We've heard talk about separation over violation of a certain tenet of bibliology, namely dividing over the false doctrine of double inspiration. Is that the only bibliological doctrine worthy of separation? If so, why? Or why not? Is the Bible itself sufficiently defended by separating only over errors in the scriptural teaching of inspiration? All the teachings of the Bible are worth protecting, even if that separates us from men and churches who hold to several other similar doctrines as we.
So far we've looked at two articles of bibliology: inspiration and canonicity. You will rarely hear something preached about the latter, so I want to direct you to a recent, excellent sermon preached on this by Gary Webb (the first of which can be found here). We believe in dividing over wrong beliefs in these two doctrines of scripture. Now we move to another component of bibliology, the doctrine of the preservation of Scripture.
Is the preservation of Scripture taught in the Bible? If it is taught, what kind of preservation does it teach? Many fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals claim to believe in the preservation of Scripture. W. Edward Glenny writes in Only One Bible? (p. 121):
A proper understanding of the doctrine of preservation is a belief that God has providentially preserved His Word in and through all of the extant manuscripts, versions, and other copies of Scripture.
Why is that a proper understanding? Glenny writes the next sentence:
This conviction is based on the evidence of history.
Then he adds:
Has God perfectly preserved His Words so that no words have been lost? The evidence from the OT text suggests that such is not the case.
Glenny among others contradicts a belief in the perfect preservation of Scripture, that is, that God did perfectly preserve His Words so that no words have been lost. Contrary to what Glenny writes, the historic position of believers is that God did perfectly preserve what He inspired. You see that in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1633) and the London Baptist Confession (1689):
The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentic.
The Formula Consensus Helvetica (1675) reads:
God, the Supreme Judge, not only took care to have His word, which is the "power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (Rom. 1:16), committed to writing by Moses, the Prophets, and the Apostles, but has also watched and cherished it with paternal care ever since it was written up to the present time, so that it could not be corrupted by craft of Satan or fraud of man. Therefore the Church justly ascribes it to His singular grace and goodness that she has, and will have to the end of the world, a "sure word of prophecy" and "Holy Scriptures" (2 Tim. 3:15), from which, though heaven and earth perish, "one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass"(Matt. 5:18).
What did these statements mean regarding the preservation of Scripture?
Foremost historian Richard A. Muller in his Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, Holy Scripture: The Cognitive Foundation of Theology writes (p. 81):
There is no elaboration or discussion distinguishing between "words" (verba) and "substance" (res) such as appears in the systems of the day and no discussion of the autographa. The emphasis of the confession is simply upon the original language texts currently known to the church.
Later he continues (pp. 433, 435):
By "original and authentic" text, the Protestant orthodox do not mean the autographa which no one can possess but the apographa in the original tongue which are the source of all versions. . . . Turretin and other high and late orthodox writers argued the authenticity and infallibility of Scripture must be identified in and of the apographa, not in and of lost autographa.
In line with the observations of Muller,
As a Professor in a Theological Seminary, it has been my duty to make a special study of the Westminster Confession of Faith, as have I done for twenty years; and I venture to affirm that no one who is qualified to give an opinion on the subject, would dare to risk his reputation on the statement that the Westminster divines ever thought the original manuscripts of the Bible were distinct from the copies in their possession.
Where did this kind of conviction of these historic Christians come from? It came from Scripture. God's Word teaches the doctrine of preservation. Rather than cut and paste what I have written before on this or to tweak it, I thought I would instead cut and paste exactly what Paul Ferguson wrote in his recent article Preservation of the Bible: Providential or Miraculous? For one, I wouldn't write anything differently than what He said. Here's what he wrote:
(1) God revealed the Scriptures so men could know His will both in the Old and New Testaments and in the future (Deut 31:9-13, 24-29; 1 John 1:1-4, 2:1-17; 2 Tim 3:14-17; 2 Pet 1:12-15). Certainly the Bible makes clear that no Scripture was intended for only the original recipient (Rom 15:4, 16:25-26; 1 Cor 10:11). God intended for those writings to be recognised and received by the Church as a whole (e.g.,
4:16; Rev 1:4). These Words were to be guarded (1 Tim 6:20-21) as a "form (pattern) of sound words" for the church (2 Tim 1:13-14) and to be used to instruct the future Church (2 Tim 2:2). Col
(2) The Bible promises that God will preserve every one of His Words forever down to the very jot and tittle of the smallest letter (Pss 12:6-7, 33:11, 119:152, 160; Isa 30:8, 40:8; 1 Pet 1:23-25; Matt 5:18, 24:35).
(3) The Bible assures us that God’s Words are perfect and pure (Ps 12:6-7; Prov 30:5).
(4) The Bible promises that God would make His Words generally available to every generation of believers (Deut 30:11-14; Isa 34:16, 59:21; Matt 4:4; 2 Pet 3:2; Jude 1:17). (This is general availability, not necessarily to every person on the planet.) Certainly, we are told that for around two millennia in history only one small nation had the true and pure Words of God, "He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto
. He hath not dealt so with any nation; and as for his judgments, they have not known them. Praise ye the LORD" (Ps 147:19, 20 cf. Rom 2:14). Israel
(5) The Bible promises there will be certainty as to the Words of God (2 Pet 1:19; Luke 1:4; Prov 1:23, 22:20-21; Dan 12:9-10; 1 John 2:20).
