A Misunderstanding Of Calvin’s Interpretation Of Genesis 1:6–8 And 1:5 And Its Implications For Ideas Of Accommodation -- By: Vern S. Poythress

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 76:1 (Spring 2014)
Article: A Misunderstanding Of Calvin’s Interpretation Of Genesis 1:6–8 And 1:5 And Its Implications For Ideas Of Accommodation
Author: Vern S. Poythress


A Misunderstanding Of Calvin’s Interpretation
Of Genesis 1:6–8 And 1:5 And Its Implications
For Ideas Of Accommodation

Vern S. Poythress

Vern S. Poythress is Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary.

In his commentary on Genesis John Calvin had some interesting things to say about Gen 1:6–8.1 We want to re-examine them, because there is a dispute about their meaning. In addition, we will examine a related problem concerning Gen 1:5. Both cases have implications for the doctrine of Scripture and the nature of “accommodation.” So they have more than historical interest.

In 2008 Kenton Sparks’s book God’s Word in Human Words included comments on Calvin’s interpretation of Gen 1:6–8.2 In my judgment, Sparks misunderstood Calvin. But Sparks used Calvin’s remarks as a significant building-block on his way to constructing an overall approach to Scripture. Sparks’s overall approach says that the Bible may incorporate erroneous ancient views about the cosmos—and errors of other kinds as well. Sparks claims that Calvin already thought in a similar way. I disagree both with Sparks’s position and with his use of Calvin to support it.3

Recently I received a private correspondence from an evangelical scholar who repeated in his own words Sparks’s misunderstanding of what Calvin said about Gen 1:6–8. He also directed me to Sparks’s book (among other sources). I could see that other people were making the same mistake that Sparks made. So I believe it is time to set to rest this misreading of Calvin.

I. Calvin And Sparks

Let us begin with Calvin’s exposition of Gen 1:6–8 and then compare it with that of Sparks. For a sense of context, it is worthwhile reading all of Calvin’s remarks on Gen 1:6–8.4 For convenience, we start with the most salient portion, which lies in the middle of his exposition:

Moses describes the special use of this expanse, “to divide the waters from the waters,” from which words arises a great difficulty. For it appears opposed to common sense, and quite incredible, that there should be waters above the heaven. Hence s...

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