Andrew Thomson John Owen.

The works of John Owen, Volume 14 online

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ing to be deluded in thiEt. That the most of Christians need never
to read the Scripture, which they are commanded by God to medi-
tate on day and night, to read, study, and grow in the knowledge of,
and which by all the ancient fathera of the church they are exhorted
unto; that they need not understand those prayers which they are
commanded to pray with understanding, and wherein lies a principal
exercise of their faith and love towards God, — '^ are the things which
are here recommended unto us." Let us view the aiguments where-
with, first, the " general custom of the western empire, in keeping
the mass and Bible in an unknown tongue, is pleaded." But what is
a general custom of the western empire in opposition to the com-



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ENtlTLED FIAT LUX. 12S

mand of Ood^ and the evidence of all that reason that lies against
it? Have we not an express command not to follow a multitude to
do evil? Besides, what is, or ever was, the^ western empire unto the
Catholicism of the church of Christ spread over the whole world?
Within a hundred years after Christ the gospel was spread to nations
imd in places whither the Roman pow^ never extended itself, —
" Romanis inaocessa loca,*^— much less that branch of it which he
calls the western empira But neither yet was it t^e custom of the
western empire to keep the Bible in an unknown tongue, or to per-
form the worship of the church in such a language* Whilst the
Latin tongue was only used by them, it was generally used in other
things, and was the vulgar tongue of all the nations belonging unto
it little was there remaining oi those tongues in use that were the
langu^es of the provinces of it before they became sO: so that
though they had their Bible in the liatin tongue, they had it not in
an unknown; no more than the Grecians had who used it in Greek.
And when any people received the faith of Christ who had not be-
fore received the language of the Romans, good men translated the
Bible into their own ; as Jerome did for the Dalmatians. Whatever^
then, may be said of the Latin, there is no pretence of the use of an
unknown tongue in the woi*ship of the churdi in the western empire,
until it was overrun, destroyed, and broken in pieces by the northern
nations, and possessed by them (most of them Pagans), who brought
m sev^ial distinct languages into the provinces where they seated
themselves. After those tumults ceased, and the conquerors began
to take np the religion of the people into whose countries they were
come, — still letaining, with some mixtures, their old dialect,— that
the Scripture was not in all places (for in many it was) tranedated for
then: use, was the sin and negligence of some who had other faults
besides. The primitive use of the Latin tongue in the worship of
Ood, and tran^tion of the Bible into it, in the western empire^
whikt that language was usually qpoken and read, as the Greek in
the Gi^ian, is an undeniable ai'gument of the judgment of the an-
dent chttfdi for the use of the Scripture and church liturgies in a
known tongoe^ What ensued on, what was occasioned by, that in-
undatioA of barbarous nations that buried the worid for some ages
in darkness and i^oranoe, cannot reasonably be proposed for our
imitation. I hope we shall not easily be induced either to return
unto or embrace the effeeta of barbarism. Bat, saith our author,
secondly, ^' Catholics have the sum of Scripture, both for history and
dogma, delivered tbem in their own language, so much as may make
for Vbek salvation, good orden being set and instituted for their pro-
ficiency therein, and what needs any more? ot why should they be
&rther permitted either to satisfy curiosity, or to raise doubts, or to

VOL. XIV. 9



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130 ANIMADVERSIONS ON A TREATISE

