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Landmarks In The History Of Early Christianity by Kirsopp Lake

II JERUSALEM

For the history of the disciples after the death of Jesus we are dependent upon a single source, the Acts of the Apostles, which can, however, be controlled, and to some extent corrected, by the gospels and by the epistles of Paul.

It is now generally recognised that if any one wishes to write a life of Christ he ought to base his work not on the gospels as we have them now, but rather on the information provided by the critical analysis of the gospels as to their sources. These sources, or at least the two oldest and most important, have become well known as Mark and Q. Every one nowadays is aware that behind Matthew and Luke is a document which was almost or entirely identical with our Mark, and that in addition to this both Matthew and Luke used another source, or possibly sources, to which the name of Q is given. In general, however, there is a tendency among those who have acquired this insight into the composition of the gospels from lectures or from little books rather than by the study of a synopsis to {37} attach altogether too rigid an importance to these results.

Mark, though a document of early date and unsurpassed value, is the Greek edition of an earlier Aramaic tradition, probably, though not certainly, in documentary form before it was translated. It would be a miracle if it contained nothing due to the Greek circle in which its present form was produced.

Q, after all, is the name, not of an existing document, but of the critical judgement that there is a documentary source behind material common to Matthew and Luke but absent in Mark. This critical judgement is accepted by theologians as well as critics; but theologians, with a distrust of criticism not wholly unjustified, frequently prefer a mechanical to a rational application of this discovery, and dignify their preference by calling it objective, though it is difficult to see why a process should be regarded as objective, in any valuable sense of the word, because it automatically accepts as derived from Q everything common to Matthew and Luke, and leaves out all the rest. It is merely a method of canonising the subjectivity of Matthew when it agrees with that of Luke, or of Luke when it agrees with that of Matthew, and damning both of them when they happen to disagree. Why the subjectivity of the editors of the gospels becomes objective when it is accepted by modern writers is a little difficult to see.

The result of this concentration of attention on the value of synoptic criticism for the life of Jesus {38} and of the neglect of the editorial subjectivity of the evangelists has been a general tendency to overlook the value of the gospels as the record of the opinion of the generation which produced them. Yet obviously there are no other documents which tell us the views held in the early Church of the teaching and office of Christ. On this subject they give even more information than Acts, and enable us to control it by showing the gradual development of thought and language in the Christian community.

Similarly, for a slightly later period and for a different locality, the Pauline epistles give us glimpses of the process of development -- a process by no means always peaceable -- of which the results are recorded in the second part of Acts.

In this way the critical use of the gospels, the Acts, and Pauline epistles enable us to trace the general outline of the early stages of the synthesis between primitive Jewish Christianity and the spirit of Graeco-Oriental mysteries. It takes us in succession into Jerusalem, Antioch, and Corinth, not because these were the only churches which grew up in this period, but because it is in the main their tradition which is preserved in the documents at our disposal.

What was the course of events immediately after the death of Jesus? There is no period of which the details are more obscure, but the criticism of Mark and Acts enables us to reconstruct its general outline. The fortunate preservation of Mark enables us to {39} correct the narrative of Acts. If we had Acts alone we should have no doubt but that the disciples stayed in Jerusalem, and settled there from the time when they entered it with Jesus on the first Palm Sunday until the day when they left it to preach to the world outside. Mark, however, is convincing proof that Acts has omitted a complete incident. In Mark xiv.28 Jesus is represented as saying, |After I am risen I will go before you into Galilee,| and in Mark xvi.7 the young man at the tomb says, |Go tell his disciples and Peter that he goes before you into Galilee, there ye shall see him.| The sequence of events clearly implied is that the disciples after the death of Jesus went back to Galilee, where they saw the risen Jesus. Inspired by this vision, they returned to Jerusalem to wait for his return in triumph, and meanwhile to continue the work which he had begun. Unfortunately the end of Mark, which undoubtedly described the details, has disappeared, but the general sequence is as clear as anything can be which is not definitely narrated.

