Archive for April, 2021

Herman Bavinck on the ancient Greeks and the idea of conscience. Is conscience a universal thing?

April 24, 2021

Bavinck asks the question in chapter 5 of his ethics page 169,” Why is there relatively little mention of the conscience among the Greeks and Romans when it is such a universal human phenomenon?”

Bavinck made two points here.

1.        Socrates and Plato linked ethics to the polis (city); “For the Greek, the norms for morality, for the good, were objectively present in the laws of the polis and were not specified by the acting subject in their conscience.” Page 169

2.       “Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were intellectualists; this meant that they sought the starting point and standard for conduct in human reason rather than in the conscience” page 169.

Before moving on to how Alexander the Great fits in this; At one time for the ancient Greek keeping the laws of the city state are what made a good person.  Or that using logic and thinking moves the will to do actions that are right or wrong.  Making one’s own decisions seems to be on the backburner.  As we know from history though that war changes things.


Alexander the Great was a warrior and he conquered nations as far as India.  The city states according to Bavinck and he is surely correct lost much of their significance.  He writes on page 170.

“People were directed to themselves and had to find certitude, including moral certitude, within themselves. Individualism and cosmopolitanism gained the ascendency, and philosophy turned more and more to practical matters, coming down from its sovereign heights to answer questions of daily living (Stoicism, Epicureanism, etc.).”

So, from this position conscience became more important in peoples lives.  They themselves as individuals had to make wright and wrong choices.  Bavinck then gives an example of Cicero using conscience to defend one of his friends Titius Annius Milo accused of murder.  Bavinck quotes Cicero

“It is with reluctance that I enlarge upon this topic, since you may think that my discourse lends authority to sin; and you would be justified in so thinking, were not an innocent or guilty conscience so powerful a force in itself, without the assumption of any divine design. Destroy this, and everything collapses; for just as a household or a state appears to lack all rational system and order if in it there are no rewards for right conduct and no punishments for transgression, so there is no such thing at all as the divine governance of the world if that governance makes no distinction between the good and the wicked.”


My Reflection and possible things to think about in the 21stcentury

This section are basically my ideas. I wanted to think deeper about conscience and what I could learn.  All the evidences I have gathered point to conscience being universal to all humans.

There are a lot of sobering thoughts in Bavincks understanding of conscience from the ancient world.  Conscience in our world has matured to be mentioned by The United Nations

I would argue that conscience was found in many religious traditions as well and Bavinck was aware of this. When we think of modernish German philosophy and the ideas of evolution, obviously these ideas came from the East.  Obviously, Bavinck was in contact with the modern German philosophers who were influenced by Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. 

In Hinduism,

 “In the literary traditions of the Upanishads, Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, conscience is the label given to attributes composing knowledge about good and evil, that a soul acquires from the completion of acts and consequent accretion of karma over many lifetimes.[9] According to Adi Shankara in his Vivekachudamani morally right action (characterised as humbly and compassionately performing the primary duty of good to others without expectation of material or spiritual reward), helps “purify the heart” and provide mental tranquility but it alone does not give us “direct perception of the Reality”.[10] This knowledge requires discrimination between the eternal and non-eternal and eventually a realization in contemplation that the true self merges in a universe of pure consciousness.”


 “The idea of conscience was also alive with Confucius.

“Liangzhi (Conscience)

 Humans are born with innate conscience and the ability to know and act upon it. The term liangzhi (良知) was first used by Mencius, who believed that what man knew by instinct was liangzhi (knowledge of goodness). The term includes ren (), i.e. love for ones parents and yi (), i.e. respect for one’s elder brothers. The concept is an important component of Mencius’ belief in the innate goodness of human nature. The Ming-dynasty philosopher Wang Shouren raised the idea of “attaining liangzhi.” He extended the Mencius’ liangzhi to mean the principles of heaven, maintaining that all things under heaven and their laws were covered by liangzhi. With liangzhi being extended to its fullest (through self-cultivation and moral practice), it is possible to know and put in practice all moral truths. 


What is known without thinking is the innate knowledge of goodness. (Mencius)

Principles of heaven and conscience are the same in essence. (Records of Great Learning) “


When Alexander the Great conquered and took his ideas with him to the known world of the time, it is also natural that these ideas came back to Greece.  The building of the Alexandrian Library is an indicator of this. 


Herman Bavincks pointers to conscience in the ‘pagan world’ was alive and well.  Taking Bavincks research on the ancient Greeks and moving into the worlds of religion, conscience is found everywhere.   Next time we will follow Herman Bavinck, the Master theologian’s interrogation of Holy Scripture for the evidences of conscience.

O God of God! O Light of Light! Thou Prince of Peace, Thou King of kings,

April 24, 2021

The above title was taken from

So we came to the conclusion that Jesus is fully God and fully man.  What about the angels.  They are powerful beings and how do they compare to the Son? For early Jews and Christians angels had and still do have a role to play. 

