The Bible’s Testimony of Its Own Preservation

Posted on August 11, 2009 by

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Introduction: In my last post, we looked at what the Bible had to say about itself about its own inspiration. So by way of review, it’s vital that we start with the right foundation of doctrine on this point, because it will make a world of difference upon the next point that I will speak about tonight. We saw first that God gave His Word to men by breathing it out through the original writers as the Holy Ghost carried them along so that what came out on paper, was perfect inerrant autographs. (2 Pet. 1:21; 2 Timothy 3:16) We saw that there were two senses in which the Scriptures were and are inspired – in the original sense, there was a supernatural leading of the Spirit in the word choices and in the thoughts of the writers so that what they spoke and wrote were exactly the very words of God. This sense of inspiration, we saw is restricted strictly to the original autographs because Scripture itself testifies to this in 2 Peter 1:21. This moving of the Holy Spirit is not mentioned to occur or to ever occur again in the copies and translations. So, the work of translation and copying is  not supernatural. However, what we will see in this post, is that copying and translating will be overseen by God’s providence, not inspiration or supernatural guidance. The second sense in which the scriptures are inspired refer not only to the originals, but all the “graphe” or extant writings of scripture which Paul, Peter, Jesus, Timothy and everyone else in the New Testament would have been using. The sense in which these are inspired is that they have their original source in the mind of God and not of man and that they contain power (dunimus) to make you wise to salvation (2 Tim. 3:15) and that they are profitable for reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness. The copies and translations that the “graphe” would have been referring to in verse 15 would have been specifically referring to the LXX which Timothy would have grown up reading. So, even in the imperfect copies and translations of scripture over the years that would have been passed down, the words on those scriptures still communicated the truths that were powerful and profitable. Inspiration automatically assumes preservation. Why would God inspire scripture and then leave it to be destroyed so that it can’t help bring people to salvation and profit them for reproof, correction and instruction? It is obvious enough that God intends for these Scriptures to have this effect for all people, not just those who received the originals. So, let’s move on and look at what the Bible says about it’s own preservation and after affirming what it does say, let’s be careful to understand what it doesn’t say.

God’s Promises of Preservation:

A. The Old Testament: Isaiah 40:7-8 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. 8 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.

It is always vital that we understand the surrounding context before we ever use a verse as a prooftext for anything. This chapter is a famous Messianic prophecy that promises the coming of Christ and His forerunner in the beginning of the chapter. These verses we have read are part of what was instructed for the forerunner (John the Baptist) to say. He is to declare the brevity of human life and it’s soon impending death, but then to compare it to the Word of the Lord which stands forever. The primary meaning of this passage is to say that God’s decrees, His promises, his declarations will stand forever and will not be subverted by anyone. Men are like grass, they could do nothing against the Word of the Lord. So, the primary interpretation is not talking about manuscripts, it’s talking about God’s decrees. Those decrees are in the mind of God. Now, where are God’s decrees, promises, and declarations contained for us to see them and know them? Scripture. So, this verse can be applied to written scripture, even though it primarily is speaking about the decrees of God. Even if all the copies of scripture could theoretically be burned up and disappear, the decrees of God would still stand and be accomplished.

Isaiah 30:7-9 For the Egyptians shall help in vain, and to no purpose: therefore have I cried concerning this, Their strength is to sit still. 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: 9 That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the LORD.

Again, this is another writing that primarily is talking about what God is going to say to the people of Israel for having trusted in the Egyptians for protection. What God is telling Isaiah to write in a book is a testimony against Israel that will witness against them forever. This verse is not primarily dealing with the subject of Bible preservation, but it is most certainly guaranteeing us that what is about to be written will not only be for the time of the writing, but forever. The perpetuity of the written Word is assumed as certain.

Psalm 119:111 Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart. The entire chapter 119 speaks about the Word of God in so many aspects. This verse clearly teaches us that the testimonies of the Lord are a passed down possession or an heirloom for God’s people forever!

Psalm 119:160 Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever.

Here we have inspiration and preservation together in one verse. From the beginning the Word of God is true and that word will endure forever.

This is one of the clearest and most simply stated promises about God’s divine protection of His Word.

B. The New Testament: 1 Peter 1:23-25 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. 24 For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: 25 But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.

