Commentary on Genesis, volume 1 (chapter 1-23)

John Calvin

Translated and edited by John King M.D.

The Banner of Truth Trust
3 Murrayfield Road, Edinburgh EH12 6EL
P.O. Box 652, Carlisle, Pennsylvania 17013, U.S.A.

First published in Latin 1554
First English Translation 1578
This edition reprinted from the Calvin Translation Society edition of
Reprinted 1975

ISBN 0 85151 093 0

Printed in Great Britain by offset lithography by Billing & Sons Limited,
Guildford and London

Translator' S Preface

Several of the commentaries of Calvin on different portions of the Holy
Scripture having been for some time before the public, through the
labours of The Calvin Society; it is not improbable that the readers of
the following pages will have already become in a great degree familiar
with the writings of this celebrated Reformer.

It may, perhaps, therefore be thought an unnecessary, if not a
presumptuous undertaking, to preface the present work with any general
observations on the character of Calvin's Expository Writings. But though
the Commentary on Genesis was neither the first which Calvin wrote, nor
the first which the Calvin Society has republished; yet since, in the
ultimate arrangement of the Commentaries it must take the foremost place,
the Editor has determined to offer such preliminary remarks as may seem
desirable for a reader who begins to read the Commentaries of Calvin, as
he begins to read the Bible itself, at the Book of Genesis. If, in taking
such a course, he is charged with repeating some things which have been
said by others before him, he will not be extremely anxious either to
defend himself from the charge or to meet it with a denial.

It seems to be now generally admitted that though, in the brilliant
constellation formed by the master-spirits of the Reformation, there were
those who, in some respects, shone with brighter lustre than Calvin, yet,
as a Commentator on Holy Scripture, he far outshines them all.

There is scarcely anything in which the wisdom of God has been more
conspicuous, than in his choice of instruments for carrying into
execution the different parts of that mighty revolution of sentiment,
which affected, more or less, every portion of Europe during the
sixteenth century.

Long before the issue of the movement was seen or apprehended, we behold
Erasmus, the most accomplished scholar of the age, acting unconsciously
as the pioneer of a Reformation, which at length he not only opposed, but
apparently hated. He had been raised up by God to lash the vices of the
Clergy, to expose the ignorance, venality, and sloth of the Mendicant
Orders, and to exhibit the follies of Romanism in sarcastic invectives
rendered imperishable by the elegant Latinity in which they were clothed.
But he did still more. The world is indebted to him for the first edition
of the entire New Testament in the Original Greek. He had also the honour
of being the first modern translator of the New Testament into Latin. He
published a valuable critical Commentary on the New Testament, which was
early translated into English, and ordered to be placed in the Churches.
Yet, great as the service undoubtedly was which he rendered to the cause
of truth, he never dared to cast the yoke of Rome from his own neck,
never stooped to identify himself with the Protestant Reformers; but
lived and died, as there is reason to fear, a mean, trickling,
timeserving Romanist, panting for preferment in a Church, the unsoundness
of which he had so fearfully exposed. It is not, however, to be denied
that God employed him as a most important instrument in shaking the
foundations of the Papacy, and in preparing the way for the more
successful efforts of more sincere and devoted servants of God.

Among these Luther and Melancthon in one field, Calvin and Zuinglius in
another, occupy posts of the greatest responsibility and usefulness; but
Luther and Calvin are manifestly the great leaders in this cause.

In qualifications necessary for the commencing of this great struggle, we
readily yield the palm to Luther. His indomitable energy, his noble
bearing, his contempt for danger, his transparent honesty of purpose, his
fiery zeal, his generous frankness--though too often degenerating into
peremptory vehemence of spirit and rudeness of manner--eminently fitted
him to take the lead in a warfare where so much was to be braved, to be
endured, and to be accomplished.

