Monday, April 24, 2017

Quotes on the Bible

"The Bible is worth all other books which have ever been printed." -- Patrick Henry

"We are less qualified for criticizing the Bible than for the Bible to criticize us." -- Lee R. Tillman

"I would plead with brethren to cease this constant criticism of the KJV, and simply preach and teach what the Bible says. It is sinful to destroy faith in the Word of God." -- E. L. Bynum

"The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired, and is a perfect treasure of heavenly instruction; it has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture of error for its matter." -- Excerpted from The New Hampshire Confession of Faith

"Instead of letting the Scripture dictate theology, [most people] let their theology dictate what the Scripture says." -- Jon Shaff

"Bible reading is an education in itself." -- Alfred, Lord Tennyson

"Church succession demands a succession of the Bible." -- Lee R. Tillman

"Some people like to read so many chapters every day. I would not dissuade them from the practice, but I would rather lay my soul asoak in half a dozen verses all day than rinse my hand in several chapters. Oh, to be bathed in a text of Scripture, and to let it be sucked up in your very soul, till it saturates your heart!" -- Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Sunday, April 23, 2017

I'm tired of visits, modes and forms

I'm tired of visits, modes and forms: by Isaac Watts

Baptist baptism, and other links

The posting of links does not constitute an endorsement of the sites linked, and not necessarily even agreement with the specific posts linked.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

God and Evil

Isaiah 45:7 - I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

Question. What is the meaning of "The LORD...creates evil" in this verse? Does God causes people to sin, based on this verse?

In this verse "evil" is set in contrast to "peace" rather than in contrast to "good". There is no problem with the word "evil" but with the connotation we put on it. We tend to "read into" biblical words the most common way we use it in our speech or writing, without comparing the full semantic range of meaning (and the context). Words gain meaning from their context. "Evil" is the most common way that the Hebrew word "rah" is translated in English (at least in the KJV & NASB) and it is used several times in Isaiah -- some times that speak of immorality or wickedness and some that speak of distress, calamity -- something "bad" happening. Isaiah 47:11, in its context, is a good example of how God brings evil, mischief and desolation upon Babylon in judgment. This evil is something that brings sorrow, distress, or calamity. It stands opposite to "peace" in this verse in Isaiah. It fits the context of God's judgment described in Isaiah 45. Peace is not inherently always a moral good, and evil in the sense of moral evil is not under consideration in Isaiah's statement.

Adapting to our modern sensibilities, some, if not most, modern translations have adopted the words like "calamity" or "disaster" in place of evil. "Evil" is a better translation -- properly understood, it better encompasses the totality of all the things that are the opposite of peace.

We must understand that God is the sole ultimate cause of everything. I don't see any way that a Bible believer can avoid that conclusion. First there was nothing but God. Everything that is came from God, even if in a secondary or derivative way. God the creator is the first cause of all things, and there is nothing that exists outside his divine governance.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Preservation: Concluding thoughts

In a series of posts we have considered the question, “Is there is a doctrine of preservation of the written Scriptures taught in the Bible?” Not just, “Have the Scriptures been preserved,” but “Is there is a doctrine of preservation.” The answer to this question hinges on what the Scriptures teach, but we first considered some related matters. Though some wish to frame it so, the doctrine of preservation is not just a King James Bible debate. A belief in the doctrine of preservation is not limited to KJO, KJ-Preferred, MT or TR advocates. The historical record of this belief is sporadic or intermittent, but reveals early church fathers who believed they had and referred to inspired writings. Some confessions of faith address the matter, as well as individual Christian writers. The Bible teaches by statement, implication and necessary consequence that God has undertaken to preserve the Scriptures he inspired. The history and future of the churches of Jesus Christ, as a spiritual entity, depends on the word of God.

