Herman Bavinck on Old Testament Criticism
The attacks upon the historicity of the Bible began in the early modern age. Although they were influential already in the eighteenth century, their effect upon the body of believers did not become fully apparent until the nineteenth. In the course of that century western Christendom witnessed an assault upon the Bible’s trustworthiness which would affect not only scholars, but increasingly also the men and women in the pew. The nineteenth-century assault was the work of the so-called higher biblical criticism, which was especially strong at German universities and spread from there to the rest of the western world. It continues in our own days.
The reason why many accepted the movement’s conclusions was not simply their scholarly persuasiveness. In fact, there was considerable disagreement among the critics, and their theories were in constant need of revision. The influence of the higher criticism was, first of all, a result of the fact that the methods it used were presented as scientific ones, and that throughout the modern period the scientific approach was held to yield fully objective knowledge. The critics’ statements on the Bible were therefore to be accepted without questioning, just as one accepted without questioning the conclusions of mathematics and physics and any of the other sciences. One did not argue with the pronouncements of science, one simply believed them.
But if the nineteenth-century assault upon the Scriptures was powerful, the radical critics never monopolized the field. There were at all times scholars who defended the Bible’s historicity and trustworthiness, and who even progressed from a defensive to an offensive position on the issue. Prominent among these scholars in Reformed circles was the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck (1854-1921), to whose work we have given attention on a previous occasion.] 1
At that time we looked at two aspects of his response to the nineteenth-century wave of attacks. The first was his critique of the work of Julius Wellhausen and his followers, who explained the Old Testament in evolutionary terms.
The second was his reply to the school of the history of religions, which taught that the Gospel accounts in the New Testament were derived, in part or in full, from ancient mythical traditions, Jewish and pagan. Bavinck’s response, we saw, was effective not only because he pointed to factual errors in the critical theories, but also because he showed the groundlessness of the belief that the scientific method necessarily leads to fully objective truth.
The history of religion and related schools concerned themselves with both the New Testament and the Old, and their work in the latter area also had Bavinck’s attention. It is here, in fact, that he concentrated his counterattack. 2 Because his work also in this area continues to be of relevance for today, we will give an outline of it in this article. We will begin with a brief account of the rise and background of the nineteenth-century critical movement.
The Higher Criticism
In biblical studies one meets with two kinds of criticism, namely the textual and the so-called higher criticism. The former concerns itself with attempts to recover the most accurate biblical text. This is done by means of a careful study of the existing manuscripts and of whatever other reliable evidence is available. Textual criticism is not concerned with challenging the divine origin of the biblical text and is applied by believing scholars as much as by unbelieving ones. The higher criticism, on the other hand, proceeds not from a belief in the Bible’s divine inspiration but approaches the text of Scripture in the same manner as scholars approach secular historical documents.
Important in the higher criticism from the very beginning was the so-called historical-critical method of explaining the Bible, a method that was inspired by the attempt of nineteenth-century historians to make the interpretation of historical documents truly “scientific.” In biblical studies, the quest for scientific objectivity means, among other things, that the supernatural elements in Scripture are denied, or at least seriously questioned. This applies to statements about direct divine intervention, to accounts of miracles, and also to predictive prophecy. It accounts for the fact that prophetic books are often assigned a very late date, so that they can be explained not as predicting future events, but as describing events that had already happened when the book was written.
Initially, many higher critics believed that religion was subject to laws of evolution, but this view, although it has certainly not been abandoned, was soon widely questioned. Evolutionism assumes that what is earliest is necessarily the most primitive. For Old Testament critics this meant that accounts of advanced societies in very early times, such as the society of the Hebrew patriarchs, must be non-historical and the product of legend. Before the end of the nineteenth century, however, historical studies and archaeological discoveries demonstrated that well before the time of Abraham advanced civilizations had existed in the Middle East. With the help of such data as similarities in names and customs, the studies also showed that the patriarchs had been in contact with these civilizations. Scientific evidence, in other words, supported the biblical account of the patriarchs’ society.
It was this development which contributed to the rise of newer critical movements, such as that of the history of religions. The critics belonging to these schools did not concern themselves with the origin of religion as such, but tried by means of comparative studies to determine whether, and if so to what extent, existing religions had influenced each other. In practice this approach meant that the Old Testament faith was explained, in part or in whole, with reference to traditions of the higher civilizations surrounding Israel.
