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§ 2. Why is it that the New Testament also contains other books beside the Gospels, and appears as a compilation with two divisions (“Evangelium” and “Apostolus”)?
In the foregoing section hints have been given which prepare for the answering of this question; but the problem has not yet been set in clear light. How great it is must be realised by everyone who reflects only for a moment. In the New Testament letters which serve momentary and particular needs are set on a level of equal value with the Gospels; what is merely personal with what is of universal import; the Apostles with Christ; their work with His work! In a compilation which is invested with Divine authority we must read: “Drink a little wine for thy stomach’s sake,” and “my cloak I left at Troas.” Side by side with the words of Divine mercy and loving-kindness in the Gospels we meet with outbreaks of passionate personal strife in the Epistles; side by side with the stories of the Passion and Resurrection, the dry notes of the diary of a missionary journey!
He who would show how two absolutely disparate entities have yet come together can only solve the problem if he can prove that they form the extreme wings of a complex whole that is governed by an idea. The idea in question here is the idea of Tradition. One of the great problems which has silently dominated the inner history of the Church for centuries is the problem, “Scripture and Tradition.” In the compilation of the New Testament this problem already, to a certain extent, found a solution; indeed, properly speaking, the strivings and conflicts that have taken place since this solution, i.e. since the creation of the New Testament, are all of them only of secondary import. The main battle was long since fought and decided in favour of Tradition when the New Testament was compiled and in the very fact of its compilation; but, unfortunately, historians have not yet generally recognised this truth. The New Testament itself, when compared with what Jesus purposed, said, and was, is already a tradition which overlies and obscures. When then we speak to-day of the antagonism and conflict between Scripture and Tradition, the tradition in question is a second tradition.
The compilation of the New Testament out of the “Gospels,” with their Apostolic titles and the “Apostolus,” is clearly the expression of two convictions: (A) that in a certain sense the Apostles are equal to Christ in that they, being chosen not only to be His witnesses, but also dispensers of His power, are His continuation; and (B) that the attestation of a revelation is not less important than its content. When did these convictions make their appearance? How and under what circumstances did they attach themselves to books? How was it that under their influence the Acts of the Apostles came to be accepted into the Canon, and that such strong preference was given to St Paul?
(A) Sceptical critics of the Synoptic Gospels have thought it necessary to disintegrate with special stringency the tradition concerning the relationship between our Lord and His twelve Disciples.5252According to the delusive canon, which, unfortunately, so many scholars of to-day follow in the criticism of the Gospels, that passages which can also have sprung from developments of the Apostolic and later ages must therefore have so sprung. For example: Jesus speaks of future persecutions; such persecutions actually occurred; hence these sayings have been constructed ex eventu and do not belong to Him. Albert Schweitzer does well to protest strongly against such a method. Indeed even the number twelve, and with it every special reference to “chosen” disciples, is objected to. In my opinion, criticism is here running on false lines. Sayings like: Ἐγω διατίθεμαι ὑμῖν, καθὼς διέθετό μοι ὁ πατήρ μου βασιλείαν, ἵνα ἔσθητε καὶ πίνητε ἐπὶ τῆς τραπέξης μου ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ μου, καὶ καθῆσθε ἐπὶ θρόνων τὰς δώδεκα φυλὰς κρίνοντες τοῦ Ἰσραήλ (St Luke xxii. 29 f.);5353Notice the Jewish horizon of this saying. or Ὁ δεχόμενος ὑμας ἐμὲ δέχεται, καὶ ὁ ἐμὲ δεχόμενος δέχεται τὸν ἀποστείλαντά με (St Matt. x. 40), the fundamental thought of which is found both in St Mark and in Q, cannot but be accepted as essentially trustworthy.
There also appears to be no special reason to doubt that Jesus during His lifetime sent out twelve disciples on a mission in Palestine and that they actually undertook this mission and returned to Him again. All in all, sayings of Jesus must have existed that referred to the disciples as sent out on the mission, and that offered them the prospect of the highest authority and of even Messianic powers when the “Kingdom” was established. On this supposition alone can we explain the authority of the Twelve in the Church.