7 And of the angels He says,



8 But of the Son He says,






10 And,









13 But to which of the angels has He ever said,




14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation? Hebrews 1:7-14

Verses 7-13. The writer in these verses is pushing the point home that was found in verse 6.  The bottom line is that Jesus is God the angels are only servants. The writer does not compromise on this belief.

Verses 7 8. Make sure you don’t miss the contrast here;

verse 7 ‘and of the angel he says’. Then the quotation (according to Barclay in ancient Jewish tradition angels could become pure etheral creatures). More importantly angels are still only ‘servants’.

Verse 8 The quotation about the Son is very strong, ‘But of the son he says thy throne O God…’ According to this reading Jesus is called both ‘God’ and ‘Lord’ (Ellingworth commentary page 122).

Verses 9-12 The evidence of Jesus as ‘God’ grows as the writer heaps up the ‘and’ words. See the beginning of verse 10 (kai=and at the beginning of the sentence. The beginning of verse 12 is the same another ‘and’). If one reads especially Psalm 102 verses 125 and 126 one can see the divinity status of the king.

Verse 13 This forms the ‘inclusion of his argument in which sarcastically the writer says But to which of the angels… relating Psalm 110 to Jesus and not the angels…

Verse 14 The writer at this point has proven that Jesus is God and is then able in verse 14 to say that the angels are only ‘servants’.

 This summarises his findings.  The point has been made that Jesus is greater than the angels. You can see that these verses were not chosen by accident. All these verses point to the messiah.

Excursus: A question to the philosophers of kalam.

When looking at the truth of religion, the categories of the infinite and finite must always be taken seriously. The categories of the eternal and that of the contingent, religionists would argue that revelation takes place when the eternal and finite touch, which allows the ‘moment’ of touching to take a most profound meaning for our human lives, making it possible for us to have life in the presence of Allah/ Eloah/ Elohim/ Elgibor.  The eternal taking on physical form is an aspect that touches most religion.

In Hinduism, the divine resides in the murti. The Koran is also seen as coming from heaven and taking on physical form.

The charge has been made that Christians have committed shirk… (the unpardonable sin). The unpardonable sin is allowing an earthly category to touch the divine.  But is it not also the case that the Koran from heaven takes on physical form in this world and the same charge can be placed on Muslims?

The answer of course is that Muslims have not committed shirk and neither have the Christians!

I am not interested in winning a polemical argument because using logical categories it is so easy to put down someone else’s point of view. All I am asking is that we meet on the ground of piety and show respect for each other’s beliefs (even if we don’t agree).

This is not a negation of our beliefs because in the domain of public conversation we are talking about our future destiny which takes us either into God’s presence or away from God’s presence.  We are talking about fellowship with God which is the most serious issue in the universe.

In the context which the writer to the Hebrews was writing, it is possible that some of these Jewish Christians were involved in angel worship. It was very important that the writer pointed the readers to the Son, true God of true God, true light from true light.

For Christians as with Muslims, belief in the one true God is of primary importance.  The paths separate only at the point when we try to understand this Unity.  Thus, Aquinas and al Ghazali could believe and agree on most of the ninety nine names of God. The problem came at the place of understanding this Unity.  For Christians there are eternal relations within the unity.  For Islamic theology there is only unity.

There are heresies as well that would want to make Jesus just a creature.  That he was the first of the creatures therefore the most elevated.  This is false teaching.  As well as the first four verses say 8 But of the Son He says,



Arianism of the 4th century taught; “Arianism is also used to refer to other nontrinitarian theological systems of the 4th century, which regarded Jesus Christ—the Son of God, the Logos—as either a begotten creature of a similar or different substance to that of the Father, but not identical (as Homoiousian and Anomoeanism) or as neither uncreated nor created in the sense other beings are created (as in semi-Arianism). “


This is an interesting article of Arian belief within the Jehovah’s Witnesses.



The book of Hebrews has a lot to teach us in the 21st century.  Jesus has commanded us to love our neighbour, whoever our neighbour is.  Angels play a very important role in the 21st century and they are here to serve us.  We need to be careful not to elevate angels to the point of divinity because once that line has been reached, we switch to demonology.   The writer to the Hebrews had already seen the danger of what we call Arianism.  As Hebrews shows Jesus is greater than angels as he has always existed but, in his humanity, just for a short while he humbled himself and became lower than the angels to save us. As a pre-taster of what we will write later it says in the next chapter.

9 But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. Hebrews 2:9 NASB

And Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature and upholds all things by the word of His power. When Jesus had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, Hebrews 1:3

April 18, 2021

18 04 2021

Chapter 1 On reflection when the writer speaks of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is seen as fully divine.  In the economy of the Trinitarian God, Jesus is divine.   We will continue with verse one because I want to dig deeper until we reach verse 6.

