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was made in collecting the passages in the writings of the Fathers, in which any reference is made to the Apocryphal books, by the learned Jeremiah Jones, in his New Method of settling the Canon of the New Testament, but the work was left incomplete. This author, however, positively denies that it is common for the Fathers to cite these books as Scripture, and asserts, that there are only a very few instances, in which any of them seem to have fallen into this mistake.
A third proof of the genuineness of the Canon of the New Testament, may be derived from the fact, that these books were publicly read as Scripture, in all the Christian churches.
As the Jews were accustomed to read the Sacred Scriptures of the Old Testament in their synagogues, so the early Christians transferred the same practice to the church; and it seems to have been in use even in the Apostles' days, as appears by Col. iv, 16, where Paul speaks of reading the Epistles addressed to the churches, as a thing of course, " And when this Epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that ye likewise read the Epistle from Laodicea.”
Justin Martyr explicitly testifies, that this was the custom in the beginning of the second century. “ On the day,” says he," which is called Sunday, there is a meeting of all (Christians) who live either in cities or country places, and the memoirs of the Apostles, and writings of the Prophets, are read.”
TERTULLIAN is equally explicit; for, in giving an account of the meetings of Christians for worship, he says, “ They assemble to read the Scriptures and offer up prayers;” and in another place, among the solemn exercises of the Lord's Day, he reckons, “ Reading the Scriptures, singing Psalms,” &c.t
The same account is given by CYPRIAN,I and by the ancient author under the name of DIONYSIUS THE AREOPAGITE, and by several other ancient authors. Now this practice of reading the Sacred Scriptures in the Christian churches began so early, that it is scarcely possible that they could have been imposed on by suppositious writings. A more effectual method of guarding against Apocryphal writings obtaining a place in the Canon, could not have been devised. It afforded all the members of the church an opportunity of knowing what books were acknowledged as Canonical, and precluded all opportunity of foisting in spurious works; since, if this had beer Apol. ii, p. 93.
+ Tertull. De Anima. I Cyp. Epist. 36, 39.
& Hierarch, Eco. c. 3.
done in some one church, the practice of all other churches would quickly have exposed the imposture. Accordingly, the Fathers often referred to this custom, as the guide to the peo ple, respecting the books which they should read: “ Avoid Apocryphal books,” says Cyril, to his catechumen, “ and study carefully those Scriptures only, which are publicly read in the church.” Again, having given a catalogue of the books of Scripture, he adds, “ Let others be rejected, and such as are not read in the churches, neither do you read in private."
It was decreed in the Council of Laodicea, “That no private Psalms should be read in the churches, nor any books without the Canon; but only the Canonical writings of the Old and New Testament.” The same thing was determined in the Council of Carthage. But notwithstanding these decrees, and the opinions of learned Fathers, there were some pieces read in some of the churches which were not Canonical. Thus, DIONYSIUS, bishop of Corinth, in the second century, in a letter to the church of Rome, tells them, “That they read in their assemblies on the Lord's day, Clement's Epistle." And Eusebius declares, “That in his, and the preceding times, it was almost universally received, and read in most churches.” He says also, “That the Shepherd of Hermas was read in many churches,” which is confirmed by Athanasius and Rufin. Whilst these books, which are not now in the Canon, were publicly read in many churches, the book of Revelation was not, according to Cyril, read in the churches; nor commanded to be read by the council of Laodicea. It would seem, therefore, at first view, that the application of this rule would exclude the book of Revelation from the Canon, and take in the Epistle of Clement, and the Shepherd of Hermas. But the rule does not apply to every thing which was read in the churches, but to such books as were read as Sacred Scripture. It has appeared in a former part of this work, that several books, not in the Canon of the Old Testament, were nevertheless read in the churches; but the Fathers carefully distinguished between these and the Canonical books. They were read for instruction and for the improvement of manners, but not as authority in matters of faith. They distinguished the books read in the churches into Canonical and Ecclesiastical; of the latter kind, were the books mentioned above, and some others. The reason why the book of Revelation was not directed to be read publicly, shall be assigned, when we come to treat particularly of the Canonical authority of that book.
A fourth argument to prove that our Canon of the New
Testament is substantially correct, may be derived from the early versions of this sacred book into other languages.
Although the Greek language was extensively known through the Roman empire, when the Apostles wrote; yet the Christian church was in a short time extended into regions, where the common people, at least, were not acquainted with it, nor with any language except their own vernacular tongue. While the gift of tongues continued, the difficulty of making known the Gospel to such people would, in some measure, be obviated; but when these miraculous powers ceased, the necessity of a version of the Gospels and Epistles into the language of the people, would become manifest. As far, therefore, as we may be permitted to reason from the nature of the case, and the necessities of the churches, it is exceedingly probable, that versions of the New Testament were made shortly after the death of the Apostles, if they were not begun before. Can we suppose that the numerous Christians in Syria, Mesopotamia, and the various parts of Italy, would be long left without having these precious books translated into a language which all the people could understand? But we are not left to our own reasonings on this subject. We know that, at a very early period, there existed Latin versions of the New Testament, which had been so long in use before the time of Jerome, as to have become considerably corrupt, on which account he undertook a New Version, which soon superseded those that were more ancient. Now, although nothing remains of these ancient Latin Versions, but uncertain fragments, yet we have good evidence that they contained the same books as were inserted in Jerome's Version, now denominated, the Vulgate.
