Some Epistemological Reflections on 1 Cor 2:6-16 -- By: Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 57:1 (Spring 1995)
Article: Some Epistemological Reflections on 1 Cor 2:6-16
Author: Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.

Some Epistemological Reflections on 1 Cor 2:6-16

Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.

In Jerusalem and Athens G. C. Berkouwer expressed disappointment over Van Til’s criticism of his views. He had expected that “exegesis of Holy Scripture would play a decisive role.” Instead, not only did Van Til misunderstand him, he believed, but “of far greater consequence” was “the total lack of biblical reflection and the absence of a reply to all the exegetical questions.”1 In a brief response Van Til conceded Berkouwer’s point. His critique of Berkouwer’s theology “should have had much more exegesis in it than it has. This is a defect.”2 He then went on to generalize, “The lack of detailed scriptural exegesis is a lack in all of my writings. I have no excuse for this.”3

This interchange highlights a frequent perception (and charge): Van Til talks repeatedly about “the Christ of the Scriptures”; his uncompromising concern is to let “the self-attesting Christ of Scripture” speak. Yet his writings provide precious little, if any, argumentation based on a careful treatment of key biblical passages; his approach is assertive and dogmatizing, rather than exegetical.

We might wonder whether Van Til was not too hard on himself and perhaps conceded too much to his critics. And have his critics read him as carefully as they might? For, more than might appear at a first glance, he was well read in the commentaries of Dutch Calvinism like the Bottenberg series, conversant with the exegetical work of his colleague John Murray, and not only knowledgeable in but thoroughly committed to the kind of biblical theology fathered by his Princeton Seminary professor and friend, Geerhardus Vos. A reflective reading of Van Til shows a mind (and heart) thoroughly permeated by Scripture; issues of its interpretation substantially shaped his thinking, if not his style of presentation.

Still, there is substance to criticism like that of Berkouwer. Van Til did not make the biblical basis for the characteristic emphases in his thought as clear as he might have; that basis needs to be made more explicit. What follows here is the effort to show some of the exegetical support for several key emphases in his epistemology.


“It can be rightly said that Paul does nothing but explain the eschatological reality which in Christ’s teachings is called the Kingdom.” This perceptive observation of Herman Ridderbos4 is certainly applicable to

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