When the Scriptures are quoted, or alluded to, they are quoted with peculiar respect, as books sui generis; as possessing an authority which belonged to no other books, and as conclusive in all questions and controversies amongst Christians.
Beside the general strain of reference and quotation, which uniformly and strongly indicates this distinction, the following may be regarded as specific testimonies:
I. Theophilus, (Lardner, Cred. part ii. vol. i. p. 429.) bishop of Antioch, the sixth in succession from the apostles, and who flourished little more than a century after the books of the New Testament were written, having occasion to quote one of our Gospels, writes thus: “These things the Holy Scriptures teach us, and all who were moved by the Holy Spirit, among whom John says, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.” Again: “Concerning the righteousness which the law teaches, the like things are to be found in the prophets and the Gospels, because that all, being inspired, spoke by one and the same Spirit of God.” (Lardner, Cred. part ii. vol. i. p. 448.) No words can testify more strongly than these do, the high and peculiar respect in which these books were holden.
II. A writer against Artemon, (Lardner, Cred. part ii. vol. iii. p. 40.) who may be supposed to come about one hundred and fifty-eight years after the publication of the Scripture., in a passage quoted by Eusebius, uses these expressions: “Possibly what they (our adversaries) say, might have been credited, if first of all the Divine Scriptures did not contradict them; and then the writings of certain brethren more ancient than the times of Victor.” The brethren mentioned by name are Justin, Miltiades, Tatian, Clement, Irenaeus, Melito, with a general appeal to many more not named. This passage proves, first, that there was at that time a collection called Divine Scriptures; secondly, that these Scriptures were esteemed of higher authority than the writings of the most early and celebrated Christians.
III. In a piece ascribed to Hippolytus, (Lardner, Cred. vol. iii. p. 112.) who lived near the same time, the author professes, in giving his correspondent instruction in the things about which he inquires, “to draw out of the sacred-fountain, and to set before him from the Sacred Scriptures what may afford him satisfaction.” He then quotes immediately Paul's epistles to Timothy, and afterwards many books of the New Testament. This preface to the quotations carries in it a marked distinction between the Scriptures and other books.
IV. “Our assertions and discourses,” saith Origen, (Lardner, Cred. vol. iii. pp. 287-289.) “are unworthy of credit; we must receive the Scriptures as witnesses.” After treating of the duty of prayer, he proceeds with his argument thus: “What we have said, my be proved from the Divine Scriptures.” In his books against Celsus we find this passage: “That our religion teaches us to seek after wisdom, shall be shown, both out of the ancient Jewish Scriptures which we also use, and out of those written since Jesus, which are believed in the churches to be divine.” These expressions afford abundant evidence of the peculiar and exclusive authority which the Scriptures possessed.
V. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, (Lardner, Cred. vol. vi. p. 840.) whose age lies close to that of Origen, earnestly exhorts Christian teachers, in all doubtful cases, “to go back to the fountain; and, if the truth has in any case been shaken, to recur to the Gospels and apostolic writings.”—“The precepts of the Gospel,” says he in another place, “are nothing less than authoritative divine lessons, the foundations of our hope, the supports of our faith, the guides of our way, the safeguards of our course to heaven.”
VI. Novatus, (Lardner, Cred. vol. v. p. 102.) a Roman contemporary with Cyprian, appeals to the Scriptures, as the authority by which all errors were to be repelled, and disputes decided. “That Christ is not only man, but God also, is proved by the sacred authority of the Divine Writings.”—“The Divine Scripture easily detects and confutes the frauds of heretics.”—“It is not by the fault of the heavenly Scriptures, which never deceive.” Stronger assertions than these could not be used.
VII. At the distance of twenty years from the writer last cited, Anatolius (Lardner, Cred. vol. v. p. 146.), a learned Alexandrian, and bishop of Laedicea, speaking of the rule for keeping Easter, a question at that day agitated with much earnestness, says of those whom he opposed, “They can by no means prove their point by the authority of the Divine Scripture.”
VIII. The Arians, who sprung up about fifty years after this, argued strenuously against the use of the words consubstantial, and essence, and like phrases; “because they were not in Scripture.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. vii. pp. 283-284.) And in the same strain one of their advocates opens a conference with Augustine, after the following manner: “If you say what is reasonable, I must submit. If you allege anything from the Divine Scriptures which are common to both, I must hear. But unscriptural expressions (quae extra Scripturam sunt) deserve no regard.”
Athanasius, the great antagonist of Arianism, after having enumerated the books of the Old and New. Testament, adds, “These are the fountain of salvation, that he who thirsts may be satisfied with the oracles contained in them. In these alone the doctrine of salvation is proclaimed. Let no man add to them, or take anything from them.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. xii. p. 182.)
IX. Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem (Lardner, Cred. vol. viii. p. 276.), who wrote about twenty years after the appearance of Arianism, uses these remarkable words: “Concerning the divine and holy mysteries of faith, not the least article ought to be delivered without the Divine Scriptures.” We are assured that Cyril's Scriptures were the same as ours, for he has left us a catalogue of the books included under that name.
X. Epiphanius, (Lardner, Cred. vol. viii. p. 314.) twenty years after Cyril, challenges the Arians, and the followers of Origen, “to produce any passage of the Old and New Testament favouring their sentiments.”
XI. Poebadius, a Gallic bishop, who lived about thirty years after the council of Nice, testifies, that “the bishops of that council first consulted the sacred volumes, and then declared their faith.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. ix. p. 52.)
XII. Basil, bishop of Caesarea, in Cappadocia, contemporary with Epiphanius, says, that “hearers instructed in the Scriptures ought to examine what is said by their teachers, and to embrace what is agreeable to the Scriptures, and to reject what is otherwise.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. ix. p. 124.)
XIII. Ephraim, the Syrian, a celebrated writer of the same times, bears this conclusive testimony to the proposition which forms the subject of our present chapter: “the truth written in the Sacred Volume of the Gospel is a perfect rule. Nothing can be taken from it nor added to it, without great guilt.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. ix. p. 202.)
XIV. If we add Jerome to these, it is only for the evidence which he affords of the judgment of preceding ages. Jerome observes, concerning the quotations of ancient Christian writers, that is, of writers who were ancient in the year 400, that they made a distinction between books; some they quoted as of authority, and others not: which observation relates to the books of Scripture, compared with other writings, apocryphal or heathen. (Lardner, Cred. vol. x. pp. 123-124.)
The Scriptures were in very early times collected into a distinct volume.
Ignatius, who was bishop of Antioch within forty years after the Ascension, and who had lived and conversed with the apostles, speaks of the Gospel and of the apostles in terms which render it very probable that he meant by the Gospel the book or volume of the Gospels, and by the apostles the book or volume of their Epistles. His words in one place are, (Lardner, Cred. part ii. vol. i. p. 180.) “Fleeing to the Gospel as the flesh of Jesus, and to the apostles as the presbytery of the church;” that is, as Le Clere interprets them, “in order to understand the will of God, he fled to the Gospels, which he believed no less than if Christ in the flesh had been speaking to him; and to the writings of the apostles, whom he esteemed as the presbytery of the whole Christian church.” It must be observed, that about eighty years after this we have direct proof, in the writings of Clement of Alexandria, (Lardner, Cred. part ii. vol. ii. p. 516.) that these two names, “Gospel,” and “Apostles,” were the names by which the writings of the New Testament, and the division of these writings, were usually expressed.
Another passage from Ignatius is the following:—“But the Gospel has somewhat in it more excellent, the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ, his passion and resurrection.” (Lardner, Cred. part ii. vol. ii. p. 182.)
And a third: “Ye ought to hearken to the Prophets, but especially to the gospel, in which the passion has been manifested to us, and the resurrection perfected.” In this last passage, the Prophets and the Gospel are put in conjunction; and as Ignatius undoubtedly meant by the prophets a collection of writings, it is probable that he meant the same by the Gospel, the two terms standing in evident parallelism with each other.
This interpretation of the word “Gospel,” in the passages above quoted from Ignatius, is confirmed by a piece of nearly equal antiquity, the relation of the martyrdom of Polycarp by the church of Smyrna. “All things,” say they, “that went before, were done, that the Lord might show us a martyrdom according to the Gospel, for he expected to be delivered up as the Lord also did.” (Ignat. Ep. c.i.) And in another place, “We do not commend those who offer themselves, forasmuch as the Gospel, teaches us no such thing.” (Ignat. Ep. c. iv.) In both these places, what is called the Gospel seems to be the history of Jesus Christ, and of his doctrine.
If this be the true sense of the passages, they are not only evidences of our proposition, by strong and very ancient proofs of the high esteem in which the books of the New Testament were holden.
