Category: Historical Support

Autographa & Apographa: John Owen on Inspiration and Preservation

This is a repost of Dr. Paul Henebury’s recent post on his blog. Dr. Henebury is the President of Veritas School of Theology.

Introduction

The greatest British theologian of the 17th Century was, in the opinion of many, John Owen.  Owen made distinctive contributions in a number of theological loci.  His book on the mutual relationship within the Trinity and our communion with each of the Divine Persons is still the best work on the subject.[1] Likewise, his manifesto for congregational-independency[2] offers some of the best arguments for Pastor-led congregational form of church government, and his The Death of Death in the Death of Christ[3] is considered the book on the Reformed view of particular redemption.  Owen’s teaching on the subject of the inspiration of the Bible is also most instructive, especially in view of what has been and is being taught in some evangelical seminaries and books.

The Importance of Divine Inspiration

Owen’s views on the crucial matter of the relationship of the Bible as we have it and the autographs are worth pondering.  He, like all solid evangelicals, rests the authority of the Bibles we have, not upon some inner impression of its validity, but upon its original theopneustic character.  In his, The Divine Original of the Scripture he asserted, “That the whole authority of the scripture in itself depends solely on its divine original, is confessed by all who acknowledge its authority.”[4] Thus the autographs were from God and delivered to men.  We possess “the words of truth from God Himself.”[5]

Inspiration he defined as “an indwelling and organizing power in the chosen penmen.” [6] Thus, “they invented not words themselves…but only expressed the words they received.”[7] Indeed, “the word that came unto them was a book which they took in and gave out without any alteration of one tittle or syllable (Ezek. ii 8-10, iii 3; Rev. x 9-11).”[8] As Owen writes in his great work on the Holy Spirit:

He did not speak in them or by them, and leave it unto their natural faculties, their minds, or memories, to understand and remember the things spoken by him, and so declare them to others; but he himself acted their faculties, making use of them to express his words, not their own conceptions.[9]

It is because of its divine provenance that the Scripture gains “the power and to require obedience, in the name of God.”[10] The Scriptures “being what they are, they declare whose they are.”[11] Even so, being as the Bible is the Word of God, every man is bound to believe it.[12]

All this notwithstanding, Owen refuses to ground his doctrine of Scripture solely on the internal testimony of the Spirit.  As he says in his The Reason of Faith, “If anyone…shall now ask us wherefore we believe the Scripture to be the word of God; we do not answer, ‘It is because the Holy Spirit hath enlightened our minds, wrought faith in us, and enabled us to believe it.’”[13] Such a declaration may at first seem to be a deviation from the tradition inherited from the Reformation.  But Owen demonstrates that there has to be an external reason for the credibility of our faith in Scripture as the Word of God.[14] Divine revelation must have the character of truth through and through, and it is this character which the Spirit causes us recognize through faith.[15]

The Role of Apographa

Where John Owen, together with many of his contemporaries, differed from modern expressions of inspiration was in the close connection he saw between the Scriptures as originally given and the Scriptures as we now have them.  For example, he wrote:

Sacred Scripture claims this name for itself.  It has its origin from God…[s]o that what God once said to the Church through the medium of Prophets, Apostles, and other inspired writers was still spoken directly by God, and that not only in the primary sense to those whom He delegated this task of reducing His revealed will to written form, but also, no less so in a secondary sense, He speaks to us now in His written word…, as in days past He spoke through the mouths of His holy prophets.[16]

In contrast to the way inspiration and (if at all) preservation is taught nowadays, men like Owen saw a real continuity between the autographs and what were often termed the “apographs,” or copies of the originals.  “It is true”, Owen said, “we have not the Autographa …but the apographa or “copies” which we have contain every iota that was in them.[17]

As we have already inferred, in saying this Owen was not alone.  Francis Turretin of the Genevan Academy also held this view:

By original texts, we do not mean the autographs…, 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.”[18]

Did this show a pre-Enlightenment naiveté?  Not at all.  Owen was well aware that the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts available in his day contained variant readings, transpositions, corrections, and other glosses.  But he saw the supervening hand of God in transmission of the texts.  For example, he wrote, “For the first transcribers of the original copies, and those who… have done the like work from them…[i]t is known, it is granted, that failings have been amongst them, and that various lections are from thence risen.”[19]

