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872
[N.T. CANON
BIBLE

Much has been written on the chronology of the kings and many endeavours have been made to readjust the Biblical figures so as to bring them into consistency with themselves and at the same time into conformity with the Assyrian dates. But, though the fact of there being errors in the Biblical figures is patent, it is not equally clear at what points the error lies, or how the available years ought to be redistributed between the various reigns. It is in any case evident that the accession of Jehu and Athaliah must be brought down from 884 to 842 B.C.; and this will involve, naturally, a corresponding reduction of the dates of the previous kings of both kingdoms, and of course, at the same time, of those of Solomon, David and Saul. The difficulty is, however, greatest in the 8th century. Here, in Judah, from the accession of Athaliah to the accession of Ahaz, tradition gives 143 years, whereas, in fact, there were but 106 years (842-736); and in Israel, from the death of Menahem to the fall of Samaria, it gives 31 years, whereas from 738 (assuming that Menahem died in that year) to 722 there are actually only 16 years. The years assigned by tradition to the reigns in both kingdoms in the middle part of the 8th century B.C. have thus to be materially reduced. But in the following period, from the fall of Samaria in 722 to the capture of Jerusalem by the Chaldaeans in 586, the Biblical dates, so far as we can judge, are substantially correct. (See further the table above.)

4. From the Destruction of Jerusalem in 586 to the close of the Old Testament History.—Here, though it is true that there are events in the Biblical history which are not fully or unambiguously dated, there is otherwise no difficulty. The lengths of the reigns of Nebuchadrezzar and his successors on the throne of Babylon, and also, after the conquest of Babylon, of Cyrus and the following Persian kings, are known from the “Canon of Ptolemy,” referred to above, the particulars in which, for the earlier part of this period, are also confirmed by the testimony of the monuments.

See, for further information on the subject, the article Chronology, and the same heading in the Encyclopedia Biblica, cols. 773-799, with the literature referred to on col. 819 (especially the writings of Nöldeke, Wellhausen, and Kamphausen there mentioned).

 (S. R. D.) 


(B) New Testament.

1. Canon.

The New Testament is the collection of the Sacred Books of Christians. It forms in the Bible the distinctive possession of Christians, just as the Old Testament is the collection of Sacred Books which Christians share with Jews. Every term in the definition is significant and has a history. There are, first, the Books; then, the Collection; then, the Sacred Volume, complete as such in idea, though not as yet complete in its actual contents; and, lastly, the Sacred Volume in its full dimensions, as it has come down to us.

There is a double development, of quality and of quantity; of quality, as to the estimate formed of the books, their increasing recognition as sacred; and of quantity, by which the books so recognized were gradually brought up to their present number. Our duty will be to describe this double process, and we shall do so under the four heads: (α) The Growth of a specifically Christian Literature; (β) The Collection of the Books into a single volume, made up of ordered groups; (γ) The investing of this volume with the character of a Sacred Book; and (δ) The gradual settlement by which the volume assumed its present dimensions, neither less nor more.

The model throughout was the Old Testament. The result was attained when there was a definite volume called the New Testament by the side of the earlier volume called the Old Testament, complete like it, and like it endowed with the attributes of a Sacred Book. This is the consummation towards which events had been steadily moving—not at first consciously, for it was some time before the tendencies at work were consciously realized—but ending at last in the complete equation of Old Testament and New, and in the bracketing together of both as the first and second volumes of a single Bible. This is the process that we shall have to describe. And because the process before us is the gradual assimilation of New Testament and Old Testament, we shall have to include at each step all that bears upon this. For instance, at starting, it will not be enough for us simply to tell the story how the Books of the New Testament came to be written, but we shall have to point out what there was about them which fitted them to be what they afterwards became, what inherent qualities they possessed which suggested the estimate ultimately put upon them; in others words, how they came to be not only a collection of Christian books, but a collection of Christian sacred books, or part of a Bible.

(α) The Growth of a Christian Literature. 1. The Pauline Epistles.—The Bible of Jesus and His disciples was the Old Testament. And both Jesus and His disciples were to all appearance content with this. It was probably two full decades after the death of Christ before there were any specifically Christian writings at all. The first generation of Christians was not given to writing. There was not only no obvious reason why it should write, but there was a positive reason why it should not write. This reason lay in the dominant attitude of Christians, which was what we call “eschatological.” The first generation of Christians lived in the daily expectation that Christ would return from heaven. The truth is, that not only were Christians expecting (as we say) the Second Coming of the Messiah, but what they expected was the Coming. The Messiah, as all Jews conceived of Him, was a superhuman being; and His First Coming as a man among men did not count as really Messianic. The whole first generation of Christians looked intently for His Coming in power and great glory, which they believed to be near at hand. In such a state of mind as this there was no motive for seeking permanence by writing. Men who imagined that they might at any moment be caught up to meet the Lord in the air were not likely to take steps for the instruction of the generations that might come after them.

Hence the first Christian writings were no deliberate product of theologians who supposed themselves to be laying the foundation of a sacred volume. They were not an outcome of the dominant tendencies of the time, but they arose rather in spite of them, in the simplest way, just from the practical needs of the moment.

It was thus that St Paul came to write his two epistles to the Thessalonians, the oldest Christian documents that we possess. By this time he was launched on his missionary labours; he had founded a number of churches, and he was going on to found others. And these earliest epistles are just the substitute for his personal presence, advice which he took occasion to send to his converts after he had left them. There are a few indications that he had sent similar communications to other churches before, but these have not been preserved. Indeed the wonder is—and it is a testimony to the strength of the impression which St Paul left upon all with whom he came into contact—that these missionary letters of his should have begun to be preserved so soon.

Both Epistles to the Thessalonians have for their object to calm somewhat the excited expectations of which we have spoken.

The first Epistle hits exactly the prominent features in the situation, when it reminds the Thessalonians how they had “turned unto God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven,” who would deliver them from the wrath to come (1 Thess. i. 9, 10). The turning from idols was of course peculiar to the Gentile communities, but the waiting for the Messiah from heaven was common to all Christians, whatever their origin. In this we may take the epistle as typical of the state of the whole Church at the time. And there is another important passage which shows why, in spite of its natural and occasional character, the epistle exhibits the germs of that essential quality which caused all the books of the New Testament to be so highly estimated. The apostle again reminds his readers how they had received his preaching “not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God,” which showed its power by the way in which it took hold of those who believed in it (1 Thess. ii. 13). The reference is of