Hunter/Dogmatic Theology/III/I

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Outlines of Dogmatic Theology


CHAPTER I: WHAT IS MEANT BY “SCRIPTURE”.

116. Plan of Treatise. – We have already on many occasions quoted the Holy Scripture, sometimes treating its authority as decisive on the questions which we have discussed, and often using it in such a manner as implies that a special authority belongs to these Books, such as no other books can claim to possess. Yet we have so far not given any reason for holding this, and, in fact, we have deviated slightly from logical order, anticipating matter which was yet to come. No other course could be adopted without a serious sacrifice of convenience to merely formal accuracy, and the present Treatise will justify the assumptions that we have made. Something similar will be met with in other parts of Theology; the science forms one organic whole, each part ramifying so as to become connected with other parts, so that there are no sharp divisions; every arrangement into Treatises is necessarily to some extent arbitrary and artificial; these divisions are needed by the learner, but he cannot expect to understand any part thoroughly until he has studied other portions which deal with kindred matter.


117. Subject of Chapter. – It will be found that there are three classes of occasions on which we have used the authority of the Scripture. In our first Treatise, we used the Gospels and some of the Epistles of St. Paul, along with the Annals of Tacitus, the Letters of Pliny, and other materials, as ancient documents which gave a trustworthy account of the miracles of Christ and other circumstances which established the Divine Mission of the Worker of these miracles, and conveyed to us some knowledge of His teaching. So far the Scripture was treated as if it were a purely human work, and we could not expect that those who did not admit our doctrine should treat it in any other manner. But our second Treatise dealt with opponents who are as ready as ourselves to admit the decisive authority of Scripture, except that they do not altogether agree with us in drawing up the list of Books to which the Scriptural character belongs; and, therefore, as long as we avoided the disputed Books, we were at liberty to use the rest as authorities in the controversy on which we were engaged; accordingly, we employed the Epistles of St. Paul to St. Timothy, which we could not have quoted in our first Treatise without entering on a discussion of their genuineness; for questions have been raised whether they are the work of St. Paul, and it would have been inconvenient and needless to delay in order to settle the point. In this polemical matter, therefore,our argument is partly ad hominem. But throughout both Treatises we have done something towards showing how the Catholic doctrine is contained in the monuments of Tradition, and this, as we have seen, is part of the work of a theologian (n. 84); and it is here, if anywhere, that we have slightly anticipated what will be proved in the present Treatise.


This first chapter will be devoted to giving some account of the Books that constitute the Holy Scripture.


118. "Scripture," "Bible." – There is a collection, or rather series, of Books which are now, and have long been, held in special honour among Christians, and a portion of which are now, and have long been, held in special honour by the Jews: and these Books we mean when we speak of Scripture. Those Books of Scripture which relate to the centuries before the Birth of Christ, form the Old Testament, from which the New Testament is distinguished. It is usual to bind these Books together into one volume, and this volume is called the Bible. We shall see in our next chapter that there are other names by which these Books have been known; and we shall there see that besides there being names applied to the Books as a whole, there is much else that can be said about them in common; but at present we shall point out various respects in which they do not agree; and in this way we shall obviate by anticipation many mistakes that are rife as to their true character.


119. Date of Composition. – Whatever doubts there may be as to the date of the composition of particular Books of Scripture, the discussion of which does not belong to Theology, but must be sought in the Introduction to the various Books, it is certain that many centuries elapsed between the earliest and the latest. The earliest Books we believe to date from 1400 years before Christ, being the first five Books, collectively called the Pentateuch, or five volumes, the work of Moses; the latest is commonly reckoned to be the Gospel of St. John, the date of which is perhaps not much earlier than 100 after Christ.


120. Original Languages. – Various languages were employed for the originals of the Scripture. The greater part of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, which was and is the proper language of the Israelites, and was therefore naturally employed by writers who addressed themselves primarily to Israelites. For certain portions, however, a kindred language was employed, which is called Chaldee or Syriac. This is the language which was in use on the east of the Euphrates, in the country to which the Jews were carried as captives by King Nabuchodonosor, about 600 years before Christ (2 Paral. xxxvi. 20), and Daniel, who was among the captives, employed it for part of his Book. It first occurs in the fourth verse of the second chapter: “And the Chaldeans answered the King in Syriac, O King, live for ever." Down to the word Syriac, all is Hebrew, but O King is Chaldee, and the same language is employed up to the seventh chapter; Hebrew is resumed at the beginning of the eighth. It is natural to suppose that the words, O King, &c., are given in the language in which they were originally spoken; but there is no apparent reason why the same language is retained in what follows, nor why, after a while, the use of Hebrew is resumed. Something similar is found in the First Book of Esdras, which is concerned with affairs immediately after the Captivity, where two passages, iv. 8, vi. 18, and again, vii. 12 − 26, are in Chaldaic. The latter of these is a letter of King Artaxerxes, given doubtless in its original language; the former also opens with a citation, although it goes on to other matter. There is another instance (Jerem. x. n), where the Prophet puts some words into the mouth of his hearers; and as early as Genesis xxxi. 47, it is remarked that the language of Jacob, the Hebrew, was different from that of Laban, who dwelt in the east country. (Genesis xxix. 1.) The use of the name Chaldee for the language here spoken of is thoroughly established and will not mislead, although it originated in an error, and is regarded as absurd by Semitic scholars. (Wright, Comparative Grammar of the Semitic Languages, p. 16.) This tongue is very nearly, but not quite, identical with what is commonly called Syriac.


