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TESTIMONIES TO THE CANONICAL AUTHORITY OF THE FOURTEEN EPISTLES OF PAUL.
ON the subject of Paul’s epistles, there is a universal consent among the ancients, except as it relates to the epistle to the Hebrews; which having been published without the apostle’s name and usual salutation, many conjectured that it was the production of another person; and while some ascribed it to Barnabas, others thought that either Clement or Luke was the writer. There seems to have been a difference between the eastern and western churches on this subject; for the Greeks appear to have entertained no doubts in regard to Paul’s being the author of this epistle: it was only among the Latins that its genuineness was a matter of uncertainty. And the most learned among these adopted the opinion, that it was the production of Paul; and by degrees its authority was fully established in the west as well as the east. The true state of the case will, however, appear more clearly by citing the testimonies of the Fathers, than by any general representation.
Although Clement, the fellow-labourer of Paul, frequently cites passages from the gospels and epistles, yet he never expressly mentions any book of the New 206Testament, except Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians; to whom also Clement’s epistle was addressed. His words are, “Take into your hands the epistle of blessed Paul the apostle. What did he at first write to you in the beginning of the gospel? Verily he did by the Spirit admonish you concerning himself, and Cephas and Apollos, because that even then you did form parties.” There are in this epistle of Clement many other passages in which the words of Paul are cited, but this is the only one in which his name is mentioned.
Hermass and Ignatius also often quote the words of Paul’s epistles, but the books from which they are taken are not designated.
Polycarp, the disciple of the apostle John and bishop of Smyrna, who suffered martyrdom in extreme old age, about the middle of the second century, after sentence of death was pronounced upon him, wrote an epistle to the Philippians, in which he makes express mention of Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians—“Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world, as Paul teaches?” See 1 Cor. vi. 22.
He also quotes a passage from the epistle to the Ephesians, under the name of Holy Scripture. “For I trust,” says he, “that ye are well exercised in the Holy Scripture—as in these Scriptures it is said, ‘Be ye angry and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.’” Ephes. iv. 26. Polycarp also cites passages from the second epistle to the Corinthians; from the epistle to the Galatians; from the first and second to the Thessalonians; from the epistle to the Hebrews; and from both the epistles to Timothy; but, as is usual with the apostolical Fathers, he does not 207refer to the books or authors from which he makes his citations.
Justin Martyr quotes many passages in the very words of Paul, without mentioning his name. But Irenæus distinctly and frequently quotes thirteen of Paul’s epistles. He takes nothing, indeed, from the short epistle to Philemon, which can easily be accounted for by the brevity of this letter, and the special object which the apostle had in view in penning it.
It would fill a large space to put down all the passages cited by Irenaeus from the epistles of Paul. Let it suffice to give one from each as quoted in his work “Against Heresies.”—“This same thing Paul has explained writing to the Romans, ‘Paul an apostle of Jesus Christ, separated to the gospel of God.’ Rom. i. 11. And again writing to the Romans concerning Israel, he says, ‘Whose are the fathers and of whom concerning the flesh, Christ came who is God over all, blessed for evermore.’” Rom. ix. 5. “This also Paul manifestly shows in his epistle to the Corinthians, saying, ‘Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud.’ 1 Cor. x. 1. Paul in his second epistle to the Corinthians, says, ‘In whom the God of this world hath blinded the eyes of them that believe not.’” 2 Cor. iv. 4. “The apostle Paul says, in his epistle to the Galatians, ‘Wherefore then serveth the law of works? It was added until the seed should come to whom the promise was made.’” Gal. iii. 10. “As also the blessed Paul says, in his epistle to the Ephesians, ‘For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.’” Eph. v. 30. “As also Paul says 208to the Philippians, ‘I am full, having received of Epaphroditus, the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well pleasing to God.’” Phil. iv. 13. “Again Paul says, in his epistle to the Colossians, ‘Luke the beloved physician saluteth you.’” Col. iv. 14. “The apostle in the first epistle to the Thessalonians, says, ‘And the God of peace sanctify you wholly.’” 1 Thess. v. 23. “And again, in the second epistle to the Thessalonians, speaking of Antichrist, he says, ‘And then shall that wicked one be revealed.’” 2 Thess. ii. 8. In the beginning of his work against heresies, he says, “Whereas some having rejected the truth, bringing in lying words, and ‘vain genealogies, rather than godly edifying, which is in faith,’ 1 Tim. i. 4, as saith the apostle.” This epistle is often quoted by Irenseus, in the work above mentioned. Speaking of Linus bishop of Rome, he says, “Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in his epistle to Timothy, ‘Eubulus greeteth thee, and Pudens, and Linus.’” 2 Tim. iv. 21. “As Paul says, ‘A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition, reject.’” Tit. iii. 10. Thus, we have seen that Irenæus who lived in the age immediately succeeding that in which Paul lived and wrote, has borne explicit testimony to all the epistles of that apostle which have his name prefixed, except the short epistle to Philemon, from which it is probable he had no occasion to take any authorities, as it is very concise, and addressed to a friend on a particular subject in which Paul felt deeply interested.
