The Descriptive Names Applied to the New Testament Books by the Earliest Christian Writers

By Benjamin B. Warfield, D.D. Professor in the Western Theological Seminary, Allegheny, PA.


One of the most important sources of information concerning the attitude of the early church towards what we call the New Testament books is found in the epithets and descriptive titles assigned to them by the early Christian writers. Its value may be illustrated from the titles given to the Old Testament by the writers of the New. We find the New Testament writers, for instance, speaking of the Old Testament books, severally and collectively, as “Scripture,” “the Scripture,” “the Scriptures,” and quoting them, accordingly, with “the sacred formula,” “It is written.” “The use of these nouns,” says Dr. Ladd,1 “implies a belief in the divine origin of the writings to which the titles are applied…..The Old Testament appears in his view as Scriptura Sacra κατ᾿ ἐξοχήν.” Accordingly, we find certain adjectives which appropriately describe the sacred character of the books thus designated, attached to these nouns, e. g., ἅγιος (Rom. 1:2), ἱερός (2 Tim. 3:15), προφητικός (Rom. 16:26). Even more strongly, the pregnant term τὰ λόγια designates the books to which it is applied as the utterances of God,— “the Oracles” by way of eminence,— the “living oracles” (Acts 7:38), or, more precisely, “the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2; Heb. 5:12; 1 Pet. 4:11). It seems to be in accordance with this title that the Scriptures are adduced with the formulae, τὸ εἰρημένον, τὸ ρηθέν, and the like, and what it says is ascribed to a higher author, either by the simple subjectless λέγει, φησί or by the outspoken declaration that it is said only through (διά) the human writers. The extent of the Scripture thus declared to be God’s word is witnessed by the general title, “the Law and the Prophets,” or, more fully, “the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms “(Luke 24:44), by which we are advertised that all these epithets describe the nature of that book as a whole which the Jewish Church possessed in these three parts. And it appears to be due to this current name for the whole, that the first part of it is quoted frequently as “the Law” and the second as “the Prophets,”—and that, by a further extension, the whole is quoted in any part by the designation of its first element, “the Law.” Now these facts alone, apart from the abundant additional testimony to be derived from other phenomena, will enable us to determine in a general way both the extent and authority of the “canon “of the New Testament writers. And the evidence is purely historical and literary in kind, and is not to be set aside by dogmatic prepossession.

The titles given to the Old Testament by the writers of the New are completely paralleled by the titles ascribed to the New Testament by the fathers of the church from the earliest birth of a voluminous body of specifically Christian literature, i.e., of a literature directed by Christians to a Christian audience and on Christian themes. Every use of γραφή possible to conceive of is a common phenomenon, as applied to the New Testament, in the writings of Theophilus of Antioch, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and all subsequent writers. Theophilus himself adds the adjective ἅγιος, and calls the writers πνευματόφοροι, and after him each writer vies with his fellows in honoring adjuncts. The significant τὰ λόγια is in constant use.2 As a mere matter of course, the words of the New Testament are treated as God’s words. Parallel with the title, “the Law and the Prophets,” there is everywhere current a similar title for the New Testament, evidently framed after its model, “the Gospel and the Apostle.”3 And, although the complete phrase, “the Law and the Prophets, with the Gospels and the Apostles,”4 does occasionally occur, we more frequently meet with some abbreviation of it, as, e.g., Theophilus’ “the Law, the Prophets, and the Gospels” (ad Autol. 3.), or Clement’s “the Law and the Prophets, with the Gospel” (Strom, 3.).5 And just as sometimes “the Law” stands for the whole Old Testament, so sometimes “the Gospel” stands for the whole New Testament (e.g., Clem. Alex. Strom, 4.). Even that common title of our own day, “The New Testament,” was already current; Tertullian writes thus: “Si hunc articulum quaestionibus Scripturae veteris non expediam, de Novo Testamento sumam confirmationem nostrae interpretationis….Ecce, enim et in Evangeliis et in Apostolis …deprehendo” etc. (adv. Prax. c. 15). This passage does not stand alone, but it is a very significant one, and none the less so that Tertullian wrote in Latin, and used, therefore, a version rather than the original Greek. It will not be necessary to dwell upon these facts, or fully to draw out their meaning. They are not in dispute: everybody admits that the writers of the last quarter of the second century had a New Testament which they esteemed as, with the Old, the authoritative law-code of the church,—in the direct words of Tertullian, the Instrument,6 —and of which they speak just as the New Testament writers speak of the Old Testament. What is of importance is that in investigating the question, How early did this usage grow up in the church? we should at the outset grasp this twofold fact: (1) So soon as we have copious writings addressed by Christians to Christians, the usage is universal and apparently far from new; (2) during the last quarter of the second century it is a universal, natural, and apparently long-settled custom of Christian writers. It is undeniable that a strong presumption arises that this usage was not invented by, but was rather inherited by, these men,— and all the more so that they assert that they do but follow their predecessors. But the generation that preceded Theophilus, Irenaeus, and Clement was the generation that contained the pupils of the apostles.

The question is, no doubt, a question of fact, not of presumption. But this presumption is itself a fact. And the extant fragments of the age previous to A.D. 175 are confessedly (1) exceedingly meagre in amount and fragmentary; and (2) of such a nature — chiefly apologies to heathen and Jews — that we can scarcely expect to find in them alone material for a satisfactory history of the doctrine of Sacred Scripture of the time. Let any reader compare Tertullian’s “Apology” with his controversial writings and note the difference. If we are simple seekers after truth, therefore, we must read the hints of the early apologists “as large” as Tertullian’s treatise against Marcion teaches us to read the hints of his Apology. Some recent writers would almost seem to believe that Christian literature earlier than Theophilus supplies us with no such hints to “read large.”7 Were this the fact, it would be very surprising: history far less than nature proceeds per saltum. And if it were a fact, it would be necessary for us to assume that Theophilus was, nevertheless, not the inventor of this usage, and that he can scarcely be credited with such influence as to have himself caused its immediate and universal adoption,— as if old and not new,— even to the farthest limits of the church. Were there absolutely no trace of such an usage before him, the problem would not be to account for its origination in his day, but to explain the silence of earlier ages as to a custom which we should be bound on historical grounds to postulate for them.

The first duty of the student, brought thus by his accredited teachers face to face with so astounding a phenomenon, is to rub his eyes clean of tradition and take a good look at the literature of the years preceding Theophilus, to see whether his guides have not, after all, been deceiving themselves and him. Let us, in pursuance of this task, turn from the historians to the sources, and see what we actually find the writers before 175 A.D. calling the books of the New Testament.

I. Amid the apostolic writings themselves, we observe that Paul — or, if not Paul, some one writing in his name early enough to be quoted by the very earliest uncanonical writers8 — explicitly calls the Gospel of Luke ἡ γρφή, and puts it side by side with Deuteronomy as equally Scripture with it, in these memorable words (1 Tim. 5:18): “For the Scripture says: Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn (Deut. 25:4), and The laborer is worthy of his hire (Luke 10:7).” No doubt, it is not undisputed that this quotation is from Luke: what is undisputed? “To a quotation from Scripture, the Apostle,” says Dr. Ladd,9 “simply adds the quotation of a proverb which was used by Jesus himself because it expressed the same thought as the citation.” Very “simply,” indeed, were it so; and yet this explanation—which Dr. Ladd almost quotes from Meyer—is a tolerably popular one. The simple fact is, however, that the Apostle cites two passages10 as Scripture, and one of them is found in Deuteronomy and the other in Luke. Had the second one been found in the Old Testament instead of the New, the proverb theory would never have been dreamed of; it is the child of preconception. And since we are now examining history apart from all prepossessions, we will have none of it. Parallel with this declaration that Luke is “Scripture,” we have 2 Peter’s declaration that Paul’s epistles are “Scripture” (2 Pet. 3:16). Reuss ( 297) confesses to the plain meaning of the words; but rids himself of their force by assigning the letter itself to the date of Theophilus, c. 180,11 to a time, in other words, when students were writing commentaries upon it. Dr. Ladd, on the other hand, says cautiously: “Certain writings of the New Testament….are here….placed, in” a certain sense, upon a par with the sacred Hebrew writings” (1:211); though the caution is somewhat lost in the foot-note which strangely, not to say confusedly, asserts that “the reference to the Hebrew Scriptures alone cannot be maintained. The adjective λοιπαί coordinates the writings of Paul with other writings more closely resembling his than would be the case, in the mind of the author of 2 Peter, with the Scriptures of the law and the prophets.” This remark was remarkable enough in Huther; in Dr. Ladd it is not only strange per se, but somewhat in the face of the statement in the text above, which it was meant to explicate. No; Dr. Ladd has already told us (1:34, 156) what the γραφή of the New Testament writers is; he ought not to desert his own instructions here. Nor will it be very difficult for any earnest inquirer to satisfy himself what were αἱ γραφαί to the author of 2 Peter,— the λοιπαὶ γραφαί with the letters of Paul. That Epistle quotes Isaiah, Proverbs, and Psalms, and no other writing, apparently, except the Epistle of Jude; and 1 Peter, with the author of which he wishes to identify himself, knows Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Daniel, besides James, Romans, Ephesians, Colossians, and perhaps Corinthians and Galatians, and quotes Leviticus, Jeremiah, and Isaiah as γραφή. To one who, without theory, is trying to observe the use of the term γραφή in the early writers, it must appear most probable that it is into this company that 2 Peter puts “all Paul’s letters,”—that is, of course, all known to him, a plurality of Paul’s letters;—into the body of writings which contained, with them, the Old Testament Scriptures and only such others as seemed to him of equal divinity and authority. And he speaks of them as familiarly allowed that position in his day.

It is only a little later (97–106) that the letter of the Pseudo-Barnabas (4:14) quotes Matthew’s Gospel as Scripture: ὡς γέγρπται: πολλοὶ κλητοὶ, ὀλίγοι δὲ ἐκλέκτοι εὐρηθῶμεν (Matt. 21:14),— a citation as indubitable as if it had been undoubted. Neither the grudging half-admission of Dr. Ladd (ii. 82) that Barnabas here puts “a passage of the New Testament on a par with the Old, in quasi-canonical authority,” nor the bolder assumptions of Reuss, “either an evidence against the alleged author, or of an extra-canonical quotation “(thus we make our history first, and force the facts to conform themselves), need affect the judgment of the purely literary inquirer. On the other hand, the quotation in Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians (A.D. 116) is subject to as much doubt as arises from the fact that we have it only in a Latin translation12 (100:12.): “In sacris literis….modo ut his scripturis dictum est: ‘Irascimini, et nolite peccare,’ et ‘Sol non occidat super iracundiam vestrain.’” Just as 1 Tim. 5:18 placed Deuteronomy and Luke side by side, so Polycarp here places Psalms and Ephesians together as equally Scripture,— equally part of the literae sacrae. Yet here, too, Dr. Ladd can speak of “co-ordination in some sense.” A few years later (120–140) the homily that goes under the name of 2 Clement does exactly the same thing for Matthew, saying (2:4): “And another Scripture, however [referring back to a citation of Isa. 54:1], says: ‘I came not to call the righteous but sinners.’ “Elsewhere in the book the term γρφή is applied to Genesis, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah,13 so that we may be sure of the company into which Matthew is brought. Justin Martyr, only a few years later still, cites the same Gospel several times with “the sacred formula,” γέγραπται (Dial. c. Tryph. 100, 101, 106). And at the end of the period, the letter of the churches of Lyons and Vienne (c. A.D. 177) calls the Apocalypse ἡ γραφή (Euseb. H. E. 5:2): “In order that the Scripture may be fulfilled: ‘Let the lawless one be lawless still, and the just one be just still “(Apoc. 22:11). Nor is this all. If we may trust Hippolytus’ reports,14 we learn that Basilides, not later than the opening of the second quarter of the second century, explicitly called 1 Corinthians ἡ γραφή, and quoted Romans (twice), Ephesians, and 2 Corinthians with the γέγραπται (Ref. Haer. 7:26, 25, 26), and that the Ophites called 1 Corinthians ἡγραφή (do., 5:12), the Simonians 1 Peter (do., 6:10), the Valentinians, Ephesians (do., 6:34), and,— if the formula τὸ γεγραμμένον be allowed to be equivalent to γέγραπται,— the Naasenes quoted John’s Gospel as divine (do., 5:7).

Thus we discover that the writers of the period A.D. 68-175, —fragmentary and apologetic as they are,— yet manage to call by this high name of “Scripture” no fewer of the New Testament books than these: Matthew, Luke, John, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, 1 Peter [2 Peter, James], Revelation, and Paul’s Epistles in general. Some of these books are repeatedly so spoken of. This is a simple literary fact.

II. It is a literary fact, again, that we meet with instances during this period of the further defining of these Scriptures by added adjectives asserting their sacred character. We have already seen Polycarp (A.D. 116) calling them sacrae literae (c. 10:11). Dionysius of Corinth (A.D. 148-176) calls them αἱ κυριακαὶ γραφαί (Eus. H. E. 4:23). Aberkios, in an epitaph which probably dates from the latter portion of this period, calls them γράμματα πιστά.15 Eusebius (3:37) tells us that the evangelists of Trajan’s day carried with them on their missionary journeys τὰ θεῖα εὐαγγέλια, which, from whatever time the name comes, illustrates the estimation of the books at the time spoken of. It is, perhaps, premature to attempt at this stage of the investigation to determine the number of books included under these designations. Polycarp had in immediate mind, at least Ephesians, with the Psalms. Dionysius was thinking of Revelation most directly. Aberkios’ “faithful writings” included at least Psalms, John’s Gospel, Paul’s Epistles, and Revelation.

Alongside these should be mentioned a very striking passage from the early Jewish-Christian Pseud-epigraph called “The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs” (A.D. 100-120), in which (Benj. 11) of “the work and word” of Paul,— confessedly the Book of Acts and the Epistles of Paul,— it is declared: “He shall be written ἐν βίβλοις ἁγίαις.”16 In other words, Acts and Paul’s Epistles are to become (and that is, have become) part of the “Holy Bible “of the Jews,— are put on the same level with the Old Testament books as with them constituting one Bible. The conception is not that of forming a new and rival “canon,” but of enlarging the old to include the new books, which are conceived as differing from the old in nothing but their newness. Although the term γραφαί is not used in this passage, the term that is used is of like import and quite as specific; to say that a book is part of “the Bible” is equivalent to saying that it is Scripture. Along with this should be mentioned a passage from the Talmud (Babl. Shabbath 116 a. 116 b) which tells a story of Imma Shalom and her brother, Gamaliel II., in controversy with a Christian, from which it appears that to the contemporary Christians “the law of Moses has been set aside and another law has been given, and it is written in it, ‘The son and the daughter shall inherit together’”(Gal. 3:28), and “‘I am not come to take away from the law of Moses and I am not come to add to the law of Moses ‘“(Matt. 5:17.) It is even possible that Numbers and Galatians and Matthew are represented as part of the one authoritative “Book.” The supposititious time of this transaction belongs in the first century.

III. Even what may be justly called’the sacred name of the holy books κατ᾿ ἐξοχήν,— which, in its very form, declares the books to which it is applied to be “word of God,”—τὰ λόγια, is given to the books of the New Testament by the writers of this early time. It is scarcely likely that the term has any other reference in 2 Clem. 13:3 (A.D. 120-140):”For the Gentiles, when they hear from our mouths the Oracles of God, marvel at them for their beauty and greatness,…. For when they hear from us that God saith, ‘It is no thank unto you, if ye love them that love you, but this is thank unto you, if ye love your enemies and them that hate you” [Luke 6:32],— when they hear these things, I say, they marvel at their exceeding goodness.” It, it equally unlikely, now that Dr. Lightfoot has made the matter clear,17 that it refers to any thing else in Papias (A.D. 120+),— whether in the title of his book, “Exegesis τῶν κυριακῶν λογίων,” which thus is seen to be a commentary on either the New Testament Scriptures, or more likely the Gospels,— or in his description of Mark and Matthew, the former of whom, he declares, made no attempt to frame a σύνταξιν τῶν κυριακῶν λογίων18 [i.e., of τὰ ὑπὸ τοῦ Χριστοῦ ἢ λεχθέντα ἢ πραχθέντα, as is explained in the previous clause), and the latter of whom, he says, also wrote τὰ λόγια.19 It is even probable that Polycarp ad. Philip, c. VII. (A.D. 116) furnishes us with another instance; certainly the form of his expression, τὰ λόγια τοῦ κυρίου, and its setting in the midst of quotations from 1 John, 1 Peter, and Matthew favor this opinion. On the other hand, the passage in Justin (Dial. c. 18), while worth consideration, appears more doubtful,— Justin is apparently adducing the personal utterances of Jesus, and although it is clear that he is referring to them as written, the term τῶν ἐκείνου λογίων as contrasted with those of the Prophets, seems to refer to the personal utterances. Neglecting this improbable instance from Justin, we have this almost awful word applied four or five times to the New Testament books within the first third of the second century.

It is as the λόγια of God that the Scriptures are the “utterances” or “word” of God, and are quoted as having been spoken by him; and it is probably the outgrowth of this conception that the terms τὸ εἰρημένον (cf. Luke 2:20; Acts 2:16, 13:40; Rom. 4:18), τὸ ῥηθέν (Matt. 1:22, 2:15, 17, 23, et saepe), and the like, are used as formulae of sacred quotation,— formulae then even more sacred than “the sacred formula” itself. It is difficult to separate the cases of such quotation of the New Testament in the early writers from those in which the phrase may refer to words actually spoken by Jesus or the Apostles in their oral preaching; probably the sacred quotation will be found to be used in such cases as the following: where, e.g., Basilides (Hippol. Raef. Haer. 7:26) quotes Luke 1:31 with the phrase τοῦτό ἐστι τὸ εἰρημένον; and the Simonians (do., 6:14) 1 Cor. 11:32, and the Ophites (do., 5:8), Matt. 23:27, and the Peratae (do., 5:12) Jno. 3:17, and the Sethiani (do., 5:21), Matt. 10:34, and the Valentinians (do., 6:34, 35; 9:12), Luke 1:35; Jno. 14:2; Rom. 8:11. It is still with the same formula that Tatian (Orat. c. Graec. Charteris, p. 180) quotes Jno. 1:5, and Justin (Dial. c. Tryph. 81) apparently 2 Peter 3:8. Tatian also quotes Matt. 21:30 (Clems. Alex. Strom, iii.) with the formula τὸ ῥητόν; the Peratae, Col. 2:9 (Hippol. op. cit. 5:12) with τοῦτο εἵναι τὸ λεγόμενον; and the Simonians, 1 Peter 1:24, 25 (Do. 6:10) withτὸ λεχθέν.

It is only the speaking out of what is implied in all these quotations when 2 Clement 13:4 declares that “God saith” the words of Luke —λέγει ὁ θεός— as we have just seen; or when Justin (c. Tryph. c. 119), quite in the manner of the New Testament writers when speaking of the Old, declares that the Christians believed “God’s voice spoken by the apostles of Christ, and promulgated to us by the prophets.” Dr. Ladd (2:81) thinks “there is no proof that Justin intends by this phrase any allusion to written authorities “; are we to presume that Justin heard the prophets20 themselves, or depended on oral tradition as to what they promulgated? As a mere matter of fact, Justin tells us more than once that he relies on written sources, and that in such a way as to exclude the oral, so that Hilgenfeld is entirely right in saying (though with a narrower reference): “With Justin….we find the oral tradition already set aside, the written Gospels designated as sufficing sources of knowledge of the life of Jesus and used in public service.”21 It is, however, beyond legitimate question that Justin is here representing the prophets and apostles alike as only the instruments through whom the “voice of God” came to him,—and that in their written works,— which thus appear as τὰ λόγια, as a mere glance at his context will prove: “For as Abraham believed the voice of God and it was imputed to him for righteousness, in like manner we, having believed Gods voice spoken by the apostles of Christ and promulgated to us by the prophets, have renounced even to death all the things of the world.”

IV. Not only the fact that the New Testament τὰ λόγια of the early writers was a collection, but somewhat of the extent of that collection, may be learned by still another descriptive title which they apply to it,— which is none other than the special New Testament name which we have found current in the times of Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria,— “the Gospel and the Apostles.” Reuss (g 300) states that this title first appears in these three writers and remained in use about a century. Any reader of the works of these writers may observe for himself, however, that they are not conscious of using a new name. And he will expect to find it in use earlier than their time; nor will he fail to do so. Ignatius, ad Philad. 5, very plainly adverts to it in a way which suggests that it was natural for a Christian to use it in his day (c. 115 A.D.), when he asks the prayers of the Philadelphians that he may be made perfect and obtain his allotted inheritance: “fleeing to the Gospel as to the flesh of Christ, and to the Apostles as to the presbytery of the church. And the Prophets also let us love because they also proclaimed the Gospel and hoped in Him,….in whom believing they were saved.” Reuss’s comment is (289): “The author is obviously speaking of the apostles, not as writers, but as a particular body of disciples who had authoritatively founded the church.” This, Dr. Ladd (ii. 83) expands into the declaration that the author has “the designation of a class of persons “in mind, “as is shown by the following use of the singular πρεσὀυτέρῳ,— making it evident that the writer has in view the personality of the apostles. The Epistles — the written apostles —could not be spoken of as the ‘presbytery of the church.’ “All of which is quasi-true, “in a certain sense.” Nevertheless, a plain reader will have difficulty in understanding how Ignatius, in A.D. 115, purposed fleeing to any thing else than the written Apostles or Prophets; and will ask if the collocation with “the Gospel” on one side, and “the Prophets “on the other, is to go for absolutely nothing. He who approaches the passage in a purely literary spirit,— as if it were Homer, and not the New Testament, which was being mentioned,— will not fail to observe that Ignatius is speaking of three classes of sacred books, and is designating the whole Old Testament by the short name of “the Prophets,” and the New, according to its parts as the “Gospel and Apostles”; but is speaking of no one of these parts as merely so much paper and ink, but rather as embodying the living glad-tidings, and as that through which the living voice of the prophets and apostles sounded to his heart,— in which, therefore, he could find refuge from all his ills. If this interpretation needed any support it would find it easily in Ignatius’ words elsewhere. For example, in the Epistle to the Smyrneans, c. 7, the stern ecclesiastic asserts it to be fitting that his readers keep aloof from despisers of the Eucharist and “give heed to the Prophets, and above all to the Gospel, in which the passion has been revealed to us and the resurrection perfected.” In perfectly similar style, in the fifth chapter of the same letter, he affirms that those who deny Christ are such as “the Prophets have not persuaded, nor the Law of Moses, nay, nor until now, the Gospel,”’ nor his own personal sufferings. In both of these passages a written gospel appears to be intended, and the term seems used as a short designation for the whole body of newer sacred books, called “the Gospel and Apostles” in ad Philad. v. On the other hand, in ad Philad. 9., where we are told that Jesus Christ is the door of the Father, through whom the Patriarchs, and Prophets, and Apostles, and the Church enter in, and that “the Gospel has something choice”—”the coming of the Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ, his passion and his resurrection,” and then the writer adds: “For the beloved Prophets announced him, but the Gospel is the completion of immortality,” the two dispensations are apparently the things primarily contrasted, but still with an eye on the written records as the representatives of each. That exceedingly vexed passage which occurs between the two passages which we have quoted from ad Philad. — at chapter 8.— may have some light thrown on its obscurity by the statements between which it is so closely sandwiched (for two pages will cover all three); and if so, may bear an important witness in our present question. Its chief difficulty turns on a various reading which concerns but a single letter in the Greek: shall we read ἀρχεῖα or ἀρχαῖα? In the former case its meaning will probably be “archives,” “original documents,” or even simply “records,” referring probably to the autographs of the Gospels; in the latter it will be “the ancient [writings],” the Old Testament, in contrast to the new books. The word occurs three times, the external evidence being curiously divided,— throwing its whole weight for ἀρχαῖα in the first case, and for ἀρχεῖα in both the others. Yet it will scarcely be possible to contend that we must not read the same word in all three instances. The internal evidence appears to the-present writer decisive for ἀρχαῖα. What, indeed, would it mean to contrast the gospel with its own autographs?22 The subject in hand in the context is very pointedly, on the other hand, the contrast of the Old and New, the pre-eminence of the Gospel. The immediately succeeding sentence proceeds: “Good indeed are the priests, but better the High Priest, who has been entrusted with the Holy of Holies,— who alone has been entrusted with the secret things of God, he, who is the door of the Father, through which enter in Abraham, and Isaac, and the Prophets, and the Apostles, and the Church.” Then succeeds the passage concerning the pre-eminence of the gospel which has been quoted already from c. 9. The section in which the passage is included begins, moreover, with the explicit declaration that it is to deal with the conflict between Judaizers and Christians (c. vi.): “But if any preach Judaism unto you, hear him not, for better is it to hear Christianity from one who is circumcised than Judaism from an uncircumcised one.” In such a context it would be exceedingly harsh to find in our present passage any thing else than part of the conflict with Judaizers, or than a contrast between the old and new writings. Against Zahn, therefore, but along with Credner and Bunsen and Merx and Hefele and Dressel and Hilgenfeld and Reuss, we retain ἀρχαῖα, and understand the contention to be against those who denied scriptural authority to “the Gospel”: “When I heard some saying,” we translate, “‘Unless I find it in the ancient [books] I will not believe the Gospel,’—on my saying, ‘It is written,’23 they answered me, ‘That’s the question.’ To me, however, Jesus Christ is the ancient [books]; his cross and death and resurrection, and the faith which is through him, the undefiled ancient [books],— by which I wish, by your prayers, to be justified. The priests indeed are good, but the High Priest better,” etc., as above. Ignatius thus only repeats here what we have found him saying often: only in more sharp polemic against heretical opponents, in opposition to whom he not only asserts that “the Gospel” — that is, probably, again the “Gospel and Apostles” “writ small” — is of co-ordinate scriptural authority with the “ancient books”; but that without Jesus and his new covenant the “ancient books” are nothing.24 When we remember that the three chief passages to which we have appealed occur in the course of a couple of pages, it will be understood how idle it is to deny that they are to explain and interpret each other: and this consideration far outweighs the chief objection brought by Zahn, that not ἀρχαῖα but παλαιά is the standing term for the Old Testament. Granted: but would not either express the idea? and is there not even a very high fitness in finding in the mouth of the Judaizers, who denied the authority of “the Gospel,” the word “Primeval,” rather than the word “Antiquated “(cf. Heb. 8:13), as the designation of the “Old Books”? In our judgment, the use of ἀρχαῖα instead of παλαιά is just one of those sharp, true touches that carry the genuineness of the controversy and the correctness of this explanation of it, at once, with them.

