Daily Archives: 27 May 2011

John Calvin and Michael Servetus

Many are dismayed by Calvin’s condemnation of the unitarian dilettante Michael Servetus.  Some even accuse Calvin of murdering him.  This misinformed view though demonstrates that the persons holding it are sadly unfamiliar with the way the government worked in 16th century Geneva.  It was not possible for Calvin to sentence or execute anyone for any reason.

Those interested in the tale are encouraged to read this 1934 essay, Calvin und Servet, by Hans Stückelberger.

Die vorliegende Arbeit beruht nicht auf Quellenforschung im eigentlichen Sinn, sondern stützt sich auf die Darstellung einiger umfangreicher Werke, deren Benutzung wohl nicht jedermann möglich ist. Und doch besteht die Notwendigkeit, die protestantische Leserschaft genauer über eines der umstrittensten und wichtigsten Kapitel in der Reformationsgeschichte, eben den Fall Servet, zu informieren, weil es kaum eine Frage gibt, in der soviel verschiedene und soviel unzulängliche Meinungen vertreten werden, wie inbezug auf den Tod, den jener schwer zu beurteilende Spanier zur Zeit Calvins in Genf erlitten hat.

Granny the Mugger…

In South Africa

Police in South Africa are searching for an elderly woman who allegedly persuades young men at a mall to help carry heavy bags from her car, then kidnaps them from the parking lot and robs them. The woman, who works with two male accomplices, targets shoppers standing in bank queues at a mall in Johannesburg’s Soweto township and has struck at least twice recently, The New Age newspaper reported Friday. “I never suspected anything wicked about the old woman as she looked like a pensioner and had a walking stick,” 18-year-old victim Kabelo Dube told the newspaper. He said he was waiting in line to deposit money at the bank when a young man approached and asked him for help unloading the old woman’s bags. He went with the pair to the car and began to help with the bags, but then felt a gun pressed against his head and was ordered to get in the car, he said. The woman and her two accomplices then drove a short distance from the mall, took his money — 1,200 rand ($173, 122 euros) — and forced him out of the car, he said. “I went back to the mall and reported the incident to the security guards, who advised me to go to a police station and open a case,” he said.

The moral? Don’t help strangers. Even granny can be stranger danger.

Calvin on Prayer

This confidence of obtaining what we ask, a confidence which the Lord commands, and all the saints teach by their example, we must therefore hold fast with both hands, if we would pray to any advantage. The only prayer acceptable to God is that which springs (if I may so express it) from this presumption of faith, and is founded on the full assurance of hope.  — John Calvin

Calvin’s Death

According to Philip Schaff

On the 19th of May, two days before the pentecostal communion, Calvin invited the ministers of Geneva to his house and caused himself to be carried from his bed-chamber into the adjoining dining-room. Here he said to the company: “This is the last time I shall meet you at table,”—words that made a sad impression on them. He then offered up a prayer, took a little food, and conversed as cheerfully as was possible under the circumstances. Before the repast was quite finished he had himself carried back to his bed-room, and on taking leave said, with a smiling countenance: “This wall will not hinder my being present with you in spirit, though absent in body.”

From that time he never rose from his bed, but he continued to dictate to his secretary.

Farel, then in his eightieth year, came all the way from Neuchâtel to bid him farewell, although Calvin had written to him not to put himself to that trouble. He desired to die in his place. Ten days after Calvin’s death, he wrote to Fabri (June 6, 1564): “Oh, why was not I taken away in his place, while he might have been spared for many years of health to the service of the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ! Thanks be to Him who gave me the exceeding grace to meet this man and to hold him against his will in Geneva, where he has labored and accomplished more than tongue can tell. In the name of God, I then pressed him and pressed him again to take upon himself a burden which appeared to him harder than death, so that he at times asked me for God’s sake to have pity on him and to allow him to serve God in a manner which suited his nature. But when he recognized the will of God, he sacrificed his own will and accomplished more than was expected from him, and surpassed not only others, but even himself. Oh, what a glorious course has he happily finished!

Calvin spent his last days in almost continual prayer, and in ejaculating comforting sentences of Scripture, mostly from the Psalms. He suffered at times excruciating pains. He was often heard to exclaim: “I mourn as a dove” (Isa. 38:14); “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it” (Ps. 39:9); “Thou bruisest me, O Lord, but it is enough for me that it is thy hand.” His voice was broken by asthma, but his eyes remained bright, and his mind clear and strong to the last. He admitted all who wished to see him, but requested that they should rather pray for him than speak to him.

