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The Inspired Word: Bavinck against the Historical Critics

February 22nd, 2007 | 2 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

Herman Bavinck (I have no idea how his last name is pronounced, but what fun it is to emphasize the final syllable!), along with Abraham Kuyper, was one of the most prominent Dutch theologians of the late 19th, early 20th century.  Reading his Reformed Dogmatics is tough slogging, as he interacts with every theological brook and stream.

Of interest to me, however, is that he critiques the historical critics of the late 19th century in the same fashion as Warfield.  I don't know if Bavinck read Warfield, or vice versa, but the similarity of their position is impressive (on this issue, at least--they differ when it comes to their positive formulations of inspiration).

For inspiration is a fact taught by that very Holy Scripture.  Jesus and the apostles have given us their witness concerning Scripture.  Scripture contains teaching also about itself.  Aside from all the dogmatic or scholastic development of this teaching, the question is simply whether or not Scripture deserves credence at the point of this self-testimony.  There may be disagreement about whether Scripture teaches this divine inspiration of itself; but if it does, then it must also be believeed at this point just as much as in its pronouncements about God, Christ, salvation, etc.  The so-called phenomena of Scripture cannot undo this self-testimony of Scripture and may not be summoned against it as a party in the discussion.  For those who make their doctrine of Scripture dependant upon historical research into its origination and structure have already begun to reject Scripture's self-testimony and therefore no longer believe that Scripture.  They think it is better to build up the doctrine of Scripture on the foundation of their own research than by believingly deriving it from Scripture itself.  In this way, they substitute their own thoughts for, or elevate them above, those of Scripture.

Bavinck's point is the same as Warfields:  looking at the characteristics of the Bible (its history, its origin, its cohesiveness, etc.) and basing doctrine on them is a theological party foul.  Theology and Christian doctrine is the explication of the teachings of Scripture, not of the creation and attributes of its foundational text.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.