Theological Institutes

Part First - Evidences of The Divine Authority of the Holy Scriptures

By Richard Watson

Chapter 13


THE historical evidence of the antiquity and genuineness of the books ascribed to Moses, and those which contain the history of Christ and the establishment of his religion, being thus complete. the integrity of the copies at. present received is the point next in question.

With respect to the Scriptures of the Old Testament: the list of Jo sephus, the Septuagint translation, and the Samaritan Pentateuch, are sufficient proofs that the books which are received by us as sacred, are the same as those received by the Jews and Samaritans long before the Christian era. For the New Testament ; beside the quotations from almost all the books now included in that volume and references to them name in the earliest Christian writers, catalogues of authentic Scriptures were published at very early periods, which, says Dr. Paley, though numerous, and made in countries at a wide distance from one another, differ very little, differ in nothing material, and all contain the tour Gospels.

In the writings of Origen which remain, and in some extracts pre served by Eusebius, from works of his which are now lost, there are enumerations of the books of Scripture, in which the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles are distinctly and honourably specified, and in which no books appear beside what are now received. (Lard. Cred. vol.­iii, p. '234, et seq., vol. viii, p. 196.) The date of Origen's works is A. D. 230.

Athianasius, about a century afterward, delivered a catalogue of the books of the New Testament in form, containing our Scriptures and no others ; of which he says, ' In these alone the doctrine of religion is taught : let no man add to them, or take any thing from them.' ( Lord. Cred. vol. viii, p. 223.)

" About twenty years after Athanasius, Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem, set forth a catalogue of the books of Scripture publicly read at that time in the Church of Jerusalem, exactly the same as ours, except that the Revelation' is omitted. (Lard. Cred. vol. viii, p. 270.)

And, fifteen years after Cyril, the council of Laodicea delivered an authoritative catalogue of canonical Scripture, like Cyril's. the same as ours, with the omission of the 'Revelation.'

Catalogues now become frequent. Within thirty years after the last date, that is, from the year :363 to near the conclusion of the fourth century, we have catalogues by Epiphanius, (Lard. Cre(/. vol. VIII. p. 368,) by Gregory Nazianzeu, (Lard. Cred. vol. ix, p. 132,) by Philas­ter, bishop of Brescia in Italy, (Lard. Cred. vol. ix, p. 373,) by Amphilochius, bishop of iconium, all, as they are sometimes called, clean catalogues, (that is, they admit no books into the number beside what we now receive,) and all, for every purpose of historic evidence, the same as ours.[1]

"Within the same period, Jerome, the most learned Christian writer of his age, delivered a catalogue of the books of the New Testament, recognizing every book now received, with the intimation of a doubt concerning the Epistle to the Hebrews alone, and taking not the least notice of any book which is not now received. (Lard. Cred, vol. x, p. 77.)

Contemporary with Jerome, who lived in Palestine, was Saint Au­gustine, in Africa, who published likewise a catalogue, without joining to the Scriptures, as books of authority, any other ecclesiastical writing whatever, and without omitting one which we at this day acknowledge.

(Lard. Cred. vol. x, p. '213.)

"And with these concurs another contemporary writer, Rufen, pres­byter of Aquileia, whose catalogue, like theirs, is perfect and unmixed. and concludes with these remarkable words: 'These are the volumes which the fathers have included in the canon, and out of which they would have us prove tire doctrine of our faith." (Lard. Cred. vol. x, page 187.)

This, it is true, only proves that the books arc substantially the same but the evidence is abundant, that they have descended to us without any material alteration whatever.

1.                Before that event, [the time of Christ,] the regard which was paid to them by the Jews, especially to the law, would render any forgery or material change in their contents impossible. The law having been the deed by which the land of Canaan was divided among the Israelites, it is improbable that this people who possessed that land, would suffer it to be altered or falsified. The distinction of the twelve tribes, and their separate interests, made it more difficult to alter their law than that of other nations less jealous than the Jews. Farther, at certain stated Seasons, the law was publicly read before all the people of Israel, Deut. xxxi 9-13; Joshua viii, 34, 35; Neh. viii, 1-5; and it was appointed to be kept in the ark, for a constant memorial against those who transgressed it, Deut. xxxi, 26. Their king was required to write him copy of this law in a book, out of that which is before the priests, the Levites, and to read therein all the days of his lift, Deut. xvii, 18, 19; their priests also were commanded to teach the children of Israel all the statutes, which the Lord had spoken to them by the hand of Moses, Levit. x, 11; and parents were charged not only to make it familiar to themselves, but also to teach it diligently to their children, Deut. xvii, 18, 19; beside which, a severe prohibition was annexed, against either making any addition to, or diminution from the law, Deut. iv, 2; xii, 32. Now such precepts as these could not have been given by an impostor who was adding to it, and who would wish men to forget rather than enjoin them to remember it: for, as all the people were obliged to know and observe the law under severe penalties, they were, in a manner, the trustees and guardians of the law, as well as the Priests and Levites. The people, who wore to teach their children, must have had copies ot it; the priests and Levites must have had copies of it; and the magistrates must have had copies of it, as being the law of the land. Farther, after the people were divided into two kingdoms, both the people of Israel and those of Judah still retained the same book of the law: and the rivalry or enmity that subsisted between the two kingdoms, prevented either of them from altering or adding to the law. After the Israelites were carried captive into

