Irenaeus, writing c. A. D. 190 or later,[i] at the conclusion of his (now lost) treatise De Ogdoade,[ii] stated:
I adjure thee, who shalt transcribe this book, by our Lord Jesus Christ, and by His glorious appearing, when He comes to judge the living and the dead, that thou compare what thou hast transcribed, and be careful to set it right according to this copy from which thou hast transcribed; also, that thou in like manner copy down this adjuration, and insert it in the transcript.[iii]
This warning recalls the statement with which the apostle John closed the Revelation and the canon (22:18-19), and provides physical evidence that Irenaeus and his contemporaries took copying seriously.[iv] If an uninspired and now lost patristic writing generated such a severe aduration, how much the more would copies of Scripture been replicated with tremendous care?
Rufinus, in his prologue to his translation of the works of Origen c. A. D. 400,[v] makes a similar, yet even stronger statement than Irenaeus:
And, verily, in the presence of God the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I adjure and beseech every one, who may either transcribe or read these books, by his belief in the kingdom to come, by the mystery of the resurrection from the dead, and by that everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels, that, as he would not possess for an eternal inheritance that place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, and where their fire is not quenched and their worm dieth not, he add nothing to Scripture, and take nothing away from it, and make no insertion or alteration, but that he compare his transcript with the copies from which he made it, and make the emendations and distinctions according to the letter, and not have his manuscript incorrect or indistinct, lest the difficulty of ascertaining the sense, from the indistinctness of the copy, should cause greater difficulties to the readers.[vi]
Elsewhere Rufinus, reiterating this warning he had made about alteration of his translation of Origen, declares:
Of this I solemnly warn every one who may read or copy out these books, in the sight of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and adjure him by our belief in the kingdom which is to come, by the assurance of the resurrection from the dead, and by that eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels, [emphasis in source text]— I adjure him, as he would not have for his eternal portion that place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, where their worm dieth not and their fire is not quenched, that he should add nothing to this writing, take away nothing, insert nothing, and change nothing.[vii]
Emphasizing the point yet further elsewhere, and adding a number of interesting details, including specific directions concerning accuracy in copying the very letters and punctuation,[viii] Rufinus states:
In the sight of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, I adjure and require everyone who shall either read or copy these books of mine, by his belief in a kingdom to come, by the mystery of the resurrection from the dead, by the eternal fire which is “prepared for the devil and his angels;” as he hopes not to inherit eternally that place where “there is weeping and gnashing of teeth,” and where “their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched,” let him add nothing to what is written, let him subtract nothing, let him insert nothing, let him alter nothing, but let him compare his transcript with the copies from which it is made, let him correct it to the letter, and let him punctuate it aright. Every manuscript that is not properly corrected and punctuated he must reject: for otherwise the difficulties in the text arising from the want of punctuation will make obscure arguments still more obscure to those who read them.[ix]
The extreme strength of these adjurations concerning copyist accuracy, with their expansive Divine imprecations and detailed copyist directions, points to a tremendous concern for faithful MSS transmission in Rufinus’ day. Copyists knew that alteration of the text was a crime worthy of eternal torment, something that by no means should be taken lightly.
Since the God of truth has promised to preserved His Word, Scripture has not been lost or corrupted—in the Textus Receptus which underlies the KJV Christ’s churches and saints possess a perfect replica of the autographa. While the inherent limitations of history make empirical demonstration of this proposition impossible, factual data can testify to its historical rationality. Scripture proves the immediate recognition of the Greek canon by the churches, and the early and widespread dissemination of NT documents. Post-Biblical patristic data suggest that the autographs, authoritative manuscripts immediately derived from them, and others only a few generations from the directly inspired originals, remained extant for centuries. Patristic writings also evince a widespread concern for copyist accuracy. These testimonies verify the presuppositionally certain safe passage of the Received Text from the original records of holy men of God moved by the Holy Ghost, through the ancient church period, into its medieval, reformation, and post-reformation textual dominance.
Note: this entire study is available as an essay here.
