John Owen’s hermeneutics of the Trinity and the Holy Spirit as the bond of love

Yesterday I had the opportunity to present a summary of my 12,000 word dissertation on John Owen’s late doctrine of the Trinity at a conference on Grace in Christian Experience from John Owen to Jonathan Edwards held at Union Theological College. The conference was a fascinating exploration of the varieties and continuities of Reformed thought on regeneration and the experience of salvation during a period of immense change.

I contributed a short update on my work on Owen, which I post below. It’s worth saying that I phrased things relatively provocatively in this short piece in order to whet the appetite. The dissertation itself merely begins the important work of exploring what Owen is trying to do in his mammoth mature projects. Many questions remain. Still, I hope this may be stimulating to some.

Title: John Owen’s Hermeneutics of the Trinity and the Holy Spirit as bond of love

State of the question

One of the major theological trends of the 20th century was a so-called ‘revival of Trinitarianism’. However, in the last decade or so people like Lewis Ayres and Stephen Holmes have argued that the 20th century doctrine is really radically different to the classical, catholic doctrine of the Trinity. Debates about social trinitarianism and eternal subordination of the Son fit squarely into this.

The 17th century has been identified as a key turning point in the shift away from the classical doctrine of the Trinity. There have been a number of recent historical accounts of the period, in which John Owen figures prominently as a stout defender of orthodoxy (Dixon, Mortimer, Lim).

The focus of this research has been on Owen’s output during his time as Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University: esp. On Communion with God. However, Owen’s vast late output as a marginalised congregationalist (1670s on) has been suprisingly overlooked.

In his major recent biography Crawford Gribben plausibly suggests that after the Restoration, a disenchanted Owen turned away from scholasticism in search of a Biblical theology and piety "unencumbered by the thickets of scholastic terms and distinctions" (10:490).

So despite the recent, and fair, emphasis on Owen as a Reformed scholastic, it remains an open question whether Owen’s mature doctrine of the Trinity is that traditional or whether it is part of the the wider shifts that were taking place in the doctrine of the Trinity in the late 17th century.


To study the shape of Owen’s mature doctrine of the Trinity, I chose to concentrate on a doctrine that suddenly becomes prominent in a number of Owen’s writings from the 1670s on: that the Holy Spirit is the ‘bond of love’ between the Father and the Son.

As many will recognise, this rather speculative doctrine was an embedded feature of medieval scholastic theology. In high scholastic authors like Aquinas and Scotus, it is usually related to the psychological analogy, where, on the analogy with the human soul, the Son or Word proceeds from the Father by way of intellect, and the Holy Spirit or Love proceeds from the Father and the Son by way of will.

Because of its speculative and philosophical nature, this doctrine provided an ideal test case for understanding Owen’s mature ‘hermeneutics’ of the Trinity. In my dissertation I asked

  • How did Owen’s formulation of the doctrine compare with scholastic formulations? How scholastic is Owen when he’s talking about the Holy Spirit as the bond of love?
  • How did Owen justify this speculative teaching Biblically? What can we learn about how Owen moves from Scripture to theology?


A sample of Owen’s late doctrine of the Trinity.

Owen says this in his Hebrews commentary (1674)

There are Ineffable Mutual Delights and Joys in and between the Persons of the Sacred Trinity, arising from that Infinite Satisfaction and Complacency which They have in each Other from Their respective In-Being, by the Participation of the same Nature, wherein no small part of the Blessedness of God doth consist. (19:68-69)

Infinite satisfaction arises from mutual in-being (in other places: mutual acts of knowledge and love). This constitutes no small part of the blessedness of God. Blessedness of God dependant on the mutual communion of the three persons in the one nature.

I don’t have time to get into the details, so I’ll just give one of the conclusions I drew from a close reading of this kind of passage.

How scholastic is Owen when he’s talking about the Holy Spirit as the bond of love? Not very.

In explaining how the Holy Spirit is the bond of love, Owen wasn’t really drawing on the scholastic tradition. He doesn’t make any use of the psychological analogy. Instead he’s developing a Puritan emphasis on the mutual communion between the divine persons that comes from passages like Proverbs 8.

