Book Review: “Jonathan Edwards and the Psalms” by David Barshinger

9780199396757_450David P. Barshinger. Jonathan Edwards and the Psalms: A Redemptive-Historical Vision of Scripture (Oxford, 2014).

For many decades the view often portrayed of Edwards has been that of philosopher, theologian, and revivalist. What’s often missing is that first and foremost Edwards was a student of the Bible—”he was at his core devoted to the glorious God of Scripture and to mining that Scripture for truth” (3). Barshinger seeks to amend this scholarly oversight of Edwards studies by offering the first book-length treatment of Edwards’ approach to a book of the Bible.

In the opening chapter Barshinger helpfully situates the Psalter in Edwards’ world. Present as an undercurrent throughout the work Barshinger uses four key Puritan interpreters of the Psalms in the 17th century: David Dickson (1583–1663), John Trapp (1601–1669), Matthew Poole (1624–1679), and Matthew Henry (1662–1714). This comparison enriches one’s study of Edwards’ exegesis of the Psalms by showing the similarity and divergence of Edwards with his Puritan predecessors—where Edwards’ hunkered down in the hermeneutical fort and where he blazed down his own interpretive path. This enlarges the book by perhaps a third if not more, but one can easily bypass these points of comparison by ignoring the footnotes.

Edwards’ continual emphasis on the history of redemption serves at the skeletal structure for each of the chapters: God and Scripture (ch. 2), Humanity and Sin (ch. 3), Christ (ch. 4), Spirit and Gospel (ch. 5), Christian Piety (ch. 6), and Church and Eternity (ch. 7). I found the analysis on Edwards’ Christian piety to be a devotional experience, particularly the discussion on the Psalms as a book for Christian living (pp. 283–307). With the anemic worship that ails the contemporary Christian church, this is both a timely and encouraging portion of the book.

Barshinger provides a helpful appendix where he details all of Edwards’ 104 extant sermons on the Psalms and where they can be found. Most helpful, however, is the Scripture index. Preachers and students of Edwards will appreciate the ease of having a ready resource on what Edwards thought on any given psalm (the only psalms not referenced are 54, 83, 120, and 150).

This is a wonderful study that is not only academically profitable but exegetically informative. Many pastors and students of Edwards will appreciate this work. One only hopes other students will take up similar studies on Edwards’ approach to other biblical books. On a related note, in footnote 43 on page 371 Barshinger alerts us to a forthcoming book by Douglas Sweeney where he will offer a synthesis of Edwards’ exegesis of the whole Bible: Edwards the Exegete: Biblical Interpretation and Anglo-Protestant Culture on the Edge of the Enlightenment (Oxford). Needless to say, students of Edwards will eagerly await this volume!

Full Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


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