Evaluation of Kuitert’s View of Scripture (continued)
In my last article on this subject I suggested that the answer to Dr. Kuitert’s argument concerning the so-called “human element” in Scripture and in the production of Holy Scripture lies in a proper understanding of what is known as “organic inspiration.” And I promised to develop this suggestion. To the fulfillment of this promise I now address myself.
A few preliminary remarks are necessary, first of all.
In the first place, there is the matter of terminology that has grown up around the wonder of inspiration. There are terms like “the human element” and “the divine element” in Scripture; or “the human factor” and “the divine factor” in the writing of Scripture; or again, “the Primary author” and “the secondary authors” of Scripture. I have already suggested my own displeasure with such terminology, and have also pointed out that it is terminology like the above which has made it extremely difficult for some to cope with Kuitert’s position. But there are other items which should be kept in mind in this connection. First of all, we may recognize the fact that in some instances this language has been used with every good intention. It was not used with the purpose in view of attacking the truths of inspiration, infallibility, and authority, but to defend them and to find some kind of dogmatical approach to a proper and legitimate formulation and expression of these truths. It was recognized that inspiration was not mechanical and that those holy men whom the Holy Spirit employed to speak and write the Word of God were not mere stenographers or tape recorders, who had no personal part or interest in that which they spoke or wrote. Not only do revelation and inspiration imply in general that the Word of God is spoken and written in human, finite, earthly language; but they also include the wide variety of individual differences of time and place and circumstances and personality and background and style which anyone can recognize when he reads the Bible. Isaiah is different than Moses; John is different than Peter; Luke is different than Matthew; Solomon is different than David. And historically, some of the terminology mentioned above was employed in order to give due recognition and expression to these differences.
Now what shall we say about this?
For one thing, we may recognize the fact that this terminology has not always been used with evil intentions, as well as the fact that in so far as this is the sole meaning of this terminology it is perfectly innocent and legitimate. I have no doubt that one could quote more than one Reformed writer who has used such terminology and who held one hundred per cent to the truth concerning Scripture, who with every fiber of his being denied that the Bible is anything but the Word of God.
For another, we ought to recognize the fact that the danger of a theory of mechanical inspiration is largely, if not altogether, imaginary. Even though there have been theologians who have upon occasion used language which sounded a bit mechanistic, historically there has been no theologian of repute in the main-line of theology who held to mechanical inspiration. This danger is about like the danger of anyone making of man a stock and block in salvation. The danger itself is imaginary; it arises only in the minds of the adversaries of sovereign grace. It is a far greater danger that some will attempt to adjust and accommodate the doctrine of sovereign grace in order to avoid the charge. But, for this very reason, it is also rather unnecessary to devise and adopt terminology which will supposedly protect us from the charge of believing in mechanical inspiration; and it is certainly, from a positive point of view, unnecessary to adopt this terminology in order to give expression to the fact that the Lord employed men with all their individual characteristics to write His Word.
Thirdly, we should note that, in spite of whatever good intentions lie behind it, and however sincere may be the effort in this terminology to approach certain truths involved in inspiration, the terminology is very seriously defective. It is not accurate. It does not express what ought to be expressed. And it leaves impressions which ought not to be left. Take the term “human element,” for example. The good intention is undoubtedly to give expression to the idea that the Lord employed the words and style and circumstances of men to produce the Scriptures. The defect of the term is that it leaves the impression that there is a part of Scripture which is human, rather than divine. The same is true of the expression “human factor.” It is an expression which leaves the definite impression that God and men cooperated, constituted two factors, in the writing of Scripture. The result of such terminology is that you definitely begin to look in Scripture for the divine part, or element, which must be separated from and distilled out of the human part or element. The same is true of the expressions “Primary Author” and “secondary authors.” One of the difficulties is that a secondary author is nevertheless an author; and if he is an author, then you may again distinguish in the Bible between the Word of God, the “Primary Author,” and the word of man, the “secondary author.” But what becomes, then, of the confession that the Bible is solely the Word of God? It is compromised, willy-nilly. Another difficulty connected with such terminology is that no matter how great you make the capital “P” and no matter how small you make the lower case “s,” the difference is only relative, and the authors remain authors. This is the kind of difficulty that Dr. Kuitert and others capitalize upon, so that they claim that they may and do legitimately and within the framework of a belief in inspiration “do justice to” the so-called “human element” in Scripture.
