Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Explaining the Role of the Holy Spirit in the Perfect Preservation Doctrine or Sacred Text Position So that Anyone Really, Really Will Understand It

The Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646 reads:

 V. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the holy Scripture; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

The same document reads:

VIII. 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 authentical; so as in all controversies of religion the Church is finally to appeal unto them.

Some are talking or writing like they don't get this position.  I want to be nice here and believe that, so I'm going to believe it.  What the believers, post printing press and pre-enlightenment, have written is then also expanded upon, explained, and reiterated in document after document for hundreds of years.   This is not something that is being made up as it goes along.  Richard Muller evinces this in his outstanding and comprehensive Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, volume 3.  And he is just reporting.  It doesn't matter what his personal opinion is on this---he's a historian.  He's telling us that this is Christian thinking for hundreds of years.  There was no other way of thinking.  Something today different than that thinking is the new way of thinking.

Within the above historic position, what is the role of the Holy Spirit?  I want this to be clear.  I want people really to be able to get this.  Certain statements I have read recently reveal people are not getting it.  It could be because we haven't been clear enough.  Let's have that be the truth about it.   And so here we go.

The Holy Spirit and the Doctrine

There is "one Spirit" (Ephesians 2:18; 4:4).  That one Spirit, the Holy Spirit, Third Member of the Trinity, of the Godhead, knows what every Word of Scripture is (1 Corinthians 2:9-16; 2 Peter 1:19-21).  He has known it, does know it, and will always know it, because He is God, is Omniscient, and is the Author of Scripture.

We also have the understanding that the Holy Spirit knows every and all true doctrine.  He knows what Scripture teaches.  He knows what God meant when He inspired it, because He is God.  So we would expect that people who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, believers or Christians, could also know what it teaches, since the Holy Spirit is their teacher (1 Corinthians 2:13; 1 John 2:27).  I say "could," because believers will disagree on what Scripture teaches.  However, if there is only one teaching among believers on a particular doctrine, we should take that doctrine into strong consideration that it is the truth.  We should consider that the one particular doctrine believed by all Christians is the true doctrine.   We should not consider to be true a doctrine that which no Christian believes.  The only other possibility is that these professing believers are in fact apostates masquerading as believers.  This unanimity of Christians on a position is a statement from the Holy Spirit.  A position that would divide from that position must be heresy based on the most conservative understanding of that word.

If all Christians represent the only written position on a doctrine from the time of Christ for even 1700 years, at least our bias should be toward that position.  If there were to be a new position to overturn it, the way one would expect Christians to see that accomplished would be through some dedicated, serious exegesis of Scripture.  Genuine Christians would  see that the particular doctrine was not in fact taught in the Bible and would show work done in the way of examining the passages that have taught that doctrine.  If every Christian believed that doctrine, these Christians with the new exegesis would be showing that all of those Christians had apostatized on that doctrine or position.  The Bible does not have two meanings.  The former meaning would be exposed as a fraud and the new meaning would be revealed as the original position of the apostles.  Christians would celebrate this return from apostasy and to God be the glory!

What we would be asking from those who reject this old doctrine is to show the above.  Show the way the old, wrong position was changed, and how that serious exegesis triumphed.  That's how we would deal with any doctrine in a faithful, God-honoring way.  If they cannot do this, then please believe the position established by common faith among those indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Of course, for this total apostasy of a doctrine to be true, we would also need to believe that there is the possibility of a total apostasy of a doctrine.  Does Scripture teach that a particular doctrine could disappear for several centuries and then be picked up later by genuine saints?  That would also need to be established from the Bible.  I haven't read this total apostasy of a particular doctrine position, and I believe it can also be refuted from Scripture.

I have heard two arguments against the above, and I am doing my best here.  First, the literature says that this historic position didn't originate until the 16th century.  This is the position of Daniel Wallace.  It is a kind of bow shot of which I'm not sure the meaning.  There are some that also call the position of justification by faith a doctrine originated in the 16th century.  We can struggle finding much written at all before the printing press.  We should pay attention to what we find after that invention.  Second, "I don't understand exactly what they were saying---they did know there were textual variants, didn't they?" Attempting to be kind, I can't really call that an argument, but it is still commonly relied upon in this debate.

The Holy Spirit and the Canonicity of Words or Books

As you read the writings by Christians post printing press and pre-enlightenment, you can understand how they had such certainty that they possessed every Word preserved equal to what was originally inspired.  I've recently read the following statement and ones like it regarding this position.

Supposedly the argument for TR/MT was that there is a special group of believers with a special knack for hearing from the Holy Spirit in the process of textual reconstruction.

The old doctrine is not being overturned by this kind of statement, just muddled or clouded.   No one has said that the recognition of the very Words of Scripture have come through something akin to a Charismatic-like voice from the Holy Spirit.  There is also no claim that it was some "special group of believers" with this "special knack."  I think someone could agree that this is a very demeaning way of representing this.   It wasn't a special group, post printing press and pre-enlightenment, but all believers.  The arguments for the Christian recognition of Words are parallel with the arguments for the Christian recognition of Books.  Why do we know there are 66 Books?  No verse says there will be 66.   On the canonicity issue, you read statements like the following:

[T]he books had the ring of self-vindicating authority. 

