Of the Divine Original – Introduction Part 1

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





  Ερευνατε τας γραφας— John 5:39.

OXFORD 1659.




THE reason of my inscribing the ensuing pleas for the authority, purity, and perfection of the Scripture, against the pretences of some to the contrary in these days, unto you, is, because some of you value and study the Scripture as much as any I know; and it is the earnest desire of my heart that all of you would so do. Now, whereas two things offer themselves unto me, to discourse with you by the way of preface, — namely, the commendation of the Scripture and an exhortation to the study of it, on the one hand; and a discovery of the reproach that is cast upon it, with the various ways and means that are used by some for the lessening and depressing of its authority and excellency, on the other, — the former being to good purpose by one or other almost every day performed, I shall insist at present on the latter only: which also is more suited to discover my aim and intention in the ensuing discourses. Now, herein, as I shall, it may be, seem to exceed that proportion which is due unto a preface to such short discourses as these following, yet I know I shall be more brief than the nature of so great a matter as that proposed to consideration doth require; and, therefore, ανευ προοιμιων και παθων , I shall fall upon the subject that now lies before me.

Many there have been, and are, who, through the craft of Satan and the prejudice of their own hearts, lying under the power of corrupt and carnal interest, have engaged themselves to decry and disparage that excellency of the Scripture which is proper and peculiar unto it. The several sorts of them are too many particularly to be considered; I shall only pass through them in general, and fix upon such instances by the way as may give evidence to the things insisted on.

Those who in this business are first to be called to an account — whose filth and abominations, given out in gross, others have but parcelled among themselves — are they of the synagogue of Rome. These pretend themselves to be the only keepers and preservers of the Word of God in the world, the only “pillar and ground of truth.” Let us, then, a little consider, in the first place, how it hath discharged this trust; for it is but equal that men should be called to an account upon their own principles; and those who, supposing themselves to have a trust reposed in them, do manifest a treacherous mind, would not be one whit better if they had so indeed.

What, then, have these men done in the discharge of their pretended trust? nay, what hath that synagogue left unattempted? yea, what hath it left unfinished that may be needful to convince it of perfidiousness? that says the Scripture was committed to it alone; and would if it were able, deprive all others of the possession of it, or of their lives. What Scripture, then, was this, or when was this deed of trust made unto them? The oracles of God, they tell us, committed to the Jews under the Old Testament, and all the writings of the New; and that this was done from the first foundation of the church by Peter, and so on to the finishing of the whole canon.

What now have they not done, in adding, detracting, corrupting, forging, aspersing those Scriptures, to falsify their pretended trust? They add more books to them, never indited by the Holy Ghost, as remote from being θεοπνευστα, ως ουπανος εστ απο γαιης : so denying the selfevidencing power of that Word, which is truly εζ ουρανου, by mixing it with things εζ ανθρωπων of a human rise and spring; manifesting themselves to have lost the Spirit of discerning, promised with the Word to abide with the true church of God for ever. ( Isaiah 59:21.) They have taken from its fullness and perfection, its sufficiency and excellency, by their Masora, their oral law, or verbum αγραφον, their unknown, endless, bottomless, boundless treasure of traditions, — that πανσοφον φαρμακον for all their abominations. The Scripture itself (as they say, committed to them) they plead, to their eternal shame, to be in the original languages corrupted, vitiated, interpolated; so that it is no stable rule to guide us throughout in the knowledge of the will of God. The Jews, they say, did it whilst they were busy in burning of Christians. Therefore, in the room of the originals, they have enthroned a translation that was never committed to them, — that came into the world they know neither how, nor when, nor by whom; so that one (Erasmus) says of its author, “Si quis percontetur Gallus fuerit an Sarmata, Judaeus an Christianus, vir an mulier, nihil habituri sint ejus patroni quod expedite respondeant.” All this 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 farther progress?

