Editor: James T. Dennison, Jr.
Assistant Editors: Steven M. Baugh and Richard A. Riesen
The Editor .................................................................................................................................. 2
1. BIBLICAL THEOLOGY IN THE STUDY AND THE PULPIT
2. LIFE FOR LAND
3. ELECTION AND TRANSFORMATION
4. WHAT IS BIBLICAL
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ISSN 0888-8513 Vol. 2, No. 1
In this issue, we feature two articles on the practical aspects of biblical theology. The lead article was written by James Oscar Boyd during his tenure as Secretary for the American Bible Society for the Levant. Boyd (1874-1947) had learned his biblical theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. From 1896-1899, he was a student and sat at the feet of Geerhardus Vos. From 1900-1915, he was privileged to be a colleague of Vos, Warfield, Machen and others of the esteemed Princeton faculty. Boyd was an Instructor in Old Testament (1900-1907) and Assistant Professor of Oriental and Old Testament Literature (1907-1915). Following a brief pastorate (1915-21) at the Church of the Redeemer (PCUSA) in Paterson, NJ, he took up his work with the American Bible Society. It was his skill in Oriental and Semitic languages which qualified him as supervisor of work on the Arabic versions of Scripture. In our article, Boyd directs our attention to the vitality which biblical theology brings to the pulpit.
The editor has provided an article on the method of biblical theology as elaborated in Geerhardus Vos's inaugural address at Princeton in 1894. Commensurate with our plan to provide some comments on the tools of biblical theology (i.e., dictionaries, word books, monographs and even journals), the editorial board decided to devote our first specimen of this new feature to principial matters. If our readers wonder what we mean by biblical theology, Vos's inaugural is an excellent description of the subject. From the Reformed point of view, we know no better exposition of biblical-theological method. The author of our article has interspersed comments on the benefits of Vos's approach for the preaching task.
Biblical Theology in the Study and the Pulpit
JAMES OSCAR BOYD
Those Protestant ministers whose period of theological training fell within the past few decades and was spent at one of the larger institutions of theological instruction, probably heard lectures in a department of Biblical Theology as a part of their regular curriculum. Prior to that time professors in the older Biblical chairs of theological colleges had been lecturing on the same lines. Nevertheless, even the most devoted friend of this discipline will not attempt to deny its comparative youthfulness. In fact, its up-to-dateness is often exploited as an additional claim to superiority over other and older theological departments, notably over Dogmatics or Systematic Theology.
Under these circumstances it is probable that there are in active ministerial service today many who think of Biblical Theology as a subject on which, with all their miscellaneous reading along kindred lines, they feel a lack of that orderly comprehension and that mastery of method which are rarely attained independently of the classroom or the textbook. Of these ministers perhaps not a few feel a little distrustful of the methods they have come to associate with this discipline. And probably every reader of this Quarterly [Evangelical Quarterly] has at some time or other deplored "results" that have been urged in the name of Biblical Theology.
It is not my purpose to use any of the space allotted to me for this article in a defense of Biblical Theology, or even in a scientific statement of what it is and what are its relations to other branches of theological encyclopedia. My purpose is a brief consideration of Biblical Theology in its relation to the practical work of the minister as a student and preacher of the Scriptures. Such an attempt is not necessarily embraced within the curriculum of even the best equipped theological seminary, for it is one of those things that may fall between two departments and thus easily be missed by both. The teacher of Biblical Theology may not consider it a part of his work to point out the practical application of his subject to the everyday tasks of the minister. And the instructors whose function it is to train the preacher in his practical duties may either ignore the value of Biblical Theology or, even if they themselves appreciate it, fail to incorporate in their lectures any commendation of it or suggestions as to its use.
What is the nature of the subjects commended to the student and preacher of the Word by the phrase "Biblical Theology"?
The sort of themes which this phrase suggests may best be described as either doctrinal or ethical in subject matter, and historical in point of view. Biblical Theology combines the logical and the chronological. Like Systematic Theology it discusses the familiar loci: Theology proper, Anthropology, Soteriology, Eschatology, and the rest, each in its details and ramifications. And, like Biblical Intro-
duction and Exegesis, or Biblical History, it gathers its material from the text of the Scriptures themselves. With Dogmatics it has in common the organization of this material according to the rubrics of a theological system, while in common with the History of Old or New Testament it arranges its material on the principle of progressive temporal development. The former may be pictured as a horizontal plane of thought, the latter as a vertical. Hence each datum of Biblical Theology lies in two planes: a horizontal cross section through it reveals its place in the whole development, through the ages of revelation, of that locus or subordinate topic to which it belongs. Like every star, every such fact has its altitude and its azimuth. Its altitude is its position when measured on the Biblical scale of progressive revelation; its azimuth is its position within the plane of revelation attained in its own day, and particularly by its own individual exponent.
Two such facts may serve as illustrations. Isaiah taught a doctrine of God that emphasizes his holiness. What is the relation of this fact to the doctrine of God taught by Isaiah's predecessors and successors? And, what is the relation of this fact to the whole body of Isaiah's teaching and to that of his contemporaries? That is a fact in the sphere of dogma; let our second illustration be in the sphere of ethics. Amos condemns the oppressiveness of the rich. What is the significance of this fact in the light of other Biblical teaching on the relation of rich and poor? And, what is the meaning of this fact in the light of Amos's doctrinal and ethical views in general, and those of his time?
The rich variety of such themes, which may center in isolated phenomena of revelation, or may embrace a broad area in their sweep, guarantees an inexhaustible fund on which the scholar may draw, while the double face of Biblical Theology lends these studies the human interest of history and at the same time the depth and scope of philosophic thought.
Now there are two distinct things to be discussed concerning these themes drawn from Biblical Theology: first, their peculiar value as
a stimulus to Bible study and as a corrective to certain prevalent faults in Bible study; and, second, the place of such themes in the minister's pulpit work.
We submit then, first, the claim that the pursuit of Biblico-theological studies will act as a stimulus to the minister in his Bible study.
Many a student of the Scriptures must have experienced at some time or other a certain feeling of dissatisfaction with the results which his labors are yielding him. This dissatisfaction is likely to be along one of two distinct lines. Either he feels as though each piece of work was detached: that while, for example, he has faithfully exegeted the third chapter of John's Gospel, he has somehow missed the force of its teaching in the whole development of the doctrine of regeneration and its relation to the "begotten of God" in John's First Epistle. Or else, he feels as though he had been pursuing some topic, such as faith, or prayer, up and down the paths of the Bible, without getting down to any appraisal of the several passages in their setting or to any grasp of their relation to one another; that with all his "prooftexts" for some particular doctrine, he lacks a just estimate of the position the doctrine holds in a balanced system of Christian truth, or even assurance that he has rightly interpreted the apparent evidence for it.
Both these kinds of difficulties lead to discouragement. They certainly ought to, even when they do not, for such discouragement is a more healthy sign than the self-complacency which is too often evident in spite of them.
