Thursday, October 02, 2014

Where is Calvin's Commentary on Revelation?

One popular theological tidbit circulating in Reformed circles is the revelation that Calvin did not produce a commentary on the Book of Revelation.  T.H.L Parker gives some interesting facts about this:

1. In John Bale's commentary on Revelation (The Image of Both Churches, 1547), he lists the commentaries on Revelation that he's seen, and those that are thought to exist that he has not seen. He includes Calvin in his list.

2. In the Marloratus commentary on Revelation, he mention Calvin as having produced a commentary. He cites Calvin on Revelation, but these Calvin citations are from known works of Calvin.

3. "The catalogue of the Bibliotheque publique et universitaire de Geneve ascribes an anonymously published commentary on Revelation to Calvin: Familiere et briefve exposition sur l'Apocalypse de Sainct Jehan l'Apostre. Geneve. Jehan Gerard 1539 " (Parker, 117).

All three of these instances appear to be spurious. Parker examined the anonymous publication and determined  that the method and exegesis were not Calvin's.

4. A second-hand report (at best) suggests Calvin did not write on Revelation because he said he could not understand the book. This quote is republished by Parker on pages 117-18, and Parker says he's "apt to believe he did not say it at all" (118).

5. Parker suggests that Calvin did not write on Revelation due to a theological reason. Calvin saw the Old Testament as concealing Christ, but the New Testament presented Christ clearly. "...[H]e may have considered that apocalyptic is foreign to the New Testament as if it involved a re-veiling of the clear and unambiguous Gospel" (Parker, 119).  


Ken said...

To me chapters 1-5 and chapters 19-22 are not that difficult.

The difficulty is chapters 6-18.

I was under the impression that Calvin said he didn't understand the book of Revelation (or he didn't understand the symbolic parts of it about bowls and seven heads and seven horns or ten horns, etc. ; i.e., chapters 6-18) and put it off until last, and that he died before he could get to it.

I never understood why Luther said some negative comments about the book of Revelation; as chapter 5 is amazing as it points to the atonement and worship, as is chapter 4 on God's Sovereignty and throne and worship. Chapters 1-3 teach the important of healthy balanced local churches.

James Swan said...

Ken: Perhaps I should post the 2nd hand story in which Calvin is said to claim he didn't understand Revalation.

In regard to Luther: the negative comments were from his early preface to the book. He later went on to revise his comments, adding a significant amount of material as well. His apocalypic expection increased his approval for the book.

steve said...

Of course, one natural explanation is that Calvin didn't write a commentary on Revelation because he died at 55. And, of course, he was a very busy guy. It's not as if he spent all his time writing commentaries.