Vos Study #6

This time, for Vos Study #6, they cover the back half of chapter 3, The Content of Pre-Redemptive Special Revelation. The first half of the chapter was about the principles of life (Tree of) and probation (ToKoGaE). The two remaining principles are

3. the principle of temptation and sin symbolized in the serpent;
4. the principle of death reflected in the dissolution of the body.

As always, an interesting discussion. As is Vos’ habit, he first dispenses of erroneous views before proceeding to a correct view. The first erroneous view that the serpent is completely allegorical and ahistorical “is contrary to the plain intent of the narrative; in Gen 3:1, the serpent is compared with the other beasts God had made; if teh others were real, then so was the serpent. In vs. 14 the punishment is expressed in terms requiring a real serpent.” The other erroneous view goes to the other extreme; that there was merely a serpent, but Vos rejects that because “The Bible always upholds against all pantheizing confusion the distinction between man who speaks, and animals who do not speak; Balaam’s ass forming the only exception on record. It therefore becomes necessary to adopt the old, traditional view according to which there were present both a real serpent, and a demonic power, who made use of the former to carry out his plan.”

Vos talks about how Satan approached Eve rather than Adam, not because Eve was weaker, but because she was not the direct recipient of God’s prohibiting Word. That put me in mind of the importance of disseminating the Word (either by Adam in his role as prophet, or our pastors today), and the importance of accepting that Word (again, by us as well as Eve).

Another point was that Adam was with Eve throughout this whole scene, and watched her fall without intervening. This made me think of (spoiler alert!) the penultimate episode of Fargo, where Lester knows Billy Bob Thornton is after him, so he cowardly sends his wife inside, wearing his distinctive bright orange down coat with hood. So also Adam knew there was danger, but let his wife taste anyways. After his beefeater took the first bite and nothing apparently happened, then Adam also ate. Speaking of which, Vos’ understanding of “In the day that you eat you shall surely die” is in the sense of “As surely as you eat, so shall you die.”

The final “principle” is death. Vos has sharp words for some scientists who claim that death was always part of the evolutionary history of man: “At present many writers take exception to this [that death is the penalty of sin], largely on scientific grounds. With these as such we have here nothing to do. But, as is frequently the case, strenuous attempts are made to give such a turn to the Biblical phrases as to render them compatible with what science is believed to require, and not only this, some proceed to the assertion that the Scriptural statements compel acceptance of the findings of science. Attempts of this kind make for poor and forced exegesis. Scripture has a right to be exegeted independently from within; and only after its natural meaning has been thus ascertained, can we properly raise the question of agreement of disagreement between Scripture and science.” So Vos died in 1949; I wonder how much input he had into his student Kline’s Framework Theory?

Vos closes the chapter with a discussion of various senses of mortal/immortal, which correspond to the fourfold estate of man. Man’s soul is and always was immortal. Pre-fall Adam’s body was mortal in the sense it could be crushed by a rock (externally), but not in the sense that it had death at all internally (like a disease). Fallen man is mortal in a stronger sense; “whereas before he was liable to die only under certain circumstances, he now inevitably had to die.” Total immortality belongs to “the regenerate, here already in principle, and, of course, in their heavenly state”.

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Vos Study #5

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”:

  1. the principle of life in its highest potency sacramentally symbolized by the tree of life;
  2. the principle of probation symbolized in the same manner by the tree of knowledge of good and evil;
  3. the principle of temptation and sin symbolized in the serpent;
  4. 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).



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Luther vs Calvin(?) on Images

First off, here’s Luther (described by Heiko Olbermann, quoted by RSC):

With regard to Luther’s judgment on images, we are not in the dark. In his report to his confidant Nikolaus Hausmann on the situation he found in Wittenberg, he was unambiguous: “Damno imagines.” The elimination of images, however, should be brought about by means of a consensus grounded in the faith. As far as the intended action goes, Luther’s posture was in 1522 appears no different from the position Erasmus had counseled six years earlier—images should be tolerated until they can be removed sine tumultu. On March 17, having just arrived from the Wartburg, he summarized his strategy on images this way: “They would fall of themselves if people were taught and knew that before God symbols are nothing.

And now here’s Calvin, quoted (paraphrased?) by R. C. Sproul, against Bob Godfrey, HT Jesse Light:

53:24 — Calvin’s view was to wean the people away from the idolatrous use of images and icons in Rome. But it was not an absolute principial objection; he thought it was a temporary, prudential need to change the worship culture of the church from the idolatry that was rampant in Rome, and the Roman use of images, Bob, you know that, and that’s why I’m saying, if we’re going to be Calvinistic, if you’re going to follow Calvin on this point, Calvin theoretically allowed for the use of images — prudentially — after a moratorium to liberate a generation of people from that stuff.

