Book Endorsement: The Doctrine of Scripture by Jason Harris

The Doctrine of Scripture by Jason HarrisToday’s book review post is special for two reasons. First, this marks the 150th book review I’ve posted here at Fundamentally Reformed. Second, this review includes the foreword I was privileged to write for this book.

The Doctrine of Scripture: As It Relates to the Transmission and Preservation of the Text by Jason Harris is published by InFocus Ministries in Australia. I’m excited to recommend this new book to my readers here in the United States as I believe this book can go a long way toward helping those confused or entangled by King James Onlyism.

My Foreward

Another book on the King James Only debate? Much ink has been spilled and many passions expended in what may be the ugliest intramural debate plaguing conservative, Bible-believing churches today. Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, Baptists and Presbyterians, Reformed and charismatic — all have been affected to a greater or lesser extent by those arguing for or against the King James or New King James Versions of the Bible. With each new book it seems the debate becomes more and more caustic, each group castigating the other in ever more forceful terminology.

Jason Harris enters the fray with the right blend of humility and tenacity, and turns the attention of all to the true center of the debate: the doctrine of Scripture. What makes this debate so passionate is that it centers on the very nature of Scripture. Rather than focus on technical facts and ancient manuscript copying practices, Harris takes us back to what Scripture says about itself: its inspiration, preservation and accessibility. In doing so, he demonstrates how those upholding the King James Bible and the Textus Receptus behind it, base their position not on sound exegesis of the Scripture, but on tenuous assumptions read into the text.

Harris’s pen is lucid and his grasp of the King James Only debate as a whole is masterful. He focuses his work on TR-only position which represents the very best of King James Only reasoning. He interacts with the exegesis of key TR-only proponents and marshals compelling evidence demonstrating their failure to measure up to Scripture’s own teaching about itself. And after explicating the doctrine of Scripture, Harris draws important conclusions which should protect the reader from making simplistic assumptions in a quest for textual certainty that goes beyond what Scripture teaches we should expect.

Harris wants us to be confident that we do have the inspired Scripture translated accurately in our English Bibles. He wants such confidence to be rooted to a Scriptural understanding of the Doctrine of Scripture rather than in the “supernatural-guidance” of a group of sixteenth-Century translators. Assuming that such a group of men made no mistakes is to expect something Scripture doesn’t teach, and ignore what it does. Harris is to be commended for such a clear, lucid defense of the historic doctrine of Scripture. I hope his book is received well and helps laymen and pastors everywhere to begin to rethink the basis for why they think as they do when it comes to the King James Only debate.

Bob Hayton
FundamentallyReformed.com
KJVOnlyDebate.com

[pp. 9-10]

Additional Thoughts

After re-reading this book and seeing the published version, I am more optimistic than ever about its promise to provide clarity to the King James Only debate. Jason Harris’s book has a few characteristics which together make it a unique contribution to this debate.

First, his book focuses on the alleged doctrine of the verbal, plenary accessibility of Scripture. This is where the root of the KJV and TR preference lies for many people. The argument is not so much based on texts and manuscripts as it is on what allegedly the Bible teaches – that the very words of Scripture (all of them down to the letters) would be generally accessible to believers down through the ages. Harris spends most of his time marshalling a Scriptural rebuttal to these claims and also demonstrates the difficulties such a position has when it comes to the history of the text as we know it.

Second, this volume carefully builds a theology of the transmission and preservation of Scripture. Such a careful, exegetically-based explication of the doctrine of Scripture has been lacking in this debate. And such a gap has often been used by KJV-only proponents to their advantage. It is KJV-only books which start with a Scriptural position and then look at the evidence, with the “anti-KJV” books starting with history and evidence and then moving to the Scriptural arguments. This book is different and starts where the debate starts for most of the sincere beleivers who get swept up into it — it starts on Scripture’s teaching about the very nature and preservation of Scripture.

