If Calvin were alive today would he be a six day creationist or a theistic evolutionist?
[Erik Guichelaar is originally from Wingham PRC in Canada, and is a student at the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary. This essay was one of the prize-winning entries announced at the recent Calvin Conference held in celebration of the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.]
It is in vain for any to reason as philosophers on the workmanship of the world,
except those who, having been first humbled by the preaching of the Gospel,
have learned to submit the whole of their intellectual wisdom (as Paul expresses it)
to the foolishness of the cross, (1 Cor. i. 21).
– John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, Argument –
Men see every day the heavens and the stars;
but who is there that thinks about their Author?
– John Calvin, Commentary on Isaiah 40:26 –
In his commentary on Genesis, and in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin makes it explicit that he believes the earth to have been created in six literal 24-hour days: in his commentary he writes, “I have said above, that six days were employed in the formation of the world;”1 in the Institutes he writes, “… [W]e are drawn away from all fictions to the one God who distributed his work into six days”.2 It would be surprising, therefore, to find present-day theologians and professors asserting that, if he were living today, Calvin would reject a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 in favor of an evolutionary understanding of creation. Nevertheless, this is exactly what we find.
Alister McGrath, who was until recently Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Oxford, argues that Calvin would be an evolutionary theist if he were alive today. In A Life of John Calvin, McGrath writes:
Calvin may also be regarded as eliminating a major obstacle to the development of the natural sciences – biblical literalism…. [For Calvin] the biblical stories of the creation and Fall (Genesis 1-3) are accommodated to the abilities and horizons of a relatively simple and unsophisticated people; they are not intended to be taken as literal representations of reality.3
McGrath argues that Calvin was the one who freed “scientific observation and theory from crudely literalist interpretations of Scripture.”4
Davis A. Young, professor emeritus of Geology at Calvin College, also strongly suggests that Calvin would have accepted modern evolutionary theories as true. Although admitting that “Calvin believed that Scripture taught that the earth is only a few thousand years old,”5 he exonerates Calvin for taking such a position: “Calvin’s contemporaries believed the traditional views. Should he have been any different? ... In his day, of course, there was no recognition by natural philosophers of the geological evidence that is available to us today that compels acceptance of an extremely ancient Earth.”6 He proceeds by raising the question whether Calvin would hold to a literal six-day creation were he alive today, suggesting that he might not, and recommends that “judicious application of Calvin’s principle of accommodation would go a long way toward solving some of the problems concerning the relation of science to the Bible,”7 implying that Christians today can use Calvin’s notion of divine accommodation to help interpret and understand Genesis 1 and 2 in light of modern evolutionary theories.
Even Benjamin B. Warfield (1851-1921), who “was the most widely known advocate of confessional Calvinism in the United States at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries,”8 argues that Calvin’s doctrine of creation was the embryo of modern evolutionism. He writes: “it should scarcely be passed without remark that Calvin’s doctrine of creation is, if we have understood it aright, for all except the souls of men, an evolutionary one…. Calvin doubtless had no theory whatever of evolution, but he teaches a doctrine of evolution.”9 Furthermore, Warfield states, “Calvin… very naturally thought along the lines of a theistic evolutionism”10 and “forms… a point of departure for [the modern evolutionary theorists].”11
McGrath, Young, and Warfield represent those who long to have Calvin as a reference to back up their unscriptural opinions. Rather than humbly accepting as truth what the Bible clearly sets forth, and submitting to it, these men, and others who follow their teachings, are more concerned with making the Bible amenable to modern, so-called scientific theories, and compliant with the speculations and philosophies of man-centered, God-denying academia. And these men want to associate Calvin, the great Reformer and defender of the truth of God’s holy Word, with themselves.
One can be sure, however, that Calvin was not such a man as to entertain such thoughts, nor would he be if he were alive today. This essay, in celebration of the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth, intends to demonstrate this very fact. In this essay, I will examine first, Calvin’s doctrine of creation, second, his understanding of divine providence, and third, his notion of divine accommodation. I will show in each section that Calvin’s teaching on the matter speaks unmistakably and unequivocally against any evolutionary understanding of creation, and permits nothing but the Scriptural teaching of a literal six day creation. Ultimately, I will argue that Calvin, even if he were alive today, would find the theory of evolution repugnant, and repudiate it as antithetical to the word of God.
CALVIN’S DOCTRINE OF CREATION
We begin by examining Calvin’s doctrine of creation. How does Calvin interpret Genesis 1 and 2? And how does what he says speak to modern evolutionary theories? In this section, we will pay particular attention to how Calvin understood the action of God in the six days of creation. To do so, we look to Calvin’s commentaries and to his Institutes.
The first thing we notice when reading Calvin’s commentary on Genesis is that Calvin treats the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2 as literal history. Before he even begins commentating on Genesis 1, Calvin asserts that the account of creation in Genesis is historical fact: “[s]ince the infinite wisdom of God is displayed in the admirable structure of heaven and earth, it is absolutely impossible to unfold THE HISTORY OF THE CREATION OF THE WORLD in terms equal to its dignity.”12
The second thing we notice is that Calvin asserts that the account of creation given in Genesis 1 and 2 is not simply the invention of Moses, but the testimony of the Holy Spirit, who cannot lie. Concerning the first chapters of Genesis, Calvin writes: “[Moses] does not here put forward divinations of his own, but is the instrument of the Holy Spirit for the publication of those things which it was of importance for all men to know.”13 Elevating the book of Genesis to the level of divine origin, Calvin brings the reader to a proper frame of mind for beginning a study of Genesis 1 and 2.
As he begins commentating on Genesis 1:1, Calvin immediately emphasizes that God created the world out of nothing: “[w]hen God in the beginning created the heaven and the earth, the earth was empty and waste. He [i.e., Moses] moreover teaches by the word ‘created,’ that what before did not exist was now made…. Therefore his meaning is, that the world was made out of nothing.”14 Calvin stresses here that God is responsible for everything that is. Nothing comes about by means of anything other than God, for nothing existed from all eternity besides Him. All of creation has its beginning from God.
Calvin reiterates this point in the Institutes, where he gives further instruction concerning God’s act of creation:
It is important for us to grasp first the history of the creation of the universe…. From this history we shall learn that God by the power of his Word and Spirit created heaven and earth out of nothing; that thereupon he brought forth living beings and inanimate things of every kind, that in a wonderful series he distinguished an innumerable variety of things, that he endowed each kind with its own nature, assigned functions, appointed places and stations….15
In this excerpt, not only is creation “out of nothing” stressed, but it is emphasized as the product of the power of the Triune God. Furthermore, we see Calvin also asserting that God continued in His act of creation by bringing forth all livings creatures and inanimate things of every kind.
With regard to God’s act of “[bringing] forth living beings and inanimate things of every kind”, a central and critical question arises: how did God act in bringing forth the creatures and inanimate things? Did He do so through a creative activity on His part, so that immediately the creatures came into existence through the immediate power of His word? Or, did He do so through relying on the intrinsic forces inhering within the “rude and unpolished… shapeless chaos”16 of Genesis 1:2 as these forces worked over time to produce the world we see around us? In deciding between these two options we see the difference between those who would understand Genesis 1 and 2 as literal history, and those who would understand Genesis 1 and 2 as figurative, and supplying only a framework for how all of creation came into being. What does Calvin have to say on the matter?
As has already been noted in the introduction, B. B. Warfield states that Calvin’s doctrine of creation is “an evolutionary one.”17 He reads Calvin in such a way as to argue that Calvin understood God’s act of bringing creatures and things into existence as being done by using the intrinsic forces within the “heavens and the earth” of Genesis 1:1, 2. In this way, Warfield understands Calvin’s understanding of creation to be a “pure evolutionary scheme.”18 When treating the above quotation from Calvin’s Institutes, Warfield states the following:
It is God who has made all things what they are, Calvin teaches; but, in doing so, God has acted in the specific mode properly called creation only at the initial step of the process, and the result owes its right to be called a creation to that initial act by which the material of which all things consist was called into being from nonbeing. “Indigested mass” as it was, yet in that world-stuff was “the seed of the whole world,” and out of it that world as we now see it (for “the world at its very beginning was not perfected in the manner it is now seen”) had been evoked by progressive acts of God; and it is therefore that this world, because evoked from it, has the right to be called a creation.
The distinction which Calvin here draws, it is to be observed, is not that which has been commonly made by reformed divines under the terms first and second creation, or in less exact language immediate and mediate creation. That common distinction posits a sequence of truly creative acts of God throughout the six days, and therefore defines creation, so as to meet the whole case, as that act “by which God produced the world and all that is in it, partly ex nihilo, partly ex material naturaliter inhabili [from preexisting material not itself capable of producing something new], for the manifestation of the glory of his power, wisdom, and goodness”; … It is precisely this sequence of truly creative acts which Calvin disallows; and he so expresses himself, indeed, as to give it a direct contradiction.”19
After quoting Calvin on Genesis 1:21,20 and treating the passage, Warfield continues:
It should scarcely be passed without remark that Calvin’s doctrine of creation is, if we have understood it aright, for all except the souls of men, an evolutionary one. The indigested mass, including the promise and potency of all that was yet to be, was called into being by the simple fiat of God. But all that has come into being since – except the souls of men alone – has arisen as a modification of this original world-stuff by means of the interaction of its intrinsic forces. Not these forces apart from God, of course; Calvin is a high theist, that is, supernaturalist, in his ontology of the universe. To him God is the prima causa omnium [first cause of all], and that not merely in the sense that all things ultimately – in the world-stuff – owe their existence to God, but in the sense that all the modifications of the world-stuff have taken place under the directly upholding and governing hand of God, and find their account ultimately in his will. But they find their account proximately in second causes, and this is not only evolutionism but pure evolutionism….
What concerns us here is that he [Calvin] ascribed to second causes as their proximate account the entire series of modifications by which the primal indigested mass called heaven and earth has passed into the form of the ordered world which we see, including the origination of all forms of life, vegetable and animal alike, inclusive doubtless of the bodily form of man. And this, we say, is a very pure evolutionary scheme.21
According to Warfield, Calvin asserts that God used secondary causes – that is, evolution – to bring about “the ordered world which we see” from the “primal indigested mass” of Genesis 1:1, 2. Warfield intends this evolutionary scheme to include both the origins of all life as well as the physical form of human beings. Essentially, therefore, Warfield understands Calvin to take a non-literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2. Although he qualifies himself by stating that “the six days he [Calvin], naturally, understands as six literal days,”22 Warfield clearly portrays Calvin as one who would most certainly have accepted modern evolutionary theories were he alive today.
However, Warfield’s argument is fallacious and dishonest. As John Murray points out, “Warfield’s inferences with respect to Calvin’s doctrine of creation are not supported by the relevant evidence.”23 Examining what Calvin has to say on the matter, we will show that, in fact, Calvin explicitly understands God as active and busy within the six literal days of creation, and leaves no room for evolutionary thinking. In doing so, we consider three main passages from Calvin’s commentaries that deal specifically with the issue at hand.24
Consider, first, what Calvin has to say when he treats Genesis 1:11, where it says, “Let the earth bring forth grass.” In this passage, Calvin remarks:
Hitherto the earth was naked and barren, now the Lord fructifies it by his word. For though it was already destined to bring forth fruit, yet till new virtue proceeded from the mouth of God, it must remain dry and empty. For neither was it naturally fit to produce anything, nor had it a germinating principle from any other source, till the mouth of the Lord was opened. For what David declares concerning the heavens, ought also to be extended to the earth; that it was ‘made by the word of the Lord, and was adorned and furnished by the breath of his mouth,’ (Ps. 33:6.) Moreover, it did not happen fortuitously, that herbs and trees were created before the sun and moon…. When he says, ‘Let the earth bring forth the herb which may produce seed, the tree whose seed is in itself,’ he signifies not only that herbs and trees were then created, but that, at the same time, both were endued with the power of propagation, in order that their several species might be perpetuated.25
The passage is plain. Until the third day, the earth was “naked and barren.” Without God’s direct involvement, the earth would remain in its existing state, “dry and empty.” In addition, the earth was not “naturally fit to produce anything,” nor had any “germinating principle.” It was only until God took direct action in speaking that living things came into being. Furthermore, Calvin implies that unless God had given the living things the power to propagate, these living things which God had just created would have no way of spreading and multiplying. As Murray notes, “[Calvin’s] thought is surely to the effect that creative action supervened upon this naked and barren material in endowing it with new virtue, germinating capacity, and the power of propagation.”26
From the above passage it is also evident that Calvin considered God to have actually created the herbs and trees on the third day, implying a direct, active role on the part of God throughout the six days of the creation week. This idea is found elsewhere in Calvin’s commentary on Genesis. On Genesis 1:5, Calvin states that “[God] distributed the creation of the world into successive portions, that he might fix our attention.”27 On Genesis 1:20, Calvin remarks: “On the fifth day the birds and fishes are created. The blessing of God is added, that they may of themselves produce offspring.”28 And on Genesis 1:21, when commentating on the phrase, “the waters brought forth,” Calvin does not resort to an evolutionary explanation of how the waters brought great whales and living creatures into being, but takes the direct literal understanding of the passage, stating that “[Moses] proceeds to commend the efficacy of the word, which the waters hear so promptly, that, though lifeless in themselves, they suddenly teem with a living offspring.”29 Calvin explicitly affirms that throughout the creation week, God was busy, actively bringing objects into existence, and creatures to life.
