WCF and Preservation by Banner of Truth

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ThomasCartwright

Puritan Board Freshman
I have just finished reading a history of the WCF by a group of mainly Critical Text writers published by Banner of Truth in 1994. Interestingly, they point out that the critical influence on the Doctrine of Sripture was the writings of Cambridge Divinity Professor William Whitaker. They cite from Whitaker's Disputations (see online google edition, p148) who stated, "If God had permitted the scripture to perish in the Hebrew and Greek originals, in which it was first published by men divinely inspired, He would not have provided sufficiently for his church and for our faith."

The chapter on Scripture written by William R. Spear declares on page 95,

"The Council of Trent had declared the Latin Vulgate to be 'authentic' in this sense. Beside grounding this decree on the superior authority of the Roman Church, the Catholic position was that existing Hebrew and Greek copies of the Bible had been deliberately corrupted by the Jews and heretics (that is the Greek Orthodox), and that, therefore the Vulgate was more pure. It is in response to the latter claim that Whitaker and the Confession assert the providential preservation of the Scripture in its original languages."

(To Glorify and Enjoy God: A Commemoration of the 350th Anniversary of the Westminister Assembly by Banner of Truth 1994)

Now I believe Spear is correct. He deliberately avoids taking this to its logical and historical conclusion - that the WCF was asserting the TR as the authentic preserved text. Certainly, they were not positing the CT which is more closely aligned with the variants of the apographs underlying the Vulgate. It would be interesting, if this is true, how Warfield, Hodge et al managed to persuade future Reformed Churches that the WCF supports textual criticism and the Critical Text.
 

Willem van Oranje

Puritan Board Junior
I have just finished reading a history of the WCF by a group of mainly Critical Text writers published by Banner of Truth in 1994. Interestingly, they point out that the critical influence on the Doctrine of Sripture was the writings of Cambridge Divinity Professor William Whitaker. They cite from Whitaker's Disputations (see online google edition, p148) who stated, "If God had permitted the scripture to perish in the Hebrew and Greek originals, in which it was first published by men divinely inspired, He would not have provided sufficiently for his church and for our faith."

The chapter on Scripture written by William R. Spear declares on page 95,

"The Council of Trent had declared the Latin Vulgate to be 'authentic' in this sense. Beside grounding this decree on the superior authority of the Roman Church, the Catholic position was that existing Hebrew and Greek copies of the Bible had been deliberately corrupted by the Jews and heretics (that is the Greek Orthodox), and that, therefore the Vulgate was more pure. It is in response to the latter claim that Whitaker and the Confession assert the providential preservation of the Scripture in its original languages."

(To Glorify and Enjoy God: A Commemoration of the 350th Anniversary of the Westminister Assembly by Banner of Truth 1994)

Now I believe Spear is correct. He deliberately avoids taking this to its logical and historical conclusion - that the WCF was asserting the TR as the authentic preserved text. Certainly, they were not positing the CT which is more closely aligned with the variants of the apographs underlying the Vulgate. It would be interesting, if this is true, how Warfield, Hodge et al managed to persuade future Reformed Churches that the WCF supports textual criticism and the Critical Text.

I'm not completely convinced that the perspective reflected in the Westminster Confession would require adherance to a particular form of the Greek text. Even with Whitaker's writings in the background, it would simply argue that whatever the correct readings are for particular verses, they have to come from a Greek or Hebrew text which has been preserved. The actual mechanism for discovering which readings from Greek or Hebrew are to be preferred is not discussed in the Confession, i. e. whether the three oldest codexes we have are to be the standard by which other manuscripts are judged, or whether some other standard like the majority of manuscripts or the greatest geographic dispersal of a reading is the best indicator of the correct reading. It is evident that our Reformed fathers (Calvin, Beza, etc.) used a form of textual criticism to find the best rendering based on the Hebrew and Greek texts which were available to them at the time. Today, we have more manuscripts available, and some older, which is something that has to be reckoned with, no matter what conclusion is drawn at the end as to which are the most credible readings. Calvin and Beza would have certainly taken the new manuscript evidence into account, however which readings should be considered the preferred reading is a complicated issue. Turretin's treatment of why the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts are to be preferred, and his description of the providential preservation and "purity" of the original-language texts is revealing in that he describes the kind of textual criticism that was used based on the extant evidence of his day, and sometimes argues for the priority of older manuscripts over the "majority" reading. Does this mean he would hold to the Nestle-Aland text today? Not necessarily, but my point is that all the manuscript evidence has to be considered one way or another, and the particular conclusions reached as to which readings are preferred would not necessarily put one outside the bounds of teaching of the WCF that God has preserved the purity of the text of Scripture in Hebrew and Greek.
 

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Professor
Hello Riley,

You said you were “not completely convinced that the perspective reflected in the Westminster Confession would require adherence to a particular form of the Greek text.” You surmise that the textform might be “the three oldest codexes” or “some other standard like the majority of manuscripts or the greatest geographic dispersal of a reading is the best indicator of the correct reading.” By the “three oldest” I gather you refer to Codices B, [size=+1]a[/size], and A, and by the “majority” the Byzantine. The trouble with the first grouping is that this was Rome’s weapon with its variants against the Reformers’ doctrine of sola scriptura (speaking mainly of B, as [size=+1]a[/size] wasn’t discovered till around 1844, and A wasn’t part of the Textus Receptus family of Greek texts Turretin, Owen and the post reformation theologians held to). The Byzantine mss. omitted some of the readings the Reformers held as genuine, a premature textform not finalized by God’s providential preservation. So B (Vaticanus), the queen of the uncials (which [size=+1]a[/size] is textually kin to) really is the foundation of the readings adhered to in the modern versions of today, except for the Majority Text versions.

The problem with the “three oldest” and the “Majority Text” is that we don’t have a settled text – an intact, preserved and final Bible – but rather provisional editions constantly being revised and updated. With them there is no sure and final word of God, but only tentative Bibles. The Reformers did not have this view of the Hebrew and Greek texts they held as genuine – and Turretin and Owen may be held as representative of their views, seeing as they mounted some of the best defenses of the Reformation’s sola scriptura and its Bible against Rome’s counter-reformation assault.

What’s your view – do you have a Bible you can say is the word of God, and can hold in your hand? Alas, the authority of God’s word in the world today has been eroded from the inability of so many to affirm that they have. They have academicians’ Bibles galore, but so few have the church’s Bible, and these latter are ridiculed and attacked, though convinced God has fulfilled His promise to preserve His word for His church, and has done it once and for all.

That said, I nonetheless believe we have agreed here at PB on what you posit in this statement:

“my point is that all the manuscript evidence has to be considered one way or another, and the particular conclusions reached as to which readings are preferred would not necessarily put one outside the bounds of teaching of the WCF that God has preserved the purity of the text of Scripture in Hebrew and Greek.”

There is quite a long history as regards the understanding in the P&R churches of the WCF 1:8 (and our discussions here concerning it). Before Warfield it was one thing; and after him another; he was a watershed in the view changing. There are godly men and women here who in good conscience before the Lord use Majority Text and Critical Text editions of Scripture and see their view as compatible with the WCF, even as Warfield did. Such men and women may be differed with textually and historically, but we have agreed here not to claim either camp – the CT/MT or the TR – is in violation of the Confession on this point.

We may bring forth evidences, as Paul Ferguson has, to support a particular view, but to assert that one who differs from this is in violation of the Confession is in effect lording it over another’s conscience, and is not acceptable. This is a lesson I have had to learn myself, and I have taken it to heart.

Is there something more important than the textual issue, crucial as that is? Yes, it is the unity of the church. I will defend my view, but I will not attack my brethren. What I will attack is that assertion which says the Bible is but man’s product, and I will do it effectively from my view. That will try our views, and show if we are capable of tearing down those strongholds and imaginations which lift themselves up against our God, and His word.
 

ThomasCartwright

Puritan Board Freshman
Hi Riley

I agree with Steve Rafalsky that you are misinterpreting the historical position. The Reformers were aware of the diversity of variants that make up the latest edition of the Critical Text and deliberately rejected them because they were not received through the true Church. They adopted a presuppositional approach to inspiration, canonisation, and preservation of the canonised Words. Any other position would be contradictory and anomalous. Here is a quote from my paper setting forth their position,

“Despite the revisionist argument that Calvin and Beza had no other option but to use the Received Text, the facts are that they did have alternative options but deliberately rejected them. They may not have had the quantity of evidence, but they were aware of the diversity of the variant readings thrown up by the textual critics today. Instead, they chose the path of Sacred Criticism which simply studied the texts to see what was received by the Church through history rather that the “restoration” of the text by Enlightenment Criticism. They recognised that copies and editions differed because of variants, but trusted the Holy Spirit and the common faith of God’s people. Beza made it clear, “that he was very unwilling to amend the basic text and was interested largely in readings which confirmed it.”

Please read through the arguments that I present concerning the cited views of the Reformers and the Westminster Divines on the Received Text. Personally, I cannot see how these views would allow anyone to argue today that they would have embraced the Critical Text.

Far Eastern Bible College | PRESERVATION OF THE BIBLE: PROVIDENTIAL OR MIRACULOUS? A RESPONSE TO JON REHUREK OF THE MASTER
 
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