The Word of God According to St. Augustine by A.D.R. POLMAN Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 242 pages, price $5.00
This is the first of four volumes which Dr. Polman is writing on the Theology of Augustine. In the three which are to follow the author expects to treat respectively the doctrine of God in the theology of Augustine, his Christology and his doctrine of the Church and the Sacraments. As many know. Dr. Polman is the dogmatician at the Kampen Theological Seminary in the Netherlands and is a recognized authority on the writings of the great church father.
I am very thankful for this product of Dr. Polman’s arduous labors. The subject treated is, of course, ever important. It is that today and for many readers of this magazine. The doctrine of the infallibility of Scripture has demanded our attention of late. A book such as this, as well as others, should be consulted by all who feel prompted to express opinions in regard to this subject. Acquaintance with the history of this doctrine will prevent one from making rash. unwarranted, and disturbing statements.
The learned author has approached the subject from various angles. This task has by no means been easy, for as Dr. Polman remarks, the theology of Augustine “…far from being static, developed in the course of his life. St. Augustine may therefore be called the very antithesis of Calvin, who seized upon basic principles and then kept to them” (p. 9). Augustine never wrote systematic treatises. All the information must be gathered from the writings of this church father and thereupon systematized. As Dr. Polman does that in this volume, at least two things have impressed me. First, the effect of training and of environment upon one’s ideas and concepts; and secondly. the perennial character of the problems involved in the doctrine concerning tile Word of God.
As is known, Augustine became a believer and arrived at definite convictions regarding Scriptural truth after intense struggles. He had been entangled in the philosophy of Neo-platonism and in the errors of Manicheism. According to Dr. Polman, this philosophy and these heretical views influenced Augustine’s approach to and interpretation of Scripture during the first stage of his development. However, after he made a dose study of the Bible he adopted a more Scriptural approach and interpretation. This fact should be emphasized today, since I fear not sufficient significance is attributed nowadays to one’s approach to Scripture and to one’s pre-seminary training.
One is also impressed, when reading this book, by the perennial character of the problems faced and discussed by Augustine. The book by Dr. Polman is timely and discusses problems which vex people today. In fact, it cuts many a would-be theologian, who imagines that he is the first to discover certain problems, down to size. Augustine discussed questions pertaining to the inspiration of Scripture, its nature and its extent, as well as the divine and the human factors. He has treated the so-called synoptic problem and also the validity of Old Testament precepts for this New Testament dispensation. In fact, one is forced to conclude that practically all problems pertaining to the interpretation of Scripture are hoary with age and that there is even in this day not much that is new under the sun.
It is impossible to reproduce or to mention all the information supplied and comments made by Dr. Polman in his review. However, I cannot refrain from stating that Augustine believed the canonical books to be completely free from error and that he held, “…if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it” (p. 55). Dr. Polman also casts very significant light on the generally known statement of Augustine, “For my part, I should not believe the Gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church” (pp. 178, 200 ff.). According to Polman’s very plausible explanation, Roman Catholicism cannot find support or comfort in this expression for its views.
Strange though it may seem to us, Augustine did believe the myth concerning the production of the Septuagint (LXX) to be true. Implicitly he must have held that the Seventy were inspired by the Holy Spirit and that all of them, though working separately, produced identical translations. Augustine also engaged in allegorical interpretations of many historical passages of Scripture. Yet Dr. Polman warns us to be careful with this term, since the church father understood by “allegory every type of figurative speech” (p. 92). Such idiosyncrasies do indicate that we should not follow Augustine blindly. Yet they do not erase the fact that the general tenor of his views is sound and that God has used him to direct the church along soundly Scriptural paths.
The book is very valuable. For that reason it is a pity that the translation from the Dutch has not been successful in every instance. Idiomatically it is often faulty. Moreover, the book was printed in the Netherlands and the punctuation conforms to Dutch rather than to American usage. But, I suppose, we should not be too fastidious, considering that the learned author has placed us under obligation with the results of his painstaking labors.
NICHOLAS J. MONSMA
Archaeology and the New Testament by MERRILL F. UNGER Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1962. 350 pages, $4.95
A new book on a fascinating subject. It was written, moreover, by an author who attained fame by his earlier work, Archaeology and the Old Testament. All I can say is that I like this book (the one now under review) very much. Its language is clear and simple; it is well arranged; its conclusions are well documented and generally sound.
When I started reading this book I naturally searched for the author’s answers to controversial questions, such as the following:
To whom was the epistle of Paul to the Galatians addressed? (Meaning: just where did these Galatians live? ) See p. 211. Does Colossians 2:1 mean that Paul never visited Colossae? See p. 265. Was Paul released after that imprisonment during which he wrote Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians, and Philippi? See p. 323. What kind of people produced and hid the Dead Sea Scrolls? See pp. 85, 86.
