What was the content of the verses not quoted by the early church fathers from the New Testament?
The claim is often made from New Testament scholars many years ago that early church fathers quoted all but 11 verses of the New Testament in their writings. While we could read the early church fathers and see many scriptures quoted from the New Testament, there are a few problems with this approach.
- We would need a Greek New Testament in front of us as we read so that we could see they were quotations. The early church fathers did not say things like, “Matthew says.” We must be able to recognize Matthew’s words in what the early church fathers wrote.
- The early church fathers did not have chapter numbers or verse numbers. Those were not created until much later. Their quotations are purely of the text and not always quotations. Sometimes they are paraphrases.
- Not only the church fathers but also people later declared to be heretics quoted from the New Testament. Some of the claimed quotes of the New Testament are actually from heretics that may have misquoted or wrongly paraphrased the New Testament.
These are only a few of the problems with this claim. The claim also comes by hearsay of others who knew the original scholar who made this claim. In fact, he did not make this specific claim that he could find the entire New Testament in the writings of the early church fathers.
However, the early church fathers did indeed quote most of the New Testament. The parchments and manuscripts of the New Testament lasted a very long time, even up to centuries. The original writings and copies of those writings lasted longer than you may think.
The paper we use today does not last nearly as long as the papyrus parchments and other materials the scholars of these first centuries used. They were passed along and copied many times. We have 5,900 or so manuscripts of the New Testament. Those aren’t all complete.
Many of them are fragments of the texts of the New Testament. But they are all helpful in making our new Testaments as accurate as possible to the original manuscripts. Even if you couldn’t claim that only 11 verses are missing from the writings of the early church fathers, our new Testaments are still incredibly accurate.
One great Greek scholar, Bruce Metzger, declares that after great study of all of these matters are new Testaments are 99.7% accurate. That has improved since the 90s when he wrote. I have seen in several of the latest scholarly materials that that number has improved the 99.97%.
The early church fathers give us all of the doctrinal teachings of the New Testament. They present the same Jesus that the New Testament presents. We would not be led astray if we only had the early church fathers.
Though it is harder to trace back the Greek texts with other translations that were made during the days of the New Testament copying, we still have good evidence of what the New Testament writers gave us if we include new Testaments written in Coptic and Aramaic along with others.
The kinds of New Testament verses not included by the early church fathers are verses like, “Jesus traveled from Capernaum to Galilee. These do not contain any doctrine but only show us the historical and geographical accuracy of the New Testament. The point is that we can be sure that we have a very accurate version of the New Testament every time we open it and read.