Dr. Verhey Responds to Criticism of His View of the Bible

Complying with his request for this, THE OUTLOOK herewith publishes an article by Dr. Allen Verhey to which he gives the title: “The Battle Over the Bible: the De Jong Case.” Appended to his article is a reply by Rev. Peter De Jong.

In the April OUTLOOK Rev. Peter De Jong wrote an article entitled “The Battle For the Bible: The Verhey Case. The title is a piece of presumptuous deception; it suggests that to differ with Rev. De Jong about the Bible is to be against the Bible. My initial response has simply to be the protest of my confession: I acknowledge the authority of Scripture, believe it inspired by God, believe it to be God’s Word to mankind, believe it reveals God’s mercy and will, believe that apart from the Scripture the church has no enduring identity as church. I make the confession of the church concerning these writings, and I mean it. My work is given to listening as carefully as I can to what the Bible says and to showing as fully as I can what it might mean to live in obedience to it. I am, in short, for the Bible, in spite of the implications of Rev. De Jong’s title.

The title of my response is hopefully less presumptuous, but the implications of “the battle over the Bible” are almost equally unwelcome to me. Part of living in faithfulness to Scripture is that we welcome each other (Romans 14:7), neither judging nor repudiating each other. That leaves little room for disputing about opinions, much less battling over them (Romans 14:1), even when the differences are as great as the differences between Jewish Christianity (with their reverence for and observance of the Hebrew scriptures) and Gentile Christianity (with their lack of reverence and observance). There is, of course, room for mutual instruction and admonition (Romans 15:14), and that instructing and admonishing may presumably be rigorous and spirited, but if it ends in judging or repudiating, we have been unfaithful to Scripture.

I wish the title could have been “a conversation about the Bible.” But Rev. De Jong is apparently intent not to have it so. He wants a battle. Beside the question of whether such a battle is faithful to Scripture, it may also be asked whether such a battle will serve the church or demonstrate the authority of Scripture to those outside the faith. But, of course, only our faithfulness to Scripture can serve the church or demonstrate the authority of Scripture. And part of faithfulness to Scripture is welcoming each other, not battling each other. I would not do battle against Rev. De Jong. I would not repudiate him. I think he is concerned about faithfulness to Scripture, and so I must be and am ready to be instructed by him to remain faithful to Scripture. But I also may and must admonish him to live in faithfulness to Scripture. If Rev. De Jong must “do battle” rather than welcome me, at least let it be done with a measure of charity and without misrepresentation, let it be done “speaking the truth in love,” not bearing falsewitness.

Rev. De Jong’s article misrepresented my positions. I found neither truth nor love in much of what he said. The grossest distortions concerned my dissertation, The Use of Scripture in Moral Argument: A Case Study of Walter Rauschenbusch (Yale, 1975). Moreover, I had told Rev. De Jong that he misunderstood my dissertation. The dissertation begins with 1) the confession that the Bible is authoritative for the Christian moral life, that the church has no moral identity apart from the Bible, and 2) the acknowledgment that the Bible is nevertheless brought to bear on moral questions in many different ways by Christian moralists. It starts and ends by saying that the Bible is the primary and final norm for the Christian life. The problem that occupies the body of the dissertation is not whether but how! But Rev. De Jong does not attend to that distinction. (And when I asked him in conversation how Leviticus 25:3–6 is normative for his congregation, he did not answer.) The question of how Scripture is to be applied and used is not answered simply by repeating that Scripture is authoritative. In other words, the confession sola scripture does not answer (and was never intended to answer) how Scripture should be used and applied. I share the Reformation‘s insistence that the Scripture is the rule for faith and practice (sola scripture), and precisely because I do insist that we be careful about how we use, interpret, and apply Scripture. Scripture has been wed to provide rationalizations for slavery, “holy wars,” the tyranny of Hitler, and a thousand other evils. But the problem is not with Scripture, but with our refusal to be careful about how we use it.

The question of how Scripture ought to be used and applied is not a new one, nor is it alien to Reformed theology. No one may doubt that Calvin acknowledged the authority of Scripture, and he refused to apply the biblical rule against interest “literally.” Reformed theology—indeed the Belgic Confession (Art. 25)—distinguishes between “temporary” and “perpetual” obligations. Many examples of places this distinction has been used might be given: Is the sabbatical year a temporary or perpetual obligation? Is capital punishment a temporary or perpetual obligation? Is the veil a temporary or perpetual obligation? Is “the holy kiss” a temporary or perpetual obligation? But if we would use such a distinction, we ought to be willing to say how and why we make it. Precisely because we recognize the authority of Scripture, we need to be careful about how we use and apply it. The dissertation does not recommend how the Bible should be used, but it does show how one can be careful about how one uses it. Surely Rev. De Jong does not want the church to be careless about such an important matter.

