Quotes, Quotes, Quotes: We Take the Historic Position
In Mike Sproul’s book, God’s Word Preserved, a title full of irony for anyone who actually does believe what Scripture teaches on the preservation of itself, Keith Gephart writes under his watchful care:
Brandenburg’s book posits an interpretation of Scripture regarding the method, means, and location of God’s preserved Word that was unknown to godly fundamentalists before the late twentieth century. As Mike Sproul demonstrates in chapter four of his book, godly fundamental and separatists leaders of past and present looked at the same verses as these men and have come to completely different conclusions regarding their meaning (p. 394).
No one should say that fundamentalists do not take this position of perfect preservation. If they do, as Michael Sproul often does in his book, they have obviously not interacted with George Sayles Bishop, one of the authors of The Fundamentals (Vol. II, Chap. 4). Consider this quote from The Doctrines of Grace by Bishop (p. 35):
We take the ground that on the original parchment, the membrane, every sentence, word, line, mark, point, pen-stroke, jot, tittle, was put there by God. On the original parchment. Men may destroy it. To say that the membranes have suffered in the hands of men, is but to say that everything Divine must suffer, as the pattern Tabernacle suffered, when committed to our hands. To say, however, that the writing has sufferedâ€”the words and the lettersâ€“is to say that Jehovah has failed. The writing remains. Like that of a palimpsest, it will survive and reappear, no matter what circumstance, â€”what changes come in to scatter, obscure, disfigure, or blot it away. Not even one lonely “THEOS” (“GOD” was manifest in the flesh, 1 Tim. 3:16) written large by the Spirit of God on the Great Uncial “C” as, with my own eyes I have seen it—plain, vivid, glittering, outstarting from behind the pale and overlying ink of Ephraem the Syrianâ€”can be buried. Like Banquo’s ghost, it will rise; and God himself replace it, and, with a hammer-stroke, beat down deleting hands. The parchments, the membranes decay; the writings are eternal as God. Strip off the plaster from Belshazzar’s palace, yet Mene! Mene! Tekel! Upharsin! They remain.”
Sproul writes concerning me inÂ his book without ever contacting me first: “This is an amazing slander” (p. 149). For this “amazing slander,” he refers to this line, “So much of what functions as documentation also depends on craftily pulling a quotation from its context, either the context of the book itself or the context of history.” First, I don’t know how I could have slandered someone when I don’t even mention a name or a particular book. He goes on to write, “Without one piece of documentation he asserts that men who study this issue and cite other godly heroes willfully distort their citations” (p. 149). He is willing to call “amazing slander” something that is so vague that it does not refer to anyone or anything specifically.
Second, I think I understand why Sproul reacts so ardently. A big chunk of his book amounts to making these types of quotes that are so standard fare for publications on this subject.
Third, let me be specific in my documentation for Sproul pulling quotes out of context, a book which I didn’t have when I wrote the sentence he calls amazing slander. In the chapter (4) in which he so vitriolically attacks me, he includes all of his quotes to represent that historically men did not take our position. When I read the quotes that were supposed to undo our historic position, I agreed with most of them. Most of them dealt with an English translation preservation position. I don’t take that position, and neither does David Cloud, who he also smacks in that chapter. I counted roughly 60 long quotations to show that his position was historical. Many men who believe in perfect preservation would agree with most of those quotes. Out of the 60, I could not disagree with 51 of his quotations. Only one of the ones I disagreed with came from some period before the mid nineteenth century. A true history of this would look at quotations about the Hebrew and Greek text preservation before the Revised Version came out in 1881.
By using those quotes, they not only misrepresent our position, but they also do not give any kind of historical context to the quotes as they relate to the issue. I stand by my statement that Sproul calls “amazing slander.” I might change one word, but I don’t know if it makes it better for him. Instead of “cleverly,” I might use “ignorantly.” It has to be one or the other.
