John Owen on Providential Preservation

In John Owen, Preservationist Textual Criticism by Chris ThomasLeave a Comment

Below, John Owen provides 12 arguments in support of the Doctrine of Providential Preservation:

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 various arguments giving evidence to this truth that might be produced are too many for me now to insist upon, and would take up more room than is allotted to the whole discourse, should I handle them at large, and according to the merit of this cause.

  1. The providence of God in taking care of his word, which he hath magnified above all his name, as the most glorious product of his wisdom and goodness, his great concernment in this word answering his promise to this purpose;
  2. The religious care of the church (I speak not of the Romish synagogue) to whom these oracles of God were committed;
  3. The care of the first writers in giving out authentic copies of what they had received from God unto many, which might be rules to the first transcribers;
  4. The multiplying copies to such a number that it was impossible any should corrupt them all, wilfully or by negligence;
  5. The preservation of the authentic copies, first in the Jewish synagogues, then in the Christian assemblies, with reverence and diligence;
  6. The daily reading and studying of the word by all sorts of persons, ever since its first writing, rendering every alteration liable to immediate observation and discovery, and that all over the world; with,
  7. The consideration of the many millions that looked on every letter and tittle in this book as their inheritance, which for the whole world they would not be deprived of: and in particular, for the Old Testament (now most questioned),
  8. The care of Ezra and his companions, the men of the great synagogue, in restoring the Scripture to its purity when it had met with the greatest trial that it ever underwent in this world, considering the paucity of the copies then extant;
  9. The care of the Masoretes from his days and downward, to keep perfect and give an account of every syllable in the Scripture, — of which see Buxtorfius, Com. Mas.;
  10. The constant consent of all copies in the world, so that, as sundry learned men have observed, there is not in the whole Mishna, Gemara, or either Talmud, any one place of Scripture found otherwise read than as it is now in our copies;
  11. The security we have that no mistakes were voluntarily or negligently brought into the text before the coming of our Savior, who was to declare all things, in that he not once reproves the Jews on that account, when yet for their false glosses on the word he spares them not;
  12. Afterward the watchfulness which the two nations of Jews and Christians had always one upon another, — with sundry things of the like importance, might to this purpose be insisted on. But of these things I shall speak again, if occasion be offered.

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