Bavinck helps us to define the nature of Law.


Our starting point will define our conclusion.  This is my opinion.   What I have learned from Bavinck and Karl Barth is that it is so easy to mythologize religious and theological content by forcing a so-called scientific view on the material without considering religious and theological content.  In the Dogmatics of both theologians God has spoken.  From that perspective as scientists, we cannot observe the object (God) on the contrary we are the object and God is the subject.

 When we do real science, we use appropriate tools to do the appropriate job.  There is nothing unlawful to start from the presuppositions of what Scripture has to say and use our reason in an appropriate believing, submissive spirit.  After all God has given us an intellect.

 At the end of page 216 the Master Theologian explains to us that our rational nature has remained, but it is in a state of sin.   What Bavinck wants to do in the first part of this chapter is to show us that; “In the first part of this chapter we shall see that conscience 

bound to the law, and in the second part we shall explore how this law is

actualized in the individual, in the state, and in society and cultivates civil order.” (From Reformed Ethics; Herman Bavinck, edited by John Bolt page 216)

 Before the fall in God’s Forbearance there is one word ‘lawfulness’ (page 217).  God’s order before the Fall is distinct from the order of grace which is found in the Church.   Before the Fall in the perfection of creation people could do what, they wanted (Adam and Eve).  The only thing that was prohibited was to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

 After the Fall everything changed, and we have been bound through our conscience to the Law.  Bavinck quotes 1 John 3.4:

4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. 1 John 3:4

 What is lawlessness?

Bavinck answers:

“sin is lawlessness” , it violates and puts aside all God’s laws; it is absolute, thorough going wilfulness. The character of sin is that it does not rest until it has shaken off all law and can do anything it wills to do. It wants to be absolutely unruly and absurd. This would result, however, in completely dehumanizing people, in turning us into animals, since animals, after all, do not submit to moral laws but live according to their instincts.”(page 217)

 The antidote for Bavinck is:

“In order to do this, God had to guard the very humanity of people, and he does this by bringing humanity under the law. Lawfulness is the character of God’s patient ordering, the means by which humanity is guarded and prepared for recreation, for the grace in Christ.  Adam stood in the law.” (page 217)  The ‘moral ideal’ outside of Christ is always out of reach.  Sin was held back by God’s grace so that the whole of the human race would not be destroyed.  (page 217) 


As I said at the beginning of this section; “Our starting point will define our conclusion.”  Jesus Christ is our firm foundation literally.  The basic themes of the Enlightenment from a 150 years ago is still with us today.  I have also been reading volume one of the Reformed Dogmatics edited by John Bolt.  I recognize these names of the enlightenment Kant, Schleiermacher, and Hegel.  We are fed the lie that things are going to get better.  Kant with the categorical imperative:

“Since by nature (according to Kant) the moral law is universal and impartial and rational, the categorical is a way of formulating the criteria by which any action can pass the test of universality, impartiality, and rationality. That is its only function.” (Taken from )

For Schleiermacher the feeling of absolute dependence:

“Schleiermacher says that feeling of absolute dependence on God is the highest grade of immediate self-consciousness, and is also an essential element of human nature (26).” (From )

 For Hegel

“Hegelianism is the philosophy of G. W. F. Hegel which can be summed up by the dictum that “the rational alone is real”, which means that all reality is capable of being expressed in rational categories. His goal was to reduce reality to a more synthetic unity within the system of absolute idealism.” (From ).

All these views fail people’s religious points of view of whatever major religion.   Somehow all three views are progressive and start from unscriptural premises and we need to be wary.   I know there is a saying that philosophy is the handmaiden of religion, but I agree more with Calvin when he dropped Aristotle from the Institutes of the Christian Religion like a brick. 

By changing the foundations of the Fall, one does not need to think so much about sin, but it is still there.  It might be called by other names in the world of the sciences, but it is still sin.  Anything that we do which separates us from the living God is sin.  

These and many more writers like to wrap their ideologies in some type of evolutionary blanket, and I have to say that the various religious communities around the world do not like it.   The various religions including Christianity start from some type of revelation.  The divine somehow breaks into our time and our space.  It makes more sense to discuss from a point of exclusivity rather than exclusivity which is a complete kybosh and does not respect voices that go against their beliefs.   Exclusivity is compromise that doesn’t work.  

Wolfhart Pannenberg is not ashamed of using Hegel’s thesis, antithesis and synthesis but in the progress of humanity the cross is left behind.  It doesn’t work.  Don’t get me wrong Pannenberg has some serious cool things to say in his systematic theology, but Hegel just pulls him down into the dust.   

I know I went on a tangent but let us start from the basics and then the house will stand.  To finish off for now Bavinck says:

“We need to consider the following matters with respect to this law: terminology, author, content, object, and purpose or use” (page 217)


Bavinck opens up by speaking about the ‘moral law’ as the moral law comes from morality; “The moral law is the rule for human being and doing, also for religious being and doing.” (Page 218) Others would also use ‘natural law’ as it comes from’ God’s nature’.   Then there are those who reject the notion of revelation and call it natural because it comes from nature rather than God. There are then definitions from jurists ‘natural justice which teaches all living creatures. ‘This is distinguished from the common law and civil law.  Rothe doesn’t agree with ‘natural law’ because humans are caught up in their sinfulness.  Outside of salvation the law cannot be known.  This law then is a positive law not based on rational terms; “It is a divine law revealed by God, though mediated by human beings.” Page 218.   Harless thinks that for Pagans there is ““is nowhere of

such a nature as to correspond to God’s revelation of Himself in His word. And with respect to the quid velit, we find only a relative approximation.”” (end of page 218).  It is best to understand the terminology as Bavinck educating us to their meaning.  We have learned that various schools of thought use natural law in various ways.  This is very important in theology especially looking at what it means in certain contexts.  This discussion has been very important from another standpoint and that is the relationship of the natural law to the decalogue (10 commandments).  Even though Bavinck doesn’t say it here this is very important as well when we interpret the writings of St Paul.  How the natural law (theologically) relates to the 10 commandments and can this help us to re-read St Paul on law and grace. 

