Calvin’s Doctrine of Scripture

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Part of the Garnet Milne's Has the Bible Been Kept Pure? series:

by John Murray



The contention that Calvin’s view of the inspiration of Scripture was not the high doctrine of plenary, verbal inspiration, espoused by the Reformed dogmaticians of the seventeenth century, has emanated from many quarters. It is noteworthy that within the last few years this question has received from students of Calvin thorough and exacting treatment. It is gratifying that the two studies which this present decade has produced and which have brought the most pains-taking research to bear on the question have reached the same conclusion that in Calvin’s esteem the original Scriptures were inerrant. In the words of E. A. Dowey: “There is no hint anywhere in Calvin’s writings that the original text contained any flaws at all.”1 “The important thing to realize is that according to Calvin the Scriptures were so given that — whether by ‘literal’ or ‘figurative’ dictation — the result was a series of documents errorless in their original form.”2 And Kenneth S. Kantzer, even more recently, has written that the evidence in support of the view that Calvin held to the “rigidly orthodox verbal type of inspiration. . . . is so transparent that any endeavor to clarify his position seems almost to be a work of supererogation.”3 “The merest glance at Calvin’s commentaries,” he adds, “will demonstrate how seriously the Reformer applied his rigid doctrine of verbal inerrancy to his exegesis of Scripture” and Kantzer claims that “attempts to discover a looser view of inspiration in Calvin’s teaching fall flat upon examination.”4


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