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“Holding forth the Word of Life” Philippians 2:16
“Holding fast the Faithful Word” Titus 1:9
Jesus said, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev 2:10).1
The Christian Faith is founded upon the Holy Scriptures. God gave the Church a library of 66 books as His Sacred Word. The Holy Bible comprising the Old and New Testaments was written by more than 40 authors over a period of 1,500 years in three different languages. Christ is the preeminent person in the Bible. His name occurs no less than 770 times. Christians live by this Book. When believers are baptised and are received into church membership, they are expected to believe that the Bible is the very Word of God and the words therein are perfect and true.
Since the Lord has given us these Scriptures by divine inspiration (2 Tim 3:16), it follows that they must be divinely preserved if they are to accomplish their intended purpose throughout the ages. The Lord Jesus Christ made a promise to this effect, “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” (Matt 5:18). This is the classic text on the preservation of the Bible for it extends to the minute details of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. He also said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matt 24:35, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33). These and other references show us that the doctrine of preservation has been there since the Bible was written. Unfortunately it is absent in modern theological books. Nevertheless, there are sufficient evidences to show that Protestant and Reformed theology has always believed in the special providential preservation of the Bible.
Thomas Watson in his book—A Body of Divinity—first published in 1672, said this about Biblical preservation:
We may know the Scripture to be the Word of God by its miraculous preservation in all ages. The holy Scriptures are the richest jewel that Christ has left us; and the church of God has so kept these public records of heaven, that they have not been lost. The Word of God has never wanted enemies to oppose, and, if possible, to extirpate it. They have given out a law concerning Scripture, as Pharaoh did the midwives, concerning the Hebrew women’s children, to strangle it in the birth; but God has preserved this blessed Book inviolable to this day. The devil and his agents have been blowing at Scripture light, but could never blow it out; a clear sign that it was lighted from heaven. Nor has the church of God, in all revolutions and changes, kept the Scripture that it should not be lost only, but that it should not be depraved. The letter of Scripture has been preserved, without any corruption, in the original tongue. The Scriptures were not corrupted before Christ’s time, for then Christ would not have sent the Jews to them. He said, ‘Search the Scriptures.’ He knew these sacred springs were not muddied with human fancies.2
It is noted that in this paragraph, Watson used the word “preserve” or “preservation” three times. The inerrancy of the Bible is commonly held by true believers, and it must be added that the Bible is inerrant precisely because it has been preserved. As it exists today in many human languages it was divinely inspired in the original autographs, and then divinely preserved in the apographs or copies in the original languages. For centuries these were copied by hand until the invention of the printing press, which coincided with the global movement of the Protestant Reformation. By God’s special providence the Scriptures have been supernaturally preserved and passed down from generation to generation in the copies.
When the church was revived after the darkness of the Middle Ages, Christians began to see the need for translating the Bible into different languages so that all could read the Bible for themselves. This was the position taken by the Westminster Confession of Faith. So while the drafters of the Confession believed in divine inspiration and God’s particular care and providence to keep the inspired words pure, they also believed that translations could convey the truth of the original. When they penned the statement they did not foresee the controversy that would arise many years later. But as truth does not change, their words are relevant today as they were when they were first written. A modern author has added his voice to this doctrine with these words,
God gave His word … in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. God preserved the Bible down through the centuries through dedicated copyists who meticulously copied it by hand. God’s Word was preserved both in manuscript form and in the early commentaries on the Bible. Further, the Bible was preserved through its translation into the languages of the common people. Thus today people over much of the globe have the wonderful privilege of reading with understanding God’s Word to mankind.3
As the controversy over the doctrine of special providential preservation of the Scriptures has resurfaced in theological circles, it is worth noting the latest developments, and where necessary, make adjustments and corrections to past shortcomings and oversights. It has also been observed that the voluminous works of many recent theological heavyweights say little or nothing at all about the doctrine of Bible preservation. It is therefore a task for the present generation to state with clarity the biblical position of this doctrine and defend it for the benefit of the Church present and future. Taking the lead, the principal of the Far Eastern Bible College (FEBC) has made this statement of faith,
We believe the preservation of Holy Scripture and its Divine inspiration stand in the same position as providence and creation. If Deism teaches a Creator who goes to sleep after creating the world is absurd, to hold to the doctrine of inspiration without preservation is equally illogical. … Without preservation, all inspiration, God-breathing into scripture would be lost. But we have a Bible so pure and powerful in every word and it is so because God preserved it down through the ages.4
FEBC’s stand on the 100% perfect preservation of Scripture is beginning to yield fruits.
