Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary, 1859 edition.

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  • Origin of the books of the New Testament.
  • Canon of the books of the New Testament.
  • Original language of the books of the New Testament.
  • Different versions of the Scriptures in English, with the dates of the same.


Our Lord Jesus Christ has left us nothing in writing. He gave all his instructions by word of mouth, preaching in public and in private to his apostles and to all the people, inculcating the truths of salvation during the three years of his missionary career: but before he quitted them, he promised to give them an invisible and interior master, who should teach them all things whatever he should say to them, and enable them to answer their opponents and to carry the gospel truths to the utmost limits of the earth. (St. John chap. xiv. 26, and chap. xvi. 13.)

It was in the execution of these promises that the apostles received the Holy Ghost, fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and, that animated with his fire, and illumined with his divine light, they have left us the holy gospels, and the other books of the New Testament, which we consider with reason as the work of Jesus Christ himself. Let us then no longer say, happy are they who have seen the Lord, and who have heard from his mouth the words of life. Many of those have persecuted him, and have imbrued their hands in his blood; whilst many of those, who have not seen him, have believed in him. Moreover, we read, we hear, we preserve in the sacred books the instructions he gave to the people. Jesus Christ is in heaven, and he is still preaching on earth: etiam hic est veritas Dominus. (St. Augustine)

The apostles were in no great hurry to write: they began, after the example of their Master, to teach by word of mouth, and to practice the truths they had learned. They were no ways apprehensive of forgetting what they had heard, nor of varying in what they taught; they had impressed too deeply the truths they had received from his lips, both on their mind and heart, and they felt perfectly secure in the promises made to them, that his Holy Spirit should never abandon them. --- After some years, the zeal and pious curiosity of the faithful engaged them to commit to writing what they knew, for the consolation and instruction of their disciples. This was the motive of St. Matthew's writing. St. Mark probably had the same motive in abridging what had been penned by St. Matthew, wishing at the same time to subjoin some additional few facts and circumstances which he had learned elsewhere.

St. Luke informs us that he was determined to write, because accounts were in circulation relative to the life and doctrines of Jesus Christ, differing from what they had received from the apostles; and that he gave his account with all exactitude, from the mouth of those who had been witnesses, and who were charged to deliver them to their disciples, thinking that he should do a service to the Church in writing faithfully, and in order, all that had passed from the beginning. --- Lastly, the holy Fathers teach us that the heresy of Cerinthus, and that of the Nicolaites, who denied the divinity of Jesus Christ, gave rise to the Gospel of St. John.

The Acts of the Apostles are a continuation of the Gospel of St. Luke, a narrative of what happened to the infant church of Jerusalem, from the ascension of Jesus Christ till the conversion of St. Paul; and of what happened to this great apostle, from his conversion till his first journey to Rome. St. Luke gives scarce any thing here, of what himself was not eye-witness, as the inseparable companion of the labours and preaching of the apostle. --- St. Paul penned his Epistles according to the wants and occurrences of different churches, without any premeditated design of reducing to writing, or giving a body of the maxims and truths which he preached; although, by an effect of divine Providence, he has drawn out for us very many excellent and most important instructions therein, which serve as a supplement to the holy gospels. --- In the same manner, the other apostles that have left us any instructions in writing, penned their epistles for the edification and instruction of those churches exclusively, to which they were addressed. Well convinced, at the same time, that they would be communicated in process of time to all the other churches, through respect for whatever came from that pure source, and through the eagerness of the faithful to preserve such invaluable monuments. St. John wrote his Apocalypse, or Book of Revelations, by the express order of Jesus Christ, who enjoined him to send the same to the seven churches of Asia Minor, whom he wished to make the depository of the revelations contained therein; and which relate, in great measure, to events that were to befall his church militant on earth, till its complete union with his church triumphant in heaven.


Both in the Old and New Testament there are Books, the authenticity of which has never been disputed. There are others which during a certain period, and in certain churches, have been questioned: but at this day there is not one in the Canon, that has not been acknowledged authentic by the greatest part of the ancient churches. In vain did the ancient heresiarchs attempt to corrupt the genuine text, or to forge false gospels; they have never been able to corrupt the originals of the Catholic Churches: whilst the Books that have been corrupted, mutilated, changed, or invented by them, have all been despised or forgotten; have all been suppressed, proscribed, and condemned by the Catholic Church.

