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Creation 22(4):44–45, September 2000

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Editor’s note: As Creation magazine has been continuously published since 1978, we are publishing some of the articles from the archives for historical interest, such as this. For teaching and sharing purposes, readers are advised to supplement these historic articles with more up-to-date ones suggested in the Related Articles and Further Reading below.

Calvin said: Genesis means what it says


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John Calvin

Some professing evangelical Christians accuse creationists of taking a naïve literalistic view of Genesis, and claim that creationism is a 20th century aberration. Nothing could be further from the truth. A straightforward view of Genesis was the view of Moses (Exodus 20:8–11), the Apostle Paul (Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:21–22,45; 1 Tim. 2:13–14) and the Apostle Peter (2 Peter 3:3–7), and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (Matthew 19:3–6; Mark 10:6–9; Luke 17:26–27).

It was also the view of the vast majority of the Church Fathers, including the faithful defender of the Trinity, Basil the Great. See Genesis means what it says: Basil (AD 329–379).1

And the great leaders of the 16th Century Protestant Reformation, in returning to biblical authority, also accepted a straightforward view of Genesis. This includes the Father of the Reformation, Martin Luther — see What was Martin Luther’s stand on Creation/Evolution? 2

One of the most influential of the Reformers was the French lawyer and theologian John Calvin (1509–1564). He became leader of Geneva (Switzerland), which became a refuge for 6,000 Protestants. Calvin founded the University of Geneva in 1559, which attracted many foreign scholars, and still does today. His monumental Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559) proclaimed the grace of God and salvation in Jesus Christ. He was also a skilled commentator on books of the Bible, including Genesis. His teachings influenced many confessions, catechisms, preachers, leaders of modern Christian revivals, and were brought to America by the Pilgrim Fathers.3

It’s very interesting that on every point on which CMI disagrees with much of modern Christendom, Calvin took our side. For example, Calvin believed that:

  • The earth is ‘young’:
    ‘They will not refrain from guffaws when they are informed that but little more than five thousand years have passed since the creation of the universe.’4
  • God created in six consecutive normal days:

    ‘Here the error of those is manifestly refuted, who maintain that the world was made in a moment. For it is too violent a cavil to contend that Moses distributes the work which God perfected at once into six days, for the mere purpose of conveying instruction. Let us rather conclude that God himself took the space of six days, for the purpose of accommodating his works to the capacity of men.’5

    ‘I have said above that six days were employed in the formation of the world; not that God, to whom one moment is as a thousand years, had need of this succession of time, but that he might engage us in the contemplation of his works.’6

  • The day-night cycle was instituted from Day 1 — before the sun was created [commenting on ‘let there be light’ (Genesis 1:3)]:
    ‘Therefore the Lord, by the very order of the creation, bears witness that he holds in his hand the light, which he is able to impart to us without the sun and the moon. Further, it is certain, from the context, that the light was so created as to be interchanged with the darkness … there is, however, no doubt that the order of their succession was alternate …’7
  • It is thus clear that if we accept the authority of Scripture alone, we must believe that Genesis should be taken at its plain meaning.
  • The sun, moon and stars were created on Day 4 — after the earth — and took over the role as light dispensers to the earth [commenting on ‘let there be lights …’ (Gen. 1:14)]
    ‘God had before created the light, but he now institutes a new order in nature, that the sun should be the dispenser of diurnal light, and the moon and the stars should shine by night. And he assigns them to this office, to teach us that all creatures are subject to his will, and execute what he enjoins upon them. For Moses relates nothing else than that God ordained certain instruments to diffuse through the earth, by reciprocal changes, that light which had been previously created. The only difference is this, that the light was before dispersed, but now proceeds from lucid bodies; which, in serving this purpose, obey the commands of God.’8

    [See also How could the days of Genesis 1 be literal before the sun was created?]

  • The Creation was originally ‘very good’ , lacking any evil [commenting on Genesis 1:31]:
    ‘On each of the days, simple approbation was given. But now, after the workmanship of the world was complete in all its parts, and had received, if I may so speak, the last finishing touch, he pronounces it perfectly good; that we may know that there is in the symmetry of God’s works the highest perfection, to which nothing can be added.’9
  • Suffering on the earth is the result of sin [commenting on Gen. 3:19]:
    ‘Therefore, we may know, that whatever unwholesome things may be produced, are not natural fruits of the earth, but are corruptions which originate from sin.’
  • Physical death is the result of sin:
    ‘And therefore some understand what was before said. “Thou shalt die”, in a spiritual sense; thinking that, even if Adam had not sinned, his body must still have been separated from his soul. But since the declaration of Paul is clear, that “all die in Adam, as they shall rise again in Christ” (1 Cor. xv. 22), this wound was inflicted by sin. …Truly the first man would have passed to a better life, had he remained upright; but there would have been no separation of the soul from the body, no corruption, no kind of destruction, and, in short, no violent change.’10
  • God created Adam and Eve directly [commenting on Gen. 5]:
    ‘… [Moses] distinguishes between our first parents and the rest of mankind, because God had brought them into life by a singular method, whereas others had sprung from previous stock, and had been born of parents.’11
  • The Flood was global [just a small part of an extensive discussion on the real, historical nature of the Flood and Ark]:
    And the flood was forty days, &c. Moses copiously insists on this fact, in order to show that the whole world was immersed in the waters.’12
Today the church needs a new Reformation to return to the authority of the Bible.

It is thus clear that if we accept the authority of Scripture alone, we must believe that Genesis should be taken at its plain meaning. Christians who deny this are imposing outside ideas onto Scripture. This is shown by the frank admission by the ‘progressive creationist’ Pattle Pun:

‘It is apparent that the most straightforward understanding of Genesis, without regard to the hermeneutical considerations suggested by science, is that God created the heavens and the earth in six solar days, that man was created on the sixth day, and that death and chaos entered the world after the fall of Adam and Eve, and that all fossils [sic — creationists would say ‘most’] were the result of the catastrophic deluge that spared only Noah’s family and the animals therewith.’13

Sadly, one hotbed of anti-creationist, theistic evolutionary/long age ideas even includes a college named after Calvin — Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michican, USA. Some of their staff have even invoked Calvin in support, although, as we have seen, Calvin opposed all such compromises.

Today the church needs a new Reformation to return to the authority of the Bible, the written Word of God, rather than trusting the fallible conjectures of unbelieving scientists.


  1. Batten, D., Genesis means what it says: Basil (AD 329–379), Creation 16(4):23, 1994. Return to text.
  2. Citing Martin Luther, in Jaroslav Pelikan, editor, ‘Luther’s Works,’ Lectures on Genesis Chapters 1–5, 1:3,6, Concordia, St. Louis, MO, USA, 1958. Return to text.
  3. Packer, J.I., John Calvin and Reformed Europe; in: Great Leaders of the Christian Church, Ed. Woodbridge, J.D., Moody Press, Chicago, IL, USA, pp. 206–215, 1988. Return to text.
  4. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 2:925, ed. John T. McNeill, Westminster Press, Philadelphia, PA, USA, 1960. Return to text.
  5. Calvin, J., Genesis, 1554; Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, UK, 1984, p. 78. Return to text.
  6. Calvin, Genesis, p. 105. Return to text.
  7. Ref. 5, pp. 76–77. Return to text.
  8. Calvin, Genesis, p. 83. Return to text.
  9. Calvin, Genesis, p. 100. Return to text.
  10. Calvin, Genesis, p. 180. Return to text.
  11. Calvin, Genesis, p. 227. Return to text.
  12. Calvin, Genesis, p. 272. Return to text.
  13. Pun, P.P.T., Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 39:14, 1987; emphasis added. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

15 Reasons to Take Genesis as History
by Dr Don Batten, Dr Jonathan D Sarfati
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Creation, Fall, Restoration
by Andrew S Kulikovsky
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Refuting Compromise, updated & expanded
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
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Readers’ comments

David B.
I was fascinated when I finally read Sir Francis Bacon's works and saw he had a special regard for the six days in which God created the heavens and the earth! And in all the various branches and applications of his method that he proposed, there was nothing along the lines of trying to work out a prehistoric past.

Science is a tool designed for the understanding of the natural laws and the ongoing processes of nature established and upheld by God. It was faulty philosophical and theological notions which wrongly attempted to expand it and use natural processes alone to try to explain everything.

Calvin stood on the authority of the Bible in this, but sadly later theologians lost faith and gave in to the "authority" of self-styled scientific experts. A major move in that direction occurred in the U.S.A. in the 1920s, and Satan and his allies have been opening the wound ever since. Now only a great revival can save us.
Michael R.
“Today the church needs a new Reformation to return to the authority of the Bible, the written Word of God, rather than trusting the fallible conjectures of unbelieving scientists.”—Amen …
Jesse B.
Amazing article
Ian D.
Thanks. Great article! I wouldn’t normally have read Calvin’s views on Creation.
David S.
I wish the church would stop idolizing men. If that’s not possible for some, at least choose men that can interpret scripture without impugning the character of God. He also did not display a very Christlike character. If I lived in Geneva while he was in charge, quite likely my life would be in danger because I don’t hold to his ridiculous notions of divine determinism! If you must follow a man, follow Paul as he follows Christ...Think for yourselves, Christians! The Bible isn’t nearly as complex as some of these revered theologians make it out to be.
Jonathan Sarfati
This article was nothing to do with idolizing men, or claiming that Calvin was without fault. The first paragraph explains the issue. Even now, we see compromisers mendaciously claiming that no one was YEC before Ellen White, such as Hugh Ross.
Pratha S.
It’s sad when people don’t want to believe the book of Genesis—and even sadder when Christians don’t want to believe it. As the old saying goes, “God’s word means what it says and says what it means.” If you don’t believe Genesis for what it actually says, then you have come up with all these ‘explanations’ to reconcile God’s Word.The thing is, you’re not supposed to RECONCILE God’s Word—you're supposed to GO BY it!! God not only knows what He has said in His Word, but He also knows what His Word MEANS! No one is going to have to tell Him—He’s not going to have to call-in some advisers to 'discuss the matter’. NO! He KNOWS what His Word means—period! People won’t tell Him—He’ll tell them!! And it’s not that God has a ‘communication problem’ either—the ‘communication problem’ is with people—not God! It’s PEOPLE who don’t want to believe God’s Word. If it goes against what they believe, then suddenly people have to come up with these ‘explanations’. We don’t need explanations—God’s Word speaks for itself! People just don’t want to believe it! THAT’S THE PROBLEM!!
John W.
Succinct, clear commentary on the textbook and instruction manual of life! Thank you again, Jonathan.
The Church must arise and, yes, foment a new Reformation of Biblical authority. Let’s get the word out that Jesus Christ is Lord and that, therefore, HIS view of Genesis is all-important.
Norman P.
Thank you for a most helpful angle on Genesis 1–11—the lucid prism of the sixteenth century mind, so beautifully articulated.
The Church today agrees with these precepts—but much of the so-called Church will not listen. Without the sure foundation of Christ and his eternal word, they are being swept away into irrelevance. Laodicea comes to mind.
Guy W.
The ‘father’ of the Reformation was undoubtedly John Wycliff and even one of his students Jan Hus was martyred long before Luther was a twinkle in his daddy’s eye. The doctrines of the Romish church were well challenged by Wycliffe including salvation by faith, the Papal offices, transubstantiation.
It seems so glib that the scholarship of such excellence as Creation.com should make the shallow declaration that Martin Luther, courageous reformer that he undoubtedly was, was the Father of the Reformation.
Jonathan Sarfati
John Wycliffe is sometimes called the “Morning Star of the Reformation”. Martin Luther is widely regarded as the “Father” of the Reformation, in the sense of the wide movement of the 16th century. It is true that Wycliffe’s writing influenced Jan Hus, whose writings in turn influenced Luther.
Angel B.
Seis días de la creación = 6000 años de pecado y Cristo vuelve. He visto que Calvin sabía que estaba en unos 5000 y algo más de años de la creación. Eso confirmaría que Calvín también creía en la profecía de los 6000 años, no?
[Six days of creation = 6000 years of sin and Christ returns. I have seen that Calvin knew he was in about 5000 and a few more years of creation. That would confirm that Calvin also believed in the prophecy of the 6000 years, right?]
Jonathan Sarfati
Calvin, like Luther, believed that the earth was <6,000 years old at the time of writing. It doesn’t mean that he believed an ancient Patristic and Rabbinic understanding that the six literal creation days corresponded to creation days (as you have it). Some old-earth compromisers have misunderstood this as teaching that the days of creation were 1,000 years long. See explanation in William Lane Craig’s intellectually dishonest attack on biblical creationists.
Wayne O.
The Christian Church is much indebted to the doctrines of John Calvin, the doctrine of Creation included.

The Protestant Reformation, of which John Calvin was a principal contributor, had flow-on effects such as the conversion of a multitude to new life in Jesus Christ. It also contributed to the rise of Western Culture in subsequent years.

That said, Christians should note that something big is happening. Aside from the rejection of Calvin’s doctrine on Creation, what is said to be the Church is rejecting other sound doctrines. Consequently, the Church is in decline in Western Culture. Indeed, Western Culture is in decline.

In that big picture you see incidents which go to make up the whole. Were it not for Covid-19 restrictions the church which was that of John Calvin in Geneva would have permitted the Roman Catholic Mass to be conducted within it on 29 February 2020. The Covid-19 restrictions delayed the conducting of the Mass until May 2020. I am not sure whether continuing Covid-19 restrictions have prevented that delayed event.

Surely, there is statement in this reversion to pre-Reformation practices in the church that was so demonstrably reformed under the stewardship of John Calvin.

Know the times!
Pauline T.
Thank you Jonathan. Much said with new words as usual. A terrific short article for those who find much reading to be hard work. May the Lord Jesus continue to guard and guide ask at CMI. With much appreciation.

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