John Calvin, along with the other leading Reformed theologians, deny that God is the author of sin. Theodore Beza, John Calvin’s successor, declares, “God himself is neither the author of sin nor a participant in the act of sinning.” Similarly, Grover Gunn says, “The sovereignty of God also teaches that God is not the responsible author of evil, that man is a free moral agent who is not forced to sin and who is responsible for what he does.”
The Calvinist refuses to concede that the logic of his doctrine inevitably concludes that God must be the author of sin. John Calvin writes, “First, it must be observed that the will of God is the cause of all things that happen in the world; and yet God is not the author of evil.” Calvin may believe this to be true, but the statement is inherently contradictory and illogical. Consider the logic of his statement that God is the cause of all things that happen in the world:
- God authors and causes all things that happen in the world
- Sin happens in the world
- Therefore, God authors and causes sin
- God authors and causes all things that happen in the world
- Sin happens in the world
- Therefore, God does not author and cause sin
The conclusion that Calvin draws cannot possibly be derived from his premises. Unhappy with the logical conclusion, Calvin simply changes it. However, merely saying that the logical conclusion of his statement is false does not make it false. As we have already seen, Calvin attempts to deny the validity of the charge by invoking the argument of second cause, but he does not succeed. Instead, we have proven that the argument of second cause is blatantly unbiblical.
Diagramming the logic of Calvin’s argument makes it easy to see the error in his teaching. If God authors and causes all things in the world to happen, then God must author and cause sin. The simple logic is irrefutable. For Calvin to firmly deny the conclusion of his own premises is intellectually dishonest, and it appears as though he recognizes his dilemma because he tries several different ways to pass his beliefs off as Biblically centered and true. First, he employs the argument of second causes which we have seen is not Biblical and, therefore, untrue.* Second, Calvin simply claims ignorance of so grand a subject but advises the readers to believe him anyway because he knows in his heart that his doctrine is true.** Third, Calvin claims that man’s spiritual understanding is too simple to ever understand such truths on this side of heaven.*
Among the few alternative arguments presented by Calvinists, none have successfully explained the obvious contradiction in Calvin’s logic. An examination of one of these arguments will reveal how anxious the Calvinist is to defend Calvin’s doctrine.
John Calvin writes, “For the proper and genuine cause of sin is not God’s hidden counsel but the evident will of man.” However, in context, he contradicts this statement by saying that Adam’s fall was “not without the knowledge and ordination of God.”
In a desperate attempt to resolve the obvious contradiction, Dr. John Frame writes, “[A]lthough Calvin rejects cause he affirms ordination. God is not the ‘cause’ of sin, but it is by his ‘ordination.’ … evidently in the vocabulary of Calvin and his successors there was a difference between the two terms.”
This is an extremely weak argument. To begin with, it is based solely upon assumption. If John Calvin intends a different definition for the word “ordain” than is commonly accepted, he should provide the definition he is choosing to use. Nowhere do we find John Calvin providing a different definition for the word “ordain” than has been commonly and historically accepted.*
A superficial reading of John Calvin’s works will quickly reveal that he has no new and special definition for the term “ordain.” Indeed, if he utilized such a new definition, he surely would provide it as clarification against his opponents’ accusations.
To simply assume a new and mysterious definition for such a key term in Calvin’s argument is disingenuous at best. We do not have the freedom to simply redefine terms whenever they seem opposed to our conclusions. Yet this is what the Calvinist has done.
Regardless of whether John Calvin meant “ordain” to mean “cause,” Calvin does clearly argue that God’s predetermined will is the cause of all things, “But of all the things which happen, the first cause is to be understood to be His will, because He so governs the natures created by Him, as to determine all the counsels and the actions of men to the end decreed by Him.” Elsewhere, Calvin writes, “When [Augustine] uses the term permission, the meaning which he attaches to it will best appear from a single passage (De Trinity. lib. 3 cap. 4), where he proves that the will of God is the supreme and primary cause of all things, because nothing happens without his order or permission.”
Clearly, John Calvin is trying to communicate that God’s predestination—His secret will—is the cause of all things. Calvin is also trying to say that God is not the cause of sin. Calvin says both; however, they cannot both be true statements.
Once again, let us take a moment to clarify that Reformed theologians and adherents deny the charge that God causes or authors sin. As Jay Adams says, “God is neither the author of sin, nor sanctions it. He is not responsible for sin, though He decreed it. Those guilty of sinning are responsible.” Nonetheless, even though they deny the charge, the logic of Calvinists inevitably leads us to conclude that God must be the author of sin.
The apparent willingness of the Calvinist to illogically accept both sides of an argument is troubling. It shows his willingness to embrace faulty logic for the sake of holding onto his preferred doctrinal belief. Rather than have a deep desire to get to the truth of a matter, the Calvinist accepts what is clearly illogical and unbiblical in order to hold on to his system of beliefs. It seems as though protecting Calvinism is more important to the Calvinist than discovering the truth.
When the Calvinist is forced to redefine clearly defined terms in order to correct Calvin’s contradictions, it is clear that he has no good and logical answer for how to unite the teaching that God causes everything and yet God is not the author of sin. Simply saying that it is a mystery, a paradox, or God’s secret will is not a sufficient answer. Stating that God causes all things but does not cause sin is a logical contradiction. It is equivalent to saying that something is both all wet and all dry at the same time. Any reasonable person would reject such an argument. Similarly, we must reject John Calvin’s argument.
- Muller, Christ and the Decree: Christology and Predestination in Reformed Theology from Calvin to Perkins, 84. ↵
- Gunn, The Doctrines of Grace, 14. ↵
- Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, 169. ↵
- “What I have maintained about the diversity of causes must not be forgotten: the proximate cause is one thing, the remote cause another.” (Ibid, 181.) ↵
- “But how it was ordained by the foreknowledge and decree of God what man’s future was without God being implicated as associate in the fault as the author and approver of transgression, is clearly a secret so much excelling the insight of the human mind, that I am not ashamed to confess ignorance.” (Ibid, 124.) ↵
- “But how it was ordained by the foreknowledge and decree of God what man’s future was without God being implicated as associate in the fault as the author and approver of transgression, is clearly a secret so much excelling the insight of the human mind, that I am not ashamed to confess ignorance. ... I prescribe nothing to others but what comes out of the experience of my heart.” (Ibid.) ↵
- “Is it any wonder that such immense splendour should blunt the acuteness of our mind? Our physical eyes are not enough to sustain a contemplation of the sun. Is our spiritual insight greater than our natural powers, or the majesty of God inferior to the glory of the sun? It is becoming in us, then, not to be too inquisitive; only let us not dare to deny the truth of what Scripture plainly teaches and experience confirms, or even to suggest that it does not reach agreement with God.” (Ibid, 184–185.) ↵
- Ibid, 122. ↵
- Ibid. ↵
- John Frame, The Doctrine of God, Source: Mathis, Does God Cause Sin?, “Does God Cause Sin?.” ↵
- Definition of ordain: “To decree; give orders for; to destine or predestine; to order or command.” (“Ordain,” Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, 1362.) ↵
- Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, 178. ↵
- Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book I, Ch. 16, Sect. 8. ↵
- Adams, The Grand Demonstration, 61. ↵