Biblical Theology Paperback – 1 Jul 1975
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About the Author
Vos was born in the Netherlands an emigrated to the USA in 1881. He earned degrees from Calvin Theological Seminary, Princeton Theological Seminary, and the University of Strasbourg (Ph.D. in Arabic). In 1894 he was ordained as a minister in the Presbyterian Church in the USA. Before beginning his 39-year tenure on Princeton's faculty, he was professor of systematic and exegetical theology at Calvin for five years. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
This book has been around since 1948, and provides an immensely helpful and remarkably compact overview of the development of the key theological themes as one works one's way through the Bible chronologically. It seems to me that there are too few reliable treatises which follow this approach - many prefer a systematic methodology which seeks to categorise truth, rather than observe it develop. One of the strengths of this book is the very clearly itemised Contents listing at the front, which gives you a quick breakdown of the topics covered in each chapter.
Those who want to understand the interaction between Old and New Testaments will find this a helpful contribution - I particularly enjoyed Vos' explanation of the Mosaic period.
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It should be pointed out from the outset, that the term "Biblical Theology" is itself rather unfortunate, as Dr. Vos points out in his introduction, since all true theology has the Bible as its source and its criterion. In his inaugural address (henceforth IA), he said that "Biblical Theology, rightly defined, is nothing else than the exhibition of the organic process of supernatural revelation in its historic continuity and multiformity." Systematic Theology, for example, examines and organizes revelation systematically and logically, whereas Biblical Theology operates historically. It is important to understand that, as Vos always insisted, neither of the disciplines is more biblical than the other. Rather, they are two ways of studying the same phenomena from different perspectives.
The concept of the organic nature of revelation is prominent. Dr. Vos traces the growth of revelation as it parallels redemption. The great events in the history of redemption were accompanied by corresponding revelation. He saw that "the heart of divine truth, that by which men live, must have been present from the outset, and that each subsequent increase consisted in the unfolding of what was germinally contained in the beginning of revelation. The Gospel of Paradise is such a germ in which the Gospel of Paul is potentially present; and the Gospel of Abraham, of Moses, of David, of Isaiah and Jeremiah, are all expansions of this original message of salvation, each pointing forward to the next stage of growth, and bringing the Gospel idea one step nearer to its full realization." (IA) It will be seen how squarely opposed this view of Scripture is to Dispensationalism.
Another central feature of revelation brought out by Vos is its multiformity, an understanding of which is absolutely indispensable for proper Biblical interpretation. The great pitfall, to which probably all of us fall prey to some extent, is to exalt one aspect or feature of Biblical truth at the expense of another. A result would be, for example, Martin Luther's aversion to the book of James, based on his perception of its contradictory character to the teachings of the Apostle Paul. Not only does the truth have many facets which form an organic unity, but the time and the people that God chose to give His revelation were uniquely chosen to best emphasize the particular ideas. In Vos' words, "The truth having inherently many sides, and God having access to and control of all intended organs of revelation, shaped each one of these for the precise purpose to be served. The Gospel having a precise, doctrinal structure, the doctrinally-gifted Paul was the fit organ for expressing this, because his gifts had been conferred and cultivated in advance with a view to it."
Vos traces the history of revelation, beginning with the pre-redemptive revelation, through the periods of Noah, the Patriarchs, Moses, and finally the prophets in the Old Testament, and then on to the revelation preceding the birth of Jesus as well as Jesus' own self-disclosure in the four Gospels. He does not specifically address the remainder of the New Testament in this book. Vos' great strength is perceiving the unfolding progress of the plan of God for redemption, and he helped me understand things in the Bible that I never saw before. For instance, he describes how the period leading up to Noah was intended to show to mankind, starting immediately after the fall, just how far sin would go if it was left to itself. He explains how the division of tongues at Babel was a redemptive act of God, out of faithfulness to his promise to not destroy the earth again, since "if the whole of humanity had remained concentrated, the power of sin would likewise have remained united, and doubtless soon again have reached stupendous proportions."
