Friday, May 27, 2011

Bierma on Bullinger and the Covenant

Lyle D. Bierma has published quite prolifically. His critique of Baker’s view can be found in his “Federal Theology in the Sixteenth Century: Two Traditions?” Westminster Theological Journal, vol. 45, 1983, pp228-250. He has also written The Covenant Theology of Caspar Olevianus (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2005).

The following is one of his footnotes:

“It is puzzling why Baker especially sees a fundamental difference between Bullinger’s and Calvin’s doctrine of covenant. Baker is correct in pointing to a tension in Bullinger’s theology between salvation sola gratia and a conditional covenant that takes human responsibility for faith and piety very seriously. But precisely the same tension is present in Calvin and in all of early Reformed theology for that matter. To suggest, as Baker does, that Calvin resolves this tension by making faith a gift rather than a condition does justice neither to Calvin’s many references to the conditional nature of the covenant nor to Bullinger’s own insistence that faith is a gift of God bestowed on those whom He has elected from eternity.

It is also curious that Baker ascribes the differences in Calvin’s and Bullinger’s views of the covenant to their doctrines of double and single predestination, respectively. Faith as a condition of the covenant of grace is only apparent in Calvin, he argues, because for Calvin this condition is always fulfilled for the elect, and the reprobate, by God’s will, can never fulfill it. Baker implies that Bullinger’s single predestination, on the other hand, helps to preserve the conditional nature of the covenant because the reprobate, not God, bear final responsibility for their rejection. It is difficult to see, however, how these two views of reprobation affect the conditionality of the covenant. By locating the ultimate cause of reprobation in human unbelief Bullinger does not mean to suggest the possibility that nonelect persons after the fall are capable of fulfilling the condition of belief. The unregenerate continue to sin willingly, without coercion from the outside, but their wills are not free to the extent that they are able to love God or do any good (Second Helvetic Confession, IV.2, 3; VIII.2). That ability is a gift reserved for the elect, and the ultimate cause of one’s election is found, of course, solely in God (ibid. XVI.2). The possibility of fulfilling the condition of the covenant, therefore, is really no greater in Bullinger’s view of predestination than in Calvin’s.”

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Weir on Bullinger and the Covenant

Though it is some years since it appeared David A. Weir’s The Origins of The Federal Theology in Sixteenth Century Reformation Thought (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990) is still a must read in order to grasp the development of understanding the covenant in the 16th century.

This is what Weir writes in his Introduction about Bullinger:

“Heinrich Bullinger also gave the idea of the covenant a central position in theology. He took Zwingli’s use of the covenant to defend in fact baptism and expanded it into a much broader concept. He sued it for a unified vision of history: history, for Bullinger, is not marked by radical discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments, but by unity and discontinuity. The crucial starting point for Bullinger is the covenant with Abraham. Bullinger points out interesting parallels between the old and New Testaments:

1. God concludes the covenant with Abraham appearing as El Shaddai, God Almighty; when Jesus Christ is incarnated he appears as God Almighty.
2. The covenant with Abraham is directed toward all nations, not just the Jews. When Christ comes, he comes to offer the gospel to all nations, not just to the Jews.
3. A condition is laid upon Abraham: ‘Walk before me and be blameless.’ Jesus Christ fulfils that condition.
4. Circumcision is made the sacrament of the Old Testament, which has its parallel with baptism in the New Testament.

If Abraham and Christ are the two basic loci of history for Bullinger, why was the law given to Moses? Bullinger takes the Mosaic law as a concession to human weakness. The children of Israel had been led astray by the sinfulness of Egypt, and so the Abrahamic covenant to be strengthened with the guide-lines of conduct.

Bullinger makes no reference to a prelapsarian covenant with Adam. Mark Walter Karlberg, in his recent dissertation, tries to show that Bullinger made some sorft of reference to a prelapsarian covenant with Adam in his treatise De testamento Dei unico et aeterno (1534):

‘As far as we can discover, there is only one instance in which he alludes to the covenant prior to the fall, the ‘most ancient of all covenants with Adam,’ which covenant was reestablished by the finger of God upon tables of stone. The context of this reference emphasizes the temporal, pedagogical function of the Mosaic law specifically in regard to the ceremonial law.’

Karlberg is to the following passage in Bullinger’s De testamento:

Primum ergo ipsa prisci foederis capita restituit, sed copiosius exposuit, inque tabulos lapideas proprio digita inscripsit. In his autem nulla adhuc ceremoniarum mentio. Sat enim praescriptum erat fidelibus. Verum dum isti infidels et perfidi esse pergerent, iniectum est humeris miserorum onus ceremoniarum, quo caruere prisci. Atqui in hunc finem atque hoc consilio iniectum ex caussa impellente constat, ne alienis deis instituerent sacra: propria erga instituit, eaque sibi ad tempus correctionis placere pronunciavit quae sine verospiritu et sine vera fide perfecta adeoque sine Christo negligebat, ut vel ista ratione testamentum confirmaret, praetera et Christi mysterium hisce velut typis inuolueret, essentique sacramenta et verba quaedam visibilia.

However, we fail to see the validity of this assertion. There is no mention in the text of the most ancient of all covenants ‘with Adam’, but simple of the most ancient covenant, which would refer to the covenant of grace. If we read this carefully we see that Bullinger is speaking of the ignorance of the Israelites in Egypt, and how God had to teach them anew of the covenant with Abraham. Lillback translates the passage in this manner:

First, therefore, He re-established the very heads of the ancient covenant, but He explained it more fully, and He wrote in tables of stone with His own finger. Moreover, in these things there is no mention thus far of ceremonies. Indeed, it is enough that the written rule was for the faithful. Truly, while they continued to be unbelieiving and unfaithful, the burden of the ceremonies was imposed by the arms of pity, which the ancients never had. Both to this end and by this counsel, He established the imposition out of an urgent cause, that they not institute the worship of a foreign god. Therefore, He established a special thing, and by this he declared Himself to be pleased for the time of correction, which he was passing over without the true Spirit and without the true completed faith and thus without Christ, so that He might establish the testament with that plan (Ps. 98:8-11). Further, by this He might cover the mystery of Christ even as by figures, and there might be certain sacraments and visible words.

