John Calvin Vs. Martin Luther: Similarities and Differences

by Jared Moore on May 26, 2013 · 113 comments

This article was originally posted at my site. I’m married with three children, an SBC pastor, a PhD student at SBTS, and an average Southern Baptist. I’ve authored two books. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and YouTube.

John Calvin vs. Martin Luther


Timothy George seeks to detail the lives and beliefs of the Reformers in his book Theology of the Reformers. Two of the Reformers he examines are John Calvin and Martin Luther. This article will seek to critique and examine the clear similarities and differences between John Calvin vs. Martin Luther specifically mentioned by George. According to George’s distinctions between these two men concerning the essentials of the Reformation, their similarities in life and theology far outweighed their differences.

Similarities in Life and Theology

Unlike Luther, Calvin was born into the church. His father was an administrative assistant for the Bishop of Noyon. His mother also was considered a very pious woman (168). Both these men however studied law, with Calvin graduating, and Luther foregoing finishing law school to become a monk, and eventually a Doctor of Theology. Calvin, however, was not a novice in the biblical languages, but was not formally theologically trained like Luther.

Although their upbringing and education were similar, their personalities were different. Calvin was shy to the point of being unsociable. Luther however was a man of action, and is described by George as having a “volcano of a personality” (175). In spite of these differences in personality, both Calvin and Luther were reluctant to fight the opposition, but Calvin was more reluctant than Luther. Both men, however, were brought into the fight by the encouragement of those who surrounded them.

With their understanding of the biblical languages came an emphasis upon the authority of the Scriptures. George indicates that Luther and Calvin both affirmed that the church was born from the womb of the Scriptures, instead of the Scriptures being produced by the church (197). This is one of the main “flags” of the Reformation. The Scriptures alone are authoritative. This emphasis on the Scriptures alone was direct rebellion against the current thought and government of the day. It was a capital offense to usurp the absolute authority of the Catholic Church and the pope. Calvin and Luther, however, sought to please God rather than men.

Seeking to please God rather than men led Luther and Calvin to submit to and emphasize the sovereignty of God. George revealed that these men agreed that God’s will, although singular, carries a multiple meaning (208). George showed this similarity through emphasizing Luther’s writing on God’s revealed will and concealed will. God’s revealed will is that part of His will which He has revealed in His Word. His concealed will is that aspect of His will that He has withheld from the understanding of His people. Neither Calvin nor Luther believed God to be the author of sin; this also means that they argued that even evil was willed by God indirectly to accomplish His will. Even the Devil is used by God to accomplish His will, even though every decision he makes is his decision alone (209). God’s overarching will was determined by Him before the foundation of the world.

In line with God’s providence is God’s sovereign foreordination of Christ as the foundation for all of life, whether spiritual or physical. George argues that both Luther’s and Calvin’s theologies were completely Christ-centered (216). They emphasized salvation existing in Christ alone. This theology was another flag of the Reformation. They both believed in the imputed righteousness of Christ being credited through sinners being justified by faith alone in Christ alone. Sinners are saved by Christ’s righteousness and obedience credited to them; instead of being saved through their own obedience. To these men, righteousness was declarative instead of infused–as the Catholics believed. Due to man’s total depravity, he cannot save himself. Thus, this imputed righteousness being found objectively in Christ alone was good news indeed.

Concerning this good news and man’s assurance of salvation, George argues that Luther was preoccupied with guilt, and Calvin struggled with the meaninglessness of existence. They both were assured of their salvation, and yet admitted the doubt that existed because the flesh was still present with the believer (pg. 204). This continual depravity of the flesh furthermore means that not only is salvation a gift at the beginning and end, but faith and repentance are gifts continually as well. Furthermore, where repentance is present, faith is present as well; for one cannot exist without the other.

On top of the necessity of Christ alone and the depravity of man, these two Reformers also emphasized the importance of faith alone. George points to the type of faith these men believed individuals must possess in order to be saved (224-225). Sinners had to trust in the finished work of Christ for salvation; for acknowledging the historicity of Christ was not enough. Even the demons were capable of acknowledging the historical existence of Christ. To Luther and Calvin, this historical acknowledgment alone was not saving faith. In order to be saved from the wrath of God, sinners must not only believe the historical work of Christ, but also repent and trust in Him for their salvation.

Due to God’s providence in saving through Christ alone by faith alone, Calvin and Luther were naturally led to affirm the perseverance of the saints (226). George purports that Calvin however emphasized the necessity of continual repentance, and the gradual growth in Christ through sanctification. Although Christians pursue perfection, it always escapes them. Thus, Christians are always in need of repentance and the continual application of the blood of Christ to their lives. Their good works then, although empowered by Christ, must be cleansed by Christ’s blood as well before they are acceptable to God. Christians therefore live by faith, not by sight, according to the theology of these two men.

Differences in Life and Theology

Although Luther’s and Calvin’s lives and theology were mostly similar in the essentials, there were differences between the two men. Calvin, although younger than Luther, knew him and his work. He sang Luther’s praises in restoring the gospel in their historical time period. Some even thought of Calvin as Luther’s greatest disciple. George argues that where Calvin surpassed Luther was in his ability to communicate the great insights of the reformation (God’s grace alone, faith alone, and the Scriptures alone), and in his systematic application of these insights to the civic life of Geneva. Luther and Zwingli did not do this (166). Calvin set himself apart from Luther is his ability to communicate and apply difficult truths. George argues that from this theocracy in Geneva, the solas of the Reformation traveled internationally, taking on a life of their own as various Christians fleshed them out in many cultural and civic settings (166).

George writes that one of these difficult truths Calvin helped to communicate, that was doctrinally minor, was his belief that every time a baby was created at conception, God created its soul out of nothing. Calvin emphasized God’s direct involvement in the world, and this belief led him to favor God’s direct involvement in procreation. This caused him to reject the traducianist theory, which Luther held. George shows that in this view, the soul is transferred from generation to generation through procreation (206-207). This view naturally follows then that humans are involved in the creation of babies apart from God’s extra intervention. In other areas, Calvin did scripturally deduce that God allowed indirect individuals and circumstances to accomplish His will. Creating however must have been too holy a thing for humanity to solely participate. Calvin obviously saw this creating act as flowing from God’s nature. This creating act of the soul must then be “good” for only goodness can come from God, and thus, the depravity of humanity would not allow them to participate in this divine act.

Part of God’s goodness furthermore is exhibited in His church. George details how these men did not believe the church was a building or simply those who claim the title. To Luther and Calvin, the church was the local body of believers, as well as, the universal church or invisible church. Furthermore, for Calvin the marks of a church actually formed a church; this surpassed Luther’s use of these marks. The two marks they used were the Word rightly preached and the sacraments correctly administered (235). There were other Reformers who added church discipline to these marks, but Calvin and Luther did not go this far. Calvin however viewed discipline as part of the constitution and organization of a congregation, instead of as part of the definition of a true congregation (235-236).


In conclusion, with brevity, George succeeds in detailing the similarities and differences between the lives and theologies of Luther and Calvin. As shown above, George believes their similarities in the Reformation essentials are greater than their differences. He argues that Calvin received the Reforming baton from Luther, and fleshed out Reformation theology more than his predecessor (166). Calvin however built upon a foundation laid by Luther. According to George, both of these men were used by God to restore the gospel to His church (166).

This article was originally posted at my site. I’m married with three children, an SBC pastor, a PhD student at SBTS, and an average Southern Baptist. I’ve authored two books. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and YouTube.

1 Clark Dunlap May 26, 2013 at 9:59 am

THanks for whetting my appetite to go back and read the book! ;-)

2 Jim G. May 26, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Hi Jared,

Two things:

I’m surprised that George (or you) did not mention the extremely important differences between the two men concerning Christ. Luther believed in a strong communicatio idiomatum which allowed him to conclude that Christ’s risen flesh was omnipresent. The result is Luther’s view of the real presence in the elements of the Eucharist that we call consubstantiation. The divine property of omnipresence is communicated to the person of Christ allowing him to be bodily present everywhere, including every celebration of the Eucharist.

Calvin, on the other hand rejected the strong communicatio. He held to a christological position that came to be known later as the extra calvinisticum. Refined by his followers, the “extra” stated “the finite cannot contain the infinite,” or that the divine Logos could not be fully contained in Jesus of Nazareth, due to his finite human body. That leads directly to the idea of “spiritual presence” in the Eucharist, where Christ is really present in divinity while his humanity remains at the right hand of the Father in heaven. Lutherans (rightly, in my opinion) condemn this view as pure Nestorianism. I do not know of a greater disagreement between the two than their view on the communicatio that leads to the disagreement on the Eucharist.

