Review: Institutes of the Christian Religion

20_Calvin_Institites_vol_1There are few literary works more influential to the Christian faith than the Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin. It still stands among the greatest literary achievements in both Christian theology and Western literature. It is the accomplishment of a life devoted to the study of Scripture and the ministry within the church. The Institutes of the Christian Religion as it is known today is the product of several important additions and revisions on the part of Calvin during his lifetime (1536, 1539, 1543, 1550, and 1559 in Latin; 1541 in French). The final edition (1559) was roughly five times the length of the first (1536) and comprises what we now know today in English as the Institutes of the Christian Religion.

While the Institutes of the Christian Religion have never been a stranger to the English-speaking world—Thomas Norton produced the first English translation of the definitive 1559 edition of the Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1561—the most recent English translation was produced over five decades ago. Still, prior to the publication of the present volumes translated by Ford Lewis Battles and edited by John T. McNeill, the most recent English translations were the result of John Allen (1813) and Henry Beveridge (1845)—the latter still being the most widely used English translation today. But the date of publication isn’t the only thing that makes the Battles/McNeill translation the preferable choice when choosing an English translation of the Institutes of the Christian Religion for the contemporary reader.

First, the editorial notes and guidance brought to the Institutes of the Christian Religion by John T. McNeill are indispensable for the detailed study of the text. For example, throughout the Battles/McNeill translation the small letters a-e articulate which stage of development each portion of text were added (a=1536; b=1539; c=1543; d=1550; e=1559). Battles/McNeill have done the readers an enormous favor and painstakingly traced the material of the 1559 edition back to the earlier editions. Second, the inclusion of a bibliography and a monograph-sized compilation of index material demonstrate the Battles/McNeill translation to be worth its weight in gold. This inclusion is helpful for quick reference and detailed study and is sure to be a selling point over the other available translation options. Third, the Battles/McNeill translation includes a whole host of useful in-text Scripture references enclosed in brackets (i.e. [1 Tim. 3:1-7]), as well as footnotes for citations and allusions throughout. While much of the reference may not be original to Calvin himself, with this understanding aside the inclusion of such feature makes for an enriched experience for the reader.

When it comes to English translations of the Institutes of the Christian Religion the options are plentiful. Still, none compare to the depth and magnitude of the volumes translated by Ford Lewis Battles and edited by John T. McNeill. It proves to be much more than a modern translation of a literary classic. In fact, it has been recognized as the definitive English translation for over fifty years, and for good reason. If you are looking to read the Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin for the first time or the forty-first time, from the translation itself to the last index, the Battles/McNeill translation is worth every penny of your investment. Just be sure to make room on your bookshelf because the volumes are massive!


I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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