95. THE NEW TESTAMENT AND THE ORDER OF ITS BOOKS.
I. THE NEW TESTAMENT IN RELATION TO THE BIBLE AS A WHOLE.
The word "Testament", as a translation of the Greek word diatheke (which means covenant), has been nothing less than a great calamity; for, by its use, truth has been effectually veiled all through the centuries; causing a wrong turning to be taken as to the purpose and character of this present Dispensation, by which the errors of tradition have usurped the place of important truth.
The word "Testament" as s name for a collection of books is unknown to Scripture. It comes to us through the Latin Vulgate. This was the rendering in the older Latin Versions before JEROME'S time; but, JEROME, while using foedus or pactum for the Heb. berith in the O.T., unfortunately reverted to testamentum in his revision of his N.T. translation (A.D. 382-405). Some of the Latin Fathers preferred instrumentum, much in the sense of our legal use of the word (*1). RUFINUS uses the expression novum et vetus instrumentum (*2), and AUGUSTINE uses both words instrumentum and testamentum (*3).
From the Vulgate, the word testament passed both into the English Bibles and the German. The Greek word is diatheke, which means "covenant", and the R.V. substitutes this meaning in every place except two (Heb. 9:16, 17, on which see the notes). But even this word was never used as the title for the collection of books which make up the New Testament so called.
When these books were placed beside the books of the Hebrew Canon it became desirable, if not necessary, to distinguish them; and, as the then two Dispensations were already spoken of in Scripture as "old" and "new" (2Cor. 3:6. Heb. 8:6-13), so the books, which were connected with them, came to be called by the same names also.
In Ex. 24:7 and 2Kings 23:2, 21, we read of "the book of the covenant" (*4), and this distinction of the two covenants was already confirmed by 2Cor. 3:16, 14, where the Apostle speaks of "the reading of the old covenant".
The term "New Covenant" is indeed a Scriptural expression, but it is not used of a collection of books. It is used of the great prophecy and promise of Jer. 31:31-32:40 and Ezek. 37:26 (which is referred to in Heb. 8:8-12; 9:15-21; 10:15-18).
The time for the making of this "New Covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah was drawing near. The last prophet, MALACHI, had spoken of the coming of the "Angel of the Covenant", and of the "Messenger" who was to prepare His way before Him (Mal. 3:1). He announces also the sending of ELIJAH the prophet to prepare the way of MESSIAH, and connects his name with that of MOSES (Mal. 4:4, 5).
In due time JOHN THE BAPTIST was sent "in the spirit and power of ELIJAH" (Luke 1:17); and, had the people "received" him and obeyed his call to national repentance, he would have been counted for Elijah the prophet (Matt. 11:14; 17:11-13). In like manner we may well conclude that the act and word of MESSIAH at the last supper was the making of the New Covenant itself; for the Lord said of the cup "this is [i.e. represents] My blood of the New Covenant" (Matt. 26:28. Mark 14:24. Luke 22:20), thus fulfilling the prophecy of Jer. 31:31-34, as testified by Heb. 8:8-12; 9:15-21; 10:15-18.
The use of blood was confined to
two purposes :--
(1) Atonement for sin (Lev. 17:11. Heb. 9:22), (*5) and
(2) the making of a covenant (Ex. 24:6-8. Heb. 9:16-22).
The use of the Greek word diatheke (covenant) in relation to a collection of books is appropriate only so far as these books are regarded as belonging to the "new covenant" foretold by Jeremiah, and as being "new covenant" foretold by Jeremiah, and as being distinct from "the book of the (old) covenant", made in Ex. 24:6-8.
The one great fact, which stands out in connection with the whole of the books which we call the Bible, is that they form the "Word of God", and are made up of the "words" of God (Jer. 15:16. John 17:8, 14, 17).
This is the claim that is made by the book itself, and it is ours to receive it as such. We, therefore, neither set out to discuss it, nor to prove it. "God hath spoken"; and this, for our learning, and not for our reasoning; for our faith, and not for our questioning; still less for our criticism : for the Word which He hath spoken is to be our judge in that day (John 12:48, Deut. 18:19, 20, and Heb. 4:12, where it is declared to be "able to judge" (A.V. "a discerner", Gr. kritikos; hence our "critic")). See further, Ap. 94.
Thousands of infidels to-day believe and teach that the Council of Nice, held in A.D. 325, separated the "spurious" scriptures from the genuine ones, by some vote, or trick, when the sacred books were placed under a communion table, and, after prayer, the inspired books jumped upon the table, while the false books remained beneath.
