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THE JEWISH FAITH.
IT was only the Jewish war and the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 A.D. that finally effected the external breach between Jews and Christians. It was now clear to all Christians that the mission of Jesus and the apostles to Israel had been in vain, and had not stayed the judgment of God. The fulfilment of Jesus’ prophecies, the wrath of God poured out upon Jerusalem as a punishment for the murder of Jesus—such seemed (to all Christians) to be the meaning of the terrible events which had just taken place, for everyone who could read the signs of the times. And while these convictions were gaining ground among the Christians, the authors of the Apocalypse of Baruch and of Ezra were pouring forth their lamentations for the desolation of the holy land and the destruction of the holy city. Something was gradually settling down between Jews and Christians, something of greater weight than theological differences. A rift in thought and 29 feeling was gradually broadening, which removed every possibility of mutual understanding. The same event called forth rejoicing and contentment in the one camp and dismay in the other.
The Jews retaliated first of all by the expulsion of all Christians from membership in the synagogues. Everyone that espoused the cause of Jesus was immediately excommunicated with the most terrible curses. The passage in St Luke’s Gospel alludes to this where it is written: “Blessed are ye when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company and reproach you and cast out your name as evil for the Son of man’s sake.” A nice illustration is also to be found (in the Fourth Gospel) in the story of the man that was born blind. This man was cast out of the assembly, “for the Jews had agreed that if any man should confess Him to be Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.”
A further step was taken when the Christians were denounced to the Roman governors under the pretext of being politically dangerous. The Jews were the principal instigators in the persecution of Christians that now began; it was they who sowed broadcast the accusations of revolt, innovation and conspiracy, and thrust Christianity from them as an “illegal religion.” The Lucan writings contain a series of such denunciations: “Jesus perverted the people, forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ a king.” “The Christians have turned the world upside down; they act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.” It is true that, according to the narrative in the Acts of the Apostles, these accusations 30 usually fell flat. The Roman governors were too wise and just not to turn a deaf ear to such fabrications. So it should have been, but such was not the actual state of affairs. We know, on the contrary, that in consequence of Jewish denunciations the Christians were condemned as innovators and revolutionaries dangerous to the well-being of the State. Even the Apocalypse couples the denunciation of the Jews and the persecution of the Christians together. The martyrdom of Polycarp is the best instance that we possess of the fierce hatred which the Jews nourished against the Christians. The voices of Jews mingle with those of the heathen multitude and clamour for the execution of Polycarp; then, “as usual,” they drag the wood up to the stake, and finally they try to hinder the body from being handed over to the Christians. Political denunciation was, however, only one of the weapons which the Jews employed; the other, equally effective, was the defamation of the moral character of Jesus and the Christians, the wholesale dissemination of all those calumnious reports concerning the birth of Christ, the theft of His body after His death, and the like, against which St Matthew’s Gospel already feels bound to protest. The whole story of Jesus was travestied and vulgarized, and thus exposed to the mockery of the educated classes. Although Justin’s report of an official mission of Jewish calumniators soon after Jesus’ death is legendary, there was a basis of fact upon which his supposition was built. The philosopher Celsus appears to have been acquainted with a Jewish pamphlet full of aspersions upon the Christians. He despises it 31 himself, but for all that he enjoys making use of it. Thus, then, the Jews did their utmost to root out the Christians, and the wild hatred which these latter conceived for them was not altogether unmerited.
The influence of Judaism upon Christianity would never have been of any consequence had the combatants confined themselves to these brutal methods of warfare. But from very early times controversy was employed as well as calumny. Thus the teachers of the two religions engaged in learned disputations, which naturally scarcely ever had any practical results, but did not fail to exercise a considerable influence upon men’s minds. The earliest picture of such a disputation is to be found in the Acts of the Apostles. The record of the speeches and of the argumentation of St Stephen and of St Paul affords us at the same time an insight into the circumstances of a later age. Next, we have the disputes of Jesus with the Jews at Jerusalem, contained in the Fourth Gospel. Here the author simply carries back into the life of Jesus the wranglings between Jews and Christians of his own day. Lastly, in his dialogue with the Jew Trypho, Justin gives us the outline of a regular disputation, of course in a Christian light. This work of Justin’s compensates in a measure for the loss of the older disputation between Jason and Papiscus, of which Aristo of Pella is said to have been the author. Justin’s dialogue is in any case an authority of the highest value if we would determine, not only the outer procedure in such a disputation, but also the apologetic methods in detail. Other anti-Jewish writings, such as the Epistle to 32 the Hebrews and that of Barnabas, afford us additional valuable information.
