The Preservation of Scripture

Hebrew-scriFrom the Purely Presbyterean blog… https://purelypresbyterian.com/2016/02/23/the-preservation-of-scripture/

One of the benefits that God gave Israel as his covenanted people was committing to them the oracles of God. What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God (Rom. 3:1-2). As the Gentile Church has been made partaker in the spiritual benefits that Israel once enjoyed (cf. Eph. 2:12-13; Mat. 21:43), we rightly conclude that the oracles of God are committed to us as the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15), and his covenanted people. Commenting on Romans 3:2, Calvin writes:

“By oracles he means the covenant which God revealed first to Abraham and to his posterity, and afterwards sealed and unfolded by the law and the Prophets.

Now the oracles were committed to them, for the purpose of preserving them as long as it pleased the Lord to continue his glory among them, and then of publishing them during the time of their stewardship through the whole world: they were first depositories, and secondly dispensers. But if this benefit was to be so highly esteemed when the Lord favored one nation only with the revelation of his word, we can never sufficiently reprobate our ingratitude, who receive his word with so much negligence or with so much carelessness, not to say disdain.”

John Calvin, Commentary on Romans, Ch. 3

The Westminster Confession of Faith states that God by “his singular care and providence kept [the Scriptures] pure in all ages” and they “are therefore authentic” (WCF 1.8). The question we now seek to address is, Has God preserved His word? More specifically, has God preserved His word in such a way that His word has been kept pure in the possession of His Church in all ages, thus committing His oracles to them. This question is of the utmost importance, for the word of God, the Holy Scripture, is the source of all saving knowledge. Without the word of the living God, we would be lost; as Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

“Have the original texts of the Old and New Testaments come down to us pure and un corrupted? We affirm against the papists.

I. This question lies between us and the papists who speak against the purity of the sources for the purpose of establishing more easily the authority of their Vulgate version and leading us away to the tribunal of the church.

Il. By the original texts, we do not mean the autographs written by the hand of Moses, of the prophets and of the apostles, which certainly do not now exist. We mean their apographs which are so called because they set forth to us the word of God in the very words of those who wrote under the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Ill. The question is not Are the sources so pure that no fault has crept into the many sacred manuscripts, either through the waste of time, the carelessness of copyists or the malice of the Jews or of heretics? For this is acknowledged on both sides and the various readings which Beza and Robert Stephanus have carefully observed in the Greek (and the Jews in the Hebrew) clearly prove it. Rather the question is have the original texts (or the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts) been so corrupted either by copyists through carelessness (or by the Jews and heretics through malice) that they can no longer be regarded as the judge of controversies and the rule to which all the versions must be applied? The papists affirm, we deny it.”

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology Vol. 1, p. 106

We do not deny the necessity of textual criticism. We readily acknowledge it. We deny, however, that the the true text of Scripture has been lost with the non-extant autographs written by the hands of the Apostles and Prophets. On the contrary, we affirm, with Turretin, that the infallible, inerrant word of God exists today in the apographs which have been in the possession of the Church in every age.

“It can, then, with no colour of probability be asserted (which yet I find some learned men too free in granting), namely, that there hath the same fate attended the Scripture in its transcription as hath done other books. Let me say without offence, this imagination, asserted on deliberation, seems to me to border on atheism. Surely the promise of God for the preservation of his word, with his love and care of his church, of whose faith and obedience that word of his is the only rule, requires other thoughts at our hands. We add that the whole scripture entire, as given out from God, without any loss, is preserved in the Copies of the Originals yet remaining; What varieties there are among the Copies themselves shall be afterwards declared; in them all, we say, is every letter and Tittle of the Word. These Copies we say, are the Rule, standard and touch-stone of all Translations ancient or modern, by which they are in all things to be examined, tried, corrected, amended, and themselves only by themselves.”

John Owen, Of the Divine Original, Authority, Self-Evidencing Light, and Power of the Scriptures, p. 173-174

The question is not whether textual criticism is necessary; rather, it is whether, once due diligence in textual criticism has been done by the Church in any age using the extant manuscripts in her possession, we have the inspired, infallible, and inerrant word of God. We affirm.

