Jonathan Edwards and the Bible

Jonathan Edwards and the Bible

Robert E. Brown
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 05/24/2002
ISBN: 978-0-253-10912-5
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Winner of Brewer Prize, American Society of Church History; 2002 Francis Makemie Award of the Presbyterian Historical Society

This study proposes that Jonathan Edwards’s biblical interpretation is the key to understanding his broader engagement with critical thought, and it provides a unifying thread within his theological work. The vast but little-known biblical writings of Edwards (1703–1758) show him to have been thoroughly engaged with critical historical methods of interpretation. Critical thought was the rage of British society in the middle of the 17th century, particularly in relation to church-state issues. It had been considered a late 19th-century phenomenon in American religious history, but Robert E. Brown shows that its influence began much earlier. He traces the impact of this revolution in biblical interpretation to nearly every area of Edwards’s intellectual career—epistemology, historiography, natural theology, typology, natural science, comparative religion, constructive theology, and public discourse. This engagement resulted in a subtle but distinct transformation of Edwards’s understanding of the biblical narratives and their relation to the new scientific modes of inquiry, anticipating similar developments in 19th-century American religious thought.

Author Bio

Robert E. Brown is Visiting Assistant Professor of American Religion at Franklin and Marshall College.


“This study is the first of its kind to examine critical biblical interpretation in early American history. Focusing on Jonathan Edwards’s biblical writings, it suggests that Edwards’s biblical interpretation is the key to understanding his broader engagement with critical methods and provides a unifying thread within his theological work.”

“Brown's patient and even—handed discussion of the different ways in which a conservative like Edwards could defend traditional conclusions, and of those places where he found it necessary to give something to the 'cultured despisers', is valuable.”
 — Times Literary Supplement

“Robert E. Brown has written an important book for the study of eighteenth-century American intellectual and religious history.”

“This thoroughly researched study focuses on Edwards's use of the Bible as a guide for his systematic doctrine and philosophy. By demonstrating Edwards's critical appropriation of modern developments in historical method and biblical studies, Brown clearly dispels claims that Edwards is a flatfooted traditionalist. Brown describes Edwards's approach to historical knowledge, common sense, sacred history, and other religions in order to reveal his conflict with deism. He claims that Edwards's revision of rational religious knowledge emasculated the entire notion of any mode of true religious understanding separable from traditionary sources. As part of Edwards's approach to the problem of religious epistemology, Brown notes, Edwards came to claim that historical religious knowledge was the only source of human ideas about religion and that this knowledge was in effect universally accessible. Although this book does not explore the character of Edwards's sermonic use of scripture or his interpretations of particular biblical passages or themes, it is exceptionally valuable for its thorough exploration of the cohesive character of biblical narrative and the history of redemption as an organizing motif of Edwards's thought. Recommended for upper-division undergraduates through faculty.December 2002”
 — R. Ward, Georgetown College

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Table of Contents

Preliminary Table of Contents:

1. Bibliophile
2. Knowing and the Historical Mode
3. Sacred History and the Common Sense
4. Plain Obvious Sensible Facts
5. Sacred History and the ‘History’ of Religions
6. Theology in the Historical Mode
7. Denouement