The Logic and Exegesis behind Calvin’s Doctrine of the Internal Witness of the Holy Spirit to the Authority of Scripture -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 03:2 (Jul 2011)
Article: The Logic and Exegesis behind Calvin’s Doctrine of the Internal Witness of the Holy Spirit to the Authority of Scripture
Author: Anonymous


The Logic and Exegesis behind Calvin’s
Doctrine of the Internal Witness of the Holy
Spirit to the Authority of Scripture

David Wenkel

One of John Calvin’s notable passages in his Institutes is his articulation of the relationship between the Holy Spirit, the reader of Scripture, and the Scripture itself.1 The relationship between these entities is presented thus:

For as God alone can properly bear witness to his own words, so these words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men, until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit.2

This apologetically oriented selection from the Institutes is known as Calvin’s doctrine of the internal witness of the Holy Spirit to the authority of Scripture. In Latin, it is referred to as the testimonium Spiritus Sancti interna and hereafter, the “testimonium.”3 Historically, this doctrine represented a departure from Rome’s doctrine of testimonium ecclesiae, which stressed the church’s role in defining Scripture and giving it its authority.4

The testimonium represents the subjective side of the authority of Scripture, whereas the indicia represent objective matters of authority such as historicity, accuracy, etc. Louis Berkhof explains that Calvin’s testimonium means that “[t]he final ground of faith is Scripture only, or better still, the authority of God which is impressed upon the believer in the testimony of Scripture.”5 For Calvin, the objective evidence is not simply the other side of the coin of subjectivity. Rather, the subjective witness of the Holy Spirit stands above all other evidence, powers, rationality, or institutions.6 This means that there is an “asymmetric” relationship between external or objective evidence and the internal witness of the Holy Spirit.7

Contemporary Reformed theologians including Graham Cole have probed the testimonium and found it confusing or perplexing.8 Henk Van Den Belt’s excellent study of the Reformed doctrine of the self-authentication of Scripture also finds difficulties with the doctrine.9 In this study, I will examine Calvin’s testimonium with two lines of argumentation. First, I want to bring additiona...

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