July 1, 2017
The publication of my new book on the providential preservation of Scripture is imminent. In this work I detail the Westminster and Puritan understanding of where to locate the true text of Scripture. Many Christians today still believe that the Scriptures in the Hebrew and Greek extant manuscripts and codices contain all the words originally provided by God to the Prophets and Apostles. While it is acknowledged by all that these ancient texts come down to us with variant readings, which must be collated, historically most Protestants have believed that this process was adequately completed at the time of the Protestant Reformation. For others, the process goes on as archaeology continues to provide new fragments of the Bible texts, and as textual critics change their methods. A similar debate occurred in seventeenth century in England, and its parameters can be detected in the first chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith and in the Larger and Shorter Catechisms composed by the mainly Puritan Assembly appointed by Parliament around the time of the English Civil War. This book sets out to discover whether the Westminster authorities believed that they possessed the complete text of the inspired Scriptures, or whether they understood that the Greek and Old Testament manuscripts available to them were hopelessly compromised by a corrupt text, as their Roman Catholic adversaries alleged was the case. The introduction evaluates the theology of the text of Scripture espoused by Princeton theologian Benjamin Warfield. I explore his interpretation of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) 1:8, which makes affirmations about the providential preservation of the Scriptures. Chapter one considers John Calvin’s teaching on how Christians are assured that they possess the genuine Word of God, and his views on the state of the extant original language texts of Scripture. Chapter two demonstrates that three influential sixteenth-century English divines, Thomas Cartwright, William Whitaker and John Jewel, were all agreed that the originally inspired text of the entire Bible was in their possession. The debate over the authority of the Scripture between Roman Catholic and Protestant theologians is discussed, and the importance is considered of needing a pure text if the Scriptures can be claimed as the only rule of faith and life. Chapter three investigates what the Westminster divines, and like-minded ministers and theologians, understood by the statement in the Westminster Confession of Faith concerning the purity of the extant Scriptures. Chapter four examines the Westminster Assembly’s understanding of God’s providential preservation of the text of Scripture. Chapter five scrutinizes the views of John Goodwin who took issue with the prevailing idea that the text of Scripture, along with its meaning or sense, was the foundation of the Christian’s faith. As they interact with Goodwin, the response by the Westminster divines and others help us to see how WCF 1:8 should be interpreted. Chapter 6 interacts with the writings of Archbishop James Ussher. His ‘Irish Articles’ were a likely source document for the Westminster divines when they composed their Confession of Faith. Ussher addresses the questions concerning the integrity of the inspired text of Scriptures in several contexts. The final chapter considers the Reformed orthodox religious epistemology in the light of Scripture.