A Brief Study of Calvin’s Exposition of I John 1:9 and I John 2:2, Part 1


The great Reformed theologian of the 16th century, John Calvin, approximates the apex of Western Theology with his noble and insightful commentary series. In the distinct absence of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, penned by Saint John, Calvin wrote prolifically in sixty-five books of the Scriptures. In this brief study, the author wishes to expound on two key texts interpreted by Calvin.

Calvin’s argument for I John[1] is that above all, it is more than John’s doctrinal statement; rather it is “doctrines mixed with exhortations.”[2] The inevitable conclusion of I John is that doctrinal orthodoxy leads to love for the brothers.[3]

There are at least two texts in Calvin’s commentary that represent major questions for theological studies. These texts are: I John 1:9[4] and I John 2:2.[5]

I John 1:9

Calvin addresses one of the most comforting statements in all Scriptures. John writes that: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This conditional promise is grounded on the character of God. The “God who promises,” writes Calvin “is true and just.”[6] The condition however, does not stem from God’s character, rather from man’s infidelity. This text does not make an unconditional promise, but it assumes a synergistic work between God and man. As Calvin asserts, “…justice or righteousness here depends on fidelity, and both are annexed to the promise.”[7] The condition for forgiveness was established because God “bound himself to us by His word.”[8] He would have been perfectly just if He had exercised His divine wrath on sinful humanity.

The idea of confession (eva.n o`mologw/men ta.j a`marti,aj h`mw/n) becomes necessary because the Christian is “surrounded with flesh”[9] and is always in need of being reformed from unrighteousness. According to Calvin, unless one confesses his sins, he will “carry a hell within.”[10] If confession is no longer a part of the Christian activity, “hell reigns,” and there is no peace with God. But when confession is made, it leads to cleansing. The cleansing that comes through confession brings about a twofold fruit: “that God being reconciled by the sacrifice of Christ, forgives us,–and that He renews and reforms us.”[11]

This individual confession and fruits thereof, is never to be the only focus of Scriptures, since Paul in both Colossians (1:22) and Ephesians (5:27) apply this same principle to the Holy Church.[12] Both individual man and the glorious bride of Christ confess his/her sins so that cleansing may occur and that the entire Church might be without spot or wrinkle on that Day.

[1] Carson, D.A., and D. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, second edn. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 672. Carson and Moo argue that on the basis of the many parallels between the gospel of John and I John, the reader can be assured that the same John authored both books.

[2] Calvin, John, Calvin’s Commentaries, Volume XXII, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999). Reprinted, pg. 156.

[3] Carson and Moo testify to this truth in I John when they write that I John “was meant to be a pastoral letter to a congregation.” A pastoral -it may be assumed-is to have direct affect on how people ought to live. Carson, D.A., and D. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, second edn. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), pg.669.

[4] If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. All verses are translated by the author, unless otherwise noted.

[5] …and he is the propitiation concerning our sins, and not only concerning our sins, but also concerning the sins of the whole world.

[6] Calvin, 168.

[7] Ibid. 168.

[8] Ibid. 168.

[9] Ibid. 169.

[10] Ibid. 167.

[11] Ibid. 168.

[12] My main point here is that the Scriptures is both “catholic” and “individual.”

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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