagoras dozens of treatises were 



published in those centuries. These facts show us 
that that time in this respect had different ideas 
from our own. The large number of such pseudo- 
nymous works would otherwise not be intelligible. 
A correct judgment of a period is only then pos- 
sible if we measure it by its own moral standard. 
This whole literary procedure, therefore, means 
something different from what it would mean to- 
day. And consequently it is not right to brand 
such pseudonymous works, apart from special 
cases, with the moral stigma of forgeries. Plainly 
the authors of the many Jewish apocalypses 
did not regard themselves as literary forgers. 
Nay, the teaching which was put into the mouth 
of a revered teacher of past time is traced back to 
him by a kind of pious devotion. It was considered 
that his thoughts agreed with the author's, and by 
this means he sought to increase their weight, and 
so he put them forth under such authority. 

It is not a theological vagary to account for 
the matter thus. Philologists in their own depart- 
ment judge in the same way. They declare that 
it is absurd to call Plato a forger because he put 
things into the mouth of Socrates which he never 
uttered, or to inveigh against the neo- Pytha- 
goreans as deceivers because they put forth their 
teaching under the name of Pythagoras. It 
cannot, therefore, be said at all that a pseudo- 
nymous religious treatise loses its religious value 
on account of the question of authorship. Under 



certain circumstances it may be more valuable 
than a genuine one. 

But now what are the grounds on which the 
composition of these five epistles by Paul is 
doubted ? On this just a few observations. The 
Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, at first sight, 
gives without doubt the impression of genuineness. 
But if we look closer, we find quite surprising 
agreements with the First Epistle to the Thessa- 
lonians. The same thoughts, the same terms are 
repeated and often quite closely in the same place. 
Only one section, the prophecy on Antichrist, is 
excepted. Otherwise the similarities go so far 
that we receive the impression of an imitation, 
or a copy. And we find it difficult to believe that 
Paul would have written the same letter which 
only shortly previously he had sent to the church. 

The case is similar with the Epistle to the 
EPHESIANS. It is so like the Epistle to the Colos- 
sians that only the assumption which regards it 
as a kind of working over and extension of the 
Epistle to the Colossians explains everything. 
To this other reasons may be added. The phrases 
and the thoughts deviate markedly from the 
genuine epistles of Paul. The author speaks of 
the " holy " apostles, which Paul never would have 
done, and the whole piece is completely im- 
personal in a way that in a Pauline epistle is 
without example. It is in truth no real epistle, 
but a kind of sermon in the form of a letter. 


Besides, the words of the salutation, " To the 
saints which are in Ephesus," which gave rise to 
its name as " the Epistle to the Ephesians," are 
not found in the original text. 

The case is the clearest of all, anyhow, in regard 
to the so-called PASTORAL EPISTLES, i.e. the epistles 
to TIMOTHY and TITUS. The first who maintained 
that the First Epistle to Timothy was not authentic 
was no less a person than Schleiermacher. 

These three epistles have a decided ecclesiastical 
tone. First, they argue against certain false 
teachers ; and then next they treat of the proper 
choice and conduct of certain ecclesiastical officers. 
Finally, they give varied directions about the 
wellbeing of the church, e.g. the conduct of 
divine worship. 

In these epistles we meet with points which 
make it evident that the origin of these epistles is 
not from Paul ; at the most, we may allow that 
they contain a few small genuine remains of 
Pauline memoranda or letters. The internal data 
make it at once difficult to find a place for them, 
in what is known to us of the life of Paul. In 
many respects the relations which are presupposed 
betv/een Paul and his disciples, Timothy and 
Titus, are surprising and full of contradictions. 
As Titus, for example, is thought of as in Crete, 
he must be better acquainted with it than Paul 
himself. And yet Paul just describes the false 
teachers to him as if Titus knew nothing of them 



at all. If the phraseology is surprising in the 
Epistle to the Ephesians, the language, style, and 
statements of the Pastoral Epistles are entirely 
different from those of the epistles of S. Paul. In 
the doctrine there are some echoes of Paul, but 
the main impression is that of divergence. It is 
a sincere, simple Christianity which they set forth, 
but there is an absence of the depth of the Pauline 
thought, and this Christianity has already gained 
an orthodox flavour. Hatred of heretics is al- 
ready manifest and just as plainly traceable as 
zeal for correctness of belief. 

Criticism, however, does not rest content with 
collecting the characteristics which exclude Pauline 
authorship. The judgment, an epistle is not by 
Paul, properly speaking, is only the settlement 
of a preliminary question. Criticism has not 
merely to say No, but it ought if at all possible to 
advance to an affirmative ; it ought to ascertain 
what the circumstances are out of which such 
writings actually arose. 

In these epistles that is substantially possible, al- 
though we do not know the authors. They plainly 
set us in a period when the organisation of the 
Church is far more developed than can have 
been the case in the apostolic period. And just 
as plainly they show us the Church already at 
war with its opponents, which gave her so much 
trouble for the most part in the second century. 
That is the so-called Gnosticism, i.e. the tendency 


which threatened to undermine the Faith of the 
Church arising from a sort of philosophy and 
speculation, and largely also by the assumption 
that Christ's physical life was merely an appear- 
ance. The false teachers who are combated in 
these epistles are Gnostics. In order to overcome 
them these epistles w^ere mainly written, pre- 
sumably not until the beginning of the second 
century, perhaps half a century after the death 
of Paul. 

The Epistle to the Ephesians and the Second 
Epistle to the Thessalonians were probably writ- 
ten somewhat earlier. We are not in a position 
to know how the author of the Epistle to the 
Ephesians came to enlarge and work over the 
Epistle to the Colossians. On the other hand, 
it is possible to show a definite motive for the 
Second Epistle to the Thessalonians. It arose 
from the excitement enkindled by the idea that 
the last day was now already at hand. This 
excitement it is designed to allay by teaching 
that Christ cannot possibly come again until the 
Antichrist arise, who must first appear, and this 
is yet a hindrance. The deepest and most 
important of these unauthentic epistles is the 
Epistle to the Ephesians. 

On a review, then, we may be permitted to say 
that precisely the finest, greatest, and most 
important epistles which the New Testament 
contains bearing the name of Paul must, with full 



confidence, be allowed to be trustworthy, genuine, 
original documents of the earliest Christianity. 
They do indeed teach us only isolated facts on 
the life and the historical personality of Jesus, 
but they give us, with all their gaps, the material 
in order to gain a really correct idea of the char- 
acter, and the facts of the earliest Christianity on 
the soil of heathendom, and they bring to us one 
of the greatest personalities of religious history 
into intimate acquaintance, because we hear him 
speak always in his own words. Greater than 
Paul is, of course, the Master for whom he seeks 
to prepare the way. More important than the 
epistles of Paul must, therefore, those writings be 
which tell us of Jesus, namely, the gospels. 




IN the development of the teaching of the 
Church in the past the gospels (the Gospel 
of John, of course, excepted) have not by any 
means been the most influential. They have not 
been for the theologians of various periods the 
most important books of the New Testament. 
Even Luther himself rather put in the background 
the first three gospels. For him the foundation 
book of the New Testament was the Epistle to 
the Romans, with its little pendant, the Epistle 
to the Galatians. But on Christianity as a whole, 
on the lay-world of the Church, the gospels, and 
especially the first three, have continually exer- 
cised a quite special fascination. Why ? Because 
they not merely taught of Jesus, but present a view, 
a coloured picture of Him, which far more im- 
pressively speaks to the imagination, and to 
immediate feeling, than any formal propositions, 
and any mere instruction. In modern times this 
interest could not but greatly increase the more 
there was found in Jesus a real and wholly human 
personality ; and, at the present moment, wide 



circles of theologians assign a foremost place of 
importance to the gospels over all other writings 
of the New Testament. We may even assert 
that to-day something exists which did not exist 
previously, viz. a yearning for the true, the 
historical life-picture of the man Jesus ; and the 
keen criticism which has been employed on the 
facts of the gospel narrative has not lessened this 
desire, for many indeed rather increased it. 

We may regard the gospels as the first be- 
ginnings of a Christian literature, since the idea of 
literature as applied to the epistles of S. Paul does 
not appear to us to be a proper one. Although 
the gospels, first of all, found their readers in ever 
so narrow a circle, they made their appearance 
before the world in the way that is characteristic 
of literary productions. If there had been an 
art of printing at that time, it is safe to say that 
they would have appeared not as manuscripts, 
but as printed books. Only the term literature 
must not awaken too exalted ideas. So far as the 
literature of the world was concerned at that time, 
these writings were of no importance to begin with. 
And, on the other hand, a secular literature existed 
with its distinct forms, Drama, Epic, Science, 
Compendiums, Dialogues, Oratory, etc. but not 
for Christianity. It is not until perhaps about 
the middle of the second century that Christianity 
begins to employ these forms of secular literature. 

Nevertheless, we might ask whether biographical 


works, as they were then composed, did not 
give an impulse to the writing of our gospels, 
or afford a type for the character of their recital. 
As a matter of fact, that must, however, probably 
be denied. This literary form of the gospels is 
rather a product of the Christian Church itself, 
and sprang out of its natural needs. Within the 
Christian circle it doubtless quickly acquired 
special -favour, and dominated Christianity. The 
best proof of this is the fact that a great number 
of gospels existed, and not simply four. A part 
of these writings did not arise, of course, until 
a much later period than our gospels. They are 
those works in which in particular the history of the 
infancy, and then also the history of the passion, 
and even the so-called descent into Hades, are 
depicted in completely legendary form, and which, 
with their fables and (in part ludicrously ex- 
aggerated) miracles, must be called Christian 
romances. We entirely ignore these. But there 
were other gospels which stand proportionately 
closer to the rest, and which in character show 
much affinity with them. We have a series of 
fragments of a quite ancient gospel of the Hebrews, 
which must have had some relationship to our 
Matthew, but certainly also exhibited great 
differences ; further a few fragments of a gospel 
according to the Egyptians, which, therefore, was 
once used in Egypt. Somewhat more than a 
decade ago there was found in an Egyptian tomb 



a considerable fragment of a gospel which purports 
to be by Peter, and which relates the history of 
the passion and the resurrection. The gospel 
citations of the Martyr Justin, who about the 
middle of the second century wrote an apology or 
defence of Christianity, cannot be satisfactorily 
accounted for from our gospels, and appear, 
therefore, to necessitate the conclusion that he used 
a gospel unknown to us. A number of years ago 
there were again found in Egypt some few logia 
of Jesus, and in the same locality quite recently 
others were discovered. They must therefore 
have belonged, if not to an actual gospel, yet at 
least to a writing which stands in close relationship 
to the gospel literature. All these writings in my 
judgment must be put earlier than our four gospels. 
But there must also have been lost gospels which 
were just as old as or older than our gospels or most 
of them. Luke says in the short preface with 
which he introduces his book that many before 
him had made the attempt to compose a narrative 
of the life of Jesus. Now John was not then 
written, and Luke probably did not know our 
Matthew. But if he had known him, then he 
would not have used the expression " many" if 
Matthew and Mark had then been the only gospels 
extant. To this account agree also the conclusions 
to which the criticism of the gospels leads and has 
led. Our gospels presuppose the existence of one 
older gospel at the least. 


It is of importance as to our conception of the 
four gospels that these facts should be made 
clear in advance. The question is not one of 
four single writings which never had their like ; 
but of four examples of a widespread class, and 
to this I add of four links in a chain of development. 
For a development with considerable modifications 
may be plainly perceived in this literature. And 
therefore the gospel writings which fall later than 
our gospels are by no means valueless. The lay- 
man will of course only put the one main question, 
Do such gospels teach us anything reliable about 
Jesus ? And if this question must perchance be 
answered in the negative, he will deem the matter 
of no further interest. But the expert knows 
that the gospels are not merely sources for the 
actual life of Jesus, but also documents which 
illustrate the gradual development and change 
in the conception of that life. And so for him a 
later production may be very important, if it 
shows surprising alterations in the repetition of 
the sayings of Jesus or the stories of Him. And 
generally the more material is presented to us for 
comparison, the clearer shall we be able to recognise 
the style, character, and value of the New Testa- 
ment gospels. 

Let us turn now especially to these four gospels 
of the New Testament, the so-called canonical 
gospels. Here we must at once, as a preliminary, 
make a sharp division the gospels of Matthew, 

E 49 


Mark, and Luke stand on the one side and John 
on the other side. For nearly related as are 
the first three gospels to one another, so different 
is the fourth that it is a writing of an essentially 
different pattern. Of this even the illiterate 
reader of the Bible has at once an immediate per- 
ception. Science is accustomed to denote the 
three first gospels with a common name, as the 
synoptic gospels, or shortly the synoptics. This 
name expresses their striking affinity. For it 
affirms that the text of these three writings, for 
the most part, can and must be considered to- 
gether, because they formally invite comparison. 
These synoptics we cannot therefore merely con- 
sider individually. That, of course, must also 
be done ; but with that there must be united 
an examination which embraces the whole 

As historical works the synoptics have a truly 
individual stamp, and it is at once obvious that 
the question is as to three sister writings. It 
immediately strikes us that their account only 
stretches over a small part of the life of Jesus. 
Mark relates nothing of the whole period up to 
the public appearance of Jesus. Matthew and 
Luke then, of course, give histories of the birth 
of Jesus, but are silent on the whole period of His 
youth, and His growth to manhood, apart from 
the short narration of Jesus in the temple at 
twelve years old given by Luke. The mode of 



presentation itself is in general characterised by 
interchange of word and history. The historical 
narrative, however, consists essentially of episodes, 
we might say anecdote, if this word had not a 
secondary meaning which did not originally belong 
to it. It is almost solely vignettes, miracles, brief 
conversations, single scenes ; on the other hand, 
there is no general development, no great lines of 
presentation, no searching characterisation of 
persons, no attention to the connection of occur- 
rences. A stronger chain of connection between 
details is most clearly obvious in the history of 
the passion of Jesus. A broader picture is painted 

We must not suppose that the evangelists were 
merely fishers and handicraftsmen. They were 
in a way literary men who as such belonged to the 
more cultured members of the Church. At least 
that is true of the author of Mark, more of that of 
Matthew, and especially of that of the Gospel of 
Luke. The latter prefaces his work with an 
introduction such as we find usual with educated 
men in the literature of the period, in which he 
speaks of predecessors, mentions the order of 
events, is interested in chronology, in short, he 
makes it clear that he is following a certain 
historical plan. Of course, this is not to be denied 
of the other two : their intention is not merely to 
preach about Christ, but to tell of Him in narrative 
form. But nothing could be more perverse than 


to regard these authors as modern writers of 
history, and here I am not at all thinking merely 
of learned and trained historians, but of popular 
story-writers. It is in fact to be sharply em- 
phasised that the evangelists do not tell their 
story merely as a story, but that they rather 
pursue as their first intention practical and 
edifying purposes, Luke not excepted. They do 
not, as the phrase is, write objectively, or as 
personally uninterested, or as mere chroniclers ; 
they write for believers and as believers. The 
Gospel of John is easily put in contrast with the 
synoptics, the former depicts the Christ of faith 
and the latter that of history. In this contrast 
there is, no doubt, a certain truth, but Matthew 
and Mark and Luke depict for us most certainly the 
Christ who is the object of faith, whether this 
coincides with the Jesus of history or not. It 
cannot be made too plain that these men intend 
to write books of edification, their writings are 
designed to win men to Christ, to teach about Him; 
they are intended for those who are already in- 
structed in the Christian faith ; and meant 
perchance to be read in public worship. In 
short, they are intended to preach Christ. He who, 
for this reason, supposes that they proceed like 
proper historians with the same painstaking 
accuracy and care in the arrangement of the 
material, in the disposition of the accounts which 
come to hand, in the confirmation of details, puts 



forward false claims, and employs an absurd 

It is extraordinarily difficult for him who 
is not intimately acquainted with the synoptics 
to consider them apart. When closely regarded 
they have with all their similarity each their 
own special point of view. In order that the 
names Matthew, Mark, Luke may not be to us 
merely names, I should like to call special at- 
tention by a few touches to the specialty which 
is clearly manifest in each. 

