The Lost Letter to the Corinthians

This story is interesting because it shows us a Calvin we can relate to.

In late July 1546, he sent the manuscript—the only copy of the manuscript—by way of a courier to Strasbourg. It was handwritten. No backup. It was typical for a copy to be made, but Calvin did not want to waste the extra time to making a copy. That was likely a miscalculation. Not long after the only copy left with the courier, it went missing. For a whole month, it disappeared. Another roadblock. Back in Geneva was a very anxious Calvin. He wrote, “If I find that my commentary is lost, I have decided to never touch Paul again.”

 

A book on Calvin, John Calvin and the Printed Book by Jean- François Gilmont, tells a rather intriguing story. But first, we need some background. Calvin was kicked out of Geneva in 1538 and went to Strasbourg. While there, he published his first commentary, on the epistle to the Romans. It rolled off the press in 1540. The next year, 1541, the city of Geneva begged Calvin to come back. He wrote to a friend, “There is no place under heaven of which I can have a greater dread.” But he felt called by God, and so he went.

When he published his Romans commentary, he was determined to keep going through Paul’s epistles. But a roadblock got in the way, a roadblock named Geneva. The church needed Calvin’s full attention, and he gave it to them. So, these early years of the 1540s were much consumed by church work. The commentary writing went to the back burner. Calvin eventually managed to find some equilibrium and started writing again. His commentary on 1 Corinthians came out in 1546. And now we get to our story.

After he sent off his commentary on 1 Corinthians to the printer in Strasbourg, Calvin set to work on 2 Corinthians. He finished it in a flurry. From what we can tell, Calvin’s record was 17,000 words in about three days. That’s one hundred pages. So, at that pace, he finished 2 Corinthians.

In late July 1546, he sent the manuscript—the only copy of the manuscript—by way of a courier to Strasbourg. It was handwritten. No backup. It was typical for a copy to be made, but Calvin did not want to waste the extra time to making a copy. That was likely a miscalculation. Not long after the only copy left with the courier, it went missing. For a whole month, it disappeared. Another roadblock. Back in Geneva was a very anxious Calvin. He wrote, “If I find that my commentary is lost, I have decided to never touch Paul again.”2 His friends weren’t of much help. Rather than console him, William Farel wrote to him, “Given that mothers do not neglect their children, you too, should have sent out this fruit of the Lord with greater care.”3 Ouch. Apparently, Farel was reading the account of Job’s friends and mistakenly thought it was a command.

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