Rejoicing over a Task Completed: Reading Calvin’s 1,328 pages on the Synoptic Gospels

Used with permission from As I See It, which is available free by writing to the editor at dkutilek@juno.com.

Rejoice with me, for I have finally completed a task begun 19 years ago—the reading of all three volumes of Calvin’s commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. I began vol. 1 (477 pp.) on February 15, 2000, and completed it on June 19 of that year (see review and extended quotations in As I See It 3:9). I began vol. 2 (456 pp.) sometime in 2012, and completed its reading on February 8, 2013 (review and quotations, As I See It 16:3). I launched into vol. 3 (395 pp.) shortly thereafter, but made small progress, and soon set it aside. Then, in February of 2018, I picked it up again, and attacked it off and on.

The comments on the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 22) were very long and very tedious, doubly so because Calvin’s amillennialism and denial of a future 7-year Tribulation rendered his interpretation completely unsatisfactory—it almost made me set the task aside again. But I “persevered unto the end,” and finally, March 16, 2019, I completed the final page of volume 3.

Throughout vol. 3, and as well as in the other two, it is always Calvin’s conviction that the Bible has Divine authority and is therefore entirely true. Anyone who pretends that this Reformer was soft on Biblical infallibility is either misinformed or simply lying. He avoids allegory and spiritualizing the text, and seeks to present a straightforward exposition of the text as he understands it. Sometimes the comments seemed to have too little exposition and too much “application” (vague and general commonplace platitudes). Calvin repeatedly addresses Papal errors and departures from Biblical teaching, and unhesitatingly exposes these errors in practice and in doctrine. He rejects strongly both the Papists “transubstantiation” and Luther’s “consubstantiation” views of the Lord’s Supper.

Calvin is in this volume decidedly much less a doctrinaire “Calvinist” than many of the modern sort of self-professed “Calvinists,” though in one place he speaks at length against resistible grace (which seems to be, contrary to the Reformer, the plain teaching of the text in question). He does sometimes use standard Calvinistic jargon—e.g., referring to the elect as “His people” (a thing the NT never does), though he also and often refers to the Jewish people as “His people” and “God’s chosen people.” Calvin does, after the typical amillennial manner, confound Israel and the Church. And, surprising to some, Calvin repeatedly (with a case or two strongly to the contrary) makes statements supporting unlimited atonement (see selected quotes below).

Wishing to have an informed, first-hand familiarity with, and opinion of, Calvin’s writings and views, I will likely read in his writings again, but what shall I read next? Perhaps Genesis or John or Acts. But I am not ready to do so just yet.

Selected Quotes

Some selected quotes from vol. 3 of Calvin’s commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (1979 Baker reprint of William Pringle’s translation)—

“Nothing has a more powerful tendency to withdraw teachers from a faithful and upright dispensation of the word than to pay respect to men; for it is impossible that any one who desires to please men (Galatians 1:10) should truly devote himself to God.” (pp. 42-3; italics in all quotes in original)

“For since God makes known His will clearly in the Scriptures, the want of acquaintance with them is the source and cause of all errors.” (p. 53)

“No other rule of a holy and righteous life was prescribed by Christ that what had been laid down by the Law of Moses; for the perfect love of God and our neighbors comprehends the utmost perfection of righteousness.” (p. 56)

“It is necessary that men should be convinced of their righteous condemnation, that they may betake themselves to the mercy of God.” (p. 57)

“God disdains the forced services of men, and chooses to be worshipped freely and willingly.” (p. 58; I wonder how Calvin harmonized in his mind this opinion with his practice of persecution of dissent, and forced compliance with his views of religious practices by Anabaptists and others).

