صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

small collection was now formed of these epistles, and into it were transferred the two larger epistles of John and Peter, which were at first contained in the second collection. Consequently the third comprised seven epistles, which were called the seven catholic, i. e. universally-admitted epistles, in contradistinction from the various rejected writings. There now remained, therefore, only the epistle to the Hebrews and the Revelation of John. In regard to the epistle, as has been already mentioned, no doubt was entertained as to its genuineness; the only controversy was, whether Paul was its author or not. At last the opinion that it was Pauline prevailed, and it was introduced into the collection of Pauline epistles; though, as the collection was already made up, it was placed at the end, after the small epistle to Philemon. In the Lutheran version of the Bible, however, the epistle obtained another place, viz. between the third epistle of John and the epistle of James, for reasons which will be stated hereafter. The whole question, therefore, in regard to the epistle to the Hebrews was of little consequence; for, if Paul did not write it, it is certain that the author wrote under his guidance (as will be shown more at length in the sequel), and the case is the same with this epistle as with the gospels of Mark and Luke. It is otherwise, however, with the history of the Apocalypse, which also will be particularly related hereafter. Although it has the oldest and most trustworthy witnesses in its behalf, indeed beyond most of the writings of antiquity, it still early met with numerous assailants, on account of its contents. True, many did not exactly regard it as spurious; they only maintained that it was written, not by John the evangelist, but by another man of less note, bearing the same name. Others, however, felt such excessive dislike towards the book that they declared it must have been composed by the worst heretics. Yet here, too, truth fortunately obtained the victory, and the genuine apostolic character of this elevated production of prophetic inspiration was acknowledged. As the three smaller collections were made up, nothing remained but to place it at the end of all. This was precisely the position to which the Apocalypse belonged; for, considering the Gospels to be, as it were, the root of the tree of life exhibited in the whole New Testament, and the Epistles as the branches and blossoms, then the Apocalypse is the fully ripened fruit. It contains a picture of the development of God's church down

to the end of time, and therefore forms the close of the Bible as properly as Genesis forms its commencement.

In order that the various writings and small collections might be permanently united, the smaller divisions were entirely given up in the fourth century, and thenceforward there was but one collection, containing all the New Testament writings. A decisive decree on this point was issued by a council held in the year 393 at Hippo, now Bona, in Africa. In itself considered, this union of the smaller collections into a single large one is of no consequence, and hence, too, it is of none that it took place at so late a period; for, as early as during the third century and the commencement of the fourth, there was entire unanimity in regard to all essential questions concerning the books of the New Testament, as the following history of them will evince. Still there was this advantage arising from the union of the apostolic writings into one body, viz. that they were in a more safe and determinate form, and might now be placed with the Old Testament as the second part of Holy Writ.


The Collection of the Gospels.

Or the three smaller collections of the writings of the New Testament, which, as we have before stated, were in use in the ancient church, none can be traced further back than that of the gospels. We find so many and so weighty testimonies in its behalf, that it would seem as though Providence desired this palladium of the church to be in a special manner secure against all attacks. Not only is it the case that some of the most an1 cient fathers testify to its existence, as e. g. Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr (all of whom lived in the second century after Christ, and were preceded only by the so-called apostolic fathers); but, moreover, the witnesses in its behalf are from all parts of the ancient church. Turtullian lived in Carthage; Clement in Egypt; Irenaeus was born in Asia Minor, and became bishop of Lyons in France; Justin Martyr was born in Palestine (in Flavia Neapolis, otherwise called Sichem), but taught in Rome. Thus we have testimo

nies in favor of the collection of the gospels from all the chief stations of the ancient church; and this, of course, supposes its very general diffusion. The greatest number of testimonies, all preceding from one province, would not be of so much weight as these coincident declarations from the most various parts of the world, in regard to the currency of the gospels. A circumstance, however, still more important than the testimonies from various parts of the ancient church is, that, not only the members of the catholic orthodox church, but the heretics, also, were familiar with our gospels. If it be considered, what violent mutual animosity there was between the fathers of the catholic church and the heretics; that one party would not receive or adopt any thing at all from the other, but was rather disposed to reject it from the very fact that it came from so detested a quarter; no one can help seeing in the circumstance that the catholic church and the heretics were familiar with the collection of our gospels an uncommonly cogent proof of its genuineness and great antiquity. For, had it been formed after the rise of these sects, either within the pale of the catholic church, or in this or that party of heretics, it would be wholly inexplicable, how it could have been introduced into these sects from the church, or vice versa, into the church from these sects. Thus the collection of our gospels must at all events have taken place before the sects arose; for on no other ground can it be explained how these books, which were generally known and used before open rupture in the church, should have been admitted as genuine by both parties alike. Now the sects of the Gnostics and Marcionites originated as early as the beginning of the second century; and we are consequently entitled, from this circumstance, to regard the collection of the gospels as in existence at a period very near the times of the apostles. Besides the heretics, moreover, we find pagans acquainted with the collection of the gospels. We refer particularly to Celsus, a violent opponent of Christianity, against whose attacks it was defended by Origen. It is true this man did not live till about 200 years after the birth of Christ (we do not know the precise period); but it is notwithstanding a decisive evidence of the general diffusion and acknowledgment of the gospels throughout the church, that they are cited and assailed by pagan opponents as the official sources of the christian doctrine. For, had Celsus been aware that Christians themselves did not acknowledge VOL. IX. No. 25. 28

