THE Christian Religion has its roots in, and has grown out of, the Jewish Religion. This is a statement of fact which nobody would be prepared to deny. The Old Testament was written by Jews, mainly about Jews, for Jews; the New Testament was written by Jews, 1 to whom the Old Testament was the "Word of God"; what the "Scriptures," i.e., the Old Testament, said was to them authoritative as nothing else was; and therefore the New Testament, and especially the Gospels, is permeated with Jewish belief and thought. When Christ teaches, He bases His teaching, in the first instance, upon Jewish
doctrine; He develops that doctrine, expands it, spiritualises it, when needful; but His teaching, like that of His Church, is founded upon the teaching of the prophets. Think not that I came to destroy the Law, or the Prophets: I came not to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished. 1 This principle is further insisted upon in the words: The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat; all things therefore whatsoever they bid you, these do and observe. 2 This second passage is very pointed, for our Lord testifies to the correctness of Pharisaic teaching, though He goes on to denounce the failure of the Pharisees to carry out their teaching in practice. And it is upon this Pharisaic teaching that, in the first instance, He bases His own. As far as it went, and as far as it was not a perversion, as it was in some cases, of the precepts of the Law (as, e.g., in Matt. xxiii. 23, 24), the teaching of the Pharisees was in accordance with the "teaching of Moses"; and therefore Christ's command to the people to observe whatsoever the Pharisees taught was
altogether what might have been expected. The scribes and Pharisees were together the keepers of the Law, and in this respect they were faithful and loyal to their trust; but as students of the Law, as well as keepers and teachers, their guilt was all the greater when hypocrisy and self-seeking contaminated their orthodoxy. Their claim to be better than other men, which the very name "Pharisee" implied ("one who separates himself" from others, and thus attains, or has attained, a higher degree of sanctity), was in itself of the nature of spiritual pride. But in spite of this, it is very necessary to remember that numbers of their body must have been genuine and true men (cf., e.g., John iii. 1 ff.), and that they were the real upholders of orthodoxy against such teachers of heresy as the Sadducees. What they taught, therefore, was the teaching of Moses and the prophets; and this was, at any rate, one of the antecedents of the Gospel teaching, and therefore upon it Christ based, in part, His own teaching.
These things are all so obvious that the mention of them may appear superfluous. And yet--what a strange thing it is that Christian theologians, scholars, and teachers
so rarely, comparatively speaking, take this obvious fact into consideration. It is well that in our age this is changing, and that more and more it is coming to be seen that the Christian religion can only be adequately understood by studying its beginnings, that early Christian thought and teaching can only be fully grasped when seen in the light of Jewish thought and teaching, that the Gospels can only be fully appreciated when explained from the Jewish point of view, and that the language of the Gospels must be studied in the light of that which the Jews of our Lord's day and of the preceding centuries spoke, whether Aramaic, or a dialect of this, or Hellenistic Greek, and not in the light of that used by classical Greek authors. In a word, there are many signs which point to the fact that the conviction is gaining ground among Christians generally that our religion must be studied and taught and understood from the point of view of its Founder. And since Christ was, according to the flesh, a Jew, brought up according to Jewish ideas (cf. Luke ii. 51), and deeply versed in the Jewish Scriptures, uncanonical 1 as well as canonical, we must look to Judaism--pre-Christian
[paragraph continues] Judaism--as that in which the antecedents of Christian teaching are to be sought.
But in saying that pre-Christian Judaism contained the germs from which Christian teaching was developed, we would guard ourselves from seeming to imply that our Lord in His teaching merely utilised the tenets of Judaism; for this would be as much as to say that there was nothing specifically original or distinctive about Christianity, an assertion to which the contemplation of the Personality of Christ, quite apart from everything else, would give the lie; and clearly the men of our Lord's own day perceived that in His teaching there was something unique and different from that with which they were familiar--And they were astonished at his teaching: for he taught them as having authority, and not as the scribes 1--but while, on the one hand, we see that the teaching of Christ was sui generis, that teaching itself tells us, on the other hand, that a very great deal of the content of Christianity constituted the natural development of Judaism. This was necessarily bound to be the case, for Judaism contained a very large amount of
the body of Absolute Truth, the knowledge of which, by divine grace, has been accorded to mankind; and this being so, it could not fail to be embodied in Christian teaching.
Further, in speaking of pre-Christian Judaism, it is indispensable that one should realise that this included two elements which differed greatly from each other, both in their content and in their spirit; they are best expressed under the titles of "Orthodox Judaism" and "Hellenistic Judaism," and both formed the basis of much that Christ taught. It was stated just now that our Lord was deeply versed in uncanonical as well as in canonical Jewish writings, i.e., in Hellenistic Jewish literature as well as in the Old Testament Scriptures. This statement will, it is hoped, be substantiated in chaps. v., vi., vii., below; but here it will be well to indicate as briefly as possible how it came about that, in addition to the Old Testament Scriptures, this new body of Hellenistic Jewish literature came into being.