Owen’s mature writings show no interest in demonstrating how this reading of the Biblical language fits with the characteristic scholastic concern for divine simplicity, or really even qualifying it by mentioning divine simplicity. This is not to say that Owen no longer believes in divine simplicity – he does! But in an era where the doctrine of the Trinity is under intense attack, he judges that it is more helpful to concentrate on Scripture’s regular vocabulary of love and delight in order to help his readers get a grasp of the relations between the divine persons.

What Owen does do is develop the Puritan emphasis on the communion between the divine persons into an all-encompassing trinitarian piety. Whether on heaven or on earth, union gives birth to communion in love. It’s tempting to speculate that Owen is offering an alternative to the collapsing scholastic synthesis, by offering this non-philosophical but still rather speculative doctrine of the Trinity, in a way similar to what Jonathan Edwards was to do a generation or so later in New England.

So alongside Owen the Reformed scholastic, my research points in the direction of seeing Owen the rebuilder, who offers an integrated trinitarian worldview and piety, based not on so much on Aristotelian metaphysics as a speculative reading of Biblical passages into the eternal life of God. In taking this route, I suggest that Owen’s mature hermeneutics of the Trinity was part of a process by which the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity became modern.


“to be victor over him by his own strength”: John Knox to Anne Locke

John Knox has, as one academic put it, an ‘ayatollah-like’ image. But Jane Dawson’s enjoyable recent biography has highlighted Knox’s close friendship with a number of women, which can been seen in a number of letters. These are available in the Laing edition of Knox’s works, reprinted by the Banner of Truth. Sadly, the early modern Anglo-Scots in which they are written makes them a little bit difficult to access. Below I offer a lightly modernised version of one of these. It highlights both the richness of Knox’s piety and the subtlety of his pastoral counsel.

To his loving sister, Mrs Anne Locke, wife to Mr Harry Locke, merchant, near to Bow church, in Cheapside, in London.

As the hasty departing of the messenger made your letters (as you write) brief, so doth it [make] mine imperfect and rude; for at night I received them, and I being to occupy the public place upon the morrow the messenger was to depart, so that either he must have departed without any signification of my remembrance toward you, or else with this nothing to purpose. Touching your troubles (spiritual I mean) fear not to be plain with me, and so faithfully as I would that God should distribute to me in my necessity, so will I endeavour myself to communicate with you what his Spirit doth teach me within his most sacred Word. In the meantime, I am assured that you are not destitute of his Holy Spirit, for it flows and gives witness of itself in your grievous complaint and earnest prayer. Easy it is to think well of God, to pray and to promise to ourselves all good things of his hands, when that his strength upholds us. But when he appears to leave us a little in our own weak corruption, and to show his face angry against sin, then to seek unto his promises, then to call upon his help, and to appeal him as it were that he declare himself a true, merciful, and kindly [“benyng”] Father towards us, is the greatest glory that we can give unto him; yea, it is to overcome him, and to be victor over him by his own strength, which albeit we feel not in the present combat, no more than Jacob did in wrestling with the Angle, yet shall we find the comfort of it when the storm is a little assuaged. For how is it able that we should call upon him for help whom we think armed to our destruction, except that the secret power of his Holy Spirit moves us thereto; in such cases hypocrisy has no place, but the sore bruised heart pours forth the anguish in the bosom of Him whom we confess only able to remedy us. But of this matter, alas! I may not now write.

You write that your desire is earnest to see me. Dear Sister, if I should express the thirst and languor which I have had for your presence, I should appear to pass measure. To have seen you in your prosperity it was to me, no doubt, comfortable, but now if it shall please God that I should see you in these most dolorous days, my comfort should be doubled, for in prosperity in the midst of mirth, my heart quaked for the sorrows to come; and sometimes I sobbed, fearing what should become of you. But now to see you tried a little under this cross, would cause my heart greatly to rejoice. Yea, I weep and rejoice in remembrance of you; but that would vanish by the comfort of your presence, which I assure you is so dear to me, that if the charge of this little flock here, gathered together in Christ’s name, did not impede me, my presence should prevent my letter.


