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SECTION XI.

CANONICAL AUTHORITY OF THE SEVEN CATHOLIC EPISTLES.

THE first epistle of Peter, and the first of John, are quoted by Ignatius, Polycarp and Papias, but not expressly as the writings of these apostles. For the particular passages cited the reader is referred to Lardner. Justin Martyr has a saying which is nowhere found in Scripture; except in the second of Peter: it is, “that a day of the Lord is a thousand years.” Diognetus quotes several passages from the first of Peter, and the first of John. Irenæus quotes the first epistle of Peter expressly; “And Peter says, in his epistle, Whom having not seen ye love.” And from the second he takes the same passage which has just been cited, as quoted by Justin Martyr. The first and second of John are expressly quoted by this Father, for after citing his gospel he goes on to say, “Wherefore also in his epistle, he says, Little children, it is the last time.” And again, “In the forementioned epistle the Lord commands us to shun those persons who bring false doctrine, saying, “Many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver, and an Antichrist. Look to yourselves that ye lose not those things which ye have wrought.” Now these words are undoubtedly taken from John’s second 229epistle. Irenæus seems, indeed, to quote them from the first, but this was probably a slip of the memory.

Several passages out of the epistle of James are also cited by this father, but without any distinct reference to the source whence they are derived. Athenagoras also has some quotations which appear to be from James and 2 Peter. Clement of Alexandria often quotes 1 Peter, and sometimes 2 Peter. The first epistle of John is often cited by him. Jude also is quoted several times expressly, as, “Of these and the like heretics, I think Jude spoke prophetically, when he said, ‘I will that ye should know, that God having saved the people out of Egypt,’” &c. He has a remark on Jude’s modesty, that he did not style himself the brother of our Lord, although he was related to him, but begins his epistle, “Jude the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James.”

Tertullian often quotes the first epistle of John; but he has in none of his remaining writings cited anything from James, 2 Peter or 2 John. He has, however, one express quotation from Jude, “Hence it is,” says he, “that Enoch is quoted by the apostle Jude.”

Origen, in his commentary on John’s gospel, expressly quotes the epistle of James in the following passage, “For though it be called faith, if it be without works, it is dead, as we read in the epistle ascribed to James.” This is the only passage in the remaining Greek works of this father where this book is quoted; but in his Latin works, translated by Rufin, it is cited as the epistle of James the apostle and brother of our Lord; and as “divine Scripture,” The first epistle of Peter is often quoted expressly. In his book against 230Celsus, he says, “As it is said by Peter, ‘Ye as lively stones are built up a spiritual house.’ Again, Peter in his Catholic epistle, says, ‘Put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the spirit.’” According to Eusebius, Origen considered the second of Peter as doubtful, and in his Greek works there are no clear citations from it; but there are found a few in his Latin works. In the passage preserved by Eusebius, he says, that some were doubtful respecting the second and third of John, “but for my part,” says he, “let them be granted to be his.”

Origen has cited several passages from Jude, which are found in no other part of Scripture; and in one place remarks, “Jude wrote an epistle of few lines indeed, but full of powerful words and heavenly grace, who at the beginning, says, ‘Jude the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James.’” In another place, he shows, that some were doubtful of this epistle, for he says, “But if any one receives also the epistle of Jude, let him consider what will follow, from what is there said.” This epistle is cited in his Latin works also; and several times in a Latin epistle ascribed to Origen.

Cyprian nowhere quotes the epistle of James; but the first of Peter is often cited. Several times he speaks of it as the epistle of Peter to the people of Pontus. He expressly ascribes it to “Peter the apostle,” “the apostle of Christ,” &c.

The second of Peter he never quotes. The first of John is often quoted by Cyprian. “The apostle John,” says he, “mindful of this command, writes in this epistle, ‘Hereby we perceive that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the 231truth is not in him.’” The second and third of John he never mentions, nor the epistle of Jude.

The opinion of Eusebius of Cesaræa, respecting the epistle of James, was, that it was written by one of Christ’s disciples by the name of James, but he makes three of that name. Although he admits that the writer of this epistle was the brother of our Lord, who was made the first bishop of Jerusalem, yet he will not allow that he was one of the twelve. In his commentary on the Psalms, he says, “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms, as the sacred apostle says.” In other parts of his works, he speaks very doubtfully of this epistle, and in one passage, where he distributes the books into classes, he mentions it among the books which he calls spurious; by which, however, he only means that it was not canonical. In his ecclesiastical history, he speaks of the epistles of Peter in the following manner, “One epistle of Peter called his first, is universally received. This the presbyters of ancient times have quoted in their writings as undoubtedly genuine; but that called his second epistle, we have been informed, has not been received into the Testament. Nevertheless, appearing to many to be useful, it has been carefully studied with the other Scriptures.” And in another passage, he says, “That called the first of John and the first of Peter are to be esteemed authentic. Of the controverted, yet well known or approved by the most, are, that called the epistle of James, and that of Jude, and the second of Peter, and the second and third of John, whether they were written by the evangelist, or by another.”

