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TESTIMONY OF APOSTOLIC FATHERS. BARNABAS—PAPIAS.
The testimony of the Acts of Pilate and the Book of James falls thus within the early part of the second century. We have advanced step by step from the latter to the former part of this century. Another remarkable writing of this age here meets us at this time—a writing which was put together by several remarkable men between the end of the second and the beginning of the fourth century. That it bears most decisively on the question of the authorship of the gospels we can now most confidently maintain since the discovery of the Sinaitic Bible. We here speak of the Epistle of Barnabas.
This epistle, in its style and matter, resembles that to the Hebrews. It is addressed to those Christians who, coming out of Judaism, desired to retain, under the New Testament, certain peculiarities of the Old; in the same 97way that the Judaizing teachers among the Galatians had acted. In opposition to such tendencies, the epistle asserts the truth that the new covenant which Christ established had abolished the old, and that the old was never more than an imperfect type and shadow of the new.
During the last two centuries, this epistle has been well known; but, unfortunately, the first four chapters were wanting in the copies of all the Greek manuscripts found in the libraries of Europe. It was only in a Latin version, and that of a very corrupt text, that the entire epistle was to be read. In this Latin. version there was a passage, in the fourth chapter, which had excited peculiar attention: “Let us take care that we be not of those of whom it is written that many were called, but few chosen.” This expression, “as it is written,” every reader of the New Testament is familiar with already. I would ask you to read Matt. 4:1-11, where the temptation of our Lord is recorded. The weapon which our Lord used against the tempter is contained in the words, “it is written;” and even the tempter uses this weapon 98in return, plying his temptation with the words, “it is written.” It is the formula by which expressions out of Scripture are distinguished from all others, and marked out as the word of God written. The apostles, like the Saviour, often used the expression when introducing a quotation from the Old Testament. It was natural, therefore, to apply this form of expression to the apostles’ writings as soon as they had been placed in the canon with the books of the Old Testament. When we find, therefore, in ancient ecclesiastical writings, quotations from the gospels introduced with this formula, “It is written,” we must infer that, at the time when the expression was used, the gospels were certainly treated as of equal authority with the books of the Old Testament. As soon as they were thus placed side by side, there was a canon of the New Testament as well as of the Old; for the words which are referred to under the formula in Barnabas’ epistle are found, as is well known, in Matt. 22:14, and also, 20:16. If this argument is of any weight, it follows that, at the time when the Epistle of Barnabas was written, the gospel of St. 99Matthew was treated as part of holy Scripture.
But as the Epistle of Barnabas is undoubtedly of high antiquity, the fact that the formula, “It is written,” is used, has been disputed by many learned men; and what gave some countenance to the doubt is this, that the first five chapters were extant only in the Latin version. They were able to say that this important expression was introduced by the Latin translator. A learned theologian, Dr. Credner, literally wrote, in the year 1832, as follows:. “This disputed expression does not exist for us in the original Greek. It would have been easy for the translator to introduce the usual formula; and for internal reasons, we shall hold the genuineness of the phrase to be unproved till the contrary is proved.” The decision, then, of the genuineness or not of the expression, depended upon the discovery of the original Greek text. And not long after these words of Credner were written, the original Greek text was discovered. While men were disputing in learned Germany as to whether the Latin version was to be relied on in this question 100or not, the original Greek text, which was to decide the question, lay hid in a Greek convent in the deserts of Arabia, among a heap of old parchments. While so much has been lost, in the course of centuries, by the tooth of time and the carelessness of ignorant monks, an invisible eye had watched over this treasure; and when it was on the point of perishing in the fire, the Lord had decreed its deliverance. In the Sinaitic Bible, the entire of this Epistle of Barnabas has been found in the original Greek. And how does this original text decide this important question? It decides that this expression, “It is written,” was first prefixed to the quotation from St. Matthew, not by the Latin translator, but by the author himself of the Greek original.
