It is our intention in this issue to discuss the most important matter which required the attention of the 1959 Synod of the Christian Reformed Church; namely, the question whether the Bible is the absolutely infallible Word of God.
MISUNDERSTANDING THE ISSUE
It is of great importance to know just what the issue was with respect to the subject of the inspiration of Scripture. Conversations and articles written in various papers show that the real issue was not and still is not understood by many members of our churches.
First, there are some who assert that the dispute between those who hold that all of the Bible and every part of it is the infallible and inerrant Word of God and those who place some restrictions on such a statement is due largely to a misunderstanding of various elements that enter into the picture, for example the question what is meant by infallibility. That thought finds expression even in a statement by Mr. Marvin Hoogland, Seminary student, who, because of his articles in Stromata on the inspiration of the Bible, was interviewed at length by the Board of Trustees last May before he was given preaching license (Sec The Banner of June 12, p. 22).
There were reassuring statements in Mr. Hoogland’s article, to be sure. For example, we were gratified to read that he is “fully committed to the Reformed doctrine that the Bible is in every part the inspired and infallible Word of God.” Also that it was not his intention to give “the impression that I wished to deny the historical reliability of Scripture.” At the same time, however, there is no acknowledgment that some of the statements which he made in Stromata were in conflict with the Reformed position on inspiration as taught by Reformed theologians and crystallized in the Belgic Confession. The impression is given that the disturbance in the Church because of his Stromata articles was due to a large extent to a “misunderstanding” of what he had written and to “ambiguities” in his articles.
Now, we do not know whether in the prolonged interview which the Board of Trustees had with Marvin Hoogland a more definite acknowledgment was made that what he had written on Bible infallibility was not in all respects Reformed. We understand his statement in The Banner was not reviewed by the Board before it was published. But we feel impelled to say that the statement did not satisfy us. For example, when Hoogland wrote in Stromata that “it must clearly be shown that the Scriptures clearly teach not only that the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit, but that it is also infallible” and that “it must readily be admitted t hat the Bible nowhere explicitly claims to be infallible” he was not merely making ambiguous statements. Again, in giving examples from Scripture to show that we cannot really maintain that the Scripture is infallible in all of its statements concerning historical events and scientific facts, Hoogland wrote: “Why then should we be so upset when some one suggests that possibly certain narrations in Scripture are not historically accurate and are not meant to be?” He also lists certain “discrepancies” without qualifying them as seeming or apparent discrepancies. We quote: “Nor does this discrepancy and others like it, need to upset the view that the Gospels were divinely inspired. It simply was not the purpose of the Holy Spirit to preserve the writers from these kinds of mistakes, however much some dislike to call them ‘mistakes.’” He also speaks of the view of those who deny that there are “errors” in the Bible as “an untenable dogmatism which is fundamentally opposed to science and sound scholarship.” And in the final paragraph he wrote: “Is the doctrine of infallibility essential to Christianity? By this time the answer to be given should be evident.” And the answer given in the article is definitely negative.
Seeing that these articles are in conflict with our Belgic Confession, which teaches that “nothing can be alleged” against the books of the Holy Scripture and that “we believe without doubt all things contained in them,” that its doctrine “is most perfect and complete in all respects” and that we “reject with all our hearts whatsoever does not agree with this infallible rule” we had the right to expect a better statement from Mr. Hoogland.
Therefore we would ask the Board of Trustees whether it received less equivocal, more positive, statements from Marvin Hoogland when they interviewed him and whether he made any acknowledgment that some of his statements were in error; in other words, whether it is satisfied with his statement as it appeared in The Banner of June 12, page 22.
We also wonder on what ground Rev. Peter Van Tuinen can state in his first article in The Banner of August 7, p. 8 that while the case of the candidate in the Reformed Church was a matter of allOWing scientific theories to call in question the dependability of biblical revelation, “in the case which occupied our own communion, it was quite a different question which arose in the context of the deepest respect for the dependability of the biblical revelation” (italics ours–K). We disagree. The facts speak otherwise. How can “the deepest respect for the dependability” of the Bible be in accord with statements allowing what there are “mistakes” and “errors” in the Bible? The contentions of the candidate in the Reformed Church were indeed far more radical than those made in Stromata but the difference was only one of degree, like that between opening the door wide to an intruder and unlocking it to make his entrance possible.
