Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Criticizing Professor Wallace part three

In 1991 Grace Theological Seminary of Winona Lake, IN published a book, New Testament Essays in Honor of Homer A. Kent, Jr, in honor of their longtime professor. Included in that book and then later reproduced in the Grace Theological Journal from Winona Lake, IN was an article written by Wallace entitled, "Inspiration, Preservation, and New Testament Textual Criticism." This article gets referenced and relied upon without criticism by evangelicals in many places as a landmark, authoritative work. What this article did was invent a brand new doctrine denying the historic and biblical doctrine of preservation of Scripture. When I confronted Dan Wallace about the doctrine of preservation, he refused to engage in a conversation, but instead referred me to this article.

As you could see after part two, I got silence about two blatant errors made by Wallace. People are reading. I know that from my site meter. They came around after the first article, especially to correct my tone, when I merely introduced the subject, but now they're nowhere to be seen. I've said that there's nothing here personal with Wallace. In a lot of ways I like him. I've liked his grammar. He has written some good articles. I confront his errors and it becomes amateur psychiatrist hour. Bibliology is foundational to all our theology. We need the Bible for all our doctrines. I'm going after uncertainty regarding the Words of Scripture with a diligence that is at least matched by conservative evangelicals reproof of emergents regarding uncertainty of the meaning of Scripture. I think both are important, but the Words themselves are more fundamental than the meaning.

Wallace and Vox

I've written some things about Wallace's view of inerrancy. Myself and others have issues with his position. As you read the breadth of his bibliological materials, you see troubles in every aspect of his position. For instance, Wallace takes the ipsissima vox position relating to the Words of Jesus in the Gospels. In his “An Apologia for a Broad View of Ipsissima Vox,” paper presented to the 51st Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Danvers, Mass., November 1999, he wrote:
[T]he concepts go back to Jesus, but the words do not—at least, not exactly as recorded.
His colleague, Darrell Bock, wrote a chapter in Jesus Under Fire [ed. Michael J. Wilkins and J. P. Moreland (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995):73-99], defending the vox position, entitled, “The Words of Jesus in the Gospels: Live, Jive, or Memorex." Bock’s chapter tries to defend the historical reliability of the Gospel writing of Jesus’ Words from the destructive criticism of the Jesus Seminar. He writes, “The Gospels give us the true gist of his teaching and the central thrust of his message,” but “we do not have ‘his very words’ in the strictest sense of the term.” In his own vox article, Daniel Wallace states that Bock there represents “the best of evangelical scholarship when it comes to describing ipsissima vox."

