Monday, April 22, 2019

Thomas Cartwright and the Bible

Thomas Cartwright (1535-1603) was the father of English Presbyterianism and of English Puritanism. He was a popular preacher in Elizabethan Cambridge. It was said that so many came to hear him that they considered taking the windows out and that "grave men ran like boys in the streets to get places in the church". 

The Bible's Sufficiency

Thomas Cartwright was important as a Puritan who spoke out against the halfway house reform of Anglicanism with its episcopal government and ritual elements. The question at stake was whether the Word of God was sufficient in areas of practice as well as doctrine. Applying the regulative principle that the Church should keep to the express warrant of Scripture except for merely circumstantial things, Cartwright argued for a reform according to the Word of God along the presbyterian lines of Calvin's reform in Geneva. For this contending for the regulative authority of Scripture in the Church he was driven into exile. He responded graciously to the opposition that he received:

"I see not, how I could persuade myself, to have the quantity of a grain of mustard seed towards him (God), if unto the truth, labouring and travailing in this point, I should deny my simple help. And verily it were a daintiness and delicacy intolerable, if I should afford the loss of a little ease and commodity whereunto my life itself, if it had been asked, was due: if I should grudge to dwell in another corner of the world for that cause, for which I ought to be ready altogether to depart out of it, finally if I should think to witness with a little ink and paper that which numbers in other places have already witnessed with their blood."

Accurate Translation of the Bible

Cartwright's proficency in Greek, Latin and Hebrew were unrivalled in his day. While in exile it was suggested to Thomas Cartwright that he should refute the Roman Catholic translation of the New Testament into English, which had been published in Rheims in 1582. The men behind it came from Douai College which had been established in 1568 by William Allen to train Englishmen for the Roman Catholic priesthood, with the intention of sending them back to England. The main annotator of the Rheims New Testament was a man named Richard Bristow and the notes were virulently anti-protestant. It became part of the Douai Bible, which for many years was the official Romanist translation of the Bible into English. 

Cartwright's refutation, Answer to the Preface to the Rhemish Testament (1602) was published just before his death. The Rheims Testament was not based on Greek manuscripts; instead it was a direct translation from the Latin Vulgate translated by Jerome in the 4th century A.D.  As the preface to the Rhemes New Testament, 1582 stated: 'We translate the old vulgar Latin text, notthe common Greek text, for these causes…It is not only better than all other Latin translations, but than the Greek text itself, in those places where they disagree'. The translation was almost deliberately obscure in areas in that it used in some places unfamiliar words that were taken directly from Latin.  The annotations were also of such a Romanist bias as to undermine the New Testament, which was 'twitched aside with the wrench and wrest of their annotations'. 

Some of his criticisms are relevant today and relate to the true nature of translation. He laid down the tenet that 'the title…the word of God' used in relation to translations 'agreeth only to the truth of God, which hath also the frame of his words' (Answer to the Preface to the Rhemish Testament, London, 1602, p.102). Like Calvin, he favoured essentially preserving the word order (T.H.L. Parker, Calvin's New Testament Commentaries, Grand Rapids, 1971, p.102) in order to convey the majesty of the Scriptures.  Thus there was to be a formal equivalence between the words used in the original Hebrew or Greek and the words in the translation.  There was no countenance for the modern theory of translating thought for thought (dynamic equivalence).  Only a formally equivalent mode of translation respected the verbal inspiration of the Scritpures.

Reformed theologians understood that while translation was necessary, and while they could convey the Word of God from the original Hebrew and Greek in substance, it could not be translated absolutely, perfectly, or exhaustively. It was necessary to make any final appeal to the originals of Hebrew and Greek. The Rheims translators in preferring the Latin Vulgate to the inspired originals were turning this upside down. As Cartwright put it 'they would (as it were) cover the head and majesty of the authentical copies in the Greek to bring them to subjection unto the old translation [the Latin Vulgate]' (p.93).  

Alarmingly the same practice can also be seen in our own day in contemporary cross-cultural translation.  In some versions Western principles and thought forms seem to dominate making the Scriptures in effect Westernised a opposed to reflective of biblical language and culture.  Highly important doctoral research by Anthony H Nichols has investigated the influence of dynamic equivalence in several Far Eastern translations.  The results are alarming: 'what emerged was the immense influence of the GNB [Good News Bible] on three important no-western versions'.  It was concluded that 'the renderings of the more traditional 'formal-correspondence' Indonesian versions were regularly more culturally appropriate [in comparison with the dynamic equivalent versions]' (The dynamic equivalence translation theory of Eugene A. Nida and bible translation - a critique, University of Sheffield cf. Tyndale Bulletin, Vol.50.1, May 1999)  

The Bible's Providential Preservation 

Cartwright expressed his conviction in the Providential Preservation of Scripture.  This is a doctrine which was never really questioned before the 19th century in Protestant circles and is contained in the major confessions.  Simply stated it says that God not only inspired the autographs (the Word of God as originally given and written down) but has preserved that same Word purely in all ages. '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'. (Westminster Confession of Faith I.8).   

Thus the Church does have an infallible Word to appeal to.  If only the original autographs were infallible and inerrant then we do not have an infallible and inerrant Word of God today; hence the importance of this doctrine. In Cartwright's day it was Romanists who were attacking this doctrine, but in our own day it is attacked and disowned by the large majority of evangelicals. So much so that the standard evangelical statements of faith for associations and societies begin with the statement that the Scriptures 'as originally given' are infallible and inerrant rather than simply saying that the Scriptures are infallible without qualification.

The Romanists said that the manuscripts available in Hebrew and Greek were corrupt in order that they could assert the Latin Vulgate to be the only infallible Scriptures. Cartwright responded with the doctrine of Providential Preservation: '…we think it not amiss, to set down the general doctrine, that no one oracle or sentence of God can fall away. Whereby it will be evident that the holy Scriptures, both in the old & new testament written in the original tongues, cannot either by addition, detraction or exchange be corrupted.  Whereunto the consideration of the author of them, ministereth a substantial proof. For seeing they are of God, [marg. Ps. 111.8.] all whose works remain forever: it followeth that all the holy scriptures, being not only his handywork, but as it were the chief and master work of all others, must have a continual endurance' (p.93).

[And] '…if it or any part thereof fall away, the same cannot according to the ordinances of God either inform us against ignorance, or warn us against danger, or comfort us against afflictions, or finally do any other duty unto us, which we have need of and they were prepared for.  Thirdly, if the authority of the authentical copies in Hebrew, Chaldee, & Greek fall: there is no high court to appeal, where controversy (rising upon the diversity of translations or otherwise) may be ended: so that the exhortation of having recourse unto the law & to the prophets, [marg. Isaiah. 8] and of our Saviour Christ asking how it is written, and how readest thou: are now either of none effect, or not sufficient: whilst these disgracers and disgraders of the Scripture have taught men to say, that the copies are corrupted, and the sense changed' (p.94-95). [It is] 'now more then 1500. years' [and] 'no sentence of any book of Canonical Scripture fallen away not only the matter of the Scripture, but also the words, not only the sense and meaning, of them, but the manner and frame of speech in them, do remain. For seeing the Scripture remaineth, [marg. 2 Tim. 3 .] which wholly both for matter and words is inspired of God: it must follow that the same words wherein the old and new testament were written and indited by the hand of God, do remain' (pp.99-101).

Cartwright's Passing

It was not long after he had published this vital defence of the Scriptures against the attacks of Rome that Cartwright finished his days.  The Answer to the Preface to the Rhemish Testamentwas published in 1602 and Cartwright died exactly four hundred years ago having preached his last sermon in December 1603.  Two days later, after spending two hours on his knees in great pain, he told his wife that he 'found wonderful and unutterable joy and comfort, God gave him a glimpse of Heaven before he came to it'. His Last Will and Testament expressed the desire to be buried 'without pomp and superstition used in the popish synagogue in times past'. He bequeathed his soul 'into the hands of Almighty God who hath redeemed me with the most precious Blood of His own and only Son Jesus Christ my Saviour and Redeemer, from all my sins'.