Volume 46 - Issue 3

Revelation and Religions: Towards a More ‘Harmonious’ Jonathan Edwards

By Iain McGee


This article provides an overview and interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’s thought on God’s revelation of himself to adherents of non-Christian religions. The study engages in some detail with Gerald McDermott’s well-known interpretation of Edwards on this subject, and critiques it on the issues covered. Concerning the methodological approach adopted, Edwards’s deist context, and his comments on reason are considered key interpretation aids. I suggest that these, together with the identification of dominant themes in his writings, can help the reader overcome some of the challenges faced when attempting to understand Edwards’s comments on the prisca theologia, inspiration, typology and type readership. I argue that the alternative interpretation of Edwards forwarded in this article has certain advantages over McDermott’s, the most important being that it results in a more ‘harmonious’ reading of Edwards’s thought.

Gerald McDermott is, without doubt, the most significant interpreter of Jonathan Edwards’s thoughts on revelation and religions today. His most important work in this area—Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods1—has been lauded by some,2 and described as a ‘genuine and important contribution’ to the field.3 McDermott has co-written a notable book on Edwards’s theology, edited books on Edwards, and has written many book chapters and journal articles on the subjects of revelation and religions.4 New, and future, scholars of Edwards’s thought on revelation and religions will, doubtless, encounter Edwards, in large part, through the lens of McDermott’s significant scholarship. McDermott has appealed to Edwards, more than any other Reformed scholar, to lend support to his own views on religions, most clearly documented in Can Evangelicals Learn from World Religions? alongside more recent publications.5

My goal in this paper is to critique McDermott’s interpretation of Edwards’s thought on the prisca theologia, pagan inspiration, and types and to offer an alternative reading of Edwards’s ideas. I will argue that on one occasion McDermott overly complicates Edwards’s thought (concerning types in religions) and on two others (on pagan inspiration and type readership), he gives undue weight to comments made by Edwards, or does not give sufficient consideration to the background context in his interpretation. Although this may sound like an exercise in scholarly nit-picking, I believe a re-interpretation of these three points (alone) to have profound implications for our understanding of Edwards’s thought.

1. Methodological Issues

Edwards was not a systematic theologian,6 but his thought is regularly systematized. Anderson suggests that the non-systematic nature of Edwards’s writings and the preconceptions of scholars have been responsible for the varied understandings of his work.7 A related explanation for different views of Edwards’s writings is offered by McClymond and McDermott. They suggest that one’s theological convictions, i.e., one’s seating in relation to the different parts of the ‘Edwards’s orchestra’ (in their analogy) impacts what one hears.8 These are, no doubt, valid points. There is, however, another issue which must be recognised, and which I attempt to draw out in this paper: there are discordant notes floating in the air in the Jonathan Edwards Concert Hall auditorium. Edwards makes what appear to be contradictory comments on all of the subjects discussed in more detail below. How one ‘manages’ these notes also impacts what one hears.

There are different ways of coping with some of the apparent disharmony in Edwards’s writings. A simple appeal to the output associated with Edwards’s more mature years (i.e., giving emphasis to his later, rather than earlier work) would be one way to manage some of the discordance. However, I suggest adopting an ‘abrogation’ style approach to Edwards’s thought carries with it more problems than it solves, not least in that it is blind to the specific context of his individual writings. Accordingly, I suggest this attempt to filter out some of the material in order to achieve greater harmony in hearing Edwards to be an unsatisfactory one.

Another methodological approach adopted to ‘manage’ some of the difficulties in listening to Edwards has been to question the status of The Miscellanies, around 1400 notebook entries of varying lengths. Some scholars have contrasted the contents of these journal entries with what Edwards taught publicly, and argued for a tension between the two: the public face conservative, the private Miscellany notes more liberal.9 McDermott himself, has, at times, hinted at the validity of this distinction.10 Others, however, have strongly argued against the legitimacy of this interpretation.11 It has been suggested by another group of academics that The Miscellanies be considered incomplete musings, and therefore less representative of Edwards’s final thoughts. As such, it has been argued they should not be given equal status to the work published in his lifetime.12 While there may be some validity to these arguments, Chamberlain has forcibly argued that The Miscellanies not be considered merely private contemplations, in part because of the way they are written.13 Marsden believes them to be part of the source material for the great magnum opus Edwards planned to write, but never did,14 and the fact that Edwards was not unwilling to let colleagues borrow journals of Miscellanies also supports the argument that they were not just private notes.15 Further, as Waddington observes, it is clear that Edwards frequently transferred ideas from The Miscellanies into his public materials.16 Accordingly, it would seem appropriate to give material in The Miscellanies equal standing with other material in the corpus. Dropping the Miscellany ‘notes’ from the orchestra does not appear to be a wise way to enhance harmony, although it certainly reduces the size of the orchestra.

I adopt a two-pronged approach in this article to try to manage the apparent discordance in Edwards’s thoughts on revelation and religions. Firstly, I acknowledge where there appear to be contradictions in the corpus and try to understand reasons for these. To give equal ‘weight’ to every note played in the Edwards’s orchestra can only result in discord and disharmony, resulting in an incoherent Edwards. Identification of the dominant themes is more important than a simple recording and discussion of different notes being played, outside of the consideration of these themes. Secondly, I argue that where a simpler harmony is readily apparent, this should be preferred to a more complex alternative requiring more input from the interpreter. In short, the methodological approach I adopt is governed by a frank recognition of the challenges, and a desire to try and hear a more harmonious Edwards.

2. Edwards’s Deist Context

Before presenting the four points I will argue in this paper, it is important to provide some context to Edwards’s world and works. The Arminian ‘threat’ was traditionally understood to have been the key foil to Edwards’s writings and sermons.17 That this was a serious concern to be addressed head on by Edwards is beyond dispute.18 However, in a newer analysis of his thought, taking into account a much wider range of his writings, McDermott, Zakai and others have persuasively argued that Edwards perceived deism to be the key challenge of his day.19 Embodying as it did a whole range of issues which he felt strongly about,20 Edwards spent considerable time and effort preaching and writing against this ‘movement’. With its strong emphasis on the sufficiency of reason, its suspicion, rejection or qualified acceptance of the need for revelation, and its appeal to morality and religious practice in non-Christian religions in support of, amongst other things, the sufficiency of ‘natural law’, deism threw up multitudes of areas of ‘disbelief’21 requiring redress. Given this context, I suggest the principle ‘Reason is not sufficient in matters of true religion’ to serve as the hermeneutical master key to resolve some of the challenges in reading Edwards on the subject of revelation and religions.

3. The Prisca Theologia

Point 1: The prisca theologia (and its deterioration) is the cornerstone of Edwards’s theology of non-Christian religions.

My first point is one which, at first glance, only tangentially challenges McDermott’s thought. How it actually does so will become apparent as the argument proceeds. Edwards believed that the light of nature was rarely a lone voice from God.22 Typically, God spoke in more than one way to humans. A key additional medium of God’s communication, supplementing the light of nature, was traditionary revelation.23 This revelation is commonly called the prisca theologia (hereafter, PT).

