Continuing Theological Discussion in the Netherlands

From time to time the readers of this periodical have been informed of recent theological developments in the Netherlands, a country which in the course of time has been used by God for the promotion and development of Reformed theological thinking throughout the world. Since many of om’ readers cannot consult the Dutch periodicals at first hand it may be useful to digest some of the more recent comments dealing with the questions of how to read the Bible as they appear in the Dutch church press.

As is well known by now Professor Kuitert, who teaches Systematic Theology at the Free Reformed University in Amsterdam, believes that one can no longer hold to an historical Adam and Eve and an historical fall into sin. As recently as January 18, 1969 Professor Kuitert wrote in the Christian Daily Trouw that the newer world view as presented to us by natural science makes it impossible to believe any longer in the sequence creation-fall-redemption as an historical sequence. Professor Kuitert has also recently published a short exposition of his method of reading the Bible. This publication has appeared under the title: “Understandest Thou What Thou Readest?,” a title inspired by the question Philip asked of the Ethiopian Eunuch.

In several of the Dutch periodicals which T receive one finds a discussion of this recent publication of Dr. Kuitert’s. I shall attempt to present some excerpts from these articles at this point.

An important article, containing critical comments with respect to Kuitert’s opinions, occurs in Gereformeerd Weekblad of January 17, 1969. It is written by Dr. C. Gilhuis, minister of one of the Reformed churches in the city of The Hague. The periodical in which this article occurs is not known for taking extreme positions. This should cause us to listen to what is being said all the more carefully.

Gilhuis points out that Kuitert, in his denial of the historicity of the sequence creation-fall-redemption, is no longer in step with what the Synod of his own church-communion had to say about this matter. For though this Synod related some of rigidity of the exegesis of Genesis 3, concerning the tree, and the speaking of the serpent, it at the same time maintained that in the light of Romans 5 one cannot deny that there was a real Adam and a real fall into sin.

But Kuitert, thus Gilhuis, considers Adam to be no more than a teaching model serving to shed light on who Christ is. This, of course, can only be done if Paul’s words in Romans 5 are given an interpretation other than what has traditionally been held. Kuitert, and some others with him, have argued that Paul, in Romans 5 and elsewhere, is using a mode of handling the data of Scripture and that today we are no longer bound to accept this mode as setting forth actual fact. Gilhuis, on the other hand, points out that Adam is called a “type” of Christ. This word “type” according to Gilhuis cannot just be given the meaning of “teaching model.” It means a prefigurement (voorafbeelding).

Doth Kuitert and others use as their favorite illustration of Paul’s alleged method the fact that in I Corinthians 10:4 the apostle speaks of a rock which the Israelites on their trek through the desert “followed.” This, then, is supposed to be an indication that Paul took over a legend which stated that there was a rock which traveled through the desert along with the Israelites.

Gilhuis, on the other hand, points out that Paul does !lot just take over this legend but that he speaks of a spiritual rock and then identifies this rock as being Christ.

Equally weak, in Gilhuis’ opinion, is Kuitert’s appeal to I Timothy 2:14. In this passage Paul makes a point of the fact that Eve was the first sinner. But in Romans 5 everything depends on Adam being the first sinner, thus Kuitert. However, Gilhuis points out that the word “first” does not occur in Romans 5. All that Romans 5 seeks to do is to point out the representative role of Adam in the origin of sin into the world. It is therefore unwarranted to use 1 Tim. 2:14 in combination with Romans 5 to demonstrate, as is done by Kuifert, that Paul was not really taking the story of the fall as historical fact.

Another discussion of Kuilert’s little book occurs in Centraal Weekblad. It comes from the Reverend J. Overduin, chairman of the editorial council of this periodical and a frequent contributor to its pages. After a plea for mutual understanding and appreciation the writer 6rst sets forth some of the agreements between himself and Professor Kuitert. Among these agreements is mentioned the fact that the Holy Scriptures have one main message and that message is to set forth the Christ. Scripture is not meant to supply us with all sort of interesting particulars. The Scriptures are meant to make us wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Kuitert also appeals to article 5 of the Belgic Confession which makes a similar emphasis.