Athanasius quotes the epistle of James as written 232by the apostle James. The first epistle of Peter is frequently quoted by him; and he also cites passages from the second epistle, and ascribes them to Peter. Both the first and second epistles of John are distinctly and expressly quoted: the third is not mentioned. He also, in two instances, cites the words of Jude.

Jerome’s testimony concerning the epistle of James is full and explicit. His words are, “James, called the Lord’s brother, surnamed Justus, as some think son of Joseph, by a former wife; but as I rather think, the son of Mary, the sister of our Lord’s mother, mentioned by John in his gospel, (soon after our Lord’s passion ordained by the apostles bishop of Jerusalem) wrote but one epistle, which is among the seven Catholic epistles; which too has been said to have been published by another in his name; but gradually, in process of time, it has gained authority. This is he of whom Paul writes in the epistle to the Galatians, and he is often mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, and also several times in the gospel, called, “according to the Hebrews,” lately translated by me into Greek and Latin.”

Augustine received all the Catholic epistles. He quotes James as an apostle. He often cites both the epistles of Peter. He also refers to John’s three epistles, and quotes Jude, and calls him an apostle.

In the works of Ephrem, the Syrian, who lived, and wrote voluminously, in the fourth century, there are express quotations from the epistle of James, from the second of Peter, the second and third of John, and from Jude, as well as from those Catholic epistles which were undisputed. Rufin received all the books 233as canonical, which are now so esteemed by Christians generally. Why these epistles have received the appellation of Catholic, various reasons have been assigned. Some have supposed that they were so called, because they contain the one catholic doctrine which was delivered to the churches by the apostles of our Saviour, and which might be read by the universal church. Others are of opinion that they received this appellation, because they were not addressed to one person, or church, like the epistles of Paul, but to the Catholic church. This opinion seems not to be correct, for some of them were written to the Christians of particular countries, and others to individuals.

A third opinion, advanced by Dr. Hammond, and adopted by Dr. Macknight, and which has some probability, is, that the first of Peter, and first of John, being received by all Christians, obtained the name of Catholic, to distinguish them from those which at first were not universally received; but, in process of time, these last, coming to be universally received, were put into the same class with the first, and the whole thenceforward had the appellation of Catholic.

This denomination is as old as the time of Eusebius, and probably older, for Origen repeatedly called John’s first epistle Catholic; and the same is done by Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria. The same appellation was given to the whole seven by Athanasius, Epiphanius, and Jerome. Of these, it is probable, that the epistle of James was first written, but at what precise time, cannot be determined.

As there were two disciples of the name of James, it has been much disputed to which of them this epistle should be attributed. Lardner and Macknight 234have rendered it exceedingly probable that this epistle was written by James the Less, who is supposed to have been related to our Lord, and who seems for a long time to have had the chief authority in the church at Jerusalem; but Michaelis is of a different opinion, and says, that he sees “no reason for the assertion, that James, the son of Zebedee, was not the author of this epistle,” But the reasons which he assigns for his opinion have very little weight.

The date of this epistle may, with considerable probability, be referred to the year 62; for it is supposed that James was put to death in the following year. Its canonical authority and divine inspiration, although called in question by some, in ancient as well as modern times, ought to be considered as undoubted. One strong evidence that it was thus received by early Christians, may be derived from the old Syriac version of the New Testament; which, while it leaves out several other books, contains this.

It seems not to have been as well known in the western churches as most other books of Scripture; but learned men have observed, that Clement of Rome has quoted it no less than four times; and it is also quoted by Ignatius, in his genuine epistle to the Ephesians; and we have already shown that it was received as the writing of the apostle James, by Origen, Athanasius, and Jerome.

The first epistle of Peter has ever been considered authentic, and has been cited by Clement of Rome, Polycarp, the Martyrs of Lyons, Theophilus Bishop of Antioch, Papias, Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian. The only matter of doubt respecting it is, what place we are to understand by Babylon, 235where Peter was when he wrote. On this subject there are three opinions: the first, that by this name a place in Egypt is signified; the second, that Babylon in Assyria, properly so called, is meant; and the third, which is generally maintained by the Romanists, and some Protestants, is, that Rome is here called Babylon. Eusebius and Jerome understood that this epistle was written from Rome. The time of its being written was probably about the year of our Lord 65 or 66.

The date of the epistle of Jude may as well be placed about the same period, as at any other time, for we have no documents which can guide us to any certain decision. The objection to the canonical authority of this epistle, derived from the author’s having quoted the apocryphal book of Enoch, is of no validity; for the fact is, that Jude makes no mention of any book, but only of a prophecy, and there is no evidence that the apocryphal book of Enoch was then in existence; but if he did quote a truth from such a book, it argues no more against his inspiration than Paul’s quoting Epimenides does against his being an inspired man.

The three epistles of John were probably written about the year 96 or 97. It has commonly been supposed that the Apocalypse was the last written book of the New Testament, but Townsend insists that the three epistles of John were last written.—See Townsend’s New Testament, vol. ii.

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