Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles – Article VI (Part 2)

Section II. — On the Canon of Scripture.[1]

AS Scripture is determined by our Church to be the final appeal and only infallible authority concerning matters of faith and practice, it becomes next a subject of the deepest importance to determine, what is Scripture, and what is not. And, as this subject is so important, we naturally look for an authority of the highest kind to settle and determine it. We value, indeed, the decisions of antiquity, we respect the judgment of the primitive Church. But on the question, What is the Word of God? we would, if possible, have an authority as infallible as the word of God; and, if we can have such authority, we can be satisfied with nothing less.

Now such an authority we believe that we possess; and that we possess it in this way: Christ Himself gave His own Divine sanction to the Jewish Canon of the old Testament; and He gave His own authority to His Apostles to write the new. If this statement be once admitted, we have only to investigate historically, what was the Jewish Canon, and what were the books written by the Apostles. We need search no farther; we shall greatly confirm our faith by the witness of fathers and councils; but, if Christ has spoken, we need no other, as we can have no higher warrant.

I. Now, first, we have to consider the question of the old Testament; and our inquiry is, Has our Lord Himself stamped with His authority certain books, and left others unauthorized? The answer is, He has. We must not, indeed, argue from the fact of His quoting a certain number of books and leaving a certain number unquoted; for there are six books which can be proved to be Canonical, which the writers of the new Testament never quote; namely, Judges, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Ecclesiastes, Solomon’s Song. The fact that these books are not quoted will not destroy their authority; for we have no reason to say that our Lord or His Apostles quoted systematically from all the Canonical books, in order to establish their canonicity. But the way in which our Lord has given His own sanction to a certain definite number of books, is this: in speaking to the Jews, both He and His Apostles constantly address them as having the Scriptures, — Scriptures of Divine authority, and able to make them wise unto salvation. They never hint that the Jewish Canon is imperfect or excessive; and hence they plainly show that the Scriptures which the Jews possessed and acknowledged, were the truly Canonical Scriptures of the old Testament. Our Lord bids them. “Search the Scriptures,” and adds, “they are they which testify of Me” (John v. 39). St. Paul says, that the greatest privilege of the Jews was that “unto them were committed the Oracles of God” (Rom. iii. 2); and tells Timothy, that “from a child he had known the Scriptures, which were able to make him wise unto salvation” (2 Tim. iii. 16). Accordingly, our Lord constantly appeals to those Scriptures as well-known and universally received books among the Jews, to whom He spoke, quoting them as, “It is written,” or asking concerning them, “How readest thou?” Though the Jews are charged with many errors, with corrupting the truth by tradition, and adding to it the commandments of men; yet nowhere are they charged with corrupting Scripture, with having rejected some, or added other books to the Canon. But it is ever plainly implied that the Canon which they then possessed, was the true Canon of the old Testament. Thus, then, by quoting, referring to, or arguing from the old Testament, as it was then received by the Jews, our Lord stamps with His own supreme authority the Jewish Canon of the old Testament Scriptures. We have only further to determine from history what the Jewish Canon, at the time of our Saviour’s teaching, was, and we have all that we can need. If history will satisfy us of this, we have no more to ask.

Now the only difficulty lies here. There appear to be two different books claiming to be the Jewish Scriptures; namely, the Hebrew Bible, now in the hands both of Jews and Christians, and the Septuagint. The latter contains all the books contained in the former, with the addition of the books commonly called the Apocrypha.

Let us first observe, that the modern Jews universally acknowledge no other Canon but the Hebrew; which corresponds accurately with the Canon of the English Church. Those who know the fidelity with which for centuries the Jews have guarded their text, will consider this alone to be a strong argument that the Hebrew Canon is the same as that cited by our Lord. Every verse, every word, every letter, of Scripture is numbered by them. Every large and every small letter, every letter irregularly written, above the line or below the line, is taken notice of and scrupulously preserved.

But we can go back to more ancient times, and show that the Canon of the Jews has always been the same. The Babylonian Talmud recounts the same books that we have now; namely, in the Law, the five books of Moses; among the Prophets, Joshua and Judges, Samuel and Kings, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Isaiah and the twelve minor prophets; in the Chethubim, Ruth, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, Lamentations, Daniel, Esther, Chronicles. This was the Canon of the Jewish Church about A. D. 550.[2]

But one hundred and fifty years earlier than this, Jerome undertook the task of translating the Hebrew Scriptures into Latin. Theretofore all the Latin translations had been from the Septuagint, and therefore contained all the Apocryphal books. Jerome, the first of the Latin fathers who could read Hebrew, when undertaking this important labour, was naturally led to examine into the Canon of the Hebrew Scriptures. He informs us, that the Jews had two-and-twenty books in their Bible, corresponding with the two-and-twenty Hebrew letters. This number they made by classing two books together as one; thus, the two books of Samuel were one, the two books of Kings, Ezra and Nehemiah, Jeremiah and Lamentations, Judges and Ruth, respectively, were considered as one each. The books were divided into three classes, the Law, the Prophets, and the Hagiographa. The first contained the five books of Moses; the second contained Joshua, Judges and Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Lamentations, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets; the third contained Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, Job, Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah, Esther, Chronicles. The Law, therefore, contained five books, the Prophets eight, the Hagiographa nine.[3]

To go still farther back, Origen, who was born A. D. 184 and who died A. D. 255, and who, like Jerome, was learned in Hebrew and gave great attention to the Hebrew text, (as is well known from his famous work, the Hexapla) enumerates the same books that Jerome does, except that he adds after all the rest, that there was the book Maccabees apart or distinct from the others.[4]

Still earlier, Melito, bishop of Sardis, made a journey into the East, for the sake of inquiring what were the books held canonical there, and, in a letter to Onesimus, gives a catalogue of these books, precisely corresponding with the present Canon of the Hebrew Scriptures, except that he classes Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, under the common name of Esdras.[5] This father lived about the year 160.

We next come to Josephus. He flourished at the time of the siege of Jerusalem, and was therefore contemporary with the Apostles. In the first place, we find in his writings the same threefold division which occurs in Jerome, and has ever since been common with the Jews; namely, the Law, the Prophets, and other books, which he characterizes as “Hymns and Instructions for Men’s Lives.” A similar division exists in Philo.[6] But Josephus, moreover, divides the Scriptures, as Jerome testifies that the Jews did in his time, into twenty-two books.[7] The only difference between the divisions of Josephus and Jerome is, that, whereas Jerome says there were eight in the Prophets and nine in the Hagiographa, Josephus assigns thirteen to the Prophets, and four to the Hagiographa. We know, however, that the Jews have gradually been augmenting the number of the books in the Hagiographa and diminishing the number in the Prophets, so that there is no great wonder, if between the first and the fourth century there was such a change in their mode of reckoning, that in the first they reckoned thirteen, in the fourth but eight among prophetical books.

Thus then, since we find that Josephus gives the same threefold division which we find afterwards given by Jerome, and also that he gives the same total number of books, namely, twenty-two, though somewhat differently distributed, we might at once naturally conclude that the Jewish Canon in the time of Josephus was the same with the Jewish Canon in the time of Jerome. That is to say, we might conclude that it embraced the books now in the Hebrew Bibles and in the Canon of the English Church, and that it excluded the Apocryphal books, which the English Church excludes. But, if we could doubt that this was the case, his own words might set us at rest, for he tells us that the books belonging to the second class (i. e. to the Prophets) were written previously to the reign (or to the death) of Artaxerxes Longimanus, and that, though books were written after that time, “they were not esteemed worthy of the same credit with those before them, because there was no longer the exact succession of the Prophets.”[8] It was during the reign of Artaxerxes Longimanus that the book of Esther was written, Artaxerxes being, according to Josephus, the Ahasuerus of that book.[9] This would therefore be the last book of his Canon. All the Apocryphal books must have been written long after that reign, and therefore cannot be included in his twenty-two books, compared with which they were not thought worthy of equal credit. It is plain, therefore, that the Canon of Josephus must be the same with that of Jerome.

