De Koster’s Unorthodox View of the Bible

Dr. Edwin H. Palmer of Wayne, New Jersey, is a Christian Reformed minister. He has served as pastor of CRC churches in Michigan (Spring Lake, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids), has taught at Westminster Theological Seminary, and is presently serving as Executive Secretary of the New International Version of the Bible (New York International Bible Society).

The editor of The Banner, Dr. Lester De Koster, has set forth publicly, in The Banner and in his public debate against Dr. Harold Lindsell, editor of Christianity Today, a theory of inspiration that is diametrically opposed to the teachings of the Christian Reformed Church. He is completely sincere in this and appeals to our creeds. But the fact is that outside of the few voices in The Reformed Journal in the late Rfties (which were ·squelched by Synod) and Dr. Harry Boers recent attack on the inerrancy of the Bible in Above the Bible? (Eerdmans, 1977)* no one in the Christian Reformed Church has dared in writing to question the inerrancy of the Bible. This is a new, dangerous and tragic position that should not be taught, let alone in a place of such influence as The Banner.

I will restrict my observations to the public remarks of Dr. De Koster in his debate against Dr. Lindsell in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on January 11, 1977. Recordings of the debate have been made available to the public and all my quotes are taken from this tape.

In order to understand the seriousness of Dr. De Koster‘s views, we must recall that Dr. Harold Lindsell wrote a fine book called The Battle For The Bible, a book that ought to be read carefully by every member of the Christian Reformed Church. In it, Dr. Lindsell set forth the historic, Christian position that the Bible in its entirety is the infallible, inerrant** Word of God. He repudiated the heretical view of limited inerrancy, that is, that the Bible is true, accurate, and reliable in only the central core –in matters of faith and practice—but unreliable in the periphery of scientific, historical, and geographical detail.

He also asserted that when individuals or institutions depart from the historic position of full inerrancy, then it is just a matter of time before those people or institutions will depart further from the faith and will abandon other teachings of the Bible. And in his debate with Dr. De Koster, he warned the Christian Reformed Church that if we tolerate the deviant view of limited inerrancy (which is now being voiced in our church), we too will gradually give up other doctrines that we now hold dear.

Instead of showing appreciation for such a stalwart position, Dr. De Koster launched a running attack in The Banner against Dr. Lindsell. As a result, the two men were invited to Kalamazoo to debate each other in a public forum.

My overall reaction to the debate is this; How the Christian Reformed Church has changed when the editor of its weekly magazine attacks rather than defends Dr. Lindsell, who stands foursquare on the teachings of the church from St. Augustine to the Refonnation to the Christian Reformed Church. Can anyone even imagine any of the former editors of The Banner lining themselves up in opposition to Dr. Lindsell’s position? We are indeed in a precarious position.

AJlow me to specify my objections to Dr. De Koster‘s debate.

1. “Now again, I am not defending errancy or inerrancy in Scripture as such,” says Dr. De Koster. “I dont talk about inerrancy or errancy anymore than I can help it.” He drives a wedge between “infallible” and “inerrant,” saying that the Confessions use the term “infallible” and not “inerrancy.”

What! The editor of The Banner is not defending the inerrancy of the Bible? Well, he ought to do so, and ought to do it vigorously.

To say that he will not defend inerrancy or errancy is like the government schools saying they will not defend or attack God. They are above such issues. Well, not to decide is to decide. Not to acknowledge God, when He so clearly reveals Himself in nature (Rom. 1:18–20) is to attack God. So, likewise here. Not to be for inerrancy is to take a stand against it. The Bible either has errors or it does not. And to take a lofty attitude of supposedly rising above such questions is to take a stand against the Bible’s truthfulness.

This is the most serious fault in De Koster’s thinking; He refuses to stand up for the historic, Christian position that the Bible is true in all its parts and has no error, even in the smallest area.

Now it would be serious enough if it were some peon saying this, but this is coming from the most heard voice in the Christian Reformed Church. And it is doing irreparable harm to the Christian Reformed Church.

He began this line of writing in The Banner and now continues in this error in the debate. De Koster believes that the copies of the Creek manuscripts and the multitude of translations in Syriac, Latin, German, and English—rather than the autographa (the original writings)—are the inspired, infallible Word of God. “Calvinists do not talk about the lost autographa of the Scriptures,” he said to his Kalamazoo audience. “Calvinists—we mean when they quote St. Paul, ‘All Scripture is inspired’ that is, God-breathed—they mean the Bible that you hold in your hand and I hold in mine.”