I begin with MARK, the shortest gospel. Mark 
consists quite predominantly of narration, that is, 
he is, in comparison with Matthew and Luke, 
poor in discourses ; apart from some parables and 
a longer discourse on the events to precede the 
second coming of Jesus, he only supplies us 
throughout with isolated sayings. The style of 
this evangelist is singularly fresh and lively ; his 
disposition is more original, and he is less elaborate 
than either of the other two. It is striking that 
Mark in his narrative has many minute details 
of events more than the others, and presents the 
situation with a richer colour and in livelier form. 
Among the miracles of Jesus which the evangelist 
numerously narrates, there stands in bold relief 
a specially significant class, the healing of the so 
called demoniacs, i.e. those possessed, or, as we 
should say, those suffering from mental disturb- 
ances. The evangelist appears to have had a 



quite special interest in these miracles. Besides, 
the gospel has probably not been preserved to us in 
its entirety. The conclusion of the gospel as we 
read it in our Bibles i.e. the last twelve verses is 
without doubt not genuine, as, in fact, these verses 
are wanting in the oldest manuscripts. Now the 
gospel scarcely ended with the words which 
precede the unauthentic and later superadded 
verses. We expect that at least another appear- 
ance of the risen Christ in Galilee will be related. 
The genuine conclusion is therefore presumably 
lost, possibly was designedly omitted because it 
did not suit the ideas of later readers, and is 
now replaced by an account which has been com- 
piled from several other accounts of the resur- 

The Gospel of MATTHEW has been the most 
influential and the most popular among the three 
synoptics. And it deserves this popularity also 
on account of its fine arrangement of material, 
and the excellent structure of the whole. Dis- 
courses and narratives are interchanged in fine 
proportion with one another, and the discourses 
of Jesus have the more striking effect, as they 
appear in great separate portions ; the case is 
indeed different in S. Luke ; he gives scarcely less 
discourses, but the sections and pieces are more 
and shorter, and are distributed over the whole 
book. As Luke, so Matthew contains a history 
of the childhood and a genealogy of Jesus, but is 



precisely in these sections quite distinct from that 
of Luke. 

Matthew gives a series of the logia of Jesus 
which have a sharp Jewish or Judaic- Christian 
tone. For example, the apostles are expressly 
forbidden to go to the heathen and Samaritans 
(x. 5), the inviolable value of the law is em- 
phasised (v. 17) ; and so it is said : " Pray that 
your flight be not" in the coming distress "in 
the winter or on the Sabbath " (xxiv. 20), in which 
saying there is the implication that the law forbids 
a long journey on the Sabbath. Such expres- 
sions have led to the untenable opinion that this 
gospel was intended specially for Jewish Christians, 
just as there are other phrases which have quite a 
different tone, which, in fact, as plainly as possible 
say that the Jewish people are not privileged, and 
that the call of the gospel is for all peoples (xxviii. 
19 f.). Here there is a contradiction which can 
only be explained by assuming that the author 
found the one view present in another writing, 
and preserved it in using the text, whereas the 
other view represents his own opinion. We are 
therefore hereby led to the supposition that at 
least one source lies at the base of the gospel. 

The author of this gospel is thus, so to speak, 
the theologian among the evangelists ; he shows 
in particular an intimate acquaintance with the 
Old Testament, and it is one of his foremost cares 
to demonstrate that in the facts of the history of 



Jesus Old Testament prophecies had been fulfilled. 
Consequently the frequency of the formulas, 
" this was done that it might be fulfilled," " as it 
is written." This so-called prophetic proof had, 
of course, a generally powerful influence for the 
early Church. In Matthew it appears especially 
in its classic form. 

In his preface LUKE has, as we have already said, 
particularly emphasised his striving for accuracy, 
that is, completeness, and for a correct sequence of 
narration. In both respects he apparently desired 
to outstrip his many predecessors, for each later 
evangelist wished naturally to make his gospel 
somehow better than the previous ones. We may 
now also observe that Luke has not quite for- 
gotten this programme in the gospel. For ex- 
ample, he transposes many narratives of his 
predecessors ; he also endeavours occasionally 
to bring the great world-events into connection 
with his story, and so he names at one time Cesar 
Augustus (ii. i), another time the Emperor 
Tiberius (iii. 2), and other rulers. Criticism 
cannot, of course, assert that the alterations of 
Luke are really improvements in the sequence of 
the story. The great journey, e.g., which he 
inserts in chapters ix. to xviii., is as such not 
imaginable though this is not saying that the 
accounts are worthless which he puts into this 

We shall, however, find that the superiority of 



Luke consists in quite other points. This evan- 
gelist's method of narration is in a special degree 
thoughtful and attractive. Some of the most 
impressive features of the gospel history belong 
to him alone; e.g. that Jesus " looked on 7 ' Peter 
after his denial (xxii. 61) ; and he is fond, in the 
parables which he records, of letting the persons 
concerned speak for themselves, recording senti- 
ments which lay bare their very soul " Work I 
cannot, to beg I am ashamed," which, e.g., the 
unjust steward says. " I will arise and go to my 
father," in the prodigal son (xv. 18). In such 
traits we may really recognise a certain addition 
belonging to the style of Luke, for Matthew relates 
the parables in a somewhat different way. 

Jesus appears in this gospel in a quite special 
manner as the friend of the lost and of those 
classes despised by the Jew, " publicans and 
sinners " (as it is said) ; but at the same time as 
the enemy of the rich. And this is an evidently 
plain characteristic of this gospel. Nowhere are 
riches so sharply judged as here, and nowhere is 
poverty placed higher or charitableness which de- 
prives itself of its possessions. The critic accord- 
ingly asks whether here the evangelist presents the 
thoughts of Jesus with real accuracy, or whether, 
perhaps unconsciously, they are coloured by his 
own ideas. The conditions of life in Palestine did 
not, it seems, so closely concern Luke as Mark and 
Matthew, possibly he did not assume much interest 



in his readers, at any rate in Luke the discourses 
of Jesus do not possess that local Jewish colouring 
which is clear in Matthew. I mean by this that 
the antagonism of Jesus to the Pharisees does not 
appear so obviously. 

As an eye-witness of the life of Jesus, not one 
of the three makes any definite claim. None of 
them narrates in such a way as to imply that he 
was speaking of his own experiences. Not one 
speaks of his relation to Jesus, or uses in his story 
the personal " we." Luke, however, positively 
disclaims being an eye-witness, and belongs to a 
later generation. 

Besides such differences as I have thus dealt 
with, it is now proper to fix our attention 
THREE BOOKS. This is, in fact, most striking. 
The question is not merely as to the general 
similarity of the method of presentation or the 
order and succession of short descriptions. And 
not merely that the whole framework of the 
narrative is the same : commencing with John 
the Baptist, the baptism, the temptation, the 
continuation of the history in Galilee and the 
journey to Jerusalem, the conclusion v/ith the 
particularly detailed account in all three of the 
passion, death, and resurrection. More surprising 
is, at any rate, the relationship in the choice of 
material. It is immediately obvious that Jesus 
in the period which the evangelists depict did 


more and said more than they record on their few 
pages. How does it happen, then, that the con- 
tent of the material so preponderantly agrees ? 
What all three, or at least two, evangelists have 
in common amounts to two-thirds of the whole 
content. The similarity in the order of the 
different narratives is in addition very marked. 
Whole groups of accounts appear in two or three 
in the same order. That is not at all explained 
by saying that this is because they give the real 
succession of events. How, then, could it be 
explained that the order frequently is so divergent? 
It is just this difference that makes the partial 
likeness so surprising. Finally it is besides 
notorious that the agreements, not only in the 
sayings of Jesus, but also in the narratives, extend 
very largely to verbal agreement. The exact 
sameness of the words is, moreover, worthy of 
note. For Jesus did not speak Greek, the language 
in which the evangelists wrote. His mother- 
speech was rather Aramaic, a dialect related to 
Syriac, w r hich had then superseded Hebrew in 
Palestine. Since, then, the words of Jesus lie 
before us only in a translation, the agreement to 
the smallest details is doubly surprising. 

We now stand in the presence of the problem to 
which research has addressed itself from the close 
of the eighteenth century until to- day with really 
eager zeal, and which is known as the synoptic 
problem. How is this far-reaching relationship in 



content, in arrangement, and verbal agreement, 
to which correspond the equally remarkable 
differences, to be accounted for ? or, how are we 
to explain this peculiar mixture of likeness and 
unlikeness ? 

Accident is no explanation, for the similarities 
cannot be accidental. The doctrine of the divine 
inspiration of the gospels also yields no explana- 
tion. For in this way we do not comprehend the 
differences. Literary criticism alone can bring 
us a solution. 

Research has struck out manifold and different 
paths. The thought is, of course, obvious that 
one of the evangelists used the text of the others. 
Next to this the supposition is started that our 
evangelists might have drawn from one or several 
lost gospels, or possibly from various smaller 
sketches and portions of narrative. Lessing al- 
ready developed the fundamental ideas of this 
hypothesis. Finally oral tradition has been brought 
in, that is, that the frequent repetition of the 
words and acts of Jesus gradually assumed the set 
form of a narrative. The strong agreement may, 
it is said, thus be accounted for. 

Later investigation no longer allows us to 
believe that one of these hypotheses alone leads 
to the goal, and least of all the idea of oral tradition. 
It holds that it is needful to accept what is right 
in all these attempts, and in this way it has 
reached definite results. Of course we cannot 


speak of absolute agreement among critics, but 
a preponderating majority agree at least in several 
fundamental points, and these may in fact pass 
as a real result of prolonged labour. 

The first of these is that Mark was a source of 
Luke and Matthew. As a matter of fact, there 
are the strongest grounds for this. I point out 
some of these. If Mark had used the other 
gospels, then we cannot understand why he left 
out so much of their material ; if, on the other 
hand, Mark is the base, then the two successors 
incorporated almost his whole gospel ; but why 
they left out some portions is altogether capable 
of a valid explanation. Further, it follows that the 
sequence of the Marcan narrative lies at the base 
of the others. They diverge frequently from this 
sequence, but ever keep on returning to it. In 
addition it is in favour of this that Mark gives no 
history of the childhood. The histories of the 
childhood in Matthew and Mark, poetic as they 
are (and precisely because they possess this 
poetic charm), are to be regarded throughout as 
myth the appearance of angels marks them as 
such and they belong undoubtedly, as unfettered 
investigation generally acknowledges, to the latest 
portions of the gospel tradition. 

If, now, Mark previously read Matthew or 

Luke, then he would hardly have omitted these 

stories, which agreed with the belief of the time. 

But in detail also we may abundantly recognise 



that Mark at least offers for the most part the 
oldest text. For example, in the baptism of 
Jesus Matthew relates of a refusal at first on the 
part of John the Baptist : " I should be baptised 
of thee, and comest thou to me ?" This is not 
in Mark. But he did not omit this, but Matthew 
added it. Offence, that is, began to be taken with 
the fact that Jesus was baptised by John, because 
this did not appear compatible with the sinlessness 
of Jesus, and also it was feared to subordinate 
Jesus to John the Baptist. This objection was the 
cause of the addition in Matthew. If John, how- 
ever, said himself that Jesus stood in no need of 
baptism, then the doubtfulness of the procedure 
was removed. Another example. " Good Master," 
says the rich young ruler to Jesus, " what shall I do 
to inherit eternal life ? " To this Jesus replied : 
" Why callest thou me good ? None is good save 
God only." So Mark (x. 17 f.). In Matthew the 
epithet "good" is not there. It says: " Master, 
what good thing must I do that I may inherit 
eternal life ? " To this Jesus replies : " Why 
askest thou me after the good ? One is good " 
(xix. 16). This difference can scarcely be otherwise 
explained than that the text of Mark, " Why callest 
thou me good ? " appeared questionable, and 
consequently was changed. 

The second great result of criticism is as follows : 
besides Mark another source lies at the base of the 
gospels of Matthew and Luke in the portions 


which are not taken from Mark and in which 
again these two are in such an extraordinary 
agreement. The question essentially concerns a 
great portion of the sayings of Jesus. This 
source must be a book lost to us. The usual 
designation of this is a collection of sayings 
or logia. And it is conjectured that it was a 
kind of catechism or lesson book composed of 
sayings and words of Jesus which offered rules 
such as the Church needed for her life, spirituality, 
mission, and her hope for the future. We still 
possess the content of this source in good part, in 
just those words of Jesus, which Matthew and 
Mark have in common, and also possibly in the 
one or other portions which are found in only one 
of them ; of course it must be taken into account 
that they have been used by each evangelist in a 
different form. But would it not be much simpler 
to explain that common element by assuming that 
Matthew used Luke or Luke used Matthew ? Of 
course this method has been attempted, but it 
does not lead to the goal. 

A third and final result may be thus formulised 
for the portions which Luke has alone, and in the 
same way also for those which only Matthew 
presents, one or several sources must be assumed, 
which we no longer possess. Here and there both 
evangelists probably drew from oral traditions too. 
This completion of the two other main propositions 
is needful, since it is wholly impossible that Luke 



invented the accounts which he alone has. To 
these accounts belong a series of the finest parables 
of Jesus, all of which have a claim to be reckoned 
as part of the best tradition of the gospels. 

It is, of course, generally correct to say that a 
certain part of the accounts is due to the evan- 
gelists themselves. In the main they hand down 
what they have received. But they themselves 
shape the tradition variously, make additions, 
abridgments, and unite according to their own 
judgment one source with the other. The proof 
of this is quite plain in our gospels. Even where 
Matthew and Luke only follow Mark, we are 
aware of frequent alterations, and Mark did not 
act differently from the rest. 

