The Idolatry & Atheism
Restoration Textual Criticism
The current low view of Scripture held by those who contend for Restorationist Textual Criticism, was at one time considered by men such as John Owen to be both idolatrous and bordering on atheism. RTC, which originated with the Roman Catholic priest Richard Simon, was recognized by such men as a direct attack on the foundation of Protestantism: Sola Scriptura. What strange times we live in when those who claim to be children of the Reformation support and defend a practice that was forged to destroy the Reformation.
Below are some quotes from John Owen on his view of Scripture, variants, Greek manuscripts, et al.
Let it be remembered that the vulgar copy we use was the public possession of many generations, – that upon the invention of printing it was in actual authority throughout the world with them that used and understood that language, as far as any thing appears to the contrary; let that, then, pass for the standard, which is confessedly its right and due, and we shall, God assisting, quickly see how little reason there is to pretend such varieties of readings as we are now surprised withal. (The Church & The Bible, p.366)
This “vulgar copy” he mentions is the Textus Receptus. Owen sees the TR as the canonical textual standard by which we are to judge all other manuscripts. This would include Codex Vaticanus, which the Reformers rejected as corrupt, along with Codex Sinaiticus and the papyri. This is the exact opposite of the current trend of dismissing the providentially preserved text in favor of texts that God did not providentially preserve.
Owen states his purpose in his treatise as defending “the purity of the present original copies of the Scripture, or rather copies in the original languages, which the church of God doth now and hath for many ages enjoyed as her chiefest treasure; whereby it may more fully appear what it is we plead for and defend against the insinuations and pretences above mentioned.” (Ibid p. 353)
One major reason for the current low view of Scripture popular among Reformed Christians is the rejection of the Reformed view of preservation called Providential Preservation along with a belief that Scripture can be treated like any book of the ancient world.
I have never said in our debates that we are absolutely certain of the wording of the text of the New Testament. So, I would agree with him that “we really don’t have any way to know for sure” . . . . He is right that classical scholars do not ‘know exactly’ what these classical authors wrote. This is what I have said regarding the New Testament, too! We may have a high level of confidence, but it never rises to the point where we know exactly with absolute confidence what the text said. – Dan Wallace
First, the doctrine of preservation was not a doctrine of the ancient church. In fact, it was not stated in any creed until the seventeenth century (in the Westminster Confession of 1646). The recent arrival of such a doctrine, of course, does not necessarily argue against it—but neither does its youthfulness argue for it. Perhaps what needs to be explored more fully is precisely what the framers of the Westminster Confession and the Helvetic Consensus Formula (in 1675) really meant by providential preservation.
Second, the major scriptural texts alleged to support the doctrine of preservation need to be reexamined in a new light. I am aware of only one substantial articulation of the biblical basis for this doctrine by a majority text advocate. In Donald Brake’s essay, “The Preservation of the Scriptures,” five major passages are adduced as proof that preservation refers to the written Word of God: Ps. 119:89, Isa. 40:8, Matt. 5:17–18, John 10:35, and 1 Pet. 1:23–25.73 One of the fundamental problems with the use of these passages is that merely because “God’s Word” is mentioned in them it is assumed that the written, canonical, revelation of God is meant.74 But 1 Pet. 1:23–25, for example, in quoting Isa. 40:8, uses ῥῆμα (not λόγος)—a term which typically refers to the spoken word.75 Brake’s interpretation of Ps. 119:89 (“For ever, O Lord, your word is settled in heaven”) is, to put it mildly, improbable: “The Word which is settled in heaven was placed there by a deliberate and purposeful act of God Himself.”76 It seems that a better interpretation of all these texts is that they are statements concerning either divine ethical principles (i.e., moral laws which cannot be violated without some kind of consequences) or the promise of fulfilled prophecy.77 The assumptions that most evangelicals make about the doctrine of preservation need to be scrutinized in light of this exegetical construct.
