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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary
the book, by way of eminence so called, as containing the sacred Scriptures, that is, the inspired writings of the Old and New Testament; or the whole collection of those which are received among Christians as of divine authority. The word Bible comes from the Greek Βιβλος , or Βιβλιον , and is used to denote any book; but is emphatically applied to the book of inspired Scripture, which is "the book" as being superior in excellence to all other books.
Βιβλιον again comes from Βιβλος , the Egyptian reed, from which the ancient paper was procured. The word Bible seems to be used in the particular sense just given by Chrysostom: "I
therefore exhort all of you to procure to yourselves Bibles, Βιβλια . If you have nothing else, take care to have the New Testament, particularly the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospels, for your constant instructers." And Jerome says, "that the Scriptures being all written by one Spirit, are one book." Augustine also informs up, "that some called all the canonical Scriptures one book, on account of their wonderful harmony and unity of design throughout." It is not improbable that this mode of speaking gradually introduced the general use of the word Bible for the whole collection of the Scriptures, or the books of the Old and New Testament. By the Jews the Bible, that is, the Old Testament, is called Mikra, that is, "lecture, or reading." By Christians the Bible, comprehending the Old and New Testament, is usually denominated "Scripture;" sometimes also the "Sacred Canon," which signifies the rule of faith and practice. These, and similar appellations, are derived from the divine original and authority of the Bible. As it contains an authentic and connected history of the divine dispensations with regard to mankind; as it was given by divine inspiration; as its chief subject is religion; and as the doctrines it teaches, and the duties it inculcates, pertain to the conduct of men, as rational, moral, and accountable beings, and conduce by a divine constitution and promise, to their present and future happiness; the Bible deserves to be held in the highest estimation, and amply justifies the sentiments of veneration with which it has been regarded, and the peculiar and honourable appellations by which it has been denominated.
2. The list of the books contained in the Bible constitutes what is called the canon of Scripture. Those books that are contained in the catalogue to which the name of canon has been appropriated, are called canonical, by way of contradistinction from others called deutero-canonical, apocryphal, pseudo-apocryphal, &c, which either are not acknowledged as divine books, or are rejected as heretical and spurious ( See Deuteronomy 31:24 . Hence the first canon of the sacred writings consisted of the five books of Moses; for a farther account of which see Pentateuch. It does not appear that any other books were added to these, till the division of the ten tribes, as the Samaritans acknowledged no others. However, after the time of Moses, several prophets, and other writers divinely inspired, composed either the history of their own times, or prophetical books and divine writings, or psalms appropriated to the praise of God. But these books do not seem to have been collected into one body, or comprised under one and the same canon, before the Babylonish captivity. This was not done till after their return from the captivity, about which time the Jews had a certain number of books digested into a canon, which comprehended none of those books that were written since the time of Nehemiah. The book of Ecclesiasticus affords sufficient evidence that the canon of the sacred books was completed when that tract was composed; for that author, in chapter 49, having mentioned among the famous men and sacred writers, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, adds the twelve minor prophets who follow those three in the Jewish canon; and from this circumstance we may infer that the prophecies of these twelve men were already collected and digested into one body. It is farther evident, that in the time of our Saviour the canon of the Holy Scriptures was drawn up, since he cites the law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms, which are the three kinds of books of which that canon is composed, and which he often styles, "the Scriptures," or, "the Holy Scripture," Matthew 21:42; Matthew 22:29; Matthew 26:54; John 5:39; and by him therefore the Jewish canon, as it existed in his day, was fully authenticated, by whomsoever or at what time it had been formed.. ) The first canon or catalogue of the sacred books was made by the Jews; but the original author of it is not satisfactorily ascertained. It is certain, however, that the five books of Moses, called the Pentateuch, were collected into one body within a short time after his death; since Deuteronomy, which is, as it were, the abridgment and recapitulation of the other four, was laid in the tabernacle near the ark, according to the order which he gave to the Levites,
3. The person who compiled this canon is generally allowed to be Ezra. According to the invariable tradition of Jews and Christians, the honour is ascribed to him of having collected together and perfected a complete edition of the Holy Scriptures. The original of the Pentateuch had been carefully preserved in the side of the ark, and had been probably introduced with the ark into the temple at Jerusalem. After having been concealed in the dangerous days of the idolatrous kings of Judah, and particularly in the impious reigns of Manasseh and Amon, it was found in the days of Josiah, the succeeding prince, by Hilkiah the priest, in the temple. Prideaux thinks, that during the preceding reigns the book of the law was so destroyed and lost, that, beside this copy of it, there was then no other to be obtained. To this purpose he adds, that the surprise manifested by Hilkiah, on the discovery of it, and the grief expressed by Josiah when he heard it read, plainly show that neither of them had seen it before. On the other hand, Dr. Kennicott, with better reason, supposes, that long before this time there were several copies of the law in Israel, during the separation of the ten tribes, and that there were some copies of it also among the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, particularly in the hands of the prophets, priests, and Levites; and that by the instruction and authority of these MSS, the various services in the temple were regulated, during the reigns of the good kings of Judah. He adds, that the surprise expressed by Josiah and the people, at his reading the copy found by Hilkiah, may be accounted for by adverting to the history of the preceding reigns, and by recollecting how idolatrous a king Manasseh had been for fifty-five years, and that he wanted neither power nor inclination to destroy the copies of the law, if they had not been secreted by the servants of God. The law, after being so long concealed, would be unknown almost to all the Jews; and thus the solemn reading of it by Josiah would awaken his own and the people's earnest attention; more especially, as the copy produced was probably the original written by Moses. From this time copies of the law were extensively multiplied among the people; and though, within a few years, the autograph, or original copy of the law, was burnt with the city and temple by the Babylonians, yet many copies of the law and the prophets, and of all the other sacred writings, were circulated in the hands of private persons, who carried them with them into their captivity. It is certain that Daniel had a copy of the Holy Scriptures with him at Babylon; for he quotes