"The Only Rule of Our Faith and Practice": Jonathan Edwards's Interpretation of the Book of Isaiah as a Case Study of His Exegetical Boundaries

By Barshinger, David | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, December 2009 | Go to article overview

"The Only Rule of Our Faith and Practice": Jonathan Edwards's Interpretation of the Book of Isaiah as a Case Study of His Exegetical Boundaries


Barshinger, David, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


(ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.)

In addition to his many roles, including pastor, theologian, author, and missionary, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) was also a devoted student of the Bible. * At age nineteen, he resolved "to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same."2 His massive output of sermons expositing biblical passages and of treatises addressing theological matters using Scripture testifies to his dedication to this task, and his personal manuscripts on the Bible further demonstrate his unswerving discipline in studying the Old and New Testaments.

The nature of Edwards's biblical interpretation, however, has attracted some debate over the liberty he used in making sense of the Scriptures. Stephen J. Stein, a leading scholar on Edwards and the Bible,3 argues that Edwards's spiritual interpretation was boundless. He acknowledges that "Edwards shared certain assumptions with the Reformed tradition," but qualifies that "in other ways he departed from prevailing patterns of Protestant exegesis."4 Specifically,

[i]n contrast to the Reformation accent upon the sufficiency of the singular literal sense of the Bible, he underscored the multiplicity of levels of meaning in the text and the primacy of the spiritual. Edwards spoke of the Bible as the source and the norm of his theology, but often it appears that the Scripture was more the occasion than the origin or measure of his reflections. For him the biblical principle was an open and expansive factor.5

Stein suggests that Edwards's "exegetical creativity was constrained only by the length of his attention." Given this "free reign" that Edwards allowed himself, Stein concludes that "the Bible did not function for him as a theological norm or source in any usual Protestant fashion because the literal sense of the text did not restrict him. On the contrary, the freedom and creative possibilities of the spiritual sense beckoned, and he pursued them with abandon."6

The severity of Stein's concluding charge raises questions. Did Edwards merely use the Bible as a platform for his own agenda? Did he truly break with mainstream Protestant forms of interpretation? What was his theological norm or source if not the Bible?

Stein restates his charge in his introduction to The "Blank Bible" volume in the Yale Works of Jonathan Edwards. In his discussion on the Wisdom Literature of the OT, he states that Edwards's "pursuit of spiritual meaning in the texts knew no bound. In that respect there can be no debate about the creative imagination he brought to the interpretive task."7 More subtly in his discussion on Edwards's interpretation of the Prophets, Stein points to Edwards's very words in his entry on Ezek 5:25ff. as evidence of "his repeated hermeneutical observation that the Holy Ghost in 'the words of prophecy' often has respect to 'two senses or translations entirely different and not dependent or related.' "8

Yet even at this point, Stein quotes Edwards selectively. Edwards more specifically limits this statement in a typological framework, that the two senses might not be "dependent or related one to another as type and antitype." The two senses are controlled by the Holy Spirit's intention. Edwards also gives three boundaries for interpretation in such cases: when both senses (1) fit with "what language properly allows"; (2) are "instructive"; and (3) are "agreeable to the analogy of faith." Only then, says Edwards, may we interpret both senses.9

Given these facets to the discussion, this essay uses the book of Isaiah as a case study to better understand Edwards's interpretive lens, examining how he construes this prophetic book generally by exploring the entries on Isaiah in both his "Notes on Scripture" and "Blank Bible" manuscripts. My thesis is that, in his reading of the book of Isaiah, Edwards did set boundaries on his interpretation, with Scripture functioning as a norm in his theology. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

"The Only Rule of Our Faith and Practice": Jonathan Edwards's Interpretation of the Book of Isaiah as a Case Study of His Exegetical Boundaries
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.