It is clear to any reader of the works of John Calvin that he had a very high view of the truthfulness of Scripture. There are a handful of passages, however, where some have detected hints that the great Reformer thought that the Bible might err in matters of detail. These are categorised by J.I. Packer as follows:-
- Passages in which God accommodates himself to human forms of thought and expression. Thus, Calvin did not think that we should look to Genesis 1 for scientific teaching on astronomy.
- Passages in which thoughts are expressed that do not measure up to the standard of inspired utterance. For example, Calvin concedes that in Psa 88:5 ‘the prophet spoke less advisedly than he ought to have done’. But Calvin did not see this as a problem for he did not see the psalm as didactic, teaching a doctrine of the after-life, but experiential, giving voice to the feelings of distress often felt by the afflicted.
- Passages affected by errors of scribal transmission. For example, of Mt 27:9 Calvin confesses that he does not know how the name of Jeremiah ‘crept in’.
- Passages in which the is loose quotation by New Testament authors of Old Testament passages. Calvin insists that such quotations are faithful paraphrases designed to bring out the original meaning and application.
- Passages in which there may be a formal inaccuracy, as when Gospel writers have different arrangements of their material, preferring a topical or theological order. Of Acts 7:14 Calvin suggests that the writer has chosen to leave the Septuagint’s mistranslation uncorrected, so as not to distract his readers from the point he was making.
Packer, Selected Shorter Writings IV, 154f.