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1529. The Preservation of the Bible

The Daily Platform / Bob Jones University
The Truth Network Radio
June 8, 2023 6:00 pm

1529. The Preservation of the Bible

The Daily Platform / Bob Jones University

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June 8, 2023 6:00 pm

Dr. Layton Talbert continues the series called “Truth For Life” which is a study of the doctrine of the Scriptures. The passage is from Jeremiah 36.

The post 1529. The Preservation of the Bible appeared first on THE DAILY PLATFORM.

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Welcome to The Daily Platform. Our program features sermons from chapel services at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina. Every day, students are blessed by the preaching and teaching of the Bible from the University Chapel Platform. Today on The Daily Platform, we're continuing a study series entitled Truth for Life, which is a study of the Scriptures. Today's sermon will be preached by Seminary Professor Dr. Leighton Talbert. In Jeremiah 36, there is a remarkable, vivid story. It begins this way. The son of Neriah and Baruch wrote on a scroll of a book, at the instruction of Jeremiah, all the words of the Lord which he had spoken to him.

That's inspiration and inscripturation at work. How long did that take? By hand. Not long after that, that very scroll was read to King Jehoiakim. How did he react? The text says the king was sitting in the winter house in the ninth month with a fire burning on the hearth before him. And when Jehudi had read three or four columns, the king cut it with the scribe's knife and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth until the whole scroll was consumed in the fire.

So what happened? The word of the Lord came again to Jeremiah saying, take another scroll. And write on it all the former words that were in the first scroll, which the king of Judah burned.

And Jeremiah did. That extraordinary example of preservation, and it is extraordinary, illustrates at least two simple but key realities. God has a vested interest in preserving his words, even when somebody in power tries to destroy it. And secondly, God has no difficulty in preserving his words through whatever means he chooses. Even when the first and only copy of it, what the scholars would have called the autograph, has been purposely destroyed. So the question this morning is how can you be confident that the words that you read in your Bible accurately reflect the words that God gave to Moses and David and Paul and Matthew to write down under inspiration?

I know that. Let me start with some general implications to argue for preservation. Number one, the fact of scripture implies preservation. Divine self-revelation assumes preservation.

Why? God chose to create creatures in his own image like us. He chose to do that. He further chose to reveal himself and communicate his expectations to us. Even after we sin, God chose to pursue a self-communicative relationship with fallen humans. And in fact, God chose to see to it that his words were written down for the sake of accuracy and access and permanence. So having chosen to do all of that, why would God then abandon the entire process of his self-revelation to humanity by failing to preserve his words? In fact, we can take that argument a step further.

The purpose of scripture implies preservation. Two weeks ago when Dr. Crockett spoke on the inspiration of scripture, he included some really cute pictures of his kids. Now granted, they have their moments, but to me, they are the most adorable babies on the face of the planet. Now unfortunately, as you can see, they're not old enough to say clever or cute things yet.

Like Dr. Crockett's kids. I just couldn't think of any other way to get them in the message. So back to Dr. Crockett's message, his opening text was this one. That of knowing of whom thou hast learned them, and that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, the sacred writings, which he could not have known had they not been preserved down to his day. Why is that important?

Keep reading. Because they are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God. It's 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. In other words, the Bible was given for a purpose which we might summarize as enabling the establishment of fellowship with God, which involves our conversion and our growth as we learn from the Bible how to think and live to please God. And that purpose of scripture therefore implies the necessity of ongoing preservation. And 14 centuries later, Jesus cited those words as still an authoritative and necessary basis on which to resist temptation. He said, it is written.

Do you hear that? It is written. That statement testifies to the fact and importance of preservation over those 14 centuries. And that proceeds from the mouth of God. So, why would God give in written form information which every human being needs and then make it impossible for anyone to know it by doing nothing to guarantee that people would have access to that information? And speaking of the Old Testament scriptures, Paul writes that whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction. Elsewhere he writes it was written for our learning. His argument is not that just that those passages happen to be interesting and helpful and useful and instructive because they happen to exist. His argument is part of the reason they were written in the first place is because it was intended to be useful and instructive for later generations.

