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INTERNAL EVIDENCE THAT THESE BOOKS ARE NOT CANONICAL—THE WRITERS NOT PROPHETS, AND DO NOT CLAIM TO BE INSPIRED.
I COME now to the fifth argument to disprove the canonical authority of these books, which is derived from internal evidence. Books which contain manifest falsehoods; or which abound in silly and ridiculous stories; or contradict the plain and uniform doctrine of acknowledged Scripture, cannot be canonical. Now I will endeavour to show, that the books in dispute, are all, or most of them, condemned by this rule.
In the book of Tobit, an angel of God is made to tell a palpable falsehood—“I am Azarias, the son of Ananias the great, and of thy brethren;”2525Tobit v. 12, 13. by which Tobit was completely deceived, for he says, “Thou art of an honest and good stock.” Now in chapter xii. this same angel declares, “I am Raphael, one of the seven Holy Angels, which present the prayers of the saints, and go in and out before the glory of the Holy One.”
Judith is represented as speaking scarcely anything but falsehood to Holofernes; but what is most inconsistent with the character of piety given her, is, that she is made to pray to the God of truth, in the following 67words, “Smite by the deceit of my lips, the servant with the prince, and the prince with the servant.” Who does not perceive, at once, the impiety of this prayer? It is a petition that he who holds in utter detestation all falsehood, should give efficacy to premeditated deceit. This woman, so celebrated for her piety, is also made to speak with commendation of the conduct of Simeon, in the cruel slaughter of the Shechemites; an act, against which God, in the Scriptures, has expressed his high displeasure.
In the second book of Maccabees, Razis, an elder of Jerusalem, is spoken of with high commendation, for destroying his own life, rather than fall into the hands of his enemies; but, certainly, suicide is not, in any case, agreeable to the word of God.
The author of the book of Wisdom, speaks in the name of Solomon, and talks about being appointed to build a temple in the holy mountain; whereas it has been proved by Jerome, that this book is falsely ascribed to Solomon.
In the book of Tobit, we have this story: “And as they went on their journey they came to the river Tigris, and they lodged there; and when the young man went down to wash himself, a fish leaped out of the river, and would have devoured him. Then the angel said unto him, Take the fish. And the young man laid hold of the fish and drew it to land. To whom the angel said, Open the fish, and take the heart, and the liver, and the gall, and put them up safely. So the young man did as the angel commanded him, and when they had roasted the fish, they did eat it. Then the young man said unto the angel, Brother Azarias, to what use is the heart, and the liver, and the 68gall of the fish? And he said unto him, Touching the heart and the liver, if a devil, or an evil spirit trouble any, we must make a smoke thereof before the man or the woman, and the party shall be no more vexed. As for the gall, it is good to anoint a man that hath whiteness in his eyes; and he shall be healed.”2626Tobit c. vi. If this story does not savour of the fabulous, then it would be difficult to find anything that did.
In the book of Baruch, there are also several things which do not appear to be true. Baruch is said to have read this book, in the fifth year after the destruction of Jerusalem, in the ears of the king, and all the people dwelling in Babylon, who upon hearing it, collected money and sent it to Jerusalem, to the priests.2727Baruch i. 1-6. Now Baruch, who is here alleged to have read this book in Babylon, is said, in the canonical Scriptures, to have been carried captive into Egypt, with Jeremiah, after the murder of Gedaliah. Jer. xliii. 6. Again, he is represented to have read in the ears of Jeconias the king, and of all the people; but Jeconias is known to have been shut up in prison, at this time, and it is nowise probable that Baruch would have access to him, if he even had been in Babylon. The money that was sent from Babylon was to enable the priests to offer sacrifices to the Lord, but the temple was in ruins, and there was no altar.2828Baruch i. 10. “And they said, Behold we have sent you money to buy you burnt-offerings, and sin-offerings, and incense, and prepare ye manna, and offer upon the altar of the Lord our God.”