So Luther’s Reformation was temporarily for images, with an end goal of eliminating them, but Calvin’s Reformation was temporarily against images, until they could be allowed in appropriate uses?

Personally, although I think Sproul’s words well describe the actual situation of the early Reformed churches wrt idolatrous Rome, I have never seen any writings that would back up this actually being Calvin’s documented position. If there are any, I wish I knew about them three years ago, they would have come in really handy!

Posted in Calvin, Calvinism, Legalism, Liberty, Liberty of Conscience, Links, Lutheranism, Quotes, Reformed piety | 9 Comments

Visiting St. Andrew’s ‘Chapel’

Last November, we were in Orlando for a wedding, and we decided to worship at St. Andrew’s PCA, home of R. C. Sproul. It was an interesting experience all around, and I’ve been meaning to blog about it ever since.

As we walked in from the parking lot, it was clear that the ‘Chapel’ would be better named a ‘Cathedral’, with traditional European architecture (east-west orientation, bell tower, giant vaulted ceiling supported by flying buttresses, cross-shaped floor plan, etc.), sharing a lovely green plot of a few acres with a pond and Ligionier Ministries. I was planning, if the opportunity should arise, a greeting to Dr. Sproul from Escondido OPC, Westminster Seminary, and the Cambridge School (which has received a lot of mentorship from the Geneva School which came out of Sproul’s church). As it happened, the day we visited was the same day a minister was ordained or received or installed or something in one of the other churches that are somehow in a cluster (sub-presbytery?) with St Andrews, and a deacon or greeter explained that Dr. Sproul was not out talking with guests as usual, because of duties related to that church business. Also, there was a note in the bulletin that, under doctor’s orders, Dr. Sproul is not allowed to shake hands. I guess he’s really pretty old by now, and that seems a good precaution to safeguard his health.

So the most striking element of the cathedral is the art. The St. Andrew’s website describes everything (and there is a handout available with the same information). Immediately upon entering the foyer, there is a Torah scroll in a glass case (from a scriptorium in Yemen that has been active since biblical times). All around the foyer are mounted 6 large (and I mean huge, like at least 6’x8′) paintings of scenes from the life and work of Christ. Unfortunately, I can’t find any pictures of them online, but they are by Richard Serrin, “one of the greatest religious painters of the twentieth century.” I’m no art critic, but I was not particularly impressed. I have no problem with images of Christ (outside the sanctuary), and these were certainly not Kincade-cheesy, but I didn’t get an impression of awe-inspiring mastery from them.

Inside the sanctuary, there are a number of remarkable stained-glass windows. It would have helped if I had found and read the handout first, because I was distracted and confused for the whole service about why, directly behind the pulpit, there were giant stained-glass windows of a lion, a man, and a bull (see picture below). Turns out, in that alcove there are actually 5 windows, symbolically representing the four gospel writers, and presenting Paul as a man, each holding a Book of their contributions to the New Testament. Apart from being just plain distracting, I don’t see how they can be reconciled with historical, confessional Reformed views on images in churches. (To hear Sproul on images, try here at 18:20, or here at 45:00) The large stained glass windows to the sides seem more appropriate, being mostly mosaicked color, surrounding Christological symbols of a throne, and a crown&scepter.

Enough about the facility (except to note that, oddly, there were two uniformed, armed Sanford policemen guarding(?) the foyer), let me pass on to the service, or as much as I can remember after 5 months. The prelude consisted essentially of an oboe concerto, with a tiny chamber orchestra up there (lovely, but a bit secular for my taste). The organ and hymns were wonderful. There was I believe a responsive psalm reading and a confession of the Apostle’s or Nicene creed.

The most memorable aspect of the sermon was that R.C. mounted the podium and announced that in his studies he had accidentally skipped right over the passage that had just been read, and prepared for the next pericope. After relating a hilarious mashup of two gospel parables, he dove right into the assigned passage, al fresco as it were. The sermon was as good as I would have expected from Sproul. Unfortunately, the St. Andrews website doesn’t seem to present a complete index of recorded sermons by date, so I can’t look up exactly what the sermon was, and refresh my memory beyond that.

Posted in Protestant preaching, Review, Worship | 3 Comments

Vos Study #4

Time for Vos study #4!

The assigned reading is the entire small chapter #2, The Mapping Out of the Field of Revelation, which considers the fourfold division of General (Natural) vs Special (Supernatural), and pre-fall vs post-fall, Revelation.

