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council, or councils, universally acknowledged, is apparent from the different judgments among christians, in several parts of the world, concerning divers books, particularly the epistle to the Hebrews, and the Revelation: which were received by some, rejected or doubted of by others: not now to mention any of the catholic epistles. There was no catalogue of the books of scripture in any canon of the council of Nice. Augustine giving directions to inquisitive persons, how they might determine what books are canonical, and what not, refers not to the decisions of any councils. Cassiodorius, in the sixth century, has three catalogues, one called Jerom's, another Augustine's, another that of the ancient version: but he refers not to the decree of any council, as decisive. And it seems to me that in all times, christian people and churches have had a liberty to judge for themselves according to evidence. And the evidence of the genuineness of most of the books of the New Testament has been so clear and manifest, that they have been universally received.
The genuineness of these books, as before said, is known in the same way with others, by testimony or tradition. The first testimony is that of those who were cotemporary with the writers of them: which testimony has been handed down to others.
That in this way the primitive christians formed their judgment concerning the books proposed to be received as sacred scriptures, appears from their remaining works. Says Clement of Alexandria: This we have not in the
four gospels, which have been delivered to us, but in that according to the Egyptians.' Tertullian may be seen largely to this purpose, Vol. ii. p. 273-277. I pass on to Origen, who says: As I have learned by tradition con
cerning the four gospels, which alone are received without 'dispute by the whole church of God under heaven.' So Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History, often observes, what books of the New Testament had been quoted by the ancients and what not. And having rehearsed a catalogue of books universally received, and of others controverted, he says: It was needful to put down these also; distin
guishing the scriptures, which according to ecclesiastical tradition are true, genuine, and universally acknowledged, 'from those which are controverted, and yet appear to have 'been known to many: that by this means we may know
! See Note ".
Vol. ii. p. 236.
* Vol. iv. p. 97, &c.
Ibid. p. 110, 111.
i Ibid. p. 494.
them from such as have been published by heretics, under the names of apostles. Which books none of the ecclesias'tical writers in the succession from the times of the apos'tles have vouchsafed to mention in their writings.' I may not transcribe, but only refer to Athanasius in his Festal Epistle, tom Cyril of Jerusalem," Rufinus, and Augus
However, beside observing the testimony of writers in former times, they criticised the books which were proposed to them: examining their style and contents, and comparing them with those books, which had been already received as genuine upon the ground of an unanimous testimony, and undoubted tradition. Says honest Serapion, bishop of Antioch, in an epistle to some, who had too much respect for a writing, entitled the Gospel of Peter: We," 'brethren, receive Peter, and the other apostles, as Christ; but 'as skilful men, we reject those writings, which are falsely ' ascribed to them: well knowing, that we have received no such.' And he adds, that upon perusing that work, he had found the main part of it agreeable to the right doctrine of our Saviour: but there were some other things of a different kind. And Eusebius adds in the place transcribed above: The style also of these books is entirely different 'from that of the apostles. Moreover the sentiments and 'doctrine of these writings differ from the true orthodox christianity. All which things plainly show, that they are 'the forgeries of heretics.'
It has been sometimes said, that the council of Laodicea first settled the canon of the New Testament. But it may be justly said to have been settled before. At least, there had been long before a general agreement among christians, what books were canonical, and what not; what were the genuine writings of apostles and evangelists, and what From the decree of the council itself it appears, that there were writings already known by the title of canonical. That council does nothing in their last canon, but declare, That private psalms ought not to be read in the 'church, nor any books not canonical, but only the canoni'cal books of the Old and New Testament.' After which follows a catalogue or enumeration of such books. The same may be said of the third council of Carthage, whose forty-seventh canon is to this purpose: Moreover it is
1 P. 154, 155.
P. 483, 484.
P Vol. ii. p. 264.
· P. 182.
m P. 172, 173.
P. 492, 493.
Vol. iv. p. 97.
• P. 486.
' ordained, that nothing beside the canonical scriptures be read in the church, under the name of divine scriptures.' I shall now transcribe below a long and fine passage of Mr. Le Clerc, wherein he says: We no where read of a council of the apostles, or of any assembly of the gover'nors of christian churches, convened, to determine by their authority, that such a number of gospels, neither more nor fewer, should be received. Nor was there any need ' of it, since it is well known to all from the concurring testimony of contemporaries, that these four gospels are the 'genuine writings of those whose names they bear: and ⚫ since it is also manifest, that there is in them nothing unworthy of those to whom they are ascribed, nor any thing
at all contrary to the revelation of the Old Testament, nor 'to right reason. There was no need of a synod of gram'marians, to declare magisterially what are the works of
Cicero, or Virgil-In like manner the authority of the 'gospels has been established by general and perpetual consent, without any decree of the governors of the church. We may say the same of the apostolical epistles, which ' owe all their authority, not to the decisions of any ecclesi⚫astical assembly, but to the concurring testimony of all christians, and the things themselves, which are contained ' in them.'