In the chapters added to the book of Esther, we read, that “Mardocheus, in the second year of Artaxerxes the Great, was a great man, being a servitor 69in the king’s court.” And in the same, “That he was also one of the captives which Nabuchodonosor carried from Jerusalem, with Jeconias, king of Judea.” Now, between these two periods, there intervened one hundred and fifty years; so that, if he was only fifteen years of age, when carried away, he must have been a servitor in the king’s court, at the age of one hundred and seventy-five years!
Again, Mardocheus is represented as being “a great man in the court, in the second year of Artaxerxes,” before he detected the conspiracy against the king’s life. Now, Artaxerxes and Ahasuerus were the same, or they were not; if the former, this history clashes with the Scriptural account, for there it appears, that Mordecai was not, before this time, a courtier, or a conspicuous man; if the latter, then this addition is manifestly false, because it ascribes to Artaxerxes, what the Scriptures ascribe to another person.
Moreover, this apocryphal writing places the conspiracy against the king’s life before the repudiation of Vashti and the marriage of Esther; but this is repugnant to the canonical Scriptures.
It is also asserted, in this book, (see chap. xvi.) that Mardocheus received honours and rewards for the detection of the conspiracy; whereas, in the Canonical book of Esther, it is declared, that he received no reward. And a different reason is assigned, in the two books, for Haman’s hatred of Mordecai. In the canonical, it is his neglect of showing respect to this proud courtier; in the apocryphal, it is the punishment of the two eunuchs, who had formed the conspiracy.
And finally, Haman, in this spurious work, is called 70a Macedonian; and it is said, that he meditated the design of transferring the Persian kingdom to the Macedonians. But this is utterly incredible. The kingdom of Macedon must have been, at that time, most obscure, and probably wholly unknown, at the Persian court. But this is not all: he who is here called a Macedonian, is in the canonical book said to be an Agagite. The proof of the apocryphal character of this addition to Esther, which has been adduced, is in all reason sufficient.
The advocates of these books are greatly perplexed to find a place in the history of the Jewish nation, for the wonderful deliverance wrought by means of Judith. It seems strange that no allusion is made to this event in any of the acknowledged books of Scripture; and more unaccountable still, that Josephus, who was so much disposed to relate everything favourable to the character of his nation, should never make the least mention of it. Some refer this history to the period preceding the Babylonish captivity; while others are of opinion, that the events occurred in the time of Cambyses, king of Persia. But the name of the high priest here mentioned, does not occur with the names of the high priests contained in any of the genealogies. From the time of the building of the temple of Solomon, to its overthrow by the Assyrians, this name is not found in the list of high priests, as may be seen by consulting the vi. chapter of 1 Chronicles; nor, in the catalogue given by Josephus, in the tenth chapter of the tenth book of his Antiquities. That this history cannot be placed after the captivity, is manifest, from this circumstance, that the temple of Solomon was still 71standing when the transactions which are related in this book occurred.
Another thing in the book of Judith, which is very suspicious, is, that Holofernes is represented as saying, “Tell me now, ye sons of Canaan, who this people is, that dwelleth in the hill country, and what are the cities that they inhabit.” But how can it be reconciled with known history, that a prince of Persia should be wholly ignorant of the Jewish people?
It is impossible to reconcile what is said, in the close of the book, with any sound principles of chronology. Judith is represented as young and beautiful, when she slew Holofernes; but here it is said, “That she waxed old in her husband’s house, being an hundred and five years old. And there was none that made the children of Israel any more afraid, in the days of Judith nor a long time after her death.” In whose reign, or at what period, we would ask, did the Jews enjoy this long season of uninterrupted tranquillity?
