Dr. J. Faber [1] CHRIST AND SCRIPTURE: INCARNATION AND INSCRIPTURATION - Dr. J. Faber


Index

This article was first published in Clarion 26 (Christmas Issue, 1977), 514-16.

The catholic church commemorates the birth of its Lord and Saviour and renews its glorious confession: "I believe . . . in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only- begotten Son of God . . . Who for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man."[2] The church celebrates Christmas both in the freedom of its Christian life and in the continuous struggle to maintain its Christian faith. At the end of the year 1977 our thoughts, as far as this struggle for the truth is concerned, are immediately directed to what Harold Lindsell has called The Battle for the Bible. In the twentieth century one of the central attacks of Satan on the congregation of Christ Jesus is the assault on Holy Scripture. Therefore the topic for our "Christmas meditation" is Christ and Scripture. Because this title is still rather broad and leaves open several possibilities, I have added the subtitle "Incarnation and Inscripturation".

What is this subtitle all about? The words may be clear-, those who use them mean: the Word became flesh and the Word became Scripture. Incarnation says that the Word became flesh and inscripturation signifies that the Word. became Scripture. Does it not sound like a convincing analogy? Does it not seem to be a striking parallel and does this parallelism not invite us to search for deep speculations?

One may even find this parallel in different camps on the battlefield around the Bible. A few quotations are sufficient. Lindsell writes that the revelation of God has become inscripturated.

It has come down to us in written form. Thus there are two Words: the Word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ, and the Word of God written, the Bible.... Just as Jesus had a human and a divine nature, one of which was truly human and the other truly divine, so the written Word of God is a product that bears the mark of what is truly human and truly divine.[3]


A completely different position on the battlefield is taken up by Allen Verhey, whose ordination as minister of the Word in the Christian Reformed Church was under attack at Synod 1976 and 1977. In the May 1977 issue of The Reformed Journal he attacks the "inerrancy" doctrine of Lindsell.[4] Nevertheless, he uses the same parallelism. The Bible is both the Word of God and the words of men. The conjunction of the divine and the human has always been a difficult thing to be precise about, but in the case of the divine and the human natures of Jesus of Nazareth the church finally contented itself at the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) with constructing four dikes against heresy. The conjunction of the divine and the human must not confuse the two natures, transmute the one into the other, divide them into separate categories, or contrast them according to area or function.

Verhey now wants to point out

the relevance of Chalcedon to our confession that the Scriptures are both the Word of God and the words of men. That conjunction, too, must be made without confusing the two or transmuting the one into the other and without dividing them into separate categories or contrasting them according to area or function. Chalcedon's dikes against heresy here ought to prevent the floodwaters of both liberalism and fundamentalism. The error of liberalism has typically been to divide the two, and contrast the Word of God with the words of men found in Scripture. The error of fundamentalism has typically been to confuse the words of men and the Word of God or to transmute the one into the other.[5]


Verhey then warns the Christian Reformed Church that, if the church takes Chalcedon seriously, it will not remain orthodox or Reformed by sustaining the appeal against his ordination: "There is indeed a heresy with swelling tide, but the heresy is the un-Chalcedonian suggestion that the conjunction "and" in "the Word of God and the words of men" indicates an equivalence.[6] The author promotes the Chalcedonian recognition that the Bible did not drop from heaven, that it is both the Word of God and the words of men, and that the words of men are-as always-limited, time-bound words. He concludes that if there is to be a "battle for the Bible," then it must also be waged against those who have not learned the lessons of Chalcedon.

Our readers possibly understand the remarkable position on the battlefield: Lindsell fights for the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture; he calls it the view that the Bible is free from error in whole and in part. Verhey admits that the Bible states its case on history, but alleges "that it is quite unconcerned with minute circumstantial accuracy." Therefore he shoves aside the "inerrancy" doctrine of Lindsell, and of his own opponents in the Christian Reformed Church as fundamentalistic; he even suggests that there is a heresy with swelling tide from the side of fundamentalism. Both Lindsell and Verhey undergird their positions with the analogy, or parallel, between the doctrine of Christ, the incarnate Word, and the doctrine of Scripture, "the inscripturated Word."

At the moment we are not interested in the arguments for or against the doctrine of inerrancy, although our place on the battlefield is over against Verhey. He sets Matthew over against the other gospels and asks: was there or was there not an earthquake at Easter? Then he puts this question out of bounds, for the Bible is, in his opinion, not concerned with the kind of history which some twentieth-century "objective observer" would be interested in.[7] Nevertheless, Verhey asserts that "Matthew's inclusion of an earthquake in proclaiming the discovery of the empty tomb is terribly significant."[8] It shows "the apocalyptic interest of Matthew in the proclamation of the death and resurrection of Christ.[9] But is it possible to speak of an apocalyptic significance of something which has not really happened? Proclamation in Holy Scripture is always proclamation about facts. Although we are tempted to elaborate on other details of this controversy about the Bible, we return to our topic and ask: what should we think about the parallel between the incarnate Word and the inscripturated Word? May we stress an analogy between the Word made flesh and the Word made Scripture? May we reason on the basis of a parallelism and then speak about the "Chalcedonian recognition" that the Bible did not drop from heaven and that it is both the Word of God and the words of men?

