PDF- -CALVIN AND THE BEASTS: ANIMALS IN JOHN CALVIN’S THEOLOGICAL - Calvin - Commentaries (Library of Christian Classics).pdf

aries (Library of Christian Classics)


General Editors

John Baillie (1886-1960) served as President of the World Council of Churches,

a member of the British Council of Churches,

Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland,

and Dean of the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh

McNeill (1885-1975) was Professor of the History of European Christianity at the University of Chicago and then Auburn Professor of Church History at Union Theological Seminary in New York

Henry P

Van Dusen (1897-1975) was an early and influential member of the World Council of Churches and served at Union Theological Seminary in New York as Roosevelt Professor of Systematic Theology and later as President


Calvin Commentaries Edited and translated by J O S E P H HAROUTUNIAN

DD In collaboration with LOUISE PETTIBONE S M I T H

© 1958 The Westminster Press Paperback reissued 2006 by Westminster John Knox Press,



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ISBN-13: 978-0-664-24160-5 ISBN-10: 0-664-24160-3


The Christian Church possesses in its literature an abundant and incomparable treasure

But it is an inheritance that must be reclaimed by each generation

THE LIBRARY OF CHRISTIAN CLASSICS is designed to present in the English language,

and in twenty-six volumes of convenient size,

a selection of the most indispensable Christian treatises written prior to the end of the sixteenth century

The practice of giving circulation to writings selected for superior worth or special interest was adopted at the beginning of Christian history

The canonical Scriptures were themselves a selection from a much wider literature

In the Patristic era there began to appear a class of works of compilation (often designed for ready reference in controversy) of the opinions of well-reputed predecessors,

and in the Middle Ages many such works were produced

These medieval anthologies actually preserve some noteworthy materials from works otherwise lost

In modern times,

with the increasing inability even of those trained in universities and theological colleges to read Latin and Greek texts with ease and familiarity,

the translation of selected portions of earlier Christian literature into modern languages has become more necessary than ever

while the wide range of distinguished books written in vernaculars such as English makes selection there also needful

The efforts that have been made to meet this need are too numerous to be noted here,

but none of these collections serves the purpose of the reader who desires a library of representative treatises spanning the Christian centuries as a whole

Most of them embrace only the age of the Church Fathers,

and some of them have long been out of print

A fresh translation of a work already 9



translated may shed much new light upon its meaning

This is true even of Bible translations despite the work of many experts through the centuries

In some instances old translations have been adopted in this series,

but wherever necessary or desirable,

Notes have been supplied where these were needed to explain the author's meaning

The introductions provided for the several treatises and extracts will,







Autobiographical Sketch

Preface to Olivetan's New Testament

Epistle to Simon Grynaeus on the Commentary on Romans

51 58 73

Chapter I









PREFACE In making this selection from Calvin's Biblical Commentaries,

our first intention was to use the translations of the Calvin Translation Society


it soon became clear that we had to make one of our own

For this there were two very good reasons

The older translation is about a hundred years old,

and its style is no longer our own

Calvin's Commentaries were composed by way of either lecture or dictation

Their Latin style,

has the vividness and directness of the spoken word

It is the style of a master of the language,

and it is neither strange nor archaic


it seemed to us unjust both to Calvin and to the reader to perpetuate English versions of the Commentaries that are both out of date and to us stilted

We have tried to make a translation which is at once true to the original and in good and vivid present-day English

It is too much to hope that we have succeeded in every passage we have selected

Any translator knows that fidelity in expressing the meaning and feeling of an author in another tongue is a subtle and risky business

We only hope that we have produced a readable translation without doing Calvin undue violence

We wanted the reader to enjoy Calvin as well as understand him

We hope we have met with some,

The older translations are from the hands of a number of scholars

Their English styles are different,


the exegetical and theological predilections of the several translators have understandably colored their versions of the Latin text

In a selection like ours we would have had to put together,

passages with different styles and different adequacy as translations

This would have produced a book with a garbled and bewildering 13


We made a new translation to avoid such an intolerable defect

We must say a word as to why we offer the reader this particular volume out of the vast body of Calvin's Commentaries

We had no single principle of selection

We took what we liked—rather,

a small fraction of what we liked and would have included if we had had the space

We were intent upon giving the reader good specimens of Calvin's way of explaining Biblical texts,

to bring out his qualities as an exegete

We wanted to show his concern with literary and historical questions,

his understanding of Scripture both as the Word of God and as a human document,

his constant preoccupation with the upbuilding of the church

We could not and did not ignore presentday issues in the interpretation of the Bible in theology and practical church life

We did the best we could to include material in which Calvin can be of some help to the church today

We did our selecting with such interests in mind


we do hope that this book has a certain continuity which will convey a proper sense of the integrity of Calvin's mind

