Thursday, December 18, 2008

Comparing John Calvin and James White

Someone ( has suggested that Calvin and Dr. White disagree about John 3:16.

I thought it would be helpful to provide some comments on the following text, which is Pringle's translation of what Calvin wrote (in Latin) on John 3:16. The particular portion of the text on which Calvin is commenting is, "That whosoever believeth on him may not perish ... ."

Calvin (according to Pringle): It is a remarkable commendation of faith, that it frees us from everlasting destruction.
White (as I imagine he might respond): As Calvin meant this, agreed. For more on this topic, see Mr. Swan's discussion (

Calvin (according to Pringle): For he intended expressly to state that, though we appear to have been born to death, undoubted deliverance is offered to us by the faith of Christ; and, therefore, that we ought not to fear death, which otherwise hangs over us.
White (as I imagine he might respond): Agreed: that is the gospel offer.

Calvin (according to Pringle): And he has employed the universal term "whosoever," both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers.
White (as I imagine he might respond): Of course Calvin did not use the word "whosoever," that's inserted in Pringle's translation. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that the univesality of the expression "all the believing ones" cuts off every excuse from the unbeliever. He cannot say, if I were to believe, I would not be saved, for all who believe will be saved.

Calvin (according to Pringle): Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life.
White (as I imagine he might respond): Again, "to be reconciled" is Pringle's gloss, for Calvin does not use a form of the Latin word "reconciliare" from which we derive our word "reconcile," but "propitium" from which we derive the word "propitious" which means "favorable." A better translation might be "yet he shows favor to the whole world," for indeed the gospel offer itself is not deserved by the world, as Calvin himself explains. And indeed, entrance by faith is nothing else than an entrance into everlasting life.


Please note that each of those statements for "White" are simply things that I imagine Dr. White might say, based on things I've read and heard from him, they are not his actual words.

In conclusion, the report that Calvin disagrees with White (quite an anachronism in itself) is most likely false, at least with respect to John 3:16. There are naturally points on which Dr. White and Calvin disagree, such as on topics of the relation between church and state and issues relating to the mode and subjects of baptism. On the free offer of the gospel and the fact that it cuts off the excuses of unbelievers, however, Calvin and Dr. White are (or at least appear to be) shoulder to shoulder.


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