Gordon Clark’s view of Romans 1:20

Perhaps the most commonly referenced verse in support of the cosmological argument for the existence of God is Romans 1:20,

“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

Since, however, Gordon Clark rejected the cosmological argument it might be of some value knowing how he understood Romans 1:20. Fortunately, he wrote about this question in many places.

That Clark did not view Romans 1:20 as supporting the cosmological argument is evident in such places as his article on “The Existence of God” in Encyclopedia of Christianity:

“In spite of the Roman Catholic claim that Paul the apostle put his stamp of approval on Aristotle and Aquinas in Romans 1:19-20, it is clear that the Bible offers no argument to prove God’s existence. The heavens indeed display the glory of God; but a modern scientist who had no prior conviction of God could see there only a display of nuclear energy.”

He repeats much the same in God’s Hammer, pp. 87-88:

“Thomas Aquinas and the Roman Catholic Church hold, not merely that God can be known in nature, but that the existence of God can irrefragably be demonstrated, without any a priori equipment, from the data of sensory perception. To make good this claim, Thomas, following the lead of Aristotle, worked out an amazingly intricate system of philosophy. This tremendous achievement merits professional and meticulous examination. … In another volume (Thales to Dewey, pp. 274-78), I have tried to show that technical analysis can indicate several points (e.g., the concepts of potentiality and motion, the circular argument on infinite regress, the theory of analogy) at which the chain of Thomas’s syllogisms breaks down. Surely it is extreme to claim, as the Thomists do, that the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:20 guarantees the validity of the complete argument.”

In the same volume, p. 92, Clark notes,

“Though dim and restricted, this natural knowledge of God is not to be denied. Romans 1:20 may not guarantee the validity of the theistic proofs, but it plainly asserts some knowledge of God derived from ‘the things that are made.'”

Finally, in an unpublished paper titled “Nooumena Kathoratai” he is more explicit about what this “some knowledge” is:

“One may note that nobody can recognize a flower as God’s handiwork, unless he has a prior knowledge of God. As Calvin said, the knowledge of God is the first knowledge a person has. It is innate; not derived from experience.”

We might summarize Clark’s view of Romans 1:20 by saying that it is not that we know of God because we see His power in the universe, but that because we already know God innately we understand the power in the universe to be His.

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About douglasdouma

I am a husband to beautiful wife, an ordained minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church - Hanover Presbytery, and founder of Sola - Appalachian Christian Retreat (www.discoversola.com). In addition to blogging at this site I am the author of The Presbyterian Philosopher - The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark (Wipf&Stock, 2017) and compiling editor of Clark and His Correspondents: Selected Letters of Gordon H. Clark (Trinity Foundation, 2017). I have a bachelor degree in mechanical engineering (University of Michigan), a master's in business administration (Wake Forest University) and a master of divinity (Sangre de Cristo Seminary). I'm an avid hiker, having completed a northbound thru-hike of the Appalachian trail in 2013 and the first 500 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2016.
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45 Responses to Gordon Clark’s view of Romans 1:20

  1. John Bradshaw says:

    Hi Doug,
    Thx for that.
    Did Dr Clark comment much on Psalm 19 (the heavens declare the glory of God) in the same vein?

    • douglasdouma says:

      I haven’t researched that question exactly, but I’m fairly sure the answer is yes.

    • douglasdouma says:

      Found it!

      “Again, the Hebrew-Christian view that ‘the heavens declare the glory of God’ does not, in my opinion, mean that the existence of God can be formally deduced from an empirical examination of the universe. If on some other grounds we believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we can see that the heavens declare his glory, but this is not to say that a person who did not believe in this God could demonstrate his existence from nature.” – Gordon Clark, “Special Divine Revelation as Rational” in Revelation and the Bible, ed. Carl Henry, p 28.

  2. Roger says:

    Doesn’t Clark’s acknowledgment of man’s “innate knowledge” contradict his claim that all knowledge in this present age is limited to the Scriptures alone? According to Scripture, this innate knowledge is indeed “propositional” in nature, for all men inherently know “that those who practice such [sins]” are worthy of death (Romans 1:32; cf. 2:14-15). Thus, according to the express statements of Scripture, all knowledge is not limited to the Scriptures alone.

