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objections, and prove that Porphyry had read the Gospels with that sort of attention which a writer would employ who regarded them as the depositories of the religion which he attacked. Beside these specifications, there exists, in the writings of ancient Christians, general evidence that the places of Scripture upon which Porphyry had remarked were very
In some of the above-cited examples, Porphyry, speaking of Saint Matthew, calls him your evangelist; he also uses the term evangelists in the plural number. What was said of Celsus, is true likewise of Porphyry, that it does not appear that he considered any history of Christ, except these, as having authority with Christians.
III. A third great writer against the Christian religion was the emperor Julian, whose work was composed about a century after that of Porphyry.
In various long extracts, transcribed from this work by Cyril and Jerome, it appears *, that Julian noticed by name Matthew and Luke, in the difference between their genealogies of Christ; that he objected to Matthew's application of the prophecy, "Out of Egypt have I called my son" (ii. 15), and to that of "A virgin shall conceive" (i. 23); that he recited sayings of Christ, and various passages of his history, in the very words of the evangelists; in particular, that Jesus healed lame and blind people, and exorcised demoniacs, in the villages of Bethsaida and Bethany; that he alleged that none of Christ's disciples ascribed to him the creation of the world, except John; that neither Paul, nor Matthew, nor Luke, nor Mark, have dared to call Jesus, God; that John wrote later than the other evangelists, and at a time when a great number of men in the cities of Greece and Italy were converted; that he alludes to the conversion of Cornelius and of Sergius Paulus, to Peter's vision, to the circular letter sent by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem, which are all recorded in the Acts of the Apostles: by which quoting of the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, and by quoting no other, Julian shows that these were the historical books, and the only historical books received by Christians as of authority, and as the authentic memoirs of Jesus Christ, of his apostles, and of the doctrines taught by them. But Julian's testimony does something more than represent the judgment of the Christian church in his time. It discovers also his own. He himself expressly states the early date of these records; he calls them by the names which they now bear. He all along supposes, he no where attempts to question, their genuineness.
The argument in favour of the books of the New Testament, drawn from the notice taken of their contents by the early writers against the religion, is very considerable. It proves that the accounts, which Christians had then, were the accounts which we have now: that our present Scriptures were theirs. It proves, moreover, that neither Celsus in the second, Porphyry in the third, nor Julian in the fourth century, suspected the authenticity of these books, or ever insinuated that Christians were mistaken in the authors to whom they ascribed them. Not one of them expressed an opinion upon this subject different from that which was holden by Christians. And when we consider how much it would have availed them to have cast a doubt upon this point, if they could; and how ready they showed themselves to be, to take every advantage in their power; and that they were all men of learning and inquiry; their concession, or rather their suffrage, upon the subject, is extremely
In the case of Porphyry, it is made still stronger, by the consideration that he did in fact support himself by this species of objection when he saw any room for it, or when his acuteness could supply any pretence for alleging it. The prophecy of Daniel he attacked upon this very ground of spuriousness, insisting that it was written after the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, and maintains his charge of forgery by some far-fetched indeed, but very subtle criticisms. Concerning the writings of the New Testament, no trace of this suspicion is any where to be found in him t.
Jewish and Heathen Test. vol. iv. p. 77, et seq.
works on the credibility of the Gospel History Paley's unrivalled "Evidences of Christianity" are avowedly founded, a brief notice will not be considered unnecessary.
See note to chap. ix. sect. 1 and 7.
Formal catalogues of authentic Scriptures were published, in all which our present sacred histories were included.
THIS species of evidence comes later than the rest; as it was not natural that catalogues of any particular class of books should be put forth until Christian writings became numerous; or until some writings showed themselves, claiming titles which did not belong to them, and thereby rendering it necessary to separate books of authority from others. But when it does appear, it is extremely satisfactory; the catalogues, though numerous, and made in countries at a wide distance from one another, differing very little, differing in nothing which is material, and all containing the four Gospels. To this last article there is no exception.
I. In the writings of Origen which remain, and in some extracts preserved by Eusebius, from works of his which are now lost, there are enumerations of the books of Scripture, in which the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles are distinctly and honourably specified, and in which no books appear beside what are now received. The reader, by this time, will easily recollect that the date of Origen's works is A. D. 230.
