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There is much confusion today over the Word of God. Opinions abound from

those who say that it has been lost to those who say we have it perfectly preserved in a single translation. This situation is not a new phenomenon. Even in the first few years after the resurrection of Christ, there were those trying to corrupt the gospel message. In the first century, Paul warned the church to reject any other gospel (Gal. 1:6-7; 2 Cor. 11:4). The question of whether we can rely on the Bible manuscripts is of utmost importance. The discipline of textual criticism (high and low) is very rigorous and complex, requiring many years of study and education. 1 Rooms could be filled with the papers written on the different text families, variants, critical apparatus, text transmission, ad infinitum. However, there are issues that are foundational and within the scope and grasp of the interested layman. One of those issues is that of the preservation of the Scripture. There are several questions that need to be addressed. Do the Scriptures promise their own preservation? Did God preserve the words of Scripture from the writing of the original autographs to the present day? If so, where exactly are those preserved words? How did God preserve His word, supernaturally or naturally? Can we have confidence in our English Bibles today? This paper will attempt to compare and contrast the leading views of preservation that give their answers to these questions. William D. Barrick, associate professor of Old Testament at The Masters Seminary aptly states, Few works on systematic theology deal with the important

The author of this paper is not a textual scholar and readily admits his reliance on the work of others especially in languages. Therefore, the work will, for the most part, avoid technical textual issues that are beyond the authors ability to verify.

doctrine of preservation, yet Scripture itself deals extensively with that doctrine.2 Without some sort of belief in preservation there is no basis for confidence in teaching

the word of God. Barrick cogently states, The belief that Gods written Word had been preserved without undue alteration is the basis for confidence in the teachings of the Bible.3 Even Bloesch, a somewhat liberal theologian echoes this point, Divine inspiration entails guidance or superintendence, illumination and even preservation. God preserves the actual testimony of his herald as the medium of his continual selfdisclosure in the community founded on the incarnation. The reality of Gods preservation of Scripture is attested both in Scripture and in the Westminster Confession of Faith.45 Before the body of the paper begins, one point needs to be made. Arguing with unbelievers on the issue of preservation of Scripture is like arguing with an evolutionist about what day God created land animals. The Bible skeptic does not believe the original argument: that the Bible is historically accurate; that God inspired (in the biblical

William Barrick, Ancient Manuscripts and Biblical Exposition, The Masters Seminary Journal, vol. 9/1 (Spring 1998): 25. Barricks main thrust is that every expositor of Scripture should participate in the process of preservation by examining the text in the original languages, identifying the texts original statement, and expounding the original text. He states, The Bible expositors goal should be the accurate presentation of Gods written revelation. That accuracy relates directly to the degree to which the expounded text conforms to what God originally revealed. 26. 3 Barrick, Ancient Manuscripts, 27. 4 Adele Bloesch, Holy Scripture: Revelation, Inspiration & Interpretation. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 121. 5 Article VIII of The Westminster Confession of 1646: 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 vulgar language of every nation 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. The Second London Confession of 1677 and the Philadelphia Confession of Faith of 1742 have almost identical statements.

sense) the authors and therefore the Bible is without error and authoritative on all matters on which it speaks. The debate over the doctrine of preservation can only be honestly argued among believers. Therefore, this paper makes no attempt to debate the historicity and divine inspiration of the autographs. It is taken for granted. First, one must establish what is meant by the word preservation. There are several views on preservation. William Barrick, associate professor of Old Testament at The Masters Seminary, defines it biblically: A definition of preservation as it relates to the Scriptures is best derived from the Scriptures themselves...(1) that God preserves His Word forever, (2) that God preserves His Word unchanged, and (3) that God preserves His Word primarily in heaven. Psalm 119:89 is the key biblical reference. Gods revelatory word is fixed firmly in heaven, Regardless of what might happen to His Word on earth, it is securely preserved in His mind. The primary residence of God is heaven, so it is only logical that the psalmist would define the presence of the eternal Word as the divine abode. On earth, however, Gods people are responsible for preserving and transmitting the Scriptures.6

Dr. William Combs of Detroit Baptist Seminary makes the distinction between the belief in the doctrine of preservation and, simply, belief in preservation.7 The position that upholds the doctrine of preservation teaches that the Bible explicitly promises that God will preserve the words of Scripture.8 There are varying degrees of specificity within this group that will be discussed throughout this paper. The other group states that the Scriptures have been preserved but not by supernatural preservation, and that the Bible does not speak to its own preservation.9 They teach that God used natural means to preserve His word. Combs goes on to say, To my knowledge, no one in that