Rev. De Jong also misrepresents the dissertation’s analysis of the importance of experience. In the dissertation it is not a rival of Scripture. It does not take the place of Scripture as the rule for faith and practice. Experience is irrelevant to the truth of the church‘s confession that the Bible is her authority (although, of course, presumably only those who have experienced that authority make that confession with the church). But experience is relevant to how the authoritative Scriptures are used. Moreover, that experience, the dissertation insists, must be an experience of the authority of Scripture in the context of one’s own moral life and in the context of the believing community. Far from threatening the church‘s confession of the authority of Scripture, such a place for experience insists that the Bible continue to be the authority.

I would welcome discussion of my dissertation in the church, but I am not happy about “battling” over it and I am offended when misrepresentations become the implements of that battle. If Rev. De Jong insists on a battle, at least empty the arsenals of misrepresentation.

If “The Battle For the Bible; The Verhey Case” were emptied of misrepresentation, many other sentences and paragraphs would be changed. For example, I did not and do not disagree with a strong condemnation of abortion; my stated position is that while abortions may be justifiable for rape, incest, and certain other indications. abortion on demand ought to be condemned. And in the book I hope to publish on the Heidelberg Catechism, I state my appreciation for the Church’s prophetic stand against abortion even while I differ on some details. For another example, it will hardly do to say that I have been unable to answer objections to my views. It is more accurate to say that Rev. De Jong has not been satisfied with my answers. But for many hours I have answered questions -in the classical examination, in meetings with consistories, including the Dutton consistory, in an interview with a synodical committee and I have answered them candidly, without deception. I have published answers to the questions most frequently asked—the questions about the nature of Scripture and about the questions appropriate to Scripture in the May Reformed Journal. It may remain true that I have not succeeded in convincing Rev. De Jong, but it is simply false to suggest that I have been unable to answer. For one final example from De Jong’s arsenal of misrepresentation, he asserts that I interpret “Behold, there was a great earthquake” to mean “and there was not a great earthquake.” That is a misrepresentation of my view. It is true that I think “Behold, there was a great earthquake” does that mean that an earthquake actually happened but rather means that the significance of the event of the empty tomb is the beginning of the new age. But I emphatically reject the suggestion that “Behold, there was a great earthquake” means “there was not a great earthquake.” Perhaps there is no intentional misrepresentation here; perhaps Rev. De Jong’s logic failed him. But he should know that to say, “‘It rains in Spain,’ does not mean ‘It snows in Buffalo,’” is not the same as to say, “‘It rains in Spain’ means ‘It does not snow in Buffalo.’”

When “The Battle for the Bible; The Verhey Case” is emptied of misrepresentations, there is not much that remains. But there is something that remains, surely. There is the question about what it means to be faithful to Scripture with respect to divorce. There is the question about whether Scripture intends to provide minute, circumstantial accuracy when it reports the events of salvation history. About these questions Rev. De Jong and I differ. I am still pleased with my articles on divorce (Reformed Journal, May-June and July-August, 1976) and have recently addressed the question of “minute, circumstantial accuracy” (Reformed Journal, May, 1977). I recommend these to anyone interested in my perspective on the question about which Rev. De Jong and I disagree. I would be happy to see these questions discussed in the church, but 1 would be unhappy to see us battling over them and judging and repudiating each other. I do not expect to live my ecclesiatical life free from instruction or even free from controversy, but I do and may expect not to be misrepresented in the interest of some “battle for the Bible.”


Dr. Verhey has asked for an opportunity to respond in THE OUTLOOK to my article in the April issue. In that article I outlined the case regarding the use of the Bible which has become associated with his name. His request has been readily granted and I appreciate being able to respond to what he writes.

The Issue Is Not Personal – Dr. Verhey begins by charging me with “presumptuous deception” even in the choice of a title. Put in simpler language, I am a proud liar! That is hardly the most ingratiating way to begin a plea for Christian charity—or a demonstration of it. Perhaps he was irritated and didn‘t really intend to become that personal in his writing. But the observation brings uS into the real problem of his answer. He insists on making a personal issue of what we (our church and I) have gone to great lengths to avoid making one. Recall how our appeal to last year‘s Synod did not even mention his name! He insists on making into a mere personal quarrel what we see clearly is an episode, although an important one to our churches, in the much bigger “battle for the Bible” that is going on throughout a large part of the Christian church in our time.

