The first Christians relied on the Old Testament as their chief religious book. To them it was of divine origin and authority The New Testament writings came into gradual use by the side of the older Jewish documents, according to the times in which they appeared and the reouted names of the authors.
When Marcion came from Pontus to Rome (144 A.D.),” he brought with him a Scripture-collection consisting of ten Pauline epistles. Those addressed to Timothy and Titus, with the epistle to the Hebrews, were not in it. The gospel of Marcion was Luke’s in an altered state. From this and other facts we conclude that external parties were the first who carried out the idea of collecting Christian writings, and of putting them either beside or over against the sacred books of the Old Testament, in support of their systems As to Basilides (125 A.D.), his supposed quotations from the New Testament in Hippolytus are too pre carious to be trusted.8 It is inferred from statements in Origen and Jerome that he had a gospel of his own somewhat like Luke’s, but extra-canonical. His son Isidore and succeeding disciples used Matthew’s gospel. Jerome says that Marcion and Basilides denied the Pauline author ship of the epistle to the Hebrews and the pastoral ones.8 It is also doubtful whether Valentinus’s (140-166) alleged citations from the New Testament can be relied upon. The passages of this kind ascribed to him by the fathers belong in a great measure to his disciples; and Heurici has not proved his position that he used John’s gospel. But his followers, including Ptolemy (180 A.D.) and Heracleon (185-200), quote the gospels and other portions of the New Testament. From Hippolytus’s account of the Ophites, Peratse, and Sethians, we infer that the Christian writings were much employed by them. An apocryphal work they rarely cite. More than 160 citations from the New Testament have been gathered out of their writings.4 We may admit that these Ophites and Peratse were of early origin, the former being the oldest known of- the Gnostic parties; but there is no proof that the acquaintance with the New Testament which Hippolytus attributes to them belongs to the first rather than the second half of the 2nd century. The early existence of the sect does not show an early citation of the Christian books by it, especially of John’s gospel; unless its primary were its last stage. Later and earlier Ophites are not distinguished in the Philosophumena. Hence there is a presumption that the author had the former in view, which is favoured by no mention of them occurring in the ” Advertsus omues Hsereses” usually appended to Tertullian’s Prascriptiones HoSreticorum, and by Irenseus’s derivation of their heresy from that of Valentinus. The latter father does not even speak of the Peratae. Clement of Alexandria is the first who alludes to them. The early heretics were desirous of confirming their peculiar opinions by the writings current among catholic Christians, so that the formation of a canon
‘ Davidson’s Introduction to the Study of the Ar. Talam., vol. ii. p. 388. * JExphnaiio in Bpist. ad TUum, voL iv. p. 407, ed. Benedict. 4 Sea the Indexes to Dnncker and Schneidewin’s edition.
by them began soon after the commencement of the 2d century, tad continued till the end of it, contemporaneously with the development of a catholic church and its necessary adjunct a catholic canon. No New Testament canon, except a partial and unauthoritative one, existed till the latter half of the ,2d century, that is, till the idea of a catholic church began to be entertained. The Ebionites or Jewish Christians had their favorite gospels and Acts. The gospel of Matthew was highly prized by them, existing as it did in various recensions. Other documents, such as the Revelation of John, and the Preaching of Peter, (a Jewish-Christian history subsequently re-written and employed in the Clementine Recognitions and Homilies) were also in esteem. Even so late as 170-175, Hegesippus, a Jewish Christian, used the gospel according to the Hebrews and despised Paul’s writings, in conformity with the leading principle of the party to which he belonged, viz., the identity of Jesus’s words with the Old Testament. The Clementine Homilies (161-180) used the four canonical gospels, even the fourth, which they assign to the apostle John. The gospel according to the Egyptians was also employed. Paul’s epistles were rejected, of course, as well as the Acts; since the apostle of the Gentiles was pointed at in Simon Magus, whom Peter refutes. It is, therefore, obvious that a collection of the New Testament writings could make little progress among the Ebionites of the 2d century. Their reverence for the Law and the Prophets hindered another canon. Among the Gentile Christians the formation of a canon took place more rapidly, though Judaic influences retarded it even there. After Paul’s epistles were interchanged-between churches a few of them would soon be put together. A collection of this kind is implied in 2 Peter iii. 16
The apostolic fathers quote from the Old Testament, to them an inspired and sacred thing. They have scarcely any express citations from the Now Testament. Allusions occur, especially to the epistles. The letter of Clement to the Corinthians (about 120) does not use written gospels, though it presupposes an acquaintance with the epistles to the Romans, Corinthians, and Hebrews. Where ” Scripture” is cited, or the expression “it is written” occurs, the Old Testament is meant.
