What does Biblical Preservation mean?

6 minute read

Protestant Christians used to consider the Bible their ultimate authority. Being a faithful Christian meant you not only said you believed it, but you actually knew what it said. A real Christian knew that God breathed, recorded, and preserved each word on every page.

The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever. -Psalm 12.6-7

In every generation enemies have tried to pervert and destroy the Bible. In the first century they changed words. In the Middle Ages they burned Bibles. In the 20th and 21st Centuries they mess with translation. Yet God is true. He is certainly powerful enough to make sure that every Word is available in the most important language in the modern world - English.

Biblical preservation

The idea of Biblical preservation is essential to faith. If you cannot trust that your Bible is right in every jot and tittle, you would be foolish to trust it at all.

You wouldn’t trust a secretary who couldn’t deliver an accurate message. Why would you trust a God who couldn’t deliver His Word perfectly? In fact you can trust it completely. Millions of educated people have trusted it, lived by it, and died for it. And still do so today.

Christian People of the Book know the Bible doesn’t contain God’s Word, but is God’s Word. God’s Word is a book. And you can hold it in your hands.

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. -Jesus, John 5.18

(A jot and tittle are the smallest marks in the Hebrew language. Think of a period and a comma.)

And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and [from] the things which are written in this book. -Revelation 22.19

Owning a Bible meant death

From the earliest days of the New Testament, there have been two main families of manuscripts. The Antiochian (or Byzantine) manuscripts were the most widely accepted. The vast majority of copies which have survived to this day - thousands and thousands - are in this family. For all practical purposes, they agree with each other. Christians have believed that these Antiochian manuscripts have been preserved by God. They are known as the Textus Receptus or received text.

The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever. -Isaiah 40.8

The other group of manuscripts came from Alexandria Egypt. There are a handful of primary manuscripts in the Alexandrian tradition. The most important are Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus. They were both thought to be written around the fourth century, but were unknown for more than a thousand years. The Alexandrian manuscripts are characterized by cross-outs, blank spaces, and messy writing. The manuscripts in the Alexandrian tradition not only differ from the Received Text, they also differ substantially from each other. Critics of the Alexandrian texts say that they are in relatively good condition because they were rejected by the church and never used.

Egypt is never considered a source of good things in the Bible. It’s a symbol of apostasy. Why would God allow the best copies of His Word to come from a place he consistently condemns?

And their dead bodies [shall lie] in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. -Revelation 11:8

Persecution and martyrdom

From the Sixth Century, Christians of the Book were killed for having copies of the Textus Receptus Bible. Wycliffe, Luther and Tyndale used the Textus Receptus as the basis for their translations into German and English. Putting the Word of God into the hands of the common people ended the Dark Ages and launched the Protestant Reformation, destroying the tyranny of the priests in Europe. The King James translators had access to Alexandrian manuscripts, but did not use them as the basis for the Authorized Version of the Bible.

The Protestant Reformation put a completely trustworthy Bible - Divinely preserved - into the hands of anyone who wanted one. No one needed to learn Greek and Hebrew to understand what God was saying. Everyone could read God’s Holy Word for himself. The priesthood of all believers was restored.

Westcott and Hort

In the late 19th Century, two haters of the Received text invented a new rule. The oldest existing manuscript is the best one. On the basis of this, they created a new Greek text which raised the two Alexandrian manuscripts above all the thousands of Antiochian copies.

While the Alexandrians are among the oldest complete manuscripts, the actual readings in them are much newer than the Antiochian ones which go back to the actual autographs of the apostles who wrote them.

The doctored New Testament is called the Critical Text. It’s mythical because no scholar knows exactly word for word what God wanted to say. They guess. And their guesses keep evolving. This patchwork critical text is the basis for all modern English New Testaments except the KJV and the NKJV.

Because the Alexandrian texts contradict each other and the Received Text, there is no way to know what the actual Words of the Alexandrian text should be. Every textual scholar makes up his own mind.

In those days [there was] no king in Israel, [but] every man did [that which was] right in his own eyes. -Judges 17.6

Today the Westcott and Hort critical text is known as the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece. It keeps changing. The translators and pastors who use Nestle-Aland don’t believe that God was able to preserve His Word. People who use Bibles based on the Nestle-Aland text are using bibles which by definition are filled with guesses and errors.

Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. -Matthew 24.35

English Bibles don’t agree because they are based on different Greek texts. These are not translation issues. The Received Text (used in the Authorized Version or King James Version) differs in tens of thousands of ways from the Critical Text (used in the English Standard Version, New International Version, New American Standard Version, etc.). These differences impact doctrine. More fundamentally, they remove the confidence believers should have in God’s Word.

Does your Pastor believe the very Words are trustworthy?

The ideas of Westcott and Hort have crushed many pastors’ trust in the Bible. Such pastors have been taught to correct the Biblical text by scanning the countless Nestle-Aland variants listed in the notes for nearly every verse and choosing the one he thinks best in the moment. This is in no way the same as using Greek and Hebrew skills to dig deeper into the meaning of the text.

