The Talmud in Calvinism

Writing in Christian Hebraists and Dutch Rabbis, Aaron Katchen discusses the Dutch Calvinist appropriation of the Talmud in Biblical exegesis. He quotes the the famous Dutch theologian Johannes Coccejus, as saying:
…it is a new thing I am attempting, namely, to show that a knowledge of the Talmud and of the talmudic writers is of extraordinary help in the elucidation of the New Testament.
Before that, though, quoting Grotious’s view from the De jure that:
the Hebrew writers can contribute not a little to our understanding of the meaning of the books belonging to the old covenant,
Coch continues by saying that the Talmud, the “Doctrinalis,” or the “authorized teaching” of the Jews, as he refers to it at this point, has its usefulness for the understanding of the law in all its facets: ceremonial, natural, and that fixed by convention (“positivus”).
Where, but the Jewish Talmud, can the learned traditions handed down by our forefathers be sought? Indeed, these are relevant, whether for a fuller understanding of Mosaic law, ritual as well as judicial and moral; or for an illustration of exotic (?) laws; or for shedding light on accounts of the Jewish commonwealths [e.g, Josephus(?)]; or, what is most important, for confirmation of the account in the Gospels, where there is abundant mention of Jewish customs, law and traditions.
Katchen, 68-69

Exciting Each Other to Idolatry

Commenting on Isaiah 41:7-8, Calvin says:

for the Prophet means that workmen, by beating “in their turn,” mutually excite each other, because by being earnestly employed in the same work, they grow warm, and each of them urges and arouses the other, to perform in the shortest time what they have undertaken. In short, he describes the rebellion and madness of idolaters, by which they excite each other to oppose God.

Carlos Eire summarizes his views by saying, “The inclination to commit false worship inherent in every individual is aggravated by society through mutual support and social conditioning.” Calvin continues:

From this passage and from all histories it is manifest that this vice was not peculiar to a single age, and at the present day we know it by experience more than is desirable. We see how men, by mutual persuasion, urge one another to defend superstition and the worship of idols; and the more brightly the truth of God is manifested, the more obstinately do they follow an opposite course, as if they avowedly intended to carry on war with God. Since religion was restored to greater purity, idols have been multiplied and set up in hostility to it in many places; pilgrimages, masses, unlawful vows, and, in some cases, anniversaries, have been more numerously attended than before. During that ancient ignorance there was some kind of moderation; but now idolaters, as if they had been seized by madness, run about, and are driven by blind impulse. There is nothing which they do not attempt in order to prop up a trifling superstition and tottering idols. In a word, they join hands, and render mutual aid, in order to resist God. And if any person wish to throw back the blame on his brother, he will gain nothing; for it adheres to every one in such a manner that it cannot in any way be removed. All are devoted to falsehood, and almost avowedly devise methods of imposture, and, trusting to their great numbers, each of them places himself and others above God. They excite each other to the worship of idols, and burn with such madness of desire that nearly the whole world is kindled by it.

Calvin’s Education

In our day seminary costs a lot of money. I sometimes wonder how Calvin and the other Reformers did it? How did they get their education, how did they preach and write so much? Well, in some cases, if not most, they were coming from somewhat wealthy families. Carlos Eire writes of Calvin:

He had, after all, grown up Catholic and funded his entire education with income from ecclesiastical benefices.

A benefice was revenue from church property granted to an individual. This biography says:

Having distinguished himself at an early age, Calvin was deemed worthy of receiving the support of a benefice, a church-granted stipend, at the age of 12, so as to support him in his studies. Although normally benefices were granted as payment for work for the church, either present or in the future, there is no record that Calvin ever performed any duties for this position. Later on he held two more benefices, for which he also did no work. Thus supported by the Church, at age 14, Calvin was enrolled at the College de la Marche in the University of Paris, though he quickly transferred to the College de Montaigu.

So Calvin benefited from a church-funded education, he did not work his way through school like many of his modern followers are forced to do.

Proving the Bible to Unbelievers

We have loads of apologetics books, websites and speakers out there, many of whom try to prove that the Bible is the Word of God. Calvin says this is essentially a waste of time:

But it is foolish to attempt to prove to infidels that the Scripture is the Word of God. This it cannot be known to be, except by faith.

