« PreviousContinue »
SUPERIORITY OF MODERN EXEGESIS.
more profound and valuable than those of Stuart. His translation of Wahl's Clavis Philologica was superseded by his own Greek and English Lexicon of the New Testament, a work that has had incalculable influence in directing the studies of theological students and ministers, and only now gives place to the admirable Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, prepared by J. H. Thayer, another American scholar.
It is noticeable that the best modern American exegesis, while not less thorough and painstaking than that of Europe, is more conservative and evangelical. There is less tendency to speculate and build up theories and hypotheses. The intense utilitarianism of American life bas doubtless begotten some measure of superficialness in scholarship as well as in other things, but it has also exerted a most valuable influence in preserving the theologians of the country from the wild and useless extremes of speculation, to which not a few in other lands have been carried away.
It would require a large volume to describe even briefly the contributions to biblical interpretation which have been Modern Exegemade within the last half-century. The breadth and sis. thoroughness of biblical scholarship at the present time may be inferred from the fact that there are hundreds of modern expositors, little known and read, who are far superior in learning and methods of interpretation to any of the fathers or mediæval writers. We mention with highest regard such names as Alford and Ellicott and Lightfoot of England, and Stuart and Edward Robinson and J. A. Alexander, of America; and yet we should remember that there are scores of exegetes now living who easily rank with these. The historical importance of Philo and Origen and Chrysostom and Jerome makes them much more conspicuous than these later writers, but the intrinsic value of the expositions of Scripture produced by the moderns is immeasurably superior to those of the ancients. The rationalistic critics have done great service to the science of interpretation. The suggestions of Semler, the productions of Gesenius, the critical acuteness of De Wette and Ewald, and even the works of Strauss, and Baur, and Graf, and Kuenen, have given an impulse to the scientific study of the Holy Scriptures which has already produced inestimable gain, and which promises even better for the future. For scholarly and critical assaults upon their faith have only driven the friends of evangelical religion to a deeper and better study of their sacred books. The most accomplished scholars of the world are finding in the study and elucidation of the Bible a worthy and ennobling field of labour, and are devoting their lives to it with enthusiastic delight.
METHODS OF INTERPRETATION.
The history of biblical exposition, as traceable in the works of the great exegetes and critics, shows us what diverse methods of interpretation have at various periods prevailed. Doubtless through all these centuries the common sense of readers has accepted the obvious import of the principal portions of the Bible. For, as Stuart observes, “from the first moment that one human being addressed another by the use of language down to the present hour, the essen. tial laws of interpretation became, and have continued to be, a practical matter. The person addressed has always been an interpreter in every instance where he has heard and understood what was addressed to him. All the human race, therefore, are, and ever have been, interpreters. It is a law of their rational, intelligent, communicative nature.”? Erroneous and absurd methods of explanation are mostly traceable to false notions of the Bible itself. On the one hand we find a superstitious reverence for the letter of Scripture, prompting to search for hidden treasures of thought in every word; on the other, prejudices and assumptions hostile to the spirit of the holy writings have begotten methods of interpretation which pervert, and often flatly contradict, the plainest statements of Scripture. The ancient Jewish expositions of the Old Testament exhibit
numerous absurd methods of interpretation. For exam. Hagadic Meth- ple, the letters of a word were reduced to their numeri
cal value, and then some other word or statement was sought having the same letters in another order, or other letters aggregating the same numerical value, and the two words were thereupon regarded as equivalent in meaning. The numerical value of the letters in the name Eliezer (nyba) is three hundred and eighteen, the number of Abraham's trained men (Gen. xiv, 14), from which it was inferred that Abraham's servant Eliezer was alone as powerful as the three hundred others. And so, by ingenious manipulation, every peculiar grammatical form, every instance of pleonasm, or ellipsis, or apparently superflous use of a particle, was made to yield some remarkable significance. It is easy to see that such capricious
1 Article by Professor M. Stuart, in the American Biblical Repository for Jan., 1832,
methods must necessarily involve the exposition of the Scriptures in utter confusion; and yet the learned rabbies who employed them sought by these means to show the manifold excellence and wisdom of their sacred books. The study of the ancient Jewish exegesis is, acordingly, of little value in ascertaining the true meaning of the Scriptures. The methods of procedure are fanciful and arbitrary and encourage the pernicious habit of searching the oracles of God for something that will minister to a morbid curiosity. But for the illustration of ancient Jewish opinions, especially for the elucidation of certain doctrines and customs, and sometimes for the criticism of the Hebrew text, the comments of the rabbinical writers may be of much service.
The allegorical method of interpretation obtained an early prominence among the Jews of Alexandria. Its origin is
Allegorical inusually attributed to the mingling of Greek philosophy terpretation. and the biblical conceptions of God. Many of the theophanies and anthropomorphisms of the Old Testament were repugnant to the philosophic mind, and hence the effort to discover behind the outer form an inner substance of truth. The biblical narratives were often treated like the Greek myths, and explained as either a historical or an enigmatical embodiment of moral and religious les
The most distinguished representative of Jewish allegorical interpretation was Philo of Alexandria, and an example of his allegorizing many be seen in the following remarks on the rivers of Eden (Gen. ii, 10–14):
In these words Moses intends to sketch out the particular virtues. And they, also, are four in number, prudence, temperance, courage, and justice. Now the greatest river, from which the four branches flow off, is generic virtue, which we have already called goodness; and the four branches are the same number of virtues. Generic virtue, therefore, derives its beginning from Eden, which is the wisdom of God; which rejoices, and exults, and triumphs, being delighted at and honoured on account of nothing else, except its Father, God. And the four particular virtues are branches from the generic virtue, which, like a river, waters all the good actions of each with an abundant stream of benefits." Similar allegorizing abounds in the early Christian fathers. Thus, Clement of Alexandria, commenting on the Mosaic prohibition of eating the swine, the hawk, the eagle, and the raven, observes: “The sow is the emblem of voluptuous and unclean lust of food.
