The James Begg Society

The James Begg Society

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The Exegetical Labors of the Reverend Matthew Poole


Most readers of this email newsletter will be familiar with the puritan Matthew Poole, and are likely to have his three-colume Commentary on the Holy Bible on their bookshelves and on their personal computers. But how many know that the majority of his literary works were in Latin, and that only recently has work been begin to translate them into English?

Rev. Steven Dilday, a pastor in the Presbyterian Reformed Church of America, is an expert in Latin; and he is currently engaged in this massive translation work. His website is the Matthew Poole Project - Pastor Dilday can also be contacted from that website.

The material below has been included here with the permission of pastor Dilday. It is mostly from the Matthew Poole Project website. Its inclusion here is for the purposes of interesting you in this worthy project - so please visit the website for more information, for opportunity to purchase these books as they are translated into English and published, and for free downloads -

[Note: For the purposes of this email newsletter, the footnotes in the excerpts below have been renumbered and placed in the text immediately below the paragraphs from which they are referenced.]


A Brief Biography of Matthew Poole


A comprehensive biography is in the works as a part of the Literary Labors of the Reverend Matthew Poole series.

Lives of Eminent and Illustrious Englishmen, from Alfred the Great to the Latest Times, on an Original Plan. Edited by George Godfrey Cunningham. Vol. III, pp. 173-176 (1837).

Matthew Poole, M.A.
Born A.D. 1624. Died A.D. 1679.

MATTHEW Poole, born in the year 1624, was the son of Francis Poole, Esq. of the city of York. He received an excellent grammar-education, most probably in his native city, and at the usual age was entered at Emmanuel college, Cambridge, under the tuition of Dr John Worthington. During his college residence, he was distinguished by laborious study, by his grave demeanour, and scriptural knowledge. He does not appear to have proceeded M.A. till some years after he entered upon the ministry.

He most probably embraced the principles of non-conformity before he left the university, but without becoming a violent party man. He was yet in his youth when the national contentions and troubles commenced. But though he was decidedly opposed to episcopacy as then established, and of course embraced the side of the parliament, yet he continued at college diligently and zealously pursuing the most important and useful studies.

In the year 1648, however, and at the age of 24, he entered upon the regular duties of the ministry as the successor to Dr Tuckney who was made vice-chancellor to the university of Cambridge in the rectory of St. Michael le Querne, in London. In the year 1654 he first appeared as the author in a defense of the orthodox doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit, against the famous John Biddle. The work was entitled, "The Blasphemer slain by the sword of the Spirit," &c. In the year 1657 Cromwell resigned the chancellorship of Cambridge in favour of his son Richard, and in that act Mr Poole was incorporated M.A. of that university.

The next year he formed and promoted the useful design of maintaining some divinity students of distinguished talents and piety, during their studies at both universities. This plan met with the approbation of the heads of houses, and in a short time the sum of £900 was contributed towards the object. Dr Sherlock, dean of St. Paul's, was educated on this foundation. But the design was quashed by the restoration. In 1659, he addressed a printed letter to Lord Charles Fleetwood, relating to the critical juncture of affairs at that time. The same year he also published a work, entitled, "Quo Warranto," a work designed to support the authority of an ordained ministry, against a work, entitled, "The Preacher sent." This work was written by the appointment of the provincial assembly at London.

He continued in his rectory till the passing of the Bartholomew act, when he resigned his living, rather than conform against his conscience. During the fourteen years in which he was a parochial minister, he is described as having been a most faithful, diligent, and affectionate preacher: laborious in his studies to the highest degree, which his stupendous work, entitled, Synopsis Criticorum, in 5 vols. folio, amply testifies. This undertaking occupied his attention for ten years, and is a monument, not only of his extensive reading, but of his critical acumen, and sobriety of judgment.

Mr Anthony Wood always jealous of praising divines of Mr Poole"s class owns that it is an admirable and useful work, and adds, that "the author left behind him the character of a celebrated critic and casuist." His industry in compiling his great work is well worthy of record. He rose at three or four o"clock, took a raw egg at intervals, and kept on labouring all day till towards evening, when he usually sought for a short time the relaxation and enjoyment of society at some friend"s house.