Our organization of the material is one of many possible

The one we adopted seemed natural to us

We have not given special chapters to Calvin's teachings on man,

We had to choose between depth and spread,

We have much more material in hand,

and someday we may be able to use it,

especially if there is sufficient demand for it

I wish to express my gratitude to Prof,

Louise P

Smith who collaborated with me,

especially in preparing the Old Testament passages

Her knowledge of Scripture and Calvin,

have been invaluable in this laborious undertaking

I am also grateful to the editors and the publisher for their help,

George W

Baird who typed the major part of the manuscript

I wish to thank Rev

Kenneth M

Keeler and the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Fe,

New Mexico,

for giving me a study where I worked happily for seven months

My thanks are due also to Prof

Calvin Schmitt of the McCormick Theological Seminary Library for the bibliographical help he gave me,

Edward A

for his criticisms and suggestions,

especially with regard to the Introduction


McCormick Theological Seminary,






Biblical Commentaries of Calvin,

we have tried to produce a readable version of a representative part of his work in this field

The Commentaries were translated into English soon after they were published in the second half of the sixteenth century

(They were retranslated about the middle of the nineteenth century,

by the Calvin Translation Society,


and have been reprinted in this second version

) They were also translated immediately into French and somewhat later into Dutch and German

Calvin's Commentaries profoundly influenced the churches of the Reformed tradition

and there can be little doubt that a renewed interest in them and study of them would not only contribute to a better understanding of Calvin,

but would also have a profound influence on the mind and life of the church today

Our primary interest in preparing this volume has been to present Calvin as a Biblical commentator,

with the hope that many will be induced to turn to the Commentaries themselves in search of the light Calvin throws upon the meaning of the Scriptures

We concur in the judgment of many before us that Calvin was,

a unique and extremely illuminating commentator

His education as a humanist,

his extensive knowledge of the work of other interpreters of the Bible,

his classical and patristic erudition,

his insights as a Reformer and churchman,

and his exegetical competence and grasp of the Biblical mind—all these make him an endlessly fresh and eye-opening interpreter



Calvin's Commentaries and sermons fill volumes 23-55 °f his Works (in Corpus Reformatorum1)

and the Commentaries by themselves fill forty-five volumes in English: thirty on the Old Testament,

fifteen on the New Testament (in the series of the Calvin Translation Society)

The grandeur of this achievement becomes all the more evident when we remember that these Commentaries were the work not of a detached scholar,

but of a Reformer whose days were filled largely with pastoral work both in the church and in the state

His multiple activities and preoccupations in the latter capacity,

especially in the light of his delicate and sickly physical condition,

leave one amazed at the diligence and perseverance which made Calvin's literary output (fifty-nine volumes in his Works) possible

One must not forget the several versions of the Institutes,

his numerous tracts and thousands of letters

Calvin believed not only in the Word of God,

but also in human words as means of promoting the gospel and serving the church

The Commentary on Romans,

The latest,

Joshua (1564) and Ezekiel,

were published after Calvin's death

In between came the great Commentaries on Genesis,

the four last Books of Moses (Harmony),




and the Minor Prophets (Calvin preached on the other books such as Deuteronomy,

but he did not lecture on them)

There were also the Commentaries on all the books of the New Testament,

except II John and III John and Revelation

The Harmony of Exodus-Deuteronomy (four volumes in English) and the Harmony of the Gospels (three volumes) deserve special mention as astonishing works of organization,

both of narrative and of topics

They are,

convincing evidence of Calvin's grasp of Scripture as a whole and in detail

It is impossible to single out the greater Commentaries

Each is valuable for the insights it gives into the Word of God contained in it

One has only to consult Calvin on a few given passages of Scripture to recognize that he is indeed a teacher without an equal

Calvin comments with the conviction that any passage of Scripture he may examine contains a Word of God full of God's wisdom,



contains a list of Calvin's publications during his lifetime


condition of his hearers and readers in one respect or another

This conviction enables him to respond to the Bible with a vitality and intelligence which certainly go into the making of the mass of interesting material contained in the Commentaries from one end to the other

So it is that in spite of the occasional dips,

one is aware of walking through on a high road,

with solid pleasure and frequent excitement of illumination

Most of the Old Testament Commentaries were delivered as lectures

Calvin spoke slowly and quietly,

so that his words could be recorded fairly accurately by his students and more exactly by his secretaries

Afterward he went over what had been taken down,

and allowed it to be published with proper dedications to friends and persons of importance in England and elsewhere

It is important to remember that these lectures were delivered at the Academy,

which provided education to the children of Geneva,

and attracted students of theology by the hundreds from France,




Some of the greatest Protestant theologians of the day were trained in this Academy

But the majority of those who attended his lectures went to their several countries to work,

for the establishment and the progress of the Reformed faith

What these men needed was clear,

and strong grasp of Scripture doctrine,

available for the new churches or gatherings of Protestants in their own lands,

surrounded by hostile forces and in constant peril

Calvin commented for the upbuilding of these people and the churches they came from and went to

He began his lectures always with the prayer,

"May the Lord grant that we study the heavenly mysteries of his wisdom,

making true progress in religion to his glory and our upbuilding

" The closing prayer was longer,

and in it Calvin laid before the Lord the special needs of the faithful as the Scripture just studied had revealed them

