Friday, December 21, 2007

The War against Certainty

Benjamin Franklin is given credit for saying: "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." Influential nineteenth-century, liberal, British thinker John Stuart Mill wrote: "There is no such thing as absolute certainty, but there is assurance sufficient for the purposes of human life." I don't believe either of those guys lined up with God in this matter of certainty. I'm certain that God not only wants us to be certain, but He provided all the evidence we needed to be certain.

In his two volume, fifty-two chapter history of the life of Christ and the first thirty years of the church, containing more words than all of Paul's epistles, the physician Luke said in his prologue to both those books (Luke 1:4) that his purpose was certainty:
That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.
Notice that Luke didn't say, "That thou mightest know the high probability of those things." He wanted the Roman government official, Theophilus, and therefore us, to be sure about Christianity. Luke used the word "certain" to describe his purpose in writing. Before he does so, he establishes the reliability of what he wrote. It could be corroborated by the best of sources, including many, various eyewitnesses and the apostles ("ministers of the word," Lk. 1:1, 2).

Wikipedia says about "certainty":
Certainty is the state of being without doubt. It is total security from error. Certainty is the continuity and validity of all foundational inquiry. Something is certain only if no skepticism can occur. Philosophy (at least historically) seeks this state. Epistemology is the study of knowledge, certainty, and truth. Contemporary views of knowledge, both in philosophy and in general, do not demand certainty. It is widely held that certainty is a failed historical enterprise. A common alternative is "justified true belief."
According to modern philosophy, certainty has gone extinct. Now all we can expect, according to contemporary thinking, is a satisfactory level of probability. However, this is to say in my thinking that the Bible cannot be trusted.

Why is it that we cannot be certain any longer on matters of faith and practice, and, therefore, philosophy? Where is it that uncertainty comes from? The uncertainty and doubt all relates to the highest authority, God Himself, and His Word. To understand the answer to these questions, I believe we should recognize that there are essentially three general positions regarding the certainty of the Word of God. Only the first of these are Scriptural and historical. Going from most certain to least certain, they are:
1. Every Word of God Was Inspired and Has Been Preserved and Is Available
2. Every Word of God Was Inspired, but We're Not Sure that Every Word Has Been Preserved or Is Available
3. We Don't Have God's Word Today, and We May Never Have Had It

Views number 1 and 3 have been rampant for most of time. The second position became popular in the nineteenth century.

I'm a number one guy. Adherents of both one and two basically believe this: everyone will stand before God. For a moment, perhaps we can propel ourselves to that time right now by faith and consider ourselves as we face the Almighty. Do you believe that God will be angry with proponents of number one? How will He judge those holding to the second position? And then the third? Without faith it is impossible to please Him (Heb. 11:6). Three is faithless. What is two?

What does uncertainty look like? I know. It looks like weakness. It is weak. People who aren't fully sure about something can't approach obedience to God with the same kind of courage and passion as those who are certain. Uncertainty leads to capitulation. If we can't be sure, then why should we practice as strongly ourselves or why should we expect others to do the same?

Satan deals in doubt. He cultivates doubt by attacking the certainty of God's Word. "Hath God said?" he asks. Satan likes this answer from men: "He may have." Or, "I think so." God wants, "I know" or "I'm certain." Parts of professing Christianity that are hanging by a thread in the number two category don't believe that we can be certain about the interpretations of God's Word. If God couldn't preserve every Word for us to have and live by, how could we really know what He meant by what He said? But has God given enough evidence for us to be certain?

The second group above finds it too tough to be sure about the perfection of what we presently call "the Word of God." They don't think anyone could sufficiently prove a position that says that we know what all those Words are. They think we have all the doctrines, but we're just guessing in an educated way about what some of the Words are. The great barrier that they can't surmount is that God would consolidate all of the Words from various and differing hand made copies into one perfect, printed edition. That would take a miracle, one that is difficult to explain. All miracles are not easy to comprehend, but this one they find incomprehensible. It is hard to believe because God didn't announce which edition was the perfect one. He didn't put out His heavenly neon arrow pointing at the volume with all the right Words. And all of academia and scholarship says that there is no way that anything like that happened. If a miracle of preservation was going to happen, they think it is would just look different than what it all looks---cleaner and more obvious---maybe something angelic or astronomical.

But isn't inspiration itself is something highly disagreed upon. Was it dictation? Did men swoon and begin unconsciously penning like string puppets? Did they write some good stuff that God later approved? Did they take down eyewitness testimony and collate documents that they amalgamated into one book? Did they cobble together a decent account from multiple sources of oral communication? What settles inspiration for us is the explanation we get in Scripture. We weren't there when it happened. We didn't see it. We weren't the ones God used in inspiration. We go ahead and take what God said at face value. When we see apparent contradictions, we harmonize them out of respect for Divine authorship. We defend the faith.

I believe that a miracle of preservation, what we might also call providential preservation, occurred in the silent fashion that God so often works. That's also how He inspired. He used common men of little renown. He expects men to see His hand in history. God regularly calls on this kind of trust throughout Scripture. A lot of what He does is beyond some of our capacity to comprehend. It isn't something that is easy to explain, but God wants us to believe it anyway. He has given us enough evidence in His promises, in a tall stack of manuscripts, and in the validation of a remnant of believers that we should assume that we have the exact Words. This is a belief that men have had in the past, despite slips of the pen and scribal emendations.

The Greek word translated in the English as "certainty" is a compound word that essentially means, "not tripping." When God sent Abram to the Promised Land, Abram couldn't see it, but he went. Romans 4 says that he staggered not in unbelief. Abram wasn't tripped up by things he couldn't see.

God wants us to continue to take steady steps of faith in His promises of preservation and to speak with certainty about His one Bible, His perfect Book. We dishonor God when we don't. We don't please Him. And in so doing, we encourage and then tolerate various levels of disobedience to God. We're tripped up, but we also become a block that causes others to stumble.


This is the first in a series.

12 comments:

Enoch said...

Kent,
An interesting article. Based on it I am beginning to believe I will never receive a definition of what "perfectly preserved" means--you will continue to say you believe it, but give no understanding of what it actually is.
You err (just as my Old-earth believing friend does) by believing something true about God (namely, that he will, as he says, preserve his word), but then applying it in a way not supported by the Bible. Your error is more grievous, however, because you divide over this issue and make it a source of needless contention.
You point to "a miracle of preservation, what we might also call providential preservation, [which] occurred in the silent fashion that God so often works." This is supra-scriptural. But even more so, you say you believe "God would consolidate all of the Words from various and differing hand made copies into one perfect, printed edition." This is a statement of incredible arrogance. Why should God have left the scriptures as they were for the first 1500 years and only bring them together for the last 400? Why does God prefer the printed text over the manuscript? More importantly, where in scripture do you see God stating that he will do this?
The arrogance is the preference of our age over the Christians who came before.
There will be more later, but I am incredibly disappointed at your continual refusal to give your definitions any meat, or to support your position with anything more than your "belief" of how God would act separate from any scriptural support for the method of your "perceived" action.
Enoch

Kent Brandenburg said...

Based on it I am beginning to believe I will never receive a definition of what "perfectly preserved" means--you will continue to say you believe it, but give no understanding of what it actually is.

I'VE DEFINED IT SUITABLY. "PERFECT PRESERVATION" IS EVERY WORD PRESERVED FOR EVERY GENERATION AND ALL THE WORDS GENERALLY ACCESSIBLY TO BELIEVERS.

You err (just as my Old-earth believing friend does) by believing something true about God (namely, that he will, as he says, preserve his word), but then applying it in a way not supported by the Bible.

SHOW ME HOW I'VE ERRED. YOU'VE NEVER EVER TOLD ME WHAT YOUR POSITION IS, SO I'LL BE WAITING, ENOCH. OUR BELIEF IS TOTALLY SUPPORTED BY SCRIPTURE. SHOW ME HOW IT IS NOT.

Your error is more grievous, however, because you divide over this issue and make it a source of needless contention.

YOU DON'T THINK THE PERFECTION OF SCRIPTURE IS WORTH DIVIDING OVER? GOD IS PERFECT AND HIS WORD IS PERFECT.

This is supra-scriptural.

GOD IS DIVINE AND SUPERNATURAL. I BELIEVE HE PRESERVED HIS WORD, SO PRESERVATION IS DIVINE AND SUPERNATURAL. HOW IS THAT SUPRA-SCRIPTURAL. PLEASE STOP THE NAME-CALLING, PROPAGANDA-LIKE TECHNIQUES AND TELL HOW.