    Scripture also teaches that all men know their own thoughts, just as God knows His own thoughts: “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11). Thus, according to the express statements of Scripture, when I think “that God is righteous” I indeed know that I’m thinking the proposition “that God is righteous.” Doesn’t this also contradict Clark’s claim that all knowledge in this present age is limited to the Scriptures alone?

  3. Roger says:

    I believe these passages also contradict Clark’s notion that knowledge is “justified true belief.” If we innately “know” the proposition “that those who practice such [sins]” are worthy of death apart from Scripture (Romans 1:32), and we “know” our own thought “that those who practice such [sins]” are worthy of death apart from Scripture (1 Corinthians 2:11), then we “know” true propositions prior to being able to justify them to ourselves or anyone else by appealing to the special revelation given in God’s written word.

    • douglasdouma says:

      On Clark’s view, the justification of knowledge is not (as you wrote) “being able to justify them to ourselves or anyone else”, but rather, he, as I’ve argued here (https://douglasdouma.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/elements-of-gordon-clarks-theory-of-knowledge/) has a view that fits with externalism. I wrote there of his view, “We do not need to be able to demonstrate the knowledge, for it is not the demonstration that justifies knowledge, but the acquisition of it from an infallible source.”

      Clark writes, “Knowledge means the possession of truth. It is not necessary to work out a philosophical system and to demonstrate truths before having them. On the contrary, even in geometry, one usually has come into the possession of a truth before one attempts to demonstrate it; in fact, this will be seen always to be true if we do not restrict our vision to a narrow field. Demonstration and the arrangement of truths into a logical system is undeniably a desideratum; it is precisely the progress in such systematization that distinguishes the philosophical student from the intellectually dull; but philosophers are not the only people who can know the truth.”- A Christian View of Men and Things, p. 323.

      I do think you’ve raised some interesting questions. My note here about externalism does not fully satisfy me as to answering them. But it might help you look in the right direction.

  4. Roger says:

    Thanks for the reply, Doug. But, with regard to the first quote from Clark, I think the problem still exists with the verses I’ve cited — we “know” true propositions apart from or prior to being able to acquisition them from an infallible source, such as Scripture. Regarding the second quote, if “knowledge means the possession of truth,” then knowledge is not “justified true belief” but simply the possession of true propositions, such as our innate knowledge “that those who practice such [sins] are worthy of death” and knowing our own thoughts “that those who practice such [sins] are worthy of death.” Or, perhaps I’m just hopelessly confused and missing something here… 😉

  5. Roger says:

    Perhaps this will illustrate what I’m trying to get at a little better. The proposition that “we know our own thoughts” can be acquisitioned from the infallible revelation of Scripture (1 Corinthians 2:11) and is therefore a “justified true belief.” But the proposition that “I like vanilla ice cream” (which is a thought that I know I’m thinking) cannot be acquisitioned from the infallible revelation of Scripture and is therefore not a “justified true belief” — it is merely a “true belief” or “the possession of truth.” Therefore, knowledge would have to be defined as “true belief” or “the possession of truth” rather than “justified true belief,” and Clark’s claim that all knowledge in this present age is limited to the Scriptures alone is demonstrated to be false.

    • John Bradshaw says:

      Hi Roger,
      You might like to take a look at http://www.trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=192
      by John Robbins. You can skip to the section beginning with the following if you like :
      “Some will object, “But don’t we know that we are in this room, or that 2 plus 2 equals four, or that grass is green?” To answer that objection, we must define the words “know” and “knowledge.”

    • John Bradshaw says:

      Hi Roger,
      I’m no expert in logic, but I think the following is correct? Perhaps you can comment?

      Is it valid to turn
      “Thy word is truth”
      to be
      “What is NOT Thy word is NOT truth”?

      If so, that means the Bible does have a monopoly on truth. What is not the Word is not truth; that is, everything else, apart from Scripture, is not truth.

