The need of every age: Further biblical discovery

We cannot talk of Owen this week without hearing from him. A while back I found this excellent encouragement for preachers going into Sunday. Go deeper and deeper into Scripture. Go deeper than your sources. I’m certain he would say, ‘go deeper than John Owen’ …

“The joint consent of the fathers or ancient doctors of the church is also pretended as a rule of Scripture interpretation [in Roman Catholic interpretation]. But those who make this plea are apparently influenced by their supposed interest so to do. No man of ingenuity who hath ever read or considered them, or any of them, with attention and judgment, can abide by this pretense; for it is utterly impossible they should be an authentic rule unto others who so disagree among themselves, as they will be found to do, not, it may be, so much in articles of faith, as in their exposition of Scripture, which is the matter under consideration. About the former they express themselves diversely; in the latter they really differ, and that frequently. Those who seem most earnestly to press this dogma upon us are those of the church of Rome; and yet it is hard to find one learned man among them who hath undertaken to expound or write commentaries on the Scripture, but on all occasions he gives us the different senses, expositions, and interpretations of the fathers, of the same places and texts, and that where any difficulty occurs in a manner perpetually. But the pretense of the authoritative determination of the fathers in points of religion hath been so disproved, and the vanity of it so fully discovered, as that it is altogether needless farther to insist upon it. … Of those who designedly wrote comments and expositions on any part of the Scripture, Origen was the first, whose fooleries and mistakes, occasioned by the prepossession of his mind with platonical philosophy, confidence of his own great abilities (which, indeed, were singular and admirable), with the curiosity of a speculative mind, discouraged not others from endeavoring with more sobriety and better success to write entire expositions on some parts of the Scripture: such among the Greeks were Chrysostom, Theodoret, Aretine, Oecumenius, Theophylact; and among the Latins, Jerome, Ambrose, Austin, and others. These have been followed, used, improved, by others innumerable, in succeeding ages. Especially since the Reformation hath the work been carried on with general success, and to the great advantage of the church; yet hath it not proceeded so far but that the best, most useful, and profitable labor in the Lord’s vineyard, which any holy and learned man can engage himself in, is to endeavor the contribution of farther light in the opening and exposition of Scripture, or any part thereof.”

– John Owen (1678), Works 4:227-228

3 thoughts on “The need of every age: Further biblical discovery

  1. […] This morning I was reading the puritan Thomas Manton’s “Commentary on Jude” and I was just so impressed by how good the Puritans are at expounding Scripture – so deep and at the same time so simple, and so practical and heart-warming. It’s so different from reading Karl Barth. Barth reminds me of my law books (especially those on taxation and insurance); oftentimes reading him  feels like “eating sawdust without butter.” Anyway, I found this quote by the puritan John Owen over at The Shepherd’s Scrapbook, which reminds me how profitable expounding Scripture is – not only to one’s self but to others. […]

  2. Thanks! This is a God-send. God used it to answer a question that has been bothering me, i.e., what is it I should really be doing and concentrating on as far as my contribution (as a layperson) to the ministry is concerned? Now I know!

  3. Excellent point. With the staggering amount of resources (both solid and questionable), I find it very easy to rely too heavily on what others have written about the Bible. Certainly commentaries are valuable and provide excellent aid to understanding Scripture. However, as believers with the Spirit, we can also read and understand the Bible. This is a good reminder to myself to place the necessary emphasis on God’s Word.

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