Among Catholic and Orthodox critics of Evangelicalism, one of the major objections to Protestant theology is that Protestant theology is innovative. No pre-Reformation Christians interpreted the Bible the way in which Evangelicals do. This is an objection that conceals a number of unspoken and unsupported assumptions.
What percentage of pre-Reformation Christians had access to the Bible? How many were literate? How many had private copies of the Bible?
If they were dependent on the public reading of the Scriptures, were the liturgical lectionaries in the vernacular? And is merely hearing the Bible read aloud the same thing as forming an interpretation of the Scriptures? How do we poll the opinion of pre-Reformation Christian laymen? What’s the statistical data on this?
Did they have the same Bible? Did the pre-Reformation Catholic church or Orthodox church(es) uphold a uniform canon of Scripture?
How accurate were traditional versions and/or the LXX in relation to the Hebrew OT and/or Greek NT?
Without attempting to answer all these questions, let’s consider a few of the following historical footnotes—with special reference to the Orthodox tradition:
“During the ‘Judaizing heresy’ and the possessor/non-possessor (q.v.) controversy, the first complete Church Slavic Bible was complied in Novgorod (q.v.)…. Basically the entire effort responded to the above-mentioned movements, and was authorized by Archbishop Gennadius of Novgorod—and became known in Russian as the Gennadievskii (Gennadius’s) Bible (1499).”
“Political and polemical considerations undermined the effort from the beginning. Neither Hebrew, Gree, nor extant Slavic translations were employed as primary texts from which to translate, but only the Vulgate. This phenomenon is indicative of a general orientation of Russian toward the Occident after the fall of Constantinople,” M. Prokurat et al. Historical Dictionary of the Orthodox Church (Scarecrow Press 1966), 135-36.
“The first full text of the Church Slavic Bible, after the earlier Gennadievskii Bible (q.v.), was published in 1580 and again with emendations in 1581. Known as the Ostrog Bible after its chief patron, Prince Constantine of Ostrog (Konstanin Ostrozhskii), the work appeared as part of a larger private publishing effort among the Orthodox in Lithuania and Poland…In methodology of biblical translation the [Ostrog] Circle employed classical Church Slavic, while attempting to follow the Greek textual tradition using every available critical resource,” ibid. 248-49.
“In Russia in the 19C theologians and members of the newly formed Russian Bible society, such as Alexander Golitsyn (q.v.), were particularly interested in the Hebrew Scriptures…Archpriest Gerasim Pavskii (1787-1863), a professor and Hebraist in St. Petersburg translated the entire Old Testament, which his students secretly circulated until all copies ere confiscated in 1842. These translations from Hebrew into Russian, instead of Church Slavic as in the Gennadievskii and Ostrog Bibles (qq.v.), drew mixed reactions from the hierarchy and from society at large for about fifty years, until the last quarter of the century.”
“The great Bible translation project of 19C Russia can be credited to only one individual, Metropolitan Philaret (Drozdov) of Moscow…Translation was from the Masoretic Hebrew as the basic text, then from Greek when it was the original language, giving both preference over Church Slavic,” ibid. 280-81.”Since both the Greek and Russian Churches use the Lucianic Septuagint liturgically, there is a tendency among the faithful to romanticize the unanimity of the liturgical witness and beauty of the language, depicting the history of the Greek Scriptures as devoid of controversy and independent of the Hebrew. History reveals flaws in this attitude. For example, during the 4C there were three different Septuagints in use in the major Christian centers of the eastern Mediterranean: 1) the churches in Antioch and Constantinople (qq.v.) used the Lucianic recension; 2) Caesarea (q.v.) in Palestine utilized a translation by Origen (q.v.) that was updated by Pamphilus and Eusebius (q.v.); and 3) Alexandria (q.v.) had a third recension by a certain Hesychius about which little else is known. The Constantinopolitan practice, based on a translation done by the Presbyter Lucian (who preferred Attic forms), finally won out,” ibid. 294.
“No two Septuagint codices contain the same apocrypha, and no uniform Septuagint ‘Bible’ was ever the subject off discussion in the patristic church. In view of these facts the Septuagint codices appear to have been originally intended more as service books than as a defined and normative canon of scripture…There is also no evidence that the ante-Nicene church received or adopted a Septuagint canon,” E. Ellis, The Old Testament in Early Christianity: Canon and Interpretation in Light of Modern Research (Baker 1992), 34-35.
“Modern Orthodox bibles contain all the so-called Apocrypha, including 1 Esdras, Psalm 151, the Prayer of Manasses and 3 Maccabees. Greek bibles, issued with the approval of the Holy Synod, also include 4 Maccabees, but in an appendix, while those issued by the Russian Orthodox Church include 4 Esdras,” K. Parry, et al. eds. [Foreword by Rt Revd Kallistos Ware] The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity (Blackwell 2004), 83.
“Throughout this period, and into that of Ottoman domination from the 15-16C, Old Church Slavonic remained the language of liturgy, theology and church administration in the Romanian church as well as of locally composed hymns and chronicles…An abridged Romanian-language Bible, the Orastie Bible, was published in 1582…and a complete translation of the Bible by Nicolae Milescu, known as the Bible of Bucharest or Serban Cantacuzino’s Bible, in 1688,” ibid. 407.