Although there are scholars who would choose to water down the divinity of Christ in this book we are not of that school.  They are mistaken. The writer starts from the side of the infinite ‘heaven’. Jesus is fully God and that is the only way that the introduction can be interpreted.  The writer does not speak of the angels being the ‘radiance of God’s glory’. Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory.  The whole argument in chapters 1 and 2 proves that Jesus is greater than the angels. In the order of creation angels were placed in the presence of God… Yet Jesus is greater than the angels.  Jesus is no ordinary prophet. It was the Father’s good pleasure to create the universe through and for the Son (Heb1/2- Jn1/3) So then the mystery:

‘Jesus is fully God’.

The movement of thought in this epistle is in terms of who Jesus was starts from an infinite category.

Verse 3. Jesus is not ‘compared’ to the Majesty on High but is given the seat of Honour.  Jesus is referred to as sitting ‘on the right hand’. There is no language of comparison only symbolism of power and authority.  God’s goodness to the universe is channelled through the son not angels.

The next movement of thought is Jesus being moved into the infinite categories.

Verse4 sets the agenda for the rest of the chapter. Jesus has ‘inherited’ a more excellent name than the angels. The word inheritance conveys the idea of ‘rightful ownership’. The angels could not be spoken of in terms of ‘inheritance’. Angels could only be servants.

Verse 5. There are two quotations in this verse, and they are both Messianic (that is they relate to the king of Israel). Psalm 2 and 2 Samuel 7.14. Both quotations point towards the relationship of the father and the Son within the Godhead. 

Some scholars have suggested that these quotations were taken in some sort of haphazard way… This is not the case……………. 

Verse 6. Here is a quotation from verse from Psalm 97.7. I assume he is using the LXX that the angels are expected to worship Jesus! If the Writer was to use the Masoretic text, the meaning would be even sharper than angels!! That the ‘gods’ are expected to worship Jesus. The Hebrew word here is Elohim.  Although Elohim can be translated as angels, it may not always be the situation. You need to realize that some of these writings go back into almost pre-history in which El was used in the sense of the ‘titular head of the gods’. Clay tablets have been found which show this to be the case. Thus, I would argue for the reading of ‘gods’ rather than angels.

The writer is moving in high theology that Jesus is fully divine.  He will also move onto him as fully human.  I think of Hebrews in some ways as steppingstones.  He starts from the heavenly realms and verse 6 sets up Jesus Contrasted to angels and that Jesus in greater than angels.  I do not remember where, but I think FF Bruce mentioned that there was a real danger of some people worshiping angels.  We too need to be careful and keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and not worship gods.  The gods of today might look different but they are the same.  Maybe not stone, clay special stones and metals but football, technology, the ego…

THE CONSCIENCE Introduction: Creation and Fall page 167

April 18, 2021


18 04 2021

Bavinck looks first at the conscience through the lense of the Fall.  After the Fall for Bavinck Adam was in the same situation as an ‘unregenerate Christian’.  So Adam died spiritually but he still had some vestiges that were passed down some families.


He writes

‘But that knowledge of God that Adam still retained he did pass on; it remained pure in a few families and was thus salvific since the promise of Genesis 3:1 was also passed on along with it.1 In this way the pure worship of God continued in the families of Abel, Seth, Enoch, and so forth. Even Melchizedek and Job apparently drew their true knowledge of God from the well of tradition.’ Reformed Ethics page 167.

Anyhow before looking at the next sections let us reflect on these people that Bavinck has mentioned.


Abel’s sacrifice was accepted by God

4 Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; Genesis 4:4


Seth was seen as a replacement for righteous Abel

25 Adam had relations with his wife again; and she gave birth to a son, and named him Seth, for, she said, “God has appointed me another offspring in place of Abel, for Cain killed him.” 26 To Seth, to him also a son was born; and he called his name Enosh. Then men began to call upon the name of the LORD. Genesis 4:25-26



24 Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him. Genesis 5:24


18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying,


1 There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil. Job 1:1

I think Bavinck has a strong case for saying that there was a righteous tradition stemming from Adam.  Even the book of Job is the oldest book in the Bible! Actually, according to some it is 400 years older than Genesis.  The external link below has some interesting things to say


Bavinck then goes on to say that this tradition got tainted and distorted, this led to the birth of Paganism.   “separating itself from the invisible world, sinking into nature and divinizing it” page 167.

His main point I think i
s that tradition is not always completely bad, but it can be corrupted.  The Reformation was about bringing the Church back to its pristine early tradition.  The Church needed to get rid of a lot of baggage.   Obviously, the Roman Catholic Church did not agree with this interpretation and they had their counter Reformation.

