Book: A Study of the Relation Between the Views of Prof. R. Janssen and Common Grace

Chapter III: The Issues

Having surveyed the history of the Janssen controversy, we now turn our attention to the issues which were debated and discussed and finally decided upon in the Synod of 1922. These were the issues which were discussed in hundreds of homes of Christian Reformed members, preached about in dozens of pulpits, written on in every church periodical published within the denomination, and debated at length in various ecclesiastical assemblies. They were considered by most to be issues of critical importance which would decide whether or not the church was to remain orthodox and sound in doctrine, or whether the church was now to start along the dreary road of apostasy.

As important as these issues were for the life of the church in the early twenties, it must be mentioned here that they are not, in themselves, of primary concern to us in this work. We are interested especially in the question of common grace as it stood related to these issues. However, common grace was woven into the very warp and woof of the controversy, was an integral part of much of the discussion, was the main defense of Janssen himself as, in his writings, he attempted to justify his position before the mind of the church, and was finally the main issue in the years following the Synod of 1922. Furthermore, common grace was related to the issues of the Janssen case in various different ways -- ways which we will have to explore in the next chapter. But the question of common grace cannot be understood unless some attention is given to issues for which Janssen was finally condemned. And to these we now turn, although we shall be as brief as possible in our discussion of this aspect of the matter.

Before we give specific attention to these questions, one remark of a more general kind has to be made. Anyone who reads the material, even as finally published by the Synod of 1922, will immediately be impressed with the evident fact that the issues were not only many in number, but very complex and often interrelated. Janssen's views appeared in student notes on various subjects not only, (Isagogics, Exegesis, Old Testament History, e.g.) but his views also involved different aspects of Scriptural studies. He was condemned for his approach to Scripture, for his views on revelation and inspiration, on the canonicity of various books, on miracles, etc. It is not always so easy, therefore, to relate the issues in a systematic way. Oftentimes questions overlap: Janssen's views on miracles, e.g., imply and presuppose his views on inspiration; and his views on inspiration include his general approach to Scripture. As we discuss these issues, we shall, in general, follow the main divisions used by the majority of the Investigatory Committee.1

In spite of the complexity and variety of the issues, however, all were agreed that the basic issue was that of higher criticism. The reports of both the majority and minority part of the Investigatory Committee speak repeatedly of this; Rev. Herman Hoeksema early in his discussion in The Banner charged Janssen in general with conceding too much to the higher critics;2 and Janssen himself more than once referred to this criticism not only, but defended himself against these charges by insisting that his references to higher critical methods and conclusions were only to defeat the higher critics on their own ground.3

Higher criticism was, therefore, the issue. Did Dr. Janssen use higher critical methods? If so, how did he use them and why did he use them? What was the effect of their use on Biblical studies? Was their use a legitimate approach to Biblical studies? These were the questions. And to these we now turn.


The first subject we face is the question of Scripture. This question was discussed in various articles written prior to the Synod of 1922; it was discussed in various brochures published throughout the controversy; and it was a major part of the studies of the Investigatory Committee.

Several elements are involved in this question of a "scientific" approach to Scripture. The majority of the Investigatory Committee called attention in its report to Janssen's "formal attitude toward Scripture." Under this heading, the Majority Committee charged Janssen with making theological disciplines sciences and thus failing to distinguish between science in general and theological subjects. By doing this Janssen was forced into the position that the theological disciplines are a search for truth, and not a study which assumes truth. The Majority Committee writes:

1. Janssen's formal attitude towards Scripture is that of a mere scientist. This is evident, in the first place, from his definition of O.T. Introduction, and from his description of science and the method of science. Quotations from Janssen's Notes on O.T. Introd., pp. l and 2.
a. Isagogics is conceived of as a science.
"Old Testament Introduction is the science that treats of the origin and history of the writings which the Christian church inherited from the church of the old dispensation and with it, on the strength of the testimony of Jesus, and the apostles, accepted as Holy Scripture."
Note that Janssen does not, formally, accept the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God, but he subjects a branch of theology to science.
b. This science is defined as a mere science.
"By science we mean in general a discipline that has for its aim the discovery of truth."
Formally, truth is not assumed.
"Science searches for truth. That makes every science fascinating. Bearing this in mind we can understand how it is that sciences which have no charm for us, have great charms for other individuals. Man longs for truth." Mark what is said here of man.
Science searches for truth. This is the characteristic of every science. With truth for their goal, and spurred on by the element of search, seemingly dry sciences become very interesting to some people."4

Further, such an identification of science with theological disciplines requires that one take an empirical approach to Scripture which is out of keeping with the nature of Scripture.

"Another condition: The search or investigation must be critical. That seems objectionable at first flush. By the critical element I mean that an act of judgment must be used in the study of the data. An act of 'krinein' must take place in every branch of science. Careful judgment must be brought to bear on the object of science.
"By the element of criticism is not meant that it must be negative or destructive."
Nevertheless, Holy Scripture is made subject to the criticism of mere science.
d. Consequently, Janssen assumes the position of a critical scientist.
"In every science we have to take a position. When data are presented we must make a separation between what seems to us to be false and seems to be true.
"Expressed positively, that act of 'Krinein" is to be 'kat' aleetheian'--in accordance with truth. Our judgment brought to bear on the data, should be unprejudiced. We may have prepossessions, and no man can rid himself of these. Each individual has a certain type of religion, for religion is an essential characteristic of the human being. Nevertheless, this should not influence him to such an extent that it will determine the conclusion, so that the conclusion is a foregone one. No science can permit that."
Hence, Janssen, being a scientist, does not proceed from the principle that the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God, but subjects the Bible itself to the scientific research and unprejudiced criticism of mere man.5

