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Dias' Letters.

Letter 3

Continued from No. 5.

The third Evangelist is Luke, who, as he declares in his Preface or Introduction to his Gospel, wrote only by hearsay, and according to information given him by others, and makes not the least pretension to supernatural illumination or information; neither does he pretend to be an original evidence of the facts which he relates: so that it will be hard to say how infallibility came to be ascribed to his writings; for it was even impossible for him ever to vouch for the truth of the facts which he relates; nor could his evidence be admitted in any court of law or justice. I cannot here forbear noticing how useless and how little known must the Gospels which were published have been, when the writer or author of one knew not of the publication or writings of the others, as is plainly demonstrable from the following facts:— Matthew published his Gospel many years before Luke; yet when Luke published his, he takes no notice of Matthew's; for it is certain he thought no Gospel authentic when he wrote; for if he had, he would not have been under the necessity of collecting his materials from others, having an infallible guide in Matthew; so that either he knew not that Matthew had written an infallible relation of those facts, or he confounds the Gospel of Matthew amongst the spurious ones that were abroad in those days; none of which he admitted as true and authentic.

Now, how a person of Luke's character should be ignorant of the infallibility of Matthew's Gospel; or how, if he was not ignorant of it, he should not make use of it, or send it to his friend rather than his own, is what I confess I cannot comprehend.

"The Gospels," says a famous author, "continued so concealed in those corners of the world where they were written, that the latter Evangelists knew nothing of what the preceding wrote, otherwise there could not have been so many apparent contradictions, which, almost since the first constitution of the canon, have exercised the wits of learned men. Surely if St. Luke had seen that genealogy of our Lord which is in St. Matthew, he would not himself have produced one wholly different from the other, without giving the least reason for the diversity; and when in the preface to his Gospel he tells the occasion of his writing, which is, that he undertook it from being furnished with the relation of such, as were eye-witnesses of what he writes, he plainly intimates that the authors of those Gospels which he had seen were destitute of that help; so that neither having seen themselves what they relate, nor consulted with diligence and care such as had seen them, their credit was, therefore, dubious and suspected; whence it must necessarily follow, that the writers of those Gospels which Luke had seen, were not at all the same as our present Evangelists."*

* Dodwell Dissert. in Iren.

To the foregoing observations I shall only add, that there are the same doubts as to his person and character, profession and writings, as the others; for it is not certainly known whether he was a Jew or a heathen, a physician or a painter; and as to his Gospel, some think it properly fit Paul's, whilst others say, that Luke only digested what St. Paul preached to the Gentiles; and others again, that he wrote with the help of St. Paul.*

* For particulars, see Calmet on the word Luke.

The last is St. John;—and it is plain that he wrote with the intention of establishing the divinity of Jesus, which particular is not contained in the Gospels then extant; he, for this reason, goes on a very different plan from the other Evangelists. "His principal care in this undertaking," says Calmet, "was to relate such things as might be of use in confirming the divinity of the son; and to this purpose says many things which the others are silent on, and omits such matters in which the others are very particular, and which are reckoned very principal and necessary in the history. Thus, considering his very great care and tenderness for Mary, the mother of Jesus, he does but little honour to her memory, in not relating those most remarkable and wonderful transactions mentioned by Matthew and Luke, (though with a wide difference,) concerning the miraculous conception of Mary and the birth of Jesus. And as Mary continued to live with him from the time of Jesus' death, surely he must have had many opportunities of informing himself of those extraordinary affairs from her own mouth with much more certainty than the others; for it must be thought very extraordinary that the Evangelist, under the circumstances aforementioned, should make no mention at all of such an essential article as the most wonderful conception of a virgin and birth of the person who was the subject of his history. How far his neglect of relating so important a matter, and likewise those extraordinary dreams and visions which the others mention, weakens the authority of their relation, or of his own, I shall not determine; but certain it is, that his Gospel met not with that reception which one would think was due to a person of his authority, for many rejected his Gospel; the Alogians in particular, though they admitted the three others, yet rejected this; and others believed an heretic was its author, one Cerenthius; and no doubt but the difference in the point of doctrine might be the occasion of it; or the want of sufficient evidence of his being the author."*

* See Calmet on the words John and Gospel.