In his second article Overduin again expresses a measure of agreement with Kuitert but he also offers some criticism. The agreement this time lies in the fact that Overduin is of the opinion that faith is ultimately a laying hold of the Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life. This is what is often called the material authority of the Holy Scripture as compared to its formal authority. The material authority of the Bible is that it speaks to us of Christ the Savior. The Bible’s formal authority consists in the fact that it claims to be God’s inspired Word, fully trustworthy in all of its utterances.

However, Overduin points out that one can never separate the two. The prophets never did this. They brought the full message of God but they introduced it with the words “Thus saith the Lord.” The same is true of Jesus himself, who constantly appeals to that which is “written” although what he says is good and true by itself.

Overduin believes that we are today living in a time of reaction in which a very strong emphasis is placed on the human factor in the Bible’s composition. More specifically he mentions the following points in critique of Kuitert: I. Kuitert at times allows for contradictions in Scripture where a sane harmonization such as is found in the Reformed commentaries of Noordtzij, Goslinga, and Van Gelderen would have been possible. 2. While Kuitert believes that some stories in the Bible represent real fact without which our faith would be vain (I Cor. 15:14) he at the same time maintains that “very many stories of the Old Testament (and in lesser degree those of the New) have hardly had the intention to convey historical truth accurately to us. He who reads them in this way definitely reads them wrongly.” Overduin, while admitting that these words could be given a proper sense, nevertheless points to the danger of a too hasty application of this approach. This would happen when the stories of the miracles were thought to be nothing but folk stories or legends used to enhance the greatness of Jesus Christ.

3. Overduin, no more than Gilhuis, is convinced of the rightness of Kuitert’s exegesis of Romans 5 in conjunction with I Tim. 2:14. He believes that one must not preclude the possibility that Cod at a given moment decided to create a man in his image, even though there might have been some beings resembling men but not thus created in his image.

In order not to extend this article unduly I shall conclude with a few comments offered by Professor Herman Ridderbos in Gereformeerd Weekblad of February 28, 1969. Commenting on the view that Genesis 3 means to do nothing more than to present the plight of man in general by means of a teaching model, a view held by Professor Lever, biology professor at the Free University, Ridderbos asks the searching question: Suppose for the sake of argument that this is indeed such a teaching model, we must still find out what is being taught by this model. At that point Professor Ridderbos indicates that he belongs to those who would no longer be able to “understand what they read” if they would have to hold that Genesis 3 did not teach that man in the beginning actually fell into sin, and that he would understand even less of what Paul does with this in Romans 5. In this context he also quotes Professor Berkouwer who resolutely rejects the Adam-equals-everyman approach. This same rejection, thus Ridderbos, can also be found in utterances of Professors Gispen and Koole.

In the same issue of the Gereformeerd Weekblad another article occurs, written by Th. Delleman, one who certainly cannot be accused of being a “literalist.” This article is equally critical of Lever’s view concerning the story of the fall. While subscribing to Lever’s view concerning the origin of man Delleman wishes to hold on to an historical fall into sin. Man, thus Delleman, came into being when God addressed him as covenant partner. At that point man’s life was turned toward a life in God’s image. By virtue of that fact man begins to know of good and evil, i.e., he gets a conscience. He also receives a cultural mandate. But man chooses against covenant fidelity. Thus he becomes a sinner, though God does not sever all relations with him. God now addresses man in grace and offers him the perspective of the completion of his life and of the world in glory.

The above brief excerpts may have served the purpose of letting the readers know something of the continuing debate in the Netherlands regarding the question of how to understand the Bible in this 20th century of ours. The criticisms that have been mentioned thus far have been mild. Other papers contain more trenchant criticisms. But what has been offered here may help to form an opinion of the attempts that are being made to arrive at a Biblically responsible solution of the question of understanding God’s Word for God’s world. The question whether anyone of these attempts or all of them together are truly contributing toward a solution of the problems raised is not within the scope of the present article. The present writer will be happy to enter into a further discussion of these matters if this is deemed desirable.

M.H. Woudstra, professor of Old Testament, Calvin Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan.