Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

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. "*

\ II. 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, t

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 an instance of the zeal of Christians for those writings, and of their solicitude about them. %

And, above both these, Ongen, 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. §

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 opinon 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."||

Victorin, bishop of Pettaw, inGermany,who wrote comments upon St. Matthew's Gospel.U

Eucian, a presbyter of Antioch ; and Hesychius, an Egyptian bishop, who put forth editions of the New Testament.

* Lardner, Cred. vol. ii. p. 551.

f Ibid. vol. iii. p. 170. } Ibid. p. 122.

S Ibid. p. 352, 192. 202. 215.

|| Ibid. vol. iv. p. 166. T Ibid. p. 105.

IX. The fourth century supplies a cata- logue* 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 mav be sufficient, for the purpose of showing the sentiments and studies of learned Christians of that age, to notice the following:

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, t 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." $ This testimony was given about the year 300; how long before that date these translations were made, does not appear. r

Dainasus, 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 (Dainasus) having met with very different interpretations of it in the Greek and Latin commentaries of Catholic writers which he had read."§ This last clause shows the number and variety of commentaries then extant .

Gregory of Nyssen, at one time, appeals 3 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

[merged small][ocr errors]

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.*

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 i Testament was found to contain all our books, except the second epistle of Peter, the second and third of John, and the Reve

* Lindner, Crcd. vol. ix. p. 163.

latum; which books, however, have since been discovered in that language in some ancient manuscripts of Europe. But in this collection, no other book, beside 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 ionothing that is important.*

SECTION VIL

Our Scriptures were received by ancient Christians of different sects and persuasions, by 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 i amongst Christians, were, the authority of' the Jewish constitution, the origin of evil, and the nature of Chvist. Upon the firsfrof 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.

t I. Basilides lived near the age of the apostles, about the year 120, or, perhaps, sooner. J He rejected the Jewish institution, not as spurious, but as proceeding from a

* Jones on the Canon, vol. i. c. 14.

+ 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.

t Lardner, vol. ix. p. 271, ed. 1788.

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 nc 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-foul books.*

II. The Valentinians appeared about the same time. t 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, Irelueus, who wrote A. D. 172, expressly records that they endeavoured to fetch arguments for their opinions from the evangelic and apostolic writings. X 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.

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 speci6cally charged, by Irenaaus and by Epiphanius, with endeavouring to pervert a passage in Matthew, which amounts to a positive proof that they received thatGospel.** Negatively, they are not accused, by their adversaries, of rejecting any part of the New Testament.

IV. The Sethians, A. D. 150 ;tt the Montanists, A. D. 156; $$ the Marcosians, A. D. 160; §§ Hermogenes, A. D. 180 ; |||| Praxias, A. D. 196; ff Arremon, 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. cd. 1788, p. 305, .300.

f Ibid. p. 350, 551. + Ibid. vol. i. p. 383.

6 Ibid. vol. i\. p. 352. || Ibid. 353.

i1 Ibid. 309. ** Ibid. 318.

H Ibid. 455. JJ Ibid. 482.

if, Ibid. 34S. Ibid. 473.

Iff Ibid. 433. *** Ibid. 4'JJ,

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. *

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, t

VIII. PaulofSamosata, 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 ycu may see them nying through every book of the sacred law." $

IX. A controversy at the same time existed with the NoStians 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

* Lardner, vol. iii. p. 46.
t Ibid. vol. iv. p. 642.
t Ibid. vol. xi. p. 15S,

testimony of Epiphanius, Sabelli?is 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 irreconcileable 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 Scriptures, should be execrated." * Undoubtedly what they perverted, they received.

XI. The Millennium, Novatianism, the baptism of heretics, the keeping of Easter, engaged also 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.'' t 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." $

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." j

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 profes

* Lardner, vol. xi. p. 839.

t Ibid. vol. iv. tiGtk t tbid. vo!. v. p. 103.

$ Ibid. vol. vii. p. 2-13

sions of deference and regard. The Arians, in their council of Antioch, A. n. 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."* 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, t the Pelagians, A. D. 405, X received the same Scriptures as we do.

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 rceive the Gospels either entire or in part." § 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. || 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.1T 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

* Lardner, vol. vii. p. 277.

♦ Ibid. vol. ix. p. 325 t Ibid. vol. is. p. 52. 6 Ibid. vol. x. p. 316.

[| Ibid. vol. ix. p. 322, ed. 1788. IT Lardner, sect, ii. c. x. Also Michael, vol. i. c. i. sect, xviii.

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.

Dr. Lardner, in his general Review, sums up this head of evidence in the following words: "NoStus, Paul of Samosata, Sabellius, Marcellus, Photinus, the Novatians, Donatists, Manicheans, t Prisciilianists, beside Artemon, the Audians, the Arians, and divers others, all received most or 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." $

SECTION VIII.

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

* 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.

t This must be with an exception, however, of Faustus, who Jived so late as the year 384

X Lardner, vol. xii. p. 12.—Dr. Lardner's future inquiries supplied him with many other instances

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 acqu iescence.

L 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." *

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. t And in another place, this author speaks of the Epistle to the Hebrews thus:—" The account come f 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." $

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. $ Yet the

• Lardner, vol. iii. p. 240.

t Ibid. p. 246. ;1! id. p. 234.

$ Ibid. vol. iv. p. 670.

« VorigeDoorgaan »