The Marital Covenant in John Calvin’s Geneva

Political Theology 19 (2018): 282-299

27 Pages Posted: 10 Dec 2018 Last revised: 19 Jul 2019

Date Written: 2018


This Article analyzes John Calvin’s reformation of Western family law in sixteenth century-Geneva. Calvin depicted marriage as a sacred and presumptively enduring union, but also a conditional and breakable covenant with distinct and discernible goods and goals that couples and communities alike had to support. This covenantal framework gave Calvin new rationales for old rules concerning marital and non-marital sex and cohabitation, courtship and weddings, procreation, nurture, and education of children, and the punishment of adultery, polygamy, and “unnatural” sex within and beyond the marital bed. But Calvin also set out new teachings on the proper communal formation and maintenance of the marital covenant, and introduced into Genevan law the rights of husbands and wives alike to divorce and remarry in cases of hard fault.

Keywords: John Calvin; Geneva; Covenant Theology; Marriage and Family Law; Consistory Court; Weddings; Sex; Polygamy; Weddings

Suggested Citation

Witte, John, The Marital Covenant in John Calvin’s Geneva (2018). Political Theology 19 (2018): 282-299, Available at SSRN:

John Witte (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
404-727-6980 (Phone)
404-712-8605 (Fax)

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics