A treatise on the Interpretation of the Old and New Testament
MILTON S. TERRY
Value and importance of history of interpretation
A KNOWLEDGE of the history of biblical interpretation is of inestimable value to the student of the Holy Scriptures. It serves to guard against errors and exhibits the activity and efforts of the human mind in its search after truth and in relation to nobles themes. It shows what influences have led to the misunderstanding of God's word, and how acute minds, carried away by a misconception of the nature of the Bible, have sought mystic and manifold meanings in its contents. From the first, the Scriptures, like other writings, were liable to be understood in different ways. The Old Testament prophets complained of the slowness of the people to apprehend spiritual things (Isa. 6:10; Jer. 5:21; Ezek. 12:2). The apostolical epistles were not always clear to those who first received them (comp. 2nd Thess. 2; 2nd Pet. 3:16). When the Old and New Testaments assumed canonical form and authority, and became the subject of devout study and a means of spiritual discipline, they furnished a most inviting field for literary research and theological controversy.
Origin and variety of interpretations
On the one hand, there were those who made light of what the prophets had written, attacked the sacred books, and perverted their meaning; on the other, there arose apologists and defenders of the holy volume, and among them not a few who searched for hidden treasures, and manifold meanings in every word. Besides assailants and apologists there were also, many who, withdrawing from the field of controversy, searched the Scriptures on account of their religious value, and found in them wholesome food for the soul. The public teachers of religion, in oral and written discourses, expounded and applied the oracles of God to the people. Hence, in the course of ages, a great variety of expositions and a vast amount of biblical literature have appeared. The student who acquaints himself with the various methods of exposition, and with the works of the, great exegetes of ancient and modern times, is often saved thereby from following new developments of error, and is guarded against, the novelties of a restless fancy. He observes how learned men, yielding to subtle speculation and fanciful analogies, have become the founders of schools and systems, of interpretation. At the same time he becomes more fully qualified to maintain and defend the faith once delivered to the saints.
It was the distinguishing advantage of the Jewish people that they were entrusted with the oracles of God (Rom. 3:1, 2). But during the long period between Moses and the Babylonian captivity they showed little appreciation of their heavenly treasure. The law was ignored, the prophets were persecuted, the people turned to idolatry, and the penalty of' exile and dispersion, foreannounced by Jehovah himself (Deut. 28:63, 64), followed at last with terrible severity.
Ezra the scribe
In the land of exile, a descendant of Aaron the high priest, hopeless of Israel's rise by worldly prowess, set his heart upon the devout study of the ancient Scriptures. “Ezra prepared his heart to seek the law of Jehovah and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments” (Ezra 7:10). Possibly the one hundred and nineteenth psalm was the result of that study, and shows the impression the law made upon that studious priest while yet a young man. A profound appreciation of God's law, such as this psalm evinces, would prompt A man like Ezra to seek the reformation of Israel by calling them to a rigid obedience of the commandments. We may, accordingly, date the beginning of formal exposition of the Scriptures in the time of Ezra. A need was then felt, as not before, of appealing to the oracles of God. The Book of the Law was recognized as fundamental in the records of divine revelation. The noblest Israelite was he who delighted in Jehovah's law, and meditated therein by night and by day (Psa. 1:2; comp. Psa. 119:34, 35, 97). The loss of temple, throne, palace, and regal splendor turned the heart of the devout Jew to a more diligent inquiry after the words of Jehovah.
Public instruction in the law
Ezra, accordingly, led a company of exiles back to Jerusalem and instituted numerous reforms. The commandments forbidding intermarriage with the heathen were rigidly enforced, and the legal feasts and fasts were observed. The public instruction of the people, as recorded in Neh. 8:1‑8, was a measure designed to make known the will of Jehovah, and to develop a purer religious sentiment among the people.
The office and work of the scribes
Thenceforth the office and work of the scribe became important. He was no longer the mere recorder of passing events, the secretary, clerk, or registrar of the king (2nd Sam. 8:17; 1st Kings 4:3), but the copyist and authorized expounder of the sacred books. Their devotion to the study and interpretation of the law brought to the scribes after a time the title of lawyers (nomikoi). At an early period they became known as a distinct class, and were spoken of as families or guilds (1st Chron. 2:55). Ezra is to be regarded as a distinguished representative of his class. He was not the only scribe who returned from Babylon (Ezra 8:16). On the occasion of the public reading of the law he had the assistance of learned Levites, who were able to explain the ancient Scriptures to the people. Constant searching of these holy writings led to the various reforms narrated in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
Progress of Jewish exegesis after Ezra
The progress of Jewish exegesis from the time of Ezra to the beginning of the Christian era may be dimly traced in scattered notices of the learned Jews of that period, in the pre‑Christian apocryphal and pseudepigraphal literature, in the works of Philo Judeus and Josephus, and in the Talmud. The rigid measures adopted by Ezra, Nehemiah, and their associates would seem to have prepared the way for Pharisaism. The scribes of the period succeeding that of Nehemiah not only copied the sacred books, and explained their general import, but took measures to make a hedge about the law. They set a value on the very letters of the law, and counted their number.(1) They scrupulously guarded against interpolations and changes, but, at the same time, they gathered up traditions and constructed an oral law which in time came to have with them an authority equal to that of the sacred books.
Halachah and Hagadab
Thus originated the Jewish Halachah and Hagadah, the legal and homiletic exegesis.
