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DOES THE BIBLE PROMISE
ITS OWN PRESERVATION?
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Dr. Richard Flanders
Juniata Baptist Church
Vassar, Michigan
What the Bible says about itself is very important. The fact that the Bible claims to be the Word of God is part of what leads us to believe that it is what it claims to be. Like the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bible must be judged in the light of the claims it makes for itself.
"There was much murmuring among the people concerning him: for some said, He is a good man: others said, Nay; but he deceiveth the people." (John 7:12)
How can Jesus be just "a good man" when He claims to be God? If He is not God, He is a deceiver! Since the Bible claims to be the very Word of God (See I Corinthians 2:7-13 and II Timothy 3:14-17), it cannot be just a "good book" not divinely-given. We must either believe that it is indeed God's Word or believe that it is a great religious deception. Our evaluation of the Bible must begin with its claims for itself.

Not only does the Bible claim to be inspired by God, but it also claims that its God-given words will be providentially preserved for future generations. These claims must be considered as the believing scholar approaches the findings of modern textual criticism in regard to the scriptures. The Christian who trusts the Bible's claims for itself will see the state of the text in a way that those who ignore or disbelieve these claims can never see it.


The Process

The first Bible was the Law of Moses, the Pentateuch, the five books at the beginning of the Old Testament. Moses wrote the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) in the desert wilderness between Israel's departure from Egypt and the nation's entrance into Canaan some forty years later. When these God-given words were written down, both their divine and human authors gave instructions for the preservation of their texts. Every future king of Israel was to "write him a copy of this Law in a book out of that which is before the priests," according to Deuteronomy 17:18. "It shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life; that he may learn to fear the Lord his God," says the following verse, "to keep all the words of this Law and these statutes, to do them." The Hebrew word translated "to keep" in verse 19 is shamar,which means to hedge about, to guard, or to protect. Sometimes it is translated "preserve" (as in Psalm 121:7). It was the duty of the king to preserve and protect the scriptures by personally making an accurate copy from the master scrolls kept by the priests. Near the end of the Law, we are told about a master manuscript, which originally was the very scroll delivered to the priests by Moses!
"And it came to pass, when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book, until they were finished, that Moses commanded the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying, Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee."(Deuteronomy 31:24-26)
It was "a witness against" them because the nation would eventually stray from the truth (Read Deuteronomy 31:27-29) and the unchanged master manuscript would provide pure copies of God's written Word to rebuke them in their future apostasy. It can be assumed that copies of the later scriptures written by holy men such as Joshua, Samuel, David, Solomon and the other prophets were to be similarly preserved. Note I Samuel 10:25, "Then Samuel told the people the manner of the kingdom, and wrote it in a book, and laid it up before the Lord. And Samuel sent all the people away, every man to his house."


The Copies

The Bible certainly leads us to believe that accurate and authoritative copies of scripture were available down through the years.
"This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night. . ." (Joshua 1:8)
"Then Joshua built an altar unto the Lord God of Israel in mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law. . .afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law." (Joshua 8:30-31, 34)
"Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left. . . (Joshua 23:6)
"And it came to pass, as soon as the kingdom was confirmed in his hand, that he slew his servants which had slain the king his father. But the children of the murderers he slew not: according unto that which is written in the book of the law. . ." (II Kings 14:5-6)
"Great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us." (II Kings 22:13)
"Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah hath read. . ." (II Kings 22:16)
"And they taught in Judah, and had the book of the law of the Lord with them, and went about throughout all the cities of Judah, and taught the people." (II Chronicles 17:9)
"They spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel." (Nehemiah 8:1)
"I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem." (Daniel 9:2)
Throughout their history, the Israelites had copies of the holy scripture which the Bible indicates were accurate to the very words.

