The Sessions of the Synod of Dordt: The Drafting Committee

The following information is gleaned from one main source: Donald Sinnema, “The Drafting of the Canons of Dordt: A Preliminary Survey of Early Drafts and Related Documents,” in Revisiting the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619), edited by Aza Goudriaan and Fred van Lieburg (Leiden: Brill, 2011): 291-311.

The committee that drafted the Canons worked from March 26 through April 15. Using President Bogerman’s proposed drafts of Heads 1 and 2 as its starting point (see sessions 125-128), the committee completed its first draft of Head 1 by Thursday, March 28. On that day, while the committee continued working, one of synod’s secretaries dictated the draft to a representative of each delegation. The first draft of Head 2 was similarly copied out on March 29, the draft of Heads 3 and 4 on April 4, and the draft of Head 5 on April 5.

Each delegation considered these drafts and sent their responses to the drafting committee. On the basis of these responses, the committee drew up its second draft, containing almost 200 changes to the first draft. The committee completely redrafted the second Head in light of concerns expressed by the British and Bremen delegations. On April 8-10, these amendments were dictated to a representative of each delegation. On Friday, April 12, the delegations gave their comments in the morning, and the drafting committee responded to them in the afternoon.

On Monday, April 15, the third draft was dictated, containing over 100 changes to the second. That afternoon all the delegates except the British signed this version of the Canons. The British would not sign before seeing a neat, finished copy.

Although this third draft was signed, it was not the final draft. A few editorial changes still needed to be made, and two articles in the Rejection of Errors of Head 2 needed to be changed. The committee would eventually entirely delete of these articles, and would revise the second article in the second Head’s Rejection of Errors.

When the synod reconvened on April 16 it began reading and discussing the Canons. On Friday, April 19, the committee made the final changes to the Canons and drafted the Conclusion to the Canons.

The Canons of Dordt have stood the test of time in Reformed churches: four hundred years later they are still taught and loved. One reason for this is the carefulness with which they were drafted. Another is that the Canons explicitly set forth the teachings of Scripture regarding the doctrines of sovereign grace. These teachings have not changed, and God’s sovereign grace is as wonderful and lovely today as it ever was!

Douglas Kuiper, Professor of Church History and New Testament
Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary