Is It Worth Reading?

Second Thoughts on the Dead Sea Scrolls


(Published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1956, 144 pages, Price $2.50)

Hot on the heels of the Israeli Army invading the Sinai peninsula last year was a group of Jewish scholars who risked the trip to search out the location of Mt. Sinai. They came away undecided as to which of three mountains was the sacred eminence, but their venture drew headlines and pointed up the current interest in Biblical research which has received considerable stimulation in recent years.

One reason for the sharp upswing in this interest was the discovery in 1947 of the so-called Dead Sea Scrolls. These ancient documents were found in caves along the west side of the Dead Sea. Since their discovery they have been the subject of a growing number of books and magazine articles.

The most sensational interpretations of the Scrolls have implied that Christ was a member of the ascetic sect of Jews which compiled them, or that some of His teachings were derived from this sect. It has even been suggested that the Christian Religion must now be regarded as a faith based upon the teachings of a mysterious person mentioned in the Scrolls-a Teacher of Righteousness-who had been persecuted and possibly put to death by some wicked priests.

Dr. Millar C. Burrows, author of The Dead Sea Scrolls (The Viking Press, 1955) and Chairman of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Literature at Yale University, says there is nothing in the Scrolls which will change any basic tenet of Christianity. J. Philip Hyatt, acting Dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School, addressing the 92nd meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in New York City last year, declared that the Scrolls seem to anticipate certain Christian teachings. “Their authenticity,” said he, “is unquestionable.” Moreover, the date of their composition is from “some time in the second century B.c. to apprOximately 70 A.D. for some and down to 135 AD. for others.” In his most recent book, entitled The Essenes and Christianity, (Harper & Brothers, 1957) Duncan Howlett stoutly affirms that the Essenes prepared the soil in which Christianity germinated, took root and enjoyed its first growth. So the interpretations and judgments mount almost by the day.

The book before us in this review was written by the Professor of Biblical History and Literature at the University of Sheffield, England. Cautious in his conclusions, and with a modesty that abhors outrunning the evidence, he has given us a thoroughly reliable and objective presentation of the facts. Professor Bruce favors the view that the much-discussed “Teacher of Righteousness” was a contemporary of Alexander Jannaeus. He would probably agree, how· ever, that the evidence for this is no greater than that which currently puts this Teacher in the Maccabaean Age. More important than the discussion that aims at identifying this Teacher is the recognition that the Scrolls do add to our knowledge of the Messianic thought of the pre·Christian period.

Professor Bruce identifies the Qumran sect with the Essenes, though with some reserve. He also leaves open the possibility that John the Baptist may have been at one time under the influence of this sect. There is no evidence that Jesus had association with them. Should such evidence be uncovered, the reviewer fails to see why any Christian should be disturbed by it.

This is a well-written book. It will help clear up many of the conflicting reports about the Scrolls and their significance. The book is not too technical to be listed for our church libraries.

Leonard Greenway



Calvin and Augustine


Edited by Samuel G. Craig. The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Philadelphia, 1956.

This volume combines the main essays of the two Oxford University Press volumes entitled: Studies in Tertullian and Augustine and Calvin and Calvinism, published 1932. Part One presents “John Calvin: the man and his work,” Calvin’s doc· trine of God, the doctrine of the trinity and a final essay on Calvinism. The second section presents Augustine, the man; his “Confessions,” his doctrine of knowledge and authority. An appendix is added presenting Calvin as a theologian, Calvin’s theology and an essay on the present day attitude toward Calvinism.

To say that this fare makes one’s theological teeth water is to put it mildly. Warfield was probably one of the most gifted writers and most perspicuous theologians of our century, and some claim him to be one of the outstanding theologians since Calvin. However that may be, his style certainly is pellucid, his analysis is penetrating, his knowledge of the subject is comprehensive and profound. To see Augustine, for example, through the brilliant intellect and the sensitive soul of Warfield is to drink deeply at the fount of theological learning. This reviewer has previously read both the above mentioned volumes and had occasion to reread the essays on Augustine last summer. I must say that I have found nothing in recent critical analysis of Augustine, whether Catholic or Protestant, that can touch Warfield for clarity and understanding. But let me introduce you to Warfield himself, as I quote at length from his essay on Calvin, the theologian.

