His Word Will not Return Void — Preservation Implied

“That Book in Your Hand”

The first sermon in this series on the nature of the Bible was on the inspiration of the Scriptures, their divine nature, from II Timothy 3:16 (summarised discussion with links here). The second was on how the Spirit moved in giving us the Scriptures, from II Peter 1:19-21 (summarised discussion with links here).  The third dealt with the “inerrancy”, the complete reliability of God’s Word (here).

Now we turn to God’s work in ensuring that the Book that He gave us actually came to us — the preservation of the Scriptures.  In this post, I’ll talk about the fact that the Bible implies that the Scriptures will be preserved (kept complete) for all generations.  In the next, Lord willing, we’ll look at a few verses where preservation is directly taught.

God’s Plan for his Word

For what purposes did God give His Word?

1. To Save Us

I Peter 1:23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.

Romans 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Romans 16:25-26 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,
But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:

God’s purpose in giving His Word was that the life-giving Word by which faith comes might bring salvation to all nations.

2. To Work in Believers

I Thessalonians 2:13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.

1Pe 2:2 As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:

God gave us His Word that all who believe in Him might grow, that it might work effectively in us.

3. To Reveal His Sovereign Purposes

Isa 44:26 That confirmeth the word of his servant, and performeth the counsel of his messengers; that saith to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be inhabited; and to the cities of Judah, Ye shall be built, and I will raise up the decayed places thereof:
27 That saith to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers:
28 That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.

Isaiah 45:23 I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.

Isa 46:10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:

These three passages from Isaiah are representative of many statements in Scripture.  In the first, God tells something of His sovereign plan that He wants to be known 150 years later (the role of the Persian Emperor, Cyrus, who was obviously not yet even born).  In the second, He reveals something of the eventual destiny of mankind.  In the third, He makes it clear — He wants to make His counsel known long before He acts, that His greatness may be known.

Thus, we see at least three purposes God declared for giving His Word that go far beyond the immediate time and place in which He gave it.

His Word Will not Return Void

Isaiah 55:8-11

8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:
11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

1. God’s Purpose is the Guarantor of the Preservation of Scripture.  In this passage, God says that His Word is going to accomplish all that He sent it to do.  Since His Word was sent by Him to save and to sanctify all believers of all times and nations, and to declare His purposes, it must be preserved to accomplish those purposes.

2. God’s Unchanging Nature is the Guarantor of the Preservation of Scripture.  In this passage, God tells us that He is higher than us, and does not change.  As certainly as He sends the seasons so that crops may grow for man’s benefit, so also He will preserve His Word for man’s benefit.  If, as we have seen, He has guided in the choice of each word for our benefit, those individual words will not return unto Him void — they will accomplish His purpose.  He does not change, and He will make sure that our record of His Word does not change, but rather that we will have it so it can accomplish His purpose in our lives.

3. God’s Power is the Guarantor of the Preservation of Scripture.  This is implied in this passage, rather than explicitly stated.  The primary emphasis is on God’s unchanging nature — but the whole passage is a statement to His power, and the certainty that God will not be thwarted.  He sent His Word out into the hands of His people to accomplish a task, and He will see that the task is done.  An almighty God who sends out His Word to do His will is not going to let it be destroyed by human enmity or neglect.

If God’s purpose for His Word goes far beyond the time and place of His giving of it, He will certainly preserve it so that it will carry out His purpose.  When He says that His Word will accomplish all its purpose, and we know (from our previous study on the moving of the Spirit in giving the Scriptures) that every word in the Bible matters, then that necessarily implies that God is going to preserve every word intact, so that every word can accomplish the purpose for which He gave it.

“It Is Written”

Matthew 4:4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

Matthew 21:13 And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.

Acts 1:20 For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take.

Romans 1:17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.

These Scripture passages are just a small representative sample showing a statement which is made over and over in the New Testament.  In the first, the Lord Jesus uses the statement, “It is written,” to cite the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures in answering Satan.  In the second, He uses it in answering religious leaders who objected when He cleansed the temple.  Peter used “it is written” when preaching on the Day of Pentecost, and Paul used it in his writings.  The New Testament authors used it repeatedly.

“It is written” was used very similarly to the way we say, “The Bible says….”  It was intended to cite the unquestioned authority of the Scriptures.  Jesus used it that way, and so did the apostles.  The use of “It is written” implies the complete preservation of the Scriptures.

1. The Authority of the Statement Implies Preservation.  Anyone who reads the “It is written” passages in the New Testament can see that this is considered to be an appeal to absolute authority and truth.  There is no hint of any concern in these statements about whether they have the true Scriptures as given by God.

Everyone knows that man makes mistakes, and that copies made by hand may not be perfect.  Christ cited Deuteronomy, some 1400 years after Moses wrote it.  Any copy of Deuteronomy existing in the day of Christ was at least ten generations of copies removed from the original, probably more so.  If the keeping of God’s Word was simply a matter of human effort and care, there could be no confidence that the words being cited were God’s words.  Yet, Christ and the apostles quoted the Old Testament with a certainty and authority that could come from only one source — a firm confidence that the preservation of the Scriptures was not merely a human endeavour, but one in which the Almighty was taking an active hand.

To use “It is written” as a statement of authority is to state one’s certain belief that the words cited are the words originally given.  We do the same when we say, “The Bible says.”  We wouldn’t say that if we didn’t believe that those words really are God’s words, and that He has not allowed man to interfere with them and get them wrong.

2. The Grammar of the Statement Implies Preservation.  “It is written” is a very clear translation of the Greek perfect tense.  The perfect tense indicates an action which was completed in the past with continuing effect.  In our translation, the use of “written” reflects the completed (past) action, and the use of “is” reflects the current continuing effect.

The grammar here is suggestive of the preservation of Scripture.  When it was written, it was written to have continuing effect.  Once written, it remains written — it still is written.  The grammar implies that the Scriptures are preserved, that the Word of God which was written is still written today.

Some may discount this by saying that this is simply the term the Jews used to describe the Scripture.  I would counter by saying that the Jews used that particular term because God’s people have always believed in His work in preserving His Word.  They adopted a term which they believed reflected doctrinal truth, and Christ and the apostles endorsed that term by extensive use.

Furthermore, if God is sovereign, then as I have mentioned previously, we can assume that He was active in the development of language and cultural conventions such that the use of “it is written” was no accident.  That is the term Christ intended to use before the world began and the term that God intended the apostles to use in writing the Scriptures.  We don’t discount it just because the Jews used it, too.  Rather, we see God as having influenced the Jews before Jesus even came so that when Jesus and the apostles used the term, those to whom they were speaking would recognise its authority.

Implied by Inspiration

II Timothy 3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God.

As I discussed previously in some detail, the term “inspiration” from II Timothy 3:16 refers to the divine nature of the Scriptures.  They were breathed into existence by God and He breathed life into them.  They are living, life-giving, and life changing.

God placed, in a sense, some of His divine nature in the Scriptures.  The apostles and other Biblical writers didn’t draw much distinction between God and His Word at all.  The Bible is not God, but being what He has said and the way we know Him, it is inextricably bound up with Him.

Because the Word of God is living, continuing, divine, this strongly implies the preservation of the Scriptures.  Mankind may reject the words of God, but they cannot change them.  He has put in place a living revelation of Himself, and He will continue to maintain it.

Concluding Thought

In recent years, as controversy has arisen over the best text and manuscripts of the New Testament, the doctrine of preservation of Scripture has been the focus of much discussion and some controversy.  Often these discussions focus on those verses which specifically teach the doctrine — verses that I’ve deferred discussing in this post.

I’ve deferred them for a reason.  I believe the things I’ve cited in this post give a very strong basis for a doctrine of complete preservation of the Scriptures even if there were no direct teaching of the doctrine in the Bible at all.  In my next post in this series, Lord willing, I’ll address the direct teaching on the topic.