People of every generation have inherently asked about each book of the Bible: Does it have the "ring of genuineness"? The testimony of the Spirit was important. In the Old Testament canon there were questions about Esther for a period of time because it does not contain the name of God. Many questioned Revelation in those early years because it did not have this "ring of genuineness."

Ultimately, as with the Old Testament, the books that became the New Testament impressed their readers as being different, special, and having the "ring of truth" about them. The Reformers sensed here a threat to the sola Scriptura principle. For them the authority of Scripture was not dependent on the Church. Rather it was self-authenticating and sealed to the hearts of God's people by the witness of the Holy Spirit. (However, this witness was generally appealed to more to affirm the overall authority of the Bible than to validate the specific contents of the canon. For this, appeal was made to God's overriding providence).

The Scripture is of divine origin, character and authority. It bears the marks of its divinity. It clearly evidences that it is of God, but man is unable to perceive this on his own and hence needs the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit.

If we desire to provide in the best way for our consciences ... we ought to seek our conviction in a higher place than human reasons, judgments or conjectures, that is, in the secret testimony of the Spirit.

The Word will never gain credit in the hearts of men til it be confirmed by the internal testimony of the Spirit.

The Gallican Confession (1559) reads:

We know these books to be canonical, and the sure rule of our faith, not so much by the common accord and consent of the Church, as by the testimony and inward illumination of the Holy Spirit, which enables us to distinguish them from other ecclesiastical books.

How these statements read about the recognition of genuine believers on the Books of Scripture is the same way that statements read about the very Words of Scripture.  They make these points in application of at least John 16:13, "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth."

Some are asking for someone to describe how this takes place.  And if it can't be explained, that is, the exact way it took place, the implication is that this viewpoint, which happens to be only view that Christians took, can then be rejected.   I describe it as divinely enabled recognition.  And the Books and the Words that were recognized were the ones agreed upon.  One could say, "the one received," which is Scriptural language.

The Books that believers received are the ones they copied.  They settled on what those canonical Books were.  They also settled on what the canonical Words were.  They expected the doctrine they believed to come to pass in the Bible that they possessed.  They were not swayed by the existence of textual variants.  They were led by their theological presuppositions.  This was acting by faith, which pleases God.

Believers taught only the one doctrine of perfect preservation.  Believers settled.  They expected to settle.  That fit with, was compatible with, mirrored the doctrine they believed.  This was the Holy Spirit testifying.  They assumed the Holy Spirit was guiding them.  There is science to this, the queen of sciences, theology.  The Holy Spirit witnessed through believers.  It was not a believer witnessing, but the indwelling Holy Spirit  actually the One witnessing.  The agreement was the Holy Spirit making His position known.  That's how they thought.  That's what they believed happened.  It fits with Scripture.

The above is a far cry from the idea that we'll never know, we will never have it settled, but we will keep trying through a combination of archaeological digs, cataloguing, and assessing through scientific theories to reach only a degree of probability.  The above believers' theology buttressed everything about their position and their conclusion on this.  The modern theory says that it must not.  Both positions cannot be correct.

I know that some have argued, what about a new witness of the Holy Spirit to modern believers in which the  Holy Spirit is telling them that eclecticism is what is true?  I read these recently:

Is the word of God present in the modern Greek texts? If you say No, then tell us why it is virtually identical in all respects to what you say is the Word of God. If you say yes, then why aren't the modern Greek texts are (sic) the result of the leading of the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit . . . guide[s] believers who are engaged in the work of eclectic textual reconstruction as they work through their process of evaluation. 

That is not an already established position, so it would be brand new.  It was also contradict the old view.  It would say that all those people were wrong (see the overturning of old, established doctrine above).  It would also say that the Bible has changed, and the Holy Spirit has authored these changes.  The people involved in the changes say that they don't want theological presuppositions to have anything to do with what they are doing, so this position would also say that God is using these men something like He used the Babylonians to chastise Israel.  They are unknowing tools in God's hand.  They are saying this doesn't have anything to do with the Holy Spirit.  Again, this is a new bibliological position.  I'm attempting to keep my mind open to it, waiting to be shown the rich history and the thorough exegesis behind it.  Nothing has been shown as yet, or the biblical reasons why it should undo the longtime position of God's people.  Often times when someone says that God  is saying something new like this, we reject it out of hand because God isn't going to bring in something new at this point.  Orthodox believers have tended toward rejecting those types of positions.


I've really wanted to explain just this above point.  I'm not going to get into the application, because I think we first have to be able to agree that we get the above. If we can't get this, then we aren't going to understand the application of it and how it fleshed itself out in history.  I like looking at the history too, but do we at least get the doctrine?  Their doctrine of perfect preservation or of a sacred text was Christian doctrine.  We should see that as the work of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit was an internal witness within all genuine believers, so that they would recognize what His Words were.  They believed that they did.

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