Canonical Development and the Early Church Fathers: Establishing the Validity and Elevating the Weight of Accurate Textual Citations
Document Type Article
The predominant theory of textual criticism known as “reasoned eclecticism” often engages the NT manuscripts in a manner that is not truly eclectic. Instead, the modus operandi is often to overlook textual witnesses from manuscript families that do not agree with the favored Alexandrian text-type. At the same time, in cases where the early church fathers seem to cite passages from these other known families, their words are often discounted and removed as evidence for a particular reading. This thesis deals predominantly with the second issue, and it addresses a number of foundational issues that lead to such a flawed use of patristic material. First, it is argued that the only adequate way to begin discussing the early material is to begin even earlier with the nature of Scripture itself. This is a fundamental issue that must not be overlooked, since the Fathers either viewed the material they were citing as Scripture or they did not. Second, it is shown that the core problem with the distrust of the Fathers stems from the notion of “orthodox corruption.” This theory views the earliest members of the church—even the NT authors themselves—as a devious group of individuals who sought to suppress earlier ideas. These earlier ideas came to be known as heresy only because it was the orthodox that had won the day. In any case, such a view is critiqued and a few warnings are issued to evangelicals, who in some cases have adopted similar ideas. Third, the concepts of “earliest-equals-best,” “oral tradition,” and “scriptural recognition” are explained and their relevance to this topic expounded. Overall, these theories have some merit, but each is in need of being qualified in order to move forward toward a truly eclectic text-critical model. Fourth, over twenty biblical passages are presented as cited by many of the earliest Fathers. This is given as evidence that numerous passages that do not exist within the Alexandrian text-type existed in textual form prior to those manuscripts. This is not intended to prove that such citations constitute the original form of the NT, but that it is not acceptable to disregard this early material based upon any of the criteria addressed throughout this thesis.