“Fire Enfolding Itself”: Jonathan Edwards, the Merkabah, and Reparative Reasoning

William J. Danaher, Jr.,
Huron University College


This essay draws from the theory of “reparative reasoning” developed by Nicholas Adams and Peter Ochs to examine Jonathan Edwards’s interpretation of the Merkabah (Ezek. 1:4-28). Specifically, Edwards’s interpretation is an exercise in reparative reasoning, the shape of which will become clear when it is compared to Patristic, Medieval and Reformed interpretations.  Reparative reasoning, then, helps illustrate the distinctiveness of Edwards’s interpretation, but it also sheds light on the different connections made between texts, doctrinal understandings, and hermeneutical practices in the history of biblical interpretation. In addition to identifying the contributions Edwards makes as a biblical interpreter, reparative reasoning reveals limitations in his approach, which contemporary interpreters do well to recognize.


In this essay, I draw from the practice of “reparative” reasoning to examine Jonathan Edwards’s interpretation of the Merkabah (Ezek. 1:4-28). [1] Specifically, I argue that Edwards’s interpretation, informed by his Trinitarian reflection, can be considered as an exercise in reparative reasoning. Edwards explored the Merkabah to address a specific problem he faced in his context – that of the reliability of the biblical text as an authoritative mode of revelation – and this problem shaped the Trinitarian interpretation he developed. This will become clear when it is compared to Patristic, Medieval and Reformed interpretations. Reparative reasoning, then, helps illustrate the distinctiveness of Edwards’s interpretation, but it also sheds light on the connections between texts, doctrinal understandings, and hermeneutical practices in the history of biblical interpretation.

Reparative reasoning demonstrates the interpretive practices that took hold prior to the Enlightenment that many, following Hans Frei, have called “precritical.” [2] As will become clear, where previous studies have tended to focus on unifying themes in these approaches, reparative reasoning differentiates pre-Enlightenment interpretative practices. Seen in this light, Edwards’s interpretation can be viewed as an early attempt to mine the deepest resources within the interpretive practices of the Christian tradition to find the “logic” of “repair” that could meet the historical, hermeneutical and epistemological problems associated with the Enlightenment.

Finally, Edwards’s interpretation of the Merkabah also sheds light on what reparative reasoning offers to the practice of “postcritical” interpretation. Some have commented on the resources Edwards brings as a precritical interpreter to the practice of “postcritical Scriptural interpretation.” [3] However, Edwards’s interpretation of the Merkabah demonstrates that there is no precritical tradition that can be easily retrieved to address the challenges faced by postcritical Scriptural interpretation. Therefore, reparative reasoning also reveals certain limitations of precritical interpretation. These limitations are important for contemporary practitioners of postcritical interpretation to recognize as we reappropriate the Christian tradition to meet the many challenges faced in the contemporary context. Although reparative reasoning developed from the philosophical pragmatism of Charles Peirce, as developed by Peter Ochs and Nick Adams, Edwards’s interpretation of the Merkabah suggests that, ultimately, the basis of this practice will be theological – rather than strictly philosophical – commitments.

Edwards on the Merkabah

In “Notes on Scripture,” an exegetical notebook Edwards compiled throughout his life, there are a series of entries exploring the vision in Ezekiel of the Merkabah , that is, of a heavenly chariot that followed the Israelites into captivity in Babylon – an elaborate vision of cloud, wind, fire, human faces, animal appendages, angelic creatures, the spirit, and wheels within wheels (1:4-28). [4] The fire was particularly striking to Edwards, since he found it described in the King James translation as “fire enfolding itself” (1:4). [5] Edwards noted that this was the “Shekhinah,” or “the symbol and representation of the deity,” similar to other theophanies in the Old Testament. But where these other passages stressed God’s hiddenness ( deus absconditus ), Edwards argued that this passage revealed the “divine essence,” in particular God’s triunity ( deus trinitatis ). Edwards wrote:

The fire that appeared, which did in a special manner represent the divine essence, is said to be “a fire enfolding itself,” or “catching itself,” as it is in the margin [of the King James Version], or receiving or taking itself into its own bosom, which represents the action of the deity towards itself, in the action of the persons of the Trinity towards each other. The Godhead is perceived only by perceiving the Son and the Spirit, for “no man hath seen God at any time” [John 1:18]. He is seen by his image, the Son, and is felt by the Holy Spirit, as fire is perceived only by its light and heat, seen by one and felt by the other. Fire, by its light, represents the Son of God, and by its heat, the Holy Spirit. God is light, and he is love. This light, in the manner of the subsisting of the Father and the Son, shines of itself; it receives its own brightness into its bosom. The deity, in the generation of the Son, shines forth with infinite brightness towards itself; and in the manner of the proceeding of the Holy Ghost, it receives all its own heat into its own bosom, and burns with infinite heat towards itself. The flames of divine love are received and enfolded into the bosom of the deity . . . Ezekiel saw this cloud of glory and fire enfolding, or taking in, itself, before he saw the chariot of God, the cherubims, and the wheels, and firmament, and throne, and the appearance of a man above upon it, which came out of that cloud and fire. And therefore this “fire enfolding itself” does especially represent the deity before the creation of the world, of before the beginning . . .when all God’s acts were only towards himself, for then there was no other being but he. [6]

That Edwards believed that Christian symbolism operated within this text is unsurprising. The divine attributes ( middot ) and the divine presence or glory ( shekhinah ) are portrayed in hypostasized imagery throughout Ezekiel, particularly in the vision of the seated human form appearing on the throne of glory (1:26). From the beginning of Christian discourse, generations of theological commentators searched the prophetic utterances and rich typology in Ezekiel to portray Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the rites, theophanies, and messianic promises in the Old Testament. A brief review of representative voices in this commentarial tradition, then, will help position Edwards’s remarks.

