Notes on Tregelles re: Authorship of the New Testament Books

These are notes on A Lecture on the Historic Evidence of the Authorship and Transmission of the Books of the New Testament by Samuel P. Tregelles (1813-1875), published by Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1852, 136 pages.  (There are some very brief notes on this book after its listing in Annotated Bibliography on New Testament Text and Canon.)

This book is in the public domain and available for browsing or downloading at the Internet Archive.

Wikipedia article on Samuel Prideaux Tregelles

This book is the record of a lecture delivered before the Plymouth (England) Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) on October 14, 1851.

The Latin phrase on the title page – “Ita ut interrogati, cujus quisque liber sit, non hsesitemus, quid respondere debeamus”  –  is taken from Augustine’s Contra Faustum 33:6 and, as best I can tell, is translated “so that, when we are questioned as to the authorship of any book, we have no difficulty in answering” or “so that, when asked whose book is whose, we do not hesitate what we ought to reply.”  (I have taken these two translations from the sources cited at Augustine on Authorship.)  Tregelles himself translates this phrase as “so that, when asked, we need not hesitate what we ought to answer” on p. 6 of this book.

The headings for the various sections of my notes below are taken verbatim from the book’s table of contents.

INTRODUCTION 
(p. ix-xxiv; i.e. 16 pages in all)

Beginning his introduction, Tregelles writes:

The object of the following lecture is to present, in an intelligible and popular form, an accurate statement of the historic evidence which enables us to speak with certainty as to the authorship of the books of the New Testament… (p. ix)

Tregelles goes on to say that he gives less evidence where there is less controversy and more evidence where there is more controversy. (p. ix)

He also says that he has amassed much more research than can be included in the lecture.  He speaks of the possibility of publishing a much fuller treatment in the future.  If he ever did publish such a volume, I’ve not been able to find it.   (p. x)

Tregelles says he seeks to answer these two questions:

  1. Why do you receive the New Testament books as genuine? and,
  2. how have these ancient writings come down to our days? (p. x)

Tregelles obviously knew the likes of Bart Ehrman in his day:

The historic evidence to the authorship of the New Testament books is a subject of common concern to all Christians. If attacks are made with a great show of learning and research, it is well for those who may meet with such popular attacks to be fore-armed. (p. x)

I certainly agree with these statements:

On ordinary subjects there are many things to which we give credit, because we rely on the accuracy of our informant..And so on most subjects: we trust the information which we receive, because we believe in the competency of our informant. (p. xi)

Pages xii and xiii are missing in the pdf of the book I am using.  However, I did check these two pages in the Internet Archive version to which I linked above, which has them.

Tregelles speaks at length against “modern liberalism.”  (p. xv)

Of his approach, Tregelles says:

I wish, if possible, to restore the historic grounds of Christian evidence to their proper place ; they are, I am persuaded, a citadel which will ever be found impregnable…  (p. xviii) [emphasis mine]

…and that its historic reality may be so known that
none may doubt, except those who are willingly ignorant. (p. xix)  [emphasis his]

I take there the simple ground, if the ordinary process of historical investigation be well founded, then it follows that the New Testament books are indeed genuine: the proof is then given, and all rests on the testimony of witnesses, and not on dogmatic assumption.  (p. xix)  [emphasis his]

Tregelles speaks against “Romanism” and “rationalism.”  (p. xxiii)

In a footnote on page xviii, Tregelles explains his emphasis on external testimony to authorship:

In this Lecture I have almost exclusively confined myself to the external parts of testimony ; the internal accordance has only been hinted at incidentally.  Many points, therefore, in which the New Testament books exhibit their wonderful unity and coherence, have of course been passed by, as well as, in general, the sort of testimony which one book bears to another.  The citation of St. Luke’s Gospel in 1 Tim. has been brought forward, because it is direct, but not the mention of St. Paul’s Epistles in 2 Pet., because it does not bear on certain specific epistles.  The evidence derived from mutual coherence and relation of Scripture has great value for those who think, while historic proof addresses itself not to these only, but also to those who, from their avocations or their mental constitution, think but little, whose attention needs to be aroused by a presentation of distinct facts, wholly irrespective of whether they think or not.  [Emphasis his]

