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876
[N.T. CANON
BIBLE

eccentric, but the writers must have been persons of some note. Outside this group would come what are called the Apocryphal Gospels and Acts (Gospel according to Hebrews, according to Egyptians, of Peter, of Truth, of the Twelve [or Ebionite Gospel], the recently recovered so-called Logia; the Gospel of Nicodemus, the Protevangelium of James, the Gospel of Thomas, the Acts of Pilate, Acts of Paul, Peter, John, Andrew, Thomas; the Preaching of Peter, the Apocalypse of Peter). As the 2nd century wears on, we come to controversial or philosophical works by Agrippa, Castor, Quadratus, Aristides. With the middle of the century we reach a considerable writer in Justin Martyr. With him the twilight period which succeeds to the apostolic age is over, and we enter upon the main course of ecclesiastical history. At this point, therefore, our survey may end.

(β) The Process of Discrimination and Collection, 1. Discrimination.—Throughout the apostolic age Christians were conscious of being carried forward in a great movement, the origin and motive-power of which they regarded as supernatural. It began on the Day of Pentecost, but continued in full tide almost to the end of the 1st century, and, even when it began to subside, it did so quite gradually. The moment of transition is clearly marked in the Didachē, where the charismatic ministry of “apostles and prophets” is beginning to give place to permanent local officials of the Church, bishops, presbyters and deacons. The literature that we now call the New Testament held its place because it was regarded as a product of the palmy days of that great movement. It was considered to be the work of inspired men, of men whom the Holy Spirit, at that time specially active in the Church, had chosen as its organs. We have seen how St Paul, for instance, fully believed that his own preaching had a force behind it which vindicated for it the claim to be “the word of God” (1 Thess. ii. 13); and it was inevitable that the other preachers and teachers should have had in different degrees something of the same consciousness. This consciousness receives perhaps its strongest expression in the Apocalypse.

There is really no contradiction between this sense of a high calling and mission, with a special endowment corresponding to it, and the other fact that the writings from this age that have come down to us are all (except perhaps the Apocalypse, and even the Apocalypse, in some degree, as we see by the letters to the Seven Churches) strictly occasional and natural in their origin. The lives and actions of apostles and prophets were in their general tenor like those of other men; it was only that, for the particular purpose of their mission, they found themselves carried beyond and above themselves. St Paul himself knew when he was speaking by the Spirit, and when he was not; and we too can recognize to some extent when the afflatus comes upon him. It is fortunate that this should be so clearly marked in his epistles, because it enables us to argue by analogy to the other writers. When we come to historical books like the third Gospel and the Acts, we find the writer just pursuing the ordinary methods of history, and not claiming to do anything more (Luke i. 1-4). With the methods of history, these writers were naturally exposed to the risks and chances of error attendant upon those methods. There was hot at first among the writers any idea that they were composing an infallible narrative. The freedom with which they used each other’s work, and with which the early texts were transmitted, excludes this. But there was the idea that the whole movement of the Church to which they gave expression was in a special sense divine. And this belief was the fundamental principle that determined the marking off of the writings of the first, or apostolic, age from the rest.

At the same time it must not be supposed that a hard and fast line can be drawn beyond which the spiritual stimulus of this first age ceased. The writings of Clement of Rome (A.D. 97) and of Ignatius (c. A.D. 110) mark the transition. Ignatius, for instance, clearly distinguishes between his own position and that of the apostles: “I do not enjoin you. as Peter and Paul did. They were Apostles, I am a convict; they were free, but I am a slave to this very hour” (Rom. iv. 3). And yet, none the less, Ignatius is conscious of acting and speaking at times from a kind of inspiration. “Even though certain persons desired to deceive me after the flesh, yet the spirit is not deceived, being from God; for it knoweth whence it cometh and where it goeth, and it searcheth out the hidden things. I cried out, when I was among you; I spake with a loud voice, with God’s own voice, give ye heed to the bishops, and the presbyters and deacons” (Philadelph. vii. 1). In like manner Clement, in two places (lix. 1, lxiii. 2), writes as though God were speaking through him.

2. Collection.—Concurrently with the tendency to discriminate between the higher authority of certain writings and the lower authority of others, there was also a tendency to collect and group together writings of the first class. The earliest example of this tendency is in the case of the Pauline Epistles. Marcion, we know (c. A.D. 140), had a collection of ten out of thirteen, in the order, Gal., 1 and 2 Cor., Rom., 1 and 2 Thess., Laodic. (= Eph.), Col., Phil., Philem. We observe that the Pastorals are omitted. But it is highly probable that the collection went back a full generation before Marcion. The short Epistle of Polycarp contains references or allusions to no less than nine out of the thirteen epistles, including 2 Thess., Eph., 1 and 2 Tim. Ignatius, writing just before, gives clear indications of six, including 1 Tim. and Titus. The inference lies near at hand that both writers had access to the full collection of thirteen, not omitting the Pastorals. Polycarp (ad Phil. xiii. 2) shows how strong was the interest in collecting the writings of eminent men.

It of course did not follow that, because the letters of St Paul were collected, they were therefore regarded as sacred. The feeling towards them at first would be simply an instinct of respect and deference; but we have seen above that the essential conditions of the higher estimate were present all along, and were only waiting to be recognized as soon as reflective thought was turned upon them. This process appears to have been going on throughout the middle years of the 2nd century.

The famous passage of Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. iii. 15. 8) assumes the possession by the Church of four authoritative Gospels and no more. This is the general view of the Church of his time, except the little clique known as the Alogi who rejected the Fourth Gospel, and Marcion, who only recognized St Luke. But here again, we may go back some way farther. Irenaeus writes (c. A.D. 185) as though the Four Gospels had held the field as far back as he can remember. About A.D. 170 Tatian, the disciple of Justin, composed out of these Gospels his Diatessaron. If Justin used any other Gospel, his use of it was very subordinate. Practically we may say that the estimate of the Four to which Tatian and Irenaeus testify must have been well established by the middle of the century, though sporadic instances may be found of the use of other Gospels that did not become canonical. The sifting out of these was proceeding steadily and gradually, and by the end of the century it may be regarded as complete.

We must make allowance for the existence of this margin, and for the blurring of the boundary-line that goes along with it. We cannot claim for the Church absolute sureness of judgment as to what falls on one side of the line and what on the other. It is possible, e.g., that a mistake has been made in the case of 2 Peter, which, however, is edifying enough. It is not less possible that writings like 1 Clem, and Epp. Ignat. are not inferior in real religious value to the Epistle of Jude. But, broadly speaking, the judgment of the early Church has been endorsed by that of after ages.

Harnack raises an interesting question (Reden u. Aufsätze. ii. 239 ff.), how it came about that Four Gospels were recognized, and not only one. There are many indications early in the 2nd century of a tendency towards the recognition of a single Gospel; for instance, there are the local Gospels according to Hebrews, according to Egyptians; Marcion had but one Gospel, St Luke, the Valentinians preferred St John and so on; Tatian reduced the Four Gospels to one by means of a Harmony, and it is possible that something of the kind may have existed before he did this. There is probably some truth in the view that the Church clung to its Four Gospels as a weapon against Gnosticism; it could not afford to reduce the number of its documents. But, over and above this, there was probably something in the circumstances in which the