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THE TITLES GIVEN TO THE SACRED SCRIPTURES BY THE FATHERS—THESE BOOKS NOT CONCEALED, BUT PARTIALLY KNOWN AND REFERRED TO BY ENEMIES AS WELL AS FRIENDS—CITATIONS—ANCIENT MANUSCRIPTS—REMARKS OF RENNELL.
AFTER having given a particular account of the several books of the New Testament, it may be useful to subjoin a few general remarks on the testimony exhibited.
1. The writings of the apostles, from the time of their first publication, were distinguished by all Christians from all other books. They were spoken of by the Fathers, as “Scripture;” as “divine Scripture;” as “inspired of the Lord;” as, “given by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.” The only question ever agitated, respecting any of these books, was, whether they were indeed the productions of the apostles. When this was clear, no man disputed their divine authority, or considered it lawful to dissent from their dictates. They were considered as occupying the same place, in regard to inspiration and authority, as the Scriptures of the Old Testament, and in imitation of this denomination they were called the New Testament. The other names by which they were distinguished, were such as these, the gospel;—the 246apostles;—the divine gospels;—the evangelical instrument;—the Scriptures of the Lord;—holy Scriptures;—evangelical voice;—divine Scriptures;—Oracles of the Lord;—divine fountains;—fountains of the divine fulness.
2. These books were not in obscurity, but were read with veneration and avidity by multitudes. They were read not only by the learned, but by the people; not only in private, but constantly in the public assemblies of Christians, as appears by the explicit testimony of Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Eusebius, Cyprian, and Augustine. And no other books were thus venerated and read. If some other pieces were publicly read, yet the Fathers always made a wide distinction between them and the sacred Scriptures.
3. In all the controversies which arose in the church, these books were acknowledged by all to be decisive authority, unless by some few of the very worst heretics, who mutilated the Scriptures, and forged others for themselves, under the names of the apostles. But most of the heretics endeavoured to support their opinions by an appeal to the writings of the New Testament. The Valentinians, the Montanists, the Sabellians, the Artemonites, the Arians, received the Scriptures of the New Testament. The same was the case with the Priscillianists and the Pelagians. In the Arian controversy, which occupied the church so long and so earnestly, the Scriptures were appealed to by both parties; and no controversy arose respecting the authenticity of the books of the New Testament.
4. The avowed enemies of Christianity, who wrote against the truth, recognized the books which are 247now in the Canon, as those acknowledged by Christians in their times, for they refer to the matters contained in them, and some of them mention several books by name; so that it appears from the accounts which we have of these writings, that they were acquainted with the volume of the New Testament. Celsus, who lived and wrote less than a hundred years after the apostles, says, as is testified by Origen, who answered him, “I could say many things concerning the affairs of Jesus, and those too different from what is written by the disciples of Jesus, but I purposely omit them.” That Celsus here refers to the gospels there can be no doubt. In another place, he says, “These things then we have alleged to you out of your own writings.” And that the gospels to which he referred were the same as those which we now possess, is evident from his reference to matters contained in them.
Porphyry in the third century wrote largely, and professedly, against the Christian religion; and although his work has shared the same fate as that of Celsus, yet, from some fragments which have been preserved, we can ascertain that he was well acquainted with the four gospels, for the things to which he objects are still contained in them.
But the emperor Julian expressly mentions Matthew and Luke, and cites various things out of the gospels. He speaks also of John, and alleges that none of Christ’s disciples beside ascribed to him the creation of the world;—and also, “that neither Paul, nor Matthew, nor Luke, nor Mark, has dared to call Jesus, God;”—“that John wrote later than the other evangelists, and at a time when a great 248number of men in the cities of Greece and Italy were converted.” He alludes to the conversion of Cornelius and Sergius Paulus; to Peter’s vision, and to the circular letter sent by the apostles at Jerusalem to the churches; which things are recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.7070See Lardner and Paley.
Now, if the genuineness of these books could have been impugned on any plausible grounds; or if any doubt had existed respecting this matter, surely such men as Celsus, Porphyry, and Julian, could not have been ignorant of the matter, and would not have failed to bring forward everything of this kind which they knew; for their hostility to Christianity was unbounded. And it is certain, that Porphyry did avail himself of an objection of this kind in regard to the book of Daniel. Since then not one of the early enemies of Christianity ever suggested a doubt of the genuineness of the books of the New Testament, we may rest assured that no ground of doubt existed in their day; and that the fact of these being the genuine writings of the men whose names they bear, was too clearly established to admit any doubt. The genuineness of the books of the New Testament having been admitted by friends and enemies—by the orthodox and heretics, in those ages when the fact could be ascertained easily, it is too late in the day now for infidels to call this matter in question.
