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origin and inspired character being left to another department of theology; and proceeds to point out to the student the
proper topics and order of his inquiries. It thus becomes either General or Particular.
The former, or General Introduction, comprises a description of all the various manuscripts and editions of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, and their comparative value. It enumerates the various ancient versions, their authors, their dates, the circumstances of their composition, and their importance to the biblical student. It details the efforts which have been made to obtain a correct text both of the Old and New Testaments, the sources and character of the various readings, and the general principles on which such researches must be conducted. It touches also, in general terms, upon the character of the language and style; on the history, chronology, geography, and antiquities, of the Jewish people. In all these branches, it names and characterizes the best books to be consulted. It gives, too, the history of the sacred volume itself ; the manner in which it has been reverenced and studied in different ages; and the various external forms and divisions in which it has appeared.
Particular Introduction, on the other hand, takes up, first, the main portions of the Scriptures, as the historical, poetical, prophetic, or doctrinal books, and discusses the characteristics common to each division; and then proceeds to treat of each particular book. It inquires into the time when it was written, its author, its subject and object, its style and manner; and aims, in short, to afford all the information, which may enable the learner to read and understand each book and chapter of the Bible, in the best and most perfect manner.
This branch of biblical study has ever appeared to me one of great importance; and particularly adapted to interest the minds both of the learned and unlearned. Its purpose is to tell all that is known about the Bible as a sacred volume, and to point out how every one may best read and understand it. All this would seem to be capable of very popular application, and would be especially appropriate for the youth of Bible classes and Sabbath schools, as a means of exciting and fixing their attention, and leading them forward in their biblical course. It is, indeed, matter of surprise, that so little account has as yet been made of this department, both in this country and in England; there having appeared in this branch, so far as I know, not more than a single original work of importance in the English language; and not one of a character adapted to popular instruction.
III. After this general survey of the whole field of biblical study, let us now bring under review more particularly the several branches. Of these, one of the first in place and importance, is the Criticism of the Biblical Text, by which we are taught to judge of the accuracy and authenticity of the Bible as it has come down to us. It is well known that the text of the common editions of the New Testament was fixed by Erasmus, on the authority of the few Greek manuscripts to which he had access; and that since his day, the collation of numerous other manuscripts, many of them older and better than those of Erasmus, has brought together a mass of various readings, differing from those of the common text, and sometimes of higher authority. It is the part of Biblical Criticism to compare and sift these readings, and to determine which of them, by weight of evidence and authority, is entitled to a place in the genuine text. The same science applies, in a similar manner, to the Hebrew text of the Old Testament; in the manuscripts of which, notwithstanding the vaunted care and exactness of the scribes and the Rabbins, vast numbers of like various readings have been found to exist.
The time, however, has gone by, when this accumulated mass of various readings, in both the Testaments, was an object of dread or suspicion to the learned or unlearned. The optimism of the external form of the Bible has been laid aside; and it is now known and felt, that in the process of transcription or printing, by uninspired men, the Scriptures are not less liable to the occurrence of slight mistakes than other books. Such are, for the most part, all the various readings, both of the Hebrew and Greek Testaments; and it is a fact long well established, that not one of these affects a single article of faith or practice, unless in the very slightest degree.
In this country, we have no biblical manuscripts, either known or yet to be brought to light. We have no vast libraries, where the dust of ages has accumulated; beneath which we might hope still to find treasures of antiquity. In Biblical Criticism we must rest satisfied with the materials collected by Kennicott and De Rossi, on the Old Testament, and by Mill, Wetstein, Griesbach, and others on the New. Still, it is in our power to make ourselves acquainted with the principles by which they have regulated their inquiries and their decisions ; we have the same materials which they possessed, and can in some degree put the accuracy of their results to the test. Further than this, we are hardly called upon in this country to go; because we cannot appeal to the ultimate sources. There is something in the very aspect and external appearance of a manuscript itself, which goes far in aiding to form a judgment as to its readings. Thus, if I may speak from my own feelings, the bare inspection of the controverted passage in 1 Tim. 3: 16, "God manifest in the flesh," in the famous Alexandrine MS. preserved in the British Museum, affords more decisive and satisfactory evidence as to the reading of that manuscript, than can be drawn from all the varying testimony extant upon the subject.
