SUBTITLE: Missing the Issue of the English Version, the Biblical and Historical Doctrine of the Preservation of Scripture
What we know about God and His will comes from His speaking about Himself and what He wants. What we know about the Bible itself we get from the Bible, whether that be inspiration, authority, canonicity, sufficiency, or preservation. Our position on preservation of scripture should be the biblical one. The biblical one would also be a historical one. If a position on preservation is different than what the Bible teaches and what Christians historically believed, that is the one that is confused or heterodox (not orthodox).
For myself, I'm open to the idea that I'm wrong about preservation. I'm willing to go back to the drawing board on this. If I'm wrong, I need to be shown scripture, but almost never am I shown scripture (I don't remember ever). Even if it comes with a bit of mockery, I would take that in order to be corrected by scripture. Instead, I just get the mockery and not the scripture. The former doesn't serve to convince me.
My issue with modern versions is that they come from a different text of scripture, even the New King James Version. I am not ready to embrace other modern translations of the same text as the King James Version. I believe that scripture teaches perfect preservation. I haven't been shown the Bible teaching something different. Saying the Bible teaches something less than perfect preservation is diverging from a biblical and historical position. I'm not fine with that.
What's curious to me is how that men don't mind taking a position that is different than one that is biblical or historical. I understand the most conservative position of those who do not believe in perfect preservation of scripture is that all the words are somewhere on earth in an available manuscript. We just don't know what they are. I don't see that position reflected in the Bible. My faith comes from scripture, so I reject that position. It won't convince me to call that confused or heterodox. I don't believe it and no one has proven it. They assert it without proof. It seems more like propaganda or an attempt to receive applause from a particular crowd.
If people are going to live according to scripture, they have to believe it is scripture, not maybe scripture. If we aren't sure we have what God said, why would anyone do the hard thing of doing it? It's a major reason why there is a precipitous drop in obedience to scripture in numbers of areas. The Bible has lost its authority, in part because people are not sure about it. It is way more damaging than Mark Ward's "false friends" and "dead words," that criticize translation.
What's Going On
What spawned this post was a series of unfortunate events. The first I wrote about almost a month ago, Mark Ward's address to the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International Conference. Mark said that the sole usage by a church of the King James Version of the Bible should result in separation by FBFI churches, because of a violation of a very strained application of 1 Corinthians 14, that requires several leaps to arrive at this severe censure. It is not the nature of most of the type of churches of which Ward approves to stretch application of the text to this degree. I can't think of a single example of a similar practice. The Gospel Coalition, where Mark made an appeal, itself welcomes continuationists, who don't mind unintelligibility in the form of tongues, an actual direct violation of 1 Corinthians 14 -- no call for separation from Mark though for the cool guys at TGC. He veers off the road past the sidewalk into back yards to pick off those who still use the King James Version. I'm fine with separation. I would expect a better basis or explanation.
I've said, if Mark's right, let's change. I believe it. I'm happy to follow scripture. But second, the FBFI, who had invited Mark in the first place, somewhat walked back his invitation and the content of his session by authoring a post at their online publication, Proclaim and Defend, entitled "FBFI and the KJV," by Kevin Schaal. I had already mentioned that I didn't think that anyone in Mark's audience actually, really believed his farfetched application of 1 Corinthians 14. I would suggest for anyone at least first believing and practicing 1 Corinthians 14 before someone starts with novel applications.
Then third, something akin to Tolstoy's War and Peace breaks out at professing fundamentalist forum, SharperIron, to deal with this "unimportant" issue (almost always how they refer to it) with at present, 103 comments, an anthology now past the length of a theological treatise. I've been mentioned four or five times in the discussion, sometimes, as usual, misrepresented (sometimes I want to guest comment there to clear up the misrepresentations or at least have someone post my comment).
Orthodoxy and Confusion
A word used in the FBFI article and then among the comments was orthodoxy, and this was the label claimed by modern version, eclectic-text folk. Another word used very often to classify men such as myself, was "confusion." I want to address the ideas of orthodoxy and confusion. I also want to speak to a series of articles highly recommended in the comments by Thomas Overmiller, entitled Bible Preservation and Translation. Overmiller wrote these posts in lieu of his leading his church both to change from the King James Version to the New King James, but also to welcome visiting preachers to use the NASV or the ESV at his church. A key line among everything he wrote in his essays was the following:
Biblical evidence indicates that God preserves the words of scripture within the many ancient manuscripts that remain in the world today.He provided no basis for this position which is the crux of this issue, the preservation of scripture. Mark Ward wants to turn the version issue into readability, where that must be the issue and nothing else, and most others don't provide any biblical basis at all for a decision. Overmiller uses one of his articles to treat the doctrine of preservation, but he doesn't make a connection with those passages at all to his conclusion. For the most part, he attempts to explain away the doctrine of preservation while referring to preservation passages.
In a recent post, I mentioned that modern doctrinal statements leave out a doctrine of preservation, that was once included in historic confessions and creeds. They leave it out without explanation. I noticed that in the doctrinal statement provided by the man who began the discussion at SharperIron. They just drop it out. Orthodoxy is right doctrine, doctrine that has been established as right, connected to and in the history of Christian doctrine, what Christians have believed. The unorthodox changes that. By definition, orthodox means:
conforming to what is generally or traditionally accepted as right or true; established and approvedThe position that was generally or traditionally accepted as right or true, established and approved, the one believed and taught from the Bible is not the one believed and taught by these men using the word "orthodox." They don't give me a means to believe what they want me to believe. The new position is the unorthodox one. There is a line of truth and it veers off of it before establishing from scripture why to do that.
