The Puritan Hermeneutics Of John Owen: A Recommendation -- By: Barry H. Howson

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 063:2 (Fall 2001)
Article: The Puritan Hermeneutics Of John Owen: A Recommendation
Author: Barry H. Howson

The Puritan Hermeneutics Of John Owen:
A Recommendation

Barry H. Howsona

I. Introduction1

Does a Puritan hermeneutic have anything to teach the church today? Has our hermeneutic advanced so far beyond the Puritans’ that the study of their principles of interpretation would be a waste of time? This essay will seek to answer these questions by examining the hermeneutic of the premier Puritan theologian, John Owen. We will begin our study by setting Owen in his historical context. We will also take note of his hermeneutical context with a brief examination of the Reformed and Puritan doctrine of Scripture and principles of interpretation. Finally, we will examine Owen’s doctrine of Scripture and his principles of interpretation, and conclude with some application.

II. Owen’s Life

John Owen was born in Stadham (now Stadhampton), near Oxford, in the year 1616. He was the son of the Puritan vicar, Reverend Mr. Henry Owen. In the parsonage Owen was taught to pray; to read the Bible, and to obey the commandments. Moreover, from his earliest years Owen was exposed to the Puritan-Calvinistic teaching of the Scriptures. Peter Toon writes:

We may thus perhaps attribute to the influence of his father the genesis of many of Owen’s later emphases, characteristics and opinions. His insistence that Holy Scripture is the only authority for faith, worship and conduct, his Calvinist theology, his opposition to ceremonial in worship, his understanding of the pastoral office, his deep conviction of God’s providential dealings with the British people and his personal search for communion and fellowship with God through Christ may all have had their origin in the home and church at Stadham.2

Owen began his university studies at the age of twelve in Queen’s College, Oxford, and graduated with his BA four years later in June 1632.3 These studies included the classical education of grammar, rhetoric, and philosophy Three years later he received his MA, and then began a seven-year course for the BD degree. Unfortunately, because of the rise of the Laudian High church party and his Puritan convictions, he left the University, and in 1637 became chaplain and tutor to the household of Sir Robert Dormer near Stadham.4 Shortly afterwards he became chaplain for the home of John, Lord Lovelace, who “was a firm Protestant and had no special love for Archbishop Laud and his religion.”

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