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Interpretation founded on Grammar.
with a labor which satisfieth not. They take no warning by the fate of many analogous theories, and indulge in empty dreams, to which almost every preceding century of the Christian era has given birth. How can science dwell in such confusion? How can we speak of fundamental principles, methodical arrangement, systems of rules, when so many prophetical theories, alike unsatisfactory, and often mutually destructive, abound?
Still, notwithstanding this diversity and apparent confusion of views, there are certain fixed principles which are now generally acknowledged among the biblical students of all Protestant countries. There are rules of procedure, methods of interpretation, which command the confidence of most if not all intelligent students of the Scriptures. Let us name some of them.
1. One of these leading principles is, that all true interpretation is founded on grammar and lexicography. We use a lexicon to ascertain the meaning of single words, and a grammar to ascertain their meaning when combined in sentences. An honest and careful use of a good dictionary and grammar of the Greek and Hebrew languages lies at the foundation of biblical study. The Greek of the New Testament is to be subjected to the same processes precisely as that of the classical dialects. It claims no exemption from the same rigid, scientific analysis. The sacred character of the Hebrew does not take it out of the category of languages. The laws of syntax are no more to be violated in Isaiah than they are in Arabic. We are to support a doctrine of the gospel, if at all, by the strictest grammatical exposition of a text. If the divinity of the Logos, in the first verse of John's Gospel, can be defended only by a violation of the laws of Greek grammar, then it cannot be defended at all, so far as relates to the testimony of that passage.
Adherence to this method of interpretation implies, first, the avoidance of conjectural emendations of the text. We are to take the text as it is, except as emendations are borne out by the adequate testimony of manuscripts. We are to leave a difficulty unsolved, rather than to cut the knot by doing violence to the text. The harsh method pursued by Lowth in Isaiah in this respect, would find few advocates now. It is evidence of the weakness, mistaken ingenuity, or erroneous views of an interpreter, to tamper with that which he is simply called upon to explain. This rule implies, secondly, that the main source of explanation is the language itself. It furnishes its own definitions, reveals its own laws; its usages are to be learned from its own literature. Recourse is to be had even to a kindred speech only in cases of clear necessity. We are not to seek the aid of the Arabic or Syriac, or of classical Greek, while there remain sources of comparison in the language itself.
Only a spare and cautious use of kindred dialects would now be recommended. No one would be disposed to repeat the experiments to which Albert Schultens subjected the book of Job. The rule, in the third place, would dispense with all the ambiguities and trifling of the double sense. Grammars and lexicons would be of little use, were there one simple and another occult meaning to be attached to a narrative or the statement of a doctrine. The Bible is by eminence a book addressed to the common apprehension, to the rules and laws of popular discourse. It is not a collection of enigmas. Its aims are too serious for that. It may prefigure and foreshadow. Events, usages, ceremonies may point to some great fulfilling hour in the distant future, but its words have one and but one signification.
It may be here proper to allude to the apparatus which is now furnished for the grammatical and lexical study of the Bible. Perhaps it is not too much to affirm that neither of the classical languages is better, if it is so well furnished, as yet, with helps of this nature. We have the New Testament Grammar of Winer, which, especially in the last edition, is marked by a clear analysis of the more difficult texts in illustration of various principles, by a thorough digest and application of the most recent and able investigations in Greek syntax, by a fine grammatical tact, by a wary and sound judgment, and by copious stores of knowledge. We have also the prospect of soon possessing a New Testament Lexicon, worthy of the present advanced state of knowledge. In Hebrew we have the copious and philosophical grammar of Nordheimer, the original, ingenious, and often profound discussions of Ewald, especially in his "Copious Manual" of 1844, the long known and standard grammatical work of Gesenius, enriched by the remarks of Rödiger, and the Lexicon of the same prince of Hebraists, which it would be superfluous to praise. So admirable are these various helps, that professed commentaries come to be of quite secondary importance.
2. Biblical Science recognizes the fundamental importance of historical interpretation. The value of history as a means of ascertaining the sense of the biblical records, has indeed ever been more or less acknowledged. At the same time, history has not unfrequently been made, in fact, to yield to abstract reasoning or to logical deductions. Systems of divinity have been constructed, to a large extent, from passages of Scripture perverted or forced out of their historical and obvious meaning. But it is now practically acknowledged, to a greater extent than ever before, that the Bible is, for the most part, a series of detached historical records, notices of God's dealings with men, statements, more or less connected, of their conduct in relation to Him and to one another. What an enigma would the Epistle to the Hebrews be with
Biblical Help from Antiquities.
out the historical records of the Old Testament! How dark would be many passages in Paul's doctrinal epistles, were it not for the history by Luke! How vitally connected is every part of the Bible with the Pentateuch! In how many hundreds of instances is the historical truth of those five books taken for granted in the subsequent narratives! To dislodge them from their present form, or to reduce them to the category of myths, would make the Bible a great Torso fragment, an enormous trunk without its head. To interpret the prophecies successfully, how indispensable is a minute acquaintance with the historical records of the earlier portions of the Bible and of contemporary profane accounts. History is the key to all fulfilled prophecy, and it supplies essential rules for the comprehension of those portions that remain unaccomplished. A searching examination into the remains of antiquity, and a luminous exhibition of the results are indispensable for one who would be a truly able interpreter of the prophets. In this field the Germans have labored with distinguished success. One leading excellence of the Commentary on Isaiah by Gesenius, is the fresh and clear light which his accurate historical researches throw upon the sacred page. The same is true, perhaps in a higher degree, of the work of Knobel. "The prophets of the Old Covenant," he truly remarks, "have to do, not so much with general ideas which as teachers they follow, as rather and predominantly with the special relations of the times and of the people for whom as practical orators they point out and inculcate the right course of conduct; by these relations were their prophecies occasioned, and to these were they specially directed. Therefore is it a main point in the interpretation of the prophets to unfold, as fundamentally as possible, all the contemporary relations of which they treat, and to define them exactly, in order to make the reader at home in the field on which they move. Without this knowledge, which must be obtained, partly from the historical books, partly by the combination of the historical notices contained in the prophetic writings, a sure and full understanding of the prophets in general, or a thorough acquaintance with particulars, is not possible."
