« PreviousContinue »
after the composition of the Gospel, while Paul was yet a prisoner there, and Luke with him. This fact alone sufficiently accounts for the unanimous reception of these two books by the churches. Then we have as in the case of Mark's Gospel, the witness of the works themselves to Luke's gifts as a writer.
2. The Epistles of James and Jude.
We do not propose to discuss the much controverted question respecting "James the Lord's brother." It is sufficient to say that the author of the Epistle which bears the name of James is, beyond reasonable doubt, the same James who gave the final opinion in the assembly of the apostles and elders at Jerusalem,1 whom Paul names with Cephas and John as one of the "pillars" there, who elsewhere appears as a man of commanding influence in the church at Jerusalem, and whom ecclesiastical tradition represents as presiding over the church in that city. If one doubts, as many do, the identity of this James with James the son of Alpheus, who was one of the twelve, this cannot affect the canonical authority of the Epistle. For the position of this man in the church at Jerusalem, and his relation to the apostolic college, is such that, even though he did not belong to the number of the twelve, his writings must have to us the full weight of apostolic authority. Lardner, indeed, lays down the rule that "no men, besides apostles, have the privilege of writing epistles, or other works, preceptive and doctrinal, that shall be received by the churches in that quality." And he adds: "Mark and Luke, apostolical men, may write histories of our Lord's and his apostles' preaching and doctrine and miracles, which shall be received as sacred and of authority; but no epistles, or other writings delivering doctrines and precepts (except only in the way of historical narration), can be of authority, but those written by apostles."4 Not to dwell on the distinction here made
1 Acts xv. 13-21. 2 Gal. ii. 9. 8 Acts xxi. 18; Gal. ii. 12. History of the Apostles and Evangelists, chap. ii.
between the inspiration of evangelists and the writers of doctrinal epistles, it is sufficient to say that this is a question of fact, rather than of theory. We might very naturally have reasoned a priori that none but apostles would be chosen by the Holy Ghost to write the Gospels; or, if men were taken outside of their number, that they would be those who had themselves been eye-witnesses of the facts and discourses which they recorded, not those who had simply gathered their knowledge from eye-witnesses. But both these hypotheses are set aside by the plain facts in the case, and to these our theory must be accommodated. Just so is it in respect to the Epistles. Undoubtedly the circle of men who could write authoritative epistles to the churches was very limited. But when we assume that not even James, the Lord's brother, who was one of the hundred and twenty who originally received the gift of the Spirit, who occupied so central a position in the mother church at Jerusalem, and had such authority in the deliberations of the apostles and elders — that not even this man could write an epistle to his brethren scattered abroad which should "be received as sacred and of authority," unless he were himself an apostle in the strict sense of the word, we unwarrantably limit the gifts of the Holy Spirit. If any think they can maintain, on valid historic grounds, that James who wrote the Epistle belonged to the number of the twelve apostles, let them do so. But if, as many are persuaded, this cannot be done, we are not therefore to deny the right of the Epistle to "be received as sacred and of authority."
The question whether Jude, who styles himself "the servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James," was the apostle Judas mentioned by Luke and John,2 or Judas the Lord's brother,3 has been, in like manner, much discussed. Upon either supposition, the remarks made respecting the canonical authority of the Epistle of James apply to this short Epistle also.
