Friday, June 29, 2007

Was Calvin a Marriage Mandator??????

[This article is based upon the historical section of my book critiquing the Mandatory Marriage Movement]

I wish to write this article to critique the use of the reformers in the writings of the Mandatory Marriage Movement, and, imparticular, Debbie Maken. Debbie Maken has been, by far, the one who has insisted that the reformers agreed with the Mandatory Marriage position. If she is wrong, and there is no historical precedent, then the Mandatory Marriage Movement collapses as both unscriptural and a-historical.

One of the keys to understanding the whole discussion of the reformers is to understand the difference between vocabulary and meaning. For instance, it is, indeed, true that the reformers believed that marriage was a duty. Debbie Maken cites several quotations from the reformers in her book:

For this word which God speaks, "Be fruitful and multiply," is not a command. It is more than a command, namely, a divine ordinance [werck] which it is not our prerogative to hinder or ignore. Rather, it is just as necessary as the fact that I am a man, and more necessary than sleeping and waking, eating and drinking, and emptying the bowels and bladder. It is a nature and disposition just as innate as the organs involved in it Therefore, just as God does not command anyone to be a man or a woman but creates them the way they have to be, so he does not command them to multiply but creates them so that they have to multiply. And wherever men try to resist this, it remains irresistible nonetheless and goes its way through fornication, adultery, and secret sins, for this is a matter of nature and not of choice. [From Martin Luther's The Estate of Marriage available at].

The choice to marry is not put in our own hands, as if we were to deliberate on the matter [John Calvin The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Debbie Maken cited Witte's book From Sacrament to Contract (p.111) on Page p.47 of her book which has this quotation from Calvin].

She likewise provides the following quotes from Witte's book From Sacrament to Contract:

The duty of marriage stems from God's command that the man and woman unite, help each other, beget children, and raise them as God's servants [Maken p.46 Witte p.49].

[The Reformers believed that] All persons should heed the duty and accept the gift of marriage-for the sake of both society and each person within it [Maken p.46 Witte p.49].

Hence, we can surely say that the Reformers believed marriage was a duty. However, in what sense? Is it in the same sense that Debbie Maken believes marriage is a duty? The answer is a clear "no."

Let us go to Calvin himself, and have him define for us what he means by marriage being a duty. He lays out his beliefs about marriage in his Institutes of the Christian Religion Book II Chapter VIII, as well as his commentaries on Genesis and 1 Corinthians. Let us compare it with Debbie Maken's view of marriage, and see if it matches up.

The first area of dispute we can find with Debbie Maken is in her view of what Calvin meant when he talked about the "gift of continence." I will have more to write on what Debbie Maken has said here later, but for right now, notice how she views celibacy and continence:

John Calvin went so far to say that any man who, without the gift of "continence" (celibacy) failed to secure a wife was guilty of "stealing" a husband from a wife [Getting Serious about Getting Married pgs 32-33].

Notice, Debbie Maken thinks that celibacy and continence are the same thing. In fact, she even states that the "gift" in 1 Corinthians 7 is celibacy. However, the two are just simply not the same thing. Look at how several dictionaries from define continence:

1. self-restraint or abstinence, esp. in regard to sexual activity; temperance; moderation.

1. Self-restraint; moderation.

1. the exercise of self constraint in sexual matters

1 : self-restraint in refraining from sexual intercourse

Indeed, John Calvin must have understood the passage this way when he discussed the gift in 1 Corinthians 7:9 as he translated the Greek word evgkrateu,ontai as continēnt in his Latin rendering of the passage. This word comes from the Latin word contineō, and is defined by one Latin dictionary as:

contineo : hold together, keep together, connect, join.
contineo : to hold, to keep togethere, to contian.
contineo : to keep in, surround, contain, confine, include.
contineo : to touch, reach, grasp, affect, infect.
contineo contigi, contectum : border on /befall (good luck).
contineo: to hold back, restrain.

Likewise, Alastair Wilson's Beginning Latin Dictionary [p.29] defines the word as:

To keep together, contain, enclose, restrain

Also, The New College Latin and English Dictionary by Dr. John C. Traupman [p.116] says this word means:

To hold or keep together; to keep within bounds, confine; to contain, comprise, include; to control repress.

Thus, we can safely say that Calvin did not mean the mere abstinence of sexual relations [celibacy] when he used the term "continence." He was referring to a lack of self-control. In fact, even Debbie Maken has to admit that there is a difference between the two when she writes "Celibacy and self-control are not the same." By misusing Matthew 19, she says that Jesus and Paul were saying that "sexual part of our God given design to drive us toward marriage" [Getting Serious about Getting Married p. 135]. That is not how Calvin interpreted the passage in 1 Corinthians 7. Calvin defined the gift as a control over sex drive, not and not an absence of sex drive. He contradicts Debbie Maken's interpretation and writes:

That continence is a special gift from God, and of the class of those which are not bestowed indiscriminately on the whole body of the Church, but only on a few of its members, our Lord affirms (Matth. xix. 12). He first describes a certain class of individuals who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake; that is, in order that they may be able to devote themselves with more liberty and less restraint to the things of heaven. But lest any one should supose that such a sacrifice was in every man's power, he had shown a little before that all are not capable, but those only to whom it is specially given from above. Hence he concludes, "He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." Paul asserts the same thing still more plainly when he says, "Every man has his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and the other after that" (1 Cor. vii. 7) [John Calvin. The Institutes of the Christian Religion. translated by Henry Beveridge. Eerdmans Publishing. Book II Chapter VIII section 42 pgs. i 348-349].