The people who are confused are the ones who don't understand scripture, the ones who have had new or alien teaching draw away their minds from the teaching of the Bible. Very often confusion comes from material external to scripture and virtually everything that buttresses the modern version or an eclectic text position originates from outside of the Bible. It also confuses people as to the certainty of scripture.
The right view of the doctrine of preservation would not find a problem with a new translation. Just because someone wants to keep using the King James Version doesn't mean that he thinks that every one of those words are the only way to translate a particular word. The impetus for a new translation from the Hebrew Masoretic and the Greek textus receptus, the text behind the King James Version, will come from the churches that use that translation and want a new one. I preached the gospel to a youngish Roman Catholic woman this week, the entire gospel, for over an hour, at the end of which she seemed convinced of what I told her utilizing numerous verses from the King James Version. Hispanic in ethnicity, she absolutely understood it, and she had no scriptural background. This occurs about every week.
Not an Exegesis of Preservation Texts
Alright, now I want to deal with the supposed exegesis of preservation texts, by Thomas Overmiller. I was very disappointed by what I read from him. I wish I could be happy from his decision to look at the Bible in his attempt to persuade his own church to use a different English translation. His dealing with woeful. I have a hard time not viewing his commentary as dishonest. I know those are harsh words, but my other option is ignorant or just shoddy. Maybe that's it too, but he's at least terribly wrong. His first two sentences read:
The Bible provides us with helpful perspective about what to expect regarding the continuation [sic] God’s written words in the world throughout history. This is especially important to understand because the original manuscripts themselves are not available.Those two sentences don't seem to be directing someone to the Bible's teaching on preservation. They do not rely on what scripture says to frame the teaching. The original manuscripts not being available itself is not a teaching of scripture. Preservation is not dependent on possessing them.
He first points to Psalm 12:6-7, which he doesn't even believe teaches preservation of scripture. Overmiller either doesn't understand Hebrew or he is playing off the ignorance of his audience. Masculine pronouns do refer to feminine nouns in the Hebrew and especially as they relate to scripture (read here). He leaves this point out. Gesenius's Hebrew Grammar states that "masculine suffixes are not infrequently used to refer to feminine substantives." There is a strong argument, especially in the psalms that you would expect the pronoun to be masculine that refers to feminine "words." Plain reading of the passage reads as though it is teaching preservation of scripture. The whole argument on preservation isn't buttressed by those two verses, but they should be included as teaching on the preservation of scripture.
It is an odd article that claims to be teaching on preservation and starts by explaining how a passage doesn't teach preservation of the words of God. This is not uncommon for modern version advocates. They look for ways to explain away what God's Word says. This is confusing and unorthodox.
Overmiller next deals with Psalm 119:89, which reads: "For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven." He says that again is not teaching preservation -- "it doesn't speak about preservation at all" -- but that God's Word is unquestioned and authoritative in heaven. At one point and in a wrong way among his eight essays, Overmiller speaks well of the Septuagint Greek translation of the Old Testament. In the Brenton edition, natsab, the Hebrew word translated "settled" in the King James Version, is translated with the Greek word, diamenei. The Hebrew scholars that translated the Brenton edition of the LXX said that "settled" means to "remain, continue." God's Word remains or continues in heaven.
When you look at Spurgeon's Treasury of David on this verse, Spurgeon himself says, "the Lord's word is from of old the same, and will remain unchanged eternally. . . The power and glory of heaven have confirmed each sentence which the mouth of the Lord has spoken, and so confirmed it that to all eternity it must stand the same." As he does in the Treasury, Spurgeon quotes others, such as Thomas Manton: "It implies that as God is eternal, so is his word, and that it hath a fit representation both in heaven and in earth." John Trapp in his complete commentary writes on Psalm 119:89:
It is eternal and perpetual, neither can it be vacated or abolished by the injury of time or endeavours of tyrants. The Bible was imprinted at the New Jerusalem by the finger of Jehovah, and shall outlive the days of heaven, run parallel with the life of God, with the line of eternity.It isn't that we can't get more from this verse than preservation, but that it at least teaches preservation, or adds to what the whole Bible teaches about its own preservation. To say it doesn't teach preservation at all, but that it refers to "authority" instead, as Overmiller says, just seems like a deliberate misrepresentation. Acid washing preservation from scripture will not justify before God a lax approach to God's Word.
In the next passage, Psalm 119:152, 160, Overmiller says these passages teach preservation, however, in my opinion attempting to downgrade the preservation teaching by saying they teach the preservation of the Torah. They apply to all of God's Words. Overmiller should know that in Psalm 119:152, a masculine pronoun "them" refers to a feminine noun, "testimonies." That can't occur, right? This is his whole point from Psalm 12:6-7 and one that is sandblasted by Psalm 119:152. Everyone should take this into consideration.
The teaching from Psalm 119:152 and 160 is consistent with what the Bible teaches about its own preservation. It is regular and often. This is why so many people assume that God preserved every word, only to have that undermined by preachers, who have been duped by a rationalist approach.
Lord-willing, I'm going to come back tomorrow to deal with the rest of Overmiller in this section, where he claims to show what the Bible teaches about its own preservation. I look forward to it.