THE questions discussed in the previous part may be stated thus: How did the Synoptists conceive and represent Jesus? and, How did He conceive and interpret Himself? These have been dealt with less as literary and exegetical than as historical questions; i.e. the meaning: of the Evangelists has been read through the history they made as well as through the histories they wrote. This does not mean that the definitions and dogmas of the later creeds have been interpreted into the words of Jesus and His biographers; but that the men and their beliefs ought to be construed not simply through their antecedents and environment, but also through the changes and events they occasioned. In other words, our endeavour has been to discover causes as well as to ascertain effects; for the logic which compels us to seek a reasonable cause for nature will not allow us to be satisfied with a non-rational cause in history. The facts we have to interpret have proved themselves factors of order and progress; and while they have to be explained as facts they must be interpreted as factors.
As regards this inquiry, so far as it has proceeded, three things may here be noted: (α) The field of research has been as much as possible restricted to what it is the fashion to call the Ur-Marcus and the Logia, or the history which is common to all the Synoptists, and the collection of sayings which has been so largely used by two, Matthew and Luke. The discussion has not infrequently, indeed, wandered beyond these sources, but rather for illustrative or confirmatory purposes than for such material as could in any degree affect the course and the validity of the argument. (β) As a consequence of this emphasis on their common matter it has become evident that while the Synoptic Gospels are, as regards literary origin, later than the oldest Epistles, they show remarkably few signs of having been influenced by the Apostolical mind in either the history they narrate or the sayings they report. This is evident in minor matters like terms and incidents as well as in major matters like ideas and speeches. If we would test the truth of this statement, we have only to compare the large place which the Apocalyptic vision fills in the later discourses of Jesus with the small space it occupies in the earliest Apostolical literature. The special matter found in only one Gospel, like the parables peculiar to Luke, stand on a different footing. (γ) The conception of Jesus in the history and in the sayings is a unity. He is the same person in both. His words do not contradict His acts nor His acts His words. The character explicated in the teaching is evolved in the life. This unity of the ideal and the real is most significant. Modern criticism has failed as signally as the old dogmatism to construct a coherent image of the historical Jesus; in its hands He has become after years of labour and effort ever less credible and less possible. The idea that satisfies a consciousness governed by a more or less conventional idea of nature, will almost certainly offend a consciousness governed by the idea of the living continuity of history.
The questions to which we now pass are at once the converse and the logical sequents of those already discussed. What idea had the men who followed Jesus, the Apostles and the Apostolic writers, of His person? How did this idea come to be? In what sense and by what process may it be said to have created the Christian religion? And what were the essential and constitutive elements in the interpretation? These questions bring us directly face to face with the Apostolic literature, especially with those parts of it which represent distinct types of the idea and mark stages in its expression and determination.
We have, then, three main problems to discuss:
I. The interpretation of Christ's Person, which was the source of the main ideas as to God and man that constituted the Christian faith.
II. The genesis of the interpretation, or how the remarkable idea as to the person of Christ arose, and why it found acceptance?
III. The interpretation of Christ's death, which determined the nature and form of Christian worship.