Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Answering the SharperIron Article on Preservation part four

How do most false doctrines and then false religions start? They do when people try to fit the Bible into something that isn't in the Bible. They attempt to conform the Bible to somebody's life or problem. They scramble through Scripture looking for a way to explain something that they want. And then they find new doctrines in the Bible that no one has seen there before. When the false religion starts up, men haven't been very careful with historic, already established doctrine. I see examples of this in the comment section to Aaron Blumer's Preservation: How and What? This does bother me, but I have to say that it is par for the course. I give people the orthodox and historic position and I'm attacked with a scorched earth type of methodology. Someone comes up with a brand new doctrine that they have concocted at the moment, and they are left alone. It shows some big problems in the realm of discernment and how loose men have become with Scripture.

I thank Aaron for dealing with this, because normally people leave it alone. Here we're talking about our authority for belief and practice, Scripture, and men want to say that it isn't that important---it's just a distraction not worth their time. I don't know how that could be the case. If we fall at the level of Scripture, all other doctrines are affected. Here's some of what I read.

The Exact Words Don't Matter: Something New in Bibliology

The first substantive comment comes from Bob Hayton. Bob starts by showing his creds, indicating that perfect preservationists would see preservation and availability in other verses besides the ones to which Aaron referred. And then he writes this:

I'd say the idea of "word" being an audible word from God, His message or plans is also important. In our age of printed Bibles on every shelf and in every store, we think of "word" as "book" or "Bible". But often in Scripture that is not what is meant by the term. If you look in Acts the term often refers to the message of the Gospel. The "Word" spreads, grows and accomplishes things. Of course the Bible is living, but it is the message of the Gospel itself that actually accomplishes this. 1 Pet. 1 even defines "word" there as "the gospel preached to you". William Combs makes this point in his excellent article on preservation.

I think it is really helpful to see how Scripture itself handles the matter of textual variations and quotations. Scripture often gives parallel accounts that are direct quotations that are different in exact word order and other particulars. Moses recounts the history of Israel in Deuteronomy, and he quotes what he said at various times in the history. If you compare what Exodus has for Moses' statement, it often does not match up with Deuteronomy's account. The synoptic Gospels and other sections of the New Testament also provide examples of one account given to us in more than one form. Then later passages in the Bible quote earlier ones. The prophets quote from the Pentateuch, and the NT epistles and Gospels quote from the OT. These quotes reveal that often loose quotations are considered equivalent and as authoritative as the exact word-by-word original Scripture. This is really important, because this quality of the Bible must be allowed to influence how we think about differences among manuscripts and between various Bible versions. Are word differences a really big deal? Well, how does the Bible exemplify what we should think about word differences? Is authority tied to a specific exact quotation or rendering of the Word, or is it tied to the nature of the quotation (quoting from God's word)? -- These kinds of observations and questions are important for those who would consider Scripture's witness in relation to the Bible controversies of today.

The tell tale line in all of Bob's comment is: "Are word differences a really big deal?" There we go. What we're establishing here is that the exact words of Scripture don't really matter. How orthodox is this? Is this what believers have thought and believed? Are people really fine with this now in evangelicalism and fundamentalism? It is new to what would even profess to be believing.

Bob makes a couple of arguments here that are both merely reactions to the historic and biblical position on preservation, attempting to cast doubt on them. They don't disprove anything, just cause enough doubt to say that we've got to give the eclectic text its legitimate place. People like Bob don't start with a scriptural doctrine of preservation to come to their view. They start with external evidence and then run to scripture to figure out a way to justify it. Bob's not the only one doing this kind of thing. They find new things in the Bible that others have not said before.

The fact that Bob can point to William Combs might make it seem credible, because there is a journal article (that's scholarship). Understand that a lot of new doctrine is being written up in journals all over. It's almost required to be a journal contributor in the academic world. The two arguments Bob makes on behalf of "the exact words don't matter" are his "nature of the word" argument and then his "no specific quotation view." I haven't read these two as teachings anywhere in the history of Christian doctrine. Why would they come into play now? We've got an eclectic or critical text and modern versions to defend. So the historic and biblical view is cast by the wayside.

