Book Endorsement: The Doctrine of Scripture by Jason Harris

The Doctrine of Scripture by Jason HarrisToday’s book review post is special for two reasons. First, this marks the 150th book review I’ve posted here at Fundamentally Reformed. Second, this review includes the foreword I was privileged to write for this book.

The Doctrine of Scripture: As It Relates to the Transmission and Preservation of the Text by Jason Harris is published by InFocus Ministries in Australia. I’m excited to recommend this new book to my readers here in the United States as I believe this book can go a long way toward helping those confused or entangled by King James Onlyism.

My Foreward

Another book on the King James Only debate? Much ink has been spilled and many passions expended in what may be the ugliest intramural debate plaguing conservative, Bible-believing churches today. Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, Baptists and Presbyterians, Reformed and charismatic — all have been affected to a greater or lesser extent by those arguing for or against the King James or New King James Versions of the Bible. With each new book it seems the debate becomes more and more caustic, each group castigating the other in ever more forceful terminology.

Jason Harris enters the fray with the right blend of humility and tenacity, and turns the attention of all to the true center of the debate: the doctrine of Scripture. What makes this debate so passionate is that it centers on the very nature of Scripture. Rather than focus on technical facts and ancient manuscript copying practices, Harris takes us back to what Scripture says about itself: its inspiration, preservation and accessibility. In doing so, he demonstrates how those upholding the King James Bible and the Textus Receptus behind it, base their position not on sound exegesis of the Scripture, but on tenuous assumptions read into the text.

Harris’s pen is lucid and his grasp of the King James Only debate as a whole is masterful. He focuses his work on TR-only position which represents the very best of King James Only reasoning. He interacts with the exegesis of key TR-only proponents and marshals compelling evidence demonstrating their failure to measure up to Scripture’s own teaching about itself. And after explicating the doctrine of Scripture, Harris draws important conclusions which should protect the reader from making simplistic assumptions in a quest for textual certainty that goes beyond what Scripture teaches we should expect.

Harris wants us to be confident that we do have the inspired Scripture translated accurately in our English Bibles. He wants such confidence to be rooted to a Scriptural understanding of the Doctrine of Scripture rather than in the “supernatural-guidance” of a group of sixteenth-Century translators. Assuming that such a group of men made no mistakes is to expect something Scripture doesn’t teach, and ignore what it does. Harris is to be commended for such a clear, lucid defense of the historic doctrine of Scripture. I hope his book is received well and helps laymen and pastors everywhere to begin to rethink the basis for why they think as they do when it comes to the King James Only debate.

Bob Hayton
FundamentallyReformed.com
KJVOnlyDebate.com

[pp. 9-10]

Additional Thoughts

After re-reading this book and seeing the published version, I am more optimistic than ever about its promise to provide clarity to the King James Only debate. Jason Harris’s book has a few characteristics which together make it a unique contribution to this debate.

First, his book focuses on the alleged doctrine of the verbal, plenary accessibility of Scripture. This is where the root of the KJV and TR preference lies for many people. The argument is not so much based on texts and manuscripts as it is on what allegedly the Bible teaches – that the very words of Scripture (all of them down to the letters) would be generally accessible to believers down through the ages. Harris spends most of his time marshalling a Scriptural rebuttal to these claims and also demonstrates the difficulties such a position has when it comes to the history of the text as we know it.

Second, this volume carefully builds a theology of the transmission and preservation of Scripture. Such a careful, exegetically-based explication of the doctrine of Scripture has been lacking in this debate. And such a gap has often been used by KJV-only proponents to their advantage. It is KJV-only books which start with a Scriptural position and then look at the evidence, with the “anti-KJV” books starting with history and evidence and then moving to the Scriptural arguments. This book is different and starts where the debate starts for most of the sincere beleivers who get swept up into it — it starts on Scripture’s teaching about the very nature and preservation of Scripture.

Finally, Harris keeps a very irenic tone throughout. He is careful not to overstate his case and exaggerate the claims of his opponents. This is especially difficult to do when it comes to this heated debate, but Jason pulls this off well. Additionally, he backs up his book with the inclusion of a vast array of footnotes documenting the claims he is arguing against. I appreciate how he does not direct his argument toward the Riplingers and Ruckmans of this debate. He focuses on the TR-only position and the more careful wing of KJV-onlyism, men like David Cloud, D.A. Waite, Charles Surret, and the like. Harris has read widely in the KJV only literature, and his treatment avoids broadbrushing and generalizations that tend to give KJV-only propoents an easy out. It’s easy to dismiss a book as not being directed to their particular position, or to claim the author makes egregious errors and lumps their position in with that of heretical views. Harris’s book is not open to such charges. He directs his case against the very best arguments of KJV-onlyism.

Had I been exposed to such a book I would have been inoculated to the pull of the KJV-only persuasion. As it happened, I was swept up in a TR-only view that made it seem like we had the corner on truth and everyone else was compromising. By God’s grace I came to understand that Scripture does not support such a view of the transmission of the text.

