Richard A. Muller on archetypal and ectypal theology


As we approach theology, how do we explain and account for the vast and immeasurable distance between God and man? Can we know what God knows? Can we know anything at all? Is God too hidden to be known? Can we climb into God’s mind (so to speak) and see what’s going on? Here is where the differentiation between archetypal theology (the perfect knowledge God has of himself) and ectypal theology (the revealed but limited – though sufficient – knowledge we have of God) is important. Richard A. Muller, in his Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, p. 229, explains:

“Beginning with Luther, the Reformation had a strong sense of the transcendence of God, indeed, the hiddenness of God in and behind his revelation. Drawing on this assumption, Calvin argued the accommodated nature of God’s revelation: God reveals himself not as he is in his infinite majesty but in a form accessible to human beings.”

“So too is a distinction made by Calvin and others between the eternal decree of God and its execution in time – accompanied by the proviso that human beings can never enter the ultimate mind and will of God to discern its contents but must trust in what has been revealed and must gain assurance from the revelation of Christ and from his work in the hearts and minds of God’s people.”

“Thus, the theology of the Reformation recognized not only that God is distinct from his revelation and that the one who reveals cannot be fully comprehended in the revelation, but also that the revelation, given in a finite and understandable form, must truly rest on the eternal truth of God: this is the fundamental message and intention of the distinction between archetypal and ectypal theology.”

Very important! We cannot climb into God’s “mind” to see what’s going on (Is. 55:8-9), but he has handed us “notes” and “outlines” that suffice in our knowledge of him and his will. These notes and outlines are sufficient and clear, authoritative and accommodated, but we don’t and never will have exhaustive access to the knowledge of God, only to that knowledge of God which He in his infinite wisdom has pleased to reveal to us. But we do have enough, however – all that we will ever need in life and death.

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