Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets

by John Calvin

Now first translated from the original Latin by the Rev. John Owen,
vicar of Thrussington, Leicestershire

Volume First, Hosea

Wm. M. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, 1950, Michigan.
Printed in the United States of America

Table of Contents

Translator's preface
Portrait of Calvin
The Epistle Dedicatory
John Calvin to the Christian Reader, health.
John Budaeus, to Christian Readers, health.
John Crispin to Christian Readers, health.
The Commentaries of John Calvin on the Prophet Hosea.
Commentaries on the prophet Hosea

Translator's preface

    Prejudice has often deprived many of advantages which they
might have otherwise derived: and this has been much the case with
respect to The Works of Calvin; they have been almost entirely
neglected for a long time, owing to impressions unfavourable to the
Author. In his own and the succeeding age, the authority of Calvin
as a Divine, and especially as an Expounder of Scripture, was very
high, and higher than that of any of the Reformers. Though an
eminent writer of the present day, Dr D'Aubigne, has pronounced
Melanchthon "the Theologian of the Reformation," yet there is
sufficient reason to ascribe that distinction to Calvin; and to him,
no doubt, it more justly belongs, than to any other of the many
illustrious men whom God raised up during that memorable period.

    It is not difficult to account for what happened to our author.
Various things combined to depreciate his repute. In this country
his views on Church government created in many a prejudice against
him; and then the progress of a theological system, not more
contrary to what he held than to what our own Reformers maintained,
increased this prejudice; and where the former ground of difference
and dislike did not exist, the latter prevailed: so that, generally
in our Church, and among Dissenting bodies, the revered name of
Calvin has been regarded with no feelings of affection, or even of
respect; no discrimination being exercised, and no distinction being
made between his great excellencies as an Expounder of Scripture,
and his peculiar views on Church discipline, and on the doctrine of
    On the Continent other things operated against his reputation.
Popery owed him a deep grudge; for no one of the Reformers probed
the depths of its iniquities with so much discrimination, and with
such an unsparing hand as he did. His remarkably acute mind enabled
him to do this most effectually; and there is much on this subject
in the present work, which renders it especially valuable at this
period, when Popery makes such efforts to spread its errors and
delusions. The two weapons which he commonly employed were Scripture
and common sense, - weapons ever dreaded by Popery; and to blunt
their edge has at all times been its attempt, the first, by vain
tradition, and the other, by implicit faith, not in God, or in God's
word, but in a palpably degenerated Church. But these weapons Calvin
wielded with no common skill, dexterity, and power, being deeply
versed in Scripture, and endued with no ordinary share of sound and
penetrating judgement. In addition to this, his doctrinal views were
diametrically opposed to those of Popery, and especially to the
papal system, as modified by and concentrated in Jesuitism, which
may be considered to be the most perfect form of Popery. For these
reasons, the Writings of Calvin could not have been otherwise than
extremely obnoxious to the adherents of the Church of Rome: and the
consequence has been, that they spared no efforts to vilify his
name, and to lessen his reputation.
    The first writer of eminence and acknowledged learning in this
country, who has done any thing like justice to Calvin, was Bishop
Horsley; and when we consider the very strong prejudice which at
that time prevailed almost in all quarters against Calvin, to
vindicate his character was no ordinary proof of moral courage.
There were, no doubt, some points in which the two were very like.
They both possessed minds of no common strength and vigour, and
minds discriminating no less than vigorous. In clearness of
perception, also, they had few equals; so that no one needs hardly
ever read a passage in the writings of either twice over in order to
understand its meaning. But probably the most striking point of
likeness was their independence of mind. They thought for
themselves, without being swayed by authority either ancient or
modern, and acknowledged no rule and no authority in religion but
that which is divine. The Bishop had more imagination, but the
Pastor of Geneva had a sounder judgement. Hence the Bishop,
notwithstanding his strong mind and great acuteness, was sometimes
led away by what was plausible and novel; but Calvin was ever sober
minded and judicious, and whatever new view he gives to a passage,
it is commonly well supported, and for the most part gains at once
our approbation.
    But something must be said of the present work.
    It embraces the most difficult portion, in some respects, of
the old Testament, and of that portion, as acknowledged by all, the
most difficult is the Book of the prophet Hosea. Probably no part of
Scripture is commonly read with so little benefit as the Minor
Prophets, owing, no doubt, to the obscurity in which some parts are
involved. That there is much light thrown on many abstruse passages
in this work, and more than by any existing comment in our language,
is the full conviction of the writer. Acute, sagacious, and
sometimes profound, the author is at the same time remarkably
simple, plain, and lucid and ever practical and useful. The most
learned may here gather instruction, and the most unlearned may
understand almost every thing that is said. The whole object of the
Author seems to be to explain, simplify, and illustrate the text,
and he never turns aside to other matters. He is throughout an
expounder, keeps strictly to his office, and gives to every part its
full and legitimate meaning according to the context, to which he
ever especially attends.
    The style of Hosea is somewhat peculiar. Jerome has long ago
characterised it as being commatic, sententious; and those links,
the connective particles, by which different parts are joined
together, are sometimes omitted. This is, indeed, in a measure the
character of the style of all the Prophets, hut more so with respect
to Hosea than any other. What at the same time creates the greatest
difficulty is the rapidity of his transitions, and the change of
person, number, and gender. Persons are spoken to and spoken of
sometimes in the same verse; and he passes from the singular to the
plural number, and the reverse, and sometimes from the masculine to
the feminine gender. To account for these transitions is not always
    It has been thought by many critics, that the received Hebrew
text of Hosea is in a more imperfect state than that of any other
portion of Scripture; but Bishop Horsley denies this in a manner the
