De Koster versus Lindsell

Dr. Edwin Palmer of Wayne, New Jersey, a minister in the Christian Reformed Church, is presently serving as the Executive Secretary of the New International Version of the Bible (New York International Bible Society). His telling reply in this article to Editor De Koster’s repeated attacks in The Banner on Lindsell’s The Battle for the Bible should prove to be helpful and of special interest to the reader.

Dr. Harold Lindsell, formerly a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and currently editor of Christianity Today, has written an excellent and important book on the inerrancy of the Bible. It is one that all Evangelicals should purchase and read. (I do not agree with every detail of the book; I think there are some errors in it. But these are very minor and the general thrust is perfect—right on target.)

But the editor of the Christian Reformed Church publication The Banner did not like it. So beginning with the August 20th issue of The Banner, he attacked the book for at least seven weeks.

I do not mind attacks, if they are Biblically based and if they do some good. BlIt these fail on both counts: They are not Biblically based and they do harm.

It is impossible to take time to refute all the misstatements and misconceptions that the editor sets forth. But because it is such an important issue and because the unjustified criticism of such a good book has been publicized so much, I feel the necessity to speak up and mention at least some of the larger areas of error.

The Autographs of the Bible – The autographs of the Bible are those original writings of the Biblical authors that the Holy Spirit inspired—not the copies of them. Today we no longer have the autographs only Greek and Hebrew copies and translations of these copies. Dr. Lindsell clearly states that only the autographs are without error and that the copies do have mistakes in them.

But Dr. De Koster spends an entire editorial (Nov. 12) trying to refute this! He writes that “the first casualty in Dr. Harold Lindsell’s Baffle for the Bible is the Bible there on your table—that King James or TISV or whatever your translation is!” He goes on to say: “If the original Scriptures were inerrant, but no longer exist, then what about my Bible right here and now? It’s the only Bible, in whatever version, that I have. How are we, and how is the Church, to be profited by fighting over something that no longer exists?”

How is it possible that this simple distinction between the autographs and the copies is not understood? This distinction has been made from Augustine to the presentday Evangelical Theological Society, whose only doctrinal basis is: “The Bible alone and the Bible in its entirety is the Word of God written, and therefore inerrant in the autographs.”

To be very clear, let me assert with all the force that is in me that the King James Version that Dr. De Koster has on his table is not the infallible, inerrant Word of God. And no translation of the Bible is without error—not even the best of them all, the New International Version! Of course not! All translations without exception have errors in them.

Pick up the King James and open it to John 5:4. Now do the same with any modern version, and you will not even find the verse, except perhaps in the margin. Now both translations cannot be the Word of God. One has John 5:4, the other does not. Regardless of who is right or wrong, one is wrong.

Similarly, we can compare Greek manuscript with manuscript, translation with translation, and the manuscript draft of one editorial committee with that of another editorial committee, working on the same translation, and you will find innumerable contradictions, omissions, additions, mistranslations.

Copyists can make errors and have made plenty of them. Translators are not inspired in the same way that Paul was. They pray for illumination and guidance by the Holy Spirit, but they are not kept from error, as can be plainly seen by the marked-up manuscripts of any translator and the revisions that are made from time to time on the finished product.

The Bible never says that the copyists and translators are inspired, but rather, the prophets were inspired as they were driven by the Holy Spirit (II Peter 1:19–21). In other words, the autographs are without error; the copies and translations are not.

But Dr. De Koster asks, if that is so, and if the original Scriptures “no longer exist, then what about my Bible right here and now?”

The answer is, as Dr. Lindsell pointed out and as all students of Bible manuscripts know, that by the grace of Cod we are able to evaluate and compare the innumerable Biblical manuscripts so that it is only an infinitesimal part of the Bible that wu are uncertain of. For all practical purposes, we can take a modern translation in hand—and even the King James with all its errors and say, “This is the Word of God.” It is not the Word of God, because it is not the original, which the Holy Spirit inspired, but we can say it is the Word of God, just as much as Dr. De Koster, in his former job as a librarian, could hand me a hook and say, “Here is Dante‘s Divine Comedy,” even though the book handed me was not the exact paper that Dante wrote an and even though it was an English translation.

Then Dr. De Koster goes on to ask: “How are we, and how is the Church, to be profited by fighting over something that no longer exists?” Well, the difference is the same as between heaven and hell. We do not have the original writing of Homer’s Odyssey. All we have are copies. But there is all the difference in the world in reading copies of the poet’s magnificent Odyssey or copies of a drunken illiterate’s frenzy. So there is all the difference in the world between reading copies of God‘s unbreakable and absolutely true Bible or copies of a work that is not trust-worthy and that has all kinds of errors in it.

And remember: We are certain about 98 percent of the original. Except for a few minor matters we do know exactly what the Biblical authors wrote.