Also, if Calvin is a special creationist in his view of the transmission of humanity, how can he hold to a “total” depravity? If God alone creates the human soul, does he create it totally depraved, or does it become so at a later date? I was unaware of Calvin’s special creationist position until you mentioned it (I read George years ago, but i must have overlooked that point or did not seen the significance of it at the time). It seems very inconsistent with his view of depravity. Calvin’s theology is a web of inconsistency, so it is just one more place where he wallows in contradiction.

Jim G.

3 Jared Moore May 27, 2013 at 9:23 am

Jim, First, I don’t think Calvin “wallows in contradiction.”

Second, I’m aware of their differing views on the Lord’s Supper. I don’t think George mentions it. I may be wrong though. It’s not a long book.

4 Jim G. May 27, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Jared, As I said, I read it several years ago and I have it in my office upstairs.

The views on the supper are what divide Protestants fundamentally. It goes back to the Marburg Colloquy between Luther and Zwingli in 1529. They each left that meeting thinking the other was a heretic. With Luther and Calvin, though, they have differing views of the natures in the person that are the root cause of the differing views of the supper.

Calvin is plenty contradictory, but that’s a subject for another time. Robert Shank pulls the contradictions together nicely.

Jim G.

5 Jim G. May 28, 2013 at 12:20 pm

Upon further reflection…

Can any of my more Calvinistic brethren or sistern help me out on this one? How can a person (John Calvin or anyone else) simultaneously hold to both special creationism (as George and Jared lay it out above) and total depravity? I would think that such a combination is fraught with theological difficulty, if not outright contradiction.

First, if God creates the soul immediately, then by definition he creates it undepraved (for if he created it depraved, then he would be the author of evil – something we all want to avoid). Then where does the depravity that we agree is in the soul come from? The only answer that I can see is the material body would be the source of the soul’s depravity.

But then we have another problem. This is nothing more than Platonic dualism rehashed – matter is bad and immaterial is good. It would mean that the body is what is truly evil, though God calls it very good in creation. Moreover, evil would reside in the flesh, where the Bible says that evil comes from the abundance of the heart (immaterial heart, that is). There also lies the issue of the joining of the Logos to the anhypostatic humanity in Mary’s womb if creationism and TD coexist.

Can a person hold to both special creationism and total depravity? Help me see how they can fit together. This is a good question for our soon-to-be-SBTS-PhD-student. BTW, George only mentions Zwingli vs. Luther on the Supper, and not later Lutheran-Reformed polemics.

Jim G.

6 Jared Moore May 28, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Jim, I think the question is irrelevant because whatever way you slice it God sustains the lives of sinners, even the Devil himself. Yet, He remains Holy and not the source of evil. How can God sustain evil sinners and remain holy would be a similar question to ask. Yet, if we’re to agree with Scripture, He clearly does sustain evil people/angels while remaining holy and not the source of evil.

7 Joshua T May 28, 2013 at 1:41 pm


I do think it is a practical and relevant question. It is one Augustine struggled mightily with. And I came to the same conclusion as him. I became a loose believer in traducianism.

I know you’re approaching it from a “doesn’t make God evil” perspective. But I was more convinced, like Jim, that this concept led to an obvious Platonism with little Biblical warrant to support it.

Not dogmatic on this. It is one of the more interesting things I’ve shared a few beers over. Fun subject.

8 Jim G. May 28, 2013 at 8:32 pm

Hi Jared,

I’m not talking about God’s providence (sustaining action), I’m talking about whether or not God specially creates the human soul. If he does, then whence comes its depravity? Does it come from the creator or not?

Of course my question is relevant. We are talking about the internal consistency and the logical consequences of theological systems. As a PhD student in systematic theology at our flagship seminary, do you think you would get a pass if Dr. Ware or Dr. Brand asked you that question in a doctoral seminar and you responded that doctrinal coherence and consequences of two specific and simultaneous dogma are irrelevant? They’d chew you up and spit you out in front of your classmates is what they would do, or at least my profs at SEBTS would have.

I’m not Dr. Ware nor Dr. Brand. But you should be able to give an answer as someone seeking the highest academic degree our seminaries offer, even if it is tentative. Where does human depravity in the soul originate under a view of special creation?

Jim G.

9 Christiane May 28, 2013 at 9:30 pm

I did find this resource on Bruce Ware’s point of view to do with the human soul. . . but is is confusing to me, likely because of terminology differences (or may logic, not sure):

10 Ron F. Hale May 26, 2013 at 6:02 pm

One of the differences that I see is that Luther believed in a single predestination, while Calvin (Beza, Bucer, etc.) believed in a double predestination.


11 Les Prouty May 26, 2013 at 7:06 pm


You note the distinction of single and double P. Sproul, one of my favorite authors, says,

“The use of the qualifying term “double” has been somewhat confusing in discussions concerning predestination. The term apparently means one thing within the circle of Reformed theology and quite another outside that circle and at a popular level of theological discourse. The term “double” has been set in contrast with a notion of “single” predestination. It has also been used as a synonym for a symmetrical view of predestination which sees election and reprobation being worked out in a parallel mode of divine operation. Both usages involve a serious distortion of the Reformed view of double predestination.”

Exactly in what way do you understand the two views, particularly with reference to Calvin and Luther?

Thanks brother.

12 Bob Hadley May 27, 2013 at 7:15 pm


Hope you had a great weekend. Can you elaborate on the following statement:

“Both usages involve a serious distortion of the Reformed view of double predestination.”


13 Les Prouty May 27, 2013 at 7:57 pm

Hey Bob. Thanks brother and hope you did as well.

The quote is from RC Sproul. I would happy to elaborate, but since they are his words, it is best to see them in context. I should have put the link. Here it is

After you’ve read it and still want to discuss, I’ll be happy to do so. And, hoping Ron Hale comes back in since he brought the single/double P into the discussion.

Blessings brother.

14 Bob Hadley May 27, 2013 at 9:27 pm


I am familiar with what Sproul refers to as the reformed view of predestination. His asymmetrical view is that all deserve judgement or justice BUT God in His mercy has chosen to save some. He did not choose to damn anyone since all were already damned. This is the primary difference in his symmetrical argument; that God is monergistic in salvation but that He is not monergistic in the non-elect.

What I really find interesting is his preview of Brunner and his single predestination argument that is based on the fact that reprobation is not in the Bible and so double predestination is not Scriptural. As I read Sproul’s presentation I see very little difference in Brunner and his own reformed position except he changes words… Sproul admits Brunner’s position “of predestination is manifest nonsense.”

I hate to be hte bearer of bad news but his conclusion falls into the same line of criticism. If ALL deserve judgment and God chooses SOME to salvation (election or predestination) then He chooses to “pass over the rest” which qualifies those as reprobates and if God is the One who monergistically chooses the redeemed then He has monergistically set the fate of the unregenerate by virtue of NOT choosing them to be saved.

Since NO ONE can choose to be saved in the RT system, God’s choice is equally deterministic; salvation for one and damnation for the other.

John Frame in his book, Salvation Belongs to the Lord speaks directly to this issue and its implications for the Calvinist.

“Now the question comes up, if God chooses us eternally for salvation, does He also choose who will be lost? God’s choice of who will be lost is called reprobation. So we know God elected; does he also reprobate? It seems logical to say that if God chooses some to be saved; he automatically chooses the rest not to be saved. This doctrine is sometimes called ‘double predestination’.”

“But this is a hard pill to swallow. It is hard to believe that a loving God could, before the beginning of time, send some to eternal punishment, accusing them before they could do anything about it. Although reprobation is a particularly hard problem, I believe the best answers are the answers I gave earlier: God brings good out of evil even when we can’t imagine how he could possibly do it; and he reserved to himself the right to do that, to his own honor and glory. Remember, too, that if God does not reprobate, he does not elect to salvation either. So, the alternative to election and reprobation is for us to try to save ourselves by our own resources, I would not want to try to do that. What settles the matter is that the doctrine of reprobation is biblical, and not just an implication from the doctrine of election. In other words, he uses his sovereignty negatively rather than positively.” (John Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing Company, 2006), 179-80. )

I believe the “distorted view of the Reformed view of double predestination” is the outright denial of it.

