Sunday, 10 January 2016

Inspiration and Interpretation, by Dean John William Burgon

Dean John William Burgon (1813-1888) was a Bible scholar of High Anglican persuasion. He is best known for his defense of the traditional Byzantine text of the New Testament and his criticisms of the Revised Version of the Bible. His books on textual criticism are popular among fundamentalist Protestants who defend the King James Bible and reject modern translations. There is an American fundamentalist organisation called the Dean Burgon Society which promotes the Textus Receptus and the King James Bible. The question has been raised as to whether Dean Burgon would have been allowed to join the Dean Burgon Society, as he did not hold to the infallibility of the Received Text, but only those parts of it which were supported by the majority of Greek manuscripts. Likewise his High Anglicanism would hardly have made him popular among fundamentalist Baptists.

This comprises seven sermons defending the Verbal Inspiration and Inerrancy of Scripture and traditional interpretation over against liberalism. These are preceded by a series of essays critiquing Essays and Reviews (1860) a liberal Anglican publication which caused considerable controversy. It expressed the modernist ideas of higher criticism from German universities, which had not before been popularised in Britain.

Burgon's defense of the Verbal Inspiration and Inerrancy was sound, but on the subject of Bible interpretation he was somewhat narrow in his views. He was unaware of the implications of genre or the Ancient Near East context of the Old Testament. He was not, however, a Young Earth Creationist. He accepts the conclusions of geology regarding the age of the Earth and harmonizes them with Genesis using the Gap theory. Yet he also accepts Ussher's dating and holds that humanity began six thousand years ago. I don't think many conservative Bible scholars today would accept Ussher's dating and would see gaps in the geneologies of Scripture.

I had thought that Burgon would have been one of the High Church critics of the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement. However, this book seems to indicate that he was sympathetic towards the Oxford Movement. He makes the occasional harsh comment about Papism, as might be expected.

The Church of England needs more men like Burgon, who hold fast to the authority of the Word of God. The Catholic Church could do with a few as well.

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