Bible: The Authentic Source Texts

1 - What If America Treated Its Constitution the Way the Church Treats the Bible?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
Let us imagine, for a moment, what it would be like.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part one of a series.

Today we begin the most important series of articles this ministry has ever produced, on the most vital issue confronting the church. An absurd and ungodly theory of the nature of Scripture has become the accepted position of the Evangelical church, the basis of virtually all translations of the Bible, and the shaky underpinning of most present-day preaching.

At the beginning of each of our radio broadcasts, our announcer makes this statement: "The church of Jesus Christ must be the Scripture-driven church. God's inspired, inerrant Word must be our sole authority, and our infallible critic, in every area of life and ministry." We also repeat this statement frequently in our print and electronic publications.

Inspired, Infallible, Inerrant

Note carefully the three terms - derived from Scripture itself - which we use to describe the nature of the authentic Word of God:

  • It is inspired. The very words of Scripture were breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16). Holy men of God spoke as they were moved - in the original language, literally driven - by the Holy Spirit to write the very thoughts of God and not their own perspectives or interpretations (2 Peter 1:20-21). The Bible is unique among all the books in the world. It is not the mere words of men. It is revelation from God.
  • It is infallible. Since God the author is infallible, that which He wrote through human penmen is infallible. God's authentic Word is entirely free from even the slightest hint of liability to mistake, failure, deviation, or deception (Numbers 23:19, Malachi 3:6, James 1:17).
  • It is inerrant. Since the Bible is the very Word of the infallible God, it is therefore absolutely and utterly free from error. This inerrancy applies not merely to the original manuscripts. God has promised to faithfully preserve His inspired, infallible, inerrant Word in all ages and for eternity (Matthew 5:18, John 10:35, Isaiah 40:8). Not only do we have God's own promise to preserve His Word, we have abundant historical evidence of His faithfulness to that promise.

Without the authority of an inspired, infallible, inerrant revelation from God, there can be no church of Jesus Christ. There can be no one true Gospel. There can be no one true body of sound doctrine. There can be no one true and unfailing standard for righteous living.

The Position of the Believing Church in All Ages

From the time of Moses until the mid 19th century, all true believers in Jesus Christ held this position - that we have in our possession, and always will have, the inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God. God's Word proclaims these truths from beginning to end. The principal confessions of faith produced by Protestants since the Reformation all affirm these clear teachings of Scripture regarding its own nature and preservation. These include the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), the Savoy Declaration (1658), the London Baptist Confession (1689), the Philadelphia Confession (1742), and the New Hampshire Confession (1833).

From the beginning, Satan has always hated the Word of God - even before it was first committed to writing. Satan's earliest interaction with mankind was to tempt our first parents into sin by denigrating God's own Word and implanting the seed of doubt which sprang into unbelief. Following Satan's lead, unbelievers in all ages have denied the inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture, or have attempted to redefine those terms to rob them of their meaning and significance.

Radical Change in the Mid-1880s

Beginning in the mid-1800s - not coincidentally, at the beginning of the age of Darwinism - attacks on the inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of the Word of God took a new and deadly turn. At the same time that much of the Evangelical church was corrupted by the lie of Darwin's naturalistic approach to the origin and subsequent history of man and the universe, the church was also being corrupted by the falsehood of a naturalistic approach to the origin and subsequent history of Scripture.

The result is that for the past 130 years, the Evangelical church has largely cast aside the authentic Word of God - especially the New Testament in the original Greek - and has embraced a counterfeit. The results have been devastating.

An American Illustration

What is the nature of this counterfeit? I hope that our worldwide reading audience will bear with an illustration that focuses on the United States and its history.

In September 1787, the Constitutional Convention meeting in Philadelphia completed its work. The convention commissioned a man named Jacob Shallus to engross the final document - to write it out with his own hand on four sheets of vellum parchment, a durable paper made of animal skins. Today this original of the Constitution of the United States is on display in the National Archives Building in Washington.