The general tenor of the narrative in Acts makes it plain that in Jerusalem they settled down as a separate synagogue. Any ten Jews had a right to form a synagogue of their own, and general community of interests, joined to opinions differing from those of others, would be the natural basis of its organisation; but it is sometimes hard for Christians, who have come to think of identity of opinion, especially on points beyond the reach of proof, as {40} the basis of ecclesiastical life, to understand that Palestinian Judaism admitted the widest possible range of thought, and that the Church of Israel rested not on uniformity of thought, but on obedience to the Law. Naturally there was in point of fact considerable agreement in opinion, and naturally also difference of opinion led to quarrels and hostility; but in general the Church of Israel in the first century was as characteristically based on uniformity of conduct as the Christian Church in the fourth and following centuries was based on uniformity of opinion.

On three points this synagogue of the Nazarenes, as the disciples were called, differed from other Jews: (1) They held the opinion that they were inspired, at least at intervals, by the Spirit of God; (2) they followed a special kind of communistic rule which they probably regarded as fulfilling the teaching of Jesus; (3) they held and preached distinctive opinions about Jesus himself.

The opinion that the disciples were inspired by the Holy Spirit was in some ways the keystone of Christian life. It formed a connecting link with the authority of Jesus himself; for, whatever the later generation of Christians may have thought, it is clear from Mark that Jesus in his public preaching never claimed the authority of any special office or function such as that associated with the word |Messiah| or with the title |Son of Man,| even though he may have allowed an inner ring of disciples to believe that these were the offices to which he was {41} entitled. Nor during his lifetime did he even permit his followers in their preaching to ascribe any such rank to him. The authority which he actually claimed for his words and deeds was that of the Holy Spirit of God; and those who maintained that he cast out demons by the power of Satan were, he said, guilty of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. It is probable that the gospel tradition is trustworthy which associates his baptism at the hands of John the Baptist with his first consciousness of this inspiration.

Jesus, then, had claimed for himself, openly and publicly, the authority of the Holy Spirit. There is no evidence that any of his disciples had claimed this for themselves during his lifetime, but after his death it seemed to them that the Spirit which had filled their Master had descended on them, inspiring their words and guiding their actions.

What ought to be our verdict on this claim of the first Christians? To see the question in its true light it is necessary to distinguish between the experience of the Christians and the opinion which they held about it. Their opinion was that they had been taken possession of by the Spirit of God, which was acting through them, so that their words and deeds had the authority no longer of fallible man but of the omnipotent and infallible God. This theory was a heritage from a distant past in Israel {42} when the Spirit of the Lord had been regarded as the source of all extraordinary events, good or evil. Later, evil events had no longer been attributed to the Spirit of the Lord, but to demons or unclean spirits who peopled the earth and took possession of men as they found opportunity. To them were attributed disease, misfortune, and especially the raving of madness, while healing and prophecy were attributed to the Divine Spirit.

In modern times we no longer attribute disease, misfortune, or madness to devils, not because these phenomena have ceased, but because we have a different theory of their origin, which, on the whole, produces more satisfactory therapeutic results than the theory of possession. Similarly the phenomena of prophecy, which the Jews ascribed to the Spirit of God, remain. There has never been a generation lacking in men who believe that their action and speech are being governed by a compelling force, separate from the ordinary process of volition. Those who have this experience seem to themselves to be, as it were, the spectators of their own deeds, or to be listening to their own utterances. Under its influence individuals, groups of men, or even nations, are carried away by inexplicable waves of passion or enthusiasm which, once aroused, cannot be resisted till their force is spent. This consciousness has been felt in varying degree in every generation, and the progress of humanity can never be explained unless it be taken into account. Sometimes, in the inevitable {43} reaction after the psychic stress of such experiences, men have resented, doubted, or denied the validity of their own consciousness; sometimes they have regarded it as possessing a value exceeding all else in life. Usually those who have it attract the hostility of their contemporaries, scarcely tempered by the allegiance of a few followers, and their names are forgotten in a few years, but sometimes the verdict of contemporary hatred is reversed by posterity, which endeavours to compensate by legendary honours for the contempt and contumely of life.

