The devil and his agents have been blowing at Scripture light, but could never blow it out; a clear sign that it was lighted from heaven….The letter of Scripture has been preserved, without any corruption, in the original tongue.
It can, then, with no colour of probability be asserted (which yet I find some learned men too free in granting), namely, that there hath the same fate attended the Scripture in its transcription as hath done other books. Let me say without offence, this imagination, asserted on deliberation, seems to me to border on atheism. Surely the promise of God for the preservation of his word, with his love and care of his church, of whose faith and obedience that word of his is the only rule, requires other thoughts at our hands.
If you want extensive meat on WCF/LBC chapter one, article eight, you’ll want to check out Reformed Baptist pastor, Robert Truelove, and confessionalbibliology.com. I’m indebted to men like Paul Barth, from PurelyPresbyterian.com, and Trent Still for putting me onto these sources.
I may soon add my own paper length case for confessional bibliology.
But, in this post, I merely want to touch on the matter, to put from mind to screen and so sketch my position.
Here is what 1.8 in the Baptist Confession reads:
“The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, the native language of the ancient people of God. The New Testament was written in Greek, which at the time it was written was most widely known to the nations. These Testaments were inspired directly by God and by his unique care and providence were kept pure down through the ages. They are therefore true and authentical, so that in all religious controversies the church must make their ultimate appeal to them.”
That’s my position.
On it, a few observations:
The first two sentences are about the autographs, the original ink on papyrus writings of Scripture. Written down by God’s appointed men in Hebrew and Greek.
The first part of the third sentence refers to these original writings. God directly inspired their writing. So, the originals are God breathed. They are His words for His church, true and authoritative as He is true and authoritative.
Now, at this point, I’m not yet helped. Praise our generous God that He so condescended in grace as to give us Scriptural special revelation in Hebrew and Greek. But there’s an issue. I don’t have access to these original writings. In fact, nobody does. They’re not extant. That is, they no longer exist. Entropy did its work, and the original substances upon which God’s words were written are now dust, travelling the world upon the wind and waves.
This is where the next part of the third sentence picks up. By God’s unique care and providence, He has kept His word pure down through the ages.
In this, the confessors make a theological claim that cannot be made about any book of antiquity…apart from the Bible.
The originals of books of antiquity are lost with time. Copies outlive the originals. Copies of copies of copies of copies come down time and reach us. But copies aren’t made with 100% precision. Human error and human wiles work to change, to corrupt, the original text down time. That said, through examining existing copies and employing human reasoning, we are able to reconstruct an approximation of the author’s original work. The more copies in existence, the better we’re able to reconstruct and approximate.
Many think that the Bible faced this same, inescapable impact of time, but that, blessedly, we have so many more copies available to us for the Bible than for any other work of antiquity, and so we can approximate a reconstruction of the original writing to an incredibly high degree of accuracy. This, in fact, is what I used to believe. It’s the common thought process in today’s seminaries. It is the scholarly thinking behind the Critical Text, from which almost every single modern translation of the Bible is translated (ESV, NASB, CSB, NIV, etc.)
But, note. Such thinking is not to be found in the minds of the confessors. They do not believe that the original writings were corrupted down time and needed to be reconstructed.
They actually believed the opposite.
The confessors assert that God did for the Bible what He hasn’t done for any other book. By a unique, special, one-of-a-kind care and providence, God kept His Word pure down through the ages. What is being asserted? God preserved His Word. He kept it pure through the entirety of the church’s existence. Such is His love for His people, that He would not only give His special revelation to us, informing us of all we need to know for life and godliness. He also preserved and kept pure that which He’d given, that His beloved, the bride of His Son, might not ever be without the lamp and standard.
She need not reconstruct. She need only receive, receive that self-authenticating, tasting divine, God-breathed Word.
And so the confessors confessed that the very Hebrew and Greek in their possession, printed by Gutenberg’s press, was the very Word of God itself. They possessed the pure Word of God, true and authentical, the ultimate epistemological standard and decider in all controversies of doctrine.
What a thing to confess! What a treasure to rightly grasp and enjoy!
And is it not consistent with our Lord’s testimony? Do we not need every word that comes from the mouth of God? And if this is a matter of necessity, mustn’t He supernaturally preserve His breathed-out Word if we are to have it pure, every word of it? Did not our Lord proclaim that not a jot or tittle of His Word would pass away until heaven and earth itself passed away?
In sum, a corrupted, a reconstructed, a hypothetical, approximated ultimate standard cannot bear the weight of ultimacy. Such processes may suffice for epic poetry. But they will not suffice for the ultimate standard that is God’s Word. Thankfully, they need not suffice. God, by special care and providence, has kept His Word pure down through the ages. Pure. Undefiled.
And, so, the Hebrew and Greek received by the confessors was itself the Word of God, preserved for and given to them, and printed for us.
Chapter one, article eight is glory. It’s good news for wayward sinners such as ourselves, we who need God’s Word for life and godliness, we who need an ultimate standard that can bear up to ultimacy.
How can you know that what we have is actually the Word of God given through the original writers? God has kept His Word pure and brought it to us down through the ages.
Eat His words and be merry.