Principles of Primeval Revelation

March 23, 2018

by William Edgar

In the marvelous collection of notes which became Biblical Theology, Vos stresses the importance of four great principles at work in the pre-redemptive “primeval revelation.” The first he called “the principle of life in its highest potency,” which he says is sacramentally symbolized by the tree of life. Much could be said here, but what is significant for our purposes is that by placing man in the garden of God, the Lord intends to state at the dawn of creation that human beings are in fellowship with God, the God of life. Indeed, life is virtually synonymous with the call, and the very meaning of humanity. By reiterating the life-giving purpose of placing man in a garden, the prophets, the psalmists, and many authors right up to John’s Revelation (2:7) tell us that to be God’s people is to have life.

As is well recognized, Vos has a strong eschatological understanding of the first creation. While staying beautiful and satisfying, there was more to come, as indicated by the tree of life. The second principle is that of “probation,” which is also symbolized by a tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. After discussing various views, Vos decides that the purpose of this unique test, not to eat of the fruit of this particular tree, was meant to lead to a higher state, beyond even the perfection of the garden.

There was a plan for human development, a project for historical unfolding.

What is the central idea of this progress? It is the call to greater ethical strength, and thus “to that state of religious and moral maturity wherewith its highest blessedness is connected.” He argues that greater knowledge of good and evil is not a bad thing, because it could have happened without guilty disobedience.

The point for us to notice is that there was a plan for human development, a project for historical unfolding. The third and fourth principles develop these points. They are the temptation and sin and the principle of death. Each of these illustrates God’s intention to lead the human race to a higher place. The importance of such an eschatology for understanding culture cannot be missed.

As we know, man fell, and death and dissolution ensued. Vos makes the point that this death was every opposite of life. We know, too that God in his mercy promised life again to our first parents. The seed of the woman would overcome the seed of the serpent. Again, when he describes death, Vos is in fact concentrating on the reality of life. In his sermon, “The Spiritual Resurrection of Believers,” based on Ephesians 2:4–5, he eloquently describes the death which is presupposed in Paul’s promise of life. To reckon with the damage done by death is one way to grasp the extent of the principle of life. Life, he says, is an attribute of God, who alone has it truly. Life for the creature is only to be had in fellowship with God. Just as at the beginning, darkness covered the earth until the Spirit of God hovered over it, so we are lifeless until God breathes into our nostrils the breath of life. “As long as love and God’s fellowship live in him, they controlled all lower forces and led them in the right direction so that they could not harm him.” But when God’s life-power is no longer active, then everything goes wrong.

This piece is adapted from William Edgar, “Geerhardus Vos and Culture″ in Resurrection and Eschatology: Theology in Service of the Church, eds. Lane G. Tipton and Jeffrey C. Waddington (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008) 391–392. Used with permission of the publisher.

William Edgar

Dr. Edgar (DThéol, Université de Genève) is professor of apologetics at WTS.

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