But even more so, you say you believe "God would consolidate all of the Words from various and differing hand made copies into one perfect, printed edition." This is a statement of incredible arrogance. Why should God have left the scriptures as they were for the first 1500 years and only bring them together for the last 400?

YOUR ARROGANCE COMMENT IS UNCALLED FOR, ALTHOUGH IT IS NORMAL FOR THOSE WHO DON'T BELIEVE IN EITHER ONE BIBLE OR A PERFECT BIBLE. I GET THE SAME KIND OF TREATMENT WHEN I PREACH THE BIBLE TO UNBELIEVERS. WHY WAS IT DIFFERENT AFTER 1440? BECAUSE OF THE PRINTING PRESS. I BELIEVE GOD'S PROVIDENCE LED TO THE PRINTING PRESS, YES. MEN STILL READ HAND-COPIES UNTIL THEN. AND YOU CALL THIS OBSERVATION, ARROGANCE? YOU SHOULD LOOK IN THE MIRROR AND THINK ABOUT YOUR NAME, ENOCH, WHO WALKED WITH GOD.

Why does God prefer the printed text over the manuscript? More importantly, where in scripture do you see God stating that he will do this?

GOD SAID HE WOULD PRESERVE HIS WORD. HE SAID IT WOULD BE AVAILABLE. WHAT HAS BEEN AVAILABLE IS THE TR AND HEBREW MT.

The arrogance is the preference of our age over the Christians who came before.

I'VE NEVER SAID I DIDN'T THINK THEY DIDN'T HAVE GOD'S WORDS. WE'VE PUBLISHED A WHOLE BOOK ON THIS, SO YOU SHOULD READ THAT BEFORE YOU, WHO HAVE PRODUCED NOTHING ON IT, START CALLING ME ARROGANT. WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE WHO DENIES PRESERVATION WHEN GOD ALMIGHTY PROMISED IT? WHAT KIND OF HUMILITY IS THAT?

There will be more later, but I am incredibly disappointed at your continual refusal to give your definitions any meat, or to support your position with anything more than your "belief" of how God would act separate from any scriptural support for the method of your "perceived" action.
Enoch

IS THIS ARROGANT, ENOCH, THAT BECAUSE I DON'T GET YOUR ANSWERS UP IN FAST ENOUGH TIME, YOU REACT LIKE A SPOILED INFANT? I HAD THIS DONE BEFORE MY LAST POST, BUT I HAD SENT THAT ONE TO THOMAS ROSS TO ADD WHAT HE WANTED TO MAKE IT A MEATIER ARTICLE. I HAD THE ANSWERS WRITTEN BEFOREHAND. YOU'RE NOT PAYING FOR THESE ANSWERS AS A SUBSCRIPTION, SO I THINK I DESERVE TO GET THEM OUT IN A TIMING THAT BEFITS A PASTOR, A MAN WITH FOUR CHILDREN AND WHO TEACHES IN A SCHOOL. DO YOU HAVE A WIFE AND FAMILY, ENOCH?

Kent Brandenburg said...

By the way, Enoch, your view is actually like old earth creation. Why? We have the problem of the appearance of age. Scripture doesn't teach that. It teaches young earth, but that is refuted by certain physical "evidence." You stagger at physical "evidence" in your view of preservation.

Nicholas Z. Cardot said...

I really like this post. In fact, I posted a link to it over at my blog. Keep up the good work!

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks for the honor Nicholas. Hoping you are well.

William D said...

"I'VE DEFINED IT SUITABLY. "PERFECT PRESERVATION" IS EVERY WORD PRESERVED FOR EVERY GENERATION AND ALL THE WORDS GENERALLY ACCESSIBLY TO BELIEVERS."

Uhh, the scriptures were not generally accessible to believers during the dark ages for almost 1000 years. There were no translations in English, German, French, etc....only Latin, and it wasn't even accessible to most of the clergy either. Martin Luther didn't even own a Bible until he had earned his doctorate. I believe every word has been preserved for all generations, but it hasn't necessarily been accessible at all times.

If you want a Biblical example, look at Josiah. When he discovered the word of God hidden (providentially preserved by God) in the temple, it had not been accessible for almost a generation. Now, that part of your statement couldn't be right.

William D said...

"view is actually like old earth creation. Why? We have the problem of the appearance of age."

That's not a problem. When God made the earth, he made it with the appearance of age. Adam was a full grown man when God made him. Why couldn't he make the earth with millions of years of carbon break down in them when in reality they were only seconds old after God spoke them into existence?

