Bavinck on Scripture, Tradition, and Theology

By Uche Anizor Feb. 23, 2012 9:15 p.m. Theology, Historical Theology

Herman Bavinck helpfully (as usual) comments on a proper way to understand “tradition” and its relationship to Scripture and theology:

“[F]or a correct understanding [of the Bible] it still often requires a wide range of historical, archaeological, and geographical skills and information. The times have changed, and with the times people, their life, thought, and feelings, have changed. Therefore, a tradition is needed that preserves the connectedness between Scripture and the religious life of our time. Tradition in its proper sense is the interpretation and application of the eternal truth in the vernacular and life of the present generation. Scripture without such a tradition is impossible. Numerous sects in earlier and later times have attempted to live that way. They wanted nothing to do with anything other than the words and letters of Scripture, rejected all dogmatic terminology not used in Scripture, disapproved of all theological training and scholarship, and sometimes got to the point of demanding the literal application of the civil legislation of ancient Israel and the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount. But all these movements thereby doomed themselves to certain destruction or at least to a life that could not flourish. They place themselves outside of society and forego all influence on their people and their age. Scripture does not exist to be memorized and parroted but to enter into the fullness and richness of the entire range of human life, to shape and guide it, and to bring it to independent activity in all areas.

The Reformation, however, adopted another position. It did not reject all tradition as such; it was reformation, not revolution. It did not attempt to create everything anew from the bottom up, but it did try to cleanse everything from error and abuse according to the rule of God’s Word. For that reason it continued to stand on the broad Christian foundation of the Apostles’ Creed and the early councils. For that reason it favored a theological science, which thought through the truth of Scripture and interpreted it in the language of the present.” (Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1, 493, italics added)


  • Alice C. Linsley Apr. 19, 2012 at 4:12 PM

    Christianity emerges from the received tradition of Abraham and his Kushite ancestors. There is the origin of Messianic expectation and the emergence of the Christian Faith.

  • Deacon Dennis m. Cronk May. 24, 2012 at 7:53 AM

    The Reformation eventually decided after a short time that the Eucharist is a tradion(small t) which can be dispenced with,or suffer a reduction to a purely symbolic position and thereby reduce the efficatious gift of Christ found in all bibles, even yours. The Truth is not an idea . It is Christ found only in his fullest through the Universal-Catholic church. All others including the noble reformer are without the Grace God intended from the time of creation. They are without priest/bishop aligned to the communion of saints or to Peter the Rock. You in truth,find yourself adrift and humbly I pray you begin to find home again in the One,Catholic,Holy and Apostolic Church.

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