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  2. Excerpt of book by Standford Rives: Did Calvin Murder Servetus (2008) Ch. 33
  3. The Hole in Calvin’s
  4. Conscience


Calvin must have found a way to rationalize killing a person for heresy [i.e. Servetus] when he always previously thought doctrine, not the sword, was the right remedy for heresy. How could he kill Servetus when he wrote that the popes had tyrannized, oppressed and murdered Christians by using violence to enforce belief?

There is a solution to this mystery. There was a hole in Calvin’s otherwise impervious spiritual armor that allowed this thought of killing Servetus to enter into his heart. This hole was big enough to permit Calvin to harbor an intense murderous hatred over six years until he could pounce on his adversary for insulting his Institutes and implying Calvin had a demon.

There is a doctrine Calvin believed which could completely take away any fear of killing Servetus. A friend and colleague of Calvin, the Pastor at Berne, warned Calvin about this just two years earlier. In 1551, this pastor told Calvin that his belief that God constantly deprives men of free-will and that God supposedly ordains such evil as unbelief (and all evil) would “strip... the wicked of the reproaches of their conscience.”1

By 1553, Calvin’s conscience had become utterly stripped when it came to the issue of Servetus. The pastor at Berne foresaw this consequence of Calvin’s beliefs. It is this doctrine by Calvin about God ordaining evil, even an unjustified homicide, which fully explains why Calvin felt he could murder Servetus despite Calvin’s knowledge that Scripture identifies murder as evil.

For Calvin said God “wills and wills not the very same thing” and yet God ‘remains free of any taint.’ (Institutes, 1:18.1 [See CCEL 1230 of the PDF of Institutes, at pages 193-200, viz., 193-94].) In context, Calvin meant God wills evil and wills not evil at the very same identical time, but is not morally culpable for having willed evil.

With this odd doctrine in hand, Calvin could see in himself the same divine spirit he saw in God. Calvin could will and will not the very same deed. Thus, if God could live with such a contradiction between His purposes and will, and will Himself murder but be free of any taint, then Calvin too could imagine he could will a murder but likewise be free of any taint.

This may all sound a bit bizarre, but that is only because dear Reader you have not yet encountered the bizarre theological view of Calvin on the role of God in evil.

Calvin’s Belief About Free-Will and God’s Control

Calvin believed Satan has no free will. Neither does any human. Calvin reasoned that to give man a moment of free will disrespected God’s honor of controlling everything.2 Calvin thus taught God directs all the evil thoughts as well as the good thoughts of both humans and Satan. The idea of free-will is a false “idol.” (Institutes 1.5.11.) Free-will is supposedly a name without substance. (Institutes 3.2.16.) [See also 2.5 "The Arguments Alleged in Support of Free-Will Refuted" at Institutes PDF page 260.]

Calvin taught this idea about God as the driving force behind every evil thought and deed most pointedly in Chapter Eighteen in Book One of the Institutes of the Christian Religion. This chapter was entitled “The Instrumentality of the Wicked Employed by God While He Continues Free from Every Taint.” The citation is Institutes, 1:18. [See PDF Institutes pages 193-94.]

There Calvin says “whatever we conceive in our minds is directed to its end by the secret inspiration of God.” In other words, all thought--including all evil thoughts, malice, unbelief, and our lost condition--are directed, not merely permitted, by God.

How then can a God who intends good also intend evil? Calvin answers this by unabashedly insisting that when God directs evil, God “wills and wills not the very same thing.” (Institutes, 1:18.1.) Calvin defends a completely schizophrenic God.

To maintain this view of God, Calvin insisted free-will was a chimera, and that we “do not discuss and deliberate on anything but what he has previously decreed with himself [i.e., God], and brings to pass by his secret direction....” (Institutes 1:18.1.)

In the same section, Calvin writes that God “directs [Satan and his angels’] malice to whatever end he pleases, and employs their iniquities to execute his judgments.” (Institutes, 1:18.1.) As one of Calvin’s key proofs, Calvin cites a Bible passage in 1 Kings 22:19-23. Calvin is correct that the prophet Micaiah is recorded in Kings as saying God directed lying prophets to lie to a ruler. As literally phrased, Calvin was correct that Kings records Micaiah (a little known prophet) saying God directly ordered an evil action by lying prophets--a lie. But Calvin did not realize this verse is spoken therefore by a prophet who turned false,3just like Balaam was a true prophet of Christ in Numbers 24 but later proved false by the false-prophet principle in Deut. 13:1-5. For Balaam later taught it was permissible to eat meat sacrificed to idols (Rev. 2:14), and thus by contradicting God’s law turned from a true to a false prophet. Micaiah was likewise just such a prophet who turned false by attributing to God an attribute (i.e., the ability to lie) which God denies is possible in the Law given Moses. (Numbers 23:19.)

Thus, incorrectly relying on this passage from Kings to prove God affirmatively spreads lies, Calvin writes: “The fiction of bare permission [of evil] is at an end,” meaning it is false to say that God merely permits evil; supposedly, instead, God directs evil. Id.


