Saturday, November 3, 2007

How God Preserves His Word

The Anvil of God's Word

Last eve I paused beside a blacksmith's door,
And heard the anvil ring the vesper chime;
Then, looking in, I saw upon the floor
Old hammers, worn with beating years of time.

"How many anvils have you had," said I,
"To wear and batter all these hammers so?"
"Just one," said he, and then, with twinkling eye,
"The anvil wears the hammers out, you know."

And so, thought I, the anvil of God's Word,
For ages sceptic blows have beat upon;
Yet, though the noise of falling blows was heard,
The anvil is unharmed - the hammers gone.

John Clifford

Broken hammers! Those two words sum up the entire history of men's attacks on the Word of God. The anvil of God's Word has for centuries suffered countless hammer blows from its enemies, yet it bears not a dent or scratch from all their spite! I see inscribed upon the broken hammers the names of those who wielded them! I see Sennacharib's name. Jehoiakim's name is there (Jer. 36). Diocletian, Voltaire, Paine, Hegel, Hume, Griesbach, Semler, Lachman, Strauss, Baur, Ingersoll, Fosdick, and a thousand others have wielded their infidel arguments against the Word of God, and yet it endures. The floor of history is littered with the broken hammers of critics, but the anvil is unharmed!

The Answer to a Great Mystery

There is a great mystery here. How is it possible that the Masoretic Hebrew Old Testament and the Received Text of the Greek New Testament, and so very many of the faithful translations of the Bible have survived the enmity of wicked men so that we have the very Word of God in our possession today? The Scriptures give us the answer, God has preserved His Word for us. He told us in His Word He would do so,“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 “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.” Matt. 5:18 “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” Matt. 24:35 Add to these verses Psa. 33:11; 100:5; 105:8-10; 111:7,8; 117:2; 119:89, 152, 160; Isa. 40:8;, and I Tim. 6:14 Our Lord Jesus stated this truth when He said, “...the Scripture cannot be broken.” Without a doubt, God has preserved His Words for us in English in the King James Bible.

When I was a young Christian it used to trouble me that men were forever attacking the Word of God. Since I came to understand the doctrine of preservation, I no longer fear that we will ever lose the Word of God or see the King James Bible displaced by the modern mistranslations. As a little boy fifty years ago, I remember listening to our dear old pastor as he preached on the Inspiration of the Bible, its Inerrancy, its Authority, and its Preservation. At the time, the doctrine of Inspiration was under attack. Faithless men hammered away at the Holy Scriptures with their pompous words while sceptics laughed and applauded, but they all passed away, and the anvil was unharmed. Some years later, the Inerrancy of the Scriptures came under attack. For many years now the Authority of the Word of God has been under attack. And over the past twenty or thirty years “scholars” have angrily attacked the doctrine of the Preservation of God's Word. Without exception, these “scholars” have held to what is called Modern Textual Criticism.

The Origins of Modern Textual Criticism

We must remember that the men who devised the basic principles of Modern Textual Criticism earned their degrees at the feet of the early modernists. In the eighteenth century modernists were known as German Rationalists. Using the “scientific” methods of the Renaissance, they sat in judgement on the Word of God and dispensed with everything supernatural in the Bible. This view came to be called Higher Criticism. The students of the Higher Critics carried their modernism one step farther and devised theories of modern textual criticism to hammer away at the Inspiration, the Inerrancy, the Authority, and the Preservation of the Bible. Over the past century most Bible colleges and seminaries have embraced modern textual criticism and, as a result, have jettisoned the doctrine of Preservation.

They seem to have forgotten that God has always preserved certain things.

The Doctrine of Preservation

Holy Scripture tells us in II Peter 3:7, “But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgement and perdition of ungodly men.” Two separate words are used here to describe God's preservation of the cosmos for the day of judgement. “Kept in store” is from the Greek word “thesaurus”. It carries the meaning of something being laid up as a treasure. “Reserved” is from the word “teereo” and means to keep, to preserve, or to hold fast. This verse agrees with Col. 1:17, “And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” God is always actively preserving and keeping and holding together the heavens and the earth. He has a plan for them and will not allow them to be destroyed until His plan is fulfilled.

