Getting the Most out of Poole on Judges

Each of the volumes in this series, Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters, is actually composed of two distinct works by Matthew Poole: Synopsis of Interpreters, Both Critical and Otherwise, of the Sacred Scriptures (known by its Latin title, Synopsis Criticorum Aliorumque Sacræ Scripturæ Interpretum, the translated text of which is printed in this regular type) and Annotations upon the Holy Bible (the text of which is printed in bold type).  In the Synopsis Criticorum, written primarily for students, ministers, and scholars, Poole presents something of a verse-by-verse history of interpretation, setting forth the most important interpreters and interpretative positions.  The Annotations, on the other hand, are written for the use of the common man, giving a summary of the most important interpretive issues and Poole’s own, most mature (being written in the years immediately prior to his death), judgment.  In these volumes, the Annotations have been interspliced into the translation of the Synopsis, creating an omnibus of Poole’s exegetical efforts.

It may already be apparent from this brief description of these volumes that they are intended for study; they are certainly not a light read.  So that every reader, from the unlearned to the scholarly, might get the most profit from these volumes, these directions are proffered:


  1. Read and study the prefatory material, especially the “Preface to the Synopsis:  Genesis-Esther.”


In the “Preface to the Synopsis:  Genesis-Esther,” the reader is introduced to the interpreters, writing on these Books of the Bible, who, in Poole’s judgment, are of the greatest significance.  Because the Synopsis is primarily about the history of interpretation, an acquaintance with the interpreters is of the utmost importance.  The translator has provided additional information about these men in the footnotes to aid the reader.  Paul taught the Ephesian Christians that the ascended Lord Jesus provides teachers for the edification of His Church in all ages;[1] this is a synopsis of their teaching and testimony, a thing of surpassing value.


  1. Note that a brief summary of each book and an outline of each chapter has been provided.[2]


This will help the reader get and keep the entire context in view as he studies particular verses.


  1. Study the cross-references.


The Authorized Version of the text has been provided at the beginning of each verse.  In the Annotations, Poole provided a great many cross-references in the printing of the verse itself.[3]  These should not be neglected; they are of great value in gaining an understanding of the verse being studied, and it will be found that the verse being studied has implications for the right interpretation of other texts.[4]  Furthermore, the reader will find the verses, referenced in the Synopsis portion for the illustration of grammatical principles, to be of great help and use.  When the reason for the citation of a particular verse is not clear in English, the translator has provided annotations in the footnotes to aid understanding.


  1. Begin the study of the commentary portion under each verse with the Annotations portion (printed in bold).


Remember that the Annotations were written for the common man, and in them Poole, or the divines that completed the Annotations after Poole’s death, summarizes and gives an evaluation of the most important matters.  Reading the Annotations portion will frequently shed much light upon the mass of raw exegetical material in the Synopsis portion.


  1. Note that Poole often presents a wide variety of interpretive positions in a short space.


In the Synopsis portion, contradictory positions can be presented without any transition.  The intepreters who held a certain view are usually given in parentheses after the presentation of the interpretive position, and this is frequently all that the reader is given with respect to a transition from one position to another.


  1. Make use of the Index as needed.


            An index of relatively obscure people and places has been included for the help of the reader. The index refers the reader back to the page upon which the person or place was first mentioned and footnoted.


  1. Be patient and persevere.


Solomon the Wise teaches in the Proverbs that in some things knowledge and wisdom come only with effort,[5] and penetrating beyond a superficial understanding of the Scriptures will require hard work; but let the Christian give himself to this labor in the assurance of faith, that Jesus Christ is speaking to him through the Word,[6] and that in this study he will taste of the Lord that He is good.[7]

[1] Ephesians 4:11-13.

[2] Poole composed the book outlines from Genesis to Isaiah, but the chapter outlines were not added until the third edition of the Annotations, 1696, by Samuel Clarke and Edward Veale.  Samuel Clarke (1626-1701), one of the ejected ministers under the Act of Uniformity, was well-qualified for this editorial work, having composed his own The Old and New Testament, with Annotations and Parallel Scriptures (1690) and A Survey of the Bible; or, an Analytical Account of the Holy Scriptures, Containing the Division of Every Book and Chapter, thereby Shewing the Frame and Contexture of the Whole (1693).  Edward Veale was one of the divines called upon to complete the Annotations after Poole’s death, writing the portions on Ephesians, James, 1 and 2 Peter, and Jude.  Veale (died 1708) labored in the work of the ministry in both England and Ireland, having been ordained in 1657. He later served as a senior fellow at Trinity College in Dublin, until he was deprived for nonconformity.  After his deprivation, he ministered as chaplain to Sir William Waller, and then as a pastor at Wapping.  He edited and published, with Richard Adams, Stephen Charnock’s Discourse on Divine Providence (1680), and, of course, with Samuel Clarke, the third edition of Matthew Poole’s Annotations (1696).