I think you can see what the vox view does to both the doctrine of inspiration and of inerrancy. When Scripture says, "Jesus said," as it does at least 65 times, to them it doesn't actually mean Jesus said those Words. Wallace and Bock approach Jesus' Words in the Gospels from a naturalistic viewpoint. The apostles forgot the Words like historians often do and so presented the Words the best they could, considering their shortcomings. Wallace's inductive approach to inerrancy results in a rationalistic dealing with Jesus Words, which results in ignoring a theological presupposition in John 14:26 and 16:13-14:
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.
Frederic Godet wrote in his commentary on John in 1886:
This internal activity of the Spirit will unceasingly recall to their memory some former word of Jesus, so that in proportion as He shall illuminate them, they will cry out: Now, I understand this word of the Master! And this vivid clearness will cause other words long forgotten to come forth from forgetfulness.
Donald Green in an essay on this subject, published in The Master's Seminary Journal (Spring 2001), wrote:
Jesus’ promise of the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit placed the Gospel writers in a different realm in which different standards of memory would be operative. They would be supernaturally enabled to recall Jesus’ words in a manner that freed them from the human limitations of secular historians.
Wallace continues with his vox position a secular or humanistic approach to Scripture. He himself regularly says that we can't come to the text of Scripture with theological presuppositions. In an article that James Borland wrote in Spring 1999 for The Masters Seminary Journal, “The Preservation of the New Testament Text: A Common Sense Approach," he recognized this same flaw in Wallace's thinking and in criticism of it, he wrote:
In general, textual critics do their work apart from theological considerations. They examine manuscripts, note variant readings, then test and apply some basic canons of evidence, both internal and external, both intrinsic and transcriptional. But should a Bible believer see things differently than unbelieving critics do? This has been the assertion of Edward F. Hills, a learned textual critic who studied under Machen, Van Til, and R. B. Kuiper. Extremely perceptive, I thought, were these words of John Skilton, who taught New Testament Greek at Westminster Theological Seminary for longer than most younger scholars have been living (58 years), until his death in 1998. “For men who accept the Bible as the Word of God, inerrant in the original manuscripts, it should be out of the question to engage in the textual criticism of the Scriptures in a ‘neutral’ fashion—as if the Bible were not what it claims to be.” He goes on to say, “This is a point which Cornelius Van Til has been stressing in his apologetics and which Edward F. Hills has been appropriately making in his writings on textual criticism. All along the line it is necessary to insist, as Hills does, that ‘Christian believing Bible study should and does differ from neutral, unbelieving Bible study’.” Skilton concludes that Hills “is quite correct when he reminds us that” ignoring God’s “divine inspiration and providential preservation of the New Testament . . . is bound to lead to erroneous conclusions."
At the end of his journal essay, Wallace wrote: "A theological a priori has no place in textual criticism." He approaches Scripture, like all the unbelieving textual critics, like it is any other book. You see this in many places in Wallace's writing. In another article, entitled "Mark 1:2 and New Testament Criticism" (2004), he wrote: "At all points, textual critics are historians who have to base their views on data, not mere theological convictions."

With these presuppositions in the mind of Wallace, you can see how that he would rush to judgment on the doctrine of preservation. Unlike believers through history, he doesn't start with statements from Scripture to come to his bibliological positions. He looks to "evidence," what might better be called, "science falsely so called" (1 Timothy 6:20). Just because he knows koine Greek really well doesn't mean that we think he is credible on this doctrine. You'll find dozens of people in universities all over America that know Greek as well or better than he, who are brazen liberals in their view of the Bible. The blatant errors in his "exegesis" evince a lack of carefulness that attempts to force his naturalistic view of Scripture onto the biblical text.

Blatant Error Number Three

Even though Matthew 24:35 wasn't referenced by Donald Brake in his Dallas Theological thesis, Wallace chooses to end his dealing with references on preservation by mentioning it in a footnote:
Occasionally Matt. 24:35 (“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away”) is used in support of preservation. But once again, even though this text has the advantage of now referring to Jesus’ words (as opposed to the OT), the context is clearly eschatological; thus the words of Jesus have certainty of fulfillment. That the text does not here mean that his words will all be preserved in written form is absolutely certain because (1) this is not only foreign to the context, but implies that the written gospels were conceived at this stage in Heilsgeschichte—decades before a need for them was apparently felt; (2) we certainly do not have all of Jesus’ words recorded—either in scripture or elsewhere (cf. John 20:30 and 21:25).
The eschatological context doesn’t affect the teaching on preservation—it enhances it. The Lord Jesus Christ assures His disciples that His promises not only shall certainly be fulfilled but also shall remain available for the comfort of His people during that troubled period which shall precede His second coming. He offers two other reasons why the verse doesn’t teach preservation. First, however, Jesus’ promise does not make a point that the gospels had already been written down. It assumes that they would be, even as they shortly were. He is omniscient and could make that promise. Even as Daniel Wallace wrote in his Greek grammar, this in Matthew 24:35 is the strongest guarantee in Greek language. His words were preserved because they were written down. Heaven and earth are physical entities that will pass away, that is, disappear. They can be less counted upon in their preservation than Jesus’ Words. Heaven and earth will disappear in the end times, so Jesus’ Words are time sensitive. They’ll be around surely when heaven and earth will not. Why not just take the plain meaning of the text?

