Tuesday, September 08, 2020

A Faithful Willingness to Apply the Bible to Its Own Preservation

Let's talk about the inspiration of scripture.  Consider this sentence:

There is simply no statement in the Bible telling me to expect a perfect set of sixty-six books in the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts.

Gotcha!  The Bible doesn't have anything to say about that!  Of course, it does say, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God," but is that the same thing as saying, "There was a perfect set of sixty-six books in the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts"?

People who do believe what scripture says about inspiration do, you know, jump to the application of a perfect set of sixty-six books in the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts.  They are willing to make that application even from something as simple as "holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."  2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:20-21 just don't make those exact types of statements, and yet believers through church history have taken assurance from them that there was a perfect set of sixty-six books in the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts.

We have a record of a faithful willingness to apply the Bible to its own inspiration.  The saints have been able to break down the minimal passages on this doctrine and come to perfect originals.  Every word was perfect, all sixty six books.  No verse says exactly those words, but the saints of God still believed that truth.

The original manuscripts are convenient for making, shall we say, tough applications of scripture.  No one has them, those papyrus, parchments, or tablets. Since we don't have them, it's easy to say they're perfect.  No one can say we're wrong.  No one can prove we're wrong.  That's not all though.

Without inspiration, all of the doctrines we take from scripture, all the Bible teachings, can fall like a house of cards (an overused metaphor that I lazily borrow).  Many people like justification by faith, for instance, and heaven that's at the end of that, purpose in life and all that.  They'd like doctrines like those to stay intact.  Inspiration of the original manuscripts, all the words of the sixty-six books being perfect, that sustains all the teachings for theologians from which they make a living.  And that application of the inspiration passages is easy to grab on to, even though we don't have "scientific proof" of it.

Then we get to the preservation of scripture.  Consider this statement:

There simply is no statement in the Bible telling me to expect a perfect set of Hebrew or Greek biblical manuscripts.

As much as scripture says, "all scripture is given by inspiration of God," it says a lot more about its own preservation.  It's much easier, if what we're depending upon for our doctrine is scripture, to expect perfect preservation of scripture, that is, to expect God's perfect words in our hands.  That sounds like it could be a book title:  God's Perfect Words In Our Hands.

The last above quote is verbatim from Mark Ward in a recent post he wrote, entitled:  "Answering a Question I Get All the Time: The Places to Start in Studying New Testament Textual Criticism".  In that post, he wrote this paragraph:

I have indeed purposefully avoided the textual debate on my YouTube channel and in direct conversation with my KJV-Only brothers. I’ve done this because the Bible (it seems to me) is far clearer on the principle that “edification requires intelligibility” (1 Cor 14) than it is on the textual debate (I lay out portions of that case here). I want to lay importance on what the Bible says rather than speculating about matters I’ve (sic) convinced it doesn’t address. There simply is no statement in the Bible telling me to expect a perfect set of Hebrew or Greek biblical manuscripts.

I can appreciate Ward saying that he wants to lay importance on what the Bible says, since it says nothing about textual criticism, the subject of his post.  The one thing he will say that the Bible says is "edification requires intelligibility" (1 Cor 14), because that works for his argument against the King James Version of the Bible -- straight line between 1 Corinthians 14 and rejection of the King James Version for him.  Ward is willing to make that application.  It's apparently all he's got from the Bible to apply to this issue.  I'm not going to call that faithful, even if that's "pugilistic." 

Mark Ward has his just one biblical point.  I don't think it is a legitimate application of the Bible.  People really didn't know a foreign language in 1 Corinthians 14, so tongues, unknown languages or mere gibberish, were legitimately unintelligible.  His application isn't a historical one, like inspiration and preservation.  I've written before that I think he's just making it up.  English speaking people know the King James.  The vast number of English speakers, who use the KJV, find it intelligible, not like a foreign language or gibberish.

Ward's other biblical point, albeit what he says is absent  from the Bible, is that last sentence, the one I quoted above.  He won't say that the Bible doesn't promise its own preservation.  He won't say that the Bible doesn't promise perfect preservation.  He doesn't say that the Bible doesn't preserve every word perfectly.  What he says is a straw man.

Mark Ward writes:  "There is simply no statement in the Bible telling me to expect a perfect set of Hebrew or Greek manuscripts."  This is an unfaithful unwillingness to apply the Bible to its own preservation.  It's a dodge.  It's a kind of Jesuit casuistry.  Someone calls me and asks if my dad is home.  I say, "He isn't here," and I point at my table.  My dad isn't on the table.  It's true he isn't here.  I didn't lie.  I'm telling the "truth."

Let's break the statement down.  The Bible doesn't tell Mark Ward personally anything ("me").  The Bible doesn't tell someone to "expect" something.  The Bible doesn't talk about a "set" of something.  The Bible doesn't mention Hebrew and Greek.  The Bible doesn't use the word "manuscripts."  Of course the Bible doesn't tell us those things.  To get the doctrine of scripture, we've got to apply scripture.  Men have, and through history men have declared, the doctrine of the perfect preservation of scripture.

The Bible teaches its own preservation.  God inspired every Word.  God preserved every Word to be available for every believer in every generation since its inspiration.  That's what preservation is:  preservation.  Preservation isn't partial spoilage.  You get the doctrine of preservation by a faithful, willing application of the Bible to its own preservation.  You take the combined multitude of verses about its own preservation and apply them to have a doctrine of preservation.  Mark Ward among many others now is unwilling to do that.


Jon Gleason said...

"We have a more sure word of prophecy."

Maybe Mark would prefer the NIV, "We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable."

That was a little misleading for Peter to write that if we can't be sure we actually have the right Hebrew and Greek words, wasn't it?

I actually agree with Mark that "edification requires intelligibility." The principle is sound. The application he makes of the principle is problematic. It is extremely subjective, at best.

In his opinion, the KJV is not intelligible. Millions of people disagree. And since he himself would claim to be able to understand it well enough to criticise it, it's rather condescending of him to suggest most of the world is less intelligent and/or spiritually astute than he is. I hope that isn't considered "pugilistic" to say so but I've learned through the years that confidence in my intelligence can become very destructive.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Stop making easy applications of scripture. You are embarrassing those who must take the position of the mainstream of evangelicals who know New Testament Greek. The gates of hell will not prevail against the mainstream of evangelicals who know New Testament Greek, said tongue in cheek.

The NIV does use "message," which might be more in line with its translators view of preservation. The message is preserved, not the jots, tittles, words, etc. It's a reliable message is a different standard.

I agree intelligibility is needed for edification too, which is why I preach in English to my English speaking audience and not another language. Does that mean I should use ebonics to a certain crowd or the skateboarder Bible for skate parks? I agree that millions of people disagree with him. They are still a bunch of lemmings, I guess, going to buy their King James due to hayseeds who fell off the back of the turnip truck wanting them to do that.

Thanks for dropping by. Hope all is well there.

Jon Gleason said...

Thanks, Kent. Doing pretty well, thanks, but lockdown has been hard, we still have a lot of restrictions.

I guess you're in my home state now. My parents grew up in the Medford area, I grew up in Portland. What a decadent place it has become.

Will be in the States soon to visit family. Won't hit the West Coast, though. I'm about to become a grandpa again, by this time next month I'll have enough to make a basketball team!

Blessings to you!

Kent Brandenburg said...

You too!