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Opinions concerning Christ.
THE HISTORY OF OPINIONS WHICH PRECEDED THE
DOCTRINE OF THE DIVINITY OF CHRIST, AND WHICH PREPARED THE WAY FOR IT.
OF THOSE WHO ARE CALLED APOSTOLICAL FATHERS.
It must, I think, have been evident from the considerations suggested in the preceding Introduction, that the doctrines of the divinity and pre-existence of Christ, were not taught in the Scriptures. But as great stress has been laid upon them in later ages, it is of some moment to trace both when, , and in what manner, they were introduced. With respect to the latter of these circumstances, I think I shall be able to give my readers abundant satisfaction, but with respect to the precise time when, or the particular persons by whom, they were introduced, there is less certainty to be had. This, however, is of no great consequence, it being sufficient to shew that they came in from some foreign source, and after the age of the apostles, which accounts for their not poticing the doctrines at all.
The oldest writer, in whose works these doctrines are unquestionably found, is Justin Martyr, who wrote about A.D. 140. But some traces of them are to be seen in our present copies of the writings of those who are called Apostolical Fathers, from their having lived in the time of the apostles, and being therefore supposed to retain their doctrines, especially as they were not men of a philosophical education. It would certainly be a considerable argument in favour of those doctrines, if they had been certainly held by such men ; but this can by no means be proved. For it is to be lamented that, few as these apostolical fathers are, their works are not come down to us as they wrote them, or rather, except a single epistle of Clemens Romanus, which contains no such doctrines as those of the divinity or pre-existence of Christ, the works that are ascribed to them are almost entirely spurious, and the time of their composition is not easily ascertained. I shall make a few observations on all of them that contain any trace of the doctrines above-mentioned. They are the supposed works of Barnabas, Hermas and Ignatius.
Though I am well satisfied that the only genuine epistle of Clemens Romanus contains no such doctrine as that of the divinity or pre-existence of Christ, yet, because it has been pretended that the latter, at least, is found there, I shall produce the passage which has been alleged for this purpose, and make a few remarks upon it.
6 For Christ is theirs who are humble, and not who exalt themselves over his flock. The sceptre of the majesty of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, came not in the show of pride and arrogance, though he could have done so, but with humility, as the Holy Spirit had before spoken concerning him.”*
This passage, however, is easily explained, by supposing that Clemens alluded to Christ's coming as a public teacher, when, being invested with the power of working miracles, he never made any ostentatious display of it, or indeed ever exerted it for his own benefit in any respect.
But it has been said that the context determines the coming of Christ, of which Clemens speaks, to be from a pre-existent state. “He came not,” says Clemens, “in the pomp of pride and arrogance, although he had it in his power, but in humility, as the Holy Spirit spake concerning him. To determine what this humility is, Clemens immediately goes on to cite the prophecies which describe the Messiah's low condition. The humility, therefore, of an ordinary condition, is that in which it is said the Messiah came. The pomp, therefore,
Ταπεινοφρονεντων γαρ εςιν ο Χριςος εκ' επαιρομενων επι το ποιμνιον αυτό. Το σκηπτρον της μεγαλοσυνης το Θεό, ο κυριος ημων Χριςος Ιησες, εκ' ηλθεν εν κομπω αλαζωνειας, εδε υπερηφανιας, καιπερ δυναμενος, αλλα ταπεινοφρονων, καθως το πνευμα το άγιον περι αυτ8 ελάλησεν. . Sect. xvi. p. 154. (P.) See Wake's Gen. Epis. Ed. 4, p. 13.
of a high condition, is the pomp in which it is said he came not, although he had it in his power to come. sions, therefore, clearly imply that our Lord, 'ere he came, had the power to choose in what condition he would be born.”
But, if we consider the prophecies which Clemens quotes, we shall find them to be not such as describe the circumštances of the birth of Christ, but only those of his public life and death ; the principal of them being, Isa. liii. which he quotes almost at full length. This is certainly favourable to the supposition, that when Christ was in public life, he made no ostentatious display of the extraordinary powers with which he was invested, and before he entered upon it, preferred a low condition to that of a great prince.
The more ancient reading of Jerome is evidently favourable to this interpretation of the passage. He read warra duvaluevos, having all power, which naturally alludes to the great power of which he became possessed after the descent of the Spirit of God upon him at his baptism.
As to the phrase coming, it is used to express the mission of any prophet, and it is applied to John the Baptist as well as to Christ, of which the following passages are examples. Matt. xi. 18, 19 : “ John came neither eating nor drinking, &c. The Son of Man came eating and drinking,” &c. i. e. not locally from heaven, but as other prophets came from God. Christ says of John, Matt. xxi. 32, “ John came unto you in the way of righteousness.' John the Evangelist also says of him, John i.7, “The same came for a witness,” &c.
Admitting that some one circumstance in the prophecies which Clemens quotes, rigorously interpreted, should allude to the birth of Christ, (though I see no reason to think so,) we are not authorized to conclude that Clemens attended to that in particular, but to the general scope of the whole, which is evidently descriptive of his public life only.
In the second section of this epistle we find the phrase the sufferings of God; † but this is language so exceedingly shocking and unscriptural, that it is hardly possible to think that it could be used by any writer so near to the time of the apostles; and Junius, who was far from having my objection to it, was of opinion that the whole passage was much cor
• Horsley's Letters, quoted by Dr. P. Pt. ii. Let. i.
† “ Being content with the portion God had dispensed to you; and he hearkening diligently to his word, ye were enlarged in your bowels, having his sufferings (Tra@yuara) before your eyes." Wake's Gen. Epis. p. 2.
rupted, and that, instead of wadnjata AUTO i. e. Osv, we ought to read μαθηματα αυτων. .
Whatever may be thought of this epistle by any of the moderns, it appears that, after the Council of Nice, it was not thought to be favourable to the orthodoxy of those times. Photius, in his account of it, says, that it is liable to censure for three things, the last of which is, that “speaking of our high-priest and master, Jesus Christ, he did not make use of expressions sufficiently lofty and becoming a God, though he no where openly blasphemes him.”*
Of the writings of the other apostolical fathers, the epistle of Barnabas would certainly be entitled to the greatest consideration, if it was genuine ; but it is almost certainly spurious, and unquestionably interpolated, besides, that the time in which it was written cannot be ascertained. Probably, however, it is not very ancient. My observations on this subject will be chiefly copied from the learned Jeremiah Jones, who, being a believer in the doctrine of the Trinity, cannot be excepted against as an unfair judge in this case.
That the writer of this epistle was not Barnabas, the companion of Paul, “ who was originally a Jew,” but “ by one who was originally a Gentile or Pagan," appears, he says, " from the constant distinction or opposition which he makes between Jew and Gentile” in the course of the work, and from the writer, “always ranking himself among the latter sort.”+ It is also evident from there being no Hebraisms in the style of the work, and from its being written after the destruction of Jerusalem. For he speaks of the temple as being then destroyed, $ and it is highly improbable that Barnabas should have survived that event.
That this epistle was not, in early times, considered as the genuine production of Barnabas, the companion of Paul, appears, “because it is not found in any of the catalogues of the sacred books of the New Testament, made by the primi. tive Christians." It is, likewise, almost certain that this
“Ότι αρχιερεια και προς ατην τον κυριον ημων Ιησεν Χριςον εξονομαζων, εδε τας θεοπρεπεις και υψηλοτερας αφηκε περι αυτ8 φωνας εμην
88 απαρακαλυπτως αυτον αδαμη εν τετοις βλασφημει. Bibliotheca, p. 306. (Ρ.)
† Jones on the Canon, 1726, I. p. 526. (P.) “A new and full method of settling the authority of the New Testament, by the Rev. Jeremiah Jones. Oxford. At the Clarendon Press." 1798, 1. pp. 432, 434.
I Sect. xvi. (P.). "The Scripture saith, (Zephan. ii. 6, jurta Hebr.) . And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the Lord will deliver up the sheep of his pasture, and their fuld, and their tower unto destruction.' And it has come to pass, as the Lord hath spoken." Wake's Gen. Epis. p. 188.
Jones on the Canon, I. p. 654. (P.) Oxford, Il. p. 440.
epistle could not be written by Barnabas, or indeed any respectable writer, from the extreme weakness and absurdity of many parts of it, especially from his finding in the two first letters of the name of Jesus, and the figure of the cross, the number 318, which he says, was the number that Abraham circumcised, (but which was the number of those that Abraham armed, in order to pursue the king's who had plundered Sodom,) T, which makes the figure of the cross being 300, in the Greek method of notation, and 1, H, 18. This curiosity he speaks of as having been imparted to him by divine inspiration, and as certain a truth as any that he had divulged.*
The author of this epistle carries his allegorizing of the writings of Moses so far as to assert that it was not his intention to forbid the use of any meats as unclean, but only to signity, by his prohibiting the flesh of certain animals, that we ought to avoid the dispositions for which they are remarkable. Mr. Jones proceeds to mention ten instances of mistakes and falsehoods in this epistle of Barnabas, and says that it would be easy to instance as many more. I
The age of this epistle cannot be clearly ascertained. 1: is not mentioned by Irenæus, Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Theophilus, or Tertullian; but it is quoted by Clemens Alexandrinus. It is not, therefore, certain that this epistle is older than Justin Martyr, and therefore, it is of little consequence whether the writer held the doctrine of the pre-existence of Christ, or not.
At whatever time this epistle was written, it is evidently interpolated. Two passages in the Greek, which assert the pre-existence of Christ, are omitted in the ancient Latin
Δηλοι ουν τον μεν Ιησουν εν τοις δυσι γιαμμασι, και εν εν τον σταυρον. Οιδες, και την εμφυτον δωρεαν της διδαχής αυτου θεμενος εν ημιν. Ουδεις γνησιωτερον εμαθεν απ' εμου λογον αλλα οιδα, οτι αξιοι εςτε υμεις. Sect. ix. p. 80. (P.) “ Abraham, who was the first that brought in circumcision, looking forward in the spirit to Jesus, circumcised, having received the mystery in three letters. For the Scripture says, that Abraham circumcised 318 men of his heuse. But what therefore was the mystery that was made kuown to him? Mark first the 18, and next the 300. For the numeral letters of 10 and 8, are 1. H.; and these denote Jesus. And because the cross was that by which we were to find grace, therefore he adds 900; the note of which is T. Wherefore by two letters he signified Jesus, anil by the third his cross. He who has put the engrafted gift of his doctrive within iis knows that I never taught to any one a more genuine truth. But I trust that ve are worthy of it.”. Sect. ix. ad fin. Archbishop Wake adds, on authorities which he quotes, as to the 318 men circumcised, “that many others of the ancient fathers have concurred in this." Gen. Epist. pp. 175, 176.
Mr. Jones remarks that, “the author of the Epistle, in his allegory, supposes that Abraham understood Greek, at least that he knero the Greek letters, many hundred years before" they “ were invented." New Meth. Oxford, II, p. 450. † Sect. x. Wake, pp. 176-179.
# New Meth. Oxf. II. pp. 446-459.