The Authentic Version of Scripture

Chris Thomas Doctrine of Scripture, Francis Turretin, Turretin's 21 Questions Leave a Comment

QUESTION 11: Are the Hebrew version of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New the only authentic ones? Affirmative, against the Roman Catholics.

I. Some versions of Scripture are original and primary, originally prepared by the authors; others are
secondary, versions in other languages into which it has been translated. No one denies that the Hebrew
of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New are original and first written, but there is a controversy
between us and the Roman Catholics as to whether both are authentic, and deserve in themselves both
faith and authority, and whether all other versions are to be tested by them.
II. Some Roman Catholics–Sixtus Senensis, Driedo, Andradius, and others–do justice to the sources by
affirming their purity, as seen above, and, on account of their purity, ascribing authenticity to them, so
that all versions, including even the Vulgate, may be corrected from them. But more of them do not, and
hold that there is no certainty about the substance of the Hebrew, either for appeal to the sources in
controversies over faith, or for correcting the Vulgate from it; for example, Stapleton, Cano, Lindanus,
and others who contend for the corruption of the sources. This teaching is taken from the decree of the
Council of Trent, session 4, which said: “Let the Latin Vulgate version be held authoritative for public
reading, disputation, preaching, and exposition, in the sense that no one dare reject it for any reason.” It
is granted that many Roman Catholics, who are ashamed of this decree, try to construe it in another
sense, as if the council had said nothing against the authenticity of the original text, and had not given
the Vulgate precedence over the sources, but had only chosen one out of the Latin versions which were in
circulation, which it declared superior to the others, as Bellarmine says (De Verba Dei 2.10), which is also
the opinion of Andradius, Salmeron, Serarius, and others. That this is a distortion of the decree of the
Synod Bannes rightly argues, and it can easily be seen from the words of the council itself. For if it is to
be held as authoritative, and no one is to dare reject it for any reason, is it not equated with the sources,
and indeed made superior to them? If it differs from the sources it will not be brought into harmony with
them, but rather they made to agree with it. So Mariana concludes that after the promulgation of

decrees of the] Council of Trent “the Greek and Hebrew have fallen with one blow.” But our teaching is
that only the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New have been and are authentic in the
sense that all controversies concerning faith and religion, and all versions, are to be tested and examined
by them.
III. An authentic writing is one with regard to which all factors together produce confidence, and to which
complete trust should be given in its field, from which it is evident both that it must come from the author
whose name it bears, and that everything in it must be written as he wanted it written. Such a writing can
be authentic in either of two senses–primary and original and secondary and derivative. The primary
sense applies to what bears its own authentication, which proves itself by itself, and which is believed and
clearly should be believed on its own showing (ob seipsum). In this category are the original copies of
royal edicts, of the decrees of magistrates, wills, contracts, and anything else actually written by the
author. In the secondary group are all copies accurately and faithfully made by qualified (idoneus)
persons, such as the functionaries appointed and authorized by public authority to copy the edicts of
princes and other public documents, or the various honest and faithful scribes and copyists of books and
other writings. In the first sense only the “autographs” of Moses, the prophets and the apostles are
authentic, but in the second sense faithful and accurate copies are also.
IV. Furthermore, the authority of such authentic writing has two aspects: one rests on the substance of
the matter with which it deals (in rebus ipsis de quibus id agitur), and concerns the people to whom the
writing is directed; the other concerns the word itself and the writing and applies to the copies and
translations made from it, and receives all its authority (ius) from the original, so that it should be
compared to that authentic writing and corrected if there is any difference. The first kind of authority
(authoritas) may be greater or less, depending on the authority of him by whom the writing was issued, and whether he has more or less authority (imperium) over the people to whom he addresses it. With the
Holy Scripture, authority is found to the greatest degree, such as cannot reside in any other writing, since
we ought simply to obey God, and be obedient to everything which he has, in his most holy authentic
written Word, required either to be believed or to be done, on account of that supreme authority which he
holds over mankind, as over all creation, and that supreme truth and wisdom which reside in him. But the
second kind of authority consists in this, that faithful and accurate copies, not less than autographs, are
norms for all other copies of his writing 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 “authentic,” and must be
rejected as false and corrupted, and there is no other reason for this rejection except the discrepancy. We
wrote above, in question 4, about the first kind of authority. Here we discuss the second, which is found
in the authentic version (editio).
