Cocceius, John one of the most distinguished theologians and Biblical interpreters of the 17th century, was born in Bremen July 30 (or August 9, N. S.), 1603. The family name was Cock (according to others Koch), but he and his brother Gerhard having been in their youth called Cocceii, ever afterwards retained that appellation. The family was an ancient and honorable one in Bremen, many members of it having filled high offices in Church and State. He was brought up with great moral and religious strictness, for he relates in a short autobiography, which he left unfinished, that having been chastised at school for some boyish falsehood, he ever from that time despised lying, and had such a reputation for truthfulness as never to be compelled to take an oath; and that, having once been struck on the mouth by his father with a spoon for the irreverent use of God's name at the table, he never again took: it in vain. He was put to the best schools in his native city, and became, while still a boy, so great a proficient in Greek as to read with delight its historians and poets. He learned from his brother the rudiments of Hebrew, and afterwards obtained the Lexicons of Munster and Pagninus, and studied them with great industry of his own accord for the investigation of the themes of the language. To the Hebrew he added Chaldee and Arabic, and gave his attention also to Rabbinical literature. Although most strongly drawn to philological studies, because, as he says, he was persuaded that the Scriptures could not be rightly understood without a knowledge of the original languages, he did not neglect other branches of learning, but studied physics and metaphysics with Gerhard Neufville, and theology with Martinius and Crocius. While still a student he wrote a Greek oration on the religion of the Turks, reading the Koran for that purpose. At the age of 22 he went to Hamnburgh, at the suggestion of Martiniup, to prosecute his Rabbinical studies with the Jews of that city. On his return he went to Franeker, in Friesland, preferring the Belgic schools to those of Germany, which, he says, were in bad repute (quod de his non bonus rumor esset). There he formed the acquaintance of an eminent Rabbinical scholar, Sixtinus Amama, and with him studied the Talmud. At his request he published a treatise De Synedrio, which was highly commended by such scholars as Heinsius, Rivetus, Grotius, Selden, and Salmasius. While at Franeker he also became intimately acquainted with Maccovius and the celebrated Puritan divine William Ames. On his return to Bremen he was made, at the age of 27, professor of sacred philosophy, and began to lecture on the books of the Old Testament. In the following year he published a 'Commentary on Ecclesiastes' In 1636 he removed to Franeker, to be professor of Hebrew in the newly-revived academy in that city; and in 1643 he was also appointed to the theological chair. He remained at Franeker until 1650, giving himself with great diligence to the study and public exposition of the Scriptures. Amongst the fruits of these labors were a. Commentary on Job, Lectures on the Minor Prophets, and on the Epistles to the Hebrews and the Colossians, an Exercitatio de Principio Epistoloe ad Ephesios, and a theological treatise, De Foedere et Testamento Dei, to which he added a brief Analysis Temporum Novi Testamenti. After fourteen years of laborious and successful teaching at Franeker, he was invited to Leyden, to succeed the celebrated Frederick Spanhelm as professor of theology; and at his inauguration in October, 1650, he delivered an oration De causis Incredulitatis Judceorum. He soon began to lecture on Isaiah; but the death of one of his colleagues (Triglandius) made a new division of labors necessary, and he afterwards devoted himself to the exposition of the New Testament. In 1652 his Commentary on the Minor Prophets was printed by thie famous Elzevir and in 1654 he published his Consideratio Principi Evangelii S. Johannis, an elaborate examination of the first 18 verses of that Gospel, with especial reference to the misinterpretations of Socinus, Schlichtingius, and others of that school. The writings of the Socinians having been disseminated through Holland and other provinces, the Synods of North and South Holland presented to the States a petition that they might be restrained of this liberty, and an edict was accordingly issued in 1653 forbidding the printing and publishing of Socinian books, and the preaching of their doctrines. This was done in accordance with the opinion of the theological faculty of Leyden, which the States had asked for; and when an Apology against the edict was written by Eqies Polonus (believed to be the Socinian Jonas Schlichtingius), the task of answering it was committed to Cocceius, who fulfilled the duty so ably as to receive the thanks of the Synods of Dort and of North Holland. In 1656 he was drawn into a controversy with his colleague Hoornbeek on the divine authority of the Sabbath, which became so warm that the States interposed and put an end to it. Cocceius, recoiling from the rigid Judaizing view, went to the opposite extreme, and maintained that the Sabbath was a Jewish institution, not binding upon the Christian Church, although he was in favor, on grounds of expediency, of observing the Lord's day by public services of worship and preaching. The following year he began to write his Hebrew Lexicon, at the request of her highness the