This is the third in a series of posts detailing each of our beliefs about the Bible expressed on the Our Beliefs page.
[We believe that] the words of the LORD are pure, and that these pure words are contained in the Received Text, including faithful translations.
Purity of the Word #
After discussing inspiration in part 1, we closed part 2 with a discussion of how God preserves his word to every generation on this earth, in order to preserve a godly seed. We concluded that God’s words are so vital to us that their perfect preservation is necessary to us. This naturally intertwines with the topic of the purity of God’s word, and the implications are clear: God’s word is pure.
In part one we pointed out how 2 Timothy 3:16 says that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God.” Thus God’s words were originally pure, all given by his Spirit, with no words of men or devils mixed in. The perfect preservation of the scriptures in faithfully made copies, as discussed in part 2, thus implies that the pure words of the LORD still exist on earth today.
The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever. — Psalms 12:6-7
Purification by the Word #
Our belief in God’s preservation of the faithful also naturally intertwines with the belief that God preserves a godly seed on this earth by purifying men with his pure, preserved words.
[We believe] that it is through these pure words that God purifies the hearts of men.
This, too, is the message of Psalm 12, as we saw in part 2, and is backed up by many other passages. One of these is in John 15, where before his crucifixion, Christ admonished the disciples not to reject him at his death, but rather to abide in him until the day of his resurrection:
John 15:2-3 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
Christ said that God purges every branch that bears fruit, that it may bring forth more fruit. Then he says “ye are clean through the word which I have spoken.” It is clear therefore that God’s means of purging us is through the cleansing power of his word.
Ephesians 5:25-27 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
So the Bible is very clear that we are washed and purified by the words of the LORD.
And would Christ wash us with dirty water? Would he think to remove all of our blemishes though a copy of his word which contains blemishes itself?
The answer is clear. This one ministry that the word must perform in our hearts is sufficient proof that God’s words must be pure, as otherwise they could not perform it. And as this ministry is ever needed on this earth, those pure words must be preserved on it to this day.
Where Are God’s Pure Words? #
The question then becomes, if God’s words have been preserved, where are they?
There is only one possible answer. But before we can come to that answer, we need to understand some universally recognized facts.
First, you need to know that there are many thousands of more-or-less ancient manuscripts in various languages containing all or portions of the scriptures. In Koine Greek alone there are about 5700, and these are the focus of most textual study.
Based on the Bible’s claims of purity and preservation, we would expect all of these manuscripts, if they are all the word of God, to say the exactly same thing.
They don’t. But about 5600 of them do match up with one another almost perfectly. So perfectly, in fact, that they are considered by textual scholars to be a single “witness” to the ancient scriptures. The text contained in this majority of manuscripts is called the Majority Text, or Received Text (or Textus Receptus) because it is the text that the church has received from prior generations.
The remaining ~80 Greek manuscripts are different. They not only differ from the Majority Text, but differ among themselves enough that they don’t really form a single concise text. So each of them is considered by scholars to be a separate “witness” to the ancient scriptures, though they are sometimes collectively referred to as the Alexandrian Text for convenience. This name stems from the fact that many of these manuscripts originate in Alexandria, Egypt. Which brings us to another way in which these other manuscripts differ from the Received Text: most of them weren’t handed down to us from prior generations, but were instead found at some point during the last ~150 years. Some of these were uncovered via archeological work, while others are claimed to have been hiding away for many centuries in various libraries.
Why do these minority texts have such discordant readings, though? Various reasons, including copying mistakes, as well as intentional modifications. The scholars believe that the differences among the minority manuscripts, as well as the differences between them and the majority manuscripts, are the result of various copyists editing the text. For example, one of the primary minority texts, the codex Sinaiticus, has been rightly called the most edited and re-edited Bible in existence. (You can see it for yourself, at codexsinaiticus.org.)
We thus have on the one hand a text which is pure and was preserved from generation to generation (the Received Text), and on the other hand a collection of manuscripts which were not preserved, and which do not constitute a single, pure text (the minority manuscripts).
However, most scholars now reject the Received Text in favor of the minority manuscripts. Why? Because they believe that many of the minority manuscripts are older than the manuscripts representing the Received Text. This leads them to conclude that the original text was different than the Received Text, and thus that it has also been corrupted, although they cannot prove this. If that were true, of course, it would mean that the pure, preserved words of God would not exist on earth today at all—and this would prove that the Bible was a lie, since it claims that God’s word is pure, and that he preserves it.
These scholars do not, and cannot, make the case that the text in any of the minority manuscripts has been preserved from generation to generation as the Bible says. They do not, and cannot, make the case that any of these minority manuscripts contain a pure text. They nevertheless claim that the minority manuscripts are superior to the Received Text. And this dangerous school of thought is very strong today, among textual scholars, translators, seminary professors, pastors and teachers, and much of the church as a whole.
If you are wondering what the scriptural basis for the conclusion of these people is, the answer is that there is none. The conclusion is one that they come to through the human philosophies that govern the discipline of textual criticism, not from biblical doctrine.
Yes, this is astonishing.
All that I can tell you is that what I have presented above are simple facts, which these scholars acknowledge, and which you can verify yourself. And based on these facts, there is only one conclusion to which we can come, given the scripture we’ve surveyed so far in this series: that the Received Text is the pure, preserved words of the LORD.
And indeed, we’d be in good company. Historically this has been a foundational teaching of the church, so axiomatic that it was even assumed by default, as there truly is no other possible conclusion. As noted above, if the Received Text is not the pure, preserved words of God, then no such thing exists. For this reason those that reject the Received Text are forced to argue that the Bible does not teach preservation, and that no pure Bibles exist on this earth.
Of course, that defies everything that the Bible says about itself. If you need a refresher, read back through the previous two posts in this series. Based upon the claims of scripture, we are left with choosing one of two alternatives: either the Received Text is God’s pure words, or the Bible is a fraud—it claimed that God was its author and that he would preserve it, but if God did not preserve it, clearly it lied, nor was he its author.
While most people who reject the Received Text would not go that far, they are forced to reduce the Bible from being the pure words of the LORD to being only the words of men. Because they believe that the Bible is not pure, they are forced to doubt every word—there is no way for them to know whether any particular word, or phrase, or verse, or chapter, or even book, is really supposed to be there. There is likewise no way for them to know what might be missing from the modern text. Therefore they have no basis for confidence in regard to any teaching of scripture, since there is no way to know whether the part of scripture that supports it is the words of the LORD or the words of men. They still believe that the Bible is “the word of God,” but because they don’t think that it is the pure inspired words of God, they are forced in practice to consider that the Bible is the words of men.
This rejection of the words of the LORD is naturally associated with an erosion of faith, and thus ultimately of faithfulness. That is exactly what we are seeing in the church today, here in America and throughout much of the world, wherever these doctrines have gained foothold. Thus, the existence of The Psalms Project, to remind the church that God’s pure words are needed, that he has preserved them, that they are pure, and that through them the faithful are purified and preserved.
In the next post in this series, we’ll consider how we can proclaim those words to the peoples of the world when none of them speak Koine Greek, the language that these ancient manuscripts are written in.