Barrick, Ancient Manuscripts, 28. The Preservation of Scripture, Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, vol.5 (Fall 2000): 6. 8 This view exists on a wide spectrum ranging from the extreme of Peter Ruckman to the more moderate position of Dr. Zane Hodges with many nuances of positions in between. 9 Dr. Daniel Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary and Dr. W. Edward Glenny of Northwestern College have espoused this view.
7 William Combs,

group [the group that denies the doctrine of preservation] denies the preservation of Scripture, that is, that the books of the Old and New Testaments have been substantially preserved to our day.10 He contends one group argues from theological necessity and the other from historical reality. The author of this paper asserts that the positions of these two groups are not as far apart as sometimes believed. To illustrate this point, Sorenson asks the question in Touch Not the Unclean Thing, Was that preservation [of the Scriptures] miraculous? In some cases, perhaps so. However, it would rather seem that God has chosen to providentially preserve it.11 He goes on to

explain what he means by providential; giving the standard definition of divine guidance or care. This sounds very close to the view expressed by Combs. He writes, When most writers speak of the preservation of the Scripture as being providential, they mean Scripture had been preserved by secondary causation, through ordinary human means, rather than by Gods direct, miraculous intervention.12 It is worth noting that Combs holds to a view of preservation in the totality of the documents as opposed to preservation in one text family or specific manuscript (such as the TR, which Sorenson advocates).13 Dr. Daniel Wallace, professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Studies, has written extensively against a doctrine of preservation. Yet he states,

10 11

Combs, Preservation, 7. David Sorenson, Touch Not the Unclean Thing, (Duluth MN: Northstar Baptist Ministries, 2001): (57; emphasis added). 12 William Combs, The Preservation of Scripture, Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal Fall 2000, 9. Combs goes on to say, God has not chosen to preserve the Scriptures miraculously. Which seems to this writer to be an absolute statement that is not verifiable. There may very well be many cases of Gods miraculous preservation that are thus far unknown. 13 Combs, Preservation, 29. I am arguing in this essay-preservation of the Scriptures in the totality of the manuscripts. It should also be noted that Combs espouses a doctrine of preservation, though not quite as strong or specific as some KJV/TR advocates.

My own preference is to speak of Gods providential care of the text as can be seen throughout church history, without elevating such to the level of doctrine. If this makes us theologically uncomfortable, it should at the same time make us at ease historically, for the NT is the most remarkably preserved text of the ancient world-both in terms of the quantity of manuscripts and in their temporal proximity to the originals. Not only this but the fact that no major doctrine is affected by any viable textual variant surely speaks of Gods providential car of the text. Just because there is no verse to prove this does not make it any less true.14 As one can readily see, there is disagreement on the meaning of preservation but it seems to be a more a matter of degrees and not substance.

Does the Bible speak of its own preservation? There are several verses cited for supporting a doctrine of preservation: Ps. 12:6-7,119:89, 152, 160; Isa. 40:8; Matt. 5:1718, 24:35; Jn. 10:35; and 1 Pt. 23-25. It is beyond the scope of this paper to go into the details of each of these verses. To summarize, the KJV/TR/MT positions believe these verses to teach that God has promised to preserve the actual words and grammatical structure of the original autographs (again, with varying degrees of exactness). Burgon is the first champion of the Preserved Text position.15 He was a staunch defender of the preservation of the traditional text and argued vehemently against Westcott and Hort and their text. However, it must be noted that Burgon did not claim perfection in the traditional text. 16 He wrote, Once for all, we request it may be clearly understood that

Daniel B. Wallace, Inspiration, Preservation, and New Testament Textual Criticism Grace Theological Journal, Vol. 12/1 (1992): 43. Also, James. A Borland, The Preservation of the New Testament Text: A Common Sense Approach, The Masters Seminary Journal, vol. 10/1 (Spring 1999), 41-51. When speaking about Matt. 5:18, The emphasis is not that a jot or title would never be overlooked when copying a biblical manuscript, but rather that not even the least aspect of Gods promises would ever fail to be fulfilled by the Almighty God who created and now sustains this magnificent universeThe preservation of the New Testament text is not to be founded upon a glib quotation of these or other such verses. 41-42. 15 Quotes not meant disparagingly, but to denote what more recent writers such as Dr. David Sorenson label the position. 16 John W. Burgon, The Traditional Text of the Gospels, ed. Edward Miller (London: George Bell and Sons, 1896), pp. 1112. There exists no reason for supposing that the Divine Agent, who in the first instance thus gave to mankind the Scriptures of Truth, straightway abdicated His office; took no further

