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HISTORY OF BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION.
day did the necessity of having them explained to them become greater. But, growing more and
more adverse to all foreign religions, they by Primitive Hebrew Interpreters- Vicious Modes of Interpreta- degrees fell into the basest superstition, and thus to-Early Christian Interpreters - Allegorical and Scholastic Systems of Interpretation - Revival of Biblical Learning became attached to those modes of interpretation -Hermeneutical Writers.
which are particularly pleasing to men who are
superstitious, devoted to trifles, and narrow-minded. The interpretation of the books of the Old Before the time of our Saviour, there had, in conTestament, in its highest antiquity, has not been sequence, long prevailed a trifling and subtle mode the same in every age ; and its history, both among of explaining the Old Testament, which, servilely Jews and Christians, is worthy of attention. adhering to the words, altogether departed from the
1. From the origin of the Hebrew state down true meaning, of the text,—a mode which was to the time of its destruction, the sacred books followed by most of the doctors of the Pharisaical required little interpretation : the language in sect, particularly in interpreting the laws of Moses which they were written was, during all this space contrary to their spirit, and the divine intention of time, vernacular to the Israelites, and under in enacting them. went only slight changes. If, then, any explana- 4. But, at the same time, there were not a few tion was required, it was only in reference to the who followed a quite opposite plan, and paid no atduties prescribed by the Mosaic law. The first in- tention to the proper and common meaning of the terpreters of the sacred books may therefore be words, but superinduced on the Scriptures a resaid to have been the Levites and the Prophets; mote and figurative or allegorical signification, with for they, by the very Mosaic constitution, were the view of extracting from them the tenets of a the authorised directors and administrators of the foreign philosophy. The most indefatigable in this extemal worship of God, and the interpreters and absurd manner of interpretation was Philo-Judæus, teachers of the divine laws, both sacred and civil, who was so carried away by his attachment to the to the people, Deut. xxxii. 10. They promoted Platonic philosophy, as to exhibit it veiled and the internal worship and the sincere veneration of
wrapped up in the doctrines, precepts, and even the one God, and prompt obedience to his laws; in the historical details of his religion. and they inculcated the love of true piety and 5. From the time of Alexander the Great, there virtue, agreeably to the object of the Mosaic con- evidently prevailed among the Jews who lived in stitution, on their countrymen. From the time of Egypt a most silly mode of interpretation, deriving Samuel downwards, therefore, they had schools in its origin from the allegorical method of the secret which the youth were formed to those noble sen- philosophers of the Egyptians, which in the course timents, and in which, with the same view, the of time propagated itself more extensively. Scriptures were read and explained.
of the words and letters themselves, and their 2. Although, previous to their exile to Babylon, order and transposition, they extracted a hidden the Israelites had among
sense, and doctrines full of mystery : and this the nature of their office, applied themselves to the manner of interpretation, which was thought to reunderstanding of the Mosaic books, and to explain-commend the traditions received from their ancesing them in the manner suited to the wants of the tors by the additional authority of sanctity and of time; yet, by the greater part of the community, divine origin, came at last to be termed cabalistithe study of these and the other sacred books was cal, from the word bap, which signifies “to receive.” in general little heeded: for the Israelites uni
6. When, however, from the tenth century after versally showed a great propensity to the worship Christ, the study of Hebrew grammar came to of idols and false gods at all times ; until, by the be cultivated among the Jews, there were some condign punishment of their perverseness, in the who attempted to explain either the whole of the destruction of their state and subsequent exile, Old Testament, or some of its parts, in the gramthey were brought to a better mind.
matical manner; of whom the principal were 3. When the Jews, after their return home, Aben Ezra, Jarchi, Maimonides, David Kimchi, began to devote themselves with much greater and Isaac Abarbanel. On the criticism, also, of care than ever they had done before to their reli- their sacred writings, some Jews bestowed no rion, and in consequence to the study of those little labour. The study of some sort of criticism books in which it was contained; the more distant seems even to have existed among them previous they were from that age in which particularly the to the third century of our era. It was confined, more ancient of these books were composed; and however, almost wholly to things of very trifling the more the language of their fathers had become importance, agreeably to the turn of mind of their depraved among them; so much the more every nation, and was employed about mere minutiče,
such as the accurate computation of the numbersome pains in interpreting the Bible, and also first of words in each of the books of the sacred treated of the mode in which the sacred books volume ; nay, it was even partly conjoined with were to be explained, in his writings on Christian their cabalistic pursuits, as certain astonishing doctrine : for we can scarcely reckon as belonging mysteries were attempted to be discovered in the to this subject what Jerome says, in his epistle to uncommon mode of writing some letters, or in an Sammacheus, respecting the best manner of interunusual manner of punctuation.
preting, in which he only details the method 7. Some interpretations, or Versions, as we call which he himself followed; neither can we conthem, were made by the Jews; of which some sider as belonging to it the Greek epistle of Isiowere into Greek, for the use of those of their dorus the Pellusiote, the noblest of Chrysostom's countrymen who could read Greek more easily disciples, who lived in the fifth century; which, than Hebrew, or who were quite ignorant of the although they may be said to be on the interpreHebrew language; others were into Chaldee, in- tation of the sacred volume, yet only treat of those tended for the use of those who had been accus- passages which are to be found in the Scriptures tomed to the Chaldee language, and with whom applicable to teaching us to guide our lives aright. the language of their ancestors had fallen into But connected with this subject, certainly, is the disuse. Of these Versions, some are full of alle- Introduction to the Divine Scriptures (sisary wyn gorical and cabalistical fables.
εις τας θειας γραφας) of Adrian, who lived in 8. Our Saviour quite disapproved of the per- the same century. verted mode of interpretation adopted by the 11. After the fifth century, the state of the Jews of his time, as appears from Matt. xv. 1–14: interpretation of the sacred text became more and but, however, both he and his apostles, in quoting more wretched; and this continued to go on till the sacred Scriptures, and making use of them for the fifteenth century; so that at first very few, and their own purposes, sometimes accommodated finally none, existed, who contributed any thing to themselves to the received manner of the time; the right interpretation of the whole Scripture, and Paul in particular, with a prudence deserving but particularly to that of the Old Testament. of much praise, occasionally adopted the allegorical 12. In the twelfth century, the scholastic theomode.
logy, which originated in the perverse use of the 9. By far the greater part of the succeeding Aristotelian philosophy, arose, or certainly from Christian teachers, up to the age of Constantine that period very greatly prevailed, and for a conthe Great, were quite devoted to this allegorical siderable time afterwards was firmly established ; mode of interpretation, and employed it almost the consequence was, that those who delighted in solely in their disputations. The most celebrated it, argued with minute and often absurd subtlety during this period of time were, Ephraim Syrus on religion, while they never once thought of inamong the Orientals, Clemens Alexandrinus and terpreting the Scriptures.* Those, again, who Origen among the Greeks, and Jerome among the were opposed to them, and were distinguished by Latins. The Greek doctors were indeed more the title of Biblical Doctors, by their mystical and particularly delighted with the allegorical method; allegorical interpretations rather darkened than to which both Clemens, although the most learned illustrated the sacred books; and these by degrees of the Fathers, as they are called, and even Origen became much diminished in number. himself, how much soever in other respects he 13. The universities, which in the same twelfth contributed to assist in the right interpretation of century were founded in Europe, and in which the Scriptures, by those stupendous critical labours the learned languages, and also the Oriental dialects which he underwent, were strongly attached. This were taught, at first produced no change in the last (Origen) found a most celebrated imitator interpretation of the Scriptures. The expeditions of his critical labours in Jerome, who devoted his into Asia, called the crusades, begun in the former great learning and industry to the criticism and century, and continued long afterwards, had taken interpretation, with a Latin Version, of the Old off the minds of most men from any sort of study Testament. Before the end, however, of this of the sacred volume; but being the cause why a period, some Versions of the Old Testament were vast number of Greeks left their native country, first executed by the Christians, such as the Syriac and migrated into Italy and other European counand the Latin Italic, which preceded that of tries, these excited a love of literature in various Jerome.
parts of Europe ; and the pursuit of learning, by - 10. About the end of the fourth and the be- degrees reviving through means of the instituted ginning of the fifth century, flourished Augustine, celebrated among the Latins more on account of
* The student will do well to read Bishop Marsh's twelfth his genius than his learning, who has bestowed Lecture on this subject.
universities, aided, and began to prepare the way, by the Protestants, did not attain to the same for, a better interpretation of the sacred code. degree of celebrity ; but John Drusius, who was
14. In the second century, therefore, before the much esteemed among the reformed churches, for Reformation, Nicolaus Lyranus became celebrated his great learning, enlarged greatly the remains as an interpreter of Scripture. To him Luther is of those ancient interpreters. very much indebted. But the art of printing, 17. In the same age, Sixtus Senensis, by the which was invented in the fifteenth century, was publication of his Bibliotheca Sancta, in which the most powerful means of disseminating, quickly he, among other things, explained the art of exand extensively, those sounder views which were pounding the Scriptures, seems to have gained no afterwards entertained regarding Scripture criti- small praise to the Romish body. But far superior cism. But as the reviving love of learning, and to him was Mathias Flacius Illyricus among the the daily increasing study of doctrines, hastened Lutherans, who, in his Clavis Scripturæ Sacræ, and most happily assisted the reformation of re- first showed the true method of interpreting Scripligion, there was thus generated a greater liberty, ture, as far as it could be investigated and exhiand a much more correct method of interpretation. bited to others at that time. In the sixteenth century, then, when a clear light 18. The study of the Scriptures was much shone upon religion, which had been so much increased during the seventeenth century; for, obscured, the two men who were the principal besides some ancient Versions, or parts of them, leaders of the Reformation, Luther and Calvin, which were edited separately, a more enlarged expended much labour in translating and explain- edition of the Polyglott Bible was published at ing even the books of the Old Testament, if Paris, and afterwards a still more perfect one at We think of their time, and the aids which they London. Some besides, and among them even possessed. Erasmus, too, who did not dare to the Papists themselves, laboured to illustrate either embrace their party, although he mightily contri- all the books of the Old Testament, or particular buted to the reformation of religion, has merited books or passages. Others were solicitous to eximmortal praise by what he has done in aid of plain the history and other events of the Old the better interpretation of the books of the New Testament. Others attained high praise by their Testament. He, however, did not expend any cultivation of the Oriental languages ; such, for labour in elucidating the books of the Old Testa- instance, as Erpenius and Golius ; while Cocceius ment.
exhibited singular skill in the Hebrew language 15. As the reformers of religion were accus- and idiom, Others began to apply to the criticism tomed to defend their cause by arguments taken of the Old Testament with a noble boldness; such from the Scriptures, they bestowed much pains on as Ludovicus Capellus of the reformed body, and the right interpretation of the sacred volume, and Richard Simon among the Papists; both of whom imposed even upon their adversaries a necessity of appeared to the men of their own time too free in some application to the same study. But from their views. And, not to mention more who pubthe continual disputations on both sides originated, lished books connected with sacred hermeneutics, by degrees, a polemical mode of interpreting and Solomon Glassius in this century particularly disexplaining the sacred books, which for some time tinguished himself, whose book on sacred philology prevailed, by which every one endeavoured to has long been esteemed a standard work, and prove the opinions of his own party from the even in our age is very valuable. The glory, Scriptures, and not unfrequently to ascribe to the however, of this age was Grotius, who yet holds, sacred writers opinions with which they were and long will possess, the chief place among the quite unacquainted, and opposed to their plain' interpreters of the New Testament; and no commeaning.
mon praise is due to him for his annotations on 16. The sixteenth century was rendered illus- the Old Testament, which, however, would have trious by a conjointed edition of some ancient been much higher, had he bestowed the same Versions of the whole sacred code, which had labour on the Old as he did on the New Testabeen made at various times, both by the Jews and ment. Christians. In this the Catholics merited great 19. From the seventeenth century down to our praise ; for, through their care, the Complutensian age, the interpretation of the Scriptures has very and Antwerp Polyglott Bibles, very excellent greatly advanced, particularly among those who editions, were brought out; and one of them, had happily delivered themselves from the longFlaminius Nobilis, was the first who in this worn shackles of the ancient superstition. The century endeavoured to collect and edite the frag- true way of studying the Hebrew language, by ments of the ancient Greek interpreters. The making use of the light to be derived from the · Polyglott Bibles, which in this century were edited Oriental languages, was first discovered by Albert
Schultens, who himself gained a high reputation by the sacred volume to be true that is not ag.eehis interpretations of the Old Testament. And able to the common order of things; and, contornthere were not a few who employed themselves ably to these canons, whatever is related in Scripwith honour in the explication of the words, and ture as different from that order, must all be exof the whole Hebrew phrascology, and particularly plained by the interpreter in a manner consistent of the poetic diction.
