John Calvin and Christology.

John Calvin Book Two chapters 12-14

Background

John Calvin was born on July 10, 1509 in Noyon, France when Martin Luther was 25 years old and had just begun teaching in Wittenberg.  When he turned fourteen years old His father sent him to study theology in Paris France.  At this time Paris was not changed by the Reformation and was still deeply entrenched in the teaching of the Medieval Roman Catholic Church.  When John turn 19 his father ran afoul with the church and so in response his father pulled him out of school in theology and sent him to law school.  John remained in his studies concerning law for three years in Orleans and Bourges.  John Calvin mastered the Greek language while in these studies.  He was influenced by such men as Duns Scotus, William Occum, and Gabriel Biel.  He also completed his studies in law at this point in time.  May 1531 John Calvin’s father died which in a way freed him from his studies in the law and then he pursued his love which was theology.  John Calvin was 21 years old at this time.  In 1532 at the age of 23 years old John Calvin published His first book, “Commentary on Seneca”.  It is sometime in 1533 that John Calvin catches wind of the Reformation and its message.  And in November his friend Nicholas Cops preaches a message in Paris at the start of winter that many believe that Calvin wrote.  This results in a persecution brought about by King Francis I.  It is clear at this point Calvin is devoted to the message of the gospel.

Calvin flees to Basel, Switzerland where he devotes himself to learning the Hebrew language and in March of 1536 puts out his first publication of “Institutes of the Christian Religion.”  Five more enlargements will be the end in 1559.  They were written in response to the persecution that broke out and the blood that was shed for their beliefs as an Apologetic work from scripture.  It should be noted that John Calvin went through much suffering through the lost of children, wife, and physical affliction brought on due to a lack of health.  It should also be noted that John Calvin was a very diligent worker due to his belief of doing all for the glory of God.  He spent five years going through the book of Acts.  He preached forty-six messages on Thessalonians, one hundred and eighty-six messages on Corinthians, eighty-six sermons on the pastoral epistles, forty-three sermons on Galatians, forty-eight on Ephesians, three hundred and fifty-three on Isaiah and many more sermons.  He also wrote a commentary on nearly every book of the Bible along with many other works.  He worked diligently to his death and is one who lived what he believed.

Review of reading

In Book II chapters 12-14 John Calvin is dealing with Christology and its relationship with Soteriology along with Anthropology and Angelology.  Calvin in this work portrays the proper view to be held on Christ and his work in fulfilling the office of priest in chapter 12.  In chapter 13 John Calvin is refuting the false views on Christ and His humanity.  And finally in chapter 14, John Calvin defends the Hypostatic Union that was defined in the council in 451 AD.  Although most of his arguments are from scripture and only appeals to the churches authority in that it unanimously agreed that certain teachings taught by Nestorius and Eutyches were heresy.  In conclusion, he links the teaching being taught by Servetus as nothing new and is a weak hybrid of the two.  It is hard to understand exactly what Servetus taught from reading what John Calvin says in these chapters.  Servetus was later burned at the stake under the order of the city council.

In chapter twelve much is said concerning the need for Jesus Christ necessarily to be both fully man and fully God.  He points out that it is impossible for man to ascend to God and so it is necessary for God to come down to man.  The Son then takes on flesh and stoops down to mankind and then rises up mankind to be with God.  Jesus Christ as a man is able to do what no other man is able to do because He is also fully God.  John Calvin devotes a lot of the chapter dealing with substitutionary atonement as well as describing propitiation.  John sees the sin as a horrid offense to God the Father in which He must be appeased.  This can only be done and fully met by a willing substitute is both fully man because he is representing man and fully God so that He is capable of paying the infinite debt placed on man.  The first Adam represents all mankind and so all men are considered guilty and sinners because of his sin and guilt and they are also polluted themselves that they are unable to do anything good before God.  The second Adam, who is Jesus Christ, represents all that the Father called Him to save and so when on the cross the Father impute the sin of those people on Him and He suffers the full extent of that wrath so that there is no longer any need for payment.  In this case Substitutionary Atonement works perfect with the rest of his views on Soteriology.  Great defense is given in argument for this view of atonement.  He quotes a Bible to a large extent so much so that most the language to define his atonement view is scripture.  He also argues from Ephesians 1:4-7 that God the Father predestined the relationship that is found in Christ prior to predestining the fall.  It should not be seen as in order of time as much as in order of events.  For example Calvin would argue that The Father did not predestine salvation for man because of the known fall but rather because of a desire to bring men into a relationship to Himself through the work of the Son predestined a fall.  To this he says,

Here certainly the fall of Adam is not presupposed as anterior in point in time, but our attention is directed to what God predetermined before all the ages, when He was pleased to provide a cure for the misery of the human race.  If, again, it is objected that this counsel if God depended on the fall of man, which he foresaw, to me is sufficient and more to reply, that those who propose to inquire, or desire to know more of the Christ than God predestined by His secret decree, are presuming with impious audacity to invent a new Christ.

John Calvin also deals with those who ask “foolish questions” that are not dealt with in scriptures.  He does not have any patience for those who fall into pointless and fruitless speculations.

In chapter 13 John Calvin defends the full humanity of Jesus Christ.  He sees this as not only crucial for salvation but also for application to ones life in beliefs and action.  He refers to any who deny the full humanity of Christ as being no benefit.  He says, “…nor do they gain any thing by their frivolous subtleties when they attempt to do away with what I have now adduced in opposition to them.”  The two views being argued against are the Manicheans and the Marcionites.  He argues thoroughly from scripture that Christ was indeed fully man.  He uses such passages as Psalms 8, Romans 8 and 9, Hebrews 2, Galatians 3, and Matthew 1.  All of these refer to him as being a man either by title or function.  In the closing of the chapter He states that Jesus is not free from sin because he did not have a genetic physical father.  But rather Jesus could be fully man and a descendant of Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, and Mary but remain sinless because of the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.  In attempting to communicate this mystery of Christ being fully man yet without sin and also the Son of God, John Calvin says this:

The Son of God descended miraculously from heaven, yet without abandoning heaven; was pleased to be conceived miraculously in the Virgin’s womb, to live on earth, and hang upon the cross and yet always filled the world as from the beginning.

The last chapter deals with the Hypostatic Union of Jesus Christ. Who “became the Son of Man, not by confusion of substance but by unity of person… and yet the two natures constitute only one Christ.”  He starts from arguing the one person of Jesus.  He argues this because scripture never speak of there being more than one person or more than one Christ.  He shows then from scripture that there are, however, two natures within the Christ.  He is careful with his words to show distinction but not separation of the two.  He states he would not be so precise had it not been for the overwhelming consistency being taught in scripture. He spends the rest of this chapter describing the faults in the modern “fatal monster” Michael Servetus.  “Who for the son of God has substituted a figment composed of the essence of God, Spirit, flesh, and three untreated elements.”  John Calvin then argues the Michael Servetus first denies that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  From what’s gathered in reading these chapters, Michael Servetus argued that Jesus did not exist prior to the Incarnation as the Son of God, but became the Son of God as we also are adopted as children of God.  Calvin argues again with a multitude of Scripture passages showing the Son of God was pre-existent and took on flesh while remaining the Son of God.  John Calvin states this about Michael Servetus,

Thus while he cannot comprehend that Christ was the Son of God until his flesh came forth from the essence of God and was converted into Deity, he reduces the eternal personality (hypostasis) of the Word to nothing, and robs us of the Son of David, who was the promised redeemer.

I am in agreement with John Calvin and his strong stance against these heresies that deny either that Jesus Christ was not fully man or not fully God, or that Jesus Christ was more than one person.  To believe in any less than Jesus Christ being fully God and fully man within one person is to create a whole new Christ that is different than the one who is taught in Scripture.  And that Christ can save no one.  As argued in the first chapter, and laying the foundation work for the rest of the chapters, Calvin shows how it is necessary that the Messiah be what He is representing for the redemption of man, in this case fully man.  He also needs to be fully God, capable of paying the penalty due.  After reading Book II, chapters 12-14, I have realized how much we today take for granted that we know because of men such as John Calvin.  We are saints standing on the shoulders of the giants before us.

Sources

The Legacy of Sovereign Joy, John Piper

Five leading Reformers lives at a Watershed of History, Christopher Catherwood

The Story of Christian Theology, Roger E. Olson

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4 thoughts on “John Calvin and Christology.

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  2. Have you seen the Calvin materials posted at Calvin500.com? Among other things, it contains info on the publication of the Institutes by Logos Bible Software, including a 9-volume collection which contains the 1559 Latin edition, the French edition, and English translations by Norton, Allen, and Beveridge. I thought you might be interested! http://www.calvin500.com

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