we do not, by any means, claim perfection for the Received text. We entertain no

extravagant notions on this subject. Again and again we shall have occasion to point out that the Textus Receptus needs correction.17 The other position takes these verses to mean that the promises of God will be fulfilled and His law will not be broken, but are silent as to the preservation of the written word.18 It is important to remember that both sides believe in the historical reality of a preserved word, but the disagreement is in how and to what extent the exact words have been preserved. This paper has purposely left out the views of skeptics such as Dr. Bart Ehrman.19 There are a few Biblical illustrations of the doctrine of preservation. One is found in Jeremiah 36, where Jehoiakim cut up and burned the scroll of Jeremiah. However, God had Jeremiah rewrite the words and even added more to them. Feinberg eloquently states, Jehoiakims destruction of the scroll was one of many attempts through the centuries to destroy Gods Word. But the Word of the Lord is indestructible. The God who inspires the Word will see to its preservation.20

care of His work; abandoned those precious writings to their fate. That a perpetual miracle was wrought for their preservationthat copyists were protected against the risk of error, or evil men prevented from adulterating shamefully copies of the Depositno one, it is presumed, is so weak as to suppose. But it is quite a different thing to claim that all down the ages the sacred writings must needs have been Gods peculiar care; that the Church under Him has watched over them with intelligence and skill; has recognized which copies exhibit a fabricated, which an honestly transcribed text; has generally sanctioned the one, and generally disallowed the other. (11-12; emphasis added) 17 John W. Burgon, The Revision Revised (reprint ed.; Paradise, PA: Conservative Classics), p. 21, 18 Wallace, Inspiration, 42. It seems that a better interpretation of all these texts is that they are statements concerning either divine ethical principles (i.e., moral laws which cannot be violated without some kind of consequences) or the promise of fulfilled prophecy. 19 Dr. Bart Ehrman, one-time, self-proclaimed, evangelical (undergrad at Wheaton) but now skeptic. He posits that we cannot know what the original autographs said, and that it is impossible to reconstruct them with any certainty. He is currently the James A. Gray Professor of Religion at UNC-Chapel Hill. See for more information. 20 Charles, L. Feinberg, Jeremiah, The Expositors Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein, ed. (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1986) 6:609.

Barrick points out that God might, on occasion, allow a portion of his written Word to be destroyed and even to be lost for a time. God allowed the priests to misplace the entire five books of Moses for at least fifty years. The Lord sovereignly orchestrated the recovery of those books at the right time. The recovered revelation sparked Josiahs revival.21 One of the main arguments for the TR/MT manuscripts

against the Alexandrian text family is the argument from accessibility. Would God allow the best texts to be hidden for centuries? These verses do not explicitly say anything about future preservation of texts. However, it should enter into the argument for accessibility. R. A. Taylor provides this analogy, God is His providence allowed in the medieval ages the doctrine of justification by faith to be almost eclipsed from public understanding until the Reformation leaders again called attention to that doctrine. Would Hills [Edward Hills] have God concerned that an exact from of the New Testament text be available but unconcerned about serious and widespread soteriological misunderstandings?22 Wallace goes on to ask, If God did not protect a major doctrine like justification, on what basis can we argue that he would protect one form of the text over another when no doctrinal issues are at stake.23 This analogy in itself does not prove the point, but it does point out that the argument is as simple not as it seems. Secondly, one must make clear what is being preserved. Is the exact wording, tense, and syntax preserved perfectly? Does preservation apply only in general but not guarantee an exact copy of the originals? If the mode of preservation is in question, is

Barrick, Ancient Manuscripts, 31. A. Taylor, The Modern Debate Concerning the Greek Textus Receptus: A Critical Examination of the Textual Views of Edward Hills (Ph. D. dissertation, Bob Jones University, 1973): 156. Quoted in Wallace, Inspiration, 34. 23 Wallace, Inspiration, 34.
22 R.