II. Eusebius relates, that Quadratus and some others, who were the immediate successors of the apostles, travelling abroad to preach Christ, carried the Gospels with them, and delivered them to their converts. The words of Eusebius are: “Then travelling abroad, they performed the work of evangelists, being ambitious to preach Christ, and deliver the Scripture of the divine Gospels.” (Lardner, Cred. part ii. vol. i. p. 236.) Eusebius had before him the writings both of Quadratus himself, and of many others of that age, which are now lost. It is reasonable, therefore to believe that he had good grounds for his assertion. What is thus recorded of the Gospels took place within sixty, or at the most seventy, years after they were published: and it is evident that they must, before this time (and, it is probable, long before this time), have been in general use and in high esteem in the churches planted by the apostles, inasmuch as they were now, we find, collected into a volume: and the immediate successors of the apostles, they who preached the religion of Christ to those who had not already heard it, carried the volume with them, and delivered it to their converts.
III. Irenaeus, in the year 178, (Lardner, Cred. part ii. vol. i. p. 383.) puts the evangelic and apostolic writings in connexion with the Law and the Prophets, manifestly intending by the one a code or collection of Christian sacred writings, as the other expressed the code or collection of Jewish sacred writings. And,
IV. Melito, at this time bishop of Sardis, writing to one Onesimus, tells his correspondent, (Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p. 331.) that he had procured an accurate account of the books of the Old Testament. The occurrence in this message of the term Old Testament has been brought to prove, and it certainly does prove, that there was then a volume or collection of writings called the New Testament.
V. In the time of Clement of Alexandria, about fifteen years after the last quoted testimony, it is apparent that the Christian Scriptures were divided into two parts, under the general titles of the Gospels and Apostles; and that both these were regarded as of the highest authority. One out of many expressions of Clement, alluding to this distribution, is the following: “There is a consent and harmony between the Law and the Prophets, the Apostles and the Gospel.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. ii. p. 516.)
VI. The same division, “Prophets, Gospels, and Apostles,” appears in Tertullian, the contemporary of Clement. The collection of the Gospels is likewise called by this writer the “Evangelic Instrument;” the whole volume the “New Testament;” and the two parts, the “Gospels and Apostles.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. ii. pp. 631,574 &632.)
VII. From many writers also of the third century, and especially from Cyprian, who lived in the middle of it, it is collected that the Christian Scriptures were divided into two cedes or volumes, one called the “Gospels or Scriptures of the Lord,” the other the “Apostles, or Epistles of the Apostles” (Lardner, Cred. vol. iv. p. 846.)
VIII. Eusebius, as we have already seen, takes some pains to show that the Gospel of Saint John had been justly placed by the ancients, “the fourth in order, and after the other three.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. viii. p. 90.) These are the terms of his proposition: and the very introduction of such an argument proves incontestably, that the four Gospels had been collected into a volume, to the exclusion of every other: that their order in the volume had been adjusted with much consideration; and that this had been done by those who were called ancients in the time of Eusebius.
In the Diocletian persecution, in the year 303, the Scriptures were sought out and burnt:(Lardner, Cred. vol. vii. pp. 214 et seq.) many suffered death rather than deliver them up; and those who betrayed them to the persecutors were accounted as lapsed and apostate. On the other hand, Constantine, after his conversion, gave directions for multiplying copies of the Divine Oracles, and for magnificently adorning them at the expense of the imperial treasury. (Lardner, Cred. vol. vii. p. 432.) What the Christians of that age so richly embellished in their prosperity, and, which is more, so tenaciously preserved under persecution, was the very volume of the New Testament which we now read.
Our present Sacred Writings were soon distinguished by appropriate names and titles of respect.
Polycarp. “I trust that ye are well exercised in the Holy Scriptures;—as in these Scriptures it is said, Be ye angry and sin not, and let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p. 203.) This passage is extremely important; because it proves that, in the time of Polycarp, who had lived with the apostles, there were Christian writings distinguished by the name of “Holy Scriptures,” or Sacred Writings. Moreover, the text quoted by Polycarp is a text found in the collection at this day. What also the same Polycarp hath elsewhere quoted in the same manner, may be considered as proved to belong to the collection; and this comprehends Saint Matthew's and, probably, Saint Luke's Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles, ten epistles of Paul, the First Epistle of Peter, and the First of John. (Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p. 223.) In another place, Polycarp has these words: “Whoever perverts the Oracles of the Lord to his own lusts, and says there is neither resurrection nor judgment, he is the first born of Satan.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p. 223.)—It does not appear what else Polycarp could mean by the “Oracles of the Lord,” but those same “Holy Scriptures,” or Sacred Writings, of which he had spoken before.
II. Justin Martyr, whose apology was written about thirty years after Polycarp's epistle, expressly cites some of our present histories under the title of Gospel, and that not as a name by him first ascribed to them, but as the name by which they were generally known in his time. His words are these:—“For the apostles in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered it, that Jesus commanded them to take bread, and give thanks.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p. 271.) There exists no doubt, but that, by the memoirs above-mentioned, Justin meant our present historical Scriptures; for throughout his works he quotes these and no others.
III. Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, who came thirty years after Justin, in a passage preserved in Eusebius (for his works are lost), speaks “of the Scriptures of the Lord.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p. 298.)
IV. And at the same time, or very nearly so, by Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in France, (The reader will observe the remoteness of these two writers in country and situation) they are called “Divine Scriptures,”—“Divine Oracles,”—“Scriptures of the Lord,”—“Evangelic and Apostolic writings.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p. 343, et seq.) The quotations of Irenaeus prove decidedly, that our present Gospels, and these alone, together with the Acts of the Apostles, were the historical books comprehended by him under these appellations.
V. Saint Matthew's Gospel is quoted by Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, contemporary with Irenaeus, under the title of the “Evangelic voice;” (Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p. 427.) and the copious works of Clement of Alexandria, published within fifteen years of the same time, ascribe to the books of the New Testament the various titles of “Sacred Books,”—“Divine Scriptures,”—“Divinely inspired Scriptures,”— “Scriptures of the Lord,”—“the true Evangelical Canon.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. ii. p. 515.)
VI. Tertullian, who joins on with Clement, beside adopting most of the names and epithets above noticed, calls the Gospels “our Digesta,” in allusion, as it should seem, to some collection of Roman laws then extant. (Lardner, Cred. vol. ii. p. 630.)
VII. By Origen, who came thirty years after Tertullian, the same, and other no less strong titles, are applied to the Christian Scriptures: and, in addition thereunto, this writer frequently speaks of the “Old and New Testament,”—“the Ancient and New Scriptures,”—“the Ancient and New Oracles.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. iii. p. 230.)
VIII. In Cyprian, who was not twenty years later, they are “Books of the Spirit,”—“Divine Fountains,”—“Fountains of the Divine Fulness.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. iv. p. 844.)
The expressions we have thus quoted are evidences of high and peculiar respect. They all occur within two centuries from the publication of the books. Some of them commence with the companions of the apostles; and they increase in number and variety, through a series of writers touching upon one another, and deduced from the first age of the religion.
Our Scriptures were publicly read and expounded in the religious assemblies of the early Christians. Justin MARTYR, who wrote in the year 140, which was seventy or eighty years after some, and less, probably, after others of the Gospels were published, giving, in his first apology an account, to the Emperor, of the Christian worship has this remarkable passage:
“The Memoirs of the Apostles, or the Writings of the Prophets, are read according as the time allows: and, when the reader has ended, the president makes a discourse, exhorting to the imitation of so excellent things.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p. 273.)
A few short observations will show the value of this testimony.
1. The “Memoirs of the Apostles,” Justin in another place expressly tells us, are what are called “Gospels:” and that they were the Gospels which we now use, is made certain by Justin's numerous quotations of them, and his silence about any others.
2. Justin describes the general usage of the Christian church.
3. Justin does not speak of it as recent or newly instituted, but in the terms in which men speak of established customs.
II. Tertullian, who followed Justin at the distance of about fifty years, in his account of the religious assemblies of Christians as they were conducted in his time, says, “We come together to recollect the Divine Scriptures; we nourish our faith, raise our hope, confirm our trust, by the Sacred Word.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. ii. p. 628.)
III. Eusebius records of Origen, and cites for his authority the letters of bishops contemporary with Origen, that when he went into Palestine about the year 216, which was only sixteen years after the date of Tertullian's testimony, he was desired by the bishops of that country to discourse and expound the Scriptures publicly in the church, though he was not yet ordained a presbyter. (Lardner, Cred. vol. iii. p. 68.) This anecdote recognises the usage, not only of reading, but of expounding the Scriptures; and both as subsisting in full force. Origen also himself bears witness to the same practice: “This,” says he, “we do, when the Scriptures are read in the church, and when the discourse for explication is delivered to the people.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. iii. p. 302.) And what is a still more ample testimony, many homilies of his upon the Scriptures of the New Testament, delivered by him in the assemblies Of the church, are still extant.
