Origin and History of the Books of the Bible, Both the Canonical and the Apocryphal. Designed to Show What the Bible Is Not, What It Is, and How to Use It


By PROF. C. E. STOWE, D.D. (The New Testament.) Illustrated. Published by subscription only ; by Hartford Publishing Company, Hartford, Conn.

THE Bible is the central book of Christendom. No other book has so attracted to itself the attention of the learned and the affection of the unlearned. No other book has been so persistently the object of a blind hostility and an equally blind partisanship. Folly has made it on the one side a farrago, and on the other a fetish. It has been a prey to every vagary of the head and every imagination of the heart. Love and hate have alike kindled their fires at this one altar. Benevolence has filled its horn of plenty, and oppression has drawn its heaviest chains from the same treasure-house. It has been held to a closer inspection, to a more searching analysis, to a more rigorous comparison, than any other book. Every rule and every misrule of interpretation has been brought to bear upon it. The “ jot-and-tittle ” theorist holds every word from the first page to the last to be God’s own word sent specially to him ; and his “ transcendental brother ” holds it to be God’s word in no other sense than the Iliad and the Æneid are God’s word. Faith and scepticism have enlisted their mightiest forces to upbuild and overthrow. Libraries might be filled with the books that have been written to confirm and to invalidate its position. Science is counted, if not its foe, the fruitful mother of foes, yet the highest civilization is reckoned its legitimate offspring. The choicest treasures of learning have been brought to elucidate its meaning, and art has drawn thence its loftiest inspiration. And still its influence goes on increasing. With an apparently inexhaustible vitality, it survives alike the attacks of its most formidable foes and the support of still more formidable friends, and has to-day on the mind and heart of the world a stronger hold than ever before.
An encouraging feature in the progress of Bible research is that its results are more and more coming before the people ; thus driving out at once, and in the only legitimate way, the frivolous in literature and the false in religion. It is a matter for congratulation that it is no longer novels and romances alone, but expositions of and dissertations on the Bible, whose readers are numbered by thousands, by tens of thousands, and in some instances, we believe, by hundreds of thousands. Not undervaluing that learning which must perforce confine itself to the fit and few audience, extolling it rather as the source and conservator of all learning, we yet rejoice to find the common mind no longer constrained to feed its religious thought on a pabulum composed of equal parts of pious declamation on the sanctity of the Bible, and rhetorical denunciation of those who question its authority. So long as the world is to increase in wealth there must be miners, —men content to delve
“Amid the bowels of the earth full steep
And low, where dawning day doth never peep.”
But for the furtherance of our moral needs we need also men who shall take this massive bullion and convert it into coin of the realm.
Such a work is the one before us. Professor Stowe, long and favorably known for his close and extensive acquaintance with Biblical science, presents to the public in a shapely and popular form the fruits of his life-labor. While it is not a book unworthy of scholars, it is specially designed for and adapted to those who are not scholars. It furnishes the results of study to those who are unable to study, but who are not unable to read and to think. It seeks to gain the popular ear, not by appeals to passion and prejudice, but to reason. Its characteristic, unlike most popular appeals, is not dilution but concentration. If it is milk for babes, it is condensed milk. In the ordinary use of the term, we should say the style alone is popular, the substance is scholarly.
The author’s aim has not been, evidently, to make or to announce any new discoveries, to give new renderings to old texts, or new meanings to old words. His attempt is simply to bring the light of known or alleged facts to bear upon the settlement of vexed questions. It is a book, as he declares, of authorities and testimonies, He maintains that the chief cause of the diversities of opinion as to the authors of the sacred books is the neglect or the rejection of all external testimony in regard to them, and the judging of them by the critic’s own views of the internal evidence only, — a proceeding the more uncalled for, inasmuch as the external testimony regarding the Bible is more abundant than that concerning any other ancient book whatever. The work is especially valuable as simplifying the discussion, removing extraneous matter, dismissing impertinent issues, putting objections and replies in a tangible and portable form, and showing what the conditions of the problem do and do not require. Professor Stowe indicates the spiritual unity of the Bible while relinquishing, or rather opposing, the popular notion of its external unity. He brings into prominence a theory now held, we believe, by all the best biblical critics, but not, we think, very familiar to the common mind, that the Bible is not an original record, but is made up of the fragments of Hebrew literature, going back sometimes to a remote and even to an unknown antiquity. This point will be recognized as one of singular interest and of great importance; especially in connection with the Old Testament. The character and chronology of the books of the New Testament are far better understood than those of the Old, particularly those of early date. A great deal of the doubt concerning them, and much of the hostility felt towards them, would unquestionably be dispelled by a knowledge of their real origin, nature, and object.
