Calvin the Creationist

…by which I mean 6-day creationist. From Calvin’s commentary on Genesis, here are his thoughts on the phrase “the first day” in 1:5:

Here the error of those is manifestly refuted, who maintain that the world was made in a moment. For it is too violent a cavil to contend that Moses distributes the work which God perfected at once into six days, for the mere purpose of conveying instruction. Let us rather conclude that God himself took the space of six days, for the purpose of accommodating his works to the capacity of men. We slightingly pass over the infinite glory of God, which here shines forth; whence arises this but from our excessive dullness in considering his greatness? In the meantime, the vanity of our minds carries us away elsewhere. For the correction of this fault, God applied the most suitable remedy when he distributed the creation of the world into successive portions, that he might fix our attention, and compel us, as if he had laid his hand upon us, to pause and to reflect. For the confirmation of the gloss above alluded to, a passage from Ecclesiasticus is unskilfully cited. ‘He who liveth for ever created all things at once,’ (Ecclesiasticus 18:1.) For the Greek adverb κοινὣ which the writer uses, means no such thing, nor does it refer to time, but to all things universally.

I do not doubt that Calvin believed in 6×24 creation, but in this commentary, he is not arguing against Old Earth Creationism (which is not surprising, since I very much doubt Calvin had ever heard of OEC!) Clearly, he is arguing against Augustinian instantaneous creation. Perhaps it is not too much to imagine that if he had ever been exposed to OEC, he might have said

Here the error of those is manifestly refuted, who maintain that the world was made in a moment billions of years. For it is too violent a cavil to content that Moses distributes confines the work which God perfected at once over billenia into six days, for the mere purpose of conveying instruction.

But past that point, Calvin has no argument with OEC, for who else assigns to Creation so much time “to pause and reflect”? And besides, Calvin is a lot closer to OEC than to Augustine; OEC describes creation as a mere 791 billion times as long as Calvin; the Calvin/Augustine ratio is infinitely higher!

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26 Responses

  1. I’m also intrigued that Calvin does not refute a citation from the Apocrypha by simply saying “dude, that’s not even canonical!”

  2. As regular readers of this blog will recognize, I’m no fan of John Calvin or his petals, for many reasons. So to bring Calvin in as a big gun on this issue causes me to throw up in my mouth.

    BUT,

    I was gobsmacked by an email sent to me by a reader of this blog that pointed me to a website that (gasp) featured one of my personal heroes and the reason for my online moniker “Albino Hayford” ENDORSING the old earth reading of the Genesis creation account.

    What I heard was an mp3 of Pastor Jack Hayford introducing Dr. Hugh Ross and criticizing the small-minded bigotry of those who close their minds to the old earth interpretation. Ugh… Now, because of my respect for Pastor Jack, I must revisit this topic again through some vigorous personal study.

    Here’s an excerpt of his comments:

    One of the issues that face spiritual leaders today is how are we going to relate to an increasingly scientifically brainwashed society, that is very prejudiced against the Word of God because it presumes that there is no meeting place between the Bible and the revelation of God in His creation. And obviously these will not be at sword points with one another any more than you can find isolated texts in the Bible that may seem to argue against one another, but don’t if you know it all. If you know all the Word it fits. And the more we understand about the realm of the physical creation, the more we’ll see that what is discovered, more and more, examined and pursued, by, unprejudiced scientists, more and more, it reveals the greatness of God, and does not conflict with His Word…

    But there is a very real, point of conflict that has been created in much of the church. Because of attitudes of bigoted, as often times prejudiced position is self righteous, if you don’t believe in creationism THIS WAY then you are not a Bible believer, that’s simply not true. And this way that they are describing is usually called the young earth approach…

    To go the distance, we need to not let ourselves be cornered by small mindedness at any point, such as ones I gave examples of. If you should be here today and you hold the position that I cited as seeming, to my view untenable in our times, you probably wouldn’t be here if you held the bigoted attitude of some that I’ve described. I want to say that if any hold such a position this is not presented as though we were endorsing this as an opponent to every other position. I personally believe this is the most viable approach.

  3. Thanks ‘bino! I guess one good concession (“it is not too much to imagine that if Calvin had ever been exposed to OEC, he might have said…”) deserves another!

  4. From what you quoted of Calvin above, his view of creation could be counted as analogical. Perhaps you might like to argue against that?

  5. In other words, it seems like his view of the narrative is that it is pedagogical.

  6. Albino,

    You might not consider Calvin a big gun, but you are a bit of a sore thumb on this blog. To most of the other readers, Calvin is a very big gun.

    E

  7. Echo, I think this:

    For it is too violent a cavil to contend that Moses distributes the work which God perfected at once into six days, for the mere purpose of conveying instruction.

    shows that Calvin does NOT view the narrative as pedagogical.