Hence, the providence of God showed itself as no less concerned with the preservation of the writings than of the doctrine contained in them, the writing itself being the product of his own eternal counsel for the preservation of the doctrine, after a sufficient discovery of the insufficiency of all other means for that end and purpose…It is true, we have not the autographa of Moses and the prophets, of the apostles and evangelists, but the apographa, or copies, which contain every iota [every bit] that was in them.

Ibid., p.12-13

This point by Owen is essential to grasp. We believe that the entirety of the Holy Scripture is and was contained in the copies which have been in the possession of the Church throughout the ages. Hence, those copies are sufficient for whatever textual criticism needs to be done. No new discovery of manuscripts needed. We therefore reject the notion that the manuscripts which have been in the possession of the Church in every age are to be corrected by manuscripts that have been hidden under a rock (so to speak) for 1500 years. This would be to deny that God has preserved His word as pure in all ages, and that the Church was left with a corrupted text for many centuries.

From the testimony of Scripture itself it can be shown that God would providentially preserve His word in all ages. It cannot, however, be shown from Scripture that God would leave His Church with text so corrupted that it could be remedied with the extant manuscripts in the possession of the Church. We reject the idea that God would leave His Church with manuscripts with variants, errors, omissions, or additions that could not be remedied with the copies in her possession in each age, as a borderline atheistic notion.

“Proof is derived: (l) from the testimony of Christ—“it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail” (Lk. 16:17; cf. Mt. 5:18). But if not even one tittle (or the smallest letter) could fail, how could several canonical books perish? Although Christ speaks directly of the doctrine of the law and not of its books, yet it can be applied analogically to them, so as to imply their preservation and so much the more”

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology Vol. 1, p. 96

Turretin here argues against the idea that any canonical book has perished, and since the books of the canon include the text of those books, and not simply their titles, his understanding of Luke 16:17 & Matt. 5:18 militates against the idea that the text which God providentially delivered to His church was so collectively corrupted with errors, additions, and omissions that it could not be remedied with the manuscripts in the possession of the church. If indeed God has by “his singular care and providence kept [the Scriptures] pure in all ages” and they “are therefore authentic” (WCF 1.8), which He verily has, then we must reject the idea that He has suffered His church to have a corrupted text for centuries upon centuries. If we deny that God has providentially preserved His word as pure in all ages, then we must grant that we do not have the infallible, inerrant word of God in our possession today, for any given passage in the text might not actually be Scripture. We would be in constant pursuit of a theoretical text to which the extant text must be restored. If “older” manuscripts were newly discovered and they did not have John 3:16, Romans 9, or some other beloved passage, we would have no objective reason not to conclude that those passages are not Scripture. However, when we affirm God’s providential preservation of Scripture, we know that such corruptions to the text of Scripture in the possession of the Church in all ages would not be allowed in God’s providence.

“The providence of God proves that the sources have not been corrupted.

