Comparing the “Institutes” Translations

Copying for future reference from today’s “Blogging the Institutes” post.

Translations of the Institutes

Posted: 05 Jan 2009 06:07 PM CST

A reader asked about the different English translations of Calvin’s Institutes. Any translation would probably be serviceable in understanding Calvin’s main intent. We will be using the Battles/McNeill translation for blogging through the Institutes. There are four main English translators/translations: 

  • Thomas Norton (1561)
  • John Allen (1813)
  • Henry Beveridge (1845)
  • Ford Lewis Battles (1960)

In one of his lectures on the Institutes, Professor David Calhoun gave the following overview:

The first was Thomas Norton back in the sixteenth century. Calvin was very fortunate with his first English translator. Norton did an exceptionally good job. Very soon after the completion of the Institutes in 1559, which was written in Latin, it was translated by Calvin into French and then quite soon into English. John Allen was the second translator. John Allen and Henry Beveridge were both nineteenth-century translators. The Beveridge translation is still in print. It was until fairly recently anyway. Those are not bad but not very good either. Ford Lewis Battles’ 1960 translation is the one that we are using. Even though it has been criticized some, it is by far the most superior translation that we have at present.

And here is J. I. Packer’s typically concise take:

No English translation fully matches Calvin’s Latin; that of the Elizabethan, Thomas Norton, perhaps gets closest; Beveridge gives us Calvin’s feistiness but not always his precision; Battles gives us the precision but not always the punchiness, and fleetness of foot; Allen is smooth and clear, but low-key.

Some readers may be interested in this site by the late Professor David F. Wright, who was collecting and correcting mistranslations from the Battles translation.


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. David
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 23:28:20

    One more recommendation on the translation from Richard Muller (Zondervan Professor of Church History at Calvin Theological Seminary) in Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics (although it could be The Unaccommodated Calvin would be one of those who criticizes the Battles Translation because Muller argues that Battles took to many liberties in some of his text-critical decisions. Muller then recommends Beveridge.


  2. julesnpebbles
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 23:39:45

    Thanks for that, David! I did get the Battles Translation but I’m thinking of getting a copy of the Beveridge for Anthony and then comparing once in a while. 🙂 Are you reading along? I’m assuming you’ve mastered the Institutes. 🙂


  3. David
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 21:31:17

    Bekah and I are reading the Institutes. I bought the Institutes 10+ years ago and am just now reading them in toto. I have read chunks of them in the past, but am looking forward to reading the whole thing.


  4. Chris
    Jan 15, 2009 @ 15:13:43

    i had to pick up the institutes for class.

    without knowing there were different translations, i picked up the two-volume version by battle for 45$ without realizing cbd offered a one-volume version (beveridge) for 15$……

    did i get hosed?


  5. Jules
    Jan 15, 2009 @ 15:17:42

    No not at all! I hear mixed reviews about the two however, popular vote goes to the McNeill / Battles edition (which I am reading) that you bought. You got an awesome deal to boot! So, you did good. I also bought the Beveridge edition to compare. Enjoy the Institutes! Thanks for coming by.


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