Vos Study #5 is out, covering half of chapter 3, The Content of Pre-Redemptive Special Revelation. Chapter 2 on The Mapping Out of the Field of Revelation gave an outline of the forthcoming chapters; this is the first installment. Chapter 3 begins by listing “Four Principles”:
- the principle of life in its highest potency sacramentally symbolized by the tree of life;
- the principle of probation symbolized in the same manner by the tree of knowledge of good and evil;
- the principle of temptation and sin symbolized in the serpent;
- the principle of death reflected in the dissolution of the body.
This episode only discusses the first two; the latter two will be next time. (I thought it was interesting that these four principles are arranged chiastically (and I thought it would be impressive if I used the word ‘chiastically’) with outer and inner pairs of principles being mirror-images of each other.
For the first principle, Vos begins by asserting that Eden is not man’s home, but rather “The Garden of God,” a place of worship, a temple, which concept was later picked up and exhaustively expanded up on by Greg Beale. Most of the rest of this discussion brings in other passages that illustrate the sacramental nature of the Tree of Life (Rev 2:7, Ps 65:9, etc).
Vos spends more time discussing principle 2, for “There is more mystery and hence far greater difference of opinion concerning this tree than the tree of life.” Vos first sets up the worst option, “mythical interpretation. … The idea is a thoroughly pagan one, that of the jealousy of the gods lest man should obtain something felt by them to be a private divine privilege.” Vos mocks and dismisses this approach in short order, noting how silly it would be for God to plant the very tree that causes him to worry that man might eat of it.
The second option is more plausible. “This view attaches itself to the linguistic observation that Hebrew ‘to know’ can signify ‘to choose’. The name would then really mean ‘the tree of the choice of good and evil’. Vos’ principal objection to this is that it doesn’t make sense to talk of ‘choice’ (an act) rather than ‘knowledge’ (a state) before the probation, when the in the consequence, “nakedness stands not for an act but for a condition.” A quick note about this view though; “Others give a peculiar sinister sense to the word ‘knowing’, making it to mean ‘the independent autonomous choice over against God’s direction of what was good and what was evil for man.” That statement seems to me to be Vos warning against an (anachronistic) over-van-Tillian approach to the question.
Finally, Vos introduces the correct interpretation: “the tree is called the tree of ‘knowledge of good and evil’, because it is the God-appointed instrument to lead man through probation to that state of religious and moral maturity wherewith his highest blessedness is connected.”
Vos stresses the arbitrary nature of the command. If God were to have issued a command that had an inherent moral component, then Adam might have (been expected to) figure out what to do ‘by instinct’. But Vos contends, “The pure delight in obedience adds to the ethical value of a choice. In the present case it was made the sole determinant factor, and in order to do this an arbitrary prohibition was issued, such as from the very fact of its arbitrariness excluded every force of instinct from shaping the outcome.” So the probation test is purely a test of obedience, with the only ‘reason’ (Vos speaks of the ‘unreasoned will of God’, and the ‘unexplained, unmotivated demand of God’) being: because God said so.
Next time, the rest of ch 3, and the remaining two principles of pre-redemptive special revelation (temptation and death).