I now have the report of the Study Committee as it occurs in the “Acts of Synod 1961 of the Christian Reformed Church.” I received it from a friend who is in the Christian Reformed Church. Thanks very much!
As yet I did not have the time to peruse, much less to study this report which is very lengthy. I will, therefore, continue my discussion of the decisions of Synod in rethis matter.
We now come to Point C of the report of the Advisory Committee which reads as follows:
“That Synod declare that Dr. M. Wyngaarden’s charge (that President Kromminga makes an unwarranted distinction between the so-called periphery and that which does not belong to this periphery’ and that this view is inconsonant with the creeds) is unsubstantiated.
“1. Dr. Kromminga has removed an ambiguity in the presentation of his view by stating that his view was in no way intended as a limitation in the extent of the infallibility of Scripture. His use of the word periphery rather reflected on possible interpretations or applications of the data of Scripture in isolation from their necessary Scriptural context.
“2. The Study Committee in its report indicates that it is possible to make such a distinction which is not inconsonant with the creeds . . . ‘there are in Scripture 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.’ When viewed in this light the term ‘periphery’ must be judged not inconsonant with creedal teachings on infallibility.”
On this particular point there was a rather lengthy debate on the floor of the Synod. According to Dr. Wyngaarden, who protested against Dr. Kromminga at the Synod of 1959, the latter had used the term “periphery” in defense of the article written by student Hoogland in Stromata. According to Prof. R.B. Kuiper, the Advisory Committee, instead of treating the protest of Dr. Wyngaarden consulted Dr. Kromminga who had altered his original statements somewhat. Dr. Wyngaarden, according to him, was right and Dr. Kromminga was in error. Others had similar objections. Still others agreed with the Advisory Committee but would like a different formulation of the grounds.
The first result was that the first ground was altered in such a way that the second sentence was eliminated and it now reads as follows: “Dr. Kromminga has removed an ambiguity in the presentation of his view by stating that his use of the word ‘periphery’ was in no way intended as a limitation of the extent or the degree of the infallibility of Scripture.”
The second and last sentence of this first ground was (as quoted above): “His use of the word ‘periphery’ rather reflected on possible interpretations or applications of the data of Scripture in isolation from their necessary Scriptural context.”
On this elimination by the Synod of this second sentence I remark:
1. Why was this eliminated? Was it because of its ambiguity? This it certainly was. I wonder how much the members of Synod, especially the elders, could understand such language. Why such profound language, unless it was to camouflage the real meaning that lies behind it and is not clearly expressed? I wonder whether the Advisory Committee itself understood what they were talking about.
2. But what is the meaning? Let us try to analyze the statement. a. Periphery refers to statements of Scripture that lie on the outside rather than in the center. b. The data of Scripture are its contents as given in a certain passage or certain passages. c. These passages must be interpreted and applied. d. But they must be interpreted and applied, not in isolation, but rather in connection with their context. In other words by the use of the term periphery Dr. Kromminga means that every passage of Scripture must be interpreted in the light of its context. But this is simply a fundamental rule of exegesis and nothing else. Almost every member of any society in the church understands this. But why, then, the use of the term “periphery”? And why all this profound or rather ambiguous language. I cannot believe that Dr. Kromminga means this by the term “periphery.” But what then? Will Dr. Kromminga or the Advisory Committee, please, explain?
3. But how could Synod on its own accord simply eliminate that last sentence of the first ground of C of the Advisory Committee? Did it not reflect the opinion of Dr. Kromminga? It certainly expresses his opinion and use of the term “periphery” according to the Advisory Committee. VVould it, then, not have been proper first to ask Dr. Kromminga whether or not he agreed with this elimination? This, evidently, they did not do. In other words, how could Synod have the right to change, all by itself, the view of Dr. Kromminga in regard to the “periphery”?