For whom it was written. And in truth, Feinberg points out, this line of argument that I'm suggesting here is not just an argument from inspiration to preservation, it's an argument from God's character. And from humanity's need of the information contained in scripture to the likelihood or probability, I would be inclined to say, the necessity of scripture's preservation.

So, implies preservation. Three weeks ago, Dr. Goecher preached on the authority of scripture. And as he pointed out, God incorporates multiple commands to read and to meditate on and to obey his words. Scripture's authority applies to everyone at all times. In other words, scripture is the authoritative manual for what humans need to know and do to fulfill God's purposes for them in the world.

There is no preservation. How can we submit ourselves to the authority of those divine commands if God does not see to it that they are preserved for each successive generation of his people. Now there is, I think, a fourth reality that also implies preservation, and that is the glory of God. Because one of the reasons God has given his word, spoken in his word in the first place, is to validate his trustworthiness as the God of his people. As the God who does exactly what he says. And he is determined to validate that, not just to his people, but to all the nations.

Here's one passage that demonstrates that, or that expresses that. Ezekiel 36. I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations wherever they went. Therefore say to the house of Israel, thus says the Lord God, I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for my holy namesake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. And I will sanctify my great name which has been profaned among the nations which you have profaned in their midst.

And the nations shall know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when I am hallowed in you before their eyes. I'll take the heart and put a new spirit within you. I'll take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I'll put my spirit in you and cause you to walk in my statutes and you will keep my judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers. You shall be my people. I will be your God. Not for your sake do I do this, says the Lord God. Let it be known to you.

Be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel. Thus says the Lord, on the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, on the day that the nations see me hallowed in you, just like I said, I will also enable you to dwell in the cities and the ruins will be rebuilt. Then the nations which are left around you shall know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted what was desolate. I, the Lord, have spoken it and I will do it. I'm not just going to do it because I'm omnipotent.

I'm going to say it first and then do it. God intends history to vindicate to all the nations that he is the God who does exactly and entirely everything that he says. And that high and holy purpose of God would not be recognized as anything other than coincidence if he did not preserve his word where he said what he would do.

So the nations can see. He does exactly what he says. Now, those four points are logical implications of larger theological truths. God's character, God's authority, God's purpose, God's glory.

And they are important arguments as far as they go. For some, however, the bigger question is, well, does the Bible actually teach a doctrine of preservation? Actually, Bible believing scholars are divided on the answer to that question.

Not equally divided, evenly divided, but they are divided. They all believe that God has preserved his word. They just don't agree on whether the Bible teaches that God will, in fact, do that.

But here's an important point. We do not have an explicit biblical doctrine stating which books of the Bible are part of the inspired canon, nor do we have a biblical doctrine stating that the canon would close at such and such a time. The church has come to those conclusions based on the testimony of the providence of God over the facts of history. Likewise, we don't need an explicit doctrine of preservation to recognize all the theological arguments and all the historical evidences that God in his providence has preserved an accurate, reliable record of his self-revelation. We don't need a doctrine of preservation, but I think we have one. The text of Scripture expects preservation. Now, here is a list of verses commonly set forth to demonstrate a biblical doctrine of preservation, but the reality is, even those who believe in a biblical doctrine of preservation differ with each other on how directly or indirectly some of those verses contribute to that doctrine, or whether some of those verses even teach preservation at all, or whether they're talking about something totally different.

That's why the question mark is there. But some of these passages, at least, really do seem to create the expectation that God preserves his written word. For example, Psalm 119, 152.

The subject of Psalm 119 is the psalmist's relationship to the written words of God that he can read and reread and meditate on and memorize. That's what this whole psalm is about. In fact, according to Deuteronomy 18, every king was commanded to make his own copy of the law. Testimonies in that verse is a very broad term for God's words. God's testimonies are whatever he gives witness to about anything.

History, prophecy, instruction, promise, and those testimonies are established forever because he is forever and he does not change. Isaiah 40, verse 8. What makes this Old Testament statement doubly significant is that it's corroborated with a citation in and application to the New Testament. Because Peter describes the word of God, which lives and remains forever, and then quotes Isaiah 40 as corroboration. 1 Peter 1, 24-25. Now some people think that these statements here in Peter don't necessarily refer to scripture, God's written word, just to his spoken promises. But if you read Peter's letters attentively, he talks interchangeably about the word of God and the scripture. For example, just a few verses later, he exhorts his readers to desire the milk of the word.

Where are you going to find that if it's not located somewhere? He quotes the written words of scripture. He says the prophetic word has been confirmed that no prophecy of scripture is of human origin.

And how those prophecies in the scripture came from the Holy Spirit. He cites words spoken by the holy prophets and by the apostles. He identifies Paul's letters as part of the rest of the scriptures. Matthew 5, 18. In verse 17, the verse before this, Jesus says he came to fulfill the law and the prophets. He's talking about the written words of God, and therefore de facto the preserved words of God. And then he says, verily I say to you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled.

Jesus' primary point in this context is the absolutely certain fulfillment of every statement of scripture, but he underscores that primary point with a secondary point. A jot refers to the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet. You can see it there among some other letters in the Hebrew alphabet.

A tittle refers to the smallest scratch of the pen that distinguishes two very similar looking letters from each other. In other words, jots and tittles are the stuff of written words. And however indirectly or secondarily, Jesus is guaranteeing that God's written words will outlast the present heaven and earth until everything God has said is fulfilled. Now given the collective testimony of these and other passages that we haven't looked at, it seems clear to most Bible-believing interpreters that the Bible does in fact teach its own preservation. Again, we don't have to have a biblical doctrine of preservation, but it helps. And that brings us lastly to this, that the history of scripture displays the means of preservation. It is common and correct to specify that the doctrine of inspiration refers to the original inscripturation of God's words and what the scholars refer to as the autographs. Paul's original letter to the Romans, Moses' original inscription of Deuteronomy. In other words, the inspiration process does not extend to copies, but to whatever degree the copies are accurate representations of the original, they carry the same authority as the originals. Question, do we still have any of the original manuscripts?

Not as far as anybody knows. If they are in existence somewhere, God hasn't revealed them yet. All we have is copies. So how meaningful is it to say what I just said? That the copies, to whatever degree the copy is an accurate representation of the original is just as authoritative if we don't have the originals to compare anymore. Now, before I answer that, I want to get us to back up in our thinking a little bit to a much bigger question. Why don't we have the original manuscripts? Would it not have been a very simple thing for an omnipotent God to miraculously preserve the original manuscripts of the Bible? And yet he chose not to. God chose not to. Instead, he chose to preserve his word through his providence over finite and fallen people in a way that I think arguably demonstrates his wisdom and his power even more than preserving the original manuscripts. So in the wisdom of God and in the will of God, we do not have the original documents. That's a really important point to recognize and to rest in. That's God's choice.

It's not an accident. And we're scrambling to try to make up for that somehow. So the Bible teaches us to expect that God will preserve his word for his people, but it never says anything about how God would do that.

So now let me go back to the other question. What good are the copies if we don't have the originals to compare them to? Because we don't just have a few copies here and there. We have thousands and thousands of copies and manuscripts. And we can read and compare all those copies over a whole history of transmission and translation.

Copies that go back not just 500 years or 1000 years, but 2000 plus years in some cases. And that means we can trace the whole history of transmission, which as it turns out, does not display numerous wild divergences all over the place. What we find in that history of transmission is a stunning record of remarkably accurate consistency. That's providential preservation in action. In delivering the words he wanted us to have, God chose the supernatural means of divine inspiration in his scripturation. In preserving the words God wanted us to have, God chose the providential means of human transmission and translation. So the Bible's preservation is a historical reality that is traceable to the providence of God and verifiable through the accurate transmission of the scriptures over 35 centuries. What does that look like?

Well here's just one snapshot. For centuries, the Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament were kept and hand copied by Jewish scribes called the Masoretes. And we know that their work was incredibly painstaking because they would count and record the number of paragraphs and words and letters in their copies to make sure that nothing was added and nothing was missing. And for a long time, the oldest Hebrew manuscripts that we had access to only dated back to about the year 1000 AD.

