John Calvin on the “Silent Period of Prophecy” Between the Testaments

I’m reading a fascinating essay entitled “Adopted in Christ, Appointed to the Slaughter: Calvin’s Interpretation of the Maccabean Psalms”  by Keith Stanglin. It is part of a festschrift in honor of James De Jong called Biblical Interpretation and Doctrinal Formulation in the Reformed Tradition edited by Arie C. Leder and Richard Muller. Calvin believed that some of the Psalms were better interpreted as describing the Maccabean situation. “With varying degrees of confidence” he believed this of Psalms 44, 74, 79, 85, 106, 123, and 129. Stanglin notes that Calvin “was simply following a long-standing and revered tradition of interpretation.” (73) “This fact,” Stanglin observes, “has seldom been recorded in secondary scholarship, and I have not found any works pursuing this topic with any depth.” (71) Readers of Calvin’s commentaries on the Psalms would know this.

One of the questions that this dating raises is “What are the implications for authorship and the so-called ‘silent period’ of prophecy?” Calvin’s answer may surprise you. Stanglin writes:

“One obvious implication of Calvin’s late date for these select psalms must be addressed: the so-called ‘silent period.’ The statement of Josephus may be cited as emblematic: ‘From Artaxerxes to our own time the complete history has been written but has not been deemed worthy of equal credit with the earlier records, because of the failure of the exact succession of the prophets.’ On similar grounds, some Protestant commentators of the following century rejected Calvin’s late date for these psalms. Calvin himself, though he held a similar opinion of the centuries immediately preceding Christ, did not view this period as entailing a strict cessation of the prophetic Spirit.” (82)

Here’s Calvin’s comment on Psalm 106:

“And although subsequent to the times of Haggai and Malachi, no famous prophets appeared among the people, it is nevertheless probable that some of the priests were endued with the prophetic Spirit, in order that they might direct them to the source whence they might receive all needful consolation. It is my opinion, that after they were dispersed by the tyranny of Antichous, this form of prayer was adapted to the present necessity, in which the people, by reflecting upon their former history, might acknowledge that their fathers had, in ways innumerable, provoked God to wrath, since the time he had delivered them.”

Stanglin continues, “Calvin qualifies the common opinion about the silent years by saying that there were no ‘famous prophets,’ but the prophetic Spirit still worked to inspire some priests and Levites during the Maccabean period, when Psalm 106 may have been written. For Calvin, it would be difficult to call this a cessation or silent period at all, but rather a decrease in the Spirit’s work, resulting, in say, a ‘quieter period.’ The writers of these psalms, even if not ‘famous,’ can still be called prophets. More importantly, despite the common opinion then and now, Calvin’s exegesis affirms that God’s prophetic Spirit had not abandoned His people during this time of oppression.” (82-83)

Biblical Interpretation

Biblical Interpretation and Doctrinal Formulation in the Reformed Tradition is from Reformation Heritage Books. It is a paperback with 338 pages and sells for $25.00.


About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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