Bavinck on Extrabiblical Terminology

This is an excellent passage in volume two of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, p. 296-97:

True, the use of extrabiblical terms was condemned by the Arians as well as by the representatives of many schools of thought in later times, such as the Socinians, the Anabaptists, the Remonstrants, the [so-called] biblical theologians, and others.  Christian theology, however, always defended it as proper and valuable.  Scripture, after all, has not been given us simply, parrotlike, to repeat it, but to process it in our own minds and to reproduce it in our own words.

Jesus and the apostles used it in that way.  They not only quoted Scripture verbatim but also by a process of reasoning drew inferences from it.  Scripture is neither a book of statutes nor a dogmatic textbook but the foundational source of theology.  As the Word of God, not only its exact words but also the inferences legitimately drawn from it have binding authority.

Furthermore, reflection on the truth of Scripture and the theological activity related to it is in no way possible without the use of extrabiblical terminology.  Not only are such extrabiblical terms and expressions used in the doctrine of the Trinity but also in connection with every other dogma and throughout the entire discipline of theology.  Involved in the use of these terms, therefore, is the Christian’s right of independent reflection and theology’s right to exist.

Finally, the use of these terms is not designed to make possible the introduction of new – extrabiblical or antibiblical – dogmas but, on the contrary, to defend the truth of Scripture against all heresy.  Their function is much more negative than positive.  They mark the boundary lines within which Christian thought must proceed in order to preserve the truth of revelation.  Under the guise of being scriptural, biblical theology has always strayed farther away from Scripture, while ecclesiastical orthodoxy, with its extrabiblical terminology, has been consistently vindicated as scriptural.

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About Nate Milne

Historical Theology student at Westminster Seminary California.
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