Saturday, September 28, 2019

Francis Turretin - the "Received Text" - "Confessional Text" and related Textual Critical Issues

Background - Name and the significance of Methodology
I've been using the nom de plume, TurretinFan, for over a decade. Why? It's certainly not because I slavishly follow everything that theologian taught. On the contrary, I have a number of disagreements with him, though typically about things that don't or shouldn't matter. The big examples that come to mind are geocentrism and the perpetual virginity of Mary. From time to time this leads to taunts of "You should stop calling yourself 'Francis Turretin'" or the like. I can live with that.

My reason for using that pen-name is because I enjoy the clarity of thinking that the real Francis Turretin had, as expressed in his elenctic methodology. His methodology has led to him sometimes being referred to as a Reformed scholastic. I don't think he would want to be lumped in with the medieval scholastics, but at least some of them (for example, Thomas Aquinas) can be admired for their systematic consideration of issues.

Methodology and Textual Positions
Methodology is key in distinguishing different textual positions, not just in distinguishing presentations of theology. I myself enjoy the King James Version and appreciate the beauty of the language used, as well as the useful clarity provided by distinguishing between "thou" and "you." Enjoying, however, is not really a methodology. I don't just enjoy the KJV, I preferentially use it as an English translation. Yet again, however, mere use is not a methodology.

When it comes to the text of the New Testament, there are many schools of thought. Depending on who you listen to, you may hear terms like "Critical Text," "Received Text," "Ecclesiastical Text," "King James Only," "Majority Text," "Byzantine Text," "Westcott and Hort Text" and so on.

At the risk of over-simplification, we can broadly group the positions into four schools of thought.

A. Non-Preservationist

This school of thought sees nothing particularly special about the Scriptures and treats them as being the same as any other ancient text. This group could be further sub-divided into naturalists (like atheists) and super-naturalists (like Muslims and Mormons). The latter groups may think that the New Testament was a special book, but they nevertheless insist that it was hopelessly corrupted due to (among other things) a lack of divine preservation.

Interestingly enough, when we read Reformation-era Reformers, we see them contending against Roman Catholics who had this same non-preservationist mindset as it applies to the Greek text. They would insist that the Latin was preserved, but would not extend this to the original Greek. Interestingly enough, we also see a similar mixture of views in certain KJV only groups who are open to the idea the New Testament has been preserved (in this time) only in English and not in the original language. Modern Roman Catholics (post Vatican II) seem to accept the preservation of the original text of the New Testament, and the Nova Vulgata reflects a reliance on the Greek text to correct the Latin text.

B. Preservationist

This school of thought views the Scriptures as the Word of God and understands (hopefully from the Scriptures themselves) that because of the Scriptures' purpose and nature, God will preserve them forever, or at least until we see God face to face.

1. Hard Traditionalist

This sub-group of preservationists take the position that the preserved text is a matter of hard tradition. This may take the form of a particular text being widely used by "the church" or the form of a particular text being supposedly authoritatively accepted by the church.

2. Soft Traditionalist

This sub-group of preservationists take the position that the preserved text is a matter of what we might call "lower case t tradition." They believe that because God has preserved his word through every generation, therefore we can examine tradition to see what text has been handed down.

3. Rationalist

This sub-group of preservationists take the position that the preserved text can be obtained without any particular reference to tradition, as such. In this view, the New Testament text can be established more or less the same way that we would establish the text of Homer's works, but with much higher certainty because of the much better evidence.

This is, of course, an over-simplification. Among the preservationists, there is probably something more resembling a spectrum, rather than the neat boxes I've provided.

The Confessional Position

The Westminster Confession of Faith and the London Baptist Confession have identical text at I:6:
8. The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as in all controversies of religion the Church is finally to appeal unto them. But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God who have right unto, and interest in, the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the language of every people unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope.
The key phrase for our discussion is, of course, "by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages."