Despite the novelty of these arguments that Bob gives, which are accepted at SharperIron without question, the burden of proof does seem to rest upon me to overturn the new doctrine. I'm amazed at this development. Nonetheless, I want to answer.

The Meaning of "Word"

Here I'm dealing with the first paragraph in Bob's comment. In the very next comment, a Charlie also uses this same tactic:

One exegetical detail that sometimes gets lost in these debates is the meaning of God's "word." Due to our contemporary (and correct) habit of referring to the Bible as "God's Word," the tendency is to assume that whenever we see a reference to "the word of God" or "your word," it is a reference to the Bible, or the portion of Scripture complete at this time. I'll have to run through some resources for confirmation, but I'm pretty sure that especially in the OT, the use is many times rather referring to specific statements and promises of God.

This is a rather simple one to deal with and I don't mean that as an insult to the argument, even though I don't think it should even stand as an argument. I agree that "word" doesn't always mean "the written Word of God" or "the written Words of God." But sometimes "word" does mean the written Word or Words of God or that "word" does apply as the the written Word or Words of God. Those are the passages that we should look at to define what we mean by preservation. That makes this whole argument at least a red herring. It sort of just distracts people from the doctrine of preservation.

And yet I think there is something far more insidious with this argument, and that is what it does or tries to do. It attempts to discount the very Words of God. They are devalued for a "message." I would agree like anyone else that the teachings of those Words are also very important. However, we get the doctrine from Words, and single Words and letters make a difference. Remember the "seed"-"seeds" argument that the Apostle Paul himself draws our attention to in Galatians, making a point of letters. And Jesus, of course, mentions jots and tittles. Doctrines change based on a letter or a word. This can be illustrated again and again through the Bible.

Textual Variations and Quotations?

In Bob's second paragraph, he takes the second tack. In Bob's comment, he makes this statement: "I think we end up reading our view into Scripture, to some degree, on either side of this issue." Shortly thereafter, he writes: "I think it is really helpful to see how Scripture itself handles the matter of textual variations and quotations." This is an almost immediate example of exactly what Bob was talking about, that "reading our view into Scripture." The Bible doesn't teach us anything about textual variants. It doesn't say something like, "It's fine to have some wording differences when you make copies, so don't make too big a deal about that. Feel free to fudge a little. It's just the message that matters after all." I haven't read anyone else in history that saw that doctrine. What I read is just the opposite, that is, that every Word and the Word order, etc. is all important to God. That's even part of inspiration.

Then Bob makes the self-contradictory statement, again unchallenged by SharperIron critics: "Scripture often gives parallel accounts that are direct quotations that are different in exact word order and other particulars." I don't think those kind of statements stick out to the SharperIron contributors because it represents the theologically correct point of view. I recognize that's a judgment I'm making, but it is my explanation for it. Bob says there are "direct quotations" which are actually different in "word order and other particulars." Well, those aren't direct quotations then. Direct quotations are quote-unquote, word for word. Those are not direct quotations when the words are different. We are stretching language past its limits when we can call a paraphrase a direct quotation.

There is no doctrine there for acceptance of textual variants, copying mistakes, or fudging the text. What you have are targums, a time honored and scriptural usage of Scripture. It is like my saying to you, "Call upon the Lord to be saved." That sort of sounds like an exact verse, doesn't it? But yet I'm not quoting from Scripture. Or here's one: "Scripture tells me that we are to live by every Word out of the mouth of the Lord." Sounds very similar to the very Words of Scripture. This is not permission to accept copying errors or to make room for a new view of preservation. This truly is reading into the text.

And again, do you see where this all heads? It heads toward a kind of neo-orthodox view of Scripture where the exact Words don't matter any more, just the message or concepts. And from that, it's no wonder that options should be open for multi-interpretations of the Bible too. These are arguments that are coming very lately to the doctrine of preservation that clash with the already settled position.

And that all does bring us to the Septuagint argument, a very common and popular argument, one of the very few scriptural or theological arguments for the critical or eclectic text view. I mentioned in one of my comments here that I would talk about what John Owen has said about that. That will be for next post, Lord-willing.


d4v34x said...

