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part which they sustained in the transaction; and the testimonies which we are able to produce, compose a firm ground of persuasion, that the Gospels were written by the persons whose names they bear.
Nevertheless, I must be allowed to state, that to the un argument which I am endeavouring to maintain,
this point is not essential; I mean, so essential as 3
that the fate of the argument depends upon it. The of question before us is, whether the Gospels exhibit
the story which the apostles and first emissaries of the religion published, and for which they acted and suffered in the manner in which, for some mi
raculous story or other, they did act and suffer. a Now let us suppose that we possessed no other in
formation concerning these books than that they were written by early disciples of Christianity; that they were known and read during the time, or near the time, of the original apostles of the religion; that by Christians whom the apostles instructed, by societies of Christians which the
apostles founded, these books were received (by which term “received,” I mean that they were believed to contain authentic accounts of the transactions upon which the religion rested, and accounts which were accordingly used, repeated, and relied upon,) this reception would be a valid proof that these books, whoever were the authors of them, must have accorded with what the apostles taught. A reception by the first race of Christians, is evidence that they agreed with what the first teachers of the religion delivered. In particular, if they had not agreed with what the apostles themselves preached, how could they have gained credit in churches and so. cieties which the apostles established ?
Now the fact of the early existence, and not only of their existence but their reputation, is made out by some ancient testimonies which do not happen to specify the names of the writers : add to which, what hath been already hinted, that two out of the four Gospels contain averments in the body of the
history, which, though they do not disclose the ED
names, fix the time and situation of the authors, viz. that one was written by an eye-witness of the sufferings of Christ, the other by a contemporary of the apostles. In the Gospel of Saint John, (xix,
35.) after describing the crucifixion, with the particular circumstance of piercing Christ's side with a spear, the historian adds, as for himself, " and he that saw it bear record, and his record is true, and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe.” Again, (xxi. 24.) after relating a conversation which passed between Peter and “ the disciple," as it is there expressed, “whom Jesus loved,” it is added, “this is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things." This testimony, let it be remarked, is not less worthy of regard, because it is, in one view, imperfect. The name is not mentioned; which, if a fraudulent purpose had been intended, would have been done. The third of our present Gospels purports to have been written by the person who wrote the Acts of the Apostles ; in which latter history, or rather latter part of the same history, the author, by using in various places the first person plural, declares himself to have been a contemporary of all, and a companion of one, of the original preachers of the religion.
CHAP. IX. There is satisfactory evidence that many, professing
to be original witnesses of the Christian miracles, passed their lives in labours, dangers, and sufferings, voluntarily undergone in attestation of the accounts which they delivered, and solely in consequence of their belief of those accounts; and that They also submitted, from the same motives, to nero rules of conduct. OF THE AUTHENTICITY OF THE SCRIPTURES.
Not forgetting, therefore, what credit is due to the evangelical history, supposing even any one of the four Gospels to be genuine ; what credit is due to the Gospels, even supposing nothing to be known concerning them but that they were written by early disciples of the religion, and received with deference by early Christian churches; more especially not forgetting what credit is due to the New
Testament in its capacity of cumulative evidence ; we now proceed to state the proper and distinct proofs, which show not only the general value of these records, but their specific authority, and the high probability there is that they actually came from persons whose names they bear.
There are, however, a few preliminary reflections, by which we may draw up with more regu. larity to the propositions upon which the close and particular discussion of the subject depends. Of which nature are the following:
I. We are able to produce a great number of ancient manuscripts, found in many different countries, and in countries widely distant from each other, ali of them anterior to the art of printing, some certainly seven or eight hundred years old, and some which have been preserved probably above a thousand years.* We have also many ancient versions of these books, and some of them into languages which are not at present, nor for many ages have been, spoken in any part of the world. The existence of these manuscripts and versions proves that the Scriptures were not the production of any modern contrivance. It does away also the uncertainty which hangs over such publications as the works, real or pretended, of Ossian and Rawley, in which the editors are challenged to produce their manuscripts, and to show where they obtained their copies. The number of manuscripts, far exceeding those of any other book, and their wide dispersion, afford an argument, in some measure to the senses, that the Scriptures anciently, in like manner as at this day, were more read and sought after than any other books, and that also in many different countries. The greatest part of spurious Christian writings are utterly lost, the rest preserved by some single manuscript. There is weight also in Dr. Bentley's observation, that the New-Testament has suffered less injury by the errors of transcribers, than the works of any profane author of the same size and antiquity; that is, there never was
* The Alexandrian manuscript, now in the British Museum, was written probably in the fourth or fifth century,
any writing, in the preservation and purity of which the world was so interested or so careful.