I think he is dead wrong about Matthew 24:35 and the plain reading shows this. However, it is his second argument where the third blatant error is. He used John 20:30 and 21:25 to make a point. Why deny the teaching that Jesus just made with something of one's own invention regarding unrecorded Words of Jesus? He can't really know of any Words of Jesus outside of the ones in Scripture, and John 20:30 and 21:25 don’t help his point, because they say absolutely nothing about His Words. He uses two passages to confirm a point that isn't even in those two texts. Both of those speak of things that Jesus did that are not recorded, not what He said. They say nothing about Words.

Wallace Destroys His Straw Man

Daniel Wallace put words in the mouth of historic believers when he wrote:
Any claim that God preserved the New Testament text in tact, giving His church actual, not theoretical, possession of it, must mean one of three things—either 1) God preserved it in all the extant manuscripts so that none of them contain any textual corruptions, or 2) He preserved it in a group of manuscripts, none of which contain any corruptions, or 3) God preserved it in a solitary manuscript which alone contains no corruptions.
You should notice first the amazing lack of objectivity on the part of Wallace when he starts off with a "theoretical possession" of Scripture. Most of all, he orders the church the only three possibilities for a position. I've read much historical theology on this subject and I have never read any of these three as the historic position of God's people. However, from his hubris he mandates these three as the only possibilities and in the next paragraph, he argues them away in a few sentences. I've never read in history that God had promised that (1) every copy would be perfect, (2) that there would be zero errors in an entire group of copies, or that (3) one copy would be passed down perfectly from generation to generation. With his odd view that has no theological presuppositions along with very little curiosity regarding the historic belief, he assumes that the only possibilities are those that popped into his head. Then he proceeds to shoot them down.

Wallace represents well the straw man argument in the denial of the preservation of God's Words. God's people believe that God preserved every Word. God said "Words" and they believed "Words." Scripture doesn't mention preserving copies, manuscripts, or families of manuscripts. The Bible tells us that God would preserve every Word for every generation of God's people.

Stay tuned for Part 4


Bill Hardecker said...

Just a few of questions since it is interestingly "quiet" around here...
1. You say (I know the Bible actually says it) "words" are preserved, but doesn't it follow then that words eventually forms texts therefore we can say that God did preserve the New Testament texts?

2. Do variants negate the preservation of God's Word?

3. What exactly is the nature of variants between the N.T. texts, I mean, we know that they are handwritten, so is that the reason why no two N.T. texts are exactly alike?

BTW, I like what I am reading here. The pics of the proff look amusing. :-)

Gary Webb said...

Dr. Brandenburg,
This is an excellent & needed exposing & refuting of the rationalist infidelity of a present day evangelical/modernist. Dr. Wallace is a perfect example, in my opinion, of the New Evangelical - what one preacher described as the "semi-saved". Paul told the pastoral staff of the church at Ephesus that "of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch...". Daniel Wallace seems to fit that Scriptural description very well. May others give heed to your warning.
G. Webb

Don Johnson said...

Hi Kent,

Regarding the words of Jesus, I think it is possible to look at it this way: the apostles at least at times may have given us summaries of Jesus words rather than every word spoken. For example, the Sermon on the Mount seems a bit short to me. Of course, I have no evidence for this, it is just conjecture. Let's just say for sake of argument that it is a correct.

Well, then, does that possibility actually damage inspiration? No, since verbal plenary inspiration means that the Holy Spirit moved mysteriously in the hearts of the apostles to lead them to write exactly the words the Holy Spirit intended for them to write. I don't think you can escape verbal plenary inspiration by "summary" or "approximation" route.

Having said that, I think that it is unlikely the apostles changed any of the Lord's words. The Holy Spirit led them to recall and write down the exact words Jesus said on various occasions (although in comparing the Synoptics, we will have to concede at times the Spirit led different apostles to record different words spoken on the same occasion). And I think that if the apostles were translating from Aramaic into Greek, the Spirit led them to accurately translate it. I don't believe the Gospels were originally written in Aramaic as some suggest.

In any case, just noting that the "summary" argument may be technically correct but essentially moot for the question at hand.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Kent Brandenburg said...


We can defend Words Scripturally and that is the historic view. Have churches settled on Words? Yes. Wallace though argues a straw man. He needs to be called on it. God is our Judge and a strawman won't argue with Him.

