The historical books of the New Testament, meaning thereby the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, are quoted, or alluded to, by a series of Christian writers, beginning with those who were contemporary with the apostles, or who immediately followed them, and proceeding in close and regular succession from their time to the present.
The medium of proof stated in this proposition is, of all others, the most unquestionable, the least liable to any practices of fraud, and is not diminished by the lapse of ages. Bishop Burnet, in the History of his Own Times, inserts various extracts from Lord Clarendon's History. One such insertion is a proof that Lord Clarendon's History was extant at the time when Bishop Burnet wrote, that it had been read by Bishop Burnet, that it was received by Bishop Burnet as a work of Lord Clarendon, and also regarded by him as an authentic account of the transactions which it relates; and it will be a proof of these points a thousand years hence, or as long as the books exist. Quintilian having quoted as Cicero's, (Quint, lib. xl. c. l.) that well known trait of dissembled vanity: -- |Si quid est in me ingenii, Judices, quod sentio quam sit exiguum;| -- the quotation would be strong evidence, were there any doubt, that the oration, which opens with this address, actually came from Cicero's pen. These instances, however simple, may serve to point out to a reader who is little accustomed to such researches the nature and value of the argument.
The testimonies which we have to bring forward under this proposition are the following: --
I. There is extant an epistle ascribed to Barnabas, the companion of Paul. It is quoted as the epistle of Barnabas, by Clement of Alexandria, A.D. CXCIV; by Origen, A.D. CCXXX. It is mentioned by Eusebius, A.D. CCCXV, and by Jerome, A.D. CCCXCII, as an ancient work in their time, bearing the name of Barnabas, and as well known and read amongst Christians, though not accounted a part of Scripture. It purports to have been written soon after the destruction of Jerusalem, during the calamities which followed that disaster; and it bears the character of the age to which it professes to belong.
In this epistle appears the following remarkable passage: -- |Let us, therefore, beware lest it come upon us, as it is written; There are many called, few chosen.| From the expression, |as it is written,| we infer with certainty, that at the time when the author of this epistle lived, there was a book extant, well known to Christians, and of authority amongst them, containing these words: -- |Many are called, few chosen.| Such a book is our present Gospel of Saint Matthew, in which this text is twice found, (Matt xx.16; xxii.14.) and is found in no other book now known. There is a further observation to be made upon the terms of the quotation. The writer of the epistle was a Jew. The phrase |it is written| was the very form in which the Jews quoted their Scriptures. It is not probable, therefore, that he would have used this phrase, and without qualification, of any book but what had acquired a kind of Scriptural authority. If the passage remarked in this ancient writing had been found in one of Saint Paul's Epistles, it would have been esteemed by every one a high testimony to Saint Matthew's Gospel. It ought, therefore, to be remembered, that the writing in which it is found was probably by very few years posterior to those of Saint Paul.
Beside this passage, there are also in the epistle before us several others, in which the sentiment is the same with what we meet with in Saint Matthew's Gospel, and two or three in which we recognize the same words. In particular, the author of the epistle repeats the precept, |Give to every one that asketh thee;| (Matt. v.42.) and saith that Christ chose as his apostles, who were to preach the Gospel, men who were great sinners, that he might show that he came |not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.| (Matt. ix.13.)
