Sunday, November 18, 2018

Editions of the TR Argument and Excellent Preservation Versus Perfect Preservation

Mark Ward says he "won’t argue textual criticism with those who insist on the exclusive use of the King James Version," but he really is arguing with them, against what he says he won't do.  He argues at his blog for what he calls "excellent preservation" versus what he says is "perfect preservation."  If you google "perfect preservation of scripture," the entire first page of links has my name and our book, Thou Shalt Keep Them, in some fashion.

The "perfect preservation" view is a name I gave to the biblical and historical view of the preservation of scripture, coining the terminology.  Ward won't talk to me directly, but that doesn't mean he isn't arguing with me.  I am saying right here and now that I would welcome a public debate with Mark Ward about perfect preservation of scripture.

If Ward is going to debate perfect preservation, he should debate the actual view instead of the strawman, which is what he and others present.  I have to think they know they are doing it, which would be to call them dishonest or they just don't care.  I want to give the benefit of the doubt, but I've answered this over and over.  This is also where the common question from those of the eclectic text view enters, the question of "which TR edition"? (TR = Greek textus receptus New Testament).

Ward ends his post by writing, "Please tone down the rhetoric. And let us know which TR has every jot and tittle, no more and no less."  His strawman is not the perfect preservation view, and this isn't a dodge.  We have written an entire book and I have written here so many posts that answer that question, it's hard to say how many.  People criticize me for having written so much, but it's no wonder, when the same strawmen are repeated so often (here are examples of answering: one, two, three, four, five, six, and many more).

Ward and others conflate the very few differences between the TR editions into an eclectic text position, as if the modern textual critics believe the same as those who wrote the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF).  This isn't true.  Again, this seems like a knowing or purposeful lie.  The men of the WCF believed in perfect preservation.  Like any and every believer in the perfect preservation of scripture, they also knew there were variations in manuscripts of the New Testament.  Variations in individual manuscripts do not contradict the doctrine of perfect preservation.  The founders of modern textual criticism and the critical or eclectic text did not believe in perfection preservation, did not start with any scriptural presuppositions at all regarding the doctrine of the preservation of scripture.  Leaving this information out is what makes it a dishonest explanation.  At the very end of his Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, Holy Scripture: The Cognitive Foundation of Theology (p. 541), Muller makes this very interesting statement that is tell-tale for today:
All too much discussion of the Reformers' methods has attempted to turn them into precursors of the modern critical method, when in fact, the developments of exegesis and hermeneutics in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries both precede and, frequently conflict with (as well as occasionally adumbrate) the methods of the modern era.
Scrivener published an annotated Greek New Testament that showed the differences between TR editions.  This is known and was known.  It's nothing anyone is covering up.  I've owned that New Testament all the time I've been a pastor.  Ward's point is that the scriptural teaching of perfect preservation required a fulfillment in one printed edition of the TR.  He then comes at this in reverse, essentially a naturalistic view.  The lack of homogeneity between TR editions means that perfect preservation didn't happen, necessitating a different view on preservation, what he calls or coins, "excellent preservation."  Excellent preservation veers off what the Bible teaches in favor of the external evidence of textual variants.

Scripture teaches verbal plenary inspiration.  It also teaches verbal, plenary preservation.  What God inspired He preserved.  This is perfect preservation.  Ward says you can believe in preservation of scripture without believing in preservation of scripture and he does this by saying that "excellent preservation" is preservation.  What is "excellent preservation"?  It's hard to put a finger on that, because scripture doesn't teach that position.  It's like trying to argue how many sins one must commit to be a sinner.  One.  One error isn't perfect any more.  Is excellent ten, twenty, a hundred?  It's not the view taught by the Bible, so it is faithless.  Maybe this is the rhetoric Ward says needs to be toned down, but I'm using biblical terminology to describe what I am seeing.  I'm not trying to offend, but to hit at the brunt of the issue.