The Merkabah in Patristic, Medieval, and Reformed Theology

Patristic theologians argued that the Merkabah provided a revelation of God’s existence that nonetheless protected the incomprehensibility of God’s essence. [7] Initially, this distinction was grounded lexically in the text. Irenaeus (c.130-c.200) argued in Against Heresies ( Adverses haereses ) that the later qualification (1:27) that the prophet saw something “like a fire” ( quasi visionem ignis / hos horasin puros ) indicated that he did not see God physically, for this is impossible, but received a dispensation of the Father’s Word ( Logos ). [8] Further, following Matthew 11.27, [9] Irenaeus argued that this revelation was an anticipation of the sending of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Thus, “a human being does not see God by his own powers; but when God pleases he is seen by human beings, by whom he wills, and when he wills, and as he wills.” God’s power is manifested in manifold ways, but the ultimate shape of these theophanies is triune: God is revealed “through the Spirit in a prophetic way,” “through the Son in an adoptive way,” and “in the Kingdom of Heaven in a fatherly way.” [10]

Later Patristic commentators, in particular Basil (c.329-379), Gregory of Nazianzus (c.325-389), John Chrysostom (c.347-407), and Theodoret of Cyrus (c.393-c.457), reinforced Irenaeus’s reticence to speak about God’s unknowable essence with regard to this passage. Basil argued that the language of Ezekiel’s Merkabah, like that found in Isaiah 6, was properly understood as figurative ( tropologia ) and allegorical ( allegoria ). Therefore, to read this text and others like it literally threatened the principle of divine immateriality. Gregory Nazianzus argued that, because no creature can know the divine nature ( phusin ) and essence ( ousian ), “neither Ezekiel and Isaiah, or anyone like them, stood in the being and essence of the Lord according to Scripture, and they neither saw nor explained the nature of God.” [11] John Chrysostom located this line of argument again in the literary structure of the text, arguing that the qualifications of the vision proved that “the prophet wishes to show that neither he nor those heavenly powers encountered” God’s “pure essence in itself,” and, indeed, the whole point of the Merkabah was not to stress our admission into realms beyond normal human knowing, but “God’s accommodation to human limitations.” He therefore concluded that the text was consistent with the statement in the Gospel of John that “no one has ever seen God” (Jn 1.18). [12] Theodoret of Cyrus concurred, arguing that Ezekiel’s meaning was not that the prophet saw a mere likeness but something “like a likeness” ( hos homoinoima ), that is, “images and reflections” and not the “very natures ( phuseis ) of the invisible things. Thus, “in his generosity, God has presented these images and reflections in order to respond to each particular need, so Ezekiel describes for us the shapes of the living beings he saw.” [13]

Where earlier Patristic theologians were concerned to provide an account for theophanies in the Old Testament that could nonetheless protect the uniqueness of Christ’s incarnation, later Patristic theologians were concerned to guard the emerging Trinitarian orthodoxy from heretical challenges by Arian and Neo-Arian theologians. [14] In addition, later Patristic reflection on the Merkabah increasingly perceived it as a resource for moral instruction. This instruction was internal to the discussion of the noetic features of the vision. God’s accommodation to human weakness also commended humility, which was the proper virtue of creatures in obvious need of divine generosity and forbearance. In addition, the wider context of Ezekiel was ethically relevant, in particular the fact that the Merkabah was delivered to one who was in captivity and exile as a result of Israel’s apostasy. Jerome (c.340-420) noted that there were different opinions on whether the occasion of the vision was to express divine judgment or mercy – there are those who “interpret from it good, others interpret from it the contrary” ( ab aliis in bonam, ab aliis in contrariam partem accipi ). [15] Regardless of this presenting message, however, later Patristic commentary saw the prophet’s captivity as an allegory of the Christian pilgrimage, a journey redeemed through God’s presence and activity on behalf of the elect.

Medieval theologians took from Patristic commentaries on the Merkabah the general point that there are multiple senses from which to interpret the scriptures. Richard of Saint Victor (d.1173) argued that obscure passages such as the Merkabah demonstrated that the literal sense was insufficient, which permitted “liberality” with the text. Indeed, it was “God’s marvelous dispensation” to place the Merkabah in “sacred utterance,” to show that the scriptures “may be expounded in many ways.” Of the non-literal senses, Richard argued for a “mystical” sense that allegorized the vision “so far as it seems to agree with reason or to serve our welfare.” Thus, following Gregory the Great (c.540-604), Richard argued that the living creatures in the vision signified the four gospels. [16]

Reformed theologians who preceded Edwards distrusted Patristic and Medieval interpretations of the Merkabah . Rather than treating the passage as a means of special revelation or grist for mystical reflection, they preferred to view it as a sheer display of divine power intended to subdue a recalcitrant people. John Calvin argued that the intent of the vision was to invest the prophet with “authority” and “inspire the people with terror,” for the “prophet’s duty lay among a hard-hearted and rebellious people” who suffered from an arrogance that bordered on deafness. [17] To view the Merkabah typologically and allegorically therefore undermined the clear purpose of the vision, which was to show God’s sovereignty over the affairs of the world despite human depravity.

Calvin believed that the purpose of the “fire enfolding itself” at the center of the Merkabah was to communicate the “majesty of God” and “God’s glory,” which was expressed in God’s determination to chastise and punish the elect, so that they might be redeemed. [18] The practical import of the vision bore special relevance to the church of his time, as is evident in one of his prefatory prayers: “Grant, Almighty God . . . that although the Church in these days is miserably afflicted by thy hand, we may not be destitute of thy consolation . . . so that we may bear all thy chastisements patiently.” [19] Calvin’s interpretation became normative among reformed theologians, such as Matthew Henry (1662-1714) and Matthew Poole (1624-79), both of whom Edwards consulted as he compiled his “Notes on Scripture.” [20]

These representative Patristic, Medieval, and Reformed theologians help locate the Trinitarian grammar and logic in Edwards’s reflections on the Merkabah . Edwards clearly operated within the Reformed tradition and, in other writings, expressed eloquently the notes of divine vengeance and vindication sounded in reformed exegesis of the Merkabah . [21] Edwards’s own gloss on the Merkabah , however, has the greatest affinity with Patristic commentaries. Indeed, this affinity is deeper than what is found in Medieval commentaries, despite Edwards’s own enthusiasm for typology as displayed in his other writings. [22] Instead of using the Merkabah as permission to take exegetical liberty with the text, Edwards saw the vision as the direct revelation of God’s own triune essence. Like the Patristic theologians surveyed, Edwards used verses from the New Testament to ground his own interpretation, in particular John 1:18, “no man hath seen God at any time,” a verse that also appeared in John Chrysostom’s exegesis. Edwards therefore employed an interpretive strategy that draws near, if not from, patristic strategies regarding the Old Testament. [23] Further, like patristic accounts, Edwards’s interpretation displays sensitivity to the way that Trinitarian affirmations condition how the text is interpreted. These affirmations are explicit in Irenaeus’s gloss, but they are implicit in the other Patristic commentaries examined, which were shaped by controversies concerning God’s triune nature.

