Van Til’s Unpublished Manuscript on the Ten Commandments

March 26, 2015

by Carlton Wynne

In his own inimitable way, Cornelius Van Til begins his treatment of the Ten Commandments by reminding us that ethics must be rooted in the being and authority of the God of Scripture. The only alternative, says Van Til, is to ground supposed ethical obligations in something other than God, which is to say, something finite. In the following quote, Van Til is pushing us to ask whether ethical obligations or values which are rooted in finite authorities, hopes, or motives really govern ethical behavior in any universal way. That is, on such a basis, is anything—even deeds that may initially strike us as either beautiful or cruel—right or wrong? Is anything truly good or bad? Van Til’s conclusion becomes clear: ethics must be first about God and his righteousness, or it is about nothing at all.

“The main presupposition of the moral law is Christian theism. The one supreme question that appears momentarily when law is the subject of discussion is whether law is self-sufficient or whether it rests on absolute personality. The question put in this manner requires us to be either Biblical theists or Pragmatists. Law that does not rest in absolute personality must have originated from the space-time continuum of a self-sufficient universe and be for that reason sufficient unto itself. The issue between Christian theism and other thinking is not that of personality because that may mean no more than law is based on human personality or at least finite personality. The Scriptures contemplate the law as issuing from God as absolute personality.” –Van Til, “The Ten Commandments,” unpublished manuscript, 1933.

Carlton Wynne

Dr. Wynne (PhD, Westminster) is assistant professor of systematic theology and apologetics at WTS.

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