John Biddle, an English theologian, called "the father of English Unitarians," born at Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, in 1615, died in London, Sept. 22, 1662. He was the son of a tradesman, was educated at Oxford, and elected master of the free school of Gloucester. His tract entitled "Twelve Arguments drawn out of the Scripture, wherein the commonly received opinion touching the Deity of the Holy Spirit is clearly and fully refuted," led to his dismissal from this post and to his arrest (Dec. 2, 1645) and imprisonment, the house of commons ordering all printed copies of the book to be burned by the common hangman. While yet in prison he printed a " Confession of Faith concerning the Holy Trinity according to the Scriptures, with the Testimonies of several of the Fathers on this head " (London, 1648). This was followed by "The Testimonies of Irenseus, Justin Martyr, Nova-tianus, Theophilus, etc, concerning the Persons of the Holy Trinity." The Presbyterians passed a measure through parliament, by which every one who denied the doctrine of the Trinity should be punished with death. This was aimed at Biddle, and he was about to suffer, when a sudden opposition arose to it among the Independents and the army.
When the Independents gained the upper hand (1649), the penal laws against heretics were mitigated or repealed. Biddle was released, and retired into Staffordshire, where he was warmly welcomed by a magistrate, who procured him a congregation, made him a private chaplain, and left him a legacy. Bradshaw, president of the council, however, remanded him to prison. He had now lost not only his fortune and his liberty, but his friends. Dr. Gunning, afterward bishop of Ely, was the only theologian who visited him in prison. He suffered great privations, but his accurate knowledge of the Greek Scriptures induced Roger Daniel, a London printer, to give him for correction the proof-sheets of a Greek Septuagint, and this relieved his wants. In 1651 an act of indemnity and oblivion for all heretical offences \v;is passed by parliament, and Biddle was again released, and collected around him those whom his writings had brought to his way of thinking. Their fundamental law was that " the unity of God is a unity of person as well as nature." The members of this new sect were called BiddelHans, and, when their harmony with the doctrines of Socinus was perceived, Socinians. A translation of Biddle's "Twofold Scripture Catechisms" (London, 1654), for the use of foreigners, brought him again to the bar of the house of commons; and on his refusal to criminate himself, he was committed for contempt, and the death penalty ordinance was revived against him.
When Cromwell dissolved the parliament, Biddle once more regained his liberty after 1.0 months' confinement. A whole Baptist congregation became converted to Biddle's views, and this was so displeasing to the Baptist minister, Mr. Griffin, that he challenged Biddle to a public controversy. The latter accepted the challenge, and spoke in a derogatory manner of Christ's divine nature. He was thrown into the Poultry Compter, July 3, 1655, and thence removed to Newgate, and tried for his life under the long parliament ordinance against blasphemy and heresy. As the case was evidently going Kgainst him, Cromwell interposed, the trial was stopped, and Biddle was remanded to jail. In order to shelter him yet more securely from his persecutors, Cromwell banished him to Star castle, in St. Mary's, one of the Scilly islands, with an annual subsistence of 100 crowns (October, 1655). Here he continued to devote himself to the study of theology. After three years he was released on a writ of habeas oorpitt) and returning to London, became pastor of an Independent congregation; but fearing the Presbyterians, who came again into power after the death of Cromwell, he retired into the country. Upon the final dissolution of the rump parliament, he again went to London and renewed his ministrations.
The restoration of Charles II. once more caused him to retire from publicity; but he suddenly rejoined his congregation in 1662, while meeting in a private house. Biddle was fined £100, and each of the audience £20, with confinement in default of payment. The prison was kept in such a manner that five weeks' residence in it was enough to cause his death. Among his writings are a "History of the Unitarians" and several pieces translated from the works of the Polish Unitarians. He denied the doctrines of original sin and the atonement. The Rev. Joshua Toulmin, an English Unitarian minister, wrote a "Review of the Life, Character, and Writings of John Biddle" (1789).