The Historical Providence of God

In Preservationist Textual Criticism, Providential Preservation by Chris ThomasLeave a Comment

In the Preservation and Publication of the Textus Receptus

One of the problems for those promoting the Restorationist View is that in order for their ideas to be true, one must ignore not only the Providence of God in preservation, but one must also ignore the Providence of God in directing historical events along with the Sovereignty of God to so order those events. There are three events in history that were directly used by God to bring about the printing of the Greek New Testament, which God then used to bring about the Reformation.

The Printing Press

Around 1439 Johannes Gutenberg came up with the idea of the movable type printing press.  By 1450 he had printed a German poem, believed to be the first thing printed, and with this was able to secure 800 guilders from Johann Furst to begin printing other texts such as Latin Grammars.  In 1452 he borrowed another 800 guilders to begin his project of printing the Bible.  He began the work in 1452 and by 1455 he had completed his 42 – line Bible producing about 180 copies; with some printed on paper and some on vellum.  It is possible he had two presses with one dedicated to the Bible and the other being used for such pedestrian printing tasks as printing indulgences.  Which was quite lucrative business.

The Fall of Constantinople

For around 1500 years Byzantium safeguarded and developed both the arts and sciences.  So advanced were they, that at one time they were considered the most developed in both culture and knowledge upon the Earth.  Their knowledge and influence had been continuously felt in Italy from at least the 13th century.  Another hundred years later and Europe would see the beginning of the Renaissance, one of the greatest leaps in knowledge, art, writing, and thinking in human history.  It was during the 13th century that the Byzantine Empire began its sad fall.  Bloody battles between Byzantium & Italy, and the 4th crusade resulting in the slaughter of Byzantium in 1204, created distrust between the East & West and worked to further destabilize the Empire.  By the middle of the 13th century, the Byzantine Empire was not only effectively over, but in decay.  After multiple civil wars, the end came with the last Roman Emperor, Constantine XI besieged at Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks.  His calls to Europe for aid having falling on largely deaf ears, and after two months of siege, Constantinople, and the Byzantine Empire fell on the 29th of May of 1453.

Since the sack of Constantinople in 1204, many Greeks immigrated to Europe with a greater number settling in nearby Italy.  They brought with them Greek manuscripts containing science, astronomy, mathematics, art, and their Scriptures.  Prior to and after the collapse of Byzantium in 1453, this flood of Greek immigrants gathered steam.  More Greek scholars brought their rescued manuscripts with them settling throughout western Europe.  Greek scholars began teaching their native tongue in the European Universities and privately leading to further study of many Greek commentaries on Aristotle and for the first time the study of the complete works of Plato in Greek.  This teaching of Greek, which included Ancient Greek, in the Western Universities and privately laid the foundation for the Humanists and their study of Latin & Greek (ad fontes).

Publishing the 1st Greek New Testament

Perhaps the greatest of the Renaissance Humanists was Erasmus of Rotterdam.  In attempting to write a commentary on the Pauline epistles, Erasmus found his work hindered by his lack of Greek which he began to study in 1501.  Around 1506, due to the influence of the writings of Laurentius Valla, he began his own translation of the Greek New Testament, which at this time was still contained in handwritten manuscripts.  His work was put together in several large volumes between 1506 and 1509 but remained unpublished until 1519.  On the 28th of October in 1507 Erasmus, having seen a need for a stable Greek New Testament, wrote the Venetian printer Aldus Manutius asking about why he delayed the publication of his Greek New Testament.  It would be approximately four years later around late 1511 or early 1512, that Erasmus would begin the work upon his own edition of the Greek New Testament.  While lecturing at Cambridge on Greek, Erasmus found many Greek manuscripts there to use for his own emendation (castigatio) for which he announced his intention to begin in late 1512.  In June of 1513 he wrote to his friend John Colet that he had finished his collation of the New Testament.  In 1514 he would write to Servatius Roger, “After collation of Greek and other ancient manuscripts, I have emended the whole New Testament, and I have annotated over a thousand passages, not without benefit to theologians.”  During 1514 and 1515 many publishers, including Froben, declared their desire to publish his Greek New Testament.  By August 30th of 1515 his Greek & Latin texts, and annotations were in the press.  What many who talk of Erasmus’ printing forget (see Rush to Print Myth) is that the publication of the text encountered many delays from lack of proofreaders, a desire that the Greek & Latin texts be separated, and augmentations to his annotations and corrections to the Vulgate.  It was only after all these interruptions and changes that Erasmus wrote in February of 1516 that his New Testament “rushes toward completion”.  Which makes perfect sense as it was published in the same month.