This passage is a direct quote from Isaiah 40. Peter tells us that we are born again by incorruptible seed. Let’s stop right there for a second. Some in recent years have said that the incorruptible seed that is being spoken of here is the Bible and it is the Bible that causes our regeneration. Some have said even further that because they believe that the KJV is the only incorruptible Bible, if you were led to Christ with another version of the Bible, you are not really saved. This is heresy because it perverts the gospel of Christ. The incorruptible seed is Christ. John 1 says that we are not born of corruptible things such as the will of man or the will of the flesh, but that we are born of God. Paul makes it clear for us who the seed is in: Galatians 3:16 NKJV 16 Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ.

Now, the Word of God has a function in our new birth, but it is not the seed. The seed is implanted and gives us life by the Word of God. This is accounted for in Romans 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Then in verse 25, Peter continues to quote Isaiah 40 and applies this verse to them by saying that it is through this same Word of God is what is used to preach the gospel to them. It endured from Isaiah’s time to Peter’s time and was still profitable and powerful to bring people to the knowledge of salvation just like 2 Timothy 3:15 said!

Matthew 5:17-18 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

This is one of my favorite verses that promises God’s preservation not only on the whole Bible or it’s thoughts and doctrines, but on its very words and pen strokes. In this passage, Jesus is preaching the Sermon on the Mount, and after giving the Beatitudes; He knew that He was leaving the impression on people that He was doing away with the strictness of the law, so He clarifies to them that He is not replacing the law with new teaching, but rather He had come to fulfill it and the primary interpretation of this passage is to promise that every pen stroke of the law down to the jots and tittles would be fulfilled before heaven and earth pass away. Every prophecy and promise would be fulfilled because God is faithful. What the passage is not saying in its primary interpretation is that God will preserve a perfect line of manuscript copies or preserve all His words perfectly in any particular translation. One of the problems with the KJVO advocates when they approach these scriptures is to make giant logical leaps to conclusions that the text is in no way implying or teaching. In the case of this verse, I personally believe that every jot and tittle is preserved and will not be lost to history or time. How would we know when those jots and tittles are fulfilled if we can’t read them when they are fulfilled? Heaven and earth cannot pass away until God has consummated His eternal plans that He has prophesied through the Word of God. So, by application, not primary interpretation, I believe this verse can be used to teach the preservation of every one of God’s Words.

Verses used out of context for preservation

Now at the same time that we have plenty of promises that affirm God’s preservation, some folks overstate their case by misinterpreting other scriptures in order to make their case stronger. In doing this, they actually weaken their own credibility. We must be faithful to what the Words says, where it says it accurately.

Here is one: Psalm 105:8-10 He hath remembered his covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations. 9 Which covenant he made with Abraham, and his oath unto Isaac; 10 And confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant:

This verse is not speaking about the written Word of God at all. It is speaking about the covenant that was made with Abraham. That covenant was made long before it was ever recorded in Scripture. Before scripture existed, the covenant was made. Remember, Moses wrote the Genesis account of the Abrahamic covenant 500+ years after God had spoken it.

Then probably the most grossly misinterpreted passage that is usually the first runner up for proving the preservation of Scripture is Psalm 12:6-7. Some really nasty things are said about other translations that translate verse 7 differently than the KJV, even though the meaning is exactly the same. The problem isn’t the translation, it’s the interpretation that accuses the translation of being in error or perversion.

Let’s look at a couple of translations: Psalm 12:6-7 KJV 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.

NIV And the words of the LORD are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times. 7 O LORD, you will keep us safe and protect us from such people forever.

ASV Jehovah will preserve him, and keep him alive, And he shall be blessed upon the earth; And deliver not thou him unto the will of his enemies.

NJB 6 Yahweh’s promises are promises unalloyed, natural silver which comes from the earth seven times refined. 7 You, Yahweh, will watch over them, you will protect them from that brood for ever.

ESV You, O LORD, will keep them; you will guard us from this generation forever.

Some of these versions say that God’s protection is over “us” or “him” or “them” As you can see, some of these versions say that God will keep “them, him or us”. In either case, it doesn’t matter which pronoun is used, the meaning is not changed. In the manuscripts, there is a textual variant where the manuscripts disagree with the pronoun, but in either case, the meaning is not lost when interpreted correctly. “Them” is not referring to the Words of God in this verse when the entire context is taken into account. The Hebrew Chiasmic structure of the chapter will make this clear.

