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John Calvin Says Scripture Is God's Self-Disclosure
John Calvin was not only concerned about the authority of Scripture, but also with true interpretation of Scripture and its proper use in the church. To be sure, one must begin with the authority and inspiration of Scripture: “Hence the Scriptures obtain full authority among believers only when men regard them as having sprung from heaven, as if there the living words of God were heard” (Institutes). However, according to Calvin, asserting the authority and inspiration of Scripture is not enough unless interpreters of Scripture, according to their ability, supply weapons to fight against false teachings.
Doctrine and Biblical Languages
Calvin dedicated his life to the restoration of the teaching of Scripture to the church and to the training of future interpreters of Scripture, so that all Christians might be brought to the true knowledge of God and Christ. Therefore, in his pastoral training he insisted that pastors be well grounded in both doctrine and biblical languages. In parallel with the training of pastors, he saw the two key responsibilities of pastors as teaching doctrine through the catechisms and preaching through books of the bible.
Accessibility to the Uneducated
In all of this, Calvin’s aim was to help make the Scriptures accessible to all people. He combined his conviction regarding the divine authority of Scripture with the claim that God’s teaching in Scripture is accommodated to the capacity of the most unlearned of people. He wrote, “All I have had in mind with this is to facilitate the reading of holy Scripture for those who are humble and uneducated” (Preface to Chrysostom’s Homiletics).
The Illumination of the Spirit
However, one cannot accept the Scripture’s author nor interpret it correctly without the illumination of the Holy Spirit: “For as God alone can properly bear witness to his own words, so these words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men, until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, therefore, who spoke by the mouth of the prophets, must penetrate our hearts, in order to convince us that they faithfully delivered the message with which they were divinely entrusted” (Institutes). Calvin argues that humans can have knowledge of God only because God first condescends and accommodates to human capacity to reveal to humans the truth about God. God takes on human nature and reveals through human words. According to Calvin, the self-disclosure of God is founded in the self-manifestation of God in the person of Jesus Christ and Scripture.
Scriptures Testify to Christ
According to Calvin, once Scripture sets forth the self-disclosure of the Creator, in the works God does in the universe, it passes on to the knowledge of God the Redeemer revealed in the Mediator, Jesus Christ. Christ is visible in both the symbols and shadows in the Law and the clear manifestation of the gospel. While one must avoid the dangers of over-spiritualizing the Old Testament and overemphasizing the differences between Israel and the church, when rightly understood, all the Scriptures testify to the one God and his Mediator, Christ Jesus. To be continued. For a more in-depth treatment of what the theological giants in the Christian tradition have taught about Scripture, check out Christian Theologies of Scripture. You can also read the introduction online.