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JUSTIN MARTYR, who wrote in the year 140, | count, the public reading of the Scriptures in the which was seventy or eighty years after some, churches, "where," says he, "is a confluence of and less, probably, after others of the Gospels all sorts of people of both sexes; and where they were published, giving, in his first apology, an ac- hear how they ought to live well in this world, count, to the emperor, of the Christian worship, that they may deserve to live happily and eterhas this remarkable passage: nally in another." And this custom he declares to be universal: "The canonical books of Scripture being read every where, the miracles therein recorded are well known to all people."*
"The Memoirs of the Apostles, or the Writings of the Prophets, are read according as the time allows: and, when the reader has ended, the president makes a discourse, exhorting to the imitation of so excellent things." *
A few short observations will show the value of this testimony.
It does not appear that any books, other than our present Scriptures, were thus publicly read, except that the epistle of Clement was read in the church of Corinth, to which it had been addressed, and in some others; and that the Shepherd of Hermas was read in many churches. Nor does it subtract much from the value of the argument, that these two writings partly come within it, because we allow them to be the genuine writings of apostolical men. There is not the least evidence, that any other Gospel, than the four which we receive, was ever admitted to this dis
1. The "Memoirs of the Apostles," Justin in another place expressly tells us, are what are called "Gospels:" and that they were the Gospels which we now use, is made certain by Justin's numerous quotations of them, and his silence about any others.
2. Justin describes the general usage of the Christian church.
3. Justin does not speak of it as recent or new-tinction, ly instituted, but in the terms in which men speak of established customs.
II. Tertullian, who followed Justin at the distance of about fifty years, in his account of the religious assemblies of Christians as they were conducted in his time, says, "We come together to recollect the Divine Scriptures; we nourish our faith, raise our hope, confirm our trust, by the Sacred Word." +
III, Eusebius records of Origen, and cites for his authority the letters of bishops contemporary with Origen, that, when he went into Palestine about the year 216, which was only sixteen years after the date of Tertullian's testimony, he was desired by the bishops of that country to discourse and expound the Scriptures publicly in the church, though he was not yet ordained a presbyter. This anecdote recognises the usage, not only of reading, but of expounding the Scriptures; and both as subsisting in full force. Origen also himself bears witness to the same practice: "This," says he, we do, when the Scriptures are read in the church, and when the discourse for explication is delivered to the people."§ And what is a still more ample testimony, many homilies of his upon the Scriptures of the New Testament, delivered by him in the assemblies of the church, are still extant.
*Lardner, Cred. vol. i, p. 5
Commentaries were anciently written upon the Scriptures; harmonies formed out of them; different copies carefully collated; and versions made of them into different languages.
IV. Cyprian, whose age was not twenty years lower than that of Origen, gives his people an account of having ordained two persons, who were before confessors, to be readers; and what they were to read, appears by the reason which he gives for his choice: "Nothing," says Cyprian, can be more fit, than that he, who has made a glorious confession of the Lord, should read pub-publication of some of them. ficly in the church; that he who has shown himself willing to die a martyr, should read the Gospel of Christ, by which martyrs are made." ||
V. Intimations of the saine custom may be traced in a great number of writers in the beginning and throughout the whole of the fourth century. Of these testimonies I will only use one, as being, of itself, express and full. Augustine, who appeared near the conclusion of the century, displays the benefit of the Christian religion on this very ac
Tb. vol. iii. p. 68.
No greater proof can be given of the esteem in which these books were holden by the ancient Christians, or of the sense then entertained of their value and importance, than the industry bestowed upon them. And it ought to be observed, that the value and importance of these books consisted entirely in their genuineness and truth. There was nothing in them, as works of taste, or as compositions, which could have induced any one to have written a note upon them, Moreover it shows that they were even then considered as ancient books. Men do not write comments upon publications of their own times: therefore the testimonies cited under this head, afford an evidence which carries up the evangelic writings much beyond the age of the testimonies themselves, and to that of their reputed authors.
