Own Your Ignorance

“In our daily reading of Scripture we come upon many obscure passages that convict us of ignorance” – John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.2.4

This statement from Calvin is striking. At the time Calvin is writing this he is widely regarded as the leading theologian of the Reformation. No one else had produced such a systematic exposition of the faith in that day, explaining the Bible and how people could understand it as they came away from what “they had always heard” from the Catholic Church. And, it is clear from letters, Calvin was aware of the leadership role he had and how people looked up to him. If ever someone might be excused for thinking he might be justified in hiding what he did not know or understand, it could be Calvin at this time. But, he does not hide his ignorance. He does not try to present himself as more than he is. He boldly proclaims in his magnum opus that he is regularly, in his daily reading of Scripture, convicted of his own ignorance as he comes upon passages he cannot understand. He wrote commentaries on almost every book of the Bible, but he is regularly convicted of his own ignorance.

Pastor or Bible professor, do you acknowledge when you just don’t know the answer to a question? Or do you seek to cover your ignorance with some pious or technical obfuscation to keep up an image? Drop the charade. We can’t know everything and even some things we should know we won’t know or will forget. Don’t be afraid to simply say, “Sorry, I don’t know. I will look into it.” It is humbling and, sometimes, even humiliating. But it is real and honest. It’s also a relief. There is only one perfect man, one Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). Don’t try to impersonate Him, just rest in Him. And point the people to Him, not yourself.


  1. I agree that Calvin’s statement is both refreshing and liberating. It doesn’t give us a pass to be lazy or to be negligent in our handling of the Word. Rather, Calvin’s statement reminds us that finite humans will always have much to learn about an infinite God.

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