THE WORD IS THE WORDS: DISHONESTY ABOUT PRESERVATION
In 1957, R. Laird Harris, wrote Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible in which he said (p. 46):
Thus in Matthew 5:18 Christ is clearly referring to the sacred writings of the Jews as a unity and a well-defined sacred unit, too.Â But He says very positively that this Book is perfect to the smallest detail.Â It is not merely verbal inspiration that He teaches here, but inspiration of the very letters.
I read that quote in God’s Word in Our Hands, and the use of those words by Harris would seem to indicate that the authors believed that Jesus didn’t just have God’s Word in His hands that day in c. AD 29, but every letter of the Old Testament.Â Notice this line from the quote:Â “He says very positively that this Book is perfect to the smallest detail.”Â Not was perfect, as when it was inspired, but is perfect, as in over two thousand years after it was inspired by GodÂ where Jesus was at that moment in time.Â I’m happy to report that the authors of God’s Word in Our Hands later wrote this concerning that same text (pp. 105, 106):Â
It can scarcely be conceived how our Lord could have guaranteed preservation of the written words of the law any more specifically or dogmatically. . . . If He had not affirmed the permanency of even the smallest letters and the smallest distinguishing strokes between those letters, they would have concluded that their suspicions were right after all. . . .Â [T]hink of the smallest strokes of the law.Â They seem so fragile.Â So vulneralbe to omission or substitution.Â But they will not pass away.Â They will remain throughout all history. . . until (emphasis his) all of heaven and all of earth and all that in them is (sic) passes out of existence.
I rejoice in that honesty that they have shown in the text.Â They weren’t as thorough or complete as I would have been, but the words they write refresh my spirit.Â I would be even happier if they meant them.Â Here is the thesis for their book.Â You will know it because they have it plastered alone on its own page (iii) in addition to having a whole chapter (xxi-xxiii) explaining each of the words.
We believe that the Bible teaches that God has providentially preserved His written Word.Â This preservation exists in the totality of the ancient language manuscripts of that revelation.Â We are therefore certain that we possess the very Word of God.
Anyone who knows a little of the authors will know that this statement is wrought purposefully with a tremendous amount of ambiguity.Â At face value, it sounds like something that should pass along certainty to the reader.Â The language is loaded with uncertainty.Â They have a specific meaning of providentially (they don’t like “supernaturally;” “providential” means “errors” to them).Â They use the two words “ancient language” to give a broad range of possibilities.Â They say that we possess the “Word” of God, not the “Words” of God.Â They don’t believe that we possess the Words of God.Â Â God’s Word in Our HandsÂ represents the position of one very large crowd on the preservation and translation issue.Â They play games with words to allow for a great deal of latitude for their “scholarship.”Â They seem to hope that you won’t know what they mean.
You would find the book confusing.Â The authors seem like they would like to believe what the Bible says about preservation, but they can’t.Â They would like their application to line up with interpretation, but they can’t.Â As a result, they contradict themselves.Â They know they are contradicting themselves.Â I know because I have spoken to some of the authors.Â They knew that they had varying positions on preservation, yet all agreed on one standard written position that they could support.Â A big problem is that the book itself doesn’t support their position.
You read their thesis statement above.Â Consider this sentence (p. 96):
It must be remembered that even those passages that do support our doctrine of preservation apply only to the Sacred Writings as originally given, not to the words of a particular translation.
I agree with preservation applying to the Sacred Writings as originally given.Â Not like they do, but I believe that part of that statement.Â However, they don’t believe their own statement.
Pastor Michael Harding, whom I respect in numerous ways for various stands, as well as several of the other authors of this book, puts these two sentences in bold print in his chapter (p. 343, so I’ll bolden them here too):
The original text, including its message, has been preserved in the totality of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek manuscripts.Â No particular translation . . . can scripturally claim exclusive rights to the teaching of providential preservation via secondary causation.
Pastor Harding footnotes his first statement.Â If you go there, you’ll find that he doesn’t believe what he just wrote.Â In his footnotes (p. 361) he says:
I believe the original Hebrew text (of 1 Samuel 13:1) also reads “thirty,” even though we do not currently possess a Hebrew manuscript with that reading.
So much for all that “jot and tittle” stuff.Â So much for their “Sacred Writings” jive.Â They don’t even believe that the Words are in the totality of the manuscripts.Â So why say it?Â Why say it if you don’t believe it?Â What is someone doing when they say something that they don’t believe is true?Â Does that seem dishonest to you?
Later Randolph Shaylor comments on Mike Harding’s admission:
He points out how the Septuagint (a translation) can help in harmonizingÂ a seeming discrepancy in Scripture.Â His conclusion recognizes a problem but expresses the faith of one who believes that God has preserved His Word in the totality of ancient MSS. . . . Perhaps in God’s own time we will be allowed to discover that manuscript.Â Our confidence in the perfection of the autographa is not shaken by incomplete understanding of how and where its wording is preserved.
Shaylor paints Harding as a hero for contradicting himself and the rest of the book, including their own thesis.Â He won’t say there’s a discrepancy, only “seeming,” because there is so much unsurety about the text.Â He praises the “faith” of Harding, faith that is not based on any tangible evidence.Â He may wish now that he could leave “faith” out of the equation.Â You see, with these guys, certain types of fideism are acceptable.Â Harding has “faith” that some manuscript exists somewhere buried somewhere that has never been found.Â We have faith that God has preserved every Word and that every one is available.Â Ours is based upon Scripture.Â His view is based upon the perfection of the doctrines of Scripture.Â Ours is based upon the perfection of the Words of Scripture.Â Did God inspire doctrines or Words?Â What is our position on that?Â Where should our faith lie?Â Did God promise to preserve “the Word,” “the truth,” “doctrines,” or “Words”?Â We know don’t we.Â Our position is the faith position; not Harding’s or that of the rest of the authors of God’s Word in Our Hands.
These authors of God’s Word in Our HandsÂ have never seen a copy of the autographa and yet they believe it is perfect.Â Still, they cannot suspend their disbelief to accept that God fulfilled His promises to preserve every Word for believers to have and use.Â They say they believe in preservation.Â They say that they believe all the Words were preserved in the totality of the manuscripts.Â They don’t believe even that.