If we ask, what was the subject of this controversy and what were the main points in the dispute, then we must be prepared to find that the specific differences between the Christian and the Jew had not been grasped at all by either party in the theological dispute. For in reality two completely different types or species of religion stood opposed to each other, and they could only be contrasted as wholes: it was not a question of single dogmas or customs; the point at issue was the entire relation of man to God. Does man claim to be God’s child, or is he His slave? Are love and joy to prevail in him, or is it fear? Which is important in God’s sight—the abiding in the three realities, or a hundred secondary matters? The answer to these fundamental questions was that which really differentiated the Christian from the Jew. But even in the earliest Christian Church the subject of controversy was less the new element in religion than the dogma of the Messiah. Could it be applied to Jesus in spite of His death or not? This dispute began the process whereby the fundamental points of difference were obliterated and obscured. Then, in addition to this, there came in, through Paul, the strife concerning the law. Paul sets up a sharp antithesis—the law or Jesus Christ. Here was at any rate a faint glimmering of the truth. It is because Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and man and the barrier of the law no longer exists for the Christian, that His religion is of a totally different nature—it is the glorious liberty of the children of God. St Paul had indeed a profounder conception 33 of the superiority of Christianity than any other man. But for the succeeding age the resulting difference is a merely external one. Compared with the Jews the Christians have at once lost and gained. They have lost the burden of the ceremonial law, they have gained the faith in Jesus the Messiah. In other words, the life of the Christians has become easier, their faith a harder matter. The expression of the comparison with their opponents could hardly have been less felicitous. Matters were made worse by the constant attempt of the Christian apologetic to transform the absolute antithesis between the law and Christ, such as St Paul had proclaimed it, into a merely relative difference whereby Christ was discovered everywhere in the Jewish Book, even in the law, and validity was claimed for the law, even in the Christian Church, only in a modified sense. The belief in Christ was itself to prove to be something Jewish and of extreme antiquity; and, on the other hand, the law was to be a revelation which only the Christians were able to read aright. By this apologetic device they deprived themselves of the very possibility of understanding the peculiar characteristics of Christianity and its superiority over Judaism. Nor is this the only occasion on which apologetics, instead of bringing light, have darkened counsel.
We have now to give an outline of the Christological controversy between the Jews and the Christians and the Christological apologetics of the latter. The starting-point was the question: Is Jesus the Messiah expected by the Jews or not? But since St Paul had created an entirely new Christology—the Son of God from heaven, the mediator 34 of creation and of revelation in the Old Testament—this speculation had also to be defended against the Jews.
Here were two things as far as the poles asunder—Jewish eschatological doctrines and new Christian speculations. The dialogue with Trypho (ch. 48) shows conclusively that the difference between Jews and Christians was clearly realized. Trypho says, that Jesus should be the Messiah is paradoxical, but to assert that He pre-existed as God and then became man in a supernatural fashion, is “not only paradoxical but foolish,” whereupon Justin admits that the proof of the second statement is rather more difficult.
First of all, it had to be proved that Jesus was the Messiah. This was in reality no easy task, seeing that Jesus had eliminated nearly all that was Jewish from the conception of the Messiah and referred His disciples to the future for the little that remained. But the difficulty was no longer felt. It was maintained that Jesus had been acknowledged as the Jewish Messiah while He lived on earth. The chief rock of offence was now, as ever, His death, which the Jews interpreted as punishment for wrongdoing. Hence the greatest part of this Messianic theology is apologetics for the death of Jesus. The Resurrection there appears as evidence of restitution, and is itself defended by an ever-lengthening chain of proofs. When the Jews persisted in spreading abroad the report of the theft of the body of Jesus, the Christians invented the story of the watch and the sealing of the grave by way of refutation. The legends concerning the miraculous occurrences at the death of Jesus were 35 in like manner furnished with the evidence of eye witnesses, and completed the story of the Resurrection.
The proof from prophecy was intended to remove any further objections that might be entertained. In the first place, prophecies of Jesus Himself were fulfilled in the story of the Passion—there was a whole series of detailed predictions and of symbolical actions, from which the inference was to be drawn that He did not bow before superior force but died of His own free will. Next, the whole of the Old Testament was interpreted as the book of the death of the Messiah, not merely Isa. liii., but all the sacrifices and laws of the trespass offering, all the lamentations of the Psalmists, the sacrifice of Isaac, the scarlet thread of Rahab the harlot, the brazen serpent in the wilderness, the hands of Moses up lifted crosswise in the battle against the Amalakites, and so forth. Nothing was too recondite to deter them. Barnabas writes with the greatest equanimity, “The red heifer in Numbers xix. is the Lord Jesus.” The later evangelists, especially St Matthew and St John, are careful to note the exact fulfilment of single prophecies in the history of the Passion. “In order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, I thirst.”
The last recourse of apologetics was the proof of the voluntariness of Jesus' sufferings. He could have asked God to send Him legions of angels, but He would not. If by the mere utterance of the words “I am He” He made His enemies fall to the ground, how easily might He have escaped from them. His life was His own to give or to keep, and if He gave it, then it was for our sakes and that the scripture 36 might be fulfilled. Finally, the different legends about Judas were proofs of the judgment of God upon the traitor, and that was succeeded by the terrible revelation of His wrath upon the murderers and their city. More abundant proof could not be required of any apologetics. In the Gospels we can still see quite clearly how the apologetic narrative gradually increases in intensity. Mark always begins the series, Matthew and John always come last. In the same manner an ever-lengthening chain of Old Testament proof stretches from the Acts over John and Barnabas to Justin. The Christian teachers carefully preserved their store of apologetic arguments and handed it on with further additions. But their line of defence was after all pitiably weak, and the Jews broke through it and came out victorious in the end. The Christians admitted that Jesus’ death destroys His claim to be the Messiah, if it were not that. . . . The want of taste in the reasoning is of little moment compared with the far more serious, wantonness with which passages were altered, perverted, or invented by the apologists. They inserted glosses of greater or less extent in several passages of the Old Testament (Son of God, Wood, etc.), and thereby rendered themselves liable to the charge of forgery. Nor was it any blessing for Christianity if, thanks to this apologetic of theirs, importance was attached even more exclusively than heretofore to the death of Jesus.
The rest of the history was, however, not entirely neglected. Difficulties had to be removed and further proofs of the Messiahship furnished. The doctrine of Jesus Davidic descent was maintained in 37 spite of Jesus’ answer to the Scribes, and in spite of the story of the miraculous birth—now just beginning to appear among the Gentile Christians—which of course invalidates this argument. Barnabas alone rejects the descent from David in favour of the divine Sonship. A consequence of the Davidic descent was the postulate of the birth in Bethlehem (cp. Matt. ii. 5 and John vii. 42), which was clearly contradicted, however, by the fact that Jesus came from Nazareth. The postulate was transformed into history. The first evangelist shows us how it came about that Jesus, who had been born at Bethlehem, grew up at Nazareth, and the third explains how it was that the parents of Jesus, who were settled at Nazareth, came to have their child at Bethlehem.
Galilee was, however, still the land of darkness. Can the Messiah come from Galilee? The first evangelist has recourse to the prophecy of Isaiah—the light of the Messiah is to spring up in Galilee. The fourth evangelist simply transfers the scene of Jesus’ activity to Jerusalem in order that every reproach of Jesus having taught in a corner and in secret might be removed. This apologetic transformation of the life of Jesus equals in boldness the transference of His birthplace. One other apparent obstacle to the doctrine that Jesus was the Messiah had to be surmounted—the baptism of Jesus by John, for surely the Baptist is the greater, and the baptized is even a sinner. To counterbalance these inferences the first evangelist inserted the conversation in the course of which the Baptist humbles himself before Jesus; the third placed the Baptist in an inferior position through his previous history; the fourth made the 38Baptist to be the first publicly to confess the Son of God that came down from heaven to reconcile the world; and lastly, Justin proved that the Jewish doctrine of the anointment of the Messiah by Elijah had been fulfilled in the baptism of Jesus. In a similar manner we find that Jewish objections have had to be taken into account in very many places in the Gospel tradition. Although the Gospel of St Mark was itself inspired by a most enthusiastic faith and intended to awaken a like faith, it proved to be the source of considerable perplexity to later writers, for its author had evidently under-estimated the keenness of his adversaries’ perceptions. With an entire absence of suspicion he lets the men of Nazareth speak of Jesus’ trade as a carpenter, and tells us how Jesus own relations once took Him to be mad. He had shown Jesus’ powers to be subject to limitation on all sides, even in the moral sphere. He will not suffer Himself to be called good; He knows neither the day nor hour of the Parousia; nor can He dispose of the places in the kingdom of heaven. He is repeatedly compelled to have recourse to questions. He asks the name of the demon, inquires who it was that caused power to go forth from Him by touching Him; or again, He would know the subject of the disciples’ conversation, and the duration of the epileptic’s malady. Even His miraculous power is limited. At one time He can do no miracles. At another all the sick are brought to Him, and He heals, not all, but many; He cannot make the blind man to see immediately; the deaf He heals, but with many sighs. When He is asked to confirm His position by giving a sign He 39 refuses. Whilst these are the very features for the sake of which we, at this present day, ascribe the greatest historical accuracy to St Mark, his oldest Christian readers were greatly distressed by so many obvious defects in the picture of Jesus, which afforded such convenient points of attack for scornful adversaries, at first Jewish, and later Greek as well. Every later evangelist, Matthew, Luke and John, is therefore very eager to remove such rocks of offence, either through simply omitting them or by correcting them or by smoothing them away by means of explanation; and yet, as the criticism of the Jew in Celsus, and as Celsus himself shows us, more than sufficient points of attack remained. For us this is a great comfort. We sometimes fear lest the true figure of Jesus is lost to us because of the draperies in which it has been shrouded, and His true features hopelessly obscured because of the successive layers of colours under which they lie concealed. Here we have a proof that a real human being, and no mere product of faith, is speaking to us.
