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A question for readers: does anyone know the origin of the anglicized acronym T.U.L.I.P.?

I’m not referring to the conceptual original (I know it’s from the Canons of Dordt)–but rather to the first time that the doctrines were given these English titles and order to form the word tulip?

(The 5 mains points of doctrine in dispute at Dordt were in this order–ULTIP–though of course with different terminology.)

I’m not doing a research project or anything–just curious, as I’ve never seen the answer to this question!

Update: In the comments below Ken Stewart provides the surprising answer: apparently the first recorded use of the acronym is in Loraine Boettner’s popular book, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, published in 1932. Stewart doesn’t believe that Boettner himself devised it, but has been unable to document any earlier use of it.

You can read more about this in Stewart’s essay, "The Points of Calvinism: Retrospect and Prospect," Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology, 26. 2 (2008): 187-203, which will be revised into a chapter for his forthcoming book, Ten Myths About Calvinism (IVP, 2010).

Update 2: See the comments. It’s now been pinpointed back to 1913, and the author records hearing it eight years earlier. So it goes back at least to 1905. Unless someone can locate an earlier reference, I’m going to say 1905 is the best date we have, with 1913 as the first documentation in the historical record. Nice work Ched and Bart (and Google Books!).

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19 thoughts on “The Origin of TULIP? (Updated!)”

  1. Ken Stewart says:

    A short answer to your question is that there is no documentable use of TULIP as an acronym longer ago that Loraine Boettner's use of it in his 1932 _Reformed Doctrine of Predestination_. I know this will sound strange to many, as this acronym is treated so reverentially by so many Calvinists (both "New" and "Old"). But I can assure you that the trail goes cold prior to 1932.
    I have argued this out, and tried to draw out some of its possible implications in article, published in October 2008,
    “The Points of Calvinism: Retrospect and Prospect” Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology, Vol. 26. 2 (2008), pp. 187-203.
    For those who do not have access to SBET, please email me off-list and I will be glad to share the pdf version. This material (once revised) will comprise a chapter in my forthcoming _Ten Myths About Calvinism_. You bet: TULIP is one of the ten!

  2. Ched says:


    Dr. Stewart's article (pdf) is available online at his Covenant College Faculty webpage.

  3. Rajjilicious says:

    Another thing … the 5 points are around still earlier, although they are not given an acronym. Dabney for example.

    Another interesting thing is that Boettner was a lay theologian. He was not an academic.

  4. Ken Stewart says:

    About Dabney, I think it would be fair to say that he speaks disparagingly of the Five Points, for in his small book of the same name, he insists "‘this
    title (the Five Points of Calvinism) is of little accuracy or worth; I use it to
    denote certain points of doctrine, because custom has made it familiar’. What you find (I think this commendable) is that he deals with these doctrines as they are incorporated into his own denomination's doctrinal standard, the Westminster Confession. If this was more common, we would not have the problem which is now so prevalent: expositors of TULIP make what they will of it. I do not mean that they are ill-intentioned, but only that this makes for idiosyncratic interpretation. We do not need idiosyncratic Calvinism.

  5. Bart says:

    A quick search of Google Books turns up a reference to the TULIP acronymn in the 1913 edition of the New Outlook.

  6. Topher says:

    I thought Spurgeon used the acronym frequently. I seem to remember a few of his sermons where he talks about the "Dutch flower".

  7. Bart says:

    That 1913 reference sources it to a Dr. McAffee. That might well be Cleland Boyd McAfee, who was on the faculty of Mc­Cor­mick The­o­log­ic­al Sem­in­ary in Chi­ca­go in 1913.

  8. swith says:

    I think it should be changed from TULIP to TUDIP. I word Limited makes a negative statement about Christ's work. While Definite atonement makes sense of all of it.

  9. Ched says:

    There is an interesting Newspaper article that is relevant to this question:

    William H. Vail (Newark, New Jersey), "The Five Points of Calvinism Historically Considered," p. 394. In The Outlook: A weekly Newspaper. (June 21, 1913). Theodore Roosevelt, Contributing Editor.

    In this article (located in the 'Reader's View' section of the publication), Vail "historically considers" the development of the ordering of the "doctrine of Grace," as well as the acronym used to order them. The occasion for his piece is a recent Presbyterian General Assembly meeting in Atlanta Georgia in 1913. There, the Assembly apparently discussed the Five Points. Vail lists the points of doctrine given at the Synod of Dort, which was the departure for their discussion at the Assembly.

    At this point in his article, Vail makes the following comment germane to our question:

    "Some eight years ago I had the privilege of hearing a popular lecture, by Dr. McAfee, of Brooklyn, upon the Five Points of Calvinism given before the Presbyterian Union of Newark, New Jersey, which was most interesting as well as instructive. To aid the mind in remembering the Five Points, Dr. McAfeee made use of the word Tulip, which possessing five letters, lends itself nicely to the subject in hand, especially as it ends with the letter P, as will be seen later. . . . Of course the adoption of this word restricts the order of the five points, and perhaps throws them out of their proper order and logical sequence. However this may be, I was led to consult several theological authorities to see how they agreed with Dr. McAfee, both as to the substance of doctrine as well as to the order of their relation to each other" (Vail, 394).

    Vail continues by delineating his own research into the ordering of the Points. He consults available theological dictionaries and describes his correspondence with various scholars/colleagues about the issue. An interesting exchange occurs between him and Dr. Francis L. Patton, the President of Princeton Theological Seminary. After pausing to consider how to order the 5 elements, Patton says, "Dr. Vail, if I cannot give you the Five Points of Calvinism offhand, without taking time to consider them, I had better get out of here." To which Vail adds that Patton was referring to "the presidency of Princeton Theological Seminary" (394).

