It is true that, measured by the standard of “agreement, inspiration and completeness,” these writings leave a very great deal to be desired, and even when judged by a more human standard they suffer from not a few imperfections. Rude additions from a later age they do not, indeed, exhibit—it will always remain a noteworthy fact that, conversely, it is only the fourth Gospel which makes Greeks ask after Jesus —but still they, too, reflect, here and there, the circumstances in which the primitive Christian community was placed and the experiences which it afterwards underwent. People nowadays, however, put such constructions on the text more readily than is necessary. Further, the conviction that Old Testament prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus’ history had a disturbing effect on tradition. Lastly, in some of the narratives the miraculous element is obviously intensified. On the other hand, Strauss’ contention that the Gospels contain a very great deal that is mythical has not been borne out, even if the very indefinite and defective conception of what “mythical” means in Strauss’ application of the word, be allowed to pass. It is almost exclusively in the account of Jesus’ childhood, and there only sparingly, that a mythical touch can be traced. None of these disturbing elements affect the heart of the narrative; not a few of them easily lend themselves to correction, partly by a comparison of the Gospels one with another, partly through the sound judgment that is matured by historical study.
But the miraculous element, all these reports of miracles! Not Strauss only, but many others too, have allowed themselves to be frightened by them into roundly denying the credibility of the Gospels. But, on the other hand, historical science in this last generation has taken a great step in advance by learning to pass a more intelligent and benevolent judgment on those narratives, and accordingly even reports of the marvellous can now be counted amongst the materials of history and turned to good account. I owe it to you and to the subject briefly to specify the position which historical science to-day takes up in regard to these reports.