Calvin’s Lack of Any Explanation On How God Remains Good

Calvin knew the counter-argument against his ideas. Calvin’s idea necessarily makes God the author of sin. The pastor Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575) in Calvin’s dispute of 1551 with Bolsec over predestination, took the side of Bolsec, to the dismay of Calvin. Bullinger explained why:

None are reprobate by the eternal decrees of God, save those who of their own choice refuse the election freely offered to all. How shall we believe that God ordains the fate of men before their birth, foredooming some to sin and death, others to virtue and eternal life? Would you make of God an arbitrary tyrant, strip virtue of its goodness, vice of its shame, and the wicked of the reproaches of their conscience? It cannot be said of God that He blinds, hardens, and gives to perdition any man, without at the same time assuming that it is God who is the Author of human blindness and reprobation, and therefore the cause of the sin committed.4

Castellio earlier in the 1540s had likewise condemned Calvin’s doctrine on God predestining the lost to be lost with no free will to accept God. Castellio said Calvin’s idea did not square “with the nature of God. Nothing could be more contrary to God than the creation of sons...for the purpose of punishing them.”5

The pastor Bullinger and Castellio were simply echoing the kindly words of the brilliant scholar and theologian, Erasmus, in his debate with Luther over free-will. Erasmus explained the same point in more depth--which evidently is what led the Lutheran party to abandon the young Luther’s ideas on the bondage of the will. Erasmus wrote:

Those who deny any freedom of the will and affirm absolute necessity, admit that God works in man not only the good works, but also evil ones. It seems to follow that inasmuch as man can never be the author of good works, he can also never be called the author of evil ones. This opinion seems obviously to attribute cruelty and injustice to God, something religious ears abhor vehemently. (He would no longer be god if anything vicious and imperfect were met in him.)6

Servetus had similarly written about Calvin’s view:

Mankind, in your account, is no more than stupid blocks. And God in your system is no other than a monster of arbitrary fate....7

This doctrine was similarly Castellio’s primary reason for falling out with Calvin. As just noted, Castellio said Calvin’s notions that God directs the lost to be lost with no free-will option to escape because such a notion does not square “with the nature of God. Nothing could be more contrary to God than the creation of sons...for the purpose of punishing them.”8

Thus, Calvin knew the objection to his theory was that God would be culpable for evil, and thus God’s unwilling tools--whether man or Satan--would be the innocent ones. If you wish to deny man any credit for good works and thus insist God controls and directs man’s will at all times, you thus necessarily also are ascribing to God all the credit for the evil works of man and Satan.

Calvin responded by saying God orders and dictates all sinners to sin but God ‘remains above every taint.’ However, that is no answer. It is just an ad hoc statement or disclaimer. (This is known as the ad hoc fallacy which supposes that saying it is so makes it so.)

But Calvin had not given a true answer. One cannot give all the facts that, if true, make God the author of sin and then declare the logical implication that follows does not indeed follow. That is pure sophistry.

Calvin realized this too. When pressed on the point, Calvin himself admitted there is no answer he could offer. Calvin confessed “ignorance” on how God is a cause of sin and not culpable for it. Calvin wrote:

But how it was ordained by the foreknowledge and decree of God what man’s future was without God being implicated as associate in the fault as the author and approver of transgression, is clearly a secret so much excelling the insight of the human mind, that I am not ashamed to confess ignorance.9

At other times, Calvin used bullying and bluster to suppress the logical result being used to impugn his ideas. For example, Calvin argued that if one thinks his idea leads to “absurdity” about God, the fault is not in his argument, but rather in our “carnal” mind for not accepting this truth. (Institutes 1:18.1.)

Then at other times, Calvin tried to offer a rationale, but it broke down into vagueness. He said “we attribute the same work to God, to Satan, and to man as author,” but because their purposes can vary, God is innocent.10

But Calvin clearly gave no freedom to finding any purpose in the human mind that was free and voluntary from the persistent direction of God. If man has no free-will at any moment, as Calvin repetitiously insisted, then we must ask: at what point does a human have the free will to form a murderous plot that is outside God’s ordering it? Controlling it? Thinking it first? Calvin left no room for man to be found culpable if man has utterly no free will. But Calvin hoped by double-speak, and disingenuous sophistry, to justify attributing evil to God’s doing and think we would not recognize blasphemy when we see it in print.

Hence, Calvin never had a real explanation for his doctrine on God’s role in evil. Modern Calvinists have struggled to do better than Calvin, but they only offer mumbo-jumbo about ‘negative causation’ or ‘ultimate causation’ as a means to justify the unjustifiable.11


Calvin’s Bizarre Idea Is Mainstream Among Calvinist Christians

This idea that God directs evil, both the thought and the deed which comprise the act, deprived Calvin at times from differentiating right-from-wrong. It certainly was proof of a moral hole in Calvin’s spiritual armor. For anyone who thinks God directs evil as much as good can himself no longer differentiate the unholiness of evil from the holiness of that which is good.

This is not to say that one cannot sanely explain the doctrine. However, once it is ingested and forms part of one’s moral fibre for a long period of time, it necessarily must dissolve those moral fibres which originally welcomed the idea. Then by virtue of the sheer viciousness of the doctrine itself, one’s moral center will suffer a hole--the same hole by which Calvin processed and countenanced the murder of Servetus.

The best proof that sane Christian men can initially rationalize what Calvin taught is the Westminster Confession of Faith (1648)(“WCF”). Calvin’s bizarre idea is still reflected in this document which to this day remains the foundation-stone of the Presbyterian church (a Calvinist church). It likewise states Calvin’s horrific principle. Like him, the Westminster Confession of Faith tries to deflect the blasphemous implication of Calvin’s bizarre idea by simply appending an affirmation that God is not to be blamed for evil even though He is the one who causes it. The Westminster Confession hopes that by denying the obvious logical conclusion that the problem is thereby skirted, just like Calvin sought to do. (To repeat, this is known as the ad hoc fallacy.) The WCF states:

God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.12

The Westminster Confession of Faith (“WCF”) 5:4 (just like Calvin) denies that God merely “permits evil.” It insists that evil takes place due to the “powerful bounding” and “order” from God’s will, yet the WCF still insists sinfulness somehow proceeds “only from the creatures and not from God.”13

Thus, we see a group of sane Christian men were able to endorse the same bizarre idea that Calvin taught 100 years earlier. The heirs of the WCF--the Presbyterian Church--perpetuate the WCF in Bible classes throughout America each Sunday. But this doctrine presents a moral hole in all who teach and believe it. It is a wide-open highway to succumb to any temptation to sin as “God’s will” even though God “wills it not” at the very same moment. There is no limit to the capacity of what can be justified once you go down this road. In fact, once you embrace the premise, and lose sight of Calvin’s disclaimer, a murderer can console himself that his thoughts of murder are God’s instigating those thoughts, and when he murders, that it was God’s deed, and thus justified.

