In this section different subjects with their most important literature will be mentioned in alphabetic order.
- Bible Translation
- ‘Congrégations’ (Weekly Bible Studies)
On June 5, 1559 the opening of the Academy took place in a convocation at Saint Pierre in Geneva. An ardent wish of Calvin came to fruition. For already in 1541 he had conceived the plan to establish an academy. Beza, who became rector of the academy, gave the opening address. By 1564 approximately fifteen hundred students were studying either theology or law. Most of them came from abroad.
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation, edited by Hans J. Hillerbrand. New York / Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996 (s.v. ‘Geneva Academy’).
Charles Borgeaud, Histoire de l’Université de Genève. L’Académie de Calvin 1559‑1798. Geneva, 1900.
W.S. Reid, ‘Calvin and the Founding of the Academy of Geneva’ in: Westminster Theological Journal 18 (1955): 1-33.
The Bible occupies centre stage in the writings of Calvin. In the past Calvin might have been called the man of one book, because he acquired a reputation in particular through the Institutes (or: became well-known for). That book received the centre of attention for a long time. But at the moment people are aware of the importance of all the writings of Calvin.
If Calvin could be called the man of one book, we should be thinking of the Bible. The fact is his sole aim was to bring the Bible, or better saying the biblical message, to the people. He paints in figurative (or: metaphorical) language the particular (or: special) meaning of the Bible in the letter to the reader which is at the beginning of Olivetan’s French translation of the Bible (edition 1546). Calvin had already been involved since 1535 in the translation of the Bible in French. He considers the Institutes as a resource for students of theology by which they learn what they have to search in the Bible. In lectures, commentaries, the so-called congrégations and sermons Calvin was continuously engaged in explaining the Bible.
Wulfert de Greef, The Writings of John Calvin, Expanded Edition. An Introductory Guide. Translated by Lyle D. Bierma, Louisville / London: Westminster John Knox Press, 69-104, 2008.
In the beginning of the sixteenth century people were aware of the necessity to revise the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible. In addition the translation of the Old Testament was based on the Septuagint. A new Latin translation, which should be depart from the Hebrew was under influence of the Humanism a necessity in the eyes of many people. New Latin Bible translations appeared.
When Calvin quotes the text of the Bible in his commentaries and lectures, he gives an own translation which is founded on the Hebrew or Greek original.
Calvin had already been engaged since 1535 in the translation of the Bible in French. His cousin, Olivetan, asked him to cooperate with the translation of the New Testament for his French Bible. That translation appeared in 1535 with a Latin foreword in which Calvin pleads for the Bible in the vernacular. All believers should be able to have a direct knowledge of what Scripture says.
At the beginning of the New Testament is a letter written in French, which is also by Calvin, though his name is not mentioned. Calvin gives in this letter a summary of what we as Christians believe. Jesus Christ is extolled as the mediator of the new covenant.
It is not clear to what extent Calvin contributed on the revised version of the New Testament that appeared in 1538. After Olivetan’s death in 1538 people have been working on the improvement of his translation. The 1548’s edition contains a letter to the reader in which Calvin underlines the particular importance of the Bible. Calvin devoted a lot of time to the revised edition of the Bible which appeared in 1551. He involved also Louis Budé and Beza in the translation.
The final edition of the Geneva Bible was finally published in 1588 and has been of great importance for later translations.
Wulfert de Greef, The Writings of John Calvin, Expanded Edition. An Introductory Guide. Translated by Lyle D. Bierma, Louisville / London: Westminster John Knox Press, 70-74, 2008.
Calvin wrote commentaries about different books of the bible. The first commentary he published was on the Epistle to the Romans (1540). From then on followed commentaries on the other books of the New Testament with the exception of 2 and 3 John and the Revelation. Concerning the Old Testament he wrote a commentary on Genesis, Isaiah, the Psalms, Exodus through Deuteronomy and Joshua.
