The purpose of this blog is to translate Matthew Poole’s Synopsis Criticorum (Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters [1666-1676]) from Latin into English. The translation work is being done by Dr. Steven Dilday. As each small, sectional unit is translated, it will be included as a new blog post. As book-length portions are completed, they will be published in print.
The History of Interpretation
Matthew Poole’s Synopsis Criticorum (Synopsis of Interpreters) is nothing less than a verse-by-verse summary of the history of interpretation. Poole covers the entire gamut: the old Jewish doctors, the early Church Fathers, Medieval Rabbis, Reformation-era Romanists, Lutherans, and the Reformed. But this raises a question: Why should I exert so much effort in the study of the history of interpretation?
It seems that many in Evangelicalism have adopted the “me-and-my Bible” approach to the study of the Word of God. The general idea seems to be that, if I spend time reading my Bible, the Spirit of God will help me to interpret it correctly. I am not in need of the help of human teachers. Consequently, the preaching of the Word of God is held in little regard (a mere formality) and the great commentary books are largely neglected.Ironically, this is not a Biblical approach to the study of the Scriptures. God has superabounded to His people in blessing them with the Word and the Spirit, blessings surpassing sublimity. But God has also blessed His people with faithful preachers and teachers, and that in all ages.
Under the Mosaic administration, the priests and Levites were set apart to teach God’s people. This was their commission and charge from the Lord; Deuteronomy 33:10a: “They shall teach Jacob thy judgments, and Israel thy law.” During the time of Malachi, the priests had been unfaithful in this their sacred charge; but their duty remained the same. Malachi 2:7: “For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.” There are actually two duties here expressed: 1. the priest’s duty, his lips should preserve and dispense the knowledge of the Law of God; 2. the people’s duty, they should seek instruction in the Law from the priest’s mouth. So, we see that God set apart teachers and instructed the people to have recourse unto them to the end that they might learn the Scriptures.
This situation has not changed under the new administration. We find the Lord Jesus Himself and His apostles preaching and teaching. This was the charge given to the apostles and to all of those succeeding them in the teaching office until the end of the world. Matthew 28:18-20: “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” It is not surprising then to find Paul, as He discusses the gifts that the ascended Christ has given to His Church, focusing upon the teaching offices. Ephesians 4:11-13: “And he [the ascended Christ] gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ…” Three of these teaching offices were extraordinary for that first age of the Church, namely, apostles, prophets, and evangelists; but the offices of the pastor and teacher continue and will continue “till we all come in the unity of the faith…unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Here, the Church is likened unto a man advancing from infancy unto maturity. Pastors and teachers have a God-ordained role in pressing the Church forward in growth. This process will not be complete until the Church is perfected by Christ at His return.
What does this have to do with the study of the history of interpretation and reading Poole’s Synopsis? Everything. Poole’s Synopsis is a verse-by-verse record of what these teachers, the gift of our ascended Lord, believed and taught. It only remains for us tolle, lege, to take up and read.
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Study the Scripture with Matthew Poole
If there is to be another Reformation of the doctrine and practice of the Church, and a spiritual revival in the hearts of God’s people, there must first be an increase in Biblical knowledge, the means by which these things are accomplished. It is our hope and prayer that many Christians, longing for Reformation, revival, and greater intimacy with the Lord Jesus, will join us in the study of the Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, with the learned Matthew Poole as our guide through the history of interpretation. (The reader should be able to keep up with only a little reading each day.) For those considering taking up this reading program, we commend three brief posts: “Reading Difficult Books”, “Why Study the History of Interpretation?”, and “Getting the Most out of Poole”.
Supporting the Project
Christian Reader, I hope that you will give serious attention to this plea for your help. It is important.
Biblical and Theological Archaeology
Long experience has taught me that not all of our Protestant heritage has made its way into the English language. Happily, the fundamentals of the Christian faith, and much of the superstructure, is readily available in English-speaking lands. However, there are gaps, and important material remains locked up in foreign language, especially Latin. Ignorance concerning this material continues to be a source of contention and division, as the unhappy combatants strive in darkness.
