Studies in Scripture and its Authority

Written by Herman Ridderbos Reviewed By Gerry Breshears

Tension between the divine and the human is typical of many areas of Christian studies. Professor Ridderbos, whose books include: Paul: An Outline of His Theology and Galatians in the New International Commentaryseries, addresses the process toward secularization in three general areas: Scripture, Christ, and the kingdom. The introductory essay is an overview of the three areas. Ridderbos argues that because Jesus Christ is the saviour of all generations and at the same time the unchanging answer to man’s unchanging need of salvation, the traditional can be ever new in the face of new questions. In this vein he asserts the reality of both the divine and the human elements. He argues that Scripture is an organic union of the two, that Christology ‘from below’ is also ‘from above’ because of the historical self-revelation in Jesus Christ, and that the kingdom is Christ’s who is the spiritual power of the whole life of man.

The second chapter deals with the inspiration and authority of Scripture. Because Scripture is of God, we follow Scripture in asserting its authority and infallibility. These attributes are to be understood in the light of Scripture’s purpose and nature: to make us wise to salvation, to give God’s people completeness, and to equip for every good work. Thus he states, ‘God speaks to us through the Scriptures not in order to make us scholars, but to make us Christians.’ As such we understand everything sub specie Dei—humanity, nature, history, etc. Inspiration is to be understood as organic. God uses human words as the instruments of his Word. While they participate in divine authority and infallibility, they remain human instruments in the hands of God.

Ridderbos then turns to the synoptics to illustrate the divine-human tension in hermeneutics. In his treatment of the redaction critical method, his emphasis is on the Christological rather than the ecclesiastical. He argues for a structural redaction of Matthew which is focused on the Christ of Israel who is also the saviour of the Gentiles. Matthew’s gospel is seen as an attempt to bring the church’s sitz im leben ‘into the wide horizon of the redemptive history of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.’

The fourth essay deals with the fourth gospel. He argues that the gospel is not simply concerned with kerygma, but especially with the person of Christ. Thus he contends that the source of John’s Christology is the ‘overwhelming revelation of the historical Jesus himself.’ He avoids one-sidedness in either a docetic or a humanistic direction by locating the source of concepts such as the Logos, glory, and humanity in the glory of God revealed in the flesh of Jesus.

In his longest chapter Ridderbos examines the concept of reconciliation with particular reference to the theologies of liberation. He joins them in rebuking those who would limit reconciliation to an individual relationship with God. Reconciliation, based on Christ’s expiating sacrifice, frees from ‘the dogmas, the institutions, the taboos, the enchantments of this world.’ But this reconciliation can never come from men. It is only in and from Christ. All other messianic dreams are dead ends.

He closes with a treatment of Jesus and apocalyptic. He examines this first under the heading of the kingdom of God. Jesus shattered the expectations of Jewish apocalypticism with his emphasis on the kingdom as a spiritual reality already present in this world. This present kingdom is a sign and anticipation of the future kingdom which will include the whole cosmos. The second heading is the Son of Man, a title which Jesus claimed and which must be identified with the powerful figure in Daniel. It is the Son of Man who is the assurance of the present mercy and redemption which opens the way to his future.

These esays, originally presented as lectures sponsored by the Calvin Foundation, are quite readable. Each one begins with an overview of the topic with brief summaries and critical interactions with major spokesmen. Then Ridderbos gives us his insights as an able and experienced exegete. As such they are particularly helpful to students seeking to understand the issues in these areas. They are also stimulating to the scholar who will appreciate the depth behind the brevity. While this is not primarily a contribution to the current debate concerning Scripture as the title might indicate, it is an insightful application of Scripture to the areas which are sources of controversy in the church. Professor Ridderbos shows that evangelical theology is relevant to the questions of the day.


Gerry Breshears

Gerry Breshears teaches theology part time at Biola College while finishing his PhD at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California.