IV. Cyprian, whose age was not twenty years lower than that of Origen, gives his people an account of having ordained two persons, who were before confessors, to be readers; and what they were to read appears by the reason which he gives for his choice; “Nothing,” says Cyprian, “can be more fit than that he who has made a glorious confession of the Lord should read publicly in the church; that he who has shown himself willing to die a martyr should read the Gospel of Christ by which martyrs are made.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. iv. p. 842.)
V. Intimations of the same custom may be traced in a great number of writers in the beginning and throughout the whole of the fourth century. Of these testimonies I will only use one, as being, of itself, express and full. Augustine, who appeared near the conclusion of the century, displays the benefit of the Christian religion on this very account, the public reading of the Scriptures in the churches, “where,” says he, “is a consequence of all sorts of people of both sexes; and where they hear how they ought to live well in this world, that they may deserve to live happily and eternally in another.” And this custom he declares to be universal: “The canonical books of Scripture being read every where, the miracles therein recorded are well known to all people.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. x. p. 276, et seq.)
It does not appear that any books, other than our present Scriptures were thus publicly read, except that the epistle of Clement was read in the church of Corinth, to which it had been addressed, and in some others; and that the Shepherd of Hennas was read in many churches. Nor does it subtract much from the value of the argument, that these two writings partly come within it, because we allow them to be the genuine writings of apostolical men. There is not the least evidence, that any other Gospel than the four which we receive was ever admitted to this distinction.
Commentaries were anciently written upon the Scriptures; harmonies formed out of them; different copies carefully collated; and versions made of them into different languages.
No greater proof can be given of the esteem in which these books were holden by the ancient Christians, or of the sense then entertained of their value and importance, than the industry bestowed upon them. And it ought to be observed that the value and importance of these books consisted entirely in their genuineness and truth. There was nothing in them, as works of taste or as compositions, which could have induced any one to have written a note upon them. Moreover, it shows that they were even then considered as ancient books. Men do not write comments upon publications of their own times: therefore the testimonies cited under this head afford an evidence which carries up the evangelic writings much beyond the age of the testimonies themselves, and to that of their reputed authors.
I. Tatian, a follower of Justin Martyr, and who flourished about the year 170, composed a harmony, or collation of the Gospels, which he called Diatessaron, of the four. The title, as well as the work, is remarkable; because it shows that then, as now, there were four, and only four, Gospels in general use with Christians. And this was little more than a hundred years after the publication of some of them. (Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p. 307.)
II. Pantaenus, of the Alexandrian school, a man of great reputation and learning, who came twenty years after Tatian, wrote many commentaries upon the Holy Scriptures, which, as Jerome testifies, were extant in his time. (Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p. 455.)
III. Clement of Alexandria wrote short explications of many books of the Old and New Testament. (Lardner, Cred. vol. ii. p. 462.)
IV. Tertullian appeals from the authority of a later version, then in use, to the authentic Greek. (Lardner, Cred. vol. ii. p. 638.)
V. An anonymous author, quoted by Eusebius, and who appears to have written about the year 212, appeals to the ancient copies of the Scriptures, in refutation of some corrupt readings alleged by the followers of Artemon. (Lardner, Cred. vol. iii. p. 46.)
VI. The same Eusebius, mentioning by name several writers of the church who lived at this time, and concerning whom he says, “There still remain divers monuments of the laudable industry of those ancient and ecclesiastical men,” (i. e. of Christian writers who were considered as ancient in the year 300,) adds, “There are, besides, treatises of many others, whose names we have not been able to learn, orthodox and ecclesiastical men, as the interpretations of the Divine Scriptures given by each of them show.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. ii. p. 551.)
VII. The last five testimonies may be referred to the year 200; immediately after which, a period of thirty years gives us Julius Africanus, who wrote an epistle upon the apparent difference in the genealogies in Matthew and Luke, which he endeavours to reconcile by the distinction of natural and legal descent, and conducts his hypothesis with great industry through the whole series of generations. (Lardner, Cred. vol. iii. p. 170.)
Ammonius, a learned Alexandrian, who composed, as Tatian had done, a harmony of the four Gospels, which proves, as Tatian's work did, that there were four Gospels, and no more, at this time in use in the church. It affords also on instance of the zeal of Christians for those writings, and of their solicitude about them. (Lardner, Cred. vol. iii. p. 122.)
And, above both these, Origen, who wrote commentaries, or homilies, upon most of the books included in the New Testament, and upon no other books but these. In particular, he wrote upon Saint John's Gospel, very largely upon Saint Matthew's, and commentaries, or homilies, upon the Acts of the Apostles. (Lardner, Cred. vol. iii. pp. 352, 192, 202 &245.)
VIII. In addition to these, the third century likewise contains—Dionysius of Alexandria, a very learned man, who compared, with great accuracy, the accounts in the four Gospels of the time of Christ's resurrection, adding a reflection which showed his opinion of their authority: “Let us not think that the evangelists disagree or contradict each other, although there be some small difference; but let us honestly and faithfully endeavour to reconcile what we read.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. iv. p. 166.)
Victorin, bishop of Pettaw, in Germany, who wrote comments upon Saint Matthew's Gospel. (Lardner, Cred. vol. iv. p. 195.)
Lucian, a presbyter of Antioch; and Hesychius, an Egyptian bishop, who put forth editions of the New Testament.
IX. The fourth century supplies a catalogue* of fourteen writers, who expended their labours upon the books of the New Testament, and whose works or names are come down to our times; amongst which number it may be sufficient, for the purpose of showing the sentiments and studies of learned Christians of that age, to notice the following:
* Eusebius ...... A.D. 315 Juvencus, Spain ..... 330 Theodore, Thrace .... 334 Hilary, Poletiers .... 340 Fortunatus ..... 354 Apollinarius of Loadicea 362 Damasus, Rome ..... 366 Gregory, Nyssen .... 371 Didimus of Alex, . . . . 370 Ambrose of Milan ..... 374 Diodore of Tarsus ..... 378 Gaudent of Brescia .... 387 Theodore of Cilicia .... 395 Jerome ........ 392 Chrysostom ...... 398
Eusebius, in the very beginning of the century, wrote expressly upon the discrepancies observable in the Gospels, and likewise a treatise, in which he pointed out what things are related by four, what by three, what by two, and what by one evangelist. (Lardner, Cred. vol. viii. p. 46.) This author also testifies what is certainly a material piece of evidence, “that the writings of the apostles had obtained such an esteem as to be translated into every language both of Greeks and Barbarians, and to be diligently studied by all nations.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. viii. p. 201.) This testimony was given about the year 300; how long before that date these translations were made does not appear.
Damasus, bishop of Rome, corresponded with Saint Jerome upon the exposition of difficult texts of Scripture; and, in a letter still remaining, desires Jerome to give him a clear explanation of the word Hosanna, found in the New Testament; “He (Damasus) having met with very different interpretations of it in the Greek and Latin commentaries of Catholic writers which he had read.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. ix. P. 108) This last clause shows the number and variety of commentaries then extant.
Gregory of Nyssen, at one time, appeals to the most exact copies of Saint Mark's Gospel; at another time, compares together, and proposes to reconcile, the several accounts of the Resurrection given by the four Evangelists; which limitation proves that there were no other histories of Christ deemed authentic beside these, or included in the same character with these. This writer observes, acutely enough, that “the disposition of the clothes in the sepulchre, the napkin that was about our Saviour's head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself, did not bespeak the terror and hurry of thieves, and therefore refutes the story of the body being stolen.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. ix. p. 163.)
Ambrose, bishop of Milan, remarked various readings in the Latin copies of the New Testament, and appeals to the original Greek;
And Jerome, towards the conclusion of this century, put forth an edition of the New Testament in Latin, corrected, at least as to the Gospels, by Greek copies, and “those (he says) ancient.”
Lastly, Chrysostom, it is well known, delivered and published a great many homilies, or sermons, upon the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.
It is needless to bring down this article lower, but it is of importance to add, that there is no example of Christian writers of the first three centuries composing comments upon any other books than those which are found in the New Testament, except the single one of Clement of Alexandria commenting upon a book called the Revelation of Peter.
