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H. Henry Meeter Center: Specializing in John Calvin, Calvinism, the Reformation, and Early Modern Studies

 

"The Reading of I Corinthians 14 and the Genevan Pastors' Congrégation as a School of the Prophets"

Erik de Boer, of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the Theologische Universiteit in Kampen

Audio Recording of the lecture

 

Given on April 3, 2014

On April 4, Dr. Erik A. de Boer, professor in the History of the Reformation at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and lecturer in Classical languages and Patristics at the Theologische Universiteit in Kampen, presented a lecture at the H. Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies titled “The Reading of I Corinthians 14 and the Genevan Pastors’ Congrégation as a School of the Prophets.” It examined the interrelationship
between I Corinthians 14, the congrégations of the Genevan Company of Pastors, and Calvin's expositional program while a minister in Geneva.

I Corinthians 14:3, 6 (ESV) reads "One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but one who prophesies edifies the church … But now brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, what will I profit you unless I speak to you either by way of revelation or of knowledge or of prophecy or of teaching?" This passage is key to understanding the function of the weekly gatherings of pastors called congrégations in Geneva during the time of Calvin. I Corinthians 14 was viewed as warrant to present an interpretation of a text and to comment in a gathering of pastors. This was not simply a Genevan practice; there was a similar practice in Zürich instituted by Zwingli in 1525.

Dr. de Boer pointed out that by understanding prophecy as exposition of the Scriptures in preaching, this text formed the basis for a collegial gathering of pastors to exhort one another not only in doctrine but also in life. The Bible studies worked through a biblical book via a lectio continua exposition of a book, with
each pastor taking turns and a maximum of two or three pastors commenting on the text per meeting. The collegial nature of the weekly meeting is best illustrated by the point that Calvin only presented once every fifteen gatherings. Between 1549 and Calvin's death in 1564, there were approximately 750 pastoral
congrégations. Of these roughly 750 meetings however, only eight full transcripts of the meetings survive. What we do know from the extant manuscripts is that the group of pastors did have opportunity to give feedback and input into each pastor's presentation of the text. Dr. de Boer's contribution to Calvin
scholarship at this point is in noting that when one correlates the lectures and congrégations with Calvin's
sermons and commentaries, we find that the Company of Pastors became a place for Calvin to test and try out lines of exegesis.

Dr. de Boer also noted that when one analyzes the order of Calvin's expositional work in his commentaries, we can find precursors in three forms of exegesis: his lectures and sermons as well as in the congrégations. The pastoral gatherings worked through Romans perhaps in 1542; 1550-1551 the catholic
epistles; 1553, the Gospel of John; 1555, Matthew and Luke; in 1556-1557, the Psalms; and towards the end of Calvin's life, Exodus through Joshua in 1559-1563.

Calvin's expository plan that started with the New Testament and then proceeded to the Old Testament underscored the priority of the New Testament for Calvin in Christian pastoral ministry. This does not mean that the Old Testament was rejected, however. For Calvin, representing a general trajectory in Christian exegesis, the New Testament more clearly portrayed salvation through a redeemer than the Old Testament. Layered into this priority was also a general understanding that there were two broad emphases of biblical writings for Calvin: doctrina and historia. In this framework, the pastor should preach through the more explicitly doctrinal books of the New Testament before transitioning to the historical books. So for example from 1539 to 1551 Calvin preached, lectured, and commented through all the
doctrinal books of the New Testament from Romans to Jude. Starting in 1549 through 1563, Calvin began lecturing and preaching through the major and minor prophets as well as Genesis, the Psalms, and Deuteronomy. It appears that Calvin proceeded through doctrinal works first and then moved towards
historical ones. During this same time frame through sermons and the congrégations Calvin also began working through the historical sections of the New Testament, again prioritizing those books that were more doctrinal in nature, thus Acts, John, Matthew, and Luke.

Dr. de Boer demonstrated that one cannot neglect the vibrant role the collegial engagement of the congrégations played in the life of the Genevan churches via the mutual edification of the pastors. He also demonstrated that the Genevan pastors were working through similar expositional plans such as Calvin, emphasizing the input the Company of Pastors had in each other's exposition, even Calvin's.

For more information on this aspect of Calvin studies, Dr. de Boer has recently published the following books with Librairie Droz:

De Boer, E.A. Congrégations et disputations. Series VII, Ioannis Calvini Opera Omnia. Varia Volumen I. Geneva: Droz, 2014.

De Boer, E.A. The Genevan School of the Prophets. The Congrégation of the Company of Pastors and Their Influence in 16th Century Europe. Geneva: Droz, 2012.

Todd Rester
Ph.D Student, Calvin Theological Seminary