There is no single definition of the PT, as Levitin notes;24 therefore, before considering Edwards’s thought, and the version of the PT to which he subscribed, a little background information is required. By the 16th and 17th centuries the PT (i.e., different versions of it) already had a long history.25 Revival in interest in the PT in the 17th century was, according to Mori, due to the deist threat.26 What appears to have been the specific ‘test case’ resulting in the contentious flare up was the source of Chinese religion: was it due to Noahic/Judaic revelation, nature, or an independent tradition/revelation? While some scholars attempted a grand project of synthesis or harmony of religious materials,27 others attempted to explain religions by minimising, or even excluding, revelation from the enterprise.28 Another group argued for Egyptian primacy of wisdom;29 and finally some scholars sought to establish Noahic or Judaic religion as the source of all religion and possibly also, all wisdom.30 Theophilus Gale belonged to this last camp, and Brown believes that Gale was probably the most important influence on Edwards in developing his own ideas of the PT.31

Gale summed up his thesis thus: ‘the wisest of the Heathens stole their choicest Notions and Contemplations, both Philologic, and Philosophic, as wel [sic] Natural and Moral, as Divine, from the sacred Oracles.’32 In other words, he argued that whatever was good and true in the world (religious or otherwise) had as its basis God’s original revelation, meaning Adamic, Noahic and Judaic revelation—and Gale stressed the Judaic. Edwards copied numerous sections of Gales’ ‘findings’ in his Miscellanies, and he embraced and endorsed Gale’s thesis.33 Edwards, in large part, argued against deists on the basis of an appeal to this particular version of the PT. The argument included the following points: that the deists were wrong about the idea that ‘pure’ natural religion could exist (reason normally being informed by PT revelation);34 that extra-biblical data from nations around the world confirmed the Bible accounts;35 that ancient philosophers stated their dependence on revelation, rather than reason;36 that God had revealed himself universally;37 and that it was quite reasonable to expect mystery in religion.38

Given his astuteness elsewhere, it is fair to say that Edwards displayed a certain amount of naivete in his handling of his PT sources—a point noted by a number of scholars, including McDermott.39 The atmosphere in which Gale and others wrote was hardly an objective and disinterested one. Brown notes: ‘Both sides [deists and non-deists] mined classical sources with remarkable credulity, grasping onto any shred of evidence, no matter how tenuous, in favor of their theory of cultural priority.’40 As a result, almost everyone found what they were looking for in an appeal to their own particular version of the PT.41 The possible problems of chronology42 and the rather forced interpretations of the data43 did not seem to have raised questions in Edwards’s mind as perhaps they should. This could be viewed either as a lack of discernment on Edwards’s part or, more charitably, an historical naivete related to his theological desire to see God communicating to all.

One of the possible problems in appealing to the PT was that if other religious traditions contained enough revealed truth to lead to salvation, then Christianity was not necessary—hardly a position which Edwards would have wished to support.44 Accordingly, alongside the transmission of the PT, Edwards was keen to document its deterioration and corruption, spiralling downwards (from true religion based on God’s original revelation) to end in the practice of human sacrifice among other perversions.45 Departures from revealed truth in distant geographical areas of the world were explained in a number of ways: because of a preference to resort to reason rather than revelation,46 a losing sight of the original revelation of God,47 or a confusing of signs to what they pointed.48 This being so, Edwards’s argument for the deterioration of the PT should be seen as an essential counterbalance to the idea that massive amounts of revelation were available to those outside the borders of the church of his own time, or indeed in other eras.49 In various comments Edwards was either agnostic about the speed at which the PT was corrupted, or he argued for a quite rapid descent into idolatry.50 In his own time, he believed non-Christian religions to be full of error due to humankind’s degenerate nature.51

It seems clear that Edwards had to walk a fine line between admitting too much and too little revelation in the world in order to argue a convincing case against one of the deist arguments, namely that God would be unjust if he had revealed himself to just a small corner of the world. It is hard not to conclude that Edwards was actually inconsistent in his argumentation.52 Along with his insistence that revelation was virtually universal, he also argued that many in the world had received no revelation.53 This latter admission could be seen to work against one of his reasons for utilising the PT, namely, a vindication of God’s fairness. Needless to say, the claim about the more universal spread of the PT was for deist ears to hear. It is fair to say that different perceptions of Edwards’s balancing act have led to different interpretations of his thought. No matter which of these is more faithful to Edwards’s thinking, I believe that the PT and its deterioration should be considered the cornerstone of Edwards’s theology of religions. In stating this, I do not mean to deny the additional important communication of God to humankind through the light of nature and implanted knowledge of God, for which he also argued.54

4. Pagan Inspiration

Point 2: Edwards suggested it was possible that pagan philosophers were inspired to proclaim God’s redemptive revelation. Spurious data and its misinterpretation prompted this idea, and the hypothesis should be understood in this light.

Edwards believed inspiration to be one of four ways in which God revealed himself to humankind before the close of the canon.55 Examples of men who were so inspired include Elihu,56 Job and Melchizedek.57 He believed that ‘wise men of all nations’58 learned from the ‘wise men of the church of God’,59 often by means of travel, as part of his PT argument, and he stated that what knowledge the heathen had was due to this contact, passed down over time.60 Indeed, he suggested that those who gained this knowledge second-hand were actually aware of the divine source of their learning.61

Given this background, Miscellany 1162 opens with what may be described as a bolt from out of the blue: ‘It may be worthy of consideration whether or no some of the HEATHEN PHILOSOPHERS had not, with regard to some things, some degree of INSPIRATION of the Spirit of God, which led ‘em to say such wonderful things concerning the Trinity, the Messiah, etc.’62 The critical ‘new’ issue raised in this Miscellany is that those who may have been so inspired were not biblical characters (in context, the heathen philosophers are Socrates, Plato and unnamed others). It is important to note that the opening of the Miscellany is framed hypothetically: inspiration in the manner described was a point that was ‘worthy of consideration’ and the three qualifying somes in the title should also be observed. Indeed, Edwards could hardly have framed the statement more hesitantly. Admittedly, he goes on to provide some argument for it, but this does not discount the hypothetical approach to the subject.

After starting the Miscellany thus, Edwards states that the gift of inspiration does not mean that the person is in a right relationship with God. He closes the Miscellany by noting three benefits of such inspiration: (1) to create a kind of bridge between other nations and Israel; (2) as a preparation for the gospel; and (3) as a post-conversion corroboration tool. He also added a fourth comment in which he more conjecturally opined whether ‘benefits to the soul’ may have accrued to those who received such inspiration.63

Given this context, how is the inspiration hypothesis in Miscellany 1162 best understood? Firstly, we can say what it is not: it is not a claim. McDermott takes the hesitant hypothesis and upgrades it to a full-blown belief of Edwards: ‘For Edwards, truth in classical thinking—and there were considerable stores of it—had complex and diverse origins, ranging from Jewish borrowings to tradition from the fathers of the nations to direct inspiration by the Holy Spirit.’64 I suggest, given the phrasing of the introduction to the Miscellany, that the above interpretation is far too strong; indeed Edwards actually suggested the opposite point concerning inspiration, as will be noted below. It may be that McDermott recognised the problem in this earlier interpretation, as in a later article in 2016, he speaks in a more measured tone: ‘In a cryptic note in the Miscellanies he remarked on heathen philosophers who wrote “wonderful things concerning the Trinity [and] the Messiah,” and opined that they might have been inspired by the Holy Spirit.’65 Whether this is a correction to McDermott’s earlier interpretation or not is not clear.

Dealing with the Miscellany as a hypothesis, rather than an assertion is still a challenge as it seems to both contradict and be redundant in Edwards’s wider thought. Concerning possible contradictions, there are at least three major ones. Edwards seems to offer a different explanation for heathen inspiration than his hypothesis in Miscellany 1162, in Miscellany 953. In this earlier Miscellany he downplays the notion that philosophers were inspired, stating that what was thought inspired was no more than borrowing from the (truly) inspired.66 The heathen ‘inspiration’ was, in effect, ‘borrowed inspiration’, and Edwards suggests the same point elsewhere.67 Put another way, Edwards attributed the religious insights hypothesised as inspired in Miscellany 1162 to the PT, rather than inspiration. For example, he stated concerning appropriate notions of the divine in Plato’s thought, ‘These points, so much insisted on by Plato, are far from being the growth of Greece, or his own invention, but derived from Eastern traditions, which we know he traveled for, at least as far as Egypt.’68 Another contradiction relates to clarity. In Miscellany 1162 the revelation seems clear (though the inspiration is not clear to the hearers). However, on other occasions Edwards suggested that Socrates’s and Plato’s knowledge of God was obscure.69

Turning to redundancy, in following Gale (see earlier) Edwards seems to have approved the idea of a single source for all religious and secular knowledge.70 At face value, this reference must exclude religious inspiration outside the Church, and Plantinga Pauw implies as much in the following comment on the logic of the argument Edwards forwards in discussion on this subject: ‘The apologetic argument in these entries [Miscellanies 953, 959, 962, 986] was that the truths of the ancients were derivative of the church’s revealed wisdom, not an independent, competing source of knowledge.’71 The problem is that inspiration as suggested in Miscellany 1162 is clearly ‘independent’, and could even be considered a ‘competing source.’ The question remains, therefore, why Edwards felt it necessary to make the inspiration hypothesis, which, at face value, seems both contradictory and redundant within his wider thought. I consider four possible answers below, and then suggest which I consider to be the most plausible.