The correct approach to Scripture is the approach of faith which assumes Scripture to be the Word of God. Janssen's approach is empirical-critical, which requires that one come to Scripture without any presuppositions whatsoever in order to learn from an empirical study of the data whether sufficient evidence exists to conclude that Scripture is indeed the Word of God.

b. Our opinion concerning Janssen's method.
Janssen's method is in strict accordance with his position. He adheres closely and consistently to the method of science. Now science demands that the method should be empirical and critical. "The empirical element cannot be wanting in any branch of theological science. No branch has any business here unless it is empirical." "The search or investigation must be critical." "Judgment, brought to bear on the data, should be unprejudiced." Prepossessions we may have, but only such as are characteristic of a human being. "Religion is characteristic of the human being." This plainly excludes the Reformed faith in the Bible as the Word of God, for that is by no means characteristic of the human being.6

It is in this light that the Committee also objects to Janssen's position that Exegesis precedes Isagogics, because the Scriptures must be studied as a piece of literature just as any document must be studied before Isagogical questions can be asked, questions concerning date of composition, authorship, method of writing employed, purpose of writing, etc. Hence the Committee objected to Janssen's determination to treat Scripture as any other piece of literature as being a denial of faith in God' s Word.

a. Janssen's peculiar manner of determining the encyclopedic place of the study of Isagogics. According to Janssen exegesis proper should precede Introduction. Notes on O. T. Introd., pp. 3, 4: "Well, if it belongs to the group of 'exegetical theology' then what place does it occupy there? It is not necessary to go into detail regarding its relation to all the branches under exegetical theology. But we must discuss its relation to exegesis proper.
"Does it come after or before?
"When we take a document and study what do we do first? Read it, of course. Now it is true beyond doubt that the intelligent reading of any book implies interpretation to a limited extent. If the author is not mentioned, how do you discover the authorship? By reading and studying the book. If the date and place are not indicated you will have to read and perhaps reread the document to determine these questions. The same is true as to the 'why' of the document. Logically interpretation takes place before we are able to settle introductory questions.
"If you hold to the term 'exegetical theology' for the group of branches then it stands to reason that exegesis precedes introduction, because introduction is subsumed under the general term. Experience shows us that exegesis comes first.
"Another thing. The science of Introduction arises rather late in the study of theology. Why? Because the questions of style, authorship, times, etc., are always questions that come later. So in English, Dutch, etc., literature. We first study the poetry and then make a special study of its style, vocabulary, etc. "Because of the logical order of the two branches, the relative importance and their historical order, we conclude that exegesis proper precedes introduction."7

Quirinus Breen later commented on this same point in a defense of Janssen's position. Breen argued that theology is only a continuation of philosophical discourse, and therefore the Biblical text must be judged as any other text. What the text says necessarily involves the way it is said.8

That Janssen indeed took this empirical-critical approach cannot be denied, for he comes to its defense in more than one place in his writings. In his Synodale Conclusies (Synodical Conclusions) he justifies this approach by appeals to B.B. Warfield and Calvin and claims that this approach is necessary in exegesis when one explains a text in its whole context, which includes its cultural and social setting.9

Others also defended this approach. The Minority of the Investigatory Committee, while not approving of all that Janssen taught, defended him by showing that Janssen made many statements which testified to his firm commitment to the approach of faith when one is studying God's Word; and by demonstrating that the approach of faith does not necessarily preclude the scientific empirical-critical approach.l0 B.K. Kuiper also defended this approach of Janssen. He argued that the question is not whether ~e subjectively possess all the truth, for we do not. But he asked the question whether we investigate to learn truth on the basis of our faith in the Bible as God's Word, or whether this matter of the Bible being God's Word is also an object of investigation. He answered that this problem involves the question of the relation of faith to reason, of science to theology, of Apologetics, etc. He then claimed that Janssen's approach was that of Apologetics.ll

The argument also centered in the teachings of A. Kuyper on this subject, both Janssen and his opponents claiming to have Kuyper on their side, and both citing extensive quotations from his writing.12

The Synod of 1922 condemned Janssen for this approach. The decisions on this matter read:

I. As regards Prof. Janssen's Standpoint and Method we point to
A. What Prof. Janssen says in his definition of Old Testament Introduction. This definition reads: Old Testament Introduction is the science that treats of the origin and history of the writings which the Christian Church inherited from the Church of the Old Dispensation and with it, on the strength of the testimony of Jesus and the Apostles, accepted as Holy Scriptures . . . . In this definition the standpoint of faith does not come to light. Such a definition an unbeliever could also employ.
B. What we read in the passage on Science regarding the search after truth. This passage gives the impression that searching after truth is more important than finding it. This conflicts with the importance of theological science.
C. What we read concerning method:
(1) It is said, in the first place, that an important element in the theological sciences is the empirical side. Here Prof. Janssen fails to explain that he simply intends to say that he desires to let the Scriptures speak.
(2) It is said, in the second place, that the search must be critical. Here again Prof. Janssen fails to bring out plainly whether the object of this criticism is the material which Scripture offers or the different views concerning this material.
Prof. Janssen does, in fact, declare that the object of his empirical, critical search is the origin and history of the writings of the O. T., and these, from the standpoint of faith, cannot as such be the object of empirical, critical investigation.
D. What we read in the last paragraph of this passage in which Prof. Janssen again refers to his standpoint. Here the professor fails to show that for the believing searcher of Scripture the prepossession that the Bible is the inspired Word of God does indeed pre-determine his conclusion.
The entire passage creates a bad impression. In general we have this remark in regard to Prof. Janssen's standpoint and method, as indicated in this passage from the Notes: Whereas, Prof. Janssen gives theological instruction in a Reformed institution, and has subscribed to our Forms of Unity; it must be demanded that he proceed from the Scripture as the Word of God. The above named passage is an instance of the fact that oftentimes this does not become evident in his instruction.
E. This same lack we find in Prof. Janssen's instruction as such . . . (instances cited, H.H.).
Even though such expressions must be considered as indications of an apologetic standpoint in this instruction, then the serious objection still remains that in such passages it does not plainly appear that the Bible is the Word of God and therefore must be believed on its own authority… .13

