Dissertation Notes: “‘So Much of the Gospel … Shining in It’: Jonathan Edwards’ Redemptive-Historical Vision of the Psalms.” PhD diss., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2013.

David Barshinger. “‘So Much of the Gospel … Shining in It’: Jonathan Edwards’ Redemptive-Historical Vision of the Psalms.” PhD diss., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2013.

Over the past sixty years scholars have thoroughly examined Jonathan Edwards the man, the philosopher, the revivalist, and the theologian. But little has been written on Edwards the interpreter of the Bible. David Barshinger’s dissertation seeks to address this lacuna through a careful, in-depth study of Edwards’ exegesis and theological interpretation of the book of Psalms. This is the first publication of any kind to focus on Edwards’ interpretation of the Psalms and the first book-length treatment on his approach to a full book of the Bible. It is the fruit of a thorough study of Edwards’ writings on the Psalms across his vast corpus, including 104 extant sermons, “Miscellanies,” the “Blank Bible,” “Notes on Scripture,” his revival writings, theological treatises, and many biblical notebooks.

After placing Edwards’ use of the Psalms within historical context – the history of interpretation, worship, and preaching of the Psalms – the bulk of the dissertation demonstrates how Edwards used the Psalms in his development of several theological themes (God, Scripture, humanity, sin, Christ, gospel, and Spirit). Edwards’ use of the Psalms proves to be an excellent lens through which to look at his understanding of the unity of the Bible, the relationship of the Old and New Testaments, the nature of biblical inspiration, typology, prophecy, and historical criticism.

This study portrays Edwards as modestly critical, an interpreter who brought many historical-critical questions to the Psalms, but maintained a traditional doctrine of inspiration. Barshinger places Edwards firmly in the Reformed exegetical stream through frequent comparisons with the writings of predecessors like Matthew Henry, Matthew Poole, John Trapp, David Dickson, and John Calvin. The result is a convincing argument against Stephen Stein’s claim that Edwards regularly broke from orthodox exegetical controls. Barshinger demonstrates that Edwards operated within exegetical boundaries formed by the history of redemption, analogy of faith, and analogy of Scripture – boundaries much more consistent with his Reformed predecessors than with medieval Catholic interpreters (contra Michael McClymond and Gerald McDermott).

Edwards did find more types in the Psalms than previous Reformed exegetes. However he did so always within a redemptive-historical framework, which Barshinger argues was the governing interpretive grid in his reading of the Psalms. More than merely Christocentric, Edwards’ interpretation was shaped by the whole Bible’s revelation of the Triune God’s work of redemption in history. This redemptive-historical reading allowed Edwards to find in the Psalms truths regarding the Holy Spirit, regeneration, the nature of Christian faith, and many more aspects of God’s saving activity.

Edwards’ unique interpretations flowed not from a novel interpretive approach, but instead from his familiarity with new scholarship and the needs of his own pastoral ministry. For example, the revivals prompted Edwards to see new types for the Holy Spirit in the Psalms and to search the Psalter for help regarding bodily manifestations of the Spirit.

Barshinger’s dissertation also makes an important contribution to our understanding of Edwards as a theologian. By digging deep into how Edwards used the Psalms across his corpus, we learn much about Edwards’ theological method. As Barshinger concludes, “Edwards was a theological interpreter whose theology directed his exegesis, which in turn informed his theology” (166). Those who know Edwards’ writings will not be surprised that the Bible played a major role in his theology. But Barshinger helps us see more clearly how the Bible actually functioned as he did theology, dealt with pastoral problems, and preached the gospel. As a result, this work should be of interest not only to Edwards’ scholars, but also to theologians, Bible scholars, and pastors who are interested in the relationship between theology, ministry, and the biblical text.

Well-researched, clearly written, and compellingly argued, Barshinger’s work is essential reading for anyone interested in Edwards’ exegesis and theological interpretation.

– Mark Rogers, PhD
Crossway Community Church