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last clause shews the number and variety of commentaries then extant.
Gregory of Nyssen, at one time, appeals to the most exact copies of St. Mark's Gospel; at another time, compares together, and proposes to reconcile, the several accounts of the Resurrection given by the four Evangelists; which limitation proves, that there were no other histories of Christ deemed authentick beside these, or included in the same character with these. This writer observes, acutely enough, that the disposition of the clothes in the sepulchre, the napkin that was about our Saviour's head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself, did not bespeak the terrour and hurry of thieves, and therefore refutes the story of the body being stolen*.
Ambrose, bishop of Milan, remarked various readings in the Latin copies of the New Testament, and appeals to the original Greek ;
And Jerome, towards the conclusion of this century, put forth an edition of the New Testament in Latin, corrected, at least as to the gospels, by Greek copies, "and those (he says) ancient."
Lastly, Chrysostom, it is well known, delivered and published a great many homilies, or sermons, upon the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.
It is needless to bring down this article lower; but it is of importance to add, that there is no example of Christian writers of the three first centuries composing comments upon any other books than those which are found in the New Testament, except the single one of Clement of Alexandria, commenting upon a book called the Revelation of Peter.
*Lard. Cred. vol. ix. p. 163.
Of the ancient versions of the New Testament, one of the most valuable is the Syriack. Syriack was the language of Palestine when Christianity was there first established. And although the books of scripture were written in Greek, for the purpose of a more extended circulation than within the precincts of Judea, yet it is probable that they would soon be translated into the vulgar language of the country where the religion first prevailed. Accordingly, a Syriack translation is now extant, all along, so far as it appears, used by the inhabitants of Syria, bearing many internal marks of high antiquity, supported in its pretensions by the uniform tradition of the East, and confirmed by the discovery of many very ancient manuscripts in the libraries of Europe. It is about 200 years since a bishop of Antioch sent a copy of this translation into Europe, to be printed; and this seems to be the first time that the translation became generally known to these parts of the world. The bishop of Antioch's Testament was found to contain all our books, except the second epistle of Peter, the second and third of John, and the Revelation; which books, however, have since been discovered in that language in some ancient manuscripts of Europe. But in this collection, no other book, beside what is in ours, appears ever to have had a place. And, which is very worthy of observation, the text, though preserved in a remote country,and without communication with ours, differs from ours very little, and in nothing that is important*.
* Jones on the Canon, vol. i. c. 14.
Our Scriptures were received by ancient Christians of different sects and persuasions, by many Hereticks as well as Catholicks, and were usually appealed to by both sides in the controversies which arose in those days.
THE three most ancient topicks of controversy amongst Christians, were, the authority of the Jewish constitution, the origin of evil, and the nature of Christ. Upon the first of these, we find, in very early times, one class of hereticks rejecting the Old Testament entirely; another contending for the obligation of its law, in all its parts, throughout its whole extent, and over every one who sought acceptance with God. Upon the two latter subjects, a natural, perhaps, and venial, but a fruitless, eager, and impatient curiosity, prompted by the philosophy and by the scholastick habits of the age, which carried men much into bold hypotheses and conjectural solutions, raised,amongst some who professed Christianity, very wild and unfounded opinions. I think there is no reason to believe, that the number of these bore any considerable proportion to the body of the Christian church; and amidst the disputes, which such opinions necessarily occasioned, it is a great satisfaction to perceive, what,in a vast plurality of instances, we do perceive, all sides recurring to the same scriptures.
*I. Basilides lived near the age of the Apostles, about the year 120, or, perhaps, soonert. He rejected the Jew
* The materials of the former part of this section are taken from Dr. Lardner's History of the Hereticks of the two first Centuries, published since his death, with additions, by the Rev. Mr. Hogg, of Exeter, and inserted into the ninth volume of his works, of the edition of 1788.
Lard. vol. ix. p, 271.
ish institution, not as spurious, but as proceeding from a being inferiour to the true God; and in other respects advanced a scheme of theology widely different from the general doctrine of the Christian church, and which, as it gained over some disciples, was warmly opposed by Christian writers of the second and third century. In these writings there is positive evidence, that Basilides received the Gospel of Matthew; and there is no sufficient proof that he rejected any of the other three; on the contrary, it appears that he wrote a commentary upon the gospel, so copious as to be divided into twenty four books*.
II. The Valentinians appeared about the same timeț. Their heresy consisted in certain notions concerning angelick natures, which can hardly be rendered intelligible to a modern reader. They seem, however, to have acquired as much importance as any of the separatists of that early age. Of this sect, Irenæus, who wrote A. D. 172, expressly records, that they endeavoured to fetch arguments for their opinions from the evangelick and apostolick writingst. Heracleon, one of the most celebrated of the sect, and who lived probably so early as the year 125, wrote commentaries upon Luke and John§. Some observations also of his upon Matthew are preserved by Origen¶. Nor is there any reason to doubt that he received the whole New Testament.
III. The Carpocratians were also an early heresy, little, if at all, later than the two preceding**. Some of their opinions resembled what we at this day mean by Socinian
ism. With respect to the scriptures, they are specifically charged, by Irenæus and by Epiphanius, with endeavouring to pervert a passage in Matthew, which amounts to a positive proof that they received that gospel*. Negatively, they are not accused, by their adversaries, of rejecting any part of the New Testament.
IV. The Sethians, A. D. 150f; the Montanists, A. D. 156; the Marcosians, A. D. 160§; Hermogenes, A. D. 180; Praxias, A. D. 196**; Artemon, A. D. 200ff; Theodotus, A. D. 200; all included under the denomination of hereticks, and all engaged in controversies with catholick Christians, received the scriptures of the New Testament.
V. Tatian, who lived in the year 172, went into many extravagant opinions, was the founder of a sect called Encratites, and was deeply involved in disputes with the Christians of that age; yet Tatian so received the four gospels, as to compose a harmony from them.
VI. From a writer, quoted by Eusebius, of about the year 200, it is apparent that they, who, at that time, contended for the mere humanity of Christ, argued from the scriptures; for they are accused by this writer of making alterations in their copies, in order to favour their opinions‡‡.
VII. Origen's sentiments excited great controversies,the bishops of Rome and Alexandria, and many others, condemning, the bishops of the East espousing them; yet there is not the smallest question, but that both the advocates and adversaries of these opinions acknowledged the same authority of scripture. In his time, which the reader