Bavinck goes on to say, “Indeed, tradition is a significant power and of great value. Out of reaction against Roman Catholicism, Protestants have often undervalued it. Tradition is the bond that unites people spiritually into one, in spite of separation by distance and time, so that we do not live spiritually and morally as isolated individuals.” Page 167


Bavinck is correct in his estimation and I think that the Christian community of all denominations need to listen to Bavinck here.   So was the Reformation successful in bringing Christianity to its pristine condition.  I think not.  We cannot escape the Fall but if we fix our eyes on Jesus and follow him perhaps then we are on the road to reformation.  No Christian denomination is perfect, and they all have their faults.  The counter Reformation too wasn’t perfect but by having a counter Reformation this act in itself shows that there were problems.  Yet the world has not faired any better.  There are so many corruptions in the world.  Even in this Covid time there are politicians who get special deals and make money out of it.  I am thinking here about the discussions in the British media.  I think that Bavinck has a lot to say to all people from every sort of background.  What state is your conscience in? 

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. Hebrews 1:1-2 NASB

April 10, 2021

A while ago I wrote an unpublished commentary on Hebrews.  I wrote this soon after leaving King’s College London in my spare time.  For me this is another Gospel form.  It is a beautiful picture of our Saviour Jesus Christ our King, High Priest, and sacrifice.  There is so much more.  For the Christian Jesus is greater than the prophets, higher than the angels, greater than Moses…

Chapter 1

The opening verses of Hebrews gives us the theme and agenda for the whole book. ‘That in these last days God has spoken to us in His Son’.  Throughout this book the speech of God is unfolded.  From this point of view the commentary sets out on an incredible journey of discovery to find out the meaning of this holy scripture.  We must begin and say that Hebrews is couched in the culture and language of Hebraic and Hellenic rhetoric.  It seems so far removed from the modern world yet for the follower of Christ it is a jewel of spiritual inspiration. We don’t even know who the writer was (although I personally think Apollos wrote it).

In verses 1-4 we do not find any full stop until the end of verse 4.  This is a significant point because it shows a single argument.  It is trying to explain to some Jewish Christians that they should stay faithful to Christ.  Serious assumptions are made in these four verses in which the readers are expected to agree with.  Whatever the case might be, the writer to the Hebrews knows his OT inside out and the Greek in these verses also reflect a training in some Hellenic school of thought (Alexandria).

The first assumption he makes in verse one is that God spoke to the Jewish nation through the prophets to the leaders.  The second verse works this out. Yet it goes a stage further and explains that in the ‘Son’ God has spoken his final and ultimate word.  This is backed up with the statement that all things exist because of and through the Son.

Obviously, this is no small claim because it is a statement that goes to the heart of a central motif, namely the motif of Kingship that is found in the Royal Psalms.

Verse 1.  At the end of this claim we find out the reason for the existence of all things is because of the Son.  The Son is a title of Royal kingship and the original readers of the OT would have understood it as such.  The relation of Jesus to God the Father must always be understood in terms of the OT and especially that of the Messianic Psalms such as Ps110/1, “YHWH says to Adonay sit at my right hand…” Or in the LXX no difference is made between Kurios and Kurios!

To the Jewish Christians who read this letter, they would have known the Greek version rather than the Hebrew version.  Both versions carry equal authority. In sum the source of the Trinitarian theology is found here in the OT.

Verse 3.  So then, royal Kingship is the contextual understanding for the identity of the Son.  It is only in this context that we start to comprehend verse three.  Here the writer is trying to explain the relation of the Father to the Son.  On reflection the main reason I think that the writer is struggling to explain the uniqueness of the Son in relation to the Father is because we have crossed the boundary of our natural and physical understanding to the realm of the meta-physical.

Yes, for believers Jesus is God incarnate.  In = in, carne= flesh, body.  This is a beautiful book and I’m told that the first few verses are some of the finest Greek from the ancient world. 

Bavinck's Introduction on the Concience.

April 10, 2021


What is conscience?


This is an important question and no matter what discipline we come from; we will have some type of opinion about it.   Wiki says, “Although humanity has no generally accepted definition of conscience or universal agreement about its role in ethical decision-making, three approaches have addressed it:


    Religious views

    Secular views

    Philosophical views”



Those are possibly collecting points but the fact is with Bavinck the Master theologian he goes really deep and does not leave any stone unturned. 

 Bavinck starts chapter 5 with “Although fallen human beings are spiritually dead, the sagas and saga complexes of

peoples point to traditions of religious and moral wisdom that are as old as humanity itself. Included are kernels of truth concerning God, the soul, and conscience, particularly found in philosophy and in the great thinkers, that point to something present in human beings themselves which connects them to God. Tradition directs us to conscience.

This is the beginning of the faith perspective and we have read enough to realize that the Fall for many people is an important element in our understanding of why we are here and why our conscience is what it is.   He goes on to talk about the polis (city states) in the Greco Roman world and that conscience played a small part.  What was more important was to keep to the law.  Unfortunately, Bavinck explain that when these states broke up “…people were directed to themselves and had to find moral certitudes within themselves; in that context, Cicero could write: “There is no greater theatre for virtue than conscience.”

