Essay / Theology

Happy Birthday, Charles Feinberg

Today (June 12) is the birthday of Charles L. Feinberg (1909-1995), the Old Testament scholar whose name and scholarly reputation were synonymous with Biola’s. Feinberg left a rich legacy of biblical studies (see below), especially in the form of careful biblical expositions shaped by his Hebrew-Christian consciousness and his dispensational commitments.

I don’t see much about him on the internet, so here is what I know of his life story. My main source is an unpublished typescript about the history of Biola by Dr. James O. Henry. I’d like to write about his theology someday, after I’ve read more of his voluminous works.

Charles Feinberg was born in Pittsburgh to orthodox Jewish parents. At age 17 he went to the University of Pittsburgh, which he completed in three years with a major in history and a quadruple minor in English, French, German, and Psychology. He was headed for Rabbinical school, but a neighbor woman who had been praying for him since he was 12 convinced him to talk with a Hebrew Christian missionary before making that commitment. Feinberg found the missionary’s arguments compelling, and found himself praying, “O God, if Jesus is the Messiah, if he is the sacrifice for sin, if he is my Saviour, as this Missionary has indicated, if you will give me this conviction, I will believe on him now.” He received that conviction, and converted in October 1930.

Feinberg immediately began teaching in a Bible college in Florida, but enrolled as soon as possible in the Evangelical Theological College in Dallas, Texas (founded by Lewis Sperry Chafer, and now known as Dallas Theological Seminary). Remember that Feinberg quadruple minored in college. Still a high achiever, in his three years at Dallas he ran through three degrees in theology, a bachelors, a masters, and a doctorate. More precisely, he earned a ThB and a ThM, but also completed all the course work for a ThD. The school agreed to give him the doctorate if he wrote the dissertation and spent one more year in residence (summa cum laude, May 1935). Writing the dissertation was no problem, and he spent part of the remaining year teaching church history.

In 1932 Feinberg had met Anne, a Hebrew Christian student at the Moody Bible Institute and a worker with the Peniel Mission (the Presbyterian mission to the Jews in Chicago) where she was converted. Anne’s family had come to America from a small town in Russia in 1920, having suffered greatly under poverty and the pogroms. Charles and Anne got engaged soon, but did not marry until Feinberg completed his seminary work. The wedding took place just after graduation in Lewis Sperry Chafer’s home, with evangelical luminaries such as Harry Ironside and Everett Harrison in attendance, in academic regalia.

In 1935 Feinberg began teaching Hebrew in the seminary of the Evangelical Theological College. He did this until 1945, but remember the quadruple minor and the three degrees routine? During his decade of teaching he earned an MA in history from Southern Methodist University in 1943, and a PhD in Semitic Languages from Johns Hopkins in 1945, under William F. Albright.

In 1946, Feinberg spoke at Biola’s annual Torrey Memorial Bible Conference, and was invited back to the 1948 conference, where Louis Talbot and J. Vernon McGee invited him to join the Biola College faculty. He become Professor of Old Testament and Bible Exposition, and also ministered in the Jewish Department of the Church of the Open Door.

Feinberg stamped Biola with his personality and his high academic standards. He made it clear to his students that he expected them to be faithful to Scripture, and godly in their personal conduct. His colleagues and students told stories about how he could stare holes in any student preacher who strayed too far from his text, but those who knew him also recalled that he had a great memory for names and prayer requests. The combination meant that when he was stern and demanding, people knew he was motivated by love.

Feinberg served as dean of Biola’s seminary until 1970, a long tenure that let him see the school through many changes and growth. The main chapel building on campus, Calvary Chapel, sits atop faculty and staff offices for the Biblical Studies department. It is Feinberg Hall, named for the influential dean.

Some Publications
Premillenialism or Amillennialism? (Zondervan, 1936)
Hosea: God’s Love for Israel (1947)
Joel, The Day of the Lord; Amos, The Righteousness of God (1948)
God Remembers: A Study of the Book of Zechariah (1950)
Habakkuk, Problems of Faith; Zephaniah, The Day of the Lord; Haggai, Rebuilding the Temple; Malachi, Formal Worship (1951)
Jonah, God’s Love for All Nations; Micah, Wrath upon Samaria and Jerusalem; Nahum, Judgement on Ninevah (1951)
Zechariah: Israel’s Comfort and Glory (1952)
The Sabbath and the Lord’s Day (1952)
Israel in the Last Days: The Olivet Discourse (1953)
Israel in the Spotlight (1956)
Is the Virgin Birth in the Old Testament? (1967)
The Prophecy of Ezekiel: Glory of the Lord (1969)
Israel at the Center of History and Revelation (1980)
Daniel, the Man and his Visions (1981)
Jeremiah, A Commentary (1982)
Daniel, the Kingdom of the Lord (1981)
A Commentary on Revelation: The Grand Finale (1985)

Festschrift edited by his sons: Tradition and testament : essays in honor of Charles Lee Feinberg edited by John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg (Moody Bible Institute, 1981)

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