IV. Another preliminary object of attention is the branch now known as Biblical Hermeneutics, or the Theory and Rules of Interpretation, as applied to the Scriptures. The actual application of these rules is Interpretation itself, now often called Exegesis. It may at first be difficult, for one not versed in Biblical Literature, to perceive the necessity and importance of this branch of study. The principles of interpretation are as old as the creation ; and are instinctively impressed upon our nature, the moment we begin to employ language as the representative of thought. The child comprehends its mother; and the mother finds no difficulty in interpreting the prattle of her child. We all interpret instinctively and involuntarily, when any one addresses us; and the reader is even now in the full practice of every principle of interpretation, while he dwells
upon these lines.
Why then should it be necessary to draw out these principles into rules, and make a theory and science of what in itself is so practical and instinctive ? We might reply, and with entire propriety, that it is interesting and important to bring out and exhibit in one general scientific view, the principles on which the human mind acts in this, as in so many other cases; that this indeed is one of the most important aspects of the science of mind ; inasmuch as it respects all our intercourse with each other as intelligent beings. Still, the formation of rules to be applied to the interpretation of common discourse or of books on ordinary subjects, would certainly be in great part a matter tion of the words of a law often requires the nicest skill and a train of profound reasoning. So it is in the Bible. The Scriptures are the Word of God, and reveal his holy law; they are in a language not our own, and which exists only in a fragmentary form. Hence the frequent necessity of applying all the various principles which can be brought to bear, for the elucidation of what might otherwise remain incomplete and obscure.
But in respect to the Bible, there is another aspect in which the science of Hermeneutics becomes of still more definite application and practical importance. This is presented by the question so often raised : Whether, after all, the language of the Bible is to be interpreted and understood on the same principles, and in the same manner, as that of other books ? A priori there would seem to be no reason why the sacred volume should form an exception to the general rule. God speaks to men in the words of men; and means either to be understood, or not to be understood. If the former, then his language must be received and interpreted according to the innate fundamental principles of all human interpretation. If, on the contrary, he did not mean to be understood, then he has used the ordinary words of human language in a sense different from their ordinary and natural meaning; and has spoken one thing to the ear and eye, which all could understand, and another thing in a more hidden sense, which none could understand. I speak not here, of course, of parables and allegories, which are common to all writings human or divine; but more particularly of the poetical and prophetic parts of Scripture.
Here, in ancient times, Jewish interpreters were accustomed to suspend mountains of sense upon every word and letter of the Hebrew text; that is to say, the words were held to mean, not only what they would naturally express in their ordinary acceptation; but also every thing else which the fancy of the interpreter might choose to attribute to them. This tendency passed over from the Jewish Rabbins to some of the fathers in the early Christian church; and has been transmitted down in a greater or less degree even to the present day. This is the double or deeper sense, of which even now we hear so much ; and which, as it seems to me, rests on an imperfect apprehension of the force and character of divine truth. Besides, if we admit more than a single sense, except in obvious allegories and parables, how are we to decide upon this second meaning ;
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which, by the very supposition, is hidden ? By what rules or instinct are we to interpret plain and intelligible language, so as to bring out this deeper hidden sense ? And being thus hidden, how are we to know, whether it is the true meaning ? Why may not another just as well bring out a different hidden sense? And how, if there be one hidden meaning, can we determine that there is not a second and a third and a fourth, all equally hidden, and just as much concealed under the plain language, as that which we propose? If all this be so, what barrier can we set up, indeed, against the interpretations of a Cocceius, or the dreamy reveries of a Swedenborg? I know of none.
In short, viewing the subject under every aspect, I must hold that any system of interpretation, which departs from the plain and obvious meaning of the language of Scripture, rests upon a wrong foundation, and is fraught with danger to the mind earnestly seeking after divine truth. It converts the Word of God into a book of riddles; such as were not uncommon in ancient times; and, more than all, it saps the fundamental principles, which regulate our conduct as beings capable of a mutual interchange of thoughts by means of language. It makes God profess to speak to us in the language of man; and yet takes his words out from the application of the rules, by which alone we understand or are understood, when speaking with each other.
It is on this ground, especially, that an attention to the principles and rules of Herineneutics, becomes of high importance to the biblical student.
Thus far my remarks have had respect to the general method and principles of biblical study. Let us now survey, for a few moments, some of the more important sources, whence that information which must constitute the means and materials of the interpreter, is to be derived.
V. Among these, Biblical History occupies an important place. The Old Testament is itself the chief history of the Hebrew