An Introduction to the New Testament

By Adolf Jülicher


Section 1


§ 1. The Scope and Arrangement of New Testament Introduction

[Cf. H. Hupfeld: ʽÜber Begriff und Methode der sogenannten biblischen Einleitungʼ (1844), in which he defines Introduction as Literary History; F. C. Baur: ʽDie Hinleitung in das N.T. als theologische Wissenschaft,ʼ in the Theologische Jahrbücher for 1850 and 1851, an explanation of Introduction as the criticism of the Canon; and T. Zahnʼs article entitled ʽHinleitung in das N.T.ʼ in the Protestantische Real-Encyclopädie,1 vol. v. pp. 261-274. This latter deals in a lucid manner first with the history and then with the scope and functions of New Testament Introduction, handling the matter as objectively as possible. Lastly cf. G. Krüger: ʽDas Dogma vom N.T.ʼ (1896), which contends that what we want is a history of the whole of Early Christian Literature irrespective of the limits set by the Canon, and not a mere Introduction to the New Testament. But is there not room for both? The larger task need not necessarily displace the smaller.]

1. The name ʽIntroductionʼ as applied to the criticism of the New Testament has itself to be explained. For although we may clearly understand that the subject of it is furnished by those twenty-seven Books of the Bible which are collectively termed the ʽNew Testament,ʼ the word ʽIntroductionʼ remains none the less vague; it might include a great variety of preliminary studies useful to the understanding of the New Testament. Moreover its history shows that no clear and universally recognised conception of its meaning and its place within the complete body of theological knowledge has yet been evolved; probably no single topic exists which has been included in all Introductions to the New Testament without exception. In by far the greater number of the more modern productions we may indeed find researches into the origin of each individual Book of the New Testament and into the history of their collection into a whole; possibly, too, into that of the later dissemination of their texts; but often in addition to these we are confronted by a bewildering array of digressions on questions of dogma, hermeneutics, grammar, lexicography, philology, even of archeology and geography, while other productions of Early Christian literature, such as the First Epistle of Clement, the Epistle of Barnabas, the ʽDidaché of the Twelve Apostles,ʼ are included in the survey, and the history traced of the translation and interpretation of the New Testament and of its preservation in the Church and in literature.

We can never hope to construct a uniform whole out of this mass of heterogeneous material. But some such unity is to be obtained by defining Introduction to the New Testament as that branch of the science of history—or more accurately, of the history of literature—which treats of the New Testament. It rests an open question whether the writings of the New Testament properly come under the head of literature in the strict sense of the word; but at all events, it was as literature that their influence was felt. In very truth, this fragment of the worldʼs literature has exerted a greater influence than any other book that has ever been written. ʽTo make it the subject of a special scientific study is not merely permissible to a Christian theologian who would advocate the view it takes of life, but is also a duty of the historian, quite apart from considerations of his own faith, because without historical understanding of the New Testament, whole passages of the history of the human spirit become utterly incomprehensible, and others can be but imperfectly understood. We select the history of these particular twenty-seven books from that of the bulk of early Christian literature—to which they essentially belong— because they and no others have played so great a part in the worldʼs history, not because they may have been the earliest literary product of the Christian spirit. However clearly such documents as the Gospel of Peter, the First Epistle of Clement, or the ʽShepherdʼ of Hermas may excel certain parts of the New Testament in age or originality, we are not actually obliged to include them in the history of the New Testament except where our understanding of certain problems of literary history raised by the New Testament would be increased by so doing. The ʽtwin sister of Introduction, New Testament Theology, is in an entirely different position, inasmuch as it has to seek out its object—the Christian religion as it first arose—from among the whole body of existing authorities, whereas the object of our own study lies ready to our hand.

If, however, from whatever reasons, the limits of the New Testament should be so rigorously drawn as to exclude all other early writings, even those which are most akin to it, we should insist all the more strictly that the science of Introduction should occupy itself solely with the New Testament as such, and not with subjects which it shares with other books, such as language, vocabulary, geography and the like; if any New Testament writer displays peculiarities in these matters, the fact should be remarked upon, but otherwise they belong to different branches of science. For this reason alone we should refuse to include within the limits of Introduction proper such subjects as the distribution of the New Testament among the nations, its use in the Church, its interpretation from the point of view of theology; for in all these points the fortunes of the New Testament go hand in hand with those of the Old. It is just as unnecessary to lay stress upon such studies in endeavouring to form an historically sound judgment of that piece of the worldʼs literature which is called the New Testament, as it would be absurd to expect, say, that in a chapter on Lessing, a history of German literature should discuss all the translations of his works into foreign languages, the measure of understanding and misunderstanding which he has hitherto met with, or even the attempts that have been made to represent him as the champion of this or that particular party. The history of the New Testament as it should be told in an Introduction reaches no further than the point where the development of the New Testament ceases. What new features are added to it and how long the process of growth continues—these are the objects of our study, but the relation to the finished product assumed by other factors in the slow course of evolution is a question which lies for the present outsideʼ our horizon.