Since this momentous fact has been decided in this unexpected way, it has been asked a second time whether we are entitled to draw from it such important consequences. Might not the formula, “It is written,” have been applied to any other written book? That this could not be the case, our previous remarks on the use of the formula sufficiently 101prove. We have no right whatever to weaken the use of the expression in this particular case. But a critic of the negative school has tried to show his ingenuity in a peculiar way. In an apocryphal book called the Fourth Book of Ezra, written probably by some Jewish Christian after the destruction of Jerusalem, we read, “For many are born, but few shall be saved.” This expression has a certain resemblance to the expression of St. Matthew, but it is clearly different. But a learned man has, with all seriousness, attempted to show that the words of the Saviour introduced by the expressive “It is written,” in the Epistle of Barnabas, are not really taken from St. Matthew, but from this Book of Ezra, and that the writer of the epistle has substituted the one phrase for the other; and consequently that the formula, “It is written,” applies to the apocryphal Book of Ezra, not to the gospel of St. Matthew. It is characteristic of Strauss, who has attempted to turn the life of Jesus into a mere fancy or cloud-picture, that he has marked with his approval this trick of conjuring away a passage in the Epistle of Barnabas. For our 102part, we see in it nothing more than an outcome of that anti-Christian spirit which has matured itself in the school of Renan. It is best described in the words of the Apostle to Timothy—2 Tim. 4:4—“And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned into fables.” I think the reader will now agree with me when I say that, so long as nothing stronger than this can be adduced to weaken the force of this passage in the Epistle of Barnabas, no one can go wrong who simply holds by the truth. The above effort of misapplied ingenuity only proves what efforts must be made to get rid of the force of the passage.
We have to consider these conclusions yet more attentively. The Epistle of Barnabas does not date from later than the early part of the second century. While critics have generally been divided between assigning it to the first or second decade of the second century, the Sinaitic Bible, which has for the first time cleared up this question, has led us to throw its composition as far back as the last decade of the first century. In this venerable document, which Clement of Alexandria, 103at the end of the second century, reckoned as part of holy Scripture, there are several passages which refer to St. Matthew’s gospel; as in chapter 9:13, when our Lord says, he was not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance: the words, “to repentance,” are here introduced in the Epistle of Barnabas, as well as in St. Matthew’s gospel, by way of explanation, from Luke 5:32. It is very probable, also, that the remarks of Barnabas on the serpent of Moses as a type of the Saviour are founded on the well-known passage in John 3:14. It is remarkable, moreover, that Matthew 22:14 is introduced with the usual formula which marks a quotation from holy Scripture. It is clear, therefore, that at the beginning of the second century the gospel of St. Matthew was already regarded as a canonical book.
This result is all the more remarkable when we consider that St. Matthew’s gospel has been considered not so much a book by itself as one of four gospels that together entered into the canon of the New Testament. The inquiries which we have made into the first three quarters of the second century 104have given prominence at one time to the gospel of St. Matthew, at another time to that of St. Luke and St. John; but the gospel of St. Mark has been less noticed, as it furnished fewer citations. It would not be fair to infer from this that the gospel which was alone cited, alone had any authority in the early church. Now the use which Justin makes of the Acts of Pilate proves to us that, at least as early as the end of the first century, the gospel of John must have been in use; and Justin himself, in the first half of the second century, makes frequent reference to St. John, and even more frequent to St. Matthew’s gospel. Is not this of itself a sufficient proof that if, at the time when Barnabas’ epistle was written, St. Matthew’s gospel was considered canonical, the same must be the case with St. John? Basilides, in the reign of Adrian, 117-138, made use of St. John and St. Luke. Valentinus, about A. D. 140, makes use of St. Matthew, St. Luke, and St. John. Are not these additional proofs in our favor? Already as early as the time of Justin, the expression, “the evangel,” was applied to the four gospels, so that the name of 105each of the four writers dropped into the background; and in the second half of the second century we find the number of the evangelists restricted to four, and the matter treated as a subject which was beyond dispute. What follows from this? It follows that no one of these gospels could have been elevated by itself to a place of authority in the canon of Scripture. The church only ventured to place them in the canon when they had been already received as the four gospels, and as such had been long prized as genuine apostolical writings.