Later in the debate De Koster quotes Lindsell as saying in his book that the Bible is “free from all error in the autographa.” De Koster adds: “Those are the lost manuscripts. Then on page 36 [Dr. Lindsell says], ‘God did not shield Scripture when it became part of history.’ Now that’s an ambiguous statement at best. What it means is that God permitted copyists’ errors to creep into the inspired text and that it now becomes he task of scholars to purge that text of the mistakes that God let appear there. That‘s in flat contradiction to the Westminster Confession . . . .”

Contrary to De Koster, Calvinists do talk about the lost autographa of Scripture, unless De Koster does not think Prof. Louis Herkhof of Calvin Theological Seminary was a Calvinist, or former President R. B. Kuiper, or Fred Klooster, or Marten H. Woudstra, or A. A. Hodge, or Charles Hodge, or Benjamin Warfield, or J. Gresham Machen or Edward J. Young, or Cornelius Van Til, or John Murray or Meredith Kline or Roger Nicole or Laird Harris or James Packer, or countless others that I have not mentioned. All these Calvinists have distinguished between the autographa and the copies of the autographa.

Listen to just one of them; A. A. Hodge of Princeton Theological Seminary. “The church has never held the verbal infallibility of our translations, nor the perfect accuracy of the copies of the original Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. These copies confessedly contain many ‘discrepancies’ resulting from frequent transcription. . . . The Church has asserted absolute infallibility only of the original autographa copies of the Scriptures as they came from the hands of their inspired writers” (Outlines of Theology, reprint 1949, p. 75).

And as for the Westminster Confession of Faith, De Koster has either never read it, or not read it with understanding when he says that it does not distinguish between the autographa on the one hand, and the copies and translations on the other hand. For in Chapter 1, Section 8, that Confession says explicitly that “in all controversies of religion the Church is finally to appeal to” “the Old Testament in Hebrew . . . and the New Testament in Greek.” It goes on to say that “because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God . . . therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar [i.e., common] language of every nation.”

Let it be said again plainly and clearly that translations have errors in them and to that extent are not the Word of God. The Living Bible, for example, at Acts 13:48 says the exact opposite of what the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to say. It says, “As many as wanted eternal life, believed.” Now the Holy Spirit did not say “wanted,” but “ordained” or “appointed.” The Living Bible is erroneous at this point and Gods Word cannot come through that distortion.

Or, to take another example, the King James Bible added to what the Holy Spirit said when it inserted a whole verse at I John 5:7: “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” These words were added to God’s Word by Erasmus on the basis of a foolish promise of his that he would insert them in his Greek text (this Greek text was the basis for the King James translation) if he could find a single Greek manuscript that included them. After he made the promise, someone manufactured a Greek text with this verse in it, and so Erasmus included it in his text and the King James followed that spurious text!

The King James Version has subtracted, added to, and twisted the very words of the Holy Spirit—not out of maliciousness, for those scholars loved the Word of God, but because they just did not have the best manuscripts and tools to work with. And wherever the King James Version falsified. what the Holy Spirit inspired it is not the inerrant Word of God.

Dr. Lindsell was completely correct when at Kalamazoo he said to his audience, “Nobody in his right mind” would be willing to say that translations are the infallible Word of God. And he goes on to say that “any translation or any version is the Word of God to the extent that it is faithful in its translation from the Hebrew and Greek.”

But, unbelievably, Dr. De Koster says, “Right mind or wrong mind. that’s exactly what I say.”

Such assertions on the part of The Banner editor reveal a fundamental error in his thinking and illustrate clearly why he should no longer write or speak on this subject in public.

It just is not possible to say, as De Koster does, that “the Bible you and I hold in our hand” is the infallible, inspired Word of God. When one version has verses that another does not have, and when one version translates the same verse in the precisely opposite waY,·it is impossible to say that both are the Word of God. One is right and the other is wrong. One has error. But the Word of God has no errors in it. It is infallible.

