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general public. Hence, he was influenced by the faith of others, and this placed a restraint upon the humanistic tendency to treat the text of the New Testament as he would the texts of other ancient books. What was true of Erasmus was true also of Stephanus, Calvin, Beza and other l6th-century scholars who labored on the textus receptus.rto

The renewed commonfaith (the faith held by nearly all evangelicals during the l6th-century renewal) belief that the text handed down

by the Byzantine Church was correct is what gave l6th century textual criticism its consensus; and since the Enlightenment, when such a theological control was abandoned, no such consensus has arisen-but for the consensus that the l6th century was wrong. And while the Reformers did not hold to a perfectionist view of this received text, as is reflected in their notes, they nevertheless preserved its form for purposes of canonicityIn conclusion, it is not accurate to judge Beza and the Reformation century as "unscientific" or without a method, by Enlightenment standards; because clearly, During the Reformation period the approach to the New Testament text was theological and governed by the cornmon faith in Holy Scripture, and for this reason even in those early days the textual criticism of the New Testament was different from the textual criticism of other ancient books.lrl

John Owen Versus Brian Walton: A Reformed Response to the Birth of Text riticism
Theodore p. Letis
work Reformers in Babylon.: Zyli h Apocalyptic Visions from the Refor_ mation to the Eve of the civ, war.,r-r-rrp well the need for, as well as the challenge of, intellectual history:
Simple words seem to have clear meanings, but after of simpliciry often vanishe.. rrr?iig""r;;;, analysis the ;;;r.super_ stitions' of others strike one ur roo.a complex when examined in

Paul christianson,

in the Introduction to his excellent

past. I

inhabit a contemporary but vastly dissimilar world of thought, so tt t i.ioria, or ia"u.'-*iuiJ-p, ,t same task when reconstructing the "world views of thos" "

difficulties when attempting to ".r. with someone who inhabits a different perceptuir worrd. "J--roi"ute 1"" sociar anthropologist tries to translate his experience of unaccustomed cultural puri"*i-i.r,o ruo_ guage understood by those

context-what the outsider cans 'folly' sometimes contains ;;;; tional and intellectual meaning foi ott "-o_ One experiences great





christianson's remarks are welr fitted for describing the task of explicating the views not only of John owen but oi virtuaity att of seventeenth century Reformed tradition in .".pon." io g.iu, walton's "variantes rectiones" as well as the incipient Enrighten_ ment challengues of saumur and the Roman cathoric church. An indication of this can be seen in the contemporary scorn heaped on the Helvetica Consensus Formula (1675) Uy *ort i, toO#, n._
rroHills, Believing Bible Study, p. 36. rlrHils, King Jarnes Version, p.63.


*,i*"?l;'i';1f i;,^$iff ";i,;i,i:!,1;:;:;::.i!^iff f N:f ;!;, "{#,f"*,,ff



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John Owen Versus Brian Walton


formed tradition, so unfamiliar with the l7th-century debate. The embodiment of this orthodox response was found in the clearly articulated doctrine of the providential preservation of Scripture, a necessary corollary, as the seventeenth-century divines understood it, to the belief in the inspiration of Scripture. The argument has been presented, however, that such emphasis, as well as other aspects of what has come to be known as "Protestant scholasticism," are too far removed from the original dynamic and genius of the first generation of Reforners, to be given the attention that the seventeenth century gave it. This opinion, unfortunately, is a result of an ahistorical approach to the subject at hand, on both the part of the neo-Calvinists as well as the Warfieldians (errantists and inerrantists). The errantists (or limiled inerrantists) want to reject most of Protestant scholasticism altogether as illegitimate,2 while the inerrantists want to impose a post-Enlightenment, Warfieldianism onto the seventeenth century.3 Both projects are historically ill-informed. Not only is seventeenth
2See Jack Bartlett Rogers, Soipture in the lhestminster Confession: A Problem of Historical Interpretationfor American Presbyterianisn (Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1966); Ernest R. Sandeen, The Roots of Fundarnentalism: British and Americon Millenarianism 1800-1930 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978 [first published in 19701); Jack B. Rogers and Donald K. McKim, The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible: An Historical Approach (San Francisco: Harper, 1979); Donald McKim, ed. The Authoritative Wiid: Essays on the Nature oj Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983). 3see W. Robert Godfrey, "Biblical Authority in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries: A Question of Transition," in D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge,

century theology legitimate in its own right, while having features somewhat different from though not in conflict with l6th-century theology; itis only legitimate in its own right, not after it has been overlaid with Warfieldian inerratcy, a dissimilar development away from both the sixteenth as well as the seventeenth century. It seems no one wants to allow the seventeenth century to speak for itself, from within the existential context that gave it its theological emphases. The following diagram may help to illustrate protestant scholasticism, which was merely the "negative" reversal of the black and white "print" of Reformation theology, with regard to Scripture:

l) l6th-century Reformers


2) (forced to define itself)

Roman Catholicism-on the


offensive- defensive (Council of Trent the

4) (forced to define itselfl 1 7th-century theologians

3) Roman Catholicism

"variants in your
Sola Scriptura"

the defensive -on (Providential Preservation the result)

editors, Scripture and Truth (Grand Rapids: Zondeman, 1983); John D. Woodbridge and Randall H. Balmer, "The Princetonians and Biblical Authority: An Assessment of the Ernest Sandeen Proposal, " in D. A. Carson and John D.

One fact that clearly emerges from this schema is the clarity of the antithesis between these two positions. The defining process forced

Woodbridge, eds., Scripture and Truth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983): John D. Woodbridge, Biblical Authority: A Critique of the RogerslMcKim Proposal (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982); Norman L. Geisler, editor, InerrancT (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980); John Warwick Montgomery, ed., God's Inerrant Word: An International Symposium on the Trustworthiness of Scripture (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1974); Norman L. Geisler, ed., Biblical Errancy: An Analysis of its Philosophical Roots (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, l98l); Ronald Youngblood, editor, Evangelicals and Inerrazcy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1984); Earl D. Radmacher and Robert D. Preus, eds., Hermmeutics, Inerrancy and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zordewan,1984); Gordon Lewis and Bruce Demarest, eds., Challenges to Inerrancy: A Theological Response (Chicago: Moody, 1984); John D. Hannah, ed,. Inerrancy and the Church (Chicago: Moody, 1984). 3These titles-like modern translations of the Biblo.-go on ad nauream,

both positions to their logical conclusions, and neither party is fully comprehended short of both the positive thesis of its position as well as its defensive claification of that thesis. Hence, to truly understand what it means to be Protestant one can neither dismiss the further clarification process of the defensive response thesis,

which is organically connected to the original offensive critique thesis, any more than one can transform the former to the liking of modernity because its conclusions are no longer fully understood, or appreciated because of the distance from the events that produced it; or because of the major degree of capitulation to Enlightonmcnt mcntality which has no sense of continuity with it.


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One must detach oneself from the emotion and immediacy of current debates and become immersed in the lTth century to learn its own rationale, arguments, and the historic events that produced such, in order to understand classic Protestantism-both the offensive and the defensive aspects seen as two halves of an whole. The only vehicle that can bring us to this place is history. Not apologetics, not polemics, not politics-history, and history alone.

-1657 "Repubican" edition of the London Polyglott

Owen responds to Walton's

Polyglott "A Vindication of the 1659Purity..."

-1660 "Royalist" edition of the London Polyglott where Cromwell is referred to as a "Dragon"--{edicated to Charles II -1689 Richard Simon publishes his "History of the Text of the New Testament"

An Overview of the History of the Problem of Textual Variants from the Twelfth Century to the Present



-lbn Ezr a (1092-3-l -Levita (1468-1549)




I 67

Turretin publishes his Institutio



Cappel (1585-16s8) publishes his "Mystery of

the Punctuation Revealed." [Cappel's son becomes a Roman Catholicl

-1869 A. A. Hodge publishes his "The Confession of Faith," and has no substantive discussion of Providential Preservation, but rather speaks in terms of "ascertaining" the true text.
-1876-1877 B. B. Warfield studies at the Uni-

[Prynne has his ears cut-off and is branded on the face.l


-1633 Amyraut Saumur

is installed at

-1641 Petition against Walton

English Civil War

(r642-1649) l-1642 Walton Arrestedl

Westminster Assembly meets (1643-1646)-

R. L. Dabney acknowl- 1871edges theological significance of variants and calls for a retention of the TR in his "The Doctrinal Various Readings of the New Testament Greek."

versity of Leipzig Dabney publishes his "The Influence of the German Uni versity System on Theological t88lLiteraturo."