When we further ask ourselves when this took place, we are forced to the conclusion that it must have occurred about the end of the first century. This was the time when, after the death of the aged John, those holy men who had known the Lord in the flesh; including the great apostle of the Gentiles and the early church, had thus lost a definite centre of authority. It was at this time, when the church dispersed over the world was persecuted without and distracted by error within, that she began to venerate and regard as sacred the writings which the apostles had 106left behind them as precious depositories of truth, as unerring records of the life of the Saviour, and as an authoritative rule of faith and practice. The right time had therefore come for enrolling their writings among the Canonical Scriptures. The separation between the church and the synagogue was now complete. Since the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple service, A. D. 70, the church had been thrown more entirely on her own resources, and stood now independent. It was a marked proof of her independence when she ventured to rank her sacred writings on a level with those of the Old Testament, which the Christian church herself prized so highly.
Do you ask in what way and by what act this was done? Certainly no learned assemblies sat to decide this question. If men like Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John had left behind them outlines of the Lord’s life, did it need any thing more than their names to make their writings of the highest value to the early church? And had not these men stood in such near relationship to the church as to make it impossible to pass off forged 107writings of theirs without detection? There was no gospel more difficult to be tampered with than St. John’s. His gospel went forth from the midst of the circle of churches of Asia Minor, and spread thence into all the world. Was this possible if the slightest taint of suspicion had lain upon it? Suppose, on the other hand, that it first appeared elsewhere, then we may be sure that these Asiatic churches would have been the first to detect the fraud. It would have been impossible to palm upon them a spurious document as the writing of their former bishop.
We have an old tradition on the subject, which Eusebius in his Church History, 3, 24, has referred to. It says that the three gospels already extensively known were laid before St. John by his friends. He bore witness to their truth, but said that they had passed over what Jesus had done at the beginning of his public ministry. His friends then expressed a desire that he should give an account of this period which had been passed over. This narrative is substantially confirmed by the contents of St. John’s gospel, a point which Eusebius has not failed to notice.108
We conclude, then, that it was towards the end of the first century, and about the time of John’s decease at Ephesus, that the church began to place the four gospels in the Canon. The reasons which lead us to assign this as the right date for the commencement of the Canon are of themselves sufficient; but we would not so confidently maintain this opinion if the history and literature of the entire second century, as far as we have been able to look into the subject, did not support our view of the case.
We have only one authority more to produce in our review of the earliest Christian literature. It is the testimony of Papias, who more than any other has been misrepresented by modern opponents of the gospel. The uncertainty which rests over Papias himself and his testimony does not allow us to class him in the same rank with the other testimonies we have already adduced. But such as it is, we here produce it.
We learn from Eusebius, 3, 39, that Papias wrote a work in five books, which he called a “Collection of the Sayings of the Lord.” In collecting materials for this work, 109he preferred to lean rather on uncertain traditions than on what was written in books. He drew accordingly upon certain oral traditions which could be traced up to the apostles. His own words on these traditions are as follows: “I intend to put together what has been reported to me by the most ancient presbyters, in so far as I have been able to verify it through my own inquiries.” He adds further, “Whenever I met any one who had held converse with these aged presbyters, I at once inquired of him what, according to the most trustworthy traditions, Peter or Philip, or Thomas, James, or John, or Matthew, or any other of the Lord’s disciples, had said.” It is not clear from these words whom he means by the most ancient. Some learned men have erroneously supposed that he referred to the apostles themselves as his authorities. It is much more likely that he refers to those venerable men who had spoken with the apostles. So Eusebius thinks, who had the whole work of Papias before him, and he distinctly says so. He records of Papias that he nowhere claims to have seen or heard the holy apostles but to have 110been a pupil of Aristion and of John the Presbyter, to whose testimony he generally refers. It struck Eusebius, therefore, that it was an error in Irenæus to call Papias a “disciple of John and the companion of Polycarp,” a mistake which he fell into by confounding John the Presbyter with the Apostle John. This is confirmed by the wonderful tradition which Irenæus relates of the millennial reign, “out of the mouth of those elders who had seen John, the Lord’s disciple.” In this place, Irenæus undoubtedly distinguishes between these elders and the apostles. But inasmuch as he appeals to Papias as his authority for this tradition of a reign of a thousand years, he leaves no doubt that the elders of whom he speaks are no others than those named by Papias.