Some writers who are fully convinced that the history of Judith cannot be reconciled with authentic history, if taken literally, are of opinion, that it contains a beautiful allegory;—that Bethulia, (the virgin,) represents the church of God; that the assault of Nebuchadnezzar signifies the opposition of the world and its prince; that the victory obtained by a pious woman, is intended to teach, that the church’s deliverance is not effected by human might or power, but by the prayers and the piety of the saints, &c. This, perhaps, is the most favourable view which we can take of this history: but take it as you will, it is clear that the book is apocryphal, and has no right to a place in the sacred Canon.72
Between the first and second books of Maccabees, there is a palpable contradiction; for in the first book it is said, that “Judas died in the one hundred and fifty-second year:” but in the second, “that in the one hundred and eighty-eighth year, the people that were in Judea, and Judas, and the council, sent greeting and health unto Aristobulus.” Thus, Judas is made to join in sending a letter, six-and-thirty years after his death! The contradiction is manifest. In the same first chapter of the second book, there is a story inserted which has very much the air of a fable. “For when our fathers were led into Persia, the priests that were then devout, took the fire of the altar privily and hid it in a hollow place of a pit without water, where they kept it sure, so that the place was unknown to all men. Now after many years, when it pleased God, Nehemias, being sent from the king, of Persia, did send of the posterity of those priests that had hid it, to the fire: but when they told us they found no fire, but thick water, then commanded he them to draw it up and bring it, and when the sacrifice was laid on, Nehemias commanded the priests to sprinkle the wood and things laid thereon, with the water. When this was done and the time came that the sun shone, which before was hid in the clouds, a great fire was kindled.” 2 Mac. ix. But the Jews were not carried to Persia but to Babylon, and the rest of the story has no foundation, whatever, in truth.
In the second chapter we have another fabulous story of Jeremiah’s taking the ark and altar, and altar of incense, to mount Pisgah, and hiding them in a hollow cave, and closing them up. This place Jeremiah declared should be unknown, “until the time 73that God gathered his people again together, and received them into mercy; when the cloud as it appeared unto Moses, should appear again.” 1 Mac. viii. 16.
There is another contradiction between these books of Maccabees, in relation to the death of Antiochus Epiphanes. In the first, it is said, that he died at Elymais, in Persia, in the hundred and forty-ninth year; but, in the second book, it is related, that after entering Persepolis, with a view of overthrowing the temple and city, he was repulsed by the inhabitants; and while on his journey from this place, he was seized with a dreadful disease of the bowels, and died in the mountains. 1 Mac. vi.; 2 Mac. ix.
Moreover, the accounts given of Nicanor, in the seventh chapter of the first book, and in the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters of the second book, are totally inconsistent. In the first book of Maccabees an erroneous account is given of the civil government of the Romans, where it is said, “That they committed their government to one man every year, who ruled over all their country, and that all were obedient to that one.” Whereas, it is well known, that no such form of government ever existed among the Romans.
Finally, it is manifest that these books were not inspired, and therefore not canonical, because they were not written by prophets; but by men who speak of their labours in a way wholly incompatible with inspiration.
Jerome and Eusebius were of opinion, that Josephus was the author of the books of the Maccabees; but it has never been supposed by any, that he was an inspired 74man; therefore, if this opinion be correct, these books are no more canonical, than the Antiquities, or Wars of the Jews, by the same author.
It has been the constant tradition of Jews and Christians, that the spirit of prophecy ceased with Malachi, until the appearance of John the Baptist. Malachi has, on this account, been called by the Jews, “the seal of the prophets.”
Josephus, in his book against Apion, after saying that it belonged to the prophets alone, to write inspired books, adds these words, “From the time of Artaxerxes, there were some among us, who wrote books even to our own times, but these are not of equal authority with the preceding, because the succession of prophets was not complete.”
Eusebius, in giving a catalogue of the leaders of the Jews, denies that he can proceed any lower than Zerubbabel, “Because,” says he, “after the return from captivity until the advent of our Saviour, there is no book which can be esteemed sacred.”
Augustine gives a similar testimony. “After Malachi the Jews had no prophet, during that whole period, which intervened between the return from captivity and the advent of our Saviour.”
