On the Kingdom of God as the Leading Idea of the Old Testament, and On Certain Recent Criticism Concerning the Arrangement and Date of the Canon
Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.—St. John 1:45.
Apart from its intrinsic interest and its connection with the narrative of which it forms an episode, this answer of Philip to Nathanael has an important bearing on our present inquiry. It expresses the conclusions at which we have arrived in our former Lecture, and so shows that we have not misrepresented the meaning of the New Testament in saying that it looked back for its origin to the Old Testament. Even in the Fourth Gospel, which a certain school of critics regards as anything but a Judaic document, the early disciples present the claims of Jesus as of Him, 'of whom Moses in the Law, and the Prophets did write.' But although the New Testament writers, and, as we may now say, the Jewish people generally, founded their Messianic expectancy on the Old Testament, it is another question whether, in so doing, they rightly understood its meaning.
In other words, does the Old Testament really embody such a hope of a universal spiritual kingdom of God upon earth through the Messiah, as the New Testament writers, rightly or wrongly, saw fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth; or is this view of the Old Testament only a later gloss put upon it by Christianity? This must be the subject of our next inquiry.
In one respect we might here content ourselves with appealing to the facts established in the preceding Lecture. Evidently the Messianic hope existed at the time of Christ, and that not only among one section, party, or school, but among all classes, thoroughgoing Sadducees perhaps excepted. We might even go farther and assert that the highest springs of the great Nationalist movement, which finally issued in the war with Rome, lay not so much in the aspirations of patriotism and love of independence, as in a misunderstanding and misapplication of the Messianic expectancy. And in proof we might even appeal to the circumstance that some of the disciples of Jesus, notably 'Simon the Zealot,' seem originally to have belonged to the Nationalist party, the focus of which was in Galilee. But apart from this, we have also direct evidence, that not only the New Testament writers and later Rabbis, but the people generally, traced the Messianic expectation to the teaching of the Old Testament. Even so unscrupulous a partisan as Josephus can in this instance be cited as a witness on our side, whose testimony is the more important for the manifest reluctance and indirectness with which, in works intended for Roman readers, he refers to the Messianic hope. I am not here thinking of the controverted passage about Christ, but of such (among other) allusions to Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, as when referring to the predictions of Balaam he infers from their partial fulfilment, even in his own time, 'that the rest will have their completion in the time to come;' or when, commenting on Daniel's interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream, he evades giving an interpretation of the fate of the fourth kingdom, which he evidently identifies with Rome, on the ground that he had undertaken to describe the past and the present but not the future, for the understanding of whose 'uncertainties,' 'whether they will happen or not,' he refers the curious to the Book of Daniel itself, which they would find among the sacred writings. Evidently, then, there was in the view of Josephus, as well as of his contemporaries, a prophetic future for Israel after the destruction of Jerusalem, and the stone cut out without hands predicted to destroy the iron empire of Rome, of which he refused to give the interpretation, must have been the Messianic kingdom. Thus, there was universal Messianic expectancy, and that expectancy was traced to Old Testament prophecy. And, recalling our previous arguments as to the extreme unlikeliness of such a hope springing up in the period between Ezra and Christ, we might content ourselves with challenging those who deny its Old Testament origin to point out the period and the circumstances of its beginning and development.
Still, it is at least conceivable, whatever the presumption to the contrary, that the whole Jewish nation may have been mistaken in their Messianic interpretation of the Old Testament. Yet we have here something beyond an unbroken consensus of Messianic interpretation. If the present historical arrangement of the Old Testament Canon may be trusted—not, indeed, in reference to the precise date and authorship of each book (which are here not in question), but as regards the general chronological succession of the Law and the Prophetic writings—it seems almost impossible to deny that the Old Testament in its different parts is organically connected; and that, as previously stated, alike the connecting, the impelling, and the final idea of it is that of a universal kingdom of God upon earth; and that this idea unfolds together with the development of religious knowledge and life in Israel.
The distinction of terms just made is of such importance in the argument as to warrant a seeming digression. Man's life and understanding develop; God's purpose unfolds. The term 'purpose' is indeed anthropomorphic, and in its strict meaning could not be applied to God, since 'purpose' not only implies a reference to the future, but thinking, of the future with the view of acting upon it in a certain definite manner. On the other hand, strictly speaking, we cannot associate (either metaphysically or theologically) the idea of 'future' with the Divine Being, nor yet such planning as implies uncertainty about the future and adaptation to its eventualities. If, therefore, we use the term, it is for convenience' sake, and with the reservations just made. What we know is, that, so far as regards God, all is from the first before Him; and that, in history, it opens up—unfolds to man's understanding, in the course of his development. This may be illustrated from the first intimation of the great Old Testament hope, the so-called Prot-Evangelion, in Genesis 3:14, 15. The substantial accuracy of our translation, 'He shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel,' stands, I think, firm on critical grounds. The rendering advocated by Professor Kuenen, 'This shall lie in wait for thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for his heel,' would, irrespective of linguistic considerations, yield such feebleness of meaning as almost to transform the pathos of God's final judgment upon sin into bathos. It does not seem worthy of record in what professes to be a Revelation, nor yet accordant with the solemnity of a Divine punitive sentence, to decree and declare that in the physical contest between man and the serpent the former is to aim at the head of the serpent, while the latter would, in its stealthy approach, aim at his heel. But if the words mean, as the Church has always understood them, that there must ever be a great conflict between Humanity and the principle of evil, as represented by the Serpent, and that in it Humanity will be ultimately victorious, in and through its Representative: crush the head of the Serpent, although in this not without damage, hurt, and the poison of death—all is changed. In that case the sentence is full of meaning. It sets forth a principle; it ennobles our human nature by representing it as moral; it bears a promise; it contains a prophecy; it introduces the Golden Age. It is the noblest saying that could be given to Humanity, or to individual men, at the birth of their history. In it the Bible sets forth at its very opening these three great ethical principles, on which rests the whole Biblical teaching concerning the Messiah and His Kingdom: that man is capable of salvation; that all evil springs from sin, with which mortal combat must be waged; and that there will be a final victory over sin through the Representative of Humanity. And this first promise does not afterwards develop; it contains initially all that is to be unfolded in the course of the fullest development, so that we might exclaim, with an ancient writer: 'Here begins the book of the wars of the Lord;' or with Luther: 'Here rises the Sun of Consolation.' This gradual unrolling in the sight of men, as they were able to read it, of what from the first had been written on the prophetic scroll accounts for the peculiar form in which the future is so often presented in prophecy. It explains how so many of the predictions concerning the kingdom of God are presented under a particularistic and national aspect. It was necessary—alike as regarded the people and the prophets; and it belonged to the Old Testament standpoint, quite as much as its sacrifices, rites, institutions, and ceremonial laws. We believe they had a deeper and an eternal meaning which at that time and to that people could only be set forth in such manner. Similarly, the predictive descriptions of the kingdom and the king came to Israel in that nationalistic form in which alone they could have been intelligibly presented. Zion, Israel Moab, or else the then present enemies of the people of God, and their conquest, had to them a meaning which our later, Christian, ideas could have never possessed, and which, indeed, it would have been impossible to convey otherwise than in such form. And this also must be kept in view, that all these prophecies did historically start from Israel, and that those nations did at that time actually represent the enemies of the kingdom of God. Nor is it meant that all such predictions applied to the kingdom of God. Many of them were what is called temporal: that is, they applied only to those times and to the circumstances and nations there mentioned. But, just as the type is always based on the symbol—the application to the future on the meaning in the present—so are the prophecies of the kingdom presented in the forms of, and with application to, the then present And in evidence that this view is not arbitrary, we point to the circumstance that so often these promises, couched in the particularistic form, alternate with, or merge into others where the horizon is temporarily enlarged and the application is universalists. This evidences that the world-wide idea of the kingdom was present to the mind of Israel as matter of faith and hope, even though it would ordinarily be clothed in the forms of the time.
