John Biddle (Unitarian)

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John Biddle or Bidle (born Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, England, 14 January 1615 – died 22 September 1662) was an influential English nontrinitarian, and Unitarian.[1] He is often called "the Father of English Unitarianism".[2][3]


Biddle studied at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, taking an M. A. in 1641.[4] At the age of twenty-six, he became headmaster of the Crypt Grammar School, Gloucester. The school had links to Gloucester Cathedral, and since he was obliged to teach his pupils according to the Catechism of the Church of England, he immersed himself in the study of the Bible. He concluded from his studies that the doctrine of the Trinity was not supported by the Bible, and set about publishing his own views on the nature of God.

He was imprisoned in Gloucester in 1645 for his views,[4] but released on bail. He was imprisoned again by Parliament in 1646 and, in 1647, while he was still a prisoner, his tract Twelve Arguments Drawn Out of Scripture was published. Henry Vane defended Biddle in the House of Commons, and he was released on bail in 1648.[2][5] After a short while he was again imprisoned, in Newgate, where he remained until amnestied by the 1652 Act of Oblivion.[4] Biddle and the MP John Fry, who had tried to aid him, were supported by the 1649 Leveller pamphlet Englands New Chaines Discovered.[6] Biddle was strongly attacked by John Owen.

In 1654-5 he was again in trouble with Parliament, which ordered his book A Two-fold Catechism seized;[7] Oliver Cromwell exiled him to the Scilly Isles, out of the jurisdiction of any hostile English Parliaments. He was released in 1658.[8] He was imprisoned once more, and became ill, leading to his death.[4]

A biography of Biddle by Joshua Toulmin was published in 1789.


He is believed to have translated the Racovian Catechism into English.[9]


He denounced original sin,[10] denied eternal punishment,[11] and translated a mortalist tract.[12] He condemned the Ranters.[13] He affirmed that the Bible was the Word of God and his Christology appears to be Socinian, denying the pre-existence of Christ but accepting the virgin birth.[14] Biddle's denial of the pre-existence of Christ was the main target of works including Puritan theologian John Owen's A Brief Declaration and Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity (1669).[15]


Biddle's appeal for conscience was one of the major milestones of the establishment of religious freedom in England. More recently Biddle's combination of Socinian Christology and millennialism has led to a rediscovery of his work among Christadelphians and other non-Trinitarian groups in the 1970s and '80s.[16][17]


  1. NNDB
  2. 2.0 2.1 Christopher Hill, Milton and the English Revolution, p. 290.
  3. mentioned in: link dead?, Bartleby, , The Role of the Fourth Commandment in the Historical Sabbath-keeping Churches of God - Christian Churches of God, Woden Australia, History A SHORT UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST HISTORY By Dr. John W. Baros-Johnson April, 2003, Exlibris "Socinians"
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3  Grosart, Alexander Balloch (1886). [ "Biddle, John" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). In Stephen, Leslie (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. 5. London: Smith, Elder & Co.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5.  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). [ "Biddle, John" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Encyclopædia Britannica. 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Hill, Milton, p. 293.
  7. Guibon Goddard's Journal - January 1654-5 | British History Online
  8. Hill, Change and Continuity in Seventeenth-Century England, p. 267.
  9. Hill, Milton p. 294, thinks this is probably the case, but adds that Biddle was not exactly a Socinian, something he was often accused of being.
  10. Hill, Milton, p. 313.
  11. Hill, The World Turned Upside Down, p. 177.
  12. Hill, Milton, p. 320.
  13. Hill, A Nation of Change and Novelty, p. 189.
  14. Biddle's TWOFOLD SCRIPTURE CATECHISM, Chapter 4. Online.
  15. Kevin Giles The Eternal Generation of the Son: Maintaining Orthodoxy in Trinitarian Theology 0830839658 2012 p.188 "John Owen (1616-1683) is widely recognized as the greatest of the seventeenth-century Puritan theologians. ... A Brief Declaration and Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity, as also of the Person and Satisfaction of Christ (1699).81 In these two works, one of Owen's primary concerns is to establish by appeal to Scripture the preexistence and eternity of the Son.82 He directs most of his arguments to John Biddle, a Socinian who is often called "the father of English Unitarianism" ."
  16. Botten John, The captive conscience Birmingham
  17. Eyre A. The Protestors Birmingham

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