  6. Sean Gerety says:

    It’s a mistake to say for Clark possession of the truth is knowledge and is not a charitable reading of him. In Intro to Christian Phil he states clearly that knowledge requires an account. Elsewhere (I think in one of his discussions of Kant) he says we would know nothing of the apriori information or categories within us were it not revealed in Scripture and even that is minimal. For example, part of that original endowment is “the law written on our hearts” but Paul makes a distinction between those who have the law (i.e., who can account for what they “know” intuitively and innately) with the Gentiles “who do not have the law, [yet] by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them ….” So, apart from revelation, I don’t think anyone, much less Clark, would say that the law imprinted on our minds is knowledge. FWIW I think Calvin would also agree since he didn’t call what man possesses by nature “knowledge” but he called it a sense of the divine instead (I know, if I wrote the phrase in Latin it would sound more impressive).

    As for so-called self-knowledge, as I’m sure you know Doug, Clark was fond of citing Jeremiah 17:9 and that on account of sin the heart of man “is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Clark regularly pointed out that self-knowledge is not as easy as some assume and it certainly isn’t a given.

  7. Roger says:

    Hi John,

    Actually, I don’t believe that Robbins’ comments address my objection at all. For instance, he writes:

    “Knowledge is not simply possessing thoughts or ideas, as some think. Knowledge is possessing true ideas and knowing them to be true. Knowledge is, by definition, knowledge of the truth.”

    I agree that “knowledge is possessing true ideas” or true propositions “and knowing them to be true.” That’s the whole point of why I brought up 1 Corinthians 2:11 — it teaches that we “know” our own thoughts just as God “knows” His own thoughts. Thus, if I think the proposition that “God is righteous” I know that it’s true that I’m thinking that proposition, just as God knows that it’s true that He’s thinking that proposition. But this means that Clark’s claim that all knowledge in this present age is limited to the Scriptures alone is untrue, and that all knowledge cannot be justified by the infallible source of Scripture.

    • John Bradshaw says:

      Hi Roger,
      Pls see my comment above also. Sorry for getting the order of posts mixed up.
      Just a question though about 1cor 2:11. Doesn’t Paul say that the way the Holy Spirit teaches us is via His word later in verse 13? It seems to me that Paul is contrasting man’s words with the Spirit’s words. And the Spirit’s words are the Bible.

      “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.”

  8. Roger says:

    So, Sean, when Scripture explicitly states that all men inherently know the true proposition “that those who practice such [sins] are worthy of death” (Romans 1:32; cf. 2:14-15), it really means that they don’t know this true proposition imparted to us directly from God?

  9. Roger says:

    “Is it valid to turn ‘Thy word is truth’ to be ‘What is NOT Thy word is NOT truth’? If so, that means the Bible does have a monopoly on truth. What is not the Word is not truth; that is, everything else, apart from Scripture, is not truth.”

    No, John, that is not a valid inference. “Thy word is truth” implies that everything God says or reveals is truth, not that everything else is false.

    • John Bradshaw says:

      Hmmm, When I look up Obversion on wiki it seems to be valid.

      • Roger says:

        John, I’m not sure how you’re concluding that the syllogism you provided is a valid form Obversion. As a universal affirmative the Obversion of “Thy word is truth” is:

        “All S is P” and “No S is non-P.”
        “All of God’s word (S) is truth (P)” and “None of God’s word (S) is non-truth (P).”

        As a universal negative the obversion of “Thy word is truth” is:

        “No S is P” and “All S is non-P.”
        “None of God’s word (S) is non-truth (P)” and “All of God’s word (S) is truth (P).”

  10. Roger says:

    “Just a question though about 1cor 2:11. Doesn’t Paul say that the way the Holy Spirit teaches us is via His word later in verse 13? It seems to me that Paul is contrasting man’s words with the Spirit’s words. And the Spirit’s words are the Bible.”

    Yes, Paul’s main point is that believers have received “the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12). But that doesn’t detract from what he clearly says in verse 11 – that we “know” our own thoughts just as God “knows” His own thoughts. Therefore, when I think the proposition that “God is righteous” I know that it’s true that I’m thinking that proposition, just as God knows that it’s true that He’s thinking that proposition. As I’ve already mentioned, this means that Clark’s claim that all knowledge in this present age is limited to the Scriptures is untrue, and that all knowledge (i.e., the knowledge of our own thoughts) cannot be justified by the infallible source of Scripture.

