Thursday, August 7, 2008

Attestation of the Early Church Fathers

(This is the third post in a series.)

I've already shared that there exist an astounding 5,366 ancient Greek manuscripts that are copies of the books of the New Testament. I have also alluded to the fact that there are thousands of ancient copies of translations of the New Testament writings. The most important of these are Latin, Syriac, and Coptic, and these, too, help textual critics gain certainty about what the autographs contained.

But there is a third line of evidence that leads to a correct understanding of the content of the original New Testament writings. That is the quotations of those books that are found in the writings of the early church fathers.

As Christianity began to spread (against all odds, humanly speaking), post-apostolic Christian leaders wrote letters, sermons, treatises, commentaries, and defenses of Christianity. And in these writings, they liberally quoted the gospels, letters, histories, and apocrypha that make up our New Testament. In fact, so extensively did they quote those writings that it is said that if we had no copies of the Greek manuscripts themselves, we could still piece together the entire New Testament simply by compiling the quotations of it in these writings.

Who are these early church fathers? They include men like Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Clement, Tertullian, Chrysostom, Jerome, Origen, and Augustine. Their writings provide important additional information for textual critics attempting to reconstruct the New Testament autographs with certainty.

In the next post, I'll begin to discuss how these separate lines of evidence--Greek manuscripts, early translations (Latin, Syriac, Coptic), and quotations from church fathers--are used by those seeking to make an accurate modern English translation of the New Testament.

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