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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


BRITZ, RM  and  D'ASSONVILLE, VE. A "Passage to the understanding of the whole Scripture": Calvin's first Bible commentary seen in historical-theological perspective. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2009, vol.49, n.3, pp.467-486. ISSN 2224-7912.

From the available data it appears that Calvin embarked upon a penetrating study of the Book of Romans during the period between 1530 and 1540. It is possible to trace his definitive plans to write this commentary to conversations he had with Grynaeus during the years 1535 and 1536. However, it is generally accepted that this commentary is significantly substantiated by the lectures given by him in Geneva and Straatsburg at the time. This means that this commentary obtained its shape on the lecture podium, within the context of the training of prospective ministers in the exegesis and preaching of the Word. It is necessary to read and understand this introduction and the subdivision of the content of the letter in its mutual context. What constitutes, according to Calvin, the actual core of the letter to the Romans? He finds it in the fact that Christ justifies us through faith: "The Grace of God in Christ" (COR II/XIII,7,22-23), the righteousness of Christ ("Christi iustitia" - COR II/ XIII,8,29) runs like a golden thread through the letter to the Romans and for that reason also through the commentary of Calvin. The letter to the Romans finds in Christ its coherence and meaning. Christ delicately lays claim to the order, development and dynamics of the argument in the letter. Between August and October 1539 three important publications of Calvin appeared. During August he finalized his thorough revision and extensive expansion of his 1536 Christianae Religionis Institutio - which has since appeared as the Institutio Christianae Religionis. During this month of August 1539 he also found time to respond to the demand of Cardinal Sadoletus to return to the Roman Catholic Church - Calvin's Responsio. And in October of the same year he completed his commentary on the book of Romans. Calvin now started to broaden his purview of the reformation spreading over Europe. Regarding the question of which exegetical method underpinned the foundation of Calvin's Roman commentary, it has been pointed out many times that the exegetical weight assigned by Calvin to the text of the letter to the Romans has a connection with the humanistic rhetoric of the sixteenth century, in which he was also trained. (The concept humanistic is here used in a technical sense, as it prevailed at the time. It referred to the methods and instruments of the study of foremost antique) texts, in other words, knowledge of the basic languages (albeit Greek, Hebrew or Latin), control over philology, grammar and using the auxiliary means of semantics, and so on.) This method entailed that a reliable understanding of the text had to be attained through knowledge of the text (through its meanings it became accessible in other words), that the scopus of the text had to be found within the larger textual coherence (context), that the central themes of the text were identified, that the cultural-historical context within which it obtained its form was known and that the history of intepretation (the history of the exegesis) was also known. In other words, it concerned the question regarding the mastery of the text under consideration - as explicated in the course of history. What is of particular importance is that the thought orientation and aims of the original author had to be taken into consideration. Calvin intentionally did not want to pursue the road of Bucer or Melanchthon. Much rather he wished to discern the meaning of the text according to the intention of the author, from the perspective of the mutual role of texts within their larger encompassing context as well as their interconnections with each other. To underline the influence of Calvin's commentary in the history of theology, a list of editions is added. For an Afrikaans reader the translations of Calvin's works (in Afrikaans) are also added in a comprehensive attachment.

Keywords : Calvin; Commentary on Romans; Hermeneutics; Exegesis; Afrikaans translations.

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