Monday, January 18, 2010

Answering the SharperIron Article on Preservation part one

Here is my answer to the Aaron Blumer article on SharperIron, entitled, Preservation: How and What? I say thanks to Aaron, who is also Pastor Blumer of Grace Baptist Church of Boyceville, Wisconsin. I respect him for going at this issue. And I mean no disrespect in saying that he misses it in a big way because he does not represent what has occurred with the doctrine of preservation. And I don't mean this in a bad manner either, when I say this is a bit like talking to a Catholic about transubstantiation, who hasn't really interacted with the exegesis. The Catholic thinks transubstantiation really is the original position on the Lord's Table. I want to use this illustration in one other way. Aaron presents the preservation issue as if there are these two positions on preservation. It is like someone saying there are two positions on the Lord's Table: transubstantiation and then elements as symbols. Please don't take this as ad hominem. It isn't intended at all that way. I believe this an apt parallel though. The one good thing, I would always hope, that is different between those reading this, and even Aaron doing so, and a Catholic, is that the Roman Catholic sees the tradition as authority. You can show him Scripture and he won't budge. I've had those discussions. But we would think that genuine believers would respect the authority of the Bible on a subject and always put that above tradition, feelings, and even science.

Aaron presents two views of preservation. In doing so, he says that both sides believe in preservation of Scripture, and that neither knows what the Bible teaches about the how and the what of preservation. He says that both sides in the end are left with educated guesses about the how and the what. He seems to prefer the second sort of educated guess, which happens to be textual criticism, guesses educated by forensic science in that case. I don't believe that the second view is preservation of Scripture. It isn't how the Bible presents it, which I will talk about later. And I don't think that the first view is a guess at all, any more than we're guessing when we say that we have sixty-six books of the Bible.

Aaron goes through several preservation texts, which is the right thing to do, to see what the Bible says about its own preservation. He does miss a few good ones. But he concludes in so many words from looking at several references that speak of preservation that God has indeed preserved every one of His Words for people to use. That is a lofty conclusion for many evangelicals and fundamentalists. Many wouldn't want to be caught saying that. For instance, Daniel Wallace doesn't believe that Scripture says what Blumer concludes in his article.

The article by Aaron, however, has two major problems. One is that it provides no historical context, and two, the Bible really does say how and what. I'll explain both.


The first one, not giving historical context, is what provides the most trouble. The right position is the biblical position, but then it is also the historic position. There is no doubt that what Aaron calls the discrete view is the historic position. You won't find the other position, what he calls dispersed preservation, until you get to the 19th century. I have long believed that we first go to the Bible to get our doctrine and then we check on history to find out what men believed. If a new position comes on the scene, it should overturn the already established position with some very convincing exegesis of the Bible on the doctrine. We don't have that with the dispersed view. What originated the "dispersed view" was post-enlightenment rationalism in the form of the "science" of textual criticism. Textual criticism says to look to the external evidence to find out where it leads you, not at all affected by theological presuppositions. That has not been the position of the church. When I have presented the historical doctrine of the church, I have never had anyone deny it was the historic position. When I have argued with some of the most notable men in the field of the text of Scripture, they do not deny that converted men have taken the position that Aaron calls the discrete view.

From what I read, and I have read a lot about this, a vast majority of evangelicals and fundamentalists do not know the history of the doctrine of preservation of Scripture. True believers have always believed the view that I also take. It is the one that Scripture teaches. I think Aaron is referring to that view as discrete preservation. The fact that he gives it his own name seems to surely indicate that he has not interacted with the history of the doctrine. With the emphasis that Kevin Bauder and Central puts on history and scholarship, one would think that the students there would learn the historic view on preservation. I haven't read anywhere that would lead me to believe that they have. What I do read, that is written by them and their comrades, is that the history of preservation begins in the late 19th century. That's where we start in their history. That, of course, is also the time that evolution evolved, theological liberalism began to bloom, and what Bauder calls "proto-fundamentalism" got started.