The author’s answers to these and many other questions fully satisfied me. This is truly an excellent book on which Dr. Merrill F . Unger has spent great effort. Moreover, it is richly illustrated. Every Bible student should get a copy. Congratulations to both author and publisher.
The Layman’s Bible Commentary BALMER H. KELLY, Editor John Knox Press, Richmond, VA, $2.00 each or $1.75 each for 4 or more assorted titles
Vol. 8: Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job; Balmer H. Kelly, Prof. of Biblical Theology, Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, 152 pp.
Vol. 15: Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai; Zechariah, Malachi; James H. Gailey, Jr., Prof. of Old Testament Language, Literature, and Exegesis, C0lumbia Seminary in Georgia, 144 pp.
Vol. 17: Mark; Paul S. Minear, Prof. of New Testament, Yale Divinity School, 136 pp.
Vol 24; Hebrews, James, I and II Peter; John Wick Bowman, Prof. of New Testament Interpretation, San Francisco Theological Seminary, 176 pp.
These four volumes constitute the 1962 issue of a set containing commentaries on the whole Bible together with one introductory volume, 25 in all. First publication in this series was in 1959. Four volumes are projected for each year until the series is completed, presumably in 1964.
The purpose and design of this series are excellent; “to provide the most helpful explanation of fundamental matters in simple, up·to-date terms;” designed “to be a concise, non-technical guide for the layman in personal study of his own Bible” so that it “will have done its work precisely to the degree in which it moves its readers to take up the Bible for themselves” (Preface). Format is also commendable. Small, handy, clear-typed volumes invite the layman’s use. So does the style of comment: section by section instead of phrase by phrase or verse by verse.
And there is here much that is helpful. The writers are obviously men of learning who are able to inform the layman on recent developments in biblical scholarship and capable of offering many illuminating insights.
However, the theology reflected in the four volumes reviewed here is not that of anyone of the historic branches of Protestantism with which the layman is likely to associate himself. Certainly it is not that of the publishers and subscribers of this journal. Perhaps it can best be described as the disturbingly vague ecumenical theology current in that branch of biblical scholarship which stands in the higher critical tradition. This brand of biblical scholarship really acknowledges but a two article creed:
(1) “the Bible has the Word of good news for the whole world” (Preface); and (2) the “Word of good news” is discernible only by means of a biblical scholarship which is committed to no creed—except, of course, the scholar’s creed of the scientific method.
In addition to this fundamental theological fault, the effect of which pervades all the commentary of these volumes as well as the introductory material, this reviewer observes that all too frequently the scholarly hypotheses set forth by the various writers and employed by them as principles of interpretation require a scholar’s evaluation. In such instances the layman is not well served.
JOHN H. STEK
Papal Infallibility, Its Complete Collapse Before A Factual Investigation by J.B. ROWELL, Th.D. Kregel, Grand Rapids, MI, 1963, viii and 166 pages. $3.50
The biographical note informs us that the author of this volume pastored the Central Baptist Church in Victoria, B.C. for thirty-one years with an outstanding record of service in England before that.
This book needed to be written , especially in view of the overtures on the part of the Romanist Church to Protestants to seek refuge under her wings again. Protestants should not be deceived by these gestures of friendship. Yesterday we were called heretics, today we are “separated brethren.” And the almost universal ecumenical spirit tends to gloss over the difficulties. This book warns us not to expect much of anything from the present ecumenical council. Whatever it may accomplish, it will flounder upon the rock of papal infallibility. But that is not the only thing. Rome has made her terms unmistakably clear: (1) “Return to the only fold under the custody of the only shepherd; (2) The Church cannot accept compromise; and (3) No concessions in dogma can be made for the sake of Christian unity” (pp. 16,17).
The author shows that the road to papal infallibility has been a rocky one. The history of the Council of 1870 is elaborately described. The contentions of the author are well documented and that almost exclUSively from Romanist sources. Its success was due to methods unworthy of a church. Chicanery and trickery were its stock in trade—and that of an institution which is supposedly the pillar and ground of the truth. The moving spirit of the opposition was the Roman Catholic scholar and church historian and theologian Dr. Ven Dollinger, who, after the adoption of the doctrine and his refusal to submit, was excommunicated in the eighty-first year of his life. The papal bull of excommunication appears on page 94.
The strength of this volume is in its profuse documentation, and that mostly from Roman Catholic sources. This accounts for the fact that though the author speaks in unequivocal language the book is remarkably free from any invective. No spirit of rancor is the author’s.
One of his contentions raises a question. Speaking of Modernism in the Romanist Church, a revolt against “the mediaeval school with its dogmatic formularies…” we are told, “Consequently, multitudes of priests have forsaken the Roman Church because they could no longer tolerate or endure the mental and spiritual tyranny; and because in many cases the Holy Spirit opened their eyes to the light of the Gospel of Christ…” (p. 22). We hear of individual cases—but multitudes?
The book is heartily recommended. It should have a sobering influence on overenthusiastic ecumenists and help them keep their feet on the ground.