Recently a couple of issues of Trowel and Sword came into my hands. This paper, edited by Prof. Klaas Runia, is of the Reformed Churches in Australia. In an issue which I did not see, Prof. K. Runia discussed the question of the “historicity” of the early chapters of Genesis. In this article the author apparently denied that these chapters recorded actual historical events. At least, if he did not deny that they contained history, he cast many doubts upon this position. The result was that several objected to his writings on this matter; and, in fact, two Sessions (Consistories) of the Reformed Churches of Australia wrote to Trowel and Swordasking for further clarification of the matter.
There were several objections which these Sessions made to the articles by Prof. Runia; but the chief objections concerned Runia’s contention that these chapters were prophecy. Runia’s argument was, apparently, that the author or authors of Genesis must have received the knowledge of what they wrote by direct revelation. The fact that this knowledge was received by direct revelation means, in Runia’s opinion, that the material is prophetic in character. Thus they must be interpreted according to the rules of prophecy and not as straightforward history. One of the Sessions writes:
You wrote: “Whence did the authors get their information? I believe that in both cases it was a matter of revelation, that is, Prophecy.”
And at the end of point 4: “In my opinion there is only one answer: this story was made known to the author by direct revelation from the Lord. But this means that these chapters are prophetic in nature, and must be explained according to the rules of prophecy rather than those of straightforward history.”
We are of the humble opinion that your answer is liable not to be understood at all by many of the readers or to be misunderstood. Many will not be able to see and understand that revelation is prophecy, without any further clarification and definition.
Even less will they be able to understand why these chapters must be explained according to the rules of prophecy rather than those of straightforward history.
Could you then also explain at the same time what bearing this prophetic interpretation would have, for instance, on the three items which you mentioned earlier under point 4, i.e., paradise, the tree of life, the serpent in the Genesis chapters.
In the light of these remarks by Runia, one of the Sessions wondered whether the modern positions of science were not influencing the exegesis of these chapters which Runia made.
The answer of Runia is very interesting. Among other things he writes:
The influence of science.—As I stated before, science may never lord it over Scripture. I am fully aware of the fact that every one dealing with these questions runs the risk of taking science (that is, the interpretation of nature) too seriously and let his exegesis (that is, the interpretation of Scripture) be determined by it. This may never happen. But we may not go to the other extreme either and ignore what scientists, in particular Christian Scientists, who study the book of nature, ‘a most elegant book’ (Belgic Confession., art. II), God’s own handiwork (
tell us. We must also ask ourselves whether our own interpretation is not based on the science of yesterday, to which we are used and which we take for granted. . . .
He was asked whether he agreed with the views of Prof. Kuitert in the Netherlands; and he answers that he cannot give a yes-or-no response to this. But then he comes down to the main issue.
The main point is the question what I mean when I say that this is ‘revelation’ and therefore ‘prophecy’. Both letters touch upon this. In the first letter I read: “Moses wrote history under the inspiration of God”. In this sentence we have the whole problem before us. What does the term ‘history’ mean here? I agree that the author of Genesis wrote about historical reality. He wrote about the beginnings of our world and our first forefather. But—is it simple, straightforward history that is recorded here? Is this part of Genesis of the same nature as the report of a news reporter for our papers? Prof. B. J. Oosterhoff, Prof. of OT in the Seminary of the Chr. Ref. Church in Apeldoorn has written in connection with the decision of Lunteren: “The Synod speaks of the ‘specific nature’ of the narrative in
This I think we cannot deny. Here we have a unique form of historiography as nowhere else in the Bible. Everywhere else we read history described or narrated by people who have been subject to it themselves. . . . Can we assume that Adam for himself has written down what his experiences were in Paradise? We have not a single shred of evidence for it. Is what happened here handed on from parents to children? Could Moses or any other Bible writer have drawn from this tradition? It is highly improbable. Have we here to do with a direct announcement from God? How did it come to men? As a direct dictation? Or in the way God spoke through the prophets? Do these chapters carry a prophetic nature? Only with the difference that usually revelation of God through the prophets was related to the future and in these chapters to the past? But this happens more often that by God’s revelation to the prophets the past is proclaimed and enlightened. Indeed, do these chapters have a prophetic nature? In any case, they possess their distinct nature.”
It is my personal opinion too that ‘oral tradition’ is no solution. It is quite obvious that
and parts of
describe things and situations which happened before Adam was there. But if it was not a matter of ‘oral tradition’, then there is only one possibility left: it was ‘direct revelation’. Now in Scripture direct revelation is always a matter of prophecy. You should note that I use the adjective ‘direct’. I do not say that all revelation is in the nature of prophecy. Revelation as such is a wide concept and includes: history, law, wisdom, literature, psalms, letters, prophecy and apocalypse, to mention no more. But as far as I can see ‘direct’ revelation is always in the form of prophecy. Now prophecy has its own rules of interpretation. Every kind of literature has its own rules of interpretation. No one would interpret a law and a psalm in the same way.
One of the characteristics of prophecy is always the mixing of the literal and the symbolical. . . .
To what extent the language used in these chapters is literal and to what extent it is symbolical will be hard to decide (as is also true of much in the prophetic books). . . . It is obvious that there are definitely symbolical overtones (in these chapters). The ‘garden’ . . . emphasizes the state of innocence, the tree of life tells us that real life, eternal life, is only possible as a gift of God, the serpent is definitely more than just an ordinary serpent: it represents the satanic power that tempted man.