  11. Roger says:

    Sorry, I just realized that I’ve been posting my replies all out of order. It’s been a while since I’ve posted on WordPress. I’ll make sure I reply in the proper order going forward…

  12. Roger says:

    To illustrate the bankruptcy of the Scripturalist position (that all knowledge is either contained in Scripture or necessarily deduced from Scripture), consider this thought experiment with a hypothetical (honest) Scripturalist, John Doe:

    Q. Do you believe the tenants of Scripturalism are true?

    A. I don’t know, because the proposition “John Doe believes the tenants of Scripturalism are true” is not contained in Scripture and cannot be deduced from Scripture, and I cannot know my own thoughts since they are not contained in Scripture and cannot be deduced from Scripture.

    Q. Do you believe the Bible is God’s infallible word?

    A. I don’t know, because the proposition “John Doe believes the Bible is God’s infallible word” is not contained in Scripture and cannot be deduced from Scripture, and I cannot know my own thoughts since they are not contained in Scripture and cannot be deduced from Scripture.

    Q. Do you believe that Jesus is Lord?

    A. I don’t know, because the proposition “John Doe believes that Jesus is Lord” is not contained in Scripture and cannot be deduced from Scripture, and I cannot know my own thoughts since they are not contained in Scripture and cannot be deduced from Scripture.

    Q. Do you believe that Jesus was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification?

    A. I don’t know, because the proposition “John Doe believes that Jesus was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” is not contained in Scripture and cannot be deduced from Scripture, and I cannot know my own thoughts since they are not contained in Scripture and cannot be deduced from Scripture.

    A philosophy that logically leads to such utter skepticism as this is a completely worthless philosophy for all intents and purposes.

    • douglasdouma says:

      Roger, I do think you raised a particularly insightful criticism in your first comment on this post. The gears in my head have been churning to consider some answers. I hope to write on it sometime later.

      For this present comment, I’d again suggest you look at my article on “Elements of Gordon Clark’s Theory of Knowledge.” Particularly see Clark’s comment there on “Do you know that you know that you that you know?”

      But let’s not multiply the questions in these comments. Perhaps you would like to write an article summarizing your thoughts. That could of be considerable value.

      • Roger says:

        “For this present comment, I’d again suggest you look at my article on ‘Elements of Gordon Clark’s Theory of Knowledge. Particularly see Clark’s comment there on ‘Do you know that you know that you that you know?’”

        Doug, Clark’s comment here merely reinforces what I wrote in my previous comment – that Scripturalism leads to utter skepticism. The answer to Clark’s rhetorical question, from a Scripturalist perspective, is that “we don’t know that we know that we know that we know.” Thus, as self-conscious thinking subjects, we know absolutely nothing! We don’t even know whether we believe the tenants of Scripturalism or the Gospel itself, since the propositions that we (as individuals) believe these things are not contained in Scripture and cannot be deduced from Scripture, and we cannot know our own thoughts since they are not contained in Scripture and cannot be deduced from Scripture. It is a self-defeating, worthless philosophy from a practical standpoint.

        Also, I believe I’ve successfully demonstrated that Clark’s assertion that “all knowledge is either contained in Scripture or deduced from Scripture” contradicts several clear passages of Scripture that teach otherwise – that we possess 1) innate propositional knowledge of God’s nature and law apart from Scripture (Romans 1:32), 2) knowledge of our own thoughts (i.e., propositions) apart from Scripture (1 Corinthians 2:11), and 3) propositional knowledge that “we are the children of God” imparted to us directly by the Holy Spirit apart from Scripture (Romans 8:16).

        Thus, the only definition of knowledge that agrees with the totality of the Scriptural evidence is “the possession of truth” – whether it comes directly from the propositions of Scripture or apart from Scripture, as the verses I cited above plainly teach.

        If you’d like this to be my last post on this topic, then I’ll gladly bow out of the discussion. This is your blog, after all. I appreciate the offer to write an article summarizing my thoughts, but I’m not sure I can add anything useful to what I’ve already written. Anyway, thank you for hearing me out and letting me post here.