It is of interest to note that Owen’s recent translator contrasts the view of the Puritan with that of BB Warfield, especially in the areas of the extent of the understanding of inerrancy and the identity of the Text.  Stephen Westcott says that,

Owen saw inerrant as not meaning just that all “between the boards of the Bible” was inspired and without error…, but rather that inerrant necessarily meant plenary inspiration, and plenary inspiration that the Bible lacks nothing, and is thus a full and perfect rule and guide for all of life –not just for “religion”, and he saw inspiration as involving three essential factors: content inspiration, verbal inspiration, and divine preservation.[20]

Summarizing Owen’s View

From the above quotations the following three points can be drawn:

  1. The Divine authority of the Bible rests in itself.  It is self-attesting:

“That God, who is prima Veritas, ‘the first and sovereign Truth,’…should write a book, or at least immediately indite it, commanding us to receive it as his under the penalty of his eternal displeasure, and yet that book not make a sufficient discovery of itself to be his, to be from him, is past all belief.”[21]

  1. This authority rested in the first instance in Scripture’s inherent status as God-given, and not in the inner testimony of the Spirit to His Word.
  1. Although He allowed the human authors to remain individual personalities, the Holy Spirit nevertheless “acted their faculties” in order to produce His words in written form.  Owen taught that the nature of the Spirit presupposed this kind of inspiration,[22] even if, strictly speaking, “It is the graphe that is theopneustos.”[23]
  1. Although we no longer possess the original manuscripts of the Bible, the apographa or copies do communicate to us what the Holy Spirit said in the autographs.[24] Owen, unlike some Evangelicals today, held to a strong doctrine of Preservation.[25]

This assertion gives the lie to the thesis of people like Sandeen and Rogers and McKim[26] who have claimed that the belief that Scripture’s authority extends to all aspects of life is due to the influence of the Enlightenment. [27] But it also reminds us that God has not just set His Word in the world and then left it up to frail men to preserve it unsupervised.  In a very real sense the Bible through which God actively communicates today is foremost His Word, not our attempt to reproduce it.


[1] John Owen, On Communion with God, Works II, (London: Banner of Truth, 1966).

[2] Owen, The True Nature of a Gospel Church, Works XVI, (London: Banner of Truth, 1968).

[3] The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, Works X, (London: Banner of Truth, 1968).

[4] The Divine Original of the Scripture, Works XVI, (London: Banner of Truth, 1968), 297.

[5] Ibid., 305

[6] A Defense of Sacred Scripture.  Appended to his Biblical Theology, (Pittsburgh, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1994), 789.

[7] Divine Original, 305

[8] Divine Original, 299.

[9] A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit.  Works III, (London: Banner of Truth, 1967), 132-133.

[10] Divine Original, 308

[11] Ibid., 311

[12] Ibid., 335

[13] The Reason of Faith, Works IV, (London: Banner of Truth, 1967), 60

[14] Ibid., 61-69

[15] Ibid., 68

[16] Defense, 788. (cf. also Works XVI, 357).

[17] Divine Original, 300-301.

[18] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1992), 1.106.

[19] John Owen, Of the Integrity and Purity of the Hebrew and Greek Text of the Scripture. Works XVI, 355.

[20] Stephen Westcott, “Editors Introduction,” – John Owen, Defense, 772-773.

[21] Cf. also, Works XVI, 317-318, and, 335.  Calvin said, “We ask not for proofs or probabilities on which to rest our judgment, but we subject our intellect and judgment to it as too transcendent for us to estimate.” – John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.7.5. (1.72).

[22] Owen, A Discourse Concerning The Holy Spirit, Works III, 131.

[23] Divine Original, 300.

[24] Likewise, see the opinion of William Whitaker recorded by John Woodbridge in his rebuttal of Rogers and McKim in Douglas Moo (ed.), Biblical Authority and Conservative Perspectives, (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1997), 46.

[25] See Owen, Divine Original of the Scripture, 354-355.

[26] See also the attacks on men like Carl F.H. Henry by the likes of Donald Bloesch.

[27] We are aware of the fact that men like Owen, Voetius, Turretin, and Thomas Boston believed that the Masoretic punctuation marks were divinely inspired.  They were mistaken.  But this does not mean that they were wrong in the matter before us. Furthermore, it may not be out of place to add that in the debate about the Majority Text versus the minority Critical Text.  For what it is worth, Stephen Westcott believes that Owen, were he alive, would side with the MT.  “For Owen, the Reformation, and the Puritans [to even put it in those terms] …would be to settle the dispute!” – “Editor’s Introduction,” to John Owen, A Defense of Sacred Scripture, 773.

