Page images

word to mean, at one time a covenant, and at another a last will and testament, according to the circumstances of the case. But as we have two words in English, we ought not to use the one when we mean the other. When we mean a covenant, we must say covenant; and when we mean a testament, we must say testament.

So, when the Scripture means covenant, we ought to translate covenant; and if ever it means testament, then testament.

Are the Scriptures of the Jews, then, a Testament, or a Covenant? Was the religion taught by Moses the Old Testament, or the Old Covenant? And that by Christ, a New Testament, or a New Covenant?

Plainly, they were not Testaments at all, but Covenants; the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. (See Heb. viii. 6, &c., where the word is rightly translated.) The Almighty declares His will to His creatures, and promises that if they obey His commands, He will grant them His blessing accordingly. This, in conformity to human ideas and customs, He calls establishing His covenant with them. The expression is frequent in the Scriptures, and various covenants, both human and divine, are recorded.

Thus, the covenant with Noah is recorded in Genesis ix. 9–17, where the rainbow is made “ the token of the covenant.” Again: circumcision was the token of the covenant with Abraham (Gen. xvii. 9—). But the usual token of a covenant between man and man being, in ancient times, the slaughter of an animal (probably designed emblematically to imprecate destruction upon either party who should break the covenant), it is in accommodation to this custom that the covenant is ratified with Abraham by the blood of a victim in the manner recorded in chap. xv. (8—18); and ages afterwards it is again ratified with the children of Israel in the desert, by the hand of Moses, with the blood of victims, in a very solemn manner, as described in Exod. xxiv. 3—8. In pursuance of still the same idea, and in allusion to the same usage, Jesus Christ, when celebrating his last supper, calls the cup New Covenant in my blood” (see Matt. xxvi. 28, Mark xiv. 24, Luke xxii. 20), where the word is, in the common version, perversely translated Testament, as it is in one or two other places, but not many. It should be “Covenant” wherever it occurs in the Scriptures. So then the Scriptures of the Old Testament are properly the Scriptures (Writings) of the Old Covenant, i.e., of the former dispensation which God gave to the Jews by Moses; and the Scriptures of the New Testament are properly the Writings of the New Covenant, “established upon better promises," which God hath offered to mankind at large by Jesus Christ.

66 the




We have spoken of the books of the Old Testament as containing the religion of the Jews. They contain, in fact, the whole remaining literature of the Jews, from the earliest times down to the time when the prophet Malachi wrote, that is, probably, about 440 years before Christ. The originals are in the Hebrew language, with the exception of some parts of Daniel and Ezra, * which are in Chaldee, a later dialect of the same language, spoken by the Jews after their return from captivity in Babylon.

The next remaining writings of the Hebrews, after the time of Malachi, are the books known as the Apocrypha (hidden,of obscure origin, that is, or of doubtful authenticity). These are generally inserted in large English Bibles between the Old Testament and the New, but omitted in our small and common editions. These “books called Apocrypha” were first written in Greek, which, soon after the time of Alexander's conquests

* One solitary verse in Jeremiah is also in Chaldee (chap. x. 11); but it interrupts the connection, and may be safely regarded as a mere note or comment, first written, perhaps, in the margin of a manuscript when Chaldee had become the dialect of the Jews, and thence copied into the text of future ones. It is wanting in one MS.; and Dr. Blayney says, “to speak my mind freely, I cannot help questioning the authenticity of it.” (See Blayney's Jeremiah, x. 11.)

upon it.

in the East, became the general language of literature throughout the civilized world.* The Jews accordingly translated their Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament into Greek, about the year 285 or 286 B.C. This translation was made at Alexandria, where Jews resided at that time in great numbers, as they did also throughout Egypt. It is known as the “Septuagint" version, or that of the “Seventy" translators, from the number of learned men reported to have been employed

Their design in making this Greek translation may have been in part to recommend their Scriptures to the notice of other nations, and partly to consult the convenience of many of their own nation, who, being dispersed among the Greeks, were gradually losing their knowledge of Hebrew. In the course of a generation or two, many Jews were better acquainted with this Greek version than with their original Scriptures. It came to be regarded with almost the same reverence as the Hebrew text, and was used in many of their synagogues, not only in foreign countries, but even in Palestine. A miraculous origin was even ascribed to it.