I. Tatian, a follower of Justin Martyr, and who flourished about the year 170, composed a harmony, or collation of the Gospels, which he called Diatessaron, Of the four. The title, as well as the work, is remarkable; because it shows that then, as now, there were four, and only four, Gospels in general use with Christians. And this was little more than a hundred years after the
II. Pantænus, of the Alexandrian school, a man of great reputation and learning, who came twenty years after Tatian, wrote many commentaries upon the Holy Scriptures, which, as Jerome testifies, were extant in his time.‡
III. Clement of Alexandria wrote short explications of many books of the Old and New Testament.§
IV. Tertullian appeals from the authority of a later version, then in use, to the authentic Greek. V. An anonymous author, quoted by Eusebius,
and who appears to have written about the year 212, appeals to the ancient copies of the Scriptures, in refutation of some corrupt readings, alleged by the followers of Artemon.*
VI. The same Eusebius, mentioning by name several writers of the church who lived at this time, and concerning whom he says, "There still remain divers monuments of the laudable industry of those ancient and ecclesiastical men" (i. e. of Christian writers who were considered as ancient in the year 300,) adds, " There are, besides, treatises of many others, whose names we have not been able to learn, orthodox and ecclesiastical men, as the interpretations of the Divine Scrip tures given by each of them show."+
VII. The last five testimonies may be referred to the year 200; immediately after which, a period of thirty years gives us.
Julius Africanus, who wrote an epistle upon the apparent difference in the genealogies in Matthew and Luke, which he endeavours to reconcile by the distinction of natural and legal descent, and conducts his hypothesis with great industry through the whole series of generations.
Ammonius, a learned Alexandrian, who composed, as Tatian had done, a harmony of the four Gospels; which proves, as Tatian's work did, that there were four Gospels, and no more, at this time in use in the church. It affords also an instance of the zeal of Christians for those writings, and of their solicitude about them.§
And, above both these, Origen, who wrote commentaries, or homilies, upon most of the books included in the New Testament, and upon no other books but these. In particular, he wrote upon Saint John's Gospel, very largely upon Saint Matthew's, and commentaries, or homilies, upon the Acts of the Apostles.
VIII. In addition to these, the third century likewise contains
Dionysius of Alexandria, a very learned man, who compared, with great accuracy, the accounts in the four Gospels of the time of Christ's resurrection, adding a reflection which showed his opinion of their authority: "Let us not think that the evangelists disagree, or contradict each other, although there be some small difference; but let us honestly and faithfully endeavour to reconcile what we read."¶
Victorin, bishop of Pettaw, in Germany, who wrote comments upon Saint Matthew's Gospel.**
Lucian, a presbyter of Antioch; and Hesychius, an Egyptian bishop, who put forth editions of the New Testament.
IX. The fourth century supplies a cataloguett of fourteen writers, who expended their labours upon the books of the New Testament, and whose works or names are come down to our times; amongst which number it may be sufficient, for the purpose of showing the sentiments and studies
Damasus, bishop of Rome, corresponded with Saint Jerome upon the exposition of difficult texts of Scripture; and, in a letter still remaining, desires Jerome to give him a clear explanation of the word Hosanna, found in the New Testament; "he (Damasus) having met with very different interpretations of it in the Greek and Latin commentaries of Catholic writers which he had read."‡ This last clause shows the number and variety of commentaries then extant.
Gregory of Nyssen, at one time, appeals to the most exact copies of Saint Mark's Gospel; at another time, compares together, and proposes to reconcile, the several accounts of the resurrection given by the four Evangelists; which limitation proves, that there were no other histories of Christ deemed authentie beside these, or included in the same character with these. This writer observes, acutely enough, that the disposition of the clothes in the sepulchre, the napkin that was about our Saviour's head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself, did not bespeak the terror and hurry of thieves, and therefore refutes the story of the body being stolen.§
Ambrose, bishop of Milan, remarked various readings in the Latin copies of the New Testament, and appeals to the original Greek;
And Jerome, towards the conclusion of this century, put forth an edition of the New Testament in Latin, corrected, at least as to the Gospels, by Greek copies, "and those (he says) ancient."
Lastly, Chrysostom, it is well known, delivered and published a great many homilies, or sermons, upon the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.
It is needless to bring down this article lower: but it is of importance to add, that there is no example of Christian writers of the first three centuries composing comments upon any other books than those which are found in the New Testament, except the single one of Clement of Alexandria commenting upon a book called the Revelation of Peter.
