Calvin Didn’t Master the Languages

It seems to be the common opinion that John Calvin was neither a master of Greek or Hebrew, yet he passionately perused them and encouraged and instructed all pastors to do the like. I find encouragement in the fact that Calvin wasn’t a master of the languages. It helps me see that some things were hard work for Calvin, yet he persisted because the worth of the goal was great. He believed in the importance of the original languages and it showed in all he did.

Calvin firmly believed in an educated pastorate, and part of this eruditio was mastery of the languages of Scripture. Prudence and fairness requires us to agree with the assessment of David Puckett when he concludes that Calvin ‘probably should not be regarded as a expert Hebraist, as was Münster, but he did know the language a great deal better than the seventeenth-century Roman Catholic scholar Richard Simon believed.’ Basil Hall perhaps provides an accurate judgment when he says that Calvin was ‘competent in Hebrew without being a distinguished Hebraist’ and that he was an ‘homme trilingue, a worthy representative of French biblical humanism.’ The reality is that ‘there is scarcely a Reformed exegete of the sixteenth century who did not have a good knowledge of Hebrew and was passionately concerned to establish the hebraica veritas.’ Calvin was an excellent Greek scholar, yet, again, he was not alone. Indeed, Reformed interpreters of the sixteenth century were masters of the Greek language, and men like Beza even surpassed Calvin in it.

John D. Currid, Calvin and the Biblical Languages (Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2006), 77-78.

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