Monday, June 12, 2017

Assessing Comments on Thou Shalt Keep Them

SharperIron (SI, Tyler Robbins there) twice published excerpts (here and here) from Thou Shalt Keep Them (TSKT), a book our church published in 2006, a biblical theology of the perfect preservation of scripture.  Many opposed, essentially took pot shots, in the comment section.  I want to assess those comments (39 comments as of right now) in this post.

Almost none of the comments interact with TSKT.  They anticipate perhaps another book and speculate on a conclusion, but they don't disprove any of the biblical exegesis of TSKT, which means the teaching of TSKT stands.  Much of what is written are falsehoods, lies, or misrepresentations.  I can't decipher the first comment, but Bert Perry represents a contrast with TSKT by adapting his understanding of Matthew 5:18 to variations in manuscripts.  The meaning of Matthew 5:18 didn't change upon the production of a critical text.  The meaning of verses should be judged based on exegesis.  The meaning of Matthew 5:18 (that chapter written by Gary Webb) isn't based on a "hypothesis" either.  Perry also writes the third comment and from both, you can see that he doesn't know what TSKT is even about.  No other commenter disabuses him of his ignorance.

Dave Barnhart takes the same point of view on preservation passages.  They can't mean what they are saying, because of "textual evidence."  The trajectory of understanding preservation passages in this hermeneutic is, first consider manuscript evidence and then apply that knowledge to the understanding of scripture, rather than first understand scripture and then apply that to so-called "manuscript evidence."  He admitted he couldn't take the view of the book because of what he had heard, not because of the exegesis, but because of material outside of scripture.  This is the same as Perry.

If scripture is not preserved, then it is in need of restoration.  "Josh P" says this is a "strawman" about textual criticism.  In actuality, he says, textual criticism is locating the preserved word.  It's out there preserved, but just needs to be found.  TSKT actually deals with this contemporary view of so-called preservation.  Preservation assumes we have the words in our possession, that is, they are available.  I call Joshu P's view the "buried text view."  It isn't preservation and it isn't a view taught anywhere in the Bible, so it's no wonder TSKT wouldn't take the view.  No one in the world thought that something was preserved that nobody possessed until this recent strange view.

I think Tyler Robbins is attempting to help in the next comment at SI, where he writes what he says he thinks that TSKT is saying.  He is off some.  God said He would preserve every one of His Words and that they would all be accessible in general to every generation of believer.  We don't conclude availability from other arguments.  We show how scripture actually promises availability.  No one on the critical text side believes we have have all the words in our possession.  They don't base that on a scriptural presupposition.  Tyler posits the "restoration" situation that Josh P earlier said was a strawman.  He should call Tyler on the strawman.

Aaron Blumer comments next, pointing out a series he wrote about TSKT a few years ago, and he says he didn't especially get one question answered.  However, the point of TSKT wasn't to answer that question.  His comment fundamentally misses the point of the book with his mention of KJV translation because TSKT says that the Bible teaches that preservation is original language.  The Bible wasn't written in English.

Thomas Overmiller says that the basis of the TSKT position is ecclesiological, namely that true Baptist churches are the agents of word-perfect and available preservation.  That particular point doesn't appear in TSKT at all.  It doesn't seem like he has either read the book or knows what it is about (he told me in an email he hasn't read TSKT), but that doesn't stop him from writing and writing and writing like he an expert on it.  If someone can only come to this position with "true Baptist churches," then why do many, many Presbyterians, Free Presbyterians, and Reformed take the same position? Ecclesiology doesn't buttress the position. D. A. Waite is a Baptist of a very different kind than I, a contrasting ecclesiology, and he believes word perfect preservation and availability. Overmiller doesn't know what he's talking about on this.

