Are Versions Necessary? (Part 2)

As you recall for out last entry in this Bibliology Primer the question of the necessity of versions is divided into two main heads: the necessity of versions and the authority of versions. In this instalment we will look into the latter. Turretin begins and we here at agree,

“Although their [the version’s] utility is great for the instruction of believers, yet no versions either can or ought to be put on an equality with the original much less be preferred to it.”

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. 13, Sec. XIII.

And why is this? Why is it that the version cannot be equal with the original, with the Hebrew and Greek? Turretin gives three arguments:

“(1) For no version has anything important which the Hebrew and Greek source does not have more fully, since in the sources not only the matter and sentence, but even the very words were directly dictated by the Holy Spirit.”

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. 13, Sec. XIII.

Frist, remember that Turretin has here in the view that the “sources” are the apographs, as specifically a combined Greek and Hebrew canon derived from the copies. The Reformers held to text composed of the Hebrew OT and the Greek NT as the originals, the sources, the very words directly dictated by the Holy Spirit. When you have a robust belief in the apographs, which so many do not now have, the next step to the authority of the version is a very small step. Second, the arguments that God immediately inspired the KJV or any version for that matter goes right out the window. While we can respect Ruckmann for his work and aim, the notion of double inspiration is not supported by either Scripture or historical orthodoxy as evidenced in the quote above.

“(2) It is one thing to be an interpreter, quite another to be a prophet…The prophet of God-inspired (theopneustos) cannot err, but the interpreter as a man lacks no human quality since he is always liable to err.”

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. 13, Sec. XIII.

To cut to the chase, the KJV, because it is a version, may be revised. The nature, scope, and method of that revision is what comes into question and is not the subject of today’s post. Still, before you jump all over this point, which many of you will, please consider other posts to this point and our published work. If you do not, you will find our admission on this point to be a platform upon which our critique of textual criticism is strengthened and made more manifest.

“All versions are the streams; the original text is the foundation whence they flow. The latter is the rule, the former the thing ruled, having only human authority.”

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. 13, Sec. XIII.

Put another way, an orthodox version is like orthodox theology. Like theology is ruled by the word of God, so the version is ruled by the apographs, the copies. Like theology is not Scripture but is derived from Scripture so also the version is not the original but is derived from the original. And before you jump on the “having only human authority” line, take a look at Turretin’s next line.

“Nevertheless all authority must not be denied to versions.”

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. 13, Sec. XIII.

The authority of the version must be divided into two heads: “one of the thing, the other of the words.” Turretin explains,

“The former relates to the substance of doctrine which constitutes the internal form of the Scriptures. The latter relates to the accident of writing, the external and accidental form.”

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. 13, Sec. XIV.

In short, we can construe authority in two ways: the substances/meaning of the words and the accidents/shape of the words. The original has both the meaning and shape of the words while the version only has the meaning. That is, the Protestant Scholastics treated the very Greek and Hebrew words to be the word of God in what they mean and in their very Greek and Hebrew shapes. In other words, God meant what He said it and He said it in Hebrew and Greek. Turretin puts it this way,

“The source has both, being God-inspired (theopneustos) both as to the words and things; but versions have only the first, being expressed in human and not divine words.”

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. 13, Sec. XIV.

Because God spoke in Hebrew and Greek, all other languages are human languages when it comes to the presentation and translation of Scripture. The version has authority in that they possess the substance of the original though not the form. As such, they are open to revision, which the KJV tradition experienced in the Coverdale, Matthews, Great, and Geneva Bibles. Could the KJV be revised? Sure, but why and how that would come about is a topic worthy of considerable attention and discussion. Spoiler alert, the litmus test for revision is not false friends or corporate profits.

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