1. The writings of the New Testament fall into three main divisions
; the historical
, the epistolary
, and the prophetical
, the latter including only the Apocalypse. This distinction is not to be understood in an absolute sense; since, as every reader knows, there are prophetical passages in the historical books, and both historical and prophetical in the epistles; but it gives with accuracy the general character of each division. In outward form the Apocalypse is epistolary, being addressed, with the apostolic greeting, to the seven churches of Asia, and containing messages to each. But its contents, after the first three chapters, are so wholly prophetical, that it is entitled to stand by itself in any general division.
2. The order of these main divisions is natural and appropriate. The gospel, as was remarked at the outset (Chap.1, No.1), is not a mere system of philosophy or ethics, but rests on a basis of historic facts. On these its whole system of doctrines and duties is built; so that to destroy the foundation would be to destroy the superstructure also. It is suitable, therefore, that the record of the facts should hold the first place. The apostolic epistles, which unfold the doctrines and duties involved in the gospel, and make a practical application of them to all the manifold relations of life, naturally follow the historic record. The mighty system of prophecies contained in the book of Revelation, which stretches over the whole future history of the church to the end of time, forms an appropriate close to the entire collection of writings.
3. Equally appropriate is the order of the two subdivisions of the historic part -- first, the four Gospels, containing the history of our Lord's life; secondly, the Acts of the Apostles. In the general arrangement of the epistles, the thirteen which bear the name of Paul stand first in order. The seven so-called catholic epistles occupy the last place. Intermediate between these two subdivisions stands the epistle to the Hebrews, which is anonymous, though generally ascribed to Paul. The epistles which bear the name of Paul fall into two groups -- nine addressed to Christian churches, which occupy the first place; then four to particular persons. Of these last, the first three, being addressed to Timothy and Titus, the apostle's companions in travel and in the gospel ministry, are appropriately named from their contents the pastoral epistles. The letter to Philemon, a private member of the church in Colosse, naturally stands last of all.
We add from Bleek (Introduc. to New Test., secs.18 and 254) the following additional notices:
The present order of the Gospels is very ancient. Only in some manuscripts of the Old Latin version, in one Greco-Latin manuscript (the so-called Codex Bezae or Cambridge Codex), and in the manuscript of the Gothic version, the two apostles Matthew and John stand first; then the two companions of apostles, Luke and Mark, or sometimes Mark and Luke. In the very ancient Curetonian-Syrian manuscript the order is Matthew, Mark, John, Luke.
The Acts of the Apostles stand in some manuscripts after the Pauline or after the catholic epistles.
In the oldest Greek manuscripts, and generally in the greatest number of Greek manuscripts which contain the whole New Testament, the catholic epistles stand before the Pauline; an arrangement which some modern editors, as Lachmann and Tischendorf, have followed. In many manuscripts, the oldest Greek included, the epistle to the Hebrews stands after 2 Thessalonians, immediately before the pastoral epistles. Luther placed together, at the end of his version, the epistles to the Hebrews, the epistles of James and Jude, and the Apocalypse. But this arrangement rested on no authority of manuscripts. It was only an expression of his private judgment respecting their canonical authority, which he placed below that of the other books of the New Testament.
4. We have seen (Chap.13, No.4) that in the arrangement of the books of the Old Testament, the order of time is followed only very partially. The same is true respecting the order of books in the New Testament, a fact which the biblical student ought always to bear in mind. If we look to the several divisions and subdivisions of the New Testament writings, it is obvious that the arrangement is not chronological. It is generally admitted that the Gospel according to John was written after the death of Peter and Paul; consequently, after the Acts of the Apostles (which were written during the life of Paul, Chap.5, No.5), after all the Pauline epistles, and probably after all the Catholic epistles except those which are ascribed to John himself. The Acts of the Apostles, again, are of later date than several of Paul's epistles. Finally, neither the Pauline nor the catholic epistles are arranged in chronological order. See below, Chap.30, No.6. The intelligent student of the New Testament will avail himself of all the means at his command to ascertain the date, proximately at least, of each particular book; that he may thus connect it with the development of Christianity in the threefold line of doctrine, practice, and polity.
