Monday, October 27, 2014

Does DBTS Theological Journal Present a Biblical Theology of Preservation?

In comments about the latest Frontline magazine edition on the Bible version issue, Mike Harding wrote this comment at SharperIron:

Just finished reading the articles on preservation in FRONTLINE. Some articles simply asked questions with no definitive answers.  I thought the articles had political overtones as opposed to making the case for preservation and what that preservation means.  The best articles on this subject will be found in the DBTS Theological Journal.  The level of scholarship and detail is very high comparatively.  Again, there was no substantive attempt to recommend other reliable translations of Scripture other than the KJV. It was very interesting to me that Dr. Minnick did not submit an article on the textual debate. Dr. Minnick, a well-respected member of the FBFI board, is perhaps the best textual scholar on the board.  His chapters in "Mind of God to the Mind of Man" and "God's Word in our Hands" are simply outstanding.  How could the editor of FRONTLINE overlook that?

Pastor Harding is correct in saying that the Frontline edition was ambiguous and political, but isn't that par for the course?  I've found much of fundamentalism to handle these types of issues this way. But is what he says about DBTS journal correct?

Harding says the best articles on this subject are found in the DBTS Theological Journal, because the level of scholarship and detail is very high.  Is that true?

The DBTS journal has one article on preservation.  One.  Then it has articles attacking a King James Only position.  Those are not articles on preservation.  So, when he says “best articles” on the subject of preservation, there is really one article.  One.  That statement then, right out of the box, is false.  It makes a difference in people’s thinking when someone says “articles,” plural, when there is only one, singular.

We need to be honest here.  Honest.   Please.  Don’t call “article,” “articles,” like a lot of work has been done on preservation.  It hasn’t.  I have written many articles and edited a whole book on preservation.  Has Mike Harding read our book?  I don’t know, but I do know what should be considered scholarly, and I want to examine the one article of William Combs based on that consideration.

An important aspect in dealing with a biblical doctrine or subject or is starting with what the Bible says.  If you take a biblical position, you start with what the Bible says, right?  Is that scholarship?  If it isn’t, then I don’t want scholarship.  Please pay attention to this paragraph.  It is very, very important.  Faith comes from hearing the Bible.  Without faith it is impossible to please Him.  If scholarship is not faith, then scholarship be gone.  Agree?  When we stand before God, will He bring up scholarship?  You know He won’t.  He will bring up faith, however, and pleasing Him.

Detroit (DBTS Journal) writes one article on the preservation of scripture as a reaction, not as a basis of their belief and practice.  That is not – I repeat, not – how one comes to his positions in order to please God.  Maybe that is scholarship, but it is not how the Bible teaches to approach issues and it is not how godly people have done this historically.  If what I am writing is true, you should agree.  Politicians probably won’t agree, but God didn’t call us to be politicians, did He?

The order should have been: (1) study the Bible on preservation, (2) come to your position on preservation from the Bible, (3) see if the gleanings from the Bible agree with historical doctrine (previous to the 19th century), (4) approach everything related to the Bible guided by the Bible, and (5) critique other positions based on 1 through 4.  Mike Harding would call this the insane approach, since he calls something that contradicts this, the sane approach.  Is “sane approach” incisive commentary?  Scholarly?  How about biblical?  Non-biblical positions are deluded, and that is what the Bible says about them.

(By the way, because of what I’m writing here, I get many more anonymous comments than others.  And there are people who act like they don’t know me.  But I digress.)

I can’t say that I can put down with complete accuracy the approach of Combs, and those like him.  However, let me list what I think it is as a sort of thought experiment.  (1) Take classes from those who support an eclectic text or read Bruce Metzger or read Mind of God to Mind of Man, which follows Metzger to the “T” and quotes him heavily (less his student, Bart Ehrman, because that looks apostate), (2) look to find agreement from others, (3) relate what you’ve read to what men wrote in the 19th century, (4) look at what others have written about preservation and see if it fits with 1 through 3, and (5) criticize what people have written about preservation that don’t agree with an eclectic text.  Imagine if you did this with any other doctrine of scripture.  We are talking about scriptural doctrine.  I don’t see anyone coming to the right understanding of preservation, using this methodology, one that Harding would see as a “sane approach,” still intimating that everyone else is crazy.  By the way, old earth creationists think young earthers are crazy too.

