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The true Bible text was preserved well into the third century AD in the form of a perfect copy of the Hebrew Old Testament, and the original Apostolic writings of the New Testament:

a) the Old Testament, in the original Hebrew and an accurate Greek translation, in Origen’s Hexapla

b) the New Testament autographs (original documents) in local New Testament churches, according to (i) Tertullian writing in the first part of the third century AD, and (ii) Eusebius (supplemented by Jerome), and (iii) the Chronicon Paschale c. AD 354:

(i) Tertullian Prescription of Heretics cap. xxxvi and xxxvii

trans. C. Dodgson, London 1842, p. 470ff.

“XXXVI. Come now, thou that wilt exercise thy curiosity to better purpose in the business of thy salvation, go through the Apostolic Churches, in which the very seats of the Apostles, at this very day, preside over their own places; in which their own authentic writings are read, speaking with the voice of each, and making the face of each present to the eye.1 Is Achaia near to thee? thou hast Corinth. If thou art not far from Macedonia, thou hast Philippi, thou hast the Thessalonians. If thou canst travel into Asia, thou hast Ephesus. But if thou art near to Italy, thou hast Rome, where we also have an authority close at hand. What an happy Church is that! on which the Apostles poured out all their doctrine, with their blood: where Peter had a like Passion with the Lord; where Paul hath for his crown the same death with John; where the Apostle John was plunged into boiling oil, and suffered nothing, and was afterwards banished to an island. Let us see what she hath learned, what taught, what fellowship she hath had with the Churches of Africa likewise. She acknowledged one God the Lord the Creator of the universe, and Christ Jesus the Son of God the Creator, born of the Virgin Mary, and the resurrection of the flesh. She joineth the Law and the Prophets with the writings of the Evangelists and Apostles, and thence drinketh in her faith. That faith she sealeth with water, clotheth with the Holy Spirit, feedeth with the Eucharist, exhorteth to martyrdom, and so receiveth no one in opposition to this teaching. This is that teaching, which I do not now say foretold that heresies should come, but from which heresies proceeded forth. But these were not of her, from the time when they began to be against her. Even from the seed of the cultivated, rich, necessary olive, the rough wild-olive ariseth: even from the kernel of the most delightful and most sweet fig springeth the empty and useless wild-fig. So also heresies are of our fruit, not of our kind, of the seed of truth, but, through falsehood, wild.

“XXXVII. If these things be so, so that the truth be adjudged to belong to us as many as walk according to this rule, which the Churches have handed down from the Apostles, the Apostles from Christ, Christ from God, the reasonableness of our proposition is manifest, which determineth that heretics are not to be allowed to enter upon an appeal to the Scriptures, whom we prove, without the Scriptures, to have no concern with the Scriptures. For if they be heretics, they cannot be Christians, in that they have not from Christ that, which following according to their own choosing, they admit the name of heretics. Therefore, not being Christians, they can have no right to Christian writings. To such it may be justly said, who are ye? when and whence came ye? not being mine, what do ye in that which is mine ? In brief, by what right dost thou, Marcion, cut down my wood? by what licence dost thou, Valentinus, turn the course of my waters? by what power dost thou, Apelles, remove my landmarks? This is my possession. Why do ye the rest sow and feed here at your own pleasure? It is my possession; I have held it of old; I held it first: I have a sure title down from the first owners themselves,2 whose the estate was. I am the heir of the Apostles. As they provided by their own testament, as they committed it in trust, as they have adjured, so I hold it. You, assuredly, they have ever disinherited and renounced, as aliens, as enemies. But why are heretics aliens and enemies to the Apostles, if not from the difference of doctrine, which each at his own pleasure hath either brought forward or received in contradiction to the Apostles?”

G. S. Faber, The Difficulties of Romanism, London, 1826, Appendix, p. 387ff.


“It has been disputed, whether the ipsae authenticae literae,3 mentioned by Tertullian in his treatise on Prescriptions, were the autographs of the apostles or only accurate transcripts of them*.

[Faber’s Footnote here reads: “* Tertull. de Praescript. adv. Haer. § xiv. p. 108, 109. See above, book ii. chap. 3. § II. 2. note.”]4

“From his expression, Percurre ecclesias Apostolicas,5 when viewed in connexion with the subsequent context and with the avowed tenour of his argument, may, I think, collect, that he speaks of the apostolic autographs.

“I. Of this opinion, I draw out the proof, in manner following:—

“The passage is introduced with the supposed case of a person, who, for his soul’s health, is laudably curious to ascertain sound Christian doctrine. Age jam qui voles curiositatem melius exercere in negotio salutis tuae.6 Now the advice, which Tertullian gives to such a person, is, that he should resort to the Apostolic churches, in which the authentic letters of the apostles are still recited: and these Apostolic churches are evidently churches founded by the apostles themselves, as contradistinguished from minor churches founded only by their successors; for he immediately afterward explains himself by enumerating the churches of Corinth, Philippi, Thessalonica, Ephesus, and Rome. But of necessity this advice implies, that the inquirer after sound doctrine would find in these Apostolic churches what he would not find in any other inferior churches: and the matters, which he would find in these Apostolic churches for the settling of his faith, are distinctly specified to be the very authentic letters of the apostles; ipsae authenticae literae eorum.

