Saturday, August 28, 2010

Beliefs of John Calvin - Part 2

The Scriptures

To understand how John Calvin viewed the Scriptures, one need only arrive at the sixth chapter of his seminal work Institutes of the Christian Religion referred to by Millard Erickson as the most thorough statement of the new understanding of Christianity in his discussion of various theologies.[1] Calvin devotes the entire chapter to the need of Scripture as a guide and teacher for the elect.[2] Calvin does not stop there. Throughout the entire Book First of Institutes, Calvin again and again returns to Scripture even including the word Scripture in the titles of six chapters. Where Martin Luther began with sola sciptura, Calvin continued in detail using the Scriptures to support the need of Scripture to come to God, the doctrine of the Trinity, sanctification, etc. B. G. Armstrong states that Calvin consistently sought to make the Scriptures the sole source of his ideas.[3]

In his eighth chapter of Book First, Calvin goes to great lengths to demonstrate that the credibility of the Scriptures is well proven by the Bible itself as well as through the affirmation of history. In almost humorous fashion, Calvin chastises those who would question that Moses wrote the books that bear his name and even question the very existence of Moses himself. Calvin points out that questioning the existence of Plato, Aristotle or Cicero would rightly result in harsh punishment.[4] For Calvin, the truth of every word contained in the Bible was above question and one can easily imagine the man’s frustration in having to defend the Bible over and over again.

A treatment of John Calvin’s view of Scripture would be incomplete if mention was not given to two additional points. First, Calvin did not believe in a doctrine of dictation though he did refer to the various writers as God’s amanuenses on occasion. Instead, Calvin believed that the Holy Spirit revealed God’s will and work and in often mysterious ways guided the writers as they recorded their respective books.[5] Since the Bible is the written word of God, Calvin affirmed that it is authoritative in all matters it deals with. Calvin also believed that the Bible does not deal with everything.[6]

The second point to keep in mind was the approach Calvin used to interpret Scripture. Calvin’s preferred hermeneutic insisted that the literal meaning of the text be taken in the historical context in which it was written. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church he left in favor of Protestantism, Calvin rejected the fourfold interpretation of his day that allowed allegorizing, moralizing, and spiritualizing the word of God.[7] Interpretative methods matter. For Calvin, to seek God without His word is to labor in vanity and error.[8] Lacking a proper understanding of that word is an equally useless endeavor.


[1] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 63-64.

[2] Calvin, John, translated by Henry Beveridge. Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book First. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008), 26.

[3] Douglas, J. D., Phillip Wesley Comfort, and Donald Mitchell. Who's Who in Christian History. (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1997), 131.

[4] Calvin, John, translated by Henry Beveridge. Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book First. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008), 41.

[5] Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 201.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Calvin, John, translated by Henry Beveridge. Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book First. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008), 29.

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