Now, in the short time which elapsed between our Saviour’s earthly ministry and Josephus, no alteration can have taken place in the Canon. Josephus himself tells us, that a copy of the Hebrew Scriptures was preserved in the Temple.[10] And therefore, until the destruction of the Temple, when Josephus was thirty-three years old, that Temple copy existed, and was a protection against all change. He would have had easy access to that Temple copy, and hence is a fully competent witness to its contents. Nay, even without the existence of that copy, which was an invaluable security, we learn from Philo, that in his time the Jews had the same intense veneration for the words of Scripture which we know them to have had afterwards; so that nothing could induce them “to alter one word, and that they would rather die ten thousand deaths than suffer any alteration in their laws and statutes.”[11]

We now are arrived at the period when the books of the new Testament were written. Philo and Josephus were in fact contemporaries of Christ and His Apostles. We have already seen, that our Lord and the Apostles quote the Scriptures as well known and universally received, and never hint at their corruption. Our Lord indeed divides them (as we see they were divided by Jerome and the Jews ever since) into three distinct classes, which our Lord calls the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms,[12] in which “the Psalms” is put for the whole Hagiographa, either because the Psalms stood first among the books of the Hagiographa, or because the Hagiographa may be said to consist chiefly of hymns and poems, which might well be called Psalms.[13] We have to add to this, that in the new Testament every book of the Jewish Canon is distinctly quoted with the exception of six, and those perhaps the six least likely to have furnished passages for quotation; but not one quotation occurs from any one of those books which form a part of what is now called the Apocrypha.[14]

If we could carry the evidence no farther, we might rest satisfied here, that our Lord gave His sanction to the Hebrew, not to the Septuagint Canon. But we can go one step farther, and it is this: one hundred and thirty years before our Lord’s birth, the Prologue of the Book of Ecclesiasticus was written, which classes the Hebrew Scriptures into the same three classes, “the Law, the Prophets, and the other books of the fathers.” This is a ground for believing that the Jewish Scriptures were the same in number then that they were found to be afterwards. Again, what is not a little important, Targums,[15] some of which are as old as, or older than the Christian era, were made from all the books of the old Testament, but none are to be found of the Apocryphal books. We have Targums of the Law, Targums of the Prophets, Targums of the Chethubim, but no Targums of the Apocrypha.

Our evidence is now pretty nearly complete; we may recapitulate it thus.

We have the threefold division of the Scriptures mentioned — in the Prologue to Ecclesiasticus, by Philo, by our blessed Lord, by Josephus; and the same we find in the time of Jerome, and among all the Jews from that time to this.

We know, that the number of books contained in these three classes was, in the time of Josephus, twenty-two. The same number we find recounted by Origen and Jerome, as belonging to the Jewish Canon, and Origen and Jerome give us their names, which are the names of the books in the present Jewish Canon.

The Canon in the time of Josephus, who was born A. D. 37, must have been the same as that in the time of Christ: as its security was guaranteed by the existence of the Temple copy, to say nothing of the scrupulous fidelity of the Jews, who, as Philo tells us, would have died ten thousand times rather than alter one word.

The Targums, which are paraphrases of the books in the present Hebrew Canon, confirm the same inference; and some of them are as old as the time of our Lord.

Now we know exactly how the threefold division embraced the books of the Hebrew Canon. We know how, in Origen’s time and in Jerome’s time, the twenty-two books (which was also the number in Josephus’s time) embraced the books of the Hebrew Canon. We know, too, that Melito, less than one hundred years after Josephus, gave, as the books received in the East, a catalogue corresponding exactly with the same Hebrew Canon. But no imaginable ingenuity can ever make the books of the Apocrypha fit into any of these divisions, or agree with any of these lists.

When we add to this, that our Lord and His Apostles, when they gave the sanction of Divine authority to the Jewish Scriptures, quote perpetually nearly all the books of the Hebrew Canon, and quote none besides, no link in the chain seems wanting to prove, that the Jewish Canon is that to which Christ appealed, and which He has commended to us, as the Word of God.

The history of the Septuagint explains the only difficulty in the question. It is briefly as follows: —

In the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus this version was made at Alexandria. It is impossible, that it could have then contained the books of the Apocrypha, inasmuch as these books were not written till after the date when the Septuagint version was made; none of them probably having been in existence till about two centuries before the Christian era. At what exact time the Apocryphal books were written respectively, it is not easy to determine. None of them could have been written in Hebrew, which had then become a dead language; though some may have been composed in Chaldee or Syriac, languages which in the new Testament and in other writings are frequently called Hebrew.[16] However, when these Apocryphal books were written, if in Greek, the originals, if in Chaldee, the Greek translations, were, in all probability, inserted into the Septuagint, along with the still more sacred books of Scripture, by the Alexandrian Jews, who, in their state of dispersion, were naturally zealous about all that concerned their religion and the history of their race. The places which they assigned to the various books, were dependent either on the subject or on the supposed author. Thus the Song of the three Children, the Story of Susanna, and the History of Bel and the Dragon, seemed connected with, and were therefore added to, the book of Daniel. The Greek Esdras seemed naturally to be connected with the Greek translation of the book of Ezra. The Book of Wisdom, being called the Wisdom of Solomon, was added to the Song of Solomon; and the book of Ecclesiasticus, called the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach, was placed after the Wisdom of Solomon.

No doubt, the Alexandrian Jews ascribed great importance to the books which they thus inserted in the Septuagint version; but Philo, who was an Alexandrian Jew, and who was a contemporary of our Lord’s, never quotes them for the purpose of establishing any doctrine; and it is certain that none of them ever got into the Hebrew Canon; nor were they ever received by the Jews of Palestine, amongst whom our blessed Saviour taught, and to whose Canon, therefore, He gave the sanction of His Divine authority.

Now the fathers of the Christian Church for the first three centuries were, with the exception of Origen, profoundly ignorant of Hebrew. It was natural, therefore, that they should have adopted the Greek version as their old Testament; and, accordingly, it formed the original of their Latin version. Hence the books of the old Testament current in the Church were, in Greek the Septuagint, in Latin a translation from the Greek Septuagint; both therefore containing the Apocryphal books. It was not till the time of Jerome, that a translation was made from the Hebrew; and hence, in the eyes of many, the whole collection of books contained in the Septuagint and the old Latin translation was naturally viewed with the respect due to Scripture. Many indeed of the fathers, as we shall soon see, knew the difference between the books of the Hebrew Canon and those of the Apocrypha, and knew that the former were Divine, the latter of inferior authority. But still many quoted almost indiscriminately from both; and especially St. Augustine is appealed to, as having given a Catalogue of the old Testament Scriptures, which contained the books of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, and the two books of Maccabees.[17] In the Latin Church the name of Augustine stood deservedly high. Though Jerome’s labours showed the fallacy of Augustine’s opinion, though the Greek fathers never received the Apocryphal books so carelessly as the Latin fathers had done, and though even Augustine himself was aware of the difference between them and the books of the Hebrew Canon; yet the Apocryphal books still kept their place in the Latin Vulgate, and were ultimately adopted by the Council of Trent, as part of the Canon of Scripture. Yet as we can thus easily trace the origin of the mistake, and thereby see that it was a mistake, we need not be led away with it.

This, necessarily very brief, sketch of the grounds on which we believe the present Hebrew Canon to be that to which our Lord gave His sanction, may be sufficient to show on what we rest our belief concerning the sacred books of the old Testament. From such historical evidence we know, that the Scriptures which the Lord Jesus appealed to, authorized, and confirmed, were the books contained in our Hebrew Bibles.[18] We ask no more, and we can receive no more. On such a matter the appeal to such an authority must be final. Fathers and Councils, nay, “the holy Church throughout all the world,” would be as nothing, if their voice could be against their Lord’s.

We are not, however, in this or in any other question, insensible to the value of the opinions of the fathers, still less of the consent of the early Church. And though we can plainly see what, in this case, may have led some of the fathers into error, we rejoice in being able to show, that, in the main, their testimony is decisive for what we have already, on other grounds, shown to be the truth.

Now in the second century, A. D. 147, Justin Martyr, himself a native of Palestine, in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, though he reproves him for many other things, never reproaches him for rejecting any of the Canonical Scriptures.[19] Melito, A. D. 160, we have already seen, went to Palestine to be satisfied concerning the Canon of the old Testament, and reports that it contained, according to the Christians of that country, the books of our Hebrew Bible.[20] Origen, A. D. 220, the most learned of the early fathers, the famous compiler of the Hexapla, himself a native of and resident at Alexandria, where the Septuagint version was made and received, gives us the same account as Melito.[21]

Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, A. D. 340, gives a perfect catalogue of the books of Scripture, enumerating the books of the old Testament just as the English Church receives them now, and mentioning as not canonical[22] the Wisdom of Solomon, the Wisdom of Sirach, Esther (i. e. the Apocryphal book of Esther), Judith, and Tobit.[23]

Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers, in France, A. D. 350, numbers the books of the old Testament as twenty-two, and gives the names of the very books of the Hebrew Bible used in the English Church, saying that some persons had added to this number Tobit and Judith, to make up twenty-four, the number of the Greek letters, instead of twenty-two, the number of the Hebrew.[24]

Cyril of Jerusalem, A. D. 360, in his Catechetical Lectures, exhorts the catechumens to abstain from the Apocryphal, and to read only the Canonical books of Scripture, giving as the reason, “Why shouldest thou, who knowest not those which are acknowledged by all, take needless trouble about those which are questioned?” He makes the number of the books twenty-two, and gives the same list as Athanasius, i. e. the same as the English Canon, with the addition of Baruch and the Epistle to the book of Jeremiah.[25]

