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ancient literature is needed before we can realise the conditions of the question before us. It is the wide documentary training which gives such force and common-sense to the work of that great scholar, Blass, in his Philology of the Gospels.
4. An Impersonal Criticism Required.
The whole course of verbal criticism, and even of textual criticism, is rendered more difficult in the gospels than it is in any other work, by the incessant assimilations which have been made in parallel passages. Every ancient scribe thought he had a pious liberty, if not a call of duty, to eliminate differences between the gospels. Not only were verbal rectifications made to unify texts, but whole parallels and explanations which one generation had put in the margin, were by a later generation incorporated in the text. As Jerome says of the Latin text, there were almost as many versions as there were copies. And the work of any recensor, such as Jerome, would inevitably be to reject the divergent readings in favour of the unifying of the texts. Hence, even apart from all doctrinal changes
(of which many are known), the mere conditions alone would lead to frequent alterations from the original documents. All verbal criticism is thus vitiated at the source.
Further, a criticism which depends on personal judgment will inevitably reflect personal variation. If we try to judge which is the fresher or more natural narrative, the whole play of personal taste influences the decision. If we try to estimate whether one narrative has been expanded or another has been condensed, the whole personal equation of style sways the balance. Could it be expected that two students whose favourite authors respectively were Tacitus and Lucian could judge style alike? All such judgments must depend so greatly on taste and predilections, that it is hopeless to base on them an opinion which shall command general assent. We need, then, a form of criticism which shall be free of the personal judgment, which shall depend on the purely impersonal application of some general principles.
Before going further, we may for clearness' sake define the terms as here used. A group or block, is a piece of a document, or a whole
document, which consists of several separable paragraphs or episodes. An episode is a portion containing a narrative or a saying which can stand by itself as a whole. These are the subjects of Structural Criticism. An incident is a dependant part of an episode, and a phrase records part of an incident. These are studied in Textual Criticism. The separate words are dealt with by Verbal Criticism. Any statement which can be brought into contact with facts otherwise known, becomes a subject for Historical Criticism.
5. The Examination of Structure. THE study of the structure of a composite document, where it can be compared with others, promises to lead us to a form of criticism which is free from the inherent defects which we have noticed in verbal and textual criticism. When once we adopt the elementary conceptions of the superposition of documents, the study of structure can go forward entirely impersonally; indeed it is best to keep out of sight altogether the sense of the document as long as possible, and deal only with references to chapters and verses, to label the blocks or groups and handle them regardless of the meaning. The ground is thus prepared with complete impartiality for the exercise of judgment and for subsequent historical criticism.
The inevitable tendency to unification in the details of the gospels can seldom influence the structure, but was generally spent on words and phrases. The order of passages does not attract attention like differences of detail; it does not suggest to busybodies the need of alteration, as do the verbal differences. Moreover, structure cannot be changed except when recopying a manuscript, and it must be a matter of much more determination and care than the scratching of a word or the insertion of some note which lay hitherto in the margin. The structure is embedded safely below the surface, scarcely noticed, difficult to change. The verbal detail is at the mercy of every reader. There is much the same difference which there is between the somatic structure of an animal and its external form liable to mutilation.
And the structure carries with it not only so decisive a voice, but also such an amount of detail, that it promises to lead us far in understanding the historical growth of the gospels.
Hitherto the separation into three-gospel narrative and two-gospel narrative has been the main recognition of structure. But we are