The Technically Advanced Tortoise Wins the Race: a Critique of Mishra and Koehler’s Proposal for the Incorporation of Technology into Pedagogy

The Technically Advanced Tortoise Wins the Race: a Critique of Mishra and Koehler’s Proposal for the Incorporation of Technology into Pedagogy


The first proposal that is put forward by Mishra and Koehler’s in their article Too Cool for School? No way! is that technology has the ability to revolutionise the way we think about teaching and learning. While the possibility of a revolution in Pedagogy brought about by the possibilities that have been made available due to modern technology is real, I suggest that Bennett and Maton’s critical ‘tortoise wins the race’ methodology for the tentative incorporation of technology into our pedagogy must be adhered to in order to effectively manage this transition in order to gain the greatest benefit for teachers and learners. Opportunity in itself is not a valid reason for change. Say I develop a new super drug that preliminary testing suggests doubles a student’s capacity to learn. Would it not be reckless to begin to pass out this super drug because it provides an opportunity to increase a student’s ability to learn, without further testing? The answer is clearly no. How am I to know the possible problems that such a drug would bring with it. Maybe it would cause depression, or dramatically increase aggression. Then we would have an ‘I am Legend’ scenario on our hands! Though these technologies are not the same, I hope you see from this example why incorporation of technology into our pedagogy should be undertaken tentatively until we have a better understanding of its effects on students and teachers.

The bulk of the article is devoted to an overview of the TPACK framework for the incorporation of technology into the classroom, the proposal that technology should be repurposed for use in the classroom using this framework, and three specific examples of creative ways in which this has been accomplished.


TPACK is an acronym for Mishra and Koehler’s three sources of correct technological integration into the classroom. These sources are technological knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and content knowledge. They argue that all of these sources must be utilized in order to effectively utilise technology in the classroom.  This framework draws heavily from the work of Lee Shulman, an expert in the field who proposed that teachers have a special kind of knowledge that lies at the intersection of pedagogy and content. Mishra and Koehler emphasise that it is the application of this special knowledge to the integration of technology, which leads to the effective use of modern technology in the classroom. This position seems reasonable and well argued and if it is combined with Bennett and Maton’s methodology it provides a comprehensive understanding of when and how technology is to be integrated into the classroom.

Mishra and Koehler recognize that most technologies that are available were not designed for educational purposes. They correctly suggest that educators should repurpose these technologies, scaffolding them with specific instructions and strategies in order to use them effectively to communicate content and develop student creativity. They use the example of Noah Ullman’s use of Twitter’s micro blogging potential to facilitate class discussion. Ullman suggests that this strategy is ineffective without proper pedagogical guidelines. For example Ullman suggests that the effective use of this technology requires a space in the classroom where these comments can be discussed.

The most creative of the examples that are given in the article, which was suggested by Erik Byker, is the use of free DJ software, such as trakAxPc, to mix music, in order to provide a creative interactive medium by which the students come to understand ratio’s and percentages  in regards to tempo in music. Not only does this engage the student, but it helps the student to see ways in which mathematical concepts are used in everyday life.



Figure 1: trakAxPc DJ software


Though by itself Mishra and Koehler’s TPACK framework for technological integration is incomplete, combination with Bennett and Maton’s tentative methodology for technological integration provides a comprehensive framework for the integration of technology into the classroom that provides the greatest benefit to teachers and students. While Bennett and Maton provide us with the ‘when’ of technological integration, Mishra and Koehler provide us with the ‘how’. Plus they list some cool ways that technology can be effectively used in the classroom using their framework.


Mishra, P. and Koehler, M. Too Cool for School? No Way! Learning & Leading with Technology, May 2009, Vol. 36 Issue 7, p14-18.


Bennett, S. and Maton, K. Beyond the ‘digital natives’ debate: Towards a more nuanced understanding of students’ technology experiences. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, Oct 2010, Vol. 26 Issue 5, p321-331.


TrakAxPc  [image]. (2011). Retrieved from


Walking the Narrow Line: A Response to Brown’s Critique of the Current Policy Initiative Promoting the Incorporation of ICT into our Education System.

Finally! A well thought out critical perspective on the current policy initiative which promotes the incorporation of ICT into our classrooms! Browns article, The Growth of Enterprise Pedagogy: How lCT Policy is Infected by Neo-liberalism, is a breath of fresh air. The central thesis of the paper is that the incorporation of ICT into our education system is highly problematic and that this reality is unrecognized by many education theorists. I admire the Authors rejection of the false dichotonomy of ICT being either a demon or a cure (Why are those that find themselves in a society that is saturated by the western philosophical tradition, so insistent on creating false dichotomies?) since this dichotomy is both untrue and unhelpful.  Brown brings a critical yet fair perspective to the table. He is neither a Neo-liberal, nor a Neo-conservative but claims to walk a narrow path in between both viewpoints.

There are two parts to Browns paper. The first part is devoted to the wider debate about the role of ICT in education while the second part is devoted to a critique of the current ICT policy initiative, in particular its thoughtlessness and its non education intentions. I will deal with each part separately.

In the first section Brown begins by giving his ascent to the notion that ICT provides an enormous range of pedagogical innovation opportunities. However, he also proposes that the use of technology in the classroom is highly problematic. Brown correctly contends, and it is important for our society to remember (though human society often has a powerful case of amnesia) that technological advance is a double edged sword. While it provides powerful opportunities for increases in efficiency and efficacy, it very often leaves a devastating social transformation in its wake which has many negative effects. In light of this understanding Brown is contemptuous about the lack of evaluation that has been undertaken as to the effects on teachers and students brought about by using ICT inside and outside of the classroom, while regardless of our knowledge of the consequences of our incorporation of ICT in the classroom scandalous amounts of money have been advocated to purchasing ICT resources. In light of this recognition, Brown is right in portraying the aforementioned policy initiative as a grand social experiment. It seems as if, in the minds of many modern westerners, the enlightenment myth of steady social progress through technological and scientific breakthroughs has been combined with the modern foolish notion that whatever is newer is better, leading to a thoughtless incorporation of technology into all facets of our lives without so much as a thought as to the consequences. However, the Neo-conservative attacks, thought raising some good points, are also incorrect at times. In particular Brown points out that the Neo-conservatives misrepresent their opponents by saying that the use of computers alone will not increase the efficacy of our education system. In reality the Neo-liberals make no such claim. Rather their claim is that technology can be used in certain learning contexts to improve the learning experience. Brown proposes that the vital aspect of the ICT debate is the individual, societal, economic, and environmental effects of ICT.  The most powerful insight that Brown draws out in his article is that the computer is not a neutral learning tool but an active tool which changes us as we begin to use it. This acknowledgment clashes directly with the theme of progress found through the literature of ICT education reformers, and should result in further research and debate being undertaken about the subject before ICT is further integrated into our schools.

In the second section Brown takes the thoughtless push for technological integration to town. First, Brown criticises both the new Zealand and Australian policy makers on the basis that they have uncritically accepted ICT integration because of their adoption of the tool metaphor (that ICT is simply a neutral modern tool that will help us do things more efficiently) as well as a false sense of technological determinism (that technology will inevitably be incorporated into every facet of human life so we might as well get on board now). Brown claims that policy makers are enamored with what ICT can do for us without recognizing what it will do to us, and that this is their greatest folly. Second, Brown suggests that the neo-liberal ICT movement may have several negative consequences. For example he suggests that it may lead to a celebration of technological consumption as well as destructive ecological patterns. However, he fails to legitimize this claim by giving evidence. Third, Brown proclaims that the basis of the neo-liberal drive for ICT integration is a privileging of the values of innovation, and entrepreneurialism over and above the values of stewardship and moral responsibility. However, he fails to legitimize this claim by giving evidence. Fourth, Brown suggests that the ICT movement is driven by a desire to facilitate globalization and fast capitalism and that these ends may lead to the loss of national identity. However, he fails to show why these effects of globalization are negative. Fifth, Brown advocates a transformation of teachers from their current position as policy consumers to a position of policy producers, where teachers have a greater say in education policy. I agree with Brown on this point, it is clear that teachers should have some say in what and how they teach in order to subject the policy makers to critique, leading to policy change for the benefit of  both teachers and students.