Neither does Genebrard dissent from this opinion. “From Malachi to John the Baptist,” says he, “no prophets existed.”
Drusius cites the following words, from the Compiler of the Jewish History, “’ The rest of the discourses of Simon and his wars, and the wars of his brother, are they not written in the book of Joseph, the son of Gorion, and in the book of the Asmoneans, and in the books of the Roman kings?” Here the books of 75the Maccabees are placed between the writings of Josephus and the Roman history.
The book of Wisdom does indeed claim to be the work of Solomon, an inspired man; but this claim furnishes the strongest ground for its condemnation. It is capable of the clearest proof from internal evidence, that this was the production of some person, probably a Hellenistic Jew, who lived long after the Canon of the Old Testament was completed. It contains manifest allusions to Grecian customs, and is tinctured with the Grecian philosophy. The manner in which the author praises himself is fulsome, and has no parallel in an inspired writer. This book has been ascribed to Philo Judæus; and if this conjecture be correct, doubtless it has no just claim to be considered a canonical book. But whoever was the author, his endeavouring to pass his composition off for the writing of Solomon, is sufficient to decide every question respecting his inspiration. If Solomon had written this book, it would have been found in the Jewish Canon, and in the Hebrew language. The writer is also guilty of shameful flattery to his own nation, which is entirely repugnant to the spirit of all the prophets. He has also, without any foundation, added many things to the sacred narration, contained in the canonical history; and has mingled with it much which is of the nature of poetical embellishment. And, indeed, the whole style of the composition savours too much of artificial eloquence, to be attributed to the Spirit of God; the constant characteristic of whose productions is, simplicity and sublimity.
Ecclesiasticus, which is superior to all the other apocryphal books, was written by one Jesus the son 76of Sirach. His grandfather, of the same name, it seems, had written a book, which he left to his son Sirach; and he delivered it to his son Jesus, who took great pains to reduce it into order; but he no where assumes the character of a prophet himself, nor does he claim it for the original author, his grandfather. In the prologue, he says. “My grandfather, Jesus, when he had much given himself to the reading of the law and the prophets, and other books of our fathers, and had gotten therein good judgment, was drawn on also himself to write something pertaining to learning and wisdom, to the intent that those which are desirous to learn, and are addicted to these things, might profit much more, in living according to the law. Wherefore let me entreat you to read it with favour and attention, and to pardon us wherein we may seem to come short of some words which we have laboured to interpret. For the same things uttered in Hebrew, and translated into another tongue, have not the same force in them. For in the eight-and-thirtieth year, coming into Egypt when Euergetes was king, and continuing there for some time, I found a book of no small learning: therefore I thought it most necessary for me to bestow some diligence and travail to interpret it; using great watchfulness, and skill, in that space, to bring the book to an end,” &c. Surely there is no need of further arguments to prove that this modest author did not claim to be inspired.
The author of the second book of the Maccabees professes to have reduced a work of Jason of Cyrene, consisting of five volumes, into one volume. Concerning which work, he says, “therefore to us that have taken upon us this painful labour of abridging, it was 77not easy, but a matter of sweat and watching.” Again, “leaving to the author the exact handling of every particular, and labouring to follow the rules of an abridgment—to stand upon every point, and go over things at large, and to be curious in particulars, belongeth to the first author of the story; but to use brevity, and avoid much labouring of the work, is to be granted to him that maketh an abridgment.” Is any thing more needed to prove that this writer did not profess to be inspired? If there was any inspiration in the case, it must be attributed to Jason of Cyrene, the original writer of the history;—but his work is long since lost, and we now possess only the abridgment which cost the writer so much labour and pains. Thus, I think it sufficiently appears, that the authors of these disputed books were not prophets; and that, as far as we can ascertain the circumstances in which they wrote, they did not lay claim to inspiration, but expressed themselves in such a way, as no man under the influence of inspiration ever did.