[i] “Irenaeus,” pg. 523, A Dictionary of Christian Biography.
[ii] The fragment appears in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, 5:20.
[iii] Cited in “Fragments From the Lost Writings of Irenaeus,” AN:I:7709; cf. Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History (books I-V), 5:20, trans. Kirsopp Lake. Cambridge, MA: Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 2001.
[iv] This does not mean, of course, that every copyist in the ancient church period did a marvelous job. Jerome, writing to Lucinius (Letter LXXI; NPN-2:5:34465), states that “As for my poor works which from no merits of theirs but simply from your own kindness you say that you desire to have; I have given them to your servants to transcribe, I have seen the paper-copies made by them, and I have repeatedly ordered them to correct them by a diligent comparison with the originals. For so many are the pilgrims passing to and fro that I have been unable to read so many volumes. They have found me also troubled by a long illness from which this Lent I am slowly recovering as they are leaving me. If then you find errors or omissions which interfere with the sense, these you must impute not to me but to your own servants; they are due to the ignorance or carelessness of the copyists, who write down not what they find but what they take to be the meaning, and do but expose their own mistakes when they try to correct those of others.” Of course, this sloppiness is not at all excused or endorsed—and these men were copying Jerome’s works, not God’s Word. It is noteworthy that Jerome, at the end of this paragraph, says, “The new testament I have restored to the authoritative form of the Greek original,” when he had shortly before used the word “originals” to refer to the first copy of his own work from his own hand. Jerome elsewhere affirms that “study of holy scripture. . . . requires plenty of books and silence and careful copyists and above all freedom from alarm and a sense of security” (The Letters of St. Jerome, Letter CXXVI, To Marcellinus and Anapsychia, NPN-2:2:34964), prioritizing accurate replication of MSS, such as Jerome doubtless enforced among his “pupils devoted to the art of copying” (The Letters of St. Jerome, Letter V, To Florentinus, NPN-2:2:33809).
[v] “Rufinus,” pg. 878-9, A Dictionary of Christian Biography. NPN-2 states that this was the “Preface to the Translations of Origen’s Books Peri« ÔArcw◊n Addressed to Macarius, at Pinetum, A. D. 397 (NPN-2:Preface:19909).
[vi] AN:Prologue of Rufinus:34705. The section of the prologue as found in the works of Rufinus, Preface to the Translations of Origen’s Books (NPN-2:Preface to the Translations:19912), reads as follows: “This only I require of every man who undertakes to copy out these books or to read them, in the sight of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and adjure him by our faith in the coming kingdom, by the assurance of the resurrection of the dead, by the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels (even as he trusts that he shall not possess as his eternal inheritance that place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, and where their fire will not be quenched and their worm will not die) that he should neither add nor take away, that he should neither insert nor change, anything in that which is written but that he should compare his copy with that from which it is copied and correct it critically letter for letter, and that he should not keep by him a copy which has not received correction or criticism, lest, if his copy is not thus distinct, the difficulty of the meaning may beget a still greater obscurity in the mind of the readers.” Alongside a number of less important differences, this latter version of the preface makes the imprecation clearly refer to the alteration of Rufinus’ translation of Origen, rather than Scripture, by changing what AN reads as “he add nothing to Scripture, and take nothing away from it” to the NPN-2 “he should neither insert or change, anything in that which is written.” The warning of the preface does indeed relate directly to Rufinus’ translation—which fits the context—rather than to the NT directly, as the quote above from the AN version might seem to indicate. Nevertheless, such concern provides an a fortiori argument for patristic concern for copying the Bible.
[vii] The Apology of Rufinus, Book 1, NPN-2:16:20031.
[viii] Since other writings were punctuated, could Scripture MSS from this time (A. D. 398—see The Letters of St. Jerome: Letter LXXX, From Rufinus to Macarius, NPN-2:Intro:34540) have been punctuated as well?
[ix] The Letters of St. Jerome: Letter LXXX, From Rufinus to Macarius (NPN-2:3:34543).