So here goes for the first weekly study update.
It has been a fairly productive week this week. A couple of points to note (1 this post and 1 the next):
The Importance of Context
I have been struck again by the importance of context in interpreting the writings of others. For those within the Reformed tradition the importance of context should come as no surprise. One of the tools used in reconciliation of James and Paul according to the Reformed tradition can be summed up as, “See look at the context of their writings.” Accordingly, the answer runs, “The context of one is legalism, context of the other is antinomianism so even though they appear to be saying diametrically opposed things they aren’t”.
Context is also important when investigating the views of non-canonical authors. The context in which an author is speaking is key. For instance the same author may appear to say something very different when engaged in polemics with an Arminian over limited atonement than in a “freer” exposition of a text where polemical concerns are not the overriding factor. A classic example of how this works out in theological writing can be seen in Calvin’s exegesis of Ezek 18:23.
“Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord GOD, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?”
Now Calvin expounds this verse in three different ways for three different audiences. The following is as per my notes on Stebbins (see the next post for his work):
1) When dealing with Albertus Pighius in the highly polemical work “Concerning the eternal Predestination of God” Calvin’s exegesis is terse. He takes these words to be a bare invitation (Eternal Predestination p106)
2) In the (slightly) less polemic Institutes Calvin is less cautious saying that these verses speak of “God’s readiness to forgive the reprobate” (Stebbins’ paraphrase), “the great mercy and condescension of God” that “God is ready to pardon” and that they are an “evidence of the grace by which he reconciles men to himself (Institutes 3:24:15)
3) In his commentary on these verses Calvin is much freer stating “God desires nothing more earnestly than that those who were perishing and rushing to destruction should return into the way of safety…”
Of course Calvin himself was aware of the impact of polemics on what a person says, as he comments, “We ought especially to note that in all these passages Paul is not speaking simply but by way of controversy…” (Institutes 4:14:25).
Key lesson – Always compare a writer’s “simple” work with his comments on a topic when speaking “by way of controversy” to gain a fully rounded view of their opinion on a given subject.