II. We are in possession of an epistle written by Clement, bishop of Rome, (Lardner, Cred. vol. p.62, et seq.) whom ancient writers, without any doubt or scruple, assert to have been the Clement whom Saint Paul mentions, Phil. iv.3; |with Clement also, and other my fellow-labourers, whose names are in the book of life.| This epistle is spoken of by the ancients as an epistle acknowledged by all; and, as Irenaeus well represents its value, |written by Clement, who had seen the blessed apostles, and conversed with them; who had the preaching of the apostles still sounding in his ears, and their traditions before his eyes.| It is addressed to the church of Corinth; and what alone may seem almost decisive of its authenticity, Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, about the year 170, i. e. about eighty or ninety years after the epistle was written, bears witness, |that it had been wont to be read in that church from ancient times.|
This epistle affords, amongst others, the following valuable passages: -- |Especially remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, which he spake teaching gentleness and long-suffering: for thus he said: Be ye merciful, that ye may obtain mercy; forgive, that it my be forgiven unto you; as you do, so shall it be done unto you; as you give, so shall it be given unto you; as ye judge, so shall ye be judged; as ye show kindness, so shall kindness be shown unto you; with what measure ye mete, with the same shall it be measured to you. By this command, and by these rules, let us establish ourselves, that we may always walk obediently to his holy words.|
Again; |Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, for he said, Woe to that man by whom offences come; it were better for him that he had not been born, than that he should offend one of my elect; it were better for him that a millstone should be tied about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the sea, than that he should offend one of my little ones.|
In both these passages we perceive the high respect paid to the words of Christ as recorded by the evangelists; |Remember the words of the Lord Jesus; -- by this command, and by these rules, let us establish ourselves, that we may always walk obediently to his holy words.| We perceive also in Clement a total unconsciousness of doubt whether these were the real words of Christ, which are read as such in the Gospels. This observation indeed belongs to the whole series of testimony, and especially to the most ancient part of it. Whenever anything now read in the Gospels is met with in an early Christian writing, it is always observed to stand there as acknowledged truth, i. e. to be introduced without hesitation, doubt, or apology. It is to be observed also, that, as this epistle was written in the name of the church of Rome, and addressed to the church of Corinth, it ought to be taken as exhibiting the judgment not only of Clement, who drew up the letter, but of these churches themselves, at least as to the authority of the books referred to.
It may be said that, as Clement has not used words of quotation, it is not certain that he refers to any book whatever. The words of Christ which he has put down, he might himself have heard from the apostles, or might have received through the ordinary medium of oral tradition. This has been said: but that no such inference can be drawn from the absence of words of quotation, is proved by the three following considerations: -- First, that Clement, in the very same manner, namely, without any mark of reference, uses a passage now found in the epistle to the Romans; (Rom. i.29.) which passage, from the peculiarity of the words which compose it, and from their order, it is manifest that he must have taken from the book. The same remark may be repeated of some very singular sentiments in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Secondly, that there are many sentences of Saint Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians standing in Clement's epistle without any sign of quotation, which yet certainly are quotations; because it appears that Clement had Saint Paul's epistle before him, inasmuch as in one place he mentions it in terms too express to leave us in any doubt: -- |Take into your hands the epistle of the blessed apostle Paul.| Thirdly, that this method of adopting words of Scripture without reference or acknowledgment was, as will appear in the sequel, a method in general use amongst the most ancient Christian writers. -- These analogies not only repel the objection, but cast the presumption on the other side, and afford a considerable degree of positive proof, that the words in question have been borrowed from the places of Scripture in which we now find them. But take it if you will the other way, that Clement had heard these words from the apostles or first teachers of Christianity; with respect to the precise point of our argument, viz. that the Scriptures contain what the apostles taught, this supposition may serve almost as well.
III. Near the conclusion of the epistle to the Romans, Saint Paul, amongst others, sends the following salutation: |Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren which are with them.| Of Hermas, who appears in this catalogue of Roman Christians as contemporary with Saint Paul, a book bearing the name, and it is most probably rightly, is still remaining. It is called the Shepherd, (Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p.111.) or pastor of Hermas. Its antiquity is incontestable, from the quotations of it in Irenaeus, A.D.178; Clement of Alexandria, A.D.194; Tertullian, A.D.200; Origen, A.D.230. The notes of time extant in the epistle itself agree with its title, and with the testimonies concerning it, for it purports to have been written during the life-time of Clement.
In this place are tacit allusions to Saint Matthew's, Saint Luke's, and Saint John's Gospels; that is to say, there are applications of thoughts and expressions found in these Gospels, without citing the place or writer from which they were taken. In this form appear in Hermas the confessing and denying of Christ; (Matt. x.32, 33, or, Luke xii.8, 9.) the parable of the seed sown (Matt. xiii.3, or, Luke viii.5); the comparison of Christ's disciples to little children; the saying |he that putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery| (Luke xvi.18.); The singular expression, |having received all power from his Father,| in probable allusion to Matt. xxviii.18; and Christ being the |gate,| or only way of coming |to God,| in plain allusion to John xiv.6; x.7, 9. There is also a probable allusion to Acts v.32.