    Dr. Hugh Black of Union Theological Seminary remarks, "I don't think Calvin himself would have summed up his system in these points. The system is one built up by rigourous logic from the one central idea of the sovereignty of God" (395).

    Vail's article includes a chart showing five alternate ways of ordering the five points. One interesting aspect that Vail notes is that they all end with the "Perseverance of the Saints," which for Vail points to "the main point of difference between the Calvinists and the Arminians at the Synod of Dort" (395).

    If this article is viewed as a legitimate historical source, then there exists a reference to (and possibly an origin of) the English ordering of the "Tulip" acronym as early as 1905.

  10. jigawatt says:

    Here are two relevant conversations at the Puritan Board.

    TULIP acrostic

    First Official *Contest* at A Puritan's Mind for the PB

  11. Ched says:

    I see that I was scooped on the 1913 reference by Bart.

    Proof-reading and editing of comments is the enemy of immediacy.

  12. Bart says:

    Nice research, Ched.

    McAfee, a liberal, was elected moderator of the Presbyterian Church in 1929. That General Assembly reorganized Princeton Seminary, taking control away from the orthodox party led by Machen and others.

    How ironic, then, that the man who coined 'TULIP' helped deal Calvinism one of her worst blows.

  13. Ken Stewart says:

    I have thanked Ched and Bart off-list for their sleuthing. Believe me, this is a very valuable find – and they will get a footnote for their detective work! Let me offer the following brief comments by way of interpretation:

    1. The article is written in 1913 and contains in it a recollection of having heard TULIP used in an address in 1905. Until someone comes up with something earlier, I think we have to say that this is "it". I have wanted to say "early 20th century America", but it now could very well be that we have the originator of TULIP identified as well.
    2. The author of the article, fascinatingly illustrates for us how non-standard TULIP was among Presbyterians in 1913. He asked at least 5 different people who should have been in a position to know the Points of Calvinism and yet got no concurrence as to phraseology or order of topics. Most did pretty well, though at identifying the general subject matter of the Canons of Dordt. This diversity of expression corresponds perfectly with the liberty taken by Calvinists of the 18th and 19th centuries in expressing the points of Dordt.
    3. We are left to ask ourselves what we have gained, and what we have possibly lost by the rigid use of TULIP. I know that my investigations have cured me of the old bad habit of measuring any one's orthodoxy by whether they hewed perfectly to TULIP, inasmuch as it is a kind of a copy of a copy of a copy. But my bigger concern is the one raised earlier this afternoon: no single person should be taking it upon himself or herself to tell the rest of us what TULIP must mean and what it demands of us. This is what articles of faith or confessions of faith are for; they are corporate definitions of our belief. Personally, I have come to the conclusion that I am only interested in the Points of Calvinism to the extent that they are reflected in the articles of faith of my church, that is the Westminster Confession and Catechisms.
    Thanks again Ched and Bart!!

  14. L says:

    This is probably super obvious to you all, but I'm confused and really need to know..

    Why would it be strange if it was Loraine Boettner who coined the TULIP acronym?

  15. Ken Stewart says:

    You ask an interesting and valid question. The situation is this: contemporary Calvinists love to use the TULIP acronym. They arguably use it the way they do in the expectation that it is time-honored and reliable (at a PCRT conference long ago in Phila I actually heard a discourse about how fitting it was that TULIP, a Dutch flower-bearing bulb, had been chosen to symbolize the achievement of Dordt!). Naturally, the question arises from time to time (especially if someone is antagonistic towards TULIP, or disputes its correspondence with Calvin's teaching)"how ancient is this?" Pretty ancient, we hope!
    I think it can be safely said that the more recent the introduction of TULIP can be shown to be, the more wary we should be in employing it as a stable and time-honored thing.
    If we were to know, for certain, that Boettner devised it, I think we would use it a lot more selectively – because we would say that it was a twentieth-century invention.The longer a history of use TULIP can be shown to have, the more we have to reckon with the testimony of those who have commended it as reliable. FWIW!

  16. L says:

    Dr. Stewart:

    Thank you for the response. So the strangeness is really due to the relatively brief history of TULIP, and has nothing to do with Loraine Boettner's credentials, because that was what I thought at first!!

    Thank you for taking the time to provide such a thoughtful and informative answer to this baby Calvinist! :)


  17. Roberto G says:

    For many believers, TULIP is the new path connecting them to a whole new dimension for their Christian lives. It touches on the central and vital truths of the Christian life that move us forward in our sanctification. Whether recent or old, the use of TULIP has been a positive pedagogical tool (one of many) used by pastors, teachers, and lay people to teach very important Scriptural truths. Taught correctly, why should we be wary of employing TULIP?

  18. Roberto G says:

    "the problem which is now so prevalent: expositors of TULIP make what they will of it. I do not mean that they are ill-intentioned, but only that this makes for idiosyncratic interpretation. We do not need idiosyncratic Calvinism."
    I think consideration must be made for a teacher's discretion and wisdom in laying out the Scriptural basis for TULIP. The way different teachers delve into TULIP may be perceived as coming from an idiosyncratic interpretation, but it may just be the nuance he chooses for his audience. Shouldn't allowance be made for such circumstances and differences?

  19. Happy Calvinist says:

    TULIP is only 104 years old?! ;o) I can just hear the critics now….


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Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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