There was still another qualification, which perhaps no man ever
possessed in so high a degree as the Saxon Reformer, and that consisted
in the prodigious mastery he had over his own mother-tongue. He seized on
the rude, yet nervous and copious German of his ancestors, and taught it
to speak with a combination of melody and force, which it had never known
before. And his vernacular translation of the Holy Scriptures, in opening
to the millions of the German empire the Fount of eternal life, also
revealed to them the hitherto hidden beauties and powers of their own
masculine tongue.

Calvin, like Luther, was a man of courage; but he wanted Luther's fire,
he wanted Luther's ardent frankness of disposition; he wanted, in short,
the faculty which Luther possessed in a preeminent degree, of laying hold
on the affections, and of kindling the enthusiasm of a mighty nation.

Calvin, like Luther too, was a Translator of the Scriptures, and it is
worthy of remark, that he also wrote in a far purer and better style than
any of his contemporaries, or than any writers of an age near his own.
But he had not the honour, which God conferred on Luther, of sending
forth the sacred volume as a wholes through that great nation in which
his language was spoken, and of thus pouring, by one single acts a flood
of light upon millions of his countrymen.

But whatever advantage may lie on the side of Luther in the comparison,
so far as it has yet been carried, we shall find it on the side of Calvin
in grasp of intellect, in discriminating power, in calmness, clearness
and force of argument, in patience of research, in solid learning, in
every quality, in short, which is essential to an Expositor of Holy Writ.
We are the better able to institute this comparison, because Luther
himself wrote a Commentary on the Scriptures; but the slightest
inspection of the two Commentaries will convince the Reader of Calving
intellectual superiority; and will show, that as a faithful, penetrating,
and judicious Expounder of the Holy Spirit's meaning in the Scriptures,
he left the great Leader of the Reformation at an immeasurable distance

The doctrinal system of Calvin is too well known to require explanation
in this place. It is however a mistake to suppose that, on those points
in which Calvinism is deemed peculiarly to consist, he went a single step
farther than Luther himself, and the great majority of the Reformers. He
states his views with calmness, clearness and precision; he reasons on
them dispassionately, and never shrinks from any consequences to which he
perceives them to lead. But it would be the height of injustice to charge
him with obtruding them at every turn upon his reader, or with attempting
to force the language of Scripture to bear testimony to his own views.

No writer ever dealt more fairly and honestly by the Word of God. He is
scrupulously careful to let it speak for itself, and to guard against
every tendency of his own mind to put upon it a questionable meaning for
the sake of establishing some doctrine which he feels to be important, or
some theory which he is anxious to uphold. This is one of his prime
excellencies. He will not maintain any doctrine, however orthodox and
essential, by a text of Scripture which to him appears of doubtful
application, or of inadequate force. For instance, firmly as he believed
the doctrine of the Trinity, he refuses to derive an argument in its
favour, from the plural form of the name of God in the first chapter of
Genesis. It were easy to multiply examples of this kinds which, whether
we agree in his conclusions or not, cannot fail to produce the
conviction, that he is, at least, an honest Commentator, and will not
make any passage of Scripture speak more or less than, according to his
view, its Divine Author intended it to speak. Calvin has been charged
with ignorance of the language in which the Old Testament was written.

Father Simon says that he scarcely knew more of Hebrew than the letters!
The charge is malicious and ill founded. It may, however, be allowed that
a critical examination of the text of Holy Scripture was not the end
which Calvin proposed to himself; nor had he perhaps the materials or the
time necessary for that accurate investigation of word and syllables to
which the Scriptures have more recently been subjected. Still his verbal
criticisms are neither few nor unimportant, though he lays comparatively
little stress upon them himself.

