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THE work, of which an English version is presented in this volume, appeared originally in 1837. It has already passed through four editions, from the last of which22 Das Leben Jesu Christi, in seinem geschichtlichen Zusammenhange und seiner geschichtlichen Entwickelung dargestellt von Dr. AUGUST NEANDER, vierte und verbesserte Auflage, Hamburg, bei Friedrich Perthes, 1845. this translation has been made.
It is well known that Dr. NEANDER has been engaged for many years in writing a “General History of the Christian Religion and Church,” and that he has published separately an account of the “Planting and Training of the Early Christian Church by the Apostles.” He would doubtless have felt himself constrained, at some period, to give a history of the life and ministry of the Divine Founder of the Church; and, indeed, he states as much in the preface to this work (page xxi.). The execution of this part of his task, however, would perhaps have been deferred until the completion of his General History, had not the “signs of the times” urged him to undertake it at once. Its immediate occasion was the publication, in 1835, of STRAUS’S “Life of Christ,”33 Das Leben Jesu, Kritisch bearbeitet von Dr. DAVID FRIEDRICH STRAUSS. 8 Bde Tubingen, 1835, 4te Aufl., 1840. a work which, as every one knows, created a great sensation, not merely in the theological circles of Germany, but also throughout Europe. A brief sketch of the state and progress of parties in Germany may be useful to readers not familiar with the literature of that country; and we here attempt it, only regretting our incapacity to give it fully and accurately.
Notwithstanding the dread with which German theology is regarded by many English and some American divines, it was not in German soil that the first seeds of infidelity in modern times took root. It was by the deistical writers of England, in the early part of the last century, that the authenticity of the sacred records was first openly assailed. The attacks of Toland, Chubb, Morgan, &c., were directed mainly against the credibility and sincerity of the sacred writers; and their blows were xivaimed, avowedly, against the whole fabric of Christianity. It is needless to say that they failed, not merely in accomplishing their object, but in making any very strong or permanent impression on the English mind. Nor has an infidelity of exactly the same type ever obtained firm footing in Germany. The English Deism, first promulgated in the Wolfenbüttel fragments, set the German theologians at work upon the canon of Scripture, and upon Biblical literature in general, with a zeal and industry un known before; and many of them pushed their inquiries with a freedom amounting to recklessness; but a direct and absolute denial of the authority of the word of God is a thing almost unknown among them. Still, professed theologians, of great talents and learning, and holding high official positions, adopted a theory (the so-called Rationalism) more dangerous than avowed infidelity, and succeeded, for a time, in diffusing its poison to a painful extent.
The declared aim of the Rationalists was to interpret the Bible on rational principles; that is to say, to find nothing in it beyond the scope of human reason. Not supposing its writers to be impostors, nor denying the record to be a legitimate source, in a certain sense, of religious instruction, they sought to free it of every thing supernatural; deeming it to be, not a direct Divine revelation, but a product of the human mind, aided, indeed, by Divine Providence, but in no extraordinary or miraculous way. The miracles, therefore, had to be explained away; and this was done in any mode that the ingenuity or philosophy of the expositor might suggest. Sometimes, for instance, they were no miracles, at all, but simple natural facts; and all the old interpreters had misunderstood the writers. Sometimes, again, the writers of the sacred history misunderstood the facts, deeming them to be miraculous when they were not; e. g., when Christ “healed the sick,” he merely prescribed for them, as a kind physician, with skill and success; when he “raised the dead,” he only restored men from a swoon or trance; when he “subdued the storm,” there was simply a happy “coincidence,” making a strong impression upon the minds of the disciples; when he fed the “five thousand,” he only set an example of kindness and benevolence which the rich by-standers eagerly followed by opening their stores to feed the hungry multitude, &c., &c. But even this elastic exegesis, when stretched to its utmost capacity, would not explain every case: some parts of the narratives were stubbornly unyielding, and new methods were demanded. For men who had gone so xvfar, it was easy to go farther; the text itself was not spared; this passage was doubtful, that was corrupt, a third was spurious. In short, “criticism,” as this desperate kind of Interpretation was called, was at last able to make any thing, and in a fair way to make nothing, out of the sacred records. But still the rationalist agreed with the orthodox supernaturalist in admitting that there was, at bottom, a basis of substantial truth in the records; and asserted that his efforts only tended to free the substantive verity from the envelopements of fable or perversion with which tradition had invested it. The admission was a fatal one. The absurdities to which the theory led could not long remain undetected. It was soon shown, and shown effectually, that this vaunted criticism was no criticism at all; that the objections which it offered to the Gospel history were as old as Porphyry, or, at least, as the English Deists, and had been refuted again and again; that the errors of interpretation into which the older expositors had fallen might be avoided without touching the truth and inspiration of the Evangelists; and, in a word, that there could be no medium between open infidelity and the admission of a supernatural revelation. During the first quarter of the present century the conflict was waged with ardour on both sides, but with increasing energy on the side of truth; and every year weakened the forces of rationalism. Still, the theological mind of Germany was to a considerable extent unsettled: its Tholucks and Hengstenbergs stood strong for orthodoxy; its Twesten and Nitszch applied the clearest logic to systematic theology; its Marheineche and Daub philosophized religiously; its Bretschneider and Hase upheld reason as the judge of revelation; while not a few maintained the old rationalism, though with less and less of conviction, or at least of boldness.
It was at this point that Strauss conceived the audacious idea of applying the mythical theory to the whole structure of the Evangelical history. All Germany has been more or less infected with the mytho-mania, since the new school of archaeologers have gone so deeply into the heathen mythology. A mythis omnis priscorum hominum cum historia tum philosophia procedit, says Heyne: and Bauer asks, logically enough, “if the early history of every people is mythical why not the Hebrew?”44 Strauss, i., § 8. The mere application of this theory to the sacred records was by no means original with Strauss: he himself points out a number of instances in which xvi Eichhorn, Gabler, Vater, &c., had made use of it. His claim is to have given a completeness to the theory, or rather to its application, which former interpreters had not dreamed of; and, to tell the truth, he has made no halting work of it. That Jesus lived; that he taught in Judea; that he gathered disciples, and so impressed them with his life and teaching as that they believed him to be the Messiah; this is nearly the sum of historical truth contained in the Evangelists, according to Strauss. Yet he ascribes no fraudulent designs to the writers; his problem is, therefore, to account for the form in which the narratives appear; and this is the place for his theory to work. A Messiah was expected; certain notions were attached to the Messianic character and office; and with these Christ was invested by his followers. “Such and such a thing must happen to Messiah; Jesus was the Messiah; therefore such and such a thing must have happened to him.” “The expectation of a Messiah had flourished in Israel long before the time of Christ; and at the time of his appearance it had ripened into full bloom; not an indefinite longing either, but an expectation defined by many prominent characteristics. Moses had promised (Deut., xviii., 15) ‘a prophet like unto himself,’ a passage applied, in Christ’s time, to Messiah (Acts, iii., 22; vii., 37). The Messiah was to spring of David’s line, and ascend his throne as a second David (Matt., xxii., 42; Luke, i., 32); and therefore he was looked for, in Christ’s time, to be born in the little town of Bethlehem (John, vii., 42; Matt., ii., 5). In the old legends the most wonderful acts and destinies had been attributed to the prophets: could less be expected of the Messiah? Must not his life be illustrated by the most splendid and significant incidents from the lives of the prophets? Finally, the Messianic era, as a whole, was expected to be a period of signs and wonders. The eyes of the blind were to be opened; the deaf ears to be unstopped; the lame were to leap, &c. (Isa., xxxv., &c.). These expressions, part of which, at least, were purely figurative, came to be literally understood (Matt., xi., 5; Luke, vii., 21, sqq.); and thus, even before Christ’s appearance, the image of Messiah was continually filling out with new features. And thus many of the legends respecting Jesus had not to be newly invented; they existed ready-made in the Messianic hopes of the people, derived chiefly from the Old Testament, and only needed to be transferred to Christ and adapted to his character and teachings.”55 Strause, i., § 14.xvii
These extracts contain the substance of Strauss’s theory; his book is little more than an application of it to the individual parts of the history of Christ as given in the Evangelists. A few instances of his procedure will suffice. He finds the key to the miraculous conception in Matt., i., 22: “ All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,”66 Strauss, i., § 29. &c. “The birth of Jesus, it was said, must correspond to this passage; and what was to be, they concluded, really did occur, and so arose the myth.” The account of the star of the Magians, and of their visit from the East, arose from a similar application of Numbers, xxiv., 17; Psa. lxxii., 10; Isa., lx., 1-6,77 Ibid., § 36. &c The temptation of Christ was suggested by the trials of Job; its separate features helped out by Exod., xxxiv., 28; Lev., xvi., 8, 10; Deut., ix., 9,88 Ibid., § 56. &c. The Transfiguration finds a starting-point in Exod., xxxiv., 29-35.99 Ibid., § 107. So we might go through the book.
