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The GKN on the Nature of the Authority of Scripture (6)

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, it is said. 

This maxim may be applied to the subject under consideration, that of the authority of Scripture. And it may be applied especially to the Report/Decision of the GKN which we have been considering in this series. Applied in this area, it means that we can test what a person or church believes concerning the authority of Scripture by examining what that person or church believes concerning the trustworthiness, or reliability, of Scripture. 

In this installment of this series we shall follow this method. Let me explain. We are up to the main chapter, Chapter IV, of the Report/Decision of the GKN. This chapter is entitled “The Nature of the Authority of Scripture.” After a brief introductory section, this chapter proceeds to the important subject, “The Foundation of the Authority of Scripture.” Following this section, there is a section entitled “The Historical Trustworthiness (reliability) of the Bible.” Now we shall return eventually to a discussion of the section on “The Foundation of the Authority of Scripture.” However, the latter is written in such a way that its erroneous character is somewhat covered up. And while it is by no means above criticism, it is probably better, to establish first and clearly that the Report/Decision does indeed deny the divine authority and infallibility of Scripture and does indeed deny our Reformed confession by demonstrating that the Report/Decision denies the trustworthiness of Scripture. 

The connection ought to be plain to everyone. If Scripture is of divine authority, i.e., the very Word of God, then it is absolutely reliable, or trustworthy. For the Word of God, Who cannot lie, is true. By the same token, if Scripture is not trust- worthy, not reliable, it cannot possibly be of divine authority, be the Word of God Who cannot lie. This follows with inexorable logic. 

All of this, remember, stands connected with our Reformed confession concerning Scripture. It will be beneficial, as we consider these matters, to have this confession clearly before us. I refer especially to Articles 3, 5, and 7 of our Belgic Confession of Faith. Article 3 is entitled “Of the written Word of God” and reads as follows:

We confess that this Word of God was not sent, nor delivered by the will of man, but that holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, as the apostle Peter saith. And that afterwards God, from a special care, which He has for us and our salvation, commanded His servants, the prophets and apostles, to commit His revealed word to writing; and He Himself wrote with His own finger, the two tables of the law. Therefore we call such writings holy and divine Scriptures.

The Report/Decision claims only that today they would state Article 3 differently. In actual fact, however, as we shall see, the Report/Decision contradicts Article 3. Too bad that the GKN does not have the honesty to discard the article! n Article 5 of the Belgic Confession reads as follows:

We receive all these books, and these only, as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith; believing without any doubt, all things contained in them, not so much because the Church receives and approves them as such, but more especially because the Holy Ghost witnesseth in our hearts, that they are from God, whereof they carry the evidence in themselves. For the very blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are fulfilling.

This fifth Article is obviously also involved in this discussion. The article is entitled “From whence the Holy Scriptures derive their dignity and authority.” Notice that it asserts unequivocally that the canonical books are received by us because these books “are from God, whereof they carry the evidence in themselves.” This is what the Holy Spirit witnesseth in our hearts. This article, therefore, goes to the very heart of the authority-question. And also this article the GKN, in all honesty, ought to discard. In the light of the Report/ Decision it has officially become a museum piece. 

Article 7 has as its main subject “The sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures, to be the only rule of faith.” Yet this article is also pertinent to our discussion because the very foundation of that sufficiency is the unique authority, and therefore infallibility, of those Scriptures. The article reads as follows:

We believe that those Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe, unto salvation, is sufficiently taught therein. For, since the whole manner of worship, which God requires of us, is written in them at large, it is unlawful for any one, though an apostle, to teach otherwise than we are now taught in the Holy Scriptures: nay, though it were an angel from heaven, as the apostle Paul saith. For, since it is forbidden, to add unto or take away anything from the word of God, it doth thereby evidently appear, that the doctrine thereof is most perfect and complete in all respects. Neither do we consider of equal value any writing of men, however holy these men may have been, with those divine Scriptures, nor ought we to consider custom, or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God, for the truth is above all; for all men are of themselves liars, and more vain than vanity itself. Therefore, we reject with all our hearts, whatsoever doth not agree with this infallible rule, which the apostles have taught us, saying, Try the spirits whether they are of God. Likewise, if there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house.

Even as I type these articles, it strikes me how completely foreign to them is the language of the Report/Decision. These articles are clear, completely clear, on every question that is raised in the Report. But the Report is in flat contradiction to this language of our Confession. 

Now in the very first subdivision of Section II (The Historical Reliability of the Bible) the question is raised: is the Bible “more trustworthy (reliable) than other sources?” 

