Professor Kuitert and the Dutch Religious Press

This is the second and last of a series of articles which seek to inform the reader about recent Dutch reactions to the writings of Dr. H. M. Kuitert, Professor of Systematic Theology at the Free University of Amsterdam. Professor Kuitert delivered a number of lectures before the Christian Reformed Ministers’ Institute in Grand Rapids last year. This gave wider publicity to his views although these views had already been commented on in articles in TORCH AND TRUMPET and elsewhere prior to his coming.

1. Should Difficult Passages Be Harmonized?

Professor Kuitert, in a recent publication of his entitled Understandest Thou What Thou Readest, sets forth some of the considerations which in his opinion should guide us in the reading of the Bible. In this connection he raises the question of those Bible passages which have long been recognized as presenting certain difficulties of harmonization to the reader. By way of example he points to passages such as II Kings 15:7, where one reads that Uzziah (Azariah) was buried with his fathers, while in II Chronicles 26:23 it appears that because Uzziah was a leper he was not buried in the grave of his fathers but right next to it. Attention is also called to I Kings 9:11 where Solomon gives cities to Hiram, while in II Chronicles 8:2 Hiram seems to be giving cities to Solomon. Moreover, in II Samuel we read that David killed Goliath, in II Samuel 21:19 it is Elhanan who slew him, but in I Chronicles 20:5 Elhanan is said to have killed not Goliath but the brother of Goliath, lachmi. Kuitcrt concludes from such instances that the Bible did not intend to tell us always what really happened.

Kuitert’s critics point out the following:

1) Kuitert presents an exaggerated view of what orthodox believers have held with respect to the Scripture’s pervasive reliability and infallibility. Orthodoxy does not hold that the Biblical record is always precise to the very last detail. A comparison between Matthew 19:17 and Mark 10:18 makes it clear that Jesus’ words are not always reported with exhaustive precision. This has long been recognized. Why, then, does Kuitert set up a caricature in his attempt to argue for his viewpoint?

2) Kuitert expresses a proper concern that the Bible’s main message be correctly grasped. That message deals with Jesus Christ. But this concern leads him to a reduction of revelation and prompts him to make light of attempts to harmonize difficult passages. While Kuitert does not wish to declare all the historical reports of the Bible to be just a subjective expression of the church’s faith, as is done by Bultmann, he nevertheless concentrates the canon of Scripture so narrowly in Jesus Christ and his resurrection that the totality of Scripture is lost sight of. The whole Bible is Cod’s Word, thus B. Wentsel, a former fraternal delegate of the Gereformeerde Kerken to the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church. Tn order to know Christ we must also know of the appearance of the Angel of the LORD to Israel in the desert as well as to Balaam in the story of the ass. To believe in Christ means to believe in a series of coherent facts and truths of revelation. Revelation is not just a disclosure of facts but also of words. Kuitert’s revelation-concept is too much determined by act-revelation.

3) Harmonization is not quite so bad a word as Kuitert deems it to be. It is not a forcing of the text to make it say what it never was intended to say. When historical data appear to contradict each other it is proper to attempt a solution. But not all cases can be solved with equal ease, thus J. Vlaardingerbroek in Veluws Kerkblad. Dr. J. Schelhaas, writing in Waarheid en Eenheid, likewise accepts the method of harmonization and suggests his solutions to the problems mentioned by Kuitert.

2. Scripture’s Authority

This leads us to what Kuitert writes about the authority of Scripture. Kuitert is afraid of what he calls an “empty authority.” By this he means that we must accept the authority of this Scripture, that is, the Scripture which deals with Jesus Christ. Faith is not aimed at certain views concerning Scripture but it is aimed at him of whom the Scriptures testify (John 5:39).