The Council of Laodicea, held about A. D. 364, in its fifty-ninth Canon, gives exactly the same list as Athanasius and Cyril. The Canons of this Council were approved by name in the Council of Constantinople in Trullo.[26]

Epiphanius, Bishop of Constance, in Cyprus, A. D. 375, three times numbers the books of the old Testament as we do, and mentions the books of Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus as “doubtful writings,” and not counted as among the sacred books “because they were never laid up in the Ark of the covenant.”[27]

Gregory Nazianzen, A. D. 376, gives a catalogue, which is the same as the Canon of the English Church, except that he does not mention Esther, which he probably includes in Ezra.[28]

Rufinus, presbyter of Aquileia, A. D. 398, numbers the books of the old Testament as the English Church does at present.[29]

Jerome, the contemporary and friend of Rufinus, gives us, as we have seen, the same catalogue as the Church of England now receives, and enumerates Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Judith, Tobit, and the Maccabees, as Apocryphal books.[30]

We have now arrived at the close of the fourth century, and have found that the whole chain of evidence up to that period is in favour, and most decidedly in favour, of the Canon of the English Church. It will be no argument against such testimony, that many of the fathers quote the Apocryphal books, or even quote them as of authority. We have already seen what circumstances led the early Christians, and especially those of the Latin Church, into a somewhat excessive respect for the Apocryphal writings contained in the Septuagint and the ancient Latin Versions.

At the end of the fourth century, and contemporary with Jerome, lived Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. In his book De Doctrina Christiana,[31] he enumerates the books of the “whole Canon of Scripture.” He reckons in this Canon the books of Tobit, Judith, two books of Maccabees, Wisdom, and Ecclesiasticus. The authority of Augustine is very great. Yet is it not for a moment to be weighed against the testimony of the four preceding centuries, even if his testimony was undoubted and uniform. Yet this is by no means the case. In the very passage above referred to, he speaks of a diversity of opinion concerning the sacred books, and advises, that those should be preferred which were received by all the Churches; that, of those not always received, those which the greater number and more important Churches received should be preferred before those which were sanctioned by fewer and less authoritative Churches.[32] But moreover, passages from his other writings tell strongly against the canonicity of the books commonly called the Apocrypha. Thus he speaks of the Jews being without prophets from the captivity, and after the death of Malachi, Haggai, Zechariah, and Ezra, until Christ.[33] He tells us, that “the Jews did not receive the book of Maccabees as they did the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, to which the Lord gives testimony, as to His own witnesses.”[34] He tells us, that the book of Judith was never in the Canon of the Jews.[35] He distinguishes between the books which are certainly Solomon’s, and the books of Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus, to which custom has given the sanction of his name, but which learned men agreed were not his.[36] And many other proofs have been brought from his works, to show that he was at least doubtful concerning the authority of these books, notwithstanding his catalogue, which included them.[37]

We now come to the Council of Carthage at which it is said that Augustine was present. The date of this Council is disputed. It is usually considered as the third Council of Carthage, held A. D. 397. It enumerates the books of Scripture as we have them now, together with Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Tobit, Judith, and the two books of Maccabees.[38] If Augustine was present, it is probable that we ought to interpret the decree of the Council with the same restrictions with which we plainly ought to interpret the words of St. Augustine, who, if he be not altogether inconsistent with himself, must assign a lower degree of authority to the doubtful books than to those which all received. But if it be not so, we must still remember that the Council of Carthage was a provincial, not a general Synod; that it was liable to err; and that in matter of history, if not in matter of doctrine, it actually did err; for by numbering five books of Solomon, it assigned to his authorship Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus, which could not have been written for centuries after his death. We cannot therefore bow to the authority of the Council of Carthage, even if that of St. Augustine be joined to it, against the testimony of all preceding ages, and, above all, against what has been shown to be the witness of our Lord Himself.

The Council of Trent, however, in its fourth session, stamped with its authority all the books which had been enumerated by the Council of Carthage, with the addition of the book of Baruch; and added an anathema against every one who should not receive the whole Canon so put forth, and all the traditions of the Church besides.[39] Thus did the Churches of the Roman communion set themselves against the Churches of God in the times of old, and against all the rest of Christendom in this present time. They, by implication, condemned those ancient fathers, who, as we have seen, almost with one voice preferred the Jewish Scriptures to the Apocryphal writings of the Septuagint. They anathematized, not only the Anglican, and all other reformed Churches, but as well the ancient Churches of the East, who with us reject the Apocrypha, and adhere to the Scriptures which were sanctioned by the Lord.[40] We might speak more strongly of the danger of “cursing whom God hath not cursed;” but we may rest satisfied with the assurance that “the curse causeless shall not come.”[41]

II. The Canon of the new Testament rests on the same authority as the Canon of the old.

As regards the number of books which are to be admitted as Canonical in the New Testament, there is no difference between the Anglican and any other branch of the Church of Christ. Yet on the mode of settling the Canon there is some difference. The Roman Church holds, that we receive the Scriptures, both of the old and new Testament, simply on the authority of the Church. It is said, that the Canon was not fixed till the end of the fourth century; and it is inferred, that the Church then, by its plenary authority, determined which books were Scripture, and which were not. Thus virtually the Church has been made to hold a position superior to the Scriptures, as not only “a witness and keeper,” but also a judge “of Holy Writ.” And though, in the first instance, such authority is conceded to the Church of the fourth century; yet, by implication and consequence, the same authority is claimed for the Church of this day; that is, not for the Church Universal, but for that portion of it which has claimed, as its exclusive title, the name of Catholic, i. e. the Church of Rome.

On the other hand, some Protestants have been satisfied to rest the authority of the books of the new Testament on internal evidence, especially on the witness which the Spirit bears with our own spirits that they are the Word of God. The framers of the Belgic Confession, for instance, distinctly assert, that they receive the Scriptures “not so much because the Church receives and sanctions them as Canonical, as because the Spirit witnesses with our consciences that they proceeded from God; and especially because they, of themselves, attest their own authority and sanctity.”[42]

Now the Church of England rejects altogether neither the authority of the Church, nor the internal testimony of the Scriptures. Yet she is not satisfied to rest her faith solely on the authoritative decree of any council in the fourth or fifth, still less in any later century; neither can she consent to forego all external testimony, and trust to an internal witness alone, knowing that, as Satan can transform himself into an angel of light, so it is possible, that what seems the guidance of God’s Spirit may, if not proved, be really the suggestion of evil spirits. Hence we think that there is need of the external word, and of the Church, to teach; lest what seems a light within be but darkness counterfeiting light: and we know, that the fertile source of almost every fanatical error, recorded in history, has been a reliance on inward illumination, to the neglect of outward testimony.[43]

The principle, then, which we assert, is this, that Christ gave authority to His Apostles to teach and to write, that He promised them infallible guidance, and that therefore all Apostolical writings are divinely inspired. We have only to inquire what writings were Apostolical; and for this purpose we have recourse to testimony, or, if the word be preferred, to tradition. The testimony or tradition of the primitive Church is the ground on which the fathers themselves received the books of the new Testament as Apostolical; and, on the same ground, we receive them. We gladly add to this every weight which can be derived from internal evidence, or from the authority of early councils; for we know, that no argument should be neglected, which may fairly confirm our faith. But the first ground on which we receive the new Testament is, that it can be proved to have come from the pens or the dictation of the Apostles of Christ, and that to those Apostles Christ promised infallibility in matters of faith.

1. The promise of inspiration and infallibility appears in such passages as the following: —

“The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My Name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” John xiv. 25, 26.

“When He, the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all truth, and He will show you things to come.” John xvi. 13.

“It is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.” Mark xiii. 11.

And what Christ promised, His Apostles claimed. They speak of having the deep things of God revealed to them by His Spirit, 1 Cor. ii. 10. They declare their own Gospel to be the truth, and anathematize all who preach any other Gospel, Gal. i. 8. They speak of “the mystery of Christ, which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men,” as being now revealed to the “Apostles and prophets by the Spirit,” Ephes. iii. 4, 5; and treat the Gospel as a faith “once delivered to the saints,” Jude 3.

If therefore we believe the new Testament at all, we believe that Jesus Christ gave a promise of inspiration to the Apostles; and that the Apostles claimed the promise, professed to have received the inspiration, and accordingly assumed to be the only infallible depositaries of the doctrines of the Gospel.

2. We have therefore, in the next place, simply to determine the genuineness of the writings which profess to be Apostolical, and our labour will be finished. If we know that any book was written by an Apostle, we know that, as regards doctrine and faith, it is inspired and infallible, and therefore we receive it into the Canon of Scripture. The primitive Church acted on this principle; and we act upon the same.