Of the ancient versions of the New Testament, one of the most valuable is the Syriac. Syriac was the language of Palestine when Christianity was there first established. And although the books of Scripture were written in Greek, for the purpose of a more extended circulation than within the precincts of Judea, yet it is probable that they would soon be translated into the vulgar language of the country where the religion first prevailed. Accordingly, a Syriac translation is now extant, all along, so far as it appears, used by the inhabitants of Syria, bearing many internal marks of high antiquity, supported in its pretensions by the uniform tradition of the East, and confirmed by the discovery of many very ancient manuscripts in the libraries of Europe, It is about 200 years since a bishop of Antioch sent a copy of this translation into Europe to be printed; and this seems to be the first time that the translation became generally known to these parts of the world. The bishop of Antioch's Testament was found to contain all our books, except the second epistle of Peter, the second and third of John, and the Revelation; which books, however, have since been discovered in that language in some ancient manuscripts of Europe. But in this collection, no other book, besides what is in ours, appears ever to have had a place. And, which is very worthy of observation, the text, though preserved in a remote country, and without communication with ours, differs from ours very little, and in nothing that is important (Jones on the Canon, vol. i. e. 14.).
Our Scriptures were received by ancient Christians of different sects and persuasions, but many Heretics as well as Catholics, and were usually appealed to by both sides in the controversies which arose in those days.
The three most ancient topics of controversy amongst Christians were, the authority of the Jewish constitution, the origin of evil, and the nature of Christ. Upon the first of these we find, in very early times, one class of heretics rejecting the Old Testament entirely; another contending for the obligation of its law, in all its parts, throughout its whole extent, and over every one who sought acceptance with God. Upon the two latter subjects, a natural, perhaps, and venial, but a fruitless, eager, and impatient curiosity, prompted by the philosophy and by the scholastic habits of the age, which carried men much into bold hypotheses and conjectural solutions, raised, amongst some who professed Christianity, very wild and unfounded opinions. I think there is no reason to believe that the number of these bore any considerable proportion to the body of the Christian church; and, amidst the disputes which such opinions necessarily occasioned, it is a great satisfaction to perceive what, in a vast plurality of instances, we do perceive, all sides recurring to the same Scriptures.
I. Basilides lived near the age of the apostles, about the year 120, or, perhaps, sooner. (Lardner, vol. ix. p. 271.) He rejected the Jewish institution, not as spurious, but as proceeding from a being inferior to the true God; and in other respects advanced a scheme of theology widely different from the general doctrine of the Christian church, and which, as it gained over some disciples, was warmly opposed by Christian writers of the second and third century. In these writings there is positive evidence that Basilides received the Gospel of Matthew; and there is no sufficient proof that he rejected any of the other three: on the contrary, it appears that he wrote a commentary upon the Gospel, so copious as to be divided into twenty-four books. (Lardner, vol. ix. ed. 1788, p. 305, 306.)
* The materials of the former part of this section are taken from Dr. Lardner's History of the Heretics of the first two centuries, published since his death, with additions, by the Rev. Mr. Hogg, of Exeter, and inserted into the ninth volume of his works, of the edition of 1778.
II. The Valentinians appeared about the same time. Their heresy consisted in certain notions concerning angelic natures, which can hardly be rendered intelligible to a modern reader. They seem, however, to have acquired as much importance as any of the separatists of that early age. Of this sect, Irenaeus, who wrote A.D. 172, expressly records that they endeavoured to fetch arguments for their opinions from the evangelic and apostolic writings. Heracleon, one of the most celebrated of the sect, and who lived probably so early as the year 125, wrote commentaries upon Luke and John. Some observations also of his upon Matthew are preserved by Origen. Nor is there any reason to doubt that he received the whole New Testament. (Lardner, vol. ix. ed. 1788, pp. 350-351; vol. i. p. 383; vol. ix. ed. 1788, p. 352-353.)
III. The Carpocratians were also an early heresy, little, if at all, later than the two preceding. Some of their opinions resembled what we at this day mean by Socinianism. With respect to the Scriptures, they are specifically charged, by Irenaeus and by Epiphanius, with endeavouring to pervert a passage in Matthew, which amounts to a positive proof that they received that Gospel. Negatively, they are not accused, by their adversaries, of rejecting any part of the New Testament. (Lardner, vol. ix. ed. 1788, pp. 309 &318.)
IV. The Sethians, A.D. 150; the Montanists, A.D. 156; the Marcosigns, A.D. 160; Hermogenes, A.D. 180; Praxias, A.D. 196; Artemon, A.D. 200; Theodotus, A.D. 200; all included under the denomination of heretics, and all engaged in controversies with Catholic Christians, received the Scriptures of the New Testament. (Lardner, vol. ix. ed. 1788, pp. 455, 482, 348, 473, 433, 466.)
V. Tatian, who lived in the year 172, went into many extravagant opinions, was the founder of a sect called Encratites, and was deeply involved in disputes with the Christians of that age; yet Tatian so received the four Gospels as to compose a harmony from them.
VI. From a writer quoted by Eusebius, of about the year 200, it is apparent that they who at that time contended for the mere humanity of Christ, argued from the Scriptures; for they are accused by this writer of making alterations in their copies in order to favour their opinions. (Lardner, vol. iii. P. 46.)
VII. Origen's sentiments excited great controversies,—the bishops of Rome and Alexandria, and many others, condemning, the bishops of the east espousing them; yet there is not the smallest question but that both the advocates and adversaries of these opinions acknowledged the same authority of Scripture. In his time, which the reader will remember was about one hundred and fifty years after the Scriptures were published, many dissensions subsisted amongst Christians, with which they were reproached by Celsus; yet Origen, who has recorded this accusation without contradicting it, nevertheless testifies, that the four Gospels were received without dispute, by the whole church of God under heaven. (Lardner, vol. iv. ed. 1788, p. 642.)
VIII. Paul of Samosata, about thirty years after Origen, so distinguished himself in the controversy concerning the nature of Christ as to be the subject of two councils or synods, assembled at Antioch, upon his opinions. Yet he is not charged by his adversaries with rejecting any book of the New Testament. On the contrary, Epiphanius, who wrote a history of heretics a hundred years afterwards, says, that Paul endeavoured to support his doctrine by texts of Scripture. And Vincentius Lirinensis, A.D. 434, speaking of Paul and other heretics of the same age, has these words: “Here, perhaps, some one may ask whether heretics also urge the testimony of Scripture. They urge it, indeed, explicitly and vehemently; for you may see them flying through every book of the sacred law.” (Lardner, vol. ix. p. 158.)
IX. A controversy at the same time existed with the Noetians or Sabellians, who seem to have gone into the opposite extreme from that of Paul of Samosata and his followers. Yet according to the express testimony of Epiphanius, Sabellius received all the Scriptures. And with both sects Catholic writers constantly allege the Scriptures, and reply to the arguments which their opponents drew from particular texts.
We have here, therefore, a proof, that parties who were the most opposite and irreconcilable to one another acknowledged the authority of Scripture with equal deference.
X. And as a general testimony to the same point, may be produced what was said by one of the bishops of the council of Carthage, which was holden a little before this time:—“I am of opinion that blasphemous and wicked heretics, who pervert the sacred and adorable words of the Scripture, should be execrated.” Undoubtedly, what they perverted they received. (Lardner, vol. ix. p. 839.)
XI. The Millennium, Novatianism, the baptism of heretics, the keeping of Easter, engaged aim the attention and divided the opinions of Christians, at and before that time (and, by the way, it may be observed, that such disputes, though on some accounts to be blamed, showed how much men were in earnest upon the subject.); yet every one appealed for the grounds of his opinion to Scripture authority. Dionysius of Alexandria, who flourished A.D. 247, describing a conference or public disputation, with the Millennarians of Egypt, confesses of them, though their adversary, “that they embrace whatever could be made out by good arguments, from the Holy Scriptures.” (Lardner, vol. iv. p. 666.) Novatus, A.D. 251, distinguished by some rigid sentiments concerning the reception of those who had lapsed, and the founder of a numerous sect, in his few remaining works quotes the Gospel with the same respect as other Christians did; and concerning his followers, the testimony of Socrates, who wrote about the year 440, is positive, viz. “That in the disputes between the Catholics and them, each side endeavoured to support itself by the authority of the Divine Scriptures” (Lardner, vol. v. p. 105.)
XII. The Donatists, who sprung up in the year 328, used the same Scriptures as we do. “Produce,” saith Augustine, “some proof from the Scriptures, whose authority is common to us both” (Lardner, vol. vii. p. 243.)
XIII. It is perfectly notorious, that in the Arian controversy, which arose soon after the year 300, both sides appealed to the same Scriptures, and with equal professions of deference and regard. The Arians, in their council of Antioch, A.D. 341, pronounce that “if any one, contrary to the sound doctrine of the Scriptures, say, that the Son is a creature, as one of the creatures, let him be an anathema.” (Lardner, vol. vii. p. 277.) They and the Athanasians mutually accuse each other of using unscriptural phrases; which was a mutual acknowledgment of the conclusive authority of Scripture.
XIV. The Priscillianists, A.D. 378, the Pelagians, A.D. 405 received the same Scriptures as we do. (Lardner, vol. ix. p. 325; vol. xi p. 52.)
XV. The testimony of Chrysostom, who lived near the year 400, is so positive in affirmation of the proposition which we maintain, that it may form a proper conclusion of the argument. “The general reception of the Gospels is a proof that their history is true and consistent; for, since the writing of the Gospels, many heresies have arisen, holding opinions contrary to what is contained in them, who yet receive the Gospels either entire or in part.” (Lardner, vol. x. p. 316.) I am not moved by what may seem a deduction from Chrysostom's testimony, the words, “entire or in part;” for if all the parts which were ever questioned in our Gospels were given up, it would not affect the miraculous origin of the religion in the smallest degree: e.g.
Cerinthus is said by Epiphanius to have received the Gospel of Matthew, but not entire. What the omissions were does not appear. The common opinion, that he rejected the first two chapters, seems to have been a mistake. (Lardner, vol. ix. ed. 1788, p. 322.) It is agreed, however, by all who have given any account of Cerinthus, that he taught that the Holy Ghost (whether he meant by that name a person or a power) descended upon Jesus at his baptism; that Jesus from this time performed many miracles, and that he appeared after his death. He must have retained therefore the essential parts of the history.
Of all the ancient heretics, the most extraordinary was Marcion. (Lardner, vol. ix. sect. ii. c. x. Also Michael vol. i. c. i. sect. xviii.) One of his tenets was the rejection of the Old Testament, as proceeding from an inferior and imperfect Deity; and in pursuance of this hypothesis, he erased from the New, and that, as it should seem, without entering into any critical reasons, every passage which recognised the Jewish Scriptures. He spared not a text which contradicted his opinion. It is reasonable to believe that Marcion treated books as he treated texts: yet this rash and wild controversialist published a recension, or chastised edition of Saint Luke's Gospel, containing the leading facts, and all which is necessary to authenticate the religion. This example affords proof that there were always some points, and those the main points, which neither wildness nor rashness, neither the fury of opposition nor the intemperance of controversy, would venture to call in question. There is no reason to believe that Marcion, though full of resentment against the Catholic Christians, ever charged them with forging their books. “The Gospel of Saint Matthew, the Epistle to the Hebrews, with those of Saint Peter and Saint James, as well as the Old Testament in general" he said, “were writings not for Christians but for Jews.” This declaration shows the ground upon which Marcion proceeded in his mutilation of the Scriptures, viz., his dislike of the passages or the books. Marcion flourished about the year 130.*
* I have transcribed this sentence from Michaelis (p. 38), who has not, however, referred to the authority upon which he attributes these words to Marcion.
Dr. Lardner, in his General Review, sum up this head of evidence in the following words:—“Noitus, Paul of Samosata, Sabellius, Marcelins, Photinus, the Novatiana, Donatists, Manicheans (This must be with an exception, however, of Faustus, who lived so late us the year 354), Priscillianists, beside Artemon, the Audians, the Arians, and divers others, all received most of all the same books of the New Testament which the Catholics received; and agreed in a like respect for them as written by apostles, or their disciples and companions.” (Lardner, vol. iii. p. 12.—Dr. Lardner's future inquiries supplied him with many other instances.)
The four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, thirteen Epistles of Saint Paul the First Epistle of John, and the First of Peter, were received without doubt by those who doubted concerning the other books which are included in our present Canon.
I state this proposition, because, if made out, it shows that the authenticity of their books was a subject amongst the early Christians of consideration and inquiry; and that, where there was cause of doubt, they did doubt; a circumstance which strengthens very much their testimony to such books as were received by them with full acquiescence.
I. Jerome, in his account of Caius, who was probably a presbyter of Rome, and who flourished near the year 200, records of him, that, reckoning up only thirteen epistles of Paul, he says the fourteenth, which is inscribed to the Hebrews, is not his: and then Jerome adds, “With the Romans to this day it is not looked upon as Paul's.” This agrees in the main with the account given by Eusebius of the same ancient author and his work; except that Eusebius delivers his own remark in more guarded terms: “And indeed to this very time, by some of the Romans, this epistle is not thought to be the apostle's.” (Lardner, vol. iii. p. 240.)
II. Origen, about twenty years after Caius, quoting the Epistle to the Hebrews, observes that some might dispute the authority of that epistle; and therefore proceeds to quote to the same point, as undoubted books of Scripture, the Gospel of Saint Matthew, the Acts of the Apostles, and Paul's First Epistle to the Thessalonians. (Lardner, vol. iii. p. 246.) and in another place, this author speaks of the Epistle to the Hebrews thus: “The account come down to us is various; some saying that Clement who was bishop of Rome, wrote this epistle; others, that it was Luke, the same who wrote the Gospel and the Acts.” Speaking also, in the same paragraph, of Peter, “Peter,” says he, “has left one epistle, acknowledged; let it be granted likewise that he wrote a second, for it is doubted of.” And of John, “He has also left one epistle, of a very few lines; grant also a second and a third, for all do not allow them to be genuine.” Now let it be noted, that Origen, who thus discriminates, and thus confesses his own doubts and the doubts which subsisted in his time, expressly witnesses concerning the four Gospels, “that they alone are received without dispute by the whole church of God under heaven.” (Lardner, vol. iii. p. 234.)
III. Dionysius of Alexandria, in the year 247, doubts concerning the Book of Revelation, whether it was written by Saint John; states the grounds of his doubt, represents the diversity of opinion concerning it, in his own time, and before his time. (Lardner, vol. iv. p. 670.) Yet the same Dionysius uses and collates the four Gospels in a manner which shows that he entertained not the smallest suspicion of their authority, and in a manner also which shows that they, and they alone, were received as authentic histories of Christ. (Lardner, vol. iv. p. 661.)
IV. But this section may be said to have been framed on purpose to introduce to the reader two remarkable passages extant in Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History. The first passage opens with these words:—“Let us observe the writings of the apostle John which are uncontradicted: and first of all must be mentioned, as acknowledged of all, the Gospel according to him, well known to all the churches under heaven.” The author then proceeds to relate the occasions of writing the Gospels, and the reasons for placing Saint John's the last, manifestly speaking of all the four as parallel in their authority, and in the certainty of their original. (Lardner, vol. viii. p. 90.) The second passage is taken from a chapter, the title of which is, “Of the Scriptures universally acknowledged, and of those that are not such.” Eusebius begins his enumeration in the following manner:—“In the first place are to be ranked the sacred four Gospels; then the book of the Acts of the Apostles; after that are to be reckoned the Epistles of Paul. In the next place, that called the First Epistle of John, and the Epistle of Peter, are to be esteemed authentic. After this is to be placed, if it be thought fit, the Revelation of John, about which we shall observe the different opinions at proper seasons. Of the controverted, but 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 are written by the evangelist, or another of the same name.” (Lardner, vol. viii. p. 39.) He then proceeds to reckon up five others, not in our canon, which he calls in one place spurious, in another controverted, meaning, as appears to me, nearly the same thing by these two words.*
* That Eusebius could not intend, by the word rendered 'spurious' what we at present mean by it, is evident from a clause in this very chapter where, speaking of the Gospels of Peter, and Thomas and Matthias, and some others, he says, “They the are not so much as to be reckoned among the spurious, but are altogether absurd and impious.” (Lardner, vol. viii. p. 99.)
It is manifest from this passage, that the four Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles (the parts of Scripture with which our concern principally lies), were acknowledged without dispute, even by those who raised objections, or entertained doubts, about some other parts of the same collection. But the passage proves something more than this. The author was extremely conversant in the writings of Christians which had been published from the commencement of the institution to his own time: and it was from these writings that he drew his knowledge of the character and reception of the books in question. That Eusebius recurred to this medium of information, and that he had examined with attention this species of proof, is shown, first, by a passage in the very chapter we are quoting, in which, speaking of the books which he calls spurious, “None,” he says, “of the ecclesiastical writers, in the succession of the apostles, have vouchsafed to make any mention of them in their writings;” and, secondly, by another passage of the same work, wherein, speaking of the First Epistle of Peter, “This,” he says, “the presbyters of ancient times have quoted in their writings as undoubtedly genuine;” (Lardner, vol. viii. p. 99.) and then, speaking of some other writings bearing the name of Peter, “We know,” he says, “that they have not been delivered down to us in the number of Catholic writings, forasmuch as no ecclesiastical writer of the ancients, or of our times, has made use of testimonies out of them.” “But in the progress of this history,” the author proceeds, “we shall make it our business to show, together with the successions from the apostles, what ecclesiastical writers, in every age, have used such writings as these which are contradicted, and what they have said with regard to the Scriptures received in the New Testament, and acknowledged by all, and with regard to those which are not such.” (Lardner, vol. viii. p. 111)
After this it is reasonable to believe that when Eusebius states the four Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles, as uncontradicted, uncontested, and acknowledged by all; and when he places them in opposition, not only to those which were spurious, in our sense of that term, but to those which were controverted, and even to those which were well known and approved by many, yet doubted of by some; he represents not only the sense of his own age, but the result of the evidence which the writings of prior ages, from the apostles' time to his own, had furnished to his inquiries. The opinion of Eusebius and his contemporaries appears to have been founded upon the testimony of writers whom they then called ancient: and we may observe, that such of the works of these writers as have come down to our times entirely confirm the judgment, and support the distinction which Eusebius proposes. The books which he calls “books universally acknowledged” are in fact used and quoted in time remaining works of Christian writers, during the 250 years between the apostles' time and that of Eusebius, much more frequently than, and in a different manner from, those the authority of which, he tells us, was disputed.
