Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Doctrine of the Preservation of Scripture and the Idea of Acceptable Multiple Versions of Scripture

Recent Posts on Preservation of Scripture and Versions of the Bible (one, two, three)

I just want those reading here to know that I get, I get that evangelicals and fundamentalists want me and people like me to accept those who use a different version of the Bible.  I get it.  I get that they want me to accept whatever version they use within reason.  I say "within reason" because they would probably be fine with my rejection of a gender inclusive version or a paraphrase or the Jehovah's Witness Bible, but they want me to accept the NASV, ESV, NIV, etc., to treat all those like they are all acceptable.  If I did that, I would myself go a long ways to being accepted by those men myself.  I get it.

My problem with acceptance of multiple versions is that I can't harmonize that decision with the biblical and historical position of the preservation of scripture.  I try to do that.  I do.  But I can't.  I'm open minded in the Allan Bloom kind of way.  In other words, I'm willing to believe that multiple version position.  I am willing to work it around in my mouth, tasting it, before swallowing it.  But I can't swallow.  It isn't biblical, so it isn't faith and it doesn't please God.  Swallowing it contradicts a Christian or biblical worldview, contradicts God, contradicts biblical doctrine, and sets us up for a slide away from the truth.

On the other hand, I don't think evangelicalism and fundamentalism are open minded.  I believe they have been affected by wrong views of unity and toleration and, therefore, the truth.  The truth to them is wide-ranging, cobbled together differences, agreeing to disagree, and that is constantly morphing. It's why we have same-sex marriage today, because not even the church will stand in a way that would stop that.  I skimmed Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind, written in 1987, and I see the problem he addressed in evangelicalism and fundamentalism themselves, which are ruined vehicles for transporting the truth to another generation.  They have closed their minds, because they refuse to swallow what they know is the truth.

I looked at Kevin Schaal's article in Frontline, introducing the preservation and version issue in that edition.  He starts by saying that the first distinctive of Baptists is Bible sole authority.  He says we cannot hold something that the Bible does not teach.  I understand what he is saying.  We can take only a position on preservation and the versions that the Bible teaches, no more or no less.  That's what I want.  Read Schaal's article.  He mentions inspiration, preservation, and translation.  He is fine on inspiration there.

And then he gets to preservation.  Read it with an open mind, which includes a critical eye, but with the willingness to swallow, not just mull on it.  I couldn't swallow.  Why?  The first line he writes, "The Bible also claims that God will preserve His book (Ps. 119:152; Isa. 40:8; Matt. 5:17, 18; 24:35; and others)."  What's wrong with that?  Schaal is different in that sentence than he was about inspiration.  Guys like Schaal will hold fast exactly to what the text says on inspiration, gleaning it all, fleshing it all out, and then they fudge on preservation.  They say something like he does in the second sentence, "Individuals may exegete these passages differently, but most if not all Bible believers affirm the fact of the providential preservation of Scripture."  Why doesn't he say about inspiration, "Individuals may exegete these passages differently"?  Why not?  He's not going to fudge on inspiration, because that is a hypothetical text to him, not exactly what he holds in his hands.

So Schaal says, "preserve His book."  "His book."  When you look at those verses within the parenthesis, they read more like the inspiration passages:  testimonies, words, jots and tittles.  Not "book."  Inspiration?  He inspires words, not the book.  Then we get to preservation and we get more ambiguous and fuzzy to make room for multiple positions.  Just admit it!  We are already not allowing the Bible to guide us.  In other words, we're not letting the Bible be our final, sole, and infallible authority.  Not anymore.  And men are good with that, because they want the position that Schaal will end with, one that allows for their position on the text, on versions, on truth itself to exist.  It is a position that will end in total apostasy. We are headed there.

Read Schaal's paragraph on inspiration and then the one on preservation.  Notice how doctrinal and how exegetical and how textual he is on inspiration.  Notice how he doesn't do any of that kind of work with the preservation passages that he lists.  He has one line really, and then immediately he moves to his opinion and with italics.  "Nevertheless, the Bible makes no statement about the particular method of its preservation; neither does it give guidelines for its transcription."  That statement is not true.  It is not.  It is blatantly untrue.  Evangelicals and fundamentalists close their minds to what the Bible says about its own preservation.

