THE BURNING BUSH
Volume 13 Number
MODERN DENIAL OF
Lawrence E Bray
The doctrine of preservation is a
foundational teaching of the Protestant Church. Most conservative
Christians are in agreement that the original manuscripts of Scripture are
inspired. But as we do not possess these originals, the doctrine of the
preservation of these originals is of utmost importance. What this doctrine
states is that while the Bible was immediately inspired in the originals,
it was also kept pure throughout the ages. The purity of preservation is no
less than the purity of inspiration as it is the work of God Himself. Yet
sadly today the conservative Christian Church is teaching something quite
different. They no longer believe in the doctrine of preservation, though
some do claim a belief in it. There are pockets of Christianity that still
hold to this doctrine, being unshaken by the postmodernism that has
infected the Church at large. Some of the organizations that represent this
remnant of historic Christian belief in preservation are the Trinitarian
Bible Society, the James Begg Society, and the Dean Burgon Society.
To better see the distinction between
historic Christianity and postmodern Christianity we will look at two
confessions that deal with the preservation of Scripture – The Westminster
Confession of Faith, and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. The
Westminster Confession of Faith (chapter 1, section 8) says this:
The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of
God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the
writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately
inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all
ages, are therefore authentical; so as in all controversies of religion the
Church is finally to appeal unto them. But because these original tongues
are not known to all the people of God who have right unto, and interest
in, the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and
search them, therefore they are to be translated into the language of every
people unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in
all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and, through patience
and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope.
We can see that the accepted doctrine
of the Protestant Church was that God kept His Scripture pure in all ages.
That is how preservation was defined. Now before we go much further, let’s
look at what the word "pure" means. To be pure is to be complete, without
fault, free of foreign elements.1
This gives us an excellent idea of what the Westminster Divines were
telling us in this passage of the Confession. They believed that the
Scriptures in their original languages were pure and perfect in the
apographs (copies), not solely in the autographs.
Now let’s see what a modern confession
has to say about the purity and preservation of Scripture. The Chicago
Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (article X) says this:
We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the
autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be
ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further
affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the
extent that they faithfully represent the original.
We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by
the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders
the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.
This clearly shows us that modern
Christian teaching promulgates the idea that we can have Scripture with
"great accuracy," but not pure. How great is the accuracy? I’ve heard
scholars suggest numbers from 98% to over 99% (Bruce Metzger et al), but
never 100%. The statement of faith also shows that they look on the
apographs as being the Word of God only to the extent that they represent
the original. This is an interesting statement, as the originals do not
exist. Logically speaking, since we do not have the originals this
statement of faith confirms a belief that they do not know to what extent
the Scriptures that we have are the Word of God since it is impossible for
them to see how closely they represent the original.
There is another interesting statement
in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy that seems to contradict
modern textual criticism. Article XIV says:
We affirm the unity and internal consistency of Scripture.
We deny that alleged errors and discrepancies that have not yet been
resolved violate the truth claims of the Bible.
While they say that they believe in the
internal consistency of Scripture, let’s see what their modern textual
criticism teaches us…
The basic criteria for internally assessing variant readings is as follows:2
(1) The more difficult the reading the better.
(2) The shorter the reading the better.
(3) The reading that is in verbal dissidence with other readings is better.
(4) The less refined and more rough reading is to be preferred.
The modern textual critic believes that
the reading in dissidence with other readings is better! That’s hardly a
case for internal consistency.
We also see the doctrine of
preservation vanishing among Bible translators and Greek Text editors. I
will look at two popular evangelical translations as well as the critical
Greek Text put out by the United Bible Society.
2 Chronicles 31:16 (NASB):
without regard to their genealogical enrollment, to the males from thirty
years old and upward—everyone who entered the house of the LORD for his
daily obligations—for their work in their duties according to their
All ancient manuscripts contain "3
years old" and not the 30 that we see in the NASB. This shows that the
translators feel a need to correct the Scriptures. This need to correct
clearly goes against any honest teaching on preservation.
1 Samuel 13:1 (ESV):
Saul was ... years old when he began to reign, and he reigned ... and two
years over Israel.
Here the ESV translators show that
there is missing text in the Scriptures. Clearly you cannot show that there
is missing text and still believe the text has been preserved. Remember
that the definition of pure includes completeness. Besides, this would
sound very strange if read in public.
The editors of the UBS critical Greek
text also have a different idea of preservation. The UBS critical Greek
text at Acts 16:12 uses "protes" - which is found in no manuscript.
The reading should be "prote" without the "s." The "s"
makes the noun genitive, which changes the meaning. Instead of reading that
Philippi is a foremost city of Macedonia, it reads that Philippi is a city
of the first district of Macedonia. They do this because they do not think
the text has been preserved, but rather it needs correcting.
I strongly urge Christians to consider
where a denial of the preservation of Scripture will lead the Church.
Without preservation there is no purity. Without purity the text can be
questioned. When the text can be questioned we have no final authority. The
early Protestant Church understood the importance of this doctrine. We
should seek to embrace it again as something that is dearly beloved to us.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the
English Language, sv, "pure."
Bruce M Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission,
Corruption, and Restoration, 3rd ed (New York: Oxford University Press,
Lawrence E Bray (DD, ThD) heads the theological
department of Mt Carmel Institute of Biblical Studies, and is a deacon of
the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Boothwyn. He is a member of the
Trinitarian Bible Society and James Begg Society. The paper above was
originally published in The Presbyterian Standard (October-December 2006),
and is reprinted here by permission of the author.