Thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.
-Psalm 138:2, KJV

The Preserved Word of God

By Chris Long (clong@integrityonline18.com)

I. What Preservations Means

Is the book which we know as the Bible, truly God's word?  Has the Bible been kept pure and complete from the time it was written until the present day?  A natural question for any Bible-believing Christian to ask is whether  the very book which tells him of His Lord and Savior contains the precise words which God intended for him to have.  We live in an age which is dominated by evolutionary theory and humanistic thought.  In our present day, it is hard to know what is actually true. Has the Bible been passed down to us through the centuries without error?  Is it still preserved?  If you ask the typical Bible-believer whether he believes in the Biblical doctrine of preservation, the answer will almost certainly be "yes."  Any theologian who truly believes the Bible will aver that the word of God has been preserved.  However, in today's spiritually tepid, compromising environment it is wise to get a clear definition of terms from those who claim to hold to a particular doctrine.  What exactly do scholars mean by "preservation?"  They might mean that the Bible has been preserved in a general sense.  That the sixty-six books we now possess are those God intended for us to have; that the ideas and thoughts of God have been preserved, and perhaps even that every word of God is preserved for us -- somewhere.  Many of these same scholars will frequently make the claim that the Bible was inspired in the original autographs and subsequently "preserved" to some degree, to our present day.  After all, what good is it to have a perfect, inerrant, inspired word of God, if it has not been preserved to the present day?  What does the Bible have to say about its own preservation?  Does God value His word enough to preserve it? 

II. How much does God value His Word?

That God places supreme importance upon His written word is abundantly clear.  The Lord has revealed this to man by His praise of His word, and by His condemnation of those who would tamper with it.  The exaltation of God's word is a theme which runs throughout the Bible.   In the 119th Psalm, God's servant, David, continually exalted the Scriptures.  He wrote of his "delight" in His testimonies, and implored the Lord to teach him "the way of thy statutes."  In the third chapter of  2 Thessalonians, the Bible reads: ".that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified."  God's words are to be praised, and revered.  The Lord highly esteems His word, elevating its importance even above that of His name.  First, consider the following verse:

"If thou wilt not observe to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, THE LORD THY GOD;  Then the LORD will make thy plagues wonderful, and the plagues of thy seed, even great plagues, and of long continuance, and sore sicknesses." (Deuteronomy 28:58-59) 

God's name is glorious and fearful.  The penalty for not fearing God's name makes it obvious that He does not take disrespect for His name lightly.  In light of the value the LORD places on His name, consider the following: 

"I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name."   (Ps 138:2) 

The  Lord also informed us of His view of His word by giving us three grave warnings to those who would corrupt the Scriptures. God warned against adding to His word:

"Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.  Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar." (Proverbs 30:5-6)

Note that He also warned would-be correctors that they were not to subtract from His word. 

"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."  (Deuteronomy 4:2) 

God gave us the words that He wanted us to have, and we dare not alter them.  If we are to keep His commandments, we certainly need to know precisely what they are.  Hence, the Lord provided ample warnings to us, so that we might not be tempted to change His words.  Lest anyone be confused about the utter foolishness of tampering with the holy word of God, the Lord provided a fearsome final reminder in the last verses of His inspired word: 

"For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: 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." (Rev. 22:18-19) 

How can anyone read the preceding without recognizing the immense importance the LORD has placed on His word?  God promised to severely punish anyone who adds to His word.  Worse, He promised to expunge those who would take away from His words, from the book of life!  In this light, should we not highly value the Holy word of the living God?

III. Satan's strategies against preservation

God in His omniscience knew that His word would be attacked.  Since the day Satan was cast from Heaven, he has been working furiously to sabotage the word of God.  Satan's very first attack as recorded in Genesis was on  God's spoken word. 

"Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?"  (Genesis 3:1) 

The serpent's technique was not to engage in a full-fledged frontal attack of outright denial, but rather to undermine the absolute authority of God's word.  Satan is subtle. This is precisely what modernists and atheists are doing when they spiritualize Scripture.  "Did God really say that?  How do you know?"  Most Christians have heard such things many times.  These attacks on God's revelation most certainly did not end in the Garden of Eden.  They have continued unabated. In the New Testament, we see another example of Satan's tactics; that of changing God's word.  Immediately following Jesus' forty-day fast, Satan engaged him in a dialogue.  Each time Satan tried to tempt Jesus Christ, the Lord answered him by quoting His own words.  The Lord Jesus Christ said:

"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4)

In the next two verses Satan quoted Scripture to Jesus, boldly altering His words by omitting a key phrase.

"Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple,  And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone."  (Matt 4:5-6) 

In this example Satan omitted the phrase, "to keep thee in all thy ways," demonstrating that the devil is so audacious that he dares to subtract from God's word when face to face with their author!  This, right after being informed that man lives by "every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God."!  If Satan is so bold as to lie to God incarnate, how much more when faced with the likes of fallible men?  Another of Satan's strategies has been to obscure God's words by hiding them in a morass of manuscripts and Bible versions.  He has used this approach for thousands of years, but during the last century, it has become far more prevalent.

As has been stated previously, the Devil attacks the Lord's words by using one of his most potent weapons - doubt.  He didn't start off by brazenly denying God's words, but rather by attempting to undermine Eve's confidence in them.  Only when doubt had set in did he deny God's words to Adam and Eve.  His methods are much the same today.  The multiplicity of Bible versions that we see today, all claiming to be  "translated from the oldest and best manuscripts," are just another of Satan's schemes for undermining the authority of God's word.  Satan knows that God promised to preserve his word, so he tries to obfuscate it by surrounding it with a dizzying number of varying translations. This can lead to nothing but confusion, and we know that God is not the author of confusion. (I Corinthians 14:33)  Those who peddle modern translations will insist that their Bible is the most accurate translation of the Greek texts, or most closely represents the "original autographs."  They will smugly boast of how the latest discoveries of the "oldest" and "best" manuscripts give their version added clarity and credibility.  They will vainly tout the great scholars found on their translating committees.  But how are we to know who to trust?  To whom do we turn when we need to know which Bible to rely on?  Which one is truly preserved?  Perhaps it would be wise to examine what the Lord has to say on the matter.

IV. God's strategies for preservation

The Bible has much to say on the extent and mode of it's own preservation. The following brief outline provides a clear overview of three important aspects of preservation.

GOD'S REVELATION HAS BEEN PRESERVED FOR ALL TIME.

Just as the doctrine of inspiration is considered to be foundational to our understanding of the Bible, so should be the doctrine of preservation.  They are inextricably linked.  An inspired Bible that was not preserved would be little more than a tainted book of history and moral lessons.  Indeed, this is exactly what the Bible represents in the minds of the men in our day.  The Bible's authority is only as great as our confidence in its reliability.  A Bible which was delivered to us inspired, and then was allowed to leaven with the accumulated errors of  thousands of years, would hardly point to an all-powerful, all-wise Creator.  It would be difficult to entrust our salvation in Jesus Christ to the very same God who could not keep His word.  In fact, if God's word has not been perfectly preserved as He has told us, how can we be certain about the security of our salvation?  Thankfully, we don't need to concern ourselves with such things, because just as God promised us that no one could "pluck" His believers out of His hand, He promised that He would keep His words pure forever.

THE INDIVIDUAL WORDS HAVE BEEN PRESERVED.

This aspect of God's preservation of Scripture is just as crucial as the first.  So that we could not mistake His intentions, the Lord spelled out to what degree He would keep the Scriptures pure.  He promised us that He would preserve even the very words.  We don't have to wonder whether God merely preserved his thoughts, or his ideas.  We know that the very means by which we communicate to each other - words - are crucially important to God.  As we read earlier, we live by "every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God."

Our Savior tells us that we require not only physical food, but spiritual food as well.  Does it seem reasonable that God would feed our souls with anything less than the best?  If every word is important, does it not make sense that God would preserve all of His words so that we might nourished and strengthened?  What mother would feed her children tainted milk?  Really, it is irrelevant whether it "makes sense" or seems reasonable.  Our only question ought to be, "What sayeth the Lord?" The preceding verses show that God has told us that His every word has been preserved.

HIS WORD HAS BEEN KEPT AVAILABLE TO EACH AND EVERY GENERATION

God's word has been preserved for all time.  It has been preserved for every generation.  This is why the preceding verses provide such a comfort to God's people.  This element of Bible preservation is critical.  We know that God's word has not been hidden or lost to man, since it was first spoken and recorded in God's written revelation.  We can be assured that we have not had to depend on the latest discoveries of the oldest manuscripts, or on the efforts of fallible man to uncover God's words.  God has preserved his words to all generations, without fail!

V.  What preservation is not

Those who advocate publishing new Bibles based on the latest new academic theories or archaeological finds have a peculiar view of the Biblical doctrine of preservation.  The assumption appears to be that God's words have been preserved somewhere in the morass of Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, and that the "science" of textual criticism is necessary to locate it.  It is almost as if God needs help!  There is nothing wrong with Bible honoring scholars combing through ancients manuscripts, but ought not their studies be guided with the understanding that God has promised to preserve His words to ALL generations?  Is it possible that some of these scholars have forgotten God's promises, and have become a little too enamored with their great learning?  It is these very same scholars to whom we are entrusting the latest Bible versions.

