STUDIES IN THEOLOGY
A Critical Introduction to the New Testament.
By ARTHUR SAMUEL PEAKE, D.D.
Faith and its Psychology.
By the Rev. WILLIAM R. INGE, D.D.
Philosophy and Religion.
By the Rev. HASTINGS RASHDALL, D.Litt. (Oxon.), D.C.L.
Revelation and Inspiration.
By the Rev. JAMES ORR, D.D.
Christianity and Modern Social Issues.
By WILLIAM CUNNINGHAM, F.B.A., D.D., D.Sc.
A Critical Introduction to the Old Testament.
By the Rev. GEORGE BUCHANAN GRAY, D.D., D.Litt.
History of Christian Thought from the Apostolic Age
to the Reformation.
By HERBERT B. WORKMAN, D.Litt
History of Christian Thought from the Reformation
By A. C. MCGIFFERT, Ph.D., D.D.
History of Christian Thought since Kant.
By the Rev. EDWARD CALDWELL MOORE, D.D.
The Christian Hope: A Study in the Doctrine of the
By W. ADAMS BROWN, Ph.D., D.D.
The Theology of the Gospels.
By JAMES MOFFATT, D.D., D.Litt.
The Text and Canon of the New Testament.
By ALEXANDER SOUTER, D.Litt.
THE THEOLOGY OF THE GOSPELS
* I wrote with my pencil in my Common Prayer Book
Theologiae opera danda.
Serviendum et laetandum.
. Serupulis obsistendum.'
THE THEOLOGY OF
JAMES MOFFATT, D.D., D. LlTT.
YATES PROFESSOR OF NEW TESTAMENT GREEK AND EXEGESIS
MANSFIELD COLLEGE, OXFORD
LONDON: DUCKWORTH & CO.
3 HENRIETTA ST., COVENT GARDEN
MY COLLEAGUES IN MANSFIELD
THE bulk of the following pages formed the sub-
stance of a course of lectures which I had the honour
of delivering under the Alexander Robertson Trust
in the University of Glasgow, during January and
February of this year. In working over the materials
afresh for the purpose of publication I have made
considerable additions to the argument at various
points, but, even so, the volume is not a classified
survey of the various theological and religious con-
ceptions which may be found within the compass
of the gospels. My aim has been different. What
these pages attempt to do is to present a study of
the central and salient features in the theology of
the gospels, taking theology in its stricter rather
than in its wider sense. The standpoint for estimat-
ing the characteristic position of the gospels in the
development of primitive Christian reflection is
determined by the message and personality of
Jesus. The gospels voice the faith of Jesus Christ
in different keys, but the theme of their fugue-like
variations is never forgotten amid all their windings,
and it ought to be dominant in any study of their
symphonies. Angelology and almsgiving, for
example, enter into the religious scope of the gospels,
but such notes only sound in relation to the eon-
t rolling theme which uses them in its larger chords.
\Vhen Paul spoke to the Athenians, he took his
x THE THEOLOGY OF THE GOSPELS
text from an inscription on some local altar, to an
unknown god. He began by assuring his audience
that he could tell them what they were worshipping
in devout ignorance, and tried in this way to get a
hearing for the gospel of Jesus. According to a
Greek bishop of the tenth century, who wrote a
commentary on Acts, the inscription dated from a
complaint of Pan that the Athenians had neglected
to acknowledge him. Consequently, after winning
a victory over the Persians with the help of Pan,
they erected an altar to him, and in order to guard
against any similar danger in other directions if
they neglected a god who was unknown to them,
' they erected that altar with the inscription to an
wnknown god, meaning " in case there is some other
god whom we do not know, be this erected by us
in his honour, that he may be gracious to us though
he is not worshipped by us owing to our ignorance." :
It is not clear where (Ecumenius got this story about
the origin of the Athenian altar, but it supplies an
apt setting for the argument of the apostle's address.
Paul did not mean that Jesus was a divine being
who was required to make their pantheon complete.
