My Memories of Edward J. Young
Leonard J. Coppes
Dr. Edward J. Young was one of the greatest Christian scholars I ever met, and one of the godliest Christians I ever met. I came to Westminster Theological Seminary in 1964 for postgraduate work. I had just completed a master's degree at Princeton and was tired of the liberalism that seemed to permeate all the lectures and grading.
I had decided to come to Westminster, although I was not a Presbyterian at that time, because I knew of its reputation for orthodoxy. I was tired of the liberalism and yearned to spend my time learning what to believe, rather than learning what I could not believe. My first acquaintance with Westminster came from a professorial advisor at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, who told me that the school was scholarly and academically excellent. The two years I spent studying at Westminster did not disappoint me, and, indeed, satisfied my yearning for truly Christian scholarship.
It helped me to advance from Amyraldianism to a consistent Calvinism. Ultimately, I was able to move from a baptistic view of a sharply divided Scripture to a Reformed view of the covenantal unity of biblical revelation and of the Scripture. I also advanced from a baptistic concept of church government to a Presbyterian view, and from a baptistic understanding of baptism to a more consistently biblical view.
The move from Princeton to Westminster was a move from a school where I was taught that no one had ever answered the higher critics to one where I was shown that there were good and repeated answers to all of the problems and issues that had been raised. To be sure, Westminster did not present all that material in its classes, but it did demonstrate thoroughly that faithful scholarship had persistently, consistently, and adequately responded. Contrary to what was taught in one Princeton class, I learned that those who believe in the inerrancy and authority of the Scripture were not locked in the Neanderthal age of theological development.
I came to know Professor Young as a person. He was kind and gentle in demeanor toward all. His godliness was always evidenced. It was a quiet godliness that emanated love for, and trust in, the Christ of the cross. It was a godliness educated in the deepest studies of the Scripture, studies that delved into all sides of an issue. I learned later that it was a godliness that was expressed in a commitment to his church, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. It was a godliness that rested on, and faithfully reproduced, the system of theology set forth in the Bible and summarized in the Westminster standards. I should add that while I was studying at Westminster, there was no attempt to convert me to the OPC, although that was the ultimate result of my studies there. There was a sincere attempt to teach me the nature of applied orthodoxy in both Old and New Testament studies, and Dr. Young, as my major professor, was stellar in pursuing that end.
It was during my days of study there that I first read his book Thy Word Is Truth. It greatly helped me gain a firm and knowledgeable commitment to inerrancy. I had originally come from a seminary where I had been taught that the Bible was inspired in all it taught, but that it contained certain statements that were not inspired and some things that were in error. We were taught that the Bible was theologically infallible, but not inerrant. Young's book showed me that one could intellectually hold the position that the Bible was without error, both in what it said and in what it taught. Of course, he did not cover every issue and question, but he stated and adequately defended the path of the truth. As I read that book, I was also impressed by the simplicity with which he expressed himself. We students witnessed that same commitment to orthodoxy and simplicity of communication in the classes he taught.
In other books, one is introduced to the depth and breadth of his knowledge and defense of the faith. His Introduction to the Old Testament was paralleled by and sometimes supplemented by the courses he taught on Old Testament criticism and its history. One is still struck with wonder at how much he packed into that book and how he so deftly set forth and answered many of the higher-critical attacks. Having scanned my notes from those classes, I recall how he patiently lectured through the various historical levels of critical and orthodox study of the Old Testament.
I also remember the times when students would ask about a certain scholar and his position. In his answers, Dr. Young poured forth an abundance of detail about the scholar's work, history, and position. It seemed as if he had just read every scholar in the history of criticism. He knew where and when each scholar had taught. He knew each man's unique contribution to the history of scholarship and even the books he had authored. Interestingly, he sometimes cited the names of these works in the original language and then translated the title. There was a mighty gap between the simplicity of some of the lectures and the profundity of the answers to these questions.
It might be noted that there was not an outpouring of technical terminology in his responses. The answers were profound, but they were couched in a minimum of scholarly language. On the other hand, if a question was asked in technical terms, Dr. Young was never stumped by the technicalities. It almost seemed that the students were inclined to think Dr. Young was simplistic in his thinking, but such a thought was usually swept away during the question-and-answer exchange, where it became clear (to those who had ears to listen) that his information was encyclopedic in extent and profound in comprehension.
I think it was in one of his courses on the history of criticism that Dr. Young refuted the idea that there were three Isaiahs combined into the present biblical book. As I remember it, he told us that in the Dead Sea Scrolls the theorized break between second and third Isaiah is absent. Indeed, in those documents the text at the point of the supposed break is continuous and comes somewhere in the middle of a "page." Moreover, somewhat amazingly to me, he told us that when the discovery of the Scrolls was first announced, he did not believe these were genuine documents, because at one point he had personally worked through the library of the monastery in which they had been discovered and they were not to be found there. Subsequently, when it was reported that they had not been discovered in the monastery library but in certain caves, he reconsidered his conclusion. Moreover, it was evident that he had personally seen the scrolls of Isaiah and had worked through them to a certain degree.
A glance at my notes from his class on Isaiah reminded me of how carefully he dealt with the biblical text. He had a profound knowledge of Hebrew. My first class on Isaiah opened with Isaiah 1:1 and proceeded patiently and carefully, verse by verse. Obviously, we did not get very far into Isaiah in that class. On the other hand, we were learning what it took to analyze and understand the Bible. When one dips into his commentaries on Isaiah, one gets a good idea of Young's wide knowledge, especially if one studies the footnotes of those volumes. But even this does not give one a truly accurate picture of Young's linguistic ability. Behind his knowledge of Hebrew lay a thorough knowledge of many other languages. For example, he was accomplished in Arabic. I heard it said somewhere that one of the major Arabists of his day had said that Young could have been the world's leading Arabist if he had focused just on Arabic.
