The Judaizing Calvin – G. Sujin Pak

The Judaizing Calvin: Sixteenth-Century Debates over the Messianic Psalms (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), written by the G. Sujin Pak, Dean of the School of Theology and Professor of the History of Christianity at Boston University, presents an incisive look into sixteenth-century exegesis by contextualizing Martin Luther, Martin Bucer, and John Calvin alongside the late-medieval exegetical tradition. Pak seeks to offer new insights into Calvin’s location within exegetical history by demonstrating his use of traditional Jewish exegesis and redefining of the historical-literal sense of the Messianic Psalms. The book is divided into five chapters starting with the medieval and late-medieval interpretative tradition on the messianic psalms then a chapter on Luther, Bucer, and Calvin respectively. The final chapter details Aegidius Hunnius’s accusations that Calvin’s exegesis allowed room in Scripture for Arian and Jewish readings.

In this first chapter, Pak demonstrates that there is an overwhelming consensus within patristic, medieval, and late-medieval interpretations regarding the messianic psalms. She notes that this consensus relates to the identifying of the literal sense of these Psalms as being the “prophecies of Christ and their teachings concerning Trinity and the two natures of Christ” (6). She chooses a few key examples such as the commentaries of the Gloss, Denis the Carthusian, Nicholas of Lyra, and Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples to demonstrate consensus of their exegesis. Pak is insistent that none of these commentators interpret the literal sense of the messianic Psalms with respect to the historical situation of David. This exegetical contextualization is pivotal to Pak’s argument in providing a backdrop for Luther, Bucer, and Calvin.

Luther, Bucer, and Calvin are selected as Pak’s three case studies, and she suggests that Bucer represents somewhat of a mediating position between Luther and Calvin. On the first side of this spectrum, Pak sees in Luther almost overwhelming consistency with the antecedent exegetical tradition as he interprets each of these as primarily literal prophecies speaking of Christ. He sees David as a prophet speaking of Christ and does not view the literal sense with respect to David’s historical circumstances. Luther also consistently locates Trinitarian and Chalcedonian doctrines within these psalms. Frequently in Luther’s exegesis is a fierce anti-Jewish rhetoric which is used for both doctrinal purposes and for purposes of encouragement as he links the enemies of Christ and the church between Roman Catholics and the Jews. While Luther praised the Hebrew language, Luther made it a point to frequently mock and denounce the Christian use of Jewish exegesis—for in Jewish exegesis, the subject of Christian exegesis is fundamentally missed. Luther for these things, according to Pak, is proven to be in line with the antecedent tradition.

Pak next showcases Martin Bucer’s mediated position between Luther and Calvin. Key components of Bucer’s exegesis are his competence  as a Christian Hebraist, his use of Jewish exegesis, and his use of historical typology to demonstrate these Psalms with reference to Christ and the church. Bucer, according to Pak, positively uses Jewish exegesis to root his theological readings of these Psalms. While promoting the cause of reform with his Psalms commentary, Bucer sought to provide a more robust understanding of the Psalms via their “simple sense” which grounds his typological and pietistic readings of the Psalms. For Bucer, historical exegesis was primarily used as a vehicle for its typological end. However, in Bucer’s historical exegesis we can see three interpretations of these psalms, those being, Christological readings via typology, literal prophecies of Christ via David as prophet, and ecclesiastical readings which view the church as the fulfillment of certain Psalms. Therefore, while Bucer does stress historical context, he remains in line with the antecedent tradition insofar as he stresses those latter two interpretations. Like Luther and traditional exegesis, Bucer is also comfortable using these Psalms to stress certain doctrinal points. It is on Bucer’s stressing of historical context which we see overlap with Calvin, but these two still demonstrate notable exegetical divergences.

The end of the spectrum among Pak’s examples is John Calvin. Having set the stage and exegetical backdrop for Calvin’s interactions with the royal Psalms, Pak showcases Calvin as primarily reading these Psalms through the lens of the example of David. Calvin frequently diverges from the antecedent tradition by the “lack of prominence he gives to the Christological reading” (79)—that is, Calvin identifies the historical-literal sense not as prophetic but as concerning David’s own historical circumstances. Most of Calvin’s Christological interpretations are typological and firmly grounded in a historical reading of the text and when Christ uses the words of the Psalm in reference to himself. Calvin is also opposed to a Christological reading of a Psalm which destroys the simple sense of the psalm. Out of that same concern, Calvin breaks with the tradition with his avoidance of doctrinal exegesis. Calvin still retains some reference of these Psalms to Christ—though the primary feature of the Psalms for him is to showcase David’s piety for the sake of “doctrinal messages and pastoral messages for the church…” (100). In the final chapter of this book, Pak introduces Aegidius Hunnius’s (1550-1603) critique of the “judaizing” Calvin in whose exegesis—while not necessarily being Arian or Jewish per se—opens up these sorts of readings to the text. The core of this critique, simply put in Hunnius’s own words, is this: “For the Jews clamor in this same sense as Calvin when he says this to be the simple and natural sense!” (106).  In following this sort of Jewish exegesis, Calvin goes against apostolic exegesis and undermines Scriptural foundations for Christ’s divinity. David Pereus (1548-1622) defends Calvin in his double-down defense of the simple sense and affirmation of simple and composite types. In this debate, we see clearly the charge leveled against Calvin for being a “judaizer” of Scripture.

In the conclusion to her book, Pak recommends some areas for future research, some commentary on different Protestant “schools” of exegesis, and provides three final takeaways pertaining to Calvin’s exegesis. She argues that Calvin’s exegesis can contribute positively to the history of Christian-Jewish relations, that Calvin redefines the literal sense in the Old Testament, and that Calvin should be located in the pre-critical tradition—even while there are still certain elements of his exegesis which show forth in later exegetical history.

Pak’s robust historical background work and familiarity with the Christian exegetical tradition has made for a deeply compelling book. Her methodology offers a concise yet incisive glimpse into biblical interpretation in the sixteenth century, and I believe she offers some convincing insights pertaining to the location of Calvin’s own exegesis within exegetical history. While I do not disagree with Pak on Calvin’s placement in the pre-critical exegetical tradition, I do wonder, however, if her research has provided evidence somewhat at odds with her own conclusions at points. More specifically I wonder if by viewing Calvin’s exegesis as diverging with traditional exegesis (especially with respect to the literal sense) has Pak not effectively suggested that Calvin is in some part a forerunner to modern exegesis? Or does Calvin’s exegesis exist in a world to itself? That quibble aside, this remains an approachable and compact book that I would heartily recommend to students and teachers of church history, biblical studies, and theology alike.

Augustine on “Lead us not into Temptation” and the Lord’s Prayer

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Will this again be necessary in the life to come? Lead us not into temptation, will not be said, except where there can be temptation. We read in the book of holy Job, Is not the life of man upon earth a temptation? What then do we pray for? Hear what. The Apostle James says, Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God. He spoke of those evil temptations, whereby men are deceived, and brought under the yoke of the devil. This is the kind of temptation he spoke of. For there is another sort of temptation which is called a proving; of this kind of temptation it is written, The Lord your God tempts (proves) you to know whether ye love Him. What means to know? To make you know, for He knows already. With that kind of temptation, whereby we are deceived and seduced, God tempts no man. But undoubtedly in His deep and hidden judgment He abandons some. And when He has abandoned them, the tempter finds his opportunity. For he finds in him no resistance against his power, but immediately presents himself to him as his possessor, if God abandon him. Therefore that He may not abandon us, do we say, Lead us not into temptation. For every one is tempted, says the same Apostle James, when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed. Then lust, when it has conceived, brings forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death. What then has he hereby taught us? To fight against our lusts. For you are about to put away your sins in Holy Baptism; but lusts will still remain, wherewith ye must fight after that you are regenerate. For a conflict with your own selves still remains. Let no enemy from without be feared: conquer your own self, and the whole world is conquered. What can any tempter from without, whether the devil or the devil’s minister, do against you? Whosoever sets the hope of gain before you to seduce you, let him only find no covetousness in you; and what can he who would tempt you by gain effect? Whereas if covetousness be found in you, you take fire at the sight of gain, and art taken by the bait of this corrupt food. But if he find no covetousness in you, the trap remains spread in vain. Or should the tempter set before you some woman of surpassing beauty; if chastity be within, iniquity from without is overcome. Therefore that he may not take you with the bait of a strange woman’s beauty, fight with your own lust within; you have no sensible perception of your enemy, but of your own concupiscence you have. Thou dost not see the devil, but the object that engages you you see. Get the mastery then over that of which you are sensible within. Fight valiantly, for He who has regenerated you is your Judge; He has arranged the lists, He is making ready the crown. But because you will without doubt be conquered, if you have not Him to aid you, if He abandon you: therefore do you say in the prayer, Lead us not into temptation. The Judge’s wrath has given over some to their own lusts; and the Apostle says, God gave them over to the lusts of their hearts. How did He give them up? Not by forcing, but by forsaking them.

Sermon 7 on the New Testament, Section 9, as found at

Wounds as Tethers

Every so often I find myself back at Paul’s words to the Corinthians where he proclaims that if he is to boast in anything it would be only in his weaknesses. To keep him from swelling with pride due to the revelations given to him, he says a thorn was given to him by God. In that wound Paul sees himself tethered to the power of Christ.

It’s perhaps an uncomfortable thought that Christ’s power would work most powerfully in those areas that we perceive to be our greatest shortcomings and sources of shame especially when so much of our time and energy is frequently expended at trying to overcome them or hide them from ourselves or others.

I’m on the cusp of my thirtieth birthday, and I kind of expected that I’d be a bit, I don’t know, more stable or well-adjusted at this point in my life, but life remains about as (if not more) pressurized and frustrating as it felt in my early twenties. One thing I’ve learned though this past decade is that our wounds are not supposed to be ignored. Those places we feel most vulnerable are very often the places that can draw us back to the wounds of Christ and the deep well of love he has for us. My own wounds have felt to me like tethers that keep me from going too far into a life of pride or detachment – I suppose pain has a way of reminding us.  

But not all is glum. Humor and pain are intimately connected, and it’s almost like humble acknowledgement of weakness can prevent one from taking himself or herself too seriously. At the end of the day, I can laugh because frankly laughter feels like a pressure valve for my pain. Joy and laughter are not independent of weakness, and the best friendships are frequently birthed out of shared sorrow.

 My wounds are in some strange way tethered to Christ and his body, and so they aren’t to be ignored. And perhaps they may even offer consolation to those who also feel a sort of similar nagging pain. Henri Nouwen once wrote that “that which is most personal is most universal,” and there are few quotes which have stuck with me as much as that one. It’s a good reminder especially when it feels like our wounds put us at odds with others rather than in connection with them, but here we are wounded together.

Life has not grown easier but who even set that expectation? It’s like Gandalf once said, “there are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured,” and perhaps that’s intentional.