Digging into Scripture

Boy Reading the holy bible

During the last three years of doctoral research, it has been my pleasure to become well acquainted with two particular theologians from yesteryear: Peter Martyr Vermigli 1499-1562) and John Henry Newman (1801-1890). While at first glance these figures may appear to be an odd couple (a nineteenth century Englishman and a sixteenth century Italian), they in fact have a host of fascinating points of connection. I hope to highlight these similarities in a future post (with some contemporary application); in the meantime, I would like to consider a statement by Vermigli.

In 1547, Peter Martyr was appointed Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford. He labored throughout Edward’s reign training young men for gospel ministry.1 In this excerpt from a sermon preached between 1548 and 1551, he insisted that the tools of Bible interpretation are of little use unless the minister is willing to dive deep and dig hard in his studies.

It often happens that the obscurity of the Scriptures is attributable to our laziness and stupidity. Those who are looking for precious stones in the sea do not sit along the shore and trace drawings in the sand or count the waves and winds, but they dive right down to the bottom and bring back gems to achieve the fulfillment of their wish. Those who are prospecting for gold or silver in the veins of the earth do not dig lightly at the upper crust but somehow penetrate down to the bottom and the deepest parts of the abyss and finally from there collect some gold nuggets. If we were to apply this same diligence and watchfulness to the word of God, we would penetrate its obscure passages. Nothing is so hard as unremitting work does not make easy . . .2


1 The death of Edward, the accession of Roman Catholic Queen Mary, meant certain peril. In 1553, Vermigli fled the country.

2 Peter Martyr Vermigli, “Exhortation for Youths to Study Scared Letters,” in Life, Letters, and Sermons, trans. and ed. John Patrick Donnelly, in The Peter Martyr Library, vol. 5 (Kirksville, MO: Thomas Jefferson University Press, 1999), 281-282.

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