In II Kings 22, we read about the discovery of "the book of the Law" during the project to repair the temple in the days of King Josiah. For many years (perhaps the whole reigns of wicked Kings Manasseh and Amon, Josiah's predecessors, 57 years) apostate Judah had little or no access to the written Word of God. The true religion of Jehovah had been forsaken by the leaders and by most of the people, and the scriptures had been abandoned. When young Josiah began to seek the Lord, he ordered the repair of the Temple and the restoration of correct Temple ritual. During the repair project, Hilkiah the high priest found a copy of the Pentateuch, which he sent to the king. Josiah's reading of the Law led to a revolution in his life and a revival of obedience to the Lord in Judah (Read Chapter 22 and 23). We should notice, as we read this story, two important things. First notice that the absence of the written Word in a time of apostasy and rejection of the Word is not the same as the acceptance of a corrupted form of the text during a period when the true text is lost. Some want to define the preservation of scripture in a way that allows the true text to be lost for over a millennium in forgotten libraries and monasteries while a corrupt text of the Bible is universally accepted by God's people. They use the story of Josiah to assert that the promises of preservation are not contradicted by the theory that many true readings were lost to the church for most of the history of the church only to be restored by textual critics in the last century or so. The story in II Kings 22 does not prove their point. The situations are not the same. Secondly, we will notice the emphasis in the chapter on the words of the Book.

"And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the book of the law, that he rent his clothes." (II Kings 22:11)
"Go ye, enquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that is found: for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us."
The very words of this copy were vital to God's dealing with the king and the people. Since "the words of this book" were so important, might we not assume that the very words of the original had been preserved in the copy found in the Temple?


The Hand of God

Not only is the system for transcribing scripture which God gave to Israel deemed successful in the Bible, but also the hand of God is seen in the preservation of the text. Read Psalm 78:1-8 and see the combination of divine and human work in the transmission of the Word. God's men passed God's Word "to the generation to come," but it was God Himself Who "established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children. . ." (v. 5).

The great Old Testament chapter on the Word of God, Psalm 119, also refers to the enduring quality of the scriptures.

"For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven." (v. 89)
"Concerning thy testimonies, I have known of old that thou hast founded them for ever." (v. 152)
"Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth forever." (v. 160)
The Word is settled in Heaven in the mind and in the faithfulness of God, but even in its earthly inscripturated form, the godly find it enduring. No honest reading of this chapter can miss this point.

Psalm 12 also promises that the Lord will preserve the purity of the scriptures from generation to generation.

"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. The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O Lord, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever." (Psalm 12:5-7)
Many Bible scholars interpret this part of the psalm to mean something different than it seems to say in English. They point out that "them" in the phrase, "Thou shalt keep them," is translated from a masculine pronominal suffix in Hebrew. Since the term "words" in verse 6 ("The words of the Lord are pure") is translated from a feminine Hebrew word, the things preserved in verse 7 cannot be the words of God. The antecedent of "them" must be the "poor" of verse 5, a masculine noun, they say. Psalm 12 is indeed about the preservation of the godly poor and oppressed, but the teaching is that they will be preserved through God's purified Word (Read the entire chapter). The wicked seek to prevail through their own vain, flattering, and proud words (vs. 1-4). The faithful few will survive these evil days through God's tried and purified words (vs. 5-8). Do "pure words" refer to a corrupted text? It should be noted that sometimes the Hebrew Old Testament does use a masculine pronoun in referring to a feminine antecedent. Psalm 119:152 and 167 give us examples of this phenomenon. It cannot be absolutely proven, but there certainly is reason to justify an exposition of Psalm 12 that regards the preservation of verse 7 as referring to the words of the Lord in verse 6. The term "forever" at the end of verse 7 would argue for the preservation of God's words rather than the preservation of a certain godly generation. Even the concept of God's Word as tried and purified in verse 6 argues for the preservation of a pure text from generation to generation. Consider Proverbs 30:5-6 in this matter.
"Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar."
The Old Testament teaches the preservation of scripture.


Inspiration and Authority

At the very beginning of the New Testament, we find an indication that the written Word of God has been preserved. When Old Testament scriptures are quoted in Matthew 2:5, 4:4, 4:7, and 4:10, the phrase is used, "It is written." This phrase is a translation of the Greek word gegraptai, which is the perfect indicative passive form of the verb grapho. According to Dr. Spiros Zodiates, the perfect tense of Greek verbs "has no exact equivalent in English" and "looks at an action as having been completed in the past but as having existing results." He suggests that "it is written" in the New Testament has the idea of "it stands written." Dana and Mantey's Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament says that the perfect tense "views action as a finished product." The tense "implies a process, but views that process as having reached its consummation and existing in a finished state." "It is written" does not mean "it was written at one time." It means "It was written and continues now as it was written."