For the Twelve, after our Lord had departed from them and was glorified, played in reality an insignificant rôle. This is only intelligible on the assumption that an express command of Jesus to begin a mission in grand style after His death did not exist. As a matter of fact the Twelve remained in Jerusalem and, apart from awaiting the time when they would take up their office in the coming Kingdom, the building up of the Church in Jerusalem, of which task they were moreover soon relieved by James the Lord’s brother, remained the sole object of their existence. We have no certain knowledge that any one of them, except St Peter and St John, ever went on mission; but there is no doubt that their authority as the Twelve remained firmly established, because they were regarded as the confidants of Jesus and as the future judges at the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom.5454It is not here our business to investigate whether the commission to the Twelve to forgive sins, to “bind and loose,” is to be traced back to Jesus Himself, or whether the story was first conceived at a later date. But it is certain that, just as the unhistoric command to go forth into all the world (Matt. xxviii. 19) belongs to the tradition that had taken form in Palestine, so also the conception of the Apostles as being dispensers of forgiving power or of the “Spirit” has the same place of origin. The sacramental power assigned to the Twelve, and their “knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven,” whencesoever these ideas derived, were certainly of highest importance for the supreme veneration in which they were held by the Gentile Churches, who set the Twelve so near to the Lord and at last united them with Him in the New Testament. There is, however, no doubt that these ideas proceeded from Palestine.
The recognition of the lofty status of the Twelve, an authority that was at first naturally bound up with that of the Mother Church in Jerusalem, went forth with St Paul and the other missionaries into the Gentile world. These spoke of the Twelve Apostles as of authorities for all that they in common brought with them from the motherland of the new movement, and also in part for that which they themselves built on that foundation. And so now appeared that strange phenomenon—the “Twelve Apostles” as the court of highest instance and of fundamental authority. Soon also the belief took shape that Christ had committed the continuation and expansion of His work to the Twelve once for all, and so completely, that every real mission is subordinate to them and receives from them its content and authority.5555Indeed at an early date the general conception was that the mission to the world had been actually completed by the Apostles—for the end was near and before it could come the Gospel must have been preached everywhere—and that present missions were only an aftergleaning. The Roman Church writes about A.D. 95: “The Apostles were made evangelists to us by the Lord Christ (mark well: ‘the Apostles,’ not Peter and Paul); Jesus the Christ was sent by God. Thus Christ is from God and the Apostles from Christ. He and they came into being in harmony from the will of God.”56561 Clem. 42. Since the end of the first century the Apostles already seemed to the Gentile Church like a multiplication of the Christ.5757This conception must have been the more acceptable to Gentile Christians seeing that Christ Himself had not come to them. Legends of missions undertaken by Apostles soon came to be invented; none dared to invent one for Christ (yet one must remember the Abgar legend). The Church is built upon them as a foundation: in the New Jerusalem the twelve foundation stones of the city wall bear the names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb.5858Rev. xxi. 14. If one spoke of the commands of Christ, one added the Apostles.5959Polycarp ad Phil., vi. 3: καθὼς αὐτὸς ἐνετείλατο καὶ οἱ εὐαγγελισάμενοι ἡμᾶς ἀπόστολοι. What Serapion says at the beginning of the third century (Euseb., H.E., vi. 12, 3): ἡμεῖς καὶ Πέτρον καὶ τοὺς ἄλλους ἀπόστόλους ἀποδεχόμεθα ὡς Χριστόν,6060(We receive both Peter and the other Apostles as Christ.) could certainly have been also said a hundred years earlier. Already, in Gal. iv. 14, we read: ἐδέξασθέ με ὡς Χριστόν Ιησοῦν. “The choice and sending out of the Apostles (after the Resurrection)” found its way even into the Rules of Faith,6161Ascens. Isaiæ, iii. 13, ed. Dillmann. and we may say that simply by an accident of history it did not find a place in the ancient Roman Symbol. Passages from prophecy were alleged as foretelling it just as in the case of main incidents in the life of Jesus Himself.6262Justin, Apol., i. 39; Aristides, Apol., 2. Writers in Asia Minor, Rome, and Egypt (before A.D. 160) unite in their testimony on this point, and even the Gnostics shared in part this conception.6363Jude 17; 2 Peter iii. 2; 1 Clem. 42; Barnab. v. 9; viii. 3; Didache, the title (Διδαχὴ κυρίου διὰ τῶν ιβ´ ἀποστόλων!); Hermas, Vis. iii. 5, Sim., ix. 15, 16, 17, 25; Gospel of Peter; Apocalypse of Peter; Prædic. Petri in Clemens Alex., Strom., vi. 6, 48; Ignat., ad Trall., 3; ad Rom., 4; ad Philad., 5; Papias; Polyc.; Aristides; Justin in many places; inferences from the great work of Irenæus; from the works of Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria; Valentinians (Ptolemy). Everywhere the form in which the appeal to the Apostles, as the College of the Twelve, is couched proves that the idea in question was axiomatic. In my Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, 14, S. 179-184, and elsewhere, I have more fully investigated the origin and the significance of this court of appeal, second to and yet one with Christ, which now at once became the vessel that received “Tradition” into itself.
