From Sacrament to Contract, Second Edition New

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  • Format: Book
  • Published: 2012, Westminster John Knox Press
  • ISBN: 0664234321
  • 408 pages
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This newly revised and enlarged edition of John Witte’s magisterial historical study explores the interplay of law, theology, and marriage in the Western tradition. Witte uncovers the core beliefs that formed the theological genetic code of Western marriage and family law.  He explores the systematic models of marriage developed by Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, and Enlightenment thinkers and the transformative influence of each model on Western marriage law.  And he traces the millennium-long reduction of marriage from a complex spiritual, social, contractual, and natural institution into a simple private contract with freedom of entrance, exercise, and exit for husband and wife alike.  This second edition updates and expands each chapter and the bibliography and includes three new chapters on classical, biblical, and patristic sources.


"The Enduring Institution: The Law of Marriage in the West," by Helen Alvare, Library of Law and Liberty

Why this author matters

John Witte, Jr. is one of the world's foremost scholars on legal history.

About the Author: John Witte, Jr.

September, 2014


John Witte, Jr., JD (Harvard), is Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law, McDonald Distinguished Professor, and Director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University.  A specialist in legal history, marriage law, and religious liberty, he has published 220 articles, 15 journal symposia, and 27 books. 

Recent book titles include: Sex, Marriage and Family Life in John Calvin’s Geneva, 2 vols. (Eerdmans, 2005, 2014); Modern Christian Teachings on Law, Politics, and Human Nature, 3 vols. (Columbia University Press, 2006); God’s Joust, God’s Justice: Law and Religion in the Western Tradition (Eerdmans, 2006); The Reformation of Rights: Law, Religion, and Human Rights in Early Modern Calvinism (Cambridge University Press, 2007); Christianity and Law: An Introduction (Cambridge University Press, 2008); The Sins of the Fathers: The Law and Theology of Illegitimacy Reconsidered (Cambridge University Press, 2009); Christianity and Human Rights: An Introduction (Cambridge University Press, 2010); Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment (Westview, 3d ed. 2011);  Religion and Human Rights: An Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2012); From Sacrament to Contract: Marriage, Religion, and Law in the Western Tradition (Westminster John Knox Press, 2d ed., 2012); and No Establishment of Religion: America’s Original Contribution to Religious Liberty (Oxford University Press, 2012).  Forthcoming titles include: The Western Case for Monogamy over Polygamy (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

Professor Witte’s writings have appeared in 15 languages, and he has delivered more than 350 public lectures throughout North America, Europe, Japan, Israel, Hong Kong, Australia, and South Africa.  With major funding from the Pew, Ford, Lilly, Luce, and McDonald foundations, he has directed 12 major international projects on democracy, human rights, and religious liberty, and on marriage, family, and children. These projects have collectively yielded more than 160 new volumes and 250 public forums around the world.  He edits two major book series “Studies in Law and Religion” (Eerdmans) and “Law and Christianity” (Cambridge University Press).  He has been selected twelve times by the Emory law students as the Most Outstanding Professor and has won dozens of other awards and prizes for his teaching and research.  

Professor Witte is married to Eliza Ellison, a theologian and mediator. They have two daughters and three grandchildren.


Education: JD, Harvard University, 1985; BA, Calvin College, 1982

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