Update:  When I posted this, apparently WordPress automatically added a link to the Wikipedia page on “Jesus Christ”.  I apologise for that and have removed the link.  I have a better place than Wikipedia for information on our Lord. 🙂

Update again:
Next in series: Direct Teaching on Preservation.
Main article: His Word Will not Return Void — Summary

About Jon Gleason

Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
This entry was posted in Bibliology and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to His Word Will not Return Void — Preservation Implied

  1. Brother Jon,

    I’ve enjoyed your whole series and I’m planning on linking to it over at my blog because of it’s helpfulness, especially on the inspiration issue. I hope people will take the exposition into consideration. In this particular post, you are doing what many are afraid to do on this subject—start with Scripture on this doctrine, rather than start with “history.”

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hi, Kent, thanks for reading and thanks for the comment. The Scriptures are pretty clear on preservation, aren’t they? Any difficulty is in applying the doctrine precisely to some questions we see today — but the doctrine itself is obvious if we let the Scriptures define it.

      The principle you stated applies to any doctrine. Start with Scripture. Don’t let anything else drive your theology. Exegesis (Bible interpretation, for readers unfamiliar with the term) first. Theology drives exegesis, not the other way around. Finally, make application of theology to the things we observe around us and the questions we face. Clear theology makes application straightforward in all but the hardest questions.

      I haven’t written a book on preservation :), but I’ve got several more posts on the topic. I still also have a thing or ten to say about Bibliology when I’ve finished with preservation, too.

      I’m glad you’ve found value in the posts on inspiration. I’ve heard from others who felt the same. It’s difficult for some pastors and theologians because it’s a paradigm shift — they’ve been taught and been thinking one way for years, and suddenly someone challenges it, even though it was Warfield who changed terms, not me. In general, most believers know they have an inspired Bible, and only need reassurance of what they’ve been taught by the Spirit through the Word. Hopefully my study provides some of that. Even though writing for the layman, I dealt with some technical issues because I think they need confidence that thorough study supports sound doctrine, rather than the contrary.

  2. Linda says:

    In looking for an answer to ongoing ,unfinished or unsolved instances of daughters, granddaughter,hurting people ,responsibilites ,and keeping a friendship….these seem like struggles. I thought of the scripture the LORD’S word does not return to him void. So,my thoughts, which in hope of prayer( connecting to the Lord Jesus our intercessor to the FATHER), led me to ask the question and put in prayer form , things in my life I have been asking help with. I will walk away from, to see the work or not… then feel like I’m procrastinating , these become desires of my heart, to clear up for whatever reasons…. whether insecure in doing my part, God knows! I know God has a clean heart and his desires are that we live in health and prosper, what more could anyone ask for! The trials and tribulations of our life are just that ….life….! Our heart when it is in the right place can come in and sup with Our Lord and Savior. I know that when a little seems to get done,God knows how much we can take (could it be that !!!), for HE is a teacher to those who seek him and I have been a slow learner at times. I’M GOING WITH THE THOUGHT THAT IF WE ASK AND BELIEVE AND THANK IN ADVANCE, EXPECTING GOOD TO COME, THROUGH WHATEVER MEANS OF TRIBULATION IT MIGHT TAKE. Maybe,JUST THE SINCERE TRUST TO ACCOMPLISH WITH A BETTER UNDERSTANDING FOR THE NEXT INCIDENT. THIS phrase (“HIS WORD DOES NOT RETURN TO HIM VOID” THEN THE PRAYER THAT IS HEARD AND THE WORD THAT IS IN THE WORK OF THE LORD….WILL NOT COME BACK TO HIM VOID IF THE WILL’S MATCH. FOR THE GLORY OF GOD AND GRACE IS SUFFICIENT FOR THOSE WHO TRUST AND BELIEVE IN HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hello, Linda. I have to admit I’m not sure whether you were asking a question here or not.

      The important thing to remember is that God has guaranteed that His Word is going to accomplish everything He intended it to do. That’s a general principle. The point I was making in this post is that, because of that principle, we can be sure He isn’t going to let part of it be lost, because then it wouldn’t accomplish His purpose for it.

      I don’t think it is really talking about our prayer or our response, but rather about what God is using His Word to do.

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