Also, because Debbie Maken believes that the gift is celibacy, she is able to say that a person cannot be single and an adult, and then marry in their thirties. However, Calvin firmly believed that the gift of continence could be only for a time. To quote him:

Virginity, I admit, is a virtue not to be despised; but since it is denied to some, and to others granted only for a season, those who are assailed by incontinence, and unable to successfully war against it, should betake themselves to the remedy of marriage, and thus cultivate chastity in the way of their calling [Calvin, Institutes Book II Chapter VIII section 42 p. i 348].

Notice, also, that Calvin does not say that anyone who is struggling with sexual temptation should marry. He says that anyone who cannot overcome it, should get married implying that, first, there must be a sincere effort to slay the dragon of sexual immorality. If that cannot be done, then your call is to marriage. He also said that this gift of continence could be given for a season of one's life. Calvin said in his commentary on 1 Corinthians:

We must also notice carefully the word continue; for it is possible for a person to live chastely in a state of celibacy for a time, but there must be in this matter no determination made for tomorrow. Isaac was unmarried until he was thirty years of age, and passed in chastity those years in which the heats of irregular desire are most violent; yet afterwards he is called to enter into the married life. In Jacob we have a still more remarkable instance. Hence the Apostle would wish those who are at present practicing chastity, to continue in it and persevere; but as they have no security for the continuance of the gift, he exhorts all to consider carefully what has been given them. [From 1 Corinthians Commentary (on 1 Corinthians 7:8)]

Notice that Calvin's main problem is with those who make a determination about the future. This is what he calls "presumption" saying "As for those who, despising marriage, rashly vowed perpetual continency, God punished their presumption, first, by the secret flames of lust; and then afterwards, by horrible acts of filthiness" [From 1 Corinthians Commentary (on 1 Corinthians 7:7)]. Notice also that Calvin has no problems with Isaac remaining unmarried into his thirties [the reason he says "thirty" here is probably just due to the manuscripts he was using, as most modern translations say "forty"], and even with Jacob marrying in his forties [Genesis 26:34; 29:21]!. In fact, he has no problem with them doing so at a time when "the heats of irregular desire are most violent."

As a side note, this is also a good passage to point to when people say that there was never a time in history in which marriage was delayed this late. You have Isaac marrying at the age of forty [Genesis 25:20], Esau marrying in his forties [Genesis 26:34], Jacob marrying at least older than forty [Genesis 26:34; 29:21], and Joseph marrying in his thirties [Genesis 41:46]. Why is it that Calvin commends both Isaac and Jacob? That has to be a problem for the marriage mandators.

In his Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7:9, he makes a distinction between "burning" and "feeling heat." He writes:

We must, however, define what is meant by burning; for many are stung with fleshly desires, who, nevertheless, do not require forthwith to have recourse to marriage. And to retain Paul’s metaphor, it is one thing to burn and another to feel heat. Hence what Paul here calls burning, is not a mere slight feeling, but a boiling with lust, so that you cannot resist. As, however, some flatter themselves in vain, by imagining that they are entirely free from blame, if they do not yield assent to impure desire, observe that there are three successive steps of temptation. For in some cases the assaults of impure desire have so much power that the will is overcome: that is the worst kind of burning, when the heart is inflamed with lust. In some instances, while we are stung with the darts of the flesh, it is in such a manner that we make a stout resistance, and do not allow ourselves to be divested of the true love of chastity, but on the contrary, abhor all base and filthy affections.

Hence all must be admonished, but especially the young, that whenever they are assailed by their fleshly inclinations, they should place the fear of God in opposition to a temptation of this sort, cut off all inlets to unchaste thoughts, entreat the Lord to give them strength to resist, and set themselves with all their might to extinguish the flames of lust. If they succeed in this struggle, let them render thanks unto the Lord, for where shall we find the man who does not experience some molestation from his flesh? but if we bridle its violence, before it has acquired the mastery, it is well. For we do not burn, though we should feel a disagreeable heat — not that there is nothing wrong in that feeling of heat, but acknowledging before the Lord, with humility and sighing, our weakness, we are meanwhile, nevertheless, of good courage. To sum up all, so long as we come off victorious in the conflict, through the Lord’s grace, and Satan’s darts do not make their way within, but are valiantly repelled by us, let us not become weary of the conflict.

There is an intermediate kind of temptation when a man does not indeed admit impure desire with the full assent of his mind, but at the same time is inflamed with a blind impetuosity, and is harassed in such a manner that he cannot with peace of conscience call upon God. A temptation, then, of such a kind as hinders one from calling upon God in purity, and disturbs peace of conscience, is burning, such as cannot be extinguished except by marriage.

