When attacks are made against the veracity of the Word, of God they are usually concentrated against the miracles of Scripture. It stands to reason that this would be the case. If suspicion and doubt are cast upon these miracles, then the whole structure of the Word pf God and its truth collapses. In our scientific age-this is exactly what is being done. Miracles cannot be harmonized with a natural and scientific explanation of, things; and, bowing before the idol of science, men discard Scripture.
A couple of instances of this are to be found in the Reader’s Digest and the Grand Rapids Press. In the November Reader’s Digest an interesting article appeared concerning the explosion of a volcano on the Greek island of Santorini about the 15th century B.C. The article described the tremendous force of this explosion and the consequent disappearance of the island; It also, found evidence that this explosion explains the disappearance of a very advanced civilization and quite possibly explains the mystery of the fabled Atlantis. However this may be the article goes on to find in this explosion a possible explanation for the ten plagues which God sent upon Egypt at the time of Israel’s deliverance from the house of bondage and the destruction of Pharaoh’s hosts in the Red Sea. This part of the article reads:
A second great historic consequence of the Santorini consequence is the effect it may have had on northern Egypt, 450 miles away, where the children of Israel labored as slaves at the time. Historians have long noted the resemblance between the Ten Plagues, as recorded in the Bible, and disasters that have accompanied volcanic eruptions. The surrounding waters may turn a rusty red, fish may be poisoned, and the accompanying meteorological disturbances frequently create whirlwinds, swamps and red rain.
The Ten Plagues produced similar phenomena. The waters of Egypt turned red as blood, killing fish and driving frogs on shore. Darkness covered the land for three days. The heavens roared and poured down a fiery volcanic hail. Strong winds brought locusts, which destroyed what crops remained. Insects, which bred in the rotting bodies and swamps, brought disease to cattle and humans. Death was so rampant as to amount to the killing of the “firstborn” of every family.
Egyptian documents confirm the disaster. “The land is utterly perished. . . the sun is veiled and shines not,” says one papyrus. “O that the earth would cease from noise, and tumult be no more!” laments another. “The towns are destroyed. . . no fruits nor herbs are found . . .plague is throughout the land.”
Did the enslaved Israelites take advantage of the confusion and begin their epic migration to the Promised land? As evidence, some biblical scholars cite
“And it came to pass, in the 480th year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel.. . ” Since Solomon reigned from 970-930 B.C., that puts the Exodus right around the time that Santorini exploded.
The Bible relates that Pharaoh pursued the Israelites and drowned in the sea with his army. Egyptian inscriptions also refer to this event. Galanopoulos attributes the disaster to the tidal waves created when the cone of Santorini dropped into the sea—which could have occurred weeks or months after the eruptions, and the plagues, first began.
He points out that the Hebrew words ‘yam suf’ can mean either “Red Sea” or Reed Sea,” and declares that many scholars believe it was the latter that the Bible refers to. He identifies the location as Sirbonis Lake, a brackish body of water between the Nile and Palestine, which is separated from the Mediterranean by a narrow bow of land. He believes that the Israelites fled across this dry bridge, with the waters “on their right hand and on their left,” during the interval when the sea was drawn back toward the Aegean, and that the Egyptians were caught in the huge returning tidal wave. The interval would have been about 20 minutes.
Admitting that these theories “stand on shakier ground than those concerning the destruction of Minoan civilization,” the Reader’s Digest is guilty of an open denial of the miraculous in Scripture. But even apart from this, all sorts of questions remained unanswered by such an explanation. How is one to explain that these plagues came and went at the specific command of Moses and Aaron? How can one explain that the last seven plagues, while destroying the land of Egypt, were not present in the land of Goshen where Israel dwelt? How can we, without denying Scripture altogether, explain that the firstborn of the Egyptians and, of their cattle. were killed in the last plague while the firstborn of the Israelites on whose doorposts blood was smeared were spared the death which the angel of God brought if we try to explain things by a volcanic explosion? These questions could be multiplied. No scientific explanation for these events can possibly do justice to the Scriptural account. One is placed before the options of bowing before Scripture and ignoring these feeble attempts of wicked men to destroy Scripture or accepting these explanations and discarding God’s own record of how these things came to pass.