The problem presented by this experience is really twofold. It calls for a judgement as to its origin and for a judgement as to its value, and on neither point has there as yet been sufficiently clear discussion.

Does the experience of controlling force which the prophet feels really come from some external influence, or is it merely his consciousness of ordinarily unknown depths in his own nature? It is obvious that a theory of prophecy could be made on lines rendered familiar by psychologists, by suggesting that what happens in a prophetic experience is the sudden |coming up| of what is ordinarily |subliminal.| It is, however, important to remember that this is merely a modern hypothesis, just as the Jewish view of inspiration was an ancient one. But it is impossible in a rational theology to combine fragments of two wholly different explanations of life and of the universe. |The Spirit| was an admirably intelligible phrase in the Jewish or early {44} Christian view of the universe; it does not fit in well with the modern view of the universe. Similarly the theory of subliminal action fits very well into the modern view, but not into that of traditional Christian theology. Preachers seem to make a serious mistake when they try to combine the language of two rival hypotheses to explain the same human experience.

The judgement of value which ought to be passed on the prophets is no clearer than the judgement of origin. The early Church knew perfectly well that there were true prophets and false prophets, and so did the Jews, but in the end the only way of distinguishing them was to say that a true prophet was a prophet who was right, and a false prophet was a prophet who was wrong. Nor can we arrive at any different judgement. The truth is, -- and unfortunately the modern world is sometimes in danger of forgetting it, -- that the difference between right and wrong, fact and fancy, possibility and impossibility, is inherent in the nature of things and incapable of modification by human beings, prophets or otherwise. It cannot be changed by the glowing utterances of poets, prophets, or preachers, or by the unanimous votes of peoples. All that man can do is to discover it and obey it with humility. The mere fact of discovery arouses in some men an emotion which for the moment seems to change their being, but their {45} emotion does not change or increase the truth, and it may be questioned whether in some cases it has not prevented them from seeing rightly the value of what they have found. For the same deep emotion is sometimes caused by error, and there are few mistakes more deadly than to judge the truth of what a man says, or the value of what he does, by the emotion which he feels himself -- however sincerely -- or arouses in others -- however vehemently.

The way of life which the first Christians adopted was especially marked by an attempt to organise themselves on communistic principles. The Christians shared all things; those who had property realised it, and pooled the proceeds in a common fund, which was distributed to individual members as need arose. It is impossible not to recognise in this action consistent and literal obedience to the teaching of Jesus. The disciples had followed Jesus to the end of his journey in Jerusalem; they were waiting for his manifestation in glory, and sold all that they had and gave to the poor. But in terms of political economy the Church was realising the capital of its members and living on the division of the proceeds. It is not surprising that under these circumstances for the moment none was in need among them, and that they shared their food in gladness of heart, for nothing so immediately relieves necessity or creates gladness of heart as living on capital, which would be indeed an ideal system of economy if society were coming to an end, or capital {46} were not. It is probable that the Church thought that society would soon end, but it proved to be wrong, and it is not surprising that the same book, which in its early chapters relates the remarkable lack of poverty among the Christians, has in the end to describe the generous help sent by the Gentile churches to the poor brethren.