Third, if the doctrine of the preservation of scripture has neither ancient historical roots, nor any direct biblical basis, what can we legitimately say about the text of the New Testament? My own preference is to speak of God’s providential care of the text as can be seen throughout church history, without elevating such to the level of doctrine. If this makes us theologically uncomfortable, it should at the same time make us at ease historically, for the NT is the most remarkably preserved text of the ancient world—both in terms of the quantity of manuscripts and in their temporal proximity to the originals. Not only this, but the fact that no major doctrine is affected by any viable textual variant surely speaks of God’s providential care of the text. Just because there is no verse to prove this does not make it any less true.78 – Dan Wallace
But let us look again at what John Owen says:
It can, then, with no color of probability be asserted (which yet I find some learned men too free in granting), namely, that there hath the same fate attended the Scripture in its transcription as hath done other books. Let me say without offense, this imagination, asserted on deliberation, seems to me to border on atheism. Surely the promise of God for the preservation of his word, with his love and care of his church, of whose faith and obedience that word of his is the only rule, requires other thoughts at our hands.
Thirdly, We add, that the whole Scripture, entire as given out from God, without any loss, is preserved in the copies of the originals yet remaining; what varieties there are among the copies themselves shall be afterward declared. In them all, we say, is every letter and tittle of the word. These copies, we say, are the rule, standard, and touchstone of all translations, ancient or modern, by which they are in all things to be examined, tried, corrected, amended; and themselves only by themselves. Translations contain the word of God, and are the word of God, perfectly or imperfectly, according as they express the words, sense, and meaning of those originals. To advance any, all translations concurring, into an equality with the originals, — so to set them by it as to set them up with it on even terms, — much more to propose and use them as means of castigating, amending, altering any thing in them, gathering various lections by them, is to set up an altar of our own by the altar of God, and to make equal the wisdom, care, skill, and diligence of men, with the wisdom, care, and providence of God himself. It is a foolish conjecture of Morinus, from some words of Epiphanius, that Origen in his Octapla placed the translation of the LXX. in the midst, to be the rule of all the rest, even of the Hebrew itself, that was to be regulated and amended by it: “Media igitur omnium catholica editio collocata erat, ut ad cam Hebraea caeteraeque editiones exigerentur et emendarentur,” Exercit. lib. 1, cap. 3, p. 15. The truth is, he placed the Hebrew, in Hebrew characters, in the first place, as the rule and standard of all the rest; the same in Greek characters in the next place; then that of Aquila; then that of Symmachus; after which, in the fifth place, followed that of the LXX., mixed with that of Theodotion. (The Church & The Bible, p.357)
John Owen not only denies the view that Scripture is like any other book of the ancient world in how it has come down to us and that it has been corrupted, he affirms the doctrine of Providential Preservation as a refutation to both. John Owen judges that the work of men like Dr. Dan Wallace “is to set up an altar of our own by the altar of God, and to make equal the wisdom, care, skill, and diligence of men, with the wisdom, care, and providence of God himself.”
Furthermore, he states that such a view of Scripture is bordering on atheism. Let that sink for a moment. The view that Scripture’s transmission through history has been similar to that of other books and that it has been corrupted is said to border on atheism. That’s how far modern Reformed Christendom has fallen in its view of Scripture.
Owen appeals to the doctrine of Providential Preservation to refute those who seek to undermine Sola Scriptura by claiming that Scripture has been corrupted over time:
The sum of what I am pleading for, as to the particular head to be vindicated, is, That as the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament were immediately and entirely given out by God himself, his mind being in them represented unto us without the least interveniency of such mediums and ways as were capable of giving change or alteration to the least iota or syllable; so, by his good and merciful providential dispensation, in his love to his word and church, his whole word, as first given out by him, is preserved unto us entire in the original languages; where, shining in its own beauty and lustre (as also in all translations, so far as they faithfully represent the originals), it manifests and evidences unto the consciences of men, without other foreign help or assistance, its divine original and authority. (The Church & The Bible, p.349-50)
Ending where we began:
I am not, then, upon the whole matter, out of hopes but that, upon a diligent review of all these various lections, they may be reduced to a less offensive and less formidable number. Let it be remembered that the vulgar copy we use was the public possession of many generations, — that upon the invention of printing it was in actual authority throughout the world with them that used and understood that language, as far as any thing appears to the contrary; let that, then, pass for the standard, which is confessedly its right and due, and we shall, God assisting, quickly see how little reason there is to pretend such varieties of readings as we are now surprised withal. (The Church & The Bible, p.366)