Of the Divine Original – Introduction Part 2

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


For my own part, I must confess that I shall as soon believe a poor, deluded, fanatical Quaker, pretending to be guided by an infallible Spirit, as their pope with his whole conclave of cardinals, upon the terms here laid down by Morinus.

But, to let these men pass for a season, had this leprosy kept itself within that house which is thoroughly infected, it had been of less importance; it is but a further preparation of it for the fire. But it is now broken forth among Protestants also; with what designs, to what end or purpose, I know not, — Θεος οιδε, “God Knows” and the day will manifest.” To declare at large how this is come about, “longa esset historia,” — too long for me to dwell upon; some heads of things I shall briefly touch at. It is known to all that the reformation of religion and restoration of good learning were begun and carried on at the same time, and mostly by the same persons. There was, indeed, a triumvirate among the Papists of men excellently skilled in rabbinical learning before the Reformation.

Raymundus Martinus, Porchetus de Sylvaticis, and Petrus Galatinus, are the men; of the which the last dedicated his book to Maximilian the emperor, after that Zuinglius and Luther had begun to preach. Upon the matter, these three are but one: great are the disputes whether Galatinus stole his book from Raymundus or Porchetius, saith Morinus, and calls his work “Plagium portentosum, cui vix simile unquam factum est.” (Exerc. 1, cap. 2.) From Raymundus, saith Scaliget (Epist. 2:41), mistaking Raymundus Martinus for Raymundus Sebon, but giving the first tidings to the world of that book. From Raymundus also saith Josephus de Voysin, in his prolegomena to the Pugio Fidei; and from him Hornbeck, in his proleg, ad Jud. I shall not interpose in this matter. The method of Gaiatinus and his style are peculiar to him, but the coincidences of his quotations too many to be ascribed to common accident. That Porchetus took his “Victoria adversus impios Judaeos” for the most part from Raymundus, he himself confesseth in his preface. However, certain it is Galatinus had no small opinion of his own skill, and, therefore, — according to the usual way of men who have attained, as they think, to some eminency in any one kind of learning, laying more weight upon it than it is able to bear, — he boldly affirms that the original of the Scripture is corrupted, and not to be restored but by the Talmud; in which one concession he more injures the cause he pleads for against the Jews than he advantageth it by all his books beside. Of his גלי יזייא of Rabbi Hakkadosh there is no more news as yet in the world than what he is pleased to acquaint us withal. At the same time, Erasmus, Reuchlin, Vives, Xantes Pagninus, and others, moved effectually for the restoration of the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. But the work principally prospered in the hands of the first reformers, as they were all of them generally skilled in the Hebrew, — some of them, as Capito, Bibliander, Fagius, Munster, to that height and usefulness that they may well be reckoned as the fathers and patriarchs of that learning. At that time lived Elias Levita, the most learned of the Jews of that age, whose grammatical writings were of huge importance in the studying of that tongue. This man, as he was acquainted with many of the first reformers, so he lived particularly with Paulus Fagius, as I have elsewhere declared. Now, in one book which in those days he published, called “Masoreth Hammasoreth,” he broached a new opinion, not much heard of, at least not at all received, among the Jews, nor, for aught that yet appears, once mentioned by Christians before, namely, that the points or vowels, and accents, used in the Hebrew Bible were invented by some critical Jew or Masorete, living at Tiberias about five or six hundred years after Christ. No doubt the man’s aim was to reduce the world of Christians to a dependence on the ancient Rabbins for the whole sense of the Scripture. “Hinc prima mali labes.” Here lies the first breach in this matter. The fraud being not discovered, and this opinion being broached and confirmed by the great and almost only master of the language of that age, some even of the first reformers embraced his fancy.

