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Church Fathers Who Quote the New Testament

QUESTION:

I am curious about the early patristic evidence for the various Gospels and other New Testament writings. As I understand these are helpful in establishing the dates for many of these works. Related to this is, when early Church Fathers quote passages from NT writings, are they usually verbatim or do they often differ from the canon that was eventually established? Perhaps my question is a bit broad, but feel free to narrow or expand as time allows.

 

RESPONSE:

This is a good set of questions, and I may make two or three posts on it, depending on how it goes. As it turns out, it is an issue I’ve long been interested in. In fact, when I started doing serious research in the textual criticism of the New Testament – back when I was in the last year of my Master’s Program – this was the one topic I was most interested in: the Patristic evidence for the text of the NT. (Patristic = Writings of the Church Fathers.) I told my mentor and advisor, Bruce Metzger, that I wanted to do a PhD dissertation in that sub-specialization of textual criticism; he suggested I work on the citations of the NT in the writings of the fourth-century writer Didymus the Blind; and I did. That ended up being my dissertation. It was the first volume to be published in a series edited by a textual scholar named Gordon Fee, and called The New Testament in the Greek Fathers. After Fee’s term as editor in chief was up, I took on the position myself and stayed on editing the series for six years. And so, I have long and deep interests in the study of the writings of the church fathers and their quotations of the NT text.

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Patristic Evidence: Why Time and Place Matter
Early Doubts about the Pastorals

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    toddfrederick  August 6, 2013

    This sounds interesting. Can you suggest a source book that would contain a selection of patristic writings that won’t force me to pawn the crown jewels? 😀

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 7, 2013

      I”m afraid they are extensive. There are lots of new editions of many of the church Fathers. A standard collection of the *set* comes in two very large multi-volume editions of over a century ago: The Ante-Nicene Fathers and The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. You can get them still, in nice hard-cover editions, online.

      • gmatthews
        gmatthews  August 8, 2013

        Both of those books are on Google books (http://books.google.com/). The first in it’s entirety, but not the second although much of the Post-Nicene book (several volumes by the way!) is still readable.

  2. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  August 6, 2013

    Wow! Wow! Wow! I just finished studying your 24 lectures in “The Greatest Controversies of Early Christian History” course produced by The Teaching Company. These lectures are really terrific. For many years, I attended many different churches for extended periods of time. I finally stopped attending churches not because of a difference in beliefs, but because I felt that religion is really, really important, important enough to merit a respectful, critical examination of crucial questions which churches do not provide. To be fair, some Unitarian fellowships provide some of this, just not enough. In contrast, your course lectures, debates, and books respectfully and critically examine crucial questions. Moreover, your “Greatest Controversies” course, except for a couple of sections on Gnosticism, which I just could not understand, provide such an examination with unusual clarity especially when contrasted with the other Teaching Company courses of other lecturers. In all honesty, I probably had trouble following the concepts about Gnosticism because these concepts are so strange, at least to me. Your lectures in the “Greatest Controversies” series on the virgin birth, The Resurrection, and the Trinity, and on whether or not the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses are especially helpful. Your organized argument contending that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses is very convincing. Such a conclusion obviously challenges the historical reliability of the Gospels and is contrary to what many Christians claim and preach with so much certainty. Hence, this review is quite important. Keep writing and teaching. Thanks so very much.

  3. Avatar
    Jim  August 6, 2013

    Are there any lectionaries available from the Patristic era, and could these lectionary texts (if available from that period) shed any light on the NT text they possessed?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 7, 2013

      Yes, there are lots of lectionaries, but most are not early (so it depends how you define “patristic” era). These are usually numbered among the Greek manuscripts.

  4. Brad Billips
    Brad Billips  August 7, 2013

    For anybody who is interested, Daniel Wallace has some ITunes videos on NT manuscripts. They are broken down into several different sections. Some include ancient writing materials and paper, disputed texts, church fathers, etc. To my knowledge, he hasn’t added anything to them in quite some time. But there are around forty videos averaging eight minutes or so. Hope this helps.

  5. Avatar
    dennis  August 7, 2013

    ” since Latin was the language of the West and that’s where most of the Christians were ” I have thought that right up until Constantine , Christianity was primarily urban and that the East was more urbanized than the West . Another misconception on my part ?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 7, 2013

      Well, it was urban and both east and west. But I was thinking of the Middle Ages, when most of the mss were produced.