Kent, the real issue in this whole thing is ought we use external source information (notably, evolutionary science, textual criticism) to modify our historical understandings of scripture. That's it.

I don't know the history as well as you, but at this point I am not past saying that it is possible that many of our predecessors may have got various aspects of preservation wrong to some extent. But that's not my final answer.

It's going to take more than 5 blog posts here or an extensive article/comment stream at SI to bring me to a decision on this.

I will say that I am not distressed in my spirit when I read the ESV or other, and I truly believe God has spoken to me from those pages. I know experience doesn't dictate anything. I'm just talking here.

Sorry this doesn't bear directly on your post.

God bless.

Claymore said...

Ah, the old trump of the "Synoptic Problem" where one person gives a different viewpoint of the same events in another place as his first recounting of them, or two people give differing viewpoints, as in Ezra giving the priestly views of history in the Chronicles, while the prophets gave their history in I, II Samuel and I, II Kings, or in the Synoptic Gospels. It is never possible to satisfy a Bible Critic, becaus those who rip it to shreds over this matter (which is given to denounce the false belief in mechanical dictation), will criticise the Bible when two accounts are "too similar" and say that one plagarised the other's work.

Anonymous said...

I am looking to purchase a KJV Bible and would like to ask if there is one in particular that you would recommend?


Claymore said...

"Doctrines change based on a letter or a word. This can be illustrated again and again through the Bible."

Quite right: not only in the Bible but in history as well. For instance, at the council of Nicea, Athanasius argued for the correct doctrine of "homo-ousia" that is, Jesus is of the same substance as the Father, and is thus fully God. Arius had argued for "Hetero-ousia" or that He is of a different substance. Eusebius of Ceasarea introduced a compromise, to which Arius was willing to agree but Athanasius denounced of "homoi-ousia" which is close to "homo" but not the same as it is diminuative. Thus, the position of Eusebius says that Jesus is like the God, but is not. The addition of one letter changes the doctrine.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks Claymore. Good points.

Wes, I suggest getting a KJV Bible here:


You're right not to trust experience. That's fooled many a person through history and we have many examples in scripture. You please God by faith and that responds to Scripture. That's the foundation of all this. What I've heard through the years is that our side doesn't answer questions. I answer them and I hear a pin drop for the most part. Why do you think that is?

We're going to be writing a second volume of Thou Shalt Keep Them, Lord-willing, that will flesh out the application of Scripture and the historical aspects, presenting the doctrine. I knew would start this when we were writing the first one.

Anonymous said...


IMHO, it should be distressing that the ESV lists Asaph (Matt. 1:7) and Amos (Matt. 1:10) and not Asa and Amon in the lineage of the Lord Jesus Christ.

John G

Terry McGovern said...


You made a great point here: "It attempts to discount the very Words of God. They are devalued for a message."

Very true, and yet when they devalue the Words of God, they are also loosing the importance of the message.

I apprecaite you taking the time to address the sharperiron article.

Aaron B. said...

No one is saying the words "don't matter," least of all me. This is called a straw man.
It's interesting how much of these "responses" to my article reference points I did not make and thought processes (such as starting out with a commitment to "rationalism" and "eclecticism" and "science of textual criticism" etc.) I have not expressed.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Aaron,

You're right, you didn't say anything about that in the article, that is, the "exact words don't matter." But I said in this article that I was dealing with men in the comment section to which I clearly referred and quoted---long quotes---Bob and Charlie.

And I didn't say that they said "words don't matter." I said "exact words don't matter," which is true on their part. Their argument is making the exact words not matter. So I'm not arguing a strawman here.

The critical text, for which the second view, dispersed view, makes room for, has enlightenment rationalism at its root in textual criticism. The critical text is the eclectic text, as well.

I'm actually happy about your article. My answer to it is not going to attempt to help along what you call a "dispersed view" though. I don't see how it is a strawman though.

In this particular article here, pt. 4, I don't have anything about the science of textual criticism or rationalism, but I am mainy, as well, dealing with commenters to your post.