And then Schaal writes the following in the second and last paragraph on what he says is "preservation":  "The debate over New Testament and Old Testament texts is beneficial as we seek to identify the most accurate texts."  That is self contradictory to everything he wrote before.  He says the Bible does not teach the method of preservation, but he says the method of debating over the texts is beneficial.  And then he says we are "seek[ing] to identify the most accurate texts."  That says scripture is not preserved.  We don't know what the words are.  We are not sure, and that is still an ongoing process that will be benefited through debate.  Why debate?  And if we are still seeking the texts, what does preservation mean?  What is this "preserve His book" that Schaal talks about?  Is it that we still have the book called the Bible, but we don't have the words?  Is that what the final authority tells us?

I'm happy that Frontline is even considering the idea of thinking about preservation.  They don't do it in this magazine edition, but they indicate that people should consider the idea of thinking about it (yes, I know that is highly qualitative with multiple qualifiers, leaving room for not thinking).  In the meantime, however, accept all the good versions of the Bible, whatever those might be, while who-knows-who sorts this out.  This is not an example of how to handle a Bible doctrine.

For those who like this position that any number of Bible versions and texts and so forth are good and that's the superior way of handling this, have a good time with that.  Enjoy trying to convince people that the Bible is an authority.  And when I say that, I don't believe in preservation so that I will have an authority.  I believe in preservation.  However, if you don't believe in it, you won't have that authority.  And that is why we are sliding, my friend, and will continue to.


Ken Lengel said...


Thanks for your article.

I have a few points I would like to add.

First, Schaal does fail to mention that verbal, plenary inspiration (while I agree with it) it is also just one method or theory of inspiration. Why can we be so certain that the theory of "verbal, plenary inpiration" is not just an opinion like those opinions on how God preserves His Word? Should we also accept dictation theory of inspiration of others, or how about the neo-orthodox view of inspiration. Should we accept their views as well.

Second, if there are not any particular methods of preservation, how do we know that the canon is complete or correct? We take it by faith that the early church fathers agreed on what writings were legitimately part of the Word of God, and what was not. If we can do that with which "books" we include in the canon, why not the text?

Third, one area of translation Schaal missed is important as well. God has told us through Peter that "no prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation." Do we not go against that clear command of Scripture by promoting and using various translations of the texts preserved by God for us? Someone I know recently stated how he liked a translation from Phillips for a particular verse. We are becoming a people who look to a particular translation to read what we want to believe, and adhere to what sounds good.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I'm glad you care. In the end, we all stand before God and He has only one position. We might clash some with each other, but that doesn't mean there are two positions. The one position about positions is that there is one position. But I'm going to comment on your questions in this comment.

I agree that Schaal's presentation on inspiration wasn't all encompassing for whatever reason, but it was qualitatively very different than the one on preservation, and yet we all know that the Bible says more about its preservation than it does its inspiration. And yet people act like preservation is this very foggy subject and inspiration is crystal.

You are spot-on about canonicity. How do we know we have the books. I wrote the canonicity argument in TSKT, and have written many times here, but I didn't originate it. It's in the Bible and then you read it in the 17th century at least. There are methods, yes. If you state something without proving it enough times, then after saying it again and again, then it will be true. Not really, but that's how it works. Of course, words are a "miracle" and "books" is more scientific. You only have 66 of the latter to deal with, so as a matter of degree, it's just easier. But if the latter is supernatural, then shouldn't the former be? Yes.

Regarding your last paragraph, a pastor of one of these churches can canonize a verse on the spot in a popish kind of way. "This is going to be the Bible to us, folks."

Thanks, Ken.

Ken Lengel said...


I hope I didn't sound like I believe that more than one position is correct. I agree that only one can be right. I think people cannot stand that we are willing to say that only one can be right and that's it. It doesn't mean I have been right on everything in my past. But, if I really believe that God has revealed Himself to me thru His Word, I need to search for the right answer, not accept multiple positions as "possible" or orthodox.