However, there are also differences between Edwards’s interpretation and those found in Patristic commentaries. Despite their shared Trinitarian grounding, Patristic interpreters refrained from ascribing too much to the “fire enfolding itself” with regard to it as the revelation of God’s triune essence. Of course, one reason for this divergence is that Edwards wrote his reflection on the Merkabah long after Trinitarian controversies had been settled, at least in terms of what defined orthodox Christianity. In contrast, Patristic commentary occurred while the specific shape of Nicene Christianity was still being negotiated and established. [24]

As the previous survey shows, however, the more substantive reason why Patristic theologians were reluctant to ascribe positive doctrinal and Trinitarian content to the “fire enfolding itself” was to protect the incomprehensibility of God’s essence while affirming the revelation of God’s existence in history through the Triune missions. This distinction foreshadowed a later distinction drawn between the divine essence ( ousia ) and energies ( energeiai ) in Eastern Orthodox theology and, to a lesser extent, that between the immanent and economic Trinity in Western theology. Further, while framed epistemologically and apologetically in Patristic theology, an Incarnational logic underlies this distinction in the Merkabah : in the Incarnation, the Word or Logos assumed Christ’s human nature, but in such a way that the human nature has no independent subsistence or personhood of its own ( anhypostasis ); rather, Christ’s human nature has its personhood, subsistence, and reality ( enhypostasis ) only in its union with the Logos . While the specific articulation of this distinction did not occur until the Council of Chalcedon (451), the asymmetry established by this doctrine is evident in the Patristic interpretations just surveyed. For as much as Trinitarian affirmations conditioned Patristic exegesis of the Merkabah , so did the text itself exert its own pressure, necessitating the use of interpretations that recognized a productive theological vagueness out of respect for God’s transcendence and freedom with regard to revelation, on one hand, and God’s entrance and redeeming presence in history through the Incarnation, on the other. [25] This dialectic needed to be respected to do justice to the text and, ultimately, to the affirmation that Jesus Christ is the incarnate Word, whose transcendence is not compromised by his immanence.

The Trinitarian grammar and logic in Edwards’s reflection on the Merkabah , however, moves in a different direction. Where the focus on Patristic commentary remained on the Triune missions, Edwards instead focused on the fullness of the Triune relations, in particular the Son’s “light” and the Spirit’s “love,” which existed “before the creation of the world.” While economic concerns are not absent, Edwards saw the vision as ultimately concerned with God’s essence. A final difference between Edwards and Patristic commentators concerns the distinction between God’s essence and existence. As the previous survey suggests, Patristic commentary on the Merkabah established this distinction to protect the incomprehensibility of God as well as the reality of God’s redemption of the world through Jesus Christ and the Spirit. In Edwards’s commentary, however, the divide is missing. As such, Edwards saw the vision as a direct revelation of God’s “essence” mediated to the prophet, and by extension, to the reader through the communicated attributes of “light,” or knowledge, and “love.”

The Merkabah and Reparative Reasoning

This review of Edwards’s interpretation of the Merkabah and its antecedents in Patristic, Medieval, and Reformed theology sets the stage for the next step in my argument: to show how reparative reasoning provides a framework for understanding Edwards’s interpretation. Reparative reasoning began as part of Peter Ochs’s engagement with the pragmatic philosophy and logical theories of Charles Sanders Peirce, but it has since developed as one of the organizing frameworks that undergird the practice of Scriptural Reasoning. Following Nick Adams’s recent summary, reparative reasoning is a practice whereby an interpretive community struggles and “suffers” with problems that are disruptive of that community’s beliefs and habits. To address this problem, the community engages in “imaginative interpretations of its texts, so as to find in them some wisdom for changing its habits.” As a result, the “community’s habits are sufficiently altered to be able to heal the suffering in question.” [26]

Although reparative reasoning is a form of “logic,” it takes as its starting point the semiotic relations in a text that interact with intuitions, observations and inferences. Thus, the pattern of reparative reasoning emerges when the experience of suffering, the way the community tries to understand it, and the practices and excellences that are disrupted are all treated in light of the Scriptures. In reparative reasoning, the task is therefore “to discern the pattern of repair found in Scripture and to offer as precise a map as possible for that pattern.” This pattern in turn orients the pattern of repair sought for in the interpreter’s context, and, on account of this contextuality, reparative reasoning is “historically situated and is thus self-consciously finite and temporary.” At the same time, because reparative reasoning tries to operate at the deepest level possible, it begins with the Scriptures as the “bodies of texts that function as the deepest sources of repair for actual bodies of people.” [27]

Finally, and importantly for the purpose of this essay, there are certain “irremediably vague” concepts which cannot be understood or acted upon except by way of dialogical encounters by a specific community seeking to address the problems it faces through searching its scriptures. Although the reparative patterns discerned through this engagement render these concepts “less vague,” the practice of reparative reasoning also respects the limits set by this vagueness. That is to say, this vagueness is not merely due to the fact that certain statements make sense only to those privy to the internal dialogue that occurs within a particular community, but also to the fact that these statements will always have an indeterminate character, not the least because they constantly evolve as a dialogue between the scriptures, practices and interpretation of a community that seeks to respond to new problems, disruptions, and suffering. [28]

It is clear, with this brief description in place, that a fully adequate study of reparative reasoning in Edwards’s interpretation of the Merkabah would take on more than can be addressed within the limits of this essay. Nonetheless, it is possible to view Edwards’s interpretation of the Merkabah as part of an extended tradition of reparative reasoning. The pattern of reparative reasoning first arises in the text itself – indeed, it is hard to think of a text in the Scriptures that in its plain sense exhibits so clearly the pattern of suffering, disruption, and repair as the Merkabah . The presenting issue in the text is the prophet’s bewilderment at how the Lord would continue to be present to the chosen people while they are in exile and without the rites of the Temple to structure their lives and their relation with God. Operative throughout the text are tensile themes concerning God’s presence and absence, theodicy and idolatry, fidelity and exile, and the hope for return and repair to a people who are lost and dislocated. [29]

This initial pattern of repair recurs in the Patristic, Medieval, and Reformed interpretations of the Merkabah just examined. A simple retelling of the narrative depicted in the text was insufficient, and, in each commentarial period, different interpretive strategies were employed to reflect the surplus of meaning that reading the text generated. As noted, Patristic interpreters employed an Incarnational logic and Medieval interpreters employed typology. For Reformed commentators, these previous interpretive strategies were discarded in favor of a retrieved version of the “plain sense,” albeit one developed negatively by removing the theological accretions that had accumulated over the years.