Hermas (about 130) seems to have used the epistles to the Ephesians and Hebrews, those of James and 1 Peter, perhaps, too, the Acts; but there is great uncertainty about the matter, and he has no express quotation from any part of the New Testament. The writer often alludes to words of Jesus found in Matthew’s gospel, so that he may have been acquainted with it.
Barnabas (about 119) has but one quotation from the New Testament, if, indeed, it be such. Apparently, Matthew xx. I6 is introduced by “it is written,” showing that the gospel was considered Scripture. This is the earliest trace of canonical authority being transferred from the Old Testament to Christian writings.
As far as we can judge, from Eusebius’s account of Papias’ (t 163), that writer knew nothing of a New Testament canon. He speaks of Matthew and Mark; but whether he had their present gospels is uncertain. According to Andreas of Caesarea he was acquainted with the Apocalypse of John, while Eusebius testifies to his knowledge of 1 Peter and 1 John. But he seems to have had no conception of canonical authority attaching to any part of the New Testament.
Traces of later ideas about the canonicity of the New Testament appear in the shorter Greek recension of the seven Ignatian epistles (about 175). There “the Gospel” and ” the Epistles” are recognized as the constituents of the book.’ The writer also used the Gospel according to the Hebrews, for there is a quotation from it in the epistle to the Smyrnians.7 The second part of the collection seems to have wanted the epistle to the Ephesians.”
Justin Martyr (150 A.D.) knew some of the’ synoptic gospels— the first and third. The evidence of his acquaintance with Mark’s is but small. His knowledge of the fourth u denied by many, and zealously defended by others. Thoma finds proof that Justin used
‘ Episl. ad Philadelph., ch. 5. See Hefele’s note on the passage. The other well-known passage in chapter viii. is too uncertain in read ing and meaning to be adduced hero. 7 Chapter iii.
It freely as a textbook of gnosis, without recognizing it as the historical work of an apostle.’ It is pretty certain that he employed an extra-canonical gospel, perhaps the so-called gospel of the Hebrews He had also the older Acts of Pilate. Paul’s epistles are never mentioned, though he doubtless knew them., Having little sympathy with Paulinism he attached his belief to the primitive apostles. The Apocalypse, 1 Peter, and 1 John he esteemed highly; the epistle to the Hebrews and the Acts he treated in the same way as the Pauline writings. Justin’s canon, as far as divine authority and inspiration are concerned, was the Old Testament. He was merely on the threshold of a divine canon made up of primitive Christian writings, attaching no exclusive sanctity to those he used, because they were not to him the only source of doc trine. Even of the Apocalypse he says, “A man among ns named John, &c, wrote it.'” In his time none of the gospels had been canonized, not even the synoptists, if, indeed, he knew them all. Oral tradition was the chief fountain of Christian knowledge, as it hid been for a century. In his opinion this tradition was embodied in writing; but the documents in which he looked for all that related to Christ were not the gospels alone. Others he used freely, not looking upon any as inspired. Though lessons out of the gospels (some of our present ones and others), as also out of the prophets, were read in assemblies on the first day of the week,’ the act of converting the Christian writings into Scripture was posterior; for the mere reading of a gospel in churches on Sunday does not prove that it was considered divinely authoritative; and the use of the epistles, which formed the second and less valued part of the collection, must still have been limited.
Justin’s disciple, Tatian (160-180), who wrote an address to the Greeks, quotes the beginning of John’s gospel; and his Diatessaron or Harmony probably included selections from the four canonical ones; but too little is known of it to enable us to speak with certainty. Doubtless he was acquainted with Faul’s writings, as he quotes statements contained in them. He seems, however, to have rejected several of his epistles, probably 1 and 2 Timothy.4
In Polycarp’s epistle (150-166) there are reminiscences of the synoptic gospels; and most of Paul’s epistles as well as 1 Peter were used by the writer. But the idea of canonical authority, or a peculiar inspiration belonging to these writings, is absent.