Hence, one can see that rational sane men can believe such a bizarre teaching. But one can also see, it is an idea directly destructive of the soul’s strength in differentiating any longer between right and wrong. If harbored upon, it will in due course grow like a cancer in the soul, and potentially can lead to a sort of insanity of the mind--the very kind of depravity that can lead one to murder another individual.


The Logical Implication Is Not So Easily Denied

Yet, despite all the twisting to avoid it by Calvin and the WCF, it logically follows that if God “from all eternity did.... unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass” (WCF) then God ordains all evil. If God powerfully “bounds” and “orders” evil, and does not merely “permit” evil, as the WCF says, then God is responsible directly for all evil. The additional tag that says God is not the “author of sin” is contrary to the direct implication of the main premise. The writers of the WCF are deluding themselves and tricking the reader into affirming a blasphemy, reassuring themselves and others it has no blasphemous implications. But it certainly does. Simply denying the logical implication does not remove the blasphemy and the insult of God. Using words to “mystify the reader by pious words commendatory of God’s sanctity” does not remove the stain because it still adds up to saying God authors sin.14

Some Christians sympathetic to Calvin tacitly agree that such a disclaimer that ‘God does not author evil’ cannot erase the implication of the doctrine. While they claim Calvin is entitled to the defense which his disclaimer is intended to provide, yet they agree his doctrine leads to only one inevitable deduction: God is the author of sin. For example, a Methodist text of 1831 recognizes this quandary: “even though [Calvin’s] principles directly lead to it [i.e., God is the author of sin], since he has put in this disclaimer [i.e., God is free of every taint], he is entitled to be exempted from the charge [i.e., of blasphemy saying God authors sin], but the logical conclusion is inevitable.”15

But this is a terrible error of analysis. A disclaimer is a rhetorical tool known as the ad hoc fallacy. It has many common names today such as double-speak. You are speaking out of both sides of your mouth at once. Such a disclaimer is deliberately used to protect a dangerous expression to pass into a listener’s conscious mind. The counter-affirmations never properly remove the premise. They only are present to cause the listener to relax, and not recognize the perniciousness of the main idea advanced. Double-speak is indeed useful often for self-delusions as well. Indeed, this doctrine about God and evil became Calvin’s strongest self-delusion.


Sane Men Can Rely Upon This Bizarre Doctrine & Believe in God

Thus, this bizarre notion of Calvin was not bizarre enough for his followers to recognize as bizarre and reject it. This doctrine still lives on in the Westminster Confession of Faith as well as numerous Calvinist modern authors’ works. It was still insisted upon in a sermon I heard in July 2008 in a Presbyterian church.

Accordingly, it is a bizarre idea that a perfectly sane person can ingest and repeat without realizing how bizarre and foolish it sounds. A whole panel of divines wrote the Westminster Confession of Faith, and repeated Calvin’s horrible claim about God. Thus, there is every reason to understand Calvin never woke up from his delusion about God’s role in evil being the binding force of every thought and every deed, good or evil. Thus, this doctrine could be the basis of concluding Calvin suffered from a form of insanity when he killed Servetus.

In other words, this very powerful delusion was something Calvin’s hate for Servetus could feed upon, until Calvin could will and will not Servetus’ death. Calvin could believe he killed Servetus in obedience to God’s will, even as God willed and will not the same event. And just as God bore no guilt for murder He willed, Calvin’s mind could likewise reject any taint on his own conscience. This doctrine on evil very easily could have been the hole in Calvin’s psyche--in his deepest soul--that permitted this terrible crime.


Even A Maverick Can See The Problem

Just as the Swiss Pastor Bullinger in 1551 said Calvin’s depiction of God makes Satan the innocent one, President Thomas Jefferson said Calvin’s god is indistinguishable from a demon. Jefferson was not a man of any orthodox faith, yet he was a lover of God in his own unique way. Jefferson could readily see the error in Calvin’s thinking.

On April 11, 1823, Jefferson wrote John Adams, rebuffing Adams’ request that he become a Calvinist:

I can never join Calvin in addressing his god. He was indeed an Atheist, which I can never be; or rather his religion was Dæmonism. If ever man worshipped a false god, he did. The being described in his 5 points is not the God whom you and I acknowledge and adore, the Creator and benevolent governor of the world; but a dæmon of malignant spirit. It would be more pardonable to believe in no god at all, than to blaspheme him by the atrocious attributes [given him by] Calvin.16

If Jefferson can see this, why wouldn’t every non-Christian see it as well? There is no rebutting Jefferson, because it is true. Calvin’s god by the time of the 1553 trial of Servetus had all the characteristics of a demon, and was thoroughly indistinguishable from one. (This is not saying Calvin was demon-possessed. Rather, Calvin’s depiction of God’s role in evil made Calvin’s god indistinguishable from a demon, which is what could provide the moral hole through which Calvin rationalized his misdeed.)