I am aware of the fact that the use of the analogy is widespread and has a long tradition. One can find it with such champions of the Reformed doctrine as Warfield, Kuyper, and Bavinck. Nevertheless, I would venture to say that it is an unwarranted parallel; it obscures more than it illuminates. Especially the quotations from Verhey's defense and attack show that it can be used in an unscriptural and un-Reformed manner. First of all, as far as I know, a parallel between incarnation and inscripturation is never found in Scripture itself. Certainly, the Bible speaks about both. In contrast to those who only want to know about the contents of Scripture and who say that the Bible is not interested in "formal" matters, we must maintain that God also reveals something about His act of revealing and the product of it, and therefore also about His revelation in Scripture. Holy Scripture speaks about itself, and the doctrine of inspiration is part of the contents of the inspired Scriptures. One only needs to be reminded of the proclamation of the "God-breathed ness" of Scripture in 2 Timothy 3:16, "All scripture is inspired by God [God-breathed]. . . ."

At the same time, Scripture is full of the mystery of our religion, the incarnation of the Logos (the "Word" of John 1): "Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion: He was manifested in the flesh . . ." (1 Tim. 3:16). Neither can it be denied that there is an intimate connection between incarnation and inscripturation. Our Lord Jesus is the Christ of the Scriptures, and the Scriptures are the book of the Christ. The sacred writings are able to instruct one for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, the apostle says in the same context (2 Tim. 3:15).

Nowhere in the Bible, however, are incarnation and inscripturation paralleled. The salvation-fact of the incarnation is completely unique, einmalig, once for all. The glory of "the Word became flesh," of His conception by the Holy Spirit, and of His birth from the virgin Mary, is unrepeatable. And because the Bible is silent about a parallel between incarnation and inscripturation, no creed or confession of the church mentions it, as far as I know. When Verhey writes about "the Chalcedonian recognition that the Bible did not drop from heavenl, " [10] he gives the impression that the ecumenical council of Chalcedon itself elaborated on an analogy which Chalcedon in reality knew nothing about and which is only the product of the speculation of theologians. Where Scripture and confessions are silent, should theologians not be careful?

Our following remark is this: because the analogy is not found in the Bible itself, everyone can speculate in his own manner. One of the most important questions concerns the subject of inscripturation. If one wants to draw a parallel between incarnation and inscripturation, who or what is then the subject? It is completely clear Who is the subject of the incarnation. It is He Whom we confess in an awesome, grandiose manner as "the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made."[11] But who or what is the subject of what is called inscripturation? If I were to speculate-I now speak in an unwise manner-then I would defend that, while incarnation has as its subject the Son of God, inscripturation would have as its subject the Holy Spirit. Do we not confess: "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life . . . who spoke by the prophets"?[12] And is the Holy Spirit not promised to the disciples exactly for their apostolic task as witnesses in preaching, teaching, and also writing (Jn. 14-16)? Does Paul not speak about his words as not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:13)? If there must be speculation one could easily defend the parallel: incarnation of God the Son, inscripturation of God the Holy Spirit. And shame upon speculative theologians: they have spoken of a self-humiliation of the Spirit in His becoming Scripture; they have fantasized about Scripture as the form of a servant of the Holy Spirit, yes, even about the formation of the canon as a crucifixion of the Spirit. Nevertheless, if one is to speculate about a parallel between incarnation and inscripturation, one can, in a trinitarian theology, think of God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

But if we stay with the most familiar form of the parallel, the question still remains. Who or what is the subject of inscripturation? The word of God? With a capital "W" or with a small "w"? "Word" or "word"? The Word is the Logos, the Speaker of the Father, the Word Who was with God and Who was God. And the word is the word that proceeds from God's mouth. In the case of God's act of revelation after His act of creation, it is the word which He speaks to man. It is the word of God spoken to and through the prophet of whom the LORD said: "I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him" (Dt. 18:18). It is the word of which Moses said that it is very near: "It is in your mouth and in your heart"; and of which Paul added: "That is, the word of faith which we preach" (Dt. 30:14; Rom. 10:8). But can one say that this word became inscripturated in a manner analogous to the Word or Logos (Speaker)? When God spoke the word through the prophets, did He not speak it already in human language?

