Jonathan Edwards’s “Hermeneutic”: A Case Study Of The Sermon “Christian Knowledge -- By: Ted Rivera

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 49:2 (Jun 2006)
Article: Jonathan Edwards’s “Hermeneutic”: A Case Study Of The Sermon “Christian Knowledge
Author: Ted Rivera

Jonathan Edwards’s “Hermeneutic”:
A Case Study Of The Sermon “Christian Knowledge

Ted Rivera*

While biblical interpretation is as old as the Bible itself, the term “herme-neutics” did not appear in prominent theological usage until 1654, when the Lutheran theologian Johann Konrad Dannhauer published his Hermeneutica sacra sive methodus exponendarum sacrarum litterarum. Since that time, the term has come to represent an entire field of often technical theological study, exploring a wide range of concepts related to the understanding and interpretation of Scripture. To speak of Jonathan Edwards’s hermeneutic, then, is essentially an anachronism. At the same time, Edwards has much to say about the Bible, about how to understand it, and most particularly, what to do with that understanding.

There is the danger in every age to esteem current intellectual achievement as the pinnacle of thinking, as representing the summit of accomplishment in a given field of endeavor merely because the ink is still wet. With the sophistication of much ongoing hermeneutical dialogue it would be easy to discount the value of past thinkers, including Edwards, as far removed from the present conversation, but also as decidedly out of step with many prevailing conclusions. On the contrary, though, Edwards employs a three-dimensional interpretive method that merits reevaluation and reflection.

While many approaches could be taken to consider his method of interpretation, a case study will perhaps prove to be both succinct and illustrative. One important sermon will be considered that will provide the kernel of Edwards’s teaching on the understanding of Scripture and serve as a framework by which to consider his larger “hermeneutical” program. That sermon is “Christian Knowledge.”1

It bears notice that the subtitle given to Edwards’s sermon “Christian Knowledge” is “The Importance and Advantage of a Thorough Knowledge of Divine Truth.” This emphasis on an individual Christian’s need for a thorough

* Ted Rivera is a Ph.D. candidate at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 120 S. Wingate St., Wake Forest, NC 27587.

knowledge of Scripture, while clearly present in this particular sermon, is by no means unique for Edwards. Rather, it is a regular point of emphasis in many of his works, and an especially frequent point of application in his sermons. This emphasis did not rise accidentally from the ether of the eighteenth century. There was in Edwards himself a resolute personal habit of life, a fixed disposition, a determined and deliberate study of Scripture, grinding ...

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