5. But the testimony which we possess, is not only sufficient to prove that the books of the New Testament were written by the persons whose names they bear, but also that these books, in the early ages of 249the church, contained the same things which are now read in them. Omitting any particular notice of about half a dozen passages, the genuineness of which is in dispute, I would remark, that when we compare the numerous and copious quotations from these books, which are found in the writings of the Fathers, with our own copies, the argument is most satisfactory. It is true, indeed, that the Fathers do sometimes apparently quote from memory; and in that case, the words of the sacred writer are a little changed or transposed, but the sense is accurately retained. In general, however, the quotations of Scripture, in the writings of the Fathers, are verbally exact; there being no other variation, than what arises from the different idiom of the language which they use. I suppose that almost every verse, in some books of the New Testament, has been cited by one or another of the Fathers; so that if that book were lost, it might be restored by means of the quotations from it in other books.
But besides these quotations, we have versions of the whole New Testament into various languages, some of which were made very early, probably not much later than the end of the first, or beginning of the second century. Now, on a comparison, all these versions contain the same discourses, parables, miracles, doctrines, precepts, and divine institutions. Indeed, so literal have been most versions of the New Testament, that they answer to one another, and to the original, almost word for word.
Besides, there are in existence hundreds and thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament, which were written in different ages of the church, from 250the fourth or fifth century until the sixteenth. Most of these have been penned with great care, and in the finest style of calligraphy. The oldest are written on beautiful parchment, in what are called uncial, or capital letters. Some of these manuscripts contain all the books of the New Testament; others only a part; and in some instances, a single book. Some are in a state of good preservation, while others are worn and mutilated, and the writing so obscure as to be scarcely legible. And what is very remarkable, some copies of the New Testament on parchment have been found written over again with other matter, after the original words had been as fully obliterated as could easily be done. This seems a very strange practice, considering that good copies of the Bible must have been always too few; but the scarcity of parchment was so great, that men who were anxious to communicate their own lucubrations to the public, would resort to any shift to procure the materials for writing. And this is not more culpable or more wonderful than what has been known to take place in our own land and times, where the leaves of Walton’s Polyglot Bible have been torn and used for wrapping paper.
The exact age of the oldest manuscripts of the New Testament cannot be accurately ascertained, as they have no dates accompanying them which can safely be depended on; but as it is pretty well known at what period Greek accents were introduced, and also when the large uncial letter, as it is called, was exchanged for the small letter now in common use; if a manuscript is found written in the old fashion, in large letters, without intervals between the words, 251and without accents, it is known that it must be more ancient than the period when the mode of writing was changed. Now, it is manifest, that when these manuscripts were penned, the Canon was settled by common consent, for they all contain the same books, as far as as they go.
I will sum up my observations on the Canon of the New Testament, by quoting a sensible and very appropriate passage from the late learned Mr. Rennel. It is found in his Remarks on Hone’s Collection of the apocryphal writings of the apostolic age.
“When was the Canon of Scripture determined? It was determined immediately after the death of John, the last survivor of the apostolic order. The Canon of the gospels was indeed determined before his death, for we read in Eusebius, that he gave his sanction to the three other gospels, and completed this part of the New Testament with his own. By the death of John, the catalogue of Scripture was completed and closed. We have seen, both from the testimony of themselves and of their immediate successors, that the inspiration of writing was confined strictly to the apostles, and accordingly we find that no similar pretensions were ever made by any true Christian to a similar authority.
“By whom was the Canon of Scripture determined? It was determined not by the decision of any individual, nor by the decree of any council, but by the general consent of the whole and every part of the Christian church. It is, indeed, a remarkable circumstance, that among the various disputes which so early agitated the church, the Canon of Scripture was never a subject of controversy. If any question 252might be said to have arisen, it was in reference to one or two of those books which are included in the present Canon; but with respect to those which are out of the Canon no difference of opinion ever existed.
“The reason of this agreement is a very satisfactory one. Every one who is at all versed in Ecclesiastical History is aware of the continual intercourse which took place in the apostolical age between the various branches of the church universal. This communication, as Mr. Nolan has well observed, arose out of the Jewish polity, under which various synagogues of the Jews which were dispersed throughout the gentile world, were all subjected to the Sanhedrim at Jerusalem, and maintained a constant correspondence with it. Whenever then an epistle arrived at any particular church, it was first authenticated; it was then read to all the holy brethren, and was subsequently transmitted to some other neighbouring church. Thus we find that the authentication of the epistles of Paul was, ‘the salutation with his own hands,’ by which the church to which the epistle was first addressed might be assured that it was not a forgery. We find also a solemn adjuration of the same apostle, that his epistle ‘should be read to all the holy brethren.’ ‘When this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.’ 2 Thess. iii. 17; 1 Thess. v. 27; Col. iv. 6. From this latter passage we infer, that the system of transmission was a very general one, as the epistle which Paul directs the Colossians to receive from the Laodiceans was not originally 253directed to the latter, but was sent to them from some other church. To prevent any mistake or fraud, this transmission was made by the highest authority, namely, by that of the bishop. Through him official communications were sent from one church to another, even in the remotest countries. Clement, the bishop of Rome, communicated with the church at Corinth; Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, wrote an epistle to the Philippians; Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, corresponded with the churches of Rome, of Magnesia, of Ephesus, and others. These three bishops were the companions and immediate successors of the apostles, and followed the system of correspondence and intercourse which their masters had begun. Considering all these circumstances, we shall be convinced how utterly improbable it was, that any authentic work of an apostle should have existed in one church without being communicated to another. It is a very mistaken notion of Dodwell, that the books of the New Testament lay concealed in the coffers of particular churches and were not known to the rest of the world until the late days of Trajan. This might have been perfectly true, with respect to the originals, which were doubtless guarded with peculiar care, in the custody of the particular churches to which they were respectively addressed. But copies of these originals, attested by the authority of the bishop, were transmitted from one church to another with the utmost freedom, and were thus rapidly dispersed throughout the Christian world. As a proof of this, Peter, in an epistle addressed generally to the churches in Asia, speaks of ‘all the epistles of 254Paul,’ as a body of Scripture, universally circulated and known.
