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NO CANONICAL BOOK OF THE OLD TESTAMENT HAS BEEN LOST.
ON this subject there has existed some diversity of opinion. Chrysostom is cited by Bellarmine, as saying, ” That many of the writings of the prophets had perished, which may readily be proved from the history in Chronicles. For the Jews were negligent, and not only negligent but impious, so that some books were lost through carelessness, and others were burned, or otherwise destroyed.”
In confirmation of this opinion, an appeal is made to 1 Kings iv. 32, 33, where it is said of Solomon, “That he spake three thousand proverbs, and his songs were a thousand and five. And he spake of trees, from the cedar in Lebanon, even unto the hyssop, that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes.” All these productions, it is acknowledged, nave perished.
Again it is said in 1 Chron. xxix. 29, 30. “Now the acts of David the king, first and last, behold they are written in the book of Samuel the seer, and in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the book of Gad the seer; with all his reign, and his might, and the times that went over him, and over Israel, and over all 85the kingdoms of the countries.” The book of Jasher, also, is twice mentioned in Scripture. In Joshua x. 13, “And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves on their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher?” And in 2 Sam. i. 18, “And he bade them teach the children of Israel the use of the bow: behold it is written in the book of Jasher.”
The book of the Wars of the Lord is referred to, in Num. xxi. 14. But we have in the Canon no books under the name of Nathan and Gad: nor any book of Jasher; nor of the Wars of the Lord.
Moreover, we frequently are referred, in the sacred history, to other chronicles or annals, for a fuller account of the matters spoken of, which Chronicles are not now extant.
And in 2 Chron. ix. 29, it is said, “Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, first and last, are they not written in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, and in the visions of Iddo the seer, against Jeroboam the son of Nebat?” Now it is well known, that none of these writings of the prophets are in the Canon; at least, none of them under their names.
It is said also in 2 Chron. xii. 15, “Now the acts of Rehoboam, first and last, are they not written in the book of Shemaiah the prophet, and of Iddo the seer, concerning genealogies?” Of which works nothing remains, under the names of these prophets.
1. The first observation which I would make on this subject, is, that every book referred to, or quoted in the sacred writings, is not necessarily an inspired, or canonical book. Because Paul cites passages from 86the Greek poets, it does not follow that we must receive their poems as inspired.
2. A book may be written by an inspired man, and yet be neither inspired nor canonical. Inspiration was not constantly afforded to the prophets, but was occasional, and for particular important purposes. In common matters, and especially in things noways connected with religion, it is reasonable to suppose, that the prophets and apostles were left to the same guidance of reason and common sense, as other men. A man, therefore, inspired to deliver some prophecy, or even to write a canonical book, might write other books, with no greater assistance than other good men receive. Because Solomon was inspired to write some canonical books, it does not follow, that what he wrote on natural history, was also inspired. The Scriptures, however, do not say, that his three thousand proverbs, and his discourses on natural history, were ever committed to writing. It only says, that he spake these things. But supposing that all these discourses were committed to writing, which is not improbable, there is not the least reason for believing that they were inspired, any more than Solomon’s private letters to his friends, if he ever wrote any. Let it be remembered, that the prophets and apostles were only inspired on special occasions, and on particular subjects, and all difficulties respecting such works as these will vanish. How many of the books referred to in the Bible, and mentioned above, may have been of this description, it is now impossible to tell; but probably several of them belong to this class. No doubt there were many books of annals, much more minute and particular in the narration of facts, than those which we have. It was 87often enough to refer to these state papers, or public documents, as being sufficiently correct, in regard to the facts on account of which the reference was made. There is nothing derogatory to the word of God, in the supposition that the books of Kings and Chronicles, which we have in the Canon, were compiled by the inspired prophets from these public records. All that is necessary for us, is, that the facts are truly related; and this could be as infallibly secured on this hypothesis, as on any other.
The book of the Wars of the Lord, might for aught that appears, have been merely a muster roll of the army. The word translated book has so extensive a meaning in Hebrew, that it is not even necessary to suppose, that it was a writing at all. The book of Jasher, (or of rectitude, if we translate the word,) might have been some useful compend taken from Scripture, or composed by the wise, for the regulation of justice and equity, between man and man.
Augustine, in his City of God, has distinguished accurately on this subject. “I think,” says he, “that those books which should have authority in religion were revealed by the Holy Spirit, and that men composed others by historical diligence, as the prophets did these by inspiration. And these two classes of books are so distinct, that it is only of those written by inspiration, that we are to suppose God, through them, to be speaking unto us. The one class is useful for fulness of knowledge; the other for authority in religion; in which authority the Canon is preserved.”
3. But again, it may be maintained, without any prejudice to the completeness of the Canon, that there may have been inspired writings which were not intended 88for the instruction of the church in all ages, but composed by the prophets for some special occasion. These writings, though inspired, were not canonical. They were temporary in their design, and when that was accomplished, they were no longer needed. We know that the prophets delivered, by inspiration, many discourses to the people, of which we have not a trace on record. Many true prophets are mentioned, who wrote nothing that we know of; and several are mentioned, whose names are not even given. The same is true of the apostles. Very few of them had any concern in writing the canonical Scriptures, and yet they all possessed plenary inspiration. And if they wrote letters, on special occasions, to the churches planted by them; yet these were not designed for the perpetual instruction of the universal church. Therefore Shemaiah, and Iddo, and Nathan, and Gad, might have written some things by inspiration, which were never intended to form a part of the Sacred Volume. It is not asserted, that there certainly existed such temporary inspired writings: all that is necessary to be maintained, is, that supposing such to have existed, which is not improbable, it does not follow that the Canon is incomplete, by reason of their loss. As this opinion may be startling to some, who have not thoroughly considered it, I will call in to its support the opinions of some distinguished theologians.