15 Les Prouty May 27, 2013 at 9:56 pm


I cannot see how you conclude that Sproul’s view is near the same as Brunner. Brunner argues there is no reprobation, right? Single predestination. Sproul then writes:

“If, as Brunner maintains, all salvation is based upon the eternal election of God and not all men are elect from eternity, does that not mean that from eternity there are non-elect who most certainly will not be saved? Has not God chosen from eternity not to elect some people? If so, then we have an eternal choice of non-election which we call reprobation. The inference is clear and necessary, yet some shrink from drawing it.”

Sproul clearly affirms DP, predestination of the elect and the non elect, as do I.

“I believe the “distorted view of the Reformed view of double predestination” is the outright denial of it.”

I’m not sure what you’re saying here.

Sproul says in the Brunner quote I just pasted in,

“Has not God chosen from eternity not to elect some people?”

Do you agree with that?

16 Bob Hadley May 27, 2013 at 11:06 pm

As I read Sproul in his asymmetrical description of predestination, basically as I see it says, all men are sinners and are condemned to judgment so He has not done ANYTHING to render anyone fit for judgment. He has elected and effectually called some to repentance and conversion; these are spared and are predestined for glory. He calls the double-predestination aspect “hyper-supralapsarianism” which RT rejects, he says.

If you affirm reprobation then I believe you are being consistent with what calvinism posits; many that I have talked to will deny double predestination and reprobation and that is the basis for my statment,

I believe the “distorted view of the Reformed view of double predestination” is the outright denial of it.

If one is going to hold to unconditional election, he MUST accept double predestination and reprobation and make God solely responsible for both.

“Has not God chosen from eternity not to elect some people?”

Do you agree with that?

God has chosen to make His choice on my eternity based on my choice concerning the provisions Jesus has secured on my behalf on the cross.

17 Les Prouty May 27, 2013 at 11:32 pm


You and I will continue to disagree on this brother.

I will agree with you on one thing though. For someone who affirms Dort, or commonly what is called 5 point Calvinism, I see no way around double predestination such as how Sproul affirms it.

Sproul: “In the Reformed view God from all eternity decrees some to election and positively intervenes in their lives to work regeneration and faith by a monergistic work of grace. To the non-elect God withholds this monergistic work of grace, passing them by and leaving them to themselves. He does not monergistically work sin or unbelief in their lives. Even in the case of the “hardening” of the sinners’ already recalcitrant hearts, God does not, as Luther stated, “work evil in us (for hardening is working evil) by creating fresh evil in us.””


18 Bob Hadley May 28, 2013 at 10:09 am

We are good.

19 David R. Brumbelow May 27, 2013 at 8:20 am

Another similarity of Luther and Calvin is they both believed in persecuting Baptists.

Luther did not believe all the books in the Bible were inspired. Did Calvin disagree?
David R. Brumbelow

20 Jared Moore May 27, 2013 at 9:20 am

David, you mean Anabaptists. Yes, both Luther and Calvin were magisterial Reformers.

Concerning Luther’s rejection of certain books in the Bible, I think you’re confusing Luther’s early doctrines with his later doctrines? I may be wrong though.

21 Donald May 27, 2013 at 9:33 am

“David, you mean Anabaptists. Yes, both Luther and Calvin were magisterial Reformers.”

Jared, you say this as if it is the most natural thing for “magisterial reformers” to persecute those who practiced believers baptism (e.g. Baptist).

Assuming you’d still be a Baptist if you were living back then, I think that you might have a stronger opinion.

22 volfan007 May 27, 2013 at 9:58 pm


Amen….I would’ve hated to have lived under Calvin and Luther’s RULE.


23 David R. Brumbelow May 28, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Martin Luther cast doubt on the divine inspiration of Esther, Hebrews, James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Revelation.

If he were around today he’d be considered an old fashioned theological liberal.
David R. Brumbelow

24 Jared Moore May 28, 2013 at 2:16 pm

David, at what points in his ministry did he do this? It’s important to understand because Luther in his elder years would disagree with his younger self.

25 Joshua T May 28, 2013 at 2:32 pm


Denying a couple books is hardly “an old fashion theological liberal”. Lets give liberals their due accusation. They denied all of Scripture as “divine revelation”. They questioned the fundamental proposition of God communicating at all.

As Protestants we are not required to accept “inspired canon”. Hence we’re not nailed to any particular council on Inspired Texts. Luther just like every other Protestant is allowed to affirm the inspired nature of books at his discretion. That might exclude him from some denominations but lets not get into name calling.

26 volfan007 May 28, 2013 at 2:38 pm

Josh T.,

You said, “As Protestants we are not required to accept “inspired canon”. Hence we’re not nailed to any particular council on Inspired Texts. Luther just like every other Protestant is allowed to affirm the inspired nature of books at his discretion.”

Excuse me?

David smh

27 Dale Pugh May 28, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Joshua T:
I’m with David here. What in the world do you mean when you say we can “affirm the inspired nature of books at [our] discretion”? That’s hogwash.

28 Joshua T May 28, 2013 at 2:47 pm


I’m not sure what I need to explain. Every Protestant denomination has a statement on what books it considers inspired. The reason why is because Protestants unlike Catholics don’t affirm an “inspired canon”. We affirm a fallible canon of inspired books. What does this mean? Our man made list of inspired texts could be wrong. This isn’t ground breaking stuff. This helped spark the Protestant Reformation and removed us from ecclesiastical tyranny and church tradition.

29 Joshua T May 28, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Dale and David,

Please know that I am not affirming a power of the people over Scripture. But the Reformation was built on the inspired texts being affirmed by the testimony of the Holy Spirit and not church creeds or statements of faith.

Can this be abused? Yes. But it means that Luther isn’t a “liberal” simply because he had doubts about a few of the inspired books of canon.

30 David R. Brumbelow May 28, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Joshua T,

Are you Baptist?
Do you believe the 66 books of Scripture are inspired by God and inerrant?
You have done a magnificent job bringing together Calvinists and Traditionalists on this issue.

Guys, this should remind us not to neglect the basic doctrines of Christianity.
Teach them to your people, and then teach them again.
Don’t assume they know.
In some ways the SBC Conservative Resurgence will never be over.
David R. Brumbelow

31 Joshua T May 28, 2013 at 3:41 pm


I have been a Baptist. I am a Presbyterian in a Southern Baptist church currently. Yes I believe the 66 books are inspired and inerrant. I take no exception to the definition given in the BFM though I do wish it would explicitly list the books included in “the Holy Bible”.

I teach the Christian doctrine class (based on the BFM) at my church and regularly affirm this truth. This Sunday will mark the third time in 9 months that we’ve taught the class. All joking aside, I’m still ignorant of what “issue” I’ve provoked or “basic doctrine” I’ve neglected.

32 Joshua T May 28, 2013 at 4:27 pm


I hope my quotation using different language will ease your heresy detectors. Thank you for your concern.

“For Protestant Christians, the canon is not an authorized collection of writings (in that the church conferred its authority or approval upon a list of books). Rather, the canon is a collection of authoritative writings. The Biblical writings have an inherent authority as works uniquely inspired by God. Canonization is the process of recognizing that inherent authority, not bestowing it from an outside source.” (Plummer, 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible, pg. 57)

33 David R. Brumbelow May 28, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Joshua T,

You said, “Luther just like every other Protestant is allowed to affirm the inspired nature of books at his discretion.”

That seems pretty serious to me. And it is mighty close to liberalism.

Liberals believe the Bible (66 books) is inspired in spots and they are inspired to spot the spots. We have historically believed in the full (plenary) inspiration of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. To SBC conservatives, that is a non-negotiable.

You don’t get to throw out or include biblical books at your whim.
David R. Brumbelow

34 Dale Pugh May 28, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Thanks for clarifying. I’m not a heresy hunter, just taken aback a bit by the original way your comment communicated.

35 Les Prouty May 28, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Joshua T, if I may ring in in agreement with you. This is not new news. Someone posted this a while back about this very subject, First with a question someone asked followed by Don Kistler’s reply:

“I’ve read second-hand that R.C. Sproul said Christians have “a fallible list of infallible books.” Do you believe this? How does this factor into Protestant certainty?”

R.C. Sproul has made this point multiple times. I have at least three sources in which he makes this point. Probably though, the point wasn’t even Sproul’s to begin with. He was the pupil of John Gerstner, this statement might have been originally his.

