“Brevitas et Facilitas”: Toward an Understanding of Calvin’s Hermeneutic -- By: Richard C. Gamble

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 47:1 (Spring 1985)
Article: “Brevitas et Facilitas”: Toward an Understanding of Calvin’s Hermeneutic
Author: Richard C. Gamble


“Brevitas et Facilitas”:
Toward an Understanding of Calvin’s Hermeneutic*

Richard C. Gamble

I. In Search of Method-brevitas et facilitas

Little has been published on Calvin’s exegetical methodology since the ground-breaking work of T. H. L. Parker.1 This is an unfortunate situation in that Parker limits his study to the NT and thus the reader is often left with the impression that his findings are only a beginning of scholarly research. Indeed, he mentions in the preface that “The present book confines itself to what might be regarded as prolegomena.”2 Despite its limited scope, Parker’s work is thorough and lays an important foundation for further research.

One of the problems that scholars of sixteenth-century hermeneutics have in reconstructing Calvin’s exegetical method is that they have no writing like the Erotematum dialectices, de methodo of Melanchthon.3 There is no “prolegomena to exegesis.” Yet this just makes the problem difficult, not impossible. In this article we will be investigating Calvin’s method of commentary-writing or how he presents the meaning of the Bible and not just the method he implements to ascertain

* Fordo Lucovico Pugnaci, in memoriam.

that meaning. In what manner, then, was Calvin going to proceed in his commentaries?

The place to start to answer this question is the celebrated dedication to the Romans commentary, written to Simon Grynaeus,4 his friend and Hebrew teacher. There Calvin says:

Sentiebat enim uterque nostrum praecipuam interpretis virtutem in perspicua brevitate esse positam. Et sane, quum hoc sit prope unicum illius officium mentem scriptoris quem explicandum sumpsit patefacere, quantum ab ea lecturos abducit, tantundem a scopo suo aberrat, vel certe a suis finibus quodammodo evagatur…unum aliquem exstare qui et facilitati studeret, et simul daret operam ne prolixis commentariis studiosos ultra modum detineret…ego tamen dimoveri non possum ab amore comendii.5

The dedication was published in 1540 as Calvin introduced his first biblical commentary. We should note here that Calvin sees the goal of a commentator as unfolding the mind of the biblical writer; succeeding in this goal means the deletion of superfluous material which may lead the reader away from the meaning of the author.

This is the exegetical principle that Calvin articulated when he was the youn...

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