« AnteriorContinuar »
following observations of the learned Dr. Prideaux a. these books," says
he, were not received into the canon of the holy Scriptures in Ezra's time. For Malachi it is supposed lived after him, and in Nehemiah mention is made of Jaddua as high priest, and of Darius Codomannus as king of Persia, who were at least an hundred years after his time; and in the third chapter of the first book of Chronicles, the genealogy of the sons of Zerubbabel is carried down for so many generations, as must necessarily make it reach to the time of Alexander the Great; and therefore this book could not be put into the canon, till after his time. It is most likely, that the two books of Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, as well as Malachi, were afterwards added in the time of Simon the Just, and that it was not till then that the Jewish canon of the holy Scriptures was fully completed.”
Upon the whole, it is clear that our Saviour acknowledged the divine authority of the Old Testament scriptures under the titles they then bare of The Law—The Prophets-and The Psalms, that is, as we have shewn, The Hagiographa. And it is further evident from the testimony of the ancient and later Jews, that these three divisions of the Old Testament scriptures included in them all those books which we now receive as divine b.
Having thus ascertained the scriptures of the Old Testament, we proceed,
(2.) To those of the New Testament.
a Prideaux's Connect. Vol. II. p. 477. Edit. 9th.
b The learned and accurate Mr. Jeremiah Jones, having occasion to advert to the canon of the Old Testament, thus expresses himself: “In short, “ whatever almost can be objected against the authority of the present canon " of the Old Testament, either in behalf of any books which are not in it, or
against any that are, may easily be answered by this single consideration, 6 viz. That we receive the same and no other books than what the Jewish Church " received in our Saviour's time, as is evident from the copies the Christians
procured of them, and the catalogues they made of them (especially that of * Melito Sardensis *) soon after the destruction of Jerusalem t."
“* Vid. Euseb. Histor. Eccles.' l. VI. c. 26. There are others very early, as Origine's in Psal. primo," fc. † Jones's Canon, Vol. I. p. 4.
The apostle, as I observed before, had his eye chiefly in the text to the scriptures of the Old Testament, for he had been speaking in the preceding verse of Timothy's having from a child known the holy Scriptures. And at the time this epistle was writ the canon of the New Testament was not closed. Yet it must be remembered that at this time, which was late in the apostle Paul's life, three of the gospels were written, and very probably collected together. There can therefore be no impropriety in considering the word Scripture in reference to the New Testament. Be that however as it may, since the canon of the New Testament is now closed, the enquiry respecting the several parts of it is important to us.
Now the books of the New Testament, as they stand in our Bibles, consist of the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles of St. Paul, the Epistle to the Hebrews, the seven Catholic or General Epistles, and the Revelation of John. It is not certain at what exact time these books of the New Testament were collected into one volume. But it is, I believe, generally agreed, that the four Gospels were collected in the time of the apostle John, and that the three first received his approbation. This is attested by Eusebius the ecclesiastic historian, who flourished in the beginning of the fourth century. Before the middle of the second century the greatest part of the books of the New Testament were read in every Christian society throughout the world, and received as a divine rule of faith and manners. And as to the Revelation of John, which he received towards the close of his life, and which therefore could not be circulated so early as the other books, it was admitted into the canon of Scripture upon the fullest and clearest proof of its authenticity.
In short the existence of all the sacred books of the New Testament is abundantly attested by the primitive Fathers, such as Clemens Romanus, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenæus, Theophilus Antiochenus, Clemens Alexandrinus, Tertullian, Origen, Eusebius, &c. Some of whom give exact catalogues of these books, as acknowledged by the Christians to be genuine, and every where read by them in their churches. It is also to be remembered, that these books were very early trans
lated into many languages, and quoted both by friends and enemies, which clearly proved their existence, as well as secured them from being corrupted.-- Thus we have shewn, by clear historical evidence, what are the books of which the Old and New Testaments consist.-And so we are led to the
3. And last question, How we are to fix the bounds of Scripture ?- All Scripture, says the apostle; plainly declaring that the books which came not within this description, whatever might be their pretensions, were not given by Inspiration.
