When the Scriptures are quoted, or alluded to, they are quoted with peculiar respect, as books sui generis; as possessing an authority which belonged to no other books, and as conclusive in all questions and controversies amongst Christians.
Beside the general strain of reference and quotation, which uniformly and strongly indicates this distinction, the following may be regarded as specific testimonies:
I. Theophilus, (Lardner, Cred. part ii. vol. i. p.429.) bishop of Antioch, the sixth in succession from the apostles, and who flourished little more than a century after the books of the New Testament were written, having occasion to quote one of our Gospels, writes thus: |These things the Holy Scriptures teach us, and all who were moved by the Holy Spirit, among whom John says, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.| Again: |Concerning the righteousness which the law teaches, the like things are to be found in the prophets and the Gospels, because that all, being inspired, spoke by one and the same Spirit of God.| (Lardner, Cred. part ii. vol. i. p.448.) No words can testify more strongly than these do, the high and peculiar respect in which these books were holden.
II. A writer against Artemon, (Lardner, Cred. part ii. vol. iii. p.40.) who may be supposed to come about one hundred and fifty-eight years after the publication of the Scripture., in a passage quoted by Eusebius, uses these expressions: |Possibly what they (our adversaries) say, might have been credited, if first of all the Divine Scriptures did not contradict them; and then the writings of certain brethren more ancient than the times of Victor.| The brethren mentioned by name are Justin, Miltiades, Tatian, Clement, Irenaeus, Melito, with a general appeal to many more not named. This passage proves, first, that there was at that time a collection called Divine Scriptures; secondly, that these Scriptures were esteemed of higher authority than the writings of the most early and celebrated Christians.
III. In a piece ascribed to Hippolytus, (Lardner, Cred. vol. iii. p.112.) who lived near the same time, the author professes, in giving his correspondent instruction in the things about which he inquires, |to draw out of the sacred-fountain, and to set before him from the Sacred Scriptures what may afford him satisfaction.| He then quotes immediately Paul's epistles to Timothy, and afterwards many books of the New Testament. This preface to the quotations carries in it a marked distinction between the Scriptures and other books.
IV. |Our assertions and discourses,| saith Origen, (Lardner, Cred. vol. iii. pp.287-289.) |are unworthy of credit; we must receive the Scriptures as witnesses.| After treating of the duty of prayer, he proceeds with his argument thus: |What we have said, my be proved from the Divine Scriptures.| In his books against Celsus we find this passage: |That our religion teaches us to seek after wisdom, shall be shown, both out of the ancient Jewish Scriptures which we also use, and out of those written since Jesus, which are believed in the churches to be divine.| These expressions afford abundant evidence of the peculiar and exclusive authority which the Scriptures possessed.
V. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, (Lardner, Cred. vol. vi. p.840.) whose age lies close to that of Origen, earnestly exhorts Christian teachers, in all doubtful cases, |to go back to the fountain; and, if the truth has in any case been shaken, to recur to the Gospels and apostolic writings.| -- |The precepts of the Gospel,| says he in another place, |are nothing less than authoritative divine lessons, the foundations of our hope, the supports of our faith, the guides of our way, the safeguards of our course to heaven.|
VI. Novatus, (Lardner, Cred. vol. v. p.102.) a Roman contemporary with Cyprian, appeals to the Scriptures, as the authority by which all errors were to be repelled, and disputes decided. |That Christ is not only man, but God also, is proved by the sacred authority of the Divine Writings.| -- |The Divine Scripture easily detects and confutes the frauds of heretics.| -- |It is not by the fault of the heavenly Scriptures, which never deceive.| Stronger assertions than these could not be used.
VII. At the distance of twenty years from the writer last cited, Anatolius (Lardner, Cred. vol. v. p.146.), a learned Alexandrian, and bishop of Laodicea, speaking of the rule for keeping Easter, a question at that day agitated with much earnestness, says of those whom he opposed, |They can by no means prove their point by the authority of the Divine Scripture.|
VIII. The Arians, who sprung up about fifty years after this, argued strenuously against the use of the words consubstantial, and essence, and like phrases; |because they were not in Scripture.| (Lardner, Cred. vol. vii. pp.283-284.) And in the same strain one of their advocates opens a conference with Augustine, after the following manner: |If you say what is reasonable, I must submit. If you allege anything from the Divine Scriptures which are common to both, I must hear. But unscriptural expressions (quae extra Scripturam sunt) deserve no regard.|
Athanasius, the great antagonist of Arianism, after having enumerated the books of the Old and New. Testament, adds, |These are the fountain of salvation, that he who thirsts may be satisfied with the oracles contained in them. In these alone the doctrine of salvation is proclaimed. Let no man add to them, or take anything from them.| (Lardner, Cred. vol. xii. p.182.)
IX. Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem (Lardner, Cred. vol. viii. p.276.), who wrote about twenty years after the appearance of Arianism, uses these remarkable words: |Concerning the divine and holy mysteries of faith, not the least article ought to be delivered without the Divine Scriptures.| We are assured that Cyril's Scriptures were the same as ours, for he has left us a catalogue of the books included under that name.
X. Epiphanius, (Lardner, Cred. vol. viii. p.314.) twenty years after Cyril, challenges the Arians, and the followers of Origen, |to produce any passage of the Old and New Testament favouring their sentiments.|
XI. Poebadius, a Gallic bishop, who lived about thirty years after the council of Nice, testifies, that |the bishops of that council first consulted the sacred volumes, and then declared their faith.| (Lardner, Cred. vol. ix. p.52.)
XII. Basil, bishop of Caesarea, in Cappadocia, contemporary with Epiphanius, says, that |hearers instructed in the Scriptures ought to examine what is said by their teachers, and to embrace what is agreeable to the Scriptures, and to reject what is otherwise.| (Lardner, Cred. vol. ix. p.124.)
XIII. Ephraim, the Syrian, a celebrated writer of the same times, bears this conclusive testimony to the proposition which forms the subject of our present chapter: |the truth written in the Sacred Volume of the Gospel is a perfect rule. Nothing can be taken from it nor added to it, without great guilt.| (Lardner, Cred. vol. ix. p.202.)
XIV. If we add Jerome to these, it is only for the evidence which he affords of the judgment of preceding ages. Jerome observes, concerning the quotations of ancient Christian writers, that is, of writers who were ancient in the year 400, that they made a distinction between books; some they quoted as of authority, and others not: which observation relates to the books of Scripture, compared with other writings, apocryphal or heathen. (Lardner, Cred. vol. x. pp.123-124.)