In Defense of the Bible

Review of Interpreting God’s Word Today; Edited by Dr. Simon Kistemaker; Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan; 313 pages; $6.95. (See offer in this issue of new or gift subscription to THE CHRISTIAN REFORMED OUTLOOK with copy of this book, both for $7.00.) Rev. Leonard T . Scholkwyk is a Christian Reformed Church minister serving in Canada.

In the course of the last few years, numerous articles have appeared in various church papers and theological journals on the interpretation of God’s Word.

The so-called “NEW” Theology in several formerly orthodox denominations on this continent and in Europe has asked the believer to doubt certain parts of the Bible. It has been said that it is only a matter of explaining the Bible in a different way. Now a book has been published as an answer to such doubters. Its title is Interpreting God’s Word Today. and in it a long list of doctors in theology show how the only biblical interpreting of the Bible can come by listening to the Bible itself. They show that we arc to obediently relate the Bible to our time and age. without watering down what the Bible says in order to adapt it to our time. We are to adapt ourselves to the Scriptures; God never adapts Himself to us.

Bible believing professors from Australia, The Netherlands. the United States, and Canada have joined hands in setting forth the evangelical way of approaching the Old and the New Testaments. Their book is a very timely publication and deals with the most recent views. It abounds with notes indicating the primary sources, and it has several indexes for easy reference.

We will give a short review of the individual contributions to this book.

Genesis: Its Formation and Interpretation by Dr. George Van Groningen, Professor of Old Testament at the Reformed Theological College, Geelong, Australia.

In some Christian grade schools in The Netherlands the stories related in Genesis 1–11 are no longer told to the children. This part of the first book of the Bible contains data on Adam and Eve, Noah, and the like. In the previous century this section was considered legendary by modern scholars, but Dr. Abraham Kuyper fought for its dependability. From the patriarch Abraham on (Genesis 12) the Bible is supposed to become a bit more reliable, even though one must leave room for many contradictions due to the compilation from numerous documents. The documents or independent “sources” have never been found, but that does not prevent this hypothesis from making a frontal attack on the first five books of Moses.

Professor Van Groningen gives us a bird’s-eye view of two hundred years of criticism and shows the uncertainty it has produced. This uncertainty has been rejected by several formerly liberal scholars, but it has been accepted by some formerly orthodox scholars such as Kuitert in The Netherlands. To them it is all new because they have never walked on the slippery paths of Bible criticism before. They chew the cud of liberalism.

Professor Van Groningen challenges us to accept the presuppositions of God rather than those of man. Those who do so cannot be charged with subjectivism, but they can be charged with believing the Scriptures. And a proper understanding of the beginning of the Bible, is determinative for the thought patterns of all of Scripture.

Event and Interpretation in the Old Testament by Dr. Marten H. Woudstra, Professor of Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Professor Woudstra gives his lecture after the Genesis paper of Dr. Van Groningen. He deals with certain other passages in the Old Testament. Most interesting is how he not only goes back over two hundred years of Bible criticism, but also shows how the Jew Philo attacked the historicity of certain Old Testament stories already in the time that Jesus lived! Philo wanted to make Bible truth “edible” for unbelievers, especially the Greek philosophers. Therefore he introduced the allegorical method, which made the band stories of the patriarchs, Joshua, or David symbolic. These stories were important only for the deep truths conveyed. Even Philo was not original in his method, for the Greek philosophers had done the same to their great book of Homer whose stories they could not “swallow” anymore.

This betrays the basic error of Bible criticism; namely. that of approaching the Bible with our standards of what is right or wrong, true or false, instead of being subject to God’s standards! The philosophy of this age “interprets” the Bible according to its own image. Calvin and Luther broke absolutely with this allegorical method which had plagued the church for so long, and they went back to the simple Bible truths. They listened rather than talked back to God’s Revelation.

A most interesting page to this reviewer is the one where the fall of Jericho is discussed. Recently Prof. Dr. J. L. Koole announced that he does not believe the walls of Jericho really came down. For it is now sure that the walls of Jericho were down already five hundred years before the Israelites showed up on the scene. This is a shocking statement to the average believer, especially since it comes from the pen of a Professor of Kampen Theological Seminary. Woudstra points out that the certainty of Koole’s argument rests on the dating of the conquest, on which archaeologists certainly do not agree. If you take the biblical data of I Kings and Judges more literally, you come to an earlier date of the conquest, and therefore Jericho would still be in existence at the time of Joshua.

Briefly, according to Woudstra’s article: “On what authority does the critical historian accept some of the Bible? On his Own authority.” This is shaky ground indeed, and I wish anyone well who ventures out on such quicksand.

Formation and Interpretation of the Gospels by Dr. Simon Kistemaker, Professor of Bible at Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa.

Dr. Kistemaker deals with the problem of the actual events of Scripture and the relating of these events after a certain lapse of time. Very beautifully he illustrates the trustworthiness of the Gospel accounts and shows how, in the discussions on the formation of the gospels, mention of the Holy Spirit is conspicuously absent. Yet Scripture’s own testimony constantly points to the Spirit’s work.

The evidence for the authorship of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John is traced carefully.

Kistemaker deals with Form Criticism, which casts a spell over the thought patterns of many “New Theologians.”

Seemingly conflicting passages are treated and the phoniness of making the Gospel accounts disagree is clearly shown. It is a real boost for one’s faith to read this chapter.

However, on page 118 I was amazed to see that for an explanation of a seeming discrepancy Dr. Kistemaker used Baarda’s argument that Luke deliberately changed Jesus’ Word so as to make it plain for his readers. (Baarda, De Betrouwbaarheid van de Evangelien, p. 62.) This surely smells of form-criticism and I take for granted that this is a slip of the pen. The last sentence in the essay would point this out: “We see behind these individual writers the Holy Spirit who gave the church four inspired and infallible accounts of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Event and Interpretation of the Resurrection by Dr. James C. De Young, Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi.

It is good that a separate chapter was planned by the editor on the Resurrection. For here the discussion of Bible criticism comes to its focal point. Here the battle is the heaviest, and the devil the crudest. Also in The Netherlands, the historicity of the Resurrection is now a debatable point in the Gereformeerde Kerken.

Right at the outset of his article Dr. De Young makes bold to state that the only valid interpretation of the resurrection is the inspired interpretation as we find it presented to us in the New Testament itself. He devotes twenty-five pages to an exposition of the proofs of the bodily resurrection according to the Sovereignty of God, thus not losing himself in only expounding the unscriptural views.

Characteristic of liberal scholarship has been a devaluation of the reality of the historical event. Volumes and volumes have been written to try to remove the stumbling block of the resurrection for modern man, to make it “reasonable.” Thereupon was built an “acceptable interpretation” (with disregard of the biblical testimony). The attempt was to win the non-Christian by watering down the Gospel, which was therefore no more a power unto salvation. At the most it became a reasonable alternative to some other religion. Dr. De Young takes his starting point at Reimarus shortly after Reformation times and from there works his way through all the schools right lip to Pannenberg and Moltmann. On page after page one recognizes how our churches come dangerously close to being overtaken by one or the other philosophy.

Inspiration and Trustworthiness of Scripture by Dr. M. J. Arntzen, Minister in the Gereformeerde Kerken of The Netherlands.

When reading this masterful paper I came under the impression of how close this doctor of theology is to the grassroots of the church and also of how he obediently bows to scriptural revelation. Dr. Arntzen’s recent tom of the United States and Canada proved to be a strengthening of the faith of many.

However, it is also shocking to read how much is being doubted these days in the Gereformeerde Kerken. Kuitert not only “reformulates” the fall into sin; he also wants a review of the idea of the Trinity, angels, heaven and hell. Says he: “Heaven is for too many Christians like building castles in the air. We should find it on this side of the grave.” Reformulating sin would be: death is not a cause of sin, hilt a natural thing. Adam and Eve would have died, even if they had not sinned, because our new understanding of biological laws forbids us to view this otherwise. We cannot take such an uncomplicated view as the apostle Paul had in Romans 5.

Also those immortality ideas must be shed. They may be mythology and merely express the idea of some kind of continuance.

After all, like the animals we have only a certain time to live, and we must be satisfied with that and not try to wish to live on afterwards. We must make place for other human beings, otherwise it would become too crowded; so by your death you give room for life to the next person. You live on in him. Your death makes his life possible. (See “Anders Cezegd,” Theologische opstellen van Professor Dr. H. M. Kuitert over schepping, dood en evolutie. uitg.: Kok, Kampen.) This is a completely naturalistic view and has little in common with scriptural teaching.

