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.
Next Preservation: Concluding thoughts (d.v.)
[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.