“A further distinction can be made between (1) providentia ordinaria, ordinary or general providence, by means of which God conserves, supports, and governs all things through the instrumentality of secondary causes in accord with the laws of nature; and (2) providentia extraordinaria, extraordinary or special providence, according to which God in his wisdom performs special acts or miracles (miracula, q.v.) that lie beyond the normal possibilities inherent in secondary causality and that can therefore be termed either supra causas, beyond or above causes, or contra causas, against or over against causes.”Richard Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, providentia.
For the sake of clarity or to add some meat to the your understanding of divine providence consider again the words of Muller above in light of the confessional statement that Scripture is has been kept pure in all ages by God’s “singular care and providence.”
Here of course we take “singular” to apply not only to “care” but also to “providence.” As such we place the providential preservation of the Scriptural text in the category of providentia extraordinaria. Therefore, the preservation of Scripture is supra-causal and even contra-causal.
And why not believe this? Most would willingly admit that we probably don’t have the original words of Socrates but Christians vehemently argue that we do indeed have the original words of the OT and NT and that by the preserving power of the Holy Spirit. We know, insofar as epistemic humility demands, that we have lost some if not all of the original words of many ancient texts. That is the way of the world.
Such a loss of ancient words is the effect of the causal depredations of war, time, and use. In other words, it is the natural thing for an ancient document to lose something of its content or that the transmission stream so corrupted or unrecognizable so we are unable to know for sure what is original and what is not. By God’s ordinary providence books fall out of use, disappear from history, are corrupted, or only fragments remain.
This is not so with the Scriptures. The preservations of the Scriptures breaks the rules so to speak. Not only do we have the words of Scripture, Christians know they have the words of Scripture. No other ancient book can properly lay claim to such potent preservation. And why is this?
It is because God’s providentia extraordinaria works above the normal causal structures of ordinary written verbal preservation [supra-causal]. And not only does it work above those structures but it also works in spite of and contrary to those structures [contra-causal].
The very fact that we have all the original words of God between two covers demonstrates that the Christian Scriptures are a historical artifact that has come to the Church across time and space and in a way contrary to and above the normal cause and effect structures that afflict all the written works of mere men.
As such it is only proper that we argue as the Westminster Divines did; that God’s word has been and is kept pure by the extraordinary care and providence of God. A providence which belongs to no other book in the history of man than to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
2 thoughts on “Providentia Extraordinaria: Extraordinary Providence”
It is unfortunate that textual critics, or at least some of them, do not make a distinction between providentia ordinaria and providentia extraordinaria. For example, referring to the supporters of preservation in the KJV/TR/MT tradition, William W. Combs writes,
“They, we are told, believe in providential preservation. However, one gets the impression from their discussions that for the advocates of this viewpoint the word providential has taken on an unusual meaning, that providential preservation places the preservation of the Scriptures on a different level than other works. However, this is a misunderstanding of providential. In reality, ‘providence is God’s power in bringing the movement of the universe to its predetermined goal and design.’ God brings about his will in the universe either directly (e.g., miracles) or indirectly, that is, through secondary causation. Concerning this latter means, Sproul explains: ‘We are creatures with a will of our own. We make things happen. Yet the causal power we exert is secondary. God’s sovereign providence stands over and above our actions. He works out His will through the actions of human wills, without violating the freedom of those human wills’” (Combs 2000, 9).
Hence for Combs, there is only one kind of providence, and that is providentia ordinaria.
Another example is W. Edward Glenny. He says, “Obvious from the evidence of history is the fact that God has providentially preserved His Word for the present generation” (Glenny 2001, 126). We know that Glenny is speaking of providentia ordinaria if we look at what he has written IN CONTEXT:
“Obvious from the evidence of history is the fact that God has PROVIDENTIALLY preserved His Word for the present generation. However, also obvious from the evidence of history is that God has not MIRACULOUSLY and perfectly preserved every word of the biblical text” (Glenny 2001, 126).
Notice that Glenny distinguishes between providential preservation (“God has providentially preserved”) and miraculous preservation (“God has not miraculously … preserved”). Surely miraculous preservation is providentia extraordinaria, whereby “God performs in his wisdom special acts or MIRACLES” (Muller 1985, 252), in opposition to providential preservation, which must therefore be providentia ordinaria.
However, Glenny restricts the meaning of the word “providential” to providentia ordinaria. He does not use the word “providential” for miraculous preservation, thus suggesting that there is only one kind of providence for him, which is providentia ordinaria. If he doesn’t think that there is only kind of providence, he would have used the words “general providential preservation” and “special providential preservation” respectively.
Combs seems to have included Glenny when he writes, “When most writers speak of the preservation of the Scripture as being providential, they mean Scripture has been preserved by secondary causation, through ordinary human means” (Combs 2000, 9).
Beacham, Roy E., and Bauder, Kevin T. eds. One Bible Only? Examining Exclusive Claims for the King James Bible. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2001.
Combs, William W. “The Preservation of Scripture.” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 5 (Fall 2000): 3-44.
Glenny, W. Edward. “The Preservation of Scripture and the Version Debate.” In Beacham and Bauder, 102-133.
Yip, Meng-Fai. Preservation of the Bible: Providential, Perfect, and Perpetual. Singapore: Independently published, 2022.
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Excellent observations. Thank you for the comment. Blessings.
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