What does the Report/Decision answer? Here are two direct quotations from p. 41: 

“One cannot, therefore, understand all accounts in the Bible without anything further as reliable (trustworthy) historical writings.”

“Taking everything into consideration, there is, however, nevertheless also not sufficient ground for the assertion that the Bible in a historical respect would be more reliable (trustworthy) than other sources.” 

There you have it! 

Literally the Report/Decision asserts that the Bible is no more trustworthy than other sources when it comes to historical accounts. 

Now remember what this implies. Those other historical accounts are not trustworthy, or reliable. The Bible is no more trustworthy than they are. Conclusion: the Bible is not trustworthy. 

And what is the conclusion from this? One of two things follows: 

1) Either the Bible is of divine authority, and then God is a liar (His historical accounts are not reliable.) 

2) Or the authority of the Bible is human, just like those other historical accounts which are unreliable. Both ways you lose the Bible! 

But the Report/Decision also gives some shocking examples of what it means in this connection. Let me cite some. 

1.It refers to the fact that in the ancient Near East there were historical writings which were consciously subjective, if you will: tendentious. An example is the annals of the Assyrian kings, which plainly served the greater glory of these rulers. Defeats were passed by in silence, or even presented as victories. The numbers of slain enemies were greatly exaggerated, and their own losses were minimized. This was done in those days, according to the Report, just as today in military communiqués in time of war this happens for propaganda purposes. 

But then the Report goes on to say: “It cannot be maintained that the Old Testament is completely free from such colored information.” And some examples are given: “From extra-biblical sources we know, for example, that Israel under Ahab or Jehu must have suffered severe losses against the Moabites, but the Bible is silent about this. The so highly praised historical writings concerning David and Solomon serve, of course, also the purpose of legitimizing the Davidic dynasty. And also the Old Testament sometimes mentions wonderfully large numbers of slain enemies.” 

Understand well what the Report is saying. In plain English, those exaggerated propaganda reports are LIES! Some of these Dutch theologians ought to remember rather vividly that Herman Goebbels, in the days of the Nazis in World War II, was the past master of this “big lie” technique. The Allies, of course, were also not innocent. But now they are ascribing such lies to God’s Word! 

2. The Report brings up an old, old argument which has been answered many times. The Report claims that “not all literary genres which we meet in the Bible have the same kind of importance when it comes to historical reliability. In a folk account (or does the Report actually mean what we call a “folk tale” when it speaks of “een volksverhaal”?) it is not so important who the hero was who killed Goliath, David (I Sam. 17) or Elhanan (II Sam. 21:19).” 

3. But notice the mockery which this segment makes of Scripture! “Etiology (the science which explains the origin of customs, HCH) furnishes in the form of a short tale answer to what men have called the ‘child-question’: ‘Why is this place holy? Why is it called thus?’ etc. Thus, for example, the story of the two daughters of Lot, who made their father drunk in order to conceive by him (Gen. 19:30-38). This is about a form of incest which not only in Israel but in the entire ancient Near East was strongly disapproved. The first daughter bears a son and calls him Mo-ab, a clear allusion to the fact that according to the Hebrew text he was me-ab, ‘from father’ (Gen. 19:36). The son of the second gets the name Ben Ammi, which in fact means ‘son of my blood relative’—he becomes the tribe-father of the Ammonites. The moral of the story therefore: all Moabites and Ammonites are bastards. We plainly have to do here with folk humor, and we would be taking this account too seriously if we saw historical writing in it. Nations all over the world mock one another in the same way.” 

Do you see what this Report does to the Bible? 

Next time we will return to the section on “The Foundation of the Authority of Scripture” and try to see what lies behind all this. 

Impressions of Singapore

Another memorable impression which I received during last July’s visit to the GLTS in Singapore was that of what I would call a practical experience of the catholicity of the church. The truth that the church of Jesus Christ is catholic implies that the church is supra-national, that it transcends, in fact, all natural differences, especially differences of race and nation and tongue and clime. This does not mean that these differences are erased; that would, of course, be impossible. The differences remain. But they do not enter into the picture as any kind of criterion of membership in the body of Christ; they do not affect the question of one’s participation in the communion of saints. They are transcended. 

Now it is indeed a shock for one who is accustomed to facing an audience or a congregation of blonde, blue-eyed, Anglo-Saxons to stand at the lectern and to be confronted by a sea of oriental faces. To be sure, in a city like Singapore one experiences constantly, wherever he goes (except, of course, at the den Hartogs’ apartment) that he is in an oriental community. But, even so, it is different when one lectures or preaches. All my adult life I have been accustomed to facing but one kind of people when I lecture or preach. It becomes habit. One expects that kind of audience. But this habit was suddenly interrupted, especially on the evening of my first lecture, when I faced an audience of some 200, almost all of whom were young Orientals. I was suddenly and forcefully reminded: you’re not at home; you’re in Singapore! 