Of the ancient versions of the New Testament, one of the most valuable is the Syriac. Syriac was the language of Palestine when Christianity was there first established. And although the books of Scripture were written in Greek, for the § Ib. vol. iii. p. 122. purpose of a more extended circulation than within
† Ib. vol. ii. p. 551.
the precincts of Judea, yet it is probable that they would soon be translated into the vulgar language of the country where the religion first prevailed. Accordingly, a Syriac translation is now extant, all along, so far as it appears, used by the inhabitants of Syria, bearing many internal marks of
** Ib. p. 195. Gregory, Nyssen,
330 Didimus of Alex,
Ambrose of Milan,
Diodore of Tarsus,
340 Gaudent of Brescia, 387
Theodore of Cilicia
of learned Christians of that age, to notice the following:
Eusebius, in the very beginning of the century, wrote expressly upon the discrepancies observable in the Gospels, and likewise a treatise, in which he pointed out what things are related by four, what by three, what by two, and what by one evangelist. This author also testifies what is certainly a material piece of evidence, "that the writings of the apostles had obtained such an esteem, as to be translated into every language both of Greeks and Barbarians, and to be diligently studied by all nations."+ This testimony was given about the year 300; how long before that date these translations were made, does not appear.
high antiquity, supported in its pretensions by the | the other three: on the contrary, it appears that uniform traditions of the East, and confirmed by he wrote a commentary upon the Gospel, so cothe discovery of many very ancient manuscripts pious as to be divided into twenty-four books. in the libraries of Europe. It is about 200 years since a bishop of Antioch sent a copy of this translation into Europe, to be printed; and this seems to be the first time that the translation became generally known to these parts of the world. The bishop of Antioch's Testament was found to contain all our books, except the second epistle of Peter, the second and third of John, and the Revelation; which books, however, have since been discovered in that language in some ancient manuscripts of Europe. But in this collection, no other book, beside what is in ours, appears ever to have had a place. And, which is very worthy of observation, the text, though preserved in a remote country, and without communication with ours, differs from ours very little, and in nothing that is important.*
II. The Valentinians appeared about the same time.t Their heresy consisted in certain notions concerning angelic natures, which can hardly be rendered intelligible to a modern reader. They seem, however, to have acquired as much importance as any of the separatists of that early age. Of this sect, Irenæus, who wrote, A. D. 172, expressly records that they endeavoured to fetch arguments for their opinions from the evangelic and apostolic writings. Heracleon, one of the most celebrated of the sect, and who lived probably so early as the year 125, wrote commentaries upon Luke and John.§ Some observations also of his upon Matthew are preserved by Origen. Nor is there any reason to doubt that he received the whole New Testament.
Our Scriptures were received by ancient Christians of different sects and persuasions, by many Heretics as well as Catholics, and were usually appealed to by both sides in the controversies which arose in those days.
III. The Carpocratians were also an early heresy, little, if at all, later than the two preceding.¶ Some of their opinions resembled what we at this day mean by Socinianism. With respect to the Scriptures, they are specifically charged, by Irenæus and by Epiphanius, with endeavouring to a positive proof that they received that Gospel.** pervert a passage in Matthew, which amounts to Negatively, they are not accused, by their adver saries, of rejecting any part of the New Testa
THE three most ancient topics of controversy amongst Christians, were, the authority of the Jewish constitution, the origin of evil, and the nature of Christ. Upon the first of these we find, in very early times, one class of heretics rejecting the Old Testament entirely; another contending for the obligation of its law, in all its parts, throughout its whole extent, and over every one who sought acceptance with God. Upon the two latter subjects, a natural, perhaps, and venial, but a fruitless, eager, and impatient curiosity, prompted by the philosophy and by the scholastic habits of the age, which carried men much into bold hypotheses and conjectural solutions, raised, amongst some who professed Christianity, very wild and unfounded opinions. I think there is no reason to believe that the number of these bore any consi-that time contended for the mere humanity of derable proportion to the body of the Christian Christ, argued from the Scriptures; for they are church; and amidst the disputes which such accused by this writer, of making alterations in opinions necessarily occasioned, it is a great satis- their copies, in order to favour their opinions.+++ faction to perceive, what, in a vast plurality of instances, we do perceive, all sides recurring to the same Scriptures.