As to the epistle to the Hebrews, which is anonymous, there is ample evidence that Irenæus was acquainted with it; but it is doubtful whether he 209esteemed it to be the production of Paul, or some other person. As he resided in France, it is very possible that he participated in the prejudice of the western church on this point. Eusebius informs us, that he had seen a work of Irenæus which has not reached our times, in which he cites passages from the epistle to the Hebrews; but he does not say that he quoted them as Paul’s. And in his works, which are still extant, there are several passages cited from this epistle, but without direct reference to the source whence they were derived.
Athenagoras quotes from several of Paul’s epistles; but, as has been seen to be the custom of the early Fathers, he commonly uses the words, without informing the reader, from what author they were borrowed. There is, however, a passage in which he refers to both the first and second epistles to the Corinthians, as being the production of the apostle Paul. “It is manifest, therefore,” says he, “that according to the apostle, ‘this corruptible and dissipated must put on incorruption, that the dead being raised up, and the separated and even consumed parts being again united, every one may receive justly, the things he hath done in the body, whether they be good or bad.’” 1 Cor. xv. 54; 2 Cor. v. 10.
Clement, of Alexandria, abounds in quotations from Paul’s epistles; a few of which will be sufficient for our purpose. “The apostle, in the epistle to the Romans, says, ‘Behold, therefore, the goodness and severity of God.’” “The blessed Paul, in the first epistle to the Corinthians, says, ‘Brethren, be not children in understanding; howbeit, in malice, be ye children, but in understanding be ye men.’” 1 Cor. xiv. 20. He has also many quotations from the second to the Corinthians—“The apostle,” says he, calls the common doctrine of the faith, ‘a savour of knowledge,’ in the second to the Corinthians.” 2 Cor. ii. 144. “Hence, also, Paul says, ‘Having these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse our hearts from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness, in the fear of God.’” 2 Cor. vii. 1. “Whereupon Paul, also writing to the Galatians, says, ‘My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.’” Gal. iv. 19. “Whereupon the blessed apostle says, ‘I testify in the Lord that ye walk not as other Gentiles walk.’ Eph. iv. 17, 18. Again, ‘submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.’” Eph. v. 21. He quotes part of the first and second chapters of the epistle to the Philippians expressly; and in another place he quotes the same epistle, after this manner: “The apostle of the Lord also exhorting the Macedonians, says,’the Lord is at hand, take heed that we be not found empty.’” Philip. iv. 55.
Clement also quotes the epistle to the Colossians, and the epistles to the Thessalonians. From the first epistle to Timothy he cites this passage, “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science, falsely so called, which some professing, have erred concerning the faith.” 1 Tim. vi. 20, 21. On which he observes, “Heretics confuted by this saying, reject both epistles to Timothy.” The epistle to Titus is also quoted several times; and he remarks, in one place, “that Paul had cited Epimenides, the Cretan, in his epistle to Titus, after this manner, ‘One of 211themselves, a poet of their own, said, the Cretans are always liars.’” Tit. i. 12, 13. The epistle to the Hebrews is also distinctly quoted, and is ascribed to Paul as its author. “Wherefore, writing to the Hebrews, who were declining from the faith to the law, Paul says, ‘Have ye need that any teach you again, which be the first principles of the oracles of God, and are become such, as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.’” Heb. v. 12.
