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A. Sutono, a.k.a., Birdey The Observer
- Published on Amazon.com
As I pondered the idea of pointing out some things I dislike with this commentary, I thought, "Who am I; a nobody, to criticize John Calvin, one of the best exegetes of all time?" I decided to go ahead anyway but it comes later in this review. First, let me cover the highlights. Calvin correctly teaches the meat of the pastoral epistles; namely, the qualification of church leaders and how they are to conduct themselves, specifically toward their flocks and opponents; the faithfulness to biblical doctrines being the primary concern. But he could have made this clearer by creating a summary and showing a better connectivity between verses and chapters that I believe is important when writing a commentary. Calvin's style is not always polemic unless it is necessary. He is open to disagreement on minor points, considers other commentaries and literatures such as those by Chrysostom, Augustine and Plato. He actually agrees in some cases with Erasmus (e.g., on 2 Tim 2:15, p. 138). On the other hand, he vigorously blasts unbiblical views on essential doctrines, not only soteriology-related, but also ministry-related; such as against Rome (e.g., insistence on celibacy, p. 86; the apostolic authority, p.184), Marcion, Nestorius, Eutyches and Arius (p. 63); the latter used Titus 2:13 to deny the deity of Christ (p.197). In this verse "Our great God and Savior," fits the conditions where we can apply Granville-Sharpe's rule on "article - noun - kai - noun" pattern and therefore, refers to the same Person, namely, Jesus Christ.
He also rightly puts some extra weight on the danger of foolish and trivial controversies motivated by selfish ambition, a theme Paul brought forth a few times in 1/2 Timothy and Titus. "Many people want their learning or eloquence to be recognized, so they pay less attention to the basic necessities of the faith, as they are not at all popular. Paul tells Timothy to be content with just one thing, being Christ's faithful minister. We should regard this as being a thousand times more honorable than being called a subtle, learned doctor (p. 72). "...the only person who should be thought as a real theologian is the one who can build up people consciences in the fear of God" (on Titus 1:1, p. 177).
The refutation of the doctrine of universal atonement that might be mistakenly implied from potentially problematic passages that involve the word "all" as in 1 Tim 2:4,6; 4:10 and Titus 2:11 is done elegantly. God desiring all to be saved in 1 Tim 2:4, and Jesus Christ giving Himself as a ransom for all men in verse 6 in the same chapter refer to the revealed will of God as opposed to what God actually decreed that only those He chose to be saved are actually saved (p, 38, 42; cf. 2 Pet 3:9, Rom 8:29-30). The "savior for all people" in 1 Tim 4:10 implies common grace (p.75), not atonement and justification. "All" in Titus 2:11 does not mean everyone without exception, but denotes all kinds of people from various walks of life (p.196); even the lowliest like the slaves since Paul just finished with the exhortation to be submissive to superiors in verses 9 and 10. This view is similar to "the whole world" in 1 John 2:2 where "whole" implies not only John's audience but people from all over the world (cf. Rev 5:9).
In general, I appreciate pastoral counsels on practical theology and against worldliness which Calvin also provides here. One instance where there is no need to qualify a sweeping statement is the commentary on the word "foolish" in Titus 3:3 "All man's wisdom is vanity as long as he does not know God" (p. 201). A thought on Titus 2:13 is also worth pondering, "The allurement of the world, so long as it shines brightly in our eyes, hides God's glory, as if it were buried in darkness. But through His coming, Christ will disperse all the world's empty show that nothing will any longer obscure the brightness of His glory or detract from its greatness" (p. 197).
But with all due respect, while there is plenty to learn, there are also some typos by the editor as well as some ambiguities and questionable statements from Calvin that I disagree that make my study less enjoyable. The typos include not only mistaken words, but also inaccurate translations. Some examples of the former are where the right word should have been "that" instead of "than" (p.68), "be" instead of "we" (p. 197), and perhaps the most annoying one is when "persecutions" is mistakenly written as "perfections" in 2 Tim 3:11 (p.150). One example of a mistaken translation is "to be kept saved" in 1 Tim 2:15 should have been "to be saved" (p.47).