Consider, second, how Calvin discusses the origin of life in his commentary on Genesis 1:24. On this occasion, Calvin is discussing specifically the infusion of life into the creatures:
He [i.e., Moses] descends to the sixth day, on which the animals were created, and then man. ‘Let the earth,’ he says, ‘bring forth living creatures.’ But whence has a dead element life? Therefore, there is in this respect a miracle as great as if God had begun to create out of nothing those things which he commanded to proceed from the earth. And he does not take his material from the earth, because he needed it, but that he might the better combine the separate parts of the world with the universe itself.30
In this passage, Calvin cannot fathom life arising from anything else than from the direct command of God’s omnipotent word. He believes that the creation of life is so magnificent that it is a miracle comparable to that of creating “out of nothing.” And as has just been observed, he also understands that on the third day the earth was “naked and barren,” empty and dry, without any power of germination or propagation. Putting these two thoughts together, it would seem impossible for any life to arise spontaneously from the “indigested mass” of Genesis 1:2. It is hard, therefore, to comprehend how anyone could say that Calvin’s doctrine of creation is an evolutionary one. For Calvin, there is no possibility that anything living could ever arise out of the earth without God’s direct involvement. As far as Calvin is concerned, an evolutionary account of creation is completely absurd. Indeed, attributing a non-literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 to Calvin is inappropriate and unacceptable, considering Calvin’s understanding of the origins of life.
Consider, third, what Calvin says in his commentary on Psalm 33:6. There, Calvin writes, “In saying that the heavens were created by the word of God, he [i.e., the inspired writer] greatly magnifies his [i.e., God’s] power, because by his nod alone, without any other aid or means, and without much time or labour, he created so noble and magnificent a work.”31 When one combines this with what Calvin had said in Genesis, that “what David declares concerning the heavens, ought also to be extended to the earth,”32 specifically citing Ps. 33:6, Calvin’s position on the matter becomes certain beyond a shadow of a doubt. According to Calvin, not only were the heavens formed by God’s direct activity and express command, but also the earth, and everything within it, including living creatures and inanimate things. Moreover, this was done, Calvin asserts, “without any other aid or means,” besides God’s powerful word, and “without much time or labour.” In no way, then, can Calvin’s doctrine of creation be understood as evolutionary. Nor is it possible to understand Calvin in any other way than to see that he emphatically held to a literal, six day creation, where God was busily at work bringing into existence all things according to His perfect will.
Combining these three passages together, Calvin’s doctrine of creation becomes clear. For Calvin, God provided all plants and vegetation with a germinating capacity, and with the power of propagation; he gave life to the animals – a miracle as great as creation ex nihilo; and he did all this solely by means of the power of his word, without much time. Calvin’s doctrine of creation leaves absolutely no room for evolutionary thinking.
We must conclude, therefore, that Warfield was grossly mistaken when he alleged that “Calvin… very naturally thought along the lines of a theistic evolutionism.”33 On the contrary, when we consider how Calvin used Scripture to emphasize that God was busy at work during the six days of creation, bringing everything to existence by His powerful hand, we must say that Calvin very naturally believed Genesis 1 and 2 to be literal history. Calvin’s writings leave no other possibility. Calvin’s doctrine of creation speaks emphatically against any evolutionary interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2. Rather, his comments unequivocally support and defend a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2. We will continue to see that this is the case throughout Calvin’s writings, as we turn next toward Calvin’s understanding of divine providence, and later, toward his notion of divine accommodation.
CALVIN’S UNDERSTANDING OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE
In his commentary on Psalm 33, Calvin writes: “the creation of the world leads us by direct consequence to the providence of God.”34 And in the Institutes, Calvin states: “… unless we pass on to his providence … we do not yet properly grasp what it means to say; ‘God is Creator’.”35 It makes sense, therefore, and is necessary, after focusing on his doctrine of creation, to turn toward Calvin’s understanding of divine providence. In this section, we will see that for Calvin, if we properly understand what God’s providence encompasses, it would be incoherent, and indeed, impossible to accept the modern evolutionary theories for the creation of the universe.
Conveniently, Calvin gives us an exact definition of what he means by “providence”:
By Providence, we mean, not an unconcerned sitting of God in heaven, from which He merely observes the things that are done in the world; but that all-active and all-concerned seatedness on His throne above, by which He governs the world which He Himself hath made. So that God, as viewed in the glass of His Providence, is not only the Maker of all things in a moment, but the perpetual Ruler of all things which He hath created. That Providence, therefore, which we ascribe to God, pertains as much to His operating hands as to His observing eyes. When, therefore, God is said to rule the world by His Providence, we do not merely mean that He maintains and preserves that order of nature which He had originally purposed in Himself, but that He holds and continues a peculiar care of every single creature that He has created. And true and certain is the fact, that as it was the wonderful wisdom of God that originally made the world, and disposed it in its present beautiful order, so, unless the omnipotent power of God, ever present, sustained it thus created and disposed it, it could not continue in its designed order and form one hour.36
In this definition of providence, we see three central features that define what providence is. First, we see that the concept of providence, if rightly understood, requires a God that is ceaselessly active in everything, so that everything that happens is directed by His omnipotent hand. Second, we see that providence excludes the possibility of chance or fate to play any role whatsoever in the phenomena of the world, and consequently, also in the creation week. Third, we see that the very concept of God’s providence reveals that the earth in and of itself is unstable and inclined toward self-destruction and chaos. Examining these three features of Calvin’s definition of providence, we ascertain that what Calvin has to say on providence is entirely in opposition to the theories of evolution that so-called scientists are espousing today.
Let us begin, then, with the first point: the concept of providence requires a God that is ceaselessly active in everything, so that everything that happens is directed by His omnipotent hand. God is active in everything, governing everything and bringing all events to pass, even as He sits and directs all things from His throne in the heavens. This is that “all-active and all-concerned seatedness [of God] on His throne above”37 of which Calvin speaks. This all-active seatedness of God is the heart of the concept of providence. Calvin defines providence elsewhere as “not that by which God idly observes from heaven what takes place on earth, but that by which, as keeper of the keys, he governs all events.”38 The concept of providence entails, therefore, that all things, even the creation of the world, are governed and directed by God’s fatherly hand. Accordingly, in the creation week, God must have been actively engaged in bringing all things into being.
