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.