So how do the invention of the printing press along with the printing of the first Bible (1455), the fall of the Byzantine Empire (1453), and the publication of Erasmus’ 1st edition of the Greek New Testament (1516) all relate to each other and to the doctrines of God’s Providence and Sovereignty? Let’s look at what the Sovereignty and Providence of God are.

The Sovereignty of God:

The Sovereignty of God. What do we mean by this expression? We mean the supremacy of God, the kingship of God, the god-hood of God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that God is God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Most High, doing according to His will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, so that none can stay His hand or say unto Him what doest Thou? (Dan. 4:35). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in Heaven and earth, so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will (Psa. 115:3). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is “The Governor among the nations” (Psa. 22:28), setting up kingdoms, overthrowing empires, and determining the course of dynasties as pleaseth Him best. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the “Only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). Such is the God of the Bible.

-Chapter 1, The Sovereignty of God, A.W. Pink

Providence of God from the Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 5:

1. God, the great Creator of all things, doth uphold,a direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things,b from the greatest even to the least,c by his most wise and holy providence,d according to his infallible fore-knowledgee and the free and immutable counsel of his own will,f to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.g

a. Heb 1:3. • b. Psa 135:6; Dan 4:34-35; Acts 17:25-26, 28; Job 38-41 throughout. • c. Mat 10:29-31. • d. Psa 104:24; 145:17; Prov 15:3. • e. Psa 94:8-11; Acts 15:18. • f. Psa 33:10-11; Eph 1:11. • g. Gen 45:7; Psa 145:7; Isa 63:14; Rom 9:17; Eph 3:10.

2. Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly,a yet by the same providence he ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.b

a. Acts 2:23. • b. Gen 8:22; Exod 21:13 with Deut 19:5; 1 Kings 22:28, 34; Isa 10:6-7; Jer 31:35.

3. God, in his ordinary providence, maketh use of means,a yet is free to work without,b above,c and against them,d at his pleasure.

a. Isa 55:10-11; Hosea 2:21-22; Acts 27:31, 44. • b. Job 34:10; Hosea 1:7; Mat 4:4. • c. Rom 4:19-21. • d. 2 Kings 6:6; Dan 3:27.

Or to simplify it as John Piper has, “God’s sovereignty is his right and power to do whatever he pleases. God’s providence is his wise and purposeful sovereignty.”

God has the right to direct all human events towards his own ends.  He generally does so through ordinary means.  First we have the immigration of Greeks to Italy and to a lesser extent throughout Western Europe.  They brought with them their Scriptures, the writings of the Church Fathers, along with writings on art, philosophy, science, mathematics, etc.  They and their texts led to the Renaissance and its focus by humanists on learning the Greek language.  During the Renaissance, the printing press was invented which enabled men to have a standard edition of any book and negating copyist errors commonly found in handwritten manuscripts.  With able proofreaders, this would allow printed editions of the handwritten manuscripts to have only a few errors, which could be corrected and reduced to zero with future printings.  With the fall of Constantinople we have even more Greeks immigrating to Europe and bringing with them their manuscripts from the destroyed libraries of the East.  These manuscripts also included even more copies of the Biblical texts.  It was these Greek manuscripts that God in his providence allowed to be used first by Erasmus, and then by godly Reformed scholars, to be printed in a stabilized form for the use of his people.  In his providence, God did not allow for the usage of Vaticanus nor of Sinaiticus, the latter of which would not be discovered until the 19th century.  It was the Textus Receptus that was used by God to start and grow the Reformation.  What does this mean for those who champion Restorationist Textual Criticism and its various Greek New Testaments?  They are fighting against the Providence & Sovereignty of God who chose through the events of history which printed edition of his New Testament that he expects his people to use.  So why has he allowed for the heresy of RTC to grow and allow its advocates free reign among his people?  Why has God allowed Unitarians, Papists, Theological Liberals, and other heretics to sit in judgment of what should and should not be included in his word?  Personally I believe this to be the judgment of God upon his Church in light of the following verses:

Matthew 5:13 Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

Matthew 7:24-27 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:  And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.  And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:  And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.

God’s Church, by and large, for the last 200 years has set aside His word as its ultimate epistemic authority in favor of autonomous human reasoning.  In doing so, the Church has built its house on the sand and has lost its savour.  The current issues within the Church, the acceptance of homosexuals, female preachers & deacons, critical race theory, evolutionism, etc., are all due to the 200 year trend of setting aside Scripture for our own foolish reasoning.  Until Scripture once again becomes the foundation for all of human reasoning among God’s people, and yes this must include the textual issue and a firm rebuke of all RTC Advocates for promoting heresy within the Church and thereby causing division, we will continue to see the collapse of Christendom and further undermining of God’s word by RTC Advocates and other heretics.

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