Geerhardus Vos (1862-1949): A Biographical Sketch -- By: Ransom Lewis Webster

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 40:2 (Spring 1978)
Article: Geerhardus Vos (1862-1949): A Biographical Sketch
Author: Ransom Lewis Webster

Geerhardus Vos (1862-1949):
A Biographical Sketch

Ransom Lewis Webster

Formative Years

On March 14, 1862 there was born in Heerenveen in the Netherlands one who was destined to become a devoted servant of the kingdom of God and a defender of historic Christianity, Geerhardus Vos. He was born into a sphere of intense Christian activity, for his father was a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church (De Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk). This denomination had come into being in 1834, as the result of a break with the old state church (De Nederlandsch Hervormde Kerk), which dated back to Reformation times. The division was in protest against the prevailing rationalism and liberalism of the state church. In contrast, the new church held firmly to the position of the famous Synod of Dort (1619).

Both of Vos’ parents were committed to the historic Christian faith. They were born in Graafschap, Germany, and were descendants of French Huguenots, named Vosse, who had fled from France to Germany to escape severe persecution. Although we know nothing concerning the details of Vos’ childhood, we may justly assume that his parents faithfully instructed him in the tenets of Christianity and in the Confessions.

Vos’ early years served as a prelude to the remainder of his life. The period in which he grew up was filled with theological controversy. Liberalism view for the supremacy over orthodoxy, the same situation Vos was to encounter in his later life. It was during Vos’ youth that Abraham Kuyper led the battle against the forces of liberalism. In 1880 Dr. Kuyper founded the Free University of Amsterdam, an institution designed to provide education in the Christian tradition.

Besides a love for the faith, Vos was gifted with great scholarly ability. He attended the gymnasiums of Schiedam and Amsterdam, graduating from the latter with honors in 1881.

In the spring of that same year his father received and accepted a call to a Christian Reformed pastorate in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Thus the family, including Geerhardus, moved to America. He began his own studies for the ministry at the Theological School of the Holland Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids. He remained there for two years, until 1883. During the second year, he served as a student instructor. Vos continued his studies at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he won the Hebrew Fellowship for a thesis on “The Mosaic Origin of the Pentateuchal Codes.” After completing his work at Princeton in 1885, Vos spent three years of study in Europe, one at the University of Berlin and the others at the University of Strasbourg. In 1888, at the age of 26, he received the degree of Doctor o...

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