Contending in Truth and Love
A Response to
“A Child of God Looks at the Doctrine of Verbal Plenary Preservation”
“Every emotion of the mind is betrayed by the tell-tale countenance, even though we do nothing with the intention of making it known.”
Augustine of Hippo
Christian Doctrine, II 1-3
Sometimes that which is said pales in significance to that which is not said. The hidden content and intent of one’s words, as Augustine astutely observed, are betrayed by the emotion. The paper, “A Child of God Looks at the Doctrine of Preservation,” begins with an emotional appeal. It is written by “one child of God to another.” However, a child of God cannot be exempted from loving counsel if the arguments presented in favour of Verbal Plenary Preservation (VPP) are flawed, and quotations used in support of the theory are selectively skewed in its favour. When a person claims to be a child of God, it behooves that he pursues truth unrelentlessly because God is truth, and the conclusion that is derived from the pursuit must not take him one step beyond what the Holy Scriptures have revealed; to do so would be to take one’s personal conviction and turned it into a doctrine.
The Real Contention
Bible-believing Christians believe in the verbal plenary inspiration of the Word of God. Bible-believing Christians also believe in the providential preservation of the Word of God. The Scriptural passages (pp. 69-72) that are offered in support of God’s providential preservation of His Word, all Bible-believing Christians can and ought to agree and subscribe to.
However, that is not the real issue that is threatening to divide Calvary BP Church today. The real issue, which is not stated in the paper, is that those who hold to VPP as a doctrine believe that the Word of God is uniquely, miraculously, and perfectly preserved His word in one single copy of Greek text, namely the Received Text, also known as the Textus Receptus (TR).
The VPP theory holds the view that “the traditional Hebrew Masoretic Text and Greek Textus Receptus underlying the King James Bible to be the totally inspired and entirely preserved Word of God.” (Burning Bush, July 2004, p. 65). VPP proponents identify themselves as “KJV/TR-Only advocates [who] affirm the twin doctrines of the verbal and plenary inspiration and preservation of God’s words” (Burning Bush, Jan. 2004, p. 3).
Contending in Truth
Can one be a God-fearing and God-honouring Christian who believes in the doctrine of creation ex-nihilo but not hold to VPP as a doctrine? Can one be a God-fearing and God-honouring Christian who believes in the doctrine of a literal six-day creation but not VPP? Can one be a God-fearing and God-honouring Christian who believes in the doctrines of the virgin birth, bodily resurrection and ascension of our blessed Saviour but not VPP? Can one be a God-fearing and God-honouring Christian who believes in the doctrine of a literal heaven and hell but not VPP? Can one be a God-fearing and God-honouring Christian and not subscribe to the theory of VPP? The fact is that, over the ages, there had been God-fearing and God-honouring Christians who believe in the plenary verbal inspiration of the Word of God and not the VPP. Here are a few examples.
1. Richard Baxter (1615-1691).
Baxter was the beloved pastor of
2. John Owen (1616-1683)
Owen was a pastor, preacher and
3. John Wesley (1703-1791)
Wesley was the founder of the
4. John Gill (1697-1771)
Gill was a Baptist pastor. He was a contemporary of Wesley and George Whitefield. He says that divine inspiration is “to be understood of the Scriptures, as in the original languages in which they were written, and not of translations; unless it could be thought, that the translators of the Bible into each of the languages of the nations into which it has been translated, were under the divine inspiration also in translating, and were directed of God to the use of words they have rendered the original by; but this is not reasonable to suppose.”
On the differences between the various Greek texts and the various translations, Gill says, “Let not now any be uneasy in their minds about translations on this account, because they are not upon an equality with the original text, and especially about our own; for as it has been the will of God, and appears absolutely necessary that so it should be, that the Bible should be translated into different languages, that all may read it, and some particularly may receive benefit by it; He has taken care, in his providence, to raise up men capable of such a performance, in various nations, and particularly in ours; for whenever a set of men have been engaged in this work, as were in our nation, men well skilled in the languages, and partakers of the grace of God; of sound principles, and of integrity and faithfulness, having the fear of God before their eyes; they have never failed of producing a translation worthy of acceptation; and in which, though they have mistook some words and phrases, and erred in some lesser and lighter matters; yet not so as to affect any momentous article of faith or practice; and therefore such translations as ours may be regarded as the rule of faith.” (A Body of Doctrinal Divinity, Book 1, Chapter 2. AGES Library)
5. Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892)
Spurgeon was the pastor of the London Metropolitan Tabernacle. He is also known was the Prince of Preachers and the last of the Puritans. In a sermon titled “The Bible Tried and Proved” based on Psalm 12:6, Spurgeon said, “I do not hesitate to say that I believe that there is no mistake whatever in the original Holy Scriptures from beginning to end. There may be, and there are, mistakes of translation; for translators are not inspired. (The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit. Vol. 35. AGES Library).
