Original Research - Special Collection: The use of the Bible in Theology

The Bible, theology and the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa 1920–2020

Izak J.J. Spangenberg
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 76, No 4 | a6111 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v76i4.6111 | © 2020 Izak J.J. Spangenberg | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 11 May 2020 | Published: 04 December 2020

About the author(s)

Izak J.J. Spangenberg, Department of Biblical and Ancient Studies, College of Human Sciences, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa


Professor Johannes du Plessis (1868–1935) of the Theological Seminary at Stellenbosch was fascinated by the results of the historical-critical research into the Bible. He acquainted his students and readers of the journal Het Zoeklicht with the results of this way of studying the Bible. However, in 1928, he was accused of heresy for cherishing views not aligned with the reformed confessions of faith. After 2 years and many meetings, he was dismissed as the professor. Being convinced that the Dutch Reformed Synod did not act in good faith, he took his case to the High Court and won. Almost a century later, the General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) once again had to defend a resolution in the High Court. This time it concerned gay marriages and the ordination of people with a homosexual orientation as elders and ministers. The DRC again lost its case and had to retract the resolution of the Special General Synod held in 2016. The underlying issue in both cases is the doctrine of Scripture. Since the Du Plessis case, the DRC has struggled to come to terms with the historical-critical methods of reading and studying the Bible and to formulate a doctrine of Scripture aligned with it. Had it embraced the new way of reading and studying the Bible which emerged in the late 19th and the early decades of the 20th century, its history of support for the apartheid policy and the almost homophobic resolutions concerning gay members might have looked differently.

Contribution: This historical overview on how the Bible has been used in the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) the past century (1920–2020) highlights the problems which the Bible creates when it is not read as a document from a different time and culture.


doctrine of scripture; biblical interpretation; historical-critical methods; Du Plessis case; Afrikaner-Calvinism; Afrikaner nationalism; Cottesloe consultation; Dutch Reformed Church; apartheid policy; ordination of women; gay marriages


Total abstract views: 2041
Total article views: 2756

Crossref Citations

No related citations found.