Sproul also slanders us by saying that our position originated in the late 20th century. Look how old these quotes are and how zeroed in they are in our position. Sproul among others revises history. Our position is the position of believers historically. Balthasar Hubmaier wrote in 1526 (The Leader of the Anabaptists, Henry C. Vedder, p. 180):
Thou knowest, Zwingli, that the Holy Scripture is such a complete, compacted, true, infallible, eternally immortal speech, that the least letter or tittle cannot pass away.
The Philadelphia Baptist Confession of 1742 reads:
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 authentical.
The Philadelphia Confession statement on preservation was identical to that of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646). G. I. Williamson, writes in his 1964 commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith (pp. 14-17):
This brings us to the matter of God’s ˜singular care and providence” by which He has kept pure in all ages this original text, so that we now actually possess it in ˜authentical” form. And let us begin by giving an illustration from modern life to show that an original document may be destroyed, without the text of that document being lost. Suppose you were to write a will. Then suppose you were to have a photographic copy of that will made. If the original were then destroyed, the photographic copy would still preserve the text of that exactly the same as the original itself (emphasis his). The text of the copy would differ in no way whatever from the original, and so it would possess exactly the same truth and meaning as the original. . . . How then could the original text of the Word of God be preserved? The answer is that God preserved it by His own remarkable care and providence.
Professor E. D. Morris for decades taught the Westminster Confession at Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio. Philip Schaff consulted with him for his Creeds of Christendom. In 1893, Lane wrote for The Evangelist:
As a Professor in a Theological Seminary, it has been my duty to make a special study of the Westminster Confession of Faith, as have I done for twenty years; and I venture to affirm that no one who is qualified to give an opinion on the subject, would dare to risk his reputation on the statement that the Westminster divines ever thought the original manuscripts of the Bible were distinct from the copies in their possession.
Richard Capel, one of the divines, authenticates Morris’ position when he writes (Capel’s Remains, London, 1658, pp. 19-43):
[W]e have the Copies in both languages [Hebrew and Greek], which Copies vary not from Primitive writings in any matter which may stumble any. This concernes onely the learned, and they know that by consent of all parties, the most learned on all sides among Christians do shake hands in this, that God by his providence hath preserved them uncorrupt. . . . As God committed the Hebrew text of the Old Testament to the Jewes, and did and doth move their hearts to keep it untainted to this day: So I dare lay it on the same God, that he in his providence is so with the Church of the Gentiles, that they have and do preserve the Greek Text uncorrupt, and clear: As for some scrapes by Transcribers, that comes to no more, than to censure a book to be corrupt, because of some scrapes in the printing, and â€˜tis certain, that what mistake is in one print, is corrected in another.
Another one of the divines, Samuel Rutherford, said this in London (1649) in his A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience:
We must say, we have not the cleare and infallible word of God, because the Scripture comes to our hand, by fallible means, which is a great inconsequence, for through Scribes, Translators, Grammarians, Printers, may all erre, it followeth not that an [un]-erring providence of him that hath seven eyes, hath not delivered to the Church, the Scriptures containing the infallible truth of God. Say that Baruch might erre in writing the Prophesie of Jeremiah, it followeth not that the Prophesie of Jeremiah, which we have, is not the infallible word of God; if all the Translatours and Printers did then alone watch over the Church, it were something, and if there were not one with seven eyes to care for the Scripture.
The Westminster divines were Calvinistic. They strongly emphasized the sovereignty of God. How is it that those Calvinists believed that God’s sovereignty applied to the perfect preservation of the believers soul and the perfect preservation of God’s Words, but most of today’s Calvinists only apply sovereignty to the doctrine of salvation and not the doctrine of Scripture? One of the original members of the Westminster assembly, John Lightfoot (The Whole Works of Rev. John Lightfoot, London: J.F. Dowe, 1822-25, p. 408), writes:
[T]he same power and care of God, that preserves the church would preserve the Scriptures pure to it: and he that did, and could, preserve the whole could preserve every part, so that not so much as a tittle should perish.