The Reformation in Geneva and John Calvin 1509-64

Posted on October 18, 2008. Filed under: Church History |

The Reformation in Geneva and John Calvin 1509-64


Overview: John Calvin was born and converted in France but led the second phase of the Reformation from French speaking Geneva, Switzerland. A pastor, teacher, writer and theologian, Calvin gave needed order to the Reformation and his writings are still in great use today.


  • 1509 born in Picardy, France; studied for the priesthood but received his Doctorate of Law from Orleans in 1532. His first published work was a commentary on Seneca’s De Clementia, but became famous for his Institutes of the Christian Religion, the first edition was published at 27 yrs. old in 1536.
  • Shortly after his conversion he had to flee France due to persecution. He pastored in Strasburg 1538-41 then moved to Geneva to pastor Eglise St. Pierre where he remained for the rest of his life.
  • 1539 he married Idelette de Bure, a widow with two children. She was famously beautiful and lived as a great example of a pastor’s wife. She died in 1549.
  • As pastor he wrote commentaries on 23 of the Old Testament books, and all of the New Testament except for Revelation.
  • As teacher he taught hundreds of pastors from all over Europe, including John Knox of Scotland. His books spread rapidly across Europe and Geneva’s leading industry became printing.
  • He suffered from poor health for many years, sometimes needing to be carried to the pulpit and giving lectures from his sickbed. He died in 1564 at age 54.


  • Sola Scriptura, Calvin was a biblical theologian and exegete. His humanist education trained him in the grammatico-historical method of examining a text. He rejected allegory and moralizing, sticking to the literal meaning in its historical context. He believed the Scriptures were the only reliable source for knowledge of God, they were inspired and infallible.
  • The three-fold offices of Christ. Calvin was the first theologian to stress this aspect of Christology- Christ is our Prophet, Priest and King.
  • Soli Deo Gloria- God’s glory was a dominant aspect of Calvin’s theology and pastoral ministry.
  • God’s providence is another theme in Calvin’s works. God is always at work directing all events toward His end.
  • Predestination and the decrees of God are central to the destiny of all men.
  • Justification by grace through faith is a theme that occupies nine chapters in some editions of his Institutes.
  • Prayer occupies a significant place in his Institutes, right after the chapters on predestination.
  • Ceremonies in worship must be simple and Bible based, understood by laymen.
  • Sacraments  are visible signs of God’s invisible grace, rejecting Zwingli’s memorial view and Luther’s consubstantiation, they give what they represent.
  • Against State interference with the Church, rebellion against tyrants is allowed.

Questions for Further Study and Application on

John Calvin of Geneva

Questions for Further Study:

In what way do you think Calvin’s early training in Law helped him as a theologian and Bible expositor? Why or why not?


What was Calvin’s view of the Atonement and from which Medieval Scholastic did he derive this view?


Did Calvin develop the TULIP?


We know that printing became Geneva’s major industry, but what other industry did Calvin bring to Geneva?


Questions for Application:

Do you think that most Christians approach their faith in a logical, systematic way like Calvin or do they have an emotion based faith?


Was Calvin right to teach that Christians can resist unjust tyrants?


How do you respond to the ideas of God’s sovereignty and predestination?


Recommended Reading: The Life of John Calvin, Theodore Beza (originally published 1575) edited and translated by Henry Beveridge 1844. This new edition edited and expanded by Gary Sanseri. Back Home Industries: Milwaukie, OR. 1996 (149pp).



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