princess Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg; but, owing to his many other labors and cares, he did not finish it till a little before his death in 1669. He never intermitted his work as an interpreter of the Scriptures, but sent forth one commentary after another till he had almost gone through with the sacred books. The most elaborate of these are on the Psalms, Job, the Song of Solomon, and the prophetical books of the Old Testament, and on the Epistles of the New Testament, particularly those of Paul, and on the Apocalypse; but there are many valuable notes on the Pentateuch. He was also much occupied with the controversies of his time, and wrote with great learning and ability against Jews, Socinians, and Papists. He defended the integrity of the Jewish Scriptures against Isaac Vossius, who maintained that they had been corrupted, and that the translation of the Seventy had divine authority. In addition to his treatise De Faedere, he wrote a much larger work with the title Summa Theologiae ex Scripturis repetita, the form of which was more in harmony with the systematic theology of his time. But while thus laboriously occupied, and in the full maturity of his powers, he was suddenly seized with a fever, and, after a sickness of nineteen days, died on the 4th of November, 1669, at the age of 66.
As an interpreter of Scripture, Cocceius had many of the highest qualifications. He was a man of great learning, the worthy compeer of the mighty scholars of which Holland could boast in the 17th century. In the range and thoroughness of his acquirements he was not inferior to such men as Grotius, Heinsius, Buxtorf, and Vossius. But it was in his principles of interpretation that his unrivaled gift was chiefly seen. He held that the Scriptures are the source of all sound doctrine; that they have not been exhausted by previous interpreters; that they are to be regarded as one organic whole, the Old Testament containing every where the hidden, and the New the unfolded Gospel; that they are to be interpreted according to the analogy of the faith or the scope of the one great revelation; that their meaning is to be determined by a careful examination of each passage as to the force of its words and phrases, and its relations to the context, or that which is derived ex tota coanpage sermonis; that the interpreter is not to force his own opinions into the Scriptures, but to submit his mind to their teachings; and that Christ is the great subject of divine revelation, as well in the Old Testament as in the New. It was his holding up of the Scriptures as the living fountain of theology which drew on him the bitter opposition of the scholastic theologians of his day, who would not go beyond what the Reformers had attained to, and used the Bible only as a storehouse of proof texts for doctrines which they had learned from the symbolic writings of the Reformation. Against that dry and hard scholasticism Cocceius set himself with uncompromising boldness; and he did as much as any man of his time to reinstate the Scriptures in their true place of authority, and to make interpretation to be the drawing of fresh streams from the inexhaustible well-spring of divine truth.
He has been accused of being fanciful as an interpreter, but, in the sense in which it is commonly understood, no charge could be more groundless. His fundamental principle was that "of those things which Christ and the apostles spake, the foundation, cause, and prescribed formula existed in the writings of Moses and the prophets, and, in truth, that Christ and the apostles accomplished that preaching concerning the kingdom of God which had been promised to Israel," and therefore that "what is to be believed concerning Christ and his righteousness, what in the New Testament is explained more succinctly and clearly, that ought to be demonstrated from the Old Testament, since both the apostles appealed to its testimony, and the Savior himself charged the Jews to search it as testifying concerning himself." He would bring men to "the examination of all Scripture, to the perpetual analogy of promise, prophecy, and Gospel, and so of all the revelations of God's Testament." In the application of this principle he often erred by going beyond the bounds of clear and definite knowledge, by forcing events into the mould of prophecy, and also by too great subtlety in tracing out analogies; but his errors were those of a man of penetrating insight and robust judgment, and not of weak and childish fancies. No one has seen more clearly or more sharply defined the true province and methods of the interpreter, "adding nothing to, and taking away nothing from the words of God; leaving those things which are said in a general way to be interpreted generally; giving force to the propriety and emphasis of phrases, and the analogy of sacred speech." No one now will doubt that the one great object of divine revelation, both in the Old and New Testaments, is to unfold "the mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh." In all his interpretations of Scripture he was struggling towards this end; and, notwithstanding his many failures, which were inevitable at the time and under the circumstances in which he lived, his writings are full not only of grand and far-reaching principles, but of striking examples of prophetic insight in the application of them. He gave a great impulse and a right direction to Biblical studies in Holland. Amongst his pupils the famous Vitringa is to be numbered.