Although no doubt at all exists that this summary of Janssen's teaching is correct, and although Janssen himself did not dispute these conclusions, apparently Janssen saw no incompatibility between this approach to Scripture and his own expressed commitment to the truth of divine inspiration. This is difficult to explain. When Janssen was examined by the Curatorium and by the Synod of 1920,14 he was exonerated because he expressed firm agreement with the doctrines of infallible inspiration and the supreme authority of the Bible. It seems as if only two explanations of this are possible. The more condemnatory explanation is that Janssen was not honest with either the Curatorium or the Synod of 1920 and expressed a position which in fact he did not hold and which he did not teach in his classes. The more charitable explanation is that Janssen firmly believed that no conflict existed between his approach and the truth of infallible inspiration, and that this could be justified on the grounds that he was merely demonstrating that a genuine scientific approach to Scripture, i.e., an approach without any presuppositions and which leads to an empirical- critical study of God's Word, would surely support and verify Scripture's infallible inspiration. This latter is probably true.

Two objections against this latter explanation must be raised. Janssen, so far as the Student Notes revealed, never discussed the truths of Scripture's inspiration and authority. They are not mentioned in the notes, except in a very few instances in a passing way. Janssen made no effort to teach these doctrines and teach his students to defend and uphold them. This is impossible to justify in the light of Janssen's signature on the Formula of Subscription which binds him to a vow to teach the truths contained in the Confessions -- which includes the truths concerning the doctrine of Scripture found in Arts. III - VII of the Confession of Faith.

Further, Synod, by condemning this approach, evidently intended to say that Janssen, even if his method led to the same conclusions concerning the character of Scripture as is contained in the Confessions, was wrong in taking this approach and adopting this method. Synod said, in effect: No matter how orthodox your conclusions are, the method which you used was wrong. And, from further decisions of Synod on such matters as Janssen's interpretation of the miracles, it became evident that Synod believed that Janssen's method and approach led to erroneous views of basic doctrines of Scripture itself.

It is of more than passing interest that Janssen often appealed in support of his position to A. Kuyper. Hoeksema and others insisted that this appeal to Kuyper was a misinterpretation of Kuyper.15 What is the truth of the matter?

There is little question about it that Kuyper spoke repeatedly of a scientific approach to Scripture. But that he meant by this the same as Janssen cannot be supported by the evidence. Kuyper firmly held, not only to the truth of infallible inspiration, but to the fact that this truth had to be the dominating and all-controlling principle of one's approach to Scripture and therefore of Biblical interpretation. Hoeksema,16 in a rather lengthy citation from Kuyper's Encyclopedia, shows that Kuyper not only insisted on the approach of faith to Scripture, but also condemned any other approach. This position of Kuyper can be substantiated by other references in his works.l7On page 50 of his Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology, Its Principles, Kuyper speaks of the impossibility of coming to a study of theology without any presuppositions and insists on the need of faith by which one believes that his theology is the right one. On page 225 of the same work he writes of the importance of regeneration in scientific studies:

From this it follows that all study of science, where the investigation occupies the view-point of palingenesis, must reckon with the four phenomena: 1) of personal regeneration; and 2) of its corresponding inspiration; 3) of the final restoration of all things; and 4) of its corresponding manifestation of God's power in miracles. These four phenomena have no existence to the scientist who starts out from materialistic premises. On the contrary, his principle and starting point compel him to cancel these phenomena, or, where this is not possible, to explain them naturalistically.

What, then, was specifically the difference? Kuyper spoke of a scientific approach to Scriptural studies from the viewpoint of discovering the relation between the various truths of Scripture as together they form an organic whole, and discovering the relation between theology and the other sciences. He writes, e.g., that to use the word "science" in connection with theology is simply to know it in its "organic coherence and relation.''18

. . . the conception of Theological Encyclopedia consists in the scientific investigation of the organic nature and relations of Theology to itself and as an integral part of the organism of science.19

While Janssen latched on to the term "scientific approach," he meant something quite different. He did not hold to the impossible position that one can rid himself of all presuppositions in his Bible studies;20 but he did maintain that insofar as it is possible one should not allow these presuppositions to influence him. His approach must be, insofar as possible, without bias and prejudice. He must examine the data which he discovers in the Bible in connection with all other evidence and must come to conclusions concerning the nature and character of Scripture.

This position of Janssen was correctly condemned by the Synod of 1922. It is the opposite of the approach of faith; it is the approach of unbelief. It is based on the "presupposition" that Scripture can be treated as any other literary document and occupies no unique place among all the writings of men. And in dealing with Scripture in this fashion, the unique character of Scripture as the infallibly inspired record of the Word of God is lost. It is this approach which brought about Janssen's other errors.

The approach of faith proceeds from the assumption that the Bible is of divine origin, that it is the inspired record of God's revelation in Jesus Christ, and that it is given for the salvation of all who believe in Christ. The purpose of the study of the book is not to determine whether it is divine or has divine elements in it. One does not come to Scripture to investigate its origin and character. One comes believing all this. One comes to hear "what the Spirit says to the churches." That is the approach of faith. That approach Janssen denied.