  8. You mean “as merely pedagogical”. Thus, pedagogy is not excluded but pointedly included by Calvin. The word mere may indeed be a mere word but it can’t be merely dropped from Calvin’s sentence without changing Calvin’s meaning. Here I take the word “mere” to yield Calvin’s idea like this:

    For it is too violent a cavil to contend that Moses distributes the work which God perfected at once into six days, for nothing more than the obviously specified purpose of conveying instruction.

  9. […] Calvin the Creationist […]

  10. Hey Bino,

    What do you have against Calvin?

    (he he he he, I love thread-jacking sometimes!)

    kazoo

  11. Sorry to jump in a bit early, but this bit from the quote above made me think:

    Let us rather conclude that God himself took the space of six days, for the purpose of accommodating his works to the capacity of men. […] God applied the most suitable remedy when he distributed the creation of the world into successive portions, that he might fix our attention, and compel us, as if he had laid his hand upon us, to pause and to reflect.

    What if God merely revealed his process of creation to Moses over six days, by way of “accommodating his works to the capacity of men”? Regardless of how much time it took for God to actually complete it, it’s possible that the account was recorded in “successive portions” so that Moses could understand it well enough to convey the story.

    It’s possible that god’s special revelation of the creation account was merely presented in such a way that caused Moses to use the word “day” in describing the length of time taken by each step. I think that such an interpretation lines up nicely with Rube’s “creation account as prophecy” hypothesis of late.

  12. Yes, that is one of the possibilities I had in mind.

  13. Rube,

    When he says:

    For it is too violent a cavil to contend that Moses distributes the work which God perfected at once into six days, for the mere purpose of conveying instruction.

    …it seems to me that he’s saying that if God created instantaneously, as Augustine says, that it would make no sense to describe it taking place in 6 days, merely for pedagogical purposes.

    Augumented rightly points out that Calvin seems to think that the narrative is one that is accommodated to our human, finite capacity. Which by the way is what makes it ok for the narrative to describe a flat earth, though the purpose of the narrative isn’t to TEACH a flat earth. It describes a flat earth, because it is accommodated language, spoken to people who believed in a flat earth.

    E

  14. Rube,

    You said (in the next post): “In the last post, we saw Calvin asserting a 6-day view of creation”.

    Echo: Unfounded. Why do you say this? Is it because he talks about the space of 6 days?

    “Day” is not a measure of “space” but of time. When one says that creation took place in the “space of 6 days”, he leaves room for the narrative to be an analogy.

    He goes on to say that “God himself took the space of six days, for the purpose of accommodating his works to the capacity of men.”

    This could possibly mean that God created in 6-24 hour days, in order that men could understand what he was doing, when he later related it. That’s possible. But it’s unlikely that that’s what Calvin means. More likely, he means what Augmented posits, that God revealed his work as taking place in 6 days, to accommodate to our weaker capacity.

    Depending on how good a translation this is, it might be reasonable to guess that this is where the Westminster Divines got their language from when they say “in the space of 6 days”. That is deliberately vague language. Had the divines intended to definitely limit our confession to the 6-24 view, they had other language available to them, which they made use of with regard to the Sabbath (WLC 116, “expressly one whole day in seven”).

    The point is that if they had meant to restrict the Confession to the 6-24 view, they could have done so more explicitly. As it is, they seemed to have borrowed from Calvin’s language here – no surprise – in order to allow room for analogical views, but to exclude equivocal views that teach that the form of the narrative is meaningless. The form isn’t meaningless, but that doesn’t mean it has to have a one to one correspondence.

    E

  15. Rube: In the last post, we saw Calvin asserting a 6-day view of creation”.
    Echo: Unfounded. Why do you say this? Is it because he talks about the space of 6 days?

    Yes, Calvin’s “in the space of six days” (as well as Westminster’s) is intended as a denial not of OEC but instantaneous creation. I doubt that Calvin or the Westminster divines had been exposed to OEC in order that they might have occasion to affirm or deny it.

    Also, I don’t see “in the space of six days” as “deliberately vague language.” If they wanted to be deliberately vague, they could have said “not instantaneously, but in a definite space of time.” If we could time travel to ask Calvin or any of the Westminster divines and ask them “did you mean that creation expressly took six whole, ordinary, 24-hour days?” I think they would unanimously say “why of course!” (lacking any natural revelation to the contrary). Although if pressed with exegetical evidence, many would concede “the text can be read as a prophecy that is figurative of a longer period of time, but the important thing is that creation occupied an actual extent of time, and was not instantaneous.”

    This series, though, is building up to the question “How would Calvin have responded to our natural revelation?” so don’t jump the gun!

  16. But what I’m saying is, I believe, what is argued for in the OPC’s Creation report. Furthermore, there is a guy out in England right now looking at the minutes of the Assembly, who is going to prove exactly what I’m saying.

    If they had meant to say that creation took place in 6-24 hour days, they could have said so. What they’re referring to is the language of the text, and they mean by it whatever the text means by it. There is as much ambiguity in the Confession and in Calvin as there is in the text.

    Don’t you confess that God created the world “in the space of six days”? I do. That’s what the narrative says. But what that MEANS is what is up for grabs. We aren’t denying that the Scripture speaks this way, and so it’s right for analogical/framework interpreters to continue to confess “in the space of 6 days”, because that language simply insists that the form of the narrative means something. Whatever it means, that’s what we’re confessing.

    To be sure, I interpret “the space of 6 days” differently than a 6-24 guy.

    I think what they said does exclude the instantaneous view of Augustine, but that’s about it. Augustine would have, on this passage, what we would today call a liberal hermeneutic, that denies that the form of the narrative communicates any meaning. The form of the narrative DOES communicate meaning. It is revealed in the way it is for a REASON. It’s not arbitrary.

    But “in the space of 6 days” doesn’t HAVE to be taken as 6-24 days. Otherwise, they could have just said, “in 6 days” or “in 6 days of ordinary length”. Why did they add the words “in the space of”?

    One thing we can say about the WCF, is that it uses language very precisely and deliberately. Your claim entails that the words “in the space of” are superfluous and thus meaningless. That is the logical consequence of saying that they meant to insist on a 6-24 view. The words “in the space of” do not merely polemicize against the instantaneous view. Again, they could have simply said, “in 6 days”, and the instantaneous view would be excluded.

    I say that the words “in the space of” allow for “6 days” to be analogous, since “days” is said to have “space” as their referent, rather than time.

    And again, I think this is language borrowed from Calvin, who seems to me to see the narrative as apocalyptic/accommodating to us. It is accommodating language, speaking simply of something that is not simple. It is an illustration, an analogy.

    Otherwise, “in the space of” becomes superfluous and meaningless.

    E

  17. Your claim entails that the words “in the space of” are superfluous and thus meaningless

    No, to my ear, “in the space of six days” is more specific than just “in six days”. Just like with the Apostle’s creed, I have a little mental asterisk for “small-c-catholic”, my mental asterisk would be smaller for “in six days” than “in the space of six days.” If your secret agent returns from England with some more information vindicating your claim that “in the space of six days” was meant to allow more generic interpretations, then hooray for us. But in the meantime, I don’t have a problem excepting myself from the confession on this point, because (as we have discussed before), it is a noncritical point. (Especially I don’t have a problem, as I am not aiming for ordination, and am not a member of a subscriptionist church).

  18. In Echo’s defense, from the OPC Creation Report:

    With respect to the phrase, “in the space of six days,” even if one grants that the Divines meant ordinary days by that expression, it does not necessarily follow that they intended to restrict the meaning of that phrase in that way. And even if they intended such a restriction, they did not indicate such an intention explicitly in the language that they used.

    That quote started in line 192. There is much more to read in the next few pages.

  19. […] Calvin the Creationist […]

  20. I’m not a fan of quibbling over what other people think. Calvin’s thoughts necessitate none of ours.

    Nevertheless, the English teacher in me can’t help but notice a phrase you’ve treated lightly (emphasis added):

    Calvin: Let us rather conclude that God himself took the space of six days, for the purpose of accommodating his works to the capacity of men.

    It takes some serious squintage to see billions of years as an accommodation to human mental faculties. Indeed, we have an admittedly difficult time conceiving the time spans OEC (and strict materialism) suggest — which is the primary thrust of the common rejoinder to creationist doubts about the probabilities of evolution: “You don’t understand the power of millions of years.”

    So based on this passage, if Calvin considered anything but an instantaneous creation to be an accommodation to the human condition, I don’t think he’d look favorably on numbers in the billions.

    Neither here nor there, however, as I insist that Calvin’s thoughts necessitate none of ours.

  21. as I insist that Calvin’s thoughts necessitate none of ours.

    As if any one around here treats Calvin as authoritative.

    Let me ask, does your insistence necessitate that I agree with you?

  22. Bruce S.: does your insistence necessitate that I agree with you?

    Ha! You’re right, that wording was heavy-handed — good job calling it out.

    That was really just an expression of my sheepishness for entering a “What did Calvin think?” discussion.

  23. Bill Clinton: I say that the words “in the space of” allow for “6 days” to be analogous, since “days” is said to have “space” as their referent, rather than time.

    That depends, of course, on what the definition of ‘is’ is.

    From the American Heritage Dictionary at thefreedictionary.com

    space:
    5a. A period or interval of time.
    5b. A little while: Let’s rest of a space.

    Further down that screen

    space:
    6. The interval between two times; “the distance from birth to death”; “it all happened in the space of 10 minutes”
    distance interval, time interval – a definite length of time marked off by two instants

    Perhaps the Oxford English Dictionary contains information about contrary historical usage. Otherwise, the phrasing “in the space of” exhibits no space-time tension that would indicate the authors intentionally allowed for analogous meaning.

  24. Except that the minutes of the Westminster Assembly do show such an intention. But the proof is as yet unpublished.

  25. […] across a funny little quote that demonstrates pretty clearly that Calvin (in addition to being a creationist, a conformist, and a toothless hick fundy) was a short-earther. In Institutes 1.8.4, while […]

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