Stephen R. C. Nichols. Jonathan Edwards’s Bible. Eugene: Pickwick, 2013. 229 pp. $29.00/£21.00.
Stephen R. C. Nichols reads history at Christ’s College, Cambridge, and theology at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. Nichols’s recent monograph, Jonathan Edwards’s Bible, is an examination of Jonathan Edwards’ exegesis and theology primarily drawing attention to one of Jonathan Edwards’ ambitious projects of harmonizing the Old and New Testament. In October 1757 Jonathan Edwards responded to the College of New Jersey’s invitation for him to become their next President. In that hesitant response Edwards shares about two important writing projects, one of which was a harmony of the Old and New Testament. Nichols spends much of his time studying the extant notebooks that Edwards used to research this project. Each chapter begins with an overview of the subject in wider scholarship, followed by an understanding of Edwards approach to that subject in his corpus, followed by how that subject was handled in Edwards’ research for the “Harmony.” Chapter one is on prophecy; chapter two is on typology; chapter three is on doctrine and precept, and chapter four is a case study in soteriology. Because such little work has been done on Edwards’ exegesis, this is a significant contribution.
Chapter one studies Jonathan Edwards’ views of prophecy, particularly examining how Edwards uses prophetic Old Testament fulfillment within the Old Testament as a polemic against the deistic claims of Anthony Collins. Edwards’ initiative with his harmony was to “highlight ‘the unreasonableness of [the] deists’ and to offer a more reasonable way of reading the prophecies” (p. 21). According to Nichols, Edwards’ effort to defend orthodox Christian belief made good use of two staple interpretive principles—the Analogy of Scripture and the Analogy of Faith (p. 24-25, 29, 31). In addition, Edwards was a proponent of employing not just a literal sense of the Bible but also a spiritual sense of the Bible, which welcomed the use of typology (p. 24). According to Edwards, arriving at the spiritual sense involved spiritual maturity that could be “made available to the saint only by its divine author, the Holy Spirit” (p. 29). Contra to Stein, Nichols asserts that Edwards’ Old Testament interpretation of Scripture “is not the unprincipled exercise of imagination.” Rather, Edwards engaged in the practice of allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture. Nichols explains that Edwards method required a literal reading that makes use of figural devices, including typology and metaphor. Interesting enough, typology may also be employed in interpreting historical event, which, according to Edwards, still fits within the Scriptural account that goes from Creation to the Eschaton. No to be overlooked in this chapter is Nichol’s discovery that “Miscellanies” no. 1347 is part of the nascent study leading to the “Harmony.”
Chapter two is a deeper exploration of typology. In this chapter Nichols assesses Edwards’ typological methods, beginning with a brief historical introduction to typology, which leads into comparing Edwards to his forebearers or contemporaries in Reformed orthodoxy (such as Johannes Wollebius, William Guild, and Samuel Mather). Nichols enlists the help of some of today’s experts on typology (Goppelt, Danielou, and De Lubac).
Nichols claims that Edwards locates the seeds of typological interpretation within Edwards metaphysics. To Edwards all material creation is a shadow of spiritual reality. So typology is not just found in Scripture and history; typology is found in general revelation as well. “Material type was connected with spiritual antitype” (p. 75). Furthermore, all typology is best explained in the language of Hebrew—Edwards relied on Andrew Wilson for this principle—which explains Edwards’ lifelong interest in studying Hebrew; some even say that he might have had Cabbalistic tendencies (p. 77-78). This chapter continues by studying Edwards’ “Miscellanies” no. 1069 and assessing Mason Lowance’s work of interpreting Edwards’ typology. Like Stein, Lowance appears to overlook Edwards emphasis on Scripture’s help for understanding typology. Though there appears to be an innumerable amount of types, Edwards relies heavily on evidence of Scripture to validate a type.
Chapter three studies Edwards’ harmonization of doctrine and precepts. Edwards’ research indicates the importance of covenant in his harmony. His harmony includes discussion on the Covenants of Works, Grace, and Redemption—all key doctrines in relation to Reformed and Puritan Theology. Possibly most interesting in this chapter is how Nichols asserts that Edwards notebook on “Genius, Spirit, Doctrine and Rules” was a draft for the third part on the “Harmony,” and he intended to use the Sermon on the Mount as a connecting point in harmonizing doctrine and precepts between the Old Testament and New.
Chapter four is the case study on soteriology. It seems that in each chapter Nichols has a quibble with someone’s interpretation of Edwards. In this chapter that quibble is primarily with Anri Morimoto’s view of Edwards’ dispositional soteriology. Morimoto, in step with his advisor, Sang Hyun Lee’s dispositional ontology, applies the concept of “disposition” to Edwards soteriology, which ultimately leads to a more Thomistic and Catholic view of soteriology. Nichols believes that this is in error and argues that Edwards had a reformed view of soteriology that was very much in line with the idea of justification by faith in the Messiah, regardless of which testament a saint lived in.
Stephen Nichols study is fascinating. He clearly has an agenda to reclaim Edwards within the safety of Reformed Theology. A large part of his work is to show the continuity that Edwards held between the Old Testament and New Testament. One observation of Nichols study is how he managed to critique other interpreters of Edwards, while withholding critique on Edwards himself. There might have been much to say about Edwards rather free way of employing typology. Of course Nichols is reacting to Stein’s apparent overreaching critique of Edwards use of typology. So, perhaps Nichols is a welcomed balance. I think he could have offered more illustrations of Edwards typology and how the spiritual sense that Edwards arrived at is consistent with both the Analogy of Faith and the Analogy of Scripture. Likewise, it would have been helpful to see typological blunders of Edwards—blunders that I’m certain do exist.
If Nichols reading of Morimoto is correct, then I think I am inclined to agree with Nichols on his understanding of dispositional soteriology. Here I felt like Nichols provided overwhelming evidence for Edwards Reformed soteriology and helped us properly appropriate Edwards intentions with the concept of the “new disposition.” From my reading of Edwards, it seems that the “new disposition” is employed to illustrate or demonstrate vibrant extant faith rather than be the instrumental means of salvation.
Perhaps one stirring question that Nichols invoked in his case study on soteriology is whether it would be worthwhile to perform another case study on Edwards’ understanding of the relationship between Israel and the Church? How does Edwards harmonize these two?
This is one of the best studies on Jonathan Edwards’ use of Scripture, particularly the his appropriation of the Old Testament for the New Testament people of God, and, certainly, Nichols has made important contributions to understanding Edwards’ prospective study on the Harmony of the Old and New Testament.
 Stein, “The Quest for the Spiritual Sense: the Biblical Hermeneutic of Jonathan Edwards,” in the Harvard Theological Review 70.1-2 (1977) 99-113.