What Pure Eyes Could See: Calvin's Doctrine of Faith in Its Exegetical Context

What Pure Eyes Could See: Calvin's Doctrine of Faith in Its Exegetical Context

What Pure Eyes Could See: Calvin's Doctrine of Faith in Its Exegetical Context

What Pure Eyes Could See: Calvin's Doctrine of Faith in Its Exegetical Context

Synopsis

Barbara Pitkin traces the way in which Calvin's exegetical labors contributed to his understanding of faith. Through detailed analysis of Calvin's interpretation of selected biblical passages, this study shows how his views evolved. Pitkin describes the gradual development of the mature Calvin's view that faith exhibits a twofold character--saving faith and providential faith--that corresponds to the twofold aspect of its object--Christ as both the incarnate and eternal Son of God.

Excerpt

How did Calvin's interpretation of the Bible not only reflect and reinforce but also transform his understanding of faith? The first stage in the investigation of this question focuses on his exegesis of the Pauline epistles, especially Romans, in order to sketch the outlines of his reading of Paul and begin to establish the fundamentally Pauline shape of his understanding of faith. I will show how and where Calvin finds in Paul support for his views on the certainty of faith, the perceptual nature of faith, and faith as knowledge. In addition, I will show that Calvin's interpretation of the Pauline view of justification, the law, and the fundamental human problem provides the primary contours for his definition of faith. Determining the important exegetical underpinnings of the view of faith expressed in the Institutes provides insight into the scriptural background for Calvin's definition of faith as knowledge, his distinction between fides and fiducia, and his restriction of the proper object of faith to God's word of mercy.

In general, Calvin's exegetical work on Paul from the late 1530s to the early 1550s reinforces his emphasis on "saving faith," that is, faith by which sinners are justified and receive salvation--the faith by which the "just" obtain life. As I have shown, this emphasis dominates his discussion of faith in the Institutes. Subsequent chapters will show that it governs his interpretation of faith in other parts of the Bible as well. However, attention to the exegetical works also indicates where Calvin's primary understanding of faith runs into difficulties as he encounters passages that challenge this understanding. His exegesis of these passages often reveals his deepest theological assumptions about the nature, object, and certainty of faith, as he struggles to reconcile his emphasis on a saving faith gleaned from Paul with the alternatives presented in the text. In this chapter, I will show how Calvin's exegesis of two passages from Paul lead him to broaden his discussion of faith's activity beyond the explicitly soteriological context that usually governs his interpretation of Paul's epistles.

The approach taken here has both chronological and theological justification. By beginning with Calvin's first commentary, the Romans commentary of 1540 . . .

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