I (Andrew) did not just move my family across the country, so I have no excuses for my dearth of posts! (Although I was swamped preparing a lecture/presentation on the history and archaeology of Old Testament Jerusalem, and preparing to host the meetings of Classis Southwest US of the URCNA which were held Sept 17-18 at Christ Reformed Church where I pastor.)
Now that I’m on vacation, I’ve had time to dive into a couple of books I’ve been itching to read. The first is John Currid’s Calvin and the Biblical Languages (Mentor, 2006) which is a fun, historical read, outlining Calvin’s own education in Greek and Hebrew, as well as his work to equip ministers to rightly handle the word of truth through their own language studies in Geneva. Currid’s chapter “King of Commentators” is especially fine as he analyzes some of Calvin’s linguistic work. (Of course, I was especially interested in discussion of Calvin’s knowledge and use of Hebrew.)
I loved these paragraphs, however, which spoke to the use of extra-biblical texts in biblical exegesis:
[P.T.] Fuhrman gets at the heart of Calvin’s preaching when he says that his sermons ‘are properly homilies as in the ancient church: expositions of Bible passages at [sic] the light of grammar and history, and their application to the hearers’ life situations.’ Calvin sought to understand Scripture itself, and to let the Scriptures speak for themselves through the preacher.
In this regard, Calvin did not use contemporary issues of the day or the hot topics of the current socio-political issues of Europe in his preaching. It was not that Calvin was unaware of such issues swirling around him, but they are not the principal concern of the preacher. He said, ‘I am not ignorant of what pleases or displeases the world, but nothing is of more concern to me than to follow the way the Master prescribes.’ On the other hand, Calvin did not shy away from using extra biblical texts in order to explain a meaning of a Scriptural passage. [R.C] Zachman comments that ‘Calvin is convinced that the skilled interpreter of Scripture must be immersed in the literature of the Greek and Latin world and will often refer to such literature to help him elucidate the meaning of Scripture.’ This belief truly reflects Calvin’s training in the ways and manners of the Renaissance.
Pgs. 23-24 (Bold emphasis added.)
No reference is made to being immersed in either Egyptian or Akkadian literature, but since the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphics and Cuneiform did not occur until the early/mid-1800’s, it is no wonder he omitted this corpus of literature. (Had Calvin had access to these texts, I’m sure he would have read them as well!) But I’ve found the literature of the ancient Near East to be wonderfully beneficial in my own reading of the Old Testament, not necessarily in a dramatic way as though I was only able to draw together the big-picture of the scriptures after reading ANE texts, but rather by becoming familiar and comfortable with the various expressions, customs and themes that occur throughout literature in the ancient world.
Currid’s Calvin and the Biblical Languages is a nice read, although in several places it felt overly dependent on secondary literature. I would have preferred more citation to primary sources (whether by Calvin or by his contemporaries), though I did appreciate several references to Calvin’s Opera, and did like the bibliographical nature of Currid’s footnotes. There are several articles and books about Calvin’s exegesis of the OT that are now on my radar because of this book.
R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)