Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

66

delivered an authoritative catalogue of canonical Scripture, like Cyril's, the same as ours, with the omission of the Revelation.' Catalogues now become frequent. Within thirty years after the last date, that is, from the year 363 to near the conclusion of the fourth century, we have catalogues by Epiphanius, (2) by Gregory Nazianzen,(3) by Philaster bishop of Brescia in Italy, (4) 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. (5)

"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 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.(6)

"Contemporary with Jerome, who lived in Palestine, was Saint Augustine, 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.(7)

"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.""(8)

This, it is true, only proves that the books are substantially the same; but the evidence is abundant, that they have descended to us without any material alteration whatever.

"1. Before that event, [the time of Christ] the regard which was paid to them by the Jews, especially to the law, would render any forgery or material change in their contents impossible. The law having been the deed by which the land of Canaan was divided among the Israelites, it is improbable that this people, who possessed that land, would suffer it to be altered or falsified. The distinction of the twelve tribes, and their separate interests, made it more difficult to alter their law than that of other nations

[blocks in formation]

(5) Epiphanius omits the Acts of the Apostles. This must have been an accidental mistake, either in him, or in some copyist of his work; for he elsewhere expressly refers to this book, and ascribes it to Luke.

(6) Lard. Cred. vol. x. p. 77.

(7) Ib. p. 213.

(8) lb. p. 187.

less jealous than the Jews. Further, at certain stated seasons, the law was publicly read before all the people of Israel;(9) and it was appointed to be kept in the ark, for a constant memorial against those who transgressed it. (1) Their king was required to write him a copy of this law in a book, out of that which is before the priests the Levites, and to read therein all the days of his life; (2) their priests also were commanded to teach the children of Israel all the statutes, which the Lord had spoken to them by the hand of Moses; (3) and parents were charged not only to make it familiar to themselves, but also to teach it diligently to their children; (4) besides which, a severe prohibition was annexed, against either making any addition to, or diminution from the law. (5) Now such precepts as these could not have been given by an impostor who was adding to it, and who would wish men to forget rather than enjoin them to remember it: for, as all the people were obliged to know and observe the law under severe penaltics, they were, in a manner, the trustees and guardians of the law, as well as the priests and levites. The people, who were to teach their children, must have had copies of it; the priests and levites must have had copies of it; and the magistrates must have had copies of it, as being the law of the land. Further, after the people were divided into two kingdoms, both the people of Israel and those of Judah still retained the same book of the law: and the rivalry or enmity that subsisted between the two kingdoms, prevented either of them from altering or adding to the law. After the Israelites were carried captive into Assyria, other nations were placed in the cities of Samaria in their stead; and the Samaritans received the Pentateuch, either from the priest who was sent by order of the king of Assyria, to instruct them in the manner of the God of the land, (6) or several years afterwards from the hands of Manasseh, the son of Joiada the high priest, who was expelled from Jerusalem by Nehemiah, for marrying the daughter of Sanballat the governor of Samaria; and who was constituted, by Sanballat, the first high priest of the temple at Samaria.(7) Now, by one or both of these means, the Samaritans had the Pentateuch as well as the Jews; but with this difference, that the Samaritan Pentateuch was in the old Hebrew or Phenecian characters, in

[blocks in formation]

which it remains to this day; whereas the Jewish copy was changed into Chaldee characters, (in which it also remains to this day,) which were fairer and clearer than the Hebrew, the Jews having learned the Chaldee language during their seventy years abode at Babylon. The jealousy and hatred which subsisted between the Jews and Samaritans, made it impracticable for either nation to corrupt or alter the text in any thing of consequence without certain discovery; and the general agreement between the Hebrew and Samaritan copies of the Pentateuch, which are now extant, is such, as plainly demonstrates that the copies were originally the same. Nor can any better evidence be desired, that the Jewish Bibles have not been corrupted or interpolated, than this very book of the Samaritans; which, after more than two thousand years discord between the two nations, varies as little from the other as any classic author in less tract of time has disagreed from itself by the unavoidable slips and mistakes of so many transcribers. (8)

"After the return of the Jews from the Babylonish captivity, the book of the law and the prophets were publicly read in their synagogues every sabbath day; (9) which was an excellent method of securing their purity, as well as of enforcing the observation of the law. The Chaldee paraphrases and the translation of the Old Testament into Greek, which were afterwards made, were so many additional securities. To these facts we may add, that the reverence of the Jews for their sacred writings is another guarantee for their integrity: so great, indeed, was that reverence, that, according to the statements of Philo and Josephus, (1) they would suffer any torments, and even death itself, rather than change a single point or iota of the Scriptures. A law was also enacted by them, which denounced him to be guilty of inexpiable sin, who should presume to make the slightest possible alteration in their sacred books. The Jewish doctors, fearing to add any thing to the law, passed their own notions as traditions or explanations of it; and both Jesus Christ and his apostles accused the Jews of entertaining a prejudiced regard for those traditions, but they never charged them with falsifying or corrupting the Scriptures themselves.

