Attempt to Discipline

I promised in my last editorial that I would present and briefly discuss the protest of Mr. Tom Glasgow against Dr. Ernest Trite Thompson, professor at Union Theological Seminary. 

The protest concerns several basic and very vital truths such as: The inspiration of the Bible, vicarious atonement, the fall of man, the virgin birth of Jesus, and the miracles in Scripture. 

In a foreword Mr. Glasgow writes:

“The statements and facts herein set forth are made with solemn realization of their potential and far reaching significance. Serious charges are made against a popular and able Seminary professor, Dr. Ernest Trite Thompson. If these charges are true, his popularity and ability make them the more serious. If these charges are untrue, I shall have done an able teacher a grave injustice. I have earnestly endeavored to be fair. To that end and to avoid any possibility of inaccuracy because of misunderstanding or potential, though unintentional, misquoting by the students of his class room who disagree with his statements, I have confined all quotations herein set forth to the written statements of Dr. Thompson himself.”

I may add here that under each item of the protest Mr. Glasgow adduces several examples only of which is quoted in the pamphlet I received on the matter. Thus on the inspiration of Scripture the author of the protest refers to what Dr. Thompson wrote on the text in Matthew 18:16-17: “If he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouths of two or more witnesses every word be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them take it unto the church . . .” 

On these words Dr. Thompson wrote: “If the words ofMatthew 18:16-17 were actually spoken by Jesus, they cannot be taken as a rule that must always be followed.” 

Mr. Glasgow calls special attention to the little word “if” that introduces this sentence. And he writes:

“What on earth does this ‘IF’ mean in the writings of a Seminary professor . . . . Also, after he assumes that this passage from Matthew may be authentic, where is Dr. Thompson’s authority to state that these words ‘cannot be taken as a rule that must always and invariably be followed’!! Are we ―and especially our Seminary professors at liberty thus boldly to question such a passage of Scripture and then, when conceding that possibly Jesus did say what Matthew plainly states, to declare the ‘Master’s positive injunction is to be modified as we may decide or elect.”

It is evident that Dr. Thompson does not believe in the infallible inspiration of the words of Holy Writ. He does not simply refer to the original autographa of the writers themselves, nor does he suggest that there may be an error in the text (which there is not), but he represents Matthew himself as falsifying or misquoting the Lord. According to him, it is possible that Jesus never spoke these words but that Matthew simply put them into His mouth. If we may thus play with the words of Scripture at random we have no written Word of God left. 

And, by the way, Mr. Glasgow represents Dr. Thompson again and again as an able teacher. But, in my opinion, the fact that he thus distorts the words of Scripture and assumes the possibility that Jesus may not have said what Matthew makes Him say, without ground or reason, does not show much scholarly ability. 

The next item of Mr. Glasgow’s protest concerns the truth of vicarious atonement. Dr. Thompson had written as follows:

“We must not say that He felt Himself guilty, or that he was punished or that he was exposed to God’s WRATH, for all such language involves an intolerable confusion of what is possible for the sinful and the sinless.”

The protestant quotes in this connection Isa. 53:5:

“He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”

And he also quotes from the Standards of his Church; from the Larger Catechism:

“Christ . . . having also conflicted with the terrors of death and the powers of darkness felt and bore the weight of God’s WRATH, he laid down his life an offering for sin” And from the Shorter Catechism : “Christ’s humiliation consists in his . . . undergoing the WRATH of God.”

Again, it is evident that the statement by Dr. Thompson quoted above contradicts Scripture, not only in Isa. 53, but throughout. But it also stands in conflict with the Confessions of his Church to which he signed his name and which he is supposed to maintain and defend. And the latter is downright dishonesty. 

But once more, I am constrained to remark that the words by Dr. Thompson certainly do not reveal him as such an able teacher as Mr. Glasgow presents him to be. Of course, the words of Dr. Thompson contain only a brief statement and, perhaps; it is not fair to judge him by this. Nevertheless, no able teacher would, to my mind, make a statement like that which is quoted. What is this intolerable confusion of which Dr. Thompson speaks? Is it confusing to teach that the Son of God in human nature suffered and bore the wrath of God for the sin of all His people and that He bore that wrath as the perfectly sinless One, in the love of God and thus vicariously atoned? I have the impression that the subject of vicarious atonement, whether he believes this truth or not, is not clear in his own mind. And, surely, it is one of the first requirements of an able teacher that the subject which he teaches is clear before his own consciousness. Otherwise he simply confuses his students. 