Really, what the concept of providence does is give due acknowledgement to the omnipotence and sovereignty of God. Calvin expresses this sentiment in the Institutes:
And truly God claims, and would have us grant him, omnipotence – not the empty, idle, and almost unconscious sort that the Sophists imagine, but a watchful, effective, active sort, engaged in ceaseless activity. Not, indeed, an omnipotence that is only a general principle of confused motion, as if he were to command a river to flow through its once-appointed channels, but one that is directed toward individual and particular motions. For he is deemed omnipotent, not because he can indeed act, yet sometimes ceases and sits in idleness, or continues by a general impulse that order of nature which he previously appointed; but because, governing heaven and earth by his providence, he so regulates all things that nothing takes place without his deliberation. For when, in The Psalms, it is said that “he does whatever he wills” [Ps. 115:3; cf. Ps. 113(b): 3, Vg.], a certain and deliberate will is meant. For it would be senseless to interpret the words of the prophet after the manner of the philosophers, that God is the first agent because he is the beginning and cause of all motion….39
Calvin brings God’s omnipotence and providence together in such a way that to deny the providence of God is to deny His omnipotence. God does not govern the world simply by bringing it into existence, and then, as it were, leave the universe to take care of itself while He busies Himself with other work. No. In this excerpt, we see that “a certain and deliberate will” is included in Calvin’s understanding of divine providence. Indeed, for Calvin, God is not simply directing the grand scheme of things, but His hand “is directed toward individual and particular motions.” According to Calvin, to say otherwise is to deny God His omnipotence.
Fittingly, therefore, in the above quotation we also see Calvin explicitly rejecting the idea that God could be understood to be merely the first agent of all things. Calvin does not even waste time questioning whether or not God was simply the first mover of all things, but takes the even stronger position that it is impossible that God could ever be only the first mover. According to his understanding of God as the omnipotent One, it would be senseless to think that the activity that goes on in this world happens outside of the will and power of God. For Calvin, God must be the one who gives life and breath to all things, and in whom all things have their being (Acts 17:25-28). God must be the one who protects, and governs the whole world by His rule. He must be the one who “sustains, nourishes, and cares for, everything he has made, even to the least sparrow.”40 Anything else does injustice to Calvin’s understanding of divine providence, and thus also does injustice to the omnipotence of God.
From Calvin’s definition of providence we see, secondly, that providence excludes the possibility of chance or fate to play any role whatsoever in the phenomena of the world, and consequently, also in the creation week. This comes as a direct result of the first point, for it is easy to see that if God’s omnipotent hand governs and sustains all things, nothing can happen through chance or fate. As Calvin asserts, “we must know that God’s providence, as it is taught in Scripture, is opposed to fortune and fortuitous happenings.”41 Indeed, for Calvin, there is no such thing as chance, for providence eliminates chance.
Consider how this aspect of Calvin’s definition of God’s providence relates to the creation of the world. Modern theories of evolution depend on chance and luck. Essentially, these “scientific” theories argue that everything that is has developed over billions of years from mere chance and good fortune. The earth is in its present state by being in the right place at the right time. Evolutionary scientists, never minding where place and time themselves came from, argue that accident and chance, coupled with random, fortunate genetic mutations, produced the vast array of animals – including humans – that make up this world. This is not to mention the majestic waterfalls, the glorious sunsets, the awe-inspiring night skies, the sublime mountain ranges, and all the other wondrous features of God’s great work of art. Everything, these theories insist, comes by chance. These theories, therefore, rely upon means, upon a process, which Calvin does not even permit to exist. Calvin’s understanding of divine providence, therefore, does not give modern theories of evolution even the chance to get off the ground.
But since Calvin speaks specifically on providence and chance as they relate to the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2, let us listen to what Calvin himself says on the matter. In his commentary on Genesis 1:11, Calvin discusses why the trees and plants were created on the third day, while the sun, moon and stars on the fourth. Calvin writes:
Moreover, it did not happen fortuitously, that herbs and trees were created before the sun and moon. We now see, indeed, that the earth is quickened by the sun to cause it to bring forth its fruits; nor was God ignorant of this law of nature, which he has since ordained: but in order that we might learn to refer all things to him, he did not then make use of the sun or moon. He permits us to perceive the efficacy which he infuses into them, so far as he uses their instrumentality; but because we are wont to regard as part of their nature properties which they derive elsewhere, it was necessary that the vigour which they now seem to impart to the earth should be manifest before they were created.42
Calvin states that it did not happen by chance that the trees were created before the sun and moon, but that God did so in order to teach us that everything has its being not in the warmth of the sun, but in the providence of God. God intentionally created the trees before the sun, Calvin writes, so that we might better see that all things depend on God, and not on the laws of nature. Indeed, for Calvin, the laws of nature are themselves ordained and upheld by God.
See how foreign and contrary Calvin’s position is to the theories of evolution that are perpetuated today! Calvin’s creation account includes the trees and plants being created a day before the sun, in order to show that all things derive their existence from God. Modern theories of evolution argue that the sun had to have existed billions of years before the trees and plants ever could arise, due to the fact that all things essentially derive their existence from the warmth of the sun. Calvin argues that the laws of nature were ordained by God, and could be abandoned by God at any moment. Modern evolutionary theories argue that there is no God, and that the laws of nature are unchangeable and eternal. To be sure, Calvin’s view of providence, especially as it eliminates any possibility of chance or fate, is diametrically opposed to modern theories of evolution. To put it in other words, Calvin’s view of providence and modern theories of evolution are antithetical to each other. Calvin’s arguments fly in the face of modern evolutionists, and would even baffle them if presented to them today. Nevertheless, Calvin uses Scripture as his authority, and stands on the word of truth to defend a literal six day creation account. To speculate anything else of Calvin is sheer absurdity.
If there is any necessity to show more clearly Calvin’s position on the creation account and the involvement of chance in the creation week, we give one more quotation from Calvin, this one coming from his commentary on Psalm 19:1:
David shows how it is that the heavens proclaim to us the glory of God, namely, by openly bearing testimony that they have not been put together by chance, but were wonderfully created by the supreme Architect. When we behold the heavens, we cannot but be elevated, by the contemplation of them, to Him who is their great Creator; and the beautiful arrangement and wonderful variety which distinguish the courses and station of the heavenly bodies, together with the beauty and splendor which are manifest in them, cannot but furnish us with an evident proof of his providence. Scripture, indeed, makes known to us the time and manner of the creation; but the heavens themselves, although God should say nothing on the subject, proclaim loudly and distinctly enough that they have been fashioned by his hands: and this of itself abundantly suffices to bear testimony to men of his glory. As soon as we acknowledge God to be the supreme Architect, who has erected the beauteous fabric of the universe, our minds must necessarily be ravished with wonder at his infinite goodness, wisdom and power.43
The beauty of creation, for Calvin, bears witness that it could not have been created by mere chance. Instead, only the supreme Architect could have created, through deliberate work, such a masterpiece. Is there any role at all that chance might be able to play in the creation account? Is there any room for random and fortuitous evolutionary processes to contribute to the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2? For Calvin, the answer is a resounding “NO”. We look at the heavens, Calvin says, and cannot help but see that this is the deliberate work of an unceasingly active, omnipotent God.44 Whether we choose to acknowledge this or not, however, is a different matter.