Nor is Kuitert the only deviator. Some “new” views of Baarda on the virgin birth are as follows: “Many sincere Christians place a question mark behind this term. They feel that the story of the virgin birth is related in symbols and forms of the first century—one simply cannot object to denial of the virgin birth” (Gaandewcg, Sept. 1968, p. 241).

Augustyn, another professor at Amsterdam’s free University, has spent his time examining .. the Resurrection. This is what he found for us: “The historian will never get beyond establishing the fact that early Christianity was truly convinced of Jesus’ resurrection. From this, however, he can never conclude that Jesus arose.” (“Om de historische Jesus,” Gereformeerde Weekblad, June 16, 1967, p. 370.)

One really starts to wonder, when reading this, why the Christian Reformed Church still maintains a sister-church relationship with the Gereformeerde Kerken who allow their members to deny God’s Word blatantly. Or are we tradition-bound beyond obedience to the Bible?

Authority and Interpretation of Confessional Standards by Dr. L. Praamsma, Christian Reformed Church minister serving in Canada.

Since Creeds are an interpretation of God’s Word and binding on church members, of necessity this chapter had to be included in the book.

A former Professor of Church History, Dr. Praamsma is eminently capable of guiding us aright. Creeds are played down these days, and such is always a sign of upcoming liberalism in a denomination. This Dr. Praamsma shows by a historical review of churches in different countries. This he also detects in the later works of Berkouwer, a teacher of Kuitert.

By distinctions such as material-journal, substance-details, purpose-contents, the binding character of the creeds is made relative. At first this is unnoticed, since a certain binding is maintained; once it becomes more open, the tide often cannot be turned anymore. (See recent revision of the Canons of Dort in The Netherlands.) Then such corrections are made, not because they were found to be anti-scriptural but because they do not agree with the spirit of the age. This is called the “Evolution of Doctrine.” Even men as H. Volten and A. D. R. Polman began to relativize the creeds as early as 1962 (see pp. 220–221).

Liberalism thus is unable to confess with one voice, because it is in the constant flux of human schools and opinions. Then Creeds can only serve for a short time; the next decade I may think differently because a new school of human thought may have determined my thinking.

In such a situation a confession ceases to be an understandable echo of the Word of God, because of its ambiguous language and mediating character.

Interpretation and the Defense of the Faith by Dr. Morton H. Smith, Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi.

This chapter gives a summary of how the Christian faith was defended, from the church fathers via the mediaeval theologians on to the present time. It struck me that most of the time the attempt was to defend the faith by adding the water of heathen philosophy to the wine of the Word. How many parts water, how much wine, depended on the decision of the particular professor or defender. Dr. Smith shows the complete failure of such concoctions to convert any heathen. It did help to get some Christians out of the church. Smith challenges the reader to put God’s claim squarely before the world of scienti6c thinking. As in Athens, most people will laugh at a Paul. But some will be soul-converted. Do not be ashamed of the antithesis of the Gospel to all autonomous thinking.

This is close to what a brother said to me recently in Holland, Michigan: “We hear a lot about the necessity of dialogue, even in church-services. It is high time we go back to the authoritative proclamation of God’s Word. I am not interested what brother A or minister B thinks about it; I want to bear the echo of God’s thoughts.”

Augustine held to the same principle and therefore recommended that the Scriptures be studied in the original languages by the minister of the Word, to be as close as possible to the real source.

The same stand was taken by Luther and Calvin who refused to make the Gospel acceptable to natural man. Calvin in his Institutes stresses the listening to the os Dei (the mouth of God). In this Kuitert and those like-minded are anti-Reformational, but he looks very much like the mediating theologians of the second and third centuries, of the dark middle ages, and of recent centuries.

Even though well-meant, this is bound to be disastrous for both church and evangelism. It is a distrust of the power of the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit who can break the hardest heart.

In Conclusion–

After having read these different contributions by these scholars from various countries, I was struck by the unity of their thought. It all combines to be a beautiful whole.

Blessed are the students who work under such humble professors. They will know the Way they should go.

In a frustrated and confused age they will speak about the sure Word of God as did the prophets of old.

At the end of these three hundred pages I was also sad. Sad because it is still necessary to have such a sizable book written to defend the Scriptures. Heresy may be subdued for a time in a denomination; yet it is bound to creep up again and to seep through the cracks of the protective church walls.

It makes us sigh: “How long, O Lord, how long?” Come, Lord Jesus, and then all will see that Thy Word is Truth.