Spurgeon generally preached from the King James Bible, but it may surprise some VPP proponents that he did not hesitate to use other versions and readings from older manuscripts when he found it helpful. Case in point, Spurgeon preached a sermon entitled “And We Are: A Jewel from the Revised Version” based on 1 John 3:1. That three-word addition (and we are) in the Revised Version, according to Spurgeon is correct, “I have not the slightest doubt. Those authorities upon which we depend — those manuscripts which are best worthy of notice — have these words; and they are to be found in the Vulgate, the Alexandrian, and several other versions. They ought never to have dropped out. In the judgment of the most learned, and those best to be relied on, these are veritable words of inspiration.” (The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit. Vol. 32. AGES Library).
6. John William Burgon (1813-1888)
Burgon is popularly known in BP circles as Dean Burgon. Burgon rightly took a strong stand against the inferior textual methods and erroneous presumptions of Brook Foss Westcott (1825-1903) and Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828-1892). Burgon was right in disagreeing with Westcott and Hort on the weight that they ascribed to a few but older manuscripts. Burgon is correct: Age of the manuscript does not equate to its quality.
However, on the Received Text, Burgon states categorically, “Once for all, we request it may be clearly understood that we do not, by any means, claim perfection [emphasis Burgon’s] for the Received Text. We entertain no extravagant notions on this subject. Again and again we shall have occasion to point out . . . that the Textus Receptus needs correction. We do but insist, (1) that it is an incomparably better text . . . infinitely preferable to the ‘New Greek Text’ of the Revisionists. And (2) That to be improved, the Textus Receptus will have to be revised on entirely different ‘principles’ from those who are just now in fashion.” (The Revision Revised, footnote on p. 21).
Burgon was not averse to revising the Textus Receptus, meaning to say that he did not hold the Textus Receptus to be perfect and on par with the autographs. He only insisted, and rightly so, that any revision of the Textus Receptus must be done using the principles of Higher Criticism.
Some of these men (Baxter, Owen) lived before the times of Higher Criticism and German rationalism, which are the roots of liberal theology. Others had to battle for the authority and purity of the Holy Scripture. Burgon, in particular is a strong and able defender of the King James Bible and Textus Receptus. However, he did not subscribe to the VPP theory that the Textus Receptus is perfect and beyond correction. All these men have been recognized as godly servants of the Almighty God, mightily used by Him in the Gospel ministry. Their books are well read; their writings well quoted by preachers and Bible teachers.
Can they be dismissed as “experts” and “godly men” in the derogative sense? Are they twisting “God’s Word to make our difficulties or problems go away” (p. 73)? Are they “hoodwinked into believing the lie of the evil one” (p. 74)? Did they couch their words to “appeal to our intellect and pride” (p. 74)? Are these men attacking the doctrine of God’s providential preservation of His Word? Do they claim to be smarter than God?
Various quotations have also been used in the paper to advance the theory of VPP. Like the Scripture passages cited in the earlier part of the paper, these quotations support only the doctrine of God’s providential preservation. It is a cruel contortion to twist them into support for the theory of VPP. Even more egregious is that these quotations are selected to skew the argument in favour of VPP. Here is the full picture.
GI Williamson’s commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith is used (endnote, p.80). Presumably, Williamson’s commentary was used here because proponents of VPP have used his work to support the VPP theory (see Dr Jeffrey Khoo’s KJV: Questions and Answers, p. 23). In two separate e-mails, Williamson, a retired Presbyterian minister writes to clarify his views.
----- Original Message -----
From: “G.I. Williamson” <email@example.com>
While I have great respect for the so-called Textus Receptus (TR), I do not believe that it is quite equal to a photocopy of the autographa. You may know of Dr. Edward F. Hills who has written defending the King James Version as the best version because it is/was based on the TR. He was a long time friend and we had many discussions of this very question. He helped me to see the cogency of the argument for high respect for the Byzantine/Majority text. Of all people in the ancient world the Greek speaking Eastern Church surely would have been the place where changes - even those made unintentionally by people making hand written copies - would have been most likely detected. I accept that as a sound argument. But even Dr. Hills was not quite willing to absolutize the TR. And neither am I.