Was it ever heard of, from the foundation of the world, that men should take so much pains as these men have done to prove themselves faithless and treacherous in a trust committed to them? Is not this the sum and substance of volumes that have even filled the world: “The Word of God was committed to us alone, and no others: under our keeping it is corrupted, depraved, vitiated: the copies delivered unto us we have rejected, and taken up one of our own choice: nor let any complain of us; — it was in our power to do worse. This sacred depositum had no κριτηρια, whereby it might be known to be the Word of God; but it is upon our credit alone that it passes in the world or is believed! We have added to it many books upon our own judgment; and yet think it not sufficient for the guidance of men in the worship of God, and the obedience they owe unto him?” Yet do they blush? are they ashamed as a thief when he is taken? nay, do they not boast themselves in their iniquity, and say they are sold to work all these abominations? The time is coming, yea, it is at hand, wherein it shall repent them for ever that they have lifted up themselves against this sacred grant of the wisdom, care, love, and goodness of God!

Sundry other branches there are of the abominations of these men besides those enumerated, all which may be reduced to these three corrupt and bloody fountains: —

1. That the Scripture at best, as given out from God, and as it is to us continued, was and is but a partial revelation of the will of God, the other part of it (which how vast and extensive it is no man knows; — for the Jews have given us their δευτερωσεις in their Mishna and Gemara; these kept them locked up in the breast or chair of their holy father) being reserved in their magazine of traditions.

2. That the Scripture is not able to evince or manifest itself to be the Word of God, so as to enjoy and exercise any authority in his name over the souls and consciences of men, without an accession of testimony from that combination of politic, worldly-minded men that call themselves the Church of Rome.

3. 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 touch-stone of all translations.

Now, concerning these things, you will find somewhat offered unto your consideration in the ensuing discourses; wherein I hope, without any great altercation or disputes, to lay down such principles of truth as that their idol imaginations will be found cast to the ground before the sacred ark of the Word of God, and to lie naked without wisdom or power.

It is concerning the last of these only that at present I shall deliver my thoughts unto you; and that because we begin to have a new concernment therein, wherewith I shall afterward acquaint you. Of all the inventions of Satan to draw off the minds of men from the Word of God, this of decrying the authority of the originals seems to me the most pernicious. At the beginning of the Reformation, before the council of Trent, the Papists did but faintly, and not without some blushing, defend their Vulgar Latin translation. Some openly preferred the original before it, as Cajetan, Erasmus, Vives, and others; yea, and after the council also, the same was done by Andradius, Ferrarius, Arias Montanus, Masius, and others. For those who understood nothing but Latin amongst them, and scarcely that, whose ignorance was provided for in the council, I suppose it will not be thought meet that in this case we should make any account of them. But the state of things is now altered in the world, and the iniquity which first wrought in a mystery, being now discovered casts off its vizard and grows held: “Nihil est audacius istis deprensis.” At first the design was managed in private writings. Melchior Canus, Gulielmus Lindanus, Bellarminus, Gregorius de Valentia, Leo Castrius, Huntlaeus, Hanstelius, with innumerable others, some on one account, some on another, have pleaded that the originals were corrupted, — some of them with more impudence than others. Leo Castrius, as Pineda observes, raves almost wherever he falls on the mention of the Hebrew text. “Sed is est author,’ saith he, “dum in hujusmodi Ebraizationes incidit, vix sui compos; et bono licet zelo, tamen vel ignoratione rerum quarundam, vel vehementiori aliqua affectione, extra fines veritatis et modestiae rapitur: et si ex hujusmodi tantum unguibus Leonem ilium estimaremus, non etiam ex aliis praeclaris conatibus, aut murem aut vulpem censeremus, aut canem aut quiddam aliud ignobilius.”

Yea, Morinus, who seems to be ashamed of nothing, yet shrinks a little at this man’s impudence and folly. “Apologetici libros,’ saith he, “sex bene longos scripsit, quibus nihil quam Judaeorum voluntarias et malignas depravationes demonstrare nititur; zelo sane pio scripsit Castrius, sed libris Hebraicis ad tantum opus quod moliebatur parum erat instructus.” In the steps of this Castrius walks Huntley, a subtle Jesuit, who, in the treatise above cited, ascribes the corruption of the Hebrew Bible to the good providence of God, for the honor of the Vulgar Latin! But these, with their companions, have had their mouths stopped by Reynolds, Whitaker, Junius, Lubbertus, Rivetus, Chamierus, Gerardus, Ameslus, Glassius, Alstedius, Amama, and others: so that a man would have thought this fire put to the house of God had been sufficiently quenched. But after all the endeavors hitherto used, in the days wherein we live it 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 fiery flying serpent. It is now but saying, “The ancient Hebrew letters are changed from the Samaritan to the Chaldean; the points or vowels, and accents, are but lately invented, of no authority; without their guidance and direction nothing is certain in the knowledge of that tongue; all that we know of it comes from the translation of the LXX.; the Jews have corrupted the Old Testament; there are innumerable various lections both of the Old and New; there are other copies differing from those we now enjoy that are utterly lost.” So that upon the matter there is nothing left unto men but to choose whether they will be Papists or Atheists.

