It's now a month or two ago that Aaron Blumer, the owner of the blog-forum, SharperIron, wrote the fourth, and, it seems, final installment of a series in which he criticizes the content of the book, Thou Shalt Keep Them (TSKT). I'm going to evaluate that fourth post paragraph by paragraph and in certain cases, line by line (link to the introduction to this post).
Aaron starts by saying that biblical doctrine is derived from Scripture. Exactly. We wish that would be the basis for Aaron's position, instead of his "dispersed text" view that says that we apparently have the words dispersed among all the available manuscripts. We don't know what they are or even where they are. But, he would insist, we have some basis to know that we have enough of the Bible to obey God. This would mean that he is also saying that the very words are not what God sees is important to mankind's receiving of His message.
As he continues in his introduction, you do want to pay attention to a certain feature of Aaron's presentation. He writes in the second paragraph that "God assures us that His Word will endure forever and will not pass away." Catch the singular "Word." Not the plural "Words." If you say that God assures that He will preserve His "Word" for us on earth, then you can still not have all of the very Words and not know where they are all at, and yet still have His "Word." Also notice that he writes, "will not pass away," taking language from Matthew 24:35 where Jesus promises that His "words shall not pass away," not His "Word," singular. So Aaron says that the important thing is to get your position from the Bible and then he changes "Words" to "Word," knowing the difference that makes to the meaning of the verse. He does this a few other times in his article. It isn't thinking about this scripturally.
In his next sentence, Aaron writes: "He assures us that believers will have sufficient access to His Word until all is fulfilled." I haven't read any doctrine of accessibility that Aaron has agreed upon in this series. We have taught that point from Scripture and he has denied. Now he doesn't say that He thinks that we have access to all the Words, but He does believe in access. Is that in the Bible? And if so, why is it that we have sufficient access to a percentage of the Words and not all of them? If there is access, then the access should reflect what the Bible says will be the access, since that's where we get our doctrine. Of course, access passages say that we have access to all the Words.
Next he gives three bullet points that he says "some insist" must be included to be a "true doctrine of preservation." The first is the preservation of "every word in its original form." Isn't that what preservation is? If you had 100 marbles and I said I preserved them for you and then handed you 93 of them, you woudn't think that I preserved them.
His next point is "continual access by many believers." That is not exactly our position. We believe there is access to every generation of believers. And isn't this the point of preservation, so that we would, you know, have the words. Let's go back to the marbles. Let's say that you gave me the 100 marbles, and I said, I've preserved them for you. And then I said, but I don't know where they are at; I only know that they are around somewhere. Anyone with even half a brain would know that is the equivalent of them being lost. You get the point.
His third bullet point says "Certain identifiability in the form of a perfect text." The third point is where the greatest rub is for the so-called "dispersed preservation" people. They don't believe we have one "text" with all the Words in it; well, because God never said what textual edition He would preserve. There we go. Aaron writes about this in the second half of the introduction. And yet that is a straw man because Scripture promises the preservation of every Word, not the preservation of one magical copy that would move its way down through history.
In the last little section of his introduction, he writes: "That every single word is preserved is not in dispute." Um. Wrong. That is very much in dispute. Does Aaron believe that we have the original words of 1 Samuel 13:1 in any Hebrew manuscript? Most of the authors of God's Word in Our Hands, a book that proposes the same view as Aaron, don't believe there is an existent text with the original Words of 1 Samuel 13:1 in it. That sounds like a dispute.
A Clear View of the Central Question
Aaron says the quest for the biblical position relates to this question: "Do we have biblical statements that say, or clearly imply, that believers will have access to every word of Scripture in the form of a text they know is flawless?" There are minefields here. First, Scripture doesn't teach the preservation of a form of a text, but the preservation of every Word. Second, Scripture doesn't say that believers will "know" what those Words are. However, I believe that, based on the teaching of Scripture, from both its direct statements and implications, believers will know what every Word is, so that they will be able to have that flawless form of the text. These are important little details here.
In the second paragraph of this section, Aaron mentions the distortion and sabotage of the Words of Scripture. We have a section on that in TSKT. One of the points of that was to show from Scripture that God Himself said that men were already corrupting the Word of God, so that we would understand that the Bible was already being altered in the first century. The main reason for including that in TSKT was to show from Scripture why "earliest manuscripts are the best manuscripts" can't be said to be true. Later under the heading of "Indirect biblical arguments," Aaron talks about this again, where he again misses the point, which was plain.