Now it is precisely the aim of Biblical Theology, as we have seen, to study the temporal, individual and local in the light of that general progress which Bible doctrine exhibits—indisputably exhibits, whether men prefer to call it evolution or revelation. It results, therefore, that
both those kinds of dissatisfaction can find their remedy in the pursuit of Bible study along the lines of Biblical Theology. For this shares with "topical" Bible study, so strongly urged in some quarters, the zest of personal discovery; yet without incurring the dangers which generally attend and vitiate that method, too often leaving behind it a distrust of all Bible study and a distaste for it in the minds of the unprejudiced. And on the other hand Biblical Theology shares with exegetical work the satisfaction of interpreting the very words of Scripture and thus reaching a firm basis of conviction as to God's revealed will; and this, without the intellectual dyspepsia and religious myopia that too commonly arise from such study without coordination of principle or method. There would in fact seem to be today a real call for the development, by some expert in practical theology, of a science of the pathology of Bible study, so widespread have abnormal methods become, and so disastrous their effects upon the religious views of multitudes who really want to know Bible truth and regard themselves as Bible Christians. And if such a treatise ever appears, it will in my opinion become evident that the best remedy for such pathological conditions is a liberal administration of Biblical Theology.
Thus we may claim for this discipline not only that it is able to prevent loss of interest and confidence in Bible studies, but also that it can act as a corrective to those faults into which Bible students are often led without recognising them as faults. What are such faults?
If I mention destructive criticism first, it is not only because of the ravages that it is making among our Bible students today, but still more because this very discipline of Biblical Theology has been perverted by some, to serve the cause of an unbelieving and hostile criticism. To illustrate: the Book of Jonah, it has been urged, cannot have been written until after the Exile, because of its universalistic doctrine of God's relation to non-Jewish nations. Now whether or not Jonah is a post-Exilic production is a question of higher criticism, to be answered only after careful consideration along many lines. But to erect the universalism which it teaches into a criterion decisive of its post-Exilic origin is to pervert the testimony of Biblical Theology,
because the true history of the Biblical doctrine of God's purpose of grace for mankind begins at the gates of Eden, embraces the covenant with Noah in its earliest development, and exhibits as pronounced a universalism of grace in the promise to Abraham as it does in the Book of Jonah. There is, in fact, no better corrective for slashing, reckless, subjective higher criticism, than the firm grasp of the orderly, progressive unfolding of Bible doctrine from Genesis to Revelation. The sense of movement here may fairly be said to appeal even to the esthetic faculty of the reverent student, as one marks the same "stately stepping" of our God in his acts of revelation as in his acts of redemption. Just as in redemption a thousand human leaders have conspired through the centuries, often unconsciously to themselves, to effect the divine purpose of the ages, so in revelation we behold a hundred bearers of the divine word producing and publishing the "wisdom of God unto salvation". To him who has once caught this glorious vision there can remain only disgust and disdain for the splintering methods and petty considerations of the naturalistic critic a la mode.
Again, the study of Biblical Theology is the surest means of curing infatuation with fads and catchwords. How common such infatuation is may be discovered by frequenting the ordinary Bible class in Sunday Schools, associations and conventions, and by reading the "helps" put out by some of our largest publishers by such classes. Let me illustrate again. Some years ago I remember listening to Professor George T. Purves in a series of remarkable popular expositions of selected Epistles of Paul. They were delivered to great audiences at one of our American summer assemblies, and, as is commonly the practice, questions from the audience were in order at the close of the lecture period. At the close of Dr. Purees' last hour an old minister arose to express his dissatisfaction with the lecturer's exposition of the epistles, particularly with the lecture just delivered on the Epistle to the Philippians. A lifelong student of the Word, he said, he had missed from Dr. Purves' exposition the essential point of each of the books expounded. Each of Paul's epistles was written, he went on to explain, with the purpose of glorifying some particular Christian virtue or to emphasize some one doctrine. He proceeded to mention
the catchword that was the only true key to the understanding of each epistle, and declared that Philippians was the epistle of Joy: no one could interpret Philippians rightly who did not know that the words "joy", "rejoice" and the like, were used so and so many times in that epistle. He objected on this ground to Dr. Purves' characterization of Philippians as the epistle of the Christian's heavenly citizenship, and subsided only in great heat because the lecturer was not ready to admit that the note of joy, so obvious on the surface of the epistle, was also the occasion, the theme, and the purpose of its composition. This was to my mind a tragedy. This venerable lover and student of God's Word had had no appreciation of the masterly penetration of the lecturer to the very heart of Paul, nor of his analysis of the situation of the church at Philippi, nor of his grasp upon the statesmanship of that greatest of Christian leaders, simply because he could hear nothing in this epistle but "joy" that catchword which for him must perforce be the starting point for all further study.
It is too obvious to need extended argument, that the student of Biblical Theology is led out above and beyond such prepossessions and trivialities, by being compelled to follow the traces of God's own progress in revelation, and to observe the laws according to which this progress proceeds—always in vital relation to the agents and recipients of his revelation. He therefore will see in Philippians not merely an exhortation to "rejoice always", and in the imprisoned Paul an example of how to bear affliction with joy, but beneath these surface features the marks of a great charter of Christian citizenship, called forth indeed by the situation in which the author then found himself placed and by the peculiar nature of Philippi, the Roman colony, yet developing for Christians of every age the circumstance and nature of their heavenly calling and the realization of their heavenly destiny. Only he who studies Philippians in the light of Paul's entire development of doctrine is either likely to discover that, or to approve it when it is discovered to him.
Briefly I should like to call attention also to a third fault of much present day Bible study, for which Biblical Theology is adapted to
furnish a corrective. This is the fault of desultory study. No doubt there is a certain advantage in sieving the enthusiasm of the moment, when attention has been drawn to some particular theme and the delight of discovery or recognition lures the scholar on to further study along the opening path. Yet it will not do, in the long run, to depend for this enthusiasm upon the chance of the hour. How much better to uncover for oneself these fresh leads, to beat up methodically the covert that conceals so much game! Variety need not thereby be sacrificed. There is variety without end for the man who sets himself to investigate, for example, the conception of sin and grace in the Psalms, and then compare them with those of the several prophets. The Epistle to the Hebrews will open up almost the entire Old Testament, step by step, to the student who examines its attitude toward God's progressive revelation to Israel. And as each old familiar fact is looked at from this new angle, it will take on new meaning, it will fall into its true place of importance relatively to the whole, and all collectively will interpret and supplement one another in a fashion unattainable by the desultory study of Bible portions or of Bible topics.
What remains for our further consideration is an estimate of the value of Biblical Theology for the preacher. We are to consider the minister now, not as the learner at work in his study, but as the Christian teacher in his pulpit. Can we be preachers of Biblical Theology? Are our results available for use in discharging our supreme function as interpreters of the Word to the people?
Our first answer to these questions must be of a negative character: it will not do to preach just what we obtain from these studies. It is surely unnecessary to disavow any intention, in making this statement, of advocating a suppresion of the truth. Neither suppression, nor perversion, nor misapplication of the teachings of Holy Scripture is ever justifiable. We are to be preachers of the whole truth, as well as of nothing but the truth.
But there is a sense quite different from this, in which the above answer is intended. The purpose in the minister's mind is not the same when he is studying his Bible as it is when he is preaching his Bible. To be sure, there is a sense in which every thought, every heartbeat, every volition of the good pastor belongs to his people. He is their willing servant for Jesus' sake. And especially is his probing of the Word of God a service in which he must do for them what they cannot or will not do for themselves. Every nugget of pure gold that he finds and carries off must be by him minted and put into circulation for the enrichment of these wards of his spirit. He is "a debtor both to the wise and to the unwise".