Hence, we begin to see that Debbie Maken has set up a gross caricature of Calvin's position. Calvin, in fact, believed that a man could delay marriage into one's forties and later provided he still remained continent. And, if there was incontinence at one point, Calvin did not advocate "getting serious about getting married," but only recommended such after the person has already fought against such desires, and was unable to prevail. It was only after all of this happened that a man was under obligation to marry.

Thus, we should understand Calvin's quotations above in the light of this quotation:

Paul here expressly declares, that every one has not a free choice in this matter, because virginity is a special gift, that is not conferred upon all indiscriminately [Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7:7].

Hence, the reason why "the choice to marry is not put in our own hands" and that "everyone does not have a free choice in the matter" is because of the fact that we don't have control over whether or not we will be able to control our desires. Whether or not the desires will be able to be assailed is totally up to God, to give as he wishes. However, that does not mean that we will not have the gift of continence for over thirty years, and that does not mean that we cannot control our desires just because we have them. Debbie has simply misrepresented Calvin's position.

How are we to know if we are controlling our desires, or if we have fought them sufficiently to know whether or not we will be able to overcome them? Calvin gives a surprising answer to this question:

Now, since natural feeling and the passions inflamed by the fall make the marriage tie doubly necessary, save in the case of those whom God has by special grace exempted, let every individual consider how the case stands with himself [Calvin, Institutes Book II Chapter VIII section 42 p. i 348].

We now see, that in deliberating as to this, one must not merely consider whether he can preserve his body free from pollution: the mind also must be looked to, as we shall see in a little [Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7:9].

In essence, Calvin gives the responsibility to the man himself, and not to the church. Calvin will hear nothing of churches "shaming" young men [or women] just because they have sexual desires, and are not married. He says that, while we do not have control over whether or not we have this gift, we *do* have control over the discernment of whether or not we have that gift.

Calvin thus summarizes his position on the "gift of continence" by stating:

He [Paul] now directs his discourse to virgins, to all that are unmarried, and to widows, and he allows that an unmarried life ought to be desired by them, provided they have the power; but that regard must always be had by each individual to the power that he possesses [Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7:8].

Now, what about Martin Luther's quotation? Well, Luther would agree with pretty much everything written here. In fact, here is the end of his sermon The Estate of Marriage [which I would exhort Debbie Maken to quote every time she quotes from this sermon] he says:

My purpose was only to enumerate those which a Christian can have for conducting his married life in a Christian way, so that, as Solomon says, he may find his wife in the sight of God and obtain favour from the Lord [Prov. 18:22]. In saying this I do not wish to disparage virginity, or entice anyone away from virginity into marriage. Let each one act as he is able, and as he feels it has been given to him by God. I simply wanted to check those scandalmongers who place marriage so far beneath virginity that they dare to say: Even if the children should become holy (I Cor. 7:14], celibacy would still be better. One should not regard any estate as better in the sight of God than the estate of marriage. In a worldly sense celibacy is probably better, since it has fewer cares and anxieties. This is true, however, not for its own sake but in order that the celibate may better be able to preach and care for God's word, as St Paul says in I Corinthians 7 [:32-34]. It is God's word and the preaching which make celibacy, such as that of Christ and of Paul, better than the estate of marriage. In itself, however, the celibate life is far inferior.

So, Luther has a sense in which marriage is better, and a sense in which celibacy is better. Notice, also, that he thinks that I Corinthians 7:32-34 applies for today, when Debbie Maken does not [see p. 37 of her book]. Also, he says that his message is not to entice anyone away from virginity. Yet Debbie Maken's message surely is!

Now we will deal with some of Debbie Maken's misuse of Calvin in her book Getting Serious about Getting Married. The first quotation is on page 23 of her book:

When he soon afterwards adds, that God created them "male and female," he commends us to that conjugal bond by which the society of mankind is cherished. For this form of speaking, "God created man, male and female he created them," is of the same force as if he had said that man himself was incomplete.

This is from Calvin's Commentary on Genesis 1:27. Here is the entirety of the context:

When he soon afterwards adds, that God created them male and female, he commends to us that conjugal bond by which the society of mankind is cherished. For this form of speaking, God created man, male and female created he them, is of the same force as if he had said, that the man himself was incomplete [dimidium]. Under these circumstances, the woman was added to him as a companion that they both might be one, as he more clearly expresses it in the second chapter. Malachi also means the same thing when he relates, (Malachi 2:15,) that one man was created by God, whilst, nevertheless, he possessed the fullness of the Spirit. For he there treats of conjugal fidelity, which the Jews were violating by their polygamy. For the purpose of correcting this fault, he calls that pair, consisting of man and woman, which God in the beginning had joined together, one man , in order that every one might learn to be content with his own wife.

The key to this text is recognizing Calvin's use of the Latin term "dimidum." The term literally means "half," and thus Calvin is contrasting man as half, and man as one. When Calvin talks about God creating "one man" in reference to Malachi 2:15, he is talking about the one man being both Adam and Eve. Calvin interpreted Malachi 2:15 to mean that God could have made several women to be a companion for Adam since he had the "fullness of spirit," and yet he chose not to do so, and caused him to be content with his one companion. Thus, because only one man was given to Adam as a companion [and later as a spouse], every man should learn that he is not to go after other women in a polygamous relationship, as the one woman was all that was needed to give Adam a companion. Thus, his argument is against polygamy, not the idea that a person is complete in the single state.