It must be remembered that the foundation of the argument for the superiority of the TR is the doctrine of divine providence. God, who controls all things, has seen to it that his word has been preserved. True. But it is this same true God who has also preserved throughout the are of the world in which the ancient church developed translations into other languages, and some manuscript copies of the Greek N.T. which are not always in complete agreement with the TR. I do not think we have a right to automatically rule out as of no value whatever this component. It may be true that the TR is right 99 times out of 100 - when there is a textual question. But that does not, in my opinion, prove that it is always right.
The bottom line for me, then, is that I give great deference to the TR. But I cannot go along with those who think that it is so perfect that there is no work for us to do in comparing the other ancient manuscripts, etc. I think my own Commentary (pp. 15-17) makes this sufficiently clear that no one should presume to quote me as one who thinks the TR (the Byzantine/Majority/Received Text) is absolutely perfect.
I hope this is of some help. Don’t hesitate to come back if I can be of further assistance.
----- Original Message -----
From: G.I. Williamson
Subject: More on TR
I had to respond rather quickly yesterday and now, in reading over your note again, feel that I should add a bit.
In your letter you said: “There are some influential leaders in my Church who understand and quote your statement to support the idea that God has raised, among the midst of the Byzantine/Majority/Received Text, a single purified Text which is the virtual ‘photocopy’ of the autograph.”
This is an interesting sentence because it could so easily be taken either one or the other of two ways. It all depends on what is meant by the word ‘virtual.’ My dictionary says this word means: “having the essence or effect but not the appearance or form of.” The same dictionary says of the word ‘virtually’ that it means: “in effect though not in fact; practically, nearly.” If the word virtually is intended in your letter to mean this then I could agree with it. But if it is intended to mean that the TR is a 100% perfect reproduction of the autograph, then I could not agree with it. I’ve discussed this with various scholars - including the late Edward F. Hills - and none of them ever went quite that far. I hope that the people you describe as ‘influential leaders’ in your church do not go that far either because, if they do, they have gone too far. But if they mean what the dictionary defines as the meaning of virtual (virtually) then I believe I could work with them.
Wishing you the Lord’s grace and blessing,
There is no doubt that Williamson is a strong supporter of the TR, but he does not believe that the TR is perfect; nor does he believe that his colleague and friend, Edward F Hills, would subscribe to the VPP theory.
2. Writings of Francis Turretin (1612-1687)
In the jacket of his three-volume Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Turretin is described as “the best expounder of the doctrine of the Reformed Church” and “a towering figure among the Genevan Reformers.” Did he believe that God had preserved His Word in only one particular text? I quote extensively from Turretin not only to show that he does not believe God’s Word is perfectly preserved in one single Greek text, but also to highlight the fact that VPP proponent choose to ignore – intentionally or otherwise – opposing views of the very same authors whose works they cited to support the VPP position. More than half the truth has not been told.
Do real contradictions occur in the Scripture? (emphasis mine). Turretin defines what he meant by real contradictions, “The question does not concern the irregular writing of words or the punctuation or the various readings (which all acknowledge do often occur); or whether the copies which we have so agree with the originals as to vary from them not even in a little point or letter. Rather the question is whether they so differ as to make the genuine corrupt and to hinder us from receiving the original text as rule of faith and practice. The question is not as to the particular corruption of some manuscripts or as to the errors which have crept into the books of particular editions through the negligence of copyists or printers. All acknowledge the existence of many such small corruptions. The question is whether there are universal corruptions and error so diffused through all the copies by any collation of various copies, or of Scripture itself and parallel passages.” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 1, p. 71).
Turretin dispels the argument made by those who hold to VPP that if the text is not perfectly preserved, then the whole Bible is corrupt. Turretin is not concerned about the small variations in the texts; these do not hinder the truth and discredit the doctrine of God’s providential preservation of His Word. In other words, the unity, veracity and the authority of Holy Scripture are not jeopardized by variations (Turretin called these small corruptions) in the manuscripts.
Turretin’s words have been quoted in the paper to support the theory of VPP. This is neither the full nor correct picture. Turretin writes, “Although we give to the Scripture absolute integrity, we do not therefore think that the copyists and printers were inspired (theospneustous), but only that the providence of God watched over the copying of the sacred books, so that although many errors might have crept in, it has not so happened (or they have not so crept into the manuscripts) but they can be easily corrected by a collation of others (or with the Scriptures themselves). Therefore the foundation of the purity and integrity of the sources is not to be placed in the freedom from fault (anamartesia) of men, but in the providence of God which (however men employed in transcribing the sacred books might possibly mingle various errors) always diligently took care to correct them, or that they might be easily corrected either from a comparison with Scripture itself or from more approved manuscripts. It was not necessary therefore to render all the scribes infallible, but only so to direct them that the true reading may always be found out.” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 1, p. 73).