That's a big gap from when they were originally given. How do we know that those are accurate since they only go back to less than a thousand years, over a thousand years from when they were first given? We had no idea just how accurate the work of the Masoretes was until 1947. And the accidental providential discovery of a previously unknown stash of over 225 Hebrew manuscripts that dated back another 1000 years before the Masoretic texts to a century or more before Christ. These are called the Dead Sea Scrolls. And when those manuscripts began to be compared with the Masoretic manuscripts, even though there's a thousand year gap between them, the Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrated the astonishing precision. Which in the providence of God, the Masoretic text was copied for a thousand years. So in the providence of God, and I'm sorry I have no time to talk about this slide, take a picture of it and study it later. In the providence of God, we have this huge reservoir of thousands and thousands of Old and New Testament manuscripts.

Are there any variations or differences between all of these? Of course there are. Apart from an interventional, supernatural, miraculous process of preservation, that's to be expected. But think about this. Has God promised to keep all preachers of His word free from error?

If only. He's committed the preaching of His word to a fallible human process which He sovereignly oversees and overrules and uses in His providence. And likewise, God has committed the copying and preservation of His word to a fallible human process which He sovereignly oversees and in His providence manages. What is stunning about the manuscript record is that the number of those differences is so minuscule and the nature of those differences so minor that no doctrine is brought into question. You've heard that statement before. It's true.

How minor? Let me suggest a website for you to explore, put together by one of our own graduates, Dr. Mark Ward, some of you have heard him. It's And the site highlights, the site highlights, every difference between the two major New Testament manuscript families. I picked Romans 3 just as an example here because it's a very crucial theological passage. So you start scrolling down and okay, there's a difference. A subjunctive tense versus a future tense of the same verb. Here's the next difference in that passage.

A for versus a but. And I had to scroll past the next 13 verses to find the next difference. One reading adds the phrase and upon all.

And now I'm not pretending this is all easy peasy lemon squeezy for those of you that have seen The Greatest Game. But textual criticism, aka textual analysis is what it refers to, can be complicated. You can learn more about that process from this website, but it need not be and it should not be faith shaking. In his book on the doctrine of the word of God, John Frame makes the observation that God chose, here's God choosing again, God chose not to record or preserve many things that he has said. For example, think about everything that Jesus said in the gospels, everything he said that's recorded. Combine everything Jesus said and you've got about five hours of speaking over a three and a half year ministry. You think he said more than that in three and a half years? Probably. That's a lot of infallible truth that God chose not to include for us in scripture.

Why? He decided we did not need it. Because God is absolutely sovereign over his own communication and he's absolutely sovereign over what becomes of his communication. So as Frame writes, God has determined that we will have all the personal words he intends to speak to us today. In that theological sense, we have lost nothing through the process of textual transmission. Because of God's singular care and providence, he's quoting the Westminster Confession there, over the process of transmission, he means preservation. We now have in scripture all the personal words that God intends to say to us today.

To return to the two realities we started with from Jeremiah 36, God has a vested interest in preserving his word for his people and God has no difficulty in preserving his word for his people. And in that you can rest and should rest assured. Now if you want to do some further investigation on your own, here are some helpful resources. If we can maybe leave that up for just a minute or two after we dismiss, these are resources that I think you'd find very helpful. But we need to close in prayer. I finished a minute early.

I did not think that was going to happen. Let's pray. Father, thank you so much for your grace in communicating yourself to us, revealing yourself to us, and giving to us a reliable revelation and a preserved revelation of yourself. We are so grateful that you've brought us to a knowledge of yourself through that word. And we pray that we would grow in our knowledge of you as we continue to read and study and memorize and meditate on with confidence the words that you have given to us and preserved for us. And we ask these things in Jesus' name. Amen. You've been listening to a sermon preached by Bob Jones University Seminary professor Dr. Leighton Talbert, which is part of the study series called Truth for Life. Listen again tomorrow as we continue the series here on The Daily Platform.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-08 21:17:51 / 2023-06-08 21:26:40 / 9

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