II. Athanasius, about a century afterward, delivered a catalogue of the books of the New Testament in form, containing our Scriptures and no others; of which he says, "In these alone the doctrine of religion is taught; let no man add to them, or take any thing from them t."
III. About twenty years after Athanasius, Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem, set forth a catalogue of the books of Scripture, publicly read at that time in the church of Jerusalem, exactly the same as ours, except that the "Revelation" is omitted‡.
IV. And fifteen years after Cyril, the council of Laodicea delivered an authoritative catalogue of canonical Scripture, like Cyril's, the same as ours, with the omission of the "Revelation."
V. Catalogues now become frequent. Within thirty years of the last date, that is, from the year 363, to near the conclusion of the fourth century, we have catalogues by Epiphanius§, by Gregory Nazianzen ||, by Philaster, bishop of Brescia, in Italy ¶, by Amphilochius, bishop of Iconium, all, as they are sometimes called, clean catalogues (that is, they admit no books into the number beside what we now receive), and all, for every purpose of historic evidence, the same as ours
VI. Within the same period Jerome, the most learned Christian writer of his age, delivered a catalogue of the books of the New Testament, recognising every book now
He was born, the son of a dissenting minister, at Hawkhurst, in Kent, on the 6th of June, 1684; and received from his father his early education, which he completed at the universities of Utrecht and Leyden.
Of his great work, the Credibility of the Gospel History, the first part appeared in February, 1727; and was continued, at occasional intervals, for many years, this, with his other works, now filling eleven octavo volumes.
Previous to this, he had been glad to receive the appointment of tutor to the son of chief justice Treby, with whose widow and son he resided from 1713 to 1721, until the death of lady Treby rendered young Treby independent, and then his tutor was speedily dismissed.
Lardner continued until his 45th year an occasional preacher among the dissenters; but in 1729 he received the appointment of assistant to Dr. Harris, at Crutchedfriars: an appointment whose emoluments were necessarily very limited, and which he resigned after about twenty years' labour.
A decline, which seized him in the summer of 1768, finally carried him away on the 24th of July. He died at his native place, where he had been conveyed in the hope that change of air might prolong his days.
His writings, which have been translated into almost all the European languages, have never been so popular with the public at large as they ought to this result Paley in some degree contributed, by extracting from them almost all that was suitable to his purpose; for what Paley has so well abridged and improved, few will be at the labour of consulting in its original form.
Lardner was never married. His only sister was the wife of the Rev. David Neal, the well known author of the History of the Puritans.-Life, by Dr. Kippis.— ED.
received, with the intimation of a doubt concerning the Epistle to the Hebrews alone, and taking not the least notice of any book which is not now received *.
VII. Contemporary with Jerome, who lived in Palestine, was Saint Augustin, in Africa, who published likewise a catalogue, without joining to the Scriptures, as books of authority, any other ecclesiastical writing whatever, and without omitting one which we at this day acknowledge+.
VIII. And with these concurs another contemporary writer, Rufen, presbyter of Aquileia, whose catalogue, like theirs, is perfect and unmixed, and concludes with these remarkable words: "These are the volumes which the fathers have included in the canon, and out of which they would have us prove the doctrine of our faith ‡.”
These propositions cannot be predicated of any of those books which are commonly called Apocryphal Books of the New Testament.
I Do not know that the objection taken from apocryphal writings is at present much relied upon by scholars. But there are many, who, hearing that various Gospels existed in ancient times under the names of the apostles, may have taken up a notion, that the selection of our present Gospels from the rest, was rather an arbitrary or accidental choice, than founded on any clear and certain cause of preference. To these it may be very useful to know the truth of the case. I observe, therefore,
I. That, beside our Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, no Christian history, claiming to be written by an apostle or apostolical man, is quoted within three hundred years after the birth of Christ, by any writer now extant, or known; or, if quoted, is not quoted with marks of censure and rejection.
