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From Being to Doing: An Appreciation of Herman Ridderbos' Contributions to Pauline Theology


Going to seminary has opened up a whole new world of theological scholarship for me. Now, these folks are not new to other people but they're new to me. Doing my undergrad at Moody Bible Institute (itself a great school) I did not come into contact with a lot of reformed (much less confessionally reformed) theologians in my assigned reading. That is not to say I didn't read good theological material at Moody, I most certainly did. Though the reformed flavor wasn't explored much there other than a quick reference to it being the "other view".


That has significantly changed for me since beginning my studies at RTS. I've come into rich contact with a lot of impactful reformed theologians. One would be Francis Turretin and the first volume of his Institutes of Elenctic Theology. That was a monster of a read but I loved every page of it. Another one of these influential reads for me has been Herman Ridderbos' Paul: An Outline of His Theology.


Herman Ridderbos was a Dutch reformed theologian and professor. He was professor of New Testament Studies at the Theological Seminary at Kampen, the Netherlands. As Justin Taylor said, he was "New Testament commentator and redemptive-historical theologian par excellence". He completed many influential theological works with many having come to know him either through his aforementioned pauline theology magnum opus or his The Coming of the Kingdom. One single blog post cannot justify the magnitude of Ridderbos' contributions. So... I will limit it to one of the many; the indicative-imperative dynamic of the Pauline letters.



The Indicative-Imperative Dynamic


Indicative and imperative are two grammatical terms relating to verb moods. The indicative mood carries a sense of is-ness with a verb whereas the imperative mood carries a sense of ought-ness with a verb. As Bryan Chapell (crediting Ridderbos) states, "Every imperative of Scripture (what we are to do for God) rests on the indicative (who we are in our relationship with God)." Though it would be wholly incorrect to say that Ridderbos discovered this in the sense that no one before him was aware of this dynamic that permeates the New Testament and Paul's letters in particular. However, it seems like no one ever articulated it in such a clean way prior to Ridderbos. See it for yourself. Here are three selections from his chapter that speak so supremely to this indicative-imperative dynamic:


"What the new man manifests in new life, what he works or exhibits in the fruit of the Spirit and good works, he works out of and by the strength of God, out of the power of the Spirit and by virtue of his belonging to Christ."


"The imperative is grounded on the reality that has been given with the indicative, appeals to it, and intends to bring it to full development"


"...it is immediately clear that the imperative rests on the indicative and that this order is not reversible."


In order to get the full Ridderbos treatment of this subject you'll have to read pages 253-258 of his pauline theology work. But I hope this was a good teaser for the treasury that is this work.


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