the law, and mentions the prophecies of Jeremiah, Daniel 9:2; Daniel 9:11; Daniel 9:13 . It appears also, from the sixth chap. of Ezra, and from the ninth chap. of Nehemiah, that copies of the law were dispersed among the people. The whole which Ezra did may be comprised in the following particulars: He collected as many copies of the sacred writings as he could find, and compared them together, and, out of them all, formed one complete copy, adjusted the various readings, and corrected the errors of transcribers. He likewise made additions in several parts of the different books, which appeared to be necessary for the illustration, correction, and completion of them. To this class of additions we may refer the last chapter of Deuteronomy, which, as it gives an account of the death and burial of Moses, and of the succession of Joshua after him, could not have been written by Moses himself. Under the same head have also been included some other interpolations in the Bible, which create difficulties that can only be solved by allowing them; as in Genesis 12:6; Genesis 22:14; Genesis 36:3; Exodus 16:35; Deuteronomy 2:12; Deuteronomy 3:11; Deuteronomy 3:14; Proverbs 25:1 . The interpolations in these passages are ascribed by Prideaux to Ezra; and others which were afterward added, he attributes to Simon the Just. Ezra also changed the old names of several places that were become obsolete, putting instead of them the new names by which they were at that time called; instances of which occur in Genesis 14:4 , where Dan is substituted for Laish, and in several places in Genesis, and also in Numbers, where Hebron is put for Kirjath Arba, &c. He likewise wrote out the whole in the Chaldee character changing for it the old Hebrew character, which has since that time been retained only by the Samaritans, and among whom it is preserved even to this day. The canon of the whole Hebrew Bible seems, says Kennicott, to have been closed by Malachi, the latest of the Jewish prophets, about fifty years after Ezra had collected together all the sacred books which had been composed before and during his time. Prideaux supposes the canon was completed by Simon the Just, about one hundred and fifty years after Malachi: but, as his opinion is rounded merely on a few proper names at the end of the two genealogies, 1 Chronicles 3:19; Nehemiah 12:22 , which few names might very easily be added by a transcriber afterward, it is more probable, as Kennicott thinks, that the canon was finished by the last of the prophets, about four hundred years before Christ.
4. It is an inquiry of considerable importance, in its relation to the subject of this article, what books were contained in the canon of the Jews. The Old Testament, according to our Bibles, comprises thirty-nine books, wiz. the Pentateuch or five books of Moses, called Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, the books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth , 1 & 2 Samuel , 1 & 2 Kings , 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah with his Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. But, among the ancient Jews, they formed only twenty-two books, according to the letters of their alphabet, which were twenty-two in number; reckoning Judges and Ruth, Ezra and Nehemiah, Jeremiah and his Lamentations, and the twelve minor prophets, (so called from the comparative brevity of their compositions,) respectively as one book. Josephus says, "We have not thousands of books, discordant, and contradicting each other: but we have only twenty-two, which comprehend the history of all former ages, and are justly regarded as divine. Five of them proceed from Moses; they include as well the laws, as an account of the creation of man, extending to the time of his (Moses) death. This period comprehends nearly three thousand years. From the death of Moses to that of Artaxerxes, who was king of Persia after Xerxes, the prophets, who succeeded Moses, committed to writing, in thirteen books, what was done in their days. The remaining four books contain hymns to God, (the Psalms,) and instructions of life for man." The threefold division of the Old Testament into the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, mentioned by Josephus, was expressly recognised before his time by Jesus Christ, as well as by the subsequent writers of the New Testament. We have therefore sufficient evidence that the Old Testament existed at that time; and if it be only allowed that Jesus Christ was a teacher of a fearless and irreproachable character, it must be acknowledged that we draw a fair conclusion, when we assert that the Scriptures were not corrupted in his time: for when he accused the Pharisees of making the law of no effect by their traditions, and when he enjoined his hearers to search the Scriptures, he could not have failed to mention the corruptions or forgeries of Scripture, if any had existed in that age. About fifty years before the time of Christ were written the Targums of Onkelos on the Pentateuch, and of Jonathan Ben-Uzziel on the Prophets; (according to the Jewish classification of the books of the Old Testament;) which are evidence of the genuineness of those books at that time. We have, however, unquestionable testimony of the genuineness of the Old Testament, in the fact that its canon was fixed some centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ. Jesus the son of Sirach, author of the book of Ecclesiasticus. makes evident references to the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and mentions these prophets by name: he speaks also of the twelve minor prophets. It likewise appears from the prologue to that book, that the law and the prophets, and other ancient books, were extant at the same period. The book of Ecclesiasticus, according to the best chronologers, was written in the Syro-Chaldaic dialect A.M. 3772, that is, two hundred and thirty-two years before the Christian aera, and was translated by the grandson of Jesus into Greek, for the use of the Alexandrian Jews. The prologue was added by the translator; but this circumstance does not diminish the evidence for the antiquity of the Old Testament: for he informs us, that the law and the prophets, and the other books of their fathers, were studied by his grandfather; a sufficient proof that they were extant in his time. Fifty years, indeed, before the age of the author of Ecclesiasticus, or two hundred and eighty-two years before the Christian aera, the Greek version of the Old Testament, usually called the Septuagint, was executed at Alexandria, the books of which are the same as in our Bibles; whence it is evident that we still have those identical books, which the most ancient Jews attested to be genuine. The Christian fathers too, Origen, Athanasius, Hilary, Gregory, Nazianzen, Epiphanius, and Jerom, speaking of the books that are allowed by the Jews as sacred and canonical, agree in saying that they are the same in number with the letters in the Hebrew alphabet, that is, twenty-two, and reckon particularly those books which we have already mentioned. Nothing can be more satisfactory and conclusive than all the parts of the evidence for the authenticity and integrity of the canon of the Old Testament scriptures. The Jews, to whom they were first committed, never varied respecting them; while they were fully recognised by our Lord and his Apostles; and, consequently, their authenticity is established by express revelation. And that we now possess them as thus delivered and authenticated, we have the concurrent testimony of the whole succession of the most distinguished early Christian writers, as well as of the Jews to this day, who, in every age, and in all countries, the most remote from one another, have constantly been in the habit of reading them in their synagogues.