“Again, when Moses commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves, he did not intend to put the love of ourselves in the first place, so that a man may first love himself and then love his neighbors … But as we are too much devoted to ourselves, Moses, in correcting this fault, places our neighbors in an equal rank with us; thus forbidding every man to pay so much attention to himself as to disregard others.” (p. 59; some years ago, I actually heard a preacher teach this error which Calvin here correctly decries)

“We ought to have a deeper reverence for Scripture than to reckon ourselves at liberty to disguise its natural meaning.” (p. 63)

“[The scribes] had perverted by their false opinion the pure and natural meaning of the Law… . It is evident that Christ exhorts the people to obey the scribes, only so far as they adhere to the pure and simple exposition of the Law.” (pp. 72, 75)

“The more holy a man is, the more eminently is he devoted to prayer.” (p. 85)

“Thus we see that the Papists, while they transgress the chief commandments of God, are extremely zealous in the performance of trifling ceremonies.” (p. 89)

“The children of God ought to desire to be pure rather than [merely] appear so.” (p. 94)

“The Papists now transfer the honor of God to departed saints, and even are so perverse as to adore their images.” (pp. 95-6)

“Popery [is] not satisfied with paying just veneration to Apostles and Martyrs, they render to them divine worship, and think that they cannot go too far in the honours which they heap upon the; and yet, by their rage against believers, they show what sort of respect they would have manifested towards Apostles and Martyrs, if they had been still alive to discharge the same office which they anciently held.  For why are they inflamed with such rage against us, but because we desire that the doctrine to be received, and to be successful, which the Apostles and Martyrs sealed with their blood? … . Let them adorn the images of the saints as they may think fit, by perfumes, candles, flowers, and every sort of gaudy ornament.  If Peter were now alive, they would tear him in pieces; they would stone Paul; and if Christ himself were still in the world, they would burn him with a slow fire.” (p. 97)

“The chief sacrifice which God requires from us is self-denial.” (p. 114)

“Let us learn from it, that no offense is more heinous in the sight of God, that obstinacy in despising his grace.” (p. 136)

“There is no reason, therefore, why any person should expect the conversion of the world.” (p 147)

“The chief part of our wisdom lies in confining ourselves soberly within the limits of God’s word.” (p. 153)

“[Jesus] compares death—as in other passages—to baptism (Roans 6:4) because the children of God, after having been immersed for a time by the death of the body, shortly afterwards rise again to life, so that death is nothing else than a passage through the midst of the waters.” (p. 169; note well how Calvin here clearly understands that “baptize” means “immerse”)

“The Son of God willingly surrendered himself to die, in order to reconcile the world to the Father, … . the voluntary sacrifice by which all the transgressions of the world may be blotted out.” (p. 185)

“Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for the salvation of the human race.” (p. 193)

“The sacrifice had been appointed by an eternal decree of God for expiating the sins of the world… . God’s determination that the world should be redeemed … . the eternal salvation of the human race.” (pp. 200, 205)

“By the word many [Mark 14:24] [Christ] means not a part of the world only, but the whole human race; for he contrasts many with one; as if he had said, that he will not be the Redeemer of one man only, but will die in order to deliver many from the condemnation of the curse… . Let us not only remember in general that the world has been redeemed by the blood of Christ, but let every one consider for himself that his own sins have been expiated.” (p. 214)

“A false confidence in his virtue carries [Peter] away into foolish boasting… . Peter forming confident expectation for himself goes far beyond the limits of faith… . And therefore whenever any temptation is presented to us, let us first remember our weakness.” (pp. 219, 220, 221)

“The true test of virtue is only to be found when the contest begins.” (p. 226)

“Certainly those who imagine that the Son of God was exempt from human passions do not truly and sincerely acknowledge him to be a man… .When he saw the wrath of God exhibited to him, as he stood at the tribunal of God charged with the sins of the whole world, he unavoidably shrunk with horror from the deep abyss of death.” (pp. 227, 234)

“[Peter] endeavors to … obstruct the path of redemption of mankind.” (p. 246)

“The more eminent a man is, therefore, he ought to be the more careful to be on his guard; for his elevation makes it impossible for him to fall from it without doing greater harm.”  (p. 262)

“But it may be asked, Is weeping requisite in true repentance?  I reply, Believers often with dry eyes groan before the Lord without hypocrisy, and confess their fault to obtain pardon; but in more aggravated offences they must be in no ordinary degree stupid and hardened, whose hearts are not pained by grief and sorrow, and who do not feel ashamed even so far as to shed tears.” (p. 266)

“True repentance is displeasure at sin, arising out of fear and reverence for God, and producing, at the same time, a love and desire of righteousness.” (p. 269)

“[Jesus] obtained deliverance for the whole human race… . God had appointed him to be a sacrifice (katharma) to atone for the sins of the world.” (pp. 277, 282)

“…the redemption of mankind.” (p. 283)