A Final Look at Thou Shalt Keep Them
In this little section Aaron makes this statement: "I focused on [TSKT] as an example of one of the better efforts to establish PTP biblically as the correct doctrine of preservation." Wrong. TSKT wasn't making an effort to establish PTP biblically. He frames TSKT wrongfully here, and this does expose Aaron. We studied the Bible on the doctrine of preservation. What we wrote in TSKT is a record of part of our findings. In light of that, I considered this question, "What and when have books been written that would established the ‘dispersed text' as a Biblical position?" That is, "What works done about preservation of Scripture would show that the Bible teaches this ‘dispersed view' of preservation?" I'm not going to be able to find that book to read. There is none. I don't think anyone has written that book because that view isn't found in the Bible.
"It Is Written"
Aaron wrote about Dave Sutton's chapter on gegraptai, the perfect passive, third person, singular, of grapho. Pastor Sutton has already answered Aaron's criticism, but I want to add a little more. A lot of biblical teaching would be voided if someone took the same approach to Scripture as seen in Aaron's criticism. He says that the perfect tense does not guarantee future preservation, only present preservation. Of course, the perfect looks at the results of some past action from the point of view of the reader. With a perfect verb the reader knows that the results of some action in the past are ongoing. With the perfect, there is no assumption that those results are going to stop. The product of the writing of those Old Testament texts completed in the past were still existent at the time that Christ referenced them fifteen hundred years later. Does that teach preservation? Of course it does. But Aaron sees in the perfect tense that there is no guarantee for the future. But why would one think that, if it is God that has preserved it up to that point? That's not the purpose of the perfect tense, that is, to hold off on guaranteeing anything in the future. If that were the case, many eternal security passages would be dealt a blow that they shouldn't. Why? Because the reader shouldn't think that his salvation is secure anytime past that present moment, at least according to Aaron's way of thinking on the perfect tense.
To cover his bases, Aaron then says that even if the perfect was making some guarantee for the future, it would only be ensuring the reader of the preservation of just the Words to which Jesus referred and no more. That seems to be a very cynical view. It is akin to saying that only the Apostle Paul could have blood on his hands for not preaching the whole counsel of God's Word. After all, he didn't say that everyone would have that kind of responsibility, just himself. This is not the right approach to Scripture. We should assume from the use gegraptai that there is a teaching there about the preservation of all of God's inspired Words. Aaron seems to me to be making the Word of God of no effect through some tradition.
"The word is very nigh unto thee"
Aaron makes his disputation here: "The author illustrates a widespread error in TSKT's argument—the leap from "words" to "every one of the words." . . . . However the passage does not say that every jot and tittle had to be in their "mouths" before they could obey." I don't think that Aaron read that chapter carefully enough. Deuteronomy 30:11 says that "this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee." In the previous verse, we get the commandment: "to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the law." So especially with this being repeated in Romans 10, the implication is that all the "written" commandments and statutes would be available. None of that is mentioned by Aaron. Instead he chooses to present the strawman to his readers.
"Mindful of the words...Remember the words"
Aaron says that TSKT does not make a strong case for accessibility from 2 Peter 3:2 and Jude 17. He says that the "chapter fails to make a strong case but claims to have done so anyway." Here's the essence of the chapter. You can't be mindful of or remember Words that you don't have. So if Peter and Jude are calling on their readers to remember the Words of all the prophets and the apostles, which would represent the Words of all of the Bible, it is implied that they would have those Words available. Aaron doesn't think that's a strong case. So Aaron would be saying that when Peter and Jude said "remember the Words of the prophets and the apostles," that meant "some of the Words," not all of them. Aaron seems not to want Scripture to be saying what it is actually saying.
Indirect biblical arguments
TSKT asserts that doctrines are changed, altered, or lost in the critical text. One of the critical text assertions is that no doctrine is altered by the differences between the critical text and the textus receptus. Aaron contends that doctrines are only changed in individual texts (which doesn't seem to matter so much to him—he doesn't comment on that at all), that is, only if those passages stand alone, not, however, in the whole of Scripture. And he says that he just randomly picks out 1 Peter 2:2 as an example. Well, to make his point, he really can't take out just one of the passages as an example. He would have to show how that this does not ever occur.
One of the passages referenced in TSKT is Matthew 18:15-17. In v. 15, the King James Version (from the TR) says, "if thy brother shall trespass against thee." The New American Standard Version (from the critical text) says, "if thy brother sins." The critical text, and therefore the modern versions, leaves out "against thee." That, my friends, changes the doctrine there. And this is the only place in the Bible where this particular teaching is found. Aaron should have been a little less random in his choices. He says that "every textual difference in these chapters is similarly non-decisive doctrinally." Wrong.