Our historical Scriptures were attacked by the early adversaries of Christianity, as containing the accounts upon which the Religion was founded.
Near the middle of the second century, Celsus, a heathen philosopher, wrote a professed treatise against Christianity. To this treatise Origen, who came about fifty years after him, published an answer, in which he frequently recites his adversary's words and arguments. The work of Celsus is lost; but that of Origen remains. Origen appears to have given us the words of Celsus, where he professes to give them, very faithfully; and amongst other reasons for thinking so, this is one, that the objection, as stated by him from Celsus, is sometimes stronger than his own answer. I think it also probable that Origen, in his answer, has retailed a large portion of the work of Celsus:
“That it may not be suspected,” he says, “that we pass by any chapters because we have no answers at hand, I have thought it best, according to my ability, to confute everything proposed by him, not so much observing the natural order of things, as the order which he has taken himself.” (Orig. cont. Cels. I. i. sect. 41.)
Celsus wrote about one hundred years after the Gospels were published; and therefore any notices of these books from him are extremely important for their antiquity. They are, however, rendered more so by the character of the author; for the reception, credit, and notoriety of these books must have been well established amongst Christians, to have made them subjects of animadversion and opposition by strangers and by enemies. It evinces the truth of what Chrysostom, two centuries afterwards, observed, that “the Gospels, when written, were not hidden in a corner or buried in obscurity, but they were made known to all the world, before enemies as well as others, even as they are now.” (In Matt. Hom. I. 7.)
1. Celsus, or the Jew whom he personates, uses these words:—“I could say many things concerning the affairs of Jesus, and those, too, different from those written by the disciples of Jesus; but I purposely omit them.” (Lardner, Jewish and Heathen Test. vol. ii. p. 274.) Upon this passage it has been rightly observed, that it is not easy to believe, that if Celsus could have contradicted the disciples upon good evidence in any material point, he would have omitted to do so, and that the assertion is, what Origen calls it, a mere oratorical flourish.
It is sufficient, however, to prove that, in the time of Celsus, there were books well known, and allowed to be written by the disciples of Jesus, which books contained a history of him. By the term disciples, Celsus does not mean the followers of Jesus in general; for them he calls Christians, or believers, or the like; but those who had been taught by Jesus himself, i.e. his apostles and companions.
2. In another passage, Celsus accuses the Christians of altering the Gospel. (Lardner, Jewish and Heathen Test. Vol. ii. p. 275.) The accusation refers to some variations in the readings of particular passages: for Celsus goes on to object, that when they are pressed hard, and one reading has been confuted, they disown that, and fly to another. We cannot perceive from Origen, that Celsus specified any particular instances, and without such specification the charge is of no value. But the true conclusion to be drawn from it is, that there were in the hands of the Christians histories which were even then of some standing: for various readings and corruptions do not take place in recent productions.
The former quotation, the reader will remember, proves that these books were composed by the disciples of Jesus, strictly so called; the present quotation shows, that though objections were taken by the adversaries of the religion to the integrity of these books, none were made to their genuineness.
3. In a third passage, the Jew whom Celsus introduces shuts up an argument in this manner:—“these things then we have alleged to you out of your own writings, not needing any other weapons.” (Lardner, vol. ii. p. 276.) It is manifest that this boast proceeds upon the supposition that the books over which the writer affects to triumph possessed an authority by which Christians confessed themselves to be bound.
4. That the books to which Celsus refers were no other than our present Gospels, is made out by his allusions to various passages still found in these Gospels. Celsus takes notice of the genealogies, which fixes two of these Gospels; of the precepts, Resist not him that injures you, and if a man strike thee on the one cheek, offer to him the other also; of the woes denounced by Christ; of his predictions; of his saying, That it is impossible to serve two masters; ( Lardner, vol. ii. pp. 276-277.) Of the purple robe, the crown of thorns, and the reed in his hand; of the blood that flowed from the body of Jesus upon the cross, which circumstance is recorded by John alone; and (what is instar omnium for the purpose for which we produce it) of the difference in the accounts given of the resurrection by the evangelists, some mentioning two angels at the sepulchre, ethers only one. (Lardner, vol. ii. pp. 280, 281, & 283.)
It is extremely material to remark, that Celsus not only perpetually referred to the accounts of Christ contained in the four Gospels, but that he referred to no other accounts; that he founded none of his objections to Christianity upon any thing delivered in spurious Gospels. (The particulars, of which the above are only a few, are well collected by Mr. Bryant, p. 140.)
II. What Celsus was in the second century, Porphyry became in the third. His work, which was a large and formal treatise against the Christian religion, is not extant. We must be content, therefore, to gather his objections from Christian writers, who have noticed in order to answer them; and enough remains of this species of information to prove completely, that Porphyry's animadversions were directed against the contents of our present Gospels, and of the Acts of the Apostles; Porphyry considering that to overthrow them was to overthrow the religion. Thus he objects to the repetition of a generation in Saint Matthew's genealogy; to Matthew's call; to the quotation of a text from Isaiah, which is found in a psalm ascribed to Asaph; to the calling of the lake of Tiberius a sea; to the expression of Saint Matthew, “the abomination of desolation;” to the variation in Matthew and Mark upon the text, “the voice of one crying in the wilderness,” Matthew citing it from Isaias, Mark from the Prophets; to John's application of the term “Word;” to Christ's change of intention about going up to the feast of Tabernacles (John vii. 8); to the judgment denounced by Saint Peter upon Ananias and Sapphira, which he calls an “imprecation of death.” (Jewish and Heathen Test. Vol. iii. p. 166, et seq.)
The instances here alleged serve, in some measure, to show the nature of Porphyry's objections, and prove that Porphyry had read the Gospels with that sort of attention which a writer would employ who regarded them as the depositaries of the religion which he attacked. Besides these specifications, there exists, in the writings of ancient Christians, general evidence that the places of Scripture upon which Porphyry had remarked were very numerous.
In some of the above-cited examples, Porphyry, speaking of Saint Matthew, calls him your Evangelist; he also uses the term evangelists in the plural number. What was said of Celsus is true likewise of Porphyry, that it does not appear that he considered any history of Christ except these as having authority with Christians.
III. A third great writer against the Christian religion was the emperor Julian, whose work was composed about a century after that of Porphyry.
In various long extracts, transcribed from this work by Cyril and Jerome, it appears, (Jewish and Heathen Test. vol. iv. p. 77, et seq.) that Julian noticed by name Matthew and Luke, in the difference between their genealogies of Christ that he objected to Matthew's application of the prophecy, “Out of Egypt have I called my son” (ii. 15), and to that of “A virgin shall conceive” (i. 23); that he recited sayings of Christ, and various passages of his history, in the very words of the evangelists; in particular, that Jesus healed lame and blind people, and exorcised demoniacs in the villages of Bethsaida and Bethany; that he alleged that none of Christ's disciples ascribed to him the creation of the world, except John; that neither Paul, nor Matthew, nor Luke, nor Mark, have dared to call Jesus God; that John wrote later than the other evangelists, and at a time when a great number of men in the cities of Greece and Italy were converted; that he alludes to the conversion of Cornelius and of Sergius Paulus, to Peter's vision, to the circular letter sent by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem, which are all recorded in the Acts of the Apostles: by which quoting of the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, and by quoting no other, Julian shows that these were the historical books, and the only historical books, received by Christians as of authority, and as the authentic memoirs of Jesus Christ, of his apostles, and of the doctrines taught by them. But Julian's testimony does something more than represent the judgment of the Christian church in his time. It discovers also his own. He himself expressly states the early date of these records; he calls them by the names which they now bear. He all along supposes, he nowhere attempts to question, their genuineness.
