How the Ante-Nicene Church Fathers Preserved the Eyewitness Gospel Accounts

by J Warner Wallace

The students of the apostles played a pivotal role in preserving and promoting the eyewitness Gospel accounts. While many skeptics claim the New Testament Canon was formed during 4thCentury Church Councils (such as the Council of Nicea or Laodicea), the earliest believers had already preserved the canonical gospels and letters centuries prior. In fact, the early Church leaders prior to the first council at Nicea (known as the Ante-Nicene Church Fathers), began to collect and affirm the canon of Scripture in three separate geographical areas. The first surviving list of canonical texts dates to approximately 170AD in what is now known as the “Muratorian Fragment”, a partial copy of an ancient text discovered in the Ambrosian Library in Milan in the 18th century. This document affirmed and acknowledged Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Jude, 1 John, 2 John and Revelation as reliable, apostolic Scripture. The author of the Muratorian Fragment was also careful to warn his readers about Paul’s alleged letters to the Laodiceans and Alexandrians, and a document known as the “Apocalypse of Peter” (identifying these as forgeries). Even this early in history, in regions spanning Europe and the Mediterranean, Christians already possessed and guarded the New Testament texts:

IN FRANCE: Irenaeus (185AD) Affirmed as Many as 24 New Testament Books
Irenaeus grew up in Smyrna while Polycarp (the disciple of the apostle John) was the Bishop there. Irenaeus eventually became the Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul (now called Lyons) and wrote an expansive volume called “Against Heresies” in 185AD. Throughout the many chapters of this text, he quoted the New Testament (over one thousand times) to make his case against a variety of heresies appearing on the scene. In quoting the New Testament documents, he referred to at least twenty-one of the books we presently possess in our Bible (including Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, 1 Peter, 1 John, 2 John and Revelation). But, in addition to this, scholars believe Irenaeus alluded to a number of additional texts, including Hebrews, James and perhaps even 2 Peter. Irenaeus is silent with regard to Philemon, 3 John and Jude, although this does not necessarily mean he was unaware of the books or rejected them as inspired. Irenaeus also referred to the Shepherd of Hermas and the Apocalypse of John, but no other 2nd Century book related to Jesus was recognized as authentic…

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How the Ante-Nicene Church Fathers Preserved the Eyewitness Gospel Accounts