ST 101 Prolegomena: Digest 1
Course: ST 101 Prolegomena
Professor: David Garner
Semester: 2016 Fall
Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1994), 3–26.
In chapter one, Vos discusses what Biblical Theology is and how he does Biblical Theology. Vos defines Biblical Theology as “the process of the self-revelation of God deposited in the Bible” (Vos, 5). First, Vos discusses the relationship between the revelation-process and the redemptive process, saying that they co-exist, yet the revelation-process ceases earlier than the redemptive process. By distinguishing the “objective and central” (Vos, 6) aspect and the “subjective and individual” (Vos, 6) aspect of redemption, Vos thinks that now revelation is only in relation to the “objective and central” (Vos, 6) redemptive process because the revelation in Scripture has ceased, yet the revelation in Scripture also largely affects the “subjective and individual” (Vos, 6) redemption. Second, Vos connects act revelation and word revelation. He then clarifies that act revelation and word revelation are primarily aimed towards God, and the instruction to human kinds is only the secondary purpose. Third, Vos thinks that the revelation process is organic in its nature. It is organic because the revelation process is not completely perfect if we take into account for it in a single stage. It is organic because each stage in the revelation process and the whole stage of the revelation process have the same perfection in nature. Finally, Vos says that revelation primarily has a practical purpose. Vos contrasts the Greek sense of “to know” and the Biblical sense of “to know,” in which he says that the latter understands it as having a practical purpose.
Then Vos thinks that the principle of doing Biblical Theology should be guided by the “infallible character of revelation” (Vos, 11), and the “objective of the ground work of revelation” (Vos, 12), and “the question of inspiration” (Vos, 12). He contrasts these principles with the objections and he prefers to use this name: “History of Special Revelation” (Vos, 12).
Vos continues by considering Biblical Theology in relation to other disciplines of Theology, that is, Sacred History, Biblical Introduction, and Systematic Theology.
Then Vos lists the methods for doing Biblical Theology and he thinks that the most important usage of Biblical Theology is that we can interact with God’s historical approach.
In chapter two, Vos draws a distinction between General Revelation and Special Revelation. First, Vos considers their relationship in the absence of sin, in which he says that natural revelation comes from the inner nature and the outer nature, and he adds “supernatural self-disclosure” (Vos, 19) to the category of presuppositional knowledge.
Second, Vos offers a contrast to his first point by saying that their relation was distorted and changed after the entrance of sin. So, the natural knowledge of God can only come from supernatural redemption instead of nature itself. However, Vos thinks that Special Revelation plays the most significant role in the “introduction of an altogether new world of truth, that relating to the redemption of man” (Vos, 21).
Also, Vos observes the change of “the perpetuation of the divine manifestation” (Vos, 21) in the present. So, it is necessary to provide a manifestation for the future in order that the present can be restored to its past station. Thus, tradition and inscripturation are given as the crucial content of the new redemptive revelation. And he reminds us of the fact that “the knowledge from nature is presupposed” (Vos, 21), and nature is not able to connect itself to redemption.
Finally, Vos thinks that the attitude of man toward God has been completely changed since the entrance of sin.
Then Vos discusses that the possibility and necessity of Special Revelation is from personal communion with God, and then he says that the concrete purpose of Special Revelation is in relation to the original perfect state of man, yet he provides a more specific and developed explanation by saying that man needed to be subject to a probationary period that could assure that he would remain in a state of perfection.
In the last part of chapter two, Vos thinks that the use of “Old Testament” and “New Testament”, and “Old Covenant” and “New Covenant” should be cautiously understood because there is so much confusions about them. Vos then introduces the Hebrew word berith and the Greek word διαθηκη to discuss these words.
First, Vos thinks that berith does not mean agreement but it has something to do with religious sanction.
Second, Vos points out the difficulty for Greek translators to translate berith because the common usage of the word διαθηκη was monopolized at that time. However, finally, they translated it as διαθηκη. In addition, the word διαθηκη also conveys the most important element of the meaning of the Hebrew word. Moreover, he says that people have debated that διαθηκη should be covenant or testament and he uses verses from the NT to illustrate the reason for this. Then, Vos makes a distinction between a “former berith” (Vos, 24) and a “new berith” (Vos, 24) by referring to Jeremiah 31:31 and 2 Cor 3. Finally, he points out the biblical sense of “a two-fold berith,” (Vos, 26) a “two-fold διαθηκη.” (Vos, 26)
Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology (2nd edition; edited by William Edgar; Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1974, 2007), Introduction, Preface, and Chapters 1–3
In the Introduction, Edgar points out that Van Til’s reason for writing the selection is to defend the faith. Then Edgar presents non-Reformed views in contrast with the view of Van Til, who makes a connection between the Creator and the creature. In addition, Edgar also says this: Van Til thinks that even though there is a gap between God and human beings, God governs his creatures and reveals himself to them. Thus, Van Til, refutes the point of view of Dualism.