More or less, all ancient writings must be subjected to a test like this. If we wish to know whether certain books were written by Cicero, or Cæsar, or Tacitus, we examine the evidence, and decide according to it. The simple fact that they have ever been received as theirs, is a strong presumption that they proceeded from them. But still we mostly require farther proof.

Now, it is infinitely more important to be assured that a book was written by St. John or St. Paul, than to know that one was written by Cæsar or Cicero. And accordingly God, in His Providence, has afforded us far more abundant evidence concerning the genuineness of the different books of the new Testament, than can be found concerning any other writings of antiquity. That evidence is principally dependent on testimony, but is not resolvable into mere authority. It is the witness of the Church, not merely its sanction, to which we appeal.

Now the position of the Church in its earliest ages was such, that its witness on this subject is singularly unexceptionable. During the very lifetimes of the Apostles, it had spread through the civilized world. Europe, Asia, Africa, had all heard the voice of the Apostles, and all had flourishing Churches long before the death of the last of that sacred body. The books which the Apostles had written were therefore not merely to be found in one or two obscure corners of the world, but they were treasured up, and read and reverenced in Rome and Alexandria, in Antioch and Ephesus, in Corinth and Thessalonica, very probably in Spain and Gaul and Arabia, perhaps even in the remote region of Britain itself. There were therefore witnesses in every corner of the globe. Even where the arms of Rome had not carried conquest, the feet of Apostles had carried good tidings of peace. In many of these Churches, the writers of the sacred books were well known and constant visitors; so that Epistles as from them, or Gospels with their names, could not have been palmed off upon their converts, who could continually have rectified errors of this kind by direct appeal to the living sources of Divine instruction. The writers of the new Testament themselves took care that what they wrote should be widely circulated, and extensively known, when first they wrote it. St. Paul bids the Colossians send his epistle to them to be read as well in the Church of Laodicea (Col. iv. 16). He charges the Thessalonians that they should suffer his epistle to be “read to all the holy brethren” (1 Thess. v. 27). We are informed concerning the Gospels, that they were written, the first by an Apostle, for the use of the Church of Judea;[44] the second, by St. Mark, under the dictation of St. Peter,[45] for the use of those Christians amongst whom St. Peter had been preaching, and who wished to have the substance of it preserved in writing;[46] that St. Luke, the companion of St. Paul, wrote his Gospel at St. Paul’s dictation;[47] and that St. John wrote his in his last days at Ephesus, having first seen and approved the other Gospels, writing his own as supplementary to them.[48]

These and similar considerations show that the writings of the new Testament must have had a great degree of publicity, and therefore great protection against forgery and fraud, from their earliest publication. Every separate Church, and every separate city, to which they spread, was a guard against corruption, and a check upon its neighbours. But at the same time, wide as the empire of Christ had spread, it was not then, as now, a collection of disunited communities, but one living, intercommunicating whole. The early records with one voice proclaim that all Christendom was as one man. There was a circulation of life-blood through the whole. A Christian could not go from Rome to Alexandria, or from Alexandria to Ephesus, but he bore a talisman with him, which made him welcomed as a brother. And the degree of intercourse which took place in the very earliest times between far distant Churches, is apparent by the letter of Clement of Rome to the Church of Corinth, by the solicitude of Ignatius for the different cities, to which he wrote on the eve of his martyrdom, by the journey of Polycarp from Smyrna to Rome to discuss the Paschal controversy, by the appointment of Irenæus, a native of Asia, to the chief bishopric in Gaul, and by numerous similar facts.

We have therefore the following securities that the Churches from the first would preserve the writings of the Apostles safe and in their integrity.

(1) The presence of the Apostles with them, and frequent intercourse among them, whilst the sacred books were in writing.

(2) The publicity given to these books from the first.

(3) The wide diffusion of the Church throughout the world, so that copies would be multiplied everywhere, and one part of the Church would be a check against forgeries in another.

(4) The intimate communion of every part of Christendom with the rest, so that every facility was afforded to every portion of the Church, of knowing what were the Apostles’ writings, and of guarding against mistake.

(5) To these we may add, that there were divisions in many Churches even from the Apostles’ days, (see 1 Cor. iii. 3, 4; Gal. ii. 4, &c.) which necessarily created independent witnesses, even in individual Churches, each party being a check on the other.

(6) And lastly, that in God’s Providence the Apostle St. John lived at the great city of Ephesus for thirty years after the works of the other Apostles had been written; and was thus living in the midst of the civilized world, as a final and authoritative court of appeal, if there could be any doubt as to which were Apostolical, and which Apocryphal writings.

Can we doubt then, that the primitive Church was a body so remarkably constituted that its testimony united, on this particular subject, the singularly opposite merits of unanimity and yet of mutual independence; that it enjoyed the most extraordinary powers for knowing the truth, with no interest in corrupting it, and without the power to corrupt it, even if it had the will?

We conclude therefore, that the Scriptures which the primitive Church held as Apostolical, must have been so. And we may add, that, owing to the wide diffusion of the Church throughout the world, it would have been impossible for a forger in after-times to pass off his forgery on the Church; for, if it was received in one place, it would speedily be rejected in another, and convicted of falsehood, on the sure ground of novelty. The primitive Church, therefore, was singularly fitted by Providence to be a witness and keeper of Holy Writ; even a witness and a keeper of it against future as well as present corruptions.

It is impossible to give more than a very brief sketch of the evidence which we derive from the early Church, thus qualified to bear testimony. We may classify it in the following order: —

(1) Manuscripts of the original.

(2) Versions in numerous languages.

(3) Catalogues.

(4) Quotations and references, and commentaries.

(1) We have manuscripts of the new Testament Scriptures in very great numbers, preserved to us in different quarters of the globe. The testimony which these MSS. bear, all tends to the same point; namely, the general integrity of the text of the new Testament, as we have it now. These MSS. indeed are so far different from each other as to be independent witnesses; for, though they agree in preserving the same general text, they differ in verbal minutiæ, and have various readings, like MSS. of all ancient authors; and it is found that these MSS. can be classed into different families; so that each family bears a line of testimony distinct from the others. Thus Griesbach distinguished the Greek MSS. into three distinct texts: the Alexandrine, which he found to correspond with the reading of the famous Codex Alexandrinus and with the quotations of Origen, the great Alexandrian critic; the Byzantine, including those MSS. which in their peculiarities agree with the MSS. which have been brought to us direct from Constantinople; the Western, to which belong the MSS. which have been chiefly found in Europe, and which in their peculiarities resemble the Latin version. Other critics (as Matthäi, Scholz, &c.) have made different arrangements and classifications; but all agree in the observation, that we have distinct streams of MSS. coming down to us from the most remote antiquity, and preserving in the main the same text of the new Testament, though differing in minute particulars, sufficient to constitute them in some degree independent witnesses, and existing in the different quarters of the globe. It is true, the most ancient of these MSS. is probably not older than the fourth century; but it is well known to all scholars, how very ancient a MS. of the fourth century is considered, and how very few MSS. in the world have anything approaching to such antiquity; and it must be borne in mind, that a MS. of the fourth century represents a text of much earlier date, from which it must have been copied; and when we have many independent MSS., and some of them of nearly the same great antiquity, we know that they respectively and independently bear witness to the existence of an older text or texts, to which they owe their original.

Now here is one evidence of the genuineness of our new Testament writings. They are preserved to us in innumerable MSS. in all parts of the world; MSS. whose authority is of the highest possible character. The books which are thus preserved are not the Apocryphal, but the generally received Canonical books of the new Testament.

(2) We have a great number of ancient versions of the new Testament Scriptures, in the various languages which were vernacular in the early ages of the Church. Thus we have versions in Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Sahidic, Arabic, Ethiopic, Armenian, and other languages. The Versions which are supposed to have the greatest claim to antiquity, are the Latin and the Syriac. That there was a very ancient Latin version, there can be no manner of doubt; for the rapid diffusion of the Gospel in Europe and Africa made it a matter of great consequence that the new Testament Scriptures should speedily be translated into the Latin tongue. The ancient Italic may, therefore, very probably have been made in the days of the Apostles. The only difficulty of importance is the many alterations which the Latin Versions subsequently underwent, which make it hard to ascertain what MS. fairly represents the most ancient text. Yet all the Latin Versions of any authority, at present in existence, give their testimony, in the main, to the integrity of the text of the new Testament as we have it now. The Peschito Syriac is by most scholars considered to be the oldest of all the versions; and it has the advantage of being a Version from the Greek into the vernacular tongue of our Lord and His Apostles. It is by many thought to be a work of the first century, and may have been seen by the Apostle St. John. The Syrians themselves held the tradition that it was made by St. Mark. The testimony which it bears concerning the Canon of the new Testament is most satisfactory, so far as it goes. It contains, in literal translation, the four Gospels, the Acts, thirteen Epistles of St. Paul, and the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Epistle of St. James, the first Epistle of St. Peter, and the first of St. John, — that is to say, all our present Canon, except the Apocalypse, the Epistle of St. Jude, the second of St. Peter, and the second and third of St. John. There are many reasons why so ancient a Version should not have contained these last-named books. If it were made so early as has been supposed, some of the excluded books may not have been written. At all events, it is highly probable that they were not all at once collected into one volume, and some shorter and later pieces are especially likely to have been at first omitted.[49]

(3) We have among very early fathers, regular catalogues of the books of the new Testament, as received and read in the Church.