Aaron deals with the canonicity argument of chapter 19 by writing, "The books of the Bible are canonical because God inspired them." I defy Aaron to show me a verse from Scripture, since that is where we get our doctrine, that says that God inspired "Books." He says Books are canonical because they are inspired. What does that say about the canonicity of "every writing," which the Bible actually says God inspired? Aaron denies the latter, which is in Scripture, for the former, which isn't.
If you remember Aaron's original question, he concentrates on whether believers will "know" what is the flawless form of text of Scripture. TSKT spends several chapters showing what Scripture says about how God's Words would be preserved. Aaron doesn't even mention that. The canonicity argument explains how Israel and the church would "know" what the Words were. How? God would guide them. The Holy Spirit would guide the church to the Words. He wrote them, so He can also guide the church to those Words. He never refutes that particular point, when that is the historic position of the church on preservation.
The Holy Spirit would enable the church to know what the Words were. Aaron says this rests on one's interpretation of history. But how is this any different than canonicity? How can we "know" what the "Books" of Scripture are? Is that too just an interpretation of history? Aaron is simply choosing what he will call "interpretation of history" and what he won't.
Speaking of the Books of Scripture, Aaron writes in this section: "His people were able to exercise discernment and recognize their inspired quality." This should be a bit of an "aha" moment for us. In the second paragraph after his introduction, Aaron writes that the question is not, "Is God able to overcome human nature so that those He chooses perfectly preserve the text?" Just replace the word "text" with the word "Books." This is where we're at in this whole issue. Aaron "knows" what the Books are. God's people were "able" to recognize the Books of Scripture. Why? Well, that was, it seems, a comprehensible use of God's power over individuals who were crippled by sin. According to Aaron, the church is too sinful for God to enable to know what the Words are but not sinful enough to know what the Books are. Why? Because God inspired the Books. Do you get it? If you don't, I understand. Aaron says that it is not a matter of what God was able to do. But, yes, it is that matter for Aaron. He isn't taking His preservation of Books view from a verse. He believes it is what God is able to do. God could overcome men's sinful natures to perfectly preserve Books only. That is something God could do. However, we wouldn't want to strain God with the task of perfectly preserving Words, even though those are what God did say He inspired.
The preceding paragraph exposes Aaron, as well as others like Him. I've found that the "verse" that guides the advocates for this "dispersed view" of preservation is the one found in One Bible Only? by Kevin Bauder. He wrote: "No two manuscripts contain exactly the same Words." That statement is not actually true. It has been proven to be false. But even if it were true, which they believe it to be, that's the "verse" that is the basis for the critical text, eclectic text, or dispersed text view. It's not in the Bible. It's not actually a verse, but it may as well be to the critical text proponents. Reason presides over this choice, not faith. They make the choice that they can comprehend. And, of course, it makes the scientists of textual criticism the authority over the Words of God with their denial of theological presuppositions. I do believe it's like the choice that Jehovah's Witnesses make about the deity of Christ. They make the comprehensible choice, the one that makes the most sense to their own reasoning, disregarding the statements of Scripture.
To end his criticism of TSKT, Aaron chronicles the "pseudo-arguments" of TSKT. Of course, these are not even arguments, but it makes for clever rhetoric by Aaron. He also says that we participate in a little "mind-reading" in judging the opponents of the doctrine of perfect preservation. That's to be expected on his part. But since we don't have a theology of "dispersed preservation" to read anywhere (because there couldn't be one), we are left with the only possible explanations for a non-biblical or unbiblical point of view. If it's not in the Bible, where besides man's reasoning could a view come from? This doesn't take mind reading, but simple logic.
Aaron ends his article with this: "God has preserved His Word in the manner in which He chose and in a form that is sufficient for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness." Perhaps nothing could be more ambiguous as that—no explanation of what God chose or the form that was sufficient. We are to assume that sufficient form was an imperfect form. That's where Aaron is leaving us. He doesn't say that, because He can't show us a verse that teaches it. Whatever the form is, and Aaron doesn't know, it will be enough for Scripture to be sufficient. Imperfection will be fine with God. That could be the title of Aaron's piece: Imperfection will be fine with God. We will be sufficiently perfected by means of imperfection, according to Aaron and those like him. I reject that position. And I hope you do too.