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The method of this book is that it seeks to deal only with men who have inaugurated movements, or marked some turning-point in their course which has proved of more than usual significance. The compass of the book demands such a limitation. But by this method whole chapters in the life of learning are passed over, in which the substance of achievement has been the carrying out of a plan of which we have been able to note only the inception. There is a sense in which the carrying out of a plan is both more difficult and more worthy than the mere setting it in motion. When one thinks of the labour and patience which have been expended, for example, upon the problem of the Gospels in the past seventy years, those truths come home to us. When one reminds himself of the hypotheses which have been made but to be abandoned, which have yet had the value that they at least indicated the area within which solutions do not lie,—when one thinks of the wellnigh immeasurable toil by which we have been led to large results which now seem secure, one is made to realise that the conditions of the advance of science are, for theologians, not different from those which obtain for scholars who, in any other field, would establish truth and lead men. In a general way, however, it may be said that the course of opinion in these two generations, in reference to such questions as those of the dates and authorship of the New Testament writings, has been one of rather noteworthy retrogression from many of the Tuebingen positions. Harnack’s Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, 1893, and his Chronologie der altchristlichen Literatur, 1897, present a marked contrast to Baur’s scheme.
The minds of New Testament scholars in the last generation have been engaged with a question which, in its full significance, was hardly present to the attention of Baur’s school. It is the question of the New Testament as a whole. It is the question as to the time and manner and motives of the gathering together of the separate writings into a canon of Scripture which, despite the diversity of its elements, exerted its influence as a unit and to which an authority was ascribed, which the particular writings cannot originally have had. When and how did the Christians come to have a sacred book which they placed on an equality with the Old Testament, which last they had taken over from the synagogue? How did they choose the writings which were to belong to this new collection? Why did they reject books which we know were read for edification in the early churches? Deeper even than the question of the growth of the collection is that of the growth of the apprehension concerning it. This apprehension of these twenty-seven different writings as constituting the sole document of Christian revelation, given by the Holy Spirit, the identical