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Charles Leach
Our Bible: How We Got It (1898)



M ANY years ago, says Thomas Cooper, a party of scholarly men met at a dinner-party. During the conversation, some one in the party put a question which no one present was able to answer. The question was this:--

      Suppose that the New Testament had been destroyed, and every copy of it lost by the end of the third century, could it have been collected together again from the writings of the Fathers of the second and third centuries?

      The question startled the company; but all were silent. Two months afterwards one of the company called upon Sir David Dalrymple, who had been present at the dinner. Pointing to a table covered with books, Sir David said: "Look at those books. You remember the question about the New Testament and the Fathers? That question roused my curiosity, and as I possessed all the existing works of the Fathers of the second and third centuries. I commenced to [35] search, and up to this time I have found the entire New Testament, except eleven verses.

      It must be quite clear to every person that when these Ancient Fathers lived and wrote their books,


or they could not have made such copious extracts from it as they did. Many of the books they wrote have been lost in the passing of the ages, and only a comparative few have reached us. But if the entire New Testament is to be found in such writings as have come down to us, we must conclude that the sacred Scriptures were not only known among them, but were their constant companion, their meat and drink, their precious treasure of the Word of Life--as is the case with us to-day.

      In further illustration of this I may mention just one fact in connection with one of the ancient Fathers named Origen. This man was a most active scholar and occupied an important place in the Church. He was born in the year 185, A. D. He wrote many books, only a few of which have survived the ravages of time. But we are told that in a few of his works which have come down to us, two-thirds of the New Testament can be found. This is a most noteworthy fact.

      It would make these chapters very long if I were to give some account of all the Fathers of the first three [36] centuries which are known to us. I must leave those who desire fuller information to pursue their studies through the usual channels, and will content myself by selecting and naming only a few. Those whom I shall introduce will be men each of whom lived in the second and third centuries. Among them were some who lived when men were alive who had heard and seen the writers of our sacred books, and conversed with them about some of the august facts concerning our Lord's life and works, and some of them even the friends of the Apostles themselves.


      In the year 175, three very eminent Fathers were alive. They are known as Irenæus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria. I want to give you a very short account of each of these three; and it is important to note the valuable testimony which they bear to the existence, in their day, of the New Testament--our New Testament, observe. They lived in different parts of the world, moved among different circumstances, but all bear most valued testimony to the place and authority of the Gospels and Epistles in their day.


      Tertullian was born at Carthage, in Africa, about the year 150, A. D. His father was a Roman centurion and Tertullian was blessed with a [37] sound education in the religion of his heathen parents. Philosophy, history, and law were subjects in which he took much delight. He grew up to manhood before his conversion to Christianity, and was probably forty years of age before that important event took place. He was a man of profound mind, ardent and deep feeling, and a voluminous writer. This scholarly lawyer made great use of the New Testament. He ascribes the four Gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. His works which are known to us have been carefully examined, and it is found that he makes 2,500 references to the New Testament. Of these 700 are references to the Gospels, and of these, again, 200 are to the Gospel by St. John. He quotes from every chapter in Matthew, Luke and John. He was the first to introduce the phrase "New Testament," and the first of the fathers who wrote in Latin.


      Irenæus was another type of man who lived in another part of the world and had entirely different surroundings. He was probably born in the year 130, A. D., and was a native of Asia Minor. He had the unspeakable advantage of being a disciple of Papias and Polycarp, the disciples and friends of the Apostle John. It is not quite clear how or when he came to leave his birthplace, but we know him chiefly [38] for his connection with the Christian church at Lyons. He was presbyter of the church there during the time of a fierce persecution under Marcus Aurelius the Roman Emperor. The aged bishop of the church, named Ponthinus, died in prison in the year 177, and Irenæus succeeded him.

      In his writings he used the New Testament with great freedom indeed. He attributes the four Gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. He argues that there were four and could be no more than four Gospels. In his known works be makes twelve hundred references to the New Testament. Of this number four hundred are to the Gospels; he makes eighty references to the Gospel of St. John alone.


      From Gaul we pass to Alexandria, that we may get a short notice of Clement, of that city. The early history of the church in Alexandria is not very certain. Tradition has said that Mark was the founder of it. Be that as it may, we know that Alexandria early became an important center--noted for its scholars, its library, and its university. It was the meeting-place of men of all nations. Christianity early took root in this city, and famous Christian schools were established.

      Clement was probably born about the year 165, A. D. Like Tertullian, he grew to manhood [39] before he became a Christian. He was a great scholar, and presided over a most famous school of thought at this center of active life and culture. He was a man of wide intelligence, and broad sympathies. Within one hundred years of the death of the Apostles of our Lord, he was working and teaching, and accepted as genuine and authentic the Gospels as we accept them. He mentions Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John by name, and places them in the order here last named. He makes three hundred and twenty references to the New Testament in his works which we have.

      This is the testimony which these three ancient Fathers bear to our sacred Book. Living in different centres of life and thought, they yet all had our New Testament. They used it not simply as a private book, but as the recognized Scripture of the churches with which they each lived and worked. It must be quite clear that our Bible came from men who lived before they did; and as one of these men was a scholar at the feet of Polycarp, the disciple of St. John, we need but to go back one step more and we are with the Apostles. We want but one more link, and our chain of evidence, reaching from the Bible lying on my desk as I write, to the hands of the inspired men who wrote the New Testament portion of it, is complete. We will try to supply that one link. In our next chapter, and thus clasp hands with the Apostles. [40]

[HWGI 35-40]

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Charles Leach
Our Bible: How We Got It (1898)