Eusebius gives us some further extracts from this work of Papias, namely, the story related to him by the daughters of Philip the deacon, of the raising to life of a dead man by their father, and that Justus Barnabas had drunk a cup of poison without receiving any hurt. Papias went on farther—we follow here the account of Eusebius—to give some 111detailed accounts which he professed to have received by tradition, such as “certain unknown or apocryphal parables and lessons of our Lord and others, some of which are fabulous.” Of this kind is the doctrine of a millennial kingdom, which is to take place in a certain carnal sense on this earth after the general resurrection. Eusebius has not given us a delineation of this kingdom, but Irenæus has. It is as follows: “The days shall come in which vines shall grow, of which each vine shall bear ten thousand branches, each branch ten thousand clusters, each cluster ten thousand grapes, and each grape contain ten measures of wine; and when any one of the saints shall go to pluck a grape, another grape shall cry out, ‘I am better; take me, and praise the Lord.’ So each corn of wheat shall produce ten thousand ears, and each ear ten thousand grains,” etc.
This narrative Papias professed to have received from certain elders, who in their turn received it from St. John. Eusebius remarks on this, that Papias, who was a man of very narrow understanding, as his book fully proves, must have got these opinions 112from misunderstanding some of the apostles’ writings. He goes on to say that there are other accounts of the Lord’s sayings taken from Aristion and Presbyter John to be found in Papias’ book, for which he refers the curious to the book itself. Here, Eusebius says, he will close his remarks on Papias with one tradition about St. Mark. It is to this effect: “And so the Presbyter said—Mark, the interpreter of St. Peter, had written down whatever saying of Peter’s he could remember, but not the sayings and deeds of Christ in order; for he was neither a disciple of the Lord, nor had he heard him, but, as we have seen above, learned these things from Peter, who was in the habit of referring to the events of the Lord’s life as occasion might suggest, but never in any systematic way. Mark, in consequence, never failed to write down these remembrances as they fell from Peter’s lips, and was never known to have failed in thus preserving an exact record of what Peter said.”
To these extracts from Papias, Eusebius added another upon St. Matthew, as follows: “Thus far on St. Mark—as to St. Matthew, 113Papias tells us that he wrote his Words of the Lord in Hebrew, and whoever could do so afterwards translated it.” In this extract there is something obscure; it is doubtful whether we have rightly rendered “the words of the Lord,” since what Papias has before observed upon Mark—we refer to the words, “What Christ has spoken or done”—makes it probable that we are to include under the expression both words and deeds. Now, all these traditions of the Presbyter John and of Papias rest upon the gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark. Even if the expression, “the words of the Lord,” is to be understood strictly, we are not to conclude that there was then no written record of these sayings already in existence, since neither Eusebius nor any other early writer ever supposed that these extracts of Papias stood in contradiction with the two gospels of Matthew and Mark. When, therefore, modern writers undertake to show that our gospel of Mark is not the original gospel written by St. Mark himself, but only a compilation from that original, this very theory convicts itself of being an arbitrary assumption. The theory 114is only too well adapted to invite a spirit of loose conjecture as to the origin of our gospels.
This is true of St. Matthew’s gospel as well as of St. Mark’s. The point of the extract from Papias about St. Matthew lies in this, that he says that the evangelist wrote it in Hebrew. If this assertion of Papias is well founded, the next saying of his, that “any one translated it who was able to do so,” opens a wide field for supposing all manner of differences between the Hebrew original and the Greek text. This Hebrew text must have been lost very early, as not one even of the very oldest church fathers had ever seen or used it. My reader will see that I am casting a hasty glance at a very tangled and intricate question. For our part, we are fully satisfied that Papias’ assertion of an original Hebrew text rests on a misunderstanding of his. To make this clear would take up too much space; we can, therefore, only give here the following brief explanation of Papias’ error.