The Popish writers, to evade the force of the arguments of their adversaries, pretend that there was a two-fold Canon; that some of the books of Scripture are proto-canonical; and others deutero-canonical. If, by this distinction, they only meant that the word Canon was often used by the Fathers, with great latitude, so as to include all books that were ever read in the churches, or that were contained in the volume of the Greek Bible, the distinction is correct, and signifies the same, as is often expressed, by calling some books sacred and canonical, and others, ecclesiastical. But these writers make it manifest that they mean much more than this. They wish to put their deutero-78canonical books, on a level with the old Jewish Canon; and this distinction is intended to teach, that after the first Canon was constituted, other books were, from time to time, added: but when these books thus annexed to the Canon have been pronounced upon by the competent authority, they are to be received as of equal authority with the former. When this second Canon was constituted, is a matter concerning which they are not agreed; some pretend, that in the time of Shammai and Hillel, two famous rabbies, who lived before the advent of the Saviour, these books were added to the Canon. But why then are they not included in the Hebrew Canon? Why does Josephus never mention them? Why are they never quoted nor alluded to in the New Testament? And why did all the earlier Fathers omit to cite them, or expressly reject them? The difficulties of this theory being too prominent, the most of the advocates of the apocrypha, suppose, that these books, after having remained in doubt before, were received by the supreme authority of the church, in the fourth century. They allege, that these books were sanctioned by the council of Nice, and by the third council of Carthage, which met A. D. 397. But the story of the method pursued by the council of Nice, to distinguish between canonical and spurious books, is fabulous and ridiculous. There is nothing in the Canons of that council relative to these books; and certainly, they cited no authorities from them, in confirmation of the doctrines established by them. And as to the third council of Carthage, it may be asked, what authority had this provincial synod to determine anything for the whole church, respecting the Canon? But there is no certainty that 79this council did determine anything on the subject; for in the same Canon, there is mention made of Pope Boniface, as living at that time, whereas he did not rise to this dignity, until more than twenty years afterwards; in which time, three other popes occupied the See of Rome; so that this Canon could not have been formed by the third council of Carthage. And in some copies it is inserted, as the fourteenth of the seventh council of Carthage. However this may be, we may be confident, that no council of the fourth century had any authority to add to the Canon of Scripture, books which were not only not received before, but explicitly rejected as apocryphal, by most of the Fathers. Our opponents say, that these books were uncertain before, but now received confirmation. How could there be any uncertainty, in regard to these books, if the church was as infallible, in the first three ages, as in the fourth. These books were either canonical before the fourth century, or they were not: if the former, how came it to pass that they were not recognized by the apostles? How came they to be overlooked and rejected by the primitive Fathers? But if they were not canonical before, they must have been made canonical by the decree of some council. That is, the church can make that an inspired book, which was never given by inspiration. This absurdity was mentioned before, but it deserves to be repeated, because, however unreasonable it may be, it forms the true, and almost the only ground, on which the doctrine of the Romish church, in regard to these apocryphal books, rests. This is, indeed, a part of the Pope’s supremacy, Some of their best writers, however, deny this doctrine; and whatever others may 80pretend, it is most certain, that the Fathers, with one consent, believed that the Canon of sacred Scripture was complete in their time: they never dreamed of books not then canonical, becoming such, by any authority upon earth. Indeed, the idea of adding to the Canon, what did not, from the beginning, belong to it, never seems to have entered the mind of any person in former times. If this doctrine were correct, we might still have additions made to the Canon, and that too, of books which have existed for hundreds of years.
This question may be brought to a speedy issue, with all unprejudiced judges. These books were either written by divine inspiration for the guidance of the church in matters of faith and practice, or they were not; if the former, they always had a right to a place in the Canon; if the latter, no act of a pope or council could render that divine, which was not so before. It would be to change the nature of a fact, than which nothing is more impossible.
It is alleged, with much confidence, that the Greek Bibles, used by the Fathers, contained these books; and, therefore, whenever they give their testimony to the sacred Scriptures, these are included. This argument proves too much, for the third book of Esdras and the Prayer of Manasses were contained in these volumes, but these are rejected by the Romanists. The truth, however, is, that these books were not originally connected with the Septuagint; they were probably introduced into some of the later Greek versions, which were made by heretics. These versions, particularly that of Theodotion, came to be used promiscuously with that of the LXX; and to this day, 81the common copies contain the version of the book of Daniel by Theodotion, instead of that by the LXX.
By some such means, these apocryphal books crept into the Greek Bible; but the early Fathers were careful to distinguish them from the canonical Scriptures, as we have already seen. That they were read in the churches, is also true; but not as Scripture; not for the confirmation of doctrine, but for the edification of the common people.
Some of the Fathers, it is true, cited them as authority, but very seldom, and the reason which rendered it difficult for them to distinguish accurately between ecclesiastical and canonical books has already been given. These pious men were generally unacquainted with Hebrew literature, and finding all these books in Greek, and frequently bound up in the same volume with the canonical Scriptures, and observing that they contained excellent rules for the direction of life and the regulation of morals, they sometimes referred to them, and cited passages from them, and permitted them to be read in the church, for the instruction and edification of the people.
But the more learned of the Fathers, who examined into the authority of the sacred books with unceasing diligence, clearly marked the distinction between such books as were canonical, and such as were merely human compositions. And some of them even disapproved of the reading of these apocryphal books by the people; and some councils warned the churches against them. It was with this single view that so many catalogues of the canonical books were prepared and published.
Notwithstanding that we have taken so much pains 82to show that the books called apocrypha, are not canonical, we wish to avoid the opposite extreme of regarding them as useless, or injurious. Some of these books are important for the historical information which they contain; and, especially, as the facts recorded in them, are, in some instances, the fulfilment of remarkable prophecies.
Others of them are replete with sacred, moral, and prudential maxims, very useful to aid in the regulation of life and manners; but even with these, are interspersed sentiments, which are not perfectly accordant with the word of God. In short, these books are of very different value, but in the best of them there is so much error and imperfection, as to convince us, that they are human productions, and should be used as such: not as an infallible rule, but as useful helps in the attainment of knowledge, and in the practice of virtue. Therefore, when we would exclude them from a place in the Bible, we would not proscribe them as unfit to be read; but we would have them published in a separate volume, and studied much more carefully than they commonly have been.
And while we would dissent from the practice of reading lessons from these books, as Scriptural lessons are read in the church, we would cordially recommend the frequent perusal, in private, of the first of Maccabees, the Wisdom of Solomon, and above all Ecclesiasticus.
It is a dishonour to God, and a disparagement of his word, to place other books, in any respect on a level with the divine oracles; but it is a privilege to be permitted, to have access to the writings of men, eminent for their wisdom and piety. And it is also a 83matter of curious instruction to learn, what were the opinions of men, in ages long past, and in countries far remote.
The infallibility of the church of Rome is clearly proved to be without foundation, by the decree of the Council of Trent, canonizing the apocrypha. If we have been successful in proving that these books are not canonical, the infallibility of both popes and councils is overthrown; for if they erred in one instance, it proves that the doctrine is false. One great inconvenience of this doctrine is, that when that church falls into any error, she can never retract it; for that would be to acknowledge her fallibility.
Some allege that the church of Rome is not now what she was in former years; but that she has laid aside opinions formerly entertained. But this allegation is inconsistent with her claim to infallibility. According to this, the church of Rome has never erred; what she has declared to be true at any time she must forever maintain to be true; or give up her pretensions to infallibility. In regard to the Apocrypha, it is immaterial, whether the infallibility be supposed to reside in the pope or in a council; or in the pope and council united; for the council of Trent is considered to be an œcumenical council regularly constituted; and all its acts were sanctioned by the popes. Their error in pronouncing the apocrypha canonical, is decisive as to the infallibility of the church.84
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