A Historical Introduction to the Study of the Books of the New Testament

By George Salmon

Chapter 3




I HAVE said that the Apocalypse is also received by Baur, and is acknowledged by him as a genuine work of the Apostle John. It is scarcely necessary to say, that he does not look upon it as containing any real prophecy, but merely anticipations of the future, which have been falsified by the event. In owning the Book of the Revelation to be Apostolic, the modern school of destructive criticism is more easy of belief than part of the early Church; for in the third century there were many who denied the authority of this book, and I shall have occasion afterwards to speak of an argument by Dionysius of Alexandria, that the difference in style between this book and the Gospel of St. John proves that both could not have the same author. This argument has been eagerly i adopted by the modern school, only with a reversal of its application. They hope now, by conceding that the Apocalypse is the work of John, to found, upon differences of style, an argument that the fourth Gospel cannot be his; and, in fact, it is now alleged to be one of the most certain results of criticism, that these two works cannot have the same author. This, again, suggests a topic which I will not anticipate, as the argument must be considered when I come to discuss the Gospel according to St. John. Suffice it now to say, that the Apocalypse is held to be strongly Jewish and anti-Pauline.

In the Epistles to the Seven Churches, Paul is held to be the enemy against whom St. John, writing in our Lord's name, warns his disciples. Indeed, one German teacher of this school (Volkmar) carries out the theory to the absurdity of imagining that by the false prophet predicted as upholding the power of the Beast we are to understand St. Paul. In the Epistle to the Church in Smyrna (ii. 9) we read: I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. And in that to the Church in Philadelphia (iii. 9): I will make them of the synagogue of Satan which say they are Jews and are not, but do lie, to come and worship before thy feet. We are asked to believe that those false Jews, with whom St. John has broken so entirely as to call them the synagogue of Satan, are St. Paul and his party. The angel of the Church of Ephesus (ii. 2) is praised because he has tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and has found them liars. Here again we are asked to believe that it was Paul's claim to apostleship which was thus rejected; and we are again and again invited by Renan to notice the remarkable fact, that in Ephesus, where St. Paul had resided so long, and laboured for a time so successfully, a few years after his departure his followers had completely disappeared, and his claims to apostleship had been generally owned to be based in falsehood. Lastly, you will remember that in the Epistle to the angel of the Church in Pergamos those are condemned (ii. 14, 15) who hold the doctrine of Balaam, and also those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. It had been conjectured long since and the conjecture has been received with more favour than I think it deserves that Nicolaus, conqueror of the people was but a Greek translation of the name Balaam. The etymology seems to me a forced one; but Renan adopts this view, with the addition, that Balaam was a nickname for St. Paul, and that the doctrine of Balaam, the teaching to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication (by which he understands marriage with Gentiles, regarded by strict Jews as fornication), was the doctrine of St. Paul. Renan would further have us believe that, in another New Testament place where Balaam is mentioned, St. Paul is intended I mean the Epistle of Jude (v. 1 1). For though that Epistle is one for which we cannot produce as early testimony as for the rest, and is consequently not admitted into Baur's meagre collection of genuine Apostolic Letters, yet the temptation is great to gain some addition to the scanty evidence of anti-Pauline rancour in the early Church; and so we have presented to us Jude, the brother of James, describing Paul as a filthy dreamer, who defiled the flesh, despised dominion, and spoke evil of dignities (namely, of the original twelve Apostles), and who ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward.

