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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Words of the Bible

Don Stewart :: What Exactly Does the Term, “Autograph of Scripture” Mean?

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Question 10

What Exactly Does the Term, “Autograph of Scripture” Mean?

We must be clear as to what we mean when we are speaking about the autograph of a biblical book. There is some confusion, as well as some controversy, as to what exactly the autograph consisted of.

The Autograph Was the Authors’ Original Work

The usual way of describing an autograph of Scripture is the finished work of the author that was sent out to others. It is only this final work that was sent out that can be called the autograph. This could be called the “published edition.”

Could There Have Been Later Additions by the Author?

This brings up an interesting question. What if the author of a biblical book sent out more than one edition of his work? Which one would then be considered the autograph? Would it be the first, the second or both?

Some Argue There Were Two Editions of John’s Gospel

For example, some argue that the last chapter of the Gospel of John was written by John years after the first twenty chapters. Chapter twenty ended with these statements:

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31 NIV)

It is contended that John put this appendix on his gospel sometime toward the end of his life, chapter twenty-one. This appendix was written to dismiss a rumor that Jesus said John would not die. We read in John 21:

Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (John 21:23-25 NIV)

Therefore, it is contended that the Gospel of John circulated in two forms. It originally contained chapters 1-20, and later, chapters 1-21. The second edition set the record straight about what Jesus said to them about John.

If this is true, then which do we consider the autograph copy of John’s gospel? Most would argue that both versions are divinely inspired Scripture, but that the final edition is what we would consider the autograph.

Were There Other Editions of Ezekiel and Jeremiah?

Some Old Testament scholars have argued that the books of Ezekiel and Jeremiah were also published in more than one edition. The reason this is suggested is because there seems to be more than one form of the text for these two books. Because the text seems to be found in more than one form, it is contended that the work was published or produced in separate editions.

Not All Agree There Were Additions to the Autographs

The idea that certain books of Scripture were sent out in more than one form is not universally agreed upon by everyone. There are those who argue that each New Testament book was sent out originally as we find it today without any later additions. Therefore, it is not an issue as to whether or not there was more than one edition of a particular work. This includes the Gospel of John.

The same is true for the books of the Old Testament. The different form of the text for books such as Ezekiel and Jeremiah can be better explained by assuming they were copied in different geographical areas, one in Palestine and the other in Babylon. This would account for the differences in the text as we now have it.

Summary - Question 10
What Exactly Does the Term, “Autograph of Scripture” Mean?

The term, “autograph of Scripture” stands for the text that the biblical writer sent out. Yet it has been argued that some writers may have sent out their work in more than one version.

For example, it is contended that John’s gospel was originally sent out without what we today call chapter twenty-one. It was only sometime later that this chapter was added by John and then sent out. His purpose was to set the record straight as to what Jesus said about whether John would or would not die.

However, not everyone believes this is what happened. Many argue that there was no “second edition” of John’s gospel or any other New Testament work. They believe that what we have today represents the only authoritative edition that was sent out.

When Is the Last Time That the Autographs of the Biblical Books Were Known to Still Exist? ← Prior Section
Could There Have Been Additions to the Autographs of Scripture by Later Biblical Writers? Next Section →

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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