Calvin, Nature, And Women -- By: Sam Arts

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 27:2 (Spring 2013)
Article: Calvin, Nature, And Women
Author: Sam Arts

Calvin, Nature, And Women

Sam Arts

Sam Arts, PhD, is an English pastor at Vancouver Myanmar Baptist Fellowship and an adjunct instructor at ACTS Seminaries in British Columbia, Canada, with interests that include theological anthropology, feminist theologies, ethics, environmental ethics, and Reformation studies.


When we say, “We are persuaded from Scripture that masculinity and femininity are rooted in who we are by nature,”1 what do we mean by “nature”? How do we relate our view of nature to our understanding of the role of women? In this article, I will examine how John Calvin, to whom contemporary Reformed churches owe so much for their confessions and practices, used the argument from nature to understand the role of women as different from that of men.

When Calvin uses the term “nature,” at first glance, it appears that he is referring to the creation account, the state before the fall. For example, in his commentary on 1 Timothy 2:12, where Paul addresses the issue of women teaching and subsequently the account of Eve, Calvin explains woman is not entitled to teach, because “woman . . . by nature (that is, by the ordinary law of God) is formed to obey.”2 Calvin appears to suggest that woman is subject to man by nature because the subjection was ordained in the creation story.3 Nonetheless, for Calvin, many other things also are regulated by nature.4 For instance, the need for a distinction of ranks in society is based on natural reason: “[T]he political distinction of ranks is not to be repudiated, for natural reason itself dictates this in order to take away confusion.”5 Breast feeding, for Calvin, is divinely constituted by nature: “[H]e [God] constitutes nurses; and they who deem it a hardship to nourish their own offspring, break . . . the sacred bond of nature.”6 Nature teaches respect for parents: “the honor of parents, . . . [t]he honor due to the old . . . is dictated by nature itself.”7 Calvin regards these things as ordered by nature, yet they are not parts of the creation story. This suggests that, in Calvin’s mind, certain things are already determined by nature whether or not they are in the pre-fall creation story. How, then, does Calvin decide certain things are ordered by nature? Why does Calvin use the concept of nature in his theology? What impact does this argument of nat...

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