We do not believe there was a misunderstanding of the intent and general drift of brother Hoogland’s articles on the part of those who expressed disagreement. But it cannot be denied that some of our own people h a v e failed to understand what was really the issue in the infallibility debate. For example, we have heard it said that our leaders were simply arguing the question whether or no mistakes were made in the translations of the Bible! The fact is of course that this was not the issue at all. Everyone who has done the least bit of reading on the subject knows that the translators of the Bible were not inspired and that no one claims this. Scripture translations may be freely criticized—by those who have the required knowledge of the languages concerned.
It is also true that the men who made copies of the original manuscripts (autographa of the books of the Bible were not infallible, though as a rule the work of copying was performed with exceedingly great care. There are minor differences between the various copies, whose number runs into the thousands, and the work of the so-called textual critic (to be distinguished from the higher critic) is to determine, by means of painstaking study and comparison of these differences, what is the pure text, as found in the autographa.
The real question is therefore whether those autographa, those original manuscripts, were infallibly inspired or not. Could they contain error of any sort? As all our theologians insist, we cannot settle this question empirically, that is, by an investigation whether there are actually contradictions or discrepancies in Scripture as we have it today. As Kuyper remarks in his great lecture Hedendaagsche Schriftcriiiek (Present-day Criticism of Scripture), this cannot be settled in that fashion for the simple reason that we no longer have the original manuscripts. It must be settled on the basis of what the Bible teaches about itself, specifically about its divine inspiration and authority. Does what it teaches about its inspiration, its God-breathedness (See 11 Timothy 3:16), imply that when it was written it was infallible in all its statements? All our Reformed dogmaticians (Calvin, Kuyper, Bavinck, Hodge, Warfield, Murray, Berkhof etc.) answer in the affirmative. Those who contend that there were errors in the original text, in the autographa, cannot prove this by pointing to apparent or seeming contradictions in the Bible books as we have them today, in manuscript or translation. They can prove it only by demonstrating that what the Bible teaches about itself, its own inspiration, allows for their conclusion. And that they cannot prove. The very opposite is implied in all that Scripture teaches about its inspiration.
SYNOD’S DECISIONS ON THE INFALLIBILITY ISSUE
This matter came up at Synod in four ways: by way of overtures from various Classes, in the examination of Seminary graduates who wished to be declared candidates for the ministry, through a report of the Ecumenical Synod on the inspiration of the Bible, and through a protest by Dr. Martin Wyngaardcn, professor of Old Testament at Calvin Seminary against the views on inspiration expressed by his colleague, Dr. John H. Kromminga, President of our Seminary. Those views had been expressed in a document presented to the Board of Trustees in connection with the case of Seminarian Marvin Hoogland, the publication of whose views on infallibility had been authorized by Prof. Kromminga. The title of the Kromminga document was: “How Shall We Understand Infallibility?” We add that four professors of the Seminary had also sent a communication to Synod signifying disagreement with the views of President Kromminga.
Actually, however, all the doctrinal decisions at Synod on the matter of infallibility centered around the various points of the protest of Dr. Wyngaarden and around the recommendations of the Ecumenical Synod on the subject of inspiration.
First of all, it so happened that one of the subjects on which the Ecumenical Synod of South Africa had been requested to declare itself was precisely the same question of inspiration which became a very practical issue for our Church through the articles in Stromata and the document of Prof. J. H. Kromminga.
The strongly conservative trend at Synod became evident w hen the seven Conclusions of the Ecumenical Synod in regard to inspiration were adopted with an almost unanimous vote. These Conclusions (except the change in the first and last one from “the Ecumenical Synod” to “the Christian Reformed Church”) read as follows: (The italics in this document are ours–K)
“a. The doctrine of inspiration (to which the Christian Reformed Church holds) is to the effect that Holy Scripture alone and the Holy Scripture in its entirety is the Word of God written, given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and practice, an inspiration of an organic nature which extends not only to the ideas but also to the words of Holy Scripture, and is so unique in its effect that Holy Scripture and Holy Scripture alone is the Word of God.
