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posed that the Hebrew language was lost during the captivity of the Jews in Babylon, or that, after their return, it gave way by degrees to the mixed dialect which was spoken in Judea in the days of our Saviour; and we know that the Greek language, which had been partly corrupted before the fall of Con stantinople in the fifteenth century, by the introduction of foreign words and idioms, has since degenerated into the Romaic, which differs from it almost as much as Italian does from Latin. The first prerequisite, then, to the study of the Scriptures, is an acquaintance with the languages in which they were composed.
The Old Testament has come down to us in two languages, a part of Ezra, a verse in Jeremiah, and a part of Daniel being written in Chaldee, and all the rest in Hebrew. The interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures is the more difficult, because they are the only books which now exist in that language. The Jewish Targums, or paraphrases, are in Chaldee; and Rabbinical Hebrew is a corrupt mixture of different languages, from which little assistance can be derived for understanding the original tongue. Hence an acquaintance with the kindred languages has been considered as of great use, the Chaldaic, the Syriac, and the Arabic. It has been remarked by critics, that “they discover roots, or primitives, which are not found in the Bible, though their derivatives occur there, and by doing so, point out the signification of these derivatives; that they ascertain the precise signification of roots, and consequently of their derivatives, the signification of which had been fixed only by conjecture; that they afford the best, and where the ancient versions vary in translating them, the only means of determining with certainty the signification of such words as occur but once, or very seldom, in the Bible; that they enable us to discover all the senses of words, some of which only had been collected from the Bible, though others would have better suited particular passages ; in particular, that they discover the primary signification of many roots, even such as are most commonly used, the secondary senses of which have alone been attended to, though the primary sense would throw light on some texts; and that they assist us to understand the meaning of phrases, or idiomatical combinations of words which are found in the Bible, but the exact import of which could not be determined by it.” If there were many books in the Hebrew language, we might explain, by their assistance, every word and phrase which occurs in the Old Testament; but as this is not the case, our next resource is to consult those languages which have been derived from it, or are, together with it, branches from the same primitive stock. If there were only one book in Latin, as it could not be supposed to contain the whole language, we should be at a loss to understand some words and phrases in it; but I have no doubt that the Italian, Spanish, and French languages, which are more or less intimately allied to it, would help us in some of our difficulties.
The Greek of the New Testament is more easily understood, because there are many books composed in that language. Yet an acquaintance with classical Greek alone will not fully qualify us to interpret the gospels and epistles, not only because Syriac and Latin words occur in them, but because they abound in foreign idioms, and use words in peculiar senses, which were unknown to the natives of Greece. There has, indeed, been a difference of opinion among learned men upon this subject. While some admit what has been now stated, others contend that the Greek of the New Testament is pure, among whom Blackwall, the author of the book entitled Sacred Classics, holds a distinguished place. It must be acknowledged that he has displayed great research and ingenuity in vindicating the inspired writers from the charge of solecism and barbarism, and that in many instances he has produced, from the most approved authors, the same combinations of terms, and tho same irregularity of construction; but, after all, it must be allowed, that tho
language of the New Testament is different from that of the ancient historians and philosophers. It has been called the Greek of the Synagogue, or Hellenistic Greek; from the name of Hellenists given to Jews living in foreign countries, who used the Greek language, but introduced into it modes of expression borrowed from their native tongue, and employed some of its words in a sense founded on the usage of Judea. This kind of Greek is found in the translation of the Seventy, the study of which is therefore of great importance, to assist us in understanding the language of the New Testament, which was drawn up by persons who, like those translators, wrote in Greek but thought in Hebrew. Let me add, that for the same purpose an acquaintance with the Old Testament in the original is of great advantage, and will enable us to account for forms of construction, the use of prepositions, peculiar phrases, and the application of terms, which would otherwise seem strange, and perhaps would not be intelligible. The phrase, cur ar wwfn Tuot expć, which we translate, “no flesh should be saved," but which, literally rendered, is,
all flesh would not be saved,” must have sounded uncouthly in the ears of a Greek, an meaning would not have been obvious to him, although the words were familiar, because the whole expression was different from the idiom of his native tongue, and the word ourt was used in a sense to which his countrymen did not apply it. In pure Greek, it signifies the muscular substance which surrounds the bones of animals; but here it means men, and in other places, the corruption of nature, infirmity, external privileges, &c. · The sense would present itself at first sight to a Jew.
By a critical knowledge of the original languages of the Scriptures, we ascertain the grammatical sense, and may be able to translate them into our own language, so as to express the meaning with perfect fidelity. This will not be the effect of a version servilely literal, which will sometimes give no meaning at all, but of a version which attends not only to the words, but to the genius of the two languages, and substitutes for the peculiarities of the one the corresponding idioms of the other. There is an error into which some have been betrayed, by paying too much deference to etymology, and to the idiomatical character of a language, which has led them to suppose words and expressions to be very emphatical, which to persons familiar with the language had no more force than the corresponding terms and phrases in our own. You will find wonderful discoveries of this kind in the writings of minute critics, but in general they have no better foundation than ignorance and fancy.