And yet how soon that shock passed and was virtually forgotten! In a community such as Singapore, of course, this is possible partly because there is no language barrier. English is spoken commonly. I can well imagine that foreign missionaries who must face the additional problem of a language-barrier experience this “culture-shock” even more. But in Singapore the Lord has given us a foreign mission field in which to a large extent the English language can be used; if this had not been so, the problems of ministering on that field would have been far greater. (By the way, though, Rev. den Hartog sometimes wishes he could speak and understand Mandarin Chinese.) 

Chiefly, however, that shock passed because of what I would call a practical aspect of the catholicity of the church. Brother Ong led us in prayer. We sang some of the familiar Reformation hymns. We read the Scriptures. After a while I began to lecture and to expound the history and the truths of the Reformation. I could observe my audience paying careful attention, showing interest, drinking in the same truths of the gospel of sovereign grace that you and I love. More and more the awareness of the natural differences become submerged in the awareness of our transcendent spiritual unity. I felt at home in the communion of saints! 

Something of the same thing I experienced when I preached at the Kampong on the Lord’s day. Although I had to simplify somewhat, in the main I preached as I would at home. From a natural point of view everything (including the fact that I preached in my stocking-feet!) reminded me that I was not at home. But from a spiritual point of view we were at home in the midst of the saints who serve the same Lord, love the same Christ, believe the same gospel of sovereign grace as we do. 

And it is not long before one experiences the same thing in less formal contacts and in personal conversations. 

The final impression which I wish to mention is the impression that this group of young people in Singapore was (and is) deeply disappointed by the decision of our 1980 Synod forbidding them to be instituted as a congregation until they can subscribe to the Three Forms of Unity. This was one of the first things about which some of the men of the Executive Committee of the GLTS spoke to me upon our arrival, and it was also one of the last things about which they sought my counsel. In fact, one of the purposes of our last evening’s gathering for a delicious lo-course Chinese dinner (no fish eyes, no bat soup, and no python meat!) was to give the young men of the Executive Committee opportunity to discuss this matter with me and to chart a course of action. I wish to stress that I made absolutely no propaganda against the decision, though I shared their disappointment. I counseled them to make the best of the situation and to try to study the creeds and reach the point at which they could subscribe to them as soon as possible. But the latter has proved impossible, and will be impossible for some time to come, too. Bear in mind that they take this matter of subscription very seriously, and that they will not subscribe lightly. And this is to their credit! 

Now it is not my purpose to write at length about this issue. I trust it will receive a renewed airing at our coming Synod. I am writing now about impressions. I will stick to this. But I do have some further impressions in this connection. 

A second impression which I received is that there is every indication that the group in Singapore is ready to be instituted. I am referring not merely to their eagerness and their strong desire. That, too! At present they have no church and no church life, and they have not had these for a considerable time. It is not difficult to understand this strong desire, is it? Put yourself in their shoes, if you can. 

But I am referring to their readiness in an essential regard. They are ready, I believe, to manifest the marks of the true church in their community. In the first place, it ought to be perfectly obvious that they desire and love the pure preaching of the Word, the first mark. And I mean: pure! How else do you account for the fact that they desire the presence of our missionary? Besides, I witnessed their response and their enthusiastic love of the Reformed truth. In the second place, our own Synod has taken the stand, albeit inconsistently, that they are ready with respect to the second mark, the right administration of the sacraments. We have, in fact, said (though I disagree with the decision) that they can have half of that second mark, baptism. But do not forget that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are principally inseparable; and this is even more emphatically true of the relation of adult baptism and the Supper. Yet we continue to deny them the Lord’s Supper, which they cannot have until they are instituted. In the third place, they strongly desire (and understand) the third mark, that of the proper exercise of Christian discipline. As I have said before, there is a strong emphasis on a sanctified walk. Along with this, there is a concern that the key of Christian discipline is needed. This was, in fact, mentioned to me more than once. Besides, there are young, men who, though self-effacing, nevertheless would be capable of serving in the office of elder and of employing that key of Christian discipline. 

This was one impression, therefore, that left me with a feeling of sorrow and sympathy in Singapore. I sincerely hope this will be remedied. It would also solve the completely abnormal situation with respect to baptism. (Footnote: During the summer months our Singaporean seminary student and his wife, Mr. & Mrs. Lau Chin Kwee, hope during a brief vacation to visit many of our churches. We commit them to your Christian fellowship and love and care.)