Shortly after Shallus engrossed the original, handwritten copies of the Constitution were produced for members of the Convention, and for distribution to the legislatures of the thirteen original states that would vote on its ratification. From these, other handwritten copies were produced, and the text of the Constitution was soon typeset for publication in the newspapers of the time.

Within a year, the new Constitution had been ratified and declared to be in effect. But during the ratification debates it became clear that the Constitution needed to be amended (according to the provisions of its own Article Five) to include a Bill of Rights. The first ten amendments to the Constitution, collectively known as the Bill of Rights, were adopted by the first Congress and sent to the states for ratification in September 1789.

President George Washington had fourteen handwritten copies of the Bill of Rights engrossed - one for preservation by the national government, and one copy to be sent to each of the state legislatures. As with the original Constitution two years earlier, many other handwritten copies were produced from these fourteen, and the text of the Bill of Rights was also soon typeset and published in the newspapers of the day. The Bill of Rights was ratified by a sufficient number of states by the end of 1791, and became part of the Constitution.

Unlike the original autographs of the text of the Bible, the original manuscript of the United States Constitution has been preserved, even through such perils as the British attack on the city of Washington in 1814 (during which the White House, the meeting places of the House of Representatives and Senate, and the Library of Congress were all burned), and the threat of Confederate attack on the capital during the Civil War of the 1860s.

But let us imagine, for a few moments, a different set of events. Let us imagine that during the War of 1812 the original manuscripts of the Constitution and Bill of Rights had been destroyed by fire. Under such a circumstance, the United States would not have lost these founding documents, because there would have been an ample number of copies available elsewhere in the country. Some of these copies might have contained copyist errors or even omissions, but it would have been easy to identify which copies contained these errors and which were faithful to the original.

But let us also imagine a further event. Let us imagine that men came along in the middle 1800s who proposed a new and radical theory of the text of the Constitution. Let us suppose that their theory stated that some of the copies of the Constitution that contained errors and omissions were the "best manuscripts" and that the others - on which the nation had relied from its inception - were "inferior manuscripts."

Let us imagine, for example, that this theory of the text of the Constitution claimed that the following were not to be found in the "better manuscripts" - the right to trial by jury (Article 3, Section 2); the power of Congress to raise, support, and regulate an army and navy (Article 1, Section 8); provisions for disqualification from the office of President (Article 2, Section 4); the entirety of Article 5 concerning the government of the States; and the entire Fifth Amendment stipulating the right to due process under the law, protecting individuals from double jeopardy and self-incrimination, and protecting the right to private property.

Let us further imagine that this theory included the premise that since the authentic text of the Constitution had not been preserved in a single document or body of documents, therefore the text must be "restored" through the painstaking efforts of textual scholars - and that therefore we can never be certain that we have the exact and complete text of the Constitution of the United States.

Let us further imagine that this theory became the accepted theory of the text of the Constitution, held by the vast majority of the nation's leaders and citizens. The implications are horrific - even more deadly than today's postmodernist theory of the so-called "living Constitution" whose exact words, though clearly known, can be twisted like a wax nose to suit any agenda.

Absurd? Not In Today's Church

You may say that the scenario I have just described is absurd. And indeed it is. But this is exactly what the Evangelical church has done over the last 150 years with the authentic text of the Bible.

An absurd and ungodly theory of textual criticism has become the accepted position of the Evangelical church, the basis of virtually all translations of the Bible since the year 1881, and the shaky underpinning of most present-day preaching.

How has this happened? Why is the issue of allegiance to the authentic text of the Bible the central issue for the church in all ages? Why is it a fundamental truth-and-error issue, and not one on which "good men may differ"? What have been the effects of the developments of the past 150 years on the church? What must be done to re-instill faith in, and allegiance to, the authentic text? What will change if this is done? Those are some of the questions we shall examine in this series.

Addressing these questions will not be short work. It is our plan, the Lord willing, to devote five to ten articles each month to this vital issue until the work is done.

Next: What This Series Will Be -- And Will Not Be

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