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CONCERNING THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS.
THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS PROVED TO BE STRICTLY CANONICAL.
$1. Of the term canonical. §2. The marks of canonical authority. §3. The Epistle to the Hebrews strictly canonical. §4. (I.) By whom opposed. §5. The judgment of the Latin church concerning it. §6. (II.) Objections answered. §7. (III.) Its canonical authority proved from, 1. Its general argument. §8. 2. The particular subject matter of it. §9. 3. Its end and design. $10-13. 4. The style of it. §14. 5. The authority of its principal author. §15. 6. Its divine efficacy. 16.7. Catholic tradition. §17-21. 8. Its not being liable to any solid exceptions.
§1. THE canonical authority of the Epistle to the Hebrews having been by some called into question, we must previously shew what we intend by such authority, and then prove, that this Epistle is clearly interested therein.
The Greek word (navwv) which gives rise to the term 'canonical,' seems to be derived from the Hebrew (p) Kaneh, which, in general, signifies any reed whatever, 1 Kings xiv, 15; Isa. xlii, 3; and particularly, a reed made into an instrument, wherewith they measured their buildings, containing six cubits in length, Ezek. xl, 7; xlii, 16; and hence indefinitely it is taken for a rule or measure. Besides, it signifies the beam and tongue of a balance, Isa. xlvi, 6, "They 6
weighed silver on the cane;' that is, saith the Targum, 'In the balance.' This also is the primary and proper signification of the Greek word.* Hence its metaphorical use, which is most common, wherein it signifies a moral rule. Aristotle calls the law (Kavova Tys TOMEías) 'the rule of the administration.'t And hence it is, that the written word of God, being in itself absolutely right, and appointed to be the rule of faith and obedience, is eminently called 'canonical.'
This appellation is of ancient use in the church. The synod of Laodicea makes mention of it, as what was generally admitted; for the fathers of it decree, "That no private psalms ought to be used in the church, nor any uncanonical books; but only the canonical ones of the Old and New Testaments."+ And thus Aquinas himself confesseth, that the scripture is called canonical; "because it is the rule of our understanding in the things of God."
§2. Moreover, as the scripture is said to be canonical; so there is also a canon, or rule, to determine what books in particular are such. Two things are included in that expression:
1. That any writing be (SEOTVEvolos) "given by immediate inspiration from God." Without this, it can by no means have any interest in that authority, which lays a foundation for receiving it into the canon.
2. It is requisite, that any writing, or book, be designed by the Holy Ghost, for the Catholic standing use of the church. In giving out the whole, "holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." 2 Pet. i, 21. So that whatever different
* Vid. Schol. in Aristoph. in Ran. Act iii. Scene 1. Aristot de Anim. Lib. Cap. ult.
Polit. Lib. II. Cap. viii. Concil. Laod. Can. 59.
means God might make use of, in the communication of his mind and will to any of the sacred penmen, it was this "inspiration of God," that rendered them infallible revealers thereof to the church.
Some of the ancients, indeed, used the term "canonical" ambiguously; and, therefore, sometimes call books by this term, that absolutely are not so; as not being written by Divine inspiration, nor given by the Holy Ghost as a rule. But this does not affect our point; for, according to our definition, if any book or writing, have not the above-mentioned properties, it differs in the whole kind, and not in degrees only, from all those that have them; so, that it can be truth, at best, only materially, by virtue of its analogy, to that which is absolutely, universally, and perfectly so. And this was well observed by Lindanus: "They defile themselves; saith he, with the impiety of sacrilege, who endeavor to bring in, as it were, divers degrees into the body of the scriptures; for by the impious discretion of human folly, they would cast the one voice of the Holy Ghost into various forms of unequal authority." As then, whatever difference there may be, as to the subject matter, manner of writing, and present usefulness, between any of the inspired books, they are all equal as to their canonical authority, being equally interested in that which is the formal reason of it; so, whatever usefulness or respect in the church, any other writings may claim, they can no way be interested in that distinguishing formal
§3. In the sense explained, we affirm the Epistle to the Hebrews to be canonical; that is, properly and strictly so. In confirmation of which, we shall
* Panopl. Evang. lib. iii. cap. iv.
I. Observe by whom it hath been opposed or questioned.
II. Consider what reason they pretend, or objections urge, for so doing; which being removed out of our way, we shall
III. Insist on the arguments whereby the truth of our assertion is evinced.
$4. (I.) By whom opposed. We need not much insist on their madness who of old with a sacrilegious licentiousness rejected what portions of scripture they pleased. The Ebionites not only rejected all the Epistles of Paul, but also reviled his person as a Greek, and an apostate.* Their folly and blasphemy were also imitated by the Helescheita.† Marcion, rejected in particular this Epistle to the Hebrews, and those also to Timothy and Titus. And to these, with respect to the epistle to the Hebrews, some of the Arians also may be joined, according to Theodoret. Now though the folly of these persons may be easily repelled, as it is effectually done by Petrus Cluniansis,** yet Jerome hath given us a sufficient reason why we should not spend time therein: "They did not so much as plead or pretend any cause or reason for the rejection of these epistles, but did it upon their own authority; so they deserve neither answer nor consideration."††
§5. It is of more importance to observe, that it was four hundred years at least, after the writing of this epistle, before it was publicly received by the
* Vid. Iren. lib. i. cap. ii. Epiphan. Hæres. xxx. cap. xxv. Euseb. lib. vi. cap. xxxi.
EPIPHAN. Hæres. xlii. cap. ix. HIERON. Præf. in Com. ad Titum.
Præf. in Epis. ad Heb.
**Epis. ad Petrob.
Hieron. ut supra.
church of Rome;* and Baronius in vain labors to take off this failure.† Nor does it appear that the Latin church did ever reject this epistle; yea, we find that many amongst them, even in those early days, reckoned it canonical, and owned St. Paul as the penman of it. And this undeniably evinceth the injustice of some men's pretensions, that the Roman church is the only proposer of canonical scripture; and that upon the authority of her proposal alone it is to be admitted. Four hundred years elapsed before she herself publicly received it, or read it in her assemblies; so far was she from having proposed it to others! And yet all this while was it received by all other churches in the world, as Jerome testifies, and that from the days of the apostles, to whose judgment the Roman church itself at length submitted!
Nor are the occasions of this hesitation of the western church obscure. The epistle was written probably in Rome; at least in some part of Italy, chap. xiii, 24. There, no doubt, it was seen, and it may be, copied out before it was sent, by some who used to accompany the apostle, as Clemens, who not long after mentions divers things contained in it. The original was without question speedily sent into Judea, being directed to the Hebrews; and that copies of it were by them, also, communicated to their brethren in the East, equally concerned in it with themselves, cannot be doubted, unless we suppose them grossly negligent in their duty towards God and man, which we have no reason to do. But the churches of the
* EUSEB. Lib. ii. Cap. xxiv. Lib. iii. Cap. iii. Lib. vi. Cap. xiv. PHOт. Biblioth. Cod. xlviii. cxx. HIERON. Epis, cxxix. ad DARDAN. Comment. in Isa. Cap. viii. in Zechar. Cap. viii. in Matt. Cap. xxvi.
† Annal. Eccles. ad. ann. clx.
EUSEB. Eccles. Hist. Lib. iii. Cap. xxxvii.