He then introduces the Old Testament, talks about the early church fathers such as Tertullian, and looks at various protestant theologians. In his introduction he faces the modern ideas on conscience as he says, “Modern thought, beginning with Kant, detached conscience from God and his law and placed it in the autonomous moral will. In modern philosophy, conscience is an enlightening, infallible, and undeceived star. Others (John Stuart Mill, Alexander Bain, Herbert Spencer) reduce conscience to social forces and see it as a product of nurture. Add into this mix the teachings of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, and our contemporary world is filled with questions about conscience, including questions about the origin of conscience, whether it is religious or moral, positive as well as negative, and infallible or erring, and whether we have freedom of conscience or not.”   From Reformed Ethics chapter 5 introduction.  He then says he will look at etymologies.  He finishes off by reminding the readers that scripture sees conscience as universal. 


As per usual Bavinck sets his agenda and over the next few Weeks, we will follow Bavinck on this quest.  We will discover what the great thinkers were thinking about this great theme of conscience.  How the world has changed since the end of the 19th century and early 20th century.  As an extra a friend of mine posted a Finnish view of how a London gentleman was supposed to be in 1910.  Using Google I translated it. 


In London, the gentleman’s clothesline plays just as important part than in Paris women’s fashions and usually the following European men, no doubt in London—

future fashion. An Englishman from an old school, among other things a gentleman who has just returned to London after a ten-year absence, claims a few sa big daily newspaper that London is no longer legitimate to lead the lord’s fashion, for the Englishman Hey-rain fashion is just going down. He collects he had walked the streets and parks and followed, how infinite discord in the suits of the gentlemen is noticeable. “When I was young I heard

gentleman’s suit top hat, walk jacket and good

shaped pants as well as gloves and a handsome tie by the summer had to be pale; besides, black was used boots or shiny shoes. From what I’ve seen, by contrast, this summer? Very little even about just fine dressed people. They wear a panama hat—

and still on the back of the head – or light blanket hats. Worst, that people are organized to wear wash gloves ta. ” So complains about the appearance of the English “gentleman” in the street. Even more dubious, of course to see him in the theatre and in the company. Smoking it the dinner jacket can be used in smoking rooms and for family dinners,

but in theatres and public restaurants

on the other hand, it is simply inappropriate. and still

use it by at least a third of the gentlemen of Covent.  In the garden and in addition to that there are black ties  and variegated vests.

The gentlemen of the old direction consider the most terrible,  that they need to see the theaters translated collars, variegated vests and brown shoes. Where yet to come?


Lontoossa herrasmiehen pyykkinaru on yhtä tärkeä osa kuin Pariisin naisten muodissa ja yleensäseuraavat eurooppalaiset miehet, epäilemättä Lontoossa –

tulevaisuuden muoti. Englantilainen vanhasta koulusta, muun muassa herrasmies, joka on juuri palannut Lontooseen kymmenen vuoden poissaolon jälkeen, väittää muutaman suuressa päivittäisessä sanomalehdessä, että Lontoo ei ole enää oikeutettua johtaa herran muotia, englantilaiselle Hey-rain muoti on vain laskemassa. Hän kerää, että hän oli kävellyt kaduilla ja puistoissa ja seurannut, kuinka ääretön ristiriita herrojen puvuissa on havaittavissa. ”Kun olin nuori, kuulin

herrasmiehen puku-hattu, kävelytakki ja hyvä

muotoisten housujen sekä käsineiden ja komean solmion kesään mennessä oli oltava vaaleat; lisäksi käytettiin mustia saappaita tai kiiltäviä kenkiä. Sen perusteella, mitä olen nähnyt, sen sijaan kesällä? Hyvin vähän edes hienosti pukeutuneista ihmisistä. Heillä on panamahattu –

ja edelleen pään takaosassa – tai kevyet huopahatut. Pahinta, että ihmiset ovat järjestäytyneet käyttämään pesukäsineitä ta. ”Joten valittaa englantilaisen” herrasmiehen “esiintymisestä kadulla. Vielä epäilyttävämpää, tietysti nähdä hänet teatterissa ja seurassa. Sen tupakoinnilla päivällistakkia voidaan käyttää tupakointihuoneissa ja perheillallisille,

mutta teattereissa ja julkisissa ravintoloissa

toisaalta se on yksinkertaisesti sopimaton. ja silti

käytä sitä vähintään kolmasosalla Coventin herrasmiehistä

Puutarhassa ja sen lisäksi on mustia solmioita

ja kirjava liivit.

Vanhan suunnan herrat pitävät kauheinta,

että heidän täytyy nähdä teatterit käännettynä

kaulukset, kirjavat liivit ja ruskeat kengät. Missä

tulossa? Tode-laki, englantilainen gerrain-muoti

vähenee huomattavasti

The above mentioned.