We may, however, surmise that the breakdown of this communistic experiment was accompanied by other difficulties in the Church. It appears that by this time Christianity had attracted the favourable attention of a number of Jews who belonged at least by origin to the Diaspora, and this introduced a new element, destined in the end to become dominant and much more objectionable than the original disciples to the Jews of Jerusalem. We know from other sources that among the Hellenistic Jews was a tendency to liberalism, or Hellenism. This touched the Jews where they were most sensitive, for it affected not opinion but conduct, and seemed to threaten the destruction of the Jewish Law. They were apparently willing to tolerate Peter and the rest, so long as they confined themselves to holding peculiar opinions about the Messiah, and remained perfectly orthodox in their fulfilment of all the requirements of the Law. But when the synagogue of the Nazarenes took to themselves Hellenists the situation became intolerable: a severe persecution arose, Stephen was killed, and the rest of the Hellenistic party were driven out of Jerusalem, though the {47} original disciples remained, for the time at least, in comparative peace. The Hellenists scattered throughout the Gentile neighbourhood of Palestine, and their future history will have to be considered later.

The opinion which the disciples held of Jesus now became part of their preaching in a manner which had not been the case during his lifetime. To distinguish its nature and development requires a somewhat critical investigation of the meaning and history of the titles first used in speaking of Jesus. The chief of these are Messiah, Son of Man, Son of God, and Servant. That which in the end was the most important of all -- Lord -- was probably not used until a little later.

Messiah is really an adjective which, translated literally, means |anointed,| or in Greek christos, but whereas to say that a man was anointed has no more meaning in Greek than it has in English, it had in Hebrew the clear and universally understood meaning of |consecrated| or |appointed by God.| It was applied in the Old Testament to the high-priest, and it is habitually used in this sense in the Mishna. It was also used of Saul, of David, and of some of the other kings, but always with some defining phrase attached to it, generally speaking |the anointed of Jehovah.| Without definition it is not found until the Christian period. There is no reason to suppose that at the beginning of the first century it was used exclusively to describe the hope of the Jews that a {48} prince of the house of David would restore their fallen fortunes, though in the later Jewish literature it was used in this way.

Thus if we try to construct the impression which the early Christians made on the Jews of Jerusalem by claiming that Jesus was anointed by God, we are obliged to say that the phrase itself only implied his divine appointment; it did not by itself indicate definitely the function to which he was appointed. But the way in which it was used must have suggested two special functions -- that of the Davidic prince alluded to above, and that of the supernatural representative of God who would judge the world at the last day.

It is quite clear that the writer of Luke and Acts, and the editor of Matthew, identified Jesus with the expected Son of David, but there is room for doubt whether this fully represents the thought of the first disciples. There is very little in Mark which identifies Jesus with the Son of David. In the preaching of Jesus the Kingdom of God, so far as it was not the divine sovereignty, was the Age to Come much more than the restored monarchy. It is true that the people of Jerusalem seem to have been looking forward to a Davidic king, as may be seen from the cries of the multitude at the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It is also true that Bartimaeus greeted Jesus as Son of David; but there is nothing in the recorded words {49} of Jesus to show that he accepted this view. It seems, therefore, probable that just as the people were thinking of the splendours of a restored monarchy, while Jesus was speaking of the reign of God in the Age to Come, so they were looking for a Davidic Messiah, and explained Jesus' strange and overmastering personality in accordance with their own wishes rather than with his words. It is not the only point at which the Church followed the leading of the people rather than the teaching of Jesus.

The figure of the Son of Man destined to be God's representative at the day of judgement which will divide this age from the Age to Come is prominent in the undoubted teaching of Jesus, but forms one of the most difficult problems in New Testament criticism. There seems but little doubt that |Son of Man,| which in Greek is an unintelligible phrase rather than a title, was quite as obscure to the generation of Greek Christians which produced the present gospels as it is to ourselves. It was to them merely the strange self-designation of Jesus. Probably the editors of the gospels believed that Jesus used this phrase continually, and introduced it into their redactions of early sources without stopping too narrowly to inquire either whether it had this meaning in the passage in question, or whether the way in which they were using it was consistent with the connotation of the phrase. The result is that both in Mark and in Q there are passages in which |Son of Man| represents an Aramaic phrase which might be {50} translated literally in this way, but would be idiomatically rendered |man.| For instance, it is tolerably certain that in the passage in which Jesus speaks of the Sabbath and says, |The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath,| he really continued, |so that man is lord also of the Sabbath,| but in unidiomatic translation the word meaning |man| was rendered |Son of Man| and interpreted as referring to Jesus himself. The reason for saying that this is tolerably certain is that the only alternative is that |Son of Man| really meant |Jesus,| and was intended as a reference to the |Son of Man| who plays a part in some of the apocalypses, and it seems inconceivable that Jesus, who forbade his disciples to tell the public that he was the Messiah, could so openly have claimed this dignity.