The main question still remained unanswered as before: Does the life of Jesus as a whole give one the impression that He was the Messiah? Originally the Christians universally shared the belief that Jesus had yet to come as Messiah. The Messianic glory had not yet been revealed in Him. It was only the return of Jesus and the ‘advent of Messiah” that was to furnish the full Messianic proof. But in the course of the controversy with the Jews, and under the influence of the Pauline conception of the Son of God who had already appeared, the proof began to be attempted that Jesus was the Messiah who had 40 already come, and not the one whose coming had still to be expected. The task was an impossible one. Jesus’ life was marked so clearly by the characteristics of a lowly origin, of suffering, of want, of distance from God. What proof could here be found of the Messianic glory in the Jewish sense of the word? All the national prophecies had evidently not been fulfilled by Him.
The Christian apologists sought to surmount the difficulty in two mutually exclusive ways. The first, and the more honest, was the artificially constructed theory of the twofold advent of the Messiah—one in humiliation, one in glory. The first traces of this theory are to be found in the Lucan writings, where we have the explanation—first the suffering and then the glory. It is completed in Barnabas and in Justin, together with the proofs from the Old Testament. On the great day of Atonement there were two he-goats resembling each other, according to the Rabbinical theory; just so the Jesus of the second advent will be like the Jesus murdered by the Jews. This theory possessed one great advantage: the story of Jesus could be taken as it was in reality. But then the chief proof had to be deferred to the uncertain future.
Hence the origin of the opposite theory. The Messianic glory was manifested during Jesus’ earthly life. The first evangelist goes a long way to meet it with his great proof from miracles (ch. viii.-ix.), and the proof from prophecy throughout the whole of his book. One who possessed such miraculous powers, and in whom so many prophecies were fulfilled, was the Messiah in the fulness of His glory. He needed 41 not to be baptized, He needed not to die. Characteristic, too, is the omission of the words, “Why callest thou Me good?” And yet all that this evangelist does, is a very modest beginning compared with the total transformation of the life of Jesus, effected in the Fourth Gospel in the interests of the Messianic theory. “When Christ cometh will He do more miracles than these which this man hath done?” This exclamation of the Jews might serve as a motto for the whole book. The evangelist’s aim is the proof that Jesus was the Christ during His life on earth, and not in the future only. The future Parousia of Christ is an entirely subsidiary consideration: he has something better to offer than consolation by means of a hope that is still to be realized. Behold the Messiah, who has come in the full glory of God. The mighty miracles, the changing of the water into wine, the healing of the man who had been lame for thirty-eight years, and of the man born blind, the feeding of the five thousand, the walking on the sea, the raising of Lazarus after three days—they are all signs of the Messiahship of Jesus, the revelation of His Messianic glory; for they are all of them wonders, such as could only be expected to occur in the Messianic age. This Messiah possessed sinlessness, omniscience and omnipotence upon earth. Jesus’ death was voluntarily a proof of His love. How could anyone fail to believe that He was the Messiah? To meet the demand of the Rabbis, who were forever clamouring for testimonies, authoritative proofs, the fifth chapter of the Gospel furnishes a whole concatenation of proofs—the testimony of John, the wonders, the voice of God, the Old Testament. Then again he investigates the 42 difficult questions whether the testimony of Jesus to Himself is valid or not, and decides that it is, because Jesus’ testimony carries greater weight than that of any man, His knowledge being subject to no limitations, and as it is always accompanied by the testimony of God, it fulfils the requirement of the law that testimony shall be in the mouth of two witnesses. Hence furthermore, as a natural consequence, the Messianic judgment was executed by the mere appearance of Jesus, and the Messianic gift of everlasting life was imparted by Jesus; for the presence of the Messiah implies judgment and everlasting blessedness. John was merely the apologist who consistently drew all the consequences from the proposition that Jesus was the Messiah. Had it depended upon him, the Christians might entirely have discarded the proof from the Parousia while retaining the hope in the Parousia itself. But the Church did not accept this theory. It was rejected even by as early a writer as Justin. The impression of Jesus’ lowly life left by the Synoptic Gospels was too strong and the hope in the Parousia too important for the great mass of the Christians. The only theory which held its ground was that of the double Parousia. This did not imply, however, the rejection of the Christ of glory as He appeared in the Johannine Gospel. For the Gentiles especially the evangelist thereby furnished a proof that God had appeared upon earth. Thus, then, while John did not attain his proximate aim by his unsparing idealization of history—that is to say, the refutation of the Jews—he did make a deeper impression upon the Greeks than he would have done otherwise. John himself is 43 in reality perfectly well aware that however many testimonies he may gather, his arguments do not carry conviction to any learned Jew. He alone that has the Spirit can understand the Christian doctrine, can recognise that the death of Jesus was a judgment, not upon the Crucified, but upon the devil, and that the Old Testament is full of types of the death of Jesus. That is the conclusion of every controversy.
