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Sec. 1. Explanations which represent the whole Narrative as a mere Product of Thought.
If that portion of the Gospel history which we are now considering is to be regarded as nothing more than a mental creation without any objective historical foundation, two suppositions are conceivable with regard to its authorship: it may have originated with Jesus Himself, or it may be the production of others. In the former case it would be a figurative doctrinal discourse delivered by Jesus,—a parable, having for its object to bring vividly before the mind of His disciples certain principles of His kingdom, and certain fundamental maxims to guide them in their work of establishing that kingdom. On the latter supposition it is to be regarded simply as a myth,—a tradition, which arose from the tendency to glorify Christ as the conqueror of evil and the evil one. Let us test these opinions.
The view which regards the passage as a parable, has, as is well known, been supported in modern times by names of no small importance.354354 Schleiermacher, Kritischer Versuch über die Schriften des Lucas, p. 24 ff.; Baumgarten-Crusius, Bibl. Theol. § 40, p. 303; Usteri, Theol. Stud. u. Kritiken, 1829, No. III. pp. 456-461; Hase, Leben Jesu, § 48, pp. 85, 86. Hase, however, admits an actual temptation of Christ; only he holds that the inner temptation is presented as a parable, and, moreover, that the representation is of a mythical character, because there are unhistorical features in it. It is however worthy of note, that 278the theologian who has most explicitly and fully defended this view, has himself seen cause to renounce it, and has adduced against it most important considerations.355355 Usteri, Theol. Stud. u. Kritiken, 1832, Heft 4, p. 729 ff. Regarded in itself, there is nothing objectionable in the notion that Jesus should have prescribed to His disciples, at the beginning of His course, fundamental maxims for the guidance of their labours on behalf of the kingdom of God,—namely, that they were to work no miracles for their own personal advantage; that they were not to tempt God, or (according to another view) that they were to do nothing for the sake of mere ostentation; and, finally, that they were not to found the kingdom of God on external power and glory.356356 The maxims and dispositions reproved by Christ have been variously stated. Hase views them quite generally, viz. as worldliness, covetousness, and ambition; Karsten (Mecklenb. Kirchenblatt, 1837, 1), as selfishness indolently craving miracles, vanity boastfully tempting God, and idolatrous love of the world; Theile (Theol. Lit. Bl.1841, Feb. No. XX.), as abuse of miraculous power, partly for selfish purposes, partly to excite attention, and assumption of political Messianic power.
But it is difficult to see why Jesus should have chosen the form of parables to convey to the minds of His disciples these simple rules; and it is altogether inconceivable how these parables should from the first have been so misunderstood by the disciples, that they have come down to us as history, and that we cannot discover the slightest trace of a parabolic character about them. This narrative, as it lies before us at the present day, appears as an important event in the life of Jesus; and there can be no doubt that, in the apostolical tradition concerning Him, it occupied a most conspicuous,. and even an essential place. Everything in the story relates immediately to Jesus Himself. Nowhere do we find any direct reference to the apostles; and indeed it is difficult to 279see what the point of such a reference would have been.357357 De Wette, exeget. Handb. 1, 42. All the temptations, together with the maxims expressed by their rejection, lose their full meaning, unless referred to the Messiah. This applies more especially to the third, the offered supremacy over the world, and to its refusal, which cannot be applied to the apostles without doing the greatest violence to the narrative. Then, surely, if this had been a direct instruction to the apostles, it would have come in more appropriately in the passage devoted to this special subject, viz. among the rules which Jesus gave them to guide them in their ministry.
Besides, the apostles themselves, when this communication was made to them, could not at first have avoided referring it to Jesus, and not to themselves. But so radical and general a misunderstanding would cast a reproach upon the teaching of Jesus Himself; for He must then have presented the thing to them in so unintelligible a way, that they took what He meant to be a parable for actual history. This idea is entirely contradicted by the whole character of His teaching on other occasions. The origin of such a misunderstanding could be no otherwise explained than by supposing that Jesus made Himself the subject of the parable; but this would have introduced from the very first an inappropriate and unintelligible element. For either the introduction of the Person of Jesus had, or it had not, a definite purpose. If the former,—i.e. if Christ therein represented Himself as the Messiah who rejected every false principle of conduct,—then the disciples were necessitated to think of some actual occurrence, some real temptation which He had undergone, and then the parable would pass into history. If the latter,—if the Person of Jesus was introduced without any definite purpose,—then it was manifestly unsuitable so to introduce it. For then the parable, being neither wholly history nor wholly allegory, would have produced a vague, unsatisfactory impression of something that was partly the one and partly the 280other,—would have thus been in fact a failure; and we cannot attribute to the greatest Master of this method of instruction.358358 Against the parabolic interpretation, compare Hasert, Stud. u. Kritiken, 1830, 1, p. 74 ff.; and Strauss, Leben Jesu, vol. i. § 51, p. 416.
The mythical interpretation comes next to the parabolic. This has, in modern times, been variously represented. It was first defended by Usteri,359359 Usteri in Theol. Studien u. Kritiken, 1832, 4, pp. 781-791. who sought to establish it in the following way: The myth is a poetical production, the substance of which is a religious or philosophical idea clothed in a historical garb. The idea thus presented is something eternal, something which existed before all history. In the myth, history, poetry, and philosophy combine to form a truth, which may be merely an ideal truth, without there being any historical reality for it to rest upon. The deeper truth of the temptation consists in the idea that Christ and the devil are in absolute antagonism to each other, are absolutely apart from each other; so that although the devil may assail Christ and seek to tempt Him, Christ lets him have no advantage over Him, and will not yield to his temptations. This idea is presented to us historically as a threefold attempt of the devil to make Christ do evil, on the occasion when Christ, previous to His public appearing, had prepared Himself—after the example of His great models, Moses and Elias—by prayer and fasting for His public ministry. Thus argues Usteri.
