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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : § 9. The New Testament promoted and completed the fatal identification of the Word of the Lord and the Teaching of the Apostles; but, because it raised Pauline Christianity to a place of highest honour, it has introduced into the history of the Churc

The Origin Of The New Testament by Adolf Harnack

§ 9. The New Testament promoted and completed the fatal identification of the Word of the Lord and the Teaching of the Apostles; but, because it raised Pauline Christianity to a place of highest honour, it has introduced into the history of the Churc

In the course of the second century the Word of the Lord and the teaching of the Apostles became came more and more intimately identified with one another (vide supra, p.48: hemeis kai Petron kai tous allous apostolous apodechometha hos Christon) ; to this process the New Testament set its seal. The consequences of this identification, not only for Christian Dogmatics but also for the Christian life, were immeasurable and as a rule unfavourable. Not only was religion thereby transformed into the doctrine of the Apostles, but also one was now forced to give to particular and very subjective utterances and injunctions of St Paul a weight, which even that exacting Apostle would never have desired. Though the sayings of the Gospel still preserved their special significance for the conduct of life, they yet acquired a powerful rival in the injunctions of St Paul. What, however, was more serious was that, because of this identification, Christology not only took its place beside Christ but even threatened to push Him aside -- indeed actually did so. The simplest consideration of the picture of Jesus as given in the Gospel suffered from the troubling and obscuring influence of this |doctrine of the New Testament.| It is not possible nor is it necessary to dilate upon this point; but let it be remembered that St Paul also had in the end to suffer from this identification. For after a way had been opened for a more liberal conception of the New Testament and a more unbiassed estimate of historical events and persons, critics still made demands of this man as a person and an author that they made of no other man. This disposition was only a lasting relic of the old conception; men's minds were ever haunted by the spectre of the Canon. Either they laid violent hands on the man, robbed him of a part of his soul, and modelled him into a figure of strictly logical consistency -- for was he not once Paul of the New Testament? and even if he is that no longer, still he must be a type -- or they were disgusted with him, heaped upon him complaints and reproaches which they would never have made if they had not received him out of the New Testament. Still this martyrdom of the Apostle continues; still critics who are elsewhere impartial will not allow him a man's right to be more and also less than his own type and his own ideal.

Nevertheless, this identification of the Word of the Lord and Pauline doctrine has been full of blessing in an important direction. The New Testament, through the acceptance of the Pauline Epistles, has established as a standard the loftiest expression of the consciousness of Salvation and of the religion of Faith. Accordingly the New Testament, once it was created, exercised an extraordinarily important influence upon the development in the Church of the second century, by which the Christian religion was on the point of being definitely established as the Religion of the New Law. If things had gone further in the Church simply on the lines marked out for us in Barnabas, Hermas, 2 Clement, and the apologists, all Christianity would have been gradually reduced within the meagre conception of a new, even though more spiritual, legalism, and at last Marcionites and Gnostics would have been the only people that definitely placed the idea of Salvation in the centre of their religion. That this did not happen is due in great measure to the New Testament -- that is, to the fact that the Pauline Epistles were in the Canon, though not, it is true, to that fact alone. Only consider how important the Pauline Epistles were for the thought and teaching of Irenæus, how impossible for him such conceptions apart from these epistles as an absolute authority! Only think what decisive influence the Pauline doctrine of justification exercised in the controversy between Calixtus and the Rigorists concerning penance already at the beginning of the third century! Remember only how the idea of Salvation |by Faith alone| slowly gained ground in the religious thought of the Church until, in the line of Jovinian and others, it at last came to full development in (Ambrose and) Augustine! All this was accomplished by Paul because he stood in the New Testament. And now further remember what reformations in the course of the history of the Church have been brought about by Paul accepted in the Canon, and what a ferment his teaching has ever been! Up to and beyond the time of the Jansenists Paul is still always at work in the Catholic Church -- to say nothing of the German Reformation -- and forcibly reminds her what Religion at its best should be and is, and what Faith and Sonship mean. The Apostle would have been shut off from all these activities if he had not come into the New Testament. Whether they outweigh the disadvantages that have resulted from the identification of the |Word of the Lord| and the |Teaching of the Apostles,| who can tell?

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