God promised he would make his words generally available to future believers (Cf. Deuteronomy 29:29). We know the words that proceed from God because they are written and preserved (Cf. Matthew 4:4). The churches of Jesus Christ received the words of Jesus and were built upon them (Cf. Matthew 16:16-18; John 17:8; Ephesians 2:20), in turn becoming a pillar and ground of that truth, guarding and keeping the words entrusted (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Timothy 6:20-21).[i]
“In practical terms this [Ephesians 2:20] means that the church is built on the New Testament Scriptures. They are the church’s foundation documents. And just as a foundation cannot be tampered with once it has been laid and the superstructure is being built upon it, so the New Testament foundation of the church is inviolable and cannot be changed by any additions, subtractions or modifications offered by teachers who claim to be apostles or prophets today. The church stands or falls by its loyal dependence on the foundation truths which God revealed to his apostles and prophets, and which are now preserved in the New Testament Scriptures.” – The Message of Ephesians, John R. W. Stott, (The Bible Speaks Today series) Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1989, p. 107
2 Timothy 3:15-17 “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” God gave the Scriptures by inspiration. The first under consideration is the Old Testament, then “all scripture.” Timothy did not have the original documents of the Old Testament, but was reading copies of them – which Paul had no problem calling the Holy Scriptures. All scripture, the Old Testament already concluded and the New Testament still being written, stands as the source of everything we need for faith and practice. If these have not been preserved in some fashion, we have not what we need for faith and practice. If the churches are to teach all things Christ commanded during the time he would always be with them, then they must have access to these teachings. We must, and we believe we do! (Matthew 28:18-20 “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

The truth in Jesus Christ makes us free, and it is mediated to us through the Scriptures:
“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32)[ii] May we know the truth!


[i] “…Jesus ordained the apostles to build the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20). What is the foundation of the church that the apostles built? The New Testament – the record of the deeds and teachings of the apostles. The church does not need apostolic successors. The church needs the teachings of the apostles accurately recorded and preserved. And that is exactly what God has provided in His Word (Ephesians 1:13; Colossians 1:5; 2 Timothy 2:15; 4:2).” – Is apostolic succession biblical? - Got Questions?
[ii] The assertions about knowing God and truth through the Scriptures must be understood in the light of the fact that the Holy Spirit is the instructor in the truth.
[iii] Miscellaneous notes: Peter’s second epistle was written in order that we “may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour.” These words were written and preserved to us that we may obey this commandment (2 Peter 3:2). Paul’s writings are called “scripture” in the New Testament, by Peter (2 Peter 3:15-16).

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Preservation: The texts No. 3

Verses and principles relevant to the doctrine of preservation of Scripture

I. Preservation of the Bible is implicit in its nature.

God’s words are eternal and immutable (e.g. Psalm 33:11, Psalm 119:89; Matthew 24:35). Every reference to “God’s words,” “the word of God” or “the words of God” is not a reference to the written Scriptures. The clear teaching throughout the Scriptures is that “God’s words” are both eternal and immutable. When written, God’s words are not less so. We should not expect God’s written words to be subject to the same vagaries of transmission and preservation as any other book – though this is exactly what Wallace and other “anti-preservation doctrine” writers are advancing.[i]

The scriptures are inspired and inerrant. Preserved Scripture is a necessary consequence. W. W. Combs states, “…to say that preservation is the corollary of inspiration means that preservation is a doctrine that can be ‘inferred immediately’ from the ‘proved proposition’ of inspiration; preservation ‘naturally follows’ or ‘parallels’ inspiration…The purpose of inspiration was to produce γραφή (2 Tim 3:16), a written record, a deposit of divine truth for the readers, not the writer. Without preservation the purpose of inspiration would be invalidated.”[ii] If God’s presence in inspiring Scripture was significant, his presence in preserving it would not be trivial.

The scriptures are beneficial and authoritative. All authority belongs to God (Cf. Matthew 28:18-20). A necessary corollary is that God’s word is authoritative – it is a place where God has vested his authority. Or, stated another way, the Bible derives its authority from God. God has the right to set rules, command belief, and expect obedience. These are some matters he has relayed to us through his word. Further, the authoritative word has a purpose and is beneficial to mankind (e.g. Isaiah 55:10-11). Specific points of purpose and benefit will be addressed below.