Assyria, other nations were placed in the cities of Samaria in their stead; and the Samaritans received the Pentateuch, either from the priest who was sent by order of the king of Assyria, to instruct them in the manner of the God of the land, 2 Kings xvii, 26, or several years afterward from the hands of Manasseh, the son of Joiada the high priest, who was expelled from Jerusalem by Nehemiah, for marrying the daughter of Sanballat, the governor of Samaria; and who was constituted, by Sanbaliat, the first high priest of the temple at Samaria. = Neh. viii, 28; Josephus Ant. Jud. lib. xi, c. 8; Bishop Newton's Works, vol. i, p. 23.) Now, by one or both of these means, the Samaritans hail the Pentateuch as well as the Jews; but with this difference, that the Samaritan Pentateuch was in the old Hebrew or Phenician characters, in which it remains to this clay; whereas the Jewish copy was changed into Chaldee characters, (in which it also remains to this day,) which were flurer and clearer than the Hebrew, the Jews having learn­ed the Chaldee language during their seventy years abode in Babylon.

The jealousy and hatred which subsisted between the Jews and Samaritans, made it impracticable for either nation to corrupt or alter the text in any thing of consequence without certain discovery; and the general agreement between the Hebrew and Samaritan copies of the Pentateuch, which are now extant, is such, as plainly demonstrates that the copies were originally the same. Nor can any better evidence he de sired, that the Jewish Bibles have not been corrupted or interpolated, than this very book of the Samaritans: which, after more than two thousand years discord between the two nations, varies as little from the other as any classic author in less tract of time has disagreed from itself by the unavoidable slips and mistakes of so many transcribers.[2]

"After the return of the Jews from the Babylonish captivity, the books of the law and the prophets were publicly read in their synagogues every Sabbath day, Acts xiii, 14, 15, 27; Luke iv, 17-20; which was an excellent method of securing their purity, as well as of enforcing the observation of the law. The Chaldee paraphrases and the transla­tion of the Old Testament into Greek, which were afterward made, were so many additional securities. To these facts we may add, that the reverence of the Jews for their sacred writings is another guarantee for their integrity: so great, indeed, was that reverence, that, according to the statements of Philo and Josephus, (Philo, apud Euseb. de Praep. Evang. lib. viii, c. 2; Josephus contra Apion. Jib. i, sec. 8,) they would suffer any torments, and even death itself, rather than change a single point or iota of the Scriptures. A law was also enacted by them, which denounced him to be guilty of inexpiable sin, who should presume to make the slightest possible alteration in their sacred hooks. The Jew­ish doctors, fearing to add any thing to the law, passed their own notions as traditions or explanations of it; and both Jesus Christ and his apostles accused the Jews of entertaining a prejudiced regard for those traditions, but they never charged them with falsifying or corrupting the Scriptures themselves.

"2. After the birth of Christ. For, since that event, the Old Testa­ment has been held in high esteem both by Jews and Christians. The Jews also frequently suffered martyrdom for their Scriptures, which they would not have done, had they suspected them to have been corrupted or altered. Beside, the Jews and Christians were a mutual guard upon each other, which must have rendered any material corruption impossible, if it had been attempted: for if such an attempt had been made by the Jews, they would have been detected by the Christians. The accomplishment of such a design, indeed, would have been impracticable from the moral impossibility of the Jews (who were dispersed in every country of the then known world) being able to collect all the then existing copies, with the intention of corrupting or falsifying then). On the other hand, if any such attempt had been made by the Christians, it would assuredly have been detected by the Jews: nor could any such attempt have been made by any other man or body of men, without exposure both by Jews arid Christians. To these considerations, it may be added, that the admirable agreement of all the ancient paraphrases and versions, and the writings of Josephus, with the Old Testament as it is now extant, together with the quotations which are made from it in the New Testament, and in the writings of all ages to the present time, forbid us to indulge any suspicion of any material corruption in the books of the Old Testament; and give us every possible evidence of which a subject of this kind is capable, that these books are now in our hands genuine and unadulterated.

