The Foundations of Reformed Biblical Theology: The Development of Old Testament Theology at Old Princeton, 1812-1932 -- By: Peter J. Wallace

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 59:1 (Spring 1997)
Article: The Foundations of Reformed Biblical Theology: The Development of Old Testament Theology at Old Princeton, 1812-1932
Author: Peter J. Wallace


The Foundations of Reformed Biblical Theology: The Development of Old Testament Theology at Old Princeton, 1812-1932

Peter J. Wallace

Often modern biblical scholars believe that a literary approach to Scripture is a fairly recent development, especially compared to historical approaches.1 Yet in the early nineteenth century most biblical scholars would have realized that their historical sensitivity was being shaped by their careful attention to literary distinctives. As scholars engaged in textual criticism and literary interpretation, they had to grappled with the obvious differences between ancient civilizations and their own. Using the basic principles of philology, they clearly recognized that words may have different meanings in different contexts. This sensitivity to literary context naturally produced a more nuanced approach to historical contexts as well.2 At Princeton Theological Seminary in the early nineteenth century, it was the prodigious philological talents of the youthful Joseph Addison Alexander which led to his later insights into the nature of biblical history, and laid the foundation for his student and colleague, William Henry Green, to develop the outlines of a distinctively Reformed biblical theology.

The development of biblical theology at Princeton Theological Seminary prior to Geerhardus Vos (1862–1949) has been a neglected subject.3

Richard B. Gaffin, for instance, in a statement that ignores the theological work being done as early as the 1850s by Alexander (1809–1860) and Green (1825–1900), suggests that “Vos’ work in biblical theology is largely without direct antecedents and indicates the originality with which he wrestled with the matter of biblical interpretation in the Reformed tradition.”4 Yet the pages of the Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review from the 1840s throughout the 1870s reveal that Alexander and Green had been developing an understanding of salvation history that clearly foreshadows Vos’ later work. Gaffin claims that Vos was the first to give “pointed, systematic attention to the doctrinal or positive theological significance of the fact that redemptive revelation comes as an organically unfolding historical process.”5 This states the case a bit too strongly. Instead, what is unique to Vos is the methodological unification of the Princeton Old Testament tradition with the federal theology of Reformed orthodoxy in the concept of the covenant.

Three main fo...

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