Dr. James D. Price on Providential Preservation

dr-priceIt is a privilege to be able to post, with his permission, an essay on the topic of the preservation of scripture by Dr. James D. Price. I’ve been helped by some of his articles on the Internet and most recently by his book, King James Onlyism: A New Sect. The 600+ page book serves as a tremendous resource for the issue at hand. It is a textbook I consult often from a trustworthy source.

James D. Price was Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at Temple Baptist Seminary in Chattanooga, Tennessee, from 1972 to 2005, and Academic Dean from 2000 to 2005. He has a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from Purdue University, with 25 years experience in that profession, serving as a senior research engineer for Franklin Institute Research Laboratories in Philadelphia before moving to Temple Baptist Seminary. He has an M.Div. from Northwest Baptist Theological Seminary in Tacoma, Washington and a Ph.D. in Hebrew and Biblical Literature from Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Languages in Philadelphia. He has traveled on teaching missions to Germany and the Ukraine. He had been involved in various lay-ministries for over 60 years. He is a member of several professional organizations and the author of numerous journal articles.

He was the Old Testament Executive Editor and Chairman of the Executive Review Committee of the New King James Version of the Bible and a translator and section editor for the Holman Christian Standard Bible. He is the author of several books including God’s Wisdom for Daily Living, Complete Equivalence in Bible Translation, The Syntax of Masoretic Accents in the Hebrew Bible, and A Concordance of the Accents in the Hebrew Bible.

My generation is often accussed of carelessness when it comes to tweaking our doctrine. When we leave one theological position for another, we are treated as if we have not consulted our God in prayer, consulted His Word, or consulted sources of input equally credible to those we are forsaking. Though I’m sure there are many exceptions, this is not the case for me and my peers. In particular, I have spent much time in prayer, Bible study, and deep meditation going over the issue of King James Onlyism. Because of the emotion tied to the position, it is not an easy thing to leave behind. For those who read my blog and disagree with me, I ask you to at least give me the benefit of the doubt. You may believe I am sincerely wrong, but at least agree that I’m sincere.

As I analyze things said by men such as D.A. Waite, I get asked, “so you think you know more than Dr. Waite?” No. Basically, I’m just an observer. I observe the ongoing debate between men much more capable than I. Dr. Price is one of those men. I don’t cling to him as an end-all. But he is certainly one that has given at least as much time to this issue as men on the KJVO side. And his arguments resonate with me more than the others. Here is his article:

Providential Preservation of Scripture

            The doctrine of divine inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture naturally expects that the original words written by the inspired prophets and apostles would be providentially preserved and made available to all of God’s people everywhere the Gospel spreads throughout history. Without providential preservation the doctrine of inspiration is of little practical value because it would lack a reliable foundation for authority. While Scripture does not explicitly articulate the doctrine of providential preservation, the doctrine may be undoubtedly inferred from a variety of Biblical statements. [1] Given these facts, it is possible for people to believe in providential preservation of the Biblical text, but differ over the manner in which they believe the text was preserved.

            One may speculate about how the Biblical text could or should have been preserved, but a better approach is to examine what has actually been preserved—the surviving Bibles of antiquity. Unless one favors selective providence, every ancient Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament that has survived has done so because of providence. Every ancient Bible was the property of some church or private individual. Each Bible was regarded as the divinely inspired word of God by its owner and was used as authority for doctrine and practice.[2] Apart from a few scholars in antiquity, owners of those ancient Bibles were unaware of the minor variations between their Bible and that of others; just as most modern owners of King James Bibles are unaware of the hundreds of textual differences between the various editions of the KJV. This manner of preservation was true everywhere throughout history. Otherwise one must embrace selective, special providence in order to justify a theory of preservation that says only certain ancient Bibles enjoyed special providential preservation and the others survived under subversive influence outside the purview of providence. But where in God’s universe is providence not operative?