His great strength, however, is seen in the clear, comprehensive view he
takes of the subject before him, in the facility with which he penetrates
the meaning of his Author, in the lucid expression he gives to that
meaning, in the variety of new yet solid and profitable thoughts which he
frequently elicits from what are apparently the least promising portions
of the sacred text, in the admirable precision with which he unfolds
every doctrine of Holy Scripture, whether veiled under figures and types,
or implied in prophetical allusions, or asserted in the records of the
Gospel. As his own mind was completely imbued with the whole system of
divine truth, and as his capacious memory never seemed to lose anything
which it had once apprehended, he was always able to present a harmonised
and consistent view of truth to his readers, and to show the relative
position in which any given portion of it stood to all the rest. This has
given a completeness and symmetry to his Commentaries which could
scarcely have been looked for; as they were not composed in the order in
which the Sacred Books stand in the Volume of Inspiration, nor perhaps in
any order of which a clear account can now be given. He probably did not,
at first, design to expound more than a single Book; and was led onwards
by the course which his Expository Lectures in public took, to write
first on one and then on another, till at length he traversed nearly the
whole field of revealed truth.

That, in proceeding with such want of method, his work, instead of
degenerating into a congeries of lax and unconnected observations
constantly reiterated, should have maintained, to a great degree, the
consistency of a regular and consecutive Commentary, is mainly to be
imputed to the gigantic intellectual power by which he was distinguished.
Through the whole of his writings, this power is everywhere visible,
always in action, ingrafting upon every passing incident some forcible
remark, which the reader no sooner sees than he wonders that it had not
occurred to his own mind. A work so rich in thought is calculated to call
into vigorous exercise the intellect of the reader; and, what is the best
and highest use of reading, to compel him to think for himself. It is
like seed-corn, the parent of the harvest.

It has been objected against Calvin by Bishop Horsley, no mean authority
in Biblical criticism,--that "by his want of taste, and by the poverty of
his imagination, he was a most wretched Expositor of the Prophecies,--
just as he would have been a wretched expositor of any secular poet." It
is true, this censure is qualified by the acknowledgment that Calvin was
"a man of great piety, great talents, and great learning." Yet, after
all, it would not, perhaps, be difficult to show that, as an expounder of
the poetical portions of Holy Scripture,--the Psalms for instance,--
Bishop Horsley more frequently errs through an excess of imagination,
than Calvin does through the want of it. However this may be, it is not
intended here to assert, either that Calvin possessed a high degree of
poetical taste, or that he cultivated to any great extent the powers of
the imagination. His mind was cast in the more severe mould of chastised,
vigorous, and concentrated thought. They who seek for the flowers of
poesy must go to some other master; they who would acquire habits of
sustained intellectual exercise may spend their days and nights over the
pages of Calvin.

But that which gives the greatest charm to these noble compositions is,
the genuine spirit of piety which breathes through them. The mind of the
writer turns with ease and with obvious delight to the spiritual
application of his subject. Hence the heart of the reader is often
imperceptibly raised to high and heavenly things. The rare combination of
intellect so profound and reasoning so acute, with piety so fervent,
inspires the reader with a calm and elevated solemnity, and strengthens
his conviction of the excellence and dignity of true religion.

On the mode in which The Editor has executed his task he may be permitted
to say, that he has attempted to be faithful as a translator, without
binding himself to a servile rendering of word for word, unmindful of the
idiomatic differences between one language and another. Yet it has been
his determination not to sacrifice sense to sound, nor to depart from the
Author's meaning for the sake of giving to any sentence a turn which
might seem more agreeable to an English ear. He has occasionally softened
an expression which appeared harsh in the original, and would appear
harsher still in our own language and in our own times. But in such
cases, he has generally placed the Latin expression before the reader in
a note. He has done the same, when any sentence appeared capable of a
different interpretation from that which is given in the translation. A
few passages which justly offend against delicacy are left untranslated;
and one it has been thought expedient entirely to omit. Some remarks are,
however, made upon it in the proper place.

Clear as the Latin Style of Calvin generally is, yet his sententious mode
of expressing himself occasionally leaves some ambiguity in his
expressions. Such difficulties, however, have generally been overcome by
the aid of the valuable French Translation, published at Geneva in the
year 1564,--the year of Calvin's death,--of which there is no reason to
doubt that Calvin was the author. Frequent references to this translation
in the notes will show to what extent assistance has been derived from it
by the Editor.