Jesus had not been the Messiah of the Jews. The whole artificial series of proofs brought forward by the Christians simply corroborates this assertion. All that they advance is figment, feint and fabrication. No single Christian had the courage to tell the Jews straight out: Jesus was not that which you wish Him to be, because He was something a great deal better.
There were, of course, many Christians to whom the title of Messiah did not imply very much, though that which they substituted for it was in no wise better. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews belongs to this class. Although he calls Jesus Christ he knows practically nothing of the Messianic theology, and therefore the Jewish Alexandrine school of thought to which he belongs attached no importance to this doctrine. His favourite book is the Pentateuch, which makes no mention of the Messiah. When he wishes to picture Jesus clearly to himself and the Jewish readers of the Bible he can only do so by means of the types and conceptions of the Pentateuch. Hence he derives his favourite idea, Jesus the high priest according to the order of Melchisedec.
His letter is addressed to Christians, but to such as 44 are deeply impressed by Judaism. Christianity—so some of these Christians would say to each other—is a poor and insignificant kind of faith. It is forever putting us off with hopes for the future which are never realized, whilst Judaism has its divine institutions in the present. They were jealous of the ecclesiastical privileges of Judaism, just as so many Protestants secretly envy Rome her prerogatives. Israel had angels as mediators of the covenant, it had its public worship and its divinely ordained priesthood, and derived the certainty of its future salvation from these actual guarantees. The simple fact that the war of the year 70 A.D. had swept away the Church of Israel did not cause these Christians to waver in their partiality for Judaism. They believed the sacred book more than the actual present.
The usual result of apologetics can be traced in our author. Instead of brushing these preposterous objections aside he takes them into consideration and really tries to prove that the Christians possess the better Church with a higher ritual and priesthood. It was an amazing undertaking. The method employed was to apply the Pentateuch to Jesus. But Jesus was not of Aaron’s line, and had He been He would but have been the equal of the Jewish high priests. So our Christian author selects the figure of Melchisedec, naturally incited thereto by the 110th Messianic psalm, which had for a long time past been interpreted in a Christian sense. He need trouble himself as little about the Jesus of history as St Paul or the author of the Apocalypse. It is sufficient for him to identify Jesus with the high priest Melchisedec in order to undermine the foundations on 45 which the prerogatives of Israel rest. Melchisedec hereby does our author the same good turn that Abraham had done St Paul. He furnishes the proof from antiquity. As high priest after the order of Melchisedec, Christ is older than Levi and Aaron. The whole Jewish priesthood paid tithes and did reverence to Melchisedec in the person of their ancestor Abraham. It is one of the pleasant little ironies of history that the very character which had been invented by the Jews for the express purpose of in vesting Jerusalem with a halo of magnificence in a remote antiquity, should now be used as the lever whereby all Jewish prerogatives were overthrown.
Starting from this figure, our author proves on the one hand the similarity of Christ to the Jewish high priests, but above all, the difference that exists between them and His superiority over them. The priests of Aaron are many, Jesus one; they are the sinful, He the sinless; they worship in the temple made with hands, He in the heavenly temple; they make atonement to God year by year, He once; they with the blood of bulls and calves, He with His own. In all this clever trifling it does not of course matter that Jesus is explained now as priest and now as victim, for the author never employs that imaginative power which welds different features into one consistent picture. It is possible that he is influenced by another typical figure in the Jewish faith, that of the heavenly high priest Michael, believed by the Jews to represent their people continually in the sanctuary of God in heaven. Philo had already identified this archangelic high priest with his Logos. Philo’s pupil—our author—may very well have combined the 46 Melechisedec Christ with the heavenly Michael in like manner. But this is merely supposition. What is certain is that the figure of Jesus was now distorted for good and cast into a priestly mould so that such Christians as were attached to the old Jewish high priest might have some compensation for their loss. The whole comparison is a theological tour de force. Thank heaven, the real Jesus was the outspoken opponent of the high priest. To take from the high priesthood the colours for His portraiture was pure perversity.
We do not really enter the domain of speculation until we come to the title ‘Son of God.’ The expression was originally a mere title for the Messiah, though even as such it was by no means common in the terminology of the schools. St Paul was the first to develop the theory of the heavenly Son of God, whose nature is inherently superior to our own. He is God’s own true Son, whereas we only become His sons by adoption. As Son of God He is to be conceived as dwelling in heaven from all eternity. This Pauline theory of the Son of God was immediately accepted by the teachers of the sub-apostolic age (e.g., the authors of the Epistle to the Hebrews, of St John’s Gospel, and the letter of Barnabas) as a certain basis on which to build. It was now also drawn into the controversy with the Jews.
