Church Fathers lived during the early centuries of the church. In
the course of instructing the Christians of their day and defending
the faith against the heretics of their time period they left a
tremendous amount of written material which contains thousands upon
thousands of citations of the New Testament scriptures. In their
book "A General Introduction To The Bible" Geisler and
Nix estimate that there are over 36,000 references or citations
by the Fathers of the New Testament. Harold Greenlee in his book
"Introduction To New Testament Textual Criticism" states.
"These quotations are so extensive that the New Testament could
be virtually reconstructed from them without the use of New Testament
Manuscripts." (p.54) The following brief survey of the Fathers
will provide an introduction to the evidence available in the writings
of the fathers.
APOSTOLIC FATHERS ( c.70 - c.150 )
early fathers, who lived between 70-150 AD, were Greek speaking
men and with the possible exception of the books of Philemon and
III John quoted from every book of the New Testament.
ANTE-NICENE FATHERS ( c.150 - c.300 )
Ante-Nicene Fathers wrote in Greek, Syriac and Latin. After surveying
the works of these men Geisler and Nix point out that prior to the
council of Nicea in 325 ad there were some 32,000 quotes and allusions
made from the New Testament alone.
NICENE AND POST NICENE FATHERS ( c.300 - c.430)
men lived through some of the last persecutions of the church by
the Roman Empire. Their testimony concerning which books of the
Bible were considered authentic is very valuable. At a time in history
when people were losing their lives over the possession and use
of "scripture" we can be sure that they were wholly convinced
when they gave their acceptance and approval to various documents
they believed to be scripture.
the value of the witness of the church fathers is twofold: One,
their testimony confirms that the existing canon of scripture (the
list of books considered inspired) in our English Bibles is authoritative
and true. Two, their quotations of the New Testament are so numerous
and comprehensive that if we were to lose every single manuscript
of the New Testament we would be able to reconstruct the New Testament
text based on the written record left to us by the Fathers.