The Nestorians and their Rituals/Volume 2/Chapter 10



Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.

Of the Names and Number of the Canonical Books.

The First Book of Samuel,
The Second Book of Samuel,
The First Book of Kings,
The Second Book of Kings,

The First Book of Chronicles,
The Second Book of Chronicles,
The First Book of Esdras,
The Second Book of Esdras,
The Book of Esther
The Book of Job,
The Psalms,
The Proverbs,
Ecclesiastes or Preacher,
Cantica, or Songs of Solomon,
Four Prophets the greater,
Twelve Prophets the less.

And the other Books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine; such are these following:

The Third Book of Esdras,
The Fourth Book of Esdras,
The Book of Tobias,
The Book of Judith,
The rest of the Book of Esther,
The Book of Wisdom,
Jesus the Son of Sirach,

Baruch the Prophet,
The Song of the Three Children,
The Story of Susanna,
Of Bell and the Dragon,
The Prayer of Manasses,
The First Book of Maccabees,
The Second Book of Maccabees,

All the Books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive, and account them Canonical."—Article VI.

§ 1. "Meditation on the things written in the Holy Scriptures is good and profitable to such as rightly study them. Ye schoolmen [literally scholastics from the Greek,] suffer not your minds to wander after vanity by giving up the reading of the Sacred Scriptures; but write upon your hearts the true doctrine contained in them, not on wooden or dumb tables which cannot speak. Meditate in the hidden mystery of the Bible, and do not regard only the visible blackness of the ink; but seek from Christ, the Wise Physician, that He may shed abroad His mercy and compassion in the souls of those who worship and serve Him." From the service appointed in the Gezza for the commemoration of the Syrian Doctors.

§ 2. "My brethren, the Holy Scriptures are a well-spring of life; every soul that drinks of them with discernment shall never die." From the Warda, on the Advantages of Learning; adapted to the Lenten season, and to the Baootha d'Ninwâyé.

§ 3. "Let all the clergy and laymen possess the adorable and Sacred Scriptures, viz. the Old Testament containing the following: of

Moses, five Books.
Joshua, the son of Nun, one book.
Ruth, one book.
Kings, four books.
Chronicles, two books.
Ezra, two books.
Esther, one book.
Judith, one book.

Maccabees, three books.
Job, one book.
Psalms, one book.
Solomon, five books.
Twelve Prophets, one book.
Isaiah, one book.
Jeremiah, one book.
Ezekiel, one book.
Daniel, one book.

"And besides the above let your children be instructed in the Wisdom of the very wise Sirach, called in Syriac Bar Sira; but particularly in the New Testament which is ours also, and which contains

The four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Fourteen Epistles of Paul.
One Epistle of James.
Three Epistles of John.
One Epistle of Jude.
Two Epistles of Peter.

"And the Τάξεις which were written to you, Bishops, by me Clemens, containing eight epistles, and which are not to be laid open to all on account of the mysteries which are contained in them. And the Acts of the Apostles which we also possess." From the Sinhadòs, and given as Can. lxxxiii. of the Canons ascribed to Clemens the disciple of the Apostles.

