« PreviousContinue »
this holy inward light would never contradict itself, or guide its followers into different expositions of the same scripture. But the divergent and irreconcilable interpretations prevalent among the adherents of this system show that the “inward light” is untrustworthy. Like the allegorical and mystical systems of interpretation, Pietism concedes the sanctity of the Scriptures, and seeks in them the lessons of eternal life; but as to principles and rules of exegesis it is more lawless and irrational.
The Allegorist professes to follow certain analogies and correspondencies, but the Quaker-Pietist is a law unto himself, and his own subjective feeling or fancy is the end of controversy. He sets himself up as a new oracle, and while assuming to follow the written word of God, puts forth his own dictum as a further revelation. Such a procedure, of course, can never commend itself to the common sense and the rational judgment.
A method of exposition, which owes its distinction to the celebrated J. S. Semler, the father of the destructive school of German
Rationalism, is known as the Accommodation Theory. tion Theory. According to this theory the Scripture teachings respecting miracles, vicarious and expiatory sacrifice, the resurrection, eternal judgment, and the existence of angels and demons, are to be regarded as an accommodation to the superstitious notions, prejudices, and ignorance of the times. The supernatural was thus set aside. Semler became possessed with the idea that we must distinguish between religion and theology, and between personal piety and the public teaching of the Church. He rejected the doctrine of the Divine inspiration of the Scriptures, and argued that, as the Old Testament was written for the Jews, whose religious notions were narrow and faulty, we cannot accept its teachings as a general rule of faith. Matthew's Gospel, he held, was intended for Jews outside of Palestine, and John's Gospel for Christians who had more or less of Grecian culture. Paul at first adapted himself to Jewish modes of thought with the hope of winning over many of his countrymen to Christianity, but failing in this, he turned to the Gentiles, and became pre-eminent in holding up Christianity as the religion for all men. The different books of Scripture were, accordingly, designed to serve only a temporary
Pietists,” says Immer, “. were directed toward the edificatory application of Scripture, as may be seen from Francke's Manuductio ad Lectionem Scripturae Sacrae. This predominance of effort at edification soon degenerated into indifference to science, and at last into proud contempt of it. Mystical and typological trifling arose; chiliastic phantasies found great acceptance; the Scriptures were not so much explained as overwhelmed with pious reflections." Hermeneutics, p. 46.
purpose, and many of their statements may be summarily set aside as untrue.
The fatal objection to this method of interpretation is that it necessarily impugns the veracity and honour of the sacred writers, and of the Son of God himself. It represents them as conniving at the errors and ignorance of men, and confirming them and the readers of the Scriptures in such ignorance and error. If such a principle be admitted into our expositions of the Bible, we at once lose our moorings, and drift out upon an open sea of conjecture and uncertainty.
A passing notice should also be taken of what is commonly called the Moral Interpretation, and which owes its origin to
Moral Interprethe celebrated philosopher of Königsberg, Immanuel tation of Kant. Kant. The prominence given to the pure reason, and the idealism maintained in his metaphysical system, naturally led to the practice of making the Scriptures bend to the preconceived demands of reason. For, although the whole Scripture be given by inspiration of God, it has for its practical value and purpose the moral improvement of man. Hence, if the literal and historical sense of a given passage yield no profitable moral lesson, such as commends itself to the practical reason, we are at liberty to set it aside, and attach to the words such a meaning as is compatible with the religion of reason. It is maintained that such expositions are not to be charged with insincerity, inasmuch as they are not to be set forth as the meaning strictly intended by the sacred writers, but only as a meaning which the writers may possibly have intended.' The only real value of the Scriptures is to illustrate and confirm the religion of reason.
It is easy to see that such a system of interpretation, which professedly ignores the grammatical and historical sense of the Bible, can have no reliable or self-consistent rules. Like the mystical and allegorical methods, it leaves every thing subject to the peculiar faith or fancy of the interpreter.
So open to criticism and objection are all the above-mentioned methods of interpretation, that we need not be surprised to find them offset by other extremes. Of all rationalistic theories the
1 See Kant, Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der blossen Vernunft, p. 161. This was the work of his old age, and at all periods of his life he seems to have been at least as deficient in religious sentiment as in emotional imagination, which is allied to it. . . . It treats the revelations of Scripture in regard to the fall of man, to his redemption, and to his restoration, as a moral allegory, the data of which are supplied by the consciousness of depravity, and of dereliction from the strict principles of duty. It is Strauss in the germ.” M'Clintock and Strong's Cyclopædia, article Kant.
Naturalistic is the most violent and radical. A rigid application Naturalistic In- of this theory is exhibited in Paulus' Commentary on terpretation. the New Testament,' in which it is maintained that the biblical critic should always distinguish between what is fact and what is mere opinion. He accepts the historical truth of the Gospel narratives, but holds that the mode of accounting for them is a matter of opinion. He rejects all supernatural agency in human affairs, and explains the miracles of Jesus either as acts of kindness, or ex. hibitions of medical skill, or illustrations of personal sagacity and tact, recorded in a manner peculiar to the age and opinions of the different writers. Jesus' walking on the sea was really a walking on the shore; but the boat was all the time so near the shore, that when Peter jumped into the sea Jesus could reach and rescue him from the shore. The excitement was so great, and the impression on the disciples so deep, that it seemed to them as if Jesus had miraculously walked on the sea, and come to their help. The apparent miracle of making five loaves feed five thousand people was done simply by the example, which Jesus bade his disciples set, of distributing of their own little store to those immediately about them. This example was promptly followed by other companies, and it was found that there was more than sufficient food for all. Lazarus did not really die, but fell into a swoon, and was supposed to be dead. But Jesus suspected the real state of the case, and coming to the tomb at the opportune moment, happily found that his suspicions were correct; and his wisdom and power in the case made a profound and lasting impression.