Now we can understand easily how it was that an obscure heretic, in the end of the second century, not daring to attack Paul openly, because he knew that such attack would have condemned his book to exclusion from the whole circle of Christian readers, masked his assault under a false name; so that while he seemed only to expose the wickedness of Simon Magus, and could even, if a question were raised by any of the orthodox, plausibly maintain that no covert meaning was intended, he would yet be understood by the few initiated as gratifying their dislike to Paul. But Apostles such as St. John and St. Jude would have had no need to descend to such subterfuges. It is not consistent with the character of the outspoken son of Thunder (either as that character is made known to us by Scripture, or in the traditional story of his treatment of the heretic Cerinthus) to suppose that, if there were false teachers whom he thought it his duty to describe as the synagogue of Satan, he would have disguised the object of his reprehension under the veil of Balaam or Nicolaus, and never have ventured to mention the name of Paul. Why should not John, one of the pillar Apostles (Gal. ii. 9) of the Church, and Jude, the brother of one of the great three, have courage to speak plainly? But let that pass: at least their warning must have been intelligible at the time it was given. The Church would have known who it was that it was intended to describe; and if so, is it credible that the tradition should have completely perished out of memory, and that Christians, by whom the great Apostle of the Gentiles was held in the highest love and veneration, should still cherish these letters to the Seven Churches, and this Epistle of St. Jude, never once dreaming that they were honouring party pamphlets of an opposing school?

It is worth while to remark how singularly obtuse the Paulinist party were as to the meaning of the assaults levelled against their master; or at least at what an early date all knowledge as to the true meaning of these assaults had perished. I have already remarked how innocently the author of the Acts of the Apostles tells the story of Simon Magus, without betraying any suspicion that under the mask of this arch-heretic Paul was to be recognized. Twice in the Acts (xv. 20, 29; xxi. 25) the same writer goes out of his way to represent the Apostolic heads of the Church of Jerusalem as condemning the eating meat offered to idols and fornication, in evident ignorance that these two things were prominent heads of the accusation brought against the Pauline Christians by their Jewish opponents. Nay, St. Paul himself is represented as concurring in the condemnation, and as actively employed in disseminating it (xv. 25; xvi. 4). Once more, the author of the Second Epistle of Peter (who, if he were not Peter himself, certainly wrote at an early date, and (iii. 15) was an ardent admirer of Paul) adopts as his own (ii. 15) all that was said in Jude's Epistle about Balaam, the son of Beor, and clearly has not the smallest suspicion that under that name Peter's beloved brother Paul was in tended.

I shall have occasion to say something hereafter as to the use of tradition in the interpretation of Scripture, and the present instance serves very well to illustrate what that use is. For you can see that these theories as to the reference to Paul, both in the Apocalypse and in the Epistle of Jude, might have deserved some respectful consideration had they dated from the first century instead of the nineteenth. If it had been the case that in early times there was hesitation to acknowledge the authority of these books, on the ground that they disparaged the apostleship of Paul, then we should be bound to look the possibility in the face, that tradition had preserved correctly the interpretation put on these documents by those to whom they were first addressed, and to inquire dispassionately whether that interpretation were the right one. But an interpretation is condemned at once by the mere fact that it was left to the nineteenth century to discover it, and we may fairly refuse to give it any respectful hearing. But I think it well not to cut the matter short, as I might; and will go on to show that we can find parallels in Paul's Epistles for all the passages that are cited from the Apocalypse as anti-Pauline.

It must be remembered that the doctrine of the calling of the Gentiles is taught as distinctly in the Book of the Revelation as in the saying of the Gospel (x. 16) Other sheep I have which are not of this fold. We read, indeed, in the Apocalypse of a sealing of 12,000 out of each of the tribes of Israel (vii. 4-8); but immediately after the account of the bringing in of this large but still finite number of Jews there follows: After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands. And in the mouth of the redeemed is placed a new song unto the Lamb, who has redeemed them to God by His blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation (v. 9). The Apocalypse is said to be Jewish, because the heavenly city is described under the name of the New Jerusalem (xxi. 2); but this is the very language of St. Paul in his most anti-Jewish Epistle Jerusalem, which is above, is free r which is the mother of us all (Gal. iv. 26). For the literal Jerusalem the Apocalypse has no more complimentary names than Sodom and Egypt (xi. 8).

