Pamphlets for the Congregation

Cahiers voor de gemeente, Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4. Kampen: J.H. Kok, 1967, 1968. No. 1: J.L. Koole: Verhaal en feit in het Oude Testament. 67. f. 4,25. No. 2: Tj. Baarda: De betrouwbaarheid van de Evangelien, 92. f. 5, 25. No. 3: G.P. Harvelt: Over Schrift en inspiratie. 74. f. 5,25. No. 4: H.M. Kuitert: Verstaat gij wat gij leest? 87. f. 5,95.

During recent years the physical sciences have made great strides. Biblical research has advanced in many directions, and interest in history has been intensified. All of this has affected religious thinking, as was also bound to happen. According to the authors of these four paperbacks, these are the causes that have given rise to recent changes in theological opinions. Thus, for example, leaders in the Reformed (“Gereformeerde”) Churches of The Netherlands have for some time been clamoring for a repeal of the decision of their Synod of Assen, 1926, regarding the historicity of Genesis 3. As is well known, their expression of dissatisfaction with that decision and their yearning for its annulment met with success.

It is not surprising that the change in the thinking of the leaders has affected the general membership and has caused some concern. It was in order to answer the questions that were being asked and to reestablish the confidence of the people that these “cahiers” were written (J. L. Koole, Cahier No. 1, pp. 5–7).

Though the fou r writers may not agree on every minor point, their general attitude toward Scripture is so similar that the four paperbacks can best be studied together. Having read them all very carefully, I arrived at the decision to review in some detail Dr. Kuitert’s booklet (87 pages), and to treat the others in a more summary fashion. Reason: this will avoid constant repetition, for the sentiments expressed in the four overlap in many respects.


I. Description:

Kuitert’s booklet bears the title (translated) Do You Understand What You are Reading? (taken from Acts 8:30). He affirms that it is not enough to confess that Scripture is the Word of God, for such an affirmation certainly cannot mean that every command found therein must be obeyed. Who, for example, today obeys the sabbath command? Nor can it mean that everything happened the way the Bible said it occurred. In connection with the burial-place of Uzziah is there not a contradiction between n Kings 15:7 and II Chronicles 26:23? According to II Chronicles 8:2, Hiram gave some cities to Solomon; but according to I Kings 9:10, 11 it was Solomon who gave (these?) cities to Hiram. Who killed Goliath? Note the contradictory answers in I Samuel 17:50; II Samuel 21:19; and I Chronicles 20:5 (pp. 7–11). So also the Bible tells us something about “our first parents,” Adam and Eve. As the story is told, these two were living in the garden of Eden, in the state of perfection. But today the farther we go back in history the less evidence we find for the existence of such harmoniously integrated individuals. What we do discover is evidence that in very early times men’s condition was very primitive (p. 25). In Joshua 10:12, 13 we read, “Sun stand thou still upon Gibeon; And thou moon in the valley of Aijalon, etc…. This text has been used to defend the theory that the sun revolves around the earth, and not vice versa. We know better today (pp. 25, 26). It is not true (as is often claimed) that Rom. 5:12ff. (“As through one man sin entered into the world…so through the obedience of the one the many were made righteous”) implies that if Adam were not a historical person, then neither was Christ. The truth concerning Jesus Christ and his work does not depend on the truth concerning Adam as the first human being. Also, while in Romans 5:12 ff. Adam is presented as the first transgressor, in I Timothy 2:14 it was not Adam but Eve with whom sin began. We are dealing in such passages with a rabbinical method of reasoning. According to Kuitert, another example of this type of interpretation, a very drastic example, is Galatians 4:21–31 (pp. 27, 28). What is important, however, in all our attempts to explain the Bible is ever to bear in mind that in Jesus Christ, God is his own interpreter (John 1:18) (pp. 21, 22).

