John Calvin on Marriage and Family
“Marriage and Family Life,” in Herman J. Selderhuis, ed., The Calvin Handbook (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009), 455-465
11 Pages Posted: 15 Sep 2007 Last revised: 30 Nov 2017
This chapter explains how the sixteenth-century Protestant reformer, John Calvin, transformed the Western theology and law of sex, marriage, and family life. Understanding marriage as a divine covenant with distinct and discernible goods and goals, Calvin gave new grounds to old rules prohibiting illicit sexual unions, polygamy, adultery, prostitution, concubinage, pre-marital sex, and non-marital cohabitation. But Calvin also set out new teachings on the proper treatment of religious differences between spouses, sexual dysfunction, post-menopausal sex, and the right to separate and divorce for adultery or abandonment. These new grounds for old teachings and new teachings from old grounds were applied not only in formal theological tracts but also in the many statutes and cases that Calvin shaped for sixteenth-century Geneva. This chapter, introducing a three-volume series on sex, marriage and family life in early modern Geneva, reveals the debt Western theology, jurisprudence, and political theory owes to Calvin.
Keywords: John Calvin, marriage, theology, law, sex, jurisprudence, political theory, polygamy, prostitution, theology, protestantism, family, family life, covenant, good, goals
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By John Witte