On the second ground of the proposal (C) of the advisory Committee there was not a long debate. Perhaps the members of the Synod were somewhat tired of all the ambiguity and dark statements. The second ground was just a quotation from the Study Committee’s report. Seeing that J now have the Study Committee’s report I will quote the entire paragraph from which the quotation of the second ground is taken. It reads as follows:
“Although Synod (of 1959, H.H.) averred that this distinction is a relatively new one in our Church, nevertheless it does have recognized standing in our Reformed theological tradition. As is well known, Reformed Biblical Scholarship has always sought to discover what is the heart of any given passage (the tertium comparationis) and then to group the attendant data around this central truth. More specifically Bavinck (Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, 4th ed., Vol. I, pp. 409, 410), in repudiating the mechanical and stressing the organic concept of inspiration, and using the analogy of the human body, where e.g. the heart and head are more central than the hair and nails, although all belong to the single organism, applies this analogy to Scripture. In Scripture too there is thiscentrum. Moving about this centrum is a periphery of truth, which though more or less removed from thiscentrum, nevertheless belongs organically to this revelatory circle of God’s thoughts. This distinction in no way carries in it implications which predetermine one’s approach to the Scriptures, or which categorically imposes a fixed interpretation upon the Scriptures. (Here follows the quotation made by the Advisory Committee in the second ground under C.) It is used simply to describe what the Bible interpreter discovers when opening the Scriptures, namely, that there is (must be are, the subject data is plural, H.H.) in the Scriptures incidental and circumstantial data which has (must be have for the same reason as above, H.H.) no independent revelational significance, but is dependent for its revelational significance upon the relationship it sustains to the central intent and purpose of a given passage. When viewed in this light, the term ‘periphery’ must be judged not inconsonant with the creedal teachings on infallibility.”
On this, namely on the quotation made by the Advisory Committee as the second ground under C from the report of the Study Committee, I offer the following remarks:
1. It is nothing short of amazing that the views of Dr. Kromminga are here all of a sudden interpreted as implying nothing less or more than the doctrine of organic inspiration with which all Reformed theologians agree! No wonder that Dr. Kromminga at the end of Synod’s discussions and decisions concerning the matter of infallibility could openly declare: “I’ll not take Synod’s time now to say how happy I am and appreciative of the decisions in my case.” No wonder either that student Hoogland feels that he was justified in writing his article in Stromata! It is understandable, too, that the Rev. H.J. Kuiper, who was rather vehemently opposed to Hoogland as well as to Dr. Kromminga, now does not even have a word of criticism about the decisions of Synod in re this matter or about the report of the Study Committee’s report! Not one word of condemnation of Dr. Kromminga’s views was expressed by Synod. How could it be, in view of the fact that the Study Committee interpreted the statements made by Dr. Kromminga as only referring to the truth of organic inspiration to which we all agree. Also the Synod of 1959 blundered when, by implication, it condemned some of the statements made by Dr. Kromminga in defense of the articles by Hoogland in Stromata.
2. The Study Committee as is evident from the above quotation quotes from Dr. Bavinck’s Gereformeerde Dogmatiek. Or rather, they do not quote literally but rather paraphrase this particular section. I will also quote from the same context. I do not have the 4th edition to which the Study Committee refers, but I have the second edition in which, evidently, the same words are used to which the Study Committee refers. In my edition the words are found on pp. 464, 46.5. I quote from a little broader context than that of the Study Committee as follows (the translation from the Dutch is mine):
“But inspiration must be considered in the organic sense so that even the smallest part has its place and significance and at the same time stands much farther away from the centrum than other parts. In the human organism nothing is accental, neither the length nor the breadth, neither the color nor the tint; but this does not mean that everything stands in the same intimate connection with the life-centrum. Head and heart have a much more important place in the body than hand and foot, and these again occupy a much more valuable place than the nails and the hairs. Also in Scripture not everything stands equally closely arrayed about the centrum; there is a periphery that moves itself far from the central point, but also this belongs to the circle of God’s thoughts. There are therefore no different kinds or degrees in graphical inspiration. The hairs of the head share in the same life as the heart and the hand. It is one anima, which tota est in toto corpore et in omnibus partibus (which life—anima—is wholly in the entire body and in all its parts. H.H.). There is one Spirit, out of whom the entire Scripture, through the consciousness of the writers, originated. Nevertheless, there is difference in the manner in which the same life is immanent and operative in the different parts of the body. There is variety of gifts, also in Scripture, but it is the same Spirit.”
This is indeed a beautiful description of what is known as organic inspiration.
3. Notice, however, that Bavinck emphasizes that all the parts of Scripture are equally inspired. Moreover, all the parts of a certain passage of Scripture, according to Bavinck, belong together and are essential to the whole. Even though the hand and the foot, the nails and the hair, occupy a less important place in the body than the head or the heart, they certainly belong essentially to the body. Without the former the body is maimed or cannot exist. Why, then, does the Advisory Committee, quoting the report of the Study Committee, speak of “incidental and circumstantial data” in Scripture? “Incidental” means accidental something that can just as well be left out. And the same is true of “circumstantial.” According to Webster, the word means “incidental: relating to, but not essential.” And who determines what is “incidental and circumstantial”? And who can say what is essential and what is non-essential in the Word of God? It appears to me that every interpreter can have his own choice in the matter.
But I must continue this discussion next time, D.V.