"2. After the birth of Christ. For, since that event, the Old Testament has been held in high esteem both by Jews and (8) Dr. Bentley's Remarks on Freethinking, part i. remark 27. (vol. v. p. 144, of Bp. Randolph's Enchiridion Theologicum, 8vo. Oxford, 1792).

(9) Acts xiii. 14, 15, 27. Luke iv. 17—20.

(1) Philo, apud Euseb. de Præp. Evang. lib. viii. c. 2. Josephus contra Apion. lib. i. § 8.

Christians. The Jews also frequently suffered martyrdom for their Scriptures, which they would not have done, had they sus pected them to have been corrupted or altered. Besides, the Jews and Christians were a mutual guard upon each other, which must have rendered any material corruption impossible, if it had been attempted: for if such an attempt had been made by the Jews, they would have been detected by the Christians. The accomplishment of such a design, indeed, would have been impracticable, from the moral impossibility of the Jews (who were dispersed in every country of the then known world) being able to collect all the then existing copies, with the intention of corrupting or falsifying them. On the other hand, if any such attempt had been made by the Christians, it would assuredly have been detected by the Jews: nor could any such attempt have been made by any other man or body of men, without exposure both by Jews and Christians. To these considerations, it may be added, that the admirable agreement of all the ancient paraphrases and versions, and the writings of Josephus, with the Old Testament as it is now extant, together with the quotations which are made from it in the New Testament, and in the writings of all ages to the present time, forbid us to indulge any suspicion of any material corruption in the books of the Old Testament; and give us every possible evidence, of which a subject of this kind is capable, that these books are now in our hands genuine and unadulterated.

"3. Lastly, the agreement of all the manuscripts of the Old Testament (amounting to nearly eleven hundred and fifty,) which are known to be extant, is a clear proof of its uncorrupted preservation. These manuscripts, indeed, are not all entire; some contain one part, and some another. But it is absolutely impossible that every mannscript, whether in the original Hebrew, or in any ancient version or paraphrase, should or could be designedly altered or falsified in the same passages, without detection either by Jews or Christians. The manuscripts now extant are, confessedly, liable to errors and mistakes from the carelessness, negligence, or inaccuracy of copyists; but they are not all uniformly incorrect throughout, nor in the same words or passages; but what is incorrect in one place is correct in another. Although the various readings, which have been discovered by learned men, who have applied themselves to the collection of every known manuscript of the Hebrew Scriptures, amount to many thousands, yet these differences are of so little

real moment, that their laborious collations afford us scarcely any opportunities of correcting the sacred text in important passages. So far, however, are these extensive and profound researches from being either trivial or nugatory, that we have, in fact, derived from them the greatest advantage which could have been wished for by any real friend of revealed religion; namely, the certain knowledge of the agreement of the copies of the ancient Scriptures, now extant in their original language, with each other, and with our Bibles.(2)

"Equally satisfactory is the evidence for the integrity and uncorruptness of the New Testament in any thing materialThe testimonies, adduced in the preceding section in behalf of the genuineness and authenticity of the New Testament, are, in a great measure, applicable to shew that it has been transmitted to us entire and uncorrupted. But, to be more particular, we remark, that the uncorrupted preservation of the books of the New Testament is manifest,

"1. From their contents; for, so early as the two first centuries of the Christian æra, we find the very same facts, and the very same doctrines universally received by Christians, which we of the present day believe on the credit of the New Testament.

"2. Because an universal corruption of those writings was impossible, nor can the least vestige of such a corruption be found in history. They could not be corrupted during the life of their authors; and before their death, copies were dispersed among the different communities of Christians, who were scattered throughout the then known world. Within twenty years after the ascension, churches were formed in the principal cities of the Roman empire; and in all these churches, the books of the New Testament, especially the four Gospels, were read as a part of their public worship, just as the writings of Moses and the Prophets were read in the Jewish synagogues.(3) Nor would the use of them be confined to public worship; for these books were not, like the Sybilline Oracles, locked up from the perusal of the public, but were exposed to public investigation. When the books of the New Testament were first published to the world, the Christians would naturally entertain the highest esteem and reverence for writings that delivered an authentic

(2) Bp. Tomline's Elements of Christ. Theol. vol. i. p. 31.

(3) Dr. Lardner has collected numerous instances in the second part of his Credibility of the Gospel History; references to which may be seen in the general index to his works, article Scriptures. See particularly the testimonies of Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, and Augustiue.

« AnteriorContinuar »