Note: this is another post in a series exploring how the Bible impacts the KJVO Debate. For all of the posts to date, click here.
In our last post, we finally finished off all the passages in Psalms relating to the doctrine of preservation. I know this series seems to be bogging down on the discussion of these passages, but this is important work. Take heart, there are only a few more passages on this subject, and we’ll cover most of them in this post. When we are finished dealing with the passages, we will be ready to formulate our doctrine of preservation, and then go on to what I think will be the meatier posts in this series. There is much more to come, so let’s get going.
At this point, we have seen how Ps. 119:152 and 160 teach that God’s Word is eternal, and so it seems correct to infer from this that the very text of Scripture will be preserved for us. Also, we have seen that Ps. 12:6-7 might be a general teaching that God will preserve His words, (the very words of Scripture). So lets move on now to other passages of Scripture.
Is. 40:6-8 & 1 Pet. 1:23-25
The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever. [Is. 40:8]
Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh [is] as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you. [1 Pet. 1:23-25]
Context of Isaiah 40:6-8
To begin, we must discuss the context of Is. 40:6-8. E. J. Young provides some perspective as we approach Isaiah 40:
When one turns from the thirty-ninth to the fortieth chapter it is as though he steps out of the darkness of judgment into the light of salvation. 
F. D. Kidner adds:
We emerge in 40:1 in a different world from Hezekiah’s, immersed in the situation foretold in 39:5-8, which he was so thankful to escape. Nothing is said of the intervening century and a half; we wake, so to speak, on the far side of the disaster, impatient for the end of captivity. In chs. 40-48 liberation is in the air; there is the persistent promise of a new exodus, with God at its head; there is the approach of a conqueror, eventually disclosed as Cyrus, to break Babylon open; there is also a new theme unfolding, to reveal the glory of the call to be a servant and a light to the nations…. 
So these verses come at a big shift in the book of Isaiah. The emphasis shifts from coming and deserved judgment, to the coming of the Messiah and the blessings God graciously has in store for His people. What is important to keep in mind here, is that the final judgments that Isaiah has prophesied, have not yet occurred. And in fact Isaiah is writing about 100 years or so before the Babylonian captivity of Judah really starts.
Now in vs. 2, the text says Judah has “received…double for all her sins”. This points to the fact that the judgment time is over, now. Ultimately the coming of Christ and the ushering in of the age of the kingdom is in view, but there is also immediate restoration blessings for those captives from Judea. And again, this was written before the captivity started. Now in vs. 5, the amazing blessing that God would come down and the glory of God would be revealed to all flesh (the age of the Kingdom) is so unbelievable that “for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it” is added in the text.
Now we come to our verses which do 2 things. First they contrast the helpless situation of man with the exalted strength of the LORD. Second, they emphasize that God’s promise he has made will surely come to pass. Verse 9 picks up the amazing promises by stressing that it is “good tidings” specifically that Judah will see their God. And that when he comes (v. 10-11), he will come gently caring for his flock. These verses are seen as a prologue to this whole section of Isaiah. The rest of chapter 40 goes on to exalt God’s greatness and His ability to work on behalf of His people.
Structure of Is. 40:6-8
Before we get into the specific words, let me reproduce the poetic structure of these verses as given in J. Alec Motyer’s commentary on Isaiah:
A ¹ General truth: humankind\’s transiency and unreliability (6cd)
B ¹ Illustration: withering grass (7a)
C ¹ The divine Spirit (7b)
A ² The truth applied: the people are grass (7c)
B ² Illustration: withering grass (8a)
C ² The divine word (8b) 
Verse 6ab is the introduction to the teaching of these verses, and is not included above. Motyer sees a contrast between “all flesh” in vs. 6c and “the people” in vs. 7c. It is not just that humankind generally is like grass, but “surely” even God’s people are grass (“the people” is a term Isaiah often uses to refer to the Israelites or the Jews in particular.) 
Terms in Is. 40:6-8
Now let me discuss some of the terms in these verses, and we’ll be ready for an interpretation.
“Grass” says Motyer, is “an emblem of transiency”. He points to Is. 37:27 as an example of this.  Indeed other commentaries point out parallels with Ps. 103:15-16, Ps. 90:5-6, Job 8:12 and 14:2.