I have not advanced this assertion without inquiry; and I doubt not, but that the passages cited by Mr. Jones and Dr. Lardner, under the several titles which the apocryphal books bear; or a reference to the places where they are mentioned as collected in a very accurate table, published in the year 1773, by the Rev. J. Atkinson, will make out the truth of the proposition to the satisfaction of every fair and competent judgment. If there be any book which may seem to form an exception to the observation, it is a Hebrew Gospel, which was circulated under the various titles of the Gospel according to the Hebrews, the Gospel of the Nazarenes, of the Ebionites, sometimes called of the Twelve, by some ascribed to Saint Matthew. This Gospel is once, and only once, cited by Clemens Alexandrinus, who lived, the reader will remember, in the latter part of the second century, and which same Clement quotes one or other of our four Gospels in almost every page of his work. It is also twice mentioned by Origen, A. D. 230; and both times with marks of diminution and discredit. And this is the ground upon which the exception stands. But what is still more material to observe is, that this Gospel, in the main, agreed with our present Gospel of Saint Matthew S.
Now if, with this account of the apocryphal Gospels, we compare what we have read concerning the canonical Scriptures in the preceding sections; or even recollect that general but well-founded assertion of Dr. Lardner, "That in the remaining works of Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian, who all lived in the first two centuries, there are more and larger quotations of the small volume of the New Testament, than of all the works of Cicero, by writers of all characters, for several ages || ;" and if to this we add that, notwithstanding the loss of many works of the primitive times of Christianity, we have, within the above-mentioned period, the remains of Christian writers, who lived in Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, Egypt, the part of Africa that used the Latin tongue, in Crete, Greece, Italy, and Gaul, in all which remains references are found to our evangelists; I apprehend,
• Lardner, Cred. vol. x. p. 77. † Ib. p. 213.
Ib. p. 187.
In applying to this Gospel, what Jerome in the latter end of the fourth century has mentioned of a Hebrew
Gospel, I think it probable that we sometimes confound it with a Hebrew copy of Saint Matthew's Gospel, whether an original or version, which was then extant.
|| Lardner, Cred. vol. xii. p. 53.
that we shall perceive a clear and broad line of division, between those writings, and all others pretending to similar authority.
II. But beside certain histories which assumed the names of apostles, and which were forgeries properly so called, there were some other Christian writings, in the whole or in part of an historical nature, which, though not forgeries, are denominated apocryphal, as being of uncertain or of no authority.
Of this second class of writings, I have found only two which are noticed by any author of the first three centuries, without express terms of condemnation; and these are, the one, a book entitled the Preaching of Peter, quoted repeatedly by Clemens Alexandrinus, A. D. 196; the other, a book entitled the Revelation of Peter, upon which the above-mentioned Clemens Alexandrinus is said, by Eusebius, to have written notes; and which is twice cited in a work still extant, ascribed to the same author.
I conceive, therefore, that the proposition we have before advanced, even after it hath been subjected to every exception, of every kind, that can be alleged, separates, by a wide interval, our historical Scriptures from all other writings which profess to give an account of the same subject.
We may be permitted however to add,
1. That there is no evidence that any spurious or apocryphal books whatever existed in the first century of the Christian era, in which century all our historical books are proved to have been extant. "There are no quotations of any such books in the apostolical fathers, by whom I mean Barnabas, Clement of Rome, Hermas, Ignatius, and Polycarp, whose writings reach from about the year of our Lord 70, to the year 108 (and some of whom have quoted each and every one of our historical Scriptures): I say this," adds Dr. Lardner, "because I think it has been proved *."
2. These apocryphal writings were not read in the churches of Christians;
3. Were not admitted into their volume;
4. Do not appear in their catalogues;
5. Were not noticed by their adversaries;
6. Were not alleged by different parties, as of authority in their controversies;
7. Were not the subjects, amongst them, of commentarics, versions, collations, expositions. Finally; beside the silence of three centuries, or evidence within that time, of their rejection, they were, with a consent nearly universal, reprobated by Christian writers of succeeding ages.
