1902 Encyclopedia > Christianity > The Relation of Jesus to His Contemporaries

(Part 4)

The Relation of Jesus to His Contemporaries

The relation of Jesus to His contemporaries, and of His disciples and their writings to the founders of the various ethnic religions, is another point whence proceed various, views of the nature of Christianity. The old deist view, adopted and intensified by the Encyclopedists, that Jesus was a charlatan, that His disciples were partly cheats and partly dupes, and that Christianity was founded in fraud and perpetuated by deceit, has to all intents and purposes disappeared. But many believe that Christianity is only one of the many religions which are all of them true though none of them contain the whole truth. The modern notion of evolution has been called in to enforce this view, and Christianity is explained to be the most perfect development yet reached by the religious spirit of mankind; while the character of Jesus and the New Testament writings are explained on the same principle. On theories of this kind Christianity is the production of the natural forces of the period which gave birth to it, and contains nothing which cannot be traced back to the circumstances of the time, and the conditions of humanity. All such theories commonly rest on the general principle that the supernatural is impossible, and that whatever involves a miracle is ipso facto incredible, and then proceed by means of some special principle to explain the presence of facts which seem to imply the supernatural. (See article APOLOGETICS.) These principles are used to explain not so much the origin of Christianity itself as the origin of the Christian writings of the New Testament, and the production of the scheme of doctrine and morals therein contained. Perhaps the most ingenious of these theories is that cluster which has been produced by the writers of the Tübingen school, who have suggested the general method which has been almost universally followed by anti-supernaturalist writers. The method is by an ingenious negative criticism to separate between the original elements of Christianity as these were present in the mind of Jesus and communicated by Him to His disciples, -and those elements which were afterwards added by more philosophical adherents, and to explain how, out of the conflict I between the two opposite tendencies of Judaism and anti-Judaism, the various and conflicting elements settled into a somewhat harmonious whole. By this ingenious method Jesus is reduced to the position of a Jewish rabbi, not much more noticeable than some of his contemporaries, and Christianity is not the religion of Jesus, but what grew out of that religion when it was subjected to the influences of Roman civilization, Greek philosophy, and Eastern theosophy. Such theories are unsupported by external, and rest confessedly on internal evidence. The weakness of internal evidence when unsupported by external is well known, and in this case the internal evidence is anything but strong. There are many serious objections to be taken to the Tübingen hypotheses (see article BIBLE) merely as hypotheses, and these difficulties are so great that it is almost evident the hypotheses would never have been put forward unless the anti-supernaturalist idea of Christianity had been taken for granted at the outset. There can be little doubt that if the supernatural be admitted these various hypotheses, while they suggest some difficulties which have not yet been solved, will be found to be at variance with the plain results both of external and internal evidence.

On the other hand those who believe in the supernatural take a different view of the relation of Jesus to His con-temporaries. He was no mere Jewish rabbi, but spake as never man spake, and did what never man did. He was the manifestation of God, and came to give by His presence, person, and work, as well as by what He said, the full revelation of God. He was while on earth the centre of the world's history, to whom all had looked forward, to whom all look back. And Christianity is not the simple product of the contemporary philosophical and religious systems, but is the embodiment of the unique appearance and work of Christ.

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