Modern Baptist & Christian Thinkers See The Bizarre Depiction of God in Calvin’s Thinking

Indeed, when viewed as a whole, Calvin’s structure of salvation doctrine, mixed with predestination of the lost and God’s orchestration of their damnation and evil behavior, is very troublesome. Dr. Roger Olson, a professor of theology in George W. Truett Theological Seminary (Baptist) at Baylor University, said it best in 2007:

Is God, then, the author of evil? Most Calvinists don’t want to say it. But logic seems to demand it. If God plans something and renders it certain, how is he not culpable for it? Here is where things get murky....The God of Calvinism scares me; I’m not sure how to distinguish him from the devil. If you’ve come under the influence of Calvinism, think about its ramifications for the character of God. God is great but also good. In light of all the evil and innocent suffering in the world, he must have limited himself.17

Tim Warner of the Pristine Faith Restoration Society wrote Where Calvinism Leads (2003) and he likewise opined:

When the philosophy that drives Calvinism is projected to its logical conclusion, even Satan’s activity is an extension of God’s sovereignty. God sovereignly controls Satan’s every move. This makes God the author of everything evil, and the most wicked sinner of all. Some Calvinists actually admit this, and seek to defend it from Scripture. If ultimately God sovereignly is in control of everything, and if free will of man, angels, or even Satan, is ultimately under the control of God, then the responsibility for all wickedness and evil must be placed at the feet of God Himself. Are Satan’s actions of his own free will? If so, then God has obviously limited His sovereignty regarding Satan’s activities. He allows Satan free will. If Satan’s actions are ultimately under the control of God, then Satan is merely God’s puppet, or “dark side.” The God of the Bible does not resemble this kind of god.18

All lovers of God must concur. Calvin’s perspective is clearly inimical to respecting God as Holy, Good and Just. With this thought dominating Calvin’s theology, how could he ever resist the desire to murder a man? How could his conscience ever think he is responsible for such a crime if his God planned the whole thing and supposedly remains above taint?


Lutherans View Calvin’s Bizarre Notion As Evil

The fact Calvin’s depiction of God is truly and utterly blasphemy was not lost on our Lutheran brethren of yesteryear. Luther and Lutheranism had initially embraced a similar idea of the bondage of the human will, but in due course Lutheranism firmly rejected it, thereby creating the major point of disagreement between Calvinism and Lutheranism.

Melancthon, who succeeded Luther as head of the Lutherans in 1546, commented on Calvin’s views as qualifying truly as madness and “fatal to morals.” His exact words were:

This opinion [that God directs evil] ought everywhere to be held in horror and execration; it is a stoical madness, fatal to morals, monstrous and blasphemous.19

[The] disputations respecting fate [are] offensive in their nature, and noxious in their tendency.20

Nearing death, Melancthon wrote again on Calvin’s ideas in a letter dated March 20, 1559. Melancthon said that he had come to reprove near 1529 the notion of “necessity” because it is “reproachful toward God and injurious to morals.” He adds: “I openly reject and abhor” the “furies that affirm that all things necessarily happen, evil as well as good actions,” calling this a “monstrous opinion” which is “contumelious against God and pernicious of morals.”21

After Melancthon’s death, the Lutheran party systematically criticized Calvin for his doctrines on free-will and God’s role in evil. This critique began in 1592. In that year, according to Schaff (a Reformed/Calvinist), the Lutheran church made a concerted effort to extinguish what Schaff calls “crypto Calvinism” in German lands.22 One of the main blasting points by the Lutherans of Calvin was Calvin’s doctrine that God is the direct author of evil, including lying.

In 1592, a “famously contentious and dogmatic Lutheran, Conrad Schlüsselburg”23 (b. 1543), Pastor of the “Lutherans of Antwerp”24 and later Lutheran Bishop of Ratzeburg, wrote in his Theologiae Calvinistarum libri tres (1592) a critique of this doctrine of Calvin:

This Calvinistic error is horribly injurious to God, and of all errors the most mischievous to mankind. According to this Calvinistic theologian, [i.e., Calvin] God would be the most unjust tyrant.--It would no longer be the devil, but God himself would be the Father of lies.25

Schaff who favors Calvinism26 notes again good men of the Lutheran profession viewed this doctrine of Calvin as “downright blasphemy.” Schaff recounts the case of Philip Nikolai who abhorred this ‘God as director of sin’ doctrine of Calvin which made God into a “hellish Behemoth” and “a fiend of men.” Schaff’s summary was:

Philip Nikolai, a pious Lutheran pastor at Unna, afterwards at Hamburg, and author of two of the finest German hymns (Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, and Wachet auf! ruft uns die Stimme), called the God of the Calvinists “a roaring bull” (Wucherstier und Brüllochs), “a bloodthirsty Moloch, a hellish Behemoth and Leviathan, a fiend of men!”27


A Wide Consensus Sees Horrid Image of God in Calvin’s Bizarre Idea

Thus, with the canvass above, we see that many solid Christian thinkers recognized that the god of Calvin had become a “demon,” a “hellish Behemoth” (Nikolai), a “fiend of men” (Nikolai), “the father of lies” in place of Satan (Schlüsselburg), “the most unjust tyrant,” (Schlüsselburg), the “most wicked sinner of all” (Warner), “an arbitrary tyrant” (Pastor of Berne) and “a dæmon of malignant spirit” (Jefferson). One exasperated pastor said: “I’m not sure how to distinguish [Calvin’s god] from the devil” (Truett).