Yet with full consciousness of all this we can still repeat that the minister's purpose in study is not his purpose in preaching. There are doubtless many useful pastors upon whom the "homiletic habit" has so grown, that they have become incapable of hearing or reading anything without an immediate reference of it to their homiletic function. More to the point for our present thought, there are some pastors—not so useful, we fear—who have reached the stage where nothing appeals to them but what they can turn to immediate use in sermonizing. In vain for them do poets sing and artists paint, orators plead and philosophers reason, if they "can't preach that!" Worse still, they have no interest in those portions of Holy Writ which they believe they cannot turn to sermons. "What is the use of studying Ezekiel? Nobody can preach Ezekiel and hold an audience." Tell them that this same Ezekiel is a pivotal figure in the development of Old Testament doctrine, and you will arouse in them no new interest: they "can't preach Ezekiel".
It must be quite clear now that the difference of purpose in study and pulpit, of which we speak, is a difference that centers in the minister himself. The question of how far conscious self-culture, in a broad sense, is advisable as an end in itself for the Christian and particularly for the minister, is undoubtedly a debatable question. But this at least we are justified in taking for granted: that in his situation as a purveyor of divine truth to his flock, the pastor is quite as two
faced as the ancient prophet. If he is to be a mediator between God and man in any sense, he must have a face toward God and a face toward the people. The prophets clearly distinguish between themselves as recipients of divine revelation, and as deliverers of this revelation to their hearers. So too the minister. On the manward side he is the preacher, making known what he is led by the Spirit to impart to those who wait upon his ministry. But on the Godward side he is the student of the Word, eagerly drinking in all he can obtain from this fount of living waters. What he gets makes him what he is. And from it he delivers what he is impelled to give for the refreshment of God's people. "Would God all the Lord's people were prophets!" but as long as there are "diversities of gifts" even with "the same Spirit", so long will there be need for the ministration of the spiritually cultured to the spiritually crude, the mature to the babe, the wise to the unwise.
Now the success of such ministration will depend, so far as its substance is concerned, upon the thoroughness with which the purveyor of truth fills his own barns with store of truth, and then upon the skill with which he "divides the word of truth", that "each may have his portion in due season." Of the latter condition for success we are about to speak presently; at the moment we are concerned with the first of these conditions. And our aim is to stress the value of systematic study of the Word, independent of any immediate homiletic purpose.
In spite of all that has been said and written to this same intent, how few are the ministers who are actually pursuing such study habitually and unflaggingly! It is not by chance that what comes to my mind as I write these words is the counsel of that same eminent teacher and preacher to whom I have already referred, Dr. Purves, when he used to urge his pupils in private conversation not to spend their whole week—that is, the study hours of their whole week—in the preparation of the next Sunday's sermons; but to use the entire first half of the week in Bible study quite unhampered by pursuit of material for the approaching Sabbath. From the store so obtained and constantly swelled by fresh accretion, he assured his young auditors
out of his own successful experience, there would issue ever fresh themes, together with the breadth of view and the wealth of material to handle them with power and profit. The man who gave that counsel was one whose sermons have been described as "didactic orations of which the substance was yielded by studies in Biblical Theology". Yet this same man was so far from merely rehearsing in the pulpit what he had gathered in the study, that his biographer says of him that "only the most reflecting of his hearers quite realized that they were being carefully 'indoctrinated' as they were being powerfully aroused to religious emotion and action."
The caution voiced in this first and negative answer to our question is the more necessary, just because of the range of studies in Biblical Theology. The scholar is required to use now the telescope and now the microscope, as he gathers and compares his facts. There is nicety of detail work, and there is a sweep from eternity to eternity.
All this is full of promise to the preacher, but woe to the preacher who tries to realize on this promise without paying the premium! As hard work and as sound judgment are necessary in adapting his results to the pulpit as in obtaining them for himself. It is for this reason that we give as our second answer to the question, Can we be preachers of Biblical Theology?—yes, if we mould the results of our studies in accordance with certain considerations. And although these considerations apply to all homiletic material, they apply with such peculiar force to the preaching of Biblico-theological material, that they deserve separate mention here.
The first thing to be considered is the capacity of the hearer. And let me call attention at once to the fact that this is not the same as the culture of the hearer. Both individuals and congregations differ in culture and differ in capacity; but the two scales of difference by no means coincide. It is a truism of Homiletics that the "full age" which is able to bear "strong meat" is a maturity reached not through books and classes, curricula and commencements, but through a tuition in which the Spirit of God is the Teacher and the Word of God
is the staple. Many a humble attendant upon divine worship Sabbath by Sabbath is better able to grasp and appreciate the "deep things of God" than those who are far more gifted with the graces of manner and attainments of learning that make up what we commonly term "culture". And there has been many a parish in Scotland, Holland or in America, with its "sermon-tasters" and its Hiram Golfs, where the roster of church members was short and every one of them labored with the hands in field or shop or home, yet where the fruits of the minister's studies were more keenly savored than in the great city church with its shifting, heterogeneous and often shallow crowds. When therefore we speak of the "capacity" of a minister's audience, we mean by that their ability—special and acquired—to assimilate that "solid food" to which Christians are invited to advance who would "go on to perfection".
Such capacity, obviously, will vary among the members of the same congregation. Nevertheless it is the minister's duty to diagnose the state of his hearers in this respect, and so to order his preaching from week to week that all may be indoctrinated in "the first principles of Christ", and may be invited to accompany their spiritual leader as he accustoms them to higher flights in heavenly airs. If then his theme be one that deals with God's progressive revelation of himself through successive ages along some particular line—such, for example, as his beneficient purpose in trial—the minister must himself be the judge as to how far he dare presuppose in his auditors any background of knowledge of the history of God's people, or how far he must adjust his own findings to their meagre acquaintance with the great stadia of revelation and redemption. But there is no need for any pastor to despair of an ultimate growth of his flock in capacity to "bear" this sort of preaching. If only there be a heart right with God, he may have the joy of seeing it expand with the larger views of divine truth he affords it, and its appetite "grow with that it feeds upon" until by God's grace he has developed a congregation of Bible lovers, who will never again be satisfied with the bran and husks that may once have been their weekly diet. But the success of such a campaign of education depends, under God, upon the minister's skill in
judging the current state of his people's capacity, and in moulding his Biblical material to suit it.
The second thing he must consider in so moulding the results of his own studies, is the need of his auditors.
Here above all is the point of intersection of the minister's pastoral and preaching duties. Through his intimate personal intercourse with his people he has to discover just those phases of Christian doctrine and morals which need most emphasis at the moment. But if this is true of all homiletic material, such judgment of values is especially necessary in preaching the history of revelation. There are questions of the day (made such, perhaps, through the latest popular novel, or the inroads of some religious sect) that call for treatment from the pulpit, thorough, convincing, reasoned through by the speaker with his hearers, and that can be lifted above the petty plane of present and local conditions in no way better than by an appeal to history, to the canonical documents of the faith. For example, what better antidote for the poison of Eddyism [Christian Science], should the pastor's diagnosis reveal the fact that the need of the hour is to counteract its virus among his people, than to show them God's ever broadening and ever deepening revelation of sin and guilt and of the divine means of atonement therefor, pursued through Old and New Testaments in a series of sermons that need not at all be advertised as such but that must inevitably have a collective and cumulative effect?
