The Legacy of John Calvin – Part 3

John Calvin

John Calvin and the doctrine of Calvinism’s Esotericism

Whenever the mind is riddled with confusion, perplexity and puzzlement ESOTERICISM seems to be the magic wand that settles and puts it to rest. The dictionary defines the word ‘esoteric’ in the following way: ‘understood by or meant for only the select few who have special knowledge or interest.’ Esotericism is therefore the state or quality of being esoteric. The less knowledgeable and skilful become easy prey for the select few whose esotericisms befuddle their ability to think and decide for themselves. Calvinists assert that no one ought to question or contradict Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion at face value because it is a very difficult and esoteric subject and its profound truths cannot be fathomed instantaneously. It takes years to comprehend it. However, the Bible itself claims that it was written for the simple:

For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. (1Corinthians 1:26-29).

Have you noticed the little word ‘chosen’ in the above passage? Of course you did . . . and have you noticed its implication? Well, it implies that God did not choose Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian religion for the simple reason that it is too esoteric and difficult to understand and therefore should not be consumed by the simple (the foolish ones) whom God has in fact chosen.

The minds of those who are confused and perplexed are usually put to rest with Paul’s well-known dictum in 1 Corinthians 13:

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (1Co 13:9-12).

Bearing in mind that the Calvinist’s doctrine of predestination revolves mainly around salvation and sanctification, may I ask: What is it that we only know in part? Is it perhaps the doctrine of salvation and sanctification? If that is the case, we would only have known part of how to be redeemed. If we had only known part of the truth of how one is saved, no one would or could ever have been saved completely but indeed, only in part. What does the Bible teach?

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:32).

Jesus did not say ‘you shall know part of the truth’ but ‘you shall know the truth.’ Is it so difficult to understand that this ‘truth’ is not merely a piece or a portion of the truth but the whole truth and that anyone, no matter how simple and uneducated he may be, can know the whole truth with regard to his salvation and’ sanctification? In a recent conversation with a Christian I was reminded that both factions, Calvinists and anti-Calvinists, espouse ideas that, although they are incompatible, seem to hold true to the Bible and to settle the matter between these two diverse factions, we can only but agree with what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13: ‘For we only know in part.’ And to illustrate his point he referred me to Revelation 13 and especially verse 8:

and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. (Revelation 13:8)

Voila! It proves beyond any doubt that there are people whose names had not been written in die book of life of the Lamb from the foundation of the world. Several Bible translations do in fact favour this interpretation, including the Old Afrikaans translation. However, there are many others that favour the King James rendering of this verse which says it as follows:

And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. (Revelation 13:8)

The difference between the two translations may be summed up in the following way:


Was it the reprobates’ names that were not written in the Book of life of the Lamb from the foundation of the world or was it the the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the earth or both? Bible students and scholars agree that you cannot isolate verses and then build your entire exegesis around those particular passages. That’s a sure recipe for heresy and erroneous doctrine. They will tell you that Scripture interprets Scripture and the only way to arrive at a conclusive and final assessment is to compare the verse at hand with other passages in Scripture. If this is a good scholarly road to take then we have no other option than to compare Revelation 13:8 with other passages in Scripture that deal in particular with the doctrine of salvation. Should it agree with the other passages then we must accept Calvin’s doctrine of elective predestination but if it doesn’t then we must reject it outright. So let us now honestly and fairly compare Revelation 13 verse 8 with other verses in the Bible.

2 Peter 3:9:

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

If God had ordained some to be cast in the lake of fire and as a consequence decreed that their names should not be written in the Book of Life before or from the foundation of the world, why is He not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance? Surely, if He had decided not to include the reprobate in his magnanimous mercy as demonstrated in his words ‘not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance’ then this passage can only be applied to the elect. If that had been true it would mean that some of the elect whose names had been written in die Book of Life from the foundation of the world, will also be cast into the lake of fire. The negative statement ‘not willing that any should perish’ indicates that there are indeed some of the elect who are going to perish, that is if this passage refers to them only and not the reprobate.

Imagine the cruelty in saying to someone: ‘I am not willing that you should perish but that you should come to repentance and therefore I have decided not to write your name in the Book of Life of the Lamb from the foundation of the world.’ Naturally, the Calvinist would say that this verse should read as follows: ‘The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward (the elect), not willing that any (of the elect) should perish, but that all (of the elect) should come to repentance.’

Ezekiel 3:11

Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?

If God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked why would He sovereignly decide to omit anyone’s name from the Book of Life of the Lamb even from the foundation of the world? Will the wicked who are mentioned in Revelation 13:8 be cast into hell because God has ordained them unto eternal perdition from the foundation of the world or will they be cast into hell because they chose not to follow Jesus Christ but the Antichrist? We learn from the book of Revelation that many Jews and Gentiles will choose not to have the mark of the beast (666) imprinted or implanted into their foreheads and right hands because they will have chosen to follow Jesus Christ and not the Antichrist. If they are going to exercise their God-given free-will and choose not to follow the Antichrist, what prevents anyone else from doing the same thing? Everyone is going to have an equal opportunity to choose whom he will follow, much the same as Joshua and his household chose to serve the living God.

Acts 13:48

And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.

John Calvin says in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III; Chapter 24, Paragraph 13:

Why, then, while bestowing grace on the one, does he pass by the other? In regard to the former, Luke gives the reason, Because they “were ordained to eternal life,” (Acts 13:48). What, then, shall we think of the latter, but that they are vessels of wrath unto dishonor? Wherefore, let us not decline to say with Augustine, “God could change the will of the wicked into good, because he is omnipotent. Clearly he could. Why, then,does he not do it? Because he is unwilling. Why he is unwilling remains with himself,” (August. de Genes. ad Lit. Lib. 2).

Several Greek grammarians have established that the KJV translation of ‘tasso’ (ordained) was taken from the corrupt Latin Vulgate where it is translated as ‘quotquot erant praeordinati’ As such it gives the impression that God has sovereignly pre-ordained only the elect to eternal life and sovereignly dammed the rest to eternal perdition from the foundation of the world. If this had been God’s decree’ from the foundation of the world, the word ‘proordizo’ (predestinate) in stead of ‘tasso’ should have been used. In order to get the context we must take verse 46 into consideration. Here we find two words that are very important, namely ‘necessary’ and ‘unworthy.’ The word ‘anankaios (necessary) means to be bound by an inescapable and indispensible duty because the circumstances and a particular kinship requires it. it was for this very reason that Jesus commanded his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to the Jews first because they were his next of kin after the flesh. (Matthew 10:5-7). Think of it: Despite the fact that Jesus knew in advance that the Jews would reject Him as their Messiah, He nevertheless regarded it his indispensible duty and an inescapable necessity to proclaim the Gospel to the Jews first. Nonetheless, did they not hear? Of course they heard and fully understood what Paul and the other apostles preached to them (Romans 10:18-19). How do we know they understood them? The words ‘put away’ and ‘judge yourself unworthy of everlasting life’ in verse 46 proves without any doubt that they understood Paul one hundred percent. It is impossible to reject anything without fully comprehending what you are rejecting and to count yourself unworthy of something without knowing fully what that something is. In fact, the word ‘apotheomai’ does not mean to reject something out of sheer ignorance or nescience. It means to reject something with contempt and to shun or thrust it away from you with malice.

Having said this it is so much easier to understand what Paul meant when he used the word ‘tasso,’ i.e. to describe the Gentiles’ response to the Gospel. Indeed, the word ‘tasso’ does not describe an absolute decree of God; it is not used in connection with a sovereign act of God. The verb ‘tasso’ is used in regard to the Gentiles to describe their response to the preaching of the Gospel. The word simply means ‘to be well-disposed’ to the Gospel. Unlike the Jews who were ill-disposed to the Gospel, the Gentiles felt attracted to the Good News and accordingly received it by faith and were saved. The passage should therefore read as follows:

But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were well-disposed to eternal life [and not as the Jews who were ill-disposed to it and judged themselves unworthy of everlasting life] believed [and were saved]. (Act 13:45-48)

The Gentiles positioned themselves (by being well-disposed to the the Gospel) to receive the gift of salvation from God. They responded favorably to the preaching of the Gospel as opposed to the Jews whose antagonistic response led them to thrust it away from them. The Gentiles, on the other hand, received it with gladness, embraced it with open hands and hearts and were saved by faith in the Gospel to which they were well-disposed. Paul explains the two respective responses of the Jews and the Gentiles very succinctly in Hebrews 4:2:

For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. (Heb 4:2 KJV)

Simply said: The Jews heard the Gospel but refused to believe it whereas the Gentiles who also heard the Gospel believed it and were saved. The Gospel cannot and will not profit you unless you believe it.

If the phrase ‘From the beginning of the world’ does not apply to ‘Everyone whose name was not written in the Book old Life’ the most obvious meaning of the verse should be applied to ‘The Lamb who was slain.’ Are there any substantial proofs in the Bible that Jesus was slain from the foundation of the world? Let us turn to Acts 2:22 and 23.

Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: (Act 2:22-23 KJV)

God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit knew before the foundation of the world that mankind would fall into sin and according to their determinate counsel agreed that God the Son would pay the penalty for the sins of the entire fallen human race. At that very moment, when the Trinity made their determinate decision that God the Son would die on a cross (even before the foundation of the world), it was already a fait accompli in Their eyes. From their perspective in their particular dimension of no time and three dimensional space Jesus had already been crucified. From our perspective in our dimension of time and three dimensional space Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem in 32 AD. Once the Trinity had decided that Jesus should die, even before the foundation of the world, it had become effective from the very beginning of the world although his actual crucifixion (in our time and space took place in 32AD.

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Tom Lessing (Discerning the World)

Tom Lessing is the author of the above article. Discerning the World is an internet Christian Ministry based in Johannesburg South Africa. Tom Lessing and Deborah Ellish both own Discerning the World. For more information see the About this Website page below the comments section.

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