This story originated with one "John Pappus", and infidels make a great mistake in identifying him with "Papias", or "Pappius", one of the earliest Fathers, called by Eusebius (iii. 36) a "Bishop" of Hierapolis, who wrote about A.D. 115. The Encycl. Brit., 11th (Camb.) ed., vol. xx, p. 737, suggests about A.D. 60-135 as the period of his life.
But John Pappus, who gave currency to the above story, was a German theologian born in 1549. In 1601 he published the text of an Anonymous Greek MS. This MS. cannot be older than A.D. 870, because it mentions events occurring in 869. Now the Council of Nice was held 544 years before, and all its members had been dead and buried for some five centuries. The Council of Nice was not called to decide the Canon. Nothing relating to the Canon of Scripture can be found in any of its canons or acts. And, even if it were otherwise, the votes of Councils could no more settle the Canon of the New Testament than a Town Council could settle the laws of a nation.
The great outstanding fact is that
"JEHOVAH HATH SPOKEN",
and that the Bible as a whole claims to give us His words; for speaking or writing cannot be without words. Moreover, He tells us (Heb. 1:1) that He has spoken
"AT SUNDRY TIMES AND IN DIVERS MANNERS",
or, according to the Greek, in many parts (or portions) and by many ways (or methods).
If we rightly divide these (according to 2Tim. 2:15) we have
THE CONTENTS OF THE BIBLE AS A WHOLE,
which may be exhibited as follows (*6) :--
By the FATHER Himself. The "times"
being from Gen. 2:16 to Ex. 3:10. The "manner"
being to individuals from Adam onward.
B1 HUMAN AGENCY. "By the Prophets.". The
"time" being from the call and mission of Moses
(Ex. 3:10) to that of John the Baptist, "greater than
them all" (Matt. 11:11). The "manner" was by human
A2 DIVINE. "By HIS SON" (Heb. 1:1, 2. Cp. Deut. 18:18,
19). The "time" being from the beginning of His ministry
(Matt. 4:12) to the end of it (Matt. 26:46). See Ap. 119.
B2 HUMAN AGENCY. "By them that heard HIM",
("the Son", Heb. 2:3, 4). The "time" from Acts 1-28.
The "manner" was by apostolic testimony and writings,
contained in the General Epistles; and in the earlier
Pauline Epistles written during that "time".
A3 DIVINE. By "THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH" (as promised
in John 16:12-15). The "time" from the end of the
Dispensation covered by the Acts of the Apostles, when
He revealed "the things concerning Christ"; which could
not be spoken by Him until the events had taken place,
which were the foundation of the doctrines revealed in the
later Pauline Epistles (Eph., Phil., Col.). See esp. Eph. 2:4-7
(*7). In these Epistles the Holy Spirit "guided" into all the
truth, and thus fulfilled the promise of the Lord, in John
B3 HUMAN AND ANGELIC AGENCY. By "HIS
SERVANT JOHN", who bare record of the Word of
God, and of all things that he saw (Rev. 1:1, 2). The
"time" was that covered by the giving the Book of the
Revelation in Patmos. The "manner" was that it was
"sent and signified (showed by signs) by His angel (*8)."
Since this written Word -- "the Scripture of Truth" -- was thus complete, God has not spoken directly or indirectly to mankind, either by Himself or by human agency. "The Silence of God" during this Dispensation is a solemn reality.
But He is going to speak again when this Dispensation comes to a close, and in Psalm 50 we are told what He is going to say when the silence is broken.
According to the division of the "times" exhibited above (p. 138), it will be seen that they are six in number (the number of "man", Ap. 10). And it will be noted that the order of the Divine three is FATHER (A1), SON (A2), and HOLY SPIRIT (A3).
When the "time" comes for Him to speak "once again", it will be apart from human agency. This will make these "times and manners" seven in all (the number of spiritual perfection, Ap. 10).
Until, therefore, God shall speak once more, we have God's word --written. To this we are now shut up; to this we do well "to take heed in our hearts" (2Pet. 1:19). We may not add to or take away from it (Rev. 22:18, 19). We may not receive any other writing purporting to have come from God. There are many such in the present day; some of the authors being bold impostors and deceivers (*9), others being deceived by "automatic" writings through demons and evil spirits (1Tim. 4:1-3).
To all such we are to say
"Anathema", and to treat them as accursed things (Gal. 1:6-9).
Our English Bibles follow the order as given in the Latin Vulgate. This order, therefore, depends on the arbitrary judgment of one man, Jerome (A.D. 382-405). All theories based on this order rest on human authority, and are thus without any true foundation.