When the results of the studies we are advocating are to be carried into the pulpit, there is yet one more consideration that should guide the minister in the selection and use of them. May one venture, without too much risk of being misunderstood, to call this, his own sympathy with his results? I am aware that we are treading on dangerous ground here. We have already had occasion to disclaim any approval or advocacy of a suppression of the truth. And there seems to lie in the dictum, Preach that with which you are in sympathy, an implication that the text of preachable truth lies in the soul of the preacher and not in the objective revelation of the Word. Is
not this an abandonment of the basic principle of the Reformed Theology for Quakerism or some other phase of religious subjectivism?
By no means. For surely this is no negligible distinction: the distinction between preachable truth in general, and truth that should be preached by just this man at this time. The most zealous advocate of the Scriptures as the seat of authority in religion ought not to object to the simple proposition, that for its maximum effect the preached Word requires as the medium of its communication not only a mind to understand, but also a heart that loves, and a will to propagate, the truth proclaimed. There is no question of authority here. It is a question of the sanctified personality, aglow with the enthusiasm of faith and love, that has been ordained of God as the regular and ordinary means of propagating his gospel. Is that sort of an agent at the disposal of the divine Spirit, if the agent, for whatever reason, lacks the requisite light and heat? I do not here deny those extraordinary operations of the Spirit, wherein he has at times used unregenerate and even wicked men as the vehicles of his saving truth. This he can do, for he has done it. But I am simply allowing for that imperfection—culpable, no doubt, in every instance, though in varying degrees—with which all God's messengers perform their task. We who are ministers should be the last to deny or minimize this culpable imperfection, for we who say, "Woe is me if I preach not the gospel!", cry also, "Who is sufficient for these things?" and, with a more profound abasement, "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips".
Now one of the most obvious forms which this imperfection takes is a onesidedness in our comprehension of the truth and sympathy with it, and another is a transitoriness of zeal for even the portions of the truth we have mastered and embraced. In the light of this reprehensible but indisputable fact, are we not justified in saying that, whatever might be true of the ideal prophet of God, it is the duty of the preacher, being what he is, first to prevent his people, as far as possible, from suffering through the shortcomings that make him
what he at present is, and, second, to strive to make good those shortcomings as he may? With this second duty we have no concern at present: that belongs to the study and the prayer closet. But with the former we are concerned. How can the preacher best prevent his people from suffering through his own realized imperfections as a medium of communication between God and his church?
Will it do to answer, Let him go on and preach the Word indiscriminately, without regard to his own faulty apprehension and appreciation of its truths, striving to feign a zeal he feels not, and to transfer the tones of a convinced mind and the accents of an ardent heart from the doctrines that are inexpressibly dear to him to themes that have no grip upon his spirit? There are, of course, any number of possible situations conceivable, as soon as one launches out upon the sea of casuistry. But the principle, at least, may safely be enunciated, that the best way to safeguard the people from the preacher's prophetic shortcomings is for him to preach that with which he is in sympathy. What this truth shall be, must be bounded by that which alone he is commissioned to preach—God's revealed Word. But within these vast limits, let his preaching on this day, and the next, and any given day be determined (as one of its principles of determination) by what he then and there holds in solution in a mind clarified by study and heated by the flame of reverent enthusiasm. And even if he cannot, like the Apostle at Miletus, claim within the space of "three years" to have declared to his people "the whole counsel of God", at least he will resemble Paul in having declared what he did declare "with tears" or their modern and occidental emotional equivalent!
For such preaching Biblical Theology affords incomparably greater promise than, say, a chapter-by-chapter exposition of Jeremiah or of Romans. As the minister in his study pursues the unfolding of the mind of God through his successive agents of revelation, and thus attains an ever broadening and deepening grasp upon divine truth, he ought to find that his attitude toward this entire body of doctrine is both progressively sympathetic, and sympathetic with an ever growing pervasiveness and thoroughness of detail. As his life's ministry
advances, one of the joys of its fruition should be an ever decreasing embarrassment about this question of sympathy. If it prove contrary, let him examine himself, and mistrust that something somewhere is radically wrong. But as long as he "has not yet attained, neither is already perfect", it is clear that the preacher ought to name, on the list of considerations that govern his dispensation of the truth to his people, this consideration: am I myself in such a state of preparedness of heart, that I am able "to make manifest the mystery of Christ as I ought to speak"?
In the prayers that Paul tells his Christian converts they should offer up for him and for all who preach the Word, there is a high significance, which I fear is often missed, in the climacteric order in which those three petitions are arranged that are put into the mouth of the praying church, Colossians 4:3,4. The church is to pray, first, for "an open door for the Word", so that it may have free entrance to men's hearts; second, for the faithfulness of the messengers to their message, "the mystery of Christ"; and, thirdly (yet not as an anticlimax following its supreme concern for what is to be preached, but as a true climax, which infinitely exalts for all time the homiletic art), the church is to pray that these messengers may make their message known "as they ought to speak it".
In that little word "as"—in the manner of delivery of the message—how much is included!—all that enters into the effect produced upon the hearer, which is not due to the bare facts rehearsed. The circumstance that God has ordained preaching to be the chief means of propagating his gospel, already sufficiently indicates the high value he sets upon the accompaniments of the gospel in its impact on the human soul. Saving truth, when seen glowing in the transformed life of a Christian personality, illustrates at once its own meaning and its own power. All the sentiment that breathes in the spiritual friendship of a new convert for the teacher who has shown him Christ; all the imitation, conscious or unconscious, whereby the younger and weaker believer is moulded after the likeness of his Christian exemplar; all the force of conviction that arises through seeing
salvation wrought out in a renewed person—all these moments enter into that complex effect which the preached Word makes upon men's souls. And all these moments belong to the "how to speak" of Christian Homiletics.
With the above considerations governing his preaching from week to week and year to year, the Christian minister may pursue these studies in the history of revelation, or Biblical Theology, which we have advocated, assured that there is no other study in which he can engage that will so well repay his labors, either by bringing him into sympathetic understanding of revealed truth, or by supplying him with interesting, vital and coordinated material for the indoctrination and edification of his people.
Originally published in The
Evangelical Quarterly 2 (January 1930):
Life for Land
I KINGS 21:1-29
STUART R. JONES
Several years ago, a governor of one of our larger states tried to condemn an attractive piece of land owned by a dentist so he could acquire it himself. The reason given to justify this act was that the land was so near the governor's own fashionable home, it posed a security risk. Once the media made this abuse of power known, the plan was abandoned. Surprisingly, no one seemed to be aware of the historical and biblical parallel in the story of Naboth and Ahab. Nevertheless, the visceral reaction of the man on the street to such greed and power abuse probably would be the same in both instances.
We cannot explain the severe judgment of verse 25 in terms of our visceral hatred of social injustice however. This verse says Ahab was the worst. He becomes a benchmark for evil in the northern kingdom of Israel the same way Manasseh does in the southern kingdom. Ahab outdoes the previous benchmark of evil, Jeroboam. How does the incident involving Naboth fit into this judgment? It is clear that Elijah's curses are related to this incident.
Two observations may help answer our question. First, this sin of Ahab and his wife shows the pervasive character and fullness of their sin. They began by rejecting the exclusivity of the Lord God's claim on Israel. They fostered idol worship. Then they ignored and persecuted the prophets of the true God. These sins against God would seem great enough. What is Naboth compared to sins against God? Yet the sin against Naboth demonstrates the fullness of the sin in a very real way. Even the man on the street is stirred by this sin. Persecution begins with rejecting God and then his officers, but it also reaches out to attack the faithful believer. The fullness of God-rejection is seen when the small ones are attacked. This leads us to our second observation.
