By Benjamin O. True. Rochester Theological Seminary.
The place and authority of the New-Testament Scriptures have been variously estimated by the great specialists of the present century. Never before has such attention been given to the textual criticism or to the literary and historical criticism of these books. The result of textual criticism is most fortunate. We have a text of the New Testament incomparably superior to that of Erasmus in the sixteenth century and vastly better than could have been possible in modern times before the work of Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Westcott, and other experts. The historical or literary criticism of the writings of the New Testament is in progress with parties arrayed against each other, and with almost all shades of opinion and tendency. A clear understanding of present and impending issues is of first importance.
The vital question is this: Can we depend upon the principal writings of the New Testament as reliable and correct representations of what Jesus Christ said, of what he did, and of what he was? It is easy to say that the Bible was not made to teach history; but however strongly that opinion may be affirmed concerning certain parts of the Old Testament, which may be classed as poetical, allegorical, or typical, the narratives of the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and Paul's Epistles must be regarded as presenting correct history and doctrine, or else as unreliable pictures which do not correctly represent the events which the writers profess to narrate and as unauthoritative statements of opinions professedly held by the authors or attributed by them to Christ himself. In an important portion of the Old-Testament Scriptures ex tending over a wider range than is often understood, the treatment of the Old Testament must determine the interpretation of the New Testament. The denial of Old Testament predictions clearly involves the denial of the fulfilments which are asserted in the New Testament.
There are three ways of treating the body of the New Testament Scriptures. The first regards these Scriptures as they have come to us, as giving a reliable account of the life, claims, and teachings of Christ, and also of the Apostolic doctrine concerning the person of Christ. Waiv ing the question of absolute inerrancy and the technical claim of infallibility, and granting that all thought is necessarily conditioned by expression in words and that, strictly speaking, all language as a human instrument must be imperfect—it is still claimed that for all needful purposes we have in the principal New Testament writings an authentic, a reliable, and essentially an Apostolic record of what Jesus did and taught and of what kind of a being he was.
According to a second method of viewing the Gospels and Epistles, these records are not a substantially accurate account of what Christ said. of what he claimed to be, and of what he did and was. These writings, in the form in which they have come to us, do not express the veritable facts connected with Christ's earthly life and teaching. They are largely composed of legendary accretions, and the miraculous element especially must be eliminated as incredible—the result of fancies—or as pictures of later date. In this way it is claimed that primitive Christianity did not involve doctrine concerning the person or the work of Christ as differing distinctively in kind from the nature and the work of other good men. Christ was a very superior, pure-minded, altruistic Jewish peasant, whose ideals were so much beyond what his countrymen considered practicable that they put him to death. Christianity is an ethical system; and primitive Christianity, as actually taught by Christ, was little else. It was a religion of lofty sentiment and of more or less impracticable altruism. But the deity of Christ, his pre-existence, birth from a virgin, bodily resurrection from the dead, and all the intervening miracles alleged to have occurred between the incarnation and the resurrection are to be regarded as unauthenticated and altogether improbable.
Still further: There are those who assume to occupy a mediating position. They say it makes little difference what becomes of the Gospels, how much or how little is cut out as mythical. We have the pleasant picture, the ideal of a life so wonderful, that whether or not we can rationally believe that Christ is omniscient and infallible, whether the New Testament be history or romance, truth or fiction, we have delightful sentiment and a practically perfect ideal of conduct and character. This sentiment and ideal have gradually developed the institutions, customs, rites, and conventionalities which we call Christian.
Let us take the practical morality of modern Christendom and make it the ethical basis for religion. Let us build on present Christian experience—on what Christianity has done to elevate character and sweeten life. Whatever results follow from the present critical inquiries about primitive Christianity, and whatever may be the actual verities underlying the Christian literature of the New Testament, it is possible to separate theology from philosophy; we can even have a naturalistic philosophy, and when convenient we can assume a beneficent God above nature. Such a God is indeed practically unknown and unknowable, since he may never have attested his existence save by purely natural methods; much less has he made known to men what kind of a being he is. Yet since such a personal God is not so likely to leave us comfortless as the apparently cruel and unjust natural forces about us, we will believe that there is a good God in and perhaps above nature, but we decline to assert much about him; indeed, we have nothing but instinct or intuition, vague optimistic desire and sublime conjecture to assure us of his personality and moral perfection. We are not sure that the Christianity of the New Testament was an authoritative revelation, or if it was such originally, we are not sure what was primitive and authoritative in that revelation, as distinct from sub sequent unauthoritative additions. We may regard the ethical precepts of Christianity as sufficient for regulative purposes, and may join with these so much belief as we can command in this scientific age. With or without a personal God, with or without belief in continued personal immortality after death, with or without belief in the authority and infallibility of Christ as a religious teacher, men may take one certain result of Christianity— its superior practical ethics—make that their religion and call themselves Christians.
There will always be minds to whom this last position will appear to be an attempt at a compromise, which must certainly fail to satisfy the intellect, and will possibly trench closely upon what is dishonest.
The Christianity which denies to Christ a nature and a place different in kind from that of other men will not appear to plain people and to many thoughtful minds to be either the Christianity of the Apostles and Evangelists (if, as nearly all agree, these were honorable men) or the historic Christianity which has been held by the vast multitude of believers in every Christian century, and is therefore associated with what is justifiably called catholic doctrine.
