Saturday, November 22, 2008

Phil Johnson: Tertiary Doctrines Dovetailing with the King James Version Issue

Phil Johnson, executive director of Grace to You, and owner/operator of the popular evangelical blog, Pyromaniacs, appeared on the Way of the Master radio program, hosted by Todd Friel. On the show, Johnson answered questions that were sent in by listeners.

The first question dealt with eschatology, one about the future of Israel. Johnson is premillennial and he defended, although not strongly, premillennialism versus amillennialism. His reason for not being too dogmatic, he said, was that this was, like is typical of Johnson, a tertiary doctrine. He's not going to argue over eschatology, he says, because it's peripheral in its importance. And after all, Peter said that these parts of Paul's epistles were hard to be understood, so we shouldn't be so hyper about last things. Paul himself didn't treat it as unimportant, but Johnson says it is. Doctrines Johnson says are important are the ones that are important. We'll discuss more about that later.

That very first question led Johnson and Friel into a little segue about doctrines that aren't important but are talked about a lot anyway. Friel mentioned the King James Version. Johnson laughed. Then he asked Johnson if the debate over the King James had been a very profitable one. Johnson said yes and no. He didn't tell why it was good, but he did say why the debate was bad. Why? The people doing the most discussion are the least prepared to do so.

They weren't done talking about the King James issue at that point, but before I tell you what they said next, I wonder if you would know what is important to know in order to be one of those swamis who can discuss the issue of the preservation of Scripture. Johnson has bought into this notion that the people who know best about the identification of the true text of the Bible are the modern textual critics, those who spend a great deal of time in manuscript evidence, who use scientific rules they concocted to determine what are most likely God's Words. What verse does Johnson base this upon? None, of course. It's his opinion, and one that says that God did not preserve all His Words nor make them available to every generation of people.

To Johnson, if you think that what you need to know is what Scripture says about its own preservation, then you are one of those who shouldn't be involved in the version debate. Johnson and the Grace to You people (John MacArthur, etc.) always claim to rely on the sufficiency of Scripture for their doctrine and practice. In this case, they don't. Instead, they lean on textual critics, who are most often unbelieving.

Transcript of Friel-Johnson conversation on King James Issue

The discussion about the King James didn't end there. Todd Friel comments:
OK, Well, But there's a lot of people who would say, 'Then explain why God would have the King James Version for centuries as really the only text that was being used. Then all of a sudden a bunch of new manuscripts, and now we've got these other ones. It doesn't seem like God then would have been protecting His Word very well. I think that is a pretty strong argument.'
Phil Johnson replies:
It's a good question. It is a valid question and it's, it's worth an answer. But it's not worth all the energy that a lot of people put into it, because if you take...uh...the two versions, the two set families of manuscripts, and put them side by side and compare the differences, it really doesn't amount to anything that's fundamental or essential. It's not gonna...uh...if you prefer one set of manuscripts over the other, it's not going to create a totally different kind of Christianity.
Friel ends the mini-discussion interrupting Johnson's last statement with:
Right, somebody's not going to be a new denomination over this.
Johnson says this is a "good question" and a "valid question." You heard it here. Johnson would usually ridicule something like this. He says it's worth an answer. But it's not worth putting a lot of time into it. And why? Because the differences between the critical text and the textus receptus (over 5,000 differences) are not going get rid of anything fundamental or essential in Phil Johnson's opinion.

Observations about the Friel-Johnson Exchange on the King James Issue

First, usually Johnson would ridicule something like this, if it was even brought up. He doesn't do it here with Friel, and he even says it is good and valid. To be consistent, he should have just laughed at it and mocked it, because from what I've experienced, that's what he does.

Second, Johnson doesn't answer the actual argument. Friel says it is "a pretty strong argument," and Johnson doesn't answer it. He gives an answer and it is essentially that whoever has that argument shouldn't let it concern him. If I were to make a conclusion just from what I heard, I would say that Johnson doesn't have an answer to the argument Friel presented.

Third, Johnson says that it's not worth our time because the two families of manuscripts are similar enough that nothing fundamental is lost. What is the problem with this answer?
  1. It denies what God said He would do (Isaiah 59:21; Matthew 4:4; 5:17; 24:35). Shouldn't that matter to someone Who says He believes the Bible?
  2. Errors affect authority. If we suggest that there are a few thousand errors in the words, despite the fact that fundamental doctrines aren't affected, that still takes away the authority of what we do have.
  3. There isn't a place in Scripture that says that fundamental doctrines are sufficient to live for God successfully. Jesus says something different in John 12:48.
  4. This clashes with what John MacArthur says about words. In a sermon I recently listened to, he made these statements:
In Matthew 24:35 the Scripture is very clear, “Heaven and earth shall pass away but My words...My words shall not pass away.” When God speaks He speaks with words and the Bible are the representation in writing of the words that came from God...the words that God spoke.