I have already quoted the use made of the words those who say they are Jews, and are not words imagined to refer to St. Paul and his school. Those who give them this reference have read Paul's Epistles very carelessly, and have failed to notice one of his most characteristic traits. It is, that this Apostle, who combats so strenuously the notion that the Jew was to possess exclusive privileges in Christ's kingdom, and that circumcision was to be the condition of admission to it, still retained, as was natural in a Jew by birth, his attachment to the name of Jew and the name of circumcision. Educated as he had been to regard these as titles of honour, and to look down on the uncircumcised Gentile, it pains him to hear his disciples called by the name of the uncircumcision, and he contends that they were the true Jews theirs the only true circumcision. In the Epistle to the Ephesians (ii. n) he speaks of his Gentile followers as those who were called uncircumcision by that which is called the circumcision in the flesh, made by hands. He tells these Gentiles (Col. ii. 11), ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting oft* the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ. In the Epistle to the Philippians, when about to give to the Jews the name of the circumcision, he checks himself, and calls them instead the concision; for we, he says, are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh (iii. 2). In the Epistle to the Galatians he claims for those who walk according to his rule the glorious title of the Israel of God (vi. 16). And in a well- known passage in the Epistle to the Romans (ii. 28) the same doctrine is summed up. He is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the x flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

I suppose there is no stronger mark of genuineness in Paul's Epistles, nor any trait less likely to have occurred to a forger, than this, that his affection for the names of Jew and of circumcision clings to him long after he had ceased to attach any value to the things. It need not surprise us to find the same trait in St. John, who had grown up subject to the same influences; and we cannot hesitate to believe that those against whom the Seven Churches were warned were the unbelieving Jews, who are pronounced unworthy of the name of Jews, and whose synagogue is called the synagogue of Satan. It deserves to be mentioned that the Jews in Asia Minor long continued to be the most bitter adversaries of the Christian name, and that, when Polycarp was martyred,, the Jews were most active in collecting materials for the pyre: on which to burn him (Mart. S. Polyc. xiv., Euseb. H. E. iv. 15).

As little need it be supposed that in those who say that they are apostles, and are not, we must recognize St. Paul. Here again we have an exact parallel in St. Paul's Epistles: Such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ (2 Cor. xi. 13). And if any proof were needed of the falsity of the assertion that the Ephesian Church, ten years after St. Paul had founded it, rejected his claims to apostleship, it would be furnished by what immediately follows. For, according to Kenan's hypothesis, the Church of Ephesus had at the commencement been beguiled into accepting Paul's pretensions, and there fore would be bound to look back with some shame and regret on its early simplicity. Is there any trace of this in the Apocalyptic Epistle? Nay; the first state of the Church is recalled as its palmy days. The Church is blamed for having left its first love, and commanded to remember whence it had fallen, and repent and do the first works (ii, 4, 5)

I must not omit to call attention to the extraordinary rapidity ascribed to the supposed counter-revolution in favour of Paulinism. For if we are to believe this theory the elder Apostles must have persevered to the end of their lives in treating Paul as an enemy. St. John, who was their last survivor, must have continued to hold up Paul and his disciples to odium after the death of the Apostle of the Gentiles. No one dates the Apocalypse earlier than the year 69, at which time, according to all tradition, Paul was dead. Up to that time, therefore, those who might be regarded as having the best authority to speak had disowned Paul as a false Christian. Paul therefore must have died an excommunicated heretic. Yet, in a quarter of a century later for that is now the received date of Clement's Roman Epistle Paul is universally regarded as one of the chief of the Apostles, and as having been the cherished partner of Peter, both in work and in suffering! (Clem. Rom. 5.)

I have spent more time than you may have thought necessary in refuting an utterly baseless hypothesis; but my excuse is, that this hypothesis is treated as authentic history in almost all modern works in England, Germany, and France, which profess to give the latest results of critical science as applied to our sacred books.