Calvin on Scripture and Divine Sovereignty, by John Murray. Published by Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Mich. Price $1.75.
This is a very good book which I recommend to all our readers. On the inside of the cover we read the following by the publisher: “The three chapters of this book have their origin in a series of lectures on certain aspects of Calvin’s theology, delivered by John Murray, Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia. The occasion was the 450th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin and the 400th anniversary of the appearance of the final edition of Calvin’s immortal work, The Institutes of the Christian Religion.”
The first chapter deals with Calvin’s Doctrine of Scripture, the second treats Calvin and the Authority of Scripture, the third chapter treats the subject Calvin on the Sovereignty of God.
In the first chapter the author lays great stress on the fact that Calvin maintained the verbal inerrancy of Scripture in distinction from those who hold that Calvin taught that the infallibility of the Scriptures has reference, not to the words of the Bible, but to matters of faith and doctrine only. The latter, according to Murray, Calvin denies, and he maintains the verbal inerrancy of the original autographa.
Yet, on the other hand, according to Murray, “Calvin does recognize that the writers of Scripture were not always meticulously precise on certain details such as those of number and incident. And this means that the Holy Spirit, by whom, in Calvin’s esteem, they wrote, was not always “meticulously precise on such matters.” If this means anything it means that, according to Calvin and also to Murray, certain minor errors in the autographa are quite consistent with their inerrancy. With this I cannot agree: the Holy Spirit would not inspire even such minor errors.
The author concludes with the following paragraph: “We need not doubt that it was distinction between pedantic precision on the one hand, and adequate statement, that is, statement adequate to the situation, and intent, on the other, that Calvin had in mind, when he said that ‘the apostles were not so punctilious as not to accommodate themselves to the unlearned.’ We are not necessarily granting that Calvin’s remarks are the best suited to the questions that arise in connection with and . We may even grant that the language used by Calvin in these connections is ill-advised and not in accord with Calvin’s usual caution when reflecting on the divine origin and character of Scripture. But, if so, we should not be surprised if such a prolific writer as Calvin should on occasion drop remarks or even express positions inconsistent with the pervasive and governing tenor of his thinking and teaching.” Etc.
Nevertheless, I am of the opinion that in the last two paragraphs Murray has weakened his argument by which he meant to prove that Calvin took the position that the autographa were verbally inerrant.
In the second chapter the author does not deal only with the authority of Scripture but also with other subjects such as the relation between Christ as the incarnate Word and the written Word of God; and the relation between the latter and the testimony of the Holy Spirit. In regard to the authority of Scripture, we must distinguish, thus he writes, between the authority intrinsic to Scripture and our subjective conviction of that authority. On this distinction, Murray writes, Calvin is not quite clear. This has led some to the conclusion that the basis of the authority of Scripture, according to Calvin, is in the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. Yet, this is not the case, according to Murray. On the contrary, “for Calvin the authority of Scripture does not reside in the internal testimony but in that which Scripture is by reason of divine inspiration.”
This chapter I consider one of the less clear parts of Murray’s book, due, perhaps to the fact that Calvin himself leaves room for misinterpretation.
In regard to the third chapter I may be brief. First, Murray treats of Calvin’s conception of God’s sovereignty according to His decrees, particularly of the decree of predestination, election and reprobation; and, secondly, of God’s sovereignty in His providence.
As I remarked in the beginning, this is a good book which I recommend to all our readers. Although the subject material is profound, Murray has a very clear style so that our readers with a little study ought to be able to understand him.
The Epistles of Paul to the Colossians and to Philemon, by Herbert M. Carson. Published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich., price $2.00.
This is another commentary in the Tyndale series. Although in reviewing commentaries I usually do not read the notes on every verse, in this case I made an exception. I can recommend it to all our readers. On the cover we may find a note stating that this commentary is “a concise, workable tool for laymen, teachers and ministers.” And this is true. For, although this commentary is based on the original Greek, this will be no handicap for the average layman. The style is very clear, and also popular.
In an introduction the writer speaks of the church to which the epistle to the Colossians is addressed, of the authorship of the epistle, and of the teaching of the epistle; and, finally, he writes about Philemon and about slavery.
The exegesis is good, based on the original text. But I cannot agree with the interpretation of vs. 15ff. Writes the author:
“He is supreme, first of all, in creation, being described as ‘the firstborn of all creation.’ This must not be twisted, as it often has been, to mean that Christ stands at the apex of creation, but is still a created being. On purely grammatical grounds it would be possible to take this phrase with this meaning. Thus ‘all creation’ would be the totality of which the Son is the firstborn. But the context rules this out completely. We must therefore take the genitive as being qualified by the element ‘first’ in the compound ‘firstborn.’ This then underlines the Son’s primacy. He is begotten of the Father, not created; and as firstborn, prototokos, He is before all creation.”
With this, namely, that the reference here is to the Son of God in His divine nature only, I do not agree. And for this I have the following reasons:
1. The context. Carson claims that “the context rules this out completely.” He, however, does not explain why the context rules this out. I claim that the context favors the interpretation that the reference in vss. 15-20 is to Christ in his human and divine natures both. In vs. 14 we read: “In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” And then the apostle continues in vs. 15: “Who is the image of the invisible God.” Now the pronoun “who” in this verse certainly refers to the same person as the phrase “in whom” in vs. 14. And the latter phrase certainly does not refer to the Son of God in the divine nature only but to Christ, the Son of God incarnate. The same is the reference of “who” in vs. 15.
2. When, in vs. 15 it is said that the person to whom is the reference, is the eikoon tou Theou tou aoratou, the image of the invisible God, the term God in this phrase does not refer to the Father as the first person of the Holy Trinity but to the Triune God. Of that triune God Christ, the incarnate Son is the image.
3. The term “firstborn” certainly puts Christ in His human nature as the one that certainly stands as the first and as the head of every creature or of the whole creation (pasees ktiseoos) but, nevertheless, also places Him with creation or with every creature. In His human nature Christ was a creature. This is the only meaning the term “firstborn” can have. When, among men, we speak of a firstborn son, the meaning is that others will follow or have already followed that are like the firstborn. Thus also with Christ. He is the firstborn among many brethren and became like unto His brethren in all things sin excepted. This is also the meaning in the phrase “the firstborn of every creature or of all creation.”
4. When we read in vs. 16 that by him were all things created, the preposition “by” is in the original “in” and it is better to translate it thus. This means that in the divine conception of things they all were in Christ; and this divine conception will be realized when Christ, the incarnate Son, has died, was raised, exalted in glory, the Church has been gathered, and the new heavens and earth are created, in which God through Christ will be all in all.
However, I heartily recommend this commentary to our readers.