The quoted phrase means at least that only the views in group B are confessional, while the views in group A should not be taught in the church. The confession does not specify to what degree we should be relying on tradition or reason to identify the providentially preserved Scriptures. As a result, the big tent of the confession is broad enough for a variety of views on this. There is not just one "ye olde Confessional Position" on that level of detail. I leave it to someone with more time on their hands to review the minutes of the Assembly to see if the wording was debated, but ultimately it matters what made it into the Confession, and such further detail did not.

The Confession's Proof Texts

Some folks like to point out that the Confession uses as proof texts, the following:
  • The long ending of Mark: 7:3(f), 8:4(g), and 17:3(m)
  • The Comma Johanneum: 2:3(o)
These same folks do not usually immediately note that the original WCF did not include these proof texts. Instead, these were added as an afterthought in response to the English House of Commons demanding proof texts.

To further complicate things, when the American Presbyterians revised the confession to (among other things) update the proof texts, those references were removed, such that the version of the WCF on the OPC website today does not use those proof texts (link to pdf version).

So, saying that the inclusion of the long ending of Mark and the Comma Johanneum is "confessional," is strained. It is probably most accurate to say that the original authors of the Confession probably accepted those passages without seriously investigating the matter.

The Real Francis Turretin's Position
The real Francis Turretin, however, did not simply hastily add a proof text to his work. In 1674, Turretin published a treatise, "De Tribus Testibus Coelestibus ex 1 Joann. V, 7" and in 1676 he published "De Spiritu, Aqua et Sanguine in terra testantibus, ex 1 Joann. V, 8." Moreover, near the start of the former treatise, Turretin attempts a defense of the passage against the Socinian accusation of insertion. His first argument? an appeal to the historical evidence as he understood it, with reference to Jerome and to the work of Erasmus, Complutensis, and Stephanus, among others who provided printed Greek New Testaments, based on his understanding that they drew the reading from the most ancient codices.

Turretin's second argument was an appeal to the wording of the remainder of the text. He reasons that verse 9's comparison between human and divine testimony only makes sense if the three earthly testimonies are in parallel with three heavenly testimonies.

Turretin's third argument is to appeal to the writings of Cyprian, Athanasius, and Fulgentius, who (he thought) used the verse approvingly.

Turretin's fourth argument is to question whether it is more probable that the Arians removed the verse or the orthodox added the verse.


In other words, while Turretin obviously reaches the opposite conclusion of the current editors of the ECM, he does so using a very similar methodology. In fact, the question of orthodox corruption of the text is one that remains of interest today (hundreds of years later).

This may not persuade the harder-tradition folk. So, an easier example is Turretin's rejection of the word "Cainan" in Luke 3:36. According to Turretin, the best explanation here is that the word was spuriously added by corruption via the Septuagint (see vol. 1, pp. 73-74 of Turretin's Institutes, 1.2.5.12). In that case, Turretin is clearly departing from the "Textus Receptus" reading. His reason for doing so is mostly on internal grounds of needing to harmonize with the Old Testament.

And, of course, this gets us to Turretin's own clear statement about his methodology (emphasis supplied):
The question is not as to the particular corruption of some manuscripts or as to the errors which have crept into the books of particular editions through the negligence of copyists or printers. All acknowledge the existence of many such small corruptions. The question is whether there are universal corruptions and errors so diffused through all the copies (both manuscript and edited) as that they cannot be restored and corrected by any collation of various copies, or of Scripture itself and of parallel passages.
Notice that Turretin explicitly acknowledges small corruptions and argues that these can be restored and corrected. The tools for such correction are collation (which is exactly what CBGM and other "modern" textual critical techniques primarily rely on) and comparison with Scripture itself (the internal evidences that CBGM is (to my knowledge) less well equipped to perform, but which human editors nevertheless have to employ, and which we see in the most recent texts of the New Testament.

Turretin was not unique in these views. He was not alone in mistakenly accepting the Comma Johanneum, nor was he alone in doing so on faulty textual critical grounds. He was not alone in being unfamiliar with the manuscripts in existence, and he was not alone in relying heavily on the printed editions (and perhaps even only on reports about those printed editions).


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