Geerhardus Vos on Christology and Hermeneutics

I have been working through the third volume of Geerhardus Vos’ Reformed Dogmatics on Christology and have appreciated the implications he draws throughout for properly understanding the Old Testament revelation. This, however, should come as no surprise: our doctrine of Christ should impact our reading of Scripture since it was written about him (Luke 24:44). So, for example, Vos makes some keen observations regarding the various names of the Mediator in chapter two and the three offices of prophet, priest and king on pp. 11, 85, 90, 93, etc.

But what I found of particular interest was the implication he drew from the personal unity between the human nature and the Logos. But before disclosing that insight, it will help us to consider briefly what exactly he means by this.

Simply understood, the Logos is the divine person (see p. 50). It is the Logos who assumes a human nature into the unity of the person. The hypostatic union is not the union of two persons, one divine and one human, but the union of two natures in one divine person, in the Logos. Appealing to Junius, Thesis 27:16, Vos writes, “The divine assumes, the human is assumed—not so that from these two a sort of third is forged together, but the human nature, at the outset [anhypostasis or impersonal], was assumed by the Logos into the unity of the person, and thus made [enhypostasis or in-personal]” (43).

What follows from this union is that “one may no longer separate [Christ’s human nature] from his deity” (48). So when we worship and pray to Christ, we do not abstractly worship and pray to his divine nature, in exclusion of his human nature. Rather, our worship and prayers are directed concretely to his divine person, which has assumed a human nature. In other words, we worship and pray to the Word become flesh, the Logos enfleshed. Christ is venerated as the God-man, “possessing human nature in the unity of the person” (48). So Vos writes,

That Christ the Mediator may no longer be prayed to and worshiped exclusively as God, apart from his humanity. As the Word become flesh, He is the object of our worship. His human nature is personally united to Him; it is taken into his hypostasis; one may no longer separate it from His deity. Just as the Triune Being of God exists only as triune being, and we do not worship an abstract Godhead but the triune God, even so the Logos may not be venerated in His abstract deity but in his concrete personality, which is both God and man (48).

We are now in a position to understand the implication of all this for the Old Testament revelation. Vos goes on to say that “even before his incarnation, it was only possible to believe in Him as the one who would become flesh” (48). In other words, the revelation of the Logos in the Old Testament was never in the abstract, but always concretely of his person who would be incarnate. You could say the Old Testament draws its significance and meaning from what was to come in Christ. (Note it does not obtain a new meaning with the coming of Christ, but always had Christ as its center and goal). Vos makes a similar point earlier in his Reformed Dogmatics regarding the three offices under the old covenant: “Now, we must not derive from their offices what Christ was, but must rather infer from Christ what their offices were. They were anointed because He would be anointed; He was not anointed because they had been” (11).

We can now come to Vos’ implication for understanding the Old Testament:

[O]ne prays directly only to the Son as Mediator, since the humanity assumed in the unity of His person can no longer be separated from his person. It is for that reason that all revelation of the covenant of grace under the old dispensation had to point forward; that [which was] presented was not the Logos qua talis [as such], as Head of the covenant who had secured it from eternity, but always the Logos who over the course of the centuries was to come and was to become flesh (49).

Notice three things. First, the revelation of the old covenant was not concerned with the Logos in the abstract, but concretely in his work of redemption, which he would accomplish in his incarnation. Vos assumes here the redemptive focus of revelation, which is reflected in his mention of the covenant of grace. In his Biblical Theology, he writes, “Revelation is the interpretation of redemption” (6).

Second, the shadows of Christ in the Old Testament—such as the offices of prophet, priest and king, Adam and Israel as sons of God, the angel of the Lord, Joshua, Melchizedek, etc.—pointed forward to the Logos who was to become flesh. These old testament types were never to be speculated about, but through them, in action and power, the eternal Logos worked redemption for the people of God, in anticipation of his coming in the flesh to accomplish final, eschatological salvation.

Third, and implied from our first two points, the Old Testament revelation had to point forward. The anticipatory nature of the old covenant revelation was founded upon the coming incarnation of the Logos in history to work salvation. Through the types and shadows, the old covenant believers looked forward to the Logos enfleshed, the God-man. In fact, as Vos said earlier, the Christ could not be believed upon except as the One who would become flesh.