The Scripture passage was read in the original language,

it was made directly from the text

He was of course as familiar with the Vulgate as most modern English translators are with the Authorized Version,

and like 2 There was often a desire to include the Hebrew in the publication,

but to keep the cost of the volumes as reasonable as possible,

But see the Amsterdam edition of 1667


he enjoyed making improvements

to the translation of Leo Jud,

printed at Zurich in 1543 (reprinted 1545 and 15574)

but it does not seem so close as to suggest actual dependence

For example,

Dixit quoque Deussit expansion Calvin's,

Et dixitDeussitextensio

What Hebrew text he used is apparently uncertain


besides the Brescia edition used by Luther,

printed at Venice (1518-1526),

and three editions of Miinster,

None of them differed significantly from the Brescia edition

The Complutensian Polyglot,

was used by Beza (according to Delitzsch) and presumably was available to Calvin

Calvin's opponents have minimized his knowledge of

Hebrew (// rCen connoissoit gueres que Us caracteres5),

mentaries themselves offer sufficient evidence to the contrary

He deals repeatedly with disputes over the roots from which words were derived,

and with various grammatical constructions


he has a real sense of Hebrew style and uses it frequently as a guide to interpretation

" He takes for granted the relative antiquity and accuracy of the Masoretic Hebrew in comparison with the Septuagint and the Vulgate,

and he therefore uses them both along with the Targum,


much as he uses the commentaries of his own contemporaries,

as aids to the interpretation of the text,

not as independent authorities

While translating the New Testament,

Calvin has bpth the Vulgate and Erasmus before him

But he does not hesitate to make his own rendition

This statement could be substantiated from almost every other page of the New Testament Commentaries

One or two examples will suffice

He translates evplcKofjiai as inveniam ("that I may find"),

against Erasmus' reperior and the Vulgate's invenior

and he justifies his rendition by saying "as Budaeus7 (the great Hellenist) shows by various examples" (on Phil

Erasmus translates aAAa XX 3 For strong objections to the Vulgate,

see Tracts (Edinburgh edition),

4 King,

Preface to Genesis,

Edinburgh ed

Edinburgh ed

6 See pp


"but rather h k l'" C l'i f Jerome's J ' d'magis i by giving thanks greatly

He admits that the Greek word usually means "thanksgiving," but he thinks the present context requires that it be translated as gracious

As to the New Testament text,

Calvin clearly uses that of Erasmus

But references to ancient and more recent "manuscripts" show that he was not satisfied simply to follow even an authority like Erasmus

Erasmus' influence on Calvin as critic and exegete was farreaching

The former's insistence upon the necessity of knowing the original languages of the Bible8

his principle that the more obscure passages of the Bible should be interpreted with the help of those which are clear9

his plea for understanding the Bible in its "natural,

or historical and grammatical" sense,

his view of the Bible as having been written under the direction of the Holy Spirit (Ut enim Spiritus Me divinus,

mentium apostoliarum moderatur) with-

out a forced uniformity as to content11

his conviction that various and divergent accounts and teachings in the Bible do not diminish its authority and saving power12

his critical attitude with regard to the authorship of certain books,

and his independence in relation to patristic interpreters,

his dictum: Infontibus versetur oportet,

theologus—"Every man who would be a true theologian must return to the sources"13—all this,

together with the example of free and competent examination of Scripture he sets in his emendations and annotations,

are written large in Calvin's Commentaries

(How much of this agreement is to be credited to the direct influence of Erasmus on Calvin and how much to the humanistic classical training which Calvin had received is of course debatable

) Calvin divides his text conveniently,

so that he may be able to deal with a story or topic as a whole

After explaining a given passage in general,

he then proceeds to discuss specific verses,

which he repeats sometimes in Latin and sometimes in the original

As he proceeds,

Opera Omnia,

10 vols




10 Ibid

IO 34n Ibid

12 Berger,


La Bible au seizUme siecle,

P* 7^« 13 Ibid


tions of the text which are not the same as those first given

His mind is on the original Hebrew or Greek and not on a Latin version,

As the occasion demands,

Calvin goes into details in discussing a geographical and historical point

He appeals to classic authorities

Christian writers of antiquity,

and he quotes the best authorities of his own day

But he is brief and to the point

He weighs evidence,

It is seldom that he loses himself in detail and turns aside from his main purpose (as he does on Gen

and Damascus must have bored all but the hardiest students)

After details have been dealt with,

he returns to the meaning of the whole passage,

often giving a summary of its teaching,

or stating the central theme and applying it to the need of the church and of his hearers and readers

