Calvin's Commentary on John 6:29

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dlowrie290

Puritan Board Freshman
(Sorry if this isn't the correct forum for this. I'll be glad to move it if so.)

Greetings All,

I hope someone can give me some guidance on this. I am trying to work my way through John 6:22-70 and am currently on v29. I have a few commentaries that I'm using to guide me (I don't want to take any theological off-ramps LOL) primarily John Calvin's Commentary on John.

So here is the issue...

I read in v29, "Jesus answered them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.'" ESV
Immediately I read this to say that believing in Jesus, whom God has sent, is the work of God.
I look at the Greek from my NA27/UBS4 text and it renders "This is the work of God" as "τοῦτο ἐστιν τὸ ἔργον τοῦ θεοῦ".
τοῦ θεοῦ is in the genitive case making it either descriptive or showing possession, either way I think the ESV got it right with "This is the work OF God". This leads me to conclude that for the believer, God has done a work so that the believer could believe (have faith) and would seem to be consistent with Eph 2:8-9. God works so that you are able to believe, you would believe, and continue believing.

Then I pop over to Calvin's commentary on the verse and read this...

"The work of God is this. They had spoken of works Christ reminds them of one work, that is, faith; by which he means that all that men undertake without faith is vain and useless, but that faith alone is sufficient, because this alone does God require from us, that we believe For there is here an implied contrast between faith and the works and efforts of men; as if he had said, Men toil to no purpose, when they endeavor to please God without faith, because, by running, as it were, out of the course, they do not advance towards the goal. This is a remarkable passage, showing that, though men torment themselves wretchedly throughout their whole life, still they lose their pains, if they have not faith in Christ as the rule of their life. Those who infer from this passage that faith is the gift of God are mistaken; for Christ does not now show what God produces in us, but what he wishes and requires from us.
But we may think it strange that God approves of nothing but faith alone; for the love of our neighbor ought not to be despised, and the other exercises of religion do not lose their place and honor. So then, though faith may hold the highest rank, still other works are not superfluous. The reply is easy; for faith does not exclude either the love of our neighbor or any other good work, because it contains them all within itself. Faith is called the only work of God, because by means of it we possess Christ, and thus become the sons of God, so that he governs us by his Spirit. So then, because Christ does not separate faith from its fruits, we need not wonder if he make it to be the first and the last. (140)
That you believe in him whom he hath sent. What is the import of the word believe, we have explained under the Third Chapter. It ought always to be remembered that, in order to have a full perception of the power of faith, we must understand what Christ is, in whom we believe, and why he was given to us by the Father. It is idle sophistry, under the pretext of this passage, to maintain that we are justified by works, if faith justifies, because it is likewise called a work First, it is plain enough that Christ does not speak with strict accuracy, when he calls faith a work, just as Paul makes a comparison between the law of faith and the law of works, (Rom 3:27.) Secondly, when we affirm that men are not justified by works, we mean works by the merit of which men may obtain favor with God. Now faith brings nothing to God, but, on the contrary, places man before God as empty and poor, that he may be filled with Christ and with his grace. It is, therefore, if we may be allowed the expression, a passive work, to which no reward can be paid, and it bestows on man no other righteousness than that which he receives from Christ."


Is Calvin saying that from this verse, in and of itself, you cannot derive that faith is the gift of God? If that is the case I might feel a little bit better, although I'm not sure that I would necessarily agree with him. It also looks like Calvin is saying that, (again, from this passage alone) it is merely the WILL of God "that (we) believe in Him whom He has sent", but I don't see how that works; not that it's not true, I just don't get it from this verse. To me the plain reading of the text is that God works belief into believers. Does He will that ALL men believe? In the sense that He wills that we don't lie, steal, or murder, I believe that He does will all men to believe and even commands it (just as with lying/stealing/murdering). I just don't get that from this text. I could be wrong though.

Calvin also seems to be defining faith as a "passive work", but that isn't what I've understood faith to be. The idea of a passive work sounds like something an Arminian would say to try and defend his synergism as not being a work. Am I off base here? Is the Reformed definition of faith to mean that it is something that is a passive work that we do apart from God, and being passive it therefore merits no favor with God so that the doctrine of Unconditional Election can stand? It seems that this is Calvin's assertion. Again, I could be mistaken.

I read John Gill and he says this about v29...

"The main and principal one, and which is well pleasing in his sight; and without which it is impossible to please him; and without which no work whatever is a good work; and this is of the operation of God, which he himself works in men; it is not of themselves, it is the pure gift of God:

I'm very confused. :(
Please help!!!

Thanks for any and all assistance with this.

Daniel
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
Is Calvin saying that from this verse, in and of itself, you cannot derive that faith is the gift of God?

