Theology Thursday - The Superiority of the Fideistic Approach to the Preservation of Scripture


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.


1 Kent Brandenburg (ed)., Thou Shalt Keep Them: A Biblical Theology of the Perfect Preservation of Scripture, revised ed. (El Sobrante, CA: Pillar & Ground Publishing, 2007), 260, 261.

2 Ibid, 262.

3 Ibid, 262-263.

4 Ibid, 263-264.

5 Ibid, 264-265.

6 Ibid, 266.


OK, let’s apply Brandenburg’s thesis to the Textus Receptus. It is well known that there are about 20 or so verses in the TR compiled by Erasmus that do not appear in any manuscript known to exist in Europe at the time; obviously Erasmus translated them back from the Latin into the Greek. Or, more specifically, he translated from HIS copy of the Vulgate (which was of course not likely to be exactly like what Jerome wrote) to create the TR.

In other words, the very origins of the Textus Receptus directly contradict Brandenburg’s hypothesis that the perfect preservation of God’s Word per Matthew 5:18 and elsewhere requires that there be no ambiguities in a particular letter or word in a given manuscript. Ironically, Brandenburg’s very hypothesis in light of his preferred text highlights the need for serious textual analysis to uncover the most likely form that th autographs took.

Thank you, brother Brandenburg, for a powerful argument for taking the Alexandrian manuscript family, as well as the Majority Text family (neither of which is the TR family), seriously in terms of Bibliology.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

This is a short excerpt from a much longer book that addresses these issues. I’ve read it, and don’t agree with it. But, it is the best defense of the TR and the KJV I’ve read. Nothing else comes close to touching it. You should read the book.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

….if the most basic test of the preservation of the Textus Receptus, that of its very existence in that form prior to Erasmus, fails, what is the point of reading his whole book?

And I write this as one who has a hunch that Jerome did in fact have a manuscript with those verses in it when the Vulgate was translated. That noted, the evidence was simply not to be found in Europe between the fall of Rome and Erasmus, and that’s fatal for his hypothesis.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Tyler, I’ve owned that book since about 2004 — I bought it right after it was released, since my former pastor wrote/edited one of the chapters. I’ve read it through twice, the 2nd time marking up a bunch of sections of the book. I agree that it may be the best of the KJVO works, but in the end, it still didn’t convince me, and one of my problems is the same thing Bert mentioned. Since the various editions of the TR do not match (even if there are no significant disagreements, they are more than 1 jot/tittle different, and yes, I understand that jot/tittle are Hebrew, not Greek), I wasn’t convinced that the TR was a product of perfect preservation. Due to the evidence, I would probably consider myself “Byzantine text preferred,” but that’s a far cry from the KJVO camp.

Dave Barnhart

Tyler, thanks for this. For those of us who do not accept his position it’s important to understand it fully. I am going to read it.

I would just like to point out that this is a straw man:

“The hypothesis that God did not preserve His Words, so man needs to restore them, lies at the root of textual criticism.”

Textual Criticism is about discovering WHERE he preserved them. He can preserve them in the totality of manuscripts and not necessarily one text type (which itself had examples of textual criticism).

The core of the matter is about presuppositions. This is what I understand Brandenburg to be saying:

  1. In the Bible, God said He’d preserve His words.
  2. God can work miracles, and He can do anything He wants. He has the power to perfectly preserve His words
  3. God doesn’t want His people to be without His Words,
  4. Therefore, God’s Words must have actually been available to every generation of Christians
  5. We must start with these presuppositions


  1. This means new textual discoveries, lost to mankind for hundreds of years, have not been available to every generation of Christians and therefore are not God’s Words
  2. We can find God’s Words in a manuscript tradition that has always been available to God’s people, and that tradition is the manuscripts which support the TR.

Is there inconsistency in the critical text thinking?

  • The evidence suggests God preserved His word in the multiplicity of manuscripts scattered abroad throughout the whole Mediterranean.
  • So, we assume that preservation was done providentially in the multiplicity of all manuscripts, which is a messy process.
  • And, by the common-sense method of textual criticism, we can “get back” to what the actual Words of the Bible are.

I believe Brandenburg is saying this is backwards. For example, should we look at the world, see it looks old, and then read the Bible backwards and allow general revelation to influence our understanding - therefore the earth must be old, because the “evidence” says it’s old? Many Christians wouldn’t accept this. But, Brandenburg’s point seems to be that this is precisely what so many of us do with preservation.


Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

I gave the book a good bit of analysis in a series a few years back. It has four parts, so the link is to part 4 which has links to 1,2, and 3.