He is represented by his biographer as being of an exceedingly merry disposition, though always within the limits of reason and innocence. His conversation is said to have been diverting and facetious in a very high degree. How great then must have been the restraints he exercised in so severe and continued a seclusion from society, and so close an application of mind to the very driest and dullest of studies criticism! Mr Poole, however, appears to have enjoyed the happy art of both exciting and regulating innocent mirth.

He seems to have entertained a strict sense of what was decorous and of what was useful in facetious and entertaining, or even in mirthful discourse; but when he found that the strain was likely to be too long continued, or surpass the due limit, he would say, "Now let us call for a reckoning," and then would begin some very serious conversation, and endeavour thereby to leave upon his company some useful and valuable impression.

It is highly probable, that the habit of passing his evenings with his friends, and in so cheerful a manner, greatly contributed to relieve both body and mind from the ill effects of those severe and protracted studies in which he engaged. It happened more fortunately for Mr Poole than for most of his ejected brethren, that he had a provision of about £100 per annum, independent of his rectory, so that he was enabled to live in comfort and pursue his studies, without much inconvenience, after he became a non-conformist. He appears, however, to have once been, or to have thought himself, in danger of being murdered on account of his zeal against popery.

In the year 1679, his name appeared in the list of persons who were to have been cut off, printed in the depositions of Titus Oakes. Soon after, he was spending an evening at Mr Alderman Ashurst"s, and was returning home with a Mr Chorley, who had gone with him for the sake of company; when coming near the narrow passage which leads from Clerkenwell to St John"s court, they saw two men standing at the entrance; one of whom, as Mr Poole approached, said to the other, "there he is;" upon which the other replied, "let him alone, there is somebody with him." As soon as they were passed, Mr Poole asked his friend if he had heard what passed between the two men; and, upon his answering that he had, "Well," replied Mr Poole, "I had been murdered tonight had you not been with me."

It is said, that prior to this incident, he had given not the slightest credit to what was said in Oates" depositions; but he appears to have been greatly alarmed by this occurrence, for he soon after made up his mind to quit England, and accordingly removed to Holland, and fixed his residence at Amsterdam. He died the same year (1679), in the month of October, aged fifty-six. It was generally supposed he was poisoned, but the matter remained doubtful, and no discovery was ever made. His body was interred in the vault belonging to the English merchants in that city.

Mr Poole is chiefly known to posterity by his two works on the Bible. The one in Latin, his Synopsis, the other, English Annotations. He was greatly encouraged in his Synopsis by the promised assistance of the great Dr Lightfoot, and the patronage both of Bishop Lloyd and Archbishop Tillotson. It first appeared in 1669, and following years. His "English Annotations" was in progress when he died, and of course was left in manuscript. He had completed it down to the 58th of Isaiah. The remainder was supplied by several other persons, viz. Mr Jackson, Dr Collins, Mr Hurst, Mr Cooper, Mr Vinke, Mr Mayo, Mr Veal, Mr Adams, Mr Barker, Mr Ob. Hughes, and Mr Howe. The whole appeared in 2 vols. fol. 1685. Both these works are of great value, and are in general request and high estimation among divines to the present day.

Mr Poole's other works are the following:

1. The Blasphemer slain with the sword of the Spirit.
2. A model for maintaining students in the university.
3. A Letter to Lord C. Fleetwood.
4. Quo Warranto, &c..
5. Evangelical worship.
6. Vox clamantis in deserto, respecting the ejection of the ministers.
7. The Nullity of the Romish Faith.
8. A seasonable apology for religion.
9. Four Sermons in the morning exercises, for 1660.
10. A Poem and two Epitaphs, on Mr Jer. Whitaker.
11. Two on the death of Mr R. Vines.
12. Another on Mr Jacob Stock.
13. A Preface to Sermons of Mr Nalton, with some account of his character.
14. Dialogues between a popish priest and an English protestant, &c.