It sounds to me like that is what Calvin is saying. And I think he is correct to take the verse as saying that God's will for us—the one foundational thing God requires—is that we believe in Christ. Without such faith, it is impossible to please God (see Heb. 11:6).

Of course, this does not mean it is wrong to say that such faith is given to us by God. Many other parts of Scripture tell us that. But it is not what this particular part of Scripture is driving at. In this case, "work of God" means the duty God requires of us.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
That faith, and indeed all of salvation, is a gift from God is abundantly clear from Eph.2:8,9 and Php.1:29, among other places. And Calvin is in perfect agreement with that view in those passages, etc.

The question as it pertains to Jn.6:29 is whether the point of that text is to affirm the exact same doctrine. That statement by Christ is in answer to a particular question posed, and stands in the midst of a long discussion that is also part of a contextual understanding of the point Christ makes. The statement of v29 is not simply a kind of logia or acontextual saying, like a proverb.

The people are asking a question about works, and Jesus replies that the only "work" God accepts (which is Christ's ironic use of their terminology) is "faith." He opposes faith to works in this passage, very close to Paul's frequently stated contrast (even in Eph.2). Calvin never wants to force a text to say too much. Paul in the two texts ref'd above makes an explicit addition that belief (faith) itself is God's gift, besides that it is separate from works in its accomplishment. John does not report Christ made HERE that specific additional statement, though it unquestionably be so. Faith is "passive" in that way: that it is opposite to work which is "active."

So, the "work of God" here is not a subjective genitive, "God's work," but rather objective-genitive, "work of/from God" (singular), which is the very same sense the people in the previous v28 used the terminology, only plural "workS of God." Note how they ask, "What shall we DO?" Tell us what obedience to God will get me his approval. The answer is not in line with what those asking expect, there is but one thing to "do," which is about as "nothing" as one can get. But faith is still God's chosen instrument for our appropriation of the salvation he has won for his elect.

John the gospeller has plenty to say about God doing everything, and man being helpless (even to believe on his own) e.g. Jn.1:13; 3:3,8; 10:26; 8:43,47,21.
 

Bill The Baptist

Puritan Board Graduate
Perhaps Hendriksen can be of some assistance. Regarding this verse he says;

"The teaching of Christ as recorded in the fourth gospel, including chapter 6, leaves no room for doubt that salvation is entirely by grace. It is the work of God and his Christ, it is a gift. But this does not exclude the idea that man must render to God the work of faith. An illustration will make this clear. The roots of a tall oak perform a well-nigh unbelievable amount of work in drawing water and minerals from the soil to serve as nourishment for the tree. Nevertheless, these roots do not themselves produce these necessities but receive them as a gift. Similarly, the work of faith is the work of receiving the gift of God."
 

dlowrie290

Puritan Board Freshman
Thanks for the great insight from all that replied! This text was twisting me in knots, but you guys came through for me! :)

So, the "work of God" here is not a subjective genitive, "God's work," but rather objective-genitive, "work of/from God" (singular), which is the very same sense the people in the previous v28 used the terminology, only plural "workS of God." Note how they ask, "What shall we DO?" Tell us what obedience to God will get me his approval. The answer is not in line with what those asking expect, there is but one thing to "do," which is about as "nothing" as one can get. But faith is still God's chosen instrument for our appropriation of the salvation he has won for his elect.

This was MOST helpful. It is the reading in English that was really throwing me for a loop and I know very little about Greek grammar (enough to get me into trouble ;) ). The more I read it and wrestled with it the more I saw Calvin's point. That along with your helps got me where I need to be.

Blessings and thanks
 

A.Gizzarelli

Puritan Board Freshman
Seems like you've got some solid answers already, but I thought I might be able to add a little bit of insight. I'm currently studying the Gospel of John in my Johannine Literature class right now. It does seem that Calvin is saying that from this text you cannot conclude that faith is a gift from God, though it is interesting that "εργον του θεου" is in the genitive. It's as if you can render it "this is God's work." If it is being used in the imperative, then this next point is pretty interesting.

"...whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us...

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (1 Jn 3:22–23). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

The move from commandments (pl) to commandment (sg) here shows that to believe in Jesus Christ and love one another is the commandment of Jesus, and that to believe in him and to love one another cannot be separated. It's as if believing in Jesus Christ inevitably manifests in the Church loving one another. So, if the verse in John 6 is being used as an imperative, I think it is right to link these two verses together theologically. If it is not being used in that way, it gets even more interesting because it shows that if God has genuinely caused us to believe in Jesus, that will be manifested by our love for one another. Whether or not this verse is being used as a command or as a statement of God's work, it is clear that it is God who causes us to believe and thus the latter possibility is still true.

I don't know if this helps at all, I just made a connection in my head and wanted to share it.
 
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