On the day of his death he spoke with less difficulty. He fell peacefully asleep with the setting sun towards eight o’clock, and entered into the rest of his Lord. “I had just left him,” says Beza, “a little before, and on receiving intimation from the servants, immediately hastened to him with one of the brethren. We found that he had already died, and so very calmly, without any convulsion of his feet or hands, that he did not even fetch a deeper sigh. He had remained perfectly sensible, and was not entirely deprived of utterance to his very last breath. Indeed, he looked much more like one sleeping than dead.

It’s True You Know…

Critics are like eunuchs. They know what needs to be done. They just can’t manage it themselves. — Soren Kierkegaard.

Calvin Hated Geneva

As Schaff observes, in Geneva in 1538, on

April 22 and 23, the great Council of the Two Hundred assembled in the cloisters of St. Peter’s, deposed Farel and Calvin, without a trial, and ordered them to leave the city within three days.

They were summarily dismissed because 1) their reforming efforts were viewed as too strict by most of the citizens, and 2) Calvin couldn’t have been happier to have been ‘shown the door’.  He hated the place and the absurd people who loved impurity and impiety more than anything else, including God.

Calvin’s reaction was – well for him – typical-

“Very well,” said Calvin, “it is better to serve God than man. If we had sought to please men, we should have been badly rewarded, but we serve a higher Master, who will not withhold from us his reward.”

Of this Schaff laconically remarks

Calvin even rejoiced at the result more than seemed proper.

Not if he hated the city.  And he did.  Have I mentioned that Calvin hated the city?  Oh he hated it.  But naturally the sows of Geneva threw a party when Calvin left.

The people celebrated the downfall of the clerical régime with public rejoicings. The decrees of the synod of Lausanne were published by sound of trumpets. The baptismal fonts were re-erected, and the communion administered on the following Sunday with unleavened bread.

So Calvin went East.

The deposed ministers went to Bern, but found little sympathy. They proceeded to Zürich, where a general synod was held, and were kindly received. They admitted that they had been too rigid, and consented to the restoration of the baptismal fonts, the unleavened bread (provided the bread was broken), and the four Church festivals observed in Bern; but they insisted on the introduction of discipline, the division of the Church into parishes, the more frequent administration of the communion, the singing of Psalms in public worship, and the exercise of discipline by joint committees of laymen and ministers.

Oh come now.  They weren’t at all too rigid.  Rigid would be the response to Servetus.  But by that time Calvin was the unquestioned theological authority of the place and no one was silly enough to raise a hand in opposition.  Not publicly anyway.

When the city came crawling to Calvin years later to urge him to return it was only because Calvin felt God wished him to be there that he agreed.

What’s The Meaning of Life?

… so long as we are without Christ and separated from him, nothing which he suffered and did for the salvation of the human race is of the least benefit to us. To communicate to us the blessings which he received from the Father, he must become ours and dwell in us. Accordingly, he is called our Head, and the first-born among many brethren, while, on the other hand, we are said to be ingrafted into him and clothed with him… — John Calvin

Melanchthon said it otherwise- to know Christ is to know his benefits.

Life’s meaning is found only in fellowship with Christ. Outside of Christ, life has no meaning, or purpose.

When You Want to be a Megachurch, And Mortgage Your Future for it…

This is what ends up happening.

Crystal Cathedral Ministries has found a way out of bankruptcy: Selling its giant crystal cathedral. The megachurch’s landmark 10,000-glass-pane building in Orange County will be sold along with other buildings on the church’s campus to pay off the $50 million owed to vendors and creditors, the Los Angeles Times reports. The church has a guaranteed option to lease the campus for 15 years from the buyer and, finances permitting, will be able to buy back the buildings in 2015.

It’s really a shame that these people aren’t readers of the Bible. If they were, they may have noticed this little pearl of wisdom from Jesus-

Which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’

Perhaps if the church had wanted to focus on ministry rather than appearances it wouldn’t have sunk itself so deeply (and shamefully) in debt.

‘The Jesus Nails’: A Review by Joe Zias

You can read Joe’s review of ‘The Jesus Nails’ here. Vintage Joe.

An Open Letter to Journalists Researching Biblical Matters and Biblical Archaeology

To the Journalists of the world,

Sometimes when you report on the happenings of the world of biblical interpretation and biblical archaeology you don’t get all the facts right.  I’m sure you’re trying your best and do what you can with the material you have.  But some of us in the fields of biblical interpretation and archaeology want to help you do better.

