On the Divine Original of the Scriptures – Preface

In Confessional Textual View, Doctrine of Scripture, John Owen by Chris ThomasLeave a Comment

OF THE DIVINE ORIGINAL, AUTHORITY, SELF-EVIDENCING LIGHT, AND POWER OF THE SCRIPTURES;

WITH AN ANSWER TO THAT INQUIRY, HOW WE KNOW THE SCRIPTURES TO BE THE WORD OF GOD.

ALSO, A VINDICATION OF THE PURITY AND INTEGRITY OF THE HEBREW AND GREEK TEXTS OF THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT; IN SOME CONSIDERATIONS ON THE PROLEGOMENA AND APPENDIX TO THE LATE “BIBLIA POLYGLOTTA.’

WHEREUNTO ARE SUBJOINED SOME EXERCITATIONS ABOUT THE NATURE AND PERFECTION OF THE SCRIPTURE, THE RIGHT OF INTERPRETATION, INTERNAL LIGHT, REVELATION, ETC.

  Ερευνατε τας γραφας— John 5:39.

OXFORD 1659.

PREFATORY NOTE.

The Epistle Dedicatory to the three following treatises is full of curious information, and deserves to be read, in order to understand our author’s true position in his controversy with Brian Walton, the learned editor of the London Polyglott. Surprise has been expressed that under one general title Owen should have included tracts on subjects so different in their nature as the divine origin of Scripture, the purity of the Hebrew and Greek text of Scripture, and the doctrinal errors of the Society of Friends.  The last tract, too, was first written, and on the subordinate title prefixed to it bears date 1658, whereas the others belong to the succeeding year.  The bond of connection among the treatises is, however, sufficiently plain.  In refuting the doctrine of the inward light, as held by the Quakers, he was discriminating his own profound and original views of the self-evidencing power of the Word from a dogma with which they might be confounded; and as in the first treatise he had expressed himself in language rather unguarded and too unqualified, about the providential care of God over every letter and syllable of revelation, he was prompted to question some features in Walton’s Polyglott, which had just been published, and in which thousands of various readings were exhibited. These various readings seemed to refute the position he had taken, that the Scriptures had been providentially kept in their original integrity. How far he erred on this point, and to what extent his views have been misapprehended, are discussed in the prefatory note to the “Considerations on the Prolegomena and Appendix to the Biblia Polyglotta” As this Polyglott was the occasion of the following Epistle and of the tract to which we have just alluded, it may be necessary to glance at its history and character. It appears that Walton issued the description and prospectus of it in 1852, and before the close of that year nearly £4,000 had been raised by subscription for the work. The Council of State promised to advance £1,000, and the paper to be used for it was exempted from duty. In May 1653 the subscriptions had risen to £9,000, and in the autumn of that year the impression was begun. Next year the first volume was completed, containing Prolegomena which are still a treasure of sacred criticism, and have been thrice republished separately, and the Pentateuch in the Hebrew, the Vulgate, the Septuagint, the Syriac, the Targum of Onkelos, the Samaritan, and the Arabic: in 1655 the second volume appeared, comprising the historical books in the same languages and versions, with the exception of the Samaritan: in 1858 the third, comprehending the poetic and prophetic books from Job to Malachi, with the addition of an Ethiopic version of the Book of Psalms: and in 1857 the fourth, containing all the apocryphal books; the fifth, including all the books of the New Testament, in the Greek, Syriac, Persic, Vulgate, Arabic, and Ethiopic; and the sixth, composed of various readings, critical remarks, etc. Walton’s assistants in this magnificent work were Ussher, Castell, Hyde, Pococke, Lightfoot, Huish, Samuel Clarke, De Dieu, and others.

The terms in which Cromwell is mentioned in the preface are as follow: “Primo autem commemorandi, quorum favore chartam a vectigalibus immunem habuimus, quod quinque abhinc annis a Concilio secretiori primo concessum, postea a SERENISSIMO D.PROTECTORE ejusque Concilio, operis promovendi cause, benigne confirmatum et continuatum erat.” About the time of the Restoration two leaves of the preface were cancelled, the name of Cromwell was expunged from the list of benefactors, and a dedication to Charles II. prefixed, stigmatizing Cromwell as “the great dragon,” and insinuating that he wished to extort from Walton the honor of the dedication: “Insidiabatur partui nostro draco the magnus, et per tyrannidis suae mancipia hoc agebat, ut in ipso partu opprimeretur, nisi ipsi ut patrone et protectori dicaretur.” The change could surely have been effected in a way more honorable to Walton, and without needless reflections on the memory of the Protector, his obligations to whom could not be concealed and should not have been forgotten. He was rewarded in 1660 with the bishopric of Chester; which he enjoyed only for the short space of a year. There are few names on the bright roll of British scholarship and learning to which Biblical literature has been more indebted. – ED.

 

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