Gordon Spykman on “The Hermeneutical Circle”

In his Reformational Theology, Gordon Spykman has a very Vantillian sounding statement regarding the fact that one must bring a biblical pre-understanding to scripture in order to interpret it correctly:

If, then, a biblical viewpoint is essential in reading the Bible aright, are we then not “locked into a hermeneutic circle”?  Indeed, that is so.  But that is not something uniquely Christian or evangelical or Reformed.  That holds for every man – the humanist, the secularist, and the rationalist to.  All men live and think and act, implicitly or explicitly, on the basis of an appeal to some normative authority.  The decisive question is, Which authority?  To acknowledge therefore that we are “caught” in a biblically defined hermeneutic circle is nothing else than a profound recognition of our creaturely dependence on the overarching authority of God’s Word.  We cannot rise above our creatureliness to reach some supracreaturely vantage point.  We cannot “get on top of things.”  We stand under the very Word of God which makes theoretical reflection on it possible.

Reformational Theology, pg. 121.

That last line has the ring of VanTil’s application of the transcendental argument:

One shows that on his [the unbeliever’s] assumptions all things are meaningless.  Science would be impossible; knowledge of anything in any field would be impossible.  No fact could be distinguished from any other fact.  No law could be said to be law with respect to facts…. Thus every fact – not some facts – every fact clearly and not probably proves the truth of Christian theism.  If Christian theism is not true than nothing is true.

Cited in Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, pg. 504.


4 thoughts on “Gordon Spykman on “The Hermeneutical Circle””

  1. That’s an extremely Van Tillian statement (and correct I think). I’ve never heard of Gordon Spykman, but I’m interested now.


    1. I remember reading in his introductory chapters that he does see himself standing in line with CVT, though I was surprised that Spykman doesn’t have more of his books in the bibliography.

      He’s definitely an interesting read; you can pick up a copy on Amazon for quite cheap too! Mine was a like-new, unmarked hardcover and I only paid about $8 (including shipping)!

      Thanks for the comment, Kyle!


  2. Calvin understood this circle well; that to understand any of scripture you need to understand all of scripture. He wrote the Institutes as a primer of sorts so that his students could have that “biblical pre-understanding to scripture in order to interpret it correctly.”

    He writes this in the introduction to the Institutes:

    “My object in this work was to prepare and train students of theology for the study of the Sacred Volume, so that they might both have an easy introduction to it, and be able to proceed in it, with unfaltering step, seeing I have endeavoured to give such a summary of religion in all its parts, and have digested it into such an order as may make it not difficult for any one, who is rightly acquainted with it, to ascertain both what he ought principally to look for in Scripture, and also to what head he ought to refer whatever is contained in it.”


Comments are closed.