  13. Roger says:

    “A man’s innermost thought, of which others are ignorant, is perceived by himself alone: if he afterwards makes it known to others, this does not hinder but that his spirit alone knows what is in him. For it may happen that he does not persuade: it may even happen that he does not properly express his own meaning; but even if he attains both objects, this statement is not at variance with the other — that his own spirit alone has the true knowledge of it.” (John Calvin’s Commentary, 1 Corinthians 2:11)

    Apparently, Calvin would have rejected the Scripturalist notion that all knowledge is contained in Scripture or necessarily deduced from Scripture. For here he explicitly states that a man’s “own spirit alone has the true knowledge” of the contents of his thoughts. Of course, God Himself also knows the content of the man’s thoughts, to which I’m sure Calvin would have agreed.

    • John Bradshaw says:

      Hi Roger,
      I’m still trying to learn this stuff, but a question if I may.
      Because God shows a man the truth, doesn’t mean that man will believe the truth eg Christ did this all the time but many did not believe what He told them. I don’t see why that would be any different for the Holy Spirit as you quote in 1Cor. 2, or the interpretation you place on “knowledge” in Romans 1:32. Otherwise the interpretation of this verse runs counter to the problem of total depravity. Sin affects every thought we have.
      Going back to Romans 1, verse 31 says they are “without understanding”. I don’t think it can be right to say in the next verse they have a correct knowledge of God’s judgement? Without understanding in verse 31, then a correct understanding a verse later??? He may show the truth to them, as Christ did on Earth, but that does not mean they get it.

      • Roger says:

        “Because God shows a man the truth, doesn’t mean that man will believe the truth.”

        Yes, of course. But if you read my previous comments carefully, you’ll notice that I define knowledge as “the possession of truth” (which I believe is the only definition consistent with all of the Biblical evidence) and not “true belief.” According to Scripture, all men innately possess the truth about God and His law. Apart from God’s grace, they “suppress” this truth (i.e., true propositions) “in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18) and are therefore without excuse, “because what may be known of God is manifest in them for God has shown it to them” (Romans 1:19). It is only the elect, when effectually called by God’s Spirit, which “believe” the truth they innately possess about God and His law (along with the special revelation of the gospel). Thus, the innate knowledge we all possess about God and His law is either “suppressed” in unrighteousness or “believed” unto righteousness, but it is “knowledge” (as Scripture uses the term) in either case.

        “Going back to Romans 1, verse 31 says they are ‘without understanding.’ I don’t think it can be right to say in the next verse they have a correct knowledge of God’s judgement? Without understanding in verse 31, then a correct understanding a verse later?”

        The word used in verse 31 (ἀσύνετος) is better translated as “undiscerning” (NKJV), “foolish” (cf. verse 21), or “lacking good judgment,” which of course describes the ungodly quite well since they “suppress the truth” that they innately know “in unrighteousness.” This in no way contradicts verse 32 – that they “know (i.e., possess the truth of) the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death.” Matthew Henry rightly comments:

        “They ‘knew the judgment of God’ that is, (1.) They knew the law. The judgment of God is that which his justice requires, which, because he is just, he judgeth meet to be done. (2.) They knew the penalty so it is explained here: They knew ‘that those who commit such things were worthy of death,’ eternal death their own consciences could not but suggest this to them, and yet they ventured upon it. It is a great aggravation of sin when it is committed against knowledge (James 4:17), especially against the knowledge of the judgment of God.”

        Also, I don’t believe the knowledge of our own thoughts (1 Corinthians 2:11) is directly given to us by the Holy Spirit, as the propositional knowledge that believers are “the children of God” (Romans 8:16) is directly imparted to us apart from Scripture. Rather, Paul is simply confirming a self-evident truth – that we all know the contents of our own thoughts, just as God knows the contents of His own thoughts. Of course, “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), so in that sense every thought we have comes from God, as we are sustained and empowered to think by His omnipotent power at every point.

  14. John Bradshaw says:

    Thx Roger. That is explained quite well. I might have some more questions later.

  15. John Bradshaw says:

    Doug quoted Dr Clark above: “On the contrary, even in geometry, one usually has come into the possession of a truth before one attempts to demonstrate it”
    Isn’t he saying here that you can know a truth which is outside the Bible, i.e. Geometry?….. Just asking.

    • Roger says:

      It sure looks like that’s what he’s saying to me. I think that’s why it’s hard to pin Clark down; he seems to contradict himself at times. Sometimes he says that knowledge is simply “possession of the truth” and other times he says it’s “justified true belief” (or words to that effect). So, which is it?

