WM 128: Brash WJT Article on "Originals" is posted. Listen here.
This episode is a review of this article:
Richard F. Brash, “Ad Fontes!—The Concept of the ‘Originals’ of Scripture in Seventeenth Century Reformed Orthodoxy”, Westminster Journal of Theology 81 (2019): 123-139.
Brash is identified in the article as a Missions Partner of St. Ebbe’s Church, Oxford and as a PhD candidate in Systematic Theology at New College in the University of Edinburgh.
I had heard recently about his ThM thesis at Westminster Seminary, from which I assume the article was extracted. The thesis: Richard F. Brash, The Reformed Doctrine of the Providential Preservation of Scripture, 1588-1687 (Westminster Theological Seminary, 2017): 218 pp.
This article is important in that it addresses how the Reformed orthodox who created the WCF, etc. understood the concept of the “originals” of the text of Scripture.
The problem is that there is a tendency among moderns to think anachronistically, to suppose that the Reformed orthodox thought about the text of Scripture the way nineteenth and twentieth and even twenty-first century modern text critics did. That is, the purpose of text criticism is to restore the corrupted text and approximate the inspired autograph. It is anachronistic to think that the men who framed the WCF and 2LBCF held to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Innerancy!
This point has already been made by T. Letis in his critiques of B. B. Warfield.
See the opening two paragraphs and especially Brash’s point that the Reformed orthodox “typically posited a practical univocity” between the autographa and the apographa.
He adds that this “univocity” was supported by “the doctrine of the providential preservation of the scripture that underlay it” (123). These views came under pressure in the seventeenth century and were refined, “But ultimately most Reformed orthodox of this period maintained the belief that Scripture had been preserved in the extant copies, which were as far as they were concerned ‘original.’” (123).
“Following Muller, I will demonstrate that while some of the Reformed orthodox did make the conceptual, heuristic distinction between the autographa and apographa, they typically posited a practical univocity between these two. This univocity, and the doctrine of the providential preservation of Scripture that underlay it, came under increasing pressure during the seventeenth century, and so it underwent some refinement, the details of which I will describe. But ultimately most Reformed orthodox of this period maintained the belief that Scripture had been preserved in the extant copies, which were as far as they were concerned ‘original.’ This distinguished their position from Rome’s, as we shall see. It also made them much less willing than many of their successors to countenance conjectural emendation of the biblical text” (124).
Methodologically, Brash surveys four key thinkers from the seventeenth century, broadly defined, from 1588 (the publication of William Whitaker’s Disputation on Holy Scripture) to 1687 (the death of Francis Turretin).
He focuses on four individuals:
William Whitaker (1548-1595);
William Ames (1576-1633);
John Owen (1616-1683); and
Francis Turretin (1623-1687).
He also focuses on the WCF and the Helvetic Consensus Formula.
The article has seven sections:
He begins by noting that early Reformers, like, Calvin were not greatly troubled by the minutia of text criticism.
But this changed in the seventeenth century.
One reason was the rise of polyglot Bibles and the awareness of existing textual variants. Codex Alexandrinus, for example, was given to King Charles I by Cyril Lucaris, Patriarch of Constantinople, in 1628 and its readings included in Brian Walton’s Polyglot Bible (1657).
Another reason was the urgency of RC apologetics.
Second: William Whitaker:
His key work is Disputation on Holy Scripture (1588).
Brash says WW “bretrays little or no awareness of the existence of different manuscripts or textual variants” (126). He assumes that “the extant manuscripts are faithful copies of the inspired autographs” (127).
“He believed in an inspired Bible without mistakes, and assumed that the extant manuscripts were faithful copies of the autographa” (128).
“So, for Whitaker the ‘original’ is not necessarily to be equated with the autographa alone, since the copies are effectively the same as the autographa” (128).
Third: William Ames:
His key work is Marrow of Sacred Divinity (1630), of which chapter 34 is “Of the Holy Scripture.”
He also wrote a key polemical work against the RC Cardinal Bellarmine, Bellarminus Enervatus (1629), in four volumes with volume one , De Verbo Dei, on Scripture.
“Like Whitaker, Ames and his Reformed contemporaries in Europe were convinced that the ‘original’ Bible manuscripts in possession of the church had been providentially preserved” (130).
He differs from WW in that he admitted “there may have been errors in certain copies, but Ames is adamant that there can have been no error that affected the entirety of manuscripts available to the church” (130).
Fourth: WCF (1647):
He sees the WCF as standing as a “bridge” between the earlier views of Whitaker and Ames and the later views of Owen and Turretin (131).
He notes Wayne Spear’s observation that WW was the primary theologian behind the WCF view of Scripture.
What is meant by the WCF’s statement that the Bible is “immediately inspired” in Hebrew and Greek” and “by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages”?
This did NOT mean the modern idea of Scripture being inspired in the original autograph only!
Brash cites the writings of Edward Leigh (132) to draw this conclusion: “In other words the distinction is not textual, but linguistic. The appeal is made, not to a particular class of texts (the autographa), but to the textual tradition as a whole, in the original languages of Scripture.”
JTR: I agree with Brash that the WCF was not thinking in modern terms of the autographs, but to a “textual tradition,” but I do think we could say that this textual tradition was embodied in the printed texts of the day: the Masoretic text of the OT and the TR of the NT.
Fifth: John Owen:
Best source: Of the divine original (1659).
Owen made explicit the distinction between the autographa and apographa. The autographa were lost but their content preserved in the apographa, which had not been corrupted (see quote, 133).
He cites Henry Knapp’s 2002 dissertation on Owen as noting that Owen did not reject text criticism but the practice of it that suggested the “original” text had to be reconstructed (134).
JTR: Owen was among first to see the problems with modern text criticism.
Sixth: Francis Turretin:
His key work: Institutes of Elenctic Theology (1679-1685).
He recognized textual variants but did not take a modern approach (see quote, 135).
“Turretin does not locate authority in the autographa so that the apographa needs to be corrected by them, but rather locates it in both the autographa and the apographa, so that any translations or versions deriving from these should be corrected by them, considered as one. In sum, Turretin presumes for the purposes of his argument that apographa and autographa are materially the same” (136).
“It is important for Turretin to defend the Hebrew and Greek texts against Roman Catholic claims that they are corrupt” (137).
Brash adds here that Turretin sometimes did this “on the basis of mistaken appeals to the witness of the majority of texts” and gives as examples: John 8:1-11; I John 5:7; and the ending of Mark (137; but see f.n. 73 where Brash says that for the ending of Mark “Turretin’s argument is actually borne out by the manuscript tradition” (137).
JTR: I think Brash errs here in at least two ways. First, I don’t think FT supported the disputed readings listed because they were in the majority text tradition but because they were in “textual tradition” he perceived to be inspired. Second, he gives too much credence to modern text criticism and does not acknowledge the current changes going on within it.
He notes the Helvetic Consensus Formula (1675), partly written by Turretin, reflecting his bibliology including defense of the Masoretic Hebrew vowel point tradition.
The key question is authority (see opening paragraph, 138).
Key backdrop is polemics against RC (see second paragraph, 138).
“One thing that makes this question of particular interest is that the seventeenth-century formulation is demonstrably not the same as that which is commonly held by Reformed and evangelical theologians today, at least at the level of detail. The key shift is that the locus of authority today is typically in the autographa alone, not the autographa and apographa together, as most seventeenth century Reformed writers maintained (138-139).
He closes: “But more work needs to be done on the theological relationship between the autographa and the texts that have come down to us. Where is the activity of God in this textual history, and how do we account for what we have in our hands? In this respect, the Reformed orthodox reflections on the providential preservation of Scripture form a useful resource on which to draw, even if we cannot follow all their conclusions” (139).
Brash is to be commended for this work. He helpfully calls attention to the fact that the Reformed orthodox were not using modern, reconstructionist text criticism and that they saw a “practical univocity” between the autographa and apographa.
He stops short, however, of saying their viewpoint should be retrieved. My question is, Why not? What conclusions of Whitaker, Ames, Owen, and Turretin can we not follow? I believe their approach is superior and should be embraced.
Finally, here is a text I received from a friend this week, that seemed to be providential:
It struck me today…many Reformed brothers, who are convinced of the CT, turn to the Puritans or Church Fathers for their theology, and rely on their wisdom and insight in handling the Bible, yet totally reject their handling of the Biblical text itself.
Thanks Jeff for engaging with my article.
I have a book coming out with Christian Focus this November, called "A Christian's Pocket Guide to how God Preserved the Bible."
In it I lay out my answers to some of the questions you posed in your review.
However, I should say that the book is not an "academic" one.
I expect that you will not agree with all of my conclusions in that book, but I'm grateful for your review here and I'll think more about how I might sharpen a response to your questions in future work.
In the Lord,
Thanks for your comment. Glad to hear you found some things helpful in this review. Congrats on your book with CF. I will look forward to reading it and possibly doing a review if time allows.
I had wanted to send you an email alerting you to this WM but could not locate your email address. Glad you found it and thanks for your labors.
Since Brash has admitted in the following video that he actually doesn’t hold to the original intent of Owen, the WCF, et al, any of his claims to do so are extremely problematic. Furthermore, he demonstrates remarkable ignorance concerning Cornelius Van Til and Presuppositional Apologetics in the video. If he had read Van Til’s a Survey of Christian Epistemology or the works of his theological successors of his view, RJ Rushdoony and the textual critic Dr. Edward Freer Hills, he could have saved himself much embarrassment. As it is, he is just another sad example of men who fight against God’s Word.
Video link: https://youtu.be/3XZYlzcPikM
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