The Original Biblical Writings

It is true that we may not currently have the original writings of the Prophets and Apostles BUT when researching the accounts from the early church teachers we can say that there exists a real possibility that we actual may have, if not the originals, first or second generation copies of the originals.  That’s a big deal.  But how can we know that this possibility exists?

Clement of Rome, writing between 70 AD to 90AD:

let us come to the most recent
spiritual heroes. Let us
take the noble examples furnished in our own generation…Let us set before our eyes
the illustrious apostles. Peter…Paul also.(Chapter V)

The apostles have preached the
Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ
; Jesus
Christ [has done so] from God.
Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both
these appointments, then, were
made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore
received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our
Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word
of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost”

Take up the epistle
of the blessed Apostle Paul
. What did he write to you at the time when
the Gospel first began to be preached? Truly, under the
inspiration of the Spirit, he wrote to you
concerning himself, and Cephas, and Apollos” (Chapter XLVII)

According to Clement of Rome, the church of Corinth still had Paul’s letters.  Here we can establish that up to 90AD Paul’s original letters still existed.  Clement, in his letter, also quotes from the synoptic gospels and a majority of Paul’s letters.  There is no reason not to conclude that the originals did not exist at this point.

Ignatius lived from 35AD to around 108AD.  In his writing, he gives a factual gospel presentation which agrees with the known writings of the Apostles (IGNATIUS, the gospel, Chapter IX.)

Irenaeus lived from 130AD to around 202AD.  In his well preserved writings he records some key information about the writings of the Apostles.

“who may wish to
see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles
manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon
up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops
in the Churches, and
[to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times…by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of
the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded
and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul;
as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to
our time
by means of the successions of the bishops…that is, the faithful everywhere,

inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved
continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere…The blessed apostles, then, having
founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the
office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the
Epistles to Timothy
. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the
third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This
man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with
them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing
[in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes.
Nor was he alone [in
this], for there were many still remaining who had received instructions
from the apostles
…From this document, whosoever
chooses to do so, may learn that He, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
was preached by the Churches, and may also understand the apostolical
tradition of the Church, since this Epistle is of older date
than these
men who are now propagating falsehood…the ecclesiastical
tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come
down to us.
And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the
same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the
apostles until now
, and handed down in truth… Polycarp also was
not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen
Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church
in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth
, for he tarried [on earth] a
very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly
suffering martyrdom…There are
also those who heard from him that John, the disciple of the Lord…Then, again, the Church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having
John remaining among them
permanently until the times of Trajan, is a
true witness of the tradition of the apostles.
(Chapter III)

“Since, therefore,
the tradition from the apostles does thus exist in the Church, and is
permanent among us
, let us revert to the Scriptural proof furnished by
those apostles who did also write the Gospel
, in which they recorded the
doctrine regarding God, pointing out that our Lord Jesus Christ is the
truth” (IRENÆUS, Against Heresies: Book III, Chapter V.)

The Trinity and The Gospel: “…has
received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes]
in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea,
and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God,
who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who
proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God” (Chapter X)

“the prophets and the apostles confessing the
Father and the Son; but naming no other as God, and confessing no other
as Lord: and the Lord Himself handing down to His disciples, that He, the
Father, is the only God and Lord, who alone is God and ruler of all;
—it is incumbent on us to follow, if we are their disciples
, their testimonies to this effect. For Matthew the apostle…Matthew again says, and Luke likewise…John,
the disciple of the Lord, preaches this faith, and seeks, by the
proclamation of the Gospel…Luke
also, the follower and disciple of the apostles, referring…Wherefore also Mark, the interpreter and follower of
Peter, does thus commence his Gospel narrative…Also, towards the conclusion of his Gospel, Mark
says…(Chapter X, Chapter XI)

“…he says, in the
Epistle to the Colossians: “Luke, the beloved physician, greets
you.” But surely if Luke, who
always preached in company with Paul, and is called by him “the
beloved,” and with him performed the work of an evangelist, and was
entrusted to hand down to us a Gospel, learned nothing different from him
(Paul), as has been pointed out from his words”
(Chapter XIV)

“For the apostles, since they are of more ancient date than
all these [heretics], agree with this aforesaid translation; and the
translation harmonizes with the tradition of the apostles
. For Peter, and
John, and Matthew, and Paul, and the rest successively, as well as their
followers, did set forth all prophetical [announcements], just as the interpretation of
the elders contains them.” (The Apostles quoting from the XXL) (Chapter XXI)