II. Preservation of the Bible is necessary to its purpose.

Removing the doctrine of preservation removes the vitality from many biblical passages and limits their meaning to the moment. The abiding and enduring purpose of the Scriptures calls for abiding and enduring Scriptures. Some of those purposes are:

The scriptures testify of Jesus Christ and his salvation (John 5:39). The Bible gives or teaches the knowledge of salvation. John, the apostle, said, “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” (1 John 5:13) John addresses his written scripture, and its purpose. It follows that preservation of the writing is a necessary part of God accomplishing his purpose. In his Gospel, John says that everything Jesus said and did were not written, supposing “even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written” about him, “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” (John 20:30-31; 21:25) God was not aimless in giving his words. Neither is he careless in preserving them, that they may accomplish their purpose.

The scriptures give spiritual guidance, practical and theological. The churches are exhorted to preach the gospel, baptize the believers and teach the baptized. How shall we proceed? By the teachings of the word of God. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105). We are to follow his steps, but we do not know his steps apart from the God-inspired written word that has been passed down to us. A purpose of giving the scriptures by inspiration was that it might stand as a standard – the standard whereby we know doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. It stands to provide a complete standard “unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) It stands to reason that its preservation is necessary to fulfill that purpose.

The scriptures are a standard of judgment. God is judge and a basis of his judgment will be the words he gave (Psalm 75:7; Acts 10:42-43; 2 Timothy 4:1-2). Because he is judge, we are to preach the word. Commenting on Matthew 5:17-19 in The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, Craig S. Keener writes, “In this passage Jesus also warns that teachers who undermine students’ faith in any portion of the Bible are in trouble with God. This text addresses not only obedience to the commandments but also how one teaches others (and teaches others to do the same; compare Jas 3:1).”[iii] Matthew Poole, commenting on John 12:48, writes, “Nay, the word that I have spoken shall rise up in judgment against him at the last day, and prove that he hath judged himself unworthy of everlasting life.”[iv] Like many, Poole believes the Scriptures are part of the books that stand in judgment in Revelation 20:12: “What books? The book of God’s law; the book of God’s omniscience; the book of men’s consciences. In the former is contained what all men should have done; the two latter will discover what they have thought, spake, or done in the flesh.” If the spoken words are not recorded and preserved, they afford no standard to men either to guide or judge their actions.

III. Preservation of the Bible is a necessary conclusion from its teachings.

The words of Scripture were not just written to or for the immediate recipients of its message. Over and again the Bible notes its own forward look to future generations. For example, Psalm 102:18 in “the prayer of the afflicted” is written with purpose for the generation to come. “This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be created shall praise the Lord.”
  • Mark 10:5 Referring to something written in the Law of Moses, Jesus said, “For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept.” If it is true that something written by Moses has a purpose of instructing Jews in the first century, it is a necessary conclusion that God intended to preserve what was written.
  • Romans 4:23 “Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him;” If Genesis 15:6 was not for the benefit of Abraham alone, but for others to whom righteousness is imputed, then it follows that God intended to preserve what was written for others to whom righteousness is imputed.
  • Romans 15:4 Paul quotes from the latter part of Psalm 69:9, then says, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” If it is true that something written by David the king has a purpose of instructing Christians in Rome, it is a necessary conclusion that God intended to preserve what was written.
  • 1 Corinthians 9:10 “Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.” If something written by Moses about oxen was also written to instruct Christians in the first century, it is a necessary conclusion that God intended to preserve what was written.
  • 1 Corinthians 10:11 “Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. If the events of the Exodus referred to were written for the admonition of Christians in Corinth, it is a necessary conclusion that God intended to preserve what was written.
  • 1 Corinthians 11:26 “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.” If the Lord’s supper is a perpetual ordinance of the churches “till he come” it is obligatory on God’s part to preserve the instructions of it “till he come.”
The preceding texts are exemplary of how scripture can be denuded of its force when the doctrine of preservation is abandoned.

