The GKN on the Nature of the Authority of Scripture (8)

We are still busy, in this discussion, with the first section of Chapter IV of the Report/Decision of the Gereformeerde Kerken concerning the authority of Scripture. Last time we began to show how this segment of the Report/Decision goes about eroding the Reformed doctrine of the inspiration and authority of Scripture. The last item mentioned in our previous editorial was the introduction by the Report of the idea of a dual element and then dual authorship (divine and human). This, we saw, is a very old and commonly held position: the Bible is the product of dual authorship, divine and human. Now it is true, of course, that this idea has not always been put forth with evil intentions. And it has not been uncommon even among Reformed theologians to attempt to avoid the evident problem presented by this view by speaking of the Primary Author (God the Holy Spirit) and the secondary authors (holy men moved by the Spirit). In this way some have attempted, with every good motive, to maintain the idea of what is called “organic inspiration.” However, in the view of this writer, not only has this attempted distinction never been completely successful, but also the distinction has more often than not been used to go through Scripture culling out and separating between those elements which are human and those elements which are divine in the contents of Holy Scripture. 

It is in the latter sense that the Report/Decision of the GKN uses the distinction. Only, the Report attempts to refine this old error by means of its so-called relational concept of truth, and thus to make it more palatable—and, we may add, more deceptive. 

Let us follow the Report a little further, and see how this is done. 

First the Report tries to leave the impression of maintaining the divine authority of Scripture—although even at this point its statements are, to say the least, woefully weak:

The Holy Scripture derives its authority however not from any human being. On the contrary, its authority rests exclusively on the fact that it is God Who speaks. Therefore, we confess that the Scripture is the Word of God. And yet it must immediately be added that although in making this confession we have said that which is most important, we have thereby not yet said enough. God spoke, but He gave His Word through fallible people in a certain historical situation. The reliability of the Bible lies in this, that in the Scripture written by people the infallible Word of God comes to us; that is the unlimited treasure of all that which we need for our praise of God and our salvation (cf. Belgic Confession, Article 2).

Notice that the Report never makes the unqualified statement that Scripture is the Word of God period. Always more must be added; and that “more” always detracts from the truth that Scripture is the Word of God. 

But there is in the Report/Decision a certain refinement of the notion of a dual, divine and human, element in Scripture. It is a refinement which, on the one hand, makes it more difficult to discern the error of this view; but it is a refinement which nevertheless does not succeed. Let me try to explain by way of illustration. The RFPA has published a paperback entitled The Five Points of Calvinism. Two chapters were written by Prof. Hanko, two by Rev. Van Baren, and one by me. Even if the names were not attached to the chapters, a reader would readily be able to discern which segments are Hanko, which are Van Baren, and which are Hoeksema. But if the three of us somehow had managed to compose all five chapters together, it would become much more difficult to detect the Hanko, the Van Baren, and the Hoeksema elements in those chapters. Now perhaps the illustration is not completely appropriate; yet it will serve, I think, to illustrate the idea of a divine-human mixture of elements which the Report proposes. This becomes plain in the following paragraph:

There is thus a close relation between the divine and the human in the Scripture. One cannot sort these two out. Whoever will not accept the humanness of the Scripture, overlooks the fact that the Spirit wants to direct Himself to people in that particular way, in those forms, words and circumstances. Therefore it is so important to make certain which elements in the text could be partly determined by the time-bound background and the character of the writers of the Bible. Key questions are: What were the historical circumstances of their time? What ideas did they share with other people of the ancient world?

And yet the Report wants to convince people that “the search for an answer to such questions…. should not be seen as an attack upon the divine truth.” 

But what do we find when the Report attempts to illustrate its meaning? We find an example appealed to, in the first place, which as such has nothing to do with the fact that the Bible was written through the agency of men and which would allegedly make it “so important to make certain which elements in the text could be partly determined by the time-bound background and the character of the writers of the Bible.” Instead, the example is taken from those laws for Israel which were directly given by God through Moses. And what does the Report say? Notice:

If we for example find various laws in the Old Testament which seem to us to be inhuman ,Duet 21:10-14 we are simply unable to reconcile this with the Biblical testimony that God loves the people of this world; not, that is, unless we carefully note the time-and-place-relatedness of such stories and laws. Then it often appears that in comparison with the usages and laws of the world at that time the laws of the Bible were much more humane, and in that way gave expression to the love of God. Whoever places the Bible above and outside the historical world of humankind could easily wrongly construe the intention of the Holy Spirit.

Here you have an illustration of the application of “relational truth” to Scripture. Men place themselves above Scripture in order to pass judgment on what is loving or not, and then in terms of what is “humane” or not. But how foolish! If we take the argumentation of the Report at face value, it does not mean that the laws of the Bible were “much more humane,” but rather that the laws of the God of love were less inhumane and “in that way gave expression to the love of God.” Here, therefore, you have an illustration of where this entire view leads. 

Nevertheless, somehow or other the distinction between the divine and the human word must somehow be maintained. This problem the Report faces in the following paragraph:

Although thus the human element in the Scripture cannot be separated from the divine, as if it would be possible after a careful sifting to retain the “authentic” revelation, one can to a certain extent make this distinction. If we say that the infallible Word of God is given to us in the Scripture, then we do not mean that where the human time-bound shines through, the Word of God cannot be found. On the contrary it belongs to the task of exegesis to search out what God wanted to reveal as His Word through these human words. Often, however, one can only discover this if one reads the text in connection with the entire Bible book, in fact, with the entire Scripture. The history of exegesis has also taught us that it often depends upon the time and circumstances in which the expositor lives whether this offers a deeper understanding of the text.

Now notice, first of all, that the Report—tthough in bland language—contradicts itself. First it said that we “cannot sort these two out.” Now it says that “one can to a certain extent make this distinction.” In the second place, notice how the Report really contradicts the truth of the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture. The Word of God must be “found.” It belongs to the task of exegesis “to search out what God wanted to reveal as His Word through these human words.” Poor God! He was not able to express Himself clearly! Human exegetes have to search out what He wanted to reveal! In the third place, notice the ramifications of the relational notion of the truth: it even depends on the time and circumstances of the expositor whether his searching out of what God wanted to reveal offers a deeper understanding of the text! 

Small wonder, then, that the Report goes on to reject the classic Reformed view of infallibility and accuses the Belgic Confession of teaching mechanical inspiration!