§ 4. "… Not only have I heard of these things by the hearing of the ear, but I myself have also read of these things and despised them. I have read the books of the Two Covenants of Almighty God, and have not ordered my goings according to what is contained therein. I have read the Law comprised in the Five books of Moses; and have not cleansed my five inward and outward senses. I have read the book of the righteous Job, that man of suffering; and have not been willing to endure the pain of the soul for my sins. I have read the book of the Judges, who judged Israel for a short space; but I have not considered that endless judgment which shall be passed upon my folly. I have read of David and Jonathan the true; but I have not resembled them in their pure attachment, and sincere friendship. I have read of the foolish Saul who hated David, but I have not cast away from me the hatred wherewith I wrongly hate my neighbour. I have read of Amnon, the incestuous, who ravished his sister; but I have not restrained myself from adroitly stealing the bread which did not belong to me. I have read the one hundred and fifty Psalms sung by David; but I have been unwilling to sing the praises of the Lord, who formed me and created me out of the dust. I have read in the books of Wisdom,[1] the Proverbs, and Leviticus;[2] but I would not receive correction from their godly words. I have read of Elijah and Elisha, prophets of the Spirit; but I have not wondered at my actions towards the living and the dead. I have read in the Twelve Prophets of the Lord, Who uttered mysterious things; but my twelve inward and outward motions have not been joined in concord. I have read in Jeremiah, who was sanctified from the womb; but I have not become a whit holy either in body or in soul. I have read the mysteries and visions of Ezekiel; but I have not humbled my soul under the chariot of the law of the Lord God of Sabaoth. I have read the account of Daniel, and his interpretation of dreams; but I have not ceased from my brutishness, and have hated confidence and peace. I have read of Ananias, Azarias, and Misael; but the vile and hidden fire of lust in my members has not been cooled. I have read in Judith and Ezra the scribe, in Mordecai and Esther; but I have not received the least reproof from their excellent narratives. I have read in the Chronicles, and in the Building of the House, and in the Maccabees; but I have not turned back from those evils into which the Wicked one has cast me." From a hymn in the Warda adapted to the season of Lent.

See also Appendix A. Part I. and II.


I have not been able to find a passage of similar import with the opening clause of our sixth Article; nevertheless, theoretically at least, the doctrine is maintained by the Nestorians, that "whatsoever is not read in holy Scripture, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed in as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation." Moreover, their reverence for the supreme authority of the Bible is not confined to the support which the ancient writers among them adduce from its declarations in their expositions of Christian truth; but by a Canon quoted under Article XXIV. it is made incumbent upon all pastors, and fathers of families, to instruct those under their care in the fear of the Lord as contained in the Word of God, and the ordinance ends with this strong sentence: "We must revere the teaching of our Lord above our life, and whosoever is neglectful of these things is the enemy of Christ, and is under the interdiction of our Lord's word, and let such an one be held in no esteem in the Church."

The Nestorian clergy of the present day make no objection whatever to the reading of the Scriptures by their people; on the contrary, the more intelligent evince a laudable anxiety that the word of God may have free course among them, and be glorified. It is much to be regretted, however, that so few among them can read, and that fewer still are able to understand what they read. Manuscript copies of the Bible are very rare, but the stock of Syro-Chaldaic (so-called) Gospels from the press of the British and Foreign Bible Society which I brought out with me into Mesopotamia and Coordistan was soon distributed among importunate applicants. The American Independent missionaries at Ooroomiah have lately published the New Testament entire, but the Old Testament in Syro-Chaldaic has never yet been printed, and the few Nestorians who are able to do so peruse the Law and the Prophets in the Syriac version used by the Jacobites, which is printed in a character difiering considerably from their own. It would be an undertaking worthy of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge if they were to supply this desideratum, and further aid this interesting community in their inquiries after the truth, by publishing for them a concordance of the sacred Scriptures, on the plan of Cruden, a work much needed, and which many Chaldeans as well as Nestorians have expressed a great desire to possess.

It is to be hoped, however, that if this venerable Society enter upon so charitable a work, they will avoid the error and inconsistency into which the London Bible Society have fallen in their edition of the Syriac Bible. The New Testament of this version was originally printed after the order of the Jacobite Lectionaries, in which each lesson is headed with the title of the commemoration on which it is appointed to be read in the churches. Finding, as it appears, that some of these headings had reference to prayers for the dead, and other doctrines deemed erroneous, slips of paper bearing different readings were pasted over the original titles, and thus the edition became neither the plain letter of Scripture nor the scriptural lectionary of the Jacobites. This fact was brought to my notice by many of the Jacobites at Mosul, who were very indignant at the liberty taken with their Church books, and a deacon in my presence tore off several of the slips from one of these patched bibles. To give an instance of the object aimed at by this singular proceeding on the part of the Bible Society, I refer to page 34, where the slip bore the following: "For the second service of the Nocturn of Passion Tuesday, and for [the festival of] Stephen." Underneath this the original print ran thus: "For the second service of the Nocturn of Passion Tuesday, and for [the festival of] Mar [i.e., Saint] Stephen." So that all this trouble, in this instance at least, was taken to deny to the disciple Stephen the title of "Saint!"

