Estates, Conditions & a New Series

I am not a scientist nor the son of a scientist.  Therefore, my understanding of and ability to explain a scientific concept is, to say the least, limited.  So, here goes nothing!  The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that an isolated system left to its own devices will move toward disorder.  Take an old abandoned farmhouse as an example.  At one time, this house was as organized and functional as any farmhouse can be.  However, once forsaken it moves toward mayhem. Theological systems work in much the say way.

It’s hard to pick up Turretin, Junius, Van Mastricht or any of the scholastics Medieval or Protestant and not wonder, “Where have all the distinctions found in these texts gone?” Admittedly, not all are equally helpful. However, many are exceedingly helpful.  For example, in the wake of the New Perspective on Paul many doubt the reality of imputation arguing that righteousness is an attribute and attributes cannot be imputed.  Some distinctions would help at this point.

Think of the word estate. What does it mean?  Estate is a dying word unless we are using it to talk about the remains of the dead.  It usually conjures up thoughts of something old and musty.  The word “auction” often accompanies “estate” in common parlance.  In fact, type the word into your search engine and sentences about real estate will abound.  In short, property has become the primary meaning of the word.

However, theologically the word has enjoyed more precision than is currently the case.  Today, in theological discourse estate is interchangeable with the word condition.  Now, this is not entirely wrong.  Nevertheless, by making these words synonyms theologians lose a vital distinction.  So, let’s take a minute to understand the difference between estate and condition.

According to Geerhardus Vos, “A state is the relationship to the judicial power within which one stands.”[1]  In other words, state is the result of a judicial relationship.  To put it tersely, no judge no state.  However, condition can and does exist in the absence of a state.  Vos writes, “A sinful condition can always be conceived of as an inherent quality, even if there were no God in the world…”[2]  Or to put in another way, there would be a condition even if there were no judge to determine the state. 

Let’s flesh this out a bit.  A sinful condition could be conceived of apart from God’s existence but such is not the case with regard to the state of guilt.  In other words, one could be sinful in condition but apart from God’s judgment not guilty in state.  Guilt is, according to Vos, a judicially imputed, accredited, or reckoned state.[3]  Therefore, we might say that God as judge ascribes to each one a state which is based on our condition.  The state is the objectification of the condition.[4]

This distinction also allows for the transfer of one’s state to another without the individuals sharing the same condition.  Consequently, when we speak of Christ’s estate of humiliation we mean that God imputed to Him the state of being guilty in order to become man’s Surety.[5]  Therefore, with regard to Christ’s condition He was without sin but as to His state during His humiliation He was guilty and cursed.[6]

Now, why all this talk about estates?  Is the Alliance about to have a sale?  No, even better!  Theology for Everyone is about to launch a new series on the twofold estate of Christ’s humiliation and exaltation!  Stay tuned for the first installment!

Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA.  He has recently been appointed Professor of New Testament Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. Jeff is also an online instructor for Westminster Theological Seminary. Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Senior Editor of Place for Truth an online magazine for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.


[1] Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics: Vol. 3, Christology, Translated and ed. by Richard B. Gaffin, (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014), 183.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 184.

[6] Ibid.


Jeffrey Stivason