It is well-known to anyone who keeps abreast of theological and ecclesiastical developments in Reformed churches both here and abroad that the doctrine of the inspiration and authority of Scripture is in tension. Not surprising is it, therefore, that a department such as The Banner’s “Thy Word Is Truth” should include an article on “The Inspiration of Scripture” (The Banner, Jan. 30, 1970, pp. 4, 5). Moreover, one would expect that articles under a heading like “Thy Word Is Truth” would have the aim of a timely re-emphasis and defense of various truths of the Word of God. Disappointed, however, must be the reader who read with discernment the contribution of Dr. Anthony A. Hoekema on the above-mentioned subject of “The Inspiration of Scripture,”—the more so, because the writer furnishes by his article a sample of the theological trend of Calvin Seminary, where he is professor of systematic theology. For while in a certain sense his article may be called timely, it can hardly qualify as a re-emphasis and defense of the truth of the Word of God with respect to the inspiration of Scripture. Instead, I would characterize it as the kind of mildly concessive and hedging article which, while it appears in some respects to uphold the Reformed faith, nevertheless the article—note, please, that I do not say the “author,” but the “article”—so compromises and confuses matters that it in fact plays into the hands of those who are attacking the doctrine of Scripture in Reformed churches today, essentially adopts their position, and is, therefore, more misleading than helpful, more deceptive than the writings of those who openly flout the doctrine of infallible inspiration.
About two-thirds of the article is devoted to a review of the history of the doctrine of inspiration from the times of the early fathers to the present, a history which is concluded by a brief review and criticism of the neo-orthodox position of Barth and Brunner and the neo-liberal position of Rudolph Bultmann. With this part of the article there is not much fault to find, except, perhaps, that conspicuous by its absence is any mention of the fact that Reformed theologians (especially in the Netherlands) have essentially adopted the position of the so-called neo-orthodox and neoliberal theologians. Surely, for a Reformed constituency an article on this subject would be more timely and relevant if it mentioned problems and dangers near at hand as well as those which are farther removed? Nevertheless, at this point Dr. Hoekema’s article leaves a fairly good impression, as, for example, when he writes as follows:
But the point I wish to make just now is that this denial of the heart of the gospel is rooted in a denial of the inspiration of Scripture. Bultmann views the Scriptures through the glasses of modern science as he understands it—as permitting nothing that cannot be explained in terms of cause and effect—and therefore he removes from the Bible everything that is supernatural. Over against Bultmann we must reassert our faith in the, inspiration of the Scriptures. We must reassert our belief that at the heart of God’s revelation to man is a stupendous supernatural fact: the miracle of the incarnation. Over against Bultmann’s dehistoricizing of the Bible (holding that what Jesus did in history does not really matter), we must reassert our belief that what Christ did in history (his birth, suffering, death, and resurrection) is essential to our salvation. It is at this point, it seems to me, that we must particularly stress the importance of the inspiration of Scripture today.
But my Reformed antennae began to send signals already when I read Dr. Hoekema’s opening paragraph, which does not ring true:
When we speak of the inspiration of the Bible, we mean that the books of the Bible, though written by men, were “inspired” by God—that is, that men were so guided in writing them that what they wrote conveyed God’s message of salvation, and that the Bible is therefore in fact not only the word of man but, in a very veal sense, the Word of God to man. The term inspiration is derived from
“All scripture is inspired by God” (RSV).
Hence, as I read on, I was not too surprised when my radar began to send fast and furious signals at the reading of the following:
Over against mechanical conceptions of the inspiration of Scripture, which view the Bible writers as if they were mere tape recorders, we must reassert our belief in the organic nature of inspiration. That is, we must recognize the human side of the Bible. The Holy Spirit used the writers of the Bible as they were: as children of their time, reflecting the times in which they lived, writing in the idiom of their own generation. This means, for example, that when a Bible writer tells us that the hare chews the cud
we are not obliged to accept this as a divinely inspired scientific fact, but may take this statement as reflecting the state of zoological knowledge at the time the book was written. Many further implications of the doctrine of organic inspiration remain to be explored, and should continue to be explored by our theologians. It is important to remember, however, that the Bible was inspired tom convey what it intends to teach, not what it does not intend to teach.
