Robert Shaw on the preservation of scripture and textual variants

The passage below pretty much sums up my own position:

“The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and, by His singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as, in all controversies of religion, the Church is finally to appeal unto them. But, because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated in to the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that, the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship Him in an acceptable manner; and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope.”

Westminster Confession of Faith, Of the Holy Scripture 1.8.

The Old Testament, except a few passages which were written in Chaldee, was originally written in Hebrew, the language of the Jews, to whom the prophetic oracles were committed. The passages which were written in Chaldee, are the eleventh verse of the tenth chapter of the Prophecies of Jeremiah; from the second verse of the fourth chapter of Daniel, to the end of the seventh chapter; and the fourth, fifth, and sixth chapters of Ezra. The New Testament was originally written in Greek, the language which, at the time of writing it, was most universally known. The original language of the Gospel according to Matthew, is indeed a subject of controversy. The ancients, with one voice, affirm that it was written in Hebrew, and this opinion is supported by many modern critics; others, equally learned, maintain that it was originally composed in Greek. Several of the latest writers on this subject have adopted the opinion that there were two originals, Hebrew and Greek, both written by Matthew himself,–the one for the use of the Jews, the other for the use of the Gentiles. Though the autographs of the inspired writings have long since disappeared, yet there is ample evidence that by the singular care and providence of God, they have been preserved pure in all ages, and that the copies which we now possess generally coincide with the originals. The purity of the Old Testament Scriptures is confirmed by the general coincidence of the present Hebrew copies with all the early translations, and particularly with the Septuagint version. It may also be observed, that although our Lord frequently reproved the rulers and teachers of the Jews for their erroneous and false doctrines, yet he never accused them of any corruption in their sacred books; and the Apostle Paul reckons it among the privileges of the Jews, that to them “were committed the oracles of God,” without ever insinuating that they had been unfaithful to their trust. The animosity which has ever since prevailed betwixt Jews and Christians has rendered it impossible for either of them to vitiate these sacred writings without immediate detection. The corruption of the books of the New Testament is altogether incredible. Had any party entertained a wish to alter them, it would have been impossible for them to succeed. Copies were speedily multiplied; they were early translated into the different languages of the several nations among which the gospel was planted; the Christian fathers embodied numerous quotations from them into their writings; various sects soon arose, keenly opposed to each other, but all receiving the same sacred books, and these became a check upon each other, and rendered corruptions and interpolations impracticable. Every succeeding age increased the difficulty; and though the comparison of a multitude of ancient manuscripts and copies has discovered a vast number of various readings, occasioned by the inadvertence and inaccuracy of transcribers, yet none of these differences affect any one article of the faith and comfort of Christians.

2. As the Scriptures were originally written in the languages which, at the time of writing them, were most generally understood, God has hereby intimated his will, that they should be translated into the vernacular language of different nations, that every one may read and understand them. This we maintain in opposition to the Church of Rome, which forbids the translation of the Scriptures into the vulgar languages, and declares the indiscriminate reading of them to be highly dangerous. Though the free use of the Scriptures be prohibited by that Church, they were certainly intended by God for all ranks and classes of mankind. All are enjoined to read the Scriptures (John 5. 39); and the laity are commended not only for searching them, but for trying the doctrines of their public teachers by them.–Acts 17. 11. It is, therefore, necessary that the Scriptures should be translated into the language of every nation; and the use of translations is sanctioned by the apostles, who frequently quoted passages of the Old Testament from the Septuagint.


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