This calls for a certain sort of Archaeological work: The resources of the past need to be mined, so that this missing material might be recovered for use in English-speaking lands of the present day. The loss has been in two principal areas: 1. the exegesis/interpretation of the Scripture; 2. the system of theology.
With respect to exegetical archaeology, Matthew Poole’s Latin Synopsis Criticorum (Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters) has been selected. Matthew Poole was a seventeenth century English Puritan, and his Synopsis is the fruit of ten years of unremitting labor. Poole’s goal was to produce a verse-by-verse history of interpretation, capturing all of the significant interpretive positions and their sources (ancient and medieval Rabbis, Church Fathers, Medieval Schoolmen, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Reformed, etc.). Having labored in the Synopsis for ten years, I am able to testify firsthand that there is much valuable material either rarely or completely unavailable in English. The loss is tremendous; the work of recovery, important. The ascended Lord Jesus promised to provide faithful teachers in all ages to aid His people in the understanding and application of that Word (Ephesians 4:11-13). Poole’s Synopsis is a record of their teaching, a thing of surpassing value.
[Note: To illustrate the value of the Synopsis, it was a favorite exegetical resource of Philip and Matthew Henry; and Matthew Henry produced what is in all probability the most important and influential Bible Commentary in the English language: also, Jonathan Edwards, America’s greatest theologian and philosopher, preferred the Synopsis to all other Bible commentaries, and references it more heavily than all of the others combined.]
You can read more about the Synopsis, and see samples of the translation, as you browse this website.
With respect to theological archaeology, Bernardinus De Moor’s Systematic Theology has been selected. De Moor was a mid-eighteenth century Dutch theologian. He was a Protestant, and fully orthodox; but he labored in the midst of the decline of the old Protestant orthodoxy. It was De Moor’s desire to summarize and preserve more than two centuries of Protestant thought, and his efforts produced his massive Compendium of Christian Theology (1761-1778; in seven volumes). De Moor’s Compendium is a masterpiece, comprehensive in its breadth, and preserving material on subjects scarcely to be found anywhere in the English language.
You can see a further description of the project, and samples of the translation at the Project’s website.
Making the Archaeology Accessible
Even in translation, Poole and De Moor are not easy reading; so efforts are being made to make this work as accessible as possible to all English-speaking Christians.
1. The books are heavily annotated to help the reader in points of potential difficulty.
2. As sections of the translations are completed, they are being posted in blog format, so that readers can study along with Poole and De Moor. Digestion is helped by the bite-sized portions.
3. Some of the most important, interesting, and rare portions of Poole and De Moor are being excised and published with introductory essays, to make the very best of these works readily accessible to the common reader.
4. Plans are in the works to make this literature available to Christians worldwide at little cost to the end-line user, a great blessing to impoverished Christians scattered around the globe.
Currently, I work as I am afforded time, an hour here, fifteen minutes there. It is on my heart (I believe that the Lord Himself has placed it there) to give myself to this work full-time. Working full-time, I think that both of these works can be completed in ten years or so, and be a positive spiritual influence for generations to come.
In order to make this dream a reality, I need help from the broader body of Christ, Christians that believe in this work. Please prayerfully consider contributing financially to this work (see Philippians 4:10-19). Of course, any sort of donation is welcome, 1. a one-time gift; or, 2. a regular monthly gift. Indeed, it is my hope that a financial backbone of regular monthly contributions might be built. If you are able to commit to $100/month, I will send you all of the new publications for free. Even working part-time, I anticipate publishing three books a year; if I am able to work full-time, the number will be closer to six. Even if you are not able to give $100/month, you will receive e-books of all publications, and as many of the print-books as finances will allow.
I would be interested in hearing your thoughts (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Donations can be made through Paypal here.
I am grateful for your time, and your prayerful consideration of these matters.
In Christ’s service,
Dr. Steven Dilday