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DIONYSIUS of Alexandria, who lived about the middle of the third century, and was one of the most learned men of his time, has entered into a more particular discussion of the Canonical authority of the book of Revelation than any other ancient author. From what has been said by him, we learn on what account it was that this book, after having been universally received by the earlier Fathers, fell, with some, into a certain degree of discredit. About this time, the Chiliasts or Millennarians, who held that Christ would reign visibly on earth with his Saints for a thousand years, during which period, all manner of earthly and sensible pleasures would be enjoyed, made their appearance. This opinion they derived from a literal interpretation of some passages in the book of Revelation; and as their error was very repugnant to the feelings of most of the Fathers, they were led to doubt of the authority, or to disparage the value, of the book from which it was derived.
The first rise of the Millennarians, of the grosser kind, seems to have been in the district of Arsinoe, in Egypt; where one Nepos composed several works in defence of their doctrine; particularly a book “ Against the Allegorists.” Dionysius took much pains with these errorists, and entered with them into a free and candid discussion of their opinions, and of the true meaning of the book of Revelation; and had the satisfaction to reclaim a number of them from their erroneous opinions. His own opinion of the Revelation he gives at large, and informs us, that some, who lived before his time, had utterly rejected this book, and ascribed it to Cerinthus; but, for his own part, he professes to believe, that it was written by an inspired man, whose name was John, but a different person from the Apostle of that name; for which opinion he assigns several reasons, but none of much weight. His principal reason is, that the language of this book is different from that of the Apostle John, in his other writings. To which Lardner judiciously answers, that supposing this to be the fact, it will not prove the point, for the style of prophecy is very different from the epistolary, or historical style. But this laborious and learned collector of facts, denies that there is such a difference of style, as to lay a foundation for this opinion; and in confirmation of his own opinion, he descends to particulars, and shows, that there are some striking points of resemblance between the language of the Apocalypse and the acknowledged writings of the Apostle John.
The opinion of those persons who believed it to be the work
of Cerinthus, is utterly without foundation; for this book contains opinions expressly contrary to those maintained by this heretic; and even on the subject of the Millennium, his views did not coincide with those expressed in the Revelation.
Caius seems to have been the only ancient author who attributed this book to Cerinthus ; and to him Dionysius probably referred, when he spoke of some before his time, who held this opinion.
CYPRIAN, bishop of Carthage, received the book of Revelation, as of Canonical authority, as appears by the manner in which he quotes it. “Hear,” says he, “in the Revelation, the voice of thy Lord, reproving such men as these, Thou sayest I am rich and increased in goods, and have need of nothing, and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked."*
Again, “So in the Holy Scriptures, by which the Lord would have us to be instructed and warned, is the harlot city described.”
Finally, “That waters signify people, the divine Scriptures show, in the Revelation.”
VICTORINUS, who lived towards the close of the third century, often cites the book of Revelation, and ascribes it to John the Apostle.
That LACTANTIUS received this book, is manifest, because he has written much respecting the future destinies of the church, which is founded on the prophecies which it contains.
Until the fourth century, then, it appears that the Revelation was almost universally received; not a writer of any credit calls it in question; and but one hesitates about ascribing it to John the Apostle; but even he held it to be written by an inspired man. But about the beginning of the fourth century, it began to fall into discredit with some, on account of the mysterious nature of its contents, and the encouragement which it was supposed to give to the Chiliasts. Therefore, Eusebius of Cesaræa, after giving a list of such books as were universally received, adds, “ After these, if it be thought fit, may be placed the Revelation of John, concerning which we shall observe the different opinions, at a proper time.” And again, "There are, concerning this book, different opinions.
This is the first doubt expressed by any respectable writer, concerning the Canonical authority of this book; and Eusebius did not reject it, but would have it placed next after those which were received with universal consent.
* Rev, iii, 17.
And we find, at this very time, the most learned and judi. cious of the Fathers received the Revelation without scruple, and annexed it to their catalogues of the books of the New Testament.
Thus, ATHANASIUS, after giving an account of the twentytwo Canonical books of the Old Testament, proceeds to enumerate the books of the New Testament, in the following manner, which he makes eight in number:-1. Matthew's Gospel; 2. Mark's; 3. Luke's; 4. John's; 5. The Acts; 6. The Catholic Epistles; 7. Paul's Fourteen Epistles; and 8. The Revelation, given to John the Evangelist and divine, in Pat
Jerome, in giving an account of the writings of John the Evangelist, speaks also of another John, called the Presbyter, to whom some ascribed the second and third Epistles, under the name of John. And we have already seen, that Dionysius of Alexandria ascribed the Revelation to another John. This opinion, we learn from Jerome, originated in the fact, that two monuments were found at Ephesus, each inscribed with the name, John; but he says, "Some think that both the monuments are of John the Evangelist.” Then he proceeds to give some account of the Revelation: “ Domitian," says he, “in the fourteenth year of his reign, raising the second persecution after Nero, John was banished into the Isle of Patmos, where he wrote the Revelation, which Justin Martyr and Irenæus explain.”
