Home > Brandenburg, Truth > Isaiah 59:21 and the Perfect Preservation of Scripture

Isaiah 59:21 and the Perfect Preservation of Scripture

May 17, 2010

The book I edited and in which I wrote, Thou Shalt Keep Them, provided exegesis of key preservation passages in the Bible in their context.  There were several passages that we did not deal with that will be part of a second volume when it comes out.  One of these is Isaiah 59:21.  Recently, I merely mentioned Isaiah 59:21 as a part of the introduction to a post at my blog on the LXX issue.  A young man named Adam, attending Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, decided to attack this particular article.  He dealt with it as though this really was the major work that I had done as an examination of passages which teach the perfect preservation of Scripture.  I only quoted Isaiah 59:21, no more.  I provided no commentary, but this is what he wrote concerning that:

Now, one has to really shake their head at the gross misuse of scripture here. Take, for example, the quotation from Isaiah 59. The context is Israel’s transgression before the Lord [vrs.12-13], and the resultant mistreatment of them by their enemies [vrs.14-17]. However, the text says that God will repay them for their deeds, and will bring them a redeemer, so that all will fear the Lord [vrs.18-20]. It is in that context that you find the statement about the covenant being with them in verse 21. Hence, the words here are the *promises* of God to his people, not individual words of the text itself. It is parallel to the usage of Numbers 30:3:

Numbers 30:2 “If a man makes a vow to the LORD, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.

Now, are we really to suggest that his vow was just one word? No, of course not. Yet, this is the very same context of covenants and promises of vengance etc. that we find Isaiah 59:21! All I can say is that this is a gross misuse of Isaiah 59:21.

He says that I grossly misuse scripture by relying on Isaiah 59:21 as a verse on the preservation of scripture.  I’ve preached through the whole book of Isaiah, verse by verse and word by word through the Hebrew text.  It took me about three or four years.

He talks about the context of Isaiah 59:21, but he really does not go back far enough to understand what Isaiah 59 is about.  He needs to see the entire chapter if he wants to properly understand the context.   A proper reading of Isaiah 59 will show that v. 21 really does teach the perfect preservation of Scripture to every generation of believer.

Context of Isaiah 59:21

Isaiah 59 allows us to see the world like God sees it, and in this chapter he depicts salvation for Israel and for all mankind.  For our own well-being, we must give heed to this portrayal by God of His salvation.  Chapter 59 begins like chapter 58 with a concern expressed as to why God is not answering prayers and why Israelites do not seem to sense His presence.  They were not experiencing God’ s promises for one reason:  their sin.  Sin was the barrier between them and God, and this is the theme of Isaiah 59:1-8.  As the people recognize the cause for their difficulties, they respond to God first by crying out to Him (vv. 9-11) and then confessing (vv. 12-15).

Isaiah 59:15-21 ends not only this chapter but an entire section that began in 56:1.  God is pictured as a Mighty Warrior that defeats Israel’s enemies.  But who are her enemies?  The enemy isn’t the Canaanites, but her inability to live the life of God.  God wants righteousness and He will come to deliver them from sin, and in so doing, Israel can become what God intended her to be.  God will come to defeat sin in spiritual warfare.  Ephesians 6:13-17 hearkens back to this text in Isaiah.  God’s victory over sin has worldwide implications—from the east to the west God will be glorified.  His ultimate purpose for attacking sin was so that He might be a Redeemer (59:20).

The Teaching of Isaiah 59:21

In the final verse of Isaiah 59, v. 21, God pronounces a covenant with those He redeems, those whom He saves from sin.  And here it is:

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 depart out of 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 for ever.

The “them” are the ones that God’s hand is not to short that He cannot save (cf. 59:1).  He guarantees those who turn from their transgressions several things.

First, God’s Spirit will not depart from them.

Second, God’s Words, which He has put in their mouth, will not depart out of their mouth.  God makes a promise that these whom He has redeemed will always have His Words accessible to them.  God will always provide for them what they need to know Him, believe in Him, and live for Him.  Adam offers the typical, faithless treatment of “words.”  He says, “These are not the individual words.”  Instead, they are merely the “promises.”  Where does he get that?  Ironically, not in the words of Isaiah 59:21.  He reads “promises” into the verse, that isn’t there, and it seems so that he might keep alive the uncertainty of the text that will permit his continued textual criticism.

Third, God’s Words will not depart from the mouth of those believers’ seed and their seed’s seed from that point unto forever.  We’re still living under this promise to believers.

God promises perfect preservation and availability of His Words to every generation of believer.

Regarding Isaiah 59:21, consider others who write about this verse.  John Owen called Isaiah 59:21 “the great charter of the church’s preservation of truth.” Edward Young in his classic commentary on Isaiah writes (p. 442): “The gift of the Spirit (cf. John 16:13), who will instruct the Church in all truth and in the comforting, saving words that God has given her, will abide with her seed forever. The Lord is declaring that His eternal truth, revealed to man in words, is the peculiar possession of His people.”  John Owen and Edward Young both see this verse the same way that I do.  Adam would have to chide them as well for their “gross misuse” of scripture—pretty cheeky for someone in his M.A. program in divinity school.


I am amazed at the extent to which men will pursue a goal of attacking the doctrine of the perfect preservation of Scripture.   Why not accept the plain reading of the text?  God’s Word sustains authority and God offers His people certainty.  We should cherish these wonderful gifts of God’s grace.  Every generation of God’s redeemed really do have every one of His Words by which to live.