A philosophy which has no consistent place for the possibility of miracles or for a revelation outside of natural evolution, will not be regarded by most men as a philosophy which can be honestly believed by clear thinkers, who claim to hold such views of Jesus and of the early Apostles and Apostolic disciples as have been entertained, with very general unanimity, by Christian churches from the close of the second until the last decade of the nineteenth century. If Jesus be not a Saviour of those who believe on him, but only a helper among many others: if he be not " the Christ of God," anointed in a distinctive. peculiar, and veritably real sense, then many, so soon as they are thus convinced, will refuse to profess that which has been known as Christianity for at least seventeen hundred years, or from the close of the second century until this day.
For Christianity, whatever else it may be, however pre-eminent its ethical teaching, unquestionably claims to be a historic religion and to rest upon veritable, objective, historical facts—the person of Christ—a teacher sent from God, and authorized to declare to men the Father, and to speak with calm confidence upon the great themes of human life and destiny.
If to be a Christian is to believe on Christ and to believe on him so strongly and so practically that disciples try to be like him, how can men believe on him nearly two thousand years after his earthly mission without definite and assured convictions concerning him? Was the Christ of the Gospels a veritable historical reality? Do the Epistles of Paul, the first Epistle of John, and the first Epistle of Peter represent Apostolic views of Christ, and can we depend upon the correctness of the Apostolic representations?
The pressing question is not concerning a complete and closed canon of the New Testament. The authority and place of a minor book or of minor books, like Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, for which the external ‘evidence in the second and third centuries was slight, are not essential. Uncertainty about the authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the questionable position in some of the early churches of the Epistle of James, and even of the Apocalypse, are comparatively immaterial.
We should not forget that ἡ Βιβλία, the Bible, at term of the fourteenth century, was τὰ Βιβλία, the books. among the Greek fathers of the fourth century, or "Bibliotheca Divina.” the divine library, of Jerome; the Holy Scriptures of the earlier fathers. The phrases, "the Old Testament" and "the New Testament," were, however, in frequent use at the close of the second century. We need not wait for the late authority of councils, at the close of the fourth century, to know that many books were generally and, we may say within reasonable limits, universally regarded among Christians as forming a part of the New Testament or of the sacred Scriptures of the new covenant. The authority of Eusebius for the time when he wrote' about 324 A.D., is little more conclusive than the testimony of the great writers at the close of the second century in support of the fact that three distinct groups of writings, the Johannine, the Petrine, and the Pauline, were acknowledged and revered, certainly during the last quarter of the second century, as portions of the sacred Scriptures of the Christian Church.
The commonly received opinion of that time, that Luke, a companion of Paul, and according to Eusebius, "well acquainted with the other Apostles," wrote the third Gospel and the Acts, and that Mark as the "interpreter of Peter," according to Papias and others of the second century, wrote the second Gospel, and the strong external evidence in support of the authenticity of I John and I Peter make the testimony of Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian, all of whom flourished and wrote during the last of the second century, to the use and authority of the Gospels, Acts, the most of Paul's letters, 1 John and I Peter, conclusive proof that the teachers and churches of Egypt, Southern Gaul, and North Africa gave to the (ὁμολογούμενα (or to most of the twenty acknowledged books of the New Testament) nearly the same un disputed place at the close of the second century which these books have occupied in the history of the Church until the present time. If this be true, it is abundantly sufficient for the main purpose of Christian evidence with out further discussion of the seven disputed books or the ἀντίλεγόμενα.
If now we recall the intimate relations of Irenaeus with Asia Minor and with Rome, and if we add that Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch, who wrote about 180 A.D., seems to have used the first and third Gospels, several of Paul's Epistles, and the first Epistle of Peter, and that he gives to us the first known quotation made from John's Gospel with the name of the author, we have reason to believe that at such varied localities as Southern Gaul, Rome, Northern Africa, Egypt, Syria, and Asia Minor, practically throughout Christendom, the three great groups of New Testament writings—Petrine, Pauline, and Johannine— were regarded much as they have been considered ever since.
Irenaeus traces the four Gospels to their authors, and at tempts to give reasons why there were precisely four and no more authentic records. Sanday estimates that Irenaus quotes directly one hundred and ninety-three verses from Matthew's Gospel alone, and seventy-three verses from the fourth Gospel. Sanday also states that the quotations by Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian are considerably more abundant than by Irenaaus, while in Origen's writings of the third century the most of the New Testament is actually quoted.
In the thought of the great fathers at the close of the second century the Apostles and their close companions as Apostolic men were separated from ordinary Christians. This is specifically and emphatically indicated by Tertullian. By Tertullian and by Irenaeus the authority of Mark and Luke is distinctly connected with their relations to Peter and Paul. The earlier fragment of Papias from the first half of the second century, preserved by Eusebius, indicates this relation of the second and third Gospels to Peter and Paul; and this is repeatedly regarded by the fathers as a reason for the Apostolic authority of these Gospels. Irenaeus asserts that the Apostles did not begin to preach or to write the Gospels until they received the gifts and the power of the Holy Spirit. He further says: " Matthew issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome. . . . After their departure Mark, a disciple and an interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter; Luke, also the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterward John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon his breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia." ("Adv. Hær," III. i. 1.)
Clement of Alexandria, in his "Outlines," as quoted by Eusebins ("Hist. Eccl.," vi..14) says: "The Gospels containing the genealogies were written first. The Gospel ac cording to Mark had this occasion. As Peter had preached the word publicly at Rome and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. . . . But, last of all, John, perceiving that the external facts had been made plain in the Gospels, being urged by his friends and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel."
Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis, in Phrygia, agrees with Clement's account of Mark's Gospel, and Justin Martyr seems to refer to the second Gospel as the "memoirs" of Peter. (" Dial. c. Tryph.," 106.)
In the quotation from John's Gospel by Theophilus (1 8o A.D.) there is a marked recognition of the sacred Scriptures and of the inspiration of their writers. Theophilus says: "The Holy Writings teach us and all the spirit bearing [inspired] men, one of whom, John, says: ‘In the beginning was the Word,' etc." (II. Ad Autoly. 22.)
Numerous and abundant quotations could be given, were it necessary, in support of the position that the leading fathers of the Church and apparently the churches generally, at the close of the second century, or from about 180 A.D., held such views of the special authority and inspiration of the principal writers and of the chief books of the New Testament as would abundantly satisfy any reasonable demands of conservative and intelligent Christians at this day.
If we remember that in authors of the second and third Gospels we have companions of Peter and Paul, the ad mission of Strauss is very significant, and may justly be considered, for practical purposes, a fixed point concerning which elaborate argument is superfluous. "It is certain," says Strauss ("Leben Jesu," § 10), "that toward the end of the second century the same four Gospels which we have still are found recognized in the Church, and are repeatedly quoted as the writings of the Apostles whose names they bear, by the three most eminent ecclesiastical teachers: Irenaeus in Gaul, Clement in Alexandria, and Tertullian in Carthage. There were indeed current other gospels . . . but the four were, at that time and from that time downward, considered as the peculiarly trustworthy foundation on which the Christian faith rested."
When we are told that there was no closed and completed canon of the New Testament until the Council of Carthage in 397 A.D., and that even after that time some of the disputed books were not regarded as authoritative in the East, we have only to admit the assertion and at once insist that those books which contain the substantial and significant facts and doctrine of the New Testament received peculiar recognition and honor from both Eastern and Western Christians more than two centuries before the Council of Carthage convened. Any minds that have been troubled about technical disputes concerning the completion of the canon or concerning the place of minor New-Testament books should be forever at rest, so far as present data indicate, and reserve all energy and interest for the really significant question at issue.2
That question, in the light of present information concerning the reception of the bulk of the New Testament books, is not concerning what occurred after the second century, but how the Gospels and principal Epistles (or, in the language of the ancient Church, " the Gospel" and " the Apostle") came to have the place which they held at the close of the second century-—a place of unquestioned honor and authority among the great body of Christians throughout the Roman world; and at a time when the maintenance of the faith derived from those books involved sacrifice, persecution, and death.
How did these books come to occupy this pre-eminent place, and how did their material contents come to be regarded, as they unquestionably were held, from 180 to 200 A.D.? '
Was it because the books were the writings of Apostles and Apostolic men of the first century—books whose con tents for three or four generations had been continuously productive of a type of doctrine and life substantially like that illustrated by the Christians of Lyons, Carthage, and Alexandria in the time of Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Clement, or are we to believe that toward the close of the first century and between the death of John the Evangelist and the death of Pothinus in Gaul, I 77 A.D., the fourth Gospel and all miraculous accounts in the other Gospels, both in the East and the West at the close of the second century and throughout the third and fourth centuries together with such doctrinal teaching in the Synoptists as places Christ out of the category of mortals, were by some process foisted upon the minds of men who were so credulous and so obstinate that they received falsehood as if it were truth, and then gladly died for their faith?
We are compelled to hold either that the substance of our New Testament Gospels and Epistles existed from the close of the first to the last of the second century, as the expression of a faith transmitted from generation to generation, or we must suppose that during that period in some possible and reasonably probable way these doctrines and books which represent unwarrantable additions and legendary accretions to primitive Christianity gained general acceptance and belief.
This is not a matter to be treated lightly. The best scholarship, German and English, is summoned to pronounce judgment. The sentimental optimism which declares that it is of little importance what becomes of the books, whether or not we have reliable records of Christianity as Christ established it, and the short-cut method of the anti-supernaturalist with his wholesale sceptical denials, will not be allowed to settle this question for thoughtful Christian men. German scholars are examining in detail every minutest scrap of second-century literature, and some at least among their ablest experts, like Weiss, Zahn, and Luthardt, are convinced of the substantial transmission of the principal New-Testament writings from the first century. The school of Baur has been confessedly beaten back upon the crucial point of the date of the fourth Gospel, from 170 to 130 A.D., as the very latest practicable date of even radical criticism. The best British scholarship, represented by such men as Lightfoot, Westcott, Hort, Salmon, Sanday, Charteris, Donaldson, Rendel Harris, and others, has devoted years of patient research to the fundamental questions of New-Testament criticism, and for the most part with such admirable candor as becomes an investigation whose results must be determined by the application of Bishop Butler's principle, "probability is the guide of life."3
With these forces at work it is certain that the question whether Christianity, as it has been historically understood by the vast majority of believers for at least seventeen hundred years, is in reality historical or mythical, is not to be resolved by any vague and transient influence, such as the "spirit of the age" or the sweeping naturalistic assumptions of necessarian evolutionists. Appeal has been made from conventional acceptance of the New-Testament books to the proper tribunal. To that tribunal the appellant must go.
This is a question of history and of fact. To history even the radical naturalistic evolutionist must give heed. If there prove to be facts which his theory cannot explain —exceptional, remarkable, unique facts—such as the per son of Christ, the New Testament literature, the sum total of Christian influence and the multitude of Christian characters throughout the centuries, some in the first century as noble and as pro-eminent in ethical and spiritual attainment as any of the nineteenth century—the evolutionist who would embrace heaven and earth in his theory may be compelled to choose between a modification of his theory or a denial of facts.
The anti-supernaturalist may indeed say that since the processes of any historic judgment fall short of mathematical certainty and compel a conclusion on a basis of probability, he is pleased to assert at the very beginning that a miracle is improbable, and therefore incredible. This attitude is at least frank and intelligible.4
But what right has such a man to call himself a Christian in any distinctive or historic sense? And on such 8 basis what kind of Christianity have we? Is it the simplicity of a primitive Christianity which has been misunderstood for seventeen centuries and has been revived within fifty years—a Christianity from the lips of Jesus, who never really claimed to be, and perhaps never really was, what the Church at the close of the second century undoubtedly held him to be? Or have we an altogether Christless and only a nominal Christianity—a deviation alike from the teaching of Christ and his first disciples and from the historic faith of the centuries?
This momentous question, so far as external evidence is concerned (and of other evidence we are not now speaking), turns upon whether the substantial contents of the New Testament books were believed by Christians from the beginning and transmitted throughout the first three quarters of the second century, or whether the New-Testament books and their material contents were introduced after the lives of the first disciples, and when it was impossible for them to contradict and to protest against the innovation.
The crucial test of this external evidence for the early and practically Apostolic authority of the facts and doc trines set forth in the New Testament, consists of the links which carry the acceptance of our New-Testament thought and literature back from Irenaaus, Clement, and Tertullian during the last quarter of the second century to the life time of Apostles and of direct disciples of Apostles at the close of the first and the beginning of the second century.
"About the end of the second century," says Norton in his "Genuineness of the Gospels," "the Gospels were reverenced as sacred books by a community dispersed over the world, composed of men of different nations and languages. They were read in the churches of Christians; they were continually quoted and appealed to as of the highest authority; their reputation was as well established among believers from one end of the Christian community to the other as it is at the present day among Christians in any country."
What now were the points of union between Irenaaus, Bishop of Lyons I 78-202 A.D., and John the Evangelist, who died about 98-100 A.D.? Two men were well known to Irenaeus, both of whom may have heard, and one of whom most certainly did hear, from eye-witnesses concerning the words and works of Christ. These two men, who formed the direct personal links between Irenaus and the Apostolic age, were the martyrs Polycarp of Smyrna and Pothinus of Lyons.
In his letter to Florinus, preserved by Eusebius, Irenaeus affirms his distinct remembrance, while a youth in Asia Minor, of Polycarp and his discourses. " I am able," says Irenaeus, "to describe the very place in which the blessed Polycarp sat as he discoursed and his goings out and comings in, and the manner of his physical appearance and his discourses to the people and the accounts which he gave of his intercourse with John and with the others who had seen the Lord. And as he remembered their words and what he heard from them concerning the Lord and concerning his miracles and his teachings, having received them from eye-witnesses of the ‘word of life,‘ Polycarp related all things in harmony with the Scriptures." (" Hist. Eccl.," v. 20.)
According to the best recent authorities, Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, suffered martyrdom about 15 5, ten years earlier than was formerly supposed, and was eighty-six years of age. He was therefore born about 70 A.D. He was a pupil of John in Asia Minor, and probably knew several who had seen the Lord. In 1 7 7 or 178 A.D. Irenaeus became Bishop of Lyons. Previously he had been a presbyter in Southern Gaul, and was the immediate successor, as bishop. of Pothinus, who suffered martyrdom under Marcus Aurelius at ninety years of age. Pothinus is understood to have been familiar with Asia Minor, where as a boy he probably lived more than a decade before the death of the Apostle John. He must certainly have been personally acquainted with Christians from Asia Minor who were in mature life before John's death, if he did not as a boy himself listen to the Evangelist.
The letter of the churches in Gaul to the churches in Asia Minor, describing the persecution and death of Chris trans, together with other facts, indicate intimate relations of the churches in Southern Gaul with those in Asia Minor. Moreover, the great literary work of Irenaeus was an elaborate refutation of Gnostic heresies such as prevailed in portions of Asia Minor. It seems, therefore, almost in credible that, closely connected as he was with the localities of the Apostle John's labors, Irenaeus should have been mistaken concerning either the authorship of a Gospel attributed to John or the real teaching of the Apostle.
Upon the face of the evidence we are compelled to believe that Irenaeus was altogether likely to know what John taught concerning Christ and what writings could rightly be attributed to the Apostle.5
But the reception of the Gospels and Epistles before Irenwus' time receives further corroboration from the curious fragment known as the Muratorian canon. This distinctly separates the third and fourth Gospels, and, by implication since the beginning of the fragment is wanting, the other two Gospels as well as most of the chief Epistles from ordinary Christian literature. The fourth Gospel is explicitly referred to John and thirteen Epistles are assigned to Paul. The different approved books named are attributed to one guiding Spirit.
The testimony of this fragment must not be pressed too far. Instead of being a decade earlier than the writings of Irenaeus, i.e. in, about 170 A.D., as some have supposed, the Muratorian canon may be the work of a younger contemporary of Irenmus, perhaps Cains or Hippolytus. But in any case, though defective, this fragment indicates a marked differentiation of New-Testament books from other Christian literature during the last, if not during the third, quarter of the second century.
