The Purity of the Original Text

QUESTION 10: Has the original text of the Old and New Testaments come to us pure and uncorrupted?
Affirmative, against the Roman Catholics.

I. 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

II. By “original texts” we do not mean the very autographs from the hands of Moses, the prophets, and
the apostles, which are known to be nonexistent. We mean copies (apographa), which have come in their
name, 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 Spirit.

III. There is no question of the sources being pure in the sense that no error has crept into many sacred
codices, either from the ravages of time, or the carelessness of copyists, or the malice of Jews and
heretics. This is recognized on both sides, and the variant readings, which Beza and Robert Stephanus
have noted in Greek, and the Jews in Hebrew, witness sufficiently to this. But 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 be held as the judge of controversies and the norm
by which all versions without exception are to be judged. The Roman Catholics affirm this; we deny it.

IV. Not all Roman Catholics are of this opinion. There are many, who are called Hebraists, who uphold the
purity of the sources, and defend it explicitly, among them Sixtus Senensis, Bannes, Andradius, Driedo,
Arias Montanus, John Isaac, Jacob Bonfrerius, Simeon de Muis, and many others. Others, however,
maintain strongly the corruption of the sources; among them, Stapleton, Lindanus, Cano, Cotton,
Morinus, Perronius, Gordon, and others. There are some who, following a middle road, assert neither that
the sources are corrupt nor that they flow with purity and integrity, so that they maintain everything must
be studied and emended in connection with the versions. This is the teaching of Bellarmine (De Verbo Dei
22), who on this matter, as on others, must be understood as inconsistent.

V. That the sources are not corrupt is demonstrated by (1) 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 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 falsified that they would be useless for that purpose. And since new
revelations are not to be expected after God has committed his whole will concerning the doctrine of
salvation to the books of Scripture, what could be more derogatory to God, who has promised always to
be with his church, than to assert that the books in which this doctrine is preserved have been corrupted
so that they cannot be the canon of faith? (2) The faithfulness of the Christian church, and its diligent
work in preserving Scripture. Since Christians always watched over it with great care, to preserve the
sacred deposit unharmed, it is unbelievable that they either falsified it or allowed anyone else to do so.
(3) The religion of the Jews, which looked upon the sacred codices with great faith and concern, to the
point of superstition, so that Josephus could say that after the passage of centuries no one dared add to
or subtract from or change the books of the Jews, and that among them it was almost instinctive to be
prepared to die for Scripture (Against Apion, book 2). Philo in his work on the exodus of the children of
Israel from Egypt, quoted by Eusebius, goes further when he states that, up to his time, during a period
of more than two thousand years, no word in the Hebrew law was changed, and that any number of Jews
would rather die than allow the law to undergo any change (Preparation for the Gospel 8.2). Indeed, they
were overcome with foolish superstition about the sacred codex, so that if a written book of the law
touched the ground they proclaimed a fast, and they said that it was to be feared that the universe would
revert to primeval chaos–so far were they from allowing fraud with the sacred codices. (4) The care with
which the Masoretes not only counted, but recorded in writing, all variations in pointing and writing, not only with regard to verses and words, but to individual letters, so that there could be neither place for,
nor suspicion of, forgers, an argument used by Arias Montanus in his biblical preface. (5) The large
number of copies. Since the sacred codices are so widely scattered, how could all of them have been
corrupted either by the carelessness of copyists or by the malice of falsifiers? “Far be it,” as Augustine
says, “from any prudent man to believe that the Jews, however perverse and evil-minded, could have
done this with so many and widely scattered copies” (City of God 15.2

[13]). Vives says that this
argument should be used against those who “argue that the Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament
and the Greek of the New have been falsified and corrupted, so that the truth of the sacred books cannot
be found in them.”