He had a habit,

which must have brought reassurance to his students,

of marking the end of the treatment of a passage by saying,

"Now we have [tenemus] the prophet's meaning

clarifying statements and ideas for the duller students

One can imagine the quick dipping of quill pens in the ink whenever the class heard "as if he were to say" (acsi diceret),

followed by the repetition of a text in his own words

Often he projects his mind into those of his hearers,

and takes up a line of thought which is of special practical concern to them

It is surprising how often he does the same for a present-day reader

One can hear the soft-spoken lecturer occasionally shaking up the unconcerned with well-aimed and adroit thrusts,

and waking them up to the relevance of the Word of God to their own and their churches' condition

The Word applied,

and Calvin was eminently resourceful in pointing this out to the mind of the not too bright student

The occasional belaboring of the obvious must no doubt be attributed to Calvin's concern with what we would call "average mentality

" He can also make his point clear by an occasional flash of humor: "the uproar made by a fallen leaf,"14 the suggestion that he might wear a military uniform to class,15 the comment on bracelets and nose rings16 or the asses' ears

but he certainly had wit and could be witty— a good but rare quality in a commentator

his worst term of condemnation for any I* See p


interpretation is "frigid," by which he means not so much "remote" or "lifeless" as lacking in the power to give living faith to the church

his favorite word of praise is "solid," a sound and sure foundation for the church's faith

Eight years separated the printing of the Isaiah Commentary and that on the Minor Prophets

A comparison of Calvin's treatment of Isa

And yet it also reveals the continuity of his thought in his primary concern with the upbuilding of the church

With all this practical concern with the "progress" of his students and of the churches,

Calvin was a conscientious historical critic

His comments did not degenerate into the undisciplined exhortation which often goes with "practical preaching

" He neither practiced nor encouraged irresponsibility toward "the genuine sense" of Scripture

The students were to know what the author of a given text meant by what he said,

and any "spiritual" meaning other than one derived from the author's intention was at once misleading and unedifying

Calvin said bluntly of Ezek


"The prophet's discourse cannot be understood without a knowledge of the history [behind it]

" Calvin's concern with history will be dealt with later

contributive rather than irrelevant to the hearing of God's Word

Calvin's refusal to be diverted from his main purpose is clear also in his use of classical and early Christian literature

The list of classical references is a long one

Cicero appears most often (sixteen times in the Pentateuch Harmony alone)

but there are quotations from all the better-known Latin authors (Horace,










and from the Greek authors (Homer,






He quotes Plato and Aristotle with respect

He admires Plato's wisdom and piety,

but objects to the "angelology" of Platonism (II Peter 1:4,

He quotes Aristotle on the distinction between anger and hatred (from "The Second Book on Rhetoric"),

and refers with approval to his saying that the tongue should be an image of the understanding (Gal

In the field of law,

Flavian law,

and Valerius5 law (Acts 16:35,


is See "Calvin as Historian," pp



Homer all contributed a discussion of the giant Og in Deut

It is not always possible to tell whether Calvin is depending on his own memory of a quoted passage,

or on a collection of quotations such as the Adagies of Erasmus

Calvin was admired by his friends and feared by his enemies as a most learned man

But he never makes a display of his erudition and it seldom interferes with a forthright presentation of the meaning he saw it and with his communication with his hearers and readers

The same holds for his use of ancient Christian literature

Hundreds of references in the Commentaries,

approving and disapproving discussions make it obvious that Calvin had an extensive and masterly knowledge of Augustine,


He obviously learned a great deal from all three,

and depended upon the latter two,

for his knowledge of Biblical times and places

But his knowledge is not limited to these giants

He makes apt reference,


Gregory Nazianzen,



Gregory the Great,

But again,

the fathers are consulted for the help they may provide for understanding Scripture

they do not interfere with his exposition of it

Calvin was grateful to contemporary commentators like Melanchthon,


But the use he makes of their works keeps a consistent pattern

No references are given to exhibit his own learning


his comments show that he had read and pondered over the works of his contemporaries

Ecolampadius,20 he says,

interprets rightly and prudently,

but one needs leisure to read his work (Dan

He quotes approvingly and supports by his own argument Luther's designation of Ps


"Luther indulging his own thoughts too freely refers this to the masks of Antichrist

" He gives high praise to Bucer in the 1* See Epistle to Simon Grynaeus,

He was born in Weinsberg in the Palatinate

He went to Bologna to study law but ended studying theology in Heidelberg

In 1515 he became cathedral preacher in Basel,

and after a period in Germany,

after which his name was associated with that of Zwingli and with the Protestant Reformation

He was well versed in "the new learning" and was respected both as exegete and as theologian


Preface to Psalms,

but he says of him elsewhere (Preface to Romans) that he is too prolix for busy men to read,

and too profound to be understood by the simple,

and that because of the incredible fecundity of his mind,

he does not know where to stop

Calvin declares (and truly) that he does not expend words refuting contrary opinions unless he knows the faithful are troubled by them

There are uncomplimentary references to "the doctors of the Sorbonne

" Jewish commentators are usually treated as a group and dismissed as blind to the relation between the Old Testament and Christ

He uses their judgment frequently on details,

especially the meaning or derivation of words

Kimchi he mentions by name and calls him "the most correct interpreter among the rabbis" (Ps

