Philip Doddridge’s The Family Expositor: Jonathan Edwards’ Favorite Study Tool

This week I received an incredible gift from a long lost friend. Quite unexpectedly, I found a parcel box in my church office with my name on the address label. Opening the box, I immediately smelled the glorious and distinguished smell of old paper and leather. I opened the brown corrugated cardboard, and found Volume Six of Philip Doddridge’s The Family Expositor carefully tucked inside.

I scanned the first few pages to examine this obvious treasure and found the date inscription – MDCCLXII. I had to rehearse my Roman numerals a few times just to make sure I was reading it correctly. Yes, the date was 1762. This would make this volume 255 years old, and just barely outside the parameters of Edwards’ own lifetime. (He died in 1758).

What makes this volume so significant to Jonathan Edwards scholars is that Doddridge’s Family Expositor, is one of the works consulted most by Edwards. We know this because of Edwards’ Blank Bible, his masterpiece of personal exegetical notes housed in a one-of-a-kind KJV Bible, with blank pages sewn into the book block for extensive note-taking. (See my article on the “Blank Bible” here). Edwards consults Doddridge more than any other author besides Matthew Poole. Interestingly, however, he engages Doddridge in more detail in the Blank Bible, even though Poole is cited more often.

The following background information is found in the Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 24, edited by Stephen J. Stein:

Philip Doddridge, the third synoptic commentator whose work Edwards knew well, was Edwards’ virtual contemporary. Like Henry, Doddridge was a Nonconformist divine. Educated in Dissenting academies, by 1722 he had begun preaching; a year later he began ministering to a congregation at Kibworth, England. By late 1729, after several other appointments, he relocated to Northampton, where he led an academy and served a Dissenting congregation. In his ministry Doddridge attempted to forge a broad coalition, reaching out to Calvinists, evangelicals, and even Anglicans. He worked on behalf of the cause of education, charity schools, and foreign missions. He was a prolific writer of hymns. But it was primarily through The Family Expositor: Or, A Paraphrase and Version of the New Testament, a six-volume commentary on the New Testament published between 1739 and 1756, and described as a didactic commentary, that Edwards engaged Doddridge’s exegetical ideas. The sixth and final volume of the commentary appeared posthumously. Doddridge’s other published works ranged across the full spectrum of ministerial activities and occasions. (WJE 24:64).

Stein continues:

Edwards cited the Family Expositor extensively in the “Blank Bible.” The number of references to Doddridge is second only to those to Poole. But his engagement with Doddridge is more explicit in content than his use of Poole. Most of the 303 references to Doddridge—all but six of which occur in the context of the New Testament—are substantive notes or entries rather than simple references (WJE 24:64).

There is much good news for those who are interested in some of the items mentioned above. First of all, there are a number of reprints of The Family Expositor available today. Unfortunately, I have not seen any of these reprints myself, and cannot comment on the value of these prints. In my experience, some reprints are much better than others! Personally, I think this set by Liam Walsh has some promise although I have not handled them myself.

Secondly, the Blank Bible of Edwards is available as Volume 24 of the Works. Thankfully, scholars can read as Edwards interacts with Scripture as well as Doddridge, Poole, and other divines. However, it is very pricey. To say the least! One could wish that Yale would print this in paperback as they have done Volumes 1-4, but alas, an Edwards scholar must have deep pockets or be content to read online.

Finally, if you are in the mood to create your own Blank Bible, Crossway just recently released their own Edwards-inspired ESV with blank pages between ever page of Scripture. See my written review of this Bible here, and my video review here.

Here is my video review of this Doddridge’s Family Expositor:

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