“Goodliness” is actually the oft used Hebrew word “hesed”. This word is one of the key words in the OT, and its meaning is hard to capture in one single English word. The Septuagint almost always translates it with “eleos” (mercy), and the KJV follows its lead. The KJV sometimes will translate the word with “lovingkindness” or “favor”. The NIV simply translates it as “love”. The RSV (and ESV, I believe) translate it most often with “stedfast love”. The following quote depends on the great advances made in the last 100 years in our understanding of what the Hebrew word signifies:
In general, one may identify three basic meanings of the word, which always interact: “strength,” “steadfastness,” and “love.” Any understanding of the word that fails to suggest all three inevitably loses some of its richness. “Love” by itself easily becomes sentimentalized or universalized apart from the covenant. Yet “strength” or “steadfastness” suggests only the fulfillment of a legal or other obligation. 
Now, the Septuagint (Greek), and the Vulgate (Latin) both translate this Hebrew word with “doxa”, that is “glory”. The Syriac translation uses “beauty”. Peter cites it as “doxa” also. And working from the idea of mercy, we could infer the term refers to the lovely aspects of man. However, the ideas of “strength” and “steadfastness” seem to come into play with the context. Motyer says,
[Hesed] is characteristically used of the love of God in its changeless reliability. It is also the reliable devotion we should offer him in return but which we have not the moral durability to sustain (Je. 2:2; Ho. 6:4). It is the enduring concern one might expect to find in another but does not (Jb. 6:14). This idea of moral steadfastness, reliability in the discharge of duty and faithfulness to promises fits this passage. 
Nelson’s Expository Dictionary adds,
Etymological investigation suggests that hesed’s primitive signficance may have been “strength” or “permanence.” If so, a puzzling use of hesed in Isa. 40:6 would be explained…” 
“Word” — at this point, we need to remember our previous discussion about “word of God”. This phrase often does not primarily refer to the Scripture. It can be spoken prophecy, or God’s expressed will (i.e. a commandment). Sometimes also,
…this term is used as a promise and ground of hope (Psa. 119:25, 28, 38; 130:5) or…as a personal designation of one’s thoughts and identity (Jn. 1:1)….The term “word” is also used as a designation of the Gospel of Christ (Mt. 13:19; Mk. 2:2; Acts 4:4, 29, 31, etc.). 
So in this context in Isaiah it may be that written Scripture is not directly in view.
“Stand” is the Hebrew verb “qum” and (in the Qal stem as it is in our verse) “it can mean stand, maintain, be established, confirmed, endure, be fixed, be valid, be proven, or be fulfilled.”  The basic meaning of the word is simply “rising up from a prostrate position”. Their is also a legal sense to the word, connoting “the validity of one’s testimony in a trial (Deut. 19:15).”  The Brown-Driver-Brigg’s Lexicon concludes that the usage in this verse falls under the precise meaning: “be fulfilled…of [Yahweh’s] purpose”. It includes Jer. 51:29; Is. 14:24; Pr. 19:21; Jer. 44:28; and Is. 46:10 as representatives of that precise meaning. TWOT, however, goes back to the legal sense and states: “Perhaps, God reflects on this legal sense in his statements that his word shall stand ( Num 23:19 ; Isa 40:8 ; etc.).”
Another point about this word in this context flows from the basic idea of the word and the contextual use of the idea of grass withering or wilting. Watts says, “In contrast to grass, God’s word remains upright and effective…”. 
Interpretation of Is. 40:6-8
Okay. Now we are ready to bring together all the facts from context and the meanings of the terms used and come to some conclusions.
First there is the obvious contrast factor. God is contrasting his might and power with the frailty of mankind (and Israel in particular). That theme picks up again later in the chapter indeed in the next several chapters. But beyond this ovious contrast lies a more particular one. All of the capabilities man has to be reliable and to come through on his purposes and plans, are intentinally frustrated and spoiled by God’s spirit. In contrast, God’s plans and His promises are reliable and can be counted on. 
This brings us to the next point from context: the time factor. These verses are over a hundred years old when the Jews will find themselves needing to trust in them. Again, vs. 2 points to the day beyond the struggles Hezekiah was then facing, to the time when the judgment has already come and gone. There are wonderful things promised, but to the Jews in Babylon, it would be easy to doubt that they’d happen. These three verses remind them to not trust in man’s abilities, but in God’s faithfulness. God’s word will be fulfilled. It is valid and true. It endures for ever, and hence is still valid for them a hundred years after it was declared.
