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§ 57. The Interpolation in Luke, vi., 4. (Cod. Cant.)

There is a traditional account of another remarkable saying of Christ in regard to the observance of the Sabbath,142142   In the Cod. Cant. (Cod. Bezae), this passage immediately follows Luke, vi., 4: “τῇ αὑτῆ ἡμέρᾳ θεασάμενός τινα ἐργαζόμενον τῴ σαββάτῳ εἶπεν αὑτῷ· ἄνθρωπε, εἰ μὲν οἶδας τὶ ποιεῖς, μακάριος εἶ· εἰ δὲ μὴ οἶδας, επικατάρατος καὶ παραβάτης εἶ τοῦ νόμον.” viz., that on a certain occasion, seeing a man at work on the Sabbath, he said to him, “Happy art thou if thou knowest what thou art doing; but if thou dost not know, thou art accursed, and a transgressor of the law.” We must not leave this unnoticed, for as other words of Christ which did not find place in 93the canonical Gospels were handed down by tradition,143143   Acts, xx., 35. so it is possible that an event of the character here related may have been preserved in some collection of evangelical traditions (e.g., an apocryphal Gospel or some other), and may have been afterward transferred to Luke, vi., 4, as having an affinity with the context there. There is nothing in the words themselves which Christ might not have uttered under certain circumstances; for their import is a sentiment which he always made prominent; viz., that all depends upon the spirit in which one acts. The force of the passage is, “Happy is he who has arrived at the conviction that God must be worshipped, not at special times and places, but in spirit and in truth; and who feels himself free from the Old Testament Sabbatical law. But he who, while acknowledging that law, allows himself to be induced by outward motives to labour on the Sabbath, is a guilty man; the law is in force for him, and, by violating his conscience for the sake of an external good, he pronounces his own condemnation.”

It is quite a different question, however, whether this narrative does not bear internal marks of improbability; whether, under the specified circumstances, Christ would have spoken as he is reported to have done. First, it is hardly possible to imagine that any one, at that day, among the Jews of Palestine, would have ventured to labour on the Sabbath. Again, it is hard to believe that Christ would have pronounced such labour in any wise good, unless it were performed in the discharge of a special duty. Such a procedure, more than any other, would have laid him open to the reproach of contemning the law. He looked upon the law as having been a divinely ordained part of the developement of God’s kingdom, and as, therefore, necessary, until the period when the new form of that kingdom should go into operation. Only in the progress of this new form was the abrogation of the law to follow from the consciousness of redemption through Christ; and then, indeed, its destruction would be one with its fulfilment; and until that point of progress arrived, Christ himself set the example of a conscientious observance of the law. He opposed the Pharisaic statutes, indeed, but it was because they took the law in its letter, not in its spirit, and surrounded its observance with difficulties. He made it a fundamental point, that all true obedience must spring from piety and love; but still it was obedience to the law. He gave therefore, as we have seen, intimations only of that higher period in which the law was to be done away; intimations, moreover, which could only be understood through his own Spirit, after his work upon earth was done. Hence he certainly could have pronounced no action good in which man’s will allowed itself to anticipate God’s order, especially an action, grounded on motives understood by nobody, which might have injuriously affected 94the religious convictions of others. Paul lays down quite a contrary rule in 1 Cor., viii. Nor did Christ himself act in such a way in other cases.

There is, then, very poor authority for this passage, either internal or external. Its invention was probably suggested by the words of Paul in Rom., xiv., 22, 23, and affords a very good illustration of the difference between mere individual inventions and the genuine historical traditions of the Evangelists.

We close our survey of Christ’s sayings in regard to his relations to the Old Testament with a remark directly suggested by it, from which the weightiest consequences may be deduced.

The manner in which he contrasted the Old Testament with its fulfilment, the New, and elevated the least of Christians above all the prophets, shows how clearly he distinguished the kernel from its perishable shell, the Divine idea from its temporary veil, the truth which lay in germ in the Old Testament, from the contracted form in which it presented itself to Old Testament minds. Applying this general principle to individual cases as they arise, we may learn how to interpret, in Christ’s own sense, the figures which he employed to illustrate his Messianic world-dominion. In this way some of the results at which we have already arrived may find further confirmation.

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