Next, on page 43 of her book, Debbie Maken writes:

Why break up a home through divorce or wayward children if it is easier for Satan to convince singles that they have no biblical duty to pair up in the first place and that other arrangements are suitable substitutes? Calvin wrote:

Many think that celibacy conduces to their advantage and therefore, abstain from marriage, lest they should be miserable.... [H]eathen writers [have] defined that to be a happy life which is passed without a wife... [and they] attempt to render hallowed wedlock both hateful and infamous. To these wicked suggestions of Satan let the faithful learn to oppose this declaration of God, by which he ordains the conjugal life for man, not to his destruction, but to his salvation.

However, is this what Calvin actually said? This comes from Calvin's commentary on Genesis 2:18. Let us take a look at what is in the ellipses:

Many think that celibacy conduces to their advantage, and therefore, abstain from marriage, lest they should be miserable. Not only have heathen writers defined that to be a happy life which is passed without a wife, but the first book of Jerome, against Jovinian, is stuffed with petulant reproaches, by which he attempts to render hallowed wedlock both hateful and infamous. To these wicked suggestions of Satan let the faithful learn to oppose this declaration of God, by which he ordains the conjugal life for man, not to his destruction, but to his salvation.

It is simply reprehensible that she did not point out that Jerome himself made the mistake that Calvin is talking about. Of course, Jerome is one of the great scholars of the early church. While his views of marriage were certainly in error, it is simply wrong of Debbie Maken to not admit that Calvin said that people other than heathens have held this viewpoint.

However, even worse than that, Calvin is not talking about saying that there are advantages to singleness. In fact, Calvin himself admits that there are advantages to singleness. Rather, what he is saying is that we cannot define singleness as the happy life. There is nothing here about "pairing up" or "a duty" at all. In fact, Calvin would be just as opposed to someone defining marriage as the happy life, as he would to someone defining singleness as the happy life, given that he believes God gives out gifts to each individual person.

Debbie's next quotation of Calvin comes on page 23 of her book:

Calvin said that a man without a woman is but "half a man."

This is from his commentary on 1 Corinthians 7:1. In the context, he is dealing with an alleged contradiction between 1 Corinthians 7:1 and Genesis 2:18:

But here another question presents itself, for these words of Paul have some appearance of inconsistency with the words of the Lord, in Genesis 2:18, where he declares, that it is not good for a man to be without a wife. What the Lord there pronounces to be evil Paul here declares to be good I answer, that in so far as a wife is a help to her husband, so as to make his life happy, that is in accordance with God’s institution; for in the beginning God appointed it so, that the man without the woman was, as it were, but half a man, and felt himself destitute of special and necessary assistance, and the wife is, as it were, the completing of the man. Sin afterwards came in to corrupt that institution of God; for in place of so great a blessing there has been substituted a grievous punishment, so that marriage is the source and occasion of many miseries. Hence, whatever evil or inconvenience there is in marriage, that arises from the corruption of the divine institution. Now, although there are in the meantime some remains still existing of the original blessing, so that a single life is often much more unhappy than the married life; yet, as married persons are involved in many inconveniences, it is with good reason that Paul teaches that it would be good for a man to abstain. In this way, there is no concealment of the troubles that are attendant upon marriage; and yet, in the meantime, there is no countenance given to those profane jests which are commonly in vogue with a view to bring it into discredit, such as the following: that a wife is a necessary evil, and that a wife is one of the greatest evils. For such sayings as these have come from Satan’s workshop, and have a direct tendency to brand with disgrace God’s holy institution; and farther, to lead men to regard marriage with abhorrence, as though it were a deadly evil and pest.

Notice, not only does Calvin say that a woman without a man is but half a man, but he also goes on to say that, because of the fall, marriage is the "source and occasion of many miseries," and that there are "troubles that are attendant on marriage." In essence, his argument is that both the single state and the married state are "not good," however, the married state is "not good" only because of the corruption of sin. Yet, why does Debbie Maken leave the rest of that quotation out? It seems like he is arguing for a parallel for marriage and singleness, not the superiority of marriage.

The final quotation that I will deal with comes from two citations in her book. The first is on pages 32-33, and the second is found on page 181.

John Calvin went so far to say that any man who, without the gift of "continence" (celibacy) failed to secure a wife was guilty of "stealing" a husband from a wife.

Why we have believed that an indirect decision to remain single will be exempted from godly accountability is beyond reason and comprehension. Jus as sexual sin affects other persons and includes them in sin, remaining single without the proper biblical predicate also affects another individual-the spouse you could have had. Remember what John Calvin said? The man who chooses to stay single (without a specific call from God) is guilty of "stealing" a husband from a wife.

The interesting thing about this quotation is that she only gives one citation. That is on page 33 where she points us to a footnote on page 200:

5. Conversation with Pastor Duncan Rankin of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oak Ridge, Tenn. who cited John Calvin.