Although it be made out by these observations, that the books in question never obtained any degree of credit and notoriety which can place them in competition with our Scriptures; yet it appears, from the writings of the fourth century, that many such existed in that century, and in the century preceding it. It may be difficult at this distance of time to account for their origin. Perhaps the most probable explication is, that they were in general composed with a design of making a profit by the sale. Whatever treated of the subject, would find purchasers. It was an advantage taken of the pious curiosity of unlearned Christians. With a view to the same purpose, they were many of them adapted to the particular opinions of particular sects, which would naturally promote their circulation amongst the favourers of those opinions. After all, they were probably much more obscure than we imagine. Except the Gospel according to the Hebrews, there is none of which we hear more than the Gospel of the Egyptians; yet there is good reason to believe that Clement, a presbyter of Alexandria in Egypt, A. D. 184, and a man of almost universal reading, had never seen itt. A Gospel according to Peter, was another of the most ancient books of this kind; yet Serapion, bishop of Antioch, A. D. 200, had not read it, when he heard of such a book being in the hands of the Christians of Rhossus in Cilicia; and speaks of obtaining a sight of this Gospel from sectaries who used it. Even of the Gospel of the Hebrews, which confessedly stands at the head of the catalogue, Jerome, at the end of the fourth century, was glad to procure a copy by the favour of the Nazarenes of Berea. Nothing of this sort ever happened, or could have happened, concerning our Gospels.
• Lardner, Cred. vol. xii. p. 158.
† Jones, vol. i. P. 243.
Lardner, Cred. vol. ii. P. 557.
One thing is observable of all the apocryphal Christian writings, viz. that they proceed upon the same fundamental history of Christ and his apostles, as that which is disclosed in our Scriptures. The mission of Christ, his power of working miracles, his communication of that power to the apostles, his passion, death, and resurrection, are assumed or asserted by every one of them. The names under which some of them came forth are the names of men of eminence in our histories. What these books give, are not contradictions, but unauthorised additions. The principal facts are supposed, the principal agents the same; which shews, that these points were too much fixed to be altered or disputed.
If there be any book of this description, which appears to have imposed upon some considerable number of learned Christians, it is the Sibylline oracles; but, when we reflect upon the circumstances which facilitated that imposture, we shall cease to wonder either at the attempt or its success. It was at that time universally understood, that such a prophetic writing existed. Its contents were kept secret. This situation afforded to some one a hint, as well as an opportunity, to give out a writing under this name, favourable to the already established persuasion of Christians, and which writing, by the aid and recommendation of these circumstances, would in some degree, it is probable, be received. Of the ancient forgery we know but little: what is now produced, could not, in my opinion, have imposed upon any one. It is nothing else than the Gospel history, woven into verse; perhaps was at first rather a fiction than a forgery; an exercise of ingenuity, more than an attempt to deceive.
THE reader will now be pleased to recollect, that the two points which form the subject of our present discussion, are, first, that the Founder of Christianity, his associates, and immediate followers, passed their lives in labours, dangers, and sufferings; secondly, that they did so, in attestation of the miraculous history recorded in our Scriptures, and solely in consequence of their belief of the truth of that history.
The argument, by which these two propositions have been maintained by us, stands thus: No historical fact, I apprehend, is more certain, than that the original propagators of Christianity voluntarily subjected themselves to lives of fatigue, danger, and suffering, in the prosecution of their undertaking. The nature of the undertaking; the character of the persons employed in it; the opposition of their tenets to the fixed opinions and expectations of the country in which they first advanced them; their undissembled condemnation of the religion of all other countries; their total want of power, authority, or force; render it in the highest degree probable that this must have been the case. The probability is increased, by what we know of the fate of the Founder of the institution, who was put to death for his attempt; and by what we also know of the cruel treatment of the converts to the institution, within thirty years after its commencement: both which points are attested by Heathen writers, and, being once admitted, leave it very incredible that the primitive emissaries of the religion, who exercised their ministry, first, amongst the people who had destroyed their Master, and, afterward amongst those who persecuted their converts, should themselves escape with impunity, or pursue their purpose in ease and safety. This probability, thus sustained by foreign testimony, is advanced, I think, to historical certainty, by the evidence of our own books; by the accounts of a writer who was the companion of the persons whose sufferings he relates; by the letters of the persons themselves; by predictions of persecutions ascribed to the Founder of the religion, which predictions would not have been inserted in his history, much less have been studiously dwelt upon, if they had not accorded with the event, and which, even if falsely ascribed to him, could only have been so ascribed, because the event suggested them; lastly, by incessant exhortations to fortitude and patience,