The first is to consider the Miscellany 1162 hypothesis in the same manner as Holy Spirit enabling of conscience and reason.72 Such an interpretation can sit comfortably with some religious notional knowledge (specifically, light of nature knowledge) and possibly even knowledge of the Trinity, given that Edwards suggested, on one occasion, that reason could discern the Trinity.73 Accordingly, it could be argued that the inspiration concerning the Trinity reference in the Miscellany be explained by the Spirit ‘illuminating’ part of the light of reason.74 However, the second reference in the Miscellany to the Messiah works against this explanation: knowledge of the Messiah is specifically excluded from the light of nature by Edwards,75 and therefore could not be known without revelation.76 This explanation is, therefore, an incomplete one.

A second way to try to understand the inspiration hypothesis would be to consider it a kind of ‘back-up contingency plan’ to manage any chronological problems with the PT. It is clear that Edwards did not pursue the ‘inspiration’ idea, as some Protestant thinkers did. In some ways this is surprising given Edwards’s strong typological view of the world. We might have expected him to have suggested that humankind’s God-given creativity (assisted by the external support of the Spirit) would show forth shadows of truth. However, rather than arguing this, when discussing Homer’s writings (for example), Edwards argued for historic dependency on, or confirmation of, biblical truth, not direct inspiration of ideas, or a shadowy prefiguring of truth.77 Peter Sterry (1613–1672), a prominent Protestant nonconformist writer argued that hints of Christian truth in the writings of Ovid, the Roman poet, could be due to inspiration.78 He chose to explain such insights in pagan writers by appealing to this, rather than arguing that such truth was PT dependent.79 For Sterry, pagan fables could be viewed as pointing to the Truth, rather than resulting from right knowledge of it, 80 and he believed such insights to be due to a kind of inspiration.81 Appeal to a vague miraculous inspiration has a certain advantage over dependence on the PT, being immune to dating problems. While this ‘back-up’ explanation is possible, the obvious weakness with it is that Edwards’s thought on religious knowledge seems to have stood firmly in the historical transmission model of revelation and tradition, as documented above.

A third alternative interpretation would be to argue that the inspiration hypothesis was necessary to account for some of the strong claims to Christian truth knowledge outside the church, as documented by Gale and others. This is Brown’s explanation for the hypothesis.82 If it really was the case that the Trinity was so clear to Plato (as argued by Gale and recorded by Edwards) and the idea of the Messiah was so evident, such specificity of knowledge seemed to be even clearer than prophetic references in the Old Testament. How then could such amazing insights be accounted for? The one certainty from Edwards’s point of view was that it could not be possible by the light of nature or reason. If we consider the means of revelation in Edwards’s thought, some kind of miracle, vision or inspiration would be needed if such an insight was not from the PT.83 In the twenty-first century we now know that a number of Edwards’s sources were problematic: the claims made by Gale and others were, typically, grossly over-Christianized,84 and some documents were dated incorrectly. McDermott candidly acknowledges issues with the Chinese sources and their interpretation which he believed influenced Edwards’s thought so much.85 If Gale and his contemporaries had been more circumspect and measured in what they were claiming, would Edwards have needed to appeal to heathen inspiration? Perhaps not. Is the hypothetical appeal to inspiration purely a polemical one, made solely to exclude reason as responsible for the insights mentioned? McDermott, as far as I can tell, does not forward polemic as a possible explanation for the inspiration hypothesis, although he does recognise Edwards’s more general polemical approach elsewhere.86 The bigger issue with which Edwards was engaged was the place of reason in religion—not the issue of inspiration, per se. Inconsistency of apologetic87 (whether that be contradiction or redundancy of thought) was arguably less important to Edwards than his primary aim to exclude revelation truths from the realm of reason.

Fourthly and finally, it is not obvious in Miscellany 1162 that Edwards considered the kind of inspiration he was hypothesising to belong to the same class as that described in his standard definition of inspiration.88 Indeed, he clearly differentiated it. His reference to ‘some degree of inspiration’ could be interpreted as support for this distinction. In addition, the set of benefits arising from this inspiration (noted earlier) are quite distinct from those for biblical inspiration. This being so, the particular inspiration described in this Miscellany can be considered a separate class to normal inspiration, with a preparatory role, not a full-blown equivalent to biblical prophet inspiration.

While I believe there are points worthy of consideration in all four of the explanations offered above, I suggest that the third is the most convincing—particularly if the polemic angle is dominant. If this Miscellany is considered both strongly polemical in nature (perhaps even reactionary) and hypothetical, I believe the most appropriate response to its subject matter (i.e., pagan religious inspiration of key doctrinal truths) is to give it very little weight in interpreting Edwards’s thought on revelation and religions: to give it more weight would be to make his thought less rather than more coherent.

5. Planted Types in Religions

Point 3: There are no independently planted types in religions in Edwards’s thought. The perverted PT can account for type-like elements in religions.

Edwards used the term ‘type’ in two distinct ways: as a hermeneutic tool in interpreting the Old Testament in the light of the New,89 and as a ‘vertical reality’90 tool to see spiritual reality in a concrete world.91 It is this second perspective that is in focus in this section of the article. Edwards believed that post-biblical history and nature were types of their spiritual antitypes.92 Edwards had a strong ahistorical, ontological (but also eschatological)93 view of types, in addition to a historical fulfilment understanding. Edwards claimed that the whole world was ‘but the shadow of beings, … so made as to represent spiritual things.’94 For Edwards, nature was replete in communicating God, containing as it does microcosmic images or reflections of him. Edwards’s enthusiasm about types seems to be a necessary element of his larger project to see God in everything, and to break down the newly built enlightenment wall dividing science and true religion.95 Such a viewpoint was, arguably, an important stimulus to his thought in this area. But what of non-Christian religion belief systems and cultic practices? Are these also ‘typical’?96

McDermott claims that Edwards believed there to be a special category of types—types in religions:

Others have shown that Edwards pushed beyond the boundaries of traditional Christian typology to include history and nature; I propose that he went even further to bring other religions into his system.97

Edwards pressed those implications [that all the world was typical] even further by proposing that God had planted types of true religion even in religious systems that were finally false. God outwitted the devil, Edwards suggested, by using diabolically deceptive religion to teach what is true.98

McDermott forwards his argument about implanted types in religions in a chapter entitled ‘Parables in All Nations: Typology and the Religions’.99 In large part the interpretation he forwards centres on his consideration of Miscellany 307. In this Miscellany Edwards documented how God had prepared the Israelites for the idea of satisfactory punishment through the OT sacrificial system. Edwards states that the devil had instituted sacrifice (including child sacrifice) for his own (unspecified) purposes, thereby mimicking God’s work. However, Edwards believed that in God’s providence the devil’s work could actually prepare people to accept the idea of Christ’s sacrifice. He makes a similar point in relation to the practice of idolatry (divine and material substance combined) as also being preparatory in some way for the Christian doctrine of incarnation. On the basis of his analysis of this Miscellany, McDermott believes that for Edwards, ‘God had planted types of true religion even in religious systems that were finally false’,100 and ‘God used false religion to teach the true.’101 In McDermott’s view these types point to Christ,102 and he considers them comparable to Old Testament types.103

Before considering possible interpretations of Miscellany 307, it is helpful to make a couple of clarifying comments. Firstly, Edwards does not call the satanically planted perversions ‘types’. He compares the sacrificial system of Israel instituted by God to the sacrificial systems in parts of the heathen world. He does not say, as McDermott interprets him, that ‘God had planted types’. The mechanism involved is different (the subject of the verb used is the devil, not God). The devil mimics God in this activity.104 Further, Edwards implies (but does not state) that God permitted this Satanic work, rather than instituted the ‘type’, per se.