On the purity of the sources, this question is asked, “Have the original texts of the Old and New Testaments come down to us pure and uncorrupted?” Turretin first defines what he means by the “original texts.” “By the original texts, we do not mean the autographs written by the hand of Moses, of the prophets and of the apostles, which certainly do not now exist. We mean their apographs which are so called because they set forth to us the Word of God in the very words of those who wrote under the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The question is not: Are the sources so pure that no fault has crept into the many sacred manuscripts, either through waste of time [aging process], the carelessness of copyists or the malice of the Jews or of heretics? For this is acknowledged on both sides and the various readings which Beza and Robert Stephanus have carefully observed in the Greek (and the Jews in the Hebrew) clearly prove it. Rather the question is have the original texts (or the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts) been so corrupted either by copyists through carelessness (or by the Jews or of heretics through malice) that they can no longer be regarded as the judge of controversies and the rule to which all the versions must be applied.” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 1, p. 106).
The copyists’ errors, notwithstanding, Turretin maintains that the sources for the Bible are pure because God has providentially preserved it. How did God preserve His Word? Turretin offers five suggestions: the providence of God, the fidelity of the Christian Church, the reverence of the Jews to whom the Word of God was given, the carefulness of the Masoretes [scribes], and “the multitude of copies; for as the manuscripts were scattered far and wide, how could they all be corrupted either by carelessness of librarians or the wickedness of enemies?” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 1, p. 107).
While Turretin affirms the doctrine of God’s providential preservation of His word, he in no wise says that it is preserved perfectly and uniquely in the TR. On the contrary, he writes that “although various corruptions might have crept into the Hebrew manuscripts through the carelessness of transcribers and the waste of time, they do not cease to be a canon of faith and practice. For besides being things of small importance and not pertaining to faith and practice . . . they are not universal in all the manuscripts or they are not such as cannot be easily corrected from a collation of the Scriptures and the various manuscripts.” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 1, p. 108-9).
Did Turretin believe in a preserved perfect text? He writes, “it is not necessary that the scribes should have been unerring (anamartetoi) . . . It is enough that providence has so watched over the integrity of the authoritative codex that although they might have brought into the sacred text many errors either through carelessness or ignorance, yet they have not done so (or not in all the copies), nor in such a way as that they cannot be corrected and restores by a collation of the various manuscripts and of Scripture itself. . . . Although we are bound to the present codex, it is not necessary for it to represent to us the autograph (autographon) of Moses and the prophets without even the smallest difference. (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 1, p. 121).
Finally, on the various versions of the Bible and its authority, Turretin writes, “all versions are the streams; the original text is the fountain whence they flow. The latter is the rule, the former the thing ruled, having only human authority. . . . Hence it follows that the versions as such are not authentic and canonical in themselves. . . . There is one perfection of things and truth to which nothing can be added and from which nothing can be taken away; another perfection of the version itself. The former is a strictly divine work and is absolutely and in every way self-credible (autopiston). Such perfection is the word carried over into the versions. The latter is a human work and therefore liable to error and correction – to which indeed authority can belong, but only human (according to the fidelity and conformity with the original text), but not divine.” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 1, p. 126).
In the paper, this question is asked, “Do you object because of your need to ‘see’ in order to believe?” (p. 77). The implication is that those who do not hold to the perfect preservation of the Word of God in TR do not have faith. They need to “see” in order to believe. Worse still, in their desire to “see,” they are accused of twisting God’s Word and making it say something else.
But who are the real doubting Thomases? It is not those who do not hold to the VPP theory; rather, it is those who do. To those who insist that VPP is a doctrine, “Why is it absolutely necessary for you to ‘see’ that God preserved His Word in a physical edition of the TR in order for you to believe the doctrine of providential preservation?”
By faith, Bible-believing Christians believe in the providential preservation of the Word of God in the totality of the manuscripts. So, who then is the one who must, so to speak, put his “fingers into the print of the nails” and handle the physical copy of a perfect TR in his hands before he can believe the doctrine of God’s providential preservation of His Word? To those who insist on the theory of VPP, “Brethren, where is thy faith?”
The emotion betrays the intent. According to the paper, the acid test that determines whether or not a person is teaching or twisting the Word of God is his views on the VPP theory. If a Christian does not hold to VPP as a doctrine, he is attacking the Word of God. If a pastor or church leader does not hold to VPP as a doctrine, he is not watchful, not diligent, not faithful, not courageous, not obedient, not teaching the truth. Such a leader is charged with undermining “the root of our faith and the root of all our doctrines” (p. 79); he is being “tossed to and from, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.” The point made is this: the pastor/church leader who does not hold to VPP as a doctrine is derelict in his duty. What is the intent behind these charges?