An English Translation of this Commentary on Genesis, by Thomas Tymme, in
black letter, was printed in the year 1578. It is, upon the whole, fairly
executed; but nearly every criticism on Hebrew words is entirely passed
over; and where the Translator has not had the sagacity to omit the whole
of any such passage, he has betrayed his own ignorance of the language,
and obscured the meaning of his author. Tymme claims for Calvin the
credit of being the first foreign Protestant Commentator on Genesis who
was made to speak in the English language.

The reader will find Calvin's Latin Version of the sacred text placed
side by side with our own excellent Authorised Translation. This was
thought the best method of meeting the wants of the public. The learned
may see Calvin's own words, which they will much prefer to any
translation of them, however accurate; the unlearned will have before
them that version of the Scriptures which from their youth they have been
taught to reverence. Where Calvin's version materially differs from our
own, and especially where his comments are made on any such different
rendering, ample explanation is given in the notes.

The Editor may be expected to say something respecting the notes
generally, which he has ventured to append to this Commentary. Some may
object that they are too few, others that they are superfluous. It would
have been easy to have made them more numerous, had space permitted; and
easier still to have omitted them altogether. But the writer of them
thought it would hardly be doing justice to Calvin to leave everything
exactly as he found it; for were the distinguished Author of the
Commentary now alive to reedit his own immortal work, there is no doubt
that he would reject every error which the increased facilities for
criticism would have enabled him to detect, and that he would throw fresh
light on many topics which were, in his day, dimly seen, or quite
misunderstood. And though it belongs not to an Editor to alter what is
erroneous, or to incorporate in his Author's Work any thoughts of his
own, or of other men; yet it is not beyond his province,--provided he
does it with becoming modesty, and with adequate information,--to point
out mistakes, to suggest such considerations as may have led him to
conclusions different from those of his Author, and to quote from other
Writers passages, sometimes confirmatory of, sometimes adverse to, those
advanced in the Work which he presents to the public. Within these limits
the Editor has endeavoured to confine himself. How far he has succeeded,
it is not for him but for the candid and competent reader to determine.

As it was possible that a doubt might exist whether the version of
Scripture used by Calvin was his own, or whether he had borrowed it from
some other source; it was thought worth the labour to investigate the
true state of the case, by having recourse to the excellent Library of
the British Museum. For this purpose the several versions which Calvin
was most likely to have adopted, had he not made one for himself, were
subjected to examination. It was not necessary to refer to any made by
Romanists; and those made by Protestants into the Latin language, which
there was any probability he should use, were but two. One by Sebastian
Munster, printed at Basle with the Hebrew Text, in 1534, from which the
version of Calvin varies considerably; the other by Leo Juda and other
learned men, printed at Zurich in 1543, and afterwards reprinted by
Robert Stephens in 1545 and 1557. The last of these editions was made use
of in comparing the versions of Leo Juda and Calvin; and though there
certainly are differences, yet they are so slight as to leave the
impression that Calvin took that of Leo Jude as his basis, and only
altered it as he saw occasion. To give the reader, however, the
opportunity of judging for himself, a few verses of the first chapter of
Genesis are transcribed from each.

The version of Leo Juda.

1. In principio creavit Deus coelum et terram.
2. Terra autem erat desolate et inanis, tenebraeque erant in superficie
voraginis: et Spiritus Dei agitabat sese in superficie aquarum.
3. Dixitque Deus, Sit Lux, et fuit lux.
4. Viditque Deus lucem quod esset bona, et divisit Deus lucem a tenebris.
5. Vocavitque Deus lucem Diem, et tenebras vocavit Noctem; fuitque
vespera, et fuit mane dies unus.
6. Dixit quoque Deus, Sit expansio, &c.

The version of Calvin.

1. In principio creavit Deus coelum et terram.
2. Terra autem erat informis et inanis, tenebraeque erant in superficie
voraginis: et Spiritus Dei agitabat se in superficie aquarum.
3. Et dixit Deus, Sit Lux, et fuit lux.
4. Viditque Deus lucem quod bona esset, et divisit Deus lucem a tenebris.
5. Et vocavit Deus lucem Diem, et tenebras vocavit Noctem. Fuitque
vespera, et fuit mane dies primus.
6. Et dixit Deus, Sit extensio, &c.