with it: so that what would deservedly be ac20. In the astonishing number of interpreters counted unallowalsle with regard to the profane produced in later times, it was not possible that writers of antiquity, is not only allowed to the there should not have been a great diversity of most ancient sacred books, but is even reckoned method adopted by very many of them, according laudable. And there are not wanting persons in to the diversity of their times and genius. Among our times, who twist to a moral purpose whatever the Catholics, although freedom of interpretation may tend to give offence in these books, being no was restrained by the stricter limits in which they way solicitous regarding the most natural or plain were confined by their religion, in consequence of sense of the words. which they were prevented from proceeding freely 22. In fine: During that space of time of which in this work, yet there were to be found even we have just been speaking, many books were among them some who distinguished themselves published which treated of the method of interin this department; such as Augustin Calmet, about preting the whole sacred volume. Some of these, the beginning of the eighteenth century, much however, confined themselves solely to the critical celebrated both for his Commentary on the sacred part, while others, under the name of Introduccode, and also for his Dictionary of the Bible; and tions, embraced all those things which might be another in the middle of the same century, less reckoned to pertain to the understanding of the commonly known, but remarkable for his varied contents, the authors, the composition, and the erudition-Alexius Symmachus Mazochius, who ancient Versions of the whole of the Scriptures, in his Spicilegium Biblicum (Biblical Gleanings), and of each of its parts. Of the first sort, the which was confined to the Old Testament, seems most excellent are, Turretin's Tract on the Interfully to merit the praise of a learned and ingenious pretation of Scripture, Seiler on Biblical Hermeinterpreter. Among those, again, from whose neutics, and Meyer's Attempt at the Interpretation minds the reformation of religion had shaken off of the Old Testament.* Of the latter sort, it will the yoke of servitude, this happy change only in be sufficient to mention Carpzovius' Introduction the slow progress of time exerted all that power to the Canonical Books of the Old Testament, J. which it might and certainly ought to have had. G. Eichhorn's Introduction to the Books of the Even in the beginning, therefore, of the eighteenth Old Testament, Jahn's Introduction, Bertholdt's century, and for some time afterwards, there were Historico-critical Introduction to all the Canonical very many who delighted in allegorical and mysti- and Apocryphal Books of the Old and New Tescal interpretations of Scripture; and not a few taments, and Hug's Introduction to the New Téswho were rather controversial theologians than in- tament.To these, which are all in foreign lanterpreters. But a sounder mode of interpretation guages excepting Hug, translated by Dr. Wait, began to prevail more and more every day, and it, we may add such compendiums as Harword's Inalone, by degrees became approved by the lovers troduction to the New Testament, Marsh's Lecof genuine liberty; a mode which, employing the tures on Biblical Criticism and Interpretation, necessary aids, not only endeavoured to discover Gerard's Institutes of Biblical Criticism, Horne's the meaning of the writers from the idiom of the Critical Introduction, &c., &c. I language which they used, but likewise illustrated and confirmed the meaning thus discovered, from the genius of the age in which they lived, and * The celebrated John Augustus Ernesti, of Leipsic, was the from their manners, circumstances, and design in first writer who established the grammatico historical method of writing; and, consequently, never sought to dis- interpretation on a scientific basis
, in his “Institutio Interpretis
Nov. Test.,” in which he was followed by the acute and judicious cover in them any thing but what could be shown Morus, and the learned but neological Ammon. with probability to have been in their minds.
† Pareau's Principles of Interpretation of the Old Testament, 21. But the liberty of interpretation came at last Introduction. to be shamefully abused by some, and degenerated, # For a more particular and minute history of sacred herme. through the proneness of mankind to rush into neutics, the reader may consult" Bishop Marsh's eleventh and extremes, into the most unrestrained licentious- twelfth lectures ; Planck's Sacred Philology, part ii., chap. v.; ness. According to the most recent canons of this and Ernesti's Institutes, part iii., chap. ix. ; in the Biblical Cabi
pet, vols, ü. and vii.; and Seiler's Biblical Hermeneutics, transclass of interpreters, we ought to admit nothing in lated by Dr. Wright, pp. 1–22.
depravation of our will and affections, for his serYOR IL QUALITIES REQUISITE IN AN INTERPRETER vice and presence, he might have justly abanOF THE SCRIPTURES.
doned us to the imaginings of our own hearts, The State of Mind required in a Student of the Bible : Gratitude destitute of the guidance of any further light from
for the Fact and Character of Divine Revelation-Humility himself. In that case, how deplorable must have - Devout Prayer-Ingenuousness and Decision of Purpose. been our moral condition! Cut off from God
It is scarcely necessary to remark, that the moral under the dominion of the powers of darkness qualifications of an interpreter of Scripture are of following the dictates of depraved affections, and the first importance, and demand the most serious subjected to the control of fierce and turbulent regard. Every person well knows that facts and passions—we could only have proceeded from one circumstances take a high degree of colouring from stage of depravity and wretchedness to another, the state of mind through which they are viewed; until we should have found ourselves placed and that the particular impression they make is in beyond the reach of even the Divine compassion a great measure dependant upon the disposition itself. But “ the day-spring from on high has and habits of the recipient. That there can be no visited us,” the light of His truth has pierced correct apprehension of moral truth, unless there through the gloom with which we were surte an unprejudiced and teachable frame of mind, rounded—“they who sat in darkness, and in the most persons will admit. If a man be not con- region of the shadow of death, have seen a great vinced of his want of information, and be not light;" and in the midst of our rebellion, we are animated by an upright intention of submitting arrested by the voice of God, in accents the most without reserve to the discoveries of truth, how- tender and merciful—“Unto
men, ever opposed to his previous sentiments and pur- and my voice is to the sons of men,” Prov. viii. 4. suits they may be, it is not to be expected that the “How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simclearest statement or the most conclusive reason- plicity ? and the scorners delight in their scorning, ing will exert any beneficial influence upon his and fools hate knowledge ? Turn you at my remind. But if this be true in the ordinary affairs proof: behold, I will pour out my Spirit upon of human life, it is much more so in the acquisi- you, I will make known my words unto you," ch. tion of scriptural knowledge. The stream of i. 22, 23. Now, if the mere fact of a Divine reverevealed truth runs in an opposite direction to lation, intended to benefit our condition, be suffithe current of our fallen nature. Nor is this the cient to excite our gratitude, and inspire us with greatest evil ; the human mind is as destitute of reverential feeling, our obligations will appear to ability rightly to apprehend the revealed will and be greatly augmented, when we consider the mercipurposes of God, as the human heart is opposed ful character which it assumes in the Bible. to their authority and control. “The natural man 2. Let it be observed, then, that it is in the receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for Holy Scriptures, only, that we have rational and they are foolishness unto him; neither can be influential discoveries of the character of God. In know them, because they are spiritually discerned,” proof of this position, we need only refer to 1 Cor. ii. 14. Hence arises the necessity of a pre- the state of opinion in those parts of the world paration of heart to seek after God (1 Sam. vii. 3, where the light of revelation has not yet beamed, &c.), by a cultivation of those dispositions which or where it has been quenched by the opposition accord as well with the divine communications, as of sin. Amidst all the speculations of philosophy, with our own relative and responsible character. for which Greece and Rome were renowned, at The state of mind, constituting these moral qualifica- what certainty did their most celebrated philosotions, may be resolved into the following particulars. phers arrive, even on the simple but momentous
I. DEVOUT GRATITUDE FOR THE FACT AND CHA- fact of the existence of an intelligent First Cause ? RACTER OF THE DIVINE REVELATION.
Doubt and indecision marked the conclusions of 1. If we have any thing like just conceptions of their profoundest investigations, and reduced them the high and holy character of God, and of our to the rank of the merest probabilities.* With own debased and abject condition, we shall not fail to approach the volume of inspiration with senti- *“The possession of the Bible alone,” said the amiable Dents of profound gratitude to Him for having Montgomery, in a speech delivered before the Philoso hical favoured us, in such circumstances, with any com- cluding treasures of history, jurisprudence, poetry, and ethics,
Society of Shefield—“The possession of the Bible alone-intannications of his will; but especially so, for the capable above all other books of informing, expanding. decharacter and design of those communications lighting, and exalting the mind, while the heart is purified, -the which are presented to us in the Bible. Separated possession of the Bible alone, with the power of reading and from the Author of our being by a course of sin- understanding its wonderful and blessed contents, sets the
humblest Christian among us above the most enlightened heathen fal disobedience, and totally incapacitated, by the philosopher, in the true knowledge of the true God."