Calvin on “What is
a true prophetic word ?”

There is but one true prophetic word, the one anchored in faith, which underestimates neither sin nor salvation.

  • Joseph explaining his dreams to Pharaoh- cartoon from Epinal (late 17th century) © RMN / Franck Raux
  • Jeremy Donatello Florence © Musée du Bargello

So I consider this matter finished, that the disregard of God and the profligacy in some countries cannot be linked to the stars. The resulting wrath of God should not be attributed to the stars (p 119). Indeed, when Joseph foretold the famine in Egypt, was it revealed in a conjunction of the stars ? On the contrary, he claimed it was a miraculous revelation. The Egyptians had thoroughly studied the heaven to determine what the stars predicted. Nevertheless, they did not predict the famine, and would have been surprised by it. God warned Pharaoh in a dream, and Joseph told him that it was a revelation from God (p 125).

Let us listen to what God says through the prophet Jeremiah ; that we should not be like the heathens who fear signs in the sky. I know the ploy used by some people, that we should not fear the stars as if they ruled us, but who still consider they have some subordinate power, guided by God. Considering the prophet was addressing the people of Israel who were tempted by such follies, as were the Chaldeans and Egyptians (p 121), he undoubtedly wanted to lead us back to God’s salvation, and away from the pointless anxiety of the heathens.

What did the prophets emphasise ?

  • Prophet Ezechiel © SHPF Fonds André
  • Prophet Isaiah © SHPF Fonds André
  • Prophet Daniel © SHPF Fonds André

Many a man who has let his thoughts wander through the heavens, no longer examines his life and his conscience, because he knows he is burdened with evil which kindles the wrath of God, from which comes war, famine, hail, frost and all such things Similarly those who expect happiness from the stars and rely on them only, no longer have faith in God, and are slow to confide in him as if they had already gained all to which they aspired…

But in the end it is nothing but a way out since everything threatened by the stars is an act of nature, it is not possible to imagine that our sins are not the cause. I leave aside their nonsensical and contradictory words claiming that the order God created for ever will be changed by intervention, as if God contradicted himself. We simply need the prophet’s intentions which are to oppose the heathens’ views on the stars, who imagine that their social and living status depends on them, and the knowledge believers must rely on that they are in God’s hands and will be blessed by Him, that they must serve him in good faith, and that all the hardships they encounter are retribution for their sins (p 122).

Following the example of the Ephesians

That is why, like the Ephesians, those who want to follow the Gospel must burn their magic books, in spite of their apparent value (Acts of the Apostles 19. 18-20). And they are then responsible, in their faithfulness to God, to put science back in its rightful place.

In fact when we take a good look at those who present this erroneous astrology, are they not presumptuous, extravagant or idle people who do not know what to busy themselves with or what to talk about ? like dandies, and other beaus or court gallants. They are not learned but are happy flitting about and flirting ; and (…) involving many simple people in their deceit (p 133-134).

This is one of the main reasons necessitating reform of the Church

  • Gutenberg Bible, 1463 © Fonds Société Biblique / Marc Gantier
  • Olivétan’s French Bible, 1535 edition by Pierre de Wingle in Neuchâtel © Fonds Société Biblique / Marc Gantier
  • Jean Calvin Autograph December 22, 1559

Everyone should be careful to keep faith in the priceless treasure of the Gospel ; for the fear of God will be a sure defence against going astray. Thus let us all follow this basic rule and dedicate our bodies and souls to God, and serve him in truth. Then let each of us find his calling and do his duty. Let literary scholars deal with useful topics, and not with trifling ones that merely distract fools. Let parents and children, scholars and simpletons, believe we were not meant to busy ourselves with useless matters, but that the aim of our activities must be to edify ourselves and others in the fear of God (p 133).

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