Do Real Contradictions Occur in Scripture? We deny. (Part 2)

In Part 1 we discussed the state of the case surrounding the existence or non-existence of contradictions and errors in Scripture. We saw that the Christian response was multifarious but concluded that the common orthodox understanding was that no real contradictions occur in Scripture and all minor errors were/are presently solvable. Now in Part 2 we discuss Turretin’s argument as to why there are neither real contradictions nor minor errors in the Greek and Hebrew texts. First he begins with what our question here is not.

“The question is not as to the particular corruption of some manuscripts or as to the errors which have crept into the books through the negligence of copyists or printers. All acknowledge the existence of many such small corruptions.”

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology Vol 1, Second Topic, Q. 5, Sec. 5.

Note that the Protestant orthodox were indeed very aware of the variant readings and “small corruptions” in the apographa [i.e., copies] of the originals. While we may have more NT documents in the twenty-first century than they had in the seventeenth, the objections to the purity of the present text remains the same. Turretin then goes on to state the question as,

“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.”

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. 5, Sec. 5.

There are two particular things worth pointing out in the above quote. First, there seems to be no indication that Turretin intends some distant future in which Scripture would be restored. In fact as we will see, Turretin’s emphasis seems to be on his present circumstance. Second, note that Turretin here advocates for the Scripture be an agent of restoration for the Scriptures. This of course goes back to the idea of the Scriptures being one of the principium [i.e., first principle] of Christianity. Scripture is self-attesting, self-authenticating, and self-interpreting. As such it is appropriate that it proves itself.

Turretin goes on to offer two reasons/arguments why the orthodox deny that the copies are so corrupted that they cannot be restored in his day. The first is exegetical and the second is logical invoking a cause and effect relation. Concerning the first, Turretin writes,

“The Scriptures are inspired by God (theopenustos, 2 Tim. 3:16). The word of God cannot lie (Ps. 19:8; Heb 6:18); cannot pass away and be destroyed (Mt. 5:18); shall endure forever (1 Pet. 1:25); and is truth itself (Jn. 17:17). For how could such things be predicated of it, if it contained dangerous contradictions, and if God suffered either the sacred writers to err and to slip in memory, or incurable blemishes to creep into it?”

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. 5, Sec. 6.

Note that Turretin’s first line of argumentation is to invoke Scripture to support the character of Scripture in his day. He did not invoke manuscript evidence though he had it and could have. He begins with the Bible as a witness to the Bible. He believes what the Bible says about the Bible first, and then he interprets the contradiction or “slight errors” in front of him. Second, I would like to point out that he does indeed employ Matthew 5:18 [jot and tittle] as an evidence for literal preservation. In other words, he does not understand Jesus’ words here to be a natural or oriental hyperbole. Jesus in the text says jot and tittle and so we believe it means jot and tittle. Turretin drives this home in his second reason/argument.

Regarding the second reason/argument he writes,

“Unless unimpaired integrity characterize the Scriptures, they could not be regarded as the sole rule of faith and practice, and the door would be thrown wide open to atheists, liberties, enthusiasts and other profane persons like them for destroying its authenticity (authentian) and overthrowing the foundation of salvation.”

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. 5, Sec. 7.

Most Christians, indeed, learned Christians would say that it is highly probable that the integrity of the Scriptures is impaired maybe by two or three percent and maybe more. For Turretin, if this is the case, then Scripture is not the sole rule of faith and Christian practice. There is the Scriptures and something alongside it. At present, in most Protestant circles, it seems the thing that has come alongside the Scriptures is academia or scholarship. We need the Bible and the text critical apparatus if we really want to know what the Bible is.

Turretin goes further to argue a line that flies quite in the face of the current Protestant parlance; that minor errors do not affect major doctrine. Turretin and we here at StandardSacredText.com disagree. He clearly states that impaired integrity simpliciter can overthrow the foundation of salvation. In other words, minor errors don’t just affect major doctrine; minor errors may upend the whole of the Christian faith. Seems pretty austere doesn’t it. He goes on to ask a series of rhetorical questions in expressing this austerity.

First question –

“For since nothing false can be an object of faith, how could the Scriptures be held as authentic and reckoned divine if liable to contradictions and corruptions?

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. 5, Sec. 7.

Second question –

“Nor can it be said that these corruptions are only in smaller things which do not affect the foundation of faith. For if once the authenticity (authentia) of the Scriptures is taken away (which would result even from the incurable corruption of one passage), how could our faith rest on what remains?

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. 5, Sec. 7.

Third question –

“And if corruption is admitted in those of lesser importance, why not in others of greater?

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. 5, Sec. 7.

Fourth question –

“Who could assure me that no error or blemish had crept into fundamental passages?

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. 5, Sec. 7.

Fifth question –

“Or what reply could be given to at subtle atheist or heretic who should perniciously assert that this or that passage less in his favor had been corrupted?

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. 5, Sec. 7.

Sound familiar? Confessional text advocates…KJV advocates….how many times have you used similar words? Multiple version only advocates, how many times have you heard a Confessional or KJV advocate ask similar questions like these spoken centuries ago in the third wave of the Reformation? Yet time and time again the Confessional group, the KJV church are the schismatics because they cling to historical Reformed argumentation. Ironic.

Turretin does not answer these questions directly. He simply makes the following statement,

“It will not do to say that divine providence wished to keep it free from serious corruptions, but not from minor. For besides the fact that this is gratuitous, it cannot be held without injury, as if lacking in the necessary things which are required for full credibility (autopistian) of Scripture itself. Nor can we readily believe that God, who dictated and inspired each and every word to these inspired (theopenustois) men, would not take care of their entire preservation.”

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. 5, Sec. 7.

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