Westminster Confession 1646-

[-1645 Laud executed] [-1649 "Regicide"]


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John Owen Versus Brian Walton

Dean Burgon publishes his "Revision Revised." 1883-1886 Warfield publishes his "Handbook" on NT Text Criticism
-1893 Warfleld publishes his essay on the Westminster Confession but

-1978-1983 Barr, Ramm, Rogers and McKim call

for an abandoning of Van Til and "Scholasticism" in order to come to terms with the Enlightenment



reinterprets "Providential Preservation" as "Providential Restoration"

Hills rehabilitates the high, orthodox view in his "The King

James Version Defended:


-1946 Edward F. Hills takes his doctorate from Harvard in NT Text Criticism

Christian View of the

From the outset, the debate between John Owen, the Congregationalist Puritan, and Brian Walton, the High Church, Laudian, and eventual bishop of the Anglican Church, must be seen as what it was. Owen was not one more obscurantist dogmatist ignorantly opposing the progress of critical, biblical studies, the advancement of comparative philology and responsible scholarship (being furthered by Walton).a Such a convenient simplistic treatrnent is all too easy because Owen made the technical error (like so many in his day)5 of believing that the Hebrew vowel points had been introduced under Ezra.6 But what he lacked in technical correctness on
F. F. Bruce, Tradition: Old and New (Grand Rapids: Zonde*aa,1970), pp. for a typical example of just such a treatrnent. See also AdamFox, Jihn Mill and Richard Bently: A study of the Textual criticism of the New Testament 1675-1729 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1954), pp. 47-49; Frederick Henry Ambrose Scrivener, A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testmnent,3rd ed. (London: George Bell, 1883), pp.443-46; Dean Freiday, The Bible: Its Criticism, Interpretation and use in 16th and 17th century England (Pittsburgh: catholic and Quaker Studies, 1979), pp. 9-11 and 89-95; Philip Schafl, I Companion to the Greek Testament and the English Version,4th ed. (New York Harper, 1894), pp. 24244; Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Tran^smission, Co*uption, and Restoration, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford (Jniv. Press, 1965), p. 107 n. t; John Bowman, "A Forgotten Controversy," The Evangelical Quarterly,Vol. XX (1948): 46-48; Stanley N. Gundry, "John Owen on Authority and Scripture,,, in John D. Hannah, editor, Inerrancy and the Church. 5See John Bowman, "A Forgotten Controversy," for a list. 6According to Owen, this occurred during a sanitioned period forJews; whereas, in the christian era the Jews would have not been entrusted with such an important task. "What was done of old and in the days of Ezra is ours, who succeed unto the privileges- of that church; what hath been done since the destruction of the temple is properly and peculiarly theirs," "The Integrity and Purity of the Hebrew and


-1973 Sanders calls for a new discipline called "CanonCriticism" in his "Torah and Canon" -1979 Childs publishes the first OT Introduction from a Canonical approach -1982 Hodges, Pickering and van Bruggen attempt to rehabilitate the Eastern Church Text-Canon



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this point is more than offset by his formal correctness in viewing the points as authoritative.T ln short, Owen's and Walton's exchange on this particular matter is, in fact, rather secondary to the real issue at stake: What was to be done about the variants in both the Old Testament and the New? This we will be addressing under the heading "Content of the Debate." But in order to even approach this topic the political context of this period must be understood. In fact, the overthrow of the monarchy and the establiqhment of the Commonwealth are the backdrop for this entire debate.8 The fierce animosity between the Puritan/Presbyterian/nonconformist factions and the established Anglican Church are well illustrated by the cruelty displayed on both sides, before and during the Commonwealth. One infamous example, on the Anglican side, was the arrest of William Prynne (1600-1669) under the direction of the father of "AngloCatholicism," Bishop William Laud (1573-164). Pr5mne, a learned Puritan, had written lengthy and tedious critical, social commentary (Histriomastix,1600 pp. in quarto) on such contemporary practices as mixed dancing, stage plays, the wearing of masks, or face make-up, lewd pictures, long hair, etc.e His censure of the theater, with an index of women actors, had a direct political repercussion since the queen herself aspired to such a He referred to the whole lot as "notorious whores." This cost him dearly because the Star Chamber found him guilty of seditious libel. For his role as social critic/prophet he received a prophet's reward: life imprisonGreek Text," in William H. Goold, ed., The Works of John Owen, Vol. XVI, p. 385. 7As Bowman says in assessment "Forgotten Controversy": "While in a few cases with rare words the Massoretes may have vocalized erroneously, or in a few cases deliberately altered the expression to avoid apparent blasphemy, by and large, modern scholars have not found them wanting," (p. 67). sFor a conspicuous example, consider the fact that two editions of the London Polyglot were published, one called The Republican edition, in which Cromwell does not receive a dedication, but is thanked for allowing the paper used to be imported duty-free, and the other called The Loyal edition, dedicated to Charles II, in which Cromwell is referred to as "maximus ille draco." Marvin R. Vincent, ,4 History of the Textual Criticism of the New Testament (New York: Macmillan 1903), p. 65 n.2. eEncyclopedia Britannica, l5th ed. (1943-1973), s.v. "Britain and Ireland, History

ment, expulsion from the law profession, a fine of f,5,000, the humiliation of punishment in the pillory, and finally, the cutting off of both ears!rr Such ruthless serverity was emblematic of both the scorn in which Puritanism was held by the Anglo-Catholics, and of their resolve to suppress all forms of religious challenge to the status quo.Laudwas willing to oppose the Puritans by inflicting his belief in the divine right of kings and apostolic succession. This is also illustrated, by the case of Prynne, who determined (like the apostle Paul) that though he was in prison, the word of God would not be bound; and so he continued to write "seditious" pamphlets (against the Arminianism of the bishops). Again the Star Chamber imposed the wrath of Laud by branding both of Prynne's cheeks with the letters SL for "seditious libeller".r2 Those Puritans unwilling to endure such treatment began the Great Migration to the New World. Those who stayed, however, were rewarded with one of the most telling displays of poetic justice ever witnessed. The very first act of the Long Parliament (its first session met from November 1640 to September 1641) was to release political prisoners, including Prynne, and to impeach Laud for treason. Prynne was received in London (November 28, 1640) with great ovation, elected at New Port to a seat in Parliament (1641), and became the solicitor in Bishops Laud's triallr3 It seems Prynne's sole basis for condemning Laud were some "ambiguous expressions" in his (Laud's) Diary arrd Private Devotions. Latd's last words were a public affirmation of loyalty to the Anglican Church:
The last particular, for I am not willing to be too long, is myself. I was born and baptized in the Church of England, established by law, and in that I come now to die.ra

t2lbid. t3Schaff-Herzog Encyclopaedia of Religious Knowledge (1883), s.v. "Prynne, William," no author given. t4lbld,, a,v, "Laud, William," by William Lee.

of," by Robert Walter Dudley Edwards



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John Owen Versus Brian



Having said this he placed his head on the block crying, "Lord, receive my soul." With the fall of the bishop and soon the king, the chess board was enjoying a shift in power, where the dominant pieces had only
recently been dominated. With the coming of the Commonwealth there was a far-reaching embrace of the democratic principles of Puritanism, so much so that when the rector of St. Martin's Orgar in London, by the name of

Brian Walton, a devoted Laudian, attempted to compel parishioners to honor the tithe requirements, he was impeached by Parliament and deprived of his livings (1641).ts In addition, because walton moved the communion table from the center of the church to the east window (an explicitly Laudian practice), the petition presented to Parliament by his flock leading to his dispossession, resulted in the publishing of the articles and charge prov'd in Parliament against Dr. Walton, minister of St. Martin's orgars in cannon Street, wherein his subtile
tricks and popish innovations are discovered . . . as also his impudence in defaming the . . . House of Commons. (16+tlto

Hence Walton was reduced

to a most degrading and humiliating

state-as the Puritans under his mentor, Bishop Laud, had been treated-by being thrown into prison as a common delinquent

His library was sold off as well as "the small remainder of his estate . . . and other goods," so he fled to the royalist stronghold of Oxford, there to begin plans for the production of his Biblia
Polyglotta.ts The politics of polyglots hold a great deal of unexplored potential for understanding not only this debate, but the larger conflict between Rome and the Reformation. Freiday notes that Walton's polyglot was "the only one not produced under Roman Catholic auspices."re On the surface, this would appear to be a surprising
rsDictionary of National Biography, s.v. "Walton, Brian," by D. S. M.

development. was it not Protestants and anti-clerical humanists who rallied around Laurentius valla (c. 1406-1457), after Erasmus published Valla's Annotations in 1505 (written by Valla c. 1440), cryrng ad fontes? How is one to explain the fact that Roman Catholics seemed to have had a monopoly on the great polyglots, until walton's? cardinal Ximenes (1436-1517) provides us with the answer via the editors of his polyglot, the complutensraz (published in Alcala l5l3-17,6 vols. folio). They inform us that the vulgate was placed between the Septuagint and the Hebrew in the Old Testament, in order to "compare. . . the position of Christ as crucified between two thieves,-the unbelieving synagogue of the Jews, and the schismatical Greek church.,,2o More than just a rhetorical device, this polyglot had obvious polemical intent: if there are variants in the versions, as well as in the original languages, the vulgate will become the established standard against which all challengers will be judged as deviations. What better way to establish the supremacy of the vulgate, than to show the corruptions of variant editions whenever they differ from "christ" being crucified between two thieves?2r The Antwerp Polyglot (Antwerp 1569-72,8 vols. folio) is of little value because "it depends a good deal too much upon the Complutensian."22 Though issued at the expense of philip II of Spain (thus called Biblia Regia), very few of the only five hundred copies printed survive today because most were lost at sea on their way to

The Paris Polyglot (Paris 1628-45, l0 folios) was edited by Gabriel Sionita, designed by Cardinal Duperron, and was financed by Guy Michel le Jay. Le Jay spent his entire fortune on this and

Wolyglots," 2lBasil

tslbid. reFreiday, The Bible, p. 9.


with Stunica where the comma Joanneurn could be found since iiwas in no Greel manuscript known to himself, Stunica replied with Spanish intransigence that it was well known that the Greek codices were corrupted but that the vulgate contained the truth itself." "Biblical Scholarship: Editions and Commentariesj'in The carnbridge- History of the Bible, vol. 3, p. 59. See also Jerry H. Bentley, Humanists 9n! Holy writ: New Testament scholarship in thi Renaissance (Pri-nceton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1983), pp. lg4-209. 22 Schqff- H erzog, o, v, " Polyglots. "

Hall reminds us that "when Erasmus inquired during his controversy

by Samuel M. Jackson.


