The day will come, Rudolf
Steiner once declared, when the whole human race will acclaim the Bible
as the greatest book in the world, inasmuch as it will be seen to contain
the whole history of the spiritual evolution of mankind.
Just over a hundred years
ago the Bible was almost universally accepted as verbally inspired,
but with the widespread advance of science at that time and with the
new evolutionary theories of Darwin it was subjected to materialistic
scepticism and rationalisation. In the latter part of the nineteenth
century it had to meet a new line of criticism in the light of comparative
literary and historical knowledge. This in many ways silenced some of the
crude earlier attacks. At the turn of the century a wave of archaeological
discovery thrust farther back the beginnings of human civilisation and
shed new light on the historical basis of the Scripture story. This was
followed in the ‘twenties’ by the new German form-criticism,
and now, latest of all, Maurice Nicoll's treatment of the New Testament
claims to reveal the symbolic character of the text, concealing beneath
it a mystical and esoteric meaning.
Fifty years ago, in the
midst of this stream of Biblical criticism, Rudolf Steiner, unrecognised,
indeed almost unnoticed, by the critics, made an entirely different
approach to the Bible, in the light of his own spiritual perception and
the great principle of human evolution he had thereby discovered. This
was no mystical interpretation of the Biblical text, but an application
to it of his spiritual understanding of evolution. Thereby light is
thrown, not only on the meaning and structure of the whole Bible, but
also on incidents and passages, some of them incomprehensible, some
seemingly trivial, which can now be seen to fit into the whole pattern
of this spiritual background.
Particularly is this so
in Rudolf Steiner's treatment of the Gospels. On each Gospel he gave
a special course of lectures — two courses on the Gospel of St.
John — not as any sort of continuous commentary, but revealing
the relation of the Gospels to one another and to the spiritual pattern
of which they form an integral part.
These three lectures on
St. Matthew's Gospel provide an invaluable introduction to this whole
series of Gospel lectures, setting out explicitly their spiritual
interrelationship, and indicating some of the deep principles governing
them. The reader may not find himself able at once to accept or
understand some of the textual interpretations, but the main lines
of the argument and their corroboration in the Biblical text are so
convincing, that it is impossible to doubt that here we have an as yet
unexplored avenue of discovery, that will lead to the heart of the
deepest secrets of Biblical revelation and to a truer understanding
of human evolution.