For still other reasons we are compelled to believe that the Gospels, the Acts, and Paul's Epistles, as indicated by the Muratorian canon, were especially precious not only at, but before, the time when Irenaeus and Tertullian composed their principal writings.
Without entering upon details, it must suffice to say that beyond a reasonable doubt both Tertullian and the Latin translator of Irenaaus used an old version of New Testament books—of the Gospels and of most of the Epistles. Tertullian began to write about 190 A.D., and the date of the Latin version of the New Testament approved and in general use at that time can scarcely be later than I 70 AD Indeed, Westcott says of this old Latin version that after it "received definite shape in Africa, which could not have been long after the middle of the second century, it was not publicly revised . . . and was retained there at a time when Jerome's version was elsewhere almost universally received."
The Syrian Peshito, the earliest version or a recension of the earliest version of the New Testament into Syriac, has always held its place of authority for ecclesiastical use among Syrian Christians. The first Syriac Scriptures of the New Testament were translated very early, probably before the old Latin version of the second century. Both these versions, the old Latin and the Syriac, contained the four Gospels, the Book of Acts, the most of Paul's Epistles' I Peter and I John.
There is abundant reason to suppose that Celsus, who wrote against Christianity about 178 A.D., in citing as authoritative among Christians what he calls the "Writings of the Disciples of Jesus," used our Gospels, and also that he knew Paul's Epistles.
But the most interesting link between the time of Irenaeus and the middle of the second century is Tatian; for Tatian, who died soon after I 70 A.D. ,was a pupil of Justin Martyr at Rome about or before I 50 A.D., and the Gospels which, in all probability, both used must have been approved writings in circulation some years before Justin wrote. Tatian was born in the early part of the second century. He was an Assyrian, and his vernacular was the Syriac, but he spoke and wrote Greek. Dissatisfied with idolatry, he longed to know the true God, and after acquaintance with the Scriptures he professed Christianity. He lived some years at Rome, where he was taught by Justin Martyr. He wrote an interesting "Address to the Greeks," one of the numerous Christian apologies of the age. After the death of Justin, Tatian became an ascetic and the leader of an ascetic sect which was regarded as heretical. He went to the East, probably to Antioch, and composed his Diatessaron—the first important harmony or comprehensive compendium of the four Gospels. Zahn places the date of the Diatessaron at I 72 A.D., though others fix upon an earlier date, and many believe that the plan of the work was probably suggested by Justin's method of quoting and comparing the Gospels.
This Diatessaron was Tatian's great work, but it was long supposed to be lost. Until its recent recovery we knew little more than its name and its general characteristics, and even the significance of these was vehemently disputed by radical critics, who advocated a late date for the general use and authority of our four Gospels.
Tatian's work is referred to by two authors of the fourth century. Eusebius says: "Tatian composed a sort of connection and compilation, I know not how, of the Gospels and called it τὸδιὰτεσσάρων." Epiphanius says that " the Diatessaron Gospel was said to have been composed by Tatian."
The next reference to this work is more explicit and important. It is in the writings of Theodoret, bishop of the diocese of Cyrrhus near the Euphrates, in the middle of the fifth century. Theodoret says: " He [Tatian] composed the Gospel which is called Diatessaron, cutting out the genealogies and such other passages as show the Lord to have been born of the seed of David according to the flesh. . . . And I myself found more than two hundred such copies held in respect in the churches in our parts. All these I collected and put away, and I replaced them by the Gospels of the four Evangelists."
Theodoret destroyed these copies of the Diatessaron on account of the omissions which had been caused by Tatian's peculiar views. Before this destruction of the Syriac copies of the Diatessaron, it was probably in general use by the educated and perhaps by the people of Syria in some localities.
The next important testimony to the work in the East is from Barsalibi, a Syrian bishop of the twelfth century, who in the preface to his commentary on Mark's Gospel says: "Tatian, the disciple of Justin, selected and patched together from the four Gospels and constructed a Gospel which he calls Diatessaron. On this work Ephraem wrote an exposition, and its commencement was, ‘In the be ginning was the Word.' " The Ephraem here referred 110 was Ephraam Syrus, who flourished about 360.
This was substantially the testimony known to modern Christian scholars concerning Tatian's Diatessaron until sixteen years ago. Barsalibi's statement that Ephraim wrote a commentary on Tatian's Diatessaron seemed entirely unsupported by tangible proof, and it was thought that he could easily have been mistaken. The meaning of the title given to the lost work of Tatian was called in question. Critics denied that Tatian compiled a work from four Gospels—or, if he did, that they were our Gospels.
We now know much more than was known sixteen years ago. In the Armenian Convent at Venice, a famous centre of Armenian learning, there have long been two twelfth-century MSS. of an Armenian version of a Syriac work of Ephraam Syrus—a work which has been quite clearly shown to be a commentary on Tatian's Diatessaron. This commentary was translated into Latin as early as 1841, but was not published until 1876.6 Even then this translation does not seem to have attracted the fixed attention of German and English scholars until five or six years after its publication. Ezra Abbot used it in 1878, and through him Harnack in Germany noticed the Vene tian publication in 1881, and Wace in England in 1882.