Mr. James Basnage has several chapters, showing how the canon of the New Testament was formed, without the authoritative decisions of councils. I likewise refer to Mr. Jones upon this subject. I must also remind my readers
Nusquam quidem legimus, collegium apostolicum, aut cœtum ullum rectorum ecclesiarum christianarum coactum esse, qui pro auctoritate definierint hunc numerum evangeliorum esse admittendum, non majorem, nec minorem. Sed nec opus fuit, cum omnibus constaret, ex testimonio et consensu æqualium, quatuor hæc evangelia eorum vere fuisse, quorum nomina præferunt; cumque nihil in iis legatur quod scriptoribus dignum non sit, vel revelationi Veteris Testamenti, rectæve rationi, vel minimum adversetur; aut quod inferius ævum, recentiorumque manus ullo modo recipiat. Non opus fuit synodo grammaticorum, qui, pro imperio, pronuntiarent ea scripta, verbi causâ Ciceronis et Virgilii, quæ eorum esse non dubitamus, re verâ tantorum ingeniorum fetas fuisse, et posteritati eâ in re consulerent. Omnium consensus, non quæsitus, non rogatus, sed sponte significatus, prout occasio tulit, resque ipsæ omnibus, qui postea vixere, dubitationem omnem antever terunt-Sic et evangeliorum auctoritas merito constituta est, et invaluit, perpetuo consensu, sine ullo rectorum ecclesiæ decreto.
Idem dixerimus de epistolis apostolicis, quae nullius ecclesiastici conventûs judicio, sed constanti omnium christianorum testimonio, rebusque ipsis, quas complectuntur, auctoritatem omnem suam debent. Cleric. H. E. ann. 100. num. iii. iv. Vid. et ann. 29. num. xcii.
"Hist. de l'Eglise, 1. 8. ch. v. vi. vii.
New and full Method, Part I. ch. v. vi. vii.
of Augustine's excellent observations, in his arguments with the Manichees, concerning the genuineness and integrity of the books of the New Testament. I shall transcribe from him here a few lines only, which are very much to the present purpose. We know the writings of the apostles, says he, as we know the words of Plato, Aristo'tle, Cicero, Varro, and others; and as we know the writ'ings of divers ecclesiastical authors: forasmuch as they have the testimony of cotemporaries, and of those who have lived in succeeding ages.'
Upon the whole, the writings of the apostles and evangelists are received, as the works of other eminent men of antiquity are, upon the ground of general consent and testimony. Nor does the canon of the scriptures of the New Testament owe its establishment to the decisions of councils but it is the judgment of christian people in general: and so far as we are able to perceive, after a long and careful examination, it is a right and reasonable judgment. And it may induce us to believe, that if men were encouraged to think freely, in other matters also, and to judge for themselves, according to evidence, and proper assistances were afforded them, it would not be at all detrimental to the interests either of truth or virtue.
OF THE TIME OF WRITING THE GOSPELS, ESPECIALLY THE FIRST THREE.
That the Gospels are not mentioned, nor referred to, in the Epistles of the New Testament.
EUSEBIUS intimates, that many before him supposed, that when Paul in his epistle speaks of his own gospel, he
See Vol. iii. p. 422-424.
* Ib. p. 423, 424.
Φασι δε, ὡς αρα τε κατ' αυτον ευαγγελιο μνημονεύειν ὁ Παυλος ειωθεν, ὁπηνικα ὡς περι ίδιε τινος ευαγγελιε γραφων ελεγε, κατα το ευαγγελιον με. Eus. H. E. 1. 3. c. 4. p. 73. D.
intended the gospel according to Luke. We will therefore consider those texts, and some others of a like kind.
I. St. Paul says, Rom. ii. 16—" in the day, when God shall judge the secrets of men, according to my gospel." The same phrase occurs again, ch. xvi. 25; and 2 Tim. ii. 8, "Remember, that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead, according to my gospel." In all which places, I apprehend, it must be reasonable to understand, not any written gospel, or history of Jesus Christ: but the doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which had been preached by Paul. Which is also the opinion of learned modern interpreters in general.
II. 2 Cor. viii. 18," And we have sent with him the brother, whose praise is in the gospel, throughout all the churches." Many have been of opinion, that St. Luke is the brother here intended, and that St. Paul refers to Luke's written gospel. This is said to be Origen's interpretation; but I do not clearly perceive it. Origen, speaking of the four gospels, says: The third is that according to Luke, the gospel commended by Paul.' say, I do not perceive it to be clear, that Origen had an eye to 2 Cor. viii. 18. He might intend Rom. ii. 16, or xvi. 25, or 2 Tim. ii. 8. However, whether it be Origen's interpretation of that text or not, it is Jerom's; who, writing the history of St. Luke in his book of Illustrious Men, says: He wrote a gospel of which Paul makes mention,
saying: "And we have sent with him the brother, whose praise is in the gospel." To the same purposef also in the prologue to his Commentary upon St. Matthew : and likewise in his Commentary upon the epistle to Philemon.
Chrysostom upon the place speaks after this manner. And who is this brother? Some say, Luke: and think, that the apostle refers to the history written by him. Others say Barnabas. For by gospel he intends unwritten
Who this brother was, is much contested. Antiquity has carried it for St. Luke, worthy of praise in all the churches for the gospel which he wrote. The authority of this assertion seems to rest upon the words of Origen, the 'interpolated Ignatius, and St. Jerom.' So Whitby upon the place. Παυλε επαινέμενον ευαγγελιον. Ap.
c Και τρίτον το κατα Λεκαν, το ύπο Eus. 1. 6. cap. 25. p. 226. C.
d See Vol. ii. p. 494.
f lb. num. viii. 3.
e See Vol. iv. ch. cxiv. num. vii. 1. 8 De quo [Lucâ] et in alio loco; Misi, inquit, cum illo fratrem, cujus laus est in evangelio per omnes ecclesias&c. In Philem. T. IV. P. I. p. 454.
Και τις ετος εξιν ὁ αδελφος; τινες μεν τον Λεκαν. Και φασι, δια την ἱσοριαν ήνπερ εγραψε. Τινες δε τον Βαρναβαν. Και γαρ το αγραφον κηρυγμα ευαγγελιον καλεῖ. In 2 Epist. ad Corinth. hom. 18. tom. X.