Christian Living
Essentials of Faith
Evidences for Faith
Applying Your Faith

The Original Biblical Writings

It is true that we may not currently have the original writings of the Prophets and Apostles BUT when researching the accounts from the early church teachers we can say that there exists a real possibility that we actual may have, if not the originals, first or second generation copies of the originals.  That's a big deal.  But how can we know that this possibility exists?

Clement of Rome, writing between 70 AD to 90AD:
let us come to the most recent spiritual heroes. Let us take the noble examples furnished in our own generation...Let us set before our eyes the illustrious apostles. Peter...Paul also.(Chapter V)
"The apostles have preached the Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done so] from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost"
"Take up the epistle of the blessed Apostle Paul. What did he write to you at the time when the Gospel first began to be preached? Truly, under the inspiration of the Spirit, he wrote to you concerning himself, and Cephas, and Apollos" (Chapter XLVII)
According to Clement of Rome, the church of Corinth still had Paul's letters.  Here we can establish that up to 90AD Paul's original letters still existed.  Clement, in his letter, also quotes from the synoptic gospels and a majority of Paul's letters.  There is no reason not to conclude that the originals did not exist at this point.

Ignatius lived from 35AD to around 108AD.  In his writing, he gives a factual gospel presentation which agrees with the known writings of the Apostles (IGNATIUS, the gospel, Chapter IX.)

Irenaeus lived from 130AD to around 202AD.  In his well preserved writings he records some key information about the writings of the Apostles.
"who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops...that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere...The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone [in this], for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the apostles...From this document, whosoever chooses to do so, may learn that He, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, was preached by the Churches, and may also understand the apostolical tradition of the Church, since this Epistle is of older date than these men who are now propagating falsehood...the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth... Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom...There are also those who heard from him that John, the disciple of the Lord...Then, again, the Church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having John remaining among them permanently until the times of Trajan, is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles. (Chapter III)
"Since, therefore, the tradition from the apostles does thus exist in the Church, and is permanent among us, let us revert to the Scriptural proof furnished by those apostles who did also write the Gospel, in which they recorded the doctrine regarding God, pointing out that our Lord Jesus Christ is the truth" (IRENÆUS, Against Heresies: Book III, Chapter V.)
The Trinity and The Gospel: "...has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God" (Chapter X)
"the prophets and the apostles confessing the Father and the Son; but naming no other as God, and confessing no other as Lord: and the Lord Himself handing down to His disciples, that He, the Father, is the only God and Lord, who alone is God and ruler of all; —it is incumbent on us to follow, if we are their disciples indeed, their testimonies to this effect. For Matthew the apostle...Matthew again says, and Luke likewise...John, the disciple of the Lord, preaches this faith, and seeks, by the proclamation of the Gospel...Luke also, the follower and disciple of the apostles, referring...Wherefore also Mark, the interpreter and follower of Peter, does thus commence his Gospel narrative...Also, towards the conclusion of his Gospel, Mark says...(Chapter X, Chapter XI)
"...he says, in the Epistle to the Colossians: “Luke, the beloved physician, greets you.” But surely if Luke, who always preached in company with Paul, and is called by him “the beloved,” and with him performed the work of an evangelist, and was entrusted to hand down to us a Gospel, learned nothing different from him (Paul), as has been pointed out from his words"(Chapter XIV)
"For the apostles, since they are of more ancient date than all these [heretics], agree with this aforesaid translation; and the translation harmonizes with the tradition of the apostles. For Peter, and John, and Matthew, and Paul, and the rest successively, as well as their followers, did set forth all prophetical [announcements], just as the interpretation of the elders contains them." (The Apostles quoting from the XXL) (Chapter XXI)
"About Marcion: he mutilates the Gospel which is according to Luke, removing all that is written respecting the generation of the Lord, and setting aside a great deal of the teaching of the Lord, in which the Lord is recorded as most dearly confessing that the Maker of this universe is His Father. He likewise persuaded his disciples that he himself was more worthy of credit than are those apostles who have handed down the Gospel to us, furnishing them not with the Gospel, but merely a fragment of it" (Chapter XXVII)
Present miracles and witnesses: "He is the only Son of God. Wherefore, also, those who are in truth His disciples, receiving grace from Him, do in His name perform [miracles], so as to promote the welfare of other men, according to the gift which each one has received from Him. For some do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe [in Christ], and join themselves to the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years." (Chapter XXXII)
Now, that the preaching of the apostles, the authoritative teaching of the Lord, the announcements of the prophets, the dictated utterances of the apostles (Chapter XXXV)
There is a number of important statements by Irenaeus here.  Not only does he establish a continuance of the Apostles teachings down to him but also a continuance of witnesses.  He points out that writings from the Apostles did exist which Marcion copies and mutilates.  And that the Apostles writings have been passed down and entrusted to them.  Again, no indication that their original writings were lost at this point in history.   