The original Greek manuscripts do not agree among themselves as to any particular order of the separate books, and a few of them have most remarkable differences.
We are, however, on safe ground in stating that the books are generally divided into
FIVE WELL-DEFINED GROUPS.
For the most part these groups are in the following order :--
2. The Acts of the Apostles.
3. The General Epistles (*10).
4. The Pauline Epistles (*11).
5. The Apocalypse.
Even the order of these five groups varies in very few cases (*12). But these are so exceptional as not to affect the general order as given above; indeed, they help to confirm it.
While the order of these five groups may be regarded as fairly established, yet, within each, the order of the separate books is by no means uniform, except in the fourth, which never varies (*12). (See notes on the chronological and canonical orders of the Pauline Epistles, preliminary to the Structure of ROMANS, as a whole.)
Even in the first group, while the Four Gospels are almost always the same as we have them in the A.V. and R.V., yet in the Codex Bezae (Cent. 6) John follows Matthew; and in another, precedes it.
When we divide the Pauline Epistles (Group 4 above), and re-combine them in their chronological and historical order, we find that they re-arrange themselves so as to be distributed between the fourth and sixth of the six groups shown above on p. 138. (*13)
The five groups of the New Testament order of books (shown above) thus fall into four chronological groups, being the same as the last four of the whole Bible, corresponding with A2, B2, A3, and B3 (p. 138) :--
C THE FOUR
GOSPELS : where the SON is
the Divine Speaker, according to Heb. 1:2-.
D THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES, THE
GENERAL EPISTLES, THE EARLIER
PAULINE EPISTLES : Where human
agency is employed in "them that heard"
the Son (Heb. 2:3, 4), and Paul also, who
both heard and saw Him.
LATER PAULINE EPISTLES :--
EPHESIANS, PHILIPPIANS, COLOSSIANS :
Where "the Spirit of Truth" is the Divine Speaker,
Teacher, and Guide, according to John 16:12-15.
D THE APOCALYPSE : where human agency is
again employed in the person of John the Apostle
and Evangelist, instructed by angelic agency.
From these four groups we may gather the one great scope of the New Testament books as a whole.
Corresponding with the above we may set them out as follows :--
C THE KING and
the KINGDOM. Proclaimed to
the Nation in the LAND. The Kingdom rejected
and the King crucified in JERUSALEM, the capital.
D The re-offer of both (Acts 2:38; 3:19-26) to the
Dispersion among the Gentiles; and their final
rejection in ROME, the capital of the Dispersion
KING exalted, and made the Head over all things
for the Church, which is His Body (Eph. 1:20-23. Phil.
2:9-11. Col. 1:13-19), in the Kingdom of His beloved
Son (Col. 1:13). The mystery revealed (Eph. 3:1-12.
Col. 1:24-29). The Kingdom on earth in abeyance.
"Not yet" (Heb. 2:8).
D The KINGDOM set up in judgment, power, and glory.
The King enthroned. Set forth as the great subject of
(*1) Tertullian (A.D. 150-200), Adv. Marc. iv. 1. In iv. 2, he uses it of a single gospel (Luke).
(*2) Expos. Symb. Apostol.
(*3) De Civ. Dei, xx. 4.
(*4) See also 1Macc. 1:57 and Ecclus. 24:23.
(*5) "Washing in blood" would defile, not cleanse. Sprinkling with blood, and washing in water, alone known to the O.T. (save in Ps. 58:10). As to Rev. 1:5 and 7:14, see notes there.
(*6) While the divisions shown in the Structure are true as a whole, it is not denied that there may be exceptions to the general rule; but these only go to establish the truth of the rule itself.
(*7) The other later Epistles of Paul were written to individuals, and to a special class of Hebrew believers.
(*8) Not by "the Spirit of Truth". His mission, in A3, was to guide into the truth, while, in Acts of the Apostles (B2), it was to bear witness by miracles to the confirmation of them that heard the Son. In the Apocalypse it was not Divine speaking by "the Spirit of Truth", but the showing by an Hierophant.
(*9) Such as Swedenborg, Joanna Southcote, Joe Smith (of Mormonite fame), the author of "The Flying Roll", Mrs. Eddy, Dowic, and others.
(*10) James usually coming first, following next after the Acts of the Apostles.
(*11) Invariably in their present, canonical order, as given in the A.V.
(*12) For example : the fourth follows the second; the second and fourth are followed by the first; and in one case the fifth comes between the second and third.
(*13) Except that, in the best and oldest Codices, Hebrews follows 2Thess. (instead of Philemon); while in one (that from which Cod. B was taken) Hebrews follows Galatians.