Much of God's Word in Our Hands and God's Word Preserved (latter by Michael Sproul), two recent "dispersed position" presentations, quote almost entirely historic fundamentalists to defend their position as historic. I'm afraid that these men really do believe that they have presented the historic position on preservation when they quote mainly fundamentalists (what Sproul calls "our fundamentalist fathers," I guess to add authority to their words). Any real historian, like Richard Muller, I think, would be amused or even chuckle at the "history" to which these men refer (again I recommend for historic purposes, Muller's second volume in his Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, titled: Holy Scripture: The Cognitive Foundation of Theology). James White in his King James Version Debate doesn't even attempt to present the historic doctrine of preservation. Many of these men treat the doctrine of preservation as if it began with the textual critics and found its apex in Bruce Metzger of mid 20th century Princeton.

If anyone is going to say that there are two views, he ought to tell us where those two views came from. He should be required to do that. Usually someone, any scholar, any preacher, must do that. The first view, which Aaron doesn't represent correctly (I'll show how later), comes from Scripture and has evidence in the history of Christian doctrine. The second view does not have a historic basis. It started in the 19th century, which, by the way, was also the time that a lot of false theological beliefs were concocted. We should expect that the old position would be overturned by excellent, in-depth exegesis. It wasn't. We still do not get exegesis as a basis for the critical text or eclectic text position. That's why there isn't a major foundational difference between what we hear from James White and Bart Ehrman in the debate. On most of their fundamental points, they agree. Neither of them rely on scriptural presuppositions to come to their views on preservation.

When I ask for a scriptural presentation for the preservation position of those taking this "dispersed preservation" view, they don't have one. They only have criticism of the "discrete preservation." And it takes on a scorched earth type of argumentation. They usually try almost every avenue possible to discredit the scriptural and historic position. They did not and do not start with the Bible to come to their own view.

So Aaron presents two views. My problem is that the second one shouldn't be considered legitimate. It didn't start with a doctrine of preservation. Aaron Blumer deals with passages of scripture, but the dispersed preservation position itself started with a denunciation of the doctrine of preservation with the idea of overturning the historical position to make room for textual criticism. There is where I find it akin to saying there are two views on the Lord's Table: transubstantiation and symbolism. There aren't two views. We shouldn't exalt transubstantiation by giving it the status of a legitimate position. I say the same about the second position, the "dispersed preservation" view. Roman Catholic dogma has been influenced through the centuries by various external sources of rationalism and mysticism. A return to biblical doctrine for many in Europe in the 16th century was mockingly called fideism by Roman Catholic authority. Romanism considered theirs a groundless faith without the aid of reason that they had embraced. Doctrines like transubstantiation are not fideistic.

Is what I write above true? Yes, it is. Why isn't there more interaction about this? Not many men will even talk about it. The few that do will attempt to read textual criticism into statements made by Francis Turretin or extrapolate the science of textual criticism into the work of Erasmus. This is not telling the story. It is more scrambling to attempt to explain why they don't have a history. One would think that men who have truth on their side would be glad to discuss this. They won't. They certainly do not want to hear that they have a view read into the historic confessions to make room for post-enlightenment rationalism. What I have found is that they simply mock the historical view. And that is acceptable as discussion. They say it is just a silly translation issue for which they have no time. Certain pressures come upon evangelicals and fundamentalists that tie them to an eclectic or critical text and modern versions. And those who believe the biblical and historical position today are marginalized and dismissed in some fashion like believers in a Catholic inquisition.

I will finish this very soon. In the next post I will talk about the problems he has in representing the discrete position. By misrepresenting this view, a strawman is erected. Again, stay tuned.


Kent Brandenburg said...

Concerning Muller's work, here are some of the reviews of the four volume set of which the second is on Scripture.

Richard Muller's long-awaited volumes represent a work of vast historical scope, profound engagement with the primary and secondary sources, and careful application of sound historical method. By setting seventeenth-century Reformed theology against the background of classical, patristic, medieval, Renaissance, and Reformation intellectual culture, Muller paints a picture of seventeenth-century Reformed theology that belies the old clich├ęs through its nuance, learning, and sophistication. Nobody engaged in this area can afford to ignore his arguments or his conclusions; those who wish to dissent from his central theses have been set a daunting task, and those who find themselves in agreement have been set a standard for their own research.
—Carl R. Trueman, Westminster Theological Seminary

A work of monumental significance…Muller has done for post-Reformation Reformed dogmatics what no one else has done with such detail since the beginning of the eighteenth century (and in its own way, what no one else has ever done)…Of course anyone working in the area of historical theology, intellectual history, or philosophy cannot afford to miss these volumes.
—Scott F. Sanborn, Kerux

And many more. He shouldn't be ignored. No one has done this work. You won't read it elsewhere. However, what you will read will only agree with what Muller reports.

