Judaism and Christianity

PROFESSOR TOY has long been known as an accomplished scholar, of perceptions refined to acuteness, of precision in thought and statement, and of thorough familiarity with Old and New Testament studies; his writings have evinced the broad philosophical spirit as well as the close critical faculty and habit. In these respects his latest volume more than fulfills the promise of what he has hitherto written. It is a book of grasp and power, — a book which exhibits a command of the subject and a repose and dignity of manner such as we should look for in the author, together with a sustained force, a self-propelling and selfimpressing vigor, at times a brilliancy of combination and a luminousness of expression, which perhaps no subject hitherto treated by him in a connected way has encouraged to an equal degree. It is not merely a striking book, bearing marks of a strong and original mind. We have had a considerable number of such books, in the last twenty-five years, within the domain of theological literature, even on Biblical subjects. This one differs from most in having a substantial basis in minute investigation of details, so that it presents the character of scientific generalization. It does not take the speculative form, but the inductive. We have a scientist who knows his subject in particular, and who constructs his propositions with the easy skill of a master builder.

The book is significant, also, of a definite stage in the history of a new hypothesis. In any science a radical and fresh hypothesis at first excites wonder, and is accepted or rejected, in a comparatively narrow circle; the mass of workers keep on by the old path. If the new theory has elements of success in it at all, it at last divides the guild into opposing parties, assailing the theories and the motives one of the other. By and by there comes a time — sooner in some countries and in some minds than in others — when mere wonder has passed away, and the polemic stage, with its pamphleteering habit, has followed after it; when the new theory is simply taken for granted, and worked logically out to its conclusions, — the sword being dropped not so much because attack has ceased as because the student has ceased to believe in the power of attack to harm his theory or check its spread. He may be mistaken ; this safety may be only a growth of his own firm conviction, without objective reality; but every hypothesis which, in the belief of a considerable number of competent persons, has reached this stage shows thereby a measure of vitality and at least an approach to adequacy which invest it with large importance.

It is to this stage that Professor Toy’s volume belongs. This book is the outgrowth of a mind entirely in sympathy with the boldest and most radical criticism of the day ; it takes the results of this criticism as its postulates, assumes their truth, and interprets Scripture on the basis of them. The calmness and security of its tone impress the reader, and tend to beget confidence in the conclusions it offers. It is totally lacking in sharpness and bitterness. There are very few references to divergent opinions ; such as occur are absolutely impersonal and undemonstrative. Everywhere there is sobriety, even gravity of manner, not as of one oppressed by a solemn theme, but as of one wholly absorbed in a work of real seriousness and worth. The style is not fascinating, like that of Renan,—who is just now transforming the familiar Old Testament story into a socialistic romance,— but it quiets remonstrance and disarms objectors as that does not. It tends to produce an attitude of reasonableness and expectancy in the mind of the reader, to dispel prejudice, to call forth the powers of deliberate and dispassionate judgment. The sermonic element is not found in it. The occasions when the writer assumes a warmer tone, when we cense to see in him only the scientific inquirer, and feel something of the personal quality of the religious man, do not spring from the discussions of doctrine, but from perception of ethical truth; and therefore, while they cannot satisfy the theologian, they make a new tie between the author and those who are non-theological, and yet morally sensitive and responsive.

