As Reformers who affirm Sola Scriptura, we must get our doctrine of the preservation of Scripture from Scripture itself, rather than the traditions of men. Our first question is always, What says the Scripture? Here are some groundwork principles that, while derived from Scripture, may be surprising to some. Volumes have been written on this subject, but for now, some highlights will suffice.

1. Scripture teaches the Word of God can be lost and rediscovered.

During the reign of Josiah, the Torah was rediscovered in the temple. We learn about this in 2 Chronicles 34.

When they were taking out the money which had been brought into the house of Yahweh, Hilkiah the priest found the book of the law of Yahweh given by the hand of Moses. So Hilkiah answered and said to Shaphan the scribe, “I have found the book of the law in the house of Yahweh.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan.

2 Chronicles 34:14-15 (LSB)

It hadn’t merely been misplaced for a few weeks. The Torah’s contents by this time had become unknown long enough that when Josiah heard the prophecy, he was in shock.

Moreover, Shaphan the scribe told the king saying, “Hilkiah the priest gave me a book.” And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king.

Now it happened that when the king heard the words of the law, he tore his clothes. Then the king commanded Hilkiah, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Abdon the son of Micah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah the king’s servant, saying, “Go, inquire of Yahweh for me and those who are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book which has been found, for great is the wrath of Yahweh which is poured out against us, because our fathers have not kept the word of Yahweh, to do according to all that is written in this book.”

2 Chronicles 34:18-21 (LSB)

Had Josiah owned the book of the law before this reading, he wouldn’t have been surprised to hear its words from Shaphan. The Word of God was lost and then later restored. If it could happen then, it could happen now. Whatever we believe that Scripture teaches about its preservation, we need to budget for the reality that the Scriptures can get lost for a season.

2. Scripture teaches that God-honored translations can have variants that differ significantly from previously received manuscripts.

The heavy utilization of the Septuagint is surely significant when contemplating Scripture’s definition of preservation. The Septuagint is the translation Jesus and the Apostles primarily quoted. One could argue successfully that it was the Received Text of its day. Significantly, however, the Septuagint differs in striking ways from the Hebrew Masoretic text that forms the basis for our Old Testament translations. A few examples will suffice.

The first one is in Daniel 10, where the Septuagint reads that the angel Gabriel left Michael with the kings of Persia. This is the opposite of how it reads in the original Hebrew, which is as follows.

But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was standing against me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me. Now I had been left there with the kings of Persia.

Daniel 10:13 (LSB)

The next two examples are fascinating because they’re Septuagint variations that are quoted in the New Testament. The first one is a Psalm quoted in the book of Hebrews.

Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says,
Sacrifice and offering You have not desired,
But a body You have prepared for Me;

Hebrews 10:5 (LSB)

Here, the writer to the Hebrews is quoting Psalm 40, which reads as follows.

Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired;
My ears You have opened;

Psalm 40:6 (LSB)

Granted, there’s some semblance between “a body You have prepared” versus, “My ears You have opened,” even though a first-year Hebrew student wouldn’t get an A on his paper if he were translating a Hebrew passage that loosely. The next one however has no wiggle room — if would be an F. Pay attention to the last clause.

Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers
In the day when I took them by the hand
To lead them out of the land of Egypt;
For they did not continue in My covenant,
And I did not care for them, says the Lord.

Hebrews 8:9 (LSB)

This is a quotation from Jeremiah 31, which reads thus:

[…] “Not like the covenant which I cut with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, but I was a husband to them,” declares Yahweh.

Jeremiah 31:32 (LSB)

These variants show us by example, if not by precept, that God-honored translations can have variants that differ significantly from previously received manuscripts.1 We’ve been looking at variants within individual verses, but this applies at a broader scale as well. Jeremiah and Esther are two well-known examples of where the Septuagint versions are significantly longer.

Some argue that these variants should have no bearing on our theology of preservation because the Apostles had the authority to inspire variants in their writings. In other words, the argument goes, the book of Enoch is similarly uninspired, but it is inspired when Jude quotes it in verse 14 of his letter, since Jude is itself inspired, and these Septuagint variants are no different from that.

This argument, while correct in substance, misses the point that is being made. The point is that Jesus and the Apostles used a translation that was clearly at odds with the Masoretic text in a wide number of areas. Nowhere do we see evidence that the Apostle Paul and others were on a jihad to warn early Christians about a “corrupted translation” of Scripture in the form of the Septuagint. They used it freely themselves and thereby gave their approval of it.

The Septuagint provides a theology of preservation that we do well to understand and apply to our current controversy.

3. Scripture nowhere teaches that the original autographs will be perfectly preserved to the last penstroke in a single volume’s primary text block.

To someone steeped in the modern Textus Receptus movement, this assertion might sound radical, but it’s carefully worded, and as we’ll demonstrate in future articles, neither the curators of the TR nor the Reformers such as John Calvin believed in a printed Greek text that was identical to the autographs. This is a modernistic notion without Biblical or historical precedent.

Notice carefully what we’re not saying. We’re not saying that there isn’t tenacity to the text. The autographs are to be found within the manuscript tradition. It’s significant that in the Bart Erhman debate with James White in 2009 when asked if there is any place in the New Testament where we lack the original reading, the only place Erhman could come up with was the Nestle-Aland’s conjectural emendation of 2 Peter 3:10. If a leading skeptic of Scriptural preservation is this limited in his critique, that’s a high testimony to the tenacity of the text.

There are a few commonly-cited passages of Scripture raised in objection to this third point, and we’ve sought to address a few of them here.


Our theology of preservation must take into account the Biblical realities of Scripture being lost for a season, and a translation being greatly blessed that was at odds with a previously received text. As students of the Word, we should have a theology of preservation that is robust enough to handle these Biblical realities, and we should be suspicious of any movement or set of truth claims that functionally denies them.

  1. Admittedly, what we know today as the Masoretic Text did not formalize until centuries after the Septuagint translation, but it predates LXX in the sense that it is a better representative of the original autographs, which is the meaning intended here. ↩︎