Based on his speculated premise, which isn't our premise, Overmiller says Scrivener's text becomes the default perfect Greek text.  It's fascinating to read someone tell the world what my (our) position is, who doesn't have a clue.  He says that I believe that since true Baptist churches use the King James today, that is what God kept through the centuries.  He says that 1 Timothy 3:15 is crucial for us, a passage that was not a chapter in TSKT (strange for something so crucial), and then he says TSKT tied that to Matthew 4:4.  He offers zero proof that this horrible argument, he asserts, is our argument. Nothing. At the end of this giant misstatement (as good as a giant lie), he tags the disclaimer, "Perhaps I'm mistaken somehow."  Yes, you are "mistaken." If you think you are mistaken, however, then you clear that up first, before writing to the world.  If someone believes in word perfect preservation and general accessibility, which is what the Bible teaches, his view of the church isn't going to be what makes or breaks that position.

Next Tyler comments again, saying that I wouldn't accept the MEV because it wasn't a project of true churches, sort of acceding to Overmiller's speculation. I went back and read those posts, and I didn't make that statement.  I believe that agreement of churches would be a slow down on the glut of translations, which causes more confusion.  The impetus for translation should start with churches, not publishers, and 1 Timothy 3:15 does buttress that thought, something wholly different than Overmiller's speculation.  The church is God's container for truth, and we can see through scripture that the church took responsibility just like the congregation of Israel in the Old Testament.  This is regulating practice by scripture, which is how Christians ought to live.

I'm skipping the next two comments at SI, because they are so off the wall.  Tyler seems to try to get things back on track in the next comment.  The question arises of the basis for knowing the words. What the churches received was very homogeneous as it was.  If you look at the back of Scrivener's annotated Greek text, he has the differences between the TR editions, and they are very small, negligible, especially next to the massive differences between Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, which were unavailable, again presumably because they were rejected texts.  The presupposition of a settled text presumes God's people will know.   That assumption should reign rather than doubt.  It is a doctrinal position that has practical ramifications.

Perry comes next with the urban legend that no two manuscripts were alike, a claim debunked by Wilbur Pickering's, The Identity of the New Testament Text, where he actually observes identical manuscripts and identifies them by name.  I'll take someone who saw it and proved it over Perry.

Overmiller, someone who confesses he hasn't read TSKT, doubles down with absolute confidence, that 1 Timothy 3:15 is the basis of the argument, period.  He asserts that TSKT is not based on manuscript evidence.  TSKT is an exegesis of biblical passages on preservation.  In one section, it does deal with textual variants, showing how that doctrine does change with variants, against a statement that the differences don't change doctrine.

Don Johnson makes one comment, and he says that the Josiah story is a basis for rejecting preservation for every generation.  I admire that he attempts to make an actual scriptural argument.  I have written about that story and I believe that it doesn't help Don's position of non-availability.  If the Bible was in the temple, then it was being preserved.  The people just didn't care until Josiah came along, and that agrees with our position that it is available to those who want it.  That supports our position. I see that as an argument for providential preservation.

Overmiller touts his own graciousness in the next comment, assuming the non-graciousness of men who don't believe like him.   I don't get his point except to put other people down who are more narrow than he, which isn't in fact gracious. I reject his personal assessment of himself.  It is a faulty understanding of graciousness.  If I tell a Roman Catholic that "works salvation" will send him to Hell, that isn't ungracious. I don't agree to disagree.  Accepting false doctrine isn't more gracious.  We live in a pluralistic society.  Men can take different views.  If we oppose one vehemently, that doesn't mean we are less gracious.

Next Overmiller comments again, first obviously insulting me for writing so much on biblical preservation on this blog, emphasizing "a lot" in italics.  For about the fourth time, he says that our entire view rests on 1 Timothy 3:15, which is, he says, is debunked by the majority of churches being critical text today.  That shows that he truly doesn't understand what we say on this.  Churches would always have God's Words.  They didn't have the critical text for at least 400 years, so those words couldn't be God's Words.  The critical text doesn't even accept a doctrine of preservation and doesn't even believe it possesses all the Words.  TSKT is based upon biblical presuppositions that he does not interact with at all.  None.  Instead he quadruples down (we caught it the first time, Thomas) on something we never wrote.

