20-03-2015 18:37

The lucidity of God’s Word problematized

Brothers and sisters,

We live in times where certainty and great stories are things of the past. Certainty and a great story will be looked at askance. They often also will be felt to be a threat. If something is sure, if a great story is true you will have to conform to it and your own truth, according to what you feel and think, will come under stress. That is not a pleasant feeling.

These are characteristics of what is called the postmodern outlook. The spirit of the time always has an influence on the people. That happens con­sciously but often also subconsciously. We breathe the spirit of the times. We live in it. Part of the spirit of our times is the thought that whenever you read a text the meaning of this text to a great extent is determined by the reader. In our days, therefore, we have to give much attention to the reader. He adds meaning to the text and that makes it very difficult to say: This is what is written, and if we apply that to the Bible: This is what the Lord says. According to many in our days it actually is very difficult to say with certainty what the Lord says in Scripture, that it always depends on the interpretation of the reader. The questions, the pervasive spirit of our times, also reaches people who throughout the generations live with the confession that God’s Word is clear. This is not a new observation on my part. In 2001 prof. C. Graafland wrote: “In recent times people, also in orthodox reformed circles, still go further yet. Not only, as readers of Scripture, must we assume that we cannot understand the Bible except via our own interpretation. It also ever clearer is postulated that, whatever revelation from God the Bible itself conveys to us is not the actual revelation, directly, but also (only) interpretation of the revelation. Indeed, actually the Bible is nothing else but a continuing interpretation of the revelation. So: interpretation of interpretation, and so it continues throughout the Bible.” (C. Graafland (2001), “Bijbels en daarom gereformeerd”, p. 58) Also among us, due to the pressure of the times, much attention is given to these questions. Much attention that also causes a lot of uncertainty. And that produces tensions. That is the reason why, among other things, the Theological University of Kampen offers a course in hermeneutics in the coming season to ministers in our churches. In the invitation for this course we then find written, among other things: “The theme ‘hermeneutics’ has not been chosen without good reason. Because much of the movement which arose in our days comes together especially around the interpretation and the use of the Bible. And, aside from that, work with the Bible in the practice of the life of the congregation is the central spearhead of the work of a pastor. Besides, specifically around this field of attention the tensions mentioned arise. For that reason ministers, certainly today, need this ‘hermeneutic awareness’ and they have to develop understanding of the chances and risks that present themselves in the field of hermeneutics. The guide will stimulate and introduce this.”

With the discussion of understanding Scripture we very clearly see that all kinds of philosophical thoughts dominate that discussion and it is obvious that to the Bible, God’s own Word, a much lower place is given. There is a tendency to make the Bible a kind of book of ideas. A book in which we find a few important thoughts, a kernel that we must not surrender. The stories then become bearers of ideas but the reality of the Biblical history writing comes to be under pressure. In the following I will give some examples thereof.

1. Adam our first ancestor?

First I mention an example [of a subject] that has not yet come under discussion much in our churches but that in Nederlands Dagblad (Dutch christian newspaper) and other media has received much attention. The Nederlands Dagblad has given prof. Dekker and dr. Ouweneel space to extensively present their viewpoints. In discussions with members of the congregation it is noticeable that this plays a part and that people feel addressed by persons such as prof. Dekker and dr. Ouweneel. They plead for room to believe that Adam and Eve not necessarily are the ancestors of all people. It should be that we leave one another free to believe that what we read in Genesis 1-3 really happened that way, or that the Lord by what we read there only wants to show that He is the Creator of everything and that He has made a good creation.

Based on what we read in Genesis 1-5 and in other places [it is clear that it] is not possible to give this room to one another. I now give the conclusions after studying those parts of God’s Word wherein of Adam and Eve, or of Adam alone, is written. Because of the time factor I cannot now tell about that investigation but the justification for the conclusions have been added as an appendix that is attached to the printed version.

A few conclusions

Without claiming any completeness I now present a few conclusions.
1. The Holy Spirit shows, after Genesis 1-5 that, these chapters also must be read as history. We do not deal with philosophic stories or teaching models but with trustworthy description of historical happenings. We are shown that if in the Bible something is presented as history we also have to read and acknowledge it as history. The Lord Himself guarantees the credibility of the description in the history. Genesis 1-11 does not deal with myths, stone age history or legends that do not represent the real events. Here too the Lord gives us the truth that conforms to the facts.
2. Those who do not acknowledge Adam and Eve as the first humans from whom all mankind descends, must admit that they speak and think different than what the Spirit tells us in the Bible. Then they have to admit that they criticize God’s Word, or leave room for criticism. If anyone teaches that it is not necessary to acknowledge Adam and Eve as the first humans, ancestors of all humanity, he sows doubt concerning Christ and His resurrection. If Adam is not a historical person there is no reason to believe Christ’s historicity. In that case Christ also may be part of a philosophical story. If that should be true Paul’s writing in 1 Cor. 15:19 comes with great force: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” Here especially Rom. 5 and 1 Cor. 15 are very important.
3. If Adam is not admitted to be the first human and the forefather of us all it also is impossible to think about God, sin and other matters in the way the Holy Spirit teaches us. (The New Testament refers 165 times to Genesis 1-11! Every author of the New Testament in one way or another refers to the first 11 chapters of the Bible. The only chapter that is not referred to is Genesis 8.)
Historic-redemptively we see the same structure with Adam and Christ. Both are there for many. See Rom 5 and Cor. 15:22-45-49. This structure between Adam and Christ is broken when one of the two is not a historic person.
4. If Adam no longer is considered to be the first man, who has been created good, your view of sin changes. If it is being taught that Adam is an illustration of what exists in all men then it means that sin belonged to man from the beginning. And thát would indicate that death would be part of God’s good creation.
5. The result of the previous point is that in that case creation and the fall into sin no longer can be distinguished as historical occurrences one from the other. The historicity, the reality of a period of sinlessness and complete peace on earth then is denied. Then God’s creation really was not good, not even any better than the present situation.
6. The seriousness of sin no longer is considered with full seriousness. Man at no time would have been able completely to do the will of God. The result here is that Christ’s example will be emphasized more than His carrying the debt and sin of the faithful even into hell. The development of man who needs a good example is more important than the fact that he as totally corrupted person is conceived and born in sin and needs to be saved.

Final conclusion

He who does not believe that Adam and Eve were the first people, from whom all of humanity descended, is busy to completely distort all the teachings of God’s Word. He is busy in making his own gospel and in believing his own creed. It is necessary to believe what we read concerning Adam and Eve in Gen. 1- 5, and in the rest of Scripture. Reverence for the Lord and for His Word demands that from us, and from every human being. The church of Christ may not allow that this be doubted or denied in the church.

Let us with deep reverence for the Lord believe Him and His Word. Let us fight against these forms of Bible critique and build towards a genuine reformed theology for the good of the church of Christ. For the good of the people of the Lord.

The Bible itself indicates the manner of its interpretation

One of the noticeable characteristics of the new interest for the understanding of Scripture is that the new insights or possibilities often do not arise from what the Lord says in the Bible. Reasons are being taken from science, or from philosophical thoughts, but seldom from what the Lord Himself says in the Bible concerning the understanding of His Word. Slowly but surely the confession that the Bible is its own interpreter threatens to disappear. And so, within theological circles leeway is requested for the experiment and also for the game, because that belongs to science. If we tread that road we will see that confession, the rule that Scripture interprets itself, gradually disappear. Then we will more and more open up to human explanations where we as humans ourselves will determine what we desire the interpretation to be. That danger always is present and also for that reason the Holy Spirit has made Peter write in 2 Peter 1: “knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” (verse 20 & 21)
The Old Testament speaks in the same manner about the Word of God. Think only of Psalm 12:6: “The words of the LORD are pure words, Like silver tried in a furnace of earth, Purified seven times.” This here is stated precisely against the unreliability of the words and stories of humans.