From this point of view we perceive the higher need of some facts which recent criticism has established, although a certain school has derived from them inferences adverse to the prophetic character of the Old Testament. First, we perceive that generally, though not always, the fulfilment must not be expected to correspond literally with the prophecy. This was the idea of prophecy entertained by the old supra-naturalistic school, and was strictly connected with its mechanical views of inspiration generally. Were it not for our sincere respect for the earnest though ill-directed faith which prompted these notions, we would seriously complain of the misrepresentation of Biblical truth which was their consequence, affording an easy victory to its opponents. But we object, with good reason, that a certain school of critics argues as if the view referred to were the only one possible, and that it directs all its arguments to disprove what we do not, and, in the nature of it, could not hold. It is not controversially—merely in answer to our opponents—but positively, as the outcome of the views previously explained, that we would formulate these principles in regard to the fulfilment of Messianic prophecy: that prophecy can only be properly understood from the standpoint of fulfilment; that prophecy always starts from historical datain the then present; and that the fulfilment in each case not only covers but is wider than the mere letter of the prophecy—wider than either the hearers, or perhaps the speaker of it, had perceived. All this in a preliminary way—to be further explained in the sequel.
Secondly. This view of 'fulfilment' leads up to another point, on which we must enter more fully. Here also our opponents have rightly apprehended the facts, while they have laid upon us wrongful inferences from them. For these three things follow from the premises previously stated: that prophecy is not predicted history—which, indeed, would be a quite unworthy view of it; that prophecy had always a present meaning and present lessons to those who heard it; and that, as this meaning unfolded in the course of history, it conveyed to each succeeding generation something new, bringing to each fresh present lessons. Nay, even in its final fulfilment each prophecy has lessons to them who have witnessed its accomplishment. In short, prophecy cannot be compressed within the lour corners of a fact: it is not merely tidings about the future. It is not dead, but instinct with undying life, and that life is divine. There is a moral aspect in prophecy to all generations. Under one aspect of it, it prepares for the future, and this is the predictive element of it. Under its other aspect it teaches lessons of the present to each generation; and this is its moral aspect. It is therefore not discordant with our belief in prophecy, but the reverse, when our attention is called to the fact that, as presented in Scripture, the Prophets were not merely—perhaps not even primarily—foretellers of future events, but that their activity also extended to the then present: that they were reprovers, reformers, instructors. Certainly: for they were God's messengers. But from this it does not follow that the futuristic element had no place in their calling. There is no inconsistency between the two. On the contrary, it was the underlying view of the future which gave meaning and emphasis to their admonitions about the present. I am quite aware that I must be prepared to furnish a formula which will equally cover, and give unity to, these two parts of their activity. My answer is that, when the prophet foretells, he presents the future in the light of the present; and, when he admonishes or reproves, he presents the present in the light of that future which he sees to be surely coming. Thus he is always, and in all aspects of it, the messenger of God to every generation.
It will now be perceived what was meant by the statement that the kingdom of God was the connecting, pervading, and impelling idea of the Old Testament. On the supposition of the trustworthiness of the arrangement of the Old Testament into the Law and the Prophets, Divines of all schools have traced the unfolding—both extensively and intensively—of this idea in the progressive development of the history of Israel through its three stages: the patriarchal, the Mosaic, and the prophetic. And so the history and institutions of Israel would lead up to the doctrinal teaching of the New Testament. It might, indeed, be objected, that in our view of the arrangement of the Old Testament as Law and Prophets there was not progression but retrogression, since the prophetic writings seem to set forth more simple and primitive notions as regards sacrifices and ritual ordinances than those which underlie the directions and arrangements of the 'Priest-Codex.' And it has been argued that this also proves that the right order would be: the Prophets and the Law, not the reverse, and that the Priest-Codex itself must be of late date. But these are ill-grounded inferences. Seeming retrogression may be real progression, because correction, where principles had been misunderstood, misapplied, or lost from view. If two or three thousand years after this, and in the absence of historical details of the change, it should be argued that, instead of Medievalism and the Reformation, the historical succession should be the Reformation and Mediaevalism, because, as regarded the priesthood, the centralisation of worship, ritual ordinances, and the like, the Reformation marked the more simple and primitive, and must therefore have preceded Mediævalism, the inference would be both fallacious and false. May we not say the same in regard to this argument for the inversion of the order, Law and Prophets?