Here that most stupendous fabric that was ever raised by ink and paper, termed well by a learned man, “Magnificentissimum illud, quod post homines natos in lucern prodiit unquam, opus biblicum,” — I mean the Parisian Bibles, — is prefaced by a discourse of its erector, Michael Le Jay, wherein he 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: “Pro certo igitur atque indubitato apud nos esse debet, vulgatam editionem, quae communi catholicae ecclesiae lingua, circumfertur verum esse et genuinum sacrae Scripturae fontem; hanc consulendam ubique, inde fidei dogmata repetenda; ex quo insuper consentaneum est, vera an certissima fidei Christianae autographa in Spiritu ecclesiae residere, neque ab ejus hostium manibus repetenda. “Et certe quamcunque pietatis speciem praetexunt, non religione quapiam, ant sincera in Scripturam saeram veneratione aguntur, duns eam unicam, quasi ineluctabilem salutis regulam, usurpant, neque spiritus evangelici veritatem investitare decreverunt; dum, ad autographa curiosius recurrentes, ex quibus, prater perplexa quaedam vestigia, vix aliquid superest, vel capitales fidei hostes, vel eos qui ecclesiae minus faverint, de contextuum interpretatione ac germano sacrorum codicum sensu consulunt. Scilicet non alia est opportunior via a regio illius itinere secedendi, neque in privatarum opinionum placitis blandius possunt acquiescere, quas velut unicas doctrinae suae regulas sectari plerumque censuerunt. Apage caecam animorum libidinem! Non jam in institutionem nostram subsistit litera, sed ecclesiae spiritus; neque e sacris codicibus hauriendum quidquam, nisi quod ilia communicatum esse nobiscum voluerit.” So he, or Morinus in his name. And if this be indeed the true state of things, I suppose he will very hardly convince men of the least usefulness of this great work and undertaking. To usher those Bibles into the world, Morinus puts Forth his Exercitations, entitled, “Of the Sincerity of the Hebrew and Greek Texts” — indeed to prove them corrupt and useless.

He is now the man amongst them that undertakes to defend this cause; in whose writings whether there be more of Pyrgopolynices or Rabshakeh is uncertain. But dogs that bark loud seldom bite deep; nor do I think many ages have produced a man of more confidence and less judgment. A prudent reader cannot but nauseate at all his leaves, and the man is well laid open by a learned person of his own party. By the way, I cannot but observe, that in the height of his boasting he falls upon his mother church, and embraces her to death. Exercit. 1, cap. 1, p. 11, that he might vaunt himself to be the first and only discoverer of corruptions in the original of the Old Testament, with the causes of them, he falls into a profound contemplation of the guidance of his church, which being ignorant of any such cause of rejecting the originals as he hath now informed her of, yet continued to reject them, and prefer the Vulgar Latin before them. “Hic admirare lector,” saith he, “Dei Spiritum eccelesiae praesentissimum, illam per obscura, perplexa, et invia quaeque, inoffenso pede agentem: quanquam incognita esset Rabbinorum supina negligentia, pertentosa ignorantia, foedaque librorum Judaicorum corruptela, et Haeretici contraria his magna verborum pompa audacter jactarent; adduci tamen non potuit ecclesia, ut versio, qua sola per mille fere et centum annos usa fuerit, ad normam et amussim Hebraei textus iterum recuderetur.” But is it so indeed, that their church receives its guidance in a stupid, brutish manner, so as to be fixed obstinately on conclusions without the least acquaintance with the promises? It seems she loved not the originals, but she knew not why; only she was obstinate in this, that she loved them not! If this be the state with their church, that when she hath neither Scripture, nor tradition, nor reason, nor new revelation, she is guided she knows not how, as Socrates was by his demon, or by a secret and inexpressible species of pertinacity and stubbornness falling upon her imagination, I suppose it will be in vain to contend with her any longer.

Leave a Comment