Don Kistler points out:

“Though Luther did not challenge the infallibility of Scripture he most emphatically challenged the infallibility of the church. He allowed for the possibility that the church could err, even when the church ruled on the question of what books properly belonged in the Canon. To see this issue more clearly we can refer to a distinction often made by Dr. John Gerstner. Gerstner distinguishes between the Roman Catholic view of the Canon and the Protestant view of the Canon in this manner:

• ROMAN CATHOLIC VIEW: The Bible is an infallible collection of infallible books.

• PROTESTANT VIEW: The Bible is a fallible collection of infallible books.

The distinction in view here refers to the Catholic Church’s conviction that the Canon of Scripture was declared infallibly by the church. On the other hand, the Protestant view is that the church’s decision regarding what books make up the Canon was a fallible decision. Being fallible means that it is possible that the church erred in its compilation of the books found in the present Canon of Scripture.

When Gerstner makes this distinction he is neither asserting nor implying that the church indeed did err in its judgment of what properly belongs to the Canon. His view is not designed to cast doubt on the Canon but simply to guard against the idea of an infallible church. It is one thing to say that the church could have erred; it is another thing to say that the church did err.

Gerstner’s formula has often been met with both consternation and sharp criticism in evangelical circles. It seems to indicate that he and those who agree with his assessment are undermining the authority of the Bible. But nothing could be further from the truth. Like Luther and Calvin before him, Gerstner has been an ardent defender of the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture. His formula is merely designed to acknowledge that there was a historical selection process by which the church determined what books were really Scripture and what books were not Scripture. The point is that in this sifting or selection process the church sought to identify what books were actually to be regarded as Scripture.”

[Source: “??The Establishment of Scripture?” Sola Scriptura! The Protestant Position on the Bible. (Don Kistler, ed. Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1995), found in the electronic edition of Sproul’s Chapters in Symposium Volumes]

36 Joshua T May 28, 2013 at 4:59 pm

In my defense, I did mention that an individual could expect denominational exclusion based on the views. I was not implying a rejection of the 66 books was permissible in the SBC.

I’m not sure full acceptance or rejection of a book is the same as the spotty hermeneutic of liberals. But that is a matter for another time.

I am sorry if my comment was taken as an offense. Biblical inspiration is a serious matter and you were rightly defending it. I just didn’t want different expressions of orthodox to cause conflict.

Thank you for your post. I perhaps have not spoken so clearly as you. I might have saved myself some trouble by explicating my defense of Luther more clearly.

37 Dale Pugh May 28, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Joshua T–
I’m not sure that “That’s hogwash”, suffices as much of a defense of the 66 books of the Bible, but no offense taken. I appreciate the further explanation.

38 Chris Roberts May 28, 2013 at 8:00 pm

One might also note that the Protestant Bible today is a bit smaller than what it once was, and smaller than what Catholics continue to have. Noting historic debates over the inspired works, and noting that the Reformation reignited those debates when considering deutero-canonical writings, one may grant the Reformers a little room to consider which works truly were inspired and which were slipped in by a corrupt Roman magisterium. In the end, Luther got the answer right.

39 Jim G. May 28, 2013 at 10:53 pm


“Slipped in by a corrupt Roman magisterium”


Not hardly. The seven main deuterocanonical books were originally part of the LXX and not the Hebrew Tanakh. Since the LXX was the Old Testament of the Church, they were part of the Scriptures that most early Christians read. They were never “slipped in” in any way, shape, or form to the Christian canon. They were part of the Jewish/Alexandrian canon of the 3rd century B.C. They were around at the beginning of Christianity.

While the RCC accepts them as fully canonical, EO notes their deuterocanonical status. Protestants rejected them because they were not part of the Tanakh. If anything, Protestants removed that which had been part of non-Palestinian Christianity since its inception. The inclusion of the Deuterocanonical writings into Christian Scripture had nothing to do with the Roman Magisterium and everything to do with the LXX.

The NT canon was first laid out in order by a Greek speaker – Athanasius – in 367. Again, nothing Roman about it.

Jim G.

40 Chris Roberts May 28, 2013 at 11:04 pm


Good points, I did overstate my case – the recognition of the books certainly predates Rome. But it remains that Rome chose to continue recognizing them while Protestants ultimately dropped them, the point being that if the Reformers had not been willing to consider whether or not certain books belong in the canon, we would continue to have them in our Bibles today.

41 Jim G. May 28, 2013 at 11:44 pm

Hi Chris,

I’m okay with the Deuterocanonical books not being in our Bibles because they were not part of the Tanakh. I think the reformers were right in insisting they be removed. We’re on the same page there. But I can see the other side too, since they were in Christianity from the beginning.

Jim G.

42 Truth Unites... and Divides May 27, 2013 at 10:08 am

Jared, and to any other commenter,

Did Luther and Calvin agree or disagree on the doctrine of Limited Atonement?

Did Luther and Calvin agree or disagree on the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints?

43 David R. Brumbelow May 27, 2013 at 10:29 am

Calvin believed Jesus died for the sins of all humanity.

There is a chapter in the book, “Whosoever Will” by David Allen and Steve Lemke about Calvin rejecting Limited Atonement.

The chapter is titled, “Was Calvin a ‘Calvinist? John Calvin on the Extent of the Atonement“ by Kevin Kennedy. It gives a number of quotes from Calvin showing he believed Jesus died for all.
David R. Brumbelow

44 Chris Roberts May 27, 2013 at 3:38 pm


That chapter has more than a few mistakes and misquotes.

45 David R. Brumbelow May 27, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Are they mistakes, or just that you disagree?
Are the quotes I gave below accurate?
Care to list the “more than a few mistakes and misquotes” in that chapter?

One reason I ask is that a man once said the same thing about some of my writing. When I asked him for details, what he presented were not mistakes, just places where he disagreed. That was an unfair accusation.
David R. Brumbelow

46 Donald May 27, 2013 at 5:08 pm

“Are they mistakes, or just that you disagree?”

Exactly the right question to ask. Chris?

47 Chris Roberts May 28, 2013 at 8:01 pm



48 David R. Brumbelow May 29, 2013 at 9:16 am

Chris Roberts,

You said, “That chapter has more than a few mistakes and misquotes.”

I’d still like to see you list a few examples of those many mistakes and misquotes. So far, you haven’t named one. Makes one wonder if you can.

That you disagree with “Whosoever Will” by Allen and Lemke, I have no doubt. But it is disingenuous to say chapter 7 of that book has mistakes and misquotes, when you really just don’t like what it says.
David R. Brumbelow

49 Chris Roberts May 29, 2013 at 9:46 am

“it is disingenuous to say chapter 7 of that book has mistakes and misquotes, when you really just don’t like what it says.”

Indeed it would be, were that the case.

50 Scott Shaver May 29, 2013 at 3:09 pm

But Chris cannot reproduce these mistakes and misquotes for inspection. Guess we should take his word for it :)

51 Greg Harvey May 29, 2013 at 2:14 pm


The formulation of your question actually exposes the key problem with the discussion. The Bible is very clear that there is no additional condemnation for rejecting Christ Jesus. It similarly hints that Jews in this time will be intentionally blinded so one could offer that path of atonement is at the least “closed” at the moment.

That leaves a different kind of limited atonement that is confirmed by the book of Hebrews: our only path to atonement is via faith in Jesus Christ. Hebrews expands that view of faith by noting that the OT saints in the hall of faith (Hebrews 12) are admitted to righteousness without knowing in their lifetimes the name of Jesus but still exhibiting faith in God’s Providence of a Deliverer.

We also know also by Scripture that not all believe in Jesus. I fear it will be a cause of great regret when we stand before Jesus and he calls us into account over an argument over who can and cannot be saved being called “limited atonement”. I’m afraid he’ll look at us and say “you limited atonement being made available by expending SOME of your effort on arguing rather than on ministry of the Gospel to those that have not heard it.

I personally view Romans 1 with a very clear eye: I was depraved in precisely the same way as the sinners on those lists. I needed reason in order to respond. I can remember very clearly the difference between the day BEFORE my dad witnessed to me in his office next to the sanctuary at Lawn Baptist and the day AFTER. I was interested but not convicted. I was informed but not understanding (being a PK and all that). I don’t claim anecdotal evidence provides proof. I just think back with amazing interest in that.

One of the things that I certainly was amazed by was Bush and Nettles Baptists and the Bible. Several of the stories they told of well-known Baptists coming to faith is that they felt/believed their faith was NOT received by God for a time. I mention it because it flies in the rather simplified conversion we sometimes emphasize particularly in revivals.