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John Owen Versus Brian


was forced to resign as parliamentary advocate, and became a priest. Though the most outstanding in appearance, again it is of little critical value since it is "substantially a mere reprint of the Antwerp."z3 Because the price was so prohibitive, few were ever sold but as waste paper! certainly each of these polyglots was intended not only to elevate the vulgate over all other editions, but to be a "display" of national pride and superiority in the world of biblical scholarship, recalling the role played by the decorative, illuminated Lindisfarne Gospels (c. 690) of the manuscript period. Before we discuss Walton's polyglot, we must remember that he did not at first aspire to provide the supreme polyglot, but rather he was interested in circulating the paris polyglot in England. only when this failed did he determine to produce his own.2a Accordingly, le Jay was asked for six hundred copies of his paris polyglot if he would sell them at half-price for English distribution. He refused. Nevertheless, this clearly indicates that walton was less interested in producing his own polyglot than in getting a polyglot into circulation in England. But why? we would venture that he saw this as a propitious means of striking back at the puritans. By circulating this tangible evidence of the variety and uncertainty (surely the Papists had certainty in their beloved vulgate) of the texts of Scripture, walton could greatly unsettle the nonconformists' overconfident view of sola scriptura. This would also deter Anglicans from considering the views of the puritans/ nonconformists. when the Paris polyglot failed to achieve these ends, walton with the help of the orientalists at cambridge and Oxford, resolved to produce his own, to outdo all prior polyglots and reflect the latest textual evidence. Thus he could establish the Anglican Church, and the British nation to which she belonged, as the true bastion of both apostolic succession and advanced learning. In turn, he knew that the nonconformists would rail against such work and consequently be condemned by the rest of learned Europe. In the long run, the Puritans/nonconformists would most
"Ibtd" 24lbid.


likely lose credibility and the church of England would be reestab_ lished in her former glory.


oF rHn Dnsanp

celebrate the supremacy of Anglo-catholicism oveiagainst the Puritans/nonconformists, implying that the latter were Lerely an inferior interruption within the continuity of Episcopar Anglicanism.

surveying the respective political, religious, and theological worldview differences of both owen and walton, greatly o.r, chance of correctly interpreting their debate. "r-hur"., Owen's response to Walton was not out of petty jealousy, or from opposition to learning, as walton was wont to paint him.2s on the other hand, no one has been able to determine that warton was a papist, nor prove that he was cynicafly suggesting that the Scripture texts were forever unsettled. But he was a Laudian, an Arminian, and after December 2, 1660, a bishop in the Angrican church. His aim was probably to produce a monument of learning that would

walton's formal positions differ rittle from owen,s in fact. But those of his highly suspect bedfellows did, such as cappel and Grotius, both of whom were either quoted in or empioyed by walton in sections of the polyglot. Extracts from cappir,r-critiro sacra (1650) were freery employed, where (as owen well knew) cappel not only rejected the vowel points but suggested that the Hebrew be amended by the translations. Cappel,s work, in turn, was based on the works of catholic scholars in France who had an explicit agenda of wanting to undermind protestantism by highIighting the existence of both variants in the protestant ..ori'ginals,, as well as the late, (and considered to be arbitrary) im-posing practice of the vowel points. Furthermore, Grotius had also suggested certain conjectural emendations. Hence, while walton himslef maintained that in
25walto-n compared himself variously to origen, Erasmus, and . the translators of the King James version, while viewing o*.., tt ctass *t o olpor"o these men. See Rev. Henry John todd, " oiri of the "r'"ilirr"r" Life and Wrilings of the Rtght Rcv. Brtan walton, Vol. 2 (London: F. C. ni"iriio", f erfj,';p. 3.s.





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John Owen Versus Brian



gathering various readings by mere conjectures, that author of the prolegomena is so far from approving that way, that he expressly rejects it and gives reasons against it. . . .26 Nevertheless, he implicitly endorsed Grotius and the host of Roman Catholic authorities underlying Cappel's research, by utilizing them


both in his polyglot. Moreover, while Walton used additional language that sounds at first like the established Protestant position on this debate's central issue-the doctrine of the providential preservation of the true texts of Scripture-unlike Owen he qualifies himself till he joins the Roman Catholic camp. Initially he is a model of the orthodox, Protestant view of Scripture as represented by Owen, the Westminster Confession, the Helvetic Consensus Formula, and Turretin:
The original texts are not corrupted either by Jews, Christians, or others; that they are of supreme authority in all matters, and the rule to try all translations by; that the copies we now have are the true transcripts of the first ar)r6.ypaga written by the sacred penmen; that the special providence of God hath watched over these books, to preserve them pure and uncorrupt against all attempts of sectaries, heretics, and others, and will still preserve them to the end of the world for that end for which they were first written . . .27

Here Walton is admitting that in principle "other copies" and o'other means there mentioned" (in the Prolegomena) may supplant a currently recieved reading, which, from his perspective, would always be a matter of "no concernment" (the reading, not the act). But by what criteria would the latter be determined? For Owen, this final qualiflcation was the opening of Pandora's
But the mind of man being exceedingly vainglorious, curious, uncertain, after a door to reputation and renown by this kind of learning was opened in the world, it quickly spread itself over all bounds and limits of sobriety. The manifold inconveniences, if not mischiefs, that have ensued on the boldness and curiosity of some in criticising the Scriptures, I shall not now insist upon . . .2e Among other ways that sundry men have fixed on to exercise their critical ablhties, one hath been the collecting of various lections both in the Old Testament and New. The first and most honest course fixed on to this purpose was that of consulting various copies and comparing
them among themselves; wherein yet there were sundry miscarriages, as I shall show in the second treatise. This was the work of Erasmus, Stephan, Beza, Arias Montanus, and some others. Some that came after

What he says next, however, partly negates what went before; and while innocuous-sounding, is incipient-Enlightenment in nature. As such it coincides with both the aims of Roman Catholic attacks on Scripture, and the cynicism and atheism referred to by Owen:
That the errors or mistakes, which may befall [sic] by negligence or inadvertency of transcribers or printers, are in matters of no concernment, (from whence various readings have arisen,) and may by collation of other copies and other means there mentioned be rectified and


[emphasis mine]

Memoirs,Vol. 2., p. 15. Actually, Walton had the best of two worlds: he could present himself as a learned patron of scholarship and maintain an orthodox posture, while using Grotius and Cappel to suggest that the texts of Scripture were corrupt and needed correction from the versions and from conjecture. p. 14. 2tlbid., pp. 14-15. Certainly Owen himself allowed that transcriptional error existed; but what he was concerned about was how this would be interpreted and rectified outside of Reformed or Protestant circles, either by the hostile groups of Roman Catholics, Socinians, Arminians, Anglo-Catholics, or atheists.


them, finding this province possessed, and no other world of the like nature remaining for them to conquer, fixed upon another way, substituting to the service of their design as pernicious a principle as ever, I think, was fixed on by any learned man since the foundation of the church of Christ, excepting only those of Rome. Now this principle is, that, upon many grounds (which some of them are long in recounting), there are sundry corruptions crept into the originals, which by their critical faculty, with the use of sundry engines, those especially of the old translations, are to be discovered and removed. And this also receives countenance from those Prolegomena to the Biblia Polyglotta, as will afterward be shown and discussed. Now, this principle being once fixed, and a liberty ofcriticising on the Scripture, yea, a necessity of it, thence evinced, it is inconceivable what springs of corrections and amendments rise up under their hands.3o
2eJohn Owen, The Epistle Dedicatory, in William H. Goold, ed,. The Works of John Owen, Vol. XVI, (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 1968 [flrst published in 1850-531), p. 289. 3olbid., p.290. Stanley N. Gundry produced

Columbia (now the Vancouver School of Theology),

a major study of Owen's view of Scripture, lohn Owen's Doctrine of the Scriptures: An Original Study of his Approach to the Problem of Authority, S.T.M. thesis at Union College of British
1967 .

ln order to counter the

How then did Owen propose

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John Owen Versus Brian Walton


to resist this tendency of the unchecked consciousness of would-be "correctors" of the texts of Scripture? What Walton almost articulated-the explicit doctrine of providential preservation:
The sum of what

ervation did not pertain to certain codices that had yet to be restored to the church, not to variants that would be "scientiflcally" determined to be original. Rather, it meant specifically those texts then possessed by Protestants, the standard to judge all challengers

I am pleading for, as the particular




vindicated, is, that as the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament were immediately and entirely given out by God Himself, His mind being in



be remembered that the vulgar copy we use was the public

them represented unto us without the least interveniency of such

mediums and ways as were capable of giving change or alteration to the

syllable; so, by His good and merciful providential dispensation, in His love to His Word and Church, His whole Word, as flrst given out by Him, is preserved unto us entire in the original languages; where, shining in its own beauty and lustre (as also in all translations, so far as they faithfully represent the originals), it mainfests and evidences unto the consciences of men, without other foreign help or assistance, its divine original and authority.3r least iota


possession of many generations,-that upon the invention of printing it was in actual authority throughout the world with them that used and understood that language, as far as any thing appears to the contrary; let that, then, pass for the standard, which is confessedly its right and

due, and we shall, God assisting, quickly see how little reason there is to pretend such varieties of readings as we are now surprised withal.32

We must clearly understand that for Owen this providential presRogers/McKim thesis that Owen had scholastic tendencies on this issue, he maintains that Owen's treatment of preservation "was seriously deficient," and that his statements were "self-contradictory," hence no scholasticism, only "a confused man," Gundry, "John Owen on Authority," p. 220. Gundry's own confusion, however, stems from his inability to understand how anyone could argue for complete preservation while also admitting there were variants. Actually, Owen saw only the minor variants between the various editions of TR as valid areas for discrimination, staying within the broad parameters of providential preservation, as exemplified by "Erasmus, Stephen, Beza, Arias Montanus, and some others." Within the confines of these editions was "the flrst and most honest course fixed on" for "consulting various copies and comparing them among themselves." This is both the concrete domain of the providentially preserved text, as well as the only area for legitimate comparisons to chose readings among the minutiae of diflerences. In fact, "God by His Providence preserving the whole entire; suffered this lesser variety [within the providentially preserved editions of the TR] to fall out, in or among the copies we have, for the quickening and exercising of our diligence in our search into His Word [for ascertaining the flnality of preservation among the minutiae of differences among the TR editionsl" (The Divine Original, p. 301). It is the activity, editions, and variants after this period of stabilization that represent illegitimate activity, or, as Owen says, "another way." Thus Owen maintained an absolute providential preservation while granting variants. An analogy that comes to mind might be the television reception of a broadcast image. The entire signal might be received providing the entire image, but occasionally the signal must be tuned in further for greater clarity. 3rOwen, Of the Integrity and Purity of the Hebrew and Greek Text of the Soiptures, Vol XVI, pp. 349-50.