Now, I was searching online, and I found the e-mail address to Pastor Rankin. So, I e-mailed him. To my surprise, he did, indeed write me back. I wrote him the following:

Dear Pastor Rankin,

I am currently doing a book review of Debbie Maken's book Getting Serious about Getting Married. I was hoping you could help me. On page 181 of her book, Debbie Maken writes:

Why we have believed that an indirect decision to remain single will be exempted from godly accountability is beyond reason and comprehension. Jus as sexual sin affects other persons and includes them in sin, remaining single without the proper biblical predicate also affects another individual-the spouse you could have had. Remember what John Calvin said? The man who chooses to stay single (without a specific call from God) is guilty of "stealing" a husband from a wife.

Now, she gives no footnote there, and the only other time it is cited is on page p.33 where she gives the following citation:

5. Conversation with Pastor Duncan Rankin of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oak Ridge, Tenn. who cited John Calvin.

Two questions:

First, since Debbie Maken did not give the citation in her book, could you please provide me with the citation from John Calvin?

Second, given your expertise in church history, would you say that Debbie Maken is accurately representing the view of John Calvin, namely, that a person needs a special call from God to remain single, and that it is sin to remain single only because you do not desire to get married?

Thank you for your time.

God Bless,


In response to my first question he wrote:

When doing my PhD studies in Edinburgh, I read through Calvin's NT Commentaries. I remember the quote, but have not seen it since. I mentioned it to Debbie in passing, which is why she must be citing me. I'm on vacation & have no chance to look things up.

I told him that it was fine, and that I knew now where to look since he remembered that it was in the NT commentaries. Hence, for about a little over a week, I spent time looking for that quotation with search engines. I finally got frustrated, and went into the pros-apologian chat channel which is a chat channel associated with the ministry of Dr. James White, and asked if they would help me search for the quotation. I searched, a man with the nick of "MrPeabody" searched, and a woman with the name of "MarieP," who is a librarian at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, helped me search. With all of us searching for quite a while, none of us could find anything remotely similar to the quotation. Then, Dr. White himself popped in, and asked us what all of the commotion was about. I told him the story, and he asked for the citation. When I gave it to him, he guessed that it was not a direct quotation of Calvin but a paraphrase. It told him that he was right, and that is what was making it so hard. He said he never goes looking for paraphrases, and advised me to not do the same thing.

However, all of the guys in the channel were in agreement with me about how terrible this kind of scholarship is. You quote someone mentioning something to you in passing that they saw from Calvin back in graduate school, and do not even think that they could have made a mistake in memory, or that the quotation was in a totally different context than the context in which you are trying to use it. That is just terrible scholarship. Thus, because this quotation is floating around on blogs everywhere, I challenge the marriage mandators to produce this quotation from John Calvin, and demonstrate that it has been properly used. If you cannot do it, the cease using the quotation, because it is simply horrendous scholarship marriage mandators to use this quotation when they don't even know where it is at, or the context from which it comes.

Indeed, Pastor Rankin is not to be blamed here. How could he have known that something he mentioned in passing to Debbie Maken would then be used in a book? Thus, even if that is not a proper use of the quotation, it is Debbie Maken who is to be blamed for not looking up the quotation herself. In fact, in a court of law, this is what is known as "hear-say." One wonders why Debbie Maken would do such a thing knowing that she is a lawyer.

I will get to his response to my question about church history, as his response is very telling.

Now, let us deal with some of Debbie Maken's usage of several historical sources from the time of the reformation. She quotes the Westminster Larger Catechism and then comments:

WLC 1:138-139 What are the duties required in the seventh commandment?

A. The duties required in the seventh commandment are, chastity in body, mind, affections,(1) words,(2) and behaviour;(3) and the preservation of it in ourselves and others;(4) watchfulness over the eyes and all the senses;(5) temperance,(6) keeping of chaste company,(7) modesty in apparel;(8) marriage by those that have not the gift of continency;(9) conjugal love,(10) and cohabitation;(11) diligent labour in our callings;(12) shunning all occasions of uncleanness, and resisting temptations thereunto.(13)

WLC 139 What are the sins forbidden in the seventh commandment?

A. The sins forbidden in the seventh commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required,(1) are adultery, fornication,(2) rape, incest,(3) sodomy, and all unnatural lusts;(4) all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections;(5) all corrupt or filthy communications, or listening thereunto;(6) wanton looks,(7) impudent or light behaviour, immodest apparel;(8) prohibiting of lawful,(9) and dispensing with unlawful marriages;(10) allowing, tolerating, keeping of stews, and resorting to them;(11) entangling vows of single life,(12) undue delay of marriage;(13) having more wives or husbands than one at the same time;(14) unjust divorce,(15) or desertion;(16) idleness, gluttony, drunkenness,(17) unchaste company,(18) lascivious songs, books, pictures, dancings, stage plays;(19) and all other provocations to, or acts of uncleanness, either in ourselves or others.(20)

These answers to the Catechism questions reveal that past generations of Christians believed that singles were under a biblical obligation to marry and that deliberately delaying marriage was a sin.

However, such is totally challengeable. Again, we could go back to Calvin's position, and say that the catechism here is referring to delaying marriage at the risk of fornication. However, Debbie Maken herself quotes a more likely interpretation of this passage of the Larger Catechism:

Understanding the nature of sexual temptation, both Calvinist Geneva and the Puritans in this country had laws mandating that a could marry within three to six weeks of announcing their engagement [Getting Serious About Getting Married p.56].

Of course, we totally forget about this when we are trying to "historically" attack the "modern" view of "delay of marriage." She never considers this possibility, nor does she quote from any historians commenting on the passage. Thus, I would say that she is simply reading into this text a later development that would not come into American Christianity until the 21st century.

Here is a quotation from Martin Luther from "The Estate of Marriage," and her comments on page 24 her book:

But it is always better for us to order our lives according to God's principles than to be held back because others have failed. In this case, it is better to live by what God has intended in regard to marriage than to miss out on its intended fullness because we've seen some unhappy marriages. Just because someone else failed doesn't mean we will. Think of all we'd miss if we refused to try based on others' failure! Reformation theologian Martin Luther agreed with Calvin that when God said,

It is not good...[this means that] God knows what is better for you than yourself...If you deem it neither understand nor believe God's word and work. See, with this statement of God one stops the mouths of all those who criticize marriage.

God knows best; we must believe him.

I don't think anyone is going to disagree with the previous quotation from John Calvin. However, as we have already noted, Calvin believed there were problems in both marriage and singleness. However, I don't think even most people who oppose her views would be willing to argue that someone should not get married simply because others have had problems. However, here she seems to quote Luther as saying that God knows best on the basis of the statement "It is not good." That is simply false. Again, if you remove things with ellipses, you had better hope no one turns to read what is in the ellipses. You had also better hope no one reads what is in the context. Here is the previous context, and what Debbie Maken has left out:

Every day one encounters parents who forget their former misery because, like the mouse, they have now had their fill. They deter their children from marriage but entice them into priesthood and nunnery, citing the trials and troubles of married life. Thus do they bring their own children home to the devil, as we daily observe; they provide them with ease for the body and hell for the soul.

Since God had to suffer such disdain of his work from the pagans, he therefore also gave them their reward, of which Paul writes in Romans 1 [:24-28], and allowed them to fall into immorality and a stream of uncleanness until they henceforth carnally abused not women but boys and dumb beasts. Even their women carnally abused themselves and each other. Because they blasphemed the work of God, he gave them up to a base mind, of which the books of the pagans are full, most shamelessly crammed full.

In order that we may not proceed as blindly, but rather conduct ourselves in a Christian manner, hold fast first of all to this, that man and woman are the work of God. Keep a tight rein on your heart and your lips; do not criticise his work, or call that evil which he himself has called good. He knows better than you yourself what is good and to your benefit, as he says in Genesis 1 [2:18], "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." There you see that he calls the woman good, a helper. If you deem it otherwise, it is certainly your own fault, you neither understand nor believe God's word and work. See, with this statement of God one stops the mouths of all those who criticise and censure marriage.

So, first of all, the context is monasticism. He is talking about those who would tell their children to enter the monastic life because of the problems in marriage. While that quotation is certainly relevant to a refutation of the idea that one should not get married just because there are marital problems, it is not the case that Luther was commenting on the portion "it is not good," but rather, on the portion "I will make a helper fit for him." He specifically mentions that the refutation of this idea comes, not in the statement "it is not good," but, rather, in the statement "I will make a helper fit for him." Luther's logic goes like this:

1. God calls woman a "helper."

2. A helper is good.

3. Therefore, a wife is good.

Nowhere does he even begin to use the saying "It is not good." He quotes it, but does not use it in his argument.

Finally, in talking about "Marriage having a greater value than singleness," she never mentions Luther's quotation of singleness being better from an earthly perspective, and marriage from a heavenly perspective. She also never mentions Calvin's statements that there are problems with each. All of this historical background is just ignored. However, one of the most reprehensible misuses of a source I have ever read comes on page 50 of her book, where she tries to cite a book that is about the reformation in general by Hans J. Hillerbrand called The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation. This would, indeed, be a good resource as most people who take history classes on the reformation are well aware. However, let us see how she cites it, and what the text actually says. This is from pages 50-51 of her book:

Marriage was long believed to produce positive spiritual growth and development that singleness was simply incapable of accomplishing. The Reformers (both Lutherans and Calvinists) agreed with their Catholic counterparts that marriage had positive spiritual benefits that singleness did not, and both elevated the character of marriage to a "direct expression and result of redemption and salvation."

However, here is what Hillerbrand actually said. This comes from page 20 of volume 3 of his work:

Radical reformers, however, developed an altogether different notion, the so-called covenantal marriage. Though in agreement with the magisterial Reformation's rejection of both the sacramental character of marriage and the spiritual superiority of celibacy, the radical Reformation clung to a more religious sense of marriage, one that tied it directly to an emphasis on redemption through a conscious commitment to Christ. The point of marriage had little or nothing to do with procreative drives or weakened and sinful wills. Rather, it was a covenantal relationship between a man and a woman as freely consenting and fully responsible members of the conventicle of the faithful. This identification of both husband and wife as members of a congregation of believers was critical because it elevated the character of marriage from that of a remedy for human sinfulness to a direct expression and result of redemption and salvation. Even as it seemed closely associated to Protestant lines of argumentation regarding the sacraments and celibacy, covenantal marriage repudiated the Protestant notion of marriage as an institution predicated on human nature, insisting in terms reminiscent of the Catholic church on its spiritual character, subject to church ordinance. Thus, on the question of marriage, the radical Reformation occupied a position somewhere between those of Protestantism and Catholicism.