Another whole system of difficulties is disposed of at one stroke by affirming that the mystery of the actual condition of the human race, the question, How can the existence of so much sin and misery be reconciled with God’s goodness, wisdom, and power, finds no solution, no answer, in the Bible. The sovereignty of God and the free agency of man are not explained. The mysterious events of our own daily life remain still mysterious. The Bible asserts : it does not explain. It tells us to trust in God, and all will be well. It addresses itself to our faith, affirming that we have sufficient proof of the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, even if by searching we cannot find out the Almighty to perfection. Those who have given little thought to this subject will not, perhaps, immediately see how vast a field of disputation is excluded from our boundaries by this admission. Perhaps on no single question is there a wider divergence of opinion or a more profound excitement of feeling than on this. The solution of the insoluble, the reconciliation of the evil in the world with the goodness of its Creator, is the work to which religious thought has lent itself sometimes with an almost frantic vehemence. On this rock has the Church split into sects, and on this point the theory of one sect is regarded by another with a disapprobation amounting to hatred and horror. Materialistic philosophy and speculative theology are alike unsatisfactory in their conclusions. Reason and revelation can get no further than the sovereign announcement: I form the light and create darkness. I make peace and create evil. And as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, faith alone is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Having disposed of outside questions, Dr. Stowe proceeds to the discussion of the text of the New Testament, He describes the method of book-making in the age of the New-Testament writers, compares the readings of our modern printed editions of the Greek with the earliest manuscript authorities, compares also the manuscripts of Herodotus and Plato with those of the New Testament in point of number, variety, and antiquity ; and gives a history of many of the ancient manuscripts of the New Testament, and facsimiles of several. This chapter is one of great interest and value, and contains information which is probably new to the mass of Bible readers. It is followed by brief biographies of one hundred of the most important ancient witnesses to the New-Testament books, including not only Orthodox Christians, but also Jews, heretics, pagans, and infidels. Next in order comes a separate examination of each book of the New Testament. It is laid down at the beginning, that those books, and those only, were regarded by the primitive Christians as a part of their New-Testament canon, which were written either by an apostle, or by an associate of an apostle, with apostolic superintendence and sanction. The authority of an apostle was the only authority for a sacred book. As most of the churches were personally acquainted with several of the apostles, and as every one of the writers of the New Testament was personally known to many of the churches, it is hardly probable that any church could have been deceived as to what were and what were not apostolic books, and the main question is, What books did the churches receive as apostolic? The credibility of these writers as men, capable or incapable, honest or dishonest, is considered apart from the inspiration or divine authority of the Gospels. The testimony concerning each book is preceded by a statement of what is known respecting the author, the place, the occasion, the object, and the circumstances of his writing. We are furnished with every variety of testimony, weak and strong, direct and indirect. The apocryphal gospels receive the same attention as the canonical gospels. We have their origin, their history so far as it is known, an outline of their contents, and extracts sufficiently copious to give us a distinct idea of their style and spirit. We have also fragments of gospels supposed to be lost, — the Gospel according to the Hebrews, the Gospel according to the Egyptians, the Gospel of Marcion, and others. Thus is presented not only the external evidence for the canonical gospels, but such internal evidence as is furnished by a comparison between them and other writings of the same date and the same assumed character. Every one, learned or unlearned, has the opportunity to judge for himself whether the apocryphal and the lost gospels probably emanated from the same source, and are entitled to the same credit, as those of the received New Testament.
One chapter is devoted to the Hegelian philosophy, in which Hegelian philosophers are handled with a freedom which we venture to say those amiable if somewhat shadowy gentlemen never before experienced. Their hypotheses are not only incontinently stripped of ornamentation, but, after Sydney Smith’s device, are made to take off their flesh, and sit in their bones ; and the spectacle sometimes is not a little amusing.
