The Puritan Exegesis Project: William Fenner on Jude 6

David Steinmitz’s article “The Superiority of Pre-modern Exegesis” has me and Nick Batzig thinking. Was there any valid exegesis prior to 1990? We hope so. We are beginning a series of posts dedicated to a consideration of several members of the Westminster Assembly, with regard to their exegesis of various portions of Scripture. The first Puritan we consider is William Fenner.

In A Sermon for Spirituall Mortification, William Fenner (1600 – 1640) urges his listeners, those interested in participating in Christ’s resurrected life, to sever the inner-motives of sin (Col. 3:5). Sin should not be ‘civilized’ or taken as a mere formality. This assumes that sin is something either the human race gradually evolves out of, or youthful defects that die out naturally with age and life experience, contrary to the biblical view of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Formality in religion never applies Christ’s forgiveness of sins to the heart, and never fully appreciates the worship of God either in heaven or on earth.

To illustrate the potentially devastating effects of natural indifference to worship Fenner appeals to the fallen angels in Jude 6. He paraphrases the KJV, They left their first habitation with they flung it [i.e. position/dominion] from them meaning,

As soone as they had sinned against God, and changed their natures, away they went, heaven was no place for them, they thrust themselves out … for having changed their natures, they changed their delights, and therefore to praise and yeeld glory unto God, was death unto them, they being now corrupted through sinne. (XXIX Sermons, 1657: p. 399)

Pride corrupted these heavenly beings so that service and worship to God was something they considered deplorable. Taking his queue from the marginal notes of the Geneva Bible, Augustine as well as Aquinas,[1] Fenner turns the moral onto formal worship: if one truly despises worship, prayer, and fellowship, they will really hate it in the immediate presence of God. Is Fenner’s exegesis correct?

The NA27 says yes. Apolipontas means, ‘to desert, abandon, lose, or, fail to hold onto.’ The angels aspired to higher status than servants of God in heaven, and since the verb is active it means they were not banished but left as deserters (UBS Translators handbook). Fenner’s vivid illustration of the aorist active is right on the money.

Is anyone weary of service to God? asks Fenner, Let him know that he can never endure the Kingdom of Heaven; for if he be weary of little, what will he do when he shall come into a place where there shall be nothing but continual praising of God?

[1] Jenkyn, Epistle of Jude: SDG, 135.

2 Responses

  1. Just seeking a little clarification. Are you really saying “The Puritans and Greek Text?” Or is there a specific relationship between the Puritans and the NA27 that you are trying to establish?

    Follow Your Blog via Google reader. Appreciate all your hard work here.


  2. Joel Heflin

    Hi Scott,

    Fenner’s using the Textus Receptus and the KJV. We’re using the NA27 as the ‘control’ of our ‘experiment.’ We are not out to compare the NA27 and the TR in a historical setting. Instead we are looking at Fenner’s method of exegesis with his available resources to show exegetical accuracy and pastoral care go hand in hand.

    Thanks for this.

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