Kuitert warns us not to believe “in Adam and Eve.” A Christian is he who confesses with the mouth that Jesus is the Lord and who believes with the heart that God has raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9). Kuitert’s critics point out the following:

1) We have always known that the Bible had a core and that this core was Jesus Christ. We never had trouble considering someone a Christian who could not accept certain things in the Bible as long as he believed in Jesus as his Savior. We only considered such a person to be less than Reformed and did not approve of his attitude toward the Bible. A mere acceptance of everything which the Bible contains does not make someone a Christian without a personal faith in Jesus Christ.

2) Kuitert separates what belongs together. He divides between content and form. One would think that Kuitert’s emphasis on the heart and core of the Bible would make everything in the Bible very important. Instead one gets the impression that with Kuitert all the rest of the Bible becomes less important. Kuitert’s concentration becomes a reduction, thus Vlaardingerbroek. This is the same emphasis as is made by Wentsel.

3) There is indeed a danger of making the Bible a Koran-type book. The Mohammedan Koran was thought to have been dropped ready-made from heaven. This is not the view we must have of Scripture. Reformed theologians of the past have warned us against this sort of view. Nevertheless, thus Wentsel, the material contents of Scripture leads to a collection of words, writings, and letters. It results in a book with lines, with pages and a cover. I may say therefore, God’s Word lies on this table. I can say this next to the affirmation of the incarnation of the Word. Wentsel considers it incorrect when Kuitert out of a reaction against a “koranizing” of the Bible begins to separate the form and content of the Bible from each other. There is, thus Wentsel, something offensive in the fact that it has pleased God to save people by means of the confrontation with a collection of writings. But this is nevertheless the way it is.

4) Kuitert carries on a polemic against an unenlightened, fundamentalist use of Scripture. But the Reformed use of Scripture has not been of that sort.

3. Paul on Adam’s Sin

Kuitert has argued that one does not need to take Paul’s words concerning Adam’s first Sin as presented in Romans 5 at face value. Paul was only adjusting himself to an accepted Jewish approach to the historicity of Adam and Eve. At this point he need not be taken seriously any longer.

Kuitert’s critics have the following to say:

1) Why try to force Paul to conform to Jewish approaches to Scripture at this point? If one were convinced that modern science no longer allows us to believe in an historical Adam, would it not be more honest to say: we can no longer believe this, instead of making Paul into a rabbinical teacher? At this point Wentsel, whose opinions I here discuss, makes it very clear that he, for one, is unable to accept the scientific claims concerning the origin of man as corresponding to actual fact. But he does feel that it would be more honest for one like Dr. Kuitert to say openly that this part of Scripture can no longer be accepted.

2) The tendency is today to consider science more or less inspired. What is forgotten is that science itself is often motivated by philosophical presuppositions and ideas, and these are often quite un-Biblical.

3) If Romans 5 is showing influence of rabbinical teaching why, then, stop at this chapter? Is perhaps all of Paul’s treatment of the doctrine of justification a fruit of rabbinical thought? But Paul must be seen first of all as instrument of the Spirit. To be sure, he used the theologies current in those days. But the form which Paul uses closely depends on his contents. Paul, moreover, is not just a theologian. He was specially called by Christ to supplement and to explain what up till then lacked clarity in Christ’s ministry. To accentuate the rabbinical influence in Paul’s writing, as is done by Kuitert, might make Paul’s authority as an apostle null and void.

The above are just a few of the many things that are being said and written in Dutch church papers today. Anyone who is at all aware of what previous generations of Biblical scholars such as Geerhardus Vos, B. B. Warfield and others have written will not find anything new in our comments and criticisms. The value of these criticisms does not first of all lie in their newness. Their value lies in thc fact that also today these well-known things are being said in defense of the Scriptures.

In the meantime we should all recognize that the doctrine of Scripture continues to be of crucial importance for the development of a sound and up-to-date theology for the late twentieth century. May the result of recent challenges to accepted doctrine be a renewed consideration of what Reformed theology has thus far believed in order to examine and test this theology as to its adequacy in meeting the problems of the modern day. For ultimately it is not theology as such but the Bible itself before which every mouth shall be stopped.

M.H. Woudstra, professor of Old Testament, Calvin Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan.