Theology Thursday - "My Words Shall Not Pass Away" (Mt 24:35)

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.

Notes

1 Kent Brandenburg (ed.), Thou Shalt Keep Them: A Biblical Theology of the Perfect Preservation of Scripture, revised ed. (El Sobrante, CA: 2007), 59.  

2 Ibid, 59-60.  

3 Ibid, 61, 62-64.  

4 Ibid, 64.  

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There are 41 Comments

Bert Perry's picture

JBL, Kent's summaries remind me of yesterday's "FactCheck" from the Washington Post, which started by admitting that a set of Trump claims was factually correct, then proceeded to change the question, and since the answer to a different question is not as Trump stated, declared him to be a liar because his answer wasn't the answer to their question.  No matter how well you did the summaries, you'd be accused of bias.

You might make it pay, though.  :^)

Reading that summary is just plain sad to me, since Brandenburg really doesn't make any attempt to answer criticisms.  A couple of favorite places where he just blips by are when he claims the first century church just knew what Scripture was, and where he denies that the wording of many OT quotes is more consistent with the LXX than ancient Hebrew manuscripts.  It is as if he is unaware that Peter had to commend Paul's writing to many churches, that Paul had to note that "All Scripture" is given by inspiration of God, and that Paul also had to defend his ministry vs. the "super-apostles" in 2 Corinthians.   For that matter, Jerome was actually attacked for translating the OT out of Hebrew instead of the LXX--it's not like this textual analysis thing is new!

KJVO/TSKT is such a waste of perfectly good brain cells.  

Jay's picture

However, I still submit that the truth of the permanence and dependability of God's words and the truth of its preservation and accessibility are distinctly different concepts.  

The permanence and veracity of God's words must be so because of God's character.  

Oh, I agree with that entirely...and I think that it's an area where people can differ amiably.  I also am more than willing to be wrong because I don't know all of what God is doing in regards to accessibility.

The last line I cited - about God's character - is the part of this that I have often wondered about.  How can people not realize that this KJV issue reflects directly on God's ability to sustain the His message to us?  After all, if God's own revelation to mankind can be corrupted and ruined (as TSKT, among others, alleges), when what hope do we, in essence, actually have?  How can we trust the plan of salvation we have?  Isn't it possible that maybe Satan 'altered' or 'warped' the texts enough that we've got other things wrong as well? 

No, the Bible is as clear and plain as day.  If there's any issue, it's on us.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

T Howard's picture

Quote:
As to words not passing away just meaning authority and validity, quoting Constable is not sufficient basis for believing that.  How does that relate to heaven and earth passing away?  Do heaven and earth have less authority and validity?

Okay, Kent, Constable doesn't count. Does Blomberg count?

Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 364. wrote:

Verse 35 concludes the first half of Jesus’ teaching on the Mount of Olives by stressing the certainty of everything that Christ has outlined. His words will endure even longer than the universe itself, which will be destroyed and re-created.

Does Carson count?

D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in <em>The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke</em>, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 507. wrote:

The authority and eternal validity of Jesus’ words are nothing less than the authority and eternal validity of God’s words (Ps 119:89–90; Isa 40:6–8).

Does Matthew Henry count?

Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 1743–1744. wrote:

1. Christ here assures us of the certainty of them (v. 35); Heaven and earth shall pass away; they continue this day indeed, according to God’s ordinance, but they shall not continue for ever (Ps. 102:25, 26; 2 Pt. 3:10); but my words shall not pass away. Note, The word of Christ is more sure and lasting than heaven and earth. Hath he spoken? And shall he not do it? We may build with more assurance upon the word of Christ than we can upon the pillars of heaven, or the strong foundations of the earth; for, when they shall be made to tremble and totter, and shall be no more, the word of Christ shall remain, and be in full force, power, and virtue. See 1 Pt. 1:24, 25. It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than the word of Christ; so it is expressed, Lu. 16:17. Compare Isa. 54:10. The accomplishment of these prophecies might seem to be delayed, and intervening events might seem to disagree with them, but do not think that therefore the word of Christ is fallen to the ground, for that shall never pass away: though it be not fulfilled, either in the time or in the way that we have prescribed; yet, in God’s time, which is the best time, and in God’s way, which is the best way, it shall certainly be fulfilled. Every word of Christ is very pure, and therefore very sure.