These expositions constitute the Midrashim, or most ancient Jewish commentary. The Halachic, or legal exegesis, was confined to the Pentateuch, and aimed, by analogy and combination of specific written laws, to deduce precepts and rules on subjects which had not been formally treated in the Mosaic Code. This was, in the main, a reading into the laws of Moses a great variety of things which they could not, by any fair interpretation, be made to teach. The Hagadic exegesis, on the other hand, was extended over the entire Old Testament Scriptures, and was of a more practical and homiletical character. It aimed, by means of memorable sayings of illustrious men, parables, allegories, marvelous legends, witty proverbs, and mystic interpretations of Scripture events, to stimulate the Jewish people to pious activity and obedience. The Midrashim thus became a vast treasury of Hebrew national lore. It was developed gradually, by public lectures and homilies, and became more and more comprehensive and complicated as new legends, secret meanings, hidden wisdom, and allegorical expositions were added by one great teacher after another. We have the substance of the Midrashim preserved in the Talmud and the Hagadic literature of the first three centuries of the Christian era.(2)
The later Jewish exegesis was influenced by controversies with Christians, and by the sect of the synagogue known as the Karaites (sarq readers, or literalists), who rejected the authority of the oral law, and all the traditions and precepts of Hagadic literature. The strict methods of these literalists tended to restrain the extravagance of the rabbinical schools, and to promote a more rational study of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Methods of Christian exegesis indicated In the New Testament
We naturally look to the New Testament for the earliest indications of the spirit and methods of Christian exegesis. The divine Founder of Christianity constantly appealed to the Scriptures of the Old Testament as to a sacred authority, and declared that they bore testimony of himself (John 5:39; comp. Luke 24:27). With equal emphasis did he condemn the current Halachic and Hagadic tradition of the elders, which in some instances nullified the commandments of God (Matt. 15:1‑9; Mark 7:1‑13). He reproved the Sadducees also for not understanding the Scriptures and the power of God (Matt. 22:29). The error of the disciples in construing the prophecy of the coming of Elijah (Mal, 4:5) to mean a literal return of the ancient Tishbite—an error which they had received from the scribes—was exposed by showing that the “spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17) had reappeared in John the Baptist (Matt. 11:14; 17:10‑13). Paul makes mention of his proficiency in Judaism (en tw Ioudaismw), and his excessive zeal for the traditions of his fathers, for which he was noted before his conversion (Gal. 1:13, 14); but after it pleased God to give him the revelation of his grace in Jesus Christ, he denounced “Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn away from the truth” (Titus 1:14), and also “foolish questionings and genealogies and strife and fightings (or controversies) about the law” (Titus 3:9). He counseled Timothy to “turn away from the profane babblings and oppositions of the falsely named knowledge” (thv yendwnumou gnwsewv, 1st Tim. 6:20), and warned the Colossians against the spoiling tendencies of “philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Col. 2:8; comp. 1st Tim. 1:4; 4:7; 2nd Tim. 2:14‑16, 23). In these admonitions and warnings there is a manifest reference to the Jewish Midrashim and the speculative tendencies of that age. It was a time of intense mental activity throughout the Roman world, especially in the more eastern cities, where Greek philosophy and oriental mysticism met and blended, as in the case of Philo of Alexandria.
Hagadic methods condemned
The endless genealogies and the falsely named knowledge indicate the beginnings of heretical Gnosticism, already disturbing the faith and practice of the Christian Church. From all which it appears that neither the Hagadic exegesis and ancestral traditions of the Jews, nor the allegorizing and speculative habit of Hellenists like Philo, received encouragement from Christ or his apostles. Paul's single instance of allegorizing the history of Hagar and Sarah was essentially an argumentum ad hominem professedly put as a special plea to those “who desire to be under law “ (Gal. 4:21). Its exceptional character only serves to set in stronger light Paul's constant habit elsewhere of construing the Scriptures according to the simple and natural import of the words. Our Lord's answer to the Sadducees, in Matt. 22:31‑33, is also to be regarded as an exceptional and peculiar argument, designed to confound and silence captious assailants, not to encourage or sanction subtle uses of the Scriptures.
Allegorizing tendency of the post-apostolic age
But though the New Testament exhibits in itself the principles and methods of a sound and trustworthy exegesis, the widely prevalent Hellenistic habit of allegorizing what seemed offensive to philosophic taste carried along with its strong tide many of the Christian writers of the post‑apostolic age. The Church of this early period was too much engaged in struggles for life to develop an accurate or scientific interpretation of Scripture. There was great intellectual activity, and the early forms of heresy which disturbed the Church developed by controversy great strength and subtlety of reasoning. But the tone and style or the earlier writers were apologetical and polemical rather than exegetical. Harassed by persecution, distracted by occasional factions, and exposed to manifold dangers, the early Christian propagandists had no opportunities to cultivate those habits of careful study which lead to broad generalization and impartial decisions. In the hurry and pressure of exciting times men take readily what first comes to hand, or serves an immediate purpose, and it was very natural that many of the early Christian writers should make use of methods of Scripture interpretation which were widely prevalent at the time.
School of Alexandria
After the beginning of the third century biblical interpretation was notably influenced by the famous schools of Alexandria and Antioch. Long before the time of Christ Alexandria had become a great literary centre. The Asiatic mystic, the Jewish rabbi, and the Greek and Roman philosopher there came together and interchanged their thoughts. In the writings of Philo Judaeus we trace the development of the Halachic and Hagadic principles as they became, colored by Hellenic culture. This philosophical Jew united a deep reverence for the Mosaic revelation with an absorbing fondness for Grecian metaphysics. In his writings he appears at times to allow the literal sense of a passage, but his great aim is to exhibit the mystic depths of significance which he concealed beneath the sacred words. He shows no conception of the historical standpoint of his author, no appreciation of the truthfulness or accuracy of the statements of Moses, but often writes as if he really thought the Hellenic philosophy was a natural and necessary part of the laws of the Pentateuch, But Philo was not the author of this system of exegesis, nor did it end with him. The mingling of diverse religionists and philosophies in that great metropolis encouraged all manner of speculation, and we need not wonder that the great lights of the Alexandrian Church fell into habits of mystical and allegorical exposition. One of the earliest representatives of this school whose works have come down to us was Titus Flavius Clement. He was preceded by Pantaenus and others, who, like Apollos, had profited by Alexandrian culture and were “mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24). But Clement was a fanciful interpreter. He was charmed with the Greek philosophy, read Philo's work with avidity, and adopted his allegorical methods of exposition. He was succeeded at Alexandria by a pupil greater than himself, a man of purest character, who, while yet a little child disclosed a remarkable insight into the depth and fullness of the Scriptures, and later, by his untiring devotion to multifarious studies, and his indomitable firmness through bitter trials, acquired the name of Man of Adamant. This mail was Origen, the most distinguished biblical critic of the ancient Church. His veneration for the Scriptures led him to ascribe, a sort of magical value to the original text, and he accordingly sought to establish it by the widest possible collation and comparison of existing versions. In his Hexapla he arranged, in six parallel columns, the Hebrew text, a Greek transliteration of the same, the Septuagint, and the Greek versions of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion. Some pages, which contained books of which other versions were extant, were arranged in seven, eight, or nine columns, according to the number of the versions. On this immense work, which extended to nearly fifty volumes, he was engaged for twenty‑eight years.(3) But with all his devotion to the interests of truth, and the enormous magnitude of his labors, he was a mystico‑allegorical interpreter. He followed in the path of Philo the Jew, and Clement the Christian, and, assuming that many portions of the Bible are unreasonable and absurd when taken literally he maintained a threefold sense—the corporeal, the physical, and the spiritual. But he protests against being supposed to teach that no history is real, and no laws are to be literally observed, because some narratives and laws, literally understood, are absurd or impossible. “For,” he says, “the passages that are true in their historical sense are much more numerous than those which have a purely spiritual signification.”(4)
Driven by persecution from Alexandria, he resorted to Caesarea, in Palestine, and there established a school which for a time Surpassed that of the Egyptian metropolis. The magnetism of his person, and his wide‑spread fame as an expounder of the Scriptures, attracted great multitudes to him. His pernicious habit of explaining the sacred records as the Platonists explained the heathen myths, and his peculiar views touching the pre‑existence of souls, a new probation after death, rind some other doctrines, were so far offset by his pure zeal for God, and his many and great virtues, that he has been quite‑generally acknowledged as pre‑eminently the father of biblical science, and one of the greatest prodigies of learning and industry among men.(5)
The School of Antioch
To Antioch, where the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:26), belongs the honor of introducing a more scientific and profitable system of biblical study. Its founder was Lucian, who in early life studied at Edessa, and laid the foundation of his thorough scholarship under the training of Macarius, an eminent teacher of that city. He afterward removed to Antioch, where he was ordained presbyter, and acquired great fame as a critical student and expounder of the Holy Scriptures. His stricter methods put a check to the allegorical and mystical interpretation so popular at the time, and which had received great strength and currency by the influence of Origen. This sounder method of exegesis was further promoted by Diodorus, who was also for some time a distinguished presbyter of Antioch, but afterward became bishop of Tarsus. The church historian, Socrates, speaks of him as president of a monastery and author of “many treatises, in which he limited his expositions to the literal sense of Scripture, without attempting to explain what was mystical.”(6) He is said to have written commentaries on all the books of the Old Testament, and also on considerable portions of the New.(7) Some do not hesitate to make him the real founder of the school of Antioch.
Theodore of Mopsuestia
The two most distinguished disciples of Diodorus were Theodore of Mopsuestia, and John Chrysostom of Constantinople. Both of them studied philosophy and rhetoric in the school of the celebrated sophist Libanius, the friend of the Emperor Julian. Theodore was made a presbyter at Antioch, but rapidly acquired reputation, and was made bishop of Mopsuestia in Cilicia, about A.D. 390. His long life and incessant labor as a Christian teacher, the extent of his learning, the vigor and acuteness of his intellect, and the force of his personal character, won for him the title of Master of the Orient. He was a prolific author, and composed commentaries on various books of Scripture, of which only his exposition of the Minor Prophets has been preserved intact until the present time. His commentaries on Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians are preserved in a Latin version.(8) He was an independent critic, and a straightforward, sober, historical interpreter. He had no sympathy with the mystical methods of the Alexandrian school, and repudiated their extravagant notions of inspiration; but he went to an opposite extreme of denying the inspiration of many portions of the Scriptures, and furnished specimens of rationalistic exposition quite barren and unsatisfactory. Nevertheless the Syrian Nestorians regarded him as the greatest of exegetes. His method of teaching the subjects of Christology and anthropology were severely condemned after his decease, especially because the Nestorians appealed to them as identical with their own.
While Theodore represented the more independent and rationalistic spirit of the Antiochian school, Chrysostom exhibited its more conservative and practical tendency. The tender devotion of a pious Christian mother, the rhetorical polish acquired in the school of Libanius, and the assiduous study of the Scriptures at the monastery of the learned Diodorus, were all together admirably adapted to develop the profound exegete and the eloquent preacher of the word of God. “Through a rich inward experience,” says Neander, “he lived into the understanding of the Holy Scriptures; and a prudent method of interpretation, on logical and grammatical principles, kept him in the right track in deriving the spirit from the letter of the sacred volume. His profound and simple, yet fruitful, homiletic method of treating the Scriptures, show to what extent he was indebted to both, and how, in his case, both co-operated together.”(9)
Cbrysostom wrote more than six hundred homilies on the Scriptures. They consist of expository discourses on Genesis, the Psalms, and most of the New Testament. Those on the Gospel of Matthew and the Pauline epistles are specially valuable, and such modern exegetes as Tholuck and Alford have enriched their pages by numerous quotations from this father. The least valuable of his expository discourses are those upon the prophets, only a few of which remain. His ignorance of Hebrew, and his failure to apprehend the spirit of the Old Testament prophets, are apparent. The homilies on the Psalms, however, though without critical merit, furnish a rich banquet, for Chrysostom's deep religious experience brought him into complete sympathy with the psalmist. Although his credulous nature yielded to many superstitions of his age, and his pious feeling inclined him to asceticism and the self-mortifications of monastic life, John Chrysostom is unquestionably the greatest commentator among the early fathers of the Church. Theodore of Mopsuestia may have been more sharply critical, Origen was more encyclopedic in his learning, and others were more original and profound in apprehending some of the doctrines of the Christian faith, but he surpassed them all in the general good judgment which appears in his expositions, in the richness of his suggestions, and the practical value of what he said or wrote. He is the greatest ornament and noblest representative of the exegetical school of Antioch.(10)
