An Evaluation of Kuitert’s Dogmatical Views (cont.)
I promised in my last issue to quote at length in demonstration of my contention that the late Rev. Herman Hoeksema always taught very clearly the idea of a connection between Christ and creation. The reader will recall that I am doing this in order to contradict Dr. H.M. Kuitert’s claim that Reformed theology and the Christian church in general have never known what to do with passages like Colossians 1:15, ff., and that the church did not recognize a connection between Christ and creation. Kuitert connects this alleged failure with an interpretation of Genesis 1-3 as literal. And he uses this as an argument to overthrow the traditional view. For this reason I also want to emphasize before I begin to quote that the late Herman Hoeksema also always insisted on takingGenesis 1-3 literally. In fact, he insisted that the alternatives were a creation in six ordinary days or some form of evolution. Yet he was very strong on the idea of the connection between Christ and creation. This will be evident from these quotations.
My first quotation is from his commentary on the Epistle to the Colossians. This has been published only in mimeographed form. But it is important because in it we find detailed exegesis of the passage in question, Colossians 1:15, ff. I will therefore quote at length; and for the benefit of our readers I will substitute the English for the Greek wherever possible. In his introductory remarks the author points out that the passage of Colossians 1:15-20 contains the main thought of the entire epistle; and he therefore begins his commentary with this passage also. On verse 15 he writes as follows:
The first question that arises is: to whom does the apostle refer by the relative clause, “Who is, etc.? From the context it is plain that the reference is to Christ. But the question is: Christ from what point of view and in what capacity? Is the reference here to His divine nature, to His human nature, or to both? The following considerations may aid us in determining the answer to this question:
1) In the immediately preceding verse it is said that we have redemption through His blood. This refers, of course, to Christ as the Head of His church and the Mediator.
2) He is called the image of the invisible God.
3) He is described as the firstborn of every creature.
4) In the verses that follow He is described as the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, the Head of the church, the one by whom and for whom all things in heaven and in earth are created. He is the one in whom, according to the good pleasure of the Father, all the fulness should dwell, through whom God has made peace through the blood of His cross and reconciled all things unto Himself. From all these considerations we may draw the conclusion that “Who is” refers indeed to the eternal Son of God, but then as the Wisdom of
as the Logos of
as the Christ in human nature, crucified, raised, and exalted at the right hand of God, as, according to the eternal good pleasure of God, He stands at the head and pinnacle of all created things in heaven and on earth.
“The image of the invisible God.” The fact that eikoon (image) here stands without the definite article must not induce us to translate “an image” or “image” without the article. The definite article with God (Theou) at the same time limits “image.” (Cf. “Wirier,” paragraph. 18) God is here described as ho aoratos (the invisible). This term may mean “unseen” or “invisible.” Both are true with respect to God as He is in Himself. No one has ever seen God,
He therefore is the unseen. Nor is this possible apart from His own revelation. He is the absolutely invisible in Himself. He is the immortal, the invisible, the only God,
And this applies not only to our sense of sight, but also to that of hearing and to all our other senses. God in Himself, apart from His revelation, is the Dem Absconditus. He does not belong to the world of our experience and of our senses. He is the transcendent God, Who even in His immanence is nevertheless transcendent. He does not belong to our world, and is not the object of our perception. His virtues, His eternal power and godhead, are indeed known from the things that are made, but are nevertheless in themselves invisible,
This does not imply that God is unknowable, as agnostic philosophy has it, but does mean that He can be known only by an act on His part, i.e., through His own revelation.