AUGUSTINE also received the book of Revelation, and quotes it very frequently.
He ascribes it to the same John who wrote the Gospel and the Epistles.
From the view which has been taken of the testimonies in favour of the book of Revelation, I think it must appear manifest to every candid reader, that few books in the New Testament have more complete evidence of Canonical authority than the book of Revelation. The only thing which requires explanation is, the omission of this book in so many of the catalogues of the Fathers, and of ancient councils. Owing to the mysterious nature of the contents of this book, and to the abuse of its prophecies, by the too literal construction of them by the Millennarians, it was judged expedient not to have this book read publicly in the churches. Now the end of forming these catalogues was, to guide the people in reading the Scriptures; and, as it seems not to have been desired that the people should read this mysterious book, it was omitted by many in their ca
talogues. Still, however, a majority of them have it; and some, who omitted it, are known to have received it as Canonical. This also will account for the fact, that many
of the manuscripts of the New Testament are without the Revelation, so that there are extant comparatively few copies of this book.
But the authenticity and authority of the Apocalypse, stand on ground which can never be shaken; and the internal evidence is strong in favour of a divine origin. There is a sublimity, purity, and consistency in it, which could not have proceeded from an impostor. In addition to all which, we observe, that the fulfilment of many of the predictions of this book is so remarkable, that to many learned men who have attended to this subject, the evidence from this source alone is demonstrative of its divine origin. And there is every reason to believe, that in the revolution of events, this book which is now, to many, sealed with seven seals, will be opened, and will be so explained, that all men will see and acknowledge, that it is indeed “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass and sent and signified it by his angel, to his servant John; who bare record of the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ."*
After having given a particular account of the several books of the New Testament, it may be useful to subjoin a few general remarks on the testimony exhibited.
1. The writings of the Apostles, from the time of their first publication, were distinguished by all Christians from all other books. They were spoken of by the Fathers as Scripture; as Divine Scripture; as inspired of the Lord; as, given by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. The only question ever agitated respecting any of these books, was, whether they were indeed the productions of the Apostles? When this was clear, no man disputed their divine authority; or considered it lawful to dissent from their dictates. They were considered as occupying the same place, in regard to inspiration and authority, as the Scriptures of the Old Testament; and in imitation of this denomination, they were called the New Testament. The other names by which they were distinguished, were such as these:- The Gospel; the Apostles; the Divine Gospels; the Evangelical Instrument; the Scriptures of the Lord; Holy Scriptures; Evangelic Voice; Divine Scriptures; Oracles of
Rev. 1, 1,
the Lord; Divine Fountains; Fountains of the Divine Ful
2. These books were not in obscurity, but were read with veneration and avidity by multitudes. They were read not only by the learned, but by the people; not only in private, but constantly in the public assemblies of Christians, as appears by the explicit testimonies of Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Eusebius, Cyprian, and Augustine. And no other books were thus venerated and read. If some other pieces were publicly read, yet the Fathers always made a wide distinction between them and the Sacred Scriptures.
3. In all the controversies which arose in the Church, these books were acknowledged by all to be decisive authority, unless by some few of the very worst heretics, who mutilated the Scriptures, and forged others for themselves, under the names of the Apostles. But most of the heretics endeavoured to support their opinions by an appeal to the writings of the New Testament. T'he Valentinians, the Montanists, the Sabelleians, the Artemonists, the Arians, received the Scriptures of the New Testament. The same was the case with the Priscillianists, and the Pelagians. In the Arian controversy, which occupied the church so long and so earnestly, the Scriptures were appealed to by both parties; and no controversy arose respecting the authenticity of the books of the New Testament.
4. The avowed enemies of Christianity, who wrote against the truth, recognized the books which are now in the Canon, as those acknowledged by Christians in their times, for they refer to the matters contained in them, and some of them mention several books by name; so that it appears from the accounts which we have of their writings, that they were acquainted with the volume of the New Testament. Celsus, who lived and wrote less than a hundred years after the Apostles, says, as is testified by Origen, who answered him: “I could say many things concerning the affairs of Jesus, and those, too, different from what is written by the Disciples of Jesus; but I purposely omit them.” That Celsus here refers to the Gospels, there can be no doubt. In another place, he says, “ These things, then, we have alleged to you, out of your own writings.” And that the Gospels, to which he referred, were the same as those which we now possess, is evident from his references to matters contained in them.
PORPHYRY, in the third century, wrote largely and professedly against the Christian religion; and although his work