Biblical Psychology: Its Rise and Fall

From time to time I have asked certain individuals to write a guest article to shed light on the abuses of psychiatry and how the church surrendered its biblical authority for the preservation of the soul. Also, to shed light on how the church no longer trust in the sufficiency of Holy Scripture, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit for biblical counseling.

Biblical Psychology: Its Rise and Fall

In the year 1855, Franz Julius Delitzsch, one of the premier (or leading) biblical scholars of the 19th century, wrote a first edition, 500 page, Pastoral Theology textbook entitled: A System of Biblical Psychology.  Sigmund Freud was born one year later; Carl Gustav Jung was born 20 years later; and Wilhelm Wundt, who is often considered to be the “principal founder of modern psychology” did not establish his first psychological laboratory for another 23 years.

In his opening chapter of A System of Biblical Psychology, Delitzsch traces the long and valued history of “Psychology” within the life of the Church. His very first (or very opening) sentence makes this proclamation: “Biblical Psychology is no science of yesterday it is one of the oldest sciences of the Church.” (Delitzsch 3)

After making this amazing opening pronouncement, Delitzsch then begins to wonderfully survey the abundance of biblical and theological contributions, made over the many centuries, within this specific doctrinal field of psychological study within the Church, from Justin Martyr and Tertullian, St. Augustine and Gregory the Great, through to St. Thomas Aquinas, the Reformation period and then finally up and to his own time in the 19th century.

At the end of his brief, historical-psychological survey, within the life of the Church, Delitzsch then concludes his opening chapter on “The History of Biblical Psychology” by drawing our attention to this most wonderful truth:

“The ancient Church had a psychological literature that claims respect no less for its extent than for its substance.” (Delitzsch 5)

Thus, long before psychology was ever formally identified, formally founded, or even formally practiced as a specific “secular” discipline in the modern period, it was being studied, it was being written on and it was being taught, within the life of the Church, by her ordained pastor-teachers (or shepherd-theologians), for hundreds and hundreds of years.

That is, or more specifically, “psychology” was being studied and taught as a “holy doctrine” within the life of the church; a doctrine that specifically and uniquely pertained to the: a) origin b) nature c) pathology d) health and e) destiny of the human “soul”.  In the Greek, it is the psuche. In the Hebrew, it is the nephesh. In the Latin, it is the anima. And in the German, it is the seele.

The actual word “psychology” itself makes its first known appearance in 1524, as a Latinized form of the two Greek words psuche (soul) and logos (word or study); written as psychologia. This first appearance of psychologia (in 1524) was contained within an obscure (or little known, at that time) theological work, entitled: Psychologia De Ratione Animae Humanae – A Psychology on the Reasoning of the Human Soul. It was a specific, theological work that was written by an obscure (and also little known, at that time) Serbo-Croatian and Christian humanist and poet, Marco Marulic.

Shortly after Marulic’s work, the term psychologia (or “psychology” in the English) was then brought into academic use (or academic parlance), in 1530, by a well known biblical Scholar, and contemporary of Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon.  According to Delitzsch, Professor Melanchthon both wrote on as well as (quote) frequently gave lectures on psychology (i.e. on the “soul”) before immense audiences of his day.  (Delitzsch 6)

Professor Melanchthon originally introduced the term psychologia in his specific theological, and/or psychological, work Commentarius De Anima (A Commentary on the Soul); so as to distinguish (or differentiate) “psychology” (the study of the human “soul”) from “pneumatology” (the study of the “spirit”); which of course at that time included not only the human spirit but also the Divine Spirit, the angelic spirit, and the demonic spirit.

Most unfortunately, however, and also over the ensuing years, the very word “psychology” itself, together with the discipline itself, underwent a gradual metamorphosis or transformation. That is, the word “psychology” itself (along with the discipline itself) gradually moved out of the Faculty of Theology (as a study of the “soul”) and into the department (or Faculty) of Philosophy (as a study of the “mind” and “consciousness”) and then finally it moved into the Behavioural Science department (as a study of “behaviour” under the tutelage of Natural Science philosophy) where it remains today.

And so, in light of psychology’s somewhat, more or less, turbulent history (i.e. in terms of it being a kind of wandering discipline somehow trying to properly define itself, or even just to find itself) an anonymous writer once made this comment or observation regarding the discipline:

“Pity poor psychology. First it lost its soul, then its mind, then its consciousness, and now it’s having trouble with behaviour.”

However, or notwithstanding this lack of definitional clarity, within the history and development of the discipline, by the 1700s psychology had actually begun to emerge as a legitimate academic field of inquiry or investigation in its own right. And it was during this particular (so-called) Enlightenment period, that philosopher, Christian Von Wolf, produced his two volumes that would ultimately come to define the two dominant fields into which psychology would become divided over the next two centuries: Psychologia Empirica (1732) and Psychologia Rationalis (1734). That is Empirical Psychology and Rational Psychology.

Empirical Psychology was founded upon natural-scientific based principles (mainly developed by Sir Francis Bacon) and grounded in observable (or experimentally repeatable) sense experience, whereas Rational Psychology was grounded upon human reason (or human rationality) in the traditions of Plato and the Stoics.  From here psychology managed to grow into two massive and powerful academic branches; with eventually many sub-divisions being contained within each branch.

Coincidently, or rather I should say consequently, it was also during this very same (so-called) Enlightenment period in history that a modern “Biblical Psychology” was also growing, was also developing and was also rising up, in part, as a response to an overly naturalistic-based psychology.  And it was developing and growing and rising up principally through a trio of three German scholars (or shepherd-theologians) of the Church: Magnus Frederick Roos, Johan Tobias Beck, and Franz Julius Delitzsch. Magnus Frederick Roos, with his 1769 biblical-exegetical (and lexicon-like) work Fundamentals of Psychology Collected from the Sacred Scriptures, Johan Tobias Beck, with his 1843 systematic work Outlines of Biblical Psychology, and lastly, Franz Julius Delitzsch, and his seminal 1855 work A System of Biblical Psychology.

However, and most unfortunately, history has clearly shown that a Rational-Empirical based Psychology ultimately came to totally dominate and eventually totally eclipse a Biblical Psychology both absolutely and altogether.  This eclipse was so complete, so pervasive, and so thorough, that even the very name “Biblical Psychology” itself was virtually (and/or completely) abandoned, lost, and forgotten.

Submitted by Rev. Russell Haynes

Rev. Russell A. Haynes is a graduate of Tyndale College and Seminary, in Toronto Canada. He is also ordained with the Evangelical Church Alliance International, based in Bradly Illinois. He has lived in Toronto for the past 25 years and has had a special pastoral passion and heart for exposing the spiritual and physical dangers of secular psychiatry and secular psychology. He also is attempting to reclaim a “Biblical Psychology” (i.e. a “sacred psychology” or sacred “study of the soul”) back to the life of the Church and especially for the pastoral care of souls.

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