I believe that there are two plausible interpretations of this Miscellany. Turning to the first, it is possible (within the context of the Miscellany alone) that Edwards could be understood to be saying that the planted ‘types’ are independent of the PT. In McDermott’s view, Edwards differentiated religious types from the PT:

For him [Edwards] there was no inconsistency whatsoever between the possibility of reconciliation for the heathen (because of the prisca theologia, God’s types in the religions, and a dispositional soteriology) and the probability that only a precious few of the heathen had ever been saved.105

He [Edwards] intimated at times that there were some heathen who might have taken advantage of the light they had been given through the Jews and from their own forefathers [i.e., the PT] and with the light of the Holy Spirit been able to understand the types [in context, types must be understood to cover types in religion].106

In McDermott’s more developed thinking (his, strictly speaking, though based on Edwards’s thought, and ‘akin’ to it) he gives the religious types a special revelatory class status (neither general nor special revelation).107 It would not be unfair to say that much of McDermott’s thought on learning from world religions is based on this distinction, namely, the existence of a special revelatory category of God-implanted types in religions in the world today.108

But is it necessary to make such a distinction between types and the PT to understand Edwards’s thought? The second interpretation of the Miscellany I forward here would be to understand child sacrifice and idolatry as perversions of the PT. In such a reading, it is the PT (alone) which is the original source of the types. In support of this understanding are Edwards’s own comments relating the heathen practice of sacrifice to the PT tradition, rather than the light of nature.109 Edwards believed that the pristine PT broke down over time, and he saw various actors playing a role in this, including the devil. McDermott himself states that ‘the original purity of divine truth is continually breaking down, corrupted by profane and demonic mixture’.110 In other places too, McClymond and McDermott recognise this demonically inspired deterioration, indeed specifically noting the consequences to be idolatry, and by implication human sacrifice.111 Elsewhere, McDermott states that ‘they [pagan religious practices] were not merely human insights but developments (albeit twisted and broken) of original perceptions granted by Jesus Christ himself.’112 This statement suggests a PT dependency, not independent type implantation.

It is submitted that this second interpretation (not the one that McDermott applies to Miscellany 307, but one, nonetheless, that he and McClymond apply to Edwards) is better able to account for the existence of both truth and perverted truth types in religions both in terms of beliefs and practices. Not only is the explanation simpler (applying Occam’s razor), it avoids the unnecessary complications that arise from the creation of a separate class of revelation, a class that Edwards nowhere specifically espoused.113 Indeed, I suggest making a distinction between religious types and the PT (or even the perverted PT) leads to various, serious problems, not least because types in religions, even perverted ones, point to Christ (as above). If what is deposited or implanted in a religious type are ‘scattered promises of God in Christ’,114 why is the PT (or its perversions) insufficient to cover such promises?

In terms of McDermott’s wider argument, it is not clear to this reader why he ends his chapter on typology by referring to a number of issues also covered in his discussion on the prisca theologia. McDermott refers to writers who argued that mythical figures came to be as a result of the perverted PT (not because of independent type planting). However, he then interprets these figures typologically: Saturn a symbol of Noah, and Hercules a shadow of Joshua. However, McDermott’s ‘type’ understanding of these phenomena do not seem to be what Edwards argued for. In a comment in the Blank Bible, Edwards stated, ‘Of Adam the first man. Heathen fables of Saturn seem, many of them, to be taken from the story of Adam.’115 Edwards did not suggest that these were types independently put into religions by God. He stated that they were dependent perversions, types indeed, but ‘broken’ ones. Stein comments, ‘Edwards’s overriding premise informing these entries [including the Saturn reference] was that such “heathen” tales were drawn from the biblical record rather than arising independently.’116 While these particular ‘types’ are indeed specific to particular religions (i.e., they are not general or specific revelation using McDermott’s language), they can just as easily, or indeed, more easily, be called national or ethnic linguistic misunderstandings of the antitype (an explanation that McDermott endorses), or perversions of the PT, rather than specially implanted types.

The fact that a shadow of truth remains in a perverted truth can, of course, be used by God for his own purposes and glory, and Edwards clearly spoke of God’s preparatory work here, but not ‘teaching’ per se. In its original form, the PT can be called special revelation: types were present in the PT (whether from creation, Noahic, Abrahamic or Mosaic religion) and as the PT was corrupted, the types too were perverted. McDermott points to references where Edwards suggested that characters in the Old Testament, both within Israel and outside it, were saved through the Spirit’s work alongside the (pristine) PT.117 Such appeals make perfect sense in Edwards’s thought, without the need to appeal to specially implanted religious types. The idea of ‘broken types’ being present in non-Christian religions seems to accord well with Edwards’s generally negative view of religious beliefs and practices outside the church.118

6. Types and their Readership

Point 4: Redemptive and non-redemptive truth types in nature can be seen by the biblically literate regenerate. The unregenerate cannot see types in nature properly.

In his chapter on typology, McDermott argues that the types in nature are all ‘folded’ into the work of redemption.119 He goes on to qualify this understanding shortly afterwards stating that most types were so folded, but that all worked within Edwards’s ‘generally christological frame of reference.’120 There is no doubt that some of Edwards’s nature types have their antitypes in Christ. For example, Edwards stated, ‘The rising and setting of the sun is a type of the death and resurrection of Christ’,121 and the silkworm is a ‘remarkable type’ of Christ.122 In terms of the specific images Edwards provided, D’Andrea-Winslow classes the majority as doctrine of God (75), followed by spiritual formation (49) with the same number of Christology (44) and Evil / temptation (44) references, and finally, the Church/eschatology (29).123

When McDermott writes that ‘most of the natural types still pointed to the work of Christ’s redemption’,124 this claim does not seem supported if we consider the 241 images analysed by D’Andrea Winslow to be representative of Edwards’s typologising in nature as a whole. Indeed, it would be more accurate to say that some point to the consequences of the work of Christ’s redemption (e.g., the Church, heaven, Christian life), with a relatively small percentage pointing to the work of redemption narrowly defined. Edwards did not mine nature as deeply as he mined the Old Testament for redemptive types.125 I suggest there are two main possible explanations for this reluctance.

First, if these redemptive truth types were present in nature, then it could be argued that revelation, as he understood it, was not needed: dimly perceived salvific truths could be used by the Spirit to bring a new sense of the heart through the reading of redemptive types in nature. Doubtless some deists would have been quite happy to endorse such ideas. Second, creation is not redemption: it is the stage upon which redemption is played out, and while it anticipates redemption, it does not achieve it.126 The fact remains, however, that Edwards was willing to see redemptive types in nature, which raises the question of the readership of these types.

In his chapter on typology, McDermott describes Edwards’s position concerning type readership to be that types in nature and history can only be read by people who have the Bible and are regenerate.127 Edwards’s reference to the need of ‘a mind so prepared and exercised’128 to read the types is, however, more ambiguous, possibly excluding biblical knowledge. McDermott seems to interpret Edwards as suggesting this in a later publication in which he claims, inter alia, that Edwards believed that the types in nature can be discerned by all people with understanding (note ‘ordinary unregenerate reason’ in the quotation below), and that a correct reading of them could lead the reader to proceed to God.

Edwards believed that the creation is full of types pointing to the Trinitarian God. There is proportion or analogy between things in the world and their Creator. Ordinary unregenerate reason can discern many of these types and proceed from them to God. That is, unregenerate minds can see something from the world that can give them truth about the true God. This does not mean that reason or types can save. For Edwards, only the sense of the heart, given by the Spirit to those who see the beauty of holiness in God’s Son on the cross, conveys saving knowledge of God. Nevertheless, reason can tell the unregenerate a host of things about the true God by rational reflection on things of this world. Among other things, reason can use types to tell the unregenerate that they need to come to saving knowledge of God.129

In this quotation McDermott seems to equate the light of nature with types, or at least suggests that for Edwards types are part of the light of nature, or similar in some way. Further, the types seem to be interpreted by McDermott as relatively clear (contra Edwards on the light of nature, though he vacillated on this),130 and can be seen by all. What exactly McDermott means by ‘truth about the true God’ is not spelled out in detail. If this is ‘light of nature truth’ the reference would seem to agree with Edwards’s thought, though it is terminologically different, in the sense that Edwards did not use types as a synonym for the light of nature, or consider them to be some kind of special subset of this light. However, if McDermott means redemptive truths are apprehended by the unregenerate (see the comment above on his redemptive types claim) this is a significant change in interpretation. Although McDermott does not spell out in the above quotation the particular source for this interpretation of Edwards, I can only surmise that the support for it is to be found in Edwards’s reference to Ovid, in one of his Images. I engage with this Image in more detail after considering type readership.

