Tuesday, April 03, 2018
Calvin on John 8:41 and Roman claims to apostolic succession
In preparing to preach last Sunday on John 8:32-47, I read Calvin’s commentary on this passage, and I was struck by his reflections on the crowd’s statement to Jesus in John 8:41: “We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.”
Calvin notes that Jesus’ opponents were claiming not only to be Abraham’s children but also the children of God. He then draws some intriguing applications on ecclesiology, including a critique of Roman claims of “apostolic succession.”
“We now see how they thought that they had holiness from the womb, because they were sprung from a holy root. In short, they maintain that they are the family of God, because they are descended from the holy fathers. In like manner, the Papists in the present day are exceedingly vain of an uninterrupted succession from the fathers. By sorceries of this description Satan deceives them, so that they separate God from his word, the Church from faith, and the kingdom of heaven from the Spirit.”
He then adds:
“For let them go about the bush as much as they please, still they will never avoid discovery that the only ground of their arrogant boasting is, ‘We have succeeded the holy fathers; therefore, we are the Church.’ And if the reply of Christ was sufficient for confuting the Jews, it is no less sufficient now for reproving the Papists.”
So, Calvin’s comparison is this:
The Jews of Jesus day claimed to be the children of God by virtue of being the physical descendants of Abraham, even though they were not the spiritual descendants of Abraham. Meanwhile, Christians, including both Jews and Gentiles, are not all physical descendants of Abraham, but they are his rightful spiritual descendants.
The Papists of Calvins’s day claimed to be the Church of God by virtue of direct succession from the apostles and fathers, even though they were not the spiritual descendants of the apostles and fathers. Meanwhile, the Reformed do not necessarily come in direct succession from the apostles and fathers, but they are their rightful spiritual descendants.
His point: Spiritually speaking, it is not the Papists who can claim true apostolic succession, but the Reformers.