J.Wayne Baker, in his extensive study of Bullinger’s doctrine of the covenant, has not found any reference to a prelapsarian covenant.”

A few comments are in order:

1. Weir is merely following Cottrell, baker and others who argue that Bullinger took over where Zwingli left off writing on the covenant. I am of the opinion that it was Bullinger influenced Zwingli on the covenant rather than vice versa.

2. Weir refers to “The crucial starting-point for Bullinger is the covenant with Abraham”. It is true that De Testamento focuses on Genesis 17 but from The Old Faith and The Decades it is clear that the covenant was first made with Adam. Karlberg is seeking to come to terms iwht this but wrongly refers to such a covenant with Adam as a prelapsarian covenant.

3. Weir fails to see a reference to a covenant with Adam in De Testamento. He has gone to the effort of citing the Latin text and Lillback’s translation which is appended to his dissertation. The endnote in Weir refers to Page 515 of Lillback’s dissertation. But had Weir checked page 514 carefully he would have read at the bottom of that page: “Indeed, this which he made with Abraham is not the first of all covenants. Rather, the first is what he made with Adam…..”

I have identified the text that Lillback used for his translation of De Testamento and there is the insertion of several sentences at this point to the text that is used by Baker. I am still hoping to get this published. So far no manuscript has been accepted for publication. De Testamento (in its expanded form) does clearly refer to a covenant with Adam but it was a postlapsarian covenant.

If readers can access Baker’s translation of De Testamento they will find it clearer, I believe, than Lillback’s. The section that Weir cites is where Bullinger explains why the ceremonies were added – ie because of the idolatry in Egypt. So that worship of God by the Israelites in OT times according to the ceremonies was ‘pleasing to God’ though, in reality, God desired to go back to the future. Ie back to the time of the patriarchs (pre the ceremonies) when God’s word was written by the finger of God on the tablets of their hearts. With the coming of Christ this becomes not only a reality but is at a higher level – hence Christ declares “God is spirit, and His worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Strehle on Bullinger and the Covenant

Bullinger has been misunderstood with respect to his understanding of the covenant. One reason for this is an inadequate grasp of his use of the terms foedus, testamentum and pactum. Another reason is the tendency to read into Bullinger’s works the concepts of federal theology which developed in the 17th century. Another reason is giving insufficient attention to reading Bullinger in context and looking at his works over the three major phases of his writings/ministry: phase 1 – the early 1520’s; phase 2 – the mid-1520’s to the mid-1530’s; phase 3 – 1539 onwards (see Peter Opitz in his “Bullinger’s Decades: Instructions in Faith and Conduct” in Architect of Reformation, pp102, 103.

Clearly, Bullinger was misunderstood at the Synod of Dort and his writings were quoted out of context. No less than an able scholar in Stephen Strehle has, in my opinion, misunderstood Bullinger. This can be illustrated from his article “Fides aut Foedus: Wittenberg and Zurich in conflict over the Gospel”, Sixteenth Century Journal, vol. XXIII (no.1), 1992, pp 3-20.

In this article Strehle writes: “and yet, this solus Christus has another dimension in Bullinger, which will become so unlike the Reformers. In the hands of Bullinger Christ will become more the lawgiver, teacher, and example of the humanists than the redeemer of the Reformers. One need only glance at a bibliography of his works to observe this, his leitmotif. There the intransient, moralistic subtitle of his works can bee seen over and over: ‘Dad is min gliebter son, in dem ich versoenet bin. Disem sind gehorsam!’ (Matt. 17:5). And so solus Christus audiens becomes quite naturally the dominant theme of his theology. And it is this moralistic and humanistic Christ that will end up undermining, as it does so often throughout church history, his primary role as redeemer and the priority of the Gospel to the law.”

However, bearing in mind that many of the works of Bullinger were primarily pastorally focused, it is clear that, like the other reformers, Bullinger emphasized justification by faith alone in tandem with the imputation of Christ’s alien righteousness. What Bullinger did emphasize was that this was the teaching of the Church Fathers who were faithful to Scripture as opposed to the teaching of the Medieval Church which had corrupted biblical truth. Bullinger sought to respond to the Medieval Church by often using the terms they were familiar with or terms they preferred. This was clearly so during the period of the Council of Trent. Bullinger did emphasize the right response of mankind to God’s gracious provision in Christ (the promised Messiah and seed of Adam and Eve) in terms of “right living” (integer) which paralleled the Old Testament emphasis on love and obedience. In is in this context that his reference to Matthew 17:5 is made. Space precludes pointing out that, for Bullinger, Matthew 17:5 refers to the new Torah that Christ taught (indeed embodied in Himself) to replace the Torah of the Old Testament (not the Torah of the time of Moses but that already written on the hearts of the fathers before Sinai and the need to respond to the idolatry in Egypt). For Bullinger, both the Torah of the Old Testament and the new Torah of Christ are written on the hearts of the elect.

Strehle makes observations and comments about Bullinger’s understanding of grace, free will, predestination, reprobation and election (which will not be summarized here). Earlier posts in the blog on the work of Cornelis Venema deal adequately with Strehle’s misunderstanding of Bullinger.

The following lengthy extract is representative of how Strehle views Bullinger:

“This synergism comes to a most definite expression in his doctrine of a bilateral covenant between God and man. Zwingli had previously set forth a doctrine of covenant, in order to unify the promises and precepts of God to man, but he never spoke as if this was a bilateral or contingent compact. It is Bullinger who decides to recast the doctrine in this way through his synergistic tendencies and thus coordinate which is promised by God and exacted of man. God and man are now to be understood as confederated into a relationship of mutual responsibility, contingent not only upon the faithfulness of God but also upon that of man. While God might have initiated the relationship, man has his conditiones to fulfill, in order to receive the blessings offered. These conditiones are revealed throughout scripture, including most notably Abraham’s “Walk before me and be whole,’ as well as Moses’ ten commandments. According to Bullinger, upon fulfilling these conditiones, we are now in a position to expect God to fulfill his part, and thus receive his blessings. If we spurn them, we become disinherited.