most unhesitating; and those emendations which Archbishop Newcome
introduced in his version, about 50 in number, the Bishop has swept
away as unauthorised, and, indeed, as unnecessary, for most of them
had been proposed to remedy the anomalies peculiar to the style of
this Prophet; and some of those few emendations, which the Bishop
himself introduced, founded on the authority of Mss., Calvin's
exposition shows to be unnecessary. The fact is, that different
readings, collected by the laborious Kennicott and others, have done
chiefly this great good - to show the extraordinary correctness of
our received text. Throughout this Prophet, there is hardly an
instance in which the collations of Mss. have supplied an
improvement, and certainly no improvement of any material
    This work of Calvin appears now for the first time in the
English language. There is a French translation, but not made by the
author himself, as in the case of some other portions of his
writings, and can therefore be of no authority. The following
translation has been made from an edition printed at Geneva in 1567,
three years after Calvin's death, compared with another, printed
also at Geneva in 1610.
    It has been thought advisable to adopt our common version as
the text, and to put Calvin's Latin version in a parallel column.
His version is a literal rendering of the original, without any
regard to idiom, and to translate it has been found impracticable,
at least in such a way as to be understood by common readers. His
practice evidently was to translate the Hebrew word for word, and to
make this his text, and then in his Comment to modify the
expressions so as to reduce them into readable Latin, and his
version thus modified agrees in most instances with our authorised
version. The agreement is so remarkable, that the only conclusion is
that this work must have been much consulted by our Translators.
    In making quotations from Scripture, the author seems to have
followed no version, but to have made one of his own; and they are
often given paraphrastically, the meaning rather than the words
being regarded. The same is often done also with respect to the
passages explained, the words being frequently varied. In these
instances the author has been strictly followed throughout in this
translation, and his quotations, and the text when paraphrased, are
marked by a single inverted comma.
    The Hebrew words which occur in the Lectures are not
accompanied with the points, and it has not been deemed necessary to
add them. The words are given in corresponding English characters,
with the insertion of such vowels only as are necessary to enunciate
them, and these vowels, to distinguish them from the Hebrew vowels,
are put in Roman characters. The Hebrew vowels are uniformly given
the same, and not with that almost endless variety of sounds to
which the points have reduced them. The "vau" is always represented
by "u", except when in some instances it is followed by a vowel, and
then by "v". The Hebrews have four vowels corresponding with a, e,
u, i, and o, in English.
    This work is calculated to be of material help to those engaged
in translations. Our Missionaries may derive from it no small
assistance, as it gives as literal a version of the Hebrew as can
well be made, and contains much valuable criticism, and develops, in
a very lucid and satisfactory manner, the drift and meaning of many
difficult passages. There is no existing commentary in which the
text is so minutely examined, and so clearly explained. There are
also many of the most approved expositions given by others referred
to and stated; and the translator has added, on interesting and
difficult passages, what has been suggested by learned critics since
the time of the Author.
    If it be a right rule to judge of the impressions which the
perusal of this volume, now presented to the public, may produce on
others, by what one has himself experienced, the editor will mention
one thing in particular, and that is, that he fully expects that
those who will carefully read this volume will be more impressed
than ever with the extreme propensity of human nature to idolatry,
and with the amazing power and blinding effects of superstition. The
conduct of the Israelites, notwithstanding all the means employed to
restore them to the true worship of God, is here described with no
ordinary minuteness and speciality. Though God sent his prophets to
them to remind them of their sins, to reason and expostulate with
them, to threaten and to exhort them, to draw and allure them with
promises of pardon and acceptance; and though God chastised them in
various ways, and then withheld his displeasure, and showed them
indulgence, they yet continued obstinately attached to their
idolatry and superstition, and all the while professed and boasted
that they worshipped the true God, and perversely maintained that
their mixed service, the worship of God, and the worship of idols,
was right and lawful, and vastly superior to what the prophets
    Having this case of the Israelites in view, we need not be
surprised at the fascinating and blinding influence of Popery, whose
idolatry and superstitions are exactly of the same character with
those of the Israelites; no two cases can be more alike. Their
identity is especially seen in this, - that there is an union of two
worships - of God and of images; and this union was the idolatry
condemned in the Israelites, and is the very idolatry that now
exists in the Church of Rome: and as among the Israelites, so among
the Papists, though God is not excluded, but owned, yet the chief
worship is given to false gods and their images. That the two
systems are the same, no one can doubt, except those who are under
the influence of strong delusion; and this is what is often referred
to and amply proved in this work.
    It may be useful to subjoin here an account of the time in
which the twelve Minor Prophets lived. The precise time cannot be
ascertained: they flourished between the two dates which are here
given. The names of the other four Prophets are also added.
    Before the Babylonian Captivity.
                        before Christ.
    1. Jonah             856 - 784.
    2. Amos              810 - 785.
    3. Hosea             810 - 725.
        1. Isaiah        810 - 698.
    4. Joel              810 - 660.
    5. Micah             758 - 699.
    6. Nahum             720 - 698.
    7. Zephaniah          640 - 609.
    Immediately previous to and during the Captivity.
        2. Jeremiah       628 - 586.
    8. Habakkuk           612 - 598.
        3. Daniel        606 - 534.
    9. Obadiah                588 - 583.
        4. Ezekiel            595 - 536.
    After the Captivity.
    10. Haggai                520 - 518.
    11. Zechariah         520 - 518.
    12. Malachi           436 - 420.
    In the last volume, the fourth, will be given the two indices
appended to the original work.
    Thrussington, September 1, 1846.
    J. O.

