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) 

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