“That Book in Your Hand”
Previous sermons on the nature of the Bible: 1) The inspiration of the Scriptures, their divine nature, from II Timothy 3:16. 2) The moving of the Spirit in giving us the Scriptures, from II Peter 1:19-21. 3) The inerrancy (complete reliability) of God’s Word.
Now, we are looking at thoughts from / related to my fourth sermon in the series, the preservation of the Scriptures. I would roughly define preservation as “God’s work in ensuring that the Book that He gave us came down to us.” This is my second post on the topic. In the first, we looked at the fact that preservation is strongly implied in the Scripture even if it had never been directly taught. In this post, we’ll look at some of the direct teaching of Scripture on this doctrine.
Old Testament Preservation
1. Scope. In the New Testament, when we see the term “law”, it may refer to the first five books of the Old Testament, written by Moses, or it may have reference to the entire Old Testament (Jesus referred to the Psalms as “law” in John 10). Often, the term “the law and the prophets” was used to refer to the entire Old Testament, and that is in view in Luke 16:16-17:
16 The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.
17 And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.
While verse seventeen could be read as simply a statement about the law of Moses, in the context of verse sixteen it probably includes the entire Old Testament. Note also Matthew 5:17-18:
17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
Again, the wording is specifically “the law” but the prior verse mentions law and prophets. We certainly see a direct promise here that God is preserving and will continue to preserve the Old Testament Law, and it seems unreasonable, in the context, to view that as anything other than a promise to also preserve the rest of the Old Testament.
2. Extent. In these passages, we see that every “jot” and every “tittle” will be preserved. The “jot” is the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet. The “tittle” is a small stroke as part of a letter, which may be all that distinguishes one letter from another. In my early handwriting class, I was taught that a “g” and a “q” were to be made identically, except that when you reached the bottom of the downward stroke, with a “q” you would make a small sharp stroke to the right, while with a “g” you would curve to the left. A “tittle” is (roughly) the Hebrew equivalent to that difference between a “g” and a “q”.
Jesus is not talking about handwriting when He makes these statements, but about how completely God is going to preserve His Word. Because we know that every word is given by God to be exactly what He wanted it to be, we would expect that if He is going to preserve His Word, He would indeed preserve every word. Jesus is teaching that God’s Word will be preserved not just in every word, but to the letter, and there won’t be confusion about the letters because a tittle got lost, either.
3. Duration. Our Lord said in these passages that the Old Testament would not pass away until all is fulfilled. If we understand this narrowly as referring to only the Law, the first five books of Moses, some might say that it was all fulfilled when Christ died on the cross, and thus the promise of preservation no longer stands.
It is obvious that the prophets have not yet been fulfilled in entirety. Anyone who looks at the last half of Isaiah can see that. But the same is true of the Law. There are references in the first five books of the Old Testament to things that will only be fulfilled when Christ returns. We are told in Revelation 15 that the time will come when the song of Moses will be sung in heaven. The Feast of Tabernacles is a remembrance of Israel’s journeys in the wilderness, but also symbolically looks forward to the Second Coming of Christ. The story of the Law is not “finished”, so we can safely conclude that the Old Testament is still being preserved by the mighty hand of God.
Preservation of Jesus’ Words
Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
Jesus stated clearly that His words would not pass away even when heaven and earth are no more. This really needs no discussion. Even when the new heaven and new earth come into being, His words shall stand. Would we expect anything different of the words of the Son of God?
All of God’s Word is Preserved
7 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.
8 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.
I Peter 1:23-25
23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.
24 For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away:
25 But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.
Isaiah states that God’s Word will endure forever. This is in contrast to man, whose life is compared to the flowers of the grass, which die every day. Our time on this earth is very short, but God’s Word stands forever. This is a general, all-encompassing statement about God’s Word, and takes us beyond the specifics of the Old Testament and the words of Christ to include all of Scripture. Very broad in scope and infinite in duration (forever), Isaiah’s statement gives little specific as to the extent. It is a general statement.
Peter cites Isaiah directly, and adds some important details. This preserved Word of God which Isaiah mentioned is the agent by which we are born again, the living and abiding Word of God. It is the Word which “is preached unto you.” Peter brings Isaiah’s statement into a very practical focus.
The enduring, living Word is the Word that Peter’s readers held in their hands. God’s preservation of His Word is not an abstract theoretical matter, nor merely a statement about God’s unchanging nature, but it is also very clearly a practical doctrine referring to “That Book in Your Hand.” It would be silly to separate verse 23 and the last part of verse 25, which speaks to their Book-in-hand, from the first part of verse 25, which tells of its enduring nature. We have God’s Word for the same reason Peter’s readers had it — because it is enduring, preserved forever by its Author.
Preserved to All Generations
89 For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven.
90 Thy faithfulness is unto all generations: thou hast established the earth, and it abideth.
We need to see these two verses in context to understand their relation to each other. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, extending 176 verses. Almost every single verse in the chapter mentions the Scriptures in one way or another, using words like “law”, “commandments”, etc. The entire theme, pervading every verse, is the value of the Scriptures. Although verse 90 is one of those very rare verses in the chapter that doesn’t mention the Scriptures by name, it comes in a context which demands that we have the Scriptures in view when we read it.
These two verses are obviously closely linked, dealing with God’s eternal faithfulness. As verse 89 tells us that God’s Word is settled or established forever in heaven, so verse 90 tells us that His faithfulness is to all generations. Verse 89 tells us that the guarantee of God’s faithfulness is in heaven, while verse 90 tells us that it extends to the earth, to all generations. Because God’s faithfulness is made known to us by His Word, and it is through His Word that all generations are brought to faith, it is clear both by the broader context of the Psalm and by the relation with verse 89 that verse 90 has an implicit reference to the Scriptures as part of the faithfulness of our God.
Thus, we can safely draw two conclusions from these two verses:
- The preservation of God’s Word in heaven is the guarantor of His preservation of His Word on earth, so that His faithfulness can extend to all generations.
- The preservation of God’s Word in heaven is eternal, and the preservation of His Word on earth will last as long as some of the “all generations” are living on the earth — in other words, while the earth lasts.
These are some of (though not all) of the most important Bible passages on the preservation of the Scriptures. In my next post in this series, I hope to look at some of the Scripture passages where we see preservation in action.