Calvin On The Twofold Kingdom

Therefore, in order that none of us may stumble on that stone, let us first consider that there is a twofold government in man (duplex esse in homine regimen): one aspect is spiritual, whereby the conscience is instructed in piety and in reverencing God; the second is political, whereby man is educated for the duties of humanity and citizenship that must be maintained among men. These are usually called the “spiritual” and the “temporal” jurisdiction (not improper terms) by which is meant that the former sort of government pertains to the life of the soul, while the latter has to do with the concerns of the present life—not only with food and clothing but with laying down laws whereby a man may live his life among other men holily, honorably, and temperately. For the former resides in the inner mind, while the latter regulates only outward behavior. The one we may call the spiritual kingdom, the other, the political kingdom. Now these two, as we have divided them, must always be examined separately; and while one is being considered, we must call away and turn aside the mind from thinking about the other. There are in man, so to speak, two worlds, over which different kings and different laws have authority.

John CalvinInstitutes of the Christian Religion (1559 edition), 3.19.15 (Battles edition).


Heidelberg Reformation Association

1637 E. Valley Parkway #391

Escondido CA 92027


The HRA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization

    Post authored by:

  • Heidelblog
    Author Image

    The Heidelblog has been in publication since 2007. It is devoted to recovering the Reformed confession and to helping others discover Reformed theology, piety, and practice.

    More by Heidelblog ›

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. So this brings up a follow up question from me. How is it that Calvin had a very distinct Two Kingdom Theology as quoted above in his Institutes but required more of Civil Magistrates with regard to enforcement of both Tables of the Law? Is it the time and culture in which he found himself as he wasn’t part of a pluralistic, democracy like we are today? Since I’m “NEW” to 2k theology and don’t have the benefit of a Seminary education I would be interested in your vantage point Dr Clark. Thank You!

    • Wayne,

      My take is, as they say, that he had a theory but not the praxis. He lived under Christendom. The transition from theory to practice took time. I would say that he was a theocrat, but there are arguments (one just published recently) that claim that he was not even a theocrat.

  2. Thank You for that take as it is helpful to understand where Calvin’s practice was not always in every instance aligned with his doctrine as is the case for all of us mere humans. Do you have a link where I can view or purchase the argument that he was not a theocrat?

    • whitword,

      Here are a couple of journal articles that delve some into the question you raised:

      VanDrunen, David. “The Two Kingdoms: A Reassessment of the Transformationist Calvin.” Calvin Theological Journal 40 (November 2005): 248-66.

      ________. “The Two Kingdoms Doctrine and the Relationship of Church and State in the Early Reformed Tradition.” Journal of Church and State 49 (Autumn 2007): 743-63.

      • VanDrunen’s way of handling this problem is essentially to say that in the early Reformed tradition, it was on the basis of natural law (and hence not theocratic law) that the civil magistrate was required to uphold the first table.

        As such, the magistrate would enforce the first table by the sword, using external and bodily means and punishments, and only in order to uphold peace and justice in the civil realm. In contrast, the church was to enforce the first table by what are primarily spiritual means, by exercising the keys of the kingdom (e.g., church discipline), and with the purpose of promoting the possession of eternal life.

        Of course, this doesn’t resolve all of the inconsistencies between theory and practice that seem to have existed, and VanDrunen admits as much.

    • Hi Whitword,

      I can’t recall the title. I received a mailer. I know it was a PhD diss. done at Calvin Sem under Richard Muller. It looked interesting. If I can remember it I’ll post it. I can’t recall the publisher.

  3. Thank You B.C. I have read the latter essay but will need to read the first. Also your clarification is helpful with regard to inconsistencies and Vandrunen’s admission.

  4. Thank you for pointing us towards the neglected, “2 Kingdom View.” More attention needs to be paid to this missing, key theological perspective, especially during election years.

    The emotionalism of American evangelicalism is so high, yet the theology behind political positions of certain Christian politicians is so shallow that the “2 Kingdom View” demands a resurgence in our day and age.

    Last election cycle, we learned of a well-known Christian politician who had released convicted felons from jail due to his spiritual belief in “redemption”, more so than than the total of six neighboring states combined!! We saw him proclaiming the need for the secular State to act like and display “Christian compassion”, etc.

    We saw him running for the presidency with a cross and quoting Scripture verses out of context, because these verses really apply only to the elect and regenerated believers.

    But rarely did anyone confront this Christian leader about his error of distorting Biblical passages that refer to the heart of the individual Christian.

    The evangelical community gave him a “free pass” because he is pro-life.

    He may be pro-life, but he deserves an “F” on the 2 Kingdom View for his ignorance of Romans 13 and the Biblical distinctions between God-ordained State (secular) and Church (spiritual–different realm).

    Rarely did anyone confront this Christian leader about his misinterpretation of applying verses that pertain to the Church (non-compulsory, non-confiscatory, spiritual, bride of Christ) to the secular functions of the presidency of the United States of America.

    Initially, he wanted to reward those who break our immigration laws because that “was a Christian thing to do!!” Yet, the ruler of the secular state (Romans 13) is ordained by God to punish those who commit Social Security number theft, or who engage in Identity theft fraud, etc.

    How did it become “Christian” to reward those who break the laws of the USA?? How did it become “Christian” and “fashionable” in the evangelical community to release convicted felons in the name of “redemption?”

    Answer: ignorance of the 2 Kingdom view.

    Look at Venezuela and the love that evangelicals have for a dictator named Hugo Chavez. While Chavez quotes Scriptures verses out of context (the verses refer to the individual, regenerate members of the Church to show compassion to the needy, and not to the coercive power of the State), the evangelical community for the most part are Chavez’s biggest supporters, even while they ignore the actions of his secret police.

    The Church needs to return to the 2 Kingdom view.

    I don’t want, nor do I need a Christian politician trying to read Bible verses.

    I only want a politician to faithfully discharge the functions of the State the way God ordained, while allowing us who (by God’s grace alone) are Christians to fulfill the Great Commission.

    Christian politicians who ignore the 2 Kingdom View are scary.

  5. How did it become “Christian” to reward those who break the laws of the USA?? How did it become “Christian” and “fashionable” in the evangelical community to release convicted felons in the name of “redemption?”

    Answer: ignorance of the 2 Kingdom view.

    While kingdom issues surely are involved, I might suggest that a confusion of law and gospel is the bigger culprit. Lot of that going around. At the same time, I don’t think it too far-fetched to suggest that where law/gospel confusion is present kingdom confusion does also abound. I’m not sure what else to think if one wants his sheriff dispensing grace instead of law.

    And I’m not clear at all what life/choice or immigration politics have to do with any of this.

  6. Thanks Scott! I’ll be on the lookout for it and I’ll stop by from time to time to see if you post a review on it if you do end up reading it.

  7. Calvin’s view are always helpful.

    In Korea (where I am from), owing to pre, post, or whatever millennial interpretation of dispensationalists, the Kingdom of God felt vague and out of reach.

    Here, in United States, I see the other extreme; the Kingdom of Grace and the political kingdom all mixed up.

    The Kingdom of Grace is here, and it is too holy and precious to mix up with the kingdom of this world.

  8. Dr. Clark,

    What do you think of Rutherofrd’s “Lex Rex”, or Gillespie’s, “Aaron’s Rod Blossoming” in connection with the Two Kingdom view? I have sympathy for the 2k view, but I am as the same time trying to reconcile it with full-orbed puritanism. Any thoughts in this regard?

Comments are closed.