If Jesus promised His Words would never pass away, what are the implications for the doctrine of preservation? Did God’s Words ever pass away? Were they lost for centuries in the sands of Egypt? Could they have been? How can prophesy even be meaningful if the very words of God were lost for a time, or may be lost in the future?
In this excerpt from a book he edited, entitled Thou Shalt Keep Them, Kent Brandenburg explains what Jesus’ statement in Matthew 24:35 means for the doctrine of preservation.
In Matthew 24:35, the Lord Jesus Christ makes the significant prophesy, “Heaven and earth shall not pass away, but my words shall not pass away.’ Although in its context the prophesy relates to His Second Coming, it also directly concerns the future of heaven and earth and God’s Words.1
Brandenburg briefly explains some of the context surrounding the great prophesy from Matthew 24: 2
The Lord in His mercy has established His own credibility by means of prophetic Scripture. There is no one that would expect one hundred percent consistency if someone made predictions of solely human origin. Because God alone can be expected to be perfectly consistent, only the Bible has truly prophetic material … The uniqueness of Biblical prophesy testifies to its authority and perfection.
Matthew 24 and 25 stand as one of the great prophetic passages, of the Gospels especially, but also the New Testament and the whole Bible. The Lord Jesus Christ is God, so He can speak prophetically, and He does so in this text. Since He says that the events prophesied in these two chapters are going to occur, one can count on them occurring.
If God gave us prophesy, then we must assume He wanted the words of these prophesies to be available to Christians. If you suggest otherwise, you undermine the very purpose of prophesy. Here, Brandenburg explains these implications as he looks at Matthew 24:35:3
Most people think that such predictions as the Lord is making could not be credible or valid. Prophesies can easily be doubted. They seem impossible. They actually would be impossible to trust, except that the supreme, all-knowing, all-powerful God Who created this universe has given them. The Words of the Lord can be trusted more than even heaven and earth, because His Words will not pass away …
The Lord’s Words here in His Olivet Discourse should be relied upon because His Words in general will not pass away. His Words by nature do not pass away. The generation that will see these signs, and will be here for the Second Coming of Christ, will still have available the Words of the Lord. That generation is still in the future, so today one should surely trust, based upon this prophesy of the Lord Jesus Christ, that His Words today are extant and available.
The instruction of this passage, word for word, will exist in the day of that generation because the Lord promises preservation of every Word. People hearing this in the time the Lord taught this would have known of the promises of preservation of the Words of God already, so this would have been no new doctrine. However, it would have been another reinforcement of that particular promise of the Lord in Scripture (cf. Isaiah 40:8; 59:21).
All of the portions of Scripture that contain unfulfilled prophesy are passages that are necessary for generations of people that are yet future. For instance, the detailed prophesy of the millennial temple in Ezekiel 40-48 does not wholly apply to any generation until the millennial kingdom arrives. Then these Scriptures will provide a handbook for worship.
In this same way, these Scriptures on the Second Coming signs will give the greatest help to generations that are still in the future. If present-day believers of the present generation are not willing to believe in the preservation of God’s Words, what hope will the generation have that will most need them? This, however, is not something about which one is to be apprehensive as a believer. One would assume that believers would trust the Lord when He says that His Words will not pass away.
Some might say that v.35 is about the authority of the Word of God. This is true. This is not all that this text teaches, however, or even what it mainly teaches. It also says that the very Words of the Lord will still be around when the Second Coming generation is alive, even when heaven and earth will pass away. Every generation that ever lives will be able to count on these same Words. It does not just teach their existence, but clearly implies their availability.
The purpose of the Words is to warn of the timing of the Lord’s coming. Those who should be warned will be able to access the Words for the purpose of that warning. This does not at all concur with the view that the Words are in heaven only, in museums, or buried somewhere in the Middle East and Egypt. For the Words to fulfill their clearly implied and prophesied purpose would require them to be available to those alive for the Second Coming and for succeeding generations as well.
Does the text say that all of God’s Words will be available even after heaven and earth pass away? The use of the plural “Words” (logoi) communicates an emphasis on the individual Words themselves, not just the Word of God in general. All of the specific Words of God will continue to be available.
Since the text does not say “some of the Words” or in some other way restrict this aspect of this promise, the clear conclusion should be that every single word and all of the Words of God’s inspired originals (autographa) exist and are available for believers. For this text to teach something else would require some kind of qualifier, at least. The absence of a qualifier and faith in the Lord’s prophesy, and, therefore, in the veracity of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Divine Truth-Teller, necessitate belief in perfect and available preservation of Scripture.
The following context does not take away from this meaning and application toward perfect and available preservation of every Word. Verses 32-35 make the point of inevitability of His return. Beginning in verse 36 the Lord teaches the unexpectedness of His return, despite its inevitability. People will be able to count on the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, whether they are expecting it or not, because His words can be trusted. A contrast exists between the expectation of preserved Words and the expectation of the Lord’s return. People should be expecting the coming of the Lord because of the trustworthy Words of God.
The following context reveals that most men in the tribulation will not trust God’s Words, and will, therefore, not trust in His return. This lack of trust in the perfect preservation of God’s Words is directly related to the lack of expectation for the Lord’s Second Coming.
He concludes with this:4
With all this in mind, the text in its context very clearly supports the doctrine of the preservation of God’s Words. Matthew 24:35 teaches that every one of God’s Words, as He gave them to holy men of God, are extant and available for every generation. To not believe this is to deny or reject this verse of Scripture in its context.
Tyler Robbins is a graduate of Maranatha Baptist Seminary, a DMin student at Central Seminary (Plymouth, MN) and a pastor at Sleater Kinney Road Baptist Church, in Olympia WA. He’s also an Investigations Program Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist and is the author of What’s It Mean to be a Baptist?