Page images
PDF
EPUB

Acts of Paul and Thecla, though so early a work, as was formerly shown: so that these writings, which some have supposed to weaken the credit of our books of the New Testament, do really bear testimony to them.

I might add here, (what the readers of this work may easily recollect,) that christian writings of all sorts, about this time, the second century, pay tribute to the received books of the New Testament, and bear witness, that they were the only authentic records of Jesus Christ and his doctrine.

The Sibylline oracles (whatever were the particular views of the composer) oweo all their pretended prophecies concerning our Saviour's nativity, baptism, miracles, sufferings, death, resurrection, and ascension, to our evangelists.

The unknown author of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs bears' a large testimony to the facts, principles, and books of the New Testament; and, so far as was consistent with his assumed character, he declares the canonical authority of the Acts of the Apostles and St. Paul's epistles.

4. All these books are not properly spurious, though they are fitly called apocryphal.

Å • spurious' work is that which is ascribed to any man as author who did not compose it. In this sense the Recognitions are spurious, because they are ascribed to Clement of Rome, who did not write them. The like may be said of any other books; but I do not think that the gospels and Acts above mentioned are spurious in this sense. One of our universally acknowledged books of the New Testament is entitled, The Acts of the Apostles ;' but none thereby understand, that they were composed by the apostles. We are assured that they were written by the evangelist Luke; but supposing that no name were affixed to that book, we should not ascribe it to the apostles as authors. Though there were no account in antiquity of the author of the Acts of Paul and Thecla, we should not have imagined that they were written either by St. Paul or Thecla. It is not easy to think that the book, called the Traditions of Matthias, (thee same as his gospel,) was composed by Matthias himself, or pretended to be so; nor were ihe Acts of Peter, Andrew, and other apostles, ascribed to them as authors. Acts,' in ancient writers, is sometimes equivalent to · Travels,' or Circuits.' The Acts of Paul and Thecla are called their Travels by Jerom; and the • Ibid. ii. p. 331–333.

© Ibid. p. 339–342.
p.
363.

• Vid. Grabe, Spicileg. T. ii. p. 117, 118. | Vol. ii. p. 305.

d Ibid.

Acts of Peter are sometimes called his Travels or Circuits : thats book was so called from the subject matter of it, as containing an account of his travels, discourses, and miracles, in several places ; and it would be absurd to suppose him to have written that account himself; nor is there any reason to think it was at first ascribed to him as author. The same, as I apprehend, ought to be supposed likewise of those books called Gospels and Preachings of Peter and Paul.

These books bear, in their titles, the names of apostles. We often say, that they are written in the names of apos• tles, and we call them pseudepigraphal ;' but it is said chiefly for the sake of brevity, and for avoiding long circumlocutions. For preventing mistakes, that way of speaking might sometimes be declined. In a sense, these books are pseudepigraphal : many things in them are imputed to the apostles, which they neither said nor did; the histories of them, related in those gospels and Acts, are false, fictitious, romantic; but the works themselves were not composed by apostles ; nor were they at first ascribed to them, as I apprehend.

But they are fitly called • apocryphal ;' for they have in their titles the names of apostles, and they make a specious pretence of delivering a true history of their doctrine, discourses, miracles, and travels; though that history is not true and authentic, and was not written by any apostle or apostolical man.

5. The publication of these apocryphal or pseudepigraphal books, may be accounted for; it was very much owing to the fame of Christ and his apostles.

The many narrations,' or short histories, referred to by St. Luke, in the introduction to his gospel, were owing probably to an honest zeal for Christ and his honour; and the composers supposed, that their histories would be acceptable to inany, who had heard of Jesus, and believed in him : but being defective, they were soon laid aside; and the gospels of the four evangelists, when published, were universally received by the faithful, as the authentic histories of Jesus Christ.

The apocryphal gospels and Acts published afterwards, were also owing to the fame of Christ and bis apostles, and the great success of their ministry. By the end of the first, or the beginning of the second century, tħere were in the church many learned men, converts from the several sects of philosophy, especially in the eastern part of the empire. These read the scriptures of the New Testament, but they did not

& Vol. ii. 366.