Further, for the Patristic, Medieval, and Reformed interpreters, the presenting “problem” or “suffering” that the interpretation of the text addressed also changed. For Patristic interpreters, the problem concerned the theophanies in the Old Testament and how these affected the proclamation that Jesus Christ was God incarnate. For Medieval interpreters, the problem concerned the ways in which the canonical Scriptures could speak with multivalent authority to every aspect of the Christian life. According to Reformed commentators, the problem was how to rescue the biblical text from commentarial traditions that had tamed it to the point of being toothless. [30]

Turning to Edwards, it is also clear that his interpretation of the Merkabah is an exercise in reparative reasoning. For Edwards, the problem was the reliability of the text as a means of revelation, which emerged over the course of his life as the issues regarding historicity, knowledge, and authorship involved in the historical-critical method were beginning to emerge in the Eighteenth century. [31] In some writings, Edwards simply followed his contemporaries in favoring typological interpretations, and in these he went so far as to argue that typology was indicative of an all-embracing divine discourse and pedagogy: “the whole universe, heaven and earth, air and seas,” is “full of images of divine things, as full as a language is of words.” [32]

However, new questions were arising during Edwards’s lifetime that challenged the historicity of the biblical text, particularly with regard to the narratives regarding miracles and other factual inconsistencies raised by Deists and Empiricists. In response, Edwards argued that the biblical narratives were intuitively compelling on the basis of their verisimilitude, which indicated an authenticity that could be trusted: “the Scripture sets forth things just as they happened, with the minute circumstances of time, place, situation, gesture, habit, etc. in such a natural method, that one seems to be actually present; and we insensibly fancy not that we are readers but spectators, yea actors in the business.” [33] But if this argument could refute the charge that belief in the biblical narratives was unreasonable, it could not account for the frequent unreliability of the sacred texts, an issue that Edwards tried to address by increasingly relying on historical arguments to prove the Scriptures’ veracity.

To address these issues at a fundamental level, however, required the development of deeper resources that could address these problems concerning revelation, knowledge, and history. These resources lay not merely in a philosophical theory for how, say, knowledge of God could be transmitted historically, but in a doctrine that could serve as a unifying framework that would reconcile and maintain all these tensions.

In his “Notes on Scripture” and other writings, this doctrine is the Trinity as mediated in the Merkabah . In entry 389 of the “Notes on Scripture,” Edwards argues that “Ezekiel’s wheels” in the Merkabah signified that dynamic revolutions lay at the heart of all things physical and metaphysical, historical and eternal. There are revolutions in the “natural world” and the “laws of nature,” such as the “diurnal changes” in the natural world, the weather pattern, the tides, and the circulatory systems in human and animals. Even the pattern of life on earth is cyclical: “we come naked out of our mother’s womb, and naked must we go and return as we came, as it were into our mother’s womb. The dust returns to earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it, So ’tis with the world of mankind; it is, the whole of it, like a wheel.” [34] A similar cyclical revolution tied together historical events throughout the world, including the sacred history of redemption revealed in the Scriptures:

Every wheel in every revolution begins and proceeds from God, and returns to God; as in Ezekiel’s vision, God is represented as appearing above the wheels, so that to him they continually returned. God remarkably appears both in the beginning and ending of each of these wheels that have been mentioned, especially in those that respect the state of the church of God. As to human things, such as human kingdoms and empires, they rise from the earth, and return to the ground again; but spiritual things begin their revolution from God on high, and thither they return again. [35]

One immediate lesson that the Merkabah taught therefore concerned the doctrine of “providence,” the belief that God has ordered the world in such a way that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven. If one interpretation of the “chariot” in the passage is that it represents the “world,” another is that it represents the “church,” which reveals that the church in “heaven” and “earth” are “connected” and “framed together,” to the extent that “the motion of one part depends on the motion of the other.” Thus, in Ezekiel’s vision, “on the wheels” of the chariot sits “Christ, the King of heaven,” who “makes progress to the final issue of all things” on the “wheels of his providence.” [36]

Ultimately, however, Edwards held that the Merkabah concerned revelation, particularly with regard to the being of God. As a theophany, the Merkabah is a revelation not only of the Logos , as many pre-critical commentators believed, but a proto-incarnation of Jesus Christ. “Christ was the person that appeared riding in this chariot” given that the revelation of God in Ezekiel 1:26 states that the figure riding on the chariot “appeared in the likeness of a man.” [37] But this proto-incarnation is, at the same time, a revelation of the Triune God, hence the vision of the “fire enfolding itself.” Therefore, while the Merkabah revealed a particular vision of the Godhead “before the creation of the world,” the dynamic rotation of the wheels in movement also demonstrated that, in God’s economy, the Alpha and the Omega meet:

The entire series of events in the course of things through the age of the visible universe may be fitly represented by one great wheel, exceeding high and terrible, performing one great revolution. In the beginning of this revolution, all things come from God, and are formed out of chaos; and in the end, all things shall return into a chaos again, and shall return to God, so that he that is the Alpha will be the Omega. [38]

Similarly, the image of the “fire enfolding itself” also represented the going out and returning of all things from the Triune God. Although it is the “nature of all other fire to go out of itself,” and to “dissipate,” the fire revealed in the Merkabah “received itself into its own bosom.” [39] Finally, in “History of the Work of Redemption” (1739), a sermon series Edwards tried to rework as a systematic theology later in life, he argued that recognizing the Triune God in the Merkabah provided the musical key for harmonizing into one narrative the cacophony of the world’s history. The Merkabah revealed that “all the various dispensations of the Trinity do conspire and all the various dispensations that belong to it are united, as the several wheels in one machine to accomplish the glory of the blessed Trinity in an exceeding degree.” [40] In this way, “as ’tis represented in Ezekiel’s vision,” everything comes “from God” and “its return has been to God again.” [41]

In the Merkabah, then, Edwards found a Trinitarian hermeneutic through which to reconcile the truth revealed in the Scriptures with the truths delivered through historical and scientific enquiry. Edwards would not countenance the possibility that there could be multiple truths in fundamental conflict with each other, as the new historical and scientific discoveries were implying, or that the revelation of the Scriptures would be found wanting by the inconsistencies revealed through critical inquiry or scientific observation. But the ground for his conviction was theological rather than philosophical. The Merkabah revealed a dynamic God who possessed the resources to gather all historical and scientific knowledge into a coherent whole, even if the particular contours of this coherence evaded finite, created minds. The source of this dynamism was God’s own Triune relations, out of which all things came to be and to which all things shall return.

As I have discussed elsewhere, Trinitarian analogies, themes, and concepts run throughout Edwards’s theological and ethical reflection. [42] It is therefore unsurprising that, in the Merkabah , Edwards developed an interpretation that went along Trinitarian lines. Although Edwards’s identification of the Son’s “light” and the Spirit’s “love” in the vision of the fire enfolding itself could be viewed from different perspectives within Trinitarian reflection, it is clear from other writings that Edwards relied on a psychological analogy when considering general questions of epistemology, soteriology, and hermeneutics.

In constructing his psychological analogy, Edwards appropriated Augustine’s conception of the soul as a mirror of the “equality and unity of the Trinity” and reframed it following the idealism of Nicholas Malebranche (1638-1715), so that it could describe the way humans participate in the life of the Triune God through partaking in the Holy Spirit. Thus, theosis represents the culmination of the spiritual life – “true saving grace,” Edwards wrote in his Treatise on Grace (1739-43), is “God, in one of the persons of the Trinity, uniting himself to the soul of the creature as a vital principle, dwelling there and exerting himself by the faculties of the soul of man, in his own proper nature, after the manner of a principle of nature.” [43]

Ultimately, Edwards believed that the purpose of the psychological analogy was to explore how creatures participate in God through their own self-reflection. Human self-consciousness reflects the divine relations, such that the Triune processions represent a perfected self-consciousness. In his Discourse on the Trinity , Edwards wrote that the “deity” is “truly and properly repeated by God’s thus having an idea of himself,” and this “idea of God is truly God, to all intents and purposes.” In this manner, the Son, or God’s perfect “Idea,” is generated. Moreover, the act of self-consciousness is also perfect, which generates “an infinitely holy and sacred energy,” which is “the third person in the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.” The psychological analogy therefore disclosed how the elect participate in the Son’s knowledge of the Father, as depicted in the Gospel of John (14:7-9; 15:22-24), in Colossians (1:15), in Hebrews (1:3), and in 2 Peter (1:3-4): [44] All knowledge of God derives from God’s knowledge of God’s self through the begetting of God’s perfect idea. We know God in the same way we know ourselves, through ideas of reflection, and our self-knowledge ultimately derives from God’s self-knowledge. Indeed, all spiritual knowledge is nothing other than the communication of God’s self-knowledge in the Son and God’s love in the Spirit. To know ourselves truly, then, we must know and love the triune God.

These Trinitarian insights into epistemology and soteriology also informed Edwards’s hermeneutics. As Jens Zimmerman has recently argued, a deep connection existed between precritical hermeneutics and theological constructions of the imago dei – both presupposed a hermeneutical circle in which self-knowledge and divine knowledge are correlated. [45] For this reason, in addition to the verisimilitude mentioned earlier, Edwards believed that the Scriptures, as the declared Word, reveal the divine Word in a way that is self-authenticating. “The being of God is evident by the Scriptures, and the Scriptures themselves are an evidence of their own divine authority,” Edwards argued in entry 333 of his “Miscellanies” notebooks. Just as the “motions, behavior and speech” of a body reveal the existence of a “thinking being” and “rational mind,” so the different stories and events described in the Scriptures reveal the “the word and work of a divine mind.” [46] Moreover, as the revelation of the divine mind, the Scriptures reveal to human minds truths that correspond to and complete human self-knowledge. Thus, Edwards writes in entry 6 of the “Miscellanies” that the “story” of the Scriptures is “so told that one’s mind” receives “naturally” a sense of the “whole” along the feeling that one is “actually present” in the text. As such, the Scriptures provide a means through which the “finite” minds of the saints can participate in God’s own Triune “perfection” and “infinite understanding.” [47]

The Limits and Failure of Edwards’s Trinitarian Interpretation

As an exercise in reparative reasoning, there were clear merits to the Trinitarian interpretation Edwards developed in his commentary on the Merkabah . Presented with a challenge to biblical authority and divine revelation by early forms of the historical-critical approach, Edwards returned to the deepest resources in the Scriptures and the interpretive history to generate a pattern of repair that could respond to the challenges he faced. [48]

However, it is also important to recognize that in many respects Edwards’s response constitutes a limited and failed attempt to respond to the challenges he faced. The limitations of his response are the clearest when viewed from the perspective of contemporary Trinitarian theology. As we have seen, underlying Edwards’s interpretation of the Merkabah was his use of the psychological analogy. Contemporary Trinitarian theologies, however, have looked askance at the psychological analogy on account of its attenuated relation to the economy of salvation. For this reason, many have accepted Barth’s argument that the psychological analogy represents an illicit attempt to articulate “a second and different root of the doctrine of the Trinity side by side with revelation,” which leads to a distrust of “revelation in respect to its self-evidential force.” [49] As a result, the psychological analogy tends to generate epistemologies and hermeneutical rules that are insufficiently grounded in the economy of salvation.

Consequently, although economic considerations are certainly present in Edwards’s interpretation of the Merkabah as a whole, the mode of revelation that he defended was largely inspirational and individual rather than communal, pragmatic, or prophetic. This restriction is due, at least in part, to the presuppositional framework Edwards developed through the psychological analogy, which leaves no space for an interpretive community that would challenge and correct individual readings of a given Scripture. Edwards’s Trinitarian interpretation of the Merkabah might appear, on the first reading, unproblematic – it is hard to argue with his point that the Son’s “light” and the Spirit’s “love” shine forth from before the beginning of time. However, there is a correlation in his thought between the presuppositional framework of the psychological analogy and the absence of communal considerations in the interpretation of the Merkabah that he developed. To use the terms and concepts of reparative reasoning, the “problem” that Edwards identified was largely framed in terms of those faced by an individual interpreter rather than as that faced by an interpretive community whose habits and virtues are being disrupted by a problem it does not have the immediate resources to solve.

