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say, that I have aimed at the accomplishment of this end, and that, if I have failed in respect to it, one great design of my undertaking and labours is defeated.
Probably some of my readers may think, that the introductory dissertations are more extended than was necessary, and that they are too minute and circumstantial. My only reply to this is, that an acquaintance with what has of late years been done, and with what is now doing, to shake the credit of our epistle, and to eject it from the canon of sacred writings to which appeal can be made in proof of Scripture doctrine, would of itself be an ample apology for all the pains I have taken, and all the minuteness of examination into which I have gone. Should it be said, that the German writers, whom I have opposed, are as yet unknown in this country, and that it was inexpedient to make them known; the allegation would only show how little acquainted the person who makes it is, with the actual state of our present knowledge, and with the relations in which we stand to the German authors. Our youth are every day resorting to Germany for education ; our colleges are filling up with professors who have been educated there; the language of Germany is becoming an object of classical study in our public seminaries of learning; and in a multitude of ways, through the medium of translations as well as by the knowledge of the German language, is the literature of Germany producing an influence upon our own.
In this state of things, the attacks made upon the Pauline origin, or upon the canonical credit, of the epistle to the Hebrews, cannot be kept back from the knowledge of our intelligent and industrious students. It is better, therefore, to meet the whole matter with an open face, fairly to examine it, and either to yield to the force of arguments suggested by the critics of the old world, or to combat them in such a way as effectually to defend the positions which we take. Christian candour and impartiality demand this. The day of authority in the church is passed by; it is to be hoped, that the day of sound reason and of argument is to follow. It is better to convince men by an appeal to their understandings and their hearts, than it is to terrify them by holding the rod of authority over them, or to deter them from speaking out their convictions by arguments ad invidiam. These are the never-failing resource of minds, which are conscious of possessing no better means than such, of convincing others, and which naturally resort to those which are most within their reach.
Our religion seeks no concealment; it fears no assaults. If it will not stand the test of sober reason and of argument, it will not long have place in the world among enlightened men. Those who shrink from such tests, and declaim against the use of our reason, show their want of confidence in the cause which they profess to espouse. If they did but know it, they are already half won over to the ranks of doubters or of unbelievers.
On the subjects of interpretation, one may well say, “ Drink deep, or taste not.” A half-illuminated interpreter doubts every thing, and sees nothing clearly. Would God, the rising generation of those who are devoted to the study of the Divine word, might feel deeply penetrated with the truth of this ! It would be an event highly auspicious to the cause of truth in the world.
In the new translation of the Epistle to the Hebrews which is here furnished, it has been my object to give a more exact view of the features of the original Greek, than is presented by our common English version. Of all the tasks which an interpreter performs, this is the most difficult. To make some kind of translation, is indeed a very easy thing; to follow on in the tracks of some other interpreter, is equally easy. But to translate, so as to make an author, who has composed in another language, altogether intelligible, and yet preserve all the shades, and colouring, and nice transitions, and (so far as may be) even the idioms themselves of the original, is the very highest and most difficult work which an interpreter is ever called to perform. A translation, faithfully presenting the original, is in itself a commentary. It is the sum of all an interpreter's labours, exhibited in the briefest manner possible. Hence the little success that has attended most of the versions which have been made of the Scriptures. Their authors have either abridged or paraphrased the original; more commonly the latter. Neither is admissible, in a translation truly faithful. Whether I have shunned the one and the other, must be left to the judgment of the reader.
I much prefer the Saxon English for a version of the Bible. I have accordingly chosen it whenever I could, and have purposely avoided substituting Latinizing English in its room, unless a regard to the meaning of the original compelled me to do it.
It is proper to advertise the reader, that in the translation I have purposely avoided the usual division into chapters and verses, which is exhibited in our common editions of the Scriptures. I have done this, because the sense is sometimes disturbed by it, and the reader is unwarily led to associate things together in a manner which the writer of the epistle never intended.
The words or phrases which are supplied in the translation, and which are not expressed in the original Greek, I have uniformly included in brackets, so that the reader may at once see the extent of the liberty that has been taken in order to render the version more explicit.
For the sake of accommodation, the designation of the chapters and verses is made upon the margin ; and the larger pauses mark the end of a verse, when they occur in a line that is opposite to any number designating a verse.
