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Brian Walton

Biblical scholar, editor of Walton's Polyglot Bible, b. at Seymour, or Seamer, near York, in 1600; d. in London, Nov. 29, 1661

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Walton, BRIAN, Biblical scholar, editor of Walton’s Polyglot Bible, b. at Seymour, or Seamer, near York, in 1600; d. in London, November 29, 1661. He was educated at Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in 1619-20, and M.A. in 1623. Ordained in the Anglican Church, he became a curate and also schoolmaster in Suffolk; in 1628 he was promoted to the rectorship of St. Martin‘s Orgar, London, to which was added, in 1636, that of Sandon, Essex, and, perhaps, the title of chaplain to the king with a prebend in St. Paul’s. He took the degree of D.D. at the University of Cambridge in 1639. Having become involved in the troubles of the times, he was accused of “subtile tricks and popish innovations”, deprived of his two rectories, in 1641, and in the next year imprisoned. In no way disheartened, he went, on receiving his freedom, to Oxford, then the capital of Royalist England, and there planned the great Polyglot (see Polyglot Bibles) which was to render his name familiar to every student of the Scriptures. After the surrender of Oxford in 1646, he betook himself to London, where, in 1652, he issued his prospectus of the Polyglot. Subscriptions were put at £10 a set, and in a short time the sum of £9000 was subscribed. Walton’s Polyglot was the first book published by subscription in England. To carry out his work successfully, Walton secured the aid of nearly all the contemporary English scholars, particularly Edmund Castell, Edward Pococke, Thomas Hyde, Dudley Loftus, Abraham Weelocke, Thomas Greaves, and Samuel Clarke, but the editorship devolved on himself. While the Polyglot was in the press, he published as an aid to the perusal thereof an “Introductio ad lectionem linguarum Orientalium” (London, 1655; Deventer, 1655, 1658).

This was a time when English theologians were much divided as to the extent of the Divine inspiration of the Scriptures, some going so far as to adopt the narrow view that even the vowel-points and accents of the Massoretic text “must come under our consideration as being such from God” (Owen, “Works”, XVI, 303). John Owen had just prepared to that effect a tract on “The Divine Original Authority and self-evidencing Light and Purity of the Scriptures”, when he was confronted by Walton’s “Prolegomena”, in which a much more liberal view was held. He set out to refute it, and published to that purpose a new tract: “Of the Integrity and Purity of the Hebrew Text of the Scriptures, with Considerations of the Prolegomena and Appendix to the late Biblia Polyglotta” (Oxford, 1659). Brian Walton, whose saner view of the subject was inspired by deeper scholarship and was endorsed by “the chief Protestant Divines, and greatest linguists that then were”, was not long in repelling Owen’s Quixotic attack: to his opponent he addressed his “Considerator considered; or a brief View of certain Considerations upon the Biblia Polyglotta, the Prolegomena and the Appendix” (London, 1659), which should at once have ended the controversy, were the weight of the arguments the only factor in ending controversies. But, consoling himself with the thought that his work could not be expected to share better than Origen’s Hexapla, S. Jerome’s Vulgate, the Complutensian Polyglot, Erasmus’s Greek Testament, and the Antwerp and Paris Polyglots, all of which had met with opposition, he abandoned the controversy, leaving it to time to vindicate him. The dawn of the day of vindication was not long delayed, for at the Restoration he was made chaplain to the king, and soon after (December 2, 1660) consecrated Bishop of Chester in Westminster Abbey.


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