This discovery is a challenge to the present generation as the discovery of the doctrine of justification by faith alone was to Luther and his contemporaries. The doctrine has always been there but has been kept on the shelves. It has to be publicised and taught to everyone. When Hilkiah the priest found the book of the Law in the Lord’s house he gave it to Shaphan the scribe who in turn took it and read it before King Josiah (2 Chron 34:15–18). This marked the beginning of Josiah’s reforms that brought great spiritual revival to Judah in days of apostasy. In the same manner, proclaiming and publishing the doctrine of the preservation of the Bible may be the beginning of greater things for the church in the days to come.
The doctrine of Bible preservation may not go down well with many scholars who deny that there is such a doctrine. There is also a tendency of citing big names in theological circles, and making them the final authority instead of the Bible. But if the Bible teaches the special providential preservation of the Scriptures, no human being can destroy it. Biblical truth does not depend on historical treatment by men but by what God says about it in His forever infallible and inerrant Word. Defenders of God’s Truth may suffer persecution, but there must be no surrender by way of compromise or retraction of what is biblically true. Since the doctrine of biblical preservation has much to do with faith, it may be ridiculed as unscholarly especially by those who wish to indulge in textual criticism. But it must be remembered that it is not scholarship that determines Truth, but Truth determines scholarship.
Christian doctrines or dogma are those principles of faith that constitute what is believed and practised by the Christian Church. They come from an authoritative source, namely, the Bible. There is much we can learn about a Christian’s commitment to dogma from the Apostle Paul who was persecuted for preaching Christ as the Son of God and the Messiah, and the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead (Acts 23:6). He is an example in the believer’s commitment to doctrine. He went through great suffering and was subsequently martyred for the defence of the faith. Tradition tells us that the rest of the Apostles likewise died a martyr’s death. They stood firm in their faith in Christ despite great opposition and persecution.
In Church history we have the example of Polycarp who stood firm for his Lord. When he was compelled to deny Christ and to worship Caesar as God, he refused and paid for it with his life. Here is his story:
The usual test applied to Christians was that they must call Caesar, the emperor, ‘Lord’, as if he were a divine person. Refusal to do so meant the death sentence. Taken before the Roman consul, Polycarp was required to say, on oath, that he venerated Caesar in this way. But he was firm in his refusal. ‘I have wild beasts’ said the consul; ‘if you refuse I will throw you to them’. ‘Send for them’ replied Polycarp. ‘If you despise the wild beasts I will send you to the fire’, said the consul; ‘swear and I will release you: curse the Christ’. ‘Eighty and six years have I served Christ’ replied Polycarp, ‘and he has done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my King who has saved me? You threaten the fire that burns for an hour and then is quenched; but you know not of the fire of the judgment to come, and the fire of the eternal punishment. Bring what you will’. The consul was astonished and sent a herald to announce to the people that Polycarp had confessed himself to be a Christian. When the torch was applied to the wood, and smoke and flames encircled him, again he prayed: ‘Lord God, Father of our blessed Saviour, I thank thee that I have been deemed worthy to receive the crown of martyrdom, and that I may die for thee and for thy cause’. It is recorded that all the multitude ‘marvelled at the great difference between the unbelievers and the elect’. They saw what Christian obedience meant, for Jesus had said, ‘Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life’ (Rev 2:10).5
Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John, and was a pastor of the church in Smyrna. He believed that his faith in Christ was worth dying for even when all people were against it. He had the determination to stand alone for Christ. He met his death in AD 150. Countless other Christians through history have suffered the same fate, but they knew that what they believed was worth dying for. This is illustrated by the above testimony of Polycarp when he showed that the fire he was about to face was nothing compared to eternal fire of God’s punishment that all unbelievers would one day face.
As the early Christians stood and died for what they believed, such a stand is still needful today. Today, there are Christian martyrs in countries that are antagonistic to Christianity. Christians are holding on to their faith despite the persecution they face for it is a faith worth dying for. A believer’s commitment to His Lord and His Word cannot be compromised for anything. The doctrine of Bible preservation is a fundamental doctrine of the Bible, a foundational truth that we cannot deny. It is a doctrine worth dying for!
1 Not in the sense of terrorism, for terrorism is evil and criminal, and must be condemned.
2 Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth and Trust, reprint 1965), 27.
3 Michael C Bere, Bible Doctrines for Today (Pensacola: A Beka Book, 1996), 75.
4 Timothy Tow and Jeffrey Khoo, A Theology for Every Christian: Knowing God and His Word (Singapore: Far Eastern Bible College Press, 1998), 47.
5 S M Houghton, Sketches from Church History (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1980), 18.
The Rev Michael Koech is Principal of Bomet Bible Institute in Kenya.
– Published in The Burning Bush, Volume 12 Number 2, July 2006.