How has God preserved His Word? Should you place your faith in the science of textual criticism to restore the New Testament text, bit by bit? Or, should you simply believe, by faith, that God has already preserved His Word in the manuscript tradition which has been preserved and used by the church down through the centuries?
In a book which he edited, entitled Thou Shalt Keep Them, Kent Brandenburg argued for the primacy of the Textus Receptus and, more specifically, the King James Version of the Bible. In this excerpt, he explains why he believes a Christian must accept this by faith.1
Living by faith is so integral to and synonymous with Biblical Christianity, and such a foundational truth in the New Testament, that this declaration of the Lord to Habakkuk is quoted three times in New Testament passages (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38). The believer is a believer; he lives by faith because that is what it is to be a Christian. Faith is the basis of the righteousness from which someone lives (Rom 1:17; Gal. 3:11). Those who do not live by faith are apostates and the Lord has no pleasure in them (Heb. 10:38). Faithlessness is a serious issue for serious people.
Scripture promises the perfect preservation and availability of all the Words of God to every generation. Since this is what God says, it is what faith expects. Based on these promises, one assumes that before the printing press all the Words were available in handmade copies, and afterwards in the printed editions. Fulfillment of the Biblical teachings of perfect preservation and availability require the amalgamation of all the Words into one canonical, printed edition. The view of a perfect and available text fits with all the passages on preservation, and, therefore, this is the fideistic view of preservation of Scripture.
Brandenburg continued, and discussed how God “repeatedly repudiates reliance on human understanding and philosophy” on this issue:2
Men who question what God said, rather than believing it, insult the Lord. Scripture thoroughly dispels this human claim of divine impotence. God does not want His ability questioned or His way (timing or manner) disputed; since He has proven Himself totally and sufficiently, He simply wants to be believed. The hypothesis that God did not preserve His Words, so man needs to restore them, lies at the root of textual criticism. This line of thinking rejects what Scripture states about preservation, depending instead on the uninspired words of men, both contemporary and historical.
On the basis of their futile, temporal thoughts, men argue that it is unreasonable to accept that somehow every Word has remained available for every generation. In so doing, these men have wrested from their particular circle of influence the assurance of a perfect Bible. The responsibility exhorted and the example patterned in the New Testament is the reception, not restoration, of God’s Words. The willingness to receive them and the assurance that they are all perfectly available is based upon God’s promises to preserve every Word.
Faith and doubt are mutually exclusive (Rom. 14:23). Any application of the pertinent passages on preservation that does not leave one with the assurance that he has a Bible with all the Words of God cannot be accepted from a position of faith. The position that all the Words exist somewhere, but are still yet to be found, does not fit into the teaching of Scripture, and, therefore, must be rejected.
If you’re a Christian who only has “little faith,” you will not withstand opposition. You will fold. Brandenburg discusses how, for many Christians, their “little faith” has made them assume God has not done what He promised He would:3
The Lord Jesus Christ, impressed with the faith of a centurion in Matthew 8:10, said concerning him, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.” The understanding of “great faith” is qualitative, not quantitative; it is not an amount of faith, but a kind of faith. That great faith is not qualitative is seen in the Lord’s expression, “faith as a grain of mustard seed,” (Matthew 17:20). The term “great” carries with it a temporal aspect. “Great faith is a long-termed faith.” Such faith persists through the kinds of opposition that normally hinder people from believing. When the Lord said that someone has “little faith” (Mt. 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8), He meant he had faith that would not endure opposition.
Brandenburg elaborated on this theme, then summarized:4
The refutation from “textual scholars” is most often enough to expose the “little faith” of those who do not believe in the perfect preservation of Scripture. The “little faith” of these wavers under mounds of published writings of men. Perfect preservation requires a miracle. The absence of sufficient human explanation and “adequate” historical documentation is enough of a hindrance to the “little faith” of many on the issue of preservation. The need for a miracle from God is the consolidation of all the Words into one available edition of Scripture is enough to stop the belief of some. To many, there is no reasonable justification to depend on Divine providence, so alternative views are concocted and the numbers of “doctrines of Scripture” that have been preserved are emphasized.