We cannot precisely tell the year in which the Canon of the New Testament was formed; but we find it clearly marked as far back as the second age of the Church, though it was not universally received in its present form till after the fourth century. Eusebius, in his 3d book and 24th chapter on Church History, informs us, that the bishops of Asia presented to St. John the Gospels of the three Evangelists, who had written before him, and which were then public and universally known. St. John approved of and received them; and to supply what was wanting in them, wrote his own, in which he mentions what Jesus Christ had done at the commencement of his preaching, and what had been omitted by the other Evangelists. The first three Gospels we find cited in St. Clement's Epistle to the Corinthians, written previously to St. John's Gospel. St. Polycarp in his epistle to the Philippians, quotes five or six times the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke, without naming them. St. Barnabas in his Epistle frequently quotes the four Gospels. St. Ignatius repeatedly cites them in his seven Epistles, and alludes to them, particularly to the Gospel of St. John.

St. Justin, the martyr, speaks expressly of the Commentaries of the Apostles, the name he gives to the gospels, which, he says, were written by the apostles, or by their disciples. Tertullian appeals to the gospel which from the beginning has been given by the apostles, and which is preserved as a sacred deposit in the apostolic churches. "If it be evident," says this author, "that that is truest which is first, and that that is first which was from the beginning; it is equally evident that that was delivered to us from the apostles, which has always been holden as most sacred in the apostolic churches."

We have here then from the end of the first, and from the beginning of the second age, and in the third, the canon of the four gospels of St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke, and St. Paul usually cites the gospel according to the text of St. Luke. This canon was made, not in a solemn assembly, not in a council, but by the consent of the churches, and by the judgment of the bishops, the major part of whom had seen and known the apostles and their disciples.

The epistles of the apostles are not less authentic, and they were collected together about the same period as the four gospels. St. Polycarp distinctly cites the Epistles of St. Paul, and those of St. Peter and St. John. He does not indeed quote the Epistle to the Hebrews, nor the second of St. Peter, nor the second and third of St. John, because most probably they did not find a place in the earliest collections. St. Ignatius, in his Epistle to the Philadelphians, clearly marks the gospels, the apostles and prophets, as composing the whole code of Scripture. "Let us have recourse," says he, "to the gospel, as to the flesh of Jesus Christ, and to all his apostles, looking upon the epistles of these holy men as the ecclesiastical senate; let us also love and esteem the prophets," or the books of the Old Testament. Tertullian tells us, that in his time the originals of the epistles were preserved.


The original text of the books of the New Testament, if we except the Gospel of St. Matthew, was Greek. The Gospel of St. Matthew was written originally in Hebrew or in Syriac, which was the vulgar language at that period in Palestine, but was translated very early into Greek. The original text was in preservation at the time of St. Epiphanius and St. Jerome; but since that time has been entirely lost. The Greek translation is very ancient, the Latin version is scarcely less ancient, and very exact and faithful.


It will perhaps be acceptable to many to see a list of the early translations, with their dates. The first we find is by:

James Cloverdale,[1] in the year of our Lord, 1535.

Thomas Matthew, 1538.

Richard Taverner, 1539.

Henry VIII.'s Bible, printed by Ed. Whitechurch and Rd. Grafton, 1539.

Ditto, second edition, revised and corrected by Cuthbert, bishop of Durham, and Nicholas, bishop of Rochester; printed by Grafton, 1541.

Edmund Beche's Bible, printed by John Daye, 1549.

Ditto, second edition, by Ditto, 1551.

English Testament, printed at Geneva, by Conrad Badias, 1557.

Rheims Testament, by John Fogny; the fifth edition of this was given in folio and with cuts, anno 1738, 1582.

Harrison's Bible, printed at London, 1562.

Rouen Bible, 1566.

Bishop's Bible, printed by Rd. Jugge, 1568.

Ditto, edition by Ditto, 1572-7-9.

Geneva Bible, by Christ. Barker, 1578.

Douay Bible printed at Douay, by Laurence Kellem, 1609.

King James's Bible, printed by Robt. Barker, 1610.

Ditto, second edition, same date (it is not know which was first printed).

It is certain that no printed book, with a date, existed previous to the celebrated Psalter of 1457; the Bible by Fust and Guttenburg, but without date, was printed in 1450, a copy of which is in the Imperial library at Paris, probably brought thither by the German librarian, who, for his knowledge of books, is a second Magliabechi. He not only possesses a schedule of the Libri desiderati, but also knows the exact place in each great library of Europe, where they are to be found.


