Thursday, July 08, 2010

Perfect Tense Preservation

by David Sutton

June 16, 2010 Aaron Blumer completed a four-part series on perfect-text preservation. He stated that the Bible teaches preservation but not in a word-perfect form and not to be found in an identifiable text. His final installment included critiques from several chapters from Thou Shalt Keep Them (TSKT), including two chapters that I wrote. As a guest blogger on “What Is Truth,” I want to deal with two of Mr. Blumer’s arguments against “It Is Written.”

The chapter “It Is Written” dealt with the use of the perfect passive verb gegraptai (“it is written”) as an argument in proving perfect preservation. Just as a reminder, the perfect tense in the Greek means that an action took place in the past with the results ongoing. For instance, when Jesus said in John 19 “It is finished,” He used the perfect tense, signifying that the work He completed on the cross for man’s salvation and God’s satisfaction was now complete, and His work continues to suffice God for the redemption of man’s soul for all eternity.

Probably the most outstanding gegraptai uses occur in the Matthew 4 and Luke 4 where Jesus uses this phrase when quoting the OT to refute Satan’s temptations. In TSKT, I made the point that what Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy was written down by Moses and continued written down some 1400 years later when Jesus referred to those passages. Thus, if Jesus claimed those words were still written down in His day, then we should understand that we still have them written down in our day.

Blumer says we cannot make this inference because the perfect tense does not say what will take place in the future.

The purpose of this post is to show not only that future inference of “it is written” is valid grammatically but also that it is supported biblically.

First, if we say technically that the perfect tense only reaches to the present, then when the future becomes the present, the results also apply. So by implication, the ramifications of the perfect tense can extend into the future. For example, in Ephesians 2:8 Paul uses the perfect tense with the words “are saved.” (Literally, “For by grace are ye having been saved through faith.”) We were saved in the past and the results of that salvation continue to the present. So what about tomorrow? Will the believer be saved then? Yes. When tomorrow comes, the believer can say that he is still in a state of having been saved. The grammar of the perfect tense logically can imply ramifications into the future. This being the case, the perfect tense can imply that preservation extends into the future.

Second, Scripture supports inferring that the perfect tense of gegraptai supports the promise of perfect preservation. Scriptural implications are only valid if they are supported by Scripture. Let’s go back to the Ephesians 2:8 argument. Does the Bible teach future salvation to those who believed in the past? Most certainly, in many places (cf. John 3:16; 6:40; Romans 5:9; Ephesians 1:14, et. al.). So, with salvation Biblical teaches supports the grammatical implication. The Bible also teaches that the words of Scripture will continue both in heaven and in earth (Psalm 12:6-7; 119:89; Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 5:17-18; 24:35; I Peter 1:24). Therefore, the grammatical inference from the perfect tense of gegraptai is supported by the clear biblical statements of preservation.

A second argument Blumer makes against the chapter is that quoting a few passages from the OT does not indicate that the entire OT is preserved. The Bible often uses the method of allowing the smaller part to refer to the whole. For instance, we find that three times God warns us not to tamper with the words that were written in Scripture (Deut. 12:32; Pro. 30:6; Rev. 22:18-19). This does not mean that only three books of the Bible were off limits. The parts apply to the whole. Furthermore, Peter summed up that the whole of Scripture is preserved:

“Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” (I Peter 1:23, 25).

A blessing of studying any doctrine of the Bible is that one finds it thoroughly consistent with the rest of Scripture. Continued biblical discussion on the topic of preservation serves to strengthen one’s belief on the issue. The old Snicker’s commercial said “every way you slice it, it comes out peanuts.” From every angle one slices the preservation argument, it comes out perfect preservation.

8 comments:

d4v34x said...

Does this argument assume that Jesus quoted the very Words of the Hebrew to Satan? Does it hold up if he Spoke in Greek or targummed?

Interesting aside: I wonder what language God and the angels spoke in heaven prior to the creation of man.

p.s. Hi Dave, long time no see. Bro. B can interpret the tongues of my screen id for you.

d4v34x said...

A couple other pertinant questions: Are there any NT uses of the perfect tense of any verb that show continuing action up until the time of the writing but not beyond? If so, does it damage your case?

d4v34x said...

Boy, I'm just full of questions today.

1 Cor 1 and 2 was brought up in the previous WIT post. I think one of the most egregious violations of that passage is punning God language into well known ad campaign language. "Got Jesus?" for "Got Milk?", "Fear God" for "No Fear", and etc.

Is couching the "no matter how you look at it" question in Snickers ad language the same thing as the other?

Kent Brandenburg said...

D4,

I'll let Dave answer everything else here, but you'll need to explain how that using the Snicker's commercial parallels or fits with your examples. I don't get it. It's in a different area code from a violation of 1 Cor 1 and 2.

dsutton.bca said...

D4, Good to hear from you after all these years.

As far as your first question, the point of "it is written" is that the OT text, which is the basis of the NT quote, translation, or Targum, is preserved. In other words, the words that follow "it is written" illustrate preservation. Preservation of the OT text occurs even without a NT quote of it (cf. Mt. 26:24; Mk. 9:12, 13; 14:21; Lk. 24:46). Regardless of whether Jesus quoted the Hebrew, translated into
Greek, or targummed, the text to which He was referring is preserved. The OT text is the "it" of "it is written."

For your second question, there are perfect tense verbs that do not necessarily imply continuation into the future (cf. Jn. 1:34; Acts 5:28; I Jn. 1:10). My point is that theology allows us to make the implication that preservation will continue.

d4v34x said...

"...theology allows us to make the implication that preservation will continue."

Thanks for the answer Bro. Sutton, but can you expand on the statement above, particularly what you mean by "theology allows us".

dsutton.bca said...

What the Bible teaches on preservation allows us to infer from the perfect tense that the preservation will continue in the future. Thus, the theology of preservation allows us to draw this inference.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I would add this to what Pastor Sutton said.

God has reasons why the perfect tense is used. If what the perfect tense communicates didn't make any difference, then He would have just used the aorist tense. He uses the perfect in these situations. It's like using the perfect tense in 1 John 5 with "born of God." Once you are born, you can't become unborn. Folks who believe we can lose our salvation have difficulty with that. They too argue that the perfect tense means almost nothing in 1 John 5 and is not meant as any kind of added guarantee or security. The perfect tense should be allowed to make a point, even if it clashes with our view of preservation or non-preservation in this case. The perfect tense is making a preservation point, that is, a point about the result of writing. The result is ongoing in the perfect. What is the result of something being written? You have writing, letters and words. If the product of the writing, the letters and words, are ongoing, this would be teaching preservation.

In 1 Peter 1, our inheritance is reserved, perfect tense. Our inheritance can't be lost once we have it. That's why the perfect tense is being used.

What was written continues to be written. What was written must be the original writings. Well, they continue to exist at the time of the writing, hundreds and a thousand plus years later. That is making a point that we can count on them continuing. If not, then don't use the perfect. When people argue against this, it seems to me that it doesn't matter what scripture says anymore about these things.