A similar examination was next resorted to, for the purpose of
ascertaining the source of Calvin's French Version. The first printed
version of the Scriptures into French was from the pen of Jacques Le
Fevre d'Estaples; or, as he was more commonly called, Jacobus Faber
Stapulensis. It was printed at Antwerp, by Martin L'Empereur. Though its
Author was in communion with the Church of Rome, yet the version is "said
to be the basis of all subsequent French Bibles, whether executed by
Romanists or Protestants."

The first Protestant French Bible was published by Robert Peter Olivetan,
with the assistance of his relative, the illustrious John Calvin, who
corrected the Antwerp edition wherever it differed from the Hebrew. It
might have been expected that Calvin would have placed this version--made
under his own eye, and perfected by his own assistance without alteration
at the head of his Commentaries. But it appears that he has not done so,
for though he departs but little from it, he not unfrequently alters a
word or two in the translation.

While on the subject of Versions, it may be added, that in The Old
English Translation by Tymme already alluded to, the Geneva version is
used. This translation was made by the learned exiles from England during
the Marian Persecution, and is sometimes distinguished from others by the
name of The Breeches Bible, on account of the rendering of Gen. 3: 7.

To give the reader some notion of the order in which Calvin's
Commentaries succeeded each other, the following List, with the dates
appended, taken from Senebiers Literary History of Geneva is submitted to
his consideration:

Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1540
Commentary on all the Epistles of Paul. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1548
Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the Epistles of Peter,
John, Jude, and James . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1551
Commentary on Isaiah. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1551
Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1552
Commentary on Genesis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1554
Commentary on the Psalms. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1557
Commentary on Hosea . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1557
Commentary on the Twelve Minor Prophets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1559
Commentary on Daniel. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1561
Commentary on Joshua. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1562
Harmony of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. . . . . . . . 1563
Commentary on Jeremiah. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1563
Harmony of Three Gospels and Commentary on St John. . . . . . . . . . 1563

A facsimile of the title-page of the French Translation of 1563, and of
the Dedication to the Duke of Vendome, as a specimen of the French style
and spelling of the age, and a further facsimile of the title-page of the
English Translation of 1578, as well as of the Dedication to the Earl of
Warwick by Thomas Tymme, prefixed to the latter, will be found in this
edition. An accurate copy of the Map, roughly sketched by Calvin for the
purpose of explaining his hypothesis respecting the situation of the
Garden of Eden, and which seems to have been the basis of the most
approved theories on the subjects will be found in its proper place. The
same Map is given in the French and English translations, and also in the
Latin edition of Professor Hengstenberg, published at Berlin in the year
1838. It may be observed, as a coincidence, that the same sketch appears
in the Anglo Geneva Bible, to which reference has been made. A more
elaborate Map accompanies the Amsterdam edition of Calvin's Works,
published in 1671.

The edition now issuing from the press is also enriched by an engraving,
in the first style of art, of facsimiles of various medals of Calvin
never before submitted to the British public.

  Hull, January 1, 1847

Publishers' Note

To reduce size and cost of this one volume edition several items
mentioned in the above Preface and included in the Prelims of the Calvin
Translation Society edition are omitted These are the facsimiles of
venous medals of Calvin; the facsimile of the title page of the French
translation of 1563; the French translation of the Dedication to the Duke
of Vendome; the facsimile of the title page of the English translation of
1578 and the Dedications to the Earl of Warwick by Thomas Tymme prefixed
to the English translation of 1578 References to these however have not
been deleted from the index.

Note of the Scanner of this Electronic Edition

The footnotes of the Editor, and the Latin translation of the Bible-text,
are omitted. Thus you have the most pure form of Calvin's Commentary.