[1] See Ward's Errata of Protestant bibles, ed. 1737; also defence of same, by the Rev. J. L. 1811. --- The Bibles quoted by Ward, are: 1st, The translation begun by Tindal [Tyndale] in 1526, and finished by Cloverdale in 1535, as altered by Cranmer and the Genevan editors, of which an edition was given 1562. 2ndly, The two editions of 1577 and 1579, from the version called Bishop's Bible, which appeared in 1568; and lastly, the version now in use, called King James's Bible, first published in 1610. In this several of the former errors are corrected, but several still remain to be corrected. Ward very justly remarks, "the changes were made too late. The people were deceived by a vast number of corruptions in the sacred texts, during the reigns of Henry VIII. Edward VI. and Elizabeth, till they had in general renounced the ancient faith, and embraced the new system. And when this was effected, and the growing sect of Puritans began to turn these corruptions against you, particularly at the famous conference of Hampton Court, in the beginning of the first James's reign, at last you thought proper to correct them." See p. 17. --- To mention some of the many variations still existing, compare the differences that are found in the Catholic and Protestant version with the Greek text and the Latin Vulgate.


Chap. iii, ver. 2 and 8. chap. xix, ver. 11. In this latter text it is certainly of moment, to prove the possibility of leading a continent life, whether we translate it according to the Vulgate and Greek, all men take not this word, or mistranslate it thus, "all men cannot receive this saying;" again, (1 Corinthians vii. 9.) if they do not contain; "if they cannot contain."

In St. LUKE:

Chap. i, ver. 6, and ver. 28, chap. iii, ver. 8, and chap. xviii, ver. 42. Thy faith hath made thee whole, is translated, "thy faith hath saved thee," in favour of faith only. It was on the same ground, do penance, is every where rendered, "repent ye;" but the judicious Mr. Bois, prebend of Ely, in his Veteris Interpretis cum Beza, commended by Walton in his Polyglot, declares he would not have this common translation of pœnitentiam agite, changed; and brings the words of Melancthon, "Let us not be ashamed of our mother-tongue; the Church is our mother, and so speaks the Church."


Chap. xiv. 22. And when they had ordained to them priests, is rendered, "and when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting:" now it is evident that here are not meant elders as to years and age; and if they look to the derivation, priest and the French word pretre are derived from presbyter. See also chap. xv. and chap. xvi. --- Chap. xvii. 23. and seeing your idols, is rendered, "and behold your devotions." --- Chap. xx. 28. Take heed to yourselves, and to the whole flock, wherein the Holy Ghost hath placed you 'bishops' to 'rule' the church of God, is rendered, "overseers to feed the church."


Chap. v, ver. 6. When as yet we were weak, is rendered, "when we were yet without strength," taking away free-will. --- Chap. xi, ver. 4. For Baal, is given in italics, "the image" of Baal. Frequently the words idols and idolaters, are changed into images and image-worshippers, to prove Catholics to be idolaters; also Acts xix. 35.


Chap. i, ver. 10. No schisms among you: Prot. "no divisions." --- Chap. ix. 5. To carry about a woman, a sister: Protestant, "to lead about a woman, a wife;" to shew that St. Paul was married. The contrary is clear from chap. vii, ver. 7 and 8. --- Chap. xi. 27. Whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink, &c. thus, "shall eat and drink." --- Chap. xv. 10. The grace of God with me: Protestant, "The grace of God which was with me:" thus they would have it seem that the apostle did nothing at all, but was moved as a thing without life or will, and taking away free co-operation with divine grace.


Chap. ii. 25, and iv. 3. My sincere companion: Prot. "true yoke-fellow," as if St. Paul had written this to his wife.


Chap. i. 12. Worthy to be partakers, thus, "meet to be partakers," against meritorious works.


1 Timothy iv. 14, and 2d Timothy i. 6. Stir up the grace of God which is in thee by the imposition of my hands, thus, "the gift of God," lest holy orders should be proved a sacrament. --- The word Catholic, at the head of the Epistles of St. James and of St. Peter, are converted into "general." Sir Thomas More has a long dissertation against his contemporary, Tindal [Tyndale], for substituting Congregation for Church. And here we must remark, that the Latin version was in general use long before any reform in the doctrines of the Church was thought of; of course it is not open to the same objections with all subsequent translations.


Go to Part II of General Preface.