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THESE resemble the lessons read in the synagogues from the Old Testament. As early as the fifth century, Euthalius divided the Acts and Epistles into lessons to be read on various festivals, to which the Gospels were afterward added. Shorter divisions were subsequently adopted by the Greek church. To make these divisions easily accessible the copies of the New Testament were marked in red ink where the lessons begun, where they ended, and what portions were to be omitted.
This led to manuscripts being written especially for this purpose, which were called Lectionaries to distinguish them. These would contain some passages more than once, and be arranged according as the festivals fell; other parts would be omitted altogether. Some contained the Gospels only, and were called Evangelistaria; others had the Acts and Epistles; and others Paul's Epistles only.
Though these books were introduced among the Latins as early as the fifth century, it is believed they were not adopted among the Greeks until the eighth. Some are extant in uncial characters, though it is believed lectionaries were continued to be written in this style after the cursive writing came into use.
One copy is described as containing lessons for every day in the year, with services for "the holy week," the great festivals, and saints' days, with gospels set apart for special occasions.
To make the ordinary manuscripts available for use, a list of lessons was added to some copies. These were called Synaxaria and Menologia. Scholz published copies of such lists in his Greek Testament, taken from some Paris manuscripts.
As has been already intimated, the commencement of the lessons were often altered to make them more intelligent to the hearers (such as substituting "Jesus said" for "He said") yet some of the Lectionaries are of considerable value.
Of Codex z, Dr. Scrivener says, "Besides the gospels in full, several portions of which are always written more than once in an Evangelistarium, this copy is remarkable for containing among the services for the holy week, four passages from the Septuagint version (Isa. 3:9-13; 52:139The show of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! for they have rewarded evil unto themselves. 10Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him: for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. 11Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him: for the reward of his hands shall be given him. 12As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths. 13The Lord standeth up to plead, and standeth to judge the people. (Isaiah 3:9‑13)
13Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. (Isaiah 52:13)
—54:1; Jer. 11:1818And the Lord hath given me knowledge of it, and I know it: then thou showedst me their doings. (Jeremiah 11:18)—12: 15; Zech. 11:10-1410And I took my staff, even Beauty, and cut it asunder, that I might break my covenant which I had made with all the people. 11And it was broken in that day: and so the poor of the flock that waited upon me knew that it was the word of the Lord. 12And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. 13And the Lord said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord. 14Then I cut asunder mine other staff, even Bands, that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel. (Zechariah 11:10‑14);) and four from the Pauline Epistles (Rom. 5:6-106For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. 8But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 10For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. (Romans 5:6‑10); Gal. 6:14-1814But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. 15For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. 16And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. 17From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. 18Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. <<Unto the Galatians written from Rome.>> (Galatians 6:14‑18); 1 Tim. 6:11-1611But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. 12Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses. 13I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession; 14That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: 15Which in his times he shall show, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; 16Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honor and power everlasting. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:11‑16); Heb. 10:19-3119Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; 21And having an high priest over the house of God; 22Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) 24And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 25Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. 26For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, 27But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. 28He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: 29Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? 30For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. 31It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:19‑31).).... Few copies of the Gospels contain more numerous and interesting, yet minute variations from the printed text than Codex z ... .but in many places it stands almost, often quite alone. Thus the patient student will find it a document of singular importance, well meriting his best attention." The portions named above will give the reader some idea of what were selected as "Lessons" in those early days.
The Lectionaries are generally classed with the cursives, and referred to by small letters (Scrivener's x, y, and z, for instance, are lectionaries, though x is an uncial), or by figures: Lec. x., or Lec. 1, being quite sufficient to distinguish them from anything else.
The Lectionaries are also interesting as showing that at that early date the reading of the scripture in public was a constant thing. According to the Apostolic Constitutions two lessons out of the Old Testament and two out of the New were read every Sunday. And if a sermon followed it was nothing else but the exposition, says Cave, in his Primitive Christianity, "of some part of the scriptures which had been read before, and exhortations to the people to obey the doctrines contained in them, and commonly were upon the lesson which was last read, because of that being freshest in, the people's memory.”