Lawrence Rabone, PhD student studying seventeenth-century Jewish-Christian relations, shares some findings from his research as John Rylands Library Research Affiliate.
Toleration, eschatology and Jewish restorationism beliefs in early modern English theology.
John Goodwin (1594-1665) lived through one of the most tumultuous times in English history. He was a pious Puritan preacher of the type that filled pulpits across England and the New World in the seventeenth century. He is well known for being an early supporter of toleration for religious minorities, adopting Arminianism (the belief that all can be saved by faith in Jesus, not just a chosen few) and for supporting the execution of King Charles I, who mercilessly lost his head on 31 January 1649 at the end of the long and bitter Civil War. For Goodwin, this action was necessary and justified. And yet, at the same time, Goodwin interpreted the Bible to mean that both Jews and heretics in England would be able to live with less fear of persecution.
Goodwin wrote over eighty pamphlets, tracts, sermons and treatises in his very fertile writing career. The John Rylands Library contains over forty of his works in a range of different collections including the Northern Baptist College Printed Collection, the Methodist Printed Collections and the Unitarian College Printed Collection.
In this blog I want to examine one of them: A Postscript or Appendix to…Hagiomastrix (1647) (R8391.2 and Unitarian College Printed Collection 1737.3). This pamphlet focuses upon the Biblical passage of Zechariah 12-14, in particular Zechariah 13:3. This verse reads:
And it shall come to passe, that when any shall yet prophecie then his Father and his mother, that begat him, shall say unto him, Thou shalt not live: for thou speakest lies in the Name of the Lord: And his father, and his mother that begat him, shall thrust him through when he prophecieth.
Goodwin on Jewish Restorationism
Goodwin begins A Postscript or Appendix to…Hagiomastix by explaining that he has chosen to discuss Zechariah 13:3 because ‘there are some amongst us, who look upon this passage of Scripture, as undoubtedly comporting with…the inflicting of civill punishments by the Magistrate, upon spirituall Delinquents (persons uttering, or teaching erroneous doctrines in Religion)’ (p.1). Indeed, from June 1646 the House of Commons was considering implementing an anti-blasphemy bill that would see the death penalty used to punish those guilty of ‘damnable heresy’. Goodwin was writing before the bill became law on 2 May 1648 in an attempt to argue that ‘the Holy Ghost had no intent as all to countenance the interposall of the civill Sword, for the suppression or punishment of errour, or Heresies under the Gospel’ (p.2).
Goodwin begins his exposition unequivocally: Zechariah 13:3 ‘respecteth onely the Nation, and Church of the Jews’, not the Gentiles (non-Jews) (p.2). He then refers to the reference in Zechariah 13:1 to ‘the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem’, as well as to Jesus’ reference in Matthew 15:24 that ‘the house of Israel’ refers to the Jews, in order to argue that it is incoherent to apply this passage to the Gentiles (p.2). Hence, from the outset, Goodwin rejects supersessionism (in which Christian interpreters appropriate to the Church passages that refer to Jerusalem, Israel and the Jews). He does not see the Church at all in Zechariah 12-14: for Goodwin the passage is entirely about Israel.
Goodwin continues his literal approach to Scripture by arguing that the use of the word ‘Land’ in Zechariah 13:2 clearly shows that the chapter applies to the Jews, not the Christian Church:
It is a true and frequent observation amongst Interpreters, that the word, land, indefinitely put, in the Scriptures of the Old-Testament, alwaies in such constructions as this (viz. where no particular countrey, or people besides, are treated of) signifies, the land of Canaan, the inheritance of the Jews (p.3).
This is an important early modern example of proto-Christian Zionism in which Goodwin argues that the Scriptures teach that the Land of Canaan belongs to the Jews. Towards the end of the pamphlet Goodwin then turns most explicitly to his expectation of the Jews’ future time of blessing as he asserts ‘that God hath yet amongst the sealed treasures of his counsels and decrees, precious thoughts towards his ancient people, the nation of the Iews’ (pp.21-22). Goodwin adds that:
the context it self, and the series thereof, plainly shew, that the passage and prophesie in hand particularly relateth to these times specified, viz. wherein the receiving again of the Jewish Nation by God [by which he had in mind Jewish conversion to Christ], shall be as life from the dead, unto the world, and their Church and State restored to seven times more then their ancient beautie and glory (p.24).