“For if the Son of God had not been free from all sin, we would have had no right to look for satisfaction from his death.” (p. 289)

“We have no reason to fear that our sins, from which the Son of God acquits us by so valuable a ransom, will ever again be brought into judgment before God.” (p. 290)

“[God] would never have permitted his Son to endure it, unless he had intended that it should be an expiation for the sins of the world.” (p. 293)

“In the death of Christ, … [the repentant thief] beholds a sacrifice of sweet savour, efficacious for expiating the sins of the world[.]” (p. 312)

“So then Christ, although struck by the hand of God, he appeared to be a man utterly abandoned, yet as he did not cease to be the Savior of the world,  …” (p. 312)

“…by this prayer [Jesus] obtained authority to save all souls, …” (p. 322)

“…that spectacle of which depends the salvation of the world.” (p. 329)

“…salvation through Christ was promised indiscriminately to all the Jews and … the promise of it was common to them all, …” (p. 330)

“Christ once appeared as a Redeemer to the Jews and to the whole world, as had been declared by in the predictions of the prophets.” (p. 334)

“We ought, therefore, to acknowledge that we come short in every respect, so that the heavenly doctrine proves to be both useful and efficacious to us, only so far as the Spirit both forms our minds to understand it, and our hearts to submit to its yoke… .For no darkness is more dangerous for quenching the light of the Spirit than reliance on our own sagacity… . For God does not bestow the Spirit on his people in order to set aside the use of his word, but rather to render it fruitful.  It is highly improper, therefore, in fanatics, under the pretense of revelations, to take upon themselves the liberty of despising the Scriptures; for what we now read in reference to the apostles is daily accomplished by Christ in all his people, namely, that by the Spirit he guides us to understand the Scriptures, and does not hurry us away into idle raptures of enthusiasm.” (pp. 275-6)

“No mortal is of himself qualified for preaching the gospel, except so far as God clothes him with his Spirit.” (p. 379)

“But as Christ enjoins them to teach before baptizing, and desires that none but believers shall be admitted to baptism, it would appear that baptism is not properly administered unless when it is preceded by faith.  On this pretense [!], the Anabaptists have stormed greatly against infant baptism.”  (p. 386; Calvin goes on to explain away the obvious intent of the text, to justify this relic of Romanism, namely infant baptism, without which Romanism, and all union of church and state, would soon cease).

“Though Christ does not expressly state whether he intends this gift [i.e., the miraculous gifts of the Spirit] , to be temporary, or to remain perpetually in his Church, yet it is more probable that miracles were promised only for a time, in order to give lustre to the gospel, while it was new and in a state of obscurity… . And certainly we see that the use of them ceased not long afterwards, or at least, that the instances of them were so rare as to entitle us to conclude that they would not be equally common in all ages.” (p. 389)

Douglas K. Kutilek Bio


Doug Kutilek is the editor of www.kjvonly.org, which opposes KJVOism. He has been researching and writing in the area of Bible texts and versions for more than 35 years. He has a BA in Bible from Baptist Bible College (Springfield, MO), an MA in Hebrew Bible from Hebrew Union College and a ThM in Bible exposition from Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). His writings have appeared in numerous publications.

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There are 23 Comments

Ed Vasicek's picture

Doug,

I really appreciate your summary of the Calvin Synoptic Gospel commentary excursion.

The quotations are invaluable!   I very much appreciate you sharing them with us!

I remember reading a comment on one verse (could have been in Synoptics or Acts)  where he says baptism is not absolutely necessary to salvation, and another where he says it is (I think Mark 16). He had a lot of struggling to do -- I don't know that anyone had made an attempt to write a commentary on (almost) the entire Bible since Chrysostom, if I am not mistaken. 

He made great strides toward a Biblical Christianity considering where he started from.  Obviously, his followers became "consistency police" and solidified some of his statements while rejecting others (like the unlimited atonement that seems pretty clear in the instances above).

 

"The Midrash Detective"

J. Baillet's picture

“But as Christ enjoins them to teach before baptizing, and desires that none but believers shall be admitted to baptism, it would appear that baptism is not properly administered unless when it is preceded by faith.  On this pretense [!], the Anabaptists have stormed greatly against infant baptism.”  (p. 386; Calvin goes on to explain away the obvious intent of the text, to justify this relic of Romanism, namely infant baptism, without which Romanism, and all union of church and state, would soon cease).

In fairness to Calvin, he frames the context of Mark 16:16 accurately as the Great Commission the resurrected Jesus gave to his remaining eleven disciples to “Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He who shall believe and be baptized shall be saved ….” (Matt. 16:15-16). In this context, unsaved adults are in view; primarily, Gentile adults. Almost immediately after the excerpt quoted by Mr. Kutilek, Calvin explains,

Christ orders them to convey to all nations the message of eternal salvation, and confirms it by adding the seal of baptism. Now it was proper that faith in the word should be placed before baptism, since the Gentiles were altogether alienated from God, and had nothing in common with the chosen people; for otherwise it would have been a false figure, which offered forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit to unbelievers, who were not yet members of Christ. But we know that by faith those who were formerly despised are united to the people of God.

Christ is not addressing the baptism of children; He is commissioning the preaching of the gospel to unbelieving adults. Paedobaptists hold to believer’s baptism … of adults. Adults cannot be baptized except upon profession of faith. This is the obvious intent of the text. This is the context of Mark 16:16.

JSB

J. Baillet's picture

I suspect that when Mr .Kutilek quotes Calvin's use of the word "world" and the phrase "human race," he is interpreting Calvin's meaning as "each and every person in the world or in the human race." I suggest that that was not Calvin's meaning. The word "world" and the phrase "human race" are rarely meant in that way in general usage or in Scripture.

JSB

G. N. Barkman's picture

J. Baillet is exactly right on this point.  When "world" is assumed to mean "every individual without exception who ever lived," Calvin (and virtually any and all Calvinists) can be thought to deny particular redemption.  But if you understand that Calvin's use of "world" corresponds to the Bible's use of "world," suddenly, all becomes clear.  

Here's a challenge.  Do a word study of the Biblical use of "world", and see how many times it means every individual without exception.  Very, very few.  It's really quite challenging to come up with very many instances of that use.  "World" has at least eight different definitions as used in the Bible.  To interpret the Bible correctly, we must study the way the Bible uses various words to determine what it is saying.  In other words, we must let the Bible define it's own terms, not impose our definitions upon the Bible.

G. N. Barkman

Ed Vasicek's picture

G. N. Barkman, I think Calvin clarifies what HE means by "the world" by saying

 

"By the word many [Mark 14:24] [Christ] means not a part of the world only, but the whole human race."  

On the baptism thing, I will concede that his view was generally infant baptism with conversions from the gentiles  excepted. On the biblical use of the word "world," I will conceded a possibility that it doesn't always mean "all" when used in certain contexts.. But I don't think Calvin believed that the non-elect were not part of the human race.

In perspective, however, I think we all agree that none of us follow Calvin, but we are out to follow God's Word.  We simply believe some individuals have done a good job in explaining the Word, but all teachers are fallible.  So I am not saying your belief in limited atonement is wrong (although I think it is), but I am saying that Calvin was apparently not consistently resolute about this.

 

"The Midrash Detective"

G. N. Barkman's picture

Calvin's tricky.  I've had to read some sections of his writings many times before I was reasonably certain of his meaning.  This current discussion is a good example.  Ed's highlighted quotation seems to indicate a meaning for the word "world" that embraces every individual.  I have drawn a different conclusion.  I think he means something like this:  "Not a part of the world (such as Israel only), but the whole human race."  (not Jews only)  He is not talking about individuals but classes of men.  World means all humanity without distinction.  The distinctions of the Old Covenant era are replaced with New Covenant inclusion of all mankind.

G. N. Barkman

TylerR's picture

Editor

Didn't Calvin write, somewhere, that the Institutes was the place to go for his official doctrine, not the commentaries? Or, maybe I have it backwards. Regardless, as Ed said, it doesn't really matter to me what Calvin thought about this. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ed Vasicek's picture

Didn't Calvin write, somewhere, that the Institutes was the place to go for his official doctrine, not the commentaries?

The consistency police would go wild with this one!

"The Midrash Detective"

Ed Vasicek's picture

Calvin I think (perhaps like some of us sometimes ) had one perspective while dealing with one Scripture and another perspective while dealing with another.

Calvin's comments on 2 Peter 2:1

...Even denying the Lord that bought them. Though Christ may be denied in various ways, yet Peter, as I think, refers here to what is expressed by Jude, that is, when the grace of God is turned into lasciviousness; for Christ redeemed us, that he might have a people separated from all the pollutions of the world, and devoted to holiness and innocency. They, then, who throw off the bridle, and give themselves up to all kinds of licentiousness, are not unjustly said to deny Christ by whom they have been redeemed.

"The Midrash Detective"

TylerR's picture

Editor

I think this is what I was remembering (preface to 1559 Institutes):

I may further observe, that my object in this work has been, so to prepare and train candidates for the sacred office, for the study of the sacred volume, that they may both have an easy introduction to it, and be able to prosecute it with unfaltering step; for, if I mistake not, I have given a summary of religion in all its parts, and digested it in an order which will make it easy for any one, who rightly comprehends it, to ascertain both what he ought chiefly to look for in Scripture, and also to what head he ought to refer whatever is contained in it.

Having thus, as it were, paved the way, as it will be unnecessary, in any Commentaries on Scripture which I may afterwards publish, to enter into long discussions of doctrinal points, and enlarge on commonplaces, I will compress them into narrow compass. In this way much trouble and fatigue will be spared to the pious reader, provided he comes prepared with a knowledge of the present work as an indispensable prerequisite. The system here followed being set forth as in a mirror in all my Commentaries, I think it better to let it speak for itself than to give any verbal explanation of it.

He intended his commentaries to be a mirror of the systematic; so the Institutes is where he intended you to find the "definitive" answer. I thought I remembered something more explicit, but this might be it. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

G. N. Barkman's picture

The real issue is not what Calvin believed, but what does the Bible teach?  However, when Calvin is cited in a SI article or comment, it is only fair to examine the citation to see if it accurately represents Calvin.  Unfortunately, Calvin is often misunderstood for the same reason the Bible is often misunderstood.  To impose our preconceived definitions of "all", "world", etc., is to guarantee a misunderstanding of the text, whether that text is Calvin or Scripture. 

G. N. Barkman

Bert Perry's picture

First of all, kudos to Kutilek for making it through three volumes of Calvin.  I've made it through a translation of the Institutes, and it's some of the toughest reading I've done, and I'm still not quite sure I understand it.

Regarding Tyler's question of whether Institutes is the proper place to find Calvin's theology, vs. the commentaries, my reading of the Institutes indicates that Calvin was attempting to link his theology with Augustinian theology, which would indicate that yes, it is the systematic, and his commentaries would function is OT/NT/Biblical theology.  

I'm reminded now, though, of Spurgeon's quip that if one would really be a "Calvinist", he'd better grasp all 46 volumes of theology that Calvin is said to have written.  Plenty of room for someone taking all or part of one of the commentaries and noting its impact on the Institutes.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

David R. Brumbelow's picture

“High Calvinists have a vested interest in claiming Calvin for their view on the question of extent.  Given Muller and others now argue that most, if not all, of the early Reformers held to a form of universal atonement, it is difficult to relinquish Calvin.  If he falls into the universal category, then the thesis that Beza was essentially the first (excepting Gottschalk) to argue for limited atonement becomes even more probable, and there is a significant discontinuity between the first generation of Reformers and later generations on the specific issue of the extent of the atonement.” 

“Curt Daniel’s pointed statement may rankle some of his Calvinist cohorts, but it is difficult to deny, ‘If Calvin did not teach limited atonement, then those who do are not Calvinists on the subject of the extent of the atonement,’ though they are certainly within the bounds of Reformed confessional orthodoxy.”

-David L. Allen, The Extent of the Atonement: A Historical and Critical Review, B&H Academic, Nashville; 2016. 

Also see the chapter, “Was Calvin a Calvinist?” in “Whosoever Will,” by Allen and Lemke.

David R. Brumbelow

Jay's picture

Didn't Calvin write, somewhere, that the Institutes was the place to go for his official doctrine, not the commentaries?

I think he said it in both places....hahaha.