As a theologian, Cocceius, while conscientiously adhering to the doctrines of the Reformed (Calvinistic) Church, gave to them a more scriptural and less scholastic form, in consequence of his free and profound study of the Bible. His favorite method of setting forth theology was the historical, as the unfolding of the successive stages of the covenant entered into before all worlds by the Father and the Son. After the Fall, by which the covenant of works, under which Adam in his state of innocence had been placed, was abrogated, the way was opened for the establishing of the covenant of grace, which was the manifestation of that which had existed in the eternal councils of the Godhead, of which the second Person was the mediator and surety. Of these there are three dispensations-that of the Promise during the time of the patriarchs, that of the Law given from Sinai, and that of the Gospel; although the two former are also classed as one, as preceding the advent of the Redeemer. The fall of man was self caused, and not necessitated by any act of God (Bona enim operatur in nobis Deus non mala), but all his posterity were involved with Adam in the guilt and curse of his sin. This required a Mediator who could not be of the number needing redemption, and yet must be a partaker of their nature; a problem that was solved by the Son of God being made man. He, standing as the sponsor of the eternal covenant, gave unto the Father the obedience that was due from men, and also endured the penalty of death, the curse for sin, thereby making a true expiation and atonement.
Cocceius limits the death of Christ in its full force to the elect, but he asserts that Christ was "a victim of so great preciousness and sufficiency that the whole world, and all men without exception coming to him, can find sure and perfect salvation in him." In respect to most doctrines he does not depart from the Reformed Church; but there is a spiritual life and power in his handling of them which takes them out of the sphere of a cold and lifeless orthodoxy. He was a man mighty in the Spirit, and far in advance of most men of his time in his apprehension of the work of God in Christ. Where he fails in clear sight, we still feel that noble instincts are working in him. His errors, as in regard to the Lord's day, were partly the fruit of his desire to vindicate for the Church her Christian liberty of walking always in the Spirit. He saw clearly the bondage under which the Law brought men, and he looked upon the Sabbath given from Sinai as a yoke to which those whom Christ has made free should not be in subjection. In this, as in many things, he held but half the truth, not discerning the freedom of divine ordinances; but he is not to be ranked with the lawless spirits who would break down all restraints upon the licentiousness of the flesh. He was among the the first in modern times to teach the doctrine of a spiritual dispensation of glory, in distinction from a visible kingdom of Christ, and so far did he carry it as to find nothing of the resurrection in the last chapters of the Apocalypse. But he firmly held the faith of the Church as to the final resurrection of the body and the awards of the judgment.
The views of Cocceius were adopted and further developed by a number of prominent theologians of the Reformed Church of Holland and other countries. His followers were commonly designated by the name Coccejans. The foremost among the writers of this school in the province of systematic theology are Momma, Witsius, Burmann, and Van Til (see these articles); in exegetical literature, the greatest and most celebrated member of the school was Vitringa (q.v.), while the pious hymnologist Jodokus von Todenstein and Dr. F. A. Lampe exercised a considerable influence upon the practical life of the Church of their times. His Opera Theologica, including his Summa doct. de ῥfodere et testamento (Leyd. 1648), his Lex. Hebr. et Chald. V. T., and other writings, were published at Amsterdam (1676-78, 8 vols. fol.; 2d ed. 10 vols. fol., 2 vols. Opera ἀνέκδοτα, 1701). His Life by his son, J. H., is given in vol. 8. See Herzog, Real-Encyklop. 2, 765; Wetzer u.Welte, Kirchen-Lex. 2, 646; Mosheim, Church Hist. cent. 17, pt. 2, ch. 2; Gass, Prot. Theologie, 2, 253; Hagenbach, Hist. of Doctrines, vol. 2; Dornea , Geschichte der Protestant. Theologie, p. 452 sq.; Fairbairn, Typology; Fairbairn, Hermeneutical Manual.