"3. Lastly, the agreement of all the manuscripts of the Old Testament, (amounting to nearly eleven hundred and fifty,) which are known to be extant, is a clear proof of its uncorrupted preservation. These manuscripts, indeed, are not all entire; some contain one part, and some another. But it is absolutely impossible that every manuscript, whether in the original Hebrew, or in any ancient version or paraphrase, should or could be designedly altered or falsified in the same passages, without detection either by Jews or Christians. The manuscripts now extant are, confessedly, liable to errors and mistakes from the carelessness, negligence, or inaccuracy of copyists; but they are not all uniformly incorrect throughout, nor in tire same words or passages; but what is incorrect in one place is correct in another. Although tire various readings, which have been discovered by learned men, who have applied themselves to the collection of every known manuscript of the Hebrew Scriptures, amount to marry thousands, yet these differences are of so little real moment, that their laborious collations afford us scarcely any opportunities of correcting tire sacred text in important passages. So far, however, are these extensive arid profound researches from being either trivial or nugatory, that we have in fact derived from them the greatest advantage which could have been wished for by any real friend of revealed religion; namely, the certain knowledge of the agreement of the copies of the ancient Scriptures, now extant in their original lan­guage, with each other, and with our Bibles. (Bishop TOMLINE'S Ele­ments of Christ, Theol. vol i, p. 31.)

"Equally satisfactory is the evidence for the integrity and uncorrupt. ness of the New Testament in any thing material. The testimonies, adduced in the preceding section in behalf of the genuineness and authenticity of the New Testament, are, in a great measure, applicable to show that it has been transmitted to us entire and uncorrupted. But to be more particular, we remark, that the uncorrupted preservation of the books of tire New Testament is manifest,

"1. From their contents; for, so early as tire two first centuries of the Christian era, we find the very same facts, and the very same doe trines universally received by Christians, which we of the present day believe on the credit of tire New Testament.

"2. Because a universal corruption of those writings was impossible, not can the least vestige of such a corruption be found in history. They could not be corrupted during the life of their authors; and before their death, copies were dispersed among the different communities of Christians, who were scattered throughout the then known world. Within twenty years after the ascension, Churches were formed in tire principal cities of the Roman empire; and in all these Churches the books of the New Testa­ment, especially the four Gospels, were read as a part of their public worship, just as the writings of Moses and the prophets were read in the Jewish synagogues.[3] Nor would the use of them be confined to public worship; for these books were not, like the Sybilline oracles, locked up from tire perusal of the public, but were exposed to public investigation. When the books of the New Testament were first published to the world, the Christians would naturally entertain the highest esteem and reverence for writings that delivered an authentic and inspired history of the life and doctrines of Jesus Christ, and would be desirous of possessing such air invaluable treasure. Hence, as we learn from unquestionable authority, copies were multiplied and disseminated as rapidly as the boundaries of tire Church increased; and translations were made into as many languages as were spoken by its professors, some of which remain to this day; so that it would very soon be rendered absolutely impossible to corrupt these books in any one important word or phrase. Now, it is not to be supposed, (without violating all probability,) that all Christians should agree in a design of changing or corrupting the original books; and if some only should make the attempt, the uncorrupted copies would still remain to detect them. And sup­posing there was some error in one translation or copy, or something changed, added, or take: away; yet there were many other copies and other translations, by tire help of which the neglect or fraud might be or would be corrected.

"Farther, as these books could not be corrupted during the life of their respective authors, arid while a great number of witnesses were alive to attest the facts which they record: so neither could any mate­rial alteration take place after their decease, without being detected while the original manuscripts were preserved in the Churches. The Christians who were instructed by the apostles or by their immediate successors, travelled into all parts of tire world, carrying with them co­pies of their writings; from which other copies were multiplied and preserved. Now, as we have already seen, we have an unbroken series of testimonies for the genuineness and authenticity of tire New Testament, which can be traced backward, from the fourth century of the Christian era to the very time of the apostles : and these very testimonies are equally applicable to prove its uncorrupted preservation. Moreover, harmonies of the four Gospels were anciently constructed; commentaries were written upon them, as well as upon the other books of the New Testament, (many of which are still extant,) manuscripts were collated, and editions of tire New Testament were put forth, sacred records, being universally regarded as the supreme standard (truth, were received by every class of Christians with peculiar respect, as being Divine compositions, and possessing an authority be­longing to no other books. Whatever controversies, therefore, arose among different sects, (and the Church was very early rent with fierce contentions on doctrinal points,) the Scriptures of the New Testament were received and appealed to by every one of them, as being conclusive in all matters of controversy: consequently it was morally impossible, that any man or body of men should corrupt or falsify them in any fundamental article, should foist into them a single expression to favour their peculiar tenets, or erase a single sentence, without being detected by thousands.