To that end, here are some people you can contact directly when you have questions in the subjects below:

Old Testament / Hebrew Bible
Niels Peter Lemche
James Aitken
Christian Brady

Ancient Texts and Scripts
Christopher Rollston

Ancient Materials
Yuval Goren

Antiquities and Artifacts
Robert Deutsch

New Testament
Mark Goodacre
Chris Tilling
Francois Vouga

Biblical Archaeology
Eric Cline
Robert Cargill
Aren Maeir
Israel Finkelstein

General Questions
Jim West
Scott Bailey

These persons can easily direct you to experts who can supply you with accurate, precise, and truthful information. If you want further details, just ask. This list will morph from time to time so check back regularly if you like. Furthermore, there’s also a link on the sidebar under ‘Media’.

Calvin as New Testament Exegete

In explaining 1 Thess 1 and it’s mention of hope Calvin remarks

From this we may gather a brief definition of true Christianity — that it is a faith that is lively and full of vigor, so that it spares no labor, when assistance is to be given to one’s neighbors, but, on the contrary, all the pious employ themselves diligently in offices of love, and lay out their efforts in them, so that, intent upon the hope of the manifestation of Christ, they despise everything else, and, armed with patience, they rise superior to the wearisomeness of length of time, as well as to all the temptations of the world.

Relief – The King is Dead

It really is a relief to be dethroned as the #1 biblioblogger.  Now I no longer have to try to be nice and all warm and fuzzy to make people like me so they’ll come back.

Plus, it’s hard as Gehenna to stay #1 for – well – several years.  Lance Armstrong won the Tour de Steroids 7 times.  That’s nothing.  I’ve been #1 over 24 times (or more- who knows.  I don’t).

I hope Joel stays on top the rest of his life.

Congrats, friend.  It couldn’t happen to a better person/blogger.

Still More on the ‘Jonah Tomb’ and the ‘Jesus Tomb’

Amazon is now advertising Simcha’s book, described as follows-

The Jesus Discovery shows how a recent major archeological discovery in Jerusalem is revolutionizing our understanding of Jesus and the earliest years of Christianity.

More overblown claims about some discovery that will explode Christianity…  again.

Tabor and Jacobovici have examined a sealed first-century tomb in Jerusalem, where they have found the earliest evidence for a belief in the resurrection of Jesus, based on what appears to be the oldest Christian iconography ever discovered. This major new find will be the subject of a primetime National Geographic Society television documentary.

Book + documentary = nothing more than a quest for a buck.  ‘Scholarship’ for the fast dollar.

The discovery affirms a belief in the resurrection of Jesus that pre-dates the Gospels. It is possible, perhaps even likely, that whoever was buried in this tomb heard Jesus preach.

Oh sure it is.  Pure speculation.    Maybe whoever’s buried there also ate a peanut butter sandwich with Jesus…

The stunning discovery also reopens the historical discussion of a nearby tomb previously identified by the authors as the family tomb of Jesus. That tomb contained ossuaries that may be those of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and members of the family of Jesus. Was Jesus married, and did he father a child who was buried in this tomb?

A colleague tells me that two of the book’s chapters are devoted to Mary Magdalene and suggests that she was a boozer because they found high levels of lead in her dna (yes, remember, they found her bones buried next to Jesus…’).  Lead was used in ancient times to stop the fermentation process.  So, speculation piled on top of speculation.

The new discovery will be the subject of an early November press conference. Publication of the book will coincide with the press conference.

Just in time to be the subject of banter at SBL too I imagine.  To stir up purchases.  To pimp archaeology once more.  And that’s the tragic part.  All this pimping of archaeology just casts the whole field in a bad light.

Shame on them.  And shame on Simon and Schuster for publishing this nonsense.  And you think self-published books can be pure nonsense?  Think again.

Calvin as Old Testament Scholar

They came into a harlot’s house, etc. Why some try to avoid the name harlot, and interpret זונה as meaning one who keeps an inn, I see not, unless it be that they think it disgraceful to be the guests of a courtesan, or wish to wipe off a stigma from a woman who not only received the messengers kindly, but secured their safety by singular courage and prudence. It is indeed a regular practice with the Rabbins, when they would consult for the honor of their nation, presumptuously to wrest Scripture and give a different turn by their fictions to anything that seems not quite reputable.  — Calvin, On Joshua 2

That’s clarity of sight right there.  It’s just that clarity that characterizes 90% of Calvin’s interpretation of Scripture.  And 90% right is way better than most.  Way better.

The Ideal Republican Presidential Candidate

And it isn’t Palin, Bachmann, Pawlenty, Santorum, or any of that feckless lot.  It’s Robert Haines.  He perfectly represents everything the Republican party presently stands for.

A man who is trying to run for president was arrested in downtown Columbia on Wednesday while wearing a cowboy hat and a bathrobe.  Robert Haines, 64, was charged with disorderly conduct and trespassing. Haines is still in jail.