wrest words and examples there recorded unto their own ruin, as we
see now by experience men are apt to do?" What Catholics have
or have not, is not our present dispute. Whether what they have of
story and dogma in their own language be that which Paid ckOs " the
whole counsel of God/' which he declared at Ephesus, I much doubt
But the question is, whether they have what God allows them, and
what he commands them to make use of ? We suppose Grod him-
self, Christ and his apostles, the ancient fathers of the church, any
of these, or at least when they all agree, may be esteemed as wise as
our present masters at Roma Their sense is, '' That all Scripture,
given by inspiration from God, is profitable for doctrine." It seems
these judge not so; and therefore they afford them so much of it as
may tend to their good. Formypart, I know whom I am resolved to
adhere to; let others do as seems good unto them. Nor, where God
hath commanded and commended the use of all, do I believe the
Romanists are able to make a distribution, that so much of it makes
for the salvation of men, — ^the rest only " serves to satisfy curiosity, to
raise doubts, and to occasion men to wrest words and examples;"
nor, I am sure, are they able to satisfy me why any one part of the
Scripture should be apt to do this more than others; nor will they
say this at all of any part of their mas& Nor is it just to charge the
firuits of the lusts and darkness of men on the good word of Grod;
nor is it the taking away from men of that alone which is able to
make them good and wise a meet remedy to cure their evils and
foUie& But these declamations against the use and study of the
Scripture, I hope, come too lata Men have found too much spiritual
advantage by it to be easily driven from it Itself gives light to
know its excellency and defend its use by. '' But the book is sacred,"
he says, '^ and therefore not to be sullied by every hand; what God
hath sanctified let not man make common." It seems, then, those
parts of the Scripture which they afford to the people are more use-
ful, but less sacred, than those that they keep away. These reasons
justle one another imhandsomely. Oiu: audior should have made
more room for them; for they will never lie quietly together. But
what is it he means by "the book?" — ^the paper, ink, letters, and co-
vering? His masters of the schools will tell hun these are not sacred ;
if they are, the printers dedicate them. And it is a pretty, pleasant
sophism that he adds, " That God having sanctified the book, we
should not make it common." To what end, I pray, hath God sanc-
tified it? Is it that it may be laid up and be hid from that people
which Christ hath prayed might be sanctified by it? Is it any other-
wise sanctified but as it is appointed for the use of the church,— of all
that believe? Is this to make it common, to apply it unto that use
whereunto of God it is segregated? Doth the sanctification of the



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ENTITLED FIAT LIJX. 131

Scripture consist in the laying up of the book of the Bible from our
profane utensils? Is this that which is intended by the author?
Would it do him any good to have it granted, or further his pur-
pose? Doth the mysteriousness of it lie in the book's being locked
up? I suppose he understands this sophistry well enough; which
makes it the worse.

But we have other things yet pleaded, as " the example of the
Hebrew church, who neither in the time of Moses nor after trans-
lated the Scripture into the Syriac; yea> the book was privately
kept in the ark or tabernacle, not touched or looked on by the
people, but brought forth at times to the priest, who might, upon
the Sabbath-day, read some part of it to the people, and put them
in mind of their laws, religion, and duty."

I confess, in this passage, I am compelled to suspect more of igno-
rance than fraud; notwithstanding the flourishing made in the distri-
bution of the Old Testament into the law, prophets, and hagiography.
For, first, as to the translation of the Scripture by the Jews into the
Syriac tongue, to what purpose doth he suppose diould this be done?
It could possil3ly be for no other than that for which his masters keep
the Bible in Latin. I suppose he knows that at least until the csip-
tivity, when most of the Scripture was written, the Hebrew, and not
the Syriac, was the vulgar language of that peopla It is true, in-
deed, that some of the noble and chief men, that had the transaction
of afiSurs with neighbour nations, had learned the Syriac language
toward the end of their monarchy; but the body of the people were
all ignorant of it, as is expressly declared, 2 Kings xviiL 26. To
what end, then, should they translate the Scripture into that language
which they knew not, out of that which alone they were accustomed
to from their infEincy, wherein it was written? Had they done so,
indeed, it would have bee^ a good argument for the Romanists to
have kept it in Latin, which their people understand almost as well
as the Jews did Syriaa I thought it would never have been ques-
tioned but that tiie Judaical cHurch had enjoyed the Scripture of
the Old Testament in their own vulgar language, and that without
the help of a translation; but we must not be confident of any thing
for the future. For the present this I know, that not only the whole
Scripture that was given the church for its use before the captivity,
was written in the tongue that they all spake and understood, but
that the Lord sufficiently manifests that what he speaks unto any,
he would have it delivered imto them in their own language; and
therefore, appointing the Jews what they should say unto the Chal-
dean idolaters, he expresseth his mind in the Chaldee tongue, Jer.
X. 11; where alone, in the Scripture, there is any use made of a dia-
lect distinct firom that in vulgar use, and that because the wor^s were