Remember me, now burdened with double cares, in your daily prayers unto our God. The grace of the Lord Jesus rest with you ever.

At Geneva, the 19th November 1556.

Your brother,
John Knox.

(Laing: IV.237-239)

On conditions in the covenant of grace

Are there conditions in the covenant of grace, "properly so called"?

The recent faith and works dust up has been reminiscent of last year’s Trinity debate for the amount of heat generated. But slowly a little light may be beginning to dawn.

Brad Mason agrees with Jones et al on the right/possession distinction, even though Mark Jones has written as though he doesn’t. Brad Mason accepts works are necessary for salvation. But he is still unhappy with Piper’s formulation. Why?

Now, I am not interested in debating Piper’s broader covenant theology. As he is a Baptist I am bound to disagree with him somewhere along the line. But I am yet to see any statements from Piper that cannot be understood (easily) in an orthodox fashion.

The key paragraph for me then in Mason’s recent useful post is the following:

It is one thing to say that works are necessary to salvation because faith always includes fruits, God having ordained the one to always accompany the other; it is quite another thing to say that no one will be saved without good works. The distinction may seem minute, but it is quite grand indeed. There is necessity that is not conditionality, and there is conditionality that is not causal.

The issue is that of conditionality. In what sense is it proper to speak of conditions with respect to the covenant of grace? Mason wants to say that works are necessary but not a condition, and that they are certainly not properly speaking a cause of salvation.

This brings the debate quite closely into conversation with the 17th century debate among the Reformed orthodox: In what sense is it proper to speak of conditions with respect to the covenant of grace? I think interrogating the answers of Witsius, Turretin and Owen may shed some light.


By way of summary, Owen says: it is possible to speak of conditions in the covenant of grace (though he would rather not), but it is not possible to speak of conditions of the covenant. What does this mean?

First, Witsius: "With respect to us, the covenant of grace has no conditions properly so called."

Witsius defines conditionality as having the "right" to a reward. But the new covenant is a primarily a testamentary covenant (like a will) – it therefore cannot be suspended upon a condition. There is "no condition of the whole covenant". However, the promises of the covenant are so arranged, that one must partake of the smaller things (ie evangelical obedience) before one partakes of the latter (glory).

Turretin agrees with Witsius: the blessings of the covenant are "suspended upon no condition". Any duties required by the covenant are in fact blessings. You can see the similarity with Witsius (whose work was published before Turretin’s I believe). However Turretin does think we should speak of conditions in the covenant. For Turretin, something causal, and even something non-causal, like a duty, can be properly spoken of as a condition. So faith is the instrumental, grace-empowered means of the cause of acceptance of the covenant, by embracing Christ and his benefits, and so the cause of justification. Behind his view lies a view of the covenant of grace that sees it more as a mutual pact than a testamentary will.

So two things are going on here:

  1. there is a different view of the covenant of grace. Is it a last supper/Hebrews style testamentary covenant, or is it a marriage/suzeriegnty-type treaty covenant? Both thinkers agree it is a mixture of both, but they place the emphasis differently.
  2. there is a different definition of "condition". The OED offers two definitions of covenant that might help clarify this:
  • a) "something demanded as a pre-requisite to the granting of something else"
  • b) "in a legal instrument, a provision on which its legal force or effect is made to depend"

Turretin is working with definition a) and Witsius is working with definition b). But here’s the critical point:

  • If Turretin was using definition b) he would agree with Witsius: there is no condition of the covenant of grace, because it does not depend on ("suspended upon") any conditions in us.
  • And if Witsius was forced to use definition a) then he would agree with Turretin that there is conditionality in the covenant of grace, because faith and works are pre-requisites ("one must partake of smaller things") to greater blessings.

This is not to deny that there are some differences between Turretin and Witisus. But it is obvious that much depends on one’s definition of condition. And so Witsius is careful in his denial: there are no conditions in the covenant of grace "properly so called". From memory, both Turretin and Witsius affirm that each others’ views are totally sound.


