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ORDER OF THE BOOKS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT—TIME OF THE GOSPELS BEING WRITTEN—NOTICE OF THE EVANGELISTS.
THE order of the books of the New Testament is not uniform, in the manuscripts now extant, nor as they are mentioned by the Fathers. Eusebius arranges them thus: the Four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles of Paul, the First Epistle of John, and the Revelation of John. “These,” says he, “were received (except the last mentioned) by all Christians.” Then, he mentions those which were not unanimously received; as, the Epistle of James, the Epistle of Jude, the Second of Peter, and the Second and Third of John.
Irenæus, who lived long before Eusebius, has not given a regular catalogue of the books of the New Testament, but he seems to have followed the same order.
But Athanasius, in his Festal Epistle, has given the following order: The Four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Seven Catholic Epistles, the Fourteen Epistles of Paul, and the Revelation. The ancient and celebrated Alexandrian Manuscript follows the same order; as also does Cyril of Jerusalem, but he does not mention Revelation.
The arrangement, in the catalogue of the Council of Laodicea, is exactly the same as that of Cyril; the book of Revelation being left out. John Damascene, and Leontius, follow the same order.
The order of the Syrian catalogues as given by Ebedjesu, is—The Four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Three Catholic Epistles, (their Canon at first contained no more,) and the Fourteen Epistles of Paul.
Rufin’s order is—The Gospels, the Acts, Paul’s Epistles, the Catholic Epistles, and the Revelation. The Council of Carthage has the same. Gregory Nazianzen the same; only the Revelation is omitted. Amphilochius the same, and the book of Revelation, mentioned as doubtful. Nicephorus of Constantinople, the same, and Revelation omitted.
This, therefore, appears to have been the order in which the books of the New Testament succeeded each other in most ancient copies; and is the one now in general use.
But Epiphanius has an order different from any of these, as follows—The Four Gospels, Paul’s Epistles, the Acts of the Apostles, the Seven Catholic Epistles, and the Revelation. Jerome follows the same order; and also Euthalius.
Augustine varies in his arrangement of the sacred books. In one place, he puts the Acts last, except Revelation; and in another, he places it after Revelation. He also varies in his arrangement of the Epistles of Paul, and of the Catholic Epistles.
The order of Innocent the First, bishop of Rome, is: The Four Gospels, Paul’s Epistles, the Catholic Epistles, the Acts, and Revelation.
Isidore of Seville has, in his writings, given several catalogues, in all of which he pursues the order last mentioned. The same writer informs us, that the books of the New Testament were usually included in two divisions, or volumes; the first containing the Gospels; the second, the Acts and the Epistles; the book of Revelation being omitted.
Chrysostom follows an order which appears to be peculiar: he places first, the Fourteen Epistles of Paul; next, the Four Gospels; then, the Acts; and in the last place, the Catholic Epistles. Gelasius places Revelation before the Catholic Epistles. The Apostolical Canon, as it is called, contains the following catalogue: The Four Gospels, Fourteen Epistles of Paul, Seven Catholic Epistles, Two Epistles of Clement, the Constitutions, and the Acts. If this were, indeed, the genuine Canon of the apostles, as the title imports, it would be decisive, and all other authorities would be superfluous; but it is acknowledged by all good critics, that it is spurious, and of no authority in settling the early Canon.
The order of the Four Gospels has generally been, as in our copies, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. Irenæus, Origen, Eusebius, Athanasius, the Council of Laodicea, Gregory Nazianzen, Amphilochius, the Syrian Catalogues, Jerome, Rufin, Augustine, the Alexandrian Manuscript with most others, agree in this order.
But that this order was not uniform, appears from Tertullian, who arranges them thus—Matthew, John, Luke, Mark. And the same order of the Gospels is followed, in the very ancient Manuscript, commonly called, Codex Cantabrigiensis.
There is very little variation observed in the arrangement of Paul’s Epistles. They are generally found in the same order as we have them in our copies; but this is not universally the case: for in some copies, the Epistle to the Hebrews occupies the fourteenth place among Paul’s Epistles, and in others the tenth. But in all copies, the Epistle to the Romans stands first, though not first in the order of time.
With respect to the time when the gospels were written, no precise information can be obtained, as ancient authors differ considerably on the subject. It seems to be agreed, however, that they were not published immediately after the ascension of Christ: nor all at the same time. The best thing which we can do is to place before the reader the principal testimonies of the Fathers, and leave him to judge for himself.4848The testimonies here adduced are, for the most part, selected from the collections of Lardner, to whose works the reader is referred.
The earliest writer who says anything explicitly on this subject is Irenæus; but he does not inform us what time intervened between the resurrection of Christ, and the writing of these gospels. His words are; “For we have not received the knowledge of the way of salvation, from any others than those by whom the gospel has been brought to us, which gospel they first preached, and afterwards, by the will of God, committed to writing, that for time to come it might be the foundation and pillar of our faith. Nor, may any say that they preached before they had a competent knowledge of the gospel; for after that our Lord rose from the dead, and they were endued, from above, with the power of the Holy Ghost, which had come down upon them, they received a perfect knowledge of all things. They went forth to all the ends of the earth, declaring to men the blessing of heavenly peace; having all of them, and every one of them, the gospel of God.”
Now let it be considered, that Irenæus was the disciple of Polycarp, who was the disciple of the apostle John, and this testimony will have great weight in confirming the fact, that the gospels were written by the apostles, some time after they began to preach; and that, wherever the apostles went, they preached the same gospel to the people.
Eusebius, to whom we are obliged so often to have recourse as a witness of ancient ecclesiastical facts, does not fail us here; “Those admirable and truly divine men,” says he, “the apostles of Christ, did not attempt to deliver the doctrine of their master, with the artifice and eloquence of words. . . . Nor were they concerned about writing books, being engaged in a’ more excellent ministry, which is above all human power. Insomuch that Paul, the most able of all, in the furniture of words and ideas, has left nothing in writing but a few Epistles. Nor were the rest of our Saviour’s followers unacquainted with these things, as the seventy disciples, and many others besides the twelve apostles. Nevertheless, of all the disciples of our Lord, Matthew and John only have left us any Memoirs; who, also, as we have been informed, were impelled to write, by a kind of necessity.”4949Ecc. Hist. lib. iii. c. 29. Eusebius also, in c. xxx, mentions several spurious books, falsely attributed to the apostles. “Among those,” says he, “which must be numbered among the spurious is, The Acts of Paul,” “The Pastor,” and “The Revelation of Peter.”
Theodore of Mopsuesta, who lived in the latter part of the fourth century, has left us the following testimony; “After the Lord’s ascension to heaven, the disciples stayed a good while at Jerusalem, visiting the cities in the vicinity, and preaching chiefly to the Jews: and the great Paul was appointed, openly to preach the gospel to the Gentiles.” “In process of divine Providence, they, not being allowed to confine themselves to any one part of the earth, were conducted to remote countries. Peter went to Rome; the others elsewhere. John took up his abode at Ephesus, visiting, however, other parts of Asia. . . . . About this time, the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke, published their gospels, which were soon spread over the world, and were received by all the faithful with great regard. . . . . . . Numerous Christians in Asia having brought these gospels to John, earnestly entreated him to write a further account of such things as were needful to be known, and had been omitted by the rest; with which request he complied.”
By divers Christian writers of antiquity, it has been asserted, that Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, at the earnest request of the brethren at Rome, wrote a short gospel, according to what he had heard related by Peter. This testimony, among others, is given by Jerome in his book of Illustrious Men.
It is probable that Peter did not visit Rome before the reign of Nero; perhaps not until Paul had returned a second time to that city, which must have been as late as the year A. D. 63 or 64. Now, as the brethren requested of Mark to give them in writing the substance of Peter’s preaching, his gospel could not have been written at an earlier period. And, it would seem, if this fact be undoubted, that they had, until this time, never seen a written gospel; and, probably, did not know that there was one in existence.
The Jewish war, according to Josephus, began in the year of our Lord 66, and ended in September of the year 70; when the city and temple were brought to desolation. Now, there is strong probable evidence, that the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, were finished before this war commenced; that is, before the year of our Lord sixty-six. Each of them contains the predictions of our Lord respecting the destruction of Jerusalem, and there is no hint in any of them, that the remarkable events connected with this overthrow had begun to make their appearance. But there are some expressions in these gospels, which probably indicate, that the writers thought that these wonderful events were at hand; such as the following admonition, “Let him that readeth understand.”
It is certain that the Acts of the Apostles could not have been finished before A. D. 62 or 63, because the history which it contains comes down to that time. The gospel by Luke was probably written a short time before. At least, this seems to be the common opinion of learned men. Jerome supposes that he composed his gospel at Rome. Grotius thinks, that when Paul left Rome Luke went into Greece, and there wrote his gospel and the Acts.
From the introduction to Luke’s gospel, it would seem that he knew nothing of any authentic written gospel at that time; for he cannot be supposed to refer to such, when he says, “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us ” and if he had known that Matthew had written a gospel, he could not easily have avoided some reference to it in this place. But the inference of Lardner from this fact, that no authentic gospel had been written before this time, is unauthorized, and repugnant to all the testimony which we have on the subject. The gospel of Matthew might have been circulating for some time among the churches in Judea, and yet not be known to Luke, whose labours and travels led him, in company with Paul, to visit the Gentile countries and cities. If we pay any regard to the opinions of those, who lived nearest the times of the apostles, we must believe that the gospel of Matthew was first written, and in the vernacular dialect of Judea, commonly called Hebrew. The writer of this gospel is also called Levi, the son of Alpheus. He was a Galilean by nation, and a publican by profession. When called to follow Christ, he was sitting at the receipt of custom, where the taxes were paid, but he immediately left all these temporal concerns, and attached himself to Christ, who afterwards selected him as one of the twelve. From this time he seems to have been constantly with Christ until his crucifixion, of which event he was doubtless a witness; as he was also of the resurrection and ascension of his Lord. On the day of Pentecost, he was present with his brethren, and partook of the rich spiritual endowments, which were then bestowed on the apostles. But afterwards there is no explicit mention of him in the New Testament. In his own catalogue of the twelve, his name occupies the eighth place, as it does in the Acts; but in the lists of the apostles, contained in the gospels of Luke and Mark, it occupies the seventh place.
There is an almost total obscurity resting on the history of this apostle and evangelist. The scene of his labours, after he left Judea, seems to have been in regions of which we possess very little accurate information to this day. But whether he had Parthia and Persia, or Ethiopia, for the field of his apostolical labours, the ancients are not agreed. It is by no means impossible that he should have preached the gospel, and planted churches, in each of these countries. The historian Socrates, in his distribution of the apostles among the countries of the globe, assigns Ethiopia to Matthew, Parthia to Thomas, and India to Bartholomew.
The testimony of Eusebius is as follows: “This then was the state of the Jews, but the apostles and disciples of our Lord, being dispersed abroad, preached in the whole world, Thomas in Parthia; Andrew in Scythia, John in Asia, who having lived there a long time, died at Ephesus. Peter preached to the dispersed Jews in Pontus, Galatia, Bithynia, Cappadocia, and Asia; at length, coming to Rome, he was there crucified, with his head turned down towards the earth, at his own request. Paul also died a martyr at Rome, as we are informed by Origen, in the third tome of his work on Genesis.” But Eusebius makes no mention of the apostle Matthew; nor does Jerome, in his account of Illustrious Men.5050Ecc. Hist. lib. iii. c. 1.
Clement of Alexandria mentions a circumstance of this apostle’s mode of life, but nothing more: he says, “That he was accustomed to use a very spare diet, eating vegetables, but no flesh.”
Chrysostom, in one of his Homilies, gives the character of Matthew, but furnishes us with no facts.
It is probable, therefore, that very little was known in the west, respecting the lives, labours and death, of those apostles who travelled far to the east. None of them, it is probable, ever returned; and there existed no regular channels for the communication of intelligence from those distant regions. The honour of martyrdom has been given to them all, and the thing is not improbable; but there are no authentic records, from which we can derive any certain information on this subject. The Fathers, whose writings have come down to us, seem to have been as much in the dark as we are, respecting the preaching and death of the majority of the apostles. There are, it is true, traditions in Ethiopia and the east, in regard to some of them, but they are too uncertain to deserve any serious consideration.
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