  16. John Bradshaw says:

    “A philosophy that logically leads to such utter skepticism as this is a completely worthless philosophy for all intents and purposes.”

    Hi Roger,
    I would like to say that since reading /listening to Dr Robbins and Dr Clark over the last two years, I have not become a skeptic, but rather they have both helped me more than any other writers I know, to understand the pervasiveness of error and the truth of Scripture. For this I am thankful to the Lord.
    I do not know the answer to your question, which seems a reasonable question to me, but Dr Clark has certainly had the opposite affect of skepticism for me.

    • Roger says:

      John, I’m not saying that there’s no profit in reading Clark’s works, for I too have benefited quite a bit from his articles and books. In fact, I believe that most of the material on the Trinity Foundation website is quite solid, and I’ve recommended a number of their articles to others. Nevertheless, I do believe that Scripturalism “logically” leads to utter skepticism, for the reasons I’ve already cited. I stand by what I said in my last response to Doug:

      “The answer to Clark’s rhetorical question, from a Scripturalist perspective, is that ‘we don’t know that we know that we know that we know.’ Thus, as self-conscious thinking subjects, we know absolutely nothing! We don’t even know whether we believe the tenants of Scripturalism or the Gospel itself, since the propositions that we (as individuals) believe these things are not contained in Scripture and cannot be deduced from Scripture, and we cannot know our own thoughts since they are not contained in Scripture and cannot be deduced from Scripture. It is a self-defeating, worthless philosophy from a practical standpoint.”

  17. Sean Gerety says:

    Roger writes: “Scripturalism leads to utter skepticism.” It’s over-the-top statements like this that makes it difficult for me to take Roger seriously. Even if I were to grant his argument that there are truths that are known apart from Scripture it doesn’t follow that if you limit the knowledge possible to man to Scripture and its necessary inferences, as Scripturalism asserts, that it leads to “utter skepticism.” That’s just silly. The truths of Scripture could still be known regardless if you reject knowledge from other sources besides Scripture and skepticism is avoided.

    Also, the idea that knowledge is defined as the possession of truth is to beg the question for this simple reason; How would you know if you are in fact in possession of the truth? To take one quote from Clark seemingly out of context in an attempt to undermine his entire epistemology is a bit disingenuous. As a friend of mine once said: “all knowledge has to be truth, but it is not the case that all truth has to be knowledge.” Or, as Clark explained:

    “What account shall be given of everyday “knowledge” that common sense thinks is silly to doubt? Don’t I know when I am hungry? Can’t I use road maps to drive to Boston to Los Angeles? Indeed, how can I know what the Bible says without reading its pages with my own eyes? It was one secular philosopher criticizing another, who said that knowledge is a fact and that any theory that did not account for it should be abandoned. But all such criticisms miss the point. The status of common opinion is not fixed until a theory has been accepted. One may admit that a number of propositions commonly believed are true; but no one can deny that many such are false. The problem is to elaborate a method by which the two classes can be distinguished. Plato too granted a place to opinion as distinct from knowledge; he even admitted that in some circumstances opinion was as useful as knowledge with a capital K. But to dispose of the whole matter by an appeal to road maps that we can see with our own eyes is to ignore everything said above about Aristotle.” An Introduction to Christian Philosophy, 90.

    Roger may not have any interest in epistemology, and from his comments, I don’t think he does, but epistemology seeks to answer how do you know? It does not answer the question how do you know that you know?

    However, as already suggested above, Roger’s objections fail as a matter of exegesis. Roger states that Romans 1:32 teaches “that we possess innate propositional knowledge of God’s nature and law apart from Scripture.” Apart from the revelation of Scripture, how could Roger, or anyone else, know this? Is Roger advocating for some sort of natural theology? I think so. Similarly, regarding the “law written on their hearts,” how can someone apart from Scripture account for even the belief that murder is wrong or even that there are any moral absolutes?