This brings us to Owen, who writes after the continental divines. He declares the whole debate to be "mere strife about words". He concludes that there are "no conditions properly so called of the whole grace of the covenant" but if anyone speaks of duties as "the condition of the covenant, it is not to be contended about, though properly it is not so". Owen’s reluctance to speak of conditions is based on a testamentary understanding of the New Covenant and, I think, a brilliant reading of Hebrews’ use of the new covenant promise in Jer 31-32. He argues that the whole covenant is being set out in these chapters. "If it were otherwise, it could not be proved from thence that this covenant was more excellent than the former." If there are genuine conditions tucked away behind Jeremiah 31-32 then you could not show that the New Covenant offers the spiritual security that the Old Covenant lacked. Hence it is best not to speak of conditions of or in the covenant.


It’s relatively easy, and possibly not very persuasive to whip out some Reformed orthodox distinctions. But I hope that thinking about the different ways conditional language might be used with respect to the covenant of grace is clarifying. With respect to Piper, I have certainly seen nothing to suggest that he thinks that the whole grace of the covenant is suspended upon either faith or works.

If anyone is very keen I could try and write a follow up showing how some of this could be grounded in Galatians.

On the regulative principle of worship

I was asked the following question on curious cat, but I was told my reply was too long, so here it is:

How do you make sense of the Regulative Principle of worship, a position so counter-intuitive that at its extremes it begets incoherence? Especially given that the churches to which you’ve belonged will have practiced this principle differently?

The regulative principle of worship (RPW) is one of the things I was most unsure of in my move towards Presbyterianism, but I’ve grown to appreciate, even if I have lots to learn about it. For clarity, I understand the principle to be that in corporate worship we may only worship God in ways that he has told us to worship him in Scripture. I would start by questioning whether the RPW is as unintuitive as you suggest. If God is as the Bible describes him (holy) then it makes sense that we could not make up our own ways to worship him.

1. However the very point of the RPW is that we need Scripture to guide us in corporate worship. So what does Scripture say?

– Immediately after the fall, the first issue we encounter is the question of how to worship God rightly. Cain thought he could bring any old animal from his flock to worship God with. But he was wrong. Undoubtedly there is a heart issue here too but as so often, heart issues make themselves known in formal ways.

– Under the law the principle is made clear in the second commandment and spelled out in great detail in the various ceremonial laws. Not only is God alone to be worshipped (1st C) but he is to be worshipped in the way that he chooses: not through idols, but (implicitly) as set out in his word (2nd C). The case of Nadib and Abihu, consecrated priests of God, offering ‘strange fire’ is the classic example. No idolatry, but an offering made to God in a way that he had not commanded.

– Under the gospel we worship God ‘in Spirit and in truth’. Although there is a characteristic NT emphasis on our heart, it’s not clear to me that this means that the forms no longer matter. Paul teaches that ‘when we come together’ special rules apply. We meet on the first day of the week. We remember that God is still a consuming fire, even if, as during much of the OT period, God does not immediately consume the false worshipper! We have a high priest who has gone through the heavens, so that part of our worship is accomplished by faith in him, but we still offer God a ‘sacrifice of praise’. I don’t know Hebrews very well, but it seems that a good deal of what it is doing is showing that it is inappropriate to continue with OT ceremonies under the New Covenant. The argument is not that forms are irrelevant, but that the forms of New Covenant worship are now simpler, because of the atoning sacrifice of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Historically, this is exactly what has happened: the important breaks with the RPW have been attempts to supplement the simplicity of gospel worship with a variety of Old Covenant style sensory spectacles.

2. I’ll add two broader arguments that I find persuasive:

– worship is faith expressed. Just as the church has no right to create dogmas that are not in the Bible, so too the church has no right to create additional ways of worshipping God that are not in the Bible. E.g. mandating fasting during lent

– the RPW is freeing. Without the RPW the worshipper is at the mercy of the church authorities who can impose whatever forms they like, as long as they are not contradicting the word of God. History shows that all manner of things can flourish in these circumstances. Remembering that our hearts are idol-factories, the RPW frees us from many sinful inventions.