This doctrine of covenant, we cannot say, is central to the overall theology of Bullinger, but we can say that through his De Testamento sev Foedere Dei unico et æterno of 1534 this concept of covenant did become an important and permanent fixture of Reformed theology. Classical Reformed orthodoxy continued to speak of the covenant as a bilateral arrangement, employing terms such as dipleuron, confoederatio, mutua pactio, mutua obligatio, and conditio. Man was said to make God a debtor to himself through certain federal conditions and thus was able to exact of God his reward.”

Several comments need to be made here:

1. Strehle has given insufficient weighting to God’s accommodation in relating to mankind via the covenant. Archilla’s work emphasizes God’s accommodation.

2. Strehle is following Baker in arguing that Bullinger viewed God’s covenant with man as bilateral. This view is not accurate once a word study is done on Bullinger’s use of the terms foedus, testamentum and pactum. See earlier posts in this blog. For Bullinger the covenant had both duopleuric and monopleuric aspects.

3. Strehle has misunderstood Bullinger’s use of conditiones as well as Bullinger’s understanding of ‘law’ for the elect in the new covenant (in a footnote to this article Strehle asks: ‘However, we in turn must ask why then would Bullinger speak of the law as a conditio for receiving divine blessing?’). I hope to write on conditiones in Bullinger on another occasion. But the extract from Strehle above is clear that one context of the conditiones is the blessings of the covenant – not the actual covenant relationship itself which is clearly all of grace.

Strehle’s writings, in general, are very helpful and insightful. But, I believe, he has badly misunderstood Bullinger on the covenant. If such an able scholar misunderstands Bullinger it is not surprising that many others misunderstand Bullinger. Hence one of the reasons this blog was set up was to put Bullinger’s work up for review and reflection by all readers.

Latest News on the RefoRC Conference

A previous post has referred to the plenary papers to be presented at the RefoRC Conference to be held at Zurich 8-10 June 2011. The following is a list of the short papers to be presented at this conference.

Isabelle Graesslé (Geneva): The Small Leading Mythologies about Reformation: The Experience of the International Museum of the Reformation

Karin Maag (Grand Rapids): The Advantages of Being under Threat: Geneva and the Myth of the Escalade, December 1602

Jakub Koryl (Krakow): “Renascentia”and “Reformation” – between Myth and Reality: In Search of Their Different Meanings

Patrizio Foresta (Bologna): Short Presentation of the Fifth Volume of the Series “conciliorum oecumenicorum generaliumque decreta,” Edited by the Fondazione per le scienze religiose Giovanni XXIII Bologna

Rebecca Giselbrecht (Zurich): Demythologizing Women in the Zurich Reformation: Comparing Margaretha Hottinger and Anna Reinhart

Sabine Hiebsch (Amsterdam): Das Herz als Zentralbegriff der Glaubenserfahrung bei Martin Luther

Stephan Bernard Marti (Fribourg): Die Grosse Europäische Reformation: Luther (1483-1546) und Las Casa (1484-1566)

Daniël Timmerman (Apeldoorn): Between Rhetoric and Prophecy: The Development of Heinrich Bullinger’s Concept of Church Ministry (up to 1532)

Max Engammare (Geneva): Models of Preaching in Reformed Switzerland: Comparison of Three Models Known or Used in Geneva, Zurich and Basle

Rainer Kobe (Trier): Die Confessio des Thomas von Imbroich, Niederrheinisch/Kölnischer Täufer und Märtyrer

Monique Weis (Brussels): Samuel Pufendorf and the Reformation: A German Contribution to European History?

Anna Vind (Copenhagen): Visibility and Invisibility in Luther’s Theology

Rasmus H.C. Dreyer (Copenhagen): Hans Tausen and His Apologia for Luther

Michael Baumann (Zurich): Das Vermiglibild im Lauf der Geschichte

Philipp Wälchli (Zurich): “Wie die Teufel das Weihwasser…” – Zum Mythos des (nicht vorhandenen?) reformierten Kirchenrechts anhand der Kirchenordnungan von Zürich und Basel

Ueli Zahnd (Freiburg i. Br.): John Moir and the Late Scholastic Background of the Young Calvin’s Doctrine of the Soul

Arnold Huijgen (Apeldoorn): Divine Accommodation in Calvin: Myth and Reality

Aurelia A Garcia Archilla (Puerto Rico): Non multos: Patterns of Conversion or State Sponsorship? Correlation of the Reformation with Early Christianity and Contemporary Evangelical Conversionism

John R. Slotemaker (Boston): “Let us make man in our image”: The Imago Trinitatis in Early Reformed Theology

Friedhelm Haas (Baden-Baden): Verdient die englische Reformation wirklich ihren Namen?

Ian Hazlett (Glasgow): Maintaining Religious conformity in Sixteenth-Century Royal Hungary: A Case Study of Seven Carpathian Mining Towns

Jan-Andrea Bernhard (Castrisch/Zurich): Historigraphie und Realität: Die Anfänge der Reformation in Ungarn

E.A. de Boer (Kampen): John Calvin’s Institutio 1536: Reformed or Catholic?

Ernst Gouda (Apeldoorn): The Sources of Calvin’s Commentary on the Psalms

Michael Choptiany (Krakow): Monis Ramista est Calvinista: On Peter Ramus’ Attitude towards Calvinism. Is it True, that, as Hippolytus Hubmeyer Observed, “Every Ramist is a Calvinist”?

