Last night, I got into a conversation with some church members about the doctrine of the providential preservation of Scripture, which I recently wrote about here. I approached the conversation by beginning with a distinction between Protestant, Catholic, and Enlightenment epistemology; and I worked to the conclusion of, “Why I, the average church member, should care.” But that’s a persuasion mistake. Most folks don’t care about the technical matters of epistemological debates between theologians, at least at first. Best to start with the “cash value.”
So, let this serve as the “cash value” introduction to the question of Canon and the transmission of God’s Word through time.
Do you have a Bible, that is, a translation of the actual words of God? You know, those words that God inspired, those words that were written down by his servants for the church, the words that sustain and sanctify the Christian, the words through which we actually know our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ? Is your Bible really just a magnificently constructed counterfeit, claiming a status not factually its possession? Or is it authentic? And not just the table of contents, but the words contained in those books your table of contents lists?
How do you know what the Word of God is? By what authority do you have any confidence in identifying God’s words?
Do you trust Rome? Rome says you have a corrupted Bible. Is Rome right or wrong? How do you know?
Do you trust scholars? If so, which ones? Why? Have you seen their research? How do you know they are correct? How do you know they have the right data? How do you know they’re interpreting the data correctly? Are you sure? Might they be wrong? If so, how much can they be wrong before not being a dependable authority? Are you dependent on them to know, or could you ever know what God’s Word is, what His words are, without them?
What does it mean that “my sheep hear my voice”? What does it mean that we need every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, or that not a jot or tittle of the law will pass until heaven and earth pass?
What does it mean when Christians assert that Scripture is the final authority? What does it mean when they confess that Scripture evidences itself to be God’s Word by the heavenliness of its doctrine, the unity of its parts, and its power to convert sinners and edify saints? What does it mean we Christians confess that God has providentially kept his Word pure down through the ages?
That’s what this is about. Christians knowing where to place their confidence, Christians knowing whether or not they possess authentic Bibles, or just spurious texts beefed up by the excited orthodox, trimmed by wily heretics, or warped simply by the errors of fallible men.