Essential Human Nature: What is it? The beginning of a discussion from Bavinck's Ethics


09 10 2020

Essential Human Nature

The content

Bavinck starts by saying, “How we must live is determined by our answers to the fundamental questions of our origin, purpose and destiny.” Page 33

Obviously in his introduction he realises how non-Christian dogma look up, humanness as opposed to the creation Story.

Humanity was created good; There was a fall and through the second Adam (Jesus) we are provided with the gift of new righteousness and holiness.

The Christian confession directly contradicts the contemporary tendency, through the conflict with the ego which strives for autonomy from the restrictions of the external world and matter; Overcoming nature by reason and spirit.


At the end of Page 33 Bavinck says, “We believe that the image of God belongs to the essence of humanity: humanity apart from God.”

So, there are some pointers for us. Before we move on and look at the internal content of Reformed ethics Volume 1 let us look at the basic content of chapter 1 first part.

Humanity Before Conversion;

The main Title: Essential Human Nature.

Human Beings created in God’s image pages 35 – 43

The content of human nature pages 44 – 49

Human relationships

1.     Our relation to God pages 50 -60

2.     Our relation to other people pages 60 – 61

3.     Our relation to nature pages 61 – 62

4.     Religion and Morality pages 62 – 75

As a side word

It is interesting that he talks about our relation to nature.  In the present crises of the world such as Covid-19, Californian fires, the melting of the arctic regions and other catastrophes, I think it essential to look at the foundations of ethics and morality.  We need to discover from where human axioms went wrong and have led to this destruction.  We need to be humble enough to learn from these great theological giants.  Basically, there needs to be a return to an ethic from above rather than below.

Page 27 italics.

John Bolt and his team have done a great job of translating this magnificent script. Bavinck having looked at some earlier theologians chooses a traditional tripartite style;

1.     Humanity before conversion

2.     Converted humanity

3.     Regenerated humanity

So, let us start looking at pages 35 – 44 namely;

Human beings created in God’s image

For Bavinck origin determines direction and purpose.  To say whether humans originate from below (earth- evolution) or from above (God).

The Greeks regarded humans originating from the earth. Bavinck goes on to say that contemporary thinkers follow this same path.  I agree with Bavincks findings here.  Bavinck writes “under the influence of materialistic i.e. primates, missing links, and so on et al.” Bavinck goes on to say, “This was openly stated by Professor du Bois-Reymond in Berlin.”

The last paragraph of page 35 is very important; Bavinck and believers start from very different presuppositions to get to a different (other ετεροs; my interpretation) ethic.  I find the next sentence that Bavinck made very interesting; “Ethics in the true sense of the word does not exist within a Darwinian framework.” As Bavinck goes deeper his explanation of ethic will become clearer.


Bavinck goes on in the next paragraph and nothing has changed since the late 19th and 20thcenturies; “Every view of human beings start from an axiom, a point of departure, a proposition of faith or hypotheses.” (Page 35 para 2)


Darwin’s proposition was that a human being was an evolved animal.  For Christians this is not the case as we are “God’s offspring Acts 1728.” For believers it is the contrary principle, presupposition with reference to humanity.

So how does the image of God exist in us?

1  In the essence of our humanity: with soul and body as substrate.

2.     In the capacities and abilities of that essence: knowing, feeling, willing and acting.

3.     In the properties and gifts of that essence and their capabilities; holiness knowledge and righteousness. Page 36

 TThis discusson will continue from page 36 of Bavinck’s ethics.   Bavinck was well aware that not all scholars accept the Biblical teaching but the opposite disengaging with God and going for an evolutionary line.  

My view:

Where does this lead? It leads ethics down the road of utilitarianism where human life becomes cheap.  ‘What matters is saving resources.’  We can see this in many ways; How in hospitals if there is a danger of having a baby that does not reach a ‘particular potential’ then it is ok to kill that particular life.  If one holds that life is relative and is based on some type of cost then killing through Euthanasia or abortion becomes a possibility in advanced societies.  This is where we need to listen to the clarion call of Bavinck and remember that there is a God and humans have been created in the image of God.  Even the vilest criminal was created in the image of God.  Life is too cheap nowadays; When will we learn  and as a society change our way of thinking about life and death.

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