Last time we saw that the Report/Decision of the Gereformeerde Kerken reached the point in its argumentation at which it stated that while the human element and the divine element in Scripture cannot be separated in such a way that ultimately the so-called “authentic” revelation is retained, nevertheless it is possible “to a certain extent” to make this distinction. After all, the Word of God is present, according to the Report, even where “the human time-bound shines through.” Naturally, this necessitates distinguishing between the two. When you take the position that Scripture is, as to its contents, the Word of God—period, then it is not necessary to distinguish between the two. This is obvious: one is dealing only with the Word of God. But when you take the position that Scripture is in one way or another a mixture—Word of God and words of men—then no matter how you describe the mixture, no matter in what fashion and to how thorough an extent the human and divine elements are mixed, somehow or other that mixture must be unscrambled. Somehow the Word of God has to be distilled out of those Scriptures. The distinction which the Report wants to make “to a certain extent” necessitates this. And thus it becomes the task of exegesis, according to the Report, “to search out what God wanted to reveal as His Word through these human words.” Poor God! He was unable to express Himself clearly through human words, so that men have to search out what He “wanted to say.” Not only so, but truth is relational, so that it does not always mean the same thing in different times and circumstances. Depending on the time and circumstances of the expositor, there may be deep or less deep or deeper understandings of the text. It all depends.. . .
Let me remind the reader that my earlier quotations of what the Report has to say about the historical trustworthiness of Scripture furnish a clear example of precisely where this sort of thinking leads. On the basis offered by the Report one can make Scripture say almost anything he wants it to say, and he can destroy completely the historical accuracy and trustworthiness of Scripture.
But let us return to the thread of the Report’s argument. At this point in Chapter IV the Report is ready to make a fatal thrust at the Reformed position concerning the nature of the Scriptures and their authority. It does so, first of all, by accusing the “Reformed tradition” of holding to mechanical inspiration, as follows:
As is described in Chapter III, in the Reformed tradition the teaching of the infallibility of the Holy Scripture has been defended for a long time in a sense of an absolute inerrancy. One then proceeded from the so-called mechanical inspiration by which one understood that the Holy Spirit literally dictated the Scriptures to the writers of the Bible. Sometimes the reasoning was so strict and direct that it was held that even the vowel marks of the Hebrew text were inspired. Apparently they did not yet know that these vowel marks were added to the text of the Old Testament in the Middle Ages.
Now it is indeed questionable whether anyone ever held the position concerning the vowel marks of the Hebrew text which the Report here imputes to some. But it is certain, apart from this, that this does not represent the “Reformed tradition,” that is, the main line of Reformed theology concerning Scripture. In the second place, it is not true that the “Reformed tradition” held to mechanical inspiration. It is in my opinion doubtful, in fact, whether any theologian of note ever held to a purely mechanical view of inspiration, a mere dictationtheory. This would mean that just as I might dictate this editorial to my secretary, or put it on my Dictaphone cassette, and have her type it, so God dictated His Word to the human writers of Holy Scripture. The “Reformed tradition” did not hold this; they held to organic inspiration, even before the term “organic” was used. In the third place, there are certainly instances in which the holy men who wrote Scripture were instructed by God directly to write what they wrote, as well as the instance which our Confession cites in which God Himself “wrote with His own finger the two tables of the law.” Call this mechanical, if you will; but so be it. In the fourth place, IF I had to choose—and I do not; but IF— between so-called mechanical inspiration, which after all retains the absolute infallibility of the Scriptures and verbal inspiration, and the nameless view of the Report, which loses the Scriptures and makes their meaning subject to the every whim and fancy of professional theologians, then I would certainly choose mechanical inspiration. But such a choice is not necessary whatsoever. There .is still the thoroughly Reformed view of organic inspiration.
Let me insert a note here concerning organic inspiration. We must remember that organic inspiration does not merely mean that the Holy Spiritfound and used holy men who were suitable to be used as the instruments of inspiration. It does not even mean only that the Holy Spirit prepared them —though it does indeed include this. But it means first that God Himself ordained, and that, too ordained from eternity in His counsel, the various holy men with their character, talents, bent of nature, circumstances, time in history, etc., to be the instruments of revelation and inspiration. And even as He ordained them, so He realized them and prepared them in time, and so He caused the Scriptures to be written by them. This is neither the time nor the place for a lengthy exposition of the concept of organic inspiration. But we must keep the above in mind. I am inclined to think that frequently this aspect of organic inspiration is lost from view. In fact, I sometimes think that behind all the discussion and all the problems connected with this subject of the inspiration and authority of Scripture is the deeper issue of the absolute sovereignty and the sovereign decrees of the Lord our God. I maintain that it is simply impossible to have a proper conception of revelation and inspiration if one does not want to operate with the principle of God’s sovereignty and His sovereign decree as a working principle.
But after those parenthetical remarks, let us return to the Report.
The next step is that the Report strikes directly at the Belgic Confession. True, it tempers, or tries to temper, the criticism somewhat. But it is plain that the Report disagrees, and disagrees fundamentally, with Article III of the Confession. The Synod of the GKN should be consistent and revise the article.
Here is what Article III says:
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.
Notice how this article breathes a deep respect for and appreciation of the Scriptures. How different from the language of the Report!
Here is what the Report says about Article III:
Fortunately the Belgic Confession does not go that far in Article III; an historically correct exposition of this Article must however lead to the conclusion that the divine origin of the entire Scripture was here confessed by the Fathers and that in such a way that all the words of the Scripture were equally unquestionably and literally the Words of God, as if God had written them down with His own finger. According to the classic Reformed conception, the human writer of the Bible was really nothing more than a passive instrument of the Spirit, a quill in the hand of God.
But there is nothing in the article which makes those human writers nothing more than a passive instrument, a “quill in the hand of God.”
The Report continues:
The recent investigation of the Bible, as that is described in Chapter II, has taught us that God did not desire that the Bible writers would eliminate themselves to the extent assumed by the early orthodoxy in its time. However conscientious and obedient these writers were as they followed the Holy Spirit, they enjoyed a certain freedom just because God had taken them thus into His service. It appears that God usually performs his work on earth in covenant fellowship with chosen people. The Bible continually witnesses to this. Possibly we would formulate Article III of the Belgic Confession somewhat differently today than was the case at the time. But this is not strictly necessary. The text of the Article itself provides sufficient room for an interpretation in the sense which we have here proposed because it makes a distinction between the work of the Holy Spirit in the proclamation of the Word of God and the inscripturation of the Holy Scriptures.
How thankful we may be that the Synod of the GKN does not have the opportunity to formulate Article III today! It would indeed be somewhat different!
And as for the claim that the Article itself leaves room for the view of this Report, that is pure fiction! The GKN has abandoned its own confession, and that, too, by official decree!