Finally, Harris keeps a very irenic tone throughout. He is careful not to overstate his case and exaggerate the claims of his opponents. This is especially difficult to do when it comes to this heated debate, but Jason pulls this off well. Additionally, he backs up his book with the inclusion of a vast array of footnotes documenting the claims he is arguing against. I appreciate how he does not direct his argument toward the Riplingers and Ruckmans of this debate. He focuses on the TR-only position and the more careful wing of KJV-onlyism, men like David Cloud, D.A. Waite, Charles Surret, and the like. Harris has read widely in the KJV only literature, and his treatment avoids broadbrushing and generalizations that tend to give KJV-only propoents an easy out. It’s easy to dismiss a book as not being directed to their particular position, or to claim the author makes egregious errors and lumps their position in with that of heretical views. Harris’s book is not open to such charges. He directs his case against the very best arguments of KJV-onlyism.

Had I been exposed to such a book I would have been inoculated to the pull of the KJV-only persuasion. As it happened, I was swept up in a TR-only view that made it seem like we had the corner on truth and everyone else was compromising. By God’s grace I came to understand that Scripture does not support such a view of the transmission of the text.

Jason Harris is to be thanked for giving us a tool to recommend to those thinking through this issue from within, and to help the ones who are being pressured to join the KJV-only position. I highly recommend The Doctrine of Scripture and hope it makes its way into the hands of anyone struggling with this issue who will yet be open-minded enough to study out the issue from both sides.

You can pick up a copy of The Doctrine of Scripture at Amazon.com.

Disclaimer: This book was provided by the author. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.

~ cross posted from FundamentallyReformed.com, the author’s other blog.

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The Theological Illusions of King James Onlyism by Kevin Bauder (part 3)

One Bible Only? Examining Exclusive Claims for the King James Bible may just be the best book on the King James Only debate, period. The posts in this series are tracing the arguments of Kevin Bauder, in his conclusion to the book: “An Appeal to Scripture”. He explains several theological arguments that KJV Onlyists resort to, in an effort to continue propagating their belief against a mass of contrary evidence. Bauder shows that these arguments are really illusions that don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Part 1 set the stage, and part 2 dealt with “the appeal to faith”. Now in part 3, we come to “the appeal to reason”.

Bauder has in mind a specific argument that KJV Onlyists use in relation to preservation. They claim that “verbal inspiration… is useless unless it is followed by exactness in verbal preservation”. I have seen KJV Only materials which claim that verbal preservation (also known as perfect preservation), is a direct corollary of verbal inspiration. Bauder is quick to affirm verbal inspiration, but does not affirm perfect preservation. “While this argument from reason sounds plausible at first hearing,” he says, “it actually runs counter to God’s dealings in Scripture.” (pg. 158)

Bauder makes the case that this demand that perfect inspiration requires perfect preservation does not stand up to Scripture itself. First, he shows that not all of God’s spoken words were recorded in Scripture. Pre-flood instructions on sacrifices, the seven thunders of Revelation (Rev. 10:1-4), and Jesus’ words that aren’t recorded in Scripture (John 21:25) all are evidence that perfect words of God can be given and yet not preserved.

Bauder’s second line of argumentation here deals with the written words of Scripture comparing the actual record we have in Scripture with the KJV Onlyists requirement of perfect preservation. Bauder finds that the testimony of Scripture doesn’t support perfect preservation. His thoughts are worth repeating at length.

Even with regard to written words, it is demonstrably true that when someone’s spoken words were later recorded in Scripture, the “exact” words spoken were not necessarily the very words that were used in Scripture. For example, when the Gospel writers recorded words that Jesus had spoken during His lifetime, these authors, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, recorded the essence of Jesus’ words, not His exact words. This observation must be true because the recounting of Jesus’ words by the Gospel writers do not exactly agree (compare, for example, Matt. 13:1-13 with Mark 4:1-13 word for word). We affirm wholeheartedly that the Gospel writers were accurately employing the exact words that God wanted them to use to record Jesus’ speech under the perfect, supervisory ministry of the Holy Spirit. However, we also know that the Holy Spirit intended for these writers to record the essence of Jesus’ speech, not His exact words, for that is what they did. Also, remember that Jesus and His disciples frequently quoted the Old Testament (OT) in other than exact words. They sometimes quoted the Septuagint, the Masoretic text, a free rendition, or a combination thereof. In God’s method of propagating truth, it is apparent from the text of Scripture itself that He allowed some degree of latitude for the accurate and authoritative communication of that truth apart from the perfect preservation of all of the exact words in one particular place; and this latitude is observable even under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. (pt. 159, bold emphasis mine)

He then gave one final example from Scripture. “In one case,” he said, “the entire written revelation of God survived in a single manuscript that was hidden from public view (2 Kings 22:8; 2 Chron. 34:15).”

