ABOVE THE BATTLE? THE BIBLE AND ITS CRITICS,
by Harry R. Boer; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977; 109 pp., $2.95 (paper) [Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko]
Dr. Boer wrote a series of articles in the Reformed Journal on the general subject of the inspiration of Scripture. He has reproduced the essence of these articles in this book. Both the articles and this book constitute an attack on the Scriptures. They are intended to prove that there are many errors in the Bible. It is really quite amazing how many errors Boer himself makes as he seeks to establish his point. While we cannot offer extensive critique of the book there are several points which ought to be made.
Boer bases a large part of his argument on a comparison of lower and higher criticism of the Bible. He points out that all conservative people who hold to Scriptural infallibility have permitted lower criticism while they have rejected higher criticism. Boer says that this is inconsistent because both lower and higher criticism are based on the same rational and scientific principles. Both ought therefore to be accepted.
We ought to examine this argument a bit. For the benefit of those who are not acquainted with the terminology Boer uses, we might point out that “lower criticism” deals with an examination of the many manuscripts of the Bible which are extant today. It attempts, by a comparison of these manuscripts, to determine what the original manuscripts of the Bible actually contained. High criticism, on the other hand, attempts to explain how the manuscripts of the Bible came into existence as literary works. It inquires concerning questions of date, authorship, historical background, historical purpose, literary value, etc. So-called “lower criticism” is interested in determining what the original manuscripts of the Bible contained by means of a comparison of the available manuscripts and by means of a study of these manuscripts from the viewpoint of style, vocabulary, personality of the writer, etc. The former is called the external evidence of “lower criticism”; the latter is called the internal evidence of “lower criticism.”
It is Boer’s contention that lower and higher criticism use the same rational and scientific method, and both are legitimate tools in the understanding of Scripture. This is false and misleading. Lower criticism, if done properly, operates on the assumption that the Bible is the infallibly inspired Word of God. It seeks to determine, insofar as that is possible, the original manuscripts because it seeks to know as accurately as possible what that verbally inspired Word of God is. Higher criticism operates on the assumption that there is a human element in Scripture which is so clearly on the foreground that it allowed for all kinds of errors in Scripture. This is, quite obviously, a very basic difference.
It is true that lower criticism is divided into external and internal evidence. It is rather striking that Boer, when speaking of lower criticism, mentions only internal evidence, and says nothing about external evidence. External evidence, however, is the most important, objective, and accurate evidence there is. I always tell my students in school, that internal evidence means almost nothing because it is so highly subjective and allows so much room for all sorts of conjecture concerning the reading of the text. Boer is dishonest when he leaves the impression that this internal evidence is the only kind of evidence there is. And Boer is altogether mistaken when he boldly claims that lower and higher criticism are basically the same.
It is, however, in this connection that Boer makes a great deal of the human element in Scripture. On p. 42 he calls the Bible a thoroughly human book. On page 55 he charges the church with being docetic about Scripture; i.e., he charges the church with denying the true humanity of Scripture. (p. 55) He sets verbal inspiration and organic inspiration over against each other on the false assumption that organic inspiration leaves such room for the human authors that their human errors are found in Scripture. (p. 100) He makes, following Bavinck, an analogy between the incarnation of Christ and the giving of the Scriptures. (Whether this analogy is correct or not is one question. But that it is intended to give support for errors in Scripture is quite another. Christ, after all, was the completely sinless One.)
It is this emphasis on the human element which leads to all kinds of trouble. We cannot enter into this question in detail now. The whole question of the organic inspiration of Scripture and the human element in Scripture has been treated in detail by Prof. Hoeksema in a series of articles which appeared a couple of years ago in the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal. The interested reader can confer them. What needs to be said now is the fact that Boer grossly and crassly corrupts the doctrine of the organic inspiration of Scripture. This truth exactly teaches that inspiration belongs to the wonder of grace, the miracle; that it is, therefore, the wonder of God whereby He made use of human instruments in such a way that through them His Word was infallibly given. God ordained who should be used to write His Word. God prepared these men in time. God worked in such a way that holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. This is the Reformed doctrine of inspiration. Boer sets himself against that doctrine when he sets organic inspiration over against verbal inspiration and insists that Scripture cannot be organically and verbally inspired at the same time.
These fundamental errors in Boer’s thinking lead him to his erroneous position. Without any question Boer accepts the unproved theory that Mark is the original gospel and that the other synoptics (Matthew and Luke) were dependent upon it. He finds all kinds of discrepancies in the synoptics, all kinds of problems in the narrative of the rich young ruler and thinks that these things can only be explained by allowing errors in Scripture.
His denial of infallible inspiration is spoken loudly and clearly in the book. On pp. 81 ff. he does this by the same semantic legerdemain that DeKoster used inThe Banner. He defines infallibility as meaning reliability or trustworthiness, and inerrancy as meaning “the unqualified absence of inconsistency or disparity of any kind whatever with respect to any data found in the Bible.” And then he writes: “The Bible is infallible; it is not inerrant in the accepted sense of the word.” Again:
Should we not rather understand the infallibility of Scripture in such a way that it does not include the assumption that all data in Scripture are necessarily harmonizable? In looking for such a conception of infallibility we are not concerned simply to obviate a difficulty. The problem is considerably larger and deeper than that of contriving an escape from embarrassment. The problem is basically that of relating, as essential qualities of the Word of God inscripturate, the divine—which is always absolute—and the human—which is always relative. (p. 85)
In Boer’s method of harmonizing that which is absolute and that which is relative he destroys Scripture.