            Since no one claims that any surviving ancient Bible (manuscript) is a flawless copy of the original text, then the original text must reside, not in any particular Bible, but in the consensus of the all the surviving ancient Bibles. Since all the surviving ancient Bibles have been preserved by divine providence, then all should contribute to the consensus. However, since also all are genealogical descendants of the original autograph, and thus enjoy genealogical relationships, their consensus should be determined genealogically rather than by mere numerical preponderance. Following the principle of numerical preponderance rather that genealogical descent, one could conclude that Adam and Eve must have been Chinese, because the Chinese now out number all other racial groups. Obviously mere numbers do not determine genealogical descent. Numerical preponderance fails in many places of variation in the Bible where the witnesses divide into two and sometimes three equal groups. In such places some other principle must function in order to determine consensus, such as genealogy or internal evidence. But if one of these alternate principles can determine consensus in the difficult places where numerical preponderance fails, then it surely is more reliable in the less difficult places. Consequently, I conclude that the autographic text of the Bible has been providentially preserved in the genealogical consensus of the surviving ancient Bibles. Genealogical consensus is essentially the method behind the current editions of the Nestle-Aland and United Bible Society’s Greek New Testament. When better methods for determining genealogical consensus become available they should be welcomed.

            One may object that the editors of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament hold to questionable theology and have made some questionable decisions about what readings they regard as original. That is true, but their theological views are known and none of the editors has tried to legislate me and fellow believers to prison or death for not agreeing with them. They have clearly articulated and published the textual principles they follow in their decision making process. They have identified and published the places in the New Testament text where variations occur, and have listed the variants at each place together with the ancient witnesses supporting each variant—Greek Bibles (manuscripts), translations, and quotations of Church Fathers. How much more honest and aboveboard can one be? Even though I may not agree with some of their textual decisions, at least I have the preserved evidence at hand that enables me to know why I should disagree. When I hold their Greek New Testament in my hand I know that I have a book containing the words penned by the apostles, either in the main body of the printed text itself, or as one of the variants listed in the textual notes at the bottom of the page. I have the privilege of examining the preserved evidence and judging for myself which readings are original. I may not be able to judge with certainty in every case, but at least I know that at every place of variation one of the variants I hold in my hand was penned by the apostle.

            What are the alternatives? One may speculate that special divine providence was operative when Erasmus’ first edition of the Greek New Testament came off the printing press, thus establishing a providential precedent. But was not providence also operative when the second and third and fourth corrected editions came off the press? Yes! Was the text in those early printed editions based on the consensus of all the existing ancient Bibles? No! They were based on the consensus of a small handful of manuscripts that happened to be on hand at the time. Succeeding editions were corrected as additional manuscript evidence became available. That practice has continued to the present time, except in circles that now think they have a fixed providentially approved text. In my opinion, this is a wrong conclusion. Providentially preserved ancient Bibles continue to be discovered and become available to contribute to the consensus. And that process should not stop because of prejudice.

            One may speculate that special providence authenticated the text of the Reformation. This text is sometimes called the Textus Receptus or the “received” text. But the British and European reformers did not agree on which printed edition of the Greek New Testament was the “received” text. Those in England accepted Robert Stephanus’ third edition of 1550 as the “received” text, and those on the mainland accepted Elzevir’s edition of 1633 as their “received” text even though the texts differ in at least 287 places. Likewise, the translations they made did not consistently follow their “received” edition of the Greek New Testament, but were eclectic, picking and choosing from several differing editions. So there was no consistent textual consensus among the reformers. And no one can hold in their hand a printed edition of the Greek New Testament claiming that it is the flawless authority behind the various translations the reformers made.

            One may speculate that special providence authenticated the Greek text underlying the King James Bible, that is, the Greek words chosen by the textual decisions of the King James translators. However, just as in the case of the textual editors of the Nestle-Aland New Testament, the King James translators held some theological views I regard as questionable. But unlike the textual editors of the Nestle-Aland New Testament, some of the King James translators attempted to legislate me out of existence.[3] Because, if it were not that my dissenting British ancestors fled (by the providence of God) for their lives, I would not be here to write on providential preservation.