Tertullian, 160AD to 220AD
“Come now, you who would indulge a better curiosity, if you would apply it to the business of your salvation, run over [to] the apostolic churches, in which the very thrones of the apostles are still pre-eminent in their places, in which their own authentic writings are read, uttering the voice and representing the face of each of them severally”  (De Praescriptione Haereticorum, Chapter 36; Schaff’s translation.)
Tertullian goes on to discuss each of these ‘authentic writings’ as being found in the very churches to which they were written. He mentions Corinth, Philippi, Thessalonica, Ephesus, and Rome.  Around the same time as Irenaeus, he specifically states that their actual original writings still existed.

The Muratorian fragment is a copy of perhaps the oldest known list of most of the books of the New Testament.  It was written around 170AD or a little later.  Peter 1 and 2 and James are not mentioned in the fragment.  

Origen, 184AD to 253AD

Eusebius (324AD) quotes Qrigen in his record of known Apostolic writings which closely resembles the collection of writings we have today.

Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, d 311 AD. In fragment 1, he speaks of the original of the Gospel of John as still existing in his day:
“the copy itself that was written by the hand of the evangelist, which, by the divine grace, has been preserved in the most holy church of Ephesus, and is there adored by the faithful.”
Here we are, about 300AD and in the 4th century with the original writings from the Apostles still in existence.  At the time of the First Council of Nicaea in 325AD it is probable they had degraded originals or even first generation copies of the actual originals.  Finally in 367AD Athanasius is the first person to identify the same 27 books of the New Testament that are in use today.

All this does not take into consideration the actual manuscripts and fragments we have currently.

The earliest manuscripts of John range from 90AD to 250AD.  Now think about that.  Above we have shown the probability of an original, hand written by John himself, possibly existing up to 311AD.  That means there is a chance that any one of the earliest manuscripts we have of John now, could very well be an original.  If not an original, it could be the actual first generation copy.  

Craig Evans of Acadia University researched how long manuscripts would have lasted in the ancient world, and whether that might provide some guidance of how long the original might have lasted–and therefore how long they would have been copied.  Evans brings together evidence to suggest that literary manuscripts in the ancient world would last hundreds of years, on average. Appealing to the recent study of G.W. Houston, he argues that manuscripts could last anywhere from 75 to 500 years, with the average being about 150 years.

This also supports the probability of having in our possession an actual original or first generation copy.  Of course there is no way to know for sure but one thing is sure; we can NOT say for sure that we don't have an original or the earliest copy.  The possibility exists that we do.  This also makes it very hard to say that we have a corrupted version of the original now.  Since the originals and quotes from the originals lasted so long in the early church history we can with certainty through textual criticism know what the originals actual taught.  Given the vast amount of early manuscripts and early quotes from church fathers, we CAN reliably say that we DO know what the Apostles actually taught from Jesus.

Now lets be clear, no scholar believes we have the actual originals.  That would be impossible to validate.  Nor is this article making the case that we DO, because, again, we would have to foolproof verifiable way of knowing for sure.  What this article IS pointing out is the POSSIBILITY and how ever slight probability of 2 things:  (1)  The original hand written documents of the Apostles themselves COULD have survived up to the 4th century and (2) The current fragments and manuscripts we have discovered COULD be them or 1st or 2nd generation copies of the originals.   This also shows that a statement that the originals were lost early on in its history and the copies were corrupted early is equally unverifiable given the evidences above.  Yes there are variants between the earliest manuscripts but that does not disprove that one of the earliest manuscripts is not an original, 1st or 2nd generation copy still.  Why make this point?

Bias secular scholars are quick to point out that they believe we don't know exactly what the originals stated, yet, their claim is equally unverifiable.  They avoid the possibility, how ever slight, that we do know and can know what the originals actual stated.

If the Disciples of the Apostles and their Disciples after them did retain original copies, read, and quoted from them, then we can know what the originals stated from their quotes alone; such as the case with Clement of Rome who wrote and quoted from documents he read only 30 years after the Apostles lived and within the same time that John wrote is gospel.  Being so close to the Apostles themselves, why would he not have Paul and Peter's writings?  Even Ignatius or Papias for that matter.  Irenaeus read documents and wrote around the same time, if not a little after, John wrote his gospel too.  Tertullian, only 70 or so years after John penned his gospel even states he knew that the originals still existed.  How would he know this?  The probability exists that he himself read them.  In fact, just from the early church fathers quotes alone, we can construct the entire New Testament except for just 11 verses.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene.  He states the following:  "Sir David Dalrymple (1726 – 1792AD) a Scottish judge and historian who wrote three volumes on early Christian Church history called, “Remains of Christian Antiquity”. Dalrymple was an expert in the writings of the early Church. It’s alleged that after careful examination of the writings of the Fathers he wrote, “ I possessed all the existing works of the Fathers of the second and third centuries, I commenced to search, and up to this time I have found the entire New Testament, except eleven verses.”...Early Church Fathers sat at the feet of the apostles and learned from the apostolic eyewitness accounts. These secondary leaders then wrote letters and documents of their own, repeating the claims of their teachers. I focused on the work of Ignatius, Polycarp and Clement and isolated the content of their non-canonical writings to the early Church...It turns out that the Early Church Fathers did, in fact, quote the scripture as it was handed down to them. But even if we can’t reconstruct the entire New Testament (save 11 verses) as Dalrymple is often quoted to have said, the Early Church Fathers did confirm enough of the New Testament claims to validate and authenticate the writings of the apostles. From the non-canonical works of Ignatius and Polycarp (students of John) and the non-canonical work of Clement (a student of Paul) we can determine the following:
Jesus was Predicted by the Old Testament as Described in the New Testament

Jesus is Divine as Described in the New Testament

Jesus Taught His Disciples as Described in the New Testament

Jesus Worked Miracles as Described in the New Testament

Jesus was Born of a Virgin as Described in the New Testament

Jesus Lived, Ministered, Was Crucified and Died as Described in the New Testament

Jesus Rose from the Dead and Demonstrated His Deity as Described in the New Testament
Even if we can’t reconstruct the entire New Testament (save 11 verses) as claimed in the citation of Dalrymple’s work, we really don’t need to. The early disciples of the apostles confirm the content of the apostolic teaching. If skeptics are looking for an early version of Jesus that is less divine, less miraculous and less supernatural, they aren’t going to find it in the writings of the first generation that followed the apostles. Instead, they’re going to find the very same Jesus that you and I know from the writings of the New Testament."  (  This is from the early church fathers alone.  Not including the earliest manuscripts we have today.  The possibility that they quoted from the original documents exists and is actually plausible. 

UPDATE* To be clear, the quote from Sir David Dalrymple was a verbal statement to a Dr. Walter Buchanan, which was then told to Rev. John Campbell years down the road which was later published in his memoir by Robert Philip.  The specific 11 verses said to have not been found by Sir David Dalrymple were not identified either.

If you have any questions or comments about this article please contact us or join our discussion forms


  1. In my Sunday morning bible class, I made reference to Sir. Dalrympl's claim relative to the absence of only 11 verses. After class, an attendee wanted to know what those verses were. Did Mr. Dalrympl identify them and, if so, what were they or where can they be found? Can you help me?

    1. Sadly the statement passed down from Sir. Dalrymple to Rev. John Campbell does not identify the specific verses he was unable to find. When Sir Dalrymbple's estate was added to the State library after his last relative died in the early 1900s, they found a majority of his notes showing that he did attempt to identify verses with church father quotes but they do not have all his notes to be able to determine the verses he was unable to find.


What do you think?

Top Articles in the Last Month

Flag Counter