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In making this selection from Calvin’s Biblical Commentaries, our first intention was to use the translations of the Calvin Translation Society. However, it soon became clear that we had to make one of our own. For this there were two very good reasons. The older translation is about a hundred years old, and its style is no longer our own. Calvin’s Commentaries were composed by way of either lecture or dictation. Their Latin style, although uneven, has the vividness and directness of the spoken word. It is the style of a master of the language, and it is neither strange nor archaic. Therefore, it seemed to us unjust both to Calvin and to the reader to perpetuate English versions of the Commentaries that are both out of date and to us stilted. We have tried to make a translation which is at once true to the original and in good and vivid present-day English. It is too much to hope that we have succeeded in every passage we have selected. Any translator knows that fidelity in expressing the meaning and feeling of an author in another tongue is a subtle and risky business. We only hope that we have produced a readable translation without doing Calvin undue violence. We wanted the reader to enjoy Calvin as well as understand him. We hope we have met with some, even if uneven, success.
The older translations are from the hands of a number of scholars. Their English styles are different, and not of the same quality. Besides, the exegetical and theological predilections of the several translators have understandably colored their versions of the Latin text. In a selection like ours we would have had to put together, in immediate succession, passages with different styles and different adequacy as translations. This would have produced a book with a garbled and bewildering 14style. We made a new translation to avoid such an intolerable defect.
We must say a word as to why we offer the reader this particular volume out of the vast body of Calvin’s Commentaries. We had no single principle of selection. We took what we liked — rather, a small fraction of what we liked and would have included if we had had the space. We were intent upon giving the reader good specimens of Calvin’s way of explaining Biblical texts, to bring out his qualities as an exegete. We wanted to show his concern with literary and historical questions, his understanding of Scripture both as the Word of God and as a human document, his constant preoccupation with the upbuilding of the church. We could not and did not ignore present-day issues in the interpretation of the Bible in theology and practical church life. We did the best we could to include material in which Calvin can be of some help to the church today. We did our selecting with such interests in mind. However, we do hope that this book has a certain continuity which will convey a proper sense of the integrity of Calvin’s mind.
Our organization of the material is one of many possible. The one we adopted seemed natural to us. We have not given special chapters to Calvin’s teachings on man, sin, the Holy Spirit, eschatology, politics. We had to choose between depth and spread, and we chose depth. We have much more material in hand, and someday we may be able to use it, especially if there is sufficient demand for it.
I wish to express my gratitude to Prof. Louise P. Smith who collaborated with me, especially in preparing the Old Testament passages. Her knowledge of Scripture and Calvin, her patience and good sense, her encouragement, have been invaluable in this laborious undertaking. I am also grateful to the editors and the publisher for their help, and to Mrs. George W. Baird who typed the major part of the manuscript. I wish to thank Rev. Kenneth M. Keeler and the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Fe, New Mexico, for giving me a study where I worked happily for seven months. My thanks are due also to Prof. Calvin Schmitt of the McCormick Theological Seminary Library for the bibliographical help he gave me, and to Prof. Edward A. Dowey, Jr., for his criticisms and suggestions, especially with regard to the Introduction.
McCormick Theological Seminary,
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