“It has been observed,” says Francis Junius, “that it is one thing to call a book sacred, another to say that it is canonical; for every book was sacred which was edited by a prophet, or apostle; but it does not follow that every such sacred book is canonical, and 89was designed for the whole body of the church. For example, it is credible that Isaiah the prophet wrote many things, as a prophet, which were truly inspired, but those writings only were canonical, which God consecrated to the treasure of the church, and which by special direction were added to the public Canon. Thus Paul and the other apostles may have written many things, by divine inspiration, which are not now extant; but those only are canonical, which were placed in the Sacred Volume, for the use of the universal church: which Canon received the approbation of the apostles, especially of John, who so long presided over the churches in Asia.”2929Explic. in Numb. xxi.
The evangelical Witsius, of an age somewhat later, delivers his opinion on this point, in the following manner: “No one, I think, can doubt, but that all the apostles in the diligent exercise of their office, wrote frequent letters to the churches under their care, when they could not be present with them; and to whom they might often wish to communicate some instruction necessary for them in the circumstances in which they were placed. It would seem to me to be injurious to the reputation of those faithful and assiduous men, to suppose, that not one of them ever wrote any epistle, or addressed to a church, any writing, except those few, whose epistles are in the Canon. Now, as Peter, and Paul, and James, and John, were induced to write to the churches, on account of the need in which they stood of instruction, why would not the same necessity induce the other apostles to write to the churches under their care? Nor is there any reason why we should complain of 90the great loss which we have sustained, because these precious documents have perished; it is rather matter of gratitude, that so many have been preserved by the provident benevolence of God towards us, and so abundantly sufficient to instruct us, in the things pertaining to salvation.”3030Meletem De Vita Pauli.
Although I have cited this passage from this excellent and orthodox theologian, in favour of the sentiment advanced; yet I do not feel at liberty to go the whole length of his opinion, here expressed. There is no reason to think, that any of the other apostles composed such works, as those which constitute the Canon of the New Testament. If they had, some of them would have been preserved, or at least, some memorial of such writings would have been handed down, in those churches to which they were addressed. These churches received and preserved the canonical books of those whose writings we have, and why should they neglect, or suffer to sink into oblivion, similar writings of apostles, from whom they first received the gospel?
Indeed, after all, this argument is merely hypothetical, and would be sufficient to answer the objections which might be made, if it could be proved, that some inspired writings had perished; but, in fact, there is no proof that any such ever existed. It is, therefore, highly probable, that we are in actual possession of all the books penned under the plenary inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
The last remark which I shall make in relation to the books of the Old Testament supposed to be lost, is, that it is highly probable that we have several of 91them now in the Canon, under another name. The books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, were, probably, not written by one, but by a succession of prophets.
There is reason to believe, that until the Canon of the Old Testament was closed, the succession of prophets was never interrupted. Whatever was necessary to be added, by way of explanation, to any book already received into the Canon, they were competent to annex; or, whatever annals or histories, it was the purpose of God to have transmitted to posterity, they would be directed and inspired to prepare. Thus, different parts of these books might have been penned by Gad, Nathan, Iddo, Shemaiah, &c.
That some parts of these histories were prepared by prophets, we have clear proof, in one instance; for, Isaiah has inserted in his prophecy several chapters, which are contained in 2 Kings, and which, I think, there can be no doubt, were originally written by himself. See 2 Kings xviii. xix. xx., compared with Isaiah xxxvi. xxxvii. xxxviii.
The Jewish doctors are of opinion, that the book of Jasher, is one of the books of the Pentateuch, or the whole law.
The book of the Wars of the Lord has by many been supposed to be no other than the book of Numbers.
Thus, I think, it sufficiently appears, from an examination of particulars, that there exists no evidence, that any canonical book of the Old Testament has been lost. To which we may add, that there are many general considerations of great weight, which go 92to prove, that no part of the Scriptures of the Old Testament has been lost.
The first is, that God by his providence would preserve from destruction books given by inspiration, and intended for the perpetual instruction of his church. It is reasonable to think, that he would not suffer his gracious purpose to be frustrated; and this argument, a priori, is greatly strengthened by the fact, that a remarkable providential care has been exercised in the preservation of the Sacred Scriptures. It is truly wonderful, that so many books should have been preserved unmutilated, through hundreds and thousands of years; and during vicissitudes so great; and especially when powerful tyrants were so desirous of annihilating the religion of the Jews, and used their utmost exertions to destroy their sacred books.
Another consideration of great weight is, the religious, and even scrupulous care, with which the Jews, as far as we can trace the history of the Sacred Scriptures, have watched over their preservation. There can, I think, be little doubt, that they exercised the same vigilance during that period of their history of which we have no monuments.
The translation of these books into Greek, is sufficient to show, that the same books existed nearly three hundred years before the advent of Christ.
And above all, the unqualified testimony to the Scriptures of the Old Testament, by Christ and his apostles, ought to satisfy us, that we have lost none of the inspired books of the Canon.
The Scriptures are constantly referred to, and quoted as infallible authority, by them, as we have before 93shown. These oracles were committed to the Jews as a sacred deposit, and they are never charged with unfaithfulness in this trust. The Scriptures are declared to have been written for our learning; and no intimation is given that they had ever been mutilated, or in any degree corrupted.94
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