A considerable number of Edwards’s commentators have argued that the types are only read and understood correctly by the (biblically-literate) regenerate, in line with McDermott’s first interpretation of Edwards (provided earlier), and against the interpretation just documented. These scholars include (in alphabetical order): Butler,131 D’Andrea Winslow,132 Knight,133 Lowance,134 Lowance and Waiters,135 Ramsey,136 Schweitzer,137 Sweeney138 and Waddington.139

So which interpretation makes more sense? Stepping back a little from the specific question, it is helpful to find some certainty in Edwards’s thoughts on related issues. First, Edwards insists that the light of nature does not communicate redemptive truths to anyone,140 but he does admit the existence of some redemptive truths in nature types. The two positions can appear contradictory. Second, there are no examples of redemptive types available to humankind in Edwards’s discussion of the light of nature—although some light of nature truths communicate what is also communicated in type truths. While there are overlaps (e.g., truths about the doctrine of God are seen through the light of nature and types) there are also clear differences, e.g., truths about Christ’s resurrection or the Church are seen through the types, not the light of nature. Therefore, it is clear that for Edwards the types cannot be equated with the light of nature. Thirdly, according to Edwards, reason (along with other elements comprising man’s natural faculties) is, after the fall, lacking in spiritual guidance or supervision (i.e., misdirected in orientation, not being sanctified by the Spirit, and therefore inclined to self-love). It is also corrupt in and of itself.141 Admittedly, he believed it to function more or less competently in the realm of natural affairs,142 namely secular or worldly matters,143 apprehending religious notional truths,144 and in appreciating aesthetics or proportion.145 In Edwards’s thought competencies in secular knowledge and religious truth knowledge could be enhanced by the external assistance of the Holy Spirit.146 However, being doubly disadvantaged (not correctly guided by supernatural faculties and also darkened)147 Edwards was adamant that reason guided by the light of nature could in no way help man proceed to God. Edwards went about establishing his argument concerning reason’s impotence in spiritual matters in a number of ways.

The first of these was to argue that reason is not the appropriate faculty to know God.148 Second, Edwards believed that while the facts of God’s creation and implanted knowledge are communicated to humankind, reason cannot make sense of these facts and how they relate to each other.149 Third, for Edwards what reason apprehends is not the idea itself, but only the sign of the idea.150 Fourth, the problem of not interpreting facts correctly, or viewing things in their right relations is due to a fundamental antithesis between the nature, or disposition, of the receiver of communication, and the communication itself. 151 The fifth point that Edwards employed against reason’s religious competence was an empirical, historical argument, namely the failings of philosophers to make sense of the world, and to reform it.152

Having covered these points, it is now appropriate to remember what Edwards says positively of nature, and how he differentiates the roles of nature and revealed religion: ‘The light of nature teaches that religion which is necessary to continue in the favour of the God that made us; but it cannot teach us that religion which is necessary to our being restored to the favour of God, after we have forfeited it.’153 Nature, as he describes it, has a distinct role in terms of God’s communication—to teach (as opposed to prepare) those who have already been restored to God’s favour. Like Calvin, Edwards held a strong commitment to theologia naturalis regenitorum (natural theology of the regenerate). While nature did not hold out redemptive truths for the unregenerate, believers could read the book of nature correctly once they have a new sense of the heart and have previously apprehended revelation. In his comments on secondary beauty (i.e., creation in this context), Edwards believed it to be correctly seen and interpreted only by those with regenerate hearts.154 I am not aware of any claim made by Edwards that humankind appropriately receives the emanations of the Son of God in nature apart from revelation preceding this.155 Concerning pagan knowledge of God, he makes essentially the same point: ‘Except we have some tolerable notion of him [God], we shall not worship any more than the Athenians did, who inscribed their altar to the Unknown God.’156

Perhaps the strongest case to support McDermott’s more recent interpretation of the universal ability to read types is Edwards’s reference to Ovid in Image 134. Sweeney comments, ‘Edwards did entertain the thought that some of the ancient pagan thinkers were given a special, though only partial, view of the meaning of some of the types.’157 In the Image Edwards stated, ‘The very wiser heathens seemed to be sensible that the divine Being, in the formation of the natural world, designed to teach us moral lessons: so Ovid, concerning the erect posture of man.’158 What Edwards is saying in this reference is that the idea of types or images in nature is not just his ‘pet project’: the validity and legitimacy of looking at the world typologically was recognised around the time of Christ by a reputed Roman poet. Further, not only was the system perceived, a specific example of a type was also provided. This is the example: ‘And, though all other animals are prone, and fix their gaze upon the earth, he gave to man an uplifted face and bade him stand erect and turn his eyes to heaven.’159 Edwards does not assume that Ovid was regenerate; indeed, one feels that such a consideration would actually run counter to his purpose to add credence or weight to the types project by appealing to another authority. Such appeals to philosophers, poets or ancient scholars are not unusual in Edwards’s argumentation style; for example, he appealed to Cicero to support his argument concerning the insufficiency of the light of nature.160 How then can we understand the Ovid reference? In making the claim for Ovid, Edwards does seem to contradict himself (compare the first interpretation of McDermott, discussed earlier). Why then does Edwards make the appeal? As with the case with inspiration, I believe that the lone specific example is best viewed as polemical, an occasion where Edwards was looking for support, wherever it may be found, to bolster a particular argument—his typology project—a project which he knew to be viewed suspiciously by some. Ovid was a useful ally here and for this purpose alone, Edwards brought him in to support his position. Edwards argues elsewhere that human religious awareness (the key insight from Ovid) is available from the light of nature.161 This being so, I suggest we should not read too much into who can read the types from this reference given Edwards’s focused treatment on the subject of type readership elsewhere in his writings.162

7. Conclusion

In this article I have interpreted Edwards’s thoughts on revelation and religions through the presentation of four main points. I have suggested that the deist background and threat led Edwards to employ a version of the prisca theologia in response to his understanding of deism’s appeal to the sufficiency of reason over against revelation in matters of religion. Further, I have argued that the PT is the cornerstone of Edwards’s theology of religions. Unlike McDermott, who argues that there are additional sources of revelation available to non-Christians in Edwards’s thought, namely specially planted types in religions, nature types, and inspiration, I have suggested that Edwards is best understood as arguing solely for the dwindling effects of the PT in educating reason (also informed by the light of nature and implanted knowledge of God). In constructing this argument, I have interpreted the exceptional comments Edwards makes (on types and inspiration) as purely polemical, one of these a possibly reactionary response to misinformation / misinterpretation. I have also brought forward a case for the adoption of a simplified interpretation of the idea of types in religions, dependent on the PT alone. In my attempt to engage with Edwards’s ideas I have sought to grapple with the apparent (and real) contradictions, rather than giving all the various notes in the Edwards’s orchestra equal weight, which can only lead to disharmony and incoherence. If my interpretations are considered a feasible alternative to those provided by McDermott, a very different understanding of Edwards’s ideas on revelation and religions emerges. I believe such a reading to be more harmonious and in tune with the main themes present in his writings and thinking.

[1] Gerald R. McDermott, Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods: Christian Theology, Enlightenment Religion, and Non-Christian Faiths (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).

[2] See, for example, Leigh E. Schmidt, ‘Review: The Edwards Revival: Or, The Public Consequences of Exceedingly Careful Scholarship Source’, The William and Mary Quarterly 58 (2001): 480–86.

[3] Steven M. Studebaker, ‘Review of Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods’, Pneuma 23 (2001): 168.