    After the preceding preface had gone through the press, it has
been discovered that The Twelve Minor Prophets cannot be comprised
in four volumes of the size generally published in the present
Series of The Works of John Calvin.
    The Translation, though it be as brief and concise as the idiom
of the English language will well admit, takes up more space than
the editor at first anticipated. His first calculation was made from
the Latin: he was not then fully aware of the great disparity in the
two languages as to relative diffuseness of style. He has since
found, by a minute comparison, that a work in Latin, comprised in
five volumes, would require at least six of the same size and type
in English: and in the present instance, what was calculated would
be contained in four, must be extended to five volumes, on account
of the respective Prefaces and Notes, &c. by the editor, besides the
Literal Translations of each of the Books of The Twelve Minor
Prophets, which it has since been resolved shall be appended to each
successive commentary.
    The arrangement of this Work, now made with some degree of
certainty, is as follows:
    The first volume is to contain Hosea;
    The second volume, Joel, Amos, and Obadiah;
    The third volume, Jonah, Micah, and Nahum;
    The fourth volume, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Haggai; and
    The fifth volume, Zechariah and Malachi; with the tables and
    indices to the whole work.
    On this account, the volumes cannot be all of equal size, some
being considerably above, and some below, the average extent of the
present Series of Calvin's Works, being 500 pages on the average. To
avoid such inequality, it would have been needful to divide some of
the Books - a thing by no means desirable in any case, and which has
been studiously shunned in all the other commentaries.
    In addition to what was originally contemplated, there will be
given at the end of each Book a continuous literal translation of
Calvin's Latin version, as modified by his commentary; and the
editor is requested to state that a similar plan is to be observed
in all the other prophetical books of the Old Testament.
    Thrussington, September 1846.

Portrait of Calvin

Engraved in facsimile, and prefixed to the present volume.

    It has been deemed a matter of importance as well as curiosity
to preserve, in the present series of English Translations of The
Works of Calvin, facsimile engravings of all the authentic
contemporaneous portraits which can still be recovered of the great
Genevan Reformer.
    The portrait which accompanies the present volume is preserved
in the curious and valuable collection of likenesses, or portraits,
and characters of illustrious Reformers, published by Theodore Beza,
the pupil, friend, and biographer of Calvin, under the title of
"Icones", &c.; which work passed through several editions in Latin
and French. The characters of the individuals represented in the
wood engravings are annexed to each portrait, and are therefore
necessarily drawn up with great conciseness, but with Beza's usual
ability and discrimination.
    The facsimile in question has been taken from a very fresh
impression contained in a copy of the French edition belonging to
the secretary, which was formerly in the library of the Duke of
Sussex. The title-page is as follows: -
    "Les Vrais Pourtraits des Hommes Illustres en piete et
doctrine, du travail desquels Dieu s'est serui en ces derniers
temps, pour remettre sus la vraye Religion en divers pays de la
Chrestiente. Avec les Descriptions de leurs via & de leurs faits
plus memorables. Plus qurarantequatre Emblemes Chretiens. Traduicts
du latin de Theodore de Bexze. A Geneve, par Iean de Laon.
    Both the Latin and French copies are dedicated to James VI. of
Scotland, and have a curious early portrait of that King prefixed.
The latter is addressed, "A tres-illustre Prince, Iacques Sixiesme,
par la grace de Dieu serenissime Roy d'Escosse;" and closes, "De
Geneve, le premier iour de Mars, l'an cI-.cI-.lxxx. De vostre
serenissime & Royale Maieste le tres-humble Serviteur, Theodore de
Besze." Care has been taken to have this facsimile carefully
collated with an impression in another copy of the same edition,
also belonging to the Secretary, which was purchased by him at the
sale of the duplicates of the Library of the Faculty of Advocates,
    It has been considered indispensable that all the facsimiles
which accompany The Calvin Translations shall be executed with most
scrupulous fidelity; and therefore no liberty is allowed the artists
employed, in the way of improving the style of the original
engraving, or of remedying any artistical defects; but to present an
accurate and exact copy, line for line, &c., precisely as in the
    The following graphic Character of Calvin, by Beza, is annexed
to the Portrait: -
John Calvin, of Noyon in Picardy,
The pastor of the Church of Geneva.
[by Theodore Beza.]

