As we continue our way through Mark Ward’s observations of the Confessional/Standard Sacred Text position we now come to his observations regarding Matthew 5:18, jot and tittle, and whether we are rational and warranted that every word of every verse is present in the Masoretic Hebrew and the TBS Greek New Testament. Indeed, we do believe that every word, part of the word, and original punctuation is preserved to this day in the Masoretic Hebrew and the TBS Greek New Testament. In short, we believe these truths because the Bible we read tells us this is the case.
Ward’s position is quite a bit different. Ward indicates that our belief is untenable because of the diversity within the manuscript evidence. And he is not alone. In this video, Peter Gurry argues the same. In short, their claim is, ”Given the state of the evidence Matthew 5:18 cannot literally mean that God has preserved every jot and tittle. It probably means that God preserved the meaning of the Bible.”
Note how the argument is phrased and particularly the causal element.
Premise 1: Because the evidence is X.
Premise 2: The Bible can’t literally mean Y.
Conclusion: Therefore, the Bible means Z.
First, this is a bottom-up argument like those noted on yesterday. Anchoring one’s theological conclusions in historical, evidential, or natural principles is at least not distinctly Christian and at worse, destructive to Christian theology and worldview. Second, and more potent, the above premises and conclusion do not suffice for really any supernatural claim made by Scripture e.g., the parting of the Red Sea, mana from heaven or the resurrection of Lazarus.
Take “mana from heaven” for example. Assuming the structure of the above premises and conclusion we get something like the following,
Premise 1: The overwhelming evidence is that mana does not fall from heaven.
Premise 2: The Bible can’t literally mean mana fell from heaven.
Conclusion: “Mana from heaven” symbolically means that an ancient semitic god is believed to care about his special people’s physical needs i.e., their hunger.
Third, it is important to note that near the end of Ward’s interview he makes a puzzling claim given his stance on Matthew 5:18 and our premise/conclusion structure used above. Ward admits that he is a young-earth creationist. I too am a young-earth creationist. But Ward’s position seems odd, even inconsistent to me. Consider the following:
Ward says of the Scriptures, the primary source for the Trinitarian Creation Story, that the Bible can’t literally mean jot and tittle because of the evidence. Indeed, he argues in this video that most of evangelical scholars are on his team when it comes to the version issue and Matthew 5:18. Yet on the creation story he does not follow this line of reasoning in this interview and in his life. Even though the vast majority of scholars hold to an old-earth view, that star light clearly serves as evidence for an old earth, that carbon dating evidence points to an old earth, and even those like Christian apologist and philosopher William Lane Craig argues for a very old earth, Ward remains a young-earth creationist. Even Alvin Plantinga has allowed for the validity of a divinely guided Bing Bang and evolutionary process. Still Ward ostensibly argues,
Premise 1: Mountains of evidence point to an old earth.
Premise 2: Regardless of Premise 1, I believe the Bible teaches the earth is young.
Conclusion: Therefore, the earth is young.
The scholarly consensus and mountains of evidence point in the opposite direction of Ward’s conclusion and yet he persists. Indeed, Ward says that on the final day when he must give an account to God, and God asks, ”Have you not read” Ward responds with “Yes, I’m going to stick with God’s word.” Now of course Craig would say he is “sticking with God’s word” by holding to an old earth view. It seems to me that what Ward means is that he holds to a literal rendering of the creation story and as such believes God made worlds in six literal sequential days and not too long ago. He believes this literal rendering despite the evidence to the contrary, despite the scholastic consensus, and despite evangelical leaders’ and scholars’ contrary opinions.
In short, Ward believes what the Bible says about creation literally happened to the exclusion of the evidence and overwhelming scholarly opinion, but disbelieves what the Bible says about itself literally happened/happens ”because of the evidence” and scholarly opinion. So when he stands before God in the last day and God asks, “Have you not read,” apparently Ward is going to “stick with God’s word” on the creation story but he is not going to “stick with God’s word” regarding the Scripture. In the former he won’t trust his eyes and in the latter he will only trust his eyes.
This seems to be a very puzzling dichotomy of thought and hermeneutics. He believes God can create all of the complexity of the universe in six literal sequential days regardless of the evidence but he can’t believe God preserved every jot and tittle of a relatively small hand-full of words “because of the evidence.”
Ward’s position seems to be inconsistent in important ways. Concerning the Scriptures, the beginning of theological knowledge, Ward is more evidence dependent, but concerning the beginning of the universe Ward is less evidence dependent. Our argument is quite different. First, we begin with the plain teaching of Scripture and then interpret our evidential conclusions through the lens of Scripture. As such we believe that God created the worlds in six literal sequential days and not too long ago, and we believe God has preserved every jot and tittle of every original word in the Masoretic Hebrew and TBS Greek.
All-in-all it has been a joy to interact with Ward’s thoughts on these topics, and as the Lord provides we hope to continue these discussion with an aim toward clarity and a belief in the Bible that will change the world. Blessings.