[3] Samuel Clarke and Edward Veale appear to be responsible for supplemental cross-references, added to Poole’s own.  All of the cross-references have been provided in this text.

[4] Westminster Confession of Faith 1:9:  “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself:  and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one) it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.”

[5] Proverbs 2:1-5.

[6] 1 Peter 1:11.

[7] 1 Peter 2:3.

Argument of the Book of Judges

The author of this book is not certainly known, whether it was Samuel, or Ezra, or some other prophet; nor is it material to know. 1. It matters not who was the king’s secretary, or with what pen it was written, if it be once known that it was the king who made the order or decree: it is sufficient that unto the Jews were committed to the oracles of God, Romans 3:2, that is, the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament, one part of which this was, by confession of all; and that the Jews did not falsify their trust therein, but kept those holy books themselves, and delivered them to the world, entire, without addition or diminution; for neither Christ nor his apostles, who severely rebuke them for their mistakes and misunderstandings of some passages of Scripture, ever charge them with any perfidiousness about the canon or books of the Scripture. This book is called the Book of Judges, because it treats of the judges, or of the state of the commonwealth of Israel under all the judges, except Eli and Samuel, who being the last of the judges, and the occasions or instruments of the change of this government, are omitted in this book. The judges were a sort of magistrates inferior to kings, and could neither make new laws, nor impose any tributes, but were the supreme executors of God’s laws and commands, and the generals of their armies.

Prolegomena to Judges

This book contains the various events of the Israelite republic through the space of two hundred and ninety-nine years under thirteen Judges, of which the first was Othniel, and the last was Samson (Lapide,[1] Bonfrerius[2]); to whom Eli and Samuel succeeded; who, nevertheless, are not treated in this book (Lapide).  Question 1:  Who then is the writer of this book?  Response:  It is entirely uncertain (Lapide, Bonfrerius).  Initially it was not a single book, but several histories and registers were composed (Tostatus[3]).  It is likely that Ezra, or rather Samuel, gathered these things from the old journals and annals that one or the other Judge wrote in his time, and by writing reduced them into this book (Lapide, similarly Tostatus, Bonfrerius).  The Hebrews say that Samuel wrote this book[4] (Vatablus[5]).  Question 2:  What then was the office of the Judges?  Responses:  1.  They were generals in war.  2.  Not only that, but they were also put in charge of the administration of justice, and composing the lawsuits of their fellow citizens (Bonfrerius, Lapide).  For some Judges are not found to have conducted any wars, such as Tola,[6] Ibzan, Elon, Abdon[7] (Lapide).  Neither did Eli lead the army, 1 Samuel 4.  Nor did Samuel fight, except with spiritual arms.  Moreover, in Judges 4, Deborah judged the people.  Josephus, in his Antiquities 5:8,[8] testifies to the same (Bonfrerius).  Question 3:  What then was the form of the Republic under the Judges?  Response:  Monarchical (Lapide, Bonfrerius, Serarius[9]).  Nevertheless, Kings were differing from Judges in many things.  For Judges were not able to compose new law (but they were administrating the republic according to the laws of God, and in weightier matters they were bound by the decrees of the Sanhedrin), nor to impose tribute on the people, as Kings are able (Lapide, Bonfrerius).  Kings were Lords; Judges not likewise (Bonfrerius, Tostatus).  And hence in the time of the Judges God called Himself King of the people, but not so in the time of the Kings, 1 Samuel 8:7; 12:12.  And Gideo was refusing the Sovereignty of Kingship, who nevertheless was holding the administration of Judge, or Prince. (Bonfrerius).  A Judge was not a Lord, but only a Caretaker and Conservator of the Republic.  Therefore, the power of the Judges was greatly restricted.  These were dictators, of which sort were those of the Romans, but perpetual.[10]  To the Judges were similar the ἄρχοντες/archons among the Athenians,[11] and now Doges among the Venetians[12] (Lapide).  Now, the right of a King is fuller, 1 Samuel 8, he will take your sons, etc.; all which is done by them, if not rightfully, certainly actually, and with some appearance of right, by reason of the dominion of jurisdiction, which is competent to them with respect to their subjects.  Moreover, Kings were anointed; likewise (as a sign of absolute supremacy) they were using the diadem and Royal insignia, and were surrounded by a guard.  Finally, Kings were coming to power by succession; but Judges by election (Bonfrerius).  Judges were always liberating the people, which Kings often wasted.  The people under the Judges, although repeated oppressed on account of their sins, were never led away into captivity.  And so that age was able to be called golden, as it were.  Few Kings were upright and pious, but almost all the Judges were (Martyr[13]).  Among the Hebrews, Tyrians, and Carthaginians, the highest Magistrates were called שׁוֹפְטִים/Judges κατ᾿ ἐξοχὴν, par excellence (for otherwise the term extends more broadly), whom the Greeks here call κριτὰς/judges, Josephus δικαστὰς/judges in the affairs of the Tyrians, the Latins by the Punic term שפט/Suffetes;[14] αὐτοκράτορες ἡγεμόνες, autocratic leaders, in Josephus.  Concerning these see what things are on Judges 5:13, and on Deuteronomy 17:9.  Now, it appears that in these times through carelessness the creation of the Sanhedrin of seventy-two was neglected, just as also before the times of Jehoshaphat, 2 Chronicles 19:5.  And so, when God did not rouse such men extraordinarily, the body of the republic was dissolved, and nothing was done for the common interests.  The individual Tribes were handling their own affirs.  Such was the state of Greece, with the Achaean Council dissolved by the arts of the Romans;[15] and of Gaul before the times of Cæsar; but also of Germania and Brittania much later (Grotius[16]).