Anselm on Reconciliation and the Atonement

April 2, 2021


Last Week we looked at Irenaeus and how his method was more Biblical and historical withing the framework of the rule. Anselm is not like that. He is more philosophical and he grinds things down to basic premises. Without atonement and reconciliation there would be no relationship with God. Anselm is another way of looking at these great themes of our salvation especially now at this Easter Weekend.

Anselm 1033-1166 was archbishop of Canterbury, thus he always had responsibilities on the political scene. Anselm’s life thus revolved around the monastery and one of the functions of any monk was to pray. Southern says that from the time that Anselm arrived in Bec (in 1059), one can see ‘three threads running through the whole development’ of Anselm’s life and thought; 1) Anselm received his intellectual tools from Lanfranc in who’s footsteps he followed. 2) Anselm immersed himself totally in St Augustine’s thought and language. These two points in some way influenced the writings of ‘Prayers and Letters’ and the ‘Proslogion’. 3) From 1078 new influences in the world took Anselm outside of the Monastery. His theological questioning was also growing due to contact with Roscelin. Jewish arguments were brought to the attention of Anselm via Gilbert Crispin. There were also the teachings from the Laon school which was brought to the attention of Anselm via Boso. These were contributary factors for the culminating works of the Proslogion of 1078 and his more mature work of the Cur Deus Homo in 1098 (15/437). In our search for Anselm’s understanding of reconciliation and atonement we shall concern ourselves mainly with the Cur Deus Homo? (why did God become man?).

Anselm is one of the first theologians to have written a systematic theology on the atonement (1/87). Anselm rejected the view that, ” The Devil, it was held, had obtained, as a result of the Fall certain rights over humankind, either on his own account or by divine permission. Freedom from this bondage was won by means of the payment represented by the blood of Christ” (1/87). (It would be unfair to say that Irenaeus held this view completely as there is also atonement language in his writings). Anselm rejected this view. He wanted to give an account that was rational in relation to the Atonement. Gunton says that at places Anselm is being too systematic with his approach to the atonement and the incarnation (1/88). This does seem to be the case, as in the CDH Anselm does put a great deal of emphasis upon the death of Christ and not enough emphasis on other historical questions in the second part of the CDH.

Anselm viewed the Fall,”…as sin, which was the cause of our condemnation, had its beginning from a woman, so should the author of our righteousness and salvation be born of a woman. And as the Devil had conquered man by the tasting of a tree, to which he persuaded him, so by the suffering endured on a tree, which he inflicted, should he, by a man, be conquered” (2/38). It is interesting to see in this quotation that Anselm does give the Incarnation a high priority, as does Irenaeus. But it must be said that in between the Incarnation and the Passion, the historical works of Christ (for example the miracles etc) are omitted.

Whatever the case maybe concerning the ballance of atonement ~n the CDH there are important points to consider for the rejection of the ransom language which was mentioned before. If one for example holds to the ransom language it does have too much of a dualism in ~t. In Mark 10/45 for example where it says, ” to give his life a ransom for many” (1/88). If the blood of Jesus is treated as a literal price which was for payment to the Devil, then this is going beyond what the NT actual ly al lows in its language (1 /88). The next point to realize

is that ransom language gives too much autonomy and too much authority to the Devil. Gunton quotes CDH1/7,” the Devil and man belong to God alone, and neither one stands outside God’s power; what case, then, did God have to plead with his own creature, in his own affair…?” (1/88 and CDH 1/7).

Satan can only give out punishment according to what God allows. Ransom language does not give an account that is reasonable enough to explain the atonement. Satan is only a creature like all of the other creatures and if he should be given a priority of place as is implied in the ransom language, then the authority of God is undermined. With the rejection of ransom language Anselm turns to a new metaphor which is language of ‘satisfaction’. ‘Satisfaction’ was taken from the legal establishment (1/89). The starting point for Anselm is,” The entire will of a rational creature ought to be subject to the will of God” (2/63). If this formula is broken by sin, then the one that has committed the sin is ‘owing to God’.

Anselm has a particular concept of Justice. God will not allow injustice to have its own way in the universe, otherwise the universe would be seen as irrational (1/89-90). If the universe is seen as irrational, then God does not deserve the name ‘God’. Sin must be punished, ” And since it is not possible to bring sin into accordance with right order without satisfaction being made, except by punishing it, if it is not punished, it is let go without being brought into due order” (2/65).

The important words in the above quotation are ‘right order’. If we also look at CDH I/15 (pages7l-72) where it has the expression ‘order and the beauty of the universe’, we start to see that Anselm sees satisfaction in terms of the welfare of God’s creation. Satisfaction initially is not in terms of the honour of God. Anselm writes that nothing can harm ‘the power and dignity of God’ (2/15/pages7l-72). It is with this in mind that Gunton writes, ” The point is that God does not demand satisfaction for sin because he is in some way personally affronted or offended by transgression” (1/90).