In closing I offer two remarks. First, I find it highly frustrating that little research has been done in regards to the various effects of using ICT in the classroom. Surely the mental, physical, and spiritual health of students is of primary importance in deciding upon whether or not to integrate ICT into the classroom. However, there is no mention of these crucial variables in the research literature that is cited in several of the articles that I have responded to. Instead there is a misplaced focus on whether or not the integration of ICT will increase the efficacy and efficiency of our education system. It must be understood that student and teacher health is much more important than academic achievement. Above all else I commend Brown on his recognition of the health of students being of primary importance along with his call to greater research into the effects of ICT on students. Second, Brown’s critiques of the current policy trend and the incorrect focus of research on the integration of ICT into our education system, makes it clear that we need to incorporate Bennet and Maton’s tentative methodology for the integration of ICT into our schools, where careful research is undertaken before policy is changed. In the meantime, the push to upgrade the ICT in our schools should be placed on hold.


Brown, M. (2005). The growth of enterprise pedagogy: How ICT policy is infected by neo-liberalism. Australian Educational Computing, 20(2), 16-22.

A look at Bate’s A Bridge too Far? Explaining Beginning Teachers’ use of ICT in Australian schools

Bates paper, A bridge too far? Explaining beginning teachers’ use of ICT in

Australian schools, discusses the findings of a recent study of how 35 first time teachers used information and communications technologies in the classroom. In this paper, Bate seeks to explain how and why ICT is used or avoided in specific educational contexts. Bates paper is well researched and draws on the former research of Mishra and Koehler which we covered in week 2. Bate suggests that there are two major factors in the how and why ICT is used in educational contexts. They are the education philosophy of the teacher and the socio-cultural setting of the school that they are working in.

Firstly, Bate suggests that the educational philosophy held by a teacher has a major impact on that teacher’s use of ICT. I could not agree more, as a hybrid social constructivist humanist who emphasises the importance of learner centred problem solving work (thought I do not accept the entire constructivist scheme in regards to epistemology and ontology), I am more likely to use ICT in a manner that facilitates problem solving activities, while also giving students an opportunity to have some fun in the learning process. In my case technology is seen as a tool which is to be used to transform student assessment, rather than as a means to communicate content. Instead of filling out a worksheet on major historical human rights documents I would much rather have students make a rap out of the major points in the documents and communicate those major points by writing a rap as a group and recording it using the ‘art of rap’ app on iTunes (Not only does musical skill increase cognitive development but it is also fun and engaging). Secondly, a schools culture is even more influential on the effective use of ICT in the classroom than the teacher. Schools can actively block the use of ICT through their structures and policies, withholding resources, training, and opportunities from teachers who would otherwise use ICT. In fact, the influence of foundational beliefs is not particular to teachers or school leaders. The actions of all participants in the process of education (parents, students, teachers and administrators, researchers, tertiary education institutions) are shaped by their fundamental beliefs about the function and purpose of education.

Bate spends a portion of his article describing the methodology of the research which he is discussing. In short beginning teachers that were fresh out of university were selected so as to ascertain how current graduates (who have been trained in the use of ICT in educational settings) integrate the use of ICT into the classroom. The research took the form of Interviews, classroom observation, and questionnaires about the use of ICT in the teacher’s classroom and their school environment.

The findings of the research can be summed up as follows. First, those who used ICT used it predominantly in student centred scenarios. Second, though all teachers were ICT competent, were trained to incorporate ICT into their pedagogical approach, and had an education philosophy that valued ICT and sought to use it to enhance the learning experience of students whenever possible, this had little impact on the actual use of ICT in their classrooms.  Third, the effective use of ICT was directly linked to the socio-cultural dynamic of the school. This was seen as the most prominent barrier to the effective use of ICT in the classroom, and I must agree, Bates research is clear on this point. Public schools with low resources, a lack of ICT infrastructure, and policy that underemphasised the need for ICT were completely deficient in ICT integration with little to no access to computers in classrooms, while Catholic and independent schools which had high resources, a well developed ICT infrastructure, and policy that openly welcomed the use of ICT in the classroom facilitated the effective use of ICT in the classroom. Fourth, in some situations there was a focus of a school on certain content knowledge outcomes (numeracy and literacy) at the expense of ICT integration. This was caused by a perception that there is no link between the correct use of ICT and meeting content knowledge outcomes. Bate is quick to point out that much of the software available to teachers is Australia is targeted at increasing numeracy and literacy, so  this is a false perception caused by ignorance .

To solve these issues Bate suggests several changes that must be made in order to facilitate the effective use of ICT in the classroom. First, he suggests an overhaul of the authoritarian teacher student relationship, in favour of the teacher acting as a facilitator with students having a high locus of control over their learning. Bate suggests that the boundless resources offered by the internet allow student autonomy in information gathering, making this approach highly applicable for the digital generation. I agree with Bate on this point, it is better that students learn to learn via problem solving than that they can accurately regurgitate  content knowledge, and it is clear that access to the internet and other ICT software (with supervision) provides the resources to make this learner centred learning more effective. Second, ICT infrastructure must be developed so that ICT can be efficiently used in the classroom. Third, teachers need to integrate ICT into the assessment process (much like Jen has used blogs to ascertain our performance). Third, much thought must be put into the integration of ICT into the classroom. It is not a simple matter and concerted effort must be put in to see that ICT is implemented effectively.

My only criticism of Bate’s paper is that the sample size of the research was too small to see the effects of the many variables that are in play in the entirety of our education system on the integration of ICT. Other than that his paper is a masterful analysis of the difficulty of integrating IT in the classroom and provides several well thought out solutions to these problems.



Bate, F. (2010) A bridge too far? Explaining beginning teachers’ use of ICT in Australian schools. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 26(7).

I-Phones are trying to invade the Classroom! What should we do?!!

Once again I am reflecting about an article on the use of technology in the classroom, and once again I feel the need to quell the unjustified assumption that all opportunities for change are necessarily good. This time around the writer has simply limited their scope to the use of mobile phones in the classroom, rather than the entirety of available IT.

As I proposed in my last reflection, the combination of Bennett and Maton’s tentative methodology for technological integration with Mishra and Koehler’s TPACK framework provides a comprehensive framework for the integration of technology into the classroom that provides the greatest benefit to teachers and students. While Bennett and Maton provide us with the ‘when’ of technological integration, Mishra and Koehler provide us with the ‘how’.

It should be clear now that I am not against the integration of IT into the classroom but rather the thoughtless integration of technology because it offers new opportunities for teachers. LETS NOT JUMP ON THE BANDWAGON TOO QUICKLY NOW. What if excessive mobile phone use is negatively affecting adolescents, but we do not have significant research yet to inform us? Then teachers will have been compounding the problem by encouraging mobile use in their classes.

Possible negatives of mobile phone use are as follows

– Students with mobile phones often choose to text rather than to talk about awkward or emotionally difficult situations. This has a negative effect on their ability to interact in normal social contexts by limiting experience of these interactions (Campbell, 2005).

– Mobile phones were originally designed to facilitate communication, not for education purposes and will be perceived that way by adolescents (Campbell, 2005).

– Many researchers have found that mobile phone use is problematic in schools. A New Zealand survey found that 66% of students left their phone on in classes (Campbell, 2005).

– Mobile phones disrupt the role of students in a school. School becomes about socialization and not learning. Mobile phone use undermines teacher authority and weakens their control over the classroom (Campbell, 2005).

– One positive exception to these negative effects on learning is the Brisbane “Txt Me” program. The project aimed to use mobile phone technology to support sustainable learning with disengaged 15 to 19-year-old students. This system was found to be highly motivational and supportive to these young people’s learning (Campbell, 2005).






Much of Justine Isard’s article Why Mobile Technology Makes Sense in the 21st Century Classroom seeks to convince the reader that mobile technology should be integrated into the education process, though the method by which this is accomplished must be rethought. To Isard’s credit, she gives plenty of justification for her assertion that the use of mobile technology in education can have a positive effect on students. For example she cites a study that found that mobile assess to school resources, lead to students spending an extra 40 minutes per week looking at school related material. Isard claims that the mobile phone allows students to be more autonomous in their learning; they allow students to do quick research, and to publish their thoughts online, increasing their audience, student interaction and leading to deeper student reflection.

Isard argues that mobile phones should we used in schools because modern students are so used to using their mobiles to solve a problem or to find some information that they are lost without them (I find this level of dependence on mobile technology to be worrying and I do not think that we should accentuate such unnecessary dependence). While I agree with Isard that there are many possible benefits that may come from allowing mobile use in classrooms, I think that serious thought must be given to the negative issues that I raised earlier.  Isard is right that by allowing mobile use in education we are opening a Pandora’s Box. But why believe her that the possible advantages outweigh the disadvantages? I fail to see how she has given the evidence to warrant such a statement.

I find Isard’s suggestion that embracing technology allows education to become ‘real’ and ‘relevant’, and that this is an advantage, to be debatable. If not used correctly technology is a constant distraction from the pressing concerns of our modern world, with its very real problems, and very difficult solutions (particularly mobile technology which is overused because of its availability). Sometimes learning is not ‘fun’ or ‘relevant’, but we still have to do it. Making every activity fun and exciting leaves students in a poor place to enter the often boring workforce, where they may not be able to use their mobile phone!

Isard’s most beneficial contribution to the discussion about when and how to integrate modern technology in classrooms, is her tips for supporting schools in harnessing technology in the education process. For example Isard suggests that schools must have strong leadership and vision, that they should support and value those with IT expertise in their faculty, that they discuss IT use in classrooms, and finally that they instate regular sustained professional development in IT for teachers.


As I reflect on the first three articles I see a more complete framework for technological incorporation arising that looks a little like this.

1. Bennett and Maton’s Methodology for tentative technological integration based upon significant research as to technology’s effects on students. This tells us when technology should be used in the classroom

2. The TPACK model. Shows us how technology should be incorporated into the classroom

3.  Isard’s tips show us how schools can facilitate the proper integration of IT into the classroom.  This must be based on significant research and change must be tentative.


For a genius critique of Isard’s article I recommend Jadon Henderson’s masterful work. It can be found at He’s just so edgy and cool, like people who go to Riverview.



Isard, J. (2012) Why mobile technology makes sense in the 21st century classroom. The Professional Educator


Campbell, M. (2005) The Impact of the Mobile Phone on Young People’s Social Life. Retrieved from


Psalm 1: Torah and the Way of the Righteous


Psalm 1 serves as an introduction to the Psalter. Along with the other Torah Psalms, which have been strategically placed in specific central positions throughout the Psalter, Psalm 1 serves to place the Psalter as well as the worship of the community of faith in the context of the choice of whether or not to live torah. The basic message of the Psalm is that a life centered on torah leads to blessings, life, acceptance by Yahweh, and inclusion in the eschatological community of faith while the path of those who reject torah leads to ruin, worthlessness, and exclusion from the eschatological community of faith.  This essay will discuss the content of Psalm 1 in greater detail, before analyzing the genre of Torah Psalms, and the significance of their placement throughout the Psalter.



The aim of the first verse of Psalm 1 is to communicate the progressive solidification in wickedness that a person undergoes if they do not live Torah, as well as the negative results of this way of life. The first word is an intensive plural in Hebrew and is designed to signify the multitude of blessings for those who do not live a life that is devoid of Torah[1]. There is a triadic structure to the narrative sequence of the first verse. Firstly, there are three phases or degrees of pursuit of non righteous things. These are walking, standing and sitting[2]. This movement is counter-intuitive and seems to represent a progressive departure away from God and a solidifying of one’s wickedness[3]. Secondly, there are three degrees of fellowship or involvement in evil. These are counsel, path and seat[4]. In these three degrees there is a definite progression away from God and a greater identifying of the person with those who are ungodly[5]. Thirdly, there are three degrees of ungodly people who are being associated with. They are the wicked, sinners and scoffers. Again, we see a progression in the levels of ungodly people involved with[6]. The title ‘scoffer’ signifies an active participation in derision and an attitude of contempt towards Yahweh[7]. The Psalmist portrays this as the ending position of one who continues in their progression away from God. The triadic pattern demonstrates a progressive movement away from Yahweh, and a pattern of habit forming until one is solidified in wickedness[8].


In verse two the Psalmist equates the meditation on and living of Torah with the way of the righteous, happy person, thereby equating the aforementioned way of the wicked with those who do not live or meditate on Torah[9]. But what is meant by Torah? Bullock asserts that as individual piety developed in the direction of postexilic wisdom thought, the way of the righteous became synonymous with the way of Torah so that in most of the psalms Torah is synonymous with our idea of worldview rather than the law outlined in the Pentateuch by itself[10]. It is clear that the foundation of Torah is in the Pentateuch; however it seems that Bullock is correct in recognizing that in the post-exilic Psalter, Torah is a God centered way of life rather than adherence to the Mosaic Law alone[11]. This revealed way of life is portrayed as liberating, life giving and demanding[12]. Given the post-exilic understanding of Torah it seems that the meditation which is mentioned would be more than a reading of the Pentateuch. It is likely to be continuous meditation on the life God wishes us to live and a lining up ones thoughts with God’s will[13].  Verse 1:3 is connected with the former verse on the Torah and consists of a metaphor and a propositional statement about the results of living torah. It compares the righteous person who delights in and meditates on Yahweh’s Torah with a tree planted by a stream[14]. This image suggests that living Torah nourishes and transforms a person. The image of being planted signifies solidarity in a certain way of living life as being seated did in verse one[15]. The fruit, that is mentioned, represents blessings[16]. The text asserts that this fruit does not wither. This seems to suggest freedom from crippling circumstances and seasonal blessings[17].  In contrast to the symbolism of the well nourished tree planted by the stream, the wicked are compared to worthless chaff[18].


The last two verses drive home the contrasting consequences of one’s choice between the two possibilities. Firstly, Verse 1:5 could possibly refer to the coming judgment, in which case it would seem to assert that the wicked will not be able ”stand” or endure, Gods final judgment and will therefore not be admitted into the eschatological community of faith, while the righteous will[19]. Secondly, Verse 1:6 suggests that God identifies himself with those who walk the righteous path [20]. In contrast the next part of the verse proclaims that the way of the wicked perishes. This seeks to communicate that the wicked will come to nothing or will go to ruin[21].


Psalm 1 is one of a few Psalms which correspond to the Genre ‘Torah Psalms’. The Psalms are poetic writings that were designed to be read, chanted or sung by the post-exilic Israelite community[22]. The Torah Psalms are linked by their emphasis of the importance of living torah for the community of faith. They focus on the beauty of Torah, using poetic devices such as chiasmus, reiteration, and metaphor to communicate its life giving nature and its associated blessings[23]. However, each Torah Psalm has its own specific message to communicate about the Torah. While Psalm 1 seeks to make the living of Torah the defining factor of whether or not one is a righteous person, Psalm 19 emphasizes the living of Torah as an act of worship. Together these Psalms piece together a wholesome view of the living of Torah as the beautiful God ordained means of worship, and challenge the community of faith with the call to live Torah.



This Psalter has been structured intentionally by its compilers so as to emphasize certain concepts in the worship of the community of faith[24]. The Psalter was most likely compiled by a post-exilic priestly circle, for the purpose of the facilitation of the public reading of the Psalms[25]. This is evidenced by the number of Psalms (around 150), which closely corresponds to the number of Psalms needed in order to allow one Psalm to be read per week for each three year cycle, in the liturgy of the Israelite community of faith, as well as the Psalter being composed of five books in reminiscence of the five books of the Pentateuch[26]. The Torah Psalms have special significance in the Psalter[27]. While Psalm 1 serves as an introduction to the Psalter, Psalm 19 and 119 are also central to their own books of the Psalter. The Torah Psalms serve as a unifying point of view by which the Psalter is to be read and understood[28]. Psalm 1 is one such Torah Psalm. It stands at the beginning of the Psalter as a faithful doorkeeper, confronting the community of faith with the basic choice between the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked[29]. On the recognition that the Psalter was originally compiled for use in corporate worship, one can see that the centrality of Torah is designed to persuade the audience of the worth and life-giving nature of Torah, in order that they will choose to live Torah. Each Torah psalm has a neighbouring Psalm with an eschatological focus[30]. This structure serves to place the call to live Torah in an Eschatological and international context.