there any agreement on the results of preservation? The views fall basically in two groups: (1) those who believe the Scriptures have been preserved in the totality of the biblical manuscripts (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), and (2) those who believe that the Scriptures have only been accurately preserved in the KJV/TR/MT tradition-that any other textual tradition is corrupt.24 In the second group, there are varying degrees of specificity. One extreme position is that of KJV-only, mainly advocated in writing by Peter Ruckman.25 The position basically states that God has preserved His word perfectly in

the KJV. Ruckman goes so far as to argue that even the Greek and Hebrew texts need to be corrected by the KJV. This position, while maintaining limited support, is not a major force in seminaries/colleges today. It seems to have been a fad that upon closer examination has no biblical, historical, or logical foundation. In the authors estimation, it was most likely a well-intentioned reaction to the liberalism on biblical inspiration that permeated many seminaries in the twentieth century. However, good intentions do not equal good theology. The TR (Textus Receptus) viewpoint suggests that the various printed editions of the Greek New Testament, beginning with Erasmus in 1516, more perfectly preserve the autographs. One of the earliest writers for this view was Jasper James Ray. Ray refrained from taking the extreme approach of Ruckman, but he did advocate that no modern version could be called the Bible that was not based on the TR. Rays arguments for the TR are based on preservation. He elevates the doctrine of preservation to the same level of inspiration in this statement, The writing of the Word
24 25

Combs, Preservation, 6. Peter Ruckman, The Christians Handbook of Manuscript Evidence (Pensacola: Pensacola Bible Institute, 1970)

of God by inspiration is no greater miracle than the miracle of its preservation in the Textus Receptus.26


To the TR advocates that imply a perfect preservation Wallace asks the question, Since the TR itself went through several different editions by Erasmus and others, TR advocates need to clarify which edition is the inspired one.27 Some TR advocates point to Burgon as their scholarly defense for the TR, but Burgon himself did not believe in a perfectly preserved TR (see note 16 above). Combs disagreement with the KJV/TR position is one of degrees. He states, The fundamental fallacy in KJV/TR position can be traced to the faulty premise that the Scriptures themselves teach a perfect and inerrant preservation of the actual words of the autographs.2829 David Sorenson in Touch Not the Unclean Thing writes, To infer that the written word of God is anything less than eternal in inconceivable.30 Thereby accusing anyone who does not interpret the Biblical passages he cites for the doctrine of preservation as he does of heresy. The opposing position is not that Gods word is not eternal, but that these verses are not speaking specifically about the written word of God. Arguments against his position from fellow believers usually stem from his specific view of preservation. Namely, that God has preserved his word in only the Textus Receptus. It is this authors viewpoint, that both sides are guilty of painting caricatures of the opposing viewpoints.

Jasper James Ray, God Wrote Only One Bible (Junction City, OR: Eye Opener Publishers, 1955) 104. Inspiration, 37. It must be noted that many, if not all TR advocates, do not claim inspiration, as they do in the autographs, for the TR. It is this authors opinion that many TR advocates speak/write in absolutes but when speaking frankly, are less dogmatic. Wallace seems to have only interacted with TR advocates in writing, but not personally. His characterizations of the position seem more extreme than this authors personal experience. 28 Combs, Preservation, 36. 29 The author has not purposely left out modern scholarship of the TR position. There is no representation of the TR position in journal material as far as the author could find. 30 Sorenson, Touch Not, 53.
27 Wallace,

11 Another view is the MT (Majority Text) position. This position argues that the text

is more perfectly preserved in the thousands of manuscripts that are part of the Byzantine text-type. Pickering, Hodges (Zane), Robinson, and Pierpoint have all written extensively from this perspective. Hodges founds his argument on theological and historical foundations. He appeals to a biblical basis for preservation and attempts to reconstruct a historical genealogy for the MT as dating back to the original autographs. He argues against treating the NT as any other book (as does Hills). One of his strongest opponents, Gordon Fee, accuses Hodges position of demanding a supernatural, not a normal, history of transmission and asks for evidence of this.31 Fee accuses Hodges of having a theological bias. He writes, What begins to surface, therefore, is a hidden agenda, which is the common denominator of all modern advocates of the TR-namely, that Westcott and Horts Greek text is suspect because their orthodoxy with regard to Scripture is in question.32 Hodges responds, I happen to think that a mans theology can affect his textual theories, but I am perfectly willing to entertain sensible arguments from any quarter no matter what theology the man be associated with.33 As one can see, there are strong opinions on both sides of the issue. One final position is what the author terms the eclectic position. This position advocates that preservation has occurred in all the extant manuscripts. Within this position, the earlier manuscripts (Alexandrian) are typically preferred over the later (Byzantine). However, Wallace, an outspoken supporter of this position is not anti 31 Gordon D. Fee, Modern Textual Criticism and the Revival of the Textus Receptus, The Journal of the Evangelical Society, vol. 21/1 (March 1978): 21. 32 Ibid., 21. 33 Hodges, A Repsonse, 145-146. Wallace views this statement by Hodges to be disingenuous. Wallace, Inspiration, footnote p. 28-29.