But above all, a denial of these plagues will lead inevitably to a similar. denial of the judgments which God will some day send upon a wicked world—judgments which so closely parallel the plagues upon wicked Egypt.
The other story in the Grand Rapids Times has to do with the fall of the walls of Jericho. It contains a news release of the Associated Press from Tel Aviv, Israel and reads:
Joshua cheated. The walls of Biblical Jericho came tumbling down after he blew his trumpet all right, but he’d undermined them first.
That’s what Dr. Jacob Feld, a New York consultant engineer on the causes of structural failure, thinks.
Feld found signs the foundations had been dug away when he first studied the walls of Jericho in 1931 during an excavation of the site.
“The lower stones, which must have been the foundations of the walls, were tipped downward and outward, as though someone had undermined the wall from the outside,” Feld said during a recent visit here.
“It was obvious someone had removed the earth under these stones from the outside of the wall.”
What probably happened, he believes, is that Joshua, leading an army of Israelites against the Philistines, shrewdly guessed that storming the walls would be costly and decided to use a little trickery. He must have had some knowledge of soil mechanics and calculated that if his men undermined the walls the city could be taken virtually without a struggle.
So he set his diggers to work in the soft soil under the walls.
“To create a diversion, he surrounded the city and had his priests blow their shofars (rams’ horns) every so often to distract attention,” Feld theorizes.
On the seventh day when everything was ready, the Israelite got all his priests to blow their horns together extra loud seven times while his men “gave a great shout.” And down came the precariously balanced walls.
But, Feld adds: “This theory doesn’t rule out the religious view that the event was an act of God. The Almighty may have worked through Joshua whom He directed.”
Well, however Joshua did it, it made a great song.
Once again, the question is: “How then did that section of the wall upon which stood the house of Rahab remain standing? And similar questions could be raised. But what must one do with the records in the New Testament concerning this event? It was after all “by faith” that the walls of Jericho fell .and “by faith” that Rahab perished not with them that believed not.
AN ANALYSIS OF THE DEKKER DECISION
Perhaps the most accurate and honest evaluation of the decisions of the Christian Reformed Church on the Dekker Case yet to appear are to be found in a recent article by Harry R. Boer in the Reformed Journal. While we cannot quote the whole article nor offer a complete analysis, it is interesting to note what Prof. Boer has to say.
He reflects on the decisions from three different viewpoints: the juridical aspect, the theological aspect and the implications for the future.
With respect to the juridical aspect, Dr. Boer points out accurately that the Synod “did not itself clarify the issue or make any theological judgment on the central point at issue: does God or does God not love all men with a redemptive love and is it therefore right or wrong to say to any man, ‘Christ died for you'”?
He then goes on to make several points concerning the legal aspects of the decision.
In the first place, after admitting that he has no idea of what Synod meant by calling the statements of Prof. Dekker “abstract,” he writes concerning the word “ambiguous” as follows:
Presumably it (“ambiguous”) means that Professor Dekker in the quotations in question, and perhaps in writings that were not cited, had not been wholly clear as to his meaning, had written in such a way as to allow for more than one interpretation, or had possibly associated incompatible ideas in the same statement. How the synod could arrive at any such judgment one can only guess at. If the discussion at synod proved anything at all, especially during the crucial second session, it was that everyone knew exactly what Professor Dekker was trying to say and (a) agreed with it or (b) disagreed with it or (c) entertained reservations with respect to Professor Dekker’s views but defended his right to express them. On the central point at issue Professor Dekker spoke with clarity and decisiveness. His supporters understood him, his opponents understood him. It was precisely this mutual understanding of his position that precipitated the debate. . .
This too is a correct evaluation of Synod’s actions. There really was no doubt about it on Synod that the statements of Prof. Dekker were clear.
In the second place he wonders about the legitimacy of declaring by official decision that statements are ambiguous when there is no proof offered for this and when there is no. evidence given in the decision that this ambiguity was “offensive to the truth.”