The Witness of the Holy Spirit – The “witness of the Holy Spirit” is a technical theological term for the inner working of the Holy Spirit convincing us that the Bible is the Word of God. All the logical reasoning or emotional pleading in the world will not cause a person to believe the Bible. Only the Holy Spirit will. Logic cannot convince a man, scholars cannot either, nor can a mother‘s tears. But the Holy Spirit can.

But this inner working of the Holy Spirit—the cause of our belief in the Bible—is not the same as the grounds for our belief in the Bible—is not the same as the grounds for our belief in the Bible. These grounds for believing the Bible are in the Bible itself. The cause of our believing these grounds, however, is the Holy Spirit. He works in our hearts and causes us to understand the grounds and to believe that the Bible is from God. Now Dr. De Koster has mixed up the ground and the cause of our belief, and identified them, completely missing Dr. Lindsells point.

When Dr. Lindsell asks: “Why then believe in an inerrant Scripture?” (p. 182), he is asking what the ground for belief is, not who (the Holy Spirit) causes him to believe. He gives two basic reasons: “The first is that God is the author of Scripture and He cannot lie. . . . The second answer to the question is that Scripture itself claims to be inerrant.”

Then De Koster jumps right in with what he thinks is a contradictory assertion and says, “But, the Reformed believer confesses to but one answer to this question; I repeat it once more: because the Holy Spirit certifies such convictions within us” (The Banner, Oct. 23). Their Spirit’s witness, he says, is “the foundation of Christian assurance.” “It is of the utmost importance to see that the believer’s assurance rests, not in man, but in the Spirit.”

Now De Koster has missed the paint. Of course a person believes because the Holy Spirit works in him and causes him to believe. But Lindsells question was: “Why then believe in an errant Scripture?” What arc the reasons? What is the ground for believing? Not what is the actual cause of belief—the Holy Spirit. But is there any intellectual basis for believing—regardless of whether or not the Holy Spirit is working in you?

And in a later issue of The Banner (Nov. 19), De Koster puts it very baldly: “The choice before us is clear. It is between Lindsell’s rationalism and the ‘inner testimony’ affirmed by our Confession (Belgic, V). But it is a choice! Either rationalism or the Confession!”Dr. Lindsell recommends, you may remember, that we depend upon the scholars. They ‘have produced a product,’ he says, which can be said to be the Word of God.”

But this is not the choice before us, and De Koster has misrepresented Lindsell. Our task is to understand and present reasons for believing the Bible is the Word of God (as Lindsell says, they are to be found only in the Bible), and at the same time to pray that the Holy Spirit will take these reasons and use them to convict us that the Bible is the Word of God. It is not either-or. It is both-and.

Biblical Rule for Understanding the Bible – In his September 24th editorial, Dr, De Koster says that the Biblical rule for understanding the Bible is to obey God. “If Biblical understanding is the fruit of obedience, as it is, then who is the teacher we should heed? Obviously, the teacher whose life displays the fruit of obedience—lacking these, how could that teacher have gotten Biblical understanding?” And in the October 1 issue he writes, “It is the hermeneutics of obedience. Those who will to obey are given understanding.”

This editorial exhibits a mishmash of confusion. Of course it is true that we will know a man by his works, and a tree by its fruit, and that obedience is important. But hermeneutics, or the true interpretation of the Bible. does not judge men by their theology, and the correctness of a man‘s theology or interpretation of the Bible is not dependent upon his obedience. Just because a man is living a holy life, that is no guarantee that he is thinking straight, that he interprets the Bible correctly.

I know of some Arminians who are the finest of Christians, who have the fruit of the Spirit, who not only say “Lord, Lord,” but also do the will of God, and yet in some places they are 100 percent wrong in their hermeneutics, in their understanding of the Bible. Their obedience does not prevent them from denying total depravity, unconditional election, irresistible grace, limited atonement, and the perseverance of the saints. Contrary to De Koster’s theory, “Biblical understanding,” as he words it, is not “the fruit of obedience.” These same good, obedient fellow Christians also have thoroughly wrong ideas about the millennium. They put much of their hope in a materialistic thousandyear reign on earth rather than recognizing that the thousand years of Revelation 20 are not to be taken literally but apply to Christ’s spiritual kingdom between his first and second coming. All their obedience and godliness do not give them a true interpretation of the Bible.

De Koster got going on this when he misunderstood a statement by Lindsell. At the outset of the book, Lindsell says he wants to stick to issues and not personalities. “We must not determine the rightness or wrongness of a man’s position by his personal life” (p. 26).

This statement has nothing to do with hermeneutics (how to interpret the Bible), nor is it a rejection of Matthew 7: “by their fruits you will know them,” as De Koster says. All Dr. Lindsell is saying is that he does not want to get involved in personalities. Lindsell wants to judge the words of men, not their lives. “I am interested in the theological viewpoint of those who hold to an errant Scripture, and wish to avoid dealing in personalities. If, at any point, I give the appearance of sniping at a person, or seem to be attacking anyone’s person, it is not my announced intention” (p. 27). Admirable!