Hence, with respect to all of these expressions we must be very careful. As soon as you in any sense make Scripture an admixture, rather than solely the Word of God, you are in fundamental trouble. It is far safer to discard all these terms. And not only is it safer,—because, after all, the mere consideration of safety may not constitute a decisive argument,—but it is Scriptural. We must remember that the Bible never presents itself as anything other than the Word of God, even when it recognizes that this revelation of God came to us through men and in the course of the history of men and of mankind. Always Scripture comes with the simple, unargued assumption that it is the Word of God, that therefore it is to be believed without reservation or condition, leaving no room for challenge or question whether it is true or in how far it is true. Mind you, this is the position of Scripture itselfeven though and even when Scripture itself recognizes that as the Word-of-God-written it has come into existence through men and in the course of human history, with all that this implies. Whatever, therefore, you may try to say dogmatically about the “is” in the proposition “Holy Scripture is the Word of God,” it must be kept within these confines. That “is” may not be so tampered with and “interpreted” that the proposition itself is destroyed or made to read, “Holy Scripture is partly the Word of God, but partly the word of man.”
In this connection, in the fourth place, let me call attention to the fact that while our Belgic Confession employs none of this terminology, it nevertheless makes a very significant and adequate statement on this subject, and does so with reference to a very striking statement of Scripture itself. I refer to Article 3 and its reference to II Peter 1:19-21:
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 entire Scripture passage referred to in the above article is as follows: “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
Now it is not my intention to enter into this article of our Confession in all its details. I wrote about this rather extensively a few years ago in my commentary on this article in the Standard Bearer. But let me point out the following:
1) Not only does the Confession not employ any of the terminology cited earlier, but there is not even the slightest hint at such terms. It speaks only of “this Word of God” and of “holy and divine Scriptures,” even though it is obviously cognizant of the fact that God used “his servants, the prophets and apostles, to commit his revealed word to writing.”
2) The Confession speaks not only of inspiration from the positive point of view, but, following Scripture, makes a most amazing negative statement: “. . . this Word of God was not sent, nor delivered by the will of man . . . ” The Bible’s literal statement here is: “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man.”
On the one hand, this statement is very simple and clear, almost to the point that you would overlook its simplicity of meaning: would we not be inclined to say, “Why, of course not how could God’s Word be sent or delivered by the will of man?” Here is the essence of simplicity. God’s Word is God’s Word, not man’s; and if it is to be God’s Word, then it cannot possibly be sent or delivered by the will of man: it must be by the will of God. If it originates with man and is sent and delivered by man’s will, then it can no more be the Word of God. Moreover, certainly the will is a fundamental factor in any question of authorship. Could you imagine an author whose will was not a factor in the book of which he was the author? How, then, if the Word of God was not sent or delivered by the will of man, if the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man,—how is it possible to speak of any man as an author of Scripture?
On the other hand, consider the boldness of this statement. Men spoke. Men wrote. They spoke and wrote with all of their individual characteristics and circumstances coming into action when they spoke and wrote, and that too, in such a way that these individual characteristics and circumstances become a part of the fabric of Scripture and so that we cannot fail to distinguish the writings of Paul from those of John, for example. And yet the Bible itself says: “Prophecy came not in old time by the will of man.” What an amazing statement! And it becomes still more amazing in the light of the fact that in one breath the same Scripture asserts that holy men of God spake. Mind you, they were not mere microphones and amplifiers of the Holy Spirit. They spake. Or again: they spake. But nevertheless prophecy came not by the will of man!
Obviously we stand face to face here with a most marvelous and mysterious wonder! And whatever we may attempt to say about this wonder, we must be careful that we do not sully and besmirch and cover up, or even theologically destroy, this wonder by contradicting one term of it.
It is in this context that we speak of organic inspiration.
What is implied in this organic inspiration I will briefly set forth in the following propositions, further comment on which will have to wait until the next issue.
1) God conceived sovereignly and from eternity of the whole of Scripture, in all its parts and its interrelationships, as the written revelation of Himself, with Christ as the heart and center of that entire revelation.
2) God from eternity and sovereignly conceived of and determined upon special organs of Christ’s body, organs of inspiration, and ordained all the details of their personality, character, talents, education, mode of thinking, style of writing, personal experiences, and historical circumstances in such a way that they were from eternity prepared to be fit instruments of divine inspiration, each in his own place in the organism of Scripture.
3) The Holy Spirit, and that too, as the Spirit of Christ, called these divinely ordained organs of inspiration into existence in time, forming them and preparing them, both naturally and spiritually, for their divinely ordained place and task in committing God’s revealed Word to writing.
4) The same Spirit also inspired, moved, illumined, guided, and actually caused these human instruments, thus ordained, prepared, and called, to speak and to write infallibly God’s own Word.
Thus the Scriptures and the human instruments were all of God, a wonderwork of divine grace, ordaining, preparing, moving, guiding, so that His people might have the complete and rich revelation of Christ, the Eternal Word of God.