This article is the second in the series called “The Theology of the Text,” designed to cover the topic of the text in short, accessible articles.
The Theology of the Text Part II: What is Preservation?
In the modern church, there has been a concentrated effort to redefine what the word “preserved” means as it pertains to the Scriptures. According to most of the conservative evangelicals today, the Bible is preserved in such a way that the original text exists in all of the extant manuscripts, though text critics have not fully determined what that preserved text is completely. Another perspective that is growing due to the influence of evangelical textual scholars, is that the original text has not been fully preserved, and that the text available today is all that God intended to preserve. Both of these doctrinal positions are flawed because they do not take into consideration 1) the purpose of Scripture and 2) the definition of preservation.
Neither of these definitions satisfy what is required for the Scriptures to be preserved. In the first doctrinal position, the Bible can only be said to be preserved in theory because the people of God don’t actually have that preserved text. In the second doctrinal position, the Bible can only be said to be quasi-preserved, or partially preserved, because it readily admits that some portions of Scripture have indeed fallen away. It seems that the second doctrinal position is simply the first brought to its logical conclusion.
Preservation is simply defined as an object remaining the same. This means that if the Bible is said to be preserved, it must today be in the same state as it was when it was written. The doctrines, and the words which detail those doctrines, must be intact. Scripture In order to provide a Biblical definition of preservation, both the purpose of Scripture and the definition of preservation must be considered.
The Purpose of Holy Scripture
“The holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”2 Timothy 3:15
“That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”2 Timothy 3:17
The Scriptures affirm that they are the means God uses for 1) justification and 2) sanctification.
How much of this Scripture is purposed for this use?2 Timothy 3:16
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God”
The Definition of Preservation
With the purpose of Scripture defined, it is now appropriate to set forth the scope of this preservation.
“But the word of the Lord endureth forever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.”1 Peter 1:25
In this text, the Scriptures affirm what is preserved, “the word of the Lord,” and how long it will be preserved for, “endureth forever,” and how it is used,”by which the gospel is preached unto you.” The word of the Lord, which is “all Scripture,” is the thing that will “endureth forever.”
The Scriptures set forth clearly that “all Scripture” is given by God for the purpose of being used for all matters of faith and practice, and that God will not stop giving the Scriptures to His people. Rejecting this doctrine, is to reject that God spoke perfectly the first time, and is still failing to speak perfectly “in these last days” (Heb. 1:1). In the first place, if some Scripture has fallen away, then “All Scripture” as it was inspired by God was not “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16), and therefore God spoke fallibly. In the second place, if some Scripture has fallen away, then the word of the Lord does not endure forever, and therefore God spoke fallibly. In order to affirm that the Christian church has all they need in the Holy Scriptures, Christians must affirm that “all Scripture” has been preserved, and given to the people of God by God Himself. God sets forth all that man needs, and all that man needs is “all Scripture,” not some.
If it is denied that “All Scripture” has been preserved and delivered in every age, then the next logical step is to deny God’s providence itself. One may affirm that God works by way of means and reject the Scriptural definition of preservation, but those means are conveniently whatever men are doing with the Scriptures, regardless if those means are Biblical. Men are left then, assuming authority upon themselves to determine which is an “important” doctrine and which is not, and which passages of Holy Scripture are to be received or rejected. There is no longer a “sure word of prophecy,” (2 Peter 1:19) but a word of prophecy which is dictated and determined by the fallacious reasoning of sinful men. If preservation is denied, the mechanism by which God’s Word is given is no longer God, but man.
John Brown of Haddington. Systematic Theology. 97.
“All truths of Revelation are of unspeakable importance, and even especially necessary in their own place , – and as all attempts to determine which are fundamental, and which not, are calculated to render us deficient and slothful in the study of religious knowledge; – To fix precisely what truths are fundamental and what not, is neither necessary, nor profitable, nor safe, nor possible.”