Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 31: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
ON THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST
ACCORDING TO MATTHEW, MARK, AND LUKE
In order to read with profit the Evangelical history, it is of great importance to understand the meaning of the word Gospel. 10 We shall thus be enabled to ascertain what design those heavenly witnesses had in writing, and to what object the events related by them must be referred. That their histories did not receive this name from others, but were so denominated by the Authors, is evident from Mark, who expressly says (Mr 1:1) that he relates the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is one passage in the writings of Paul, from which above all others a clear and certain definition of the word Gospel may be obtained, where he tells us that it ...
was promised by God in the Scriptures, through the prophets, concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was made of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of sanctification, by the resurrection from the dead,
First, this passage shows that the Gospel is a testimony of the revealed salvation, which had been formerly promised to the Fathers in an uninterrupted succession of ages. It points out, at the same time, a distinction between the promises which kept the hope of the people in suspense, and this joyful message, by which God declares that he has accomplished those things which he had formerly required them to expect. 11 In the same manner he states a little afterwards, that in the Gospel
the righteousness of God is openly manifested, which was testified by the Law and the Prophets, (Ro 3:21.)
The same apostle calls it, in another passage, an Embassy by which the reconciliation of the world to God, once accomplished by the death of Christ, is daily offered to men, (2Co 5:20.)
Secondly, Paul means not only that Christ is the pledge of all the blessings that God has ever promised, but that we have in him a full and complete exhibition of them; as he elsewhere declares that all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him amen, (2Co 1:20.) And, indeed, the freely bestowed adoption, by which we are made sons of God, as it proceeds from the good pleasure which the Father had from eternity, has been revealed to us in this respect, that Christ (who alone is the Son of God by nature) has clothed himself with our flesh, and made us his brethren. That satisfaction by which sins are blotted out, so that we are no longer under the curse and the sentence of, death, is to be found nowhere else than in the sacrifice of his death. Righteousness, and salvation, and perfect happiness, are founded on his resurrection.
The Gospel, therefore, is a public exhibition of the Son of God manifested in the flesh, (1Ti 3:16,) to deliver a ruined world, and to restore men from death to life. It is justly called a good and joyful message, for it contains perfect happiness. Its object is to commence the reign of God, and by means of our deliverance from the corruption of the flesh, and of our renewal by the Spirit, to conduct us to the heavenly glory. For this reason it is often called the kingdom of heaven, and the restoration to a blessed life, which is brought to us by Christ, is sometimes called the kingdom of God: as when Mark says that Joseph waited for the kingdom of God, (Mr 15:43,) he undoubtedly refers to the coming of the Messiah.
Hence it is evident that the word Gospel applies properly to the New Testament, and that those writers are chargeable with a want of precision, 12 who say that it was common to all ages, and who suppose that the Prophets, equally with the Apostles, were ministers of the Gospel. Widely different is the account which Christ gives us, when he says, that
the law and the prophets were till John, and that since that time the kingdom of God began to be preached, (Lu 16:16.)
Mark, too, as we mentioned a little ago, declares that the preaching of John was the beginning of the Gospel, (Joh 1:1.) Again, the four histories, which relate how Christ discharged the office of Mediator, have with great propriety received this designation. As the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ contain the whole of our salvation, and are therefore the peculiar subject of the Gospel, the name of Evangelists is justly and suitably applied to those who place before our eyes Christ who has been sent by the Father, that our faith may acknowledge him to be the Author of a blessed life.
The power and results of his coming are still more fully expressed in other books of the New Testament. And even in this respect John differs widely from the other three Evangelists: for he is almost wholly occupied in explaining the power of Christ, and the advantages which we derive from him; while they insist more fully on one point, that our Christ is that Son of God who had been promised to be the Redeemer of the world. They interweave, no doubt, the doctrine which relates to the office of Christ, and inform us what is the nature of his grace, and for what purpose he has been given to us; but they are principally employed, as I have said, in showing that in the person of Jesus Christ has been fulfilled what God had promised from the beginning. 13 They had no intention or design to abolish by their writings the law and the prophets; as some fanatics dream that the Old Testament is superfluous, now that the truth of heavenly wisdom has been revealed to us by Christ and his Apostles. On the contrary, they point with the finger to Christ, and admonish us to seek from him whatever is ascribed to him by the law and the prophets. The full profit and advantage, therefore, to be derived from the reading of the Gospel will only be obtained when we learn to connect it with the ancient promises.
With regard to the three writers of the Evangelical history, whom I undertake to expound, Matthew is sufficiently known. Mark is generally supposed to have been the private friend and disciple of Peter. It is even believed that he wrote the Gospel, as it was dictated to him by Peter, and thus merely performed the office of an amanuensis or clerk. 14 But on this subject we need not give ourselves much trouble, for it is of little importance to us, provided only we believe that he is a properly qualified and divinely appointed witness, who committed nothing to writing, but as the Holy Spirit directed him and guided his pen. There is no ground whatever for the statement of Jerome, that his Gospel is an abridgment of the Gospel by Matthew. He does not everywhere adhere to the order which Matthew observed, and from the very commencement handles the subjects in a different manner. Some things, too, are related by him which the other had omitted, and his narrative of the same event is sometimes more detailed. It is more probable, in my opinion — and the nature of the case warrants the conjecture — that he had not seen Matthew’s book when he wrote his own; so far is he from having expressly intended to make an abridgment.
I have the same observation to make respecting Luke: for we will not say that the diversity which we perceive in the three Evangelists was the object of express arrangement, but as they intended to give an honest narrative of what they knew to be certain and undoubted, each followed that method which he reckoned best. Now as this did not happen by chance, but by the direction of Divine Providence, so under this diversity in the manner of writing the Holy Spirit suggested to them an astonishing harmony, which would almost be sufficient of itself to secure credit to them, if there were not other and stronger evidences to support their authority.
Luke asserts plainly enough that he is the person who attended Paul. But it is a childish statement which Eusebius makes, that Paul is the Author of the Gospel which bears the name of Luke, because in one passage he mentions his Gospel, 15 (2Ti 2:8.) As if what follows did not make it clear that Paul is speaking of his whole preaching, and not of a single book: for he adds, for which I suffer trouble, even to bonds, (2Ti 2:9.) Now, it is certain that he was not held guilty 16 of having written a book, but of having administered and preached with the living voice the doctrine of Christ. Eusebius, whose industry was great, discovers here a singular want of judgment in collecting without discrimination such gross absurdities. On this head I have thought it necessary to warn my readers, that they may not be shocked at fooleries of the same description which occur in every part of his history.
Of that method of interpretation which I have chosen to adopt, and which it may be many persons, at first sight, will not approve, it will be proper to give some account for the satisfaction of pious and candid readers. First, it is beyond all dispute, that it is impossible to expound, in a proper and successful manner, any one of the Evangelists, without comparing him with the other two; and, accordingly, faithful and learned commentators spend a very great portion of their labor on reconciling the narratives of the three Evangelists. But as it frequently happens that persons of ordinary abilities find the comparison to be no easy matter, when it is necessary to pass at every turn from the one to the other, I thought that it might prove to be a seasonable and useful abridgment of their labor, if I were to arrange the three histories in one unbroken chain, or in a single picture, in which the reader may perceive at a glance the resemblance or diversity that exists. In this way I shall leave out nothing that has been written by any of the three Evangelists; and whatever may be found in more than one of them will be collected into one place.
Whether or not I have succeeded to my expectation, the reader must decide by his own experience. So far from claiming the praise of having brought out something new, I readily acknowledge, as becomes an honest man, that I have adopted this method in imitation of others. Bucer, a man of revered memory, and an eminent teacher of the Church of God, who above all others appears to me to have labored successfully in this field, has been especially my model. As he availed himself of the labors of the ancients who had traveled this road before him, so my toils have been not a little alleviated by his industry and application. Where I use the liberty of differing from him, (which I have freely done, whenever it was necessary,) Bucer himself, if he were still an inhabitant of the earth, would not be displeased.
Evangelium in Latin, Evangile in French, and Evangell in old English, are derived, with little alteration, from the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον, which is compounded of εὖ, well, and ἀγγελία, a message, and signifies glad news. The English word Gospel is of Saxon derivation, and is determined by its etymology to signify God’s word; but must have acquired, at a very early period, the meaning of the Greek word for which it has been adopted as a translation. In the margin of the celebrated Geneva Testament, printed A.D. 1557, Gospel is thus defined: — “This worde signifieth good tidinges, and is taken here for the storie which conteineth the joyful message of the comming of the Sonne of God.” — Ed
“Ce qu’il avoit auparavant commande a tous fideles d’attendre et esperer;” — “which he had formerly commanded all believers to expect and hope.”
“Que c’est aucunement confondre les termes;” — “that it is in a manner a confounding of words.”
“Des le commencement du monde;” — “from the beginning of the world.”
“En sorte qu il ait seulement este escrivain sous luy;” — “so that he was only a writer under him.”
“Se fondant sur une passage ou il fait mention de son Evangile;” — “founding on a passage in which he makes mention of his Gospel,” (according to my gospel.)
“Il n’avoit este accuse, et emprisonne;” — “he was not accused and imprisoned.”