[4] The following list is representative and not comprehensive: Michael McClymond and Gerald R. McDermott, The Theology of Jonathan Edwards (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); Gerald R. McDermott, ed., Understanding Jonathan Edwards: Introducing America’s Theologian (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008); Gerald R. McDermott, ‘Jonathan Edwards, John Henry Newman, and Non-Christian Religions’, in Jonathan Edwards, Philosophical Theologian, ed. Oliver Crisp and Paul Helm (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003), 127–37; Gerald R. McDermott, ‘Response to Gilbert: “The Nations Will Worship: Jonathan Edwards and the Salvation of the Heathen”’, TJ 23 (2002): 77–80; Gerald R. McDermott, ‘A Possibility of Reconciliation: Jonathan Edwards and the Salvation of Non-Christians’, in Edwards in our Time: Jonathan Edwards and Contemporary Theological Issues, ed. Sang Hyun Lee and Alan Guelzo (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 173–202; Gerald R. McDermott, ‘Was Jonathan Edwards an Evangelical? Scripture and Tradition in America’s Theologian’, in Jonathan Edwards and Scripture: Biblical Exegesis in British North America, ed. Douglas A. Barshinger and Douglas A. Sweeney (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 233–48.

[5] Gerald R. McDermott, Can Evangelicals Learn from Non-Christian Religions? Jesus, Revelation and the Religions (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000); Gerald R. McDermott, ‘What if Paul Had Been from China? Reflections on the Possibility of Revelation in Non-Christian Religions’, in No Other Gods Before Me? Evangelicals and the Challenge of World Religions, ed. John G. Stackhouse (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2001); Gerald R. McDermott and Harold A. Netland, A Trinitarian Theology of Religions: An Evangelical Proposal (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

[6] See Brian K. Sholl ‘The Excellency of Minds: Jonathan Edwards’s Theological Style’ (PhD diss., The University of Virginia, 2008), 34.

[7] Owen Anderson, Reason and Faith at Early Princeton: Piety and the Knowledge of God (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 36.

[8] McClymond and McDermott, The Theology of Jonathan Edwards, 8.

[9] See John J. Bombaro, ‘Beautiful Beings: The Function of the Reprobate in the Philosophical Theology of Jonathan Edwards’s (PhD thesis, King’s College, London, 2001), 22; John J. Bombaro, ‘Dispositional Peculiarity, History, and Edwards’s Evangelistic Appeal to Self-Love’, WTJ 66 (2004): 123; Jeffrey C. Waddington, ‘The Unified Operations of the Human Soul: Jonathan Edwards’ Theological Anthropology and Apologetic’ (PhD diss., Westminster Theological Seminary, 2013), 49.

[10] ‘While he [Edwards] made some cryptic remarks in the Miscellanies about how the heathen might use religious truth for the good of “their own souls” (Misc. 1162), these concessions were largely limited to his private notebooks; in his published treatises and sermons, “heathen” was usually a synonym for “damned”’, according to McDermott, ‘Jonathan Edwards, John Henry Newman and Non-Christian Religions’, 130.

[11] See Oliver D. Crisp and Kyle C. Strobel, Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to His Thought (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018), 94.

[12] See Stephen R. Holmes, God of Grace and God of Glory (London: T&T Clark, 2000), 35. Daniel Strange expresses similar reservations in ‘The Secret Diaries of Jonathan Edwards Aged 54 1/2: A Reconstruction (and Deconstruction?) of the New England Theologian—A Review Article’, Themelios 47 (2001): 42.

[13] Ava Chamberlain, ‘Editor’s Introduction’, in Jonathan Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, 501–832, ed. Ava Chamberlain, WJE 18 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 8–9. WJE stands for the online edition of the Works of Jonathan Edwards,

[14] George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 472.

[15] See Ava Chamberlain, ‘Editor’s Introduction’, 9–10.

[16] Waddington, ‘Unified Operations’, 49.

[17] On this see Paul Ramsey, ‘Editor’s Introduction’, in Jonathan Edwards, Freedom of the Will, WJE 1:70.

[18] An example would be Edwards’s writing and publication of Freedom of the Will (1754).

[19] McDermott, Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods, 5; Avihu Zakai, ‘The Age of Enlightenment’, in The Cambridge Companion to Jonathan Edwards, ed. Stephen J. Stein (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 83.

[20] A summary of what Edwards believed the deists to be arguing for and against can be found in Jonathan Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1734–1738, WJE 19:719.

[21] Wayne Hudson, The English Deists (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2009), 13.

[22] Jonathan Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, 1153–1360, WJE 23:355.

[23] Jonathan Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, 833–1152, WJE 20:142–43.

[24] Dmitri Levitin, Ancient Wisdom in the Age of the New Science: Histories of Philosophy in England, c. 1640–1700 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 8.

[25] See E. Brooks Holifield, Theology in America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 106; Kuni Sakamoto, Julius Caesar Scaliger, Renaissance Reformer of Aristotelianism: A Study of His Exotericae Exercitationes, Medieval and Early Modern Philosophy and Science 26 (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 27; McDermott, Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods, 93.

[26] Guilano Mori, ‘Natural Theology and Ancient Theology in the Jesuit China Mission’, Intellectual History Review 30 (2020): 200.

[27] See Charles B. Schmitt, ‘Perennial Philosophy: From Agostino Steuco to Leibniz’, Journal of the History of Ideas 27 (1966): 515.

[28] See Mori, ‘Natural Theology’, 189; Robert E. Brown, Jonathan Edwards and the Bible (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2002), 155.

[29] See Peter Byrne, Natural Religion and the Nature of Religion (London: Routledge, 2013), 83; Brown, Jonathan Edwards and the Bible, 158.

[30] An example of a scholar adopting this position would be Muzio Pansa (ca. 1560–1640): See Sakamoto, Julius Caesar Scaliger, 29.

[31] Brown, Jonathan Edwards and the Bible, 161.

[32] Theophilus Gale, Court of the Gentiles (Oxon: H. Hall, 1672), 2.

[33] Jonathan Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, a–z, aa–zz, 1–500, WJE 13:423–24; Notes on Scripture, WJE 15:418; The ‘Miscellanies’, 833–1152, WJE 20:222.

[34] Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, 1153–1360, WJE 23:459.

[35] Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, 833–1152, WJE 20:13–14; The ‘Miscellanies’, a–z, aa–zz, 1–500, WJE 13:136.

[36] Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, 833–1152, WJE 20:953; The ‘Miscellanies’, 1153–1360, WJE 23:459.

[37] Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, 1153–1360, WJE 23:355.

[38] Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, 833–1152, WJE 20:248.

[39] McDermott, Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods, 108. See also Bombaro, ‘Beautiful Beings’, 289; Robert W. Jenson, America’s Theologian: A Recommendation of Jonathan Edwards (New York: Oxford University Press), 129–30.

[40] Brown, Jonathan Edwards and the Bible, 159.

[41] ‘Thus Toland [a deist] argues for the Jewish mythologizing of pagan history; Voltaire sees Moses as a Jewish translation of the Bacchus myth. Where Edwards seizes on the fact that Indian Brahmans have a tradition about Adam as proof of Semitic priority and influence, Voltaire takes this Vedic figure of Adimo as proof of the opposite’, according to Brown, Jonathan Edwards and the Bible, 159.

[42] For more details see Brown, Jonathan Edwards and the Bible, 159; Schmitt, ‘Perennial Philosophy’, 524.

[43] See Schmitt, ‘Perennial Philosophy’, 527; Levitin, Ancient Wisdom, 153; McDermott, Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods, 187; Sakamoto, Julius Caesar Scaliger, 22, 31.

[44] This particular point has become quite contentious. Gilbert comments, ‘The deists would have been overjoyed if Edwards had truly believed that the prisca theologia provided enough truth to lead to salvation’. Greg D. Gilbert, ‘The Nations Will Worship: Jonathan Edwards and the Salvation of the Heathen’, TJ 23 (2002): 60. He argues it never did (p. 62). Bombaro concurs that the prisca theologia ‘was never intended to redeem’ (‘Beautiful Beings’, 266). However, cases such as Job and Melchizedek seem to fit well with the argument that the PT was understood by Edwards to have been a redemptive tool (as McDermott rejoins, ‘Response to Gilbert’, 79). At what point it became too corrupt to serve such a purpose is not clear, but that it did in Edwards’s thought seems reasonable. Sweeney recognises the time-dependent element in his comment: ‘it seems to me … that neither the prisca theologia nor extra-biblical inspiration provide a knowledge of God sufficient for salvation—at least not now’. Douglas A. Sweeney, ‘Jonathan Edwards and the World Religions: A Response to Gerald McDermott’, Unpublished Lecture Notes, 4 (emphasis mine).