In order to persuade its audience to live Torah, Psalm 1 employs several metaphors which contrast with one another so as to emphasize the difference between the results of living Torah or not living Torah[31]. Psalm 1 is one of several Torah Psalms which seek to persuade their audience of the worth of Torah and its resulting blessings. These Psalms are strategically placed in central places of the Psalter so as to place the community of faiths worship in the context of the call to live Torah.















Alter, R., The Book of Psalms: A Translation and Commentary (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2007).


 Anderson, A.A., Psalms 1-72 edited by R.E. Clements. (The New Century Bible Commentary, 1; London: Marsh, Morgan and Scott, 1972).


Bullock, C Hassel., Encountering the Book of Psalms: A literary and Theological Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001).


 Goldingay, J., Psalms 1-41 edited by T. Longman. (Baker Commentary of the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, 1; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006).


 Keathley, J.H., “Psalm 1: Two Ways of Life A Psalm of Wisdom”. (accessed 10 May, 2012).


 Kidner, D., Psalms 1-72 edited by D.J. Wiseman. (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries; Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, 1973).


Mays, J.L., “The Place of the Torah-Psalms in the Psalter” Journal of Biblical Literature 106/1 (1987): 3-12.


Pinto, B.D., “The Torah and the Psalms” Journal of Biblical Literature 86/2 (1967): 154-174.




[1] It could be better translated as, “how very, very happy is” to bring out this exclamation of the multitude of blessings for the righteous person. J.H. Keathley, “Psalm 1: Two Ways of Life A Psalm of Wisdom”.

[2] R. Alter, The Book of Psalms: A Translation and Commentary (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2007), 3. Walking on a way is a traditional metaphor for pursuing a particular set of choices in life

[3] J. Goldingay, Psalms 1-41 ed. T. Longman. (Baker Commentary of the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, 1; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 82. It is counter intuitive because the movement is from walking to sitting instead of from sitting to walking as one would usually expect. D. Kidner, Psalms 1-72 ed. D.J. Wiseman. (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries; Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, 1973), 48.  This is made evident by the Hebrew word for “sit”, which emphasises being entrenched and comfortable in ones position. Keathley, “Psalm 1: Two Ways of Life A Psalm of Wisdom”.

[4] Keathley, “Psalm 1: Two Ways of Life A Psalm of Wisdom”.

[5] This can be seen particularly in the third line of the verse in which the person is seated with the ungodly, since being seated is symbolic of a high level of fellowship.

[6] Goldingay, Psalms 1-41, 83. A scoffer is someone who mocks, derides, or ridicules A.A. Anderson, Psalms 1-72 ed. R.E. Clements. (The New Century Bible Commentary, 1; London: Marsh, Morgan and Scott, 1972), 59. A scoffer is more ungodly than a sinner or the wicked and the furthest from repentance. Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 48.

[7] Anderson, Psalms 1-72, 59.

[8] The context and tone of the verse suggests that it is a person’s choice as to which way they walk. Goldingay, Psalms 1-41, 82-83. However, the main function of the three negatives is to clear the way for the positive exhortation which is mentioned in the next verse

[9] Anderson, Psalms 1-72, 59. The translation of torah to law is inadequate, and fails to communicate the meaning of the Hebrew. A better translation is God’s teaching for life. The verse talks about delighting in the Torah. This means to live Torah and to see Torah as a blessing rather than a hindrance.

[10] C.H. Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms: A literary and Theological Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 214-216.

[11] This view is backed up by the psalms (Pss 40:6; 50:23; 51:16-17; 141:2) and prophetic writings (Mi 6:8) which criticize the emphasis on the ceremonial law in the concept of Torah and put forward the thesis that the essence of Torah is being in a right relationship with God by doing the Will of God and treating our fellow human Beings in the correct way. Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms, 214. This is the same view we see in the New Testament writers and the teachings of Jesus. Although they reject any assertion of the importance and necessity of the ceremonial Law for the New Testament community, Jesus, Paul and James stress the primary importance of loving God and our neighbour.

[12] Anderson, Psalms 1-72, 59.

[13] Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 48. This would include a study of the Scriptures. Anderson, Psalms 1-72, 60.

[14] Such a tree would gain great nourishment from the water and would grow well and bear good fruit.

[15] These two images are linked; both are seen as long term journeys of character solidification. Just as the wicked end up solidified in their character as scoffers, so also the righteous end up planted like a tree and bearing fruit in season.  Alter, The Book of Psalms, 4. In the semi-arid environment of Israel this would have been a powerful image, as everyone knew that a tree needed to be near a water source to flourish.

[16] Notice that the growing of the fruit is not immediate but is in season.

[17] Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 48. Rather than an independence of the rhythm of the seasons, since the previous verse precludes this reading. Scholars disagree as to whether the last part of the verse denotes God as the subject who makes everything the righteous man does thrive or whether it is the righteous man himself who makes everything he does thrive by living torah. Goldingay makes a strong case for the translation “He makes everything that he does thrive”, based on the immediate context and other uses of the language. Goldingay, Psalms 1-41, 79. This is significant because it is the response of the righteous man to live Torah that makes him thrive rather than some intervention by Yahweh.  

[18] This metaphor is given in verse 4. Chaff is the husks and fragments of straw that are blown away in the process of winnowing. The chaff has no purpose or worth and is therefore discarded in the winnowing process. Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 48. The juxtaposition of these two metaphors serves to emphasise the difference between the results of the choice to live Torah or not to live Torah.

[19] This interpretation is backed up by similar language in Nah 1:6. Though scholars continue to disagree about this verses interpretation. Anderson, Psalms 1-72, 62.

[20] The Hebrew word used to communicate Gods state of relationship with the righteous person is usually translated “embraces”, however, it literally means “knows”. This denotes an intimate connection between God and the righteous, which is akin to that between a man and woman. Alter, The Book of Psalms, 4.

    Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 49.

[21] Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 49.

[22] Alter, The Book of Psalms, xviii-xix. While the Psalms are poetry, many of them are actually in the form of prayers to God.

[23] Psalm 1 uses metaphoric images to communicate the difference between living Torah and not living it. e.g. The wicked are pictured as chaff and those who meditate on Torah are pictured as a tree planted near a stream.

[24] Alter, The Book of Psalms, xviii-xix.

[25] Alter, The Book of Psalms, xviii-xix.

[26] This demonstrates that the Psalter was read alongside the Pentateuch. Alter, The Book of Psalms, xviii-xix.

[27] Alter, The Book of Psalms, xviii-xix. This is no surprise if they were read alongside the Pentateuch.

[28] J.L. Mays, “The Place of the Torah-Psalms in the Psalter” JBL 106/1 (1987): 9. The Torah Psalms are 1, 19, and 119.

[29] Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 47.

[30] Mays, “The Place of the Torah-Psalms in the Psalter”, 11. Psalm 1 sits next to psalm 2 which has an emphasis on the need for the nations to choose the right way or be punished. Mays, “The Place of the Torah-Psalms in the Psalter”, 7-11. Psalm 1’s contrast between the consequences of the two ways to live, leads into the warning of Psalm 2:11-12 that the nations will be destroyed if they continue on in their way. Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms, 60.

[31] For example verse 3’s metaphor of tree planted close to water contrasts with verse 4’s metaphor of the chaff that is blown away.


Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Scripture


Since the reformation the Christian Church, in its many forms, has argued about where the foundation of the knowledge of God was to be found. For the Catholics it was the Pope and the Church, for the Romantics it was the experience of divine dependence, for the Liberal Protestants it was a critical- rationalistic reading of the Scriptures, and for the Fundamentalist Protestants it was in the inerrant Scriptures. Karl Barth hit this theological scene like a bomb shell. ‘Nine’, he said, theology was to be grounded on the gracious act of revelation by the free triune God; revelation which could not be controlled by human beings[1]. Barth’s doctrine of Scripture takes form around this doctrine of revelation emphasising that Scripture is not direct revelation given to us but an inspired witness in human words to revelation which only becomes the Word of God, by the work of the Holy Spirit. This short essay will systematically analyse Karl Barth’s radical doctrine of Scripture as well as critically engaging him by demonstrating some of the positive and negative points of his doctrine. It will then assess Mount Pleasant Baptist Church’s use of Scripture in light of the study.


God’s Revelation

Barth based his theological assumptions on Kantian metaphysics. He believed in the reality of the ontological gap and the necessity of revelation. Indeed, Barth affirmed that we know God by his gracious acts of revelation and by nothing else[2]. The guiding motif in Karl Barth’s doctrine of revelation is that man can never control God or else he would make him in his own image. Barth asserted that both Protestants and Catholics had attempted to pervert the creation/creator relationship of man to God by setting up a false basis of knowledge and power[3]. In the case of the Catholic Church this took the form of a statement about the Church and subsequently the Pope which placed them in the position of ultimate authority[4]. Whereas in the case of the Protestants this took the form of a statement about the Bible, which allowed them to have access to an assured knowledge of God apart from the grace of God[5]. Barth’s view is well summarised in the following quote[6].As we can see Barth rebelled against the attempts of modern Protestantism to ground the bible upon itself, thereby bequeathing themselves control over revelation. He saw this as highly sinful because in doing this they began to interpret the Scriptures in a way that fulfilled their presuppositions and created God in their own image. In contrast to this Barth believed that the Bible was meant to be a free and spiritual force through which God could speak afresh to each new generation.

The Threefold Forms of God’s Word

For Barth revelation begins and ends with the self revealing triune God. In Barth’s words “the same God who is unimpaired unity is revealer, revelation, and revealedness”[7] What Barth is saying is that revelation is an act of God by which God reveals God[8]. This revealed God is what scripture calls the Word of God. It is this Trinitarian understanding of revelation which underlies Barth’s doctrine of Scripture.


 Barth identifies three forms of God’s word in the Scriptures[9]. They are the man Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:1-14), the text of Scripture (2Timothy 3:16), and Christian preaching (2 Peter 1) although only the first two are dealt with in this essay[10]. On the Word of God and the Scriptures Barth writes[11]. For Barth the Bible is a witness to revelation, which has been written down in the words of man, it becomes the Word of God in a derivative sense as God works through it in an act of revelation. For Barth the bible has provisional authority over the Church, which is grounded in its being a witness to revelation[12].


Barth believed with other orthodox Christian’s that in the incarnation there is a hypostatic union between the divine Word of God and the man Jesus. Therefore Jesus Christ is the absolute Word of God and revelation itself. On the other hand, the Bible is not the Word of God in the same sense[13]. On this Barth says[14]. Barth’s point is that unlike Jesus the Bible is not the Word of God in an absolute sense in that it is not an incarnation of the Word of God in human writings[15]. Barth used the image of John the Baptist to communicate this point. John always pointed away from himself to Jesus to bear witness to his hidden identity[16]. This is the job of Scripture in Barth’s theology, to point to Christ as a witness to his true identity[17]. For Barth there is no inherent presence of God or impartation of divine attributes in the Bible[18]. Rather God reveals himself through the human vehicle of Scripture indirectly. This takes place as a personal encounter in which the Holy Spirit graciously reveals God in his judgment and mercy to the human agent[19].


Barth on the Biblical cannon

For Barth the determination of the Canon of Scripture is always an act of witness in accordance with the revelation that has been received by the Church at that moment in time; it is not an arbitrary human decision but a response to the Word of God’s testimony that the text is Scripture[20]. He believed that the early Church received the writings that God revealed to be a true witness of revelation. However, Barth asserts that fallible humans may have miss-heard God and therefore improving the Canon in response to further revelation is possible[21]. Barth conditions this statement by asserting that this is to be done in the context of the Church rather than at an individual level and that individual’s should approach the canonized Scriptures of the Church as Holy Scriptures[22] .


The Bible as Inspired and Human

Up to this point it may appear that for Barth there was no part for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to play in the writing of Scripture, but this is not true. Although he did not see the writings themselves as inherently inspired he did believe in the inspiring work of the Holy Spirit. For Barth inspiration took the form of a special activity of the Holy Spirit in commissioning the apostles and prophets for their task of witnessing in the form of the written word[23]. Although this activity did not bypass their human limitations, Barth asserted that this activity of the Holy Spirit on the writers made the words of Scripture theologically reliable[24]. But for Barth this is not the end of inspiration in that that God also does this inspiring work in us so that we can see and hear what the authors saw and heard[25].


Barth’s doctrine of Scripture welcomes the human part of the bible. For Barth revelation always comes to us in a fallible human vehicle. To communicate why we should not seek to de-humanize the Bible by way of a doctrine of inerrancy Barth used the analogy of the many people over time who have stumbled over Christ’s humanity[26]. Barth asserted that as orthodox Christians have embraced Christ in all his humanness so we must also embrace the Bible in all its humanness[27]. Barth calls this humanness of Scripture a scandal and offence. Hart sums up Barth’s view well when he says[28] To Barth the Word of God always comes to us as a scandal. Jesus the man is not the medium of revelation but the veil[29]. The same is true of the Bible. The Bible is veiled by fallible human words and can only be unveiled by a revelatory act of God. Barth had no time for any doctrine of Scripture which attempted to remove the offence of the humanness of the biblical text by denying or qualifying its human side[30]. Barth proposed that the text is both fully divine and fully human[31]. He insisted that the Bible contained scientific, historical and religious error but instead of paling over this as most theologians would Barth insisted that the fallibility of the Bible is essential to its intended theological function, namely, preventing humans from setting it up as a false absolute and leaving  revelation under the control of God[32].



There are several positives to Barth’s doctrine of Scripture. Firstly, Barth’s doctrine of Word of God makes sense of the biblical use of the phrase[33]. Secondly, Barth highlights the necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit in the act of revelation[34]. This backs up the reformed emphasis that man cannot make his way to his own salvation and allows Gods Word to function in its life giving power[35].In Barth’s view the Bible is not longer static but is alive[36].Thirdly, Barth’s view makes sense of the humanity of the Bible with its significant historical and scientific errors[37].Fourthly, his doctrine allows one to have a high view of scripture while also recognizing its limits as a human vehicle. Fifthly, if his view of Scripture is implemented Barth successfully takes revelation out of our hands while giving it back to us in its proper place, with us standing under, rather than above it.



There are also several criticm’s that have been made regarding Barth’s doctrine of scripture. Firstly, Barth has been criticized by conservatives who assert that his doctrine of scripture if poorly implemented will lead to a radical subjectivism in which orthodoxy will be compromised[38]. However this charge does not stick for these three reasons[39]. Secondly, Many Liberal Protestants have suggested that Barth did not take historical criticism seriously enough[40]. However, on a reading of the twelve theses it becomes clear that Barth believed in the usefulness of sound exegesis and historical criticism and only wished exegetical work to take its proper place as inferior to the revelation brought by the Holy Spirit[41]. Thirdly, if the material authority of the Bible is surrendered as Barth asserts then doesn’t this raise doubts as to the reliability of its witness to say, the resurrection and other events crucial to Christian faith[42].


Mount Pleasant Baptist Church’s Doctrine of scripture

Mount Pleasant Baptist Church has a small statement of faith in which one sentence is devoted to the doctrine of Scripture. This document states[43]. This doctrine of Scripture affirms the inerrancy of the Scriptures instead of recognizing that they are a human vehicle as Barth suggests. For Mount Pleasant the Scriptures are revelation in themselves rather than a witness to revelation as Barth thinks they are. Because the Bible is the supreme authority in matters of faith Mount Pleasants doctrine and preaching are formed around the careful exegesis of biblical passages, considering the cultural context, translation, the meaning of the author, and comparison to other biblical sources. Although the statement of faith suggests that the Holy Spirit plays no part in revelation, in practice Mount Pleasant believes that the Holy Spirit plays a primary role in all revelation and believes that Scripture cannot be correctly understood apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. Mount Pleasant seeks to frame all areas of faith and practice around that outlined in the biblical text while also looking to the Holy Spirit for his ultimate guidance. Barth would agree with this use of the Scriptures because it seeks out what the Bible says while also waiting on the revelation from the Holy Spirit as the ultimate authority. In practice Mount Pleasants use of Scripture is very close to that outlined by Barth in that there is a Barthian emphasis on the place of the Holy Spirit’s work of revelation through the Bible, rather than revelation coming from study of the text alone.


























-Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics I/1: The Doctrine of the Word of God. Translated by Bromiley, G. W. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956.


-Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics I/2: The Doctrine of the Word of God. Translated by Thompson, G. T. & H. Knight, Edited by Bromiley, G. W. & T. F. Torrance. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956.


-Barth, Karl., God Here and Now: Religious Perspectives. Translated by P. M. V. Buren, Edited by Anshen R. N. (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964).


-Barth, Karl., The Word of God and the Word of Man. Translated by D. Horton. (London: Hodder and Stoughton, nd).


-Beach, J. M., “Revelation in Scripture: Comments on Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Revelation” Mid America Journal of Theology 17 (2006) 267-274.


-Bromiley, G. W., “Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Inspiration,” Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute 87 (1955):66-80.


-Cornwall, Robert, “Three Fold Word of God”. (assessed 29 March 2012).


-Franke, John R., Barth for Armchair Theologians (London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006).


-Hardon, John A., Review of Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Holy Scripture by K. Runia, Theological Studies 25 (1964): 89- 100


-Hart, Trevor., Regarding Karl Barth: Towards a Reading of his Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999).


-McGrath, Alister E., Christian Theology: An Introduction (5th ed. London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011).


-Mueller, David L., “The Contributions and weaknesses of Karl Barth’s View of the Bible” in The Proceedings of the conference on Biblical Inerrancy 1987, 423-447 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1987).


-O’brien, B. J., “Theologian of the Word of God? Reception of Barth’s View of Revelation and Exegesis in North America and Britain, 1945-1962’”Trinity Journal 32(2011): 31-46.


-Oneil, Michael D., “Forming Moral Community: Christian and Ecclesial Existence in the Theology of Karl Barth, 1915-1922” (unpublished Ph. D. diss., Murdoch University, 2008).


-“The Mount Pleasant Baptist Church Believes”, (accessed 28 March, 2012).

[1] John R. Frank, Barth for Armchair Theologians (London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 163.


[3]John A. Hardon, review of Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Holy Scripture by K. Runia, TS 25 (1964): 90.

[4] Hardon, review of Runia, 91.

[5] Hardon, review of Runia, 91.

[6] “The Bible was now grounded upon itself apart from the mystery of Christ and the Holy Ghost. It became a ‘paper Pope’ and unlike the living pope in Rome it was given up to the hands of its interpreters. It was no longer a free and spiritual force, but an instrument of human power… a codex of axioms which can be seen as such with the same formal dignity as those of philosophy and mathematics.” Barth, Karl, Church dogmatics I/2: The Doctrine of the Word of God, K. Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2: The Doctrine of the Word of God, ed Bromiley, G. W. & T. F. Torrance Trans., Thompson, G. T. & H. Knight (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956), 525, 522.

[7]  K. Barth, Church Dogmatics I/1: The Doctrine of the Word of God. Trans. Bromiley, G. W., 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956), 344.

[8] Hart, Trevor, Regarding Karl Barth: Towards a Reading of his Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 31.

[9] There is an implicit analogy to the trinity in this part of his doctrine of scripture.

[10] Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 31.

[11] “The Word of God is God himself in Holy Scripture. For God once spoke as Lord to Moses and the prophets, to the Evangelists and the Apostles.    And now through their written word he speaks as the same Lord to his Church.   Scripture is holy and the Word of God because by the Holy Spirit it became and will become to the Church a witness of divine revelation.” Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2, emphasis added, 457.

[12] It must be noted that for Barth this witness to revelation becomes a kind of partial revelation in itself. Barth draws on many biblical passages to illuminate this point. “This biblical witness is the visible form of the otherwise hidden presence and lordship of Christ. “You shall be my witnesses.” He who hears you hears me.” And then, “Behold I am with you always even to the end of the world.” All these refer to the particular bearers of the witness upon which the congregation is founded. “So we are ambassadors on behalf of Christ; for God is making his appeal through us.”” Karl Barth, God Here and Now: Religious Perspectives. Trans., P. M. V. Buren, ed. Anshen R. N. (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964), 47.

[13] Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 34-35.

[14] “The bible is not the Word of God on earth the same way as Jesus Christ, very God and very man, is that Word in heaven… The act in which he became the Word of God in his humanity requires neither repetition nor confirmations…” Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2, emphasis added, 513.

[15] There is no unification of the Word and the human vehicle as there is in the Word of God and the man Jesus of Nazareth.  G.W. Bromiley, “Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Inspiration,” JTVI 87 (1955):73.

[16] Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 35.

[17] Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 35.

[18] Franke, Barth for Armchair, 122-123.

     Barth, God Here and Now, 49.

[19] Michael D. O’neil, “Forming Moral Community: Christian and Ecclesial Existence in the Theology of Karl Barth, 1915-1922” (unpublished Ph. D. diss., Murdoch University, 2008), 274.

[20] Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2, 475-476.

[21] Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2, 476.

[22] Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2, 478-479.

[23] Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 45.

[24] Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 45.

[25] Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 46.

[26] Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 38-39.

[27] Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 38-39.

[28] “The scandalon must be allowed to stand… Gods’ word comes to us in full human form. It is veiled from us by this very creatureliness, and becomes ‘visible’ as it were, only in the event of revelation. The real presence of the Word in human words cannot be guaranteed, coerced, pinned down or held onto… it can only be prayed for and received by faith… There is no magical transubstantiation.” Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, Emphasis added, 44.

[29] O’neil, “Forming Moral”, 271

[30] Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 38.

[31] Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 38.

[32] Hart, Regarding Karl Barth, 36-44.

[33] The bible refers to Jesus Christ as the union of man and the pre-existent Word of God (Jn 1:1-14) the preeminent mediator of revelation (Mt 11:27; Lk 11:9; Jn 14:1-10) and the full revelation of God (Heb. 1:1-2; I Cor. 1:30) as well as to the Scriptures (John 5:39) and the preaching of the Church (Acts 4:31, 6:7, 15:36). Robert Cornwall, “Three Fold Word of God”. (assessed 29 March 2012).

[34] Both Bromiley and Runia applaud Barth on this point of his theology.

David L. Mueller, “The Contributions and weaknesses of Karl Barth’s View of the Bible” in The Proceedings of the conference on Biblical Inerrancy 1987 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1987), 433.

B. J. O’brien, “Theologian of the Word of God? Reception of Barth’s View of Revelation and Exegesis in North America and Britain, 1945-1962’” TJ 32(2011): 41.

[35] J. M. Beach, “Revelation in Scripture: Comments on Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Revelation” MAJT 17 (2006): 271.

[36] In Barth’s view reading the bible ceases to be a mundane chore but becomes an existential meeting with God, in which we are welcomed into ‘the strange new world of the Bible’. K. Barth, The Word of God and the Word of Man. Trans. D. Horton (London: Hodder and Stoughton, nd), 28-50.

[37]This serves to back up his doctrine rather than to disprove it, answers some difficult questions about the biblical text, allows one to discard ancient cosmology.

[38] This is because Barth does not ground the faith in infallible Scriptures and instead stresses a reliance on the Holy Spirit which could lead to individuals or congregations rejecting certain parts of the Scriptures. O’brien, Theologian of the Word, 37, 40.

