Sapientia, in conjunction with InterVarsity Press, has been excerpting from the Reformation Commentary on Scripture volumes to provide readers with insight into the fascinating diversity of voices—some available for the first time in English—responsible for changing the course of historical Christianity during the movement we call the Reformation.
In light of the recent publication of the volume 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, we thought it would be interesting to hear from the editors, Derek Cooper and Martin Lohrmann.
Derek Cooper teaches world Christian history and world religions at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, PA. He describes the pleasures of discovering Reformation voices and seeing the pervasive influence of Christ in this period.
Christ on Every Page
Sapientia: Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got involved in this project?
Cooper: I’m a sixth-generation Texan who has been living in the Philadelphia region for the past 15 years. I’m currently associate professor of world Christian history at Biblical Theological Seminary. I’ve published nearly ten books, with major research interests in world Christian history, the history of biblical interpretation, and world religions.
I learned of the RCS project through my doctoral advisor, Timothy Wengert, who is on the advisory board. After completing my PhD in 2008 on the history of biblical interpretation, I was invited to contribute a volume in this wonderful series. Because of the meticulous nature of this series, it took about seven years to complete.
Sapientia: What did you expect going into the project, and what did you learn from the Reformers as you actually got into the research?
Cooper: I expected to see more allegorical, devotional, or spiritual readings of scripture. I, of course, did see this, but I also learned anew how biblically immersed and theologically adept these writers were. The Reformers knew scripture and theology inside and out. The Reformers knew scripture and theology inside and out.They were smart and well-informed.
I also expected to catch a glimpse of the intramural debates taking place during the sixteenth century. In research for my PhD dissertation, I learned that biblical commentaries were excellent sources for contemporary theological disputes. In line with the aim of the RCS, however, we rarely included such polemics in our translated excerpts. Nonetheless, theological debates, including name-calling, were often behind the scenes.
Sapientia: What surprised you in this process?
Cooper: I was surprised to see the variety. While one interpreter focused on philology, another focused on theology. While one emphasized allegorical readings of scripture, another emphasized literal readings. There was also theological variety. Even when commenting on the same passages, the theological traditions to which each writer belonged—whether Anabaptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, etc.—were clearly apparent. Needless to say, each writer was speaking out of a very specific theological context.
I was also surprised, pleasantly so, at the commentaries written by Alonso Tostado. He was bishop in Toledo, Spain, in the fifteenth century. Because he lived a century earlier than the reformers, we limited how often we included his comments in the series. Still, I personally found his commentaries to be the most interesting of all the writers. Tostado, like some other writers, used the quaestio method, which meant that he formatted his commentaries around dozens of questions per chapter. Both his questions and answers were fascinating. If I would have only translated his commentaries on these books, and no others, I think readers would have loved it!
Finally, I was surprised at just how much the reformers wrote on the books I edited—1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, and 1-2 Chronicles. Regrettably, we were not able to include comments from every reformer. They simply wrote too much!
Sapientia: How have Reformation hermeneutics come to inform your own reading of the Bible?
Cooper: I have a much more robust understanding of Christ’s role in all of scripture.Christ was at the center of Reformation hermeneutics Even though my volume included only Old Testament books, Christ was present on almost every page! It didn’t matter where I looked, Christ was at the center of Reformation hermeneutics, and this focus has directed my own reading of the Bible. I find that many commentaries today, especially those written on the Old Testament, tend to miss the big picture of things. The reformers were Christ-focused interpreters, and I’ve learned from them how to always see Christ at the end of every interpretive tunnel.
Sapientia: What do you think the church today can learn from reading these commentaries?
Cooper: In short, a lot! The Reformers were keen theological interpreters of scripture. They assumed the trustworthiness of scripture and adroitly handled difficult passages. They also were great preachers of the Word. Many of their commentaries double as devotional literature. They are not just didactic, in other words: they are very practical.
In this way, these commentaries are excellent resources for preachers and teachers. If anyone is teaching on 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, and 1-2 Chronicles, they would do well to consult the richness of these Reformation comments. They will not only find great quotes they can incorporate into their teachings, but they will also learn how to interpret scripture in general.
Finally, like every generation of believers, the reformers had their warts and biases, but they stood for what they believed in, and they did not shy away from standing for the truth. They were courageous interpreters, who spoke their minds and hearts regardless of the consequences or popularity of what they were saying.