In this connection we should also notice the works of Theodoret, who was trained at the monastery near Antioch, where he abode for twenty years, devoting himself to theological studies. The teachings of Diodorus, Theodore, and Chiysostom, who were identified with this same monastery, exerted great influence over the mind of Theodoret, and he followed substantially their system of biblical interpretation. In his Preface to the Psalms he says: “When I happened upon various commentaries, and found some expositors pursuing allegories with great superabundance, others adapting prophecy to certain histories so as to produce an interpretation accommodated to the Jews rather than to the nurselings of faith, I considered it the part of a wise man to avoid the excess of both, and to connect now. with ancient histories whatever things belonged to them.” Most of his remaining works are expository, but often mixed with that which is apologetic and controversial.(11) They cover most of the books of the Old Testament, and the epistles of Paul.(12)
Schools of Edessa and Nisibis
The churches of Syria early developed into two main divisions, those of the eastern and the western provinces. As Antioch was the chief center of the western cities, so were Edessa and Nisibis of the more eastern, and when, after the days of Chrysostom. and Theodoret, the school of Antioch declined, those chief centres of Christian activity in Mesopotamia became more famous as seats of' literary culture and exegetical learning. The appearance of the Syriac version of the New Testament as early as the middle of the second century, and the Diatessaron of Tatian, indicates the interest of the Syrian mind in the study of the Scriptures. Lucian, the founder of the Antiochian school, received his early training in the Scriptures from Alacaritis of Edessa. The Ignatian epistles appear also to have exerted great influence in Eastern Syria, and they were early translated into the Syriac tongue. “The school of Eastern Syria,” says Dorner, “was distinguished by its vivid fancy, by its religious spirit, at once fiery and practical, by fervor, and, in part, depth of thought. It exhibited, also, a tendency to the impassioned style and too gorgeous imagery of the East, to mysticism and asceticism…. The Church of Western Syria displayed, at an early period, that sober, judicious, and critical spirit for which it became renowned, and by which it was especially distinguished from the third to the fifth century. The eastern school inclined to theosophy, and thus had a certain affinity with the religious systems which prevailed in the East; the western, on the other hand, took its stand on the firm basis of experience and history. In a word, the contrast between the two, divisions of the Syrian Church bore a not inconsiderable resemblance to that which exists between the Lutheran and Reformed Confessions in Germany.”(13)
One of the greatest fathers of the Syrian Church was Ephraem, commonly called Ephraem Syrus, who flourished at Edessa about A. D. 370. He spent most of his life in writing and preaching, and was a vigorous opponent of Arianism. His learning and piety were the admiration of his contemporaries, and he was often designated as the prophet of the Syrians. He was a voluminous writer, and has left numerous commentaries, homilies, and poems. Many of his exegetical discourses and polemical and practical homilies are written in poetical form. His commentaries on the historical books of the Old Testament and the Book of Job are extant in Syriac, and those of the Pauline epistles in an Armenian translation. It is doubtful whether he understood or used the Greek language. His method of exposition is mainly that of the allegorists, his style is brilliant and glowing, often running into bombast, and his interpretations are often fanciful, farfetched, and extravagant.(14)
Barsumas and Ibas
The school of Nisibis maintained itself longer than that of Edessa, and continued until the ninth century. The Canon of Nisibis prescribed a three years' course of exegetical study in the Old and New Testaments. Barsumas, who was ejected from the school. of Edessa, became bishop of Nisibis in A. D. 435 and founded there the theological seminary which served to maintain and propagate Nestorianism in various countries of the East. The works of Diodorus of Tarsus, and Theodore of Alopsuestia, translated into Syric by lbas, contributed much toward the cultivation of biblical and theological study throughout Eastern Syria.
The fathers of the Western Church were, as a class, much inferior to those of the Eastern in their expositions of the Scriptures. One chief reason for this fact was their comparative ignorance of the original languages of the Bible. A notable exception is that of Hippolytus, bishop of Portus, at the mouth of the Tiber, near Rome. It is doubtful whether he should be claimed more by the West than the East, for he was a disciple of Ireneus, and a friend and admirer of Origen, and, according to Baronius, a disciple of Clement of Alexandria. Nevertheless, it is quite certain that he spent the greater portion of his life in Rome and its vicinity. His great work, recently discovered, on the Refutation of all Heresies, contains numerous expositions of different passages of Scripture, and shows that he was an extreme allegorist. He appears to have written commentaries on most of the Bible, and numerous fragments remain. His exegetical method is substantially that of Philo, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen, and in some things, if possible, even more extravagant. Nevertheless, his writings are of great value as exhibiting the heresies and disputes of his time, and some of his Scripture expositions are thoughtful and suggestive.(15)
In the later part of the fourth and the earlier part of the fifth century there flourished, contemporaneously, the greatest biblical scholar, the greatest theologian, and the most distinguished heretic, of the ancient Western Church. These were Jerome, Augustine, and Pelagius. Jerome was born at Stridon, on the borders of Pannonia, but early in life removed to Rome, where he diligently prosecuted his studies under the best masters. He afterward traveled through Gaul, and transcribed Hilary's commentary on the Psalms. About A. D. 372 he visited the East, passing through the most interesting provinces of Asia Minor, and pausing for a time at Antioch in Syria. Here he was prostrated by a severe fever, and in a dream received strong condemnation for his devotion to the heathen classics, which he thereupon vowed to renounce forever. He betook himself to monastic life, and thought to crucify his taste for Roman literature by the study of Hebrew. He afterward visited Constantinople, and pursued his studies, especially in Greek, under Gregory of Nazianzum. Here he translated Eusebius' Chronicle, and the commentaries of Origen on Jeremiah and Ezekiel. About A. D. 386 he settled in Bethlehem of Judea, and there, in monkish seclusion and assiduous study, spent the rest of his life. He wrote commentaries upon most of the books of the Bible, revised the old Latin version, and made a new translation of the Old Testament from the original Hebrew text. His generation was not competent to appreciate these literary labors, and not a few regarded it as an impious presumption to assume that the Septuagint version could be improved by an appeal to the Hebrew. That seemed like preferring Barabbas to Jesus. Nevertheless, the Vulgate speedily took rank with the great versions of the Bible, and became the authorized translation used in the Western Church. It is more faithful to the Hebrew than the Septuagint, and was probably made with the help of Origen's Hexapla, which was then accessible in the library of Caesarea.
