God's Providential Preservation of the Scriptures

by Gary La More.
Excerpted from Thou Shalt Keep Them: A Biblical Theology of the Perfect Preservation of Scripture (Rev. ed., pages 229-235) with permission from the publisher.

God's providential preservation of the Scriptures cannot be separated from the doctrine of their verbal plenary inspiration.358 The Holy Spirit persuades believers to adopt the same view of the Bible that Jesus believed and taught during the days of His earthly ministry. Jesus explicitly denied the theories of modern higher critics. He recognized Moses (Mark 12:26), David (Luke 20:42), and Daniel (Matt. 24:15) by name as the authors of their Old Testament books. Moreover, according to the Lord Jesus, all these individual Old Testament writings combined together formed one Divine and infallible Book which He called "the Scriptures." Jesus believed that these Scriptures were inspired by the Holy Spirit (Mark 12:36), that not one word of them could be denied (John 10:35), that not one particle of them could perish (Matt. 5:18), and that everything written in them was Divinely authoritative (Matt. 4:4,7,10).

This same high view of the Old Testament Scriptures was held and taught by Christ's Apostles. All Scripture, Paul declares, is given by inspiration of God (2 Tim.3:16). Peter adds, "No prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1:20-21). The Scriptures were the living Oracles through which God spoke (Acts 7:38), which had been committed to the Jews for safekeeping (Rom. 3:2), which contained the principles of Divine knowledge (Heb. 5:12), and according to which Christians were to pattern their own speech (1 Peter 4:11). To the Apostles, "It is written," was equivalent to, "God says." Jesus promised that the New Testament would be infallibly inspired just as the Old had been (John 16:12-13). The Holy Spirit, Jesus pledged, would enable the Apostles to remember their Lord's teaching and understand its meaning (John 14:26).

These promises began to be fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when Peter's Words were inspired to declare the meaning of Christ's death and resurrection (Acts 2:14-36). Paul also was conscious of this same Divine inspiration (1 Cor. 14:37). In the last chapter of Revelation John the Apostle affirms the inspiration of that book in the strongest possible terms (Rev. 22:18-19). Jesus and His Apostles regarded both the Old and New Testaments as the infallibly inspired Word of God, and the Holy Spirit, bearing witness in the believer's heart, assures him that this view is not mistaken.

The Eternal Origin of the Scriptures

While on earth, Jesus constantly affirmed that His message was eternal, since the very Words that He spoke had been given to Him by God the Father (John 12:49-50). The Lord also states emphatically in His "high-priestly" prayer that the Father gave Him the Words that He spoke to His Apostles. "For I have given unto them the Words which Tou gavest Me" (John 17:8). Since the Scriptures come from and reside with God, they are eternal. God gave to Jesus Christ His Son the Words of eternal life (John 6:68). These Words that Christ brought down from heaven for the salvation of His people now remain inscribed in Holy Writ. Words that bring eternal life must of necessity be eternal.

Jesus Christ, the Divine Word, worked providentially in history to develop the Hebrew and Greek tongues into fit vehicles to convey His eternal saving message. Hence in the writing of the Scriptures the Holy Spirit did not have to struggle, as modernists insist, with the limitations of human language; the chosen languages were perfectly adapted to the expression of His Divine thoughts.

"For ever, O LORD, Thy Word is settled in heaven" (Ps. 119:89). Although the Scriptures were written during a definite historical period, they are not the product of that period but of the eternal plan of God. "The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the Word of our God shall stand for ever" (Isa. 40:8). God speaks in them to every age, including the present. "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope" (Rom. 15:4).

Providential Preservation of the Scriptures359

Because the Scriptures are forever relevant, they have been preserved down through the ages by God's special providence. The Lord Himself proclaimed the reality of the providential preservation of the Scriptures of both Testaments during His life on earth: "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). "It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail" (Luke 16:17). He declared that the Old Testament text in common use among the Jews during His earthly ministry was an absolutely trustworthy reproduction of the original text. Nothing had been lost from that text and nothing ever would be lost. It would be easier for heaven and earth to pass than for such a loss to take place.

Jesus taught that the same Divine providence which had preserved the Old Testament would preserve the New Testament. In the concluding verses of the Gospel of Matthew the believer finds His "Great Commission" to His assemblies throughout the ages. "Go ye therefore and teach all nations . . .." This solemn charge implies the promise that, through the working of God's providence, His NT assemblies would always possess an infallible record of Jesus' Words and works.360 Similarly, in His discourse on last things, the Lord assures His disciples that His promises would not only certainly be fulfilled but also remain available for the comfort of His people during that troubled period which shall precede His Second Coming. "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my Words shall not pass away" (Matt. 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33).

The Holy Spirit providentially guided churches to preserve His Words during the manuscript period. First, faithful scribes produced many trustworthy copies ofthe original New Testament manuscripts. Second, these trustworthy copies were read and recopied by true believers down through the centuries. Third, untrustworthy copies were not so generally read or so frequently recopied. Although they enjoyed some popularity for a time, yet in the long run they were laid aside and consigned to oblivion. Thus, as a result of this special providential guidance, the true text won out in the end, and today the believer may be sure that the text found in the vast majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts, preserved by the God-guided usage of the Greek churches, is a trustworthy reproduction of the Divinely inspired original. Some have called it the Byzantine text, thereby acknowledging that it was the text in use in the Greek churches during the greater part of the Byzantine period (452-1453).361 It is much better, however, to call this text the Traditional Text because this text, which is found in the great majority of Greek New Testament manuscripts, has been handed down by the God-guided tradition of the Lord's ekklasiai ("churches") from the time of the Apostles to the present day.362

God, by His special providence, has preserved the New Testament text in a threefold way through the priesthood of believers. In the first place, during the fourteen centuries in which the New Testament circulated in manuscript form, God worked providentially through the usage of the Greek-speaking churches to preserve the New Testament text in the majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts.363 In this way the true New Testament text became the prevailing Traditional Text. In the second place, during the 16th century when the New Testament text was being printed for the first time, God worked providentially to influence Erasmus, Beza, and others of that period to preserve the genuine reading.364 Then in the third place, during the 450 years which have elapsed since the first printing of the New Testament, God has been working providentially through the usage and agreement of His churches to place and keep the stamp of His approval upon this God-guided printed text. It is upon this Textus Receptus that the King James Version is based.365

The Principles Involved

Richard Bentley, Theodor Zahn, B.B. Warfield,366 and countless others have tried to devise a theory of the special providential preservation of the Scriptures which leaves room for naturalistic New Testament textual criticism. This, however, is impossible, for the two concepts are mutually exclusive. Naturalistic New Testament textual criticism requires men to treat the text of the New Testament like the text of any other ancient book, and so ignore or denies the special providential preservation of the Scriptures. Hence, if one really believes in the special providential preservation of the Scriptures, he cannot follow the naturalistic method of New Testament textual criticism.367

For a believer, the only alternative is to follow a consistently Christian method in which all the principles are derived from the Bible itself; none must be borrowed from the textual criticism of other ancient books. The principles modified from what Edwards Hills wrote368 are essentially:

Principle One: The Old Testament text was preserved by the Old Testament priesthood, the scribes, and Israel generally.369

Principle Two: When Christ died upon the cross, the Old Testament priesthood was abolished. In the New Testament dispensation every believer is a priest under Christ, the great High Priest. The New Testament text has been preserved through the Lord's true churches and the priesthood of believers in those churches.

Principle Three: The Traditional Text, found in the vast majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts and employed in vernacular manuscripts by pre-Reformation Baptists, is the True Text because it represents the God-guided usage of His churches.

Principle Four: The first printed text of the Greek New Testament represents a forward step in the providential preservation of the New Testament. The editors and printers who produced this text were providentially guided.

Principle Five: Through the usage of Bible-believing Christians, God placed the stamp of His approval on this printed text, and it became the Textus Receptus (Received Text). It is the printed form of the Traditional Text found in the vast majority of the Greek New Testament manuscripts and preserved among non-Greek speaking New Testament churches in translation.

Principle Six: The King James (Authorized) Version is an accurate translation of the Textus Receptus. God has placed the stamp of His approval on it through its long continued usage by English-speaking believers. God's churches have been led by the Spirit to defend its text as preserved and hence it should be used and defended today by Bible-believing Christians. God has not led His churches to declare the text underlying any other translation perfect. Spanish speaking Baptists, for example, do not claim the text underlying the Reina Valera is perfect. Since man is to live by every Word, saints can know where those Words are. They must be under the KJV, for only there has the Spirit led His churches to state they are perfectly preserved.

One knows that the Textus Receptus is the true New Testament text through the logic of faith.370 Since faith comes from the hearing of the Word of God (Romans 10:17), the Word of God will be displayed by the Scriptural principles of preservation. Scripture says every Word of God would be preserved by God through His churches and available to every generation. Only the Textus Receptus was preserved by God through His churches and available to every generation. Therefore, only the Textus Receptus contains every Word of God.