I am afraid I shall have to ask you at the outset to disabuse your minds of a very common impression, namely, that Calvin’s chief characteristics as a theologian were on the one hand, audacity—perhaps I might even say effrontery—of speculation; and on the other hand, pitilessness of logical development, cold and heartless scholasticism. We have been told, for example, that he reasons on the attributes of God precisely as he would reason on the properties of a triangle. No conception could be more gross. The speculative theologian of the Reformation was Zwingli, not Calvin…

It is not to be denied, of course, that Calvin was a speculative genius of the first order, and in cogency of his logical analysis he possessed a weapon which made him terrible to his adversaries. But it was not on these gifts that he depended in forming and developing his theological ideas. His theological method was persistently, rigorously, some may even say exaggeratedly, a posteriori. All a priori reasoning here he not only eschewed but vigorously repelled. His instrument of research was not logical amplification, but exegetical investigation. In one: word, he was distinctly a Biblical theologian of his age. Whither the Bible took him, thither he went : where scriptural declarations failed him, there he stopped short…Calvin refused to go beyond “what is written”—written plainly in the book of nature or in the book of revelation. He insisted that we can know nothing of God, for example, except what He has chosen to make known to us in His works and Word; all beyond this is but empty fancy, which merely “flutters” in the brain. And it was just because he refused to go one step beyond what is written that he felt so sure of his steps. He could not present the dictates of the Holy Ghost as a series of debatable propositions (pp. 481, 482).

In the last essay of the appendix the learned author defines Calvinism as theism come to its rights, religion at the height of its conception, evangelicalism in its pure and only stable expression. Calvinism, in short, is but another name for consistent supernaturalism in religion and the Calvinist is the man who sees God. “He has caught Sight of the ineffable Vision, and he will not let it fade for a moment from his eyes—God in nature, God in history, God in grace” (pp. 502, 503).

Warfield was not afraid to affirm that there is a system of Biblical truth, a pattern of sound doctrine.

Dr. Warfield affirmed “the supernatural fact, which is God; the supernatural act, which is miracle; the supernatural work, which is the revealed will of God; the supernatural redemption, which is the divine deed of the divine Christ; the supernatural salvation which is the divine work of the divine Spirit,—these things form a system (italics added) and you cannot draw one item out without shaking the whole…We cannot be supernaturalistic in patches of our thinking and naturalistic in substance. We cannot be supernaturalistic with regard to the remote facts of history, and naturalistic with regard to the intimate events of experience. We cannot be supernaturalistic with regard to what occurred two thousand years ago in Palestine, and simply naturalistic with regard to what occurs today in our hearts. No form of Christian supernaturalism can be ultimately maintained in any department of life or thought, except it carry with it the supernaturalism of salvation. And a consistent supernaturalism of salvation is only another name for Calvinism. Calvinism thus emerges to our Sight as nothing more or less than the hope of the world” (pp. 506, 507).

This last quotation indicates the relevance of Warfield for our day, especially with reference to our discussions concerning the Genesis record. Let us not think that we can maintain the faith of the fathers by scotching the supernatural in some area. Let us not be given to pessimism and despair, but take new courage from this spirited defense of the truth, which carried the day almost a half century ago. For the last essay was written in 1909, at the time that the Reformed world was celebrating the fourth centennial of Calvin’s birth. The Christian Reformed Church in its first Centennial celebration would do well to drink deeply from this theological spring. We would, indeed, do well to restudy Augustine and Calvin through the eyes of Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, that peerless scholar of a former generation.  – HENRY R. VAN TIL