James Ussher Did Not Affirm Restorationist Textual Criticism

In Doctrine of Scripture, Preservationist Textual Criticism by Chris ThomasLeave a Comment

One of the growing trends among Restorationist Textual Criticism (RTC) advocates is to paint the Reformers as if they affirmed RTC simply because they engaged in manuscript collation.  I suspect this is in part because they are finally realizing that those of who hold to the Confessional View of Scripture are making a doctrinal argument.  Of course RTC advocates fail to understand that so were the Reformers when it came to the Providential Preservation of Scripture.  Peter Gurry is one example of this trend and we will look at his claim that the Reformers weren’t upholding the Textus Receptus & Bomberg Hebrew Bible when they were using the term “authentical” about the Scriptures made in:  James Ussher: Why Unsolved Variants Don’t Obscure the Faith (1649).  Later I will deal with another bit of fallacious reasoning he made in “The Appeal to the Autograph in Early Protestant Theology”.

Gurry:

“There are a couple of things I want to note from this. First, Ussher, like William Whitaker, uses the term “authentical” mainly to speak about the language in which authority resides rather than about the textual form.”

This is an example of a logical fallacy. Nowhere in their writings do the Reformers divorce the term “authentical” from the Greek & Hebrew texts they used. Such a distinction between an “authentical” text ideal and actual  “authentical” texts didn’t exist in the mind of the Reformers. When they spoke of the “authentical” texts they meant the texts they used which they considered to be the logical equivalents of the autographic texts. To put it simply, they considered the Greek & Hebrew texts they were using to be authentical. It is deceitful to claim anything else without first providing proof from their writings that they held to a quasi-non-existent form of the Greek & Hebrew texts as do RTC advocates.

Gurry:

“Second, it is very interesting that Ussher admits that in some places our understanding of Scripture may be obscured by variants or by the translators’ inability to understand. He even seems to say that in some cases the “true reading” may not be discerned. But he solves this problem by noting that this in no way threatens our certainty of the “sum and substance of Christian religion.” That’s because there are so many other places in Scripture where no such difficulty occurs.”

Ussher:

Although in the Hebrew Copy there hath been observed by the Nazarites some very few differences of words by similitude of letters and points; and by the Learned in the Greek tongue there are like di­versities of reading noted in the Greek Text of the new Testament, which came by fault of writers; yet in most by circumstance of the place and conference of other places, the true reading may be discerned; and albeit in all it cannot, nor the Translator in all places determine the true interpretation, yet this diversity or difficulty can make no difference or uncertainty in the sum and substance of Christian reli­gion, because the Ten Commandements and the principall Texts of Scripture on which the Articles of our faith are grounded, the Sacra­ments instituted, the form of prayer taught, (which contain the sum or substance of Christian religion) are without all such diversity of reading or difficulty of translating, so plainly set down, and so precise­ly translated by consent of all men learned in the tongues, that no man can make any doubt of them, or pick any quarrell against them.

Why must the true sense or meaning of the Scriptures be learned out of the Scriptures themselves?

Because the Spirit of God alone is the certain interpreter of his Word written by his Spirit; for no man knoweth the things pertaining to God, but the Spirit of God, 1 Cor. 2. 11. and no prophesie of Scri­pture is of any mans own interpretation; for prophesie was not brought by the will of man, but the holy men of God spake as they were led by the holy Ghost, 2 Pet. 1. 20, 21. The interpretation therefore must be by the same Spirit by which the Scripture was written, of which Spi­rit we have no certainty upon any mans credit, but onely so far forth as his saying may be confirmed by the holy Scriptures.

How then is Scripture to bee interpreted by Scripture?

According to the Analogie of Faith, Rom. 12. 6. and the scope and circumstance of the present place, and conference of other plain, and evident places, by which all such as are obscure and hard to bee un­derstood, ought to bee interpreted; for there is no matter necessary to eternall life, which is not plainely, and sufficiently set forth in many places of Scripture, by which other places that are abused by the Devill or his ministers may bee interpreted, as our Saviour Christ giveth example, Mat. 4. 6. when the Devill abused the Text of Scri­pture, Psal. 91. 11. declaring that this place must bee so understood, as it may agree with that most evident and expresse Commande­ment writen in Deut. 6. 16. Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.

