Becker Bible Studies Library
Christian theologian during the Protestant
John Calvin was born July 10, 1509 in Noyon, Picardie, France and died May 27, 1564 in Geneva Switzerland. He was a French Christian theologian during the Protestant Reformation and the founder of Calvinism.
He was never ordained into the Roman Priesthood but rather studied Greek and Hebrew and recieved training in Aristotelian philosophy. Calvin experienced a sudden conversion in the spring of 1532 and the spring of 1534. He believed God had changed his course and religion was placed first in his heart and in his thoughts.
John Calvin published numerous revisions of his Institutes of the Christian Religion. He also produced a commentary on most of the books of the Bible. He did not publish commentaries on the books after Joshua; with the exception of First Samuel and the Wisdom literature and the Book of Psalms. Calvin excluded the second and third Epistles of John and the Book of Revelation.
John Calvin was the founder of Calvinism. He believed in a reformed church. His theological system spread to Scotland, the Netherlands, parts of Germany and France, Hungary, and Poland. Calvinism then spread to America and the Mid Atlantic, New England. The Puritans and Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam, which later became New York, were Calvinists.
Calvin founded a school for training children and set up a hospital for the indigents in 1559. He considered himself a pastor and theologian and an influential thinker who sought to apply Biblical principles to every aspect of life.
He was never considered a popular theologian. The historians portray Calvin as being cold, unfeeling and stern to his followers. They fault Calvin for demanding his followers to be obedient and severely punishing the slightest deviation from his strict moral code.
The historians often defend their opinion of John Calvin through the example of his approvel for the execution of Michael Servetue, who was one of the founders of Unitarianism, in 1553. Michael Servetur, a Spanish physician and theologian who argued powerfully and effectively against Trinitaria, was executed for heresy after being reported by Calvin. Servetus had escaped the Catholic Inquisition and appeared in Geneva where John Calvin recognized him, and insisted on his arrest. Servetur was found guilty of heresy, and burned at the stake with the unanimous approval of the Protestant Swiss Cities.
John Calvin was eight years old when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses in 1517. His father was an attorney and valued education so much that he sent Calvin at the age of fourteen to the University of Paris where he studied humanities and law. John Calvin became a Doctor of Law in 1532.
John Calvin was influenced by the reformer William Farel in Geneva Switzerland. William Farel asked Calvin to help him with the cause of the church. Together they drew up a catechism and a confession of faith which they insisted all citizens must affirm. They tried to institute changes to the city government as well as the religious life. The city council refused to adopt the creed.
In January 1538, Calvin and Farel were denied the power to excommunicate, which was critical to their work. Calvin and Farel retaliated by denying the Lord’s Supper to those in Geneva at the Easter service.
John Calvin and William Farel were expelled from the city of Geneva. John Calvin went to Strasbourg France and William Farel went to Neuchatel, France after being exiled from Geneva and accused of trying to create a new papacy.
He served as a lecturer and pastor to a church of French Huguenots while in Strasbourg. This is when Calvin married Idelette de Bure. A Catholic cardinal from Geneva gave an open invitation to the city council inviting Geneva to return to the Mother Church. Calvin responded on behalf of the Protestants of Geneva which helped to regain the respect he had lost and in 1541 he was invited back to Geneva.
John Calvin returned to Geneva and immediately started reforming the church. Calvin was interested in establishing a Reformed Church as well as establishing moral legitimacy of the church reform program for families and communities. Calvin established four categories of offices: Doctors, Pastors, Deacons, and Elders.
Doctors held an office of theological scholarship. They taught for the instruction of people and had the responsibility of training other ministers.
Pastors had the office of preaching and administering the sacraments. The pastors had the responsibility to teach, admonish and discipline the people.
Deacons had the office to oversee the institutional charities which included hospitals and programs against poverty.
Elders were twelve laymen who had the office to serve as examples and moral authorities. They could issue warnings to moral offenders. The Elders could refer offenders to the ecclesiastical court that consisted of the elders and pastors. Offenders charged with moral infraction, like vulgar or rude dancing or singing (considered major offenses) would be promoting false doctrine. Punishments might be for the offenders to attend lengthy sermons, catechism classes, floggings or torture.