Tertullian frequently, and expressly quotes most of Paul’s epistles. In one place he says, “I will, therefore, by no means say, God, nor Lord, but I will follow the apostles; so that if the Father and the Son are mentioned together, I will say, God the Father, and Jesus Christ the Lord. But when I mention Christ only, I will call him God, as the apostle does, ‘Of whom Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever.’” Rom. ix. 5. “Paul, in his first epistle to the Corinthians, speaks of those who doubted, or denied the resurrection.” In his Treatise on Monogamy, he computes that it was about one hundred and sixty years from Paul’s writing this epistle, to the time when he wrote. “In the second epistle to the Corinthians, they suppose the apostle Paul to have forgiven the same fornicator, who in the first, he declared, ought to be delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.” “But of this, no more need be said, if it be the same Paul, who, writing to the Galatians, reckons heresy among the works of the flesh; and who directs Titus to reject a man that is a heretic, after the first admonition, ‘knowing that hc that is such is subverted and sinneth, being condemned of himself.’” “I pass,” says he, “to another 212epistle, which we have inscribed to the Ephesians; but the heretics, to the Laodiceans.” Again, “According to the true testimony of the church, we suppose this epistle to have been sent to the Ephesians, and not to the Laodiceans; but Marcion has endeavoured to alter this inscription, upon pretence of having made a more diligent search into this matter. But the inscriptions are of no importance, for the apostle wrote to all, when he wrote to some.”
Speaking of the Christian’s hope, he says, “Of which hope and expectation, Paul to the Galatians says, ‘For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.’ He does not say we have obtained it, but he speaks of the hope of the righteousness of God in the day of judgment, when our reward shall be decided. Of which being in suspense, when le wrote to the Philippians, he said, ‘If by any means, I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead; not as though I had already attained, or were already perfect.’ Phil. iii. 11, 12. The apostle, writing to the Colossians, expressly cautions against philosophy, ‘Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, and not after the instruction of the Spirit.’” Col. ii. 8. “And in the epistle to the Thessalonians, the apostle adds, ‘But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly, that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.’” 1 Thess. v. 1-3. “And in his second epistle to the same persons, he writes with greater solicitude: ‘But I beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, nor be troubled.’ 2132 Thess. ii. 1, 2. “And this word, Paul has used in writing to Timothy, ‘O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust.’” 1 Tim. vi. 20.
That remarkable passage of Tertullian, in which he is supposed to refer to the existing autographs of the epistles of Paul, although referred to already, may with propriety be here introduced. “Well,” says he, “if you be willing to exercise your curiosity profitably, in the business of your salvation, visit the apostolical churches, in which the very chairs of the apostles still preside, in which their very authentic letters (authentiæ literæ) are recited, sending forth the voice, and representing the countenance of each one of them. Is Achaia near you? You have Corinth. If you are not far from Macedonia, you have Philippi—you have Thessalonica. If you can go to Asia, you have Ephesus. But if you are near to Italy, you have Rome, from whence also we may be easily satisfied.”
There are three opinions respecting the meaning of this phrase authenticæ literæ; authentic letters; The first is, that it signifies the original manuscripts of the apostles—the autographs which were sent severally to the churches named, to all of which Paul addressed epistles. The second opinion is, that Tertullian meant to refer his readers to the original Greek of these epistles, which they had been accustomed to read in a Latin version. And the third is, that this phrase means well authenticated letters; epistles which, by application to these churches, could be proved to be genuine writings of the apostles.
Now, that the first of these is the true sense of Tertullian’s 214words, will, I think, appear very probable, if we consider, that if those autographs were preserved, even with common care, they would have been extant in the time of Tertullian, who reckons only 160 years from the time of Paul’s writing to his own time. And again, unless he meant this, there is no reason why he should direct his readers only to those cities which had received epistles; for doubtless many other churches, which might be more accessible, had authentic copies in the Greek language. Such copies undoubtedly existed in Africa, where Tertullian lived. They need not, however, have been directed to go to Rome, or Corinth, or Ephesus, or Philippi, or Thessalonica, to see the epistles of Paul in Greek. Neither was it necessary to take a journey to these cities to be fully convinced, that the letters which had been received by them were genuine; for the evidence of this fact was not confined to these distinguished places, but was diffused all over the Christian world.