Perhaps Zuinglius had spoken to it before; justly I know not. After a while, the poison of this error beginning to operate, the Papists, waiting on the mouths of the reformers, like the servants of Benhadad on Ahab, to catch at every word that might fall from them to their advantage, began to make use of it. Hence Cochlaeus (lib. de Auth. Scripturae, cap. 5.) applauds Luther for saying the Jews had corrupted the Bible with points and distinctions; as well he might, for nothing could be spoken more to the advantage of his cause against him. Wherefore other learned men began to give opposition to this error; so did Munster, Junius, and others, as will be shown in the ensuing discourse. Thus this matter rested for a season. The study of the Hebrew tongue and learning being carried on, it fell at length on him who undoubtedly hath done more real service for the promotion of it than any one man whatever, Jew or Christian; I mean Buxtorfius the elder. His Thesaurus Grammaticus, his Tiberias, or Commentarius Masorethicus, his Lexicons and Concordances, and many other treatises, whereof some are not yet published, evince this to all the world. Even Morinus saith that he is the only man among Christians that ever thoroughly understood the Masora; and Simeon de Muis acknowledgeth his profiting by him and learning from him. Other Jews who undertake to be teachers know nothing but what they learn of him. To omit the testimony of all sorts of learned men, giving him the pre-eminence in this learning, it may suffice that his works praise him. Now, this man, in his Tiberias, or Commentarius Masorethicus, printed with the great Rabbinical Bible of his own correct setting forth at Basil, anno 1620, considereth at large this whole matter of the points, and discovereth the vanity of Elias’ pretension about the Tiberian Masoretes. But we must not, it seems, rest here; within a few years after, to make way for another design, which then he had conceived, Ludovieus Cappellus published a discourse in the defense of the opinion of Elias (at least so far as concerned the rise of the punctuation), under the title of “Arcanum Punctationis Revelatum.” The book was published by Erpenius, without the name of the author. But the person was sufficiently known; and Rivetus not long after took notice of him, and saith he was his friend, but concealed his name. (Isag. ad Scrip. 1, cap. 8.) This new attempt immediately pleaseth some. Among others, our learned professor, Dr Prideaux, reads a public lecture, on the vespers of our Comitia, on that subject; wherein, though he prefaceth his discourse with an observation of the advantage the Papists make of that opinion of the novelty of the points, and the danger of it, yet upon the matter he falls in wholly with Cappellus, though he names him not. Among the large encomiums of himself and his work, printed by Cappellus in the close of his “Critica Sacra,” there are two letters from one Mr Eyre here in England; in one whereof he tells him that without doubt the Doctor read on that subject by the help of his book, as indeed he useth his arguments and quotes his treatise, under the name of “Sud Hanisebhoth Hanaegalah.” But that, I say, which seems to me most admirable in the Doctor’s discourse is, that whereas he had prefaced it with the weight of the controversy he had in hand, by the advantage the Papists make of the opinion of the novelty of the points, citing their words to that purpose, himself in the body of his Exercitations falls in with them, and speaks the very things which he seemed before to have blamed. And by this means this opinion, tending so greatly to the disparagement of the authority of the originals, is crept in amongst Protestants also. Of the stop put unto its progress by the full and learned answer of Buxtorfius the younger (who alone in this learning, in this age, seems to answer his fathers worth) unto Cappellus, in his discourse, “De Punctorum Yocalium Antiquitate,” I shall speak more afterward. However, it is not amiss fallen out that the masters of this new persuasion are not at all agreed among themselves. Cappellus would have it easy to understand the Hebrew text, and every word, though not absolutely by itself, yet as it lies in its contexture, though there were no points at all. Morinus would make the language altogether unintelligible on that account. The one saith that the points are a late invention of the Rabbins; and the other, that without them the understanding of the Hebrew is εκ των αδυνατων: though they look diverse ways, there is a firebrand between them. But we have this brand brought yet nearer to the church’s bread-corn in the Prolegomena to the Biblia Polyglotta, lately printed at London. The solemn espousal of this opinion of the Hebrew punctuation in that great work was one chief occasion of the second discourse, as you will find it at large declared in the entrance of it. I dare not mention the desperate consequences that attend this imagination, being affrighted, among other things, by a little treatise lately sent me (upon the occasion of a discourse on this subject) by my worthy and learned friend Dr Ward, entitled “Fides Divina;” wherein its author, whoever he be, from some principles of this nature, and unwary expressions of some learned men amongst us, labors to eject and east out as useless the whole Scripture or Word of God. I should have immediately returned an answer to that pestilent discourse, but that upon consideration I found all his objections obviated or answered in the ensuing treatises, which were then wholly finished. And this, as I said, was the first way whereby the poison of undervaluing the originals crept in among Protestants themselves.

