Saturday, March 06, 2010

What did John Calvin actually say? (Part 2)

I had also published my previous post "John Calvin on John 3:16" to my Facebook page and got several responses that I believe are worthy of mentioning and commenting on here.

The response I want to start with is from a long time friend who's intellect and Biblical understanding I respect. He says,

"I wonder if you may have intended to write "all men without distinction" instead of "all men without exception."

I think that "all men without distinction," that is people without racial, social, sexual distinctions, underscores the kind of universality John 3:16 is after. It seems to me that this is necessary for rightly understanding 1 John 2:2 also."

This was my response:

How do you understand Calvin's words, "And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers..."?

I see two questions here. 1) Is the primary focus of John 3:16 the free offer of the Gospel, or the scope and purpose of the atonement? 2) The other question is how do we understand John's use of "whosoever" and "world".

I understand from the quotes cited, that Calvin's answer to the first question is "the free offer of the gospel". At that point finding the meaning of "whosoever" and "world" becomes a question of usage and context apart from trying to fit the passage into a predetermined view of the scope and purpose of the atonement. And yes, the context of the Jewish religious nationalism of Nicodemus is an important part of understanding that. The meaning you cited may be what Calvin intended in his use of universal language in his John 3:16 comments, and I agree he clearly has that meaning in view in his comments on I John 2:2.

What I am struck by is how Calvin views both John 3:16 and the II Peter 3:9 passage in terms of the free offer of the Gospel in distinction from, in Calvin's own words on II Peter 3:9, "the hidden purpose of God." If I may, I fault both Armenians and Calvinists for turning those passages into statements on the purpose and scope of the atonement in such a way that the free offer of the Gospel ends up taking a backseat...

And in answer to your question, in viewing those passages as primarily focused on the free offer of the gospel, I can live with either "all men without distinction" or "all men without exception" while acknowledging context does give favor to the first.

Another friend drew my attention to Calvin's comments on Matthew 20:28, 26:28, and Romans 5:18. It is this excerpt from Calvin's comments on Romans 5:18 I found most striking:

He does not say the righteousness — δικαιοσύνην, but the justification — δικαίωμα, of Christ, in order to remind us that he was not as an individual just for himself, but that the righteousness with which he was endued reached farther, in order that, by conferring this gift, he might enrich the faithful. He makes this favor common to all, because it is propounded to all, and not because it is in reality extended to all; for though Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, and is offered through God’s benignity indiscriminately to all, yet all do not receive him. (Commentary on Romans 5:18)

My purpose in pointing out what John Calvin has written regarding these different passages of Scripture is to highlight what he actually said in distinction from what sometimes his friends as well as his foes assume he said. Agree with Calvin or not, let us at least be accurate and honest about what he really did say. Truth and love demands we do so.


~ The Billy Goat ~

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