Bavinck’s Covenant Christology

Covenant Christology: Herman Bavinck and the Pactum Salutis
By Rev. Mark Jones, Leiden Universiteit

For Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) ‘the doctrine of the covenant is of the greatest importance.’ Behind the temporal covenants of works and grace stands the pretemporal pactum salutis (counsel of peace/covenant of redemption). The pactum salutis is an intratrinitarian covenant between the Father, Son and Spirit that provides the eternal, inviolable foundation for the temporal covenant of grace (foedus gratiae). The Reformed orthodox in particular, since the sixteenth century, used the pactum salutis as an argument for the ad intra trinitarian grounding for the ad extra work of salvation. Thus, soteriology is decidedly trinitarian, that is, ‘salvation is an undertaking of the one God in three persons in which all cooperate and each one performs a special task.’ Consequently, this doctrine is the starting-point for any Christological discussion of the person and work of the Mediator, Jesus Christ.

In defending and giving expression to the pactum salutis, Bavinck is conscious that this doctrine has a fairly long and illustrious history among Reformed covenant theologians. And though this doctrine is ‘rooted in a scriptural idea’, Bavinck suggests that not a few of the Reformed were guilty of ‘scholastic subtlety’ by quoting various Scriptural passages (e.g. Zech. 6:13, translated by the Latin Vulgate as consilium pacis) that did not have reference to the pactum salutis. Thus, while clearly appreciative of his Reformed heritage, Bavinck is not uncritical of various formulations of the pactum salutis.

In order to understand why Bavinck gives such prominence to the pactum salutis, something of this doctrine’s history must be understood, which will show, among other things, that his theology reflects the broad parameters and concerns of the Reformed interpretive tradition.

(Continue Reading…)

[HT: James Grant]