5. The Books and Canon of the New Testament.

The composition of the Books of the Bible was begun by Moses on the plains of Moab in the 15th century B.C.; the subjects of which they treat were completed by Paul during his Roman imprisonment in the latter half of the first Christian century (Col. 1:25); while John, the last of the Apostolic band, had those wondrous visions and sights vouchsafed to him in the rocky isle of Patmos, and the whole, known to us as "The Revelation," committed to writing by the close of the century.

The First and Last Books of the Bible.

If the first book of the Bible unfolds to us the sources of good and evil, the origin of all things, the germ of every truth, the foundation of every divine and human relationship; the last book shows us the final and eternal results, the triumph of good over evil; the issues, whether in glory or of judgment, of the human race, — there we behold the pride of man humbled and flesh wither under the hand of God; there too the meek and lowly ones of earth who identified themselves through grace with Christ and His cross, are exalted; the impress of eternity, the touch of God's hand rests on every person and every subject treated of in the 66th book of Holy Scripture — The Revelation.

The Apostles Paul and Peter.

It was during the reign of Nero, the ravening "lion" (2 Tim. 4:17), that the Apostles Paul and Peter were martyred; the former by beheading, the latter by crucifixion, and, at his own request, with his head down as unworthy to die like his Master. We see no reason to doubt the traditions concerning these beloved Apostles; certain it is that both had special revelations of their near end, although not, perhaps, of the manner of their death. It may be well to remark in passing, that both Apostles firmly insisted on the saints rendering obedience and honour to Nero the Emperor — one of the worst and most cruel of men who ever sat on the throne of the Caesars; not the character of the ruler, but the office he fills, is that which demands the respect and reverence of the saints of God. (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:17.)

From the Emperor Nero to Domitian.

We dare not defile the minds of our readers nor blot our pages with a recital of the cruelties practised by Nero during a reign of thirteen years. Suffice it to say that their record is written on high by a pen that faithfully chronicles the deeds and thoughts of men. After the ignominious death of the tyrant, three Emperors in succession assumed the purple and swayed the earthly destinies of mankind, considerably within a period of two years, followed by the prosperous reigns of Vespasian and of his son Titus — the latter being termed by the Romans the "delight of mankind." It was during the reign of these Emperors that the siege of Jerusalem took place — a siege unexampled in the annals of history. The Gentiles destroyed Jerusalem so completely, that the Roman plough passed over the city (Micah 3:12), and death or slavery were the appointed portion of her people. (Deut. 28:49-57.) But again the star of Jacob will rise, and the sons of her destroyers build up her walls, and pour their treasures and wealth into the city of the Saviour's love and choice (Isa. 60).

Next, we have the reign of Domitian, who had been nominated to the throne of his brother Titus. What a period! We question if the blackest page of history can furnish one equal to it. For about 15 years from A.D. 81 the Roman world lay bleeding at the feet of the despot. The wickedness of this man, who spared neither age, sex, nor rank in the gratification of his avarice and cruelty, is without a parallel. The sufferings of the Christians under the second legal persecution during this dismal reign were truly awful, and the torments to which they were subjected barbarous in the extreme. Domitian not only trod closely in the steps of Nero, but even exceeded that insane tyrant and hater of mankind in glutting himself with the blood and agonies of his subjects and of the saints of God.

The Apostle John and Patmos.

It is traditionally reported that the beloved Apostle John and the then only survivor of "The Twelve," was brought before the Emperor, and after a brief examination, ordered to be cast into a cauldron of flaming oil, but after a few hours came out unhurt. Tertullian, who flourished in the third century, asserts the truth of it, and, it has been asked, which, if any, of the early writers denies it? It is certain, however, that John was doomed to perpetual banishment in the rocky isle of Patmos. In that dreary convict establishment of about 25 miles in circumference, washed by the waves of the Aegean Sea, the worst of criminals were sent to drag out a weary existence by labouring in the mines which then existed in the island. We may be sure that the stern Roman Emperor would allow the prisoner of the Lord no exemption from the hard toil and vicious society of Patmos. There is a Greek monastery in the island, and the lazy monks profess to point out the very cave where John was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, where the visions and sights narrated in the Apocalypse were seen, and where the prophecy was written. On the accession of Nerva, the edicts of Domitian were cancelled, the banished Christians recalled, and their confiscated property restored. John, on the general authority of antiquity, returned from the inhospitable isle of Patmos to Ephesus, the flourishing capital of Asia, and there peacefully ended his days at the advanced age of 100, full of love and labour for his beloved Master.

The Apostle John and the Canon.

We are not aware that John left any authoritative declaration of what writings were canonical. If each of the 66 books of the Bible do not carry with them their own evidence to the soul and conscience of men, then no external proof will convince. It is an important circumstance that John survived the completed revelation of God by several years. He was there to distinguish, on his Apostolic authority immediately derived from the Lord Jesus Christ, the inspired from the uninspired books then in circulation amongst the Churches. He could be appealed to if necessary on any point involving the Divine authority of any book of Holy Scripture.

John's personal knowledge of the Lord, and his familiar acquaintance with the writings of his fellow Apostles and others, and, we might add, his jealous regard for the glory of his Master, His person and work, fitted the Apostle above all others for the task of handing over to the Church a full Bible. We have positive evidence that no writings subsequent to those of John have ever been admitted into the canon of the New Testament.

Canon of the New Testament.

It is true that numerous Christian books were in circulation, even in the days of Luke, the writer of the third Gospel and of "The Acts" (Luke 1:1), some of them attributed to the Apostles and their companions, but they were not regarded as inspired, however highly esteemed otherwise. So numerous are the quotations from the New Testament in the writings of the fathers of the first seven centuries, that the whole of the New Testament might from thence be recovered, if needs be. We frankly admit, however, that certain Epistles, as Hebrews, 2 Peter, Jude, and Revelation were not at first universally received as canonical, owing to the difficulty of communication existing in these early times. It was no easy matter then for Churches or individuals at a distance to hold mutual intercourse, and it must be borne in mind that Epistles were addressed to persons or assemblies in some instances 1000 miles apart; besides which the transcribing of accurate copies of the originals required time and care. These facts remembered, we are thankful for the extreme caution with which the canon of the New Testament was finally accepted.

When the 27 books of the New Testament were first collected, or the principle on which they were arranged, is of little consequence. It is just as evident on moral grounds that "The Revelation" forms a fitting conclusion to the New Testament, as that "Malachi" closes the canon of the Old; and this form of evidence is of far more value than any other, inasmuch as it searches the conscience and carries inward conviction to the soul. If, therefore, the last of the Hebrew prophets leaves Israel under the last pleadings of Jehovah's love till the advent of the Messiah in grace, so the last of the Apostles leaves the Church under the warning voice of the Spirit of God till the advent of Christ in glory. Malachi and Matthew bridge a period of four centuries and a half, the Spirit uniting them in one common testimony, "for the Scripture cannot be broken;" compare Mal. 3:1, Mal. 4:5, with Matt. 17:11-13. Again, Moses the lawgiver and John the Apostle stretch hands over the gulf of sixteen centuries, "for the Scripture cannot be broken;" compare Gen. 1 with Rev. 21. The Holy Bible may be likened to a noble bridge of 66 arches — only undermine one and the whole system of Revelation goes. Reader, hold fast the inspired Scriptures of our God.

The New Testament: Materials of Original Documents, Manuscripts, etc.

"New Testament" is an expression defining the believer's new position before God since the work of the Cross and the rending of the veil. It is one no doubt borrowed from Matt. 26:28; and we suppose that 2 Cor. 3:14 would give title and character to the previous revelation — "Old Testament." The New Testament was completed during the latter half of the first century. The original documents which came from the pen of inspiration were generally either of parchment or of the brittle papyrus plant.

Had the inspired autographs been preserved, we believe men would have worshipped them. Israel paid divine honours to the brazen serpent (2 Kings 18:4), and would have worshipped the body of Moses and reverenced his sepulchre had he died in their midst and his tomb been known (Deut. 34:5, 6; Jude 9). Paul seems to have used parchment generally, if not exclusively, in the writing of his epistles (2 Tim. 4:13), which was very enduring, being prepared from the skins of sheep, antelopes, etc. The manufacture of these skins for preservation of documents of value was perfected in Pergamos. The name of the city gave its name to the article. John wrote on the papyrus, (2 John 12), which grew plentifully on the banks of the Nile and anciently by the Jordan, from which our word paper is derived.

A few specimens of this Egyptian paper have been found in tombs, but not many, as the material was difficult to preserve, being so brittle. A still more ancient material was linen, which has been found wrapped round their mummies and covered all over with hieroglyphics and writing. The earliest Christian documents we possess date from the fourth century; no classical MSS. are nearly so old. We doubt if any Hebrew MSS. exist of earlier date than the tenth century. The Jews were wont to buy very old, defaced, or mutilated MSS. of value. The Sinaitic MS., discovered by Professor Tischendorff, the eminent Biblical critic, is supposed to date from about the accession of Constantine to the imperial throne, and is regarded as an immediate transcript from those destroyed during the previous reign. Perhaps the original MSS. were destroyed during the baptism of blood under Diocletian — the last and hottest of the pagan persecutions. The first recorded instance of burning any portion of the Word of God will be found noted in Jer. 36:20-32. Jehoiakim in his person and posterity paid a fearful penalty for the impious deed. The reader, however, may rest assured and rejoice in the moral certainty which God has granted him, that he in very deed possesses the Word of God. Although a period of about 280 years from the apostolic age to the earliest copies of these writings now extant exist, yet the gulf is easily abridged. Other and adequate helps are available for our Biblical critics, whose labours in restoring the sacred text to nigh the state in which it left the hands of the inspired penman is truly a cause for unfeigned thankfulness to God.

The New Testament and Epistles of Paul.

The New Testament contains 27 books, the work of eight inspired writers, and all written within a period of fifty years. All close in our version, although not in the Greek copies, with the Spirit's "Amen" except the epistles of James and Third John. Some of these inspired penman were illiterate men, as Peter and John (Acts 4:13); others scholarly, as Luke and Paul. These books are not arranged chronologically, save, perhaps, the Gospels and Acts.

The Epistles of Paul, of which there are fourteen, form a distinct group by themselves, and which we might denominate "The Faith" — the first in moral order being "the Romans," while the last in chronological and moral sequence is "2 Timothy." The first written of these fourteen Epistles is that addressed to the Thessalonians. The authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews has been long a disputed point. It has been variously ascribed to Peter, Apollos, and Paul. From internal evidence we gather that the great Gentile apostle was the writer (Heb. 13:23); while from 2 Peter 3:15, we are certain that Paul was the author. Further, from the circumstance that the writer develops the glory of Him who is "the Apostle and High Priest" of the Christian confession, he was led of the Spirit to withhold the mention of his own name. The Hebrews was placed last of the fourteen Pauline Epistles, as the collector of the sacred books or editor of the New Testament had, it is supposed, doubts as to its authorship. Its inspiration, however, is irrespective altogether of the special penman employed. The first word in each of these inspired Epistles is "Paul," save in the fourteenth.

Divisions of the New Testament.

The whole of the 27 books might be advantageously classified thus: — first, the Gospels; second, the Acts; third, the Epistles; fourth, the Revelation.

In the first part is laid the ground work of Christianity in the person and work of the Saviour. Levi or Matthew, a sub-Roman collector of the taxes leviable upon the fisheries and merchandise of Capernaum, an odious employment in Jewish estimation, unfolds the Messianic glories of Christ according to Old Testament prediction, and reveals Him in death as God's sin-offering for Jew and Gentile. John Mark, for some time the minister or servant of Paul, and of Barnabas his near relative, and probably Peter's child in the faith (1 Peter 5:13), touchingly records the service of the Lord — noting the hand, the eye, the heart, the look, and the exquisite grace of the perfect workman. It is His death, as the trespass offering, which Mark, under the guiding of the Spirit, presents. The scholarly and accomplished Gentile, the "beloved physician" — Luke — had the delightful task of unfolding the perfection of the manhood of Jesus, of tracing the path of the bruised, dependent, suffering Son of Man from the Jewish circumstances preceding His birth in the manger or stall for cattle, till the heaven of heavens receives Him. In this gospel also Jesus takes the place of both the "flour" (Lev. 2) and "communion" offerings (Lev. 3). John, the special friend of Peter and the bosom companion of the Lord, unfolds those divine and wondrous truths respecting the person and glory of the Lord from eternity and onward. The divine dignities and glories of the Son, if all written down, would constitute a library too vast for the world to contain (John 21:25). We commenced with the sin-offering, and here end with the burnt-offering.