Ninna Jørgensen (Copenhagen): Das Vaterunser von Katharina Schütz-Zell im Rahmen zeitgenössischer Laientheologie

Paul Roberts (Louisville): Pierre Viret and the Politics of Piety

Christine Christ-von Wedel (Basel): Bilderverbot und Bibelillustrationen in reformierten Zürich

Andreas Mühling (Trier): Caspar Olevian als Schüler Bullingers und Calvins

Bjoern Ole Hovda (Oslo): “Worse than the Papists” – The Controversy Over the Lord’s Supper in Danzing (Gdansk) 1561-1567: Presence and Practice – Theology and Confessional Politics

Jon Balserak (Bristol): Calvin’s Aggression towards Rome and the French Wars of Religion: “We, Therefore, Are Able Boldly to Overthrow the Whole of the Papacy” (on Malachi 2:4)

Antje J.Gornig/Insa Christiane Hennen (Wittenberg): Das ernestinische Wittenberg 1486-1547

Martin Schneider (Bretten): Von Wittenberg nach Eropa – Melanchthons Beitrag zu Vermittlung und Konsolidierung reformatorishcer Lehre

Hendrik Klinge (Göttingen): Tractus christo-philosophicus: Jacob Schegks christologischer Entwurf von 1565

Erich Bryner (Zürich): Die Reformation in Schaffhausen und ihre Besonderheiten

Jordan Ballor (Grand Rapids): The Reformation of Law, Politics, and Society, Including “The Reformational Roots of subsidiarity”

David Sytsma (Princeton): Richard Baxter on the Foundations of Natural Law Contra Hobbes and Spinoz

Christian Scheidegger (Zurich): Eine frühe Polemik gegen die Zürcher Täufer

Andreas Pietsch (Münster): The Radical Reformation Revisited – or, How Protestant was the “Family of Love”?

Jon O. Flæten (Oslo): Heinrich Suso’s Letter to a Dying Nun

Sivert Angel (Oslo): Death as a Teacher in the Late Middle Ages and after the Reformation: Souso’s Büchlein der ewige Weisheit and 16th Century Lutheran Funeral Sermons

Wim François (Leuven): Jacob van Liesvelt Beheaded because of His 1542 Bible: Myths and Facts

Els Agten (Leuven): Francisco de Enzinas, a Reformed Spanish Humanist with a Vernacular Dream: A Spanish Translation of the Bible

Todd Rester (Grand Rapids): Divine Law, Natural law, and Human Reason: Adumbrations of Subsidiarity in Franciscus Junius’ De Politiae Mosis Observatione?

Frank de Pol (Kampen): “Reformation” and”Reformers”: A 17th-Century Approach. The Profile and Use of Two Fundamental Concepts in the Works of a Dutch Reformed Pietis

Frank Ewerszumrode (Mainz): Die Abendmahlslehre der Confessio Genevensis und des Consensus Tigurinus im Vergleich

Gordon D. Raeburn (Durham): Ritualized and Spontaneous Grief at Funerals in Reformation Scotland

Kristin Bliksrud Aavitsland (Oslo): Visualizing the Art of Dying in Early Protestant Scandinavia

Eivor A. Oftestad (Oslo): The “Sisters of Rachel”: Early Protestant Funeral Sermons and the Female Art of Dying

Vilet Soen (Leuven): A Spanish Inquisition in the Low Countries (1520-1580)? Myths and Facts

Gert Gielis (Leuven): ‘Ad religionem instaurandam’: Leuven Theologians and the Reformation of the Catholic Church in the Netherlands (1550-1580)

Urs Leu (Zurich): Mythen und Fakten zum Schweizer Buchdruck des 16. Jahrhunderts – Neue Erkenntnisse aufgrund des Digitalisierungsprojekts e-rara

Reinhard Bodemann/Martin Böger (Zurich): Eine topogrphisch neu angelegte Bibliographie der Pfarrerbücher

Martin Wangsgaard Jürgensen (Copenhagen): The Arts and Lutheran Praxis Pietatis I

Sven Rune Havsteen (Copenhagen): The Arts and Lutheran Praxis Pietatis II

Monday, May 23, 2011

Euler and Pfeiffer on Bullinger’s Der christlich Eestand (1540)

Carrie Euler has written extensively on Bullinger’s Der christliche Eestand. See especially her article “Bullinger’s Der christlich Eestand: Marriage and the Covenant” in Gordon and Campi (eds.) Architect of Reformation. See also her article “Heinrich Bullinger, Marriage and the English Reformation: ‘The Christian state of Matrimonye’ in England, 1540-1553,” Sixteenth Century Journal vol 34 (no.2), 2003, pp365-369.

Euler writes that “Bullinger’s belief that a reformation of marriage and morals was an integral part of the restoration of obedience to the covenant led him to write a more thorough treatise than any other reformer, and one that blended his theology of marriage into the traditional genre of the domestic conduct book. It will be demonstrated that the subtle distinctions between Bullinger’s idea of the covenant and that of other reformers did not significantly alter or affect his opinions on specific marital issues…. What Bullinger’s unique conception of a unified, conditional (duopleuric) covenant did do, however, was cause him to stress, more than any other Continental Protestant, the reformation of religion and society along the lines of the Old Testament. This led him to emphasize not only the unity of the secular and religious spheres and importance of Old Testament law, but also the connection between theory and praxis and the need for the laity to have a better understanding of the place of marriage in society. Thus, while the covenant had only a small impact on specific points of marital theology, it did influence Bullinger’s motivation for discussing these issues and his way of presenting them.”

In a footnote, Euler writes: “My understanding of the covenant in Bullinger’s theology thus falls between those of J.W. Baker and Richard A. Muller is correct in his assertion that Bullinger’s notion of a unified covenant affected his opinion on the roles of the magistrate, the minister, and the Old Testament law in a Christian community. Nevertheless, as Muller points out, and as Bullinger’s theology of marriage will confirm, the differences that resulted were largely structural, rather than doctrinal. In this light, Baker’s designation of the covenant as the ‘basic element’ in Bullinger’s entire theology and his division of the Reformed tradition into the two distinct strands of Zurich and Geneva become questionable.”

