Genesis and Ancient Histories at Princeton Seminary (1812–1851) -- By: William VanDoodewaard

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 80:2 (Fall 2018)
Article: Genesis and Ancient Histories at Princeton Seminary (1812–1851)
Author: William VanDoodewaard


Genesis and Ancient Histories at
Princeton Seminary (1812–1851)

William VanDoodewaard

William VanDoodewaard is Professor of Church History at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI. A draft of this article was delivered as part of the Religious Studies Forum lecture series at Queen’s University Belfast in October 2016.

Nineteenth-century challenges to the doctrine of Scripture among Presbyterians have often been framed within the lens of the relationship between the interpretation of Genesis and the development of modern science. Substantial scholarship has been devoted to this field and continues to grow. New vantages on challenges to a Protestant doctrine of Scripture, and adjustments and accommodation in Protestant belief in relation to science continue to be engaged. Yet, despite the predominant historical focus on narratives of interaction between Protestant thought and modern scientific theory, the latter was and is only one area of challenge to Protestant understanding of Scripture. Equally historically significant is the challenge found in ancient histories whose narratives conflicted with received biblical understanding among Protestants.

Early Princeton Seminary (1812–1851) provides an intriguing case study of continuities and discontinuities in the understanding of Genesis in relation to ancient histories. This article examines unpublished lectures and published materials by Archibald Alexander, Samuel Miller, Charles Hodge, and Joseph Addison Alexander on the doctrine of Scripture, the book of Genesis, and biblical chronology in relation to the rapidly expanding growth of awareness of other ancient histories from the Americas, Africa, and Asia. Each man displayed keen interest in archaeological, literary, and cultural discoveries relevant to ancient histories, seeking to assess them in light of the biblical text. As time progressed, methodological differences between the professors led to a clear diversification, if not conflict, of approaches to Genesis and ancient histories at Princeton.

Nineteenth-century challenges to the doctrine of Scripture among Presbyterians have often been framed within the lens of the relationship between the interpretation of Genesis and the development of modern science. Substantial scholarship has been devoted to this field and

continues to grow. New vantages on challenges to a Protestant doctrine of Scripture, and adjustments and accommodation in Protestant belief in relation to science continue to be engaged.1 Yet, despite the predominant historical focus on narratives of interaction betwe...

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