Not Believing God Is and Should Be A Problem in Denying Perfect Preservation of Scripture

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TylerR's picture

Editor

This is a presuppositional issue. If you believe the common "preservation passages" are referring to God preserving Scripture, you'll agree with Kent. If you believe these passages aren't teaching preservation at all, you won't believe Kent.

Kent covers these passages in his edited book, Thou Shalt Keep Them; see chapters 1-8 from the table of contents at the link. Wallace, in one of his preservation articles from the late 1990s, provided some brief comments about why he doesn't believe these passages teach preservation. I generally disagree with Kent's interpretation of the preservation passages, but you should read what he has. It's good, and likely the best and most responsible exposition you'll get from this perspective.

I've promised Kent for several years now that I'd write about why I disagree, but I haven't got to it, yet.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

G. N. Barkman's picture

Disclaimer:  discussions about manuscript families are not my area of expertise.  I'm stepping a bit outside my comfort zone with this question, but here it is.  Even if the preservation texts do mean that God promises to preserve His Word, do they specify exactly how he intends to preserve it?  Kent seems to assume that preservation requires one line of manuscripts.  But is that necessarily the case?  Since no one manuscript line yields exact and identical copies of Scripture, how does that square with Kent's assumption?  It reduces the number of differences, but fails to eliminate them.  Does that mean that God has failed to preserve His word if there is not an unbroken line of identical manuscripts?  Since that is obviously not the case, shouldn't we look for another solution to explain divine preservation?  

G. N. Barkman

Darrell Post's picture

1. The originals of each book in the Bible no longer exist.

2. All extant copies have differences.

These are facts.

Two options are available in response to these facts.

1. Examine all the differences as best as possible and propose the most likely original reading (Textual Criticism).

2. For each book of the Bible, pull one manuscript out of the pile and declare its the perfectly preserved one, and say you are believing in God.

 

TylerR's picture

Editor

My understanding of Kent's position, which you can read in his book, is that he believes the "preservation passages" teach perfect preservation, and he believes by faith (that is, by fideistic faith) that God perfectly preserved the individual words somewhere. To suggest otherwise, he believes, is to work backwards. Just as Christians shouldn't look at rocks, then reason backwards that the earth must be billions of years old, so we shouldn't look at manuscripts, then reason backwards and suppose that "God must have preserved His word in the multiplicity of manuscripts."

We must believe by faith that God preserved His words, and the NT line is in the manuscript tradition which underlies the TR.

I've spoken with Kent enough that I believe I'm representing him accurately. Read his book if you want more; he has an entire chapter on a fideistic approach to preservation, based on the preservation passages.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

I must start by noting that I agree pretty much 100% with Darrell's comment, but that I've met people who claim that there are 5000 identical manuscripts.  We had a thread here where someone (Kent?) linked the "research", and more or less it asserted that since the observed differences fell under a predetermined threshold of significance, according to them, that it was a perfect match and therefore we should go with....not any version of the Textus Receptus, but rather the Majority Text.   It was an interesting exercise in bait & switch, to put it mildly.

My biggest trouble with preservation passages, though, is the simple fact that the TR was put together in the early 1500s--1517 or something if I remember correctly.  How, then, can the autographs have possibly been referring to this text, and quite frankly, let's imagine that for 15 centuries, God's people had been told by the text of Scripture that they would only find out what was really in Scripture in 1517.    Talk about a faith killer!

My theory is that the preservation passages are fulfilled not in letter to letter accuracy, but rather by the simple fact that He decided to preserve His Word not in a character language like Chinese, but instead in the phonetic, declined languages of Greek and Hebrew, among others.  Because of this, small errors in transcription can be corrected by someone who understands that the verb form doesn't match the noun form anymore, and who further understands how to recover the usual sense as he transcribes the text.  God also chose to keep His Word by the hands of Jews who had learned around AD65 that they needed to take extreme care of their copies to preserve the Word.  

Hence if not every letter is exact, you still preserve the meaning.  It's a powerful tool, and it's why the learning of languages is so popular among parochial schools and homeschoolers. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

G. N. Barkman's picture

I've got scores of books I want to read.  I may not get to Kent's.  But it seems to me that he's assuming a certain kind of preservation that is not demanded by Scripture.  THAT God preserved His word is something I have never questioned.  HOW He did so is subject to discussion.  Kent seems to assume that God preserved His word in a select number of texts, and also that Kent is able to discern exactly which texts are the divinely preserved ones.  Why does he believe he has such superior wisdom?

G. N. Barkman

Ron Bean's picture

Mark asks this question in his book. Would someone like Kent support a more readable English translation of his preferred (preserved) underlying text?

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Darrell Post's picture

"We must believe by faith that God preserved His words, and the NT line is in the manuscript tradition which underlies the TR."