[45] Jonathan Edwards, ‘Controversies’ Notebook, WJE 27: Part IIa, ‘Justification’.

[46] Amy Plantinga Pauw, ‘Editor’s Introduction’, in Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, 833–1152, WJE 20:13; see also The ‘Miscellanies’, 1153–1360, WJE 23:446.

[47] Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, 1153–1360, WJE 23:452.

[48] Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, 1153–1360, WJE 23:190–91.

[49] McDermott interprets Edwards thus: ‘Edwards insisted that human beings before the advent of Christ and outside the borders of Christian nations were not and are not deprived of revelation, as deists claimed, but have been fairly inundated with the voice of God calling to them from many different directions’. McDermott, Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods, 43. While Edwards did, at times, suggest what McDermott says here (e.g., The ‘Miscellanies’, 1153–1360, WJE 23:355), this was not the full story: ‘Thus all the Gentile nations throughout the whole world, all nations but only the Israelites and those that embodied themselves with them, were left and given up to idolatry, and so continued a great many ages even from this time till Christ came, which was about fifteen hundred years’. Jonathan Edwards, A History of the Work of Redemption, WJE 9:179–80).

[50] Jonathan Edwards, Sermons, Series II, 1737, WJE 52: §443 (II Peter 1:19[a]); Notes on Scripture, WJE 15:370; The ‘Miscellanies’, a–z, aa–zz, 1–500, WJE 13:448; Original Sin, WJE 3:171–73; A History of the Work of Redemption, WJE 9:179.

[51] Edwards, Sermons, Series II, 1737, WJE 52: §443 (II Peter 1:19[a]).

[52] For example, balancing the above noted comments on the swift descent into idolatry, Edwards, at times, seemed to argue for a great deal of revelation being present in history: The ‘Miscellanies’, 1153–1360, WJE 23:355.

[53] Jonathan Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1734–1738, WJE 19:172, 717; The ‘Miscellanies’, 1153–1360, WJE 23:535.

[54] See, for example, Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1734–1738, WJE 19:710; Original Sin, WJE 3: 381–82; The ‘Miscellanies’, a–z, aa–zz, 1–500, WJE 13:373. It should be noted that Edwards sharply differentiated revelation from the light of nature (e.g., Sermons and Discourses, 1734–1738, WJE 19:710). The specific focus of this article precludes an overview and analysis of Edwards’s comments on the light of nature, implanted knowledge and the light of reason.

[55] Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1734–1738, WJE 19:710.

[56] Jonathan Edwards, The ‘Blank Bible’, WJE 24:1190.

[57] Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1734–1738, WJE 19:710.

[58] Jonathan Edwards, Typological Writings, WJE 11:193.

[59] Edwards, Typological Writings, WJE 11:193.

[60] Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, 833–1152, WJE 20:13.

[61] Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, 833–1152, WJE 20:245.

[62] Edwards, TheMiscellanies’, 1153–1360, WJE 23:84.

[63] Of what these consisted see Gilbert, ‘Nations Will Worship’; McDermott, ‘Response to Gilbert’; Sweeney, ‘Jonathan Edwards and the World Religions’; and Jenson, America’s Theologian, 129. The point is not directly relevant to my argument here, so I leave it to one side.

[64] McDermott, Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods, 179. This is not the only time that McDermott makes the assertion. For similar comments see McClymond and McDermott, Theology of Jonathan Edwards, 21 and 597; McDermott and Netland, A Trinitarian Theology of Religions, 20–21.

[65] Gerald R. McDermott, ‘Jonathan Edwards and Islam’, Jonathan Edwards Studies 6.2 (2016): 100.

[66] Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, 833–1152, WJE 20:225.

[67] Edwards, Typological Writings, WJE 11:193.

[68] Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, 1153–1360, WJE 23:447.

[69] Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, 833–1152, WJE 20:288, 291–93; The ‘Miscellanies’, 1153–1360, WJE 23: 433

[70] See e.g., Miscellany 962 in Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, 833–1152, WJE 20:245, Corol. 2; and The ‘Miscellanies’, a–z, aa–zz, 1–500, WJE 13:423–24; Notes on Scripture, WJE 15:418. On the single source theory see Peter Harrison, ‘Religion’ and the Religions in the English Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 131.

[71] Plantinga Pauw, ‘Editor’s Introduction’, in Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, 833–1152, WJE 20:13.

[72] Jonathan Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1730–1733, WJE 17:410–11; Religious Affections, WJE 2:207); Writings on the Trinity, Grace, and Faith, WJE 21:192.

[73] Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, a–z, aa–zz, 1–500, WJE 13:262.

[74] For the idea of Spirit illumination of philosophers in Edwards’s thought see Religious Affections, WJE 2:315–16.

[75] Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1730–1733, WJE 17:49; The ‘Miscellanies’, 833–1152, WJE 20:52–53.

[76] What exactly Edwards had in mind by the rather vague “etc.” after mentioning the Trinity and the Messiah does not help the interpreter here.

[77] Edwards, Notes on Scripture, WJE 15:408–409; The ‘Blank Bible’, WJE 24:161.

[78] See Nabil I. Matar, ‘Peter Sterry and the Puritan Defense of Ovid in Restoration England’, Studies in Philology 88 (1991): 110–21.

[79] Matar, ‘Peter Sterry’, 115, 120.

[80] Matar, ‘Peter Sterry’, 120.

[81] Matar, ‘Peter Sterry’, 118, 120

[82] Brown, Jonathan Edwards and the Bible, 157. While I believe Brown’s explanation to be plausible, I am not convinced that Edwards can be described as readily embracing this type of inspiration as Brown claims. Given the discussion above about contradictions and redundancy in Edwards’s argument, I suggest the ‘ready embrace’ evaluation of Brown to be too strong.

[83] Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1734–1738, WJE 19:710.

[84] See, for example, McDermott, Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods, 188–89.

[85] McDermott, Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods, 215–16.

[86] See, for example, McDermott, Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods, 39.

[87] Plantinga Pauw notes this inconsistency in Edwards’s approach to dealing with heathen insights: ‘What linked these persistent but not always consistent apologetic strategies was Edwards’ heavy investment in refuting deist claims’ (‘Editor’s Introduction’, in Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, 833–1152, WJE 20:15).

[88] Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, 833–1152, WJE 20:518.

[89] Cf. Drew Hunter, ‘Hebrews and the Typology of Jonathan Edwards’, Themelios 44 (2019): 339–52.

[90] I have coined this term based on the collocation ‘vertical typology’ used by Wilson H. Kimnach, ‘Editor’s Introduction’, in Jonathan Edwards, Sermons and Discourses 1720–1723, WJE 10:229.

[91] See Janice Knight, ‘Typology’, in The Princeton Companion to Jonathan Edwards, ed. Sang Hyun Lee (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 190–209.

[92] Edwards, Sermons and Discourses 1720–1723, WJE 10:230; Typological Writings, WJE 11:31.

[93] Edwards, Typological Writings, WJE 11:129–130; cf. 11:9–10, 19.

[94] Edwards, Sermons and Discourses 1720–1723, WJE 10:230.

[95] On this idea Zakai comments, ‘Edwards reacted against the growing tendency to differentiate sharply between nature and God. In response, he constructed his own theology of nature, or typology, interpreting the physical world as a representation or a “shadow” of the spiritual, which celebrates God’s glory and sovereignty as they are evidenced in the coherence and beauty, order and harmony, of world phenomena. Against the scientific disenchantment of the world of nature, Edwards’s quest was for its reenchantment’. Avihu Zakai, Jonathan Edwards’s Philosophy of History: The Reenchantment of the World in the Age of Enlightenment (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 37. See also Knight, who makes a similar point: ‘The typologizing of nature, then, was the fruit of Edwards’ larger project of joining the lessons of the new science and psychology to the verities of the old piety’ (‘Typology’, 192).

[96] My question here is not about anthropology or human nature, but rather non-Christian religious beliefs and practices.