There is one more issue which entered the discussion on this point: the issue of the place of theology in the organism of the sciences. Rev. George Stob calls attention to this problem. He speaks of tensions in the Seminary between Profs. Ten Hoor and Heyns vs. Janssen which were rooted in the fact that Janssen was not an ordained minister.21 This difficulty brought about other tensions:

Ten Hoor noted that there were differences on questions of principle with reference to which the Theological School stands or falls. They were questions about the relation of theological study to the science of learning in general, and about the relation of the Church to theological science. Ten Hoor held that theology is the queen of the sciences and is not to be subordinated to science or authority in general, and that the church has absolute authority over theological science and the Theological School in which it is taught. In the discussion with Curatorium Dr. Janssen declared that he was not ready to affirm that the church has the highest authority over theological science.22

Kuyper did not want theology to be under the control of the church. This idea led Ten Hoor and Heyns to fear that theology would not be controlled by the Confessions and this would lead to heresy.23

While it would lead us too far from the subject to deal with this rather complicated question, one can understand how Janssen, from his viewpoint, made a legitimate appeal to Kuyper. If, according to Kuyper, theology is only one of the sciences, standing on a par with the other sciences, it can be argued that the approach to all must be the same, and a scientific approach to jurisprudence, e.g., would imply the same scientific approach to theology. While Janssen never appealed to this view of Kuyper in defense of his scientific approach, it could very well be that he had this in mind.24


Dr. Janssen's approach to the Scriptures led to views of inspiration which were also condemned by the Synod of 1922 as it followed the report of the majority of the Investigatory Committee.

There are several elements which must be included in a discussion of this point. Before we examine each point in some detail, the several elements ought to be before our minds, for they often overlapped. 1) The committee charged Janssen (and the Synod concurred) with not including in all his instruction a doctrine of inspiration or revelation. Janssen was silent on these matters. 2) Janssen was accused of attributing sections of Scripture to pagan or human origin. 3) This position of Janssen involved the whole question of inspiration because, if some parts of Scripture were of pagan origin, sections were not written by divine inspiration, but were simply incorporations into Scripture of human views. 4) This position in turn involved the question of revelation. And this question of revelation, in turn, involved two additional questions: a) Was Scripture in its entirety the record of divine revelation? To this Janssen, according to Synod, answered no; to this the Synod answered yes. b) What is the relation between special revelation and general revelation?25

In his article, "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years," H. Boer speaks of the fact that Prof. Janssen insisted that the literary, linguistic and historical data of Scripture had to be taken into account to explain Scripture's origin.26

Q. Breen says that Prof. Janssen charged his opponents with denying God's sovereignty by forbidding God to use folklore in Scripture; he says that Janssen emphasized strongly the human element in Scripture's writings.27

The four professors and four ministers addressed themselves to the question of the human element in Scripture in their pamphlet, Waar Het in De Zaak Janssen Om Gaat. They pointed to Janssen's view that the creation narrative in Scripture was, at least in part, the result of human reflection on the creation itself and was, therefore, of human origin;28 that the author of Ecclesiastes was a skeptical philosopher plagued by moments of doubt which he expressed in his writings;29 that the Documentary Theory of the composition of the Pentateuch would explain its formation;30 that some of the stories recorded in Scripture concerning Samson were not historical;31 and that various elements in religion came from heathendom.32 Rev. H. Hoeksema spoke rather frequently of Janssen's incorrect view of inspiration in his articles in The Banner. While discussing the charge that obliterated the distinction between general and special revelation, Hoeksema cites as proof incorrect views on the origin of Scripture. He points to Janssen's teachings that the Psalms and the law show Babylonian influences; that the Pentateuch may have been written in Babylon before Moses; that Proverbs and Ecclesiastes show possible Egyptian influence; that, and this in spite of Scripture's record to the contrary, a semi-monotheism prevailed in Israel until the time of the prophets; and that Abraham, again in opposition to the Biblical record, gave Sarah to the Egyptian court as a political strategem.33

The majority report of the Investigatory Committee cited considerable evidence to demonstrate its allegations that Janssen held an incorrect view of inspiration. Among other examples, it pointed to the fact that Janssen taught that the creation account could very well have come from Babylon, although it was purged from mythological elements by inspiration;34 that Amos and Joel drew from their own experience in their visions and from mythological conceptions originating in the Orient in their prophecies;35 that the Psalms and laws of Israel show Babylonian influence;36 that the chokma or wisdom literature came from elsewhere (probably pagan sources) and not from divine inspiration;37 that Abraham's call to leave Ur was not a divine call, but that his departure is to be explained in terms of religious conditions which affected his life;38 that Jethro was instrumental in bringing Israel to the true worship of Jehovah and that this true worship was not, therefore, a matter of divine revelation;39 that, in fact, the name "Jehovah" may have come from Babylon;40 that the laws of Moses may have come in part from the Code of Hammurabi, an ancient Babylonian ruler and lawgiver;41 that the disagreement between David and Nathan concerning the building of the temple is to be explained in terms of David's more progressive views and Nathan's conservatism;42 that many parts of Scripture are to be explained as being derived from other literary or oral sources;43 and that this use of sources in Scripture can very well mean that Scripture has authors who were from other religions and cultures and who were not worshippers of Jehovah.44

That Janssen held to a view of Scripture which was not in keeping with the traditional view of infallible inspiration is evident from his own writings. He specifically rejects what he calls mechanical inspiration and, in pleading for organic inspiration, identifies organic inspiration with idea Inspiration.45 While Janssen did not enter into detail in a defense of his position on this question of organic inspiration, other references exist which indicate his views. But these are mostly found in connection with his insistence that the issue of common grace is the fundamental issue at stake.46

Thus there the Synod charged, instruction in the generally accepted Scriptures, is no question about it that Janssen, as held to a view of inspiration in his Seminary which was different from that in the Christian Reformed Church. The according to Janssen, are not in their totality the record of God's revelation, but they incorporate much in them which came from human, even pagan, sources. In some instances Janssen even spoke of human sources where the Scriptures emphatically ascribe what is recorded to speech.47

A quotation from the Majority Investigatory Committee, with some references and citations from Student Notes will illustrate the point.

b. Janssen's conception of the historical origin of the Bible. Evidently, Janssen places the historical beginning of Scripture in Babylonia. Why not in Egypt, the country of Moses, we are not told, and from his historical-critical viewpoint, we ourselves are quite unable to see . . . .
Concerning the origin of the creation narratives (Fopma's notes, pp. 6, 7--these are individual notes and the only lectures ever given on the first 11 chapters of Genesis--) we read: "Where does the point of contact enter in between the Babylonian account and our creation story? One position is that Abraham and his followers took a narrative with them; they may also have taken a story of the flood and of Cain and Abel with them. These were polytheists and it is not safe to say that the stories as we have them came from them but when these stories became part of Scripture, inspiration worked on them and cleansed them of their mythological character."
"In the last analysis these stories came either by revelation or reflection. The position that it is due to revelation is of little import to us. For even through the channels through which it passed it became polytheistic."
"The evolutionistic theory is very similar to the account of creation of Gen. 1; and if men can now come by reflection to a view of creation, they could at another time do this also. The evolutionists regard Gen. l as having scientific value."48

In close connection with Janssen's views on the origin of Scripture and inspiration is the question of the character of special revelation and its relation to general revelation. While this question was an important element in Janssen's defense of his position on the grounds of common grace, it must also be briefly referred to here. Dr. Boer has pointed this out.49 He defines one of the issues in the Janssen controversy in this way:

Finally, and perhaps basically, whether the God of general revelation (nature, common grace) is operative in the actions of the God of special revelation (redemption, special grace). Can these two forms of divine revelation be viewed as intertwined and interacting where the Biblical report as it stands appears to present only the supernatural mode of revelation?50

In a reference to the protest of Q. Breen, Boer summarizes Breen's position and then concludes:

(Breen) places in the foreground again and again · . . that the dimension of natural revelation played a significant role as the bearer or medium of special revelation . . . .
Conditions and happenings in the area of general revelation -- nature, history, the culture and religion of the people surrounding Israel, and the reflection of the Biblical writers could be and in fact were means used by God in imparting his redemptive revelation as given to us in the Old Testament.51

Janssen himself, though usually in connection with his discussion of common grace, speaks of this as an issue. He insists that God's revelation outside of the sphere of special grace is also God's work which must be appreciated not only, but which was incorporated into the religion and views of the Old Testament saints and which was, therefore, also included in Scripture.52

The majority of the Investigatory Committee also took Janssen to task for an erroneous view of the character of special revelation and the relation between special revelation and general revelation. In the first place, the committee found Janssen in error for claiming that much of Scripture came in other ways than divine, i.e., special, revelation.53 Secondly, the committee questioned how it was possible for the Song of Solomon to be a song of natural love, as Janssen taught, and still maintain that this was a part of divine revelation. The assumption here, as also expressed by the committee, is that to be a part of special revelation, a book must reveal Christ.

. . . . What place, we ask, could mere conjugal love hold in this special revelation of God in Christ? But suppose, what may not be supposed, that mere conjugal love could do such a thing, why then not place the Song of Solomon on par with prophecy? Do not also the prophets speak of this same love? (References cited, H.H.) Evidently, Janssen himself does not think very highly of the Song of Solomon, but how then can he still maintain it as a part of Scripture? Undoubtedly, his answer to this question will reveal his conception of the contents of the Word of God, and will prove, we trust, that not the whole Bible, as to its contents, is God's special revelation in Christ. Part of it, at least, is the product of mere human thought and endeavor.54

Thirdly, the committee repeatedly pointed out that if parts of the Scriptures, such as the Sinaitic law, the call of Abraham, the words of the prophets, etc., came from other sources or from the personal views of the prophets themselves, they could not possibly be a part of special revelation.55 Thus, the committee accuses Janssen of explaining Scripture more from the viewpoint of secular history as the Bible characters were a part of it, than as the record of God's revelation in Christ: "So that the general impression is received that 'historia profana' is, perhaps, quite sufficient for the explanation of things biblical."56 And in its summary, the committee claimed that Janssen subjectivized divine revelation: "Janssen shows a marked tendency to subjectify the several acts of divine revelations."57

In an article in The Banner, Rev. H. Hoeksema accused Janssen of obliterating the distinction between special and general revelation. As proof he cited Janssen's teachings that the Psalms and the law contained Babylonian influence, that at least parts of the Pentateuch may have been written in Babylon before Moses, that there are possible Egyptian influences in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, that a semi-monotheism prevailed in Israel till the time of the prophets, and that Rebekah brought her troubled questions concerning the wrestling of the twins in her womb to an oracle.58

On this question of general and special revelation it is clear that Janssen took the position that because both types of revelation are from God, not only does harmony exist between the two, but what God revealed in general revelation was incorporated into special revelation and served the cause of the latter.59

The position of the committee and of the Synod of 1922, which approved the committee report when it was submitted to the Synod by the Curatorium, makes clear that the opponents of Dr. Janssen insisted on the position that Scripture in its entirety was the record of the revelation of God in Christ. In its entirety it was the record of special revelation only and not of general revelation. Hence, in it was to be found Christ and Christ only. On this key point a wide gulf yawned between Janssen and the church which condemned him, between his teachings and the views then current in the church.60


Another important area of disagreement between the church and Dr. Janssen was the question of the miracles recorded in Scripture. This question too is closely related to the question of the inspiration of Scripture and the relation between general and special revelation. But it needs special mention here, for it was a major issue; in fact it may have been the one issue which especially captured the attention of the church at large and turned the sentiments of the people against Janssen.61

While only relatively few of the miracles recorded in Scripture were actually discussed by Prof. Janssen in his classes (e.g., the falling of the walls of Jericho, the water from the rock for Israel while in the wilderness, the standing still of the sun and moon at the command of Joshua), two separate issues were connected to this problem.

