The Biblical Defence for the Verbal, Plenary Preservation of God’s Word

Thomas M. Strouse

Problems with Modern Versions

Advocates of the modern translations movement (ASV, NASV, NIV, NEB, RSV, etc.) hold to the conceptual view of inspiration. They believe that God inspired His divine concepts and then preserved these concepts in the extant Manuscripts (MSS). Consequently, through the science of textual criticism, man can restore the approximate wording of the original text. Since the concepts are inspired and preserved, the exact words representing these concepts may not be available and may vary. Hence, the modern versions and their underlying Hebrew and Greek texts do not contain all of the original words from the Lord, but textual critics may eventually restore the autographa (original text) wording. Dr. Ken Barker, general editor of the NIV, reflects this uncertainty about the NIV text, saying:

“The Greek text used … was an eclectic one. Where existing manuscripts differ, the translators made their choice of readings according to accepted principles of NT textual criticism. Footnotes call attention to places where there was uncertainty about what the original text was. The best current printed texts of the Greek NT were used.” (Preface, NIV)

Furthermore, many of the modern translations follow the United Bible Society Greek New Testament (26th edition) which incorporates errors in Matthew 1:7, 8, 10. In this passage of Christ’s royal lineage, the Textus Receptus (TR) Greek text of the King James Version (KJV) properly includes the kings Asa and Amon. However, the UBSGNT reads Asaph (the psalmist) for king Asa and Amos (the prophet) for king Amon. Admittedly, these are errors in the text the modern translations follow, and some of them ignore their own text and translate this passage accurately as in the KJV.

In a word, the modern versions do not have all of the words of the Lord and some alleged words are erroneous. Is it any wonder that many Christians have grave concerns about modern versions? Incidentally, these grave concerns are reflected by the fact the KJV outsells all other translations.

The Doctrine of Providential Preservation

The Bible translation controversy is not about the science of textual criticism or extant MSS, but it is about the Lord Jesus Christ’s promise to preserve His inspired words. The Bible teaches not only the verbal, plenary inspiration of the autographa, but also the verbal, preservation of the autographa. Bible believers accept passages such as 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:21 as clear declarations of the verbal, plenary inspiration of the autographa.

Is there not a Biblical warrant for Christians to expect the verbal, plenary preservation of the inspired autographa? Indeed, Christians in every generation have had the expectation to have access to all the words of the autographa.

For instance, Christ reiterated the Old Testament command of Deuteronomy 8:3 by stating, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). The expression “every word” translates panti remati, and it specifically refers to each and every word. Where are these very words by which man is to live?

Again, Christ implied the preservation of His very words as a standard of future judgment by stating, “The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). The expression “the word” translates ho logos and it refers to the totality of Christ’s words (cf. verse 47). Where is the totality of Christ’s words by which man will be judged some day? Based on verses such as these, the Christian has a Biblical warrant for expecting to have all of the words of Christ. These passages demand faith in the Lord’s providential preservation of His inspired autographa.

John 17:8

The clearest passage on Christ’s providential preservation of Scripture and man’s responsibility in receiving it is John 17:8, “For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.”

This passage teaches that Christ’s responsibility before the Father is to give His believers the Father’s words. Several questions must be answered. What and where are these words? Has Christ fulfilled His responsibility in preserving the Father’s words? Obviously, the answer to the first question is that the Father’s words are all the Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures. The second question must be answered in the affirmative. Christ has the power, character and means to preserve the Scripture. By faith in Christ, Christians have the warrant to expect to have all the words and every word of God preserved for them.

This passage also teaches the Christian’s responsibility toward Christ’s preserved words of the Father. Christ states that believers “have received them.” The word “received” translates elabon which is a 3rd person, plural, 2nd aorist, indicative active verb from lambano and it means “take” or “receive.” The believer’s responsibility is not to restore the 4th century text (i.e., Westcott and Hort) through the science of textual criticism (advocates of modern versions), but to receive the providentially preserved words of Christ. When the doctrine of the preservation of Scripture is rejected or downplayed, all that is left is man’s imperfect and rationalistic efforts. Historically, believers have always had a “received text,” which name they ultimately gave to the 1633 Greek text of the Elzevir brothers (i.e., Textus Receptus), confirming their belief in the doctrine of the providential preservation of Scripture.

“My Sheep Hear My Voice”

Christ not only teaches that He will preserve the words of the Father, but also that believers will hear His voice (John 10:27). Where is the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ? HIS VOICE IS HIS WORDS. The Lord has given believers the means by which to verify the “received words.” Believers, indwelt with the Holy Spirit, “hear” and know which words are Christ’s “received words.” Furthermore, according to John 10:5, believers “know not the voice of strangers.” Consequently, believers not only recognise a “received text,” but believers also reject the voice of strangers (“rejected text”). Applying the teaching of these verses to the version debate, one must conclude that the Lord has preserved His words in a “received text” and that believers will hear the voice of the Lord in this text. This is why Christians have maintained that the Textus Receptus is the voice of the Lord and that the variants in the modern versions are the voice of strangers. Why have Christians defended the Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7, 8) through the ages in spite of sparse manuscript evidence? Believers accept this passage as the received words of the Father because they hear the Lord’s voice.


Christ promised to preserve every word of the original text for believers. Believers recognise the “received words” and verify them by “hearing” the Lord’s voice. This is subjective, but so are all other approaches. The subjectivism of the received text approach leads to certainty; the subjectivism of the critical text approach leads to uncertainty. The controversy around the version issue focuses on either faith in Christ’s preservation or faith in man’s textual criticism techniques. Where has the reader placed his faith?

Dr. Thomas M. Strouse is the dean of Emmanuel Baptist Theological Seminary, Newington, Connecticut, U.S.A.

– Published in Bible Witness, Vol 2 Issue 4 (October – December 2002)