The King James translators did not fully follow their “received” edition of the Greek New Testament, but picked and chose from several editions, including the Latin Vulgate and the Greek Septuagint, as though none of the existing editions was totally reliable. Yet they left no printed edition containing the words of their textual decisions.[4] They did not articulate and publish the textual principles they followed, nor the reasons for their textual choices. They seldom recorded the places in the text where variations occur, and never recorded the manuscript evidence supporting their decisions.[5] Yet it is known that they occasionally included readings found in only a small number of manuscripts;[6] and they sometimes omitted readings found in most of the manuscripts.[7] It is also known that some of their textual decisions were motivated by theological and political pressure to support Anglican ecclesiology and the divine rights of kings. All of this leaves me reluctant to trust the text underlying their translation because they left little textual documentation, giving the impression that their undocumented decisions were totally certain. I have no way of checking their decisions without consulting the textual evidence supplied by the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament.

            Now, having said all this, I do not regard textual variations to be of any serious theological significance. Biblical hermeneutics, the principles for interpreting Scripture, understand that Biblical doctrines are expressed redundantly in a variety of ways. No doctrine is established by one isolated verse, but by the consensus of multiple passages in various contexts. No passage with textual uncertainty is ever granted the authority to settle a doctrinal issue. Consequently, textual variations cannot and do not affect doctrine and should not be of serious concern except to textual specialists who deal with these issues. The manner in which the Biblical text was providentially preserved should not be a test of orthodoxy or for ecclesiastical fellowship. Those who do so render a disservice to themselves and those who trust and follow them.

James D. Price
April, 2009


 

[1] For example Matt. 5:10; Luke 16:17; 21:33. Some have supposed that Psalm 12:6-7 asserts the doctrine of preservation. However in the Hebrew text, the grammar determines that the antecedent of the pronoun “them” must be the poor and needy of verse 5, not the words of the Lord in verse 6.

 

[2] Surviving ancient Bibles (manuscripts) do not deny or contradict Biblical doctrines. But in places where variations occur some manuscripts may express a doctrine in stronger or weaker terms than others do. Ancient manuscripts are not doctrinally corrupt; in a textual context, the term corrupt refers to the presence of non-original readings. All manuscripts contain non-original readings to some degree and thus are textually corrupt, some more than others.

 

[3] For example, Thomas Ravis, George Abbot, and Lancelot Andrewes approved and abetted persecution and death for dissenters. And King James himself spearheaded the operation.

 

[4] The Trinitarian Bible Society edition of the Textus Receptus that lies behind the English words of the King James Bible was first published in 1894. So for almost 300 years no tangible Greek New Testament was available that fully accounted for the English words in the King James Bible. This edition lists no places of variation, giving readers the impression that all readings are of equal certainty. No printed edition of the Hebrew Bible yet fully accounts for the English words in the King James Old Testament; the edition of Christian David Ginsburg was not produced for that purpose and fails to support the King James Bible in numerous places.

 

[5] According to F. H. A. Scrivener the KJV 1611 had 67 marginal notes indicating alternate readings in the Hebrew or Greek manuscripts. See, for example, Luke 17:36; Acts 13:18; 25:6; Eph. 6:9; James 2:18; 1 Pet. 2:21; etc.

 

[6] Luke 17:36; Acts 8:37; 9:5-6; 15:34; 1 John 5:7-8, etc.

 

[7] Matt. 27:34; Luke 10:22; John 8:11; James 4:12, etc.

Note: comments, as always, are more than welcome. However, keep in mind that this is Dr. Price’s article, not mine. He will not be able to engage in dialogue about what has been said. I also do not welcome comments that will accuse me of trusting in him as an end-all to the discussion. Let’s keep this about issues. Thank you.

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6 comments so far

  1. fundyreformed on

    Great article. He boils the issue down quite simply. I like his use of the phrase “genealogical consensus”.