From about that same period (after Alexander's conquests), when Palestine formed a part of the kingdom of Syria under Seleucus and his successors, the next race of Jewish writers, whether in Egypt or in Palestine, adopted Greek, instead of Hebrew, for all new compositions; whence the books of the Apocrypha (which contain the history, the legends and the moral and devotional writings of those times), were written in the Greek language. These books are not regarded by the Jews with so much veneration as their Hebrew Scriptures; and the different Christian churches have looked upon them with very various degrees of religious interest—some accepting them as sacred, and others rejecting them. The Church of Rome accepts them, and mixes them up with the Hebrew Scriptures. Protestant churches keep them separate, and ascribe an inferior importance to them. The leading fact regarding them is simply this : that as the books of the Old Testament contain all the remains of Jewish literature down to about 400 years before Christ, having been written originally in Hebrew or Chaldee, so the Apocrypha contain all the now extant Jewish literature of the next succeeding centuries, these writings being originally Greek. These are the palpable facts of the case.

* Alexander died B.C. 324.

At a still later period, some of the Jewish writers, as Philo and Josephus in the first century after Christ, also wrote in Greek. But after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in the year 70, the tender patriotic regrets of the Jewish people seem (in proportion to their hopelessness, one would think) to have led to the more diligent cultivation of their old national language; and during the second, third, fourth and fifth centuries of the Christian æra, many paraphrases and commentaries upon the Scriptures of the Old Testament were written in Chaldee. These are the Talmuds and the Targums. It

may be here observed (though the observation anticipates the subject of the New Testament), that all the Christian Scriptures were written in Greek, as the then literary language of the world, with the exception, perhaps, of the Gospel of Matthew and the Epistle to the Hebrews. There are some reasons for supposing these two books to have been written originally in Chaldee or Syriac, for the immediate use of the Hebrew Christians in Palestine; but if that was the case, the Hebrew originals are lost; and we find these books, like the rest of the New Testament, in Greek, as their earliest existing state. It may also be mentioned here, that the quotations which are often made in the New Testament from the Old, are taken apparently from the Septuagint Greek version above mentioned, often agreeing with it when it differs somewhat from the Hebrew.

This account of the successive languages used in Jewish and Christian literature, is important in explaining many matters of scriptural interest in both the Old Testament and the New.

The Old Testament contains, as already observed, the whole remaining literature of the Jews from the earliest times to about 400 years before Christ, or, including the Apocrypha, till the time of Christ.

This simple fact may save us the trouble of endless and unprofitable discussions on what is called the Canon of the Old Testament. The word Canon is the Greek for a carpenter's rule or square, and more generally for any rule, measure, model

or pattern. So the Canon of the Scriptures means the rule, real or supposed, according to which certain books have been admitted (or are supposed to have been admitted) into the catalogue of Sacred Scriptures, and certain other books been rejected. When we come to the New Testament, we may have occasion to examine into the principles on which its books were admitted into the Canon, and certain others (some of which still exist) were rejected. For, in the case of the New Testament, certain ecclesiastical discussions for the settlement of the Canon are matter of history. But as regards the Old, any such alleged discussion is purely matter of tradition, if not of imagination.

The Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament contain, in point of fact, all the remains of Hebrew literature that existed in the time of Christ and for some centuries before. There have been many other Hebrew compositions, now lost, to which allusions are made in certain books of the Old Testament, as existing when those works were composed; but the “Canon” of the Old Testament includes all that was extant in the time of Christ, and, we have reason to think, all that was extant when the Jewish Scriptures were translated into Greek in the third century before Christ, or when the separate books were first collected into one whole, which may probably have been about 400 years before Christ.

It will be useful as well as curious to enumerate the books mentioned or quoted in various parts of the Old Testament, which are now lost, except so far as some of them may

have been made the basis of the existing books, or been incorporated with them. Had any of these been extant at the time when the “Canon” was formed,—that is, when the collection was made and catalogued,—there is no reason to doubt that they would have been admitted as a part of the general collection of Hebrew literature. There is just the same variety of character and subject among the existing books as (judging by their titles) there was among the lost ones. The existing ones are not all sacred, in the strict and proper sense of the term. One at least is the very reverse of sacred. Some are merely historical, and abound in the worst horrors of human history. Some contain an exposition of the religious system of the Jews;

« PreviousContinue »