3. Qualifications

– none of this means it is easy to move from Scripture to public worship without serious thought and learning from other Christians who have gone before us. It’s not just about proof-texting.

– none of this means that traditional ways of worship have no authority.

– none of this guarantees that our worship is acceptable. It is a brake not a barrier.

– none of this means that there isn’t some responsibility on the church to order our corporate worship. But they should not involve new ways of worship.

Of course, there is much debate about what a ‘way’ is. But that’s a discussion we want to have, because the principle is a good one, I think. Perhaps you want to elaborate on how you see it producing incoherance?

On narrative preaching

I’ve been asked to preach a narrative sermon as part of my ministry training course, and that brought to mind some reflections on narrative preaching that I wanted to share here and invite feedback on.

There are brothers who, desiring to be Biblical and to reflect the nature of God’s revelation, have been led to preach the parables as provocative stories, leaving their hearers to work out what is meant. After all, that’s what Jesus did. Reveal too much too soon, the theory goes, and the point of the parable is lost.

Granted, much of the Bible is narrative; stories are a powerful way of communicating; and good sermons often reflect these truths, taking people on a journey and retelling stories. But even though Jesus preached in parables, I try not to.


For a start, I’m not sure that any of the apostles in the rest of the New Testament tell any uninterpreted parables. Let me know if they do. But assuming they don’t, why doesn’t Paul for example preach the same way Jesus does? Because he’s distorting the pure message of Jesus into his theological framework? Because he’s contextualising the teaching of the Messiah to philosophically-minded Greeks and barbarians? I think not. It’s because he’s operating in a different salvation-historical context.

Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell us that Jesus taught in parables as a way of enacting the judgement of Isaiah 6, that “seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand” (Luke 8.10 // Matt 13.14, Mark 4.12). As I understand it, Jesus used parables deliberately to conceal the truth, at least at first glance, from those “outside”. But those on the inside are enabled to interpret the parables, because they are given the “secret of the kingdom of God” (Mark 4.11).

When you have the secret, everything is no longer in parables.

Now consider that the word “secret” is the same word that is translated “mystery” in many English versions of Paul’s letters. The mystery hidden from the ages in God but now made known. The mystery that is Christ. The mystery of the gospel. The apostles don’t teach in parables because Christ is now risen in glory and the Spirit has been poured out on the church. Now they set forth the mystery of the gospel plainly, as they ought (Col 4.4). To speak in parables without interpreting them would be put salvation-history into reverse gear and pretend that Christ had not been raised.

Even when we are preaching on the parables in the Gospels, we need to recognise that we are not in the same salvation-historical place as Jesus’ first hearers. The parables are part of books that aim to present the “gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1.1). In the Four Gospels the Holy Spirit reveals plainly the mystery of Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, great David’s greater Son. Parabolic preaching that is not using the secret of the kingdom as an interpretative key is not actually faithful to the inspired text or the one who inspired it.

The same reasoning could perhaps apply a fortiori to the puzzling parts of the rest of the Bible. If Jesus’ own teaching needs to be interpreted in light of the mystery of the gospel to make sense, then how much more does the Old Testament? (Irenaeus and Luther make this point, I think.)

So, narrative preaching – maybe, but parables floating free of the proclamation of the gospel? No.


Reflections on episode one of ‘the Secret’

We watched the first episode of ‘The Secret’ last night. It dramatises a true story, about an adulterous affair and its disastrous consequences, that took place over a decade or so in Coleraine, a town on the north coast of Ireland.

The events being so close to home, there has been some controversy about whether it is a story that should be told at all. But it feels a lot like the story of David and Bathsheba, and, taken in that light, it is well worth watching. It is excruciating, partly because it is so close to home.

Our villain is first seen leading the singing in his (Baptist) church as the flock hold their Bibles aloft. Later on he takes the Sunday school away for a day trip in a mini-bus. He reads his Bible. He prays. He seduces, if you like, coram Deo.

So a cautionary tale, that has me fleeing sexual immorality.