From the Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians, we gather that thus early there was a 115Judaizing party. This party spirit broke out even more fiercely after the destruction of Jerusalem. There were two parties among these Judaizers; the one the Nazarenes, and the other the Ebionites. Each of these parties used a Gospel according to St. Matthew; the one party using a Greek text, and the other party a Hebrew. That they did not scruple to tamper with the text, to suit their creed, is probable from that very sectarian spirit. The text, as we have certain means of proving, rested upon our received text of St. Matthew, with, however, occasional departures, to suit their arbitrary views. When, then, it was reported, in later times, that these Nazarenes, who were one of the earliest Christian sects, possessed a Hebrew version of Matthew, what was more natural than that some person or other thus falling in with the pretensions of this sect should say that Matthew originally was written in Hebrew, and that the Greek was only a version from it? How far these two sects differed from each other no one cared to inquire; and with such separatists as the Nazarenes, who withdrew themselves to the shores of the Dead 116sea, it would not have been easy to attempt it.
Jerome supports us in this clearing up of Papias’ meaning. Jerome, who knew Hebrew, as other Latin and Greek fathers did not, obtained in the fourth century a copy of this Hebrew gospel of the Nazarenes, and at once asserted that he had found the Hebrew original. But when he looked more closely into the matter, he confined himself to the statement that many supposed that this Hebrew text was the original of St. Matthew’s gospel. He translated it into Latin and Greek, and added a few observations of his own on it.
From these observations of Jerome, as well as from other fragments, we must conclude that this notion of Papias—in which several learned men of our day agree—that the Hebrew was the original text of St. Matthew, cannot be substantiated; but, on the contrary, this Hebrew has been drawn from the Greek text, and disfigured moreover here and there with certain arbitrary changes. The same is applicable to a Greek text of the Hebrew gospel in use among the Ebionites, 117This text, from the fact that it was in Greek, was better known to the church than the Hebrew version of the Nazarenes; but it was always regarded, from the earliest times, as only another text of St. Matthew’s gospel. This explains also what Papias had said about several translations of St. Matthew.
We have something more to say about Papias and his strange compilation. On the subject of his materials, he says that he sought for little help from written records. Of what records does he here speak? Is it of our gospels? This is not impossible from the expression itself, but from the whole character of his book it seems very improbable, since it seems to have been his object to supplement these with the traditions about the Saviour which were current about A. D. 130 or 140. We cannot suppose that the gospels themselves were the storehouses from which he compiled these traditions. He must have sought for them among those apocryphal writings which began to circulate from the very first. To those traditions of the apocryphal gospels he opposed his own collection of traditions, whose genuineness he pretended 118could, like the gospels themselves, be traced up to the Apostles.
We have seen already, from Eusebius’ notice of Papias’ work, what kind of traditions they were which he collected—traditions such as those about Philip the Deacon having raised the dead, or Justus Barnabas having drunk poison without receiving any hurt. A third tradition of the same kind, which he says is contained in the gospel of the Hebrews, is that of the history of a woman who was a sinner accused before Jesus. In this same book also, as we learn from Œcumenius, there is a story to the effect that the body of Judas the betrayer was so swollen, that being thrown down by a chariot in a narrow street, all his bowels gushed out. The book also contained, as we have already seen on the authority of Eusebius, certain unknown parables and doctrines of our Lord; but he does not think it worth his while to notice one of them; nor did any other church writer do so, with the exception of Irenæus (whose account of Papias’ millenarian fancies we have already referred to), and Andrew of Cæsarea, in the sixth century, who notices in his Commentary 119on the Book of Revelation, a remark of Papias about the fallen angels. Eusebius, for his part, dismisses these accounts of Papias, about parables of our Lord, which he received by tradition, as “altogether fabulous.”