The following is an extract from Charles William Pfeiffer “Heinrich Bullinger and Marriage” (Dissertation: St Louis University, 1981):

“There are some striking parallels between Bullinger’s theology of marriage and his theology of the covenant. The opening paragraph of the Eestand (1540) emphasizes the unity of the covenant. Bullinger begins by using his hermeneutical principal (sic) that the New Testament is an interpretation of the Old. When he undertakes to address himself to questions concerning marriage and the family he states that ‘he knows nothing more fitting that in the same fashion (as Christ did in Matthew 19) to base his (teaching) on God’s foremost prophet Moses.’ Christ reached back to the Old Testament and gave answer to his questioners. Here Bullinger showed that his own hermeneutic was taken from the example of Christ himself, and he demonstrated his use of his biblical hermeneutic. In the beginning chapters of the Eestand as Bullinger established the theological basis for the institution of marriage he relied almost exclusively on the Old Testament. He imitated Christ’s example and explained the Old Testament by the New. Thereby Bullinger through his marriage teaching witnesses the unity of the one covenant between God and Man.

In the first chapter of the Eestand Bullinger also stressed the soteriological dimensions of the covenant. Just as circumcision in the Old Testament prefigured baptism, and the Passover prefigured the Eucahrist, Adam’s deep sleep during which the rib was taken from his side prefigured the death of Christ. Just as marriage was born out of the side of Adam so the church was born out of the side of Christ (cf Eph. 5). The founding of marriage in the Old Testament was a sign of the seal of the covenant in the New Testament, and just as we are brought to our salvation from the side of Christ in the New Testament so are we brought to salvation through marriage which originated from the side of Adam. Bullinger writes: ‘the married people of both the Old and New Testaments should understand this institution to be a salvation and its grace of God should be reckoned unto them.’

Just as the Church was born from the side of Christ is our way of salvation in the New Testament, so marriage born from the side of Adam is a way to salvation for all men. Marriage then demonstrates the soteriological unity of the covenant. This institution ordained by God before the Fall is equally valid for all men before and after the Fall. It has soteriological significance for all men of both testaments in tha tit prefigured the seal of the covenant, and it is a path to salvation.

Bullinger stressed the second aspect of the covenant (ie the covenant includes all history) when he showed that marriage according to the scriptures was first ordained ‘in Paradise and the Garden of Eden’ by God himself. The gift of marriage extends from its origins to the present day. Marriage is a part of God’s plan for all ages; ‘marriage should be performed under God’s ordinances, in reverence for God, and in the fear of the Lord.’ Just as there is only one covenant there is only one marriage. Marriage remained the same before and after the Fall, and the same divinely ordained estate in life fro Adam remains the same estate in life for us. That is why Bullinger was careful not to distinguish between marriage before and after the Fall.

The third aspect of Bullinger’s theology of the covenant which is expressed in his teachings on marriage is the bilateral nature of the covenant. Marriage is an institution ordained by God and part of God’s plan for man. Through this divinely instituted state in life one can live in faith and piety and fulfill the conditions of the covenant. Bullinger expressly makes this point in the Decades….

Marriage is a path of salvation extended to man, and the grace of the institution is reckoned to him. Man’s response by living a good married life in faith and piety in his response to God’s extension of grace.

Just as there was for Bullinger one covenant for both the Old and New Testaments, so there were only one marriage in the Old and New Testaments. Just as the covenant offered to man was the way of his salvation, so marriage which was extended to man was a path of salvation. Just as the covenant included all of history, so there was one and the same marriage offered to men before and after the Fall. Finally, just as the covenant demanded a response from man to live in faith and piety, so marriage was a response to fulfill the terms of marriage and the covenant by living a good married life in faith and piety. Indeed it can be said that marriage in Bullinger’s theology is analogous to the one bilateral covenant which God made with man.”

Pfeiffer had read Baker’s work Bullinger and the Covenant before it had come into print. This explains how he views covenant in Bullinger through the lens of Baker and, therefore, the emphasis on the so-called bilateral nature of the covenant.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Gulley on Bullinger on the Covenant

Those interested in the influence of Bullinger and Zwingli on the English Church are aware of the work of Frank Gulley Jnr. Gulley’s Vanderbilt dissertation of 1961 is entitled “The Influence of Heinrich Bullinger and the Tigurine Tradition upon the English Church in the sixteenth Century.” What is less well known are the helpful insights that Gulley makes about understanding Bullinger’s thought.

Since Gulley’s work may be not so easily accessible I will append some of his comments about Bullinger and the covenant:

“Emanujel Graf von Korff, some fifty years ago, expressed the judgment that Heinrich Bullinger was the first covenant theologian. He recognized that the theme of the covenantal relationship between God and man was to be found in Zwingli’s writings, but correctly concluded that at no time was it the fundamental doctrine (Ausgangspunkt) of his theology. With Bullinger however, he saw this concept as the controlling principle of his theology, and for this reason, he concluded that Bullinger could legitimately be called a covenant theologian. In more recent years, Peter Walser has taken issue with this thesis. He maintains that, since Bulinger was a biblical theologian, his theology naturally reflects the non-systematic character of the Bible itself. This does not deny the importance of the covenant in his theology, however. He admits that the concept of the covenant is the means (Sammelpunkt) by which Bullinger displays his theology.

