The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8
Biblical Inspiration and Infallibility
Biblical Inspiration and Infallibility.
Sir,—Let me, first of all, congratulate you on the beginning of your spirited enterprise, and offer my hearty wishes for its success.
And now to my text. A Biblical legend tells us that on the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, "Cherubims and a flaming sword" were placed at the east of the garden "to keep the way of the tree of life;" in other words, to prevent the return of the evicted tenants. But coming down to historical times, we find a very different order of being placed by fallible human authority at the entrance to the domain of Free Religious Inquiry; a very devil, in fact, which at first did his work of warning off would-be intruders by means of the prison, the stake and the scaffold, but was eventually restricted to the infliction of legal penalities and disqualifications. Now-a-days, we have only to look fairly into the face of this devil in order to despise him. But, then, what a few of us there are who can or will do this! I myself know many who, from fear of unsettling what they are pleased to call their opinions, but which are merely assumptions taken on trust, or from sheer unwillingness to obey the apostolic injunction and "prove all things," are content to go on in their several worldly occupations, hoping that, if they are not very wicked, all things will somehow or other come right to them in the end. Here, then, is an imp which the Free Religious Press may help to exorcise, and to this good work I venture to offer my poor assistance.
Not long since I was conversing with a Presbyterian minister of this city, and on my asking him how he could maintain the dogma of the Inspiration of the Bible, unless he was prepared to assert the inspiration and infallibility of all its transcribers and translators; he replied, that scholars, like himself, did not go to the authorised version, but to the Hebrew and Greek originals. And can it be, said I to myself, on turning his answer over, that this Reverend Doctor, with all his fame for classical and oriental learning, is really ignorant of the fact that the originals of the Bible writings are not in existence? Or did he presume on my ignorance of this fact and try to impose on me? Let us, at all events, see what Tischendorf, in his Introduction to the "New Testament of the Authorised Version," says on this point:—"As early as the reign of Elizabeth, the English nation possessed an authorised trans- page 54 lation, executed by the Bishops under the guidance of Archbishop Parker; and this, half-a-century later, in the year 1611, was revised" (revised, mark you; if the Book was already infallible, what need of a revision?) "at the command of James the First, by a body of learned divines, and became the present 'Authorised Version'".... "But the Greek text of the Apostolic writings, since its origin in the first century, has suffered many a mischance at the hands of those who have used and studied it; the mere process of constant copying and recopying alone having given rise to many alterations. The Authorised Version, like Luther's, was made from a Greek text which Erasmus in 1516, and Robert Stephens in 1550, had formed from manuscripts of later dale than the tenth century. . . . Since the sixteenth century Greek manuscripts have been discovered of far greater antiquity than those of Erasmus and Stephens; as well as others in Latin, Syriac, Coptic, and Gothic, into which languages the sacred text was translated between the second and fourth centuries; while in the works of the fathers, from the second century downwards, many quotations from the New Testament have been found and compared. And the result has been that while on the one hand scholars have become aware that the text of Erasmus and Stephens was in use in the Byzantine Church long before the tenth century; on the other hand, they have discovered thousands of readings which had escaped the notice of these editors. Providence has ordained for the New Testament more sources of the greatest antiquity than are possessed by all the old Greek literature put together. And of these, two manuscripts have for long been especially esteemed by Christian scholars, since, in addition to their great antiquity, they contain very nearly the whole of both the Old and New Testaments. Of these two, one is deposited in the Vatican, and the other in the British Museum. Within the last ton years a third has been added to the number, which was found at Mount Sinai, and is now at St. Petersburg."
I should occupy too much of your space by quoting, at length, Tischendorf's account of these Mss. Suffice it to say that the Vatican Codex is believed to be not older than the fourth century, the Alexandrine not more ancient than the fifth, and the Sinaitic also the fourth, that they are all more or less imperfect as compared with the Authorised Version, that the two latter contain Books or Epistles not to be found in this version, and that they all differ more or less in their readings. Where then are the originals? Echo answers—Where?
Much more might be written on this subject, but I will, for the present, conclude as I began, by saying that, if this untenable dogma of verbal inspiration and consequent infallibility of the Scriptures were once for all got rid of, the gate of "Free Religious Thought" would be permanently opened.
I am, Sir,