Saturday, January 23, 2010

Answering the SharperIron Article on Preservation part three

The Bible was complete in the first century A.D. All the doctrine we were ever to believe is found in Scripture. Any doctrine that was not in the Bible when it was finished would be an additional doctrine, a new teaching. It would also be something different than what God's Word says. For instance, the doctrine of salvation is not progressing. We haven't come into anything new about salvation since the book of Revelation was complete. The same goes for the doctrine of the Bible---bibliology. Whatever Scripture says about the Bible is what we are to believe about the Bible. Nothing new has developed in bibliology since Scripture itself was finished.

So we look back in history and all we see is a belief in the perfect preservation of Scripture in every bit of historical doctrine until we arrive at post-enlightenment textual criticism. We get to the 19th century and biblical criticism becomes popular. And then Benjamin Warfield, out of whole cloth, reads the "science" of textual criticism into the providential preservation of the Westminster Confession. This view of preservation isn't found anywhere in history. And it isn't what we read in the Bible either. Did we progress in our bibliology? Can we do that? Isn't that an unorthodox change to an established system of belief? Doesn't that conflict with previously settled doctrine? Is there such a thing as a new doctrine developing based on external findings? Shouldn't that be a problem?

And now we're to the place where the new view positions itself as the old one and the men who take it talk like the original one, the biblical one, just came on the scene. Well, if you've got to back up your claim with something established before the 19th century, that wouldn't be historic doctrine. And if you're not going to do that, then you should have to explain why it is that you don't have a historical bibliology for sure with something other than some kind of progressive bibliology or with a claim that the Westminster Divines were advocating the science of textual criticism in their Confession.

I bring this discussion on this occasion as an answer to Aaron Blumer's article, Preservation: How and What?, over at the blog, SharperIron. He said that neither of the two views of preservation that exist explained the how or what of preservation. The "how" is all over the Bible, a point I asserted in part two of this series. And so now I get to the "what."


Not necessarily from Aaron, but I've found inane the "what" part of this debate. The critical and eclectic text supporters say things like: "Scripture doesn't say that God would preserve the textus receptus text." Or, "The Bible promises its own preservation but it does not say that it would be a printed edition in the sixteenth century." Aaron says that neither side can know what the exact Words of Scripture are without relying on something external as proof. For this, it all depends on what someone considers evidence. Jesus Himself had to be deduced as Messiah or Lord outside of Scripture. God's Word was the criteria, but those looking and waiting for the Messiah were basing their conclusions on what Scripture said they should be seeking.

Christians of the past believed that we would know what the Words were through the guidance of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). Since the Holy Spirit authored those Words, moved upon holy men of God to write them, then He would also lead believers to receive them. Holy Spirit guidance smacks against textual criticism. The science of textual criticism makes a point of ignoring scriptural presuppositions. The Bible itself shall not be relied upon in textual criticism. Man's reasoning buttresses the critical and eclectic text methodology.

We see a mindset in Scripture that believers would receive the Words that God gave and kept (Matt 13:23; Mk 4:20; Lk 8:13; John 12:48; 17:8; Acts 2:41; 8:14; 11:1; 17:11; 1 Thess 1:6; 2:13; James 1:21). This is from which the concept of textus receptus comes---the received text---that is, that true believers would know what the Words were and would receive them. God would lead believers to those Words supernaturally, not through some man-invented process. This is where the concept of providential preservation comes in.

So what do we do today? We look for what God's people received. This is where I begin to hear arguments like this: "They received only what they had and what they had wasn't very good." How do we know that what they had wasn't very good? Again, men make that decision based on the "science" of textual criticism, not based on faith. Faith says that every generation of men would have the Words of God. And then I hear something like this: "But not everybody had the Words of God before the printing press." But isn't this just faithlessness? I don't know what men had and did not have. But I assume that God kept His promises. The people that wanted the Words could get to them. I don't believe that they had the same degree of accessibility that we have today, but I believe they were accessible because God said they would be accessible.

How do we know what books are in Scripture? The Bible doesn't say that we are to have 66. It doesn't say what are the names of those books we are to be looking for. Christians have believed that those books that God inspired believers would know. They would ring with authenticity. We base the canonicity of Books on the same terms as canonicity of Words. Scripture doesn't, however, teach a canonicity of Books but a canonicity of Words. The Bible emphasizes Words that are inspired and then kept by God's people. The question of which Books was settled by the churches. No passage says, "Have a church council," or that "church councils will decide what are the exact Books that should be in the canon." However, we have a basis for believing that saved people, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, would know what God's Words were. We are guided by this truth in the "what" of God's Words.

This faith in God's preservation is the same faith that I have in my own salvation. It's the same faith I have in the inspiration of Scripture. I know that God keeps me despite all the sinning I have done. I could say that I have some evidence to the contrary that God keeps people saved because believers keep sinning. I ignore the externalistic for the criteria of Scripture. Abraham could have forsaken God because he didn't see that he was a great nation, but he staggered not in unbelief. He kept on going based on God's promises.

There is more. I don't put my trust in a special society of forensic scientists, the textual critics, which have been unbelievers. To the critical and eclectic text men, this makes them more objective. That's not what I see about preservation of Scripture in God's Word. I see the church as responsible. This is what dovetails with the "how." What did the churches accept? Whatever it was that they settled on is what I'm going to settle upon. And I'm talking about true churches, not apostate Roman Catholicism.

And last, the Bible says again and again that it is perfect. That it is pure. And we know that it is speaking about the Words. The preservation passages establish this. How can we add or take away from something that isn't already settled? I'm not going to list all the places that say the Bible is more pure than anything. I've done it many times before. This is the standard that men have expected and that we should expect because of what the Bible promises. I'm not going to waver from that.

Eclectic and critical text has instead given us a constantly mutating Bible that we know will only continue to be changed all the time. This doesn't fit a historic or biblical bibliology. I reject it based on that evidence. The evidence is the biblical criteria I should expect to be fulfilled. So again, how do we know what we know? I know by faith. God's promises are enough for me, because He never lies.

I'll have more to write in answer to some of the comments to Aaron's article, including some of what Aaron himself comments on his own post.


Charles E. Whisnant said...

Well, when the final letter was written and God put down his last words, and the word closed, all God wanted to say was written for the duration of this earth. Now that was before 100 A.D. And I would say God knew from the beginning to the end what each generation would need to know Him and worship Him and give Him glory. A Bible for all times.

Gary Webb said...

Back in the 1980s after I graduated with the MDiv from BJU, I started evaluating the textual debate as a pastor. Of course, I had the things that BJU had written, things I had fully accepted. As I reread one of those, I found Dr. Samuel Schnaiter's (sp) article, who was on the Bible faculty. The article was printed in one of BJU's little paperback series of commentaries done by the Bible faculty. In the article Dr. Schnaiter attacked the Received Text position because it came to the evidence with "theological presuppositions". I was shocked. I thought we were always to come to every issue with "theological presuppositions". I realized that Schnaiter was arguing just like the atheistic scientist argues when he argues for evolution against creation. The evolutionist dismisses the way the creationist examines the evidence because the creationist looks at the evidence on the basis of what the Bible says.
This discovery opened my eyes to the fact that "textual criticism" was an entirely humanistic, rationalistic approach to determining what the Bible text is. Like you have argued, we must look at textual evidence and textual history AFTER we have first seen what the Bible says about its preservation.

d4v34x said...

I don't see "leading you to know what each and every Word is" in "guide you into all truth".

Kent Brandenburg said...


Thanks for the testimony. I'm thankful for your open mind and heart.


First, that's how men historically have applied that particular verse and ones like it to the matter of presrvation. Men don't separate "all truth" and "the truth" from Scripture. They compare it to John 17:17. Do you think that the "all truth" into which Jesus led the apostles was algebraic truth or new technological advancements yet undiscovered? Or do you believe in conceptual inspiration? I'm serious on these questions, because if you don't think that "all truth" is referring to Words, then I wonder what it could be to which Jesus was referring.

d4v34x said...

I don't think the primary application of that verse has to do with preservation. And I don't think that "the propositions God has communicated to man" is a prima fascia invalid understanding of "all truth" in that verse.

Thought experiment. Your understanding of the scriptures aside, if God chose to preserve all the propositional content of the original writings in lieu of each and every word of the original writings, what have we lost?

Kent Brandenburg said...


It might not be he primary application, but it is an application and an historic application of that text. The Holy Spirit knows what His Words are---He moved upon holy men to write the Words and He still knows what they are.

The one Holy Spirit leads to the truth. There is supernatural leading. This is a basis for canonicity. Tell me your scriptural doctrine of canonicity. Why 66 books? Use Scripture to defend it.

If God's promises of preservation are true, we haven't lost anything. And God's promises by nature are true.

Claymore said...


I suggest you get the book "Dynamic Equivalence" to answer your question.

Dave Mallinak said...


I don't see the point of "thought experiments" that pretend that things aren't as they are. For one thing, we could make them all day long and never run out, and for another, they don't really prove anything when they are all finished experimenting.

For example, suppose we make a "thought experiment" like this: suppose that God chose to save the world through works rather than Christ. What did we lose?"

The answer is of course, "why bother answering?" God didn't choose to save the world that way. And, knowing the way that God did choose to save the world, we would obviously argue that "all" would be lost.

You asked, "if God chose to preserve all the propositional content of the original writings in lieu of each and every word of the original writings, what have we lost?"

I'll change your question. "if God chose to preserve the general divisions of the Old and New Testament in lieu of each and every one of the 66 books of the canon, what have we lost?"

Would you call someone a heretic if they denied the canon? If they argued that Esther should be removed, or Mark? What if they argued for adding one or two books to make the canon 67 books, or 68? Would you argue that this was wrong? On what basis? What Scriptural argument would you give?

And suppose that the one denying the canon asked you "what have we lost by changing the canon?"

This is an area where men who, in nearly every other area would argue for Scriptural presupposition, instead argue for empirical proofs and scientific evidence.

Anonymous said...

d4v34x - I'm sorry, but your thought experiment rests on a false dichotomy, and it therefore logically invalid.

Words mean things. If you change words, then you change propositional content. Perhaps the change of some words vis-a-vis others will result in relatively little propositional change versus others, but it will be changed nevertheless. This isn't just a principle of hermeneutics, it's a principle of language itself.

d4v34x said...

Wow. In order:

Kent, We share similar views on what was accepted into the canon and how. Colossians 4:16 may give us some insight on how that process began. I would love to know, however, if the the church at Colossae differentiated the authority levels of the letter written to them vs. the one written to the church at Laodicea (which we may not have today). As for preservation, though, I'm not sure the process is the same (and if it is, perhaps not to the extent you state). After all, a large segment of "the church" is poised to give the nod to the C/ET.

Claymore, Dynamic equivalence is a matter of translation, not copying.

Brother Mallinak, "The way things are" is the subject of some debate (as are the scriptural presuppositions). If you believe that debate is on the same level as a works salvation vs. faith salvation debate (or for that matter, a debate on transubstantiation), well, I don't know what to say.

Titus, I don't present an either or, so I think my fallacy would probably be more along the lines of "hypothesis contrary to (alleged) fact". Any way, in thought experiments, I think one is excused from having to exclude the middle.

Yes, words have meaning. I of all people affirm that.