“ How could myths arise and gain credence in the manner and to the extent which he (Strauss) dreams of, in the same generation and the same country wherein the facts are alleged to have occurred ? This difficulty is felt by Strauss, and he attempts to get rid of it by supposing that the stories originated mostly in those parts of Palestine east of the Jordan, where Christ had personally seldom appeared. The whole of Palestine has scarcely one quarter the extent of the State of Maine, and can men in Maine lie with impunity by going east of the Penobscot?” Weisse does not even pretend to have any testimony as to the facts being as he states them. He would think it unworthy of a philosopher like him to come at an historical result in that way. He does not learn history from external evidence, but develops it from internal consciousness Marshall’s “Life of Washington,” on a similar hypothesis, originated during the nullification excitement of 1827, when Hon. John Holmes, of Maine, amused himself by writing notes across the Senate Chamber to Hon. T. H. Benton, of Missouri. Mr. Benton preserved these notes, thinking he might some time have occasion for them, and he added some of his own. At the session of Congress, during Mr. Clay’s compromising efforts, Mr. Benton, perceiving that his time had come, committed these papers to Hon. Amos Kendall, who, out of them and Judge Marshall’s papers, forged the book called Marshall’s “ Life of Washington.” In consequence of this publication, Colonel Benton was elected President of the United States, and General Cass, amid much noise and confusion, migrated to California! Gfroerer relies for the support of his theory on such resemblances as would derive the wigs of the English bishops and judges from the head-dress of the Feejee-Islanders. The text of Zechariah xiv. 4 he explains as referring to the Messiah, and his sister the Holy Ghost, who are both, according to the Rabbins, ninetysix miles high, and twenty-four miles wide. Hence the doctrine of the Trinity ! Bruno Bauer at the outset annihilates all historical truth. Renan gives the sheerest and most extravagant moonshine. Schenkel has not a foot to stand upon. Baur sees not only what is in the Bible, but what would have been there if it had not been taken out. The identity of the narratives of Jairus’s daughter and the son of the widow of Nain rests on such resemblances as (1.) they were both young people, (2.) they each had a living parent, (3.) they both died, and (4.) they were both raised from the dead. The same kind of argument might prove irresistibly the identity of General Jackson and Mr. Van Buren’s grandmother; for (1.) they were both old people, (2.) they were both very fond of Mr. Van Buren, (3.) they both died, and (4.) neither of them ever rose from the dead !
The remainder of the book consists of an examination and comparison of the apocryphal and canonical Acts, Epistles, and Revelations, with abstracts and extracts, a comparison of Hebrew and pagan prophets, and a consideration of the apocryphal books of the Old Testament, a narrative of the discussions pertaining to them, and the mode and reasons for their exclusion from the sacred canon.
We have been thus particular in our account of the book, that our readers may have a fair idea of its general aim and scope. Whether it accomplishes what it proposes to accomplish, every one must judge for himself; we design only to show what it proposes to accomplish. Every one must concede that it is eminently frank and outspoken. There is no insinuation, no false dealing. Authorities are given with a full hand. If the author has misstated facts or mis-rendered theories, he has put it within every one’s power to correct or confute him. There is no hiding behind glittering and sounding generalities. Everything is to the point, whether right or wrong. If it be said that he has, for a philosopher, too strong a leaning towards the conclusions at which he arrives, it must he admitted also that he acknowledges this leaning at the outset, and thereby disarms it of its chief power to mislead. Occasionally, in the enthusiasm of his belief, he adopts as a certainty that which is at most but a probability, —as where he accounts for passages that could not have been written at the time or by the authors supposed, by showing that books were formerly written full on every page, with lines of single letters, without any division of paragraphs or words ; and that what modern writers would put into a foot-note, heading, or index, andent writers would insert as a part of the original page, and adds: “The passages objected to are just the foot-notes of subsequent editor, and not forgeries or fraudulent interpolations.” All that is proved or that is required to be proved is that they may be foot-notes, not that they are.
The style of the book is unique among theological writings. It is not the language of theology but of common life, — the language of the farm, the factory, the market; sinewy, nervous, homely, and clear as crystal ; the language of a man, and of a man overflowing with love for his subject, and so thoroughly familiar with it that he can afford to toss it about sometimes a little playfully. Indeed, we are not without suspicion that the easy, off-hand style may serve in some measure to disguise the extensive research and — for this country at least—remarkable learning of which it is the medium.
We consider the work especially adapted to meet the intellectual wants of the age. It puts within reach of the common people the accumulated treasures of a long line of kings in the realm of letters. We do not know where to find, within the same compass, so much candid thought, valuable knowledge, and pertinent criticism on the Bible. Its partisanship, though warm, is manly, and free from bitterness and bigotry. Though a labor of love, it is of a love not blind, but as clear of vision as it is stout of heart. It is impartially fatal to the arrogance of all denominations. It is a work of which Orthodoxy need not be ashamed, and at which Heterodoxy need not be exasperated. It is a work which no man should reject the Bible without answering, or argumentatively advocate without mastering. Whoever would give a reason either for the faith or the unbelief or the doubt that is in him ; whoever would learn, not what the Bible says about his views, but what views the Bible teaches, and on what ground it has authority to teach at all, will find in this book a valuable assistant, companion, and friend.