In the preface, Van Til says that what he is doing is to speaking against recent theological and philosophical ideas, and Neo-orthodoxy is the most important for him to deal with. In addition, he wants to develop a Christian worldview.
In chapter one, first, Van Til defines Systematic Theology. Before doing this, he states that theology mainly speaks of God, and he thinks that our theology should be God-centered. Then he points out that, first, systematics is a unified system which only investigates what God has revealed to us in Scripture. Second, Systematic Theology cooperates with exegesis and biblical theology to make its system. Then, he says that the presuppositional concept of apologetics is the prerequisite for doing systematic theology. Moreover, Van Til thinks that systematic theology primarily deals with the truth that is presented in Scripture. Then, Van Til distinguishes the “systematic statement of the truth of Scripture” (Van Til, 19) from the “systematic statement of Scripture given by systematic theology” (Van Til, 19) by their length and authoritative character. Finally, Van Til says that creeds need to be revised and better specified.
Then, when Van Til discusses the value of systematic theology, he introduces “the question of truth” (Van Til, 21) which is the primary question which we should ask. The truth is that we should be cautious of the need to regard all biblical truth as a system. And, Van Til points out that studying systematic theology can help preachers to preach in a God-centered way, which is the most valuable method for the church, because “one-text Christians” (Van Til, 23) do not have anything to say against non-Christians at all.
In chapter two, Van Til deals with the method of systematic theology. He talks about two aspects of Christian theism, which are a priori and a posteriori, and a posteriori is “the gathering and arranging of the facts of Scripture” (Van Til, 27) and a priori is only “the facts of Scripture that we gather” (Van Til, 27) but not gathered it in general.
Then Van Til discusses the nature of “a priori.” He puts it in relation to “principium essendi” (Van Til, 29), which means “without the concept of God as self-conscious, we could not know anything” (Van Til, 29). Then Van Til gives his supporting reasons, that is, “man cannot comprehend God” (Van Til, 29) and “God is completely self-comprehensive,” (Van Til, 30). He describes the Trinity as “the principium essendi” (Van Til, 29) of knowledge for man, by which Van Til makes a distinction between Christian logic and non-Christian logic and he discusses it in the following paragraphs.
Van Til explains that the reason why non-Christians’ reasoning is univocal while Christians’ reasoning is analogical. That is, non-Christians hold that God and man are the same; on the other hand, the Christian concept is that man’s knowledge is an analogy of God’s knowledge. Moreover, Van Til reminds us that confusing our knowledge and God’s knowledge is dangerous, and it is impossible to find a term to clarify the confusion.
Then Van Til makes a distinction between theology and other sciences. However, he also says that we should also study other sciences. So, the distinction is in name only. First, he points out that the common way is to let God be our teacher. Second, he says that theology deals with redemption. Then Van Til distinguishes the Christian position from the position of natural man. Finally, he says that if we make a clear distinction between the Christian-theistic method and non-theistic methods, the confusion which I mentioned above can be avoided in some ways.
In chapter three, Van Til discusses Christian epistemology. He firstly presents the object and the subject of knowledge, which makes the Christian position differ from the non-Christian position. The object is that God creates the world and gives it meaning. The subject is that human beings must subordinate their interpretations to God.
Van Til distinguishes the Christian-theistic method and the non-theistic method. First, he states “the reason of man as it existed before the fall of man” (Van Til, 62). Second, he points out that we must notice that when sin entered the world, human reason was changed. These are the prerequisites for approaching reason in theology. Van Til then says, first, the “Adamic consciousness” (Van Til, 62) no longer exists in our day. Second, he remind us to limit our recognitions of the common consciousness of God in the Christian view. Third, we must think of the non-regenerate consciousness “according to its adopted monastic assumption” (Van Til, 68). Fourth, man is responsible for spiritual things even though they are blind. Fifth, Christians should teach those blind men in order that they can see. Sixth, Van Til points out that God’s purpose is to bring our reasons and minds under the obedience of Christ, and we must focus our minds and reason on what he has revealed to us in Scripture.