V. The following arguments prove that the sources have not been corrupted. (1) The providence of God which could not permit books which it willed to be written by inspiration (theopneustois) for the salvation of men (and to continue unto the end of the world that they might draw from them waters of salvation) to become so corrupted as to render them unfit for this purpose. And since new revelations are not to be expected (after God has recorded in the Scriptures his entire will concerning the doctrine of salvation), what can be more derogatory to God (who has promised his constant presence with the church) than to assert that he has permitted the books containing this doctrine to become so corrupt that they cannot serve as a canon of faith? (2) The fidelity of the Christian church and unceasing labor in preserving the manuscripts; for since Christians have always labored with great zeal to keep this sacred deposit uncorrupted, it is not credible that they would either corrupt it themselves or suffer it to be corrupted by others. (3) The religion of the Jews who have bestowed upon the sacred manuscripts great care and labor amounting even to superstition. Hence Josephus says that after the lapse of ages no one has dared either to add to or take away from or alter the peculiar books of the Jews in any respect and that they think it an honor to die for the Scriptures (Against Apion 1*.42 [Loeb, 1:180-81]). Philo, in his book on the departure of the Israelites from Egypt (cited by Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel 8.6.357c [ed. Gifford, 1903], 1:387) goes further, asserting that “even up to his time, through a space of more than two thousand years, not so much as a word had been changed in the law of the Hebrews and that any Jew would rather die a hundred times, than suffer the law to be altered in the least.” They carry their ridiculous superstition concerning the sacred manuscript to such a length that if a corrected book of the law fell on the ground, they proclaimed a fast and expressed their fears that the whole universe would return to its original chaos, so far were they from corrupting the manuscripts. (4) The carefulness of the Masoretes not only about verses and words, but also about single letters (which, together with all the variations of punctuation and writing, they not only counted, but also wrote down, so that no ground or even suspicion of corruption could arise). Arias Montanus employs this argument in the “Praefatio” to his Biblia sacra Hebraicey Chaldaice, Graece et Latine (1572), vol. I. (5) The multitude of copies; for as the manuscripts were scattered far and wide, how could they all be corrupted either by the carelessness Of librarians or the wickedness of enemies? Augustine says, “No prudent man can believe that the Jews however perverse and wicked could do it, in copies so numerous and so far and widely diffused” (CG 15.13* [FC 14:440; PL 41.452]). Vives said this ought to be the reply to those “who argue that the Hebrew manuscripts Of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New have been so falsified and corrupted as to make it impossible to draw the truth from these sources” (Saint Augustine, of the Citie of God with. . .comments of. . .Vives [1620], p. 519).”

Ibid., p. 107

Richard Muller notes that modern theologians, following Hodge and Warfield, have altered the doctrine of preservation so that inerrancy would only refer to the non-extant original manuscripts and not also the faithful copies we possess today:

“By ‘original and authentic‘ text, the Protestant orthodox do not mean the autographa which no one can possess but the apographa in the original tongue which are the source of all versions. The Jews throughout history and the church in the time of Christ regarded the Hebrew of the Old Testament as authentic and for nearly six centuries after Christ, the Greek of the New Testament was viewed as authentic without dispute (Leigh, Treatise, I.vi; c.f. Owen, Divine Original, in Works vol. 16, pg. 300-301). It is important to note that the Reformed orthodox insistence on the identification of the Hebrew and Greek texts as alone authentic does not demand direct reference to autographa in those languages; the ‘original and authentic text‘ of Scripture means, beyond the autograph copies, the legitimate tradition of Hebrew and Greek apographa. The case for Scripture as an infallible rule of faith and practice and the separate arguments for a received text free from major (i.e., non-scribal) errors rests on an examination of apographa and does not seek the infinite regress of the lost autographa as a prop for textual infallibility.

“A rather sharp contrast must be drawn, therefore, between the Protestant orthodox arguments concerning the autographa and the views of Archibald Alexander Hodge and Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield. This issue must be raised because of the tendency in many recent essays to confuse the two views. Like virtually all exegetes and theologians before and after them, they recognized that the text of Scripture as we now have it contains contradictory and historically problematic statements. They also recognized the futility of harmonizations of the text—but they insisted that all such difficult or erroneous passages ought to be understood as the result of scribal errors. Those who claim an errant text, against the orthodox consensus to the contrary, must prove their case. To claim errors in the scribal copies, the apographa, is hardly a proof: the claim must be proven true of the autographa. The point made by Hodge and Warfield is a logical trap, a rhetorical flourish, a conundrum designed to confound the critics—who can only prove their case for genuine errancy by recourse to a text they do not (and surely cannot) have.”

‘We … receive the Scripture in these languages only [i.e., Hebrew and Greek] as canonical and authentic. And what is more, not only the Autographa, which for many reasons belonging to the most wise counsel of divine providence, were allowed to perish: but in the Apographa as well‘ (Mastricht, Theologia Theoretico-Practica I.ii.10).

Muller, Richard A., Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, pg. 414.

This is nothing but an evasive tactic invented to sidestep liberal critics. If the Bible, as it exists today and in our possession, is not infallible, then the foundation of our faith is shaky and the critics have prevailed against us. It’s meaningless to argue for the theoretical infallibility of the non-extant autographa. We must argue for the infallibility for the Bible in our possession.