A large part of the Old Testament is still extant in the original Hebrew or Chaldaic, and this part constitutes the whole of what is recognized by the Jews, whom the Protestants follow. Besides these, the Tradition of the Church recognizes two Books of Greek origin, and five Books which seem to have been written originally in Hebrew, although they are now extant only in a Greek translation, as is the case also with large parts of the Books of Daniel and Esther. These seven, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, Tobias, Judith, and the First of Machabees, together with Wisdom and the Second Machabees, are called deuterocanonical Books, for reasons which will be explained in our fourth chapter of this Treatise, where their claim to be considered part of Scripture will be established. The Protestants, who reject them, brand them with the name of Apocrypha.


Probably the whole of the New Testament was written in Greek. There is some doubt whether the Gospel of St. Matthew and the Epistle to the Hebrews may not have had a Hebrew origin, but however this may be, nothing is now in existence which is prior to the Greek of these two Books, from which all the versions are derived.


121. Writers. – Many of the Books of Scripture are anonymous, nor has tradition preserved the name of the writer; such are the later Books of Kings, the Paralipomena, the Machabees, and Job. Others are believed, with more or less certainty, to have been written by the leading men whose actions they relate; Moses, for instance, and Samuel. Many of the Psalms were written by David, but not all; and it is to be remarked that the superscriptions or “titles” prefixed to a large proportion of the Psalms, are perhaps no part of the inspired Scripture. The three Books of Proverbs, the Preacher, and the Song of Songs, with the possible exception of a part of the first named (see Cornely's Introductions), were written by Solomon, but the same cannot be said of Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus, which deal with a somewhat similar argument. The Books of the Prophets were probably put together each by him whose name it bears, or by his immediate disciples; but it must be carefully remembered that the prophetic gift itself was something different from the commission to write a Book; thus Elias, one of the greatest of the Prophets, seems to have written nothing.


The whole of the New Testament was written by Apostles, except the Gospels of St. Mark and St. Luke, which are taken to represent the teaching of St. Peter and St. Paul respectively. (St. Iren. Contra Hæreses, 3, 1; P.G. 7, 845; Euseb. Hist. Eccl. 3, 34; P.G. 20, 300, quoting Papias.)


122. Extent. – The Books of Scripture are of very various extent. Genesis contains fifty chapters, the Prophecy of Isaias sixty-six. On the other hand, the Epistle to Philemon, the second and third of St. John, and that of St.Jude, are confined to a single chapter each. The number of chapters indicates roughly the extent of the Book. The division into chapters does not come from the original authors, being, in fact, no older than the thirteenth century after Christ, and due either to Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury (1227), or to the Dominican Cardinal Hugh à Sancto Caro (1262). The verses were first numbered in a Paris edition of the Vulgate (1548). On these and other divisions of the Scriptures, see Cornely, Introductio, i. 35.


123. Style. – Nor is there less variety in the literary style. Thus we have bald narration in 2 Paral. xvi. 1 − 5; in I Mach. xiv. 4 − 15, the narrative is more ornate. A good specimen of the gnomic style is found in Prov. x. 1 − 5, and in Wisdom xiii. 11 − 19, there is close philosophical reasoning. Poetry is abundant, and the 83rd Psalm, Quam dilecta, may be cited as a convenient specimen; and the use of symbols instead of speech is found in Ezech. x. throughout.


124. Matter. – The matter of these Books is as various as the style, which is in fact accommodated to it. In general terms we may say that the Old Testament gives us the history of the Creation and Flood, and of the Israelite and Jewish nation down to the year 135 before Christ. But this history is treated mainly with the view of illustrating the providence of God in dealing with this chosen nation; hence there are long intervals in which nothing is recorded, and we may suppose that nothing occurred that bore upon this subject. Besides this history, we have some narrations instructing us in piety, such as the stories of Ruth and Tobit; there is direct moral teaching in the Book of Proverbs and elsewhere; the Books of the Prophets contain exhortations, and in the Psalms we have examples showing us how we ought to praise God and pray to Him.


In the New Testament we have the history of the Life and Death of Christ, and some account of the actions of the Apostles; there are letters of instruction and exhortation, and one letter to Philemon on a private subject; and lastly, the Apocalypse, with the account of the revelations vouchsafed to St. John, which closes the whole series.


125. Recapitulation. – This enumeration of the various characters of the Books of Scripture makes it clear that they have no internal bond of connection; the unity which undoubtedly belongs to the collection must be sought in something that is external to its members. We have shown that it is not found in the date, language, writers, bulk, style, nor matter. We proceed in the next chapter to search for it in something external.

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