The Author's Epistle Dedicatory

John Calvin to the Most Illustrious Prince, Henry, Duke of Vendome, Heir
to the Kingdom of Navarre

If many censure my design, most Illustrious Prince, in presuming to
dedicate this work to you, that it may go forth to light sanctioned by
your name, nothing new or unexpected will have happened to me. For they
may object that by such dedication, the hatred of the wicked, who are
already more than sufficiently incensed against you, will be still
further inflamed. But since, at your tender age, amid various alarms and
threatenings, God has inspired you with such magnanimity that you have
never swerved from the sincere and ingenuous profession of the faith; I
do not see what injury you can sustain by having that profession, which
you wish to be openly manifest to all, confirmed by my testimony. Since,
therefore, you are not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, this independence
of yours has appeared to give me just ground of confidence to
congratulate you on such an auspicious commencement, and to exhort you to
invincible constancy in future. For that flexibility which belongs to
superior natures is the common property of the young, until their
character becomes more formed. But however displeasing my labour may be
to some, yet if it be approved (as I trust it will) by your most noble
mother, the Queen, I can afford to despise both their unjust judgments
and their malicious slanders; at least I shall not be diverted by them
from my purpose. In one thing I may have acted with too little
consideration, namely, in not having consulted her, in order that I might
attempt nothing but in accordance with her judgment and her wish; yet for
this omission I have an excuse at hand. If, indeed, I had omitted to
consult her through negligence, I should condemn myself as guilty not of
imprudence only, but of rashness and arrogance. When, however, I had
given up all hope of so early a publication, because the Printer would
put me off till the next spring fairs, I thought it unnecessary, for
certain reasons, to hasten my work. In the meantime, while others were
urging him more vehemently on this point than I had done, I suddenly
received a message, that the work might be finished within fifteen days,
a thing which had before been pertinaciously refused to myself. Thus
beyond my expectation, yet not contrary to my wish, I was deprived of the
opportunity of asking her permission. Nevertheless, that most excellent
Queen is animated by such zeal for the propagation of the doctrine of
Christ and of pure faith and piety, that I am under no extreme anxiety
respecting her willingness to approve of this service of mine, and to
defend it with her patronage. She by no means dissembles her own utter
estrangement from the superstitions and corruptions with which Religion
has been disfigured and polluted. And in the midst of turbulent
agitations, it has been rendered evident by convincing proofs, that she
carried a more than masculine mind in woman's breast. And I wish that at
length even men may be put to shame, and that useful emulation may
stimulate them to imitate her example. For she conducted herself with
each peculiar modesty, that scarcely any one would have supposed her
capable of thus enduring the most violent attacks, and, at the same time,
of courageously repelling them. Besides, how keenly God exercised her
with internal conflicts but few persons are witnesses, of whom, however,
I am one.
  You truly, most Illustrious Prince, need not seek a better example, for
the purpose of moulding your own mind to the perfect pattern of all
virtues. Regard yourself as bound in an especial manner to aspire after,
to contend, and to labour for the attainment of this object. For, as the
heroic disposition which shines forth in you, will leave you the less
excusable, if you degenerate from yourself, so education, no common help
to an excellent disposition, is like another bond to retain you in your
duty. For liberal instruction has been superadded to chaste discipline.
Already imbued with the rudiments of literature, you have not cast away
(as nearly all are wont to do) these studies in disgust, but still
advance with alacrity in the cultivation of your genius. Now, in sending
forth this book to the public under your name, my desire is, that it may
effectually induce you more freely to profess yourself a disciple of
Christ; just as if God, by laying his hand upon you, were claiming you
anew to himself. And truly, you can yield no purer gratification to the
Queen your mother, who cannot be too highly estimated, than by causing
her to hear that you are making continual progress in piety.
  Although many things contained in this book are beyond the capacity of
your age, yet I am not acting unreasonably in offering it to your
perusal, and even to your attentive and diligent study. For since the
knowledge of ancient things is pleasant to the young, you will soon
arrive at those years in which the History of the creation of the World,

(continued in part 2...)

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