V. Tatian, who lived in the year 172, went into many extravagant opinions, was the founder of a sect called Encratites, and was deeply involved in disputes with the Christians of that age; yet Tatian so received the four Gospels, as to compose a harmony from them.
VI. From a writer, quoted by Eusebius, of about the year 300, it is apparent that they who at
+ I. Basilides lived near the age of the apostles, about the year 120, or, perhaps, sooner.‡ He rejected the Jewish institution, not as spurious, but as proceeding from a being inferior to the true God; and in other respects advanced a scheme of theology widely different from the general doctrine of the Christian church, and which, as it gained over some disciples, was warmly opposed by Christian writers of the second and third century.gen, who has recorded this accusation without In these writings, there is positive evidence that contradicting it, nevertheless testifies, that the four Basilides received the Gospel of Matthew; and Gospels were received without dispute, by the there is no sufficient proof that he rejected any of whole church of God under heaven.‡‡‡
VII. Origen's sentiments excited great controversies,-the bishops of Rome and Alexandria, and many others, condemning, the bishops of the East espousing them; yet there is not the smallest question, but that both the advocates and adversaries of these opinions acknowledged the same authority of Scripture. In his time, which the reader will remember was about one hundred and fifty years after the Scriptures were published, many dissensions subsisted amongst Christians, with which they were reproached by Celsus; yet Ori
*Jones on the Canon, vol. i. c. 14.
†The materials of the former part of this section are taken from Dr. Lardner's History of the Heretics of the two first Centuries, published since his death, with additions, by the Rev. Mr. Hogg, of Exeter, and inserted into the ninth volume of his works, of the edition of 1778. Lardner, vol. ix. ed. 1788, p. 271.
IV. The Sethians, A. D. 150; the Montanists, A. D. 156;‡‡ the Marcosians, A. D. 160:§§ Hermogenes, A. D. 180;|||| Praxias, A. D. 196;¶¶ Artemnon, A. D. 200;*** Theodotus, A. D. 200; all included under the denomination of heretics, and all engaged in controversies with Catholic Christians, received the Scriptures of the New Testament.
VIII. Paul of Samosata, about thirty years after Origen, so distinguished himself in the controversy concerning the nature of Christ, as to be the subject of two councils or synods, assembled at Antioch upon his opinions. Yet he is not charged by his adversaries with rejecting any book of the New Testament. On the contrary, Epiphanius, who wrote a history of heretics a hundred years afterward, says, that Paul endeavoured to support his doctrine by texts of Scripture. And Vincentius Lirinensis, A. D. 434, speaking of Paul and other heretics of the same age, has these words: 'Here, perhaps, some one may ask, whether heretics also urge the testimony of Scripture. They urge it indeed, explicitly and vehemently; for you may see them flying through every book of the
XII. The Donatists, who sprung up in the year 328, used the same Scriptures as we do. Produce (saith Augustine) some proof from the Scriptures, whose authority is common to us both." XIII. It is perfectly notorious that, in the Arian
*Lardner, vol. xi. p. 158. lb. vol. iv. p. 666.
IX. A controversy at the same time existed with the Noetians or Sabellians, who seem to have gone into the opposite extreme from that of Paul of Samosata and his followers. Yet, according to the express testimony of Epiphanius, Sa-holding opinions contrary to what is contained in bellius received all the Scriptures. And with them, who yet received the Gospels either entire both sects Catholic writers constantly allege the or in part."s I am not moved by what may seem Scriptures, and reply to the arguments which a deduction from Chrysostom's testimony, the their opponents drew from particular texts. words, "entire or in part;" for, if all the parts, which were ever questioned in our Gospels, were given up, it would not affect the miraculous origin of the religion in the smallest degree: e. g.
We have here, therefore, a proof, that parties, who were the most opposite and irreconcilable to one another, acknowledged the authority of Scripture with equal deference.
Cerinthus is said by Epiphaniys to have received the Gospel of Matthew, but not entire. What the omissions were, does not appear. The common opinion, that he rejected the first two chapters, seems to have been a mistake. It is agreed, however, by all who have given any account of Cerinthus, that he taught that the Holy Ghost (whether he meant by that name a person or a power) descended upon Jesus at his baptism; that Jesus from this time performed many miracles, and that he appeared after his death. He must have retained therefore the essential parts of the history.