VI. (6) If the sources were corrupted, it was done either before or after Christ. Neither is possible. Not
before, for Christ never suggested it when he discussed various errors of doctrine, and he would not have
upheld the use of corrupted books. Was the Lord so indifferent to the salvation of his people that he never
even mentioned, personally or through the apostles, that the books of Moses and the prophets were
falsified, when at the same time he refuted the Jews from these same books (but in vain, if they were
corrupted and changed), and summoned and urged his ‘disciples to read and examine them? Not
afterward, both because the copies scattered among Christians would have made such effort useless, and
also because there is no trace of such corruption. For if anything of the kind had taken place, why are the
passages which Christ and the apostles quote from Moses and the prophets the same today and always,
and not corrupted at all? Why did Origen and Jerome, who had magnificent knowledge of the sacred
languages, so specifically absolve the Jews from this wrong? Therefore if the corruption was not done
either before or after Christ, it follows that it was never done, an argument that Bellarmine brings forward
(De Verba Dei 22).

VII. (7) The Jews neither wanted to corrupt the sources nor could have done so. They did not want to,
because, if they had wanted to corrupt any part, they would certainly have weakened the oracles which
speak of Christ and confirm the Christian faith. Who indeed would believe that if, as is supposed, they did
it from hatred of Christians, they would falsify the passages from which nothing against Christians can be
drawn, and leave unchanged those in which Christians place the foundation for the triumph of the truth of
the gospel? But this is exactly how the matter stands. The passages said to have been weakened by the
Jews are little or no problem for Christians, while the most striking oracles concerning Christ remain
unchanged, and are much plainer and more specific in Hebrew than in the translations, as has been
pointed out by Jerome (epistle 74, to Marcellus), John Isaac (Against Lindanus 2), and Andradius in his
defense of the Council of Trent, chapter 2. That they could not have done it no matter how badly they
wanted to is shown not only by the large number of copies but also by the vigilance of Christians, not all
of whose copies could the Jews have corrupted, and by the provident wisdom of God, who, if he will not
permit one jot or tittle of the law to perish until all is fulfilled (Matt. 5:18), will be much less willing for the
body of heavenly doctrine to be weakened by the Jews, and for us to be deprived of this treasure; rather,
as Bellarmine well remarks, “for this purpose he willed to scatter the Jews throughout the world, and to
disseminate the books of the law and the prophets, that, unwillingly, they might bear witness to our
Christian truth” (De Verbo Dei 22 argument 5) …. and Augustine calls the Jews “a book-preserving
people, carrying the law and the prophets; they used to carry the codices as a servant, that they might
lose by carrying, and others gain by reading; they indeed serve us; the Jews were like book carriers and
librarians, who by their efforts carried the codices for us,” and again, “in their hearts, enemies; in their
books, witnesses.”

VIII. Although various small changes (corruptulae) may have come into the Hebrew codices through the
carelessness of copyists or the ravages of time, they would not therefore cease to be the canon of faith
and conduct. For these represent matters of small importance, not connected with faith and conduct,
which Bellarmine himself admits, and therefore he denies that they affect the integrity of Scripture (De
Verbo Dei 2.2); and moreover they are not found in every manuscript, and are not such as cannot readily
be corrected from Scripture itself and the comparison of different copies.

IX. The hatred of Jews for Christians could be a remote cause for the corruption of Scripture, but one that
could be impeded by a greater cause, namely, the providence of God, who envisioned a sure rule of faith
for Christians no less than for Jews, one deduced from the indubitable foundations of the gospel, which
could not be done if he allowed the sources to be corrupt.

X. The difference between the Septuagint and the original text does not imply that the text is corrupt, but
rather that the translation is faulty, as Jerome already recognized in his day (in his prefaces to
Deuteronomy and Chronicles, and in his letter to Sunias and Fretellas). Bellarmine says (De Verbo Dei
2.6) that [the Septuagint] is so corrupt and faulty that it seems altogether a different work, so that it is
not safe today to emend the Hebrew or Latin text [of the Old Testament] from a Greek manuscript.

XI. So far is it from true that the Keri and Kethib divergencies, which are commonly regarded as 848 in
number, corrupt the text, that rather they show the variant readings of different copies, by which all
corruption by innovators is prevented. The chasir and jothar, which indicate a grammatical deficiency or
superfluity, belong to the same category and make evident the superstition with which the Masoretes
cared for the text.

XII. The tikkun sopherim or “corrections of the scribes,” of which there are only eighteen, do not imply
any corruption of the text. Had there been any, Christ, if they were made before his time, or the orthodox
fathers if they were made later, would not have allowed them to pass without rebuke. Nor are they
necessarily corrections, as is evident to the reader, but stylistic improvements, and changes not so much
of meaning as of words. They were made either by the men of the Great Synagogue, one of whom, Ezra,
who, after the return from the Babylonian captivity, restored to integrity the scattered and damaged
copies of the sacred books, and arranged them as we now have them, was inspired by God, as we have
already mentioned in the proper place, or else by the authors themselves, who, after the custom of
orators, edited what they had said. But the very content declares them to be of small moment, for the
meaning is not lost even if the words are retained as spoken.

XIII. The similarity of some letters can indeed have resulted in errors appearing in some codices because
of copyists’ carelessness, but this was not universal, for they could easily be corrected from others,
especially because of the thoroughness of the Masoretes, who counted not only all the words, but also the
letters that were in the text.

XIV. So far it is from truth that the Masoretes’ work suggests corruption of the sources, that, on the
contrary, it was undertaken to prevent errors, so that in days to come not a single letter could be
changed or dropped out.

XV. Although in Romans 10:18 the apostle writes “sound” for the “line” of Psalm 19:5 [4], it does not
follow that the Hebrew text is corrupt and that “their line” was substituted for “their sound” or “voice.” For
qav means not only an extended or perpendicular line, but also a written line, or letter, by which young
children are taught, as in Isaiah 28:10 the ignorant childishness of the Israelite people is shown when
they are said to be taught like children “precept after precept, line after line.” So the psalmist says, “Day
teaches day, and one night shows forth knowledge to another.” “Voice” (fqoggos), which signifies not only
the sound but the writing of the letter, renders this word [qav] well, just as we call diphthongs and vowels
written. Moreover, Paul does not quote this verse exactly, but applies it in a figurative manner to the
preaching of the gospel by the apostles, following the meaning rather than the words.

XVI. Corruption of the meaning is one thing; corruption of interpretation is another. The Jews have been
able to corrupt the interpretation of Isaiah 9:6 when the words “and he shall call his name” are referred
to the father who calls, not to the son who is called, but they have not corrupted the words themselves.
Whether they are rendered as active or passive makes no difference, since according to Hebrew idiom a
future active without subject often has a passive meaning, and so the words, impersonally in the third person, although active, can be understood as passive. So the Hebrew reading “and he shall call his
name” has not been changed, but the subject must be supplied–not “God the Father,” as the Jews take
it, but “everyone,” that is, all believers, shall call his (Christ’s) name. To make this more plain, it is
translated “his name shall be called.” Likewise Jeremiah 23:6 has been somewhat corrupted in
interpretation but not in the words, which are correctly translated either with a singular “he shall call
him,” as the seventy rendered it, as if the words referred to the nominative preceding “Israel and Judah,”
or with a plural, “they shall call him,” as Pagninus, Vatable, and Arias Montanus render it, following the
Chaldean, Syriac, Arabic, and the Vulgate. Jerome uses both renderings, and none of the Fathers called
this passage corrupt.

XVII. Since three Targums understand “Shiloh” in Genesis 49:10 as “Messiah,” it is clear that the Jews
have not corrupted the passage in order to prove that the Messiah has not yet come. Moreover, this word
Shiloh, which in the Talmud is attributed to the Messiah, refutes the Jews and points to Christ no less
than “Shiloh” [with final hard “h” rather than soft] which is asserted to have been the original, whether it
be derived from “son” or from “peaceful,” or, which seems preferable, and the Septuagint follows, a[Hebrew] phrase meaning “whose is the kingly authority.” There is a similar phrase in Ezekiel 21:32 [27].

