John. By John Calvin. The Crossway Classic Commentaries. Alister McGrath and J. I. Packer, Series Editors. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994. 473 pp. Paper, $13.99.
This commentary was originally published in 1553, over 450 years ago. In his introduction, series editor J. I. Packer says, “This commentary is one of Calvin’s best pieces of work, and one of the best elucidations of the evangelist’s text ever achieved (p. x).
Overall I find this to be a very helpful commentary. While it is handicapped by missing out on nearly four and a half centuries of study on the fourth Gospel, it is very insightful and well worth having.
Unfortunately, the commentary is based on the NIV. Since Calvin wrote before even the KJV appeared, portions of the NIV text quite often seem out of place with his comments.
Calvin’s comments on Jesus’ evangelistic encounter with the woman at the well are excellent. He points out that when the woman left her water pot (4:28), this is John’s way of saying that she believed in Christ (p. 106). While many modern commentators come to the same conclusion, Calvin drew his conclusion without their help. (Maybe the moderns are dependent on Calvin!) In addition, Calvin takes this opportunity to speak of the zeal for evangelism she obviously manifested. He uses that to call all of his readers to share their faith as well.
Calvin shows that Jesus pointed out the woman’s sinfulness and led her to see her need of salvation. Yet he does not, as some have tried to do today, suggest that Jesus asked her to give up her sinful behavior to gain eternal life.
His comments on John 10:10b are outstanding, and a bit enigmatic concerning the increase of the Spirit: “The greater progress anyone makes in faith, the closer he comes to fullness of life, because the Spirit, who is life, increases in him” (p. 256).
Also excellent are his comments on John 1:29; 3:36; 6:27-29; and 21:15-19.
I looked with interest at his comments on three problem texts on saving faith: John 2:23-25, 8:30-32ff., and 12:42-43. In all three cases I had mixed feelings. I was sorry to see that he concluded in each case that the faith in view was less than saving faith. However, I was happy in that he concluded that the faith was real faith. He simply felt in each case that the faith in question was faith in some aspect of Jesus (such as His being a prophet) and not in Christ as one’s sole Savior from sin.
I was encouraged to see that even in places like these where I disagreed with Calvin, his tone was gracious, and, while he obviously held his views with conviction, there wasn’t the sharp edge on his writing that is found in much modern Reformed writing, and also in some of Calvin’s other works (he’s vicious against Anabaptists and papists!)
I think that many would be quite surprised if Calvin were alive today. I believe many modern Calvinists would be surprised to see him come down on the Free Grace side of the Gospel debate. If he had the advantage of the modern discussion of these issues by men like Chafer, Ryrie, and Hodges, I think Calvin might be a full-fledged member of GES!
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society