Thomas Scott’s Introduction to the New Testament

The Church, from the earliest antiquity, hath called this part of Scripture on which we now enter; ‘The New Testament,’ or, ‘The New Covenant:’ for the word may be translated either way, as it signifies sometimes a stipulation between two, or more, contracting parties; at others, the absolute appointment of a person, in those matters that are entirely at his own disposal; and more rarely, a last Will and Testament, by which a man appoints his heirs, and the way in which the inheritance is to be obtained and enjoyed. It is called, ‘The New Testament,’ in contra-distinction from ‘The Old Testament;’ not as if the one contained only the old covenant of works, and the other the new covenant of grace, for the contrary hath already been abundantly shown;[in Scott’s commentary on the Old Testament] but because the New Testament gives an account of the abrogation of the old dispensation, and of the introduction of a new and better dispensation. The Mosaic law, the national covenant made with Israel, and the Levitical priesthood, formed, as it were, an edition both of the covenant of works and of the covenant of grace: but at the coming of Christ, the end being answered, this was antiquated and abrogated; and the Christian dispensation, containing clearer light and greater encouragement, not attended with burdensome ceremonies, or clouded by types and shadows, or restricted to any place or nation, formed a new edition of the covenant of grace: yet so, that unbelievers continue as of old, under the ministration of death, the covenant of works. This dispensation therefore is compendiously called, ‘The New Covenant,’ or ‘The New Testament,’ with reference to Christ the Testator.

The history, contained in this part of Scripture, is an exact counterpart of the prophecies, promises, and types, of the Old Testament, in respect of its grand Subject, the great Redeemer and his kingdom and salvation. An enlightened student of the Old Testament, before the coming of Christ, must have expected exactly such events, and such changes in the outward state of the Church, as the New Testament records: and the sole reason, why the Jews in general, and the apostles in particular for a time, did not expect such events and changes, is this, “their understandings were not opened to understand the Scriptures.” A careful and constant examination of the sacred volume, diligently comparing one part with another, renders this clear and manifest: insomuch that it is possible, and perhaps not very difficult, to form a connected narrative of all the grand outlines of the history contained in the New Testament, from the very words of the Old Testament. The person of the Redeemer, as Emmanuel; his descent in human nature from Judah and from Davis, when the family was reduced to poverty and obscurity; his miraculous conception; his birth at Bethlehem; his character, miracles, and doctrine; the reception given him by his countrymen; the unparalleled contempt and enmity shown him; the manner, and all the circumstances, of his death and burial, even to minute particulars; the end and design of his sufferings and death, his resurrection and ascension, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit; the conversion of vast multitudes; the obstinate unbelief and opposition of the Jewish nation; the tremendous judgments of God on them for these crimes; the abrogation of the ceremonial law; the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple; the calling of the Gentiles; the glorious triumphs of Christianity, and, indeed the state of the Church through all intervening ages till the consummation of all things, might be related in the words of the prophets only, by substituting in a few instances the past for the future tense. To so astonishing a degree do the two divisions of the sacred Scriptures confirm and illustrate each other! And let it here be observed in general, that the writers of the New Testament always quote and refer to the several books of the Old, as divinely inspired, as “the oracles of God,” as “the Scripture cannot be broken;” and never, as if they supposed any part of it to be the words of uninspired men, however eminent and excellent. But the New Testament does not rest its claim to be received as a divine revelation, on the Old Testament, and the evidences by which it is confirmed. While Christ and his apostles appealed to the ancient Scriptures, and showed “that thus it was written and thus it must be;” they confirmed their instructions, and combated the prejudices of their hearers, by the most undeniable miracles, wrought in the open face of day, before vast multitudes of all characters, and challenging the investigation of the most powerful, sagacious, and inveterate of their enemies: – And it is utterly inconceivable, that Christianity could have made its way in the world, by the obscure persons who propagated it, and against the immense opposition made to it, except it had been thus confirmed, beyond the possibility of any denial.

The prophecies also of our Lord and of his apostles, interspersed, as we shall see, through the books of the several writers of the New Testament, and as fulfilled through all succeeding ages, form a demonstration of its divine authority which gathers clearness and energy by revolving centuries. A variety of other proofs, external and internal, might be mentioned: but these hints may here to suffice to show that the New Testament stands on its own basis; and not merely on the ground of the Old Testament, as some have assumed.

The writers of the New Testament speak of themselves and of each other, as divinely inspired. (Rom. X.14-17. xvi. 25, 26. 1 Cor. i.21. 22.7.10. Eph. Iii.3-5. 1 Thess. 22.13. 2 Pet. iii.15, 16. 1 John iv.6) If then, any person should be inclined to think that, provided they be regarded as wise and good men, it is not so absolutely necessary to vindicate their divine inspiration; let them first consider, whether laying a groundless claim to divine inspiration, be not such an impeachment of any writer’s probity and veracity, as to render him unworthy of credit in all other things? And again, if the writers of the New Testament were not divinely inspired, where is our standard of faith and practice? How do we know what the doctrine of Christ was? How shall we distinguish it from all false doctrine?