Ward wants those who do not believe in perfect preservation to be given credit for not denying the preservation of scripture.  He denies the preservation of scripture, based on reasoning of the following two sentences:
[Y]ou’re not going to find a Bible verse or a sufficiently clear act of providence to give you what you demand—or tell you where to find it. The TRs themselves are divided in places.
Ward defies historical biblical exposition and theology.  Christians have believed we do have Bible verses on preservation.  There are actually many more preservation verses that yield the doctrine of preservation more than inspiration.  Men have stopped believing the verses because of "evidence," and now they saying there are none.  It is revisionist history from Ward and those like him.

It is Ward's opinion that there is no "sufficiently clear act of providence" to get perfect preservation.  This speaks to the basis of his position, his opinion.  What "sufficiently clear act of providence" is there for 66 books?  Really.  How do we know James is in the Bible?  Galatians?  If it's in the Bible, it's got to be true.  The providence comes in many different ways, and this has been acknowledged by Christians through church history.

God preserved every word.  The few differences between TR editions doesn't void that.  The words of the TR were preserved and available for hundreds of years before the critical text.  I dealt with Ward's argument about TR editions at the many links I provided above.

What are the boundaries of "excellent preservation"?  Versus "perfect preservation"?  The 'beauty' of excellent preservation is the ambiguity.  Over the years, I have often mentioned driving the mack truck through the gap that is created by the ambiguity.  How messed up does an orthodox view of scripture become?  It's the right thing to do and for sure the best thing to do to deal with messiness after one has established he believes in perfect preservation.  God preserved every Word.  He said it.  We should acknowledge it.

Okay, so what's so serious about this?  Ward talks like it shouldn't be a big deal.  I want him and others like him to understand, so I'm going to enumerate the list of why it is serious.  I think they already know, but I want to make sure.
  1. God said He would preserve every one of His Words and we should believe Him, because He doesn't lie.
  2. When God says He would preserve every one of His Words and we teach and spread that He didn't, that attacks and diminishes faith, which affects the faith necessary to be saved.
  3. Verbal plenary inspiration loses its value if we don't have what was inspired.
  4. Doubt about the words affects certainty, which affects authority and then obedience -- we don't want to lessen certainty, authority, or obedience.
  5. The church has believed in the perfect preservation of scripture and not believing it overturns historic, orthodox church doctrine -- through the history of Christian doctrine, this has been the definition of heresy.
  6. When scripture is changed, doctrines change, since doctrine comes from the Words.
  7. All of the above affects churches, which makes them less effective at all of what they do.
  8. The doctrine of preservation itself is attacked and then not kept, which churches are to keep.
Here is the Word of God, which is the essence of purity.  The standard is Words.  It is essentially the measure that people have for purity on about anything.  I took a bite into some cake last week and had only one hair in it.  That isn't pure.  That isn't excellent.  Who are we to call something excellent that isn't perfect, if God is the One Who said He would preserve it?


Jon Gleason said...

I met a neo-orthodox professor, likely not a believer in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He says he believes in the inspiration of Scripture. I say he doesn't believe in inspiration, not the way the Bible teaches it. Perhaps he would want me to 'tone down the rhetoric.'

I met a Presbyterian. He's almost certainly a true believer in the Gospel. He believes in something, but it isn't baptism as taught by Scripture. Perhaps he would want me to tone down the rhetoric, but we don't get to take a Biblical term and slap our own definition on it, and then claim that we believe in it.

I met a Lutheran, likely a true believer. But he's confused. He believes in something, but not the Lord's Supper as taught by Scripture, so it isn't truly the Lord's Supper. He might ask me to tone down the rhetoric, but if you believe something mystical that Scripture doesn't teach, you don't get to hijack a Scriptural term and expect people to just go along with it.

I met an evangelical. He may truly believe the Gospel. But he is confused about something called theistic evolution. I'd say he doesn't believe in Biblical Creation. There is no Biblical basis for what he believes, the only basis is an interpretation of scientific evidence, an interpretation based on naturalistic assumptions. That's not Creation. Perhaps he would want me to tone down the rhetoric.

I met Mark Ward on-line, surely a true believer in Christ. He believes something, but it isn't Scriptural preservation as taught in Scripture. There is no Biblical basis for his view. The only basis is an interpretation of manuscript evidence, an interpretation based on naturalistic assumptions (assumptions, ironically, that he would no doubt reject). Whatever it is, it isn't preservation as God told us of preservation, so it isn't really preservation at all. I guess he wants me to tone down the rhetoric?