  6. Avatar
    SHameed01  October 19, 2013

    I read a Christian article once saying that all the verses in the New Testament were quoted by early Church fathers hence therefore this proves that the New Testament is in its original form (his argument not mine). Any thoughts?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 20, 2013

      That’s what my posts were on! The problems are that the NT is not quoted extensively in *early* church fathers, that the fathers all quote the NT in different ways, that even within the fathers’ quotations there are variations for this or that verse quoted, and that we don’t actually have the fathers’ writings either, but only later manuscripts in which their own words have also been changed. Almost everyone who makes this argument has never actually worked with the Father’s texts. (The first father to quote the NT extensively in Greek is Origen; I wrote a book on his quotations of John)

      • Avatar
        SHameed01  October 20, 2013

        /I wrote a book on his quotations of John/

        Which book would that be?

    • Avatar
      Malik  January 5, 2018

      Hello,
      I have  compiled an article on the matter:
      https://islamicarchives.wordpress.com/2017/05/25/can-the-new-testament-be-reconstructed-from-the-writings-of-the-church-fathers-muslims-answer/
      Have you ever heard it said that if all the Bibles and Biblical manuscripts in the world were destroyed tomorrow, we could reconstruct all but 11 verses of the NT from the writings of the Ante-Nicene Church Fathers alone?  Recently, in an interview featuring NT textual critic, Daniel Wallace, we learn that this claim is demonstrably false.
      Daniel Wallace mentions the following :

      I’m embarrassed to say that sometimes there are Muslim apologists who have done really decent research on the nature of the New Testament or on the transmission of the text or things along those lines, and they have cleared up kind of an apocryphal story that Christians believed in.
      There was one example: a number of scholars have passed on saying someone had pointed out that in the first three centuries of Christianity, only eleven verses of the entire New Testament had not been able to be found in those Church Fathers’ writings. Well, that was a garbled story that went back to the early 1800s, and it was a third-hand story of a fellow by the name of David Dalrymple. He was the one who actually was doing the research, and somebody heard about this at a party and not directly from Dalrymple but from somebody else, and then put into a book, and it’s been stated for the last 200 years as though it was Gospel fact.
       
      What Dalrymple actually said was in the first two centuries of the Christian faith through A.D. 300, that all but eleven verses of John’s Gospel had been found in the Church Fathers’ writings [Wallace said that Dalrymple found all but 11 verses of the Gospel of John in the Ante-Nicene fathers, but Dalrymple’s notes do not bear this out]. He wasn’t talking about the whole New Testament, so this got communicated in such a way that said it was the whole New Testament that’s been found. That’s just irresponsible and not at all helpful. It was Muslim apologists who discovered the error, and it’s been quoted by apologists, even text critical scholars, and it was the Muslims who (……. 58:18) [did the] research and said sorry that’s not the case.

       
      Islamic-Awareness concludes the following:
      Admitting the best case scenario, more than 50% of the New Testament is missing according to the manuscript evidence. This hardly equates with eleven missing verses (~0.1%) as is frequently propagated in the missionary and apologetical literature. We have also observed that the alleged time frame for the completion of this work – set at two months in the literature – is also untrue.
      For a period of more than 165 years missionary and apologetical publications, whether they are in the form of books, articles, audio/video cassettes, radio programs, TV shows, internet, etc., have all continued to selectively repeat in full or in part the anecdote attributed to Dalrymple, highlighting only those aspects of the anecdote which served the purposes of spreading the good news. None of the authors, from the past or present, have attempted to study the original documents in order to verify those claims which we now know to be false. Josh McDowell hailed this piece of information as new evidence that demands a verdict. In reality it is a two hundred year old anecdote based on a third hand account, whose recollection (transmission) is questionable, and whose results have been grossly exaggerated and fabricated. Perhaps it is best to finish with some words from Dalrymple himself. In a short unpublished tract entitled Habits(advice on how children should be taught) under subsection Avoidances Or Bad Habits, he advised:

      Never to allow ones self to be very communicative in narrating anecdotes least one arrive at the dreadful badness of revealing perhaps the secrets of another…[117]

      Taken from:
      https://theosophical.wordpress.com/2012/01/17/modern-myth-all-but-11-verses-of-the-nt-could-be-constructed-from-the-writings-of-the-early-church-fathers/
      http://www.apologetics315.com/2013/06/daniel-b-wallace-interview-transcript.html
      http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Bible/Text/citations.html
       

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