Naboth regards the land differently than Ahab does. Ahab sees land as simply real estate. He regards the land as an economic thing—it can be bought and sold and that is all that matters to him. He has an immediate use for the land of Naboth and that immediate plan is frustrated.
When Naboth walks on his land he sees something else. He sees the land where his fathers lived, planted, reaped, raised their families. He sees the land where he hopes his own sons will grow up; where their families will sit under their own vine and fig tree with none to disturb or molest them. He sees the land as his own portion in Israel, even an Israel that is divided and sometimes ruled by less than desirable kings. The land is not a mere means of production. Otherwise he could sell to Ahab and buy elsewhere. But where could he buy land in Israel that would permanently belong to him and his sons?
To buy outside of Israel does not make sense; but even if it did, we face the real issue at that point. The land is a gift from God and a token of his covenant favor. This is not a marketable commodity. Naboth is reluctant to sell from sentimental feeling about the old homestead. Naboth recognizes that selling to Ahab will practically, if not legally, exempt him from the protection of the Jubilee year when land goes back to the original family owners. Besides, he has no debts or reason to sell anyway. This is too sacred a business with which to play games.
These observations explain why Ahab's sin is not fully explicated in terms of social oppression. Stealing land in Israel is religious oppression. But we do not need to rely on these observations alone to arrive at our conclusion. We can see this demonstrated in the very chapter we are examining. It is seen in the curse that comes on Ahab in verses 21 and 22. Ahab will have no family heritage. Not only will there be no dynasty of Ahab, but there will be no sons to hold the land. God's punishment fits the crime and Ahab's crime is not only theft and murder. It is the attempt to remove one man's place in Israel for his own convenience. Ahab is willing to injure Naboth spiritually for generations to come for the sake of his own temporary pleasure. He is the opposite of what a theocratic king is supposed to be in Israel, viz., a servant who preserves life and justice for the covenant people.
Ahab's evil is an Old Testament benchmark, and yet the iniquity of Israel is not full. God's patience awaits the day when Jesus will be cut off from the land of the living for the price of a field. Judas receives a curse that strikingly parallels the curse on Ahab. Acts 1:20 reports this curse:
"Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein; and his bishopric let another take." (KJV)
Two distinct Psalms are brought together here to combine two distinct blessings which are lost (Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8). Judas loses both an office and an heritage. The lot which was once used to
convey Israel's first interest in the land—a goodly heritage—is now used as a means of sovereign grace and judgment to convey title from Judas to someone else. The lines are not fallen in pleasant places for Judas anymore. This is the first movement in fleshly Israel's removal from the land. A greater curse than Ahab's belongs to Judas and fleshly Israel. More than a means of grace is lost in the land. Grace itself is lost.
Judas felt real estate was more real than a promissory note from God. He represents Israel's sentiments in wanting a political Messiah with the goal of restoring real estate. This goal is so all-consuming that the Jews drive the Meek One from the earth in order to possess land. Whatever works! Ahab's sin has come to fullness. Only this time, the meek one who is killed is the Creator of heaven and earth, the One destined to rise above heaven and earth.
Both office and heritage are lost. But fleshly Israel's expulsion from the face of the ground also brings reason and hope. The curse of Cain is exhausted upon Jesus Christ. The church's relationship to the earth becomes drastically altered. Property, real or personal, is a means of grace again. The power of land or sin to subdue our lives is changed forever. "Dust to dust" is not the last word. When Jesus emerged from the rich man's garden tomb, he made the land something more useful in his kingdom's advancement. The Meek One has inherited the earth because he was willingly cut off from the land of the living (Isa. 53:8ff.). He emerges from a rich man's tomb with more than a grave plot or Naboth's vineyard in his possession. He holds title to everything. He is pleased to share these spoils with you and me. All things are ours. Fields can now be sold to Jew or Gentile. The law's restrictions no longer stand in the way of meeting immediate needs, nor demonstrating a more far-reaching church unity. Jesus' resurrection ownership has less to do with creating a community of goods than creating a sense of immediacy in our use of his goods. Don't plan to live here forever—not even through your sons.
The early Christians in the book of Acts, Annanias and Sapphira
excepted, felt constrained to sell their land because a more real possession was at hand. They understood the Psalmist when he said, "The Lord is the portion of my inheritance" (Ps. 16:5). The Psalmist was no Levite, like Barnabas. This was David speaking of a present reality. These first Christians understood the covenant blessing on the meek. They understood the empty tomb.
One saint refuses to sell land—by faith. He loses the land anyway. Another saint sells the land—by faith. Both believe in a resurrection. But they live at different times in relation to Jesus' resurrection. Both saints see property as a means of grace glorifying God. Property is not the complete substance of grace. God alone is the completely satisfying heritage of grace. Naboth would not sell the land because it would be like selling a sacrament. He would not sell his interest in Christ. It would have to be taken from him. Only a man who believes in the resurrection can see an important difference here. The land is not the final blessing. He knew it was possible he might die and lose the land anyway. The good and wholesome life—the life with God's shalom peace-blessing—does not require a vine and fig tree so much as God's own living presence.
We live in a day of greater prophetic light. We should know these things well. It is too easy to condemn Ahab and Judas. We often only see the sins of murder and oppression, failing to see the deeper source of such sins, namely, unbelief; failing to believe possessions here are less real and substantial than the blessing of God's living presence in our lives. Greater light rejected means greater guilt. Is your property a sign of God's love to you and a tool for his glory, or is it the sum total of God's favor in your life? Whose view do you adopt, Naboth's or Ahab's? Is God's presence and promise more real to you than real estate? Is godliness with contentment great gain or just lack of proper ambition? The answer to these questions separate fleshly Israel from the true. Of which are you?
First Orthodox Presbyterian
Election and Transformation
The story is told about the Arminian and the Calvinist who were walking together one day. While descending a flight of steps, both tripped and fell to the bottom of the stairwell. Both were unhurt. But the Arminian got up and, while brushing himself off, said, "I wonder what sin I committed to deserve that?" The Calvinist stood up and said, "Boy! Am I glad that's over!"
In this story and in many other ways, the truth of the sovereignty of God, the glories of the doctrine of election (coupled with the teaching of the Word in regard to human responsibility) continue to
be maligned, misunderstood and, even worse, held as irrelevant to the concerns of the church of the 20th century.
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church just celebrated its 50th anniversary. It was a time in which we gave thanks to God for our past. As we read the anniversary volume, we cannot help but be impressed with the sovereignty of God's grace in the life of our church. There have been many struggles and churches have been through the storms of crisis. Some have not survived. Most have weathered the storms and been tempered by them. What is striking, is the faithfulness of God's working among us. His grace continues to triumph in his church; a grace that refuses to be overcome by our sin and that holds on to us in his electing love; a grace that does not leave us untouched in our faith and conduct, but that also transforms us into the image of our Savior, Christ Jesus.
In Genesis 25:19-34, we find the story of the birth of Jacob and Esau. In this story, we find that God reveals himself to us as both the God of election and the God of transformation.
