Henry Cowles strove to make the original words of Scripture understandable to today’s church. Cowles aimed for sound interpretation, bringing out the truest sense of the passage, while illuminating its historical context, its audience, and the intent of its author. In this way, Cowles’ works affirmed that the Bible is a practical book, useful for Christians of every time and place.
Each volume begins with a lengthy introduction that provides contextual information. Much of the commentary on the text is verse-by-verse, with the exception of the Pentateuch and historical books, which are treated topically in chronological order. Although Cowles makes full use of his expertise in the original languages by explaining the literary and linguistic background as necessary, this commentary series is accessible for English-only Bible study. It is beneficial for both pastors and scholars, as well as laypersons.
Many of the volumes also contain appended essays on theological topics relevant to themes in the book, including an essay on atonement in the volume on Hebrews, an essay on prophecy and eschatology appended to Revelation, an essay on theodicy appended to the volume on the Pastoral Epistles, and several others.
The work is a treasure to the Christian Church and the world; among the very best contributions to the interpretation of the Word of God, enriched, but not overloaded or obscured, by learning . . . I most cordially commend to all intelligent Christian men and women the careful perusal of these learned, instructive, and deeply spiritual commentaries. The possession of them would be a priceless treasure . . .
—John Morgan, Oberlin College
They embody the results of much research, and elucidate the text of sacred Scripture with admirable force and simplicity.
There is, within my knowledge, no other work on the same portions of the Bible, combining so much of the results of accurate scholarship with so much common sense and so much of a practical and devotional spirit.
—Leonard Bacon, Yale College
The exposition given is brief, clear, pertinent, and very satisfactory . . . It is just such a book as the majority of intelligent students of the Bible require.
Dr. Cowles writes with perspicuity, precision, and conciseness—three invaluable excellences of style for a commentary.
Henry Cowles was born in Connecticut. He graduated from Yale in 1826 and from the seminary at Yale in 1828, where he was honored as the salutatorian of his class. He later received his DD from Hillsdale College.
Upon graduation from Yale, Cowles became a professor at Oberlin College. He served as professor of languages from 1835 to 1837, professor of ecclesiastical history and pastoral theology from 1837 to 1840, professor of Old Testament literature from 1840 to 1848, and a lecturer on prophecy and biblical introduction from 1869 to 1878. Cowles was influential at Oberlin during its early years, and joined a circle of notable Oberlin professors which included John Morgan, Charles Finney, and John Cowles. He also served as editor of the Oberlin Evangelist from 1844 to 1862, where he promoted the efforts of the college and helped spread its theological ideals. While at Oberlin, Cowles advocated for African Americans during the decades preceding the Civil War, and promoted racial equality not only in academic settings, but also in his publications.
In 1863, at the age of 60, Cowles began writing his commentary on the Bible, and worked on the project nearly every day for 17 years. He also spoke and wrote widely on prophecy, biblical interpretation, and the practical application of the Bible for ordinary readers. He died in 1881.