Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Zaspel, Warfield, Owen, Inerrancy and the 2LBCF (1689)

Another follow up to the question of “inerrancy” and the WCF and the 2LBCF (1689):

I’ve been reading through Fred Zaspel’s The Theology of B. B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary (Crossway, 2010) and ran across the section on “Autographs Only” (p. 118) in which Zaspel writes:

It should be noted that Warfield’s doctrine of inspiration necessarily concerns the autographs specifically, and the copied texts only by implication and only insofar as they are accurately copied. As did the Westminster Confession of Faith, Warfield argues that while translations of Scripture may faithfully convey the Word of God, and while the text of Scripture has in God’s providence been substantially preserved in its purity, it is the original text alone that was immediately inspired of God. The human biblical authors and their writings are the focus of concern in this discussion.

The thing to be challenged here is Zaspel’s assumption that Warfield’s views were consistent with the WCF. Though the confession does indeed affirm that the OT in Hebrew and the NT in Greek were “immediately inspired,” it proceeds to affirm that these texts “by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentic” (N.B.: this is quite different from Zaspel’s assertion that the confession affirms that the Word of God has been only “substantially preserved in its purity”). There is no mention in the confession of inerrant autographs that were corrupted in transmission and that now must be restored through modern critical text scholarship. No, the assumption is that the immediately inspired autographs have been providentially preserved in the apographs. The confession then proceeds to affirm that translations be made from these texts (the preserved apographs) into “the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come.”

As I’ve noted before, I think we can get a good impression of how the framers of the WCF and the 2LBCF looked at the issue of the text of Scripture by examining the writings of John Owen on Scripture in Volume 16 of his Collected Works. In “The Divine Original,” for example, Owen writes:

“It is true, we have not the autographa of Moses and the prophets, of the apostles and evangelists; but the apographa or ‘copies” which we have contain every iota in them” (pp. 300-301).

And in “Of the Integrity and Purity of the Hebrew and Greek Text of Scripture” he writes:

“…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…. 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 all to be examined, tried, corrected, amended; and themselves only by themselves” (p. 357).


“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 anything 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;” (p. 366).

We can assume that the view of the framers of the WCF and 2LBCF (1689) on Scripture was closer to Owen and, therefore, quite different from that of Warfield.  Here is a summary of the contrast: 

Owen/Puritan/Early Particular Baptist view:

Immediate inspiration of autographa → pure preservation in apographa

Warfield/Modern Text Critical/Chicago Statement view:

Inerrant autographa → corrupted apographa → reconstructed autographa



Patrick McWilliams said...

I sympathize greatly with the ecclesiastical text philosophy, but doesn't the absence of at least one single perfect copy entail the error of such a view of "jot & tittle" preservation?

Pastor Jeff said...


Thanks for the comment. I don't think the case for the ecclesiastical text relies on there being one perfect copy (apograph). In fact, it is the modern Warfield/Chicago inerrancy view that posits one (elusive) autograph. Instead it posits that the Bible is preserved in the copies (plural). There is still a place for text criticism but adopting the ecclesiastical text settles matters like Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53--8:11. A key question: Do you believe that these passages, in particular, are part of the Word of God that have been providentially preserved?

Patrick McWilliams said...

I do indeed!