8 comments on “Berkhof on Theological Interpretation

  1. it seems you may have come to a far gone conclusion assuming Berkhof’s statement’s necessarily leads to an extreme form of presuppositionalism. (I believe you have taken him to far.)

    if one does not axiomatically approach the Bible as God word, “no amount of historical or coincidental external evidence will prove it to be so.”

    However, to say that totally undermines the nature of the church as “the pillar and ground of truth” (1 Tim 3:15). without the existence of the church throughout history testifying in word in deed to the realities of the Scriptures we then the Scriptures themselves have no inherent truthfulness. To say no amount of historical or coincidental external evidence proves the Bible to be the word of God trips the necessity that truth must correspond to reality. Truth in inherently verifiable on the basis that it speaks of something real. Newton’s law has no bearing without the experience of gravity. Neither do any other axiomatic laws of physics have any bearing without the external, living reality of their laws. As the heavens are telling externally of the glory of God, these are also external evidence of the truth of God – i.e. – a coherence of the truth of Scripture with reality, so that men are without excuse. The Scriptures themselves point to a reality that itself reflects the truthfulness of Scripture.

    The very existence of the church and its witness is Christ’s external evidence of the truth. “They will know that you are my disciples by your love for one another.” (external evidence of the truth)

    I believe Berkhof was merely saying that historical and psychological considerations are not sufficient in themselves to prove the bible as the word of God. The Bible’s internal evidence as such is the necessary conditions. however, its internal evidence alone without external realities would prove God as a liar.

    Enjoyed the thoughts on Theological Interpretation though.


  2. I do not wish to misrepresent Berkhof. I’m not familiar enough with the rest of his body of work to claim him as a strict presuppositionalist or not. However, his comments here are good.

    However, to say that totally undermines the nature of the church as “the pillar and ground of truth” (1 Tim 3:15). without the existence of the church throughout history testifying in word in deed to the realities of the Scriptures we then the Scriptures themselves have no inherent truthfulness.

    This is not Calvinistic, nor reforming; it is Romish. To the contrary, WCF I:iv-v states,

    IV. The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.

    V. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it does abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

    Note that I did not say that external evidences for the truth of Scripture do not exist; I said that they can’t prove the truth of Scripture. It must be assumed. There is no ground for saying that the truth of Scripture is dependent upon the testimony of the church, unless you believe the Pope, that is.


  3. First off, does Berkof really refer to the “analogy of faith” when he labels this category “theological interpretation”? The idea of “Scripture interpreting Scripture.” If he does, then I may agree with him. However, being the theologian that he is, I am assuming that he is referring to something different because I do not think that he would relabel a common phrase used by the Reformers and others of his contemporaries without acknowledging that. I need to go back and check what he says about the “analogy of faith” in his Systematic Theology.

    I think the grammatical-historical method is sufficient to bring one to the same conclusion that “the Bible is the Word of God.” We see this with an exegesis of 2 Timothy 3:16. Grammatically, we notice that Paul is referring to “all Scripture” as being “God-breathed” (theopnematos). This Greek word indicates that the words that compose “all Scripture” are God’s very words. The fact that historically, this Greek word cannot be found in any other writing, both within and outside of the canon of Scripture, indicates that this is a special word that Paul might have created to point to the uniqueness of Scripture. While the “Scripture” that Paul refers would be the Old Testament writings, there is evidence by the New Testament authors that they identified their own writings as being “God-breathed” as well (1 Timothy 5:18; 2 Peter 3:15-16). Unless Berkhof is referring to the “analogy of faith,” which I did use in the last sentence, I see no need for a necessary “theological interpretation” to get to the same conclusion.


  4. Berkhof discusses the “analogy of faith” on the last couple of pages of the book.

    I think his main point here is distinguishing how we approach the Bible from the way we approach other writings. When interpreting other ancient writings (such as the church fathers, for example) we do so using the grammatico-historical method. But men can and do err in their logic, and often contradict themselves. This is particularly true over the course of an author’s lifetime.

    Scripture, on the other hand, despite being the product of many men over many years, is not like any other book. It is truly “theological” – written by God. Thus we are able to interpret Scripture “theologically” (i.e. recognizing it as the inerrant, non-contradictory word of God). We are unable to do this with any other human work.