One also knows that the King James Version is a faithful translation of the true New Testament text through the logic of faith. Since the formation of the Textus Receptus was God-guided, the translation of it was God-guided also. For, as the Textus Receptus was being formed, it was also being translated. The two processes were simultaneous. Hence the earlier versions, such as Luther's, Tyndale's, the Geneva, and the King James, were actually varieties of the Textus Receptus. And this was necessarily so according to the principles of God's preserving providence, for the Textus Receptus had to be translated in order that the New Testament churches, the rank and file, might continue giving it their God-guided approval.371

Francis Schaeffer has a very interesting conclusion in his appendix to What Difference Does Inerrancy Make? He says:

When [one] come[s] to the central things of doctrine, including maintaining the Bible's emphasis that it is without mistake, and the central things of life, then something must be considered. Truth carries with it confrontation. Truth demands confrontation; loving confrontation, but confrontation nevertheless. If [one's] reflex action is always accommodation regardless of the centrality of the truth involved, there's something wrong.372

God's Word will never pass away, but looking back through history, with tears the believer must say that because of lack of fortitude and faithfulness on the part of God's people, God's Word has often been bent and conformed to the surrounding, passing, changing culture of that moment, rather than as the inerrant Word of God judging the form of the world-spirit and the surrounding culture of the moment. The prayer of those in the Lord Jesus Christ is that succeeding generations will not have this sad tale told about them.373


358 Lloyd L. Streeter, Seventy-five Problems with Central Baptist Seminary's Book 'The Bible Version Debate' (LaSalle, IL: First Baptist Church of LaSalle, 2001), p. 126.

359 The author of this brief chapter on the providential preservation of God's Word is highly indebted to Edward F. Hills and his The King James Version Defended (Des Moines, IA: The Christian Research Press, 1984). One should especially see pp. 110-114 of his book. Large portions of this section of Hills are liberally borrowed and extensively used for this chapter. Edward Hills contrasted providential preservation with miraculous preservation. While his recognition of the hand of God in the transmission of the Bible is praiseworthy, his view of providence is insufficient. The Bible promises a perfect and available Bible for every generation, and God worked providentially to insure this promised end. Although Hills, a Presbyterian, accurately presents much truth in his useful book, references to him should in no way be construed as an endorsement of his covenant theology, infant sprinkling, or Calvinism.

360 The Great Commission necessitates church perpetuity to the end of this age. All doctrine must be available to obey its command. Christ's commands are Scripture, and Scripture is perfect. To teach all things He commanded requires the preservation of every Word. The Words of Christ fit into the overall context of the Words of Scripture. That context must be perfect in order for His Words to be perfect and the inspired meaning certain. Therefore, the Great Commission implies perfect preservation of every Word of God.

361 God also providentially used evil monks in the Eastern Orthodox denomination to preserve Greek MSS.

362 Hills, p. 106.

363 These churches of the early Byzantine area were Greek speaking. The churches did this early work in preservation. They did most of the early copying and spreading of the early copies. From those copies, much work was done providentially by Greeks of the Orthodox denomination. Churches in other languages also participated in preservation, including but not confined to Latin, French, and German speaking churches.

364 Historic Baptists influenced this process. The KJV translators had Waldensian Bibles before them, Reformers had Waldensian relatives, and Anabaptists translated the Bible into German before Luther, etc.

365 Hills, p. 107. Part of the miracle of providence is that God used some unbelievers to ensure the perfection and availability of Scripture for every generation. As God used the Babylonians in the Old Testament to chastise Israel, He employed apostate Greek Latin institutions to cooperate with New Testament churches in order to preserve all of His Words. God ensured that what was kept and agreed upon by the people of the churches would continue, sometimes in spite of the people participating. Some parts of the historical record are not humanly explainable outside of the providential preservation of God.

366 B.B. Warfield (1893) wrote, "In the sense of the Westminister Confession, therefore, the multiplication of the copies of the Scriptures, the several early efforts towards the revision of the text, the raising up of scholars in our own day to collect and collate manuscripts, and to reform them on scientific principles - of our Tischendorfs and Tregelleses, and Westcotts and Horts - are all parts of God's singular care and providence in preserving His inspired Word pure." op. cit. Hills, p. 110.

