Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 31: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MARK 3:13-19; LUKE 6:12-19
13. And he went up into a mountain, and called to him whom he would: and they came to him. 14. And he appointed twelve to be with him, and send them forth to preach, 15. And to have powers of healing diseases, and of casting out devils. 16. And to Simon he gave the name Peter. 17. And James th son of Zebedee, and John, the brother of James: and he gave them the names of Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder. 18. And Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James (son) of Alpheus, and Thaddeus, and Simon the Canaanite, 19. And Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.
12. And it happened in those days, he went out into a mountain to pray, and he spent the whole night in prayer to God. 13. And when it was day, he called his disciples, and chose twelve from among them, whom he also called Apostles: 14. Simon, whom he also called Peter, and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, 15. Matthew and Thomas, James (son) of Alpheus, and Simon, who is called Zelotes, 16. And Judas (brother) of James, and Judas Iscariot, who also was the traitor. 17. And going down with them, he stood in a plain, and a multitude of his disciples, and a very great multitude of people out of all Judea and Jerusalem, and from the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18. Who had come to hear him, and to be healed from their diseases, and those who were tormented by unclean spirits were healed. 19. And the whole multitude sought to touch him, for virtue went out of him, and healed all.
Mark 3:13. And he went up into a mountain. By this election he does not yet ordain them to be Apostles, to enter immediately into the discharge of their office, but merely admits them to enjoy his private instructions 348 with a view to the apostleship. Commentators have fallen into a mistake here, by confounding those passages with the tenth chapter of the Gospel by Matthew. For the plain meaning of the words is, that they are only destined to a future commission, the bestowal of which is recorded by Matthew; and Mark and Luke will be found afterwards relating, in its proper place, the mission which Matthew there describes. And we need not wonder, if their heavenly Master chose to train and accustom them gradually to so arduous an employment: for, even by a long course of instruction, their ignorance could not be corrected.
Both the Evangelists say, that Christ went up into a mountain. Luke explains the cause to have been, that he might pray with greater freedom in his retirement, which he was accustomed to do frequently, as is evident from other passages. Now, this example ought to be regarded by us as a perpetual rule, to begin with prayer, when we are about to choose pastors to churches: otherwise, what we attempt will not succeed well. And certainly our Lord prayed, not so much on his own account, as to lay down a rule for us. We are deficient in prudence and skill; and though our sagacity were of the highest order, nothing is more easy than to be deceived in this matter. Granting that we were in no danger of mistake, if the Lord does not regulate our affections, with what force, or rather violence, shall we be carried away 349 by favor and prepossession, or hatred or ambition? Besides, though the election were conducted in the very best manner, all will be unsuccessful, unless the Lord take under his guidance those who are elected, and furnish them with the necessary gifts. “What then?” it will be said, “did not Christ earnestly implore the Father to preside in the election?” This I readily acknowledge, and I have also to state, that this was a declaration and acknowledgment of his care for his Church. Accordingly, he did not pray to the Father in the ordinary manner, but spent the whole night in prayer. But if he, who was full of the Holy Spirit, (Joh 3:34,) implored the Father, with such ardor and earnestness, to preside in the election, how much greater need have we to do so?
He called to him whom he would. By this expression, I have no doubt, Mark conveys to us the instruction, that it was to the unmixed grace of Christ, and not to any excellence of their own, that they were indebted for receiving so honorable an office: for, if you understand him to say, that those were chosen, who were more excellent than others, this will not apply to Judas. The meaning, therefore, is the apostle-ship was not bestowed on account of any human merits; but, by the free mercy of God, persons, who were altogether unworthy of it, were raised to that high rank; and thus was fulfilled what Christ says on another occasion, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” (Joh 15:16.) To the same effect Paul frequently speaks, extolling the purpose of God in bestowing on him the apostleship, (Eph 3:7; Col 1:25.)
But here many questions arise. First, why did our Lord deliberately choose Judas, who, he perfectly knew, was unworthy of the honor, and would be his betrayer? Secondly, why did God, after being so earnestly supplicated by his Son, and as if he had given a refusal to Christ, permit a base and wicked man to find his way to the highest rank in his Church? 350 Thirdly, why did he resolve that the first-fruits 351 of his Church should be stained by so foul a disgrace? Fourthly, how came it, that Jesus Christ, knowingly and willingly, preferred Judas to honest and faithful ministers?
