The Interpreting of the Bible

Dearly Beloved, the reformed Christian is in danger of losing all that he has held dear in faith. There is an attempt to take from God’s children the Scriptures as the Word of God—normative for faith and walk. This is being done today by those professing a need for and a desire for a “new hermeneutic.” These are strong charges, you might say. Is this really true? Is there really such a danger with the desiring of a new way of interpreting the Bible? (Hermeneutics is the study of the principles of interpreting the Bible.) Recently in Edmonton, Dr. Gordon Spykman, respected chairman of the Department of Religion and Theology at Calvin Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, stated in a speech that often those who make the biggest ado about inspiration, infallibility, and the authority of the Scriptures live the worst with respect to that which the Bible teaches. Perhaps this is a time to change our way of viewing the Scriptures? And maybe when interpreting the Scriptures we make to much ado out of inspiration, infallibility, and their authority? God forbid that we should ever say this! To do so would be to walk down the road of apostasy! 

It is said by those embracing the “New Hermeneutic” that the creeds say nothing of the interpreting of the Bible. They do not speak to the question, “What kind of book is the Bible?” It is further said that the Reformers (Calvin, Luther, etc.) did not take into account the historical movement of the church and the age when interpreting Scripture. Therefore they did not speak out concerning, “What kind of Book is the Bible.” It is also said that one can overload the Bible, one can place too much emphasis upon it as a guide in our lives as Christians. This language ought to sound very strange to you as a child of faith! The faith view of Scripture is far too restrictive for our history—our day and age. Therefore when the Word of God says, that the women in the church shall learn in silence, it does not play well in today’s society that is glutted with “women’s lib.” Thus by turning to a new hermeneutic many have chosen a way to make Scripture fit our day, but this at the expense of the truth. 

The proponents of the “new hermeneutic” teach generally that the Scriptures are not in their entirety the Word of God. The general tenets of faith are expressed by secondary authors. Thus the Bible is authoritative only insofar as the main message goes—the salvation of the Church in Christ, but according to this position there are many details of Scripture that cannot be assumed to be inspired—an example being the narrative of Genesis one through three. According to this view Scripture contains the Word of God, as opposed to faith’s view that Scripture is God’s Word. They maintain that, because of the secondary authors, errors of science and theology are present in Scripture; and this ought not to be surprising, according to them, because the writers reflect the learning of the age as well as the cultural conditions of their age. Therefore it is maintained that the Bible must be approached like any other book, and must be interpreted and evaluated solely on historical-literary grounds. The truth in the Bible can be considered truth only when the historical evidence verifies it to be the truth. But then, don’t you understand, reason, science, the cultural conditions become the instructors to lead us into the interpretation of Scripture. Faith is relegated to the background and in effect discounted all together. 

Such a view of interpreting Scripture is really not so new. It can be quite easily traced back in time to about two hundred years ago. The “New Hermeneutic” really comes out of the age of higher criticism, which in turn finds its roots in the rationalism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It was in this age that reason came to rule the day. However, higher criticism found no room in the mainline conservative Bible-believing churches until the last thirty or forty years. James D. Smart (professor of Biblical Interpretation at Union Theological Seminary, New York) in his book, The Strange Silence of the Bible in the Church, states that today higher critics are no longer maligned except in the most backward .of churches which have allowed themselves to be the victims of cultural paralysis. It is this fear of being called backward that has caused many a mainline church to embrace the “New Hermeneutic.” This, however, is utter foolishness! It leads to having the candlestick removed from the Church. 

Let us take some time to consider what is being said in the church world about the interpreting of Scripture. We do this that we might be made alert to the inroads that this method of unbelief in interpreting Scripture has made in the church. At the same time we do so that we may be warned against another attack of Satan upon our faith! Dr. Lindsell in his book, Battle For The Bible, gives an outline, in his opinion, for the fall of Union Seminary from a. conservative Bible-confessing Seminary to that of modernism. He traces the rise of higher criticism under the labors of a Prof. Briggs to the modernism that is inevitable with the denial of inerrancy of the Scriptures. The “New Hermeneutic” by its very nature denies the inerrancy of Scripture and shall just as surely lead to the road of modernism. Dr. Lindsell states, in the section in his book concerning lessons we can learn from the case of Briggs and Union Seminary, the following: “the first and most obvious is that the institution went on from the days of Briggs to become and remain one of the most liberal seminaries in the United States. At no time since Briggs’ day has the institution reversed its position. Instead, it has moved farther and farther away from historic orthodoxy.” This, of course, is not surprising, for once there is room left in the Bible for error, there is no way in which one can truly fight heresy. One doctrine can stand no better than another. 

It is plain from the above that if one reads from an author such as J.D. Smart (mentioned before), he hears what the modernist has to say about interpreting the Scripture. Smart agrees with Bultman and Barth, who, while they disagreed on theology, agreed that a venturesome approach was needed in interpreting the Bible—one that would let the word of God hidden in the human words of Scripture have its freedom and power in the modern world. This modernist points out that science and our own eyes teach us that parts of the Scripture are in error; examples are the creation narrative, and the teaching of Scripture that the world is flat, etc. Further, we read that the Bible can only be said to witness to revelation, but it may never be equated with God’s revelation. Of course, from such a perspective in viewing the interpreting of the Bible, the modernist can but make fun of anyone holding to a creation of six twenty-four hour days. And further they find it impossible to expect anyone to believe unquestioningly as history the report of every miracle of Scripture, for example Elisha’s floating axe head, or the sun standing still in the day of Joshua. Hence too, the modernist will not speak of the Bible being the Word of God as is the traditional practice, but rather more properly according to the modernist, one says the Bible contains the Word of God. As we hear it today; the word of God is in the Bible, rather than saying the Bible is the Word of God. This is the voice of modernism! 

The Roman Catholic Henri Daniel-Rops writes in his book, What Is The Bible, that one is left somewhat baffled when reading the prophets or the Apocalypse, but that, “We must remember then that in Israel there was a sort of moral fable, which was expected not so much to report accurately concrete facts, but to exemplify some inner transcendent truth. Thus strictly we cannot consider the events historical.” Thus stated in this book is the following: “The stopping of the Sun by Jousee is told in a miniature epic poem, and looks very much as though it is only eastern hyperbole.” This is a voice of Roman Catholicism!

The sad thing today is that the voice of modernism and the voice of Roman Catholicism does not sound different from the sounds coming from the reformed church world! The Netherlands Reformed Church in Holland has published a work of a committee of its General Synod under the Title, The Bible Speaks Again—Kare Wijn, in the Dutch. Quoting the book, “One gets lost, however, with the following line of argument: God is truth and therefore we will find in the Bible, which is the Word of God, only true and trustworthy sayings, no contradictions or mistakes, nor any sagas, legends or myths, because it would. mean that not everything has taken place.” Mind you one gets lost if he maintains the Scripture has no contradictions or errors. What does this say of the church of the ages gone by? They were lost? The book further points out that Dr. H. Bavinck spoke of inspiration in such a way to allow for the human factor in the Bible. But according to the Committee he did not do so in a “forceful enough or convincing enough” way. Thus they complain it was possible that the sad event of the deposition of Dr. Geelkerken took place in 1926 for doubting that the serpent spake to Eve. 

The church with the new hermeneutic as its guide would have no difficulty today with such a view of Genesis. This has even become evident in the case of Dr. Verhey in the Christian Reformed Church. Because of the strong influence of the “New Hermeneutic” within the church (as evidenced in Report 44), Dr. Verhey could be ordained to the ministry and continue undisciplined therein, while denying the serpent wake to Eve, as well as denying the miracle of the earthquake in Matt. 28:2. If this continues, and historically it does, is there any heresy that can be kept from the church? 

The new hermeneutic is the product of man’s reason and is utter foolishness. It stands opposed to faith and must not be embraced! The foolishness of such a view of interpreting Scripture is obvious by the very words of those who embrace it. The modernist, Smart, states that preachers who were untroubled by historical and literary analysis were much freer in their use of Scripture. Of course, when in faith the minister goes to the Scripture and in faith receives its testimony as the Word of God he is sure of that which he preaches. But when one must face the Scriptures with critical eyes, searching what is God’s word in the Bible—when one must rely upon reason, then of course there is reluctance to say anything too specific. For one might appear to lack scholarly ability or he might be too narrow, or this or that. The foolishness is that as there has been a so-called increase in scholarly study of the Bible in the last years, there has become a growing lack of understanding of God’s Word, less true exposition of the Scriptures, and a growing darkness in the members of the church. This same thing became evident in a speech by Dr. Gordon Spykman in Edmonton, Alberta. He told his audience in his speech setting forth a “new hermeneutic,” that no longer in the Seminary is it possible to use the same books as it was ten years ago—the reason being that there is not the same level of Biblical knowledge today. The students do not have as great a background in the Word of God. This is where the modem day hermeneutic leads us! 

But it is said we must be scholarly, intellectual; there must be historical or scientific or cultural reason given for our interpreting of Scripture. This, beloved, is the sinful nonsense of Satan. Reason must be our lord. Believe it not! I thank God that I belong to one of those backward churches that was mentioned earlier. For this means that by God’s grace I trust in that which is foolishness to the world. But understand, it is the foolish things of the world that God has chosen to confound the wise. “And God hath chosen the weak things of the world, to confound the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea and the things which are not to bring to naught things that are: that no flesh should glory in His presence.” I Cor. 1:27-29

We do not have to find scientific fact to prove the Scriptures we believe. We do not have to explain with reason’s power the tenets of our faith. Then our flesh would have whereof to glory. 

Faith does not stand on wisdom of men, but in the power of God, cf. I Cor 2:5. It is written, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea the deep things of God.” I Cor. 2:9-10. It is a matter of faith when one comes to the Bible. Faith hears the Scriptures own testimony and believes it. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” II Tim. 3:16. Scripture is God-breathed; faith believes this! Faith trusts the Bible’s testimony of its own inspiration and infallibility. We hear the Scripture say, “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.” II Pet. 1:20-21. So absolute was this inspiration that the holy writers of the Old Testament searched their own writings to discern the truth that the Spirit of Christ revealed to His people there. Cf. I Peter 1:10-12

Thus, on the basis of Scriptures own testimony, the believers have maintained the Bible to be the inspired Word of God. We believe it to be the infallible written record of God’s own self-revelation. When we go to the Scriptures, we go to God’s Word, and we hear our God speak to us! Further, we believe that Word to be infallibly given—that is, that the Bible is without error. The Spirit so guiding the holy writers that they set forth exactly the Word as God in truth would reveal it to His children. And this in every word! But then also understand that the Scripture is clear—so clear that your children can understand its basic instruction, its testimony, its commands, and its promises when they come with the eyes of God-given faith. And thus, too, as the Bible is God’s Word it is authoritative for our faith and life. 

This is the confession of reformed Christians who hold precious the historic creeds of the reformed faith. Our creeds are relevant and teach us that it is in faith that we approach the Word of God, and that indeed it is authoritative for our doctrine and life, cf. Belgic Confession Articles three and seven. In faith we come before God’s Word and He fills us! And as we are led by the Spirit of Christ out of our sin and darkness into God’s marvelous light, our God receives our praise and humble thanksgiving. Unto Him is all praise alone and forever!