these writings, it would have been a foolish undertaking to refute them from the contents of the books.

Further; it is a wholly peculiar circumstance in the history of the gospels, and one which goes a great way to sustain their genuineness, that we nowhere find, in any writer of any part of the ancient world, an indication that only a single one of the four gospels was in use, or even known to exist separately. All possessed the entire collection of the gospels. It is true, there is one writer, Papias, bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia, concerning whom there is no express statement, that he had all the four gospels. But the manner in which Eusebius speaks respecting him in his Church History, is such, that there is nothing questionable in this silence. Eusebius adduces from a work of Papias, now not extant, some notices of Matthew and Mark. It is certainly true that nothing is said of Luke and John; but this is undoubtedly because the ancient bishop had not made any particular observations on these two gospels. His silence respecting them is the less an evidence that he was not acquainted with them, as the theatre of the labors of Papias was in the vicinity of Ephesus, where John lived so long, and moreover, wrote his gospel. Hence Papias must necessarily have been acquainted with it. Eusebius, moreover, remarks in the same place, that Papias was acquainted with the first epistle of John; how much rather, then, with his gospel? Hence, Eusebius says nothing concerning Luke and John, because it was a matter of course that Papias was familiar with them, and the latter had not said anything special in regard to their origin. There were, moreover, some heretics who made use of but one gospel, e. g. Marcion used Luke, and the Ebionites Matthew; but they had special reasons for doing so, in their doctrinal opinions. They did not, by any means, deny the three other gospels to be genuine; they only asserted that their authors were not true disciples of our Lord. Marcion held the erroneous notion, that all the disciples, with the exception of Paul, still continued halfJews. The Jewish Christians maintained that all the disciples except Matthew, had strayed away too far from Judaism, and on that account did not receive their writings. In this state of the case, there is a clear evidence from their opinions, also, that the gospels are genuine, and were in that day generally diffused in the church. Now, as the collection of our four gospels existed so very early and so universally, the inquiry occurs, how

it could have originated? A particular individual, or a church, may have formed it, and it may then have spread itself every where abroad. This supposition seems to be countenanced by the circumstance of the general uniformity as to the order of the four gospels. A few Mss. only, place John next to Matthew, in order that the writings of the apostles may be by themselves. Clearly, however, this transposition arose from the fancy of some copyist, and has no historical foundation. There is still, therefore, positive authority for the universally received arrangement. The most weighty circumstance against the opinion that the collection of the gospels was made in a particular place, and diffused itself abroad from thence, is, that we have no account respecting such a process; though we should expect one from the fact that John lived, and moreover, wrote his gospel, at so late a period. For this reason had the evangelist John himself, as some suppose, or any other man of high authority in the church, formed the collection of the gospels, we should, one would think, have had an account of its formation, as it could not have taken place before the end of the first, or commencement of the second century, which period borders very closely on that from which we derive so many accounts concerning the gospels. But this very circumstance, that we read nothing at all respecting a collector of the gospels, that writers have been left to conjecture, in regard to the manner in which the collection of them was made, leads to another view of its formation, which casts the clearest light on the genuineness of the books. It is in the highest degree probable, that our gospels all originated in capital cities of the Roman empire. Matthew probably wrote his in Jerusalem, the centre of Judaism, where also, as appears from the Acts of the apostles, a large Christian church was early gathered. Mark and Luke undoubtedly wrote in Rome, the political centre of the empire, to which innumerable multitudes thronged from all quarters of the world, for the transaction of business. In this city, too, a flourishing Christian church was early formed, as is seen from the epistle of Paul to the Romans, which was written before Peter, or Paul, or any apostle had visited Rome. Lastly, John wrote at Ephesus, a large and thriving city of Asia Minor, which was the residence of many learned and ingenious heathen. The large church of Ephesus was, according to the Acts, founded by Paul. It was fostered by the labors of John. Now let it be considered, how many thousands must, consequently, have

« السابقةمتابعة »