Origen, the most learned of the Greek fathers, who was born A. D. 185, i. e. less than ninety years from the death of St. John, gives a catalogue exactly corresponding with our present Canon.[50]

Eusebius, another most learned and accurate inquirer, born at Cæsarea, in Palestine, A. D. 270, gives a catalogue exactly corresponding with our own, except that he speaks of the Epistles of St. James, St. Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, as generally received, yet doubted of by some; and says of the Apocalypse, that, though some doubted, yet others received it; and he himself received it, and considered it as canonical.[51]

Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, A. D. 326, and who therefore must have been born in the third century, gives a catalogue exactly corresponding with ours.[52]

Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, A. D. 349, gives the same list, with the exception of the Apocalypse.[53]

The Council of Laodicea, A. D. 364, gives the same list as St. Cyril.[54]

Epiphanius, A. D. 370, gives the same list as ours.[55]

Gregory Nazianzen, A. D. 375, who was born about the time of the Council of Nice, gives the same list as ours, omitting the Apocalypse.[56]

Jerome, who was born A. D. 329, was educated at Rome, and was ordained presbyter at Antioch, A. D. 378, gives the same list as ours; except that he observes that most persons in the Latin Church did not consider the Epistle to the Hebrews as St. Paul’s, though he himself held that it was so.[57]

Rufinus, presbyter of Aquileia, contemporary and friend of Jerome, gives the same catalogue as we now possess.[58]

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, A. D. 394, (born A. D. 355,) gives the same catalogue as ours.[59]

The Council of Carthage (A. D. 397?) gives the same catalogue.[60]

(4) But, besides these formal catalogues, we have from the very first ages a series of quotations, references, and allusions to our sacred books, and in some cases regular harmonies and commentaries upon them.

This is a wide subject. It occupies the first five volumes in the octavo edition of Lardner’s most valuable work on The Credibility of the Gospel History. An account of it here must necessarily be brief.

The writings of the Apostolical fathers are few in number, and there are many reasons why they should not quote so frequently and fully from the books of the new Testament, as those who succeeded them. Yet there are, nevertheless, a considerable number of references and quotations from the books which we possess as the new Testament Scriptures, even in them.

Clement, who probably died before St. John, especially ascribes the first Epistle to the Corinthians to St. Paul. Words of our blessed Lord, found in the Gospels of St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke, are recommended with a high degree of respect, but without the names of the Evangelists; and there is reason to think that he alludes to the Acts, the Epistle to the Romans, the two Epistles to the Corinthians, and divers other of the Epistles of the new Testament.[61]

Ignatius, who suffered martyrdom very soon after the death of St. John, in writing to the Ephesians, ascribes the Epistle to that Church to St. Paul, and cites several passages from it. He alludes to St. Matthew’s, St. Luke’s, and probably to St. John’s Gospel; also, probably, to the Acts, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Timothy, 1 Peter, 1 and 3 John. He appears also to have expressions denoting collections of the Gospels and Epistles of the Apostles.[62]

Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, a disciple of St. John, quotes Philippians, and speaks of St. Paul as having written to that Church. He quotes also expressions from St. Matthew and St. Luke, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians; and there are manifest references to Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, 1 Peter, 1 John, and probably to the Hebrews.[63]

If Barnabas and Hermas are to be reckoned Apostolical, although there are manifest references to the new Testament in their works, yet the nature of their writings makes it most improbable that they should have quoted much from it, and accounts for their comparative silence.[64]

Papias, who was well acquainted with Polycarp, and, as some think, even with St. John, and was an anxious inquirer about all that had come from the Apostles and followers of Christ, bears testimony to the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark, quotes the first Epistle of St. Peter and the first of St. John, appears to have a reference to the book of Acts, and there is every reason to suppose he received the Apocalypse. There are no works of his remaining, except a fragment preserved by Eusebius.[65]

Justin Martyr, the first of the fathers of whom we have any considerable remains, was converted to Christianity about A. D. 133, flourished chiefly about A. D. 140, i. e. 40 years after the death of St. John, and died a martyr about A. D. 164 or 167. He has many quotations from the four Gospels, which he refers to under the name of the Memoirs of the Apostles.[66] He has, moreover, referred to the Acts, many of the Epistles, and expressly assigns the Book of Revelation to St. John. In his first Apology, he tells us that the memoirs of the Apostles and the writings of the Prophets were read in the assemblies for public worship, and discourses made upon them by the presiding presbyter.[67]

Tatian, the disciple of Justin Martyr, composed a harmony of the Gospels, called Diatessaron.[68]

The circular Epistle of the Churches of Vienne and Lyons, concerning the sufferings of their martyrs in the reign of Marcus Antoninus, uses language from the Gospels of St. Luke and St. John, Acts, Romans, Philippians, 1 Peter, 1 John, and the Revelation.[69]

Irenæus, who was a hearer of Polycarp, the disciple of St John,[70] and became Bishop of Lyons, A. D. 177, assures us that there were four Gospels, and no more,[71] all of which he has largely quoted, with the names of their writers, and has given an account of their composition.[72] He refers the Acts to St. Luke. He quotes all St. Paul’s Epistles, except Philemon and the Hebrews, also 1 Peter, 1 and 2 John, and the Apocalypse, which he expressly assigns to St. John the Apostle,[73] and probably the Epistle of St. James. “His quotations from the Gospels are so numerous that they occupy more than twelve folio columns in the index of Scripture passages annexed to the Benedictine edition.”[74]

Theophilus of Antioch (circ. A. D. 170) quotes St. Matthew, St. Luke, several of St. Paul’s Epistles, and we are assured by Eusebius that in his work against Hermogenes he quoted the Apocalypse.[75]

Clement of Alexandria, who lived at the end of the second century, about 100 years after the completion of the Canon of Scripture, quotes all the four Gospels, and especially tells us the origin of St. Mark’s.[76] He ascribes the Acts to St. Luke; quotes all St. Paul’s Epistles, except the short Epistle to Philemon, and ascribes the Epistle to the Hebrews to St. Paul, though he thinks it was written in Hebrew by St. Paul, and translated into Greek by St. Luke.[77] He quotes three of the Catholic Epistles, namely, 1 John, 1 Peter, Jude; for it is doubtful whether he refers expressly to St. James, or the second Epistle of St. Peter, and the second and third of St. John. The Apocalypse he expressly ascribes to St. John.[78]

Tertullian, presbyter of Carthage, of the same date with Clement, quotes all the books of the new Testament, except perhaps St. James’s Epistle, the second of St. Peter, and the third of St. John. The Epistle to the Hebrews he assigns to Barnabas.[79] Dr. Lardner has observed, that “There are perhaps more and larger quotations of the new Testament in this one Christian author than of all the works of Cicero, though of so uncommon excellence for thought and style, in the writers of all characters for several ages.”[80]

We are now arrived at Origen, who, as we have seen, gives a complete catalogue of the new Testament, as we have it now.[81]

Dionysius of Alexandria, A. D. 247, quotes the Gospels, Acts, St. Paul’s Epistles, especially ascribing the Hebrews to St. Paul, the three Epistles of St. John. On the Apocalypse he has a long dissertation, from which it appears that it was very generally received by Christians as written by St. John, though he himself inclines to attribute it to another John, whom he considered a holy and divinely inspired man.[82]

Cyprian, A. D. 250, quotes all the new Testament except the Epistles to Philemon and the Hebrews, the third of St. John, the second of St. Peter, and St. James. The Apocalypse he often quotes as St. John’s.[83]

Methodius, Bishop of Olympus in Lycia, circ. A. D. 260, constantly quotes or refers to the Gospels and Acts, most of St. Paul’s Epistles, especially the Hebrews, also 1 Peter, 1 John, and the Apocalypse.[84]

Eusebius has already been adduced as a witness, having given a catalogue of the new Testament Scriptures, as we have them now.

It is unnecessary to continue the list farther. We have already seen that from this time we may find in the works of the fathers full catalogues of the books of the new Testament; and the number of quotations from them in their writings grows fuller and more abundant.

We must add, that heretics quoted and admitted the same Scriptures, with the exception of those outrageous heretics, such as the Gnostics and the Manichees, who were rather heathen philosophers, with a tinge of Christianity, than Christians with a defilement of philosophy. Thus the Montanists, the Donatists,[85] Arius,[86] Photinus,[87] Lucifer,[88] and other schismatics and heretics of the first four centuries, received the same sacred books with the Catholic Christians.