Now as to the Old Testament, the Apocryphal books, which are bound
with of our Bibles, are by most Protestants upon very good authority considered as uncanonical. Indeed as to some of them there is abundant internal evidence of their spuriousness. Yet the church of Rome, as appears from the Council of Trent, has adopted them, and placed them on a footing with the Scriptures; herein acting like the Jews, who added their oral law, and traditions of the elders, to Moses and the Prophets. Indeed the Apocryphal writings were most, I might perhaps say, every one of them written after the time the canon of the Old Testament was closed, and so not acknowledged by the Jews as a part of it, nor to be found in the Hebrew and Chaldee copies of the Bible. And our Lord and his apostles having borne no testimony to their divine authority, which they have expressly done to the Old Testament, is a further confirming proof that they ought to be treated as apocryphal.
Here I think it right to observe, that it is a considerable presumptive evidence of the authenticity of the Song of Solomon, that our Lord, who was used to protest against the errors of the Jews, and their making the word of God of no effect by their traditions, has no where cautioned his disciples against receiving this book as a part of Scripture, though it appears to have been acknowledged by the Jews, as we have already shewn, it being a part of the Hagiographa or sacred writings.
It must also be further observed here, that the translation of the Old Testament scriptures by the Septuagint into the
Greek language, for the use of the Hellenistic Jews, (which translation was quoted by Christ and his apostles) proved no doubt a considerable fence against every attempt, if such an one had been made, to interpolate or corrupt that part of our Bible. And thus you have seen not only of what books the Old Testament consists, but how they have been secured by divine Providence from any addition of mere human productions. · We come now to the New Testament, and here put the same question we did respecting the Old; How do we know that the books enumerated are the only ones belonging to the sacred canon? The answer will I am persuaded be perfectly satisfactory.
There were in the early ages of Christianity, as we learn from history, many pieces spread abroad under the titles of The Acts of Paul and Thecla, The Gospels of Mary, Thomas, Nicodemus, of Christ's Infancy, and a prodigious number besides; some of which reported the most extravagant things which no sober man could believe, and others seem to have been the productions of well-meaning but weak people. These spurious histories may very justly be considered as the efforts of Satan, to prejudice the minds of the people against the genuine gospels of the evangelists. But divine Providence counteracted these artifices of the great adversary, and made them turn to the service instead of the obstruction of Christianity. Some of these books were of very early date, and their manifest ill-tendency made it necessary, even in the time of the apostles, to collect, as you have heard, the true gospels. It put the churches every where upon their guard against these insidious and dangerous attempts. It stirred up a spirit of enquiry, and induced in thoughtful people a sort of incredulity which was of service to the cause of truth. It made them the more careful in the business of transcribing the Scriptures, and faithfully translating them into other languages. Nor was it difficult to pronounce upon
the numerous productions of this sort, whether they were or were not spurious. For surely it required little sagacity to discern, that a book which contained absolute falsehoods, which contradicted itself, which erred in regard of dates, and many other historical circumstances, or which reported tales that if true were trifling and uninteresting; I say it required little sagacity to convince a plain honest man, that such a book could not come from God. These and the like rules of interpretation were so level to the meanest understanding, that we may easily conceive how the truth would triumph over error, and how sincere Christians would be enabled to draw a clear and decisive line between what was and what was not Scripture a.
And then it is further to be observed, that respectable writers of the second and third centuries' assure us, that the churches were unanimous in the sentence they pronounced respecting the apostolic writings; and we have catalogues given us by the Fathers, situated at remote distances from each other, and some of them flourishing in one century and some of them in another, of the full complement of the books of the New Testament. To all which it must be added, that the translation of the New Testament into various languages, proved a further security against all attempts to interpolate and corrupt it, and to fix the idea of the canon of Scripture being closed with The Revelation of John. doubt the solemn sentence denounced by that apostle upon those who should add to the word of God or detract from it, (however it might have more immediate respect to that book) failed not to operate as a guard to all the other books of the New Testament. • Thus have we gone through our first head of discourse. We have explained the term Scripture-settled what is Scripture, or the parts of which it consists-and fixed the bounds of Scripture-enquiries to which the language of the text, all Scripture, hath naturally led us. And now we should proceed to enquire, What is the true and proper meaning of Inspiration? But this with what follows must be referred to another opportunity.
a The Rev. and learned Jeremiah Jones has largely and accurately discussed this argument in his New and Full Method of settling the canonical Authority of the New Testament: which excellent Treatise we before referred to.