Athenagoras of Athens wrote an apology addressed to Marcus Aurelius (176). In it he uses written and unwritten tradition, testing all by the Old Testament, which was his only authoritative canon. He makes no reference to the Christian documents, but adduces words of Jesus with the verb “he says.” His treatise on t lie resurrection appeals to a passage in one of Paul’s epistles.’
The author of the epistle to Diognetus (about 200) shows his acquaintance. with the gospels and Paul’s epistles; but he never cites the New Testament by way of proof. Words are introduced into his discourse in passing, and from memory. Dionysius of Corinth (170) complains of the falsification of his writings, but consoles himself with the fact that the same is done to the “Scriptures of the Lord,” i.e., the gospels containing the Lord’s words ; or rather the two parts of the early collection, ” the gospel ” and ” the apostle ” together ; which agrees best with the age and tenor of his letters.’ If such be the meaning, the col lection is put on a par with the Old Testament, and regarded as inspired. But Hegesippus still made a distinction between ” the divine writings” (the Old Testament) laid “the words of the Lord;”7 showing that Holy Scripture was nothing else, in his opinion, then the Jewish books. He also used the gospel of the Hebrews and Jewish tradition.8
The letter of the churches at Vienne and Lyons (177) has quotations from the epistles to the Romans, Philippians, 1 Timothy, 1 Peter, Acts, the gospels of Luke and John, the Apocalypse. The lost is expressly called “Scripture.”* This shows a fusion of the two original tendencies—the Petrine and Pauline, and the formation of a catholic church with a common canon of authority. Accordingly, the two apostles, Peter and Paul, are mentioned together.
Theophilus of Antioch (180) was familiar with the gospels and most of Paul’s epistles, as also the Apocalypse. He puts the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures on the same level, because they proceeded from men who had the same spirit. Passages are cited from Paul as ” the divine word.” ”
The conception of a catholic canon was realized about the same time as that of a catholic church. One hundred and seventy years from the coming of Christ elapsed before the
•Diatogus, part ii. p. 315, ed. Tairll-.y. Comp. on Justin, Tjcenk- Willink’s Justinus Marlyr in zijne Vtrhoudtn-r tot i*aubu. •Apolog. i. p. 97, ed. Tbirlby. 4 Hieronymi Proam. in Epill. ad TUum. * Chapter xviil. •Euseb. H.B., jv. 23. * Ibid., iv. 22. 1 Photii BibUoiheca, cod. 232. » Euseb. H.B., v. 1, p. 144, ed. Bright. ” turn Xiyos. Ad Auloliicum. iii 14, p. ed. Migne,
collection assumed a form that carried with it the idea holy and inspired.11 The way in which it was done was by raising the apostolic writings higher and higher till they were of equal authority with the Old Testament, so that the church might have a rule of appeal The Old Testament was not brought down to the New ; the New was raised to the Old. It is clear that the earliest church fathers did not use the books of the New Testament as sacred documents clothed with divine authority, but followed for the most part, at least till the middle of the second century, apostolic tradition orally transmitted. They were not solicitous about a canon circumscribed within certain limits.
In the second half, then, of the second century there was a canon of the New Testament consisting of two parts called the gospel (to evayyeXiov) and tint apostle (6 iiroo- roAos). The first was complete, containing the four gospel- alone; the second, which was incomplete, contained the Acts of the Apostles and epistles, i.e., thirteen letters of Paul, one of Peter, one of John, and the Revelation. How and where this canon originated is uncertain. Its birth place may have been Asia Minor, like Marcion’s; but it may have grown about the same time in Asia Minor, Alexandria, and Western Africa, At all events, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian speak of its two parts and the three agree in recognizing its existence.
Irenaeus had a canon which he adopted as apostolic In his view It was of binding force and authoritative. This contained the four gospels, the Acts, thirteen epistles of Paul, the first epistle of John, and the Revelation. He had also a sort of appendix or deuterocanon (which he highly esteemed, without putting it on a par with the received collection), consisting of-John’s second epistle, the first of Peter, and the Shepherd of Hernias. The last he calls a ” Scripture ” because it was prophetic.” The epistle to the Hebrews, that of Jude, James’s, 2 Peter, and 3 John h« ignored.