I think to a certain degree the view of limited atonement focuses on the trees rather than the forest. Only some are saved. Atonement, perhaps regrettably, is limited to those that experience it and there are–from a human perspective at least and perhaps from a heavenly one as well–too few.

I truly admire the post-millenial eschatological position because of its optimism regarding ushering in the kingdom through the work of the Church. I similarly admire those who reject limited atonement because of their deep sense that God will truly accept all who come. And I agree with them that every effort should be made to extend the Gospel message to EVERY man, woman, and child in the HOPE that all will experience the Atonement found ONLY in Jesus Christ.

I think the question very much at that point becomes not how good we are at Ministry of the Gospel, but instead becomes how good we are at not creating distractions from that Gospel in the name of “being right”.

Or to put another way: O! That I might be a mirror that clearly reflects the Glory of the Lamb that was slain to take away the sin of the world.

52 Joshua T May 29, 2013 at 2:37 pm

First, I am putting this “I truly admire the post-millenial eschatological position because of its optimism regarding ushering in the kingdom through the work of the Church” on my wall of encouragement. My wall of encouragement currently consists of only that quote. :-(

Secondly, I think Baptist in general with their profound differences on the atonement stand to be a source of real theological change. In private discussions I have hinted that the church really needs to expand its view on the death of Christ. We need to look back through church history and reacquaint ourselves with some of the historical views on Christ’s death.

Put simply, I think we have over simplified our argument. We have reduced to a single “doctrine” what the OT foretold in many different signs (sacrifice in the garden, Abel, Isaac, Passover Lamb, Firstborn of Egypt, Day of Atonement, etc). I think the SBC is the perfect place for leading theologians to being to work for a bigger and more thorough theology on Christ’s death. I think we would find that words like “limited atonement” would not find themselves as weighty in that bigger theology.

That is just my two cents. And I’m a Calvinist.

53 Les Prouty May 27, 2013 at 10:54 am


I don’t think they did agree. It’s at least sketchy for Luther. My sense is that Luther believed on POS though. I did find this one excerpt (though I also saw others that were less clear):

“”Sin lustily,” writes Luther, ” but be yet more lusty in faith, and rejoice in Christ, who is the conqueror of sin, of death, and of the world. Sin we must, so long as we remain here. It suflices, that, through the riches of the glory of God, we know the Lamb which taketh away the sins of the world: from Him no sin will sever us, though a million times in a day we should fornicate or commit murder.” Epist. Dr. M. Lutheri a Joh. Aurifabro coll. torn. i. Jena, 1556, 4, p. 545″

54 Les Prouty May 27, 2013 at 10:44 am

The chapter by Tom Nettles in Whomever He Wills says,

“The question concerning Calvin’s understanding of the extent of the atonement does not determine the legitimacy of definite, thus limited, atonement as opposed to a truly universal, or general, atonement. His view makes neither of these views true or false. That must be decided by Scripture alone.”


“The thesis of this article is simple: Calvin’s discussion of the atonement gives sufficient warrant for his theological progeny to infer that he believed that Christ’s atoning work was intrinsically efficacious for the salvation of the elect only. Both the nature of the atonement, in Calvin’s extended comments on it, and its connections as the necessary and pivotal mean for God to execute His eternal purpose of redemption give warrant for one to conclude this— limited atonement may be inferred from several pivotal exegetical/ doctrinal discussions and is more consistent with his overall theological view than is a general atonement.”

55 Les Prouty May 27, 2013 at 10:58 am

Further by Nettles,

“If it could be demonstrated that Calvin’s theology does not provide an unambiguous answer to the question of his view of the extent of the atonement, that does not warrant several things. One, as mentioned above, it does not mean that the doctrine of limited atonement itself is wrong or even unimportant. Two, it does not mean that he opposed the doctrine or that it is inconsistent with his overall theological scheme. Three, it does not mean that there are not thick moments in some of his extended biblical and theological reflections, isolated to themselves and extrapolating from them legitimate doctrinal inferences, that would yield a view of a purposefully limited atonement in accord with covenantal redemption— Jesus shed His blood as a seal to the eternal covenant in which the Father gave a specific people to the Son. Four, it does not mean that those passages where Calvin indicates universal effects of the cross-work of Christ are utterly inconsistent with a more isolated intentional effect of the atonement for the elect only. This would especially be the case if he explains his understanding of universal language to mean something other than each and every individual in the world.”

Whomever He Wills (Kindle Locations 8306-8308). Founders Press.

56 Les Prouty May 27, 2013 at 2:02 pm

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The Bible

As to Calvin’s quotes, as a Calvinist I am perfectly comfortable with these quotes bacause as Nettles says above,

“it does not mean that those passages where Calvin indicates universal effects of the cross-work of Christ are utterly inconsistent with a more isolated intentional effect of the atonement for the elect only. This would especially be the case if he explains his understanding of universal language to mean something other than each and every individual in the world.”

These and other documentation are found in “Whomever He Wills” where a full and biblical understanding is laid out for the reader.

57 David R. Brumbelow May 27, 2013 at 1:30 pm

“On him was laid the guilt of the whole world.” -John Calvin

“God is satisfied and appeased, for he bore all the wickedness and all the iniquities of the world.” -Calvin

Documentation for these quotes and other quotes in “Whosoever Will.”
David R. Brumbelow

58 Les Prouty May 27, 2013 at 2:04 pm

David, my comments at 2:02 were meant to be here. Of course it was predestined before the foundation of the world that they would be above. :)

59 Les Prouty May 27, 2013 at 5:01 pm

“According to George, both of these men were used by God to restore the gospel to His church.”

And for this we should all be extremely grateful and praise God.

60 volfan007 May 27, 2013 at 10:00 pm

2 differences in Calvin and Luther….Luther appears to be a lot heavier than Calvin. Also, Calvin wore a beard, and Luther didnt.

David :)

61 Dale Pugh May 28, 2013 at 11:09 am

Which may explain the preponderance of fat preachers or the current trend toward bearded preachers. But it doesn’t explain how one may be both at the same time.

62 volfan007 May 28, 2013 at 11:12 am


Very interesting question….I’ll have to ponder on that one for a while.

David :)

63 Dale Pugh May 28, 2013 at 11:36 am

Have a biscuit while you ruminate.

64 volfan007 May 28, 2013 at 12:49 pm


Ummmm…I usually dont eat bisquits while I’m in the bathroom.


65 Dale Pugh May 28, 2013 at 12:54 pm

I really didn’t need to know that. I’m leaving this conversation now.

66 volfan007 May 28, 2013 at 2:39 pm


67 John Wylie May 28, 2013 at 12:40 am

The major difference I see is that in the picture Calvin appears to be made of wax.

68 volfan007 May 28, 2013 at 11:12 am


69 Jim Pemberton May 28, 2013 at 10:53 am

One difference between Luther and Calvin is that Luther reportedly had very bad gas. I suppose it was because he had a Diet of Worms.

On the other hand, they are the same as such: neither could be a Baptist ecclesiologically yet both could be Baptists soteriologically.

70 volfan007 May 28, 2013 at 11:13 am


71 Mark Lamprecht May 28, 2013 at 11:02 pm

Jim G.,

If I understand Chris’ point about the Canon, he is speaking to inspiration rather than what was merely included in the LXX.

Do you believe that most in the early church held that the deuterocanonical books were inspired?

72 Jim G. May 28, 2013 at 11:52 pm

Hi Mark,

I don’t know about most, but several fathers from different periods quote the deuterocanonical books. There is a sampling from a Catholic webpage I found that lists several apostolic and pre-Nicene fathers quoting them (Polycarp, Ep Barnabas, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Cyprian, etc.). From the writings listed there, I would imagine at least some of the quotations imply authority, if not downright inspiration in the eyes of those fathers. Again, their inclusion in the LXX might have been all the authority they needed.

Jim G.

73 Joshua T May 29, 2013 at 9:29 am


That’s a very tough question to answer. The usual methods of determination (quotations) are exactly what the higher critics use to discount 1 Peter and 2 Peter. I’ve always found that ironic.

I would like to hear Jim out though on his historical perspective on the Tanakh. I’d like to hear when he thinks they settled on their set of books.

74 Jim G. May 29, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Hi Joshua,

If memory serves me correctly, fixing a date to the closing of the Hebrew canon is a difficult task. Off the top of my head, I seem to remember from somewhere back in the mental files that is was after the time of Jesus, Although the accepted literature in the canon was written far earlier, the Hebrew canon had a late date to “officially” close. Now, I cannot say with certainty why such a late date – perhaps it has something to do with the LXX being the most popular rendition of the OT among the world’s Jews, or perhaps the spread of Christian literature among Jews.