In terms of difficulty, I think that Vos should be well within reach of anyone who is willing to concentrate a little bit. It is not light reading, but I did not find it nearly as demanding as, for instance, Van Til. It is probably true that the more effort you put into it, the more you will get out, but I did not find this book to be a chore to read by any means. I enjoyed this book very much, and I believe that my understanding of God's Word has been greatly helped by reading it. I hope that what I have said here will encourage others to read this book, as I am confident that it will be very beneficial to a believer's understanding of God's Word.
In this book Vos raises the bar on what it means to be Reformed. Some disagree with Vos' use of difficult words -- this is a fair complaint, I suppose, but it should encourage us to become better readers, not to leave off reading a great book. If you do little else in life, read Vos and you will have done much.
This book is not for beginning students of the Bible, to be certain. There is a level of complexity and development here that can easily overwhelm people. However, that being said, Vos' Biblical Theology is a tremendously valuable resource and worth plowing through several times.
If you are a fan of Van Til's presuppositional apologetics, this volume is critical reading. According to Scott Oliphint, the Reformed understanding of Scripture that Van Til takes as a given is based upon his studies under Vos. So, if you're trying to wrestle through Van Til and are trying to faithfully understand where he is coming from, you need to absorb what Vos has to say.
A note on the level of complexity here: I've discovered that many people shy away from studying the Bible carefully. We enjoy 30 second sound-bites and easy to memorize verses. Vos tackles the whole scope and breadth of the Bible in a way that is truly foreign to a slick, pre-packaged post-modern culture. We want edgy but we want it with a glossy cover and intriguing layout. We want controversial so long as it looks sexy.
I was required to read this book twice during my three years of seminary. The first attempt was after only six months of seminary under my belt. I couldn't make heads or tails of what Vos was saying. The sad truth was that I simply didn't know my Bible well enough to appreciate what he was saying. Two years later, I've read it again - this time it made so much more sense. Again, this is because I've immersed myself in God's Word and become much more familiar with the different biblical writers.
Biblical theology, at least from an evangelical standpoint, is looking at Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, attempting to grasp how the various ideas are organically related to each other. We assume that God is the Lord of history and that he is working all things together for his own glory. For instance, the promise which is given in Genesis 3:15, is the seed that will eventually grows up into fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
BT is principally concerned with history - the progressive building upon prior promises and ideas.
Systematic Theology is principally interested in logical relationships - ordering and structuring ideas so that they can be grasped easily and clearly.
BT and ST are absolutely necessary for each other - BT considers things in a line of progression and ST considers things in their relationship to each other. ST establishes the perimeter of correct thought and BT establishes the nuanced layers and complexity within that perimeter.
The trouble with most BT is that it is a.) interested in the new and undiscovered (a fascination with `novelitus') and b.) often unbalanced, finding connections and relationships that are unwarranted by Scripture. Vos has mastered the careful balance and it shows.
As a final note - as you read Vos, you'll find that he's arguing with Liberal theologians of his day - interacting with the critics of the late 19th and early 20th century. The temptation is to skip by these critiques or to be frustrated by them. However, the presuppositions of those critics - anti-supernatural, humanistic, and evolutionary - are principally the same for the modern critic as well. The specific arguments have changed a little, the names of the critics are different, but the underlying anti-Christian assumptions remain the same. Vos proves his value and worth by refuting them gently and firmly from the text of Scripture while exposing their false worldview.
Vos isn't new, but he's solid. Worth having in your library if you take the time to carefully examine and work through his exegesis of the text. It is also humbling to realize how little you know and how much more there is to be grasped.
Definitely not a book for unlearned folk wanting a quick introduction to reformed theology. Especially those inclined to fear big words. :-)
This book by Vos is, to put it simply, excellent and immensely rewarding. The text is chock full of beautiful insights and poignant theology.
Even if you do not buy into Reformed Theology this book will give you much food for thought and most likely uplift you to new heights. Please do not make the mistake of not reading this book because you happen to belong to a denomination that does not endorse the covenantal paradigm. That would be a significant mistake and you will miss out on some profound theological insights.
If there is one book on Biblical Theology that you must have then make it Vos. Yes, it is a difficult read but well worth the effort.