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THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD IN PRESERVING SCRIPTURE

https://purelypresbyterian.com/2017/01/05/the-providence-of-god-in-preserving-scripture/

We have written previously on The Preservation of Scripture that God has kept his written word pure for the Church through all ages in the Hebrew and Greek faithful copies (apographa). We continue in this post by precisely explaining how he did so “by his singular care and providence.” First we will briefly discuss the nature of providence, then distinguish between general providence and special providence, and conclude with how this relates to the preservation of Scripture.

Providence is Teleological

“God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving, and governing all his creatures; ordering them, and all their actions, to his own glory (Ps. 145:17; Ps. 104:24; Isa. 28:29; Heb. 1:3; Ps. 103:19; Matt. 10:29-31; Gen. 45:7; Rom. 11:36; Isa. 63:14)”

Westminster Larger Catechism Question 18.

God executes his decrees in his works of creation and providence. Creation is God giving all things their nature, that is, making them what they are in their being. Providence is God bringing those things to their intended purpose. God creates things in a particular way so that he can bring them to the end that he designed. “When we talk about providence, we are particularly asking the question ‘How does God, in time, bring about the end which he has for all of creation?’“1

The final cause, or “the ultimate purpose for which a thing is made or an act is performed“2 must be kept in view when considering God’s providence toward that thing. Providence brings it to the definite purpose for which it was intended. In order for that purpose to be achieved, the thing itself must be preserved.

The Providence of God is either conservational or governmental. Conservation is that whereby God maketh all things both universal and singular, both in their essence and existence, and in their strength to persist and continue (Psa. 104:19-20; Acts 17:28; Heb. 1:3)… This conservation doth necessarily come between creation and government of things created because whatsoever is created to some end and use, to which also it ought to be directed and governed, but it cannot attain that end nor be directed to it unless it be continued and conserved in its being.

William Ames, The Marrow of Sacred Divinity, pg. 41.

General vs. Special Providence

Scripture distinguishes between the providence of God toward all things in general, and God’s special providence toward the Church in particular. As the nature of the Two Kingdoms are distinct, so is God’s providence toward those two kingdoms; God brings each kingdom to their designed end.

“There is a twofold consideration of Providence, according to its twofold object and manner of dispensation; the one in general, exercised about all creatures, rational and irrational, animate and inanimate; the other special and peculiar. Christ has a universal empire over all things (Eph. 1:22); He is the head of the whole world by way of dominion, but a head to the Church by way of union and special influence (John 17:2). He is ‘the Saviour of all men, especially of those that believe’ (1 Tim. 4:10). The Church is His special care and charge. He rules the world for its good, as a head consulting the welfare of the body.”

John Flavel, The Mystery of Providence

The Westminster Confession of Faith recognizes this distinction between general and special providence in Scripture:

“As the providence of God doth, in general, reach to all creatures, so, after a most special manner, it taketh care of his Church, and disposeth all things to the good thereof (Isa 43:3-5, 14; Amos 9:8-9; Rom 8:28; 1 Tim 4:10).”

Westminster Confession of Faith 5:7

In bringing the Kingdom of Grace to its designed end, the continued existence of Scripture as the ultimate rule of faith and life is absolutely necessary.

The Necessity of the Continued Existence of Scripture

We are commanded to “search the scriptures” (John 5:39) and live “by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God“ (Mat. 4:4; c.f. Deut. 6:6-9), Christ promises to be with the Church “always, even unto the end of the world” (Mat. 28:20), therefore “Scripture must exist until the end of the world for the fulfillment of this divine command in each generation of the church…Scripture contains the teaching necessary to the work of the church, without which the church could not function.”3 Without faithful copies of the holy Scriptures throughout all ages, the institutional Church could not exercise the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven (Mat. 16; 18; 28), the key of dogma (John 20; 1 Cor. 4:1; 11:23; 2 Cor. 2:6-8; 2 Thess. 2:15), the key of order (1 Cor. 11; 1 Cor. 14), key of judgment (Matt. 18; 1 Cor. 5), and the key of authority (Rom. 10:15; 1 Tim. 4:14; Heb. 5:4).4

Scripture is “the firm and certain cause of faith“5; God’s Word was written “That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed” (Luke 1:4) and “Christ himself, after his resurrection, directed his disciples to the Scriptures in order to make their faith more firm and certain (Lk. 24:26–27).“6 “As God caused it to be written for the good of his people, so by Divine Providence he hath preserved the same whole and entire” (Leigh, Body of Divinity, Book I, chapter 1, pg. 13). “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28), including the preservation of his holy word for the use of his Bride.