In the second part or division of the New Testament we name the Acts — the only historical work of the 27 — written by physician Luke to his friend and Christian enquirer, Theophilus, probably a Roman governor over one of the Asiatic provinces of the Empire. We think it highly probable that Theophilus gave up his official position in the Roman service after the perusal of the gospel by his friend Luke. The official "most excellent" (Luke 1:3) is omitted in Acts 1:1. The Acts historically traces the progress of Christianity amongst the Jews by Peter (Acts 1—12), and the Gentiles by Paul (Acts 13—28). The missionary zeal and long-continued labours of the Gentile apostle for about thirty years, his evangelistic tours, his last great journey from Jerusalem to Rome, the historical circumstances under which the Epistles were penned, the rise and progress of the numerous churches planted by the Apostles and others, make up a book of interest unequalled in the annals of missionary enterprise.

"Under the third division of the New Testament are embraced the fourteen Epistles by Paul, two by Peter, three by John, one by James, and one by Jude — in all, 21. Christianity or the righteousness of God is the theme of the Romans; the church and ministry, of the Corinthians; grace as opposed to law, of the Galatians; the heavenly places for blessing, for power, and for conflict, while heaven's light is thrown upon every earthly relationship in which the Christian is placed, are the main subjects of Ephesians; the personal and relative glories of Christ are unfolded in Colossians; the coming of the Lord for the dead and living saints is treated of in the Thessalonians; the house of God in order and disorder in those to Timothy; Christian walk and order in the world in that to Titus; a purely domestic matter is courteously treated in Christian correspondence in Philemon; the present heavenly position of Christ as Sacrifice, Priest, Minister, and Forerunner, within the veil — we inside as worshippers, outside as His witnesses — are treated of in the Hebrews; the path of practical godliness will be found traced in James; the government of God in time and on to eternity, in the epistles of the Jewish Apostle, Peter; life, love, and light are the themes in John; and an energetic and solemn warning in apostate times in Jude.

The fourth and concluding part of the New Testament is the prophetic book of the Revelation. It was written by John during his imprisonment in the lonely and inhospitable Grecian island of Patmos. Judgment is the great subject of the book. The roar of heaven's artillery, the crash of falling kingdoms, the wail of impenitent sinners; heaven, earth, hell, eternity, time, God, Christ, angels, Satan, and men, are some of the scenes, actors, and places so vividly and awfully portrayed in this the 66th book of Holy Scripture. The time is at hand, and the effect of every vision.

The Holy Bible — The Books of the New Testament.

Name and Meaning, Character of the Book, by Whom Written or Compiled, Where and When Written.

Matthew, gift of the Lord

This Gospel is the Spirit's record of the Divine, human, and legal rights and titles of Christ to the throne of Israel. Salvation to the Jew first, and then to the Gentile is here the order.

Matthew (see Mark 2:14), or Levi, of Jewish origin.

Palestine, A. D. 38

Mark, polite

This Gospel is the Spirit's record of the service and acts of Jesus, Son of God, to needy Israel. Hence, viewed as the servant of Jehovah's grace, there is no genealogy of our Lord given.

John, surnamed Mark, cousin to Barnabas, Col. 4:10.

Rome, A. D. 64

Luke, luminous

This Gospel is the record of the ways in suffering, grace, and dependence of Jesus, Son of Man; not the legal genealogy as in Matthew, but the human one is found here.

Luke, a Gentile and scholarly physician, Col. 4:14 .

Rome, A.D. 64

(Note. Neither Mark nor Luke were Apostles nor eye-witnesses of much, at least, of what they relate; Mark is especially circumstantial and minute. Luke moralizes upon the facts; both were companions of Paul.)

John, grace, or gift of the Lord

This Gospel is the Spirit's record of the Divine glories of the Son. The matchless simplicity, yet profound depths herein unfolded are truly God-like.

John, companion of Peter: for authorship, see 21:20-24.

Ephesus, A. D. 69

Acts, from the character of the book

This, the only historical book of the New Testament, supplements the Gospel history and serves as an introduction to the study of the Epistles.

Luke, "the beloved physician" and companion of Paul.

Rome, A.D. 64, (supplementing the third Gospel).

Romans, from "Rome," strength

A Divine, comprehensive, and orderly exposure of Jewish and Gentile corruption and unfolding of Christianity — of the Grace and Gospel of God.

Paul the Gentile Apostle.*

Corinth, A.D. 58 (first in moral order of the Epistles)

1 Corinthians, from "Corinth,"** satisfied

The ordering of the house of God, so as to maintain practical holiness, and the regulation of gift and ministry so as to secure godly order and edification in the assembly

Paul the Gentile Apostle.*

Ephesus, A.D. 57

2 Corinthians, from "Corinth,"** satisfied

The afflicted Apostle, cheered by the partial recovery of the Corinthians from their state of decline, and filled with the consolations of Christ, pours out his heart to his children in the faith.

Paul the Gentile Apostle.*

Macedonia, A.D. 57 (a few months after the former.)

(**Corinth, noted for wickedness and philosophy; only exceeded by Rome in the former and by Athens in the latter.)

Galatians, from "Galatia," white or milky

The true grace of God and justification on the principle of faith, established for the saint in opposition to law, legalism, and flesh.

Paul the Gentile Apostle.*

Corinth, A.D. 57 — Both time and place uncertain.

Ephesians, from "Ephesus," desire

The individual, then corporate, blessedness of the saints as united to Christ the glorified Man, seated too in heavenly places before God — in Christ and as Christ.

Paul the Gentile Apostle.*

Rome, A.D. 62.***

Philippians, from "Philippi," lover of horses

Christian walk and experience, which is the manifestation of Christ Himself, amidst wilderness trials and circumstances.

Paul the Gentile Apostle.*

Rome, A.D. 62.***

Colossians, from Colosse," correction

The richest and fullest unfolding in Scripture of the glories and perfections of the Church's Head, as also of the application of His work in peace and reconciliation.

Paul the Gentile Apostle.*

Rome, A. D. 62.***

(***These were written with that to Philemon about the same time — during the Roman imprisonment.)

 1 Thessalonians, "Thessalonica," from name of daughter of Philip of Macedon.

The "blessed," or happy hope — the immediate return of Christ for His saints whether asleep, or alive on the earth, is the main subject.

Paul the Gentile Apostle.*

Corinth, A.D. 52. (First written of the Pauline Epistles.)

2 Thessalonians, after a memorable victory obtained over the Thessalians. Ancient name was Therma.

 The translation of the saints, the subsequent rise of Antichrist, etc., then the return of Christ in glory, and kindred subjects, are developed in this Epistle.

Paul the Gentile Apostle.*

Corinth, A.D. 53.

1 Timothy, honoured of God

Godly behaviour in the Church, which is God's house, and is here viewed in its normal character, is the main point insisted upon.

Paul the Gentile Apostle.*

Macedonia, A.D. 67 (?) — Date uncertain.

2 Timothy, honoured of God

The ruin of the Church as God's witness to the world is here depicted, and the individual pathway of the saint traced by the pen of inspiration.

Paul the Gentile Apostle.*

Rome, A.D. 68. (Last written of Paul's Epistles.)

Titus, honourable

The conduct becoming the faith of God's elect, not in the Church as in 1 Tim., but in the world, is the great point pressed by the Spirit.

Paul the Gentile Apostle.*

Ephesus, A.D. 67 (?) — Date uncertain.

