« PreviousContinue »
guage, their modes of life, their laws, their manners and customs, their habits of thought and feeling. Perhaps in all the civilized world it would be difficult to find a nation, presenting in all these particulars a stronger contrast with ourselves. Yet to them the Scriptures were addressed, in their own tongue, and with a perfect adaptation to their character and circumstances. God addressed himself to them, intending to be understood ; and he spoke in such a way, that he was understood. He spoke to Jews in the language and manner of the Jews; and as one Jew understood another Jew, so they all understood that which God uttered to them in the same tongue. Now if we too would comprehend the Scriptures fully, we must place ourselves in the situation of the Jews; hear as they heard, and understand the language as they understood it; while for the sense, especially of prophecy, we have the additional revelations of the New Testament, and the history of God's dealings with his church and with the world for many centuries later,
What then is requisite, to enable us as interpreters to stand in the position of the Jews, and at the same time grasp the further advantages resulting from the experience of centuries ? The proper answer to this question resolves itself into a variety of particulars, and covers the whole ground embraced by our present inquiry.
I. The first requisite, which indeed lies at the basis of all accurate study of the Bible, is an acquaintance with the original tongues in which it has come down to us; the Old Testament in Hebrew, with a few passages of Chaldee interspersed, and the New Testament in Greek. The necessity of learning both these languages is now universally acknowledged, whererer the importance of a thorough study of the Bible is prized ; and every Theological Seminary in Christendom, which makes provision for instruction in the Scriptures, takes them up in these original tongues. It would therefore be here a waste of time, to dwell upon the importance and necessity of a regular philological study of these languages; for this is included in the very idea of a thorough critical knowledge of the Scriptures themselves. To think of such a knowledge of the Bible, to be obtained through the medium of any translation, is preposterous. The well qualified interpreter must be able himself to sit in judgment upon all translations, by comparing them in letter and in spirit with the originals. We all know how dif
ficult it is to find an exact and yet spirited translation, even from one kindred language to another; as from the French or the German into English; but this difficulty is very greatly enhanced, when the version is to be from a language so totally diverse, as is the Hebrew, from our own or any other occidental tongue.
Some minds are ready to admit the importance of studying the New Testament in the Greek original, but entertain doubts as to the propriety of a like study of the Old Testament in the Hebrew. True, the New Testament is the charter of the Christian dispensation and of our Christian hopes; and as such occupies a higher and more important place in its bearings on theological education. But it is founded upon, and presupposes, the existence and binding obligation of the Old Testament; and neither its precepts, nor its doctrines, nor its language can be fully understood, without a like thorough knowledge of the latter. The question resolves itself into another, viz. Whether the Christian interpreter shall confine his studies and his acquaintance with the Scriptures, simply to one portion of the Bible; or extend them over the whole ? If the reply be, as all will admit it ought to be, that he should embrace the whole Bible; then the importance of an acquaintance with the Hebrew tongue, rests upon the same grounds as the study of the Greek.
Nor is an adequate study of both these tongues the labor of merely a few weeks, or months, or even years. They are both to us dead languages, no longer spoken in this form; and therefore no longer to be learned by daily intercourse with those to whom they are vernacular. Herein lies at once a great drawback in respect to time and accuracy; and also the necessity of a great increase of labor and minute attention. Especially is this the case in relation to the Hebrew; since apparently the greater portion of this language itself is utterly lost. Almost its only remains are contained in the Bible; and even these are naturally only fragmentary. Take now any single volume in the English language, not larger than the Bible; and how imperfect would it be as the representative of our tongue ! it is imperfect, and of course often obscure ; because the means of comparison and illustration from other parts of the language, are wanting.
For this reason, the labor and difficulty of a critical knowledge of the Hebrew are greatly enhanced, by the necessity of appealing to other kindred tongues, in order to supply, in an imperfect manner, the deficiencies arising from its incompleteness. The scholar who would possess this power, must make himself master of the Chaldee and Syriac dialects; of the noble and widespread Arabic; and, to some extent, also, of the Samaritan, the Ethiopic, and the corrupt Rabbinic. He must pursue his devious way throughout all these tongues, in search of analogies and correspondences, to illustrate the forms and meaning and construction of many Hebrew words, for which there exists no other testimony. To the like end, he must examine the ancient versions of the Old Testament, in the same and other tongues ; and when he has done all, he can perhaps in many cases arrive only at an uncertain or merely probable result. All this may well make out the main labor of a whole life; and such, indeed, has ever been the fact in respect to the giants of Hebrew literature, whether they lived in former days, or still adorn our own. The Hebrew with its kindred dialects, and the subsidiary branches of study necessary for its complete illustration, have sufficed to occupy their best hours and best years, by day and by night, from early youth to late old age.