Furthermore, this future glory is not just spiritual but entails physical blessings. For Goodwin, the Jews will have the preeminent place during the coming millennium and he writes somewhat lyrically that they shall delight in an ‘abundance of superadded glory’ (p.26).
Goodwin also refers to other passages in the Hebrew prophets which refer to the ‘Jubilean times, which God hath in store amongst his treasures, for them and their posterities, and will bring forth and give into their bosoms in his appointed season’ (p.27). He refers to Isaiah and Jeremiah to demonstrate this (p.27). He then makes it clear that he believes that Peter (in Acts 3:21) had these passages in mind when he spoke of ‘the times of a Restitution of all things (to the Jewish nation, as was said) which God hath spoken of by the mouth of all his Prophets, since the world began’ (p.27).
Overall, Goodwin demonstrates a vast knowledge of Old Testament biblical passages that, when interpreted through a literal hermeneutic, prophesy Jewish restorationism.
Goodwin’s contemporaries on Zechariah 13:3
Goodwin’s interpretation was strikingly different to that of many of his contemporaries. Samuel Rutherford (1600-61), later Professor of Divinity at the University of St Andrews, in his long work A Free Disputation against Pretended Liberty of Conscience (1649) (which can be found in the John Rylands collection as R7705.6), devoted an entire chapter to ‘Prophecies in the Old Testament especially, Zach. 13. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. for punishing false Prophets vindicated’. Here Rutherford responds to Goodwin’s A Postscript or Appendix to…Hagiomastix (1647) and argues that false teachers should be punished with the sword (p. 210). This was because, for Rutherford, Zechariah 13:1 applies to ‘the Church of Christ’ (p.210). Indeed, Rutherford cites Zechariah 12:10 but substitutes the words ‘the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem’ with the Christian Church: he shall poure the spirit of grace and supplication on the Church, and they shall see him whom they have pierced. This is significant as it shows that in this book Rutherford allowed supersessionism to guide his interpretation of the Bible.
Secondly, the Puritan William Prynne (1600-69) employs Zechariah 13:3 in a long treatise in favour of executing heretics. He includes Zechariah 13:3 as the first Scripture on the title page of his book which, tellingly and for me somewhat scarily, is entitled The Sword of Christian Magistracy Supported (1647). He dropped the first clause of the verse, removing the context of the passage, to make it read: ‘Thou shalt not live, for thou speakest Lyes in the name of the Lord: and his Father and Mother shall thrust him through when he prophesieth.’
For Prynne, Zechariah 13:2-3 was ‘meant onely of the times of the Gospel’ (p.149); that is to say, it applied to England in the seventeenth century but not to some future Jewish kingdom. Prynne’s supersessionist interpretation of Zechariah 13:3 was only a small foretaste of his anti-Judaism which later came to the fore when debates around the readmission of the Jews peaked in 1655 (see his A short Demurrer (1655), Rylands copy 6369.3).
So Goodwin’s interpretation is important because it contrasts with the interpretation of two prominent Puritans who advocated the use of violence against heretics. Goodwin’s opponents also had little consideration of the plight of the Jewish people even in a biblical passage which refers to Israel and Jerusalem again and again.
The significance of Goodwin’s interpretation on Jewish-Christian relations
Goodwin knew that his interpretation of Zechariah 13 ‘was indeed the sence of the ancient Rabbins, and Jews themselves’ (pp.27-8) and he wanted to use the opinion of the Jews to support his own interpretation. Indeed, he notes how the Jews believe in a ‘happy and blessed estate of their nation’ after ‘the Resurrection’ (p.28), by which he refers to Israel’s exalted state after the resurrection of the dead on the final day. One example of this can be found in Vindiciæ Judæorum (1656), which is also found in Special Collections (SC12613B), where Dutch Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel wrote that the nations ‘shall one day come up to Ierusalem, year after year, to keep this feast of tabernacles, Zechar. 14.16’ (p.22).
Goodwin’s ‘Jewish’ understanding of Zechariah 12-14 would go on to facilitate a rapprochement between some Puritans and Jews. Goodwin did not engage in this new dialogue, but other Puritans corresponded with Menasseh ben Israel. Notably, one of the members of Goodwin’s church, Daniel Taylor, wrote a treatise entitled Certain Queries (1651) which, among other things, called for the readmission of the Jews to England. In this thirteen point programme for reform, which was dedicated and addressed to Oliver Cromwell, Taylor alludes to Zechariah 12:10 as a future event in which the Jews will ‘look upon him, and mourn for him, or rather for themselves, as one mourneth for the loss of his only son’ (p.21).