Let us try to mark the unfolding of the great idea which the Bible places in its forefront, and which, as we have stated, infolds all the religious truth that has come to man in the course of his development. Closely considered, the primeval promise already set before man the outlook on the Kingdom of God in its ethical character. And that kingdom was not placed on a particularistic or Judaic, but on a universalistic basis. From this point of view we can observe where the one spring divided, and follow the parting streams of Jewish and heathen development as they issued from the one source. A new meaning here attaches, not only to the fact and the response of conscience to the demands of right, but also to the (however imperfect or even misdirected) striving after the right in the heathen world. We can now understand the appeal to the evidential force of God's works in nature, and much more to that for God in the conscience, as made, not only in the well-known passage of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans (ii. 14, 15), but also in the Old Testament, as in the sublime appeal to the heathen in Isa. 40:21-26, in regard to the works of creation, and in that derived from conscience in Ps. 94:9, 10: 'He that planted the ear, shall He not hear? He that formed the eye, shall He not see? He that chastens the nations (viz. inwardly, through their consciences), shall He not punish—He that teacheth man knowledge?' The creator of the human eye and ear must be the living God, Who sees and hears. He Who implanted reason and conscience in man is thereby evidenced as the Rewarder of good and evil, and shall He not eventually so manifest Himself?
It is thus that the Old Testament, starting with a universalistic object, can and does make its appeal to heathendom, both concerning God and for God. And what was the response made both to the first and to the second of these appeals? Only this: In its search after God, the ancient world reached, indeed, beyond the gods many, and came very near, almost touched, the idea of Unity. But this Supreme Unity, to which ultimately men and gods were subject, was not a Personality, not the Living and True God, our reconciled Father—but Fate, blind, impersonal, immovable; and in this struggle between Fate and Virtue lay the mystery, and the misery, and the ultimate self-despair of heathenism. Or again, as regarded the second appeal of the Old Testament to heathendom—that for God in the conscience, we recall the despairing expressions of a Tacitus, and the idea of a Cicero, that if ever the ideal of goodness and virtue, for which Humanity had longed, and hitherto with such bitter disappointment, were to appear on earth, all men would fall down before it in universal homage. We recall it to mark the sad contrast of history. Just as the Ideal of Old Testament expectation, for which universal Judaism in its highest aspirations had longed, came to His own, but only to be rejected of them, so did the ideal of all goodness and virtue, the One universally-admitted perfect Man—for whom heathenism in its highest aspirations had yearned—receive, not universal homage, but universal rejection, when Jesus was nailed to the cross.
In truth, the Jewish and Gentile developments are not so far apart as we sometimes imagine. They were at one in their beginning, and they are at one in their ending. And the course of their development also was closely parallel, although in heathenism the issue appeared in the negative; in Judaism, on the other hand, in a positive form. But the unconscious cry of both was after the Life, the Light, the real, the true: after moral deliverance and the Kingdom of God.
Turning from the course of heathen to that of Jewish development, we recall the apt observation, that the Biblical conception of Revelation really looks back upon the account of the Creation, when our world was called into being by the Word, and its life imparted by the Spirit of God. This internal connection between the Word or Revelation and Creation also implies that in Revelation we shall find the same general order which we observe in the physical world—especially the law of historical progress—that is, as we now understand it, progression in history. The one underlying idea of Revelation is, as we have seen, the great ethical prospect in that primeval promise which the Bible places at its forefront—the outlook on a universal Kingdom of God. This primeval promise and principle alike forms the beginning and is the goal; it is the heading and the summary of Revelation. And it was this foundation-truth which unfolded throughout the course of Israel's development—in their history, rites, and institutions, as well as in the more direct communications through the Prophets. We can only indicate this here in briefest outline.
The ideal object of Israel's calling, and hence of their history and institutions, seems expressed in the first promise to their father Abraham: 'In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.' This promise is so fundamental as to be thrice repeated to Abraham ; it is renewed to Isaac ; and reiterated to Jacob. If this promise had any real Divine meaning, it must have been intended to mark, as it were, the planting-ground for the Kingdom of God, whence in the fulness of time and of preparation it would be transplanted into the heathen world; in other words, the blessings of that kingdom were to be imparted through Israel to the world at large. There is nothing narrow or particularistic, but a grand universalism, even about this earliest presentation of the promise in a concrete form. And that such was the object and mission of Israel, is clearly indicated on the eve of the Sinaitic legislation: 'Ye shall be My property from among all nations, for all the earth is mine; ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' As Israel was ideally, so all nations were through their ministry to become really the possession of God: a kingdom of priests, a holy people; for all the earth, as well as Israel, was God's. And the realisation of this would be the kingdom of God on earth.
All the institutions of Israel were in strict accordance with this ideal destiny. Alike the laws, the worship, the institutions, and the mission of Israel were intended to express these two things: acknowledgment of God and dependence upon God. Thus viewed, the whole might be summed up in this one term, which runs through the whole Old Testament: 'The Servant of Jehovah.' The patriarchs were the Servants of the Lord; Israel was the Servant of the Lord; and their threefold representative institutions expressed the same idea. The Priest was to be wholly the Servant of the Lord. Hence the smallest transgression of the ordinances of his calling involved his destruction or removal. The King was not to bear rule in the manner of heathen princes, but to be the Servant of the Lord, in strictest subordination to Jehovah. Hence Saul, despite his nobler qualities, was really the Antichrist; and David, despite his grievous faults, the typical Christ of Israel's royalty, because of his constant acknowledgment of God's kingship. And the Prophet was simply the Servant of the Lord, telling nought but God's Word, in such strict adherence to the letter of his commission, that its slightest breach brought immediate punishment. And the Messiah, as summing up in Himself ideal Israel—its history, institutions, mission, and promises—was to be the Servant of the Lord. Hence the prophecies which most clearly portray Him—those of Isaiah—might be headed by this title: The Book of the Servant of Jehovah; the idea rising, through people, prophet, king, even through a foreign instrumental doer of His behest, up to Him as theServant of the Lord, the ideal Sufferer by and for the unrighteousness of man, the ideal Sacrifice and Priest for his sins, the ideal Teacher in his ignorance, Comforter in his sorrow, Restorer in his decay, and Dispenser of all blessing to the world at large—the Spirit-anointed One, out of Whose fulness all were to receive, and Who would fulfil all that Israel had meant and prepared. Or, going backwards, He was to be the Son of Man, the Second Adam, whose victory would restore what sin had lost: the true Son of God, God manifest in the flesh. This, we believe, the Old Testament meant, and Jesus of Nazareth came to fulfil.
In saying this, I am at least not misrepresenting what the Gospels indicate as the meaning of the Old Testament, and as that which stood out before the Christ as the object of His Mission. I cannot express it better than in the language of one who belonged to a school of critics from which I widely differ, but whose deep insight and spiritual appreciativeness contrast markedly with the levity of others of the same direction. 'The call of Jesus,' he writes, 'points back, first to John, and then, much further, into the Old Testament. The conception of the Kingdom of God, which to our modern consciousness seems somewhat obscure... is one of the fundamental ideas of the Old Testament. It was the pride of Israel, not merely because Israel believed in the privileges it would confer on themselves but because alone of all nations Israel was capable of believing in the possibility of a covenant between heaven and earth, between God and man, in a welding of Divine purposes with the counsels of earth, and in the fact that, even within the modest boundaries of a small nation, the rule of earthly affairs was not unworthy of God. To be sure, this also constituted Israel's sorrow and source of suffering in the course of history; the limitation not only of its free political and purely human, but even of its religious development; the appointed bitter criticism of a Reality which ever fell short and ever contradicted the Ideal. But in this very sorrow and never-ceasing criticism of earthly lamentation and limitation, Israel became the guide and leader in that infinite striving which, by believing in and seeking after the coming Kingdom of God, and by the final real Advent of the Messiah upon earth, would and did join Idea and Reality—the life of God and that of man, heaven and earth. The one pervading and impelling idea of the Old Testament is the royal design of God on earth.... Almost a thousand years before Christ rises the longing cry after the future Kingdom of God—a kingdom which is to conquer and to win all nations, and to plant in Israel righteousness, knowledge, peace, and blessing—that Kingdom of God in which God, or his Vicegerent, the Messiah, is to be King over the whole earth, and all generations are to come up and worship the Lord of Hosts.' On this only too brief extract I might have been content to rest the case. But I must not forget, even in this preliminary statement, that, since the eloquent words just quoted were written, the study of the Old Testament has entered into an entirely new phase—at any rate so far as its influence on English theological thinking is concerned. The critical conclusions arrived, or at least aimed at, are of the most wide-reaching character. As stated in the previous Lecture, they have this advantage, that they promise to explain every difficulty—though to our mind this is anything but evidence of their truth; that they are propounded by men of great critical learning, and presented by them as the undoubted outcome of the best critical research; and that they are supported by arguments which, to those unacquainted with the details of the controversy, must appear most specious. While reserving for another occasion such answer as may be necessary for the general argument of these Lectures, I must be allowed, even at this stage, to express some general objections. It is not said to create a prejudice, but as a matter of fact, that critics even of the same school are still in hopeless contradiction, not as to minor details, but on such primary questions as the authorship of different parts of the Pentateuch, or their respective dates, on both of which divergent conclusions are advanced—and with equal certitude. From which, I think, we may at least infer that no sure ground has yet been reached in regard to them. Further, some of the arguments are, almost admittedly, unsatisfactory, such as that which would infer the age or composition of certain parts of the Pentateuch from linguistic peculiarities. And the conclusion seems, at least to me, quite clear that the whole question will have to be decided mainly on internal grounds. Lastly, the arguments are not unfrequently mixed up with such extraordinary speculations as not only to weaken the force of the general reasoning, but to make us distrustful of the whole direction.
Indeed, primâ facie, some of the main conclusions propounded by that school of critics seem to involve the strongest improbabilities. Most of us are in some measure cognisant how books are written. Let us compare with this, for example, the account which Wellhausen—the representative of that school best known among us—gives of the origin of the Pentateuch. Truth to say, it is so complicated that it would be impossible to compress it in one sentence, and so involved as to make it difficult to present it in a quite clearly intelligible manner. Suffice it that the Pentateuch (or rather Hexateuch) is made up of a number of books which themselves have undergone several 'redactions,' and been successively incorporated into yet other books, with still other 'redactions.' Each of these is represented by a special letter, indicative of its authorship or characteristics. Thus we have sources respectively initialed, E, E2, J, J2, D, JE2, PC, and Q, besides the final redaction of them all. Some of these have not only undergone revisions, but P, for example, is 'a conglomerate, the work of a whole school;' while D consists of a centrepiece that had undergone two editions, with additions, respectively, before and after it. As we try to realise the multiplicity of books—not consulted, used, or quoted, but incorporated in the composition of the Pentateuch; remember, that of some of these books only small fragments are preserved, and even those in small pieces cunningly distributed here and there; and finally think of the various additions they have received, and redactions to which they have been subjected—the mind becomes bewildered. No other book has ever been composed in this manner. It may be as Wellhausen says; but in that case the Pentateuch is certainly, from a literary point of view, a unique production. We know that in the composition of a work many sources may be used and various authorities quoted, yet literary history would be searched in vain for another patchwork of the kind in which half-a-dozen or more books are cut up and pieced together in so cunning a manner. Viewed as a purely literary question, the story of the Pentateuch, as told by some of these critics, is not only unparalleled, but transparently improbable.
