Why I Keep Talking about the Text/Preservation Issue

Dr Kent Brandenburg

I should be doing more evangelism. I can’t disagree there. I need psychoanalysis because I’m obsessing about the text/preservation issue. That’s not true, although some would say it. Am I feeling left out of the conversation because of what I believe about perfect preservation, so I’m burrowing my way in? This wouldn’t be the way to become “in,” and I don’t need to say, “Believe me.” You already know that.

This isn’t a one string banjo with me. I like talking about it, because I think it’s important, but anyone who is a member of our church knows that I preach on Isaiah Sunday mornings, just starting Luke on Wednesday evenings, and Old Testament historical books on Sunday night. I’m not a pet-peeve preacher. This isn’t one. I believe, however, that it is crucial and I want to explain exactly why. I care about all the right doctrine—the gospel, Jesus Christ, sanctification, the church, prophecy—but this one is foundational to all other doctrines. Why? It relates to the authority of Scripture.

John Feinberg, quoted in Norman Geisler’s book, Inerrancy, writes: “I have never been able to understand how one can be justified in claiming absolute authority for the Scriptures and at the same time deny their inerrancy. This seems to be the height of epistemological nonsense and confusion. Let me try to illustrate the point. Suppose that I have an Amtrak railroad schedule. In describing its use to you, I tell you that it is filled with numerous errors but that it is absolutely authoritative and trustworthy. I think you would be extremely dubious. At least the schedule would have one thing going for it; it declares itself to be subject to change without notice.”

I give you that quote, because he explains well the importance of inerrancy to the authority of Scripture. This is why Richard Capel, one of the Westminster divines, wrote this in 1658: “And to the like purpose is that observation, that the two Tables written immediately by Moses and the Prophets, and the Greek Copies immediately penned by the Apostles, and Apostolical men are all lost, or not to be made use of, except by a very few. And that we have none in Hebrew or Greek, but what are transcribed. Now transcribers are ordinary men, subject to mistake, may faile, having no unerring spirit to hold their hands in writing.”

Speaking of these types of statements, Capel immediately writes: “These be terrible blasts, and do little else when they meet with a weak head and heart, but open the doore to Atheisme and quite to fling off the bridle, which onely can hold them and us in the wayes of truth and piety: this is to fill the conceits of men with evil thoughts against the Purity of the Originals: And if the Fountains run not clear, the Translation cannot be clean.”

Do you see what Richard Capel is saying in 1658? This teaching that we do not have a supernaturally preserved text leads to atheism. He says also that without the Divine authority of a perfect, preserved edition of Scripture, the bridle of God’s Word is thrown off, so that men will not live in truth and in piety. He is saying that if the original text isn’t pure, then the translation certainly is not. If you take the Feinberg quote above and you apply it to the original manuscripts alone, you still have a major problem with Biblical authority.

So Does What Capel Said Really Happen?

The Capel warning is fleshed out years later in the testimony of Bart Ehrman. He professes that this is the exact reason why he pushed the eject button on Christianity. He talks of the tell-tale moment in the introduction to his book, Misquoting Jesus: “This was a compelling problem. It was the words of scripture themselves that God had inspired. Surely we have to know what those words were if we want to know how he had communicated to us. … I kept reverting to my basic question: how does it help us to say that the Bible is the inerrant word of God if in fact we don’t have the words that God inerrantly inspired, but only the words copied by scribes—sometimes correctly but sometimes (many times!) incorrectly? What good is it to say that the autographs (i.e., the originals) were inspired? We don’t have the originals! … This became a problem for my view of inspiration, for I came to realize that it would have been no more difficult for God to preserve the words of scripture than it would have been for him to inspire them in the first place.”

Benjamin Warfield Knew Too, As Does Daniel Wallace

Benjamin Warfield understood the trajectory that textual criticism would take on the authority of Scripture and, therefore, the faith of men, so he reinvented the doctrine of preservation and became the first publicly to tie inerrancy to the original manuscripts only. He attempted to remove the doctrine of inerrancy from the Bible that we actually have and use.

