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The writings which are regarded by christians as the sole standard of faith and practice, have been designated at various periods by different names. They are frequently called the Scriptures, to denote that they are the most important of all writings; the Holy Scriptures, because composed by persons Divinely inspired, and containing sacred truth; and the Canonical Scriptures. The word canon means a rule, and it was applied by the christian fathers to the books of the Bible, because they were regarded as an authoritative rule of faith and practice by all christians; and also to distinguish them from certain spurious or apocryphal books, which, although some of them might be true as matter of history, or correct in doctrine, were not regarded as an inspired rule of faith, and were therefore considered as not canonical.
But the most common appellation given now to these writings is, the Bible. This is a Greek word signifying book. It is given to the scriptures by way of eminence, to denote that this is the Book of books, as being infi nitely superior to every unassisted production of the human mind.
The most common and general division of the Bible is into the Old and New Testaments. The word testament is taken from the Greek translation of the Hebrew word meaning covenant, compact, or agree
It is applied to the covenant or compact which God made with the Jews to be their God, and thus primarily denotes the agreement, the compact, the promises, the institutions, of the old dispensation, and then the record of that compact in the writings of Moses and the prophets. The name ‘Old Testament, or Old Covenant,' therefore, denotes the books containing the records of God's compact with his people, or his dispensations under the Mosaic or Jewish state. The word New Covenant, or Testament, denotes the books which contain the record of God's new covenant or compact with his people under the Messiah, or since Christ came.
The Jews divided the Old Testament into three parts, called the Law, the Prophets, and the Hagiographia, or the holy writings. This division is noticed by our Saviour in Luke xxiv. 44,* • All things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning me.'
The books of the Bible were anciently written without any divisions into chapters and verses. The division into chapters and verses is of recent origin. It was first adopted in the 13th century by Cardinal Hugo, who wrote a celebrated commentary on the scriptures. He divided the Latin Vulgate, the version used in the church of Rome, into chapters nearly the same as those which now exist in our English translation. These chapters he divided into smaller sections by placing the letters ABC, &c., at equal distances from each other in the margin.
The verses into which the New Testament is divided are still more modern. This division was invented and first used by Stephens, in an edition of the New Testament, printed in 1551. The division was made while he was on a journey from Lyons to Paris, during the intervals in which he rested in travelling. It has been adopted in all the subsequent editions of the Bible.
In regard to this division into chapters and verses, it is clear that they are of no authority whatever. It has been doubted whether the sacred writers used any points or divisions of any kind. It is certain that they were wholly unacquainted with those now in use. It is further evident, that in all cases, these divisions have not been judiciously made. The sense is often interrupted by the close of a chapter, and still oftener by the break in the verses. In reading the scriptures, little regard should be had to this division. It is of use now only for reference; and inaccurate as it is, it must evidently be substantially retained.
* See note on that place.
The first translation of the Old Testament was made about the year 270 before the Christian era. made at Alexandria in Egypt into the Greek language, and probably for the use of the Jews who were scattered among pagan nations. It came to be extensively used in Judea, and no small part of the quotations in the New Testament were taken from it. It is called the Septuagint, or the version by the seventy, from a tradition that seventy elders of Israel, deputed for that purpose, were employed in making the translation.
The language spoken by our Saviour and his apostles was called Syro-Chaldaic, or more commonly the Syriac. The reason why the New Testament was not written in this language probably was, that the Greek had become the common language used throughout the eastern nations subject to the Romans
About the beginning of the fourth century the bible was translated into Latin by Jerome. This translation was made in consequence, as he says, of the incorrectness of a version then in use, called the Italic. The translation made by Jerome, now called the Latin vulgate, is the authorized version of the church of Rome.
The English translation of the bible now in use was made in the reign of James I. This translation was intended only as an improvement of those previously in existence.
It is the concurrent testimony of all who are competent to express an opinion, that no translation of the Bible into any language has preserved so faithfully the sense of the original as the English. The fact that it has for two hundred years poured light into the minds of millions, and guided the steps of generation after generation in the way to heaven, has given to it somewhat of the venerableness which appropriately belongs to a book of God. Successive ages may correct some of its few unimportant errors ; may throw light on some of its obscure passages ; but to the consumma tion of all things, it must stand, wherever the English language is spoken, upon the whole, as the purest specimen of its power to give utterance to the meaning of ancient tongues, and of the simple and pure majesty of the language which we speak.
The general testimony of the world ; the profound regard paid to it by men of the purest character and most extensive learning; the fact that it has warmed the hearts of the pious, ministered to the comforts of the wretched and the dying, and guided the steps of millions to glory, for two hundred years, and now commands the high esteem of christians of so many different denominations, evinces that it is, to no ordinary extent, faithful to the original, and has a claim on the continued reverence of coming generations.
The probability is, therefore, that while the English language is spoken, and as far as it is used, the English Bible will continue, and that the words which now pour light into our minds will illuminate the understandings and mould the feelings, of unnumbered millions, in their path to immortal life.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW.
The word Gospel means good news, or a joyful message. It commonly signifies the message itself. But it is here used to denote the book containing the record of the message.
Epiphanius says that the Gospel by Matthew was written while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome. This was about the year of our Lord 63, about the time of the destruction of Jerusalem. It is now generally supposed that this gospel was written about that time. There is very high evidence in the gospel that it was written before the destruction of Jerusalem. The destruction of the holy city is clearly and minutely foretold; but there is not the slightest intimation in it that these predictions had been accomplished; a thing which we should naturally expect if the gospel was not written until after these calamities came upon the Jews. Coinpare Acts xi. 28. In all copies of the New Testament, and in all translations, this gospel has been placed first. This, it is probable, would not have been done, had not Matthew published his gospel before any other was written.
Matthew, the writer of this gospel, called also Levi, son of Alpheus, was a publican, or tax-gatherer, under the Romans. See notes on Matt, ix. 9. Luke v. 27. Of his life and death little is certainly known. Socrates, a writer of the fifth century, says that he went to Ethiopia after the apostles were scattered abroad from Judea, and died a martyr in a city called Nadebbar; but by what kind of death is altogether uncertain. However, others speak of his preaching and dying in Parthia or Persia, and the diversity of their accounts seems to show that they are all without good foundation,