I have, in most cases, repeated the greater part of the translation, in printing the commentary or notes upon the original. This has been done merely to save the reader the trouble of turning continually back to the version, which is often tedious, and always inconvenient. But I have not been careful always to repeat verbatim, in the notes, the words of the translation, as they stand at the commencement of the volume. In fact, the reader may regard the version at the head of the volume, and that contained among the notes, as two different versions. They were, for the most part, made at different times, and in a measure independently of each other. The former is that on which I have bestowed most pains as to diction. The latter is merely designed to facilitate the labours of the student.
The translation is followed by a continuous commentary upon the whole epistle. When difficulties demanded special and extended investigation, I have thrown the result of such investigation into Excursus at the end. There, subjects of dilliculty can be treated, and studied, with more convenience and more fully, than if intermixed with the usual series of exegetical notes.
I have consulted commentaries both ancient and modern, while composing the exegetical part of the work. Chrysostom, Theodoret, and Theophylact, are the ancient interpreters, who may be read with much interest, and with some profit. I owe to them not a few hints, which I regard as valuable. From more recent critics I have derived very considerable aid, which I would gratefully acknowledge. After all, I have examined other writers, rather for the sake of correcting or enlarging my own impressions, than for the sake of abridging or condensing their works. My uniform method of study has been, to exhaust the resources of my own mind before I applied to others for help. But I have neither despised nor neglected this help; nor have I, in any case, followed the opinion of any critic, unless I was satisfied with the reasons which he gives for it. Critics of very different sentiments and views, I have consulted. Impartial investigation demanded this; and I should be but ill satisfied, in respect to the discharge of my own duty, if I had not done it.
The interpretations which I have adopted and defended, are the result of long-continued and often-repeated labour and study. This, however, does not of itself enhance their value to the reader. They must stand by their own internal value, if they do stand, and not by the length of time during which they have been coming into existence.
I have not made it an object to transcribe other commentators, and continually to refer to them. It is a mode of commentary to which I have a dislike; particularly so, when it is carried to the excess to which many interpreters have carried it. I have therefore retreated as far from it as my views of usefulness and propriety would permit me to do. The reader will have, at least, one advantage from this. He will not be compelled, merely agere actum, to read over what he had read before.
To say, that critical commentaries on the Scriptures, of the higher kind, are wanting in the English language, would be only to repeat what every biblical student has long felt and confessed. The time has come, when this evil ought, if possible, to be redressed. Whether the attempt to assist in this great work, which I have made in the following sheets, can be justly regarded as a successful one, is not for the writer to judge.
It will be understood, of course, that the work is designed for students in theology, and for those who engage in a truly critical study of the Scriptures. With commentaries designed for the edification of Christian readers at large, I believe the English world is better supplied than any other part of Christendom. Henry, Patrick, Guise, Orton, Doddridge, Brown, Clark, Scott, and others, have published works of this nature. It is not my design to occupy the ground which they have already occupied. The reader of my work must not expect sermonizing commentary, but an attempt at philological and critical interpretation. Cuique suum. I bless God for raising up such commentators as those just mentioned, for Christians at large; but the professed interpreters of his word need other aid, and that very different from what their works afford, in order to attain a fundamentally critical knowledge of the original Scriptures.
In regard to the Excursus, different opinions will not improbably be entertained respecting them. The expediency of them, their length, and the correctness of some of the positions which they advance, may all be called in question. In matters so difficult and delicate, and which have so long been the theme of controversy, it cannot be expected that there will be, at once, an entire and universal agreement of opinion. The writer of these sheets does not venture to flatter himself with the expectation, that all will adopt his views. Of one thing, however, he is very confident; and this is, that he claims no authority of any kind over the opinions of others. But he thinks it proper to express his sincere desire, that those who may differ from him as to some of the opinions advanced in the Excursus, or in the body of the work, would thoroughly examine the subjects in respect to which they may think him erroneous, before they pass sentence of condemnation. It is not too much, moreover, to request, that they would assign their reasons why they differ from him. In this way, differences of opinion may ultimately aid in the discovery of truth, with respect to dark and difficult subjects, and so prove to be of real utility to the church.
Subjects of high and awful interest in religion should not be treated with obtrusive confidence, nor with presumption. I shall most thankfully accept any better light than I now have, let it come from what quarter it may. Being a Protestant, and nullius addictus jurare in verba magistri, I deem it not unreasonable to expect, that where I may be in the wrong, I may be convinced by argument, not