Finally, there is the promise factor. What “word” is in view? Specifically it must be the promises stated in verses 1-5. God was promising comfort through the coming of Himself and the revealing of His glory to all flesh. That this understanding is correct comes from seeing vs. 8b and vs. 9 clearly. “The word of our God shall stand for ever. O Zion, that bringest good tidings…O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings…” Verses 10 and 11 go on to further declare what that word, the good tidings (news) from vs. 1-5, entails. God is coming and He will feed, gather, carry, and gently lead his own. This is the promise of the coming Kingdom. This is a salvation promise. That is directly in view when vs. 8 says “word of our God”.
In coming to our interpretation, certain parallel passages weigh in. The idea of God’s word standing is mentioned in Numb. 23:19. There the point is that God is not like a man that He would lie. The second part of the verse says, “hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” The Hebrew word for “spoken” is the verb form of “word” and the word for “make it good” is the same as “stand” in Is. 40:8. So this passage uses the idea to communicate that what God says will happen. It will be fulfilled. It is valid. It will be made good.
Motyer suggests that Is. 40:6-8 forms an inclusio with Is. 55:10-11.  That passage speaks of how rain makes the earth “bring forth and bud” resulting in it becoming fruitful, and compares the rain with God’s Word. It will be effective in what God sends it for. God’s word won’t be rendered ineffective. This is a great parallel with Is. 40:6-8 which has the imagery of wilting grass versus a rising up and effective Word of God (see Watts’ quote above under “Stand”).
The emphasis in both of these parallel passages mirrors the contextual point: that God’s promises will not fail. They will be fulfilled. They are valid. They will prosper according to God’s purposes.
Redemptive Historical Application
I would be remiss if I did not give some redemptive historical application to this. I promote redemtive historical hermeneutics on this blog, which means that every text is to be related to its place in God’s redemptive history.
Now every gospel applies verses 3-5 to John the Baptist. The coming of Jesus is in view. And so how does verses 6-8 fit into the gospel and coming of Jesus? Well, this passage is similar to how Paul starts with sin and moves to salvation in Romans. The whole passage is a comfort (vs. 1), but man must look away from himself to God alone for help. Calvin is helpful here:
This passage comprehends the whole Gospel in few words; for it consists of an acknowledgment of our misery, poverty, and emptiness, that, being sincerely humbled, we may fly to God, by whom alone we shall be perfectly restored. 
Vs. 9 uses “gospel” language: “Good tidings” = “good news” = “gospel”. It is the gospel in view which offers us hope, but only when we realize that there is no hope in man.
Use of Is. 40:8 in 1 Pet. 1:23-25
Having spent a lot of time on Isaiah, I’m going to be briefer with 1 Peter. Is. 40:8 is quoted in 1 Pet. 1:23-25:
Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.
For all flesh [is] as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever.
And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.
I set off the quotation so you can see how Peter is quoting Is. 40:8.
I see three themes regarding “the word of God” here. It is incorruptible, it produces life, and it endures for ever. The Greek word for incorruptible means “perishable, subject to decay or destruction”. The word was earlier used in a context of purity (see vs. 18-19, and even vs. 22). So yes God’s word is pure. It is not subject to decay.
God’s word also produces the new birth, it gives life. It “liveth ever”. Chapter 2:2 says the word sustains growth. It is life giving. Then God’s word also endures for ever. That point is connected with its life giving quality. In other words, it gives life always. It always is effective.
Now all this relates to the character of God’s “word”. What is meant by “word”? We get a clue from vs. 25. It is that by which the gospel is preached to you. That would fit with the oral message of the Gospel, which Acts almost invariably refers to when it says “word of God”.
And how does the quotation from Isaiah fit in? Well, I think the second and third points are reinforced. God’s word lasts, unlike the glory of man. (Peter’s quote follows the Septuagint [or LXX] in reading “glory” instead of “mercy” or “goodliness”.) And God’s word also provides life, it prospers, unlike the withered grass. Our earlier interpretation of Is. 40:8 was that the word of God referred to a promise which God was sure to keep. The promise was of restoration. In fact it was a gospel promise. One that brings life.
Now Peter uses the Greek word “logos” in vs. 23 for “word” and then switches to “rhema” in vs. 25 for both instances there. “Rhema” is more specific, while “logos” is general. Peter is quoting but switches the quote from the LXX “logos” to “rhema” and switches it from the LXX “God” (Hebrew has “God” also), to “Lord”. So Peter is applying Isaiah to refer to the specific word of Christ — the gospel.
The point in Peter seems to be that the promises of the Gospel are reliable. They are always reliable, because God’s word (His will, His purposes, and even by extension His written word) does not decay but lives and gives life. Edward Blum concludes similarly,
The message about Jesus was proclaimed to Peter’s readers, and it is utterly reliable. This message gives life and transforms life so that Christians are able to love. 