Clement’s collection was more extended than Irenaeus’s. His appendix or deuterocauon included the epistle to the Hebrew*, 2 John, Jude, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Shepherd of Hennas, the epistles of Clement and Barnabas. He recognizes no distinction between the New Testament writings except by the more frequent use of those generally received, and the degree of importance attached to them. Yet Barnabas is cited as an apostle.1′ So is the Roman Clement.14 The Shepherd of Hermas is spoken of as divine.” Thus the line of the Homologoumena is not marked off even to the same extent as in Irenteus, and is seen but obscurely.’
Tertullian’s canon consisted of the gospels, Acts, thirteen epistles of Paul, the Apocalypse, and 1 John. As an appendix he had the epistle to the Hebrews, that of Jude, the Shepherd of Hernias, 2 John probably, and 1 Peter. This deutero-canon was not regarded as authoritative. No trace occurs in his works of James’s epistle, 2 Peter, and 3 John. He used the Shepherd, but thought little of it, with the Montauists in general.1′ These three fathers did not fix the canon absolutely. Its limits were still unsettled. But they sanctioned most of the books now accepted as divine, putting some extra-canonical productions almost on the same level with the rest, at least in practice.
The canon of Muratori is a fragmentary list which was made towards the end of the 2d century (170). Its birthplace is uncertain, though there are traces of Roman origin. Its translation from the Greek is assumed; but that is uncertain. It begins with the four gospels in the usual order, and proceeds to the Acts, thirteen epistles of Paul, the epistles of John, that of Jude, and the Apocalypse. The epistle to the Hebrews, 1 and 2 Peter, and James on. not named. The epistle “to the Laodiceans” is probably that to the Ephesians, which had this superscription in Murcion’s canon: and that ” to the Alexandrians seems to be the epistle to the Hebrews. According to the usual punctuation, both are said to have been forged in Paul’s name, an opinion which may have been entertained among Roman Christians about 170 A.D. The epistle to the Hebrews was rejected in the West, and may have been thought a supposititious work in the interests of Paulism with some reason, because of its internal character. The story about the origin of the fourth gospel, with its apostolic and episcopal attestation, evinces a desire to establish the authenticity of a work which had not obtained universal^ acceptance at the time. It is
11 See Davidson’s Introduction to Oie Study of the New Testament vol. ii. p. SOP, he. 11 Advert, llcercs., iv. 20, 2. ” NroMala, ii. fi, p. 065, ed. iligue. 14 Ibid., iv. 17, p. 1312. ‘» Ibid., i 29, p. 928. Ds i’tuiicitw, cap. 10.
considerable diversity of opinion among the expositors of the document1
The stichometrical list of the Old and New Testament Scriptures m the Latin of the Clermont MS. (D) was that read in the African Church in the 3d century. It is peculiar. After the Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and the historical books, follow Psalms; Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticles, ‘Wisdom, Sirach, the twelve minor prophets, the four greater, three books of the Maccabees, Judith, Esaras, Esther, Job, and Tobit. In the New Testament, the four gospels, Matthew, John, Mark, Luke, are succeeded by ten epistles of Paul, two of Peter, the epistle of James, three of John, and that of Jude. The epistle to the Hebrews (characterized as that of Barnabas), the Revelation of John, the Acts of the Apostles, the Shepherd of Hennas, the Acts of Paul, the Revelation of Peter, follow. There are thus three New Testament works, afterwards reckoned apocryphal. It is possible that the carelessness of a transcriber may have caused some of the singularities observable in this list, — such as the omission of the epistles to the Philippians and Thessalonians; but the end shows a freer idea of books fitted for reading than what was usual even at that early time in the African Church. * In Syria a version of the New Testament for the use of the church was probably made early in the 3d century. This work, commonly called the Peshito, wants 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and the Apocalypse. It has, however, all the other books, including the epistle of James and that to the Hebrews. The last two were received as apostolic.
