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RULES FOR DETERMINING WHAT BOOKS ARE APOCRYPHAL—SOME ACCOUNT OF THE APOCRYPHAL BOOKS WHICH HAVE BEEN LOST—ALL OF THEM CONDEMNED BY THE FOREGOING RULES—REASON OF THE ABOUNDING OF SUCH BOOKS.
OF the apocryphal books of the New Testament, the greater part have long since sunk into oblivion, but a few of them are still extant. All of them can be proved to be spurious, or at least not canonical. Their claims have so little to support them, that they might be left to that oblivion, into which they have so generally fallen, were it not that, from time to time, persons unfriendly to our present Canon bring forward these books., and pretend that some of them, at least, have as good claims to canonical authority as those which are received. It will be satisfactory to the reader, therefore, to know the names of these books, and to understand the principles on which they have been uniformly rejected by the church.
In the first place, then, I will mention the rules laid down by the Rev. Jeremiah Jones, by which it may be determined that a book is apocryphal, and then I will give some account of the books of this class which have been lost; and finally, consider the character of those which are still extant.271
1. That book is certainly apocryphal which contains manifest contradictions.
The reason of this rule is too evident to need any elucidation.
2. That book is apocryphal, which contains any doctrine or history, plainly contrary to those which are certainly known to be true.
This rule is also too clear to require anything to be said in confirmation of its propriety.
3. That book is apocryphal which contains anything ludicrous or trifling, or which abounds in silly and fabulous stories.
This rule is not only true, but of great importance, in this inquiry; as on examination it will be found, that the largest part of apocryphal books may be detected by the application of this single rule.
4. That book is apocryphal which mentions things of a date much later than the time in which the author, under whose name it goes, lived.
This rule does not apply to predictions of future events, which events occurred long after the death of the prophet; but to a reference to facts, or names of places, or persons, as existing when the book was written, which are known to have existed, only at a period long since the time when the supposed author lived. The rule will be better understood, if illustrated by particular examples. The book entitled, “The Constitutions of the Apostles,” speaks of the controversy which arose in the third century, respecting the rebaptization of heretics, therefore, it is not the work of Clement of Rome, to whom it has been ascribed; nor was it written in his time, but long afterwards.272
Again, the book under the name of Hegesippus is not genuine, for it mentions Constantine and Constantinople, which had no existence until long after the death of Hegesippus.
Moreover, in “The Constitutions of the Apostles,” there is mention of rites and ceremonies, relative to baptism, fasting, celibacy, &c. which it is certain had no existence in the times of the apostles, therefore this book was not written by an apostolical man, nor in the days of the apostles, but centuries afterwards.
5. That book is apocryphal, the style of which is entirely different from the known style of the author to whom it is ascribed.
It is easy to counterfeit an author’s name, age, country, opinions, &c.; but it will be found almost impossible to imitate his style. An author, it is true, may vary his style to suit different subjects, but there is commonly some peculiarity by which he may be distinguished from all others. “Jerome,” says Sixtus, “writes one way in his epistles, another in his controversies, a third in his commentaries;—one way when young, another when old, yet he always so writes that you may know him to be the same Jerome still, as a man knows his friend under all the various casts and turns of his countenance.” Thus Augustine says of Cyprian, ” His style has a certain peculiar face by which it may be known.”
It should be remembered, however, that this rule, although it may often furnish a certain detection of spurious writings is one which requires much caution in the application. There is need of a long and intimate acquaintance with the style of an author, before we are competent to determine whether a book could 273have been written by him: and the difference ought to be very distinctly marked before we make it the ground of any important judgment, respecting the genuineness of a work ascribed to him, especially if there be external evidence in its favour. In fact, too free an application of this rule has led to many errors, both in ancient and modern times.
6. That book is spurious and apocryphal, whose idiom and dialect are different from those of the country to which the reputed author belonged.
The idiom and dialect of a language are very different from the style of an author. Every language is susceptible of every variety of style, but the idiom is the’ same in all who use the language: it is the peculiarity, not of an individual, but of a whole country. But as every writer has a style of his own, which cannot easily be imitated by another, so every country has an idiom, which other nations, even if they learn the language, cannot, without great difficulty, acquire. And for the same reason that a writer cannot acquire the idiom of a foreign tongue, he cannot divest himself of the peculiarities of his own.