I ignore the next comment to arrive again at another Overmiller comment.  He's writing a lot of comments.  TSKT is a biblical theology, so it isn't going to look at manuscript evidence.  We do examine the variants in TSKT though, as seen in two chapters comparing the doctrinal differences in both the Hebrew OT and the Greek NT, two different words that cannot mean the same thing.  The application of what the Bible says would look at what manuscripts were actually available and received by the churches.  Overmiller writes the following as his last little paragraph, "If you accept this reasoning, then you will like his explanation. If you do not accept this reasoning, then you will be scratching your head over his preservation arguments for a long, long time."  That scratching your head for a long time would be an example of the Overmiller graciousness.

I appreciate that Aaron Blumer's next comment does deal with a biblical argument in TSKT, which serves to elevate him in the comment section.  I don't want that to go unnoticed.  He mentions the canonicity argument that is made in TSKT, that is, scripture teaches a canonicity of words, not books. He, however, conflates canonicity with textual criticism, something I've never read elsewhere, so it seems brand new to me.  Has anyone anywhere ever taken the position that textual criticism is a form of canonicity?  Canonicity would be a settled judgment, not an ongoing, never ending process. That would clash with actual canonicity.  The "whole point" of TSKT, as Aaron calls it, is not that TC is bad.  The whole point is what the Bible teaches on the doctrine of preservation of scripture, which is that all of God's Words were available for every generation of believer.

To Be Continued (leaving about 18 comments from the two posts, out of the 39)


Jim Peet said...

Well it is sad that some would critique your position and book without reading it

I ordered a copy today


Jim Peet said...

Here's a question for you (perhaps answered in your book): Why is the text issue a separation issue?

As an aside, I know (maybe better "knew") DA Waite. I found him a perfect gentleman face to face but in his writings somewhat vitriolic.

I surmise that your position is close to Waite's (you came to basically the same conclusion).


Jim Peet

Anonymous said...

Since SI linked to Aaron Blumer's response to TSKT, they should have linked to your response to Blumer's response. That would be helpful to all the readers there.

The Overmiller/Robbins hermeneutic of dismissing views they haven't read (Overmiller) or exegeted (Robbins) aside, is a there a Textual Criticism position paper that you have read that at least attempts to make the case for Textual Criticism from sola scriptura? Does such a document exist? (no pun intended, i.e. Q document).

Thanks, enjoying the read as usual


Kent Brandenburg said...


We're leaving on a red eye tonight, but will make sure it's mailed before we leave.

As far as why separation over this, is less a preservation issue and more a separation issue, that is, what is a basis of separation? I think many men would separate over inspiration, and for what reason?

I don't believe in cutting men off. I think we try to help people come to positions. When people join our church, there is no division, even though they have not yet acceded to every single doctrine. We fellowship with people who we have doctrinal and practical unanimity. We would get together with men with which we don't, but we won't fellowship, which is cooperation, and this based on the biblical basis of separation.

We must preserve biblical doctrine and practice and separation is one of God's tools in his toolbox. Is preservation a biblical doctrine? Is it a doubtful disputation. It is biblical and historical doctrine, so it is a basis for separation. It is clear that it is in those warning passages on adding or taking away from words, and things God will do to people for doing that.

That's the jist of it, Jim. Thanks for coming by.

Kent Brandenburg said...


No such doctrine of non-preservation exists. I do read contemporary arguments reacting to ours, one of which is the Septuagint argument. They believe Jesus quoted from the Septuagint, which is a corrupt Old Testament, meaning that Jesus accepted a corrupt text. I actually write on that one argument. If you read through the comments at SI, Don Johnson makes an argument from Josiah, that I don't think helps. Also Mark Ward makes an almost neo-orthodox general revelation argument in the article before. The invention of a new biblical doctrine of non-preservation doesn't come from people who start with the Bible, or they would take our position.