By all these explanations it is not intended 
to awaken the impression that everything, or 
even all that is of importance, is explained. 
What are the sources of Mark ? Did he, too, use 
written sources ? Possibly even the collection of 
logia ? Is our Mark the oldest form of this gospel ? 
or was there an older, an original Mark ? What 
was the real shape of the logia ? So I might 
continue. On all such points the battle of opinions 
still wavers hither and thither. Will it ever cease ? 
Shall we ever be able to assert that we have 
solved the whole synoptic problem ? We may 
well doubt this, for we have too many unknown 
elements to deal with. And if the mounds of 
Egypt, the ruins of Asia Minor may still afford 


us many a find to rejoice the heart of the expert 
inquirer into the origin of the gospels, there is 
but little probability that the very writings from 
which our gospels were drawn will ever see the 

Meanwhile that the results attained are in any 
case of the highest importance should be easily 
evident to every one. I insist only on two points. 
First, that the historical importance of the Gospel 
of Mark rises considerably higher if it was the 
common source of the two others. If these 
drew from Mark, then, their witness just where 
they are dependent on Mark is of no independent 
value. That is, in the greatest portion of the 
narrative material properly so called. And we 
have, therefore, in this case not three witnesses for 
an event, but only one, that is Mark. The 
credibility of this writer thus becomes a funda- 
mental question. That is to say for all that relates 
to the course, the development in the life of Jesus, 
we are dependent on Mark, because here both his 
successors rest wholly on him. Secondly, it is also 
of high importance to note that a collection of 
the sayings of Jesus forms the basis of Matthew 
and Luke. For thus we gain for the sayings which 
are in question an older witness than Matthew and 
Luke themselves. And in this way the historical 
importance of Matthew and Luke is raised above 
that of Mark, since Mark does not contain these 
sayings at all. 

F 65 


There remains to us another problem. It is of 
consequence to consider the gospels in connection 
with the whole development which the tradition of 
the life of Jesus underwent. We must consider 
and historically conceive the gospels as stages in 
this development. This leads us, then, at once 
to the question as to the historical value of these 
accounts, a question to which this work certainly 
can only do very incomplete justice. 

Of course this development, as far as it lies 
beyond our synoptics, is to us in great obscurity. 
But we can from these arrive at certain a posteriori 
conclusions, and \ve know that in fact all human 
tradition is dependent on certain laws. 

The moment after the death of Jesus, when the 
tradition about Jesus was still quite rich and 
fresh, indicates the starting - point. Of course, 
even then many a valuable piece of information 
had already been forgotten. For obliviscence 
commences just exactly the moment there is 
anything to recollect. But it is certain that 
the eye-witnesses, who had accompanied Jesus, 
could then relate infinitely much about Him, 
and that these recollections stood before their 
eyes with singular clearness. Now the first propa- 
gation of recollections was in all respects free 
and various. Naturally they had further chiefly 
to do with single sayings, instructions, and 
individual narratives. Generally speaking, no 
question was raised as to a total view of the life 


of Jesus ; certain main facts were known, and 
this was sufficient. That long discourses like 
the Sermon on the Mount could be verbally 
retained in recollection is improbable. The con- 
sideration of our gospels themselves teaches us 
that the long discourses are composed mostly 
out of shorter pieces or even single sayings. 
On a designed retention of recollections no one 
thought, just because the speedy advent of the 
Lord was expected. 

Then the tradition would become gradually 
poorer. The eye-witnesses died or were dis- 
persed. In this way much was lost. Next 
of importance is the fact that the tradition was 
early transplanted to a soil where it was not 
indigenous, that is outside Palestine. In such 
a transplanting much always falls away ; es- 
pecially is it the case that those who dwell at a 
distance are not at home in the local and personal 
conditions with which those on the original spot 
were naturally familiar. They have no interest 
in them. In this way the idea of the real events 
grows pale. 

There is one thing more. The tradition did 
not remain a mere matter of personal, loving 
remembrance, but obtained a special significance 
for the life of the Church. At an early date the 
words of Jesus became, as we already see in Paul, 
looked upon as standard rules for the Church. 
That which was important for the interests of 


their faith and life was naturally held to with 
special steadfastness ; particularly the words of 
the Lord were more firmly fixed in the mind, 
and perhaps also isolated sayings brought to- 
gether into connection. On the other hand, how- 
ever, that which was purely personal, and more 
occasional, fell in the tradition into the back- 
ground. Of the events in the life of Jesus those 
especially were passed on to others which might 
illustrate the work of Jesus as Saviour and 
helper, or had otherwise a didactic importance. 
For the chronology, the relation of Jesus to the 
people, His private intercourse with His disciples, 
His relations with individual persons or whole 
groups, the interest was small. Naturally the 
stories of Jesus were repeated in a free manner 
with all the pleasure which the relation and 
repetition to others of such glorious things would 

The earliest gospel writings, then, are a land- 
mark in this development. What do they im- 
port as to the tradition ? First of all, the very 
important fact that now a portion of the recollec- 
tions became fixed so that it could be no longer 
lost. But besides this another is not to be over- 
looked, that is, that with the origin of the gospels 
a further impoverishment of the tradition took 
place. That sounds strange, and yet it is right. 
When the first writings of this kind arose there 
was doubtless much free oral tradition current. 


But only that which was collected in the receptacle 
of these writings was retained, while the remainder 
was in the main lost, and that just because written 
gospels are now extant. For these now henceforth 
become the proper storehouse of the recollections 
of Jesus, and to them those turn who wish to hear 
about Jesus. The free recollections lose their 
significance. Facts corroborate this view. Of 
credible stories outside the gospels scarcely any- 
thing has been retained in the old Church writings. 
Of course there are sayings of Jesus which have 
been handed down which do not find a place in 
the gospels, that is, the so-called Agrapha, i.e. 
utterances which are not in the gospel accounts. 
We have a considerable number of them. Some 
may very well be genuine, as, e.g., the saying : 
" Be a good banker " ; perhaps also that fine 
word which Jesus is said to have addressed to 
a man whom He saw working on the Sabbath 
day : " Man, if thou knowest what thou doest thou 
art blessed, but if thou knowest not thou art 
condemned, and a transgressor of the law." 
But it is quite likely that there are only few such 
words which, as genuine, can come into question. 

Now at what particular time did these earliest 
gospels originate ? There is no agreement as to 
the date of our Mark. Some put him in the time 
immediately before the destruction of Jerusalem 
in the years A.D. 65-70, therefore quite more than 
thirty years after the death of Jesus, but many 


ten years later or more. The collection of logia 
perhaps arose somewhat earlier, and a good many 
experts trace them back to the Apostle Matthew, 
and assume that on this account the name of the 
apostle passed over to our gospel according to 
S. Matthew, just because it incorporated the 
collection of sayings. For our Matthew is cer- 
tainly not by the apostle of that name. Against 
this there are several reasons, among others, the 
large dependency on Mark. And this work might, 
just like that of Luke, not have originated until 
about the end of the first century. 

In the time mentioned in the last three or 
four decades of the first century, therefore, so 
far as we see, the first and foundation settlement 
of the tradition was completed. That the de- 
velopment did not stop here we have already seen. 
For there now follows one gospel after another, 
not merely the Gospel of John, but also that to 
the Hebrews, the Egyptians, the Gospel of Peter, 
and then the fanciful productions of a later 
period. We cannot be surprised that the in- 
creasing impoverishment in genuine traditions 
has as its accompaniment a growing increase in 
unauthentic ones. 

All human tradition implies alteration. If 
we are to understand the gospels, then we must 
have an eye for the transforming effect of tradition. 
Luther's saying at the Diet of Worms, at which 
half Europe listened : " Here I stand, I can do no 


other," even in the year 1521, in which it was 
spoken, was extant in three forms. Surely 
according to such analogies we must expect that 
the narratives of the life and teaching of Jesus 
underwent changes which are of importance, in 
the long course until they came into the gospels. 
Our gospels themselves supply us with the original 
evidence of this. Even in the decades which may 
have intervened between their several origins we 
see how alterations now small and trifling, now 
more comprehensive, were effected. The tradi- 
tion gradually grows to completion, receives 
elucidation in the way it was understood, it receives 
also designedly, of course in the best faith, cor- 
rection when an expression appeared disturbing, 
when perchance it did not seem suitable to Jesus, 
or no longer corresponded to the belief of a later 
period. Nay, it may be shown that in the honest 
conviction that Jesus must have said something 
or related something, He is declared to have said 
it. For example, those detailed prophecies on the 
suffering, death, and resurrection in which there 
is already deposited a little history of the passion 
might have originated in the thought that surely 
Jesus must have foreknown all. 

If this, then, at this time is now plainly perceiv- 
able, could, in the time which lies before the first 
written gospels, the tradition have flowed on un- 
changed ? This is an idea which has every prob- 
ability against it. For as this history of the changes 


before our gospels is in obscurity, only isolated 
facts can be surmised from our gospels. But the 
transformations in the first thirty or forty years 
cannot have been insignificant. 

Only we must not suppose that the development 
could have altered all traditions proportionately. 
That great teaching: " Judge not, that ye be not 
judged," or that sharp incisive saying : " No man 
can serve two masters." " Ye cannot serve God 
and Mammon." Or that word of consolation : 
" Be careful for nothing . . . your heavenly Father 
knoweth that ye have need of all these things." 
Such words were as true thirty, forty, fifty years 
after the death of Jesus as at the time He spoke 
them. They might be forgotten, but they would 
scarcely be essentially changed ; or at the most 
the phraseology. On the other hand, the altera- 
tion must have been great on such points where 
the ideas of the Church were greatly developed ; 
above all, on the question of the person of Jesus, 
that is, on His higher superhuman nature or the 
significance of His death ; or, for example, on 
the expectation of the future will Jesus soon 
come or delay long ? or on the question whether 
the heathen were to have a share in the Christian 
salvation, and more of the like. Here it was in 
the long run quite impossible that the teaching 
of Jesus, or the story of His life, should not have 
responded to the quick forward-moving develop- 
ment of the Christian beliefs of the Church ; 


possibly even be at variance with them. Hence 
there was then started unperceived a work which 
adapted the traditional picture of Jesus to the 
interests of the beliefs of the particular time, so 
as to be reconcilable with them. 

Of course all this still does not help us to any 
clear determination what and how much, then, 
in our gospels can be regarded as genuine recollec- 
tion, what and how much is later accretion. I 
have already intimated that I cannot really solve 
this widely comprehensive question in this work. 
Not only because the space v/ould fail me, but be- 
cause in doing this I should be overstepping my 
subject. This sets before me the task of speaking 
of the origin of the gospel writings. The question 
as to credibility plainly goes beyond these limits. 
Consequently on this point only a few observations 
may be allowed. 

The picture of the life of Jesus as it lies before 
us in our gospels resembles a painting which has 
been coloured over once, or perhaps more than 
once, so as more or less to hide the original colours 
and outlines. Even our Gospel of Mark, sad as 
it may seem to us to say, in no way simply depicts 
the life of Jesus as it was. It not merely contains 
mythical features, such as the meeting of Jesus 
with the Devil or the walking of Jesus on the sea, 
the feeding of five thousand with but a little bread 
and fish ; it also unquestionably shows definite dog- 
matic conceptions. Jesus is no longer regarded as 



simply^a man, but even as a divine being who could 
do all things, and, for instance, accurately prophesy 
the future and the details of His own sufferings. 
Mark hardly knew very much of the development 
of the life of Jesus. The sequence of his narrative 
is scarcely the actual chronological one ; for he 
arranges it for the most part according to the 
relationship of the subject-matter. And on this 
very account it is impossible for us to describe 
more accurately the course of the life of Jesus. 
For here we are quite dependent on Mark. Cer- 
tainly most assume that in Mark the recollections 
of the discourses of Peter have been used, but 
these, then, in any case can only be found in a 
portion of the narratives. The force of the facts 
mentioned is not destroyed. 

But on the other hand there can be no mistake 
that in its various narratives there is found 
much genuine tradition, whether this is to be 
traced back to Peter or not. Besides this, many 
accounts of miracles are not to be eliminated so 
far as they concern miracles of healing. For it is 
scarcely to be denied that Jesus possessed a gift 
of healing, and this does not contradict historical 
probability. For this kind of gift is found elsewhere. 
Further, the scene of action in which the life of 
Jesus was passed is still in many respects plainly 
discernible. Certain narratives cannot have been 
invented because their invention is inconceivable. 
Peter was in the oldest Christianity almost 



the most considerable personage. Who would 
have concocted the story of his denial, which 
was to his prejudice ? Who can have devised the 
sharp contrast in which Jesus appears in relation 
to the Pharisees ? For this a later period could 
have no longer any interest. But we may put 
special confidence, e.g., in the sayings of Jesus, so 
far as they comprehend the plain deep teaching 
of the purest piety and morality ; the illuminating 
clear parables, the short striking sayings, the 
rules of life, which are so original in their form. 
But besides all this a wholly definite image, which 
cannot be confused with any other, the image of a 
real personality not recognisable in every feature, 
but still speaking to us with the force of reality, 
exalted, majestic, subduing, great and pure, deep 
and clear, serious and loving, strong and mild, 
stands before us. 

Yes, the picture of the life of Jesus has been 
coloured over, and in many places strongly coloured 
over, but the original colours everywhere shine 
through the additional colouring. It is the task 
of science, where it is at all possible, to remove 
the superposed layers, and so far as it is possible 
to unveil the genuine picture. 

Hitherto I have kept silence on the Gospel of 
S. John. Yet our reflections so far have set 
forth much that is preparatory to the com- 
prehension of this gospel. For John represents 



a stage in advance of the Synoptics ; I mean not 
in respect of value, but in development. 

The strife of opinions has, as to this gospel, 
turned quite preponderantly on the person of 
the author. Is it the Apostle John, the son of 
Zebedee or not ? And no question in this de- 
partment has possibly been debated with greater 
fervour. I must, however, say emphatically that 
this is no way the single question of importance ; 
just as important is the question as to the nature 
and design of this treatise. And this very question 
is of the greatest importance as bearing on the 
question of authorship. 

Before giving close attention to the gospel, a 
word is needed on a preliminary question. It has 
been frequently attempted to prove that it is a 
composite book, and contains an older work, 
elaborated by a later editor, and incorporated 
with his own work. This attempt must be pro- 
nounced a failure. This work is a work from one 
mould, it is, in the words of a critic, like the seam- 
less robe of Christ, about which it is possible to 
cast lots, but which cannot be divided. For every- 
where it betrays the same spirit and the same way 
of presentation. One narrative certainly, as is 
commonly acknowledged, did not originally stand 
in the gospel, and in fact one which if we are not 
altogether deluded rests on original recollection, the 
pathetic history of the adulteress to whom Jesus 
manifests His tenderness. In addition it may still 


be regarded as doubtful whether the last (2ist) 
chapter is an original part of the gospel, or, as 
many think, an addition by a later hand. The 
end of the 2oth chapter indeed sounds just 
like a formal conclusion : " And many other 
signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his 
disciples, which are not written in this book. 
But these are written that ye may believe that 
Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God." Never- 
theless, personally I accept even chapter xxi. as 
originating with the same author as the rest, 
even though it may have been written somewhat 

If we start with the Synoptics, then the whole 
impression made by John is a completely different 
one. There is not wanting matter in common, 
as in the history of the passion, in the miracles, in 
the story of John the Baptist. But the greatest 
part of the synoptic material finds here no parallel. 
And how much there is that is new given by this 
evangelist ! His commencement, for instance, the 
so-called prologue sounds so utterly different from 
that of the synoptic style. It is an exposition 
solemnly marching along of the " Word " as " with 
God," and then as " made flesh." Then if we just 
think of the conversation with Nicodemus, with 
the Samaritan at the well, of the resurrection of 
Lazarus, of the feet- washing. Nay, the whole 
theatre of action of Jesus appears changed. In 
the Synoptics it is predominantly completed in 



Galilee, and then later on in Jerusalem. Here the 
scene of action changes different times, in the 
main Jesus appears in Judea and Jerusalem. It 
gives the impression that He has touched Galilee 
but very slightly. 