“b. T his doctrine of inspiration, while holding that the human authors of Scripture were moved by the Holy Spirit so as to insure that what they wrote communicated infallibly God’s self-revelation, also maintains that the Holy Spirit did not suppress their personalities, but rather that he sovereignly pr e par e d, controlled, and directed them in such a way that he utilized their endowments and experience, their research and reflection, their language and style. This human aspect of Scripture does n0t, however, allow for the inference that Scripture may be regarded as a fallible human witness to divine revelation, for such an evaluation constitutes an attack upon the glorious sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in inspiration.
“c. This estimate of Scripture is the demand ariSing from the witness which the Scripture itself bears to its divine origin, character, and authority. More particularly, it is demanded by the witness of our Lord and his apostles, and to entertain a different estimate is to reject the testimony of Christ and of the apostles.
“d. This doctrine of Scripture must not be regarded as a dispensable addendum (addition–K), far less as a merely human accretion, to our Christian faith. Holy Scripture is the only extant form of redemptive revelation. Faith in Scripture as God-breathed revelatory Word is implicit in our faith in the divine character of redemption itself.
“e. These considerations that Scripture pervasively witnesses to its own Cod-breathed origin and character, and that as redemptive revelation it is necessarily characterized by the divinity which belongs to redemption, are the explanation of the sustained faith of the historic Christian church that Scripture in its whole extent and in all its parts is the infallible and inerrant Word of God.
“f. To this faith, as it is clearly expressed in the creeds of the Reformed Churches, the Christian Reformed Church bears witness and on the basis of this doctrine of Scripture seeks to testify to the whole counsel of God in the unit of the Spirit and in the bond of peace.”
After these recommendations of the Advisory Committee had been adopted, its advice respecting the protest of Dr. Wyngaarden was considered.
A – The following points or this protest Synod refused to adopt:
1. That President Kromminga had committed the Seminary to a drastic reinterpretation of Articles III and IV of the Belgic Confession. He stated explicitly in his paper that he was not writing officially as spokesman for the Calvin Seminary Faculty.
2. That President Kromminga in his statement: “I recognize and admit no errors, inaccurracies, contradictions, or other inadequacies of any sort in Scripture which affect its authority on this its message” implied that there may be errors, inaccuracies, contradictions which lie on the periphery (the outer area–K) of the message of Scripture, and that infallible man must determine what belongs and does not belong to the message of Scripture. Synod stated that Dr. Wyngaarden developed his argument by inference but hud not demonstrated that his is a necessary inference. (See page eleven)
3. Dr. Wyngaarden objected to the following statement in President Kromminga’s document: “It was claimed with some justification that the Christian Church had ‘always’ believed in infallibility. But it was not clearly stated what was believed to be infallible, and how far that infallibility extended. It is this last question which the Church is now facing.”
Dr. Wyngaarden’s first objection to this statement was that President Kromminga employed too weak a statement concerning the attitude of the Christian Church concerning infallibility. Synod declared: “Although the statement of President Kromminga is weak, nevertheless Synod does not judge that it substantiates so serious a charge as Dr. Wyngaarden brings against the President of the Seminary.”
Dr. Wyngaarden’s second objection against that statement was that the question which President Kromminga raised about the extent of the infallibility of the Bible is precluded by Article V of the Belgic Confession which states that we believe “without any doubt all things contained in Holy Scripture.” Synod declared that the creedal statement does “preclude the legitimacy of the question how far infallibility extends if we employ the term ‘extend’ in terms of a quantitative limitation of Scriptural infallibility.” But the Advisory Committee reported: “President Kromminga assures Synod that he does not use the term in this sense. Hence this item of evidence does not support the charge.”
4. Dr. Wyngaarden charged that President Kromminga misinterpreted Article V of the Belgic Confession as if it read: ‘believing without any doubt all things contained in them in so far as they are for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith.” Synod replied that “although President Kromminga does not explicitly state in his paper that he interprets this clause to mean that ‘all these books (not some or part of all) are for the regulation…of our faith’ that fact does not prove that the President’s interpretation excludes that meaning. It would seem that Dr. Wyngaarden is putting words into President Kromminga’s mouth when he ascribes to President Kromminga the reading: ‘in so far as’ Dr. Wyngaarden is here arguing from silence.”
