Bible - Inspiration & Authority

God's Promise to Preserve His Word: What Is At Stake If He Did Not Preserve It?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
We must understand the vast difference between the naturalistic view of Scripture held by most Bible scholars today, and the supernaturalistic view we find in the Bible itself.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part 3 of a series. Read part 2.

If God has not preserved every jot and tittle of His Word down to the present day, and will not preserve it for eternity, then He is a liar and we have no grounds for believing or obeying it. But God's faithfulness in providentially preserving the Scriptures - despite the denials of most of today's Bible scholars - is abundantly clear.

Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the Word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:1-2)

In our last article we spoke of the cold comfort that is given to Bible believers by the vast majority of today's textual scholars. They assert that God's inerrant Word has not been providentially preserved, as God Himself promised. Because God has not preserved it, they say, we scholars are working to identify and restore it. These scholars tell us that the problem of restoring the actual text of the Bible is exceedingly complex. But, they say, we should have no fear, because highly skilled men using a well-developed theory are diligently working on the problem, and in the meantime we can be assured that no major doctrines of the church are at risk because of this uncertain situation.

Such assurances are no comfort at all to any person who believes that the Bible alone is the Word of God. These scholars are sowing the kinds of seeds of uncertainty about the Word of God that the Apostle Paul spoke of in the passage above, when he described those who handle the Word of God deceitfully - those who adulterate the Word of God.

We Must Ask Pointed Questions

Why are these men doing this? They are sowing these seeds of doubt and confusion because they take a naturalistic view of the Bible. They do not understand the supernatural character of the Book. Their thinking is not gripped by the fact this this is the only supernatural book - that it is God-breathed, that holy men of God wrote as they were driven to write the actual words by God the Holy Spirit, and that God has promised to supernaturally preserve His supernatural Word in all ages.

How can there possibly be in the present day what the Apostle Paul spoke of as a plain and forthright disclosure of revealed truth, if God has not faithfully preserved His revealed truth in the original languages for us?

How can the people of God possibly obey God's commandments about not adding to or taking away from His Word, if we are not certain what the Word of God actually is?

How can we possibly know when we are adding to or taking away from His Word - and how can a holy God judge us for such a thing - unless there is an inerrant standard in existence in our time, and in all times?

How can we possibly know if we are turning even to the slightest degree to the right or to the left doctrinally, if we do not have an absolutely reliable compass?

How can we know when someone is handling the Word of God deceitfully, adulterating the pure Word of God, unless the pure Word of God exists?

The only way that God could command such things of His people in all ages is because authentic Holy Scripture in the original languages is still available - absolutely free from error, in all ages - as He has promised. Not one jot or tittle passing away.

Furthermore, how can we trust God the Holy Spirit - the author of all Scripture - to aid and to guide us in the interpretation of His Word as Christ has promised, if we cannot trust that the same God has preserved His Word intact and free from error?

The answer is that God can and does make such a promise to His people in all ages, and is not to be found a liar, because He has providentially and supernaturally preserved His Word.

Providential Preservation

Where has He done that? How has He done that? In the limits of brief article we cannot possibly go into as much detail on this subject as I would wish. But let me present the issue in basic terms.

Although we do not have the original autographs of the Bible today, it is clear that God has providentially preserved His Word in the original languages. There is more manuscript evidence for the authenticity of the Old and New Testaments than for any other book, ancient or modern.

There are over 5,000 manuscripts of the books of the Greek New Testament, and some of them are from as early as fifty years after the time of the apostles. There are also thousands of quotations of Scripture in the writings of the early church fathers. By comparison, there are only seven available manuscripts of the writings of the philosopher Plato, and the earliest of those manuscripts is from 1,200 years after Plato lived. Postmodern scholars rarely question the authenticity of the writings of Plato, but they constantly question the authenticity of the New Testament!

Let me say a few words about the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. Beginning with Moses, God made provisions for the preservation of the Hebrew text of the first five books of the Bible. Every Israelite was commanded to know the Torah, the first five books, and to teach them to his children. An original copy of the Torah was kept in the Ark of the Covenant which was first in the tabernacle and later in the temple. And in due course, Hebrew scholars tell us that manuscripts of the books of the rest of the Old Testament were added, until they became a complete authoritative manuscript of the Old Testament.

And at the time of the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., Jewish scholars met in an area northeast of Gaza to make sure Scripture was preserved. They began what became the work of a group of Jewish scribes called the Masoretes, who were marvelously used of God to carefully preserve the text of the Old Testament in the original language.

What about the New Testament? Well, I mentioned earlier that over 5000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament exist today, and some of them are from the early decades after the apostles. Just as God has used unbelieving Jewish scholars to preserve the Old Testament in Hebrew, God has used the unbelieving scholars of the Greek Orthodox Church to preserve the New Testament in Greek.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to meet with the leading New Testament expert in the Greek Orthodox Church at a seminary in Boston. He is not a believer. He insists that people are saved by Christ plus their own works. But the account he gave me of his church's preservation of the Greek text during the last 2000 years was thrilling.

The text that they have helped to providentially preserve is what is called the Byzantine Text of the New Testament. The Protestant Reformers and their successors used the Byzantine Text to produce the Geneva Bible of 1560. That was the Bible that the Mayflower pilgrims brought with them to America. Also the King James Bible of 1611, the 1769 revision of the King James Bible that we use today, and the New King James Bible which was first published in 1982 - all of them use the Byzantine Text.

But in the nineteenth century, what I believe we can call the greatest theological disaster in the history of the Christian church occurred. Men who were not committed to the doctrine of the inerrancy of the Word of God began to develop another form of the Greek New Testament. To this we shall turn in our next article.

Next: The Disaster of the 19th Century


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