But, perhaps, the Old Syriac Version of the New Testament, called Peshito, furnishes the strongest proof of the Canonical authority of all the books which are contained in it. This excellent version has a very high claim to antiquity; and, in the opinion of some of the best Syriac scholars, who have profoundly examined this subject, was made before the close of the first century.
The arguments for so early an origin are not, indeed, conclusive, but they possess much probability, whether we consider the external, or internal evidence. The Syrian Christians have always insisted that this version was made by the apostle THADDEUS; but without admitting this claim, which would put it on a level with the Greek original, we may believe that it ought not to be brought down lower than the second century. It is universally received by all the numerous sects of Syrian
Christians, and must be anterior to the existence of the oldest of them. Manes, who lived in the second century, probably had read the New Testament in the Syriac, which was his native tongue; and JUSTIN MARTYR, when he testifies that the Scriptures of the New Testament were read in the Assemblies of Christians, on every Sunday, probably refers to Syrian Christians, as Syria was his native place; where, also, he had his usual residence. And Michaelis is of opinion, that MELITO, who wrote about A.D. 170, has expressly declared, that a Syrian Version of the Bible existed in his time.* also testifies, explicitly, that when he wrote, the Syriac Bible was publicly read in the churches; “for," says he, “Ephrem the Syrian is held in such veneration, that his writings are read in several churches, immediately after the Lessons from the Bible." It is also well known, that the Armenian Ve on, which itself is ancient, was made from the Syriac.t
Now, this ancient Version contains the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles of Paul, including that to the Hebrews, the First Epistle of John, the First Epistle of Peter, and the Epistle of James. Thus far, then, the evidence of the present Canon is complete; and as to those books omitted in this Version, except Revelation, they are few and small, and probably were unknown to the translator, or the evidence of their genuineness was not ascertained by him. And as it relates to Revelation, the same reasons which excluded it from so many ancient catalogues, probably operated here. judged to be too mysterious to be read in the churches, and by common Christians, and, therefore, was not put into the volume which was read publicly in the churches.
The arguments for a Latin origin of this Version possess, in my judgment, very little force.f
On the general evidence of the genuineness of our Canon, I would subjoin the following remarks :
1. The agreement among those who have given catalogues of the books of the New Testament, from the earliest times, is almost complete. Of thirteen catalogues to which we have referred, seven contain exactly the same books as are now in the Canon. Three of the others differ in nothing, but the omission of the book of Revelation, for which they had a particular reason, consistent with their belief of its Canonical authority; and in two of the remaining catalogues, it can be proved that
• See Note A at the end of Part II. † Note B.
# On this whole subject, consult Jones on the Canon, Michaelis's Introduction, Mill's Prolegomena.
the books omitted, or represented as doubtful, were received as authentic by the persons who have given the catalogues. It may be asserted, therefore, that the consent of the ancient church, as to what books belonged to the Canon of the New Testament, was complete. The Sacred Volume was as accurately formed, and as clearly distinguished from other books, in the third, fourth, and fifth centuries, as it has ever been since.
2. Let it be considered, moreover, that the earliest of these catalogues was given by ORIGEN, who lived within a hundred years of the death of the Apostle John, and who, by his reading, travels, and long residence in Palestine, had a full knowledge of all the transactions and writings of the church, until his own time. In connexion with this, let it be remembered, that these catalogues were drawn up by the most learned, pious, and distinguished men in the church, or by Councils; and that the persons furnishing them, resided in different and remote parts of the world; as, for example, in Jerusalem, Cesaræa, Carthage, and Hippo in Africa, Constantinople, Cyprus, Alexandria in Egypt, Italy, and Asia Minor. Thus, it appears that the Canon was early agreed upon, and that it was every where the same; therefore, we find the Fathers, in all their writings, appealing to the same Scriptures; and none are charged with rejecting any Canonical book, except heretics.
3. It appears from the testimony adduced, that it was never considered necessary, that any council
, or bishop, should give sanction to these books, in any other way than as witnesses, testifying to the churches, that these were indeed the genuine writings of the Apostles. These books, therefore, were never considered as deriving their authority from the church, or from councils, but were of complete authority as soon as published, and were delivered to the churches to be a guide and standard in all things relating to faith and practice. The Fathers would have considered it impious, for any bishop, or council, to pretend to add any thing to the authority of inspired books; or to claim the right to add other books to those handed down from the Apostles. The church is founded on the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief corner-stone; but the Sacred Scriptures are noways dependent for their authority on any set of men who lived since they were written.
4. We may remark, in the last place, the benignant providence of God towards his church, in causing these precious books to be written, and in watching over their preservation, in the midst of dangers and persecutions; so that, notwithstanding the malignant designs of the enemies of the church,