Your time will not permit me to speak of the benefit which may arise from translations, ancient and modern: and I proceed to observe, that, to ascertain the grammatical sense of the Scriptures, is only a preliminary step. Our next business is to discover the true meaning of them, or to find out the sentiments which the sacred writers intended to convey. Besides the simple perusal of the Scriptures, there are various methods to be used for the elucidation of the text.
In the first place, one method which should be employed, with a view to ascertain the sense of Scripture, is it to compare it with itself. It consists of several books which appeared in different ages; but, as the whole was written under the direction and inspiration of the Holy Ghost, we are sure that there is no real contradiction in it, and that there is a harmony among its parts, which conspire to one end, our instruction in the system of religion. It will, therefore, tend to throw light upon one part, to bring into view other parts which are allied to it. Now this alliance is more or less close. Sometimes different passages of Scripture agree, not only in treating the same subject, but in expressing it in the same terms. A comparison of these will show the harmony of the sacred writers, but will not contribute to elucidate their meaning. Others discuss the same subject in language somewhat different, enlarging upon certain points, and introducing new circumstances. It is evident that these are of great use, by giving a more complete view of the subject, and serving as a commentary upon the passages which are more concisely expressed. Lastly, there are passages which may be called parallel, not in respect of the language, but of the matter. The same doctrine, or the same duty, is discussed in a variety of words and phrases : and hence, when the different passages are placed together, and attentively considered in their bearings upon the common topic, new light is reflected upon it. What is obscure in one place is explained by what is perspicuous in another, and what is defective is supplied. You perceive now for what reason it has been said that the Bible is its own interpreter; and that it may perform this office in relation to itself, is the design with which some Bibles have been published, with an ample collection of marginal references. But the saying must be understood with certain limitations, for some parts of it are unintelligible without foreign assistance, and in particular, prophecy can be explained only by the event.
In the second place, in studying the Scriptures, it is necessary to attend to their scope or design. By this, I mean the purpose which the sacred writers had in view in the books which they composed, or in particular passages, and it will be best discovered by an attentive and repeated perusal of them. The knowledge of the design of a book will enable us to account for its general structure, and the disposition of the parts, and will serve as a key to the exact meaning of words, the import of phrases, and the connexion of particular passages. The design of the gospels was not to give a complete history of our Saviour, but such a specimen of it as would prove that he is the Son of God, and the Messiah ; and this is the reason that they do not all relate the same facts, but one records certain particulars which are omitted in another. The design of the Acts was not to give a full account of the propagation of Christianity, but to show that it was preached first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles; and hence, it says little of any of the apostles but Peter and Paul, of whom the one was the minister of the circumcision, and the other of the uncircumcision. It seems to have been the design of the epistle to the Romans, to give a succinct account of the general system of Christianity, and in particular, to instruct them in the important doctrine of justification by faith, without the works of the law. The design of the epistle of James is different; and unless the difference be attended to, we shall be led into the error of those who have supposed that the two apostles contradict eaeh other, and have either rejected one of the epistles as uncanonical, or in attempting to reconcile them, have corrupted both. Luther called the epistle of James straminea epistola, an epistle of straw, because it appeared to him to be opposed to the doctrine of Paul ; and others, assuming that James teaches justification before God by works, have vexed and tortured the words of Paul to make him speak in the same strain. The design of James was to refute the error of those who, perverting the doctrine of Paul, rested too much upon faith, and imagined that a man would be justified by it, although he continued to live in his sins. As soon as this difference of design is understood, the two apostles are found to harmonize. As the one speaks of justification before God, and the other of justification before men, there is no discrepance of sentiment, in ascribing the former to faith, and the latter to works.
In the third place, it is necessary to attend carefully to the nature of the composition in different passages of Scripture which is literal or figurative. When the composition is literal, and words are used in their common and familiar sense, nothing is necessary but a thorough acquaintance with the grammar, the vocabulary, and the idioms of the original tongues. But words are frequently employed in a figurative sense, partly from necessity, and
partly from choice; and hence, besides a general knowledge of the figures of speech, it is requisite to observe when they do occur, that we may neither call that which is figurative, literal, nor that which is literal, figurative. The Scriptures themselves furnish us with several instances of mistake. When our Lord said to the Jews, “ Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up," they imagined that he referred to the second temple constructed of stone and timber, whereas he spoke of the temple of his body. At the institution of the sacred supper, he called the bread his body, by a common trope giving the name of the thing signified to the sign, as is evident from the nature of the case, as well as from the use of the same trope in other passages; but papists have founded on his words the monstrous doctrine of transubstantiation, in defiance of the testimony of our senses, and the plainest dictates of reason. The style of prophecy is highly figurative. We have not only examples of personification, apostrophe, and hyperbole, but metaphor of the boldest kind, representing political revolutions as earthquakes and storms; the fall of monarchs as an eclipse of the celestial luminaries; and the spiritual change in the state of human affairs, which was to be effected by the gospel, as the creation of new heavens and a new earth. Without attention to the meaning of the symbols, prophecy will not be understood; the fulfilment of past predictions cannot be perceived, and those which are yet to be accomplished will excite extravagant expectations, which will not be realized. The language of the parables, which occur both in the Old and in the New Testament, is also figurative, because the terms are intended to convey a sense which they do not bear in their literal import. Considered as a simple narrative of facts, the parable of the Sower might be true in the common acceptation of the terms; but if it were so understood, its design would be lost. The Sower is not a husbandman, but Jesus Christ; the seed is not wheat or barley, but the word of God; and the different kinds of ground are not varieties of soil, but the hearts of different individuals. A parable being a short story in which spiritual things are exhibited under sensible images, it is necessary, in order to the right interpretation of it, that we should keep in view the main design. There is a general truth or moral to be drawn from it; but in doing so, we must beware of minutely explaining every particular, because some particulars are evidently introduced merely to complete the narrative, or to adorn it. It is ridiculous, in the parable of the prodigal, to pretend to tell us what is meant by the fatted call, and what by the ring which was put on his finger, and the shoes which were put upon his feet; as nothing was intended, but to teach us that the return of a sinner is acceptable to God, and that he is invested with the honours and privileges of a son. It is quite contemptible, in explaining the parable of the good Samaritan, first, to commit the egregious blunder of supposing him to be Christ, and then to explain the two denarii which he gave to the innkeeper, of the active and passive obedience of our Saviour. Nothing can be more wretched than such expositions of Scripture. They may make idiots admire, but they excite the laughter or the disgust of the wise.