Preservation: How and What, Part 4

If memory serves, I debated a bit with the author also at the time, at his site. There were basic questions I never could get a clear answer to, though I don’t remember now what they were.

As the series shows, one of the most basic issues the book does not resolve is this: if Scripture itself does lead us to believe there should be word-perfect preservation in the form of a single translation (assuming single-translation per language I guess), on what basis can we claim it’s “biblical” to hold that TR and KJV are that text/translation?

I think I conceded at the time that it’s possible that there is a word-perfect preserved text and translation, but even granting that, there is no way to give “biblical” status to that view or to give “unbiblical” status to alternatives (alternatives that better fit the known facts, I might add—facts both biblical and extrabiblical).

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

[Aaron Blumer]

On what basis can we claim it’s “biblical” to hold that TR and KJV are that text/translation?

Perhaps I’m mistaken and perhaps I’m being simplistic, but here is my understanding for how the viewpoint Brandenburg is espousing answers this question. The “basis” is ecclesiological.

  1. The “promise” is that every believer, from the very first moment special revelation was given, has always had access to all the special revelation given to that point in time. Why? Matthew 4:4.
  2. The “basis” is that true, baptistic (Baptist) churches from the first century church forward are the agents for this word-perfect, completely available copy of God’s Word. Why? 1 Timothy 3:15.

On this basis then, the Scrivener TR becomes the default perfect Greek text. Why? The reasons appears to be backwards, in this way: because true Baptist churches have used the KJV for centuries now, the Scrivener TR (which happens to match the KJV word-for-word), becomes the de facto Greek manuscript. What is the historical record of this?

It doesn’t matter, according to this view. Why? Because true baptistic churches have never been viewed or treated favorably by mainline church historians, whether Catholic or Protestant, and so they are “off the record books.” But since true baptistic churches are the kind of church that 1 Timothy 3:15 is speaking about, then regardless of historical evidence, we know that churches similar to Baptist churches today have always had complete, perfect Bibles. What do these churches use today? The KJV. What is the Greek text that matches that text? The Scrivener TR (not one of Erasmus’s editions). So then,

  1. True, baptistic churches have always had perfect Bibles available to them.
  2. These churches are “off the record books,” but we don’t need historical evidence anyway.
  3. Those Bibles were identical to the KJV / Scrivener TR because that is what Baptist churches are using today.
  4. This is the correct view because of 1 Tim. 3:15.
  5. 1 Timothy 3:15 is the basis for Matthew 4:4.

I do not agree with this perspective, but I am sharing my understanding of it. Perhaps I am mistaken somehow.

Thomas Overmiller
Pastor |
Blog |

Mark Ward had some lengthy interactions with Brandenburg and others last year about the MEV. It is a new translation from the TR (ca. 2008). Ward asked if Brandenburg would be willing to accept the MEV as God’s Word. Brandenburg was uncomfortable with the MEV, because the translation wasn’t a project planned, organized and executed by true churches. There was much more to it, but I can’t find the link now to direct anybody there - it’s somewhere on Brandenburg’s blog!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Forgive me for being cheeky here, but this sounds an awful lot like what I hear Dispensationalists arguing. Something like this: “We can’t give greater weight to OT interpretations as explained by inspired NT authors because that indicates that the true meaning was not available to OT saints at the time the OT was written. Since the original readers had to be able to understanding the true meaning, we can and should adjust the apparent interpretation of inspired NT writers to reflect what OT readers would have understood.”

It seems to me that this reasoning is problematic in support of the TR, and it is also problematic in support of DT.

G. N. Barkman

….might or might not help the KJVO hypothesis precisely because we have old discoveries that are not of the TR variety. Hence the assumption that Bible-believing churches through the ages had the TR is dubious at best.

Not surprised, per Tom’s comment, that KJVO and Trail of Blood are linked, and it’s worth noting that even more significant than this is that the theory has a crisis of falsifiability; they’re relying on “spectral evidence”, manuscripts and such not seen, to support their claims. Since you can’t prove that those TR manuscripts are not indeed below a new piece by P.D.Q. Bach waiting for Peter Schickele to discover in an old latrine or brewery or something, you can’t falsify the theory, which means you can’t prove it.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

I think Bro. Overmiller’s comment about ecclesiology are well taken, and I believe it is an important component in understanding the perspective of TR folks.

I haven’t heard anybody address my comments about whether a critical text approach is doing things backwards. That is the heart of Brandenburg’s argument - epistemology matters here, and we must have faith that God can and did preserve His Words for every generation. What do ya’ll say to his argument?

Aaron cut right to the heart of the issue - even we did agree that God perfectly preserved His words in a single manuscript tradition, how would we know it was the TR?

  • The fact that it has been used for so long? The fact the churches used it faithfully for so long? I see a run of perhaps 300 years for the manuscripts behind the TR, ending in the late 19th century. That isn’t too long of a time.
  • Also, if one landmark standard is “what the churches recognized and used,” then on what basis do we dismiss the NA28 and UBS-5? Haven’t the vast majority of churches today “recognized” that as the “right” printed Greek text? I assume the issue of what a “true church” is would then come up (see Bro. Overmiller’s comments).

If we’re talking about epistemology, then my main concern echoes Aaron’s - which manuscript tradition should we look to, and why that tradition? Why the TR?

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Tyler, regarding Brandenburg’s case, one could theoretically do things that way, but it’s (again) got the insuperable problem that every ancient Greek manuscript we have is different. So if you argue perfect letter for letter preservation, you’re simply assuming something that’s directly contrary to everything we know about the available manuscripts.

It’s also worth noting that around the time of Christ, the Jews had also become painfully aware that centuries of copying the Old Testament books had left some portions dangerously inconsistent, and around that time, they did institute a program of textual criticism and analysis, replacing flawed copies with those of the known, good, standard. Paul, and the other New Testament writers, would likely have been very aware of this. So the known “good” copies of our Old Testament, and the ones known to the Apostles, would have been the fruit of textual analysis and criticism. So that also is contrary to Brandenburg’s teaching.

Really, what Brandenburg is doing is assuming a particular view of how God preserved His Word, that it’s letter for letter accuracy more or less, and it’s entirely at variance with what happens in making repeated copies of manuscripts.

So I think we need to redefine what it means for God to preserve His Word here in terms of this. We are going to get letter errors, we are going to get missing words, so how is the meaning preserved? (FWIW, I’ve been writing my own copy of the Torah for a while….I’m in Leviticus, 430 pages or so already, and about an error or so each page that I try to correct….it ads up! So while I’m sure the old scribes were way better than me, this is unfortunately a reality)

First attempt; God in His sovereignty chose for His Word to be delivered in languages where verbs are conjugated, and nouns and pronouns are declined. Hence if we skip a verb or noun ending, the meaning is often preserved. You can even skip entire words and infer the subject from the verb ending—this is really what is done a LOT in the KJV itself in those italic words. The sense is there, the words we usually use are not.

Second, God in His sovereignty chose for His Word to be preserved in separate streams where copyists would make different errors. Again, you average it out, you’re a lot closer to the original.

Third, God in His sovereignty apparently chose for some copies of His Word to be hidden from view for many centuries—preventing those copies from being degraded in use, and hence they were not copied to create new errors.

Fourth, God in His sovereignty chose for most manuscripts to be handled by those who spoke the language—hence they would know when errors crept in and be able to fix some of them.

Which would place me, personally, somewhere between the TR, eclectic text, and majority text. But at least I can defend this historically and textually.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

[Bert Perry]

One could theoretically do things that way, but it’s (again) got the insuperable problem that every ancient Greek manuscript we have is different.

The differences between manuscripts, according to Brandenburg’s case, is inconsequential because his case does not rely upon manuscript evidence. It relies upon the Matt. 4:4 and 1 Tim. 3:15 paradigm, that true baptistic churches preserved the word-perfect Bible in every era of church history. It therefore has very little or nothing at all to do with the manuscripts we have available. That’s why, as he would say, you must rest your faith on Matt. 4:4 and 1 Tim. 3:15, regardless of manuscript evidence, church history, and so forth. Of course, this all assumes that you interpret 1 Tim. 3:15 and Matt. 4:4 in the unique way that his view proposes. And in doing so, you are exercising the “faith of a child” that he advocated for in the excerpts Tyler has provided. Unless I’m missing something (which is definitely possible), it seems that Brandenburg’s extensive argument rises and falls on 1 Tim. 3:15 - period.

Thomas Overmiller
Pastor |
Blog |


I haven’t heard anybody address my comments about whether a critical text approach is doing things backwards. That is the heart of Brandenburg’s argument - epistemology matters here, and we must have faith that God can and did preserve His Words for every generation. What do ya’ll say to his argument?

But God is under no obligation to make all of his words available to any generation. Josiah’s men found God’s word in the temple renovations after it had been lost to that generation for … how many years? … the text doesn’t say, but it implies that what it said was BRAND NEW to them - they had never heard it before.

God certainly can preserve his words. God DID preserve his words. But not in the way Kent thinks.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3