Page images
PDF
EPUB

Cocceius.

great work of his life to oppose the Cartesian philosophy. But his methods of procedure tended to cultivate a narrow and dogmatic spirit, and his exegesis, accordingly, aimed rather to support and defend a theological system than to ascertain by valid reason the exact meaning of the sacred writers. He was vehemently polemical, and became the acknowledged head and leader of a school of exegesis which assumed to adhere strictly to the literal sense, buty at the same time, regarded all biblical criticism as highly dangerous to the orthodox faith. The Voetians would fain have made the dogmas of the Synod of Dort the authoritative guide to the sense of Scripture, and were restless before an appeal to the original texts of the Bible and independent methods of interpretation. The great opponent both of scholasticism and of a narrow dog

matical exegesis was John Cocceius, a man of broad and

thorough scholarship, an adept in Greek, Hebrew, Chaldee, Arabic, and rabbinical literature, and a worthy compeer of such scholars as Buxtorf, Walton, and Grotius. He devoted himself chiefly to biblical exposition, publishing commentary after commentary until he had gone through nearly all canonical books. Although his labours revived and encouraged allegorical and mystical methods of interpretation, it must be conceded that he exhibited many of the very best qualities of a biblical exegete, and did as much as any man of his time to hold up the Holy Scriptures as the living fountain of all revealed theology, and the only authoritative rule and standard of faith. He insisted that the Old and New Testaments must be treated as one organic whole, and that each passage should be interpreted according to the meaning of its words, the connexion of thought as traceable through an entire discourse, book, or epistle, and the analogy of faith, or scope and plan of the one complete revelation of God. He maintained that Christ is the great subject of divine revelation in the Old Testament as well as in the New, and hence arose the saying that Cocceius found Christ everywhere in the Old Testament, but Grotius nowhere. It is due, however, to the memory of Cocceius to say that while he too often pressed the typical import of Old Testament texts to an undue extreme, he acted on the valid principle that the Hebrew Scriptures contain the germs of the Gospel revelation, and that, according to the express teaching of our Lord (John v, 39; Luke xxiv, 27), the Old Testament contained many things concerning himself. The errors into which he fell are less grave than those of not a few modern critics who exhibit a notable onesidedness in failing to see that the written revelation of

* The works of Cocceius were published at Amsterdam, 1676–78, in 8 vols. folio, and in 1701 in 10 vols. folio.

EIGHTEENTH CENTURY EXEGESIS.

53

Spener.

Francke.

God is truly an organic whole, and that the New Testament cannot be interpreted without the Old, nor the Old without the New.

A fresh impulse was given to biblical studies in Germany by the founding of the University of Halle in 1694. This was due mainly to the influence of Spener, the father of Pietism. The Protestant Churches had fallen into a cold, formal orthodoxy, and the symbols and sacraments took precedence of scriptural knowledge and personal piety. As early as 1675 Spener had urged, in his Pia Desideria, that all Christian doctrine should be sought in a faithful study of the Holy Scriptures rather than in the symbols of the Church, and that the living truths of God's word should be brought home to the hearts of the people. Associated with him at Halle was A. H. Francke, who had previously become noted at Leipsic by his exegetical lectures. Both these men were eminent as preachers and abundant in pulpit ministrations. Francke's exegetical lectures extended over the books of the Old and New Testaments, and he published treatises on the interpretation of Scripture, and on methods of theological study. These noble leaders of Pietism maintained that it is the first duty of the theologian to ascertain the true meaning of the Scriptures, not from traditional beliefs, but from a critical and grammatical study of the original texts.

During the eighteenth century biblical criticism and interpretation took on a more scientific character. It was a period of research, of philosophical investigation, of sceptical and rationalistic assaults upon Christianity, of extensive revival and of political revolution. These exciting movements gave encouragement to biblical studies, developed an array of distinguished scholars too numerous to be even named in these pages, and prepared the way for the exact grammatico-historical interpretation which is yielding rich and varied products in our own time. The science of Textual Criticism was promoted by the labours of Van der Hooght, J. H. Michaelis, Houbigant, Kennicott, and De Rossi on the Old Testament, and by those of Mill, Bentley, Bengel, Wetstein, and Griesbach on the New. Bengel's best work, however, was his Gnomon of the New Testament, a condensed but remarkably rich and suggestive commentary, the general principles and methods of which have not been greatly excelled by any later exegete.

Probably the most distinguished name in the history of exegesis in the eighteenth century is that of John Augustus Ernesti, whose Institutio interpretis Novi Testamenti (Lipz., 1761), or Principles of New Testament Interpretation, has been accepted as a standard textbook on hermeneutics by four gen

Ernesti.

ever.

erations of biblical scholars. “He is regarded,” says Hagenbach, “as the founder of a new exegetical school, whose principle simply was that the Bible must be rigidly explained according to its own language, and, in this explanation, it must neither be bribed by any external authority of the Church, nor by our own feeling, nor by a sportive and allegorizing fancy—which had frequently been the case with the mystics-nor, finally, by any philosophical system what