Owen was calling for a canonical view of the text, or the text as canon, by which to assess variants-but variants from the providentially preserved, canonical form of the texts of Scripture. He is concerned to defend
the purity of the present original coples of the Scripture, or rather copies in the original languages, which the church of God doth now and hath

for many ages enjoyed as her chiefest treasure [emphasis mine].33


was "the whole Scripture, entire as given out from God, without any loss," that was "preserved in the copies of the originals yet rofltaining."3a
These copies, we say, are the rule, standard, and touchstone of all translations, ancient or modern, by which they are in all things to be examined, tried, corrected, amended; and themselves only by themselves.3s

To think that any other source of manuscript authority, whether original language texts, versions, or conjectures, should rival this established standard "is to set up an altar of our own by the altar of God, and to make equal the wisdom,care, skill, and diligence of men, withthe wisdom, care, and providence of God Himself."r6We ,Tbtd- p36(33lbid., 34lbid., xslbtd,




The MajoritY Text

John Owen Versus Brian Walton

Jews and Christians afforded each other in preventing


are to "have full assurance that we enjoy the whole revelation of His will in the copies abiding amongst us. . . ."37 Owen resists all


In short, Owen was certain that his "common readings,, were

correct because they existed in "thousands ofcopies"4l' and because providence intervened in the scribal copying of Scripture, unlike the

attempts at using various translations "as means and helps of correcting the original, and finding out the corruptions that are in our present copies,"ra maintaining
For those of the several translations, we are not at all concerned in them; where any or all of them fail or are corrupted, we have a rule, blessed be God, preserved to rectify them by.3e

copying of non-Biblical literature: It can, then, with no colour of probability be asserted (which yet I flnd some learned men too free in granting), namely, that there hath the same fate attended the Scripture in its transcription as hath done other

What was the nature of this providence, and how did it actually operate in manuscript transmission? Owen lists twelve propositions: l) The providence of God watching over His Word as "the most glorious product of His wisdom and goodness," because of His "promise and purpose," is the presupposed premise of all the other propositions. 2) The religious care of the Church (excluding the "Romish synagogue") existed among those to whom the oracles of God were committed. 3) The very first transcribers used care in making the initial copies from the originals (these were the authors themselves), 'ounto many" and established a precedent for other transcribers. 4) By multiplying copies "to such a number that it was impossible any should corrupt them all, wilfully or by negligence." 5) Both the o'reverJewish synagogue as well as the Christian assemblies used ence and diligence" in preserving "authentic copies." 6) The familiarity with Scripture by "all sorts of persons" assured any alterations in wording would have been easily detected. 7) Students, (especially of the Hebrew) were conscious of every letter of the texts. 8) Ezra and his associates took care to assure that the correct Old Testament texts were restored to the people of Israel. 9) The care of the Masoretes. 10) The unanimity of Otd Testament readings in the Mishna, Gemara and the Talmud, with the Masoretic Text. I l) Jesus did not once accuse the Jews of corrupting their copies but rather assumed their purity. 12) The checks-and-balances that the
37lbid., 38lbid., 3elbid.,

books. Let me say without offence, this imagination, asserted on deliberation, seems to me to boarder on atheism. Surely the promise of God for the preservation of His Word, with His love and care of His church, of whose faith and obedience that word of His is the only rure, requires other thoughts at our hands.a2

Morinus and cappellus attempted to ridicule this latter idea, as if the Scribes had been both "infallible and divinely inspired." Owen
answered them:
Religious care and diligence in their work, with a due reverence of Him with whom they had to do, is all we ascribe unto them. . . . This care and diligence, we say, in a subserviency to the promise and providence of God, hath produced the effect contended for; nor is any thing further necessary thereunto. On this account to argue, as some do, from the miscarriages and mistakes of men, their oscitancy and negligence in transcribing the old heathen authors, Homer, Aristotle, Tully, we think it not tolerable in a christian, or any one that hath the least sense of the nature and importance of the Word, or the care of God towards His

church. . . .

The Jews have a cofltmon saying among them,-that to qlter one letter of the Law is no less sin than to set the whole world onfire; and shall we think that in writing it they took no more care than a man would do in writing out Aristotle or Plato, . . .43

Why did Owen have such a guarded stance? Why does he appear sensitiveness, lest an imposing array of various readings should invalidate the authority

to moderns to be "betraying a nervous

qlbid., p.358.
atlbid., p.356.

p.367. p.406. p.421.

$lbld., p,357. 1tlbld,, p,355,


The Majority Text

John Owen Versus Brian



of the sacred text?"a Only by truly appreciating what Owen was reacting to, reflected in the creedal statements of the time, will we understand this. It was nothing less than a full-fledged counterattack intended to undermine the very foundations of Protestantism. It was mounted by the Roman Catholic Church, and others with a political and religious interest in seeing classic Protestantism fail (such as the Anglo-Catholics following Walton and the incipientEnlightenment adherents of Saumur). Owen was keenly aware of the Romish strategy to destroy the single weapon that had dealt such a death-blow to the medieval church-sola suiptura-by demonstrating that no such entity existed independent of the Church. Owen felt that they aimed
to place themselves in the throne of God, and to make the words of a translation authentic from their stamp upon them, and not from their relation unto and agreement with the words spoken by God Himself. And yet further, as if all this were not enough to manifest what trustees they have been, they have cast off all subjection to the authority of God in his Word, unless it be resolved into their own, denying that any man in the world can know it to be the Word of God unless they tell him so: it is but ink and paper, skin of parchment, a dead letter, a nose of wax, a lesbian rule,-of no authority unto us at all. O faithful trustees! Holy mother church! Infallible chair! Can wickedness yet make any further

Of all the inventions of Satan to draw off the minds of men from the - to me Word of God, this of decrying the authority of the originals seems
the most pernicious.a8

He notes a Jesuit, named Huntley, who even had his own view of how God's providence was really working: for him, the Hebrew Bible had been corrupted in "the good providence of God, for the honour of the Vulgar Latint"+s With regard to the vowel points in particular, the Papists had found an opportunity to vindicate their approach to authority in a most telling way, as Bowman reminds us:
be quite erroneous . . . to form the opinion that the Protestants and Roman Catholics held opposing views on the points, merely to be consistent in their opposition to one another. The skein is more tangled than that. In claiming the late origin of the vowel-points, the Roman Catholics saw a way of championing the Vulgate translation as more reliable than the present Massoretic Hebrew text, which latter was regarded by Protestants as the very Word of God. Further, if the introduction of the Massoretic points was late, no one could have learned the Scriptures without the oral tradition of the Jewish church. The Protestants were professed antitraditionalists; they refused to accept the tradition of the Church of Rome, yet accepted the results of the tradition of the Jewish church. In this way the Catholics sought to show Protestant

It would

Owen was well aware of the plethora of Catholic critics in his day,

having interacted with their literature (something the critics who blithely dismiss Owen would do well to do), particularly Melchior Canus, Gulielmus Lindanus, Bellarminus, Gregorius, de Valentia, Leo Castrius, Huntlaeus, Hanstelius, "with innumerable others."46 All of these men were singing the chorus in the same song,
that the original copies of the Old and New Testaments are so corrupted ("ex ore tuo, serve nequam") that they are not a certain standard and measure of all doctrines, or the touchstone of all translations.aT

That Cappellus, the first Protestant to argue for the late introduction of the points, could be connected with this conspiracy was evidenced by the fact that his major work Critica Saua was refused publication in the Protestant states and so had to be published at Paris in 1650 through the eflorts of Morinus and other
4lbid. brought into conformity with the Latin Vulgate. De Rossi and John Morinus, a former French Protestant turned Roman Catholic priest, maintained that ..God gave the Old Testament without vowels because He desired men to follow the church's interpretation, not their own, for the Hebrew tongue without vowels as it was given is a 'very nose of wax.' " Bowman adds, "In short, it is God's will that men depend on the priest." Bowman, "A Forgotten Controversy," pp. 5l n. 1,52. soBowman, "A Forgotten Controversy," p.47. 5tlbid.,p.54. Owen took note of this, commenting that Cappellus had ..once to more flee to the Papists by the help of his son, a great zealot amongst them; as he did with hia Critica, to get it published." Owen, Integrity, p.369.
aelbid. Gregory de Valencia, along with Huntley, believed the Hebrew should be

Owen is certain that

ad la his biographer, p. 346.
4slbid., p. zB4.