“The number of the apostles, including Paul and Barnabas, was but fourteen. To these, and these alone, in the opinion of the early church, was the inspiration of writing confined: out of these, six only deemed it necessary to write; what they did write, was authenticated with the greatest caution, and circulated with the utmost rapidity; what was received. in any church as the writing of an apostle, was publicly read; no church was left to itself, or to its own direction, but was frequently visited by the apostles, and corresponded with by their successors. All the distant members of the church universal, in the apostles’ age, being united by frequent intercourse and communication, became one body in Christ. Taking all these things into consideration, we shall see with what ease and rapidity the Canon of Scripture would be formed, there being no room either for fraudulent fabrication on the one hand, or for arbitrary rejection on the other. The case was too clear to require any formal discussion, nor does it appear that there was any material forgery that could render it necessary.
“The writings of the apostles, and of the apostles alone, were received as the word of God, and were separated from all others, by that most decisive species of authority, the authority of a general, an immediate, and an undisputed consent. This will appear the more satisfactory to our minds if we take an example from the age in which we live. The letters of Junius, for instance, were published at intervals within a certain period. Since the publication of the last authentic 255letter, many under that signature have appeared, purporting to have been written by the same author. But this circumstance throws no obscurity over the matter, nor is the Canon of Junius, if I may transfer the term from sacred to secular writing, involved in any difficulty or doubt. If it should be hereafter inquired, at what time, or by what authority the authentic letters were separated from the spurious, the answer will be, that such a separation never took place; but that the Canon of Junius was immediately determined after the last letter. To us, who live so near the time of publication, the line of distinction between the genuine and spurious is so strongly marked, and the evidence of authenticity on the one side, and of forgery on the other, is so clear and convincing, that a formal rejection of the latter is unnecessary. The case has long since been determined by the tacit consent of the whole British nation, and no man in his senses would attempt to dispute it.
“Yet how much stronger is the case of the Scriptural Canon! The author of Junius was known to none. He could not therefore of himself bear any testimony to the authenticity of his works; the authors of the New Testament were known to all, and were especially careful to mark, to authenticate, and to distinguish their writings. The author of Junius had no personal character which could stamp his writing with any high or special authority; whatever proceeded from the apostles of Christ, was immediately regarded as the offspring of an exclusive inspiration. For the Canon of Junius we have no external evidence, but that of a single publisher: for the Canon of Scripture, we have the testimony of churches 256which were visited, bishops who were appointed, and converts innumerable, who were instructed by the apostles themselves. It was neither the duty nor the interest of any one, excepting the publisher, to preserve the volume of Junius from spurious editions: to guard the integrity of the sacred volume was the bounden duty of every Christian who believed that its words were the words of eternal life.
“If then, notwithstanding these and other difficulties which might be adduced, the Canon of Junius is established beyond controversy or dispute, by the tacit consent of all who live in the age in which it was written, there can be no reason why the Canon of Scripture, under circumstances infinitely stronger, should not have been determined in a manner precisely the same; especially when we remember, that in both cases the forgeries made their appearance subsequently to the determination of the Canon. There is not a single book in the spurious department of the apocryphal volume which was even known when the Canon of Scripture was determined. This is a fact which considerably strengthens the case. There was no difficulty or dispute in framing the Canon of Scripture, because there were no competitors whose claims it was expedient to examine; no forgeries, whose impostures it was necessary to detect. The first age of the church was an age of too much vigilance, of too much communication, of too much authority for any fabrication of Scripture, to hope for success. If any attempt was made it was instantly crushed. When the authority of the apostles and of apostolic men had lost its influence, and heresies and disputes had arisen, then it was that forgeries began to appear . . . . 257Nothing, indeed, but the general and long determined consent of the whole Christian world, could have preserved the sacred volume in its integrity, unimpaired by the mutilation of one set of heretics, and unincumbered by the forgeries of another.”258
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