Now men like Daniel Wallace, professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and author of an advanced Greek grammar that is used all over the country, deny that Scripture teaches its own preservation and move inerrancy to a secondary or tertiary doctrine. Wallace explains in a recent interview at Evangelical Textual Criticism: “For example, I am not convinced that the Bible speaks of its own preservation. That doctrine was first introduced in the Westminster Confession, but it is not something that can be found in scripture. But with the rise of postmodern approaches to biblical studies, where all views are created equal, it seems that theology is having a role in the discussion. … What I tell my students every year is that it is imperative that they pursue truth rather than protect their presuppositions. And they need to have a doctrinal taxonomy that distinguishes core beliefs from peripheral beliefs. When they place more peripheral doctrines such as inerrancy and verbal inspiration at the core, then when belief in these doctrines start to erode, it creates a domino effect: One falls down, they all fall down. It strikes me that something like this may be what happened to Bart Ehrman … [I]f inerrancy goes, everything else begins to erode. I would say that if inerrancy is elevated to the status of a prime doctrine, that’s when one gets on a slippery slope. But if a student views doctrines as concentric circles, with the cardinal doctrines occupying the center, then if the more peripheral doctrines are challenged, this does not have an effect on the core.”

Do you see how that inerrancy has moved to the back seat with Daniel Wallace? He is trying to coordinate his theology with his textual criticism and it fails. Rather than believe in a perfect text, instead he unloads first the doctrine of preservation of Scripture and then he downscales his doctrine of inerrancy.

Wallace smacks of something totally different than what we read of Samuel Rutherford, in A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience, in 1649: “Though the Letter of the Scripture be not the Word alone, yet the Letter with the true sense and meaning of it, is the Word. … So if ye destroy the Letter of the Scripture, you do destroy the Scripture; and if you do deny the Letter, how is it possible that you should attain to the true sense thereof, when the Sense lies wrapped up in the Letters, and the words thereof?”

So New Definitions and a Fake History Are Invented

One of the new ways that the MVO (Multiple Versions Only) men are explaining themselves into some kind of inerrancy for our modern Bibles is by redefining error. You can see that Rutherford tied error into the letters of Scripture, of course, in fitting with the “jot” and “tittle” of Jesus in Matthew 5:18. That is the historic view.

The authors of God’s Word in Our Hands, The Mind of God to the Mind of Man, The King James Only Sect, The King James Version Debate, Only One Bible?, and God’s Word Preserved would all want you to believe that God’s “Word” is preserved. The emphasis is on the singular “Word.” They say that we have authority in Scripture because we have Truth in the Words, essentially taking a conceptual preservation of Scripture, where the message and the doctrines are what is really important, separating the teaching of Scripture from the actual Words. Do you see where all of this heads? Well, it’s not all.

Some of them in fitting with this new view of preservation also have developed some novel interpretations of the harmony of the gospel statements of the Lord Jesus Christ. They teach an ipsissima vox position that says that we are not reading the Lord Jesus, but actually a paraphrase of Him. You see, they say, the very Words don’t matter, as long as we get the message. They will defend this position and use it to defend only the “Truth” being preserved. Before long, just like with Wallace, the inerrancy of the originals won’t matter either. All of Scripture is inspired, but not verbally. The authority of Scripture is gone.

I can’t judge the MVO reasoning, but they want you to believe that their position is historical. Of the modern, “fundamental,” MVO books, most of them have a huge chunk dedicated to telling a history of their position, which by their own admission is a little over 100 years old. They quote essentially modern fundamentalists stretching back to the late 19th century to show that they have a historical view. Then they spend an equal amount of space to make the position you read above in Capel and Rutherford to look like its something brand new that originated in the 20th century. All of this is either purposeful deception or ignorance. They argue adamantly that they have an old position. To use the words of Mike Harding, “It is laughable if it were not so serious in its consequences.”

And So What Else Happens?

Some have already taken these modern “fundamental” and “evangelical” beliefs to their next logical conclusion. They don’t think we can be so certain about the teachings of Scripture, so what really matters is that we have a “conversation” about the Bible itself. This is the mantra of the “emerging church.”

Conservative evangelicals (like Phil Johnson and John MacArthur) argue almost ad infinitum in blogs and books against the emergents, while their own beliefs about the trustworthiness of the words of our modern text are at the foundation of this very denial. It’s a tough admission, because I think that they are sincere about “truth” and really don’t want to separate from Words, but once we admit we have a percentage of error in the Words of Scripture, pop goes the authority.

This should give you a taste as to why it is that I am so concerned about all this. This strikes right at Christian living and loyalty to Jesus Christ. And this is not all of it. They twist Scripture to keep their textual criticism intact. They give new meanings to the words of Scripture. And then it doesn’t matter so much any more what you do. After all, how can anyone be sure? Well, don’t believe it. Instead, believe what God has said about the perfect preservation of His Word. It’s the truth, after all.

(Source: http://kentbrandenburg.blogspot.com; used with permission.)

Dr Kent Brandenburg is Pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, El Sobrante, California, USA.

Published in The True Life BPC's Weekly, Volume 5 Number 51.