Only a few years after Ignatius’ death the author of 2 Clement c. 14:(A.D. 120-140) makes use of an analogous phrase, when he speaks of βιβλία καὶ οἱ ἀπόστολοι,25 which, says Dr. Lightfoot (in loc.) is “a rough synonym for the Old and New Testaments,” and which advertises to us that the author of this homily understood the one to be adjoined to the other — not (as Dr. Lightfoot thinks) as inferior in rank to it,— his treatment of “the Apostles” as τὰ λόγια, the words of which God spake (c. 13.), is inconsistent with this,— but (as the placing of the Acts and Paul’s epistles in the βιβλοι ἄγιαι by the earlier Testt. 12. Patt. ought to teach us) as co-ordinate new books with the old. When Justin tells us that the ἀπομημονεύματα τῶν ἀποστόλων and τὰ συγγράματα τῶν προφητῶν (Apol. 1:67) were alike read in the public services of the Christians, his words, though referring only to the Gospels and Prophets, are yet illustrative of what 2 Clement means. The second portion of the Epistle to Diognetus (A.D. c. 150), in quite similar fashion, collocates the “fear of the Law,” “the grace of the Prophets,” “the faith of the Gospels,” and “the tradition of the Apostles,” ending all with “the grace of the Church” (c. 11.). When Reuss (294) says in reference to this, “certainly it is not the Epistles, but tradition, that is placed by the side of the written gospels,” we only thank him for confessing to the written gospels, and pass wonderingly on.26 A phrase preserved by Eusebius (H. E. 4:22, 3) from the lost book of Hegesippus: “The Law, the Prophets, and the Lord,” is of the same general import; as is also that put into the mouth of his apostolic elders by Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 4:32, 1), “Moses says,….and in the Gospel we read” (quoting John). A more striking example is found in Marcion’s “Gospel and Apostolicon “(Epiphanius, Haer. 1: see Charteris’ Canonicity, p. 408), which we know to have been composed of a mutilated Luke and ten Epistles of Paul, and which we likewise know to have been less in extent than the church canon of the time, and to have been framed by pruning down the latter to fit the doctrinal tenets of Marcion. It will not do to assert that Marcion’s canon was the forerunner of the church canon, the model on which it was made: as a mere plain fact those opponents of Marcion, to whose polemic writings we owe all we know of him, tell us reiteratedly that the exact opposite was true,— that he made his canon out of the previously existing church canon by rejecting part and refitting what was left to his system; and that he and his followers professed “not to be innovating, but to be restoring” what had become corrupt (cf., e. g., Tertullian, adv. Marc. 1, 20). If these writers are not trustworthy in this repeated and very important matter, they are untrustworthy everywhere, and we know nothing of Marcion at all. In Marcion’s canon we therefore find a positive proof that before A.D. 140 the church already had an authoritative canon, bearing the same name, and including the same books, with many more.

The existence of this collection is further witnessed by all of those citations of New Testament books which adduce them as “The Gospel,”— which is a usage similar to the citation of the Old Testament as “The Law.” This usage arises partly from the fact that, like “the Law” in the Old Testament, “the Gospel” was the first part of the “book,” and partly from the fact that, as all the Old Testament is of the nature of “Law,” so all the New Testament is of the nature of “Glad-tidings.” We have already seen Ignatius, and the elders adduced by Irenaeus, using the term “Gospel” as a short phrase for the whole New Testament. When, in like manner, Justin makes Trypho (Dial. c. 10) speak of “the precepts ἐν τῷ λεγομένῳ εὐαγγελίῳ,” he is apparently referring to written documents, of greater extent than we mean by “the Gospels.” The citations introduced by the phrase, “the Gospel,” are usually found, however, in our Gospels, as, e. g., those in the “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,”27 and in Irenaeus’ elders,28 and in 2 Clement,29 and Justin,30 and Polycarp’s Martyrdom.31 In Basilides (Hippol. Ref. Haer. 7:10), we meet with the plural form: “This is that which is τὸ λεγόμενον ἐν τοῖς εὐαγγελίοις (John 1:19).

V. The curious and unique title which Justin Martyr gives to our Gospels demands our attention more for the sake of completeness of treatment than from any new message it brings to us. When Justin elects to call our Gospels ἀπομνημονεύματα τῶν ἀποστόλων. he by no means testifies that this was a usual or current name for them; he himself tells as that they went commonly under the name of “Gospels” (ἁ καλεῖται εὐαγγέλια, Apol. 1:66). And that his “Memorabilia of the Apostles” are just our Gospels, no more and no less, may now, since the discovery of Ephraem’s Commentary on Tatian’s Diatessaron, be taken as demonstrated fact. Apparently Justin’s favorite title is an invention of his own in the effort to find a suitable term by which to describe to heathen and Jews the nature of the books whose current title of “Gospels” would strike strangely on their unaccustomed ears. Justin’s descriptions of these ἀπομνημονεύματα prove to us that they were held authoritative by him, but the title, with which alone we have now to do, tells us nothing of their estimation or value.

VI. An almost chance hint in a fragment of Melito of Sardis (H .D. c. 170) which Eusebius has preserved (H. E. 4:26) is of more importance for our present subject, as it witnesses that the title “New Books,” “Books of the New Covenant,” was already familiarly current in the church to describe a body of sacred literature set alongside of the “Old (παλαιά) Books,” “Books of the Old Covenant.” It is these latter terms only that the fragment preserved for us actually contains, but they incidentally imply the former as in existence, and occupying a position in public estimation alongside of them. Melito’s correspondent, a certain Onesimus, had desired to learn the facts concerning τῶν παλαιῶν βιβλίων;, and Melito, after he had made a journey into the East and unto the place ἔνθα ἐκηρύχθη καὶ ἐπράχθη, and made careful inquiry concerning τὰ τῆς παλαιᾶς διαθήκης βιβλία, sent him a list of them. We have here implied, not precisely our ordinary title, “The New Testament,” but we have the last step in the transition towards it; it was but a shortening and hardening into a mere name of what is here a description. This process must have taken place before Melito’s day, as is proved by the familiar use of Novum Testamentum by Tertullian and its probable use, therefore, in his Latin Bible (for the phrase is not altogether approved by Tertullian) which was a generation older and dates probably from the first half of the century. There are some faint hints that it may have been also the ordinary title of the New Testament part of the old Syriac Bible of the day.32 Melito’s witness to the broad currency of the fuller phrase, implying a New Testament canon of equal authority to that of the Old Testament, and consisting of books properly described as “the New Books,” or “Books of the New Covenant,” is just as precise and of exactly the same significance as if he had used the other phrase, and said “The New Testament.”

The conclusions that are suggested by this investigation lie on the face of the facts. It appears that there was, from the beginning of the second century, a collection (Ignatius, 2 Clement, Marcion) of “New Books” (Ignatius), called the “Gospel and Apostles” (Ignatius, Marcion), esteemed as the “Oracles “of God (Polycarp, Papias, 2 Clement) and “Scripture” (1 Timothy, 2 Peter, Barnabas, Polycarp, 2 Clement, Basilides), which was attached to the “Old Books “as part of one “Holy” Canon (Testt. 12 Patriarchs) with them. The extent of this collection cannot by this evidence be satisfactorily determined. It consisted of two parts: one composed of “Gospels” written by “the apostles and their companions” (Justin), and the other of other writings of “apostles.” A place in it should be provisionally given to every “new” book called “Scripture” by any of these writers. Other evidence, drawn from other phenomena, must, however, be considered before this question can be more than provisionally determined. The most important sources for this are the contents of the second century versions, the Muratori fragment, and the retrospective evidence of the writers of the next succeeding age of the church.

There are two objections of some plausibility that may be urged against these conclusions, to which a word may be given in closing. It may be said that all depends on the dates that we assign to the various witnessing documents which have been adduced, and that these dates are, in many cases, the subject of hot controversy. And it may be said that the argument proves too much, seeing that other books than those of the Old and New Testaments are quoted by the early writers as “Scripture.”

To the first objection, we can only rejoin that the dates we have assumed have not been inconsiderately set, and, in our judgment, they are not only in every case the most probable ones, but in most cases as certain as matters of this kind can be. The matter is, however, far less important than it is often represented, and that for two reasons: all these documents are confessedly from the period we have had under discussion, so that the question only concerns their relative ages among themselves; and these documents are confessedly the earliest extra-canonical Christian writings in existence, so that they represent the earliest extant record of Christian thought, behind which we cannot go, whether they come to us from early or late in the second century.

To the second objection, we need only respond that facts cannot prove too much. We have no objection to any early writer’s having as voluminous a “Bible” as he chooses; and if he is disposed to tell us that he esteems as Scripture any number of books which we do not, we feel no call to restrain his utterance by force. As a mere matter of fact, we know, not only from the New Testament usage and from the usage of the succeeding period, but also from the usage of these very writers in the parallel case of the Old Testament, what is meant by the phrases and titles which we have quoted.33 And, as merely literary inquirers, we purpose frankly to allow each writer to tell us exactly what books he esteemed thus highly. This is not to deny the gradual formation of a class of so-called ecclesiastical books (cf. Reuss, 317); it is simply to deny that a writer means that he esteemed a book only as suitable for religious instruction when he says he believes it to be “Scripture.” It is natural that the “ecclesiastical” books should be largely those which, outside of the biblical books, are called “Scripture”; but this does not prove that “Scripture” means less than “Scripture,” but only that mistakes were most commonly made where mistakes were most easy to make.

