Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 1.10-12
1 Peter 1.10-12
(10) Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, (11) trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. (12) It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.
Calvin’s material in relation to this passage can be subsumed under the heading of “The Prophets.” There are numerous sub-headings: (1) Antiquity, (2) Calvin’s 5 propositions, (3) Patience and Speculation, (4) Sufferings.
As a man of the Renaissance, Calvin had great respect for all things that were really, really old. Indeed, the measure of something’s antiquity was for Calvin, as for all humanists of the time, a measure of its dependability and veracity. Thus, it is not surprising that when he sees reference to the prophets in this text he uses it as a chance to assert the antiquity of the Gospel. Making this move is Calvin’s second move in this text, and his second to last. His first move is to note the value of salvation, and the last is similar – discussing the value of the gospel as shown by the relation of angels to these matters. To Calvin, Peter “proves the certainty of the gospel, because it contains nothing but what had been long ago testified by the Spirit of God.”
Calvin’s 5 Propositions
These propositions have to do with the relation of the OT prophets to the gospel of Christ. I’ll simply reproduce them for our mutual edification:
“Let the first be this, - that the Prophets who foretold of the grace which Christ exhibited at his coming, diligently inquired as to the time when full revelation was to be made. The second is, - that the Spirit of Christ predicted by them of the future condition of Christ’s kingdom, such as it is now, and such as it is expected yet to be, even that it is destined that Christ and his whole body should, through various sufferings, enter into glory. The third is, - that the prophets ministered to us more abundantly than to their own age, and that this was revealed to them from above; for in Christ only is the full exhibition of those things of which God then presented but an obscure image. The fourth is, - that in the Gospel is contained a clear confirmation of prophetic doctrine, but also a much fuller and plainer explanation; for the salvation which he formerly proclaimed as it were at a distance by the prophets, he now reveals openly to us, and as it were before our eyes. The last proposition is, - that it hence appears evident how wonderful is the glory of that salvation promised to us in the Gospel, because even angels, though they enjoy God’s presence in heaven, yet burn with the desire of seeing it.”By way of quick comment, I think that it is worth noting how diametrically opposed the 3rd and 4th propositions are to the precepts of modern academic Old Testament studies. Not only should the prophets be interpreted within their own context, but also within the context of the Gospel and New Testament which provides the fullness of what was previously given – at least, this is what Calvin suggests to us.
Patience and Speculation
Building on this discussion of the Prophets, Calvin goes on to discuss patience in relation to the knowledge of God. The prophets investigated and inquired about the future of God’s promises, indeed, they yearned both to know and to see these things. But, at the end of the day, they restrained themselves and proclaimed only that which had as yet been revealed to them. “Thus they have taught us by their example a sobriety in learning, for they did not go beyond what the Spirit taught them.” This instinct to turn away from speculating beyond what has been given to us in revelation is a recurrent theme for Calvin (I likely mentioned this and the following already at some point). It often pops up in his discussion of providence and predestination when he reminds his interlocutors of this point. I sometimes wonder if he might have forgotten it a few times himself when considering these matters.
We have seen before that Calvin is not slow to talk about the Christian’s life of suffering. In addition we have seen some of the ways in which he elaborates on this theme. Here, he introduces the notion that suffering may be endured because suffering must precede glory, a notion that he derives from Jesus’ example. Also, because glories are annexed to sufferings for Christians, suffering should not be seen as evil. Besides, we know that “we are not afflicted by chance.”