Friday, November 29, 2013

How Long Were the Original Manuscripts Around? Considerations on the NT Autographa and Early NT Apographa from Scripture and Patristic Writers, part 1

I. Scriptural Presuppositions

            Scripture teaches the verbal, plenary preservation of the verbally, plenarily inspired autographa (Psalm 12:6-7), the availability of the preserved text to every generation of the people of God (Isaiah 59:21), who, institutionalized in Israel in the Old Testament era and in the church during the age of grace, are responsible for that preservation (Romans 3:2; Matthew 28:18-20).[i]  The church of the New Testament (NT) is the autonomous assembly of immersed saints organized to carry out the Lord’s work. Her belief and practice would be that of modern Bible-believing and practicing Baptist churches.  Such congregations, in accord with Christ’s promise (Matthew 16:18), have existed in a continuous succession from the time Christ originated them during His earthly ministry (John 1:35),[ii] during which they have, by God’s grace, fulfilled their responsibility to protect and propagate accurate apographs of the Textus Receptus (TR), the modern text-type identical with the originally inspired manuscripts.  These Bibliological and ecclesiological axioms, established by God in His Word, constitute the first principles the unbiased[iii] historian must bring to his evaluation of ecclesiastical and textual-critical history.

II. NT and Patristic Considerations Concerning the Autographs and the Textus Receptus

            As part of the greatest of commands is to love God with all one’s mind (Matthew 22:37), believers should attempt to discover the textual history of the preserved text of Scripture.  The dominance and universal acceptance of the TR in the church of the Reformation era and subsequent centuries has been documented,[iv] as has its use among the true churches of the Middle Ages[v] and its towering dominance in the manuscript evidence from that period.[vi]  Since God promised to preserve His Word, this Received Text must of necessity have been available in early Christian history as well, as copies of the TR autographs, written under inspiration by the authors of the NT books, were circulated.  However, the early existence of the TR text-type has been questioned by advocates of the modern critical NT text (CT).[vii]  The promises of Scripture, which verify its existence, should suffice as proof for believers;  however, historical research also evidences its presence in early Greek textual evidence, translational evidence, and patristic citations.[viii]  A patristic study of evidences for the longevity of the autographa, as well as of early copying practices, is also worthy of examination.  The years the original manuscripts were extant reduce the gap between the time of initial inspiration and the era when even the most extreme CT partisans must acknowledge the existence of the Traditional Text.  Furthermore, in light of modern neo-evangelical and CT fundamentalist denials of the Biblical imperative of the availability of every Word of Scripture (Matthew 4:4),[ix] the longer the autographs existed, the longer the period that all who believe in inerrancy, regardless of their belief in or opposition to the doctrine of preservation, must acknowledge the continued existence and availability of every word of the NT.  For at least as long as the originals were extant, one could examine them and be absolutely certain of every word of his Greek Bible.  The possibility of such a comparison would also inhibit the ability of textual aberrations, both unintentional and intentional, to affect the nature of the general stream of manuscript (MSS) evidence.  A patristic analysis on these issues, with a preliminary consideration of the NT background, is consequently in order.

Note: this entire study is available as an essay here.

[i]           See Thou Shalt Keep Them, ed. Kent Brandenburg (El Sobrante, CA: Pillar and Ground Publishing, 2003) for a book-length justification of these and the other Bibliological postulates referenced in this paragraph.

[ii]           For a detailed ecclesiological exposition from a good systematic theology, see Landmarks of Baptist Doctrine, vol. 4, Robert J. Sargent, Oak Harbor, WA:  Bible Baptist Church Publications, 1990, pgs. 481-596.  Biblical ecclesiology has traditionally been denominated Landmarkism.

[iii]          An impossible “neutrality” concerning the truths of Scripture that relate to history, ecclesiology, or any other aspect of life, which leads one to pass over God’s declarations on these matters in one’s evaluation of historical evidences, is not unbiased;  it is a wicked refusal to fully submit to the reality of the one true God revealed in the Bible.  Atheistic rejection of such historically relevant truths is also utterly unreasonable and biased.  True objectivity and unbiased historiography requires that one be in full agreement with the God of truth, who alone created the world, set up its laws, and orders all things that come to pass after the counsel of His own will (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; 15:33; Isaiah 33:6; Ephesians 1:11).

[iv]          See “The Canonicity of the Received Bible Established from Reformation and Post-Reformation Baptist Confessions,” Thomas Ross, for an example.

[v]           See Rome and the Bible:  Tracing the History of the Roman Catholic Church and its Persecution of the Bible and of Bible Believers, David Cloud, Oak Harbor, WA:  Way of Life Literature, 1997, 2nd ed., pgs. 29-30, Crowned With Glory and Honor, Thomas Holland, chapter 3, “Testimony Through Time”;  Our Authorized Bible Vindicated, Benjamin Wilkinson, chapter 2, “The Bible Adopted by Constantine and the Pure Bible of the Waldenses,” Answers to Objections to Our Authorized Bible Vindicated, Benjamin Wilkinson, chapter 3, “The Itala and the Bible of the Waldenses,” Robert L. Webb, The Waldenses and the Bible, Carthage, IL:  Primitive Baptist Library, n. d. (available at

[vi]          See Modern Bibles:  The Dark Secret, Jack Moorman, chapter 6, “The Theory Behind the Shorter Bibles,” Forever Settled: A Survey of the Documents and History of the Bible, Jack Moorman, Chapters 15-17 (both electronically accessed from The Fundamental Baptist CD-ROM Library, David Cloud; Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061–0368), among many other sources.

[vii]         E. g., “All the external evidence suggests that there is no proof that the Byzantine text was in existence in the first three centuries.” (Daniel Wallace, “The Majority Text and the Original Text: Are They Identical?” Bibliotheca Sacra, 148:590 (Apr 91) p. 166). Interestingly, footnote #46 of his own article states that patristic quotations supported the Byzantine Text against the Alexandrian in earlier writers such as Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Hippolytus, Methodius, etc;  his qualifications, “external” evidence, “suggests,” no “proof,” are also of note.  Wilbur Pickering demonstrates that the Majority Text dominated supposed alternative text types centuries earlier and necessarily existed in the second century (Identity of the New Testament Text, chapter 6; electronically accessed).

[viii]         Forever Settled, Moorman, pgs. 65-128.

[ix]          “Scripture does not state how God has preserved the text” (Wallace, “The Majority Text and the Original Text,” pg. 156).


Bobby said...

Good work, brother Ross. I'm looking forward to the other installments.

KJB1611 said...


KJB1611 said...

By the way, totally perfect copies could have been maintained, at the very least, for a few generations from the autographs, further reducing the time span between the original manuscripts and the dominance of the Byzantine text.

George Calvas said...

"As part of the greatest of commands is to love God with all one’s mind (Matthew 22:37), believers should attempt to discover the textual history of the preserved text of Scripture"

So, the context of your statement is that the TR is the "preserved text of the Scripture".

Is the Holy King James Bible also "the preserved text of the scripture" inspired of God and therefore has a textual history as every inspired text?

Jerry Mace said...

Do you celebrate Easter?

Jerry Mace said...

Do you celebrate Easter?

KJB1611 said...

Dear Jerry,

I'm excited about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus on the first day of the week every week. I can be excited about it even on the day that the Roman Catholic religion invented a festival day, and if people visit church because of the RC festival, I'm happy that they are there.