Calvin’s Angelology: The Creation, Essence, Order, and Number of Angels

Calvin believes that God created the world in six days. Man, as the climax of God’s creation, ought to look at the world and “contemplate God’s fatherly love toward mankind, in that he did not create Adam until he had lavished upon the universe all manner of good things.”[1] For Calvin, the creation account of Genesis 1-2 preeminently reveals God’s goodness toward humanity. And in Calvin’s estimation, God unquestionably displays his benevolence toward humanity in the creation of illustrious and noble angelic beings.[2] In this blog, we will examine how Calvin understands the creation, essence, order, and number of angels. 

God Created the Angels

First, Calvin believes that God created the angels. Calvin concedes that the creation account of Genesis 1-2 mentions “no other works of God than those which show themselves to our own eyes.”[3] So, the creation account does not explicitly mention or even allude to the creation of angels. Yet, since angels are regarded as servants of God, even later in Genesis, Calvin deduces that “he, to whom they devote their effort and functions, is their Creator.”[4] Calvin is more direct when he comments on Colossians 1:15—where Paul teaches that Christ is the creator of all things visible and invisible—saying, “Not only, therefore, have those heavenly creatures which are visible to our eyes, but spiritual creatures also, been created by the Son of God.”[5] In sum, Calvin believes the Scripture implicitly and explicitly teaches that God created the angels.

When it comes to the specific day the angels were created, Calvin keeps to his rule of modesty and sobriety. He believes it is unprofitable to investigate when the angels were created.[6] Because the creation account does not explicitly mention the creation of angels, he considers it pointless to contemplate how the creation of angels is related to the creation account of Genesis 1-2.[7] So, Calvin believes that in the beginning God created all things visible and invisible. However, because Scripture is silent about the day the angels were created, Calvin remains silent as well.

Angels are Spirits with Angelic Natures

Second, concerning the essence of angels, Calvin believes that angels are spirits and that they have an angelic nature.[8] It aggravates him that the Libertines of his day, like the Sadducees of old, deny the existence of angels and argue that angels are “either the impulses that God inspires in men or those examples of his power which he puts forth.”[9] For Calvin, this does injustice to the biblical account regarding angels. Angels have joy attributed to them (Lk 15:10), lift believers by their hands (Ps 91:11; Matt 4:6; Lk 4:10-11), carry believers’ souls to rest (Lk 16:22), and see the face of God (Matt 18:10).[10] For Calvin, it is apparent that angels are “not qualities or inspirations without substance, but true spirits.”[11]

Even though angels are true spirits, Calvin constantly endeavors to keep angels in their proper rank and degree by describing the differences between the divine essence and the essence of angels. Calvin believes that angels, as heavenly spirits adorned with divine glory,[12] are “superior to corporeal creatures.”[13] To put it another way, angels are superior to creatures that have bodies. Yet he passionately argues that angels are not part “of the divine essence or substance, as some fanatics dream.”[14] So, angels are superior to corporeal creatures but they are inferior to God, who alone has the divine essence. God created the angels as immortal spirits that will never perish, but angels are only “immortal insofar as they are sustained by the power on high, and insofar as God maintains them, he who is immortal by nature and in whom is the fountain of life.”[15] Angels are wise, but because omniscience is an attribute of God alone, “the knowledge of angels is necessarily limited.”[16] Angels are remarkably strong, but because omnipotence is a quality of God alone, “angels have no power distinct from God’s.”[17]

In Calvin’s delineation of the differences between the essence of angels and the divine essence, it is important to consider how Calvin understands elect angels after the fall of Satan and the other reprobate angels. In Colossians, Paul says that through Christ God the Father has reconciled “to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col 1:19-20 ESV).[18] Since Christ’s death is instrumental in reconciling all things to God the Father, even things in heaven, Calvin infers that Christ functions as a mediator for elect angels. Since even the elect angels, as creatures, were at risk of falling too, God, by extending the grace of Christ, gave them a “fixed standing in righteousness, so as to have no longer any fear of fall or revolt.”[19] However, he is quick to add that “Christ is not the Redeemer of the angels, for they do not need to be ransomed from death, which they never fell into, but he is their Mediator.”[20]

Calvin has similar thoughts in his comments on Job 4:18—the verse that says God charges his angels with error. For Calvin, this means that “there is folly and vanity in the angels, which means that there is something lacking in them.”[21] He says in another place that this verse teaches “that the greatest purity is vile, if it is brought in comparison with the righteousness of God.”[22] As far as creatures go, the elect angels are perfect and righteous and they render perfect obedience to the Lord. In comparison to God, though, even the elect angels are iniquitous. Because of this, Calvin believes the angels have “need of a peace-maker, through whose grace they may wholly cleave to God. Hence it is with propriety that Paul declares, that the grace of Christ does not reside among mankind alone, and on the other hand makes it common also to angels.”[23] In other words, Christ graciously functions as a mediator for the angels to keep them from falling like Satan and the other reprobate angels, to fix and confirm them in a state of righteousness, and to enable them to remain before God.

There’s a Hierarchy Amongst the Angels

Third, Calvin abides by his rule of modesty and sobriety regarding the order of angels. It is not that Calvin rejects the idea of a hierarchy of angelic beings. He considers the pre-incarnate Christ as the angel of the Lord that functions as the head and chief of the elect angels (this blog series will discuss this later).[24] He knows Scripture teaches that Michael is called “the great prince” in the book of Daniel and “the archangel” in Jude (Dan 12:2; Jude 9).[25] From Ephesians 1:21, Calvin concludes “that there are various orders of angels.”[26] So, Calvin believes there is order amongst the angelic beings. Nevertheless, Calvin believes the biblical evidence is insufficient to “determine the degrees of honor among the angels, distinguish each by his insignia, and assign to each his place and station.”[27] Since Scripture does not give a complete theory of the organization of angels, Calvin does not strive to concoct one either.

There Are Lots of Angels

Fourth, this is true about the number of angels as well. Calvin is aware that Christ taught there are many legions of angels (Matt 26:53), that Daniel taught there are many myriads of angels, that Elisha’s servant saw an army of angels (2 Kg 6:17-20), and that angels are encamped around those who fear God (Ps 34:7).[28] In Calvin’s sermons on Deuteronomy, he even states that the number of the angels is infinite.[29] Therefore, Calvin is aware that there is a great multitude of angels. Nonetheless, he considers it “rash, wicked, and dangerous” to attempt to formulate a fixed number of the angels.

In Sum!

In this blog, it was apparent that Calvin believes God, the creator of all things visible and invisible, created the angels, that angels are glorious and celestial spirits, that there is order amongst the angels, and that there are multitudes of angels. Calvin, for the most part, fixes himself to Scripture. Yet, pertaining to the essence of angels, he slightly deviates from his rule of modesty and sobriety to emphasize the superiority of the divine essence in comparison to the essence of angels.


[1] Calvin, Institutes, I.14.2.

[2] Calvin, Institutes, 1.14.3.

[3] Calvin, Institutes, 1.14.3.

[4] Calvin, Institutes, 1.14.3.

[5] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 150.

[6] Calvin, Institutes, I.14.4.

[7] Warfield, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield: Calvin and Calvinism, 312.

[8] Calvin, Institutes, I.14.5.

[9] Calvin, Institutes, I.14.9.

[10] Calvin, Institutes, I.14.9.

[11] Calvin, Institutes, I.14.9.

[12] John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, ed. and trans. James Anderson (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 3:424.

[13] John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews, ed. and trans. John Owen (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 49.

[14] Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, 3:424.

[15] John Calvin, Sermons on Job: Chapters 1-14, trans. Rob Roy McGregor (Banner of Truth Trust, 2014), chapter 16, Kindle.

[16] John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Daniel, ed. and trans. Thomas Myers (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 2:106.

[17] John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Daniel, 2:267.

[18] Unless otherwise noted, all Bible translations come from the ESV.

[19] Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 156.

[20] Calvin, Sermons on Job: Chapters 1-14, chapter 16, Kindle.

[21] Calvin, Sermons on Job: Chapters 1-14, chapter 16, Kindle.

[22] Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 156.

[23] Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 156.

[24] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Form of Harmony, ed. and trans. Charles William Bingham (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 1:61.

[25] Calvin, Institutes, I.14.8

[26] Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, 216.

[27] Calvin, Institutes, I.14.8.

[28] Calvin, Institutes, I.14.8.

[29] John Calvin, The Sermons of John Calvin upon the Fifth Booke of Moses Called Deuteronomie, trans. Arthur Golding (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1987), 1187.

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