Textual Criticism Does Not Challenge The Authenticity of Scripture

It is important for now however to note that the Reformed orthodox did not see variant readings as impacting the purity of Scripture. Indeed, the Bible commentary that was so associated with the Westminster Assembly that it became known as the Westminster Annotations (1645-57) advertised ‘various readings observed’ in its very title.

(In the Annotations Codex Alexandrinus (an Alexandrian manuscript) is cited over 100 times, with many of those readings making it into the Modern Critical Text. Leading Westminster Divine Thomas Goodwin appealed to Alexandrinus over against the TR. Leigh mentions Alexandrinus in his very chapter entitled ‘Of the Authenticall edition of the Scripture’: ‘There is a most ancient rare Parchment M. S. copy of the Bible in Greek in the late King’s Library at St James’s’. Five years earlier, Alexandrinus had been cited in Parliament as evidence that the TR postscripts at the end of certain NT books were ‘but the bold and spurious additions of some Easterne Bishop or Monke’.[18])

Leigh is one of many contemporary writers to note that even the Hebrew manuscripts that have come down to us contain variant readings in the form of the Ketiv and Qere.

Leigh can distinguish between ‘a corruption’ and ‘a divers reading in certain Copies [even in the majority, in the example he uses] by the mistake of the Scribes’. (Leigh’s example, Psalm 22:16, is a verse which Calvin believed had been ‘fraudulently corrupted’ by the Jews – Derek Kidner explains that ‘All the major translations reject the Masoretic vowels (added to the written text in the Christian era)’.

It seems that for Leigh a corruption would be an error that had crept into all copies.

James Ussher, after explaining that ‘the edition which proceeded from the Holy Spirit himself, and was first delivered by the Prophets and Apostles of the Church, must be recognised as authentic’, goes on to say: ‘These fountains are not so contaminated as to have lost their αὐθεντέια for their normative function’.[19]

Francis Turretin explicitly stated that: ‘The various readings which occur do not destroy the authenticity of the Scriptures because they may be easily distinguished and determined, partly by the connection of the passage and partly by a collation with better manuscripts’ (2.11.8).

Yes, Turretin goes on to discuss variants that most evangelical Bible scholars today believe are not in the ‘better manuscripts’ (to use his phrase). However what is significant is that Turretin appeals to the Greek manuscript evidence rather than tradition. That some of his claims about the Greek manuscript evidence are pretty much the opposite of the truth (the reasons for which we will come back to in a later article) simply proves that a better collation of the manuscripts was needed than had yet happened in his day.

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Stephen Steele | “Reading the Confession in Context (1): ‘Authentical'” | July 5, 2023


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4 comments

  1. Not one of the “Reformed guys”, but I remember a long discussion on textual issues in Augustine’s “City of God”. How to deal with variant readings, and the differences between the Septuagint and the Hebrew text. Stuff like that. The old guys were well aware of this kind of thing.

    • Augustine was definitely aware of textual issues and defended the authenticity of John 7:53-8:11, explaining, “Certain persons of little faith, or rather enemies of the true faith, fearing, I suppose, lest their wives should be given impunity in sinning, removed from their manuscripts the Lord’s act of forgiveness toward the adulteress, as if he who had said, Sin no more, had granted permission to sin.” [De Adulterinis Conjugiis, 2:6–7]

    • Christian,

      Sure but the point is that there are those who equate text criticism with infidelity. We have access to resources to which Augustine didn’t, which enables us to come to better conclusions.

  2. I’m glad to learn about Stephen Steele’s works. Thanks to Dr. Clark for this.

    Regarding saint Augustine, I believe that taking the mentioned quote in isolation could lead to confusion and overlook the magnificent criteria he applied to textual variants. It’s essential to consider the overwhelming number of times he addressed these issues in his body of work and how, at times, he arrived at similar conclusions to textual critics.

    I highly recommend reading the following works by Dr. Rebekka S. Schirner:

    «Augustine sometimes evaluates different versions according to specific criteria, which could be summarized, at a basic level, as principles of a (text-)critical attitude. Additionally, it can be stated that in almost all instances presented in this paper, the textual variation mentioned by Augustine is also somehow displayed in the material available to us today»

    Inspice diligenter codices: Philologische Studien zu Augustins Umgang mit Bibelhandschriften und -übersetzungen (MSt 49; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2015).
    https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/9783110349702/html

    Augustine’s Explicit References to Variant Readings of the New Testament Text: A Case Study.
    https://www.academia.edu/83595291/Variant_Readings_of_the_New_Testament_Text_A_Case_Study

    Donkeys or Shoulders? Augustine as a Textual Critic of the Old and New Testament.
    https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.31826/9781463236496/html#contents

    Grace and Peace.

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