In our last editorial on the subject “Hoogland on Infallibility” we quoted the introductory remarks of the report of the Advisory Committee. In those remarks it evaluates the report of the “Study Committee” to which Hoogland reacts favorably in his article in theReformed Journal. We called attention especially to the remark quoted from the report of the Study Committee in which it deals with the “periphery question” i.e. the question concerning matters that are on the outside of Scripture in distinction from matters that concern the more central matters. About these so-called periphery matters, the Study Committee expressed themselves as follows: the word “periphery” may be used to describe “incidental and circumstantial data which have no independent revelational significance, but are dependent for their revelational significance upon the relationship they sustain to the central intent and purpose of a given passage.”
And here I asked a question, which was also asked by several of the synodical delegates, though not in connection with the report of the Study Committee but in a different connection. My question is twofold: 1. What is the meaning of this statement? And, 2. Are those “incidental and circumstantial data” also verbally and infallibly inspired or may there, perhaps, be errors in those data?
As to the first question, does the Study Committee simply mean that those “incidental and circumstantial data” must be taken and understood in their context? But this is nothing special. Every statement of Scripture must be explained in the context in which it occurs. This is simply a rule of exegesis and concerns not only matters that are on the “periphery” but also matters that concern the very heart of the revelation of Scripture. This cannot be the meaning of the statement quoted from the report of the Study Committee. The only other possible alternative, it seems to me, is that those incidental and circumstantial data, such as, for instance, historical statements in Scripture, contain errors when taken by themselves but have nevertheless revelational significance when understood in their proper context and in connection with the passage in which they occur. And if this is meant, the verbal inspiration of Scripture as well as its infallibility is denied.
But this, too, cannot be the meaning of the Study Committee for in “a” of the “Analysis of the Study Committee Report” the latter states that it is “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.”
The Study Committee ought, therefore, to give its own answer to the question what they meant by the above-mentioned statement. And I am somewhat surprised that the Advisory Committee of Synod did not ask an explanation of the statement in question of the Study Committee.
But let us proceed.
The first recommendation of the Advisory Committee of Synod reads as follows:
“A. That Synod declare, as the study committee indicates in the fulfillment of its mandate, that both Scripture and the creeds establish an essential relationship between inspiration and infallibility, in which the infallibility of Scripture is inferred from inspiration, and inspiration secures the infallibility of all Scripture.
“Note: Although a due appreciation of this fact requires a complete study of the entire report (i.e., of the Study Committee, H.H.), the following quotations may illustrate the above:
“1. Initially we may say that infallibility as an inference drawn from inspiration is to be ascribed to Scripture only in accord with the extent, nature and purpose of inspiration.
“2. Divine inspiration establishes Scripture as an infallible rule and sufficient canon for all of Christian faith and life by securing it against all falsification, error and deceit.
“3. An examination of the Church’s interpretation of the Belgic Confession as well as of the principles which it has enunciated forces us to the conclusion that the approach of the Church to the trustworthiness of Scripture is . . . to give testimony to the faith of the Church, on the basis of the demands of Scripture, to its own authority and trustworthiness.”
This point was adopted by Synod, apparently without any debate. Personally, I would liked to have asked to have a little clarification of “1” of the “Note” of the Study Committee report. I refer to the statement that “infallibility as an inference drawn from inspiration is to be ascribed to Scripture only in accord with the extent, nature and purpose of inspiration.”
Another point of the Advisory Committee was adopted unanimously, without debate. It is this:
“That Synod commend this study committee report to the church. Grounds: 1) This report will serve to remove misunderstandings that have arisen; 2) This report is a framework for further study of the relationship between inspiration and infallibility.”
As I said before, I do not have the complete report of the Study Committee in my possession. As soon as I have it, I promise that I will make “further study” of it.
This is to be continued, D.V.