Monday, July 10, 2017

Does Calvinism make God the "author of sin"?

Most certainly I have with set purpose taken up the case of God and demonstrated with utter clarity that God is not the author of sin. The Secret Providence of God. John Calvin; edited by Paul Helm (Crossway Books, 2010), 92.

And this is the decree of reprobation, which does not at all make God the author of sin (a blasphemous thought!) but rather its fearful, irreproachable, just judge and avenger. Canons of Dort, Article 15: Reprobation.

God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin. WCF 3.1.

In my experience, when Calvinists deny that God is the "author of sin", Arminians regard thir denial as nonsensical and sophistical. If God predestined sin, then how can God not be the "author of sin"? 

The source of the problem is that Internet Arminians typically trade on the connotations of "authorship" in popular modern English usage. Needless to say, that's not the linguistic frame of reference for historical theological usage. Calvin wrote in Latin and period French. The canons of Dort were originally written in Latin. Although the Westminster Confession was written in English, it reflects traditional theological usage.

To take a comparison:

L. J. Paetow, The Arts Course at Medieval Universities (Dubuque: Brown Reprint Library, 1910), 53n2, states that in almost all manuscripts from the thirteen century on, we find actor and not auctor in the sense of "author". M. D. Chenu in "Auctor, Actor, Autor," Bulletin de Cange, II, (1927), 81-86, explains that the confusion between "actor" and "actor" was more a problem of etymology and meaning than of orthography or scribal neglect. Auctor (from augeo), originally meant in the broadest sense of the word "He who produces, makes something, a statue, edifice, some kind of work and very particularly a book"; actor (from ago) also designated "he who makes something," in the broadest sense of the word. It was not however applied to the composition of a book, but remained open to mean any human activity. Nevertheless, the meaning actor remained close to the concept of auctor to the extent that confusion existed in manuscript transcriptions of these words. Cynthia Jane Brown, The Shaping of History and Poetry in Late Medieval France (Summa Publications, 1985), 158n3.

If actor was a synonym for auctor, then to deny that God is the "author" of sin means that God is not the agent, viz, God is not the doer or performer of sin. Rather, it's the human agent (or demonic agent) who commits sin. 

In that sense, it's perfectly coherent for Reformed theologians who deny that God is the author of sin–so long as they have a theology of second causes. 


  1. Swell. God not the agent who performed the murder of someone. He created this creature-thing that most certainly would murder that person and let it loose, and murder it did. Where does that get you?

  2. God "ordaining sin" means God decided to allow sin to happen.

    The angel who became Satan had free will - Ezekiel 28:13-17 (the spirit behind the king of Tyre)
    "you were in Eden, the garden of God"
    "until unrighteousness was found in you"
    "o covering cherub" (v. 16)
    "your heart was lifted up because of your beauty;
    You corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor"

    Adam and Eve sinned - I like Augustine's comment:
    "By the evil use of free will, Adam destroyed his own free will"
    Enchiridion 30

    1. "Allowing" is a cop out.

      "Oh, that little girl who just got run over in the street? I didn't cause it. I just allowed it. I mean, I *could* have stepped out over there and picked her up and moved her to the side of the road without any risk at all to me. But she made her own decisions. Not my responsibility."

    2. The term "allowing" can be used as a cop out, and frequently is used that, by Arminians.

      But there is a proper use of "allowing", "permitting" from a Calvinist perspective.

      Louis Berkhof, Summary of Christian Doctrine, page 46:
      "His decree with respect to sin is a permissive decree."

      Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, page 103:
      "There are other things, however, which God included in His decree and thereby rendered certain, but which He did not decide to effectuate Himself, as the sinful acts of His rational creatures. The decree, in so far as it pertains to these acts [of sin] is generally called God's permissive decree. This name does not imply that the fruition of these acts is not certain to God, but simply that He permits them to come to pass by the free agency of His rational creatures. God assumes no responsibility for these sinful acts whatsoever."

  3. My post wasn't on theodicy in general, but a narrow point of terminology, to demonstrate that God's nonauthorship of sin is consistent with Calvinism, when "authorship" is defined according to historic theological usage.