Blog 14: 1.8.2 - 1.8.9

Paul Helm

We noted earlier the distinction Calvin draws between certainty and opinion. The Holy Spirit brings about the certain conviction that Scripture is the Word of God, whereas the testimony of the church can only help us to form the opinion that it is God's Word.  It is therefore somewhat surprising to find that in Chapter Eight he devotes two or three times more space to the place of reason in establishing biblical authority than he does in Chapter Seven to the self-authenticating character of Scripture. Why is this?

His procedure certainly shows that he has some confidence in the use of reason, despite the fallenness of our natures. This also underlines the fact that Calvin is not a 'fideist'. If a label is needed, he's an 'evidentialist'. In 1. 7 the evidence that Scripture is the Word of God is made convincing by the Holy Spirit's powerful illumination of the text of  Holy Scripture and arousing faith in the truth of its promises of mercy and grace through Jesus Christ. In 1. 8 the authority of Scripture is vindicated at the level of opinion by the powers of human reasoning dwelling not so much on the distinctive evangelical content of Scripture as on its more 'formal' properties - its antiquity, the presence of miracles, fulfilled prophecy, the coherence of its teaching, and so on. Neither strategy is fideist.  First the internal evidence, and then in chapter 8 the external evidence, are highlighted.
But what is the use of such evidence, acquired by reason, if the Internal testimony of the Holy Spirit is already at work granting certainty? Part of the answer, at least, is that Calvin sees a role for reason in 'negative apologetics', ensuring that Scripture is 'vindicated against the wiles of its disparagers'.