The Majority Text

John Owen Versus Brian Walton

given out from God, continues entire and incorrupt. . . .ss And it may be justly feared, that where one willrelieve himself against

Furthermore, his son became a zealous convert to Romanism. As for Walton, though he was not a Papist, his AngloCatholicism was well served through the long-established Romish tradition of polyglots. As Owen notes:
But after all the endeavours hitherto used, in the days wherein we live breaks out in a greater flame; they now print the original itself and defame it, gathering up translations of all sorts, and setting them up in competition with it. When Ximenes put forth the Complutensian Bible, Vatablus his, and Arias Montanus those of the king of Spain, this cockatrice was not hatched, whose fruit is now growing to a flery flying



Owen was aware that it was not to advance the science of either comparative philology nor textual criticism per se that motivated Michael le Jay, the sponsor of the last great polyglot before Walton's, the Parisian. Rather, according to Owen, le Jay in his preface "denies the Hebrew text, prefers the Vulgar Latin before it, and resolves that we are not left to the Word for our rule, but to the spirit that rules in their church."53 Hence, Owen concludes that because of the scepticism given birth to by this process, "there is nothing left unto men but to choose whether they will be Papists or

the uncertainty of the originals by the consideration of the various translations here exhibited unto us, being such as upon trial they will be found to be, many will be ready to question the foundation of all. . . .s6 If these hundreds of words were the critical conjectures and amendments of the Jews, what security have we of the mind of God as truly represented unto us, seeing that it is supposed also that some of the words in the margin were sometimes in the line? And if it be supposed, as it is, that there are innumerable other places of the like nature standing in need of such amendments, what a door would be opened to curious, pragmatical wits to overturn all the certainty of the truth of the Scripture every one may see. Give once this liberty to the audacious curiosity of men priding themselves in their critical abilities, and we shall quickly find out what woful state and condition the truth of the Scripture will be brought unto. . . . But he that pulleth down a hedge, a
serpent shall bite him. . .

What sense others may have of this distemper I know not; for my own part, I am solicitous for the ark, or the sacred truth of the original, and that because I am fully persuaded that the remedy and relief of this evil provided in the translations is unfitted to the cure, yea, fitted to
increase the disease.. .

Owen was convinced that nothing less than the doctrine of providential preservation would repulse this post-Reformation counterattack stage of development. The framers of both the Westminster Confession and the Helveticus Consensus Formula, agreed with him. Without explicating what was only hinted at in those two confessions, the Reformation experiment would culminate in a calamitous and tragic comedy of errors. Owen never tires of reminding us.of this:
Besides the injury done hereby to the providence of God towards His church, and care of His Word, it will not be found so easy a matter, upon a supposition of such corruption in the originals as is pleaded for, to evince unquestionably that the whole saving doctrine itself, at first
s2Owen, Epistle, s3lbid. s4lbid.

there be this liberty once given, that they may be looked on as corruptions, and amended at the pleasure of men, how we shall be able to stay before we come to the bottom of questioning the whole Scripture


I know

Certainly we now have a clear understanding of both the problem, and owen's clearly stated rejoinder as he explicates the protestant doctrine of providential preservation. But in order to demonstrate that his position was more than just an "essentially practical polemic"6o we must further inquire how he accounted for variants, if God had been watching over the transmission of the texts of Scripture. He begins by assuring us that he is aware that even in the
ssOwen, The Divine Original of Suipture, p.302. 56Owen, Integrity, p. 368.

p. 286.

t'Ibid., pp.405-06. 5Elbid., p.408.

selbld., p.420.


Forgotten Controversy," p. 60.


The Majority Text

John Owen Versus Brian Walton


Masoretic Text "there are some diverse readings, lections."61 However,

Where there is any variety



importance. God

it is always in things of less, indeed of no, by His providence preserving the whole entire,

enough to satisfy us, that the doctrines mentioned are preserved entire; every tittle and i6ca in the word of God must come under our care and consideration, as being, as such, from God.67

Nor is


suffered this lesser variety to fall out, in or among the copies we have, for the quickening and exercising of our diligence in our search into His Word.62

Additionally, he concedes that among the scribes "it is known, it is granted, that failings have been amongst them, and that various lections are from thence risen."63 However, Owen is not conceding Walton's earlier interpretation of these. Nor is he conceding what moderns say-that no variants affect any essential doctrine, hence all manner of emendation may take place with no repercussions. Instead he believes that "the whole Word of God, in every letter and tittle, as given from Him by inspiration, is preserved without corruption."6a These incidental errors do not give license to attempt a new recension of the text, as Walton's use of Grotius and Cappell implies. Furthermore, Owen directly confutes their belief that suggested emendations will not change doctrine and therefore should be allowed:

And with this rebuttal owen spells out clearly, how utterly impenetrable is the text when treated as canon. owen had a further compraint with the variants found in walton's polyglot, and modern research has vindicated him. He was most displeased with the unsystematic and uncritical use of variants. walton's anti-nonconformist stance along with his odious associations with cappellus and Grotius, whose works helped to amass the variants in his polyglot, were sufficient for owen to conclude that this was not scholarship so much as a rhetorical device with a polemical motive:
The voluminous burk of various lections, as nakedly exhibited, seems sufficient to beget scruples and doubts in the minds of men about the truth of what hath- been hitherto by many pretended concerning the preservation of the Scripture through the care and providence of God.6s

Nor is the relief Cappellus provides against the charge of bringing things to an uncertainty in the Scripture, (which he found himself
obnoxious unto,) less pernicious than the opinion he seeks to palliate thereby . . . "The saving doctrine of the Scripture," he tells us, to the matter and substance of it, in all things of moment, is preserved in the copies of the original and translations that remain."6s

Owen answers, that

To depress the sacred truth of the originals into such a condition as wherein it should stand in need of this apology, . . . will at length be found a work unbecoming a Christian, Protestant divine.66 Furthermore,
6rOwen, The Divine Original, p.301.

those "which they judged of importance, or that might make some pretence to be considered whether they were proper or no.,,7o But in

that prior to the polyglot, lists of variants were drawn up by scholars from manuscripts in their possession; others had listed

complains that the appendix has a collection of variants that ..make up a book bigger than the New Testament itself'!"6e He observes

In combing over walton's variants, owen noted that their ,.naked exhibition" allowed for no degree of descrimination, between absolute nonsense readings or technical errors, and bonafide variants, thus giving the impression of reaching to make a point. He

the polyglot,

we have all that by any means courd be brought to hand, and that whether they are tolerably attested for various lections or no; for as to any contribution unto the better understanding of the Scripiure from them, it cannot be pretended.zr
olbid., p.362.
1olbtd., 67lbid., p.303. 68Owen, Integrity,



flOwen, The Divine Original, p.301.


Integrity, p. 355.

p. 352.

6slbid., p.302.

Ttlbld, Thia procedure broke precedent with sixteenth-century Reformed text



The Majority Text

John Owen Versus Brian



Owen, has been vindicated on this observation as of the discovery of the origin of the so-called "Velezian readings," supposedly various readings from sixteen Greek manuscripts. As it turns out

barbarous, is presently imposed on us as a various lection.T3

they were yet another Roman Catholic attempt at manuscript fabrication and falsiflcation. They were printed by De la Cerda in his Adversaria Sacra, (1626) as a supposed discovery in the margin of a Greek Testament received from Mariana, a Spanish historian. The variants, in turn, according to Mariana, were put in the Testament by its former owner, Don Pedro Faxardo, Marquis of Velez. Faxardo maintained that eight of the MSS employed by him had come from the library of the king of Spain. It was Bishop March, however, who discovered that these readings were taken not from Greek MSS but from the Latin Vulgate as found in Stephens'

eration might be of some other use than merely to create a temptation to the reader that nothing is left sound and entire in the Word of God."7a on this point owen was remarkably ahead of his time. when he argued that "it is not every variety or difference in a copy that should presently be cried up for a various tazding,,,ts h. *u, anticipating something Eldon Jay Epp would be calling for, over three hundred years later, in his essay "Toward the clarification of the Term'Textual variant'." Epp informs us (in ranguage very close to what Owen was calling for) that
The common or surface assumption is that any textual reading that differs in any way from any other reading in the same unit of text is a "textual variant," but this simplistic deflnition will not suffice. Actually, in New Testament textual criticism the term ..textual variant,, really

number could have been greatly reduced, a number..whose consid-

owen felt that if there had been an honest, scholarly attempt to verify as well as discriminate among this pool of variants, the

Owen went on to further underscore what he observed in the Appendix:

Hence it is come to pass . . . that whatever varying word, syllable, or tittle, could be by any observed, wherein any book, though ofyesterday, varieth from the common received copy, though manifestly a mistake, superfluous or deficient, inconsistent with the sense of the place, yea,
criticism, as can be seen in Theodore Beza's work. He clearly rejected Codex D and certain of its readings as even meriting consideration. Owen was aware of how out of step Walton's practice was, nothing Beza's judgment: "Beza. .. hath professedly slrgzatized his own manuscript, that he sent unto Cambridge, as so corrupt in the Gospel of Luke that he durst not publish the various lections of it, for fear of offence and scandal. . . . We have here, if I mistake not [in the polyglot] all the corruptions of that copy given us as various readings" Op. cit., p.365. Cf. Theodore P. Letis, "Theodore Beza as Text Critic: A Yiew into Sixteenth Century New Testament Text Criticism." T2Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, An Account of the Printed Text of the Greek New Testament (London: Samuel Bagster, 1854), pp. 38-39. Additionally, Vincent informs us of needless redundancy in Walton's employment of the "Wechelian readings," found in "the margin of a Bible printed at Frankfurt, 1597,by the heirs of Andrew Wechel. All of these readings are found in Stephen's margin, or in the early editions." Marvin R. Vincent, A History of the Textual Criticism of the New Testament (New York Macmillan, 1903), p. 67 n.2. Oddly enough, rather than offering Owen some credit for calling for restraint in this exercise of amassing uncritically and indiscriminatley as many variants as possible, Tregelles informs us that "Walton . . . is not to be blamed for inserting these readings [Velezian] in his collection. Critical studies were then not sufficiently advanced to authorized the selection of materials." Op. cit., p. 39.

means-and must mean-'osignificant" ot "meaningful textual variant," . . . A distinction must be made, therefore, betwin..reading,, and ('variant"-where the latter term means "signiflcant variant,,;'and it becomes clear that textual critics must raise the question oi when a textual reading is also a textual vaiant.76
This leads us to a third area where owen displays prudence far in advance of his day. Now in our time F. F. Bruce and others have characteized owen as a mere dogmatist who suffered an undue "sensitiveness on the score of variant readings,,, and have praised

since the historic and theological context is ignored by such a presentation, not to mention a sensitivity to the actual detaits of the "O**jrtrsr$, p.365.