V. Finally, authenticity can be seen in two ways: materially, with regard to the teaching (res enunciata),
or formally, with regard to the words and the methods (modus enunciandi). It is not a question here of
the first–we do not deny this authenticity to the versions when they agree with the sources–but only of
the second, which belongs only to the sources.
VI. The reasons are (1) only the sources are inspired both in substance and in wording (II TIm. 3:16);
therefore only they can be authentic. For what men of God wrote they wrote guided by the Holy Spirit (II
Peter 1:21), who, lest they fall into error, determined (dictavit) not only the substance but also the words,
which cannot be said of any translation (versio). (2) They are the norm and rule by which all versions are
to be tested,- as the ectype must be referred to the archetype and a brook is recognized from its source.
The canon of Gratian based on Augustine reads: “That the trustworthiness of the old books be tested from
the Hebrew manuscripts; thus the -truth of the Greek of the new falls short of the norm.” Much is
presented by Jerome in this matter as he argues for the authority of the Hebrew text: see his letter 102
to Marcellus and letters to Vltalus, and to Sunias and Fretellas. (3) These texts (editiones) have been held
as authentic from the beginning, and were always so held by Jews and Christians, for many centuries
after Christ, and no reason can be given why they should now cease to be authentic. For the reasons that
have been suggested to support the concept of corruption not only assume what should be proved but
also have been refuted by us.
VII. (4) If the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New are not authentic, there is no
authentic version; no other has divine witness to its authenticity. If there is no authentic Word of God in
the church, there will be no end of strife, for there will be no assured rule of faith and conduct to which all
must agree, and Scripture will be like a wax nose, or a law of Lesbos interpreted in accordance with
private judgment. (5) Our adversaries admit that in some cases it is necessary to refer to the sources.
Bellarmine gives the following cases: (a) when there seems to be a copyist’s error in the Latin
manuscripts; (b) when there are variant readings, so that it is impossible to be sure which is right; (c)
when there is ambiguity either in the words or the content; (d) when the force and connotation of the[Latin] words are not explicit enough (De Verba Dei 2.11). This could not be valid unless the sources were
authentic. Arias Montanus, in his preface to the Bible, shows that errors in the versions cannot be
corrected except from the truth of the original language. Vives lays it down as certain and beyond doubt
that recourse must be had to the sources. Salmeron, Bonfrerius, Masius, Muisius, Jansen and his
followers, and others who presently appeal to the sources have the same conviction.
VIII. The variant readings that occur in Scripture do not detract from its authenticity, because they are
easily recognized and understood, partly by the context (cohaerentia textus), and partly by collation of
the better manuscripts; many are of such nature that, although they differ, yet they agree in meaning
(licet diversae non male tamen eidem textui conveniant).
IX. Although a number of controversies have arisen from the Hebrew and Greek sources, it does not
follow that they cannot be authentic, because if they were not, there would be no authentic version of the Bible whatsoever to which appeal could be made; there is no language which would not offer much
opportunity for argumentative disputation. Moreover, [controversy] is not the fault of the sources but of
those who abuse the sources, either not understanding them or twisting them to their own opinions, and
stubbornly sticking to the same.
X. 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), which, although it is lacking in the Syriac, is found
in all the Greek manuscripts. Not the saying in I John 5:7, although formerly some called it into question,
and heretics do so today. All the Greek witnesses (exemplaria) have it, as Sixtus Senensis recognizes:
“The words always were of unquestioned truth, and are read in all Greek manuscripts from the time of the
apostles themselves.” 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 isclearly necessary to complete the account of
Christ’s resurrection.