Anyhow let us now begin to look at the relationship of the natural law to the decalogue.  All this information on page 219 is packed into one paragraph.  He begins page 219 by:

 “Now surely the natural law and Decalogue differ in manner of revelation, in extent, purity, clarity, and foundation (“I am the LORD your God”).”

Bavinck begins with now surely the 10 commandments and the natural law differ in manner of …:

·         Revelation

·         Extent

·         Purity

·         Clarity

·         Foundation

Bavinck then uses a ‘However’ with regard of the natural law that the following points can be known from nature:

“(a) all human beings experience obligations toward God and to their neighbour, regardless of what those obligations are and how they must be fulfilled; and they feel bound to obey the moral law when they know it.

(b) Paul teaches the reality of the natural law in Romans 1:19—20.

(c) our conscience confirms this.

 (d) philosophers such as Cicero testify to it.

 (e) the nations with their natural and national law bear witness to it.

 (f) the church fathers all testify to it “

 (g) without natural law the moral world order, the moral order of God’s kingdom, and human dependence on God would completely collapse (against the libertines [Calvin] and atheists like Hobbes).

The natural law and the Decalogue differ from the law prior to the fall in that they are negative, consisting of prohibitions: “Thou shalt not . . .” So, they presuppose sin, the doing what is forbidden.” (From page 219 Reformed Ethics, Herman Bavinck, edited by John Bolt)

Bavinck the master theologian has opened our eyes to a whole world of law.  The Fall has affected every aspect of humanity (negatively).  However, if there were no laws (Lawlessness) then the situation could have been a lot worse.  Where does law come from?  Where does the authority rest, Who or what does it rest with?  Bavinck will give us answers to these questions under the heading of ‘Author’ (page 219 para 2)

Reflection 2

We started from the premise that God has spoken, and he has. Genesis 1.1 for example.  Before we move on the Christian life it is important for us to have realized that sin has affected  every aspect of the human being. It is no accident that God has shown the world his patience. When there is an illness (The Fall) an antidote is needed (Christ).  We are so blessed that God became a man in the person of Jesus Christ.  In Christ we have a right relationship with God and thus we can in this new state (eat from the tree of life). 

There is a story from a Hindu tradition:

“”He reached to the cave. Inside it, he was very happy: crystal clear the water was there; he had never seen such a water. And he was going to drink the water… suddenly a crow who was sitting in the cave said, “Stop! Don’t do it. I have done and I am suffering.” Alexander looked at the crow and said, “What are you saying? You have drunk, and what is the suffering?” He said, “Now I cannot die, and I want to die. Everything is finished. I have known everything that life can give. I have known love and I have grown out of it. And I have known success; I was a king of crows, and now I am fed up, and I have known everything that can be known. And everybody I knew has died; they have gone back to rest, and I cannot rest. I have tried all efforts to commit suicide, but everything fails. I cannot die because I have drunk from this condemned cave. It is better that nobody knows about it. Before you drink, you meditate on my condition — and then you can drink.” It is said Alexander for the first time thought about it and came back without drinking from that cave and that stream.”

From (

 Obviously as Christians we do not believe in reincarnation.  This story however reminds us that in our fallen human state eternal life could be worse than hell because we would be separated from God for all eternity in a state of sin.  Alexander chose death than life in this story. So, then we touched on the fact that after the Fall our conscience is now bound to the law.  Outside of Christ we lived a life of lawlessness, and we were not able to break free of it.  In Christ we are brought back into a right relationship with God, and we are no longer sees as the lawless ones.  We are not perfect; we still fail and do things we ought not to do and so on but by faith in Christ he is able to purify and cleanse us from all sin.

 Many theories of philosophy reject Christ and the fall.  They reject the authority of the Bible for some other authority.  Actually, a lot of these theories are not new but a reinvention of old theories.  The theory of evolution for example can be found in Plato’s writings even Josephus touches on it.  Plato a few hundred years BC and Josephus at the time of Christ.  We then get the psychological stuff from Kant and Schleiermacher.  Feeling (gefhul) can be immediate instead of mediated.  The foundations of knowledge have been moved.  According to a lot of these theories including Hegel Man is supposed to stride towards perfection.  This has not happened.  Two world wars, famines, Hiroshima and Nagasaki (nuclear), et al.

We need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and have our understanding nourished from Scripture. Epistemological foundations by the greater community of the learned need to revisit their own foundations before pointing a finger at the Christian community.  The problems that are in our society is more from their side, so they ought to stop blaming religion and theology for the ills of society.

Next time we will look at when the seat of authority of the law comes from; From God, nature or from somewhere else.

You are also invited to read my Hebrews commentary;

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