[ocr errors]

1

rightly interpret them: bringing with them their philosophical principles, and having been used to schenies of philosopby, they formed to themselves a scheme of religion, different from that commonly received among christians. These peculiar opinions they endeavoured to support by philosophical reasonings; and in order to recommend them, they also laid hold of such traditions concerning Christ and bis apostles, though groundless, as were at all favourable to them. These, with fictitious discourses and histories of their own invention, they, or some of their admirers, inserted into a volume; which they published with the title of the Gospel, Acts, or Travels, of some apostle. To this it is owing, that b in so many of this sort of books may be observed the doctrine of two principles, the evil nature of matter, a wrong notion concerning the person of Christ as man in appearance only, a disadvantageous opinion of marriage, and the like. 6. The case of the apostles of Christ is not singular.

Many men of distinguished characters bave had discourses made for them, which themselves knew nothing of; and actions imputed to them, which they never performed ; and eminent writers have often had works ascribed to them, of which they were not the authors. Nevertheless, very few impostures of this kind have prevailed in the world, all men being unwilling to be deceived, and many being upon their guard, and readily exerting themselves to detect and expose such things. Says Augustine, in his argument with the Manichees, · Noi writings ever had a better testimony af• forded them, than those of the apostles and evangelists : nor does it weaken the credit and authority of books received by the church from the beginning, that some other • writings have been without ground, and falsely, ascribed • to the apostles; for the like has happened, for instance, to

Hippocrates ; but yet bis genuine works have been dis. tinguished from others, which have been published under • his name.' Many, other such instances might be alleged. Divers orations were falsely ascribed to Demosthenes, and 'Lysias, as is observed by Dionysius of Halicarnassus. The same crític and historian has m catalogues of the genuine and spurious orations of Dinarchus. Many things were

6

[ocr errors]

k

" See vol. iii. p. 432, 433. and likewise vol. ij. p. 265. | Vol. iii. p. 424.

Dionys. de admirandà vi dicendi, in Dem. sect. 57. Tom. ii. p. 320. et alibi. Ed. Huds.

'De Lysiâ Judic. sect. 12. p. 135. Ibid. m De Dinarch. Jud. sect. 9, 10, 11. T. i. p. 184-186. * Aul. Gell. Noct. Att. l. 3. cap. 3.

published in the name of Plautus which were not his. Some works were ascribed to Virgil, and Horace, which were not theirs. The Greek and Roman critics distinguished the genuine and spurious works of those famous writers. The primitive christians acted in the like manner : they did not presently receive every thing proposed to them ; they admitted nothing which was not well recommended. Says Serapion, bishop of Antioch, in his examination of the gospel of Peter, . We receive Peter and the other apostles, as * Christ; but as skilful men we reject those writings which

are falsely ascribed to them.' We have seen many proofs of the caution and circumspection of christians in former times. For a good while, the epistle to the Hebrews, some of the catholic epistles, and the Revelation, were doubted of by many, when other books of the New Testament were universally acknowledged. The titles of the numerous Gospels and Acts above mentioned, and the remains of them, whether entire, or fragments only, are monuments of the care, skill, and good judgment of the primitive christians, and of the presidents of the churches, and their other learned guides and conductors; and we have all the satisfaction which can be reasonably desired, that the books received by them were received upon good ground, and that others were as justly rejected.

If these observations are right, (as I hope they are,) they may be sufficient to show, that the books now, and for a long time, called . apocryphal,' or 'pseudepigraphal,' afford no valid argument against either the genuineness or the authority of the books of the New Testament, generally received, as written by apostles and evangelists.

" Quamvis igitur multa Yevdetiypapa, id est, falså inscriptione, sub alieno nomine sint prolata, ut Thyestes tragoedia hujus poëtæ, quam Varius edidit pro suå, et alia hujuscemodi; tamen Bucolica liquido Virgilii esse minime dubitandum est. Donat, in Vitâ Virgil.

• Venerunt in manus et Elegi sub titulo ejus, et Epistola prosâ oratione, quasi commendans se Mæcenati. Sed utraque falsa puto. Nam Elegi vulgares, Epistola etiam obscura. Quo vitio minime tenebatur. Sueton. in Vitâ Horat.

p Vol. ii. p. 264.

« PreviousContinue »