In this episode I want to read a section on the divine providential preservation of Scripture from John Owen’s work titled, “The Reason of Faith, Or, The Grounds Whereon the Scripture is Believed to be the Word of God with Faith Divine and Supernatural” (1677) (Works, 4:5-115).
This is part of Owen’s larger study on the Holy Spirit.
I thought it might be helpful to share this given some of the misunderstandings and even outright misrepresentations of Confessional Bibliology that have recently been appearing online.
Owen’s overall thesis in this work is that the believer must come to receive Scripture as the Word of God based on an internal compulsion founded upon the fact that Scripture is divine revelation, rather than upon, what he calls “moral persuasion” based on “external arguments.”
So, he writes:
“The sum is, We are obliged in a way of duty to believe the Scriptures to be divine revelation, when they are ministerially or providentially proposed unto us…. The ground whereupon we are to receive them is the authority and veracity of God speaking in them; we believe them because they are the word of God” (49).
“Wherefore, we do not nor ought only to believe the Scripture as highly probable, or with moral persuasion and assurance, built upon arguments absolutely fallible and human… if we believe not with faith divine and supernatural, we believe not at all” (49).
Nevertheless, Owen holds that there is a place for “external arguments” reasonably to confirm belief in Scripture as the Word of God.
In chapter 3 of “The Reason of Faith” Owen outlines five such “Sundry convincing external arguments for divine revelation” (20-47). They include:
1. The antiquity of the writings;
2. The providential preservation of the Scriptures;
3. The overall divine wisdom and authority of the Scriptures;
4. The testimony of the church;
5. The doctrines derived from the Scriptures.
Owen on Preservation:
I want now to read Owen’s discussion of the preservation of Scripture as one of these five external arguments :
[Reading from Owen, Works, 4: 23-26]
The Reformed doctrine of the providential preservation of Scripture is one of the most neglected themes in contemporary theology. I think Owen’s views add insight into what the framer’s of the WCF meant in 1:8 when they spoke of God’s Word having been “kept pure in all ages.”
In recent years there have been various evangelical and even Reformed attempts either to reject this doctrine (See Dan Wallace) or to reinterpret it (See Richard Brash).
Confessional Bibliology represents an effort neither to reject nor reinterpret but to retrieve this doctrine. Sadly, lack of familiarity with and misunderstanding of this historic doctrine has resulted, in part, in the unjust confusion and conflation of Confessional Bibliology with IFB KJVO-ism (a phenomenon of the 20th century).
Most recently a Presbyterian youtuber has ungraciously mocked CB as KJVO because of questions raised by us about “missing verses” in the modern critical text and in modern translations, accusing us of promoting wacky conspiracy theories. He has also suggested that the historic Christian position is to accept uncertainty about what exactly the text of Scripture is, so that we have no reason for anxiety when modern editors and translators remove passage from OR ADD to the traditional text.
I think you can clearly see in this excerpt from Owen, however, that he believed in the meticulous care of God’s Word, as he puts it, “that not a letter of it should be utterly lost.” He expresses his trust in divine providence to preserve “this book and all that is in it, its words and its syllables.” He even speaks clearly of the Scriptures having been preserved despite Satan’s efforts to corrupt it. He speaks of Scripture having been preserved despite “the malicious craft of Satan.” He notes that God’s providence even kept “apostatized Christians” from “the corrupting of one line in it.”
I think we can see that the beef some have with CB is really a beef with John Owen and the Reformed Protestant Orthodox and, sadly enough, perhaps with WCF 1:8.
I hope that this reading of Owen might help to clarify this point for those with sincere, serious, and open-minded interest in this topic.