One thing I noticed was that Vos has a category for pre-fall Special Revelation, but it is explicitly not Redemptive. This discussion of probation is interesting when balanced with FV insistence that the COW was gracious (in these quotes, emphasis is always mine):

The provision of this new, higher prospect for man was an act of condescension and high favour. God was in no wise bound on the principle of justice to extend it to man, and we mean this denial not merely in the general sense in which we affirm that God owes nothing to man, but in the very specific sense that there was nothing in the nature of man nor of his creation, which by manner of implication could entitle man to such a favour from God.

Those are strong words, but I think still completely in sync with MGK’s assessment that there was “not a gram of grace” in the COW.

In the podcast, Bucey and Tipton take their w-w shots at Natural Theology, which is probably not unexpected from avowed Van Tillians, but I think they push Vos farther than he himself would go. Here’s what Vos actually wrote :

Redemption in a supernatural way restores to fallen man also the normalcy and efficiency of his cognition of God in the sphere of nature. How true this is may be seen from the fact that the best system of Theism, i.e. Natural Theology, has not been produced from the sphere of heathenism, however splendidly endowed in the cultivation of philosophy, but from Christian sources. When we produce a system of natural knowledge of God, and in doing so profess to rely exclusively on the resources of reason, this is, of course, formally correct, but it remains an open question whether we should have been able to produce such a thing with the degree of excellence we succeeded in imparting to it, had not our minds in the natural exercise of their faculties stood under the correcting influence of redemptive grace.

The most important function of Special Revelation, however, under the regime of sin, does not lie in the correction and renewal of the faculty of perception of natural verities; it consists in the introduction of an altogether new world of truth, that relating to the redemption of man. … Nature cannot unlock the door of redemption.

Contrariwise, Bucey&Tipton made the question sound entirely closed. And immediately in the next paragraph is a tough pill for the w-w crowd to swallow, mitigating the importance of Special Revelation for natural understanding.

Another great quote:

Many new things belong to [post-fall, redemptive Special Revelation], but they can all be subsumed under the categories of justice and grace as the two poles around which henceforth the redeeming self-disclosure of God revolves. All the new processes and experiences which the redeemed man undergoes can be brought back to the one of the other of these two.

You gotta love some good strong Law&Gospel.

The bulk of the rest of the chapter deals with the Hebrew berith as covenant (I don’t recall MGK including Vos in his discussion of various definitions of ‘covenant’), and the choice facing the translators of the Septuagint and the writers of the New Testament to use either diatheke or syntheke. Ultimately, it seems syntheke was rejected because of its undue stress on the equality (syn-?) of both parties, and diatheke used even though it usually implied the death of the Testator (see Heb 9:16ff). There is apparently a less common usage of diatheke for “a disposition that some one made for himself” without regard to death, that was what the biblical writers were getting at.

However, this whole discussion raised in my mind the question of why God would ordain that the language that the NT would be written in would not offer a more suitable word to correspond with berith?

Posted in Books, Covenant Theology, Plugs, Resources, Theonomy, Vos | 1 Comment

Finding Christ in Adam’s Rib

I recently visited another church (for a family baptism), and after the sermon on Gen 2:18-25 (the account of the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib)I was left wondering how Christ could be preached directly from this passage. (As it happened, the gospel was included via Eph 5 on Christ and the church as head and bride, but it didn’t really seem organically connected.)

So I’m wondering, how legitimate is it to see death and resurrection in Adam’s sleep, and (bloody?) sacrifice “for” his bride?

Or on the other hand, can Christ be seen at all in Eve, who is of Adam’s own nature and substance, uniquely suited to be his “helper” (a la HC16)? (It was noted in the sermon that the Hebrew word for “helper” is most often used of God as redeemer, quite often in the Psalms.) If not an actual type of Christ, perhaps a lesser-to-greater argument can get us from the necessity of “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” for Eve’s this-worldly helper-ness, to the necessessity of Christ’s being “very man” for his redemptive helper-ness?

What do you think? (Or to what can you link?)

Posted in Creation, Protestant preaching, The gospel | 3 Comments

Reading Scripture Together: Kindle edition


A few weeks ago I posted about Reading Scripture Together: A Comparative Qur’an and Bible Study Guide, by my aunt, Barbara Hampton. While it is still available in its original paperback form, it is now also available in an extra crispy Kindle edition!

The Kindle edition is priced at $4.99, but we set it up with Amazon’s “MatchBook” feature, so anybody who buys the paperback should be able to get the Kindle edition also for just 99 cents. (I don’t know how that works with anybody that might have bought the paperback already; if anybody has problems with MatchBook, drop a comment below and I will contact you offline and make sure it gets taken care of.)

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