“Let us hear the Scripture itself, witnessing of its own authority and durableness to all ages. Moses thus writeth of it: “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever” (Deut. 29:29). David also professeth that he knew long before, that the Lord had founded his testimonies for evermore (Psalm 119:152). But our Saviour Christ’s testimony is of all others most evident: That Heaven and Earth shall pass, but that his word cannot pass, and yet more vehemently, that not one jot, or small letter of his Law can pass until all be fulfilled (Matt. 5:18). “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope“ (Rom. 15:4). Therefore none of those which were written for that end are lost.“

Edward Leigh, Body of Divinity, Book I, chapter 1, pg. 73

Scripture is not merely inerrant in its autographs, it is also infallible in those Hebrew and Greek faithful copies that the universal Church has passed down to us today. Otherwise, the Scriptures would not be “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16-17) nor would they be able to function as the final court of appeal for the Church (WCF 1:8).

Edward Leigh similarly distinguishes between general and special providence in classifying the preservation of Scripture as a type of miracle. He argues that miracles of “confirmation” such as those done by Christ and the apostles, and the miracle of preserving Scripture from corruption “evince this Truth, that the Scriptures were from God.“ And although many secular books were written in ancient times,

“…those alone which pertain to godliness have been safely kept to Posterity; which is the rather to be observed, since many more in the world affect the knowledge of natural things than godliness and yet though careful of keeping them, they have not been able to preserve them from perpetual forgetfulness; whereas on the other side, these holy Writings, hated of the most part, and carelessly regarded of a number, have notwithstanding as full a remembrance as they had the first day the Lord gave them unto the Church.“

Body of Divinity, Book I, chapter 1, pg. 13.

We affirm with John Owen that to assert that the Hebrew and Greek texts of Scripture have been preserved in the same way as any other work of antiquity seems “to border on atheism.” Such a supposition neglects the special providence that God exercises with regard to his Church, the holy Scriptures being “most necessary (2 Tim 3:15; 2 Pet 1:19)” for the “better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world” (WCF 1:1) since at this point in redemptive history (Heb. 1:1-2) it is now the exclusive way in which he infallibly communicates his will to his Bride.

“It can, then, with no colour of probability be asserted (which yet I find some learned men too free in granting), namely, that there hath the same fate attended the Scripture in its transcription as hath done other books. Let me say without offence, this imagination, asserted on deliberation, seems to me to border on atheism. Surely the promise of God for the preservation of his word, with his love and care of his church, of whose faith and obedience that word of his is the only rule, requires other thoughts at our hands. We add that the whole scripture entire, as given out from God, without any loss, is preserved in the Copies of the Originals yet remaining; What varieties there are among the Copies themselves shall be afterwards declared; in them all, we say, is every letter and Tittle of the Word. These Copies we say, are the Rule, standard and touch-stone of all Translations ancient or modern, by which they are in all things to be examined, tried, corrected, amended, and themselves only by themselves.”

John Owen, Of the Divine Original, Authority, Self-Evidencing Light, and Power of the Scriptures, p. 173-174

The great works of antiquity by the hands of mere men may wither and fade like grass, “but the word of our God shall stand for ever” (Isa. 40:8). Yea, though even heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle of God’s Word shall in no wise pass away (Mat. 5:18; 24:35; Lk. 16:17).7

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Gregory Moeck, Westminster Larger Catechism 18b – God’s Governing All His Creatures and All Their Actions (video).

[2] Richard Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, pg. 61.

[3] Richard Muller, Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, ch. 3.2, p. 173.

[4] George Gillespie, Aaron’s Rod Blossoming, Book II, chapter IV, p. 86.

[5] Amandus Polanus, A System of Christian Theology, excerpt from Muller, PRRD, vol. 2, ch. 3.2, p. 173.

[6] Richard Muller, ibid., p. 173.

[7] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 1, p. 96.