The objection has been stated, moreover, in an exceedingly exaggerated form. And perhaps it confuses somewhat the historical question, What was “Scripture” to the men of the early second century? with the dogmatic one, What is “Scripture”? The second inquiry is, no doubt, intimately related to the former. But it must not be confused with it. Particularly in such a connection as this it is important to keep two facts in mind in considering it: (1) That the early Christian writers are not witnesses to the Old Testament canon, and (2) That a frank following of their testimony does not run a risk of accrediting for us more New Testament books than our New Testament of to-day contains. So far from being’ either surprised or disturbed by the quotations in the early Christian writers of the LXX. Apocrypha as “Scripture”; for ourselves, we are only surprised that more of such quotations do not meet us during the earliest years of the second century. When Clement of Rome calls Judith the “blessed one,” and Barnabas quotes Wisdom as the words of a prophet, we make no doubt that they thought so, in the highest sense of the words: but, as the Jewish Church, and not the Christian Church, received the Old Oracles in trust, we look to its testimony alone as the true evidence as to the books of which they consisted. The Christian writers of the second century bear about the same relation as witnesses to the Old Testament canon that the Reformation writers do to that of the New. The same remark applies also to other current Old Testament Apocrypha: as, e.g., when Barnabas quotes Enoch with the formula ὡς γέγραπται, or Hermas, Eldad and Medad with the same formula. We believe that both acted in good faith, and know that both were mistaken; and easily prove that their testimony to what was New Testament Scripture is in no wise discredited thereby. The case is different, but not the bearing of it on our present question, when Justin betrays his belief in the prophecies of the Sibyl and Hystaspes. It is not as critics that we appeal to the Fathers, but as witnesses.

After reading much of the current literature on the subject, we imagine that most students would be surprised to learn how little quotation as “Scripture” of “New Books “not now in our New Testament occurs in the earliest orthodox writers. It is natural that heretical writers should appeal to apocryphal books, and that they occasionally do so is no matter of concern to us. Perhaps no single case occurs of the application to an apocryphal book of the New Testament of any of the titles which we have been discussing, by any thoroughly orthodox writer of the first seventy-five years of the second century. A possible exception to this is found in the curious phrase in the “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” (is it an orthodox book?) 1:6: ᾿Αλλὰ καὶ περὶ τούτου δὲ εἵρηται: ῾Λδρωσάτω ἡ ἐλεημοσύνη σου εἰς τὰς χεῖράς σου, μέχρις ἂν γνῳ̈̀ς τίνι δῷς.34 Harnack probably, however, is correct in saying that the book quoted here was certainly no Gospel, and scarcely any Christian work, but most likely an Alexandian Jewish writing. We think it probably a free appeal to Sirach 12:1 sq., where the doctrine is taught, and partly in the same words. The equivalent of such an application is also


1) The Doctrine of Sacred Scripture, 1:p. 34; cf, p. 156.

2) As, for instance, by Irenaeus (Haer. 5:8:1, 1), τὰ λόγια κυριακά, τὰ λόγια τοῦ θεοῦ; and by Clement (Cohort, ad Gent., p. 84, Potter) “The oracles of truth,” (Strom. 1:392) “The inspired oracles.”

3) As, for example, Clem. Alex. (Strom. VII.): “The Gospel and the Apostle,” “The Gospel and the Apostles”; Irenaeus (1:3, 6; cf. 1:8, 1), τὰ ἐυαγγελικὰ καὶ ἀποστολικά; Tertullian (De Praescript. Haer. 36), “Cum evangelic is et apostolicis”; Hippolytus (Philos., p. 359), τῶν ἐυαγγελίων ἤ τοῦ ἀποστόλου.

4) For example, Clem. Alex. (Strom. 7:11, 88.): νόμου καὶ προφητῶν ὁμοῦ καὶ ἀποστόλων σὺν καὶ τῶ ἐυαγγελίῳ; and Tertullian (De Praescript. Haer. 36): “legem et prophetas cum evangeliis et apostolicis.”

5) That this is the true account of these shorter forms is evinced by their great variety. Compare, for example, Clem. Alex. (Strom. VII. 2): τοῦ εὐαγγελίου καὶ τῶν ἀποστόλων ὁμοίως τοῖς προφήταις ἅπασι; Irenaeus (Haer. IV. 31, 1): “Moses .... and the Gospel,” (do., III. 21) “the prophets .... and the apostles”; Claudius Apolinaris: “the Law and the Gospels.” Compare the phrases from the earlier writers adduced below. Certain inferen es drawn by Reuss, in his History of the Sacred Scriptures, 300 (we shall quote this word throughout this paper by the sections merely), therefore fail.

6) Adv. Prax. 15. 20. Adv. Marc. 4. 1 and 2. “The expression ‘Instrumentum,’ as a. juridical term, includes the idea of legal validity.”—Reuss, 303.

7) Reuss says, 303: “γραφή, γραφαί, scriptura, scripturae, applied to the New Testament, do not occur before Theophilus.” Dr. Ladd (2. 84) repeats Reuss: “The first application of the terms γραφή, γραφαί (scriptura, scripturae), to the New Testament as Sacred Scripture occurs in Theophilus of Antioch.” Is it possible that we misunderstand these writers? and that they mean “the New Testament as a whole”? Cf. Reuss, 285. If we misunderstand them, others have also misunderstood them and made this declaration the root of very definite and unambiguous statements. Nor will the interpretation we suggest save the statement from being entirely erroneous. (See 1. below.)

8) Clemens Rom. ad Cor. 7. = 1 Tim. 5:4; Polycarp, ad Phil. 4. = 1 Tim. 6:7, 10 (εἰδότες ὅτι is a sort of formula of quotation with Polycarp); Testt. 12. Patt., Dan. 6 = 1 Tim. 2:5, etc.

9) Op. cit. 1:211.

10) Cf. John 7:42; Acts 1:20; Jas. 2:23, for analogous citations.

11) The present writer has tried to show, in the Southern Presbyterian Review for January, 1882, and April, 1883, that the apostolic date and origin of this letter must be admitted.

12) We have not been able to obtain sight of the Greek text purporting- to supply the lacuna here, discovered in a MS. from Andros and published in the second part of the Journal of the Historical and Ethnological Society of Greece (1884). The accounts that have reached us do not encourage us to believe that we have in this text rediscovered the lacking parts of the Epistle: it rather seems to be an unauthorized addition.

13) This homily adduces as the words of the Lord certain sayings which, if from a written source at all, appear to come from the “Gospel to the Egyptians.” It is easy to unduly multiply the quotations which should be referred to this class; the Fathers quote very reely. In the judgment of the present writer neither 3:2; 4:2; 6:2; 8:5; 9:11; nor 11:2–4 requires to have their source sought outside of our canonical books. On the other hand, the words of the Lord at 4:5; 5:2–4; 12:2, appear to be apocryphal. On the bearing of this on our present question see later. The present writer has elsewhere given his reasons for believing that 11:2–4, and its parallel in 1 Clement, 23:3, is a blended quotation from James 1:8 (v. 7) and 2 Peter 3:4. If so, then James and 2 Peter are called γραφή by 1 Clement and “the Prophetic Word “by 2 Clement.

14) It is impossible to enter into this question here: the present writer believes it to be settled that Hippolytus’ quotations are from Basilides himself, and that whenever he makes a distinct quotation we must accept it. A good brief account of the matter may be found in Charteris’ Canonicity, p. L sq.

15) See the text in The Expositor, Jan. 1885, p. 11, or The Andover Review, Nov. 1884, p. 518. Cf. Bishop Lightfoot in The Expositor, Jan. 1885, p. 1 sq , and Mr. Ramsay himself in The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 1882, p. 339 sq., and 1883, p. 424 sq., as cited by Dr. Lightfoot.

16) That the term is anarthrous only makes the case stronger: it is a quasi-proper name. Hilgenield, Einleitung in d. N. T. p. 71 (cf. Der Kanon, p. 30), says this book “reckons the Pauline epistles, together with the Book of Acts, with the Holy Scriptures.” The date of the book is now pretty generally allowed to be early in the second century: so Ewald, Vorstman, Langen and De Groot, Wieseler, Dorner, Sinker, Pick, etc. Reuss and Hilgenfeld put it later.

17) The Contemporary Review, Aug. 1875, p. 399 sq.

18) Some (e.g., Heinichen) read λόγων here, but apparently wrongly (Routh, Lightfoot, etc).

19) Eus. H. E. 3:39.

20) The context leaves no room for doubt that Justin had the Old Testament prophets in mind in this phrase, which is, indeed, his succinct expression for what we would call the Old and New Testament. (See below under IV.)

21) Einleitung in das N. T. 1875, p. 66. Cf. also Reuss, Hist, of the Canon, E. T. p. 51.

22) We cannot but regard it as very unnatural to punctuate with Zahn so as to make “Gospel” stand in apposition to ἀρχεῖοις, and take “believe” absolutely. Yet he is followed in this by Thomasius, Volckmar, and Charteris.

23) It is worth pausing to note that we have, on any understanding of the drift of the passage, a valuable contemporary hint here of what was meant by the early church writers by the term γέγραπται. Dr. Ladd very justly calls it (2:81, note 5) “the sacred formula.”

24) Perhaps Ignatius may be illustrated from the Muratori Fragment on the Canon, lines 13 sq.: “Romanis autem ordine scripturarum, sed et principium earum esse Christum intimans, prolixius scripsit.”

25) This phrase for the “New Books “is worth emphasizing- on account of the effort of Reuss to draw some very far-reaching- inferences from the fact that these “New Books” were most commonly called εὐαγγέλιον for short (see 300). Not because the earliest collection consisted only of Gospels, but because the “Gospel” was its first part and it was all truly Gospel, was this the common short name for the whole. Cf. also Justin, c. Tryph. c. 119; Iren. Haer. 3:31. The plural here, too, has a bearing on Reuss’ notion, 300, that the earliest Apostolicon consisted of letters of only one Apostle,—Paul,— and is hence so commonly called ὁ ἀπόστολος.

26) Is Reuss puzzled byπαραδόσεις? Cf., e. g., 2 Thess. 2:15. παραδόσεις ᾶς ἐδιδάχθητε.δι᾿ ἐπιστολῆς ἡμῶν. Cf also Irenaeus, adv. Haer. 1:8, 1, ἡν οὑτε προφῆται ἐκήρυξαν, οὔτε ὁ Κύριος ἐδίδαξεν, οὔτε ἀπόστολοι παρέδωκαν. Is it “tradition” here, too? Cf. also Polycarp, ad Phil. c. 7: The matter could be copiously illustrated.

27) “As ye have in the Gospel,” “As ye have in the Gospel of our Lord,” c. 14; “According to the dogma of the Gospel,” 11; “As the Lord commanded in his Gospel,” 8.

28) In evangelio, 4:32, 1; evangelium, 2:22, 5.

29) “The Lord saith in the Gospel,” 8.

30) De Res. c. 1.. Dial. c. 10 and 100.

31) τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, 4. (Matt. 10:23).

32) The Teaching of Addaeus is too late, probably, to serve as a witness here, but it is interesting to read in it that it was the business of Addaeus’ assistants “to read in the Old Testament and the New, and in the Prophets and in the Acts of the Apostles, [and] to meditate on them daily.” (Ante-Nicene Christian Library. T. and T. Clark. Vol. 20, p. 24 (II.).) Cf. The Syriac Teaching of the Apostles 10, (op. cit. p. 40); and The Teaching- of Simon Cephas ad Jin. (p. 55).

33) Reuss, History of the Canon, E. T. p. 26:“I fully admit that these form has imply the recognition of a scriptural authority specially inspired, and therefore exalted above every purely human work of literature.” One of the facts which he finds “duly established at the outset of our discussion” is “a theory of inspiration which permitted no confusion between sacred and profane literature” (do , p. 14).

34) I purposely pass by any question of the genuineness of these words as part of the original Didache.