Nor is the case very dissimilar with the Greek language of the New Testament. This, too, is but the fragment of a peculiar dialect in the wide field of Greek philology. True, we have here the aid of all the branches of the classic Grecian language and literature, in their poetic youth, their Attic manliness and vigor, and their later decline. We have, too, all the results of ancient and modern research in regard to Greek philology; while the idiom and character of the language are far more accordant than the Hebrew with our own. The Greek, too, in an altered form, is to this day a spoken language. Yet all this neither suffices for the illustration of the idiom of the New Testament, nor does it supersede, even here, the necessity of an acquaintance with the Hebrew tongue of the earlier Scriptures.
The language of the New Testament is the later Greek, as
ruption of western conquerors, the Jews adopted the Greek language from necessity; partly as a conquered people, and partly from the intercourse of life, of commerce, in colonies, in cities, founded like Alexandria and others, which were peopled with throngs of Jews. It was, therefore, the spoken language of ordinary life, which they learned; not the classic style of books, which has elsewhere come down to us. But they spoke it as foreigners, whose native tongue was the later Aramaean; and it therefore could not fail to acquire upon their lips a strong Semitic character and coloring. When to this we add, that they spoke in Greek on the things of the true God, and the relations of makind to Jehovah and to a Saviour-subjects to which no native Greek had ever then applied his beautiful language, it will be obvious that an appeal merely to classic Greek and its philology, will not suffice for the interpreter of the New Testament. The Jewish-Greek idiom must be studied almost as an independent dialect; and its most important illustrations will be derived from the idiom of the Old Testament, especially as exhibited in the version of the Seventy and the Apocrypha, and from the cotemporary writings of Philo and Josephus.
The volumes of controversy which have been written in former centuries, upon the character of the idiom of the New Testament, may at the present day be safely left out of view in a theological education, except as matters of history. Even in this view, they are important chiefly as showing by what crude theories and slow advances, the human mind and human learning often arrive at truth. The principle virtually laid down was, that as God spoke to man in Greek, he could employ only the most pure and perfect Greek; and therefore the idiom of the New Testament must be accounted as one of the purest models of the Greek language. It was here overlooked that God spoke to man only in the language of those whom he addressed ; and that therefore to judge of this language, we must look to the character and circumstances of those who spoke it. These were at the time a conquered, and, in some respects, already
gained by a few slight efforts, but requires years of diligence and toil. It is not, indeed, to be desired, nor would it of course be possible, for every student in a Theological Seminary to go over the whole ground here pointed out; but it is incumbent on every such student, to be sufficiently prepared to understand and profit by the labors of the many and great minds who have trod this course before him, and whose efforts have been directed to make plain the way to those who should come after them.*
II. The power of studying the Scriptures in the original languages having been thus acquired, it becomes important to take a general survey of the wide field to be cultivated, and of the methods and means by which the labor may be accomplished with the greatest facility and success. For this end, a branch of biblical science has sprung up within the last century in Germany, which has hitherto found its way slowly and with difficulty into the English language, and has as yet been fostered by very little original effort in that tongue. It is called “ Introduction to the Bible;" and the object of it is, as the name imports, to introduce the learner to the best methods and means for prosecuting the study of the Scriptures. It takes the Bible as it is, as the Word of God; the evidences of its divine
* It is gratifying to mark the progress of this department of biblical learning in the United States, since its revival five and twenty years ago, chiefly through the exertions of the Rev. Professor Stuart, of Andover. That it is not now on the de. cline, is apparent from the fact, that besides the six edi. tions of Professor Stuart's Hebrew Grammar, and two of that by Professor Bush, not less than fifteen hundred copies of Dr. Nordheimer's Grammar have been sold since its publication in 1838. Of the translation of Gesenius' Lexicon, also, published in the autumn of 1836, more than two thousand copies have been sold in this country, besides several hundreds ordered for England. --It may not be out of place likewise to remark, that England is now indebted to America for many other of her elementary books in the same department. Both the Hebrew and Greek Grammars of Professor Stuart have been republished in that country, as also the translation of Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar. The Greek and English Lexicon of the New Testament, by the author of these pages, has also been brought out there, in three rival editions, and two abridg. ments.