To be fair, the article by Combs on “preservation” starts by giving away its agenda in the following entire first paragraph:

One of the many issues in the current debate about Greek manuscript text-types and English versions is the question of the preservation of Scripture. In fact, as one analyzes the arguments for the King James only, Textus Receptus (TR), and Majority Text (MT) positions, it soon becomes obvious that the doctrine of the preservation of Scripture is at the heart of many of these viewpoints.

When I read something that starts like that, I conclude that the doctrine of preservation is not at the heart of Combs' viewpoint.  Why wouldn’t I?  He doesn’t approach the doctrine of preservation until he starts looking at other people’s arguments.  It is not what he started with.  Again, this is the sane approach, and highly scholarly.  It would be akin to me on Sunday morning saying to my people, “Close your Bibles, because I’m going to talk to you today about how we got what you call the Bible.”

In his article, "The Preservation of Scripture," Combs doesn’t start talking about preservation until page 6.   He doesn’t mention any scripture until page 11.  However, I’m happy Combs at least talks about preservation, because so few others like him do today.  He says that he believes that the Bible does teach its own preservation, unlike the Dan Wallace position that scripture does not teach preservation of scripture.    On page 11, as Combs begins sort of elaborating on the passages of scripture that men use to defend preservation, he starts with the following:

That God has preserved the Scriptures in the totality of the manuscript tradition has traditionally been the position of most evangelicals and fundamentalists on the subject of preservation.

With almost any definition of his terms, that statement is false.  This totality of the manuscripts position is not a traditional position.  It is not historical.  It is an invented and new position that originated with Warfield in the late 19th century.  You would see very few rank and file New Testament church members believing it until the later 20th century.  I would find it interesting to hear what a typical church member thinks the Bible says about its own preservation, even in churches that use new versions.  I think it would turn out like a typical interview of a modern Roman Catholic on the seven sacraments.  They wouldn’t know.  Sadly, I think their pastors and churches are totally fine with that.  Keep them ignorant.  The emperor is wearing no clothes.

On top of the above, I have found that the men, who say they believe in the totality of the manuscript position, don’t even believe it.  They don’t believe we have every word.  You’ll see this in their own books.  I haven’t read one who believes that we have the original wording of 1 Samuel 13:1.  The book, God’s Word in Our Hands (not Words, by the way), says it takes the totality of the manuscript position and then in the footnotes says that it doesn’t believe that position, because the authors don’t believe they have the exact wording of the originals in 1 Samuel 13:1.  Will they care about this? Probably not.  It is a new position, not taken from scripture, so it is no wonder that it is subject to self-contradiction.  But it is “sane.”

Combs begins going through passages on preservation used by those who defend perfect preservation.  The article doesn’t read as an exegesis of these passages, as much as it is an attempt to fit those passages into his totality of the manuscript position.  Harding says it is scholarly, and on the first passage he deals with, Psalm 12:6-7, Combs says the verses teach the preservation of the “poor and needy” and not the “words of God,” and he buttresses that almost entirely on a grammatical argument, that “them” is masculine and “words” is feminine.  He writes:

However, it is more probable that verse 7 (“Thou shall keep them…thou shalt preserve them”) is not even referring to “the words of the LORD” in verse 6. That is, the antecedent of “them” in verse 7 is probably not the “words” of verse 6. The Hebrew term for “them” (twice in v. 7) is masculine, while the term for “words” is feminine.

I’m not repudiating the preservation of the poor and needy in Psalm 12.  However, Combs' argument is not scholarly by any sense of the word.  He obviously doesn’t understand Hebrew grammar here, because very often the antecedent of a masculine pronoun is a feminine noun.  Very often.  And it especially occurs when referring to the Words of God.  You see it several times in Psalm 119.  That is not very thorough study, and Combs should at least back down on his major argument if he is going to be credible on this.  He doesn’t mention that at all.

What is very ironic in Combs' article, and should seem embarrassing to him, is that he later gives a whole section to Psalm 119:152, saying that it does teach preservation, contradicting what he wrote about Psalm 12:6-7.  If I did that work, others would call it laughable, and I would be ridiculed more than what I already am by them.  What is sad to me is that there are men that don't even care that he makes poor arguments.  It doesn't matter to them.  They don't care.  I have grown to expect it.  They determine the strength of the argument by someone's credentials, where he teaches, and if they like the position.  Consider the following verses in Psalm 119:

Psalm 119:111, "Thy testimonies [feminine plural noun] have I taken as an heritage for ever: for they [masculine plural pronoun] are the rejoicing of my heart."

Psalm 119:129, "Thy testimonies [feminine plural noun] are wonderful: therefore doth my soul keep them [masculine plural pronoun suffix]."

Psalm 119:152, "Concerning thy testimonies [feminine plural noun], I have known of old that thou hast founded them [masculine plural pronoun suffix] for ever."

Psalm 119:167, "My soul hath kept thy testimonies [feminine plural noun]; and I love them [masculine plural noun suffix] exceedingly."

I’m probably going to come back and finish this post, but what I’ve written so far deserves some cogitation.  I know some of you will be angry when you read it, but we’re the ones being called insane, so perhaps you could set that aside and just think.  I'm also not the one that with complete dogmatism says that "them" must refer to "poor and needy," must, because of a faulty antecedent argument.  And it is obviously faulty.


Gary Webb said...

Thanks for what you have written thus far. The points that you make are what make reading articles on the textual debate by the critical text crowd so frustrating: they do not deal with Scripture.

Ken Lengel said...


In a previous article you had written on preservation (funny considering your current article), you mentioned that Warfield did not believe that the TR was not the work of Textual Criticism. Can you share with us, where did Warfield state that? I think it is highly relevent to this debate since he was also the person who led fundamentalists down the road they presently travel.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kent,

I have no axe to grind with Bro. Combs, but I don't get why he, and others like him, put so much stock in this "gender discordance" argument. It seems rather odd to me, especially when other texts employ it. And there isn't much of a rhubarb over them.


Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks. Just got home from a trip, but I will come back later.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Thanks. I appreciate you.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Thanks for the comment. You wrote:

"In a previous article you had written on preservation (funny considering your current article), you mentioned that Warfield did not believe that the TR was not the work of Textual Criticism. Can you share with us, where did Warfield state that? I think it is highly relevent to this debate since he was also the person who led fundamentalists down the road they presently travel."

On the Warfield question, it comes in his interpretation of the Westminster Confession. Right this moment I can't provide you the quote, but Combs in his article makes reference to it, and I did link to Combs article above. You are correct that he changed inerrancy and preservation both, and the other side will not cop to it, will not admit it. He spun the Westminster Confession and created the separation between a hypothetical original and what we hold in our hands, really to head off apostasy at Princeton, which didn't work. In the end, you still get Bart Ehrman. Daniel Wallace is doing the same with his dumbing down of inerrancy.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Again, you get crickets of admission of this mistake. Everyone! This is tell-tale! I get it though -- it's like a politician admitting he made an error. It will be put on a loop and played in a campaign ad. You can't admit the error in public. So where does truth stand in all this? I think there could be at least a political way that someone could admit it, where it is alluded to, and incrementally the error is leaked out.

Dave Barnhart said...

I think the problem with the gender discordance argument (at least as I see it), is not that gender discordance can't exist (since Pastor Brandenburg's examples clearly show that they do) when referring to God's words, but that those examples (and principle) don't clearly *prove* that the Psalm 12 example MUST be the same. In other words, while that argument might be a good one, others evaluating this text believe that other indications in that passage show the correct antecedent to be the poor and needy rather than the words.

Given I'm not a Hebrew expert, I must rely on others, and the argument that gender discordance *proves* that "them" is referring to the words hasn't been adequately demonstrated. (And yes, before you ask, I have read your book twice through, making a number of notes the 2nd time through. I found that book interesting, and certainly light-years ahead of other KJVO literature, but not ultimately convincing.)

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Dave,

You don't really mention this, but this is what was said to be scholarly, and it is wrong. W-r-o-n-g. This is not working at finding out the meaning of scripture, when it is using unapologetically these types of arguments. If you don't have the gender argument, then you have proximity of noun to antecedent, and that sends it back to the "words" being kept or preserved. I believe, however, you are acknowledging it, so I applaud you for doing it.

The Hebrew experts should know, but they won't know or say if they start with a position and then go to prove it.

If someone starts with acceptance of multiple versions and then finds out what he believes about preservation from scripture, he might not find the Bible convincing. The Bible.

For what the passages on preservation yielded in doctrine, what wasn't convincing? That He preserved Words? Every Word? That they were available? These are historic doctrines, so was there an apostasy of the right doctrine that wasn't corrected until after textual criticism? Doctrine that started with criticism and not exegesis?