“What then must we consistently understand by these very authentic letters of the apostles?

“If we understand by them accurate transcripts of the original autographs, we shall be reduced, by the tenour of Tertullian’s argument, to the manifest absurdity of supposing, that, at the latter end of the second century, no churches possessed transcripts of the original autographs, save those Apostolic churches to which the letters were directly addressed: for it is clear that Tertullian would never have thought of sending his inquirer specially and exclusively to the Apostolic churches, if the very same satisfactory information might have been gained from any other inferior church. Hence, the bare reason of the thing makes it evident, that the ipsa authentica litera could not have been mere accurate transcripts of the original autographs. But, if they were not transcripts, they must have been the autographs themselves.

“1. Accordingly, this conclusion perfectly agrees both with the whole context and with the evidently necessary tenour of Tertullian’s argument.

“The learned father sends a curious inquirer after doctrinal truth to the Apostolic churches, rather than to any other churches which were not immediately founded by the apostles themselves. Why does he thus send him to the former, rather than to the latter? Because, in the Apostolic churches, he might satisfy his curiosity by an actual inspection of the identical autographs of the apostles: whereas, in other churches not founded by the apostles, though he might meet with numerous transcripts made from these autographs, he would peradventure be disposed to question their strict accuracy. The various Achaian churches, for instance, would have transcripts of the two epistles to the Corinthians: but the autographs would be deposited with the Apostolic church of Corinth. In a similar manner, the several churches of Macedon and proconsular Asia and Italy would have transcripts of the several epistles to the Philippians and Thessalonians and Ephesians and Romans: but the autographs would be deposited with the Apostolic churches of Philippi and Thessalonica and Ephesus and Rome. Hence says Tertullian to his inquirer, If you are in Macedon, you may resort to Philippi and Thessalonica; if in Italy, to Rome; if in Achaia, to Corinth; if in proconsular Asia, to Ephesus: for, in each of these Apostolic churches, a privilege which churches not founded by the apostles are unable to claim, you will find the identical authentic letters, that is to say (as the sense imperiously requires), the identical autographs of the apostles themselves.

“2. The present conclusion is confirmed, if it need any confirmation, by a subsequent phrase of Tertullian, which occurs in the course of the same general passage.

“In his character of a catholic as opposed to all innovating heretics, he speaks of possessing, from the very authors, the firm originals. Habeo origines firmas ab ipsis autoribus.7 Now, when both the argument and the entire context are considered, it is hard to say what he can mean by these firm originals from the authors themselves, if he do not mean the apostolic autographs.

“II. The existence of the apostolic autographs, in the time of Tertullian, draws after it a very important philological consequence: namely, that the apostolic letters were originally written in Greek.

“Tertullian repeatedly intimates, that St. Paul employed the Greek language in the composition of his epistles *.

[Footnote: “* Tertull. de Monog. § viii. p. 576. § xii. p. 580. Tertull. adv. Marcion. lib. v. § 33. p. 322.”]

Now, this intimation might, in the abstract, be disputed: but, if the autographs of the apostles were in his time still preserved in the apostolic churches, any error on the part of such a man as Tertullian, in regard to the language of these autographs, seems well nigh impossible. For a mere mechanical inspection of the autographs would verify their language: and even if Tertullian had carelessly hazarded an inaccurate assertion in consequence of his never having seen the autographs himself, he must forthwith have learned his mistake from some one of the many persons who had inspected them; and, in that case, he would doubtless have corrected it. Or, at any rate, if he had neglected to make a formal retractation, we may be morally sure, that some other writer would have exposed his singular mistake: inasmuch as the autographs could not have existed to the end of the second century in those apostolic churches to which there was evidently a continual resort, without at the same time their particular language being known almost universally.

“Hence, if I have proved, that the ipsae authenticae literae, which a curious inquirer at the end of the second century could find no where save in the Apostolic churches alone, must thence inevitably mean the autographs of the apostles: I have also proved, through the joint medium of that circumstance and the positive evidence of Tertullian, that the apostolic epistles were originally written in Greek.

“III. I subjoin the Latin original, that the reader may form a better judgment respecting the propriety of the foregoing remarks.

“Age jam qui voles curiositatem melius exercere in negotio salutis tuae, percurre ecclesias apostolicas, apud quas ips ae adhuc cathedrae apostolorum suis locis prsesidentur, apud quas ipsae authenticae literae eorum recitantur, sonantes vocem, et representantes faciem uniuscujusque. Proxima est tibi Achaia? Habes Corinthum. Si non longe es a Macedonia, habes Philippos, habes Thessalonicenses. Si potes in Asiam tendere, habes Ephesum. Si autem Italiae adjaces, habes Romam, unde nobis quoque autoritas praesto est.”8