Dr. Verhey charges that the title of my article was “presumptuous”; “it suggests that to differ with Rev. De Jong about the Bible is to be against the Bible.” Where have I ever suggested that Dr. Verhey or anyone else has to agree with me? The questions under discussion have never been about agreement or disagreement with me. The argument at his examination, at the Classis and at the Synod have been about the way his expressed views contradict the Scriptures and the churches’ creeds which he says he believes.

Christian Love May Not Condone Unfaithfulness to the Gospel – Dr. Verhey’s case, as he states it, is very simple. The Bible says we must love and receive one another, not “battle” with fellow-Christians. Can’t we just have a friendly chat about our differences of opinion, agree to live together in brotherly fashion if some differences remain, and let this whole matter go at that? Isn’t this what the Lord and His Word demand of us? It sounds plausible, doesn’t it?

Do not the Lord’s commands to love and receive one another, to live together as Christians in peace and brotherhood. demand that we tolerate or overlook such differences as Dr. Verhey’s vicws reveal? Dr. Verhey‘s references to Romans 14 which deals with our making allowances for differences between brethren about such matters as whether or not to eat meat, overlooks the fact that the same apostle points out that there are other more basic matters which may not be so tolerated (Romans 16:17): “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned: and turn away from them.”

Remember the occasion when Peter who had just made a confession of faith in Christ which the Lord highly commended, went on to contradict Jesus’ own words. Did the Lord tell Peter, “Now I differ with you, Peter, but love demands that we not make any trouble over such differences”? He said, “Get thee behind me Satan: thou art a stumbling block unto me for thou mindest not the” things of God, but the things of men.” Were these not harsh words to use against a follower of Christ? Of course, they were, but the Lord used them to show Peter and the Christian church that letting those who confess Him and are to lead His church contradict His words is a thing that may not be tolerated. That is devil’s work even when the Apostle Peter stumbles into it! The inspired Apostle never forgot that lesson and later warned us that “no prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation. For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit” (II Peter 1:21, 21). Therefore the church must constantly be on guard against any who “privily bring in destructive heresies” (“self-chosen opinions” as Lenski paints out). II Corinthians 10:4, 5; Galatians 1:8, 9; I Timothy 6:3; II John 9:11 are other examples of such apostolic warnings which forbid us to tolerate false teachings under the mistaken notion that Christian charity demands that we do so.

“Misrepresentations”? – Dr. Verhey might respond that these warnings against false teachings, more particularly against contradicting God’s Word, do not apply to him. Hasnt he assured the Classis, the churches, and the readers of his article that he believes the Bible, believes it is inspired, makes the confession of the church concerning it, is “in short, for the Bible”?

Dr. Verhey has indeed said this many times. The problem arose because he in his examination and in various writings shows that he uses, defends, and promotes a way of “interpreting” the Bible that lets him contradict things the Bible plainly says. I (and others) have pointed this out, and insisted that this procedure may not be permitted. Because I have done this I am charged repeatedly in Dr. Verhey’s answer with “deception,” “misrepresentation,” “falsehoods,” and “distortion.” Such charges should not be made or credited unless one can prove them. And proof is the one thing lacking in Dr. Verhey‘s article. My article was rather heavily supported by references. No one needs to take my word for any of it. Any reader can obtain the material and satisfy himself regarding the truth of anything I alleged. Where is any such proof in Dr. Verhey’s answer? He gives nothing.

Let‘s look at the particulars. I charged that Dr. Verhey in his examination “said that he did not believe that the serpent spoke to Eve as reported in Genesis 3 and that he believed that the earthquake reported in Matthew 28:2 should be understood as an eschatological symbol and not necessarily as a fact.” Dr. Verhey has admitted before the Synod committee that these allegations were true. Where is the misrepresentation? In this answer even where he charges me with representation he admits: “It is true that I think “Behold, there was a great earthquake’ does not mean that an earthquake actually happened . . . .” Where then is the “misrepresentation”? He admittedly denies that “an earthquake actually happened” when Matthew said it did!

