The Importance of the Textual Issue

The doctrine of Scripture is the most fundamental doctrine of Christianity. At first glance, that may seem like a rather bold assertion, but the simple fact is that it is true. By fundamental, I simply mean that this doctrine is the foundation on which the rest are built. How we understand the Scriptures influences every other doctrine of Christianity. It is my belief that the most pressing issue facing the Church today is the issue of the text of Scripture, and the purpose of this post is to persuade you of the same. To do so, I want to address three points: 1) every point of orthodoxy is founded on the authority of Scripture; 2) every point of heresy is founded on a rejection of the authority of Scripture; and 3) how we approach the text is of utmost importance in defending its authority.

First, every point of orthodoxy is founded on the authority of Scripture. The opening sentence of the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith reads, “The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience” (1.1) The framers of this confession began with the doctrine of Scripture because of what Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Tim. 3:15-17 — “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” It is the Scriptures which are able to make the man of God perfect in all points of doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. In other words, the supreme rule and authority of all truth is the Holy Scriptures. Thus, whatever Scripture teaches is truth, or in other words, orthodoxy. This may seem like circular reasoning at first, but keep in mind that the primary witness of this truth is the inward work of the Holy Ghost. As the Confession states: “our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof [the Scriptures], is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts” (1.5). Such places as 1 Cor. 2:10 confirm this, as well as the words of our Lord in John 10:27 — “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

Second, every point of heresy is founded on a rejection of the authority of Scripture. Let us consider just two examples. 1. The Heresy of Justification by Works — This heresy teaches that men are justified before God by the works of their own hands. This may be with or without the aid of faith, prevenient grace, etc., but the heresy is the same either way. The Scriptures are plain that men are justified by grace alone through faith alone (Romans 3:24; Romans 4; Eph. 2:1-10; Gal. 3:11-14; these are just a few examples). Thus, to teach the heresy of justification by works – in any degree or fashion – one must reject the supreme authority of Scripture (as Romanism does). 2. The Heresy of Arianism — This heresy rejects the deity of the Lord Jesus; popularized by the bishop Arius, the motto of Arianism is: “There was a time when he was not.” This view is still prevalent today among such cults as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientology. The Scriptures are abundantly clear in this matter, that Jesus Christ is God (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:15ff; Titus 2:13; etc.). So, the foundation of this heresy is the rejection of the authority of Scripture.

Third, how we approach the text of Scripture is of utmost importance when defending its authority. There are two basic approaches to the text of Scripture. The first is that the Scriptures became corrupted during the course of their transmission, and they must be restored to their original form. The problem is that there are no longer any original manuscripts of the Scriptures extant; in other words, there is no way to know with certainty what the originals looked like, since they are lost and the copies are not reliable. This necessarily means that advocates of this view (Restorationist Textual Criticism, RTC) cannot say with any certainty that the Scriptures we now have are in fact the Word of God. All the RTC advocate can say is that we have an approximation of the original. Therefore, there is no solid ground on which to defend the authority of Scripture. If we cannot know for certain whether or not we actually have the Scriptures, then we cannot rely on them as the sole infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience. This is why Secularists, and the Romanists before them, sought to undermine the doctrine of Sola Scriptura by appealing to the textual variants and so-called corruptions of the text. Unfortunately, this is the predominant view of many Christians today because Secularism has infiltrated our seminaries and corrupted the under-shepherds of the flocks.

The second viewpoint is what is known as the Confessional Text position. This position starts from the principle that the Scriptures “by His singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentic” (2LBCF 1.8; cf. 1 Pet. 1:24-25, Ps. 119:89, and Is. 40:8). We know that the Scriptures we have today are in fact the authoritative and authentic Word of God because “the word of our God shall stand forever” (Is. 40:8). Any variants in manuscripts which we come across ought to be analyzed from this starting position. We do not rely on human reason, but on the testimony of the Spirit of God speaking through the inscripturated Word of God. In other words, our reasoning should conform to the teaching of Scripture rather than the other way around; so if the Scriptures say that the Word of the Lord endures forever, then we have no reason to assume that God was unable to keep His Word pure in all ages. Thus, we have a solid ground for claiming the Scriptures as the sole infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.

If the Scriptures are not authoritative, then there is no objective foundation on which to base our doctrines. This leads to the liberal theology so prevalent all over the world. Every issue the Church faces is grounded in one singular question: do we have an objective, authoritative Word from the Creator to which we must conform our thinking, our feelings, and our actions? If the answer is no (which is the inevitable conclusion for the modern textual criticism, RTC), then we are left with “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6). If the answer is yes (which is the unwavering affirmation of the Confessional Text position), then we may fully and confidently submit to Scripture as the Word of God.

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