Calvin Models for Us What Good Commentaries Ought to Be

Calvin’s Commentaries are a great gift to Christ’s church and laid a foundation for the dynamic theology of the reformation. They show us that Scripture truly is the living Word. For accurate, reverent, and erudite exposition, Calvin has no equal. His method of exegesis has been followed by ministers of God’s Word until today, and the church has been blessed and edified as a result.

The Commentaries are a sterling example of the benefit of doing exegesis under Scripture’s authority. Calvin’s Commentaries are an exemplary display of the vital principle Scripturam ex Scriptura expli- candam esse (“Scripture is to be explained from Scripture”). We must not “rush headlong and rashly” into Scripture, Calvin said, “because the Spirit, who spoke by the prophets, is the only true interpreter of himself.” We must be reverent, obedient, and teachable, he contin- ued, for the whole world together cannot produce living faith through any interpretation of Scripture. Only the Holy Spirit can illuminate the humble soul seeking after the true knowledge of God. as pastors and students of the Word, we would be wise to make use of the Commentaries in our ministries. As Paul Helm writes:

We should study his commentaries, one of Calvin’s greatest permanent legacies to the church…. Calvin writes tersely and without any personal showiness. “I love brevity,” he once said. He lets the Word of God do the work. He was granted great insight into the meaning of the text of Scripture, the intentions of the writers, and the scope of each passage. He produced a shelf full of commentaries, one on almost every book of Scrip- ture, but each is made up of short comments on the text. For this reason, they are of timeless value.

The veteran preacher Al Martin says of Calvin’s Commentaries:

“Several years ago, someone asked me what I would do differ- ently if I could turn back the clock some thirty to forty years and restructure my personal ministerial priorities. I said that I would purpose to read all of Calvin’s commentaries in con- junction with my regular devotional reading of the Bible. Over the years, I have worked through many puritan volumes in this way, taking just four or five pages each morning as part of my devotional exercises. I wish someone had directed me to do the same with Calvin’s commentaries early in my ministry.

Finally, the Calvin scholar John Hesselink writes:

Contemporary biblical scholars often pay tribute to the special value of Calvin’s Commentaries because of the theological insight and spiritual depth of Calvin’s handling of biblical texts. as an Old Testament scholar, L.p. Smith, points out, “No modern commentator equals Calvin for penetrating the depths of the passage and pointing the way to its application by Christians to the problems of later time.” It is noteworthy that the Barthian scholar, George Hunsinger, always reads Calvin’s commentaries as well as modern ones in his preparation for the Bible class he teaches each Sunday at Nassau presbyterian Church in princ- eton. He writes, “The reason is that Calvin thinks theologically about what he reads and that he does so at a level of brilliance beyond anything that recent scholars have to offer.”48 This kind of testimony is repeated again and again by biblical scholars.

 

One Response to “Calvin Models for Us What Good Commentaries Ought to Be”

  1. Chris Hunter June 28, 2012 at 10:41 am #

    Calvin certainly wrote with a touch of the legal, for he almost entered that field, therefore I assume he always found it interesting and useful for the theologian and the use of logic.

    I personally don’t find his commentaries as enjoyable as Hodge, Hendriksen, and others

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