The Institutes (11)

Book 1 Chapter 8 Sections 1-4

Calvin switches from the internal proofs of Scriptural authority to external proofs. Scripture is not only verified by an inward conviction, but also by empirical proofs. But this isn’t to say that the two types of proof are equal:

Unless this certainty, higher and stronger than any human judgment, be present, it will be vain to fortify the authority of Scripture by arguments, to establish it by common agreement of the church, or to confirm it with other helps.

Without a settled conviction that truth is objective, and that its found in the Word of and about Jesus Christ, any appeal to rationalism for external proofs has little or no value. The Scriptures are not here to prop up the wise and powerful, they are here to confound them!

For it was also not without God’s extraordinary providence that the sublime mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven came to be expressed largely in mean and lowly words, lest, if they had been adorned with more shining eloquence, the impious would scoffingly have claimed that its power is in the realm of eloquence alone. Now since such uncultivated and almost rude simplicity inspires greater reverence for itself than any eloquence, what ought one to conclude except that the force of the truth of Sacred Scripture is manifestly too powerful to need the art of words?

For truth is cleared of all doubt when, not sustained by external props, it serves as its own support.

Power is inherent to the Word, because it is the Word of God, and not mere men. Calvin goes on to contrast the difference between the Word and writings of philosophers. While the latter has a form of authority, no one pegs human nature and the experience of life quite as accurately as the Word. I would insert here that I think Plato came close to describing transcendent reality, but it wasn’t until Augustine took special revelation as the true form of what Plato saw as only shadows that a philosopher emerged who had the basis of his thought grounded in the Scripture. Calvin continues the tradition, pointing out that proper philosophy is based on Scripture since the very words “breathe something divine.”

This divine content also shows that Scripture surpasses anything that can be found on earth. In a rather humorous quote, Calvin shows how otherworldly Scripture is. Taking the prophets as an example, he writes:

As far as Sacred Scripture is concerned, however much froward men try to gnaw at it, nevertheless it clearly is crammed with thoughts that could not be humanly conceived. Let each of the prophets be looked into: none will be found who does not far exceed human measure. Consequently, those for whom prophetic doctrine is tasteless ought to be thought of as lacking taste buds.

Calvin concludes the section by beginning to examine some of the content of Scripture. He holds up as proof of divine origin that the writers themselves are shown in a negative light. Moses’ failings are not spared, nor are any of the patriarchs. Why would someone who wanted to create a history of Israel for Israel saturate his words with accounts of their leader’s failings? Maybe Moses is pointing out how truly depraved man is… and how gracious God is in turn. At every turn, Scripture debases man and exalts God.

In the next section, Calvin turns to refute the objection of skeptics concerning some of supernatural elements in the Scriptures.


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