These are the two fundamental criticisms that I have of De Koster‘s Kalamazoo debate:

1. He refuses to defend the inerrancy of the Bible.

2. Even though the copies of the original writings and their translations are known to have errors in them, Dr. De Koster says that they, and not the original writings only, are the inspired, infallible Word of God.

Now there are three or four minor points I want to raise, because in these matters he was most unfair to Dr. Lindsell.

1. At the beginning of the debate, Dr. Lindsell set forth clearly the two positions within Christendom on inspiration. One is that of plenary or full inspiration, that all of the Bible in the autographa is the infallible, inerrant Word of God. He cited the confessions of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, Southern Baptist Convention, and the Westminster Confession of Faith. And he paid tribute to Prof. Louis Berkhof of our own seminary.

In the other camp he cited those who deny the inerrancy of the Word of God, and since he was speaking to a primarily Christian Reformed audience, he cited Berkouwer, Kuitert, Daane and Boer.

Then he put this question to his listeners: “Do you choose to accept Berkouwer, Kuitert, Daane, and Boer over against Berkhof? For they are inconsistent and arc saying opposite things. If you accept the one, you must reject the other.” Lindsell went on to say that he, for one, was in agreement with the standards of the Christian Reformed Church and with Berkhof. Then he asked: “Is it possible for the Holy Spirit to witness out of both sides of his mouth at the same time? Can he witness to Berkouwer and Kuifert and Daane and Boer that the Word of God has error in it and then witness to Berkhof and Lindsell and other people like us that the Word of God does not have error in it? The Holy Spirit can only witness to one of two things, but he cannot witness to both.”

In response to this statement, De Koster said, “I criticized his book because on page 183 he seems only willing to affirm the possibility that this [the witness of the Holy Spirit] should perhaps be explored, and he mouthed a criticism of it a while ago, which is a common criticism, one which in its phraseology I think is almost blasphemous, that the Holy Spirit of God might indeed speak out of both sides of his mouth.” And later on, De Koster in quoting the Canons of Dort says: “No talk there of a Spirit who mentions something out of one side of his mouth and something out of another.”

I mention this, because it is typical of most of the dehate. It reveals fuzzy, incorrect, and wrong deductions on the part of De Koster. Dr. Lindsell was firmly opposing the very idea that the Holy Spirit might speak out of both sides of His mouth. For that would indeed be blasphemous. He was saying that you have to believe in errancy or in inerrancy. One or the other, and that the Holy Spirit does not say on the one hand via Boer and Daane that there are errors in the Bible, and then on the other hand via Berkhof that there are no errors. He cannot talk out of both sides of His mouth. De Koster has completely perverted what Lindsell said.

2. Then, wonder of wonders, Dr. De Koster gives the impression that Lindsell is questioning the trustworthiness of the Bible. It is incredible how Dr. De Koster argues. Here is Dr. Lindsell taking a staunch stand for the inerrancy and trustworthiness of the Bible, and then Dr. De Koster attacks him for this, yet giving the impression that it is Lindsell and not De Koster who undermines the Bible! A person would not be able to believe this if he did not have the tape right in front of him.

Now Dr. De Koster is cautious for a couple of moments and asks whether Lindsell is questioning the trustworthiness of the Bible or “putting that question in the mouth of someone else.”

Yet most of the time he speaks as if Lindsell doubted the Bible! Listen to him: “My third proposition follows from the first two and you know what it is: Therefore we confess that we believe without any doubt all things contained therein: . . . However, Dr. Lindsell does not begin his book with that affirmation. He says on page 18, the question he writes his book about this question, ‘Is the Bible trustworthy?, And now I shall phrase a question: Can he on the one hand seriously say this is the inspired Word of God and then leave open the question at any time or place Is this trustworthy?’ John Calvin did not think so . . . . Now if Dr. Lindsell takes seriously the question about which he says he wrote his book, ‘Is the Bible trustworthy?’ then he is obviously at odds with this affirmation of the Belgic Confession. Because exactly what he questions the Confession affirms. The Confession says, ‘The Bible is the infallible rule: Dr. Lindsell raises the question, ‘Is the Bible trustworthy?’ Now I do not say that is his position. I only say before the book is useful to us that is something we certainly need to know. And, for myself I wonder whether this contradiction between the Confession and the book, if it turns out to be real, does not reflect on the Arminian structure of theology in the argument of the book.”

