Wednesday, October 30, 2019

New Book on the Doctrine of Preservation by Richard Brash

Outside of certain TR or KJV-only circles, the doctrine of preservation doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention from Protestants anymore. Bill Combs and Dan Wallace have written on it, but those are the only sustained treatments I know of. Theologians seem to focus on issues of inspiration, inerrancy, clarity, and the like, but not on preservation. Maybe some of that is because of a desire to avoid being embroiled in debates with TR or KJV-only folks.

But Richard Brash has been doing some good, historical work on the doctrine of preservation in the Reformed tradition for the last few years. I’ve mentioned his ThM work before and he now has a summarized version of that in the latest issue of Westminster Theological Journal titled “Ad Fontes!—The Concept of the ‘Originals’ of Scripture in Seventeenth Century Reformed Orthodoxy.” Jeff Riddle has written a really nice summary for those without access.

Having done this historical work, Richard has now turned to the doctrine of preservation itself in a new book with Christian Focus. It’s intended for a lay audience and gives his own, positive view of divine preservation. Importantly, Richard’s account appears to be neither that of modern TR proponents nor of KJV-onlyists. As I have found Richard’s historical work on the question very helpful, I’m looking forward to this new book too. I hope I can give a report on it when I get my copy.

Here’s a video introducing it


  1. This may be something to postpone discussing until we've had a chance to read the book.

    But in the video he refers to the Bible including within it promises from God that he would preserve the scriptures. At one point it shows a picture of a page that quotes Mat 5:18, without showing commentary on that verse to indicate whether or not Bash considers that one of the supports for his claim. I'm familiar with that verse being used to support such a claim. But I don't buy that that's really what it's saying. Can anyone think of other passages in the Bible that might be taken as promises from God to preserve the scriptures?

    The other lines of argument that he alludes to (the theological necessity of preservation and the historical fact of it) seem less problematic to me.

    1. What about Deut 4:2; 12:32; 2 Kings 22-23; Jeremiah 36; Pss. 12, 119; John 10:35; Rev 22:18-19? I think these and others have been used to support the concept of preservation (as in WCF 1:8), though modern interpretation might suggest alternative interpretations.

    2. JTR,
      First, let me say that I believe that a doctrine of preservation is inherent in God speaking to us through the scriptures. Second, Having said that, like ER above, I do not think Matt 5:18 deals with preservation. I would add, likewise neither do any of the additional passages you listed.

    3. Thanks for the feedback TJ. I am interested in this. So, can you suggest some passage that you do think teach this doctrine? Or, are you saying that you believe in the doctrine of preservation but that it is not supported by any particular Biblical passages?

    4. JTR,
      While this is probably the wrong forum for a long discussion; I do not believe any specific passage in context directly teaches preservation. This said, the very act of God speaking, His commands to write down and obey, and His Son’s reliance on the scriptures compel my belief in preservation. My understanding would be close to Brash’s. God has preserved His Word through Divine Providence using ordinary means! Direct intervention by God, as in inspiration was not the means of preservation. This means that preservation does not require every word to be available to all people at all times, by using ordinary means, God has allowed His Word to be always available, but in different levels to different people and different times.

    5. TJ,

      Yes, you're probably right about the limits of a full discussion here, but I am intrigued by your reply. So, if OK, I'll ask a few more questions.

      You say that no specific Biblical passages teach preservation (such as those I cited above), but the doctrine is there in general statements, like God speaking, his commands to write or obey, and in Christ's reliance on Scripture.

      But are not these sorts of things present to at least some degree in the passages I cited? God speaks (e.g., Deut 4:2); God commands to write and obey (e.g., Jer 36:26-27); Christ expresses reliance on Scripture (e.g., Matt 5:18; John 10:35)?

      You also suggest that unlike inspiration preservation is completely by ordinary means. Does the use of ordinary means, however, exclude God's guidance and superintendence? Must it be either ordinary means or extraordinary means? Might it be both-and? In your view of providence is there absolutely no room for any special acts of providence? If God is sovereign might he do as he pleases in preservation?

      Do you know anyone whose view of providence requires "every word to be available to all people at all times"? It seems to me that not even the most traditional proponents of providential preservation would hold this view. It would clearly be invalidated at present by virtue of the fact that everyone in the world does have access to the Bible. Is this then a "straw man"?

      By the same token, would not even the most traditional proponents of providential preservation hold also that the word is only available "to different people" at "different times"? Yet this would not necessarily invalidate the doctrine of the providential preservation of Scripture, would it?

    6. JTR,
      Last go at it here, for me. Maybe you misunderstood. While the passages you cited do the things that convince me that God has preserved His Word, none of them deal with preservation in context. Divine providence does not limit God, since He is its Sovereign. I forgot that all traditional text, KJV-only, ecclesiastical text proponents assume anytime someone posts their own views, they must be attacking someone else. I just stated my view both positively and negatively to clarify it.


    7. TJ,

      Believe it or not, I am genuinely interested in your perspective.

      I am intrigued by your statement above: "God has preserved His Word through Divine Providence using ordinary means! Direct intervention by God, as in inspiration was not the means of preservation."

      Does God only preserve his word through "ordinary means"? There was no "direct intervention" by God? Does this deny the notion of special acts of God's providence? Does this deny the doctrine of inspiration? Can we only consider the Bible on a naturalistic basis?

      I am a confessional Reformed Baptist who holds to the 2LBCF (1689). This means I am a cessationist (Confession 1:1: "those former ways...being now ceased"), but I also affirm God having "by his singular care and providence" kept his word "pure in all ages" (Confession 1:8). To say that God only works through ordinary and not special means would contradict my Confession's view of providence, which, among other things, affirms: "God, in His ordinary use of providence maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them at His pleasure."

      To deny God's special works of providence seems to be to more of an Enlightenment than an "evangelical" perspective. Since this is a blog about "evangelical" text criticism, I did not think that my questions were inappropriate.

      BTW, I am not a KJVO (the text issue is bigger than the issue of translations in any language), but I have sometimes found that when the traditional/confessional text is defended this ad hominem is thrown out and serves, presumably, to end the conversation.

    8. Gentlemen,

      Considering the magnitude of importance which is attached to the present topic, I for one, don't see any profitable reason for the conversation to end. Nor do I see any good reason for the tone to go south.

      What I do see profitable is a defining of terms. What does the term "Traditional Text" have anything to do with the conversation?
      Does not the current "Confessional Text" stance already have enough monikers? Confessional Text, Confessional Bibliology, Ecclesiastical Text, Canonical Text, Common Text and of course the title it was known by prior to the recent movement, "TR-Only". I don't see the purpose of using the terminology of Burgon to label a system of ideology in which he would be opposed. The term "Traditional Text" has been used for over a hundred years to describe the Text and System of Burgon & Miller,--so why the sudden removal of the 'old landmark'?

      This field is complex enough as it is, and I see no valid reason for the present obscuring of terms.

      Respectfully. -MMR

  2. I enjoyed the article by Brash. Glad you found my review helpful, Peter. I have ordered the book and look forward to reading and possibly reviewing.