The Principle of Election
The theme of election is so prominent in the story of the birth of Jacob and Esau that the apostle Paul refers to it in Romans chapter 9 as a demonstration of the righteousness of God in electing whom he wills. This theme of election, however, does not appear for the first time in Genesis 25. It is a main element of the revelation of God that comes to us in conjunction with the whole period of the patriarchs. The subject of election in the unfolding of divine revelation is, to our surprise, not a postponed topic, as though it were for the church of a later, more mature stage. In the history of the people of God, revelation concerning election comes early. In fact, it jumps out at us from the very beginning.
The whole book of Genesis seems to bring this concern to the
foreground so that it stands out in the boldest terms. The book opens like a great movie in wide-screen cinemascope and technicolor. The camera scans the creation of the world, Adam and Eve and their placement in the garden. It shows the terrible reality of the fall and the consequences of man's sin. It traces the history that develops out of Adam, leading to Noah and the destruction of the world in the flood. "But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord" (Gen. 6:8). Then comes the history of all the nations that were formed, the camera focuses on one nation, the people of Shem, the son of Noah; then on one man from that people, Terah; and then on one son of Terah, Abram.
In the very way in which the revelation in Genesis is unfolded, the design is to bring election into the foreground. The purpose for this is clear. In the beginning, God gave a promise and from the very beginning God is impressing upon his people that the promise which he makes, he himself will see to it that it is fulfilled. The promised deliverer (Gen. 3:15), the seed of the woman, the one who will be for the blessing of the many, will come. And this fact, from the first, is to be understood by the people of God, as God's own work. What he promises in his grace, he fulfills. His grace will not be overcome by the strength of nations, nor by the weaknesses of his people, not even by their sins.
How beautifully God teaches these things to Abraham. The centerpiece of the promise God made to Abraham is the promise of the seed. Abraham believes the promise and it is reckoned to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6). But the filfillment of the promise remains a mystery to him. We grow old with Abraham and Sarah through the pages of Genesis, while their marriage remains unfruitful and until all natural hope of conceiving a child is gone. Abraham's own efforts to realize the promise by counting Eliezer as the seed is rejected by God (Gen. 15:4). Later Abraham pleads with God, "Oh that Ishmael might live before thee" (Gen. 17:18)! The Lord answers, "No!" The promise remains unfulfilled until Abraham and Sarah are as good as dead; until old age has made them sterile. Then and only then,
Isaac, the promised seed, is born to them. How much clearer can the message be to Abraham and to us? The promise is not realized by your work Abraham nor by our work, but by God's work. The children of the promise are the work of God. They are born "not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (Jn. 1:13).
From the very beginning of the history of revelation, God brings into prominence his electing love and power. The promise he gives is the promise he fulfills. The purpose of God cannot fail, it is fixed. Nothing can overturn it or thwart it. It can never be overcome by any natural or physical barrier and not by spiritual barriers either, not even our sin. In the story of the patriarchs there is ample evidence of their repeated weaknesses and sins. God overturns and overcomes them all in the interests of the promise.
We in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church can certainly rejoice in the sovereignty of God's electing love—his grace that overcomes all obstacles, even our sin. In our own history, there is plenty of sin to regret for which repentance is needed. Yet we see, in spite of our sin and weaknesses, God has established churches in this country and beyond, and he continues to do so. Read the anniversary volume. Churches have endured many struggles and weathered many difficulties, but we can see operating in our own history, the sovereign grace of God that refuses to be defeated. Some churches have not survived, but still we believe in the light of God's sovereignty and grace. We trust in the light of the promise that never fails—that "no Word of God is void, no labor in the Lord vain; surely the last day will reveal a harvest to God's glory from the seed of the gospel" (The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1939-1986, p. 217).
The Principle of Transformation
In the story of Jacob and Esau, election continues to stand out. The text in Genesis 25:21-26 makes it clear that there are no factors
which account for God's choice of Jacob over Esau. Here are two children, born at the same time, who have the same mother. While there is an order to their births (which ordinarily would determine the older over the younger), this also is overturned as a factor. The younger is chosen by God over his elder brother. Even prior to their births, it is revealed to Rebekah that, "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger" (Gen. 25:23). All factors that might explain why God chooses one of the twins over the other are purposely eliminated, "that God's purpose according to his choice might stand" (Rom. 9:11).
But though election again stands out in the story of Jacob, something else stands out with equal boldness. The one elected by God possesses the worst possible character. As boldly as God's election stands out, so also does Jacob's unworthy and sinful life stand out. A new element is now revealed in the story of Jacob. What accompanies God's election of his people is the requirement that those who are elect must then be inwardly and outwardly transformed in attitude and in life in such a way that agrees with and is consistent with their election as the people of God.
With Jacob, we see that divine election demands a response. And the response is not what we might expect. The response is not that since God's work accounts for everything, then it does not matter what I do or how I conduct myself. No! The certainty of the promise does not lessen responsibility, but rather heightens it. In the Reformed tradition, we insist that this is the biblical perspective. We insist that salvation is a gift of grace by God's work alone, but we equally emphasize that if by grace you are made sons and daughters of God, then the obligation also comes that you live like it. "Walk worthy of your calling" is the way Paul puts it. The conversion experience must be accompanied by convertedness. In our churches when we baptize our children, we confess that they are holy in Christ and we also promise to instruct them, to pray with and for them and to set an example of piety before them, and by every means of God's appointment,
to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The privilege of election brings with it the responsibility of transformed living.
The story of Jacob teaches us that election gives rise to and brings into prominence the need for the transformation of the lives of the redeemed. Jacob had a most reprehensible character, but yet he is the object of divine election. His shoddy character is demonstrated again and again in the Genesis record. His name means "heel holder"; his life is one of tripping up others in order to get ahead himself. He lives up to his name. He uses his brother's hunger to his own advantage; he later deceives his father, Isaac; and in his dealings with his father-in-law, Laban, we see one rascal who has met another.
Esau's character is reprehensible also. He knew what the birthright meant. He simply did not value it. He knew it included a double portion of his father's inheritance and also that in the covenant circle it meant leadership and rule of the covenant family, inheritance of the promise of God, the blessings of Canaan and fellowship with the Lord. Esau saw these things as immaterial, too far removed from the practical concerns of life. His concern was only for the present and he was willing to relativize everything in order to have his present enjoyments satisfied. He surrendered his heritage, his birthright just because lunch was a little late. He surrendered as insignificant and of no account, the eternal; he gave it up for that which is of this world and is doomed to pass away. He loved the world! May God grant that we as a church escape the same condemnation that Esau brought down upon himself.
Jacob's reprehensible character is not like Esau's. He sees the significance and value of the birthright. Jacob's blameworthy character is seen in his desire to have the blessing by grasping after it. Esau relativizes everything in the interest of having this world and its pleasures. Jacob relativizes everything in order to obtain that which was promised. What he valued and wanted was worthy. His mode of conduct and behavior to get it was more reprehensible than Esau
The transformation of Jacob's character is necessary. Those who bear God's name must evidence a moral and ethical kinship to him. The object of the divine electing love must learn to be conformed to righteousness. Jacob must learn to obey and be constrained by the Word of God. Jacob knew the promise, "the elder will serve the younger." If the promise looked to him to be out of reach, or if the promise seemed to delay, then he must wait for it. For Jacob, for us and for all the righteous, the requirement is that we live by faith (Hab. 2:4). Jacob must learn that he only has the promise because God is pleased to give it to him. He does not come to possess it by grasping after it in an unrighteous manner.