Seriously, I am somewhat relieved by the comments here.  I have always found Calvin to be a difficult read, and that there is a proclivity to ramble or over explain things.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

G. N. Barkman's picture

Some non-Calvinists seem to have a vested interest in trying to prove that John Calvin was no Calvinist, meaning he did not believe in TULIP, the currently standardized shorthand for core Calvinist theology.  I have read many such claims with interest over the years.  Before I became a convinced Calvinist, such claims helped to bolster my rejection of 5 point Calvinism, and convinced me that my Calvinist friends were badly mistaken.  Unfortunately for my non-Calvinist friends, the more I read, and the longer I studied, I became convinced of two things.  1)  Five point Calvinism is what the Bible truly teaches, and 2)  Five point Calvinism is what John Calvin actually believed. 

I have also concluded that it is difficult to properly understand Calvin unless you are a Calvinist.  The same vocabulary that assures many that the Bible teaches Universal Atonement, also convinces these same people that Calvin believed in Universal Atonement.  The same mistake is at the root of both conclusions, namely assigning imposed definitions upon certain words instead of deriving their actual meaning from a careful analysis of Biblical usage.

G. N. Barkman

TylerR's picture

Editor

I've changed. I just don't care about these kinds of disputes, anymore. I have a Reformed soteriology, and I preach that way, but I don't care about arguing the nuances of soteriology anymore. I have strong feelings about it, but only regarding situations I have control over. Online interaction isn't something I can control, so I don't bother. I didn't used to be that way. Not sure when that changed, or why.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

G. N. Barkman's picture

Tyler, I understand your perspective.  Sometimes I feel the same way.  The debates seem endless and incapable of resolution.  However, something within me rises up when I see a Biblical truth misunderstood, and even worse, misrepresented.  I find myself almost compelled to try to shine some light onto the subject.  Who knows?  If only one person is helped, the effort should be considered worthwhile.  In most cases, the person posting the comment is unlikely to change, but perhaps some reader who is trying to figure things out will be helped.

G. N. Barkman

Bert Perry's picture

Perhaps it's changing now, but one thing I've noticed for about the past quarter century is that most of those debating the most furiously about TULIP/etc.. have never read a word of Calvin or Arminius.  As many here have noted, certainly most have not understood either well.  And so for me, the best place to be in these discussions is to ask people....have you read the Institutes, or other works by Calvin?

If no, let's table the discussion until we have.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I think some Calvinists are more Calvinistic than Calvin ...

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

G. N. Barkman's picture

That's a very broad statement, allowing for many different understandings to be inserted.  Almost everyone can agree with it because most will read their own understanding into it.  My question is, "Tyler, what do you mean by that statement?"

G. N. Barkman

TylerR's picture

Editor

I mean some Calvinists are very, very wedded to a systemization that hadn't yet been refined in Calvin's time. This pattern repeats with every group; some people like to push systems onto texts that don't quite fit so neatly. Some dispensationalists do this, for example, by saying the early chapters of Acts aren't for "the church."

What Calvin said is important. Let's just not care TOO much. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

M. Osborne's picture

  1. What Calvin said is important.
  2. What the Bible says is important.

Both statements are true; they're just very different kinds of statements. And I've read enough of Calvin to know that he'd agree that they're very different kinds of statements.

I've read large chunks of the Institutes (or rather, listened to large chunks as audiobook, which is not ideal but better than nothing), and I enjoy turning to his commentaries as an example of pre-critical depth.

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

G. N. Barkman's picture

Tyler, I agree that some Calvinists push for a degree of systemization that was not present in Calvin's day.  After all, in Calvin's day, "Calvinism" was pretty new.  The reformation was basically a rebirth of Augustinian soteriology which today we call Calvinism.  The Reformers were pretty much united in their "Calvinism," so Calvin did not have to refine nor defend his doctrine by debates with other Protestants.  That's why his concepts are not always crystal clear to modern readers, who are accustomed to the systemization and vocabulary carved out in the years after Calvin died, refinements forged in the fires of debate, such as the Arminian Remonstrance that was answered at the Council of Dordt.  That council formulated much of the system and vocabulary that subsequently shaped Calvinism.

But to conclude, as some erroneously do, that John Calvin was not a five point Calvinist is to misunderstand Calvin's own words.  He did express his doctrine in vocabulary and patterns that differ from most modern Calvinists for the reasons stated above.  But a careful reading of Calvin has convinced me that he believed the same doctrine.  He simply expressed it differently.

G. N. Barkman

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