« PreviousContinue »
demanded proof that the laws had emanated from him, or from God by his ministry; we cannot conceive that they would have implicitly acquiesced, unless we should suppose them to have been first deprived of reason and common sense. "How does it appear," they would have said, "that these are the genuine laws of the man with whose name they are sanctioned? If they are really his laws, how came it to pass that our fathers did not observe them, and knew nothing about them? In what archives were they deposited? In what secret place have they so long lain concealed? How came you to discover them? And what evidence do you produce to convince us that they were not fabricated by yourself?" To these questions the impostor could have returned no answer,-none, at least, which would have persuaded the people that they were bound to comply with his request. There is a manifest impossibility that the writings of Moses could have been imposed on the Israelites as his genuine productions in any posterior age. Men were not simpletons then, any more than they are at present. They had their senses as well as we; they were as much alive to their interests; they were as much the creatures of habit, as tenacious of their rights, as unwilling to be deceived. The argument becomes stronger when we attend to the nature of the laws, which, according to the hypothesis, were imposed upon the Israelites. They enjoined a cumbersome and expensive ritual; they prescribed usages which separated them from all other nations and exposed them to reproach; they required them not to till their ground once in seven years, and every fiftieth year to give liberty to their slaves and restore mortgaged lands to the original proprietors; they commanded all the males thrice a year to repair to the place of solemn worship, and thus leave the country open to the invasion of their enemies. These laws, so contrary to human policy, so fraught with danger upon the principles of com on prudence, no nation would have received on the ground of a mere pretence that they were delivered by a legislator who had, many years before, been laid in the grave. Upon the whole, it is evident, to the satisfaction of every candid mind, that the laws of Moses, and the books in which they are contained, could never have obtained credit among his countrymen if they had not been published in his own lifetime, and supported by those proofs of his divine mission which this is not the proper time to consider.
I have dwelt so long upon the books of Moses, because it is of the greatest importance to ascertain their genuineness. In them the foundation was laid of the ancient dispensation, as they contain the laws and ordinances which, we believe, were significant of a better economy, and by the observance of which the Jews were distinguished as the peculiar people of God. They are introductory to the other books of the Old Testament; and if the former are admitted, there will be little difficulty in acknowledging the latter.
The book of Joshua is understood to have been written by himself, with the exception of a few verses in the end, giving an account of his death, and it is afterwards quoted under his name. It gives an account of the invasion of Canaan, the conquest of its inhabitants, and the division of the land. The book of Judges is attributed to Samuel, who most probably wrote also the book of Ruth, which may be considered as a supplement to it, although others have ascribed it, on what grounds I know not, to Hezekiah or to Ezra. Samuel is also supposed to have written the first twenty-four chapters of the book which bears his name, and by us is divided into two; the rest being added by the prophets Gad and Nathan. This opinion is founded upon the following words in the first book of Chronicles :-" Now the acts of David the king, first and last, behold they are written in the book of Samuel the seer, and in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the book of
Gad the seer.' With regard to the two books of Kings, they are supposed to have been made up from annals or histories composed by different persons, of which mention is made in the Chronicles; as the acts of Solomon by Nathan, Ahijah, and Iddo; the acts of Rehoboam by Iddo and Shemaiah; the acts of Jehoshaphat by Jehu; and the acts of Hezekiah by Isaiah. Perhaps the compilation was the work of Ezra; by whom, too, it is probable that the materials of the two books of Chronicles were collected and arranged. There is little doubt that the two books which follow in order were written by the persons after whom they are called; the one by Ezra, and the other by Nehemiah. The book of Esther is so designated, not because she was the author of it, but because it relates the history of that singular woman, and the deliverance which, through her means, the Jews obtained from the power of their enemies. It has been ascribed to Ezra, to Mordecai, or to the distinguished persons who lived at that time, and are known by the title of the Great Synagogue. The truth of the facts which it relates is established by the feast of Purim, which was instituted in commemoration of them, and has been ever since celebrated by the Jews.
Some consider the book of Job as a fiction of the parabolical kind, as a dramatic work founded on tradition, as an allegory, representing the sufferings and deliverance of the Jews; and assign to it a comparatively recent date. It is manifestly a true history; but by whom it was drawn up, is not certainly known. There are endless disputes upon this subject; and while some attribute it to one author and some to another, the most common opinion is, that it was the work of Job himself, or of Moses.
The book of Psalms bears the name of David, solely, however, because a considerable part of it was composed by him. It contains the poetical compositions of different persons, some of which were written before and others after his time. We do not know by whom they were collected; but the probability is in favour of Ezra, who, according to the tradition of the Jews, revised and corrected the text of the Sacred Writings.