The several books, which now form the New Testament, were early received by the Christian Church, as of divine authority. The greatest part of them are quoted by the most ancient Christian writers, and appealed to, as the standard of truth. A vast proportion of the New Testament might be collected from writers who lived in the first two centuries. They formed catalogues of the several books, and wrote comments on them: both the orthodox and the heretics appealed to them; lectures on several parts of them are still extant; nay, the enemies of Christianity uniformly mention them, as the authentic books of Christians. So that there is the most complete proof, that all the books, now collected in the New Testament, were received, and read in the assemblies of Christians, before the end of the second century; except the epistle to the Hebrews, that of James, the second of Peter, the second and third of John, that of Jude, and the Revelation of John; and that these, or most of them, were extant, and well known, though not universally received as divinely inspired. Some reasons may be given why the Christian Church hesitated respecting these books when they came under consideration: but this only proves, that the persons concerned were cautious. Even to an extreme, and therefore not likely to be imposed on by spurious predictions.

“From the same tradition we, with the surest evidence of reason, may conclude, that these Scriptures were handed down uncorrupted in the substantials of faith and manners. These records being once so generally dispersed through all Christian Churches, though at a great distance from each other, from the beginning of the second century; so universally acknowledged by men of curious parts and different persuasions; being multiplied into divers versions, almost from the beginning; being so constantly rehearsed in their assemblies; so diligently read by Christians, and so riveted in their memories, that Eusebius mentions some who had them all by heart; and lastly, so frequent in their writings, as now we have them: it must be certain from these considerations, that they were handed down to succeeding generations pure and uncorrupt.” (Whitby)

As the notion is very common, that we cannot be sure concerning the correctness of the Scriptures at present, after so many centuries; especially as learned men are frequently speaking of the different readings in manuscripts or versions; in addition to the above important quotation, the following remark may afford some satisfaction. During nearly two hundred years, our present translation of the Scriptures has been extant: and persons of various descriptions have made new translations of the whole, or of particular parts; and scarcely any writer fails to mention, in one way or other, alterations which he supposes would be improvements. It may be asked, how then can unlearned persons know that our translation may be depended on, as in general faithful and correct? Let the enquirer, however, remember that Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Independents, Baptists and paedobaptists, Calvinists and Arminians, persons, who maintain eager controversies with each other, in various ways, all appeal to the same version, and in no matters of consequence object to it. This demonstrates, that the translation on the whole is just: and also that it is impossible for any party covertly to deviate from it, while so many eager opponents are incessantly watching over one another. The same consideration proves the impossibility of the primitive Christians corrupting the sacred records, while heretics, Jews, and pagans, stood ready with virulence to expose every deviation; nay, other churches would have protested against the alterations which any church attempted to make. In fact, if all the different readings, (most of which are of little authority,) were without exception adopted; the rule of truth and duty would remain entirely the same: so that this is merely an artifice, by which the enemies of the Gospel perplex the minds of those who cannot, or will not, examine the subject. “Who can imagine, that God, who sent his Son to Declare this doctrine, and his apostles by the assistance of the Holy Spirit to indite and speak it; and by so many miracles confirmed to the world, should suffer any wicked persons to corrupt it? It is absurd to say, that God repented of his goodness and kindness to mankind, in vouchsafing the Gospel to them; or that he maligned the good of future generations; that he suffered wicked men to rob them of all the good intended to them by this declaration of his will!”(Whitby) (Note, Prov. xxii.12)

It should also be observed, that no other books were received by the primitive Church, as a part of divine revelation. Very many other compositions were sent forth, bearing the names of the apostles or primitive teachers: but on careful examination, all except those which now form the New Testament, were rejected as spurious. And this shows, with what scrupulous caution, the canon of Scripture was fixed. The four Gospels were very early received, as the writings of the evangelists whose names they bear. They are mentioned distinctly by the fathers of the second century as “books well known by the name of Gospels, and as such were read by Christians, at their assemblies every Lord’s day.” (Whitby)Several other Gospels were published, and some gained a temporary credit; but they are either not mentioned in the approved writings of the primitive Christians, or mentioned with disapprobation.

It is well known, that the word Gospel, signifies glad tidings; and the original word has precisely the same meaning. The inspired writers of those histories, which we call ‘the Gospels,’ give distinct views of those things that relate to the birth, life, miracles, discourses, sufferings, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; connected with some account of his forerunner John Baptist, and of his apostles and primitive disciples. Their accounts, as might have been previously supposed, vary from one another: each of them recorded more fully those particulars, which most suited his purpose, or which had most affected his mind: for the most plenary superintending inspiration did not supersede the use of the writer’s memory, judgment, and understanding, but rather served to assist, direct, and exalt them. And thus, while these variations show, that they did not write in concert, (for in that case the appearance of disagreement would certainly have been avoided;) they tend to corroborate the evidence of divine authority of their histories: as their actual coincidence, and the easy manner in which their apparent variations may be reconciled, form a strong presumptive proof that they were under a supernatural guidance, and cannot satisfactorily be accounted for in any other way. “Industry, ingenuity, and malice, have for ages, been employed, in endeavoring to prove the evangelists inconsistent with each other: yet not a single contradiction has hitherto been proved on them. But one thing is fact. These four men have done, without appearing to have intended it, what was never performed by any author before, or since. They have drawn a perfect human character, without a single flaw. They have given the history of one, whose spirit, words, and actions, were in every particular exactly what they ought to have been! Who always did the very thing that was proper, and in the best manner imaginable; who never once deviated from the most consummate wisdom and excellency! And who in no instance let one virtue entrench on another, but exercised all in perfect harmony and exact proportion. This challenges investigation, and sets infidelity at defiance. Either these men exceeded in genius and capacity all the writers who ever lived, or they wrote under the special guidance of divine inspiration.”

(Answer to Paine’s Age of Reason, by the author).