[i] Compare Edward F. Hills: “...the New Testament textual criticism of the man who believes the doctrines of the divine inspiration and providential preservation of the Scriptures to be true ought to differ from that of the man who does not so believe.” (Hills, The King James Version Defended, Des Moines, IA: Christian Research Press, 1984, p. 3) versus W. W. Combs: “...the preservation of Scripture is not different in method from any other ancient book God has determined to preserve...” (Combs, “The Preservation of Scripture,” pp. 9-10)
[ii] Combs, pp. 27-28; Even Ed Glenny, an opponent of the doctrine of preservation, has to admit, “An obvious truth is that a document that is to be included in the canon must be preserved.” (“The Preservation of Scripture,” in The Bible Version Debate: The Perspective of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Minneapolis, MN: Central Baptist Theological Seminary, 1997, Chapter 5, Footnote 36)
[iii] As an editor of the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Keener is not a MT, TR or KJV partisan. Holding the Bible as a standard of judgment is not an uncommon belief among those who hold the Critical Text in esteem, and therefore it should not be charged as if it is a MT, TR or KJV argument. Keener titles his commentary on verses 17-18 “Jesus’ High View of Scripture.”
[iv] John 12:46-48 “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” Unless this was only true for those who visibly saw and audibly heard Jesus during his time on earth, preservation of those words are necessary. The only way we receive not his words is through hearing them as preserved in the Bible.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Preservation: The texts No. 2

Verses relevant to discussing the doctrine of preservation of Scripture

Psalm 78:5-7 For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments:

The context refers to the scriptures, the law. The law was a written testimony that was established in Jacob/Israel. The law was established for the purpose of teaching the present and future generations. If so, then there is some form of preservation rooted in the establishment of it. God has an interest in preserving it that they “might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.” Preservation is a necessary consequence of the purpose of the establishment of this testimony.

Psalm 119
Psalm 119:89 For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven.
Psalm 119:152 Concerning thy testimonies, I have known of old that thou hast founded them for ever.
Psalm 119:160 Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever.

The written word of God is in view throughout the 119th Psalm, even if it includes broader themes. The 89th stanza of the song praises God’s word as eternal and immutable.  In his journal article The Preservation of Scripture W. W. Combs says Psalm 119:89 “has no direct application to the doctrine of preservation.” It seems that he and others fear this might lead to “the idea of an archetypal Bible in heaven.” While the verse does not mention the written word, it nevertheless establishes the durability, immutability and trustworthiness of God’s word, of which we would expect no less when it is written. In contrast to his view on verse 89, Combs thinks Psalm 119:152 “appears to be a fairly direct promise of preservation” and Psalm 119:160 “strongly impl[ies] a doctrine of preservation.” Of verse 152 Combs writes:
“The context (vv. 145–52) makes clear reference to God’s written revelation in the Torah. The Psalmist says he will observe the Lord’s ‘statutes’ (v. 145) and keep his ‘testimonies’ (v. 146). He waits for His ‘words’ (v. 147) and meditates in His ‘word’ (v. 148) and asks to be revived according to the LORD’s “ordinances” (v. 149). The Psalmist observes that the wicked do not obey His ‘law’ (v. 150). Finally, he concludes in verses 151–52, ‘You are near, O LORD, And all Your commandments are truth. Of old I have known from Your testimonies that You have founded them forever.’ These ‘testimonies,’ have been ‘founded forever,’ meaning, as the NIV puts its, ‘you established them to last forever.’...since the Psalmist would have come to know these ‘testimonies’ from the written Torah, probably through his own reading, it is difficult to imagine that he could divorce their being ‘founded,’ established, or caused to ‘last forever’ apart from a preserved written form, the written form from which he was reading.” And of verse 160 he says, “As in verse 152, the Psalmist is reflecting on God’s Word in the written Torah, which he sees as both dependable and imperishable.”
Isaiah 30:8 Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever:

The context here is clearly a written word, a prophecy of Isaiah that is written as a standing testimony against the rebellious ones who will not hear the word of the Lord. There is preservation for the future – “the time to come.” And it is written!

On this passage Matthew Henry comments, “ a book, to be preserved for posterity, in perpetuam rei memoriam—for a standing testimony against this wicked generation; let it remain not only to the next succeeding ages, but for ever and ever, while the world stands; and so it shall, for the book of the scriptures no doubt, shall continue, and be read, to the end of time.” The Pulpit Commentary says, “...the meaning undoubtedly is that consigning the prophecy to a ‘book’ would make an appeal to it possible in perpetuum. The perpetuity of the written Word is assumed as certain.”