Not all historians went to the same source. Earlier scholars had looked for influences from Persia, India, and especially Egypt. After the spate of archaeological discoveries in Mesopotamia in the 1870s and following decades, the direction changed. Scholars now decided that the Old Testament faith must have been derived in large part from the traditions of Semitic nations like Babylonia and Assyria. Because this Mesopotamian school was the most influential one in Bavinck’s days, it was on its teachings that he concentrated in challenging the movement.
“Babel and Bible”
When describing the rise of the newer schools, Bavinck stated that the old historical-critical approach had lost credibility not only because of factual errors, but also because of its failure to explain the “problem” of Israel’s religion and, in the process, to deny its uniqueness. That had been one of the goals. But what use, he asked, is all the sifting and splitting of sources if behind them Israel’s religion itself continues to stand as an enigma? It was this failure which the newer critical schools also recognized as fatal, and which they attempted to correct by turning to other religious traditions, such as the Babylonian ones, as source and explanation of the Old Testament faith.
There were indeed parallels between Babylonian traditions and some of the Old Testament teachings. Babylon had ancient writings – many of them more ancient than the Old Testament itself – with stories about creation and a flood that had similarities with the Genesis accounts. There were differences as well, but as Bavinck writes, people found the parallels so striking that they believed there must either have been a common source, or Israel had derived much of its religion from the Babylonians. The second conclusion was generally accepted. Nor, it should be added, was it believed that Babylonia’s influence was restricted to Israel. In time a Pan-Babylonian school arose, which saw the ancient Mesopotamian civilizations as the source of civilized life throughout the world.
Our concern is not with these cultural similarities but with the critics’ ideas regarding Mesopotamian influences on the Old Testament faith. Here some very radical views were promoted. In the heydays of Babylonianism a movement arose which fully equated Babel und Bibel (to use the German terminology). According to this movement, the Old Testament derived not only its accounts of creation and flood from Babylonia, but also practically every other aspect of its religion – including the belief in monotheism, the name Yahweh, the account of the Fall, the institution of the Sabbath, the Ten Commandments, and indeed the bulk of the Mosaic law.
This radical movement did not last. Before long even unbelieving scholars rejected its extreme conclusions as speculative and unproven. The movement came also under attack for giving insufficient attention to Israel’s relations with Egypt and with various other ethnic groups, such as Hittites and Phoenicians, the peoples of the Syrian-Arabian desert and of other neighbouring Semitic countries, and the population of Canaan itself. The Canaanite connection would be stressed especially when, a decade or so after the First World War, important archaeological discoveries were made at Ugarit, a city located on the Syrian coast just north of Palestine, which had flourished between 1400 and 1200 B.C. and had enjoyed an advanced culture. The excavations at Ugarit yielded many data about ancient Canaanite traditions, and also about strong links between Israel and Canaanite culture. Important, among other things, was the information on the religion of Baal and Astarte, which, as we can learn from the Bible, influenced Israel more strongly than any Babylonian cult. At the same it became clear, however, that although it had developed a distinct culture of its own, Ugarit had been influenced by Mesopotamia.
Bavinck, who had died before the discoveries at Ugarit, mentioned Canaanite sources but concentrated on the original Babylonian theory. He admitted that this theory contained elements of truth. There was a good deal of evidence, also extra-biblical evidence, suggesting that the cradle of humanity had been in the Middle East, that Babylonia had been a major influence on surrounding and succeeding civilizations, and that Israel’s culture also had been strongly affected by that of its powerful eastern neighbour. But this did not make Babylonia the source of all subsequent accomplishments. Nor did it prove that the Old Testament religion was derived from Babylonian traditions. One of the major weaknesses of the Babylonian theory, Bavinck pointed out, was that it all but ignored the differences which existed between the Babylonian religious traditions and those of the Bible, differences that were no less striking than the similarities. Another problem was that it failed to do what the comparative approach to religion had in fact intended to do, namely describe and explain the unique character of the biblical religion.
In what follows we will have a closer look at the Babylonian theory and at Bavinck’s challenge. We will first deal with the matter of similarities and dissimilarities, then look at an evaluation of the Babylonian school as provided by Bavinck and other critics of radical Babylonianism, and finally turn to the question regarding the difference between Babylonian religious traditions and the religion of the Bible.
