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later origin of our Gospels remains always thisthat each of them for itself, and still more all of them together, relate so much in the life of Jesus in a manner in which in reality it is impossible for it to have happened."* In other words, Baur, a man of immense learning and originality, starts on this momentous enquiry with the prejudgment that the narratives of the Gospel are impossible; and naturally he is at no loss to invent theories-most of which, however, have since been surrendered by his successors-as to their composition.
Lastly, as to M. Renan, it is only necessary to quote one sentence from the preface to the thirteenth edition of his 'Life of Jesus,' in which his work assumed its final form.† 'At the foundation,' he says, 'of every discussion of similar matters lies the question of the supernatural. If miracles and the inspiration of certain books are a reality, my method is detestable. If, on the other hand, miracles and the inspiration of books are beliefs destitute of reality, my method is a good one. But the question of the supernatural is decided for us with a complete certainty by this single reason that there is no room for believing in a thing of which the world does not offer any experimental trace.' Accordingly, he too is obliged to invent a theory of his own to account for the narra
*Kritische Untersuchungen über die Kanonischen Evan
gelien, 1847; p. 530.
Page ix. 15th ed. 1876.
tives of the Gospels, on the supposition of their being legendary. Neither of these well-known writers, in other words, approaches the subject with an open mind. The main question-the question of the trustworthiness of the authors of the Gospels-is settled in advance, not by reference to testimony or criticism, but by an à priori supposition: they combine in saying, with Strauss: These things cannot have happened; therefore they did not happen.
The Christian writer, on the other hand, says: ‘I am not prepared to say beforehand what may or may not have happened; what is possible and what is impossible. I want simply to know what did happen; and I am prepared to accept good evidence on the subject, however surprising the events to which it bears testimony.' In view of these facts, which are proclaimed in the very face of all the chief negative arguments on this subject, are we not justified in saying that the impartiality is on our side, the prejudice and the assumptions on the other? Of course, if we could be sure that a miracle was inconceivable, the method of rationalistic writers. would, as M. Renan says, be justified. But whilst it can be said, in the words of Professor Huxley in his book on Hume, that no event is too extraordinary to be possible, and therefore if by the term miracle we mean only extremely wonderful events,
there can be no just grounds for denying the possibility of their occurrence,'* no such assumption will be accepted by thoughtful men. We are not accustomed to decide these matters upon abstract theories of possibilities and impossibilities. We want simply to know what is the evidence on the subject; and that has been, and is still, the attitude of all English theologians of distinction.
It is, in short, a fact of the utmost importance for a broad estimate of the value of negative criticism respecting the authenticity of the books of the New Testament, that such criticism has throughout been thus avowedly prompted by a prejudice against the facts in dispute. To quote a legal phrase, the questions put by critics like Strauss, Baur, or Renan have been essentially leading questions; the tone of the reply has been anticipated, and the witness has been unduly pressed to say what was expected. Of this there is a striking illustration in the perpetual tendency of such criticism to push its conclusions too far even for its own purposes, and consequently to be continually driven to recantations. It may be worth while to refer to one conspicuous instance of this tendency to prove too much, which has been afforded of late by a book to which reference has been already made, 'Supernatural Religion.' That
* Page 134.
work, like those of the three great critics already named, starts with an argument to show that miracles are impossible, and then, in this spirit, proceeds to examine the evidence for the early existence of the Gospels; and an immense amount of ingenuity is expended in explaining away every evidence that they could have existed in their present form before the latter part of the second century. Now, one important part in this argument relates to the heretic Marcion, who flourished about the year 140. He was said by tradition to have formed a Gospel to suit his own views, by taking our Gospel of St. Luke, and cutting out of it parts which were not in accordance with his principles. If so, St. Luke's Gospel must have existed, and must have been a work of authority, in the first quarter of the second century. The writer of 'Supernatural Religion' accordingly has to explain this tradition away; and he expends more than fifty pages in the effort. But in his 'complete edition,' published in 1879, although he leaves these fifty pages, as he says, 'nearly in their former shape, in order that the true nature of the problem may be better understood,' he is nevertheless obliged to confess that a work recently published by Dr. Sanday has proved that his conclusions on this point were mistaken, that his previous hypothesis was untenable, that St. Luke's Gospel was substantially in the
hands of Marcion, and that consequently it must have been composed some time before 140 A.D.* If some credit is due to the candour which makes this admission, it is difficult to know what is to be said of the singular procedure of leaving nearly unaltered a mass of argument all directed to a conclusion now acknowledged to be false; but it will be felt that such a result damages fatally the whole process of which it is an example. A book is written, of which the object, from one end to the other, is to prove that we have no reason to believe that St. Luke's Gospel, any more than any other Gospel, existed before a very late date, and the author discovers after his sixth edition that, with respect to that Gospel at all events, the whole argument is fallacious. He had undertaken to
prove too much, and in proportion to the success with which he credits himself is the damage inflicted by a clear proof of failure in a cardinal point.
In this connection it will be interesting to refer to a discovery which has of late attracted much attention among scholars. Even if it be too soon to assume that the results it has hitherto been deemed to involve are conclusively established, it none the less affords a striking example of the rashness of such criticism as we have been considering.
* Vol. II. p. 138.