I was reading about persecutions by Christians and was wondering if the persecutors justified their violence with passages of the bible and how they reconciled that with the teachings of Jesus.

In particular, on this website I read about Calvin: "So entirely was he in favour of persecuting measures, that he wrote a treatise in defence of them, maintaining the lawfulness of putting heretics to death."

I'm not asking about the general view of Calvin regarding capital punishment or his philosophical, civil or criminal law thoughts on it but specifically I was wondering how he reconciled supporting killing of people with other religious views with the teachings of Jesus or the New Testament. Would Jesus, according to Calvin, have supported the killing of heretics?

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    David was a murderer. Yet he went to heaven because he believed on Christ. I think it's a stretch to say John Calvin Hated god.
    – Jess L
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 0:18
  • Possible duplicate of What was Calvin's view of capital punishment?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 4:35
  • @curiousdannii I think they are different questions because once established calvin's view of capital punishment then the question is how he reconciled his view with the new testament. My question is more specific. Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 1:55

1 Answer 1


See this article (A Recipe for Intolerance: A Study of the Reasons Behind John Calvin's Approval of Punishment for Heresy) for one researcher's opinion.

The gist is that:

1) Calvin generally agreed that Old Testament laws were not binding on Christians, but contradicted himself by appealing to them to defend the punishment of heretics, in a way that was similar to Augustine.

2) This combined with an ancient legal tradition that originally sprang from Scripture (the Constitutio Criminalis Carolina) but then developed on its own to form the basis of civil law. This cultural tradition permitted the execution of heretics.

3) A group he called the "Libertines" used Servetus as a test case to embarrass and discredit Calvin as a powerplay. It was a setup to sour his reputation and assume power. The defense attorney, Berthelier, was the leader of this group. The Libertines had written scathing attacks against Calvin's Institutes, making it a personal matter.

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    This addresses Calvin's overall rationale in the Servetus case, but the question seems to focus more on how he justified persecution (generally) with the Bible. Which passages did he use to defend his views? Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 20:26
  • "Offenses were graded in accord with the rank of the person offended. Because God was supreme, sin against him transcended all others, and heresy... was considered to be the most heightened form of treason against the divine majesty." This was a feudal view of things. Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 20:32
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    He appealed to Deuteronomy 13, among other verses. Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 20:33
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    It seemed that heresy was being defined more and more loosely at that point in history. Falsifying whose testimony to whom? It's easy to see how political or personal agendas could be at play.
    – Stu W
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 22:24

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