This act of revelation takes place in the central and highest sense of the word in Christ. He is the image of the invisible God. He is this essentially as the eternal Son of God, the Second Person in the Holy Trinity. He is the eternal Logos, the one that is eternally in the bosom of the Father, God of God, Light of Light. And the fact that He can be and is the image of God in the highest and central sense of the word also in creation may never be separated from His eternal Sonship, even as the two natures in Christ may never be separated from each other, but are united in the Person of the Son of God. But this does not alter the fact that in the text the reference is not to His divine, but to His human nature. This is evident from the context, as we showed above. But this also is clear from the text itself. Why, otherwise, does the text emphasize the fact that God is in Himself invisible? This qualification applies to the godhead as such, and to all three Persons of the Trinity in the same sense. Not only the Father, but also the Son and the Holy Spirit are invisible. A is evident that the qualification “invisible” stands in closest connection with “image.” This term (eikoon) signifies image, figure, similitude. But in distinction from homoiooma it has also the connotation of representation, appearance, visible appearance. Hence, it is certainly the meaning of the text that Christ is the representative, the visible appearance, of the invisible God. He is the revelation of the unseen God. As the eternal Son He is indeed the image of the Father. But this image is itself invisible. “Image” in the text, therefore, cannot refer to this. Only in His human nature is Christ the visible representative of the invisible God.
In the highest sense of the word Christ .is this “image of the invisible” in His exalted state. He is raised from the dead and exalted above all principality and power and every name that is named. He is in the glory which He had with the Father before the world was. This does not mean that He was not the “image of God” when He sojourned with us in the state of His humiliation: He certainly was. For in His Word God spake. And He spoke, Christ spoke, the words of eternal life. His works were a testimony that God was in Him and with Him. The disciples beheld His glory, a glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth,
The disciples saw and heard, looked upon and handled with their hands the Word of life,
Surely, always, also in the state of humiliation, Christ was the “image of God,” and He could say to His disciples: “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father,”
Nevertheless, the image of God” was hid in His state of humiliation. Only in the state of exaltation, when Christ is raised from the dead and is exalted at the right hand of God, does that image of the invisible God shine forth in all its glory. And in the highest and ultimate sense of the word this will not be realized until it shines forth in His whole church, in all the elect, and in all the ne
w creation, the new heavens and the new earth wherein righteousness shall dwell forever, and the tabernacle of God shall be with men. Of this the text speaks. It refers to Christ as the Head of the church, as the firstborn of the dead; and as the one in whom all the fulness of God shall dwell, as He, according to the eternal good pleasure, shall stand at the head of all creation and shall have the preeminence in all things.
This Christ is further described in the text as “the firstborn of every creature.” TWO questions arise here immediately: 1) What is the meaning of this expression? And, 2) how must this expression be applied to Christ? May He be said to be the firstborn of every creature as the eternal and only begotten Son of God? Or must this also be applied to Christ in His human nature as the Mediator of God and man?
At this point the author presents and criticizes three interpretations which have been offered, going into detail as to the reasons why they cannot be maintained. I will omit this section and continue with his positive exposition:
To attain to the right explanation of the term “firstborn of every creature,” we will do well to look at it in the light of the related expression in verse 18, “the beginning” and the “firstborn from the dead.” If we do this, we obtain the following:
1. Christ is the “beginning.” The concept archee (beginning) denotes a beginning not only from the viewpoint of time or succession, a beginning which I may or may not be followed by all the rest to the very end. On the contrary, in this concept lies the idea of fons (fountain), principium, principle. As the acorn is the beginning of the oak, so Christ is the beginning of every creature. In the “beginning” lies the principle of all that follows in creation to the very end. The end is connected with the “beginning” in the organic, genetic sense of the word. At the same time, the “beginning” does not stand outside of what follows from it, but belongs to all that is implied in it. For that reason also this word cannot be applied to Christ according to His divine nature, but points to His eternal Sonship according to His human nature, as is evident not only from this term, but from the whole connection.
2. This becomes further evident from what follows immediately, “firstborn from the dead.” It is evident that these words may not be separated from the idea of “beginning,” but are closely related to the latter. In a sense we may say that they offer a further explanation of the “beginning.” In other words, they denote in what sense and from what point of view Christ is the “beginning.” He is this as the one that is raised from the dead, as the glorified Christ. And the expression itself implies, fast, that He was with the dead and under the dead, that is, with and under His dead brethren. He was with and under them because in His human nature He entered into death. He entered into their state of death, and in that state bore their sins. Secondly, this expression implies the idea that in and through death He swallowed up death. He conquered death because through His death He removed the guilt of sin, the sting of death, and stood righteous before God. And thirdly, this expression means that through death and resurrection He prepared the way through death into eternal life for all His brethren. And as the firstborn from the dead He is at the same time the “beginning.”
3. The question is, however: of what is He as the firstborn from the dead at the same time the “beginning” (archee)? The answer to this question we may find in verse 20. God reconciled all things through Him, the things in heaven and the things in earth, that is, in the ultimate, new creation. Of this new creation Christ, as the firstborn from the dead, is the beginning, the archee, the principium, the forts. And this new creation in the good pleasure of God stands in organic, genetic connection with the Christ as the firstborn from the dead.
4. Now the same Christ, and in the same capacity, namely, as the “beginning” of the whole new creation, and as the firstborn from the dead, is also the firstborn of every creature in time. Also here the word “firstborn” means, in the first place, that He was born before every creature that appears in time and the present world; and in second place, that He prepares the way for every creature that exists in time. Hence, also for the whole creation in time He is the “beginning” (archee), and the entire present world in its creation and historical development stands in connection with Him organically. It follows the “firstborn from the dead” and is adapted to Him.
5. Finally, the question arises: how can this be applied to the reality of the historical existence of the world and to the order of that history? Historically, to be sure, not the Christ, but the first Adam is the first creature. To this the text gives the answer that the whole relation of the firstborn to the rest of the creation is viewed from the viewpoint of the good pleasure of God and His eternal counsel. If was the good pleasure of God that in Christ should all the fulness dwell. We must understand that the glorified Christ and the new creation are not secondary thoughts in the counsel of God. They do not appear as repair work of the first creation, fallen into sin and death. But in that counsel it is the chief purpose unto which all things are adapted. If we do not bear this in mind, we shall never be able to understand how Christ, Who died and rose again and is exalted at the right hand of God, can be the “beginning” (archee) and the firstborn of every creature. If, however, we bear this in mind, there is no difficulty whatsoever. In the eternal good pleasure of God the glorified Christ is first. In the counsel of God He opens the womb for every creature that follows Him. To Him the whole new creation is adapted. But also the first creation is adapted to the second. And thus Christ, as the one that died and rose again, and that is exalted at the right hand of God, is the “beginning” of the new creation, and therefore, the “firstborn of every creature” in the eternal counsel of God. It is Christ that first breaks through the womb of that counsel and unto whom all things in time as well as in the new creation, in the new heavens and earth, are adapted. And to Him they are connected in the organic sense of the word as the “beginning” of all things.
Although my quotation is already lengthy, I want the reader to get the complete picture of this beautiful passage and this thorough exposition. And therefore I will next quote Rev. Hoeksema’s exposition of verses 16 and 17, which are more correctly rendered in the American Revised Version as follows: “For in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and unto him; and he is before all things, and in him all things consist.” Here follows the explanation of this section:
The conjunction “for” connects these verses as a reason and ground with verse 15. The connection is evidently especially with the concept “firstborn of every creature.” Christ is the firstborn of every creature, for “in him” all things were created in heaven and on earth. They were finished through Him and unto Him. And in Him, Who is before all things, all things also subsist, even in their mutual relation and in their development. The main thought in these verses is therefore that Christ, the “beginning,” the “firstborn of every creature,” and the “firstborn out of the dead,” Who is the Head of the church, the Mediator, is indeed the fans (fountain) and principium of all things, and that God has created all things through Him and unto Him, and that all things have their subsistence in Him. What is the meaning of these words?
