Recently, an acquaintance asked me why I believe God preserved the words. He believes God has preserved the message of the Bible but doesn’t see any place in Scripture where God promised to keep the words. I was grateful for the opportunity to explain why I believe God has kept every word, and I am happy to share it with you as well with some edits, modifications, and additions.
Hey brother, I am glad you asked me why I believe every word of the Bible is preserved rather than just dismissing me as an ignoramus. I always appreciate the opportunity to set forth my reasons for a position I hold dear, and I am always grateful to those who will give me a hearing. I recognize that the most vocal (at least online) Christians deny that the words are kept. I try to take the positions I hold on grounds that I can defend from Scripture. Hopefully, this will help you to understand my thinking on this crucial issue.
I am arguing that God has preserved every word of Scripture perfectly. Variations of this argument have been made by Kent Brandenburg (15+ years), the Van Kleecks, and Jeff Riddle. The Van Kleecks use the term “Standard Sacred Text,” Jeff Riddle refers to it as the confessional text, and others call it “confessional Bibliology.” I am in basic agreement with this position. I was also greatly helped by Douglas Wilson on this issue, particularly when it comes to methodology. I draw heavily from the London Baptist Confession and (to a lesser degree) the Westminster Confessions as representative of the historic belief of the Christian church through the ages. The LBC statement on the Holy Scriptures is available here:
I do not believe that preservation rests in the English. God has preserved the words He gave, so (in general) the Hebrew of the OT and the Greek of the NT (Matthew 5:18).
I believe that preservation is a presupposition. Just as believers presuppose the truth of all Scripture, even so, we believe that God has kept His Word. This presupposition represents the historic view of preservation as well, as is demonstrated in the early confessions (Westminster, LBC, etc.), which said,
The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by His singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentic…
I believe that the words God gave – the “breathed-out words” He inspired – are perfectly preserved, despite the difficulties in demonstrating perfection (due to variants). I approach preservation the same way I approach inerrancy. I can’t clear up every difficulty. I don’t need to clarify the difficulties to believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, and I don’t think I need to explain every difficulty to hold to an every word preservation.
The foundational reason to believe that the Bible is inerrant is this: it is God’s Word. I can’t give a proof text for inerrancy. However, I think the whole of Scripture supports it. The LBC refers to it as “the consent of all the parts.” The Bible is God’s Word, all scripture is given by inspiration of God, holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, and that doesn’t leave any room for error. God’s Word is truth and truly expresses what God intended for us to know of Himself and His will. “The nature of the Word of God matches with the nature of God Himself” (to quote a friend). Relevant Scripture would include I Corinthians 2:12.
I believe that inspiration and preservation are twins, that we know which words are inspired because they are the words God kept, and that God preserved the words He gave. I believe this can be demonstrated from Scripture in several ways.
- First, consider the great emphasis the Bible places on the very words of God.
- God has taught us to live, not by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4). God expects us to live by every word. Some have pointed out that we do not have every word that has proceeded out of God’s mouth. This is true. John 20:30-31 and John 21:25 make this very clear. So, the “every word” that God expects us to live by would not include words that are not graphe – not written. The written words God inspired are the words we must live by, and we can expect God has preserved the inspired words, the pasa graphe. At a minimum, we can argue for the general accessibility of these words in every age, since God commands us to live by every word. But I have to add that God wouldn’t urge us to live by every word if He does not commit to keeping every word.
- In many ways, I believe that the text issue is an issue amongst preachers and theologians, not an issue the average Christian deeply engages with. For most Christians (and this is anecdotal and an observation, not a verified fact), there is an assumption that the words of Scripture are reliable. Unless a Christian has been treated to heavy doses of doubt about verses or passages of Scripture, I would guess that most Christians read their Bibles (whatever version they use) and assume that the words are there that should be. That is why I think the use of many versions can do more harm than good, in that it can stir doubts about the words – how do we know what words belong?
- That said, I believe the default assumption among Christians would be that God keeps every word He has given. I think we can argue this in several ways. God’s Word is a treasure to the believer. God has committed Himself to keep His Word. I can’t separate that in my mind from God keeping the words He gave. How can God keep His Word if He lets some words fall to the ground?
- With all of the above as laying the groundwork of reasoning behind my thinking, here are a few verses that I consider to teach every word preservation:
As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever. (Isaiah 59:21)
Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. (Matthew 24:35)
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. (Matthew 5:18)
The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. (Psalm 19:7)
For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven.
Thy word is very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it. (Psalm 119:89, 140)
- I believe Psalm 12:6-7 is speaking of the words of God, which are kept by God “from this generation for ever.” The whole Psalm speaks of God keeping His people. But the central point (as is indicated by the chiastic outline) is God keeping His words. It makes logical sense that God’s care for His Word would take precedence over His care for His people and that, in fact, our security comes from the certainty of God’s words. The gender discord problem in the verse is really not a problem because the same gender discord is found repeatedly in the Old Testament. And it fits with the claim in Psalm 138:2 that God has magnified His word above His name.
- Revelation 22:18-19 teaches a settled text. Thus, nothing is to be added or taken away from it.
- Paul didn’t teach believers to build unity; he taught them to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). The church has settled on the text of Scripture in much the same way as the church has settled on the canon. Believers shouldn’t require fresh proofs for the canon in every generation, nor should the words of Scripture come under constant review. For that matter, the Bible never speaks of the canon, only of the words.
That is a sketch of my reasons for believing in an every word preservation. Hopefully, that at least helps you know where I am coming from.