Scriptures quoted in the New Testament are regarded as inspired and authoritative in their current form. Divine inspiration and authority are ascribed not only to the original manuscripts but also to the accepted form of the text in contemporary copies! New Testament references to authoritative scripture are always made to the existent text, and not to some mysterious form of the text possibly lost in antiquity. The only references made to the actual process of inspiration are in I Corinthians 2:7-13 and II Peter 1:19-21, where we are told that "holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."The rest of the statements about the Bible's infallibility refer to the form of the text in current copies.

"Then he said unto them O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself." (Luke 24:25-27) Jesus called a man a fool who would not believe everything in the scriptures. How can a person be accused of being this kind of fool if the words of the original writings are not preserved for men either to believe or disbelieve today?

"The scripture cannot be broken. . ." (Read John 10:33-36) Jesus said this about currently existing scriptures. What strong language He used about the authority of the Bible of His day! Moreover, the Lord Jesus explicitly taught that the very words of the Bible have been and will be preserved for ever. Read His statement of faithfulness to the Old Testament scripture in the first part of the Sermon on the Mount. "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 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." (Matthew 5:17-18) Some say that this promise refers only to the fulfillment of scripture and not to its preservation. But notice that it says the text of the Bible (to the very letter) will not "‘pass" in the sense that "heaven and earth" shall one day "pass." The Greek word used here for "pass" is parelthe, and it refers to the physical extinction of the thing that shall pass. It can also be translated "perish." Just as God's creation will pass some day, God's Words will never pass! The actual existence of the original text of scripture will continue eternally, just as the physical existence of heaven and earth will not continue. Preservation In Matthew 24:35, the Lord Jesus used the same terminology in referring to the preservation of His own words. "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." Just as the text of the Old Testament scriptures was preserved through the time of Jesus and will be preserved in a tangible way forever, the text of the New Testament will also be preserved. This is how Jesus could say, quoting Deuteronomy 8, that "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4).

I Peter 1:23-25 gives us a New Testament promise of scriptural preservation that connects with an Old Testament promise. "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. 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: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you." The Word of God by which the gospel is preached "endureth for ever." The Bible promises on which we base our hope of salvation will be preserved eternally by the power of God! This passage gives us an expansion of a promise already given back in Isaiah 40:8 (Look it up). The whole Bible assumes, implies, and promises that the words given by the Holy Spirit to the prophets for the scripture were and will be kept and preserved by God's providential care.

Objections Sadly however, many Christian scholars reject the idea that God promised to preserve His written word in accurate, available copies. Primarily, two reasons are given for this position. First, they say that the scriptures which seem to promise such preservation do not mean what they seem to say. Secondly, they contend that God could not have promised this kind of preservation of the scriptures because He in fact did not do it! The first reason given for disregarding the Bible's promise of its own preservation requires misinterpreting the plain meaning of many passages. It is argued that promises such as those in Matthew 5:18 and 24:35 refer to the fulfillment of scripture only, and not to its preservation. This interpretation ignores the word "pass" in reference to God's Words and His creation, as we have already noted. Other preservation promises are explained away by saying that they refer to the immutability of God's laws or the lasting effects of His Word in people's lives, and not to the endurance of His written words (Isaiah 40:6-8, I Peter 1:23-25). This kind of interpretation ignores the emphasis in such passages on the very words. A thoughtful examination of every attempt to take preservation out of these promises exposes how forced and unnatural such misinterpretations really are. Any honest reader of the Bible can see that it promises its own preservation.

