Kevin Bauder, dean of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, recently wrote in his In the Nick of Time an interesting thought experiment that I believe illustrates this paradigm:
Imagine that God comes to you with the announcement that He has just created an entirely new world, and He wants to show it to you. You agree, and in an instant you are transported into that world. At first you marvel at its beauty, but then you begin to notice phenomena that strike you as odd.
First, you notice that many of the trees in this world are already fully grown. Then you notice that they are surrounded by saplings and young trees in various stages of growth. You even notice seeds hanging on branches and, in some cases, lying on the ground. Plant life exists at every stage of development.
Then you notice that the world is populated by animals and birds. Many of these appear to be mature creatures, but you also notice their young. You find yourself surrounded by calves and foals and chicks and cubs of every sort. With a bit of investigation, you discover that there are already birds’ nests, and that some of them have eggs in them. Animal life exists at every stage of development.
As you wander, you discover a canyon with a river at the bottom. In the sides of the canyon you can plainly see the various layers of rock. You know that these geological strata are supposed to take many years to form. Geological formations exist at every stage of development.
As night falls, you cast your gaze toward the heavens. You behold a spangled expanse that is brighter and more piercing than any you’ve ever seen. But then you recall that this world is supposed to be less than a day old. Since stars are supposed to be light-years away, you wonder how you could be seeing them already. Yet you behold astral phenomena at every stage of development.
If you had no other source of information, you would assume that this world had been in existence for ages, not for mere hours. Interpreted within your normal frame of reference, the facts indicate an old world. At this point you must make a choice. You may choose to interpret the facts within your normal frame of reference and believe in an ancient world, or you may accept what the Creator said, and then search for some other interpretation of the facts.
This choice can never be made on the basis of the evidence itself. The evidence is what requires explanation. It does not explain itself. If you know that the Creator is capable of making Himself understood, and if you know that the Creator means to be understood and does not deceive, then you will believe in a young creation. If, on the other hand, you choose to interpret the evidence according to your normal assumptions, then you must conclude that perhaps the Creator is mistaken, or that He means to mislead, or perhaps that He is incapable of expressing Himself; at any rate, His words must be construed differently than He plainly intended.
Bauder ends his essay with this:
Christians must begin with an absolute commitment to the infinite-personal, faithful, apseudes God. This God can and does say exactly what He means. What He affirms is always true. Since the Bible is always His Word, it may always be trusted in anything that it asserts. The Bible is never to be interpreted by the facts of general revelation. On the contrary, the Bible itself communicates the grand context, the Truth (with a definite article and a capital T), the framework within which all facts must be interpreted.
Once we have presupposed the truth of Scripture, the facts remain interesting to us. We will certainly attempt to explain them. But our explanation never begins from some detached or neutral starting point. It certainly never begins with an assumption that facts are transparent or self-explanatory. We take God at His word.
Christians must never interpret facts from a position of autonomy. To do so is the essence of arrogance. Rather, humble submission to the Word of the Creator is the starting place for a right understanding of the world. When the Lord God speaks, His Word alters the entire frame of reference within which the facts are to be understood. A newly created world may look ancient but still be young. A divinely inspired text may look as if it had been produced like other literature, yet remain unique in its truthfulness. We can only know what a thing is if we are willing to begin by accepting what God says about it.
The approach Bauder describes for origins should be ours in any matter where we are not present to observe physical evidence. Much of what God expects for us depends on us believing what He said without any tangible proof. Jesus made this point in Luke 5 when he forgave the sins of a paralytic who was lowered before Him through the roof. He asked this question of the doubtful Pharisees and scribes (v. 23):
Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk?
It was easier to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee. It was easier to say because anyone could say those words and no one would know if they had actually occurred or not. There would be no proof that his sins were forgiven, because you couldn't see anything. It was much more difficult to say, "Rise up and walk," because everyone would know whether those words were credible. Of course, Jesus then heals the man, so that they would know that his sins were forgiven him. However, we're supposed to believe Jesus did something that we couldn't see, just because He said so. Believers don't need the sign that followed. They can believe something Jesus said, whether they had any other proof of it or not.
The story in Luke 5 illustrates again the paradigm for accepting the preservation of Scripture. God didn't promise that He would provide all the evidence that we need to believe. He didn't promise that for inspiration either. We weren't there when God inspired Scripture. We weren't there when the men wrote the Words. Most likely none of us have seen the original manuscripts. We don't know of anyone alive who has seen them.
What we believe must fit what we read the Bible saying about its own preservation. If our view of the evidence and our own reasoning doesn't fit what Scripture says, then we go ahead and believe God's Word and reject our view of evidence and our own reasoning. Not believing doesn't please God.
I guess that brings me to the typical strawman. The Bible doesn't say that God would preserve the King James Version. I want everyone that uses that argument right now to understand that it insults everybody's intelligence. We all know that Scripture doesn't say that.
The Bible does say things, however, that would have us reject the critical text. It says things that would have us expect general accessibility of God's Words. It says things that would have us expect perfection. It says things that would have us believe that God was at work in preservation. It says things that would have us believe that God preserved every Word and all of them---not physical pages without variants, but the Words. It says things that would have us believe that the Holy Spirit would be at work to ensure that we know what those Words are. It says things that would ensure us that we would not have to restore the text of Scripture but to receive it. That is the paradigm that we should follow for our belief in the preservation of Scripture.
What do you think it is like for God to tell us exactly how He created the world and yet we don't believe Him? Why not? Because we don't have any physical evidence or eyewitnesses for the origin of all things. What do you think it is like for God to tell us that He would preserve every Word so that all people for every generation could obey every One of those Words, but we won't believe Him? Why not? Because we don't have enough physical evidence to believe that, so we "believe" in textual criticism instead.