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Let us now inquire, with the same freedom and impartiality, into the scriptural use of the other term. The Greek word 'aypeợis, which properly imports no more than election, or choice, was commonly employed by the Hellenist Jews, in our Saviour's time, when the people were much divided in their religious sentiments, to denote, in general, any branch of the division, and was nearly equivalent to the English words, class, party, sect. The word was not, in its earliest acceptation, conceived to convey any reproach in it, since it was indifferently used, either of a party approved, or of one disapproved, by the writer. In this way it occurs several times in the Acts of the Apostles, where it is always (one single passage excepted) rendered sect, We hear alike of the sect of the Sadducees, αιρεσις των Σαδδικαιων "), and of the sect of the Pharisees, αιρεσις, των Φαρισαιων22. In both places the term is adopted by the historian purely for distinction's sake, without the least appearance of intention to convey either praise, or blame. Nay, on one occasion, Paul, in the defence he made for himself before king Agrippa, where
81 Acts, v. 17.
82 Acts, xv. 5,
it was manifestly his intention to exalt the party to which he had belonged, and to give their system the preference to every other system of Judaism, both in soundness of doctrine, and purity of morals, expresses himself thus: My manner of life, from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews, which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify: that after the most straitest sect of our religion, xata Tn axpiβες ατην αιρεσιν της ημετερας θρησκειας, I lived a Pharisee 83.
2. There is only one passage in that history, wherein there is an appearance that something reproachful is meant to be conveyed under the name aypois. It is in the accusation of Paul, by the orator Tertullus, on the part of the Jews, before the governor Felix ; where amongst other things, we have these words: We have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes, πρωτος ατην τε της των Ναζωpawv 'aypoems 84. I should not, however, have imagined that any part of the obloquy lay in the application of the word last mentioned, if it had not been for the notice which the Apostle takes of it in his an
But this I confess unto thee, that after the αy which they call heresy, την λεγεσιν αιρεσιν, so worship I the God of my fathers 85.
Acts, xxiv. 5.
83 Acts, xxvi. 4, 5.
3. HERE, by the way, I must remark a great impropriety in the English translation, though in this, I acknowledge, it does but follow the Vulgate. The same word is rendered one way in the charge brought against the prisoner, and another way in his answer for himself. The consequence is that, though nothing can be more apposite than his reply, in this instance, as it stands in the original ; yet nothing can appear more foreign than this passage, in the two versions above mentioned. The Apostle seems to defend himself against crimes, of which he is not accused. In both places, therefore, the word ought to have been translated in the same manner, whether ' heresy or sect. In my judgment, the last term is the only proper one ; for the word heresy, in the modern acceptation, never suits the import of the original word, as used in Scripture. But, when one attends to the very critical circumstances of the Apostle at this time, the difficulty in accounting for his having considered it as a reproach to be denominated of a sect, disclaimed by the whole nation, instantly vanishes. Let it be remembered, first, that, since the Jews had fallen under the power of the Romans, their ancient national religion had not only received the sanction of the civil powers for the continuance of its establishment in Judea, but had obtained a toleration in other parts of the empire ; secondly, that Paul is now pleading before a Roman governor, a Pagan, who could not well be supposed to know much of the Jewish doctrine, worship, or controversies ; and that he had been arraign
ed by the rulers of his own nation, as belonging to a turbulent and upstart sect: for in this way they considered the Christians, whom they reproachfully named Nazarenes. The natural consequence of this charge, with one who understood so little of their affairs as Felix, was to make him look upon the prisoner as an apostate from Judaism, and, therefore, as not entitled to be protected, or even tolerated, on the score of religion. Against a danger of this kind, it was of the utmost importance to our Apostle to defend himself.
$ 4. ACCORDINGLY, when he enters on this part of the charge, how solicitous is he to prove, that his belonging to that sect, did not imply any defection from the religion of his ancestors; and thus to prevent any mistaken judgment, on this article of his arraignment, into which a heathen judge must have otherwise unavoidably fallen. His own words will, to the attentive, supersede all argument or illustration : But this I confess to thee, that after the way which they call a sect, so worship I; Whom? No new divinity, but, on the contrary, the God of our fathers: he adds, in order the more effectually to remove every suspicion of apostacy, Believing all things which are written in the law and the prophets ; and having the same hope towards God, which they themselves also entertain, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust 86. Nothing could have been more ridiculous,
86 Acts, xxiv. 14, 15.
than for the Apostle seriously to defend his doctrine against the charge of heterodoxy, before an idolater and polytheist, who regarded both him and his accusers as superstitious fools, and consequently, as, in this respect, precisely on a footing; but it was entirely pertinent in him to evince, before a Roman magistrate, that his faith and mode of worship, however much traduced by his enemies, were neither essentially different from, nor any way subversive of, that religion which the senate and people of Rome had solemnly engaged to protect; and that therefore he was not to be treated as an apostate, as his adversaries, by that article of accusation, that he was of the sect of the Nazarenes, showed evidently that they desired he should. Thus the Apostle, with great address, refutes the charge of having revolted from the religious institutions of Moses, and, at the same time, is so far from disclaiming, that he glories in the name of a follower of Christ.
$ 5. There is only one other place, in this history, in which the word occurs, namely, where the Jews at Rome (for whom Paul had sent on his arrival), speaking of the Christian society, address him in these words : But we desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest ; for as concerning this sect, nepi uev yap της αιρεσεως ταυτης, we know that it is everywhere spoken against 87. There cannot be a question, here, of the propriety of rendering the word åxpedis, sect, a