Calvin spoke in tongues

The great Reformer John Calvin “may have spoken in tongues”, according to Ben Witherington, in an article in Christianity Today to which TC Robinson links. (Actually more or less the same article was published online in July this year, and noted by Brian among others.) The evidence seems to be that “one morning he woke up and found himself speaking in lingua barbaria.” Witherington refers only to a half remembered article, which, he writes,

went on to speculate that Calvin may have spoken in tongues!

Perhaps it is safer to use the word “speculate”, but what else could this lingua barbaria have been? But I wish someone could find the original article “in Gordon-Conwell’s newspaper”, or the letter from Calvin from which these words are taken.

Meanwhile in another article in the same issue of CT Roger Olson writes:

Calvin was no charismatic, but he was closer to it than some Reformed people readily admit. At least one does not read much about the crucial role of the Holy Spirit in their own interpretations of Calvin’s theology. This Arminian, raised Pentecostal, deeply admires and enthusiastically applauds the attention Calvin himself gave to the Spirit by basing even the authority of the written Word on the Spirit and his work.

At the same time, of course, Calvin also warned against basing any truth claims about God on ecstatic revelations claimed to be from the Holy Spirit. This is a relevant warning against modern-day prophets who say things like, “The apostle Paul would be surprised if he knew the things the Spirit is teaching today.” According to Calvin—and I agree with him—the Spirit does not reveal new truths; the Spirit and the written Word are interdependent and inseparable.

I agree too. But this sounds a bit like a straw man argument: how many people are really saying things like “The apostle Paul would be surprised if he knew the things the Spirit is teaching today”? If this is Olson’s definition of “charismatic”, then neither Calvin nor I are charismatics, but then nor are most of the well known charismatic leaders, who are very careful to teach that “the Spirit does not reveal new truths”, especially not “truth claims about God”, but only applies the old biblical truths to new situations and individuals’ lives.

Yes, we charismatics may agree with the words of John Robinson, surely no charismatic, in his farewell sermon to the Pilgrims leaving for America on the Mayflower:

I Charge you before God and his blessed angels that you follow me no further than you have seen me follow Christ. If God reveal anything to you by any other instrument of His, be as ready to receive it as you were to receive any truth from my ministry, for I am verily persuaded the Lord hath more truth and light yet to break forth from His holy word.

It is the task of the Holy Spirit to bring out this “more truth and light”, but only what is already in the word of God. And, even though Robinson went on to criticise the Calvinists of his day who “stick fast where they were left by that great man of God” (rather like some Reformed Calvinists today!), Calvin would surely have agreed with his sentiments.

3 thoughts on “Calvin spoke in tongues

  1. Raul, thanks for the link. I’m glad someone found the student newspaper article. But it would be good if someone can find the book by Beza that the quote was found in, if only to dispel any suspicion that the whole thing was a student prank. Beza’s “The Life of John Calvin” is a genuine book, on sale in translation at and elsewhere, but this edited version may not include the passage in question.

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