Thirdly, he faults the Synod for using three quotations from Prof. Dekker which did not appear in his public writings, but which were drawn from his discussions with the Doctrinal Committee.
Fourthly, again correctly, he fails to see how the decisions of Synod were really (“could be remotely construed by Synod”) an answer to some specific overtures appearing on Synod.
And finally he points out that the final decisions were in contravention of the mandate given to the Study Committee in 1964. His conclusion is:
All in all, the judicial face of the synodical decision presents a rather tired and forlorn look, leaves the Church perplexed, and invites us all to pray harder when the synodical bark ventures out into the deep and perilous waters of theological controversy.
Turning next to the theological implications of this decision, Dr. Boer finds a great deal of satisfaction in what Synod did. After pointing out that Synod did not condemn the position of Prof. Dekker, did not accept the position proposed by the Study Committee, and did not accept the position of Dekker, he writes:
Theologically there are in the synodical decision the qualities of tentativeness and uncertainty, a not-taking-of-sides, an openness to continued exploration and discussion. At the same time, this tentativeness and openness has come as a revelation to many. The determined effort to bring about a condemnation of Professor Dekker’s views failed completely.
But he finds comfort in this, for this has clearly shown, in his opinion, that the Church endorsed doctrinal freedom and has permitted discussions of difficult questions to go on without a hampering of theological inquiry.
Finally, Dr. Boer writes concerning “perspectives for tomorrow.” Summing up what he has to say, he writes:
There have emerged out of the synodical decision some facts about Christian Reformed ecclesiastical life that are both disturbing and hopeful.
By this he means:
I simply affirm that two minds exist in the Church, that they are theologically in tension, and that this created an impasse at synod that was papered over by a rather meaningless formula so far as the written decision is concerned.
On the other hand, both of these minds are clearly one in Christ and both placed the unity of the Church above the doctrinal diversity that existed.
The question which this poses is:
How are these diverse minds to live together in the one Church without again and again creating impasses which, as in this case, cannot be resolved without ecclesiastical conflict culminating in a decision that bears little relevance to the conflict and only results in damage to the dignity and public image of the Church’s highest ecclesiastical assembly?
In answer to this question the Dr. suggests several points. One is that much of the discussion which went on during the controversy was evidence of the fact that “the Christian Reformed Church has much to learn in the way of how to conduct theological discourse and controversy in its denominational communion.”
If in the future there is not more openness to one another’s viewpoints and restraint in pointing the accusing finger of heresy, then more of what has happened can be looked for. In the end there will result a denomination that is disgusted by theological and ecclesiastical infighting and will go its way with “a plague on both your houses.”
Secondly, he pleads for new rules “governing the initiation and conduct of doctrinal inquiries”; rules which, if adopted, would make it much more difficult than it is now to initiate proceedings against one who is guilty of heresy. This suggestion is similar to what the Episcopal Church has done recently after it exonerated Bishop Pike. And this is dangerous business. Not only does the church more and more condone outrageous heresy, but it wants to make sure that he ecclesiastical assemblies are no longer troubled by people who want to keep the Church faithful to the truth.
In conclusion Dr. Boer refers to a speech by Prof. Zwaanstra made on the floor of Synod in which Prof. Zwaanstra claimed that the Synod of Dordt accepted positions “as far apart as those of Herman Hoeksema and Harold Dekker…as valid expressions of the Reformed faith.”
Dr. Boer pleads that the Christian Reformed Church ought to be able to do as much.
It is too bad that Prof. Zwaanstra’s speech (which undersigned heard) was not recorded and is not available for publication. It was apparent to anyone that he was guilty of grossly twisting history and misrepresenting the fathers of the Reformed faith at Dordt. He did this to suit his own purpose and to try to bring reconciliation on the floor of Synod.
The conclusion of the matter is what while Prof. Boer is certainly correct in his evaluation of the Synod, he rejoices in something which actually sounds the death-knell for the Christian Reformed Church as a confessional and Reformed denomination.