Tradition always means the need of the present appealing to the authority of the past. In this case, however, an additional multitude of ideal and historical elements came into play.6464He who wishes to know more about these elements must above all read Tertullian’s treatise, De Præsc. Heret. “Ecclesia,” and the idealised Apostoli are the central ideas of this treatise, and in them Jesus Christ is as it were enshrined. How could one then carry on with Gospels only as Holy Scripture! Without the addition of the second part to the new Canon there was no authentic document for the Church. “Qui acta apostolorum non receperunt,” exclaims Tertullian, chap. xxii., “nec spiritus sancti esse possunt, (ut) qui necdum spiritum sanctum possunt agnoscere discentibus missum, sed nec ecclesiam se dicant defendere, qui quando et quibus incunabulis institutum est hoc corpus probare non habent.” The Holy Spirit and the Apostles became correlative conceptions, with the consequence that the Scriptures of the New Testament were indifferently regarded as composed by the Holy Spirit or the Apostles. Moreover the conflict with the Gnostics and the Marcionites must have thrust the absolute authority of the Twelve Apostles more and more into the foreground as against the claim of these opponents to a secret tradition, or their preference for one particular Apostle. Where one spoke of the Lord or of the Gospel, one might without irreverence add the Apostles, even in the case of the Gospels, since these took the place of the Word of the Lord. The formula, “The Books and the Apostles,” is first met with in the so-called Second Epistle of Clement (chap. xiv. 2): οὐκ οἴομαι ὑμᾶς ἀγνοεῖν ὅτι τὰ βιβλία καὶ οἰ ἀπόστολοι τὴν ἐκκλησίαν οὐ νῦν εἶναι ἀλλἀ ἄνωθεν (λέγουσιν).6565(I do not suppose that you are ignorant that the Books and the Apostles [say] that the Church is not of this world but from above.) If τὰ βιβλία means the Scriptures of the Old Testament and the Gospels, then we have here a formula already very similar to that of the Scilitan martyrs (“libri et epistolæ Pauli viri justi,” vide infra), and the same is the case if τὰ βιβλία means only the Gospels. If, however, by τὰ βιβλία the Old Testament alone is meant, then the Gospels and the Apostolus are included in the one term οἱ ἀπόστολοι, and this is the terminology that is also found in the Muratorian Fragment (lines 79 f.). But even if the author is supposed to be referring here to oral utterances of the Apostles—which is not probable because he seems to have a passage of Ephesians in his eye—the fact still remains that now “the Apostles” are placed in the same close connection with “the Scriptures” as some decades previously “the Scriptures” with “the Lord.” Actual writings of the Twelve Apostles must have been sought for with ever more yearning and longing eyes. But were they to be found? One had indeed two Epistles of John, an Apocalypse of John, one of Peter, an Epistle of Jude that could be regarded as Apostolic (vide Tertullian, De Cultu, i. 3), and perhaps an Epistle of Peter. Little, indeed, and moreover of purely individual import; and besides we do not know whether these writings were anywhere to be found collected together before A.D. 180. What one must have and had not was a book in which the acts and the teaching of all the Twelve Apostles were described. We can understand that, under these circumstances, notice was attracted by the book that, among all existing books, approached closest to this ideal—namely the Acts of the Apostles. But there is no evidence that this happened before about A.D. 175. We must therefore for the moment leave this book out of consideration. Thus there remained in fact only the Pauline Epistles: they were collected and were in circulation in many of the Churches. No doubt when one spoke of the “Apostolus” in the first three-quarters of the second century, one had these works especially, perhaps exclusively, in one’s eye.
But how far could the Lord be said to continue Himself in St Paul? This Apostle was certainly not of the number of the Twelve Apostles! To answer this question fully it would be necessary to take a wide outlook and to describe the history of the relation of St Paul to the original Apostles and the strict Jewish Christians. But it is sufficient to point out that the position which St Paul claimed and acquired in the Apostolic Age, and authenticated by his work, was one that allowed the Churches no vacillation and no compromise in their judgment. Here, indeed, it was true that “He that is not with me is against me.” One was compelled either to acknowledge Paul as an Apostle of equal rank with the Twelve or to reject him as an interloper. And yet now—after he had long been recognised and after his epistles had increased in importance, because they alone gave clear expression to the theory of the New Covenant, which more and more gained ground—his equality with the Twelve seemed to be again in question; for, seeing that he was not an eye-witness of the life of the Lord, he could not testify to the facts of His history and His nature. In addition, the confident appeal of the Marcionites and Gnostics to the Apostle must have made Churchmen nervous.6666Tertullian actually permits himself to speak of St Paul naturally ironically as “apostolus hereticorum.” But the custom of public reading of the Pauline Epistles was already far too widely spread and the prestige of the “righteous,” the “good” Apostle, the “vas electionis” was already too firmly established to receive any real shock. Besides, it was possible to legitimise Paul by means of the Twelve Apostles as they were legitimised by Christ. They had indeed recognised him as an Apostle! Such legitimisation was by no means in the sense of St Paul himself; but this point was left out of consideration. According to the theory of succession, universally accepted at that time, he to whom office was delegated was of equal authority with him that conferred the office. Thus the equation held good: God = Christ = the Twelve Apostles = Paul. But where was to be found documentary evidence of Paul’s legitimisation by the Twelve? In the Epistle to the Galatians; but that was not enough; the chapter in question could even be understood otherwise, and, besides, testimony which one gives to oneself is not trustworthy.6767Tertullian, De Præscrip., 23: “Possum et hic acta apostolorum repudiantibus dicere: prius est ut ostendatis quis iste Paulus et quid ante apostolum, et quomodo apostolus, quatenus et alias (sell. hæretici) ad quæstiones plurimum eo utantur. Neque enim si ipse se apostolum de persecutore profitetur, sufficit unicuique examinate credenti, quando nec dominus ipse de se testimonium dixerit.” The required testimony stood in the Acts of the Apostles. This fact lent the book incomparable value; there was none like it, for, without it, the “Apostle” Paul with his epistles, regarded from the standpoint of strict tradition, was left in the air; while founded upon this book his epistles were “Apostolical” in the strictest sense of the word, and he himself stood as near to Christ as did the Twelve.
(B) We have already passed on to the subject of Attestation. In the history of any of the higher religions, of those at least which depend upon demonstration and proof, there comes a moment—and that soon—when attestation becomes as important as content. If the adherents of a “new” religion present its content as identical with that of original religion, all that they have to do is simply to disperse the obscurity into which original religion has fallen among men. If, then, the new religion contains doctrinal statements that are adapted to this purpose, it is only necessary to prove their trustworthiness and all is accomplished. Such was the method of the Apologists when face to face with the heathen: their chief task was to prove the trustworthiness of the prophets who accompanied history with a long chain of witness. If the demonstration proved irrefutable, the religion was justified. Soon the same method came to the front in internal controversies among Christians. When once the history of the Kurios Christus, His Divinity and Humanity, came to occupy the centre of interest—and this already happened in the Apostolic Age—everything depended upon attestation; for the content of the message was by no means so strange to the heathen. It was not the essence of the message, “the manifested God,” that they felt to be “folly,” but its accidents, and that the “Mythus” was not to be regarded as merely symbolic, but as actual history. All attestation of historical facts is carried out by an unbroken chain of παραδιδόναι (on the part of those who are authorised) and