An Englishman can scarcely write and speak the French language, so as not to discover by his idiom that it is not his vernacular tongue. Hence also, a North Briton can be distinguished, not only from the peculiarity of his pronunciation, but by his idiom. And this is the reason that modern scholars can never write Latin, in the manner of the classic authors. This rule, therefore, is of great importance in detecting the spuriousness of a book, when the real author lived after the time of the person whose name is assumed, or in a country where a different language, 274or a different dialect was in use. It will be found almost impossible to avoid phrases and modes of speech, which were not in use in the time of the person under whose name the work is edited: and the attempt at imitating an idiom which is not perfectly familiar, leads to an affectation and stiffness of manner which usually betrays the impostor. The influence of native idiom appears nowhere more remarkably than in the writings of the New Testament. These books, although written in the Greek tongue, contain an idiom so manifestly different from that of the language in common use at that time, that it cannot but be observed by all who have even a superficial acquaintance with Grecian literature.
The fact is, as has often been observed by learned men, that while the words of these books are Greek the idiom is Hebrew. The writers had, from their infancy, been accustomed to the Syro-Chaldaic language, which is a corruption of the ancient Hebrew. Now, this peculiarity of idiom could never have been successfully imitated by any native Greek; nor by any one, not early conversant with the vernacular tongue of Palestine at that time. When, therefore, men of other countries, and other times, undertook to publish books under the name of the apostles, the imposture was manifest at once, to all capable of judging correctly on the subject; because, although they could write in the same language as the apostles, they could not possibly imitate their idiom. This, therefore, furnishes a most important characteristic, to distinguish between the genuine writings of the apostles and such as are supposititious.
7. That book is spurious which exhibits a disposition 275and temper of mind very different from that of the person to whom it is ascribed.
This rule depends on a principle in human nature well understood, and needs no particular elucidation.
8. That book is not genuine, which consists principally of mere extracts from other books.
This is also so evident, that it requires no illustration.
9. Those books which were never cited, nor referred to as Scripture, by any writer of credit for the first four hundred years after the apostles’ days, are apocryphal.
10. Those books which were expressly rejected by the Fathers of the first ages as spurious, and attributed by them to heretics, are apocryphal.
By the application of the foregoing rules, it can be shown, that every book which claims canonical authority, not included in our present Canon, is apocryphal. When we denominate all books apocryphal which are not canonical, we do not mean to reduce them all to the same level. A book which is not canonical may be a very instructive and useful book. As a human composition it may deserve to be highly esteemed; and as the writing of a pious and eminent man of antiquity it may claim peculiar respect.
The ancient method of division was more accurate than ours. They divided all books into three classes; first, the canonical; secondly, the ecclesiastical; and thirdly, the spurious. And there is reason to believe that some books which were written without the least fraudulent design, by anonymous authors, have, by the ignorance of their successors, been ascribed to the wrong persons.276
That the Fathers did sometimes cite apocryphal books, in their writings, is true; but so did Paul cite the heathen poets. If these books are sometimes mentioned, without any note of disapprobation annexed, it can commonly be clearly ascertained from other places in the same author, that he held them to be apocryphal. Thus Origen, in one place, quotes “the gospel according to the Hebrews,” without any expression of disapprobation; but in another place he rejects it as spurious, and declares, “That the church receives no more than four gospels.”
Sometimes the Fathers cited these apocryphal books, to show that their knowledge was not confined to their own books, and that they did not reject others, through ignorance of their contents. Remarkably to this purpose are the words of Origen. “The church,” says he, “receives only four gospels: heretics have many, such as the gospel of the Egyptians, the gospel of Thomas, &c.: these we read, that we may not seem to be ignorant to those who think they know something extraordinary, if they are acquainted with those things which are recorded in these books.” To the same purpose speaks Ambrose; for, having mentioned several of these books, he says, “We read these that they may not be read by others: we read them, that we may not seem ignorant; we read them, not that we receive them, but that we may reject them; and may know what those things are, of which they make such a boast.” In some instances, it seems probable that some of the Fathers took passages out of these books, because they were acknowledged by those against whom they were writing; being 277willing to dispute with them on their own principles and to confute them by their own books.
