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HERMENEUTICS is the science of interpretation. The word is usu. ally applied to the explanation of written documents, and may therefore be more specifically defined as the science of interpreting an author's language. This science as- defined. sumes that there are divers modes of thought and ambiguities of expression among men, and, accordingly, it aims to remove the supposable differences between a writer and his readers, so that the meaning of the one may be truly and accurately apprehended by the others.
It is common to distinguish between General and Special Hermeneutics. General Hermeneutics is devoted to the general principles which are applicable to the interpre- Special tation of all languages and writing. It may appropriately take cognizance of the logical operations of the human mind, and the philosophy of human speech. Special Hermeneutics is devoted rather to the explanation of particular books and classes of writings. Thus, historical, poetical, philosophical, and prophetical writings differ from each other in numerous particulars, and each class requires for its proper exposition the application of principles and methods adapted to its own peculiar character and style. Special Hermeneutics, according to Cellérier, is a science practical and almost empirical, and searches after rules and solutions; while General Hermeneutics is methodical and philosophical, and searches, for principles and methods.*
1 The word hermeneutics is of Greek origin, from épurveuw, to interpret, to explain ; thence the adjective ñ épuNVEUTIK” (sc. Téxvn), that is, the hermeneutical art, and thence our word hermeneutics, the science or art of interpretation. Closely kindred is also the name 'Epuñs, Hermes, or Mercury, who, bearing a golden rod of magic power, figures in Grecian mythology as the messenger of the gods, the tutelary deity of speech, of writing, of arts and sciences, and of all skill and accomplishments.
* Manuel d'Hermeneutique Biblique, p. 5. Geneva, 1852.
Biblical or Sacred neutics.
Old and New
Biblical or Sacred Hermeneuties is the science of interpreting the
IIoly Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. AcHerme- cording to the order of books in the Christian Canon,
we have, first, the five Books of Moses, commonly called the Pentateuch; next follow twelve Historical Books, recording the history of the Israelites from the death of Moses to the restoration from Babylonian exile, and covering a period of a thousand years. Then follow five Poetical Books-a drama, a psalter, two books of proverbial philosophy, and a song of love; and after these are seventeen Prophetical Books, among which are some of the most magnficent monuments of all literature. In the New Testament we have, first, the four Gospels, a record of the life and words of Jesus Christ; then the Acts of the Apostles, a history of the beginning of the Christian Church; then the thirteen Pauline Epistles, followed by the Epistle to the Hebrews and the seven General Epistles; and, finally, the Apocalypse of John. Inasmuch as these two Testaments differ in form, language, and
historical conditions, many writers have deemed it prefHerme- erable to treat the hermeneutics of each Testament not be sepa- separately. And as the New Testament is the later and
fuller revelation, its interpretation has received the fuller and more frequent attention. But it may be questioned whether such a separate treatment of the Old and New Testaments is the better course. It is of the first importance to observe that, from a Christian point of view, the Old Testament cannot be fully apprehended without the help of the New. The mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known unto men, was revealed unto the apostles and prophets of the New Testament (Eph. iii, 5), and that revelation sheds a flood of light upon numerous portions of the Hebrew Scriptures. On the other hand, it is equally true that a scientific interpretation of the New Testament is impossible without a thorough knowledge of the older Scriptures.
The very language of the New Testament, though belonging to another family of human tongues, is notably Hebraic. The style, diction, and spirit of many parts of the Greek Testament cannot be properly appreciated without acquaintance with the style and spirit of the Hebrew prophets. The Old Testament also abounds in testimony of the Christ (Luke xxiv, 27, 44; John v, 39; Acts x, 43), the illustration and fulfillment of which can be seen only in the light of the Christian revelation. In short, the whole Bible is a divinely constructed unity, and there is danger that, in studying one part to the comparative neglect of the other, we may fall into one-sided and erroneous methods of exposition. The Holy Scrip
tures should be studied as a whole, for their several parts were giv. en in manifold portions and modes (Todopiepūç kaì trołuTPÓTOS, Heb. i, 1), and, taken all together, they constitute a remarkably self-interpreting volume.
Biblical Hermeneutics, having a specific field of its own, should be carefully distinguished from other branches of theo- Distinguished logical science with which it is often and quite naturally from Introducassociated. It is to be distinguished from Biblical In- and Exegesis. troduction, Textual Criticism, and Exegesis. Biblical Introduction, or Isagogics, is devoted to the historico-critical examination of the different books of the Bible. It inquires after their age, authorship, genuineness, and canonical authority, tracing at the same time their origin, preservation, and integrity, and exhibiting their contents, relative rank, and general character and value. The scientific treatment of these several subjects is often called the “Higher Criticism."