Not only heretics, moreover, but heathens and persecutors knew the sacred books and sought to destroy them. Thus in the persecution of Diocletian, there was an edict A. D. 303, that the Christian Churches should be destroyed, and their Scriptures burned. Accordingly, great search was made for the books of the new Testament, and those Christians who, to save themselves, gave up their books to the persecutors, acquired the opprobrious name of Traditores.[89]

When Constantine the Great embraced Christianity, finding that the persecution under Diocletian had diminished the number of copies of the new Testament, he authorized Eusebius Bishop of Cæsarea to get fifty copies of the new Testament written out for him, desiring that they should be skilfully and carefully written on fine parchment.[90]

We have seen then, that numerous MSS., the most ancient Versions, the catalogues given us by the fathers, quotations and references from the time of the earliest Apostolical father, gradually increasing in number, yet numerous from the beginning, the consent of heretics, the enmity of persecutors, — all witness to the existence, from the earliest times, of the new Testament Scriptures; and all this testiony is uniform in favour of the very books which we now possess.

It may be added, that, although it is quite clear that there were certain early writers, such as Clement, Barnabas, and Hermas, highly esteemed, and whose writings were read in some Churches; and though there were some Apocryphal books professing to be the works of the Apostles and Evangelists: yet there is good reason to assert that these books are not quoted by the fathers as authority, and were not received by the Church as Canonical Scripture.[91]

To the external evidence, the internal proofs of genuineness might be added, if time and space would allow. Books which are forgeries generally show, when carefully scrutinized, plain proofs that they are not his whose name they bear. The language, the ideas, the statements of facts, some little circumstance of date or place, some circumstance connected with the character, knowledge, or condition of the author, are found inconsistent and incapable of being explained. Or if this be not the case, there is a markedly studied effort to avoid all this, and to make the forgery appear a genuine work. But the different books of the new Testament, though written by eight different hands, under vastly different conditions, have yet defied the efforts of critics to disprove their genuineness. They only come out the brighter from every fiery trial. Their style and language is just what we should expect from the writers to whom they are ascribed. They abound in minute particulars, most naturally and simply introduced, which correspond accurately with the state of things existing at the time and in the place in which the authors wrote. Coincidences have been pointed out, which the cleverest forger could never have designed, and which only patient searching could have detected; whereas, if such coincidences had been designed, they would have been put prominently forward to meet the view.[92] In this, and in similar manners, we may confirm by internal examination the results deduced from external testimony.

But before we conclude this sketch we must observe, that, in the accounts of the catalogues and quotations given by the different early fathers, we could not but remark that some books were less universally quoted, and classed in the catalogues, than others. We learn, as early as Origen, and more clearly afterwards from Eusebius, that, though the Church generally received the Canon of the new Testament as we receive it now, yet some few books were by some persons considered as doubtful.

Eusebius makes three distinct classes of books,[93] namely: —

ὁμολογούμενοι, those universally received;

ἀντιλεγόμενοι, those generally received, but doubted of by some;

νόθοι, i. e. Apocryphal books rejected by all but heretics.

In like manner, Cyril of Jerusalem distinguishes between those παρὰ πᾶσιν ὁμολογούμενα, owned by all, and ἀμϕιβαλλόμενα, doubted of by some.[94]

Now the undoubted books according to Eusebius, which all received, were the four Gospels, the Acts, thirteen Epistles of St. Paul, one of St. Peter, one of St. John. He adds, that Christians generally received the Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, Revelation. These he esteemed canonical, but tells us that some doubted concerning their genuineness. He also mentions the Epistles of Clement and Barnabas, and the Pastor of Hermas, as esteemed useful by many, but not to be considered a part of Canonical Scripture.[95] Now the principal reasons for doubting the genuineness and Canonicity of the books which Eusebius speaks of as ἀντιλεγόμενα, were of this nature. The Hebrews has not St. Paul’s name, and is thought to be different in style from his other writings.[96] St. James might not have been an Apostle, and therefore his Epistle might have no claim to be in the Canon. The Apocalypse introduces the name of St. John, contrary to that Apostle’s custom elsewhere; and some supposed it was written by John the elder, a person whom Papias mentions, and not by St. John the Apostle.[97]

To take first the Epistle of St. James; there is strong reason to believe, that, whether the writer was James the son of Zebedee, or James the Lord’s brother, he was in any case an Apostle; for James the Lord’s brother is in Scripture called an Apostle,[98] and was in all probability the same as James the son of Alphæus, or Cleopas, (the two names being very probably identical,) his mother being Mary the sister of the Virgin Mary.[99] So that there is no reason to exclude his Epistle from the Canon, because he was not an Apostle. But farther, his Epistle is in the Syriac version, and the authority of the Syrian Church is very important on this head; for the Church of Syria bordered on Palestine, where St. James, the Lord’s brother, was bishop, and spoke the same language as the natives of Palestine itself. We must remember, too, that Eusebius tells us that this Epistle was received by the great majority of Christians; and that it is by no means wonderful that an Epistle, written by the Bishop of Jerusalem to the Jews, should not have become known to the Grecian Churches so soon as others; and hence more doubt might arise about it than about other Epistles.[100]

Of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the Apocalypse, we learn that the former was not fully admitted by the Latin, nor the latter by the Greek Church among Canonical Scriptures.[101]

Of the Epistle to the Hebrews, we may observe that the absence of the Apostle’s name may be fully accounted for by the fact that he was the Apostle of the Gentiles, not of the circumcision; and therefore, when he writes to the Jews, he does not put his name and claim his Apostleship, as not wishing to put forward the same claim to authority over the Jews which he asserts over the Gentile Churches.[102] But the Epistle is prohably referred to by Clement of Rome,[103] and perhaps by Polycarp.[104] We have in its favour the testimony of Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Dionysius of Jerusalem, the Council of Laodicea, Epiphanius, Gregory Nazianzen, Jerome.[105] It is in the Syriac Canon. And, as regards the supposed difference of style from the general writings of St. Paul, the opinion of Clement of Alexandria, that St. Paul wrote the Epistle in Hebrew or Syriac, and that it was translated by St. Luke into Greek, would explain all the difficulty.[106] Yet Mr. Forster appears to have proved, by most careful and accurate comparison, that the style of the Epistle to the Hebrews, notwithstanding the apparent dissimilarity, has all the peculiarity of the writings of St. Paul, a peculiarity so great that the genuineness of the Epistle can hardly be questioned.[107]

The Apocalypse, which is the only other book of any considerable length which is doubted, is ascribed by Papias to John, probably the Apostle. It is the only book which Justin Martyr mentions by name, and he expressly assigns it to St. John. Irenæus constantly quotes it and refers it to St. John. Tertullian and Theophilus of Antioch quote it. Clement of Alexandria assigns it to St. John. So do Origen, Dionysius of Alexandria, Cyprian, Eusebius, Athanasius, Epiphanius, Jerome, the Council of Carthage.[108] All these are witnesses of great importance, and a large number of them living within a century of the date when the book in question was composed. Especially Papias, Justin Martyr, and Irenæus, the very earliest fathers after those called Apostolical, speak much concerning it, and quote frequently from it. Melito, a contemporary of Justin Martyr and Irenæus, is also, according to Eusebius, a witness to the Apocalypse of St. John.[109]

We may now close our brief view of the evidence concerning the Canon of the new Testament; and whilst we rejoice that councils in the fourth century, weighing the evidence, decided on the Canon, and settled it as we have it now, we cannot admit that the present Church receives the Scriptures, whether of the old Testament or the new, merely on the authority of the Church of the fourth century; inasmuch as the Church of the fourth century itself received them on the testimony of earlier ages, and the present Church receives it on the same. That testimony, even if Councils had been silent, would be of itself amply sufficient to prove that the new Testament Scriptures which we now possess are the genuine works of the Apostles and Evangelists.


