Publishers Omit Calvin’s Anti-Contraception View?!

Publishers Omit Calvin’s Anti-Contraception View?! August 9, 2016

Original title: Why Did Baker Books and Crossway Omit John Calvin’s Remarks Against Contraception in His Commentaries (Genesis 38:10)?


Photograph by Nic McPhee (1-26-08) [Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 license]




This came about on one of the threads on my Facebook page, when a Reformed Protestant (his words in blue below) questioned a quotation of mine from John Calvin; the following:

I will content myself with briefly mentioning this, as far as the sense of shame allows to discuss it. It is a horrible thing to pour out seed besides the intercourse of man and woman. Deliberately avoiding the intercourse, so that the seed drops on the ground, is double horrible. For this means that one quenches the hope of his family, and kills the son, which could be expected, before he is born. This wickedness is now as severely as is possible condemned by the Spirit, through Moses, that Onan, as it were, through a violent and untimely birth, tore away the seed of his brother out the womb, and as cruel as shamefully has thrown on the earth. Moreover he thus has, as much as was in his power, tried to destroy a part of the human race. When a woman in some way drives away the seed out the womb, through aids, then this is rightly seen as an unforgivable crime. Onan was guilty of a similar crime, by defiling the earth with his seed, so that Tamar would not receive a future inheritor. (Commentary on Genesis [38:10], translated by John King)

Dave, I am going to challenge you here because neither of my copies of Calvin commentaries, including the one translated by John King [includes this], and in both Calvin jumps from verse 8 to verse 11. Verses 9 and 10 are not touched. So where does Calvin say this? . . . This quote sounds more like the thinking of a Roman Catholic and Orthodox person.

Oh, I love it when my sources are challenged. That’s loads of fun. Here is the web page, right from the big CCEL site, for Calvin’s commentary on Genesis 38:10. Here is the title page.

It’s not unusual, of course, for Protestant sources to pick and choose what they like and dislike, even from their own founder’s writings; so this sounds like a case of that. The editors of whatever version / printing you have didn’t like what Calvin said, and so deleted it. The same is often done with Luther; so we will see, e.g., “abridged” Luther commentaries on Romans or Galatians (sometimes not even noted as such); very convenient for whitewashing purposes. Thanks for the confirmation of this sort of editorial dishonesty with primary sources!

The Sacred Texts site also verifies the same passage from Calvin, translated by John King [1847-1850]. Google Books provides a third verification. And here are fourth and fifth verifications. Now, perhaps you would be so kind as to tell me what versions you have, that omit this material? I’d love to find out.

Thank you Dave. Everything is the same in my hard copy of the John King translation, except it is missing that verse 10 part. I do find it interesting now that I just checked, none of my Reformed/Calvinist commentaries cover that verse. I do use the CCEL and Sacred Text sites at times. Looks like I am going to have to cross reference my commentaries with then to make sure I am not missing anything. [my bolding added]

My copy is the John King translation was published by Baker Books. It is the John Calvin 500 years Edition [2009; see link]. It seems to be word for word with the CCEL site, but they seemed to [have] not put that verse in it (makes me wonder what other parts they skipped).

Classic selective editing. The aim is to whitewash (in this case, remove) “Catholic-sounding” stuff. We can’t have that! The encouraging part is that the folks who are scanning web versions are more honest and didn’t edit out things they didn’t like.

Well, I learned something today.

Over at The Puritan Board online forum, there were further interesting remarks made about this issue, in October 2006. One person writes:

I have the Baker edition, which I think is fairly standard, but in comparing it with the Crossway Classic edition, it’s like I’m reading commentaries by two different authors. . . . neither one has the actual text that Calvin wrote on Gen. 38.8-10. The Baker edition says: “A line or two is here omitted, as well as the comment on the tenth verse.” The Crossway edition says nothing about it. I have the actual text from other sources, but I would like to verify what is the most faithful English edition of Calvin’s commentary on this book, ie., that is which most consistent with what Calvin actually wrote, and without omissions.

Rev. Bruce G. Buchanan, of Chain O’ Lakes Presbyterian Church in Central Lake, Michigan, replied:

. . . the excision of the comment on 38:9-10 is stupid, Victorian sentiment. While I am far from blaming an entire generation for prudish behavior, these calvinists’ reluctance to “tell it like it is” is frankly less biblical than their puritan forbears. Let the “shocking passages” stand! Let them shock us today.

And “shock” they will! It is true, though, that in 1850, Calvinists would have been dead-set against contraception, so excision would have more to do with Victorian propriety than anti-Catholic bias (since they agreed with Catholics and everyone else on the issue). What is inexcusable and what seems to be a product of anti-Catholic bias is the continuing exclusion of Calvin’s commentary on Genesis 38:10 in two modern editions: Baker (2009) and Crossway Classic (2001). It makes no sense whatsoever.

I couldn’t determine the translator in the Crossway edition. Another web page about it states that it is “. . . Abridged and adapted for the contemporary reader, this volume brings Calvin’s eloquent commentary and insightful analysis into the present.”

The commentary series as a whole (including authors besides Calvin) is described as “carefully translated and adapted for the modern reader.”

I am a little annoyed though that any online copy I look up has that section, but my hard copies don’t. Wow, that is just not ethical [that Crossway also omits the section]. People count on and trust publishers, they should print exactly what the person says. At least I now know not to buy the series.

You and I agree on that.


Meta Description: The Protestant editors didn’t like what John Calvin wrote, so they took it right out. Classic case of dishonest editorial picking & choosing.

Meta Keywords: Contraception, Baker Books, Crossway, John Calvin & contraception

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