As well as God who is seen as the guardian of universal justice we must also take into account ‘the seriousness of sin’ (1/90). To do something that goes against God’s will is a very serious thing. In the dialogue between Anselm and Boso, Anselm writes,” You do not, therefore, make satisfaction unless you return something greater than that for the sake of which you were under obligation not to have committed the sin”. Then Boso replies,” I see that reason requires it, and yet, that it is altogether impossible” (2/pages 100-101//CDH/I/21). Anselm goes on to say that if it wasn’t for faith, he would despair of there being any possibility of reconciliation to God (2/100).

It is within the framework of justice that mercy must be understood. Man is in a state by which he is incapable of paying God back for his sins. At the same time God cannot forgive man without there being a payment for the debt of sin. God’s Mercy has to be understood within the framework of justice. After what has been said, it must also be noted that ‘satisfaction’ must not be understood in terms of the primary emphasis being on penal substitution.

When Anselm uses the word satisfaction we must also take into account the word ‘poena’ . Satisfactio and poena must be seen as alternatives. Gunton writes,” Satisfaction is therefore according to Anselm the way by which God is enabled not to exact a tribute of compensating penalty from the sinner” (1/90). Then Gunton writes, ” He (Anselm) is therefore not propounding a version of what came to be called penal substitution, in which Jesus is conceived to be punished by God in place of the sinner. There is a substitution, an exchange, but it is not penal in character” (1/90-91).

The framework for the theology of satisfaction in terms of ‘human fallenness’ is only a secondary consideration. The main “focus is on the goodness of God and the excellence of creation’s crown” (1/91). Satisfaction was made because of a gracious act of God. God was not willing to see his creatures annihilated. This act of God is to be understood in terms of a Trinitarian framework. Anselm writes,” Hut this Man (Jesus) freely offered to the Father what it would never have been necessary for Him to lose and paid for sinners what He did not owe for Himself” (2/166 book i I/8). Anselm in the same chapter goes on to say,”…He offered himself for his own honour, to Himself, as he did to the Father and the Holy Spirit i.e., His human nature to his divine nature, which is also one of the Three Persons” (2/170). Barth makes use of this motif and he makes this abstract motif relational, ” … the only One who is judged… He is the only who has come and acts among us as the Judge” (16/237-238). In the same context Barth is also fond of the language of Jesus Christ being ‘ for us’ (16/235). The point is that Anselm did extremely well to think up this motif, yet he misses to bring it into the context of ‘our time’ as opposed to God’s eternity.


To begin with both Irenaeus’ and Anselm’s historical settings and hence world views were different. At the same time however they wanted to make a defence of the Christian faith. In the AH, Irenaeus begins by outlining the heresies and showing what is ‘apparent’. After this groundwork has been covered, only then does he begin ~n a rational way to demolish the heretical positions. Contrasting to this method, Anselm has inherited certain philosophical tools for use on behalf of the Christian faith against other religious or atheistic systems. He begins by trying to whittle down ‘ as he sees it’ to the common denominators of the Christian faith, particularly such things as, Fall, Incarnation, Passion etc. Both theologians took the Fall seriously and though their methods differed a great deal, it is interesting that some of the motifs later to be mentioned (in our conclusion) have remarkable similarities. The point is that Anselm looked at reconciliation and atonement from a rational perspective. It has to be noted though that it is ‘faith seeking understanding’ (not natural theology) which is one of his presuppositions. Irenaeus doesn’t spell out a concept of faith seeking understanding, but maybe his ‘rule of faith can in some way be seen a loose equivalent (both presuppose the existence of God). In their search for explaining how God reconciles man to Himself, maybe a way to explain their contrasting methods, one can use the analogy of the Mathematician and the historian. The mathematician uses abstract concepts to gain insight into universal truths, Anselm tends to use this method. Irenaeus on the other hand sees the historical data and sets out to explain and evaluate the data in the best way he knows how. This is a crude analogy, but it does show that both methods are valuable in

explaining reconciliation and atonement.