X. And as a general testimony to the same point, may be produced what was said by one of the bishops of the council of Carthage, which was holden a little before this time," I am of opinion that the blasphemous and wicked heretics, who perrert the sacred and adorable words of the Scriptures, should be execrated. Undoubtedly what they perverted they received. XI. The Millennium, Novatianism, the baptism of heretics, the keeping of Easter, engaged also the attention and divided the opinions of Christians, at and before that time (and, by the way, it may be observed, that such disputes, though on some accounts to be blamed, showed how much men were in earnest upon the subject); yet every one appealed for the grounds of his opinion to Scripture authority. Dionysius of Alexandria, who flourished A. D. 247, describing a conference or public disputation with the Millennarians of Egypt, confesses of them, though their adversary, “that they embrace whatever could be made out by good arguments from the Holy Scriptures."‡ Novatus, A. D. 251, distinguished by some rigid sentiments concerning the reception of those who had lapsed, and the founder of a numerous sect, in his few remaining works quotes the Gospel with the same respect as other Christians did; and concerning his followers, the testimony of Socrates, who wrote about the year 440, is positive, viz. “That in the disputes between the Catholics and them, each side endeavoured to support itself by the authority of the divine Scriptures."§
Of all the ancient heretics, the most extraordinary was Marcion.¶ One of his tenets was the rejection of the Old Testament, as proceeding from an inferior and imperfect deity: and in pursuance of this hypothesis he erased from the New, and that, as it should seem, without entering into any critical reasons, every passage which recognised the Jewish Scriptures. He spared not a text which contradicted his opinion. It is reasonable to believe that Marcion treated books as he treated texts; yet this rash and wild controversialist published a recension, or chastised edition, of Saint Luke's Gospel, containing the leading facts, and all which is necessary to authenticate the religion. This example affords proof, that there were always some points, and those the main points, which neither wildness nor rashness, neither the fury of opposition nor the intemperance of controversy, would venture to call in question. There is no reason to believe that Marcion, though full of resentment against the Catholic Christians, ever charged them with forging their books. "The Gospel of Saint Matthew, the Epistle to the Hebrews, with those of Saint Peter and Saint James, as well as the Old Testament in general (he said,)
Ib. vol. xi. p. 839. § Ib. vol. v. p. 105.
controversy, which arose soon after the year 300, both sides appealed to the same Scriptures, and with equal professions of deference and regard. The Arians, in their council of Antioch, Ẩ. D. 341, pronounce, that, "if any one, contrary to the sound doctrine of the Scriptures, say, that the Son is a creature, as one of the creatures, let him be an anathema."* They and the Athanasians mutually accuse each other of using unscriptural phrases; which was a mutual acknowledgment of the conclusive authority of Scripture.
Ib. vol. vii. p. 243.
XIV. The Priscillianists, A. D. 378,† the Pelagians, A. D. 405,‡ received the same Scriptures as we do.
XV. The testimony of Chrysostom, who lived near the year 400, is so positive in affirmation of the proposition which we maintain, that it may form a proper conclusion of the argument. "The general reception of the Gospels is a proof that their history is true and consistent; for, since the writings of the Gospels, many heresies have arisen,
were writings not for Christians but for Jews."* This declaration shows the ground upon which Marcion proceeded in his mutilation of the Scriptures, viz. his dislike of the passages or the books. Marcion flourished about the year 130.
Dr. Lardner, in his general Review, sums up this head of evidence in the following words: "Noëtus, Paul of Samosata, Sabellius, Marcellus, Photinus, the Novatians, Donatists, Manicheans,† Priscillianists, beside Artemon, the Audians, the Arians, and divers others, all received most or all the same books of the New Testament which the Catholics received; and agreed in a like respect for them as written by apostles, or their disciples and companions."+
The four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, thirteen Epistles of Saint Paul, the First Epistle of John, and the First of Peter, were received without doubt by those who doubted concerning the other books which are included in our present canon.
I STATE this proposition, because, if made out, it shows that the authenticity of their books was a subject amongst the early Christians of consideration and inquiry; and that, where there was cause of doubt, they did doubt; a circumstance which strengthens very much their testimony to such books as were received by them with full acquiescence.