Jason Harris is to be thanked for giving us a tool to recommend to those thinking through this issue from within, and to help the ones who are being pressured to join the KJV-only position. I highly recommend The Doctrine of Scripture and hope it makes its way into the hands of anyone struggling with this issue who will yet be open-minded enough to study out the issue from both sides.

You can pick up a copy of The Doctrine of Scripture at Amazon.com.

Disclaimer: This book was provided by the author. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.

~ cross posted from FundamentallyReformed.com, the author’s other blog.

A Clear Exposition of Psalm 12 as a Whole

1 Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth;
For the faithful fail from among the children of men.
2 They speak vanity every one with his neighbour:
With flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak.

3 The Lord shall cut off all flattering lips,
And the tongue that speaketh proud things:
4 Who have said, “With our tongue will we prevail;
Our lips are our own: who is lord over us?”

5 “For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy,
Now will I arise,” saith the Lord;
“I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him.”
6 The words of the Lord are pure words:
As silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.

7 Thou shalt keep them, O Lord,
Thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.
8 The wicked walk on every side,
When the vilest men are exalted. (Psalm 12, KJV)

Why do an exegesis of this Psalm?

The King James Version Only camp loves to quote verses 6-7 of this chapter as a proof text for their position. Despite the fact that countless commentaries and even the marginal notes of the translational ancestors of the KJV like the Geneva Bible contradict them, KJVO believers insist that the “them” in verse 7 is “the words of the LORD” in verse 6 and that this indicates the need for, as one pundit puts it, “a 100% pure version of the Bible.”

This passage has been cited this way so many times in various forums, that it led me to do an expositional study of the passage. My hope and prayer is that by understanding these verses in their proper (and immediate) context, our brothers and sisters will be encouraged by the content of the psalm rather than continuing to apply a poor hermeneutic to it.

The Structure of the Psalm

The psalm is composed of four distinct sections or stanzas.

1. The call for assistance (1-2)
2. Accusation against the wicked (3-4)
3. YHWH’s response (5-6)
4. Response to YHWH (7-8)

The Call for Assistance (1–2)

Clearly, the psalm is meant to reflect a period of oppression or attack. The author, traditionally King David, is really struggling. He declares that he is on the verge of collapse. (Ceaseth is Hebrew גמר. See perfect in Psalm 138:8.) This is a personal feeling but it is also felt in the entire faith community. Both “the godly man” and “the faithful” (plural) are under duress.

The particular issue in view appears to be lies and false witness against the people of God. Vanity (שוא) implies emptiness. The imagery also seems to indicate manipulation of others through flattery (חלק) and deceit.

The Accusation Against the Wicked (3-4)

The prideful attitude of these accusers becomes clear. The psalmist quotes their bravado and empty words of self-confidence before YHWH. They proclaim that they will overcome and bow to no authority but themselves (v 4).

YHWH’s Response (5-6)

This blasphemy of self-worship frames YHWH’s response. The psalmist picks up the motif of the poor and oppressed crying out. This motif looks back as far as Abel’s innocent blood (Genesis 4), mingling it with imagery that appears in the opening of Exodus and is repeated in Judges.

YHWH hears the cries of those these self-worshipers are destroying, and he says, “I will arise.” This concept is picked up by the prophets Isaiah (14:22) and Amos (7:9).

Because the psalmist attributes this statement to YHWH himself, we have every reason to believe this declaration is meant to be taken as a declaration of YHWH’s will, and as mentioned before, it conforms with his character as demonstrated in both Genesis and Exodus.

God himself is speaking, and His words are actions. This is a statement of great importance. It is a response to prayer, and a declaration of action from YHWH himself.

It is immediately on the heels of this declaration that the psalmist declares, “The words of the Lord are pure words: As silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.”

Response to YHWH (7-8)

Notice that there is an immediate shift in the object of the Psalmist’s words. He now speaks directly back to YHWH. Verse 6 is not a direct address to YHWH, but rather an affirmation of the words spoken by YHWH. In liturgical use, verse 6 may have been a refrain that was meant for the assembled believers to recite. (It is important to remember that the psalms were meant for public recitation by the faith community, not personal reading.)

But verse 7 addresses YHWH directly. It is a response to YHWH’s declaration in verse 5. The psalmist responds to YHWH in thanks that he will preserve and keep. But what will he preserve and keep? It is the “godly man” and “the faithful” in verse 1. The psalm is not a declaration of the Word. It is a call for help, a prayer for intervention. And YHWH answered the Psalmist’s prayer.

And if it weren’t completely clear, the statement is immediately followed by a clarifying statement in verse 8 addressing the justice to be dispensed against the wicked. These wicked people surround the “them” of verse 7. This again looks back to verse 1.

Conclusions

A clear, simple reading of this psalm as a liturgical song of prayer and divine response indicates that this passage is misread when one applies the affirmation of verse 7 to the statement of verse 6. Verse 6 is a communal affirmation while verse 7 is the answer of prayer.

This passage makes no guarantee of a “100%” preservation of the Scriptures as “the words of the Lord” which requires a single translation of the texts.

It does, however, encourage those who are facing opposition, persecution and false witness that YHWH does not abandon his people and he will “arise”.