It need scarcely be said that this post-dating and inversion of the Pentateuch has most important sequences. In the first place, it presents the ancient religion of Israel as something quite different from what we had been formerly led to regard it; indeed, as a form of nature-religion, barbarous, and kindred to those of the nations around. And so the most fundamental questions, such as in regard to human sacrifices, the worship of Baal, and other points of the kind, have to be discussed anew. On the other hand, if the previously received order has to be inverted and we are henceforth to write, the Prophets and the Law—if the Pentateuch, viewed as Mosaic legislation, is, to speak plainly, a deception, we cannot wonder if the so-called Prophets are a delusion. I do not misrepresent Kuenen when I state this as the outcome of the book already referred to, that there is no such thing as Prophetism or Prophets in the sense which the Church attaches to these terms; that what are called fulfilled prophecies are simply a mistake; while unfulfilled prophecies are a delusion. But not only was the future towards which the Prophets looked a delusion, but their activity in the then present did not advance the welfare of the people, and Prophetism was alike ignorant of State policy and dangerous to the State. These self-appointed enthusiasts must, according to the new theory, be placed far below the Roman tribunes of the people. Their only contribution was an ethical monotheism, although, as Professor Kuenen adds, 'Even without their aid Polytheism would, perhaps, have made way for the recognition and the worship of one only God.' And with strange historical boldness, the commencement of such a reformation is discerned in the Roman Empire at the beginning of the Christian era, although Kuenen declares it doubtful whether the monotheism of the people, not of the philosophers, would have been what he calls 'ethical.'
But in cutting away all ground in Old Testament prophecy for an expectation of the kingdom, Professor Kuenen's theory surely condemns itself. For, as a matter of fact, this expectancy did exist, not only in the time of Jesus, but certainly two centuries before. And even Kuenen hesitates to accept the view of Schultz, that many of the Messianic interpretations originated among 'the Jews among whom the Prophet of Nazareth laboured.' But if so, what explanation of them can be offered? Only this: 'In the centuries which preceded the establishment of Christianity a new conception of the words of the Prophets and Psalmists must have been formed, which, in distinction from the actual meaning of these men, could be called the second sense of Scripture.' Probably few persons would call such perversion of the real meaning its second sense. But it is surely a strange use of language when Professor Kuenen calls this the 'allegorical exegesis,' and adds that 'allegorical exegesis is the inseparable companion of the process of the clarification of religious views' Most students would reverse this epigrammatic generalisation, and characterise such 'allegorical exegesis' as contributing rather to the process of darkening than that of 'clarifying' religious views. But the point to which I wish at present to call special attention is, that, when challenged to show how these Messianic interpretations had originated, Professor Kuenen has no better answer to offer than the assertion, that a new conception must have been formed in the centuries which preceded Christianity.
It is perhaps well that all the sequences of so bold and thoroughgoing a theory should clearly appear. And it will afford yet other evidence of the internal and inseparable connection between the Old and New Testament. Nor has Professor Kuenen denied that such did exist, at least, in the mind of Christ and His Apostles. But he declares that in this they had wholly misunderstood and misinterpreted the real and primary meaning of the Old Testament. To quote his own words: 'If they [Jesus Christ and the Apostles] had continued still to occupy altogether the standpoint of the old prophets and poets, Jesus of Nazareth would not have been accepted as the Messiah.' Then must the Synagogue have been right in rejecting the claims of Jesus, and in crucifying Him as a Deceiver of the people!
