« IndietroContinua »
impostures and writings of doubtful authority: and, before our time, this matter had been so thoroughly investigated, that the most competent judges deem it not dangerous to coincide in opinion with those that have gone before them; though not without enquiry, and some trivial difference of sentiment. The Old Testament evidently stood, a considerable time before Christ, nearly as we now have it. The Greek, Syriack, and Samaritan versions prove this. Our Lord and his disciples quoted the books now received, and the writers of the New Testament generally use the Septuagint. It is commonly believed, on the authority of ancient Jewish writers, that Ezra, a learned scribe in the law, with some very able associates, bestowed much labour in distinguishing the authcntick books of Scripture from such as were spurious, and thus formed the canon of the Old Testament. And the more the subject is examined, the greater satisfaction will every candid person feel, in acquiescing in their determination. For all the books we now have harmonize with each other, and with the New Testament, in the grand outlines of religion, and indeed even in more minute particulars when well understood; but the apocryphal books often advance anti-scriptural doctrines, and relate most frivolous and romantick adventures. Every thing in the received Scriptures coincides, in respect of dates, customs, the manners of the times, and historical transactions, with the most authentick records of antiquity: but anachronism, confusion, and inconsistency abound in the Apocry1 ha.
The canon of the New Testament fluctuated for a long time: but the diversity of opinion related only to a few books; and full discussion and investigation, not mere vote, at length determined the christians to receive them as they now stand; while others were rejected as spurious for the most substantial reasons. This surely proves, that great caution was used to prevent all imposition. No reasonable man can doubt, but the christians, who lived in the primitive times, had many advantages in determining this point; and their opinion is therefore entitled to great deference: but learned men are capable of reviewing the subject, and judging of the grounds on which they decided.
It is certainly kttoxvn, that the greatest part of the books now constituting the New Testament were quoted by the most ancient christian writers; and in a manner which shews they derived their instructions from them, and appealed to them as of divine authority, and tlius to be distinguished from all other books which had been published among them. A vast proportion of the New Testament might be recovered from writers, who lived within the two first centuries. They formed catalogues of the books, and wrote comments on them. Both the orthodox and the hereticks made their appeal to them. Lectures on several parts of them are still extant. Nay, the enemies of christianity uniformly mention them, as the authentick books of christians; while they oppose their contents. So that there is the fullest proof that all the twentyseven books now collected in the New Testament were received, and read in the assemblies of christians, in the second century; except the epistle to the Hebrews, the Epistle of James, the second Epistle of Peter, the second and third of John; that of Jude, and the Revelation of John;-and that most of these, if not all, wereextant and well known, though not generally received as divinely inspired.
What then did Mr. P. mean by roundly asserting, 'that there was no such book as the New Testament 'till more than three hundred years after Christ?' This appears at first sight one of the most daring falsehoods that ever was ventured upon: but in fact it is a mere fuddle, though too evidently intended to deceive. Because, if you prove separately every book to have existed, and all but one to have been received as the word of God: still the New Testament did not exist as a book and as it now stands. This is the only way, I confidently affirm, in which Mr. P. can exculpate himself from the charge of direct falsehood: and this is not a very creditable way of opposing other men, whom he reviles as liars and impostors.
Who doubts the authenticity of other ancient books, because the original manuscripts are not forth coming? Who could distinguish them from other ancient manuscripts if they were? He, who demands a kind of proof, which the nature of the cause renders impossible, is determined that impossible evidence shall convince him.*
If these books had not from the first been received as genuine; they could never afterwards have obtained that character, much less have acquired the tide of the
word of God: for that jealous and scrupulous investigation, which Mr. P. degrades under the idea of voting, proves the impossibility of a forgery escaping detection, and being received as a divine revelation.
Had the books, which bear the name of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, or Peter, been published after their death, when they had never before been heard of, would not the several persons and churches, to which some of them were addressed; and christians in general, as supposed to have been acquainted with them during the lives of the apostles and evangelists, have declared them to be forgeries? The claim, it is evident, would have been absurd, and the imposture manifest. The doubts that arose concerning the epistle to the Hebrews, which bears not the name of Paul; that of James, which perhaps was then thought, as it has since been, irreconcileable with Paul's doctrine; the second Epistle of Peter, which seems to have been written just before his death; and the second and third of John, in which he only calls himself the Elder, prove this. Some of these books, and perhaps the Revelation of John, might not be generally known among christians, during the life-time of their authors, or they might not be publickly acknowledged by them: and therefore, after their death, the scrupulous caution of the church long hesitated about admitting them as genuine and divine; till internal evidence fully convinced the most accurate judges, that they were entitled to that regard.
At what time, and in what manner, then could it
Voi. JJLI, 3 M
be possible to fabricate the apostolical epistles, and gain them credit as well known and received from the days of their writers? and how could histories and epistles be forged, so exactly to tally together in the most minute circumstances, without the least appearance of design? If ever books had internal marks of being genuine, which no rational man on diligent perusal can doubt; the Acts of the Apostles, and St. Paul's epistles have those marks: and I believe it would be impossible, for all the genius of all the knaves on carth combined together, to write an history, and a number of epistles, so manifestly open, frank, artless, and often immethodical; and yet to make the one so perfectly to confirm the other. If the priests and rulers of the church should have attempted such an imposition, would the people have unanimously consented to the fraud? And would Jews, Pagans, and Hereticks have allowed the forgeries of christians to be genuine and ancient books? A very probable story indeed is devised by our Oracle of Reason, when he supposes, that the very church which held purgatory, dispensations, and other anti-christian tenets, fabricated the epistles which predict and condemn those abuses! But ‘the church could write, and therefore could fabricate ‘them!’ Let Mr. P. or his friends try to fabricate some epistles, and ascribe them to Luther, Calvin, Beza, Cranmer, or some of the reformers; and even allowing them the immense advantage of saying, they were never before published, they will soon find it much easier to write, than to establish a literary for.