Does Brown, Fausset, and Brown count?

Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, vol. 2 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 88. wrote:

Heaven and earth shall pass away; but my words shall not pass away—the strongest possible expression of the divine authority by which He spake; not as Moses or Paul might have said of their own inspiration, for such language would be unsuitable in any merely human mouth.

Does James Edwards count?

James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos, 2002), 405. wrote:

[commenting on the same statement in Mark 13:31, Edwards writes...Beyond the cataclysm, however, stands Jesus himself. “ ‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.’ ” For Jesus to assert that his words will outlive heaven and earth is a remarkable claim of authority. The only being who could reasonably make such a claim is God (so Isa 51:6).

Does RT France count?

R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2002), 540. wrote:

[Again, commenting on Mark's use of the verse...] 31 This emphatic assertion of the permanent validity of Jesus’ words heavily underlines the implications of the introduction ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν to the preceding pronouncement. You may rely on him. The words are remarkable, in that they echo the declaration of Is. 40:7–8, that while grass and flowers may wither, God’s word stands forever. The reliability of the word of Jesus is no less than that of the word of God himself. For the fixed order of the created universe as a guarantee of permanence cf. Is. 51:6; 54:9–10; Je. 31:35–36; 33:20–21. This verse is not therefore speaking of a future passing away of heaven and earth as something which may be contemplated, still less as part of what Jesus is predicting, but rather, as in Isaiah and Jeremiah, using the unthinkableness of such an event as a guarantee for the truth of what Jesus has declared. In Mt. 5:18; Lk. 16:17 the same imagery is used for the permanent validity of the law; Jesus’ λόγοι are thus put on a par with the Torah in terms of authority and permanence.

Does Walter Wessel count?

Walter W. Wessel, “Mark,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 751–752. wrote:

[Again, commenting on Mark's gospel]...31 Jesus strongly emphasizes the certainty and reliability of his predictions in v. 30. “Heaven and earth” is a reference to the whole of the universe, all creation. The certitude and absolute reliability of Jesus’ words is far greater than the apparent continuance of the universe. It will some day cease to exist, but Jesus’ words will always have validity (of Ps 102:25–27; Isa 40:6–8; 51:6).

Does Robert Stein count?

Robert H. Stein, Mark, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 619. wrote:

[commenting on the statement in Mark]...In verse 31 Jesus places his personal guarantee on the truthfulness of what he has said in 13:30. Heaven and earth will one day pass away (cf. Ps. 102:25–27; Isa. 40:6–8; 51:6; Matt. 5:18; Luke 16:17; 2 Pet. 3:7, 10; Rev. 20:11; 21:1), but Jesus’s words will never pass away. The words of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, are more enduring than creation itself.

 

Sorry, Kent, but I'm not finding any support in the commentaries listed or in any other exegetical commentary I own to support your eisegesis of Matthew 24:35.

What Matthew 24:35 is communicating is the authority, certainty, and eternal validity of Jesus' words. Now, please show your work. Who supports your interpretation of the text?

T Howard's picture

Kent wrote:
For me, exegesis is looking at the text, but for some, like the Pharisees, who quoted experts, it means counting commentaries. OK, let's say it is that. If you're going to quote them, then at least understand what they are saying. Here are from the quotes he provides:

Kent, you complained that no one actually addressed your understanding of the passage. I addressed it and provided a source (Constable) to confirm my understanding of the passage. You respond that Constable is not "a sufficient basis for believing" what I do about the passage. I then provide numerous quotes from EXEGETICAL commentaries (you know, commentaries that actually look at and study the text) that also affirm my understanding of the passage. You respond by accusing me of being "like the Pharisees" because I'm "counting commentaries." You then quote 3 non-exegetical commentaries and you fail to show your exegetical work.

Kent, please stop. Your position on the Matthew 24:35 passage has no credible exegetical support. You're reading into the text something that neither Jesus nor the gospel writer intended.