The one of whom these things are said is the same as the firstborn of all creatures, the firstborn of the dead, the head of the body, that is, the church, the beginning, He that in all things was ordained to be the first, and through whom God has reconciled all things unto Himself, according to vs. 20. He therefore is not the Son of God in His divine nature; but He-is the same Christ, the Logos that entered into human nature, that died on the cross, and that rose again on the third day and is glorified and exalted at the right hand of God, and who is as such the image of the invisible God, to which these verses have reference. This Christ, Who is the Mediator of reconciliation, is at the same time the Mediator of creation, “in him were all things created.” We must pay attention to the differences in the prepositions that are used in these verses: in (en), through (dig), and unto (eis). And at the same time we must not overlook the difference in tenses, the aorist “were created” (ektisthee) and the perfect “have been created” (ektistai.) It is “in him were all things created.” The aorist here simply denotes the fact of creation, apart from the idea of time. And the preposition “in” with “him” denotes the sphere of the risen and glorified Son of God Who appears as such in the counsel of God, in the good pleasure of the Father. In that glorified Christ the entire fulness of the entire creation was implied, according to the good pleasure of the Lord. All that was created, in heaven and in earth, is one glorious revelation, and, as it were, an individualization of Him in Whom all the fulness dwells. The prototypes of all creatures are in Him. In Him as their sphere they are conceived in the counsel of God. And therefore, according to that counsel they are created in Him. For that reason they are also created “through him” and “unto him.” The perfect “have been created” denotes the work of creation from the viewpoint of its completion and perfection. The Son, but conceived as the exalted Son, as the Head of His church, raised from the dead and exalted at the right hand of God, Who was destined to have preeminence over all things, was the Mediator also of creation and of the formation of all things. Just as. God reconciled all things in heaven and on earth, “through the blood of his cross,” so also God created all things “through the firstborn of every creature.” For that reason they also are “unto him.” All the lines in creation and in recreation, all the lines in the present world and in the world to come point to Him, run in His direction, and have Him their center. The whole creation is adapted to Him. And therefore it is also true that all things in their mutual relation to one another subsist in Him, are sustained by Him, as the glorified Christ, Who appears as such in the everlasting counsel of the Most High. For He is “before all things” not only as the eternal Son of God, but as the glorified Christ, and that too, according to the good pleasure of God. This idea, which is, of course, fundamentally supralapsarian, is sustained by all Scripture. That is why the Word of God can teach us in
“For all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” And in the Epistle to the Ephesians, (which is so closely allied to our present epistle),
we read: “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in him.”
At this point an explanation is given of the expression “all things.” It is pointed out especially that the text wants to emphasize that also the heavenly world was created in Christ and was created through Him, and that He was before them all. Also in relation to the angels He is the firstborn, and also in relation to them He must have the preeminence. Next follows an explanation of verses 18 and 19, which read as follows: “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fulness dwell.” Part of this passage has already been explained in the preceding; but the author offers the following explanation of these two verses in addition:
Already we explained, in connection with our interpretation of verse 15; the terms “beginning” and “firstborn from the dead.” To this the apostle now adds: “in order that in all things he might have the preeminence.” This, therefore, as is evident from “in order that,” refers to the goal, the ultimate divine purpose. Christ is the firstborn of every creature, the beginning, the first begotten out of the dead, in order that in all things He might be the fast one, might have the preeminence among all things. It is the eternal purpose of God that the glorified Christ may have the preeminence, may be the first in rank over all creatures. Beginning and goal (archee and telos), alpha and omega, are inseparably connected with each other. If the goal, the final purpose, of God is that in all things Christ must have the preeminence, He must be conceived and ordained as such before all things in the counsel of God. Hence, “in order that he might have” refers to the final end of all things in the new creation according to the counsel of God. Then, in the new creation, the end which God always knows from the beginning will have been realized; and then Christ will indeed be the first among all. As far as the term itself is concerned, “in all things” (en pasin) may, of course, be masculine. In that case the meaning would be that Christ will have the preeminence and be the first one among His brethren. Nevertheless, the entire context refers to a much broader concept. Hence, it is more correct to read the expression as neuter: among all things, in every respect. Or: with relation to all things Christ is to be the first and to have the preeminence. “To have the preeminence” is an expression occurring only once in the New Testament original. It means “to be the first one in rank and position, to occupy the first place.” That Christ occupies and will occupy the first place in every respect signifies that He is the Mediator and Lord of the whole creation. All the heavenly blessings will issue forth from Him, as the Head, into the whole new creation, and from Him flow forth into the whole church, which is His body. And He will be Lord, and rule over all creatures under God forever.