Discussion of the phrase |Son of Man| has been going on for many years, and has made it increasingly clear that, apart from the unidiomatic translations referred to above, apocalyptic usage is the most important factor in the problem. An obscure but impressive passage in Daniel was taken up in the Book of Enoch, which describes in the Similitudes the vision of a Man -- or in Aramaic phraseology a |Son of Man| -- in heaven, who was |anointed,| that is to say consecrated by God, to act as the judge at the end of the age. Jesus appears to have used this expression, and to have anticipated the speedy coming in judgement of this Man on the clouds of heaven. This much may be regarded as agreed upon by all {51} investigators. But the curious and striking thing is that in none of the Marcan passages in which it is used in this sense does it unambiguously refer to Jesus himself. No doubt the disciples were convinced that it did, but it is therefore all the more interesting and important that his actual words as reported by them do not necessarily confirm their opinion. On the other hand, there is a series of passages peculiar to Mark (that is to say, none of them is found in Q) in which |Son of Man| does not refer to any coming in judgement, but to the approaching passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. If he really uttered these words, beyond doubt he meant himself by the Son of Man, and was introducing an entirely unparalleled and new element into the delineation of this supernatural figure. But did he use these words? In the description of the passion, death, and resurrection it is generally recognised that the exactness of the prediction probably owes something to the disciples' later knowledge of the actual course of events. Their conduct at the arrest of Jesus, and the entire absence of any sign of expectation of the resurrection, render it very improbable that Jesus spoke with the definiteness ascribed to him. In this case, therefore, there is decided reason for thinking that the phrase |Son of Man| may itself belong to the embellishment rather than to the body of tradition.

Thus the passages in which Jesus certainly uses |Son of Man| are ambiguous -- they need not {52} necessarily refer to him, and the passages which unambiguously refer to him were not certainly spoken by him. For this reason it is somewhat more probable than not that the identification of Jesus with the Son of Man was not made by Jesus himself. But it certainly embodies the earliest opinion of the disciples concerning him, and it is in all probability to this apocalyptic figure of the Man in heaven, predestined to judge the world and anointed by God for that purpose, that the Markan tradition (we cannot speak with certainty of Q) referred when it described Jesus as |anointed.|

A little later the circles represented by Matthew and Luke added to this the more popular expectation of the restored monarchy of the house of David; but the original stamp was never lost, and the functions of the Christian Messiah, as apart from his name, were always those of the Man of Enoch, much more than those of the Davidic king of the Psalms of Solomon.

Finally, the concept of the Man who was to judge the world was extensively modified by the actual course of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the Lukan writings, though probably not Mark, Q, or even Matthew, facilitated or confirmed this process by connecting the story of Jesus with the picture given in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah of the suffering of the righteous Servant of the Lord.

The Servant is a comparatively common title in the Old Testament for those who faithfully carried {53} out the will of God; it is used of Abraham, David, and Job among the sons of Israel, of Cyrus among the heathen, of Israel in general, and of the righteous portion of Israel in particular. In some parts, but not in all, the suffering of the Servant, whoever he may be, is emphasised; but there is no trace in the Old Testament, or in the later Jewish writings, that these descriptions were regarded as predictive of the future. It was inevitable that the resemblance of the death of Jesus to Isaiah liii. should sooner or later strike Christian readers of the Old Testament, but it does not appear to have done so immediately, and it is doubtful whether Isaiah liii. was the first |suffering| passage in the Old Testament to be ascribed to him. It is more probable that the use of the twenty-second Psalm was earlier.