The books attributed to Solomon are three, the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs; and they are generally admitted to be genuine. Grotius, indeed, is of opinion, that Ecclesiastes is a pious and moral composition of more recent times, published in the name of Solomon, and on the subject of his repentance:† but his skepticism is of no value in opposition to uninterrupted tradition. Gibbon has adopted his opinion, and affirmed that “Ecclesiastes and the Proverbs display a larger compass of thought and experience than seem to belong either to a Jew or a king." But this is an assumption without proof. Gibbon has assigned no reason why a Jew, without supposing him to be inspired, might not have known as much of human nature as a man of any other nation; nor shown how it was impossible that a king endowed with talents of the first order, and devoted to study, should have acquired an intimate and extensive acquaintance with life and manners. The criticism is unworthy of attention. It is an arbitrary decision founded upon an arbitrary standard.
Next in order are the prophetical books, about the writers of which there is no uncertainty, as their names are prefixed to their respective works. Their genuineness, like that of any other books, is ascertained by competent testimony, namely, the testimony of those among whom they appeared, and who were particularly interested in them. They have always been assigned to the persons whose names they bear. It has been represented or affirmed that they were written after the events which they pretend to foretell. This
1 Chron. xxix. 29.
† Annot. ad Vet. Test.
+ Gibbon's Hist. ch. xli note 33.
charge was brought by Porphyry, the noted adversary of Christianity in the third century, against the prophecies of Daniel, which relate so particularly the transactions of the successors of Alexander the Great in Syria and Egypt, that the whole seems to be rather a narrative than a prediction. But, besides that the date is ascertained by unquestionable testimony, the charge is repelled by the fact that the books contain prophecies which, without all doubt, were not fulfilled till after the time when they are known to have existed. There are predictions in the book of Daniel respecting the Roman empire which have been accomplished since the days of Porphyry.
You must have remarked, that nothing certain is known concerning the writers of some parts of the Old Testament: but our ignorance in this point does not impair their credit, because they have been received by the Jews as authentic records of the transactions related in them; and their testimony will appear to be of great weight, if we attend to the circumstances in which it was delivered. Whether the books of Moses were human or divine compositions, we know that they believed them to be inspired; and, under this impression they would be very careful what other books they admitted to complete the standard of their faith and practice. Every composition would not obtain this honour; not even every composition which could claim as its author a person of distinguished wisdom and piety. It is altogether incredible that, while they looked upon the first books as a revelation of the will of God, and were warned in them against hastily recognising new claims to a divine mission, they would make up their canon in a careless manner, and give a place in it to writings of a doubtful origin, or coming from persons without authority. Although some of the writers are unknown to us, they were known to them. A few of the books are anonymous, but not supposititious. Their contemporaries were acquainted with the authors, and fully assured that the works ascribed to them were genuine. They would not have ranked them with the books of Moses and the prophets, or those whom they considered as prophets, unless they had been satisfied that the authors had a similar commission and similar qualifications. We have all the evidence which the case admits, that the Scriptures of the Old Testament are genuine.
This reasoning is corroborated by the fact that the Jews did not admit books into their canon indiscriminately, but received some and rejected others; thus showing that there were certain principles upon which they proceeded in judging of their claims. We have a proof, that in order to the reception of a book, it was deemed necessary that its genuineness should be ascertained. At a later period of their history, books appeared which were dignified with the names of some of the most celebrated persons of their country, as Solomon, Daniel, Ezra, and Baruch. But they were not imposed upon by the titles. It was understood that these were not the real authors; and hence, although they might be read, they never obtained any authority among the Jews.