John Calvin suffered from migraines, gout, kidney stones and lung hemorrhages. There were times when Calvin was carried to his pulpit to preach. He spent his quiet time reading scripture on Lake Geneva. John Calvin died May 27, 1564 in Geneva Switzerland.
John Calvin is mostly associated with his doctrine of predestination. More than any other doctrine he held, it was his belief in predestination that Calvin that excluded appreciation given to him as a theologian. Calvin affirmed there was a difference among those who had a common nature. He believed some natures were dark and some were illuminated, and others were blind. Calvin believed the only reason for the different natures had to do with how God destined them.
He believed God destined those He was pleased to salvation, and rejected the rest. Those who God had dignified by gratuitous adoption, God illumined by His Spirit and they would receive life offered in Christ. Others who voluntarily disbelieved would remain in darkness.
Calvin taught the faith and repentance found in the elect are themselves a gift of God. Calvin called predestination the eternal decree of God, by which God determines what He wills to become of each human beings Calvin taught not all are created in equal condition; but eternal life is foreordained for some and eternal damnation for others. John Calvin taught that God alone knows who the elect or saved are and who is not considered the elect. He taught a moral life shows that a person is or is not one of the elect.
John Calvin spent his life intensely moral and energetic. It was the example of John Calvin that impressed others to focus on their need to work out their salvation. The example of Calvin taught others it was important not to be saved but to show that they are saved. The main characteristic of Calvinism is to stress the doing in an effort to transform a sinful world.
John Calvin believed in marriage over celibacy. To prove this he asked his friends to help him find a woman who was modest, obliging, not extravagant, not haughty, who was patient and interested in his health. He married a widow who had converted Anabaptist in Strasbourg, France in 1539.
John Calvin taught on the nature of faith there was a direct relation between faith and the merciful promises of God. He believed faith is founded upon the truth of the gracious promise of God in Christ. He taught faith was revealed to the minds and sealed in the hearts by the Holy Spirit and believed faith should be certain and secure. Calvin did acknowledge there was a perpetual struggle for the believers with their lack of faith (Institutes, Book III, chapter 2, section 17). Calvin believed that no matter how much a believer struggled with faith they should always know they had divine mercy.
Calvinism was established around the absolute power and supremacy of God. He taught the world was created so mankind could get to know God. He believed man was sinful and could only approach God through faith in Christ.
John Calvin taught what is known of God is known by revelation. He taught what God reveals of Himself is communicated in the preaching through men speaking to men, and in the sacraments. Calvin believed a true and full knowledge of God is only available through the Scripture and believed the Old and New Testament are a continuation of each other. He did not believe that the Old Testament contained “gospel” and the New Testament contained “law” as was suggested by Martin Luther. Calvin believed the New Testament, Baptism and the Eucharist had been created to provide man with continual divine guidance when they sought after faith.
John Calvin's teachings on redemption were based on his belief that God created man with an immortal soul and a mortal body. He believed God created man in His likeness and made man free from any evil, giving him a pleasant garden to enjoy with the exception of one tree in which all life was hidden. The first man touched the tree of life, bringing death to mankind and making them no longer like God. Calvin believed this was the primary original sin.
Calvin taught God had mercy on man. He taught Christ was the only begotten Son of God, and was conceived through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin. He taught that Christ finally rose up on the cross, and through His own death delivered all human from eternal death.
John Calvin's concept of Justification taught persons who are justified by faith is someone who, apart from the righteousness of works, has taken hold of the righteousness of Christ through faith, and is bathed in that righteousness, causing God to see a righteous person, rather than a sinner. Calvin concludes justification is to be the acceptance which God receives those into his favor as righteous people. He says justification consists of the remission of sins and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ. He taught that believers are not righteous in themselves, but on the righteousness of Christ.
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About the Author
Joanne B. Holstein is a Becker Bible Studies teacher and author of Guided Bible Studies for Hungry Christians. She has received her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology/Christian Counseling with honors from Liberty University. She is well-known as a counsleor to Christian faithful who are struggling with tremendous burden in these difficult times. She is a leading authority on the history of development of the Christian churches and the practices and beliefs of world religions and cults.