The Jews clung firmly to their belief that God was the Father of all, so that they might call themselves His children. They altogether refused to accept Jesus as the Son of God in an especial sense. The Christians answered by denying the Jewish faith in God the Father, and by separating Jesus still more 47 sharply from men. In St John’s Gospel Jesus is made to tell the Jews in awful words that they are the children, not of God, but of the devil. A truly terrible statement, for it destroys the presupposition of Jesus’ whole teaching—the divine Fatherhood. There is no longer anything childlike in the religious relationship, nor is a direct approach to God possible. The consequences immediately make themselves felt for the Christians. They are no longer sons of God, as St Paul still calls them, but ‘children’ of God, i.e., the divine Sonship is reserved for Jesus. Hence forward God the Father and God the Son—with the addition of the word ‘only’—belong together as in the later Trinitarian dogma. The expression God the Father in the earlier sense is confined to prayers. Theology knows it no more. The teachers who are responsible for having effected this change in reality perpetrated a robbery upon Christianity which only escaped notice because of the ardour of their apologetic zeal.
If, however, the Son of God was thus removed from the children of God, then the question as to His relation to God was bound to come to the front at once. Once more the Jews were the instigators. They accused the Christians of apostasy from monotheism, of pure idolatry. Our oldest Gospel, St Mark, refers to this accusation when it tells us that Jesus was condemned to death as a blasphemer because He had called Himself Son of God; then the Fourth Gospel reproduces the charge made by the Jews in so many words: “Jesus by calling God His Father makes Himself equal with God.” “He blasphemes God in that 48 He being a man made Himself God.” This accusation is, of course, directed against the worshippers of Jesus, and not Jesus Himself. For the first time the Christians are exposed to the painful reproach of endangering the pure faith in God by their faith in Christ. The whole abyss stands revealed between the Pauline theology and the words of Jesus, “Thou shall worship God alone: no one is good but God.” When John appealed to the passage in the Psalms, “I have said, ye are Gods,” it was merely a theological evasion. The only inference from this passage was that the Old Testament itself did not employ the word God very strictly; nothing was gained thereby for Jesus' cause. There was only one means of rebutting the accusation that the Christians worshipped two Gods, and that was distinctly to declare Jesus' entire subordination to God. Such was John’s escape from the dilemma. He makes Jesus Himself confess that the Father is greater than He, that He received all things from the Father, and has nothing of Himself, that in all His works He follows the Father and fulfils the Father’s work. St John’s Christology is a compromise between the pure divinity of Christ, to which the evangelist nearly attains, and the unity of God, the dogma brought forward by the Jews in opposition to it. This compromise—the theory of subordination—owes its origin to nothing else than the anti-Jewish apologetics. After all, this impaired divinity is a mythological figure. The absurd antithesis now arose, the Jews merely had the Father, but the Christians the Son in addition. That was not John’s opinion, for he says that he alone has the Father, who has the Son, but it was 49 held by many Christian laymen. He that confessed this did, of course, at the same time admit that Judaism was the higher religion, free as yet from mythology.
The development of the Pauline Gnosis led the Christians a great deal further than the defence of the divine Sonship. Since the days of St Paul it was a universally accepted opinion that the whole of the Old Testament bore witness to Jesus as Lord. Both at the creation and in revelation He had acted mediatorially and vicariously. Now, as ‘the Lord’ is the Old Testament name of God, really all that is wanting in St Paul’s account is the name God for Jesus. The thing was there. As regards the Jews this was a complete innovation. The framework of the old Messianic theology was broken. The Jews protested, We dare not accept a second God. The Old Testament knows only one God—the Creator, and His servants—the angels.
In spite of this protest the Christological exegesis of the Old Testament prevailed in the Church. According to the Epistle to the Hebrews God created the world through His Son. This Son, the effulgence of the divine glory, is highly exalted above all angels. It is of Him that we read in the Psalms, “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” And, “Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Thy hands: they shall perish, but Thou continuest.” Thereby the Jews are confounded with all their loud boasting in the revelation of angels.
John, too, declares that God created the world through His Son, the Logos. But above all it is 50 through Him that He revealed Himself to men. All theophanies, e.g., that of Isaiah, were Christophanies. It was Christ who came to the patriarchs: even then children of God arose in a wonderful manner through His word of promise. No man ever saw God. Wherever, therefore, God is described as coming to man in the Old Testament, we must apply the words to Christ. The Epistle of Barnabas follows along the same lines. For him, too, the Lord of this world is the Son, and it is generally acknowledged amongst the Christians that God spoke to Christ when He said, “Let us make man.” It is only with Justin, however, that we enter into the midst of the controversy with the Jews regarding the Old Testament. Both Christians and Jews accept the fact of the existence of mediators for God’s revelation to man as certain. The use of the plural in Gen. i., the mention of the angels and archangels of God, the wisdom of the Book of Proverbs, compel us to admit this conclusion. The question is merely between Christ and the angels. Now, since in many of the narratives in Genesis and Exodus the expressions ‘God’ and ‘angel of God’ are interchanged, Justin concludes that the heavenly visitant must be more than an ordinary angel (for He is God), and yet not the highest God (for He is an angel). He is therefore the Son of God, the second God. However great his efforts, the Jew Trypho cannot quite escape from the horns of this dilemma. Justin also shows us to what an extent the Christological exegesis of the Old Testament has already proceeded.