5. The five books of the law are divided into fifty-four sections, which division is attributed to Ezra, and was intended for the use of their synagogues, and for the better instruction of the people in the law of God. For, one of these sections was read every Sabbath in their synagogues. They ended the last section with the last words of Deuteronomy on the Sabbath of the feast of the tabernacles, and then began anew with the first section from the beginning of Genesis the next Sabbath after, and so went round in this circle every year. The number of these sections was fifty-four, because in their intercalated years (a month being then added) there were fifty-four Sabbaths. On other years they reduced them to the number of the Sabbaths which were in those years, by joining two short ones several times into one. For they held themselves obliged to have the whole law thus read over in their synagogues every year. Till the time of the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes, they read only the law; but being then prohibited from reading it any more, they substituted in the room of the fifty-four sections of the law, fifty-four sections out of the prophets, the reading of which they ever after continued. Thus, when the reading of the law was restored by the Maccabees, the section which was read every Sabbath out of the law served for their first lesson, and the section out of the prophets for their second lesson; and this practice was continued to the times of the Apostles, Acts 13:15; Acts 13:27 . These sections were divided into verses, called by the Jews pesukim, and they are marked out in the Hebrew Bible by two great points at the end of them, called from hence, sophpasuk, that is, the end of the verse. This division, if not made by Ezra, is very ancient; for when the Chaldee came into use in the room of the Hebrew language, after the return of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon, the law was read to the people first in the Hebrew language, and then rendered by an interpreter into the Chaldee language; and this was done period by period. The division of the Holy Scriptures into chapters is of a much later date. The Psalms, indeed, appear to have been always divided as they are at present, Acts 13:33; but as to the rest of the Bible, the present division into chapters was unknown to the ancients.
6. From the time when the Old Testament was completed by Malachi, the last of the prophets, till the publication of the New Testament, about four hundred and sixty years elapsed. During the life of Jesus Christ, and for some time after his ascension, nothing on the subject of his mission was committed to writing. The period of his remaining upon earth may be regarded as an intermediate state between the old and new dispensations. His personal ministry was confined to the land of Judea; and, by means of his miracles and discourses, together with those of his disciples, the attention of men, in that country, was sufficiently directed to his doctrine. They were also in possession of the Old Testament scriptures; which, at that season, it was of the greatest importance they should consult, in order to compare the ancient predictions with what was then taking place. Immediately after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, his disciples, in the most public manner, and in the place where he had been crucified, proclaimed that event, and the whole of the doctrine which he had commanded them to preach. In this service they continued personally to labour for a considerable time, first among their countrymen the Jews, and then among the other nations. During the period between the resurrection and the publication of the New Testament, the churches possessed miraculous gifts, and the prophets were enabled to explain the predictions of the Old Testament, and to show their fulfilment. After their doctrine had every where attracted attention, and, in spite of the most violent opposition, had forced its way through the civilized world; and when churches or societies of Christians were collected, not only in Judea, but in the most celebrated cities of Italy, Greece, and Asia Minor, the scriptures of the New Testament were written by the Apostles, and other inspired men, and intrusted to the keeping of these churches.
The whole of the New Testament was not written at once, but in different parts, and on various occasions. Six of the Apostles, and two inspired disciples who accompanied them in their journeys, were employed in this work. The histories which it contains of the life of Christ, known by the name of the Gospels, were composed by four of his contemporaries, two of whom had been constant attendants on his public ministry. The first of these was published within a few years after his death, in that very country where he had lived, and among the people who had seen him and observed his conduct. The history called the Acts of the Apostles, which contains an account of their proceedings, and of the progress of the Gospel, from Jerusalem, among the Gentile nations, was published about the year 64, being thirty years after our Lord's crucifixion, by one who, though not an Apostle, declares that he had "perfect understanding of all things, from the very first," and who had written one of the Gospels. This book, commencing with a detail of proceedings, from the resurrection of Jesus Christ, carries down the evangelical history till the arrival of Paul as a prisoner at Rome. The Epistles, addressed to churches in particular places, to believers scattered up and down in different countries, or to individuals, in all twenty-one in number, were separately written, by five of the Apostles, from seventeen, to twenty, thirty, and thirty-five years after the death of Christ. Four of these writers had accompanied the Lord Jesus during his life, and had been "eye witnesses of his majesty." The fifth was the Apostle Paul, who, as he expresses it, was "one born out of due time," but who had likewise seen Jesus Christ, and had been empowered by him to work miracles, which were "the signs of an Apostle." One of these five also wrote the book of Revelation, about the year A.D. 96, addressed to seven churches in Asia, containing Epistles to these churches from Jesus Christ himself, with various instructions for the immediate use of all Christians, together with a prophetical view of the kingdom of God till the end of time. These several pieces, which compose the scriptures of the New Testament, were received by the churches with the highest veneration; and, as the instructions they contain, though partially addressed, were equally intended for all, they were immediately copied, and handed about from one church to another, till each was in possession of the whole. The volume of the New Testament was thus completed before the death of the last of the Apostles, most of whom had sealed their testimony with their blood. From the manner in which these scriptures were at first circulated, some of their parts were necessarily longer in reaching certain places than others. These, of course, could not be so soon received into the canon as the rest. Owing to this circumstance, and to that of a few of the books being addressed to individual believers, or to their not having the names of their writers affixed, or the designation of Apostle added, a doubt for a time existed among some respecting the genuineness of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Epistle of James, the second Epistle of Peter, the second and third Epistles of John, the Epistle of Jude, and the book of Revelation. These, however, though not universally, were generally acknowledged; while all the other books of the New Testament were without dispute received from the beginning. This discrimination proves the scrupulous care of the first churches on this highly important subject.
At length these books, which had not at first been admitted, were, like the rest, universally received, not by the votes of a council, as is sometimes asserted, but after deliberate and free inquiry by many separate churches, under the superintending providence of God, in different parts of the world. It is at the same time a certain fact, that no other books beside those which at present compose the volume of the New Testament, were admitted by the churches. Several apocryphal writings were published under the name of Jesus Christ and his Apostles, which are mentioned by the writers of the first four centuries, most of which have perished, though some are still extant. Few or none of them were composed before the second century, and several of them were forged as late as the third century. But they were not acknowledged as authentic by the first Christians; and were rejected by those who have noticed them, as spurious and heretical. Histories, too, as might have been expected, were written of the life of Christ; and one forgery was attempted, of a letter said to have been written by Jesus himself to Abgarus, king of Edessa; but of the first, none were received as of any authority and the last was universally rejected. "Beside our Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles," says Paley, "no Christian history claiming to be written by an Apostle, or Apostolical man, is quoted within three hundred years after the birth of Christ, by any writer now extant or known, or, if quoted, is quoted with marks of censure and rejection." This agreement of Christians respecting the Scriptures, when we consider their many differences in other respects, is the more remarkable, since it took place without any public authority being interposed. "We have no knowledge," says the above author, "of any interference of authority in the question before the council of Laodicea, in the year 363. Probably the decree of this council rather declared than regulated the public judgment, or, more properly speaking, the judgment of some neighbouring churches, the council itself consisting of no more than thirty or forty bishops of Lydia and the adjoining countries. Nor does its authority seem to have extended farther." But the fact, that no public authority was interposed, does not require to be supported by the above reasoning. The churches at the beginning, being widely separated from each other, necessarily judged for themselves in this matter, and the decree of the council was founded on the coincidence of their judgment. In delivering this part of his written revelation, God proceeded as he had done in the publication of the Old Testament scriptures. For a considerable time, his will was declared to mankind through the medium of oral tradition. At length he saw meet, in his wisdom, to give it a more permanent form. But this did not take place till a nation, separated from all others, was provided for its reception. In the same manner, when Jesus Christ set up his kingdom in the world, of which the nation of Israel was a type, he first made known his will by means of verbal communication, through his servants whom he commissioned and sent out for that purpose; and when, through their means, he had prepared his subjects and collected them into churches, to be the depositaries of his word, he caused it to be delivered to them in writing. His kingdom was not to consist of any particular nation, like that of Israel, but of all those individuals, in every part of the world, who should believe in his name. It was to be ruled, not by means of human authority, or compulsion of any kind, but solely by his authority. These sacred writings were thus intrusted to a people prepared for their reception,—a nation among the nations, but singularly distinct from all the rest, who guarded and preserved them with the same inviolable attachment as the Old Testament scriptures had experienced from the Jews.
7. Respecting the lateness of the time when the scriptures of the New Testament were written, no objection can be offered, since they were published before that generation passed away which had witnessed the transactions they record. The dates of these writings fall within the period of the lives of many who were in full manhood when the Lord Jesus was upon earth; and the facts detailed in the histories, and referred to in the Epistles, being of the most public nature, were still open to full investigation. It must also be recollected, that the Apostles and disciples, during the whole intermediate period, were publicly proclaiming to the world the same things which were afterward recorded in their writings. Thus were the Scriptures, as we now possess them, delivered to the first churches. By the concurrent testimony of all antiquity, both of friends and foes, they were received by Christians of different sects, and were constantly appealed to on all hands, in the controversies that arose among them. Commentaries upon them were written at a very early period, and translations made into different languages. Formal catalogues of them were published, and they were attacked by the adversaries of Christianity, who not only did not question, but expressly admitted, the facts they contained, and that they were the genuine productions of the persons whose names they bore. In this manner the Scriptures were also secured from the danger of being in any respect altered or vitiated. "The books of Scripture," says Augustine, "could not have been corrupted. If such an attempt had, been made by any one, his design would have been prevented and defeated. His alteration would have been immediately detected by many and more ancient copies." The difficulty of succeeding in such an attempt is apparent hence, that the Scriptures were early translated into divers languages, and copies of them were numerous. The alterations which any one attempted to make would have been soon perceived; just even as now, in fact, lesser faults in some copies are amended by comparing ancient copies or those of the original. "If any one," continues Augustine, "should charge you with having interpolated some texts alleged by you as favourable to your cause, what would you say? Would you not immediately answer that it is impossible for you to do such a thing in books read by all Christians; and that if any such attempt had been made by you, it would have been presently discerned and defeated by comparing the ancient copies? Well, then, for the same reason that the Scriptures cannot be corrupted by you, neither could they be corrupted by any other people." Accordingly, the uniformity of the manuscripts of the Holy Scriptures that are extant, which are incomparably more numerous than those of any ancient author, and which are dispersed through so many countries, and in so great a variety of languages, is truly astonishing. It demonstrates both the veneration in which the Scriptures have been always held, and the singular care that has been taken in transcribing them. The number of various readings, that by the most minute and laborious investigation and collations of manuscripts have been discovered in them, are said to amount to one hundred and fifty thousand; though at first sight they may seem calculated to diminish confidence in the sacred text, yet in no degree whatever do they affect its credit and integrity. They consist almost wholly in palpable errors in transcription, grammatical and verbal differences, such as the insertion or omission of a letter or article, the substitution of a word for its equivalent, or the transposition of a word or two in a sentence. Taken altogether, they neither change nor affect a single doctrine or duty announced or enjoined in the word of God. When, therefore, we consider the great antiquity of the sacred books, the almost infinite number of copies, of versions, and of editions, which have been made of them in all languages, in languages which have not any analogy one with another, among nations differing so much in their customs and their religious opinions,—when we consider these things, it is truly astonishing, and can only be ascribed to the watchful providence of God over his own word, that, among the various readings, nothing truly essential can be discerned, which relates to either precept, or doctrine, or which breaks that connection, that unity which subsists in all the various parts of divine revelation, and which demonstrates the whole to be the work of one and the same Spirit.