Calvin to Cranmer on Church Unity

Thomas Cranmer desired a general council of the Protestant churches to unite them in confession and form a western, Protestant Church. Oh that it would have happened! God in his providence did not see fit for that to occur. But here is Calvin’s response to Cranmer on the subject:

I know moreover, that your purpose is not confined to England alone; but, at the same moment, you consult the benefit of all the world. The generous disposition and uncommon piety of his Majesty, the king, are justly to be admired, as he is please to favor this holy purpose of holding such a council, and offers a place for its session in his kingdom. I wish it might be effected, that learned and stable men, from the principal churches, might assemble in some place, and, after discussing with care each article of faith, deliver to posterity, from their general opinion of them all, the clear doctrines of the Scriptures. It is to be numbered among the evils of our day, that the churches are so divided one from another, that there is scarcely any friendly intercourse strengthened between us; much less does that holy communion of the members of Christ flourish, which all profess with the mouth, but few sincerely regard in the heart. But if the principal teachers conduct themselves more coldly than they ought, it is principally the fault of the princes who, involved in their secular concerns, neglect the prosperity and purity of the church; or each one, contented with his own security, is indifferent to the welfare of others. Thus it comes to pass, that the members being divided, the body of the church lies disabled.
Respecting myself, if it should appear that I could render any service, I should with pleasure cross ten seas, if necessary, to accomplish that object. Even if the benefit of the kingdom of England only was to be consulted, it would furnish a reason sufficiently powerful with me. But as in the council proposed, the object is to obtain the firm and united agreement of learned men to the sound rule of Scripture, by which churches now divided may be united with each other, I think it would be a crime in me to spare any labor or trouble to effect it. But I expect my slender ability to accomplish this will furnish me with sufficient excuse. If I aid that object by my prayers, which will be undertaken by others, I shall discharge my part of the business. Melancthon is so far from me, that our letters cannot be exchanged in a short time. Bullinger has perhaps answered you before this. I wish my ability was equal to the ardency of my desires. But what I at first declined, as unable to accomplish, I perceive the very necessity of the business now compels me to attempt. I not only exhort you, but I conjure you, to proceed, until something shall be effected, if not every thing you could wish.

Perhaps we will see more unity built from the confusion of our day, although it now seems doubtful.

More of the Reformers on Islam

Some time ago I listed the thoughts of Luther and Calvin on Islam. This post continues that summation. 

Calvin observes that although Muslims were thought to be far away, they could quickly arrive in Protestant Europe:

When we preach at the present day about the Turk, all think that it is a fable, because they think that he is still at a great distance from us. But we see how quickly he overtook those who were at a greater distance and more powerful. So great is the insensibility of men that they cannot be aroused, unless they are chastised and made to feel the blows. Let the inhabitants of Babylon, therefore, be a warning to us, to dread, before it is too late, the threatenings which the prophets utter, that the same thing may not happen to us as happens to those wicked men, who, relying on their prosperous condition, are so terrified when the hand of God attacks and strikes them, that they can no longer stand, but sink down bewildered. (on Is 13.5)

He cautions against being happy to see Muslim armies defeat other nations in Christendom:

Something of this kind happened, not long ago, to many nations who had taken great delight in seeing their enemies vanquished by the Turk: they found that such victories were destructive and mournful to themselves; for, after the defeat of those whom they wished to see destroyed, the road to themselves was likewise thrown open, and they also were defeated. (on Is 14.31)

He also blames France in his day for collaborating with the Muslim Turks and in doing so endangering the rest of Christendom:

The case was similar to that of the Turks at this day, were they to pass over to these parts and exercise their authority; for it might be asked the French kings and their counsellors, “Whose fault it is that the Turks come to us so easily? It is because ye have prepared for them the way by sea, because ye have bribed them, and your ports have been opened to them; and yet they have wilfully exercised the greatest cruelty towards your subjects. All these things have proceeded from yourselves; ye are therefore the authors of all these evils.”  (on Jer 13.21)

Calvin on Conversion

William Bouwsma writes of Calvin:

…Calvin attached little or no significance to “conversion” as a precise event in his many discussions of the Christian life and the way of salvation…Calvin always emphasized the gradualness rather than the suddenness of conversion and the difficulty of making progress in the Christian life. “We are converted,” he said, “little by little to God, and by stages.”

Calvin on Deification

This was noted elsewhere, but it is so cool that I have to pass it on. It is Calvin on 2 Peter 1:4

For we must consider from whence it is that God raises us up to such a height of honor. We know how abject is the condition of our nature; that God, then, should make himself ours, so that all his things should in a manner become our things, the greatness of his grace cannot be sufficiently conceived by our minds. Therefore this consideration alone ought to be abundantly sufficient to make us to renounce the world and to carry us aloft to heaven. Let us then mark, that the end of the gospel is, to render us eventually conformable to God, and, if we may so speak, to deify us.