Notice, that Hillerbrand was not talking about the reformers at all! He was talking about the radical reformers, and, in fact, he goes on to say that they did not agree with the protestant notion of marriage! In fact, such is very similar to this idea of Debbie Maken that we are to build the kingdom of God through marriage. Yet, Hillerbrand says this viewpoint was repudiated by the reformers!

In fact, many quotations from Calvin praising virginity are completely left out of Debbie Maken's book. Calvin writes:

Virginity, I admit, is a virtue not to be despised [Calvin, Institutes Book II Chapter VIII section 42 p. i 348].

Virginity, I acknowledge, is an excellent gift; but keep it in view, that it is a gift [Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7:7]

Hence, though virginity should be extolled even to the third heavens, this, at the same time, always remains true — that it does not suit all, but only those who have a special gift from God [Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7:8]

All of this is in contrast to what Debbie Maken says on page 141 of her book:

In order to comfort (and often condone) those who find themselves in protracted singleness, church leaders will often say something to the effect that God has ordained them to be single at this point in their lives-maybe they'll marry later and maybe they won't.

Telling an entire group of singles that God has mandated or decreed their singleness at that point in time can have the dangerous effect of justifying bad behavior. This goes back to misunderstanding God's will and sovereignty and the need to think biblical rather than culturally.

Well, then, if Debbie Maken says that this is cultural thinking, then I guess John Calvin was a cultural thinker, even though he lived almost 500 years ago.

To sum up Calvin's view on singleness, I would like to quote Pastor Rankin's response to me. If you remember, I had asked him:

Second, given your expertise in church history, would you say that Debbie Maken is accurately representing the view of John Calvin, namely, that a person needs a special call from God to remain single, and that it is sin to remain single only because you do not desire to get married?

He responded with:

On Calvin, the form of your question leaves me cold to give any answer, as it says too much. A desire to remain Single might well be evidence of a call to remain single. My impression of Calvin's teaching is that singleness would be purposeful, with Kingdom benefits, rather than merely for one's own pleasure. The same would be true for all marriages.

Hope that is helpful. I can say no more on a pocket pc!

Indeed, it is very helpful. As we have seen, when it comes to Calvin's position, Debbie Maken has gone well beyond what Calvin has said. That is a good summary statement on Calvin, as he realizes that a person living in the sin of fornication cannot live a life that is honoring to God. Thus, if he is unable to conquer it after an honestly trying to do so, then he is to get married, as he will then be able to practice chastity in marriage. Thus, his marriage will be able to be for kingdom benifits, rather for ones own personal pleasure.

The same is true for marriage, however. While it is not wrong to desire to be married, if you view marriage as something you "need," and something that you can "loathe not having," then you are engaging in just as much sin as the person who commits fornication. It is called the sin of idolatry. Thus, I would point to the fact that people must not only be single for the right reasons, but they also must be married for the right reasons. If the reasons the marriage mandators are giving me are the reasons they want to get married, then I would say, and I think Calvin would agree, that their marriage is not for kingdom benefits.

As many of you know, Debbie Maken has said I am not a Calvinist because I do not subscribe to her position, and does not think I am puritan in my view of worship because I do not subscribe to her view. As anyone can see from this article, it is Debbie Maken who has departed from the reformers by putting forward a caricature of their position, and not beginning to deal with what the reformers meant when they called marriage a duty.

However, worse than that, Debbie Maken is simply not reformed in her theology at all. Here are some quotations from Debbie Maken, and the relevant sections of the Westminster Confession of faith contradicting what she says:

At the same time I also believe we have free will and a responsibility to pursue God's will for our lives [from her book p.86].

WCF 9:3 Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation;(1) so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good,(2) and dead in sin,(3) is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.(4)

He [God] rules and he overrules every single event in the course of redemptive history. It's not like God is running around trying to put out brush fires. But that does not mean that everything that happens is God's decreed will, though everything that happens does so under his sovereign will since he ultimately works all things for his glory and for our good (Romans 8:28). [from her book, p.95].

I also have to take issue with your diagnosis on free will. In order for us, the children of Adam, to not have "free will," the first Adam would have to be preordained and predestined by God to take the forbidden fruit, which in that case God becomes both the source of temptation and the author of sin. It is like saying God preordained the first Adam to lose faith, so that He could then restore and perfect it. It doesn't make sense [from her dialogue with me].