But all this is insignificant compared with the 
difference in the discourses. Save a few short 
sayings it reminds us of scarcely anything of 
the discourses of the Synoptics. All the words 
concerning forgiveness, love of our enemies, of 
serving, of the pride of the Pharisees, of the king- 
dom of God, all the striking parables have wholly 
disappeared. Instead of this we find an ex- 
ceedingly great abundance of new discourses, all 
of a quite different character, throughout quite 
uniform, evolving a definite thread of thought, 
and in them everything turns properly on one 
theme, the person of Christ, and faith in Him ; 
that He was with the Father before He came in 
the flesh, that He therefore can witness of the 
Father ; that He is one with the Father, on an 
equality with Him ; that He can raise from the 
dead, and judge mankind ; that He is the bread 
of life, the way, the truth, and the life ; that the 
world rejects Him, rejects the Father such 
thoughts meet us in ever new shapes. He who 
for the first time actually apprehends this dis- 
tinction from the three Synoptists can only be 
in the highest degree surprised. 

The comparison of the gospel with the Synoptics 



leads us on to those portions which both have in 
common. In the first place one result is to see 
that John is dependent on the others, and that 
is most clearly seen in the history of the passion. 
The similarities, e.g. in the sequence, are here 
and elsewhere too great to be understood in the 
absence of such assumption. Of course it is 
possible to ask whether John is not the older, 
but this view cannot be taken seriously. For we 
everywhere see that John represents the later 
stage of development. And this very thing is 
full of instruction. I will not dwell on the 
fact that John's accounts are marked by their 
peculiar indefiniteness. We have enough indi- 
vidual cases to make the judgment more definite. 
There is, e.g., plainly perceptible a climax in the 
accounts of miracles. Mark also speaks of a 
resurrection, of the raising of the daughter of 
Jairus immediately after her death. In John, 
however, the raising of Lazarus follows after his 
body has lain in the grave four days already, and 
decomposition has commenced. The Synoptics 
also relate cures of blindness, in John the blind 
man is healed who was blind from birth, and more 
of the same sort. Then there are some single 
examples of transformations. The sentence in 
which John the Baptist announces the coming 
Messiah runs, e.g., " There cometh one mightier 
than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not 
worthy to stoop down and unloose " (Mark^i. 2). 



In John it is similar (i. 27), but it says also : 
" This is he of whom I said : After me cometh 
a man which is preferred before me, for he was 
before me " (i. 30). It is impossible to doubt 
that the sayings of the Lord are the same, but 
in John an idea has been super added which is 
not found in Mark, the idea of the so-called pre- 
existence, e.g. of His being with God before the 
incarnation, and that is all the stranger as it is 
pronounced at the very beginning by John the 
Baptist. Mark represents how Jesus, when He 
wishes to tell Peter that He must suffer, said : 
" Get thee behind me, Satan " (viii. 35). This is 
not found in the like scene in John. On the other 
hand Jesus says of Judas Iscariot: " One of you 
is a devil." We shall not be far out in the assump- 
tion that it appeared to later readers questionable 
that Christ should apply to Peter, this foremost 
disciple, the epithet Satan, and that they deliber- 
ated whether such a name must not in fact mean 
Judas who treated Jesus so diabolically. 

This relation of John to the synoptic narrative 
is very important for any historical judgment on 
the book, and its author. But the proper char- 
acter, the nature of our writing is not made quite 
clear in this way, and it is before all needful to 
recognise this. 

This is now the principal important result 
which theological labour has gained, that this 
gospel in its deepest core does not follow the design 


of relating the life of Jesus, but of giving teaching 
concerning Him. This is indeed the true aim, 
evident on every page, which the author sets before 
him. The narrative must be regarded as the mere 
drapery of the teaching. 

The very narrative, especially the miracles, 
shows us this in various ways. The miracles are 
intended to illustrate the superhuman, divine 
dignity of Jesus. For this reason are they related. 
If, for example, the resurrection of Lazarus is 
given, it is done for the purpose of illustrating the 
proposition : "I am the resurrection and the 
life/' which follows. Or the feeding of the five 
thousand contains the teaching that " Christ is 
the bread of life." But the matter becomes much 
plainer still by the discourses and conversations in 
the gospel. Here the teaching of Christ which the 
author will proclaim is formally developed, and 
expounded in ever new shapes and forms. 

Of course it is impossible to gain the right point 
of view so long as we disguise from ourselves the 
knowledge which is essential to the comprehension 
of these discourses. Briefly put, these discourses 
are the author's own work. The Synoptics have 
also probably here and there in some degree 
shaped the discourses of Jesus, but in the main 
they repeat the tradition. John also gives in his 
narrative a good deal of tradition, although in later 
form, but in the discourses at the most a few short 
sayings can be regarded as traditional. 
G 81 


How do we make good such an assertion ? 
First of all the Johannine discourses of Jesus are 
in style, character, and content so different from 
the Synoptics, that we cannot believe that one 
and the same person spoke them. If Jesus dis- 
coursed as He speaks in John, then we may safely 
assert, He did not speak as the Synoptics make 
Him. But it is doubtless they who give us the 
right notion of the popular, crisp, striking method 
of Jesus. Secondly, the content of the Johannine 
discourses is of that kind that it already pre- 
supposes a long development of the Christian 
Church. This teaching of Christ which the gospel 
unfolds transcends even the utterances of Paul. 
The human personality of Jesus has almost quite 
disappeared ; a divine being stands before us, 
who has existed from the beginning, and who 
has at its disposal the attributes of omnipotence 
and omniscience like God Himself. In other 
words, the discourses presuppose an elaborated 
dogma of Christ's nature. Thirdly, and this is 
a most striking instance, the First Epistle o 
John of our New Testament certainly originates 
from the same author as the gospel. If we com- 
pare the two, it is surprisingly plain that Jesus 
in the gospel speaks like the author in his epistle. 
The accordances are occasionally almost verbal. 
But the prologue, too, of the gospel sounds almost 
like a discourse. And still more. The discourse 
of John the Baptist, which stands in the third 


chapter, is again quite similar to the discourses 
of Jesus. The necessary conclusion is : here only 
one person is speaking, the Evangelist. 

If this view is right, then we can understand 
that here no real historical work lies before us, 
but a theological treatise. We might with some 
correctness say the teaching of Paul concerning 
Christ has here, though in an advanced didactic 
stage, been formed into the mould of a sketch of 
Christ's life. 

But still this does not explain what was the 
motive which induced the author to write such 
a book, and we find the key to this if, with the 
idea that the question is one of teaching, we com- 
bine a second point of view. I formulate it thus : 
This writing has the purpose of defending the 
Christian faith ; it is of the nature of an apology, 
i.e. a defensive writing which has throughout 
definite opponents in view, and so it opens the 
series of numerous apologies which were written 
in the first centuries for Christendom. 

The enemies which the author combats are, 
however, not the heathen, nor are they in my 
opinion heretics within Christianity. We can 
infer from this gospel that the Christianity of 
the time when the author writes has no longer 
any connection at all with Judaism. The work 
of Paul has borne fruit, the Church has rejected 
Judaism, which has become far more than in 
Paul's time an actual enemy, and at the same 



time its rival. Judaism, however, not merely 
requites the enmity, it has hated the growing 
Christianity from the beginning. Now it hurls 
reproaches against Christians, and seeks to hurt 
them especially by attacking their faith in 
Christ. It maintained that Jesus was really 
not the Messiah because He must have been 
differently constituted ; that it was ridiculous and 
blasphemous to call Him Son of God ; that He 
possessed no divine power, but was a powerless 
human being. 

Our gospel must have been written in a locality, 
presumably in Asia Minor, where this feud was 
violently inflamed, and that has moved the author, 
as said, beyond all else, to the composition of 
this writing, and given it its tendency to refute 
Jewish objections and invectives ; and to provide 
his fellow-Christians with weapons ready to hand. 
This view is on the whole a recent one, but it is 
making victorious progress among scholars. 
* To adduce an actual proof of this view is 
of course impossible in this place. But some 
few remarks may serve to show that it is feas- 
ible. First of all, it strikes us as strange that 
Jesus in this gospel is so sharply antagonistic to 
the " Jews/' as they are called ; there is no 
mention of definite persons, even the Pharisees 
and scribes fall into the background. It is ever 
this general expression : " the Jews/' That sounds 
strange to be a historical account. The author 


so writes because by these " Jews " he has the 
Judaism of his time in his mind's eye. But the 
proper proof lies in the discourses themselves. 
The Jews say once to Jesus (x. 33) : " We stone 
thee for blasphemy and because that thou, being 
a man, makest thyself God." In the real life of 
Jesus we cannot understand a speech of that kind, 
for it presupposes that Christ is in the super- 
natural sense, in the doctrinal sense, the Son of 
God. It is only in this way that the Jews could 
find blasphemy in this name. They start from 
the fact that there is only one God, and if a 
human being makes himself into a divine being, 
then it appears to them to be blasphemy. But 
now what Jesus subsequently says aims at 
demonstrating that Jesus, nevertheless, could bear 
the name of God and the Son of God, as may be 
shown from the Scriptures, which also designate 
men as gods. We have in this, then, the defence 
of the Evangelist. In many passages we note 
that the Jews said that Christ could not save 
Himself from death. To this the author answers 
with the idea that Christ quite voluntarily 
went to His death (xviii. 67). This tendency is 
especially plain in the words that are put into the 
mouth of Jesus (x. 18) : " No man taketh my life 
from me, but I lay it down of myself, and I have 
power to lay it down and I have power to take it 
again." This is so also in the case of the words 
addressed to Pilate : " Thou couldest have no 



power at all against me, except it were given thee 
from above " (xix. n). The "Jews" adduced 
the treachery of Judas Iscariot could such a 
disciple be chosen by one who was omniscient ? 
The author makes answer to this by showing how 
Jesus repeatedly predicted this treachery (vi. 70 ; 
xiii. 18 ; xxi. ff.), and also by the fact that Jesus 
said : " I know well whom I have chosen " (xiii. 18). 
From his point of view the miracles are of special 
importance, as they are to him proofs of the om- 
nipotence of the Christ, and he relates them as 
such. It is equally characteristic that John the 
Baptist is only honoured as a witness for Jesus. 
Altogether the gospel speaks throughout of 
witnesses and testimonies quite conceivably ; 
for in a case such as he is conducting against his 
opponents witnesses are needed. In this way the 
whole gospel is pervaded by references to this 
antagonism, and it is only when we pay regard to 
this in exposition that we can really understand 
his utterances. 

Who was the author of this unique writing ? 
It cannot possibly be the Apostle John, the be- 
loved disciple of Jesus. Besides, the gospel nowhere 
asserts that this is the case. It certainly speaks 
of a disciple whom Jesus loved, who appears to be 
thought of as standing in some special relationship 
tothe gospel, but it isstill problematic whet her John, 
the son of Zebedee, is meant. These questions as to 
what the gospel says about itself, and the disciple 


whom Jesus loved, make up a special and by no 
means easy problem. I must pass this over, and 
can do so, since for the question whether the 
Apostle John wrote this gospel the result of such 
inquiry, whatever it may be, is not determina- 
tive. The decision that it cannot originate with 
the apostle is placed beyond doubt by internal 
evidence, the nature of the gospel itself. On this 
the whole of the scientifically impartial theological 
world is as good as united in opinion, and it has 
not unfrequently happened that specialists who in 
their younger years have believed that they could 
in whole or in part maintain the Johannine 
authorship have seen themselves compelled by 
the force of facts to change their conviction. 

I believe that we have discovered by the in- 
vestigations so far made a whole series of proofs 
on this question. Is it likely that the Apostle 
John not merely used the Synoptics, but developed 
their accounts in an unhistorical direction ? Is it 
likely that the Synoptics, not apostles, have pre- 
served the words of Jesus, which bear the stamp 
of originality, and John has assigned to him 
discourses, the central idea of which is the Church 
dogma of Christ as the Son of God ? Is it likely 
that the eye-witness would present the intensified 
narratives of miracles, while those who were not 
eye-witnesses relate the simpler ones ? Would 
they depict the circumstances in Palestine more 
plainly than the apostle ? Is it likely that the 



more graphic narrative of the Synoptics is the later, 
and the less graphic of John the older ? And on 
the whole is it likely that this picture of Christ 
which this gospel paints and which manifests 
scarcely any human features; which is purely a 
picture of marvel ; in which everywhere there 
shine the rays of omnipotence and omniscience ; 
which everywhere lays stress on His divine origin 
is to be preferred historically to the human form 
which in the Synoptics is frequently veiled, but 
yet plainly shines out, with its prophetic weight 
and grandeur, and its sympathy with the despised, 
lost, and infirm ? 

No, here only one opinion is possible there is 
quite an abundance of reasons for this this work 
is the work of a later time, and dated before the be- 
ginning of the second century, at the very earliest 
the closing years of the first, is not conceivable. 
Certainly in this we place ourselves in contradiction 
to the judgment of the Church which has prevailed 
for so many centuries, and also with the opinion 
held by the Church even as early as the close of 
the second century. For it was then thought that 
John came from Palestine to Asia Minor, and 
laboured in a position of authority up to a great 
old age, and wrote his gospel towards the end of 
his life. How this tradition may be explained is 
a question not now to be entered on. I may still 
remark that investigation in general has often 
impugned the idea that the Apostle John lived so 


long, and dwelt in Asia Minor. It is said, on the 
contrary, that John died early, like his brother 
James, the death of a martyr. The former 
tradition arose through a confusion with the other 
John, the so-called John the Presbyter, whose 
existence in Asia Minor does not admit of a doubt. 
For this assertion relevant reasons may be adduced. 
In fact, even in our Mark there stands a passage 
which appears to presuppose a martyr's death of 
the Apostle John. For when Jesus says to him, 
and to his brother : " You shall indeed drink the 
cup which I drink of," this prophecy, as others of 
the like kind, appears to have had its origin in 
the death by martyrdom which had already 
happened. Still this point remains undecided. 
The problem thus presented is a peculiar and 
complicated one which at all events has not yet 
been brought into full clearness. Far less can the 
recent hypothesis be regarded as proven which 
purports to find the author of the gospel in John 
the Presbyter. 

The result is that this gospel can only claim to be 
of very little value for the knowledge of the actual 
life of Jesus, although there are portions of sound 
tradition found in it. But this is not the same 
as saying that it has no value at all. Its historical 
value is indeed quite considerable. It is a source 
of knowledge of the development of Church teach- 
ing of the first importance, and of the relation 
of Christianity to Judaism. And as a literary 


product it is one of the most splendid creations of 
early Christianity. A Christian enthusiastic for 
his faith, and convinced of hitting off his Master's 
intentions and depicting Him correctly, has here 
clothed his lofty thoughts in the form of a 
narrative of Jesus, which gives these ideas a far 
greater impressiveness and liveliness than if he 
had put them forth in the form of an instruction 
or treatise, in the conviction that he is giving 
the mind of his Master and presenting a true 
portraiture of Him. Of course we must to-day 
assign to the much simpler and less theological 
writings of his predecessors, the Synoptics, a 
higher, I think, a far higher value. For surely 
Christendom has to thank them for the best that 
it possesses, the picture, although frequently 
obscured, of the human personality of Jesus, and 
the knowledge of a great portion of His words full 
of spirit and life, full of power, depth, and sim- 




r I ^HE two groups of New Testament writings 
JL which I have so far treated, the thirteen 
epistles which bear the name of Paul and the four 
gospels, doubtless include the most important 
books of the New Testament. Nevertheless, the 
ten additional writings not yet discussed present 
for our consideration just as rich and interesting 
material. If we but to some extent want to ex- 
haust it, it appears advisable to come to the point 
without digression, and all the more, as I have still 
to carry out a promise given at the beginning, and 
that is to sketch in brief outlines how the separate 
writings were gradually incorporated into a collec- 
tion of canonical importance, into a New Testa- 
ment canon. 

The first book to which we have now to devote 
attention is to be the one which stands closest 
to the gospels, by its character as a narrative and 
also from its author, I mean THE ACTS OF THE 
APOSTLES, which undoubtedly is the work of the 
same person who wrote our third gospel, that of 
S. Luke. 



In the last chapter I touched upon the fact 
that there were more than four gospels in existence, 
that this special literature of the gospel had rather 
a wider diffusion. The same thing is true of the 
Acts of the Apostles. The Greek title of the book 
means accurately acts or deeds of the apostles. 
Accordingly there were books entitled the Acts of 
Paul, of Peter, of Andrew, of Thomas, also produced 
under the name of " Travels " or " Miracles " of 
this or that apostle. In the Church these were 
frequently valued as edifying reading books, 
particularly with the less educated classes, on 
account of their miracles. In value as a source 
of information, not one of them can be even 
distantly set in comparison with our New Testa- 
ment Acts of the Apostles. But was our Acts of 
the Apostles the first example of this sort ? It is 
hardly safe to speak positively ; it is not impossible 
that it had predecessors. Of course the sources 
which have been used do not quite give us the 
right to make this assertion. 

However that may be, we may in any case 
assume that this class of literature of Acts of 
Apostles did not arise until there were already 
gospels in existence. It is to be regarded as a 
kind of pendant to the gospel or as a shoot 
from the gospel stock. Acts of Apostles were first 
written when the apostles were already surrounded 
with a halo of higher sanctity than was the case 
during their lifetime ; when already a special 


religious interest was taken in the persons and 
deeds of the apostles, who were looked upon as 
the classical witnesses of Christ and the classical 
representatives of Christianity, in other words, 
when the term apostle had already got a dog- 
matic colouring. To some extent the apostles 
now appear as men set to complete or con- 
tinue the teaching of Christ. Then, so to speak, 
the history of the apostles is the completion and 
continuation of the gospel history, and the books 
which tell of the apostles are a kind of continuation 
of the books which relate of Christ, and at the 
same time presuppose them. The relationship of 
our Acts of the Apostles to the Gospel of Luke 
enables us precisely to understand the real nature 
of the relationship. There are two books, and 
yet at bottom only one, a twofold work, a building 
with stories. At the beginning of the Acts of 
the Apostles the author says : " The former 
treatise have I made, O Theophilus." In the 
" former treatise " he has spoken of Jesus, His life 
and teaching, and represents in this way the second 
book as a further part of his entire work. 

The name " Acts of the Apostles " leads us to 
expect something different from what we actually 
find in the book. The majority of the apostles are 
scarcely named, and, apart from a few notices as to 
the rest, only two actually play a conspicuous part ; 
in the first part Peter, in the second almost ex- 
clusively Paul. Besides them some others are 



alluded to who do not properly belong to the 
apostolic circle : Stephen the first martyr, Philip the 
Evangelist, who was active in Samaria, and Barna- 
bas, for a while the companion of Paul. So it has 
been supposed that the author was not intending to 
write a history of the apostles, and his plan then has 
been defined in various ways. For example, it has 
been said that in fact his design was to record the 
spread of the Gospel from Jerusalem to the chief 
city of the world, Rome, for the book breaks off 
with the imprisonment of Paul in Rome. In this 
there is truth. It is certain that the author is 
conscious of relating a joyful history, a history of 
victory and triumph. But his special design 
is not suitably expressed by that statement. 
For how the Gospel came to Rome the author does 
not really relate, but only how Paul came to be 
there as prisoner. And in the first part of his 
work he relates much that has nothing directly 
to do with this spread of the Gospel, e.g. on the 
state of the Church in Jerusalem. An earlier phase 
of criticism sought to arrive at the solution by a 
different path. The critics who recognised their 
leader in the famous Tubingen professor Ferdinand 
Christian Baur considered that the author pursued 
in his whole work a definite aim, and this regulated 
his plan. His design, namely, was to reconcile and 
to conciliate the antagonism between the Jewish 
Christians and those Gentile Christians converted 
by the ministry of Paul, an antagonism which 



these learned professors considered to be extremely 
deep and that he would accomplish this by 
making his picture of the apostle of the Jews, 
Peter, designedly similar to that of the apostle of 
the Gentiles, Paul. Appeal in support of this was 
made to the fact which in and for itself is correct, 
that is to say, that in the representation of Paul 
and Peter many resembling features are found. 
Both awaken the dead, both perform miracles in 
punishment, both have to combat a sorcerer, both 
are marvellously freed out of prison, and much 
more of the same sort. At present this idea is 
recognised as untenable. The whole method of 
the narrative of the Acts is much too simple and 
naive to be a book with this kind of design. And 
the marked similarities of the picture of Peter 
and Paul are not to be explained by any design, 
but are partly accidental, partly are to be traced 
to the fact that the author no longer had a clear 
knowledge of the difference of the two men, and 
so painted his pictures in the like colours. 

Accordingly the name " Acts of the Apostles " is 
still quite the best designation of the character of 
the book. If the author relates in detail only of 
two apostles, this is to be explained, on the one 
hand, by the fact that it was just these two who 
were really of special importance, and on the other, 
that his traditions and sources only gave full in- 
formation about these two of the rest he himself 
had no further knowledge. And happily it did 



not enter his mind to supply his lack of informa- 
tion by his own fables, like the authors of later 
Acts of Apostles. However, in one respect it is 
still possible to speak of a certain design in his 
method of treatment. The author seeks in his 
narrative to defend in various ways Christianity 
against the reproach of being a danger to the 
State. For instance, he emphasises the point how 
the Jews represent Paul and his associates as 
rebels, as agitators dangerous to the State, and 
how then the Roman officials testify to the inno- 
cence of the apostle and his companions. Never- 
theless, this is only a subordinate purpose oc- 
casionally followed, and the character of the whole 
book is not defined by this statement. 

In the Gospel of Luke we plainly recognise 
that the author has used different sources ; his 
own statements point at that. It is natural to 
think that he acted similarly in his Acts of the 
Apostles, and investigation confirms this, at least 
to a certain degree. Very clearly does one source 
reveal itself in the second part of the work. 
In chapter xvi. and then again in chapters xx. 
and xxi., and finally in chapter xxvii. and in 
the beginning of chapter xxviii., there suddenly 
appears a change from the third person to the 
first, elsewhere always used of Paul and his com- 
panions, " we were going," " we " did that and 
the other, and indeed without any explanation 
of this change. Weighty reasons are adverse to 


the idea that the author of the book was him- 
self the eye-witness who speaks in these "we" 
sections. Then he must have here incorporated 
in his work the information of some source, and 
that so literally on the whole that he also adopted 
by an easy-going literary method the " we" itself 
found in the account. This " we " source can 
only originate in an actual companion of Paul's 
as witnessed by the remarkable vividness of 
the account, the accuracy with which the stages 
in the journeys and the localities are specified. 
The sketch itself, although it is not exactly to be 
regarded as a journal, which was filled up at the 
time and place, must have been made when the 
impression of the occurrences was still fresh to 
the author. It must have contained more than 
these few items, which do not form a really con- 
nected account. And thus there spontaneously 
arises the supposition which has been held by 
many, that the author drew from this source for 
other parts of chapter xvi. and onwards, but only 
more changed and less copiously. 

In recent days investigation has been zealously 
seeking sources also for the first part. That the 
author also possessed such here is very easily 
credible, only the numerous attempts have in my 
opinion scarcely had a definite result as yet. We are 
not now in the position to separate the several con- 
stituents of the sources. And in no case can these 
sources or possibly oral traditions be put for value 

H 97 


alongside the " we " sections. Now this very 
question as to the sources leads us at once to the 
problem into which in the end almost all the other 
questions run up how ought we to judge as to 
the historical value of the accounts which this 
book transmits to us ? 

The answer turns out to be very various in 
reference to individual parts and portions of the 
book. The discourses which the author ascribes 
to Peter, Paul, Stephen, and others are to be 
considered separately and by themselves as a 
matter of course. There is a special reason for 
that. They are of quite a different stamp from 
the discourses of Jesus in the synoptic gospels. 
These are evidently composed of transmitted 
sayings or even still smaller fragments. The 
discourses of the Acts of the Apostles are, on the 
contrary, connected remarks on definite ideas on 
the death, the resurrection of Jesus, and other sub- 
jects. The direct impression we gain at once tells 
us that these elaborate discourses cannot have been 
transmitted by memory. Nor have they even 
with traditions as their basis been further elabo- 
rated, at least not in the main. The question is 
rather one of the author's own material. This 
may be recognised by the different stylistic 
peculiarities which recur, and also by other 
tokens, as that quite the same manner of proof is 
put into the mouth of Paul as in other passages 
into that of Peter ; or that Stephen again brings 


forward Old Testament history in a wholly 
analogous way to that of a speech of Paul's. 
Now additions of that kind to speeches freely put 
together are quite intelligible from the literary 
usages of the period. That is to say, it is quite 
in accordance with the style of ancient historians 
occasionally to put speeches into the mouths of 
their heroes with which they are rather furnishing 
oratorical adornment for their recital than giving 
historical documents. The historian Livy and 
the Greek historian Thucydides are known to 
have done this. We cannot be surprised that our 
author, too, made use of the same plan. For his 
gospel has already shown him to be a man who was 
more familiar with the literary usages of his time 
than most of the other New Testament writers. 
These discourses of the Acts of the Apostles have 
accordingly their value, not because they instruct 
us in the ideas of Peter or Paul, but because they 
mirror the personal views of the author. 

As far as concerns the proper historical accounts, 
the question of credibility stands essentially on a 
different footing as to the first twelve chapters to 
which the fifteenth belongs than the second part 
of the book. 

A little reflection teaches that the notices on 
the beginnings of the Church in Jerusalem and on 
its first spread from Jerusalem are, to say the 
least, very incomplete. But what the author 
tells us shows in part the signs of being legendary. 



It is also plain to be recognised that the author 
only possessed a very faint idea of the actual cir- 
cumstances of the apostolic period. According to 
his account, e.g., Peter had, from the very begin- 
ning, recognised the designation of Christianity for 
the heathen, and their freedom from the law, with 
the same clearness as Paul. That is, however, not 
possible, for the Epistle to the Galatians teaches us 
unmistakably that Peter at first was far removed 
from the free attitude of Paul. At the same time 
this first part of the Acts of the Apostles still 
preserves a series of good and valuable accounts 
of which without this book we should know 
nothing even if it is often only single notices, 
as, e.g., that Barnabas gave up his whole posses- 
sions for the good of the poor ; that in Jerusalem 
seven whose names are given were appointed 
as guardians of the poor ; that a Gentile Christian 
Church was first formed in Antioch the like 
traditions endure the sharpest test, and if the 
history of Stephen is probably strongly depicted 
after the pattern of the passion history of Jesus, 
there is yet at the base a historical core. Stephen 
really was the first martyr for his faith, and his 
murder gave rise to a dispersion of the believers 
in Jesus who carried the Gospel into wider regions. 
From the historical point of view, the second 
part of the work is, on the whole, to be estimated 
far higher, which tells us of the journeys and 
fortunes of Paul. Of course also here are found 



parts which are marked out from the remainder 
in which the facts are no longer very vividly pre- 
sented to view, or which betray a certain 
mechanical method of presentation. But in 
the main it is impossible to overestimate the 
value of this part. It is only this connected 
narrative that really enables us to arrange the 
scattered notices in the Pauline epistles in the 
places to which they belong, and to approximately 
put them in chronological order. The " we " 
sections do, without question, form the climax of 
the whole. For instance, the description of the 
voyage of Paul and of the shipwreck before his 
arrival in Rome is a real masterpiece of exact 
description, connecting fact with fact, and giving 
evidence in every detail of personal observation. 
He who in a quiet hour meditates deeply on these 
chapters xxvii. and xxviii. will recognise that 
without difficulty. Besides, here Paul, the great 
apostle, comes very close to the reader in a way 
that is striking and sympathetic. We gain the 
distinct impression that he is the only one who 
in the great danger which threatens the vessel 
and its crew does not lose his head, who by the 
superior style of his bearing, by his repose and 
reasonableness, makes a striking impression even 
on the heathen crew. 

The author does not give his name in this book 
any more than in the third gospel. Tradition 
calls him Luke, the fellow-traveller and disciple 



of Paul. There is yet no united opinion prevailing 
among critics as to whether this tradition is 
correct. Not a few judge that a confidential 
companion of Paul could not very well have 
written much that is in this book, since it is too 
remote from the actual occurrences. It is very 
conceivable that Luke wrote the " we " sections, 
and that this explains the tradition which assigns 
to him the authorship of the book. The Acts of 
the Apostles was at any rate written somewhat 
later than the Gospel of Luke. Accordingly from 
this, as well as from other indications, it was 
scarcely composed before the year 100, and also 
not much later. 