They all agreed that Calvin’s notion was “fatal to morals” (Melancthon), would “strip... the wicked of the reproaches of their conscience” (Pastor of Berne), and be “injurious to morals” (Melancthon).

Clearly, Calvin’s notion leads to viewing God as both having a good and evil spirit, sending us back-and-forth as His whimsy allows. Surely, such a pernicious view of God would give Calvin license to murder, consoling himself that God even formed the intent, and that his God was making him do it, thereby making the murder holy. A terribly wrong premise about God’s role in evil leads logically to sanction murder. “God does it [i.e., evil] and the fiction of bare permission is at an end,” if we use Calvin’s own words. (Institutes 1.18.1.)

By contrast, nothing Servetus ever taught was as dangerous as Calvin’s blasphemy about free-will and God’s direction of evil.


Calvin Likely Arrived At This Bizarre Idea Inadvertently and For A Good Faith Purpose


I would like to point out in fairness to Calvin that the original purpose of this perverse doctrine in Calvin’s Institutes of 1536 was likely not to sanction murder. Nor do I believe Calvin started out wanting to make the God of the Bible responsible for all evil.

Rather, this doctrine attributing to God a direct role in evil was Calvin’s only way to explain a contradiction with how he read Paul’s words and what Jesus taught. Jesus in the Parable of the Sower said Satan snatches the word lest the unbeliever believe. But Paul spoke differently, and said God hardens the heart of Jews in unbelief. Paul’s statement fit well into Calvin’s view on predestination. Calvin thought God predestines the lost to damnation with no free will opportunity to ever believe. God supposedly makes the lost never believe. However, if read that way, Paul attributes to God what Jesus said was the work of Satan.

This is where Calvin’s notion that God directs Satan perfectly resolves the apparent contradiction between Jesus and Paul. It was the elegance of this fit and solution which made Calvin advance what everyone else around him readily saw as a deplorable idea.

Calvin should have realized that his inability to explain how God is free of moral taint for directing evil was a hint he had somewhere taken a wrong turn. The only hero of Calvin’s theology by logical necessity is Satan, just as the Swiss pastor Bullinger said in 1551 in the case of Bolsec.28 For Calvin insists Satan does his evil at God’s total beck-and-call, which means Satan has the least moral guilt of all, being controlled with no moment of acting free of the directing-will of his creator.

Let’s Recreate Calvin’s Likely Original Evident Salutary Purpose In Devising This Doctrine.

Calvin likely came up with this doctrine that God directs and controls all evil thoughts and deeds, including those of Satan, to solve a textual dilemma. It was not because he wanted to end up worshipping a being that instigates all evil, or had some great love of Satan to give him a basis for exoneration. Calvin’s spirit clearly started with wholesome objectives, and thus we must recognize that he backed into this doctrine inadvertently and in good faith.

The dilemma Calvin faced was that unless one believes God directs all evil, then Jesus refutes the predestination doctrine as Calvin construed from Paul’s writings. Jesus does this in the Parable of the Sower. Jesus in Luke chapter eight says after the word is sewn on the first hard soil, Satan comes and snatches the word “lest they believe and be saved.” (Luke 8:12.)

In Calvin’s view, Paul says the opposite, and attributes to God the hardening of the heart of unbelievers. Calvin relied upon Paul’s teaching that God hardens the Jews in unbelief in Romans 11:8 [FN29] and 11:32. [FN 30] In other words, God supposedly prevents belief in them.31 Calvin liked this reading because it confirmed his view that God predestines the lost without any free-will ability to accept the Gospel. (Some commentators find other ways of reading Romans 11:32 that does not support this view.)32

Hence, according to Jesus, it is Satan who causes unbelief, not God. But Paul’s teaching, if he really uttered it and meant what Calvin thought, is falsified by Jesus. What would we do with such a contradiction between Jesus and Paul? If the contradiction were real, Jesus said “the apostolos is not above the one who sent him.” (John 13:16 [see Greek tab "apostolos"].) So if such contradiction cannot be explained, we follow Jesus, and reject any doctrine that opposes that of Jesus.33

Yet, Calvin did not see that as an option. He felt convinced there was a contradiction that needed harmonization because he read Paul saying God predestines the lost in unbelief, but Jesus said Satan snatches the word lest the nonbeliever should believe. Calvin felt compelled to find a way to reconcile Paul to Jesus. Calvin found the solution in the doctrine we have been discussing. If Satan when he snatches the word and prevents belief was simultaneously being commanded and predestined by God to do so, then Paul and Jesus are reconciled. What Paul says about God hardening some in unbelief and what Jesus says about Satan snatching the word to prevent belief are then both simultaneously true.

Calvin Should Have Re-examined His Edifice of Doctrine

However, whatever explanation could ever truly reconcile Paul’s words to Jesus, no Christian could ever solve this dilemma by attributing the snatching of the word by Satan to God’s controlling or directing Satan. This would attribute an immoral act or evil to God. The idea that God wills the lost to be lost also directly contradicts Ezekiel. That prophet says God does not desire the damnation of the lost.34 Unless God can will against His own desire--“wills and wills not” the same conduct (as Calvin insisted was possible), Ezekiel is the final word. Calvin’s solution would attribute to God Himself what Jesus directly says is the work of Satan--the prevention of belief by snatching the word sewn. To attribute this snatching by Satan to God would truly be blasphemy of God.

Why Is Calvin’s Solution Blasphemy?

