« PreviousContinue »
Genuineness of the New Testament
fection. These works have, through a long series of ages, been attributed to Matthew, John, Peter, Paul, James, and Jude, apostles of Jesus Christ; and to Mark and Luke, companions of the apostles in the work of the ministry.
Now, it must, I think, be allowed by every impartial and reflecting person, who has studied the New Testament, that it is a book of great intrinsic weight and excellence; and one that, from the very nature of its contents, is calculated to attract our regard and attention. It is distinguished (as its greatest enemies must allow) first, by a full, and apparently authoritative, republication of the great truths of natural religion secondly, by a clear statement of several additional doctrines, novel and extraordinary indeed, but, if true, of infinite importance to the human race; and, thirdly, by the purest code of practical morality ever known to have been ushered into the world. Such a book demands of every person of good sense and adequate information, a serious examination of those grounds on which rests its claim, first, to authenticity, and secondly, to divine authority. Before, however, we can attempt to prove that the history contained in the New Testament is, in all its particulars, true, and that the doctrines taught in it are divine, it is necessary to state the evidences upon which may be established the proposition, that these sacred books are genuine that they are not forgeries-that they were really written in the apostolic age, and by the persons whose names they severally bear.
In briefly treating on this branch of our subject, I may, in the first place, adduce the testimony of Eusebius, a Christian writer of great learning and authority, who flourished at Cæsarea in Palestine, (A.D. 315.) In a well known passage of his Ecclesiastical History, he presents us with a list of the Writings contained
Universally Confessed, A.D. 315.
in the New Testament, and declares that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles of Paul, and the first Epistles of John and Peter, were universally confessed to be genuine.1 At the period when Eusebius made this declaration, these sacred books were very widely circulated; they were read by ecclesiastics and laymen, by philosophers and peasants, in public assemblies and in private houses; and copies of them were multiplied throughout Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Lesser Asia, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Gaul. Since they were thus generally known and disseminated, and freely subjected to the examination of both friends and enemies, and that at a period when the sources of accurate information respecting their true origin were at once numerous and easily accessible; and since they were, nevertheless, universally confessed to be genuine; their actual genuineness is, in fact, indisputable. To forge, not only a single book, but a set of writings bearing severally their distinct characteristics, and to palm that forgery on so diversified a multitude of inquirers, in such a manner as to convince them all that these fictitious productions were genuine, and had always been regarded as such since the date at which they were considered to have been composed, would be a moral impossibility.
It is true that Eusebius excludes from the list of sacred books, thus universally received, the Epistles of James and Jude, the second and third Epistles of John, the second Epistle of Peter, and the Apocalypse. He acknowledges that the origin of these works was doubted by some persons: a fact which plainly
evinces that a real discrimination was exercised on the subject, and that the genuineness of the bulk of
1 duohoyovuśva. Euseb. Hist. Eccles. lib. iii, cap. 25.
the New Testament rested on clear and incontrovertible evidences. At the same time, it ought to be observed, that the doubts entertained by some persons, in the days of Eusebius, respecting the writings which he thus excepts, were not of long continuance. These books were soon afterwards received by the general consent of Christians into the canon of Scripture; and modern investigation, (conducted principally by the indefatigable Lardner) and, still more, the irresistible excellence of the works themselves, have confirmed the propriety of this decision.
Having remarked the extravagant absurdity which, under the circumstances now mentioned, attaches to the notion that the New Testament is a forgery, I may proceed to advert, somewhat more explicitly, to the evidences of which we are still in possession, and which positively evince its genuineness,—it being understood that these evidences, although extensively applicable to the disputed books, and particularly to the Apocalypse, bear, with a preeminent degree of force, on the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the thirteen Epistles of Paul, and the first Epistles of John and Peter.
I. We have, in the first place, allusions to the contents of these sacred books, or actual quotations from them, in the works of a multitude of ecclesiastical writers, who flourished during the first four centuries of the Christian era. Of the works of the apostolical fathers, who wrote before the first century was elapsed, but very scanty remains have come down to us in the present day. Nevertheless, a considerable num
2 The apostolic date of the Epistle to the Hebrews, which is often enumerated as Paul's fourteenth epistle, is ascertained beyond the shadow of a doubt: whether Paul was its author, or not, is still a subject of controversy; but the arguments in favour of the affirmative of the question are generally considered conclusive.
Ess. 1.] Quotations in the Works of the Fathers.
ber of allusions to the contents of the New Testament, especially to those of the Gospels and the Epistles of Paul, are to be discovered in the writings still extant of Barnabas, Clement of Rome, Hermas, Ignatius, and Polycarp. Several of these allusions are of a nature very precise and definite. When, for example, we read in the Epistle attributed to Barnabas, (a treatise which, almost beyond question, was composed during the first century)—"It is written, There are many called, but few chosen"-we cannot refuse to allow, that such a passage affords a very pointed evidence of the genuineness of the Gospel of Matthew: comp. Matt. xxii, 14. When, again, we find Clement (A.D. 96) exhorting the Corinthians to take in their hands "the Epistle of the blessed Paul the apostle," and to mark his admonition "respecting himself, and Cephas, and Apollos," we cannot, with any reason, doubt the genuineness of the Epistle which Paul had previously addressed to the same church: comp. 1 Cor. i, 12. In the second century, our evidences gradually become larger and clearer. To select a few of the principal of them: we are informed by Eusebius, that Papias, an Asiatic Bishop, (A.D. 116) referred in his writings to several distinct parts of the New Testament.3 Justin Martyr (A.D. 147) has alluded to many of the Epistles of Paul, and has quoted extensively (though somewhat loosely and inaccurately) from the four Gospels, which he denominates the memoirs of Christ, or the memoirs of the apostles and their companions. In the remaining works of Irenæus, Bishop of Lyons, (A.D. 170) we find large extracts from the New Testament; and we are in possession of his testimony to the authority of nearly all the writings contained in it. Tertullian of Carthage and Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 200) have each of them transcribed, in vari3 Euseb. Hist. Eccles. lib. iii, cap. 39.
Catalogues, Commentaries, &c.
ous parts of their theological treatises, a very large proportion of the whole New Testament: and Lardner justly observes, that the quotations from it, adduced by Tertullian alone, may be deemed greatly to exceed in number those made from the works of Cicero, by all the writers combined, who have ever cited him. The same may, with equal propriety, be said of Origen, (A.D. 230) whose citations from the various parts of the New Testament are exceedingly abundant and, after him, we have a host of writers in all the departments of the multiplied and extended church, whom it would be tedious to name, and by whom the Gospels, the Acts, the Epistles, and the Revelation, are quoted to the same extent, and with the same variety, as by modern theologians: see Lardner's Cred., 4to ed., vols. i, ii.
But the testimonies borne by Christian writers, during the first four centuries, to the genuineness of the New Testament are by no means confined to the quotation of particular passages. Many of them, like Origen, Eusebius, Athanasius, and Cyril, have given catalogues or canons of the books of the New Testament; a measure which was also taken by the council of ecclesiastics, held at Laodicea, (A.D. 363). Others, like Titian, (A.D. 170) composed harmonies of the four Gospels: and many more wrote commentaries on the several constituent parts of this sacred volume.
Now, as the evidences thus afforded by Christian writers, during the first four centuries, are very abundant, and various in form and manner, so it is to be remembered that this vast company of witnesses consisted of individuals, who lived at different times, were scattered over widely separated countries, occupied
4 "Tatian," says Eusebius, "composed I know not what harmony and collection of the four Gospels, which he called Dia Tessaron, and which is still in the hands of some." Euseb. Hist. Eccles. lib. iv, cap. 29.