(6) The Bible promises that God would lead His saints into all truth, that the Word, all of His Words, are truth (John 16:13, 17:8, 17).
(7) God states that the Bible will be settled to the extent that someone could not add or take away from His Words (Rev 22:18-19; Deut 12:32). Indeed, the Apostle Peter in 2 Peter 3:2 warned the saints of his day to be mindful of the "Words" of the Old Testament writings (v2a) and the New Testament writings (v2b), which would be absurd if some of these Words had been corrupted or lost.
(8) The Bible shows that the true
would receive these Words (Matt 28:19-20; John 17:8; Acts 8:14, 11:1, 17:11; 1 Thess 2:13; 1 Cor 15:3). Churchof Christ
(9) The Bible implies that believers would receive these Words from other believers (Deut 17:18; 1 Kgs 2:3; Prov 25:1; Acts 7:38; Heb 7:11; 1 Thess 1:6; Phil 4:9).
(10) The Bible shows that Bible promises may appear to contradict science and reason. In Genesis 2 we see that a newly created world may look ancient. However, the Scriptures remind us that "It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man" (Ps 118:8).
(11) Christ implied the preservation of His very Words as a Standard of future judgment (John 12:48). He also warned of the vanity of ignoring His actual Words (Matt 7:26). Christ emphatically declared, "the scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). In Matthew 22:29 Jesus rebuked, "Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures." If the Scriptures were only accessible in the Originals then why would He chide them for being ignorant of Words that were not available? Believers are commanded to contend for the faith (Jude 3) and this faith is based upon the Words of God (Rom 10:17). Note that concerning the end-times, the Lord Jesus warned, "Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8 cf. Amos 8:11; Lam 2:9).
This is what Christians have believed through history and is why still believers "in the pew" think they have a perfect Bible, despite strong efforts by even some who are leading them. It is what they see taught in Scripture.
We recognize the historic doctrine of preservation. So what happened? What changed? Ironically something Kevin Bauder (editor of Only One Bible?) recently wrote at SharperIron explains why this doctrine changed:
Christians, under the influence of Common Sense, did not deny the transcendent, but they did demote it. In their metaphysical dream, they began to reverse the priority of the transcendent and the immanent. God and His Word were no longer axiomatic. These became matters to be defended, and that defense now involved the methodological priority of doubt and the appeal to neutral foundations within the immanent order. This shift in perspective led to a massive refocusing of the intellectual and spiritual center of Christian faith, with the result that the immanent order became “real” reality.
As Christians granted epistemological priority to the immanent order, they lost their sense of the numinous almost completely. Natural observation displaced revelation as the instrument by which they organized their knowledge of the world. Their naïve belief in the transparency of the world left Christians open to noxious influences against which they no longer sought to maintain any defense. Increasingly, divine intervention was limited to whatever gaps remained after the application of Baconian method. The doctrine of
remained formally intact, but it no longer exerted much influence over the everyday thinking of Christian people. Providence
Unfortunately Bauder contradicts himself when it comes to this one doctrine. He is guilty of the very violation that he decries in his series of criticisms of fundamentalism. Why does he do this? It relates to something else that he wrote in the next article of the same series:
Unlike the Catholic magisterium, evangelicals do not accept a separate, oral tradition as a source of revelation and authority.
Instead of relying on Scripture and getting his doctrine from God, he and others have become enamored by a scientific magisterium that uses its own extra-scriptural authority to put down the teaching of Scripture. It makes sense, common sense, to those forming a new doctrine of preservation to deny the transcendence of God in His promises. Bauder and others trample all over history and Scripture in order to hold to a new position on the doctrine of the preservation of Scripture.
Only one time in scripture does anyone amaze Jesus. Who is it? It is the Gentile centurion in Luke 7:1-10. You should read that text. Many are amazed at Jesus, but only one man does He marvel at. Why? He had so little evidence for His faith than the Jews, and yet He believed. Jesus said there was not a greater faith in
The centurion had a slave boy who was sick unto death and yet he had deep compassion for this mentoring soldier, so he sent men to Jesus to ask if He would spare him. Consider vv. 6-8 in that text:
6 Then Jesus went with them. And when he was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying unto him, Lord, trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof: 7 Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed. 8 For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.
The centurion understood Jesus' authority. He calls Him "Lord" in v. 6. He knew that if Jesus wanted the boy to be healed, he would be healed in just a word. The centurion would believe it even if he were not in the presence of his slave. He knew Jesus could do it from long distance. The centurion described Jesus' authority by comparing it to his own. Whatever Jesus said would happen, would happen.
Here's the paradigm in this. God has said He would preserve every Word and make them available to every generation of believer. His Words would be pure unto every generation. We should just believe God. He has the authority and power to get that done. We should dismiss our common sense in this instance and go with what God said.
Why would we separate over what the Bible says about its own inspiration and not separate over what it says about its own preservation? Why would we be so selective in our obedience to passages on separation? Would that be living by faith? We should separate from those who attack and attempt to change the historic doctrine of preservation.