It is no different with respect to the objectively existing infallibility of the Word of God. When belief in the gospel opens one’s eyes to the eternal God speaking through the Scriptures, those very words which to the unbelieving, are simply religious literature (even sublime religious literature) are seen to be the infallible Word of the ever-living God. Such faith overleaps all inadequacies of human expression, all literary, cultural, numerical, geographical disparities, gaps, inconsistencies. (p. 85)
How we may ever be sure that we hear the voice of God in Scripture when we are faced with all kinds of disparities, gaps, and inconsistencies, Boer never pretends to tell us. He cannot, of course, for if Scripture is not without error, then it is not God speaking through it either.
Even Jesus made mistakes. Boer asks the rhetorical question:
Or did, in Jesus’ view, the infallibility of Scripture consist in propositional statement couched in the language of faith wherein truth is something more and larger or perhaps even other than mere wording of the proposition that formulates it? (p. 92)
And Boer obviously wants the question answered: Yes, this was Jesus’ view of Scripture.
Closely related to this limitation (that Jesus was not omniscient, H.H.) is the fact that Jesus again and again accommodated himself to existing beliefs which we no longer accept in the then existing form. Notable here is Jesus’ accommodation to the popular belief in sheol or hades as the abode of the dead with its two adjoining divisions of gehenna and paradise. Until critical scholarship began to analyze the composition of the books of the Bible it was generally believed that Moses had written the Pentateuch, and Isaiah all of Isaiah. No valid reason can be adduced why Jesus should not have expressed himself in terms of the common deposit of belief in such matters. (pp. 95, 96)
Boer has made a vicious and unprincipled attack on the integrity of Scripture. That this should come from a man who professes to be Reformed is astounding. That the church of which he is a member allows this sort of thing to go unchallenged is sad beyond description. Boer has joined the enemies of the gospel in this attack. He has moved out of the camp of faith into the ranks of the enemy. But God’s Word has survived better formulated attacks and more vicious attacks than that of Boer’s .book. God’s Word will survive this book, too.
STUDIES IN PHILIPPIANS, STUDIES IN EPHESIANS, STUDIES IN ROMANS,
by H.C.G. Moule; Kregel Publications, 1977; Kivar bindings. (Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko.)
The author of these commentaries lived from 1841-1920. Most of his life was spent as Principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge. Kregel has printed several of his studies in its Kregel Popular Commentary Series.
These books are not, strictly speaking, commentaries. They include the text, mostly from the King James Version, and fairly extensive notes on each verse. On the whole, they are not too bad and can well serve a good purpose for society and home study. They are written in a lucid manner and are fairly sound in doctrine. E.g., Moule’s discussion of Ephesians 1 andEphesians 2 emphasize strongly the doctrines of sovereign grace rooted in eternal election. His discussion ofRomans 9-11 is basically sound in most parts; there is one serious flaw however: he questions the doctrine of sovereign reprobation and presents a conditional reprobation as his view. He interprets Romans 7:14ff. as referring to Paul in his regenerated state. He explainsRomans 5:12ff. as teaching the doctrine of original guilt in Adam. He interprets Ephesians 2:8 as meaning that faith is the gift of God. All of these and many more teachings make the commentaries well worth their rather favorable price.
Each book includes also an introductory section which has a great deal of interesting and important material in it. The prices range from $3.00 to $4.00, and are worth the investment. The books must however be read with care. No commentary can ever substitute for a study of the Scriptures themselves. And the purely Reformed line is not always brought out as clearly as it ought to be.
GREEK-ENGLISH LEXICON TO THE NEW TESTAMENT,
by W.J. Hickie; Baker Book House, 1977; 214 pp., $2.95 (paper). (Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko.)
On the back cover of this book appear the words:
This easy-to-use Greek lexicon will enrich exegetical study for pastors, Bible teachers, and students. It is a complete yet concise reference work that lists koine Greek words in their various grammatical forms along with their translations and meanings. This is one of the most compact Greek lexicons in print today, making it more accessible and transportable than bulkier volumes.
While this book can never take the place of more detailed lexicons in the study of the New Testament, it is especially worthwhile because it is so easy to carry about. It is, on the whole, accurate and reliable and it can be of special value to students who must carry many books to school. This book can be tucked easily into a pocket or a corner of a briefcase. It is well worth the rather cheap price.
WHO’S WHO IN CHURCH HISTORY,
by William P. Barker; Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan; 319 pages, $2.95 (paperback). (Reviewed by Prof. H. C. Hoeksema)
This is supposed to be a handy reference work for those desiring quick and concise information on various important characters in church history. Listed in it are more than 1500 men and women who played some part in church history. The book is a reprint of a book first published as a hardback in 1969. The author is Director of Continuing Education at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
This reviewer does not find the book to be very valuable. In the first place, it is incomplete. I suppose one might expect to find differences of opinion with respect to the question which persons should be included in a work of this kind, and which should be excluded. Nevertheless, I cannot agree with the author’s choices. One finds relatively insignificant and unknown characters included, but not a word about as important a figure as Abraham Kuyper or Hendrik De Cock. In the second place, the information and evaluation furnished in these brief biographical paragraphs is not dependable. The author is obviously prejudiced against such men as Gottschalk and Gomarus and presents them in an unfavorable light; and he is just as biased in favor of a character like Arminius and presents him as a fine man.
In other words, this book cannot be trusted for full and accurate information; and it is therefore of very limited value.