This style of exposition, however, was soon seen to set at naught the rational laws of human speech, and to undermine the credibility of all ancient history. It exposed the sacred books to all manner of ridicule and satire, and only for a little time awakened any considerable interest.
The Naturalistic method of interpretation was followed by the The Mythical Mythical. Its most distinguished representative was
David Friedrich Strauss, whose Life of Jesus (Das Leben Jesu), first published in 1835, created a profound sensation in the Christian world. The Mythical theory, as developed and rigidly carried out by Strauss, was a logical and self-consistent application to biblical exposition of the Hegelian (pantheistic) doctrine that the idea of God and of the absolute is neither shot forth miraculously, nor revealed in the individual, but developed in the consciousness of humanity. According to Strauss, the Messianic idea was gradually developed in the expectations and yearnings of the Jewish
Philologisch-kritischer und historischer Commentar über das neue Testamente 4 vols. 1800–1804.
THE MYTHICAL THEORY.
nation, and at the time Jesus appeared it was ripening into full maturity. The Christ was to spring from the line of David, be born at Bethlehem, be a prophet like Moses, and speak words of infallible wisdom. His age should be full of signs and wonders. The eyes of the blind should be opened, the ears of the deaf should be unstopped, and the tongue of the dumb should sing. Amid these hopes and expectations Jesus arose, an Israelite of remarkable beauty and force of character, who, by his personal excellence and wise discourse, made an overwhelming impression upon his immediate friends and followers. After his decease, his disciples not only yielded to the conviction that he must have risen from the dead, but began at once to associate with him all their Messianic ideals. Their argument was: “Such and such things must have pertained to the Christ; Jesus was the Christ; therefore such and such things happened to him.” The visit of the wise men from the East was suggested by Balaam's prophecy of the “star out of Jacob” (Num. xxiv, 17). The flight of the holy family into Egypt was worked up out of Moses' flight into Midian; and the slaughter of the infants of Bethlehem out of Pharaoh's order to destroy every male among the infant Israelites of Egypt. The miraculous feeding of the five thousand with a few loaves of bread was appropriated from the Old Testament story of the manna. The transfiguration in the high mountain apart was drawn from the accounts of Moses and Elijah in the mount of God. In short, Christ did not institute the Christian Church, and send forth his gospel, as narrated in the New Testament; rather, the Christ of the Gospels was the mythical creation of the early Church. Adoring enthusiasts clothed the memory of the man Jesus with all that could enhance his name and character as the Messiah of the world. But what is fact and what is fiction must be determined by critical analysis. Sometimes it may be impossible to draw the dividing line.
Among the criteria by which we are to distinguish the mythical, Strauss instances the following: A narrative is not his- Strauss' critetorical (1) when its statements are irreconcilable with ria of myths. the known and universal laws which govern the course of events; (2) when it is inconsistent with itself or with other accounts of the same thing; (3) when the actors converse in poetry or elevated discourse unsuitable to their training and situation; (4) when the essential substance and groundwork of a reported occurrence is either inconceivable in itself, or is in striking harmony with some Messi. anic idea of the Jews of that age.”
* See Life of Jesus, Introduction, § 14. * Ibid., Introduction, § 16.
We need not here enter upon a detailed exposure of the fallacies of this mythical theory. It is sufficient to observe, on the four critical rules enumerated above, that the first dogmatically denies the possibility of miracles; the second (especially as used by Strauss) virtually assumes, that when two accounts disagree, both must be false! the third is worthless until it is clearly shown what is suitable or unsuitable in each given case; and the fourth, when reduced to the last analysis, will be found to be simply an appeal to one's subjective notions. To these considerations we add that the Gospel portraiture of Jesus is notably unlike the prevalent Jewish conception of the Messiah at that time. It is too perfect and marvellous to have been the product of any human fancy. Myths arise only in unhistoric ages, and a long time after the persons or events they represent, whereas Jesus lived and wrought his wonderful works in a most critical period of Greek and Roman civilization. Furthermore, the New Testament writings were published too soon after the actual appearance of Jesus to embody such a mythical development as Strauss assumes.
While attempt ing to show how the Church spontaneously originated the Christ of the gospels, this whole theory fails to show any sufficient cause or explanation of the origin of the Church and of Christianity itself. The mythical interpretation, after half a century of learned labours, has notably failed to commend itself to the judgment of Christian scholars, and has few advocates at the present time. The four last-named methods of interpretation may all be desig
nated as Rationalistic; but under this name we may Other rationalistic methods.
also place some other methods which agree with the naturalistic, the mythical, the moral, and the accommodation theories, in denying the supernatural element in the Bible. The peculiar methods by which F. C. Baur, Renan, Schenkel, and other rationalistic critics have attempted to portray the life of Jesus, and to account for the origin of the Gospels, the Acts, and the Epistles, often involve correspondingly peculiar principles of interpretation. All these writers, however, proceed with assumptions which virtually beg the questions at issue between the naturalist and the supernaturalist. But they all conspicuously differ among themselves. Baur rejects the mythical theory of Strauss, and finds the origin of many of the New Testament writings in the Petrine and Pauline factions of the early Church. These factions arose over the question of abolishing the Old Testament ceremonial and the rite of circumcision. The Acts of the Apostles is regarded as the monument of a pacification between these rival parties, effected in the early part of the second century. The book is treated as large