Within Edwards’s other reflections on Trinitarian themes, there are resources for thinking more communally—namely in his use of the social analogy, which he developed to address interpersonal relations. Edwards appropriated Richard of Saint Victor’s description of the overflowing love between the divine persons to describe normative human relations of mutual self-giving. Because goodness and love are communicative, Edwards argued, there must be in the Godhead social relations of giving and receiving – the “happiness of the deity, as all other true happiness, consists in love and society.” Correlatively, the “union and love” between the divine persons is the “bond” of “all holy union between the Father and the Son, and between God and the creature, and between creatures among themselves.” [50]

Edwards’s development of the social analogy, however, has its own limitations from a contemporary perspective. Although Edwards used it to generate a theologically robust social vision, he did not have a developed understanding of communal formation and how this might complement and condition interpretive practices. Further, he often appealed to the social analogy to justify his beliefs concerning the hierarchical form social relations should take on earth. While Edwards was careful to avoid predicating any ontological subordination between the divine persons, he did believe that the processions within the Godhead provided an “economic” order that was “in itself fit, suitable, and beautiful.” [51] These economic relations between the divine persons in turn legitimized relations of subordination between genders, within the family, within the church, and at every level of political society. [52] This being the case, it is hard to see how Edwards’s understanding of the social analogy would offer much in the way of resources for how a community of interpreters, rather than merely individuals, would work together to find patterns of repair. [53]

In addition to these limitations, Edwards’s Trinitarian interpretation of the Merkabah also represents a failed attempt at repair. Edwards was too fine a theologian to fall prey to the interpretive traps set during the eighteenth century, where, as others have noted, theologians attempted to mediate between the extremes of dogmatism and skepticism by referring to a world of “meaning” behind the text that the original “author” had in mind. [54] As we have seen, Edwards’s Trinitarian interpretation sees in the Merkabah the disclosure of an infinite God who is revealed through, and not beyond, the biblical narrative. Because all revelation is a form of God’s self-communication, Scripture reveals a divine discourse that is inexhaustible. Therefore, there is no point at which the meaning of the text is limited by the author’s intention, as it was for many of Edwards’s contemporaries who were influenced by Locke’s epistemology. Finally, although Edwards at times found Locke’s theory of ideas congenial to his exploration of the affections, Edwards approached questions regarding biblical authority and interpretation through an understanding of the psychological analogy that was reframed in idealist terms.

However, if Edwards avoids this common error, his account fails precisely as an exercise in Trinitarian reflection. This failure is evident by returning to the comparison of his Trinitarian interpretation to that of the Patristic commentators surveyed. As noted previously, in the Merkabah , Edwards ascribed doctrinal content to the fire enfolding itself and described the vision as the unmediated revelation of the divine essence. In doing so, he departed from Patristic commentators, who were careful to describe the vision as the manifestation of the divine existence rather than the unknowable divine essence. Underlying the Patristic position was the concern to retain the asymmetric logic of the Incarnation – to retain a strong sense of God’s initiative and transcendence even in the midst of positing God’s revelation and immanence.

This theological difference between Edwards and Patristic commentators also had a philosophical dimension. Edwards dispensed with the Patristic qualifications regarding the essence and existence of God because he rejected the substance metaphysics they assumed. That is to say, the distinction between essence and existence depends, in part, on the belief that a being is composed of a substance, or underlying stratum, that is distinct from the properties, accidents, and relations it upholds. In adopting this belief, the Patristic commentators accepted the metaphysics that predominated in their time period and, more importantly, maintained the ontological divide between the Creator and creation. Edwards, however, considered this belief untenable. “Men are wont,” he wrote in entry 61 of his notebook entitled “The Mind,” “to suppose that there is some latent substance or something altogether hid, that upholds the properties of bodies.” But in reality, the only true “substance” is God “by whom all things consist.” [55] But if God is the only true substance, such a description stymied meaningful Christian thought. Thus, in entry 194 of the “Miscellanies” notebooks, Edwards argued that it is better to speak of the “increated Spirit” of God in terms of the “comprehensiveness of idea” and not as “a sort of unknown thing that we call substance.” [56] Accordingly, in entries 370 and 396 of his “Miscellanies” notebooks, Edwards crossed out the phrase “spiritual substance” and in its place wrote “mind.”

From Edwards’s perspective, idealism had benefits over substance metaphysics. Specifically, it enabled him to describe the unity of the divine persons in terms of identity rather than simplicity, an identity that offered a fuller depiction of the plurality, relation, and personhood of the Trinity. However, the univocity entailed in this idealism created other problems. Of these, the most important is that when our language about God loses a sense of equivocation, the provisional quality of our own doctrinal constructions disappears. For this reason, in book 15 of The Trinity ( De Trinitate ), Augustine recognized that all our analogies for God’s triunity are unavoidably equivocal, given human finitude – that is to say, analogies are useful for understanding God as far as such inquiries are possible, but in the end we see only in a glass darkly, not face to face. “I know that I am alive,” Augustine reasoned, but “it is not the same thing to be as to know.” Thus, for Augustine, our self-knowledge is not true knowledge, even if it is a kind of wisdom or faint awareness of the divine mind. Only God’s knowledge and being are one. [57] Here, despite his willingness to explore the inner life of the Trinity, Augustine maintains the sense of productive vagueness that the Patristic commentators exhibited in their exploration of the Merkabah .

This equivocation, provisionality, and productive vagueness, however, is absent from Edwards’s Trinitarian reflection, to the point that it becomes difficult to describe his Trinitarian analogies properly as analogies. That is to say, inherent in all analogical thinking is the recognition that the connection established is indirect and inductive – analogies reveal, in other words, both similarity and difference. In addition, when deployed in theological language, analogies are heuristic devices that discover relations that are inaccessible to direct apprehension. In contrast, the direct and unmediated connection Edwards drew between God and humanity led him to treat his Trinitarian analogies as permanent fixtures rather than as heuristic devices. Remarkably, rather than seeing the soul as an analogy for the infinite relations in the Godhead, he believed that the relations he perceived in the Godhead provided an analogy that revealed the presence of faculties in the soul. In entry 259 of the “Miscellanies” notebooks, Edwards reasoned that because there is a “threefold distinction in God,” there must also be “a threefold distinction in a created spirit, namely the spirit itself. . .its understanding, and its will or inclination or love.” [58]

Hermeneutically, the implications of this loss of equivocation, provisionality, and productive vagueness are clear in Edwards’s interpretation of the Merkabah . For while Edwards used the text as a point of departure for constructing a sweeping vision of the creation, redemption, and consummation of all things by the Triune God, the text of the Merkabah itself no longer exerted its own pressure on his interpretation, as it did with Patristic commentators. Indeed, despite the intricacy of the vision of fire enfolding itself, at the end of the day the Merkabah represented for Edwards a point of theological departure rather than an inexhaustible revelation of the word of God.

Theology and Reparative Reasoning – How to Fail Better

That Edwards’s interpretation of the Merkabah runs into limits and failure as an exercise in reparative reasoning does not mean that he should no longer be remembered as one of the signal biblical commentators in the precritical tradition that postcritical interpreters should study. But they do mean that Edwards does not represent a straightforward model for postcritical commentators to follow, particularly those who are interested in the practice of reparative reasoning. Indeed, given the complex, contextual, and pragmatic nature of the challenges faced in reparative reasoning, it would be surprising if any figure in the Christian tradition would fare better than he did, and many have fared worse.