    Roger also makes a considerable amount out of 1 Cor 2:11 asserting that we have “knowledge of our own thoughts” apart from Scripture. But, that’s not what the passage teaches and the parallel being drawn isn’t an epistemological one but rather a colloquial one and one that cannot be pushed too far. For example, I alone may be privy (i.e., know) my own thoughts and another person can come to know me only to the extent I reveal my thoughts to them. But, as Clark points out in his commentary on this verse, people often reveal more about themselves then they might think. Whereas, in the case of God omnipotent the idea that someone might discover something about God that He didn’t intend to reveal is blasphemous. Also, the passage is dealing with the revelation of mysteries; “the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” Besides, as already mentioned, God tells us in Jerimiah that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?” Roger said we can and do know our own thoughts. But, if those thoughts are deceitful, can someone know a falsehood? In Roger’s epistemology, you can.

    Finally, Roger marshalls Romans 8:16 asserting “propositional knowledge that ‘we are the children of God’ imparted to us directly by the Holy Spirit apart from Scripture.” If that were the correct understanding of the verse then I guess the Divines at Westminster should have scrapped their chapter on assurance since it would not be necessary for the elect would all know who they are. While we’re at it we can eliminate Philippians 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 10:12.

    • Roger says:

      “The truths of Scripture could still be known regardless if you reject knowledge from other sources besides Scripture and skepticism is avoided.”

      The truths of Scripture cannot “still be known” if we can’t “know” our own thoughts or beliefs, as Scripturalism maintains. Do you believe the truths of Scripture? You can’t possibly know, since the proposition “Sean Gerety believes the truths of Scripture” is not contained in Scripture and cannot be deduced from Scripture, and you cannot know your own thoughts since they are not contained in Scripture and cannot be deduced from Scripture. Therefore, you do not and cannot “know” the truths of Scripture on the basis of Scripturalism, and you are reduced to utter skepticism on the petard of your own irrational epistemology.

      “Also, the idea that knowledge is defined as the possession of truth is to beg the question for this simple reason; How would you know if you are in fact in possession of the truth?”

      You are confusing “knowing” a truth with accounting for “how” we know that truth. We can account for “knowing” certain true propositions apart from Scripture by the explicit statements of Scripture itself (e.g., Romans 1:32; Romans 8:16; 1 Corinthians 2:11). What greater justification could there be than that?

      “To take one quote from Clark seemingly out of context in an attempt to undermine his entire epistemology is a bit disingenuous.”

      I haven’t taken a single quote from Clark “out of context” in an attempt to undermine his entire epistemology. To assert that I have done so is more than a bit disingenuous; it’s “bearing false witness against your neighbor.” All I’ve done is to highlight the fact that Clark taught that all men possess “innate knowledge” apart from Scripture, and then in the next breath contradicted himself by teaching that “all knowledge” is limited to Scripture alone and what can be necessarily deduced from Scripture. He was hardly the paragon of logical consistency here.

      “Roger may not have any interest in epistemology, and from his comments, I don’t think he does, but epistemology seeks to answer how do you know? It does not answer the question how do you know that you know?”

      If epistemology seeks to answer the question “how do you know,” then on the basis of Scripturalism how do you know that you “believe” the truths of Scripture? If it can’t answer that fundamental question (and it can’t), then it’s more than useless as a Christian philosophy. For my part, I “know” that I believe the truths of Scripture because I “know” my own thoughts or beliefs, as Scripture itself explicitly teaches (1 Corinthians 2:11).

      “However, as already suggested above, Roger’s objections fail as a matter of exegesis. Roger states that Romans 1:32 teaches ‘that we possess innate propositional knowledge of God’s nature and law apart from Scripture.’ Apart from the revelation of Scripture, how could Roger, or anyone else, know this?”

      Again, you are confusing “knowing” a truth with accounting for “how” we know that truth. We can account for innately “knowing” certain truths about God’s nature and law apart from Scripture by the explicit statements of Scripture itself (e.g., Romans 1:19, 32; 2:14-15). What greater justification could there be than that?

      “Roger also makes a considerable amount out of 1 Cor 2:11 asserting that we have ‘knowledge of our own thoughts’ apart from Scripture. But, that’s not what the passage teaches and the parallel being drawn isn’t an epistemological one but rather a colloquial one and one that cannot be pushed too far. For example, I alone may be privy (i.e., know) my own thoughts and another person can come to know me only to the extent I reveal my thoughts to them.”

