Thursday, August 26, 2021

Further Defense of James White on Providential Preservation

My previous post (link), defending Dr. James White against the false accusation that he rejects the Reformed doctrine of providential preservation, received a response in a facebook group.  The following provides detailed rebuttals/responses/replies to the comments provided.  I will label Dr. White's critic/accuser as "N" for "Negative," as he expressed a negative opinion about Dr. White.

N: "I would also like to point out that your blog is a prime example of a blog written by someone who doesn't actually understand the position he is attacking."

Mostly, I am just defending Dr. White's position on the high level issue of holding to the Reformed doctrine of providential preservation of the text of Scripture (specifically the New Testament).  I am not defending Dr. White on every detail of his textual critical conclusions, as he and I disagree on some things, and because it goes beyond the scope of the criticism.  Similarly, I am not addressing his views on the Old Testament, which he has not made fully clear to me.  Likewise, it is well known that I disagree with Dr. White on things like church polity and the proper recipients of baptism.  This is not a general defense of Dr. White, just a rebuttal to one specific false accusation.

I do understand the position of many of his critics.  Let's see if my responses below demonstrate my understanding of this particular critic's position and criticism.

N: "I'm not saying that to be rude, but rather to point out that it is unhelpful to try to combat a position without knowing exactly what the position is first."

In principle, I agree.  I have noticed many critics of Dr. White run into this very problem.

N: "This isn't simply a "particular" interpretation, but rather it is the result of going back and actually looking at the whole of what the framers said instead of reading modern evangelical text criticism back into the confession. The modern text critical positions differ from what the framers believed. The underlying beliefs and methodologies are not the same."

Keep in mind that the original (and false) allegation was this: "He's Reformed in many areas...but providential preservation is not one of them."

"Framers" is the kind of terminology we typically hear in the context of Constitutional interpretation, typically from a Conservative perspective.  The Reformed movement didn't exactly have "framers," though it certainly had a number of leading and influential figures, and it also had a number of confessions (which had framers).

It's extremely implausible that our accuser has literally looked at "the whole" of what even the contributors to the Westminster Confession had to say, much less all the major and minor Reformation figures.  Nevertheless, sometimes people do extensive research, in which case we should see evidence of it.

A false dilemma is proposed between this alleged need for extensive research and "reading modern evangelical text criticism back into the confession."  It's one thing to say that authors of the Westminster Confession embraced various forms of textual criticism and another thing to say that the authors of the Westminster Confession anachronistically embraced a specific position on textual criticism that emerged centuries later, or specific tools (such as Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (CGBM)) that were only recently invented.

We need to let historical theologians sit in their place in history.  What we can say is that many of them, including leading first generation figures like Calvin and Beza, as well as second generation figures like (the real) Francis Turretin, embraced textual criticism.

Is Dr. White's view exactly the same as Calvin?  Maybe not.  For example, it seems as though Calvin is sometimes willing to accept a conjectural emendation in the New Testament, whereas Dr. White is not willing to accept the same.  In this sense, Dr. White holds to a higher view of providential preservation than Calvin. Nevertheless, Dr. White's view is still within Confessional bounds on this point, as the Westminster Confession does not address that particular nuance.

Are the "underlying beliefs" the same?  In general, yes. Are the "methodologies" the same?  At a high level, yes.  While CBGM did not exist at the time, CBGM is an example of how to do collation.  Collation was done at the time and it, and its product, was embraced by many of the Reformers.

N: "There was a change from the time of the framers to Warfield."

Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield is often the boogieman for folks who oppose "modern" textual criticism.  He's notable as the last conservative to be chair of theology at Princeton.  Warfield did not focus on textual criticism, though he certainly did discuss it.

N: "Garnet Howard Milne's book "Has the Bible been kept pure? The Westminster Confession of Faith and the providential preservation of Scripture" deals with this in detail. I highly recommend the read. It helps show the original meaning/intent of those who wrote the confession."

Milne's 2017 "independently published" work may be a good read, but let's see what arguments can be presented here.

N: "It is a documented, historical fact that Warfield was the champion of the modern view of the confession, the view that you hold to."

I really don't love when people try to tell me what view I hold to.  Maybe let me be the one to tell you that.  Just a thought.  

N: "It doesn't seem that you've engaged with the sources that show this since you believe the confessional view is some new understanding being read into the text."

The question is really what the Reformers taught and what the Confession says, not what role Warfield had in the debate.  

N: "Milne shows Warfield's struggle with this in the previously mentioned book, as does Theodore P. Letis in his "Ecclesiastical Text." They both give quote after quote. If I have time, I will look through my books and give you more examples later."

It's not particularly germane.  This isn't about whether Warfield was Reformed on this subject, but about whether Dr. White is Reformed on this subject.

N: "He, and those who follow in his footsteps, are in direct opposition to the clear, plain reading of WCF 1.8."

Again, whether BB Warfield is Reformed is a tangent.

N: "Here's one example of what Warfield believed found in his An Introduction to Textual Criticism of the NT: "And while we cannot despair of restoring to ourselves and to the Church Of God, his book, word-for-word, as he gave it by inspiration to men, there is reason to believe that we may never have all the text of The Bible in the original languages."

Dr. White, by contrast, explicitly affirms that we have all the text of the New Testament in Greek.  So, this criticism does not attach to his position.  

N: "And this is the position that all honest text critics must take, and it is why no text critic believes text criticism will ever lead to a copy of the autographa."

Here we start to see the problem.  N has tried to decide what position other people "must" take and if they deny it, they are not "honest."  N is wrong, though.

N: "You can already see his position is at odds with the confession on this point. Believing the church is in possession of a corrupt text that is in need of restoration is in direct opposition to any natural understanding of the words used in 1.8 of the WCF. There is no reconciliation between these two positions. Something cannot be both pure, in the possession of the Church, and known to the church while simultaneously being corrupt and in need of restoration."

One challenge with this interpretation is that the text of the Westminster Confession does not say, "just now in these last days," but "in all ages." They did not mean that there was always some particular copy that was word-for-word correct.  Moreover, the Reformers soundly insisted that texts of the Scriptures that had been in use in the church for centuries needed work.  They insisted that both the Septuagint and Vulgate needed conformity to the Greek and Hebrew.  They did not claim that one particular printed Greek text was perfect and not in need of any revision.

N: "You are missing something major by overemphasizing the point you say the confession is making while minimizing the very important bit about preservation (which is vital for refuting the papist position)."

I don't agree, and since no argument is provided in support, I'm not sure what else to say.

N: "Then you make some odd claim regarding an "English Ecclesiastical text." This is irrelevant to the issue at hand, having nothing to do with this conversation or the position the Confessional Text advocates hold to. The Ecclesiastical Text(s) we are holding to are the Masoretic Old Testament and the Textus Receptus New Testament. These are not English. They are Hebrew and Greek. Do we prefer the KJV? Yeah. But that's because we believe it to be the best translation of the Ecclesiastical OT and NT."

One of the challenges of saying "the Textus Receptus," is this: which Textus Receptus?  The 1550 Stephanus?  The 1894 Scrivener text?

The bigger challenge is that the Westminster Confession didn't mean "the Textus Receptus" it meant the Greek.

N: "None of us believe the WCF is speaking of the KJV. To suggest such shows you have not actually engaged any scholarly works from the Confessional side. At this point, your blog is beginning to read like someone who doesn't know his opponent's position. I mean that as respectfully as possible. It is frustrating to put time into a response when you haven't even taken the time to understand what you're fighting against."

1) I mean this in in the nicest possible way, but works like those by Milne and Letis do not deserve the label, "scholarly." 

2) While the so-called Confessional Text position will often assert that it is not simply adopting the KJV, the reason that those of us who have had to deal with their arguments often highlight the KJV is that there is often a preference for the Scrivener 1894, which is a backtranslation of the KJV in to Koine.  Moreover, we find that some (though perhaps not all) so-called Confessional Text advocates won't acknowledge errors in the KJV where the KJV departs from, for example, the 1550 Stephanus or its main base text, the 1598 Beza. 

N: "You thinking this quote proves your point shows yet again that you don't understand the Confessional position and have not engaged with any material from Confessional Text scholars."

It seems more probable that the opposite is true, given that my post is a defense of Dr. White, not an engagement with one of the many so-called Confessional Text authors.

N (quoting from a "Purely Presbyterian article"): "We do not deny the necessity of textual criticism. We readily acknowledge it. We deny, however, that the the true text of Scripture has been lost with the non-extant autographs written by the hands of the Apostles and Prophets. On the contrary, we affirm, with Turretin, that the infallible, inerrant word of God exists today in the apographs which have been in the possession of the Church in every age."

That, however, is a statement that Dr. White would affirm.

N (I think again quoting from the same source): "This point by Owen is essential to grasp. We believe that the entirety of the Holy Scripture is and was contained in the copies which have been in the possession of the Church throughout the ages. Hence, those copies are sufficient for whatever textual criticism needs to be done. No new discovery of manuscripts needed. We therefore reject the notion that the manuscripts which have been in the possession of the Church in every age are to be corrected by manuscripts that have been hidden under a rock (so to speak) for 1500 years. This would be to deny that God has preserved His word as pure in all ages, and that the Church was left with a corrupted text for many centuries."

Now we are getting at a possible difference, namely whether to use newly discovered manuscripts in the collation.  However, good luck finding any Reformer who rejected, on principle, the use of the most ancient manuscripts, or insisted only that continuously used manuscripts be referenced.  One will struggle in vain to find such.  

N: "From the testimony of Scripture itself it can be shown that God would providentially preserve His word in all ages. It cannot, however, be shown from Scripture that God would leave His Church with text so corrupted that it could not be remedied with the extant manuscripts in the possession of the Church. We reject the idea that God would leave His Church with manuscripts with variants, errors, omissions, or additions that could not be remedied with the copies in her possession in each age, as a borderline atheistic notion."

Again, Dr. White does not say that the variants (etc.) could not be remedied in earlier ages, and can only be remedied now that we have the papyri, despite the fact that the papyri are very helpful and make the task easier.

N: "What you have proven is that you think you understand the Confessional Text position but do not."

There is not just one so-called "Confessional Text" position, and it was not my assertion that I understand that position as well as any of its/their adherents.  My position was that Dr. White is Reformed on the doctrine of providential preservation.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

James White and Providential Preservation

Dr. James White has managed to become something of a lightning rod for advocates of the King James Version and its corresponding back-translation into Koine Greek, the Textus Receptus (as provided by F.H.A. Scrivener in 1894).  There are a wide array of KJV advocates, but one narrow band of the spectrum alleges that it is presenting "the Confessional position."

An example comment I recently encountered: "He's Reformed in many areas...but providential preservation is not one of them."

The person is referring to a particular interpretation (or band of interpretations) of the Westminster Confession of Faith, which states, in part (Chapter 1, Section 8):
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 vulgar language of every nation 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 main points of this section are that the final appeal is to the Greek and Hebrew, as distinct from the Latin (or any other translation), but that it is appropriate and necessary to translate the Scriptures into the languages of every nation.  This was a rejection of the Council of Trent, which declared "Moreover, the same sacred and holy Synod,--considering that no small utility may accrue to the Church of God, if it be made known which out of all the Latin editions, now in circulation, of the sacred books, is to be held as authentic,--ordains and declares, that the said old and vulgate edition, which, by the lengthened usage of so many years, has been approved of in the Church, be, in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions, held as authentic; and that no one is to dare, or presume to reject it under any pretext whatever."  (Fourth Session, April 1546)

In short, the main point of this section was a rejection of the "ecclesiastical text" of the Vulgate in favor of the Hebrew and Greek.  In a most ironic twist, modern advocates of an English ecclesiastical text have latched onto a portion of the paragraph.  

In particular, they have latched onto the phrase, "by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages," as though it referred specifically to the KJV (which had only first been printed less than forty years before) or, in an odd anachronism, to Scrivner's TR that was about two centuries yet to come.

What the Confession means is that the Hebrew and Greek copies have not suffered from corruption, such that they can no longer be trusted, and that we consequently must look to the Latin Vulgate or some other source.  The Confession does not get into the specific issue of the Greek manuscripts and their texts.

We know, however, from contemporary Reformed discussions on the subject, that it was known that there were multiple manuscript copies of the New Testament books in Greek and multiple manuscript copies of the Old Testament books in Hebrew, and that these did not always agree with one another perfectly.

For example, under the question, "QUESTION 11: Are the Hebrew version of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New the only authentic ones? Affirmative, against the Roman Catholics." Francis Turretin (the real and original one) addressed the issue raised about textual variants:  "VIII. The variant readings that occur in Scripture do not detract from its authenticity, because they are easily recognized and understood, partly by the context, and partly by collation of the better manuscripts; many are of such nature that, although they differ, yet they agree in meaning."

In short, Turretin acknowledged that there were textual variants, but he suggested using textual criticism (i.e. "partly by context, and partly collation") to resolve these issues.  Turretin wasn't a Westminster Divine, but his position on this is consistent with the understanding the Westminster divines had.

Thus, my friend is mistaken when he claims that "providential preservation" is not one of the areas where Dr. White is Reformed.  On the contrary, there are a number of men who are Reformed in many areas but who, in their effort to bolster an English ecclesiastical text, have accidentally departed from the Confession.