The Calvinist View of Interpretation

Like Luther’s doctrine of the authority of Scriptures, John Calvin’s similar doctrine is important to the Calvinist perspective of the Bible because, “on its basis, Biblicism developed in all groups of Protestant faith [since] the Bible, for Calvin, is the law of truth.”[1] Calvin’s view of this law of truth is best ascertained by way of the Bible’s authority, which he believed is “derived from the fact that the Bible was composed under the dictations of the Holy Spirit.”[2] In this way, then, the Bible is divinely-inspired. In other words, to suggest that the Bible is divinely-inspired and composed by the Holy Spirit is to propose, when following the Calvinist perspective, that the Bible, therefore, “does not need to be supplemented and interpreted by tradition [no more than it needs to be] revised and corrected by reason.”[3] To be more specific, for Calvin, the Bible, as the divinely-inspired Scriptures composed by the Holy Spirit, stands alone in its authority, justification, relevance, and purpose, all of which are inherent in it rather than being manipulated by tradition or molded by reason –like Luther, Calvin does not see human tradition or human reason as the dominating factors to the Bible’s authority. What this means, then, is that the Bible, as a standalone entity, consists of Scripture-consequences: inferences or deductions from scriptural statements –it is with the just and well rounded Calvinistic interpretation of these statements that “the fundamental [Calvinistic] principles are directly and explicitly sanctioned by the Word of God.”[4]  One important Calvinistic principle based on the appropriation of the Word of God is the notion that the “scripture gives [the Christian] a still clearer knowledge of the truth,”[5] where the interpretation of scripture provides readings of the truth that yield understandings of “the covenant which the Lord made with Abraham”[6] as they are communicated through the Word of God. To Calvin, when considering that the Scriptures were the Word of God, the Scriptures were, in effect, infallible and “[Christians] must, therefore, take a better aim [with the Scriptures], one to which [they] are directed by the infallible guidance of Scripture”[7] –the idea of the Bible as the Word of God being infallible is in opposition to Luther, since Luther believed that the Bible being the Word of God did not necessarily make it infallible.

[1] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: Volume II: The Reformation to the Present Day (New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 2010), 274.

[2] Ibid, 275.

[3] Linwood Urban, A Short History of Christian Thought (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1995), 203.

[4] William Cunningham, The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1967), 529-530.

[5] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2002), 810.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 813.

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