John Calvin:
“And the Word Became Flesh”

John Calvin (1509-1564) was a leading theologian and proponent of the Protestant Reformation. His work was centered mainly in Geneva, Switzerland.

“And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us….” Here John teaches the nature of the coming of Christ: clothed in our flesh, He showed Himself openly to the world. Although the Evangelist touches only briefly upon the ineffable mystery of the Son of God putting on human nature, this brevity is wonderfully clear.
Flesh. This word “flesh” expresses his meaning more forcibly than if he had said that He was made man. He wanted to show to what a low and abject state the Son of God descended from the height of His heavenly glory for our sake.

When Scripture speaks of man derogatorily, it calls him “flesh.” How great is the distance between the spiritual glory of the Word of God and the stinking filth of our flesh! Yet the Son of God stooped so low as to take to Himself that flesh addicted to so many wretchednesses. “Flesh” here is not used for corrupt nature, but for mortal man. It denotes derogatorily his frail and almost transient nature: “all flesh is grass” (Isa. 40:6) and similar verses.

The plain sense in this verse is that the Word begotten of God before all ages, and ever dwelling with the Father, became man. Here there are two chief articles of belief: First, in Christ two natures were united in one person in such a way that one and the same Christ is true God and man. Secondly, the unity of His person does not prevent His natures from remaining distinct, so that the divinity retains whatever is proper to it and the humanity likewise has separately what belongs to it. When he says that the Word became flesh, we can plainly infer the unity of His person, since it is God who is said to have become man. In short, the Son of God began to be man in such a way that He is still that eternal Word who had no temporal beginning.

“Full of grace and truth.” When Christ walked upon the waters, when He put devils to flight and revealed His power in other miracles, He could indeed be recognized as the only begotten Son of God. But the Evangelist puts at the center that part of the proof from which faith receives the sweet fruit of Christ, declaring that He is the inexhaustible fount of grace and truth. The fullness of grace in Christ is the well from which we all must draw.

In God, indeed, is the fountain of life, righteousness, power and wisdom; but this fountain is hidden and inaccessible to us. Yet in Christ the wealth of all these things is laid before us that we may seek them in Him. Of His own will He is ready to flow to us, if only we make way for Him by faith.

He declares briefly that we should not seek any blessing at all outside Christ. God has willed that whatever is good shall dwell in Him alone. Therefore, we shall find heaven empty, the earth barren, and all things worthless, if we want to partake of God’s gifts otherwise than through Christ. We need not fear that we shall lack anything, if only we draw from the fullness of Christ, which is in every way so perfect that we shall find it to be an inexhaustible fountain indeed. When Christ was revealed in the flesh, the blessings were poured out, as it were, with a full hand, even to satisfaction.

We are watered with the graces which were poured out on Christ. For not only as God does Christ bestow upon us what we receive from Him, but the Father conferred upon Him what would flow to us as through a channel. This is the anointing which was liberally poured upon Him that He might anoint us all along with Him. It is for this reason, too, that He is called Christ, and we, Christians. Since, therefore, God reveals Himself to us by Christ alone, it follows that we should seek all things from Christ.

Adapted from Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries—The Gospel of John, Part I. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 1961, pp. 19-25. Trans. by T.H.L. Parker. First published in 1553.