1 Jude 1.
2 Luke vi. 16; John xiv. 22.
8 Matt. xiii. 55; Mark vi. 3.
3. The Epistle to the Hebrews.
This Epistle is without address, and omits also at the beginning the apostolic salutation. Thus it commences in the form of an essay, though it closes in that of an epistle. These circumstances, in connection with its peculiar style and diction, and the peculiar range of the topics discussed in it, have led many to deny its Pauline authorship, at least in the immediate sense in which Paul was the author of the epistles which bear his name. The Eastern churches, among whom it was first put in circulation, and from whom the knowledge of it was spread abroad, ascribed it to Paul as its author, either immediately or virtually. We say immediately or virtually; for it is well known that Clement of Alexandria accounted for its peculiar diction by the assumption that it was written to the Hebrews in the Hebrew tongue, but translated by Luke into Greek; 2 and that Origen's position respecting it was that the thoughts are the apostle's, but the diction and composition those of some one who recorded the apostle's views.2 In the Western churches the case was different. Clement of Rome did, indeed, refer to the Epistle as authoritative, but without naming its author; and its Pauline authorship was not generally admitted, nor was it generally received as a part of the sacred canon, till the fourth century, apparently on the ground that the two questions of its Pauline authorship and its canonical authority were not separated from each other. But this is, as we have seen in the case of the Epistles of James and Jude, an unwarrantable limitation. If we cannot affirm that all who were associated with the apostles in the work of the ministry had the gifts needful for the composition of epistles that should be received by the churches "as sacred and of authority," it would, nevertheless, be presumptuous to deny to some the possession of these gifts. Herein the judgment of the primitive churches ought to have great weight with us. The writer to the Hebrews, 1 As quoted by Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. vi. 14. 2 Eusebius, as above, vi. 25.
whoever he may have been, was well known to those whom he addressed, as is manifest from his closing words: "Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty, with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you." They received the epistle as coming, if not immediately from Paul, yet under the sanction of his authority; at least, as coming from one who held such relations to the apostle that in writing to them an authoritative epistle he had not transcended the sphere of his gifts as acknowledged by the apostle and the churches. Such was the judgment of the Eastern churches from the beginning, and in this the Western churches finally acquiesced.
But what about the epistles of the so-called apostolic Fathers, that are acknowledged to be genuine, but were yet not allowed a place in the canon of the New Testament? In answering this question, two epistles only require notice. Clement of Rome has left an epistle which is received as genuine. Upon the supposition that he is identical with the Clement named in the Epistle to the Philippians, all that can be shown is that he was a helper of Paul, along with various other persons of both sexes, to whom the apostle refers in connection with him: "Yea, I entreat thee, also, true yoke-fellow, help those women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement, also, and my other fellow-laborers (τῶν λοιπῶν συνεργῶν μου), whose names are in the book of life." This is no more than is said of Priscilla and Aquila and Urban, to whom Paul applied the same epithet. It does not prove that Clement was associated with the apostle in any such sense as were Mark and Luke, or Timothy and Titus, or that the churches regarded the writing of authoritative epistles as coming within the sphere of his office. There is also extant an epistle bearing the name of Barnabas. This is undeniably the same as that so often referred to by the ancient church Fathers; but whether it proceeded from the pen of the Barnabas who was Paul's companion in missionary labor is a question respecting which learned men are not agreed. The weight of evidence from early ecclesi8 Rom. xvi. 3, 9.
1 Heb. xiii. 23.
2 Phil. iv. 3.
astical tradition favors the identity of the writer with the Barnabas of the New Testament. But the internal character of the epistle militates strongly against it. The primitive Christians, however, in excluding this epistle from the authoritative writings of the New Testament, seem to have been influenced by the character of its contents, taken in connection with the acknowledged fact that the author, whomsoever they may have judged him to have been, was not himself an apostle. They certainly would not have rejected an epistle known to have proceeded from an apostle, directly or indirectly. But in the case of an apostolic man (or one supposed to have been such) they felt themselves at liberty to exercise, in the words of Lee, "that critical sagacity which the most ingenious and subtile investigations of modern times have never been able to prove at fault, that unceasing caution and anxious vigilance which never admitted into the canon a single book for the rejection of which any valid reasons have been shown."2 In ascribing the epistle to Paul's missionary companion 3 they may have been at fault; but in denying to it a place in the canon of the New Testament they were not at fault.
We add some general remarks, applicable alike to the writings of apostles and apostolical men.
1. The testimony of the primitive churches to the canonical authority of these writings is of the highest importance. By the primitive churches we here mean the churches of apostolic times, or those immediately following. Aside from the books of the New Testament, the writings that have come down to us from the apostolic age are so scanty that we are compelled to gather this testimony mainly at second hand. We appeal to the writings of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Ter1 See on this point Neander's Church History (Torrey's translation), Vol. i. p. 657.
2 The Inspiration of Scripture, Lect. ii.
8 As was done by Clement of Alexandria. See Lee, as above, and the Appendix to his work marked E.