(ii) Eusebius of Caesarea, Historia Ecclesiastica, V. 9-10, observing that a person called Julian received the bishopric of the church of Alexandria in the first year of Commodus, proceeds : “At that time9 there presided in the school of the faithful at that place10 a man highly celebrated on account of his learning, by name Pantaenus. For there had been from ancient time erected among them a school of sacred learning which remains to this day; and we have understood, that it has been wont to be furnished with men eminent for their eloquence, and the study of divine things. And, it is said, the aforementioned person excelled others of that time, having been brought up in the principles of the Stoic philosophy. It is said, that he shewed such ardor of affection for the divine word, as to be nominated also a preacher of the gospel of Christ to the nations of the East, and to have gone as far as India.11 For there were yet at that time many evangelists of the word animated with a divine zeal of imitating the apostles by contributing to the enlargement of the gospel, and building up of the church; of whom Pantænus also was one, who is said to have gone to the Indians; where it is commonly said he found the gospel of Matthew, which before his arrival had been delivered to some in that country, who had the knowledge of Christ: to whom Bartholomew, one of the apostles, is said to have preached, and to have left with them that writing of Matthew in Hebrew letters, and that it was preserved among them to that time. This Pantænus, therefore, for his many excellent performances, was at last made president of the school of Alexandria, where he set forth the treasures of the divine principles both by word of mouth and by his writings.”

Jerome, De Viris Illustribus, cap. 36: “Pantaenus, a philosopher of the Stoic sect, according to an ancient custom of the city of Alexandria, where from the time of the evangelist Mark there had been always ecclesiastical masters, was a man of so great prudence and learning, both in the divine scripture and secular literature, that, at the request of ambassadors from India, he was sent into that country by Demetrius bishop of Alexandria, where he found that Bartholomew, one of the twelve apostles, had preached the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the gospel of Matthew, which he brought back with him to Alexandria,12 written in Hebrew letters. There are also extant many commentaries of this person upon the holy scripture; but he was more profitable to the churches by his discourses.13 He taught under the reign of Severus, and Antoninus called Caracalla.”

(iii) Chronicon Paschale, ed. Dindorf, p. 411 (MS P p. 219, this section of the work datable to AD 354 or thereabouts): “They bring Jesus therefore from Caiaphas into the Praetorium. It was early in the morning, and they did not enter into the Praetorium, so that they would not be defiled and could eat the Passover. There He was handed over to Pilate. It was the Preparation, about the third hour. This is what the accurate manuscripts read here, including the hand-written document of the Evangelist John, which is still preserved, by the grace of God, in the most sainted church of the Ephesians, being the object of veneration there by faithful pilgrims.”

1Their own authentic writings” is in Latin ipsae authenticae literae eorum, which is better translated as “the originals of their writings”, see Faber, infra, on this passage.

2 Latin: Habeo origines firmas ab ipsis autoribus, see Faber, infra, on this passage.

3 Properly meaning “the originals of their writings”.

4 An example of the more limited view referred to by Faber is Dodgson, whose translation of the passage of Tertullian appears supra: Dodgson’s Footnote (h) p. 470, arguing against the translation “autographs”, reads as follows: “The expression “authenticae litterae” might certainly signify the “originals” i.e. the “autographs” as opposed to “transcripts,” as authenticae tabulae, rationes, testamentum in Ulp. l. 4. ff. Fa. Ercisc. lib. ult. ff. de Test. ap. Pa. “Graeco authentico,” (de Monog. c. 11.) the “original Greek,” as opposed to the Latin translation. The context, however, implies nothing more than the original Greek, “echoing the voice of each,” nor does the argument turn on their having these Epistles, addressed to them, but on their being Apostolic Churches, of which this was a proof. Aug. de Doctr. Christ, ii. 8. “In the canonical Scriptures follow we the authority of the majority of Catholic Churches, among which are such which were accounted worthy to have Apostolic sees and receive Epistles.” The “authenticae litterae” may also be opposed to the mutilated copies among the heretics, as he says of Cerdon, “of the Apostle Paul he receives neither all the Epistles, nor these whole.” adv. omn. Haer. c. 51.” End of citation from Dodgson. Actually, the context, as Faber goes on to prove here conclusively, compels us to accept “autographs, originals” as the correct translation.

5 “Go through the Apostolic Churches”.

6 “Come now, thou that wilt exercise thy curiosity to better purpose in the business of thy salvation.”

7 “I have a sure title down from the first owners themselves.”

8 “Come now, thou that wilt exercise thy curiosity to better purpose in the business of thy salvation, go through the Apostolic Churches, in which the very seats of the Apostles, at this very day, preside over their own places; in which the originals of their writings are read, speaking with the voice of each, and making the face of each present to the eye. Is Achaia near to thee? thou hast Corinth. If thou art not far from Macedonia, thou hast Philippi, thou hast the Thessalonians. If thou canst travel into Asia, thou hast Ephesus. But if thou art near to Italy, thou hast Rome, where we also have an authority close at hand.”

9 Viz. end of 2nd century AD.

10 Alexandria.

11 The ancient term “India” designated Ethiopia as well as India proper, the descent of both peoples being traced from Sheba and Dedan, sons of Raamah, the son of Cush.

12 My emphasis.

13 Sic Jerome.

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