As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, I am writing a detailed response to James White's book The King James Only Controversy. I am defending the position that "the KJV is a faithful translation of the preserved text of God's inspired and inerrant Word." This article picks up my response to White in the second half of Chapter 2 of White's book.
Chapter 2: Erasmus and the Vulgate
White's anecdote about Erasmus is almost as far from the truth as his anecdote about Augustine. White begins by portraying the biblical scholars of the sixteenth century as simpletons who refused to learn Greek or Hebrew, but he offers no support for that view. Maybe he pulled that idea from the correspondences between Erasmus and Dorp in which Erasmus wrote:
"Why need I go on to recount to you by name the eminent princes, the other bishops and abbots and cardinals and famous scholars, none of whom I have yet found estranged from me by one hair's breadth as a result of my Folly? Nor can I bring myself to believe that any theologians were irritated by it, except a few maybe who either do not understand it, or are jealous of it, or are so cantankerous by nature that they approve of nothing at all. Mixed in with that class of men, as everyone would agree, are certain persons so ill endowed with talents and with judgment that they have never been set to learn any subject, let alone theology. They get by heart a few rules from Alexander Callus, and strike up an acquaintance with a little idiotic formal logic, and then get hold of ten propositions out of Aristotle, and even those they do not understand; after that they learn the same number of quaestiones from Scotus or Occam, intending to resort for anything else to the Catholicon, the Mammotrectus, and similar wordbooks, as though they were a sort of horn of plenty. Whereupon it is astonishing the airs they give themselves, for nothing is so arrogant as ignorance. These are the men who condemn St Jerome as a schoolmaster, because he is over their heads; who poke fun at Greek and Hebrew and even Latin, and, though as stupid as pigs and not equipped even with the common feelings of humanity, they suppose themselves to hold the citadel of all wisdom."
The "Folly" that Erasmus referenced was his essay entitled "In Praise of Folly." It was a satirical essay condemning many of the corrupt practices of the Catholic church. The essay was generally well received, but there were a few theologians who found it offensive, and among those few, there was an even smaller group whose opposition to the essay revealed that they were too ignorant to be worthy of consideration. These few theologians are the ones that Erasmus described as being ignorant of not only Greek and Hebrew but also Latin.
White pretends that this description would apply to nearly all the scholars of that century, but Erasmus limited it to just a few. In fact, he devoted a section of his letter to encouraging the young Dorp to learn Greek. Erasmus concluded that section by saying, "I could recount a long list to you by name of men who have become children again to learn Greek, because they had observed after all that without Greek liberal studies are lame and blind." If Erasmus had a long list of men that he personally knew had learned Greek in their adult years, and if he simultaneously insisted that there were only a few theologians of his time who did not know Greek, then it stands to reason that White's claim about the paucity of men who could read Greek during the early sixteenth century is just plain wrong.
As for those who understood Hebrew, Erasmus's letters between 1514 and 1516 reference by name at least nine of his contemporaries who understood Hebrew: Reuchlin, Oecolampadius, Ellenbog, Capito, Colet, Graf von Neu, Lyster, and the three brothers Bruno, Basilius, and Bonifacius Amerbach. Erasmus also mentioned several other Hebrew scholars without naming them, and in one of his letters from this time period, he wrote, "I seem to myself to be living in some delightful precinct of the Muses, to say nothing of so many good scholars of no ordinary kind. They all know Latin, they all know Greek, most of them know Hebrew too." White's depiction of this time period doesn't fit with the record from Erasmus's own letters.
White's account of the correspondence between Erasmus and Martin Dorp is also fraught with errors. White presents Dorp as a kind young scholar and Erasmus as a cranky, overbearing curmudgeon. According to White, Erasmus's reply to Dorp was an attempt at "hurrying the daring objector to the ocean of utter annihilation."
When we read the actual correspondence between Erasmus and Dorp, however, an entirely different picture is revealed. Erasmus constantly referred to Dorp as "my Dorp," "my dear Dorp," or "my dear Martin." There is not a single harsh word against Dorp to be found in any of the letters exchanged between the two. Erasmus had nothing but praise for his young friend even though they initially disagreed, and Dorp soon changed his position and sided with Erasmus. In fact, when Erasmus received Dorp's initial letter, he wrote back to say,
"This letter of yours, my dear Dorp, gave me no offence - far from it. It has made you much more dear to me, though you were dear enough before; your advice is so sincere, your counsel so friendly, your rebuke so affectionate. This is, to be sure, the mark of Christian charity that, even when it gives rein to its indignation, it retains its natural sweetness none the less. Every day I receive many letters from learned men which set me up as the glory of Germany and call me its sun and moon and suchlike grand descriptions as are more onerous than honorific. My life upon it, none ever gave me so much pleasure as my dear Dorp's letter, written to reproach me."
White's portrayal is so far from reality that I doubt he has ever actually read the correspondence between these two men.
White's imaginary history includes what he presents as an excerpt from Erasmus's reply to Dorp. According to White, Erasmus wrote, "You must distinguish between Scripture, the translation of Scripture, and the transmission of both. What will you do with the errors of the copyists?" White makes a big deal out of the fact that Erasmus spoke of "copyist errors," but before we address that, it should be noted that this quotation is completely spurious.
I looked up White's source: Roland Bainton's book Erasmus of Christendom, and I obtained both the Latin original and multiple English translations of the letter that Bainton identified as his source. I could not find anything even remotely resembling the above quotation. Bainton's footnote listed two other documents that could be compared with the attributed source. I was able to obtain both the Latin and the English versions of the first as well as the Latin version of the second, but I still was not able to find anything resembling his supposed quotation. Plus, neither of these two additional documents were letters from Erasmus to Dorp which is where both Bainton and White claim that the quotation is to be found. Once again, we are left with the conclusion that White is either grossly ignorant of the historical record, or he is intentionally manipulating it to trick the less informed into agreeing with him.
Let's return now to White's focus on the existence of copyist errors. White places great significance on the idea that Erasmus spoke of copyist errors, but this is just a straw man fallacy. I'm sure that White would be able to find someone, somewhere on earth who denies the existence of copyist errors in the various New Testament manuscripts, but there are exactly zero Bible scholars on either side of the KJV Only debate who deny something as plainly obvious as the differences between the New Testament manuscripts. White is just setting up a straw man that he can knock down for an easy victory.
Continue reading: Part 1, Part 3, Part 4
 R.A.B. Mynors and D.F.S. Thomson, The Correspondence of Erasmus: Letters 298 to 445, 1514 to 1516, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976), 121
 Ibid, 131
 Ibid, 243
 Ibid, 111
Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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