God has, for thousands of years, preserved the nation of Israel. Surely the words of God to Jacob in Gen. 28:15 “ And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest...” were not to Jacob alone, but to all his seed. Again and again, God promised to Israel that He would preserve them. Exodus 23:20 reads, “Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.” And the Jews were instructed to bless one another with the words of Num. 6:24, “The LORD bless thee and keep thee...” History bears solemn witness to the keeping power of God. He has preserved His covenant people in the face of bitter enmity and will yet bring them to faith in His Son. God has a plan for Israel and will not allow the Adolph Hitlers of the past, present, or future to destroy them.

God keeps His own children so that they can never be lost. Jude addressed his epistle to those who are “sanctified by God the Father and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called.” We are preserved and kept and held fast. Oh, brother, if you are washed in the blood of the Lamb, you can swing over the pit of Hell on a rotten cornstalk singing Amazing Grace and never fear that you will fall in! We are assured in Romans 8:38, 39 that no created thing or circumstance can “separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.” My dear Saviour gave this poor little lamb all the assurance he would ever need when He said, “ And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than I, and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.” (John 10:28, 29) In Ephesians 4:30 we are told that we are “sealed with the Holy Spirit.” What could be clearer than the fact that every member of the Trinity is involved in keeping us. God has a plan for us and will keep us all the way to Heaven. We are preserved!

How God Preserves His Word

It should not surprise us then, to read the verses on the preservation of the Bible. It is God's way to preserve those things for which He has a great purpose and plan. In simple faith we say a loud “AMEN” to every text that tells us God will preserve His Word. Church historians agree (often very reluctantly, I fear) that God HAS preserved His Word. Many preachers who should boldly preach this great truth (and don't!) will nod their heads ever so timidly and sheepishly admit that it seems to be true, but then they will qualify that admission by saying that there are no verses in the Bible that specifically state the doctrine of Preservation. And then they will say that there are no verses that tell us how God preserves His Word.

We Baptists used to believe that everything in life is basically theological. By that we mean that we believe that every subject, every issue, and every doctrinal controversy MUST be looked at from God's perspective, and we believe that His perspective is to be found in His Word. If you still hold that as a conviction, you will find that you are out of step with a great many Bible college professors and their graduates. And you wouldn't be able to pass some of the courses in their learned institutions. Why do I say this? Simply because it is now taboo in many circles for you to approach the subject of textual criticism from the perspective of faith. That is the perspective which believes that God has revealed in His Word how to discern which Greek text is reliable and which is not. We believe God has laid out for us in the Bible all the guidelines we need. If you hold to this position, you are pleading guilty to having a biblical bias. Most Bible “scholars” tell us that this perspective is not “neutral.” (Say, that sounds a lot like straddling the fence to me. I thought “neutralism” was something that new evangelicals were into.) When the “scholars” say they can find no verses in the Bible that teach that God has preserved His Word or how He does it, we are reminded of the three reasons a burglar can't find a policeman. 1) He isn't really interested in looking. 2) He tends to look in the wrong places. 3) And he would be in deep trouble if he did find one.

A Key Word

Now I would like to propose a little challenge for the scholarly gentlemen who tell us that the Bible has nothing to say about preservation. Since God uses the word “preserve” in the Bible, why not take the time to look up all the verses in the Bible that use the Greek word translated “preserved” (as in I Thess. 5:23 and in Jude 1)? It is the word, “teereo”. It is translated “preserved” twice, “reserved” eight times, “hold fast” once, “hold” once, “watch” twice, “observe” four times, “prison” once, and “keep, keepers, kept, keepeth, and keeping” almost sixty times. The overall definition we perceive through the Holy Spirit's uses of the word “teereo” is that of someone exercising a protective, custodial, watchful care over someone or some thing. The Spirit used it to describe the soldiers watching Jesus on the cross (Matt. 27:36, 54). It is used to describe those who watched the tomb of our Lord (Matt. 28:4). The ruler of the feast accused the bridegroom in John 2:10 of keeping back the best wine till last. In Acts 12:5, 6 and 16:23, Peter and Paul were kept in prison. In I Cor. 7:37 and I Tim. 5:22 a man is told to keep his body free from immorality. The Ephesian church was exhorted to keep the unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:3). Paul faces death in II Tim 4:7 with the confidence that he has kept the faith. James writes that we are to keep ourselves unspotted from the world. The truth of preservation is very clearly taught in all these verses. In each case someone or some thing is being watched over protectively. If we believe that “every word of God is pure” (Prov. 30:5), if we believe in the Verbal Inspiration of Scripture, then we believe that God very carefully chose this word to convey to us the fact that men commonly exercise a custodial and careful watchfulness over things that have value and importance.