Psalm 12:1-8

a. Opening lament 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.

b. God’s Promise Against the Evil 3 The LORD shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things:

c. The Words of the Wicked 4 Who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?

d. God Speaks of Salvation (Climax) 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.

c’. The Words of God 6 The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.

b’. God’s Promise for the Good People Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.

a’. Final Lament 8 The wicked walk on every side, when the vilest men are exalted.

If you’re not convinced, then let me give you the witness of interpretation by better scholars than all of us who all historically interpreted “them” to be the people of God. By the way, these people believed this before there was a KJV in Calvin’s case, and before there was a KJVO controversy in the case of Spurgeon, Gill and Henry:

“David, deploring the wretched and forlorn condition of his people, and the utter overthrow of good order, beseeches God to afford them speedy relief. Then, in order to comfort both himself and all the godly, after having mentioned God’s promise of assisting his people, he magnifies his faithfulness and constancy in performing his promises. From this he concludes, that at length God will deliver the godly, even when the world may be in a state of the greatest corruption.” – John Calvin “

“In life many a saint has lived a hundred years before his age, as though he had darted his soul into the brighter future, and escaped the mists of the beclouded present: he has gone to his grave unreverenced and misunderstood, and lo! as generations come and go, upon a sudden the hero is unearthed, and lives in the admiration and love of the excellent of the earth; preserved for ever from the generation which stigmatised him as a sower of sedition, or burned him as a heretic. It should be our daily prayer that we may rise above our age as the mountain tops above the clouds, and may stand out as heaven pointing pinnacle high above the mists of ignorance and sin which roll around us. O Eternal Spirit, fulfil in us the faithful saying of this verse! Our faith believes those two assuring words, and cries, Thou shalt, thou shalt.” – Charles Spurgeon

“That God will secure his chosen remnant to himself, how bad soever the times are (v. 7): Thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever. This intimates that, as long as the world stands, there will be a generation of proud and wicked men in it, more or less, who will threaten by their wretched arts to ruin religion, by wearing out the saints of the Most High, Dan. 7:25. But let God alone to maintain his own interest and to preserve his own people. He will keep them from this generation, (1.) From being debauched by them and drawn away from God, from mingling with them and learning their works. In times of general apostasy the Lord knows those that are his, and they shall be enabled to keep their integrity. (2.) From being destroyed and rooted out by them.” – Matthew Henry

“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.” -John Gill

New ‘Mis’ interpretation: “The word ‘them’ in verse 7 refers back to ‘the words of the Lord’. That is a Bible promise of Bible preservation. This promise extends from this generation for ever.” – D. A. Waite

This interpretation by DA Waite and other zealous KJVO advocates is a new interpretation that is wrong. People like him and Kent Brandenburg who also wrote a book with the title “Thou Shalt Keep Them” use this verse as a proof text to back up their theory of an inerrant stream of manuscripts that were handed down from the originals all the way to the KJV translators desks in 1611.

(disclaimer: I have not yet read Brandenburg’s book, so I can’t comment on what he’s trying to teach in that book. I’m sure he’s going to read this and  be all too ready to defend himself. I use his book title as an example of this understanding of Psalm 12 and nothing more)

Psalm 119:89 For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven. This verse is usually used as a proof text for perfect preservation, but it’s easy to see where the Word of God is settled – heaven. Why? That’s God’s throne. Now, the doctrine of preservation is the real battleground when it comes to the King James Only Controversy. This is where we need to pay attention to scripture and be careful that we’re only saying what Scripture says.

So far, let’s review what the Bible has explicitly said about preservation:

A. The word of our God shall stand for ever.

B. That it may be for the time to come for ever and ever.

C. Every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever.

D. My words shall not pass away

E. One jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

Basically, it’s saying the same thing over and over. The Word in general will stand forever all the way down to the individual words and down to the jots and tittles of the letters will not pass away. We are being taught that every one of God’s words will endure forever and that’s all it says. It says nothing about how God will do this. It says nothing about where God will do this. It says nothing about whom God will use to do this. It says nothing about what kind of manuscripts he will use to do this. It says nothing about what manuscript family he will use to do this. It says nothing about which translation will do this. It doesn’t even say if all of the words will be perfectly preserved nice and neatly in one perfect manuscript or one translation in any given language! However, there is a whole movement today that claims that God preserved His Word in a way that God did not tell us he would do it. Let me give you some examples: In the newest book on this subject called “A More Sure Word”, Dr. R.B. Ouellette says:

“ Some would view the translation process as purely an act of man. In some cases this is true. But if you believe God preserves His Word, then you cannot separate Him completely from the rendering of His Word into other languages around the world. The promise of preservation requires that God use man to render accurate translations in other languages. This is often a strong dividing line among those with differing positions on this issue – did God preserve only the original languages and then leave His Word in the hands of men to render into languages, or has His supernatural hand been involved in the preservation work throughout the translation process? ” – RB Ouellette

He is suggesting the 2 Peter 1:21-22 “moving of the Holy Spirit” in the translation process in regards to the KJV. He is actually subtlely suggesting double inspiration by raising that question without answering it in the negative.

“What is corrupting the Word of God? Adding to and taking away from God’s Words! As we begin comparing verses from the different versions remember this: there are no errors in the 1611 Authorized King James Version. It is God’s perfectly preserved words and you can trust it completely. ” – Gary Miller

After having given almost the exact same promises of preservation in his booklet, Gary Miller makes a quantum leap of logic with this phrase. This is a totally unfounded assertion, it is an unproven premise that makes the KJV the standard without any evidence.

“I believe that God has carried forward Bible preservation in our English language through our King James Bible. This is not to refer Bible preservation to the English translation in the absolute sense, but only in the sense that our KJB accurately preserves the proper Hebrew and Greek Words in the English language and accurately translates those divinely preserved Words….There are four reasons I believe this: A. Superiority of the Original Language Texts B. Superiority of the Translators of the KJV C. Superiority of the Technique of translating the KJV D. Superiority of the Theology of the KJV.” – D. A. Waite

I would agree that the KJV accurately translates God’s Words although I don’t know what he means by “divinely preserved”. I would say “providentially preserved” since we have no Biblical evidence of the supernatural occurring in the process. The first statement is his opinion and is another unfounded assertion. God did not tell us that he would preserve His word in one exclusive English translation, no matter how good it may be.

“We believe the Bible to be the revealed Word of God, fully and verbally inspired of God. We believe the Scriptures to be the inerrant, infallible Word of God, as found within the 66 books from Genesis to Revelation. We believe God not only inspired every word, but has preserved them through the ages. We believe the King James Version is the preserved Word of God for the English-speaking people” – Lancaster Baptist Church Doctrinal Statement

I agree with everything this says until you get to the last sentence. That cannot be substantiated with Scripture. Where does the Bible say that only one translation is allowed per language? Who makes that choice? How are we supposed to know that choice is God’s choice? Why must there be a totally inerrant and perfect manuscript of the whole scriptures intact in one volume? Has anyone in antiquity ever had that? They all had copies with variations of word differences, but who can say through history that they have had one pure stream (in the technical sense) of completely perfect, inerrant copies from one generation to another? Did God say he would deliver his Words through preservation in that manner? No He didn’t, so why is this being asserted and people’s consciences being forced to accept this? This kind of language in doctrinal statements or in books is a clear indication of the underlying false premise: the written Word has to be “intact” (entire, exact) in order to be God’s Word. Anything that amounts to anything less than a 100% equivalent of the elusive original is considered counterfeit.

“One may speculate about how the Biblical text could or should have been preserved, but a better approach is to examine what has actually been preserved—the surviving Bibles of antiquity. Unless one favors selective providence, every ancient Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament that has survived has done so because of providence. Every ancient Bible was the property of some church or private individual. Each Bible was regarded as the divinely inspired word of God by its owner and was used as authority for doctrine and practice.  Apart from a few scholars in antiquity, owners of those ancient Bibles were unaware of the minor variations between their Bible and that of others; just as most modern owners of King James Bibles are unaware of the hundreds of textual differences between the various editions of the KJV. This manner of preservation was true everywhere throughout history. Otherwise one must embrace selective, special providence in order to justify a theory of preservation that says only certain ancient Bibles enjoyed special providential preservation and the others survived under subversive influence outside the purview of providence. But where in God’s universe is providence not operative?” – Dr. James Price

Conclusion: The fact is, we don’t have any other promises from God as to how the Bible will be preserved, we just have the promises that it will be! That should be good enough for all of us and we should not demand that God preserve His word in a way that satisfies our prejudices and biases. Next time, we’ll look at the process of canonization. How do we know that the books that we have are the right books and that other books that were left out were not ones that should have been included? This is an extremely important point about preservation that we need to talk about before we move on to the manuscript evidence that we have to base our modern Bible’s upon.

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