Mr Poole bore throughout his life the reputation of an amiable man, a devout and charitable Christian. When his non-conformity exposed him to deprivation, and enforced upon him silence, he resigned himself patiently to his trial, and most usefully for the church of Christ, employed at his leisure in completing those important works, which will perpetuate his name among those of the ablest biblical critics.

About the Synopsis


Two series of books concerning the life, labors, and times of the Reverend Matthew Poole are currently in production. They will include the complete text of the Synopsis Criticorum translated into English.

The first series, The Literary Labors of the Reverend Matthew Poole, focuses upon the life and literary efforts of Matthew Poole. These volumes have been arranged chronologically; each book will provide a biographical treatment of a period of Poole's life, coupled with a republication of the works that Poole produced during that time.

Some pains have been taken to make these volumes as close to exhaustive, with respect to biographical material and literary output (including works which Poole did not author, but edited, commended, or otherwise supported), as possible.

The second series, The Exegetical Labors of the Reverend Matthew Poole, is devoted to his work as a student of the history of interpretation and as a commentator. For the first time, Matthew Poole's massive and scholarly Latin Synopsis Criticorum (Synopsis of Critical Interpreters) will be available in English. Poole's beloved English Annotations for the common man have been spliced into the translation of the Synopsis in the appropriate places for ease of reference and study.

The Literary Labors of the Reverend Matthew Poole will be of great interest to all those interested in the Second Reformation, Westminster Presbyterianism among the English Puritans, and the tribulations of the faithful Presbyterian ministers ejected after the Restoration. However, these works are of more than historical interest; they give the reader the opportunity to observe this master of exegesis apply the fruits of that exegesis to issues theological (the deity of the Holy Spirit, the satisfaction theory of the atonement), ecclesiastical (the problem of unordained preaching, the maintenance of students for the ministry, the purity of gospel worship), polemical (against Quakerism, Romanism, the Restoration church), and practical (ministering to the sick). The modeling of the movement from exegesis to application is invaluable.

The Exegetical Labors of the Reverend Matthew Poole will be of surpassing value to any student of the Word, but particularly to the man who would understand the theology of the Westminster Assembly and its Standards. Happily, the theology of that reverend Assembly has been retained in its Standards, certainly the high-water mark of confessional orthodoxy; unhappily, much of underlying exegesis, the heart and power of the theology, has been lost or neglected. The Puritan theology books continue to receive some attention, but the Puritan commentary books are largely neglected. Few remember the names of Willet, Attersoll, Patrick, Durham, Jackson, or Mayer; their commentaries have fallen into disuse, and even the books themselves have become rare. Moreover, much of the exegetical fruit of the Reformation remains locked-up in Latin commentaries, inaccessible to most English-speaking Christians. The consequent disconnect in the minds of many between the Standards and the Scripture-proofs is a situation most undesirable.

A translation of Matthew Poole's Synopsis is a very economical way of recovering much of this inaccessible exegetical material and reestablishing the connection between the Word of God and the Standards. In the Synopsis, Poole has undertaken to provide a summary or digest of the best of the critical interpreters, men specializing in the linguistic (lexical, syntactical, macro-syntactical) and historical (cultural and geographical) issues that effect interpretation, on every verse of the Bible. He focuses on Reformation-era interpreters (Jewish, Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran), but, through those interpreters, he also sets forth the best of the thought of the old rabbis, Church Fathers, and Mediaeval schoolmen. So, although English translations of these Latin commentaries might be hoped for and desired, the Synopsis provides what is, in the judgment of Poole, the very best of that material.

A careful study of the Synopsis yields an important truth, that the Church's highest attainments in theology, immortalized in the Westminster Standards, grew out of the Church's highest attainments in Biblical exegesis.

An Excerpt from

The Exegetical Labors of the Reverend Matthew Poole

Translated by the Rev. Steven Dilday
Volume 1: Genesis 1-9

Master Poole Publishing
110 Laurel Street Culpeper, VA 22701
Copyright © 2007

Poole's Plan for the Composition of the Synopsis (from the "Preface to the Synopsis: Genesis-Esther")

[Some extra paragraph breaks have been inserted in the email newsletter version of the text below. These are indicated by //. Where Poole began his own paragraphs, I have distinguished this with a traditional parapgraph mark: ¶.]