It is remarkable that Verhey in his rendering of Chalcedon forgets the most important point: the Subject. He speaks in a generalizing manner about the conjunction of the divine and the human as something which it is difficult to be precise about: "The conjunction . . . must not confuse the two natures, transmute the one into the other, divide them into separate categories, or contrast them according to area or function.[13] But the catholic church of Christ did not make a theoretical statement about "the" conjunction of the divine and the human! Chalcedon confessed the Blessed Person of the Mediator between God and man. He has assumed human nature. He remained Who He was: God; and He became what He was not: man. In His Person the divine and human natures are united in a manner that transcends human comprehension and human description. The Reformed confession has, in its defense of Chalcedon over against Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism, always stressed that in Christ the Godhead is personally united to the human nature (Heidelberg Catechism, Answer 48) and that by the conception the person of the Son is inseparably united and connected with the human nature, "so that there are not two sons of God, nor two persons, but two natures united in one single person . . ." (Art. 19, Belgic Confession).[14]

Why did Verhey not even mention this stress on the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ? The Son of God is the Subject of the incarnation, and our Lord Jesus Christ, the Person of our Mediator, is the Subject Who possesses two natures: the divine and the human. In this important point about the Subject, the so-called parallel between incarnation and inscripturation becomes completely vague and unclear. How dangerous the parallelism is in the hands of Verhey is evident from the manner in which he writes about the Bible as both the Word of God and the words of men. The error of liberalism would be to divide the two, and to contrast the Word of God with the words of men found in Scripture. The error of fundamentalism would be to confuse the words of men and the Word of God or to transmute the one into the other. To say it with the names of church history in the days of Chalcedon: liberals would be followers of Nestorius and fundamentalists would be followers of Eutyches.

But is it true that we can draw a parallel between the divine nature of Christ and the Word of God in Scripture on the one side, and Christ's human nature and the words of men in Scripture on the other.? Does the parallelism do justice to the miracle of "God-breathed" Scripture? Is prophecy not this, that God's words are put in human mouths? And is the witness of the Spirit not given in and through the witness of the apostles? "No prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" and therefore "no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation" (2 Pet. 1:20-21). Does the construction of Verhey not lead to a dualism between the Word of God and the words of men? What does he mean, when he says that there is a heresy with swelling tide, namely the suggestion that the conjunction "and" in "the Word of God and the words of men" indicates equivalence? Does Paul not state: "We impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit" (1 Cor. 2:13)? And does he not thank God constantly for this, that "when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers" (1 Thess. 2:13)?

The dualism in Verhey's construction becomes evident when he remarks that the words of men in Scripture are, as always, limited, timebound words. So, in his opinion, Scripture in analogy to the divine nature of Christ is the Word of God, and in analogy to Christ's human nature it is limited and time-bound. One is inclined to ask whether the human nature of Christ is not exalted today; how does Verhey bring this exaltation into account with respect to the Scriptures that found their climax in the dispensation after Pentecost? What is his answer to those who, like Bavinck, compare the conception of the Lord Jesus by the Holy Spirit and the conception of the Scriptures through the same Spirit as a conception without spot or blemish? What is his answer to those who like Warfield, Bavinck, and Kuyper compare the sinlessness of the Lord Jesus and the inerrancy of Scripture? What is his answer to those who are accused of docetism in their doctrine of Scripture (docetism taught that the Lord Jesus only appeared to be human but in reality did not partake of our nature), and who remind their accusers of the fact that human and sinful are to be distinguished?

Although I side with Warfield, Kuyper, and Bavinck in the battle for the Bible against the liberalism and "ethical theology" of their days and modernism and neo- orthodoxy today, I do not defend their use of the parallelism between incarnation and inscripturation. But they use it in the right way; the direction in which Verhey uses it weakens the Reformed doctrine. The Belgic Confession rightly states:

In His special care for us and our salvation, God commanded His servants, the prophets and apostles, to commit His revealed Word to writing.... Therefore we call such writings [not: the Word of God and the words of man, but] holy and divine Scriptures" [Art. 3][15]


The Word became flesh and authenticated Himself by the Scriptures. He said: It is the Scriptures that bear witness to me (Jn. 5:39). Honoring the Son of God, Who became one of us, we listen to His words, the words of Scripture, taught by His Spirit. The Scriptures speak of Christ, and He is the Christ of the Scriptures.


Footnotes

[1] <RETURN> This article was first published in Clarion 26 (Christmas Issue, 1977), 514-16.

[2] <RETURN> Book of Praise: Anglo-Genevan Psalter, 2nd ed. (Winnipeg: Premier, 1984), 437.

[3] <RETURN> Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 30-31.

[4] <RETURN> Allen Verhey, "Notes on a Controversy about the Bible," The Reformed Journal 27:5 (May, 1977), 9-12.

[5] <RETURN> Ibid., 10.

[6] <RETURN> Ibid.

[7] <RETURN> Ibid., 11.

[8] <RETURN> Ibid.

[9] <RETURN> Ibid., 12.

[10] <RETURN> Ibid., 11.

[11] <RETURN> Book of Praise, 437.

[12] <RETURN> Ibid.

[13] <RETURN> Verhey, 10.

[14] <RETURN> Book of Praise, 453; emphasis added.

[15] <RETURN> Ibid.. 442: emphasis added.