Next to the Acts of the Apostles we rank the 
eight epistles which the New Testament contains 
besides the genuine and the unauthentic epistles 
of Paul. Among these latter the greatest and 
in many respects the most important is the 
EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS, and it must at all 
events be taken quite apart by itself. The principal 
content of this treatise is theoretical and didactic 
in style. The author's purpose is to exhibit the 
glory of the revelation in Christ, the greatness and 
dignity of the new Covenant. This he does by 
bringing in for the purpose of comparison a store 
of Old Testament ideas and institutions. Moses, 
the Old Testament priesthood, especially the high 
priesthood, the sacrifices of the Old Testament, 
and other matters are discussed, and everywhere 



is it shown how these are only shadows and types 
of all that was realised in Christ. He is the true 
sacrifice. He is the true High Priest, the eternal 
High Priest who is the author of eternal redemp- 
tion. It is not to be wondered at that to the 
modern reader these comparisons appear ex- 
ceedingly strange, and frequently also difficult to 
understand. For all these sacrificial usages, these 
statements concerning the high priesthood which 
were then used for the explanation and illustra- 
tion of the Christian religion, themselves need 
explanation and illustration now, because for the 
modern reader they are drawn from too remote 
a source. However, these almost learned dis- 
quisitions which the author gives on the relation 
of the old to the new Covenant are not the only 
things that the epistle contains. It is also not 
wanting in powerful practical piety, as, e.g., we 
may see in reading what the author says on 
Christian firmness and patience or on tribulation 
as a divine discipline and education. 

The superscription which was later added or 
rather prefaced " to the Hebrews " is calculated 
to lead the reader astray. The treatise is in no 
way destined for Palestinians, nor was it written 
merely for Jewish Christians. Appearance cer- 
tainly seems in favour of this, because there is so 
much said of Jewish worship. But in recent days 
it is beginning to be recognised that, as a matter 
of fact, nothing whatever points to born Jewish 



readers. For the author in no way speaks of the 
Jewish arrangements and usages of his time, and 
is entirely silent about the Temple ; he has rather 
solely before his mind the statements of the Old 
Testament scriptures, and among the Gentiles 
there was an existent interest in these. But if he 
warns against apostasy, it does not follow that he 
is supposing that his readers were inclined to return 
to Judaism; he has rather simply before his eye 
that which the times of persecution in which the 
author lived usually brings, namely, the danger of 
giving up and denying the Christian faith. 

The person of the author is unknown to us. In 
the East at an early period Paul was regarded as 
the author, but for many reasons he cannot have 
written this epistle. A Western tradition, which 
is demonstrated as existing about the year 200, 
names Barnabas the author. This is, of course, 
only a conjecture, and, as it seems to me, not a 
probable one. Luther conjectured Apollos, men- 
tioned in the ist Corinthians and the Acts of the 
Apostles. Others named Luke or Silas. All pure 
hypotheses. Very lately Harnack would make 
plausible that Priscilla, frequently mentioned in 
the New Testament, was the authoress. But this 
idea has met with no approval, it has even been 
refuted ; in fact the treatise bears not the stamp of 
a lady's letter. We must here be satisfied to be 
ignorant. But so much may be absolutely asserted 
of the author that he must have been a highly 



educated Christian. Not merely on account of 
his extraordinary acquaintance with the Old 
Testament and the masterly way in which he 
uses it, but also by reason of his style and his 
whole performance. The Epistle to the Hebrews 
exhibits the best and most elegant Greek 
of all the books of the New Testament. There 
are also found plain indications that the author 
had a literary and oratorical training. We may 
well suppose that he laboured as a distinguished 
teacher in a church, and edified believers with his 
discourses. But there is something more that we 
can assert of him with certitude, and it is just that 
which has a peculiar interest for theological science. 
There existed, so to speak, in that day a twofold 
sort of Judaism. The one is a Judaism such as is 
represented by the Pharisees and scribes of the 
gospels, and a Judaism bound firmly to the law 
of ceremonies and the numerous additions thereto, 
made by the Rabbins, thoroughly pervaded by the 
idea of the election of Israel, and so far national, 
which had its head- quarters in Palestine. Besides 
and outside this in the Diaspora there had arisen 
another Judaism, and one in which its peculiarities 
were softened and strongly modified ; which, 
properly speaking, had only a belief in one God, 
in morality, and the recognition of the Old Testa- 
ment, in common with genuine Judaism, but 
otherwise widely open to the influences which 
emanated from Greek culture, such as then pre- 


vailed in the world, and which therefore was 
usually distinguished as Hellenistic Judaism. 
Alexandria was the most important seat of the 
propagation and cultivation of this Hellenistic 
Judaism, then a centre of culture of the very first 
rank. And here dwelt approximately at the time 
of Jesus the Jewish political writer and philo- 
sopher Philo, and in him the philosophical ideas 
of the Greeks were blended with the elements of 
Judaism in a particularly unique and characteristic 

We can now plainly see that the author of our 
Epistle to the Hebrews had breathed the air of 
this Alexandrine philosophy or theology, and 
had also probably read the works of Philo. The 
speciality of his treatise consists partly in his 
uniting the ideas thus derived with his Christian 
faith. Certainly his ideas are not of themselves 
properly philosophic, his faith is, as a matter of 
fact, essentially the faith of contemporary Chris- 
tians. But the colour of his thoughts shows 
Alexandrine influence. For example, he makes 
quite similar assertions to those of Philo of the 
divine logos of the " cosmic reason " which, so to 
speak, forms the bridge between God and the 
world. The view that the author wrote his 
epistle for the Christians of Jerusalem has of late, 
as already intimated, been quite given up ; the 
majority think that it was designed for Christians 
in Rome. I do not share this opinion, but rather 


am disposed to think that this treatise is not a letter 
at all, but in fact a learned and edifying treatise. 
It is only the last chapter that is epistolary in 
form there is no address at all but even here, 
in my judgment, the epistolary ending is merely 
formal, merely the wording in the same way as 
we have noted in the un authentic epistles of Paul. 
At the end there is a remark on the freeing of 
Timothy and also of that of the author himself. 
These statements and also a few other points lie 
very close to the thought of the imprisonment 
of Paul. I am disposed on that account to con- 
jecture that the author desired to close his epistle 
in the style of Paul. The date is to be put at the 
earliest in the years A.D. 85-95. It cannot fall 
later, since an epistle which dates in the years 
96-8, of the Roman Church to the Corinthian, 
which we still possess under the name of the First 
Epistle of Clement, made use of the Epistle to the 

The seven minor epistles, which, in addition to 
those already spoken of, are still to be examined, 
form a group within the New Testament, and are 
usually classed together under a common name. 
To employ, first of all, the usual names, we are 
concerned here with the two epistles of Peter, the 
Epistle of James, that of Jude, and the three 
epistles of John. The common designation of 
these is the CATHOLIC. EPISTLES. We must not 
here think of " Catholic " teaching or the 


" Catholic " Church. The name rather affirms 
catholic, of course, means universal that those 
letters were not addressed to an individual church, 
but to the whole Church, or the professed title 
"Catholic" is intended to describe a circular 

In fact a glance at the opening salutations of 
these letters shows us that by this title " Catholic" 
a real peculiarity at least of most of these letters 
is specified. The Epistle of James, for instance, 
is directed to the twelve tribes which are scattered 
abroad, that means to the whole of Christendom 
spread through the world. Similarly general are 
the salutations in the Second Epistle of Peter and 
the Epistle of Jude ; the First Epistle of Peter 
enumerates in the greeting at least a multitude of 
great provinces in which his readers were to be 
found. Only in the case of the three epistles of 
John are the circumstances special. The First 
Epistle of John has no address at all, but might 
on that account easily appear to be a circular 
letter ; the second of John is directed to an 
" elect lady " and her children ; the third to a 
certain Gaius. For the present we will exclude 
these three Johannine letters from consideration. 
In the other four we, in any case, easily recognise 
that the inclusiveness of the greeting is not merely 
an external mark of the letters, but at once gives 
us a key to the contents. Letters which are ad- 
dressed to the whole of Christendom, or to pro- 


vinces greater than the German empire, could 
never be delivered, in other words, they are not 
real letters intended for a definite public, but 
writings which only assume the form of letters, 
and therefore, so to speak, literary epistles, 
addresses, sermonic expositions, or, like i Peter, 
pamphlets in the style of letters. To this idea 
corresponds the content of the epistles. The 
genuine letters of Paul show everywhere a great 
abundance of allusions to concrete circumstances, 
definite persons, special occurrences. These are 
not present here. Only matters are touched on 
throughout which are of interest to the whole of 
Christendom, whether the uprise of false teachers, 
or the appearance of dangers such as the perse- 
cution of Christians brought with it. We have 
already made acquaintance with such treatises, 
e.g. in the Epistle to the Hebrews itself and also 
in that to the Ephesians, in the epistles to Timothy 
and Titus. 

This peculiarity of the documents, this certainty 
that they are not properly letters, leads at once 
to the further presumption that all that belongs 
to the epistolary form is in fact mere form, in 
other words, that they do not really originate with 
the apostolic men whose names they bear. They 
are pseudonymous productions ; in this, in fact, 
all unprejudiced experts are to-day agreed. Only 
we must here again recollect that such pseudony- 
mous authorship, according to the notions of the 


period, is not simply to be put under the cate- 
gory of forgery. We have, in fact, already seen 
that this represents for that period a widespread 
usage, which is only to be judged according to its 
special ideas ; the authors themselves, however, 
were not of the opinion that they were guilty of 
forgery when they published their treatises under 
the name of Peter or John, and in this way assured 
for them a heightened respect. If we are not 
wholly deceived, the fact itself that actual epistles 
of Paul were then extant, and spread quickly in 
Christendom, was the exciting cause why also 
later Christians began to address the Church in 
the same form as the great apostle had done. 

Closer examination of the various epistles 
abundantly confirms the idea that the names of 
the authors which stand at the commencement 
do not inform us of the actual authors. This 
opinion very early and most commonly prevailed 
with reference to the SECOND EPISTLE OF PETER. 
This epistle was written in order to oppose those 
people who maintained that the prophesied and 
expected return of Christ had not happened, that 
everything had remained as it had been in the 
times of the fathers ; and that it was therefore 
folly to count further on the second advent of 
the Lord. This certainly plants us in a later 
period, for in the early days the hope in the 
coming of Christ was vivid. To this must be 
added that a chapter of this epistle is almost 


entirely a copy and repetition of the short Epistle 
of Jude. THE EPISTLE OF JUDE is a sharp attack 
on certain false teachers, in fact, the Gnostics 
with whom we have already met in the Pastoral 
Epistles of Timothy and Titus a tendency of 
thought which threatened to dissolve Christendom, 
and was mingled with all kinds of strange specu- 
lations which in addition also endangered Christian 
morality, maintaining, as it did, that to those 
who have true " knowledge " this is the meaning 
of the name Gnostic all is permissible, whatever 
he may do or allow. This Gnosticism was the 
most dangerous enemy of the Church probably 
since the beginning of the second century, and all 
the more dangerous as it did not stand quite 
outside the Church, but raised the claim to the 
name of Christian, since it frequently had its 
roots firmly fixed in the soil of the Church. The 
conflict with it was for long decades the chief 
trouble of the Church. The short Epistle of 
Jude had its origin in this conflict, and the 
probability is that it was not written before the 
years A.D. no to 140. If the Second Epistle of 
Peter copied it, then it must have originated 
somewhat later. In favour of this another sup- 
porting fact lies before us : this epistle knows 
of a great collection of epistles of Paul, and from 
the manner in which the author speaks of these 
epistles we recognise that he already sees in them 
a kind of sacred scripture. Accordingly its 


composition before the year 150 is rather im- 
probable, and very possibly the epistle falls some- 
what later. We have here, therefore, most likely 
the latest portion of the New Testament before us, 
perhaps about 100 years after the earliest, the 
First Epistle to the Thessalonians, was extant. 
It is worthy of note that this epistle most clearly 
and diligently seeks to awaken the impression 
that Peter was actually the author. For example, 
the writer asserts that he was an eye-witness of 
the transfiguration of Christ. 

The FIRST EPISTLE OF PETER is certainly older, 
and, we may add, a writing of far higher religious 
value. The most important fact for our know- 
ledge of this epistle is that the author was 
living in a period when Christians were 
severely threatened from outside. A cloud has 
gathered over their heads, they are persecuted 
on account of the name of Christian, and they 
have no mere private scorn, calumny, hostility 
to fear from the heathen ; but, as we can plainly 
recognise from the epistle, the heathen govern- 
ment has interfered, hales Christians before its 
tribunals, and threatens them with penal conse- 
quences. It is this situation that gives to his 
whole writing its colouring, and pervades nearly 
every sentence. The author, in view of sufferings, 
points to the glorious hope of the Christian, which 
promises for this present light affliction a great 
recompense ; but he is not content with that : 


above all he feels deeply concerned to remind his 
brethren that it is incumbent on them to disarm 
their foes by a blameless walk, and so convince 
them of their wrong-doing. Besides, they are to 
show to the authorities all lawful obedience, so as 
not to irritate them. The author thus appears as 
a man who, however firmly he holds to his faith, 
judges his period with true common sense, and 
knows how to advise the Christians of his day 
really for their best interests ; as a man in whom 
the power of faith and hope and moral conviction 
stand in fine balance. Now a persecution of 
Christians so general and widespread did not occur 
in the lifetime of Peter. On this account certainly, 
but of course also for other reasons besides, Peter 
cannot be the author. A period of persecution 
such as the epistle presupposes cannot be shown 
to have occurred until the last days of the reign 
of the Emperor Domitian, who reigned from A.D. 
81-96, and then subsequently for the reign of the 
more famous Trajan from A.D. 98-117. The First 
Epistle of Peter was probably written in one of 
these two reigns. 

The EPISTLE OF JAMES exhibits an essentially 
different character. The author's personality 
recedes into the background. The only thing 
which reminds us that the pamphlet purports to 
be an epistle is the greeting and the frequently 
recurring address, " Brethren/ 1 There is even 
no epistolary conclusion. As to content, we are 
i 113 


dealing with a homiletical exposition, carried on 
in epigrammatic form ; the central idea is that 
Christianity must be proved by action and good 
works, and that a faith in which this proof is 
wanting is only a vain and hollow pretence. 
Luther judged this epistle unfavourably, and 
frankly designated it an " epistle of straw." This 
judgment is anyhow unfair ; Luther measured the 
epistle one-sidedly by Paul's doctrine of justifi- 
cation by faith ; and as it does not represent 
this teaching, as some of its utterances are 
even not to be agreed therewith, he was out 
of sympathy with it. We cannot, however, fail 
to recognise that the author proclaims in a 
thoroughly worthy and frequently even nervous 
and pithy way a Christianity that is practical. 
On the other hand, Luther was quite right when 
he supposed that this epistle was not written by 
an apostle, but by some good pious Christian man. 
One of those we know by the name of James cannot 
in fact be the author, neither one of the two 
apostles of that name, nor the more famous brother 
of the Lord, who, with the highest probability, is 
meant in the greeting. The reasons of this are 
not few. For a dweller in Jerusalem the author 
certainly writes much too excellent Greek. But 
it is possible to show that he had already used the 
First Epistle of Peter. Further, he is not really 
opposing Paul himself, but probably people who 
excused the defects of their morality by his 


teaching on justification ; and of the law of free- 
dom he speaks in a way which is related with 
that of writers of the second century. Thus he 
may belong to the second century. He probably 
falls in the period between A.D. no and 140. 

In the beginning of the second century, but 
probably somewhat earlier than the Epistle of 
James, fall, finally, THE THREE EPISTLES OF JOHN. 
On these only a few remarks. The first and longest 
epistle is, without doubt, by the author of the 
Gospel of John, and the two shorter ones also 
apparently. This is at once saying that the 
Apostle John was not the author. The first 
epistle contains many beautiful thoughts, as 
that " God is love " and that he only partici- 
pates in the love of God who loves his brother 
and keeps the commandments of God. At the 
same time he does in no wise merely preach 
these truths generally, but it is in a certain 
sense just as much a polemical treatise as, ac- 
cording to our former statement, the Gospel 
of John is. Only the gospel is directed against 
opposing Judaism. The epistle has, on the 
other hand, to do with false teachers within 
Christianity, and, in fact, likewise with Gnostics ; 
in particular with such who were maintaining 
that the Christ, who descended from on high, 
had not really appeared in the flesh, and was only 
seemingly identical with the historical person 
Jesus Christ. The epistle does not bear the name 



of the author. On the other hand, in both the 
smaller epistles of John, strikingly similar in 
style, there stands as designation of the other : 
" the elder or the Presbyter." Many find in this 
the Presbyter John spoken of above who lived in 
Asia Minor, and ascribe to him both the gospel 
and also these epistles as well ; others again think 
that also here the epistolary form is only formal. 

Besides these three epistles and the Gospel of 
John there is in the New Testament another fifth 
Johannine writing, bearing at its top the name of 
John, without designating it, of course, as a work 
of the apostle, which it is also not likely that it can 
be. But, according to its whole manner, style as well 
as content, it is extraordinarily different from the 
other writings of John, so that to the majority it 
passes for a matter of fact that it does not originate 
with the same author : I mean the REVELATION 
OF JOHN, the last book of our New Testament 
Canon, the last also which we have to dwell upon. 

It is a work of the very greatest peculiarity, 
as every reader immediately feels ; not a single 
one of the other books of the New Testament has 
any close affinity with it. Only single portions 
of the gospels, which refer to the last things, and 
some passages of the epistles of Paul breathe the 
same spirit. But even they are in their main 
content to be distinguished from the Revelation. 
The chief impression for a modern reader is that 


of a strange and wild fancifulness. Here appears 
imagery which strikes us as so unintelligible and 
curious as nothing else in the New Testament ; 
of a dragon which with its tail " draweth a third 
part of the stars of heaven/' and which persecutes 
a heavenly woman, who has borne a son ; of horses 
with women's hair, of locusts which rise out of an 
abyss ; of an angel who swallows a book ; of the 
son of man who has seven stars in his right hand ; 
of a beast which rises up out of the sea, with ten 
crested horns on his head and seven heads, of 
which one is mortally wounded. Luther said : 
" My soul cannot reconcile itself to this book," and 
to most readers of to-day that is spoken from the 
heart. Only isolated glorious sayings will they 
except, such as, " Blessed are the dead which die 
in the Lord : Yea, saith the Spirit, for they rest from 
their labours ; and their works do follow them " 
(xiv. 13), and in addition, perhaps, a greater sec- 
tion, the seven epistles to the churches of Ephesus, 
Sardis, Laodicea, etc., which the prophet asserts to 
have received from the risen Christ by dictation, and 
in which in praise or blame a judgment on these 
churches and their work is pronounced (chaps, ii. 
and iii.). Nay, we may say without exaggeration 
that, except in the early days, this book has always 
been one for which its readers felt little sympathy, 
and theologians least of all. Only for the sects 
it has ever been a favourite book, especially for 
those who looked for signs of the end of the world ; 


and altogether for those Christians whose piety 
assumed fanatical forms, or to whom the mysteri- 
ousness of this picture- world afforded the welcome 
nourishment for their fancy. Historical inquiry has, 
of course, for long devoted a lively interest to it ; 
it needs must feel compelled and incited to try to 
penetrate its meaning, in all its many dark places 
and enigmas, and in the last centuries it has ex- 
pended in this way much trouble and ingenuity, 
and has indeed reached something real. Certainly 
to-day we are still far away from understanding all 
details, and also the book as a whole still conceals 
many enigmas. But if there is any point on which 
honest inquiry brings forth fruits, it is to be found 
here. To-day we are in the position in some 
measure to bring this remarkable book nearer 
to the intelligence of lay folk, and, as I believe, 
to make it even more valuable. I can, of course, 
here only attempt to develop some foundation 
principles which are of quite special importance 
for understanding it. 

Of fundamental importance is first of all the 
view that this book, little as it has its like within 
the New Testament, in truth is not after all 
absolutely unique. It, too, belongs to a distinct 
species of literature, and one particularly wide- 
spread, and a class which has its offshoots in 
many centuries. This had its rise in the sphere 
of Judaism as the offspring, so to speak, of genuine 
Israelitish prophecy ; a child which of course 


does not exhibit the grand growth of the parent, 
and, in many respects, leaves behind the impres- 
sion of artificiality and degeneration, but which 
yet has preserved somewhat of the old prophetic 
spirit. The first book of this family, the first 
apocalypse (that is to say " revelation "), that we 
possess is the Book of Daniel, which in the Old 
Testament is reckoned among the prophets (a 
class to which it does not properly belong), and 
which did not originate until the years 167 to 
165 B.C., but which in any case was of great 
influence for the whole of the succeeding apoca- 
lyptic literature, and on which, for example, our 
New Testament apocalyptic author has been 
nourished. After this there are works like 
the Book of Enoch, the Ascension of Moses, the 
so-called Fourth Book of Ezra, the Apocalypse 
of Baruch, and others. This kind of literature is, 
then, as it were, directly continued in Christianity. 
Our apocalypse is again not the only single 
example of this kind ; at a very early period the 
apocalypse of Peter was famous, of which a few 
years ago a greater fragment was again dis- 
covered, and lastly the products of this literature 
stretch far into the middle ages. What is the pur- 
pose of these books ? what do they contain ? The 
name Apocalypse or Revelation gives us a direct 
hint. They are intended to impart knowledge 
of hidden things, of heavenly mysteries. To 
this appertain many various things, e.g. even 


questions that concern the creation of the world ; 
but quite in the foreground stand the secrets of 
the future. And here it is immediately clear 
that they are really religious needs which find 
expression in these books. Many " Revelations " 
certainly give us the impression that their only 
design was the contentment of that religious curi- 
osity, which would like to lift the veil from all 
kinds of things of which man can know nothing. 
But the real kernel is of a really nobler kind. 
These books were for the most part written with 
a feeling of severe pressure, and of a comfortless 
present. The oppression of the people of Israel 
by heathen potentates, the attack on all that 
was sacred to it, lies like a burden on the soul, 
and so their yearning hastened on to a better 
future, a future of which the ancient prophets 
prophesied ; this they depict, this they seek to 
interpret ; its nearness they endeavour to de- 
termine. For they believe that a transformation 
of things and a mighty interference of God were 
at hand. The loadstar is the belief in the faith- 
fulness of God, and in the truth of His ancient 
promises, and thus the soul of the author, as 
that of the reader, experiences a religious exalta- 
tion in these prospects. Along with this content 
there exist quite distinct formal peculiarities. 
Above all things the preference for a mysterious, 
half- veiled, half -revealing kind of speech, for a 
peculiar kind of picture-language, which shall 


both stimulate and satisfy the interest of the 
reader. That the communications are made in 
the form of a vision belongs in particular to the 
clothing of the ideas. The author poses as a seer, 
he views hidden things under the form of symbol- 
ism, or tells how an angel showed him or revealed 
or explained this or that. Certain numbers of 
obscure character from ancient prophets are 
interpreted, new numbers are added, and thus 
the answer is attempted to the question, " Lord, 
how long ? " From all this we see that it is a 
kind of artificial form which this style of writing 
exhibits. Not every one can write thus, there 
belongs to it some sort of study, a certain learning, 
an acquaintance with the world of prophecy, 
with the formation and interpretation of visions. 
Such a book is our Apocalypse of John. He 
who knows the Jewish apocalypses sees at the 
first glance its consanguinity with them. Nay, 
a good bit of Judaism is found in it, and it 
is in this sense the most Jewish writing of the 
New Testament, just as the half-barbaric Greek 
points out the author as a Christian Jew. Mean- 
while it is now above all necessary to put the 
question : What, then, is the special purpose 
of this Apocalypse ? or is there nothing at all 
special, except, perhaps, that it merely adds 
some Christian colouring to the picture of the 
future set in Jewish form ? No, there is no 
doubt that, with all its dependency on proto- 



types, and with all its relationship to them, it is 
a work which, on its part, has its own point of 
view. That we recognise if we describe the 
situation out of which it arose. 

The Apocalypse depicts in good part the things 
which shall precede the end, the advent of the 
millennial kingdom, one may say the drama of 
the last distress and tribulation. This distress 
is portrayed as dreadful, but in the background 
there rises the figure of the Conqueror Jesus, 
who will triumph over all His enemies ; the 
picture of the New Jerusalem, the city with the 
golden streets in which the Messiah will then 
reign. We see the glance of the seer grasps with 
true ardour this coming time. " And, behold, 
I come quickly/' it is said of Jesus (xxii. 12), 
and the author gives at the conclusion of the 
book, as an echo of this saying, the yearning, 
heartfelt prayer : " Even so, come quickly, Lord 
Jesus." This burning hope of a sudden change 
of things is explained by the fact that the author 
writes when Christianity has to endure per- 
secution to the death, when martyrdom threatens 
it. The author so regards the situation, the 
whole of Christianity has to face martyrdom. 
That is a proof that it was not written before 
the Emperor Domitian, but apparently under 
him ; the book was most likely produced in 
the nineties of the first century. In this situa- 
tion the seer writes to comfort his brothers, he 


desires before all things to strengthen them, so 
that they may remain firm in their faith. He 
preaches patience and faithfulness to them in 
his whole book. He enkindles their ardour 
through the glorious things that he says of the 
martyrs. He depicts them as conquerors. They 
are they who have " come out of great tribulation," 
arrayed in white shining garments ; they carry 
palms in their hands (vii. 9). He speaks of the 
promises which beckon to him who endures to 
the end. 

So regarded does not the book become im- 
mediately more humanly intelligible ? Do we 
not feel how the mighty power of faith speaks 
out of it ? Do we not understand why the 
author looks so wistfully for the end ? Now he 
sees the time of the final trouble has broken out. 
Are not many of the sayings of the book thus 
filled with a much more vigorous import ? " Be 
thou faithful unto death, then I will give to thee 
the crown of life " (ii. 10). That is a word which 
more deeply impresses us when we know that 
death is no mere phrase, but is actually threatened. 

But besides, we comprehend in this way another 
side of the book, the glow of hate which speaks 
out of it, hatred of the Roman empire. This 
hate, too, is an heirloom of Judaism, but it is 
afresh enkindled by the situation of Christianity. 
For Rome, and at its head the emperor, shows 
itself as the foe of Christianity, and persecutes it 



to the death. And it punishes not merely the 
confession of Christ, but it seeks to seduce Chris- 
tians to something which in the eye of the seer 
is the greatest of horrors, that is, to the worship 
of the emperor's image. That was at that time 
really the requirement. Oriental rulers had long 
made themselves objects of religious veneration. 
That cult had propagated itself in the Roman 
empire ; the so-called Emperor- worship was a part 
of the Roman State religion, and was specially cul- 
tivated in Asia Minor, where our book originated. 
So that the author now sees in the Roman kingdom 
and in its emperor the foe of God, the truly anti- 
Christian power, the " beast which rises out of 
the sea " and " blasphemes the name of the Most 
High," but is itself supplicated by men, and so, 
according to his opinion, the time of antichrist 
has come which must precede the reign of Christ, 
and he does not shun saying as much (intelligible 
enough, even in his metaphors) to his readers. 
The Apocalypse is a consolatory and warning 
treatise for Christians, and, at the same time, 
a most violent polemic against the Roman State. 
If thus the whole of the book breathes actual 
life, yet on the other hand the author did not 
simply write it down from the bottom of his heart, 
in an off-hand way ; it is rather, for all that, a 
product of apocalyptic learning and art. And here 
again the question emerges how, then, this whole 
peculiar symbolism of the book is to be taken. 


Most persons will think that the author simply 
gave free course to his fancy, and invented all him- 
self, and even theologians have for the most part 
accepted this. However, that is not a practical 
solution. Even human imagination is bound by 
laws, and here they appear to be wanting. Besides, 
the author without doubt believes in his own 
prophecies. How is that explicable if he gave 
himself up to the arbitrary play of his own fancy ? 
It has been supposed that we can get to the bottom 
of the matter as soon as we interpret everything by 
definite occurrences. This is certainly possible in 
some passages, and those in particular where the 
Roman empire and the emperor, the beast with 
the horns and heads, is concerned. But in most 
cases these attempts miscarry. It is not until 
recent days that we have here arrived at definite 
knowledge. Especially Professor Gunkel has the 
great merit of having paved the way. He has 
recognised that in all this symbolism old and 
often quite ancient traditions are incorporated. 
The individual apocalyptic writer does not as 
a rule invent his matter, but he passes on these 
traditions, alters them, makes additions of his 
own, but in the main he draws out of sources of 
older knowledge, and opinion of future things in 
which he on his part reverences divine wisdom 
and prophecy. This makes clear why it is that 
this symbolism is for the most part so unin- 
telligible. It originally meant something definite, 


and then lost this significance, and notwithstanding 
this is again carried forward with another meaning. 
Let us speak more definitely. The symbolism of 
apocalyptic writers was already extant in Judaism; 
but the Apocalypse contains much which cannot 
originally have been produced on the soil of 
Judaism, because it, properly speaking, contra- 
dicts its religious ideas. It thus appears that 
certain things have their final origin, quite apart 
from Judaism, in heathen religions; and in par- 
ticular in the Babylonian religion, as well also 
as the Persian. Certain mixed forms which 
arose from them are also of importance. I give 
an example or two. The author says at the out- 
set (i. 4) : " Grace and peace be with you from 
him who is and from him who was and from him 
who is to come, and from the seven spirits which 
are before the throne, and from Jesus Christ." 
What does he mean by the " seven spirits " ? 
That is primarily not intelligible according to 
Christian ideas. But further we read of seven 
angels, seven lamps, seven lampstands, seven stars 
which are the eyes of God. That, to begin with, 
is obscure. But it is easily recognisable that this 
Christian number seven is related to the number 
seven which Judaism recognises in speaking of 
the seven archangels. These seven archangels are 
most likely to be the seven spirits. But how did 
Judaism come by its seven archangels ? These were 
taken over by it, and in fact they were originally 


the seven planets which among the Babylonians 
were looked upon as gods. In Judaism the reality 
of their existence was not called in question, but 
gods could not for them exist alongside the one 
God, so they were reduced to the position of 
archangels before God's throne. The author of 
the Apocalypse took this over, but at the same 
time it is clear that the Babylonian idea influenced 
him in other ways besides. That these seven 
spirits are found alongside seven torches, lamps, 
seven eyes of God, which, as it were, look down 
from heaven, is at once explicable from the fact 
that they were originally the planets. Not that 
the author still knew this origin of his meta- 
phors, or that he himself had the intention of 
speaking of them as such. But we now under- 
stand how it happens that he uses this peculiar 
imagery. He owes it to a tradition propagated 
through many generations. 

