18 June, 2017

I Timothy 6:16—“… whom no man hath seen, nor can see …”

Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen (I Tim. 6:16 KJV).

This passage, among many others, was cited by Cornelius Van Til to support his contention that with respect to any revelational proposition, God still remains, even after the revelatory act, the incomprehensible God, and that God’s knowledge of Himself and man’s knowledge of Him via revelation, coincide at no single point—i.e., that an unbridgeable gulf exists between God’s thoughts and our thoughts, and that man’s knowledge of God can be only at best “analogical”—which in Van Til’s concept actually means “equivocal” (uncertain/ambiguous). In other words, we cannot know absolutely anything certain about anything.


Dr. Robert L. Reymond

[Source: A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, pp. 100-102]

Certain biblical references seem to support Van Til’s contention that God’s knowledge and man’s knowledge are always and at every point qualitatively distinct. Van Til himself pointed to Deuteronomy 29:29, Job 11:7–8, Psalm 145:3, Isaiah 40:28, 55:8–9, Matthew 11:27, Luke 10:22, John 1:18, 6:46, Romans 11:33, and I Timothy 6:16 as supporting his contention that with respect to any revelational proposition God still remains, even after the revelatory act, the incomprehensible God.15 However, a close examination of these verses will show that, while they do not deny the immeasurable wisdom and knowledge of God they are primarily concerned with underscoring the human need of propositional revelation to know God savingly. Job 11:7–8, Psalm 145:3, Isaiah 40:28, Romans 11:33, and I Timothy 6:16, while certainly affirming the infinity of God, need simply mean that men and women, beginning with themselves and refusing the benefit of divine revelation, cannot, as Paul so forcefully declares in I Corinthians 1:21, come to God though their own wisdom, or, said somewhat differently, that men and women will always be dependent upon divine informational revelation for a true and saving knowledge of God. Franz Delitzsch captures the essence of the intention of these verses when he comments on Psalm 145:3:

Of Yahweh’s “greatness … there is no searching out, i.e. it is so abysmally deep that no searching can reach its bottom (as in Isa. xl. 28, Job xi. 7 sq.). It has, however, been revealed, and is being revealed continually, and is for this very reason thus celebrated in ver. 4.16

As for Deuteronomy 29:29, Matthew 11:27, Luke 10:22, and John 1:18, 6:46 (see v. 45), these verses actually teach that human beings can know God and his thoughts truly to the degree that he reveals himself in his spoken word. Finally, Isaiah 55:89 far from depicting “the gulf which separates the divine knowledge from human knowledge,”17 actually holds out the real possibility that people may know God’s thoughts and urges them to turn away from their own thoughts and to learn God’s thoughts from him. In 55:7 God calls upon the wicked man to forsake his way and thoughts. Where is he to turn? To the Lord, of course (55:67). Why should he forsake his way and thoughts? “Because,” says the Lord, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (55:8). The entire context, far from affirming that God’s ways and thoughts are beyond the capacity of humans to know, on the contrary, expressly calls upon the wicked man to turn away from his ways and thoughts and to seek God’s ways and thoughts. In doing so, the wicked man gains ways and thoughts which, just as the heavens transcend the earth, transcend his own. Far from teaching that an unbridgeable gulf exists between God’s thoughts and our thoughts, these verses actually call upon the wicked man, in repentance and humility, to seek and to think God’s thoughts after him. Again, Franz Delitzsch rightly interprets these verses:

The appeal, to leave their own way and their own thoughts, and yield themselves to God the Redeemer, and to His word, is urged on the ground of the heaven-wide difference between the ways and thoughts of this God and the despairing thoughts of men (Ch. xl. 27, xlix. 24), and their aimless labyrinthine ways … On what side the heaven-wide elevation is to be seen, is shown by what follows. [God’s thoughts] are not so fickle, so unreliable, or so powerless.18

None of these verses teaches that man’s knowledge of God can be only at best “analogical,” in the Van Tilian sense, to God’s knowledge. On the contrary, some of them expressly declare that in dependence upon God’s propositional self-revelation in Scripture, human beings can know some of God’s thoughts truly, that is, univocally (though of course not exhaustively), that is, that they can know a revealed proposition in the same sense that God knows it and has revealed it.


15. Minutes of the Twelfth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1945, 12.

16. Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Psalms (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, n.d.), 3:389.

17. Minutes, 12.

18. Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on Isaiah (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, n.d.), 2:358.



More to come! (DV)

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