Day: July 25, 2009

the Why and How of interpretation

When it comes to hermeneutics, Calvin kicks a goal in ‘The Epistle Dedicatory’ of his Romans commentary:

But we ever find, that even those who have not been deficient in their zeal for piety, nor in reverence and sobriety in handling the mysteries of God, have by no means agreed among themselves on every point; for God bath never favoured his servants with so great a benefit, that they were all endued with a full and perfect knowledge in every thing; and, no doubt, for this end – that he might first keep them humble; and secondly, render them disposed to cultivate brotherly intercourse. Since then what would otherwise be very desirable cannot be expected in this life, that is, universal consent among us in the interpretation of all parts of Scripture, we must endeavour, that, when we depart from the sentiments of our predecessors, we may not be stimulated by any humour for novelty, nor impelled by any lust for defaming others, nor instigated by hatred, nor tickled by any ambition, but constrained by necessity alone, and by the motive of seeking to do good: and then, when this is done in interpreting Scripture, less liberty will be taken in the principles of religion, in which God would have the minds of his people to be especially unanimous.

I love the way Calvin relates the Why of interpretation — imperfect agreement in knowledge — back to God’s good intention to teach us humility and interdependence. Equally brilliant is his treatment of the How of interpretation primarily in terms of character and not method.

Three cheers for Calvin!