This piece is the representation of a vision, and has by many been accounted a weak and fanciful performance. I therefore observe, that the character of the writing has little to do with the purpose for which we adduce it. It is the age in which it was composed that gives the value to its testimony.
IV. Ignatius, as it is testified by ancient Christian writers, became bishop of Antioch about thirty-seven years after Christ's ascension; and, therefore, from his time, and place, and station, it is probable that he had known and conversed with many of the apostles. Epistles of Ignatius are referred to by Polycarp, his contemporary. Passages found in the epistles now extant under his name are quoted by Irenaeus, A.D.178; by Origen, A.D.230; and the occasion of writing the epistles is given at large by Eusebius and Jerome. What are called the smaller epistles of Ignatius are generally deemed to be those which were read by Irenaeus, Origen, and Eusebius (Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p.147.).
In these epistles are various undoubted allusions to the Gospels of Saint Matthew and Saint John; yet so far of the same form with those in the preceding articles, that, like them, they are not accompanied with marks of quotation.
Of these allusions the following are clear specimens:
Matt. : |Christ was baptized of John, that all righteousness might be fulfilled by him.| |Be ye wise as serpents in all things, and harmless as a dove.|
John : |Yet the Spirit is not deceived, being from God: for it knows whence it comes and whither it goes.| |He (Christ) is the door of the Father, by which enter in Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob, and the apostles, and the church.|
As to the manner of quotation, this is observable; -- Ignatius, in one place, speaks of St. Paul in terms of high respect, and quotes his Epistle to the Ephesians by name; yet, in several other places, he borrows words and sentiments from the same epistle without mentioning it; which shows that this was his general manner of using and applying writings then extant, and then of high authority.
V. Polycarp (Lardner, Cred. vol. i.192.) had been taught by the apostles; had conversed with many who had seen Christ; was also by the apostles appointed bishop of Smyrna. This testimony concerning Polycarp is given by Irenaeus, who in his youth had seen him: -- |I can tell the place,| saith Irenaeus, |in which the blessed Polycarp sat and taught, and his going out and coming in, and the manner of his life, and the form of his person, and the discourses he made to the people, and how he related his conversation with John, and others who had seen the Lord, and holy he related their sayings, and what he had heard concerning the Lord, both concerning his miracles and his doctrine, as he had received them from the eyewitnesses of the word of life: all which Polycarp related agreeable to the Scriptures.|
Of Polycarp, whose proximity to the age and country and persons of the apostles is thus attested, we have one undoubted epistle remaining. And this, though a short letter, contains nearly forty clear allusions to books of the New Testament; which is strong evidence of the respect which Christians of that age bore for these books.
Amongst these, although the writings of St. Paul are more frequently used by Polycarp than any other parts of Scripture, there are copious allusions to the Gospel of St. Matthew, some to passages found in the Gospels both of Matthew and Luke, and some which more nearly resemble the words in Luke.
I select the following as fixing the authority of the Lord's prayer, and the use of it amongst the primitive Christians: |If therefore we pray the Lord, that he will forgive us, we ought also to forgive.|
|With supplication beseeching the all-seeing God not to lead us into temptation.|
And the following, for the sake of repeating an observation already made, that words of our Lord found in our Gospels were at this early day quoted as spoken by him; and not only so, but quoted with so little question or consciousness of doubt about their being really his words, as not even to mention, much less to canvass, the authority from which they were taken:
|But remembering what the Lord said, teaching, Judge not, that ye be not judged; forgive, and ye shall be forgiven; be ye merciful, that ye may obtain mercy; with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.| (Matt. vii.1, 2; v.7; Luke vi.37, 38.)
Supposing Polycarp to have had these words from the books in which we now find them, it is manifest that these books were considered by him, and, as he thought, considered by his readers, us authentic accounts of Christ's discourses; and that that point was incontestible [sic].
The following is a decisive, though what we call a tacit reference to St. Peter's speech in the Acts of the Apostles: -- |whom God hath raised, having loosed the pains of death.| (Acts ii.24.)