From these considerations I conclude, that in Tertullian’s time these churches had in possession, and preserved with care, the identical epistles sent to them by Paul. This sense is confirmed by what he says, of their being able to hear the voice, and behold the countenance of the apostles, and see the very seats on which they had been accustomed to sit when they presided in the church. These seats were still occupied by the bishops, and seemed to preside, as they were venerable from having been once occupied by the apostles.
Tertullian was acquainted with the epistle to the Hebrews, for he quotes several passages from the sixth 215chapter, but he ascribes it to Barnabas, and not to Paul. In this opinion, I believe, he is singular.
Theophilus of Antioch quotes the following passage from the epistle to the Romans, but seems to have quoted from memory, “He will search out all things, and will judge justly; rendering to all according to the desert of their actions. To them that by patient continuance in well-doing seek for immortality, he will give eternal life, joy, peace, rest, and many good things, which neither eye hath seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man. But to the unbelieving, and the despisers, and them that obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, shall be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish; and in a word, eternal fire shall be the portion of such.” This passage is evidently taken from Rom. ii. 6-9, and as evidently cited from memory. It also contains a quotation from 1 Cor. ii. 9.
This early and learned Father has also cited, in the same loose manner, passages from the epistles to the Ephesians—to the Philippians—to the Colossians—to Timothy—to Titus—and from the epistle to the Hebrews, but without naming the book from which the passages are taken; which is in accordance with the practice of all the apostolic Fathers.
The following passage is worthy of notice, not only because it contains an undoubted reference to the second epistle of Peter; but because it shows what opinion was in that early age entertained of the inspiration of the sacred Scriptures: “But men of God, filled with the Holy Ghost, and becoming prophets, inspired by God himself, and being enlightened were taught of God, and were holy and righteous, wherefore 216 Clement. they obtained the honour to become the organs of God.”6969Theoph. ad Autolycum lib. ii. For other citations see Lardner, Vol. I.
Clement of Alexandria lived and wrote toward the close of the second century. After Pantænus he was president of the Alexandrian school. Several of his works have come down to us, from which the following citations from Paul’s epistles are taken. “Behold, therefore,” saith Paul, “the goodness and severity of God.” Rom. xvi. 19. “The blessed Paul, in the first epistle to the Corinthians, says, ‘Brethren, be not children in understanding, but in malice be ye children, but in understanding be ye men.’ And he says, the apostle in the second epistle to the Corinthians, calls the gospel “a savour of knowledge,” 2 Cor. xi. 14. “Again, Paul says, ‘Having these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.’ 2 Cor. vii. 1. He cites the following from the epistle to the Ephesians: “As blessed Paul saith, ‘Walk not as other Gentiles walk.’ Ephes. vi. 17, and ‘submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” Eph. v. 21. He also cites the following words from the epistle to the Galatians, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth until Christ be formed in you.” Gal. iv. 19. And from the Philippians, these words, “Not as though I had already attained or were already perfect,” Phil. iii. 12. He also cites texts frequently from the epistles to the Colossians and Thessalonians, and always quotes them as written by Paul. From the first epistle to Timothy, vi. 20, he has the following, “O Timothy, keep that 217which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane babblings, and oppositions of science, falsely so called.” He also refers to the second epistle to Timothy, and the epistle to Titus he quotes several times. It is satisfactory to have the testimony of so early and so learned a Father in favour of the canonical authority of the epistle to the Hebrews, and of its having Paul as its author. “Blessed Paul, writing to such as were declining, says, ‘Ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God, and are become such as have need of milk and not strong meat.’” Heb. v. 12.
Origen quotes Paul’s epistles, as expressly and frequently as is done by almost any modern writer. To transcribe all the passages cited by him, would be to put down a large portion of the writings of this apostle. A few instances will be sufficient.
In one passage, in his work against Celsus, he mentions several of Paul’s epistles together, in the following manner—“Do you, first of all, explain the epistles of him who says these things, and having diligently read, and attended to the sense of the words there used, particularly in that to the Ephesians, to the Thessalonians, to the Philippians, to the Romans, &c.” The epistle to the Ephesians is elsewhere quoted by Origen with the inscription which it now bears.
After employing an argument founded on a passage quoted from the epistle to the Hebrews, he observes: “But possibly some one, pressed with this argument, will take refuge in the opinion of those who reject this epistle as not written by Paul. In answer to such we intend to write a distinct discourse, to prove this to 218be an epistle of Paul.” In his citations of this epistle, therefore, he constantly ascribes it to Paul in such expressions as these, “Paul, in his epistle to the Hebrews,” “In the epistle to the Hebrews, the same Paul says.”
