Richard Ellis, Correcting Ligonier on Arminius

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Four years ago, Ligonier Ministries uploaded a 1-minute-28-second video to YouTube called “Professor Jacobus Arminius.


Go ahead and watch it but be warned: for how short the clip is, the content is quite bad (more on that below).


The speaker, for those unfamiliar, is Dr. W. Robert Godfrey. He is both the teaching fellow and chairman at Ligonier Ministries, and additionally, he serves as president emeritus and professor emeritus of church history at Westminster Seminary California. Here’s a link to his bio: W. Robert Godfrey


His impressive credentials would make it seem as if he’s a trustworthy source for learning more about Arminius and his life. Unfortunately, this assumption falls short. That’s because Dr. Godfrey’s portrayal of Arminius’s history appears to lack essential context and it may even veer into misrepresentation. As such, it’s unclear where Dr. Godfrey sourced his information, or why he seems so bent on painting Arminius in such a negative light. (Now, I’m all for critiquing Arminius, but you have to get the facts straight first.)

Anywhooo…. I mustn’t think Dr. Godfrey’s motives were one of malice. In the spirit of charity, I’ll extend the benefit of the doubt and plainly assume that Dr. Godfrey may be unaware of certain crucial details.


Thus, I’ve written a constructive critique of this clip aimed at addressing Dr. Godfrey’s inaccuracies. Hopefully, I can provide a more balanced depiction of Arminius’s life.


Note: some may wonder why I am critiquing such a short clip. Am I doing it just to be pedantic? Well, no. We live in a world where people are always seeking quick information. Just look at X and its word limits, TikTok, reels, and more. Ligonier posted a small clip, much like reels or TikTok, and thus it deserves the same amount of scrutiny as anything else. Also, there are longer clips by other YouTubers that seem to make the same mistakes. So, for the sake of time, I’m critiquing this video.


0:00-0:06: “So in 1603, Arminius becomes professor at Leiden. Now bear in mind, he’s got a letter of recommendation from Beza.”


If we rely on this clip alone, it might seem as if Arminius was given this letter exclusively for the Leiden teaching position. But this isn’t true. This letter was written to Amsterdam prior to Arminius’s pastoral years in 1585. Beza writes:


To sum up all, then, in a few words: let it be known to you that from the time Arminius returned to us from Basel, his life and learning both have so approved themselves to us, that we hope the best of him in every respect, if he steadily persist in the same course, which, by the blessing of God, we doubt not he will; for, among other endowments, God has gifted him with an apt intellect both as respects the apprehension and the discrimination of things. If this henceforward be regulated by piety, which he appears assiduously to cultivate, it cannot but happen that this power of intellect, when consolidated by mature age and experience, will be productive of the richest fruits. Such is our opinion of Arminius- a young man, unquestionably, so far we are able to judge, most worthy of your kindness and liberality.


Contextually, Amsterdam was funding Arminius’s education, and because of this, it is believed by some scholars that this letter was more about Beza securing tuition funds for young Arminius than anything else. Take note that Beza talks about “…kindness and liberality” (tuition funds), rather than Arminius’s beliefs.


0:13-0:20: “Almost immediately after taking his position, rumors began to circulate. Is he teaching some students in private something different from what he’s teaching in public.”


There were all sorts of rumors circulating about what Arminius taught, but most scholars believe such rumors are unfounded (Richard Muller, Carl Bangs, Keith Stanglin, Thomas McCall, and more).


In a private letter to Sebastain Egbertszoon (a burgomaster in Amsterdam), Arminius wrote about his high praise of Calvin, and how he had often told students to read Calvin’s commentaries and his other works. This alone seems to go against the circulating rumors. Not to mention that some of this wasn’t as immediate as Dr. Godfrey portrays. He taught in relative peace in 1603.


0:27 “Then he wrote criticizing William Perkins on predestination. Only criticizing never quite making clear what he personally believed.”


Once again, if we rely on this clip alone, it might seem as if Arminius wrote his Examination of Perkins’ Pamphlet during his Leiden years. This is not true. It was written during his years in Amsterdam (before 1602; Perkins death), and it was only published after Arminius’s death in 1612 in Leiden by Godefridus Bassonzsoon. Unfortunately, W. Robert Godfrey seems to imply that Arminius was purposely concealing his beliefs, as if this Examination was a public document during his Leiden years. But it wasn’t. As a pastor, he had no reason to publish this document, or anything else. In fact, Trelcatius, Jr. was looked down upon at the University of Leiden because he had the audacity of publishing his systematic while being comparatively younger than the rest of the staff.


Also, contra to Dr. Godfrey, take note that Arminius does defend his own perspective:

The Examination of Perkins’ Pamphlet is perhaps the most difficult of Arminius’ writings. It follows the course of Perkins’ theses, which in turn had been an attack on the earlier work (of Baro?). (It is significant that the position which Perkins attacks is always defended by Arminius. There is no evidence that Baro, if he were the author, knew the work of Arminius.) Arminius goes to it with a barrage of analyses and arguments about sentences, phrases, words, and even grammatical constructions. He plays the new game of logic to the full. No stone is left unturned to show where Perkins is, in Arminius’ opinion, unbiblical, inconsistent, ambiguous, deceived, or otherwise in error. In the midst of the complexity and disorder of this incoherent document, however, are the most complete ingredients of Arminius’ doctrines of grace. The arguments are worked out in greater detail here than in his later academic disputations in Leiden. It is the basic document of Arminianism. (Bangs 209)


0:40: He has the students reading Roman Catholic authors.


As stated above, there’s little truth corroborating this story. Instead, Arminius has them reading Calvin and other protestant theologians. At most, Arminius does nothing different than that of Junius before him.


0:47-057 The synod begins an investigation and then Arminius dies.


The synod was an anticipated event— well before the 1600s. Thus, Arminius was not the main catalyst for it. Therefore, it is not true to say that Arminius’s teachings sparked the synod. Although, it could be said, after Arminius’s death, that the writings of the Remonstrance— which mirrored Arminius’s teachings (in many ways)— did soon become the focal issue.




I don’t know what else to say here other than a simple book on Arminius’s life would have cleared up most of these inaccuracies. My top picks for learning more about Arminius’s life and his historical context are as follows (no particular order, except for Bangs’ book):


  • Bangs, Carl O. Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1985.
  • Bertius, Petrus, The Life and Death of James Arminius and Simon Episcopius, Professor of Divinity in the University of Leyden in Holland both of them Famous Defenders of the Doctrine of Gods Universal Grace, and Sufferers for it. London: Tho. Ratcliff and Nath Thompson, 1672. Accessed at:
  • Gunter, W. Stephen. Arminius and His Declaration of Sentiments: An Annotated Translation with Introduction and Theological Commentary. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2012.
  • Stanglin, Keith D. Arminius on the Assurance of Salvation: The Context, Roots, and Shape of the Leiden Debate, 1603-1609. Brill’s Series in Church History, Vol. 27. Leiden: Brill, 2007.
  • Israel, Jonathan. The Dutch Republic: It’s Rise, Greatness, and Fall, 1477-1806. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995.

[Link to original post and comments at Richard Ellis’ website]