5. The present distinction of large letters (capitals) and small did not come into use before the ninth century. In conformity with ancient usage, the manuscripts executed before this period are written in large disconnected letters (the so-called uncial), without any marks of interpunction, or even division of words. This is called the continuous writing (scriptio continua), in which it is left to the reader's discretion to make the necessary division of words and sentences; as if the beginning of the Gospel according to John were written thus in Latin and English:
INPRINCIPIOERATVERBUMET INTHEBEGINNINGWASTHEWORDAND VERBUMERATAPUDDEUMETDEUSE THEWORDWASWITHGODANDGODW RATVERBUMHOCERATINPRINCIPI ASTHEWORDTHESAMEWASINTHEBEGIN OAPUDDEUMOMNIAPERIPSUMFA NINGWITHGODALLTHINGSBYHIMWEREMA
Writers before our Saviour's time do indeed speak of signs of interpunction; but they seem to have been in use only in the grammatical schools, and with a limited application to certain doubtful passages in the ancient writers. That they were unknown in the older manuscripts of the New Testament is evident from the discussions that arose among the church fathers respecting the right division of certain passages, in which they never appeal to the authority of manuscripts, but argue solely from the nature of the connection. The reader may see a collection of examples in Hug's Introduction to the New Testament, Sec.43, where are also some curious examples of the wrong division of words.
6. To obviate the inconvenience of this continuous mode of writing, there was introduced, about the middle of the fifth century, what is called the stichometrical mode (Greek stichos, a row or line, and metron, a measure). This consisted in arranging in a single line only so many words as could be read, consistently with the sense, at a single inspiration.
The invention of stichometry has been generally ascribed to Euthalius, a deacon in Alexandria, who, in the year 458, set forth a copy of Paul's epistles stichometrically arranged; but Tregelles is inclined to the opinion that he borrowed the system from an earlier writer, Pamphilus the martyr. However this may be, the original conception doubtless came from the stichometry of Hebrew poetry. Hug (Sec.44) and Tregelles (Horne's Introduct., vol.4, chap.4) give an example in Greek from a fragment of the Pauline epistles. This example (Titus 2:2, 3), when literally translated into English according to the Greek order of words, reads as follows:
Though the design of stichometry was not interpunction according to the connection of thought, yet it seems to have led to this result. The expensiveness of this mode of writing, owing to the waste of parchment, naturally suggested the idea of separating the lines by a simple point, thus:
INLOVE. INPATIENCE. THEAGED
As these divisions were mainly rhythmical, and often broke the true connection of thought, men sought to introduce a more logical system of interpunction. Thus was laid the foundation of our present system; which, however, was not perfected till after the invention of the art of printing.
In the opinion of some, the use of the dot, at least to some extent, was earlier than stichometry. From the eighth or ninth century punctuation in manuscripts became more common and systematic. In cursive manuscripts -- those that employ the running hand with large and small letters and the separation of the words, a style of writing that became the common one from the ninth century and onward -- punctuation also prevails, though not according to any one established system. Tregelles, ubi sup. Various other particulars interesting to those who study the Greek text in the original, as those relating to the accents, the smooth and rough breathing, and the iota subscript, are here omitted.
7. We come next to consider the ancient divisions made in the contents of the sacred text. Chapters are very early mentioned, as by Tertullian and Dionysius of Alexandria. But it is uncertain whether any thing more is meant than parts or sections of given contents. The earliest formal division of the four gospels that has come down to us consists of the Ammonian sections (Greek kephalaia, heads or chapters), so named from Ammonius of Alexandria, who, about the middle of the third century, prepared a harmony of the four gospels -- the Gospel by four, as Eusebius calls it. His plan was, to arrange in the order of Matthew the parallel passages side by side, interpolating those that were wanting in Matthew. To this end, he divided each of the gospels into sections the length of which was very various, being wholly determined by the parallelisms of the other gospels. Of these sections Matthew contained 355; Mark, 234 (in Wordsworth's Greek Testament, 236 are given); Luke, 342; John, 231 (in Wordsworth's Greek Testament, 232). The infelicity of this arrangement was that, with the exception of the first gospel, the true order of the evangelists was broken up -- |The train of sequence of the three was destroyed in respect to the orderly course of reading,| as Eusebius says (Letter to Carpianus, given in Wordsworth's Greek Testament).
To remedy this evil, Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, in the following century connected with these Ammonian sections his ten canons. These are ten tables, arranged according to the order of Matthew, or where sections are wanting in Matthew, according to the order of the next evangelist that contains them, in such a way as to show at a glance what sections of the other evangelists answer to any given section of that gospel which stands first in order in each canon.