It was Jesus who emphasized the importance of every word...every word and every letter when He said, “Not a jot or tittle will ever fail.” He said in Luke 18:31, “All the things that are written through the prophets shall be accomplished.” He even based His interpretation of the Old Testament on a single word...a single word. The words do matter. Jesus was answering the Sadducees in Matthew 22 and He said to them, “You are mistaken, not understanding the scriptures, or the power of God, for in the resurrection they neither marry...talking about the angels...nor are given in marriage but are like angels in heaven. But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken to you by God saying,’I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob?’” He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. And His proof is that God said, “I am...I am the eternal living one.” And furthermore, He is not only the eternal living one but all will live eternally as well. They didn’t believe in a resurrection and He proved His point or certainly to our satisfaction proved His point by talking about the eternality of God in the verb to be in the present tense.
Perhaps Johnson doesn't agree with MacArthur on this teaching on the Bible. I would guess that he does. That's why the argument posed by Friel is actually a strong argument. I don't know if it occurs to these that they contradict their stated view of Scripture with their position on the preservation of the Bible.

Related to the Tertiary-Primary Doctrine Issue

In a matter of minutes in the dialogue between Friel and Johnson, Johnson mentions a few times that certain doctrines aren't that important. A major doctrine of his is that many doctrines are of minor importance. I know that this is how he gets around separating on doctrine. In order to keep the unity among evangelicals, Johnson reduces separating doctrine to a few essentials.

As you read Johnson and others, you find that the gospel is the only doctrine worth separating over. That's the one that means the most to us. We are justified and saved from eternal punishment by the gospel. He says that premillennialism isn't a doctrine that is worth separating over. I believe that the Apostle Paul would say something different. Johnson says he includes all eschatology, so timing of the rapture isn't worth separating over either. Someone can deny imminence and that's not a doctrine to cause a fuss, despite the fact that it is a major influence toward purity in the New Testament. God says it is a major motivator to purity, but it's only a tertiary thing to Johnson.

My concern with the text issue is the inclusion of verbal errors in Scripture, despite what God said He would do. God's veracity and the perfection of the Bible are at stake. Johnson, his cohorts at Pyromaniacs, and John MacArthur are leaders in the opposition of the emerging church. They decry the uncertainty produced by the emergents. The bedrock of that uncertainty is found in dozens of English translations, multiple texts, and a denial of the doctrine of preservation. The emergents are uncertain about meaning. Johnson is uncertain about the words. He's concerned about their uncertainty, but not so much about his own.

Psychoanalysis Addendum

In advance, I predict the reasons people will give for this post:

One, I'm obsessed with the King James Version issue.
Two, I've got it out for Phil Johnson because he hasn't treated me very well.
Three, I've got a chip on my shoulder.
Four, I've got too much time on my hands (or, I need to get out more).
Five, I'm attempting to try to increase my popularity by zeroing in on someone popular.
Six, I'm not a scholar but I can seem like I am when I target scholars.
Seven, Controversy increases readership.


Perfect preservation is the truth. It's Scriptural. All the doctrines in the Bible are important. So Sigmund Freud Time is over.


Anonymous said...

This is a good post. I love seeing Independent Baptists take the time to address the issues that the "emerging church" or the "evangelicals" are trying to downplay and pervert. We need to stand up for doctrine.

As a side note, I know that you are secretly obsessed with Phil Johnson. Just kidding.

I do have a question, though. You made this statement:

"He says that premillennialism isn't a doctrine that is worth separating over. I believe that the Apostle Paul would say something different."

What is your scriptural basis that Paul would separate with someone over this doctrine? Just a question. I'm not being critical. I'm just allowing myself to learn at your feet.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks Bro. Cardot. Answer to the last question. Paul taught the doctrinal basis for premillennialism in Romans 9-11. Then Paul in Romans 16:17 said to mark and avoid those who cause divisions contrary to the doctrine that he had taught them. He very specifically would be telling them to divide over what he said in Romans 9-11. I recognize that Peter said that some of what Paul said was hard to be understood, but he was likely referring to the doctrine of the rapture, which is a fully NT doctrine. Just because it is hard to be understood doesn't make it non-understandable though.

Reforming Baptist said...

So if we are to separate from those who cause division over Rom 9-11, then all those who deny sovereign election are those we should separate from?

That would be almost everyone in IFBdom

Reforming Baptist said...

Anyway, back to the original post...This is my favorite dead horse to beat on.

The answer to Friel's questions is that there is no Biblical data that speaks of copies of manuscripts that would be found later on in the 19th century. The Bible doesn't tell us what manuscript family we are supposed to copy from and look for.

I'm all for believing that God has promised to preserve His word forever, but only if the right verses are being used to prove it.

You mentioned some of these following verses:
As for Isa. 59:21, you're reading manuscript preservation into the text. - God's covenant with the nation of Israel was that the words of God should not depart out of their mouths nor the mouths of the next generations. That is a requirement that He is putting on these people, not a promise of preserving copies of the law that He gave. He is telling them not to depart from His words and that they better pass them down to their children or else! In their obedience to that, preservation occured. In their disobedience, God still protected His Word when wicked kings tried to destroy it.

Matt 4:4 Jesus is resisting the devil with a quote from the Old Testament. Was Jesus refuting satan with KJV Onlyism? (diliberate sarcasim inserted) I don't think so. He was saying that we live by the obedience to the Word of God. Do we have every word that has ever proceeded from the mouth of God? No, give me the dialogues between God and Enoch! Those words proceeded from the mouth of God...where are they? If you are going to take a literal wooden interpretation of these words, then you have to account for every word God has ever spoken EVER and the truth is, He has not preserved all of them. So, your interpretation of that verse is actually self defeating.

Matthew 5:17 - Is there any Old Testament law that is lost now, that Jesus failed to fulfill? He fulfilled Passover, Firstfruits, and Pentecost perfectly, and thre are many others He is yet to fulfill at His second coming. That's what He's talking about, not manuscript preservation.

Then you said that errors affect authority. Errors in the originals would definately do that because God would have breathed out mistakes. That's not possible, we all agree on that. So, can you show me a perfect replica of the originals? Is it the TR? And if it is, how do you know? You've never seen the originals. Let's just stick with the manuscripts that underly the KJV...are all those different manuscripts 100% in agreement with eachother? Are there any words missing in one manuscript that are picked up in another? Who made the decision as to which words in those variants were God's word? Erasmus did! The unsaved Catholic Humanist textual critic!

In closing, I believe we have a perfect Bible, but not in the same sense that the KJVO group claims. The manuscript data doesn't back their claim, so a fictional preservation story has to be made up. I'm not saying that preservation is fiction, but the story that the KJVO ban wagon is telling is.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Brother William,

Thanks for commenting.

First, the sovereignty issue. I would separate over a denial of the sovereignty of God. I don't know of anyone I'm in fellowship with that doesn't believe in sovereign election. You might know better than I what that would mean within IFBdom.


I think it is interesting on how God's sovereignty in election should segue very nicely with sovereign preservation. Even though there's plenty of sin to get in between us and salvation, God preserves our soul. For some reason, textual variants are too much for God to keep His Words.

Regarding Isaiah 59:21, consider others who write about this verse: John Owen called Isaiah 59:21 "the great charter of the church’s preservation of truth." Edward Young in his classic commentary on Isaiah writes (p. 442): "The gift of the Spirit (cf. John 16:13), who will instruct the Church in all truth and in the comforting, saving words that God has given her, will abide with her seed forever. The Lord is declaring that His eternal truth, revealed to man in words, is the peculiar possession of His people."

You say I read manuscript preservation into a text, which I've never ever said and I'm on record all over the place and constantly those I'm talking to make that my position. I think it's a straw man.

I believe that in the multitude of preservation passages God promises (1) every one of His Words to be (2) generally accessible to (3) every generation of believer in (4) the language in which He inspired them. The Revelation 22:18-19 warning against adding or taking away from the Words (5) plainly implies there will be a sure, settled, perfect text. We see how this would occur—(6) through the Holy Spirit guiding the churches. These Scriptural presuppositions lead to the TR, leaving churches with a pure and perfect Bible, something expected from Scripture.

I don't understand your comments on Matthew 4:4. I've preached through Matthew, Deuteronomy, and the parallel passages on the temptation of Christ, and I have never read until the more recent Critical Text attacks on preservation anything like what you say about Mt. 4:4. It's an absolutely novel look at that passage. The whole point of Jesus using it is that it is more important for Him to obey the Word of God, than it would be for Him to disobey the Father's will in His incarnation by exercising His Divine attributes and turning stone into bread. Words that can be lived must exist and be available, so they must also be written down. His formula, "it is written," which utilizes a perfect passive verb, showing that what God has written stands forever unto every generation. The Lord contrasts what was written in Scripture with Satan’s adding words not written.

Matthew 5:18 teaches preservation of every original language letter. "Heaven and earth" are physical things like words and letters. Heaven and earth seem permanent to men, but aren’t. The verb translated "pass" (parerchomai, "pass away") always speaks of something disappearing. What we see as permanent, heaven and earth, will disappear, but Scripture won’t disappear (the "not" is the most emphatic negation existent in any language—a double negative) even to the smallest letters. Matthew emphasizes this by saying "one" twice. He doesn’t say "jots and tittles" idiomatically, but as literal, written entities—"one jot or one tittle." The law will not disappear even to the letter, so that men can live by even the least of His commandments (v. 19). Alfred Edersheim writes: "If all men in the world were gathered together to abolish the least letter in the Law, they would not succeed." God guarantees the preservation of all the written Words of Scripture.

