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THE TEXT OF THE NEW
CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT.-DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE DISPUTED AND THE UNDISPUTED BOOKS.
THE Canon of the New Testament is a collection of books written by the apostles; or by men who were companions of the apostles, and who wrote under their inspection.
These books are called the Canon, from a Greek word which signifies a rule, because to a christian they constitute the only proper and sufficient rule of faith and practice.
These books are also called The Scriptures, or The Writings, because these Writings are held by christians in the highest estimation. They are the Scriptures of the New Testament, or, more properly speaking, of the New Covenant, because they contain a complete account of the christian dispensation, which is described as a covenant, by which Almighty God engages to bestow eternal life upon the penitent and virtuous believer in Christ. For this reason the christian scriptures, and
particularly the books which contain the history of Jesus Christ, are called the Gospel, or Good news, as these sacred writings contain the best tidings which could be communicated to mankind.
The Canon of Scripture is either the Received Canon or the True.
The Received Canon comprehends the whole of that collection of books which is contained in the New Testament, and which are generally received by christians as of apostolical authority. The True Canon consists of those books only, the genuineness of which is established upon satisfactory evidence.
When, or by whom, the received Canon was formed is not certainly known. It has been commonly believed that it was fixed by the council of Laodicea A. D. 364, but this is certainly a mistake. The first catalogue of canonical books, which is now extant, was drawn up by Origen A. D. 210. It leaves out the Epistles of James and Jude.
The genuineness and authority of every book in the New Testament rest upon its own specific evidence. No person, nor any body of men, has any right authoritatively to determine concerning any book, that it is canonical and of apostolical authority. Every sincere and diligent inquirer has a right to judge for himself, after due examination, what he is to receive as the rule of his faith and practice.
The most important distinction of the books of the New Testament, is that mentioned by Eusebius, bishop of Cesarea, in the third book of his Ecclesiastical History. He distinguishes them into the books which were universally acknowledged, and those, which, though generally received, were by some disputed.
The books universally acknowledged are, the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, thirteen Epistles of Paul, the first Epistle of Peter, and the first Epistle of John. These only,' says Dr. Lardner, 'should be of the highest authority, from which doctrines of religion may be proved.'
The disputed books are, the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Epistle of James, the second of Peter, the second and third of John, the Epistle of Jude, and the Revelation. These,' says Dr. Lardner, 'should be allowed to be publicly read in christian assemblies, for the edification of the people, but not be alleged as affording alone sufficient proof of any doctrine.'
These distinctions prove the great pains which were taken by the primitive christians in forming the Canon, and their solicitude, not to admit any book into the code of the New Testament, of the genuineness of which they had not the clearest evidence. It is a distinction of great importance to all, who desire to appreciate rightly the value and authority of the several books, which compose the received Canon.
BRIEF ACCOUNT OF THE RECEIVED TEXT.-EDITIONS OF THE GREEK TESTAMENT BY CARDINAL XIMENES, ERASMUS ROBERT STEPHENS, BEZA, AND ELZEVIR.
A TEXT perfectly correct, that is, which shall in every particular exactly correspond with the autographs (the original manuscripts) of the apostles and evangelists, is not to be expected. We must content ourselves with
approximating as nearly as possible to the original. The utility of this is too obvious to need either proof or illustration.
The Received Text of the New Testament is that which is in general use.
The degree of credit which is due to the accuracy of the Received Text will appear from the following brief letail of facts.
The New Testament was originally written in Greek : perhaps with the exception of the Gospel of Matthew, and the Epistle to the Hebrews; of which books, however, the earliest copies extant are in the Greek language.
Previously to the Reformation in the sixteenth century, the Greek copies were grown into disuse: the priests used an imperfect Latin translation in the public offices of religion, and all translations into the vulgar tongue for the use of the common people were prohibited or discouraged.
In the beginning of the sixteenth century, Cardinal Ximenes printed, at Alcala in Spain, a magnificent edition of the whole Bible in several languages. In this edition was contained a copy of the New Testament in Greek; which was made from a collation of various manuscripts, which were then thought to be of great authority, but which are now known to have been of little value. This edition, which is commonly called the Complutensian Polyglot, from Complutum, the Roman name for Alcala, was not licensed for publication till A. D. 1522, though it had been printed many years before. The manuscripts from which it was published are now irrecoverably lost, having been sold by the librarian to a rocket-maker about the year 1750.
A. D. 1516, Erasmus, residing at Basle in Switzerland, for the purpose of superintending the publication of the works of Jerome, was employed by Froben the printer, to publish an edition of the Greek Testament, from a few manuscripts which he found in the vicinity of that city, all of which were modern and comparatively of little value. Erasmus was not allowed time sufficient to revise the publication with that attention and care, which the importance of the work required: he complains that the persons whom he employed to correct the press, sometimes altered the copy without his permission, and he acknowledges that his first edition was very incorrect. He published a fourth edition A. D. 1527, in which, to obviate the clamor of bigots, he introduced many alterations to make it agree with the edition of Cardinal Ximenes.
A. D. 1550, Robert Stephens, a learned printer at Paris, published a splendid edition of the New Testament in Greek ; in which he availed himself of the Complutensian Polyglot, and likewise of the permission granted by the king of France to collate fifteen manuscripts in the Royal Library. Most of these manuscripts are to this day in the National or Imperial Library at Paris, and are found to contain only parts of the New Testament; and few of them are either of great antiquity or of much value. They were collated and the various readings noted by Henry Stephens, the son of Robert, a youth about eighteen years of age. This book, being splendidly printed, with great professions of accuracy by the editor, was long supposed to be a correct and immaculate work: but upon closer inspection it has been discovered to abound with errors. The text, excepting the Revelation, in which he follows