A few days ago I posted some excerpts from William Whitaker's Disputations on Holy Scripture. One of the major arguments during his time period was over what exactly constituted the authentic text of Scripture. Whitaker states, "Our adversaries determine that the authentic scripture consists not in the Hebrew and Greek originals, but in the Vulgate Latin version. We, on the contrary side, say that the authentic and divinely-inspired scripture is not this Latin, but the Hebrew edition of the old Testament, and the Greek of the new."
Whitaker then states actual Roman Catholic arguments as espoused by Bellarmine in favor of the Vulgate Latin being the actual authentic text of the Scriptures: "He proposes his First argument in this form: For nearly a thousand years, that is, from the time of Gregory the Great, the whole Latin church hath made use of this Latin edition alone" (p. 135). Bellarmine goes on to make a number of arguments in favor of the Latin text, all responded to by Whitaker.
One of the arguments from Bellarmine that Whitaker examined bears a striking resembelance to today's "King James Only" controversy. Consider the following:
"The Third argument is this: The Hebrews had the authentic scripture in their own language, and the Greeks in theirs; that is, the old Testament in the Septuagint version, and the new Testament in the original. Therefore it is fit that the Latin church also should have the authentic scripture in its own language."
I answer, first, by requiring to know in what sense it is that he makes the Septuagint version authentic. Is it in the same sense in which they make their Latin text authentic? If so, I deny its authenticity. For Augustine, who allowed most to the authority of the Septuagint version, yet thought that it should be corrected by the originals. But the papists contend that their Latin text is authentic of itself, and ought not to be tried by the text of the originals. Now in this sense no translation ever was, or could be, authentic. For translations of scripture are always to be brought back to the originals of scripture, received if they agree with those originals, and corrected if they do not. That scripture only, which the prophets, apostles, and evangelists wrote by inspiration of God, is in every way credible on its own account and authentic. Besides, if the Septuagint was formerly authentic, how did it become not authentic? At least in the Psalms it must continue authentic still, since they derive their Latin version of that book from no other source than the Greek of the Septuagint. Even in the other books too it must still be authentic, since it is plain from the commentaries of the Greek writers that it is the same now as it was formerly.
Secondly, I would fain know how this argument is consequential,—God willed his word and authentic scripture to be written in Hebrew and Greek; therefore also in Latin. The authentic originals of the scripture of the old Testament are extant in Hebrew, of the new in Greek. It no more follows from this that the Latin church ought to esteem its Latin version authentic, than that the French, or Italian, or Armenian churches should esteem their vernacular versions authentic. If he grant that each church should necessarily have authentic versions of its own, what are we to do if these versions should (as they easily may) disagree? Can they be all authentic, and yet disagree amongst themselves? But if he will not assign authentic versions to all churches, upon what grounds will he determine that a necessity, which he grants to exist in the Latin church, hath no place in others? Cannot the churches of the Greeks at the present day claim their version likewise as authentic?
Thirdly, I know not with what truth they call theirs the Latin church. For it does not now speak Latin, nor does any one among them understand Latin without learning that language from a master. Formerly it was, and was called, the Latin church. Now it is not Latin, and therefore cannot truly be so called, except upon the plea that, though not Latin, it absurdly uses a Latin religious service.