It is ironical that Calvin in spite of his frequent references to "the blindness of the Jews" was himself attacked,

especially by the theological faculty of Wittenberg,

" A pamphlet against his method of interpreting Scripture,

bore the horrendous title "Calvin Judaizing,

the Jewish Glosses and Corruptions by which John Calvin did not Fear to Corrupt the most Luminous Passages of Sacred Scriptures and its witness to the Glorious Trinity,

the Deity of Christ and of the Holy Spirit,

including the Predictions of the Prophets on the Coming of the Messiah,

His Birth,



and Sitting at the Right Hand of God,

A Refutation of the Corruptions is Added

" The reason for such attacks was of course Calvin's insistence on attending to the "genuine sense" of Scripture

which had provided Christians with their favorite means of twisting the Bible into a religious book of their own liking

In insisting upon the original meaning of a text,

of many of their traditional proof texts

He even undermined the traditional doctrine of Biblical authority

But he taught the Protestant ministry how to read their Bible,

and to understand it as the Word of God to the churches—which is the utmost a commentator can do

Calvin published his Commentaries to give his readers insight into the Word of God and to point out its relevance to 21 See p

But see also on Deut

J o h n 11:58


To this end he cultivated accuracy,

He achieved his purpose to a degree that has aroused the admiration and gratitude of generations of readers

And in this day,

James Everett Frame of Union Theological Seminary of New York used to say,

a man who would understand his Bible will do well to have Calvin's Commentaries within easy reach

Here we must not fail to point out that every salient point of Calvin's theology is discussed,

and is often more briefly and clearly and persuasively presented,

in the direct statements of the Commentaries than in the sustained and usually technical arguments of the Institutes

We hope that our selections on faith,

Jesus Christ,

will help the reader to correct many an impression he has received either by dipping into the Institutes or by secondhand acquaintance with Calvin

We ourselves were repeatedly and pleasantly surprised by what we found in these Commentaries: we hope the reader will find the same instruction and pleasure


In the main,

the Old Testament Commentaries were delivered as lectures,

and the New Testament Commentaries were dictated at home

We owe an enormous debt to Calvin's friends and secretaries who wrote down his lectures and sermons,

and took dictation at his home

the son of the great humanist Guillaume Bude,

and his brother-in-law Charles de Jonvillers,

both of whom were refugees from France and lived on Calvin's street

They worked tirelessly with him in the preparation of the Commentaries on Jeremiah and Lamentations,


and the Twelve Minor Prophets,

which occupy seventeen volumes in English translation

They have left us firsthand accounts of the way Calvin's Commentaries were composed and made ready for publication

Bude wrote of the beginning of the work: "When some years ago that most learned man,

John Calvin,

at the advice and request of friends,

undertook to explain the Psalms of David in the School,

some of us his hearers began to take notes in our own way,

according to our own judgment,

But aroused by what we heard,

we began to think how unjust it would be to a great many people,

and to the whole 24 Doumergue,

Jean Calvin,


if the benefit of such lectures were to be restricted to a few people

We did our best to take down the lectures word for word

Without wasting time,

I joined myself with two zealous brothers for this purpose

and it happened by God's grace that our effort was not without success

when we put our several notes together,

we found that little had escaped us,

and that we could fill the gaps without much trouble

Calvin himself is our witness that this is what happened in the first undertaking in which our abilities were put to the test

All the hearers [of the lectures] will readily acknowledge that we followed the same procedure far better in taking down the lectures on Hosea

for by this time we were more skillful at our job through much repetition and long practice

on the preparation of the Commentary on Ezekiel: "On February 13,

Calvin began to expound Ezekiel in the Public School

even though he was constantly afflicted by various serious diseases,

and had either to be carried to the lecture hall in a wooden chair,

for his frail body had become so worn out that there was hardly any strength left in him

And yet,

for a whole year after that February,

the virulence of his disease did not keep him from discharging his responsibilities of preaching and lecturing

in February of the following year,

when he had finished chapter twenty (except for four verses),

he was forced to stay at home and almost continuously in bed

even while his mind had to carry the burden of his illness,

so that it is hardly credible how much he accomplished even when he could not leave his house because of bad health

Among other things,

he corrected diligently the greater part of these lectures,

as is evident from the copy with his notations,

which I have saved with care along with the rest

" 26 A passage from The Life of John Calvin,

a minister and friend of Calvin,

gives us a glimpse of the latter at work: "About the month of September (1558),

he was attacked by a prolonged and dreadful fever

to stop both reading and preaching

But he did not cease to work at home,

in spite of the remonstrances of those around him that he spare himself

At this very 25 Opera,


26 Ibid

See Edinburgh edition of Ezekiel,


time he revised and improved his Commentary on Isaiah,

which had already been printed in the year 1551


at this time his lectures on all the Minor Prophets were printed

for previously there had been only a separate printing of his lectures on Hosea

It may be that when he was seized by the fever he had already read all the Minor Prophets,

and there were only two or three lectures on Malachi left



wanting to avoid publishing an imperfect work,

worked over his lectures in his own rooms and dictated them to several persons who were able to be present

Thus these lectures,

were taken down from his mouth,

He worked in his room because it was winter and he had the fever

and it was not good for him to go outside

"27 Again,

according to Colladon: " Calvin on his part did not in the least spare himself

He worked much harder than his strength and health could bear

Every other week he preached one sermon a day

He was present at every meeting of the consistory,

and made all the remonstrances

Every Friday,

which was called the congregation,

what he added after the main speaker was like a lesson in itself

He did not fail to visit the sick,

and to do an endless number of things that went with the ordinary exercises of his ministry

Aside from the usual activities,

he was greatly occupied with the faithful in France

He instructed,

and comforted them in the midst of persecution,

as well as interceded for them,

or had others do it when he thought there was a way

" 29 After describing Calvin's excellent memory,

Colladon goes on to say: "It is not that he had much time to prepare his lectures,

for even though he would have preferred to do so,

And for a truth,

most of the time he did not have one whole hour for preparation

I will add still another evidence for his [remarkable] memory: If,

someone came in to speak to him and stayed a half hour,

most often he would remember 27 Ibid

Calvin "often preached twice a day

he spoke before the congregation every week

H e spoke before the consistory every week

H e spoke before the council

H o w often a week

See also F


Johann Calvin,

But this writer is dependent to a large extent upon Colladon,

29 Opera,


and would go on from there as though nothing had happened,

whether he was dictating letters,

Even though this meant he was less than energetic,

it did not keep him from being ready for work and the fulfillment of his duties

On the days when he was not to preach,

he would stay in bed and at five or six o'clock would ask for a number of books,

so that he might dictate with someone writing down his work

If it was his week,

he was always ready to go up into the pulpit

When he returned home,

he went to his bed and lay down on it with his clothes still on,

So it is that he dictated most of his books in the morning,

working continually and in a very happy state of mind

3'30 III


Calvin's "Literalism"

Calvin's exegetical method and procedure were the product of a century of classical humanism,

but later especially in Northern Europe


such as Lorenzo Valla31 (1407-1457),

Guillaume Bude32 (1467-1540) and Erasmus33 (1466-1536),

had in common a zeal for recovering 30 Ibid


He is famous for his exposure of "the Donation of Constantine," which was supposed to have established the supremacy of Rome in the church and over Italy and Western Europe

He was an accomplished Latinist,

a rigorous textual and historical critic,

and a general nuisance for the tradition

But he escaped the inquisition because of powerful friends including two popes (Nicholas V and Calixtus III)

by whose contribution today our France lays claim to the palm of erudition" (O

John Calvin: A Study on French Humanism,

He refers to Bude* often (I Cor

John 2:5,

) as an authority on the languages and civilization of Greece and Rome

De asse atpartibus eius of Bude* was held in highest esteem as a source book on the subject

He was critical of the church and defended the primacy of Scripture and the cross for salvation,

but he refused to join "the Lutherans

" His family later found their way to Geneva

Budi and Calvin,

) 3 Erasmus requires no special discussion here

His relation to the Reformation has inspired a literature that is copious and readily available

See Preserved Smith,


Albert Hyma,

The Youth of Erasmus,

Ann Arbor,

Margaret M


Erasmus and the Northern Renais" same,


Louis Bouyer,

Autour d'Erasme,


the literature of Greece and Rome,

and for publishing reliable versions of the old classics

They loved the wisdom and style of the ancient writers,

and drank up their sayings for new insight into a virtuous and happy life

These men,

were fine linguists and critics,

with whom it was axiomatic that the establishment of the best possible text of a writing was the first step toward understanding it

They compared manuscripts and authorities,

and assumed the responsibility of producing their own editions of the classics


who was trained in the humanistic method,

and admired Bude and Erasmus greatly,

took it for granted that before commenting on any passage in Scripture,

he had to ascertain what the author of it actually said

The so-called literalism of Calvin is directly related to the Renaissance scholars' desire to get at the original and "genuine" meaning of a text


who were all indebted to Erasmus and the humanistic method,

agreed that the natural meaning of a statement was to be preferred to one arrived at by way of allegorizing or supplying a meaning other than the literal

This method was a commonplace among humanists,

who applied it to Greek and Roman writings earlier than to the Bible

Allegory was contrary to the humanistic canon of interpretation

the desire to get at an author's own mind,

So we find Calvin bent upon establishing what a given author in fact said

He criticized the church fathers,


for dealing too subtly with the texts,

for allegorizing and speculation

even though he obviously takes their understanding of the Bible more seriously than he does that of the humanists

they are irrelevant to the purpose of its writer (on Rom

John 1:16)

Allegorizing was misunderstanding,

and misunderstanding was the evil a scholar had to avoid by all means

Neither the humanists nor Calvin meant by the literal meaning necessarily an unspiritual meaning