Why is Calvin’s words so injurious to God’s reputation? Jesus says that to attribute the works of the Holy Spirit to Satan is blasphemy. (Matt. 12:27-32.) By converse logic, any attribution of the works of Satan to the Holy Spirit would likewise be blasphemy. Hence, to attribute to God the snatching by Satan of the word and causing unbelief in men must itself be a blasphemy of God. It is an insult on God’s goodness--a statement which satisfies the quintessential true meaning of blasphemy.35 Whether from Calvin or Paul, blaming human unbelief (rejection of God/Jesus) on God would be an insult on God, and false doctrine. Calvin did not see that priority for Jesus’ words, and sought a solution that required a horrifying doctrine that God directs evil.

Calvin’s mistake was not being willing to throw out all his pet doctrines--even his view of predestination--because it required a blasphemous view of God to make all the pieces fit.


A Thought About 1 Kings 22

Calvin’s key Scriptural proof was 1 Kings 22. It says God sent lying prophets to lie to someone. This verse directly implicates God in evil. However, a little more careful reading of 1 Kings 22 would have proven Michaiah was a false prophet when he said God sent lying prophets to lie.36 Rather than attempting to vindicate God from every stigma, Calvin recklessly embraced every verse he could find that attributed evil to God, including the passage in 1 Kings 22, so that the perceived textual dilemma between Jesus and Paul could be solved.

But that passage in 1 Kings at the same time proves Micaiah’s prophecy in Kings was spoken as a false prophet, and hence the statement was uninspired. Calvin never thought of that possibility. Instead, Calvin ended up unabashedly attributing immoral evil directly to God without any concern for the dignity and honor of God. The other verses Calvin cites all have similar solutions, e.g., a mistranslation, an uninspired voice is speaking, a hyperbole, etc.37

1. Robert Willis, M.D., Servetus and Calvin: A Study of an Important Epoch in the Early History of the Reformation (H.S. King & Co. 1877) at 341-342 (quoting the pastor). For the full quote, see the text accompanying See Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God (London: James Clarke and Co., 1961) at 124. In the same context, Calvin tries to draw possible conceptions of how God’s will could coexist with our evil will. Calvin says God is the “ultimate remote cause” of sin, and we are the proximate cause. Id., at 181. Yet, that does not wash with Calvin’s teaching that man has no free-will. How can an involuntary being whose every thought is enslaved to God, and who utterly lacks free-will, in any sense be a cause of anything? [Return to Text at Footnote 1.]

2. “Nothing, however slight, can be credited to man without depriving God of his honor, and without man himself falling into ruin through brazen confidence.” Calvin’s Institutes 2.2.1. Calvin believed if man truly had free will, he might believe his good works are his own product, and hence suffer from pride. “[I]t ought to be clearly evident how important it is for him to be barred from false boasting.” Id.

4. Robert Willis, M.D. Servetus and Calvin: A Study of an Important Epoch in the Early History of the Reformation (H.S. King & Co. 1877) at 341-42. Willis does not mention his name, but the pastor from a nearby Swiss city was Bullinger. He is clearly the author of this quote as Calvin wrote Bullinger on January 21, 1552 saying, “yet you defend this man [Bolsec]--a thing to be most vehemently lamented.” (Henry:139). Bullinger similarly wrote to Calvin: “Believe me, many are displeased with what you say in your Institutes about predestination.”

5. Castellio, Four Dialogues, quoted in John Marshall, John Locke, Toleration and Early Enlightenment Culture (Cambridge, 2006) at 320.

6. Erasmus -- Luther: Discourse on Free Will (trans. & ed. by Ernst F. Winter) (New York: Frederick, Unger, 1961), Ch. VIII, Sec. 59.

7. Hodges, An impartial history of Michael Servetus, burnt alive at Geneva for heresie (London: printed for Aaron Ward, 1724) at 108.

8. Castellio, Four Dialogues, quoted in John Marshall, John Locke, Toleration and Early Enlightenment Culture (Cambridge, 2006) at 320.

9. Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God (London: James Clarke and Co., 1961) at 124. In the same context, Calvin tries to draw possible conceptions of how God’s will could coexist with our evil will. Calvin says God is the “ultimate remote cause” of sin, and we are the proximate cause. Id., at 181. Yet, that does not wash with Calvin’s teaching that man has no free-will. How can an involuntary being whose every thought is enslaved to God, and who utterly lacks free-will, in any sense be a cause of anything?

10. In Calvin’s Institutes 2.4.2, we read:

“How may we attribute this same work to God, to Satan, and to man as author, without either excusing Satan as associated with God, or making God the author of evil? Easily, if we consider first the end, and then the manner of acting...So great is the diversity of purpose that already strongly marks the deed. There is no less difference in the manner...Therefore we see no inconsistency in assigning the same deed to God, Satan, and man; but the distinction in purpose and manner causes God’s righteousness to shine forth blameless there, while the wickedness of Satan and of man betrays itself by its own disgrace.”

