Calvin Said That the Apostle’s Question in Acts 1:6 Was Foolish. Was it?

Jesus Instructs the ElevenJohn Calvin was a theologian par excellence and a brother in Christ that this author deeply admires.  However, like anyone else, Calvin was not free from bias when interpreting Scripture.

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Acts 1:6 (ESV)

As part of Calvin’s commentary on this verse he writes:

He showeth that the apostles were gathered together when as this question was moved, that we may know that it came not of the foolishness of one or two that it was moved, but it was moved by the common consent of them all; but marvelous is their rudeness, that when as they had been diligently instructed by the space of three whole years, they betray no less ignorance than if they had heard never a word. There are as many errors in this question as words.

Such a stinging rebuke of the apostle’s question must mean that it is painfully obvious as to how foolish it was.  And yet, that is not at all the case.  The question came from those who knew Jesus’ teachings better than anyone.  The apostles had matured considerably at this point.  No longer were they the fledgling followers that were rebuked for thinking they were supposed to literally eat Jesus’ flesh (John 6:60-63).  Jesus had since opened their minds to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45).  The apostles had witnessed the resurrected Christ and been commissioned to make disciples of all the nations, including teaching them to observe all the Christ had commanded (Matt. 18:19-20).  It would be a remarkable thing if those given such a weighty responsibility could not even get the concept of the kingdom correct.  How could they be competent in teaching on the kingdom to others?

The apostles had even just finished a forty day intensive where Jesus taught on the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).  On the heels of all of this, each of the eleven understood that the kingdom would be restored to Israel.  This is the context from which the question arose.

More telling than anything else is Jesus’ response to the question:

He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.  Acts 1:7

Calvin responds with:

This is a general reprehension of the whole question.

This is an amazing comment for Calvin to make.  It speaks to his presuppositions being read into what the text actually says.  Jesus is hardly denouncing the question.  He does not say that the apostles misunderstand what the kingdom is or that Israel is to never see it.  Rather, Jesus tells them that the time for the restoration of the kingdom to Israel is not for the apostles to know.  In other words, the kingdom will be restored to Israel at some point based on the Father’s timetable.

If the apostle’s question was filled with errors then they must have persisted in them even after Pentecost.  In speaking to the house of Israel from Solomon’s portico, Peter preaches:

“And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.  Acts 3:17-21

Peter explains to his fellow Jews that Jesus has fulfilled prophecies concerning Messiah’s suffering.  Peter then implores the men of Israel to repent so that they may experience times of refreshing.  This period of restoration is associated with the Second Coming of Christ Jesus.  Only then will the restoring spoken of by the prophets come to pass.  The prophecies concerning the First Coming of Messiah happened just as was written and therefore the prophecies concerning the Second Coming will as well.  This would certainly include the promises made by God that the Jews would be returned to and experience blessings in the Promised Land (e.g. Is. 11:11; Ezek. 36:24; Amos 9:15), with Jesus as their King reigning from Jerusalem (e.g. Is. 24:23; Zech. 14:17).  Jesus Himself said that the Jews would be restored to the land after the time of the Gentiles had ended (Luke 21:24; cf. Rom. 11:25-27).

The apostle’s question was not in the least bit foolish.  It was perfectly reasonable of them to want to know when the things that Jesus taught them about the kingdom would come to pass.

Comments

  1. No. The misunderstanding stemmed from the division between the true nature of the church (which had not yet been revealed by Paul) and Israel, which is why even Peter maybe misspoke about the times of refreshing coming…when history plays out that Jerusalem was destroyed no less than 40 years later. Was it misspeaking, or was it the leading of the Holy Spirit that told Peter to say what he said? I think Peter didn’t know either, and he said what he thought made sense, given the information he understood at time.

    I guess the same could be said about Calvin though, given the whole Calivinism vs. Arminianism debate raging for the last 400 years…

    • Matthew Ervin says:

      I don’t think Peter knew when the refreshing would occur. But I’m convinced that Peter knew that such a time would come and that he was inspired to say so. This is largely because the restoration prophecies are in connection with the Second Coming (Acts 3:21). Jerusalem’s destruction and the scattering was foretold but also that at a certain point the Jews would return to Jerusalem (Luke 21:24). Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

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