It is further to be hoped, that should the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge determine to confer so great a benefit upon the Nestorians as to print an entire edition of the sacred Scriptures for their use, they will also include the Apocrypha, or publish the latter in a separate volume. The doctrine of the Church of England regarding the uncanonical books therein contained may easily be made known by the publication of the sixth Article in the opening of the volume, or on the cover. It is a matter of surprise, and in many instances a stumbling-block to the Christians of the East, that whereas in the Book of Common Prayer many lessons from the Apocrypha are appointed to be read, in those copies of the Bible which reach them from England none of the Apocryphal books are to be found.

With respect to the Canon of holy Scripture, it will be seen from the extracts above adduced that although neither of the three lists therein contained comprises all the canonical books, when taken together none is found wanting but the Revelation of S. John. It is a matter of doubt whether any ancient manuscripts of this book in Syro-Chaldaic exist among the Nestorians, though the Chaldeans are said to have obtained possession of a few since their submission to Rome. Nevertheless it is held to be canonical by the Nestorians, who now read it in the edition of the New Testament printed at Ooroomiah by the American missionaries.

I have not been able to find a Church canon, or any other authoritative decree, determining what books are canonical and which are not. Mar Abd Yeshua speaks of all as having been written under the direction of the Holy Spirit,[3] but by this he evidently does not mean inspiration in its more restricted sense, since he uses the same expression when speaking of the writings of the primitive Fathers; and the 85th of the Apostolical Canons, given under § 3, (a later addition to the original which consisted of 83 only,) draws no distinction whatever between the Apocryphal and the Inspired books. Such a distinction may have been known to the learned Nestorians of former ages; but their descendants of the present day know nothing of such matters, and will doubtless continue to revere the one as they revere the other, until they are taught to know the truth more fully. Thus much, however, is certain, that the lessons in the Karyâna are nearly all selected from the canonical Scriptures.

It has already been observed that very few copies of the Bible, in manuscript, are to be found either among the Nestorians or Chaldeans, and in no instance is the Bible to be met with entire, but divided into separate portions forming several volumes. Thus the Oreita, containing the Pentateuch, forms one volume. The Beith Moutive, containing Judges, the two books of Kings, two of Chronicles, two of Samuel, Ruth, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Job, besides Judith and other apocryphal scriptures, forms another volume. The Newiyyé, containing the four greater and the twelve lesser Prophets, forms a third. The Mazmoré d'Daweedh, or Psalms, a fourth. And the Makwai, comprising the three books of Maccabees[4] and the Epistle of Baruch, a fifth volume. The New Testament is generally met with in one book, with the exception of the second Epistle of S. Peter, the second and third of S. John, and the Revelation, copies of which are very rare.

It is my firm opinion that in matters connected with the Canon of holy Scripture the Nestorians are convinced of their own ignorance, and are ready and willing to receive information and instruction.

  1. Literally "the Wisdoms," comprising most probably the following:

    The Wisdom of Solomon, a Collection, i.e. Ecclesiastes.

    The Great Wisdom of Solomon, i.e. the book of Wisdom.

    The Wisdom of Jesus the son of Sirach.

  2. Mentioned separate from the Pentateuch for the sake of the rhyme in which the poem is written.
  3. In the Homilies of our Church extracts from the Apocryphal books are quoted as inspired by the Holy Ghost.
  4. The third book of the Maccabees, which was never inserted into the vulgar Latin version of the Bible, nor, consequently, into any of our English copies, contains the history of the persecution of Ptolemy Philopater against the Jews in Egypt, and their sufferings under it.