Paradox and the Centrality of the Doctrine of God in Hermeneutics -- By: Andrew Aucamp

Journal: Conspectus
Volume: CONSPECTUS 12:1 (Sep 2011)
Article: Paradox and the Centrality of the Doctrine of God in Hermeneutics
Author: Andrew Aucamp

Paradox and the Centrality of the Doctrine of God
in Hermeneutics

Andrew Aucamp1


This essay examines the legitimacy of paradox as a valid hermeneutical category. The arguments of theologians and authors on both sides of the debate are examined and critiqued. Importantly, the way that R L Reymond applies his anti-paradox principle in his systematic theology is evaluated in order to provide insight into the debate. The author of this essay concludes that while the anti-paradox position is correct in principle, it can be applied in a narrow or mechanistic way that does not give adequate recognition to the semblance of paradox in scripture. Also, while the pro-paradox position has some validity, some of the statements made by those holding to this position are problematic and destroy the foundation for being able to differentiate between truth and error. A modified statement is therefore proposed that upholds the anti-paradox principle, but still gives expression to the semblance of paradox found in scripture.


There are two distinct camps in the theological debate on the validity of paradox as a legitimate hermeneutical category. On the one hand, a number of theologians, such as Packer (1961:18-25), Grounds (1978), Kuiper and van Till, affirm the presence of paradoxes in scripture (see Reymond 1998:103-104) (hereafter referred to as the ‘pro-paradox group’). These paradoxes seem to represent two contradictory statements (called ‘antinomies’ by Packer); statements that appear irreconcilable to human logic. According to them, the only resolution is to live with the apparent contradiction and deny that it is real (Packer 1961:21; Grounds 1978:4). Examples of doctrinal antinomies include God’s sovereignty and human freedom (Packer 1961:21), and unconditional election and the free offer of the gospel (Waldron 1989:122, 145).

On the other hand, a second group of theologians deny the validity of such a category of hermeneutics (hereafter referred to as the ‘anti-paradox’ group). Basinger (1987:213), for example, concludes from his analysis that self-contradiction is not a category into which biblical truth can be fitted. Reymond (1998:104-106) agrees, and raises a number of problems with holding to a pro-paradox position (noted in a later section). Reymond (1998:108-109, 692-693) then applies this principle in a number of important areas, including the doctrine of the

Trinity, and whether God desires the salvation of all men or the elect only.

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