Majority Text.34 They argue that the Bible has been preserved by ordinary means, like other classic works. They do maintain that it is head and shoulders above any other classic work and that we can have faith that we have the word of God today.35 In conclusion, it is undeniable that strong arguments exist on each side of the issue of preservation. It is this authors conclusion that there is room within a fundamental/evangelical framework for both sides of the argument to exist (excluding the extremes of Ruckmanism and skepticism). There is a paucity of scholarship on the TR position. This, by itself, does not mean that the position is incorrect. There is abundant scholarship on the other end of spectrum of eclecticism and outright skepticism. This abundance does not prove its validity. As Barrick argues, it is the job of every expositor to continue the job of preservation. This can only be done by careful examination of the evidence available. Ultimately, the decision of how the Scriptures were preserved and the subsequent theological ramifications will be made on an individual basis. Though there are disagreements over the specifics, this student has concluded that there is ample evidence for faith in the accuracy of the Scriptures that we have today.

34 Wallace, Inspiration, 50. In sum, there is no valid doctrinal argument for either the Textus Receptus
or the majority text. A theological a priori has no place in textual criticism. That is not to say that the majority text is to be rejected outright. [emphasis added] There may, in fact, be good arguments for the majority text which are not theologically motivated. 35 See note 14.


BIBLIOGRAPHY Barrick, William D. Ancient Manuscripts and Biblical Exposition. The Masters Seminary Journal, vol. 9/1 (Spring 1998) 25-38. Black, David Alan and Lea, Thomas D. The New Testament: Its Background and Message, Canada: B&H Publishing, 2003. Bloesch, Adele. Holy Scripture: Revelation, Inspiration & Interpretation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994. Borland, James A. The Preservation of the New Testament Text: A Common Sense Approach. The Masters Seminary Journal, vol. 10/1 (Spring 1999) 41-51. Carson, D. A. and Moo, Douglas J. An Introduction to the New Testament, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005. Combs, William W. The Preservation of Scripture. Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, vol. 5, (Fall 2000) 3-44. Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology: Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998. Fee, Gordon D. Modern Textual Criticism and the Revival of the Textus Receptus. The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, vol. 21/1, (March 1978) 19-33. Fee, Gordon D. Modern Textual Criticism and the Revival of the Textus Receptus: A Rejoinder The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, vol. 21/2, (June 1978) 157-160. Feinberg, Charles L. Jeremiah, The Expositors Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein, ed. (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1986) 6:609. Fuller, David O. Which Bible, Grand Rapids: Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, 1990. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, vol. 21/4, (December 1978) 289-286. Hills, Edward F. The King James Version Defended, Des Moines: Christian Research, 1984. Hodges, Zane C. Modern Textual Criticism and the Majority Text: A Response. The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, vol. 21/2, (June 1978) 143-155. Hodges, Zane C. Modern Textual Criticism and the Majority Text: A Surrejoinder. The

Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, vol. 21/2, (June 1978) 161-164. Khoo, Jeffrey, The KJV-NIV Debate. (lecture notes, Far Eastern Bible College, Singapore). Morris, Henry. Defending the Faith, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 1999.


Sexton, Jason. NT Text Criticism and Inerrancy. The Masters Seminary Journal, vol. 17/1, (Spring 2006) 51-59. Ray, Jasper James. God Wrote Only One Bible. Junction City, OR: Eye Opener Publishers, 1955. Ruckman, Peter. The Christians Handbook of Manuscript Evidence. Pensacola: Pensacola Bible Institute, 1970. Sightler, James H. A Testimony Founded Forever, Greenville, SC: Sightler Publications, 1999. Sorenson, David, H. Touch Not the Unclean Thing, Duluth, MN: Northstar Baptist Ministries, 2001. Wallace, Daniel B. Inspiration, Preservation, and New Testament Textual Criticism. Grace Theological Journal, vol. 12/1, (1992) 21-50. Wallace, Daniel B. The Gospel According to Bart: A Review Article of Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman. The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, vol. 49/2 (June 2006) 327-49. Wallace, Daniel B. The Majority-Text Theory: History, Methods, and Critique. The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, vol. 37/2, (June 1994) 185-215.