In the first place, the question of God's use of means in the performance of miracles was repeatedly brought up. Janssen insisted that the miracles were mediate, i.e., always through the agency of means, while he accused his opponents of teaching an immediate view of miracles, i.e., a view of miracles which denied the use of means.62 Janssen's critics, however, denied that this was the issue. They claimed that the problem was not whether God used means in miracles, but whether these miracles were supernatural or ordinary providence. I.e., does God use means in a miraculous way? and is it legitimate to speak of secondary causes?63 Boer defines the issue in this way: Did normal divine and providential activity play a role in the miracles or were the miracles a complete suspension of the laws of creation?64

It is not entirely clear what the issue here was. It seems, however, that Janssen simplified and even misrepresented the views of his opponents when he charged them with denying the use of means in miracles. His opponents never intended to do this, nor can any evidence be adduced that they in fact did deny God's use of means. If one reads the material which is gleaned from the Student Notes on this question, it soon becomes evident that, whatever may have been Janssen's own views on the subject, he explained the miracles in such a way that the miraculous element was eliminated. He explained the fall of the walls of Jericho as due to an earthquake; the flowing of water from the rock as due to the striking of the rock which released water already present in it; and the standing still of the sun and moon as the reappearance of the sun after a very dark storm or perhaps an eclipse.65 These miracles were indeed God's work, but God performed them through ordinary means rather than extraordinary workings of His power. Hence they could only be called miracles in the sense that they were events which happened at very opportune times. They were not miracles in the sense that God worked in ways other than His normal ways of working, according to the natural laws by which He governs all things in theworld.66

Janssen's view of miracles was important and was related to his empirical approach to Scripture. If miracles were part of ordinary providence, then empirical investigation was necessary to determine how the miracle was performed. The "how" of the miracle was certainly within the reach of ordinary empirical investigation because the miracle belonged to ordinary providence.67

In the second place, closely related to what we have said above, the issue of miracles involved the issue of the relation between the natural and the supernatural. Janssen claimed that his opponents made such separation between the two that they, in fact, created a dualism between the natural and supernatural and fell into the trap of separating nature and grace.68 His argument, though it is difficult to see the legitimacy of it, apparently was that those who opposed him, in refusing to recognize the use of means, refused to see the close relation between God's supernatural works and his natural works in creation.69 By making the miracles wholly supernatural, Janssen's critics, so Janssen argued, interpreted the miracles as complete supernatural interventions in the course of nature without being related to nature, and thus dualistically opposed to God's own works in nature.

This question of the relation between the natural and supernatural involved the further question of whether God created something in the miracles. Janssen insisted this was impossible, for God's work of creation was completed at the end of the creation week.70 He charged his opponents with teaching that the miracles involved new creations -- and his opponents also freely admitted to this.71 Thus, when water came from the rock in the wilderness, God, according to Janssen's opponents, created that water. It was not previously in the rock, as Janssen taught, but was formed by God at the moment of the miracle.

Whatever may be the solution to this problem of creation in miracles, it is clear that, while Janssen

accused his opponents of separating the supernatural from the natural, Janssen himself denied the supernatural altogether in the miracles. That is, while Janssen did not deny God's work in the miracles, he did not distinguish between God's work in His ordinary providence and God's work in the miracles. In this way, Janssen denied the miraculous.

One more issue was raised in connection with the condemnation of Janssen by the Synod of 1922. That was the question of canonicity. It is by no means the most important of the issues, but it deserves some passing mention, because it stands related to the other questions raised by Janssen's teachings.

Really two issues were present also in connection with canonicity: Does the canonicity of a book require that Christ be revealed in it? and: What is the relation between Isagogics (the study of canonicity) and Exegesis?

In general, the Investigatory Committee also criticized Janssen's teachings on canonicity from the viewpoint of his failure to develop and teach a doctrine of Scripture.72 Evidently the committee believed that if a proper doctrine of Scripture had been taught in his courses, Janssen would not have erred on this question. And, Janssen's failure to teach a doctrine of Scripture was ground for suspicion that he either had no definite views on the subject, or that what views he had were defective and unReformed.

Canonicity involves such questions as authorship, source, occasion for the writing, audience addressed, and the unique place which a given book occupies in the organism of Scripture as a whole. This latter question would involve two additional questions: how does a given book differ from other books in the canon? and what is the relation between a given book and the other books? A correct view of the doctrine of Scripture would, in the committee's opinion, provide proper answers also to these questions. But Janssen failed to teach explicitly a doctrine of Scripture, and the result was definite errors in canonicity.

More particularly, when the committee spoke of the unity of Holy Scripture, it undoubtedly referred to the fact that Scripture, while composed of a wide diversity of parts (diversity of testaments, of genera, of literary styles, etc.), was a unified whole with one principle of unity. This one principle of unity was the one great truth that Scripture is the infallibly inspired record of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.73

In The Banner Rev. Hoeksema criticized Janssen as early as 1921 for undermining the organic unity of the canon. He cited as proof Janssen's description of Ecclesiastes as a pessimistic viewpoint of a skeptical philosopher, Janssen's description of the Song of Solomon as a song concerning natural love, and Janssen's assertion that Abraham was ignorant of the truth of the immortality of the soul. Hoeksema's argument was that these views of Janssen really deny that these parts of Scripture reveal Christ. Since Christ is the principle of the unity of Scripture, by denying Christ in these passages, Scripture's unity is also denied.74

The majority of the Investigatory Committee made specific reference to this question. It asked how it was possible for Ecclesiastes to be revelation if it was the writings of a skeptical philosopher, and how it was possible for the Song of Solomon to reveal Christ if it was song of natural love.75 Very clearly the assumption was that Scripture has its principle of organic unity in the one truth of Christ; to eliminate Christ from a given book is to bring into question its canonicity, and, therefore, its place in Scripture which is the record of divine revelation.