[39] Most of Barth’s followers have remained orthodox and formed the confessing Church which opposed Nazi Germany, for Barth matters of the Canon and orthodox revelation are discussed in the context of the Church at large under the Lordship of Christ, and the Bible continues to have authority in his theology it just isn’t the primary authority.

[40] O’brien, Theologian of the Word, 38.

[41] Barth, God Here and Now, 52- 58.

[42] It is much harder to defend Barth against this criticism as he does appear to emphasise that there is no foundation for the knowledge of God but God himself. Mueller, “The contributions and Weaknesses”, 434.

[43] “That the whole of the Scriptures, Old and New Testament, as originally given, are the inspired Word of God, free from error and the supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.” “The Mount Pleasant Baptist Church Believes”, emphasis added. (accessed 28 March, 2012).


John Calvin on the Sacrament of Baptism


This essay engages with John Calvin’s doctrine of baptism as stated in the Institutes of the Christian Religion. It begins by introducing the topic, listing some of the concerns that underlie Calvin’s doctrine and giving some historical context. The essay then moves to engage with Calvin’s view on the Sacraments in general, before delving into his understanding of what baptism is and what the sacrament accomplishes, and symbolizes. The essay then critiques Calvin’s understanding of infant baptism before presenting a personal reflection on Calvin’s doctrine in light of the study.



Baptism is a sacrament that is almost universally recognised throughout the many factions of the Christian Church, however, how this sacrament is to be understood has long been a subject of fierce debate[1]. This debate was at its height in the age of the Protestant reformation, where Roman Catholic, Radical, and Magisterial thinkers proposed and defended their theological positions on the sacrament. John Calvin was a second generation magisterial reformer whose doctrine maintains a middle line between the Catholics, with their insistence that baptism removes the taint of Original sin, regardless of one’s faith, and the radical reformers, such as the Anabaptists, who rejected infant baptism as a corrupt unbiblical practice and asserted that baptism was only efficacious for those who had faith at the time of baptism[2]. In Calvin’s doctrine of baptism one can see the underlying concerns of justifying continued schism from the Catholic Church, denying faith as a pre-requisite for baptism so as to safeguard the practice of infant baptism and insisting that one’s faith is the only determining factor in whether or not one is forgiven of their sins. Due to these concerns Calvin refused to give baptism an efficacy in the individual’s salvation that is not due to it. This essay summarises Calvin’s doctrine of baptism and critiques his position, noting its biblical support, its explanatory power, and its avoidance of the pitfalls of his opponent’s views.


Calvin on Baptism- Better than Fatless Bacon

For Calvin the sacraments are signs that have two functions[3]. Firstly, they act as a seal from the Lord upon human conscience and secondly they are a reciprocal testimony of piety from the believer[4]. So the sacraments are both a sign of a work of God and a response to God. Calvin’s view recognizes the importance of the sacraments as a reciprocal process which is necessitated by the nature of the covenantal relationship between humanity and God.

Calvin thought that for a sacrament to be efficacious then they must be accompanied by both the Holy Spirit and faith[5]. For Calvin the sacrament of baptism signifies a gift that is given that must be received in faith or it will not be received at all[6]. This distinction between reception and promise allowed Calvin to explain why some receive the saving efficacy of baptism and some not at all[7]. His doctrine also avoids the issue of whether or not baptised babies have the faith needed to receive the gifts signified in baptism[8]. For Calvin the chief point of baptism is to receive the sacrament as a promise of forgiveness, salvation, and new life[9]. For him the sacrament of baptism is like a document that confirms to us that our sins are abolished, remitted, and can never be charged against us[10]. Calvin’s view of the relationship between the sign of baptism and the gift that is signified, occupies a position that is mid way between the views that were held by Zwingli and Luther[11]. He holds that the relationship between the sign and the gift is an intimate one that allows each to be applied to the other[12]. Calvin’s position makes sense of the biblical language used to describe baptism, in which baptism is stated as efficacious for the forgiveness of sin (Acts 2:38, 22:16), the portrayal of baptism as a sign which signifies real gifts that are received by  faith in Christ (Peter 3:21),  Paul’s linking of the concepts of the baptism of water and the Word of life (Eph 5:26), as well as the doctrine of salvation by faith alone (Eph 2:8). By making baptism a sign that promised the believer forgiveness of sins for the whole of life, Calvin replaced the Catholic sacrament of penance with the reminiscence on baptism for assurance of forgiveness[13]. In doing this Calvin knowingly avoided the several issues that arose for his contemporaries[14]. For example his doctrine eliminated the need to provide further means by which to provide the expiation of post-baptismal sin such as confession, penance or the Eucharist in the Catholic Church[15].


For Calvin baptism also acts as a public confession of faith and an oath of allegiance to God[16]. Calvin saw baptism as signifying a change in both temporal and eternal realities. On
the visible level Calvin saw baptism as a sign of a person’s initiation and reception into the society of the visible Christian Church, and on an invisible level Calvin saw baptism as a sign of being engrafted into the invisible Church, made up of those elected and engrafted into Christ, seen only by God[17]. Calvin’s understanding of baptism as a rite of visible initiation and a promise of spiritual initiation if one responds to God in faith, is grounded in the reality of the Church in the Protestant Reformation, in that it was filled with both true and false Christians.


For Calvin there is no inherent power in the water of baptism to wash away sins[18]. Calvin quoted Paul (Ephesians 5:26) and asserted that Paul joins the concepts of the baptism of water and the Word of life (the Gospel)  together, in order to explain that it is the Gospel that brings the message of our cleansing and sanctification to us and that, rather than saving us, baptism acts as a seal of the Gospels reception[19]. Calvin insisted that baptism itself offers us no other means of purification than the sprinkling of Christ’s blood, of which the water of baptism is only a representation[20]. Calvin saw this recognition of the meaning of baptism as a knock down argument against those who would vest mystical power in the water itself[21]. Calvin rejected the doctrine, taught by the medieval Catholic Church, that baptism removed the taint of Original sin[22].  This Medieval teaching promised that baptism effectively removed the Original sin of everyone baptised, but did not say it had much significance for the rest of life[23]. In his rejection of this doctrine one can see Calvin’s prerogative to move away from the ‘superstitions’ of the medieval Catholic Church, with its insistence on the efficacy of baptism in relation to the forgiveness of Original sin as well as his concern to link salvation to the Gospel and faith, rather than the sacraments in themselves, as was taught by the Catholic Church. Calvin denied that the effects of Original sin are washed away in baptism and continued to see humans as depraved in their post-baptismal state[24]. However, Calvin saw baptism as a promise that God would not allow our sin to rule over us[25].  Calvin concluded that the mortification of our flesh began at baptism[26]. For Calvin this mortification is symbolised by our baptism into the death of Christ, which is mentioned by Paul in Romans 6:3-4. I could not agree more with Calvin, baptism is most definitely a sign of our participation in Christ’s death and resurrection to new life. The doctrine of baptism held by the Roman Church does not do justice to the inter-relation between faith and baptism, the scriptural testimony, the need for Christ’s atoning death, the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification and the realities of the continuing struggle against sin in the Christian life. However, Calvin’s doctrine holds all of these things together.


Calvin’s theology of infant baptism is based upon the view that there is an anagogic relationship between baptism and circumcision[27]. For Calvin, both rituals announce the promises of God to a person and introduce them to the covenant people[28].  Calvin argues that since one sign of the covenant was administered to infants and the New Covenant is as inclusive as the Old Covenant then we cannot deny infants the sign of the New Covenant[29]. Calvin also argues for infant baptism on other grounds. Calvin draws on the basic principle demonstrated by Jesus when he invited children to come close to him[30]. From this he extrapolates that If Christ welcomed children and said that “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Mathew 19:14) then why should we exclude children from baptism on the basis of age[31]. Calvin also attacks the Anabaptist critique that no infant is baptised in scripture. To do this Calvin uses the example of the baptism of a whole family in Acts 16:33[32]. Calvin argues that although there is no explicit mention of the baptism of infants in scripture, it is never excluded when the baptism of families is mentioned[33]. Though Calvin’s point is valid, his use of the baptism of entire families to legitimise the universality of child baptism is an extrapolation that the scripture does not warrant; especially in the face of the clear reality that the regular practice of the early church was believer’s baptism for consenting adults. It could also be argued that Calvin disregards the historical contexts of circumcision and baptism[34].



I must say that I am not usually a huge fan of Calvin’s doctrinal positions; however, Calvin’s view on the sacrament of baptism has great explanatory power in regards to Christian experience and makes sense of the biblical witness. Calvin’s doctrine effectively explains the inter-relationship of baptism and faith, it shows that baptism involves both a divine and human element, it recognises the change in temporal and spiritual realities at baptism, and it makes sense of the continued struggle with sin in the Christian life. The only part of Calvin’s doctrine that I have any issue with is his doctrine of infant baptism. Although Calvin’s doctrine of baptism as a sign is the only understanding of baptism that makes infant baptism feasible, he is clearly not supported by the majority of scripture and at times his doctrine lacks internal consistency[35].  













.Calvin, J., Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 Vols, Library of Christian Classics Vol. XX-XXI, edited by J.T. Mcneill, translated by F. L. Battles, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960).


. Evans, W.B., “Calvin, Baptism and Latent Efficacy Again: A Reply to Rich Lusk” Presbyterion 32/1 (Spring 2006): 38-45.


. Godfrey, W.R., “Calvin Worship and the Sacraments” in Theological Guide to Calvins Institutes: Essays and Analyses, edited by D.W. Hall and P.A. Lillback (Phillipsburgh: P & R Publishing Company, 2008), 368-389.


. Grislis, E., “Calvin’s Doctrine of Baptism” Church History 31/1 (1962): 46-65.


. McClean, J., “Calvin on the Supper: Puzzling and Provocative” in Engaging With Calvin: Aspects of the Reformers Legacy for Today, edited by M.D. Thompson (Nottingham: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 204-229.


. McGaughey. D.H., “Baptism in the Protestant Reformation” Restoration Quarterly 2/3 (1958): 99-114.


. Mcgrath, A.E., Reformation Thought: An Introduction (2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1993).


. McGrath, A.E., Christian Theology: An Introduction (5th Ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 2010).


. Riggs, J.W., “Emerging Ecclesiology in Calvin’s Baptismal Thought, 1536-1543” Church History 64 (Mar1995): 29-43

[1] A. E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th Ed (Oxford: Blackwell, 2010), 420.

[2] His doctrine is a combination of Lutheran and Zwinglian elements. A.E. Mcgrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction, 2nd ed (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1993), 183.

[3] D.H. McGaughey, “Baptism in the Protestant Reformation” RQ 2/3 (1958): 104.

[4] McGaughey, “Baptism”, 104.

J. Calvin, Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 Vols, Library of Christian Classics Vol. XX-XXI, ed. J.T. Mcneill, tr. F. L. Battles, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 4. 14. 6.

[5] McGaughey, “Baptism”, 105.

Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 14. 9, 15

[6] W.B Evans, “Calvin, Baptism and Latent Efficacy Again: A Reply to Rich Lusk” P 32/1 (Spring 2006): 40. On the sacraments Calvin insists that “it is one thing to offer, another to receive” Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 14. 16.

[7] Evans, “Calvin, Baptism”, 41.

[8] Since Calvin asserts that these gifts can be received at any point that one comes to faith.

[9] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 15. 1. This understanding of the promises of baptism is in line with Luthers view. Mcgrath, Reformation Thought, 184. Calvin thought that full immersion was the form of baptism prescribed in the bible; however, he did not feel that it was of great significance and proposed that the form of the sacrament should be left to each individual congregation. This was probably due to his emphasis on baptism as a sign rather than a mystical reality, as the sign was valid regardless of whether the person was immersed or sprinkled. Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 15. 11. I agree with Calvin’s view on immersion but I disagree that the ritualistic form of baptism is irrelevant. Small changes to rituals can result in big changes in human understanding, and vice versa.

[10] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 15. 1.

[11] Mcgrath, Reformation Thought, 182. Zwingli and Luther held polar views on the relationship between the sign of the sacrament and the gift that was signified.

[12] Mcgrath, Reformation Thought, 182. This allowed Calvin to maintain the difference between the sign and the gift that was signified while insisting that the sign really points to the gift that it signified.

[13] McGaughey, “Baptism”, 106. Some have claimed that Calvin’s view is incoherent due to his simultaneous assertions that baptism is valid as a past sign for having been adopted into the covenant people, that the reality is present in and with the sign and that in the future the sacrament will bear fruit in faith. But this criticism is unfounded, since it is based on Calvin’s presentation and not his actual thought. J. McClean, “Calvin on the Supper: Puzzling and Provocative” in Engaging With Calvin: Aspects of the Reformers Legacy for Today, ed. M.D. Thompson (Nottingham: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 226.

[14] Calvin asserted that baptism had continuing significance for the whole of life, in that the remembrance of the complete forgiveness promised in baptism assured someone of forgiveness even if they stumbled and committed a sin. Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 15. 3. However, this idea seems to fly in the face of the practice of Infant baptism, since it is unlikely that baptism can be remembered by the baptized child.

[15] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 15. 11. In early Church times many Christians would leave their baptism until their death bed in order to avoid post-baptismal sin.

[16]Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 15. 1. However, it is difficult to see how an infant could make an oath of allegiance to God when they are not even aware of what is going on. In saying this Calvin partially agreed with Zwingli’s understanding of baptism.

[17] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 15. 1.

J.W. Riggs, “Emerging Ecclesiology in Calvin’s Baptismal Thought, 1536-1543” CH 64 (Mar1995): 38. The first sign was immediate but the second sign was only efficacious if it was received in life by faith. The distinction between initiation into the invisible and visible Christian Church is necessary to distinguish between the efficacy of the promises of baptism for those who are baptized and have faith and those who are baptized and do not.

[18] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 15. 2.

[19] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 15. 2.

[20] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 15. 2.

[21] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 15. 2.

[22] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 15. 2.

[23] W.R. Godfrey, “Calvin , Worship and the Sacraments” in Theological Guide to Calvins Institutes: Essays and Analyses, ed. D.W. Hall and P.A. Lillback (Phillipsburgh: P & R Publishing Company, 2008), 378. This teaching built on the teachings of Augustine and Cyprian. For Calvin, baptism did not regenerate infants or remove the guilt of Original Sin; however, it gave parents a surer confidence in Gods care for his posterity and encouraged parents to teach the faith to their children.

[24] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4.15. 11.

[25] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 15. 11.

[26] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4.15. 11.

[27] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 16.  4. E. Grislis, “Calvin’s Doctrine of Baptism” CH 31/1 (1962): 51. This idea finds its scriptural basis in the linking of the rites of baptism and circumcision in Colossians 2:11.

[28] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 16. 5. Grislis, “Calvin’s Doctrine”, 51. However, the inclusion of all Europeans into the covenant people at birth led to rampant nominalism.

[29] Grislis, “Calvin’s Doctrine”, 51. Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 16. 4-5.

[30] Grislis, “Calvin’s Doctrine”, 51. Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 16. 1.

[31] Grislis, “Calvin’s Doctrine”, 51.

[32] Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 16.  7.

[33] Calvin asserts that the notion of rejecting the baptism of infants on the grounds that the baptism of infants is not explicitly mentioned in scripture is the same as rejecting women from the Lord’s Supper on the same grounds. Calvin seeks to show that since the second conclusion is unacceptable then so is the first. Calvin, Calvin: Institutes, 4. 16. 7.

[34]Calvin assumes that the historical context of the New Testament Church is like that of theocratic Israel. In doing so he disregards the idea that God may have devised a new way of doing things for a new historical situation.

[35] For example, Calvin’s view of baptism as an oath of allegiance seems strange, considering that Infants were incapable of making such an oath. I realise he is not directly contradicted by scripture either.