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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8

Biblical Inspiration and Infallibility

Biblical Inspiration and Infallibility.

Sir,—Since I wrote, in a former number of your periodical, on this subject, the popular belief in the infallibility of the authorised version of the Bible has received a severe shock; a Convocation of Bishops of the Archbishopric of Canterbury having decided to appoint a Committee (to include, it appears, some eminent Nonconformists) to revise it.

It is not very easy to ascertain the origin of the idea of the infallibility of the English version. Even if we conceded the question in favour of the original writings (which, as I have before said, are not in existence, that learned pundit, Dr. Wazir Beg, to the contrary, notwithstanding), we should require that all the transcribers and translators should be equally inspired; or, as the author of The Pilgrim and the Shrine puts it, tersely and irrefutably, "an infallible revelation requires an infallible interpreter, and both are useless without an infallible understanding to comprehend the interpretation." But neither the transcribers nor the translators claim anything of the kind, and any such claim on the part of any one else would be met with contempt and derision.

The translators of the present English version, in their grotesquely fulsome dedication to that "wisest fool in Christendom," the "Most High and Mighty Prince, James, by the Grace of God, King of Great Britain, France and page 247 Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc.," only say this, "For when your Highness had once out of deep judgment apprehended how convenient it was, that out of the Original Sacred Tongues" (not writings, mark), "together with comparing of the labours, both in our own and other (sic) Foreign Languages, of many worthy men who went before us, there should be one more exact Translation of the Holy Scriptures into the English Tongue." There is no claim to infallibility here.

It would appear, therefore, that the origin of the popular belief lay in mistaking the meaning of the words, "the original sacred tongues."

Lord Shaftesbury, who makes such lamentation over the proposed revision, as likely to produce two Bibles, one for the Church of England and another for the dissenters, may calm his fears on this point by calling to mind the fact that there are already in existence many different and differing versions of the Bible or of some of its parts. And, then, what about the more modem translations into heathen languages? These tongues, as must be known, are necessarily very imperfect, being limited in their range of expression by the limited knowledge of the world and its products possessed by these peoples. A very large proportion of the Book therefore can only be conveyed to the limited intellect of the savage by the roundabout process of periphrasis; and who will undertake to assert, with regard to matters of which the savage cannot possibly have had any previous knowledge, that this mode of interpretation will convey the precise ideas of the original writer? And if not, what becomes of the infallibility?—what of the savage's soul?

Well, now, suppose the revision begun. How far will the revisers go? Where will they stop? The Bishop of Gloucester and others have already condemned the stock text of the orthodox respecting the three heavenly witnesses, the mainstay of the dogma of the Trinity. How much farther are they prepared to go? If they are honest, the result will be a Unitarian Bible. Mr. Wilson, in his Concessions of Trinitarians, has clearly shown that every alteration in the text of Scripture, according to Unitarian criticism, had been conceded by eminent Trinitarian critics, including Archbishop Whately, Dr. Adam Clarke and Dr. Pye Smith.

But however the revision may be conducted, one thing is clear, the dogma of Biblical Inspiration and Infallibility has received its death-blow.

It would occupy too much of your space to dilate longer on this theme, or to speculate upon what is to be the view taken of the Bible after this consummation. I may take up this latter subject on some future occasion.