The case of Tatian's Diatessaron and its testimony to our Gospels then stood as follows: Tatian was said to have written a harmony of the four Gospels, with certain intentional omissions; presumably a harmony of our four Gospels as they were known to Eusebius in the fourth century. Ephraem Syrus wrote a commentary on some gospel harmony. There was such strong incidental and historical evidence that this harmony was Tatian's Diatessaron that with many possible lacuna: Zahn undertook from the commentary at Venice to reproduce the substance of Tatian's Diatessaron. 7
Still some asked if this was certainly the Diatessaron of Tatian, and if so how far it could be restored in its original integrity, for a commentary written nearly one hundred years after the original might be misleading through amplification or omissions.
A flood of light was cast upon this subject from an al together independent source and locality.
Scholars have known that there has long been in the Vatican Library at Rome in an Arabic MS. of the twelfth century a translation of a Gospel harmony. It has been described but never until recently published, since its value was not clearly apparent. There seemed to be reason to suppose that it was not a version of Tatian's harmony, though that possibility was suggested. But quite recently the Coptic owner of a second Arabic MS., similar in general contents to that just mentioned, but of the fourteenth century, presented his MS. to the Borgian Museum at Rome.
These two MSS. were probably from a common version made out of the Syriac in the eleventh century, as indicated by the Borgian MS. This second MS. shows that the apparent beginning of the other MS. with words of Mark in stead of with the commencement of the prologue of the fourth Gospel was probably due to the insertion of a scribe. And the genealogies occur in the second Arabic MS. by themselves at the close of the MS. instead of in the body of the MS. as in the Arabic MS. of the Vatican. In most other respects the contents of the two MSS. substantially agree, and the Borgian MS. fulfils the necessary conditions of a version of Tatian's Diatessaron.
From these two Arabic MSS. at Rome, in 1888 Ciasca edited and published, with a convenient Latin translatlon, what we are compelled to believe is an Arabic version of the Diatessaron of Tatian.8
Moreover, this Arabic version at Rome, edited and published by Ciasca in 1888, corresponds so perfectly with the work on which Ephraem Syrus commented, and which work, as embodied in the commentary, exists in an Armenian version at Venice and in a Latin translation was edited by Moesinger and published in Venice in 1876, that we are practically assured of the existence of Tatian's long-lost Diatessaron or harmony of the four Gospels and of Ephræm Syrus' commentary on that harmony.
I have dwelt at some length" upon this recovery of Tatian's Diatessaron on account of its interest and importance, though many details which render the result substantially conclusive have necessarily been omitted.9
If now we can say that we possess the Diatessaron of Tatian, what does this fact signify?
No less than this—this Diatessaron was composed of four and only four Gospels. It was a compilation with certain intentional omissions from the four Gospels known to Theodoret in the fifth and Eusebius in the fourth century, from the Gospels accepted by Irenaus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria, or, in other words, it was from our Gospels—the four Gospels received by the church universal from Tatian's time to the present, as the works of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
In order to be thus used by Tatian, who was an intelligent, if not an orthodox, Christian and had, travelled in both the East and the West, those four Gospels must have had, about 170 A.D., a recognized and a prominent place. They must have been composed considerably earlier than the time of Tatian's compilation, and they must have gained their place of eminence by an earlier and a some what general circulation and acceptance.
In all probability those Gospels were known and revered as early as 150 A.D. It is unreasonable to suppose that they were not known and honored in some locality associated with Tatian, at least a decade or a score of years before the date assigned to his Diatessaron.
What is more probable than that Rome was the place where Tatian learned 'the true value of these Christian books, and that Justin Martyr was the man who unfolded to his pupil the material contents of the Gospels and inspired their subsequent use?
This carries us back to about 150 A.D., the approximate date of Justin Martyr's "Apologies " and " Dialogue with Trypho." From these writings we learn that there were written Gospels in Justin's time, that they were attributed to Christ's Apostles and those who followed them, and that these Gospels were publicly read at the meetings of Christians in connection with the Old-Testament prophecies.
In a passage of his first Apology, which describes Christian worship on Sunday, Justin says: "The memoirs of the Apostles or the writings of the prophets are read." (Chap. LXVII.) That these "memoirs of the Apostles" were written Gospels appears from another passage in the first Apology: " The Apostles in the memoirs which were written by them which are called Gospels, thus handed down that they were commanded." (Chap. LXVI.)
In the " Dialogue with Trypho " (103), Justin attributes these records to "His [Christ's] Apostles and those who followed them." This is a literally correct representation of our four Gospels, two of which were by Apostles and two by followers or intimate companions of Apostles
The case of the Gospels in Justin's time stands thus: We are forced from the newly-recovered Diatessaron to believe that Tatian used four Gospels substantially our own. We know that Justin used Gospels ascribed by him to Apostles and followers of Apostles. We are compelled to believe that the Gospels of Justin were our Gospels, or that he used other Gospels than ours, which within twenty years were displaced by ours, since our Gospels were those whose contents are fully represented in the Diatessaron of Tatian, Justin's pupil. Now, an examination of Justin Martyr shows that he must have used some of our Gospels. His use of the first three Gospels is generally conceded. His peculiar method of quotation has led some to question his use of the fourth Gospel.
Instead of exact quotations Justin practised combinations—a method which some have supposed suggested the compendium or harmony of Tatian. Justin quoted very loosely from the Old Testament, though he held that the Old-Testament books were almost mechanically inspired. This practice explains his free quotation from or use of the New Testament, about the inspiration of which he had broader views.
