Blog 13: 1.7.3 - 1.8.1

Paul Helm

The Christian church is subordinate to the Word of God.  She does not grant the Bible its authority. Divine authority exercised through Scripture comes before the church, it is not established by the church.

Calvin here begins to develop a contrast between the certainty conveyed by the Holy Spirit and 'mere opinion', a discussion which continues at least to the end of Chapter 9. Certainty comes by the operation of the Spirit on our minds as we attend to Scripture. The Spirit  begins to clear our ignorance and unbelief, making it apparent 'that the teaching of Scripture is from heaven'. (1.7.4). The Spirit graciously compels this response in those hearts in which he works. How? By illuminating the content of Scripture, its saving message, its heavenly doctrine.  The matter of Scripture is intrinsic to the manner of its reception. So whoever remains ignorant of Scripture cannot expect to have its divine authority conveyed to his soul. Hence the urgent need for Bible translation and for faithful preaching and teaching The certainty that the Spirit conveys that here the living God is speaking is stronger than mere opinion, which is as high as the authority of the church, or of human argument, can reach.

This is Calvin's famous and distinctive teaching on the self-authentication of Scripture. By the Spirit, Scripture bears testimony to itself. The doctrine is here stated briefly, forcefully and eloquently. 'By this power we are drawn and inflamed, knowingly and willingly, to obey him, yet also more vitally and more effectively than by mere human willing of knowing!' What Calvin says here is not to be missed, for it is foundational for the entire theological project that is to follow.