Our present Sacred Writings were soon distinguished by appropriate names and titles of respect.
Polycarp. |I trust that ye are well exercised in the Holy Scriptures; -- as in these Scriptures it is said, Be ye angry and sin not, and let not the sun go down upon your wrath.| (Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p.203.) This passage is extremely important; because it proves that, in the time of Polycarp, who had lived with the apostles, there were Christian writings distinguished by the name of |Holy Scriptures,| or Sacred Writings. Moreover, the text quoted by Polycarp is a text found in the collection at this day. What also the same Polycarp hath elsewhere quoted in the same manner, may be considered as proved to belong to the collection; and this comprehends Saint Matthew's and, probably, Saint Luke's Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles, ten epistles of Paul, the First Epistle of Peter, and the First of John. (Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p.223.) In another place, Polycarp has these words: |Whoever perverts the Oracles of the Lord to his own lusts, and says there is neither resurrection nor judgment, he is the first born of Satan.| (Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p.223.) -- It does not appear what else Polycarp could mean by the |Oracles of the Lord,| but those same |Holy Scriptures,| or Sacred Writings, of which he had spoken before.
II. Justin Martyr, whose apology was written about thirty years after Polycarp's epistle, expressly cites some of our present histories under the title of Gospel, and that not as a name by him first ascribed to them, but as the name by which they were generally known in his time. His words are these: -- |For the apostles in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered it, that Jesus commanded them to take bread, and give thanks.| (Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p.271.) There exists no doubt, but that, by the memoirs above-mentioned, Justin meant our present historical Scriptures; for throughout his works he quotes these and no others.
III. Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, who came thirty years after Justin, in a passage preserved in Eusebius (for his works are lost), speaks |of the Scriptures of the Lord.| (Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p.298.)
IV. And at the same time, or very nearly so, by Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in France, (The reader will observe the remoteness of these two writers in country and situation) they are called |Divine Scriptures,| -- |Divine Oracles,| -- |Scriptures of the Lord,| -- |Evangelic and Apostolic writings.| (Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p.343, et seq.) The quotations of Irenaeus prove decidedly, that our present Gospels, and these alone, together with the Acts of the Apostles, were the historical books comprehended by him under these appellations.
V. Saint Matthew's Gospel is quoted by Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, contemporary with Irenaeus, under the title of the |Evangelic voice;| (Lardner, Cred. vol. i. p.427.) and the copious works of Clement of Alexandria, published within fifteen years of the same time, ascribe to the books of the New Testament the various titles of |Sacred Books,| -- |Divine Scriptures,| -- |Divinely inspired Scriptures,| -- |Scriptures of the Lord,| -- |the true Evangelical Canon.| (Lardner, Cred. vol. ii. p.515.)
VI. Tertullian, who joins on with Clement, beside adopting most of the names and epithets above noticed, calls the Gospels |our Digesta,| in allusion, as it should seem, to some collection of Roman laws then extant. (Lardner, Cred. vol. ii. p.630.)
VII. By Origen, who came thirty years after Tertullian, the same, and other no less strong titles, are applied to the Christian Scriptures: and, in addition thereunto, this writer frequently speaks of the |Old and New Testament,| -- |the Ancient and New Scriptures,| -- |the Ancient and New Oracles.| (Lardner, Cred. vol. iii. p.230.)
VIII. In Cyprian, who was not twenty years later, they are |Books of the Spirit,| -- |Divine Fountains,| -- |Fountains of the Divine Fulness.| (Lardner, Cred. vol. iv. p.844.)
The expressions we have thus quoted are evidences of high and peculiar respect. They all occur within two centuries from the publication of the books. Some of them commence with the companions of the apostles; and they increase in number and variety, through a series of writers touching upon one another, and deduced from the first age of the religion.