Now for a split second Dr. De Koster says “I do not say that is his position,” but all around that statement he gives the impression that Lindsell is questioning the trustworthiness of the Bible.

Dut the entire thrust of Lindsell‘s book is to affirm that the Bible is trustworthy and that we may not cal! this trustworthiness into question even on “minor,” peripheral details. To be sure, Lindsell‘s book deals with the question “Is the Bible trustworthy?” (p. 18), but he himself is not questioning that. He is only trying to show what happens when someone else questions the trustworthiness of the Bible. On that same page, i.n the very next paragraph, Dr. Lindsell says without equivocation that he does not question the Bible‘s trustworthiness. “It can be trusted as truthful in all its parts. By this 1 mean that the Bible is infallible or inerrant. It communicates religious truth, not religious error. But there is more. Whatever it communicates is to be trusted and can be relied upon as being true. The Bible is not a textbook on chemistry, astronomy, philosophy, or medicine. But when it speaks on matters having to do with these or any other subjects, the Bible does not lie to us.”

I cannot imagine a higher view of the trustworthiness of the Bible, yet Dr. De Koster gives the impression that Lindsell is questioning it. Whether done out of ignorance or not, what Dr. De Koster says at this point is eminently unfair to Dr. Lindsell and misleading.

3. One of Dr. Lindsell‘s major warnings is that the history of the church has shown that once you give up the teaching of the inerrancy of the Bible, it is only a matter of time before you will give up other teachings of the Bible. His book is replete with examples of this.

But Dr. De Koster pooh-poohs such fears. He says: “Dr. Lindsell‘s argument is that if you forsake inerrancy, then all sorts of catastrophes follow and certainly in 50 years your organization will be dead. I just pointed out to him that Calvin never took the doctrine of inerrancy in the form that Dr. Lindsell presents it and the Reformed Churches were tremendously healthy 200 years after Calvin.”

Now I do not know how healthy Calvin‘s own church was 250 years ago. But to any one who is aware of what is happening today—and that is Lindsell‘s point—there is a definite correlation between the abandoning of the historic Christian position on inerrancy and the abandoning of other basic Biblical beliefs. Witness what has happened to the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, and the United Presbyterian Church, to name but four well known current situations: In each of these cases there is a close connection between faulty views of the Bible and the giving up of other basic Christian teachings, such as, miracles. Instead of trying to show the opposite, the editor of a church paper should give a clear warning of the perils that are tied up with the abandoning of the full trustworthiness of the Bible.

And De Koster then goes on to make egregious gaffe when he says: “Now Dr. Lindsell just told you, I am saying that whether it takes 5 or 50 years, any denomination that forsakes inerrancy will end up in shipwreck: Now the denomination that John Calvin started is going for almost 450 years, and most of you belong to it, I dare say, and it hasnt suffered shipwreck at all.”

But this is simply not so at all. The Christian Reformed Church is not “the denomination that John Calvin started.” Our denomination is a new one, having broken away from the Reformed Church in America in 1857. And most of our forbearers belonged to a church in the Netherlands that had broken away from the liberal, Dutch state church. Now, Calvins beliefs have persisted down to our day in our church, but that is not the point. The point is that when De Koster cites the Christian Reformed Church as a denomination that John Calvin started 450 years ago he is wrong. Calvinistic churches have repeatedly gone sour, and just as the Reformation broke from Rome, so true Calvinists have broken from modernistic denominations to form new ones.

4. Dr. De Koster asserts that John Calvin taught that there were errors in the Bible, and he cites the liberal Emile Doumergue’s belief in this.

It would tak a lengthy study in itself to evaluate Calvin at this point. But I do want to point out that there are many scholars, liberal as well as orthodox, who believe that Calvin taught inerrancy. I will site only one, and that is Prof. John Murray, who in 1959 spoke to a Christian Reformed Church on this very subject, and whose lectures are published by Baker in Calvin On Scripture and Divine Sovereignty, a book that all should read. He sounds as though he were speaking to The Banner editor when he says: “A great deal of scorn has been heaped for the last seven decades upon what has been called the modern ‘dogma of the inerrancy of the original autographa’ and upon the ‘modern scholastics who have generated this dogma.’” He continues:

