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THE CANON OF THE OLD TESTAMENT.
LARLY USE AND IMPORT OF THE WORD CANON
The word Canon, literally, signifies a rule; and it is used in this sense several times in the New Testament; as, Gal. vi, 16, “ As many as walk according to this rule;” Phil. ii, 16, “ Let us walk by the same rule."
But in these passages there is no reference to the Scriptures, as a volume.
The word Canon, however, was early used by the Christian Fathers to designate the inspired Scriptures. Irenæus, speaking of the Scriptures, calls them the Canon of Truth. CLEMENT of Alexandria, referring to a quotation of the Gospel according to the Egyptians, says, " But they follow any thing rather than the true evangelical Canon.”
EUSEBIUS says of Origen, “ But in the first book of his Commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew, observing the Ecclesiastical Canon, he declares, that he knew of four Gospels only."
ATHANASIUS, in his Festal Epistle, speaks of three sorts of books—the Canonical; such as were allowed to be read; and such as were Apocryphal. By the first he evidently means such as we now call Canonical.
The Council of Laodicea ordained, “ That none but Canonical books should be read in the church; that is, the books of the Old and New Testaments.”
Rufin, after enumerating the books of the Old and New Testaments, goes on to mention three classes of books.-1. Such as were included in the canon. 2. Ecclesiastical, or such as were allowed to be read. 3. Apocryphal, such as were not permitted to be publicly read.
JEROME often speaks of the Canon of Scripture, and mentions books which might be read, but did not belong to the canon.
The third Council of Carthage ordained, “That nothing besides the Canonical Scriptures be read in the church, under the name of the Divine Scriptures.”
AUGUSTINE often makes mention of the Canonical Scriptures and the whole Canon of Scripture, meaning to designate all the sacred books of the Old and New Testaments. “We read of some,” says he, “ that they searched the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so. What Scriptures, I pray, except the Canonical Scriptures of the Law and the Prophets? To them have been since added, the Gospels, the Epistles of the Apostles, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Revelation of John."
CHRYSOSTOM says, “ They fall into great absurdities who will not follow the Čanon of the Divine Scripture, but trust to their own reasoning.”
ISIDORE of Pelusium observes, “ That these things are so, we shall perceive, if we attend to the Canon of Truth—the Divine Scriptures.
And Leontius of Constantinople, having cited the whole catalogue of the books of Sacred Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, concludes, “ These are the ancient and the new books, which are received in the Church as Canonical.”
From the authorities cited above, it will evidently appear that at an early period the Sacred Scriptures were carefully distinguished from all other writings, and formed a rule which all Christians considered to be authoritative; and that this collection of sacred writings received the name of Canon.
The division of the sacred books which is most ancient and universal is, into the Old Testament, and the New Testament. The Apostle Paul himself lays a foundation for this distinction; for in his second Epistle to the Corinthians, he uses the phrases Old Testament and New Testament, and in one instance designates the scriptures of the law by the former title: “ For until this day,” says he,“ remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament.”
It is our object, in this work, to inquire into the Canon both of the Old and New Testament, and to discuss all the principal questions connected with this subject.
* 2 Cor. iii, 14.
CONSTITUTION OF THE CANON OF THE OLD TESTAMENT BY EZRASTHE CANON
OF THE OLD TESTAMENT AS IT NOW EXISTS, SANCTIONED BY CHRIST AND HIS APOSTLES-CATALOGUES OF THE BOOKS BY SOME OF THE EARLY FATHERS_AGREEMENT OF JEWS AND CHRISTIANS ON THIS SUBJECT.
The five books of Moses were, when finished, carefully deposited by the side of the ark of the Covenant, Deut. xxxi, 24, 25, 26: “ And it came to pass, when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book, until they were finished, that Moses commanded the Levites which bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying, take this book of the Law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee.”
No doubt copies of the sacred volume were made out before it was deposited in the most holy place; for as it was there inaccessible to any but the priests, the people generally must have remained ignorant, had there been no copies of the Law. But we know that copies were written; for it was one of the laws respecting the duty of a king, when such an officer should be appointed, that he should write out a copy of the law with his own hand. Deut. xvii, 18, 20: “ And it shall be when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests, the Levites; and it shall be with him, and he shall read therein, all the days of his life; that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law, and these statutes, to do them; that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand or to the left; to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel.” It is related by Josephus, that by the direction of Moses a copy of the law was prepared for each of the tribes of Israel.
It seems that the book of Joshua was annexed to the volume of the Pentateuch; for we read, that “ Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God.”* And the matters contained in this book were of public concern to the nation as well as those recorded in the law. For, as in the latter were written statutes and ordinances, to direct them in all matters sacred and civil, so in the former was recorded the division of the land among the tribes. The possession of each tribe was here accurately defined, so that this book served as a national deed of conveyance.
* See Josh. i, 8; xxiv, 26.
When other books were added to the Canon, no doubt the inspired men who were moved by the Holy Spirit to write them, would be careful to deposit copies in the sanctuary, and to have other copies put into circulation. But on this subject we have no precise information. We know not with what degree of care the sacred books were guarded, or to what extent copies were multiplied.
A single fact shows that the sacred autograph of Moses had well nigh perished in the idolatrous reigns of Manasseh and Amon, but was found, during the reign of the pious Josiah, among the rubbish of the temple. It cannot, however, be reasonably supposed that there were no other copies of the law scattered through the nation. It does indeed seem, that the young king had never seen the book, and was ignorant of its contents until it was now read to him; but while the copy in the temple had been misplaced, and buried among the ruins, many pious men might have possessed private copies.
And although, at the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar, this precious volume was in all probability destroyed with the ark and all the holy apparatus of the sanctuary, yet, we are not to credit the Jewish tradition, too readily received by the Christian Fathers, that on this occasion all the copies of the Scriptures were lost, and that Ezra restored the whole by a miracle. This is a mere Jewish fable, depending on no higher authority than a passage in the fourth book of Esdras, and is utterly inconsistent with facts recorded in the sacred volume. We know that Daniel had a copy of the Scriptures, for he quotes them, and makes express mention of the Prophecies of Jeremiah. And Ezra is called “a ready scribe in the Law;" and it is said, in the sixth chapter of Ezra, that when the temple was finished, the functions of the priests and Levites were regulated, " as it is written in the book of Moses.” And this was many years before Ezra came to Jerusalem. And in the eighth chapter of Nehemiah, it is said that Ezra, at the request of the people,
brought the law before the congregation, and he read therein from the morning until mid-day. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people. It is evident, therefore, that all the copies of the Scriptures were not lost during the captivity. This story, no doubt, originated from two facts : the first, that the autographs in the temple had been destroyed with that sacred edifice; and the second, that Ezra took great pains to have correct copies of the Scriptures prepared and circulated.
It seems to be agreed by all, that the forming of the present Canon of the Old Testament should be attributed to Ezra. To assist him in this work, the Jewish writers inform us that there existed in his time a great synagogue, consisting of one hundred and twenty men, including Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshech, and Åbednego, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, and also Simon the Just. But it is very absurd to suppose that all these lived at one time, and formed one synagogue, as they are pleased to represent it; for, from the time of Daniel to that of Simon the Just, no less than two hundred and fifty years must have intervened.
It is, however, noway improbable that Ezra was assisted in this great work by many learned and pious men, who were contemporary with him; and, as prophets had always been the superintendents as well as writers of the sacred volume, it is likely that the inspired men who lived at the same time as Ezra, would give attention to this work. But in regard to this great synagogue, the only thing probable is, that the men who are said to belong to it did not live in one age, cessively, until the time of Simon the Just, who was made high priest about twenty-five years after the death of Alexander the Great. This opinion has its probability increased by the consideration, that the Canon of the Old Testament appears not to have been fully completed until about the time of Simon the Just. Malachi seems to have lived after the time of Ezra, and therefore his prophecy could not have been added to the Canon by this eminent scribe, unless we adopt the opinion of the Jews, who will have Malachi to be no other than Ezra himself; maintaining, that while Ezra was his proper name, he received that of Malachi from the circumstance of his having been sent to superintend the religious concerns of the Jews; for the import of that name is, a messenger, or one sent.
But this is not all. In the book of Nehemiah,* mention is made of the high priest Jaddua, and of Darius Codomannus, king of Persia, both of whom lived at least a hundred years after the time of Ezra. In the third chapter of the first book
* Neh. xii, 22.