  1. The word κάνων signifies a line, or rule, — a standard, therefore, by which other things are to be judged of. It is applied to the tongue of a balance, or that small part of the scales which by its perpendicular situation determines the even poise or weight, or by its inclination either way the uneven poise of the things that are weighed. It is applied to the Scriptures, because they have ever been esteemed in the Church “the infallible rule of our faith, and the perfect square of our actions, in all things that are in any way needful for our eternal salvation.” — Cosin’s Scholastical Hist. of the Canon, ch. I.; Jones, On the Canon, ch. I.
  2. Baba Bathra, fol. 14, col. 2. The books of Moses are called תּוֹרָה The Law; the prophetical books נִבִיאִים The Prophets; the other books כִּתוּבִים Chethubim, i. e. The Scriptures or Writings.
  3. Hieron. Prologus Galeatus, Op. Tom. I. p. 318. Ed. Bened.
  4. Ap. Euseb. H. E. VI. 25: Ἔξω δὲ τούτων ἐστὶ τὰ Μακκαβαïκὰ, ἅπερ ἐπιγέγραπται Σαρβὴθ Σαρβανιὲλ. Bishop Cosin interprets this, as meaning that the Books of Maccabees were “out of the Canon.” — History of the Canon, ch. v.
  5. Euseb. H. E. IV. 26. See Bp. Cosin as above, ch. IV.
  6. De Vita Contemplativa, Tom. II. p. 475; Marsh, On the Authority of the old Testament, Lect. XXXII.
  7. Contra Apion. I. § 8; Euseb. H. E. III. 10.
  8. πὸ δὲρταξέρξου μέχρι τοῦ καθ’ ἡμᾶς χρόνου, γέγραπται μὲν ἕκαστα · πίστεως δὲ οὐχ ὁμοίας ἠξίωται τοῖς πρὸ αὐτῶν, διὰ τὸ μὴ γενέσθαι τὴν τῶν προϕητῶν ἀκριβῆ διαδοχήν. — Contra Apionem, I. § 8; Euseb. H. E. III. 10.
  9. Antiq. Lib. XI. cap. 6.
  10. Δηλοῦται διὰ τῶν ἀνακειμένων ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ γραμμάτων. — Antiq. Lib. v. cap. 17.
  11. Philo-Judæus Ap. Euseb. Prœpar. Evangel. Lib. VIII. § 6: Μὴ ῥῆμα γ’ αὐτοὺς μόνον τῶν ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ γεγραμμένων κινῆσαι, ἀλλὰ κᾷν μυρίακις αὐτοὺς ἀποθανεῖν ὑπομεῖναι θᾶττον τοῖς ἐκείνου νόμοις καὶ ἔθεσιν ἐναντία πεισθῆναι. — See Cosin, On the Canon, ch. II. So Josephus: Δῆλον δ’ ἔστιν ἔργῳ πῶς ἡμεῖς τοῖς ἰδίοις γράμμασι πεπιστεύκαμεν · τοσούτου γὰρ αἰῶνος ἢδη παρῳχηκότος οὔτε προσθεῖναί τις οὐδὲν, οὔτε ἀϕελεῖν αὐτῶν, οὔτε μεταθεῖναι τετόλμηκεν. — Contra Apionem, I. § 8; Euseb. H. E. III. 10.
  12. “That all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the Law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms.” — Luke xxiv. 44.
  13. According to the division which existed in our Saviour’s time, which probably was the same as that in the time of Josephus, there would have been but four books in the Chethubim or Hagiographa, namely, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Solomon’s Song.
  14. See this proved, — Cosin, Hist. of Canon, ch. III.
  15. The Targums were translations or paraphrases of the Scriptures, made from the original Hebrew into Chaldee, when Hebrew had become a dead language, which was the case soon after the return from captivity. They were read in the synagogues, and formed the ordinary instruments for instruction of the Jews of Palestine in the Scriptures.
  16. The Book of Ecclesiasticus appears from ch. L. 27 to have been written by “Jesus the Son of Sirach of Jerusalem;” and in the Prologue of his grandson the words of the book are said to have been Ἑβραΐστὶ λεγόμενα, written in Hebrew. However, Hebrew was then a dead language, and the Jews spoke Syro-Chaldee, which was what St. Paul spoke when he addressed his countrymen “in the Hebrew dialect,” ἐνβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ, Acts xxii. 1. It is also said that the first book of Maccabees was written in Hebrew; but as some of the events recorded in it happened within one hundred and fifty years from the birth of Christ, it must have been the same Chaldee. Tobit also and Judith are said by Jerome, in his Prefaces to these books, to have been written Chaldæo sermone, though it has been thought the Chaldee was only a translation.
  17. Augustin. De Doctrina Christiana, Lib. II. c. 8; Opera, Tom. III. pt. I. p. 23.
  18. Passages of the new Testament, where such authority is given to the old, are such as Matt. v. 18. Luke xvi. 29; xxiv. 27, 44. John v. 39. Rom. iii. 1, 2; ix. 4. 2 Tim. iii. 15, 16.
  19. Cosin, On the Canon, ch. IV.
  20. Euseb. H. E. IV. 26.
  21. Euseb. H. E. VI. 25.
  22. τερα βίβλια τούτων ἔξωθεν · οὐ κανονιζόμενα μὲν, τετυπωμένα δὲ παρὰ τῶν πατέρων.
  23. Festal. Epist. XXXIX. Op. Tom. II. p. 961, edit. Bened. Tom. II. p. 38. Colon. 1686. The only thing to be observed in the catalogue of Athanasius is, that he joins Baruch and the Epistle with Jeremiah; into which mistake many of the fathers fell, from the connection which was made between those books in the LXX. and Latin; though some think, that nothing more is meant than what is inserted in the book of Jeremiah concerning Baruch, and the Epistle contained in the twenty-ninth chapter of the prophecy of Jeremiah, — not the apocryphal books of these names. See Cosin, ch. VI.
  24. Hilar. Proleg. in Librum Psalmorum, § 15, edit. Benedict. p. 9. His Catalogue is Five books of Moses, 5. Joshua, 1. Judges and Ruth, 1. Samuel, 1. Kings, 1. Chronicles, 1. Ezra (including Nehemiah), 1. Psalms, 1. Proverbs, 1. Ecclesiastes, 1. Song of Songs, 1. Minor Prophets, 1. Isaiah, 1. Jeremiah (with Lamentations and Epistle), 1. Daniel, 1. Ezekiel, 1. Job, 1. Esther, 1. In all, 22.
  25. Cyril. Hieros. Catech. IV. § 35.
  26. Concil. Laodicen. Can. LIX. Concil. Quinisext. Can. II.
  27. Adv. Hæres. v. LXXVI. De Mensuris et Ponderibus, Tom. II. pp. 162, 180.
  28. Greg. Nazianz. Carm. XXXIII.
  29. Expositio in Symbolum Apostolorum, § 36, ad calcem Oper. Cyprian.
  30. In Prologo Galeato, Tom. I. p. 322. Ed. Bened.
  31. Lib. II. c. 8, edit. Benedict Tom. III. p. 23.
  32. In canonicis autem Scripturis, Ecclesiarum Catholicarum quam plurium auctoritatem sequatur; inter quas sane illæ sint quæ Apostolicas sedes habere et epistolas accipere meruerunt. Tenebit igitur hunc modum in Scripturis canonicis, ut eas, quæ ab omnibus accipiuntur Ecclesiis Catholicis, præponat eis quas quædam non accipiunt: in eis vero quæ non accipiuntur ab omnibus, præponat eas quas plures gravioresque accipiunt, eis quas pauciores minorisque auctoritatis Ecclesiæ tenent. — Lib. II. c. 8, edit. Benedict. Tom. III. p. 23.
  33. De Civitat. Dei, Lib. XVII. cap. 24. Tom. VII. p. 487. Toto illo tempore ex quo redierunt de Babylonia, post Malachiam, Aggæum, et Zachariam, qui tunc prophetaverunt, et Esdram, non habuerunt prophetas usque ad Salvatoris adventum, &c.
  34. Contra Gaud. Lib. I. c. 31, § 38. Tom IX. p. 655.
  35. De Civitate Dei, Lib. XVIII. c. 26. Tom. VII. p. 508. In libro Judith: quem sane in Canone Scripturarum Judæi non recepisse dicuntur.
  36. De Civit. Dei, Lib. XVII. c. 20. Tom. VII. p. 483. Propter eloquii nonnullam similitudinem, ut Salomonis dicantur, obtinuit consuetudo: non autem esse ipsius, non dubitant doctiores.
  37. The whole question is fully sifted by Bp. Cosin, Scholastical History of the Canon, ch. VII.
  38. Conc. Carthag. III. Can. XLVII.
  39. Concil. Trid. Sess. IV. Decret. I. Sacrorum vero librorum indicem huic decreto adscribendum censuit, ne cui dubitatio suboriri possit, quinam sint, qui ab ipso Synodo suscipiuntur. Sunt vero infra scripti: Test. V. Quinque Mosis, Jos., Judic., Ruth, 4 Reg., 2 Paralip., Esdræ 1 et 2 (qui dicitur Nehem.), Tobias, Judith, Esther, Job, Psalterium David, CL. Psal., Parab., Ecclesiastes, Cantic. Canticorum, Sapientia, Ecclesiasticus, Esaias, Hieremias cum Baruch, Ezech., Daniel., 12 Proph. Minores, Duo Machabæorum 1 et 2. Test. N. Quattuor Evangelia, &c. &c. Si quis autem libros ipsos integros cum omnibus suis partibus, prout in Ecclesia Catholica legi convenerunt, et in veteri vulgata Latina editione habentur, pro sacris et canonicis non susceperit, et traditiones prædictas sciens et prudens contempserit, anathema sit.