De Koster is wrong here on two scores: 1. He thinks Lindsell rejects Matthew 7:15–23; and 2, he misinterprets the obedience idea of Matthew 7 as meaning that “understanding of the Word is given by way of obedience,” (But Matthew 7:20 tells us how to know Christians, not the Bible!)

Heresy-hunting and Blood-letting – Dr. De Koster uses strong terminology in rejecting Dr. Lindsell‘s book. Listen to these evaluations: “It is a highly incompetent work, at most a reservoir of unseemly gossip. . . . The closer you look, the worse the book looks” (Aug. 20). “From such internal blood-letting the Church already suffers enough. Let us watchfully avoid it!” (Sept. 24). “One may be more apt to think of thorns and thistles than he is of fruitful trees and laden vines as he pages through these indictments of our brethren” (Sept. 24). “The Church has never endorsed those self-appointed agents of free-enterprise in heresy-huntingwarriors who mount their own chargers and dash about, upsetting the Christian community, claiming to identify and dispose of error. The impression left by Dr. Lindsell’s book is that such is his own intention” (Oct. 1).

I evaluate The Battle for the Bible entirely differently than De Koster docs. It is my fi rm conviction that the editor of Christianity Today has performed a valuable service to Christianity as a whole in highlighting this crucial issue of the inerrancy of the Word of God.

Remember what his thesis is: The major controversy among Christians today is the inerrancy of the Bible. More specifically, it is whether the entire Bible is inerrant or just a part of it: limited or unlimited inerrancy—total or partiaL The historic Christian position–including that of the Christian Reformed Church—has been that the entire Bible is inerrant. Others say, No: The Bible is trustworthy in its central core, but not in the periphery; in matters dealing with salvation, but not in geographical, historical. or scientific detail.

Professors at Fuller Theological Seminary are good examples of partial inerrancy. Lindsell mentions James Daane, “with whom I was personally acquainted and with whom I had many theological discussions. He was a millennia list and did not hold to an inerrant Scripture” (p. 112).

But one of the clearest is Dr. Daniel Fuller, who in the June, 1972, issue of The American Scientific Affiliation explicitly defends the inerrancy of the Bible only in “revelation matters,” and fights the idea of inerrancy in “non-revelational matters as geology. meteorology. cosmology, botany, astronomy, geography, etc.” Fuller opposes Dr. Edward J. Young’s statement that “the Bible in its statements is not contrary to fact,” and, “A person who continues to make so-called trilling mistakes is not one whom we can trust . . . If God has communicated wrong; information even in so-called unimportant matters. he is not a trustworthy God.”

Dr. Lindsell’s thesis is that this issue of total or partial inerrancy is the watershed in the Evangelical churches today, and if we begin to fudge on the inerrancy of the Bible, we will one day deny many more truths of Scripture and eventually even the heart of the gospel.

A striking case of this is Dewey M. Beegle. He comes from a church that held to a high view of inspiration, the Free Methodist Church. But in 1963 he wrote a book on The Inspiration of Scripture, in which he ridiculed the inerrancy of the Bible. To see where such views lead, turn to a book he wrote just nine years later, called Moses, the Servant of Jahweh (Eerdmans). (Why is it that Eerdmans publishes so many theologically-liberal books?) Here is a book that is dealing with the life of Moses, but since according to Beegle the Bible has mistakes in it, it is hard for him to know what is true and what is not. After much research, the conclusion in this 368-page book is: “It is the conviction of the writer that there was a Moses,” but “aside from the main experience at Sinai and Quadesh-barnea it is impossible to reconstruct with any degree of certainty what happened during most of the years in the wilderness” (p. 30)111 So out of Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, all Beegle is sure of is Sinai and Quadesh-barnea! Some Bible! Some inspiration! How comforting and strengthening it must be to hear him preach! What great authority! This is the sort of skepticism that the theory of partial inerrancy leads to.

This is why Dr. De Koster is wrong in attacking LindseIrs book. And it is not blood-letting or hcresyhunting to speak up on these issues. There is hardly anything more crucial. Once we begin to fiddle-faddle with the inspiration and inerrancy of all the Bible, we will begin to question Adam and Eve, Paradise and the fall (Kuitcrt), or the withering of the fig tree (Baarda), or the destruction of Jericho (Koole), or the resurrection of the saints at the crucifixion of Jesus (Baarda), or Paul’s instruction about women (Prof. Jewett of Fuller: Paul “is palpably inconsistent with the first creation narrative,” Man as Male and Female, Eerdmans, 1975, p. 119), and on and on. There is nothing—no objective criterion at all—to hold a man back from denying the miracles, virgin birth, vicarious atonement, and resurrection of Jesus. Yes, inerrancy—partial or total—is the crucial issue. And identification of error, and opposition to it, is not unchristian and unkind, as De Koster asserts. It is the kind, loving, obedient, and wise thing to do so. The church is not served by a maudlin coddling of error. Love is served by truth—and truth by love.