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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : § 8. The New Testament helped to demark a special period of Christian Revelation, and so in a certain sense to give Christians of later times an inferior status; yet it has kept alive the knowledge of the ideals and claims of Primitive Christianity.

The Origin Of The New Testament by Adolf Harnack

§ 8. The New Testament helped to demark a special period of Christian Revelation, and so in a certain sense to give Christians of later times an inferior status; yet it has kept alive the knowledge of the ideals and claims of Primitive Christianity.

The delimitation of a period of fundamental Christian Revelation is in the first place to be explained as a reaction against Montanism, and the creation of the New Testament is in part the con-sequence of this conception (vide supra, pp.35 f.). But as soon as the New Testament was created it became itself the strongest barrier in the line of division. The present time now appeared as a much inferior thing when compared with the time of Revelation, and accordingly the Christians of the present appeared inferior to the |heroes| of that time. This line of division it is true was not drawn in complete sharpness until the arrival of Protestantism -- Catholicism possessed and still possesses points of view that help to attenuate it -- yet even to the Catholics of the third century the primitive times appeared as an heroic age, with which they scarcely dared to compare their own times (cf. what Origen says on this point). That time was still the epoch of |Spiritual Power,| of miracle, and of pneumatic gifts; the present possessed such power only in smallest measure. There was also something comforting in this belief; for now one need not apply to oneself and to one's own time the high standard that those early Christians satisfied; at most it would still apply only and in part to the Clergy. That the primitive epoch was unique was evident also from the fact that books like those of the New Testament could no longer be written. If communion with God might only be reached with the help of a book, and if Divine direction could only be received by means of the same, it followed that the Church of the present was inferior to the Church of the past; there had been a classical time, but it had passed away; it had been brought to an end by the Book.

But, on the other hand, if the Book had not been created, then it is most probable that even the memory of the forces and ideals that bore sway in Gospel history and throughout the Apostolic epoch would have vanished. Of what enormous importance it was that in the present the authentic records of that past time were still read again and again! How mighty has been the influence of the reading of the Gospels upon the character and course of Church history! Think of the part that has been played by the story of the Rich Young Man or the Sermon on the Mount, and of what it meant for the Church -- that Augustine, at the critical moment, opened the Epistle to the Romans! Though no one any longer dared to set himself on the level of the New Testament, still this Book, just because as an authoritative collection it was more or less accessible to all, was a continuous source of power that raised the weak men of the present to heights of perfection. What would have happened if, with the Old Testament, we had received the Didache or the Apostolic Canons and Constitutions as a second Canon, instead of the New Testament? Thus here also the New Testament worked in two contrary directions it lowered and also raised the tone! It has blunted the conscience of many -- no one can attain to the height of the New Testament, nor need one -- and it has also acted as a spur to the conscience. It has guarded Christianity from the rank growth of emotionalism, but it certainly has also repressed many a primitive and vital impulse. How many Christians of note with original Christian experience have as |Bible-believers| entangled themselves in the Book, have suffered themselves to be disturbed, hindered, directed by texts of the Bible, and in consequence have not brought their character and innate gift to perfect development, and have lost their freedom! What mischief has been wrought by the Revelation of John just because it stood in the New Testament! What terrible perplexities of conscience have been brought about by certain sayings of St Paul just because they be-longed to the Canon! And yet, on the other hand, how unspeakable the blessing that has flowed from passages of the Bible which, just because they were canonical, filled men's hearts with confidence steadfast as a rock!

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