Have you ever heard it said that if all the Bibles and Biblical manuscripts in the world were destroyed tomorrow, we could reconstruct all but 11 verses of the NT from the writings of the Ante-Nicene Church Fathers alone? Recently, in an interview featuring NT textual critic, Daniel Wallace, we learn that this claim is demonstrably false.
Daniel Wallace mentions the following :
I’m embarrassed to say that sometimes there are Muslim apologists who have done really decent research on the nature of the New Testament or on the transmission of the text or things along those lines, and they have cleared up kind of an apocryphal story that Christians believed in.
There was one example: a number of scholars have passed on saying someone had pointed out that in the first three centuries of Christianity, only eleven verses of the entire New Testament had not been able to be found in those Church Fathers’ writings. Well, that was a garbled story that went back to the early 1800s, and it was a third-hand story of a fellow by the name of David Dalrymple. He was the one who actually was doing the research, and somebody heard about this at a party and not directly from Dalrymple but from somebody else, and then put into a book, and it’s been stated for the last 200 years as though it was Gospel fact.
What Dalrymple actually said was in the first two centuries of the Christian faith through A.D. 300, that all but eleven verses of John’s Gospel had been found in the Church Fathers’ writings [Wallace said that Dalrymple found all but 11 verses of the Gospel of John in the Ante-Nicene fathers, but Dalrymple’s notes do not bear this out]. He wasn’t talking about the whole New Testament, so this got communicated in such a way that said it was the whole New Testament that’s been found. That’s just irresponsible and not at all helpful. It was Muslim apologists who discovered the error, and it’s been quoted by apologists, even text critical scholars, and it was the Muslims who (……. 58:18) [did the] research and said sorry that’s not the case.
Islamic-Awareness concludes the following:
Admitting the best case scenario, more than 50% of the New Testament is missing according to the manuscript evidence. This hardly equates with eleven missing verses (~0.1%) as is frequently propagated in the missionary and apologetical literature. We have also observed that the alleged time frame for the completion of this work – set at two months in the literature – is also untrue.
For a period of more than 165 years missionary and apologetical publications, whether they are in the form of books, articles, audio/video cassettes, radio programs, TV shows, internet, etc., have all continued to selectively repeat in full or in part the anecdote attributed to Dalrymple, highlighting only those aspects of the anecdote which served the purposes of spreading the good news. None of the authors, from the past or present, have attempted to study the original documents in order to verify those claims which we now know to be false. Josh McDowell hailed this piece of information as new evidence that demands a verdict. In reality it is a two hundred year old anecdote based on a third hand account, whose recollection (transmission) is questionable, and whose results have been grossly exaggerated and fabricated. Perhaps it is best to finish with some words from Dalrymple himself. In a short unpublished tract entitled Habits (advice on how children should be taught) under subsection Avoidances Or Bad Habits, he advised:
Never to allow ones self to be very communicative in narrating anecdotes least one arrive at the dreadful badness of revealing perhaps the secrets of another…
And Allah knows best!