  1. Buddy Woolbright
    May 17, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Adam not only needs to study scripture more diligently but also needs to study English grammar. His first sentence has “one” shaking “their” head. Sounds more like the writing of a 7th grader that a seminary grad student. bw 2 Timoteo 1:9

  2. Joe
    May 19, 2010 at 11:29 am


    The attitude of Adam and many of those that support the modernistic movement away from the TR / KJB is summed up very nicely if you observe the degeneration of articles currently over at the kjvodebate site (Bob, JasonS, etc.).

    A whole article, complete with Duffer comments, concerns what an overly zealous and lacking knowledge KJB supporter commented linking Jack the Ripper with punishment for Westcott and Hort. The very idea that they make his comment the major subject of a whole article proves that instead of attempting to determine truth, their real motivation for their website is to attempt to embarrass those that cling to the TR / KJB Bible.

    I think Adam, here, also falls into this category. I really do not think he is interested in learning anything that disagrees with his perspective. I also think they all just like to argue for argument’s sake.

    But this is just my two cents worth.

    Joe V.

  3. May 19, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    Bingo, Joe. You are hitting this one bullseye. You are right on.

  4. May 20, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    The fact that anyone would argue against preservation in the first place tells you all you need to know, not only about their mindset, but more importantly about their spiritual state. Further, the argument that God merely preserved his message but not the words is so feeble-minded an argument, made by a sloppy and incompetent thinker, that it requires no response.

  5. May 20, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    By the way, using Adam’s logic (or illogic), the Apostle Matthew grossly misused Scripture when he assigned Hosea 11:1 to Jesus Christ in Matthew 2:15.

    If you look at the context, which is to say, the verse immediately preceeding Hosea 11:1, and the verse immediately following, they are both dealing with the sin and wickedness of Israel, which could NEVER be applied to the Lord Jesus.

    The fact that Matthew still assigned the middle verse – “Out of Egypt have I called my Son” to Jesus is a demonstration of the Holy Spirit interpreting his own words, just as he has done through genuinely born again Christians down through the centuries. A myriad of examples could be offered, from Bunyan to Baxter to Whitefield, ad infinitum.

  6. PS Ferguson
    May 21, 2010 at 4:51 am

    Interesting story in a commentary by James Montgomery Boice on Joshua:

    One of the giants of biblical scholarship a generation ago was a man by the name of Robert Dick Wilson. He taught at Princeton Seminary in the days when they believed the Bible there. One of Wilson’s students was a young man by the name of Donald Grey Barnhouse who, several years after graduating, was invited back to preach in seminary chapel. When Barnhouse arrived, he noticed that Wilson had taken a place near the front to hear him. When the service was over, his old Hebrew professor came up to Barnhouse and said, “I am glad I came to hear you today, and I am especially glad that you are a big-godder. When my boys come back, I always come to see if they are biggodders or little godders, and then I know what their ministry will be like.”

    Barnhouse asked him to explain what he meant. He said, “Well, some men have a little god, and they are always in trouble with him. He can’t do any miracles. He can’t take care of the inspiration of the Scriptures and their preservation and transmission to us. They have a little god, and I call them little-godders. Then there are those who have a great God. He speaks, and it is done. He commands, and it stands fast. He knows how to show himself strong on behalf of those who fear Him. You have a great God, and He will bless your ministry.”

    Seems they all believe in perfect preservation intuitively and slips out at unguarded moments!

  7. May 21, 2010 at 8:37 am

    That’s a great anecdote on R. D. Wilson, P S Ferguson, and one I had not heard before.

    I have written a brief paper on Wilson and the plenary, verbal inspiration of Scripture, which can be found here —


  8. PS Ferguson
    May 21, 2010 at 10:01 am

    Scottish Free Church Professor, George Smeaton (1814-1889) was said to have “the best constituted theological intellect in Christendom.” He was a master of the original languages. Sinclair Ferguson writes: “Smeaton was an outstanding scholar with a brilliant mind and a deep love for Christ.” John Keddie says, “Not only had he the ordinary acquirements of a teacher of exegesis, exact scholarship and acquaintance with modern criticism, but he had a quite exceptional theological learning” (according to Marcus Dods, strangely enough); “I do not know if any man is left among us who is so much at home as he was in the patristic and mediaeval writers.”

    Keddie writes:

    “There is very little to indicate what interest George Smeaton took in matters of textual criticism. But he lived in the era of the Revised Version translation and the theories of B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort which every bit as much as the higher critical theories constituted a sharp departure from the previously held consensus in the Reformed churches in these areas. It is perhaps of interest that Smeaton, such a recognized Greek scholar, took no part in the committee brought together to produce a Revised Version…Though only suggestive of his attitude, it is perhaps significant that in a comment on Luke 1:35 in his work on the Holy Spirit, he challenges the Revised Version translation. In the same work, with a reference to Luke 2:40, Smeaton follows the textus receptus reading behind the Authorized Version translation: ‘And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom.’ In a footnote (in both editions of his work) he says: ‘This reading has a predominance of authority in its favour’.…….Smeaton in one place also quoted with approval Dean John William Burgon’s support of the genuineness of the phrase “the Son of man which is in heaven” from John 3:13. Smeaton notably does not use the Revised Version in the 1889 edition of his work on the Holy Spirit. It appears he took a conservative line on matters of textual criticism, as he most certainly did on the question of the higher criticism and the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures.”

    Cited in John Keddie, George Smeaton (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2007) 135-136.

    So much for the anti-intellectual charge against the TR defenders by the anti-TR cabal of modern fundamentalism. Interesting that Keddie states that the Critical Text position was “a sharp departure from the previously held consensus in the Reformed churches in these areas.” Seems it is not the TR people that have a problem finding their position in history!

  9. May 21, 2010 at 10:10 am

    PS, I appreciate very much your historical work. It’s excellent material. Thanks for sharing it with us here.

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