What are the names by which Jesus is known in 51 the Old Testament? Word, Wisdom, Day, the Rising Star, Sword, Stone, Staff, Jacob, Israel, Joseph, Judah, Archangel, Angel, Apostle, Man, Son of Man, Child, King, Priest, God, Lord, Glory of the Lord. That is to say, Jesus is everything in the Old Testament.
Trypho’s comment upon this is very effective: “Very well then; you Gentile Christians may be worshippers of this Lower Deity, but let us continue to be worshippers of the highest God.” That hits the nail upon the head. It is a choice between monotheism and mythology. The Christians preferred the latter, because they thereby rendered themselves masters of the Old Testament, and because it was better suited to the needs of such as were Gentiles.
The Christians were fully persuaded in their own minds that they had come forth from this controversy with the Jews victorious in all points. They had satisfactorily proved Jesus to be the Messiah by wonders and prophecies; they had proved Him to be a high priest according to the order of Melchisedec, to be Son of God, to be Lord and God in the Old Testament. They had started from the Messianic proof of the early Christian Church and the Gnosis of St Paul; and upon this foundation they had continued to build without change of plan. A straight line of succession can be traced from St Paul through St John to Justin. Proceeding from the secure basis of the Pauline Gnosis, the surrounding country is conquered until the whole of the Old Testament becomes a Christian book, and the Lower God stands beneath and by the side 52 of the God of creation. But the controversy with the Jews mightily furthered and hastened this theological work.
And yet this victory over the Jews implied at the same time an increasing alienation from Jesus Himself. It is an awful spectacle: here we have theologians fighting for Jesus, taking up arms in His defence, exalting Him, deifying Him, and at the same time inventing texts in His favour, transforming and perverting others, and all the while they never asked who He was in reality and what His aims were. The subject of all this anti-Jewish apologetic is never really Jesus, but the titles of Messiah, Son of God, and the like. The evangelist, who is the ablest champion of this defence of the faith, composes a new life of Jesus without any compunction as a theological commentary or canon of interpretation for the stories which he found to hand. No single Christian said what he might have said: “Jesus is our Redeemer, because He led us to God, because He freed us from the Scribes, because He made our lives wholesome and honest as against the Pharisees, because He inspired us with glad hope, forgiveness, courage and joy.” All this is to be found, to be sure, in the first three Gospels, though not as the real proof. The following, on the contrary, is indicated as the line of action to be pursued. He that would defend Jesus must first of all give Him the right titles; he must prove these titles by wonders and by prophecies; he must ransack the whole of the Old Testament for corroborative matter, and all the while care as little as possible for the real Jesus. This plan had such wide-reaching effects that to this day it is difficult to 53 retain one’s joy in Jesus in the teeth of all Christological fables.
The Christological controversy served to keep alive amongst the Christians the sense of the contrast between their religion and that of the Jews. Simultaneously, however, a strong current was making for a silent and gradual approximation of the Christian faith to that of their adversaries. Jewish eschatology, the Jewish belief in angels, even Jewish conceptions of God Himself, pass over into the Christian Church more and more extensively, though without at first attracting notice.
In its origin Christian eschatology was merely a form of the Jewish. All that Jesus did was to simplify and denationalize the Jewish hope. Even in St Paul we notice a very great increase in apocalyptic conceptions, theories as to the metamorphosis of the body, the concatenation of catastrophes, Antichrist and his destruction. Next the Christian Apocalypse regularly flooded the thoughts of the future hope with the Jewish Apocalypse. Nor did the process cease: it continued in an increasing measure. One single fact proves this more than an entire series of treatises. The whole of the later Jewish apocalyptic literature, even that which dates from after the year 70 A.D., crosses silently over to the Christians, and is held by them in canonical estimation. The Epistle of St Jude employs the books of Enoch and the ascension of Moses; Barnabas uses the Apocalypse of Ezra; Hermas the prophecy of Eldad and Medad; Papias actually quotes a text from the Apocalypse of Baruch as a saying of 54 Jesus. And by the side of this apocalyptic literature a whole mass of eschatological mysteries passes over to the Christian teachers by oral tradition, so that the further we are removed from Jesus the more abundant the esoteric Jewish doctrines as to the future which we encounter amongst the Christians. This applies, e.g., to the legend of Antichrist, but not to it alone. If in spite of 1 Cor. xv. the belief in the resurrection of the flesh obtained a firm footing as Christian dogma, Jewish influences may very well have been at work here. Chiliastic fancies dominate not merely bishops like Papias, whose critical powers are not very great, but even theologians like Justin, and give rise subsequently to a great movement in the Church through Montanus and his prophetesses. In spite of all Hellenistic influences, the gaze of Christians is ever turned expectantly towards the Holy Land in which Messiah is to descend together with the heavenly Jerusalem. One feature alone is wanting in this Utopia—Israel’s political position; in every other point the majority of Christians are Jews as regards their hopes for the future. Nor was this attended by any immediate evil consequences. Very soon, however, the influx of the Jewish eschatology caused a line of cleavage to appear between the enlightened and educated, who abominated these sensual expectations, and the plain and simple Christians, who clung to them with all their heart and soul. The greater inroads Judaism makes, the greater the severity of the subsequent conflict between the Hellenistic and the Semitic spirit in Christianity.