Dr. Webb,

Thanks. Good seeing you. Glad you're reading here. I agree with you.


I'll deal with your "summarizing" argument later. I have to go teach. Have you read Bock?

Kent Brandenburg said...

I have some time to use for this right now.

First Bill.

Errors in copies does not mean the Words were lost. The historic position is that errors were corrected and the Holy Spirit, the author, worked toward perfection through believers.

The variants are very small between the TR editions. The variants are very large between the Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, etc., that are the basis of the critical text.


You can't write "the gist" of what Jesus said and write "the very Words" (ipsissima verba) He said. Jesus’ promise of the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit placed the Gospel writers in a different realm in which different standards of memory would be in play. When the words spoken by Jesus are similar but not identical between Luke and Matthew, for instance, the assumption should be that the Lord reiterated the same idea in a similar but not identical manner. This avoids the need to say that one or another evangelist inserted into the text of his gospel words or phrases never actually spoken by Jesus.

DT said...

Here's a little theory I have. Not sure if it's original or not.

Perhaps the differences in Jesus' words in the gospel accounts is because. . .there were no microphones! Really, I mean, He probably repeated Himself, or repeated points in order to get the point across and so everyone could hear.

That would be one reason as to why there are differences, while maintaining a view of perfection inspiration.

Kent Brandenburg said...


What you are saying is absolutely true, so, as you know, it conflicts with Bock and Wallace. I'm happy that's OK with you.

DT said...

Dude, I'm sure A LOT of what I believe conflicts with Bock and Wallace.
Just like a lot of stuff I believe conflicts with my favorite modern preachers, like MacArthur, Piper, Washer, and such. Or historical figures like Spurgeon, Edwards, and Ravenhill.
Or like my own pastor, or the guy sitting next to me in the pew.
Look, I know you've had bad experiences with Wallace supporters. But please don't think everyone who likes him are praying to a picture of him every night (especially not the latest picture you put up there!)
I actually don't mind his view of theological presuppositions when it comes to textual criticism, because it shows us that, even from a neutral standpoint, the Bible is a miraculous Book! however, there are views he and Bock propagate that I don't buy. For one, they're view of inspiration does lean toward higher criticism. His idea that Paul "corrected" himself I think is off. Perhaps Paul just was thankful he baptized none of those who caused the divisions he was talking about ("none of you). They also speak favorably of the Q theory. I think that's wrong as well. So you see, I don't agree with everything Wallace says. I still, however, consider him an authority on manuscripts and textual variants (as to the history behind them and the reason for their inclusion/exclusion), but of course he is not the authority on any of those things.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Thanks for culturally contextualizing your message.

Those sound like some serious conflicts you have. That's good.

Do you agree with Wallace that there is no doctrine of preservation in Scripture?

DT said...

I'm not sure Wallace says there's no doctrine of preservation in scripture. He has denied a "doctrine of preservation which requires that the exact wording of the text be preserved at all."
If that quote of his accurately states his position, then I agree.
If he has contradicted that quote, gone further, and actually denied preservation altogether as you are insisting, then no, I do believe that scripture teaches the endurance of God's Word.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Here is what Wallace says in the article, which you could read yourself, but I'll do the legwork for you:

"the doctrine of preservation was not a doctrine of the ancient church"

He's saying it isn't a doctrine. He has no evidence for that, but that's his conclusion based on what is obviously very little attempts to find any.

"if the doctrine of the preservation of scripture has neither ancient historical roots, nor any direct biblical basis, what can we legitimately say about the text of the New Testament? My own preference is to speak of God’s providential care of the text as can be seen throughout church history, without elevating such to the level of doctrine."

Again, no doctrine of preservation.

Bobby Mitchell said...

Stop the presses! Did I just see that Dr. Webb has commented on a blog? What's next, soaring swine?

I agree with the articles and I'm happy for men who stand for the truth in this time of apostasy. Keep up the good work.

Jack Lamb said...

Wallace: "At all points, textual critics are historians who have to base their views on data, not mere theological convictions."