Textual Criticism has for its special object Textual Critithe ascertaining of the exact words of the original texts cism. of the sacred books. Its method of procedure is to collate and compare ancient manuscripts, ancient versions, and ancient scripture quotations, and, by careful and discriminating judgment, sift conflicting testimony, weigh the evidences of all kinds, and thus endeavour to determine the true reading of every doubtful text. This science is often called the “Lower Criticism.” Where such criticism ends, Hermeneutics properly begins, and aims to establish the principles, methods, and rules which are needful to unfold the sense of what is written. Its object is to elucidate whatever may be obscure or ill-defined, so that every reader may be able, by an intelligent process, to obtain the exact ideas intended by the author. Exegesis is the application of these principles and laws, Exegesis and the actual bringing out into formal statement, and by Exposition. other terms, the meaning of the author's words. Exegesis is related to hermeneutics as preaching is to homiletics, or, in general, as practice is to theory. Exposition is another word often used synonymously with exegesis, and has essentially the same signification; and yet, perhaps, in common usage, exposition denotes a more extended development and illustration of the sense, dealing more largely with other scriptures by comparison and contrast. We observe, accordingly, that the writer on Biblical Introduction examines the historical foundations and canonical authority of the books of Scripture. The textual critic detects interpolations, emends false readings, and aims to give us the very words which the sacred writers used. The exegete takes up these words, and by means of the principles of hermeneutics, defines their meaning, elucidates the scope and plan of each writer, and brings forth the grammatico historical sense of what each book contains. The expositor builds upon the labours both of critics and exegetes, and sets forth in fuller förm, and by ample illustration, the ideas, doctrines, and moral lessons of the Scripture.'
But while we are careful to distinguish hermeneutics from these kindred branches of exegetical theology, we should not fail to note that a science of interpretation must essentially depend on exegesis for the maintenance and illustration of its principles and rules. As the full grammar of a language establishes its principles by sufficient examples and by formal praxis, so a science of hermeneutics must needs verify and illustrate its principles by examples of their practical application. Its province is not merely to define principles and methods, but also to exemplify and illustrate them, Herme
neutics, therefore, is both a science and an art. As a Hermeneutics both a Science science, it enunciates principles, investigates the laws and an Art.
of thought and language, and classifies its facts and results. As an art, it teaches what application these principles should have, and establishes their soundness by showing their practical value in the elucidation of the more difficult scriptures. The hermeneutical art thus cultivates and establishes a valid exegetical procedure.
The necessity of a science of interpretation is apparent from the Necessity of diversities of mind and culture among men.
Personal Hermeneutics. intercourse between individuals of the same nation and language is often difficult and embarrassing by reason of their different styles of thought and expression. Even the Apostle Peter found in Paul's epistles things which were difficult to understand (dvovónta, 2 Pet. iii, 16). The man of broad and liberal culture lives and moves in a different world from the unlettered peasant, so much so that sometimes the ordinary conversation of the one is scarcely intelligible to the other. Different schools of metaphysics and opposing systems of theology have often led their several advocates into strange misunderstandings. The speculative philosopher, who ponders long on abstract themes, and by deep study
1 Doedes thus discriminates between explaining and interpreting: “To explain, properly signifies the unfolding of what is contained in the words, and to interpret, the making clear of what is not clear by casting light on that which is obscure. Very often one interprets by means of explaining, namely, when, by unfolding the sense of the words, light is reflected on what is said or written; but it cannot be said that one explains by interpreting. While explaining generally is interpreting, interpreting, properly speaking, is not explaining. But we do not usually observe this distinction in making use of these terms, and may without harm use them promiscuously." Manual of Hermeneutics, p. 4,
NEED OF HERMENEUTICS.
constructs a doctrine or system clear to his own mind, may find it difficult to set forth his views to others so as to prevent all misconception. His whole subject matter lies beyond the range of common thought. The hearers or readers, in such a case, must, like the philosopher himself, dwell long upon the subject. They must have terms defined, and ideas illustrated, until, step by step, they come to imbibe the genius and spirit of the new philosophy. But especially great and manifold are the difficulties of understanding the writings of those who differ from us in language and nationality. The learned themselves become divided in their essays to decipher and interpret the records of the past. Volumes and libraries have been written to elucidate the obscurities of the Greek and Roman classics. The foremost scholars and linguists of the present generation are busied in the study and exposition of the sacred books of the Chinese, the Hindus, the Parsees, and the Egyptians, and, after all their learned labours, they disagree in the translation and solution of many a passage. How much more might we expect great differences of opinion in the interpretation of a book like the Bible, composed at sundry times and in many parts and modes, and ranging through many departments of literature ! What obstacles might reasonably be expected in the interpretation of a record of divine revelation, in which heavenly thoughts, unknown to men before, were made to express themselves in the imperfect formulas of human speech! The most contradictory rules of interpretation have been propounded, and expositions have been made to suit the peculiar tastes and prejudices of writers or to maintain preconceived opinions, until all scientific method has been set at nought, and each interpreter became a law unto himself. Hence the necessity of well-defined and self-consistent principles of Scripture interpretation. Only as exegetes come to adopt common principles and methods of procedure, will the interpretation of the Bible attain the dignity and certainty of an established science.
The rank and importance of Biblical Hermeneutics among the various studies embraced in Theological Encyclopedia Rank and imand Methodology is apparent from the fundamental re- portance lation which it sustains to them all. For the Scripture in Theological revelation is itself essentially the centre and substance Science. of all theological science. It contains the clearest and fullest exhibition of the person and character of God, and of the spiritual needs and possibilities of man. A sound and trustworthy interpretation of the scripture records, therefore, is the root and basis of all revealed theology. Without it Systematic Theology, or Dogmatics, could not be legitimately constructed, and would, in fact, be essentially