VI. Papias, (Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p.239.) a hearer of John, and companion of Polycarp, as Irenaeus attests, and of that age, as all agree, in a passage quoted by Eusebius, from a work now lost, expressly ascribes the respective Gospels to Matthew and Mark; and in a manner which proves that these Gospels must have publicly borne the names of these authors at that time, and probably long before; for Papias does not say that one Gospel was written by Matthew, and another by Mark; but, assuming this as perfectly well known, he tells us from what materials Mark collected his account, viz. from Peter's preaching, and in what language Matthew wrote, viz. in Hebrew. Whether Papias was well informed in this statement, or not; to the point for which I produce this testimony, namely, that these books bore these names at this time, his authority is complete.
The writers hitherto alleged had all lived and conversed with some of the apostles. The works of theirs which remain are in general very short pieces, yet rendered extremely valuable by their antiquity; and none, short as they are, but what contain some important testimony to our historical Scriptures.
VII. Not long after these, that is, not much more than twenty years after the last, follows Justin Martyr (Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p.258.). His remaining works are much larger than any that have yet been noticed. Although the nature of his two principal writings, one of which was addressed to heathens, and the other was a conference with a Jew, did not lead him to such frequent appeals to Christian books as would have appeared in a discourse intended for Christian readers; we nevertheless reckon up in them between twenty and thirty quotations of the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, certain, distinct, and copious: if each verse be counted separately, a much greater number; if each expression, a very great one.
We meet with quotations of three of the Gospels within the compass of half a page: |And in other words he says, Depart from me into outer darkness, which the Father hath prepared for Satan and his angels,| (which is from Matthew xxv.41.) |And again he said, in other words, I give unto you power to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and venomous beasts, and upon all the power of the enemy.| (This from Luke x.19.) |And before he was crucified, he said, The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the Scribes and Pharisees, and be crucified, and rise again the third day.| (This from Mark viii.31.)
In another place Justin quotes a passage in the history of Christ's birth, as delivered by Matthew and John, and fortifies his quotation by this remarkable testimony: |As they have taught, who have written the history of all things concerning our Saviour Jesus Christ; and we believe them.| Quotations are also found from the Gospel of Saint John. What moreover seems extremely material to be observed is, that in all Justin's works, from which might be extracted almost a complete life of Christ, there are but two instances in which he refers to anything as said or done by Christ, which is not related concerning him in our present Gospels: which shows, that these Gospels, and these, we may say, alone, were the authorities from which the Christians of that day drew the information upon which they depended. One of these instances is of a saying of Christ, not met with in any book now extant.
The other of a circumstance in Christ's baptism, namely, a fiery or luminous appearance upon the water, which, according to Epiphanius, is noticed in the Gospel of the Hebrews: and which might be true: but which, whether true or false, is mentioned by Justin, with a plain mark of diminution when compared with what he quotes as resting upon Scripture authority. The reader will advert to this distinction: |and then, when Jesus came to the river Jordan, where John was baptizing, as Jesus descended into the water, a fire also was kindled in Jordan: and when he came up out of the water, (the apostles of this our Christ have written), that the Holy Ghost lighted upon him as a dove.|
All the references in Justin are made without mentioning the author; which proves that these books were perfectly notorious, and that there were no other accounts of Christ then extant, or, at least, no other so received and credited as to make it necessary to distinguish these from the rest.
But although Justin mentions not the author's name, he calls the books, |Memoirs composed by the Apostles;| |Memoirs composed by the Apostles and their Companions;| which descriptions, the latter especially, exactly suit with the titles which the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles now bear.
VIII. Hegesippus (Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p.314.) came about thirty years after Justin. His testimony is remarkable only for this particular; that he relates of himself that, travelling from Palestine to Rome, he visited, on his journey, many bishops; and that, |in every succession, and in every city, the same doctrine is taught, which the Law and the Prophets, and the Lord teacheth.| This is an important attestation, from good authority, and of high antiquity. It is generally understood that by the word |Lord,| Hegesippus intended some writing or writings, containing the teaching of Christ; in which sense alone the term combines with the other term |Law and Prophets,| which denote writings; and together with them admit of the verb |teacheth| in the present tense. Then, that these writings were some or all of the books of the New Testament, is rendered probable from hence, that in the fragments of his works, which are preserved in Eusebius, and in a writer of the ninth century, enough, though it be little, is left to show, that Hegesippus expressed divers thing in the style of the Gospels, and of the Acts of the Apostles; that he referred to the history in the second chapter of Matthew, and recited a text of that Gospel as spoken by our Lord.
