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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : § 7. The New Testament checked the imaginative creation of events in the scheme of Salvation, whether freely or according to existing models; but it called forth or at least encouraged the intellectual creation of facts in the sphere of Theology, and

The Origin Of The New Testament by Adolf Harnack

§ 7. The New Testament checked the imaginative creation of events in the scheme of Salvation, whether freely or according to existing models; but it called forth or at least encouraged the intellectual creation of facts in the sphere of Theology, and

Among historians no doubt can exist that the Gospel history contains a very large number of events that are unhistorical, more especially in the accounts of the Infancy and Resurrection (but also in other passages), and there is also no doubt that legends, whether connected with the scheme of Salvation or called forth by some other motive, continued to increase in number. Now we have already in § 4 called attention to one important fact about the New Testament, namely, that by its very existence as an authoritative document it severely restricted the growth of legend as this continued in the Apocryphal writings. We must now add that the New Testament in every direction, and to an extraordinary degree, exercised a moderating and restraining influence. When it was once created, leading Christians in the different Churches no longer allowed themselves to invent facts in connection with the scheme of Salvation, such as were invented in times past, whether by free imagination or according to existing models (the Descent into Hell, the Ascension, etc.). Rather it was felt that everything in the nature of fact had been already given in the New Testament, and that its narratives, even though they might be doctrinal in character, admitted of no additions of the nature of fact. A certain spirit of religious restraint took possession of a great part of the faithful -- a spirit that, indeed, always makes its appearance where a sacred book comes into the foreground, for the book itself restrains even the most undisciplined imagination.

But now mischief appeared from another quarter. The book stood as a sacred Canon. The interpreter of the book was guided by principles which affirmed absolute possibility of combination of passages from any part of the book, absolute perfection, absolute unanimity of the writers, the validity of allegorical interpretation, and so forth. Such principles would necessarily lead the interpreter to the construction of new facts generally hi the form of a mythology of ideas which the ancient mythology lived on, only in a higher sphere. What was there that one did not now learn about God, His Nature, His Trinity in Unity, His properties, His operation, etc., if one only made proper combinations! What was there that one was not able to say about Christ as Logos -- before Creation, in Creation, after Creation up to His earthly manifestation, and again after His death! What was there that could not be culled from the New Testament concerning His two natures, and how much richer became even His earthly life if only the interpreter was skilful! Even a developed doctrine of the Holy Spirit could be constructed by exegesis! It is true that exegesis was always open to suggestions from the developing science of Dogmatics, and that it was forced to do much that it would never have done except at the bidding of Dogmatics; yet, apart from this, the New Testament itself, if its claims were accepted, necessitated this almost trivial and even revolting multiplication of mythological details without any feeling for reality or sense of history. Thus, though it is true that the New Testament has the merit of checking, indeed of partly stopping, the creation of new, authoritative, realistic legends, and of exercising a restraining influence upon the legends that already existed, yet, on the other hand, it partly summoned the intellect to, and partly encouraged it in, the creation of facts in the sphere of theology and of a theological mythology.

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