What Gurry misses, and he does this a lot, is the historical context in which James Ussher was writing. Ussher was in no way supporting the philosophy of the counter-reformation project of RTC advocates. When Ussher says, “by the Learned in the Greek tongue there are like di­versities of reading noted in the Greek Text of the new Testament, which came by fault of writers; yet in most by circumstance of the place and conference of other places, the true reading may be discerned; and albeit in all it cannot, nor the Translator in all places determine the true interpretation, yet this diversity or difficulty can make no difference or uncertainty in the sum and substance of Christian reli­gion” he is referring strictly to the TR and the Greek mss from which it was collated. He wasn’t including the darlings of RTC: Codices Vaticanus & Bezae. Nor was he including their heretical variants. Ussher wasn’t asking for RTC. He was merely commenting upon the state of the logical equivalent of the autographic Greek text and showing how the variations with the TR mss didn’t call into question “the sum and substance of the Christian religion”. This is a far cry from Gurry’s position which calls into question the diety of Christ, the Sufficiency of Scripture, the work of the Holy Ghost in bearing witness to the truth among God’s people for 1800 years concerning the text of Scripture and the doctrine made from it. For integrity’s sake, Gurry should also have consulted the Irish Articles of 1615.

Although there bee some hard things in the Scripture (especially such as haue proper relation to the times in which they were first vttered, and prophecies of things which were afterwardes to bee fulfilled), yet all things necessary to be knowen vnto euerlasting saluation are cleerely deliuered therein: and nothing of that klnde is spoken vnder darke mysteries in one place, which is not in other places spoken more familiarly and plainely, to the capacitie both of learned and vnlearned.

So even if there were places were Ussher was unsure of the true reading, solely within the corpus of Greek mss from which the TR was related, the rest of Scripture speaks “more familiarly and plainely” about those issues. And nowhere do we find him supporting an abandoning of the TR, nor of trying to “fix” it with an appeal to Codices such as Vaticanus or Bezae, nor by an appeal to the Colines GNT nor the Complutensian Polyglot.  Nowhere does he or any Reformer support such a thing.

Gurry:

“Third, there is a noticeable similarity between Ussher’s answer to the problem of textual variants and that still given by modern Evangelicals. Like many today, Ussher asserts that where the Scriptures remain obscure because of difficult textual problems (or translation), other texts provide enough clarity about the “sum and substance” of our faith so as not to pose a doctrinal problem. Today we know of far more differences and some of those are in places like the Lord’s Prayer and the words of institution, but it remains true that variants do not unseat the “sum and substance” of the Christian faith.”

This is an equivocation on Gurry’s part. Nowhere do we find Ussher appealing to anything similar to the counter-reformation views of RTC advocates. Nor do we find him asking for the TR to be “fixed” by looking at Greek mss, collations, etc., that the Reformers considered to be corruptions of Scripture. And Gurry’s claim that, “but it remains true that variants do not unseat the “sum and substance” of the Christian faith” is quite simply false. RTC advocates hold to a view of the preservation of Scripture that indicts the Holy Ghost as a liar among God’s people until the 19th century. For what else can be said of the Holy Ghost leading His people to base doctrine on passages in the TR that are rejected in the CT. For centuries the Holy Ghost led His people to base doctrine on the Longer Ending of Mark, the Pericope de Adulterae, and the Comma Johanneum. If, as RTC advocates claim, some or all of those passages are not Scripture, then the Holy Ghost is the greatest deceiver in human history. That is why the logical consequence of RTC is blasphemy. In this series, Doctrinally Significant Variants, you will see variants in the CT that destroy the Christian religion.

But such nonsense is par for the course for textual atheists.

You can read what the Reformers actually wrote, unencumbered by the confirmation bias of an RTC advocate: https://confessionalbibliology.com/the-library/preservationist-textual-criticism/

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