  40. See Suicer, s. v. γραϕὴ. See also Dr. Wordsworth’s Lectures on the Canon, Appendix B. No. IV., where documents are given, showing the agreement of the Eastern with the Anglican Church on the Canon of Scripture.
  41. On the Canon of the old Testament, see Suicer’s Thesaurus, s. v. γραϕὴ; Bp. Cosin’s Scholastic History of the Canon; Bp. Marsh, Lectures, Part VI. On the Authority of the Old Testament; Bp. Marsh’s Comparative View, chap. v. Dr. Wordsworth, in his Hulsean Lectures on the Canon of Scripture, has thrown into the Appendix the most important passages on the subject from the Jewish and early Christian wrtiers, in a form more convenient than they may be seen in Bp. Cosin’s most valuable work, as in the latter they are scattered through the notes, whilst in Dr. Wordsworth’s book they are given in a more compact form at the end.
  42. Idque non tam quod Ecclesia illos pro canonicis recipiat et comprobet: quam quod Spiritus Sanctus nostris conscientiis testetur illos a Deo emanasse: et eo maxime quod ipsi etiam per se sacram hanc suam authoritatem et sanctitatem testentur atque comprobent. — Confess. Belgica, Art. v.; Sylloge Confessionum, p. 328; Jones, On the Canon, Part I. ch. VI.
  43. There is a passage much to the purpose, quoted by Jones (On the Canon, Part I. ch. VI.) from the Preface to Baxter’s Saints’ Rest. “For my part, I confess, I could never boast of any such testimony or light of the Spirit nor reason neither, which, without human testimony, would have made me believe that the book of Canticles is canonical and written by Solomon, and the book of Wisdom apocryphal, and written by Philo, &c. Nor could I have known all or any historical books, such as Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, &c., to be written by divine inspiration, but by tradition, &c.”
  44. Euseb. H. E. III. 24; Iren. III. 1.
  45. Iren. III. 1; III. 11.
  46. Euseb. I. 15; VI. 14, on the authority of Clemens Alexandrinus.
  47. Iren. III. 1.
  48. Euseb. III. 24; Hieron. De Viris Illustribus, s. v. Joannes.
  49. On the importance of the Syriac version, see Jones, On the Canon, Pt. I. ch. XIV.‒XIX.
  50. Comment. in Matt. ap. Euseb. H. E. VI. 25. In this catalogue he omits St. James and St. Jude. But in his thirteenth Homily on Genesis he speaks of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James, and Jude, as the authors of the books of the new Testament. In his seventh Homily on the book of Joshua, if we may trust the Latin translation of Rufinus, in which alone it exists, he enumerates all the books which we now have. See Jones, On the Canon, Pt. I. ch. VIII.; Bp. Marsh’s Lectures, Pt. v. On Authority of the New Testament, Lect. XXIV.; Lardner, II. ch. XXXVIII.
  51. H. E. III. 25.
  52. Ex Festali Epist. XXXIX. Tom. II. p. 961; Edit. Benedict. Tom. II. p. 38, Colon. 1686.
  53. Cateches. IV. § 36. He makes mention of certain forged Gospels, ψευδεπίγραϕα, and ascribes to the Manicheans a Gospel according to St. Thomas.
  54. Concil. Laodicen. Can. IX.
  55. Hæres. 76, c. 5.
  56. Gregor. Nazianz. Carm. XXXIII.
  57. Epist. L. ad Paulinum. Opp. Tom. IV. p. 574; Ed. Bened. On the Epistle to the Hebrews, see De Viris Illustribus, s. v. Paulus.
  58. Exposit. in Symb. Apostol. § 36, ad calc. Oper. Cyprian.
  59. De Doctrina Christiana, Lib. II. c. 8. Tom. III. p. 23.
  60. Concil. Carthag. III. Can. XLVII.
  61. Lardner, II. ch. II.
  62. Ibid. II. ch. v.
  63. Lardner. II. ch. VI.
  64. Ibid. II. ch. I. IV.
  65. Euseb. H. E. Lib. III. cap. 39; Lardner, ii. ch. IX.
  66. πομνημονεύματα τῶνποστόλων, which he explains by ἁ καλεῖται εὐαγγέλια. — Apol. I. p. 98, B. Bishop Marsh in his dissertation On the Origin of the Four Gospels, ch. xv., supposes that Justin does not allude to our present Gospels, but to a certain original document, which the Bishop supposes to have existed, which was early composed by the Apostles, and from which the Evangelists compiled their several Gospels. The words ἁ καλεῖται εὐαγγέλια he considers an interpolation. He argues, that Memoirs of the Apostles more probably mean a single work than a collection of works, and that Justin’s quotations are not exact from our present Gospels. His arguments are considered by Bishop Kaye, Writings of Justin Martyr, ch. VIII. The last-named prelate seems to have clearly proved that there is no reason for doubting that our present Gospels are those cited by Justin, though, at times, he rather quotes the purport than the very words of a passage.
  67. Apol. I. p. 98; Lardner, II. ch. x.
  68. Lardner, II. ch. XIII.
  69. Ibid. ch. XVI.
  70. Hieronym. De V. I. s. v. Irenæus.
  71. Adv. Hæres. III. 11.
  72. Ibid. III. 1.
  73. Adv. Hæres. IV. 20; v. 26. The time of seeing the Apocalypse is mentioned v. 30; namely, towards the end of the reign of Domitian, if the word ἑωράθη is used of the seeing of the Apocalypse, not, as some think, of the duration of St. John’s own life.
  74. Bp. Marsh’s Lectures, Pt. v. Lect. XXIV.; Lardner, II. ch. XVII.
  75. Lardner, II. ch. XX.
  76. Euseb. H. E. VI. 14.
  77. Euseb. H. E. VI. 14.
  78. Lardner, II. ch. XXII.; Bp. Kaye’s Clement of Alex. ch. VIII.
  79. De Pudicitia, c. 20.
  80. Lardner, II. ch. XXVIII. See also Bp. Kaye’s Tertullian, ch. v. p. 307.
  81. Lardner, ch. XXXVIII.
  82. Ibid. III. ch. XLIII.
  83. Ibid. III. ch. XLIV.
  84. Ibid. III. ch. LVII.
  85. Ibid. ch. LXVII.
  86. Ibid. ch. LXIX.
  87. Ibid. ch. LXXXIX.
  88. Ibid. ch. XCI.
  89. Lardner, ch. LXVI.
  90. Euseb. Lib. IV. c. 36; Lardner, ch. LXX.
  91. See Jones, On the Canon, Part II. ch. I. Observ. III.; Lardner, ch. x. XIV. XVII. XXII. XXXVIII. LVII. &c.
  92. See Paley’s Horæ Paulinos, passim; Marsh’s Lect. Pt. v. Lect. XXVI.
  93. H. E. III. 3, 25.
  94. Cyril. Cateches. IV. 36.
  95. Euseb. H. E. as above; Lardner, LXXII.
  96. Hieronym. De V. I. in Paul.
  97. Euseb. H. E. III. 39.
  98. Gal. i. 19.
  99. See Lardner, VI. ch. XVI.
  100. See Marsh’s Lect. Pt. v. Lect. XXV.
  101. Hieronym. Dardan. Epist. CXXIX. De V. I. s. v. Paul. 1602.
  102. Clem. Alex. ap. Euseb. H. E. VI. 14; Hieron. In Galat. cap. I.
  103. Eusebius observes that Clement uses the very language of the Epistle. — H. E. III. 38. It may be added, that the writer of St. Clement’s Epistle seems to have been thoroughly imbued with the spirit of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
  104. Lardner, ch. VI.
  105. See the lists above given.
  106. Ap. Euseb. H. E. VI. 14.
  107. Forster, On the Apostolical Authority of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
  108. See the lists and authorities referred to above.
  109. Καὶ λόγος αὐτοῦελίτωνος) περὶ προϕητείας, καὶ ὁ περὶ ϕιλονεξίας · καὶ ἡ κλείς · καὶ τὰ περὶ τοῦ διαβόλου καὶ τῆςποκαλύψεωςωάννου. — Euseb. H. E. IV. 26.


E. Harold Browne

(Edward) Harold Browne was an English bishop, born at Aylesbury and educated at Eton and Cambridge. He was ordained in 1836, and two years later was elected senior tutor of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. From 1843 to 1849 he was vice-principal of St David’s College, Lampeter, and in 1854 was appointed Norrisian professor of divinity at Cambridge. His best-known book is the Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles (vol. i., Cambridge, 1850; vol. ii., London, 1853), which remained for many years a standard work on the subject and is still beloved today. In 1864 he was consecrated bishop of Ely.

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