The next subject to which the protestant calls our attention is the Fall of Man. About this Mr. Glasgow quotes Dr. Thompson as follows:

. . . the woman gave also to her husband and he did eat . . . How are we to understand this story? Is it to be taken as a literal fact, or is it to be interpreted as an allegory? We cannot afford to be too dogmatic. It may be that we have here the story of man’s fall as it actually happened, that is Satan spoke to man through the mouth of a serpent, as today he sometimes speaks through the mouth of a friend. It may be, on the other hand, that we have the essential facts, dramatically pictorially presented, as in the case of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness.”

Mr. Glasgow remarks in this connection that Dr. Thompson frequently presents what is historical narrative in Scripture as an allegorical record. He certainly does so in the above quoted paragraph in regard to Jesus’ temptations. It is also evident, although he does not explicitly state this, that he does not believe the historicity of Genesis 3

But does Dr. Thompson reveal himself here as an able teacher? He does, if it may be regarded as a characteristic of the ability of a teacher to sow doubts in the minds of his students as he does in the above quoted paragraph. Personally, I do not believe that this is the case. A teacher ought to have clear and definite convictions, especially when he instructs in the Word of God, and should be able to express those convictions clearly. This Dr. Thompson does not do. Although he surely suggests that the narrative in Gen. 3 may be an allegory, yet he does not definitely state this. And this, to my mind, is pernicious. 

For the rest, I may remark that there is nothing new in the suggestion of Dr. Thompson that the narrative inGen. 3 is not to be regarded as historical. Others, who believe, or rather pretend to believe in the Bible as the Word of God, have offered the same interpretation before him. And this is true, not only of Gen. 3, but of all of the first three chapters in Genesis. However, if the first three chapters of Genesis are not historical but allegorical, no one is able to say what the meaning of the allegory is. And, besides, if the narratives of creation and the fall are not to be regarded as statements of actual facts, we must discard the whole of Scripture as the Word of God. 

The next item in the protest of Mr. Glasgow concerns the virgin birth. 

About this Dr. Thompson has the following to say:

“The prophecy in Isaiah about the virgin with child certainly did not refer primarily to the miraculous birth of the Saviour. It referred, as can plainly be seen from the context, to a child that was to be born in Isaiah’s own day, to a young woman, not necessarily a virgin . . . .”

It is not clear from these words whether Dr. Thompson means to deny the virgin birth as such. In order to determine this, we would have to read the above words in their context which is impossible for us. Besides, he writes that the text in Isaiah 7:14 “did not referprimarily (italics mine, H.H.) to the miraculous birth of the Savior, which seems to suggest that it may also refer to this. 

It is evident that Dr. Thompson believes that the word translated by virgin in Isaiah 7:14 may just as well refer to a young married woman. This, to say the least, I doubt very much. In the Hebrew the word is ALeMAH. The primary meaning of this noun is: a girl, a maiden, a virgin. It is true that Gesenius in his lexicon also says that, in Isa. 7:14, it may be and ought to be rendered by a youthful spouse or wife. This I do not believe for the following reasons: 

1. Isaiah 7:14 speaks of a sign which the Lord Himself will give: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Now, in the first place, a sign is a wonder in or related to the kingdom of God. It is a wonderful event by which one may recognize that the kingdom of God is near. But how could such a wonder be recognized in the fact a young married woman would bring forth a son? Surely, there is nothing special or wonderful in this! But, in the second place, this virgin must call the name of the son whom she shall bring forth Immanuel, which is not a name of any human being but only of the Son of God in the flesh. 

2. The masculine form of ALeMAH, virgin, is ELEM. And this, in the Old Testament refers to a youth, a young man of marriageable age but not yet married. So the feminine form ALeMAH refers to a maiden of marriageable age but not yet married. 

3. The New Testament translates ALeMAH byparthenos and this certainly cannot mean anything else than virgin. Cf. Matt. 1:23. Mr. Glasgow calls attention to this passage in his criticism of the statement of Dr. Thompson and rightly so. The latter, in his statement calls attention to the immediate context of Isa. 7:14. But why did he not consult the broader context of Scripture in general? If he had, he would have come to the conclusion that the text in Isa. 7:14 certainly did not refer to a married woman, unless he takes the position (as he did before) that Matthew himself was mistaken or that he probably could not read Hebrew. 

4. The entire context in Matt. 1:18ff. We read there: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife; for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.” 

Commentary on this passage is entirely superfluous. 

For all these reasons I cannot agree with Gesenius’ Lexicon and his reference to Isa. 7:14. It is clear as crystal that Isaiah refers not to a married woman but to a virgin. 

And Dr. Thompson as an able Bible teacher certainly ought to study Isaiah 7:14 in the light of all Scripture instead of only in the immediate context.