Unfortunately, since the waning hours of the  nineteenth century there have been a growing number of academics who favor the latest "advance" in Biblical scholarship, commonly known as the Critical Text.  The Critical Texts puts a great deal of weight on manuscripts which are Alexandrian in origin.  Chief of these are the so-called Vaticanus and Sinaiticus texts.  These two texts are held to be extremely trustworthy because of their great antiquity.  However, without even considering the content and quality of these manuscripts, the Bible-believer who accepts the "generational" aspect of preservation should immediately be wary.  What does the Bible have to say about its own preservation?  Let's revisit a verse referenced earlier:

"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 pass out of the 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 forever."  (Isaiah 59:21) 

In this light, it is hard to understand why God would hide his word for hundreds of years in an out-of-the-way monastery, or in the library of the Vatican.  Why would God, who promised to preserve His word, hide it away for roughly 1500 hundred years?  Why would the Lord use the library of the apostate Roman Catholic Church, responsible for the slaughter of millions of His saints, to preserve his word?  Does this seem consistent with God's own stated methods of preservation?  Many very learned men will claim that God chose to preserve His words in precisely the manner outlined above.  Their claim appears to be that God intentionally hid His words for hundreds of years in the "sands of Egypt."  This seems inconsistent with His promises elsewhere in His word.  In the book of Deuteronomy, God promised not  to hide his words from the nation of Israel so that they would be able to carry out his commandments.  He promised them that they would have access to His word: 

"For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far offIt is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?  Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?  But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it." (Deuteronomy 30:11-14) 

Throughout the Scriptures, God has used particular means to keep and convey His revelation.  In the time of the Old Testament, the Hebrew scribes were entrusted with the task.  They used many elaborate methods to ensure that the copies of Scriptures were absolutely uncorrupted.  Even with all their care, some erroneous copies might have been made.  However, we know God preserved His words in spite of fallible men!  In the New Testament, the Lord told us that He would preserve His word through men of faith.  He promised that when the Holy Spirit came, that His believers would be led to truth:

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: (John 16:13)

God has always used His people to keep His word, not apostate religion! 

The Biblical doctrine of preservation should be founded on faith, not reason.  "Without faith it is impossible to please him."  Is the Lord pleased when we say that we believe that God's precious word was preserved, and yet the "oldest and most reliable" manuscripts were not available to us until the nineteenth century?  Do we really believe that His word was preserved unto ALL GENERATIONS?  Did God forget his promises?  Has not the Lord given us precedents which show that He keeps and protects His word?  When Moses threw down the tables of God inscribed with His ten commandments, did He wait hundreds of years before restoring them?  No!  He quickly restored and preserved His word, by creating new tablets, identical to the first .  In the book of Jeremiah, God's inspired word was cast into a fireplace and burned.  What was God's response?  He had Baruch write down the words of the former scroll as Jeremiah dictated them.  He even added new words!  God preserves His word!  His word is available to ALL generations.  Just as we accept many Biblical doctrines hard to understand, through faith, so we ought to believe God when He says He will keep His word. 

VI. Is a preserved Bible worth fighting for?

In the last few decades, there has been a growing cry against the onslaught of modern Bibles which are trying to supplant the time-honored word of God to the English-speaking world - the King James Bible.  Many godly men are valiantly trying to hold back the rising tide of apostasy and unbelief which depend, in part, on diluting the authority of the words of God.  It is no wonder that so many are waking up to this threat and defending what they see as an attack on their written authority.  Should we as Christians defend ourselves and our Bible against those who wish to undermine our authority?  Does it matter whether some of those who undermine God's words are doing so with good intent?  No!  We should defend His word regardless of who opposes us.  Who is the Lord more pleased with?  The common man who unflinchingly trusts in his King James Bible and the text upon which it is based; who hangs his salvation, the welfare of his family; even his entire existence on each and every word revealed to us by the Lord? Or is He more pleased with the highly-educated man who turns to scholarship when he must know what God really said?  Who has the greater faith?  Why is it that the one who upholds the King James Bible, and the underlying Received Text as THE preserved word of God is frowned upon?  Why is it that so many will loudly proclaim the importance of the doctrine of the blood atonement, the deity of Christ, even godly music, and yet will call any man who claims that the King James Version of the Bible should be preferred above all others , "unscripturally divisive?"  Why?  God told us in no uncertain terms that his word is to be revered.  In the book of Galatians, we see just one of the Lord's many warnings concerning those who would try to pervert the doctrines in His word. 

"But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." (Gal 1:8) 

Those are mighty strong words!  The Lord does not take perversion of His doctrines lightly!  Especially one so fundamental as the gospel of Jesus Christ - the Living Word.  Why should it be any different when the doctrine which is being minimized or undermined is the doctrine of the preservation of God's written Word?  Everything that we know of God and His Son has been revealed to man by his written word!  It is crucial that we know that we  have God's preserved words.  God's very last warning to us in the last chapter of the Revelation reads: 

"For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:  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."  (Rev 22:18-19) 

God gave a similarly sobering warning to those who would tamper with His words.  Why would anyone object to those who believe that God's words were perfectly preserved, and ought not be changed?  Just as we defend the doctrine of inspiration, should we not also defend its companion doctrine of preservation?  Why would any Bible-believing Christian object to a militant, yet charitable defense of the King James Bible, and it's underlying Greek texts?  Why are there so few who are willing to take a stand on this issue?  God's word says that His revelation to man was preserved for all time, to each and every generation, and in every single word.  God said that He preserved His word, and that settles it.  May the Lord Jesus Christ give us the faith to believe it.

"Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever." Ps. 119:160

"For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven." Ps. 119:89

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