Q. Breen defended Janssen's views on this matter. He wrote:

Much of the same (Janssen's position that a firm commitment to God's sovereignty would allow God "to inspire Scripture in any manner he chose.") holds for Professor Janssen's interpretation of the Song of Songs. I recall how eloquent his conversation about this could be. If, indeed, this book was intended as a prophetic allegory of Christ and the church, it must be regarded as the strongest and clearest O.T. document of its kind. But here he saw a paradox. If this was so, why did not Christ or any N.T. writer ever quote it? Besides, why should the love of a man and a maid not be given the eloquent blessing of an entire Bible book? Is it not a creation of God and maintained by his providence? Does not this pure example of praise for natural love suggest that all God's works in nature and man and maintained by his providence are holy, and not to be neglected at one's peril of disgracing the Holy Spirit?76

Obviously, the Synod did not agree with this explanation of Janssen's teachings and condemned him for departing from the Reformed view.

Only one reference in all the material, so far as I can determine, can be found on the relation between Isagogics and Exegesis.77 In this passage, the majority of the Investigatory Committee explains that Janssen taught the view that exegesis preceded Isagogics in the organism of the various theological disciplines because every piece of literature must be studied before Isagogical questions can be asked. The committee criticized this because it attempted to treat Scripture like any piece of literature.

While there can be no question about it that the study of Scripture as any piece of literature is a serious mistake78 and while, as we noticed earlier in this chapter, Janssen certainly was guilty of this in his views on inspiration and revelation, nevertheless, it is not so clear that the criticism of Janssen is to the point on this question. Scripture must be studied as the infallibly inspired record of God's revelation, and that approach of faith must be the all-controlling principle of exegesis. But it seems patently true that all the questions raised by a proper Isagogics are questions which can only be answered on the basis of exegesis.

The assertion of Janssen's critics on this point must have taken into account, however, Janssen's views on other matters. Janssen did not think it impossible that, not only the Pentateuch, but also other books of the Bible made use of sources, even in some cases, uninspired sources.79 And, because other sources were used in the composition of Scripture, books, or parts of books, were not authored by means of those whose names appear in the books (or in other parts of Scripture) as the authors.80

All these views of Janssen pointed to erroneous conceptions of Isagogics, and, though these errors in Isagogics stood related to other errors, they were, in their own right, sufficiently important to merit the condemnation of the Synod of 1922.

So the issues were clear-cut and the church, in condemning them, reaffirmed the views of Scripture held by the whole of the Reformed tradition from the time of the Reformation and repudiated in no uncertain terms errors of higher criticism that had entered the Seminary through Janssen's instruction.



1. This report is found in Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. JanssenReturn

2. H. Hoeksema, The Banner (September 30, 1920): 599-600. Return

3. R. Janssen, De Synodale Conclusies (Grand Rapids: The author, 1923): 26-27. As far as I have been able to discover, this was the first time that Janssen used this in his defense. It may be, therefore, that he was not the originator of this idea, for the Minority Report of the Investigatory Committee suggested this same idea as a defense of Janssen's teachings. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, p. 158. This position was, however, obviously untrue. Janssen himself never made very much of it; but his defense of his position presupposed the accuracy of the judgments made against him. That is, Janssen never really disputed that he taught the things charged against him. Admitting that he taught what his critics claimed were his views, he insisted they were genuinely Reformed. Return

4. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, p. 20-21. See also H. Hoeksema, "The New King and his Kingdom," The Banner (September 30, 1920): 599-600; 56 (April 14, 1921): 229-230. What appears here and in the following quotes in quotation marks indicates quotations made by the Majority Committee from Janssen's Notes. Return

5. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, p. 22 Return

6. Ibid., p. 29. Return

7. Ibid., p. 34. Return

8. Breen, "My Reflections of Prof. R. Janssen and on the Janssen Case of 1922," p. 9. Return

9. Ibid., pp. 29-31. Return

l0. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 155-168.Return

11. Kuiper, De Janssen Kwestie en Nog Iets, pp. 17-20. Return

12. See H. Hoeksema, "Dr. Janssen's Notes." The Banner (April 21, 1921): 245-246; Janssen's repeated appeal to Kuyper as quoted from the Student Notes and in his brochures; the Majority Report, Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 33-34. This question of the interpretation of Kuyper also involved a further question of the encyclopedic place of theology, a subject I discuss briefly below. Return

13. This is quoted from Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 215-216. This document does not specifically indicate that all this was approved by Synod. For such approval, see Acts of Synod of 1922, Art. 51, pp. 125-128. Return

14. See Chapter II. Return

15. See, e.g., Hoeksema, "Dr. Janssen's Notes." The Banner 56 (April 21, 1921): 245-246. Return

16. Ibid. Return

17. See especially Abraham Kuyper, Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology Its Principles, tr. by Rev. J. Hendrik De Vries. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898.)Return

18. Ibid., p. 54. Return

19. Ibid. See also pp. 292ff.Return

20. See Hoeksema's citation from Janssen's Notes in the article in The Banner referred to above, where Janssen says: "We may have prepossessions and no man can rid himself of these. Each individual has a certain type of religion, for religion is an essential characteristic of the human being." Return

21. Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools," pp. 277-278. Return

22. Ibid., p. 280. Return

23. Ibid., pp. 281-285. Return

24. It is interesting to observe that the Form for the Ordination of Professors of Theology, still in use in the Protestant Reformed Churches and the original Christian Reformed Form, speaks of theology as the queen of the sciences. Return

25. This latter question assumed considerable importance in connection with the question of common grace we shall treat it more extensively in the next chapter. Return

26. Boer, "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years . . . , " p. 19. While no one, so far as I know, would disagree that literary, linguistic and historical data had to be taken into account in the interpretation of Scripture, the determinative word here is "origin." Return

