25.1 The Church Fathers:
Through the ages people have quoted Scripture. When we read these documents they give evidence of what the writer had at his disposal. The quotations of the early church fathers form the last group of Greek witnesses we may utilize in our search for the authentic words of the original autographs of the New Testament. These writings have been searched thoroughly and they add a valuable source to be considered.
There are two distinctive ways people quote Scripture. The first is when some matter of interest is discussed and reference is made to what had been written in Scripture. This might be casually where one could write something like: ”Paul referred to this same problem when he advised the church in Corinth to …” Such a quotation might not be correct in every word but rather in the form of a personal paraphrase recalled from memory. Yet it does give clear evidence that the writer must have had knowledge of the existence of those words in his time in some copy of Scripture to his disposal. Many of the quotations of the Church Fathers are of this nature.
The other form of quotation is when Scripture itself is the subject under discussion. When one delivers commentary on a specific verse or book, quotations are made directly from the copy at hand and not from memory. In some cases a single statement, incident or paragraph from Scripture is discussed. But we also have the verse for verse commentary on the whole New Testament by Origen (†254), Chrysostom (†407) and Nonnus (†431). In these instances, every word can be taken into consideration.
Quotations by a church father provide an important indication of the text that had been available to him during his lifetime. Thirty of the more important church fathers date from Marcion who died in 150 A.D. to someone known as Pseudo- Jerome of the fifth century. Quotations of no less than 220 church fathers have been included in the text critical apparatus of the compiled text of the Greek New Testament by the United Bible Societies.
Included within the corpus of the Church Fathers is the Eusebian Canons. To assist in the study of the four Gospels, Eusebius (†339) compiled lists or tables (canons) by which one could find the corresponding incident or narrative in another Gospel. Though these canons do not quote Scripture, they give a definite indication that a certain pericope had been, or had not been part of that Gospel at that time. This can be an extremely important indication where a whole pericope is in dispute like the incident of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. (John 7:53-8:11) The Eusebian Canons were copied in many manuscripts through the ages.
The quotations of Scripture by the Church Fathers form the last group of evidence by which to evaluate and weigh the differences that do exist in the manuscripts of the New Testament. This helps to understand the causes for the differences between the variations of the Bible translations in the market today, and to make an informed decision on the correctness of every word God let be written to us.
To establish every original word of the New Testament, without any addition or omission is a challenge. May you be encouraged and assisted by the knowledge provided on this blog.