A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Thursday Thought — John Calvin: GEM of a quote

Recently Pastor Sam Powell posted a gem of a quote by John Calvin on his Facebook page.  In addition to adding the quote to our GEMS page, we wanted to highlight the quote in a stand-alone post along with the excellent conversation that ensued between Pastor Powell and Pastor Crippen.

John Calvin quote

…it would be better for robbers to remain in the wood and there to kill strangers, than to entice guests to their houses and to kill them there and to plunder them under the pretext of hospitality. This is the way in which you act; for ye destroy the bond of marriage, and ye afterwards deceive your miserable wives, and yet ye force them by your tyranny to continue at your houses, and thus ye torment your miserable wives, who might have enjoyed their freedom, if divorce had been granted them. (John Calvin on Mal. 2:16.)

Conversation between Pastors Powell and Crippen

Jeff Crippen:  Calvin sure gets a lot of undeserved accusations from people who have been taught to hate him and his theology. How many people would have guessed that it was Calvin who said this?

Sam Powell: Perfectly said! I always find it strange that those who claim total depravity have such a hard time applying it to their own circles. We are SHOCKED when men act exactly the way the bible says that they act. Weird.

Jeff Crippen: It may seem like the Calvinists are hiding this little treasure, but the real Calvinists are not hiding it. Yet many who claim to be reformed in their theology are, that’s for sure. Accurate, confessional, historic Calvinism recognizes the total depravity of the unregenerate man and acknowledges that there are people who are reprobate and destined for destruction — people who freely choose to hate and reject Christ rather than repent and believe. This is what we teach regarding the abuser who has faked his Christianity for decades, cruelly abusing his wife and children yet putting himself off as a pillar and holy saint in his church. In my opinion, accurate reformed theology gets it right when it comes to handling these kind and that therefore much of what is parading today as reformed theology simply is not.

Sam Powell: Yup. I don’t know when the verse got mangled out of recognition, but it’s taken on the opposite meaning lately. When did that happen?

I hold to the creeds of the reformation, but I don’t use the term “Calvinist” to describe myself anymore. Not because my theology concerning salvation has changed, but because the word has taken on many strange bedfellows. Usually when people say Calvinist, they mean that they hold to a pop-culture view of predestination that looks a bit more like fatalism than the Biblical doctrine.

The weird complementarianism that modern pop-Calvinists subscribe to wouldn’t have been even recognizable in the 16th century.

Jeff Crippen: That’s good advice. It does seem that “Calvinism” hits a hot button with so many people and in fact has almost become meaningless because it is usually used for a caricature of what historic reformed theology is.

Sam Powell: I sent a young woman a copy of the Heidelberg Catechism. She’d been hurt greatly by wicked men. She read #105: “What does God require in the sixth commandment? — That I do not revile, hate, insult or kill my neighbor in thought, word, gesture, much less in deed, whether by myself or by another…”  That’s when it occurred to her that domestic abuse is a violation of the sixth commandment.

This is a sixteenth century creed, used by reformed churches for centuries. I memorized it as a lad. Beautiful. And it has abuse pegged — just uses another term. Reviling, hating. It’s murder.

Jeff Crippen: And yet over and over again I hear of churches commonly allowing these murderers to remain in their pews, still maintaining that they are Christians. Recently a survivor of years of abuse told me that her abuser held a gun to her head and that her pastor knows full well that he did it. Yet the abuser is still in that church, even allowed to “serve” in a “ministry” there while the victim has had to leave that church. And this is no wild, liberal, church that denies the deity of Christ or anything. It professes to be a Bible-believing church. Guess what? It isn’t.

Sam Powell: Wow.


Link to Sam Powell’s Facebook page where he posted this quote.

Link to John Calvin’s entire commentary on Malachi 2


Other posts at this blog about Calvin and / or Calvinism

Whose tears are covering the altar in Malachi 2? The Matthew Bible vs. the Geneva Bible, Puritans and Calvin 

Calvinism And Domestic Violence: there’s a correlation but we can’t say Calvinism causes domestic violence


  1. shepherdguardian


    Thank you!

    For the most part, the pastors, counselors, etc. to whom I have spoken have yet to make a convincing argument as to why the “dividing line” of marriage nullifies the very clear commands not to even associate with revilers (abusers).

    I have been told I’m wrong so many times and in such abusively manipulative ways.

    There really is persecution for righteousness sake!


    • Misti

      For the most part, the pastors, counselors, etc. to whom I have spoken have yet to make a convincing argument as to why the “dividing line” of marriage nullifies the very clear commands not to even associate with revilers (abusers).

      It’s not just spouses. Biological or legal relatives, too.

      That verse bothered me for years, making me wonder why and how parents (and other family) were somehow an exception, because I wasn’t seeing that in Scripture—and convincing myself I was seeing what I rebelliously wanted to see, which what others have insisted when I asked how/why family was an exception.

    • Sarah

      well said. If I hear “except if you’re married…” one more time

  2. kind of anonymous

    Wow, had no idea that John Calvin said anything like this. …
    I have really wondered about what is truly reformed, … Any suggestions as to how to get a truthful grasp of what reformed theology really is in terms of authors/reading?

    • Hi koa,
      I edited your comment a fair bit, I hope you don’t mind.

      Jeff recommends you read RC Sproul’s book What is Reformed Theology?

      And dear readers, just because we are recommending that book doesn’t mean we recommend every single thing R C Sproul has said or done. We have stated on this blog before that we are disappointed with men like R C Sproul who do not come out clearly and say that abuse is grounds for divorce.

    • And koa, if you want to know why I edited that comment of yours, I’m happy to do so by email in this particular instance. 🙂

  3. Megan

    Wow, I didn’t know Calvin said that! But, wait, isn’t there also a quote out there from a letter he wrote to an abused wife telling her to basically suck it up and stay in the marriage? Or is that a fabricated quote? If not, how do we reconcile what Calvin said to her versus what he said here? Is he for or against escaping the marriage in which abuse is taking place?

    Regardless, that quote describes to a T what my father did to my mother. He entrapped her! Thank you for sharing it.

    • Hi Megan
      Yes — I reprinted that letter to the abused woman in Appendix 11 of my book Not Under Bondage.

      A French noblewoman who was being severely abused by her husband wrote to the Genevan Consistory (which was headed by John Calvin) asking them (a) whether a woman is permitted to leave her abusive husband, and (b) if she were to flee from France to Geneva, and her husband and his powerful allies demanded that the Genevan church and city authorities deliver her up to her husband, would they do so? or would they protect her and give her safe haven?

      The letter which the Consistory wrote back to this woman was most probably written by Calvin himself. And it is awful.
      In my book I summed up what the Consistory told the woman:—

      — 1 Corinthians 7:13 tells a spouse not to desert an obstinately hostile, unbelieving spouse (the Consistory thus ignored, or did not realize, the condition in verse 13 that he be willing to live in goodwill with her)

      — flight from marital persecution was only permitted when one’s life was endangered (they did not specifically mention verse 15, and they added a condition about “life endangerment” that does not exist in Paul’s epistle)

      — because the woman dissimulated in attending Mass, she had not made an adequate declaration of her faith

      — she needed to “ redouble her efforts” to win her husband to Christ

      — they acknowledged her “perplexity and anguish” but never praised her for the efforts she had already made: her endurance, her quietness before her husband’s blasphemy, her refusal to betray fellow Christians, etc.

      — they ignored the fact that her life had already been endangered inasmuch as her husband had threatened to murder her or have her burnt by the papal authorities.

      • LM

        My goodness. This is horrible wih a capital H., it is unimaginable and total disgrace to what Jesus died on the cross for repentance of sin and deliverence from evil. Jesus must cry over this so much.

        [Eds: Screen name changed to protect commenter]

      • Hi — welcome to the blog 🙂

        We always like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

        I changed your screen name to AMLD as a precaution. If you want us to change it to something else, just email The woman behind the curtain: twbtc.acfj@gmail.com — she will be more than happy to assist. 🙂

  4. healinginhim

    Thank you for sharing this quote and the conversation between Jeff Crippen and Sam Powell. So much meat in this post … would greatly appreciate these two men Skyping with some of the local pastors. 🙂

  5. Dear readers and commenters,
    Our publishing of this quote by John Calvin does not mean we support everything John Calvin wrote. Please do not take this post as place to express your view of Calvin or Calvinism overall. We did not mean it to be taken that way. We simply wanted to share with our readers a (rather surprisingly good) few words of Calvin’s which called out men who were mistreating their wives.

