Review of "The Infallible Word" ed. Ned Stonehouse and Paul Woolley

The Infallible Word, A Symposium by The Members of the Faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary, ed. N. B. Stonehouse and Paul Woolley, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1946, 300 pp.
This is one of many books I have gratefully acquired from the library of Howard and Genevieve Long. The Longs were friends of Gordon Clark and a number of other prominent church figures in, at least, the CRC and OPC denominations. While Howard worked as an engineer, he apparently had a great love for theology as indicated from what I know of his books, letters, and life.
This volume itself is a collection of seven essays written by members of the early faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary. In order: John Murray, Edward J. Young, N. B. Stonehouse, John H. Skilton, Paul Woolley, R. B. Kuiper, and Cornelius Van Til.
The first essay, “The Attestation of Scripture,” is superb. Murray argues that we are to get our doctrine of the Scriptures from the Scriptures themselves. He defends the doctrines of inerrancy and infallibility against the claim that the sinful human authors necessarily polluted the pure Word of God in their instrumentality. And he shows that inerrancy is the Bible’s own judgment of its nature in each the Old Testament, the words of Jesus, and Paul and Peter’s letters. If one has not the time or patience to read Louis Gaussen’s Theopneustia, this essay of Murray’s may be an adequate substitute. But Murray does one better; he also addresses the views Karl Barth who Gaussen did not yet have the displeasure of reading. Murray shows that the Westminster Confession teaches that the authority of the Scripture comes from its objective nature as the Word of God, not from a Barthian “ever-recurring human crisis and divine decision.” Barth is thus seen to deviate from Reformed orthodoxy; a fact which I believe some but not all Barthians accept.
The second essay is “The Authority of the Old Testament.” Young argues that Jesus looked upon the Old Testament as an authoritative unit. “By his language Christ set the seal of his approval upon the books of the Old Testament which were in use among the Jews of his day.” (p. 59) In a footnote Young writes, “From statements in Josephus and the Talmud, it is possible to learn the extent of the Jewish canon of Christ’s day.” (p. 60n3) Most of the remaining material of this essay is a critique of the higher critical views of Robert H. Pfeiffer of Harvard University. Perhaps the most notable thing about this essay is in realizing that probably nobody is talking about Pfeiffer’s views today. The views of the critics of the Bible are constantly evolving while the Christian view remains constant because it is the view once and for all set down in the Scriptures.
The third essay is “The Authority of the New Testament.” Stonehouse contends, like Young did for the Old Testament, that the New Testament possess authority “inherently,” “from the very moment of their origin.” (p. 89) And it is authority based on being the revealed Word of God, and nothing else, that constitutes a writing being canonical. As such the canon was “ideally complete” upon the coming into being of the last of the twenty-seven writings, though though only collected into a single volume years later. Stonehouse, like Murray, opposes (activistic) Barthianism. He says, “The Reformed doctrine of God is then neither static nor activistic; it neither confines God in his past actions nor restricts his significant acts to the present moment. But God is honored as the God of history and of the present, who ‘was and is and is to come’.” (p. 97-98) The remainder of the essay notes the various comments of early Church Fathers regarding the canon of the New Testament.
The fourth essay is “The Transmission of the Scriptures.” Skilton makes a distinction between the inspiration of Scripture and the divine providence of preserving the Scriptures. His essay then focuses on the latter. Clearly it is a bit dated in that his reference to the Leningrad Codex as the oldest Hebrew text is prior to the discovery of the much older Dead Sea Scrolls. I found interesting his note that “the great majority of the variations between the Septuagint and the Masoretic text arise from the fact that the translators supplied different vowels to the consonantal text from those which the Masorets employed.” (p. 144) He notes also that the Popes of the Roman Catholic church have made various versions of the Vulgate the official text. I laughed at the thought of VO advocates being something like KJVO advocates. Whereas Oswald T. Allis was a supporter of the traditional or majority text, it might be Skilton that shifts WTS towards supporting an eclectic approach. That might be indicated when he writes, “we should seek to make use of all the important materials available as witnesses to the text of the Bible.” (p. 166-167) Skilton refers to the Greek behind the King James as “inferior but long dominant.” (p. 171) And he supports the work of Westcott and Hort. He calls Codex Vaticanus “the manuscript which contains the best text.” (p. 176) And he says that John William Burgon opposed Wescott and Hort “on unsatisfactory grounds.” (p. 183)
The fifth essay is “The Relevancy of Scripture.” One notable paragraph from this essay by Paul Woolley is a critique of continuationism. He writes, “God does not today guide people directly without using the Scriptures. There are no divinely given ‘hunches.’ God does not give people direct mental impressions to do this or that. People do not hear God’s voice speaking within them. There is no immediate and direct unwriting communication between God and the individual human being. If the Scriptures are actually sufficient, such communication is unnecessary.” (p. 192) He continues, “Many people have thought that God spoke to them directly. But when these supposed revelations are examined, what a strange mass of nonsense, contradiction and triviality this so-called Word of God proves to be.” (p. 192)
The sixth essay is “Scriptural Preaching.” Kuiper argues that Christian preaching is “proclamation of the Word.” It is not just any preaching, but of the Scriptures. “The Christian preacher must proclaim only the Word of God, and he must declare the whole Word of God.” (p. 209) He contends that preaching is to be from special revelation and only illustrations can be made from general revelation. (p. 212) Like nearly all of the other essays this one critiques the views of Karl Barth. It is clear that all of the professors at WTS (not just Van Til) opposed Barth.
The seventh and final essay is “Nature and Scripture.” Van Til’s purpose in this essay is to show that the Reformed Faith has a distinctive doctrine of natural revelation in addition to a distinctive doctrine of Scripture. He then wants to compare the Westminster Confession’s view of natural theology with the view of natural theology that has its origins in Greek thought. He contends that Special Revelation and General Revelation “must be seen as presupposing and supplementing one another.” (p. 259) As often the case with his writings, it is very hard to follow Van Til here. But considering that this book was published in the midst of the Clark – Van Til Controversy, there is something important to note for historical consideration. That is, Van Til gives some comments on “analogical” by which we might help better understand the way he uses the term:
“Created man may see clearly what is revealed clearly even if he cannot see exhaustively. Man does not need to know exhaustively in order to know truly and certainly. When on the created level of existence man think’s God’s thoughts after him, that is, when man thinks in self-conscious submission to the voluntary revelation of the self-sufficient God, eh has therewith the only possible ground of certainly for his knowledge. When man thinks thus he thinks as a covenant creature should wish to to think. That is to say, man normally thinks in analogical fashion. He realize that God’s thoughts are self-contained. He knows that his own interpretation of nature must therefore be a re-interpretation of what is already fully interpreted by God.” (p. 269-270)