Therefore there is great question whether the term covenant theologian can appropriately be applied to Bullinger. Certainly it must be admitted that Bullinger was not a covenant theologian in the same sense that the term is customarily applied to men in the Puritan tradition of the seventeenth century covenant theologians did. In this sense we must agree that Bullinger was not a covenant theologian. On the other hand it must be affirmed that the Covenantal relationship figured prominently in Bullinger’s thinking. For our purposes it shall be sufficient to discuss Bullinger’s theology in terms of the Covenantal relationship. Insofar as it is possible to determine any fundamental structure to Hooper’s theology, it is that of the covenantal relationship between God and man……

In the beginning God created man in a state of righteousness. That is Adam was created ‘good, most pure, most holy, most just, and immortal, and adorned … with every excellent gift and faculty, so that there was nothing wanting to him in God, which was available to perfect felicity.’ Thus Adam was created with a free will, which enable him to choose between good and evil. In order that he might exercise his freedom intelligently God him a law commanding him not to eat of the tree of knowledge. Stated in the affirmative, the law required obedience and faith in God. Adam, through his free will, chose to eat of the fruit thus refusing obedience to God and showing lack of faith. Thus he incurred the just damnation of God. At this point Bullinger insisted that we must understand that Adam’s fall was the result of his own free will and not the working out of an eternal decree. He did not wish to give occasion for the charge that God is the author of sin and evil.

God, however, was not willing that Adam should remain in disfavor, and so he devised the means by which the broken relationship could be mended and Adam could be brought once again into divine favor. God’s answer was the covenant. Bullinger chose this medium because it was a procedure already familiar to man. Men, as individuals and as nations, in order to lvie safely and in peace with one another, bind themselves together in pacts, treaties, and covenants. By this procedure all parties concerned are able to know ‘what they be that make the confederacy, upon what conditions, and how far the covenant shall extend. Because of the precise character of this arrangement, God chose it as the means by which he would heal the breech.

Since God was the party wronged, it was he who offered the covenant and fixed the conditions. God, on his behalf, offered to bestow his grace and favor upon man through the gift of his only son, Jesus Christ. It was ‘the living, eternal, and omnipotent God, … the chief maker, preserver, and the god of all things’ who condescended to man, pledging,’I will be thy God, they fullness and sufficiency.’ Bullinger is quick to point out that God’s condescension to man does not indicate any lack or need on God’s part. On the contrary, God is ‘very fullness and sufficiency itself.’ The nature of God’s promise is the gift of his Son as satisfaction for the sin of man and as guarantor of God’s grace and favor. Though Christ’s coming was to be many centuries in the future, his coming at whatever time stands as valid guarantee of God’s favor beginning with the fall and lasting forever. Thus the terms of the covenant are valid eternally.

The other participant in the covenant was Adam – father of the human race through whose seed all men are infected with sin and by whose command to the covenant we are made heirs of the covenantal promises.Man’s responsibility is to ‘walk before God and be upright.’ In more precise terms, man must practice ‘faith and due obedience’ unto God. In later times God found it necessary to renew the covenant with Noah, Abraham, and Moses. With the latter the terms of the covenant were spelled out in greater detail. ‘The conditions of the league (covenant) were at large written in the two tables (the tables of Moses) and many ceremonies added thereunto.’ Thus we see an embellishment of the original requirements laid upon Adam. However, Bullinger insists that ‘in the substantial and chiefest points, ye find nothing altered or changed’ from the original covenant. Thus from the time of Moses onward, it was obedience to God’s will as found in the law which is specifically the commitment of man in the covenantal relationship. But the terms of the covenant are binding from the Fall to the present, obligating all generations in the past, present, and future. Thus there is only one covenant binding men of both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The terms and obligations for both are identical…..

Since obedience to the law is obligatory for Jew and Christian, Bullinger wrote exclusively of its proper interpretation. In the first place, he insists that the faithful, from Adam until the time of Christ, knew that the observance of the bare letter of the law was impossible, indeed it was designed to drive man to despair. But this was and is not its sole purpose. It was also an instrument of revelation. Finding ourselves unable to fulfill the will of God through our own strength, the law ‘leads us directly by faith to Christ.’ This it does by preaching ‘the true doctrine of justification, teaching plainly that we are justified by faith in Christ, and not by the merits of our own works.’ All of this, Bullinger insists, the faithful people of the Old Testament understood, and therefore they ‘did not seek for righteousness and salvation in the works of the law, but in him which is the perfectness and end of the law, even Christ Jesus.’

In a similar way the ‘ancient saints,’ that is, the faithful, the elect of God (not all men) were able to discern through the eyes of faith the ‘prefigurement’ of Christ in the law and in all the ceremonies. They understood, for example, that the numerous ceremonies, which expressed Jewish worship, were not to be understood literally and that the ceremonies in and of themselves were not pleasing to God. Instead, these ceremonies had the function of directing the minds and faith of God’s people ‘upon the Messiah to come who was prefigured in all the ceremonies and ordinances of the law.’ It must be admitted that there were many who failed to understand the ‘true’ meaning of the law and the ceremonies. Certainly there were those who ‘did abuse the law, who thought that they were acceptable to God, and that they served him as they should because they were busy in those ceremonial works.’ Thus these men lived under external shadows and outward figures.

The two most important of the ceremonies instituted by God were circumcision and the feast of the Passover. Bullinger describes these as ‘signs and seals’ designed to confirm the covenant between God and man. Circumcision had the added importance of being ‘a testimony and a seal of free justification in Christ, who cicumciseth us spiritually without hands by the working of the Holy Ghost.’ It is most important to notice that in Abraham’s case, and therefore for all mankind, the outward act of circumcision was a sign that God had justified man through grace ‘before his circumcision.’ Thus the act itself was an outward confirmation of God’s inner activity; man’s justification is not thereby ultimately dependent upon the act itself.

Bullinger understood Passover to be the second sign or seal which God selected for confirming the covenant between God and man. To the faithful participant in the ceremony, it had a past dimension: ‘to keep in memory the benefit which God did for them in the lad of Egypt.’ In this sense the observance of the Passover ‘did, after a sort, make a sermon to their eyes and other senses.’ To that same participant there was a present dimension: A testimony of God’s good will toward all that remained faithful and a means whereby the faithful are gathered together into the fellowship of one body and are reminded to be thankful and righteous. And finally there was a future dimension to the Passover: A witness to ‘what Christ should be, what he should do for the world, by what means the faithful should be partakers with him, and how … (the faithful) should behave before him.’