Reminds me of Hills chapter "A Short History of Unbelief."

The distinction between Wallace's view and faith in God's promises could scarcely be clearer. Isn't this the cornerstone of the entire debate? Do we trust our Maker or manuscripts? Confidence in perfect preservation is a reasonable faith with much evidence. I don't need all of the answers to believe God on this or any other core doctrine.

Don Johnson said...

Hi Kent,

Sorry to comment and disappear! But I am back now.

I think you miss a couple of things in what I said, though it is probably not germane to the conclusion.

First, it is possible to write a summary that is 'the very words' but not every word that was said. But in the end, where the Bible says, "Jesus said", then I take it that he said those exact words.

Second, when Matthew and Luke differ, it is not always because they are recording a different event, or a different speech. Sometimes that is the case, but at other times it is quite clear that the same event or occasion is being recorded although the words used sometimes differ. Now that doesn't mean that Jesus didn't say every word he is recorded as saying, but that the evangelist (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) chose to record some of the words, not all of the words that were said.

But in the end, I agree that what is recorded is accurate, the very words spoken by Jesus (or anyone else involved in the story for that matter - it's all inspired, not just the red letters).

So, as usual, I am quibbling on minor points.

I am not wanting to get into our major differences, but just wanting to point out these for the sake of greater accuracy in the whole argument.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Kent Brandenburg said...


We don't argue for every Word, just the very Words. We believe in classic harmonization of the various gospel accounts. All the words in both accounts were said by Jesus. We agree. You understand that what Wallace and Bock, among others, say is different?

DT said...

Well Wallace's article is a bit vague to me when it comes to his final view of preservation. It seems over and again he is defending against a certain kind of preservation. Yet, the quote you offered seems to suggest he denies it altogether. So unless he clarifies himself, I'm unsure as to what he is getting at. I would still disagree with him if he denied preservation altogether.

anyway, i forgot to ask you about this. .. in your article you said,
"I think both are important, but the Words themselves are more fundamental than the meaning."

I'm not trying to cause an argument, but I was wondering if you can explain that statement. Thank you!

Kent Brandenburg said...

1. We get meaning from words, so words are fundamental.
2. Change the words; change the meaning.
3. God inspired the writings, the words, not the ideas or concepts.

Meaning is very important. However, when the words go, the meaning will go too. I believe Satan's main attack is on the Words. If we don't defend those, then we'll lose the meaning war.

I wish an evangelical would address that, but no one will touch it.

Jon Davidson said...

I'm slowly reading through your criticisms of Dr. Wallace, and so far I have been disappointed with your refutation and argumentation. There is too much for me to write in this response. So, I will respond with a few brief thoughts. (1) Your personal "attacks" on Dr. Wallace are absurd. It seems as if you are searching for a reason to personally dislike him. My relationship with Dr. Wallace over the last several years is completely opposite to what you have described in various posts. He is one of the most humble, godly, and gracious men I have ever met. He has personally met my needs, prayed for me, and advised me in my ministry decisions. AND YES, I have disagreed with him and told him so, and his response has always been understanding and compassionate. I'm sorry your experience was not similar. (2) By reading your posts, I get a sense of your theological grid and background. I too am from the same traditions, but I see many flaws in your argumentation, rhetoric, and philosophy presented in your writings. You will probably respond by saying, "NAME THEM!" Such is an example of "our" tradition's argumentation. However, I cannot name them, for a book could be written, and I simply don't have the time. So, if that's a cop-out, I'm sorry. Further, your martyr mentality is common in our tradition. I too have felt it many times. It's the feeling of, "I'm the only guy standing on the hill facing the big bad giant," or "ivory tower" in this case. I too have felt that way, but it is pride. There is a danger with the sense of martyrdom, but to feel persecuted for what one believes can be satisfying and fulfilling. (3) I have a quick note on the Ipsissima Vox issue. I'm not sure how you can deny Bock's or Wallace's position when you are faced with a synopsis parallel laid out before you, especially in Greek. i.e. Notice at Jesus' baptism there is a voice from Heaven (from the Father). But what does the voice say? Mark and Luke agree word for word, but Matthew's wording differs. So, the question is begged, what were the actual words of the Father concerning Jesus? According to your grid, all three evangelist should have used the exact same wording (Ipsissima Verba), but they didn't. Did God not preserve the exact wording, which he himself spoke? Further, which evangelist got it right, because aren't we depending on the preservation of the exact wording? Are we to say that Matthew just simply got it wrong, or vice versa? Maybe Ipsissima Vox is a viable solution. This is just one example. I encourage you to read through the words of Jesus in a Gospels parallel (Greek preferred).