Surely, this is a startling conclusion. And yet, we repeat, it is well that the issue should be so narrowed, and the real alternative stand out in plain language. With belief in the Christ as presented in the New Testament, the prophetic character of the Old Testament is also established; with the rejection of prophecy in the Old Testament the claims of Christ, as set forth in the New Testament, fall to the ground. Which of these shall it be? Let history decide.
Note on Gen. 12:3
Professor Kuenen has maintained, in the most unhesitating manner, that the usual rendering of this verse is incorrect, and that it should read, 'The families of the earth shall bless themselves with Abraham,' i.e. 'Shall wish for themselves, or for one another, the blessing which Jahveh bestowed upon him.' He grounds this interpretation on the fact that, in three out of the five passages in which the word occurs, the verb 'blessing' is in the Niphal, while in two of the passages it is in the Hithpael. He holds that, if it meant 'be blessed,' the Pual form ought to have been used. Even if it were so, Kuenen's final inferences would be unwarrantable, as appears from the circumstance that so orthodox a commentator as Delitzsch holds the same view as to the meaning of the verb, and yet firmly retains the Messianic interpretation, which indeed rests, not upon the verb, but upon the words 'in thee and in thy seed.' Let me try to put this in a clearer light. First. Despite the authority of Kuenen, Delitzsch, and others, I must still hold the grammatical admissibility of the rendering 'shall be blessed.' This has been ably vindicated by Professor Stanley Leathes in his Warburton Lectures. It is the rendering of the LXX, substantially that of the Targum Onkelos (בדילך, on thy account), and the Jerusalem Targum (בזכוחך, by thy merit), which certainly cannot be accused of any Christian leaning, as well as that of Kimchi, as regards the Niphal form, and among modern Jewish writers notably of Kalisch. These authorities may at any rate be taken as evidence of the admissibility of such a rendering. Secondly. But the main difficulty of Kuenen's interpretation lies in this, that he regards the expression 'to bless in' as equivalent to 'bless with anyone,' in the signification 'to wish for oneself or for others the blessing which the person in question enjoys.' Now this view must be incorrect, if we are to judge of it by the instances quoted by Kuenen. In Isa. 65:16, Jer. 4:2, the expression is 'blessing themselves in God,' where certainly it cannot mean: to wish for oneself the blessing which the person in question enjoys, but the blessing which proceeds from a person. In Deut. 29:18 it cannot of course have the meaning for which Kuenen contends. In Ps. 72:17, even if we reject its Messianic application, it cannot possibly mean that all nations 'shall wish for themselves the blessing which Solomon enjoyed,' but rather that of which Solomon was the medium of communication. All the passages, therefore, quoted by Kuenen go against him. The 'usual meaning of the phrase' cannot be determined by Gen. 48:20 ('in thee shall Israel bless'), where the expression is used almost figuratively, as appears from the explanation which immediately follows, 'Elohim place thee like Ephraim and like Manasseh;' not, as in our A.V., 'make thee' but 'set thee;' viz. in the same favourable position. Generally, then, it will appear that the rendering for which Kuenen contends is, as regards the crucial word, 'in thee and in thy seed,' inadmissible. Besides, I would remark that, if the writer had meant to convey that the nations should wish for themselves the blessing which Jehovah bestowed on Abraham, he might have chosen a less ambiguous mode of expression than this, 'shall bless themselves with Abraham.' Lastly. It must be evident that, even if Kuenen were correct in explaining 'they shall wish for themselves the blessing which God bestowed on Abraham,' it would not by any means prove that this blessing refers to outward things, such as either the possession of the land, or any similar good. It can scarcely be imagined that at any later period of Israelitish history a writer would have put into the mouth of the nations as their highest wish that of sharing the outward fortunes of Israel, unless, indeed, he looked forward to a prophetic future. But in that case the interpretation would be that of a prophetic blessing, or in principle come back upon the view for which we have contended. On the linguistic, as well as the general critical aspect of the question, compare also the interesting remarks of Hoffmann, Schrift-Bew. ii. 1, pp. 103, 104, &c.
— Prophecy and History