Towards the middle of the 3d century Origen’s testimony respecting the Canon (t 254) is of great value. He seems to have distinguished three classes of books—authentic ones, whose apostolic origin was generally admitted, those not authentic, and a middle class not generally recognized, or in regard to which his own opinion wavered. The first contained those already adopted at the beginning of the century both in the East and West, with the Apocalypse, and the epistle to the Hebrews so far as it contains Pauline ideas ; * to the second belongs the Shepherd of Hennas, though he hesitated a little about it, the epistle of Barnabas, the acts of Paul, the gospel according to the Hebrews, the gospel of the Egyptians, and the preaching of Peter ; 4 to the third, the epistle of James, that of Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John.8 The separation of the various writings is not formally made, nor does Origen give a list of them. His classification is gathered from his works; and though its application admitted of considerable latitude, he is cautious enough, appealing to the tradition of the church, and throwing in qualifying expressions. *
The Canon of Eusebius (+ 340) is given at length in his Ecclesiastical History.” He divides the books into three classes, containing those writings generally received* those controverted, * and the heretical 18 (iii. .31). The first has the four gospels, the Acts, thirteen epistles of Paul, 1 John, 1 Peter, the Apocalypse.” The second class is subdivided into two, the first corresponding to Origen’s mixed or intermediate writings,11 the second to his spurious ones.1′ The farmer subdivision contains the epistles of James, 2 Peter, Jude, 2 and 3 John; the latter, the Acts of Paul, the Shepherd, the Revelation of Peter, the’ epistle of Barnabas, the Doctrines of the Apostles, the Apocalypse of John, the gospel according to the Hebrews. The third class has the gospels of Peter and of Thomas, the traditions of Matthias, the Acts of Peter, Andrew, and John. The subdivisions of the second class are indefinite. The only distinction which Eusebius put between them was that of ecclesiastical use. Though he classes as spurious the Acts of Paul, the Shepherd, the Revelation of Peter, the epistle of Barnabas, the doctrines of the Apostles, the Apocalypse of John, the gospel according to the Hebrews, and does not apply the epithet to the epistle of James, the 2 of Peter, 2 and 8 John, he uses of James’s in one place the
verb yo0«£o/<ai.14 In like manner he speaks of the Apocalypse of Peter and the epistle of Barnabas as controverted. 18 The mixed or spurious of Origen are vaguely separated by Eusebius ; both come under the general head of the controverted ; for after specifying them separately he sums up, “all these will belong to the class of the controverted,” the very class already described as containing “books well known and recognized by most,” implying also that they were read in the churches.18 About 332 the Emperor Constantino entrusted Eusebius with the commission to make out a complete collection of the sacred Christian writings for the use of the Catholic Church. How this order was executed we are not told. But Credner is probably correct in saying that the code consisted of all that is now in the New Testament except the Revelation. The fifty copies which were made must have supplied Constantinople and the Greek Church for a considerable time with an authoritative canon.
Eusebius’s catalogue agrees in substance with that of Origen. The historian followed ecclesiastical tradition. He inquired diligently into the prevailing opinions of the Christian churches and writers, the views held by others before and contemporaneously with himself, but could not attain to a decided result. His hesitation’ stood in the way of a clear, firm view of the question. The tradition respecting certain books was still wavering, and he was unable to fix it. Authority fettered his independent judgment. That he was inconsistent and confused does not need to be shown.
The exact principles that guided the formation of a canon in the earliest centuries cannot be discovered. Definite grounds for the reception or rejection of books were not very clearly apprehended. The choice was determined by various circumstances, of which apostolic origin was the chief, though this itself was insufficiently attested, for, if it be asked whether all the New Testament writings proceeded from the authors whose names they bear, criticism cannot reply in the affirmative. The example and influence of churches to which the writings had been first addressed must have acted upon the reception of books. Above all, individual teachers here and there saw the necessity of meeting heretics with their own weapons, in their own way, with apostolic records instead of oral tradition. The circumstances in which the orthodox were placed led to this step, effecting a bond of union whose need must have been felt while each church was isolated under its own bishop and the collective body could not take measures in common. Writings of more recent origin would be received with greater facility than such as had been in circulation for many years, especially if they professed to come from a prominent apostle. A code of apostolic writings, divine and perfect like the Old Testament, had to be presented as soon as possible against Gnostic and Manichaean heretics, whose doctrines were injurious to objective Christianity; while the multiplication of apocryphal works threatened to overwhelm genuine tradition with a heap of superstition.
When it is asked, to whom do. we owe the canon? the usual answer is, to the Church, which is hardly correct. The Church Catholic did not exist till after the middle of the second century. The preservation of the early Christian writings was owing, in the first instance, to the congregations to whom they were sent, and the neighboring ones with whom such congregations had friendly connection. The care of them devolved on the most influential teachers, —on those who occupied leading positions in the chief cities, or were most interested in apostolic writings as a source of instruction. The Christian books were mostly in the hands of the bishops. In process of time the canon was the care of assemblies or councils. But it had been made before the first general council by a few leading fathers towards the end of the second, century in different countries. The formation of a Catholic Church and of a canon was simultaneous. The circumstances in which the collection originated were unfavorable to the authenticity of its materials, for tradition had been busy over them and their authors. Instead of attributing the formation of the canon to “the Church, it would be more correct to say that the important stage in it was due to three teachers, each working separately and in his own way, who were intent upon the creation of a Christian society which did not appear in the apostolic age,—a visible organization united in faith,—where the discordant opinions of apostolic and sub-apostolic times should be finally merged. The canon was not the work of the Christian Church so much as of the men who were striving to form that Church, and could not get beyond the mould received by primitive Christian literature. The first mention of a ” Catholic Church ” occurs in The Martyrdom of Polycarp, an epistle that cannot be dated earlier than 160 A.D, and may perhaps be ten years later. But though the idea be there end in the Ignatian epistles, its established us» is due to Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Cyprian.
Origen was the first who took a somewhat scientific view of the relative value belonging to the different parts of the biblical collection. His examination of the canon was critical. Before him the leading books had been regarded as divine and sacred, the source of doctrinal and historic truth; and from this stand-point he did not depart. With him ecclesiastical tradition was a prevailing principle in the recognition of books belonging of right to the New Testament collection. He was also guided by the inspiration of the authors, —a criterion arbitrary in its application, as his own statements show. In his time, however, the collection was being gradually enlarged, —his third class, i.e., the mixed, approaching reception into the first. But amid all the fluctuations of opinion to which certain portions of the New Testament were subject, and the unscientific procedure both of fathers and churches in the matter, though councils had not met to discuss it, and vague tradition had strengthened with time, a certain spiritual consciousness manifested itself throughout the East and West in the matter of the canon. Tolerable unanimity ensued. The result was a remarkable one, and calls for our gratitude. Though the development was pervaded by no critical or definite principle, it ended in a canon which has maintained its validity for centuries.
It is sometimes said that the history of the canon should be sought from definite catalogues, not from isolated quotations. The latter are supposed to be of slight value, the former to be the result of deliberate judgment. This remark is more specious than solid. In relation to the Old Testament, the catalogues given by the fathers, aa by Melito and Origen, rest solely on the tradition of the Jews, apart from which they have no independent authority. As none except Jerome and Origen knew Hebrew, their lists of the Old Testament books are simply a reflection of what they learned from others. If they deviate in practice from their masters by quoting as Scripture other than the canonical books, they show their judgment over-riding an external theory. The very men who give a list of the Jewish books evince an inclination to the Christian and enlarged canon. So Origen says, in his Epistle to Africanus, that ” the churches use Tobit.” In explaining the prophet Isaiah, Jerome employs Sirach vL 6, in proof of his view, remarking that the apocryphal work is in the Christian catalogue. In like manner Epiphanius, in a pas sage against Aetius, after referring to the books of Scripture, adds, “as well as the books of Wisdom, t.f., the Wisdom of Solomon and of Jesus son of Sirach; finally, all the other books of Scripture.” In another place he. gives the canon of the Jews historically, and excludes the apocryphal Greek books; but here he includes some of the latter. We also learn from Jerome that Judith was in the number of the books reckoned up by the Nicene Council. Thus the fathers who give catalogues of the Old Testament show the existence of a Jewish and a Christian canon in relation to the Old Testament;—the latter wider than the former, their private opinion more favorable to the one, though the other was historically transmitted. In relation to the New Testament, the synods which drew up lists of the sacred books show the opinion of some leading father like Augustine, along with what custom had sanctioned. In this department no member of the synod exercised his critical faculty; a number together would decide such questions summarily. Bishops proceed in the track of tradition or authority.