IX. At this time, viz. about the year 170, the churches of Lyons and Vienne, in France, sent a relation of the sufferings of their martyrs to the churches of Asia and Phrygia. (Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p.332.) The epistle is preserved entire by Eusebius. And what carries in some measure the testimony of these churches to a higher age, is, that they had now for their bishop, Pothinus, who was ninety years old, and whose early life consequently must have immediately joined on with the times of the apostles. In this epistle are exact references to the Gospels of Luke and John, and to the Acts of the Apostles; the form of reference the same as in all the preceding articles. That from Saint John is in these words: |Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by the Lord, that whosoever killeth you, will think that he doeth God service.| (John xvi.2.)
X. The evidence now opens upon us full and clear. Irenaeus (Lardner, vol. i. p.344.) succeeded Pothinus as bishop of Lyons. In his youth he had been a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of John. In the time in which he lived, he was distant not much more than a century from the publication of the Gospels; in his instruction only by one step separated from the persons of the apostles. He asserts of himself and his contemporaries, that they were able to reckon up, in all the principal churches, the succession of bishops from the first. (Adv. Haeres.1. iii. c.3.) I remark these particulars concerning Irenaeus with more formality than usual, because the testimony which this writer affords to the historical books of the New Testament, to their authority, and to the titles which they bear, is express, positive, and exclusive. One principal passage, in which this testimony is contained, opens with a precise assertion of the point which we have laid down as the foundation of our argument, viz., that the story which the Gospels exhibit is the story which the apostles told. |We have not received,| saith Irenaeus, |the knowledge of the way of our salvation by any others than those by whom the Gospel has been brought to us. Which Gospel they first preached, and afterwards, by the will of God, committed to writing, that it might be for time to come the foundation and pillar of our faith. -- For after that our Lord arose from the dead, and they (the apostles) were endowed from above with the power of the Holy Ghost coming down upon them, they received a perfect knowledge of all things. They then went forth to all the ends of the earth, declaring to men the Message of heavenly peace, having all of them, and every one, alike the Gospel of God. Matthew then, among the Jews, wrote a Gospel in their own language, while Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel at Rome, and founding a church there: and after their exit, Mark also, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, delivered to us in writing the things that had been preached by Peter and Luke, the companion of Paul, put down in a book the Gospel preached by him (Paul). Afterwards John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned upon his breast, he likewise published a Gospel while he dwelt at Ephesus in Asia.| If any modern divine should write a book upon the genuineness of the Gospels, he could not assert it more expressly, or state their original more distinctly, than Irenaeus hath done within little more than a hundred years after they were published.
The correspondency, in the days of Irenaeus, of the oral and written tradition, and the deduction of the oral tradition through various channels from the age of the apostles, which was then lately passed, and, by consequence, the probability that the books truly delivered what the apostles taught, is inferred also with strict regularity from another passage of his works. |The tradition of the apostles,| this father saith, |hath spread itself over the whole universe; and all they who search after the sources of truth will find this tradition to be held sacred in every church, We might enumerate all those who have been appointed bishops to these churches by the apostles, and all their successors, up to our days. It is by this uninterrupted succession that we have received the tradition which actually exists in the church, as also the doctrines of truth, as it was preached by the apostles.| (Iren. in Haer. I. iii. c.3.) The reader will observe upon this, that the same Irenaeus, who is now stating the strength and uniformity of the tradition, we have before seen recognizing, in the fullest manner, the authority of the written records; from which we are entitled to conclude, that they were then conformable to each other.
I have said that the testimony of Irenaeus in favour of our Gospels is exclusive of all others. I allude to a remarkable passage in his works, in which, for some reasons sufficiently fanciful, he endeavours to show that there could he neither more nor fewer Gospels than four. With his argument we have no concern. The position itself proves that four, and only four, Gospels were at that time publicly read and acknowledged. That these were our Gospels, and in the state in which we now have them, is shown from many other places of this writer beside that which we have already alleged. He mentions how Matthew begins his Gospel, bow Mark begins and ends his, and their supposed reasons for so doing. He enumerates at length the several passages of Christ's history in Luke, which are not found in any of the other evangelists. He states the particular design with which Saint John composed his Gospel, and accounts for the doctrinal declarations which precede the narrative.
