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Tech Specs: Lost in Translation

06 March 2011 by Matt Gumm


Q. 6. What do the Scriptures make known of God?
A. The Scriptures make known what God is, the persons in the Godhead, his decrees, and the execution of his decrees.

Q. 7. What is God?
A. God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, everywhere present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.

Q. 8. Are there more Gods than one?
A. There is but one only, the living and true God.

Now, it is at about this point that some astute Gadfly reader following along at home is going to wonder if there may be a problem here. The older versions of the Catechism have 1 John 5:7 as the Scripture proof for the statement about the persons of the Godhead in Q.6. However, based on manuscript evidence, most modern Bible translations have omitted this statement about the Trinity because it doesn't appear to be part of the original text. So what happens when a prooftext goes missing?

The short answer is, the Assembly was preparing teaching tools, not an exhaustive systematic theology text. The Larger Catechism, like the other documents produced at Westminster, is a summary of Bible doctrine, and as such, the number of Scripture proofs referenced is necessarily limited.

In fact, when originally written, the Confession of Faith contained no proof texts at all. It was intended to be an exposition of what Scripture taught. It was only after the British Parliament returned the Confession and requested them that the prooftexts were added. The Catechisms were written after that and so the Assembly presumably would have included proofs in those as well.

At that time, the passage in 1 John would have been the clearest evidence of the statement they were making. In our day, with the questions surrounding that passage, those gathered at Westminster might have referenced the verses their modern counterparts point to, including Matt 3:16-17; Deut 6:4-6; 1 Cor 8:4,6; Matt 28:19-20; and 2 Cor 13:14.

The controversy around 1 John 5:7 does not require us to choose a certain translation of Scripture in order to subscribe to the Westminster Standards or uphold the truth expressed in them, nor is the truth of the statement itself weakened by our choice of the same.