The Surprising Uses of the Word

So what does this word have to do with the preservation of God's Word? Simply this, the word, “teereo”, is used 28 times in the New Testament to describe men “keeping” the sayings of Christ, His commandments, His words, and God's law. See, for example, John 8:51, “If a man keep my saying, he shall never die.” and John 8:55 “...I know him and keep his saying.” John 14:15 is the best known of these verses, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Verses 21, 23, 24 emphasise the same truth, “He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me...”, “ If a man love me, he will keep my words...”, and “He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings...” I John 2:3, 4, 5 add these words, “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whose keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby we do know that we are in him.” For over forty years I have been reading those verses and assuming that they were only describing the simple obeying of God's Word, but that is not all that is in the word “keep”. (It should be emphasised that there are three basic words for “obey” in the Greek New Testament, but this word “teereo” is never once translated “obey”.) The Holy Spirit's consistent use of the word “teereo” in the New Testament shows that it means to exercise a protective, watchful, custodial care of the thing kept. That is the basic meaning of the word. The verses which use the word “teereo” in reference to keeping our Lord's commandments teach us that God would have His children to preserve His Word. So have we been altogether wrong in supposing that we are to obey the words of Christ? I think not. God intended for us to lovingly exercise a protective watchcare over His Words, and in doing so, to obey them. If God's people have a grasp of the importance of standing guard over the purity of God's Word, and having a loving watchfulness over the Bible, they will also “keep” it in obeying it. Obedience to the Bible and Preservation of the Bible are inseparable. When the Lord Jesus said to His disciples in John 14:15, “If ye love me, keep my commandments,” He was instructing them to lovingly preserve His commandments from corruption by obeying them without alteration. That makes sense to this old hillbilly preacher. I will preserve God's Word so I can obey it carefully and I will obey it carefully so I can preserve it unchanged for the next generation of God's children. If I become careless in obeying it, I will become careless in preserving it. Say, have you noticed that those who are so opposed to the doctrine of preservation also become increasingly careless in obeying the Bible? And those who are most vocal in their support of the preservation of the Bible tend to be most concerned about simple obedience to it? It stands to reason that carelessness in preserving God's Word goes with carelessness in obeying it, and diligence in preserving it goes with diligence in obeying it.

Simple Steps of Preservation

Now, I think I hear someone saying, “You still haven't told us how God's Word is preserved.”

First, we should recognise that when the Lord told men to keep His words He was addressing His disciples. This charge is given to the Lord's disciples not only individually but collectively. In the simplest analysis churches are gatherings of disciples of Christ. It was the churches' task then and it is the churches' task now to “keep his commandments!” The little church I pastor has been given a divine mandate to preserve the Bible. It is not the task of parachurch organisations such as denominations, Bible societies, Bible colleges, seminaries, Christian universities, or museums to preserve God's Word. It is the work of the local church. This is how God has preserved His Word since the time of the apostles, through local churches standing guard over it. Read the history of the primitive churches in every land. They preserved the Word of God without anyone's help but God's. Roman emperors and Roman popes tried their hardest to take the Bible away from the churches, but they would not give it up.

Churches in this century must realise that no group of people in the world has the right to tell a local church that it is exceeding its mandate when it stands guard over the purity of the Bible. No author, no Baptist pope, no fellowship of churches, no university, and no seminary has the right to overrule our Saviour's charge to the local church to preserve God's Word.