TylerR's picture

See my question and Bro. Brandenburg's response, which I'll re-produce here:

  • Me to Brandenburg: Why do you prefer the TR to the Byzantine?
  • Brandenburg to Me: Hi Tyler, Believers received the TR. The Byzantine position and the so-called Majority Text view (we don't know what the Majority Text is, because not all the manuscripts have been collated) are recent innovations. Earlier a person with the label, Bible Believer, or something like that asked what the exact words are, and I say Hebrew Masoretic OT essentially Beza 1598 NT. I take the same view as Edward Hills (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_F._Hills). To everyone, as I say that, please don't remind me that Beza 1598 and Scrivener are not identical. I have an annotated Scrivener, which shows the differences. All I'm saying is that the trajectory of preservation moves forward, not backward. I'm also not saying there was one perfect manuscript that moved it's way through, but that every word and all of them made their way through. They were always accessible.

I think the key point to take away to understand his position is this statement:

All I'm saying is that the trajectory of preservation moves forward, not backward.

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

T Howard's picture

TylerR wrote:
I think the key point to take away to understand his position is this statement:

All I'm saying is that the trajectory of preservation moves forward, not backward.

And what does this mean exactly?

Bert Perry's picture

...if the trajectory of preservation moves forward, not backward, please explain to me why the 1516 Textus Receptus is our standard understanding of the best rendition of the original New Testament.  The trajectory is forward, but it's been in neutral and nobody has touched the clutch for 501 years now?

I would agree that the trajectory of textual understanding ought to move forward, and that those involved in discovering and analyzing ancient manuscripts ought to be using that clutch.    But that reality will tend to lead us away from, not towards, a TR position, I dare say, unless we put an extraordinary amount of weight on the the source for some major differences between the TR and the MT; the text of the Vulgate and the assumption that Jerome had an ancient manuscript with those verses in it in that form.  Given that this was the only Catholic Bible for over a millenium, and still ranks as "THE" important translation for Catholics today, suffice it to say it would be odd to give it that weight among fundamental Baptists.

Jay's picture

Kent, you complained that no one actually addressed your understanding of the passage. I addressed it and provided a source (Constable) to confirm my understanding of the passage. You respond that Constable is not "a sufficient basis for believing" what I do about the passage. I then provide numerous quotes from EXEGETICAL commentaries (you know, commentaries that actually look at and study the text) that also affirm my understanding of the passage. You respond by accusing me of being "like the Pharisees" because I'm "counting commentaries." You then quote 3 non-exegetical commentaries and you fail to show your exegetical work.

Which is exactly why I stopped engaging with Kent on this issue years ago.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Bert Perry's picture

....they can be a great resource for checking one's logic, but appealing to the number and type of commentaries is simply argumentum ad populum or argumentum ad vericundiam, appeal to popularity or appeal to authority.  One always "loses" that kind of argument simply because your opponent simply has his own echo chamber and collection of authorities.

(not picking on you, T. Howard, just pointing out a rhetorical reality)

But that said, we do know that the commentaries give a great picture of what may, or may not, follow from a given passage given what we know of history and the like.  And I am with Jay in not interacting directly with Kent on this topic simply because he doesn't seem willing to really address contrary evidence, even when it's an obvious characteristic of his own sources.  (e.g. Pickering's use of MT f35 group, which is not TR, to prove "perfect" manuscripts, and his "interesting" definition of "perfect" matches)

T Howard's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

....they can be a great resource for checking one's logic, but appealing to the number and type of commentaries is simply argumentum ad populum or argumentum ad vericundiam, appeal to popularity or appeal to authority.  One always "loses" that kind of argument simply because your opponent simply has his own echo chamber and collection of authorities.

Sure, I understand. I almost included a comment about appeal to authority in my post. However, I think it is important that when we think we find a new/unique insight into a verse or passage or we claim our insight into a verse or passage is right/best, we confer with others who have walked down the same path as we have. Further, if we're claiming some special exegetical nuance or meaning to a verse or passage, it should probably be observed and examined by other exegetes. That is why I quoted from exegetical, not homiletical, commentaries. [note: granted 2 of the commentaries I listed are not exegetical commentaries.] If Kent's interpretation of Matthew 24:35 is correct, I would expect other exegetes of Scripture to make similar observations. Not one commentary I own that addresses that passage or a parallel passage supports Kent's conclusions. To me, that raises red flags. Combine that with Kent's lack of exegetical rigor, his quickness to engage in ad hominem attacks, and that about concludes my dealings with him. He [moderator edit] has a blog and likes to hear himself talk.

Peace out, Kent.

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