Many of us have listened to preachers talk about the Bible. Sometimes, that preacher might quote a certain biblical passage. In order to quote the passage, he had to have read it or heard it sometime in the past. In the same way, there were many ancient preachers who quoted the Bible, just like preachers do today. These early preachers lived only a few years after the Bible was written, and they quoted from it quite often. For instance, a man named Ignatius, who lived from A.D. 70-110, quoted from the books of Matthew, Acts, Romans, and several others. Another man, Polycarp, lived from A.D. 70-156. In chapter 4 of a letter he wrote to some people who lived in Philippi, Polycarp stated that “the love of money is the root of all evils” and that “we brought nothing into the world, so we can carry nothing out.” In chapter 5 of the same letter he wrote, “God is not mocked.” Later in chapter 7, he said: “For whosoever does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is antichrist.”
Justin Martyr, another early “church father” who lived from approximately A.D. 100-165, quoted large sections of the New Testament. In his First Apology, chapter 15 opens with this quote: “Whosoever looketh upon a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart before God.” And, “If thy right eye offend thee, cut it out; for it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of heaven with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into everlasting fire.”
Irenaeus (A.D. 130-202), in Against Heresies, book 1 chapter 8, quoted Paul as saying, “and last of all, He appeared to me also, as to one born out of due time.” And in the same chapter, he quoted Jesus as saying, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me” (for an extensive catalog of the writings of the “church fathers” see Knight, 2002).
The list of names and quotes could go on for several pages. After researching the church fathers and their texts for several years, the eminent New Testament scholar, Bruce Metzger, wrote: “Indeed, so extensive are these citations that if all other sources for our knowledge of the text of the New Testament were destroyed, they would be sufficient alone in reconstructing practically the entire New Testament” (1968, p. 86).
If the ancient preachers who lived between A.D. 70-200 quoted extensively from the New Testament, it means that the New Testament had to be complete, already circulating among the Christians, and accepted as Scripture long before they quoted it. It also means that we can compare the New Testament that we read in the twenty-first century to the quotes that such preachers produced in those early years. What we find when we compare the two is that they are virtually identical.
God used early preachers to help preserve the New Testament, and to teach us some very important lessons. The first thing we learn is that the New Testament we possess today is the same one God inspired the apostles and others to write. We also learn that good, solid preaching, which will save the souls of the hearers, must focus on the Word of God. “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11).
Knight, Kevin (2002), “The Fathers of the Church,” [On-line], URL: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/.
Metzger, Bruce (1968), The Text of the New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press).