Now, together with the knowledge of the tongues, the use of that knowledge in critical observations did also increase. The excellent use of this study and employment, with the fruits of it in the explanation of sundry difficulties, with many other advantages, cannot be easily expressed. But as the best things are apt to be most abused, so in particular it hath fallen out with this kind of learning and study.

Protestants here also have chiefly managed the business. Beza, Camerarius, Sealiger, Casauben, Drusius, Gomarus, Ussher, Grotius, Heinsius, Fuller, Dieu, Mede, Cameron, Glassius, Cappellus, Amama, with innumerable others, have excelled in this kind. But the mind of man being exceedingly vain. glorious, 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 criticizing the Scripture, I shall not now insist upon; and of what it might yet grow unto I have often heard the great Ussher expressing his fear. Of the success of Grotius in this way we have a solid account weekly in the lectures of our learned professor; which I hope he will in due time benefit the public withal. But it is only one or two things that my present design calls upon me to remark.

Among other ways that sundry men have fixed on to exercise their critical abilities, 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, Stephen, Beza, Arias Montanus, and some others. Some that came after them, finding this province possessed, and no other world of the like natureremaining for them to conquer, fixed upon another way, substituting to the service of their design as pernicious a principle as ever, I think, wasfixed 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 Polyglotte, as will afterward be shown and discussed. Now, this principle being once fixed, and a liberty of criticizing on the Scripture, yea, a necessity of it, thence evinced, it is inconceivable what springs of corrections and amendments rise up under their hands. Let me not be thought tedious if I recount some of them to you:

  1. It is known that there is a double consonancy in the Hebrew consonants among themselves — of some in figure that are unlike in sound , of some in sound that are unlike in figure . Of the first sort are b and k , g and n , y and w , w and z , z and w , d and r , µ and s , m and f , h and j , j and t , [ and x ,of the latter are k and q , a and [ , s and ç , w and b , x and z , Now, this is one principle of our new critics, that the scribes of the Bible were sometimes mistaken by the likeness of the letters in respect of figure, sometimes by their likeness in respect of sound, and so, remembering the words they wrote, oftentimes put one for another; so that whether they used their eyes or their memories, they failed on one hand or another: though the Jews deny any copy amongst them to be written but exactly by pattern, or that it is lawful for a man to write one word in a copy but by pattern, though he could remember the words of the wholeBible. Now, whereas the signification of every word is regulated by its radix, it often falls out that, in the formation and inflection of words, by reason of letters that are defective, there remains but one letter of the radix in them, at least that is pronounced. How frequent this is in thistongue, those who have very little skill in it may guess by only taking a view of Frobenius’ Bible, wherein the radical letters are printed in a distinct character from all the prefixes and affixes in their variations. Now, if a man hath a mind to criticize and mend the Bible, it is but taking his word or words that he will fix upon, and try what they win make by the commutation of the letters that are alike in figure and sound. Let him try what k will do in the place of b , or the contrary, — which as they are radical or as they are prefixed will sufficiently alter the sense; and so of all the rest mentioned. If by this means any new sense that is tolerable and pleaseth the critic doth emerge, it is but saying the scribe was mistaken in the likeness of the letters or in the affinity of the sound, and then it is no matter though all the copies in the world agree to the contrary, without the least variation. It is evident that this course hath stood Cappellus and Grotius in very good stead; and Simeon de Muis tells us a pretty story of himself to this purpose (Aesertio Verit. Heb.) Yea, this is the most eminent spring of the criticisms on the Old Testament that these times afford. A thousand instances might be given to this purpose.
  2. But in case this course fail, and no relief be afforded this way, then the transposition of letters offers its assistance. Those who know any thing of this language know what alteration in the sense of words may be made by such a way of procedure; frequently words of contrary senses, directly opposite, consist only of the same letters diversely placed. Every lexicon will supplymen with instances that need not to be here repeated.
  3. The points are taken into consideration; and here bold men may even satisfy their curiosity. That word or those three letters rbd are instanced by Jerome to this purpose. (Hom. 9:12.) As it may be pointed, it will afford eight several senses: rb;d; is verbum, and rb,d, is pestis ; as far distant from one another as life and death. Those letters in that order may be read with; , e and ; ; and ;; and…and… The Jews give instances how by this means men may destroy the world.
  4. But, Suppose that this groundproves barren also, it is but going to an old translation, the Septuagint, or Vulgar Latin, and where any word likes us, to consider what Hebrew word answers unto it, and if it discover an agreement in any one letter, in figure or sound, with the word in that text, then to say that so they read in that copy; yea, rather than fail, be the word as far different from what is read in the Bible as can be imagined, aver to yield the more convenient sense, and a various lection is found out.