In connection with the historical is what may be called the antiquarian interpretation, i. e. an employment of the stores of information furnished by modern researches into Oriental life, manners, and antiquities. It is but recently that the Oriental world has been laid fairly open. We had, indeed, the accurate and conscientious explorations of Niebuhr and Burckhardt. But they were limited to some portions of the East, and their reports of some districts which they visited were necessarily hurried and imperfect. But within the last few years, the number of able and accomplished travellers has been greatly increased. In
Western Asia the incidental labors of American missionaries have contributed largely to the stores of biblical science. To their other facilities they have added an accurate acquaintance with the languages spoken in the countries where they sojourn. The names of Smith, Dwight, Perkins, Thomson, Van Dyck and others, will readily occur. The Researches of Dr. Robinson has become a classical work throughout Protestant Christendom. In Egypt the investigations of Rosellini, Wilkinson, Lane and others, have enabled the inquirer to reap a rich harvest. The indefatigable labors of Lieut. Lynch have given us exact information in respect to the Jordan and the Dead Sea. At the same time, Layard and others are unveiling the long buried secrets of the Mesopotamian Plain, and throwing new light on the Mosaic and prophetic records.
These antiquarian treasures which serve to illustrate so many obscure passages in the Scriptures, are characterized, first, by their extraordinary amount; secondly, by their comprehending all, or nearly all, the countries to which much reference is made in the Scriptures; thirdly, by, in general, exactness of investigation and scientific accuracy in statement; and fourthly, by their vivid presentation to the eye through the admirable maps, fac-similes, drawings, or actual specimens of various objects. The result is, accordingly, not the mere correction of errors and mistranslations, but the ability which one acquires to look at the whole Bible in a new light. We can see all objects, in a measure, under an oriental sky. It requires less effort of imagination than formerly to transport ourselves to the East. We are enabled by clear descriptions and exact drawings to gain an accurate conception of an oriental city, of the dress and manners of the people, of life in the desert, and thus we may mingle more familiarly with the patriarchs as they wandered, "seeking a better country," or with kings and prophets in the "city beautiful for situation," or with that great Teacher whose footsteps made it indeed the Holy Land.
3. Another principle of biblical interpretation relates to the harmony of the Scriptures with the discoveries of natural science. Such propositions as the following would now be undisputed: There can never exist any absolute discordancy between a law of nature and a disclosure of Divine Revelation, because the same Being is the author of both. If there seems to be a real discrepancy, it is owing either to the misinterpretation of the written record, or to the fact that the alleged scientific discovery has no foundation. It is a hasty generalization, or a position assumed without sufficient evidence, or in the progress of discovery it will admit of an explanation which is consistent with the law of philology. A natural science, while in its infancy, when but par
Bible consistent with Man's Constitution.
tially developed, while some of its main features are still under discussion, is not to be placed on the same footing with sciences whose laws have been long established. Its earliest revelations, though seemingly adverse to biblical truth, need not occasion alarm or anxiety. The laws of philology are to be admitted as unhesitatingly as those of any physical science. There is the same certainty that the Bible came from God as that the solar system did. It would be no greater mark of folly to reject the evidence on which the facts of the material sciences rest, than that by which spiritual truth is supported. The laws of language, the principles of philology, are not to be summarily set aside when they come into apparent conflict with the discoveries of nature, as if less confidence were necessarily to be placed in them. Skepticism may be as really produced by the representation that the principles of language, or of intellectual science, are shifting and uncertain, as by making the same representation in regard to chemistry or geology. The laws of human belief, the usages of language, the records of history may come to us with testimony irresistible and unimpeachable. One thing is certain; no absolute contradiction between physical and biblical truth has yet been pointed out. The monuments of Egypt do not convict Moses of falsehood. The valley of the Nile has not yet converted the Pentateuch into a myth. Ethnology still leaves the doctrine of the unity of the human race intact. The various configurations of the skull, or the various colors of the hair upon it, as found four thousand years ago, have not thus far been proved to require a plurality of the original race, or an indefinite extension of the life of man on earth. Geology rather testifies to the comparatively recent creation of man. With such propositions, we suppose the most intelligent biblical philologists would accord. While ready to welcome truth in all the realms of physical nature, and by whomsoever brought to light, while entertaining the most enlarged conceptions of the glory of the Creator in the material universe, they are not disposed to lower the claims of their own science, or to be in haste to explain away a biblical truth, lest it may come into collision with a material phenomenon. Miracles, a supernatural revelation, may be supported by a weight of evidence so convincing, that not to believe in them, would be the greatest miracle of all.
4. Again, the Bible is to be interpreted in perfect consistency with the laws of the human constitution. This complete harmony has never, perhaps, been acknowledged so fully as it is now. The law of the Sabbath, e. g., is not merely Jewish or Christian. It seems to be the law of man's physical and moral nature. It appears to be made out by experience, or by a sufficient number of facts, that man needs a