      The fact that we’re able to “reveal” our thoughts to others is proof positive that we “know” our thoughts prior to doing so – for “unknown” thoughts cannot be “revealed” by definition. Therefore, the example you used above doesn’t argue against my interpretation of 1 Corinthians 2:11 one iota. Moreover, my interpretation of this passage is hardly novel:

      “A man’s innermost thought, of which others are ignorant, is perceived by himself alone: if he afterwards makes it known to others, this does not hinder but that his spirit alone knows what is in him. For it may happen that he does not persuade: it may even happen that he does not properly express his own meaning; but even if he attains both objects, this statement is not at variance with the other — that his own spirit alone has the true knowledge of it.” (John Calvin’s Commentary, 1 Corinthians 2:11)

      “Besides, as already mentioned, God tells us in Jerimiah that ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?’ Roger said we can and do know our own thoughts. But, if those thoughts are deceitful, can someone know a falsehood? In Roger’s epistemology, you can.”

      “Many lay hold on these words and mutilate them without understanding the design of the Prophet. This is very absurd” (Calvin’s Commentary, Jeremiah 17:9). I agree, and your interpretation of this passage is patently absurd Sean. The fact that our hearts are deceitful and prone to wickedness does not imply that we don’t “know” what we’re thinking, for even when our wicked hearts deceive us into believing false propositions we in fact “know” that we are believing those propositions. For example, a Muslim who believes that Jesus was merely a man and not the Son of God “knows” that he believes that proposition, and God will hold him accountable for “knowingly” believing that false proposition.

      “Finally, Roger marshalls Romans 8:16 asserting “propositional knowledge that ‘we are the children of God’ imparted to us directly by the Holy Spirit apart from Scripture.” If that were the correct understanding of the verse then I guess the Divines at Westminster should have scrapped their chapter on assurance since it would not be necessary for the elect would all know who they are. While we’re at it we can eliminate Philippians 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 10:12.”

      Scripture explicitly teaches that the Holy Spirit imparts to believers the propositional knowledge “that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:16) apart from Scripture, and we are able to rest in that divinely imparted knowledge as a means of assuring ourselves of our salvation. If the Westminster Divines taught otherwise, then they were dead wrong, period. And if you don’t believe what Scripture plainly teaches here, then you are dead wrong, period. I’ll take the Spirit’s testimony imparted to me as sure and true; if you want to wallow in mere conjecture as to whether you are a child of God, then that’s your own problem.

      “But there is here a striking refutation of the vain notions of the Sophists respecting moral conjecture, which is nothing else but uncertainty and anxiety of mind; nay, rather vacillation and delusion. There is also an answer given here to their objection, for they ask, ‘How can a man fully know the will of God?’ This certainly is not within the reach of man, but it is the testimony of God’s Spirit; and this subject he treats more at large in the First Epistle to the Corinthians [i.e., 1 Corinthians 2:1-16], from which we may derive a fuller explanation of a passage. Let this truth then stand sure, — that no one can be called a son of God, who does not know himself to be such; and this is called knowledge by John, in order to set forth its certainty. (1 John 5:19, 20.)” (John Calvin’s Commentary, Romans 8:16)

  18. John Bradshaw says:

    Thx very much Sean. I must read An Introduction to Christian Philosophy.

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  20. douglasdouma says:

    “And to avoid all confusion, it should be noted that any assertion to the effect that Romans 1:20 is the cosmological argument is false. The verse has neither premises nor conclusion; it contains no hint of an implication; it is a simple statement, and simple statements are not arguments and can be neither valid nor invalid.” – Gordon H. Clark, “Apologetics” in Contemporary Evangelical Thought, ed. Carl F. H. Henry, p. 148-149.

    • John Bradshaw says:

      I wonder, did Dr. Clark write as voluminously on a couple of verses as he did on these few from Romans 1?
      It’s a pity that he could not finish this.

      • douglasdouma says:

        This is certainly a lengthier commentary on a few verses than he makes pretty much anywhere. I wish he had written a commentary on Romans in its entirety. I’ve been seeing lots of comments on Romans though in his writings.

  21. douglasdouma says:

    See also: “Is it not possible that the knowledge of God is innate? May we not have been born with an intuition of God, and with this a priori equipment we see the glory of God upon the heavens? – What Presbyterians Believe, p. 7.

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