8. Having considered the appellations by which the Bible is distinguished, the books of which it consists, the time and manner in which they were collected, it may not be improper to subjoin a few observations on the genuineness and authenticity of the Scriptures, on their high original and divine authority, and on their great importance and utility.
It should here be considered, that the genuineness of the Scriptures proves the truth of the principal facts contained in them; to which purpose we may observe that it is very rare to meet with any genuine writings of the historical kind, in which the principal facts are not true, unless it be in instances where both the motives which engaged the author to falsify, and the circumstances which gave some plausibility to the fiction, are apparent; neither of which can be alleged in the present case with any colour of reason. As this is rare in general, it is more rare when the writer treats of things that happened in his own time, and under his own cognizance and direction, and communicates his history to persons under the same circumstances; all which may be said of the writers of the Scripture history. Beside, the great importance of the facts mentioned in the Scriptures makes it more improbable, that the several authors should either have attempted to falsify, or have succeeded in such an attempt. The same observation may be applied to the great number of particular circumstances of time, place, persons, &c, mentioned in the Scriptures, and to the harmony of the books with themselves, and with each other. These are arguments both for the genuineness of the books, and truth of the facts distinctly considered, and also arguments for deducing the truth from the genuineness. Moreover, if the books of the Old and New Testaments were written by the persons to whom they have been ascribed, that is, if they be genuine, the moral characters of these writers afford the strongest assurance, that the facts asserted by them are true. The sufferings which several of the writers underwent both in life and in death, in attestation of the facts delivered by them, furnish a particular argument in favour of these facts. Again, the arguments here alleged for proving the truth of the Scripture history from the genuineness of the books, are as conclusive in respect to the miraculous facts, as of the common ones. It may also be observed, that if we allow the genuineness of the books to be a sufficient evidence of the common facts which they record, the miraculous facts must also be allowed from their close connection with the others. It is necessary to admit both or neither. We cannot conceive that Moses should have delivered the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt, or conducted them through the wilderness for forty years, at all in such manner as the common history represents, unless we suppose the miraculous facts intermixed with it to be true also. In like manner, the fame of Christ's miracles, the multitudes which followed him, the adherence of his disciples, the jealousy and hatred of the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees, with many other facts of a common nature, are impossible to be accounted for, unless we allow that he did really work miracles. And the same observations hold, in general, of the other parts of the Scripture history. We might urge that a particular argument in favour of the miraculous part of the Scripture history, may be deduced from the reluctance of mankind to receive miraculous facts; which would put the writers and readers very much upon their guard, and would operate as a strong check upon the publication of a miraculous history at or near the time when the miracles were said to be performed; and thus it would serve as a strong confirmation of such a history, if its genuineness be previously granted.
9. In connection with the preceding proposition we may observe, that the genuineness of the Scriptures proves their divine authority. Porphyry in effect acknowledges the truth of this proposition, in its reference to the book of Daniel, by being unable to devise a method of invalidating its divine authority implied in the accomplishment of the prophecies which it contains, without asserting that they were written after the event, or that they were forgeries. Many of the other books of the Old and New Testaments have unquestionable evidences of the divine foreknowledge, if they be allowed genuine; such are those supplied by Moses's prophecy concerning the captivity of the Israelites, or of a state not yet erected; Isaiah's concerning Cyrus; Jeremiah's concerning the duration of the Babylonish captivity; Christ's concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, and the captivity that was to follow; St. John's concerning the great corruption of the Christian church; and Daniel's concerning the fourth empire in its declension; which last was extant in the time of Porphyry, at least; that is, before the events which it represents. The truth of the proposition might also be argued from the sublimity and excellence of the doctrines contained in the Scriptures; in no respect suiting the supposed authors, or the ages in which they lived, their education or occupation; so that, if they were the real authors, we are under the necessity of admitting the divine assistance. The converse of this proposition, namely, that the divine authority of the Scriptures infers their genuineness, will be readily and universally acknowledged. Moreover, the truth of the principal facts contained in the Scriptures proves their divine authority. Such is the frame of the human mind, that the Scripture history, allowed to be true, must convince us that Christ, the Prophets, and the Apostles, were endued with a power greater than human, and acted by the authority of a Being of the highest wisdom and goodness. By such mode of reasoning it is shown that the genuineness of the Scriptures, the truth of the principal facts contained in them, and their divine authority, appear to be so connected with each other, that, any one being established upon independent principles, the other two may be inferred from it. On the subject of the inspiration of the Scriptures, See.
10. Another argument in favour of the genuineness of the books of the Old and New Testaments, and of the truth of the principal facts contained in them, may be deduced from the manner in which they have been transmitted down from one age to another; resembling that in which all other genuine books and true histories have been conveyed down to posterity. As the works of the Greek and Roman writers were considered by these nations as having been transmitted to them by their ancestors in a continued succession from the times when the respective authors lived, so have the books of the Old Testament been accounted by the Jews, and those of the New by the Christians; and it is an additional evidence in the last case, that the primitive Christians were not a distinct nation, but a great multitude of people dispersed through all the nations of the Roman empire, and even extending itself beyond the bounds of that empire. As the Greeks and Romans always believed the principal facts of their historical books, so the Jews and Christians did more, and never seem to have doubted of the truth of any part of theirs. In short—whatever can be said of the traditional authority due to the Greek and Roman writers—something analogous to this, and for the most part of greater weight, may be urged for the Jewish and Christian. Now, as all sober minded persons admit the books usually ascribed to the Greek and Roman historians, philosophers, &c, to be genuine, and the principal facts related or alluded to in them to be true, and that one chief evidence for this is the general traditionary one here recited, they ought, therefore, to pay the same regard to the books of the Old and New Testaments, since there are the same, or even greater, reasons for it. Beside, these traditionary evidences are sufficient; and we thus obtain a real argument, as well as one ad hominem, for receiving books thus handed down to us. For it is not conceivable, that whole nations should either be imposed upon themselves, or concur to deceive others by forgeries of books or of facts. These books and facts must therefore, in general, be genuine and true; and it is a strong additional evidence of this, that all nations must be jealous of forgeries for the same reasons that we are.
11. We may proceed to state farther, that the great importance of the histories, precepts, promises, threatenings, and prophecies contained in the Scriptures, is in evidence both of their genuineness, and of the truth of the principal facts mentioned in them. The history of the creation, fall, deluge, longevity of the patriarchs, dispersion of mankind, calling of Abraham, descent of Jacob with his family into Egypt, and the precepts of abstaining from blood, and of circumcision, were of such concern, either to mankind in general, or to the Israelites in particular, and some of them of so extraordinary a nature, as that it could not be a matter of indifference to the people among whom the account given of them in Genesis was first published, whether they received them or not. On the supposition that this account was first published among the Israelites by Moses, and then confirmed by clear, universal, uninterrupted tradition, it will be easy to conceive how it should be handed down from age to age among the Jews, and received by them as indubitable. But, supposing the account to be false, or that there was no such vestiges and evidences of these histories and precepts, it will be difficult to conceive how this could have happened, let the time of publication be what it may. If early, the people would reject at once the account, for want of a clear tradition; if late, it would be natural to inquire how the author was informed of things never known before to others. As to other cosmogonies and theogonies current among Pagans, which are evident fictions, they furnish no just objection against the Mosaic history, because they were generally regarded merely as amusing fictions; and yet they concealed in figures, or expressed in plain words, some truths which agree with the book of Genesis, and afford a strong presumptive evidence in favour of this book. with respect to the law of Moses, this was extremely burdensome, expensive, and severe, particularly in its reference to the crime of idolatry, to which mankind were then extravagantly prone; and it was absurd, according to human judgment, in the instances of prohibiting their furnishing themselves with horses for war, and of commanding all the males of the whole nation to appear at Jerusalem three times a year. Nevertheless, it claims a divine authority, and appeals to facts of the most notorious kind, and to customs and ceremonies of the most peculiar nature, as the memorials of these facts. Can we then conceive that any nation, with such motives to reject, and such opportunities of detecting the forgery of the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, should yet receive them, and submit to this heavy yoke? That the Jews did submit to the law of Moses in these circumstances, is evident from the books of the Old and New Testaments, if we allow them the least truth and genuineness, or even from profane writers, and from the present observance of it by the Jews scattered through all the kingdoms of the world. Should it be said that other nations have ascribed divine authority to their lawgivers, and submitted to very severe laws, it may be alleged in reply to this, that the pretences of lawgivers among the Pagans to inspiration, and the submission of the people, may be accounted for from their peculiar circumstances at the time, without recurring to real inspiration; and more especially if we admit the patriarchal revelations related by Moses, and his own divine legation, as Heathen lawgivers copied after these, and hence we derive a strong argument in their favour. Beside, no instance occurs among the Pagans of a body of laws framed at once and remaining invariable; whereas the body politic of the Israelites assumed a complete form at once, and has preserved it, with little variation, to the present time, and under many external disadvantages; thus supplying us with an instance altogether without parallel, and showing the high opinion which they entertained of the great importance of their law. In short, of all the fictions or forgeries that can happen among any people, the most improbable is that of the Jewish body of civil laws, and seems to be utterly impossible.
12. If we farther examine the history contained in the books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, and extending from the death of Moses to the re-establishment of the Jews after the Babylonish captivity by Ezra and Nehemiah, we shall find a variety of important facts, most of which must be supposed to leave such vestiges of themselves, either external and visible, or internal in the minds and memories of the people, as would verify them if true, or cause them to be rejected if false. The conquest of the land of Canaan, the division of it, and the appointment of cities for the priests and Levites by Joshua; the frequent slaveries of the Israelites. to the neighbouring kings, and their deliverance by the judges; the creation of a kingdom by Samuel; the translation of this kingdom from Saul's family to David, with his conquests; the glory of Solomon's kingdom; the building of the temple; the division of the kingdom; the idolatrous worship set up at Dan and Bethel; the captivity of the Israelites by the kings of Assyria; the captivity of the Jews by Nebuchadnezzar; the destruction of their temple; their return under Cyrus, rebuilding the temple under Darius Hystaspes, and re- establishment under Artaxerxes Longimanus, by Ezra and Nehemiah:— these events are some of them the most glorious, and some of them the most reproachful, that can happen to any people. How can we reconcile forgeries of such opposite kinds, and especially as they are interwoven together by various complicated and necessary connections, which do not admit of separation? The facts, indeed, are of such importance, notoriety, and permanency in their effects, that no particular persons among the Israelites could first project the design of feigning them, that their own people would not concur with such a design, and that neighbouring nations would not permit the fiction to pass. Nothing but the invincible evidence of the facts here alleged, could induce a jealous multitude among the Israelites or neighbouring nations to acquiesce. This must be acknowledged upon the supposition that the several books were published in or near the times when the facts that are recorded in them happened. But suppose all these historical books forged by Ezra; the hypothesis is evidently impossible. Things so important and notorious, so honourable and so reproachful to the people for whose sake they were forged, would have been rejected with the utmost indignation, unless there were the strongest and most genuine traces of these things already among the people. They must therefore, in part at least, be true. If it be said that additions were made by Ezra, these additions must have been either of important or trivial matters. On the first supposition, the difficulty already stated recurs; and if the important facts are true, what possible motive could have induced Ezra to make additions of no importance? Beside, if any ancient writings were extant, Ezra must either copy after them, which destroys the present supposition, or differ from and oppose them, which would betray him. If there were no such ancient writings, the people would be led to inquire with regard to matters of importance, for what reason Ezra was so particular in things of which there was neither any memory, nor account in writing. Should it be said that the people did not regard what Ezra had thus forged, this reduces the subject in question to matters of small or of no importance. Beside, why should Ezra write if no one would read or regard? Farther: Ezra must have had, like other men, friends, enemies, and rivals; and some, or all of these, would have been a check upon him, and a security against him, in matters of importance. If we suppose these books, instead of having been forged at once, to have been forged successively, at the interval of one, two, or three centuries after the facts related, we shall involve ourselves in the same or similar difficulties. Upon the whole, then, we may conclude, that the forgery of the annals of the Israelites appears to be impossible, as well as that of the body of their civil laws. It is needless to examine the books of Esther, Job, the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Canticles; and we might proceed to the Prophecies; but this will be resumed under the article Prophecy. For the subjects comprehended in the books of the New Testament. See, and See .