By the commencement of the second century B.C. Palestinian Judaism had become permeated with Greek thought. This began, in the first instance, through the use of the Greek language, which was, in course of time, the means of the
spread of Greek civilisation. It was not only among the Jews of the Dispersion that the influence of the Greek spirit became pre-dominant, that was to be expected; but it was also in Palestine itself that this influence was so strong as to sweep away almost entirely, for a time, all that was best in Judaism. Nothing could be more painfully significant than these words in 1 Macc. i. 11-15: In those days came there forth out of Israel transgressors of the law, and persuaded many, saying, Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles that are round about us; for since we were parted from them many evils have befallen us. And the saying was good in their eyes. And certain of the people were forward herein, and went to the king, 1 and he gave them licence to do after the ordinances of the Gentiles. And they built a place of exercise in Jerusalem according to the laws of the Gentiles; and they made themselves uncircumcised, and forsook the holy covenant, and joined themselves to the Gentiles, and sold themselves to do evil. Such passages are not isolated (cf. 2 Macc. ix. 7-17). But while the results of Hellenistic influence were in many respects disastrous among the Jews, in some other respects they were for good. The knowledge
of Greek literature and philosophy with which the Jews of the Dispersion came into contact had the effect of breaking down national prejudices and Jewish narrowness; there resulted in these Jews a new mental development, their ideas expanded, their attitude towards men other than those of their own race became more tolerant, a tendency towards Universalism, directly opposed to their traditional Particularism, manifested itself; and the conception which arose in consequence, namely, that of the religion of Jehovah becoming a world religion, and not merely the possession of one people, was a magnificent one, a divinely inspired one, which in due time became realised. The greatest literary products of this blending of Jewish and Greek genius were what is known as the Wisdom literature and the Apocalyptic literature; on this latter see further below, chaps. iv., v.
But as far as Palestinian Judaism was concerned, an altogether new order of things was brought about by the wars of the Maccabees. The nationalist movement which resulted in the Maccabæan victories was utilised by the leading spirits of the nation to crush out, if possible, any lingering remnants of Hellenism; this it failed to do. But it was this nationalist
party which was henceforth to hold sway in Palestine; from it came forth the Pharisees. Their antagonism to the Hellenistic spirit was wholly justified, both on political and moral grounds; but it must be remembered that at first, at all events, this antagonism arose rather from political than from religious motives. It is most probably the case that ethical purity had much to do with the beginnings of a revolt against Hellenism in Palestine, but it is extremely improbable that this alone would have been effective had it not been for the national question which resulted in the successful Maccabæan wars, because the party which consisted of the faithful adherents of the Law was too small and uninfluential. With the resuscitation of the national idea came again particularistic tendencies, and with renewed strength, for there seemed more need than ever for the nation to keep itself from contamination with the Gentiles; the bitterness left behind by the wars went a long way towards widening the breach between Jew and Gentile. And in a natural course there arose now a stricter observance of the Law; this is distinctly observable in official post-Maccabæan literature, and it is reflected in post-Christian Jewish literature, the New Testament writings
coming in between the two testifies still further to the fact.
From what has been said it will have been seen that from the rise of the Greek period two parties stood in opposition to each other in Palestine, the orthodox party, and those who demanded and insisted upon greater latitude in belief; the Particularists and the Universalists, the Judaists and the Hellenists. Until the Maccabæan period, the Hellenists were in the ascendant, after that their antagonists held sway; but the two opposing schools of thought each held their own right up to the time when, in the year. 70 A.D., the final catastrophe took place, and Jewish national life came to an end. But it is of the first importance to remember that Pharisaism and Hellenism, with all that these two terms imply, played their parts in moulding the religious thought of the Jews long before the Maccabæan period, and continued to do so long after, and that therefore both contributed their quota towards the religious development of the people, and in each are to be discovered the antecedents of Gospel teaching.
When it is said, therefore, that Christian teaching must be explained in the light of
[paragraph continues] Jewish teaching, it will be understood that under "Jewish teaching" are included the two schools of thought referred to above, viz.: Hellenistic Judaism as well as Orthodox Judaism; the latter representing above all things the championship of the Law, the former having as its predominant element eschatological teaching, and being the expression of the thoughts and speculations of the Apocalyptists.
It is almost wholly with the latter that we shall be concerned in the present connection, for upon it was based, to a large extent, the Christian doctrine of the "last things." But the Hellenistic literature, in so far as it deals with Eschatology, is itself based in the first instance upon the teaching of the Old Testament prophets; and therefore, our first duty must be to try and discern in the prophetical writings the leading thoughts which were developed and expanded by the Apocalyptists.
1:1 The third Gospel and the Acts forming the only exceptions.
2:1 Matt. v. 17, 18.
2:2 Matt. xxiii. 2, 3.
4:1 For the justification of this statement see below.
5:1 Mark i. 22.
7:1 Antiochus Epiphanes.