A scene from The Canterbury Psalter (12th century)

“That the Father of Glory May Give You the Spirit” (Alford)

Henry Alford (1810-1871) wrote a large-scale commentary on the Greek New Testament, and then condensed that into a commentary on the Authorized and Revised edition for English readers. He’s attentive to text-critical and exegetical issues, well equipped in classical scholarship and well informed in the history of exegesis (especially in English, German, and Latin) down to his time. But with all these details at his command, he also kept a remarkably clear eye open for the big, synthetic, theological picture at all times.

One example, from Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1. Alford has much to say about Paul’s report that he is asking for “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, to give his readers “a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.” I’ve condensed and cleaned it up a lot to bring out his main moves:

the God of our Lord Jesus Christ (see on Eph 1:3. The appellation is here solemnly and most appropriately given, as leading on to what is about to be said in Eph 1:20ff. of God’s exaltation of Christ to be Head over all things to His Church. To His God, Christ also in the days of His Flesh prayed, πάτερ, δόξασόν σου τὸν υἱόν: and even more markedly in that last cry, θεέ μου , θεέ μου), 

the Father of glory (not merely the auctor, fons , of glory … but God is the Father, by being the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of that glory, the true and all-including glory, and only glory, of the Godhead, which shone forth in the manhood of the only-begotten Son (Joh 1:14 ), the true Shechinah, which His saints beheld in the face of Christ, 2 Co 4:4; 2 Co 4:6, and into which they are changed by the Lord the Spirit, 2 Co 3:18. In fact, 2 Co 3:7-4:6 is the key to this sublime expression), 

would give to you the Spirit (certainly it would not be right to take πνεῦμα here as solely the Holy Spirit, nor as solely the spirit of man: rather is it the complex idea, of the spirit of man indwelt by the Spirit of God, so that as such, it is His special gift, see below) 

of wisdom (not, which gives wisdom, but which possesses it as its character q. d. to which appertains wisdom) 

and of revelation (i.e. that revelation which belongs to all Christians… To those who are taught of God’s Spirit, ever more and more of His glories in Christ are revealed, see Joh 16:14-15 ) 

in the full knowledge of him. αὐτοῦ (not αὑτοῦ ) refers to the Father, not to Christ, cf. αὐτοῦ four times in Eph 1:18-19: Christ first becomes thus designated in Eph 1:20.

Alford’s synthetic theological judgment is evident throughout: “Father of glory” is a large concept that includes both the essential glory of the divine nature, the personal Father-Son relation, and its revelation in the incarnate Christ. That is, Alford moves effortlessly from God to Trinity to incarnation in service of holistic exegesis.

When Alford considers the spirit given by the Father, he barely hesitates on the question of whether this is (A) the divine Spirit or (B) a human spirit. In a telling phrase he says “rather is it the complex idea” that comprehends and includes both, rising above the dichotomy. It is “the complex idea, of the spirit of man indwelt by the Spirit of God” that Paul asks to be imparted.

Alford’s commentaries are in some ways dated: his text critical labors were cutting edge but quickly superseded by further discoveries. And his printed texts are almost comically dense and unattractive. But they are freely available online in scanned-page form, and in more manageable forms as well. Well worth consulting!

I’m not sure where you would locate Alford’s style of doctrinally literate, grammatically attentive exegesis, in terms of today’s hermeneutical options and trends. I just know it’s good.

About This Blog

Fred Sanders is a theologian who tried to specialize in the doctrine of the Trinity, but found that everything in Christian life and thought is connected to the triune God.

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