The second argument against this doctrine is sadder than the first. Some scholars reject the teaching that God promised to preserve His Word because they say they have proof that He didn't! However, their proof arises out of their presuppositions. Several years ago, a preacher friend publicly criticized a statement I had made that the Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrated that God had preserved the text of the Old Testament over the thousand- year period between the writing of the scrolls and the production of what previously had been the oldest manuscripts of the same texts available. My friend said that the exact opposite is true, that the Dead Sea Scrolls prove that the text had not been preserved. A study of the facts in the case will demonstrate that the differences between my friend and me in this matter are differences in approach. The truth is that, of the more than 200 Biblical manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, 60% of them reflect the traditional Old Testament text found in the Masoretic manuscripts of a millennium later. The other 40% present us with texts that vary to some degree or another from the standard text. Nearly all of these manuscripts match no other Hebrew manuscripts outside the Dead sea collection, and about half of them follow readings peculiar to the sect that collected the scrolls. To a Bible student like me who believes that God promised to preserve the text of His written Word for all generations, the most significant fact about the Dead Sea Scrolls is that the traditional text was found. Dr. Gleason Archer wrote,

". . .the Hebrew University Isaiah Scroll [of the Dead Sea Scrolls]. . .corresponds almost letter for letter with the [traditional text]. . .and yet dates from 50 B.C."
Dr. Randall Price says,
"Once a comparison was made between the text of the Isaiah Scroll and the Masoretic Text [the traditional Hebrew text], it was evident that, except for minor details (such a spelling) that do not affect the meaning of the text, the two were almost identical. . .It confirmed the accuracy with which the scribes had carefully preserved and transmitted the biblical text through time."
To my friend, however, and many scholars like him, the most significant find at the Dead Sea in regard to the Bible's text was the existence of the variant texts!

The principles of modern textual criticism are based on the assumption that the exact preservation of the original text of an ancient document is extremely unlikely. Therefore older copies that present texts not conforming to the uniform text of later times are especially interesting to the modern critic. He expects that the text has been corrupted over time, and looks for old, non-traditional texts that bear what he considers earmarks of faithfulness to the original! The "canons" of modern textual criticism favor shorter, more difficult readings that fit into the critic's intuitive understanding of the most likely original wording. Believers in the Bible's own promises of preservation rejoice in evidence that the text as it was delivered to us existed throughout the history of the Bible. Therefore, my friend was struck with the non-conforming scrolls while I was encouraged by the exactness with which certain scrolls conformed to the traditional Old Testament text. Scientists who defend the Biblical doctrine of creation say that evolutionists examine the same evidence as creationists, but come up with opposite conclusions because of the different assumptions with which they begin.

The issues regarding the text of the Bible have divided believers into two groups: (1) those who follow the principles of modern textual criticism and search for the original wording of scripture in the maze of the manuscripts, and give special credence to older divergent readings; and (2) those who try to accept the text of the Bible as it was delivered to us, believing it has been preserved for God's people throughout all of the generations since it was written. Those who esteem the traditional text, and therefore reject the Hebrew and Greek texts underlying nearly all of the modern English translations, do so out of faith in the Bible's own promises of preservation. Those who try to assemble a different text that has been influenced by readings rejected or forgotten by the church for centuries, must do so while ignoring the plain promises of preservation.

The debate over Bible translations is really a debate over the ancient texts from which the Bible is to be translated. The debate over the texts arises out of differences over the doctrine of preservation. This is not a scientific or historical dispute; it is a doctrinal dispute. A correct understanding of what the Bible says about its own preservation will point both the scholar and the common believer to the traditional texts, and faith in the traditional texts will cause us to keep the Bible of our forefathers!

Monthly Article
Wed, 09 June 1999
by Dr. Rick Flanders
currently Pastor of
Juniata Baptist Church
Juniata Baptist Church
5656 Washburn Road
Vassar, MI 48768
juniatabaptist@juno.com
(517) 823-7848

Dr. Rick Flanders Biographical Data

Converted in 1963 through a radio ministry.
Earned B.A. and M.A. degrees from Bob Jones University.
Honorary D.D. from Pensacola Christian College.
Pastor at Juniata Baptist Church since 1973.
On BCPM Board, (Baptist Church Planting Ministry)
and also MACS. (Michigan Association of Christian School)


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