If you don’t know what the Family Expositor is, and if you’ve never heard of Philip Doddridge, you’re not alone. Philip Doddridge is an obscure later puritan, and the Family Expositor is his commentary and devotional on the New Testament. Most people have not heard of him or his great New Testament work. Even modern enthusiasts of Puritan literature mostly haven’t heard of him, let alone had the luxury to read him.
I first encountered Doddridge’s Family Expositor when I saw it referenced by Jonathan Edwards. Edwards references Doddridge time after time in his Blank Bible. Of the 423 page New Testament in his Blank Bible, Edwards mentions Doddridge 413 times. That’s almost once per page. In comparison, the only 2 other commentaries Edwards regularly used, Matthew Henry, and Matthew Poole, have only 9 and 7 New Testament mentions respectively. Doddridge’s Family Expositor was Edward’s most used commentary on the New Testament.
Edwards is probably my favorite theologian to read, so I was curious about the books that he enjoyed. I went looking for Doddridge, and his Family Expositor, but I just couldn’t find it. It seemed notoriously difficult to track down. I was able to find some poorly made facsimile reprints in several volumes, but it was difficult to determine which Bible books each volume covered since they usually weren’t properly titled, and each release date had differing numbers of volumes. I did however, finally find the Expositor on archive.org (here). And here I was able to read it, and was blown away with what I found.
Philip Doddridge was an early 18th century non-conformist pastor, and like Matthew Henry, he spent much of his free time writing his commentary. Doddridge notes in the preface that he intended this commentary to be used by families at the dinner table. The forgotten practice of family worship is a great way to use this commentary; the expanded translation, and the devotions at the end of each section (see below) work together seamlessly as a perfect tool for family devotional reading and discussion. This may well be the book that Jonathan Edwards used for his family devotions.
The Family Expositor is really an extraordinary work. Doddridge deems it “a paraphrase,” but it is much more than that. Really it’s three works in one. It is a puritan style translation and expansion on the text, a puritan commentary on the text, and at heart, a puritan devotional work on the text. Doddridge combines these three to make a truly great puritan companion to the New Testament. Let’s look at these three successively:
Doddridge took the Bible text itself, and in lengthy characteristic puritan style, he commented and expanded on it. The Old King James Bible text is included in outside columns on each page, and Doddridge’s translation and expansion (paraphrase) is in the larger center column. Within his paraphrase, the translation of the Bible text is italicized, whereas his own expansions on the text are in standard font. This helps the reader not confuse Doddridge’s expansions with the Bible text itself. Here’s a sample from John chapter 3:
Doddridge’s paraphrase is lengthy! As you can see above, this is not even 2 verses. But even in addition to his paraphrase, throughout he includes lengthy notes on the Biblical text. The notes above are a good example of what pervades the book. The notes are so extensive that by themselves they would comprise a complete commentary. These notes are glorious! I’m a sucker for great footnotes, so I love this. The notes address many questions that would naturally arise (such as the “we” reference above) and explain the meaning of scores of the difficult passages and phrases in the New Testament. The notes are one of the best features of this work.
One of my favorite things about The Family Expositor though is that it includes devotions for every section of the New Testament. This is great because it allows the reader to base their devotional reading on their Bible reading, rather than the other way around. The reader can read the paraphrase on the section of Bible they are in at the time, and then read the devotions on that same scripture. This way the Bible is primary, and the devotions can be used as needed on any given passage. I like to read devotions particularly when I’m in a stale season in my reading. The devotions in the Family Expositor in particular help to heighten my appreciation and sharpen my savoring of the great things of God.
Doddridge’s devotions are my favorite of any author. Many of the prayers in the classic puritan prayer devotional Valley of Vision are from Doddridge, and he doesn’t disappoint in the Expositor. He mingles both head and heart wonderfully. Most devotionals are all heart but nothing weighty, and most commentaries are all head but no heart. Doddridge on the other hand excels in both. Just after a lengthy theology of regeneration from John 3, he adds a devotion that would stir the heart of your grandmother. This is after all, one of, if not the, favorite commentary and devotional of Jonathan Edwards, and it’s nothing less than what we’d expect of his favorite. See the devotion here on Luke’s prologue:
In the Family Expositor, Doddridge has given us, I think, one of the greatest works on the New Testament ever written. This commentary is, and (now revisiting this post years later) has remained, a great companion to my daily time in Scripture.
Stumblingstone Press Volumes
After a couple years of searching for a good volume of The Family Expositor in vain, I gave up and decided to publish my own. I decided to use the large 1836 single volume version, but to break it up into 2 volumes (reluctantly, but required by the book printing service).
The volumes are about 500 pages each and are large, measuring to 8-1/2″ x 11″. I designed the covers to be plain but striking. The first volume contains the Gospel harmony and Acts, the second volume contains the New Testament Epistles and the book of Revelation. The pages are based on the scanned images of the document as seen above. The text is quite small, as it was originally when published. While the images are not always perfect, and there is some rare blurring or fading, the books are eminently readable if you are not sensitive to small text. The books are more expensive than I want them to be, but with the cost for printing with the large page count and size, the current price is the best I could do. See the volumes in hardcover and paperback at the link below. Enjoy!
I’m waiting for the day when Doddridge’s Family Expositor will be republished in handsome cloth bound volumes, re-typeset for a hand held size, and larger font. But until then, I think these volumes are the next best thing. I hope they give you as much pleasure as they’ve given me.
Soli Deo Gloria