In the fullness of time the Son of God became incarnate as God’s chosen means of securing the promise to Adam in the covenant and of rendering satisfaction to his offended justice. The validity of the covenant depended upon one with sufficient power and authority to guarantee it. Natural man could not do this. Hence and incarnation was necessary. Christ stands as the promised Messiah and guarantor of the covenant. He has the legitimate claim to these titles because he was able to appease the offended justice of God through his sacrificial death upon a cross. Thereby God’s promise of communion and fellowship with those who believe was made possible. It was then incumbent upon man to accept this fellowship through repentance and faith.

The community of the faithful, since the death of Christ, is known by the term ‘Church.’ But the Church is in no way different from the community before the incarnation. Both terms are designations of the same community. The community of God’s faithful exists from the beginning until the end of the world. Like the synagogue, the Church militant, ie the Church as an institution in society, is composed of those who are truly faithful to Christ – ‘lively members, knit unto Christ, not with bands and other outward marks and signs, but in spirit and faith’ – and those who ‘believe not truly or unfeignedly.’ But it is only those who are truly faithful that are the elect of Christ and thus are justified. While the exact constituency of this group is known to God alone, any man can know that he is a member of it, if he has faith. By faith, which is trust in God’s promises, man receives the imputation of Christ’s righteousness unto him and thus becomes a Son of God. Man receives faith not because of any effort on his own but through the unmerited action of the Holy Spirit. Thus man is no longer bound to obey the law in its absolute demands, but to have have faith in Christ who is the fulfillment of the law.

Following the atonement, the Church was given two new signs or seals of God’s promise fulfilled in the Covenant: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These symbols function for the post-resurrection Church just as circumcision and the feast of the Passover did for the Church before Christ: to recall to man’s mind God’s gracious act toward him in Christ and to admonish him of his duty of faith and obedience. Thus the goals of the sacraments is that of a witness, a testimonial, sign and seal. Man’s ultimate salvation, is not bound up in them. However, the Christian man will make use of them because they have been commanded by Christ. Apart from these ceremonial activities, the Christian Church is freed from the ceremonial obligations of the Jews.”

This is quite a helpful and accurate analysis of Bullinger on the covenant, though it is based entirely on The Decades. Allow me to make the following observations/comments:

1. Gulley is on the money when he states that Bullinger is, first and foremost, a biblical theologian – ie he is concerned for the means of the canon as a whole. The theme of the covenant is Sammelpunkt. The reference to Walser is: Peter Walser, Die Prädestination bei Heinrich Bullinger (Zurich: Zwingli-Verlag, 1957), pp244.

2. The covenant was the means by which the broken relationship between God and man could be restored. God condescended to use “a procedure already familiar to man’. At this point, with Archilla, we would emphasize God’s accommodation in initiating the covenant.

3. “The terms of the covenant are valid eternally.” However, Gulley does not enlarge on this. Though he does refer to the fact that man’s responsibility is to “walk before God and be upright” and this means to practice “faith and obedience” to God.

4. Although he does not underline it, Gulley clearly sees the covenant as being initiated with Adam and then renewed with Noah, Abraham and Moses. It is one covenant “in the substantial and chiefest points, ye find nothing altered or changed.”

5. Gulley rightly concluded that, for Bullinger, the law was not the means of salvation In Old Testament times. It was desinged to point out man’s inability, it was an instrument of revelation and “leads us directly by faith to Christ.” Not Gulley’s observation that “the faithful people of the Old Testament understood, and therefore they ‘did not seek for righteousness and salvation in the works of the law, but in him which is the perfectness and end of the law, even Christ Jesus.’”

6. With respect to circumcision as sign or seal of the covenant, Gulley point out that Christ ‘circumciseth us spiritually without hands by the working of the Holy Spirit.’ Indeed, with respect to the circumcision of Abraham, it was an ‘outward confirmation of God’s inner activity; man’s justification is not thereby ultimately dependent upon the act itself.’

7. Gulley concludes: “Adam’s fall was the result of his own free will and not the working out of an eternal decree. He did not wish to give occasion for the charge that God is the author of sin and evil”. See the earlier posts on this blog on Venema on Bullinger and predestination.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bullinger and Calvin on Hebrews

Since Brian Lee (Johannes Cocceius and the Exegetical Roots of Federal Theology) has done us the service of doing the spade work what is cited below is Lee’s comparison between Bullinger and Calvin vis-à-vis their commentaries on Hebrews and their understanding of Hebrews 8, in particular.

“Clearly, the basic distinction between form and substance, expressed both in the commentary (ie Ad Hebraeos) and the Institutes, is in great agreement with Bullinger, insofar as it identifies a single, unified substance. Like Bullinger, Calvin believes that Hebrews 8 has the abrogation of the ceremonies in view. But Calvin speaks much more freely of two distinct covenants, the one ‘legal’ or ‘of the law,’ and the other ‘evangelical.’ Calvin does not draw a too-sharp distinction between the two periods, insisting that even he Fathers had the ‘writing of the law’ on their hearts. The difference between the two administrations should be viewed in a comparative sense, ‘between the less and the greater.’ For the sake of comparison only, the Apostle considers the dispensations according to what is peculiar or preponderant in each; we are not to presume that there was no gifting of the Spirit before the coming of Christ.

Yet there is more of an emphasis on the different natures of the two covenants here under comparison. The ‘solution to the problem’ of how the Fathers received the Spirit is that ‘There is yet no reason why God should not have extended the grace of the new covenant to the fathers.’ Grace, in an important sense, is not proper to the covenant of the law. As he states more clearly in his discussion in the Institutes, ‘The Law everywhere contains promises of mercy; but as these are adventitious to it (aliunde ascitae, ‘borrowed from elsewhere’), they do not enter into the account of the Law as considered only in its own nature.’ This soteriological contrast between Law and Gospel, though treated in a separate section of the Institutes, cannot entirely be distilled from the topic of the relation between the two testaments, but rather is essential to a proper expression of both continuity and discontinuity. As noted earlier, Hagen overlooks precisely the fact that these two topics are both distinct and related, wrongly inferring from one half of the discussion that Calvin believes in an unqualified ‘agreement of law and gospel.’”

Sunday, May 15, 2011


I apologize that in the midst of a busy pastoral ministry I sometimes type posts for this blog while on “autopilot” mode. Because of this, in some recent posts I have inadvertently confused De propheta libri duo of 1525 with the Karlstag sermon of 1532 that was published as De prophetae officio.

I am very grateful for a Dutch scholar, Daniël Timmerman, who is doing his research with Herman Selderhuis, for kindly pointing out my inadvertent error.

Mea culpa. Sorry for the gaffe.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Bullinger and Hebrews

The previous post referred to Brian J. Lee’s monograph “Johannes Cocceius and the Exegetical Roots of Federal Theology: Reformation Developments in the Interpretation of Hebrews 7-10”. The following is a section from this book on Hebrews and the Old Testament and the Law:

“Two verses in particular provide opportunity for the heretics. The first is Hebrews 7:18, where the earlier commandment is called ‘weak and ineffectual,’ and the other is 8:8, where it is stated that the first covenant was not ‘faultless.’ For Chrysostom, the heretics were sufficiently refuted by pointing out that Apostle does no say that the Law was ‘evil’ or ‘vicious,’ but ‘weak and unprofitable.’ Chrystostom further concludes that the weakness was not in the Law itself, but in our own flesh, which was unable to fulfill his commands, a claim which is strengthened by correlating this weakness with Romans 8:3, ‘in that it (the Law) was weak through the flesh.’ Indeed, the citation of Romans 8 in comments upon Hebrews 7, either explicitly or by paraphrase, is common throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. One advantage of this approach is that it precludes the necessity of drawing precise distinctions with the old administration; to various degrees, not only the priesthood and ceremonial laws in particular, but also the entire old covenant are recognized to be unable to perfect due to the weakness of sinners themselves. While this solution defends the Old Covenant from the charge that it is evil, it continues to suggest some qualitative distinction between Old and New, such as the new Covenant would, in time, be bale to overcome this weakness of sinful flesh.

While Bullinger echoes aspects of Chrysostom’s view that the weakness truly resides in the flesh, he also identifies more narrowly what it is that is abrogated. God’s ‘Law’ is said to eb abrogated only by a synecdoche, that is, the whole is spoken of in order to refer merely to a part. By this synecdoche Bullinger isolates the ceremonial aspect of the Law as that which ahs been abrogated, in keeping with the text’s scope of the priesthood of Christ. The ceremonies are those things which are temporary and typical, pertaining to externalities. It is the shadows pertaining to the priesthood and sacrifices that are thus demonstrated to be done away with,and in this view he is followed by both Calvin and Junius.

But according to Bullinger, the figurative sense of Law operates on another level as well. By metonymy and metalepsis, ‘Law’ also represents what the Law did and manifested: ‘When it is thus said that the Law is abolished, it is the odium of the law, which was in the flesh before the Spirit was being imbibed […]. Thus by the law was sin and damnation made manifest, and so for sin and damnation the word ‘law’ is used.’ To illustrate this mode of speech Bullinger notes that we often say that the cross of Christ has liberated us from the law, when we really mean that it has liberated us from sin. Bullinger does not restrict this odium to the ceremonies, and from his examples it is clear that he has in mind a broader, soteriological category. According to Bullinger there are therefore two somewhat different, though not necessarily contradictory, strategies for narrowing the referent of ‘law’ in this chapter: by referring it synecdochally to the ceremonies of the law, or transferably to the wrath worked by the law…..

Bullinger’s postion allows him to maintain both a strong polemic against the ceremonies while developing the spiritual realities in view.

Bullinger’s synecdochal reading reflects the premise that the will of God ‘regarding what is to be done or predicted’ can in no way be abrogated, and indeed reflects a broadly traditional reading. Thus, when the New Covenant is said to be ‘written on hearts’ in 8:10, Chrysostom points out that the content of this writing, the ordinances themselves, do not differ from the old ordinances: ‘He makes no mention of any difference of ordinances, but points out the mode of its being given.’ Bullinger once again follows Chrysostom in identifying the modo tradendi (‘mode of instruction’) as what differs between the two covenants, and he calls the common ordinances the substantia foederis, or the substance of the covenant. While Bullinger is not exactly innovating on this point, he nonetheless stands at the head of a long line of Reformed commentators that will state essentially the same thing: the substance of the covenant is the same, the mode or form, or circumstances, differ. Calvin clearly takes this line, as do Johann Jacob Grynaeus and Zacharinus Ursinus.

Among the many commentaries surveyed, Bullinger produces perhaps the greatest overall argument for general continuity between the Old and New Testaments. Indeed, he treats Hebrews 8 as a locus which demonstrates how there is only one testament, and his marginal headings are suggestive of the outline of the De testamento seu foedere, the monograph on the same topic which he would compose two years later. The argument of the monograph is here already developed in outline form. In short, testaments or covenants are legal documents that set forth a series of conditions and promised blessings. These conditions and blessings arethe content of both testaments, the substantia, which remains unchanged despite the fact that the covenantal records, and the manner in which the substance is communicated, changes. Thus Bullinger argues for fundamental continuity between Old and new Testament eras on the basis of a continuity of the ‘covenant/testament,’ which he here treats in some detail. ‘Old’ and ‘New’ thus refer to two teachings (traditio) of the same covenantal reality.”

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Cocceius and Bullinger

Vandenhoek and Ruprecht have recently (2009) published Brian J. Lee’s “Johannes Cocceius and the Exegetical Roots of Federal Theology: Reformation Developments in the Interpretation of Hebrews 7-10”. Lee has some interesting analysis of Bullinger’s use of foedus, testamentum and pactum with critical comments on the works of Hagan and Weir. Lee also has some perceptive comments on Bullinger’s commentary on Hebrews.