ALL men carry a sense of religion deeply etched in their minds, even those who either struggle, καδ δύναμιν, as far as they are able, to shake it off, or represent themselves as having shaken it off. Various kinds of religions are in the world, of which most are vainer than vanity itself.


The Christian religion alone merits the name of religion; only this one uncovers fully and plainly both the diseases and the miseries of human nature, and only this one makes known, and that with surpassing beauty, the genuine remedy of both. This religion, however, is to be sought, not out of the turbid pond of the philosophers, but out of the Divine Oracles, even out of the purest fountain of Sacred Scripture.


To discuss extensively the surpassing excellence of the Sacred Scripture in this place, what would it be but to carry on the matter endlessly? Let that one saying of our Savior (and a more august saying is scarcely able to be contrived) be sufficient for all that have not completely cast off both Christianity and humanity, that, in searching the Sacred Scripture, we rightly believe that we are going to find that eternal and most blessed life. 1 He who despises the Scripture is worthy to perish in eternal death; he who rightly esteems the Scripture for its magnificence is not able long to prefer all the treasures of this exceedingly vain world above the Sacred Books.

[Footnote 1: John 5:39.]


However, as that Divine Book rests, as it were, locked up in an ark of languages, languages not commonly known, it abounds as well in difficulties, difficulties neither few nor small; neither is it to be denied that there are many obscurities and ambiguities, whether in the words or in the sense, which men, either muddled and twisted in mind or corrupted in manners, readily pervert into opinions not so very false, but still ruinous. Nothing can be more desirable to all those, to whom everlasting salvation is made dear to the heart, than to have this Book opened, which remains sealed to the majority of mortals, whether through ignorance or their own sloth, and to find a reliable guide or interpreter, who might open to souls, souls wandering through wastelands of errors, the true and safe path pointed out in the Sacred Volumes.


Moreover, knowledge of the Sacred Scriptures, as it is most useful, and in a certain measure necessary, to all Christians, so also and especially to theologians and ministers of the Church; in whom ignorance of the Scriptures is a most grave sin, and certainly scandalous; out of which, as out of a fountain, almost all fantasies and plagues, either of opinions or of traditions, rushed forth, all which undermined and ruined the present state of both the Church and the ministry. This is certainly one origin of errors, and perhaps the principal origin, at least in men that are not malignant, for most true overseers of souls would not find it so difficult to know the entirety of the Sacred Books that they, being content to learn some bits of them (insofar as the course of studies and sermons requires), would gladly pass over the remainders ungreeted, as if God would have written something which would not need to be understood, or as if there might be a class of men whom He might have burdened to a greater degree, first to understand, then to explain, the Sacred, and indeed the whole, Scripture (as much as it is possible, through the weakness of human ability and the preoccupations of its function), than those whom the Divine Majesty has established as interpreters of His will.


And if it is true (which is indeed most true) that the Sacred Text is the best interpreter of itself, and that the comparison of passages is preeminently useful in the mutual understanding of them, it is inevitable that they would slip into many errors, who, with that most fair framework of Scripture neglected, examine some parts of it exclusively, parts torn from the remainder. For this reason, many are the παροράματα / errors, unto the reproach of the ministry and the ruin of Christian people, of certain preachers in the exercise of their duty: sacred phrases distorted into an alien sense and doctrines faithlessly constructed by them, the fantasies of men peddled instead of the divine oracles to the conscience of the hearers, conscience bogged down by unnecessary scruples, or agitated by vain terrors, or deluded by false hope, or loosed from the just and necessary chains of genuine piety. So that one might resist these and innumerable other evils, the learned and pious men in former generations of the Church applied their hands and minds to this work, with the result that they were conferring, by means of their laborious studies, the Sacred Scripture, or some part of it, unfolded.


For this reason, there is so great a crowd of commentators, particularly in these latter generations of the Church, to which generations, by divine mercy alone, this blessedness arose in the midst of many calamities, with the result that the brightness of heavenly truth was shining forth more brilliantly, and the words and sense of the Holy Spirit in the Biblical Books were being thoroughly investigated and more solidly explained than had been granted in most of the preceding ages.