But a tale that, thankfully, is not totally close to home. There is something very human about the way religion is portrayed in ‘the Secret’. The singing is happy but trite. Our villain receives slaps on the back from the congregation as he returns to his seat. The theme of the pastor’s sermon is ‘the (Baptist) church’. Our man knows his Bible inside out, and quotes it impressively in the Bible study. When prayer appears, it is not the ‘fruit of lips that confess his name’ but a fierce discipline, a punishing self-submission.

That that this might be the experience in some churches, in some Christian lives, is undeniable. Status in the Christian community, preaching focused on the church rather than God, joyless attempts to live in my own strength. Thankfully, on the whole, this has not been my experience. May it never be.

And so a cautionary tale that has me running for my life, to God and to Christ.



The Theology of Zephaniah

This post is the second half of an essay introducing Zephaniah.In this post I outline what I think are the leading theological themes in the book of Zephaniah, and give a bibliography.

4. Zephaniah’s theological message

According to most authors, the coming Day of Yahweh is the overarching theme of Zephaniah (e.g. Baker, 2012, p254). For Motyer (1998, p897), Zephaniah has ‘only one topic, and he never digresses from it’. Other authors (Dillard and Longman, 1995, p419; Boda, 2012, p905) also mention the themes of God’s faithfulness and mercy to the remnant and the universality of God’s sovereignty. However, I think these themes are best seen as Zephaniah’s particular emphases in the prophetic tradition of the Day of Yahweh as Yahweh’s holy warfare (Stuart, 1987, p231). We will identify four particular characteristics of Zephaniah’s proclamation of the coming Day of Yahweh, before concluding by pointing out an underlying theme.

1. The Day will be cosmic and universal in scope
Zephaniah loudly proclaims that the Day of Yahweh will have a world-wide impact. The book opens in §2.1 with the striking repeated statement that Yahweh will sweep away ‘all from upon the face of the earth’ (1:2). The word ’earth’ here could simply mean ‘land’, but the allusion to Gen. 1 (Berlin, 1994, p13) suggests Zephaniah is thinking of ‘a kind of undoing of creation’ (McConville, 2002, p222).

The oracles against the nations in §2.3 expand on what is meant by ‘the day of the anger of Yahweh’ (2:3). Zephaniah successively picks out representative nations to the east, west, south and north of Judah, showing that Yahweh’s day will target all the nations (Motyer, 1998, p931). But on the Day that Yahweh consumes all the earth in the fire of his jealousy, he also promises in §2.5 to ‘change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech’ (3:8-9, NIV) in a reversal of the curse of Babel (Gen. 11).

Zephaniah shows us that the Day of Yahweh will be cosmic and universal in scope, both in judgement and blessing. However, this is balanced by the second theme.

2. The Day will be centred on Judah
Amos testifies to an expectation that the Day of Yahweh would bring light for God’s people (Amos 5:18). But, in line with Amos, Zephaniah teaches that Jerusalem/Judah can expect to be at the heart of the terrifying judgement that the Day of Yahweh will bring. §2.1 begins (1:2-3) and ends (1:17-8) with an abstract outline of universal judgement, but at its centre is a fine-grained picture of the effect of the Day on Jerusalem, down to the details of different areas of the city that will be impacted. Far from being overlooked, ‘at that time’ Yahweh will ‘search Jerusalem with lamps’ (1:12, NIV).

A similar point is made in §2.3, where the oracles against the nations conclude, on Moyter’s (1998, p901) analysis, with a lament for ‘the oppressing city’, where morning by morning Yahweh shows forth his justice in the temple (3:1-5).

In §2.5, despite the universalism of the salvation, Judah remains at the centre of the Day: the haughty will be removed from Zion, and instead of fighting against her, Yahweh in her midst will be like a warrior celebrating winning the battle (3:17, NIV).

Jerusalem/Judah then will be at the heart of what Yahweh will do in the coming Day, both in judgement and salvation.

3. The Day will leave behind a remnant
The third theme Zephaniah draws our attention to is the discriminating nature of the Day. Yahweh’s anger will not sweep away everyone. This is implied in the careful searching Yahweh will do in order to find those in Jerusalem who harbour complacency in their hearts (1:12) and becomes clearer in the call to seek Yahweh (2:1-4) in order to to be ‘hidden on the day of the anger of Yahweh’ (2:4). From 2:7 onwards we see the presence of a remnant, which is most easily understood as those who have been hidden on the Day, and who are now in a position to take possession of new territory. The focus shifts fully to the remnant in §2.5, where we see that those left in Israel will be humble (3:12 c.f. 2:3) in contrast to the proud in the nations (2:10, 15) and in Jerusalem (3:11) who will be taken away. However, the remnant is not pictured as being worthy of escaping the judgement: it is Yahweh himself who removes their shame (3:11) and takes away the judgements against them (3:15).

4. The Day restores the fortunes of the remnant
The book concludes with the two sets of three promises that will take place ’at that time’ (3:19-20), a phrase earlier associated with the Day (3:9). Yahweh promises to restore the fortunes of those who mourn for the festival (the context suggests a reference to the humble remnant who seek Yahweh) by making them praised in all the earth (3:19,20). This section forms an inclusio with 3:9-13, which suggests that 3:14-17 also refers to the remnant. In the Day of Yahweh (3:16), the remnant’s shame and guilt will be taken away (3:11, 15) so that they can enjoy an unhindered and unending relationship with Yahweh, where saved Zion will sing for joy and Yahweh will sing a song of triumphant love over the people he has saved (3:14-17).

Conclusion: The underlying theme
While the Day of Yahweh is undoubtedly the controlling motif, it would be remiss to comment on Zephaniah without bringing into focus the central theme in its proclamation of the Day of Yahweh: that it is the Day particularly of Yahweh himself (Baker, 1996, p852). On that day, Yahweh will personally search out and fight against the people who have not sought him (1:6), but strikingly, rejoice over remnant Zion with ‘loud shouting’ (3:17). In the meantime, his people must seek him, and wait for the Day when Yahweh ‘rises’ (3:8). For Zephaniah, the Day of Yahweh will be an intensely personal revelation of Yahweh himself.


I’ve starred resources I found most helpful:

*Baker, D.W. (1996) ‘The Theology of Zephaniah’ in Elwell, W. (ed.) Evangelical dictionary of biblical theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Paternoster Press, pp851-852.

Baker, D.W. (2012) ‘Zephaniah’ in McConville, G. J. and Boda, M. J. (ed.) Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets: A compendium of contemporary biblical scholarship. United Kingdom: Inter-Varsity Press, pp254-255.

Berlin, A. (1994) Zephaniah: A new translation with introduction and commentary. 1st edn. New York: Anchor Bible, New York.

Boda, M.J. (2012) ‘Book of Zephaniah’ in McConville, G. J. and Boda, M. J. (ed.) Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets: A compendium of contemporary biblical scholarship. United Kingdom: Inter-Varsity Press, pp899-907.

Kselman (1992) The Book of Zephaniah’ in Freedman, D. N. and Staff, A. B. (ed.) The Anchor Bible dictionary, volume 6. United States: Bantam Dell Pub Group, pp1077-1080.

Longman, T. and Dillard, R. B. (1995) An introduction to the Old Testament. Leicester: Apollos.

Mason, R. (1994) Zephaniah (Old Testament guides). Sheffield: JSOT Press.

*McConville, G. (2002) Exploring the Old Testament: V. 4: Prophets. London: SPCK Publishing.

*Motyer, J.A. (1998) ‘Zephaniah’ in Mccomiskey, T. E. (ed.) The Minor Prophets: An exegetical and expository commentary: Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi (minor prophets: An Exegetical and expository commentary). United States: Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

*Robertson, P. O. (1990) The books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Stuart, D. (1987) Word biblical commentary Vol. 31, Hosea-Jonah. Waco, TX: Paternoster Press.

Sweeney, M. A. (1991). A form-critical reassessment of the Book of Zephaniah. The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 53(3), 388-408.

Sweeney, M. A. (2000) The Twelve prophets (Vol. 2): Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi (Berit Olam series). United States: Liturgical Press.

Sweeney, M. A. (2003) Zephaniah: A commentary. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, Publishers.