Many of us were aware of Young's ability in languages. In my opinion, no one except Dr. Young and the Lord God knew how many languages he could speak or read. From my contacts with him, I knew he could read well most of the modern Western European languages: French, German, Spanish, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, etc. I also knew he was capable in most of the Semitic languages, such as Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, the Akkadian languages, Ugaritic, Phoenician, Moabite, etc. I understand that he learned to communicate in Arabic during a transatlantic boat trip to Israel. In addition, I heard that he had learned to speak Korean from some of the students at the Seminary and was skilled enough in that language to correct the grammar in a Korean letter he had received—a thing he did, no doubt, with characteristic self-effacement and humility. It was reputed that as he took his usual walks to and from the Seminary, he was reading one of the Latin or Greek volumes from the Loeb Classical Library.
While at Westminster, I sat under his tutelage in Akkadian and Egyptian. I had been privileged to be introduced to Akkadian at my seminary, and found it very refreshing to continue those studies under Dr. Young. I was also introduced to Egyptian under Dr. Young. My wife still tells the story of how she and I would go to the University of Pennsylvania to browse through the Akkadian and Egyptian exhibits, where I struggled to read the various inscriptions—a delightful exercise made possible by Dr. Young and a patient wife. His dedication to language study was a wonderful characteristic that challenged many of us.
I certainly remember and admire Dr. Young's careful and accurate presentation of views with which he heartily disagreed. He graciously found positive and true things to say about some of the most negative critics. While I have come to the place where I am prone to double-check what many writers say about others, I am confident of accuracy when I read Dr. Young's description of someone else's position. The Westminster scholars under whom I studied held it as a matter of godly principle to accurately present an opposing position before criticizing it. They did not want to set up a "straw man" to knock down. They knew that to prove something false that a writer had not said was both wrong before God and evidence of poor scholarship.
The Christian world was recently blessed with the publication The God-Breathed Scripture, which reprints a series of lectures that Dr. Young had delivered in 1966. With customary care, simplicity, and commitment to the Lord, Dr. Young defends the inerrancy and divine origin of the Scripture. When I read this brief book, I was again reminded of the great scholar and humble believer. One rejoices in the simple, straightforward presentation and careful explanations of some very difficult ideas. We see his gracious treatment of Dr. Alan Richardson's and Dr. Dewey Beegle's rejection of the integrity of Scripture.
Also, Young exhibits a knowledge of, and commitment to, Cornelius Van Til's apologetic. I do not remember him ever talking directly about Dr. Van Til's apologetic, but it was always evident that it undergirded his thinking. Perhaps his simple way of presenting what is so evident to many ordinary laymen (i.e., that from the outset of one's thought the Bible is and should be treated as the very Word of God) is part of the charm and attraction of some of Young's books. This is evident, not only in this recently released book, but also in Young's other books, such as his Thy Word Is Truth.
One of my recollections of Dr. Young's patience in teaching has to do with a statement I made in class. I referred to the meanings of a certain passage. He kindly reminded me that Scripture has but one meaning. It was clear that he believed that one meaning was available to us if we were careful in our exegesis. He rejected the idea that the meaning of the Bible was in some way hidden to us. It was his ardent intention to lay bare that meaning and to teach us how to do so. He rejected the idea that we could not, in principle, really reach the meaning of a given passage of God's Word. God's Word not only was truth, but communicated truth.
He was a staunch defender of the grammatical-historical hermeneutic—a position he consistently taught in all of his classes. At the same time, he acknowledged with gratitude the work of Geerhardus Vos. He seemed to see Vos's biblical-historical approach as a refinement of the grammatical-historical approach, not as its replacement. I am sure he saw other hermeneutical approaches as useful and biblical as well, such as typological exegesis. As I remember the classes I had in both Old Testament and New Testament, the professors appeared to be united in sticking closely to the grammatical-historical approach unless the passage clearly warranted some other approach. We were taught a method of exegesis that allowed us to reach definite conclusions and see clarity in Scripture, so that there could be and was meaningful biblical teaching and debate.
It was from Dr. Young that I learned about the Jesuit priest Manuel Lacunza, whose views on Bible prophecy had anticipated those of John Nelson Darby, the father of dispensationalism. I think I had to read Lacunza's book in fulfilling the requirements of one of the study courses I took under Young. This was especially interesting because as a young boy I had been taught dispensationalism. I had rejected that system (or so I thought) before I had finished my seminary training, but it was intriguing to see how close to Darby's system Lacunza's work was and to learn that Lacunza had predated Darby.
One other memory sticks in my mind. When it came time for me to write a dissertation, Dr. Young told me I could spend a lot of time searching for an acceptable topic or he could suggest a few to me. I did not have to think long to make a decision, and quickly chose one of the topics he suggested. I had heard stories of how hard it is to find an acceptable topic.
It certainly is one of my earnest prayers that the commitment to, and comprehension of, the Scripture and Westminster standards evidenced in scholars such as Dr. Young remain the heritage and the living experience of the OPC, if not of Reformed believers around the world.
The author is pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church in Denver, Colo. Reprinted from New Horizons, October 2007.