His Word Will not Return Void — When Copies Differ (1)

“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.

As I’ve been writing on thoughts from / related to this fourth sermon on the preservation of the Scriptures, “God’s work in ensuring that the Book that He gave us came down to us,” we’ve covered both indirect and direct teaching of this doctrine in the Scripture.  In the most recent post I looked at some of the ways that we see this preservation taking place as we look at the Scriptural record.

Near the end of that post, I asked this question:  “if the most common means of preservation is copying, and God didn’t guarantee the accuracy of any particular copy, how has preservation worked so that the bad copies haven’t supplanted the good ones?”  This is an especially important question because the Scriptures were written long before the printing press was invented, and so for many centuries copies were made by hand — and there were differences between copies.  In this post, I’d like to look at one way, at least, that the Scriptures tell us of the Lord’s working.

Bibliology Meets Pneumatology and Soteriology 

“Behave yourself, Jon, and talk in English.” 🙂 OK, I’ll explain.  Theologians sometimes use big words to describe simple concepts.  We’ll start with the Greek word “logos”, which is part of all these words and means (in this context) “knowledge” or “teaching”.  Bibliology is knowledge of the Bible.  “Pneuma” is the Greek word for “Spirit”, so pneumatology is knowledge (or doctrine) of the Holy Spirit — who He is and what He does.  “Soter” is “salvation”, so soteriology is the doctrine of salvation, how we are saved and what happens when we are saved.  Give yourself a gold star to stick on your computer if you remember those words next week.

So, when I say “Bibliology meets Pneumatology and Soteriology,” what I really mean is that there is a connection between these three areas of Biblical teaching (the nature of the Bible, the nature of our salvation, and the work of the Holy Spirit), and specifically (in this post) regarding Scripture preservation.

Indwelling of the Spirit

Romans 8:9

But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

Here, pneumatology (doctrine of the Spirit) and soteriology (doctrine of salvation) meet.  When you are saved, the Holy Spirit dwells inside you.  If the Holy Spirit isn’t there, you aren’t Christ’s and He isn’t yours.  It would be hard to come up with wording that would make this much clearer than what Paul used.  There is no such thing as a true Christian who belongs to Christ who doesn’t have the Holy Spirit, or to say it differently, every saved person has the Spirit.

It’s not my purpose in this post to try to define the indwelling of the Spirit, or address how it does or doesn’t relate to the baptism of the Spirit or the filling of the Spirit.  For this discussion, it is only necessary to see that the Spirit is present and active in every person who has truly trusted Christ for salvation.

The Testifying Spirit and Salvation

Romans 8:15-16

15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:

Six verses after talking about the indwelling Spirit, Paul is still elaborating.  Sometimes, our salvation is called a new birth, but here he uses adoption to illustrate different spiritual truths about our salvation.  Paul says that the Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of adoption” who enables us to truly call God our Father.  The Spirit also bears witness with us internally that we are God’s children.

Very Important Side Note:  If you are doubting if you are God’s child, then this ministry of the Spirit isn’t functioning in you.  I only know of three possible reasons for this.  The first would be that you really aren’t His child — you might be religious, but you are a fraud, you’ve never really trusted Christ, never been born again.  The second possible reason would be that by disobedience you have so grieved the Spirit that this ministry is hampered by your sin.  The third is that the Spirit is witnessing to you, but you are doubting God’s all-sufficient love so greatly that you aren’t listening to Him telling you that you are His beloved child.  These are all very, very serious, whichever might apply to you, and need to be resolved with great urgency.

For this particular discussion, I want to note the internal spiritual communication between the believer and the Holy Spirit of God.  This is not talking about a physical communication heard with the ears, but a spiritual communication in which the testimony of the Holy Spirit confirms the testimony of the Scriptures.  God’s Word is validated in the mind and heart of the believer by the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit, so that we spiritually know it is true.

This work of the Spirit, as with many works of the Spirit, is somewhat “below the radar screen.”  It isn’t audible or visible.  In fact, I don’t see any evidence that we are even really conscious of it as the Spirit’s work — it is Spirit to spirit communication.  How do you as a believer in Christ really know that God’s Word is true when it tells of your salvation?  You just do.  John 3 describes the work of the Spirit in our salvation as somewhat unknown.  We don’t know how it works, or where it came from, it just happens.  If we weren’t talking about spiritual things, we would say it is “instinctive”, but it isn’t instinct, it is spirit — the work of the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit.