For His glory,

Jon Gleason said...

Hi, Kent.

I have a lot of appreciation for Kevin Schaal on a lot of points, but this is not his finest work.

Schaal tells us that the Scripture does not "give guidelines for its transcription." I'm not sure what he does with Revelation 22:18-19, or Proverbs 30:6. Those verses are not solely (maybe not even primarily) about transcription, but they certainly give guidelines for it. They tell you the Scriptures should be transcribed word for word. Well, they tell me that, anyway. Since I don't believe in the private interpretation of Scripture, I'm pretty sure they tell Kevin Schaal the same thing. Any copiest who reads those verses, has a brain, and copies carelessly is disobedient.

To my thinking, Schaal effectively (and certainly unwittingly) denies the sufficiency of Scripture. He tells us that the Scripture gives us absolutely nothing to guide us on the manuscripts question. He also tells us that the Scriptures don't help us on the method or nature of translations. Are the Scriptures completely silent on these things? Are we left entirely without guidance?

As just one example, does not verbal inspiration tell us something about what translation approach is appropriate? If the very words are God-given, shouldn't a translation seek to reflect the words and structure of the original language, where possible? Does not verbal inspiration point us towards formal equivalency?

He is self-contradictory, anyway. Why must we "hold translations and translators accountable to accurately reflect both the general and specific message of each Biblical text?" He is right, we must, but why, if the Scriptures tell us nothing? Why does accuracy even matter? Why does "specific" matter as well as "general"? Because he said so, or because there is a Biblical basis for this? For that matter, why is it beneficial to "seek to identify the most accurate texts"? If the Scripture is silent, why does it matter? This was sloppy work.

He also was careless on inspiration. The Bible "makes no claim concerning the extension of the gift of inspiration to future translators." The Bible makes no claim concerning the extension of the gift of inspiration to the original human authors, either. Inspiration is attributed only to the product, not to the writers themselves. This is Basic Theology 101. But it is the typical error of turning inspiration into an act rather than a quality/attribute of Scripture, which is what II Timothy 3:16 tells us it is. He not only "verbed" an adjective, he applied it to the human instruments rather than their product.

Not particularly surprising, but disappointing. It would be so refreshing to see them actually ask, "Wait a minute. Did God really say NOTHING AT ALL in regard to how we can determine these questions?"

If God said nothing, why is it ok for "participants in the debate to have strongly held views?" Why are they "entitled and encouraged to express" those views if God said nothing? If God said nothing, shouldn't we all shut up?

If you believe in the sufficiency of Scripture, and you believe God said nothing on a subject, you should not encourage people to express strongly held views. You should tell them to be quiet, and you should be quiet yourself.

But that is untenable. Because if God said nothing at all, then you rely on a pope (a Roman Catholic one or a scholarly one or something) to tell you which words are God's. And that puts our faith in human hands.

So we have to be driven back to the sufficiency of Scripture, and that means we have to go back to the Scriptures and get serious about whether it really does say something on these topics that we've missed. And let's go where the Scriptures themselves take us.

The Scriptures nowhere say, "Thou shalt use this translation when living in this country in this century." But that doesn't mean the Scriptures have no guidelines at all.

Larry said...

Who believes that multiple positions can be right?

Larry said...

Jon, Do you believe 2 Peter 1:20-21 is about inspiration?

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Larry,

I use the word "accept" or "acceptable." If you don't accept multiple positions, they consider you are either a heretic or something like one. It's not acceptable to them to say there is only one right position. Who? Almost every evangelical and most of one branch of professing fundamentalists.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I agreed with everything you said.

Jon Gleason said...

Hi, Larry.

II Peter 1:20-21 is about how the Scriptures came to us. But that process is not inspiration, because inspiration is not a process. Inspiration (theopneustos) is an attribute, a quality, of Scripture. That is why an adjective is used in the Greek NT. That is why it "is" God-inspired.

The Westminster divines, and everyone before Warfield, called the process described in II Peter 1:20-21 "immediate inspiration." They reserved "inspired" (theopneustos, II Timothy 3:16) to refer to the quality of Scripture which all words of God have -- they are divine, living, carrying the life-giving breath of God. Note I Peter 1:23.