It may perhaps be true also, that one or two of the Fathers cited passages from these books, because they contained facts not recorded in the canonical gospels. The apostle John informs us that our Lord performed innumerable miracles, besides those which he had recorded; “The which, if they should be written every one, I suppose the world itself could not contain the books which should be written.” Now, some tradition of some of these things would undoubtedly be handed down as low as to the second century, and might find its way into some of the apocryphal gospels, and might be cited by persons who did not believe the book to be of canonical authority; just as we refer to any profane author for the proof of such facts as are credibly related by them. There is, at least, one example of this. Jerome refers to the gospel according to the Hebrews for a fact; and yet he most explicitly rejects this book as apocryphal.
The only books which were ever read in the churches, besides the canonical, were a few written by apostolical men; which, although not written by a plenary inspiration, were the genuine writings of the persons whose names they bore, and were pious productions, and tended to edification; such as, the “Epistle of Clement,” the “Shepherd of Hermas,” and the “Epistle of Barnabas;” but no spurious books were ever read in the churches.
None of the writings falsely ascribed to Christ and his apostles, ever acquired so much authority, as to be publicly read in any church, as far as we know. Indeed, although the apocryphal books of the New 278Testament were very numerous, yet they did not appear in the age of the church next after the times of the apostles. In the first century no books of this description are referred to, unless we suppose that Luke, in the beginning of his gospel, intends to speak of such. In the second century a few spurious writings began to be first put into circulation, as, “the Gospel according to the Hebrews;” “the Gospel of Truth,” used by the Valentinians; “the Preaching of Peter;” “the Traditions of Matthias;” “the Acts of Paul and Thecla:” “the Gospel of Marcion;” “the Revelation of Cerinthus;” and a few others of less note. But in the third century the number of apocryphal books was considerably increased; and in the fourth and fifth centuries they were exceedingly multiplied.
If it be inquired, how it happened that so many apocryphal books were written, it may confidently be answered, that the principal cause was the abounding of heresies. Almost all the spurious writings, under the names of the apostles, are the productions of heretics, as we learn from the testimony of those Fathers who have made mention of them. It is however true, that some mistaken well-meaning people thought that they could add honour to the apostles, or contribute to the edification of the church, by resorting to (what have improperly been called) pious frauds. They imagined, also, that they could recommend Christianity to the Gentiles, by inventing stories, which they rashly pretended were sayings or actions of Christ: thus adopting the pernicious maxim, so peremptorily denounced by Paul, “that we may do evil that good may come;” or that the goodness of the end will sanctify the badness of the means. 279Of this we have one remarkable example, in the spurious book still extant, entitled, “the Acts of Paul and Thecla,” which a certain Asiatic presbyter confessed that he had forged, and assigned, as his reason for this forgery, that he wished to show respect to Paul. But, in connection with this fact, we have satisfactory proof of the vigilance of the church, in guarding the sacred Canon from corruption; for the book was no sooner published, than a strict inquiry was instituted into its origin, and the presbyter mentioned above, having been detected as the author, was deprived of his office in the church. This account is given by Tertullian; and Jerome adds that the detection of this forgery was made by the apostle John.
It is probable, also, that some of these books were written without any evil purpose, by weak men, who wrote down all the stories they had received by tradition; for, no doubt, a multitude of traditions respecting Christ and his apostles, with extravagant distortions and additions, would be handed down for several generations.
By all these means, the number of apocryphal books of the New Testament was greatly multiplied. But by far the greater number of these have perished; yet there is no difficulty in determining, that none of them had any just claim to a place in the Canon. By one or more of the rules laid down above, they can all be demonstrated to have been apocryphal: and indeed most of them are never mentioned by any ancient author, in any other light than as spurious writings. There is a famous decree of pope Gelasius, in which at least twenty-five of these books are 280named, and declared to be apocryphal. It is not certain, indeed, whether this decree ought to be ascribed to Gelasius, or to one of his predecessors, Damasus; but there can be no doubt that it is very ancient. It is by most supposed to have been formed in the council which met at Rome, A. D. 494. A translation of this decree, extracted from Jones, will be found in the notes at the end of the volume.7474See Note F.281
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