Warfield was an outstanding defender of several doctrines of the orthodox Christian faith. Nevertheless, it is a fact that his thinking was not entirely unified. Through his mind ran two separate trains of thought that not even he could join together. The one train of thought was dogmatic, going back to the Protestant Reformation. When following this train of thought Warfield regarded Christianity as true. The other train of thought was apologetic, going back to the rationalistic era of the 18th century. When following this train of thought Warfield regarded Christianity as merely probable. This same divided outlook was shared by Warfield's colleagues at Princeton Seminary and by conservative theologians and scholars generally throughout the 19th and early 20th century. Even today this split-level thinking is still a factor to be reckoned with in conservative circles, although in far too many instances it has passed over into modernism. Hills, p. 110.

"Warfield's treatment of the New Testament text illustrates this cleavage in his thinking. In the realm of dogmatics he agreed with the Westminister Confession that the New Testament text had been "kept pure in all ages" by God's "singular care and providence," but in the realm of New Testament textual criticism he agreed with Westcott and Hort in ignoring God's providence, and even went so far as to assert that the same methods were to be applied to the text of the New Testament that would be applied to the text of a morning newspaper. It was to bridge the gap between his dogmatics and his New Testament textual criticism that he suggested that God had worked providentially through Tischendorf, Tregelles, and Westcott and Hort to preserve the New Testament text. But this suggestion leads to conclusions that are extremly bizarre and inconsistent. It would have one believe that during the manuscript period orthodox believers corrupted the New Testament text, that the text used by the Protestant Reformers was the worst of all, and that the True Text was not restored until the 19th century, when Tregelles brought it forth out of the Pope's library, when Tischendorf rescued it from a waste basket on Mt. Sinai, and when Westcott and Hort were providentially guided to construct a theory of it which ignores God's special providence and treats the text of the New Testament like the text of any other ancient book. But if the True New Testament Text was lost for 1500 years, how can one be sure that it has ever been found again?" Hills, p. 110 (verbatim).

367 Hills, p. 111.

368 Hills, pp. 111, 112.

369 See chapter eleven on preservation in the Old Testament by Kent Brandenburg.

370 As it relates to preservation, "logic of faith" is terminology coined by Hills (Hills, p. 113). For an excellent study on the logic of faith and the Bible, see Brother John M. Krinke's Should Believers Accept the Preservation of God's Word(s) by Faith, or by History & Science? (Greenwood, IN: John M. Krinke, 1997). Also on the issue of Bible preservation, the reader is directed to Kirk D. Divietro's study, Preservation of God's Words (Collingswood, NJ: The Bible for Today, 1997). These studies are excellent and should be read by all Bible-believing Christians.

371 Hills, pp. 113, 114.

372 Christianity has been plagued by accommodation time and again through the years, and in particularly this century. Harold J. Ockenga wrote about the liberalism at the turn of the 20th century:

Destructive higher criticism of the Bible became the dominant approach among the theologians at the close of the nineteenth century and during the early twentieth century. When joined with naturalistic evolution, it produced liberalism . . .. It [liberalism] accommodated Christianity to modern scientific naturalism . . . whenever objections arose on the details of the Christian religion.

It is interesting to note further that even some liberals have begun to recognize the devastating effect of theological accommodation and are beginning to grow weary of it and are wondering what to do. One such liberal, quoted by Francis Schaeffer, recently wrote:

The central theme of contemporary theology is accommodation to modernity. It is the underlying motif that unites the seemingly vast differences between existential theology, process theology, liberation theology, demythologization, and many varieties of liberal theology-all are searching for some more compatible adjustment to modernity. On the subject of modernity see Gary E. La More's The Word of God and the Turning of the Tides: From Clothes to Fashions (Scarborough, Ontario: Grace Missionary Baptist Church, 1996).

Yet accommodation has become fashionable among many evangelicals -- in spite of the devastating effect this has had theologically and culturally. (See Francis A. Schaeffer's The Great Evangelical Disaster (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1984), pp. 99-100.) Francis Schaeffer did not espouse perfect preservation, nor did he defend the TR. However, if anyone, would apply his advice to perfect preservation, he would not give accommodation to anyone in the matter of a perfect Bible.

373 Richard Teachout, The Tidal Wave of Ecumenism and the Local Church, A Lesson from Promise Keepers (Ste Foy, Québec: Études Bibliques pour AUJOURDOHUI!, 1997), pp. 28-29.

This essay is excerpted (with permission) from Thou Shalt Keep Them: A Biblical Theology of the Perfect Preservation of Scripture; Revised Edition 2007; Kent Brandenburg, Editor; Pillar & Ground Publishing, El Sobrante, CA 94803 (ISBN 0-9743817-0-5).