The effectiveness of the message is in view, not the durability of every word of that message. From the text in Peter, the effectiveness of the message, the life-giving quality of it, is not tied into whether all the words are exactly the same. In fact, Peter quotes Isaiah, and does not use exact equivalents of each Hebrew word. What matters is the message, God’s promises, don’t lose power. They don’t perish. They are living and abiding ever. So we can be sure the gospel promises are sure to endure and remain in effect.
The Simple Bottom Line Interpretation
I don’t see Peter as deviating from the interpretation of Isaiah we established above. And now to sum this all up, lets review that interpretation.
“Word of God” refers specifically to God’s promises and plans. Especially his gospel promises made in Isaiah, which have an application to the Jews in the exile, and to all of us on this side of Christ’s advent, too. God’s promises and plans are sure. They will be fulfilled. They are eternal. They never fail.
The main point of both Isaiah and Peter has nothing to do with the text of Scripture being kept free from all error. It has everything to do with enhancing our trust in God’s ability to keep His Word.
Since God’s Word and Promises are sure, and since they last, I think it reasonable to infer from this that we could expect God to preserve the text of Scripture. Indeed 1 Peter says life comes from God’s Word, and without the promises being in our hand, we wouldn’t get that life. But this is not the plain teaching of the text. It is an inference. As such, it is not speaking to how purely God would preserve Scripture, and in what way, and to what extent. So once again, I think these two passages of Scripture teach indirectly that God would preserve the text of Scripture. It just doesn’t say exactly how that is going to happen.
Well, I certainly didn’t think it would take that long to discuss these 2 passages of Scripture. But the more I looked into Is. 40, the more I needed to dig into it deeper. I was blessed by my study, and hope you were as well. Our next post in this series will discuss Is. 59:21 and Matt. 5:17-18. That should bring us almost to the end of exegeting the Scripture passages, and closer to a discussion of other ways the Bible impacts this whole KJVO debate.
 E. J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), vol. 3, pg. 17. Quoted in The King James Bible Commentary, gen. editors Edward Hindson and Woodrow Kroll, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), pg. 816.
 F.D. Kidner, “Isaiah”, The New Bible Commentary Revised, (edited by D. Guthrie and J.A. Motyer), (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), p. 611. Quoted by Geoffrey W. Grogan, “Isaiah”, Expositor’s Bible Commentary (edited by Frank Gaebelein) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), electronic version, accessed at biblecentre.net (March 8, 2007).
 J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1993), the electronic version (copyright 1996 by J.A. Motyer), accessed at biblecentre.net (March 8, 2007).
 John D. W. Watts, Isaiah 34-66 (vol. 25), Word Biblical Commentary, (Waco, TX: Word, 1987), pg. 82: “…’the people’ in the singular is used in Isaiah to refer to Israel (40:1; 42:22; 43:8,20,21; 47:6; 49:13; 51:7,16,22; 52:4,5,6).”
 Motyer, ibid.
 Merrill F. Unger and William White, editors of the Nelson’s Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament, found in Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996), pg. 142.
 Motyer, ibid.
 Unger and White, pg. 143. See also Watts, pg. 78, (note 6d), where he discusses the word, and says, “Perhaps here it denotes a capacity for loyalty.”
 The Editorial committee (presumably editors James B. Williams and Randolph Shaylor), God’s Word in Our Hands: The Bible Preserved for Us (Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International, 2003), pg. 98.
 TWOT online
 Watts, 82.
 See the quote from Motyer under “Terms / ‘Goodliness'” (footnote 7). Also Albert Barnes [Barne’s Notes on the Bible, (The Ages Digital Library), accessed at biblecentre.net (March 8, 2007)] says, commenting on “hesed” in vs. 6: “The idea is, that the plans of man must be temporary; that all that appears great in him must be like the flower of the field; but that Yahweh endures, and his plans reach from age to age, and will certainly be accomplished.”
 Motyer, ibid. Click on the link and scroll down to “Inclusio in the Hebrew Bible” to figure out what an “inclusio” is. (I had to!)
 Calvin’s commentary on Isaiah, accessed at biblecentre.net (March 8, 2007).
 Edwin A. Blum, 1 Peter, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), edited by Frank E. Gaebelein, pg. 20 (of the 1 Pet. – Jude paperback volume).
—See all posts in, “The Bible & the KJVO Debate” series.