13. We shall here subjoin some general evidences in attestation of the truth of the books of Scripture. That Jews and Christians have thought their sacred books very highly important, most genuine, and true, appears from the persecutions and sufferings which they have undergone on account of their attachment to them, and because they would not be prevailed upon to surrender them. The preservation of the law of Moses, probably the first book written in any language, whilst many others of a later date have been lost, shows the great regard that has been paid to it; and from this circumstance we may infer that this and the other books of the Old Testament have been preserved on account of their importance, or from some other cause, equally evincing their genuineness and truth. The great value set upon these books appears also from the many early translations and paraphrases of them; and these translations and paraphrases serve to correct errors that are unavoidable in the lapse of time, and to secure their integrity and purity. The hesitation and difficulty with which some few books of the New Testament were received into the canon, show the great care and concern of the primitive Christians about the canon, and the high importance of the books admitted into it: and afford a strong evidence of their genuineness and truth. The same observation is in a degree applicable to the Jewish canon. Moreover, the religious hatred and animosity which subsisted between the Jews and Samaritans, and between several of the ancient sects among the Christians, convince us of what importance they all thought their sacred books, and disposed them to watch over one another with a jealous eye. Farther: the genuineness of the books of the Old and New Testaments may be evinced from the language, style, and manner of writing used in them. The Hebrew language, in which the Old Testament was written, being the language of an ancient people, who had little intercourse with their neighbours, would not change so fast as modern languages have done, since different nations have been variously blended with one another by the extension of trade, arts, and sciences; and yet some changes must have occurred in the interval that elapsed between the time of Moses and that of Malachi. The biblical Hebrew corresponds so exactly to this criterion, as to afford a considerable argument in favour of the genuineness of the books of the Old Testament. Beside, these books have too great a diversity of style to be the work of either one Jew, or of any set of contemporary Jews. If they be forgeries, there must have been a succession of impostors in different ages, who concurred in the same iniquitous design. Again: the Hebrew language ceased to be spoken, as a living language, soon after the time of the Babylonish captivity; and it would be difficult or impossible to forge any thing in it after it became a dead language. Hence it appears, that all the books of the Old Testament must at least be nearly as ancient as the Babylonish captivity; and as they could not all be written in the same age, some must be much more ancient, and this would reduce us to the necessity of supposing a succession of conspiring impostors. Moreover, there is, as we have already observed, a simplicity of style, and an unaffected manner of writing, in all the books of the Old Testament, which is a strong evidence of their genuineness. The style of the New Testament, in particular, is not only simple and unaffected, but is Greek influenced by the Hebrew idiom, and exactly answers to the circumstances of time, places, and persons. To which we may add, that the narrations and precepts of both the Old and New Testament are delivered without hesitation; the writers teaching as having authority: and this circumstance is peculiar to those who unite, with a clear knowledge of what they deliver, a perfect integrity of heart. But a farther argument for the genuineness and truth of the Scriptures is supplied by the very great number of particular circumstances of time, place, persons, &c, mentioned in them. It is needless to recount these; but they are incompatible with forged and false accounts, that do not abound in such particularities, and the want of which furnishes a suspicion to their discredit. Compare, in this respect, Manetho's account of the dynasties of Egypt, Ctesias's of the Assyrian kings, and those which the technical chronologers have given of the ancient kingdoms of Greece, which are defective in such particulars, with the history by Thucydides of the Peloponnesian war, and with Caesar's of the war in Gaul, and the difference will be sufficiently apparent. Dr. Paley's admirable treatise, entitled, "Horae Paulinae," affords very valuable illustrations of this argument as it respects the genuineness of the books of the New Testament. The agreement of the Scriptures with history, natural and civil, is a farther proof of their genuineness and truth. The history of the fall agrees in an eminent manner both with the obvious facts of labour, sorrow, pain, and death, with what we see and feel every day, and with all our philosophical inquiries into the frame of the human mind, the nature of social life, and the origin of evil. Natural history bears a strong testimony to Moses's account of the deluge. Civil history affords many evidences which corroborate the same account. ( See. ) The Mosaic account of the confusion of languages, of the dispersion of Noah's sons, and of the state of religion in the ancient post-diluvian world, is not only rendered probable, but is in a very high degree established, by many collateral arguments. See , and See .
14. The agreement of the books of the Old and New Testaments with themselves and with each other, affords another argument both of their genuineness and truth. The laws of the Israelites are contained in the Pentateuch, and referred to, in a great variety of ways, direct and indirect, in the historical books, in the Psalms, and in the Prophecies. The historical facts also in the preceding books are often referred to in those that succeed, and in the Psalms and Prophecies. In like manner, the Gospels have the greatest harmony with each other, and the Epistles of St. Paul with the Acts of the Apostles; and, indeed, there is scarcely any book of either the Old or New Testament, which may not be shown to refer to many of the rest, in one way or other. For the illustration of this argument, let us suppose that no more remained of the Roman writers than Livy, Tully, and Horace; would they not, by their references to the same facts and customs, by the sameness of style in the same writer, and difference in the different ones, and numberless other such like circumstances of critical consideration, prove themselves, and one another to be genuine, and the principal facts related, or alluded to, to be true? Whoever will apply, this reasoning to the present, case will perceive, that the numberless minute, direct, and indirect agreements and coincidences, that present themselves to all diligent readers of the Scriptures, prove their truth and genuineness beyond all contradiction.
The harmony and agreement of the several writers of the Old and New Testament appear the more remarkable, when it is considered that their various parts were penned by several hands in very different conditions of life, from the throne and sceptre down to the lowest degree, and in very distant ages, through a long interval of time; which would naturally have led a spirit of imposture to have varied its schemes, and to have adapted them to different stations in the world, and to the different vicissitudes of every age. David wrote about four hundred years after Moses, and Isaiah about two hundred and fifty after David, and Matthew more than seven hundred years after Isaiah; and yet these authors, with all the other Prophets and Apostles, write in perfect harmony, confirming the authority of their predecessors, labouring to reduce the people to the observance of their instructions, and loudly exclaiming against the neglect and contempt of them, and denouncing the severest judgments against such as continued disobedient. Consequently, as the writers of the Holy Scriptures, though they all claim a divine authority, yet write in perfect connection and harmony, mutually confirming the doctrine and testimony of each other, and concurring to establish the very same religious truths and principles, it is a strong proof that they all derived their instructions from the same fountain, the wisdom of God, and were indeed under the direction and illumination of the same Spirit. This leads us to add, that the unity of design, which appears in the dispensations recorded in the Scriptures, is an argument not only of their truth and genuineness, but also of their divine authority. In order to perceive the force of this argument, it is only necessary to inquire what this design is, and how it is pursued, by the series of events and divine interpositions recorded in the Scriptures. ( See. ) It should also be considered, that the historical evidences in favour of the genuineness, truth, and divine authority of the Scriptures, do not become less from age to age; but, on the contrary, it may rather be presumed that they increase. Since the three great concurring events of printing, the reformation of religion in these western parts, and the restoration of letters, so many more evidences and coincidences have been discovered in favour of the Jewish and Christian histories, as may serve, in some measure, to supply the want of those that have been lost in the preceding times; and as this accumulation of evidences is likely to continue, there is great reason to hope that it will at length become irresistible to all and silence even every gainsayer.
15. The moral characters of the Prophets, and the Apostles, prove the truth and divine authority of the Scriptures. The characters of the persons who are said in the Scriptures to have had divine communications, and a divine mission, are so much superior to the characters that occur in common life, that we can scarcely account for the more eminent individuals, and much less so for so large a succession of them, continued through so many ages, without allowing the divine communications and assistance which they allege. Notwithstanding considerable imperfections that pertained to many of these eminent persons, and the occasional offences chargeable upon one or two of them, yet the impartial reader should consider whether the Prophets, Apostles, &c, were not so much superior, not only to mankind at an average, but even to the best men among the Greeks and Romans, as is not fairly to be accounted for by the mere powers of human nature. If this statement should not be conceded, their characters, however, are too good to allow the supposition of an impious fraud and imposture, which must have been the case if they had not divine authority. Beside, it should be recollected, that the undisguised and impartial manner in which the imperfections and faults of the eminent persons mentioned in Scripture are related, furnishes a remarkable additional evidence for the truth of those parts of the Scripture history in which such relations occur, beside such evidences as extend to the whole.
16. The excellence of the doctrine contained in the Scriptures is an additional evidence of their authority. This argument has great force independently of all other considerations. Suppose, for instance, that the author of the Gospel, which goes under the name of St. Matthew, was not known, and that it was unsupported by the writers of the primitive times; yet such are the unaffected simplicity of the narrations, the purity of the doctrine, and the sincere piety and goodness of the sentiments, that it carries its own authority with it. The same observation is applicable in general to all the books of the Old and New Testaments; so that if there was no other book in the world beside the Bible, a man could not reasonably doubt of the truth of revealed religion. If all other arguments were set aside, we may conclude from this single consideration, that the authors of the books of the Old and New Testaments, whoever they were, cannot have made a false claim to divine authority. The Scriptures contain doctrines concerning God, providence, a future state, the duty of man, &c, far more pure and sublime than can in any way be accounted for from the natural powers of men, so circumstanced as the sacred writers were. Let the reader consider whether it can be reasonably supposed, that Jewish shepherds, fishermen, &c, should, both before and after the rise of the Heathen philosophy, so far exceed men of the greatest abilities and accomplishments in other nations, by any other means than divine communications. Indeed, no writers, from the invention of letters to the present times, are equal to the penmen of the books of the Old and New Testaments in true excellence, utility and dignity; and this is surely such an internal criterion of their divine authority, as ought not to be resisted.
17. The many and great advantages which have accrued to the world from the patriarchal, Judaical, and Christian revelations, confirm the whole. These advantages relate partly to the knowledge, and partly to the practice, of religion. The internal worth and excellence of the Scriptures, as containing the best principles of knowledge, holiness, consolation, and hope, and their consequent utility and importance in a moral and practical view, fully and directly demonstrate their divine original. For an enlarged view of this branch of evidence
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Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Bible'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wtd/b/bible.html. 1831-2.