His point was that the religion which he preached
in the name of Jesus was one which left no such
blank spaces in the universe, no tracts of experience
where human life was exposed to unknown powers
of life and death, over which the God of Jesus did
not avail to exercise control. Unluckily he was
interrupted before he could develop his argument,
but his epistles show how he would probably have
worked out the relations of the Christian God to
the universe of men and things. Now this also is
the motive which underlies the theology of the
gospels ; as the tradition develops, even prior to
the climax of the Fourth gospel, we can feel the
instinctive desire to present Jesus as adequate to
all the needs of the human soul, and to state His
revelation in such a way as to cover the entire
experience of believing men. The messianic cate-
gories naturally tended at first to make the range
of this interest religious rather than cosmic, if we
may use an antithesis which is convenient but not
accurate. So far as apocalyptic took account of the
universe, it had a short and sharp solution. Yet
even within the earlier phases of the synoptic
theology it is possible to detect the implicit convic-
tion that faith in Jesus Christ has cleared up the
religious situation of men and made the world an
intelligible unity. The genesis of this conviction
lies in the faith of Jesus Himself. The interest of
the gospels, in the aspect of their theological develop-
ment, is the deepening appreciation of the signifi-
cance which attaches to His personality ; from one
side and another they witness consciously and
unconsciously to the belief that Jesus is Lord of
all powers visible and invisible, and that to worship
the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ is to
be freed for ever from that ignorance of the world
which haunts men with a variety of superstitious
It is in the light of this fundamental and charac-
teristic motive that the theology of the gospels
reveals its vital unity amid the variations which
catch the eye upon the surface of their pages. The
differences between them are little, compared to
the difference between them and what followed or
preceded them. Any text-book of the New Testa-
xii THE THEOLOGY OF THE GOSPELS
ment theology provides some account of the Jewish
presuppositions and environment of Jesus, then an
outline of His teaching on the basis of what are
considered to be the authentic materials extant in
the synoptic sources or traditions, thirdly an appre-
ciation of the apostolic theology which has blended
with the preaching of Jesus in the records, and finally,
a special section on the Fourth gospel which dis-
criminates the characteristic theology of that
writing from the synoptic tradition, on the one
hand, and Paulinism upon the other, with an attempt,
depending for its positive results upon the author's
critical position, to distinguish what (if any) are
the authentic sayings and thoughts of Jesus which
may be embedded in the Johannine interpretation.
It is a method of procedure which has its own
advantages, but I have no intention of handling the
materials on such lines. This is not a handbook
to the gospels, nor a study of the teaching of Jesus,
nor an outline of Christian dogma. The following
pages contain no more than a group of studies, and
they are grouped in order to be as far as possible
genetic and compact. Whether this attempt to
reset the salient data is pronounced successful or
riot, I am convinced that it is more suitable to the
plan of the present series than the conventional
arrangement of the text-books. The index at the
end of the volume and the outline of contents pre-
fixed to each chapter, will enable the reader to find
any topic or passage without loss of time.
OXFORD, July 1, 1912.
THE GOSPELS AND THEIR THEOLOGY, .... 1
Instinctive objection to the association of theology and the
Various reasons for this feeling.
In what sense theology is organic to the gospels.
Different senses in which the four gospels are theological.
The problem of tendency and interpretation :
r (ii) Speculative.
Further problems :
(a) Is there a theology of the gospels as distinct from
the rest of the New Testament ?
The relation of Paulinism to the gospels.
(b) Is the theology of the gospels a unity ? The synoptic
gospels and the Fourth.
(c) Is the canonical text of the gospels free from later
doctrinal modification ?
(d) Was the theology of the gospels affected by the
passage from Aramaic into Greek ?
The common element in the theology of the gospels.
Distinctive features of the gospels as gospels.
Specific character of their 'theology.
THE ESCHATOLOGY OF THE GOSFELS, . . . .41
How far is the theology an eschatology ?
Pveccnt research into this question.
xiv THE THEOLOGY OP THE GOSPELS
The problem synoptic rather than Johannine.
Definition of apocalyptic element, in view of
(a) Sayings which involve that the 'kingdom' was in a
sense present, as well as future, for Jesus.
(b) Significance of prayer, in this connection.
(c) Significance of the ethical teaching of Jesus, in rela-
tion to his eschatology.
Meaning of the 'kingdom,' present and future; the
antinomy presented by the evidence of the gospels on
Solutions of the antinomy :
(i) The influence of the apostolic church. The
' tendency ' solution.