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1 32 ANIMAirTERSIOKS OIT A TBEATISE

to be q>oken unto them to whom that dialect was vulgar. And when,
after the captivity, the peojde had learned the Chaldee language, some
parts of some books then written are therein expressed; to show that
it is not this or that language which, on its own account, is to confine
the compass of holy wri^ but that that or those are to be used which
the people who are concerned in it do understand. But what lan-
guage soever it was in, '4t was kept privately in the ark or tabernacle,
not touched, not looked upon by the people, but brought forth at
times to the priest" ^Cl r&¥ irofSf m frog [puyft Ipxo^ ibovrw ;] — What
book was kept in the ark? the law, prophets, and hagiography ? Who
told you so? A copy of the law, indeed, or Pentateuch, was by God s
command put in the side of the ark, Deut zxxL 26. That Uie pro-
phets or hagiography were ever placed there is a great mistake of our
author; but not so great as that that follows, — ^that the book, placed
in the side of the ark, "was brought forth for the priest to read in on
the Sabbath-days;"' when, as all men know, the ark was placed in the
" sanctum sanctorum" of the tabemade and temple, which only the
high priest entered, and that once aryear, and that without liberty of
bringmg any thing out which was in it, for any use whatever. And
his mistake is grossest of all, in imagining that they had no other
copies of the law or Scripture but what was so laid up in the ade of
the ark, the whole people being commanded to study in it con-
tinually, and the king, in q)ecial, to write out a copy of it with his
own hand, Deut xviL 18, out of an authentic copy; yea^ they were
to take sentences out of it, to write them on their firinges, and posts
of their doors and houses, and on their gates; all to Hnd them to a
constant use of them. So that this instance, on very many accounts,
was unhappily stumbled on by our author, who, as it seems, knows
very little of these thinga He was then evidently in haste, or
wanted better provision, when, on this vain surmise, he proceeds
to the ^icomiums of his Catholic moth^'s indulgence to her diild-
ren, in leaving of the Scripture in the hands of all that understand
Greek and Latin (how Uttle a portion of her £unilyl) and to a de^
damation against the preaching and disputing cA men about it^
with a commendation of that reverential ignorance which will arise
in men fi^om whom the means of their better instruction is k^
atadistanca

Anothar discourse we have asmexed, to prove that "the Bible
cannot be well translated, and that it bseth much of its grace and
sweetness, arising from a peculiarity of q>irit in its writers, by any
translation whatever." I do, for my party acknowledge that no
translation is able in all things universally to exhibit that fulness of
sense a^d secret virtue, to intimate the truth it expresseth to the
mind of a believer, which is in many passages of Scri^pture in its ori-



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ENTITLED FUT hVlL 13$

ginal languages ; but how this will ftiilher the Bomanists' pretensioni^
who have enthroned a translation for the use of their whole church,
and that ncme of the best neither, but in many things ocnrrupt and
barbarous, I know not Those who look on the tongues wherein the
Scripture was originally writtai as their fountains, if at any time
they find the streams not so clear, or not to give so sweet a relish as
they expected, are at liberty, if able, to repair to the fountidns them-
selves; but those who reject the fountains, and betake themselves
to one only stream, for aught I know, must alnde by their own in*
conveniences without complaining. To say the Hble cannot be well
translated, and yet to make use, [urincipally at least, of a translation,
with an undervaluing of the originals, argues no great consistency of
judgment, or a prevalency of interest That which our author in
this matter sets off with a handsome flourish of w(»rds, and some
very imhandsome similitudes, oonadering what he treats at, he sums
up, p. 283, in these words: — *' By all this I would say thus much, The
Bible translated out of its own sacred phrase into a pro£Euie and com-
mon one, loseth both its propriety and amplitude of meaning, and
is likewise divested of its peculiar majesty, holiness, and spirit ; which
ifi reason enough, if there were no other, why it dK)uld be kept inviolate
in its own style and speech.'- So doth our author advance his wisdom
and judgment above the wisdom and judgment of all churches and
nations that ever embraced the faith of Christ for a thousand years;
all which, notwithstanding what there is of truth in any of his insinua-
tions, judged it their duty to translate the Scripture into their moUier
tongues ; very many of which translations are extant even to this day.
Besides, he concludes with us in general ambiguous terms; as sJl
along in othar things his practice hath been.

