Sunday, May 15, 2016

John 10:35, the Scripture Cannot Be Broken, and Perfect Preservation of Scripture

The Lord Jesus Christ makes one last visit to Jerusalem before His final trip back for His crucifixion beginning in John 10:22 in the winter at the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah.  He immediately picks up on the conversation he had two months earlier at the Feast of Tabernacles, declaring Himself the True Shepherd of Israel, in fulfillment of Ezekiel 34.  The false shepherds of Israel pounce on His presence, confronting Him about His identity with a motive to trap Him in blasphemy.  Based upon Jesus' answer, they pick up stones in verse 31, they say (v. 33) "because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God."

Jesus answers the religious leaders with an argument from Psalm 82.  Verses 34-36:
34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?  35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;  36 Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?
Jesus says, in the Old Testament corrupt judges were called gods, probably ironically, but the word "gods" was used for them because they received the Word of God, and they were the agents of God.  If the term “gods” could be applied to corrupt leaders, it’s not a stretch for the incorruptible, perfect, sinless, righteous, Son of God to be called God.  Jesus debunks their charge of blasphemy due to His words, putting back in play what should have been the criteria of their evaluation of Him as Messiah, His works (vv. 37-38).

In the middle of Jesus' argument, almost as an aside, He says, "unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken."  Here we get an astonishing revelation by the Lord Jesus Christ of His own bibliology.  First, He affirms that scripture is the Word of God and that the Word of God is scripture.  The writings (graphe) to which He referred were the Word of God, speaking of the inspiration and authority of the Old Testament, and especially Psalms.

To whom did the word of God come?  Jesus is referring to God's Old Testament institution, the nation Israel.  God deposited His Words with Israel for their keeping.  One of the words in particular was elohim, "gods," in Psalm 82:1 (which the NASV translates in a way that Jesus would not have approved, "rulers").  The Word of God, Scripture, says, "gods."  God inspired that word and now Jesus was making an entire argument from one word.  That one word was given to Israel in Psalm 82 and continued in a line from there to when Jesus used that chapter and that verse and that word to make an argument.  So, second, the line of inspiration and teaching began with God's deliverance of the word "gods" (elohim) to Israel.

Third, scripture cannot be changed, not one word.  Scripture remained a seamless chain that could not be broken.  God would not allow even one word to be lost.  It is axiomatic.  The written scripture cannot be broken.  In perhaps the most serious claim Jesus could ever make, He makes His argument on the basis of one word.  This isn't the first or only time He had done that.  This was His view of scripture.

When Jesus says that scripture cannot be broken, and He is speaking of just one word.  God would not allow the uninterrupted chain of inspiration and then perfect preservation to be broken.  It cannot be broken.

Fourth, by saying that scripture cannot be broken, He is saying that every Word of Scripture would also be available.  Preservation implies availability.  If it is not available to you, then it isn't preserved for you.  Every Word would always be available to the institution to which God ordained.  By the time we get past the long, hand-copy phase of preservation, scripture is still not broken.  It cannot be broken.  Every Word of God is available for whatever argument is necessary to defend the teaching of Scripture.

God gave the Words of the New Testament to the church and He continued to use the church has His means of continuity of the Words of God.  Just like His Old Testament Words, God's New Testament Words would remain available in God's New Testament institution, the church, for the purposes of proclamation and practice.  The use of "scripture cannot be broken" in its context reinforces the powerful argument of God's perfect preservation of scripture.

No one can prove that what Jesus was saying was true.  We don't possess the original manuscripts of the Old Testament.  How could one trust that every Word of Scripture was preserved?  Jesus said so.  That's how.  If He said so, then it is a matter of faith, a matter of faith that is rejected by those who correct the Hebrew Masoretic text with either the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Septuagint, either of which is to say that Scripture can be broken and it was instead lost for awhile in contradiction to what Jesus said.

If the New Testament Scripture could not be broken, which it can't, then the seamless chain of preservation must exist between 1500 and 1881 and then beyond.  We can trust what Jesus said.