Tyler Robbins said...


Thanks for your kind words. I plan to link to Bro. Brandenburg's articles when he finishes the second one. Patience.

Regarding exegesis, I made it clear I do have informed and thoughtful opinions on the common preservation passages. I just haven't personally translated the texts and written my response articles yet. I assume YOU have not written exegetical papers on every verse in the Bible, yet I believe you have informed and reasonable interpretations on a whole host of passages! Let's be fair, here.

If someone is reading things into the text, it will be clear in his writings. When I write my article in 1 Peter 1:23-25, I'll tell Bro. Brandenburg, and ya'll can read it. There will be no tap-dancing or eisegesis on display, I can assure you. It really is possible for two people to honestly, well . . . disagree! That is how we learn from each other; going to the text, engaging the original languages, arguing from the context, and laying the case out there. I'm looking forward to it.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I didn't comment on D.A. Waite. We don't argue the same way, but we come to the same conclusion. There are a lot of similarities, but not the same arguments. Waite is very well known for the defense of the TR and the KJV. I don't think he argues it the best, and I think he gets blown away by a James White.

I would be glad to debate James White, but I think he needs bigger names and more money. I would pay for a plane ticket to debate him, but I'm not going to guarantee he gets paid.

There is a good debate, by the way, between myself and Frank Turk, one of the Pyros, which I can see has been removed. Maybe I'll post it here, so it exists online still.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I don't think someone has to have a written position on the level of a book or even a long paper, like we have, to start with exegesis for a position, but that is how I think it should be done. Start with studying the Bible, take what it teaches as your position.

TOvermiller said...

Bro. Brandenburg, thank you for taking the time to respond to my comments posted over at Sharper Iron. I have publicly apologized at SI for any misunderstandings I may have propagated.

The comments I made are based upon several factors which have informed my perspective of the view you espouse. The first factor is some firsthand reading of TSKT. It is true that I have not read the entire book. But I did read some of it a few years ago and disagreed with the approach, so I did not read the rest of it. So, it is untrue that I have never read the book. Still, I have not read the entire book, so I will admit that wholeheartedly and accept that my view is limited on this basis.

The second factor is other conversations I have had about this position with others who subscribe to your view, and those conversations also inform what I said. So in this sense, I am not speaking about the TSKT book alone, but other angles of your view shared with me in conversations, not the TSKT book. For instance, though TSKT does not refer to 1 Tim. 3:15, proponents of your view have used this verse in conversations with me to buttress the view. You have also alluded to this verse in your comments, though perhaps in a different way than I have understood. Perhaps you will elaborate more on this point in your upcoming book.

Thank you again for pointing out my errors. I will refrain from further commenting on this topic for now, and will give way to those who have read TSKT in full and have followed your online posts and comments more completely. God bless!

Andy Efting said...

I have a question regarding the statement, "the urban legend that no two manuscripts were alike, a claim debunked by Wilbur Pickering's..."

I found Thomas Ross's article on this where he highlighted MS 18 and how 11 out of 21 MSS of the Thessalonian epistles are said to be 'perfect.' Can you clarify here what Pickering is claiming?

He found 11 MSS where the text of Thessalonians matched perfectly with the text of Thessalonians in MS 18? MS 18 contains the full NT. I'm not sure what MSS Pickering was using but presumably they contained more than just Thessalonians. I'm not sure this example actually refutes the claim that no two manuscripts in their entirety are the same. But perhaps you can clarify.

Also, on SI the idea of what Pickering means by 'perfect" was questioned. Did he mean down to the jots and tittles or something not quite that precise?

I don't think this has anything to do with which side is right or wrong regarding preservation but I am interested in not making this claim if it is indeed not true.

Titus Quinctius Cincinnatus said...

If scripture is not preserved, then it is in need of restoration. "Josh P" says this is a "strawman" about textual criticism. In actuality, he says, textual criticism is locating the preserved word. It's out there preserved, but just needs to be found.

Like it would, uh, need to be restored or something?

Tyler Robbins said...


Here is what you're likely looking for, from pg. 209 (fn. #4) of Pickering's book:

"For years it has been commonly stated that no two known Greek manuscripts of the NT are in perfect agreement (however,
for Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, James, 1 & 2
Peter, 1 & 2 & 3 John and Jude I have in my possession copies of at least two identical manuscripts—not the same two for each book). In consequence, claims of Biblical inerrancy are usually limited to the Autographs (the very original documents actually penned by the human authors), or to the precise wording contained in them. Since no Autograph of the NT exists today (they were probably worn out within a few years through heavy use) we must appeal to the existing copies in any effort to identify the original wording.

The text-critical theory underlying NU presupposes that the original wording was ‘lost’ during the early centuries and that objective certainty as to the original wording is now an impossibility. A central part of the current debate is the argument that the text in use today is not inerrant—this is a recurring theme in The Proceedings of the Conference on Biblical Inerrancy 1987 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1987), for example.

This book offers objective evidence in support of the contention that the original wording was not ‘lost’ during the early centuries. I further argue that it is indeed possible to identify with reasonable certainty the original wording, based on objective criteria—today."

However, we should note that Pickering is a Byzantine guy, and traces preservation through f35 - not the TR. I'll likely run an excerpt from Pickering at SI in the next few weeks.

Andy Efting said...


From that it sounds like he has examples of individual books that are identical between manuscripts but not whole manuscripts.


KJB1611 said...

Dear Andy & Tyler,

Lots of entire NT books that are exactly the same in the MSS seems like a pretty good standard for "identical." Are we saying that one MSS is not identical to another one because it includes (for example) Romans and 1-2 Corinthians, while another one only has 1-2 Corinthians without Romans, even if 1-2 Corinthians are identical in these MSS? So then if we cut the larger MS into separate books we would then have identical MSS? What if one has a drawing of Paul on the first page of Romans and the first letter is bigger in one than in the other--does that make them not identical? What if one uses more nomina sacra? What if one is on a different grade of vellum?

Here we have just one man--Dr. Pickering--who has actually collated numbers of NT MSS, unlike practically every or every single comment writer at SI attacking TSKT. This one person has personally collated many MSS that are identical for entire books. Nobody has done an exhaustive collation of all the NT MSS to see how many of them are "identical" on different senses of the term, but CT advocates will repeat the line "no two MSS are identical" without adding anything like "but even one person collating them will find lots that are exactly the same in entire books (at least if they are looking at the despised Byzantine type of MSS, not the CT ones, which are a total mess), but we are using 'identical' in a different sense than that," and without adding "and, actually, I have done zero collation myself and have no proof at all that there are no MSS that are identical in whatever sense I am defining the term greater than entire books being identical, but I am asserting by faith that there are no identical ones because that is what my CT professor told me, even though if one person collating can find lots of MSS that are identical in entire books, the probability that there are none at all that are identical in whatever higher sense I wish to argue for begins to decline dramatically."

It is time to drop the "no two MSS are identical" line unless one wishes to provide so many qualifiers to it that it becomes meaningless.

Andy Efting said...

Identical to me means that the entire text is the same for two complete manuscripts. I think that is what most people mean. Not that there are large portions that are identical (such as paragraphs or books) but that an entire manuscript was copied or transmitted to another manuscript with no scribal errors at all. It seems to me that we still have no evidence such occurring.

Tyler Robbins said...

More info, please?

Pickering buried this information in a footnote in an appendix. We don't know if these are complete manuscripts for the entire books - it could be small portions of the books. I've never seen this written anywhere else, and I wish Pickering would publish this information for the world to see - or at least identify the manuscripts and make images available so we could collate them ourselves. We don't know how old these manuscripts are. We don't know what family they're from.

I'm intrigued, but not really moved.