I truly do not want this to sound mean. I will pray for you to have blessing and well-being the moment I click publish. God bless.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I'd be glad to read over what you have pointed out. Thanks.

So you think that Wallace was correct in his article dealing with preservation passages? He has obvious errors in it. Yes, I can't take too much from a comment that says nothing to prove a point. And I'm happy you've had a good relationship with Wallace. I could easily have a great conversation with him, I'm sure, but I believe there's a lot that is dangerous about him. I'm guessing you went to Dallas.

Jonathan Hanna said...

How does Wallace's view clearly deviate from the Chicago Statements?

Jack Koons0 said...

Kent you stated:
"1. We get meaning from words, so words are fundamental.
2. Change the words; change the meaning.
3. God inspired the writings, the words, not the ideas or concepts.

Meaning is very important. However, when the words go, the meaning will go too. I believe Satan's main attack is on the Words. If we don't defend those, then we'll lose the meaning war."

It is my belief as well that the battle is on the "words". That is precisely why words are changed in modern versions. Preservation extends from the autographs (which no longer exist), to the Bible we currently hold in our hands. Since God 1) gives us internal witnesses that His words would be preserved by Him; 2) insured that the early churches had His words; 3) and God cannot lie (Titus 1:1,2); this demands that God must fulfill His words, and preserve them throughout all generations.

1) "We get meaning from words, so words are fundamental."
A prime example is the word "virgin" in Isaiah 7:14. Preservation is not just about what was the 'word' in the original language, but what did that specific word mean to its original recipient? Isaiah was sent to Ahaz to tell him not to fear his enemies, because the Lord was protecting him. Isaiah told Ahaz to ask God for a sign as proof, but Ahaz feared to do so. Hence, Isaiah said, God will give you a sign. This is where 1) proper context; and 2) proper theology demand the preservation of the correct 'word' is needed, in order to preserve the proper 'meaning'.

The word in question here is the Hebrew עלמה (‛almâh ... pronounced al-maw').

So what is the context?

7:14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Isaiah

First, what is the purpose of a sign? To get someone's attention! Now ‛almâh can mean young maiden. But here's the issue: does a "young maiden" having a baby get anyone's attention? Didn't young Hebrew maidens have babies all the time? Well, of course they did! That wouldn't get anyone's attention at all.

The context of this portion of Scripture is that God says that He is going to give Israel a sign, to get there attention! Now, did God know He was going to have Mary (a virgin) bring fourth Jesus? It seems to me that when God told Isaiah to prophecy concerning the incarnation of Jesus; He KNEW she was going to be a virgin! Furthermore, He knew he would reference this specific text in the mind of Joseph when dealing with her pregnancy.

Hence, the context of this portion of Scripture demands the use of "virgin" rather than "maiden".

What about proper theology? Is translating ‛almâh "maiden" proper theology? Absolutely not! The prophecy must fit the event (the incarnation via a virgin), for either event (the prophecy, or the fulfillment), to be theologically correct.

2) "Change the words; change the meaning."
If the word "virgin" is changed to "young maiden", it not only changes the meaning; but it completely eliminates the purpose of the prophecy! Okay? A young woman is going to give birth. Folks, that isn't exactly NEWSFLASH material.

3) "God inspired the writings, the words, not the ideas or concepts."
God breathed specific words to the writers of Scripture for a specific message to be delivered. It is the details of Scripture that ensure no contradiction of Scripture ever occurred.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I agree.