  2. John D. Chitty on

    Dr. Price writes:

    They did not articulate and publish the textual principles they followed, nor the reasons for their textual choices. They seldom recorded the places in the text where variations occur, and never recorded the manuscript evidence supporting their decisions.[5]

    This reminded me that I had seen about ten or more years ago, a book published by Vanderbilt University Press, which recorded some of the thought process of the committee as recorded by one of the members, John Bois. I actually used to have a copy of it in a library I organized for the IFB church of which I used to be a member. A quick Google Books search revealed the title– Translating for King James: Notes Made by a Translator of King James’s Bible, translated and edited by Ward Allen, published by Vanderbilt University Press. Here’s the link to the online text:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=TbCBKylN7RkC&pg=PA135&dq=JOhn+Rainolds+Vanderbilt+University+Press+Authorized+Version#PPP1,M1

    I’m sure a scholar of Dr. Price’s caliber is already aware of this text, and I don’t pretend to know whether it in any significant way fills the gap in knowledge regarding the translation principles followed by the AV translators, but there is some information regarding at least some of the thought-process of at least some of the members of the committee, and it could help answer some questions regarding the state of the text of the KJV. It’s over my head as I have no Greek training at all (but I can recite most of the Greek alphabet from memory!), but someone out there will get something worth chewing on out of it.

  3. Damien T Garofalo on

    John, that’s a great resource you pointed to, I look forward to reading it more in depth.

    At first glance, it seems to be notes about the translation choices in English, rather than the textual choices. He compares some of the readings in the KJV to those in the Geneva, Tyndale’s, and Bishops. I’ll dig through the book to see if there are textual notes, but my first skim through indicated that there are not. If this is so, Dr. Price’s statement stands. Even so, thanks for pointing this out.

  4. Dale Lindsey on

    Dr. Price,
    Thank-you. Great Article! Some think it is their task to preserve particular translations of the Bible, such as the King James only sect. They forget our God is able to preserve His Word, and has done so through the ages, even without the assistance of men. Thanks for your work and faithfulness through the years.
    Dale Lindsey

  5. God Fearer on

    I would still feel much more comfortable about the preservation of the Word of God from the original autographs if someone could provide me with examples of how no major doctrines have been changed rather than just repeating the same old line. Do you know where I can acquire a list of some examples? I can easily find examples and claims as to why the NT is corrupt and counter arguments as to why those claims are wrong, but where is the positive output on this topic?
    If there are individuals out there knowledgable enough to make the statement that there have been no alterations that would have an effect on any major doctrine then it would equally follow that such people should be capable of providing examples.
    I am not saying such people can not, on the contrary, I am simply saying that I wish they would. I take my eternal security and my relationship with God very seriously and so I am extremely interested in supportive information for my beliefs and claims. Why should someone believe me if I repeat the same old line, yet can not give them any examples? How is that “having a strong defense of the faith?”
    Thank you for your time and this article.

  6. submit on

    Are Greek texts pure word of God. Where is Logia of Jesus in Aramaic. Where is Matthew’s Aramaic gospel?

    P46 (175CE) is Greek manuscript with the largest percentage of difference on record. This just proved that Church have been changing words since early 2nd century at will.

    Here is the words of the early church father, Origen (3rd century CE):
    “The differences among the manuscripts have become great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they make additions or deletions as they please.” Origen, early church father in “Commentary on Matthew.”

    Regarding the oldest surviving fragment, Colin Roberts compared P52 writings using ONLY 5 samples from the early 2nd century CE back in 1935 and concluded based on those 5 samples; P52 was from the early 2nd century.

    (Brent Nongbri’s 2005. The Use and Abuse of P52: Papyrological Pitfalls in the Dating of the Fourth Gospel)
    What I have done is to show that any serious consideration of the window of possible dates for P52 must include dates in the later second and early third centuries. – Brent

    Compare with 4th century codexes. You will be surprise how Holy Spirit inside the scribes fail to prevent them from changing words of God ever since the beginning.


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