The Pharisees did not contend with the argument of Jesus.  They did not say, "Oh yes, scripture was too broken."  They didn't believe that.  Jesus affirmed scripture cannot be broken.  If the New Testament is scripture, which it is, then it cannot be broken either.  If the New Testament cannot be broken, then the church unto which God gave the New Testament could not and would not lose any of the Words of God.  If any were lost, like modern textual critics and most evangelicals and many fundamentalists assert, then what Jesus said was not true.  What Jesus said was true as what Jesus said would always be true.


Jon Gleason said...

Maybe Scripture doesn't get broken or lost, Kent. Maybe it's just hiding!

This passage is not the only statement of Jesus on this question. "It is written," not "it was written." Jesus said it over and over again. Most people today will read and quote "it is written" but their theology is that "it was written."

They've changed the perfect tense to an aorist tense, that which IS TODAY because of a completed past action being changed to that which happened in the past with uncertain present effects. The name of the tense is ironic, it seems to me -- they've abandoned the perfect.

Tyler Robbins said...

On "gods," I am surprised that the NASB decided to be interpretive at that point in Ps 82:1. That goes against their own translation philosophy, and that version is known for sticking so closely to the original language text that it's almost wooden to read!

The word in question at Jn 10:35 is θεούς, and it reads that way in the TR, MT and UBS-5. There is no reason to change it in translation, and all major translations translated it as "gods." At Ps 82:1, the LXX also has θεούς, and every version but the NASB has "gods" there as well.

It should be up to the Pastor to explain the context and reference during the sermon. The translators should have left it as "gods." Very strange decision by the NASB translators. Your point is well taken.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Thanks! I agree with you and appreciate work you've done in writing about this. I appreciate your willingness to rely on theological presuppositions for the glory of God like the historic church.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I brought in the NASB more as an aside -- just wanting to make sure you understood that. I'm writing about the original language text, not the translation, even though I too was surprised on their interpretational choice for Psalm 82:1. I thought I'd include that more for interest. The ESV doesn't make the same choice, I noticed. However, I'm referring to Jesus argument from one word, being the point of "scripture cannot be broken." I appreciate your diligence to look at it. Have a great day.

Tyler Robbins said...

It is an interesting issue - how can you take verb tense, mood and voice seriously in exegesis if there is ambiguity about the very choice of individual words in different Greek texts?

Still, after comparing the TR, MT and UBS-5 each week when preparing messages, this isn't as concrete as we might wish it were. I remember one example from 1 Cor 5:13; the TR has one word as an indicative of command, whereas the UBS-5 has a simple imperative. In the end, precisely the same point is being made.

When you dive into the nitty-gritty details, this whole issue is very messy and complicated. But, this is an important issue. How can you have confidence that detailed exegesis is even meaningful when there is even greater doubt over the words themselves?

Anonymous said...

I appreciate this post and the things you pointed out, Brother Brandenburg.

Off topic, I know, since you're not commenting on the NASB's translation, except as an aside: I dug a little bit, and here's what I found: the NASB (1977, 1995) has "rulers" for the second instance of ELOHIM in Ps 82:1, but for the same word in Ps 82:6 the NASB has "gods".

The NET translations (known for its commitment to the critical texts, not the preserved texts of Scripture) has this note at John 10:35 – "The parenthetical note And the scripture cannot be broken belongs to Jesus' words rather than the author's. Not only does Jesus appeal to the OT to defend himself against the charge of blasphemy, but he also adds that the scripture cannot be "broken." In this context he does not explain precisely what is meant by "broken," but it is not too hard to determine. Jesus' argument depended on the exact word used in the context of Ps 82:6. If any other word for "judge" had been used in the psalm, his argument would have been meaningless. Since the scriptures do use this word in Ps 82:6, the argument is binding, because they cannot be "broken" in the sense of being shown to be in error."

The NET notes say that "cannot be broken" means "cannot be shown to be in error". I'm afraid the editors of the NET notes must have overlooked the fact that you have to have a word or a text still in existence in order for it not to be shown to be in error. They completely missed preservation of the text (including each of its words).

E. T. Chapman

Kent Brandenburg said...

Interesting, E. T.

Thanks for dropping in with that. I've noticed that kind of contradiction, but this was a great catch on your part.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks Tyler.

Jon Gleason said...

Nice pickup, E.T.

There is a little bit of a play on words in Psalm 82. They were supposed to be rulers/judges faithfully administering justice as God's representatives. Instead, they'd made themselves gods in His place, abusing justice for their own purposes. The inconsistency by the NAS translators is strange. Perhaps they were trying to bring out this play on words, but if so, it seems to me they failed.

The NET description of "cannot be broken" is weak. It is not just that it "cannot be shown to be in error." That is somewhat subjective rather than objective.

The Greek word is luo. There are many variations in the meaning of the word, but in the context, it means that the Scripture cannot be destroyed, or annulled, or done away with, or dissolved. Lenski, who did not apply preservation to his view of the text, nevertheless said "the axiom in this parenthesis is objective and absolute: 'the Scripture cannot possibly be broken,' no word of it be dissolved; compare 7:23; Matt. 5:19. Every statement of the Scripture stands immutably, indestructible in its verity, unaffected by denial, human ignorance or criticism, charges of errancy or other subjective attack."

Interesting that today's conservative seminaries would endorse that statement wholeheartedly and then turn around and say that well, actually, Scripture doesn't stand immutably (except somewhere in Heaven or places unknown) and its inspiration and inerrancy is limited to manuscripts that no longer exist. It's as if they have forgotten how to think....

Rollan McCleary said...

I think there has to be a different meaning here or it diminishes the status of Jesus. The Psalms suggest it is blessed to take the infants of Babylon and smash them against the rock, the Torah demands the raped woman marry her rapist, and parents execute a fractious offspring. Is this is holy and worthy reflection of God? If Jesus believed this what does it say about him, and what does belief in absolute inspiration say about you who believe in it too? There has to be some other reading or meaning.

Kent Brandenburg said...


What do you say is the status of Jesus? You say the OT diminishes His status. Who do you think He is? He is God, the Second Person of the Trinity, Lord and Savior and Christ. If you believe in Him, truly believe in Him, you have eternal life. Whatever He says is true.

On the Psalms, it is prophetic that there will be future retribution on Babylon, and those who get the retribution, we know the Persians, will be happy when they do the same thing to the Babylonians that the Babylonians did to Israel.

On the second one, a man who spoils a woman's virginity has to take responsibility and marry her, if her father permits. The model in the OT is that she has veto power and that should be assumed in this situation too.

Lots of sins in Israel were punishable by death. God is just. You might not like that, but it is true. It was a theocratic nation. God was in charge. No one is going to get away with sin and everyone is going to die. Sin deserves punishment. God is merciful. He sent His own Son to death, to die for us, for our sins.

The above are the holiness of God and they do reflect on Him. It really does testify to inspiration. God doesn't leave it out because people like you are offended by it or faux offended by it. You should trust God and His justice and reject your own opinions for Him.

William Johnson said...

Hello Kent,
This was interesting and well done. I just have one question: on what basis did you conclude that the Masoretic text was the authoritative text of the Old Testament for the Church? It would appear that most all of our early church Bibles (e.g. Codices in particular) use the Septuagint rather than the Masoretic text. The Masoretic appeals to me because of its normativity in Judaism and because it does not contain the problematic books of the Apocrypha, but I'm not sure how one would establish a precedent for saying that it is the authoritative Christian version of the Tanakh or Old Testament Scriptures. I am interested in hearing your thoughts on this.
- Bill Johnson

KJB1611 said...

Dear Mr. Johnson,

Matthew 5:18 shows that Christ viewed the MT as the final authority, not the LXX.