Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

be answered decidedly or dogmatically, though approximate and provisional answers may before long be forthcoming. All parts of the problem have been greatly forwarded by the recent publication of important works by Wellhausen and Harnack (see below). The date of the completed Luke depends (a) on whether or not we believe Luke himself or a later disciple to be the author, and (b) whether or not we believe that the author of Acts had seen Josephus’ Antiquities, published in A.D. 93 or 94. Professor Burkitt takes an original line in maintaining that Luke was the author of both works, and yet that he had seen Antiq. The present writer is inclined to think the latter hypothesis not proven. The date of Matthew cannot be fixed more nearly than 70-100.

3. The Catholic Epistles.—The Catholic Epistles were so called in the first instance from their wider and more indefinite address; they were intended for Christians generally, or over some wide area, rather than for a particular church or individual. 2 and 3 John are exceptions, but probably came in under the wing of the larger epistle, which is strictly “catholic.” As applied to a class of epistles, the title dates from Eusebius, early in the 4th century; the epithet is given to single epistles by Origen, and is found as far back as the end of the 2nd century. In later Latin usage “catholic” came to mean much the same as “canonical,” another name that was also given.

This group of epistles practically continues and supplements the work of the epistles of St Paul, 1 Peter, if genuine, must date from the end of the apostle’s career (for the early composition claimed for it by B. Weiss is a paradox that may be disregarded). It was written to instruct and encourage the Christians of Asia Minor at a time of persecution, which on the hypothesis of genuineness, would be the Neronian, i.e. a secondary outbreak perhaps loosely connected with the onslaught in Rome. The Epistle of James (also, if genuine) must be placed late in the lifetime of the brother of the Lord. In that case it was probably not written with any direct polemic against writings of St Paul, but against hearsay versions of his teaching that had reached Jerusalem. Controversy of this kind is not always conducted with complete understanding of that which is being opposed. The Epistle of Jude cannot be either dated or localized with any certainty. It seems on the whole most probable that 2 Peter is not a genuine work, but that it came from the same factory of pseudonymous Petrine writings as the Apocalypse which bears the same name, though the one has, and the other has not, obtained a place within the Canon. This epistle was questioned from the first, and only gained its place with much hesitation, and rather through slackness of opposition than any conclusiveness of proof. The three Johannine epistles may be more conveniently treated under the next head.

Even in the case of the two more important epistles, 1 Peter and James, we have to add the qualification “if genuine,” but rather perhaps because of the persistence with which they are challenged than because of inherent defect of attestation. The evidence for 1 Peter is both early in date and wide in range, and the book was one of those that passed as “acknowledged” in antiquity. The evidence for James is not so widely diffused but is found in early writings. Perhaps the position of these two epistles might be described as not unlike that of Colossians and Ephesians. Instead of casting doubt upon them, we should prefer to say that they are both probably genuine, but that there are features about them that are not as yet fully explained. The chief of these features is their relation to the writings of St Paul. There is indeed so much that is Pauline in 1 Peter as to give distinct attractiveness to the hypothesis, which is most elaborately maintained by Zahn, that a larger share than usual in the composition of the letter was left to Silvanus (1 Peter v. 12). Nor does it appear to us that the objections to this theory brought by Dr Chase in his excellent article on the epistle in Hastings’ Dictionary are really so fatal as he supposes. The epistle is more the work of a companion of St Paul of long standing than of one who, with quite different and independent antecedents, had only been influenced by the perusal of one or two of St Paul’s letters. In the Epistle of James we have a really distinct type; and it seems to us that the degree to which the epistle misses its mark as a polemic may be easily and naturally accounted for in more ways than one.

4. The Johannine Writings.—The Gospel and Epistles that bear the name of John, and the Apocalypse, form a group of writings that stand very much by themselves and are still the subject of active discussion. The points in regard to them that would unite the greatest number of suffrages would seem to be these:—(i.) That, except 2 Peter, they are probably the latest of the New Testament writings, and that they form a group closely connected among themselves, though it is not clear how many hands have been at work in them, (ii.) That they arose not far from each other towards the end of the 1st century. The Apocalypse is plausibly dated by Reinach and Harnack near to the precise year 93, and the other writings may be referred to the reign of Domitian (81-96), though many critics would extend the limit to some two decades later, (iii.) The writings are to be connected, either more or less closely, with John of Ephesus, who was a prominent figure towards the end of the 1st century. On the other hand, the greatest differences would be:—(i.) As to the personal identity of this John—is he himself “the beloved disciple”? Is he the apostle, the son of Zebedee or another? Can the writer of the Apocalypse be the same as the writer of the Gospel and Epistles? (ii.) What is the exact relation of John of Ephesus to the Gospel? Is he its author or only the authority behind it? (iii.) How far is the Gospel intended to be, and how far is it, in the strict sense historical? This last question is beginning to overshadow all the rest.

Whatever may be the ultimate decision on these intricate questions, the Fourth Gospel in any case played a very important part in the history of the Church and of Christian theology. It drew together and gathered up into itself the forces at work in the apostolic age; and, by reaching out a hand as it were (through the preface) towards Greek philosophy, it succeeded in so formulating the leading doctrines of Christianity as to make it more acceptable than it had as yet been to the Gentile world, and in securing for the Gospel a place in the main stream of European thought. It is probably true to say that no other primitive Christian writing has had so marked an effect on all later attempts to systematize the Christian creed.

The situation as to the Fourth Gospel has been altered in recent years by the statement attributed to Papias that the two sons of Zebedee (and not only one) were slain by the Jews—a statement which becomes more difficult to put aside as the evidence for it increases (full details in Burkitt, Gosp. Hist. pp. 252-255; E. Schwartz, Über d. Tod d. Söhne Zebedaei, Berlin, 1904). But this statement does not affect the historical character of John of Ephesus, who is also expressly described by Papias as “a disciple of the Lord” (Eus. H.E. iii. 39. 4). On the other hand, the theory that the Gospel is a thorough-going allegory must be hard to maintain in view of the frequent appeals to “witness” which is several times denned as eye-witness (John i. 15, 32, iii. 11, xix. 35, xxi. 24; 1 John i. 1-3; cf. John v. 36, x. 25). This is borne out by Ignatius with his strong emphasis on the reality of the Gospel history (Eph. xx. 2; Trall, x.; Smyrn. i. 1, 2, ii., iii. 1-3, v. 2). If the writer of the Gospel were simply inventing his facts, they would be no proof of his thesis (John xx. 31). It is a paradox that he should be invoked “to prove the reality of Jesus Christ” (as against Docetism), and yet that it should be contended at the same time that for him “ideas, and not events, were the true realities.”

5. Other Literature not included in the New Testament.—It must not be thought that the primitive Christian literature came abruptly to an end with the writings that are included in our present New Testament. On the contrary, all round these there was a broad fringe of writings more or less approximating to them in character. Most nearly on the lines of the New Testament are the so-called Apostolic (really Sub-Apostolic) Fathers (Clement of Rome to the Corinthians, Didachē, Barnabas, the letters of Ignatius and the single letter of Polycarp, the Shepherd of Hermas, the homily commonly known as the Second Epistle of Clement). These are in most cases the writings of leading persons in the Church who took up and continued the tradition of the apostles. Barnabas and 2 Clement are more