What means he by " the Bible's own sacred phrase,'' opposed to " a
pro&ne and coiomon one ?'' Would not any man think that he in-
tended the originals wherein it was written? But I dare say, if ai^
one will ask him privately, he will give them another account, and
let them know that it is a translation which he adorns with these
titles; so that upon the matter he tells us, that, seeing the Bible can-
not be without all the inconveniences mentioned, it is good for us to
lay aside the originals, and xnake use only of a taranslation, or at least
prefer a translation before th^n! What shall we do with those men
that speak such swords and daggers, and are well neither full nor
fasting, — that like the Scripture neither with a translation nor with-
out it ? Moreover, I fear he knows not well what he means by its
"own sacred phrase," and "a profime, common one." Is it the
syllables and words of this or that language that he intends I How
comes one1;o be sacred, another iHX)fane and common? The lan-
guages wherein the Scriptures were originaUy written have been put



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134 ANmADVEBSIONS ON A TREATISE

to as bad uses as any under heaven; nor is any language profane or
common, so as that the worship of God, performed in it, should not
be accepted with him. That there is a frequent loss of propriety
and amplitude of meaning in translations, we grant That the
Scriptures by translations, if good, true, and significant, according to
the capacity and expressiveness of the languages whereinto they are
translated, are divested of their majesty, holiness, and spirit, is most
untrua The majesty, holiness, and spirit of the Scriptures, lie not
in words and syllables, but in the truths themselves expressed in
them; and whilst these are incomiptedly declared in any language,
the majesty of the word is continued. It is much that men, prefer-
ring a translation before the originals, should be otherwise minded;
especially that translation being in some parts but the translation of
a translation, and that the most corrupt in those parts which I know
extant And this, with many fine words, pretty allusions, and simili-
tudes, is the sum of what is pleaded by our author, to persuade men
to forego the greatest privilege which fix)m heaven they are made
partakers of, and the most necessary radical duty that in their whole
lives is incumbent on them. It is certain that the giving out of the
holy Scripture from God is an effect of infinite love and mercy; I
suppose it no less certain that the end for which he gave it was, that
men by it might be instructed in the knowledge of his will, and their
obedience that they owe unto him, that so at length they may come
to the enjoyment of him ; — ^this itself declares to be its end. I think,
also, that to know God, his mind and will, to yield him the obedience
that he requires, is the bounden duty of every man; as well as to
enjoy him is their blessedness. And can they take it kindly of those
who would shut up this gift of God firom them, whether they will or
no ? or be well pleased with them that go about to persuade them
that it is best for them to have it kept by others for them, without
their once looking into it ? If I know them aright, this gentleman
will not find his coimtiymen willing to part with their Bibles on such
easy terma

From the Scripture (concerning which he affirmeth, " That it
lawfully may, and in reason ought, and in practice ever hath been,
segregated in a language not common to vulgar ears," — all which
things are most imduly aflfirmed, and, because we must speak plainly,
falsely) he proceeds to the worship of the church, and pleads that
that also ought to be performed in such a languaga It were a long
and tedious business to follow him in his gilding over this practice
of his church ; — we may make short work with him. As he will not
pretend that this practice hath the least coimtenance fix)m Scripture,
so if he can instance in any church in the world, that for five hundred
years at least after it [i.e., Scripture] set out, in the use of a worship the



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ENTITLED FUT LUX. 136

language whereof the people did not understand, I will cease this con-
test What he affirms of the Hebrew church keeping her rites in a
language differing from the vulgar, whether he intend before or after
the captivity, is so untrue as that I suppose no ingenuous man would
affirm it, were he not utterly ignorant of all Judai^ antiquity ; which
I had cause to suspect before that our author is. From the days of
Moses to the captivity of Babylon, there was no language in vulgar
use among the people but only that wherein the Scripture was
written, and their whole worship celebrated. After the captivity,
though insensibly they admitted corruptions in their language, yet
they all generally understood the Hebrew, unless it were the Hel-
lenists, for whose sakes they translated the Scripture into Greek;*
and for the use of the residue of their people, who began to take in
a mixture of the Syro-Chaldean language with their own, the Tar-
gums* were found out Besides, to the very utmost period of that
church, the solemti worship performed in the temple, as to aU the
interest of words in it, was understood by the whole people attending
on God therein. And in that language did the Bible lie open in
their synagogues ; as is evident from the offer made by them to our
Saviour of their books to read in, at his first entrance into one at
Capernaum.

These flourishes, then, of our orator, being not likely to have the
least effect upon any who mind the apostolical advice of taking heed
lest they be beguiled with enticing words, we shall not need much to
insist upon them. This custom of performing the worship of God in
the congregation in a tongue unknown to the assembly, " renders,'*
he tells us, *' that great act more majestic and venerable;" but why,
he declares not A blind veneration of what men imderstand not,
because they understand it not, is neither any duty of the gospel, nor
any part of its worship. St Paul tells us he would " pray with the
spirit, and pray with ihe understanding also." Of this majestic show
and blind veneration of our author, Scripture, reason, experience of

* Dr Owen alludes to the Septuagint — a version of the Old Testament ScriptnreB in
Greek, executed about 285 b.o. The testimony of Aristobulus, a Jew who liyed at the
beginning of the second oentnry before Christ, and who giyes the earliest notice of its
origin, is as follows : — ** The entire translation of all things in the Law was made in the
time of the king somamed Philadelphus, Demetrius Phalereus taking the principal
charge of the work." The New Testament Scriptures contain serenty-four quotations
taken exactly from the Septuagint, forty-six in which the difference is extremely sli^t,
and thirty-two in which the agreement holds in regard to meaning, while in regard/ to
the words there is some discr^jancy. These facts practically supply us with the war-
rant of inspiration for translating the Scriptures into the Hying and yemacular Ian-
guagee of the world. The inspired yrriters used and appealed to ti^e Septuagint yersion ;
and the force of this consideration is not abated by the fact that there are eleven in-
stances in which they seem intentionally to have renounced it The exception sustains
the general rule on which they proceeded. — Eo.

* The principal Targums are those of Onkelos and Jonathan; the former lived about
60 B.C., the latter shortly before the birth of Christ— Ed.



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190 ANIMAPyjItKBIONS OK A TREATISE

the saints oi God, custom of the ancient ohurcheSy know nothing.
Neither is it possible to prefierve in men a perpetual veneration of
they know not what; nor, if it could be preserved, is it a thing that
any way belongs to Christian religion. Nor can any rational man
conceive wherein consists the majesty of a man's pronouncing words,
in matters wherein his concernment lies« in a tongue that he under-
stands not And I know not wherein this device for procuring vene-
ration in men exceeds that of the Gnostics, who fraught their sacred
administrations with strange, uncouth names and terms; intended, as
far as appears, for no other end but to astonish their disciples, But
then the church, he saith, as *' opposite to Babel, had one language
all the world over, the Latin tongue being stretched as large and as
wide as the catholic church: and so any priest may serve in several
countries, administering presently in a place by himself or by others
converted ; which are conveniences attending this custom and prac-
tice." Pretty things to persuade men to worship God they know not
how, or to leave that unto others to do for them which is their own
duty to perform ; and yet neither are they trua The church by this
means is made rather like to Babel than opposite unto it The &tal,
ruining event of the division of the tongues at Babel was, that by
that means they could not understand one another in what they
said, and so were forced to give over that design which before they
unanimously carried on. And this is the true event of some men's
performing the worphip of God in the Latin tongue, which others
understand not, — ^their languages are divided, as to any use of lan-
guage whatever. I believe on this, as well as on other accounts, our
author, now he is warned, will take heed how he mentions Babel any
mora Besides, this is not one to give one lip, one language, to the
whole church, but in some things to confine some of the church unto
one language, which incomparably the greatest part of it do not
understand. This is confusion, not union. Still Babel returns in it
The use of a language that the greatest part of men do not under-
stand, who are engaged in the same work whereabout it is employed,
is right old BabeL Nor can any thing be more vain than the pre-
tence that this one is '* stretched as large and as wide as the catholic



Online LibraryAndrew Thomson John OwenThe works of John Owen, Volume 14 → online text (page 17 of 67)