From this, Bauder makes the following conclusion about “the appeal to reason”:

…In all of the cases enumerated herein, God gave specific, verbal revelation, but He did not necessarily see fit to preserve all of the words and exactly the words in a publicly accessible form. The doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy (which are absolute truths) and the King James-Only proponents’ postulate of perfect preservation (which is dubious speculation) are certainly not inextricable corollaries.

All parties to this debate acknowledge that God has superintended the choice of the precise words that would be used to communicate His truth. To accept this fact, however, is not to concede that God is obligated to preserve every word through which His truth has been revealed. He might preserve some words and He might permit some to be lost, depending upon His own purpose. The appeal to reason is not a sufficient ground for the King James-Only argument.

What Bauder has done here is extremely important, in my view. He goes to Scripture itself to see how important the preservation of the specific wording of a text is. When one can see parallel accounts in the OT and NT which do not line up perfectly in word order and precise wording, and when one sees quotations of other texts which are not word perfect, why shouldn’t one conclude that a certain latitude is permissible here, that minor variations among translations of Scripture do not affect their authority?

Preservation: How and What? (part 3) by Aaron Blumer

A quick note letting everyone know that part 3 of Aaron Blumer’s series on Preservation: How and What? is up over at Sharper Iron.  He continues his look at what the Bible teaches about preservation, and he pays special attention to arguments from the book Thou Shalt Keep Them edited by Kent Brandenburg (Pillar and Ground Publishing).

Preservation: How and What? Part 2 by Aaron Blumer

Aaron Blumer at Sharper Iron has part 2 of his series on preservation up.  In this post he interacts specifically with Kent Brandenburg’s book Thou Shalt Keep Them (TSKT), and it’s assertions.  His post is well written and hones in on some major flaws in the reasoning of TSKT.   I provide an excerpt below, but be sure to read the whole post.

2. The fallibility of Israel and the churches

The writers of Thou Shalt Keep Them claim that God has used two key institutions to maintain word perfect copies of His word. Thomas Strouse summarizes their view as follows.

[T]he Biblical writers clearly delineated the means for the preservation of God’s OT and NT words in Scripture. That the Lord used His NT congregation, as He did His OT saints, to be the agency through which His Words were preserved, is irrefragible [sic]. (109)

Chapters 11-14 focus on making a biblical case for this view. But weighing the biblical evidence for the idea of perfect preservation through the community of true believers requires that we first recognize what the Bible teaches about the character of these institutions.

Scripture reveals that, when it comes to wickedness and weakness, what is true of individual believers is also true of the body of believers. The epistles were all written to address problems in local churches, and some of these problems were severe. Though the church is described as “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15), these words describe the responsibility given to the church, not the church’s inherent character (cf. Brandenberg, 117-121). Paul does not assert that the church will perform its role as pillar and ground perfectly.

In the Bible, only one local church receives an evaluation free of criticism for failures. Christ commends the church of Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7-13) on every point. However, even this church receives the solemn warning to “hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown” (3:11, KJV). Even this church was capable of slipping and failing to do its work properly.

The body of true believers in the Old Testament was certainly no better! That they were given the responsibility of keeping and declaring the words of God (Brandenberg, 100) is not in dispute. But they were given many other responsibilities as well, and ultimately failed to execute any of them perfectly.

Prior to the reign of Josiah, idolatrous kings even managed to lose a vitally important copy of “the book of the law” for years, until Hilkiah accidentally rediscovered it (2 Kings 22:8). Opinions vary regarding whether this “book” was Deuteronomy or the entire Pentateuch, or whether any other copies of “the Law” were then available. Josiah’s reaction (22:10-13) suggests this “book” was, at best, one of very few surviving copies at the time. Some might object that these Israelite kings do not represent the true people of God during this time. However, if the leadership in Judah was not the chosen agency for preservation during that era, who could have been? It was certainly not the consistently idolatrous kings of the northern tribes.

In both the OT and the NT, the community of faithful believers is revealed to be one prone to error, and our doctrines of inspiration and preservation must take this clear biblical truth into account.