Concerning the Fall, for both of them Mary plays an important part for its reversal . For Irenaeus Mary corresponded to Eve (in the reversal procedure), for Anselm Seeing that a woman was responsible at the Fall it was only fitting that a woman should be present at the incarnation. Obedience is also an important concept for the two of them. In Irenaeus, Christ obeyed the Father at every point of the natural sequence of human development and thus reversing the Fall at each of those particular points. For Anselm aswell the obedience of Christ was also important. Christ offered himself to his own honour. There is a contrast though, for Anselm propitiation seemed more of an abstract mathematical sum in putting the universe in harmony in relation to its Creator. For Irenaeus on the other hand, the obedience of Christ came out of love and there is more of a personal element of fellowship. With the previous statement it must also be stressed that mercy (as an abstract concept) seemed to replace the love motif as found in the Hible. This contrast must take into consideration their historical contexts. Concerning Satan, it may be true to say that he is given a more elevated role in Irenaeus due to the ‘ransom’ concept, it has to be stressed though, that even in Irenaeus Satan is still only a creature like all other creatures. In the plan of the historico-salvation, ‘the obedience of Christ’ is more important. Irenaeus and Anselm agree on the obedience of Christ but the history-salvation motif is unique to the second century theologian. Irenaeus and Anselm also contrast on the concept of sin and evil. For Irenaeus evil ~s held relative to free will thus sin is not treated as seriously as maybe it should be. Sin for Anselm is a very serious concept because it is this particular evil that knocked the universe out of right order. (presumably Anselm inherited this concept of evil from Augustine, then later after Anselm, Calvin) . So then at certain points anselm and Irenaeus do contrast but ‘at crucial points they agree’. Without the perfect obedience of Christ it would be impossible for salvation to be effected. The other point that I want to make is that, one could probably say and should say up to a point that both theologians seem to be ‘both sides of the same coin’ (colloquialism intended). The reason why I say this is that a great deal of the motifs used by Irenaeus and Anselm is found in the theological grammar of Karl Barth but that is another question.












5 The Cost of Human Dominion Over Nature

April 2, 2021

 If we are to look and understand the future it is important to look at what has been.  As you read the blog one finds during creation and the early societies of humans, how technology and culture matured.  Can the Master theologian, Herman Bavinck teach us anything for the 21st century? 

Humanity has indeed dominated nature and we can surely see the scars on God’s image.  Genesis tells us that the creation was ‘good’ but human greed and selfishness has wasted a lot of planet earth.  Even if we never read the Bible, we can still see the horror of human activities on the earth.  How does Herman Bavinck deal with these questions? So, today we are going to look at this final theme and we will look at the theatre in which these horrific actions have taken place.

On Page 162 Reformed Ethics Bavinck begins by saying, “Our dominion over nature has been weakened and robbed of its spiritual character, but it has not been eliminated. Dominion has been impeded, not destroyed. Adam must now labour by the sweat of his brow against thorns and

thistles, but he still wrests his food from the earth” (Gen. 3). 

This is a very short section, but it is enough to prove that as well as animals and everything given over to humanity there has been technical progress.

He mentions Genesis 9. 2 and 9. 3 So all living creatures are in the dominion of mankind.   This has led to advancements in “Science/scholarship” and Art in “the broader sense”, For Herman Bavinck “the spiritual character of culture has been lost through sin. Culture itself has become a power, like science often becomes a fire fanned by Satan and used against God”. From pages 162 -163

In the last paragraph he proves from the scriptures what is going on and we need to listen to the Master theologian.

In Paradise, Adam and Eve were still clothed with animal skins (Gen. 3:21). By the time of Cain and Abel, we read of agriculture and animal husbandry; Cain and Enoch built cities; Lamech developed weaponry and the laws of war; Jabal made tents and led a nomadic life; Jubal created music; Tubal-Cain worked with iron; and Noah produced wine. According to Holy Scripture there is progress in culture.

Animal skins, farming, city building, weapons, laws of war, nomadic living, Music, working with iron, wine.  Herman Bavinck is correct we could continue and since the Bible times we have created advanced methods in medicine, rockets, refined ways of weapons, space flight, quantum computing, AI.  Green house situation, destruction of forests, destruction of habitats. Poisoning ourselves.


Things look really bad, don’t they?  The first Adam has only brought wanton destruction to the world as well as the advances.   Is there a future for the human race?

As an incomplete answer I think Hebrews 1. 1 helps.

God’s Final Word in His Son

1 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. 3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. Hebrews 1:1-4 NASB

Humans have destroyed a lot but that is not the end of the Story for the real image of God par excellence is the Lord Jesus Christ.  Purification for sins is through the Easter story.  The following is a blog I wrote at my other site going through the book of 1 Corinthians.  This story should come out at the Easter Weekend but I think it ties in well with what it means to be God’s image.

The Lords Supper. A reflection

23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.


27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.


33 So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come. 1 Corinthians 11:23-34 NASB


Holy Communion is a Sacrament in the main line churches, so we shouldn’t come to it with selfish and greedy motives.  The Lord Jesus commanded us to celebrate and remember Him in this meal.  The Old Testament pointed to the great hope of Gods salvation work through the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  From the time of His death and resurrection we look to this moment when God who became a man paid a great price for the whole of mankind, the world, the universe.  Every believer must stop and ‘remember’ what great an act for our salvation was made.  We are brought into a new covenant.  Any covenant one makes is serious.  This covenant is more serious than all the other covenants because we are brought into the divine presence of the Holy Trinity.  If we truly understand what Christ did for us at the cross and the pure unselfish love, he poured out in his love for us.  If we come with gratitude to our Lord Jesus Christ bow down and worship him by the Holy Spirit we are brought into the very presence of God the father and in Christ, The Father could say; ‘You are my beloved children’ or something like that.