In the fourth place, another assistance in understanding the Scriptures, is the analogy of faith, which signifies, that we should explain passages that are obscure or doubtful, by the general sense of Scripture previously ascertained. When it is thus defined, there appears to be no just objection against this rule of interpretation, and no cause for the ridicule with which it has been treated, and the contempt with which it has been set aside by some authors, and particularly by Dr. Campbell in his Dissertations, who, in more instances than one, has allowed his wit and satire to run faster than his judgment. If it were meant that we should first form a system in our own mind, and then proceed to explain the Scriptures by it, our conduct would be preposterous, and, as he
says, we should begin with giving judgment and afterwards examine the proof, employing at the same time all our skill to rest the evidence in favour of our judgment. But we make no such absurd proposal. We believe, in opposition to all skeptics, whether philosophers or divines, that the sense of Scripture may be certainly known; and having ascertained the general doctrines which are taught in it, we contend that we are authorized to apply them to the elucidation of obscurities, and to interpret in conformity to them such passages as, taken by themselves, do not convey a definite sense. This rule must be admitted with respect to any human composition, the author of which was a man of sound mind and upright intentions. We apply it to the Scriptures, on the principle that the Holy Ghost does not contradict himself, and that there is undoubtedly a perfect harmony among all his declarations. This, then, is the analogy of faith for which we plead. With any other idea of it we have nothing to do; and some men choose to attack it in a different form, we leave them to amuse themselves with first setting up a man of straw, and then beating him down.
As it is possible in this lecture to give only a superficial sketch, I add, in the last place, that in interpreting the Scriptures, there are external sources from which assistance is to be derived. Chronology and geography have been called the two eyes of history, and must be of great use for understanding the Scriptures, a considerable portion of which consists of historical narrative, and accounts of different countries. They enable us to trace the series, the causes, the connexions, and the consequences of events; they furnish the thread by which we find our way through the mazes of the labyrinth ; they reduce to order what would otherwise appear to be a confused mass of particulars. Without the knowledge of profane history, many parts of the Bible would be unintelligible, or would make only an indistinct impression on the mind. In particular, all the prophetical parts would be words without meaning. We could not know whether they were prophetical or not; and for aught that we could tell, they might be the wild ravings of fancy, or descriptions written after the event in the oracular form, for the amusement of the authors, or with a view to make sport of the credulity of others. The evidence arising from prophecy in favour of the inspiration of the Scriptures, would be lost as there would be no proof that it had been fulfilled. An acquaintance also with natural history, and with the arts of life, is highly useful, as there is mention made of plants and animals, several of which are unknown to us, but are described by philosophers and travellers ; and there are frequent allusions to husbandry, gardening, commerce, and the pastoral life. And this leads me to remark, that no man can understand many passages of Scripture, and explain them satisfactorily to others, without some knowledge of ancient customs and manners. I shall take notice of two or three familiar examples. When Moses says that the Israelites should saerifice the abomination of the Egyptians, and run the risk of being stoned, a common reader must be utterly at a loss to apprehend what he means, till he is informed that heifers, rams, and goats were held sacred by the Egyptians, and that to offer them in sacrifice was accounted a daring act of impiety. Mention is frequently made of going up to the house-top, walking, praying, and conversing upon it. All this must seem strange to a native of this country, who has seen houses only with sloping roofs; but his surprise will cease as soon as he learns, that in Judea the roofs of the houses were flat, and were accessible by steps erected for the purpose. Again, we might wonder that our Lord speaks of putting new wine into new bottles for safety, and not into old ones, which might burst, because from the nature of the bottles which we use, greater danger is to be apprehended from the new, which have not been tried, than from the old, which have stood the test. But we perceive the reason why he prefers the former to the latter,