The belief in angels naturally formed an integral part of Christianity from the very first. Yet how 55 very little Jesus says about angels. So close is the connection between Him and His disciples and the Father that there is no room for any intermediary beings. Here, too, St Paul takes up the position of Jesus. He will not suffer the intervention of angels in the relationship to God. He is at bottom opposed to angels, whom he almost always pictures to himself as being hostile to God, and tempting men away from God. Once again it is the Apocalypse which submerges Christianity under a flood of Jewish fancies. Here the angels regularly occupy an intermediary position between men and God. They are the channels of all communication from earth to heaven, to such an extent that angelolatry has already to be forbidden. One of these angels, Michael, is considered to have vanquished Satan in heaven, and ranks as a kind of redeemer. The process thus begun, continues according to the rule: the further removed from Jesus the deeper the descent into Judaism. Our Gospels are very instructive in this connection. The first old tradition which they incorporate is as yet free from angelology, but in the later the secondary parts, in the stories of the birth and the resurrection, angels, e.g., Gabriel, have an important role assigned to them. It is only in St John that the idea then emerges that Jesus’ intercourse with God was effected by means of a constant ascending and descending of the angels. But it is the book of the Acts which best shows us how important the faith in angels had become by this time for the ordinary layman’s religion. Angels are pictured as the constant companions of the saints: they counsel and comfort them, and set them free from grievous 56 dangers; but for simple Christians too they are mediators carrying men’s prayers up to God, and bringing back His answers. An average Christian has henceforth more to do with the angels than with God. Every page of our principal authority in angelology, the “Shepherd” of Hermas, proves that this statement is no exaggeration. To begin with, his knowledge about angels is boundless. There are the seven archangels, and their head, Christ. There is the angel of repentance, the angel of punishment, the two angels of righteousness and wickedness, the angel of the prophetic spirit, the angel of pleasure and of deceit, the angel Thegri, who is set over all animals, and many more. The very fact that he sometimes mentions Christ by the side of the archangel Michael and sometimes sets Him in his stead, proves that his faith in Christ is only intelligible to him as a special case of his belief in angels, but that at the same time he cannot quite rearrange the angelic hierarchy to suit his own ideas. Angels are the intermediaries in the whole sphere of religion. Men are handed over from one angel to another for their higher education, and so God’s purposes are carried out. This angelology appeared to the Christians at one time to be so important that they formulated it dogmatically. The Apocalypse begins with the salutation from God, from the seven angels before His throne, and from Jesus. In like manner Justin defines the Christian faith as belief in God, in Christ, in the angelic host, and in the Holy Ghost, although he is acquainted as well with the enumeration of the Holy Ghost in the third place. Here, too, it is quite possible to account for the firm footing 57 which this belief in angels obtained in the Church by the admission of the Jewish Apocalypses, the chief source of Jewish angelology. But oral intercourse with the Jews did more than anything else. However caused, this importation cannot be considered to have been a blessing.
The Christian faith in God inevitably suffered loss through the influx of so many later Jewish speculations. It is wonderful how rapidly the early faith in God the Father deteriorates. Men like St Paul and St John, who stand on the same high level as the Gospel of Jesus, do indeed from time to time give glad expression to their faith that God has manifested His love to us as the Father. But these same theologians, writing as apologists, proclaimed the terrible God of wrath or the hidden, unapproachable God who decrees death upon all who stand without the Church. What wonder, then, if even within the Church Christians but seldom obtained or retained the joyful trust in God the loving Father, and were content with His deputies and substitutes, Christ, the angels and the saints. At present, no direct intercourse with God is possible, for He is surrounded by His heavenly court filling all the heavens and encompassing Him so closely that no eye can pierce through it. It is only in the future, when the angels shall have smitten the whole earth with their plagues and executed their judgments, that one may hope that God will appear upon earth in mercy, though still inspiring terror. So Christians and Jews alike had once more reverted to the old conception of God, and the resulting frame of mind was a state of suspense, a perpetual oscillation between 58 fear and hope, neither trust nor joy. And this again brought about the further consequence that the Christians, not being able to take their stand firmly upon the redemption, which Jesus had really effected, were the more inclined to look for their superiority in the wrong quarter, i.e., in the vain imaginations of Christology.59
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