It seems to me that the KJVO position puts God in a corner and limits His probabilities of preservation to just one man reasoned and man deducted logical conclusion so that there can be a sense of certainty which is called faith.

What if God didn't preserve His word that way, and He never reveals to us how He did it? And those whom you call the MVO group simply choose to accept that all of God's words are providentially perserved in all of the manuscripts that have survived through time. I don't see any less certainty in that position than in the KJVO position.

How those manuscripts are translated, who translates them and what philosophy of translation seems to be the bigger issue to me. I'm more worried about the other countries who are limited to one translation that was not done right, while we in theEnglish speaking world have more translations than we possibly need. Why don't we take our energy and time into getting the Word of God translated into languages where nobody has one rather than fighting over which English one is best or worst? That's just my opinion.

Kent Brandenburg said...

William,

Like I said, I don't feel any antagonism toward you, but your "Uhh" to begin this is insulting, and this kind of tactic doesn't seem to bother you.

What are your Scriptural presuppositions? I want to know that. We will just talk past one another if you don't start with a Scriptural bibliology and then go to history. Bart Ehrman lost faith in Scripture because he placed his view of history above Scriptural presuppositions.

I wonder how you know what was and wasn't accessible during the dark ages. Where do you get your information for that? Please answer. The history that mainly survives was clearly manipulated by Roman Catholicism, just like the winning side writes the history in most cases. You don't seem to read and interact with everything we write here, just selectively.

If you look at what I wrote carefully, I say "believers." The true church had the Scriptures. We first know that by our presuppositions (just believing God), but we have sufficient history with the Waldenses and what we have preserved from them to see that they did have the Scriptures. We also have the massive numbers of Byzantine manuscripts that remain. We should assume that God followed through on His promise.

You use an example like "Martin Luther" didn't own a Bible to debunk this. The Bible was obviously accessible to Martin Luther. We didn't say that everyone would have his own copy. Come on, William.

You give the example of Josiah, and this is one that CT people lean all over essentially to show that availability isn't a Scriptural doctrine, despite propositional promises (like Is. 59:21) from God, saying that it is. I look at that story of Josiah and say that God made sure it was accessible to believers. They didn't have it because of their own neglect and unbelief. God preserved it despite that, so that when they turned to Him, IT WAS AVAILABLE. Why not look at that in harmony with everything else that God said.

Look at the first three verses of Joel and we see these kinds of expectations of availability all over Scripture.

Kent Brandenburg said...

William,

Exactly, it isn't a problem, that is the appearance of age, but it is to someone who looks to his "science" first.

How does my position put God in a corner? God said His Words would be available to every generation and I don't know if you believe that or not. If you don't, then of course we'll disagree. The CT (the eclectic text) was not available for hundreds of years. It wasn't even copied. We also must have a settled text to add to or take away from. I would be interested in your answers to the questions above, William, when I answer the questions above.

Regarding the MVO people, no textual critic believes in preservation. Read Daniel Wallace. He doesn't believe preservation is taught in Scripture. MVO people believe that we still have yet found all the manuscripts that would lead us to a restored Bible. They believe it is an ongoing process. So you're saying that is what you believe? Is that based on Scriptural presuppositions?

William, I think you should read our book Thou Shalt Keep Them. You'll find it is a scholarly work. I ask you to do that without predisposition. Read it at face value. The point of the book has not been debunked by any of its critics. They have attempted to discredit it, in part by lies, but they haven't disproven it, even come close.

Regarding translation, great that you want good translations in other languages. To do that, you'll need to know Biblical languages. I have been in conversation about a better translation into the Khmou language, and would look to help others if I had the time. I don't believe that the doctrine of preservation is not worth my time, especially in light of an obvious attack on Scripture from Satan that we see from the very beginning in Genesis 3 and onward.

William D said...

Bro.Kent,
No sarcasim intended...sincerely,sorry if the "umm" was irksome. I tend to type "out loud" so to speak...

anyway, my scriptural presuppositions would be as follows:

Isaiah 40:8 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.

Matthew 5:18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

Deuteronomy 8:3 ...that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.

1 Peter 1:25 But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.

Psalm 119:160 Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever.

