Kuitert in the United States and Canada (4)

Why do we follow the teachings of Dr. Kuitert so closely? Why do we read so much of him and about him? Why do we pay such close attention to what he says? Why do we talk so often about the so-called “new theology”?

Simply because in Kuitert’s approach to understanding the Bible the trustworthiness of Scripture is at stake. That is the heart of the matter. When he says that the Christian’s certainty of faith does not rest on the theory that the Bible is infallible, immediately the question concen1ing the trustworthiness of the Bible arises.

Kuitert puts it this way: The Christian’s certainty of faith is not based on the doctrine of the infallibility of the Bible; it is not based on the historical trustworthiness of the Genesis stories about creation and paradise. In fact, the Christian must stop talking about an infallible Bible, because such talk is merely repeating a 17th century conception of understanding Scripture and such repetition does not help us at all in finding new ways and avenues for creative theology. Instead, we must ask ourselves the question: on what is our faith based? It is not based on a human conception of Scripture but on the essential account of Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave. Concisely, the certainty of om faith finds its basis in the content of Holy Writ, and the content of Holy Writ is Christ.

Certainly, we agree with Dr. Kuitert that there is no Christ without Scripture and no Scripture without Christ. We meet Christ in the Bible and the Bible witnesses of Christ. But the question is: where does that witnessing of Christ begin? Do the first chapters of Genesis witness of Him with the same assurance and trustworthiness as the first four books of the New Testament? Does the believer find Christ, who—says Kuitert—reigns over Scripture, in the account of creation, paradise, and fall? Or does he find Christ only in the account of His death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave? Are the cross of Calvary and the empty tomb the focal point of trustworthiness because Jesus’ death and resurrection really happened, while the stories of creation, paradise, and fall are not trustworthy because they really did not happen?

Dr. Kuitert sees a distinct difference between thc first chapters of Genesis and the account of the Gospels as far as historical trustworthiness is concerned. The Gospel aCCOl1nts relate that which really happened, but the story of creation is not a description based on history. The story find its origin in the folklore of the Chaldean world, and the people of Israel in time captured this narrative, remodelled it, and dedicated it to Jahweh. The terms used in the Babylonian version of creation and the Biblical creation clearly indicate that these two stories are parallels. In short, Genesis one displays traces of transmission.

Is it true, however, that Genesis one is related to the Babylonian version called Enuma Elish? The eminent Old Testament scholar, the late Dr. Edward J. Young does not think so. Says he in Studies in Genesis One,

In the first place we must emphasize the fact that Genesis one and Enuma Elish are two entirely different types of document and do not belong to the same literary genre. Genesis one is a semi-poetic account of creation, told as straightforward narration. The great central theme of the chapter is the fact of God’s creating heaven and earth and his monergism in preparing the earth for man’s habitancy. Enuma Elish on the other hand is a nature myth in which elements of “creation” are more or less incidental. It lacks a statement of absolute creation such as is found in Genesis 1:1 and it lacks an account of progress in the preparation of the earth such as occurs in the remainder of Genesis one (p. 40).

If we keep in mind that the Babylonian account is saturated with superstition and idolatry, we have great difficulties imagining that the nation Israel led by the Spirit of God adopted the Babylonian account and that a man as a prophet of God changed the story so that it became acceptable to Jahweh. We have difficulties believing that the nation Israel, the covenant people of Jahweh, had not received divine revelation about the origin of the world, the creation of man, and the fall. We find it strange that the nations surrounding Israel had a creation story while God’s people lived in ignorance about the origin of the earth and man.

Furthermore, granted that there exists a close connection between the Babylonian account and the Biblical account of creation, why must we believe that the Babylonian version is the original account and that the Israelites adopted a modified version? In view of the fact that the Biblical tradition gives an actual historical report of all mankind (see Genesis 10 and 11 ), we know that divine revelation steadily degenerated among the nations which served idols. The patriarchs and the nation Israel in later times, guided by the Spirit of God, preserved the pure knowledge of creation, paradise, and the fall. Israel did not borrow; Israel preserved the oracles of God entrusted to her.

However, Dr. Kuitert maintains that the writer of Genesis did not intend to give his readers a literal, historical account of creation and the fall of man. The writer speaks figuratively and transmits the information contained in the first chapters of Genesis in symbols.

Of course, a student of the Bible may assert that as the reference to the tree of life in Revelation 22:2 must be understood symbolically and not literally. He proves his point by showing that the book of Revelation is best interpreted symbolically and that the reference to the tree of life is located in a passage which must be understood symbolically. But that student of the Bible does not jump to the conclusion that, because the tree of life in Revelation 22 is not interpreted literally, the information about the tree of life in Genesis 2 and 3 cannot be understood literally. The student must prove from the book of Genesis that the information given in chapters 2 and 3 is expressed symbolically.

Every one who reads the first chapters of Genesis must come to the conclusion that God communicates reality; that is, these chapters are a true description of those things which really happened: creation culminating in man with whom God made a covenant, the disobedience of Adam and Eve in Paradise, and the promise of the Redeemer who was to come forth out of the seed of the woman. Moreover, throughout the New Testament references to the first chapters of Genesis—with the obvious exception of Revelation 22:2—are understood literally and historically.

Professor Dr. W. H. Gispen, professor of Old Testament at the Free University, wrote an excellent study of the first three chapters of Genesis. The book published in 1966 has the title Schepping en Paradijs. Gispen does not agree with Kuitert on interpreting the first chapters of Genesis symbolically. In relation to the account of creation, he says,

If we take this story as part of the entire Scripture of Old and New Testament, then we have at the same time a standard or norm to draw out those facts which also for us must be certain. The New Testament is decisive for us. That what is accepted by Jesus and the apostles as historical fact, must also be accepted by us: for example, the creation of male and female (1:26,27), the historicity of Adam (cf. Rom. 5); (p. 12).

Scripture plainly indicates that the first chapters of Genesis are not some kind of special history. The context of Genesis, as well as the New Testament, forces the reader to accept the account of creation at face value, for there is nothing in the account which compels us to regard the information given as a special kind of history writing.

Why does Dr. Kuitert say that we must stop talking about the doctrine of infallibility? How does he understand the trustworthiness of Scripture? In which direction does he want to go?

Kuitert stresses the fact that our certainty of faith must not be grounded in a theory of an infallible Bible but that it must be based on trust in Christ revealed in the Gospels. Presumably, for Kuitert the terms infallibility and trustworthiness are not out of place when they are used with reference to the Biblical message of salvation; he may wish to apply the rule: the Bible is infallible in those parts in which it wants to be infallible. For him, Adam and Eve are not important as historical figures and therefore fall outside the scope of infallibility and trustworthiness. The message of salvation as it comes to us in Jesus Christ is authoritative and all important.

The believer testifies to the truth that salvation in Jesus Christ is all important. But he has received this truth through the agency of Scripture which testifies of Christ. In Scripture, the believer hears the voice of God and he knows that this special revelation in all its parts belong to God. Therefore, he feels uneasy when he must use a Bible which through wear and tear has lost its cover and in the course of time the first few pages of Genesis. To be sure, he can still read the message of salvation in that worn and tom Bible, but he knows that he no longer has the entire Bible.

Dr. Simon Kistemaker is Professor of Bible at Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa.