Calvin’s Preaching: The Importance of Scripture and its Original Intent

Calvin had developed a strong sense of the importance of Scripture and this is clearly revealed in his preaching. The foundation of Calvin’s ministry was the Word of God. He firmly believed that the Scriptures came through men, but from the mouth of God.

Enlightened by him [God], we no longer believe, either on our own judgment or that of others, that the Scriptures are from God; but, in a way superior to human judgment, feel perfectly assured – as much so as if we beheld the divine image visibly impressed upon it – that it came to us, by the instrumentality of men, [but] from the very mouth of God.[1]

As stated, Calvin did not underestimate the role of the human writer in understanding Scripture and thought that the exegetical task should begin with this in mind. Thus the theologian, commentator, or preacher who is interpreting Scripture must first begin by understanding the original intent of the author as far as is possible.

Since it is almost the interpreter’s only task to unfold the mind of the writer whom he has undertaken to expound, he misses his mark, or at least strays outside his limits, by the extent to which he leads his readers away from the meaning of his author.[2]

This means also that one who intends to preach the Scripture in a manner that is relevant to the modern reader must first determine what the passage would have meant to the ancient, original reader. One need only survey passages in several of Calvin’s commentaries to determine that it was Calvin’s practice to explain the historical meaning of a passage before moving into exposition and thus to interpretation of the text. Indeed, Calvin stated in his Institutes that “there are many passages of Scripture whose meaning depends on their peculiar position [context].”[3]

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. 1, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n. d.), 72 (I:vii:5).
[2] John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1960), 1.
[3] Calvin, Institutes, vol. 2, 545 (IV:xvi:23).

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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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