Why does Kent get to be the one to decide it is the manuscript tradition underlying the TR? Which specific manuscript for each book of the NT is the one? All of them--even limiting the discussion to Byzantine manuscripts--all of them have differences. Just like each of the early editions of the printed TR had differences.

If one starts with the proposition that "God perfectly preserved the individual words somewhere." Then one is immediately caught by the problem that God has not told us which specific copy is the perfect one for each book.

Hiding behind the generic Byzantine tradition is a dodge. The Byzantine tradition of manuscripts is by no means singular in it's witness. One of the goals in this field being worked on is studying the readings among the Byzantine witnesses to arrive at what would have been the earliest form of the text within the Byzantine tradition. But there are several problems...once this work is complete there will be no single extant manuscript that will represent the earliest form of the text. And besides, doing work to establish the earliest form of the Byzantine tradition IS doing textual criticism. Now some may take comfort thinking that at least this textual critical work avoids those terrifying Alexandrian manuscripts. But its not that simple. Anyone well versed in this field knows that manuscripts have varying degrees of mixture coming from varying traditions. When I was doing the collation work on GA 2907, a recently discovered text of the four gospels, I found that overall the manuscript was Byzantine. The late Kurt Aland would have cataloged it as such. But even so, there were several chapters in Matthew where variant readings aligned with most Alexandrian manuscripts. One extended addition in Luke's gospel was otherwise only known to exist in Codex Bezae, the chief witness of the Western text-type for the gospels.

Another problem with Kent's approach to preservation is the assumption that throughout church history, the church has had equal access to the same perfectly preserved copies of the perfect originals.

But here again we see the same problems. EVERY extant manuscript is different. There is no chain of manuscripts dated 9th century, 10th, 11th, 12th, and so on that are identical as to content. So to make the theory work, we must conclude that God has preserved bad copies, while wiping out the good ones at the end of each generation because what we have today is a huge pile of different manuscripts. So one and only one manuscript for each NT book is perfect, and the copies leading up to this perfect one must have existed but are now destroyed. If the theory is correct, then it seems reasonable to assume that at least one 10th century manuscript would perfectly match a 15th century manuscript. But they are all different.

So if God has preserved for us one perfect manuscript for each NT book, then He has failed to provide a mechanism by which each generation could identify that perfect one against all the erroneous ones. So in this way of thinking, God has called us to believe in something that He has not revealed to us to be able to know.

 

 

 

 

John E.'s picture

Ron, the new-ish (2014) MEV is translated from the Textus Receptus and the Jacob ben Hayyim edition of the Masoretic Text and, quoting the preface, "[uses] the King James Version as the base manuscript."

The few KJB-only people that I know are happy to allow others to use the MEV but have yet to make the switch themselves. One of them gave me a copy of the MEV as a gift with the hopes that I would set aside the ESV in favor of it. I read it, like it, I guess, but it has a charismatic flavor that  reflects much of the translation team.

My reason for not using the KJV has less to do with the archaic language and more to do with the fact that I'm not a TR guy. The MEV doesn't address the reasons why I don't use the KJV. 

Darrell Post's picture

"people who claim that there are 5000 identical manuscripts."

This is a fantasy. Distinct families of manuscripts within the umbrella of the Byzantine tradition have been identified--and have been for decades. If you look at your UBS4 or NA Greek text apparatus, you will see f1 and f13. These sigla stand for groups of Byzantine manuscripts that share the same particular features as to a collection of readings. This does not mean that manuscripts in these families are identical either. Sometimes part of f1 will support one reading while the other part supports another. Other Byzantine families have also been identified.

Some may attempt to explain away differences as being only matters of spelling or even word order, but that is false. Any manuscript witness other than the tiniest of fragments will have disagreements (words added, omitted, meaningful changes of spelling) and so on. I have already spoken to the fact that most Byzantine manuscripts have some degree of mixture from outside the Byzantine tradition.

I do agree with the principle that God has preserved the New Testament, and that He has preserved it in the huge pile of extant manuscripts. I do not believe there is a single place in the NT where we must appeal to conjectural emendation for specific wording. I believe every word that was original to the NT is represented out there among the manuscripts, and the good work of textual criticism proposes in each case of variation which words were most likely the original.

Bert Perry's picture

I've been, first as something of a lark and now as something of a good exercise, been hand-writing my own copy of the Torah, and one thing that becomes strongly apparent is how hard you have to concentrate to not make a lot of errors.  Those who endorse letter for letter accuracy as a criterion for an acceptable manuscript ought to take it up and start to understand how unlikely two manuscripts, let alone 5000, would be.

(side note is it also slows me down enough to notice things that I'd not previously noticed)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Darrell Post's picture

Anyone who has collated manuscripts (going word by word through an entire manuscript to document its differences against a printed base text) can attest to the errors that creep in even by the most careful copyists. I have seen some sloppy copies where I had to question if the copyist even had a firm grasp of the language.