27. Breen, "My Reflections on Prof. Ralph Janssen and on the Janssen Case of 1922," p. 10. Return

28. L. Berkhof, et. al., Waar Het in de Zaak Janssen Om Gaat, p. 31. Return

29. Ibid., p. 31. See also, Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 50ff. Return

30. Ibid., p. 33. Return

31. Ibid., p. 34. See also Hoeksema, "The New King and His Kingdom," The Banner (October 7, 1920): 615-616. Return

32. Hoeksema, "Not Satisfied," The Banner (January 27, 1921): 55-56. Return

33. Ibid. Return

34. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, p. 42. Return

35. Ibid., pp. 43-44, 56. Return

36. Ibid., pp. 48, 53. Return

37. Ibid., p. 54. Note on this page that Janssen is quoted as saying that Scripture is in part human thought. While surely in the study of inspiration, distinction has usually been made between formal inspiration (the infallible record of human words, sometimes sinful, as in the case of what Scripture records from the lips of Pilate) and material inspiration (the infallible inspiration of God's own Word to His people), it is clear from the quotations that Janssen had more in mind than this traditional distinction. Return

38. Ibid., p. 54. Return

39. Ibid., pp. 59-60. Return

40. Ibid. Return

41. Ibid., p. 61. Return

42. Ibid., p. 64 Return

43. Ibid., pp. 75-79. Return

44. Ibid., pp. 83-84, 106. Return

45. R. Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika (Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids Printing Co., 1922.) pp. 44-48. The view which Janssen here takes is very common today. One is said to have to make a choice between mechanical inspiration (an obviously impossible position to take) and organic inspiration (which is idea inspiration and allows for "errors" in Scripture). This is, in my judgment, a false disjunction. Return

46. See e.g., Janssen, De Synodale Conclusies, already referred to, p. 38, and Janssen, Voortzetting Van Den Strijd, pp. 3-6. Return

47. See, e.g., the instances mentioned above concerning the call of Abraham, the revelation of the name Jehovah, etc. The majority of the Investigatory Committee cites other instances as well. Return

48. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, p. 42 Return

49. Boer, "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years..., " pp. 17-22. Return

50. Ibid., p. 19. Return

51. H. Boer, "Aftermath." The Reformed Journal (November 1973 ): 21-22 Return

52. See, e.g., Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, pp. 38-39. Return

53. See above where this point is discussed. Return

54. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 52-53. Return

55. See above, where these views are discussed in connection with Janssen's views on inspiration.Return

56. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, p. 102. Return

57. Ibid., p. 106. Return

58. Hoeksema, "Not Satisfied." The Banner (January 27, 1921): 55-56. It might be well to note in this connection that this article, as well as others written during this period, were written after the Synod of 1920 and before the Synod of 1922. During this interim there is some evidence that Janssen modified some of his teachings, although no principle difference can be found in them. Return

59. This is an important and crucial point in Janssen's defense of his position, but a detailed examination of it must wait till the next chapter and our discussion of common grace. Janssen himself connected general revelation and common grace, and this is justification for postponing our treatment of the issue. Return

60. Neither the Majority Committee nor the Synod made an effort to explain what was the relation between special and general revelation. This is, at first glance, some- thing of a surprise; but it may be that the views of Janssen on the relation between general revelation and common grace were rather widely held in the church even in these years. We shall look more closely at this matter a bit later. Return

61. While the other issues were somewhat doctrinal and abstruse, the issue of the miracles was one every person could easily understand. And it was, after all, this question of the validity of the miracles which was then being debated in Presbyterian circles. It was an issue between Modernism and Fundamentalism. Return

62. Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, pp. 13-16. Return

63. Berkhof, et. al., Waar het in de Zaak Janssen Om Gaat, pp. 21-22. Return

64. Boer, "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years..., p. 19. Return

65. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 131-133 Return

66. The issues in the discussion strike one as being unclearly defined, and the problem somewhat vague. This is perhaps due to a wrong definition of miracle by both Prof. Janssen and his opponents. It may be that this was partly why Rev. Hoeksema re-examined the whole question of miracles and defined them in a different way in his later dogmatic studies. See for this, H. Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics, (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1966): pp. 237-243. Return

67. Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, p. 16. Return

68. Janssen, De Synodale Conclusies, p. 69; Janssen, Voortzetting van den Strijd (Grand Rapids: The author, 1922). p. 9. Return

69. Janssen again connects all this to common grace, as we shall presently see. Return

70. Janssen, Voortzetting van den Strijd, p. 8. Return

71. Berkhof, et. al., Waar het in de Zaak Janssen Om Gaat, p. 23. Return

72. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, p. 41. Return

73. Neither the Investigatory Committee nor Janssen's opponents went into these matters in detail in their writings. This is to be understood from a certain point of view. Janssen's critics could not have developed any positive views on these subjects in their critiques of Janssen's position, and it was to be assumed in the church that these things were commonly believed. Our analysis of the argumentation, therefore, is, in the nature of the case, somewhat speculative, but can in most instances be deduced from the assertions of the critics. Return

74. Hoeksema, "Not Satisfied." The Banner (January 27, 1921): 55-56. Return

75. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 50ff. Return

76. Breen, My Reflections on Prof. Ralph Janssen and on the Janssen Case of 1922, p. 6. Return

77. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, p. 34. Return

78. This mistake is also made in literary - historical criticism or redaction criticism. Return

79. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 75-84, 106. Return

80. Many instances of this can be found. See especially Ibid., pp. 42, 48, 53, 54, 61, 79-84, etc. See also, Hoeksema, "Not Satisfied." The Banner (January 1921): 56, where Hoeksema quotes Janssen as teaching that Daniel was not the author of the prophecy by that name, but that the unknown author used a literary device when claiming to be Daniel. Return

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