Claymore said...

So, the views presented at SI are more in accordance with the Graf-Wellhausen theory? This, of course, says that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch - they do not know who wrote it, nor do they offer any possible alternative, but they know it could not have been Moses. Instead, they offer the theory that four unknown men and two obscure redactors compiled the book, much like how the Koran was compiled (Mohammedans like to think that Mohammed wrote the whole of it, but he did not write one word - he could not - he was illiterate).

Don Johnson said...

But Kent, in this article you don't offer any historical context either. You simply say, 'Aaron [et al] is ignoring history.' But you offer no evidence that your assertion is correct. Is some historical survey to be expected in future articles?

Simply saying so doesn't make it so.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Kent Brandenburg said...


SI would not believe the Graf-Wellhausen theory. Fundamentalists don't believe that. Some may be leaning that way, but I don't know of anyone that has gone that way. You may think, and I could agree with you, that they treat the preservation issue like that, however.


I knew I wasn't writing any history in the article. I'm only criticizing his article. I assumed people could go over to my sidebar and read many articles on history that I have written. You make a true point---I did not write a history in my critique. I have written many of those, however, and I don't want to be too redundant here at WIT. I also point people to Muller, because I'm assuming people won't believe me, even though I'm saying exactly what Muller is saying. He's just saying it from some place fundamentalists would give credit.

In my second article, I'll be dealing with the how and what part of the criticism. I'll write it soon because it's high interest to me.

Kent Brandenburg said...

When I say "someplace fundamentalists would give credit," I mean a parachurch organization, and a place of scholarship. He's also published by big-time, credible publishers in their opinion. My saying things as a pastor of a church do not hold much for fundamentalists. There are other reasons too, but everyone would get the picture. There is a system of accreditation that often is disconnected from the truth.

Damien said...

If we were to take your 'historic' approach to this, and substitute individual textual variants in place of the doctrine of preservation, would it still work? In other words, what has the church historically believed about the Comma Johanneum, and how do we make a determination to accept or reject it?

Kent Brandenburg said...


Hello. First, why historc in quote marks? I'd be happy to be shown otherwise. You'll have to stomp all over Muller (and me).

I think I'll answer your questions in upcoming post(s). Question for you though. Do you think that men who continued believing the historic position in the 16th and 17th centuries also knew there were textual variants in hand copies? In anticipation of your answer, since it is somewhat rhetorical, why did this not start becoming a stumbling block to the historic view until the 19th century?

Damien said...

first, I apologize for my being misleading - I didn't put historic in quotes to signify any sort of insulting tone or to imply I don't think your position is historic. I was actually trying to come up with a label for your approach to the subject and somehow was only left with the word historic, and left the quotes there. Sorry.

anywho. . .

1) Yes, obviously. 2) if it is true that the believing church held to a doctrine of perfect preservation, akin to the one you hold, from the close of the NT canon until the 19th century then it would be a simple matter of developing doctrine. I'm for catholicity, in fact, I'm more for it than I ever was, but I also believe that aspects of doctrine need to be held against the standard of the scriptures and Christ. Though there may be offshoots and consequences of the 19th century textual theories, conservatives who hold to those theories still have a bibliology that aligns itself with the fundamentalists, the Puritans, the Reformers, the early church, and the apostles. In subsets of that doctrine, including preservation, things are subject to be tweaked.

And why? Because if William Tyndale held to this view and Martin Luther held to this view and John Owen held to this view and Erasmas held to this view and Wycliffe and so on and so forth, all in different regions, and different tongues, then they couldn't all be right in regards to how it applies to the versions of the scriptures to which each had access. From the 19th century onward, there was a greater cultural and historical awareness of what Christians had in regards to the scriptures. To pick one, the KJV (or an edition of Erasmus' Greek NT), and claim it as the standard is not consistent with that data.