Besides this general excellence of quality, there are certain obvious features of the book which will call out wide and sincere appreciation. In the first place, by its title and its contents it bears substantial testimony to the relation between the Old Testament and the New Testament. A good deal of modern criticism and a good deal of modern Christianity have been superficial enough to minimize or deny this relation. The exhibition of it in its proper light is of the utmost importance, both historically and practically. The practical aspects of the matter we may leave to the sermon-makers, but as an historical study the New Testament is inexplicable without the Old. This is true especially from the standpoint of Biblical Theology, the branch of theological science to which Professor Toy’s book particularly belongs. The German habit of assigning Old Testament theology to an Old Testament professor, and New Testament theology to a New Testament professor, has a certain formal justification, of course, and is a matter of practical convenience, but it has led to serious mistakes and infelicities. In a real sense, Christianity sprang out of Judaism, Christian doctrine out of Jewish doctrine, Christian morals out of Jewish morals ; to ignore or deny this is to pervert history. Professor Toy does not ignore or deny it. He affirms it and makes much of it, and in so doing renders a great service to religious history. It has long been a favorite study of his. It underlies his book on Quotations in the New Testament, published in 1884. “ The present volume was begun,” he now says in his Preface, 舠 as a continuation of my Quotations in the New Testament, with the purpose of giving an orderly view of the development of religious thought apparent in the way in which Old Testament passages are interpreted and used by New Testament writers.” The maintenance of this close connection between the two Testaments is an element of power because it is an element of truth.

Another point is the avowed use of the method of Biblical Theology. Biblical Theology, in the technical sense, is nothing but the comprehensive use of historical interpretation in studying the teachings of the Bible. It seeks to know exactly what is expressed on any topic of religion, theology or morals, by the various speakers and writers, each in his own environment, to recognize their differences and their agreements, to construct out of the scattered materials a statement of the religious beliefs and practices of those whose words supply the materials; not by selecting some and ignoring others, and not by paring down some to harmonize with others, but by combining all into one progressively growing and diversified whole. It seems strange that this simple, scientific method should have been applied so tardily to the Bible. With all the benefits of the habit of regarding the Bible as essentially different from other books has come also the injury of depriving the Bible of the light and vivacity which it gains by subjection to the critical processes. Professor Toy has given us a discussion of the central doctrines of Scripture, derived from what avows itself as a simple induction and generalization. The temper in which it is conducted may be indicated by a few sentences from the Preface of the earlier book : “ No honest student of the Bible can object to a careful and honest sifting of its words, and no believer in God can fear that such a procedure will do harm. In the following discussions I have spoken plainly, yet never, I hope, irreverently. My aim has been to state what I hold to be the exact truth. I ask from those to whom some of the views here presented may seem strange a careful examination of the grounds on which they are based. I believe that the ethical-religious power of the Bible will be increased by perfectly free, fairminded dealing, and by a precise knowledge of what it does or does not say. As its friends, we ought not to wish anything else than that it should be judged strictly on its own merits ; for to wish anything else is a confession of weakness. There is too much reason to suppose that the belief, which is so prevalent, in the mechanical infallibility of the Bible is seriously diminishing its legitimate influence over the minds and the lives of men.” The spirit indicated here pervades the new volume also.

The Introduction is occupied with an account of the general principles of religious development as they have historically exhibited themselves. As a whole, it is clear, strong, and weighty. After a careful though brief discussion of various elements, the case is summarized in a section entitled The General Lines of Progress. These are named as the abandonment of local usages, the emphasizing of spiritual ideas, the choice of a central idea through the influence of some leader or leaders, and the conditions of the time,—all elements in the advance toward universality. The closing paragraph of this section is significant, and we quote it entire : ——