The Myth of Creation
Civilization in Mesopotamia began with the non-Semitic Sumerians. Well before the time of Abraham, however, these nations had been overrun by various Semitic tribes. Among them were the people who would later be known as Chaldeans or Babylonians, a group to which Abraham belonged. The Babylonians, and also the neighbouring Assyrians, inherited creation myths and other religious traditions from the Sumerians, but in course of time made a number of changes in them. Most biblical critics concentrated on the Babylonian version of the creation myth.
Thisversion speaks of the birth and accomplishments of Marduk, king of the gods and ruler of the universe, who reaches his supreme position by overcoming the forces of chaos. The latter are represented by Tiamat, the ancient mother goddess, who represents the untamed ocean, and whose destructive force is often portrayed in the form of a variety of “monsters of the deep,” such as the primeval serpent, the ancient dragon, and the many-headed leviathan. Having killed Tiamat and the monsters she has spawned, Marduk splits her body in two, placing half of it above the earth to form the sky, and perhaps using the other half to form the earth, although the myth does not state this in so many words. He proceeds to establish (or re-establish) order out of the existing chaos, appoints the celestial bodies, and creates Babylon. Finally, he makes man, whom he fashions from the blood of one of Tiamat’s supporters, and on whom he imposes the toil of the gods, so that these can enjoy their leisure.
Among the parallels which the critics found in the accounts of Babylonia and the Old Testament are the emergence of the world out of water and the establishment of order out of a pre-existing disorder. Their assertions, as Bavinck observes, are not altogether groundless. The Genesis account does speak of the earth as originally empty and formless, of the Holy Spirit’s hovering over the waters that covered the earth, and of the subsequent establishment of an ordered cosmos. The similarities are few, however, and insufficiently striking to convince the unbiased observer of the Old Testament’s dependence on the Babylonian myth. Furthermore, the similarities are greatly outnumbered by the differences.
The most important difference is of course that between Marduk and the God of Israel. Himself the descendent of more ancient gods, Marduk lacks eternity. He reaches supreme power only when, after a violent struggle and with the help of other gods, he has destroyed Tiamat and the monsters she has produced. Even after his victory he is not omnipotent but only the first among equals; and rather than being able to create out of nothing, he requires pre-existing material to form an orderly universe. Nor is he able to destroy his opponent once and for all. Tiamat continues to threaten the cosmos and must again and again be overcome. Marduk’s battle against the forces of chaos never ends.
If we compare this account with the biblical one, the differences leap to the eye. The Bible does not know of theogonies (accounts of the begetting and birth of gods), nor does it know of a multiplicity of deities. Yahweh, the God of Israel, is uncreated and eternal and reveals Himself as the one, omnipotent and all-knowing God. Beside Him there is none. Also, Babylonian deities are personifications of natural forces, and Tiamat, the primeval chaos, is not the creation of the gods but, somehow, their ancestress. Yahweh, however, is transcendent and a personal and spiritual being, separate from a nature that is not his maker but his handiwork, and which He created out of nothing, simply by speaking the Word. Nor is He only the Creator of the world and mankind, He is also their Redeemer. The religion of Israel is from the very beginning a religion of salvation. In short, a comparison of the creation accounts serves only to bring out the uniqueness and glory of the biblical Gospel.
The creation myth by itself, then, provides no support for the contention that the Genesis account is dependent upon Babylonian sources. The members of the Babylonian school had additional arguments, however. They drew attention to the fact that in various places in the Old Testament (in Job, some of the Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and elsewhere) we meet statements that parallel aspects of the Babylonian myth more closely. Most important among them are references to Yahweh’s struggle with and defeat of hostile natural forces, such as his setting bounds to the mighty ocean, his crushing of the heads of serpents and sea monsters, his smiting of the many-headed leviathan, and his slaying of the dragon of the deep. In these cases, the critics argued, the similarities with the Babylonian myth were too clear to be ignored. They showed at the very least that Israel was familiar with the stories of gods struggling with the forces of chaos, and they strongly suggested that it had made use of these stories in the creation of its own orthodox Yahwist religion. It was specially these arguments that Bavinck dealt with. We will look at his response.