Joshua said...

In my year or so of following the posts on this blog, I've seen Kent ask man after man for the historical basis of their view of preservation. I've never yet seen it answered. The same goes when he asks for their Scriptural basis.

I won't say much, but I will keep score. So far we have two replies from those who disagree. So far we are zero for two on the original claim: Where is the history for the modern view of perservation pre late 19th C?

Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but is this a de facto confession of the accuracy of Kent's argument?

"From the 19th century onward, there was a greater cultural and historical awareness of what Christians had in regards to the scriptures."

That reads to me like "no one from history agrees with us because they didn't know what we know now." Correct me if I'm wrong please.


Aaron Blumer said...

Hi Kent. Appreciate your response to my article.
Amazon tells me a copy of your book is in the mail. Looking forward to a closer look.
As for the lacking history... it's true I didn't include any. Have to stop somewhere.
I'll be doing a more thorough response down the road, but for now I'll just point out that your post here doesn't explain how including historical context would change anything.
That is, my thesis was, in part, that "there are two views" today. Whatever may have existed yesterday doesn't altar what we have on the scene today.
But I understand that you are trying to set up a "source of the idea" argument and the history is supposed to establish that a dispersed view of pres. has a recent and tainted source.
That's fine. I can work with that.

Reforming Baptist said...

Hey Kent,
I've probably asked this before, so forgive me for being either thickheaded or forgetful, but can you point me to some references to writers in church history who hold the perfect preservation view? Like, what books or articles or confessions of faith are there that make such a case. I want to know if that is really the historic position. You can answer me by email if it's better than posting it here..if you have time.


PS Ferguson said...

I don't wish to blow my own trumpet, but I have set forth fully the historical documentation on the perfect preservation view in this article:

The CT people have the eclectic views of apostate Enlightenment scholars and the Church of Rome to back them up. Interesting company to keep!

Claymore said...

Logically speaking, perfect preservation is implied by verbal/plenary inspiration. The two beliefs are twin sisters. This was why I asked about the Graf-Wellhausen theory (or JEDP) with SI (As I have never been there, that was an unknown). However, this belief about the Pentateuch came contemporary to textual criticism (incidentally a poor word for Bible scholastics). To say that God did not preserve His Word negates the idea that He inspired it. If it is not perfectly preserved, how do we know that we have the true Word (and Words) of God? According to the rule of English law, one false statement negates the entire testimony - therefore, if one word of the Bible was lost, the whole of the perfect canon is made imperfect.

Kent Brandenburg said...

What we read of men on preservation agrees with the perfect preservation position that I believe and teach. It makes sense to me, because that is also what I see in the Bible. I've found that they have also believed in inspiration, like to which Claymore is referring, and so they didn't allow human reasoning to affect their faith there either, despite other sorts of biblical criticism.

Damien, I'm talking about what men wrote on preservation, explaining what they believed. I'm not talking about our still photos of Tyndale, Erasmus, the KJV translators, etc. I'd rather not talk about that at the moment, because it muddies the water. I recognize your jump to what this means as to the English Bible we use.

Please look at P. S. Ferguson's article. It's good work. I have some more material at Jackhammer distinctly on history that I'll link here, but I've got to go teach.

Damien said...


Kent actually didn't ask me for historical proof of my view of preservation. He asked me why I would accept a change in this doctrine if indeed his view is the historic one. I believe I gave an answer to that, provided the theory (that his view is the historic one) is correct. Whether that theory is or not I'm not really arguing. So, you asked, is this a concession? Perhaps. I don't come here with an agenda, I'd like to iron these things out. Personally I think the history is more complex than that, but again, if it is true that verbal plenary perfect preservation is the historic belief of the believing church, then I'm also ok with saying it was a view in need of tweaking, that the believing church, for the most part, has come to grips with, and pending a tarried Second Coming for a few hundred years, might one day be considered historic as well :)

You quoted me and provided commentary: "From the 19th century onward, there was a greater cultural and historical awareness of what Christians had in regards to the scriptures."

"That reads to me like "no one from history agrees with us because they didn't know what we know now." Correct me if I'm wrong please."