To the book of the Acts of the Apostles, its author, and credit, the testimony of Irenaeus is no less explicit. Referring to the account of Saint Paul's conversion and vocation, in the ninth chapter of that book, |Nor can they,| says he, meaning the parties with whom he argues, |show that he is not to be credited, who has related to us the truth with the greatest exactness.| In another place, he has actually collected the several texts, in which the writer of the history is represented as accompanying Saint Paul; which leads him to deliver a summary of almost the whole of the last twelve chapters of the book.
In an author thus abounding with references and allusions to the Scriptures, there is not one to any apocryphal Christian writing whatever. This is a broad line of distinction between our sacred books and the pretensions of all others.
The force of the testimony of the period which we have considered is greatly strengthened by the observation, that it is the testimony, and the concurring testimony, of writers who lived in countries remote from one another. Clement flourished at Rome, Ignatius at Antioch, Polycarp at Smyrna, Justin Martyr in Syria, and Irenaeus in France.
XI. Omitting Athenagoras and Theophilus, who lived about this time; (Lardner, vol. i. p.400 & 422.) in the remaining works of the former of whom are clear references to Mark and Luke; and in the works of the latter, who was bishop of Antioch, the sixth in succession from the apostles, evident allusions to Matthew and John, and probable allusions to Luke (which, considering the nature of the compositions, that they were addressed to heathen readers, is as much as could be expected); observing also, that the works of two learned Christian writers of the same age, Miltiades and Pantaenus, (Lardner, vol. i. p.413, 450.) are now lost: of which Miltiades Eusebius records, that his writings |were monuments of zeal for the Divine Oracles;| and which Pantaenus, as Jerome testifies, was a man of prudence and learning, both in the Divine Scriptures and secular literature, and had left many commentaries upon the Holy Scriptures then extant. Passing by these without further remark, we come to one of the most voluminous of ancient Christian writers, Clement of Alexandria (Lardner, vol. ii. p.469.). Clement followed Irenaeus at the distance of only sixteen years, and therefore may be said to maintain the series of testimony in an uninterrupted continuation.
In certain of Clement's works, now lost, but of which various parts are recited by Eusebius, there is given a distinct account of the order in which the four Gospels were written. The Gospels which contain the genealogies were (he says) written first; Mark's next, at the instance of Peter's followers; and John's the last; and this account he tells us that he had received from presbyters of more ancient times. This testimony proves the following points; that these Gospels were the histories of Christ then publicly received and relied upon; and that the dates, occasions, and circumstances, of their publication were at that time subjects of attention and inquiry amongst Christians. In the works of Clement which remain, the four Gospels are repeatedly quoted by the names of their authors, and the Acts of the Apostles is expressly ascribed to Luke. In one place, after mentioning a particular circumstance, he adds these remarkable words: |We have not this passage in the four Gospels delivered to us, but in that according to the Egyptians;| which puts a marked distinction between the four Gospels and all other histories, or pretended histories, of Christ. In another part of his works, the perfect confidence with which he received the Gospels is signified by him in these words: |That this is true appears from hence, that it is written in the Gospel according to Saint Luke;| and again, |I need not use many words, but only to allege the evangelic voice of the Lord.| His quotations are numerous. The sayings of Christ, of which he alleges many, are all taken from our Gospels; the single exception to this observation appearing to be a loose quotation of a passage in Saint Matthew's Gospel.