The difficulties which must arise from the aforesaid considerations, are such, in respect to the proof of the inspiration or infallibility of the Gospels, as cannot be got over; and yet this is not all, for whoever is in any way acquainted with the history of the ancients, and observations of the moderns, must be convinced of the many additions, alterations, and interpolations, which the writings of the New Testament have undergone, of which I shall collect some accounts for your information.


There was not any one sect but complained of interpolations and additions made to the Gospels; nay, some sects or parties went so far as to reject some one or other of the Gospels; now received as canonical and others the whole of the New Testament.* Eusebius states the story of the woman taken in adultery to be only in the Gospel according to the Hebrews; and consequently must have been inserted after his time into the Gospel of St. John; and St. Jerome declares, that in his time the story was only to be found in some copies. Both St. Jerome and St. Austin complain of the great variety of the Latin copies of the Evangelists, and how widely they differed from each other;† and they likewise declare the same difference in the Greek copies. St. Ambrose says of the Greek copies that they were so different as to give rise to many controversies among them; (and these different copies must as naturally have occasioned different opinions and doctrines.) St. Jerome asserts that he found as many different versions as books.‡ Now as there could not be any possibility of distinguishing the true copy or version (had there been one), so every one followed that, which either suited with his interests or opinions; and to this end, every one added, omitted, or altered whatever he thought most conducive to his purpose.

* Ecles. Hist. lib. iii. c. 39.
† See Calmet on the word Bible.
‡ Vide id. on the word Vulgate.

Origen says, "We found great difference in the copies, and made use of what was convenient out of the Old Testament, making use of our judgment in such things, as out of the Seventy seemed doubtful and were not to be found in the Hebrew; and in other things, inserting and making up the deficiency from the Hebrew." Thus did every one insert whatever he thought necessary, or agreeable to his opinions: and every one made use of that copy which best suited his notions. Thus Grotius declares he made use of the Vulgate; because the author delivers no opinions contrary to the faith.* Now if liberty has been taken of correcting, interpolating and altering the New Testament, what person is there who can assert and prove that these are the genuine writings of those persons whose names they bear? If it should be said that this was done only in matters of small importance, I ask, what certainty have we, that any thing was left untouched? Surely those that found means of interpolating and inserting whole passages, would rather do it in things which, in their own conceit, were of greater consequence, and which they might do either by the omission, transposition, or addition of a word, the which might contribute towards maintaining their different doctrines, more especially in such affairs, as in their opinions concerned salvation, should such a procedure confer authority on them, than in things either of small or no importance. And this was no doubt the cause which gave rise to many different copies, not only of the four Gospels which they now have and receive as canonical, but likewise to the many other Gospels, which were received by the different parties, without there being any possibility of knowing the true from the false—if indeed any of them were true; for they could have no other criterion, than as the copies they did receive agreed more or less with their different systems of faith. And for this reason alone were the four Gospels we now have preferred, or made authentic, rather than those rejected as spurious; for it is certain no authority appeared in these above the others. "The ancient heretics," says Calmet, "began generally with attacking the Gospels in order to maintain their errors; or excuse them; some rejected all the genuine Gospels—(that is, those which the councils declared such)—and substituted such as were spurious in their room; others have corrupted the true Gospels, and have suppressed whatever gave them any trouble, and have inserted what might favour their erroneous doctrines."

* Grot. Pref. Annot. Suas in Vet Test.