2. This definition excludes every dogmatic preconception— all reference indeed to anything of this nature—and therefore every ulterior partisan object from the pursuit of our study. It does not in the least concern us to know what claims were made for the New Testament three hundred years ago or are made for it at the present day by the Church; we seek neither to support the divinity of the New Testament writings nor to dispute and undermine it by pointing out how absurd are the assumptions on which the assertion of it rests. Criticism will indeed be applied; not, however, in order to test the value of a dogma, but because, if the truth is to be reached, historical research can never afford to do without criticism in dealing with the legacy of tradition. It is the dogmatistsʼ affair to interpret the results of an unprejudiced historical investigation of the New Testament, but it is not for historical scholarship to declare itself independent of external criteria by adopting dogmatic theses as the starting-points of its critical work. The views of the Church concerning the New Testament Canon should be referred to as often as they are necessary to enable us to understand how that Canon arose; but the changes they have undergone in later times at the hands of Reformers or Rationalists, or through modern criticism, are no concern of ours so long as they leave the actual contents of the New Testament untouched. If, like Baur, Weiss and Holtzmann, we take the fundamental interest of New Testament Introduction to be the critical investigation of certain definite preconceived ideas of our own on the subject of the origin and collection of the New Testament writings, suspicion is aroused against the strictly historical character of the investigation; and—while indeed the programme is seldom carried out and the discussion of these ʽideasʼ occupies a very small space—the place which belongs to the New Testament is usurped by the ideas of later generations concerning the New Testament. Naturally, these ideas deserve the most serious attention, on account of the enormous influence they have had, but the task of tracing their development belongs to the history of dogma, and that of criticising them to dogmatic theology. Those who wish for a true Introduction to the New Testament must for the moment lose all interest in the thoughts which anyone has at any time bestowed upon the New Testament—even in those of an infallible Church—and must concentrate all their attention upon the New Testament itself.

3. If, then, an Introduction to the New Testament means a history of its origin, exempt from any dogmatic preconceptions, we may at once distinguish as its main divisions, (1) the origin of the New Testament as a whole, i.e. of the collection represented by the New Testament Canon, and (2) the origin of the individual parts of this collection, i.e. of the twenty-seven Books. The order in which these questions should be discussed depends almost entirely on practical considerations. Both possibilities have their advantages and disadvantages, but that of placing the so-called ʽspecial introductionʼ (the history of the individual New Testament writings) first is favoured by the conformity of such an arrangement with the actual course of things; for the books must first have been produced before they were collected. Thus we have decided to give the second place to the History of the New Testament Canon. But there is yet a third part to follow. The New Testament did not cease its development, its growth, at the moment when its Canon of twenty-seven Books appeared complete; as it was handed down from one generation to another the text continually received important modifications of form—in modern times, after the introduction of printing, no less than in the earliest years after the composition of the Pauline Epistles—and thus we shall be bound to assign a third place to the History of the New Testament Text, in which the rise of the present wording of the New Testament will be discussed. In the first our scrutiny will be confined to the first two centuries A.D.; in the second we shall be brought down to the Middle Ages—nay, to the very century of the Reformation; the third takes us to the present day.

The inclusion of Part III. as an independent branch of the literature of the New Testament within the limits of ʽIntroductionʼ is not to be gainsaid by the assertion, though correct in itself, that a complete and separate representation of the manner in which the Greek and Roman Classics have been handed down to us through manuscripts and translations has never formed a special part of the history of Classical literature. Greek literary history is certainly little adapted to form an analogy to the literary history of the New Testament; but an Introduction to Homer similar to ours would scarcely be able to ignore the history of his text, any more than a monograph dealing with the literary history of the Sibylline Oracles would be able to ignore the intricate history of the Sibylline texts. No complete lists of the different manuscripts and translations are indeed required for our purpose, but we shall certainly need whatever material is necessary to convince our readers of the growth and gradual development even of the smallest fractions of the New Testament, its individual words and sentences, and to give them an insight into the forces and laws by which that growth was governed. He who does not know that the New Testament he possesses is in its details but an imperfect form of the real New Testament, and why it can be no more than this, has simply not learnt the history of his New Testament properly. In order to fulfil its object it is just as necessary that a history of the New Testament—a book in which we are confronted with claims of so unique a character—should present a history of its text in its main outlines, as that a history of the Apostolic Symbol, of the Augustana, of the Decrees of the Œcumenical Councils should enlighten us fully as to the changes which took place in the wording even of what was accepted by the Church.

4, But unfortunately the ideal treatment of the New Testament from the point of view of literary history is not to be attained. Our knowledge of the most important questions is extremely fragmentary, and in the case of the individual writings in particular we have practically no external evidence to look to, and are obliged to rely solely on indications to be obtained from the documents themselves. This state of things necessitates a critical investigation of details in which hypothesis is often piled on hypothesis; no connected representation is attainable, and the hope of reconstructing a complete history of the evolution of New Testament literature vanishes into space. With but one New Testament writer—-Paul—does our acquaintance approach to intimacy; his epistles, both in number and length, are sufficient to give us a tolerably clear idea of his personality and his peculiar qualities as a writer; but the other New Testament authors remain wrapped in obscurity, no less than the circles from which they sprang and the conditions under which they wrote. We must be content if we can approximately determine in the case of each New Testament Book when and for whom it was written; whether the author wrote in his own name or in that of another; what his principal object was and how he succeeded in expressing it; whether and to what extent he used other authorities, i.e. earlier written documents, and whether his work has come down te us unchanged, untouched by the hand of a later reviser. Here in truth we have but the materials for a history of the New Testament, not the history itself.

With regard to the Canon our position is somewhat better; in the main we know the motives by which the collection and canonisation of the New Testament Books was guided, we know the preliminary steps and the different stages through which the process passed, though in detail there is much that yet remains undiscovered. Finally, for the history of the Text we have indeed an enormous mass of evidence at our disposal, but as to the decisive period before the fourth century we can only be certain of the bare fact that the New Testament Text was subjected to considerable alteration, not of the manner in which it was done or of the definite results which followed. There is scarcely a single branch of science in which the inclination to know everything for certain and to have an answer ready for every question is so universal as it is in the Introduction to the New Testament; scarcely any in which that inclination is so little justified. The more decidedly, then, must we emphasise from the very outset the fact that our judgments can only be absolutely trustworthy on the negative side, while our positive assertions can seldom rise above the level of probabilities.



1) Edited by Hauck, 1896, and now in a third edition.