[1] Cornelius à Lapide (1567-1637) was a Flemish Jesuit scholar.  His talents were employed in the professorship of Hebrew at Louvain, then at Rome.  Although his commentaries (covering the entire Roman Catholic canon, excepting only Job and the Psalms) develop the four-fold sense of Scripture, he emphasizes the literal.  His commentaries demonstrate a profound knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, and the history of interpretation.

[2] Jacobus Bonfrerius (1573-1642) joined the order of the Jesuits in 1592.  He enjoyed a long tenure as a professor of the Scriptures and Hebrew at Douay, France.  Although he is said to have written commentaries on almost all the books of Scripture, only his commentaries on Genesis-Ruth survive.

[3] Alonso Tostado, or Tostatus (c. 1400-1455), also known as Abulensis, was a Spanish, Roman Catholic churchman and scholar.  He was trained in philosophy, theology, civil and canon law, Greek, and Hebrew; and wrote commentaries on Genesis through 2 Chronicles and the Gospel of Matthew, filled, not only with exegetical, but also with dogmatic, material.

[4] Babylonian Talmud Bava Bathra 14b.

[5] Francis Vatablus (c. 1485-1547) was a prominent Hebrew scholar, doing much to stimulate Hebraic studies in France.  He was appointed to the chair of Hebrew in Paris (1531).  Because of some consonance with Lutheran doctrine, his annotations (Annotationes in Vetus et Novum Testamentum), compiled by his auditors, were regarded with the utmost esteem among Protestants, but with a measure of suspicion and concern by Roman Catholics.  Consequently, the theologians of Salamanca produced their own edition of Vatablus’ annotations for their revision of the Latin Bible (1584).

[6] Judges 10:1, 2.

[7] Judges 12:8-15.

[8] Flavius Josephus (37-93) was a priest in the Temple of Jerusalem, a Jewish general, and an eyewitness to the final siege of Jerusalem.  Josephus’ works are invaluable to the student of Jewish antiquities and of the history of the fall of Jerusalem.

[9] Nicholas Serarius (1555-1610) was a Jesuit theologian and exegete.  He served as Professor of Theology at the University of Mainz. Commentarius in Librum Josuæ, Judicum, Ruth, Regum, et Paralipomenon.

[10] The Roman Dictator was a magistrate invested with plenary powers in times of emergency.

[11] That is, a governor of a province.

[12] That is, the chief elder and military leader.

[13] Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562) began his career as an Augustinian monk, preacher, and lecturer in Italy.  Through personal study of the Scripture and the Reformers, he came to embrace the Protestant doctrines.  He settled in England and served as Professor of Divinity at Oxford and as Canon of Christ Church.  Unhappily, he was forced to flee from England as well, when Mary Tudor took the throne.  He settled in Zurich and became Professor of Divinity there.

[14] That is, the annual chief magistrates at Carthage.

[15] The Achaean League was a confederation of Greek city-states of the northern and central Peloponnese.  Its first manifestation appeared in the fifth century BC.  In the second century, Rome manipulated the League in various ways, and finally defeated and dissolved it in 146 BC.

[16] Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) distinguished himself in the field of international law, but he was interested in many fields of learning, including Christian apologetics, theology, and Biblical criticism and exegesis.  He was a strict practitioner of the historical-contextual method of exegesis, and both his methods and conclusions are on display in his influential Annotationes in Vetus et Novum Testamentum.  He is also remembered for his role in the Arminian controversy, siding with the Remonstrants, and for his governmental theory of atonement.