The exegetical lectures Calvin had given were often called commentaries. But short writers wrote down verbatim those lectures (Latin: praelectiones) and took care of publication. The mentioned before commentaries wrote Calvin himself in his study. The exegesis in his commentaries is shorter than the explanation in his lectures. Concerning his commentaries he pursued among other things the idea to explain the bible shortly and clearly.
Wulfert de Greef, The Writings of John Calvin, Expanded Edition. An Introductory Guide. Translated by Lyle D. Bierma, Louisville / London: Westminster John Knox Press, 75-93, 2008.
T.H.L. Parker, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, London: SCM Press LTD, 1971; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark LTD, 1993.
T.H.L. Parker, Calvin’s Old Testament Commentaries, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark LTD, 1986.
‘Congrégations’ (Weekly Bible Studies)
Farel and Calvin followed the example of Zurich, where since 1525 exegetical presentations regularly had been given in the Grossmünster (cathedral). The goal of this so-called prophesyings in Zurich was the theological moulding of the ministers and the students. Since1536 the so-called congregations were held in Geneva. In those meetings one of the ministers explained a part of the Bible which was after that subject of discussion. The congregations were held every Friday early in the morning. The ministers from Geneva and its vicinity were expected to be present at the meetings. Also other people were allowed to attend. So it happened on October 16, 1551, that Bolsec caused problems with his objection against the predestinarian interpretation which Jean de Saint-André gave of John 8:47. Subsequently Calvin held a presentation on election (congrégation sur l’election eternelle de Dieu) in december 1551 which was published in 1562. The text of some other congrégations has been preserved as well.
Wulfert de Greef, The Writings of John Calvin, Expanded Edition. An Introductory Guide. Translated by Lyle D. Bierma, Louisville / London: Westminster John Knox Press, 101-104, 2008.
Lectures (Latin: praelectiones)
Calvin was a lecturer as well. He explained the bible in lectures, addressing in Latin the students, ministers, and other interested people. Since 1557 short writers wrote down those lectures and took care of a publication, in both Latin and French. We are indebted to them Calvin’s explanation of the twelve Minor Prophets, Daniel, Jeremiah and Lamentations, and Ezekiel (no further than Ezekiel 20:44).
Wulfert de Greef, The Writings of John Calvin, Expanded Edition. An Introductory Guide. Translated by Lyle D. Bierma, Louisville / London: Westminster John Knox Press, 90-93, 2008.
T.H.L. Parker, Calvin’s Old Testament Commentaries, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark LTD, 1986.
Calvin has held an extremely large number of sermons in Geneva. He explained in lectio continua (a through reading) the book of the Bible choosen by him. On Sundays he would preach from the New Testament and on the other days he would pay attention to the Old Testament. Sometimes he chose for the sermon in the Sunday afternoon service a psalm for his text. Since 1539 his sermons have been taken down in shorthand and afterwards transcribed, at first by Denis Raguenier and then by others. Only a part of these sermons have been published. The rest has been stored as manuscripts. In 1806 many of the sermons kept in the library of Geneva were sold because of lack of space. Some of them have been retraced.
Calvin was hardly ever involved in the publication of his sermons. The Opera Calvini contain 874 sermons which were published in the sixteenth century (many of them have been translated and edited in English). The editors of the Opera Calvini did not attach so much importance to Calvin’s sermons. Since 1961 a more careful edition of the sermons, which have been survived, is taking place in the Supplementa Calviniana. Nowadays Calvin’s sermons are a real subject of research in comparison with the past.
Wulfert de Greef, The Writings of John Calvin, Expanded Edition. An Introductory Guide. Translated by Lyle D. Bierma, Louisville / London: Westminster John Knox Press, 93-100, 2008.
Dawn DeVries, ‘Calvin’s preaching’ in: The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin, edited by Donald K. McKim, 106-124, Cambridge / New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. T.H.L.Parker, Calvin’s Preaching, Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1992.
T.H.L. Parker, The Oracles of God: An Introduction to the Preaching of John Calvin, London / Redhill: Lutterworth Press, 1947.