Yea hath God said?

Your old enemy still plants doubt with his original lie, Yea, hath God said?” (Genesis 3:1)

If you’re wise, you’ll choose a Bible based on the Received text (KJV). It’s based on a Greek NT that Luther, Wycliff, Tyndale and many scholarly pillars of the faith have embraced. It won’t be removed from the market in order to sell updates.

Be a Christian of the Book. God is greater than human doubt. He has preserved His Word through time, and has preserved it for you today.

Isaiah 40.8 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.

Are Christians still People of the Book? Yes. And you can be one, too.

God said it, I believe it, and that settles it, for me.

For further exploration

Originally published at: Comfort for Christians

Comments

Comments

Im stunned at many Christian groups changing wording in the Bible..some Presbyterians are doing it now. I hate to name denominations but that one stunned me. A friends son is a pastor of a church of 1200; he had to practically meet with each of them and really explain the dangers of that ..so they all voted and opted to leave the Presbytery; Now they have to leave the church compound and find a new one$$$ !! Thankfully, its quite a wealthy church in N California. Comm. Bible Study, an international bible study, moved from NIV to ESV because of changes made to the NIV that shouldnt be happening. After 45 years with NIV. Heres the thing: If we dont believe every word, whats the point? Is it up to MAN to pick and choose, to change as it appeals to him? Of course not. The Bible is THE ONLY TEXT/THING that informs Christians…“I am a Christian, but dont really believe all thats in the Bible” simply mystifies. Thats MY story, and Im stickin to it :-) Great post, Alec.

Textual criticism can be a tricky issue. I generally follow the Byzantine Text, on the grounds that it represents the consensus of the Eastern Church from about the 4th Century AD. I am always leary of 19th German critics who try to second guess the Church fathers when they (the critics) have less manuscript evidence to go by. However, having said that, I also compare the Byzantine Text with the Latin Vulgate (the “Textus Receptus” of the Western Church) and I also give weight to well attested Alexandrian readings, especially those in Codex Vaticanus. Why? In all likelihood Codex Vaticanus came from Athanasius himself, and was given either to the Western Roman Emperor or the Bishop of Rome. It should also be pointed out that the Textus Receptus (the basis for the KJV), is not a perfect representative of the Byzantine Text.

Hi Bob, Thanks for your comment. “Textual criticism can be a tricky issue” - yes. One things for sure - the amount of hatred for the Textus Receptus and King James Bible - and the people who hold to them - is remarkable. In too many places, the KJV is not welcome. Keep fighting the good fight. Alec

“In most places, any Bible is perfectly fine except for the KJV.” That is not my experience. Most churches I have attended (and my “denomination”) use the NIV, which I have little respect for except as a secondary source. Not only does the base text matter, but the philosophy (literal vs figurative) is important. I find the KJV literal. Figurative translations can be to easily swayed by doctrine, also. That a base text would rely on “more ancient” fragments which are now contradicted by an overwhelming Majority Text is troubling. Its not worth breaking fellowship over, but people need to know, and they dont.

Hi Ed, Your points are spot on.
I edited my previous comment to Bob to make it clearer from: “In most places, any Bible is perfectly fine except for the KJV.” to: In too many places, the KJV is not welcome. Its rare in the churches Ive visited to find anyone in the pulpit using the KJV - except for the independent fundamentalist churches, which are facing other difficulties these days.

When it comes to translation philosophy, usually the choice is between the “formal equivalent” (word-for-word) and the “dynamic equivalent” (idea-for-idea). Almost every translation will use a combination of the two, but some will lean in one direction and some in the other. The KJV, NKJV and NASV are good examples of “formal equivalent” translations. The NIV tends to be dynamic equivalent. One translation I really dislike is the NRSV – in an effort to gender neutral they would change singular pronouns to plural – “he” becomes “they.” Thats just plain changing the meaning of the text because we dont like what the original said!

Bob - this is exactly the case with the newer NIV. When they messed around with the genders the outcry was so great I understood they removed the Todays NIV from the market. But, they waited a few years and quietly removed the 1984 NIV from the market, too. You cant but it any more. The new NIV (NNIV) is as bad or worse than the TNIV. When does a translation become treyf (unclean)? Some say this is the inevitable result of a taught attitude that the Bible is just like any other ancient book. Anyone who looks at the question with humility and reverence quickly understands that this is not the case, and treads lightly. Such is the case of the best scholars through time. I wouldnt want to face God after having changed or removed His words.

What really got me about the NRSV is what they did to Ps. 34:8. The KJV translates the second clause as “blessed is the man that trusteth in him.” The way it come out in the NRSV is: “happy are those who take refuge in him.” The problem? The word translated by the KJV as “man” is the Hebrew word “gever,” which has a distinctively masculine connotation. “. . . this word specifically relates to a male at the height of his powers” (TWOT). Hows that for PC editing?