    I believe the reason Berkhof is pointing out the necessity for this third element is in response to liberal interpreters who do not recognize the theological nature of Scripture, and approach the Bible purely as a collection of man-made writings. If this is our approach, we will never be able to properly interpret Scripture, for it would be absurd to try to relate the teachings of Isaiah to the teaching of the Apostle John, for example. From a purely grammatico-historical standpoint, why should we assume that the author of Hebrews has any bearing on our interpretation of Moses’ writings in Exodus? Regarding your example of theopnematos, the fact that Paul uses the word to describe the uniqueness of Scripture has no bearing on the reader’s actually taking it to heart, and therefore interpreting Scripture appropriately.

    Hopefully that clarifies Berkhof’s point.


  5. Thanks for the clarification Patrick. I appreciate it.

    I still think that the grammatical-historical method is a valid way of approaching Scripture due to God’s accommodation (to use Calvin’s terms, though in English) to communicate His revelation of Himself in words that we can understand. Scripture, just like any writing, makes certain claims. The question is whether the claim is a true statement and can be trusted. The Bible claims several different places by several different writers that it is God’s Word. That either is a true statement or it is isn’t. All of the facts given in the Bible are shown, upon careful study, to be valid internally and externally. However, for the reader to “actually take” any of the Bible’s words “to heart” the Holy Spirit must open his eyes to see that they are the truth and thus God’s Word as they claim. He must convict them of this truth. Otherwise, they will “suppress the truth” and the facts due to their depravity and not desiring to acknowledge it as true.

    I also would point out that viewing the Bible as “inerrant, infailable, and non-contradictory” are the implications of the claims that the Bible is God’s very words. If these are God’s words, then they must be inerrant because God is not able to err and non-contradictory as God is not able to contradict Himself.

    Thanks for the conversation brother. Hope you are blessed with a great day today!

    In Christ,


  6. Lee, I agree, and I think Berkhof would have as well… He spends about 2/3 of his book on the Grammatical and Historical Interpretive approach to Scripture – not criticizing it, but emphasizing it.


  7. Mr. McWilliams, thanks for taking the time to respond, I appreciate you interacting with me. However, your response, in an effort to debunk my statements, continues a fallacious use of conjecture, in addition to using pejorative labeling resulting in a straw man. You said:

    “This is not Calvinist or reforming, it is Romish…There is no ground for saying that the truth of Scripture is dependent upon the testimony of the church, unless you believe the Pope, that is.”

    First, your use of conjecture: It is one thing to say that the Church stands in authority over or alongside the Scriptures or that the church is the source of truth; it is another thing to say that the nature/existence of the church as witness gives necessary evidence to the inherent truthfulness of the word. You have drawn an unnecessary conclusion (conjectured) from my statement, just like you did with Berkof.

    Second, it’s funny how you said there is “no ground for saying that the truthfulness of Scripture depends upon the testimony of the Church” yet

    1) You ironically cite an ecclesiastical confession, a “testimony of the Church” about the testimony of Scripture, to argue your point that the truthfulness of Scripture does not depend upon the witness/existence of the Church. What is the functional difference in a “Reformed” reading of Scripture and a “Romish” reading of Scripture (if what I have said is truly supposedly “Romish”)? If I am being “Romish” in my reading, you are being “Reformed.” Thus we both (if I am indeed being “Romish”) are exercising use of an ecclesiological tradition in our argument (that is, if I am actually being “Romish”). If the truthfulness of the Scriptures do not depend upon the church in any sense why are you not arguing these things from the Scriptures themselves?? (this is more of a rhetorical argument though)

    2) Most significantly, you overlooked the very essence of my argument (to which the existence of the Church was only one example). The essence of my argument being “the necessity that truth must correspondence to reality” which righty concludes that something that does not speak of what is real is not true. If the Scriptures do not point to a real things (e.g., Jesus was a real historical person, the Jews being a real people who had a real experience with God, salvation/regeneration/sanctification as a real experience, heaven and hell as literal places), then Scripture is not true. How can I speak to the trustworthiness and reliability of the Scripture if I cannot point to any real/existing referents to its truth? God would then be a liar. Thus, I said:

    “The very existence of the church and its witness is Christ’s external evidence to the truth.” It is thus the “pillar and ground of the truth” in the sense that it is not only “agency” of truth, i.e., it exists to uphold and testify to the truth (consistent with Calvin/Reformed tradition), but also is also foundational for the truth. A quote from a popular Reformed commentary (R. Kent Hughes/Bryan Chapell):

    “Pillar” and “foundation” are graphic architectural metaphors. A foundation is essential to the building; a building is only as good as its foundation. The church provides the solid bedrock of truth. Pillars stand upright on the foundation as columns and give the building its structure and beauty. The church as a pillar upholds the truth. Of course, the truth comes from God. God is the source of truth and not the church. But whenever the church is faithful to God’s Word, it is the foundation and pillar of God’s truths in this world!”

    Obviously the emphasis here is more functional, i.e., the church as a witness to the truth. However, this function speaks to the reality and necessity of its nature as foundational/necessary. Therefore, without the church, the testimony to the truth does not happen. Thus, its existence is one of necessity and therefore as I said in my first comment: “The very existence of the church and its witness is Christ’s external evidence to the truth.”

    Third, and consequently, the Articles I.iv and I.v of the WCF are more consistent with the essence of my argument:

    While these statements are rightly seeking to root the authority of the Scriptures in themselves (and in God), they do not negate the existence of the Church as necessary to maintain the reliability and trustworthiness of God’s word. The authority of Scripture is in God Himself. The trustworthiness of Scripture is found in God Himself as well as its contents and efficacy which God puts forward as a testimony to His nature being absolutely trustworthy. We only know God as trustworthy because He and His word have proven to be so. Thus, trustworthiness necessitates efficacy, i.e., an external outworking of its truth which can be synonymous with evidence.

    Thus, in Article I.v. this necessary efficacy is pointed out when it states that “the efficacy of the doctrine” (among other things stated)…“are arguments whereby it does abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God.” It is the external efficacy of the teaching of Scripture that points it to being the Word of God. Additionally, it points to further necessary external evidence:

    “yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

    Our very assurance of the truth comes from the efficacy of the testimony of the Holy Spirit by the Word. Through this external work we testify to its truth. Without this work there is no efficacy; no efficacy no trustworthiness/evidence that Scripture is the Word of God.

    So, the truth corresponds to reality – the reality in which we experience as the Church order to testify to the truth of Scripture. So, again, to say that “no amount of historical or coincidental external evidence will prove (the Bible) to be (the Word of God)” undermines the existence of the church as the external/efficacious testimony of the truthfulness of Scripture.

    Lastly, as a side, what in the world does my blog name “a reforming calvinist” have to do with the discussion? Why use this but only to pejoratively “put down” or dismiss my argument from get go without any real substantial interaction? This not a sound counter argument or thinking because you are using a superficial means to argue except the substance and “the very essence of my argument: itself. But, this is typical of the blogosphere. As it turns out the name “a reforming Calvinist” speaks to my changing Reformed convictions for which I am not necessarily concerned with going beyond Confessional Reformed/Calvinistic theology but seeing my “Calvinism” become more consistent with Scripture and with itself.

    Thank you again for letting me interact. I look forward to any further discussion.


  8. I’m sorry if I misunderstood you. In the quote that I provided, you seemed to say that Scripture is not inherently true apart from the witness of the church – thus deriving its truth from the church.

    1) I was quoting a Reformed confession to demonstrate the Reformed view. I was not attempting to prove the inherent truthfulness of Scripture by quoting the WCF.

    2) You seem to be arguing for a correspondence theory of truth, which I would reject. I’ll wait for you to confirm or deny this before commenting further in this vein.

    I agree that the church is an evidence of the truth of Scripture, and exists to further testify to its truth. I did not intend to deny this by saying that the church doesn’t *prove* the truth of Scripture. I think we may be talking past one another due to different theories of truth, as above.

    I certainly did not mean to refer to your pseudonym in a pejorative sense. Since it is not your actual name, you have chosen it to make a statement about yourself – that you are “reforming” and a “calvinist.” I didn’t think some of your comments fit either adjective, thus I said so. Again, we may be talking past one another. Just want to make sure you know that I meant no offense by referring to your blog name. Thanks for the interaction.


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