Tuesday, March 23, 2010

More Misunderstood Passages

Calvin completes chapter 5 with several more passages which his opponents have misunderstood or misapplied.  They have derived from these passages that man does have free will.  The first being the end of Genesis 4:7 where God said to Cain, "Its appetite will be under you, and you shall master it."  Before going any further, I want to point out that this is Battles' translation of Calvin's translation of the Vulgate.  The NKJV translation reads, "If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it."  Calvin contends that his opponents misunderstand "it".  He believes that the proper word order shows that "it" refers to Abel, not to sin.  I do not have the original Hebrew in front of me, nor could I read it if it were here.  I have looked at several translations, and all of them say "it" and not "him" which would be the appropriate pronoun.  Calvin then decides to take on his opponents assuming that they are right in believing that this is about sin and not Abel.  He states that this is either a promise or command.  If it is a command, then that does not prove free will, only that God is commanding what will happen.  If it is a promise, then there is no fulfillment.

The next passage is remarkable to me that anyone could try to use it to prove free will.  Romans 9:16 reads, "So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy," (NKJV).  Calvin's opponents focus on the "him who wills" and "him who runs." Calvin on the other hand focuses on the fact that it is God's mercy alone that accomplishes the willing and the running in us.  To me, this passage is straightforward in showing that it is God's work in us and nothing that we are able to do alone in order to achieve salvation.  Quickly he also comments on I Corinthians 3:9 where Paul writes, "For we are God’s fellow workers," (NKJV).  The "fellow workers" or "co-workers" here Calvin claims are ministers, not all Christians.

The next passage was somewhat dismissed by Calvin because it comes from the Apocrypha, not from the canon of Scripture.  It is Ecclesiasticus (or Sirach) 15:14-18, " God made man from the beginning, and left him in the hand of his own counsel.  He added his commandments and precepts.  If you will keep the commandments and perform acceptable fidelity for ever, they shall preserve you.  He has set water and fire before you: stretch forth your hand to which you will.  Before man is life and death, good  and evil, that which he shall choose shall be given him."  Calvin believes that if the author is writing about the original state of man, then we can accept that, but this state was lost with sin.  If the author is writing about the current state of man, then we reject the author altogether.  If the author is trying to show that man was the cause of his own ruin, then Calvin agrees. 

The final example Calvin uses is from the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  Luke 10:30 reads, "Then Jesus answered and said: 'A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.'"  Calvin writes that, "almost all writers commonly teach that the calamity of the human race is represented in the person of the traveler.  From this our opponents take the argument that man is not so disfigured by the robbery of sin and the devil as not to retain some vestiges of his former good, inasmuch as he is said to have been left 'half alive.'"  Calvin rejects this idea of being half-alive.  There is no good left in us.  "The Word of God does not leave a 'half life' to man, but it teaches that he has utterly died as far as the blessed life is concerned...He [Paul in Ephesians 2:5] does not call upon the half alive to receive the illumination of Christ, but those who are asleep and buried."  Calvin does take another view and tries to work with his opponents line of thought.  If there is life left in fallen man he still cannot attain a true knowledge of God because he is so corrupted by sin.  Using Augustine's teachings, Calvin writes, "...the mind of man has been so completely estranged from God's righteousness that it conceives, desires, and undertakes, only that which is impious, perverted, foul, impure, and infamous,  The heart is so steeped in the poison of sin, that it can breathe out nothing but a loathsome stench.  But if some men occasionally make a show of good, their minds nevertheless ever remain enveloped in hypocrisy and deceitful craft, and their hearts bound by inner perversity."  All I can say to that is thank God for his mercy on us and for the fact that he chooses us to become his people.  With a heart and mind that Calvin describes here, it is no wonder that we do not truly seek after God.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.  Ephesians 2:4-10

Tomorrow's reading: 2.6.1-2.6.2

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