The argument in favour of the books of the New Testament, drawn from the notice taken of their contents by the early writers against the religion, is very considerable. It proves that the accounts which Christians had then were the accounts which we have now; that our present Scriptures were theirs. It proves, moreover, that neither Celsus in the second, Porphyry in the third, nor Julian in the fourth century, suspected the authenticity of these books, or ever insinuated that Christians were mistaken in the authors to whom they ascribed them. Not one of them expressed an opinion upon this subject different from that which was holden by Christians. And when we consider how much it would have availed them to have cast a doubt upon this point, if they could; and how ready they showed themselves to be to take every advantage in their power; and that they were all men of learning and inquiry: their concession, or rather their suffrage, upon the subject is extremely valuable.
In the case of Porphyry, it is made still stronger, by the consideration that he did in fact support himself by this species of objection when he saw any room for it, or when his acuteness could supply any pretence for alleging it. The prophecy of Daniel he attacked upon this very ground of spuriousness, insisting that it was written after the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, and maintains his charge of forgery by some far-fetched indeed, but very subtle criticisms. Concerning the writings of the New Testament, no trace of this suspicion is anywhere to be found in him. (Michaelis's Introduction to the New Testament, vol. i. p. 43. Marsh's Translation.)
Formal catalogues of authentic Scriptures were published, in all which our present sacred histories were included.
This species of evidence comes later than the rest; as it was not natural that catalogues of any particular class of books should be put forth until Christian writings became numerous; or until some writings showed themselves, claiming titles which did not belong to them, and thereby rendering it necessary to separate books of authority from others. But, when it does appear, it is extremely satisfactory; the catalogues, though numerous, and made in countries at a wide distance from one another, differing very little, differing in nothing which is material, and all containing the four Gospels. To this last article there is no exception.
I. In the writings of Origen which remain, and in some extracts preserved by Eusebius, from works of his which are now lost, there are enumerations of the books of Scriptures, in which the Four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles are distinctly and honourably specified, and in which no books appear beside what are now received. The reader, by this time, will easily recollect that the date of Origen's works is A.D. 230. (Lardner, Cred. vol. iii. p. 234, et seq.; vol. viii. p. 196.)
II. Athanasias, about a century afterwards, delivered a catalogue of the books of the New Testament in form, containing our Scriptures and no others; of which he says, “In these alone the doctrine of Religion is taught; let no man add to them, or take anything from them.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. ii. p. 223.)
III. About twenty years after Athanasius, Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem, set forth a catalogue of the books of Scripture, publicly read at that time in the church of Jerusalem, exactly the same as ours, except that the “Revelation” is omitted. (Lardner, Cred. vol. ii. p. 270.)
IV. And fifteen years after Cyril, the council of Laodicea delivered an authoritative catalogue of canonical Scripture, like Cyril's, the same as ours with the omission of the “Revelation.”
V. Catalogues now became frequent. Within thirty years after the last date, that is, from the year 363 to near the conclusion of the fourth century, we have catalogues by Epiphanius, (Lardner, Cred. vol. ii. p. 368.) by Gregory Nazianzen, by Philaster, bishop of Breseia in Italy, (Lardner, Cred. vol. ix. p. 132 &373.) by Amphilochius, bishop of Iconium; all, as they are sometimes called, clean catalogues (that is, they admit no books into the number beside what we now receive); and all, for every purpose of historic evidence, the same as ours. (Epiphanius omits the Acts of the Apostles. This must have been an accidental mistake, either in him or in some copyist of his work; for he elsewhere expressly refers to this book, and ascribes it to Luke.)
VI. Within the same period Jerome, the most learned Christian writer of his age, delivered a catalogue of the hooks of the New Testament, recognising every book now received, with the intimation of a doubt concerning the Epistle to the Hebrews alone, and taking not the least notice of any book which is not now received. (Lardner, Cred. vol. x. p. 77.)
VII. Contemporary with Jerome, who lived in Palestine, was St. Augustine, in Africa, who published likewise a catalogue, without joining to the Scriptures, as books of authority, any other ecclesiastical writing whatever, and without omitting one which we at this day acknowledge. (Lardner, Cred. vol. x. p. 213.)
VIII. And with these concurs another contemporary writer, Rufen, presbyter of Aquileia, whose catalogue, like theirs, is perfect and unmixed, and concludes with these remarkable words: “These are the volumes which the fathers have included in the canon, and out of which they would have us prove the doctrine of our faith.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. x. p. 187.)
These propositions cannot be predicated of any of those books which are commonly called Apocryphal Books of the New Testament.
I do not know that the objection taken from apocryphal writings is at present much relied upon by scholars. But there are many, who, hearing that various Gospels existed in ancient times under the names of the apostles, may have taken up a notion, that the selection of our present Gospels from the rest was rather an arbitrary or accidental choice, than founded in any clear and certain cause of preference. To these it may be very useful to know the truth of the case. I observe, therefore:—
I. That, beside our Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, no Christian history, claiming to be written by an apostle or apostolical man, is quoted within three hundred years after the birth of Christ, by any writer now extant or known; or, if quoted, is not quoted but with marks of censure and rejection.
I have not advanced this assertion without inquiry; and I doubt not but that the passages cited by Mr. Jones and Dr. Lardner, under the several titles which the apocryphal books bear; or a reference to the places where they are mentioned as collected in a very accurate table, published in the year 1773, by the Rev. J. Atkinson, will make out the truth of the proposition to the satisfaction of every fair and competent judgment. If there be any book which may seem to form an exception to the observation, it is a Hebrew Gospel, which was circulated under the various titles of, the Gospel according to the Hebrews, the Gospel of the Nazarenes, of the Ebionites, sometimes called of the Twelve, by some ascribed to St Matthew. This Gospel is once, and only once, cited by Clemeus Alexandrinus, who lived, the reader will remember, in the latter part of the second century, and which same Clement quotes one or other of our four Gospels in almost every page of his work. It is also twice mentioned by Origen, A.D. 230; and both times with marks of diminution and discredit. And this is the ground upon which the exception stands. But what is still more material to observe is, that this Gospel, in the main, agreed with our present Gospel of Saint Matthew. (In applying to this Gospel what Jerome in the latter end of the fourth century has mentioned of a Hebrew Gospel, I think it probable that we sometimes confound it with a Hebrew copy of St. Matthew's Gospel, whether an original or version, which was then extant.)
Now if, with this account of the apocryphal Gospels, we compare what we have read concerning the canonical Scriptures in the preceding sections; or even recollect that general but well-founded assertion of Dr. Lardner, “That in the remaining works of Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian, who all lived in the first two centuries, there are more and larger quotations of the small volume of the New Testament than of all the works of Cicero, by writers of all characters, for several ages;” (Lardner, Cred. vol. xii. p. 53.) and if to this we add that, notwithstanding the loss of many works of the primitive times of Christianity, we have, within the above-mentioned period, the remains of Christian writers who lived in Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, Egypt, the part of Africa that used the Latin tongue, in Crete, Greece, Italy, and Gaul, in all which remains references are found to our evangelists; I apprehend that we shall perceive a clear and broad line of division between those writings and all others pretending to similar authority.
II. But beside certain histories which assumed the names of apostles, and which were forgeries properly so called, there were some other Christian writings, in the whole or in part of an historical nature, which, though not forgeries, are denominated apocryphal, as being of uncertain or of no authority.
Of this second class of writings, I have found only two which are noticed by any author of the first three centuries without express terms of condemnation: and these are, the one a book entitled the Preaching of Peter, quoted repeatedly by Clemens Alexandrinus, A.D. 196; the other a book entitled the Revelation of Peter, upon which the above-mentioned Clemens Alexandrinus is said by Eusebius to have written notes; and which is twice cited in a work still extant, ascribed to the same author.
I conceive, therefore, that the proposition we have before advanced, even after it hath been subjected to every exception of every kind that can be alleged, separates, by a wide interval, our historical Scriptures from all other writings which profess to give an account of the same subject.
We may be permitted however to add,—
1. That there is no evidence that any spurious or apocryphal books whatever existed in the first century of the Christian era, in which century all our historical books are proved to have been extant. “There are no quotations of any such books in the apostolical fathers, by whom I mean Barnabas, Clement of Rome, Hermas, Ignatius, and Polycarp, whose writings reach from about the year of our Lord 70 to the year 108 (and some of whom have quoted each and every one of our historical Scriptures): I say this,” adds Dr. Lardner, “because I think it has been proved.” (Lardner, Cred. vol. xii. p. 158.)
