John Calvin on the Inerrancy of Scripture and the Witness of the Spirit

John Calvin on the Inerrancy of Scripture and the Witness of the Spirit March 6, 2007

There are those today who would argue that belief in the inerrancy of Scripture is merely a modern invention. In the following passage from Calvin’s Institutes, we see that the reformer could easily have signed the Chicago Statement. As a reformed charismatic, I am, of course, also intrigued by the concept of the Spirit’s work in attesting to us that the Scriptures are the Word of God. It is concerning to me that so little emphasis seems to be placed on all the functions of God’s Holy Spirit today.

“. . . the Scriptures are the only records in which God has been pleased to consign his truth to perpetual remembrance . . . the full authority which they ought to possess with the faithful is not recognized, unless they are believed to have come from heaven, as directly as if God had been heard giving utterance to them . . . our faith in doctrine is not established until we have a perfect conviction that God is its author. Hence, the highest proof of Scripture is uniformly taken from the character of him whose Word it is. The prophets and apostles boast not their own acuteness or any qualities which win credit to speakers, nor do they dwell on reasons; but they appeal to the sacred name of God, in order that the whole world may be compelled to submission . . .

Let it therefore be held as fixed, that those who are inwardly taught by the Holy Spirit acquiesce implicitly in Scripture; that Scripture, carrying its own evidence along with it, deigns not to submit to proofs and arguments, but owes the full conviction with which we ought to receive it to the testimony of the Spirit. Enlightened by him, we no longer believe, either on our own judgment or that of others, that the Scriptures are from God; but, in a way superior to human judgment, feel perfectly assured—as much so as if we beheld the divine image visibly impressed on it—that it came to us, by the instrumentality of men, from the very mouth of God.

We ask not for proofs or probabilities on which to rest our judgment, but we subject our intellect and judgment to it as too transcendent for us to estimate. This, however, we do, not in the manner in which some are wont to fasten on an unknown object, which, as soon as known, displeases, but because we have a thorough conviction that, in holding it, we hold unassailable truth; not like miserable men, whose minds are enslaved by superstition, but because we feel a divine energy living and breathing in it—an energy by which we are drawn and animated to obey it, willingly indeed, and knowingly, but more vividly and effectually than could be done by human will or knowledge.”

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Translation of: Institutio Christianae religionis.; Reprint, with new introd. Originally published: Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1845-1846); Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, I, vii, pp. 1-5.

Berkouwer agrees that the belief in the veracity of Scripture is truly an old one:

“There can be no doubt that for a long time during Church history certainty of faith was specifically linked to the trustworthiness of Holy Scripture as the Word of God . . . From its earliest days the Church held that Scripture is not an imperfect, humanly untrustworthy book of various religious experiences, but one with a peculiar mystery.”

G. C. Berkouwer, Holy Scripture (Translation of De Heilige Schrift; Ed. Jack Bartlett Rogers; Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975), p. 11.

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