LECTURE
The Importance of the Subject
(p. 1-4)

Tregelles begins his lecture with these words:

In speaking of the historic evidence of the authorship and transmission of the books of the New Testament, I propose, first, to bring before your attention those proofs which are conclusive on the subject of their having really been written by the Apostles and their companions, and then, to point out briefly the channels through which they have been transmitted to us.  (p. 1)  [Emphasis mine]

I need not dwell at length on the importance of the subject : it must be evident to all who value the revelation which God has given us in the New Testament, that it is well for our minds to be informed as to the distinct grounds of evidence on which we believe and receive these writings as authentic. We hold Christianity as a divinely-communicated system of religion, a religion which is based on facts, and which sets forth doctrines connected with those facts : the New Testament presents to us the record by which those facts have been made known to us, hence the interest of this subject to the mind of every intelligent Christian.  (p. 1-2)

Tregelles wants to make his readers able to readily answer challenges to their faith in the New Testament writings:

We ought to know what to answer, when asked why we receive as authoritative the Acts of the Apostles, and reject the Acts of Paul and Thecla ; why we own the Epistles of the New Testament, and reject the Epistles and Discourses attributed to St. Peter in the Clementine Homilies.  (p. 4)

PROCESS OF PROOF
St. Augustine’s mode of investigation

Period of inquiry
(p. 5-8)

In this section titled “Process of Proof” (p. 5-8), Tregelles asks:

How, then, can we know satisfactorily to whom we ought to ascribe the authorship of ancient works?  How can we prove that any book was really written by the person whose name it bears?  (p. 4-5)

He then goes on to outline the process he will follow to answer the question as the process laid down in about the year 400 AD by Augustine in Contra Faustum.  That is, by the same way we discern the true works of “Hippocrates,” “Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Varro, and other similar writers,” (quoting Augustine in all five of these specific cases), we can know the true authors of the New Testament books.  For more from Augustine than what Tregelles quotes, see Augustine on Authorship (Contra Faustum 33:6).  That said, what Tregelles quotes is sufficient, especially in the context of the Tregelles explanation.  Rather than reproduce parts of this section (“Process of Proof” p. 5-8), it is short enough, and worthy enough, to read it in his text.

Parenthetically, while Tregelles was making this point in England, Archibald Alexander was making it in America.  See Notes on Archibald Alexander re: Authorship of the New Testament Books.

In concluding this section, Tregelles makes clear that he takes as his burden both the New Testament as a whole and its individual books:

The New Testament, we must remember, consists of a collection of books ; the statement of evidence must, therefore, relate in part to the collection as such, and in part to the several portions of which it is composed.  (p. 7)

Tregelles then briefly specifies the period of the book’s inquiry:

The period of inquiry as to any work is of course limited to the ages immediately following that in which the authors are said to have lived : we need not go below the fourth century as to the New Testament, for from that time our twenty-seven books have been all commonly received. (p. 7-8)

NEW TESTAMENT AS A COLLECTIVE VOLUME
(p. 8-21)

ST. PAUL’S EPISTLES
(p. 21-35)

We receive Cicero’s letters as genuine, and yet no one supposes that we could find each one severally mentioned by an ancient writer; the quotations from some are considered as evidence to the collection as such. Here how much stronger is the case!  (p. 35)

THE FOUR GOSPELS
(p. 35-51)

ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
(p. 52-52)

EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS
(p. 52-54)

In the early centuries it was but little known in the West, and thus, in the Canon in Muratori, it is not mentioned. In the East, however, it was well known and received, and there it was ascribed to the Apostle Paul.  (p. 52)