    As the testimony of a son respecting his own father cannot be
altogether free from suspicion, let all then know, by what thou hast
done, O Calvin, that thou hast been a remarkable instrument in the
hand of the Almighty and all-gracious God, who has by thy ministry
completed the Restoration of true Religion, happily commenced by
others some years before. For to thee this especially belongs - to
thy doctrine, diligence, and ardent zeal; to which France and
Scotland are indebted for the re-establishment of the kingdom of
Christ among them; other Churches, scattered in great number through
the whole world, acknowledge themselves to be also in this respect
under great obligations to thee.
    Of this let these be the witnesses - first, thy writings, which
shall ever live; and all men, who are learned and fear God, confess
them to have been prepared with judgement so remarkable, with
erudition so solid, and in a style so beautiful, that no one has
been hitherto found, who has with so much skill expounded the Holy
Scripture. And there is another band of witnesses - the furious
matheologians, (men of science,) the sworn enemies of God's truth,
who have poured the scum of their rage upon thee before and after
thy death. But thou however enjoyest, near thy Master, Jesus Christ,
the reward with which he recompenses thy faithful services. And ye,
Churches of the Son of God, continue to peruse the works of this
great Teacher; who, though he speaks no longer, has left what, in
spite of envy, you may every day learn.
    As to you, Sophists, hateful monsters and doomed to perdition,
what you do by continuing to depreciate this holy and learned
Theologian, is to discover more and more your infatuation and
wickedness, to the end that you may be condemned and accursed when
the righteous Judge shall come to give to every one according to his
    It may be added, that Calvin, having become consumptive through
excessive study and abstinence, died at Geneva in one thousand five
hundred and sixty-four, on the twenty-seventh day of May, at the age
of fifty-four; twenty-five of which he had been employed in the
charge of a Pastor and Teacher to that Church, which had been built
up and established by him with no small difficulties, and which he
had happily governed in connection with other learned fellow-
labourers in the ministry during that time.
    He was interred without any pomp, according to the express
charge which he had given; and his loss was lamented as that of a
father by all at Geneva, and by many of the faithful, dispersed in
different parts of the world. Among others, I was one who expressed
my feelings on his death in a Latin Epigram, which has been
translated into French as follows: -
Epigram by Beza on the death of Calvin,
translated into French.

[French translation omitted]

[Latin original omitted]

The same in English.
    Rome's greatest terror he, whom now being dead
    The best of men lament, the wicked dread:
    Virtue itself from him might virtue learn; -
    And dost thou ask why Calvin did not earn
    A place more splendid for his last repose,
    Than that small spot which does his bones inclose?
    But know, that modesty even from the womb
    Had been his guest, - and she has built his tomb.
    O happy clod! thy tenant, great was he;
    The gorgeous shrines may justly envy thee.

The Epistle Dedicatory

John Calvin to the most serene and most mighty King Gustavus, the
king of the Goths and Vandals.