11. Calvinists cite Ephesians 1:11 to support this blasphemy. Paul says “we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will....” Calvin defenders say this means God “brings about” all things. “Everything is brought about by God.” See The Sovereignty of God Over Evil at http://www.geocities.com/athens/delphi/8449/comp1.html (5/21/08). In Romans 11:36 we also read: “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” A Calvinist rationalizes: “Thus, all things have their source in God’s eternal decrees, all things are brought to pass by God’s almighty power.” Id. The writer of this piece knows that the question arises: how can God not thereby be the author of sin? Here is his answer, and you can plainly see a mind caught in a logical dilemma but which will not confess the error of the premise. He says: “[God] is behind good in a way that renders Him fully deserving of all of the credit for it, but He is behind evil in such a way that He deserves none of the blame for it.” Id. How so? “God is the ultimate cause of sin, but He is not the positive cause of sin.” Id. “He does not produce sin in people’s hearts, but directs it by means of negative causation.” Id. Is this leaving people alone (permission) or directing them (instigation) to sin? Following Calvin, he says the latter: “I am not saying that God simply leaves a person to their own sinful nature, and that is all there is to it. God also directs the degree of evil in a person's heart by hardening it by means of negative causation.” Id. His main proof, like Calvin’s, is 1 Kings 22:19-23 because it says God was “sending a deceiving spirit to ‘entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead.’” (This was a false, not true prophet speaking. See See The most abhorrent conclusion is deduced by Calvin from 1 Kings 22:20-23. Calvin claims it is an inspired message that God puts a lying spirit in some prophets to lie. Calvin says God wanted Ahab deceived, and Satan is sent by God “with a definite command [from God] to be a lying spirit in the mouth of all the prophets” (Calvin’s words). Calvin has no problem saying God commanded a lie. While Calvin is textually correct, his assumption that this message is itself inspired is wrong..)

As you can see, The Sovereignty of God Over Evil repeats Calvin’s blasphemy, continuing to make the same illogical affirmance which Calvin did that God somehow is not logically thereby the author of sin. This is nonsense for it follows by logical necessity, proving the premise must be wrong. Yet, by injecting this ‘God is above every taint,’ Calvin and the sophists in his train were able to induce generations of Christians to repeat a blasphemy of God.

12. Westminster Confession of Faith, 3.1, reproduced in Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Intervarsity Press and Zondervan Publishing House, 1994) at 1179-1196.

13. The Westminster Confession 5:4 says: “The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God, so far manifest themselves in his providence, that it extendeth even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with its a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering and governing them, in a manifold dispensation to his most holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creatures, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.”

14. “The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (1833)” [book review], Brownson’s Quarterly Review (Benjamin H. Greene, 1847) at 538, 548.

15. Richard Watson, John McClintock, Theological Institutes: Or, A View of the Evidences, Doctrines, Morals, and Institutions of Christianity (J. Emory and E.Waugh for the Methodist Episcopal church, 1831) at 353.

16. Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, from Monticello, April 11, 1823, printed in Lester J. Cappon, ed., The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1987) at 591-594.

17. Dr. Roger Olson, “Calvinist view of bridge collapse distorts God’s character Aug. 28, 2007,” printed at http://www.baylor.edu/lariat/news.php?action=story&story=46486 (accessed 5/28/2008).

18. http://www.pfrs.org/calvinism/calvin09.html (accessed 6/1/2008).

19. Melancthon, Corpus Doctrinae Christianae (1560) quoted in Martin John Spalding, The History of the Protestant Reformation (John Murphy & Co., 1870) at 468. For background on Corpus Doctrinae Christianae, see Erwin Fahlbusch, The Encyclopedia of Christianity (Eerdman’s, 1999) at 691. Luther and Melancthon early on had endorsed the doctrine of the bondage of the human will. Melancthon in 1525 taught “Divine predestination takes away human liberty.” However, that changed radically later for both Luther and Melancthon. “On free will [Luther] had a sharp contest with Erasmus, but afterward kept almost silent on these perplexing questions, and, in the latter part of his life, strongly recommended Melancthon’s works, which taught a different doctrine. The Lutheran Church, receiving their impress from him, hold only a predestination based upon foreknowledge; in this, strictly agreeing with the Arminian view.” (Randolph Sinks Foster, Objections to Calvinism as it is (Swormstedt & Poe for the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1854) at 7.)

20. Randolph Sinks Foster, Objections to Calvinism as it is (Swormstedt & Poe for the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1854) at 7.

21. Richard Watson, A Biblical and Theological Dictionary (Carlton & Porter, 1856) at 605.

22. See Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical notes. Volume I. The History of Creeds. § 48. The Saxon Visitation Articles, (1592) at 345, reprinted at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/creeds1.viii.ix.html (accessed 2/24/2008). One of the key of four articles enforced in Lutheran lands was a negation of once in grace always in grace: “The fourth [article] teaches the universal atonement, and the vocation of all men to salvation, with the possibility of a total and final fall from grace.” Id. As Schaff notes of these Lutheran articles, they are “strongly anti-Calvinistic.” Id. Incidentally, in this period, the Lutherans allegedly committed their own killing of a Servetus-like figure -- Chancellor Crell. After ten years’ imprisonment, he was executed (1601), Schaff says “ostensibly for political offenses, but really for [Calvinist] opinions....” Id.

23. Debora K. Shuger, Censorship And Cultural Sensibility (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006) at 21.

24. K. Trübner, Bibliotheca Wiffeniana: Spanish Reformers of Two Centuries (1883) at 181.

25. Conrad Schlüsselburg, Theologiae Calvinistarum libri tres (1592) fol. 48, quoted in Martin John Spalding, The History of the Protestant Reformation (John Murphy & Co., 1870) at 468.

26. Schaff in 1843 “was called to become professor of church history and Biblical literature in the German Reformed Theological Seminary of Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, then the only seminary of that church in America.” (“Schaff, Philip,” Wikipedia.)

27. Schaff, Creeds of Christendom (6th edition) reprinted at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/creeds1.viii.ix.html, citing Kurtzer Bericht von der Calvinisten Gott und ihrer Religion, Frkf. 1597; Die erst Victoria, Triumph und Freudenjubel über des Calvin Geistes Niederlag, 1600; Calvinischer Vitzliputzli, etc, and Frank, Vol. I. at 280.

