Blog 78: 2.12.6 - 2.13.1

Rick Phillips

Paragraph 6 continues Calvin's diatribe against Osiander's doctrine of Christ becoming man apart from the need for our salvation.  Here, Osiander argues that man was originally made in God's image because God intended to conform mankind to Christ.  Thus Christ needed to become man - providing us a prototype - apart from our redemption from sin.  Osiander advances to a teaching on which Calvin heaps scorn, that mankind was thus originally created with the glory of God in him.  Calvin labors to argue that however highly we may esteem Adam as the bearer of God's image, it is always the reflection of God's glory.  It is via the incarnation and our salvation from sin via the mediation of Christ that Adam's offspring are advanced to the state of having God's glory dwell within us.  This is Calvin's point in the varied arguments found here.

Ossiander worried that for Christ's incarnation to be contingent upon man's rebellion is to ascribe change to God and his counsels.  Likewise, Ossiander thought it unworthy for Christ to take up human nature after humanity had fallen into sin.  Calvin responds to these concerns, which he considers absurd, by characteristic appeal to the Scriptures.  As an aside, we usually ascribe the debates regarding the order of God's decrees - infralapsarianism vs. supralapsarianism - to the scholastic generation after Calvin.  But here we see that Calvin dealt with similar concerns, and we also see that such questions that tempt us to wander beyond the fields of Scripture are dangerous to sound doctrine.  We would do well to adopt Calvin's scorn for all extra-biblical speculation and refuse to advance beyond or step outside of the text of Holy Scripture.  Calvin is quick to point out the absurdities to which Ossiander ends up through his imprudence, asserting, for instance, that Christ would be inferior to angels were it not for his humanity.  Readers who find it hard to follow Calvin's point-by-point refutation of Ossiander receive a helpful object lesson in avoiding the kind of speculative theology to which Calvin finds it necessary to respond.

Blessedly, Calvin moves on with the start of chapter 13, which argues the vital matter of Christ's true humanity.  Back to constructive theology, Calvin treats us again to theological eloquence of a high order.  Earlier in the Institutes, he has proved the deity of Christ (1.13.7-13).  Now Calvin treats the equally important matter of Christ's humanity.  There may be no other writer than Calvin who had so clearly grasped how important this issue is and no other who has done more to fix his followers upon this vital truth. 

First, Calvin notes the ancient opposition of the Manichees and Marcionites to the full manhood of Jesus, responding with clear biblical testimonies to refute these errors.  Calvin is wrong, I believe, in using the title "Son of Man" to argue Christ's humanity.  Later scholarship has persuasively argued that "Son of Man" does not refer strictly to Christ's humanity, but rather to the divine figure of Daniel 7 who left heaven to humble himself on the earth, but who having accomplished God's will is received back into heaven and enthroned with glory and honor.  As such, Son of Man argues the deity of the one who came to earth and went back to heaven in power.  Despite this brief problem, Calvin marshals an overwhelming host of Scriptures to prove his point: Christ became truly and fully man in his incarnation.  Because Christ is truly man, he is able to bestow on us what God has bestowed upon him in his mediatorial humanity.