Topic for 2020
Calvin and the Biblical Patriarchs

The Book of Genesis tells the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their families - but teaching and preaching on these passages of Scripture can be challenging, given that the patriarchs' behavior was not always exemplary. Should we downplay their flaws and uphold them as models of faith, or disregard their witness because of their sins, or should we quietly ignore these figures and focus on other parts of the Bible instead? The Genevan Reformer John Calvin had a high view of Scripture and wrestled with these questions. Using his sermons and commentaries on Genesis and secondary sources on this topic, explain how Calvin dealt with the challenge of preserving the patriarchs' witness without concealing their moral failings.  How should Christians today read and respond to the accounts of the patriarchs' actions in Genesis, and what can we learn from this situation when responding to major moral flaws among church leaders today?

Quick Look

  • Deadline: February 3
  • For: High school seniors going to Calvin, Dordt, The King's University (Canada), Redeemer (Canada), Kuyper and Trinity Christian in Fall 2020
  • Prizes: $3500 First Prize (one awarded), $2000 Second Prize (three awarded)

Awards are given annually for research papers on a topic dealing with John Calvin or Calvinism. One $3500 First Prize and three $2000 Second Prizes are awarded each year. Awards are payable to student tuition accounts at the following institutions: Calvin, Dordt, The King's University (Canada), Redeemer (Canada), Kuyper and Trinity Christian.

Research Sources

Primary Sources
Abraham, Sarah and Pharaoh
See Calvin’s Commentaries on Genesis 12: 11-20
See John Calvin’s Sermons on Genesis, sermon numbers 56 and 57

Abraham, Sarah and Hagar
See Calvin’s Commentaries on Genesis 16: 2-4
See John Calvin’s Sermons on Genesis, sermon number 75

Jacob, Esau and the Birthright
See Calvin’s Commentaries on Genesis 25: 24-34

Jacob, Esau and Isaac’s Blessing
See Calvin’s Commentaries on Genesis 27: 1-27
See Calvin’s Sermons on Election and Reprobation, sermon numbers 11 and 12

The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.10.11 deals with the faith of Abraham generally.
The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.10.12 deals with the faith of Jacob and Isaac generally.

Suggested Secondary Sources
Bainton, Roland H. “The Immoralities of the Patriarchs According to the Exegesis of the Late Middle Ages and of the Reformation.” Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 23, No. 1, Jan. 1930: 39-49.

Manetsch, Scott. “Problems with the Patriarchs: John Calvin’s Interpretation of Difficult Passages in Genesis.” The Westminster Theological Journal, Vol. 67, No. 1, Spring 2005: 1-21. We recommend pp. 1-3 and 18 to the end.

Thompson, John L. “The Immoralities of the Patriarchs in the History of Exegesis: A Reappraisal of Calvin’s Position.” Calvin Theological Journal, Vol. 26, 1991: 9-46.

Thompson, John L. “Patriarchs Behaving Badly: How Should We Follow Saints Who Lie, Cheat, Break Promises, Commit Insurrection, Endanger Women, and Take Extra Wives?” Reading the Bible with the Dead: What You Can Learn from the History of Exegesis that You Can’t Learn from Exegesis Alone. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007: 71-92 and 241-244.

Thompson, John L. “Patriarchs, Polygamy, and Private Resistance: John Calvin and Others on Breaking God’s Rules.” Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. XXV, No. 1, Spring 1994: 3-27.

Research Paper Format Guidelines

Papers should be 8 to 12 pages long, typed double-spaced, and include footnotes or endnotes as well as a bibliography. Pages must be numbered. Papers must include a cover sheet with the following information:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Telephone number
  • E-mail address
  • High school and name of principal
  • High school address
  • Church and name of pastor
  • Church address
  • How you learned about the scholarship

No name or other identifying information should appear on any page except the cover sheet. The Meeter Center will assign each entry a code number and write it on the pages of the paper. This assures impartial judging of the papers by the Calvinism Committee and allows for accurate identification.

The Calvinism Committee will judge the papers by the following criteria:

  1. Thoroughness of research, including primary sources and quality secondary sources.
  2. Coherence and originality of the argument.
  3. Quality of writing.
  4. Relatedness to contemporary situation.

Papers must be attached to an email to pfields@calvin.edu by February 3, 2020. The Calvinism Committee will select winners by the end of March from applicants who will attend college or university in the fall of 2020. All participants will be notified of their status by mail.

If you have any questions regarding the Hugh and Eve Meeter Calvinism Awards for High School Seniors, please feel free to contact us.