How strange these charges! The Bible-Presbyterian Constitution has remained largely unchanged for more than half a century. Now there are some who insist that VPP is a doctrine and are trying to amend the B-P Constitution despite the testimonies and the collective wisdom of godly men down the years. Who, then, are the ones who are really being tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine?
How strange these charges when one further considers the implications of those who claim that VPP is a doctrine? Are they suggesting that a preacher who uses the KJV but does not hold to the perfect preservation of the Word of God in the TR as a doctrine is one who preaches another Gospel? VPP proponents seem to think so.
But is VPP a doctrine? Consider this admission by Dr DA Waite, the principal proponent of the VPP theory. He writes, “It is my own personal conviction and belief [emphasis mine], after studying this subject since 1971, that the WORDS of the Received Greek and Masoretic Hebrew texts that underlie the King James Bible are the very words which God has preserved down through the centuries, being the exact words of the originals themselves.” (Defending the Kings James Bible, p. 48). Waite maintains that VPP is a matter of personal conviction. Are those who believe in VPP in our churches rejecting the valued opinion of the man who had been studying this issue for the last thirty years?
Contending in Love
This issue has brought much confusion into the
So why are suspicions being raised with regard to a person’s faithfulness to the Christian faith? Why are divisions being made with regard to a person’s orthodoxy? Why are reputations being sullied over differences in opinion? Why are names being called bringing a person’s integrity into question? Why are Christians being forced to choose their allegiances based upon a personal conviction? I venture my observation – “where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” (James 3:16). Why are there envying and strife among God’s people? Only God knows.
Christians must look to the Word of God and be reminded that when we employ godly wisdom and holy conduct in our defence of the faith and the Word of God, righteousness and peace, not confusion, will be its outcome. “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” (James 3:13-18).
This controversy is absolutely unnecessary. The leaders of Calvary Jurong have been longsuffering in their silence. However, I think a response is now needed because the peace and unity of Calvary Jurong are at stake. More importantly, the glory of our blessed Saviour and the testimony of His church are both on the line. Silence is not an option because it has been perceived as weakness. Silence is not an option because the other half has not been told. Silence is now not an option when a matter of personal conviction is publicly presented as a doctrine of the church. The gauntlet, as it were, has been thrown, and it must be taken up.
When a person joins as a member of the church, he takes an oath of membership; a promise to preserve the purity, peace and unity of the church by not introducing false doctrines, disobeying her constitution, or creating disharmony amongst her members. It seems to me that those who hold to and insist on teaching perfect preservation of the Word of God in the TR as doctrine and as a touchstone of Christian fundamentalism have to do one of two things: (1) leave the Church and start their own, and write in that point in their own church constitution, or (2) amend the church constitution. If they would not do the first, and could not do the second, then it behooves that those who hold to perfect preservation of the Word of God in the TR admit that their particular view is a matter of personal conviction and keep silent henceforth.
I find no joy in writing this response because I believe, as all Calvarians do, that the King James Bible is the English Bible par excellence. There is none more noble, more beautifully translated, more quoted, more compelling in its presentation of the tenets of the Christian faith, and more appealing to a man’s ears, heart, and soul.
Perhaps out of this dark episode, the silver-lined consolations that all Calvarians should earnestly pray for is that we will affirm the use of the King James Bible in our church without having to make VPP a matter of contention in the church, that we will unite to defend the Word of God against its real foes represented by the modern day Bible perversions; that we will, by His grace, continue to take a resolute stand for the authority of God’s Word, and that God will raise godly men and women in Calvary Jurong who will “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together [and not striving against one another] for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).
May the Lord have mercy!
 The question also needs to be asked of those who hold to VPP as to which TR do they think is the Word of God perfectly preserved. The phrase “textus receptus” is derived from an introductory passage to the second edition of Greek New Testament published by the Elzevir brothers in 1633, over twenty years after the first publication of the KJV. In the passage, the following statement in Latin was made: “Textum ergo habes, nunc ab omnibus receptum,” meaning “the text that you have is now received by all.” So strictly speaking, the “Textus Receptus” must refer to this post-1611 work. In any case, the “text . . . received by all” does not mean that God had miraculously preserved this Greek text; it only means that Elzevir’s Greek New Testament was the one that was generally accepted and used at that time.