An historical exploration of the development of Calvin's biblical doctrine of divine providence

  • Suk Yu Viola Chan

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


Calvin’ doctrine of divine providence is generally discussed in the realm of nature and the realm of human history, which are also known as general providence and special providence respectively. Some studies explore this topic by relying on one or two of Calvin’s works, but they cannot give an in-depth critical evaluation of Calvin’s doctrine of divine providence as his thoughts were developing throughout his life.

This thesis adopts an historical approach to explore Calvin’s works from 1534–1559, and it argues that from 1534–1541, Calvin uses the image of the fountain to portray God as the source of everything, who has power to preserve and give life to all the creatures on earth. Between the Latin edition of the Institutes in 1539 and the French translation of that work in 1541, Calvin is indecisive about the definition of special providence, articulating a fitful relationship between providence and soteriology in these two texts. In 1552, Calvin gradually ceased using the image of the fountain to portray God as the source of everything, and he also delivered three definitions of divine providence: general providence, special providence, and the very presence of God. Based on the theological understanding of divine providence which he developed from 1534–1552, Calvin presented his exegesis on the Book of Job and the Book of Psalms through his sermons and commentaries. He contrasts two biblical figures, Job and David, to support his exegesis and to present a more detailed elaboration of providence through the doctrine of heavenly providence. Furthermore, Calvin also discusses the importance of the human role in God’s providence. While Calvin’s theological understanding of God’s providence was inherited by his successor, Theodore Beza, Beza applied it differently in his exegesis on the Book of Job.

This thesis argues that through an historical analysis, a full picture of the spectrum of Calvin’s development of the doctrine God’s providence from 1534–1559 can be appreciated. While God’s providence is gradually less associated with soteriological matters for the ungodly, salvation in heavenly providence for the godly is increasingly assured. Calvin conveys the message that divine providence is truly heavenly providence from the point of view of the faithful.
Date of Award2 Dec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorMark Warwick Elliott (Supervisor)


  • John Calvin
  • Historical theology
  • Providence
  • Predestination
  • Book of Job
  • Book of Psalms
  • Job and David
  • Human participation
  • Theodore Beza

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 17th July 2023

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