IV. But this section may be said to have been framed on purpose to introduce to the reader two remarkable passages extant in Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History. The first passage opens with these words:-"Let us observe the writings of the apostle John which are uncontradicted; and first of all must be mentioned, as acknowledged of all, the Gospel according to him, well known to all the churches under heaven." The author then proceeds to relate the occasions of writing the Gospels, and the reasons for placing Saint John's the last, manifestly speaking of all the four as parallel in their authority, and in the certainty of their original. The second passage is taken from a chapter, the title of which is, "Of the I. Jerome, in his account of Caius, who was Scriptures universally acknowledged, and of those probably a presbyter of Rome, and who flourished that are not such." Eusebius begins his enumenear the year 200, records of him, that, reckoning ration in the following manner:-"In the first up only thirteen epistles of Paul, he says the four-place, are to be ranked the sacred four Gospels; teenth, which is inscribed to the Hebrews, is not then the book of the Acts of the Apostles; after his: and then Jerome adds, "With the Romans that are to be reckoned the Epistles of Paul. In to this day it is not looked upon as Paul's." This the next place, that called the First Epistle of agrees in the main with the account given by Eu- | John, and the Epistle of Peter, are to be esteemed sebius of the same ancient author and his work; authentic. After this is to be placed, if it be except that Eusebius delivers his own remark in thought fit, the Revelation of John, about which more guarded terms: "And indeed to this very we shall observe the different opinions at proper time by some of the Romans, this epistle is not seasons. Of the controverted, but yet well known thought to be the apostle's."s or approved by the most, are, that called the Epistle of James, and that of Jude, and the Second of Peter, and the Second and Third of John, whether they are written by the evangelist, or another of the same name." He then proceeds to reckon up five others, not in our canon, which he calls in one place spurious, in another controverted, meaning, as appears to me, nearly the same thing by these two words.¶
II. Origen, about twenty years after Caius, quoting the Epistle to the Hebrews, observes that some might dispute the authority of that epistle; and therefore proceeds to quote to the same point, as undoubted books of Scripture, the Gospel of Saint Matthew, the Acts of the Apostles, and Paul's First Epistle to the Thessalonians. And in another place, this author speaks of the Epistle to the Hebrews thus:-"The account come down to us is various; some saying that Clement, who was bishop of Rome, wrote this epistle; others, that it was Luke, the same who wrote the Gospel and the Acts." Speaking also, in the same paragraph, of Peter, "Peter (says he) has left one epistle, acknowledged; let it be granted likewise that he wrote a second, for it is doubted of." And
It is manifest from this passage, that the four Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles (the parts of Scripture with which our concern principally lies), were acknowledged without dispute, even by those who raised objections, or entertained doubts, about some other parts of the same colicetion. But the passage proves something more than this. The author was extremely conversant *Lardner, vol. iři. p. 234. † Ib. vol. iv. p. 670. † Ib. 661. § Ib. vol. viii. p. 90. lb. p. 39.
That Eusebius could not intend, by the word rendered "spurious," what we at present mean by it, is evident from a clause in this very chapter, where, speaking of the Gospels of Peter, and Thoinas, and Matthias, and some others, he says, "They are not so much as to be reckoned among the spurions, but are to be rejected as altogether absurd and impious."—Vol. viii. p. 98.
* I have transcribed this sentence from Michaelis (p. 38.) who has not, however, referred to the authority upon which he attributes these words to Marcion.
of John, "He has also left one epistle, of a very few lines; grant also a second and a third, for all do not allow them to be genuine." Now let it be noted, that Origen, who thus discriminates, and thus confesses his own doubts, and the doubts which subsisted in his time, expressly witnesses concerning the four Gospels, "that they alone are received without dispute by the whole church of God under heaven."
This must be with an exception, however, of Faustus, who lived so late as the year 324.
↑ Lardier, vol. xii. p. 12.--Dr. Lardner's future inquiries supplied him with many other instances. § Ib. vol. iii. p. 240. Ib. p. 246.
III. Dionysius of Alexandria, in the year 217, doubts concerning the book of Revelation, whether it was written by Saint John; states the grounds of his doubt, represents the diversity of opinion concerning it, in his own time, and before his time. Yet the same Dionysius uses and collates the four Gospels in a manner which shows that he entertained not the smallest suspicion of their authority, and in a manner also which shows that they, and they alone, were received as authentic histories of Christ.