Now when I read a sentence like that last one, I am almost inclined to say, “Dat is een waarheid als een koe!” Or to put it in English idiom: that’s a truth as obvious as a barn! Surely, the Bible was not inspired to convey what it does not intend to teach—what sense would that make, pray tell? Would God by His Spirit inspire someone to write what He does not intend to teach? But when I read this sentence in the light of the entire paragraph and in the light of the opening paragraph of the article, then I become suspicious that Dr. Hoekema after all makes room for the deviating views of some of the Dutch theologians who like to make a distinction between the “message” and the “packaging” of the Bible, or who like to speak of the limited historical horizons of the writers of Holy Scripture. For is not the crucial term in this sentence the term intends? And is not the unexpressed presupposition of the same sentence this, that the Bible conveys things which it does not intend to teach as well as things which it, intends to teach? And is not the thrust of Dr. Hoekema’s apparent truism this, that with respect to the latter we must accept the Bible as inspired and infallible, while with respect to the former such acceptance is not necessary, since the Bible was not inspired to convey such teachings? And is this not essentially the same wedge which has always been used to make some kind of distinction between what is the word of man and what is the Word of God in the Bible, what is fallible and what is infallible, what is without authority and what is authoritative?
Consider, in the first place, the mention made of so-called “mechanical conceptions of the inspiration of Scripture, which view the Bible writers as if they were mere tape recorders.” And consider, too, the proposition that it is over against such conceptions that “we must reassert our belief in the organic nature of inspiration.”
This is misleading.
For, first of all, these so-called mechanical conceptions of the inspiration of Scripture are purely imaginary. I would like to know what theologian of any standing—and especially what theologian of any standing in the Reformed tradition—has ever held to such a mechanical conception of inspiration. I am well aware that some theologians have used terminology which, taken in isolation from its context, suggests a mechanical conception. Even Calvin did this, as Dr. Hoekema informs his readers correctly. But who ever held to a strictly mechanical conception, and when did this constitute a threat and a danger “over against” which it was necessary to maintain organic inspiration? I would truly like to know. In my opinion, the situation has been this, that there have been those who tried to shove this accusation of a mechanical conception into the shoes of men who actually maintained the absolute infallibility and the verbal inspiration of Holy Scripture. In other words, so-called mechanical inspiration has been used as a bogey-man to frighten people away from the truths of infallibility and inspiration. And as with all bogey-men, so also this one is purely fictional. Nor is it true, in the second place, that the concept of organic inspiration was developed over against mechanical inspiration in the history of doctrine, or that it is necessary today to “reassert” this doctrine over against so-called mechanical conceptions. The latter are not a threat to the church of today. And why sound a false alarm? It is against the neo-orthodox and neo-liberal ideas which have been smuggled into the Reformed community that the church must be called to do battle, not against a bogey-man of mechanical inspiration.
Consider, in the second place, what is presented as organic inspiration. Dr. Hoekema writes: “. . . we must reassert our belief in the organic nature of inspiration. That is, we must recognize the human side of the Bible.” He equates the reassertion of belief in organic inspiration with recognizing the human side of the Bible, As if this is the idea of organic inspiration! That is precisely not the meaning of organic inspiration. Nor are matters improved by the next statement: “The Holy Spirit used the writers of the Bible as they were: as children of their time, reflecting the times in which they lived, writing in the idiom of their own generation.” As this statement stands, it is at best only a half-truth. But it is certainly not a statement of the concept of organic inspiration. And in its context it is an outright contradiction of the truth of organic inspiration which leads to a specific contradiction of Scripture.