The basis for perfect preservation is faith; other views are built on human rationalism; “the doctrine that human reason, unaided by Divine revelation, is an adequate or the sole guide to attainable religious truth.” People who take a view that is “unaided by Divine revelation” are not normally known as Bible-believers; therefore, most people that profess to be Bible-believers do not usually want to consider their positions rationalistic.
Those who espouse the “majority” text view claim to simply determine what words are found in the majority of the manuscripts, and the words that survive that test are essentially deemed to be the text of Scripture. Counting is the sole criterion. This is rationalistic.
The proponents of the minority text view use the humanly devised laws of textual criticism, which treat the Bible like uninspired books, in an attempt to ascertain the readings most likely found in the original manuscripts. This view also applies human reason as the sole guide.
Neither of these could be considered the God of the Bible, for neither of them provide perfection, and God is perfect. He is perfect, and He is powerful enough to keep something perfect, from the soul of a man to every Word of Scripture.
In contrast, the received text position receives what God has supernaturally preserved by faith. Some advocates of the received text do not believe in perfect preservation, basing their position on Divine providence alone. However, received text people at least depend on Scriptural principles to defend their position. In many cases, the other points of view do their best to argue away as many texts on preservation as possible, and contend that faith is an invalid criterion for receiving the perfect text of Scripture. This is in line with centuries of satanic rationalism.
Do you have the “little faith” of a child? Do you trust that God preserved His Words, despite what critics tell you? Brandenburg explains that, for him, any other position is rationalistic and un-Biblical:5
On more than one occasion, the Lord Jesus Christ asserts a prerequisite for kingdom citizenship is becoming “like a little child” (Matthew 18:2-5; Mark 10:15; Luke 18:17). Little children are simple, dependent, helpless, unaffected, unpretentious, and unambitious. A little child is sinful, but he is naïve and unassuming, trusting of others. These are the applicable qualities of one who will enter the kingdom of God. So much in the plan of salvation is unbelievable to the intellectual, from the virgin birth, to the incarnation itself, to the blood atonement. The simplicity of God’s plan results in Him receiving the praise and glory. This is His stated purpose for choosing the weak and foolish things of the world – that n flesh should glory in His presence (1 Corinthians 1:21-29).
The rationalist considers the doctrine of one perfect, available edition of the complete Bible untenable because of rationalistic concerns. The one with the faith of a little child can suspend these concerns and receive by faith that God did what He said He would do.
Faith is often ridiculed as unintelligent or unreasonable, almost naïve (a “leap in the dark”). The rationalist will attack inspiration with apostate source criticism, to give a humanistic explanation for the origin of Scripture. Such theological liberals say that their approach is the intelligent alternative to the doctrine of inspiration. The attack on perfect preservation is founded on the same premise. Instead of just believing God, men speculate on the percentage of error assumed to exist. The wobbly foundations upon which the rationalist-preservationist stands is the assertion that “all of the doctrines alone have been preserved,” which effectually leaves the believer with a conceptual preservation. This is not applicable to the “little child” type of faith. The “little child” is “naïve” enough to believe that no matter how complex the rationalistic is against one perfect edition of the Bible, it must be rejected.
He concluded with this:6
A common critique by theological liberalism of Biblical fundamentalism is that it is “anti-intellectual and otherworldly.” Professing fundamentalists levy this same critique against New Testament churches that believe God has perfectly preserved His words in one printed edition. What is called “anti-intellectual” is actually faith. New Testament churches have always believed the Bible to be their only authority for faith and practice, knowing that the “just shall live by faith.” God is pleased by faith, not by man’s reasoning. The only Scriptural approach to the doctrine of the preservation of Scripture is the fideistic approach. The only view based on a response of faith in God’s Word is the view that God has perfectly preserved His Words and that they are and have always been available to every generation.
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?