The natural interpretation of a passage for them was one that did justice to the intention of the author

When Calvin protested against allegorizing,

he was protesting not against finding a spiritual meaning in a passage,

but against finding one that was not there

The Word of God written for the upbuilding of the church was of course 34 See pp

307 (cf


but in the primary sense of leading to the knowledge of God and obedience to him

Calvin's "literalism" establishes rather than dissolves the mystery of the Word of God,

provided for the Christian's help and comfort

Calvin as Historian

As a disciplined humanist,

Calvin recognized that the Biblical writers,

wrote for their own times and situations

In this sense,

Calvin is a confirmed "historicist

or a psalmist speaks he speaks for the benefit of God's people or the church in his own day

The Holy Spirit does indeed speak by them,

Calvin can say that Isaiah foresaw the glory of Christ (on John 12:45)

But he habitually looks at the prophecies quoted in the New Testament,

not from the position of the prophet,

but from that of the apostles or Evangelists who "applied" them to their own situation

Even while he assumes that the New Testament writers wrote as dictated and directed by the Holy Spirit,

as a commentator he is concerned with the way they dealt with the Old Testament

and he speaks of their activity as applying [traho,

both in the active and in the passive

put in practice throughout his Commentaries,

is that the Old Testament applied to the situation of the early church,

especially to the mission of Christ,

and that the Bible as a whole applies to the situation of the church in his time

he is interested in the way the New Testament writers applied prophecy to their own history after Christ

In fact,

the exodus from Egypt is more than an incident in the past

It is a parable of the life of Israel,

The same is true of the mission of Christ,

Calvin was profoundly impressed with the analogy between Christ's destiny and that of the church in his time

Thus he saw a profound continuity between the Old Testament and the New,

and between both and the events of his day (on Matt

To Calvin,

the ultimate end of the Bible is the Kingdom of Christ,

his reign over the people of God,

and their faithfulness and obedience to him

This end was seen in the Old Testament dimly,

It was only right that when Christ came,

the Evangelists should have 35 Seep


for the words fitted him and his work far better than they did David,

Commenting on Matt

he says that the statement of Ps

They parted my garments among them,

applies better to Christ than to David who was speaking of himself only by way of metaphor

The same according to Calvin is true of Ps


The stone which the builders rejected,

the same is become the head of the corner (Matt

Christ himself applies Jer

But you have made it a den of robbers,

when he cleanses the Temple (Matt

As a critic Calvin recognized in the Bible a natural working of the human mind which is not always too clear or too apt

Commenting on I Peter 3:14,

And be not afraid of their terror,

he goes so far as to accuse Peter of misconstruing Isaiah (ch

But he excuses Peter on the ground that he was only referring to the prophet for a purpose of his own,

and not explaining "every word used by the prophet

" He says that when Paul quoted Ps

When he ascended up on high,

changed the wording of the psalm,

even though "he can hardly be said to have departed from the substance

" But he believes that Paul did not actually quote the psalm

he "used it as an expression of his own,

" Paul more than once gets into difficulties by using "the Greek translators" (on Heb

and at least once one cannot tell what prophet he is quoting from (on I Cor

When Stephen says in Acts 7:16 that the patriarchs were taken to Shechem and buried in a sepulcher bought by Abraham,

Calvin refers to Jerome's statement that the pilgrim Paula saw the tombs of the twelve patriarchs in Shechem

But he is not convinced

He says that perhaps Moses was using "synecdoche," that is,

Joseph stands for the patriarchs

or that perhaps Luke was following an old tradition

He ends the discussion with,

Quare hie locus corrigendus est

Hence this verse must be corrected

) He also admits that when Luke made Paul speak Hebrew in Jerusalem,

Calvin thinks Paul spoke the common language of the day—Aramaic (Acts 22:2)

He thinks Mark is less accurate than Luke about Easter morning (on Mark 16:1),

and that Matthew's version of Jesus' denunciation in ch

Even Christ himself


does not quote Isaiah exactly,

but applies his words to his own purpose (on Matt

The Reliability and Inspiration of the Bible

Calvin studied the Bible as a book composed by human beings,

according to the interests of the authors,

and he followed the practices familiar to critics of literature

In this his humanism is obvious

But he also was a humanist of the bent of Lefevre d'fitaples,36 Erasmus,

when he put his method to a theological use

Calvin was not interested in the Bible as a merely human product

His critical study was inspired by a profound and powerful desire to get back,

" If some humanists went back to the classical authors for new wisdom on man,


went back to the Bible for the wisdom of God

It is important to remember that the Bible was to him above all the Word of God spoken for the edification of the church

This explains his willingness to admit many unsolved problems of detail,

even while he insists that the writers of the Bible were the mouthpieces of God

He sees that the Evangelists differ one from another in many a detail (on Matt

but he insists that they agree on the main points of a story or parable

Where there is a question of numbers,

as of women and angels at the resurrection,

he points to the writers' unconcern for exact information in such matters and draws the reader's attention to the gospel or law