Kuitert does not regard his conception of Scripture as being any cause for alarm. He states: “Is anything changed with respect to the meaning and purpose of the book of Jonah when we call it a midrash instead of a story of a real event? Are narratives about Elisha worthless when among them we also discover legends? Does the story about the floating ax mean nothing if it did not really happen? Is not God able to make himself understood by means of folklore, or is this beneath his dignity?” (pp. 77, 78). The author further maintains that with respect to very many of the Old Testament narratives, and to a lesser degree with respect to those of the New Testament, it was never the purpose of the writer accurately to set forth historical events. He who so reads them reads them badly. Of course, this does not hold with respect to all the stories. It does not apply, for example, to the unique events of Christ’s resurrection (I Cor. 15:14), though even faith in this resurrection is empty unless that great event is showing its meaning in our own lives (pp. 78, 79).

The question might very readily be asked, “Is Kuitert’s view in harmony with the stand of The Belgic Confession regarding Scripture?” According to Kuitert the answer is in the affirmative. With approval he quotes from the opening words of article 5, “We receive all these books as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith” (p. 11). Moreover, he states, “Nothing is to be scrapped or expunged” (p. 78). We must use Scripture for the purpose for which it was originally intended. Hence, we do not remove certain chapters from the Bible, not even the opening chapters of Genesis. Even though they do not give us information regarding the origin of man and the universe, they form an indispensable part of Scripture’s message of salvation, because they proclaim to us Israel’s God as Creator (p. 77). We must ever ask ourselves the question, What, according to the Bible, does God expect of us today, and what can we expect of him? How does the teaching of Scripture apply to the use of atomic weapons, apartheid, and the divisions that have arisen in the Christian Church? In his closing appeal Kuitert becomes somewhat dramatic: “Alongside of what Jesus means for our personal life we are today permitted to give expression to the broad significance of his appearance for the world in general and for its social relationships. We have only begun to do this. Especially is this true with reference to orthodox Protestantism….It is with hesitancy that we are beginning to associate the coming of Christ with our duty toward the undernourished nations and oppressed groups and races.” According to Kuitert, some would call the attitude of meeting this challenge modified humanism. But that is a misconception. One who clings to this error shirks the task set before him by his Lord. Kuitert’s book ends with the appeal to let the Bible be less a source of disunity and more a source of an inspired life” (pp. 80–84).

Lest anyone should think that I have in any way misrepresented the author’s views, I would strongly urge the reader to get this paperback and to read it for himself.


Koole, in his Story and Fact in the Old Testament (my translation of the title), accepts the historicity of many of the recorded miracles. He rebukes the higher critics for having been too extreme in their attack upon the conservative position. He recognizes God’s hand in history. Nevertheless, his attitude toward Scripture is hard to distinguish from that of Kuitert. He says, for example, that Jonah 2:1–9 is a song of gratitude which, for that very reason, cannot truly precede Jonah 2:10, for how could Jonah thank God for deliverance when he was as yet not delivered? (p. 26). He sees a contradiction between Judges 4:21 and 5:26 (the murder of Sisera), and makes a disparaging remark about the idea that Sisera’s mother was still alive (pp. 21, 28). He states that according to Genesis 5 and 10 Adam lived 4000 years before Christ, contrary to what we know today (p. 42). He sees a conflict (p. 48) between Joshua 8:3 and 12 (30,000 men versus 5,000). He is sure that the first eleven chapters of Genesis are not historical, for tradition, whether oral or written, could not have conveyed all of this information to Moses.2 Oral tradition must have been too vague. And as to written sources, there were not any (p. 50). As he sees it, Genesis 2:19 teaches that the creation of field animals and of birds followed that of man, and is therefore in conflict with Genesis 1 (p. 51). The Old Testament is very definitely inspired, but we have no right to confuse inspiration with infallibility (pp. 62–65).

Baarda, in his booklet on The Trustworthiness (or: Reliability) of The Gospels, speaks about “all kinds of Gospels” out of which very gradually four were selected (p. 10). He states, “In Mark Jesus goes to that region [the one east of Galilee] from Galilee, but in John he proceeds thither from Jerusalem” (p. 16). In connection with Luke’s account of the rejection at Nazareth, he asks: “It is the question whether his representation is entirely correct. Is it historically reliable?” (pp. 17, 18). On one of the last pages of his booklet he informs us that the view according to which what is written (in The Gospels) actually happened as written “is absolutely untenable” (p. 80). Yet these Gospels lead us to Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead. “The fact that across the pathway of the centuries the Gospels even today are able to move us is for those who are willing to take note of it the proof (even though not scientific proof) that the Gospels are really reliable” (pp. 80–87).

Last of all we turn to Hartvelt, who writes Concerning Scripture and Inspiration. His statement, “The God of Israel is not at all a copy of the gods of the nations” is reassuring (p. 30). With reference to “science” (wetenschap) in the sense of the pursuit of knowledge, he writes, “It stands to reason that science is constantly aiming to purge itself of every preconception.” A little later, on the same page, speaking about the authors of the books of the Bible, he writes: “Has their relation to Jesus Christ, in the light of his resurrection, anything to do with the manner in which they speak about the past, i.e., about the life of Christ? Undoubtedly” (p. 34). He attacks the idea that the early church was the creator of a theology concerning Jesus (p. 35). He designates as “a mechanical inspiration view,” the idea that the Holy Spirit suggested to the writers what themes they should write about and what words they should use, and that the Spirit then also moved them to write. He says that according to this view the human factor, in the origination of Scripture, is eliminated (p. 58). He endorses “the climate of the Heidelberg Catechism” (Lord’s Day 7) and of article 1 of The Belgic Confession, to the effect that Holy Scripture is “sufficient unto salvation” (p. 74).

A mere review can never do full justice to the contents of a book, be it only a small book. I have tried hard to represent the views of the authors fairly. I repeat, “By all means get and study these four paperbacks.”

II. Evaluation

That there is much that is good and true must not be denied. Let me mention a few items: 1) the constant emphasis on the fact that every passage of Scripture must be explained in the light of its own historical and literary context; 2) the fact that Christianity, to be genuine, must affect not only our personal relation to God but certainly (and for that very reason) also our relation to the needs of humanity, needs in which we should involve ourselves; 3) the truth that not everything in Scripture is “inspired” in the same sense, witness what Scripture itself tells us with references to the speeches of the friends of Job (Job 42:7); 4) the fact that God interprets himself in Christ; 5) the stress with which it is affirmed that the Cod of Israel is not at all a copy of the gods of the nations; 6) the laudable statement that it simply is not true that the post-resurrection church was the creator of a theology concerning Jesus; and 7) the fact that faith in the Risen Christ is vain unless the power of that living Christ is evident in our lives. For such affirmations we are genuinely thankful.

Having said this, I must now affirm, and this de6nitely, that 1 do not and cannot agree with certain positions which the authors have assumed with respect to Scripture. In Cahier No.1 (p. 6) Koole mentions Korte verklaring as an example of progress in the study of the Bible, the type of progress which, according to him, made necessary the writing of these cahiers. Well, do not the volumes of Korte verklaring and other excellent commentaries, both Dutch and English, contain the answers to the puzzles mentioned by Knitert and by Koole regarding certain Bible passages? And, by the way (waiving the question with reference to the original text), although Scripture speaks of more than one Noah, Joshua, Jeroboam, James, John, Simon, Judas, Philip, Herod, etc., are we sure that there could have been only one Goliath?

Progress in scientific discovery was also mentioned as a reason that brought about the necessary (?) change in theological thinking. But, in all candor, what can science possibly tell us about “the way it all began”? Moreover, is it really true that the farther one reaches back into the past the more “primitive” man is found to be? Is this a good reason for believing that the Adam of the opening chapters of Genesis must be discarded? True, when one digs into past history, he discovers cavemen. Of course, even some of these cavemen have at times drawn pictures on their walls that compare favorably with art-pieces shown in a modern art museum! But aside entirely from these aborigines, I also find, when 1 study the past, the masterpieces of Ruisdael, Hobbema, Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Leonardo da Vinci. I listen again to the music of Bach, Handel, Haydn, and Mendelssohn. Going back still farther I read I Corinthians 13, and even much farther back than that I experience the comfort of Psalm 23. Finally, I arrive in Paradise, and feel persuaded that if God, perfect in all his attributes and works, created man—and he did!—he must have made him perfect!

Frankly, I do not understand the appeal to Joshua 10:12, 13. Do we not still talk about the sun “rising” and “setting,” “coming up,” and “going down”? When on a beautiful evening, one astronomer talks to another, does he say, “What a gorgeously colorful effect the sun, because of atmospheric conditions, has upon the diurnal rotation of the earth and the clouds this evening”? Does he not rather say, “What a beautiful sunset”? When Joshua said, “And the sun stood still, etc.,” is he not here recording a miracle, and is he not describing this miracle in terms such as any normal person would use even today? And is there any man of science, worthy of the name, who dares to tell us that an Almighty God, who holds the entire universe in his hands, was unable to bring about this miracle without causing chaos?

The average church member’s appeal to Romans 5:12 ff, in order to prove that there was, indeed, one man, Adam, through whom sin entered into the world, is, as I see it, entirely justified. The attempt to crush the validity of the argument by contrasting Romans 5:12ff. with I Timothy 2:14, as if in one passage Paul would be teaching that sin began with Adam but in the other that it began with Eve, is not justified. Such reasoning, as I see it, runs contrary to the very lesson which the authors of these booklets have so beautiful1v stressed, namely, that passages must be interpreted is the light of their specific contexts. In the first passage Paul is contrasting two persons considered as representative heads: Adam and Christ. Eve naturally is not in the picture. In the second passage Paul talks about Adam’s relation not to Christ but to Eve. She listened directly to Satan; he did not. She sinned before he did. She was the leader, he the follower. There is, accordingly, no conflict whatsoever between the two passages when each is interpreted in the light of its own context. And as to that so-called drastic example of rabbinical reasoning, Galatians 4:21–31, that passage is nothing of the kind. The paragraph is an obvious lesson based on a comparison derived very naturally from the ancient (Genesis) narrative. The apostle’s point is, in fact, so natural that in a mood of surprise he asks, “Tell me, you who desire to be under law, do you not hear the law?” The defense for this position can be found in my New Testament Commentary on Galatians, pp. 178–189.

Who told Kuitert that with respect to “very many” (“heel veel”) of the Old Testament narratives, and to a lesser degree with respect to those of the New Testament, it was never the purpose of the writer “accurately to set forth historical events”? Must we believe this simply because he says so? And if so much of that which is recorded as having actually happened did not, in fact, take place at all, then how do we know that Christ really rose from the dead?

Kuitert wants us to believe that his view of Scripture is in harmony with The Belgic Confession, and he quotes from the opening words of article 5. We are thankful for this statement of full accord. But why did he not quote the rest of the article, especially the immediately following clause, “believing without any doubt all things contained in them”?

With respect to Baarda’s remark regarding the origination of the Gospels, is it not true that according to the oldest reliable witnesses there were never more than four Gospels—exactly the well-known four: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—that were universally recognized in the church? See Irenaeus, Against Heresies, lII.xi,8; also Tertullian, Against Morcion , IV.2. It appears to me that the attempt to show that Mark and John contradict each other with respect to the journey of Jesus cannot succeed, for the simple reason that John does not present an itinerary of Jesus’ travels. Similarly, Luke, in recording the rejection at Nazareth (chapter 4), does not contradict the other Synoptists, for he does not tell us when this event took place.

Finally, in connection with Hartvelt’s attack on a certain view of inspiration which he criticizes, and his charge that according to that view the books of the Bible were written in such a manner that “people had hardly anything to do with it,” I must confess that it is true, indeed, that in the past the human factor has not always received its due. To that extent I would agree with Hartvelt. However, let us be careful not to proceed too far in the opposite direction, Otherwise, what becomes of II Peter 1:20, 21? I have as yet found no better and more balanced presentation of this admittedly very difficult subject than that which can be found in the works of Bavinck and Berkhof.

Here ends my criticism. While I find much that is good in these four booklets, I deplore the fact that in their view of Scripture they seem, in some respects, to have departed from what until now has always been believed and confessed in Reformed circles. In this respect—and it is, after all, an important and basic point—their arguments have failed to convince me.

1. 2nd ed. published with the title, Goed voor Gods Woord.

2. Could not God have done so?

Dr. W. Hendriksen is a retired pastor of the Christian Reformed Church, now living in Boca Raton, Florida. The above review is reprinted from the WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL, with permission.