The wonder of the story is again the revelation of divine grace and favor. Not only does the story of Jacob highlight the need for a transformed character, but also it emphasizes that this transformation of character is the work of God's grace in the lives of his people. God deals with Jacob throughout the story. The culmination of it is when Jacob wrestles with the angel of the Lord and his name is changed from Jacob to Israel. The "heel holder", the deceiver, has been transformed into the prince with God, one whose striving was now on behalf of the Lord.
The revelation connected with the story of Jacob teaches us that divine favor and grace are not the reward for a transformed character, but rather that divine grace, electing love is the source of noble character. The sovereign grace of God is not only the work he does for us to give us eternal life, but also it is his work that he does in us, to transform our lives and character to produce the righteousness befitting those who bear his name.
Jacob knew that election called for responsibility. What he had to learn was that his responsibility must be, above all else, the manifestation of a character that in all respects was conformed to the divine will. He had to be transformed into one who was reflective
of God's own holiness and righteousness.
What kind of church should we be in the next 50 years? First and foremost, we must be a church in which grace is everything; a church that rejoices in the electing love of our God for which there is no explanation, but which calls for adoration from those who are its objects. We must be a church that confesses and lives in a way that makes clear that the privilege of election requires the responsibility of transformed lives; a church that enunciates clearly to a lost world that it is not our broken backs nor own blood, sweat and tears that can give us peace—but rather a church that confesses and lives the truth that peace is heaven's gift to us—that it is the body of Christ broken for us. It is the blood of Christ shed for us. And further, that the body of Christ broken for us and the blood of Christ shed for us are also to be in us transforming us to be conformed to the image of our Savior. "For you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellence of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9).
Reformation Orthodox Presbyterian
Suggestions for further reading:
Charles G. Dennison, ed., Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1936-1986 (1986).
Charles G. Dennison and Richard C. Gamble, Pressing Toward the Mark: Essays Commemorating Fifty Years of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (1986).
(Both the above may be ordered from: Charles G. Dennison, 804 Seventh Ave., Coraopolis, PA 15108)
JAMES T. DENNISON, Jr.
When Geerhardus Vos mounted the podium of First Presbyterian Church, Princeton, New Jersey on May 8, 1894, he faced an audience expecting an address with a unique focus on the relationship of biblical theology to the theological enterprise from the perspective of orthodox Reformed theology. The memory of the Briggs heresy trial was only a year old. The morass of liberal and radical biblical theology was evident not only to the more astute among them, but to the "man in the pew." By the last decade of the nineteenth century, so-called biblical theology of the critical stripe had eviscerated
the theology from the Bible. In fact, the forward march of the liberal/critical biblical-theological enterprise had succeeded in displacing theology from the church in order to lodge it in the centers of scholarly sophistication. Liberalism—always gnostic, antiegalitarian and bigoted—had replaced theology with the history of religion (Religionsgeschichte). When Karl Barth would rebel in 1918/19, the ecclesiastical world would be shocked to attention. But when Vos delivered his inaugural, few rushed to realize the monumental character of his remarks. Perhaps old Princeton's impact was already waning. Perhaps the post-Civil War Evangelical Empire had rushed past Reformed orthodoxy. Perhaps the tyranny of "practical Christianity" made it impossible for the general church to hear. But that audience of May 8 heard a remarkable address on first principles—the nature and method of biblical theology.
Geerhardus Vos assumed the first chair of Biblical Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1893. The choice of Vos was the choice of a Calvinist who was: (1) committed to the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Confession of Faith; and (2) thoroughly familiar with German higher criticism, 18th and 19th century biblical theologies, and the exegetical scholarship on both sides of the Atlantic. A more felicitous choice cannot be imagined. Vos was fluent in German and Dutch and spent three postgraduate years in Germany under such notable critics as August Dillmann, Herman Strack and Bernhard Weiss. Yet his orthodoxy emerged unscathed. In fact, his firsthand acquaintance with the historical-critical school reinforced his confidence in the Scriptures as an objective, supernatural self-disclosure of God.
It is the supernatural character of revelation which dominates Vos's inaugural address. And it is his conviction of this quality of Scripture which distinguishes Vos's biblical theology from the "Heinz 57
varieties" of the discipline both before and since. For Vos, genuine biblical theology is derived from the conviction that the Scriptures are "objective revelation." We do not meet a mere witness to revelation in the Scriptures, nor do we find a record of religious inspiration, nor do we study to remove the temporal from the eternal. We receive the "oracles of God" and from them derive our biblical theology.
Vos's inaugural was a well-conceived introduction to the science of biblical theology. The principles elaborated in this address were to form the basis of his teaching until his retirement from Princeton in 1932. In his articles, books, sermons and in the classroom notes left by his students, Vos simply fleshes out the foundational principles of biblical theology as set forth in this address.
Biblical theology is first of all theology. And theology presupposes an active self-disclosure of God. This active divine principle sets genuine theology apart from all forms of anthropocentric liberalism which reduce theology to religion. Religion is a subjective, not an objective science. It represents man's grasp of the noumenal; it delineates man's psychical nature. In sum, religion is human religious experience arising from within man. It is anthropology, not theology. Vos was boldly distinguishing his method from that prevalent in his day. Biblical theology arises from an objective self-disclosure of God, not a species of the human religious consciousness.
Biblical Theology as Soteriological Revelation
Vos applies the active character of God's self-disclosure to a profound analysis of the postlapsarian world. To fallen man, God discloses himself as Redeemer and in that soteriological manifestation "a new order of things is called into being." Understanding this new order of things is the function of exegetical theology. Again, the data upon which the exegete labors is the record of God's self-disclosure, i.e.,
the Bible. Hence "Biblical Theology is that part of Exegetical Theology which deals with the revelation of God." But this would not distinguish biblical theology sufficiently from systematic theology. Indeed in some circles, a biblical theology is but a species of systematic theology, i.e., a theology (systematically) derived from the Bible. Vos defines biblical theology as divine self-disclosure in the active sense, i.e., in the act of God's revealing himself. This means that revelation is considered historically and progressively. In other words, biblical theology is a historico-genetic discipline.
The present reader need not be intimidated by this terminology. Simply stated, Vos is saying that biblical theology thinks about the revelation of God in Scripture as it unfolds or develops through history. Revelation possesses a genetic linkage as it progresses through history. Perhaps a few illustrations will help. The first revelation of the new order of salvation for fallen man is contained in Genesis 3:15 (the so-called protevangelium or "first gospel"). Adam and Eve are told that a human being will bring about a reversal of Satan's apparent victory over fallen man. As the Scriptures unfold from Genesis to the Gospels, we learn that this man-child will be a Hebrew (from the seed of Abraham), a Judahite (of the tribe of Judah) and a Davidide (son of David). Thus the unfolding picture of the coming deliverer becomes more specific as we approach the incarnation. Or consider the self-disclosure of God in the tabernacle-temple. God condescends or humbles himself; he dwells or abides with his people; he identifies with their condition (a tent in the desert; a building in the promised land). When Jesus affirms that he is the temple (Jn. 2 :19), the historic progress displayed from tabernacle to temple finds its accomplishment in him. Jesus is the condescension of God; he is God dwelling in our midst; he identifies with our human nature.
Perhaps we ought to pause and ask what all this has to do with the task of preaching. Vos's method guarantees that our preaching will be theocentric and Christocentric. Theocentric because what we read in Scripture is God disclosing himself. We must remind our people that they meet God in the preaching moment. God himself has
broken into the fallen world and in Scripture he initiates revelation of his very own being, his very own character, his very own transcendent arena. If our preaching is dominated by "self-help" and "how-to" and endless anecdotes, it is because we have forgotten the theocentric character of the Word of God. Moreover, our preaching must be Christocentric for we live on the nether side of the fall, east of Eden. Christ Jesus is our Daysman—our sole redeemer. Our only way to the Father is by him. All Scripture bears witness of him (cpr. Lk. 24:44). Ever since Genesis 3:15, there has been a Christological dimension to the Word of God because ever since Genesis 3:15 God has graciously inaugurated a new order for fallen man—the order of redemption through his Son. If our preaching is dull, moribund and trivial, it is because it has not been organized around the grace of a new order through the Son—Jesus Christ the Lord.
Biblical Theology as Progressive Revelation
The unfolding or progressive character of revelation enables the biblical theologian to trace the increasingly rich display of God's own self-disclosure to sinners. In this way, the Scriptures become more than a proof-text of doctrine; more than a "topic" for the present-day. The Scriptures are seen to be organically linked and historically interconnected. One part of Scripture is integrally united with other parts. Hence the advocate and practitioner of biblical theology is always searching backwards and forwards in the unfolding history of redemption. The crucial question for the interpreter of the Bible becomes: how is this passage organically related to what God has disclosed of himself before, and what he will yet disclose of himself in the future? Indeed, if all Scripture is God-breathed, then every part of revelation is directly related to the plan of the Revealer for the history of redemption. His revelation, given in history, has both a retrospective (looking backward) and prospective (looking forward) dimension. The new order or the new creation which God progressively displays in Scripture, advances toward its fulfillment and consummation.
Illustrative of this organic interrelatedness of the history of redemption is Vos's use of the budding plant analogy. Even as the adult bloom is contained in the flower bud and unfolds from it, so the history of redemption unfolds from Genesis to Revelation as a blossom from a bud. If, for example, the first Adam is the bud, the last Adam is the full blossom. If the first exodus under Moses is the bud, the new exodus in Christ Jesus is the full blossom. Redemptive history is an organism.
The continuity of God's verbal self-disclosure is further integrated by his act revelation. Word and deed complement one another. The great acts of God—especially the exodus, crucifixion and resurrection—are revelatory. Vos does not fall prey to the error of mythologizing the acts of God by means of verbal witness or testimony. He emphatically declares the revelatory character of the mighty acts of God in history. The act is identified with revelation in history. Moreover act is further explicated by word. Hence the mighty acts of God are not abstract moments—they are followed by words of explanation and interpretation. And in the organic continuum of redemptive history, act and word progressively unfold. Acts recapitulate one another; words additionally exegete one another.
Word and deed coalesce in the display of the new order advanced by God for sinful man. The heart of this new order is Christ. From beginning to end, from creation to new creation, the principle by which God makes all things new is the person and work of his Son. Christ Jesus is the central meaning of all revelation—word and deed. He is the one of whom the law and the prophets bear witness. The Christological meaning and structure of revelation is the goal toward which every interpreter of the Word of God must direct his efforts. Christ Jesus in his fullness—by way of anticipation (Old Testament), by way of accomplishment (New Testament), by way of consummation (parousia). Vos heartily endorsed the dictum of Augustine:
The New Testament is in
the Old concealed;
Biblical Theology as Linear and Transcendent
The finality of this Christological revelation is both linear and transcendent. It progresses linearly or horizontally through redemptive history from first Adam to second Adam. Yet in addition it continually discloses a transcendent (or vertical) point of contact. We may designate this the eschatological dimension which intrudes from above into the history of redemption. The full disclosure of the incarnation marks the end of the organic development. No further redemptive acts occur; nothing greater than the Christ-event can take place. The record of this accomplishment closes the canon. Beyond the inscripturation of the New Testament, the people of God may expect no further revelation (save perhaps at the parousia).
The nature of this revelatory process is multiform or "much variegated." Not all vehicles of revelation are the same nor are all the forms of revelation identical. There are four gospels (or a fourfold gospel), epistles and apocalyptic in the New Testament. The Old Testament is replete with poetry, lament, narrative history, court chronicle, prophecy, apocalyptic and much more. Vos is suggesting the unity in diversity of biblical revelation. The continuity of redemption is not annuled by its diverse forms—covenant, theocracy, kingdom, church.
Biblical Theology in History
Biblical theology has not always enjoyed acceptance in orthodox circles. The origin of the science during the heyday of rationalism made it suspect at the outset. Johann Solomo Semler's distinction between kernel and husk (the eternally valid from the temporally human) reduced biblical theology to philosophy and its bastard child moralism. Any notion of revelation was repudiated methodologically. Man and his reason sat in judgment of that which was and that which was not divine in Scripture. Such a method could spawn only arbitrariness in exegesis and preaching. Whether rationalism of the 18th century,
evolutionary religious idealism of the 19th century or existentialism of the 20th century, the critical Biblical Theology movement has produced curious molds into which the facts and themes of the Bible have been forced. Hence, critical Biblical Theology has generated more eisegesis than exegesis (as modern literary/narrative critics are quick to point out). Tragically, more orthodox evangelicalism has not been immune to these aberrations. The spate of topical and practical sermons gushing from 19th and 20th century evangelical pulpits is, in fact, formally no different from the moralistic reductionism of previous generations of liberals. The lusting after success or relevance so characteristic of modern evangelicalism is in fact the heritage of the Enlightenment, not the Reformation.
Sufficient corrective to these bastard biblical theologies is the principle of organic self-disclosure revealed in the Bible itself. The temptation to resist alien impositions on the Scriptures may be too great for liberal advocates of this science, but those who love the Scriptures as a supernatural revelation must be content to reflect only that which God himself has disclosed in the pages of Holy Writ. It is this principle which is the sufficient apologetic for a truly biblical theology. It is none other than God himself who speaks to us in his word, who manifests himself in the Magnalia Dei ("mighty acts of God"), who displays his own person and work in history—redemptive history.
Biblical Theology and Our Preaching
The insights gathered from Vos's inaugural mean that our preaching can never be the same again. For Vos has alerted us to the Copernican revolution in hermeneutics—eschatology is prior to soteriology; and all soteriology is eschatologically oriented. Through the Scriptures, God has invited us into the very arena which he himself inhabits. With Paul, we are caught up to the "heavenly places." Never again can we isolate or abstract a part of God's Word from its biblical-theological and organic context in the history of redemption. The people of God are hungry and thirsty for Christ Jesus. The poor
lambs of Christ yearn for the streams of living water that flow by the throne of God. The vessels of grace long to be lifted to the right hand of the glory on high. Biblical-theological preaching will bring our people to the arms of Jesus. It will direct their gaze toward the crystal sea mirroring the lapis lazuli throne. It will draw them to find their life hidden with Christ in God.
Preaching which does any less is bankrupt. For anything less is not an exaltation of God in his glory, or the Son of God in his mercy, or the Spirit of God in his heavenly motions—anything less is the promotion of the earthly agenda of the preacher.
Westminster Theological Seminary
Suggestion for further reading:
Geerhardus Vos,"The Idea of Biblical Theology as a Science and as a Theological Discipline," in Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., ed., Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1980): 3-24.