Philemon, affectionate, or kind

A courteous and delicately-expressed inspired communication, touching a personal and domestic matter.

Paul the Gentile Apostle.*

Rome, A.D. 62. (Eph., Col., Phil., written at same time.)

Hebrews, from "Eber," the other side. Gen. 11:17.

An elaborate and comprehensive disclosure of Christianity in its effects, its priesthood, worship, and sacrifice, which are shown to be heavenly and permanent, in contrast to Judaism.

Paul the Gentile Apostle.*

Italy, A.D. 63. (For authorship see chap. 13:23, and 2 Peter 3:15, 16.)

(*Paul was a Jew, of the sect of the Pharisees, of the honoured tribe of Benjamin, a free-born citizen of Tarsus of Cilicia, educated in Jerusalem, under Gamaliel, converted in A.D. 36, and sixteen years afterwards commenced writing these inspired communications bearing his name, as also that to the Hebrews; was martyred by beheading at Rome, A.D. 68, under Nero, perhaps the cruelest of the Caesars. Thus died Paul, after 32 years' life of service and suffering, unexampled by all then or since. His record is on high.)

James, supplanter

The scattered tribes of Israel, not the Church, are here exhorted to a life of good works as evidence of their faith in God, hence the use of Gen. 22 in chap. 2:21.

James, "the Lord's brother," "the Just," son of Alphaeus.

Jerusalem, A.D. 61. (The first of the four Hebrew Epistles)

1 Peter, a stone or piece of rock; see Matt. 16:18; 1 Peter 2:4-8.

Addressed to Christian Jews, in which their call to heaven, and walk on earth are the distinguishing subjects.

Peter, whose conversion is recorded in Luke 5; Chief of "the twelve," Matt. 10:2; Mark 3:16; Luke 6:14; martyred by crucifixion in Rome, A.D. 68 (?)

Babylon. A.D. 64. See chap. 5:13, where the word church should be omitted; "She at Babylon." probably Peter's wife.

2 Peter, (See as above.)

Addressed to the same persons as the first (chap. 3:1.) In the first Epistle the saints are encouraged and comforted; here they are warned and the judgment of the world announced.

Unknown, A.D. 65. Compare 2 Peter. 1:14 with John 21:18, 19.

1 John, (See under the Gospel.)

Eternal life in the believer in manifestation and communion; its moral characteristics, and all pretensions to it tested and judged.

John, the son of Zebedee, and brother of James, who was martyred by Herod Agrippa, A.D. 42-44. (Acts 12:2.) John outlived all his apostolic brethren, and is believed to have fallen asleep at Ephesus, about A.D. 98-100.

Ephesus (?), A.D. 69 (?)*

2 John,

The glory of Christ to be unflinchingly maintained; neither sex, woman, position, lady, nor age, children, are freed from the responsibility.

Ephesus (?), A.D. 69 (?)*

3 John,

The stern rejection of evil is the point of the second Epistle; the hearty reception and encouragement of all that is good, the main point of the third.

Ephesus (?), A.D. 69 (?)*

(*These Epistles contain no information when or where they were written. Tradition is the only ground of our answer to these really unimportant questions.)

Jude, praise the Lord

Jude and 2 Peter are much alike, but they differ in this essential respect, that the former develops the apostacy of Christendom in the last days, the latter the sin of the last days.

Jude, or Judas, Lebbaeus, surnamed Thaddeus.

Unknown, A.D. 66 (?) (Compare with 2 Peter.)

Revelation, rolling back of a veil

The Lord's judgment upon the professing Church, Israel, and the world prophetically announced, with the final results to all, whether in glory or judgment.

John, the youngest, and probably the most beloved of the apostles.

Patmos, A.D. 96. This lonely isle, of about 20 to 25 miles in circumference, was a convict establishment.

Note. We may remark that By whom, Where, and When the various books of Scripture were penned, are questions irrespective of their inspiration. The Divine character of the Bible remains untouched, although, in some instances, we cannot answer these questions with any degree of certainty. God, by His Spirit wrote the Bible.