Gwatkin on biblical criticism

Speaking quite generally, so as to leave behind all personal references, it may be submitted that abundant learning is not always inconsistent with small regard for the probabilities of common sense and human nature. What is to be said, for instance, when the origin of the Gospels is discussed as if the writers were modern literary men with scissors and paste, or German monographists who make it a business to set down every single thing that they can find out? Or when the problem is handled without reference to Jewish methods or Christian needs of teaching? Or when a corrupt or misunderstood quotation of Papias—that St. John was killed by the Jews—is preferred to the clear evidence of Irenaeus? Or when historical investigation is reduced to a mechanical process which ignores historical surroundings and personal character? Take another sample. Straight after an admission that the writer of the Fourth Gospel shows a considerable knowledge of Jewish institutions, is it common sense to force on absolutely open words the enormous blunder of taking the high priesthood for an annual office? Has the intelligent foreigner, ever set down the like about royalty in England? And how about quotations in early writers? They are discussed with infinite learning and ingenuity, but without the smallest regard to ancient or even to modern habits of quotation. Schmiedel has a very neat dilemma, which has found much favour with the literary critics. If the words are not precisely what we find in our Gospel, they must have come from some other source: if they are, they must be “winged words” which might have come from anywhere. But the critics are seldom reduced to the “winged words,” for a disagreement is easily made by taking another reading or another meaning for the passage. So good a method will bear extension; and some thirty years ago they carried it down to Tatian: but they have dropped it after Justin since the discovery of the Diatessaron, and that in such haste that they never stop to ask what length of past history is implied by Tatian’s recognition of the Gospels, and by the state of the text in his time. If some of them will kindly turn their attention for a while from Papias and Justin to Westcott, almost any single page of his writings (the rest supposed lost) will give them abundant proof that he “did not recognize” the Fourth Gospel, or at any rate “attached no authority to it.” Abbott and Schmiedel are scholars from whom we would gladly learn, for some of their other work is excellent; but they have shewn small judgment here. “Critical” methods like these will turn any history whatever into romance. As feats of paradox they are altogether admirable; but when they are laid before us as the ripest results of modern historical research, we are compelled to make our protest in the name of truth and sanity against this astounding license of reckless theorizing, forced interpretations, contempt of evidence, and systematic disregard of common sense.

Henry Melvill Gwatkin, The Knowledge of God and its Historical Development, second edition, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1908), pp. 50-52

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