But these two words, plus some others mentioned in the first meeting of Saturday School of Theology this morning, are explained more clearly by several people who belong to The Society of Dead Theologians. This one is from Herman Bavinck (1854-1921):
“The relation of God’s own self-knowledge to our knowledge of God used to be expressed by saying that the former was archetypal of the latter and the latter ectypal of the former. Our knowledge of God is the imprint of the knowledge God has of himself but always on a creaturely level and in a creaturely way. The knowledge of God present in his creatures is only a weak likeness, a finite, limited sketch, of the absolute self-consciousness of God accommodated to the capacities of the human or creaturely consciousness. But however great the distance is, the source (principium essendi) of our knowledge of God is solely God himself, the God who reveals himself freely, self-consciously, and genuinely” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 1, p. 212).
Louis Berkhof (1873 – 1957) also explains this same idea:
Alongside of the archetypal knowledge of God, found in himself, there is also an ectypal knowledge of Him, given to man by revelation. The latter is related to the former as a copy to the original, and therefore does not possess the same measure of clearness and perfection. All our knowledge of God is derived from His self-revelation in nature and in Scripture. Consequently, our knowledge of God is on the one hand ectypal and analogical, but on the other hand also true and accurate, since it is a copy of the archetypal knowledge which God has of himself (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 35).
Did Bavinck and Berkohof just pluck this idea from thin air? Yes, and that “thin air” is not so thin, because it is Isaiah 55:8-9:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
John Calvin’s (1509-64) doctrine of accommodation is identical to this archetypal/ectypal distinction (otherwise also known as the Creator/creature distinction). For example, he explains words that God uses about himself, such as when he “repents” or “relents” or “regrets” in such verses as Genesis 6:5-6, Jonah 3:10, Jeremiah 18:8, 10, and Amos 7:3 (Open Theists say God was really sorry, because he didn’t know what man would do in the exercise of his “free will”):
What, therefore, does the word “repentance” mean? Surely its meaning is like that of all other modes of speaking that describe God for us in human terms. For because our weakness does not attain to his exalted state, the description of him that is given to us must be accommodated to our capacity so that we may understand it. Now the mode of accommodation is for him to represent himself to us not as he is in himself, but as he seems to us. Although he is beyond all disturbance of mind, yet he testifies that he is angry toward sinners. Therefore whenever we hear that God is angered, we ought not to imagine any emotion in him, but rather to consider that this expression has been taken from our own human experience; because God, whenever he is exercising judgment, exhibits the appearance of one kindled and angered. So we ought not to understand anything else under the word “repentance” than change of action, because men are wont by changing their action to testify that they are displeased with themselves (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin, 1.17.13)
Sometimes we also call this Calvin idea of accommodation as anthropomorphism—language that ascribes unique human attributes to God, metaphorically, such as physical parts or emotions. I’ll add some others from Calvin later, after the Lord’s Day.
Calvin also applies his doctrine of accommodation to the creation story:
Indeed, as I pointed out a little before, God himself has shown by the order of Creation that he created all things for man’s sake. For it is not without significance that he divided the making of the universe into six days (Gen 1:31), even though it would have been no more difficult for him to have completed in one moment the whole work together in all its details than to arrive at its completion gradually by a progression of this sort. But he willed to commend his providence and fatherly solicitude toward us in that, before he fashioned man, he prepared everything he foresaw would be useful and salutary for him (Institutes,1.14.22).
Again, in his commentary on Genesis 1:5, he says:
… it is too violent a cavil to contend that Moses distributes the work which God perfected at once into six days, for the mere purpose of conveying instruction. Let us rather conclude that God himself took the space of six days, for the purpose of accommodating his works to the capacity of men. We slightingly pass over the infinite glory of God, which here shines forth; whence arises this but from our excessive dullness in considering his greatness? In the meantime, the vanity of our minds carries us away elsewhere. For the correction of this fault, God applied the most suitable remedy when he distributed the creation of the world into successive portions, that he might fix our attention, and compel us, as if had laid his hand upon us, to pause and to reflect.