The difficulty connected with its authorship being directly ascribed to St. Paul, is principally found in the omission of his name at the beginning, and the difference of style throughout.  Thus, some of those who ascribed it in a general sense to St. Paul, thought that the ideas were his, but that the language was that of another; in fact, that it bore the same relation to St. Paul, as St. Luke’s Gospel does to him, and St. Mark’s to St. Peter.  Thus Origen, who quotes this Epistle as St. Paul’s, says, that of the actual writer ‘God only knoweth.”  [emphasis his]  (p. 54)

CATHOLIC EPISTLES: 1 PETER
(p. 54-55)

CATHOLIC EPISTLES: 1 JOHN
(p. 55-56)

BOOKS OPPOSED BY SOME: JAMES
(p. 56-57)

BOOKS OPPOSED BY SOME: 2 PETER
(p. 58-60)

BOOKS OPPOSED BY SOME: 2 AND 3 JOHN
(p. 60-61)

BOOKS OPPOSED BY SOME: EPISTLE OF JUDE
(p. 61-61)

BOOKS OPPOSED BY SOME: APOCALYPSE
(p. 61-63)

RESULTS OF EVIDENCE
(p. 64-70)

I have now discussed all the books of the New Testament, and to this I may add, that if we were to investigate other remains of antiquity, we could rarely find one-tenth part of the evidence for works undoubtedly genuine; and even this evidence is often only found after intervals much greater than that from the Apostolic age to the end of the second century.  (p. 64)

Has not, then, the requirement of the rule of evidence laid down by St. Augustine been fully met?  We can show that a successional series of writers, from the age immediately subsequent to that of the Apostles, have mentioned or used (and in general extensively) the books of the New Testament. And if, with regard to some, such as the Epistle of James and the second Epistle of Peter, the indications are less frequent, we have only to inquire whether they are not sufficient. As to the books in general, the evidence is so cumulative that nothing more attested is presented to our notice.  (p. 65-66)

Here, then, we have plain historic reasons for accepting the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, as the genuine works of eight persons, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter, and Jude.  (p. 66)

Surmises and hinted doubts are all that can be brought to meet
the united testimony of the early Christian Church, scattered in many regions, yet testifying to the transmission of the same books.  (p. 68)

We do not prove the genuineness of the New Testament books
on any grounds of mere opinion, so that what seems established today may be overturned tomorrow, but we demonstrate it by evidence, which loses no part of its value by lapse of time, any more than time can weaken the force of a mathematical demonstration.  (p. 70)

EVIDENCE FROM THE CHANNELS OF TRANSMISSION
(p. 70-74)

If we wish to find the records of a corporate body, we should seek for them in the custody of that corporation itself : if found there, the records may speak for themselves as to the authority which may attach to them. And thus it is with regard to the Scriptures : the Old Testament was given to the Jews, and they have transmitted it to us ; the New Testament was given to the Christian community, and they have delivered it on even to our days ; and the early writers of the Church have given us sufficient attestation that the books which we have are the same which they had from the beginning. Thus do we receive the Scriptures from what might formally be considered the proper custody, even if the early specific evidence had been less strong. (p. 70)

There is not such a mass of transmissional evidence in favour of any classical work.  (p. 74)

Thus every country, into the language of which the New Testament books were translated in early times, is a witness to us of their transmission.  (p. 74)

CLAIMS OF ROME
(p. 74-77)

TRANSMISSION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT TO US: ENGLISH VERSIONS
(p. 77-83)

ROME AS A KEEPER OF HOLY WRIT
(p. 83-89)

ROME AS A WITNESS OF HOLY WRIT
(p. 89-91)

USES OF SUCH INVESTIGATION
(p. 92-96)

APPENDIX I:
ON THE TEXT OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
(p. 97-108)

APPENDIX II:
SOME OF THE RESULTS OF THE GENUINENESS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
(p. 108-120)

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For other posts on this subject, see Posts on the Means of Determining Authorship of Ancient Texts.

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