Around the turn of the twentieth century, we saw that, biblical critics attempted to prove that the religion of Israel was partly or wholly derived from Babylonian traditions. These critics referred to two sources. Firstly, they pointed to similarities between the Babylonian and the Genesis accounts of creation and flood. Secondly, they drew attention to Old Testament statements about Yahweh’s conflicts with and victory over hostile forces. These activities, they believed, were similar to the struggles which, according to Babylonian mythology, Marduk and his fellow deities had been forced to wage in order to establish his rule. Even the terminology, they pointed out, was similar. Like the Babylonian myths, many an Old Testament passage also spoke of the enemies as natural forces – as storms and oceans, as sea monsters, serpents, dragons, and leviathans.
The Bible versus “Babel”
In his reply to the claims of the Babylonian school, 3 Bavinck observed that moderns, with their desire for a horizontalist and man-centred religion, are unable to appreciate the unique position Israel occupied in the history of salvation, and therefore in the fulfillment of God’s plan for humanity. This same bias plagued the higher critics and explains their persistent failure to understand the Bible’s message. The attitude of prophets and apostles was altogether different from the modern one. For them, religion consisted not first of all in satisfying the perceived needs of man, but in the knowledge and worship of the one true God. It was because they concentrated on God and his Word and will that they could still do what modern critics appear to be unable to do, namely distinguish between religion and magic, faith and superstition, theology and mythology.
Bavinck admitted the accomplishments of Babylonian civilization and agreed that the world owes Babylonia a debt of gratitude for the good things it received from it. But it should not be forgotten, he added, that Babylon was also the great source of superstition and depravity, the power that made all the nations “drink the wine of her impure passion” (Revelation 14:8). 4 It was Israel that by God’s grace was freed from superstition and magic and in that respect stood alone among the peoples of the earth.
Rather, therefore, than emerging from Babylonia, the Bible stood in opposition to it. It was true that the Babylonian chaos myth and the stories of figures like Tiamat, leviathan, dragon and serpent, and that of the equally mythical Rahab, were known and used in Israel. When these figures entered Israel’s circle of special revelation, however, they shed their character of mythical beings. This was clear from the fact that the images serve various purposes in the Old Testament. In some instances the monsters are simply giant animals (such as, for example, the crocodile, the hippopotamus, the buffalo); at other times they stand for natural forces like seas and storms and oceans; and at still other times they symbolize world powers such as Egypt and Babylon and their rulers. But even when they represent natural forces, they never point to the type of power possessed by the Babylonian Tiamat, whom Marduk had to overcome before he could establish order. For the identification of the biblical Rahab, leviathan, and so on, with the Babylonian Tiamat and her monstrous offspring, there is no evidence whatsoever in the Bible.
Why then is the Babylonian terminology found in the Old Testament? Bavinck believed that in most cases it served ornamental purposes. For one thing, he writes, Israel used the names of Mesopotamian mythical beings in much the same way as we use pagan figures to name planets and constellations. Such usage obviously does not have to imply a belief in their existence. And for another, the myths served to provide poetic images, symbols and metaphors. Hebrew poets made use of them because they were well acquainted with Babylonian culture and mythology, and because the personification of natural forces was as popular and natural in Israel as it was among other nations. Israelite poets and prophets could therefore speak of mountains that clap their hands, of a Tabor and a Hermon that shout for joy, of hills that skip like calves and of an entire creation that proclaims God’s glory. But again, at no point did they depict these natural objects as persons, least of all as independent powers. They served to show, rather, that creation joined the believer in proclaiming God’s glory.
As more recent commentators have shown, the use of Babylonian mythology served additional purposes. 5 Natural forces are also mentioned in the Old Testament to proclaim God’s sovereignty over creation. The forces that existed independently of Marduk and rose in revolt against him – seas and oceans and monsters of the deep – are in the Bible God’s own creatures, are fully under his control (Genesis 1:21, Job 38, Job 41, Psalm 104:26), and are called upon to praise him (Psalm 148:4-10).