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (trans. and ed. by Ford Lewis Battles;ed. by John T. McNeill; The Library of Christian Classics Volumes XX–XXI; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), I.i–ix [Book 1, Chapters 1–9]
In chapter one, Calvin discusses the relation between the knowledge of God and the knowledge of man. First, he says that man must know himself in order to know God because all things only come from God. And we are sinful. Second, he says that if we do not contemplate God, we do not know ourselves because we are proud of ourselves, and everything is “contaminated by great immorality” (Calvin, 19). Calvin concludes that the knowledge of God and our knowledge are related to each other by inferring that our knowledge is insufficient but God’s knowledge is glorious.
In chapter two, Calvin thinks that to know God requires piety. In the first place, he points out that God shows himself to us as our Creator and sustains us. Second, Calvin reminds us of the fact that all good things are from God. Therefore, we must be pious in order to know God. Then Calvin goes on saying that trusting God and showing reverence to God are the purposes for knowing him. First, according to Calvin, our knowledge should be aimed at the fearing God and showing reverence to God. Second, we should “seek every good from him” (Calvin, 41) and ascribe them to God.
In chapter three, Calvin discusses that God has implanted the knowledge of him in the minds of human beings. First, he says that God has implanted an awareness of divinity in human minds and because of this, all human beings are condemned for their failure to worship him. Second, Calvin says that there are “some concepts of God are ever alive in all men’s minds” (Calvin, 45) because people make a claim that religion is a crafty design, which reveals that at least people know something about God to begin with. Third, Calvin says that the sense of divinity is ingrained in human minds, that is, people gain the sense not by learning but by birth.
In chapter four, Calvin demonstrates that man’s knowledge is “partly by ignorance, partly by malice” (Calvin, 47). In the first place, Calvin points out that the superstitious man ignores the true knowledge of God. In addition, the ungodly man forgets God, i.e., he turns his conscience away from God. What is more, man needs to worship God in accordance with what God wants him to do. Otherwise, his religion is not true religion because he does not relate his knowledge to the truth. Finally, Calvin discusses that we partly ignore God by malice, and he says that even though man possesses some intellectual knowledge of God, man resists him because he does not act according to what God commands him to do, which is hypocrisy.
In chapter five, Calvin discusses how God discloses himself to his creation which makes their ignorance inexcusable and God declares his wisdom to his creation in order that they can see his wonderful work. It is impossible for them to comprehend God within the scope of their own mind, and their knowledge cannot lead them to make a clear distinction between Creator and creature. So, God directs us to him by revealing his true knowledge to us, governing us, and preserving us. Through these directions, God inspires “us to the hope of the future life” (Calvin, 62).
In chapter six, Calvin gives his opinion that we need Scripture to direct us to God. He says that God speaks to us through Scripture to clarify our understanding of him, and it is only through it that we can gain the true knowledge of him. Then, he points out that Scripture is important because it is God’s self-witness and if we do not accept it, our understanding of God is still false. And, Scripture is important because the message that can lead us to God is only conveyed through Scripture and God does not reveal this message outside Scripture.
In chapter seven, Calvin demonstrates the authority of Scripture based only on the fact that it is the word of God, yet it does not depend on the decisions of the church. First, he said that Scripture is the foundation of the church. Second, the authority of the church is to prepare people to believe God’s gospel by referring to Augustine’s opinions to support his argument about Church’s authority. In addition, the human mind is weak so that they need to seek the testimony of the Holy Spirit, which is beyond their limitations. Finally, Scripture is self-authenticating, i.e., it does not need outside testimonies.
In chapter eight, Calvin says that the credibility of Scripture is primarily based on the Spirit of God, and human testimonies can be used as secondary reasons to support the credibility of Scripture. First, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the words of the OT prophets are relevant to later ages, and their authoritative positions are confirmed by many miracles, and the prophets spoke God’s words under the guidance and the providence of the Spirit of God. Second, Calvin gives his reason that the Holy Spirit intervenes in the writing process of three NT authors in order to make their styles of writing heavenly. Third, with the divine help of God, the church consistently accepts Scripture from generation to generation, even though the world is against it and wants to diminish it.
In chapter nine, Calvin refutes the fanatics’ false understanding of the office of the Spirit because the fanatics consider Scripture to not deserve any attention from us. Calvin begins his line of argument by saying that the Spirit and Scripture are pleasing in relation to each other, i.e., they are consistent in their harmonious relationship. Secondly, he points out that Scripture and the Spirit are always joined together. Scripture is the implement by which the Spirit leads us to ponder about God.
Cornelius Van Til in Ned Stonehouse, ed., The Infallible Word: A Symposium (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Guard, 1946), 263–283.
In this passage, Van Til discusses the Reformed understanding of natural theology. To be more specific, Van Til’s purpose is to point out four elements of God’s revelation. The four aspects of natural revelation are “the necessity, the authority, the sufficiency and the perspicuity” (Van Til, 269).