The King James Translators & the Septuagint (LXX)

It seems this has been a recurring theme on our blog of late, but discussions here and elsewhere have been focusing in on this point: Did Jesus and the Apostles use the Septuagint in their ministries and in quoting from the Old Testament? I was recently reminded that the translators of the King James Bible, themselves would answer “yes”. See their words below from “The Translators to the Reader“.

While God would be known only in Jacob, and have his Name great in Israel, and in none other place, while the dew lay on Gideon’s fleece only, and all the earth besides was dry; then for one and the same people, which spake all of them the language of Canaan, that is, Hebrew, one and the same original in Hebrew was sufficient. But, when the fulness of time drew near, that the Sun of righteousness, the Son of God should come into the world, whom God ordained to be a reconciliation through faith in his blood, not of the Jew only, but also of the Greek, yea, of all them that were scattered abroad; then lo, it pleased the Lord to stir up the spirit of a Greek Prince (Greek for descent and language) even of Ptolemy Philadelph King of Egypt, to procure the translating of the Book of God out of Hebrew into Greek. This is the translation of the Seventy Interpreters, commonly so called, which prepared the way for our Saviour among the Gentiles by written preaching, as Saint John Baptist did among the Jews by vocal. For the Grecians being desirous of learning, were not wont to suffer books of worth to lie moulding in Kings’ libraries, but had many of their servants, ready scribes, to copy them out, and so they were dispersed and made common. Again, the Greek tongue was well known and made familiar to most inhabitants in Asia, by reason of the conquest that there the Grecians had made, as also by the Colonies, which thither they had sent. For the same causes also it was well understood in many places of Europe, yea, and of Africa too. Therefore the word of God being set forth in Greek, becometh hereby like a candle set upon a candlestick, which giveth light to all that are in the house, or like a proclamation sounded forth in the market place, which most men presently take knowledge of; and therefore that language was fittest to contain the Scriptures, both for the first Preachers of the Gospel to appeal unto for witness, and for the learners also of those times to make search and trial by. It is certain, that that Translation was not so sound and so perfect, but that it needed in many places correction; and who had been so sufficient for this work as the Apostles or Apostolic men? Yet it seemed good to the holy Ghost and to them, to take that which they found, (the same being for the greatest part true and sufficient) rather than by making a new, in that new world and green age of the Church, to expose themselves to many exceptions and cavillations, as though they made a Translation to serve their own turn, and therefore bearing witness to themselves, their witness not to be regarded. This may be supposed to be some cause, why the Translation of the Seventy was allowed to pass for current. Notwithstanding, though it was commended generally, yet it did not fully content the learned, no not of the Jews. For not long after Christ, Aquila fell in hand with a new Translation, and after him Theodotion, and after him Symmachus; yea, there was a fifth and a sixth edition, the Authors whereof were not known. These with the Seventy made up the Hexapla and were worthily and to great purpose compiled together by Origen. Howbeit the Edition of the Seventy went away with the credit, and therefore not only was placed in the midst by Origen (for the worth and excellency thereof above the rest, as Epiphanius gathered) but also was used by the Greek fathers for the ground and foundation of their Commentaries. Yea, Epiphanius above named doth attribute so much unto it, that he holdeth the Authors thereof not only for Interpreters, but also for Prophets in some respect; and Justinian the Emperor enjoining the Jews his subjects to use especially the Translation of the Seventy, rendereth this reason thereof, because they were as it were enlightened with prophetical grace. Yet for all that, as the Egyptians are said of the Prophet to be men and not God, and their horses flesh and not spirit [Isa 31:3]; so it is evident, (and Saint Jerome affirmeth as much) that the Seventy were Interpreters, they were not Prophets; they did many things well, as learned men; but yet as men they stumbled and fell, one while through oversight, another while through ignorance, yea, sometimes they may be noted to add to the Original, and sometimes to take from it; which made the Apostles to leave them many times, when they left the Hebrew, and to deliver the sense thereof according to the truth of the word, as the spirit gave them utterance. This may suffice touching the Greek Translations of the Old Testament.