This is further motivated by the clause: “For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell,” or, “because it was the good pleasure of God that in him should all the fulness dwell.” The question may be asked: what is the subject of “it pleased,” for it is not expressed? Some make “all the fulness” the subject. The meaning then would be: the whole fulness (of God) was pleased to dwell in Him. But such an interpretation is entirely without precedent in the New Testament. Besides, that God is the subject of the verb here is also plain from “unto himself” in verse 20, which certainly refers to God. As to the meaning of the verb, it always refers to God’s decree, and then from the viewpoint that God takes delight and pleasure in His own counsel. The meaning therefore is that according to God’s eternal counsel it was His delight, His good pleasure, that all the fulness should dwell in Christ. Another question is not so easy to answer. It is this: just to what does the term “fulness” refer? That the term must be understood not in the active sense (“that which fills”), but in the passive meaning (“that by which anything is filled”) seems etymologically certain. It is also evident from the entire context, even though no genitive is supplied further to qualify the noun “fulness,” that the meaning is: that by which God is filled. The meaning of the whole clause is: it pleased God that in Christ all the fulness with which God is filled should dwell. But the question is: what is the nature of the contents of this fulness? Must we understand by this term the fulness of divine grace, the fulness of all the divine charismata, of all the blessings in heavenly places
Or is the reference to the fulness of the godhead, as expressed in
The two are, of course, closely related. The former is no doubt grounded in the latter. Yet it seems to us that the interpretation offered by Meyer, Eadie, Alford, and others, namely that the term refers to the fulness of the divine charismata (gifts, blessings), and not to the fulness of the nature of God, as is the case in
is correct. For this we offer the following considerations: 1) The indwelling in Christ of this divine fulness is presented here as the object of the divine good pleasure. This can hardly be said of the essential divine fulness, according to which the Son is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit and co-equal with them. For this coequality is essential to the divine nature, and not the object of God’s counsel: 2) The context speaks of the work of divine grace whereby God reconciled all things unto Himself through the blood of the cross, making peace. 3) Also the argument must be considered of force which Meyer stresses in this connection, that if the apostle had meant to refer to the essential divine fulness dwelling in Christ, he would hardly have omitted to use the qualifying genitive “of the godhead,”
especially since he uses the word here for the first time. Hence, we interpret “fulness” as indicating the fulness of charismata that out of God dwells in Christ, and which He as the Head of His church, according to the good pleasure of God, pours out upon her, and as the one that occupies the first place in all things also upon the whole cosmos. All this is conceived in the good pleasure of God and is finally realized in the new creation.
From this point on, the author explains, in connection with the following verses, the idea of the reconciliation of all created things unto God through the blood of the cross.
For the present I will conclude by pointing out that here is a thorough-going, Scripturally oriented, and Reformed explanation of the relation between creation and Christ. Dr. Kuitert and others may not like it. They may not agree with it. And others may find the Supralapsarianism which is inherent in this explanation distasteful. I, on my part, find it both sound and beautiful. But this is not the question. Kuitert claimed that traditional Reformed theology had no answer to the problem of the relation between Christ and creation and that the Christian church did not know what to do with passages like Colossians 1:15, ff. I claim that Kuitert’s claim is false. On the contrary, I claim that in the above exegesis of the passage in Colossians 1 is a thoroughly Scriptural and careful explanation of the passage in question. Moreover, it is an explanation by one who held strictly to the literal interpretation of the creation narrative.
And here is the crux of the matter. Kuitert’s own so-called dogmatics of the relation between Christ and creation was not only vague, far-fetched, and totally unsatisfying. But neither for his view of Genesis nor for his explanation of the dogmatical implications of his view did he offer or does he have any Scriptural foundation.
And I, for my part, prefer the Word of God, not the philosophy of man, be he Kuitert or anyone else.