XII. In the age in which they lived, (Lardner, vol. ii. p.561.) Tertullian joins on with Clement. The number of the Gospels then received, the names of the evangelists, and their proper descriptions, are exhibited by this writer in one short sentence: -- |Among the apostles John and Matthew teach us the faith; among apostolical men, Luke and Mark refresh it.| The next passage to be taken from Tertullian affords as complete an attestation to the authenticity of our books as can be well imagined. After enumerating the churches which had been founded by Paul at Corinth, in Galatia, at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Ephesus; the church of Rome established by Peter and Paul, and other churches derived from John; he proceeds thus: -- |I say, then, that with them, but not with them only which are apostolical, but with all who have fellowship with them in the same faith, is that Gospel of Luke received from its first publication, which we so zealously maintain:| and presently afterwards adds, |The same authority of the apostolical churches will support the other Gospels which we have from them and according to them, I mean John's and Matthew's; although that likewise which Mark published may be said to be Peter's, whose interpreter Mark was.| In another place Tertullian affirms, that the three other Gospels were in the hands of the churches from the beginning, as well as Luke's. This noble testimony fixes the universality with which the Gospels were received and their antiquity; that they were in the hands of all, and had been so from the first. And this evidence appears not more than one hundred and fifty years after the publication of the books. The reader must be given to understand that, when Tertullian speaks of maintaining or defending (tuendi) the Gospel of Saint Luke, he only means maintaining or defending the integrity of the copies of Luke received by Christian churches, in opposition to certain curtailed copies used by Marcion, against whom he writes.
This author frequently cites the Acts of the Apostles under that title, once calls it Luke's Commentary, and observes how Saint Paul's epistles confirm it.
After this general evidence, it is unnecessary to add particular quotations. These, however, are so numerous and ample as to have led Dr. Lardner to observe, |that there are more and larger quotations of the small volume of the New Testament in this one Christian author, than there are of all the works of Cicero in writers of all characters for several ages.| (Lardner, vol. ii. p.647.)
Tertullian quotes no Christian writing as of equal authority with the Scriptures, and no spurious books at all; a broad line of distinction, we may once more observe, between our sacred books and all others.
We may again likewise remark the wide extent through which the reputation of the Gospels, and of the Acts of the Apostles had spread, and the perfect consent, in this point, of distant and independent societies. It is now only about one hundred and fifty years since Christ was crucified; and within this period, to say nothing of the apostolical fathers who have been noticed already, we have Justin Martyr at Neapolis, Theophilus at Antioch, Irenaeus in France, Clement at Alexandria, Tertullian at Carthage, quoting the same books of historical Scriptures, and I may say, quoting these alone.
XIII. An interval of only thirty years, and that occupied by no small number of Christian writers, (Minucius Felix, Apollonius, Caius, Asterius Urbanus Alexander bishop of Jerusalem, Hippolytus, Ammonius Julius Africanus) whose works only remain in fragments and quotations, and in every one of which is some reference or other to the Gospels (and in one of them, Hippolytus, as preserved in Theodoret, is an abstract of the whole Gospel history), brings us to a name of great celebrity in Christian antiquity, Origen (Lardner, vol. iii. p.234.) of Alexandria, who in the quantity of his writings exceeded the most laborious of the Greek and Latin authors. Nothing can be more peremptory upon the subject now under consideration, and, from a writer of his learning and information, more satisfactory, than the declaration of Origen, preserved, in an extract from his works, by Eusebius; |That the four Gospels alone are received without dispute by the whole church of God under heaven:| to which declaration is immediately subjoined a brief history of the respective authors to whom they were then, as they are now, ascribed. The language holden concerning the Gospels, throughout the works of Origen which remain, entirely corresponds with the testimony here cited. His attestation to the Acts of the Apostles is no less Positive: |And Luke also once more sounds the trumpet, relating the acts of the apostles.| The universality with which the Scriptures were then read is well signified by this writer in a passage in which he has occasion to observe against Celsus, |That it is not in any private books, or such as are read by a few only, and those studious persons, but in books read by everybody, That it is written, The invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by things that are made.| It is to no purpose to single out quotations of Scripture from such a writer as this. We might as well make a selection of the quotations of Scripture in Dr. Clarke's Sermons. They are so thickly sown in the works of Origen, that Dr. Mill says, |If we had all his works remaining, we should have before us almost the whole text of the Bible.| (Mill, Proleg. esp. vi. p.66.)
Origen notices, in order to censure, certain apocryphal Gospels. He also uses four writings of this sort; that is, throughout his large works he once or twice, at the most, quotes each of the four; but always with some mark, either of direct reprobation or of caution to his readers, manifestly esteeming them of little or no authority.