Sort of. But I wouldn't say "no one" just yet, either. But, if you're a dispensationalist, believe in the pre-trib rapture, hold to any particular hermeneutic model (Covenant theology, dispy, Christocentrism, etc.), etc. you might as well agree with that statement. We find things in seed form in history, but isn't it true that by now, in 2010, we have a more developed view of church discipline, creationism, eschatology, etc? I'm not trying to divert the issue, but I do wonder why we can allow these things to be so in other areas of theology but not this one.


Ok no problem. I will look at PS's work in due time. We've talked about this before. And I'm still a little unclear as to how this applies to the KJV, being that you've said that your view of preservation is carried along through history by a 'general accesibility', yet that 'general' became a 'very particular' thing in 1611, and I don't know what changed. That's still 1600 years removed from the close of the canon, and it's quite possible if that's the view you espouse, I'm no different. I guess for me, my 1611 moment hasn't happened yet. But I carried on too much. I just came back to say thanks for the Owen recommendation and here I am continuing this debate that we've been on before! So, I'll bow out (at least in THIS post!) and watch you answer more of these things in your next posts.

Reforming Baptist said...

So, are there any specifics or just "what they believed agrees with me" ?

Kent Brandenburg said...


Read P.S. Ferguson's article. It has a ton of the history. Have you read that?

Then at Jackhammer, there's this:

Aaron Blumer said...

"Logically speaking, perfect preservation is implied by verbal/plenary inspiration. The two beliefs are twin sisters....To say that God did not preserve His Word negates the idea that He inspired it. If it is not perfectly preserved, how do we know that we have the true Word (and Words) of God? According to the rule of English law..."
"Logic" is claimed here, then abandoned. The reasoning here seems to be "Inspiration only exists when we know it exists." My response to that is a. where is inspiration defined this way in Scripture and b. since when is God's power to do something (and the reality of what He has done) dependent on whether we "know" or not?

The fool says in his heart "there is no God." What if everyone said the same? Would God cease to exist?
No, the miracle of inspiration exists 100% independently of anyone's knowledge of or belief in it. If there were no human beings on the earth at all, inspiration would remain a reality. It simply does not depend on our recognition of it in any way, shape or form.

Unknown said...

Inspiration without preservation is irrelevant. I think that is what Claymore was trying to communicate (which btw, I agree with him on that. Claymore can correct me if I am wrong). I do agree with you about how things are so, with or without our knowledge or recognition of such things.

Claymore said...

Aaron, your comment about the fool is completely moot because the Hebrew language demands that it be interpreted this way: the fool has carefully considered the evidence for the existence of God and willfully rejected it - Dr. Ferguson makes this clear in his book "God and the Atheist." If you read Jeff's comment above, you will find that it is by faith we know Scripture is truth, and Paul plainly tells us that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God. Why should God spend 1700 years inspiring His Word only to have it lost over a period of 1900 years, or until two apostates and occultists (Bishop Westcott and Prof. Hort) compiled the Gnostic-mutilations that came from Clement of Alexandria? I find it was no accident that the bible (lowercase as it is not the true Bible) that Arius used to attack the Deity of Christ was the same which underlies the CT versions today. I believe that Orton Wiley also mentions this in his "Introduction to Christian Theology" - I cannot quote exactly what he said because my copy is in storage, along with the rest of my library. Dr. O. Talmadge Spence has also a few good books on the subject, as does Dr. Cloud. I recommend that you see what they have to say on the subject - if you do not believe in perfect preservation after reading them, I suspect you are in denial.

Anonymous said...

Reforming Baptist - "can you point me to some references to writers in church history who hold the perfect preservation view?"

In all fairness, one has to admit that Jesus did,

"For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." (Matthew 5:18)

In that light, it doesn't really matter what Calvin, councils, or anyone else in Romanoprotestant history said, does it?

Reforming Baptist said...

Jesus' point doesn't deal with the "how" it deals with the "what" and the "how" is where the debate is.

I'm working on the Ferguson article and I'll read up on the Jackhammer article too. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Reforming Baptist - The question you asked, and which I answered, was a "what" question. Before we can deal with the mechanics of preservation, we first have to agree that there has, indeed, been preservation. Your question appeared to me to be asking for confirmation from "authority" that preservation (as a "what") was held in church history.