As for the availability of the Bible, it is pretty common knowledge that the accepted translation was the Latin Vulgate, and the Greek Orthodox church was the only church using Greek Byzantine Manuscripts. The books I have read about this would be "God's Word in our Hands" "Mind of God to the Mind of Man" as well as The King James Only Debate - Carson" "The King James Only Controversy - White" and just about every KJVO book except yours..which I'd be glad to purchase and read also!

Anyways, If God's words have existed, then of course, they would have to be available somewhere from when they were written until now...but how widely available is not promised. The story of Josiah that I sited was to prove that God's words were not available in the sense that everyone was able to access them. They were under a bunch of rubble...but they were available there...even during the previous generations who never dug them out. It could be that the scriptures that were found there were the only remaining copy on earth! But God still preserved them.

You said: "MVO people believe that we still have yet found all the manuscripts that would lead us to a restored Bible. They believe it is an ongoing process. So you're saying that is what you believe? Is that based on Scriptural presuppositions?"

We probably havn't found all the manuscripts that exist, but it doesn't mean that we do not have a complete preserved Bible. When the dead sea scrolls were found, it was amazing how close they were to the already existing manuscripts. No matter how many more ancient manuscripts are dug out of the sand for the next 100+ years, no new books, verses or words from God are going to be found that have been hidden from us that God didn't already give us. I just think that all those words are contained in all the various manuscripts...Catholic or not....btw, Erasmus was a Catholic...and He's the one who put together the text that was mostly used to translate the KJV from. He had to do some level of textual criticism with the manuscripts he had available to make some judgment calls on what he believed was authenticly God's words...ironically, his first Greek NT didn't include 1 John 5:7. He didn't think it was part of God's words. That's textual criticism however you want to dice it.

I look forward to further discussion and reading on this...thanks.

Kent Brandenburg said...

William,

Thanks.

The verses you provided as a presupposition say that you too believe in availability of every Word. If that is true, then you can't accept the CT as Scripture. The CT wasn't available for at least hundreds of years.

The best that textual historians can do is essentially speculate on what the history of the transmission of the text. The authors of these MVO books rely on "textual scholars" who do not have the same presuppositions as you, who deny the inerrancy of Scripture. The mantel of textual criticism has been passed down through Metzger to Bart Ehrman, who is a rank atheist.

It is impossible today to extrapolate exactly what all the manuscripts that the men had available who were responsible for the printed editions of the TR of the 16th century. I encourage you to read my post on the Waldenses---http://kentbrandenburg.blogspot.com/search?q=Waldenses

The Latin Vulgate was the Bible of Roman Catholicism, not the believing remnant. Obviously believing men did not receive the Vulgate as God's Word as seen in their rejection of its Words and the amalgamation of the Words of those 16th century printed editions. Erasmus was not the only man with access to manuscripts. The churches didn't settle on his printed edition. We can be thankful for God's using Erasmus. He was not a puppet of Roman Catholicism like many in that day, who had an affinity for those independent of RC. His trajectory took him ad fontes, back to the sources, instead of RC dogma. Those men of the 16th century did not take the same tack as modern textual critics who deny inerrancy. I've discussed this in depth on many posts over at Jackhammer in numerous quotes. They seem to be ignored by men.

Since you read all those books you say you did, then you saw that they don't believe that we have all of the original words available today. If you look on pp. 360, 361 of God's Word in our Hands, you'll see that they don't believe we have the Hebrew wording of 1 Samuel 13:1 available. That contradicts your presuppositions.

We will be coming out with a second volume of TSKT that will give the answers to the typical historical and textual questions that are often asked today. I have answered many of them on occasion.

Jake Danger said...

What is more important, truth or certainty (after all, the jihadists are "certain" they're going to get 72 virgins in heaven if they kill innocent people).

Which is better:

"I am SURE that 2 + 2 = 5"? or "I think 2+2=4 but I could be wrong."

2 Timothy 3:16King James Version (KJV)

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" using this to conclude the inerrancy of the Bible is essentially saying "The Bible is true because the Bible says the Bible is true." That's circular reasoning, which is certainly not advocated in the logic class you said you took. You could just as easily say "The Quran is true because the Quran says the Quran is true" or "The Hindu Vedas are true because the Hindu Vedas say the Hindu Vedas are true." The only difference between Christians and other religions is that if we talk to God ourselves he will confirm that Christianity is true and that all other religions are false, and he will prove it to us personally if we insist. No other religion can say that.