He here united in the main with Hugo Grotius, who had laid down similar principles in the seventeenth century. Ernesti was a philologian. He had occupied himself just as enthusiastically with the ancient classics of Rome and Greece as with the Bible, and claimed that the same exegetical laws should be observed in the one case as in the other. He was perfectly right in this respect; even the Reformers wished the same thing. His error here was, perhaps, in overlooking too much the fact that, in order to perceive the religious truths of the Scriptures, we must not only understand the meaning of a declaration in its relations to language and history, but that we must also spiritually appropriate it by feelingly transposing ourselves to it, and by seeking to understand it from itself. Who will deny that, in order to understand the epistles of the Apostle Paul, we must adopt from the very outset a mode of view different from that which we would employ in order to understand the epistles of Cicero, since the circle of ideas of these two men is very different ? Religious writings can be perfectly understood only by an anticipating spirit, which peers through the logical and grammatical web of the thoughts to the depths below. ... The principle that we must expound the Scriptures like every other book could at least be so misapprehended that it might be placed in the same rank with the other writings of antiquity, and the assistance of the Holy Spirit, which is the only guide to the depths of the Scriptures, be regarded as superfluous. As for Ernesti personally, he was orthodox, like Michaelis and Mosheim. He even defended the Lutheran view of the Lord's Supper. And yet these men, and others of like character, are distinguished from their orthodox predecessors by their insisting upon independence, by struggling for sobriety, and, if you will allow, for dryness also. But, with all this, they were further distinguished from their predecessors by a certain freedom and mildness of judgment which men had not been accustomed to find in theologians. Without any desire or wish on their own part they effected a transition to a new theological method of thought, which soon passed beyond the limits of their own labours.” 1

1 History of the Church in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries, vol. i, pp. 259–261. English translation by Hurst. New York, 1869.

GERMAN RATIONALISM.

55

In the latter part of the eighteenth century there was in Germany a notable reaction against the old rigid orthodoxy which German Rehad been dominant, and also against the degenerating tionalism. Pietism, which was given to magnify a blind emotional faith, and rapidly deteriorated into a superstitious mysticism and extravagance. Semler contributed greatly to this movement by his theory of Accommodation, applied to the interpretation of Scripture. His beautiful piety, however, preserved him from the evil effects of his own theories, and he was surprised at the use others made of his critical principles. There were men in Germany who were thoroughly infected with the leaven of English deism and French infidelity, and they were not slow to appropriate Semler's destructive methods for the propagation of unbelief among the people. Of this class were Edelmann and Bahrdt, whose writings breathed the most offensive spirit of hostility to all accepted Christian doctrine. The publication of the Wolfenbüttel Fragments (1765-92), by Lessing, contributed still more to the spread of scepticism. They extolled the deists, glorified human beings, and treated the miracles of the Bible as incredible myths and legends, which an intelligent age ought to reject. And so, at the beginning of our present century, rationalism had wellnigh taken possession of the best minds of Germany. It has continued its work of destructive criticism even to our day, and such names as J. G. Eichhorn, Paulus, Tuch, Von Bohlen, Strauss, C. H. Weisse, and F. C. Baur have given peculiar brilliancy to its inethods. Reuss, Graf, Kuenen, and Wellhausen have in the most recent times exhibited great ingenuity and scholarship in their essays to reconstruct the very foundation of Old Testament history, and place the writings of Moses after those of the prophets.

This destructive school of Rationalism has been to a great extent opposed by what is often called the mediation school of interpreters. The man who more than any other initiated a reaction against the rationalism current at the beginning of this century was Schleiermacher. And yet he was far from orthodox in his teaching. He was neither strictly evangelical nor rationalistic, but combined elements of both. He showed that vital piety is a matter of the heart, and consists in the consciousness of God in the soul, and, accordingly, is not attainable by reason, or dependent on human culture. But in his methods of interpretation, he followed mainly the ways of the rationalists. He treated the Old Testament as having no divine authority, but as historically important because of its relations to Christianity. His disciples branched off into different schools, and in their attitude toward evangelical doctrine were negative or positive, or followed a middle course be

Mediation
School.

Schools.

tween the two, and each school could appeal in defence of its posi. tions to the teachings of the master whom they all honoured. As exegetes, De Wette, Lücke, the Rosenmüllers, Gesenius, and Ewald carried out the rationalistic tendencies of Schleiermacher. De Wette, however, deserves special notice as being unsurpassed in critical tact and exegetical ability by any biblical scholar of modern times. His views were formed under the influence of such theolog. ical teachers as Paulus, and are essentially rationalistic, but he rejected the naturalistic method of explaining miracles, and anticipated Strauss in many of the prominent positions of the mythical interpretation. But he showed greater regard for the religious element of Scripture, and never indulged in disrespectful insinuations hostile to its divine authority.

The German evangelical school of interpreters includes men of Evangelical

different shades of opinion, from the rigidly orthodox to

divines of a free critical spirit, intent, like Neander, to know and maintain only essential truth. G. C. Storr, at the beginning of the century, was the leading representative of what is known as the old Tübingen school. He aimed to check the growth of rationalism by a purely scriptural teaching, but his method was unscientific in that he failed to give due prominence to the organic unity of the Bible, and rested too largely on isolated texts. Hengstenberg, professor of theology at Berlin, was recognized for almost half a century as one of the staunchest defenders of orthodoxy, but his tone and methods were highly dogmatic. Hävernick, Bleek, Umbreit, Tholuck, Stier, H. Olshausen, Keil, Delitzsch, Meyer, and Lange represent the better class of the evangelical interpreters, and their varied contributions to exegetical theology are worthy of the very highest commendation, American scholarship has as yet produced comparatively little

that bears favourable comparison with the great exegetsis in America. ical works of British and German authors. But the translators of Lange's Commentary, nearly all Americans, have exhibited therein an exegetical ability quite equal to those of the original writers, and, in some of the volumes, the additions made by the translators are the most valuable parts of the work. In the earlier part of this century Moses Stuart and Edward Robinson did more than

any other two men in the United States to promote an interest in exegetical studies. The former published commentaries on Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Daniel, Romans, Hebrews, and the Apocalypse, all of which show the skill of a master, and have maintained, up to the present time, a place among the very ablest expositions of these books. But Robinson's contributions to biblical literature were even

Biblical

exege

« PreviousContinue »