“About Marcion: he mutilates the Gospel which is
according to Luke
, removing all that is written respecting the generation
of the Lord, and setting aside a great deal of the teaching of the Lord,
in which the Lord is recorded as most dearly confessing that the Maker of
this universe is His Father. He likewise persuaded his disciples that he
himself was more worthy of credit than are those apostles who have handed
down the Gospel to us
, furnishing them not with the Gospel, but merely a
fragment of it” (Chapter XXVII)

Present miracles and witnesses: “He is the only Son of God. Wherefore, also, those
who are in truth His disciples, receiving grace from Him, do in His name
perform [miracles], so as to promote the welfare of other men, according
to the gift which each one has received from Him. For some do certainly
and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed
from evil spirits frequently both believe [in Christ], and join
themselves to the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come:
they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the
by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea,
moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and
remained among us for many years
.” (Chapter XXXII)

Now, that the preaching of the apostles, the
authoritative teaching of the Lord
, the announcements of the prophets,
the dictated utterances of the apostles (Chapter XXXV)

There is a number of important statements by Irenaeus here.  Not only does he establish a continuance of the Apostles teachings down to him but also a continuance of witnesses.  He points out that writings from the Apostles did exist which Marcion copies and mutilates.  And that the Apostles writings have been passed down and entrusted to them.  Again, no indication that their original writings were lost at this point in history.   

Tertullian, 160AD to 220AD

“Come now, you who would indulge
a better curiosity, if you would apply it to the business of your
salvation, run over [to] the apostolic churches, in which the very
thrones of the apostles are still pre-eminent in their places, in which
their own authentic writings are read
, uttering the voice and
representing the face of each of them severally”  (De Praescriptione Haereticorum, Chapter 36; Schaff’s translation.)

Tertullian goes on to discuss each of these ‘authentic writings’ as
being found in the very churches to which they were written. He mentions
Corinth, Philippi, Thessalonica, Ephesus, and Rome.  Around the same time as Irenaeus, he specifically states that their actual original writings still existed.

The Muratorian fragment is a copy of perhaps the oldest known list of most of the books of the New Testament.  It was written around 170AD or a little later.  Peter 1 and 2 and James are not mentioned in the fragment.  

Origen, 184AD to 253AD

Eusebius (324AD) quotes Qrigen in his record of known Apostolic writings which closely resembles the collection of writings we have today.

Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, d 311 AD. In fragment 1, he speaks of the original of the
Gospel of John as still existing in his day:

“the copy itself that was
written by the hand of the evangelist, which, by the divine grace, has
been preserved
in the most holy church of Ephesus, and is there adored
by the faithful.”

Here we are, about 300AD and in the 4th century with the original writings from the Apostles still in existence.  At the time of the First Council of Nicaea in 325AD it is probable they had degraded originals or even first generation copies of the actual originals.  Finally in 367AD Athanasius is the first person to identify the same 27 books of the New Testament that are in use today.

All this does not take into consideration the actual manuscripts and fragments we have currently.

The earliest manuscripts of John range from 90AD to 250AD.  Now think about that.  Above we have shown the probability of an original, hand written by John himself, possibly existing up to 311AD.  That means there is a chance that any one of the earliest manuscripts we have of John now, could very well be an original.  If not an original, it could be the actual first generation copy.  

Craig Evans of Acadia University researched how long manuscripts would have lasted
in the ancient world, and whether that might provide some guidance of
how long the original might have lasted–and therefore how long they
would have been copied.  Evans brings together evidence to suggest that literary manuscripts in
the ancient world would last hundreds of years, on average. Appealing to
the recent study of G.W. Houston, he argues that manuscripts could last
anywhere from 75 to 500 years, with the average being about 150 years.

This also supports the probability of having in our possession an actual original or first generation copy.  Of course there is no way to know for sure but one thing is sure; we can NOT say for sure that we don’t have an original or the earliest copy.  The possibility exists that we do.  This also makes it very hard to say that we have a corrupted version of the original now.  Since the originals and quotes from the originals lasted so long in the early church history we can with certainty through textual criticism know what the originals actual taught.  Given the vast amount of early manuscripts and early quotes from church fathers, we CAN reliably say that we DO know what the Apostles actually taught from Jesus.

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