The eagle indicates robbery, the hawk injustice, and the raven greed.” On Exod. xv, 1, “ Jehovah has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider has he thrown into the sea," Clement remarks:
1 The Allegories of the Sacred Laws, book i, 19 (Bohn's edition).
The many-limbed and brutal affection, lust, with the rider mounted, who gives the reins to pleasures, he casts into the sea—throwing them away into the disorders of the world. Thus, also, Plato, in his book on the soul [Timæus], says that the charioteer and the horse at ran off-(the irrational part, which is divided into two, into anger and concupiscence)—fall down; and so the myth intimates that it was through the licentiousness of the steeds that Phaëthon was thrown out.'
The allegorical method of interpretation is based upon a profound reverence for the Scriptures, and a desire to exhibit their manifold depths of wisdom. But it will be noticed at once that its habit is to disregard the common signification of words, and give wing to all manner of fanciful speculation. It does not draw out the legitimate meaning of an author's language, but foists into it whatever the whim or fancy of an interpreter may desire. As a system, therefore, it puts itself beyond all well-defined principles and laws.
Closely allied to the allegorical interpretation is the Mystical," Mystical inter- according to which manifold depths and shades of meanpretation.
ing are sought in every word of Scripture. The allegorical interpreters have, accordingly, very naturally run into much that is to be classed with mystical theorizing. Clement of Alexandria maintained that the laws of Moses contain a fourfold significance, the natural, the mystical, the moral, and the prophetical. Origen held that, as man's nature consists of body, soul, and spirit, so the Scriptures have a corresponding threefold sense, the bodily (owuatikos), or literal, the psychical (HvXlkós), or moral, and the spiritual (TrvEVMATIKós), which latter he further distinguishes as allegorical, tropological, and anagogical. In the early part of the ninth century the learned Rhabanus Maurus recommended four methods of exposition, the historical, the allegorical, the anagogical, and the tropological. He observes:
By these the mother Wisdom feeds the sons of her adoption. Upon youth and those of tender age she bestows drink, in the milk of history; on such as have made proficiency in faith, food, in the bread of allegory; to the good, such as strenuously labour in good works, she gives a satisfying portion in the savoury nourishment of tropology. To those, in fine, who have raised themselves above the common level of humanity by a contempt of earthly things, and have advanced to the highest by heavenly desires, she gives the sober intoxication of theoretic contemplation in the wine of anagogy. . . . History, which narrates examples of perfect men,
Miscellanies, book v, chap. viii.
According to Ernesti, the mystical interpretation differs from the allegorical, as among the Greeks Dewpía differs from aranyopía. Institutes, chap. ix, 3.
excites the reader to imitate their sanctity; allegory excites him to know the truth in the revelation of faith; tropology encourages him to the love of virtue by improving the morals; and anagogy promotes the longing after eternal happiness by revealing everlasting joys. . . . Since then, it appears that these four modes of understanding the Holy Scriptures unveil all the secret things in them, we should consider when they are to be understood according to one of them only, when according to two, when according to three, and when according to all the four together.'
Among the mystical interpreters we may also place the celebrated Emanuel Swedenborg, who maintains a three- Swedenborgian fold sense of Scripture, according to what he calls “the interpretation. Science of Correspondencies." As there are three heavens, a lowest, a middle, and a highest, so there are three senses of the Word, the natural or literal, the spiritual, and the celestial. He says:
The Word in the letter is like a casket, where lie in order precious stones, pearls, and diadems; and when a man esteems the Word holy, and reads it for the sake of the uses of life, the thoughts of his mind are, comparatively, like one who holds such a cabinet in his hand, and sends it heavenward; and it is opened in its ascent, and the precious things therein come to the angels, who are deeply delighted with seeing and examining them. This delight of the angels is communicated to the man, and makes consociation, and also a communication of perceptions.”
He explains the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” (Exod. xx, 13), first, in its natural sense, as forbidding murder and also the cherishing of hatred and revenge; secondly, in the spiritual sense, as forbidding “to act the devil and destroy a man's soul;" and thirdly, in the celestial or heavenly sense, the angels understand killing to signify hating the Lord and the Word.
Somewhat allied to the mystical is that Pietistic mode of exposition, according to which the interpreter claims to be Pletistic interguided by an “inward light,” received as “an unction pretation. from the Holy One” (1 John ii, 20). The rules of grammar and the common meaning and usage of words are discarded, and the internal Light of the Spirit is held to be the abiding and infallible Revealer. Some of the later Pietists of Germany, and the Quakers of England and America have been especially given to this mode of handling the Scriptures. It is certainly to be supposed that
Maurus, Allegoriae in Universam Sacram Scripturam, as given in Davidson, Hermeneutics, pp. 165, 166.
The True Christian Religion, chap. iv, 6. 3 From pietistic extravagance we of course except such men as Spener and A. H. Francke, the great leaders of what is known as Pietism in Germany. The noble practical character of their work and teaching saved them from the excesses into which most of those run who are commonly called Pietists. “The principal efforts of the