Calvin’s understanding of divine providence also has another feature. From his definition we see, in the third place, that the concept of God’s providence highlights the fact that the universe, in and of itself, is unstable and inclined toward self-destruction, chaos, and collapse. This comes from his definition when he writes that “unless the omnipotent power of God, ever present, sustained it [i.e., the creation] thus created and disposed it, it could not continue in its designed order and form one hour.”45 Without God’s sustaining and upholding hand constantly at work, this creation would degenerate and collapse into chaos. And if God would remove His hand completely, this universe would vanish away. God’s providence, consequently, has the function of keeping order and stability in an otherwise chaotic and volatile universe.
Calvin speaks specifically of this function of God’s providence as it relates to the creation account of Genesis 1 and 2. Commenting on Genesis 1:2, Calvin writes:
We have already heard that before God had perfected the world it was an indigested mass; he [i.e., Moses] now teaches that the power of the Spirit was necessary in order to sustain it. For this doubt might occur to the mind, how such a disorderly heap could stand; seeing that we now behold the world preserved by government, or order. He therefore asserts that this mass, however confused it might be, was rendered stable, for the time, by the secret efficacy of the Spirit….
A few lines later, Calvin continues by comparing the disordered state of the universe as found in Genesis 1:1, 2 with the beautiful creation that we see around us, stating:
But if that chaos [referring to Genesis 1:1, 2] required the secret inspiration of God to prevent its speedy dissolution; how could this [present] order, so fair and distinct, subsist by itself, unless it derived strength elsewhere? Therefore, that Scripture must be fulfilled, ‘Send forth thy Spirit, and they shall be created, and thou shalt renew the face of the earth,’ (Ps. 104:30;) so, on the other hand, as soon as the Lord takes away his Spirit, all things return to their dust and vanish away, (ver. 29).46
Calvin asserts that without God’s providential hand already at work during the six days of creation, without God’s direct involvement in sustaining and upholding His works, all things would have vanished away, and what God had accomplished would have turned to nothing. How far, therefore, does Calvin’s understanding of divine providence separate him from and place him in opposition to the modern theories of evolution advocated today even by many self-proclaimed Calvinists! His concept of providence highlights and emphasizes the fact that without a God busy in ceaseless activity, the universe would regress rather than progress, and deteriorate rather than evolve! In this third feature, then, too, we see Calvin’s understanding of divine providence butting heads with modern evolutionary theories.
Examining Calvin’s understanding of divine providence as a whole then, what we notice is that his view of providence leaves no room for modern evolutionary theories. Quite the contrary, in fact, is true: Calvin’s concept of providence is such that nothing happens by chance, but by God’s fatherly hand, and that if left to itself, this world would never evolve into the masterpiece it is, but would fall into chaos and confusion. For Calvin, if we properly understand what God’s providence encompasses, it would be illogical, and indeed, impossible, to accept an evolutionary explanation for the existence of the universe. To be succinct, Calvin’s understanding of divine providence speaks emphatically and unequivocally against modern evolutionary theories. Calvin’s understanding of divine providence, therefore, maintains a strict literal six day interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2. In the next section, we will see that Calvin consistently upholds this position, even when it might seem that his notion of divine accommodation could open the door to a non-literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2.
CALVIN’S NOTION OF DIVINE ACCOMMODATION
Having seen that Calvin’s doctrine of creation unequivocally refuses any evolutionary interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2, and that his understanding of divine providence directly opposes an evolutionary explanation for the universe, we move on to examine what Calvin’s notion of divine accommodation has to say on the matter. We include an examination of Calvin’s teaching concerning divine accommodation within our analysis because in more recent times, Calvin’s teaching of accommodation has been used to argue that an evolutionary account of creation would have been permissible within Calvin’s thought. Indeed, the way in which many scholars interpret Calvin’s understanding of creation depends largely on how they understand his teaching of divine accommodation. It is incumbent upon us, therefore, to examine thoroughly what Calvin has to say on the matter.
Calvin makes ready use of the concept of divine accommodation throughout his commentaries and Institutes. He writes in his commentaries that God “accommodates himself to our capacity in addressing us,”47 and that “God accommodates to our small capacities what he testifies of himself.”48 From the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation, Calvin states that God continually accommodates Himself to the finite comprehension of feeble human beings. Indeed, as Ford Lewis Battles notes in his classic essay on Calvin’s understanding of divine accommodation, “for Calvin, the understanding of God’s accommodation to the limits and needs of the human condition was a central feature of the interpretation of Scripture and of the entire range of his theological work.”49
So what is divine accommodation? Edward A. Dowey, Jr., professor emeritus of the History of Christian doctrine at Princeton Theological Seminary, defines Calvin’s understanding of divine accommodation as follows:
The term accommodation refers to the process by which God reduces or adjusts to human capacities what he wills to reveal of the infinite mysteries of his being, which by their very nature are beyond the powers of the mind of man to grasp…. The term includes within its scope all the noetic aspects of the Creator-creature relation. It points to a gap between God and man that is bridged only by God ‘in some way descending’ to meet the limitations of human nature, never by man himself overcoming them.50
Simply put, divine accommodation is God accommodating himself, or adjusting himself, or condescending, to human intellectual capacities, by speaking and acting in such a way that we – feeble men and women – may understand Him.
Calvin illustrates what he means by “accommodation” when he handles those passages which speak of God repenting of his decisions (e.g., Jonah 3:10, Jeremiah 18:8, 10, Amos 7:3):
What, therefore, does the word ‘repentance” mean? Surely its meaning is like that of all other modes of speaking that describe God for us in human terms. For because our weakness does not attain to his exalted state, the description of him that is given to us must be accommodated to our capacity so that we may understand it. Now the mode of accommodation is for him to represent himself to us not as he is in himself, but as he seems to us. Although he is beyond all disturbance of mind, yet he testifies that he is angry toward sinners. Therefore whenever we hear that God is angered, we ought not to imagine any emotion in him, but rather to consider that this expression has been taken from our own human experience; because God, whenever he is exercising judgment, exhibits the appearance of one kindled and angered. So we ought not to understand anything else under the word “repentance” than change of action, because men are wont by changing their action to testify that they are displeased with themselves.51
When the unsearchable, inscrutable God (Job 11:7-9, Romans 11:33, 34) speaks, therefore, the language He uses must be accommodated to our finite and puny level of understanding. We are not able to comprehend God, nor are we able to understand God as He understands himself. And the only way we can know God is if He descends in some way from His loftiness, to our level; only in this way is it possible to begin to understand Who God is.