Now, with all that we thus know about the truth of Papias and his book, what credit are we to attach to him as a testimony for our Gospels? Though there are men of ability here and there who have credited Papias, we cannot help taking the contrary side. Eusebius’ opinion about Papias, that he was a man of very contracted mind, is proved, not only by the extracts from him we have already noticed, but also by the way in which his attempt to enrich the gospel narrative has been allowed to drop into oblivion by the entire Christian church. How we should have prized even a single parable of our Lord, if it had borne any internal marks of being genuine! But no one paid the slightest attention to this collection of Papias: the air of fable, which even Eusebius—who is himself by no means remarkable for critical acumen—exposes, throws a cloud of suspicion over the whole book.120
Yet, notwithstanding all this, there are men in the present century, professing to be models of critical severity, who set up Papias as their torch-bearer in these inquiries. They have attempted to use his obscure and contradictory remarks about St. Matthew and St. Mark, to separate between the original element and the spurious additions to these gospels. This is indeed to set up Papias on a pedestal! But Papias is even more readily seized on by those who wish to overturn the credit of St. John’s gospel. And why so? Papias is silent as to this gospel. This silence of Papias is advanced by Strauss, Renan, and such like opponents of the faith of the church, as a most damaging fact against the genuineness of the gospel. I rather think our readers who have measured Papias aright will not readily agree to this. Did not the motive betray itself, I should ask the reader whether producing Papias as a witness on such a question does not imply a misunderstanding of him and his book. His notices about St. Matthew and St. Mark do not change the character of his book. But they say that Papias could not 121have known of John’s gospel, or he would have mentioned it; and that we have thus a proof that the gospel could not have been in existence, since Papias was bishop of Hierapolis, a town in the neighborhood of Ephesus, whence the gospel of St. John was sent forth; and the earliest record we have about the martyrdom of Papias sets it clown about the same time as that of Polycarp, i. e. about A. D. 160.
Now, it is difficult to conceive a statement more utterly groundless and arbitrary than this, that the silence of Papias as to the gospel of St. John is a good proof against its genuineness. For, in the first place, any notice of John’s gospel lay altogether out of the direction of Papias’ researches; and, secondly, we have no right to conclude, from Eusebius’ extracts out of Papias’ book, that there was no reference to St. John’s gospel in the entire book. The notices of St. Matthew and St. Mark which Eusebius quotes from Papias are not introduced to prove their authenticity, but only for the particular details which he mentions. It is quite possible that this writing did not contain the same kind of reference 122to St. John’s writings, and this is all that the silence of Eusebius proves. Let us only add, that Eusebius, in his extracts from Papias, makes no reference to St. Luke’s gospel. Are we, therefore, to conclude that Papias knew nothing of this gospel also? And yet we are logically bound to draw this conclusion, absurd as it is, in both cases.
We have only one point more to touch upon here. At the end of his notice of Papias, Eusebius remarks, that this writer has made use of passages taken from the first Epistle of John and the first Epistle of Peter. Does not this fact bear against us who refuse to see any force in his silence as to St. Luke, St. Paul, and the gospel of St. John? Quite the contrary. No one in the early church era doubted these writings, and so it never occurred to Eusebius to collect testimonies in their favor. But it was otherwise with the Catholic Epistles, the Apocalypse, and the Epistle to the Hebrews; and it was of importance to adduce testimonies in their favor. But it may be said this proceeding is arbitrary. No, we answer; and in favor of the justice of our point of view, 123we have two arguments to adduce. Eusebius only says one thing of Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians—that it contains passages taken from the first Epistle of Peter; and yet the letter is full of quotations from St. Paul! He also mentions (IV. 26) that Theophilus, in his letter to his friend Autolycus, made use of the Apocalypse; and yet he does not so much as notice that these books contain a citation of a passage from the gospel of St. John, and even with the name of the apostle given. Now, the blind zeal of the adversaries of the gospel has either chosen not to see this, or has passed it over in silence.
But there is another argument which we can appeal to. Eusebius has told us that Papias made use of St. John’s first Epistle. Now, there are strong reasons, as we have seen above, for concluding that the gospel and the epistle came from the same hand. The testimony, therefore, of Papias in favor of the epistle really amounts to one in favor of the gospel. It is quite possible that those critics who treat history so freely, after having set aside the greater number of St. Paul’s 124epistles, can also treat in the same way the gospel of St. John, though unquestioned hitherto. They have done so; but in face of such prejudice, and a determination to see only from their own point of view, we have nothing more to say.125
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