Jonathan Edwards and Scripture

Biblical Exegesis in British North America

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David P. Barshinger, Douglas A. Sweeney
  • Oxford, England: 
    Oxford University Press
    , May
     272 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The renaissance of Jonathan Edwards studies began more than half a century ago, but to date only about one percent of the scholarly literature on Edwards has considered his work as an exegete. The present volume, David Barshinger and Douglas Sweeney’s Jonathan Edwards and Scripture: Biblical Exegesis in British North America, aims to address this significant lacuna.

The book contains thirteen chapters, each written by a senior scholar in the field. David Barshinger explains that the aim of the volume is to “make good” on calls for more research into Edwards’ exegetical writings by bringing these leading scholars together to consider his work (3). The volume includes an introduction to Edwards’ intellectual context, case studies of his exegesis from various biblical genres, analyses of the ways he used scripture to formulate his theology, and comparisons between Edwards and other early-modern exegetes (12).

The first three chapters focus on the sources and interpretive methods Edwards employed. Kenneth Minkema describes how Edwards conducted systematic reviews of scripture in search of proof texts on various themes, compiled lists of texts that he believed were related in some way, and preoccupied himself with biblical prophecy and typology, creatively expanding the latter to include types from nature and history. Stephen Nichols explains Edwards’ commitment to the unity and harmony of scripture, finding the unifying center in the scripture’s teaching on Messiah, his redemption, and his kingdom. Together, these early chapters demonstrate that while Edwards was clearly Reformed, he also “displayed an unusual exegetical freedom and creativity” (40).

Adriaan Neele’s helpful chapter surveys Edwards’ use of biblical commentaries, with particular reference to Matthew Poole’s Synopsis (London: 5 vols, 1669­­­-1676), which introduced Edwards to Jewish, Roman Catholic, Reformed, and Remonstrant exegetical perspectives. The chapter reinforces the fact that Edwards was not an intellectual island. He relied on the works of his predecessors as much as any other pastor and author.

The next two chapters describe how the Bible fueled Edwards’s personal piety and how he remained confident in the authenticity of scripture at a time when critical biblical scholarship was beginning to flower. Edwards’s proofs for scripture were often personal. He found the scriptures “spiritually tuned” to the “perceptions, sensations, and desires of the soul” (100). In short, critical scholarship was a reflection of mankind’s ongoing rebellion against God, he believed, and it “did not diminish in any way the glory of the Word” (105).

The remaining chapters of the book offer specific examples of the ways in which Edwards interpreted scripture and interacted with critical scholarship. These chapters include his interpretation of Jacob and his wrestling with the “man” in his dream; his perspective on the authorship of the Pentateuch; his reading of Jonah and the great fish; his interactions with the writings of John; and his thoughts about subjects as widely divergent as the Virgin Mary, war, and spiritual conversion. The book’s final chapter considers how Edwards related scripture to tradition and whether his perspective falls within mainstream evangelicalism.

As often happens with collaborate works, this book lacks both a central argument and a smooth progression of thought from one chapter to the next. Instead, readers will encounter a collection of independent papers that more or less relate to the common theme of Edwards as an exegete. There will also be times when readers will likely wish to learn more about a particular topic, but will be denied the opportunity as each topic is only given a single chapter. Finally, the chapters do sometimes overlap in content, which may test the patience of some readers. For example, Edwards’ personal conversion story, his “Resolutions,” (see Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 16, p.753-59) and his role in the Great Awakening are presented in several different chapters, and usually as if the story has not yet been told. But these issues aside, Jonathan Edwards and Scripture is a groundbreaking volume that demands attention from all serious students of Jonathan Edwards.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Brandon James Crawford is senior pastor at Grace Baptist Church, Marshall, Mich., and assistant director of the Jonathan Edwards Center, Grand Rapids, Mich.

Date of Review: 
January 29, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Douglas A. Sweeney is Distinguished Professor of Church History and the History of Christian Thought and Director of the Jonathan Edwards Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has published widely on Edwards, early modern Protestant thought, and the history of evangelicalism. 

David P. Barshinger is the author of Jonathan Edwards and the Psalms (Oxford University Press, 2014). He has taught at Trinity International University, Wheaton College, and Trinity Christian College. He currently serves as an editor in the book division at Crossway.


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