Divine accommodation is, therefore, according to Calvin, God’s act of stooping down far beneath His loftiness in order to reveal Himself to His people, to instruct them, and to save them, all in a manner in which they can begin to understand.52
As has already been evidenced from some of the quotations in the introductory paragraphs, some scholars want to use Calvin’s concept of divine accommodation to allow for a non-literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2. McGrath is one who insists that Calvin’s use of divine accommodation paves the way for a harmony between the biblical account of creation and theories of evolution, because it allows one to interpret Genesis 1 and 2 as figurative rather than literal. We give again the quotation from McGrath:
[For Calvin, the] emancipation of scientific observation and theory from crudely literalist interpretations of scripture took place… in the insistence upon the accommodated character of biblical language…. The biblical stories of the creation and Fall (Genesis 1-3) are accommodated to the abilities and horizons of a relatively simply and unsophisticated people; they are not intended to be taken as literal representations of reality.53
Elsewhere, McGrath declares that, for Calvin, “the phrase ‘six days of creation’ does not designate six periods of twenty-four hours, but is simply an accommodation to human ways of thinking to designate an extended period of time.”54 McGrath reinterprets Genesis 1 and 2 as though God was not giving a factual, historical account of creation to Moses, but that God was giving them a story of sorts so they could have at least some sort of account of how the world came into existence; this was an account that was accommodated to their primitive level of thinking and scientific knowledge. What McGrath really does is try to use accommodation in Calvin’s writing to open the door to a non-literal interpretation of the creation account.
As we have seen already as well, from the introduction, Young attempts to do the same thing. He writes:
… it seems to me that the appropriate time to consider invoking the principle [of accommodation] is where Scripture includes a statement about the natural world that is clearly contrary to firmly established and empirically verified knowledge…. Many Christians have inferred from the biblical text that the Earth is only a few thousand years old. However, it has been firmly established by numerous lines of empirical evidence that the Earth is vastly older than a few thousands of years. If the Bible really seems to suggest that the Earth is young, then it may be that Scripture has merely accommodated itself to that belief. In my judgment, judicious application of Calvin’s principle of accommodation would go a long way toward solving some of the problems concerning the relation of science to the Bible. Accommodation of the type suggested should in no way undermine the doctrine of creation or any other basic Christian doctrine, nor should it be seen as incompatible with a divinely inspired, infallible Bible.55
Young argues that if only we would extend the concept of divine accommodation as Calvin understood it, and apply it to Genesis 1 and 2, many of the conflicts between what Scripture says and what science teaches would be remedied.
Really, what both Young and McGrath want is to interpret the concept of accommodation as Calvin uses it in order to make Genesis 1 and 2 accommodate to modern evolutionary theories. They want to elevate man’s speculation over and above the clear testimony of Scripture, and use Calvin as a prop.
However, understanding and using the concept of accommodation as these men desire does undermine the doctrine of creation, does undermine so many basic Christian doctrines, and does destroy the authoritative, inspired Word of God. Such a reading makes God’s Word nothing more than a myth or fable! This goes directly against Calvin’s high view of the infallible, inerrant, divinely inspired word of God. It goes against the core of Calvin’s character – Calvin’s love, reverence, and respect for Holy Writ as the word of God. It goes against key doctrines which were fundamental to Calvin, such as the providence of God. And, needless to say, it goes against how Calvin himself clearly read and understood Genesis 1 and 2.
Furthermore, the desire to use accommodation in this respect fails to agree with Calvin’s own use of the concept in dealing with the creation account. Both McGrath’s and Young’s desire to use the concept of divine accommodation to interpret the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2 as simply language “accommodated to the unsophisticated, uneducated minds of the people of Israel” is exactly contrary to Calvin’s use of accommodation when dealing with the same passages! In fact, in both his commentaries and his Institutes, Calvin states that when God used six literal, 24 hour days to bring the creation of the universe to completion, He was doing so for the very reason of accommodating to the intellectual capacities of the people! For Calvin, God was accommodating to His people when he gave the creation account, but he was doing so only by virtue of the fact that He was accommodating his very act of creating to the benefit of His people!
Listen to how Calvin uses the concept of accommodation with regards to the creation account:
Indeed, as I pointed out a little before, God himself has shown by the order of Creation that he created all things for man’s sake. For it is not without significance that he divided the making of the universe into six days [Gen 1:31], even though it would have been no more difficult for him to have completed in one moment the whole work together in all its details than to arrive at its completion gradually by a progression of this sort. But he willed to commend his providence and fatherly solicitude toward us in that, before he fashioned man, he prepared everything he foresaw would be useful and salutary for him.56
Here, Calvin states that God used six literal days for creation for the very sake of showing His people that He created everything for them, and for exhibiting His fatherly love and concern for His people. As Calvin would have it, men like McGrath and Young have it entirely backwards! It is not as though God accommodated himself to the pre-existing beliefs of the people of Israel, or to their level of understanding, when giving the account of creation. God was not giving a well thought out fable in order to satisfy the primitive minds of the people. Exactly the opposite is true: God accommodated his act of creation to demonstrate to His people how much He loves and cares for them. God accommodated not the account of creation, but the very execution of creation, Calvin states. And he did so, Calvin asserts, so that when Moses wrote down the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2, it would be nothing but factual history demonstrating God’s love for His people. Intentionally making first the land and the seas, then the trees, then the sun, moon and stars, then the animals, and finally man, Calvin says, God wanted to demonstrate that He was creating all things for man’s sake, having man’s bodily frailty in mind. The only thing left to consider, for Calvin, is how wonderful, gracious, and loving our God is that He should go so far as to accommodate even the creation of the universe, by using six days, to our finite capacities, so that we would see more clearly that God made the universe for our sake.
What is even more striking, however, in view of the assertions made by McGrath and Young, is to see that Calvin uses his notion of divine accommodation in order to emphasize a literal six-day creation. For Calvin, divine accommodation does not detract from the factual history of the creation account, but only highlights the actuality of a literal six-day creation. As Jon Balserak notes,
[Calvin] maintains that God had the ability to choose to create in a variety of different ways (admittedly he only mentions the one, but his language suggests that numerous options were open to him) and that the course of action he chose when creating was one which was accommodated to human capacity…. [I]t can be seen that accommodation is linked to Calvin’s thinking on the created order in a way which suggests that God’s ordaining of that order was influenced by his desire to accommodate himself to his people’s frailties.57
In the quotation from Calvin above, it is clear: Calvin uses the notion of divine accommodation to defend and explain a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2.