I have seen others copied where silly mistakes were very rare. One in particular comes to mind where the copyist was careful, but while copying the crucifixion account obviously got engrossed in the story and committed a number of silly blunders. His concentration had been broken. I have also seen examples where the copyist's ink was getting more watery, the handwriting sloppy, and more frequent spelling errors and mistakes like writing a word on the end of a line and then writing the same word in duplicate to start the next line. Then the page turns, and the ink is now dark, handwriting crisp, and no errors. What happened was the tired monk worked late into the night, stopped. Then he went to bed and started fresh on the next page in the morning with a new well of ink.

But even if all the obvious blunders are ignored, every manuscript beyond a small fragment will have differences that affect meaning. Textual criticism as a discipline is effective in resolving most of these differences satisfactorily.

 

Dave White's picture

Darrell Post wrote:

Why does Kent get to be the one to decide it is the manuscript tradition underlying the TR? Which specific manuscript for each book of the NT is the one? All of them--even limiting the discussion to Byzantine manuscripts--all of them have differences. Just like each of the early editions of the printed TR had differences.

If one starts with the proposition that "God perfectly preserved the individual words somewhere." Then one is immediately caught by the problem that God has not told us which specific copy is the perfect one for each book.

Hiding behind the generic Byzantine tradition is a dodge. The Byzantine tradition of manuscripts is by no means singular in it's witness.

POW!

via GIPHY

Darrell Post's picture

"This is a presuppositional issue. If you believe the common "preservation passages" are referring to God preserving Scripture, you'll agree with Kent. If you believe these passages aren't teaching preservation at all, you won't believe Kent."

Tyler, its a little bit beyond this. Kent not only believes the 'preservation passages' refer to the written copies, he has proposed which copies are the right ones. If someone accepted his premise that the preservation verses refer to the written copies but then says he believes Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest complete NT, is the one God has preserved, then he and Kent would agree on the intent of the preservation verses, but would not agree at all on the manuscript to which those verses refer.

 

 

 

TylerR's picture

Editor

I get what you're saying. For what it's worth, Kent believes the 1598 Beza is the TR God has preserved. I believe his position only works in the abstract. I don't believe it can work if you leave theory, and look at the manuscript evidence. To Kent's credit, he admits his faith in preservation is fideistic. That's important to get.

At this point, Wilbur Pickering is often brought out. He allegedly collated some manuscripts which were perfectly identical, and discusses them in his book - thus demonstrating perfect preservation happened. Yet, Kent does not believe perfect preservation is found in f35 in the Byzantine tradition, as Pickering does.

And so it goes.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Darrell Post's picture

Do you happen to have Pickering's list? I would be confident that within five minutes of having the manuscript images in front of me I could find differences. There are even differences when a manuscript is a known abschrift - a direct copy from a known, still extant manuscript.

--nevermind, I found Pickering's list and now recall his argument. Basically all it shows is there are some manuscripts that were tightly similar, but still by no means identical. And by no means does this family of manuscripts agree tightly with other Byzantine families of manuscripts.

Mike Harding's picture

Most of the arguments in the KJVO debate have been adequately answered in the numerous books written by both Fundamentalists and Conservative Evangelicals.  Dr. Bill Combs has written extensive articles in the DBTS journal debunking the false theories of KJV Onlyism. Fideism is not Faith.  The fact that the LXX is quoted throughout the NT by the NT authors is proof enough that the KJVO understanding of miraculous, perfect preservation in one line of manuscripts is not biblical.  Dr. Bauder is one of the best advocates of the KJV.  His arguments make sense and he does not distort the meaning of Scripture to do so. Thus, I do not object to a ministry using the KJV as their official English Bible.  Any guest speaker I have is free to use it, should he choose to do so.  We use the NASB 95 edition. The KJVO non-sense needs to end.  It is the scourge of Fundamentalism.

Pastor Mike Harding

Bert Perry's picture

http://www.cspmt.org/?q=node/12

Per Darrell's comments, I've also found that how awake I am makes a difference in how well I copy.    For my part, though, I'm currently content to know that if group f35 is indeed one of the more homogeneous of the byzantine families, that still says bupkus about any revision of the TR, and at any point, Scripture tells us nothing about which text families will be correct.

Which, again, is as it should be, because otherwise you'd both have clowns naming their text by the "correct" name while deliberately corrupting it while those "unfortunate" enough to have "unapproved" versions would have needless doubts about their faith.  In my view, KJVO is a body blow at the doctrines of Sola Scriptura, the First Fundamental, and perspicuity of the Scriptures, as it installs a "filter" for interpreting Scripture, generally embodied in a KJVO pastor, who more or less acts as a living Magisterium and plops his church smack dab on the wrong side of the Tiber.  Not surprisingly, those churches also find themselves increasingly legalistic and in danger of falling on the wrong side of the Council of Trent, Sola Fide, and Sola Gratia.

And if you get me riled up about the matter, then I'll really go after the KJVO crowd.  :^)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.