B – The following points of the Wyngaarden protest were justified by Synod:
1. Dr. Wyngaarden charged that President Kromminga “too narrowly restricts the meaning” of the clause in the Belgic Confession : “‘against which nothing can be alleged’ (Article IV) when he interprets it to mean ‘that nothing can be alleged against the inclusion of the sixty-six specified books in the canon of Holy Scripture.’” Synod replied: “In view of the fact that President Kromminga acknowledges that his explanation of the clause is too restrictive and that he recognizes that it refers to the content of all the books as well as to the inclusion of the books into the canon, this item of evidence no longer supports the charge.”
2. Dr. Wyngaarden charged that President Kromminga misinterpreted Article VII of the Belgic Confession when he wrote that ‘the infallible rule’ which that article speaks of is merely that Scripture is to be interpreted by Scripture. Dr. Wyngaarden pointed out that a correct translation of the French clearly shows that ‘the infallible rule’ refers to the Holy Scriptures. Synod replied: “Since Prof. Kromminga now recognizes that the phrase ‘infallible rule’ refers not so much to a hermeneutical principle but to the truth of God revealed in the Holy Scriptures, this item of evidence no longer supports the charge.”
3. Dr. Wyngaarden charged that President Kromminga made “an unwarranted distinction between this so-called periphery and that which does not belong to this so-called periphery.” Dr. Wyngaarden asserts that “this distinction is not found in Scripture, nor in the Creeds,” but rather that the Creed says concerning the Scriptures that “all things contained in them” are to be believed (Article 5).
Synod replied “that the word ‘periphery’ in this context of President Kromminga’s article is ambiguous. He has employed language which may easily leave the impression that there is an area of Scripture in which it is allowable to posit the possibility of actual historical inaccuracies. President Kromminga assures Synod that in using the term ‘periphery’ he does not mean ‘this or that word’ in Scripture, but rather ‘some aspect’ of the content of the words which is not germane to the Spirit’s purpose.”
Synod also declared that “it is in consonant (not in harmony–K) with the Creeds to declare or suggest that there is an area of Scripture in which it is allowable to posit the possibility of actual historical inaccuracies. (Cf. Article V, Belgic Confession, ‘believing without any doubt all things contained therein.”)”
Synod further decided to withhold further judgment whether or not at this point the view expressed by President Kromminga is consistent with the creeds but to commit this matter to a thorough study. Six grounds are given for making a thorough study of the matter.
4. In regard to President Kromminga’s attitude toward the articles of our Creed which deal with the subject of Scripture, Synod decided:
“In view of the admission of President Kromminga that he in his paper has given a too-restricted interpretation of crucial statements in Articles 1V and VII of the Belgic Confession, and in view of the fact that the position set forth in this paper is admittedly the view which guided him in his official action as President of the Seminary (see first paragraph of President Kromminga’s paper), it is evident that President Kromminga was being guided in his policy as President of Calvin Seminary by a misinterpretation of Articles IV and VII of the Belgic Confession. President Kromminga’s admission indicates that this misinterpretation has been corrected.
In stating our reactions to the decisions of Synod in regard to the protest of Dr. Wyngaarden against the view of Professor Kromminga (as expressed in his document to the Board of Trustees in which he sought to justify his action in permitting the publication of Mr. Marvin Hoogland’s article on “Infallibility Questioned”) we wish to voice first of all to our admiration for the Advisory Committee which prepared the exhaustive report which it presented to Synod on the matter and which Synod adopted. Anyone who knows something about the pressure under which most of the Advisory Committees do their work will not withhold a word of praise from any well written report which is brought to the floor of Synod.
It was predicted by a number of persons that, in view of the importance of the subject and the difficulties connected with it, Synod would go no farther than appoint a study committee to report in one or two years hence. For one reason or another some hoped that S y nod would do no more. Let us give Synod credit for tackling the matter in a determined and at the same time thorough fashion. It would have been a pity if nothing had been said in defense of the most basic doctrine of Bible inspiration and infallibility, so clearly taught in our Belgic Confession.
Second, we are very grateful that President Kromminga made a number of basic admissions on various points, which, if they had been included in his report to the Board of Trustees, would have spared him great embarrassment and would have made Prof. Wyngaarden’s protest unnecessary.
Third, the Advisory Committee dealt very gentIy with the President of our Seminary. They gave him the benefit of the doubt at every possible point. We feel, however, that in bending backward to spare the President’s feelings they hardly did justice to the protestant. We have in mind particularly the fact that in several instances the Committee stated that the charge was not to be supported or no longer to be supported because or the assurances which President Kromminga had given to the Committee. But the charges of Professor Wyngaarden were against statements made by President Kromminga before Synod met. It would have been more proper to state, for example, that such and such a charge was to be sustained, and then in a concluding paragraph to make a special point of the President’s admissions stating that the charges could now be dropped. As some of the decisions now read, the hasty reader may conclude that Prof. Kromminga was exonerated on all points while in reality several of the charges were sustained. Whether or not a charge was to be sustained did not in any sense depend on statements made by President Kromminga at the sessions of the Advisory Committee—unless his statements disproved the charge.
Finally we cannot see the consistency of the decision that a committee will have to study the question whether President Kromminga committed himself to a “drastic reinterpretation” of Articles III and VII of the Belgic Confession when in the preceding sentence the Committee and Synod have stated that President Kromminga’s admission indicates that his “misinterpretation” has been corrected. We fail to see that there is any real difference between a “misinterpretation” and a “drastic reinterpretation” of the creedal articles in question.
THE PRESENT SITUATION
Even though we are gratified with the decisions of Synod on infallibility, generally speaking, we are nevertheless deeply concerned about the situation as it obtains today. First, it has become evident that the deviating views on infallibility were not simply those of a few immature students but that the writers in Stromata (the Hoogland brothers) were reflecting an approach which had wide support in the Seminary and the College and even among some of our ministers.
We like to believe that the support given to the persons concerned was due to personal sympathy and perhaps to a failure to realize what was really involved in the matter. If that is true, the decisions of Synod, if properly studied and respected, should have a very wholesome effect in the Church at large. Nevertheless, it is tragic that our theological faculty, even at Synod, was divided on the issue, five over against five. We cannot recall that during our more than a half century of work in the ministry our Church was ever confronted with such a discouraging situation. Let all who love our Church pray earnestly and fervently that these dark clouds may roll away. We may not be able to see how this is possible since men do not easily surrender their convictions on basic doctrines, but what is impossible with men is possible with God.
Much will depend on the report of the committee which Synod appointed to make a further study of inspiration and infallibility. The fol· lowing brethren were asked to serve on t his Committee: Dr. John H. Bratt, Dr. Paul Schrotenboer, Dr. Jacob Hoogstra, Dr. J. Praamsma, Rev. John Stek, Dr. Gordon Spykman, and Rev. Clarence Vos. Let us pray much for these men. And may their report find general acceptance in the Christian Reformed Church.
Meanwhile, we do well to remember that in the decisions already taken at Synod, first by the adoption of the pronouncements of the Ecumenical Synod and second by the actions on the Wyngaarden protest, Synod has committed itself unreservedly to the Reformed doctrine of the verbal inspiration of the Word of God, of its infallibility and inerrancy.
In the October issue we hope to discuss the lament of some of our people that Synod was inconsistent by adopting only half-way measures in its endeavor to maintain the basic doctrine of Scripture infallibility.
*At this point we should have inserted the following:
Synod also stated that Dr. Wyngaarden “develops his argument by inference, but does not demonstrate that his is a necessary inference when he charges that President Kromminga implies that Scritpure contains material which is not essential to ‘its message.’
“President Kromminga assures Synod that he believes that Scripture in its whole extent and in all its parts is the infallible and inerrant Word of God.”
We conclude with the remark that though we have reported the substance of all the decisions of Synod on Infallibility, we have summarized some of those decisions, though in doing so we have used the language of those decisions.