Osgood on Jerome as a commentator
“As a commentator,” writes Osgood, “Jerome deserves less honor than as a translator, so hasty his comments generally are, and so frequently consisting of fragments, gathered from previous writers. His merit however is—and this was by no means a common one in his day—that he generally aims to give the literal sense of the passages in question. He read apparently all that had been written by the leading interpreters before him, and then wrote his own commentaries in great haste without stopping to distinguish his own views from those of the authorities consulted. He dashed through a thousand lines of the text in a single day, and went through the Gospel of Matthew in a fortnight. He sometimes yielded to the allegorical methods of interpretation, and showed frequent traces of the influence of his study of Origen. Yet he seems not to have inclined to this method so much from his own taste as from the habit of his time. And if, of the four doctors of the Church particularized by some writers, to Gregory belongs excellence in tropology, to Ambrose in allegory, to Augustine in anagoge, to Jerome is given the palm in the literal and grammatical sense…. Rich and elegant as his style frequently is, he does not appear to have had very good taste as a critic. He had not that delicate appreciation of an author's meaning that enables one to seize hold of the main idea or sentiment, and through this interpret the language and illustrations. He could not reproduce the thoughts of the prophets and poets of the Old Testament in his own mind, and throw himself into their position. Their poetic figures he sometimes treats as logical‑ propositions, and finds grave dogmas in casual illustrations.”(16)
In learning and general culture Jerome was much superior to Augustine, but in depth and penetration, in originality of genius and power of thought, Augustine, bishop of Hippo, in Africa, was by far the greatest man of his age. If it be any evidence of greatness for one mind to shape and direct the theological studies and speculations of more than a thousand years, and after all the enlightenment of modern times to maintain his hold upon men of the deepest piety and the highest intellectual power, then must it be conceded that few if any Christian writers of all the ages have equaled Augustine. But of his doctrines and his rank as a theologian it is not in our way to speak. Only as an interpreter of Scripture do we here consider him, and as such we cannot in justice award him a place correspondent with his theological fame. His conceptions of divine truth were comprehensive and profound, but having no knowledge of Hebrew and a very imperfect acquaintance with Greek, he was incapacitated for thorough and independent study of the sacred books. He was dependent on the current faulty Latin version, and not a few of his theological arguments are built upon all erroneous interpretation of the Scripture text. In his work on Christian Doctrine he lays down a number of very excellent rules for the exposition of the Bible, but in practice he forsakes his own hermeneutical principles, and often runs into excessive allegorizing. He allows four different kinds of interpretation, the historical, the etiological, the analogical, and the allegorical, but he treats these methods as traditional, and gives them no extended or uniform application. His commentaries on Genesis and Job are of little value. His exposition of the Psalms contains many rich thoughts, together with much that is vague and mystical. The treatise in four books on the Consensus of the Evangelists is one of the best of the ancient attempts to construct a Gospel harmony, but his Evangelical Inquiries (Quaestiones Evangelicae) are full of fanciful interpretation. His best expositions are of those passages on which his own rich experience and profound acquaintance with the operations of the human heart enabled him to comment with surpassing beauty. His exegetical treatises are the least valuable of his multifarious writings but through all his works are scattered many brilliant and precious gems of thought.(17)
During the long period known as the Middle Ages, the true exegetical spirit could scarcely be expected. To this period belong the so‑called Catenists, or compilers of expositions from the more ancient fathers. It was not an age of original research, but of imitation and appropriation from the treasures of the past. Among the most noted of these compilers are Procopius of Gaza, Andreas, and Arethas. The venerable Bede, one of the most eminent fathers of the English Church, made himself familiar with all the learning of his age, and wrote commentaries on the entire New Testament, and a large portion of the Old. But they are Compilations from the works of Augustine, Basil, and Ambrose. Other names of note are Alcuin, Havino, and Theophylact. The notes of the last named on the New Testament have always been held in high estimation. Although the works of Chrysostom are the chief source of his extracts, he occasionally expresses his dissent from him, and shows more independence than most of the Catenists.
Nicholas de Lyra
Nicholas de Lyra flourished at the beginning of the fourteenth century. In addition to the usual studies of his age he acquired a thorough knowledge of Hebrew, a rare accomplishment for a Christian, and his great learning and useful writings secured him the friendship of the most illustrious men of his times, and the title of the “plain and useful doctor.” His greatest work is entitled Continuous Comments, or Brief Annotations on the whole Bible (Postillae perpetuae, seu brevia commentaria in universa Biblia), and exhibits a great advance upon most of the exegesis of the Middle Ages. For although be recognizes a fourfold sense, as shown in the well‑known lines,
he gives decided preference to the literal sense, and in his expositions shows comparatively little regard for any other. He frankly acknowledges his indebtedness to the learned Hebrew exegetes, especially Rabbi Solomon Isaac (Rashi), whose sober methods of interpretation he generally followed. The influence his writings had on Luther and other reformers is celebrated in the familiar couplet:
His comments on the New Testament are less valuable than those on the Old, and follow closely Augustine and Aquinas. He was ignorant of the Greek language, and based his expositions on the text of the Vulgate.(18) But his great Postillae perpetuae accomplished much in preparing the way of a more thorough grammatical interpretation of the Bible.(19)
At the beginning of the sixteenth century, but hardly to be classed with the great reformers, flourished two celebrated scholars to whom biblical literature is greatly indebted, Reuchlin and Erasmus. John Reuchlin was recognized as a leader of the German Humanists, and was particularly famous for his devotion to the study of Hebrew. He justly deserves the title of father of Hebrew learning in the Christian Church. He far surpassed the Jews of his time in the knowledge of their own language, and published, besides many other works, a treatise on the Rudiments of Hebrew, another on the Accents and Orthography of the Hebrew Language, and a Grammatical Interpretation of the Seven Penitential Psalms. He was also acknowledged. Everywhere as an authority in Latin and Greek, as well as in Hebrew, and the most learned men of his age sought his instruction and counsel. His great services in the cause of biblical learning led men to say of him, “Jerome is born again.”
Desiderius Erasmus was by his wit, wisdom, culture, and varied erudition, the foremost representative, and, one might say, the embodiment, of Humanism. He and Reuchlin were called the “Eyes of Germany.” Erasmus became early fascinated with the ancient classics, translated several Greek authors into Latin, and edited numerous editions of their works. He also, edited a number of the Greek and Latin fathers. Without any such deep religious experience and profound convictions as Luther, and possessed of no such massive intellect as Melanchthon, he was noted rather for versatility of genius and prodigious literary industry. Nevertheless, he was one of the most distinguished precursors of the Reformation, and it was truly said: “Erasmus laid the egg; Luther hatched it.” He appears to have turned his attention to biblical studies about the beginning of the sixteenth century and published in 1505 a new edition of Lorenzo Valla's Remarks on the New Testament. He edited and published in 1516 the first edition of the Greek Testament. It was printed in folio, accompanied with an elegant Latin version, and various readings from several manuscripts, the works of the fathers, and the Vulgate. The first edition was hastily prepared, precipitated rather than edited, as Erasmus himself wrote, in order to bring it out in advance of Cardinal Ximenes' Conplutensian Poly lot, which did not appear until 1520. Erasmus afterward wrote and published Annotations on the New Testament, and also Paraphrases on the whole New Testament except the Book of Revelation, which were so highly esteemed in England that it was required of every parish church to possess a copy of the English translation. These publications introduced a new era in biblical learning, and went far toward supplanting the scholasticism of the previous ages by better methods of theological study.(20)
The Reformation the morning of a better day
With the Reformation of the sixteenth century the mind of Germany and of other European states broke away from the ignorance and superstition of the Middle Ages, the Holy Scriptures were appealed to as the written revelation of God, containing all things necessary to salvation, and the doctrine of justification by faith, was magnified against priestly absolution and the saving meritoriousness of works. The great commanding mind and leader of this remarkable movement was Martin Luther, who, in October, 1517, published the famous theses which were like the voice of a trumpet sounding forth the beginning of a better day. Five years later he put forth his German translation of the New Testament.
Luther's German Bible
This was one of the most valuable services of his life, for it gave to his people the holy oracles in the simple, idiomatic, and racy language of common life, and enabled them to read for themselves the teachings of Christ and the apostles. It was followed by successive portions of the Old Testament until, in 1534, the whole Bible was completed and became of incalculable influence in effecting the triumph of Protestantism. The arduous effort of Luther to make his translation of the Bible as accurate as possible went far toward the establishing of sound methods of criticism and exegesis. His helps in this great enterprise consisted of Erasmus' edition of the New Testament, the Sepuagint, the Vulgate, a few of the Latin fathers, and an imperfect knowledge of the Hebrew. He, also received valuable assistance from Melanchthon, Bagenhagen, Jonas, Crucioer, and several learned rabbis. He spent twelve of the best years of his life upon this monumental work. Portions of the original autograph are still preserved in the royal library of Berlin, and show with what anxious care he sought to make the version as faithful as possible.
His exegetical works
Sometimes three or four different forms of expression were written down before he determined which one to adopt. Luther's commentary on the Galatians, which has been translated into English, and published in many editions, was characterized by himself as being very “plentiful in words.” It is an elaborate treatise adapted for use as public lectures and devotional reading, and is particularly notable for its ample exposition of the doctrine of justification by faith. Luther also prepared notes on Genesis, the Psalms, the Sermon on the Mount, the Gospel of John, and other portions of the New Testament.(21) His knowledge of Hebrew and Greek was limited, and he sometimes mistook the meaning of the sacred writer, but his religious intuitions and deep devotional spirit enabled him generally to apprehend the true sense of Scripture.
Although Luther occupies the foremost place among the reformers he was far surpassed in scholarship and learning by Philip Melanchthon, in whom he found an indispensable friend and helper, in temperament and manners the counterpart of himself. Luther may be compared with Paul, whose bold and fearless spirit he admirably represented; Melanchthon exhibited rather the tender and loving spirit of John. Melanchthon appears to have been favored with every opportunity and means of education which that age afforded. He was regarded as a prodigy of ancient learning, especially skilled in the knowledge of Greek, a pupil of Reuchlin, and a friend of Erasmus, both of whom extolled his remarkable talents and ripe scholarship. His thorough acquaintance with the original languages of the Scriptures, his calm judgment and cautious methods of procedure, qualified him for pre-eminence in biblical exegesis. He clearly perceived the Hebraic character of the New Testament Greek, and showed the importance of the study of Hebrew even for the exposition of the Christian Scriptures. As an aid in this line of study he published an edition of the Septuagint. Luther listened with delight to his expository lectures on Romans and Corinthians, obtained his manuscript, and sent it without his knowledge to the printer. On its appearance he wrote to his modest friend thus characteristically: “It is I who publish this commentary of yours, and I send yourself to you. If you are not satisfied with yourself you do right; it is enough that you please us. Yours is the fault, if there be any. Why did you not publish them yourself? Why did yon let me ask, command, and urge you to publish to no purpose? This is my defense against you. For I am willing to rob you and to bear the name of a thief. I fear not your complaints or accusations.”(22)
His exegetical lectures
Melanchthon's exegetical lectures embrace Genesis, the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Daniel, Haggal, Zechariah, and Malachi, of the Old Testament; and Matthew, John, Romans, Corinthians, Colossians, Timothy, and Titus of the New Testament. Luther's German Bible was greatly indebted to the careful revision of Melanchthon, who himself translated the Books of Maccabees. Although his quiet, meditative tendencies led him at times into allegorical methods of exegesis, which he found so generally adopted by the fathers, he followed in the main the grammatical historical method, was careful to trace the connection and course of thought, and aimed to ascertain the mind of the Spirit in the written word.(23)
Of all the exegetes of the period of the Reformation the first place must unquestionably be given to John Calvin, whose learning was ample, whose Latin style surpassed in purity and elegance that of any writer of his time, and whose intellect was at once acute and penetrating, profound and comprehensive. His stern views on predestination are too often offensively prominent, and he at times indulges in harsh words against those who differ from him in opinion. In textual and philological criticism he was not equal to Erasmus, Melarichthon, (Ecolampadius, or his intimate friend Beza, and he occasionally falls into notably incorrect interpretation of words and phrases; but as a whole, his commentaries are justly celebrated for clearness, good sense,. and masterly apprehension of the meaning and spirit of the sacred writers. With the exception of Judges, Ruth, Kings, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Solomon's Song, and the Apocalypse, his comments, expository lectures, and homilies extend over the whole Bible. In his Preface to the Epistle to the Romans he maintains that the chief excellence of an interpreter is a perspicuous brevity which does not divert the reader's thoughts by long and prolix discussions, but directly lays open the mind of the sacred writer. His commentaries, accordingly, while not altogether free from blemishes, exhibit a happy exegetical tact, a ready grasp of the more obvious meaning of words, and an admirable regard to the context, scope, and plan of the author. He seldom quotes from other commentators, and is conspicuously free from mystical, allegorical, and forced methods of exposition. His exegesis breathes everywhere—especially in the Psalms—a most lively religious feeling, indicating that his. own personal experience enabled him to penetrate as by intuition into the depths of meaning treasured in the oracles of God.(24)
Next to Calvin we may appropriately notice his intimate friend and fellow reformer, Theodore Beza, who early enjoyed the instruction of such masters as Faber (Stapulensis), Budzeus, and John Lascaris, and became so distinguished as an apt and brilliant scholar that of one hundred, who with him received the master's degree, he stood first. He lived to the great age of eighty‑six, and was the author of many useful works. The principal monument of his exegetical skill is his Latin translation of the New Testament, with full annotations.(25) He was a consummate critic, a man of remarkable quickness and versatility of intellect, and widely distinguished for his profound and varied learning. His comments are unlike those of Calvin in not making prominent the religious element of the sacred writings, but his philological learning and constant reference to the Greek and Hebrew texts are more conspicuous.
Exegetical tendencies of the Lutheran and Reformed parties
A careful study of the exegetical writings of the sixteenth century reveals two tendencies which early appeared among the Protestant reformers, and developed gradually during the next two centuries, until in modern times the one has run into extreme rationalism, and the other into a narrow and dogmatic orthodoxy. These tendencies early separated the so‑called Lutheran and Reformed parties. The more rigid orthodox Lutherans exhibited a proclivity to authoritative forms, and assumed a dogmatic tone and method in their use of the Scriptures. The Reformed theologians showed greater readiness to break away from churchly customs and traditional ideas, and treat the Scriptures with a respectful, but free, critical spirit. In general exposition no great differences appeared among the early reformers. Luther and Melanchthon represent the dogmatic, Zwingle, (Ecolampadius, and Beza the more grammatico‑historical method of scriptural interpretation. Calvin combined some elements of both, but belonged essentially to the Reformed party. It was not until two centuries later that a cold, illiberal, and dogmatic orthodoxy provoked an opposite extreme of lawless rationalism.
Polyglots and Critici Sacri
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the progress of biblical criticism and exegesis was most marked. The way for a more thorough grammatical study had been prepared such philologists as John Buxtorf, Schindler, Vatablus, and Joseph Scaliger. About 1615 Le Jay projected his immense work, the Paris Polyglot. Its publication was begun in 1628 and completed in 1645 in ten imperial folio volumes, containing the entire Bible in seven languages (Hebrew, Chaldee, Syriac, Arabic, Samaritan, Greek, and Latin). This costly work, which ruined the fortune of Le Jay, was soon superseded by the London Polyglot of Brian Walton, & first volume of which was issued in 1654 and the sixth and last in 1657. It was followed in 1669 by the Heptaglot Lexicon of Castell in two folio volumes. These massive tomes, together with that great collection of critical and exegetical writings known as the Critici Sacri (London, 1660, nine vols. fol.) and Poole's Synopsis Criticorum (1669‑74, five vols. fol.), forming in all twenty‑two large folios, begun and finished in the space of twenty‑one years (1653‑74), at the expense of a few English divines and noblemen, constitute a magnificent exegetical library, and will long endure as a monument of English biblical scholarship in the seventeenth century.
No sketch of the history of biblical interpretation should fail to mention Hugo Grotius, one of the most remarkable men of the seventeenth century, and eminent alike in theology, politics, and general literature. Though suffering the confiscation of his property, imprisonment, and exile, his learning and talents commanded for him the attention of kings and princes, and of the educated men of Europe. Besides learned works in civil jurisprudence, apologetics, and dogmatic theology, he wrote annotations on the Old and New Testaments and the Apocrypha. His exegesis is distinguished for its philological and historical character and the uniform good sense displayed throughout. He has been called the forerunner of Ernesti, but he often noticeably fails to grasp the plan and scope of the sacred writers, and to trace the connection of thought. He lacked the profound religious intuition of Luther and Calvin, and leaned to a rationalistic treatment of Scripture.(26)
One of the most eminent scholars of the Dutch Reformed Church of the seventeenth century was Voetius, who received his early training at Leyden under Gomar, Arminius, and their colleagues. He was an influential member of the Synod of Dort, and a violent opponent of the Remonstrants. He also made it a great work of his life to oppose the Cartesian philosophy. But his methods of procedure tended to cultivate a narrow and dogmatic spirit, and his exegesis, accordingly, aimed rather to support and defend a theological system than to ascertain by valid reason the exact meaning of the sacred writers. He was vehemently polemical, and became the acknowledged head and leader of a school of exegesis which assumed to adhere strictly to the literal sense, but, at the same time, regarded all biblical criticism as highly dangerous to the orthodox faith. The Voetians would fain have made the dogmas of the Synod of Dort the authoritative guide to the sense of Scripture, and were restless before an appeal to the original texts of the Bible and independent methods of interpretation.
The great opponent both of scholasticism and of a narrow dogmatical exegesis was John Cocceius, a man of broad and thorough scholarship, an adept in Greek, Hebrew, Chaldee, Arabic, and rabbinical literature, and a worthy compeer of such scholars as Buxtorf, Walton, and Grotius. He devoted himself chiefly to biblical exposition, publishing commentary after commentary until he had gone through nearly all canonical books.(27) Although his labors revived and encouraged allegorical and mystical methods of interpretation, it must be conceded that he exhibited many of the very best qualities of a biblical exegete, and did as much as any man of his time to hold up the Holy Scriptures as the living fountain of all revealed theology, and the only authoritative rule and standard of faith. He insisted that the Old and New Testaments must be treated as one organic whole, and that each passage should be interpreted according to the meaning of its words, the connection of thought as traceable through an entire discourse, book, or epistle, and the analogy of faith, or scope and plan of the one complete revelation of God. He maintained that Christ is the great subject of divine revelation in the Old Testament as well as in the New, and hence arose the saying that Cocceius found Christ everywhere in the Old Testament, but Grotius nowhere. It is due, however, to the memory of Cocceius to say that while he too often pressed the typical import of Old Testament texts to an undue extreme, he acted on the valid principle that the Hebrew Scriptures contain the germs of the Gospel revelation, and that, according to the express teaching of our Lord (John 5:39; Luke 24:27), the Old Testament contained many things concerning himself. The errors into, which he fell are less grave than those of not a few modern critics who exhibit a notable one sidedness in failing to see that the written revelation of God is truly an organic whole, and that the New Testament cannot be interpreted without the Old, nor the Old without the New.