Taylor, a merchant of the middling sort, used the understanding he had developed of Israel’s restoration to call for readmission. Taylor advocated for this for numerous reasons, including seeking their conversion, but also because ‘they love & esteem English people’ (p.21). Taylor anticipated the days in which the Jews ‘will be the riches of the world’ and concludes: ‘They are therefore our brethren, let them live with us, and let us love and tender them for their Fathers sake’ (p.21).
This remarkable call for Christians to love Jews came just four years before Cromwell readmitted the Jews to England after the Whitehall Conference. Hence, Goodwin’s positive messages about the future role of the Jews in future history filtered down to one of his disciples and helped to create a genuine concern for the plight and future of the Jews.
This blog shows that the apocalyptic verse Zechariah 13:3 was important in debates about toleration in the 1640s. Significantly, Goodwin interpreted Zechariah 13:3 within the context of the ‘Day of the Lord’ passage of Zechariah 12-14. It is therefore important to recognise Goodwin as a leading preacher who understood this passage as ‘apocalyptic eschatology’, an approach in keeping with the traditional interpretation of most Jewish rabbis.
Ultimately, for Goodwin, Zechariah 12-14 was truly ‘the word of the Lord concerning Israel’ (Zechariah 12:1). This shows that Jewish restorationism extended further than previously thought and that England’s leading Puritan Arminian was also a Puritan millenarian.
As a final note, it is interesting that St Stephen’s Church, Coleman Street (London), where Goodwin ministered as vicar from 1633 to 1645 and 1649 to 1660, was also known as ‘St Stephen’s in the Jewry’ because this was the area of the City of London (today near the Bank of England) where the Jews lived before their expulsion in 1290. Just south of Coleman Street is Old Jewry, where today a plaque commemorates the fact that the Great Synagogue stood on this street until 1272.
It is fitting that Goodwin, a man who rejected supersessionism, lived in the area where Jews had so intolerably been expelled from England. It was from this same parish, which once housed mediaeval London’s Ghetto, that Daniel Taylor’s call for Jewish toleration came.
I’m sorry to go off at a tangent, but the “studie in Coleman Street” places him in what by then was probably the most radical parish (St Stephen, Coleman Street, which I seem to remember held its own advowson) in London and probably the most transatlantic one too. Is is possible that this background might also have been part of a wider and more allegorical vision of Canaan and Zion?
That’s a very interesting point, Jim, thanks for sharing. I’ll pass your comment on to Lawrence and see if he has more to add.
Thanks for the question Jim. Many Puritans such as John Goodwin would have had no problem using texts in the Hebrew Bible about Jerusalem, the Land of Israel etc. allegorically, as well as interpreting them as future promises for the Jews. Like John Bunyan in The Pilgrim’s Progress they were steeped in biblical imagery and saw themselves as a pilgrim people passing through the wilderness to the Promised Land. So as a general rule the Puritans certainly did not always distinguish between passages relating to Israel and passages relating to the Church in a very strict way, as in more recent times Dispensationalists have.
However, in his approach to Zechariah 12-14, John Goodwin certainly saw it only through Jewish restorationist lines. I see the rejection of allegory in passages such as this by many Puritans, including Vavasor Powell, John Owen and Thomas Manton, as, in part, the result of the application of a more consistent literal hermeneutic as the unsettling events of the 1640s and 1650s, including the rise of radical religious sects, which led them to a need to be watertight in their examination of Scripture.
There is certainly a radical transatlantic tradition of establishing “a city on a hill” as the saints, marching to Zion, study Hebrew, adopt Hebrew names for their children and envisage the establishment of a New Jerusalem and many Puritan settlers went to the New World with this vision in mind. But for all the love of Jewish history which this movement entailed, it did not relate to living Jews in any way. In contrast, Daniel Taylor, under the inspiration of John Goodwin, actively took a positive interest in living Jews by calling for readmission and this is why John Goodwin’s non-allegorical approach to this passage is so significant. So in this specific passage Goodwin is not influenced by the allegorical vision of Zion which, as you correctly note, circulated amongst radicals at this time.