BLTC Press Titles

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The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas

The Secret Doctrine, Volume II Anthropogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky

Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman

The Characters of Theophrastus


Dogmatic theology

by William Greenough Thayer Shedd


Vol. I., p. 74. Augustine teaches the inerrancy of Scripture in explicit terms. "It seems to me that most disastrous consequences must follow upon our believing that anything false is found in the sacred books; that is to say, that the men by whom the Scriptures have been given to us, and committed to writing, did put down in these books anything false. It is one question whether it may be at any time the duty of a good man to deceive; but it is another question whether it can have been the duty of a writer of Holy Scripture to deceive—nay, it is no question at all. For if you once admit into such a high sanctuary of authority one false statement as officially made, there will not be left a single sentence of those books which, if appearing to any one difficult in practice or hard to believe, may not by the same fatal rule be explained away, as a statement in which, intentionally, and under a sense of duty, the author declared what was not true" (Letter xxviii., 3. To Jerome, A.d. 394). "I have learned to yield such [absolute] respect and honor only to the canonical books of Scripture; of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it. As to all other writings, in reading them, however great the superiority of the authors to myself in sanctity and learning, I do not accept their teaching as true on the mere ground of the opinion being held by them; but only because they have succeeded in convincing my judgment of its truth either by means of these canonical writings themselves, or by arguments addressed to my reason" (Letter Ixxxii., 3. To Jerome, A.d. 405). "The Manichaeans maintain that the greater part of the New Testament, by which their wicked error is confuted in the most explicit terms, is not worthy of credit, because they cannot pervert its language so as to support their opinions. Yet they lay the blame of the alleged mistake not upon the apostles who originally wrote the words, but upon some unknown corraptors of the manuscripts. Forasmuch, however, as they have never succeeded in proving this by earlier manuscripts, or by appealing to the original language from which the Latin translations have been made, they retire from the debate vanquished by truth which is well known to all" (Letter Ixxxii., 6). "If you recall to memory the opinion of our Ambrose and Cyprian on the point in question, you will find that I have had some in whose footsteps I have followed in what I have maintained. At the same time, as I said already, it is to the canonical Scriptures alone that I am bound to yield such implicit subjection as to follow their teaching without admitting the slightest suspicion that in them any mistake, or any statement intended to mislead, would find a place" (Letter Ixxxii., 24).

Vol. I., p. 82. Two general answers have been given to the question respecting the origin of the four Gospels. 1. The oldest and most universal is, that they had an apostolical origin, being composed by the four authors whose names they bear, who derived their information, two of them immediately and two of them mediately, from personal intercourse with Jesus Christ during his ministry upon earth. Two of them, Matthew and John, belonged to that company of "Twelve Apostles" who were specially called and supernaturally endowed by Christ to be the founders of the Christian Church (Matt. 10 : 1-16; Eph. 2: 20); and two of them, Mark and Luke, were secretaries under the superintendence of Peter and Paul, who also belonged to the apostolic college. That Paul was one of "The Twelve" is proved by Eom. 1: 1; 1 Cor. 1: 1; 9 : 1; 15: 3; Gal. 1: 1, et alia. According to this traditional view, each of the four Gospels has an individual origin like secular writings generally. As Plato was the author of the Pha;do, and Thucydides of the History of the Peloponnesian War, so Matthew was the author of the first Gospel, PeterMark of the second, Paul-Luke of the third, and John of the fourth. 2. The second and latest answer is, that the four Gospels had an ecclesiastical origin. They sprang from oral traditions concerning Christ that were current in the first Christian brotherhood, and were gradually collected and combined by persons whose names are unknown. This view has been invented by the rationalistic and pseudocritical schools, in opposition to the historical and catholic, and has done more than anything else to destroy confidence in the inspiration and infallibility of the life of Jesus Christ as recorded by the four Evangelists. The unproven assumptions and innumerable hypotheses which have characterized the rationalistic schools of Biblical criticism in Germany since the time of Semler are due to the substitution of the ecclesiastical origin of the Gospels for the apostolic. So long as the life of Christ is referred to four known and authorized persons, who from Justin Martyr down are quoted by all the Fathers as the inspired writers of the Gospels, there is no room for fancy and conjectm"e respecting its origin. The testimony of the whole patristic literature can be cited to substantiate this view. But the moment it is surrendered and the Gospels are ascribed to unknown and unauthorized persons who glean from the legends of the Church, the way is opened for capricious conjectures and assumptions for which no proof can be furnished from the original manuscripts of the Gospels, or from the writings of the primitive Fathers and the history of the first centuries of the Christian Church, and which have to be accepted upon the mere assertion and assurance of their inventors. Of late years, and particularly at the present moment, the rationalistic theory has worked itself considerably into the Church, and is adopted by some otherwise evangelical scholars. There is, indeed, a difference in spirit and intention between the rationalistic and the "evangelical" critics who adopt the theory of a legendary origin of the Gospels; between Baur and Strauss, and Bleek and Weiss; but the fatal error of deriving the life of Christ from unauthorized, uninspired, and unknown sources cleaves to both alike. And the actual influence of the "evangelical" critic of this class is more unsettling upon the belief of the Church than that of the rationalist and skeptic, because error in a believer has more influence within the Church than error in an unbeliever has. There will be no improvement in this "evangelical" class of exegetes until there is a return to the apostolical origin of the Gospels. We present the following objections to the ecclesiastical origin of the Gospels:

1. It was not the view adopted by the Ancient Church, which was nearest in time to the composition of the Gospels. In classical philology, the consensus of the earliest ages weighs more than the hypothesis of a late critic or school respecting the authorship of the Iliad and iEneid, and the Greek and Latin literature generally. Philologists of all ages have accepted these works as the productions of the individual authors whose names have from the beginning been associated with them, and not of unknown collectors and editors, because of historical traditions that are as ancient as those which ascribe the Gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. An attempt to set aside the traditional testimony and to substitute for it the unproven conjecture of a modern philologist, that the Platonic writings are not the work of the individual Plato, but of a circle of unknown editors of oral traditions about the teachings of Socrates, would meet with no credit. The answer would be, that the ancient opinion is far more probable than the modern, because coming from centuries that had better facilities than the nineteenth for determining the authorship of poems and histories composed two thousand years ago.

The Ancient Church, with a unanimity even greater, perhaps, than upon any of the purely dogmatic questions that arose among them, believed that the Gospels had an apostolical origin, not an ecclesiastical; that they were narratives of the life of Christ prepared by those persons who "companied together all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out, beginning from the baptism of John unto that same day that he was taken up," and who were "ordained to be witnesses of his resurrection " (Acts 1: 21, 22). The details of the proof of this cannot be given here. It was first collected and combined by Eusebius, and since the Reformation has often and again been collected and restated by a multitude of learned scholars like Lardner and Michaelis. The Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, IrenaGUs, Tertullian, Cyprian, Origen, Eusebius, Jerome, and Augustine, represent the opinion of the Ancient Church, and they uniformly ascribe the four Gospels to the four biographers whose names then as now were connected with them in the Church generally. These Fathers knew nothing of a canonical and commonly accepted life of Christ composed by unknown persons out of ecclesiastical legends. The apocryphal Gospels, which were constructed in this way, they carefully distinguished from the canonical, and rejected as not authoritative for the Church. Some of the Fathers, like Origen and Jerome, were trained philologists, and others, like Irenaeus and Augustine, were men of strong and clear minds and competent to weigh testimony, and none of them adopts such a theory as the one in question. If there had been such editors and authors they would have been contemporary with some of these Fathers, and would have been both mentioned and combated in their writings.

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