The first objection is met by the following reply. Our Lord expressly intended to prevent future offenses, that we may not feel excessive uneasiness, when unprincipled men occupy the situation of teachers in the Church, or when professors of the Gospel become apostates. He gave, at the same time, in the person of one man, an instance of fearful defection, 352 that those who occupy a higher rank may not indulge in self-complacency. At the same time, with regard to the second question, we do not admit that our Lord suffered a refusal. 353 This answer will serve also for the third question. At the very beginning, it was judged proper to give an early demonstration of the future state of the Church, that weak persons might not stumble on account of the fall of a reprobate; for it is not proper, that the stability of the Church should depend on men. With regard to the last objection, Christ did not prefer Judas to devout and holy disciples, but raised him to an eminence from which he was afterwards to fall, and thus intended to make him an example and instruction to men of every condition and of every age, that no one may abuse the honor which God has conferred upon him, and likewise that, when even the pillars fall, those who appear to be the weakest of believers may remain steady.
Luke 6:13. Whom also he named Apostles. This may be explained in two ways: either that, at a subsequent period, when he introduced them into their office, he gave them this name, — or that, with a view to their future rank, he bestowed on them this title, in order to inform them why they were separated from the ordinary class, and for what purpose they were destined. The latter view agrees well with the words of Mark: for he says, that Christ appointed twelve to be with him, and to send them forth to preach. He intended to make them his companions, that they might afterwards receive a higher rank: for, as I have already explained, when he says, to be with him, and to send them forth to preach, he does not mean that both were to take place at the same time.
Mark 3:16. And to Simon he gave the name Peter. Though all Christians must be living stones 354 , of the spiritual temple, yet Christ gave this name peculiarly to Simon, according to the measure of grace which he intended to bestow upon him. This is not inconsistent with the shameful weakness which he manifested in denying his Lord: for this title showed his invincible power and steadiness, which continued till his death. Yet it is absurd in the Papists to infer from this, that the Church is founded on him, as will afterwards be more fully explained, (Mt 16:18.) Christ called the sons of Zebedee sons of thunder, because he was to give them a powerful voice, that they might thunder throughout the whole world. 355 And that thunder is heard, in the present day, from the mouth of John. As to his brother, there can be no doubt that, so long as he lived, he shook the earth. The word has been corrupted: for the full pronunciation would be בני רגש, (Benae-regesh;) 356 but the changes which words undergo in passing into other languages are well known.
“Pour ses disciples et escoliers domestiques;” — “for his disciples and private scholars.”
“Destournez et transportez hors du droit chemin;” — “turned and carried away out of the right road.”
“Pourquoy Dieu estant prie et requis si ardemment par son Fils, asouffert qu'un mechant et mal-heureux traitre fust eleve au rang le plus honorable de son Eglise, comme si Jesus Christ n'eust point este exauce?” — “Why did God, when entreated and requested so earnestly by his Son, permit a wicked and unhappy traitor to be elevated to the most honorable rank in his Church, as if Jesus Christ had not been listened to?”
“Les premices et premier commencement de son Eglise;” — “the first-fruits and first beginning of his Church.”
“Un revoltement et cheute horrible;” — “a dreadful rebellion and fall.”
“Cependant nous ne dirons pas que Christ a este esconduit, veu que le pere par un conseil admirable, mettant un diable en la compagnie d’onze Anges, a toutesfois tellement modere l’issue, que la cheute de cestuy-la a plustost conferme que non pas esbranle la foyde son Eglise.” — “Yet we will not say that Christ was refused, since the Father, by a wonderful purpose, putting a devil into the company of eleven angels, has, at the same time, so guided the result, that the fall of this man, instead of shaking, has rather confirmed, the faith of his Church.”
This alludes to the Greek word Πέτρος, (Peter,) which literally signifies a stone. We shall afterwards find (Mt 16:18) that our Lord makes express reference to the meaning of the name. — Ed.
“Afin qu’ils tonnassent par tout le monde en preschant;” — “in order that they might thunder throughout the whole world in preaching.”
Philologists have been a good deal perplexed by this word. There is even some difficulty in settling the Greek orthography: for conflicting manuscripts present us with the various forms of Βοανηργές, Βοανεργής, and Βοανεργείς. The name is unquestionably of Hebrew origin. Some of the derivations, which have been given, are so far-fetched as not to deserve refutation. There is plausibility in Jerome's hypothesis, that it comes from רעם, (Ragam,) thunder. But the substitution of final, ς for μ has never been satisfactorily explained. Admitting that ές or ής, is a Greek termination, the absence of the final and radical Mem (ם) is too violent a supposition. After many trials, scholars are pretty nearly agreed, that they must return to the derivation which is suggested by our author, and which some writers have illustrated and defended by a considerable array of learning. — Ed.