Volume 10, Issue 1: The Puritan Eye
Purity of Scripture
Have the original texts of the Old and New Testaments come down to us pure and uncorrupted? This question
lies between us and the papists who speak against the purity of the sources for the purpose of establishing more
easily the authority of their Vulgate version and leading us away to the tribunal of the church.
By the original texts, we do not mean the autographs written by the hand of Moses, of the prophets and of
the apostles, which certainly do not now exist. We mean their apographs which are so called because they set forth
to us the word of God in the very words of those who wrote under the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
The question is not, Are the sources so pure that no fault has crept into many sacred manuscripts, either
through the waste of time, the carelessness of copyists or the malice of the Jews or of heretics? For this is acknowledged
on both sides and the various readings which Beza and Robert Stephanus have carefully observed in the Greek (and
the Jews in the Hebrew) clearly prove it. Rather the question is have the original texts been so corrupted either by
copyists through carelessness that they can no longer be regarded as the judge of controversies and the rule to which all
the versions must be applied? The papists affirm, we deny it. . . .
The following arguments prove that the sources have not been corrupted. (1) The providence of God which could not permit
books which it willed to be written by inspiration
(theopneustois) for the salvation of men (and to continue unto the end of the world that
they might draw from them waters of salvation) to become so corrupted as to render them unfit for this purpose. And since new
revelations are not to be expected (after God has recorded in the Scriptures his entire will concerning the doctrine of salvation), what can be
more derogatory to God (who has promised his constant presence with the church) than to assert that he has permitted the books
containing this doctrine to become so corrupt that they cannot serve as a canon of faith? (2) The fidelity of the Christian church and unceasing
labor in preserving the manuscripts; for since Christians have always labored with great zeal to keep this sacred deposit uncorrupted, it is
not credible that they would either corrupt it themselves or suffer it to be corrupted by others. (3) The religion of the Jews who have
bestowed upon the sacred manuscripts great care and labor amounting even to superstition. Hence Josephus says that after the lapse of ages no
one has dared either to add to or take away from or alter the peculiar books of the Jews in any respect and that they think it an honor to die
for the Scriptures (Against Apion 1.42 [Loeb, 1:180-81]). Philo, in his book on the departure of the Israelites from Egypt (cited by
Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel 8.6.357c [ed. Gifford, 1903], 1:387) goes further, asserting that "even up to his time, through a space of more
than two thousand years, not so much as a word had been changed in the law of the Hebrews and that any Jew would rather die a hundred
times, than suffer the law to be altered in the least." They carry their ridiculous superstition concerning the sacred manuscript to such length
that if a corrected book of the law fell on the ground, they proclaimed a fast and expressed their fears that the whole universe would return
to its original chaos, so far were they from corrupting the manuscripts. (4) The carefulness of the Masoretes not only about verses and
words, but also about single letters (which, together with all the variations of punctuation and writing, they not only counted, but also wrote
down, so that no ground or even suspicion of corruption could arise). Arias Montanus employs this argument in the "Praefatio" to his
Biblia sacra Hebraice, Chaldaice, Graece et
Latine (1572), vol. 1. (5) The multitude of copies; for as the manuscripts were scattered far and wide, how
could they all be corrupted either by the carelessness of librarians or the wickedness of enemies? Augustine says, "No prudent man can
believe that the Jews however perverse and wicked could do it, in copies so numerous and so far and widely diffused." Vives said this ought
to be the reply to those "who argue that the Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New have been so falsified
and corrupted as to make it impossible to draw the truth from these sources"
(Saint Augustine, of the Citie of God with . . . comments of . . .
Vives , p. 519).
(6) If the sources had been corrupted, it must have been done before Christ or after, neither of
which is true. Not before because Christ would not have passed it over in silence (for he does censure the various departures in doctrine), nor
could he bear to use corrupted books. Did he disregard the salvation of his people so far that he would neither himself,
nor through his apostles, admonish us even by a word that the books of Moses and the prophets had been tampered
with; while in the meantime he convicts the Jews from these very books (but to what purpose, if they had been
corrupted and falsified?) and invites and urges his disciples to their perusal and search? Not afterward, both because the
copies circulated among Christians would have rendered such attempts futile, and because no trace of any such
corruption appears. For if this had been the case, why do we find the passages which Christ and the apostles quoted from
Moses and the prophets just the same now as then and in no way corrupted? Why do Origen and Jerome, eminent
scholars, so explicitly absolve the Jews from this crime? Therefore if no corruption took place either before or after the time
of Christ, it never did.
An authentic writing is one in which all things are abundantly sufficient to inspire confidence; one to which
the fullest credit is due in its own kind; one of which we can be entirely sure that it has proceeded from the author
whose name it bears; one in which everything is written just as he himself wished.