2. These apocryphal writings were not read in the churches of Christians;
3. Were not admitted into their volume;
4. Do not appear in their catalogues;
5. Were not noticed by their adversaries;
6. Were not alleged by different parties, as of authority in their controversies;
7. Were not the subjects, amongst them, of commentaries, versions, collections, expositions.
Finally; beside the silence of three centuries, or evidence within that time of their rejection, they were, with a consent nearly universal, reprobated by Christian writers of succeeding ages.
Although it be made out by these observations that the books in question never obtained any degree of credit and notoriety which can place them in competition with our Scriptures; yet it appears from the writings of the fourth century, that many such existed in that century, and in the century preceding it. It may be difficult at this distance of time to account for their origin.
Perhaps the most probable explication is, that they were in general composed with a design of making a profit by the sale. Whatever treated of the subject would find purchasers. It was an advantage taken of the pious curiosity of unlearned Christians. With a view to the same purpose, there were many of them adapted to the particular opinions of particular sects, which would naturally promote their circulation amongst the favourers of those opinions. After all, they were probably much more obscure than we imagine. Except the Gospel according to the Hebrews, there is none of which we hear more than the Gospel of the Egyptians; yet there is good reason to believe that Clement, a presbyter of Alexandria in Egypt, A.D. 184, and a man of almost universal reading, had never seen it. (Jones, vol. i. p. 243.) A Gospel according to Peter was another of the most ancient books of this kind; yet Serapion, bishop of Antioch, A.D. 200, had not read it, when he heard of such a book being in the hands of the Christians of Rhossus in Cillcia; and speaks of obtaining a sight of this Gospel from some sectaries who used it. (Lardner, Cred. vol. ii. p. 557.) Even of the Gospel of the Hebrews, which confessedly stands at the head of the catalogue, Jerome, at the end of the fourth century, was glad to procure a copy by the favour of the Nazarenes of Berea. Nothing of this sort ever happened, or could have happened, concerning our Gospels.
One thing is observable of all the apocryphal Christian writings, viz. that they proceed upon the same fundamental history of Christ and his apostles as that which is disclosed in our Scriptures. The mission of Christ, his power of working miracles, his communication of that power to the apostles, his passion, death, and resurrection, are assumed or asserted by every one of them. The names under which some of them came forth are the names of men of eminence in our histories. What these books give are not contradictions, but unauthorised additions. The principal facts are supposed, the principal agents the same; which shows that these points were too much fixed to be altered or disputed.
If there be any book of this description which appears to have imposed upon some considerable number of learned Christians, it is the Sibylline oracles; but when we reflect upon the circumstances which facilitated that imposture, we shall cease to wonder either at the attempt or its success. It was at that time universally understood that such a prophetic writing existed. Its contents were kept secret. This situation afforded to some one a hint, as well as an opportunity, to give out a writing under this name, favourable to the already established persuasion of Christians, and which writing, by the aid and recommendation of these circumstances, would in some degree, it is probable, be received. Of the ancient forgery we know but little; what is now produced could not, in my opinion, have imposed upon any one. It is nothing else than the Gospel history woven into verse; perhaps was at first rather a fiction than a forgery; an exercise of ingenuity, more than an attempt to deceive.
The reader will now be pleased to recollect, that the two points which form the subject of our present discussion are, first, that the Founder of Christianity, his associates, and immediate followers, passed their lives in labours, dangers, and sufferings; secondly, that they did so in attestation of the miraculous history recorded in our Scriptures, and solely in consequence of their belief of the truth of that history.
The argument, by which these two propositions have been maintained by us, stands thus:
No historical fact, I apprehend, is more certain, than that the original propagators of Christianity voluntarily subjected themselves to lives of fatigue, danger, and suffering, in the prosecution of their undertaking. The nature of the undertaking; the character of the persons employed in it; the opposition of their tenets to the fixed opinions and expectations of the country in which they first advanced them; their undissembled condemnation of the religion of all other countries; their total want of power, authority, or force—render it in the highest degree probable that this must have been the case. The probability is increased by what we know of the fate of the Founder of the institution, who was put to death for his attempt; and by what we also know of the cruel treatment of the converts to the institution, within thirty years after its commencement: both which points are attested by heathen writers, and, being once admitted, leave it very incredible that the primitive emissaries of the religion, who exercised their ministry, first, amongst the people who had destroyed their Master, and, afterwards, amongst those who persecuted their converts, should themselves escape with impunity, or pursue their purpose in ease and safety. This probability, thus sustained by foreign testimony, is advanced, I think, to historical certainty, by the evidence of our own books; by the accounts of a writer who was the companion of the persons whose sufferings he relates; by the letters of the persons themselves by predictions of persecutions ascribed to the Founder of the religion, which predictions would not have been inserted in his history, much less have been studiously dwelt upon, if they had not accorded with the event, and which, even if falsely ascribed to him, could only have been so ascribed, because the event suggested them; lastly, by incessant exhortations to fortitude and patience, and by an earnestness, repetition, and urgency upon the subject, which were unlikely to have appeared if there had not been, at the time, some extraordinary call for the exercise of these virtues.
It is made out also, I think, with sufficient evidence, that both the teachers and converts of the religion, in consequence of their new profession, took up a new course of life and behaviour.
The next great question is, what they did this FOR. That it was for a miraculous story of some kind or other, is to my apprehension extremely manifest; because, as to the fundamental article, the designation of the person, viz. that this particular person, Jesus of Nazareth, ought to be received as the Messiah, or as a messenger from God, they neither had, nor could have, anything but miracles to stand upon. That the exertions and sufferings of the apostles were for the story which we have now, is proved by the consideration that this story is transmitted to us by two of their own number, and by two others personally connected with them; that the particularity of the narrative proves that the writers claimed to possess circumstantial information, that from their situation they had full opportunity of acquiring such information, that they certainly, at least, knew what their colleagues, their companions, their masters taught; that each of these books contains enough to prove the truth of the religion; that if any one of them therefore be genuine, it is sufficient; that the genuineness, however, of all of them is made out, as well by the general arguments which evince the genuineness of the most undisputed remains of antiquity, as also by peculiar and specific proofs, viz. by citations from them in writings belonging to a period immediately contiguous to that in which they were published; by the distinguished regard paid by early Christians to the authority of these books; (which regard was manifested by their collecting of them into a volume, appropriating to that volume titles of peculiar respect, translating them into various languages, digesting them into harmonies, writing commentaries upon them, and, still more conspicuously, by the reading of them in their public assemblies in all parts of the world) by an universal agreement with respect to these books, whilst doubts were entertained concerning some others; by contending sects appealing to them; by the early adversaries of the religion not disputing their genuineness, but, on the contrary, treating them as the depositaries of the history upon which the religion was founded; by many formal catalogues of these, as of certain and authoritative writings, published in different and distant parts of the Christian world; lastly, by the absence or defect of the above-cited topics of evidence, when applied to any other histories of the same subject.
These are strong arguments to prove that the books actually proceeded from the authors whose names they bear (and have always borne, for there is not a particle of evidence to show that they ever went under any other); but the strict genuineness of the books is perhaps more than is necessary to the support of our proposition. For even supposing that, by reason of the silence of antiquity, or the loss of records, we knew not who were the writers of the four Gospels, yet the fact that they were received as authentic accounts of the transaction upon which the religion rested, and were received as such by Christians at or near the age of the apostles, by those whom the apostles had taught, and by societies which the' apostles had founded; this fact, I say, connected with the consideration that they are corroborative of each other's testimony, and that they are further corroborated by another contemporary history taking up the story where they had left it, and, in a narrative built upon that story, accounting for the rise and production of changes in the world, the effects of which subsist at this day; connected, moreover, with the confirmation which they receive from letters written by the apostles themselves, which both assume the same general story, and, as often as occasions lead them to do so, allude to particular parts of it; and connected also with the reflection, that if the apostles delivered any different story it is lost; (the present and no other being referred to by a series of Christian writers, down from their age to our own; being like-wise recognised in a variety of institutions, which prevailed early and universally, amongst the disciples of the religion;) and that so great a change as the oblivion of one story and the substitution of another, under such circumstances, could not have taken place: this evidence would be deemed, I apprehend, sufficient to prove concerning these books, that, whoever were the authors of them, they exhibit the story which the apostles told, and for which, consequently, they acted and they suffered.
If it be so, the religion must be true. These men could not be deceivers. By only not bearing testimony, they might have avoided all these sufferings, and have lived quietly. Would men in such circumstances pretend to have seen what they never saw; assert facts which they had no knowledge of; go about lying to teach virtue; and, though not only convinced of Christ's being an impostor, but having seen the success of his imposture in his crucifixion, yet persist in carrying it on; and so persist, as to bring upon themselves for nothing, and with a full knowledge of the consequence, enmity and hatred, danger and death?