of παραλαμβάνεσθαι. Following up the chain, the Twelve Apostles and no others could rank as the ultimate authorities for the tradition! If the content of the tradition became a matter of controversy it was necessary to find one’s way back to them, just as in the case of the message concerning God the Creator it was necessary to find one’s way to Abraham, Noah, and Adam. If it was necessary in the latter case to prove that Homer and the other Greeks were “later,” and therefore without authority, so here one must prove the same of the Gnostic teachers together with the supposed Apostolic authorities to which they appealed. With this intention, Papias made earnest and exclusive inquiry after what the Twelve Apostles had said (apart from the Gospels) concerning Christ,6868Euseb., H.E., iii. 39. These inquiries, however, do not appear to have been very fruitful, and their results seem to have been of very questionable value. and Justin presented the Gospels, even to his heathen readers—thus not to Gnostics—as memorabilia of the Apostles6969In many passages. To the Jews he presented the Johannine Apocalypse, not as the work of a Christian prophet, but as the work of an Apostle of Christ (Dial., 81).; as indeed Papias before him doubtless assigned the highest value to this character of the Gospels upon which he based his great work concerning Christ. Gospels, there-fore, which bore the name of an Apostle or a disciple of the Apostles7070Tert., De Præsc., 32: “Sicut apostoli non diversa inter se docuisserin, ita apostolici non contraria apostolis edidissent”; Advers. Marc., iv. 2, 5: “Nobis fidem ex apostolis Ioannes et Matthæus insinuant, ex apostolicis Lucas et Marcus instaurant, iisdem regulis exorsi . . . Marcus quod edidit (evangelium) Petri adfirmetur, cuius interpres Marcus. Nam et Lucæ digestum Paulo adscribere solent. Capit magistrorum videri quæ discipuli promulgarint.” acquired a new attribute: they were not only “Scriptures of the Lord,” but also “Apostolic Scriptures,” and gradually it came to be as important that they were the latter as it was that they were the former. If, however, the Gospels as Apostolic writings became so important because of their attesting power, it follows that every Apostolic writing must have become important because it could “give attestation.” Accordingly Epistles and Apocalypses, if they were Apostolic, appear in a new light. Not only their rich and various content and their aim gave them a considerable value, but they acquired a yet higher value from their origin as Apostolic works. We know that in Rome at the end of the second century all the writings of the New Testament were subsumed under the one title “Apostoli,” just as the Scriptures of the Old Testament were simply called “prophetæ” (vide supra the Muratorian Fragment) ; indeed that, perhaps, at the time of the Second Epistle of Clement, “Apostles” was already the designation for both Epistles and Gospels. When, however, this simple distinction between the new and the old collection, expressed in the term “Prophetæ-Apostoli,”7171In spite of the distinction “Prophetæ-Apostoli,” it was still assumed that the Apostles had also the prophetic character as an addition to the Apostolate; but so far as I know they are never simply called “Prophets.” had once been worked out and thoroughly settled by the Montanist controversy, then first the “Apostolic” shone forth in full glory; indeed even the words of the Lord appear now only as jewels in the monstrance of the traditio et doctrina apostolica which included all—even Gospels with the Kurios—and, in itself, expressed all that God after the time of the Old Testament had granted to mankind. The division of the new collection into two parts is secondary when compared with its unity; but this unity bears on its forefront the title “the Apostles,” not “the Lord.” What a swing round!
(C) But must not the formal addition of the Pauline Epistles, as they stood and as they were read, to the growing new Canon have presented continual difficulties? When we consider much of their content we may well suppose that this was so. Did they then come into the Canon faute de mieux or because, under the dominance of the idea of the Apostolic, ever growing in importance, the custom of public reading insensibly attached them to the Canon? Neither of these explanations is in my opinion sufficient, rather we must again take into account the canonical collections of Marcion and the Gnostics. We have already had recourse to these in answering the question how a second Canon arose in the Church. Now we must inquire whether they were not also of influence in the division of this second Canon into two parts and in determining the important position that St Paul occupies in it.
Marcion’s Canon was twofold: it comprised the Gospels and ten Pauline Epistles. The twofold paradox of the New Testament of the Church that it is twofold, and that the Pauline Epistles form so large a part of the second division, is thus foreshadowed in Marcion’s Canon. But it is also foreshadowed in the Valentinian Canon, as we may conclude from Ptolemy’s letter to Flora.7272There is no certain ground for the assumption that the Valentinians possessed any other writings in their Canon besides Gospels and Pauline Epistles. As for the Acts of the Apostles, Tertullian (De Præsc., 22), says that the heretics rejected it. In those heretical circles the reverence for St Paul was almost boundless. Origen tells us that according to the Marcionites St Paul sat on the right hand of Christ in heaven—as Christ sits on the right hand of the Father. Marcionites, among whom the Johannine Gospel had partly come into favour, or some other heretics, declared that he was the promised Paraclete.7373Orig., in Lucam Hom., 25 (iii. p. 962b): “Denique in tantam quidem dilectionis audaciam proruperunt Marcionitæ, ut nova quædam et inaudita super Paulo monstra confingerent. Aiunt enim, hoc quod scriptum est, sedere a dextris salvatoris et sinistris de Paulo et de Marcione dici, quod Paulus sedet a dextris, Marcion sedet a sinistris. Porro alii legentes: ‘Mittam vobis advocatum spiritum veritatis’ nolunt intelligere tertiam personam a patre et filio, sed apostolum Paulum.” It was, moreover, Marcion himself that, according to Esnik, taught that Christ had twice descended from Heaven; the first time to suffer and to die, the second time to call Paul and to reveal first to him the significance of His death.7474Esnik (vide my Lehrbuch d. Dogmengeschichte, 14, S. 304): “Then the second time Jesus descended in the form of His Godhead to the Lord of created things (the Demiurge) and held judgment with him concerning His death. . . . Then He left him and caught up Paul and showed him the price, and sent him to preach concerning the price for which we were bought, and that all that believe in Jesus are bought back from this righteous (God) to the good (God).” Thus Paul was the first to reveal the secret of redemption, not Jesus Himself. The bipartite division of the new Canon into “Gospel and Paul” was accordingly for Marcion a matter of course.
Could this fact have influenced the great Churches? I believe that we may well assume that it did. Were the great Churches to lag behind the heretics in reverence for St Paul? This would have meant, as things lay—i.e. it must be either one thing or the other—the surrender to them of Paul. But it appears that we also have external evidence for our assumption. We have indeed long known that Marcionite readings found their way into the ecclesiastical text of the Pauline Epistles, but now for seven years we have known that Churches actually accepted the Marcionite prefaces to the Pauline Epistles! De Bruyne has made one of the finest discoveries of later days in proving that those prefaces, which we read first in Codex Fuldensis and then in numbers of later manuscripts, are Marcionite, and that the Churches had not noticed the cloven hoof.7575“Prologues bibliques d’origine Marcionite” (Rev. Bénéd., 1907, Januar., p. 1-16), also Theol. Ztg., 1907, No. 5. Vide the copy of the prefaces in our first Appendix. But this proves only the influence of the text! No, it shows the influence of the Marcionite collection of the epistles upon the formation of the ecclesiastical collection. Are we then to suppose that it had no influence upon the idea of the collection itself as set side by side with the Gospels? Surely we may assume that this influence upon the formation of the collection goes back to a very early period. Does not this lead us back to the time of the origin of the ecclesiastical Canon? But, even if we are sceptical in regard to this piece of external testimony, it still remains true as we previously stated that what was an accomplished fact with the Marcionites and the Valentinians could not have remained without significance for the Churches.
There is, besides, another point to be considered. It is true that the speculation advanced by the author of the Muratorian Fragment7676And, we may say, countless others after him.—that Paul like John, in that he wrote letters to seven Churches, wrote really to one, thus to the universal Church—was certainly first imagined at a time when the Epistles had already found their place in the Canon, and when it was wished to justify the inclusion there of such occasional writings.7777If St Paul had happened to write to three or ten Churches instead of to seven, we may be certain that the Universal Church would have been found to have been suggested by the number. But the idea, “Apostolus ad omnes scripsit dum ad quosdam,”7878Tert., Advers. Marc., v. 17. is naturally much earlier in date. It must have made its appearance wherever men had learned to value the edifying power of the Epistles. The “catholicity” of the Epistles was clear from many passages that they contained; and even if there had been fewer passages whose general ecclesiastical importance was not of itself conspicuous and needed no artificial light, yet the Apostolus belongs to the Ecclesia and the Ecclesia to the Apostolus! When once the concept and title Apostle had been given to St Paul it could only be a question of time when his writings, whatever they contained, would be formally elevated to the plane of “ecclesiastical” Scripture. That herein the real service, which some of his Epistles had always contributed and still continued to contribute to the cause of Church order, played a certain rôle is shown by the quaint little note of the Muratorian Fragment in reference to St Paul’s Epistles to particular persons: “In ordinatione ecclesiasticæ disciplinæ sanctificatw sunt.”