But the same mythical figures may also represent forces that were hostile to God and had to be defeated for the sake of Israel’s redemption. In Isaiah 51:9-10 we read how God cut Rahab to pieces, pierced the dragon, dried up the sea, and made “the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to pass over.” Since Rahab and the dragon can represent seas and oceans (and their monstrous inhabitants) as well as a hostile nation like Egypt, the “cutting up of Rahab” in Isaiah 51 no doubt refers to the Exodus events of both the dividing of the waters of the Red Sea and the destruction of Pharaoh’s army. In various other places we read of God’s crushing the power of Rahab, of the Leviathan, the serpent, and the “dragon that is in the sea” on behalf of his people. (See, e.g., Psalm 74:13-15, Psalm 89:9-10, Isaiah 27:1, Ezekiel 29:1-6 and 32:1-8.)6
Rahab and the other figures, then, serve in the Old Testament the theological purpose of proclaiming God’s sovereignty over creation, over the pagan gods, and over the nations of the world. Their usage teaches Israel to remember the absolute antithesis between the religion of Yahweh and those of the surrounding peoples, and to put at all times their trust in Yahweh, the omnipotent Creator and Redeemer, and in Him alone. 7
Israel and the Nations
Although he rejected the conclusions of the Babylonian school in the matter of “Bible and Babel,” Bavinck had also good things to say of the history of religions. He especially appreciated the fact that the newer critics had discarded the idea, promoted by earlier ones, that religions develop in isolation. As a result, Israel was no longer seen as an island, separated by a wide ocean from the rest of the world. The critics showed that as a nation and with its religious and cultural life, Israel had connections with its environment.
They also showed that it had connections with the distant past. Members of the old historical-critical school had assumed that Israelite history had not really begun until the time of Moses, and that its culture and religion had not reached maturity until much later. They had believed that the accounts of creation and paradise and flood, the person and service of Yahweh, the ceremonies and laws, the expectation of a Messiah, and so on, had originated with eighth-century prophets, or even with prophets living in the period after the exile. What they had failed to consider was that these beliefs can be, and in fact were, much older than the documents which describe them. By drawing attention to these misconceptions of the older critics, the Babylonian school served as an important corrective, even though its explanation of Israel’s religion remained unacceptable.
We do not find Babylon behind the Bible, Bavinck concluded, but we do find behind the Bible a very ancient divine revelation, traces of which still lingered among pagan nations. It was this memory, however corrupted, that explained such parallels with Genesis as can be found in pagan religious mythology. The original revelation had begun at the dawn of human history, proceeded among the descendants of Seth and Shem, and, within the bedding of the covenant with Israel, continued its flow until the fullness of time. The God who revealed himself to Abraham, bidding him to leave Mesopotamia and live in a foreign country, was therefore not a new and strange God. He was the God of old, the Creator of all things, the One who had originally been known by all people. The separation and election of Abraham and Israel were necessary so that the original revelation could be kept pure and reach fulfillment, and so in the end become once more the possession of all nations. The promise became particular for a time, but only so that it could become universal again at a later date. Israel was part of humanity, continued to be connected to it, and was elected not at the expense of but for the sake of the rest of mankind.
And therefore a third positive element in the history of religions, Bavinck wrote, was that this school allowed for a common source of religion. Evolutionists had denied this. According to evolutionary theories, religions developed separately, and if they happened to have things in common – such as faith in a supernatural power, worship, prayer, sacrifices, the search for redemption, the expectation of a Saviour, the hope of immortality – that was simply coincidence. Many Christian apologists also denied, at least by implication, a common origin. Rather than discerning elements of truth in pagan religions, they tended to describe the founders of such religions as nothing but deceivers and enemies of God, tools of Satan. And it is true that Scripture itself calls paganism idolatry, deception, lies and vanity and darkness, and that it sees in it the working of demonic powers. There is an absolute antithesis between the Christian faith and all pagan religions; the Bible does not leave any doubt on that point.
But this absolute antithesis does not, Bavinck believed, force us to deny a common origin of religious traditions among the peoples of the earth. In the earliest phase of its history, he reminds us, humanity consisted of one family.
The traditions dating from that early period were long maintained and reinforced among peoples through trading connections and other means of communication. In addition to these traditions, there is God’s general revelation, and the fact that, as the Bible makes clear, the nations continue to be under God’s rule and providence. The Holy Spirit has not departed from the world, and therefore Paul could tell the pagan Athenians that he was proclaiming to them the God whom they had worshipped as an unknown God. In this sense, Bavinck believes, Christianity does not only stand in opposition to paganism but is also its fulfillment. Christ is the One who was promised to Israel and to the nations. Abraham was told that in him all the peoples of the earth would be blessed. 8
The Essence of Israel’s Faith
All this shows, Bavinck concludes, that the essence of the biblical faith is not to be sought, as is so often assumed, in its ethical monotheism. That is part and parcel of the Old Testament faith and is essential to it, but it is not in itself something that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived.” Ethical monotheism could conceivably be a characteristic even of a pagan religion. The core of the revelation which came to Israel, and the heart of the religion which responded to that revelation, lie elsewhere.