“ We are here, of course, employing the term ‘ universal ’ loosely to mean what is endowed with practically indefinite capacity of extension. We know of no religion which experience has shown to be really universal. No religion has yet been accepted by all nations ; and we should hardly be warranted in going beyond the bounds of experience, and affirming that this or that religion has elements which must commend it to all peoples. It is indeed difficult to see why Christianity in its simplest New Testament form should not prove thus universally acceptable, though, on the other hand, it is impossible to say how far this simple faith, in order to commend itself, must be supported by a more elaborate system. And further, even when a religion is accepted in general by a nation, it may be rejected by a considerable circle. In the purest and highest historical religion there must remain something local and temporary ; and the question to be decided by time will be how far it can dispense with this local part without losing its essential nature. The absolutely universal religion will be that which satisfies universal human needs, spiritual and intellectual; lacking nothing which is necessary for the practical guidance of human life, containing nothing which offends the most advanced thought, offering and claiming nothing which is not capable of universally acceptable demonstration.” This will startle many, and radical enough it doubtless is. But it is only a new evidence of that which has been pressing itself home upon thoughtful religious men for a long time, — the fact that there is imperative need of an adjustment between the claims of an objective revelation and the self-respect of the human reason. If Christianity is to prevail. it must be through a recognition of its reasonableness, in the largest and truest sense of that term. It will not do for any religion that has universal aims to humiliate the universal and kingly endowment of man, by which alone the fundamental truths and facts of religion can be apprehended. The statement of the author is radical because it is needlessly hesitant as to the ability of Christianity to meet the demands of the fully enlightened reason, not because it gives utterance to those demands. The author himself seems less skeptical as to the future of Christianity in a later paragraph of this same Introduction, where, after considering the actual results of the historic religions, and declaring that, “ as between the three great universal religions [Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam], there can be little doubt as to where the prospect of victory lies,” he goes on to say : " Nor is it probable that Christianity, if it should be the sole survivor of the world’s religious creeds, would retain its present form unmodified. It is more likely that it will from generation to generation feel the double influence of territorial expansion and inward development of thought. Having the whole world for its heritage, it will adapt itself to the world’s needs; and standing always in close contact with the world s highest thought, it will throw off from time to time what it feels to be opposed to the purest ethical-religious conception of life, and retain only that which the best thought of the time demands.”With this we can agree, though perhaps in a sense quite different from that which the author had in mind.

But this is all preliminary. The essential business of the volume begins with the chapter on the Hebrew Literature. This is only a hasty sketch ; it does hardly more than state the general view of the author. In his critical position he belongs to tlie extreme left wing of the Reuss-Kuenen-Wellhausen school. Like most extreme positions, this one has the advantage and the disadvantage of a degree of simplicity which makes possible a brilliant defense, but imposes an enormous cost, in the ravages upon the historical statements of our only sources of information which are required by the necessities of its own maintenance. Yet no Biblical discussions of recent years have done more to promote a true understanding of the literary history of the Old Testament than those of this school, — not so much, as is sometimes vaunted in regard to the effect of the Tübingen school on New Testament studies, by making the conservative position more intelligent, but by compelling the recognition of facts which had been ignored, and the large modification of traditional opinions. The conservative opponents of the Reuss-Kuenen-Wellhausen theories have, for the most part, hindered the advance of truth. But it remains certain that the extreme form of these theories is suspicious because of its simplicity, and burdensome because of its costly sacrifice of historical accuracy in the documents which make its own historical basis. This is a fundamental weakness, which of course affects one’s view of the growth of doctrines.

It is, however, to the study of the doctrines themselves that the main part of the book is devoted. They are traced from their earliest forms in the Old Testament,, literature to their latest forms in the New Testament. One regrets, it may be said in passing, that there is no presentation of the author’s critical opinions about the New Testament literature to even the same extent as in regard to the Old. They must be gathered from the use of the different books in tracing the advance of doctrinal statement. It is fair to say that they are moderately radical, going decidedly beyond Weiss and Meyer (to whom the author refers in his Preface), and agreeing perhaps substantially with those of Pfleiderer, whose work (without trace of dependence) the one before us not infrequently suggests : that is, Colossians and Ephesians are sub-Pauline in date, yet largely Pauline in tone and type; Second Timothy is in the same category ; the Gospel and Epistle of John fall in the early decades of the second century, etc., —opinions which to us, again, seem needlessly negative.

The material which Professor Toy has gathered from all this literature — and no one who has not made the attempt can appreciate the labor involved in the process — he groups under six main heads : The Doctrine of God, Subordinate Supernatural Beings, Man, Ethics, Lhe Kingdom of God, and Eschatology ; these are followed by the closing chapter, on The Relation of Jesus to Christianity. This brief statement makes it clear that the book is really, in design, a compendious exhibition of Biblical Theology.

It is manifestly impossible. without prolonging this notice beyond all bounds, and transforming it into a discussion for specialists, to enter upon an examination of all these chapters. Only some general remarks are here in place.

The first is, that, with all allowance for his extreme critical positions, Professor Toy has made an impressive showing as to the actual growth, within the time covered by the Biblical writings, of the beliefs which have become the historic faith of Christendom. We can see them advancing and expanding, observe the conditions of their growth, and more nearly comprehend their primary significance. The effect is not merely to increase our intelligence, but also — like that of all historical study, only in an exceptional degree — to enlarge our sympathy and temper our judgment. Historical inquiries, and especially in the history of religious doctrine, do not tend to indifferentism, but they do tend to destroy narrowness and bigotry. We see how largely men have been under the influence of their age and circumstances; we become aware that we too are thus circumscribed ; the possibilities of truth grow larger. The second is, that a large amount of generally received truth — particularly ethical truth — gains confirmation by the process. We find how deep its roots are struck, how persistent it is, and how, under the different forms of its exhibition, it has been gradually throwing off trammels, laying aside impediments, and assuming, in its freedom, a position of command. The third is, that much which has been thought essential ill forms of truth as now held appears, in this historic light, to be merely accidental and temporary, — something without which the truth has subsisted in real vigor, and without which it may still live and prosper.

To offset all these advantages and the great general merits of the book dwelt on earlier, it is just, however, to remark what seem to be serious defects. These have to do not so much with the principles of investigation and interpretation which the writer avows as with the scope he gives them, the method of his use of them, and the actual results at which he arrives. The main ground of criticism under the first head is an excessive regard for the theory of development. This appears in his literary criticism to some degree, as already noticed. It appears when he applies the general laws derived from a study of the ethnic religions to the growth of Judaism and Christianity, and in the account of the genesis and growth of particular beliefs. Judaism and Christianity claim a difference between themselves and all other religions. If there is a God, and if, without denying his influence in all religions, it is agreed that certain religions stand in a peculiar connection with him ; and if, again, the documentary sources of these religions claim that particular and extraordinary divine agency has worked in their production and advance, then either this claim, made in the fundamental historical sources, should be allowed due weight, or else scientific research is bound to explain its disregard of it. A scientific inquiry that selects some of the statements of its historical sources, and neglects others, without justifying the omission, is open to the charge of generalizing on the basis of partial instead of complete induction.

A closely allied defect is one of method, — that of subjective criticism. It is easy to transplant a doctrine which seems out of keeping with its doctrinal surroundings to a more congenial place and time, nor is this always objectionable. But the critic is here dealing with a very sensitive apparatus. A breath of his own may derange it, or make it register falsely. Professor Toy has undoubtedly made the most earnest and honest attempts to avoid purely subjective criticism. It is only to say that he is human to say that he has not always succeeded. For the broad sweep and steady movement in a very large part of his doctrinal history we have nothing but warm recognition and hearty praise. It is at some crucial points that he takes positions which bear marks of being the offspring of theory, and in these we cannot think that the large common sense of men will sustain him.

It would be very instructive to examine with some closeness the positions with regard to Christian belief at which the author arrives ; particularly to consider how far the facts actually justify the picture given us of the Relation of Jesus to Christianity. We must content ourselves with saying that many of these results appear to us much more vague and far less affirmative with reference to great religious issues than the data warrant. But it would be wrong to leave the subject without emphasizing the only sound method of controverting them. It cannot be done by platform declamations. The truth or falsity of scientific positions, whatever the branch of science, cannot be thoroughly tested except by scientific procedure. We trust that Professor Toy’s book will stimulate many students, of like conscientiousness and courage, to work along the lines of Biblical Theology, — not for the purpose of confirming or refuting him, but for the purpose of discovering and exhibiting the full truth. That this will tend to the establishment of sound doctrine, the upbuilding of righteous character, and the enrichment of the life of men there can be no manner of doubt.

  1. Judaism and Christianity. A Sketch of the Progress of Thought from Old Testament to New Testament. By CRAWFORD HOWELL TOY, Professor in Harvard University. Boston : Little, Brown A Co. 1890.