It is easier to answer why the deuterocanonical books were not in the Hebrew Tanakh. There are several reasons. Some books (Judith) were written in Hebrew, but seen as folklore. Others (Tobit) were never originally written in Hebrew. Some (Wisdom of Solomon) had their origins in Alexandria. Others (Maccabees and later vols of Ezra) were not always accepted as history. The Jews had a good reason for each to not be included. And, as a Christian not wedded to historical Hellenism, I am fine with their reasons with not receiving them and agree with them. Fixing the closing date for the Hebrew books, though, as far as I can recall, is a much trickier venture.

Jim G.

75 Mark Lamprecht May 29, 2013 at 10:34 am

Jim & Joshua,

I like how Bill Webster summarizes his research on this topic.

The information provided documents the history of the Old Testament canon and the Apocrypha from the Jewish age up to the time of the Reformation. The historical evidence conclusively demonstrates that the Jews did not accept the Apocrypha as part of the inspired corpus of the Old Testament, that many of the early Church fathers followed the Jewish canon and that the Church throughout the middle ages, including the period of the Reformation itself, followed the opinion of Jerome in denying the Apocrypha full canonical status. The writings were considered useful for the purposes of edification and for reading in the churches but were not authoritative for the establishment of doctrine.

Source: The Old Testament Canon and the Apocrypha

76 Greg Harvey May 29, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Mark: nice resource. I hate to be Gregopocentric, but my general memory of explanations on the canon from various stops growing up and later in life never included that level of detail.

I’ll add a link to a fascinating article at Christian Resources written by Mr. Webster circa 1994 when Francis Beckwith famously returned to Roman Catholicism. I didn’t recognize his William Webster as an author, so I was curious to poke around some and ran into this while doing so. I’ll warn the casual reader that the term Testimony is unspecific as to his particular purpose prior to you clicking and arriving and starting reading. He’s dealing very specifically with his background and his resulting commitment to evangelicalism and deals specifically with conflict between Protestant principles and Roman Catholic doctrine in the present day.

It also provides a useful insight into the person that wrote the articles–included in Moody Press books–that Mark linked.

77 Jim G. May 29, 2013 at 2:08 pm

No one wants to tackle how Calvin can hold total depravity right along with special creationism (aside from Joshua, that is)? I don’t blame you. You never know – it might lead to finding more flaws in his theology.

Jim G.

78 Joshua T May 29, 2013 at 2:21 pm


Permit me to say that I don’t think it must indicate flaws. Can we instead say inconsistencies? I believe being inconsistent in theology is a flaw but I also want to cut some slack for even the greatest theologians. No one is able to process their whole theology over and over again (even Karl Barth with his weekly “critical review” meetings when he left professors and students challenge him).

I would like to say, and I could be wrong, that Calvin was defensive of the apologetic resource in soul creation (the whole of ICR 1.5 comes to mind). I may find myself hanged for this but I find it similar to those who hold to a literal seven day creation. The apologetic was simply too attractive to Calvin for him to be critical of his theology.

All that said, I think we are without excuse. And I think Luther and Augustine were right! :-)

79 Jim G. May 29, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Hi Joshua,

I agree with you that all of our attempts at theological reflection (regardless of who we are) will have blind spots. It comes with the territory of being creature, finite, fallen, ignorant, and a whole host of other limitations we all carry to varying degrees.

That said, for so great a theologian as Calvin was, such an elementary error is surprising. As much as I have interacted with Calvin through the years, I never saw this in either him or George until Jared pointed it out in the OP. I think such a combination of belief is more than an inconsistency. As soon as one question concerning the combo is answered (mine) it becomes a serious flaw. I can see no way out of a real theological dead-end however one answers the question. If such a dead-end lurks in his anthropology, I think it is a fair question to ask what other dead-ends are out there.

As far as Augustine and Luther on traducianism, I agree with them, but not for their reasons. As someone who rejects the Augustinian-Calvin synthesis on total depravity, I see traducianism being valuable in that it preserves the complex unity of the human constitution and avoids the obvious cosmological dualism inherent within special creationism. For me, traducianism preserves the integrity of humanity first, and does not need to serve the difficulty of the transmission of sin.

Jim G.

80 Joshua T May 29, 2013 at 3:04 pm


I will concede this stand as a viable reason to be suspect of other theological conclusions. I would say that the “Biblical fight” Calvin puts up for this is rather weak. I think it is fair to say when one assumes something to be true, we can question their use of Aristotelian logic. :-)

I agree with you that it is a question the prompts a serious dead-end. Most of the Calvinist I have discussed this with were quick to adopt traducianism. I was a little ahead of them because my interaction with Augustine and the Eastern Fathers on the Incarnation. Do you have any insights on how you’ve encountered (or entangled) “preservation of humanity” and “cosmological dualism” when applying traducianism to the Virgin Birth? Perhaps that discussion should be taken offline?

81 Jim G. May 29, 2013 at 4:03 pm


I really don’t see the VB presenting any sort of difficulties, as long as we keep a patristic (and biblical) understanding of the incarnation. As long as we see the person of Christ as the Logos (the Eternal Son), I think we are on safe ground. With the post-Chalcedonian fathers, if we see the person of the Logos assuming anhypostatic human nature and the presence of the Logos deifying (as in theosis) the anhypostatic flesh as the process of enhypostasis occurs, I don’t think traducianism is a problem at all. There is still no sin (actual or original) in Jesus of Nazareth. He is fully the Son of man (Mary) and the Son of God, and there is no cosmological dualism, since theosis affects both Jesus’ human body and human soul. To restate in Gregory of Nazianzus’ words, the assumed then may be healed.

Jim G.

82 Joshua T May 29, 2013 at 5:49 pm

Yes and whatever “was not assumed was not healed”. As a Calvinist I have heard those lines many times from my dear EO brothers.

I might take up the proposition that the Holy Spirit’s presence worked to deify Christ’s flesh. I am not arguing that Christ, the Eternal Son, couldn’t but I’m not sure that He did.

Good stuff. Thanks for the discussion.

83 Chris Roberts May 29, 2013 at 3:09 pm


What do you think humans inherit from Adam, if anything? Are we born with a sin nature, corrupted by sin due to the fall? If so, where does it come from? If not, is it therefore at least hypothetically possible for a human being to live a perfectly righteous life since he is born with a nature untainted by sin?

84 Jim G. May 29, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Hi Chris,

We inherit our humanity, and our inclination toward sin and rebellion which is too strong for us to overcome apart from the grace of God. Thus your hypothetical is not possible in this present age, Jesus obviously excepted. How it is passed down remains obscured in theological darkness.

Human nature is not sinful, nor can it be. Human nature, however, has been invaded with something I will personify as a parasite. Sin is that parasite that has attached itself (as a result of the fall) to the good thing God created. The parasite is judged and condemned at the cross, though it still is not finally vanquished. It is fully vanquished at the resurrection of the dead. In our glorified bodies, it will no longer have a place to suck life out of our human nature.

Did you think I was a Pelagian?

Jim G.

85 Chris Roberts May 29, 2013 at 4:50 pm


If I read you right, you affirm traducianism yet you criticize Calvin for affirming it because you wonder how he can affirm it yet still hold to total depravity. How is your position any different? We still inherit something, but how? You say we don’t know, that it “remains obscured in theological darkness.” Why couldn’t this position also apply to Calvin? How can you accuse him of contradiction when he teaches something passed down to all humanity when you also affirm that something is passed down to all humanity?

86 Jim G. May 29, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Read above, Chris, in the OP. Calvin does NOT hold to traducianism. He holds to special creationism. Although I do not hold to Calvin’s view of TD, i think traducianism is compatible with TD. A traducian Calvinist is consistent in that aspect of his theology.

Special creationism and TD together do not mix. Traducianism and TD can mix.

Jim G.

87 Chris Roberts May 29, 2013 at 5:36 pm


Thus we see one of the many limits of my knowledge. I haven’t given much study to the origins of the soul, so I’m not familiar with the various terms. I confused traducianism with special creation and assumed you were agreeing with Calvin on how the soul came to be while disagreeing with Calvin about the degree of our corruption. Thanks for the clarification.

88 Jim G. May 29, 2013 at 6:02 pm

No problem. I thought you might have gotten the terms mixed up. We don’t spend enough energy on theological anthropology in SB-land. I think we would approach a few things differently if we did. Take care.

Jim G.

89 Frank L. May 29, 2013 at 4:48 pm


Honest question, no baiting or agenda: do you think that there is any way that we can define the “nature of man” that would give us the ability to autopsy that nature?

Is it possible that theologians confuse definitions and descriptions of reality with the reality itself? It seems that any definition or description of things eternal: the nature of God, nature of man, depravity of the soul, etc., is something less than the reality itself.

For example, the use of inheritance as a metaphor for man’s sin nature. How far can that take us? I understand inheritance. I inherited two natural gas wells (actually about 1/75th of two gas wells). I know I inherited them because I get a mysterious check every month from the Gas Company.

When the idea is implied to “inheritance” of sin, a certain ambiguity and equivocation results.

Therefore, any answer Jim (or anyone) would give to your question could (and does) lead to more questions. It can never be definitive.

I think Jim’s answer is as good as I’ve read, but I’m sure it falls short of what the reality really is.

I think that I have learned (am learning) to do “operational theology.” How should I operate knowing what I know, and knowing I don’t know it all–or much at all. That’s what I take away from these discussions.

Please forgive the ramblings of an old man–I turned 57 two weeks ago.

90 Chris Roberts May 29, 2013 at 4:54 pm


One thing I’d note is that nothing about man is eternal. We are finite beings who inherit immortality through the power of God. Thus things like human nature, depravity, the soul, etc, are finite human experiences, not eternal realities.

Nonetheless, I agree with you that we are limited in what we can say. But the author of life has spoken, and from what he has said, we can also speak.

As for my question to Jim, as I note in my follow-up, I asked it as a way of highlighting a contradiction: he grants to himself a position that he denies to Calvin.

91 Frank L. May 29, 2013 at 5:48 pm

Chris, I accept that distinction between eternal and immortal.

But let’s take this as an example: how does the fact that eternal and immortal can be analytically distinguished impact anything in my life? In other words, does it really matter that I can define God ontologically in a different manner from myself?

There seems to be no “operational benefit” to such a definition. That does not make it wholly unimportant, but it makes it rather insignificant–if it were to lead to a disharmony and disunity in the body by discussing it.

That’s kind of what I’m getting at.

92 Ken Hamrick May 30, 2013 at 9:07 am


Calvin and the early Reformed Church were under the sway of “a realistic mode of thinking” when it came to Adamic unity and depravity. TD itself comes from the idea that souls are propagated in such a way as to have shared responsible existence with and in their progenitors. To be spiritually propagated out of Adam is also to have acted in Adam—and this is exactly the original idea of being “in Adam.” The idea soul propagation was first taught by Tertullian, and then came down through Hilary of Poitiers and Ambrose of Milan to Augustine. Although Augustine was hesitant to commit himself to any philosophical explanation of traducianism, he gave many excellent arguments for it and none against it. His doctrine of original sin and his debate with Pelagius was as fully grounded on traducianism as the justification for the doctrine as Pelagius’ arguments were grounded on the denial of traducianism.

However, between Augustine and Luther came Rosceline’s nominalism, which philosophically undercut any possibility that the union with Adam had any real substance to it. Nominalism’s influence in the Church ensured that special creation of the soul would be the prevalent view (as it is to this day). Although Calvin disliked traducianism, he and most who followed him were not ready to abandon that “realistic mode of thinking” (as G. P. Fisher calls it) that was the essence of Augustine’s doctrine. So they inconsistently held on to the idea that all men shared a responsible existence in Adam, by virtue of the [moral] “nature” of all men existing in and propagated from Adam. This they held even while maintaining that the soul is specially created out of nothing in every case.

Eventually, in Turretin for example, there is an attempted reconciliation in the idea that special creation of the soul is according to the natural laws which God set up at creation, such that God creates the child’s soul with the nature of the parents as part of what is considered natural propagation. By glossing over the supernatural nature of a creation out of nothing, and emphasizing terms that tend to imply propagation from the substance of the parents (such as communication of depravity, etc), they effectively taught that depravity is propagated just as humanity is propagated. While this might be a poor explanation for inherited depravity, it does nothing to explain the kind of union in Adam that involves a sharing of the responsibility for his sin (the shared existence of the moral nature or soul). Therefore, the realistic mode of thinking was eventually dropped in favor of the nominalistic federal representation. What began with the idea of men being held justly responsible for a sin that we all owned by our shared action in Adam became the idea that men are sovereignly held responsible for a sin that is as alien to us as is the righteousness of Christ.

93 Joshua T May 30, 2013 at 9:35 am


I think Jim’s concern is that this obvious flaw should lead us to investigate other areas further. Is it fair to say that you view Calvin as having a known tension and blatant syncretic relationship with Augustine on this? It seems you are denying Calvin had a blind spot to this even if his explanations seem weak today.

94 Ken Hamrick May 30, 2013 at 10:07 am


I’m not sure I understand your question. Men are propagated as whole beings, both body and soul—any time one strays from that, there’s a blind spot.

The tension is, I believe, only from our perspective of Calvin’s inconsistency. One can be inconsistent without tension if one simply does not try to reconcile the two. When it came to the origin of the soul, Calvin held that souls are specially created ex nihilo. When it came to Adamic imputation and inherited depravity, Calvin held that the “nature” (implicitly and necessarily moral nature) was in Adam, sinned while in Adam, was corrupted with spiritual death and loss of righteousness while in Adam, was propagated to all men in that condition with the depravity and guilt inhering). As long as he didn’t have to face that inconsistency, there was no tension to deal with.

And it is probably true that Calvin’s inconsistency on came from Augustine’s owns inability to commit fully to traducianism as a philosophical explanation. But Augustine saw traducianism as the better explanation than special creationism, so his doctrine was held consistently; whereas those after Augustine tended to take the form of the doctrine without the substance—the conclusions of Augustine without the only basis that makes any sense.

95 Ken Hamrick May 30, 2013 at 10:31 am


You stated:

For me, traducianism preserves the integrity of humanity first, and does not need to serve the difficulty of the transmission of sin.

You and I have discussed this area before, so I’m somewhat familiar with your view. The problem I see is that your traducianism does not include a continuity of being. What I mean is that you seem to have a continuity of “soul stuff” by propagation of the soul, but you deny any continuity of what the soul really is (a morally agent). What I’m objecting to is that if my soul was propagated from Adam, then my soul (in corporate union with all men) acted in Adam’s sin and therefore I cannot divorce myself from owning that sinful act (at least in a seminally corporate sense). Your claim that person and nature are distinct completely overlooks that when it comes to spiritual nature, being and nature are inseparable. The person/nature distinction may save us from individual condemnation for corporate sin, but the being/nature inseparability will not allow us to escape the responsibility for our own depravity and associated consequences.

96 Jim G. May 30, 2013 at 6:02 pm

I’m probably not going to get this exactly right, Ken, because I’m unclear about what you are asking me.

I do believe in the corporate union of all humanity. All of us were “really” in Adam. All of us were “present” when he sinned. We agree on that. I think a traducian view of human propagation preserves the wholeness of humanity in Adam much better than does special creationism. SC introduces a cosmological dualism that is more Platonic than biblical, and TD ties SC into knots.

Where we disagree (at least i think) is that our presence alone in Adam leads to personal guilt in his offspring. It does not engender guilt in all humanity any more than our presence alone (which is just as real, if not more so) in Christ’s physical life, death, and resurrection engenders to personal righteousness in all humanity. I believe the message of Scripture to be that all humans have a real presence in both “Adams,” but that presence alone does not immediately produce either guilt or righteousness in the one present.

I don’t think the person/nature distinction plays a serious role in this particular piece of the discussion. Maybe we can keep talking and get to the bottom of it.

Jim G.

97 Ken Hamrick May 31, 2013 at 6:43 am


Adam’s sin does not bring personal guilt on us because we have been generated/propagated out of Adam, and are by propagation separate persons from him; however, Christ’s righteousness does bring personal righteousness to us because we are regenerated/propagated into Christ, and are now joined to the person of Christ. Adam’s spiritual seed are propagated by dispersion—the one becoming the many—while Christ’s spiritual seed are propagated by annexation—the many being joined in the One.