[97] McDermott, Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods, 9.

[98] McDermott, Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods, 125.

[99] McDermott, Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods, 110–29.

[100] McDermott, Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods, 125.

[101] McDermott, Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods, 126.

[102] McDermott writes, ‘When there is a revealed type of Christ in non-Christian religions, it is Jesus Christ speaking and acting’ (‘What if Paul Had Been from China?’, 32). ‘Furthermore, they [pagan religious activities] were developments (albeit twisted and broken) of original perceptions granted by Jesus Christ himself’ (‘What if Paul Had Been from China?’, 28).

[103] McDermott writes, ‘So if the types in non-Christian religions are only broken and partially distorted access to divine realities, they are similar to Old Testament types—which point to truth but sometimes obscurely’ (‘What if Paul Had Been from China?’, 29). For weaknesses in this idea, see Adam Sparks, One of a Kind: The Relationship between Old and New Covenants as the Hermeneutical Key for Christian Theology of Religions (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2010).

[104] Elsewhere McDermott (with McClymond) notes the devil’s role: ‘Even the ghastly practice of human sacrifice, inspired by the devil, was used by God to prepare peoples for the sacrifice made by the God-man’ (The Theology of Jonathan Edwards, 129). Note that in this quotation the inspiration is from the devil, not from God.

[105] McDermott, Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods, 145. I do not discuss the dispositional soteriology point in this article.

[106] McDermott, Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods, 126.

[107] McDermott writes, ‘These types [in religions] are neither part of general revelation (for they are not ideas generally available to all human beings) nor special revelation (they do not reveal salvation through Jesus Christ). They are akin to the types that Jonathan Edwards found in many world religions’ (‘What if Paul Had Been from China?’, 27).

[108] See McDermott, Can Evangelicals Learn from World Religions?

[109] Edwards, A History of the Work of Redemption, WJE 9:134.

[110] McDermott, ‘A Possibility of Reconciliation’, 181.

[111] McClymond and McDermott, The Theology of Jonathan Edwards, 133, 584.

[112] McDermott, ‘What if Paul Had Been from China?’, 28.

[113] It should be stressed that Edwards focuses on nature and history, not religions, in his thought on types.

[114] McDermott writes, ‘My claim is that among non-Christian religions there are scattered promises of God in Christ and that these promises are revealed types planted there by the Triune God’ (‘What if Paul had been from China?’, 29).

[115] Edwards, The ‘Blank Bible’, WJE 24:126.

[116] Edwards, The ‘Blank Bible’, WJE 24:29.

[117] See McDermott, ‘Response to Gilbert’, 80; and Miscellany 27b in Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, a–z, aa–zz, 1–500, WJE 13:23–25.

[118] See, for example, Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1734–1738, WJE 19:717; The ‘Miscellanies’, 1153–1360, WJE 23:443. While McClymond and McDermott state that Edwards showed an ‘astonishing interest in and openness to non-Christian religions’ (The Theology of Jonathan Edwards, 726), McDermott paints a rather different picture elsewhere: ‘Edwards was not really open to other religions as viable, living faiths. He was interested in them primarily because they provided both ammunition for his battles with deism and support for other polemical claims made on behalf of Reformed Christianity’ (Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods, 12).

[119] McDermott, Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods, 121.

[120] McDermott, Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods, 125.

[121] Edwards, Typological Writings, WJE 11:64, Image 50.

[122] Edwards, Typological Writings, WJE 11:59, Image 35.

[123] D’Andrea Winslow, ‘A Great and Remarkable Analogy: A Trinitarian Theology of Nature’ (PhD thesis, University of Aberdeen, 2018), 130.

[124] McDermott, Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods, 125.

[125] Stephen J. Stein notes the following regarding Edwards’s extensive type reading of the Old Testament: ‘Edwards’ typological hermeneutic provided a means to connect virtually any text with Christ and his work of redemption’ (‘Editor’s Introduction’, in Edwards, Notes on Scripture, WJE 15:26).

[126] See Knight, ‘Typology’, 199; Sholl, ‘The Excellency of Minds’, 207.

[127]McDermott, Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods, 112, 117–18, 122. See also Edwards, Sermons and Discourses 1720–1723, WJE 10:70, 232, 235.

[128] Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, a–z, aa–zz, 1–500, WJE 13:363.

[129] McDermott, ‘Was Jonathan Edwards an Evangelical?’, 238–39.

[130] See, for example, Jonathan Edwards, Sermons, Series II, 1731–1732, WJE 47: §232 (Matt. 11:21); The ‘Miscellanies’, 1153–1360, WJE 23:457–58; Sermons and Discourses, 1734–1738, WJE 19:713; The ‘Miscellanies’, 833–1152, WJE 20:143; Religious Affections, WJE 2:275.

[131] Diane Butler, ‘God’s Visible Glory: The Beauty of Nature in the Thought of John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards’, WTJ 52 (1990): 24.

[132] Winslow, ‘A Great and Remarkable Analogy’, 195–96.

[133] Knight, ‘Typology’, 205.

[134] Mason I. Lowance, Jr., ‘Images or Shadows of Divine Things: The Typology of Jonathan Edwards’, Early American Literature 5 (1970): 171.

[135] Wallace E. Anderson, Mason I. Lowance, Jr. and David H. Watters, ‘Editor’s Introduction’, in Edwards, Typological Writings, WJE 11:164.

[136] Paul Ramsey, ‘Editor’s Introduction’, in Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings, WJE 8:758.

[137] William M. Schweitzer, ‘Interpreting the Harmony of Reality: Jonathan Edwards’s Theology of Revelation’ (PhD thesis, University of Edinburgh, 2008), 38.

[138] Sweeney, ‘Jonathan Edwards and the World Religions’, 4.

[139] Waddington, ‘The Unified Operations’, 147.

[140] Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, 1153–1360, WJE 23:344, 457.

[141] Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings, WJE 8:236; Sermons and Discourses, 1730–1733, WJE 17:333–34; The ‘Miscellanies’, 501–832, WJE 18:156.

[142] Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1730–1733, WJE 17:192.

[143] Edwards, Original Sin, WJE 3:150.

[144] McDermott, Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods, 65.

[145] Kyle C. Strobel, Jonathan Edwards’s Theology: A Reinterpretation, T&T Clark Studies In Systematic Theology (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013), 155.

[146] Edwards, Religious Affections, WJE 2:207; Writings on the Trinity, Grace, and Faith, WJE 21:192.

[147] Douglas J. Elwood, The Philosophical Theology of Jonathan Edwards (New York: Columbia University Press, 1960), 71.

[148] Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1730–1733, WJE 17:410, 422. See also William J. Wainwright, ‘Jonathan Edwards and the Hiddenness of God’, in Divine Hiddenness, ed. Daniel Howard-Snyder and Paul K. Moser (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 108; William J. Wainwright, Reason and the Heart: A Prolegomenon to a Critique of Passional Reason (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995), 28.

[149] Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, a–z, aa–zz, 1–500, WJE 13:470.

[150] Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, 501–832, WJE 18:455–456.

[151] Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1730–1733, WJE 17:421.

[152] Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, a–z, aa–zz, 1–500, WJE 13:423; A History of the Work of Redemption, WJE 9:278; The ‘Miscellanies’, 833–1152, WJE 20:293.

[153] Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Edward Hickman (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 2:491.

[154] Edwards, Ethical Writings, WJE 8:565.

[155] See, for example, Jonathan Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1723–1729, WJE 14:265.

[156] Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1720–1723, WJE 10:417.

[157] Sweeney, ‘Jonathan Edwards and the World Religions’, 5.

[158] Edwards, Typological Writings, WJE 11:98.

[159] Ovid, Metamorphoses 1:84–86, trans. Frank J. Miller, rev. G. P. Goold, LCL 42 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1916).

[160] Edwards, The ‘Miscellanies’, 833–1152, WJE 20:287–88.

[161] Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1723–1729, WJE 14:232.

[162] See Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1720–1723, WJE 10:70, 232, 235.

Iain McGee

Iain McGee is a PhD student in the Department of Religion and Theology at the University of Bristol and an elder of The Bay Church in Cardiff, Wales.

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