(ii) Varying emphasis on eschatology at different
periods in the life of Jesus. The 'biographical'
(iii) Element of pictorial language in the teaching
of Jesus. The ' literary ' solution.
Transmutation of eschatology by Jesus.
THE GOD OF JESUS, . . . . . 85
Practical interests of the teaching of Jesus about God :
() The Fatherhood and providence.
Not a justification of idleness or recklessness.
(6) The Fatherhood and the kingdom.
Relation to the divine purpose.
(c) Relation to the miracles.
God and nature.
The transcendental and the immanent God.
The divine presence mediated through Christ.
Jesus and current Jewish titles of God.
His avoidance of the term 'Holy,' and its significance.
The 'righteousness ' of God as the Father, involving love.
Further implications of this :
(i) The self-sacrifice of the divine love,
(ii) Unique manifestation of this in the person and
vocation of the Son.
iii) The relation of the Father to human sin.
(iv) The severity and majesty of God as Father.
The function of the Son in the Father's
order of judgment, penitence, and for-
THE PERSON OF JESUS, .127
The coming of Jesus an epoch.
Significance of his personality in the light of
(a) His divine sonship :
Development of the tradition, through the birth-
stories to the Fourth gospel.
(b) The ' Servant of Y"ahveh ' prophecies :
Directions of this influence.
(c) The ' Son of man ' tradition :
Linguistic problem connected with this title.
Synoptic data and their significance.
(d) The ' Son of David' title.
(e) The ' Beloved ' as a messianic title.
(/) The ' Lord ' as a divine title.
(ff) The synoptic category of ' Wisdom.'
(A) The Johannine category of the Logos.
Belief in Jesus as the Christ : inner development.
The common elements of the christology of the first three
gospels and the Fourth.
THE SPIRIT OF JESUS, 177
Meaning of the f Spirit ' in connection with Jesus.
Only two references in his teaching :
(i) The Holy Spirit and his own vocation,
(ii) The Spirit in the witness of the disciples before hostile
xvi THE THEOLOGY OF THE GOSPELS
When did Jesus impart the Spirit to the disciples?
View of the Fourth gospel.
Development of the conception in the Fourth gospel :
(a) The Paraclete.
(I) The Spirit of truth.
(c) In relation to baptism.
(d) In relation to the Lord's Supper.
(e) In relation to the person of Christ.
The synoptic anil the Johannine views.
INDEX, . . 215
THE THEOLOGY OP THE GOSPELS
THE GOSPELS AND THEIR THEOLOGY
6 THE theology of the gospels ! ' some will exclaim
in dismay, ' and we verily thought the gospels were
a refuge from theology ! ' This is an attitude
towards the religion of Jesus Christ and its records
with which it is often impossible not to feel a certain
sympathy. To be deep in the history of the church,
and especially of its creeds, is for many just persons
to acquire a more or less legitimate suspicion of
theology in connection with the vital religion which
breathes upon them as they turn back to the simple
pages of the gospels. They know, or think they
know, what theology has been and done ; in a number
of cases its services to Christianity seem to have
been accompanied by results which are irrelevant,
if not positively injurious, to such faith in the living
Christ as the gospels commend; its associations
have been so generally with intellectualism and
formalism, with a stereotyped presentation of the
Christian religion in the phraseology and categories
of some philosophical system, which rapidly became
a source of embarrassment to ordinary people, that
it is not altogether surprising to catch a persistent
sense of relief in the popular conviction that the
2 THE THEOLOGY OF THE GOSPELS [OH.
gospels at any rate leave no room for the intrusion
of theology, and at the same time to detect a
corresponding sense of resentment when that con-
viction is challenged or modified. Nearly forty
years ago a German critic published a rather bitter
and despairing monograph upon what he called
Die Christlichkeit der heutigen Theologie. 1 His thesis
was that theology had invariably played the traitor
to Christianity, that no theology could be called
Christian, and that theology had, in fact, destroyed
the Christian religion. The spirit of this protest
is shared by many who would not agree with its
arguments or objects. So far as the New Testament
is concerned, they would be perfectly willing to
let Paul's theology go, but they would claim the
gospels as documents of religion and not of theology,
documents of the faith in its pure, pre-theological
phase. Theology is the theory of a religion ; it
stands to personal faith as the theory of aesthetics
stands to poetry, as botany to life in the field or
garden. Theology is listening to what man has to
say about God ; personal religion, on the other
hand, is man listening to God, and this is what the
gospels mean. To speak of ' the theology of the
gospels ' is a contradiction in terms.