29. Paul in Romans 11:7-8 ASV says: “What then? that which Israel seeketh for, that he obtained not; but the election obtained it, and the rest were hardened: (8) according as it is written, God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear, unto this very day.” However, Isaiah 29:10 which Paul is quoting merely says God put a sleep upon prophets. Paul applies this to say unbelief, not merely sleep, is caused. Hence it is either a new inspired application, if Paul is a prophet, or it is a misapplication by a misreading by Paul.

30. Other translations often have an ambiguous meaning. Romans 11:32 (ASV) reads: “For God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.” The Greek word for shut up is sunekleise. Barnes says it “is properly used in reference to those who are shut up in prison, or to those in a city who are shut up by a besieging army....”

31. Calvinists who insist God authors evil, citing 1 Kings 22:20-23, use Romans 11:32 to mock the notion of free-will: “Reader, if you believe in the free will of man, please investigate the ninth chapter of Romans in any version you please, come back, then tell me if you still believe in it. If you still do, then read Romans 11:32.” http://mandygetsserious.blogspot.com/2006/06/this-is-here-for-my-sake-not-yours.html (2/24/2008).

32. Clarke’s explanation appears to say that it is not a forcible closure but rather is a place closed due to a voluntary refusal to believe. He says “shut or locked up, under the jailer, unbelief; and there both continued in the same state, awaiting the execution of their sentence: but God, in his own compassion, moved by no merit in either party, caused a general pardon by the Gospel to be proclaimed to all. The Jews have refused to receive this pardon on the terms which God has proposed it, and therefore continue locked up under unbelief.”

33. This is the traditional solution of the early church, evident in Second Peter and many other early writings. Second Peter warned us about ambiguities and difficulty in interpreting brother Paul’s writings. Second Peter 3:15-16 ASV says: “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given to him, wrote unto you; (16) as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; wherein are some things hard to be understood, which the ignorant and unstedfast wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.”

34. Calvin’s doctrine says God wills some to be lost when the Bible instead teaches that God’s will/desire is that all should be saved. See Ezekiel 33:11 ASV: “Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” See also, 2 Peter 3:9 (“God does not will that any should perish but that all come to repentance.”)

35. et seq.

36. The most abhorrent conclusion is deduced by Calvin from 1 Kings 22:20-23. Calvin claims it is an inspired message that God puts a lying spirit in some prophets to lie. Calvin says God wanted Ahab deceived, and Satan is sent by God “with a definite command [from God] to be a lying spirit in the mouth of all the prophets” (Calvin’s words). Calvin has no problem saying God commanded a lie. While Calvin is textually correct, his assumption that this message is itself inspired is wrong.

The 1 Kings account says a spirit came to the Lord and said he would entice Ahab to attack Ramoth Gilead foolishly. “I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouths of these prophets of yours.” God’s reply, according to Micaiah--an alleged true prophet according to Calvin, was “Go and do it.” (1 Kings 22:22.) Michaiah, the so-called true prophet in this story says--“Now therefore, behold, the LORD hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets....” (1 Kings 22:23, KJV.) Are we forced to accept this verse proves ‘God can command a lie,’ as Calvin contends? No. In fairness, we will agree the translation is correct. Keil & Delitzh are reputable scholars, and they side with Calvin, saying this verse proves God “does work evil, but without willing it...” (A contradiction in terms!) They say this verse proves that God does not merely “express...permission” of evil, but insists that God “works evil,” just as Calvin said. How shocking!

There is a better solution that works. It is Michaiah who is the false prophet. God tells us that He tests us by allowing prophets to come who have true signs and wonders “that come to pass” but the prophet is actually a false prophet. (Deut. 13:3.) God permits them to test us whether we love God with our whole heart and soul. God commands us to test even a true prophet to see whether they seek to “seduce” us from following the Law. (Deut. 13:1-5.) For example, Balaam was a true prophet of the Star of Bethlehem. Balaam later became false by negating a principle in the Law. (Nu. 22; Rev. 22:14.) Did Micaiah have a teaching, like Balaam, that would seduce us from following the Law? Yes! The Law says “God is not a man, that He should lie.” (Nu 23:19). Hence, Michaiah was a false prophet even though what he previously prophesied about “had come to pass.” (Deut. 13:3.) A true prophet turns false once they teach anything contrary to the Law given Moses. (Deut. 13:1-5.) Nothing is more contrary to God’s word than to say God sends a lying spirit in lying prophets. To accept that as part of God’s nature is to unravel all Scripture. Calvin’s error was ever thinking a prophet was valid if he ascribed immoral evil, even lying, to God. God tests us by permitting lying prophets.

37. If Job says he must accept the good from God as well as the “evil,” the statement does not affirm God causes evil. The narrator tells us that God merely permitted Satan to afflict Job. God did not order Satan to afflict Job. And Job is not a prophet anyway. When Joseph in Genesis tells us that what his brothers intended for evil “God intended for good,” this does not expressly tell us God made the brothers do the evil. God could have merely permitted their actions with the simultaneous intention of bringing good from it. Also, Joseph is never described as a prophet in Genesis. The other passages upon which Calvin relied create support for Calvin’s view by translating mishaps and destruction as “evil.” This is hyperbole because it is not actually a moral evil that God ‘creates’ but a circumstance of unwelcome natural disaster, etc., in those passages. We also know this doctrine is wrong because it necessarily creates a moral hole in any human who thinks like this. That should be enough to tell any Christian it is a false doctrine, and that we must find a different solution to these particular passages Calvin cites rather than taking them literally. Or we need to test whether the speaker quoted was described ever as an inspired prophet.