Nevertheless, it is not to be denied that, among the most learned and painstaking commentaries of certain commentators, commentaries most worthy even of cedar and marble, a considerable amount of rubbish from other commentators creeps in, worthy of the leisure only of the author himself and of his squandering reader, which were not so much being worn by the hands of the most studious as they were becoming prey to moths. And the multitude of interpreters is perhaps not less detrimental to the Church, or at least to the studies of theologians, than the multitude of doctors was once to Hadrian. 2

[Footnote 2: Dio Cassius, Roman History 69:22:4. Hadrian quotes the popular saying: "The multitude of physicians has slain a king."]


Furthermore, since many candidates for theology are destitute either of the knowledge of the field so that they might discern the best interpreters, or of the judgment by which they might select the best, or of the endowment by which they might purchase them, or of the time or inclination by which they might diligently and fruitfully read them; it is unavoidable that the acquisition of sound knowledge of the entire Sacred Text be of very great exertion and of the highest difficulty.


In addition, pondering the tendencies and methods of the commentators, I appear to have detected more than a few errors in many of them: these, by their prolixity, overwhelm and weary readers; those, by their brevity, envelope and conceal the sense: these, indifferent with respect to words and phrases; those, not discerning with respect to substantial matters (especially with respect to difficult and obscure matters, which chiefly call for the labor of the interpreter); these overflow in superfluities; those lack in necessities; most stuff each page of their books, not so much with their own thoughts, as with the interpretations of others a thousand times repeated.

¶ Oftentimes meditating upon these and other things of the sort, and anxiously enquiring if any remedy might be applied to these evils, I finally settled into this train of thought: there would be some medicine for this disease and a definite lessening of the requisite studies, if someone suitable to the task would attentively read over the interpreters of better note (first, the critics, who inquire into words, phrases, and idioms with greater perception; then, others, who draw forth the substance and sense of the Scripture with greater precision), would, with the superfluities excised, select the remainder with prudence and judgment; and would, with a corresponding method, arrange the collected remainder into a compendium, with things added where needed, so that the deficiencies might be supplemented with learned interpretations of various passages of the Sacred Text, which interpretations are found here and there in certain, most weighty authors. This I had often in my prayers, that someone skilled in the authors and issues and gifted with incisive judgment might undertake this work.


Having been for a long time frustrated in this expectation, and burning with a most ardent desire for this kind of resource, since all others were drawing back from the charge as extremely difficult, I, however inferior, preferred to undertake it myself, rather than to have it undertaken by no one.


Therefore, having implored Him, at the hand of whom is π͡ασα δόσισ ͗αγαθη καί π͡αν δώρημα τέλειον, every good gift and every perfect gift, 3 and thinking over the matter anew and cleaving the soul, at one time here, at another time there, here discouraged by the difficulty of such a great exertion, there moved by the utility and necessity of the work; finally, I communicated my thoughts with learned men, neither few, nor of low degree. To them I opened my mind quite fully; I revealed the authors chiefly out of whom I was desiring to compose my work; and I likewise exhibited a kind of rough outline of my plan.

[Footnote 3: James 1:17.]


When I had thought the outline to have received sufficient approval from them, being confident of the counsels and encouragements of them, I set forth my hand with God to this good work; and I committed the autograph [i.e., manuscript] of it to the press and sent it forth into the light.


How favorable and candid have been the judgments of the professors and other theologians, first native, and then foreign, concerning this autograph! Not a few published their complimentary testimonies of them, far above my deserving and hope; others likewise conferred their approbation by most lengthy letters of favor given unto me, and they have been actively encouraging me unto the undertaking of the work, liberally promising their influence, if ever it should be of use.


Urged on by their authority, and confident in divine aid, I eagerly undertook my plan, and after various inconveniences (to which it is not desirable here to refer), I have at last, although later than I had wished and hoped, brought to completion the first volume.


We encourage you to visit the website of the Matthew Poole Project: