Thursday, September 18, 2008

Criticizing Professor Wallace part two

Daniel Wallace Invents New Doctrine

The Bible teaches its own perfect preservation. Evidence shows the history of a belief in the perfect preservation of Scripture. We have no historical record of Christians not believing the doctrine of perfect preservation until the 19th century. Enter Daniel Wallace. He contends that history of the perfect preservation doctrine traces back only to the Reformation and that upon close examination, the Bible doesn't teach the verbal preservation of Scripture. Here's what William Combs, professor at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote in the DBTS theological journal [DBSJ 5 (Fall 2000): 3-44] on p. 5:

In an article entitled “Inspiration, Preservation, and New Testament Textual Criticism,” by Daniel B. Wallace, we find what is apparently the first definitive, systematic denial of a doctrine of preservation of Scripture. He has been joined in his view by W. Edward Glenny. . . . [T]he position of Wallace and Glenny appears to be a rather novel one. . . . [T]hey have eliminated any vestige of the preservation of Scripture as a doctrine.
I agree with Combs. The first outright denials of the doctrine of verbal preservation of Scripture that I had ever read or seen came with Daniel Wallace and W. Edward Glenny. So historically their doctrine is a brand new doctrine. With it being an already established doctrine, one would assume that they would have a convincing Scriptural basis to overturn centuries of continued belief in verbal preservation. It should be a very serious thing for a professing believer to declare a total apostatizing of a particular doctrine. In other words, Wallace and Glenny need to have a very good Scriptural case to overturn historic doctrine.

In this case, Wallace and Glenny say that the true doctrine has been one of "no preservation," a denial of preservation. They would say that the church (NT churches) unanimously, erroneously, and against the wooing and moving and guidance of the Holy Spirit had taken on a false doctrine for centuries until these two men came along to correct the church and bring a revival of bibliological truth. Genuine believers had centuries believed that God had providentially preserved His Words for every generation of believer, but that was actually an apostate doctrine, according to these two men. But then they came along and set the church back on its rightful course.

Overturning the Historic Position

The true doctrine, according to Wallace and Glenny, was that God had purposefully allowed His Words not to be preserved and that Scripture itself does not anywhere guarantee its own preservation. These two men championed, according to them, a doctrine that would have been understood by the primitive church, understanding the text of Scripture in the way that the people would have understood it in that day. Moses, David, Paul, and Peter all knew that God's Words had no guarantee of survival for the usage of the saints according to Wallace and Glenny.

I discussed this with Daniel Wallace directly on his blog, Parchment and Pen. He granted that history was on my side. His only argument against the historical argument was that it was a doctrine that arose during the Reformation, not before. He couldn't prove this, but that was his assertion. He said that the major proof against preservation was that Scripture did not teach it, so he was actually going back to the original source, ad fontes, to come to his position. I told him that I believed that preservation was all over the Bible. He said, "No." I said, "Show me." He said, I already have an article that I've written and has been out for over a decade that stands as an authority on this issue. He referred me to the same article that Combs mentioned in his journal article above. He talked as though it was obvious that this work he had written was landmark in bibliological history, which would be clear to anyone having read it. Wallace had spoken; the position was settled.

I informed Wallace that I had read that article several years ago, but that I would read it again. I assumed that it would be a very careful and thorough work to overturn years of belief and teaching that contradicted it. When I was done, I told him that I would tell him whether I thought that it did actually do what he said it would do. In the rest of this post and another, we will look at that article, the work that has overturned the doctrine of verbal preservation for all time in God's church. This should be very important to all of us, since Scripture is our sole authority for faith and practice.

The Reaction to a Scriptural Defense of the Historic Doctrine

Before I start into the critique, I want to say that I'm amazed at the reaction I have endured just for pointing out the above information. I have understood since I was very young the importance of doctrine being historic. When I say historic, I don't mean 100-150 years old, like the age of the Charismatic movement and the critical text. I mean back to at least around the time shortly after Gutenberg's printing press. I don't get how that people can just ignore this and be taken seriously. I also find the ridicule I have received to be very interesting. I haven't always taken the mockery really well. I get testy, but scoffing seems to be the rule rather than the exception on this issue. It comes in heaping helpings. Sometimes it goes beyond personal attack to literal slander. I get the exact same response on this issue from professing believers as I receive from evolutionists over creationism. I represent the historic position, which I'm just supposed to assume could be dismantled by any type of smoke and mirrors offered up. Even when someone goes further than ridicule, the answers are often so varied and novel that many of them seem as though they are being made up on the spot. In this age of tolerance and uncertainty, nearly every spontaneous, never-before-heard improvisation must be respected as a legitimate alternative.

My goal in this criticism of Wallace's paper is to focus my analysis upon his dealings with Scripture in the doctrine of preservation. I want to skip over everything else to locate and examine just the passages he interacts with on the preservation of God's Word. In my copy, downloaded from, out of twenty-one pages in the article, he treats Scriptural arguments only on pp. 13-17, all told about four pages. Technically, he doesn't start dealing with anything from the Bible until the last part of page 15 and ends at the bottom of page 16. In other words, Daniel Wallace is able to overturn centuries of historic doctrine, in his opinion, in the space of a page and a half. We will write only about this section, the one to which Daniel Wallace himself directed me.

Blatant Errors that Belie Trustworthiness

Daniel Wallace treats five references in the body and two in the footnotes. He explains why:

I am aware of only one substantial articulation of the biblical basis for this doctrine by a majority text advocate. In Donald Brake’s essay, “The Preservation of the Scriptures,” five major passages are adduced as proof that preservation refers to the written Word of God: Ps. 119:89, Isa. 40:8, Matt. 5:17–18, John 10:35, and 1 Pet. 1:23–25.
Wallace acts like there wasn't much for him to find in defense of the preservation of God's Word. He could have found plenty of other written material on the doctrine of preservation in Scripture if he had looked even a little. He could have gone back and read John Owen, Francis Turretin, among other Westminster divines. He could have looked in the book of a man he quoted in this very article, Edward Hills, the honors Yale undergraduate and Harvard PhD, who gives a Scriptural defense of preservation of the original language text of God's Word in his book, The King James Version Defended. With no large effort, he could have found many more presentations on preservation, but I’m left to deal with the few with which he chose to interact in the essay by Brake, a fellow Dallas Theological alumnus.

This short list of verses is very convenient for Wallace. He invalidates Isaiah 40:8 and 1 Peter 1:23-25 in one sentence. Psalm 119:89 and John 10:35 are not even texts that I would use in defense of preservation. They are nice supplementary references, but that’s about it. He attempts to swat away this historic doctrine without even working up a sweat. He should have worked harder.

Blatant Error Number One

Wallace writes:

But 1 Pet. 1:23–25, for example, in quoting Isa. 40:8, uses rhema (not logos)—a term which typically refers to the spoken word.

His first argument is that since 1 Peter 1:23-25 uses rhema instead of logos, it can't be speaking about the preservation of the written word, because rhema is used to refer to the spoken word.

Good exegesis or even checking someone else's exegesis includes reading the text. I don’t know how Wallace could have read 1 Peter 1:23-25, because v. 23 uses logos and then v. 25 uses rhema. This directly contradicts his point. Verse 23, the particular portion of these three verses that contains the specific words supporting preservation, says the logos of God lives and abides forever. It’s also logos in the UBS 3/4 in case you were wondering. So Wallace says that rhema is spoken word as opposed to logos, written word. Since in this case “word” really is logos, it must be the written text here unless someone tried to have it both ways, not something anyone should get away with. If I made the same mistake as he does here, I would be laughed out of the room. To overturn centuries of teaching, I would assume that someone who cared would know what the words were. He sweeps away 1 Peter 1:23-25 and Isaiah 40:8 with this one false statement.

This study first appeared over a decade ago in the Grace Journal from Grace Theological Seminary. In other words, this is a peer-reviewed article. Aren't the peers supposed to review? Shouldn't they have looked up what he used as arguments against a centuries old doctrinal position? I would call this a "rush to judgment." Academics see an essay that doesn't negate their favored position, so they give it blanket approval. Is it that easy to nullify a doctrine cherished for hundreds of years by saints of God?

Blatant Error Number Two

Wallace left most of the heavy lifting to his footnotes. In footnote 77 Wallace references Matthew 5:18 and writes:

[Matt. 5:18] plainly refers either to the ethical principles of the law or the fulfillment of prophecy, or both. (The validity of each of these options turns, to some degree, on how plerothe is used elsewhere in Matthew and the weight given to those texts—e.g., are Matthew’s OT quotation introductory formulae [hina plerothe] in 1:22; 2:15; 4:14, etc., connecting the term to eschatological fulfillment] more significant or is Jesus’ own use of plerothe [in 3:15, connecting it to ethical fulfillment] more significant?) Either way, the idea of preservation of the written text is quite foreign to the context.

He says he is treating Matthew 5:18. And yet plerothe isn’t in Matthew 5:18; it’s in 5:17. The word “fulfil” in 5:17 is a different word than “fulfilled” in 5:18. 5:18 uses ginomai, which cancels out his entire paragraph. In this one note, he makes those two plain errors. Again this is the composition to be relied upon to overturn the doctrine of preservation.

“Jots” and “tittles” do refer to Hebrew letters. Paraphrased, this could read: Not one Hebrew letter will disappear from the law until all of it comes about. In 5:17 Christ didn’t come to destroy the law, and the law’s jots and tittles will not disappear (5:18). The parallel in Luke 16:17 states: “And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.” Nothing had been lost from the text of the law, and nothing ever would be lost. It would be easier for heaven and earth to pass than for such a loss to take place.

What to Think?

Wallace doesn’t say much about the Scriptural promises of preservation. We have only the few things he says to judge whether he truly has relied on Scripture to overturn the historic position. What we get is sloppy work that should be rejected. We should expect more to turn from a position so long settled in the hearts and minds of Christians. Daniel Wallace doesn’t get to change doctrine by merely showing up. The burden of proof was upon him. He failed.

Part Three to Come.


Jeff Voegtlin said...

I laughed when I read this....

But I was laughing at Wallace. I've never met him, and I'm sure he is brilliant. But it seems here that his scholarship is laughable. I don't know the proper terms but it seems like he was arguing against something that was not there by explaining away certain words that were not there in the first place.

Are we allowed to laugh at them (Psalm 2:4)? Or, is it only unbelievers that mock (2 Peter 3:3)?

Kent Brandenburg said...

I wonder about laughing too and I do think of God laughing in the end. It is to the level of laughing here in a certain sense. I can't get to the laughing level yet, but I understand someone laughing.

Your evaluation was right on though.

Anonymous said...

If Matthew 5:18 is about scriptural preservation, then how would we apply "one jot or one tittle" to the situation, when no two manuscripts are exactly the same?