What did John Calvin and James Arminius actually agree on?

In Arminius’ and Calvin’s days (at the time of the Reformation and thereafter), there was some errant theology floating around (like it does today). One of the major points was about the days of creation not being normal days (again, like it does today). The debate is similar and yet different to today’s debate though.

In today’s day and age, some theologians try to take the six days of creation (and the seventh day of rest too) and stretch them out to be long periods of time to accommodate the pagan religion of secular humanism [and its long age, anti-God philosophy which include millions of years and evolution]. In Reformation days, some people were trying to take all six days of creation and cram them into a single moment within a single day. In both cases, people question the days of creation! Here is what Calvin and Arminius said about this debate:

John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Comments on Genesis 1:5 says:

The first day. 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.”[1]

Calvin went so far as to say that he held that the world had not yet “completed its six thousandth year.”[2] Of course this would be true in Calvin’s time, but not our own as we have recently completed 6,000 years by most calculations including James Ussher and Floyd Nolan Jones.

Believe it or not, Jacobus Arminius agreed! He says:

“We think this was the order observed in creation: Spiritual creatures, that is, the angels, were first created. Corporeal creatures were next created, according to the series of six days, not together and in a single moment. Lastly, man was created, consisting both of body and spirit; his body was, indeed, first formed; and afterwards his soul was inspired by creating, and created by inspiring; that as God commenced the creation in a spirit, so he might finish it on a spirit, being himself the immeasurable and eternal Spirit.”[3]

Arminius disagreed with the idea that it took only a moment, but affirmed 6 days. Even a follower of Arminius theology, John Wesley agreed that the age of the earth was to be calculated based on 6 normal days of creation—not including millions of years. Wesley commented:

“The Scripture being the only Book in the world that gives us any account of the whole series of God’s Dispensations toward man from the Creation for four thousand years.”[4]

Wesley affirmed that creation to the New Testament Scripture (i.e., what God revealed to man as Wesley denoted as “dispensations”) to be 4,000 years.

Of course, Scripture makes 6 normal length days clear in Genesis 1:1-2:4 with by the context and evenings and mornings and numbered. Consider other cross-references, which reveal creation week as a basis for our 7 normal-day workweek too:

Exodus 20:11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

Exodus 31:17 ‘It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.’”

And this is a good teaching point. Let’s face it, God could have created in zillions of years or God could have created in a moment, but the issue isn’t what God could have done but instead is an issue of what did God said He did? To sum this up, Martin Luther, the famous reformer himself, had something to say on this subject and it is indeed worth repeating, as these wise words should be reiterated today.

“How Long Did the Work of Creation Take? When Moses writes that God created heaven and earth and whatever is in them in six days, then let this period continue to have been six days, and do not venture to devise any comment according to which six days were one day. But, if you cannot understand how this could have been done in six days, then grant the Holy Spirit the honor of being more learned than you are.”[5]

Cite this article: B. Hodge, What did John Calvin and James Arminius actually agree on?, Biblical Authority Ministries, November, 4, 2015, https://biblicalauthorityministries.wordpress.com/2015/11/04/what-did-john-calvin-and-james-arminius-actually-agree-on/.

[1] John Calvin Commentary notes on Genesis 1:5.

[2] John Calvin, Translated by Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion. 2nd ed. Hendrickson Publications, Peabody, Massachusetts, 2009.


[4] John Wesley, Survey of the Wisdom of God in the Creation, vol. 2. William Pine Publisher, Bristol, England, 1763, p. 227.

[5] Martin Luther, What Martin Luther Says – A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian, compiled by Ewald M. Plass, Concordia, St. Louis, MO, 1959, page 1523.

What did John Calvin and James Arminius actually agree on?

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