But St Paul could never be “the Apostolus.” He could not give direct testimony; and certain objectionable elements, presented by the particular and occasional character and peculiarities of his Epistles and hindering their formal canonisation, remained a difficulty.7979As was felt even in the fourth and fifth centuries by the more sober theologians of the Antiochean school. This is the reason why, only twenty years before Tertullian’s famous statement concerning the Bible of the Roman Church—and therefore also of the African Church—(“Ecclesia Romana legem et prophetas cum evangelicis et apostolicis litteris miscit;8080Cf. De Baptism, 15: “Tam ex domini evangelio quam ex apostoli litteris.” It has been even conjectured that the bipartite division of the Old Testament (“Lex et Prophetae”) influenced the similar division of the New Testament; but this cannot be proved nor is it even probable, seeing that the bipartite division can be fully explained otherwise, and that the relation of “Evangelium” and “Apostolus” can be compared with that of “Law” and “Prophets” only in one aspect, while in others the parallel fails. inde potat fidem,” De Præsc., 36), African Christians, laymen, as it seems, answered the question: “Quae sunt res in capsa vestra?” with the words: “Libri et epistulæ Pauli viri iusti.” We learn that at this time in Africa the Epistles of St Paul had a place beside the sacred collection, but that the last step, by which they became fully identified with the γραφαί, had not yet been taken. Here we actually see into the process of growth of the New Testament, and that directly before its final close.8181The very peculiar formula of Tertullian: “Instrumenta divinarum rerum et sanctorum Christianorum” (De Præsc., 40), seems to give us another glimpse into the growth of the new Canon. But we cannot be sure what Tertullian means by “instrumenta sanctorum Christianorum.” The distinction between the “Scriptures” and Paul is still found in the controversial work of the Roman Caius (about A.D. 200).
The Pauline Epistles, because they were widely read, at the very beginning came as it were into Court with the claim to be constituents of the New Testament that was to be; but it was only after a slow process that they won a place beside the Canonical Scriptures, and only because of this slow process were they able to obtain and maintain a place in the Canon and finally to form its second division. But in this second division there also stood, as we learn from Irenæus, the Muratorian Fragment and Tertullian—about A.D. 180-200—that is, as soon as the Second Canon was in existence—at least 5 (6) other works: The Acts of the Apostles, two Johannine epistles, Revelation, the Epistle of Jude, and perhaps 1 Peter.82821 Concerning the last five works, we may be sure that wherever they were in circulation they would at once have been added to the new Canon as apostolic works in the strict sense of the word. Search was evidently
Polycarp, in his epistle, uses this work but does not quote it, treating it just as he does 1 Clement, while he deals otherwise with the Pauline Epistles. It is wanting in the Muratorian Fragment, and Tertullian in his earlier works does not quote it (yet it is different with Irenæus). The questions therefore arise whether Peter was regarded as the author of the work, and whether it belonged to the most ancient form of the Canon. I therefore neglect it. We may, however, assume that the Apocalypse of Peter belonged at first to the Canon, but that in Rome very soon it was objected to (vide the Muratorian Fragment. More will be said below concerning this question and the case of the Shepherd of Hermas). made for such writings, which were indeed just the kind of works that were needed for the second division of the Canon; and, therefore, even a little fugitive piece like the Epistle of Jude was accepted seeing that one could regard its author as an Apostle.8383Tertullian expressly gives him the title (De Cultu, i. 3 “[Scriptura) Enoch apud Judam apostolum testimonium possidet”). How unfortunate that so few works of the Twelve Apostles could be found and then each only giving the testimony of one Apostle! Where could a book be found that gave the testimony of all the Apostles and reproduced their teaching? The Acts of the Apostles was at once seized upon. We have already (p. 53) spoken of this book; we shall now consider it in greater detail. It did not, indeed, offer all that could be wished in accordance with the idea that governed the development of the new Canon, yet what it offered was of extraordinary importance. It stood forth as the grand fundamental document of what was primitive and apostolic and of the testimony which was now all important. From the standpoint of the early Catholic time it possessed the following advantages:
1. It was the work of that Luke who, by his work that stood in the Canon of the Gospels, was already recognised as “vir apostolicus” and a Canonical author.8484It is true that this is not brought out in the title which was given to the book. But Irenæus, the Muratorian Fragment, and Tertullian lay emphasis upon this point. Reflection upon the content of the book was the more important element in the composition of the title.
2. It described the early history of the Church in an heroic style—i.e. it bore testimony to the classical character of that history.
3. It reported speeches and testimonies of all the Apostles by the mouth of St Peter.
4. It related the missionary activity of at least one, if not two, of the primitive Apostles, an activity that could be regarded as the work of all the Apostles.
5. It described the transition from the mission to the Jews to the mission to the Gentiles, showing that it was carried out by St Peter and by the decision of the Primitive Community.
6. It legitimised St Paul (in the sense of full Apostolate), both himself and the content of his teaching, and it afforded highly desirable lines of direction for the interpretation of “difficult” passages in the Pauline Epistles according to the communis opinio of the Church.
That the book was seen in the light of these advantages is clearly proved by the statements of Irenaeus and Tertullian. With the former, St Paul and his Epistles stand simply under the defensive shadow of the Acts; their authority in history and in the Canon appears guaranteed simply by this book. Nor is it otherwise with Tertullian in passages of decisive importance.8585Vide De Præscs., 22, 23; Advers. Marc., i. 20; iv. 2-5; v. 1-3. Cf. also the passages quoted above, p. 49, note, p. 53, note. Irenæus boldly states (iii. 14, 1) that Luke was “non solum prosecutor sed et co-operarius apostolorum” (adding “maxime autem Pauli” in order to reconcile somewhat his extravagant statement with actual history). Further, the author of the Muratorian Fragment introduced the work with the audacious title: “Acta omnium apostolorum,”8686Even the title Πράξεις τῶν ἀποστόλων in the Canon claims much too much. and Tertullian roundly asserts: “Qui Acta Apostolorum non recipiunt nec Spiritus sancti esse possunt.” Here we see clearly in what high estimation the book stood, what was desired of it, and with what determined purpose it was made the most of by inserting it between the Gospels and the Pauline Epistles. And yet we must recognise that according to the testimony of Tertullian the book did not stand in the Canon of the Gnostics, that the Eucratites also rejected it,8787Euseb., H.E., iv. 30, 5: μὴ τὰς Πράξεις τῶν Ἀποστόλων καταδεχόμενοι. that before the Lime of Irenæus and the Muratorian Fragment there is not even a shred of evidence that it was used in public lection or had any aspirations in the direction of inclusion in the growing Canon;8888We have no knowledge, or as good as no knowledge, of the Acts before it makes its appearance in the New Testament. finally, that the book was not of a kind that from any point of view would entitle it to be included in a collection of authoritative works, under circumstances as they existed between the years A.D. 70 and 170. Taking all these points into consideration, we must conclude that the placing of this book in the growing Canon shows evidence of reflection, of conscious purpose, of a strong hand acting with authority; and that by such conscious action the ideal Canon, in outline at least, was realised in the form of the bipartite New Testament both Apostolic and Catholic.
The small collection of Apostolic-Catholic epistles took its place in the Canon by a process parallel to that of the Acts. In the Canon they both serve the same aim; the former, as it were, by their own inborn right—yet to a limited extent because they were so few and so short; the Acts, however, was thrust into its position, and, rightly exploited, could fulfil the aim in a high degree.
The Acts is in a certain way the key to the understanding of the idea of the New Testament of the Church, and has given it the organic structure in which it stands before us. By taking its place at the head of the “Apostolus” the Acts first made possible the division of the Canon into two parts and justified the combination of the Pauline Epistles with the Gospels. It is also possible to speak of a threefold division, in which the Acts (together with the Catholic Epistles and Revelation) formed the central portion.
The Acts of the Apostles proves that the New Testament is “late,” i.e. that in its form it belongs to a period not earlier than the end of the second century. So far as its constituent works are concerned it is earlier, for these for a considerable time had been used in public lection (even if not regularly) and the Gospels for decades had held a position close to, and of equal prestige with, the Old Testament. Hence the transition from the earlier condition of things to the “New Testament” was for many Churches scarcely noticeable.
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