The appearance of the work, as we have said, produced a wonderful sensation in Germany; greater, by far, than its merits would seem to have authorized. It was the heaviest blow that unbelief had ever struck against Christianity; and the question was, what should be done? The Prussian government was disposed to utter its ban against the book; and many evangelical theologians deemed this the proper course to pursue in regard to it. But Dr. Neander deprecated such a procedure as calculated to give the work a spurious celebrity, and as wearing, at least, the aspect of a confession that it was unanswerable. He advised that it should be met, not by authority, but by argument, believing that the truth had nothing to fear in such a conflict. His counsel prevailed; and the event has shown that he was right. Replies to Strauss poured forth in a torrent; the Gospel histories were subjected to a closer criticism than ever; and to-day the public mind of Germany is nearer to an orthodox and evangelical view of their contents than it has been for almost a century.
Besides the general impulse given by Strauss to the study of the Four Gospels, he has done theology another good service. His book has given a deadly blow to rationalism properly so called. Its paltry criticism and beggarly interpretations of Scripture are nowhere more effectually dissected than in his investigations of the different parts of the history and of the expositions that have been given of it. In a word, he has driven rationalism out of the field to make way for his myths; and Neander, Ebrard, xviiiand others have exploded the myths; so that nothing remains but a return to the simple, truthful interpretations which, in the main, are given by the evangelical commentators.
But, it may be asked, why trouble ourselves with controversies of this kind here? We cannot help it. Strauss’s book, at first, could not find a respectable publisher in England; and a garbled translation, containing its very worst features, was put out in a cheap form for the million. The same, or a similar abridgment, has been circulated to a considerable extent in this country. And within the last year a translation of the whole work, from the last German edition, has been published in London in three handsome volumes. That the soil of many minds is ready to receive its pestilent doctrines, both in that country and in our own, is too sadly true to be denied. The Westminster Review for April, 1847, contains an article on Strauss and Parker which talks about the Evangelists in the coolest strain of infidelity imaginable, and refers, with obvious complacency, to the signs of “unbelief or illumination” (it cares not which) that are at present so abundant in England.
To a certain extent, as we have remarked, Neander’s Life of Christ has a polemic aim against Strauss. But this is a small part of its merits; indeed, but for the notes, an ordinary reader would not detect any such specific tendency. It unfolds the life of the Saviour from the record with great clearness and skill; it invests the outline, thus obtained, with the fresh colours of life, without resorting to forced constructions and vain imaginings; and, above all, it seeks, with child-like humility and reverence, to learn and exhibit the mind of the Spirit. The characteristic of spirituality, so strongly stamped upon all the works of this great writer, is especially prominent here. None, we think, can read the book without becoming not merely better acquainted with the facts of the life of Christ, but more anxious than ever to drink into its spirit.
At the same time, it is not to be concealed that Neander differs in his views on some points of doctrine, as well as of interpretation, from most Evangelical theologians. We wish to state distinctly that we do not hold ourselves responsible for these peculiarities of opinion. It was at one time our purpose to append notes to such passages as we deemed most objectionable; but after mature deliberation this intention was laid aside. It is hardly fair to criticise a man in his own pages, even if one is able to do it. The general spirit and tendency of the work cannot, we are xixsure, be otherwise than beneficial, or we should never have attempted to translate it. Its specific errors can be met and refuted elsewhere.
The noble candour of Neander in the letter which precedes this preface must disarm all severity. Let us remember, in our judgment of what may appear to us even grave errors of opinion in the book, that its author has fought for every step of ground that has been gained of late years by spiritual religion in Germany; and, while we lament the “dimness” which this great man confesses with such Christian-like humility, let us acknowledge the grandeur of his idea of the kingdom of God, and the earnestness of his devotion to it. His starting-point, and many of his paths, are different from ours; it must, therefore, gladden our hearts, and may, perhaps, confirm our faith, to see that he reaches, after all, the general results of Evangelical theology.