His view, however, involves difficulties by no means insignificant. If we allow a prehistoric time in the life of Jesus—though the expression is anything but happily chosen, when its meaning with regard to the heathen myths is considered—still it must be acknowledged that this period ended with His baptism while the temptation succeeds the baptism,—and this not merely by accident, but of necessity. We 281should thus be obliged to own the existence of mythical elements in the history of Christ’s public life; and this, apart from other difficulties, would quite destroy the alleged distinction between historical and præhistorical. The Old Testament analogy, which is here adduced, furnishes not a trace of the mythical; for why may not Jesus, as well as Moses and Elias, have really retired into seclusion before entering upon His ministry? But the principal consideration is this: It is difficult, on the given explanation, to find any germ of reality in this myth, and to point to any satisfactory connection between substance and form. The idea to be clothed in a historical garb must surely be itself true; otherwise we have no myth, we have a mere fabric of the imagination. Now, what is the idea supposed to be represented here? It is this, that Christ and the tempter are absolutely apart from each other; that although the devil seeks to tempt Christ, Christ will not let Himself be tempted, because to be tempted in a human sense, is contrary to the nature of the Redeemer. But can it be believed that the idea of the absolute impossibility of Christ being liable to temptation should have been clothed in a historical form narrating an actual temptation? Such an idea would certainly lead us to expect an entirely different outward representation, e.g. that of an open assault, a violent onset upon} Christ on the part of Satan. Further, if the temptation as a fact is contrary to the idea of the Redeemer, it must also as a myth be contrary to that idea. If Christ could not in any wise be really tempted, then the idea of His temptation ought never to have once entered the minds of those who best knew Him. Thus, even in the mythical form, there would be here an error on the part of the apostles,—an error, too, affecting the cardinal point of the Christian religion, the knowledge of the Person of Christ. Finally, although we must say of the supposed fabricator or fabricators 282of the myth, that for them the devil existed as a real personality, this cannot be said of its present expositor. Hence he is found to give up another considerable portion of the actual myth, and there remain, from his standpoint, only a few meagre and incomprehensible fragments. Nay, the myth is as good as deprived of all meaning for a tempter who has no existence, and a person tempted who could not really be tempted, do truly furnish the strangest materials for a myth on the subject of temptation! As for the truth that Christ and evil were in a state of absolute opposition to each other, this did not need the illustration of a myth, both because it was self-evident, and because it could be much better illustrated in many other ways.
The mythical view is presented in a more natural form by two other scholars, Strauss and De Wette. From the general point of view taken by the former,360360 Strauss, Leben Jesu, vol. ii. § 52, pp. 417-428, 1st ed. he could not have done otherwise than assign a mythical character to this portion of the evangelical history, as well as the rest: besides, this passage seemed to hold out to him certain points, of which he was eager to avail himself, in favour of the correctness of mythical interpretation in general, because here several parallels might be brought forward from the Old Testament. According to Strauss, the essential purport of the myth of the temptation is to show that the Messiah, as the Head of all just men, and the Representative of the people of God, must of necessity have been tempted in like manner as the principal men of God in Old Testament antiquity, e.g. like Abraham, and like the people of God, especially during the march through the wilderness. De Wette,361361 De Wette, Exegetisches Handbuch, i. 42, 43. while at the same time attending to various points of detail, expresses himself similarly with regard to the general import of the myth. He deduces therefrom, that ‘Satan is the enemy of 283the Messiah and of His kingdom; and that the former, being subjected to the moral conflict,362362 Heb. iv. 15. had necessarily to contend with him, not only during the whole course of His agency,363363 Matt. xiii. 39. and at the close of His life,364364 John xiv. 30. but also at His entrance upon His ministry; that as the accuser of men had proved Job, so did he prove the Messiah also; and that he did this at the first by the pleasures of the world, and at last by its terrors.’
These expositors have this advantage over Usteri, that the temptation of Christ, being in their view not absolutely inadmissible as a fact, may naturally be allowable as an idea. Hence they far more simply make the purport of the myth to be, the tempting of the Messiah by Satan, not a conflict with Satan. Moreover, the story takes a much more natural form in their hands, from their method of defining the conception of the myth, and of applying it to the evangelic record. But hence arises, it must be confessed, another and a greater difficulty, affecting the general view of the evangelical history, especially in so far as that is taken up with the public and Messianic life of Jesus. If this be entirely mythical, with the exception of a scarcely definable minimum of fact, if it be even in most instances interfused with mythical elements, then undoubtedly the temptation is one of those parts which offer the least resistance to a mythical interpretation. It is unnecessary, however, after the elaborate discussions to which this mythical view of the Gospel narrative in general has been subjected, to show here the difficulties to which this theory is exposed, and how it leaves the existence, not only of the Christian Church, but even of the Christian faith, an utterly unexplained enigma; nay, is utterly at variance with these undeniable facts. If, on the contrary, we find that the evangelical record rests in the main, upon a historical foundation, the necessity then arises of establishing the historical basis also of the separate parts of that 284record, even those which are surrounded by most difficulties. And so long as this can be done for the narrative of the temptation in a satisfactory way, we, who firmly maintain the fundamentally historical character of the Gospel history in general, stall not see ourselves necessitated to have recourse, in this instance, to the mythical explanation.
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