XI. It is useless for our adversaries to use the newness of the vowel points in the Hebrew manuscripts as
a means of overcoming their authenticity, as if the points were merely a human innovation made by the
Masoretes, depending therefore not on divine and infallible authority, but on human, and therefore
subject to change by human decision, without risk, so that the meaning of the text remains forever
uncertain and ambiguous. They can be answered in a number of ways. (1) Bellarmine will give this reply
on our behalf: “The errors which arise on account of the addition of the points do not affect truth, because
the points have been added externally, and do not change the text” (De Verba Dei 2.2). (2) On this
hypothesis, not only does assurance concerning the original text leave us, but also assurance concerning
the Vulgate, which was prepared from that source, unless it can be shown that the first author of that
version, whether Jerome or somebody else, received directly from the Spirit the necessary revelation
concerning the vowels, which otherwise surely came from the tradition of the Jews. If that was uncertain,
all the authority of the sacred text totters.
XII. (3) Even if the points were added at a late date, as these who date their origin from the Masoretes of
Tiberias claim, it does not follow that they are merely a human device, depending only on human
judgment, which indeed, if it be assumed, considerably weakens the authority of the Hebrew manuscript.
For the pointing, in the opinion of those who hold this hypothesis, is not supposed to have been done
according to the judgment of the rabbis, but according to the analogy of Scripture, the nature (genius) of
the sacred language, and the meaning that had long been accepted by the Jews, so that even if the points
were not, as on this hypothesis, part of the original with regard to their shape, it cannot be denied that
they always were part of it with regard to sound and value, or power. Otherwise, since vowels are the
souls of consonants, the text would always have been ambiguous; indeed no clear meaning of the word
would be possible unless [the vowels] were as old as the consonants, as Prideaux in his twelfth lecture on
the antiquity of the points soundly observes: “That the points and accents were part of the original in
respect to sound and value no one denies: [the question] only concerns the marks and characters.” And
again, “the vowels were as old as the consonants with regard to underlying quality (vis) and sound,
although the dots and marks which are now employed had not then appeared.” Indeed it is hardly
possible to doubt that the vowels, if not with the same marks that are now written, were nevertheless
indicated by some marks in place of the points, in order that the sure and unchanging message (sensus)
of the Holy Spirit, which otherwise, depending merely on human learning and memory, could easily have
been forgotten, or corrupted, might be retained. [This could have been done,] as some suppose, by the
letters aleph, waw, andyodh, which are therefore called “the mothers of speech.” Such is the opinion of
the learned [Brian] Walton, who says, “By usage and the tradition of the elders, the true reading and
pronounciation had been preserved by means of the three letters aleph, waw, andyodh which are called
mothers of speech and which served in place of vowels before the introduction of the points”
(Prolegomena to the [London] Polyglot 7).
XIII. (4) Our adversaries arbitrarily assume what requires proof, that points are a modem and human
addition, a conclusion with which a great many Jews, notably Eli Levi, who lived a century ago, disagreed,
in which they were followed by many highly regarded philologists (grammatici) and theologians, both
Protestant and Catholic–Junius, Illyricus, Reuchlin, Munster, Cevalerius, Pagninus, M. Marinus, Polanus,
Deodatus, Broughton, Muisius, Taylor, Booth, Lightfoot, and most theologians since them. The whole case
seems to have been settled by the Buxtorfs, father and son, the first in his Tiberias, the second in that
most thorough work with which he refuted Arcanum punctationis revelatum. It would not be difficult to
support this position by a number of considerations, if we should now turn our attention to it, but since
the question is one of philology rather than of theology we do not care to make it our battle. It is enough
to have it understood that to us the teaching that regards the points as of divine origin has always
seemed truer and safer, for the support of the authenticity of the original text whole and complete against
heretics, and the establishing of a sure and changeless principle of faith, whether [the points] come from
Moses or from Ezra, the leader of the Great Synagogue, and so it is useless for our adversaries to seek to
question the authority of the Hebrew manuscripts on the ground of the newness of the points.
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