Second, any church that sets out to preserve their Saviour's sayings commits itself inevitably to obey it in the letter and the spirit. The Great Commission of Christ to His disciples contains the words, “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:20) “All things” teaches preservation. “Observe” teaches obedience. Preservation and obedience are forever joined together.

We need to read with discernment the histories of the churches. When the “scholars” of the 19th century discovered the mangled and mutilated manuscripts of the Alexandrian Greek text they should have exercised discernment as to the places they found them. The Vaticanus manuscript was discovered unused, unpreached, and unloved among the papists who had no desire to preserve it or obey it. Its credibility is immediately suspect because of the lawless obscurantism of its hosts. The Sinaitic manuscript was discovered in no better company. Godless priests were using it to kindle a fire. One of the rooms of the monastery was filled with the skulls of deceased priests. Dead rituals, dead prayers, dead doctrines, dead priests, and and a dead text, they all belong together.

A live text, the Received Text, should be found in a live church, filled with live doctrines, with a live preacher and live saints. They should actively worship the living God. They should be empowered by the Spirit of life. When the Spirit of God spoke through the apostle Paul, he described the local church as being “the pillar and ground of the truth.” (I Tim. 3:15) A church which trembles at the Word of God (Isa. 66:2, 5) will preserve it in the very fullest sense, lovingly obeying it.

And third, God has given us the very simplest instructions for the preserving of His Words. He tells us again and again not to add to it or take away from it. This is preservation in all its simplicity. Deut. 4:2 is the first text that warns us not to add to, nor take away from the Word of God, “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.” (Note how preservation and obedience go together in this and the next text!) Deut. 12:32 states this truth again, “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: Thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.” The wise man of Proverbs 30:6 warns, “Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.” God's commission to Jeremiah in chapter 26:2 is, “...(S)peak all the words that I command thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word.” Rev. 22:18, 19 are possibly the best known verses on the preservation of the Bible. They come at the close of the canon, and warn men most solemnly not to add to nor take away from the words of this book. What is not commonly known is that the 22nd chapter also contains two verses that speak of our part in preservation. Verse 7 promises a blessing on the man that “keepeth the sayings of this book.” And verse 9 identifies the angel who spoke with John as being the fellowservant of them which “keep the sayings of this book.” The word, again, is “teereo”. There is a blessing on the man who preserves the Word of God and avoids every alteration to the Bible. And a curse on those who add to or take away from it.

So God tells us how His Word is preserved. It is kept by those who love it and obey it. Down through the centuries He has kept His Word through His people. Wherever we find a church, large or small, that is committed to walking in the light of the Bible, we will find a church that takes its stewardship of the purity of God's Word seriously. And we will find that they measure everything, including Modern Textual Criticism, by the Word of God.

Many years ago, I pastored a church near an aboriginal mission. There was a missionary living and working there who told me one day that someone had donated copies of a modern translation for the church in the settlement. He said that after a few weeks, the people came to him and said, “Brother ________, we don't like this new Bible. We want the old one back again.” When he asked why, they said, “This Bible got no teeth!” In simple faith, with barely enough education to read, they knew the difference between the true Scriptures and the mangled thoughts of men. They knew that the Holy Scriptures have “teeth”, and they had discerned that the new “bible” didn't. They discerned that somebody had pulled the teeth of their Bible when they left verses out and added in the words of men.

They also knew that they should “keep” the sayings of Jesus by asking for their old Bibles back. Those old Bibles were the King James Version.

One of the saddest statistics of our generation is that more and more Bible colleges and seminaries have become hammer factories for sceptics. But we should be greatly encouraged to know that there are more and more faithful churches who believe in God's preservation of His Word. Many good books on preservation are being written and sermons preached and research done, so that there is an ever increasing body of Scriptural evidence that proves clearly that God is keeping His Word through His people.

I hear a new sound in the world today. It is the sound of hammers breaking as they beat themselves to pieces against the Word of God. It is music to our ears.

But it is not the hammers that make the music.

It is the anvil.

God is preserving His Word.

By Buddy Smith
(Used With Permission)

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