While Justin's use of the Synoptists may be fairly inferred from his quotations, his use of the fourth Gospel must depend more on his thought than his exact words. Ezra Abbot. in his monograph, "The Authorship of the Fourth Gospel," insists that Justin's writings are saturated with the thought of the fourth Gospel. Weiss, in his "Introduction to the New Testament," declares that in the light of recent German researches the old claim of the Tübingen school that Justin was unacquainted with the fourth Gospel "must be regarded as definitely set aside." Weiss further adds, with strong proof of his position, "unquestionably Justin's whole doctrine of the Logos has its origin in John's Gospel."
From the study of Justin's words and thought, no less than the testimony of the Muratorian canon, the old Syrian and Latin versions and the Diatessaron of Tatian, we have the strongest assurance that in Justin's time four Gospels, substantially our own, were currently received and used with peculiar reverence in Christian worship.
If now, as Irenaeus indicates, John the Evangelist lived until the time of the Emperor Trajan (98-I I 7), we have only half a century from the time of Justin to the lifetime of the Apostle John.
Gospels which were current and generally authoritative among Christians when Justin wrote must have been used and accepted before that time. For the second quarter of the second century we have the explicit testimony of Papias to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, and to his use of the first Epistle of John and Peter. There is conclusive evidence that Marcion received Luke's Gospel and ten of Paul's Epistles, while he rejected other portions of the New Testament solely on account of his extreme anti Jewish views. Moreover, we have the strongest reason for believing that the Synoptists, the fourth Gospel, and most if not all of Paul's letters were known, used, and understood to be Christian authority by the leading schools of Gnostics, including Basileides, who flourished at Alexandria about 125-130 A.D., and Valentinus, who taught at Rome about I40 A.D., and their followers.
The proof that the Gospels and Paul's Epistles were received as authoritative by both orthodox Christians and the early leaders of the Gnostic heretics, from about 125 A.D., is too complex to be briefly given.
Perhaps the issue, so far as the early Gnostics are involved, may be fairly illustrated by reference to the fourth Gospel Since this is now generally believed to be the latest of the Gospels and among the very latest of the books of the New Testament, the establishment of an early date for its reception and authoritative use presupposes the earlier use of other principal New Testament books.
A whole class of words—logos, life, truth, only-begot ten, etc.—is used in such a way by the Gnostics that in all probability the founders of their leading systems appropriated the terminology of the fourth Gospel or else the author of the fourth Gospel adopted the phraseology of these Gnostic leaders, and then handed down his Gospel as approved and orthodox to Papias, Justin Martyr, Tatian, and the Catholic Church of subsequent generations. The latter supposition is incredible.10 From the early use of the New Testament Scriptures as shown by quotations preserved by Irenreus and Hippolytus, and from the use by Gnostics of terms which are found in the fourth Gospel, such as the names of Gnostic aeons, we are led to believe that the fourth Gospel was written before the out lines of the great Gnostic systems were made by Basileides and Valentinus, who seem to have taught respectively at Alexandria from about 125 A.D. and at Rome from about 140 A.D.
If now we allow the fourth Gospel time to be circulated and to gain admitted authority before its use by these Gnostic teachers, it cannot well be placed later than 120 A.D., and may very easily go back to the closing years of John's life and of the first century—all that is now claimed by the most conservative scholars.
But we must not forget that there are important wit nesses earlier than the founders of Gnostic systems—links which reach back toward or actually join the Apostolic age as represented by John. I refer particularly to Polycarp, Ignatius, and Clement of Rome, an examination of whose important testimony in detail is, for obvious reasons, at this time impossible. Though Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna near Ephesus, the seat of John's labors, did not suffer martyrdom until 155 A.D., he was eighty-six years of age, and his letter to the Philippians must be dated only a few months after Ignatius' death, or at the very latest 116 or 117 A.D.
In common with Clement of Rome and Ignatius, Poly carp bears the strongest testimony to the authority of Paul and the character of his writings. Polycarp expressly distinguishes between himself and the superior place and authority of Paul. In his letter to the Philippians Poly carp writes: " Neither I nor any other such one can come up to the wisdom of the blessed and glorified Paul. He, when among you, accurately and steadfastly taught the word of truth in the presence of those who were then alive."
Clement of Rome also bears the strongest testimony to Paul and his writings, and with Ignatius and Polycarp gives to the Apostles a place of unquestioned and significant authority.
Polycarp was a pupil of John, acquainted with eye-wit nesses of Christ, and a visitor. to Rome, where he may have met Justin Martyr as Justin Martyr probably met P01)' carp in Asia Minor. Polycarp was for many years resident bishop at Smyrna, near Ephesus. According to Irenwus (" Adv. Hær," III. iii. 4), Polycarp's appointment was due to Apostles, and according to Tertullian ("Preescrip.," 32), to John the Apostle. It is altogether improbable that Gospels falsely attributed to John, or to other Apostles or Apostolic men, were foisted upon the Church and recognized as genuine by heretics and Christians alike between John's death and the time of the early Gnostics, Basileides, Valentinus, and Marcion, of Papias or of Justin Martyr, precisely during the years when Polycarp, whom Irenaeus had heard "speak of his familiar intercourse with John and with the rest of those who had seen the Lord," was Bishop of Smyrna, only a few miles from Ephesus, the scene of John's closing years and death.