I shall conclude with a few remarks upon the Apocryphal books, which are the following:-two books of Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Esther, the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, the Song of the Three Children, the History of Susannah, Bel and the Dragon, the Prayer of Manasses, and four books of the Maccabees. Of these the church of Rome acknowledges as canonical only Tobit, Judith, the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, the first and second book of the Maccabees, Baruch, with the additions to Esther and Daniel. It is certain, as I have already stated, that they were not acknowledged by the Jews, so as to be classed with the books which they held sacred. For this we have the express testimony of Josephus, who, having enumerated the canonical Scriptures, informs us that there were other books containing an account of the transactions of the nation, which were not reputed of equal VOL. I.-6 D2
authority, because they were written after the succession of prophets had ceased; and that it was a proof of the reverence of the Jews for the canonical books, that, during the long interval which had elapsed since their publication, no person had dared to add to them, or to take from them, or to make any alteration in them. In this stage of the inquiry, we are not at liberty to quote the New Testament as any thing higher than human authority; but as it was written by Jews, it may be fairly considered as expressive of the sentiments of the nation respecting the records of their religion. Now it is remarkable, that the Apocryphal books are never cited by Christ or his apostles. We cannot, indeed, produce quotations from all the acknowledged books of the Old Testament: but while there are references to the greater part of them, they are all recognised under the general division into the law, the prophets, and the holy writings. It is impossible to account for the total silence respecting the Apocryphal books, but upon the principle that the writers of the gospels and epistles did not regard them as possessed of sufficient authority to be appealed to in matters of religion. Some of them were originally written in Greek, and consequently not in Judea, where a different language was spoken after as well as before the captivity; and others are said to have been written in Chaldaic, but about this point learned men are not agreed. We need not be surprised that they were rejected by the Jews, when we consider their contents. They contain fabulous accounts, and are chargeable with contradictions, which render them unworthy of a place among the records of their faith. It is unnecessary to say any thing farther about them. Their exclusion from the canon by the Jews places them on a level with other human compositions. I have only to add, that it is a proof of the stupidity as well as the impiety of the church of Rome, that she has presumed to elevate them to equal honour with the writings of Moses and the prophets, in defiance of the judgment of the Jewish, and I may add, of the ancient Christian church. They were not admitted into the catalogues drawn up by individuals, or by councils, for several centuries; and were regarded as inferior to the writings which are accounted inspired till the meeting of the council of Trent, which established error, idolatry, and superstition, by law. In what esteem they were held in the days of Jerome, we learn when he says, "As the church reads Judith, Tobit, and the books of the Maccabees, but does not receive them among the canonical Scriptures, so let us read Ecclesiasticus and the Wisdom of Solomon, for the edification of the people, but not for the confirmation of doctrines."†
*Joseph. cont. Apion. Lib. i.
Præf. in Lib. Salomi.
EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY.
Genuineness of Books of the New Testament: Account of the Gospels; The Epistles of Paul; The Epistle to the Hebrews; The Catholic Epistles; The Revelation of John-Apocryphal Writings-Lost Writings-Importance of the Inquiry into the Genuineness of the Holy Scriptures-Ground on which we believe them to be genuine.
I PROCEED to inquire into the genuineness of the books of the New Testament. I have already pointed out, in general, the importance of this inquiry in reference to the sacred writings. There are many books of which it does not concern us at all to know the authors, and every purpose of information and amusement may be gained, although we should remain in ignorance of their origin. When we read a romance, or fictitious story, we are pleased with the scenes and characters which it describes, and feel a wish to know by whom it was composed, only that our curiosity may be gratified, or that we may fix our admiration and gratitude upon the person to whom they are due. A treatise upon science which is distinguished by the accuracy of its observations, the exactness of its arrangements, and the clearness of its demonstrations, stands in need of no name to recommend it, but rests upon its own intrinsic merits. Even an anonymous narrative of facts may be authentic, because it is understood from collateral evidence to be a faithful record of transactions, and has always been received as such by competent judges. But in the case of laws which are obligatory only because they emanated from a particular source, and of facts which could not be ascertained but by contemporary testimony, and with which our highest interests are inseparably connected, the question of genuineness is of primary importance, and can alone decide whether we shall give credit to the facts, and submit to the laws.
The truth of this observation will be more evident, if the facts are of a supernatural order; for, being out of the usual course of nature, they require more particular proof, and refusing to listen to vague reports, we call for the testimony of eyewitnesses. An account drawn up in a subsequent age is liable to the suspicion of imposture. I shall give you, as an example, the story of the miracles of Apollonius of Tyana, a famous magician, who flourished towards the end of the first century, and was pronounced to be not so properly a philosopher, as an intermediate being between the gods and men. The design of the heathens was to confront his miracles with those of our Saviour, and to prove that Apollonius was equal or superior to him. He was represented as understanding all languages, although he had not learned them ; as knowing the language of beasts, and the speech of the gods. Wonderful works were ascribed to him, which appear to us perfectly ridiculous; as that he discovered at Ephesus the pestilence in the form of an old and tattered beggar, and commanded the people to stone him; and, being present at a marriage, detected the bride to be one of those malevolent spirits who were called Lamiæ, Larvæ, or Lemures: but they were considered by his admirers as undoubted proofs of divine power. It is true that such a man existed, and imposed upon the credulity of the vulgar by juggling tricks; but the credit of his miracles is destroyed by the fact, that the record was not drawn up by any person who witnessed them, or lived at the time when the account might have been subjected to a strict examination, but by Philostratus and Hierocles, of