Nevertheless, it is reasonable to speak of the
theology of the gospels. There is theology behind
even their most spontaneous pages, and they do
not cease on that account to be gospels. We may
even add, it is because they mirror an experience
which tends to become conscious of its issues in
history and nature, that they are gospels.
1 A second edition of F. Overbeck's essay (1879) was issued in
i.] THE GOSPELS AND THEIR THEOLOGY 3
The reluctance to admit this is based upon an
antipathy to theology in general, which is not
unintelligible, and which is by no means confined
to the place of the unlearned. Theologies have
tended to insist upon the acceptance of doctrines
as if they possessed some virtue in themselves which
enabled them to become practically a substitute
for the life of personal experience which they in-
terpret. Is it so with the theology of the gospels ?
Upon the contrary, the reverse is the case. Such
a tendency may be felt, it is true, within the theology
of the Fourth gospel, but the motto for all the
four gospels might be found not unfairly in the
words used by the writer of the Fourth to define
his purpose : These are written that you may believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that
believing you may have life in his Name. 1 They are
interpretations of Christ, written from faith and
for faith, in order to inspire and instruct Christian
life within the churches ; they are not documents
which interpose doctrines between the soul and
Jesus. From one point of view it is hardly adequate
or even accurate to speak about ' the testimony ' of
the gospels. That phrase suggests a subject or
person who is in need of testimony, whose character
and claims require to be authenticated before a
suspicious and uncertain audience. Now, it is
true that there is an apologetic element in the
gospels which corresponds to this idea. They are
written in several instances with a view to objections
felt by the Jewish, Jewish - Christian, or Greek
world of the day ; there was the Jewish faith
with an uncrucified messiah, for example, and the
1 John xx. 31.
4 THE THEOLOGY OF THE GOSPELS [OH.
Greek with no messiah at all. But fundamentally
their audience is one of those who believe already,
and the doubts and uncertainties which they essay
to remove are occasioned by the relation of human
faith to Christ. Their best apologetic is the positive
confession of their faith. So far as they introduce
doctrines, it is to confirm that faith by drawing out
its basis in the person of Christ, and by thus proving
it is more than a pious intuition. The underlying
principle is that personal belief in Christ carries
with it convictions of His relation to God and the
world which are organic to the religious experience.
Even their theology, such as it is, may be said to
be implicit rather than explicit, for the most part,
until we come to the Fourth gospel, where a special
interpretation of the person of Christ, semi-philo-
sophic, semi-mystical, lies on the surface of the
record as well as of the prologue. In the synoptic
gospels what we see are beliefs in action, or actions
which involve certain beliefs. Jesus does not teach
any summa theologiae. He acts for God and teaches
about God with an underived note of authority.
His presence sets in motion a common life which is
determined by His revelation of God's character
and purpose, and the churches in which and for which
the gospels were written were not schools of
theology, but communities organised for the worship
of God and the service of His kingdom in the Spirit
of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, the most elementary
and spontaneous experience of the Christian religion,
then as now, involved what may be termed without
inaccuracy dogmatic or theological conceptions.
When Paul reminded the Christians of Corinth
that the first principles of their faith included a
i.] THE GOSPELS AND THEIR THEOLOGY 5
belief that Christ had died for their sins according
to the scriptures of the Old Testament, he was not
expressing a Pauline theologumenon, but a belief
without which there would have been no Christianity
at all. It is difficult even for the simple piety
which with a sure instinct finds its way to the direct
and vital passages of revelation in the gospels, to
ignore the fact that the religion of Jesus does involve
a theology of some kind. 1 It meets us on the very
threshold of Matthew and Luke, to say nothing of
John. 2 Even in what is sometimes regarded as
the most human and realistic of the gospels the
reader comes upon a divine voice and vision at the
baptism, the personality of Satan, and the environ-
ment of unclean spirits in disease, before he reaches
the end of the first chapter in Mark. Something
has to be made of all this. We must come to terms
with the problems started by designations like
The Son of God, the Son of man, the Logos, and the
Spirit. Whether these are retained or dropped,
in either case there is a pronouncement upon Jesus
and early Christianity which has to justify itself
before the criticism of the records and the larger
criticism of the Christian consciousness.