Claymore said...

An example of perfect preservation:

The Hebrew Scribes had to follow careful instructions in copying the Scriptures: the writing material could only be from the skins of clean animals. The ink must be black and prepared according to a specific recipe. The scribe must have a kosher copy of the book he was copying before him, and must sound out each word audibly as he writes it. If one page had an error, it must be torn out and a new page started from the beginning. If more than three pages needed revision, the document was condemned and a new copy must be started. I would say this demands perfect preservation.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for bringing up the issue of the Masoretes. This methodology didn't just exist in the 10th century AD - there's evidence that it extended back into the BC too - which means that they literally might well have preserved the mss. that Jesus Himself read and said were the very Word of God, from which one jot or tittle would not pass.

Another interesting thing - the Dead Sea Scrolls, which Critical Texters love to refer to in the textual debate, are themselves largely Masoretic in form. However, even the best one (an Isaiah scroll that is *almost* identical to the Bomberg Masoretic Isaiah underlying the KJV) has a few errors in it.

E.L. Sukenik originally proposed that the Dead Sea repositories were a type of genizah - a place where the Jews "retired" manuscripts that had been copied incorrectly per the methodology you described, or were otherwise found to have transcription or other errors.

More recently, scholars became enamoured with the DSS as a source for "correcting" the biblical text. I think they are incorrect to do so, since I think Sukenik's original thesis - while not as "interesting" as other theories - is correct. The DSS library is a repository of messed up mss. of all types that the Qumran community (who were probably not actually Essene, btw) rejected because they were corrupt.

Claymore said...


Actually I think that the original MSS penned by (possibly) Elihu of the book of Job, (the first book to be written in the Bible) all the way through John's original autograph of the Apocalypse are preserved somewhere on the planet - God has kept them hidden because He knows men would be worshipping them today if we knew where to find them. Perhaps in the Millennial Reign of Christ, they will be uncovered.

paidagogos said...

Several have asked about historical antecedents for a doctrine of preservation. Although allusions or snatches of reference may be found throughout church history, it was generally assumed and accepted until the advent of Higher and Lower Criticism. Thus, little was explicitly written because it was not an issue. Now that Fundamentalists, who are professed Bible-believers, are supporting the Lower Criticism, which is based on the same Rationalistic methodology as the rejected Higher Criticism, the doctrine of preservation needs to be expounded.

CD-Host said...

Joshua --

I don't know if this is going to end up going through but I'll take your challenge. In my year or so of following the posts on this blog, I've seen Kent ask man after man for the historical basis of their view of preservation. I've never yet seen it answered.

First off this trace only applies to the Western Catholic church and the churches that emerged from it, the Eastern Catholic has an entirely different historical basis.

1) The second and third century church fathers believed there was a wide range of scriptures in use within the church. They broke them into 3 groups:
a) Those they considered of first century or earlier origin and "authentic" where "authentic" meant that it agreed with their positions.
b) Those they considered non authentic
c) Those they considered late but in line with orthodoxy

Many argued that only those in class (1) should be considered scripture

2) The fourth and fifth century church fathers systematized the scriptures and begin doing something very much akin to what modern textual critics do in trying to form a unified basis for scripture. Unifying these works and creating official version.

3) By the 12th century the official versions had become corrupted with earlier streams that had gotten embedded into the scriptures by way of the liturgy; the liturgy often representing earlier textual streams. They also began to re-examine many of the judgements made by the earlier church fathers in both choice of books and translation.

4) The church held that these earlier version were recoverable, and that some books that had slipped into official versions but never been officially endorsed should be removed (example the Prayer of Manasses).

5) The reformation occurs and the apocryphal books are removed, further Jerome's position on original languages gets official support again and the focus is on translation from Hebrew and Greek with less respect for traditional renderings.

6) These two major streams:
a) less respect for traditional renderings
b) an attempt to reconstruct from the "originals"
continues to this day. During the late 19th century an understanding that reconstructing the originals means reopening the original choices made by group the 2nd and 3rd century church fathers starts to be raised on the Christian fringe and to this day continues to become more mainstream.