And so we have more along these same lines.
The sad part of it is that Prof. Runia is accepted both in this country and in the Netherlands as a spokesman for the conservative cause; and his help is sought in the battle against liberal attacks against the Scriptures—also within the Reformed Churches.
But the conservatives who look to Runia for leadership ought to be able to see (as those in Australia apparently do see) that Runia is basically and principally in the camp of the liberals although his views may not as yet be developed that far.
It ought to be plain that to interpret Genesis 1-3 as prophecy, and, in this way, to deny their historical character is an open and destructive attack against the Scriptures.
There are several points which ought to be made in this connection.
In the first place, Runia makes altogether too little of oral tradition. It cannot be so easily shrugged aside as Runia claims. It is true, of course, that Adam was not present at the creation of the world. But this does not alter the fact that Adam stood as a sinless man in the midst of a sinless creation in which all things spoke clearly of the handiwork of God. He was able, in a way which we cannot imagine, to discern the Works of God in the things which were made. Nor is this all. In the state of righteousness Adam lived as covenant friend of God who spoke to God as friends speak together in the intimacy of love. God revealed to Adam, as His friend, all the secrets of His heart and the glories of His own being—also as revealed in the creation. Is there any reason to suppose that God did not speak to Adam of the wonder of creation?
Furthermore, Adam, though fallen, had the promise of the seed of the woman. This promise was given to Adam in such a way that he knew it objectively not only; but God gave Adam a regenerated heart and the gift of faith so that he could, by faith, cling to that promise. It was because of this that the tradition of Paradise, the Fall, and all that is recorded for us in the early chapters of Genesis was most carefully preserved in the generations that followed—which, by the way, were not so very many. If we consider the fact that Methuselah knew both Adam and Shem; and that Shem knew Abraham, there was very little possibility for this tradition to be corrupted by inadvertent mistakes.
But this is not all by any means. Suppose it were true that in some measure this tradition was inadvertently distorted over the years so that it came to Moses with some mistakes; or suppose that it were true that it was, for some reason not complete (something we are not at all prepared to say, and something that Runia has no proof for), even then it is not only possible, but entirely the truth that this was corrected when the Scriptures, through Moses, were inspired by God. Inspiration was infallible. And it is this which Runia fails to take into account.
The question will probably be asked: Does this not after all, imply what Runia calls “direct revelation”? That is, does not this imply that God revealed directly to Moses things which he could not have known in any other way except that God spoke them to him and told him of them? Indeed it does. And what is so impossible about this is difficult for me to see. Runia claims that this is true too; but claims that this very fact makes of Genesis 1-3 prophecy. Runia makes the statement: “Now in Scripture direct revelation is always a matter of prophecy.” This is simply not true. At least it is not true in the sense in which Runia speaks of it: prophecy as a mixture of the literal and the symbolical.
God spoke directly to Cain and Abel. God revealed directly to Noah the purpose which He had to destroy the world with a flood. God gave direct plans to Noah for the building of the ark. God spoke directly to Abraham in many instances. One such instance which comes to mind is God’s speech to Abraham concerning the destruction of Sodom. There was nothing prophetic about these direct revelations. There was nothing symbolical about them at all. It was God speaking directly.
If Runia objects that all these speeches of God were not to those whom God used to write the Scriptures, then we need only point to the fact that Moses himself received many direct revelations from God. In fact, Scripture tells us that Moses spoke with God face to face.
In fact, although history itself was revelation to the people of God, the interpretation of this history was often given by God in the way of “direct revelation”. In fact there are even instances in Scripture where God revealed directly to His people past events which they could not know in any other way than by direct revelation. Joseph was told by God that the king’s butler was guilty of the charges which had been brought against him and for which he was imprisoned while the baker was innocent. God revealed to the wisemen who came to worship Christ that Herod plotted to kill Christ and that the wisemen must therefore, return another way. Is it impossible for the Lord to reveal to one something which transpired in the past of which they have no knowledge other than through “direct revelation”?
But all of this finally comes down to the question of the character of the Genesis narratives itself. Prophecy in Scripture has its own characteristics; so does historical narrative. Genesis 1-3 is so obviously sober and factual history and so obviously not prophecy (in the sense in which Runia speaks of it) that if Runia cannot tell the difference, the answer has got to be that Runia does not know prophecy when he reads it and cannot tell history when it is before him black on white. Of course, it is not the kind of history which a reporter draws up for the newspapers. No one said it was. It is sacred history; history which reveals God. And its record is included in the Scriptures by infallible inspiration.
It all comes down to the question of the perspicuity of Scripture. A child who has just learned to read, readsGenesis 1-3 and reads them, without prompting. and instruction, as history. It is clear—even to a child. If it is not history as appears on the very surface, if instead it has symbolical meaning which is ascertainable to a select few and which gives to them an esoteric knowledge not available to the believer who has no theological training, then Scripture is no more perspicuous. Then the believer cannot understand the Word of God. He must go to the professors and theologians to have them interpret Scripture for him.
But such is a denial, not only of a very precious truth of the Reformation, but of the character of Scripture itself. It is a brazen attempt to take the Scriptures from the people of God. And it is all prompted by the fact that science must dictate to the believer how he is to interpret Scripture.
This is serious business. Runia may claim not to agree with Kuitert. And, in certain details this may be true; but essentially they are one. And they are one in a theory of God’s Word which finally destroys the Scriptures altogether, and robs the people of God of the truth of God’s Word.