Some occasions of ambiguity are as follows. In commenting on 1 Tim 1:4, Calvin says, "Anything that fuels arguments should be condemned outright" (p. 20). This is certainly not always true. It is probably useful to qualify that this statement is true in the context of the verse which I think he alludes to since he also writes, "Such were the intricate ideas to which these self-seekers devoted their clever minds. We must bear in mind the test by which all teaching should be tried. People who build others up should be encouraged, but those who indulge in fruitless controversies should be ignored" (p. 20).
Calvin also doesn't seem to provide a satisfactory answer to his own question when commenting on 1 Tim 4:4, "You may point out that under the law many animals were declared to be unclean and that the fruit of the knowledge for good and evil brought death to humankind. The answer to this is that creatures are called pure, not just because they are God's works, but because they are given to us with God's blessing. We must always bear in mind God's wishes, both about what he has commanded and about what He has forbidden" (p. 71).
Another example where Calvin should have elaborated more is when he commented on 1 Tim 4:9, "Doubtless, if we were more prepared to receive God's blessings, God would lavish them on us more liberally" (p. 74), to prevent him from sounding like a prosperity gospel preacher. But the statement in itself does not sound to connect well with the verse either in my view.
A note on 2 Tim 2:15 has a similar problem. It is true that some disputes have selfishness as the main motive, but we can not generalize by saying, "The source of all doctrinal disputes is that clever men wish to show off their abilities before the world," (p. 137), though the counsel he offers is useful, "Some people seek popular applause, but it must be your aim to have God's approval on yourself and on your ministry. There is nothing better to check our foolish desire for display than to remember that it is God we have to deal with" (p. 137-138).
I'm also not clear what Calvin meant by scholastic theology that he characterizes as consisting of "frivolous speculations that contribute nothing toward godliness and the fear of God" (p. 185). He writes this to explain what "mere talkers" means in Titus 1:10. Again, this is yet another example why Calvin probably should have qualified what scholastic theology refers to since there are many edifying advanced theological studies done in faithfulness to the Scriptures.
There are also some points that I disagree. The first is on Titus 3:8 in regards to the soundness of speech where Calvin says, "It would be absurd to think it meant public instruction" (p. 194). It seems to me verse 8 is in the context of teaching (v.7), so while Calvin is right in pointing out that sound speech can refer to "ordinary life and private conversation," but it primarily has to do with public speeches; in preaching, apologetics and discipleship. Another disagreement I have is on 2 Tim 2:13 where I favor Van Neste's view (ESV Study Bible, p. 2339) where the verse refers to occasional failures or sins in the believer's life. Calvin's exposition on Titus 3:7 is incomplete where he explains what blameless means but skips the rest of the verse where it says an overseer must not be arrogant, quick-tempered, drunkard, violent (which refers to a combative attitude), and greedy for gain (p. 183).
The commentary on women where they are commanded to be submissive and not allowed to have authority over men in 1 Tim 2:11-12 sounds unnecessarily uncharitable and I'm afraid it might incite the wrath of some female readers. Calvin claims these roles of women that Paul speaks of in these passages are a form of punishment from God (p. 48) which I disagree. On the other hand, I commend Calvin for his remarks on the difficult verse of 1 Tim 2:15 (p. 49-50) and the observation that Eve should "be naturally obedient from the beginning. Servitude happened later on, as a result of her sin, so that subjection now became more involuntary than it had been before" (p.49). Another harsh statement he made is on Titus 2:3, "Talkativeness is a disease women are prone to, and old age seems to make it worse. In addition to this, women are never satisfied with talking unless they also gossip and attack people's reputation. This results in women's slanderous garrulity being like a burning torch and setting fire to many houses" (p. 193).
I usually try to have one additional commentary outside the ESV Study Bible footnotes and the Matthew Henry Complete commentary I currently have. For the pastoral epistles, however, since Calvin's is not satisfactory, I was thinking of getting another one by George Knight (NIGTC).