In fact,

he sets aside a discrepancy of a thousand,

between an account of Moses (Num

by remarking that the Biblical writers cared no more than the ancient Romans for numerical minutiae (on I Cor

Paul was concerned to warn the church at Corinth against idolatry

What mattered was the reliability of 36

Lefevre d'fitaples (1450-1536) visited Italy (in 1492,

In 1512 he published a commentary on Paul's epistles,

and pleaded for the study of Scripture as "the unique means of approaching Him who works all things in all" (A


Correspondence des Reformateurs,

In 1517 he was denounced by the Sorbonne for denying that Mary Magdalene,

Mary the sister of Lazarus,

and "the sinful woman" were the same

After 1520 he became the center of a lively reform movement including the Bishop of Meaux and the king's sister,

Marguerite d'Angouleme

In 1523 he translated the Gospels into French,

and continued translating the Bible until 1530

He died a fugitive at Ne*rac in 1536


the Bible with regard to the word of God and the promises of God,

and not factual accuracy on detail

The humanists believed in the wisdom of the classics,

feeding their minds on the sayings (of which they made collections) of the ancient philosophers

but they did so not for mere factual accuracy,

but for the edification of their age

There is a suggestive analogy between the humanist attitude toward the classics and Calvin's toward the Bible

The Word of God spoken by the Spirit was the word of salvation and every blessing that goes with it

One had to believe in it and receive it with gratitude

It was worthy of the most diligent investigation

So one did one's best to understand the Bible,

and to discover its consistency as the Word of God

A man had to attend to the chief business on hand

What we have in the Bible is the wisdom of God,

a "Christian philosophy," a way of life that will enable us to live and die well in a world where the devil rages and perils are always at hand

Indeed the humanistic method required that one deal with questions of time,

and authorship raised by the texts

but one also had to be prepared to leave them unsettled,

to what was said of God's glory and man's duty

but he did not know—nobody knew—in his time,

that there were various traditions behind the Biblical literature

Today we recognize that "contradictions" in the Bible are due to "date,

" But our way was not open to Calvin

Both assuming the inerrancy of the Spirit and knowing the ways of the human mind,

Calvin did his best to harmonize contradictory statements

But even where he failed,

he was satisfied that the intention of the Spirit in dictating "the oracles of God" was fulfilled

that the Word of God for the guidance of the church had been properly received and set down for the benefit of God's people

Calvin indeed insisted that the Spirit "dictated" the oracles of God

But such dictation did not so much establish the authority of the Bible as give us the Word of God for the upbuilding of the church and the benefit of the Christian in particular situations

Since the Holy Spirit spoke by the prophets,

God himself spoke

But what is their business but to listen to him and to hear him for obedience

? So it is that the Christians read the whole of the Bible as the Word of God: not to believe 37 See the Preface to the Commentary on Hebrews


God spoke because the Bible tells us he does,

but that as they read the Bible,

God himself may speak to their condition

The authority of the Bible is to Calvin the authority of God revealing himself and speaking to a Christian's specific need

and the inspiration of the writers of the Bible is presupposed in God's self-revelation to the Christian who reads it

Calvin's doctrine of the authority of Scripture is discussed at length by theologians and church historians


too many of them rely on sections of the Institutes,

and fail to test the conclusions they draw by the content of the Commentaries themselves

38 Calvin,

accepts the whole Bible as the Word of God and he uses terms like "dictation" and "amanuensis of the Holy Spirit

" In his Commentaries he shifts back and forth between God and the prophet as the speaker in the same way in which the prophets alternate the first and third person in their oracles

But those who see in such phrases a doctrine of inerrant Scripture and exact verbal inspiration forget that Calvin himself had a good deal of experience in dictating to secretaries and to students,

and then correcting the results

and the Word of God given by the Spirit was formulated to serve best the needs of God's church

But the human instruments,

And they did remain men

Isaiah remained a great poet and Ezekiel indulged in wearisome repetitions

Calvin made no assumption of a succession of miracles to eliminate every slip

More fundamentally,

he trusted the providence of God to provide his chosen in all ages with needful instruction

He himself seldom emends (but see 38 Cf

D'a vies,

R u p e r t E

The Problem of Authority in the Continental Reformers


Exceptions are Emil Kraeling,

The Old Testament Since the Reformation,


and the section in The Interpreter's Bible,



See also Henri Clavier,

Etude sur le Calvinism,

Edward A

Dowey maintains that Calvin assumes the traditional views of the inerrancy of the Bible even while he comments upon it as the work of human beings {The Knowledge of God in Calvin's Theology,

This position,

a n d'it does n o t alter o u r thesis that t h e ground of the authority of the Bible for Calvin was not inerrancy,

b u t G o d'w h o speaks b y it

F o r a fine discussion of t h e subject,

see " T h e Reformer's U s'e of t h e Bible," b y Paul L

L'e h m a n n ,


See also K e m p e r Fullerton,

Prophecy and Authority,