Tag Archives | Geerhardus Vos

Warfield, Vos, and Van Til: Is God One Person?

Shield of the TrinityOrthodox trinitarianism typically refers to God in terms of three persons or subsistences (personas, subsistentia, or ὑποστάσιες) and one essence or substance (essentiasubstantia, or οὐσία). But is there a sense in which God is one person? To put it another way, is God’s oneness personal?

Here’s how three Princeton theologians addressed this topic.

B. B. Warfield (1851–1921)

The elements in the doctrine of God which above all others needed emphasis in Old Testament times were naturally His unity and His personality. The great thing to be taught the ancient people of God was that the God of all the earth is one person. Over against the varying idolatries about them, this was the truth of truths for which Israel was primarily to stand; and not until this great truth was ineffaceably stamped upon their souls could the personal distinctions in the Triune-God be safely made known to them.

Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, “The Spirit of God in the Old Testament,” chapter 3 of Biblical Doctrines, vol. 2 of The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield (New York: Oxford University Press, 1932), 127 (emphasis added).

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The Doctrine of the Trinity in Five Theses

Shield of the TrinityHere’s how Geerhardus Vos articulates the core affirmations of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity:

  1. There is only one divine being. Scripture expresses itself decisively against all polytheism (Deut 6:4; Isa 44:6; Jas 2:19).
  2. In this one God are three modes of existence, which we refer to by the word “person” and which are, each one, this only true God. In Scripture these three persons are called, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  3. These three persons, although together the one true God, are nevertheless distinguished from each other insofar as they assume objective relations toward each other, address each other, love each other, and can interact with each other.
  4. Although these three persons possess one and the same divine substance, Scripture nevertheless teaches us that, concerning their personal existence, the Father is the first, the Son the second, and the Holy Spirit the third, that the Son is of the Father, the Spirit of the Father and the Son. Further, their workings outwardly reflect this order of personal existence, since the Father works through the Son, and the Father and Son work through the Spirit. There is, therefore, subordination as to personal manner of existence and manner of working, but no subordination regarding possession of the one divine substance.
  5. The divine substance is not divided among the three persons as if each possesses one-third. Neither is it a new substance beside the three persons. Finally, neither is it an abstraction of our thinking in a nominalistic sense. But in a manner for which all further analogy is lacking, each of these persons possesses the entire divine substance.

Geerhardus Vos, “The Trinity,” chapter 3 of Theology Proper, vol. 1 of Reformed Dogmatics, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, trans. Annemie Godbehere (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013), 38–39.

By the way, today is Vos’s 151st birthday. In honor, Logos Bible Software just posted a 14-volume collection of Vos’s works on Pre-Pub. They’re also working on the first ever English translation of Vos’s Reformed Dogmatics, from which the above quotation comes.

Two New Theology Books Now on My Wishlist

Concise Reformed DogmaticsP&R just published J. van Genderen & W. H. Velema’s Concise Reformed Dogmatics, which the publisher describes as “a crystallization of the best confessionally Reformed Dutch thought in a single, manageable English-language volume.” The translation is the merger of Gerrit Bilkes’s and Ed M. van der Maas’s separate English translations of the original 1992 Dutch edition, Beknopte Gereformeerde dogmatiek.

It is the product of a multistep process of comparing the two translations and combining their strengths. With an eye for clarity and theological integrity, a team of readers—including W. H. Velema, the lone surviving author, together with Lawrence W. Bilkes and Gerald M. Bilkes—checked the entire work.

One might be tempted to question if this nearly 1,000-page tome rightly bears the descriptor concise. Compared to many systematic theology books, 1,000 pages is by no means brief, but held to the standard of other Dutch works like those of Bavinck (3,024 pp.), Kuyper (3,486 pp.), and Vos (≈1,900 pp.), it is definitely on the smaller side.

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Wanted: A Dutch-to-English Translator

Abraham KuyperYesterday I stumbled across Kuyper’s dogmatic theology, Dictaten dogmatiek: College-dictaat van een der studenten, on Princeton’s digital online library. By the subtitle, it appears to be dictations from one of his students. I really wish I knew even enough Dutch to work through some of this with profit. Better yet, I wish I knew someone who knew Dutch and would be willing to translate his section on the Trinity for me: Hoofdstuk I. Het Dogma de Sancta Trinitate. It’s only 44 pages. Any takers?

Also, how about we get someone to translate the whole thing—all 3,486 pages of it—into English for print and digital publication?

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“Reprinted with Correcttions”

I was looking at some Geerhardus Vos stuff on the Kerux website and got a good chuckle when I read this:

The Nature and Aims of Biblical Theology*

Geerhardus Vos

Biblical theology is a comparatively recent arrival in the theological family. In view of this, it can create little surprise that a wide divergence of opinion prevails in regard to the place she ought to occupy and the rights to be accorded to her, or even in regard to the question whether she can claim any rights or place at all. Many look upon the new-comer with suspicion, while others run into the opposite extreme of paying her such exclusive honor and attention as to treat her older sisters with unmerited coldness and neglect.

. . .


* Reprinted with correcttions from The Union Seminary Magazine 13/3 (February – March 1902): 194-99.

Of all the places to have a typo. :)