In chapter xii. a woman is spoken of who is in 
the sky clothed with the sun, and under her feet 
the moon, and a diadem of twelve stars on her 
head. This woman gives birth to a child, which 
then is persecuted by a dragon. By the child 
the author understands the Messiah. The woman, 
therefore, was his mother. But how did any 
one even with the boldest imagination come to 
depict Mary as a woman in the sky, and put 
her alongside the sun and moon and stars ? This 
metaphor points to the fact that we have here 


to do with a mythological idea. The woman is a 
celestial goddess, and the dragon is likewise a 
mythological creature. At the bottom of this 
there originally lies an ancient Oriental story of the 
gods, and we can trace such stories. These have 
come to the author by tradition, and in fact 
through the channel of Judaism, and he has then 
given to this material an interpretation which was 
originally quite alien from it, and which helps him 
to express his own religious ideas. It may also 
be shown that the representation of the heavenly 
Jerusalem had originally a mythological idea at 
its base. Heaven itself is conceived of as a city 
of the gods. Consequently, for instance, the idea 
that the city is equal in height, in length, and 
breadth ; and therefore also the idea of golden 
resplendent streets which run through it, or also 
of a stream which flows through the midst of it, 
which, in fact, is the " Milky Way." This method 
of explanation helps us really to understand, it 
shows us how to comprehend much of the sym- 
bolism of the Apocalypse, while it teaches us to 
recognise its source. 

Lastly, one more point may be mentioned. 
A theological student some years ago made the 
discovery that portions of the Apocalypse must 
have originally been written by a Jewish author, 
and only sparingly altered by our author. From 
about that time and onward the sources of the 
Apocalypse have been diligently investigated. 


And in this way one hypothesis has followed on 
another. And the attempt has been made to 
prove that the final author merely put together 
different works. But he was not a mere editor ; 
in spite of its variegated character, the whole 
work is too much of a unity. The connection 
will of course remain that he has in this book 
adopted and worked over, here quite ancient, 
and there less ancient sources, and in particular 
also Jewish elements. 

Taken altogether so much will, I hope, become 
plain, that this book contains for the expert the 
most interesting problems, and that it must also 
be worth the layman's attention, on account of 
the energy of the faith with which the author in 
a period of the severest distress seeks to strengthen 
Christianity and vivify its hopes. 




MY final task is to show in some brief words 
at least how these twenty-seven writings, 
whose origin we have followed, grew together into 
a unity, forming the New Testament Canon, i.e. 
into a book which came to be treasured as the 
chief rule of Christian faith, and the Christian 
life, and was regarded as the inspired word of 

The beginnings of a collected New Testament 
are perhaps to be set about the year A.D. 150. 
Previously to this the Church did not possess 
any New Testament, and had no expectation 
that it would hereafter come. It does not follow 
that this earliest period until A.D. 150 is without 
importance for the origin of the Canon ; it is 
rather a time in which its existence was gradually 
being prepared for. 

We must first of all ask, what were the standards 
which existed in the beginning for the life and 
faith of the churches, what the authority which 
they recognised, on which they leaned, and to 
which they appealed on debated points ? 



First of all must be mentioned the Old Testa- 
ment, the Scripture, as it was called, or the Holy 
Scriptures. The Old Testament passed quietly 
over into Christianity. The Church was, there- 
fore, so to speak, born in possession of a written 
authority. Since the Church came forth from 
the womb of Judaism, that is really easily in- 
telligible. Gentile Christians received the Old 
Testament from Jewish Christians, and held it in 
the same reverence ; and belief in its infallibility 
was from the very first an important feature of 
Christianity. The Old Testament remained in 
part in Christianity what it had previously been 
to the Jews, the great book of devotion, the book 
of divine practical teaching for life and morals, 
the book of religious truth. But it is more im- 
portant to note that the book in another respect 
essentially changed its significance. The chief 
aspect under which Christianity regarded it 
became more and more that of prophecy. All was 
taken not merely the prophetical books, but 
also the law, and the Psalms as a collection of 
prophecies of Christ and the " last time " that 
arrived when He came. With this interpretation 
the Old Testament became as it were a Messianic 
apocalyptic work. 

Along with the origin of the Church there arose 
another authority, the words of Jesus. At first, 
however, we have not to do with written gospels, 
but with the handing down of the sayings of 


Jesus by free oral tradition. From Paul we 
can see how he decides certain questions of 
Church life with these words of the Master. But 
they had, generally speaking and to begin with, 
their essential importance as rules of life, while 
for questions of faith they were not prominent. 
These words of Jesus were, of course, in the early 
days still quite in flux ; a firmly fixed text as in 
the Old Testament did not yet exist. 

In addition to these examples, we can name a 
third there were, so to speak, living authorities 
in the Church, that is, the men in whom they saw 
the Spirit of God working, and in particular the 
" prophets " who foretold the future, and, so to 
speak, went about as travelling apocalyptic seers. 
It was believed that what they said, particularly 
in their ecstasies, was inspired by the Spirit. 

All this is true of the earliest days. But when 
Christianity became conscious that it already had 
a past, then a fourth authority arose, that is, 
the apostles. Originally they were not dogmatic 
authorities, but they soon grew to be so, and 
then took the position of representatives of the 
true doctrine of Christ, and, at the same time, as 
the deciding warrants of it. The twelve apostles 
are mostly looked upon as a homogeneous body. 
It is not their writings, though, which are con- 
cerned to begin with. They represent an un- 
written and, on that account, still indeterminate 



Evidently we have in these facts certain ger- 
minal elements of a later New Testament. We 
feel that the development tends to a special valua- 
tion of the gospels, on the one, and of the apos- 
tolic writings on the other hand. At the moment 
when the gospels became the depositaries of the 
tradition of Christ's life, they were, of course, 
first of all only the receptacles in which the costly 
jewel was stored away, but we feel that finally the 
receptacle would even be regarded as the jewel. 
On the other hand, the apostolical authority could 
not always remain as indeterminate as it was at 
the commencement. As soon as an apostolic 
literature existed, it was bound to be treasured 
extraordinarily. The high respect for Christian 
prophets further proclaims for the future a special 
esteem for prophetical, i.e. apocalyptic writings. 
Finally, one thing more requires to be emphasised, 
that while the Old Testament was treated with 
reverence, there existed from the first a guiding 
line along which the whole subsequent develop- 
ment must unconsciously proceed ; that is to 
say, when once Christian writings generally 
began to enjoy a higher value than others, the 
goal was not reached until they were placed on 
a complete equality with the Old Testament, and 
they were deemed as equally infallible and in- 
spired with it. 

Meanwhile the period up to A.D. 150 is still 
in another respect a time of preparation. Before 


Christian writings were treasured as canonical, 
and distinguished above others, they must be 
collected. Such collections were made in this 
period in various ways, although we know pro- 
portionately little on the subject. Certainly the 
epistles of Paul were collected somewhat early. 
In the case of the gospels we must assume that 
originally each church when it possessed a gospel 
at all had only one. In time this would become 
known to other churches. How exactly those four 
gospels which we have were brought together has 
not yet really been explained. Besides, the collec- 
tion and interchange was not merely a matter of 
private activity. A main point is rather that 
Christian writings began to be read in divine 
service, and were provided for this very purpose. 
For this reason men naturally and gradually grew 
accustomed to put a special value on these 

Alongside this first period we place a second, 
which reached from about A.D. 150 to 200. This 
is the period during which the main trunk of 
the New Testament was developed, and therefore 
in this respect the most important period. 

We have indeed testimonies from about A.D. 150 
that the gospels were read in divine service along 
with the Old Testament, but they themselves 
did not yet pass for inspired writings, they were 
valued for their content, and not as scriptures. 
Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis, explains quite 


ingenuously that he sought for the oral tradition 
of the words of Jesus because for him that oral 
tradition appeared of more value than that 
handed down in writings. As early as A.D. 150 
the apocalypse of John emerges as a writing of 
high repute. On the other hand, the epistles of 
Paul in the same Justin Martyr, who gives us 
information on the reading of the gospels in 
divine service apparently do not stand on the 
same level as the gospels, they keep quite in the 
background. We find another state of the case in 
the writings of another man of this period whom 
the Church most bitterly hated: he had started 
from being its member, but decided later on to 
form a church of his own. Without question a 
man of mark, with much affinity with the Gnos- 
tics and much not so related. His name was 
Marcion. In his works we light for the first time 
on a proper Canon, and this includes two portions : 
(i) our Gospel of Luke in, of course, an altered 
form it is simply regarded as the gospel ; (2) ten 
epistles of Paul. The Pastoral Epistles are not 
included. Marcion honoured Paul in opposition 
to the rest of the apostles. 

That is the position of things about A.D. 100. 
How different the circumstances are about A.D. 
200. Here we find in the great Church teachers, 
Irenaeus of Lyons, Tertullian of Carthage, Clement 
of Alexandria, a new Testament already in exist- 
ence, which is here and there, of course, of different 



inclusiveness. In Alexandria, for example, the 
limits are wider, and some writings which to- day 
are not in the Canon, were valued just as highly. 
Out of the same time we have also already a 
proper list of New Testament books in the so- 
called Muratorian fragment. Here four gospels 
are enumerated, the Acts of the Apostles, then 
thirteen epistles of Paul. To these are added 
the Epistle of Jude, and two epistles of John ; 
the Epistle of James, and the Epistle of Peter are 
not found ; whereas the First Epistle of Peter 
passes as canonical elsewhere. To this there is in 
addition the Apocalypse of John, and by the side 
of it the Apocalypse of Peter has in many places 
a canonical value ; and w r e see plainly that a third 
apocalyptic writing, the so-called Shepherd of 
Hermas, enjoys in some quarters this position, 
although it already begins to lose some of its 
honour. In the midst of this enumeration there 
is also found the Wisdom of Solomon, which now 
stands in our Old Testament apocrypha. On the 
average we may say, about this time, and in the 
principal churches, all our present New Testament 
writings are generally included in the Canon, with 
the exception of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the 
Second Epistle of Peter, the Second and Third 
Epistles of John, and the Epistle of James. 
But now and then also other writings stood in 
the Canon, such as in Cilicia the Gospel of Peter 
about A.D. 200 was in use as a canonical writing, 



in Syria the so-called Diatessaron a harmony of 
the gospels, not our four gospels. 

Now how in this period from A.D. 150 to 200 
has such development been able to complete 
itself ? We have seen that the value put on the 
words of the Lord and the writings of the apostles 
had within itself a tendency towards this end ; but 
this does not explain everything. A chief point 
here was the battle of the Church against Gnos- 
ticism and other tendencies antagonistic to the 
Church. In this battle the Church needed firm 
means of proof, secure documents from which they 
could prove themselves right and confute the errors 
of their opponents. This has essentially contributed 
to raise the value of these books. For the Old 
Testament alone did not afford the necessary 
weapons. It was necessary to be able to show 
what the teaching of Christ and His apostles was, 
and it was needful to be able to reject much that 
was put forth as apostolical. To this is added the 
fact that the opponents themselves probably set 
the Church an example. At least Marcion appears 
to have taken the lead by forming a canon. 

There still remains a third period up to the 
conclusion of the Canon. This was reached 
earliest in the West, and that about the end of 
the fourth century. It lasted longer in the great 
Eastern church, still longer in the separate 
churches of the Orient, as in the Syrian. Here, 
for example, the four gospels were not recognised 


before the fourth century, and not without 

The content of these periods is not of equal 
interest with the former, as it essentially concerns 
merely the completion of extant constituents, the 
exclusion of a certain amount of writings which 
for a while passed as canonical, and the recon- 
ciliation of differences in the various churches. 
Nevertheless, this period also shows many 
remarkable phenomena, e.g. in the East the 
Revelation of John was within a hair's-breadth 
of being again extruded from the Canon in the 
fourth century. On the other hand, the Epistle 
to the Hebrews now first gains canonical authority 
in the West. And it is not until this time that 
such writings as the Second Epistle of Peter, 
the short Epistle of John, and the Epistle of 
James, are actually admitted. But in the Canon 
new writings are always cropping up, e.g. the 
Acts of Paul for a time enjoyed great consider- 
ation, a Third Epistle to the Corinthians (a 
quite late compilation) gains authority in some 
quarters. The Church judges, of course, in no 
way by historical standards on these writings, 
but, properly speaking, merely asks as to the 
teaching which they contain. Still that which 
did not crop up until later could not any more 
become the common possession. 

This whole history of the Canon palpably 
teaches us, therefore, that it is the Church which 



created the New Testament. And the Church is 
here by no means the community of all believers, 
but in truth the governing theologians and bishops, 
it is they who were the proper framers of the Canon. 
That shows us once more that we have a right to 
make the writings of the New Testament a subject 
of unbiased research. For the judgments of the 
theologians and Church fathers of the second up 
to the fourth century cannot be decisive for us, 
and all the more as we know that these judgments 
were often at variance. Meanwhile there is one 
thing quite certain. Of course there are some 
old Christian literary remains which are older than 
or just as old as a series of New Testament books ; 
there are also some, e.g. the so-called Teaching 
of the twelve Apostles, which have just as high or 
higher religious value, as, perhaps, the Epistle of 
Jude or the Second Epistle of Peter, or the epistles 
to Timothy and Titus. Nevertheless, it is on the 
whole true that among the oldest Christian writings 
which were then extant those of most religious 
value, and among those religiously valuable those 
which were earliest, have found their way into the 
New Testament. And he who to-day from the 
whole number of the books then extant should 
form a collection of perhaps twenty of them, 
would on the whole be bound to make choice of 
the same as the Church then chose. 

I am come to the end. I have attempted 
with compulsory conciseness, and often merely 



with hasty strokes, to set before you the way 
in which present-day theological research thinks 
on the origin of the New Testament writings. 
It ought to be a matter-of-fact account, and I 
hope I have presented nothing else. At all events 
nothing has been further from my intention than 
the design of hurting any one's feelings. Just as 
little would I help by this work an inconsiderate 
dogmatism on these matters. 

Certainly it is true that science compels us 
to correct many an inherited opinion on the 
New Testament. But I believe that science 
also yields us something ; I mean that it makes 
the writings of the New Testament anew interesting 
and fresh, for it teaches us how to understand 
them as products of actual religious history, 
as documents in which the actual life, faith, and 
thought of the first Christian generations are de- 
posited* The breath of life blows over us ; there 
here speaks a rich, moving, struggling, and striving 
period of progress ; out of it speak men who gave 
themselves up with their whole soul, with fervency, 
nay, with passionate zeal, to the new gospel, 
which was to conquer the world, and who were 
inspired by the deep earnestness which genuine 
religion demands. 


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versity of Breslau) 


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