II. An argument of great weight with those who are judges of the proofs upon which it is founded, and capable, through their testimony, of being adó dressed to every understanding, is that which arises from the style and language of the New Testament. It is just such a language as might be expected from the apostles, from persons of their age and in their situation, and from no other persons. It is the style neither of classic authors, nor of the ancient Chris. tian fathers, but Greek coming from men of Hebrew origin; abounding, that is, with Hebraic and Syriac idioms, such as would naturally be found in the writings of men who used a language spoken indeed where they lived, but not the common dialect of the country. This happy peculiarity is a strong proof of the genuineness of these writings : for who should forge them? The Christian fathers were for the most part totally ignorant of Hebrew, and therefore were not likely to insert Hebraisms and Syriasms into their writings. The few who had a knowledge of the Hebrew, as Justin Martyr, Origen, and Epiphanius, wrote in a language which bears no resemblance to that of the New Tes tament. The Nazarenes, who understood Hebrew, used chiefly, perhaps almost entirely, the Gospel of Saint Matthew, and therefore cannot be suspected of forging the rest of the sacred writings. The ar. gument, at any rate, proves the antiquity of these books; that they belonged to the age of the apos. tles ; that they could be composed indeed in no other.*
III. Why should we question the genuineness of these books ? Is it for that they contain accounts of supernatural events ? I apprehend that this, at the bottom, is the real, though secret, cause of our hesitation about them; for, had the writings in. scribed with the names of Matthew and John, related nothing but ordinary history, there would have been no more doubt whether these writings
*See this argument stated more at large
Micbaelis's Introduc tion (Marsh's translation,) vol. i. c. ii. sect. 10. from which these ob servations are taken,
were theirs, than there is concerning the acknow. ledged works of Josephus or Philo ; that is, there would have been no doubt at all. Now it ought to be considered that this reason, however it may ap. ply to the credit which is given to a writer's judgment or veracity, affects the question of genuineness very indirectly. The works of Bede exhibit many wonderful relations : but who, for that reason, doubts that they were written by Bede? The same of a multitude of other authors. To which may be added, that we ask no more for our books than what we allow to other books in some sort similar to ours : we do not deny the genuineness of the Koran; we admit that the history of Apollonius Tyranæus, purporting to be written by Philostratus, was really written by Philostratus.
IV. If it had been an easy thing in the early times of the institution to have forged Christian writings, and to have obtained currency and reception to the forgeries, we should have had many appearing in the name of Christ himself. No wri. tings would have been received with so much avi. dity and respect as these : consequently none afforded so great temptation to forgery. Yet have we heard but of one attempt of this sort, deserving of the smallest notice, that in a piece of a very few lines, and so far from succeeding, I mean, from obtaining acceptance and reputation, or an acceptance and reputation in any wise similar to that which can be proved to have attended the books of the New Testament, that it is not so much as mentioned by any writer of the first three centuries. The learned reader need not be informed that I mean the epistle of Christ to Abgarus, king of Edessa, found at present in the work of Eusebius,* as a piece acknowledged by him, though not without considerable doubt whether the whole passage be not an interpolation, as it is most certain, that, after the publication of Eusebius's work, this episele was universally rejected.
* Hist. Eccl. lib. i. c. 15.
† Augustine, A. D. 895, (De Consens, Evang. c. 34.) had heard that the Pagans pretended to be possessed of an epistle from Christ to Peter and Paul : but he had never seen it, and appears to doubt
No of the existence of any such piece, either genuine or spurions.