To find them, we must turn to Scripture itself – to the prophets and psalmists, to Jesus and the apostles. They teach us that the central message of divine revelation is not monotheism, nor the moral law, nor the laws of circumcision, Sabbath, and so on, but the covenant of grace. Not law, but Gospel is the essence and summary of the Scriptures of both Old and New Testament. The law came after the promise and was added to show the promise’s necessity and indispensability. But it was not originally connected to it, and it remains a temporary addition. The promise, however, will not cease. It originated in paradise, was maintained under the Old Covenant, reached its fulfillment in Christ, and extends itself in the New Testament dispensation to all peoples.
That promise, as Bavinck describes it, has three aspects.
Firstly, it shows the electing love of God, who in free and sovereign grace chooses Abraham and his offspring and makes them his possession, and who does so in order that the knowledge of God, which was being lost, may be preserved. This covenant relationship is not a “natural” one but has developed in history, and on God’s own initiative. It is God who instituted it, and who also states the demand of the covenant. The demand is that Israel be faithful to the covenant by obeying the God of the covenant. The God of Abraham and of Israel is not a natural force, but an independent person who has his own nature and will, law, and service; who asks that the love he has shown to his people be returned, and therefore strictly forbids superstition and idol worship.
Secondly, the promise to Israel shows God’s forgiving grace. God’s enemies are not natural forces like Tiamat and Rahab, the storms and the oceans and the monsters that inhabit sea and land and air. The force that opposes God arises not in nature but in history, in the world of man. It is the force of sin. Genesis 3 explains the origin of sin, showing that it exists in man’s rebellion against God, in his transgression of God’s command. The chapters following Genesis 3 trace the continuation of sin and again make manifest that it is a product of the human heart. When the stream of unrighteousness continues also after the flood, God elects Abraham, so that he and his descendants may turn from sin and walk before him in holiness.
God does this because his electing love is at the same time a forgiving love. He does not only call people, he also gives himself to them. He connects himself to his people so closely and mercifully that he takes over their guilt. “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” The covenant is built on redemption and forgiveness, and the “walk before God’s face” to which the patriarchs were called is therefore a walk of gratitude. The law came after the promise, was built on the promise, and was promulgated to serve the promise. It was a law not of a covenant of works, but of a covenant of grace. The prophets knew this. They did not – whatever the higher critics may say – introduce a new and higher moral law or invent a new, ethical monotheism. And neither did they tell the people that they had to earn their position as God’s people. They told them that they already were God’s people and that they had to live accordingly.
That God forgives sin out of grace, for his own sake, we can know only from the special revelation given to Israel. We would value it more highly, Bavinck adds, if we had a deeper sense of guilt. For the forgiving love of God is not obvious or “natural.” If God forgives sin for his own sake, then he must also himself bring about the atonement; and the ceremonies of the law make clear that there is no atonement without the shedding of blood. In the course of its history Israel had to learn of a suffering that is undergone for the sake of others. And so by degrees was revealed the mystery of an innocent and redeeming suffering, as Isaiah speaks of it in the image of the Lord’s servant, who is wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our sins.
Thirdly and finally, the Old Testament Gospel implies the promise of God’s unchanging faithfulness. The more Israel’s apostasy increases, the more persistent are the prophets in proclaiming that God will not break his covenant and leave his promise unfulfilled.
"For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the LORD, who has compassion on you." Isaiah 54:10
The prophets relate Israel’s past, interpret the present, but also look forward to the future: to the fulfillment of the promise in Christ. In days to come, they tell Israel, God will establish a new covenant, one wherein the promise of the old covenant, “I shall be your God and you shall be my people,” will be completely fulfilled.
And this, Bavinck concludes, is the content and essence of the Gospel entrusted to Israel. No school of higher criticism can ever destroy it. Free electing love, free and gracious forgiveness, and free and full communion are the promises which Israel received, and which it proclaimed to the rest of mankind. In the person of Christ, who is the Son of God and the Son of man, who descended from Abraham and David and who is the Desire of both Israel and the nations, these promises have been fulfilled.