But it is not as if Calvin spoke on the subject of divine accommodation as it relates to creation only this one time. Calvin affirms similar sentiments in numerous other places as well. A few quotations will illustrate this fact. In the Institutes, Calvin writes:
With the same intent Moses relates that God’s work was completed not in a moment but in six days [Gen.2:2]. For by this circumstance we are drawn away from all fictions to the one God who distributed his work into six days that we might not find it irksome to occupy our whole life in contemplating it. … [w]e ought in the very order of things diligently to contemplate God’s fatherly love toward mankind, in that he did not create Adam until he had lavished upon the universe all manner of good things.58
In his commentary on Acts 12:10, he remarks:
So he created the world in six day [sic], (Genesis 1.) not because he had any need of space or time, but that he might the better stay us in the meditating upon his works, (Ex. 20:11,) for he applieth the manner of doing unto our capacity, and unto the increase of faith.59
In his commentary on Genesis 1:5, he observes:
… it is too violent a cavil to contend that Moses distributes the work which God perfected at once into six days, for the mere purpose of conveying instruction. Let us rather conclude that God himself took the space of six days, for the purpose of accommodating his works to the capacity of men. We slightingly pass over the infinite glory of God, which here shines forth; whence arises this but from our excessive dullness in considering his greatness? In the meantime, the vanity of our minds carries us away elsewhere. For the correction of this fault, God applied the most suitable remedy when he distributed the creation of the world into successive portions, that he might fix our attention, and compel us, as if had laid his hand upon us, to pause and to reflect.60
And finally, in his commentary on Genesis 1:26, he contends that “the creation of the world was distributed over six days, for our sake, to the end that our minds might the more easily be retained in the meditation of God’s works.”61
How does Calvin’s notion of divine accommodation speak to the account of creation as found in Genesis 1 and 2? Can Calvin be any clearer on the matter? The concept of divine accommodation is used in Calvin’s thought to defend and explain a literal six day creation account, to the exclusion of any possibility for interpreting Genesis 1 and 2 as myth adapted to the capacities of the people. Calvin teaches that six days were intentionally used by God for the sake of His people. As a result, Calvin argues against any sort of evolutionary interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2. That God would use six days to create, Calvin asserts, only magnifies His love and care for His people, and thus demands a greater fear and awe for Him within us, and a greater respect and appreciation of His creation.
Since the birth of the great reformer 500 years ago, many things have certainly changed, especially with regards to scientific study and theorizing. Indeed, Calvin never had to concern himself with the theories of evolution that modern scientists are expounding today. But from the excerpts of Calvin’s writings that we have considered in this essay, it must be concluded that Calvin would certainly have rejected as heretical and repulsive the theories of evolution which we as Reformed believers are faced with today. His doctrine of creation allows nothing but a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2. His understanding of divine providence emphasizes that everything that occurs is governed by God’s fatherly hand, so that nothing can happen by chance or accident. And his notion of divine accommodation can be understood only as maintaining and defending the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2 as historical fact.
To let Calvin speak one last time, consider Calvin’s own words with regards to the creation account:
“[Moses] does not transmit to memory things before unheard of, but for the first time consigns to writing facts which the fathers had delivered as from hand to hand, through a long succession of years, to their children. Can we conceive that man was so placed in the earth as to be ignorant of his own origin, and of the origin of those things which he enjoyed? No sane person doubts that Adam was well-instructed respecting them all.”62
There can be no question on the matter: Calvin unmistakably held to a literal understanding of the creation account. And his doctrine of creation, his understanding of divine providence, and his notion of divine accommodation speak unequivocally and explicitly against the modern theories of evolution.
For those of us who celebrate in this year the birth of a man greatly used by God, a man whom we as Reformed believers are indebted to and thankful for, there is something of great significance to learn from this essay – something even greater than simply that Calvin maintained and stressed a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2. What we must see through this entire discussion isthe consequence of adhering to either the word of God, or the philosophies of mankind. If we with Calvin hold in high regard the almighty and everywhere present power of God, namely, His providence; if we with Calvin hold the Scriptures to be the inspired, infallible word of God; if we with Calvin maintain that God is a caring and loving father, who does all things for our sake, and for our benefit as His dear covenant children: then we with Calvin must steadfastly believe and maintain Genesis 1 and 2 to be historical fact. A literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 is the logical consequence of believing in these doctrines.
Likewise, there are logical consequences if we, contrary to Calvin, believe and maintain the modern theories of evolution. If we uphold modern evolutionary theories as accurate, then we must, to be logically consistent, throw away the omnipotence and providence of God; then we must read the bible with an eye of distrust and doubt, even cynicism; and then we must view God, if there is a God, as a God who has our well-being as the least of his concerns, and who certainly does not care to maintain any sort of covenant relationship with those who call themselves “His people”. The ruin of our faith, and the annihilation of God, is the logical consequence of believing in the theory of evolution.
In the time in which we live, we are besieged on every side by the philosophies of the world, and the intelligentsia of the universities, who make a mockery of the word of God, and who rob God of the glory due unto His name. But in this essay, and through Calvin’s writings, we see that the doctrine of creation as put forth in Scripture, the providence of God, and God’s relationship of friendship with His people require that Genesis 1 and 2 be established as historical fact in the hearts and minds of God’s people. Let this essay, then, serve as an encouragement to redouble our faith in the historicity of Genesis 1 and 2, seeing that we do not rely upon science or philosophy to tell us that God made the heavens and earth, but we understand this by faith (Heb. 11:3).
Balserak, Jon. Divinity Compromised: A Study of Divine Accommodation in the Thought of John Calvin. Dordrecht: Springer, 2006.
Battles, Ford Lewis. “God Was Accommodating Himself to Human Capacity.” Interpretation 31, no. 1 (Jan 1977): 19-38.
Calvin, John. Calvin’s Calvinism: Treatises on the Eternal Predestination of God and the Secret Providence of God. Translated by Henry Cole. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1987.
_____. Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis. Translated by John King. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1984.
_____. Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. Translated by William Pringle. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1984.
_____. Commentary on the Book of Psalms. Translated by James Anderson. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1984.
_____. Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians. Translated by John Pringle. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1984.
_____. Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans. Translated and Edited by John Owen. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1984.
_____. Commentary on the First Twenty Chapters of the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel. Translated by Thomas Myers. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1984.
_____. Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles. Translated by Christopher Fetherstone. Edited by Henry Beveridge. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1984.
_____. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Edited by John T. McNeill. Translated by Ford Lewis Battles. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960.
Dowey, Edward A., Jr. The Knowledge of God in Calvin’s Theology. Expanded Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994.
McGrath, Alister E. A Life of John Calvin: A Study of the Shaping of Western Culture. Cambridge, Mass.: Basil Blackwell, 1990.
_____. Science and Religion: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1999.
Murray, John. “Calvin’s Doctrine of Creation.” Westminster Theological Journal 17, no. 1 (Nov 1954): 21-43.
Warfield, B. B. Evolution, Science, and Scripture: Selected Writings, Edited by Mark A. Noll and David N. Livingstone. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000.
Young, Davis A. John Calvin and the Natural World. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2007.
1 John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, trans. John King, (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1843; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1984), vol. 1, 105. Gen. 2:3.
2 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, Library of Christian Classics, vol. 20, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 161. 1:14:2.
3 Alister E. McGrath, A Life of John Calvin: A Study of the Shaping of Western Culture (Cambridge, Mass.: Basil Blackwell, 1990), 257. Emphasis original.
4 McGrath, A Life of John Calvin, 255.
5 Davis A. Young, John Calvin and the Natural World (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2007), 159.
6 Young, 159.
7 Young, 230.
8 Mark A. Noll and David N. Livingstone, introduction to Evolution, Science, and Scripture: Selected Writings, by B. B. Warfield (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), 16.
9 B. B. Warfield, “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Creation (excerpts),” in Evolution, Science, and Scripture: Selected Writings, ed. Mark A. Noll and David N. Livingstone (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), 308, 309.
10 Warfield, 310. fn. 36.
11 Warfield, 309.
12 Calvin, Genesis, 57. Argument. Emphasis original.
13 Calvin, Genesis, 59. Argument.
14 Calvin, Genesis, 70. Gen. 1:1.
15 Calvin, Institutes, 179, 180. 1:14:20.
16 Calvin, Genesis, 73. Gen. 1:2.
18 Warfield, 309.
19 Warfield, 304, 305.
20 The relevant section from Calvin’s commentary on Gen. 1:21 reads as follows: “And God created. A question here arises out of the word created. For we have before contended, that because the world was created, it was made out of nothing; but now Moses says that things formed from other matter were created. They who truly and properly assert that the fishes were created because the waters were in no way sufficient or suitable for their production, only resort to a subterfuge: for, in the meantime, the fact would remain, that the material of which they were made existed before; which, in strict propriety, the word [created] does not admit. I therefore do not restrict the creation here spoken of to the work of the fifth day, but rather suppose it to refer to that shapeless and confused mass, which was as the fountain of the whole world. God then, it is said, created whales (balænas) and other fishes, not that the beginning of their creation is to be reckoned from the moment in which they receive their form; but because they are comprehended in the universal matter which was made out of nothing. So that, with respect to species, form only was then added to them; but created is nevertheless a term truly used respecting both the whole and the parts” (Calvin, Genesis, 89). Warfield uses Calvin’s comments here to defend an evolutionary account of Genesis 1 and 2 as Calvinist. Suffice it to say, there is no indication from the above excerpt that Calvin thought of God’s act of creation as being done by evolutionary means. Because a discussion of this passage is beyond the scope of this essay, as well as the fact that the passage has been satisfactorily treated by John Murray in his essay “Calvin’s Doctrine of Creation,” the author recommends the interested reader look up Murray’s essay (John Murray, “Calvin’s Doctrine of Creation,” Westminster Theological Journal 17, no. 1 (Nov 1954): 21-43.), especially noting the discussion on pages 32-35.
21 Warfield, 308, 309.
22 Warfield, 299.
23 John Murray, “Calvin’s Doctrine of Creation,” Westminster Theological Journal 17, no. 1 (Nov 1954): 41.
24 Acknowledgement must be given to Murray’s essay for leading me to the bulk of the quotations from Calvin which follow.
25 Calvin, Genesis, 82, 83. Gen. 1:11.
26 Murray, 38.
27 Calvin, Genesis, 78. Gen. 1:5.
28 Calvin, Genesis, 88. Gen. 1:20.
29 Calvin, Genesis, 90. Gen. 1:21.
30 Calvin, Genesis, 90. Gen 1:24.
31 John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, trans. James Anderson, (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1843; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), vol. 1, 542. Ps. 33:6.
32 Calvin, Genesis, 82. Gen. 1:11.
33 Warfield, 310. fn. 36.
34 Calvin, Psalms, 542. Ps. 33:3.
35 Calvin, Institutes, 197. 1:16:1.
36 John Calvin, Calvin’s Calvinism: Treatises on the Eternal Predestination of God and the Secret Providence of God, trans. Henry Cole (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1987), 224.
37 Calvin, Calvin’s Calvinism, 224.
38 Calvin, Institutes, 202. 1:16:4.
39 Calvin, Institutes, 200. 1:16:3.
40 Calvin, Institutes, 197, 198. 1:16:1.
41 Calvin, Institutes, 198. 1:16:2.
42 Calvin, Genesis, 82. Gen 1:11.
43 Calvin, Psalms, 309. Ps. 19:1.
44 Elsewhere, Calvin writes: “For it is not by chance that each of the stars has had its place assigned to it, nor is it at random that they advance uniformly with so great rapidity, and amidst numerous windings move straight forwards, so that they do not deviate a hairbreadth from the path which God has marked out for them. Thus does their wonderful arrangement show that God is the Author and worker, so that men cannot open their eyes without being constrained to behold the majesty of God in his works” (John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. trans. William Pringle. (Edinburgh, Calvin Translation Society, 1843; reprint, Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1984), vol. 3, 232. Is. 40:26).
45 Calvin, Calvin’s Calvinism, 224.
46 Calvin, Genesis, 73, 74. Gen. 1:2.
47 John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, trans. John Pringle (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1843; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), vol. 1, 104. 1 Cor. 2:7.
48 John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, trans. and ed. John Owen (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1843; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), 69. Rom. 1:19.
49 Ford Lewis Battles, “God Was Accommodating Himself to Human Capacity,” Interpretation 31 (1977): 19.
50 Edward A. Dowey, Jr., The Knowledge of God in Calvin’s Theology (Columbia: Columbia University Press, 1952; expanded edition, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994), 4, 5.
51 Calvin, Institutes, 227. 1:17:13.
52 Elsewhere in his commentaries, Calvin writes: “God cannot be comprehended by us, unless as far as he accommodates himself to our standard…. God is incomprehensible in himself, nor did he appear to his Prophet as he really is (since not angels even bear the immense magnitude of his glory, much less a mortal man), but he knew how far it was expedient to discover himself….” (John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Twenty Chapters of the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, trans. Thomas Myers (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1843; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), vol. 1, 304. Ez. 9:3.
53 McGrath, A Life of John Calvin, 255-257.
54 Alister E. McGrath, Science and Religion: An Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1999), 11.
55 Young, 230.
56 Calvin, Institutes, 181, 182. 1:14:22.
57 Jon Balserak, Divinity Compromised: A Study of Divine Accommodation in the Thought of John Calvin (Dordrecht: Springer, 2006), 152.
58 Calvin, Institutes, 161, 162. 1:14:2.
59 John Calvin, Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles, trans. Christopher Fetherstone, ed. Henry Beveridge (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1843; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), vol. 1, 484. Acts 12:10.
60 Calvin, Genesis, 78. Gen. 1:5.
61 Calvin, Genesis, 92. Gen 1:26.
62 Calvin, Genesis, 58. Argument.