Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 1.1-2
I will be commenting at different points both on the Scripture passage and on the material from Calvin’s commentaries, but primarily on the latter. In a way, I will be mediating Calvin to you. Assume that I am describing Calvin’s material unless I otherwise make it clear that I am offering my own reflections (speaking of Calvin in the third person or my explicit use of the first person would be hints of this). Quotations from Calvin will be given in italics or blockquotes. Translation of the passage will be taken from the TNIV. Calvin's own translation will differ so if disparities arise between the language employed in the comments and that given in the citation of the passage it is likely that this is to blame.
May you enjoy reading through this series, for which I plan no end, as much as I enjoy developing it.
1 Peter 1.1-2
(1) Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. To God's elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, (2) who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
(Herein Calvin offers a summary of the epistle as a whole. Below are the primary points)
- Peter exhorts to denial of and contempt for the world and hope for Christ’s kingdom, thereby overcoming adversities.
- Specific moral exhortations are given.
- The example of Christ is called upon to reinforce the understanding that their hardships promote their salvation.
“To the elect” – As usually with Calvin, the presence of a word like “elect” gives him an opportunity to briefly discuss predestination. Here he addresses the critical question, based on his teaching elsewhere, of the identity of the elect being hidden. His response is characteristic.
[W]e are not curiously to inquire about the election of our brethren, but out on the contrary to regard their calling, so that all who are admitted by faith into the church, are to be counted as the elect…The elect are so “according to the foreknowledge of God,” which does not involve our merits. But, so that we don’t get lost wondering about the divine decision of election, Peter directs us to the effect of that election, namely, our sanctification.
[T]here is nothing more dangerous or more preposterous than to overlook our calling and to seek for the certainty of our election in the hidden prescience of God, which is the deepest labyrinth.
“To the sojourners” – Peter has the Jews in view for they are the ones to whom the following notion of exile most directly and clearly applies. It makes sense that Peter would address the Jews since Paul mentioned in Galatians 2.8 that the apostles decided that Peter would go to the Jews and Paul to the Gentiles.
“Unto obedience” – Obedience = newness of life and sprinkling = remission of sins. Since Peter takes these to be under the notion of ‘sanctification’ it is clear that he is using the term differently and more generally than Paul. Sprinkling is an allusion to the OT rite. Calvin engages in type and fulfillment reading:
For as it was not then sufficient for the victim to be slain and the blood to be poured out, except the people were sprinkled; so now the blood of Christ which has been shed will avail us nothing, except our consciences are by it cleansed. Also, as formerly under the law the sprinkling of blood was made by the hand of the priest; so now the Holy Spirit sprinkles our souls with the blood of Christ for the expiation of our sins.I am surprised that Calvin does not jump off of this last pair and directly address the contemporary Roman sacerdotal system, but to any attentive reader the connection is plain.
[O]ur salvation flows from the gratuitous election of God; but that it is to be ascertained by the experience of faith, because he sanctifies us by his Spirit; and then that there are two effects or ends of our calling, even renewal into obedience and ablution by the blood of Christ; and further, that both are the work of the Holy Spirit. We hence conclude, that election is not to be separated from calling, nor the gratuitous righteousness of faith from newness of life.
With his language about the “experience of faith” as confirmation of election it is easy to see how the tradition would devolve down to Edwards and the "Religious Affections" and its tendency to employ empiricist methods to ascertaining one’s own election / salvation or that of others. It should be noted that Calvin decidedly does not make the second move and argues that it is our part to treat fellow Christians charitable and to take their expression of faith and participation in the church at face value with reference to their election. The key question that Calvin does not get into here but that readily comes to mind and cannot long be ignored is that of ascertaining precisely what counts or “the experience of faith” or “newness of life.”
It should also be noted that while Calvin pairs election with calling and the righteousness of faith with newness of life, the former are not dependent upon that latter. Rather, the latter necessarily flow from the former. This distinction is the point of Calvin’s discussion for God’s foreknowledge, which we dipped into above. Finally, note the Trinitarian formula – the Father is mentioned as the originator, the Spirit is the agent, and the Son as the object. It is odd that Calvin does not pick up on this given the uncommonly prominent place of his doctrine of the Trinity in his “The Institutes.”