Prior to identifying the principium of biblical Christianity, a definition of this term is in order. Principium is a Latin neuter singular noun that simply means principle. Similarly, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines principium as “fundamental principle.” In terms of epistemology, S. Lewis Johnson declares, “…principia [the Latin plural of principium], or first principles, are first in systems of thought” [brackets mine]. In other words, a principium or first principle constitutes something that is presupposed or assumed outright – an axiom or presupposition. So, what is the principium or first principle of biblical Christianity?
To be brief, the fundamental presupposition is a composite answer of the first two questions. Some may state the principium in the following manner: There is a God, and He has spoken to us in the Bible. However, such a statement lacks biblical precision. Why? To varying degrees, the preceding statement can be affirmed by many non-Christians, such as Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, Arians, etc. S. Lewis Johnson describes the indispensable “particulars” of biblical Christianity’s first principle:
The particulars of this would include…we would say first of all, we accept the existence of the biblical, triune God, not the existence of God, simply, but the existence of the biblical, triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit.…So the Christian believes in the biblical triune God….Now, the second thing we could spell out as a particular is that the revelation of God is in the word, in the Scriptures. I don’t deny that God has revealed himself in nature, in history, in providence, but we learn of this from the word, so it is revelation in the word. Then we also believe that the meaning of every so called fact comes from God.
Thus, the fundamental presupposition of biblical Christianity should be defined as follows: The Triune God exists, and He has revealed Himself in His Word, namely the Bible. This declaration serves as the foundation of all Christian reasoning. Gordon H. Clark writes: “Hence constructive thought must presuppose information that has been divinely given. This is to assume that the Bible is the Word of God; and since God cannot lie, his Word must be the truth.”
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed. Springfield, (MA: Merriam Webster, 2012), 987.
Johnson, “Spiritual Truth,” 5.
See W. Gary Crampton, “Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of his Thought,” Trinity Review 137 (July 1996): 2. Crampton writes: “Axioms (or presuppositions) cannot be proved; if they could be proved, they would not be axioms.”
Johnson, “Spiritual Truth,” 12-13.
An orthodox definition for the biblical Trinity is as follows: One God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity neither dividing the Divine Essence nor confounding the Divine Persons. The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) defines the Trinity thus: “In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son” (2.3). Joel Parkinson rightly states, “The doctrine of the Trinity is essential to the orthodox Christian faith….Consequently, there can be no doubt that failure to accept the Trinity will lead to fatal errors in the rest of one’s theology.” Parkinson also outlines the “three propositions” which constitute an orthodox definition of the Trinity: “1. There is only one God who is immutably and eternally indivisible and simple (Deuteronomy 6:4; John 17:3; 1 Corinthians 8:6)….2. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are each fully and co-equally God (John 20:17; John 1:1; Acts 5:3-5)….3. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct and not one and the same (Mark 1:10-11; John 15:26; Hebrews 9:14).” See Joel Parkinson, “The Intellectual Trinity of God,” Trinity Review 83 (January 1992): 1.
Gordon H. Clark, Religion, Reason, and Revelation (Unicoi, TN: Trinity Foundation, 1961; 1995; 2012), 88. See also Crampton, “Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis,” 2. Crampton notes: “Clark’s point is that the axiom (or presupposition) of all Christian thinking is that the Bible is the Word of God.” See also W. Gary Crampton, “Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis by Greg L. Bahnsen, Reviewed by W. Gary Crampton,” Trinity Review 182 (July 2000): 2. In this article, the author writes that Gordon Clark “denies the validity of the theistic proofs altogether” and “believes that the Bible is to be our indemonstrable, axiomatic starting point.” See also Michael J. Kruger, “The Sufficiency of Scripture,” 12/1 (Spring 2001): 80. Kruger states: “…Christians must think like Christians and appeal to Christian principles even when they argue for the truth of the Christian position. This is the essence of arguing presuppositionally. This is the only way to be consistent with the Bible’s own claims that it and nothing else is the supreme and ultimate intellectual standard in the universe.”