So we have a clear admission by orthodox Protestant scholars of the early seventeenth Century, that the LXX was used by Christ and the apostles. Subsequent scholarship has given additional insights into this, and confirms the notion that Greek translations of the Old Testament books were often used by the Apostles and quoted from in the New Testament. For more evidence on this point, see this comparison of NT quotes and the LXX vs. the Hebrew. See also this Trinitarian Bible Society (which incidentally only publishes the KJV for its English Bible) article on the value of the Septuagint [HT: Pavlos].

Gipp, Irenaeus, and The Septuagint

When one reads King James Version Only arguments, one of the issues that arises is that of the New Testament quotation of the Septuagint (LXX).

One example is Samuel Gipp, who said:
“..the most unexplainable is Paul’s quote of Deuteronomy 25:4 in I Corinthians 9:9. For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen?

Deut 25:4: “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn.”

Here we find Paul quoting the words “the corn” just as if they had been in the Hebrew original even though they are only found in the italics of our Authorized Version!

If one were to argue that Paul was quoting a supposed Greek Septuagint translation of the original Hebrew, our dilemma only worsens. For now, two perplexing questions present themselves to us. First, if such a Greek translation ever existed, (which is not documented in history) by what authority did the translators insert these words? Secondly, if they were added by the translators, does Paul’s quoting of them confirm them as inspired?”

(Samuel Gipp, The Answer Book, online edition http://samgipp.com/answerbook/?page=11.htm Accessed 02/25/2010)

Gipp states that it is not documented in history that the LXX existed. I shall leave it to others, or until another time, to explain the “why” of his making this statement. I simply wish to demonstrate the lie of the statement.

Irenaeus (a.d. 125–202 ) was not very many years removed from the time of Christ. He was familiar with Polycarp, who was acquainted with at least one of the apostles. Irenaeus wrote to combat some serious doctrinal errors that had arisen in the church. Thus we have “Against Heresies”. It is in these writings that we find Irenaeus bearing testimony to the existence of the LXX.

1. God, then, was made man, and the Lord did Himself save us, giving us the token of the Virgin. But not as some allege, among those now presuming to expound the Scripture, [thus:] “Behold, a young woman shall conceive, and bring forth a son,” as Theodotion the Ephesian has interpreted, and Aquila of Pontus, both Jewish proselytes. The Ebionites, following these, assert that He was begotten by Joseph; thus destroying, as far as in them lies, such a marvelous dispensation of God, and setting

aside the testimony of the prophets which proceeded from God. For truly this prediction was uttered before the removal of the people to Babylon; that is, anterior to the supremacy acquired by the Medes and Persians. But it was interpreted into Greek by the Jews themselves, much before the period of our Lord’s advent, that there might remain no suspicion that perchance the Jews, complying with our humor, did put this interpretation upon these words…

2. For before the Romans possessed their kingdom, while as yet the Macedonians held Asia, Ptolemy the son of Lagus, being anxious to adorn the library which he had founded in Alexandria, with a collection of the writings of all men, which were [works] of merit, made request to the people of Jerusalem, that they should have their Scriptures translated into the Greek language. And they — for at that time they were still subject to the Macedonians — sent to Ptolemy seventy of their elders, who were thoroughly skilled in the Scriptures and in both the languages, to carry out what he had desired… the Gentiles present perceived that the Scriptures had been interpreted by the inspiration of God. And there was nothing astonishing in God having done this…

3. Since, therefore, the Scriptures have been interpreted with such fidelity.. and since from these God has prepared and formed again our faith towards His Son, and has preserved to us the unadulterated Scriptures in Egypt.. and [since] this interpretation of these Scriptures was made prior to our Lord’s

descent [to earth], and came into being before the Christians appeared — for our Lord was born about the forty-first year of the reign of Augustus; but Ptolemy was much earlier, under whom the Scriptures were interpreted.. our faith is steadfast, unfeigned, and the only true one, having clear proof from these Scriptures, which were interpreted in the way I have related; and the preaching of the Church is without interpolation. For the apostles, since they are of more ancient date than all these [heretics], agree with this aforesaid translation; and the translation harmonizes with the tradition of the apostles. For Peter, and John, and Matthew, and Paul, and the rest successively, as well as their followers, did set forth all prophetical [announcements], just as the interpretation of the elders contains them.”

(Against Heresies on CCEL http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.iv.xxii.html Accessed 02/25/2010)

Irenaeus not only stated that the LXX existed, he called it the “preserved”, “unadulterated Scriptures”! Not only so, but he stated that it was a translation that was carried out with “fidelity”, and that they indeed existed before Christian and before Christ Himself was born. He also informs us that the apostles quoted from the LXX.

Methinks that some KJVO believers need to study their history a little more.

In the end, it is somewhat amazing that Irenaeus’ writings against heresies now testifies against a heresy that he never knew would exist: that of KJVO’ism.

Luke 4:18 and the LXX (part 1)

Perhaps no passage in Scripture presents such a problem to the KJV Only view¹, as Luke 4:16-22.  In this first post, we will offer a brief explanation of the text, an examination of the quotation in verses 18-19, and a some historical support for our position.  In future posts, we will draw out the implications from the text which impact the version debate, and provide some answers to common KJV Only counter-arguments.

Explanation of the Text

Luke 4:16 explains Christ stood to read the text in the synagogue.  This was the common practice.  Jesus will read and then expound the text.  Vs. 17 explains he will read from the scroll of Isaiah, and he opens the scroll and proceeds to read.

Bibles that provide Jesus’ words in red, do a disservice to our text.  An ESV Bible I have sitting here, has vs. 18-19 in red.  But if we examine vs. 17 more closely, we’ll see that Luke is not telling us what Jesus “said” but what was written in the book that was in Jesus’ hand.

Luke says (using the KJV text here), “when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written”.  Then follows vs. 18-19.  Luke does not say Jesus said those words.  From vs. 20, it is clear that he had read them, as he rolls the scroll back up and sits down (to begin his teaching, as the custom prescribed).  So clearly Jesus read from that passage of Scripture.  But Luke gives us what the scroll said.  He tells us what was written (or what “stood written”, to better reflect the perfect tense of the Greek words here).

Luke as the inspired author of Scripture is making a statement concerning what was written on the scroll in the Nazareth synagogue.  Now we’ll look more closely at what Luke tells us was written there.

Examination of the Quotation

Using the KJV English as a comparison, the chart below shows where the quote in Luke 4:18-19 departs from the Hebrew Original as translated by the KJV in Isaiah 61:1-2. (You may want to click on the image to enlarge it.)

You’ll notice that some of the differences are quite minor (“to”/”unto”, “poor”/”meek”, “preach deliverance”/”proclaim liberty”).  Others are more significant: “Lord GOD” (Adonai Jehovah) becomes “Lord”, “LORD” (Jehovah) becomes “he”, “bruised” becomes “bound”.  And even more problematic, an entire phrase is found in Luke that is not in Isaiah 61: “recovering of sight to the blind”.  A similar phrase is found in Isaiah 42:7, but it doesn’t match up exactly.  It was common for readers in the prophets to skip around a bit, and read portions of verses from the nearby chapters.  Even allowing for this, it does not appear that the exact wording Luke records in Luke 4 is found in the King James Version in Isaiah (and we would assume in the Hebrew Masoretic Text behind the KJV).

Now this all gets very interesting once we compare the Greek of Luke 4 with the Greek of the Septuagint Old Testament (LXX) in Isaiah 61.

Here we see the differences are much less.  The first two involve alternate spellings of the same word.  In the NA27 and the Majority Text Greek, the spelling of the LXX is followed.  The third instance of a difference, followed by the TR and MT,² and in English it amounts to “the broken of heart” vs. “the broken of hearts” (or as often translated, “brokenhearted”).  The fourth instance is similar to the English example in the KJV, “preach” vs. “declare”.

Most interesting to note here, is that the phrase above which the KJV/Hebrew does not have in Isaiah 61, “the recovering of sight to the blind” is found in the Greek LXX and matches the wording exactly in all the versions of the Greek NT (TR, MT & NA27).  There is a missing phrase found in Luke and not in Isaiah LXX, however.  “To set at liberty them that are bruised” is not in the LXX.  However an almost exact form of this phrase is found in Is. 58:6.  That form matches more perfectly than the missing English phrase does from Is. 42 (see above).  So again, if we consider the common practice of reading from nearby chapters, then we have a much clearer story of where the quotation came from that Luke says was written in the scroll at the Nazareth synagogue. Read more »

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