I alleged further that Dr. Verhey in his Reformed Journal writings on Divorce interpreted “Matthew’s report that Jesus said, ‘whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication . . . to mean that Jesus did not say ‘whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication . . .’” and that “the strict condemnation of divorce except on grounds of fornication (which Matthew attributed to Jesus and which our churches traditionally maintained) Dr. Verhey rejects as ‘perhaps’ traceable to moral pride.This he does not even attempt to refute. Anyone can verify it in those articles with which he says that he is “still pleased.” The answer devotes most attention to his thesis which he accuses me of misrepresenting. Dr. Verhey’s method of “interpreting” and using the Bible are plainly shown in the examples already mentioned and they are easily verified. That thesis is a much bigger document (315 pages) and not quite so accessible although any borrower can obtain it from Calvin Library and verify for himself the references I made to it. The gist of Dr. Verhey’s answer is that that thesis says at the beginning and at the end that the Bible is authoritative but that its only concern is to show that we must be careful how we use the Bible in moral matters. “The dissertation does not recommend how the Bible should be used, but it does show how one can be careful about how one uses it,” Dr. Verhey appears to be forgetting about the eighth chapter of that Thesis which is devoted to his own conclusions (pp. 196–225).

It lists nine “conclusions” and “recommendations” which he makes about “the use of scripture in moral argument” (pp. 215–225). That includes a lot of “recommendations” to be covered by his claim that “the dissertation does not recommend how tile Bible should be used(If the reader wants to find a few more statements of recommendations he can find them on pages 275–284.) I have pointed out that some of those clearly stated conclusions and recommendations notably (1) his insistence that warrants from outside of the Bible are needed to apply any of its teachings to moral matters; (2) his attack on the “sola scriptura,” the Reformation doctrine that the Bible is the supreme and final authority in matters of faith and conduct; (3) and his repeated insistence that one‘s own experience has a unique and decisive role in determining when and how we must use the Bible in moral matters—cannot possibly be harmonized with what we confess about the Bible in the Belgic Confession, Articles V and VII and about God’s law in the Heidelberg Catechism. Dr. Verhey has been unable to show how these can be harmonized and he now tries to brush this all aside by accusing me, without offering any evidence, of “misrepresentations.”

The Real Issue: The Interpreter‘s Right to Contradict the Bible – The real point at issue in this whole matter is that Dr. Verhey—although he says that he believes the Bible, believes that it is inspired, and believes the churches’ confession concerning it—uses, defends, and teaches a method of “interpreting” the Bible which lets him (and others) deny anything that the Bible says. The examples mentioned are not just a few exceptional differences of opinion about some rare texts. They are striking examples of his way of interpreting the whole Bible. This way permits him or anyone else to deny, alter, or explain away any fact, doctrine, or command to be found in it.

This method of dealing with the Bible and its teachings is not new. It has been characteristic of the old liberalism through its history. It was characteristic of Rauschenbusch‘s use of Scripture which was the subject of Dr. Verhey’s thesis. Dr. Verhey has given some indications of being more frank and honest in his personal bearing than is the method of interpreting the Bible which he defends. That method can be aptly described (to use the words that I borrow from Dr. Verhey) as “presumptuous deception.” It always involves the presumption as the Lutheran Rev. Sam Nafzger (see my article in THE OUTLOOK, Feb. 1977, p. 17) pointed out, that today’s scholar knows better than the man who was there and wrote about it, what actually happened. Its deception lies in using the old words while “interpreting” them to mean something other than or even opposite to what one normally assumes them to mean.

Dr. Machen in a 1923 sermon called attention to this procedure in a striking way. Whereas formerly men, faced by “perfectly plain documents,” such as the creeds or New Testament, “either accepted or else denied them.” Now they no longer deny, but merely “interpret.” And so Machen finds his “modern friend” saying, “Now of course we accept the proposition that ‘the third day He did not rise again from the dead” (Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen, p. 358).

This is exactly the “method of interpretation” we find Dr. Verhey using. He may not apply it consistently. He may not apply it to the resurrection—he indicated in his examination that he would except the resurrection from the way he treated the “earthquake,” but this kind of “interpretation” is exactly the method he uses in his treatment of the Bible passages on which he has been questioned. His using, defending, teaching, and promoting this way of misusing God’s Word cannot be harmonized with the Bible, our creeds, or the decisions of am synods. Therefore we must oppose it. We must fight against him or anyone else being permitted to hold and teach such views as a minister in the Christian Reformed Churches.

If we condone and permit this kind of rejection of God‘s Word to enter and take over the churches we will be asking for and will get the Lord’s rejection of us and our churches. Remember the blunt warning of the Lord through His prophet to one called to special office among His people, “Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee . . .” (I Sam. 15:23, 26). May that judgment not fall on us, on our churches—or on Dr. Verhey.