Testament variant roadings,"77 (This simply misrepresents the case

walton for giving us our first "systematic collection oi N"*

talbid., p.364.

J. Kr.


Jay Epp. "Toward the Clarification of the Term 'Textuar lgl variant,,,, Elliott' ed., studies

1976), pp. 154-55.

in New

Testament Language and

rext (Leiden: Brill,


77Bruce, Tradltion,




The Majority Text

John Owen Versus Brian Walton


affair.) The truth of the matter is, Owen was quite frank in acknowledging that Protestants first attempted gathering together and evaluating variants.T8 Furthermore-because he had not learned the convenient technique, so cofllmon among moderns, of compartmentalizing his understanding of the theological significance of the text from the critical analysis and study of it-he felt that from a pastoral point of view it was not proper to allow what in many cases amounted to "the conjectures of men conceited of their own abilities to correct the Word of God"7e to go on a public display. Rather than ignore or altogether stifle discussion on variants, Owen wanted such speculation to take place in its proper

fit weapon put into the hand of men of atheistical minds and principles, such as this age abounds withal, to oppose the whole evidence of truth revealed in the Scripture. I fear, with some, either the pretended infallible judge [pope] or the depth of atheism will be found to lie at the door of these considerations.8o

It is known to all men acquainted with things of this nature that in all these there is no new opinion coined or maintained by the learned
prefacer to these Bibles; the severals mentioned have been asserted and maintained by sundry learned men. Had the opinion about them been kept in the ordinary sphere of men's private conceptions, in their own private writings, running thehazard of men's judgements on their own strength and reputation, I should not from my former discourse have esteemed myself concerned in them. Every one of us must give an

How well did Owen reflect the consensus of either the sixteenthcentury Reformed tradition, or that of his own time? Owen himself refers to Theodore Beza's rejection of the oldest uncial in his day, because it was "so corrupt in the Gospel of Luke that he durst not publish the various lections of it," as a precedent for his own stance. As we mentioned at the outset, the sixteenth century was the era of Protestant attack and no real confessional statement appears on the doctrine of providential preservation until the Roman Catholic counterattack, which precipitated both the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Helveticus Consensus Formula. Concerning the first, Jack P. Rogers has done a good job in discovering just what the Westminster divines meant when they said:

account of himself unto God. It will be well for us if we are found holding the foundation. If we build hay and stubble upon it, though our work perish, we shall be saved. Let every man in these things be fully persuaded in his own mind; it shall be to me no offence. It is their being laid as the foundation of the usefulness of these Biblia Polyglotta, with an endeavor to render them catholic, not in their own strength, but in their appendage to the authority that on good grounds is expected to this work, that calls for a due consideration of them. All men who will find them stated in these Prolegomena may not perhaps have had leisure, may not perhaps have the ability, to know what issue the most of these things have been already driven unto in the writings of private
men. As I willingly grant, then, that some of these things may, without any great prejudice to the truth, be candidly debated amongst learned men, so taking them altogether, placed in the advantages they now enjoy, I cannot but look upon them as an engine suited to the destruction of the important truth before pleaded for $rovidential preservationl and as a

in Greek. . . being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical;. . .sr
According to Rogers, for the Westminster divines
The text of Scripture is the Word of God, and God's Word is not to be

The Old Testament in Hebrew. . . and New Testament

sought independently

of the text of Scripture. Inspiration does not

usually imply any particular theory about how the Scripture came to be the Word of God. Nor does inspiration elminate the contribution which the human authors made to the written Scripture. And most certainly, for the Westminster divines, inspiration can not be used as an excuse for trying to find God's word separate from the written text of Scripture.82

Furthermore, J. S. Candlish explicates what they intended by their word "authentical": The eighth section of the chapter treats of the original text and translations of Scripture, and is directed, as to both of these points,
80lbid., pp.352-53. 8rThe Westminster Confession (1646), Chapter l, Section 8, as found in John H. Leith, Creeds of the Churches: A Reader in Christian Doctrine from the Bible to the Present,2nd ed. (Richmond; John Knox Press, 1973), p. 196.


lelbid., p.359.

Integrity, p. 362.

Suipture, pp. 301-302.


The Majority Text

John Owen Versus Brian Walton


against the doctrine and practice of the Church of Rome. In the first it is declared that the text in the original tongues alone is authentic, and therefore ultimately to be appealed to in all controversies of religion. This is directed against the assertion of the council of rrent that the Vulgate Latin version is to be held as authentic, so that none on any pretext should dare to reject it. It is obvious that, as the question here is as to the text of Scripture, the word authentlc is used, not in the modern sense in which it has been employed by many since Bishop Watson's Apology for Christianity, as meaning historically true, but in its more literal sense, attested as a correct copy of the author's work.83

William F. Orr further amplifies this point, by comparing the view of the Westminster Confession with that of the later Warfieldian
view: The latter has since the nineteenth century become an overlay through which the Confession is understood by many: And Dr. Gerstner believes, as I understand it, in the inerrancy and full inspiration only of the original text. This is a position which several
Protestant orthodox theologians have adopted after they had to face the

But for orr's last fallacious statement,8s we find in his assessment absolute continuity between the westminster divines and John Owen, on the crucial doctrine of providential preservation. As for the Helveticus consensus Formura, rike the westminster confession it explicitly tried to deflect attacks from the Roman catholic church, as well as those of cappellus and others at Saumur influenced by Roman catholic studies in France (whom owen was also answering). Its statement on providence is even stronger and more extensive than that of the westminster
is the "power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth,; (Rom. l:16), committed to writing by Moses, the prophets, and the apostles,

God, the supreme Judge, not only took care to have His Word, which

but has also watched and cherished

it with paternal

care ever since

of textual criticism, and is consequently a nineteenth-century doctrine rather than a doctrine of the Confession of Faith. The Confession of Faith makes no statement about 'an original text.' What it refers to is the Old Testament in Hebrew and New Testament in
Greek, which are immediately inspired by God and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all the ages. Now this affairms that the Hebrew text of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New which was

was written up to the present time, so that it could not be corrupted by craft of Satan or fraud of man. Therefore the church justly ascribes it to His singular grace and goodness that she has, and will have to the end


of the world, a 'osure word of prophecy,'and ..holy Scriptures', (2 Tim. 3: l 5), from which, though heaven and earth perish, "onelot or one tittle shall in no wise pass" (Matt. 5:18).so

known to the Westminster divines was immediately inspired by God because it was identical with the first text that God had kept pure in all the ages. The idea that there are mistakes in the Hebrew Massoretic texts or in the Textus Receptus of the New Testament was unknown to the authors of the Confession of Faith since none of the manuscripts of
ancient times which reveal these mistakes had been discovered.8a
S. Candlish, "The Doctrine of the Westminster Confession on Scripture,,, The British and Foreign Evangelical Review XXVI (January 1877), as quoted in Rogers, Scripture, pp. 394-95. Candlish mentions that all Owen was arguing for was that "the original text is so far uncorrupted as not to need to be corrected from translations: . . ." Op. cit., p. 393 n. 635. but his primary reason for maintaining this was because it was suggested that these versions were based on superior original language texts. ewilliam F. Orr, "The Authority of the Bible as Reflected in the proposed Confession of 1967," Pittsburgh Perspective VII (March 1966), as quoted in Rogers, Scripture, pp. 397-98. Rogers, in commenting on Orr, offered the following corrective to his concluding remark: "orr is right in denying that the authors of the confession of Faith separated the autographs from the working copies of thc

Also the unmistakable language is used, to endorse the received texts of the day as embodying this providence, and thus becoming the standard by which all variants would be evaluated. Note how
this confession parallels Owen, when he said:



possession of many generations,-that upon the invention of priniing it was in actual authority throughout the world with them thaiused and

be remembered that the vulgar copy we use was the public

understood that language, as far as any thing appears to the contrary;

L.}..y and G_reek Scriptures. Their confidence in the texts which they had ofthe old and New Testaments_probably arose, however, not from a compleie innocence of variant readings in these texts as orr implies. Rather, the authors of the eontegsi@o sf Faith were confident that God had inspired and kept pure the #wggr$f r*ration in Jesus christ which is the content of scripture.- Ibid., p. 3$. we, horrever, do not believe the divines would have limited their understqdng of providence so narrowly.
Letis, "Theodore Beza," for evidence that variants were well known in the sixtgenth century, and Bentley, Humanists. 86The Helvetic consensus-Formula (1675), chapter l, in Leith, creeds, pp,
309. I 0.

let that, then,

The Majority Text

John Owen Versus Brian Walton


for the standard, which is confessedly its right and due, . . . [emphasis mine]tz
Furthermore he charged the Papists with having called into question these texts as canonical standard. They were arguing
that the original copies of the Old and New Testaments are so corrupted ("ex ore tuo, serve nequam") that they are not a certain standard and measure of all doctrines, or the touchstone of all translations.8s

Purity of the original Text," in Locus 2 of his Institutio Theologiae

Elencticae, he says This Question is forced upon us by the Roman catholics, who raise doubts concerning the purity of the sources in order more readily to establish the authority of their vulgate and lead us to the tribunal of the