For the reader should notice, in the third place, that Dr. Hoekema’s application of what he has written indeed involves him in a contradiction of Scripture. For he writes next: “This means, for example, that when a Bible writer tells us that the hare chews the cud Lev. 11:6.,we are not obliged to accept this as a divinely inspired scientific fact, but may take this statement as reflecting the state of zoological knowledge at the time the book was written.”
In this bit of misapplication of the concept of organic inspiration you have a clear illustration of how the whole process of degeneration in the doctrine of Scripture and the whole critical process of downgrading Scripture itself has frequently begun. For is not the question whether the hare chews the cud an extremely insignificant question? Is it not true that this is a question which no longer affects us of the new dispensation, though it may have had some significance for Israel of the old dispensation? And is it not apparently true that whether or not the hare chews the cud is of absolutely no importance as far as “the message of salvation” which the Bible “intends to teach” is concerned? Hence, this is a good point, (from the critic’s point of view) at which to make a beginning. Besides, he feels himself “scientifically strong” at this point. For is it not a scientific fact that the hare does not chew the cud? But be careful! Once having succeeded in undermining Scripture at this apparently insignificant point, that same critic will aim his critical blows at more important matters, until finally he has you in a corner with respect to such items as creation, the miracles, and finally the very facts of Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection!
What is wrong here?
In the first place, Dr. Hoekema apparently detects a “scientific” error in this passage of Leviticus 11:6. But notice, for one thing, that in both clauses of his statement we are supposedly kept in the realm of “scientific” knowledge. For he writes (italics mine): “. . . we are not obliged to accept this as a divinely inspired scientific fact, but may take the statement as reflecting the state of zoological knowledge (in other words: scientific knowledge, since zoology is a science, HCH) at the time the book was written. But notice, too, that this is pure fiction. It simply was not true that this was written for zoologists or from a specifically zoological point of view. It was written for plain Israelites; and the plain assumption is also that they knew and understood and were able to apply the tests of “chewing the cud” and “dividing the hoof”—the two tests of clean and unclean animals. Notice, further, that by eliminating the words “scientific” and “zoological” in Hoekema’s statement you do not essentially change it. Facts are facts, and knowledge is knowledge. And precisely at this point does the issue become clear: are we obliged, in the light of Scripture, to accept it as a fact that the hare chews the cud? Or does that statement of the Bible merely reflect “the state of knowledge” (should be: the state of ignorance!) at the time it was written.
In the second place, Dr. Hoekema so misapplies the idea of organic inspiration that this passage of Leviticus 11:6 has now become what a “Bible writer” tells us. Now frankly, I cannot understand how Dr. Hoekema could allow a statement of this kind to come from his pen. For the context certainly makes it abundantly clear that it is not at all a question of what “a Bible writer” tells us here, but of what the Lord God Himself tells us. The verse to which Dr. Hoekema refers is nothing less than a direct quotation of the words of the Lord. Let me quote the context, beginning at Leviticus 11:1, to make this plain: “And the Lord spake unto Moses and to Aaron, saying to them, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, These are the beasts which ye shall eat among all the beasts that are on the earth. Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is cloven-footed, and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that shall ye eat. Nevertheless these shall ye not eat of them that chew the cud, or of them that divide the hoof: as the camel, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you. And the Coney, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you. And the hare, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you.” Read in its context, therefore, it is as plain as the sun in the heavens that the statement that the hare chews the cud is the statement of the Lord Himself, and can by no means be ascribed merely to some Bible writer or to the human side of the Bible.
In the third place, in the light of the preceding, the question becomes a very crucial one—precisely the crucial question at stake in all of Scripture: was the Lord mistaken when He said that the hare chews the cud? Was, perhaps, the Lord’s “zoological knowledge” defective at the time He revealed this to Moses and Aaron? Dr. Hoekema, I am sure, would not want to answer this question in the affirmative. But then he must not try to evade the question by reformulating it. This is the issue; and it is inescapable. And to the second question placed at the head of this article, “Did Not He Who Made The Hare Know the Hare?” my answer is an unconditional Yes. What is yours? Remember: the doctrine of Scripture is at stake! Or rather: the veracity of God is at stake!