Although we do not incur a personal guilt for Adam’s sin, we do incur the responsibility for our corporate sin in him. In other words, though we will not be condemned at the Judgment for Adam’s sin, it remains a fact that the spiritual, moral nature within us (that part of us that chooses whether or not to sin) chose to sin in Adam in seminal union with all of mankind. His sin is ours in that corporate sense, and we own it in a way that we cannot righty deny participation in it. That is the only explanation for TD that does not twist the meaning of justice. The spiritual nature of all men sinned in Adam, and so the consequences of that sin are passed onto all men through nature (both their own nature and the nature of creation).

How can you say that traducianism does not need to serve the difficulty of the transmission of sin? A better question would be, how can it not? Traducianism renders federal headship superfluous. If you see all of us as having been really present in Adam when he sinned, then how could you deny (or do you?) our participation in his sin? And if you do see a participation of all of us in Adam’s sin, then how do you propose that the human spirit of Jesus would be propagated from Mary’s soul (since Mary sinned in Adam)?

98 Jim G. May 31, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Hi Ken,

I realize my statement concerning traducianism was not as clear as it could be. What I meant to say there is that while I am a traducian, I am a traducian NOT because of the transmission of sin, I am one because of my take on anthropology. THat is, I am a traducian regardless of the transmission of sin. And as you probably suspect, I am not a federalist.

I do not deny our presence in him when he sinned. I just see that presence as more passive than active.

Of course I agree that Mary was present in Adam when he fell. I also believe that Jesus received his full humanity from his mother. But the humanity he assumed was impersonal (anhypostasis) and became personalized when enfleshed (enhypostasis). Thus Jesus was not present in Adam, but the nature he assumed was. The union of God the Son with that flesh deified it (via theosis) and thus Jesus is born without original sin or actual sin. Persons sin; natures do not. Does that help?

Jim G.

99 Ken Hamrick May 31, 2013 at 7:38 pm


The human spirit, like the Spirit of God, is simple and without parts. There is no way to separate it into active and passive parts and only propagate that part that is passive. If the spirit is propagated with the body, then the child’s spirit has only the whole spirit of the parent as its origin. Thus, the acts of the parent’s spirit were impersonal to the child, making the child’s participation in his parent’s actions to be impersonal, but not passive. The human spirit as it is propagated through the generations is personal to whomever it is currently in, but impersonal to whomever will be propagated from it in the future. We did not personally sin in Adam, but impersonally as a corporate whole.

You say that natures do not sin, but only persons. But this denies the fact that the nature in question is spiritual. Spirits are beings and do sin. And if your spirit was not created out of nothing, but was passed down to you from Adam, then that spirit within you has a history of existence that precedes your individual, personal existence. In other words, in the descendants of Adam, human spiritual existence is first corporate and then individual. To be a spirit is to be a morally responsible agent—”God is Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” Just as the spirit cannot be propagated without propagating the immateriality, it also cannot be propagated without propagating the moral agency—that which acted sinfully in Adam is now in us (which explains why it also acts sinfully in us).

Without a spirit, no sin or righteousness is possible—there is no moral agency without a spirit. That is why animals do not sin. Persons sin only because a person has a spirit. No spiritual nature ever sins apart from a person, insofar as every sin is committed by a personal being. Adam was the personal being in whom our spiritual nature sinned. However, Rom. 5:12-18 clearly indicates that all men sinned in the one man’s transgression, by whom sin entered into the world and death passed upon all. The kind of solidarity that is undeniably found in that passage is not that of an innocently passive, non-sinning nature; but rather, it is the solidarity of the spiritual nature of all having sinned and fell in Adam, justly bringing about their own depravity and death.

The question of personhood of a spiritual nature has to do with individual identity and not with spiritual being. There is nothing of a spiritual nature that can be abstracted from spiritual being. It not merely some spiritual “stuff” that is propagated, but spiritual being itself. In Jesus, it is not that His human spirit had no quality of spiritual being to it, but rather, that spirit had no personal identity on its own apart from the Logos. In other men, the spirit joins with the propagated body to form an individual and personal identity; but in Jesus, the personal identity was already present in the Second Person of the Trinity, so the human spirit was assumed into that identity. Nonetheless, Jesus was as a much spiritually a human being as physically.

100 Christiane May 31, 2013 at 8:05 pm

‘True God and True Man’ means NOT ‘half God and half man’,
NOR does it mean Christ’s humanity and divinity were ‘blended together’, no.

Christ ‘assumed’ our humanity while retaining His divinity . . .
each fully operational,
not conflicting with one another,
nor interfering with one another

101 Ken Hamrick June 1, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Christiane, are you addressing anything in particular?

102 Christiane June 1, 2013 at 7:40 pm

yes . . . I was reinforcing the concept of ‘assumption’, and rejecting the idea of ‘absorption’

Christ ‘assumed’ His human nature at Incarnation,
His Divine Nature remained Divine, and was not affected by His Human Nature,
so He IS ‘fully’ God, and ‘fully’ Man,
the two distinct natures united in one Person
but each nature remains distinct from the other,
without interfering with one another
or being in competition with one another,
or blending with one another and so losing their distinctiveness as these natures exist in unity in His Person. . . His humanity remains human, His Divinity remains divine . . . the one nature is not absorbed into the other, each nature remains fully what it is within the unity of Christ’s Person.

In short, that which Christ has ‘assumed’ can be healed.

103 Jess Alford May 29, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Chris, would you explain the soul being finite?

104 Chris Roberts May 29, 2013 at 5:30 pm

One might note a distinction between that which is eternal and that which is immortal. Only God is eternal because only God is without beginning or end. Man – including the soul – has a beginning. Even though we will continue to exist forever, we had a starting point. We have immortality, but we are not eternal. We are finite in that we had a beginning point. You can identify on a calendar when I came into being. Whatever someone may believe about the creation of the soul, I assume we all agree souls are in fact created, that every soul has a beginning point.

105 Jess Alford May 29, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Thanks Chris.

106 Jess Alford May 29, 2013 at 9:36 pm

Chris, with Calvinism in mind, where is the beginning point?

107 Chris Roberts May 29, 2013 at 10:34 pm

I don’t think there is a Calvinistic answer to this, per se, and I don’t have a particular opinion since I’ve not given a lot of thought to the nature of the soul, etc, but as for the beginning point, that is easy enough: life, which thus includes the soul, begins at conception.

108 Ken Hamrick May 30, 2013 at 9:22 am


But what about the inherent injustice in creating a morally corrupt soul, such that it is under condemnation for the very qualities that it was created with? Is not the “Calvinistic answer” rooted in the Augustinian answer. The modern Calvinist has one foot on rock and one on sand (when it comes to this matter), and he leans one way or the other depending on the question.

109 Chris Roberts May 30, 2013 at 9:47 am

However God brings about the existence of the individual, there is no injustice.

110 Ken Hamrick May 30, 2013 at 10:17 am


Is that not the same as saying, “Whatever God does is just merely because He does it?” Such a claim loses all meaning of justice, which becomes mere sovereignty. Might does not make right. Justice has a real meaning. And the issue here is not so much about what God does as it is about what we can claim that He does. Of course, God is always just; but that does not mean that we can attribute any action to Him and not have to deal with objections of injustice. Since we know that God is just, then it is a valid basis for an objection that our theology portrays God as doing something unjust. It was this very assumption, that justice is a set standard and God does not violate His own standards, upon which the anthropology was built in the Church from the earliest days until around the 19th century (when the realism of Augustine was fully abandoned). The very reason that Tertullian, Ambrose, Hilary, and Augustine held that all men had real union of substance in Adam was so that this assumption (that God is just) could be answered.

111 Chris Roberts May 30, 2013 at 10:24 am


In this case it is a matter of trust. I trust God is just no matter how or why he does whatever he does. In the case of the individual, I know not how God’s power moves, creating life on earth. I don’t know the particulars of how the soul comes to be. The Bible does not tell us. I do think we can draw some conclusions from what Scripture does tell us, it’s just not something I’ve given much thought.

On the other hand, I do know Scripture is clear that we are born corrupt and guilty. And I know that God is just and good.

112 Ken Hamrick May 30, 2013 at 10:40 am


Trusting that God is just however He may do it is not the same as saying that God is just no matter how it might be done.

It’s worth the time to look into it. When it is denied that the consequences of Adam’s sin are passed onto us due to the fact that we had a real, substantial, spiritual union in Adam, then the doctrine of union in Christ suffers and loses the richness involved in a real, substantial, spiritual union in Him.

113 Greg Harvey May 30, 2013 at 1:22 am

Eternal life…

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