Turretin informs us that by the terminus technicus "original texts,'

he means copies (apographa), which have come in their name [autographs] because they record for us that word of God in the same words into which the sacred writers committed it under the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spiril.ez

The Helvetic Consensus Formula said so too, noting the problem those who


from their own reason alone . . . do not acknowledge any other reading to be genuine except that which can be educed by the critical power of the human judgement from the collation of editions with each other and with the various readings of the Hebrew original itself-which, they maintain, has been corrupted in various ways; and. . . they affirm that besides the Hebrew edition of the present time, there are. . . other Hebrew originals . . . thus they bring the foundation of our faith and its inviolable authority into perilous

With this in mind they determine that

The Hebrew original of the Old Testament, which we have received and to this day do retain as handed down by the Jewish church . . . not only

Like owen before him, Turretin admits to some minor technical errors and variants within the established texts, but it does not necessitate (as it did for walton, and for post-Enlightenment Protestantism) that a reconstruction of the text is therefore called for. Instead, again using the language of both Owen and the Helvetic Consensus Formula, Turretin believes that
The question is whether the original text, in Hebrew or in Greek, has been so corrupted, either by the carelessness of copyists or by the malice of Jews and heretics, that it can no longer by held as the judge of controversies and the norm by which all versions without exception are to

in its matter, but in its words, inspired of God, thus forming, together with the original of the New Testament, the sole and complete rule of
faith and hfe1' and to its standard, as to a Lydian stone, all extant versions, Oriental and Occidental, ought to be applied, and whereyer they dffir, be

be judged.

The Roman Catholics affirm this; we deny it. [emphasis

onforme d. [emphasis mine]oo

What of Francis Turretin (1623-1657), one of the contributors of this confessional statement, whose theology played such a large role in the establishment of the so-called Princetonian theology in the
nineteenth century? He, too, saw this entire debate as counterresponse to the Roman Catholic challenge to the most fundamental of the Reformation tenets, sola scriptura. Under the chapter, "The
87Owen, Integrity, p. 366. 88Owen, Epistle, p. 285.

The reason for this, as it was with the westminster confession, John owen and the Helvetic consensus Formula, is because of providential preservation:
That the sources are not corrupt is demonstrated by


the providence

of God, which would not allow (cui repugnat) that the books which He had willed to be written by inspired men for the salvation of the human


nlbid., Chapter

C. F., Chapter



"a.;, ellbid., pp. l13-14. "Although various small changes (corruptulae) may have come into the Hebrew codices through the carelessness olcopyiits o.ihe *rage, of time, they would not therefore cease to be the canon of iaith and conduit,' (p. I l7).

erFrancis Turretin, The _Doctrine of Scripture, ed. and transl. by John w. III (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, l98l; rept. of l6gg p. t tf . e2ibid.


The Majority Text

John Owen Versus Brian Walton faith."loo Rogers and McKim, see the westminster confession as representing a relatively pure calvinism, and John owen as a mere transition figure between the westminster confession and the hardened scholasticism of Turretin, the Helvetic consensus Formula, and later, warfieldianism.r'r But our analysis on this most fundamental issue of the Reformation finds the westminster confession, John owen, the Helvetic consensus Formura, and Turretin, each in complete unanimity on the texts of Scripture. only with the passing of Turretin would this well-established tenet of protestant_ ism-providential preservation-also pass from its dominant position, giving place to the influences of the Enlightenment in the person of Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield.

race, and which He willed to remain to the end of the world so that the waters of salvation could be drawn from them, should be so falsifled that they would be useless for that purpose.ea

He refers to these accepted text forms as the "canon of faith," thus noting that the text and canon are Again, he views these texts as "the norm" for two reasons: Careful Christian scribal habits, and the fact that this text-standard exists in "the large number of copies."e6 Furthermore, for Turretin,
Faithful and accurate copies, not less than autographs, are norms for all other copies. . . and for translations. If any discrepancy is found in these, whether it conflicts with the originals or the true copies, they are not worthy of the name 'oauthentic," and must be rejected as false and corrupted, and there is no other reason for this rejection except the

And how is this to be determined? Turretin

says that variants judged should be erroneous either from context, or by collation with "the better manuscripts" To determine which these are, Turretin offers us specific examples:
The statement that the Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New have become defective is false, and the passages which are offered in proof of this by our adversaries cannot demonstrate it. Not the pericope of adultery (John 8) fttericope de adulteraf, which, although it is lacking in the Syriac, is found in all the Greek manuscripts. Not the saying in I Jn 5:7, although formerly some called it into question, and heretics do so today. . . .ss Not Mark 16, which was lacking in a number of manuscripts in Jerome's time, as he admits, but now is found in all, and also in the Syriac, and is clearly necessary to complete the account of Christ's

rV. TTm



while the doctrine of providential preservation felr from its dominant position, it was not altogether abandoned. At least one prominent contemporary of B. B. warfield, Robert L. Dabney, clearly argued in favor of the texts of the Reformation churches. Dabney was himself a luminary within American presbyterianism (and might even be regarded as the warfierd of the southern Presbyterian Church). In l87l he wrote:
'*rh" **r*trrtr h*e been compeled, by the facts of history, to at lest be honest and admit, if only in of the view'w.-niu" u.", _footnotes, tt *it ii true documenting. woodbridge and "'r.urity Balmer io*it, that i., tt e swenteentn century a good number of christians esteemed that the Biblerthev haa i, tt"i. hands were infallible-" "The princetonians," p. +os ,r. 106. w;ilJ;'ua-it. that whitaker, an admirable comb-atant uguirrt Tridentine n"-""ir.l"sed the word "originals" interchangeably for botithe autographs as well as his present copies. whitaker: "we must hord, therefore, trr"t *.Iui" n;;;i;:;;;;; Incient Scriptures which Moses and the other prophetr p"brirh;,-;itn."ir, *.i#" *,, precisely the same forms and'shap6. of the letters.-J ryrha-qs,. i,r.trr..-o." Woodbridge quotes John Jewel to the same etrect, ..1CqJ;, W".ai'.. . V" continueth still without adding or altering of any one sentence, or word, or letter.,, Finally, woodbridge himserfls. heard tJ ruy' ;ro-. Englishmen ,ppu...,trv aio think that their Bibres o_e1lectrv reflected it. o.iginur..;; woJ#G;'irttmt Au.thority, pp. 8l; 187 n. 165, n. 64. l0lRogers and McKim, The Authoriry, pp.xvii.xxiv; 2OO-37g,

It is beyond dispute that for Turretin, the Masoretic Old Testament text and the Textus Receptus New Testament were the "canon of
e4lbid. eslhid.

e6lbid., p.ll5. e7lbid., p. 128. e8Turretin seems to be laboring under some misinformation in regard to the data on the Johannine comma. eelbid., pp.l30-31.


The Majority Text

John Owen Versus Brian Walton



Absolute historical certainty of results is not to be expected, since so many of the documents of the primitive church are gone forever; but, after all, the weight of that probability brings back the critical conclusions to the theory of Nolan and Scholz, restoring the claims of the Kor,vil'Ex8oor6, or received text, to be a faithful one, and invalidating the claims of exclusive accuracy made by our recent critics in favor of the
so-called oldest c odice s.to2

in "reconstructing" the texts of Scripture, after the canons

created by such higher critics as semler and his disciple Griesbach. So he had it both ways: by positing the perfect, platonic form of

Hence, Dabney, though showing the marks of Enlightenment influence on his language ("weight of probability";,to: nevertheless still reflects the Reformation content in retaining the received texts in the seat of primacy. But as Rogers, McKim, and Sandeen have noticed, the Northern Presbyterians, did not fare as well. Sandeen,rM Rogers and McKim are all correct when they argue that Warfield defended biblical authority in a manner wholly different from that of the Reformers or seventeenth century Reformed theologians. They are further correct in maintaining that this resulted from the pressure of biblical criticism, and speciflcally, as William Orr recognized, textual criticism. It was this that chased Warfield into the arms of CommonSense Philosophy. This is most obvious in the shift away from defending the in-hand texts of the Reformation, toward positing a post-scientific, inerrant autographa. Thus he escaped the cynicism of Enlightenment, Deistic New Testament text critics, who were holding up variants as proof that no infallible record was left us of the "historic Jesus." In turn, this allowed Warfleld to flex his own Enlightenment

the autographa-inscrutable and safe from whatever the cynics might say-he in turn surrendered the particulars of the previouslybelieved-to-be-providentially-preserved texts of the Reformation to the Enlightenment critics, believing that no doctrinal loss would occur. Time has proved him to be naive on the latter point.ros While Rogers and McKim argued that Warfield was the first to surrender the Reformation texts (like Lot,s daughters to the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah) in order to preserve the angelic autographa. Woodbridge and Balmer have shown at least one earlier explicit reference to this new shift, in the writings of Francis L. Patton (1869). The reader should note that by now, the doctrine of providential preservation is no longer a necessary corollary to divine inspiration, as we saw in the seventeenth century. Rather we find the doctrine of divine inspiration tempered with natur alis tic "reconstruction" :
The books of the Bible as they came from the hands of their writers were infallible. The autographs were penned under divine guidance. It is not claimed that a perpetual miracle has preserved the sacred text from the errors ofcopyists. The inspired character ofour Bible depends, of course, upon its correspondence with the original inspired manuscripts. These autographs are not in existence, and we must determine
nai'vet6 concerning the innocuous nature of variants, so often repeated up to the present, can no longer be maintained: c. S. c. williams, Alterations to thi Text of th9 Synoptic Gospels and Acts (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, l95l); Leon Wrighi, Alterqtions of the lVords o! Jgsus as Quoted in the Literature of the second century (cambridge: cambridge Univ. press, 1952);E. w. Saunders, ;studies in Doctrinil I411,*.gf on the Byzantine Text of the Gospels,', JBL LXXXI (1952), pp.85-92; K. w. clark, "Textual Criticism and Doctrine,- studia paulina in- Honorem J:-haynil!3 Zloof (Haarlem: De Erven F. Bohn N. V., 1953), pp. 52-65; K. W. clark, "The Theological Relevance of rextual variation in current criticism of the Greek New Testament," JBL Lxxxv (1966); Erich Fascher, Textgeschichte als hermeneutisches Problem (Haale [Saale]: veb Max Niemeyer verlig, 1953); E. ]do1 Jay epp, The Theological rendency of codex Bezae caniabrigiensls' in Acts (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1966); Edward F. Hills, ..Intioduction', to thc reprint 9f J._W. Burgon's The Last Twelve Verses of the Gospel of Mark (n.p.; The Sovcreign Grace Book Club, 1959).