We have now indulged in a somewhat comprehensive, though necessarily an imperfect, yet I trust a candid, re view of the testimony of the second century to the principal writings and writers of the New Testament through the links which bind the acknowledged Catholic doctrine and the books confessedly held to be authoritative by the great fathers at the close of the second century back to John and the first century. This evidence comes from the personal influence of aged men like Pothinus and Polycarp, from the Muratorian fragment, the early Syriac and old Latin versions, the use of the Gospels by Celsus, the recently recovered Diatessaron of Tatian, Justin Martyr, Papias, the early Gnostics, Polycarp's Epistle, and the genuine writings of Ignatius and Clement of Rome.
I have no hesitation in asserting that there seems to me far greater difficulty in fixing upon a place where, a time when, and a method by which, during the second century, substantial deviation from oral and written expression of Apostolic thought was successfully imposed upon the Christian Church than to suppose that in both their formal expression and their material contents the writings and doctrinal teachings of the Apostles and Apostolic men were transmitted in their substantial integrity from the Apostolic age to the commencement of what is usually termed the Catholic period at the close of the second century.
And if this be true we have, upon lines of strict historic evidence—precisely the kind of evidence which, from the nature of the case, we have a right to expect—sufficient reason to believe that in the principal writings of the New Testament there have been transmitted from generation to generation, under the watchful guardianship of living disciples and by the supervision of Divine Providence, the substantial thought and teaching of the Apostles and of Apostolic men. We have this Apostolic thought and teaching in the form of literature, the most secure method known to men of preserving thought unperverted by the process of transmission from an early to a later age.
We can say with Peter, "We have the word of prophecy made more sure; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawn and the day-star arise in your hearts."
Benjamin O. True.
Rochester Theological Seminary.
1) Read by invitation before the Presbytery 0f Rochester, April, 1892, and printed by request.
2) The third Council of Carthage, 397 A.D., at which Augustine was present, and the action of which he probably inspired, is often referred to as having determined the list of canonical Scriptures. It is true that the declaration of this council became the accepted rule of the Western churches. But the identical conclusions of this council were reached in portions of the East at an earlier date.
A list of books believed to be canonical and divine, added to the Pas cal letter of Athanasius as Bishop of Alexandria, 1n 365 A.D., contained the twenty-seven books of our New Testament. The same list, with the exception of the Apocalypse, is given by Cyril of Jerusalem in his "Catechetical Lectures" (iv, 36), 347 or 348 A.D. Apart from minor books, about which there was some question, the four Gospels, the Acts, Paul's Epistles, 1 John and 1 Peter, were generally received as authoritative
3) The conservative attitude of the Germans named above is particularly significant when the German passion for "some new thing" is considered. We are compelled to have great admiration for German erudition. but somewhat less regard for the use which many Germans make of their learning. The rapidity with which one hypothesis is overthrown by another among German scholars brings into favorable contrast the candor and balanced judgment of those authoritative English-speaking scholars who have given attention to questions of New-Testament criticism. Lightfoot's estimate of German methods and results, in " Essays on Supernatural Religion," p. 141. may be considered extreme, but it is certainly the opinion of a master who has a right to speak
The relative caution of true German specialists, like Harnack, who in cline to a late authorship of some New-Testament books (notably the fourth Gospel) is in marked contrast with the arrogant and unwarranted dogmatisrn of third-rate critics, who attempt by exaggerated assertions to advance views from which real scholars either dissent or which they hold only tentatively and provisionally.
4) The presupposition that miracles are incredible has inspired much of the effort to account for the records of the New Testament without flatly denying the integrity of Christ and the Apostles, by the assignment of late dates to different books of the New Testament. The motive is narrow and unscientific, and the whole proceeding has been attended with the gravest, If not with absolutely insuperable, difficulties.
5) This view may be maintained notwithstanding the opinion of Eusebius that lrenaeus confused John the Apostle with a second john, the Presbyter. In any case the fourth Gospel must be regarded as a substantially correct expression of the Apostle’s views concerning the person and the teaching of Jesus. Consult Eusebius' "Hist. Eccl." iii. 39: McGiffert's Edition, Note, and especially Salmon's article, "Joannes Presbyter." in the "Dictionary of Christian Biography."
6) "Evangelii Coucordantis facta a Sancto Ephraemof' in Latinum translata a R. P. Aucher Mechatarista cuius versionem emenclavit illus travit et edidit G. Mœsinger Venetiis, 1876.
7) Prof. Rendel Harris calls especial attention to the fact that though this work of Zahn was most creditable, his reconstruction contains only about one-fifth of Tatian’s Diatessaron.
8) "Tatumi Evangeliorum Harmonize Arabice;" nunc primum ex duplici codice edidit et translatione Latina donavit P. Augustinus Ciasca Romæ. 1888.
9) On Tatian and Tatian’s Diatessaron, see articles by Wace in the "Expositor," Second Series, Vols. II. and IV.; article by Professor Fuller in "Dictionary of Christian Biography" (Smith and Wace) ; "The Diatessaron of Tatian," Hemphill, London and Dublin, 1888; "The Diatessaron of Tatian," J. Rendel Harris, London, 1890; article in Church Quarterly Review, Jan., 1891.
10) If the author of the fourth Gospel copied the phraseology of the Gnostic leaders, this must have been done while Polycarp the pupil of the Apostle John, was bishop at Smyrna. It is incredible that Polycarp should not have known and protested against the acceptance of such a Gospel under the authoritative name of John. For according to Irenaeus Polycarp "always taught the things which he had learned from the Apostles," and on his visit to Rome Polycarp confuted the followers of the Gnostics. Marcion and Valentinus, with such success that he "caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one sole truth from the Apostles." ("Adv. Hær," III. iii. 4.)