XVIII. Zechariah 9:9 is not corrupt when it says that the Messiah is to be a king who is just and to be
saved, for the word can be understood either as passive, meaning that Christ would be saved from death
(Heb. 5:7), or would save himself (Isa. 63:3[5]); or as a deponent form used actively, which is common
among the Hebrews, and this would be a participle meaning “liberator” or “savior.”

XIX. Although in Exodus 12:40 the sojourn of the children of Israel in Egypt is said to have been of 430
years, which cannot be understood of the period of time spent in Egypt, which was 215 years, but of the
time spent both in Canaan and in Egypt, as the Samaritan and the Greek explain the passage, the Hebrew
ought not to be regarded as corrupt but as synechdoche, which remembers only the Egyptian period,
because it was the principal exile of the Israelites, by naming the whole from the more important part.

XX. In Psalm 15 [14] no verses have been omitted [from the present Hebrew text], for what is quoted in
Romans 3:11-12 was not taken by the apostle from there, but from many psalms put together, for
example, Psalms 5, 11, 26, 36, and 140, and from Isaiah 59, as Jerome teaches in his commentary on
Isaiah (book 16).

XXI. I Corinthians 15:47 is not corrupt in the Greek text, but in the Vulgate, which omits the word Lord,
which here means Christ, as he is not a mere man but the Lord Jehovah, and so the antithesis between
the first and second Adam is much stronger: “the first man is of the earth, earthy, but the second man is
the Lord from heaven.”

XXII. Although the doxology of Matthew 6:13, in the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, is not found in Luke
11, nor in many manuscripts, it does not follow that this text is corrupt, because the Lord could have
taught the same form of prayer twice; once without the doxology, and then again, with it added, for the
general public. Nor is it impossible for one Gospel to leave out what another includes, for no necessity
makes each one include everything; Matthew 6:33 reads, “Seek the kingdom of God and his
righteousness,” but Luke 6:31 has only, “Seek the kingdom of God.” What Luke omits ought therefore not
to be eliminated, but supplied from Matthew, since both are inspired, especially because this passage is
found in all the Greek manuscripts of Matthew, as Erasmus and Bellarmine recognize.

XXIII. Although in a number of manuscripts Romans 12:11 reads “serving the time,” this is not the case
with all; indeed Franciscus Lucas says he has seen six which read “Lord.” Beza says this is the reading of
a number of the best, and Dominic a Soto states that that reading is now general, both in Greek and

XXIV. It is certain that all Greek manuscripts differ from the Latin in I John 4:3, for the Greek has “every
spirit that does not confess that Jesus has come in the flesh,” but the Latin, “every spirit that takes Jesus
apart (solvit).” It does not follow that the sources are corrupt, for the Greek reading is more worthy
(augustior), and much more specific against Nestorius and Eutyches.

XXV. Corruption is one thing; a variant reading is another. We admit that there are a number of variant
readings coming from the collation of various manuscripts, but we deny that there is a universal

XXVI. It is one thing to speak of the effort of heretics to corrupt certain manuscripts. We readily concede
this. The complaints of the Fathers, for example, Irenaeus with regard to Marcion, Origen on Romans
16:13, and Theodoret with regard to Tatian are relevant to this. But success, or complete and universal
corruption, is another matter. This we deny, both because of the providence of God, who did not allow
them to do what they planned, and because of the diligence of the orthodox fathers, who, having various
manuscripts in their possession, were faithful in keeping them free from corruption.

About the Author:

I hold to the historic Confessional view of Scripture as found in Chapter 1 of the WCF/2LBCF. I reject Restorationist Textual Criticism and affirm Preservationist Textual Criticism

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