He wears a cowboy hat!  He sports a bathrobe in public!   He’s even happy being arrested- check out his joyful mugshot!

He’s the ideal President- already showing himself to be a lunatic.  No pretense with this one, we know right out of the gate that he’s unhinged.  The rest are too, they’re just duplicitous and cover it up.  Not Haines.

Haines 2012!  He’s what America deserves!  Yes, he is indeed what America deserves…

Calvin’s Significance

According to Schaff-

Calvin was, first of all, a theologian. He easily takes the lead among the systematic expounders of the Reformed system of Christian doctrine. He is scarcely inferior to Augustin among the fathers, or Thomas Aquinas among the schoolmen, and more methodical and symmetrical than either. Melanchthon, himself the prince of Lutheran divines and “the Preceptor of Germany,” called him emphatically “the Theologian.”

Calvin’s theology is based upon a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He was the ablest exegete among the Reformers, and his commentaries rank among the very best of ancient and modern times. His theology, therefore, is biblical rather than scholastic, and has all the freshness of enthusiastic devotion to the truths of God’s Word. At the same time he was a consummate logician and dialectician. He had a rare power of clear, strong, convincing statement. He built up a body of doctrines which is called after him, and which obtained symbolical authority through some of the leading Reformed Confessions of Faith.

That’s a bit of an exaggeration.  He was, certainly, a brilliant exegete; but like all the rest he could be blinded by his own presumptions.  Still, Schaff’s glowing review isn’t too awful wrong.

The Newest Superhero Comic: Huldrych and Anna Zwingli!

How awesome is this:

Wer war Zwingli? Und wer seine Frau? Wie war das mit der Reformation? Der neue Comic «Mit vollem Einsatz» zeigt das Leben und Wirken des Reformators erfrischend und detailgenau.


Die Gründergestalt der Zürcher Landeskirche wird darin nicht als «reformierter Heiliger» beschrieben, sondern als leidenschaftlicher Mensch, der mit vollem Einsatz die kirchliche und gesellschaftliche Neuordnung der Stadt Zürich anstösst, seine pazifistische Gesinnung jedoch bald aufgibt und die Reformation auch mit dem Schwert durchsetzen will. Viele Menschen sterben, auch der Reformator selbst.

The series is aimed at middle school kids-

Der Comic ist im Theologischen Verlag Zürich erschienen und Teil einer neuen Arbeitshilfe für den kirchlichen Unterricht im 5. bis 7. Schuljahr. Die Arbeitshilfe erscheint Ende Mai. Sie heisst «JuKi – wir glauben in Vielfalt» und soll Kinder und Jugendliche auf der Suche nach dem eigenen Glauben begleiten und Teenagern die Bibel und die Geschichte der Kirche näherbringen.


Scholars, the Media, And Sage Advice

Matthew Kalman writes

The idea of setting up a formal panel is impractical and smacks of censorship. A reporter or filmmaker wouldn’t submit their story for approval any more than they would submit a story about lawyers to a Bar Association panel for its approval. A panel would take too long to convene and decide its consensus opinion. The panel members may be divided in their views. What is required is a simple list of email and phone contacts of reputable scholars with their areas of expertise who can be reached. I usually contact members of this forum and have found it very helpful. You must be able to react very quickly to breaking stories. Speed is crucial since you will usually have only an hour or two to respond before deadline. By distributing this list of scholars to the media, you give them no excuse not to seek the opinions of the experts. Your voice will then be heard but cannot impose your views, even if you are 100% correct. That’s the beauty and stupidity of modern journalism. I’d have been happy to discuss all this at the Duke conference, but I wasn’t invited.

Matthew Kalman

A Calvin Gallery

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On the Anniversary of Calvin’s Death

John Calvin, Reformer of Geneva and ancestor of ‘Presbyterianism’ (in its true and right forms and not in the twisted forms in which it finds itself manifested in some corners of the world today) died on the 27th of May in the Year of our Lord, 1564.  Over the next 24 hours I’ll be posting a snippet about Calvin every few hours.

Some people are deserving of being remembered.  And none of them come from Hollywood.  Calvin, more than nearly anyone else, was one Himalaya of theological wisdom and ‘climbing’ to the summit is a struggle and a blessing.  When you’re that high up, you can see nearly everything.

To be sure, he was no Zwingli (indeed, Zwingli was to Calvin what the distance from the earth to the sun is from the distance of the base of the Himalayas to their summit).  And he was wrong about a number of things.  Still, he’s one important theologian.  The third most important of all time (after Jesus and Zwingli, in that order).

So tune in every little while.  You’ll never know what you’ll find.