But Origen not only expresses his own opinion on this subject, but asserts, that by the tradition received by the ancients it was ascribed to Paul. His words are, “For it is not without reason that the ancients have handed it down to us as Paul’s.” Now, when we take into view that Origen lived within one hundred years of the time of the apostles, and that he was a person of most extraordinary learning, and that he had travelled much through different countries, his testimony on this point is of great weight; especially, since his opinion is founded on the testimony of the ancients, by whom he must mean the contemporaries of the apostles. At the same time, however, he mentions, that some ascribed it to Luke, and others to Clement of Rome.
Cyprian often quotes the epistles of Paul. “According,” says he, “to what the blessed apostle wrote in his epistle to the Romans, ‘Every one shall give account of himself to God, therefore, let us not judge one another.’” Rom. xiv. 12. In his first book of Testimonies, he says, “In the first epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, it is said, ‘Moreover, brethren, I would not ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were baptized unto Moses, in the cloud, and in the sea.’ 1 Cor. x. 1. Likewise, in the second epistle to the Corinthians, it is written, ‘Their minds were blinded unto this day.’ 2 Cor. iii. 15. In like manner, blessed Paul, by the inspiration of the Lord, says, 219‘Now he that ministereth seed to the sower, minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness, that ye may be enriched in all things.’ 2 Cor. ix. 10. Likewise Paul to the Galatians says, ‘When the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman.’” Gal. iv. 4.
Cyprian expressly quotes the epistle to the Ephesians under that title. “But the apostle Paul, speaking of the same thing more clearly and plainly, writes to the Ephesians, and says, ‘Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it, with the washing of water.’ Ephes. v. 25, 26. So also, Paul to the Philippians says, ‘Who being appointed in the form of God, did not earnestly affect to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation, taking on him the form of a servant; and being made in the likeness of man, and found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.’ Philip. ii. 6-8. In the epistle of Paul to the Colossians, it is written, ‘Continue in prayer, watching in the same.’ Col. iv. 2. Likewise, the blessed apostle Paul, full of the Holy Ghost, sent to call and convert the Gentiles, warns and teaches, ‘Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy, &c.’” Col. ii. 8. He also quotes both the epistles to the Thessalonians. In his book of Testimonies he says, “If the apostle Paul writing to Timothy, said, ‘Let no man despise thy youth,’ 1 Tim. iv. 12, much more may it be said of you and your colleagues, ‘Let no man despise thy age.’” “Therefore the apostle writes to Timothy and exhorts, ‘that a bishop should not strive, but be gentle, and apt to teach.’” 2 Tim. ii. 24. These two epistles are elsewhere quoted distinctly, as the first and second to Timothy. He also quotes from the epistle to Titus, the passage, “A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject.” Tit. iii. 10.
Cyprian no where quotes the epistle to the Hebrews. It is probable, therefore, that he, like some others of the Latin Fathers, did not believe it to be Paul’s, or was doubtful respecting it. Neither does he cite the epistle to Philemon; of this no other reason need be sought, but its contents and brevity. How many Christian authors have written volumes, without any citation of that epistle! Victorinus, who lived near the close of the third century, often quotes Paul’s Epistles; and among the rest, he cites the epistle to the Hebrews, which he seems to have believed to be the production of Paul. Dionysius of Alexandria, also a contemporary of Origen, and a man of great learning, in the few fragments of his works which remain, often refers to Paul’s Epistles. Novatus, presbyter of the church of Rome, who flourished about the middle of the third century, expressly cites from the epistle to the Romans, that famous testimony to Christ’s divinity, so often quoted by the Fathers, “Whose are the fathers, of whom is Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever.” And it deserves to be recollected, that although so many, beginning with Irenaeus, have cited this passage, yet none of them appear to have thought the words capable of any other meaning, than the plain obvious sense, which strikes the reader at first. That it was a mere exclamation of praise, seems never to have entered their minds. Novatus also 221quotes the first and second epistles to the Corinthians, the epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, and to the Philippians. From this last epistle he cites these remarkable words: “Who being in the form of God,” Phil. ii. 6, and interprets the following clause in exact accordance with another of the Fathers, “did not earnestly seek to be like God, or to be equal with God.” He quotes from the epistle to the Colossians these words: “Whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers, things visible and invisible, by him all things consist.” Col. i. 16, 17. The epistles to Timothy and to Titus are also cited by this author.