The Broader Testifying Ministry of the Spirit

Have you ever heard someone preaching or teaching the Bible, or read something about the Bible, and you just absolutely know that what they are saying is true to God’s Word?  It may be something you’ve never heard before.  You may know you need to study to confirm what they’ve said — but you already know.  It rings absolutely true, it fits with everything you know of God and His Word, and you’ll study to check it out, but you know.  And when you do that necessary study you find that, yes indeed, what was said was true.

That is a work of the Holy Spirit.  Again, it is “under the radar.”  You may not even think about the Holy Spirit at the time because He doesn’t draw attention to Himself, but to Christ (note John 15:26 and 16:13-14).  But part of His work in the life of a believer is to testify to Biblical truth when it is heard, so that we recognise it as the very truth of God.

Isaiah 59:20-21

20 And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the LORD.
21 As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever.

God promised that with the coming of the Redeemer, He would put his Spirit on His people, and His words would be in their mouth.  By the work of the Spirit, His people would recognise and speak His words.

John 7:16-17

16 Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.
17 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.

John 10:27

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:

Jesus does not mention the Holy Spirit in these verses, but He does say that there will be a spiritual knowledge that His people will have that will enable them to recognise the truth.  They will know His doctrine is of God, and they will recognise His voice.

John 14:26

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

John 16:13

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.

In these verses, Jesus explains how His people will know the truth — it is the work of God’s Holy Spirit in their hearts.  This work involved testifying to the hearts of His people that His words are true:

John 17:8

For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.

Although Jesus was speaking of and to His disciples, this ministry extends to all believers:

I Corinthians 2:12-13

12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

Paul here is not just speaking of himself, but of his readers, for in verse 5 he said that their faith stands in the power of God.  They have received the Spirit, and through the Spirit they know God’s truth.  John also wrote of this work of the Spirit in testifying to the truths of God’s Word, calling it an “anointing”, and applied it specifically to his readers:

I John 2:20-21, 27 

20 But ye have an unction (anointing) from the Holy One, and ye know all things.
21 I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.

27 But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.

God’s People Recognise God’s Word

The Holy Spirit bears witness in the hearts of God’s people to the truth of His Word.  His sheep know His voice.  When soteriology (the Bible’s teaching about our salvation) meets pneumatology (the Bible’s teaching about the work of the Spirit), we learn that all of God’s people are taught by the Holy Spirit to recognise His truth as revealed in His Word.

When these two areas of truth meet Bibliology (what the Scriptures teach about the nature of the Bible, and specifically in regard to preservation), we see one way God has worked to preserve His Word even when copies differ.  The Holy Spirit testifies in the hearts of His people to the truth of His Word — so God’s people should recognise which copy is accurate, and reject the one that is in error.

Thus, the Holy Spirit has been active, down through the centuries, in attesting the truth of Scripture to the heart of God’s people.  Just as a teacher who deviates from truth doesn’t “ring true” to us, so also a copy which deviates from the words God gave won’t “ring true”.  Why?  The Spirit is not confirming the Word in our hearts, because it isn’t the truth of the Word that is being taught by the erring teacher or recorded on the inaccurate copy.  When faced with discrepancies between copies, the Holy Spirit has attested to the truth of Scripture, and believers have said, “This one, not that one.”

But God’s People Get Things Wrong Sometimes!

Yes, we certainly do get things wrong sometimes!  We are sinful people who aren’t consistently in tune with the Holy Spirit, and so we get things wrong.  This “attesting” work of the Spirit is “under the radar,” remember.  If we’re not walking in truth, renewing our minds by reading the Word, obeying and trusting, we aren’t going to hear His voice very well when we do get around to opening our Bibles.  This work of the Spirit is not generally done by hitting us over the head to get our attention, or putting the message up in bright lights, or shouting loudly in our ear.  So we can get it all wrong if we aren’t listening, tuned in to His wavelength.

Fortunately, God’s preservation of His Word isn’t entirely dependent on how well individual believers listen to the attesting work of the Holy Spirit.  Lord willing, I’ll have more to say about the problem of out-of-tune believers in my next post in this series.

Next in series: When Copies Differ (2)
Main article: His Word Will not Return Void — Summary

About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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