Numbering the four gospels in order -- 1, 2, 3, 4 -- the ten canons of Eusebius contain as follows:
I. Sections common to 1, 2, 3, 4.
II. | 1, 2, 3.
III. | 1, 3, 4.
IV. | 1, 2, 4.
V. | 1, 3.
VI. | 1, 2.
VII. | 1, 4.
VIII. | 2, 3.
IX. | 3, 4.
X. Sections peculiar to one.
A couple of examples will make this matter plain. Turning to what is now the beginning of the thirteenth chapter of Matthew, we find (the Greek numerals being exchanged for those in common use) the sign 131/II that is, the 131st Ammonian section of Matthew with the second canon of Eusebius. Turning to the table of the second canon, we find, corresponding to the 131st section of Matthew, the 36th of Mark and the 76th of Luke, which contain the parallel passages concerning the sower. Again, connected with Mark 1:23, is the sign, 14/VIII whence we learn, by reference to the eighth canon, that the fourteenth section of Mark answers to the 25th of Luke. By a repetition of the canons as often as necessary, so as to allow each gospel in turn to take the lead, Wordsworth has greatly facilitated the work of comparing parallel passages.
|The Codex Vaticanus B, contains a distribution into sections wholly peculiar. Of these, St. Matthew contains 170, St. Mark 61, etc. The length of these divisions is very unequal; the sense being the reason of the breaks occurring when they do. In the gospels, at least, the sections are perhaps the best that were ever devised; and this system of capitulary division is probably the earliest of which we have the means of knowing any thing.| Horne's Introduction, vol.4, chap.4, revised edition, 1860.
8. Different from the Ammonian-Eusebian sections, and later in their origin, are the divisions of the gospels called titles, because each of them received a title from one of the first or principal subjects mentioned in it. They are thought to have been connected with the public reading of the gospels. Of these, Matthew contains 68; Mark, 48; Luke, 83; John, 18. They are, therefore, larger than the Ammonian sections, and resemble more nearly our modern chapters.
These titles are called by the Latins briefs (breves), and the tables of their contents breviaries (breviaria). They did not come into common use before the fifth century, and are commonly annexed to manuscripts along with the Ammonian-Eusebian sections. But they are the only divisions known to some of the church fathers, as Euthymius and Theophylact.
9. The divisions of the other books of the New Testament are thought to be of later origin. Euthalius introduced into a copy, which he sent to Athanasius the younger, divisions called chapters. He has sometimes been considered the author of those in the Acts and catholic epistles; but he probably took them from an older source. Those in the Pauline epistles he expressly ascribed to |one of the wisest and most Christ-loving of our fathers.| He also gave headings to the chapters, descriptive of their contents, but collected from previous sources. The Apocalypse was divided into twenty-four larger sections and seventy-two smaller -- a work ascribed to Andreas of Caesarea in Cappadocia. Tregelles, in Horne's Introduction, vol.4, chap.4.
10. Our present division of chapters was made in the thirteenth century, by Cardinal Hugo, from whom proceeded also that in the Old Testament. It was first introduced into the Latin copies, and afterwards into the Greek. Our present division of verses was made by Robert Stephens, in 1551. It was preceded by some earlier divisions, as that of Pagninus, in which the verses were longer than those of Stephens.
Distinct from all the above divisions are the church-lessons, made very early, in imitation of the Jewish Haphtaroth, or sections from the prophets. Chap.13, No.6. The beginning of these seems to have been in special selections for the church festivals. But the usage was afterwards extended so as to include selections for all the Sabbaths and feast-days of the year. Hence from the fifth century and onward the whole New Testament was no longer publicly read, as in the primitive days of Christianity, according to the free judgment of those who conducted the church-services; but these selected sections (pericopae). Collections of these lessons were called by the general name of lectionaries (lectionaria). Those from the gospels or Acts and epistles received special names indicative of their contents. See Bleek, Sec.265; Horne's Introduction, vol.4, chap.4, end.
11. From the above brief survey, it is manifest that none of the external divisions of the sacred text rest on any divine authority. They are the work of uninspired men, and are to be treated accordingly. For convenience of reference, a division of the Scriptures into chapters and verses is indispensable; and we may well rest contented with that which now prevails, though it cannot claim perfection. But in the interpretation of the inspired word we must go behind human divisions, carefully inquiring after the true connection of thought, according to the acknowledged laws of interpretation. To give one example out of many, we must not infer that the last verse of the eleventh chapter of the book of Revelation belongs to the preceding and not the following context, because of its separation from the latter in the division of chapters; but we must determine its true connection independently of this division.
A very good arrangement is that of Paragraph Bibles, in which the distinctions of chapter and verse are thrown into the margin, the text being broken into longer or shorter sections according to the true course of thought. Yet this mode of division also is human, and cannot be infallible.
12. The titles of the several books of the New Testament did not proceed immediately from the authors themselves. In form they present some diversity; for example: The Gospel according to Matthew; according to Matthew; the holy Gospel according to Matthew, etc., the shorter and simpler titles being, as a rule, the more ancient. For substance, however, the different forms are the same. They represent the ancient church tradition, and are of very high authority. The subscriptions, on the other hand, which stand at the end of the epistles of Paul, that to the Hebrews included -- are confessedly the work of later copyists. They are of no authority, and are sometimes manifestly incorrect.