There is also a natural impatience and suspicion
of theology not only as irrelevant if not injurious to
the Christian heart, but as an invasion of the rights
which belong to the mind. Christian theology has
sometimes been presented in ways which threaten
1 'The word "God" is a Theology in itself (Newman, The Idea
of a University, p. 26).
2 A theology implies a philosophy, in the sense that it presupposes
some theory of knowledge and therefore of personality. The Fourth
gospel, from this point of view, has a much more articulate theology
than its predecessors.
6 THE THEOLOGY OF THE GOSPELS [CH.
to foreclose the inquiry and activity of thought by
elevating the phraseology of some particular age
to a position of finality. How does the study of
the theology of the gospels bear upon this objection ?
In the first instance, it reveals a rich and flexible
variety of conceptions which proves that the primitive
church was not committed to any stereotyped theory
of the person of Christ in relation to God and the
world. In the second instance, the gospels afford
a standard and a spirit for that revision and re-
adjustment of Christian theology which is from
time to time the duty of the living Church. The
gospels are a refuge from theologies which have
ceased to represent the Christian experience with
adequate fulness and accuracy. But they are not a
refuge from theology, except when theology either
lifts some transient element to a position of primacy
or imposes upon the gospels the schemes of a later
fashion in philosophy.
The former danger is always with us. The
theology of the gospels, like the theology of any
age or movement, is related to the contemporary
conceptions of the world and of God ; it is moulded
and coloured by current ideas of nature and the
supernatural, otherwise it would have been un-
intelligible and ineffective for its period. But it
embodies classic and fundamental elements to which
these are not essential, and for which fresh expressions
can be found, more consonant with the advance of
knowledge and experience. This means more than
the fact of current cosmic and psychological beliefs
entering into the minds of those who transmitted
the tradition of Jesus ; it means that they formed
part of the religious world of Jesus Himself. The
i.] THE GOSPELS AND THEIR THEOLOGY 7
theology of Christianity is not simply a transcript
of everything that Jesus thought and said about the
world. There are elements even in His teaching, e.g.
on demonology and eschatology, which have not
passed over into our world. The Fourth gospel,
with its characteristic attitude of reticence to both
of these elements, is enough to show that they are
not vital to the fundamental beliefs of Christianity,
and tha^t they may be dropped or modified without
loss to the faith. The varying emphasis of even
the synoptic gospels upon certain aspects of the
person of Jesus indicates that the theology of the
gospels was already conscious of the problem
which vexes modern theology with regard to the
christological issue, and that it anticipates the lines
along which that problem is to be met.
The second of the two dangers which have been
just mentioned is equally perennial. There is a
vivid expression of it in one of Pascal's private
letters to a novice of Port-Royal. 1 He quotes from
Mark xiii. 14-15 : When you see the abominable
thing in the place where it ought not to be, then let
no one turn back to his house to take anything away.
' Mais cette parole est etonnante. II me semble que
cela predit parfaitement le temps ou nous sommes,
ou la corruption de la morale est aux maisons de
saintete, et dans les livres des theologiens et des
religieux ou elle ne devrait pas etre.' The whole
chapter seems to him a prediction of the contemporary
degradation of the Christian religion in the Roman
church and in the French world alike. ' Ce chapitre
de I'Evangile, que je voudfais lire avec vous tout
entier, finit par une exhortation a veiller et a prier
1 Pensees de Pascal (6d. Havet), ii. pp. 341-2.
8 THE THEOLOGY OF THE GOSPELS [CH.
pour eviter tous ces malheurs, et en effet il est bien
juste que la priere soit continuelle quand le peril
est continuel.' If Pascal's suspicion of theology
was justified in the seventeenth century, it has been
more than justified since then, outside as well as
inside the church of Rome. It has prompted the
movement ' Back to Christ ' from the formulas and
speculations which had usurped the place of Jesus
in the minds of His people, or, in Lessing's neat
antithesis, from the Christian religion to the religion
of Christ. One drawback to this movement has
been that in casting back to Christ, or rather to the