To begin with, Van Til thinks that natural revelation is necessary. Van Til discusses nature revelation before the Fall and after the Fall. Van Til starts the first part by providing the reason that because God is supernatural, men need some visible things to be in their sights so that they can acknowledge the existence of God’s supernatural works in a definite way. Moreover, Van Til notices that men should be subject to all of God’s creations in nature, which supports that natural revelation is absolutely required. Then Van Til leads us to the second part, in which he talks about “the necessity of natural revelation after the Fall” (Van Til, 270). Van Til’s reasoning that natural revelation is essential to the redemptive work of God and God’s grace. Natural revelation belongs to the essence of the redemptive work of God and God’s grace by giving a tangible and perceptible phenomena to God’s people.
What is more, Van Til demonstrates that God’s revelation in nature is authoritative. In the first place, Van Til discuss the natural revelation before the Fall, in which he says that in paradise, God uses the revelation of the “tree of life” (Van Til, 272) to demand people to submit themselves to his restraint, and man’s thinking should be expressed as an analogy of that of God because man is created as analogous to God. Then Van Til makes his second point, in which he says that revelation is authoritative because it approaches man by man’s “own constitution as a covenant personality” (Van Til, 273). To be more specific, man’s nature and his inner psychological activities are also the evidence to support the authority of the natural revelation of God. In other words, what Van Til is trying to do is to point man’s conscience. Even after the Fall, man has a conscience, and it is created in such a way that it is in accordance with God’s own intention and the consciousness is also “revelational and authoritative” (Van Til, 274).
Then Van Til goes on talking about the sufficiency of God’s revelation in nature. Van Til’s main thesis is that natural revelation is “historically sufficient” (Van Til, 275). In spite of the entrance of sin, Van Til thinks that natural revelation is sufficient in a continuous manner. That is to say, in God’s purpose for history. For example, God gives the assurance of “bruising the head of the serpent” (Van Til, 276) in return for what it has done to his people, and redeeming his people, and these can be fully accomplished through his revelation in nature.
Finally, Van Til ends his discussion by saying that natural revelation is perspicuous. And what he means by using the term “perspicuous” (Van Til, 277) is that God’s whole plan of his revelation to his creature is comprehensible and his revelation is not irrational. In the first place, Van Til points out that even though man is incapable of fully understanding the revelation of God, man’s thinking is analogical to that of God so that man can truly know nature and reality. Furthermore, Van Til says that after the Fall, all parts of the world and creatures are contaminated by sin and it becomes complex, however, the corrupt nature still testifies that God’s revelation in nature is also clear and easy to understand.
Cornelius Van Til in Ned Stonehouse, ed., The Infallible Word: A Symposium (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Guard, 1946), 295–301.
In this passage, Van Til refutes and prints out the flaws of the other kind of natural theology that has its origin in Greek thought. At first, he draws attention to the natural theology of Kant. Second, he moves on to discuss the post-Kantian natural theology that follows after Kant.
In the first part, Van Til points out that Kant not only borrows his thought from Aristotelian natural theology, but also he add weight to Aristotelian natural theology. According to Van Til, Kant’s claim of experiencing activity is univocal since he frequently speaks of the “original activity of the thinking subject” (Van Til, 296). Second, Kant’s argument that is similar to that of Aristotle is contrary to that of the rationalists, in which Kant thinks that he seems to be unable to see the objective existence. And Van Til comments that Kant’s contribution to the teaching of the Christian church is not positive in every aspect in view of the fact that the scriptural view “does not mean to dictate to the man who merely describes the fact” (Van Til, 298). All in all, Val Til concludes his above argument against Kant by saying that Kant’s flaw is that he reduces the Christianity “from its historical uniqueness to a universal religion of reason” (Van Til, 298).
In the second part, Val Til moves on to post-Kantian Phenomenalism which offers opposition to the confessional teaching called the “metaphysics of transcendence” (Van Til, 299), and is dialectical theology. First, according to Van Til, dialectal theology spends its energy on bringing together Calvin’s opinions and those of Kant on the revelation of God. And Van Til illustrates his first point by presenting the example of Barth and Brunner. He says that Barth agrees with Brunner that God is totally the same as his revelation which is against the teaching of Calvin. Second, Van Til presents a modified dialectal theology. The major figures includes such as Reinhold, Kroner, Tillich whose claims follow the “Aristotle-Thomas Aquinas-Kant tradition” (Van Til, 300), which is the opponent of the confessional teaching of natural revelation. Van Til ends his discussion by saying that the Greek, the Thomasian, and the Kantian understanding of the natural theology is wrong.