Isaiah 34:16 - Seek ye out of the book of the LORD, and read: no one of these shall fail, none shall want her mate: for my mouth it hath commanded, and his spirit it hath gathered them.

Here is another text that is dealing with the written word – a book, or scroll, if you prefer. The prophecy of Isaiah is written down. It can be referred to see what was written has not failed but rather came to pass as God said. John Gill says that “it seems best to understand it of this book of the prophecy of Isaiah; which being sought to, and read at the time when these predictions will be fulfilled, it will be easily seen, by comparing events with prophecies, how everything will be exactly accomplished; from whence may be concluded, this book being called the book of the Lord, that it was written by divine inspiration, as all other parts of the Bible are...” The text supports both inspiration and preservation. The Bible believer must admit to the preservation of the prophecy of Isaiah taught in this text.

Luke 24:27 And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. (Cf. verses 44 and 45: And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures)

The scriptures are mentioned 3 times in Luke 24. This is the written word, which could be read and searched (Cf. Mark 12:10; John 5:29). It is not that the written text was in front of them at this moment. Jesus spoke the scripture to them. Nevertheless this record indicates that the written word of the Old Testament in its 3 divisions (see v. 44), with its teachings on the Messiah, were both preserved and accessible at the time of Jesus’s resurrection. This speaks directly to the preservation of the Old Testament. It indicates the work of God in preserving it. It is consistent, yea crucial, for God to also preserve the writings of the New Covenant, which speaks better things than the Old – which give not only the prophecies of the Messiah, but his fulfillment of those prophecies!

John 10:34-36 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; 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?

In stating “the scripture cannot be broken” Jesus points to the scriptures (here the Old Testament) as a final authoritative appeal to truth. What the scriptures say cannot be dismissed (broken = loosed, in the sense of breaking free of something binding; cf. John 1:27 and John 11:44). Jesus uses this scripture as sound argument against their accusing him of blasphemy. “If he called them gods (which he did in Psalms 82:6) and if the scripture cannot be broken (which you profess to believe, and which is true), then this conclusion follows...” Though not a direct statement about preservation, the plain implication is that the Old Testament scriptures which they have (preserved down to them) is God’s word and authoritative. Compare, for example, John 5:39, to see that the writings available them are trustworthy, sufficient, and searchable for them to find Christ.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Preservation: The texts No. 1

Verses relevant to discussing the doctrine of preservation of Scripture

We have considered a number of side issues. Now we come to the texts of Scripture. The doctrine of the preservation of Scripture is a scriptural question. That is, does the Bible itself promise or teach that the scriptures are to be preserved? Or, does the Bible, in the following verse or in other places – directly or by implication – teach that God will preserve the Scriptures?

Donald Brake, a proponent of the doctrine of preservation, focuses on five major passages as proof that preservation is a doctrine taught in the word of God: Ps. 119:89, Isa. 40:8, Matt. 5:17–18, John 10:35, and 1 Pet. 1:23–25.[i] Jon Rehurek, an opponent of the doctrine of preservation, lists the following as relevant scriptures: Matthew 5:17-18; Matthew 24:35; Psalm 119:89 (Immutability Texts); Psalm 12:6-7; Isaiah 40:8; 1 Peter 1:23-25 (Infallibility Texts); Psalm 119:152; Psalm 119:160 (Preservation Texts).[ii] (Other texts I have seen introduced in this debate include Psalm 78:5-7; Psalm 105:8; Isaiah 30:8; Isaiah 34:16; Luke 24:27; Jude 1:3 and Revelation 22:18-19.) A statement by Dan Wallace is a good example of how relevant passages are often dismissed: “One of the fundamental problems with the use of these passages is that merely because ‘God’s Word’ is mentioned in them it is assumed that the written, canonical, revelation of God is meant.” This is a quite cavalier dismissal of the entire doctrine of preservation (But we must admit there are cavalier assertions as well). In his case, Rehurek concludes, “The exegesis of relevant Scriptures demonstrates that the doctrine of preservation is not directly taught” and that many of the verses that have been used “to directly prove the doctrine of preservation have been misinterpreted and misapplied.”