Greek," The Southern Presbyterian Review (April l87l),

l8e0l), p. 390.

L. Dabney, "The Doctrinal Various Readings of the New Testament

in his Dl'scz,ssiozs.'

Evangelical and Theological (London: The Banner of Truth, 1967 [first published in
l03He, however, in a later review of the Revised Version (1881) published that same year in the Southern Presbyterian Review (July l88l), speaks of the Textus Receptus standing up well, "Whether by good fortune or by the critical sagacity of Erasmus or by the superintendence of a good Providence. . ." Dabney, Discussions, p.395. rMErnest R. Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism, 1800-1930 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978 [originally

published in 19701), pp. 103-31.


The Majority Text

John Owen Versus Brian Walton


the correct text of Scripture in the same way that we determine the text of any of the ancient classics.lo6

which entails the canons devised by the German these canons, Warfield tells us:


No clearer contrast can be found than that offered in Owen's earlier quoted words:

It can, then, with no colour of probability be asserted (which yet I find some learned men too free in granting), namely, that there hath the
same fate attended the Scripture in its transcription as hath done other books.roT

It matters not whether the writing before us be a letter from a friend, or an inscription from Carchemish, or a copy of a morning newspaper, or shakespeare, or Homer, or the Bible, these and only these ur" ir," klrdt of evidence applicable.toe

Twenty-two years after Patton's essay, R. L. Dabney would note with disapprobation in his essay "The Influence of the German University System on Theological Literature" (1881) a characteristic of German criticism, that Patton suggested should be employed in determining the text of Scripture:
They dissect the evangelists, epistles and prophets, just as they do Homer or the Vedas. They have never felt that declaration of our
Savior: "The words which I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life." The response which is made by the profoundest intuitions of the human heart and conscience, quickened by the Spirit, to these lively oracles, immediately avouching them as the words of the creator of the human soul, is unnoticed by these critics. They propose to settle the authenticity or falsehood of the records by antiquarian processes only,

text requires a revision of that document?,, In a sense, Warfield

so-what ever was warfield to do with the westminster confession, which Professor Mois6s Silva reminds us, ..was produced on the basis of the Textus Receptus?"r, Noting the present disparity, Silva asks, "who would want to argue that the adoption of the uBS

concluded that just such a revision was required. However, while he

similar to those by which Niebuhr proposed to test the legends of early Rome, or Wolf the genuineness of the Homeric epics.tot



happens, B. B. Warfield himself was a paradigm of what

Dabney was describing. Having studied at the University of Leipzig during 1876-1877, he was the flrst confessing Evangelical from America ever to publish a handbook on the Enlightenment praxis of New Testament textual criticism. In this work he not only fails to

did not revise the westminster confession, he did radically revise its interpretation, which amounted to a revision of meaning. Earlier, A. A. Hodge had offered a precedent for this inhis The confession of Faith (1869), a commentary on the westminster confession. Unlike theframers ofthis document, orthe predominant seventeenthcentury interpreters of it such as owen, Turretin, whitaker, Jewel, et al-,Hodge no longer spoke in terms of providential preservation, but of "ascertaining" the true text "of the ancient Scripture . . . by means of a careful collation and comparison. . .',ur warfield, in like manner, reinterpreted the westminster confession to say not that the text had been providentially preserved, but that it was in a current stage of providential restoration,through the same naturalistic principles that the confession, John owen, the Helvetic consensus Formula and Turretin were guarding against. Nevertheless, he retained the traditional language:

discuss the fundamental tenet of providential preservation, he absolutely legitimizes the procedure that Dabney warned against,
r06Woodbridge and Balmer, The Princetoniaw, p.268. It should be noted that Patton was not necessarily reflecting the view of charles Hodge on this point. See Theodore P. l*tts, Edward F. Hills's contribution to the Revival of the Ecclesiastical Iexf, Unpublished M.T.S. Thesis, Emory University, May, 1987, pp.73-77. lo7Owen, Integrity, p. 357. ro8Dabney, Discussions, p. 448.

In the sense of the westminster confession, therefore, the multiplication ofthe copies ofthe Scriptures, the several early efforts towards the revision of the text, the raising up of scholars in our own day to collect


to the Textuar criticism of the New Testament (Lgldon: Hodder and Stoughton, 1883), p. 10. rl0Mois6s silva, Review of c. rtodges and Arthur L. Farstad (eds.), The -zare Greek New Testament Accordtng to the Majority Text,in westminster iheoiogical Journal, Vol. XLV, No. I (Spring 1983), pp. 18485.

i']4 {.. H9d se, The Confissioi oy riiin'lfonaon: The Banner of Truth Trust, l95E [originally published in 1869]), p. 41.


The Majority Text

John Owen Versus Brian Walton


and collate MSS., and to reform the text on scientific principles-of our Tischendorfs, and Tregelleses, and Westcotts and Horts-are all parts of God's singular care and providence in preserving His inspired Word Pure'ttz

acumen enough to detect a printer's error or to realize the liability handcopied manuscripts to occasional corruption?rrs


Warfield must have hoped that no real historian would come to the fore and charge him with a radical reinterprctation of the Westminster divines' meaning, but alas (for him) they did. In this same essay he quotes an opponent who raises this point:
As a professor in a theological seminary, it has been my duty to make a special study of the Westminster Confession of Faith, as I have done for twenty years; and I venture to affirm that no one who is qualified to give an opinion on the subject, would dare to risk his reputation on the statement that the Westminster divines ever thought of the original manuscripts of the Bible as distinct from the copies in their
possession.l l3

warfield asserted, contrary to all that we have surveyed from the seventeenth century, that it was just the intention of the westminster divines to make ftrs distinction between the perfect original
autograph and the preserved text which he calls o'corrupted" no less than nine times in a brief six-page essay, referring to extant copies

of scripture, which is in a perpetual state of ever being restored

Warfield did not address the historical reality of what the seventeenth centuryr14 thought, but diverted the argument to the modern context implying that those who did not hold his reinterpretation were out of touch with the modern critical opinion regarding the present state of the text. This was a classic attempt at reductio ad

Still another curiosity of the present controversy is found in the constant asseveration which we hear about us, that the distinction drawn by the Presbyterian Church between the genuine text of Scripture and the current and more or less corrupt texts in general circulation, is something new. This is a rather serious arraignment of the common sense of the whole series of preceding generations. What! Are we to believe that no man until our wonderful nineteenth century ever had
tation was "accordant with the teachings of the Bible and within the limits of common sense" (emphasis mine), "The Inerrancy of the Original Autographs," in
Westminster Assembly and its work(Baker Book House, 1981 [orig. publ. in his collected works, 1931]), p.239. Warfield felt his interpre-

mention the divisions, hurtful conflicts and politics arising out of this modern theory), the heirs of the Reformation have had less and less regard for the actual form of the texts of scripture used in the gtrulqhgs.rte In short, actual biblical authority (i.e., actual regard and jealousy for the existential Bible) has not known the spiritual vitality that it possessed from the sixteenth to the end of the nineteenth century. with the real emphasis of importance being placed in an unseen, unsubstantial form of authority, the sense of canon has been lost.rrT How might this be corrected so that the interlude era of inerrancy might be transcended, and the original genius of both the sixteenth and seventeenth century approach to biblical authority might be recaptured? perhaps the emerging discipline of canon uiticism holds the answer.

closer to its autographic perfection! This warfieldian revisionism has meant that while oceans of ink have been spilled in defending these inerrant platonic forms (not to

V. CaNoN Cnrrtcrsu: AN OppoRTUNTry ro RETURN To


"'BJ. W".fi.ldJr,

while canon criticism is no panacea, it does offer a new model that allows for the relegitimization of the Reformation approach to - ,r\btd- p2?L

Mark A. Noll, ed., The Princeton Theology 1812-1921: Scripture,

Science, and Theological Methodfrom Archibald Alexander to Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield,


rr3warfield, The Westminster Assembly, pp.237-38 n.46. ll4He did briefly make an attempt in another essay to refer to some of the westminster divines' opinion on this but it is a cursory treatment that is less than compelling. "The Inerrancy of the Original Autographs," pp. 273-74.

(Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983),p.214.

control to secular control of the Bible Societies, and the complete dominance of communication theory over theological considerations in veriracular translation work-and the churches' ratification of this. llTThe Roman catholic church is alert to this: in their current edition of the cg.tlolic Elcyclopedia, s.v. "Bible," they list eighty-eight "private" (non-committee editions) Protestant editions since l6il. Lisiing eu"t oi these in chronoiogical order makes a rhetorical statement equivalent tJthe l6th/l7th century foiygiots.

Jakob van Rruggen's The Future of the Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, ^lj!.: for a rare and accurate treatment of the historic shift from ecclesiasticai