John Owen

John Owen

John Owen by John Greenhill

John Owen (1616 – 1683) was an English theologian and “was without doubt not only the greatest theologian of the English Puritan movement but also one of the greatest European Reformed theologians of his day, and quite possibly possessed the finest theological mind that England ever produced” (“Owen, John”, in Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals, p. 494)


Biographical sketch Lectures by Carl Trueman (MP3s)

Biographical sketch

Owen entered Queen’s College, Oxford, at the age of twelve and received a B.A. in 1632 and an M.A. in 1635 at the age of nineteen. “While at Oxford his tutor was Thomas Barlow, an anti- Arminian philosopher whose metaphysics were to prove a formative influence on the thought of the young Owen” ( ibid.). In 1637 Owen became a pastor; in the 1640s he was chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, and in 1651 he was made Dean of Christ Church, Oxford’s largest college. In 1652 he was given the additional post of Vice-Chancellor of the University. After 1660 he led the Independents through the bitter years of persecution until his death in 1683.

Owen’s first publication was A Display of Arminianism (1642), a severe critique of the Arminian theology becoming prevalent in his day. Later works included Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers (1656) and Of Temptation: The Nature and Power of It (1658), which reflect Owen’s more pastoral nature.

His most influential work, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (1647), when Owen was 31 years old, is an exhaustive treatment and defense of the doctrine of limited atonement. More specifically, it is an extended reflection on “the inner-trinitarian life of God for the incarnation andatonement, and an attempt to draw out the implications of the Old Testament sacrificial context for understanding the events of Calvary… Owen’s concern was to ask the simple question of whether Christ’s death made salvation possible or actual. He affirmed the latter…” (BDE, p. 496). Regarding this work, J. I. Packer notes, “Nobody has a right to dismiss the doctrine of the limitedness, or particularity, of atonement as a monstrosity of Calvinistic logic until he has refuted Owen’s proof that it is part of the uniform biblical presentation of redemption, clearly taught in plain text after plain text. And nobody has done that yet.” [1]

In 1662 the Act of Uniformity established various rules and requirements which were to be followed in the Church. Owen did not ascribe to this, and thus was known as a nonconformist.

Later works of Owen involved massive works on the Holy Spirit and Hebrews.


  • “To suppose that whatever God requireth of us that we have power of ourselves to do, is to make the cross and grace of Jesus Christ of none effect.” (Works of John Owen: volume 3 pg. 433)
  • “To say that we are able by our own efforts to think good thoughts or give God spiritual obedience before we are spiritually regenerate is to overthrow the gospel and the faith of the universal church in all ages.” (The Holy Spirit [2])
  • An excerpt from his epitaph: “In polemical theology, with more than herculean strength, he strangled three poisonous serpents, the Arminian, the Socinian, and the Roman.” (transl. from the Latin by J. I. PackerA Quest for Godliness, 192)



  • “Owen, John”, in Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals, ed. by Timothy Larsen (IVP, 2003)

External links

Online works



Tracts & Essays