Further, the particular limits and failure of Edwards’s interpretation reveal aspects of reparative reasoning that have not yet received much attention and that practitioners would do well to recognize. Because of its connection with Scriptural Reasoning, when reparative reasoning is discussed, the problem faced is usually framed in terms of the way the Christian theological tradition interacts with Judaism and Islam, particularly with regard to those doctrines, such as supersessionsim, that have negatively affected the relations between the three Abrahamic faiths. [59] Clearly, this problem is of tremendous significance and rightly captures most of the attention.

However, Edwards’s interpretation of the Merkabah highlights the need to use the practice of reparative reasoning to explore those doctrines that are central to the Christian proclamation such as the Trinity. In contemporary theological interpretations of the Bible, “Trinitarian” readings are often attempted as a way to repair the hermeneutical problems encountered during the Enlightenment. [60] Although space does not permit engagement with this literature, Edwards’s interpretation of the Merkabah offers insights for how there can be a Trinitarian reading of scripture with great subtlety that, nonetheless, goes astray. For a great deal depends on how the doctrine of the Trinity is employed in a reading of Scripture, and what kind of problem such a reading attempts to solve. Although reparative reasoning developed from Peirce’s philosophical pragmatism, the previous discussion suggests that the theology does not provide a remedy to the vagueness identified by reparative reasoning. Rather reparative reasoning presses theology to attend to the ways its own doctrines need to respect the limits of vagueness that are built into the theological task itself.

Accordingly, texts like the Merkabah exert their own pressure on theological interpreters, demanding recognition of the productive vagueness that attends any seriously theological affirmation of the Incarnation. As noted, Edwards lost this sense of vagueness in his theology, and, as a result, his interpretation lost something of the logic of repair. Nonetheless, Edwards’s attempt to engage the Merkabah in order to generate a more adequate philosophical and theological account that could meet the challenges he faced in his context stands as an important witness to the practice of reparative reasoning. If nothing else, he offers theologians with an example to follow as they try to learn to fail better, as it were.


[1] Nicholas Adams, “Reparative Reasoning” Modern Theology 24:3 (July 2008): 447-457, and Habermas and Theology (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 234-255. As Adams makes clear, his theory of reparative reasoning owes a great deal to Peter Ochs. On Ochs, see Randi Rashkover, “Introducing the Work of Peter Ochs,” Modern Theology 24:3 (July 2008): 439-445; Peter Ochs, Peirce, Pragmatism and the Logic of Scripture (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 246-325, and “The Society of Scriptural Reasoning: The Rules of Scriptural Reasoning” Journal of Scriptural Reasoning 2.1 (May 2002), (http://jsr.shanti.virginia.edu/issues/volume2/number1/ssr02-01-e01.html, last accessed March 15, 2009).

[2] See Hans Frei, The Eclipse of the Biblical Narrative (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), 17-50. For an important essay on precritical exegesis that concentrates on its unifying themes and not its differences, see David. C. Steinmetz, “The Superiority of Pre-Critical Exegesis” Theology Today 37.1 (April 1980), 27-38.

[3] See John Smith, “Jonathan Edwards: Piety and Its Fruits,” in The Return to Scripture in Judaism and Christianity: Essays in Postcritical Scriptural Interpretation , P. Ochs, ed., (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1993), 277-291. For a very fine assessment of Edwards’s engagement with the philosophical movements that gave rise to historical criticism, see Robert E. Brown, Jonathan Edwards and the Bible , (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2002).

[4] In this essay, my focus will be on Christian commentaries on the Merkabah . For more on the Merkabah in Judaism, see David Halpern, The Merkabah in Rabbinic Literature (New Haven, CT: American Oriental Society, 1980).

[5] The full verse in the King James translation reads: “And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, and a great cloud, and a fire enfolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire.”

[6] Jonathan Edwards, “Notes on Scripture,” The Works of Jonathan Edwards : Volume 15, Stephen J. Stein, ed, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), Entry 393, 387.

[7] In the interest of economy, I focus on Irenaeus rather than Origen. For more on Origen’s interpretation of the Merkabah , see David J. Halperin, “Origen, Ezekiel’s Merkabah , and the Ascension of Moses,” Church History 50:3 (1981) 261-275.

[8] Irenaeus, Adversus haereses , IV.20.10, cited from Angela Russell Christman, “‘What Did Ezekiel See?’ Patristic Exegesis of Ezekiel 1 and Debates about God’s Incomprehensibility” Pro Ecclesia 8:3 (1991): 343. As will be evident, the following review of patristic literature on the Merkabah in this essay is indebted to the patient scholarship available in this essay.

[9] “No one knows the Father except the Son, nor the Son except the Father and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (NRSV).

[10] Irenaeus, Adversus haereses , IV.20.5, cited from Christman, “‘What Did Ezekiel See?'” 341.

[11] Gregory Nazianzus, Theological Orations , 19.29-32, cited from Christman, “What did Ezekiel See?” 352.

[12] John Chrysostom, On the Incomprehensibility of God , III.305-12, cited from Christman, “‘What Did Ezekiel See?'” 355.

[13] Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on Ezekiel , 824bc., cited from Christman, “‘What Did Ezekiel See?'” 358.

[14] For a treatment of the Arian and Neo-Arian challenges that confronted these later patristic theologians, see R. P. C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy 318-381 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988); Rowan Williams, Arius: Heresy and Tradition , Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001).

[15] Jerome, Commentary on Ezekiel , on Eziekiel 1:4, in Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 75.8, cited from Halpern, “Origen, Ezekiel’s Merkabah and the Ascension of Moses” 268.

[16] Richard of Saint Victor, On Ezekiel’s Vision in A Scholastic Miscellany: Anselm to Ockham , E. R. Fairweather, ed, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1956) 322-3. For more on Richard and his place in medieval interpreation, see Beryl Smalley, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame University Press, 1978) 106-111. For a general survey of the four senses of Scripture alluded to in the body of this essay (literal, allegorical, tropological, anagogical) see Henri de Lubac, Medieval Exegesis: The Four Senses of Scripture : Volume 1, M. Sebanc, trans. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998) passim.

[17] John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Twenty Chapters of the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel: Volume 1 , trans. T. Myers, (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1894; reprinted Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979) 63.