"If any material alteration had been attempted by the orthodox, it would leave been detected by the heretics; amid, on the other hand, if a heretic had inserted, altered, or falsified any thing, he would have been exposed by the orthodox, or by other heretics. It is well known that a division commenced in the fourth century, between the eastern and western Churches, which, about the middle of the ninth century, became irreconcilable, and subsists to the present day. Now, it would have been impossible to alter all the copies in the eastern empire; and if it had been possible in the east, the copies in the west would have detected the alteration. But, in fact, both the eastern and western copies agree, which could not be expected if either of them was altered or falsified. The uncorrupted preservation of the New Testament is farther evident,

"3. From the agreement of all the manuscripts. The manuscripts. of the New Testament, which are extant, are far more nuancrons than those of any single classic author whomsoever; upward of three hundred and fifty were collected by Griesbach, for his celebrated critical edition. These manuscripts, it is true, are not all entire: most of them contain only the Gospels; others, the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and the Epistles; and a few contain the Apocalypse or Revelation of' John. But they were all written in very different and distant parts of the world; several of them are upward of twelve hundred years old, and give us the books of the New Testament, in all essential points, perfectly accordant with each other, as any person may readily ascertain by examining the critical editions published by Mill, Kuster, Bengel, Wetstein, and Griesbach. The thirty thousand various readings which, are said to be found in the manuscripts collated by Dr. Mill, and the hundred and fifty thousand which Griesbach's edition is said to contain in no degree whatever affect the general credit and integrity of the text. In fact, the more copies are multiplied, and the more numerous the transcripts and translations from the original, the more likely is it, that the genuine text and the true original reading will be investigated and ascertained. The most correct and accurate ancient classics now v extant are those of which we have the greatest number of manuscripts; and the most depraved, mutilated, and inaccurate editions of the old writer are those of which we have the fewest manuscripts, and perhaps only a single manuscript extant. Such are Athenaeus, Clemens Romanus, He sychius, and Photius. But of this formidable mass of various readings, which have been collected by the diligence of collators, not one tenth,- nay, not one hundredth part, either makes or can make any perceptible, or at least any material, alteration in the sense in any modern version They consist almost wholly of palpable errors in transcription, grammatical and verbal differences, such as the insertion or omission of an article, the substitution of a word for its equivalent, and the transposition of a word or two in a sentence. Even time few that do change the sense, affect it only in passages relating to unimportant, historical, and geographical circumstances, or other collateral matters; and the still smaller number that make any alteration in things of consequence, do not on that account place us in any absolute uncertainty For, either the true reading may be discovered by collating the other manuscripts, versions, and quotations found in time works of the ancients; or, should these fail to give us the requisite information, we are enabled to explain the doc. trine in question from other undisputed passages of holy writ.

"4. The last testimony to be adduced for the integrity and uncorrupt ness of the New Testament, is furnished by the agreement of the ancient versions and quotations from it, which are made in the writings of the Christians of the first three centuries, and in those of time succeeding fathers of the Church.

"The testimony of versions, and the evidence of the ecclesiastical fathers, have already been noticed as a proof of the genuineness and authenticity of the New Testament. The quotations from the New Tes­tament in the writings of the fathers arc so numerous, that (as it has frequently been observed) the whole body of the Gospels mind Epistles might be compiled from the various passages dispersed in their com­mentaries and other writings. And though these citations were, in many instances, made from memory, yet, being always made with due attention to the sense and meaning, and most commonly with a regard to the words as well as to the order of tine words, they correspond with the original records from which they were extracted :-an irrefragable argument this, of the purity and integrity with which the New Testament has been preserved." (HORNES'S introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, vol. i, chap. 2, sect. 3.)


[1] Epiphanius omits the Acts of the Apostles. This must have been an acci­dental mistake, either in him in some copyist of his work; for he elsewhere expressly refers to this book, and ascribes it to Luke.

[2] Dr. BENTLEY'S Remarks on Freethinking, part i, remark 27, (vol. v. p. 144. of Bp. Randolph's Enchiridion Theologicum, 8vo. Oxford, 1792.)

[3] Dr. Lardner has collected numerous instances in the second part of his Cre­dibility of the Gospel History; references to which may be seen in the general index to his works, article Scriptures. See particularly the testimonies of Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, and Augustine