Page images
PDF
EPUB

§ 2. The second general direction is to inquire carefully, as far as is compatible with the distance of time, and the other disadvantages we labour under, into the character, the situation, and the office of the writer, the time, the place, and the occasion, of his writing, and the people for whose immediate use he originally intended his work. Every one of these particulars will sometimes serve to elucidate expressions, otherwise obscure or doubtful. This knowledge may, in part, be learnt from a diligent and reiterated perusal of the book itself, and in part, be gathered from what authentic, or at least probable, accounts have been transmitted to us, concerning the compilement of the canon.

§ 3. The third, and only other, general direction I shall mention, is, to consider the principal scope of the book, and the particulars chiefly observable in the method by which the writer has purposed to execute his design. This direction, I acknowledge, can hardly be considered as applicable to the historical books, whose purpose is obvious, and whose method is determined by the order of time, or, at least, by the order in which the several occurrences recorded have presented themselves to the memory of the compiler. But, in the epistolary writings, especially those of the Apostle Paul, this consideration would deserve particular attention.

4. Now, to come to rules of a more special nature : If, in reading a particular book, a word or

25

VOL. I.

phrase occur, which appears obscure, perhaps unintelligible, how ought we to proceed? The first thing undoubtedly we have to do, if satisfied that the reading is genuine, is to consult the context, to attend to the manner wherein the term is introduced, whether in a chain of reasoning, or as belonging to a historical narration, as constituting some circum. stance in a description, or included in an exhortation or command. As the conclusion is inferred from the premises; or, as from two or more known truths, a third unknown or unobserved before may fairly be deduced ; so from such attention to the sentences in connection, the import of an expression, in itself obscure or ambiguous, will sometimes, with moral certainty, be discovered. This, however, will not always answer.

9. 5. If it do not, let the second consideration be, whether the term or phrase be any of the writer's peculiarities. If so, it comes naturally to be inquired, what is the acceptation in which he employs it in other places? If the sense cannot be precisely the same in the passage under review, perhaps, by an easy and natural metaphor, or other trope, the common acceptation may give rise to one which perfectly suits the passage in question. Recourse to the other places wherein the word or phrase occurs in the same author, is of considerable use, though the term should not be peculiar to him.

§ 6. But thirdly, if there should be nothing in the same writer that can enlighten the place, let re

course be had to the parallel passages, if there be any such, in the other sacred writers. By parallel passages I mean those places, if the difficulty occur in history, wherein the same or a similar story, miracle, or event, is related ; if in teaching or reasoning, those parts wherein the same doctrine or argument is treated, or the same parable propounded ; and if in moral lessons, those wherein the same class of duties is recommended. Or, if the difficulty be found in a quotation from the Old Testament, let the parallel passage in the book referred to, both in the original Hebrew, and in the Greek version, be consulted,

$ 7. But, if in these there be found nothing that can throw light on the expression, of which we are in doubt; the fourth recourse is to all the places wherein the word or phrase occurs in the New Testament, and in the Septuagint version of the Old, adding to these the consideration of the import of the Hebrew or Chaldaic word whose place it occupies, and the extent of signification, of which, in different occurrences, such Hebrew or Chaldaic term is susceptible.

$ 8. PERHAPS the term in question is one of those which very rarely occur in the New Testament, or those called 'anat aeyoueva, only once read in Scripture, and not found at all in the translation of the Seventy. Several such words there are. There is then, a necessity, in the fifth place, for recurring to

the ordinary acceptation of the term in classical authors. This is one of those cases wherein the interpretation given by the earliest Greek fathers deserves particular notice. In this verdict, however, I limit myself to those comments wherein they give a literal exposition of the sacred text, and do not run, as is but too customary with them, into vision and allegory. There are so many advantages which people have, for discovering the import of a term or phrase in their mother-tongue, unusual perhaps in writing, but current in conversation, above those who study a dead language, solely by means of the books extant in it, that no reasonable person can question that some deference is, in such cases, due to their authority.

You will observe that, in regard to the words or phrases, whereof an illustration may be had from other parts of sacred writ, whether of the Old, or of the New, Testament; I should not think it necessary to recur directly to those primitive, any more than to our modern, expounders. My reason is, as the word or phrase may not improbably be affected by the idiom of the synagogue, the Jewish literature will be of more importance than the Grecian, for throwing light upon the passage. Now this is a kind of learning with which the Greek fathers were very little acquainted. Whereas, on the other hand, if the term in question rarely, or but once occur in the New Testament, and never in the version of the Old, there is little ground to imagine that it is affected by the idiom of the synagogue, but the greatest reason

to suppose that it is adopted, by the sacred penmen, in the common acceptation.

I think it necessary to add here another limitation to the reference intended to the ancient Greek expositors. If the doubtful passage have been produced in support of a side, in any of the famous controversies by which the Christian church has been divided; no regard is due to the authority, whatever may be due to the arguments, of any writer, who lived at, or soon after, the time when the controversy was agitated. If you know the side he took in the dispute, you are sure beforehand of the explanation he will give of the words in question. Nothing blinds the understanding more effectually than the spirit of party, and no kind of party-spirit more than bigotry under the assumed character of religious zeal.

9. With respect to the use to be made of the Fathers, for assisting us to understand the Scriptures, there are two extremes, to one or other of which, the much greater part of Christians show a propensity. One is, an implicit deference to their judgment, in every point on which they have given an opinion; the other is, no regard at all to any thing advanced by them. To the first extreme the more moderate Romanists, and those Protestants who favour pompous ceremonies, and an aristocratical hierarchy, are most inclined ; and to the second, those Protestants, on the contrary, who prefer simplicity of worship, and the democratical form in church go

« PreviousContinue »