I'm sure Mark means well. That doesn't mean he's correct, or that the idea he's attributed to 'preservation' deserves that label. How is it "excellent" if God says every jot and tittle will be preserved, and every jot and tittle isn't preserved? If II Timothy 4:18 isn't fulfilled perfectly it won't be excellent.

I have sympathy for someone who believes in a Scriptural doctrine of preservation, and says, 'I don't know how to reconcile it with the manuscript evidence, and I don't know how we are supposed to tell which text is exactly every jot and tittle that God has preserved. But I know He HAS preserved it because He said so.'

But we're seeing fundamentalists who instead are redefining it to not mean every jot and tittle, despite what God said. A cynic would say they do this because they know the Biblical doctrine of preservation is devastating to the critical text position that they want to hold. I doubt such cynicism is justified in most cases -- it probably is in some.

But whatever the reason or motivation, anyone with a smattering of theological history says we've seen this before. We've seen inspiration redefined. We've seen baptism redefined. Creation. Holiness. Worldliness. The deity of Christ. God's promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Everything gets redefined, often citing external evidence.

Even the tree of the knowledge of good and evil got redefined, because after all, the external evidence was that it was a tree to be desired. If only God had demanded 'excellent' obedience instead of perfect obedience....

I'll stick with what God said, and not pretend that someone who teaches something else is teaching the same thing. Mark Ward and I are not at all on the same page on this, I can't reconcile what he says with Scripture, and I won't disrespect the truth or him enough to pretend otherwise.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I'm on the same page with you. Nothing you said I disagreed with. I'm also not living with simmering back burner bitterness about it, because I'm not in the club. I'm not ready to blow. If I were to rank it about myself, I am more concerned about the gospel and the way it is perverted, but I also can't separate that from scripture, the two being intertwined even as I see in the gospels, Acts, and the epistles. Jesus would not tone down his reaction to moneychangers defiling His Father's house. It's hard to rate perversions, the temple of God or the Word of God, which is more serious corruption.

Bill Hardecker said...

Scrivener's TR was first published in 1881, the same year a brand new, never-before-seen (by the public), Greek NT was released: The Wescott-Hort Text. Scrivener's TR was designed to be a "critical" edition of the TR - critical in the best sense of the word. It is a legitimate TR edition. This doesn't mean that God's people had no inspired-preserved word of God until its 1881 release. This also presented the world, back then, with two Greek NT text choices. The TR or the brand new, W-H. If we lived back then, we would be tasked with choosing which New Testament Text represents God's word. Both can't be right. They do not share the same traditions. Today, we have more options: Scrivener's TR (or the essentially the TR), the W-H Texts (essentially the Nestle-Aland/UBS edition number 28, ad infinitum), the Majority Texts (essentially Robinson-Pierpont text and/or the Hodges-Farstad text), and there's the restored (as of 2017) Greek NT (by Tyndale House/Cambridge). We have more choices now than ever before. They can't all be right, otherwise nothing is different between truth amd error. The choice is not too difficult to make. The choice for me would necessarily be the TR, and my faith currently itirates Scrivener's TR. Faith also itirates the sole English translation that came out of that same TR tradition: the KJV. I know there's the NKJV and even the MEV, but they have their problems (one of which lends credence to the critical texts). But to be sure, God preserved His words from the momment He gave them to Moses, and to all other holy men of God. And wherever God's people are, in whatever time-frame they made be found in, there was always with them, God's word. God's people are even distinguished by the reception of God's word.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks Bill.

Lance said...

Every generation has to reinvent the wheel and then demonize the previous generation's wheel in order to vindicate their new rendition.

Bill Hardecker said...

Jeff Riddle reviewed a book "Has the Bible Been Kept Pure..." which explored how the Reformers and Post-Reformation Orthodox Dogmaticians viewed the traditional text notwithstanding variant readings. It is written by Garnet Howard Milne, 2017, isbn: 152203915. Riddle's review can be heard on, look for his name and his Word Magazine #93 (02/17/18).