Errors in what we have in our hands effects authority absolutely equally to errors being in the originals. It's the errors that are a problem for authority, whenever thy enter in, between when they were originally written until today. Authority relates to what we live. That's why the promises of preservation are there.

There are very few variants in the TR editions, William. There are 10,000 between the manuscripts of the critical text. Every other verse has a variant. We trust that God said He would do what He would do.

You say the manuscript data doesn't back perfection. What data are you talking about? Do you read Greek? Do you understand that the historic position is perfect preservation? Not only did the saints of the 16th-18th century believe they had every Word in their hands, but they believed this is what Scripture taught. Were they apostatized in their bibliology? Have we come upon a novel position that actually is the truly historic position? There is no theology behind the eclectic text, except unbelief.

What exactly is the KJVO bandwagon saying, William? I don't know what you're talking about. I take the same position as Capel, Turretin, Rutherford, Owen, etc. It is the historic position.

Jerry Bouey said...

Interesting post and replies, Bro Kent.

Matthew 4:4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

If this verse refers to the Scriptures, what God has written and preserved for us, then I can live in a manner pleasing to the Lord.

If this verse refers to everything God has ever said (which would be completely ridiculous), then we are all in trouble!

Funny how the critics want to explain away the Bible and states that His Word can't possibly be referring to what He has preserved in the KJV and the underlying manuscripts - YET they have no alternate solution that holds any water.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Exactly Jerry. Good.

Terry McGovern said...

Great post. The simplicity of the argumment given by Friel to Johnson, must hit home. I would think the logic of the argument along with God's promises concerning preservation has to get them (non KJVO) thinking. (At least if they are interested in truth.)

Reforming Baptist said...

I don't have time to answer everything, but it seems that if anyone doesn't agree with you, then you seem to think they don't believe in preservation. Look, I agree that the eclectic text has way more varients and disagreements with itself than the TR, so that's why I stick with it.

But how can you prove that the TR, which the KJV doesn't come from anyway, is word for word exact replica of the originals? There is no proof of that. There are varients between the surviving Byzantine and other majority can't find a perfect stream of flawless, exact replicas of Bible copies.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I'm always happy to get a Bible presentation of preservation from someone, but in every instance, I've gotten a critique or an attack of the position that I present, which happens to be the historic one. People are welcome to disagree. Disagree; that's fine. What does the Bible teach? And if I'm wrong, where am I wrong? And where is your position taught in history as well.

I believe the Bible position is proof. The Bible is proof, is knowledge, is science. It is a faith position on preservation, but so is canonicity. To be honest, it's a faith position on the deity of Christ, justification, the resurrection, etc. Textual criticism and eclecticism are not proof.

Do you think that ongoing textual criticism is good?

Reforming Baptist said...

Look, I'm not saying that some of God's words are lost, destroyed or have passed away. I think that they're there in the volume of all the surviving manuscripts. Some are better than others. That is a historical position.

I think ongoing texutal criticism is a waste of time at this point, because they're not going to find anything new or improved. The easy to find scribal errors or spelling mistakes have pretty much been discovered and noted. Veriants are still there and someone has to make a judgment call on which one is the right reading. Someone's gotta be right and someone's gotta be wrong in their choice. I don't see why it's such a sin to get both sides and the reason for their choice of the reading. Either way, no new doctrines have been introduced or denied as a result of such texual criticism.

We've got so much manuscript evidence that God has preserved His word. There is no other document on earth with as many ancient manuscripts as the Bible.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I can't accept the position that I'm reading you present here, because it doesn't fit either history or biblical presuppositions. Not fitting a scriptural model is enough for me to deny it, since I know Scripture is sufficient. I can't say that textual criticism or the books by textual critics are sufficient. And my loyalty is to God.

1. It doesn't fit accessibility, which is taught. The critical text wasn't available until the 19th century. That doesn't fit what the Bible says about preservation. Isaiah 59:21; Matthew 4:4; Deuteronomy 30:11-15
2. Truth is God's Words. The Holy Spirit leads into all truth---those are the Words of God. That assumes a settled text. John 15:26; 16:13
3. You can't add or take away Words unless there is a settled text---Rev. 22:18-19
4. The historic position is that inerrancy applies not just to the autographa but to the apographa. I've given quotes about this all over the place, especially here. I haven't gotten quotes to refute it. I have gotten people mouthing off, but that doesn't count as history.
5. As far as someone on the spot canonizing text, that isn't for someone, some guru to make that decision, as I see described in your second paragraph. They're God's Words and so it should be acceptance by the church. The church obviously rejected the CT---Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, etc.