One word for the translation. We have tried to do our best; but we feel that we have not done very well. It is hard to translate German; and of all German that we have tried to put into intelligible English, Neander’s is the hardest. We have not attempted a literal version (for we want the book to be read); nor on the other hand, have we willingly gone into mere paraphrase. We have sought to seize the sense of the author, and to express it in our own tongue; but none can be better assured than ourselves that we have very often failed. Readers of the original work will see that we have taken some liberties with it which demand explanation. The division of the text into books, chapters, and sections will, we hope, make the work more intelligible and acceptable to English readers. In many of the author’s paraphrases of Scripture passages we have substituted the words of the English version, where it could be done without affecting the sense; and many passages, also, to which he had merely alluded, are quoted at length. A few sentences have been transferred from the text to the notes; and a few passages of the notes, of purely polemical interest, which would have needed explanation to put them fairly before the American public, have been omitted. In all that we have done, we have endeavoured to comply with the spirit of Dr. Neander’s wishes, as kindly communicated to us by himself.
January 5, 1848.xx
LIST OF DR. NEANDER’S WORKS.
Das Leben Jesu Christi, in seinem geschichtlichen Zusammenhange und seiner geschichtlichen Entwickelung: 1te Aufl., 1837; 4te Aufl., 1845 (The Life of Jesus Christ, in its Historical Connexion and Historical Developement: 1st ed., 1837; 4th ed., 1845).
Geschichte der Pflanzung und Leitung der Christlichen Kirche durch die Apostel: 1te Aufl., 1832; 4te Aufl., 1847 (History of the Planting and Training of the Christian Church by the Apostles: 1st ed., 1832; 4th ed., 1847).
Allgemeine Geschichte der Christlichen Religion und Kirche (General History of the Christian Religion and Church).
(a) Die drei ersten Jahrhunderte: 1te Aufl. in 3 Bänden; 2te Aufl. in 2 Bd., 1842-43. (The three first centuries: 1st edition in 3 volumes, 1825; 2d edition in 2vols., 1842-43.)
(b) Das 4te-6te Jahrhundert: 1te Aufl. in drei Bänden, 1828; 2te Auf. in 2 Bd., 1846-47. (Fourth to sixth century: 1st ed. in 3 vols., 1828; 2d in 2 vols., 1846-47.)
(c) 6te-8te, in 1 Bd. (Sixth to eighth, 1 vol.), 1834.
(d) 8te-11te, in 1 Bd. (Eighth to eleventh, 1 vol.), 1836.
(e) 11te-13te, in 2 Bänden. (Eleventh to thirteenth, 2 vols.), 1841 and 1845.
Ueber den Kaiser Julianus und sein Zeitalter (The Emperor Julian and his Times), 1812.
Genetische Entwickelung der vornehmsten Gnostischen Systeme (Genetical Developement of the principal Gnostic Systems), 1818.
Anti-Gnosticus. Geist des Tertullianus und Einleitung in dessen Schriften (Anti-Gnosticus. Genius of Tertullian and Introduction to his Writings), 1825.
Der heilige Chrysostomus und die Kirche in dessen Zeitalter, 2 Bd., 1820; 2te Aufl. lte Bd., 1832 (Chrysostom and the Church in his Times, 2 vols., 1820; 2d ed. of 1st. vol., 1832).
Der heilige Bernhard und sein Zeitalter (Bernard and his Times), 1813.
Denkwürdigkeiten aus der Geschichte des Christenthums und des Christlichen Lebens: lte Aufl. in 3 Bd., 1822; 3te Aufl. in 2 Bd., 1845-46 (Memorabilia from the History of Christianity and the Christian Life: 1st ed. 3 vols., 1822; 3d ed. 2 vols.. 1845-46).
Kleine Gelegenheitschriften praktisch-Christlichen, vornehmlich exegetischen und historischen Inhalts, 3te Aufl., 1829 (Smaller Treatises, chiefly exegetical and historical, 3d ed., 1829).
Das Eine und das Mannichfältige des Christlichen Lebens; Eine Reihe kleiner Gelegenheitschriften, grössertentheils biographischen Inhalts (Series of smaller Treatises, chiefly biographical), 1840.
Das Princip der Reformation, oder Staupitz und Luther (The Principle of the Reformation; or Staupitz and Luther), 1840.xxi
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