“This question of the autographa and of the mistakes that have crept in in the course of transmission introduces us to a most important phase of the evidence bearing upon Calvin’s view of Scripture. We have had occasion to quote several passages from Calvin in which he reflected upon these mistakes of copyists and, in one case, upon the blunder of an unlearned reader. It is not necessary to review these passages. It is sufficient to be reminded that Calvin discusses this matter of the proper text of a particular passage and registers his judgment for the very purpose of ascertaining what was the text penned by the original writer, whether it be Luke or Paul or the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews. Calvin was greatly concerned to ascertain what this text was whenever there was occasion to raise any question respecting it. Of this there is copious evidence. Now why this concern? Obviously because he was jealous to be sure of the autographic text. And is it not this jealousy that lies behind the whole science of textual criticism? Scholars differ m their judgments on particular problems. But they all have interest in getting back to the autographic text. Hence the premise of centuries of labor on this question is the importance of the autographic text.

But in the aese of Calvin there was much more at stake than the abstract question of the text of the original author. We have found that hiS interest is also concerned with the question of veracity. He rejects a certain reading in Hebrews 9:1, for example, because that reading would not comport with the facts of the case as he construed them. He attributes the reading to an ignorant reader. Why such reSections? Surely because he is jealous not to attribute this reading to the writer of the Hebrews. And that means that the assumption on which he proceeds is that the original writer could not be regarded as susceptible to such an error.”

More could be said, such as De Koster’s erroneous conception of the witness of the Holy Spirit, but I pass over these. What I do want to conclude with is my thorough disappointment that the one leader of our denomination who is heard every week, instead of coming out with a resounding defense of the inerrancy of the Word of God—the traditional teaching of historic Christianity and the Christian Reformed Church—does all in his power to avoid defending it.

Note the following:

1. Instead of commending Dr. Lindsell’s book in its general thrust (you don‘t have to agree with everything Lindsell says), he attacks, attacks, and attacks in the official publication of the Christian Reformed Church and in a public debate, without ever saying even one commendatory word about his defense of inerrancy—the main idea of the book. 2. De Koster ridicules the idea of inerrant lost autographa, and wrongly states that “Calvinists do not talk about the lost autographa of the Scriptures.” He fights the idea “that your translation is trustworthy only to the extent that it is faithful to the Greek and Hebrew.” 3. De Koster goes to considerable length to try to prove that Calvin thought the autographa had errors in it. 4. He says plainly: “I am not defending errancy or inerrancy in the Scriptures as such.”

Our editor should uphold the inerrancy of the Word of God as it has been taught not only by the Christian Reformed Church, but also by the Calvinistic schools: The Free University of Amsterdam and Kampen (until the recent era of decline), Potchefstroom, Calvin Seminary, Westminster, and the Reformed Seminary in Jackson.

May God be gracious to Dr. De Koster and bless him greatly as he attempts to give leadership in the doctrine of the Word of God, which I know he loves. His heart is right, but his mind is wrong.

*De Doer writes: “Schoalrly integrity has therefore made it necessary to face rather frontally the fact that many data in Scripture are not in harmony with each other” (p. 80)! “As a result evangelical scholarship finds itself ill a dilemma. The churches it serves have traditionally adhered to the view that the Bible as God’s Word cannot contain inconsistencies or disparities of any kind. When disparities appear they must in some way be harmonized out of existence. It is in this sense that tile words infallibility and inerrancy arc usually applied to Scripture, not only popularly but also theologically. To suggest that there are discrepancies or inconsistencies in the Bible would offend the religious mind of many theologically unschooled believers and some (a dwindling number) of those who have been theologically trained. The evangelical scholar cannot ignore this. But he also has his academic conscience and the general academic theological community to live with” (pp. 80–81). “The word ‘inerrant’ is also a misleading adjective. It connotes the unqualified absense of inconsistency or disparity of any kind whatever with respect to any data found in the Bible. Unlike reliability or trustworthiness it is an absolute word. But its absoluteness is applied to an aspect of Scripture that is not in fact inerrant. The Bible is infallible; it is not inerrant in the accepted sense of the word” (p. 82).

**By the term “infallible” I mean what the church has always meant until the recent deviations, that is, without discrepancies, disparities or errors—in a word, “Inerrant.”