    Just because we quoted this snippet from Calvin does not mean we necessarily agree with every word he wrote.

    We don’t want to open up a battle about Calvinism vv non-Calvinism. We don’t want to beat a battle drum for reformed theology over against other theological persuasions. Although both Jeff Crippen and I consider ourselves to be aligned with reformed theology as to the doctrines of grace and salvation, the mission of this blog is not to push or defend (or give a place to push back against) reformed theology.

  6. Brenda R

    Barb and Jeff,

    “Jeff Crippen: Calvin sure gets a lot of undeserved accusations from people who have been taught to hate him and his theology.”

    I didn’t know who John Calvin was until a few years ago. Since I am 59 years old and my comments have not been published…….enough said. He doesn’t sway my convictions of God’s Word in the least. I was neither taught to hate him or his theology. They were non-existent. I have always believed in salvation by grace through faith in Jesus the Christ. ALL that will come…..Everyone!!

    If this is not the place to discuss this topic…..well, I didn’t bring up the topic. Nor, have my questions that I honestly need answered. Perhaps I am missing something. I am a work in progress as we all are.


    • Dear Brenda R,
      Yes, we have held in moderation some of your comments on this thread. Allow me to please explain. I’ve been super busy with non blog stuff. TWBTC has had her internet drop out twice in the last few days. Jeff has been very busy too. We simply have not had time to think through clearly about what to do with those comments of yours that we’ve held in moderation.

      Please be patient with us.

      We were not intending that this post persuade you or any other readers to ‘sway your convictions of God’s Word’. As you know, we defend the liberty of the individual Christian’s conscience. 🙂

      By quoting this small snippet from Calvin and by sharing the conversation between Jeff Crippen and Sam Powell, we were not meaning to push the doctrines of Reformed Theology onto our readers in a “you must agree with this and if you don’t you must recalibrate your thinking” kind of way.

  7. MarkQ

    Unfortunately, I think the quote is taken out of context. Calvin is equating polygamy with adultery and then talking about the misery created for the first wife by a husband taking a second wife. He is making the claim that it is “worse” for a man to take a second wife in addition to the first, than for the man to divorce his first wife, then take another.

    The mistreatment, therefore, in Calvin’s mind was the breaking of the marriage vow (the two become one flesh) by adding a third party, and not the simple mistreatment of the wife. I find Calvin very tiring in this regard, because in many of his “proofs”, he often is sooo close to some real truth, but it is a very explicit and detailed reference to a specific problem and he doesn’t understand the greater truth he is expressing.

    I’ve found very similar quotes with respect to obedience of abusive authority. He is very close to saying that we don’t have to obey those who have usurped authority, but he never actually says it.

    • Hi MarkQ, I have now read Calvin’s commentary on Malachi chapter 2 in full, and I agree with you.
      Calvin is chastising husbands who take a second wife and refuse to let their first wife go despite the fact that the first wife is being humiliated by him taking a second wife. And how Calvin thinks that is what Malachi 2 is talking about is beyond me!

      Calvin chastised harsh husbands in this quote. At least he did actually chastise harsh husbands — even though his logic in getting there was dubious. I find Calvin frustrating too, at times, not that I’ve read him deeply. His opinions seem so strong, but they are not always consistent or logical, and he certainly fails to consistently support those who are being oppressed by abusive authority.

  8. Finding Answers

    An interesting discussion.

    Took the time follow the link and read through Calvin’s commentary on Malachi chapter 2.

    On the one hand, he refers to the harsh treatment of wives by their husbands, especially with respect to polygamy.

    On the other hand, he provides a lengthy explanation on why the marriage covenant is inviolable.

    Having recently read through the much more recent ACFJ post on “Whose tears are covering the altar in Malachi 2…” from May 25, 2018, I have greater appreciation for the work Ruth Magnusson Davis is doing on the Matthew Bible.

    For the admins: Given the comments generated by this “Thursday Thought” – “GEMS” page post, would it be worth taking the time to add the May 25, 2018 post onto this page? Or would it be too off topic?

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