The Scriptures contain, they are, the breath of God. There is an interesting parallel between Genesis 2:7 and II Timothy 3:16/I Peter 1:23.

God did not "inspire" the human writers. Even Warfield, though he redefined the word inspiration / theopneustos away from its Biblical usage (and said he was doing so), saw that it was not the writers who were inspired, but the Scriptures themselves. He directly denied that the writers themselves were inspired in his ISBE article. Paul told Timothy that it is the Scriptures that are God-breathed, not the authors.

Even basic grammar tells us this, for theopneustos is an adjective, not a verb, with an implied present tense "is" (as all recognise).

So I would certainly not say that II Peter 1:20-21 is directly about inspiration. But it does tell us the means by which the breath-of-God words of the Scriptures were delivered to us, so it is indirectly about inspiration. But it describes an action of God, not an attribute of the words of God.

Thanks for asking. I hope that helps a little bit.

Do you think that the human writers were theopneustos? And if so, on what Scriptural basis? And why would you turn theopneustos into a verb?

Larry said...

Thanks, Jon. I don't have a lot of time to invest here, but yes, I think the writers were theopneustos when they were writing Scripture. I think 2 Peter 1 makes that explicit. I don't see any other way to make sense of that passage. The holy men were moved by the Holy Spirit to write Scripture. If it's not inspiration, then what is it? While there is only one instance of "theopneustos" and only one instance of "inspiration" in our English version, the Latin used inspiro in 2 Tim 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:20 so clearly there is a historic precedent for this understanding, not to mention a theological truth involved.

I don't think it requires turning theopeustos into a verb. The men can be described as inspired, just as the Word can. But I wonder how good that argument is anyway. We have to ask, "How did it get that way?" Often, the situation in which something can be described as "X" is only because something was done that makes it "X." For instance, Christians are holy (adj) because God has sanctified them (verb) (e.g. 1 Cor 1:2). The absence of the verb would not lead us to think that there was nothing done to make them holy. Or, to use a noun, we have "revelation" because God has revealed. The state of being something cannot be disconnected in all cases from the act that made something what it is. The idea that something can have a characteristic without some mechanism to give it that characteristic seems problematic unless you are talking about God. So, no, I don't buy that argument. In either case (adjective or verb), divine work is involved in insuring that the Scripture is what God intended us to have.

Furthermore, I don't think we can say with any certainty why an adjective was used rather than a verb or a noun. That is claiming a knowledge that does not come from Scripture. What we know is what word was used. We do not know why he used it. To say Paul used it to avoid making it an action is to say something that has no scriptural authority behind it.

Lastly, I think you are missing the theological category of inspiration. But more than that, inspiration is a word that encompasses significant and important truth about Scripture that depends on more than 2 Tim 3:16. To use Kent's method, if we start with Scripture, I think we would see inspiration as a bigger theological category than simply 2 Tim 3:16.

Thanks for the exchange, Jon.

Jon Gleason said...

Hi, Larry. Thanks for the response.

You do know that Warfield explicitly denied that theopneustos meant that God breathed into the human writers? So you are saying he was wrong?

I think Warfield was wrong on some things, too, but not on that point.

Obviously, theopneustos tells us that God is the source, and II Peter tells us how that happened. But that is not the only emphasis, or indeed the primary emphasis, of the word. The entire emphasis of the passage is on what the Scripture IS.

And what I'm saying is how the Westminster Confession and everyone for centuries used the word.

I realise that modern theologians use the word for a theological category that is not entirely consistent with II Timothy 3:16 nor with historical theology. I'll stick with the Scriptural usage.

Don Johnson said...

Kent, I still have this question for you, you still haven't answered it:

I was just checking on the "one set of words" bit. I assume you mean that only applies to the Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic?

And that would mean that English translations do not have to use precisely the same English word to translate the same Greek word, correct?

Which brings me back to the question, which I'll pose in a slightly different way:

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant,

Are both of these statements the Word of God, or is only one of them the Word of God, and if only one, which one and why?

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Kent Brandenburg said...


I believe God inspired and preserved one set of Words, so that applies only to the original languages.

Don: "And that would mean that English translations do not have to use precisely the same English word to translate the same Greek word, correct?" Correct

Don: "Are both of these statements the Word of God, or is only one of them the Word of God, and if only one, which one and why?"

To answer this question, I've got to first qualify that I believe that God inspired and preserved His Word or Words in the original languages. If the English version translates the same underlying text accurately, I believe whatever translation is the "Word of God," as you asked it. 1 Corinthians 13:4 is not identical between the TR and the eclectic text. They differ. The eclectic is not acceptable.

Comparing the words used in the translation with the original text words, as you already know, is apples and oranges.

Don Johnson said...

Hi Kent,

As far as the Gk goes, there is little substantive difference between the texts for 1 cor 13.4. As far as I can tell, the only question is whether the second "agape" is in the text or not.

Regardless, the NAS translation includes the second agape, and the meaning of the words between it and the KJV (and the Gk, for that matter) are identical.

From what you say above, am I correct to say that you would consider both translations of that verse to be the Word of God?

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Don,

I know that you're liable to be a little upset with me for being what you might think is difficult, but the two sentences are not the same. It's true that the missing "he agape" is translated anyway, but it is also a different translation in that the KJV translates the second "he agape" with "envieth not" and not with "is kind," supplying "and" with italics, "and is kind." I know you can see the difference. The ESV leaves out the third "he agape" totally in the translation. Maybe you could give me a better example.

A better example might be Matthew 18:15, where you don't have "against thee" (eis se), which changes the meaning of the verse, and you don't have a backup verse in the synoptics to cover for that detail. People will practice differently depending upon those two words, or live differently because of those two words. This is where the difference in translation relates to the actual missing Greek words. Interestingly enough, the ESV adds "against you." This kind of regular change is the issue here.

Preservation is not in the English, so I'm fine with a synonym of a word or a better English word to communicate the Greek word. This is going to keep happening in other languages, where there isn't a good translation into the host language.


Don Johnson said...

Ok, so I guess you are saying the NASB is not the Word of God, at least in that verse, is that true?

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Kent Brandenburg said...


I can't accept words God didn't inspire or else what's the point of believing in verbal inspiration. I think it is built into eclectic text philosophy or bibliology to allow for fudge room. Do you allow for that in inspiration? Why does preservation have to be different? Scripture or history doesn't talk different about the two.

In Central's book on the issue, Bauder's argument is one error then says you've got to accept error, so eclectic is acceptable. Bibliologically that should be unacceptable to all Christians.

Don Johnson said...

Would you say there are no errors in the KJV?

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Don,

I believe that the KJV is an accurate translation of a verbally preserved text. I'll get back to you. We have a conference this week, but that should answer it, I would think. Are accurate and without error the same thing? I think so. Accurate leaves room for differences like any other translation from the same text.

Don Johnson said...

Well, I'll leave the discussion, for now. I fail to see the difference you see between the KJV and the NASB in that verse, but I'll leave it at that.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Anonymous said...

Kent Brandenburg: "Are accurate and without error the same thing? I think so. Accurate leaves room for differences like any other translation from the same text."

I believe in perfect preservation of the words of God because that's wht the Bible says. I'm not convinced the two words mentioned above in the quotation, though, mean the same thing (i.e., accurate = without error). Nonetheless, seems to me the deeper issue is whether there is Biblical support for the idea that a translation is accurate (in the sense of being "without error"). And by what Biblical criteria is the believer to determine which translations are accurate/without error? Do any other languages have accurate (by the definition of being without error) translations? I agree that there can be more than one good translation of a source text – that's no problem with me. But it seems that by saying the KJV is "accurate" in the sense of "without error" (i.e., inerrant) is elevating the KJV to the level of the original text. Obviously God can produce perfect translations, and there are examples of that in the Bible itself. However, has He given guidance for us doing that or evaluating the work of those who claim to have done so or for whom others claim that? Just thinking out loud here, and willing to listen to godly, Bible-based argumentation.