John Owen says in the second chapter of his Biblical Theology (page 8 as published in English by SDG),

As the subject matter of theology is largely God Himself, it is as infinitely far removed from the methodology of science as the sciences themselves are from nonexistence.

This is not a minor point to Owen, but is integral to his whole approach to theology. I was intrigued, then, when a friend of mine told me that Charles Hodge begins his systematic theology by asserting that theology is a science. Given that these two are both considered giants with Reformed theology, I was intrigued! I have not read any Hodge myself, but as someone with a background in linguistics and philosophy, I am not ready to assume that they meant the same thing when they said science, particularly since they were separated by several centuries.

Is it true that Hodge taught that theology is a science? If so, did he explain what he means by science, and did he cite any other theologians as teaching this as well? What was his argument for this conclusion? (As a bonus, I'm also interested in who among the Old Princetonians agreed with him.)

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    I don't count myself sufficiently expert in the matter to do justice to an answer, but you should find the linked article useful if you haven't already read it: reformation21.org/counterpoints/paul-helm-charles-hodge-and.php May 11, 2014 at 18:41
  • @bruisedreed Thanks, that is informative as to what Hodge taught, and it does seem to be the opposite of what Owen is saying. However, the way Hodge is being criticized today is vastly different than what Owen would say.
    – Kazark
    May 11, 2014 at 19:08
  • There is one definition of science that refers to the academic branch based on observation. There is another definition of science that refers to a body of knowledge or academic discipline of acquiring knowledge. In case he means the latter definition and not the former, I think that may explain why Charles Hodge might have used the term "science" in that way.
    – Double U
    May 11, 2014 at 20:55
  • @Anonymous---yes, it seems probable; though Owen is also referring to the second definition, and rejecting that.
    – Kazark
    May 11, 2014 at 21:45
  • Theology used to be called the "queen of the sciences." May 12, 2014 at 2:44

1 Answer 1


I can't seem to find any measurable difference between Owen and Hodge on this topic. Hodge does not even mention the word 'science' in his bible commentaries but in his book Systematic Theology he does. Here he starts his book in part by explaining what he means by 'theology'. Some say, theology is the 'science of religion', some say the 'science of the supernatural', etc. but Hodge prefers to say:

We have, therefore, to restrict theology to its true sphere, as the science of the facts of divine revelation so far as those facts concern the nature of God and our relation to him, as his creatures, as sinners, and as the subjects of redemption. All these facts, as just remarked, are in the Bible. (Systematic Theology 1.19, Charles Hodge)

What Hodge really meant by accepting the term science as used by various others others was simply to justify the need for the systemization of knowledge derived from scripture. Just as natural science does from facts in nature. Basically, although natural and theological sciences do not really overlap, they both need to 'systemize facts' they observe to derive understanding. They can't just leave things in there natural setting without make dogmatic deductions as a system. Otherwise a chemist could never predict the outcome of a chemical reaction, or an astronomer predict the location of a comet years to come.

John Owen and Hodge do also both agree that theology and science have a slight overlap under the title of natural theology. This just to accept that the heavens declare God's glory and his attributes of power and wisdom. These facts of nature manifest a lesser theology then scripture does.

Or as Hodge puts it:

All these facts, as just remarked, are in the Bible. But as some of them are revealed by the works of God, and by the nature of man, there is so far a distinction between natural theology, and theology considered distinctively as a Christian science. With regard to natural theology, there are two extreme opinions. The one is that the works of nature make no trustworthy revelation of the being and perfections of God; the other, that such revelation is so clear and comprehensive as to preclude the necessity of any supernatural revelation. (Systematic Theology 1.19, Charles Hodge)

  • I was hoping you would offer an answer. :) +1 The article that @bruisedreed linked to in the comment above, though, discusses how Hodge approached theology as a science in which you use induction on the data of the Bible---is this an accurate representation? If so, that is hardly in agreement with Owen.
    – Kazark
    May 12, 2014 at 11:44
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    @Kazark - Ha ha. Kazark I re-read many pages from Hodge again with a critical eye and just can't see what the accusation is about. All hodge was saying is that you must use exegesis rather then eisegesis and that all scripture is divine and authoritative above human reason, experience or philosophy. By categorizing it as an 'inductive method' he simply means that divine scripture must trump our own philosophy and experience where it may conflict.
    – Mike
    May 12, 2014 at 15:03
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    @Kazark - By the way Hodge is no Owen. The only reason why I respect Hodge very highly is that he understood the meaning of the Law and Justification in the same way that Owen did, which as far as I know is one of the the last few famous theologians 'like' Owen, especially where it definitely matters in deriving a proper understanding of the Bible.
    – Mike
    May 12, 2014 at 15:09

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