And these are the chief heads and springs of the criticisms on the Old Testament, which, with so great a reputation of learning, men have boldly obtruded on us of late days. It is not imaginable what prejudice the sacred truth of the Scripture, preserved by the infinite love and care of God, hath already suffered hereby; and what it may further suffer, for my part I cannot but tremble to think. Lay but these two principles together — namely, that the points are a late invention of some Judaical Rabbins (on which account there is no reason in the world that we should be bound unto them), and that it is lawful to gather various lections by the help of translations, where there are no diversities in our present copies (which are owned in the Prolegomena to the Biblia Polyglotta), — and for my part I must needs cry out Dolearning, and are able to look through all the digladiations that are likely to ensue on these principles, I hope will rather take pains to instruct me, and such as I am, than be angry or offended with us that we are not so wise or learned as themselves. In the meantime, I desire those who are shaken in mind by any of the specious pretences of Cappellus and others, to consider the specimen given us of reconciling the difficulties that they lay as the ground of their conjectures, in the Miscellany Notes or Exercitations of the learned Mr Pococke, — as useful and learned a work as is extant in that kind, in so few sheets of paper. The dangerous and causeless attempts of men to rectify our present copies of the Bible, the reader may there also finddiscovered and confuted.

But we have not as yet done. There is a new invention of Cappellus greatly applauded amongst the men of these opinions. He tells us (Crit.

Sacr. lib. 6, cap. 10): “Planum est omnem quae hodie est in terrarum orbe linguae Hebraicae cognitionem servandam tandem esse et aseribendam Graecae tw~n , LXX. Sacrorum Bibliorum translationi.” This is greedily taken up by Morinus (as nothing could be spoken more to his purpose), who also tells us that the learned prefacer to these Biblia Polyglotta is of the same judgment. (Morin. Praefat. ad opusc. Haebr. Samarit.) Hereupon he informs us, that in the translation of the Pentateuch he went for the meaning of sundry words unto Jerome and the translation of the LXX. But it is not unknown to these learned persons that Jerome, whom one of them makes his rule, tells us over and over, that notwithstanding the translation of the LXX., he had his knowledge of the Hebrew tongue from the Hebrew itself, and the help of such Hebrews as he hired to his assistance. And [as] for Cappellus, is not that the Helena for which he contends, and in fact the only foundation of his sacred work of criticizing on the Scripture, that there was a succession of learned men of the Jews at Tiberias until a hundred years after Jerome, who invented the pointsof the Hebrew Bible, and that not in an arbitrary manner, but according to the tradition they had received from them who spoke that language in its purity? Shall these men be thought to have had the knowledge of the Hebrew tongue from the translation of the LXX.? Certainly they would not, then, have hated it so, as he informs us they did. But this thing is plainly ridiculous. The language gives us the knowledge of itself. Considering the helps that by Providence have been in all ages and at all times afforded thereunto, ever since the time wherein, Cappellus says, some knew it so well as to invent and affix the present punctuation, there hath been a succession of living or dead masters to further the knowledge of it. And this will not seem strange to them who have given us exact translations of the Persian and Ethiopic pieces of Scripture. In the a[pax lego>mena we are a little assisted by the LXX. The chiefest seeming help unto this tongue is from the Arabic.

And thus have I given you a brief account how, by the subtlety of Satan, there are principles crept in even amongst Protestants, undermining the authority of the “Hebrew verity,” as it was called of old, wherein Jerusalem hath justified Samaria, and cleared the Papists in their reproaching of the Word of God. Of the New Testament I shall speak particularly in the second discourse ensuing. Morinus, indeed, tells us (De Heb. et Graec. Tex. Sincerit. Exercit., 1, cap. 1, p. 5),” It is a jocular thing that the heretics, in their disputations, do grant that there are corruptions and various lections in the Greek and Latin copies of the Scripture, but deny it as to the Hebrew.” But why, I pray, is this so ridiculous? It is founded on no less stable bottom than this experience, that whereas we evidently find various lections in the Greek copies which we enjoy, and so grant that which ocular inspection evinces to be true, yet although men discover such virulent and bitter spirits against the Hebrew text as this Morinus doth, calling all men fools or knaves that contend for its purity, they are none of them able to show, out of any copies yet extant in the world, or that they can make appear ever to have been extant, that ever there were any such various lections in the originals of the Old Testament.

And is there any reason that we should be esteemed ridiculous, because, believing our own eyes, we will not also believe the testimony of some few men of no credit with us, asserting that for truth which we have abundant cause to believe to be utterly false? But of these men so far.

I thought, at the entrance of my discourse, to have also insisted on some other ways whereby Satan in these days assaults the sacred truth of the Word of God, in its authority, purity, integrity, or perfection, especially in the poor, deluded, fanatical souls amongst us, commonly called Quakers, for the instruction of the younger sort against whose abominations I have subjoined the theses in the close of the other treatises; but I am sensible how far I have already exceeded the bounds of a preface unto so small treatises as these ensuing, and therefore, giving a brief account of my undertaking in this cause of God and his Word, for the vindication of the authority and integrity of it, I shall put a close to this discourse.

It may be some of you have heard me professing my unwillingness to appear any more in the world this way. I have not, in some things, met with such pleasing entertainment as to encourage me unto it. When I have been for peace, others have made themselves ready for war; some of them, especially one of late, neither understanding me nor the things that he writes about, — but his mind for opposition was to be satisfied. This is the manner of not a few in their writings: they measure other men by their own ignorance, and what they know not themselves they think is hid to others also. Hence, when any thing presents itself new to their minds, as though they were the first that knew what they then first know, and which they have only an obscure glimpse of, they rest not until they have published it to their praise. Such are the discourses of that person, partly trivial, partly obviated and rendered utterly useless to his purpose by that treatise which he ventured weakly to oppose. I wish I could prevail with those whose interest compels them to choose rather to be ignorant than to be taught by me to let my books alone. Another, after two or three years’ consideration, in answer to a book of near a hundred and forty sheets of paper, returns a scoffing reply to so much of it as was written in a quarter of an hour. I am, therefore, still minded to abstain from such engagements. And I think I may say, if there were less writing by some, there would be more reading by others, at least to more purpose. Many books full of profound learning lie neglected, whilst men spend their time on trifles; and many things of great worth are suppressed by their authors, whilst things of no value are poured out one on the neck of another. One of yourselves I have often solicited for the publishing of some divinity lectures read at solemn times in the university; which (if I know aught) are, to say no more, worthy of public view. I yet hope a short time will answer my desire and expectation. Of my present undertaking there are three parts. The first is a subject that, haying preached on, I was by many urged to publish my thoughts upon it, judging it might be useful. I have answered their requests. What I have performed, through the grace of Christ, in the work undertaken, is left to the judgment of the godly, learned reader. The second concerns the Prolegomena and Appendix to the late Biblia Polyglotta. Of this I said often, “Ab alto quovis hec fieri mallem, quam a me, sed a me tamen potius quam a nemine.” The reasons of my engaging in that work are declared at large in the entrance of it. The theses in the close were drawn in by their affinity in subject to the other discourses; and, to complete the doctrine of the Scripture concerning the Scripture, I endeavored to comprise in them the whole truth about the Word of God, as to name and thing, opposed by the poor fanatical Quakers, as also to discover the principles they proceed upon in their confused opposition to that truth.

I have no more to add, but only begging I may have the continuance of your prayers and assistance in your several stations for the carrying on the work of our Lord and Master in this place committed unto us, that I may give in my account with joy and not with grief to Him that stands at the door, I commend you to the powerful word of His grace, and remain, your fellow-laborer and brother, in our dear Lord Jesus, J.O. From myStudy, September 22, 1658.

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