XIV. Gregory, bishop of Neocaesarea, and Dionysius of Alexandria, were scholars of Origen. Their testimony, therefore, though full and particular, may be reckoned a repetition only of his. The series, however, of evidence is continued by Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, who flourished within twenty years after Origen. |The church,| said this father, |is watered, like Paradise, by four rivers, that is, by four Gospels.| The Acts of the Apostles is also frequently quoted by Cyprian under that name, and under the name of the |Divine Scriptures.| In his various writings are such constant and copious citations of Scripture, as to place this part of the testimony beyond controversy. Nor is there, in the works of this eminent African bishop, one quotation of a spurious or apocryphal Christian writing.
XV. Passing over a crowd of writers following Cyprian at different distances, but all within forty years of his time; and who all, in the perfect remains of their works, either cite the historical Scriptures of the New Testament, or speak of them in terms of profound respect: I single out Victorin, bishop of Pettaw, in Germany, merely on account of the remoteness of his situation from that of Origen and Cyprian, who were Africans; by which circumstance his testimony, taken in conjunction with theirs, proves that the Scripture histories, and the same histories, were known and received from one side of the Christian world to the other. This bishops (Lardner, vol. v. p.214.) lived about the year 290: and in a commentary upon this text of the Revelation, |The first was like a lion, the second was like a calf, the third like a man, and the fourth like a flying eagle,| he makes out that by the four creatures are intended the four Gospels; and, to show the propriety of the symbols, be recites the subject with which each evangelist opens his history. The explication is fanciful, but the testimony positive. He also expressly cites the Acts of the Apostles.
XVI. Arnobius and Lactantius (Lardner, vol. viii. p.43, 201.), about the year 300, composed formal arguments upon the credibility of the Christian religion. As these arguments were addressed to Gentiles, the authors abstain from quoting Christian books by name, one of them giving this very reason for his reserve; but when they came to state, for the information of their readers, the outlines of Christ's history, it is apparent that they draw their accounts from our Gospels, and from no other sources; for these statements exhibit a summary of almost everything which is related of Christ's actions and miracles by the four evangelists. Arnobius vindicates, without mentioning their names, the credit of these historians; observing that they were eye-witnesses of the facts which they relate, and that their ignorance of the arts of composition was rather a confirmation of their testimony, than an objection to it. Lactantius also argues in defence of the religion, from the consistency, simplicity, disinterestedness, and sufferings of the Christian historians, meaning by that term our evangelists.
XVII. We close the series of testimonies with that of Eusebius, (Lardner, vol. viii. p.33.) bishop of Caesarea who flourished in the year 315, contemporary with, or posterior only by fifteen years to, the authors last cited. This voluminous writer, and most diligent collector of the writings of others, beside a variety of large works, composed a history of the affairs of Christianity from its origin to his own time. His testimony to the Scriptures is the testimony of a man much conversant in the works of Christian authors, written during the first three centuries of its era, and who had read many which are now lost. In a passage of his Evangelical Demonstration, Eusebius remarks, with great nicety, the delicacy of two of the evangelists, in their manner of noticing any circumstance which regarded themselves; and of Mark, as writing under Peter's direction, in the circumstances which regarded him. The illustration of this remark leads him to bring together long quotations from each of the evangelists: and the whole passage is a proof that Eusebius, and the Christians of those days, not only read the Gospels, but studied them with attention and exactness. In a passage of his ecclesiastical History, he treats, in form, and at large, of the occasions of writing the four Gospels, and of the order in which they were written. The title of the chapter is, |Of the Order of the Gospels;| and it begins thus: |Let us observe the writings of this apostle John, which are not contradicted by any: and, first of all, must be mentioned, as acknowledged by all, the Gospel according to him, well-known to all the churches under heaven; and that it has been justly placed by the ancients the fourth in order, and after the other three, may be made evident in this manner.| -- Eusebius then proceeds to show that John wrote the last of the four, and that his Gospel was intended to supply the omissions of the others; especially in the part of our Lord's ministry which took place before the imprisonment of John the Baptist. He observes, |that the apostles of Christ were not studious of the ornaments of composition, nor indeed forward to write at all, being wholly occupied with their ministry.|
This learned author makes no use at all of Christian writings, forged with the names of Christ's apostle, or their companions. We close this branch of our evidence here, because, after Eusebius, there is no room for any question upon the subject; the works of Christian writers being as full of texts of Scripture, and of references to Scripture, as the discourses of modern divines. Future testimonies to the books of Scripture could only prove that they never lost their character or authority.