Over the next few posts I wish to consider some of the relevant passages. I believe that the naysayers at times have a point, in that proponents of the doctrine of preservation may use texts whose main thrust is not directly mentioning the written word – or, sometimes seem to throw a text into the field of battle without carefully making the connection to the topic addressed (i.e., preservation of the scriptures). The main point of some of the texts is God emphasizing something like, “I AM. What I say is truth. It does not matter what you think or what you say. Whatever I say will stand. Depend on it!!” That does not concede that such a text has no input on the doctrine of preservation. Nevertheless, in some cases I will stipulate[iii] that some of the passages may have their main focus elsewhere thus giving the opponents of preservation “the benefit of the doubt” on certain texts they claim are not relevant.

Psalm 12:6-7. 
1 Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men.
2 They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak.
3 The Lord shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things:
4 Who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?
5 For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the Lord; I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him.
6 The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.
7 Thou shalt keep them, O Lord, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.

8 The wicked walk on every side, when the vilest men are exalted.

The bolded verses are the primary texts in Psalm 12 used in favor of preservation, shown here in the whole context of the song. Viewed in this context, verse 6 states a general truth about God’s words. The truth about his words stands in contrast to the words/speaking of men (cf. vv. 2, 4). The words of the Lord are stated – what he will do for the poor oppressed and needy. Because God’s words are pure, they are dependable. You can believe the promise he makes in defense of the oppressed and needy toward those who are against them. The “them” in verse 7 then is most likely the oppressed and needy to whom he will keep his promise – that is, God will always preserve the poor and needy from the generation of wicked. This text, then, speaks of the nature of God’s words and his promises. The 7th verse isn’t specifically about the preservation of the text of scripture. The purity of God’s words nevertheless has tremendous implications on the idea of preservation. Unless we possess a low view of Scripture, there is no reason to suppose what he said that has been written down is any less true and dependable.

I looked at the views of 3 older commentators on this text. They lived before the version debate wars existed. John Calvin (1536), Matthew Henry (1706) and John Gill (1763) thought the words “them” in verse 7 applied to the people that God would preserve rather than the Bible. John Calvin wrote, “Some give this exposition of the passage, Thou wilt keep them, namely, thy words; but this does not seem to me to be suitable. David, I have no doubt, returns to speak of the poor, of whom he had spoken in the preceding part of the psalm.” Interestingly, Gill’s comments indicate he believes in preservation of the Bible, but not that this text teaches it:
“Thou shall keep them, O Lord,.... Not the words before mentioned, as Aben Ezra explains it, for the affix is masculine and not feminine; not but God has wonderfully kept and preserved the sacred writings; and he keeps every word of promise which he has made; and the doctrines of the Gospel will always continue from one generation to another; but the sense is, that God will keep the poor and needy, and such as he sets in safety, as Kimchi rightly observes: they are not their own keepers, but God is the keeper of them; he keeps them by his power, and in his Son, in whose hands they are, and who is able to keep them from falling; they are kept by him from a total and final falling away; from the dominion and damning power of sin, and from being devoured by Satan, and from the evil of the world: and this the psalmist had good reason to believe, because of the love of God to them, his covenant with them, and the promises of safety and salvation he has made unto them;”
For a defense of the doctrine of preservation of scripture in Psalm 12:6-7 see The Permanent Preservation of God’s Words: Psalm 12:6-7 Expanded by Thomas M. Strouse.

[i] “The Preservation of the Scriptures” in Counterfeit or Genuine?, edited by David Otis Fuller
[ii] Preservation of the Bible: Providential or Miraculous? the Biblical View  Rehurek apparently lists the last two as “Preservation Texts” because these are the two that Combs asserts teach preservation.
[iii] “Stipulate in the sense of Law – “to accept (a proposition) without requiring that it be established by proof” – this done in the interest of brevity and basically that I choose not to address every text that might be brought up, some being unnecessary to my proposition) 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Preservation: Public access or availability

One aspect of the biblical preservation debate concerns public availability or accessibility.[i] Some insist that public accessibility is a necessary part of preservation, while others as insistently deny it. Underneath it all, for most this is an argument about which Greek text should have priority – specifically related to the debate between the Majority Text and Critical Text.[ii]

Kent Brandenberg succinctly states a “public access” view, writing, “Scripture says that the Bible will be available to every generation of believers.”[iii] Most others, in my opinion, discuss public access or availability but leave the definition unclear as to just what it entails. Ed Glenny, an opponent of accessibility and the doctrine of preservation, describes the accessibility argument this way, “The proponents of the TR/Majority Text make the doctrine of preservation a necessary corollary of inspiration, and they seek to establish textual purity and public accessibility as necessary corollaries of preservation. In other words, preservation does not mean anything if the text is not accessible, and inspiration does not mean anything if the text is not purely preserved accessibly.”[iv] That is correct, as far as it goes, but leaves much open to interpretation.

E. F. Hills argues that “God must preserve this text, not secretly, not hidden away in a box for hundreds of years or smoldering unnoticed on some library shelf, but openly before the eyes of all men through the continuous usage of His Church” and “He must have preserved them not secretly in holes and caves but in a public way in the usage of His Church.”[v] On the other hand, Dan Wallace claims, “First, the argument that the divine motive for preservation is public availability—as poor an argument as it is for the Greek text—is even worse for the Hebrew...the Hebrew scriptures were neither preserved publicly—on display through the church as it were—nor only through Christians…In what way can they argue that a bibliological doctrine is true for the NT but is not true for the OT?”[vi]

Certainly the opponents of “public access” will try to paint it in the worst light, while proponents will seek the best advantage. Rather than try to sort through the definitions for public access or public availability, I approach it in a different way. “Public access” generally sends the wrong connotation, which is further exacerbated by modern ideas of post-printing-press Bibles readily available in every home. The better understanding is that God gave his word to and preserved it in his churches, and that there is a sort of “church access” throughout the New Testament church age. No one, so far as I know, is arguing for universal public accessibility, but general accessibility among the people of God. The churches could not exist without the scriptures. We would neither expect the only word of God to be hidden away in archives of or forgotten in a monastery of the false church.

It is precisely at the point of “public access” that preservation opponents hope to break down the argument. Wallace quotes his mentor Harry Sturz: “…the Bible itself reveals that there have been occasions when there has been a famine or dearth of the Word of God. One thinks, for example, of the days of Josiah (2 Kings 22:8ff.) when apparently the Scriptures were reduced to one copy. Nevertheless, it still could be said that God’s Word was preserved.”  (The Byzantine Text-Type and New Testament Textual Criticism, H. A. Sturz, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1984, pp. 41–42) extends the argument:
“In 2 Kings 22 we see there was a time when God had sovereignly preserved only one copy of the Old Testament. Additionally, we see throughout the Bible that God often works through the remnant, and the ‘majority’ is consistently in the wrong. Most TR/MT advocates argue the virtue of majority rule, saying that public accessibility is evidence of God’s providential preservation. However, the Greek manuscripts that comprise the MT were not accessible to non-Greek-speaking individuals, nor were they accessible to the vast majority of Greek-speaking Christians outside the geography from which the MT came. Those without MT access (throughout every age of Christian history) vastly outnumber those Greek-speaking Christians who did have access. Furthermore, the MT has only been publicly accessible in any general sense since the early 1980s.”[vii]
It is true that the record in 2 Kings 22 shows a limited access to and knowledge of the scriptures in a period in Israel. The application does not necessarily follow, though, and seems a sort of category error[viii]  – assuming that what is true of the relationship of Israel and the Old Testament is necessarily a herald of what must be historically true of the New Testament and its churches. Regarding the New Testament era, the approach of Wallace and others might also be described as letting the “manuscript evidence [take] precedence over Scriptural promises.”[ix] The Old Testament had the benefit of being a complete preserved canon which existed at the time of Christ. Further, Israel was succoured not only by the law, but their existence as a visible nation depended on their being the progeny of Jacob, was ordered by a succession of the priests from Aaron, and, later, a succession of kings.[x] In contrast, the church is a spiritual creature of the word, built on the revelation of Jesus Christ and kept by it (Matthew 16:18).

The New Testament church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, which is their preaching and their writings (Ephesians 2:20). We no longer have the apostles and prophets with us, but we have the words they wrote down in scripture (cf. e.g. 2 Peter 3:16). The church of the living God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets is now, in turn, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15). The progress and perpetuity of the Bible and New Testament churches are inextricably entwined. As goes the fate of one, so goes the fate of the other. The charge of Christ to his churches is to teach “to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” with the adjoining promise “lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:18-20) We cannot know of the words of Jesus, his apostles or his prophets outside of the words supplied in scripture. It is scripture, inspired of God, that supplies all that is necessary for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The churches and scripture stand and fall together.[xi]

[i] Russian Bible Wars: Modern Scriptural Translation and Cultural Authority by Stephen K. Batalden shows that “warring” over texts, translations and public accessibility are not “English-only” issues. “And in Filaret Drozdov’s mind, public accessibility to scripture was a defining issue.” (In this case public accessibility is different, related to having a modern Russian translation rather than depending on the Slavonic text.) pp. 129-130
[ii] Much debate relates to the Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, which were unknown or unused throughout much church history, but important documents to all modern Bible translations since the Revised Version of 1881. Codex Sinaiticus, also known as “Aleph” (from the Hebrew letter א), was discovered in 1859 at the Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai, Saint Catherine, Egypt. Codex Vaticanus, also known as “B,” was known earlier (catalogued in the Vatican library in 1475) but seldom used. Scholars ascribed little value to Codex Vaticanus before the 19th century. B. F. Westcott and F.J. A. Hort used it as the basis for their The New Testament in the Original Greek in 1881. In The Revision Revised, John William Burgon assessed these texts in this way, “Lastly, – We suspect that these two Manuscripts are indebted for their preservation, solely to their ascertained evil character, which has occasioned that the one eventually found its way, four centuries ago, to a forgotten shelf in the Vatican library; while the other, after exercising the ingenuity of several generations of critical Correctors, eventually (viz. in A.D. 1844) got deposited in the waste-paper basket of the Convent at the foot of mount Sinai. Had B and א been copies of average purity, they must long since have shared the inevitable fate of books which are freely used and highly prized; namely, they would have fallen into decadence and disappeared from sight.” (p. 319)
[iv] One Bible Only?: Examining Exclusive Claims for the King James Bible, edited by Roy E. Beacham and Kevin T. Bauder p. 105; W. W. Combs points out that “The corollary between inspiration and preservation is so compelling that even Glenny, who denies this principle in the text of his chapter on preservation, is forced to recant his denial in a long footnote to that same chapter.”
[v] The King James Version Defended, E. F. Hills, Des Moines, IA: The Christian Research Press, 1997 p. 31
[vi] Grace Theological Journal (Vol. 12, No. 1, Spring 1991) is where Wallace’s “Inspiration, Preservation, and New Testament Textual Criticism” was first published.
[vii] 2 Kings 22:8 And Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord. And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it.
[viii] A logical fallacy in which things belonging to a particular category are presented as if they belong to a different category or that confuses the properties of the whole with the properties of a part.
[ix] In his “Article Review of ‘The Preservation of Scripture’” by William W. Combs, Thomas Strouse points out in the “critical text” method that the “manuscript evidence takes precedence over Scriptural promises.” This article originally appeared in Sound Words from New England, Volume 1, Issue 4, March – May 2001
[x] In the Old Testament, the scriptures were in the hands of the priests. The king was supposed to have a copy of the law, but possibly this was not done. Deuteronomy 17:18-19 And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them:
[xi] I have no expertise in manuscripts, but if our theology and ecclesiology is correct we would expect to find the word in some way distributed among those dissenting churches that existed outside the dominant false churches. I agree with Strouse, in that, “Although the testimony of historical evidence is incomplete and therefore secondary, the Lord used His NT churches through history to preserve His words.”

The Golden Rule of Interpretation

The “Golden Rule of Interpretation,” as found in Brief Studies in Christian Doctrines by J. E. Cobb:
“When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise.”