    What I once said most excellent king, when the Annotations on
Hosea, taken from my Lectures, were published, I now again repeat, -
that I was not the author of that edition: for I am one who is not
easily pleased with works I finish with more labour and care. Had it
been in my power, I should have rather tried to prevent the wider
circulation of that extemporaneous kind of teaching, intended for
the particular benefit of my auditory and with which benefit I was
abundantly satisfied.
    But since that specimen, (The Commentary on Hosea,) published
with better success than I expected, has kindled a desire in many to
see that one Prophet followed by the other eleven Minor Prophets, I
thought it not unseasonable to dedicate to your Majesty a work of
suitable extent, and replete with important instructions not only
that it may be a pledge of my high regards, but also that the
dedication to so celebrated a name might procure for it some favour.
It is not, however, ambition that has led me to do this, for I have
long ago learned not to court the applause of the world, and have
become hardened to the ingratitude of the many; but I wished that
some fruit might come to men of your station from the recesses of
our mountains; and it has also been my legitimate endeavour, that
many to whom I am unknown, being influenced by the sacred sanction
of their king, might be made more impartial, and come better
prepared to read the work.
    And this, I promise to myself, will be the case, as you enjoy
so much veneration among all your subjects, provided you condescend
to interpose your judgement, such as your singular wisdom may
dictate; or, as age may possibly not bear the fatigue of reading,
such as your Majesty's eldest son Heric, the heir to the throne, may
suggest, whom you have taken care to be so instructed in the liberal
sciences, that this office may be safely intrusted to him. And that
I might have less doubt of your kindness, there are many heralds of
your virtues, and even some judicious and wise men, who are entitled
to be deemed competent witnesses. It is not, therefore, to be
wondered, most noble king, that a present from so distant a region
should be offered to your Majesty by a man as yet unknown to you,
who, on account of the excellent and heroic endowments of mind and
heart in which he has understood you to excel, thinks himself to be
especially attached to you.
    But though the excellency of the Book may not, perhaps, be such
as will procure much favour to myself, you will not yet despise the
desire by which I have been led to manifest the high regards I
entertain towards your Majesty, nor will you yet find this present
now offered to you wholly unworthy, however much it may be below the
elevated station of so great a king. If God has endued me with any
aptness for the interpretation of Scripture, I am fully persuaded
that I have faithfully and carefully endeavoured to exclude from it
all barren refinements, however plausible and fitted to please the
ear, and to preserve genuine simplicity, adapted solidly to edify
the children of God, who, being not content with the shell, wish to
penetrate to the kernel. What I have really done it is not for me to
say, except that pious and learned men persuade me that I have not
laboured without success. But these Commentaries may not, perhaps,
answer the wishes and expectations of all; and I myself could have
wished that I had been able to give something more excellent and
more perfect, or at least what would have come nearer to the
Prophetic Spirit. But this, I trust, will be the issue, - that
experience will prove to upright and impartial readers, and those
endued with sound judgement, provided they read with well-disposed
minds, and not fastidiously, what I have written for their benefit,
that more light has been thrown on the Twelve Prophets than modesty
will allow me to affirm.
    With the industry of others I compare not my own, (which would
be unbecoming,) nor do I ask any thing else, but that intelligent
and discreet readers, profiting by my labours, should study to be of
more extensive advantage to the public good of the Church; but as it
has not been my care, nor even my desire, to adorn this Book with
various attractives, this admonition is not unseasonable; for it may
invite the more slothful to read, until, by making a trial, they may
be able to judge whether it may be useful for them to proceed
farther in their course of reading. Indeed, the fruit which my other
attempts in the interpretation of Scripture have produced, and the
hope which I entertain of the usefulness of this, please me so much,
that I desire to spend the remainder of my life in this kind of
labour, as far as my continued and multiplied employments will allow
me. For what may be expected from a man at leisure cannot be
expected from me, who, in addition to the ordinary office of a
pastor, have other duties, which hardly allow me the least
relaxation: I shall not, however, deem my spare time in any other
way better employed.
    I now return again to you, most valiant king. He who knows your
prudence and equity in managing public affairs, your moral habits,
your whole character and virtues, will not wonder that I have
resolved to dedicate to you this work. But as it is not my design to
write a long eulogy on what is praiseworthy in you, I shall only
briefly touch on what is well known, both by report and public
writings: - God tried you in a wonderful manner before he raised you
to the throne, for the purpose not only of exhibiting in you a
singular proof of his providence, but also of setting forth to our
age as well as to posterity, an illustrious example of a steady
perseverance in a right course. You have, doubtless, been thus
proved by both fortunes, that there might not be wanting a due trial
of your temperance and moderation in prosperity, and of your
patience in adversity, until it was given you from above to emerge
at length, no less happily than in a praiseworthy manner, from so
many dangers, perils, difficulties, and hindrances, that having set
the kingdom in order, you might publicly and privately enjoy a
cheerful tranquillity. And now by the unanimous consent of all
orders, you bear a burden more splendid and honourable to you than
grievous, for all venerate your authority, and show their esteem by
love as well as by commendations.
    In addition to these benefits of God comes this, the chief,
which must not be omitted, - that your eldest son, Heric, a
successor chosen by you from your own blood, is not only of a
generous disposition, but also adorned with mature virtues; and
hardly any one more fit, had you no children, could the people have
chosen for themselves. And this, among other things, is his rare
commendation, that he has made so much progress in the liberal
sciences, that he occupies a high station among the learned, and
that he is not tired with diligent application to them, as far as he
is allowed by those many cares and distractions in which the royal
dignity is involved. At the same time, the principal thing with me
is this, that he has consecrated in his palace a sanctuary, not only
to the heathen muses, but also to celestial philosophy. The more
confidence therefore I have, that some place will be there found,
and some favour shown to these Commentaries, which he will find to
have been written according to the rule of true religion, and will
perceive calculated to be of some small help to himself.
    May God, O most serene king! keep your Majesty long in
prosperity, and continue to enrich you with all kinds of blessings.
May He guide you by his Spirit, until, having finished your course,
and migrating from earth to the celestial kingdom, you may leave
alive behind you the most serene king Heric, your successor, and his
most illustrious brothers, John Magnum and Charles: and may the same
grace of God, after your death, appear eminent in them, as well as
fraternal and unanimous concord.
    Geneva January 26, 1559.

Calvin on Hosea   

(continued in [prefactory part b]...)

file: pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-04: cvhos-a.txt   .