Methodius, who lived in the latter part of the third century, quotes Paul’s epistle to the Romans, first and second to the Corinthians, to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, to the Colossians, the first to the Thessalonians, and the first to Timothy. He has also taken several passages from the epistle to the Hebrews, and quotes it in such a manner, as to render it highly probable that he esteemed it to be a part of sacred Scripture, and ascribed it to Paul.
Eusebius, the learned historian, undoubtedly received thirteen epistles of Paul as genuine; and he seems to have entertained no doubt respecting the canonical authority of the epistle to the Hebrews; but he sometimes expresses himself doubtfully of its author, while at other times he quotes it as Paul’s, without any apparent hesitation. In speaking of the universally acknowledged epistle of Clement of Rome, he observes: “In which, inserting many sentiments of the epistle to the Hebrews, and also using some of the very words of it, he plainly manifests that epistle 222to be no modern writing. And hence it has, not without reason, been reckoned among the other writings of the apostle; for Paul having written to the Hebrews in their own language, some think that the Evangelist Luke, others, that this very Clement translated it; which last is the more probable of the two, there being a resemblance between the style of the epistle of Clement, and that to the Hebrews; nor are the sentiments of these two writings very different.” In his Ecclesiastical History, he speaks, “of the epistle to the Hebrews, and divers other epistles of Paul.” And Theodoret positively asserts, that Eusebius received this epistle as Paul’s, and that he manifested that all the ancients, almost, were of the same opinion. It seems, from these facts, that in the time of Eusebius, the churches with which he was acquainted, did generally receive the epistle to the Hebrews as the writing of Paul.
Ambrose, bishop of Milan, received fourteen epistles of Paul. Jerome received as undoubted all Paul’s epistles, except that to the Hebrews, concerning which he says in his letter to Evangelius, “That all the Greeks and some of the Latins received this epistle.” And in his letter to Dardanus, “That it was not only received as Paul’s by all the churches of the east, in his time, but by all the ecclesiastical writers in former times, though many ascribe it to Barnabas, or Clement.” He also says, “that it was daily read in the churches; and if the Latins did not receive this epistle, as the Greeks rejected the Revelation of John, he received both; not being so much influenced by present times, as by the judgment of ancient writers, who quote both; and that not as they quote apocryphal 223books, and even heathen writings, but as canonical and ecclesiastical.”
Jerome, in speaking of the writings of Paul, gives the following very full and satisfactory testimony: “He wrote,” says he, “nine epistles to seven churches. To the Romans, one; to the Corinthians, two; to the Galatians, one; to the Philippians, one; to the Colossians, one; to the Thessalonians, two; to the Ephesians, one; to Timothy, two; to Titus, one; to Philemon, one. But the epistle called to the Hebrews is not thought to be his, because of the difference of argument and style; but rather Barnabas’s, as Tertullian thought; or Luke’s, according to some others; or Clement’s, who was afterwards bishop of Rome; who being much with Paul, clothed and adorned Paul’s sense in his own language. Or if it be Paul’s, he might decline putting his name to it in the inscription, for fear of offending the Jews. Moreover, he wrote as a Hebrew to the Hebrews, it being his own language; whence it came to pass, that being translated, it has more elegance in the Greek than his other epistles. This they say is the reason of its differing from Paul’s other writings. There is also an epistle to the Laodiceans, but it is rejected by every body.” Jerome commonly quotes the epistle to the Hebrews as the apostle Paul’s; and, as we have seen before, this was his prevailing opinion, which is not contradicted in the long passage just cited.
Augustine received fourteen epistles of Paul, the last of which, in his catalogue, is the epistle to the Hebrews; he was aware, however, that some in his time thought it of doubtful authority. “However,” says he, “I am inclined to follow the opinion of the 224churches of the east, who receive it among the canonical Scriptures.”