Thus the Nazareans corrupted the original Gospel of St. Matthew, and the Mercionites mangled that of St. Luke, which was the only one they received. The Alogians, seeing their condemnation too plainly declared in St. John, rejected him, and admitted only the three other Evangelists. The Ebionites rejected St. Matthew, and received the three other Gospels. The Corinthians acknowledged only St. Mark; and the Valentineans St. John only.* In Origen's time, Celsus exclaims against the liberty which Christians (as if they were drunk, says he) took of changing the first writing of the Gospel, three, four, or more times.† The Manicheans showed other scriptures, and denied the genuineness of the whole New Testament. Faustus, their bishop, says, "You think that of all the books in the world, the Testament of the Son only, could not be corrupted; and that it alone contains nothing which ought to be disallowed, especially when it appears it was neither written by himself, nor his apostles, but a long time after, by certain obscure persons, who, lest no credit should be given to the stories they told, did prefix to their writings partly by the names of the apostles, and partly of those who succeeded the apostles,—affirming that what they wrote themselves was written by these, wherein they seem to have been more injurious to the disciples of Christ, by attributing to them what they wrote themselves, so dissonant and repugnant;—pretending to write those Gospels under their names, which are so full of mistakes and of contradictory relations and opinions, that they are neither coherent with themselves, nor consistent with one another.‡

* Calmet's Dictionary on the word Gospel.
† Origen lib. ii, Contra Celsus.
‡ Augustin Con. Faustus, lib. 32. c. 2.

Again, the same bishop says, "Many things were foisted by your ancestors into the Scriptures of our Lord which, although marked with his name, agree not with his faith.* The learned Dr. Mills gives an account of a general alteration of the Gospels, so low down as the sixth century.† He likewise with great labour collected and published all the readings of the New Testament, which are so different and various, that the learned Doctor Whitby declares, that "The vast quantity of various readings collected must of course make the mind doubtful or suspicious, that nothing certain can be expected from books where there are various readings in every verse, and almost in every part of every verse."‡ Mr. Gregory, of Christ church in Oxford, declares, that "There is no profane author whatever, cæteris paribus, has suffered so much by the hand of time as the New Testament has done."§ How willing and ready the priests have been at all times to encourage the pious frauds, and continue impositions on the credulity of the ignorant, need not be mentioned. One fact, however, I cannot pass in silence, and that is a letter of Cardinal Belarmine, who with the other divines attended the correction of the Vulgate, in which he acknowledges that there are still several faults, which, for good reasons, the correctors did not think proper to remove.|| I shall make no remark on this passage, but shall proceed to a short account of the rest of the writings of the New Testament.

* Lib. 33. c. 3.
† Mills Prolegom. p. 98.
‡ Whitby's Exam. Var. Lect. Milli. p. 3, 4.
§ Preface to his posthumous works. 
|| Calmet's Dict. on the word Vulgate.

(To be continued.)

NOTE.—We were right in our conjecture relative to the correct name of the author of the letters which we commenced in our third number. By the steam packet of the 19th of July, from Liverpool, we received a letter from our poetical correspondent, Miss Aguilar, informing us that they were written by her mother's grandfather, a gentleman by the name of Benjamin Dias, "who was a merchant of Portuguese origin, and came from Jamaica to England, where he spent the latter part of his life, and where, in fact, these important letters were written." It appears that Mr. Dias wrote two copies of the work, one of which, on his death, became the property of his eldest son, Isaac, the other that of his younger son, Jacob. The last mentioned copy was lent out to a relative of the possessor, but never returned; and it is not unlikely, that in its peregrinations it may have reached for a short time the hands of Mr. Simson, of New York, who had a copy taken of it, as we stated in our third number. It is only lately that the original in the hands of Mr. Isaac Dias' descendants, who reside in Jamaica, was went to their aunt, the widow of Mr. Jacob Dias; and much to the surprise of the members of the family, they discovered that the part of the work which we gave under the name of Dea's Letters, was identical with the MS. in their possession. We know not whether the letters which Sampson Simson, Esq., of Yonkers, has lent us are all that were written by their learned author; but we are promised the use of any part which may be wanting in ours from the original in the hands of the Dias family. Should we learn any thing more concerning the reason and the occasion which gave rise to this work, and why it was kept so long from the public, we shall communicate it to our readers; and we regret that at present we have nothing more of interest to lay before them.