[18] Calvin, Ezekiel , 68-9.

[19] Ibid., 62.

[20] See Matthew Henry, “An Exposition with Practical Observations of the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel” in Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Volume IV . (New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., n.d.; reprinted from 1712 edition) IV:751; Matthew Poole, Synopsis Criticorum aliorumque Commentatorum in Ezechielem in Synopsis Criticorum aliorumque Sacrae Scripturae Interpretum: Vol. III (Frankfurt: Johannis Philippi Andreae, 1712), 987. For Edwards’s use of Poole and Henry, see Stephen J. Stein, “Editor’s Introduction” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards: Volume 15 , 6-12.

[21] The most famous of this genre in Edwards’s corpus, of course, is “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” which can be found in A Jonathan Edwards Reader , J. Smith, H. Sout and K. Minkema, eds. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995), 89-105.

[22] See Jonathan Edwards, Typological Writings in The Works of Jonathan Edwards: Volume 11 , M. Lowance and D. Watters, eds. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993).

[23] For more on patristic exegetical strategies, and how they were shaped by controversies with Neo-Arian theologians, see Thomas A. Kopecek, A History of Neo-Arianism (Cambridge, MA: The Philadephia Patristic Foundation, 1979), 531-42.

[24] For an overview of the issues surrounding the development of the Nicene creed, see J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines , 5th Rev. Ed. (San Franciscon: Harper & Row, 1978) 83-137, 223-279.

[25] For more on the development of allegory in patristic exegesis, see Robert Louis Wilken, “In Defense of Allegory” Modern Theology 14:2 (1998): 197-212.

[26] Nicholas Adams, “Reparative Reasoning,” 448.

[27] Nicholas Adams, “Reparative Reasoning,” 454.

[28] See Peter Ochs, Peirce, Pragmatism and the Logic of Scripture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 323-5.

[29] For more on these themes in Ezekiel, see John F. Klutsko, Between Heaven and Earth: Divine Presence and Absence in the Book of Ezekiel (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns: 2000).

[30] Admittedly, there are other aspects of reparative reasoning that are not covered in this review. See Adams, “Reparative Reasoning,” 455-457, and Peter Ochs, Peirce, Pragmatism and the Logic of Scripture , 246-325.

[31] See Brown, Jonathan Edwards and the Bible (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2002), 1-26.

[32] Edwards, “Types” in Typological Writings , 146, 152.

[33] Edwards, “Miscellanies Notebook,” No. 6, quoted from Brown, Jonathan Edwards and the Bible , 41.

[34] Edwards, “Notes on Scripture,” entry 389, 374.

[35] Edwards, Ibid., entry 389, 374.

[36] Ibid., entry 391, 385-6.

[37] Ibid., entry 391, 385.

[38] Ibid., entry 389, 375.

[39] Ibid., entry 392, 387.

[40] Edwards, History of the Work of Redemption in The Works of Jonathan Edwards: Volume 9 , J. Wilson, ed. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992), 118, 125.

[41] Ibid., 517-8.

[42] William J. Danaher Jr., The Trinitarian Ethics of Jonathan Edwards (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2004).

[43] Jonathan Edwards, “Treatise on Grace” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards: Volume 21 , Sang Hyun Lee, ed. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003) 194.

[44] Edwards, “Discourse on the Trinity” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards: Volume 21 , 114-115, 116-8.

[45] Jens Zimmerman, Recovering Theological Hermeneutics: An Incarnational-Trinitarian Theory of Interpretation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), 17-132, 274-322.

[46] Edwards, entry 333 in The “Miscellanies” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards: Volume 13 , T. Schafer, ed. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994), 410.

[47] Edwards, entry 6 in The “Miscellanies,” 203.

[48] That Edwards engaged with Patristic sources is unsurprising, given the extent of his interaction with the Fathers in other writings. See Danaher, The Trinitarian Ethics of Jonathan Edwards , passim.

[49] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics , I/1, G.W. Bromiley, trans., G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrence, eds. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1995), 338-9.

[50] Edwards, “Treatise on Grace,” 186.

[51] Edwards, “Observations Concerning the Scripture Oeconomy of the Trinity, and Covenant of Redemption” in Treatise on Grace and Other Posthumous Writings Including Observations of the Trinity , P. Helm, ed. (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 1971), 79.

[52] For example, to argue for patriarchy, Edwards wrote the following in a sermon on John 15:10: “[T]hough there be no difference of degree or Glory or excellency [among the divine persons], yet there is order in the Trinity. The three persons of the Trinity may be looked upon as a kind of family, so there is an Oeconomical order. Thus the Father, though he be no greater than the Son and the Holy Ghost, yet he is first in order, the Son is next, and the Holy Ghost last.” Cited from Amy Plantinga Pauw, “The Supreme Harmony of All”: The Trinitarian Theology of Jonathan Edwards (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 106.

[53] Even if some hierarchies are unavoidable in social life, they must be minimized in interpretive communities, particularly for those who bear the greatest burdens of a given interpretation.

[54] See Adams, “Reparative Reasoning,” 455-6, and Frei, Eclipse of the Biblical Narrative, 51-104.

[55] Edwards, “The Mind” in Scientific and Philosophical Writings in The Works of Jonathan Edwards: Volume 6 , J. Wilson, ed. (New Haven, CT : Yale University Press, 1970) 380.

[56] Edwards, entry 194 of The “Miscellanies,” 335.

[57] Augustine, The Trinity in The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the Twenty-First Century , E. Hill, trans., J. R. Totelle, ed. (Brooklyn, NY: New City Press, 1991), XV. 15-25, 407-17.

[58] Edwards, entry 259 of The “Miscellanies,” 367.

[59] This is largely what is implied in both the theory and practice of Scriptural Reasoning, particularly when it is presented programmatically. See, for example, David F. Ford, “He is our peace”: The Letter to the Ephesians and the Theology of Fulfilment – A Dialogue with Peter Ochs” in The Journal of Scriptural Reasoning 1.1 (August 2001), (http://jsr.shanti.virginia.edu/issues/volume1/number1/ssr01-01-a01.html). This position regarding the “problem’ of supersessionism looms in the background of a more programmatic article by Ford. See David F. Ford, “An Interfaith Wisdom: Scriptural Reasoning Between Jews, Christians and Muslims” in Modern Theology 22:3 (July 2006):345-346.

[60] For a brief review of this literature, see Geoffrey Wainwright, “Trinity,” in Dictionary for the Theological Interpretation of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2005), 815-818.