The time when each of these epistles was written cannot be ascertained with any exactness. It is not even agreed among the learned which was the first of Paul’s epistles. Generally, indeed, it has been thought that the two epistles to the Thessalonians were composed earlier than the others; but of late some learned men have given precedence to the epistle to the Galatians. And this opinion is not altogether confined to the moderns, for Tertullian mentions this epistle as among the first of Paul’s writings. But the more common opinion is, that it was written during the long abode of this apostle at Corinth. Among the advocates of this opinion, we find L’Enfant, Beausobre, Lardner, &c., while Grotius, Capel, Witsius, and Wall, suppose that it was written at Ephesus. These last, together with Fabricius and Mill, place the date of the epistle to the Galatians, after that to the Romans. Macknight maintains that it was written from Antioch, after the Council of Jerusalem; and offers in support of his opinions several plausible arguments, which, if they do not prove all that he wishes, seem to render it probable that the time of this epistle being written was soon after the Council of Jerusalem. Semler, however, is of opinion that this epistle was written prior to the Council of Jerusalem.
From these various opinions, it is sufficiently evident that the precise date of the epistle to the Galatians cannot be ascertained. If we take the opinion of those who give the earliest date, the time of writing will not be later than A. D. 47. But if we receive as more probable the opinions of those who think that it 225was written after the Council of Jerusalem, we shall bring it down to the year 50; while, according to the opinion more commonly adopted, its date will be A. D. 52 or 53. And if we prefer the opinions of those who assign the latest date to this epistle, we shall bring it down several years later, and instead of giving it the first place, will give it the ninth or tenth.
There seem to be better data for determining that the first epistle to the Thessalonians was written from Corinth, about the year 51; and the second epistle to the Thessalonians was probably written a few months afterwards from the same place. Michaelis and Dr. Hales unite in giving the next place in the order of time to the epistle to Titus. Lardner, however, places it considerably later; and Paley assigns to it a date later than any other author. On this subject there is little else than conjecture to guide us. The year in which this epistle was written, according to Michaelis and Hales, was 53; according to Lardner, 56; according to Barrington, 57; and according to Whitby, Pearson, and Paley, 65.
The epistle next in order is the first to the Corinthians, the date of which can be determined with considerable precision from the epistle itself. “I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost.” 1 Cor. xvi. 8. These words teach where this epistle was written, and by a comparison with other passages of Scripture, that it was penned near the close of Paul’s long residence at Ephesus, from which place he departed about A. D. 57. This then is the proper date of this epistle.
The first epistle to Timothy will stand next, if we follow the opinion most commonly entertained by 226learned men; and its date will be A. D. 57 or A. D. 58. This opinion is supported by the authority of Athanasius, Theodoret, Baronius, Capellus, Blondel, Hammond, Grotius, Salmasius, Lightfoot, Benson, Barrington, Michaelis, Doddridge, and others. But Pearson, Rosenmuller, Macknight, Paley, Tomline, &c., place it as low as the year of our Lord 64 or 65.
The second epistle to the Corinthians was written probably about a year after the first, which will bring it to A. D. 58.
In the same year it is thought that Paul wrote his very important epistle to the Romans. On this point, however, there is some diversity of opinion. But the epistle itself contains internal evidence that it was written at Corinth, when the apostle was preparing to take the contributions of the churches to Jerusalem.
The date of the epistles to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, and to the Colossians, can be ascertained pretty nearly, from the circumstance, that Paul was prisoner at Rome when they were written. The epistle to the Ephesians may, with much probability, be referred to A. D. 61; the epistle to the Philipplans to A. D. 62; and the epistle to the Colossians to the same year.
The short epistle to Philemon was written, as appears by several coincidences, about the same time as those just mentioned.
The epistle to the Hebrews seems to have been written about the termination of Paul’s first imprisonment at Rome. Its date, therefore, may without danger of mistake be referred to A. D. 62 or A. D. 63.
J. D. Michaelis who, as has been seen, has done 227much to unsettle the Canon of Scripture, by calling in question the genuineness of some of the books, as well as the inspiration of some of the writers, has, in an elaborate essay, (vol. iv.) endeavoured to lessen the authority of this epistle. For an answer to the arguments of this learned, but sceptical Professor, I would refer the reader to Townsend’s New Testament, arranged in chronological and historical order.
Paul’s second epistle to Timothy seems to have been written during his second imprisonment at Rome, and shortly before his death, A. D. 66.228
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