WCF 3:1 God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass:(1) yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin,(2) nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.(3)

God has ordered the world with natural consequences. He can intervene, but he is not obligated to do so [from her book, p. 94],

WCF 2:1 There is but one only(1) living and true God,(2) who is infinite in being and perfection,(3) a most pure spirit,(4) invisible,(5) without body, parts,(6) or passions;(7) immutable,(8) immense,(9) eternal,(10) incomprehensible,(11) almighty,(12) most wise,(13) most holy,(14) most free,(15) most absolute,(16) working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will,(17) for His own glory;(18) most loving,(19) gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin,(20) the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him;(21) and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments;(22) hating all sin,(23) and who will by no means clear the guilty.(24)

We must cooperate with God's will for our lives rather than sitting idly by and complaining because God didn't magically provide [from page 96 of her book].

WCF 17:2 This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father;(1) upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ;(2) the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them;(3) and the nature of the covenant of grace:(4) from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.(5)

Thus, if anyone is not Reformed and Presbyterian in their theology, it is Debbie Maken. Yet she turns around and says that I am not reformed and Presbyterian, puts forward a caricature of Calvin's position in order to prove it, and, of course, conveniently ignores all of these relevant sections of the Westminster Confession that she openly rejects. Calvin's view on marriage is a view that seeks to help people live a life of honor and glory to God. By contrast, Andreas Kostenburger is certainly right to say of Debbie Maken's position:

In conclusion, I am struck by the man-centered nature and emphasis in Maken’s work. She calls on the unmarried to “get serious about getting married.” Is reality really as simple as this? Is lack of serious pursuit of marriage really and ultimately the most pressing problem, and getting serious about getting married the solution? It seems that Maken’s emphasis is almost unilaterally on man’s (or woman’s) initiative, while God’s providence and the Holy Spirit’s leading are disparaged. Are we not to trust God as to his timing and his way of leading in this intensely personal area of our lives? In the end, one wonders just how Christian Maken’s thinking is and to what extent shallow theology masks a focus on people going out and trying to force the hand of a recalcitrant and ambivalent God who has largely left humans to their own devices.

I can only wholeheartedly agree. Yet, that is the very thing to which reformed theologians are greatly opposed.

This has not intended to be an exhaustive review of all of Debbie Maken's citations of the reformers. Indeed, such could be a book unto itself. It is simply to lay out a paradigm of how to look at the writings of John Calvin, and thus, how to deal with the quotations she brings up. If this paper will help take away the historical ground that the Mandatory Marriage Movement thinks they have in this debate, it will have done its job.


Anakin Niceguy said...

Wow. That's all I can say, PC. You have beaten Debbie at her own game. Although I am not Reformed in my theology, I appreciate your adept handling of the historical sources and the way you exposed the spurious appeal Mrs. Maken makes to church tradition. I argued against the use of Church History (as opposed to biblical exegesis) to formulate doctrine, but you went further and nailed the coffin by turning Mrs. Maken's Frankenstein back on her. It is utterly devastating to her case that she walking in the "old paths" (when in fact, marriage mandate theology is a recent creature born out of sloppy hermeneutics).

(p.s. There are a few misspelled words in your post - "fourty" etc. The new edition of Firefox can catch those when a person types.)

Take care.

chizadek said...

Regarding the celibacy = continence issue. I believe Maken is mainly redefining celibacy to be continence, not the other way around, though she does seem to take an extreme meaning of continence as absence rather than control of desire as you discuss. She does not use celibacy in the dictionary sense. It seems that the idea is that celibacy means whatever the gift of celibacy entails.

I believe that Matthew Henry had a control rather than absence view of the gift, but didn't realise that Calvin was the same. I wonder what support there is for a historical no-desire view of the gift? Your analysis is helpful, thanks.

Songbird said...

Hey, Just a little thought. When people say "gift of singleness" or "gift of marriage", they talk like as if they were spiritual gifts (actually they see it as a spiritual gift). What's your thought on that because I don't see how the state of being celibate or married is a gift even in the strictest definition of the word gift.

PuritanCalvinist said...

Hey Songbird!

The classic passage for the gift of singleness is 1 Corinthians 7:8:

1 Corinthians 7:7 Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.

There is nothing here about a gift of the spirit, but there is a gift from God. Hence, I would say it is not a gift of the spirit, but, rather, a gift of God that he gives as he pleases.

God Bless,

PuritanCalvinist said...


I guess my only point is that the definitions of the two are not the same. Thus, no matter what way she is looking at it, you cannot equate the two in any way.

I am glad that it is helpful. I just wish more folks would deal with the stuff written against them. I know that is not going to happen, though. However, I hope that this posts, and my other posts will be a vaccine for women against this stuff.

God Bless,

Vaughn Ohlman said...

Your link to Luther seems broken, here's one that works:

You seem to equivocate a little bit between Calvin's saying 'he who has the gift' and your 'he who struggles enough'. Your statements could be read to imply that a mere 'struggling enough' is the 'gift' from God.

How do you deal with Luther's quote:
To sum the matter up: whoever finds himself unsuited to the celibate life should see to it right away that he has something to do and to work at; then let him strike out in God's name and get married. A young man should marry at the age of twenty at the latest, a young woman at fifteen to eighteen; that's when they are still in good health and best suited for marriage. Let God worry about how they and their children are to be fed. God makes children; he will surely also feed them. Should he fail to exalt you and them here on earth, then take satisfaction in the fact that he has granted you a Christian marriage, and know that he will exalt you there; and be thankful to him for his gifts and favours.