Friday, April 23, 2010

The Other Side, Part V-B: Calvin's Commentary on 2 Peter 2

I started this series, titled “The Other Side,” about two weeks or so ago, having been spurred on to do this by a sermon on “Losing Salvation” that I heard one Sunday morning past. The preacher, “Dr. John” (as I will call him), got up and shoved prooftext after prooftext before the congregation that he believed confirmed his view of unconditional eternal security. I’ve spent the last week or two trying to show that John’s view of unconditional security in Christ has problems, especially when his “proof” verses are compared with other verses in the Bible, like Hebrews 6:4-6, for example, which indicate that someone who is “a companion of the Holy Spirit” can “fall away.” The fact that the words “fall away” are used indicates that something serious is at stake here, like the soil that “falls away” in Luke 8:13 due to temptation. These verses cannot be overlooked in the name of “I-wanna-stick-with-what-I’ve-always-believed.” Rather, these verses have to have explanations OTHER than what they “appear” to reveal---namely, that believers can lose faith and fall away from salvation (or, as Hebrews 2 says it, they can “neglect so great a salvation”).

Today I’m back to provide Calvin’s words regarding the text of 2 Peter 2. I’ve printed the text before, but I’ll place it here again so we can all get an idea of what Calvin will discuss in his commentary:

“But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1, NKJV).

Regarding 2 Peter 2:1, Calvin writes:

“Though Christ may be denied in various ways, yet Peter, as I think, refers here to what is expressed by Jude, that is, when the grace of God is turned into lasciviousness; for Christ redeemed us, that he might have a people separated from all the pollutions of the world, and devoted to holiness and innocency. They, then, WHO THROW OFF THE BRIDLE, and GIVE THEMSELVES UP TO ALL KINDS OF LICENTIOUSNESS, are not unjustly said to DENY CHRIST BY WHOM THEY HAVE BEEN REDEEMED” (John Calvin, “Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. XXII: Hebrews, 1 Peter, 1 John, James, II Peter, Jude.” Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999, page 393).

What does it mean to “throw off the bridle”? If a “bridle” is a “restraint” or “curb” on something (as Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary states; then in the case of the Christian, the Christian life is a “restraint” or “curb” on licentiousness. There are things that a believer can do, and things that a believer cannot do. The believer must pursue holiness, without which no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). If a person throws off the “bridle” of holiness, then that person gives up their life in Christ, “denies Christ BY WHOM THEY HAVE BEEN REDEEMED,” and returns to the world. In other words, they take their redemption Christ purchased for them with His blood and they trample on it (Heb. 10:29). Keep in mind that this is CALVIN’S commentary---NOT Arminius’s, Molina’s, or anyone else’s. These words quoted above are the words of John Calvin himself. So if Calvinists say that such people “were never saved to begin with,” they surely have never read Calvin’s commentaries!!

2 Peter 2:2 reads as follows:

“And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.”

Calvin writes:

“It is, indeed, no slight offence to the weak...that a large number of men are led astray, SO THAT FEW CONTINUE IN TRUE OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST...for hardly one in ten of those who have once made a profession of Christ, retains the purity of faith to the end...lest this should make our faith to falter, Peter comes to our help, and in due time foretells that this very thing would be, that is, that false teachers WOULD DRAW MANY TO PERDITION” (393ff).

Notice that Calvin writes the words “few continue in true obedience to Christ.” These words tell us that many “start” in true obedience...but do not “continue.” It seems as if Calvin knew what Luke 8:13 stated about the soil that “believed for a time” and then fell away due to temptation. Secondly, the false teachers come and “draw many to perdition,” which means that many who have “once made a profession” will go on to “perdition” (which is another word for “destruction,” “hell,” or “everlasting damnation”). And yet, we know that Revelation 22 tells us that only “unbelievers” will go on to perdition. Yet, Calvin’s own words mimic the words of Hebrews 10:39---“But we are not of THOSE WHO DRAW BACK TO PERDITION, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul” (NKJV). There will be those who “draw back to perdition,” and Calvin notes this in his own words.

Now, let’s look at verses 20 and 21 of the same chapter. The reason I skip to these verses is so that we can see the clear references to apostasy as well as weigh Calvin’s words regarding these verses of Scripture.

“For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are AGAIN ENTANGLED IN THEM AND OVERCOME, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than HAVING KNOWN IT, TO TURN FROM THE HOLY COMMANDMENT DELIVERED TO THEM” (2 Peter 2:20-21, NKJV).

Regarding verse 20, Calvin writes:

“He again shews how pernicious was THE SECT WHICH LED MEN CONSECRATED TO GOD back again to their old filth and the corruptions of the world. And he exhibits the heinousness of the evil by a comparison; for IT WAS NO COMMON SIN TO DEPART FROM THE HOLY DOCTRINE OF GOD” (410).

Notice that those who go back to “the corruptions of the world” are “men consecrated to God.” This language implies that these weak Christians might be weak, but are still genuine Christians nonetheless. Calvin then talks about the rank of the sin of apostasy: it is such a horrible sin that he calls it “no common sin” and says that these “depart from the holy doctrine of God.” The apostates depart from the Word altogether, the teaching of God, His Scriptures. This is departing from “the way of righteousness” to which Peter refers above. Calvin states that “by the knowledge of Christ’ he [Peter] no doubt understands the gospel.” So in Calvin’s mind, those who depart from the way of righteousness depart from the gospel. And apart from the gospel, there is no salvation. Therefore, I ask you, the readership, was Calvin here implying that such persons of 2 Peter 2:20-22 walked away from the gospel, and, therefore, neglected such a great salvation (Hebrews 2) and forfeited their inheritance in Christ (Heb. 12, example of Esau)?

Maybe this will help. Here are Calvin’s thoughts regarding verse 21:

“By saying that ‘having forsaken the commandment delivered unto them,’ they returned to their own pollutions...he declares that they who MAKE THEMSELVES SLAVES AGAIN to the pollutions of the world FALL AWAY FROM THE GOSPEL.”

First, he says that the persons of 2 Peter 2 “make themselves slaves AGAIN” to the world; this means that, in Calvin’s mind, these people had once given up their slavery to sin and the world and had come to be “servants of righteousness,” to use Paul’s label in Romans 6. However, these people had now turned again and enslaved themselves back in sin once more. Secondly, such persons “fall away from the gospel,” which means that these people fell away from salvation.

These are some of Calvin’s comments regarding 2 Peter 2. What we’ve seen in Calvin’s argument is that Calvin has been inconsistent. When he interprets these passages by merely reading them, he sounds Arminian because he argues that these people “fall away from the gospel.” However, when he starts to write in his “Institutes” on eternal election and the divine decree of God, he imports his own theological system and hermeneutic onto the material (which skews his thoughts regarding the apostasy passages). The question is, “Why did Calvin write one way in his commentaries regarding these verses, and another way regarding his views of election, irresistible grace, and perseverance?” And this is a question Calvinists themselves have to answer if they seek to understand the man whose theology they follow as well as his theology itself.


The Seeking Disciple said...

I love your posts. Keep them coming!

Deidre Richardson, B.A., M.Div. said...

The Seeking Disciple,

Thanks a lot. Keep praying for me and the blog. I hope you're enjoying the work on the doctrine of eternal security as well.