Letter to the Editor


Dear Editor:

I found myself as astounded as I think the “liberal” mind was delighted by Dr. E. H. Palmer’s flat declaration, in the January, 1977, issue of TilE OUTLOOK, as foHows: “To be very clear, let me assert with all the force that is in me that the King James Version that Dr. DeKoster has on his table is not the infallible, inerrant Word of God. And no translation of the Bible is without error—not even the best of them all, the New International Version! Of course not! All translations without exception have errors in them.”

He goes on to say that only the original manuscripts of the Bible (now lost), called the autographa, were inspired and without error. In short, the inspired and infallible Word of God, according to Dr. Palmer, no longer exists.

Can Dr. Palmer be serious? Does the CRC base its synodical decisions, sermonizing, consistorial discussions, and Christian life on an errant and fallible Bible? When we confess of the Scriptures, “believing without any doubt all things contained in them” (Belgic Conf. V) do we mean, either: 1) believing error? or, 2) believing a Bible which no longer exists? When the Belgic Confession characterizes Scripture as “this infallible rule” (Art. VII) does it really mean, that infallible original now lost?

I, for one, would be happy to have Dr. Palmer’s answer to these questions.




In response to Dr. DeKoster, permit me to give the background of the discussion. Dr. Harold Lindsell, the editor of Christianity Today, wrote a very important book, defending the inerrancy of the Bible. It was called The Battle for the Bible and should be purchased by every church library and should be read by every adult in the Christian Reformed Church. That is 110w good and important I think the book is. But beginning with the August 20th issue of The Banner, Dr. DeKoster began to attack and attack that book in seven editorials. In my judgment the attack was irresponsible and thoroughly misinformed. (I write these two adjectives with care and thought.) As a matter of fact, in the original draft of the previous article, I had titled it: Incredible!!! But my ever-loving and wise wife said I should soften my words—and she was right. I did soften it.

But now I can no longer refrain from stating as plainly as I can how I view Dr. DeKoster’s ideas on the Bible. For he still persists in the most extreme naivety that I have experienced among any leader in the Christian Reformed Church. If his words were the words of an uninformed layman, I would keep silent. But here is the editor of our denominational paper, writing article after article on one of the most important subjects of today and misleading tens of thousands of readers.

It would not bother me so much if he goofed the way President Ford did about the freedom of Eastern European Communist countries. We all goof. But then, after discussions, a debate with Dr. Lindsell and reading my article, to repeat the same confusion, as if nothing had ever happened, is simply incredible.

In fact, it is so incredible that I phoned him and asked if that is all he wanted to say. Didn’t he want to enlarge on the letter or answer some of my statements? I wanted to be gracious to him, helping him to put his best foot forward, or even to withdraw the letter. But, no, he said he did not want to change anything.

Well, with that as a background, I will again attempt to answer him, but this time on the one narrow issue that he raises, namely: Are the translation of the Bible that we possess the infallible, inerrant Word of God? It is truly a shame that he did not reply to what I wrote on that in the January issue of THE OUTLOOK, for I answered his present questions clearly and without equivocation. And the reader could have profited by a good interaction on this issue. But I still hope the reader will profit.

Let me answer Dr. DeKoster’s queslions one at a time.

1. “Can Dr. Palmer be serious?”

Answer: Yes, I am, I will say again what I believe: The Bible that Dr. DeKoster has on his table is not, I repeat, not, the infallible, inerrant Word of God. And it is most important to realize this. Yes, I am serious.

2. “Does the Christian Reformed Church base its synodical decisions, sermonizing, consistorial discussions, and Christian life on an errant and fallible Bible?”

Answer: No, it does not. It bases them on the inerrant, infallible Word of God—the originals. It has always distinguished between the autographa and the apographa, between the original writings that the Holy Spirit inspired and the countless copies and translations that are based on the original. For example, Dr. Louis Berkhof in his Introductory Volume on Systematic Theology (1932), pp. 158–159, is crystal clear at this point. This elementary truth has been taught to all the ministers who have gone to Calvin Seminary under Professor Louis Berkhof and is still being taught right now by Professor Fred Klooster.

Only what was written by the men inspired by the Holy Spirit is infallible. Only what Jeremiah, David, Paul and Peter actually wrote is inspired.

Sleepy monks who skipped lines or added lines as they copied the manuscripts were not inspired. And printers who set up the type for Psalm 119:161, making it read Printers [instead of prineu, the way it should be] persecute me without cause” were not inerrant. The King James is wrong when it says that blind guides “strain at a gnat” (Matt. 23:34). What Matthew wrote was that they “strain out a gnat.” The Living Bible could not be more wrong when in Acts 13:48 it makes Paul say “as many as wanted eternal life, believed.” Paul really said, “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” And whatever A person believes about certain verses that are in one version, but not in another, both versions cannot be right. One translation is correct, and the other is wrong. You cannot have it both ways. (There are plenty of verses or parts of them that the King James added to the Word of God ,e.g., Matt. 6:13b; Mark 7:16; 11:26; 15:28; Luke 18:36; 23:17; John 5:4; etc., and modern versions do not have them.)

And that is why I telephoned him to make sure he wanted me to reply. I thought it must have been some temporary lapse of thinking, but he assured me that he was serious and that he believed the current translations were inerrant. I said, “Even the Living Bible?” Well, fortunately, he drew the line there. That could not be the infallible Word of God, he said, but the other translations were.

I said to him, “Boy, you make me sell red. You put me on the same level as Isaiah and Paul and John. But if you only knew. We New International Version translators make all kinds of mistakes. We try not to, but we are fallible. We are not divine. If you could only see my translation manuscripts with all the scribblings, erasures, and corrections written in, you would not put us in the same category as the authors of the Bible. In no way!!!” We are good. We have some of the finest scholarship in the world. But we are not on the same level as the Biblical authors. We have the illumination of the Holy Spirit, but they had the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We make mistakes, they did not. We only try to copy and translate faithfully what they wrote.

One vivid example of our fallibility comes to mind. In the Old Testament at one time we were dealing with a whole series of living creatures, and we came upon a word that is a hapax legomenon, that is, this is the only place in all Hebrew literature that this word occurs. Well, at one editorial meeting we translated it as porcupine and at the next we changed it to owl! We had no Spirit whispering in our ear which one was right, and the context did not help us out. We just do not know what is right. Now no one can be dogmatic at this point and say the translations arc right. Which translation? They all go in different directions. And they cannot all be right. A porcupine is not an owl!

So I am just flabbergasted when The Banner editor can assert that translations are the inerrant Word of God. Incredible!!

3. “When the Belgic Confession characterizes; Scriptures as ‘this infallible rule’ (Art. VII) does it really mean, that infallible original now lost?”

Answer : Yes. It cannot be the King James that added to the original and now says “nephews” when “grandchildren” are meant (I Tim. 5:4).

Oh, the dependability of the Word of God! It is all true, down to every jot and tittle (Matt. 5:18)—not the translation, mind you, but the original writings that the Holy Spirit inspired. And not just the ethical and salvational matters. But all of it. It is all one hundred per cent the Word of God and therefore true, trustworthy, dependable, without any errors of any sort. And not only in theological areas, but in the matter of history, science And geography—when correctly understood.

Let no one—I say, no one—be at all disturbed and upset because his King James or New International Version is not the originally inspired text. Because of the grace and providence of God, we have very good translations (not all of them, mind you, are very good; several modern ones are not dependable). And you can have more confidence in them its being close to the originals than you can in the King James. For the King James translators did not have some of the fine, old manuscripts that we have today. But even with the King James, for all intents and purposes, we have the Word of God (if you can understand the King James!). There are really not many errors in the King James.

Now I have spoken plainly as to what I believe. Some may take plainness of speech as being unkind. Please do not. As I wrote the previous article, I toned it down at my wife’s suggestions, to be kind. I called Dr. DeKoster on the phone to let him off the hook or to enlarge his ideas. But he did not want to change anything. Well, then, when the editor of the influential publication, The Bonner, persists in seven editorials, plus an open debate with Dr. Lindsell, plus his response to THE OUTLOOK, then it is important to speak up. But the response must be done in love. And I want to say that I respect Dr. DeKoster’s complete sincerity, and realize that many good men have struggled with this issue. But I do believe that he is sincerely wrong.