One further title of Jesus in the early Christian literature remains to be discussed. He is referred to as Son of God. What would this phrase mean in Jewish ears? In general the Jews regarded God as unique. The idea of a Son of God in any physical sense, such as seemed natural enough to the heathen world, would have been unthinkable to them, but they believed that God himself had used the phrase metaphorically to describe the relation between him and his chosen people. It was a moral sonship, not a physical one in the heathen sense, or a metaphysical one in the later Christian sense.

In the later literature the phrase developed on two {54} separate lines. There was the tendency, exemplified in some of the Psalms, and still more in the Psalms of Solomon, to use the phrase |Son of God| to describe the Davidic king, but it was also used in quite a different sense in the Wisdom Literature as the description of the righteous man, and especially of the righteous man who suffered.

In Christian literature it seems tolerably clear that the history of the phrase passed through several stages. The latest, though in the end the most important for the development of doctrine, is that of metaphysical sonship, which followed upon the equation of |Son of God| with |Logos.| Somewhat earlier than this, in the early chapters of Luke, and probably of Matthew, is an idea of sonship which approximates to the physical notion of the heathen world. Earlier still it was probably used as a synonym for the Davidic Messiah. The question is whether this is its meaning in the earliest passage of all, -- the account given in the first chapter of Mark of the voice from heaven at the baptism which said, |Thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.| It is generally held that this is a quotation from the second Psalm, and therefore identifies Jesus with the Davidic Messiah. But is it quite so certain that it is a quotation from anything? The words of the Psalm are really quite different, |Thou art my Son| instead of |Beloved Son,| and |This day have I begotten {55} thee| instead of |in whom I am well pleased.| Why should we suppose either that the voice from heaven was restricted to quoting scripture, or that it did so with quite remarkable inaccuracy? If, however, the idea be abandoned that the voice from heaven necessarily refers to the second Psalm, it becomes an open question whether Jesus himself regarded his divine sonship as the Davidic messiahship, or as that divine sonship which the Book of Wisdom ascribes to the righteous. The problem thus raised can never be settled, for the evidence is insufficient; but neither can it be dismissed, for it is implicit in the gospel itself.

The whole importance of this series of problems in the history of early Christology is often strangely mistaken. It seems to many as though the line of thought suggested above, which reduces to a vanishing point the amount of Christology traceable, in the ordinary sense of the word, to Jesus himself, is in some way a grave loss to Christianity. No doubt it is a departure from orthodoxy. But if the history of religion has any clear lesson, it is that a nearer approach to truth is always a departure from orthodoxy. Moreover, the alternative to the view stated above is to hold that Jesus did regard himself as either one or both of the two Jewish figures, the Davidic Messiah and the Son of Man described in Enoch. Both of these are part of a general view of the universe, and especially of a prognostication of the future, wholly different from our own, and quite incredible {56} to modern minds. How do we endanger the future of Christianity by doubting that Jesus identified himself with figures central in incredible and now almost universally abandoned forms of thought?

I have discussed the story of the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost in the Earlier Epistles of St. Paul, pp.241 ff., and have added some critical remarks on the various forms of the tradition in the Prolegomena to Acts, i.322 f.

I have discussed the history of early Christian attempts to distinguish false from true prophets in |De strijd tusschen het oudste Christendom en de bedriegers| in the Theologisch Tijdschrift, xlii.395-411.

The history of the phrase in the Old Testament and in Jewish literature is discussed by G. F. Moore in the Prolegomena to Acts, pp.346 ff.

W. C. Allen is a noteworthy exception. See his note on Matt. iii.17 in the International Critical Commentary. See further Prolegomena to Acts, pp.397 ff.

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