A fresh impulse was given to biblical studies in Germany by the founding of the University of Halle in 1694. This was due mainly to the influence of Spener, the father of Pietism. The Protestant Churches had fallen into a cold, formal orthodoxy, and the symbols and sacraments took precedence of scriptural knowledge and personal piety. As early as 1675 Spener had urged, in his Pia Desideria, that all Christian doctrine should be sought in a faithful study of the Holy Scriptures rather than in the symbols of the Church, and that the living truths of God's word should be brought home to the hearts of the people. Associated with him at Halle was A. H. Francke, who had previously become noted at Leipsic by his exegetical lectures. Both these men were eminent, as preachers and abundant in pulpit ministrations.
Francke's exegetical lectures extended over the books of the Old and New Testaments, and he published treatises on the interpretation of Scripture, and on methods of theological study, These noble leaders of Pietism maintained that it is the first duty of the theologian to ascertain the true meaning of the Scriptures, not from traditional beliefs, but from a critical and grammatical study of the original texts.
During the eighteenth century biblical criticism and interpretation took on a more scientific character. It was a period of research, of philosophical investigation, of skeptical and rationalistic assaults upon Christianity, of extensive revival and of political revolution. These exciting movements gave encouragement to biblical studies, developed an array of distinguished scholars too numerous to be even named in these pages, and prepared the way for the exact grammatico‑historical interpretation which is yielding rich and varied products in our own time. The science of Textual Criticism was promoted by the labors of Van der Hooght, J. H. Michaelis, Houbigant, Kennicott, and De Rossi on the Old Testament, and by those of Mill, Bentley, Bengel, Wetstein, and Griesbach on the New. Bengel's best work, however, was his Gnomon of the New Testament, a condensed but remarkably rich and suggestive commentary, the general principles and methods of which have not been greatly excelled by any later exegete.
Probably the most distinguished name in the history of exegesis in the eighteenth century is that of John Augustus Ernesti, whose Institutio interpretis Novi Testamenti (Lipz., 1761), or Principles of New Testament Interpretation, has been accepted as a standard textbook on hermeneutics by four generations of biblical scholars. “He is regarded,” says Hagentacb, “as the founder of a new exegetical school, whose principle simply was that the Bible must be rigidly explained according to its own language, and, in this explanation, it must neither be bribed by any external authority of the Church, nor by our own feeling, nor by a sportive and allegorizing fancy—which had frequently been the case with the mystics—nor, finally, by any philosophical system whatever He here united in the main with Hugo Grotius, who had laid down similar principles in the seventeenth century. Ernesti was a philologian. He had occupied himself just as enthusiastically with the ancient classics of Rome and Greece as with the Bible, and claimed that the same exegetical laws should be observed in the one case as in the other. He was perfectly right in this respect; even the Reformers wished the same thing. His error here was, perhaps, in overlooking too much the fact that, in order to perceive the religious truths of the Scriptures, we must not only understand the meaning of a declaration in its relations to language and history, but that we must also spiritually appropriate it by feelingly transposing ourselves to it; and by seeking to understand it from itself. Who will deny that, in order to understand the epistles of the Apostle Paul, we must adopt from the very outset a mode of view different from that which we would employ in order to understand the epistles of Cicero, since the circle of ideas of these two men is very different? Religious writings can be perfectly understood only by an anticipating spirit, which peers through the logical and grammatical web of the thoughts to the depths below. …The principle that we must expound the Scriptures like every other book could at least be so misapprehended that it might be placed in the same rank with the other writings of antiquity, and the assistance of the Holy Spirit, which is the only guide to the depths of the Scriptures, be regarded as superfluous. As for Ernesti personally, he was orthodox, like Michaelis and Mosheim. He even defended the Lutheran view of the Lord's Supper. And yet these men, and others of like character, are distinguished from their orthodox predecessors by their insisting upon independence, by struggling for sobriety, and, if you will allow, for dryness also. But, with all this, they were further distinguished from their predecessors by a certain freedom and mildness of judgment which men had not been accustomed to find in theologians. Without any desire or wish on their own part they effected a transition to a new theological method of thought, which soon passed beyond the limits of their own labors.”(28)
In the latter part of the eighteenth century there was in Germany a notable reaction against the old rigid orthodoxy which had been dominant, and also against the degenerating Pietism, which was given to magnify a blind emotional faith, and rapidly deteriorated into a superstitious mysticism and extravagance. Semler contributed greatly to this movement by his theory of Accommodation, applied to the interpretation of Scripture. His beautiful piety, however, preserved him from the evil effects of his own theories, and he was surprised at the use others made of his critical principles. There were men in Germany who were thoroughly infected with the leaven of English deism and French infidelity, and they were not slow to appropriate Semler's destructive methods for the propagation of unbelief among the people. Of this class were Edelmann and Bahrdt, whose writings breathed the most offensive spirit of hostility to all accepted Christian doctrine. The publication of the Wolfenbuttel Fragments (1765‑92), by Lessing, contributed still more to the spread of skepticism. They extolled the deists, glorified human beings, and treated the miracles of the Bible as incredible myths and legends, which an intelligent age ought to reject. And so, at the beginning of our present century, rationalism had wellnigh taken possession of the best minds of Germany. It has continued its work of destructive criticism even to our day, and such names as J. G. Eichhorn, Paulus, Tuch, Von Bohlen, Strauss, C. H. Weisse, and F. C. Baur have given peculiar brilliancy to its methods. Reuss, Graf, Kuenen, and Wellhausen have in the most recent times exhibited great ingenuity and scholarship in their essays to reconstruct the very foundation of Old Testament history, and place the writings of Moses after those of the prophets.
This destructive school of Rationalism has been to a great extent opposed by what is often called the mediation school of interpreters. The man who more than any other initiated a reaction against the rationalism current at the beginning of this century was Schleiermacher. And yet he was far from orthodox in his teaching. He was neither strictly evangelical nor rationalistic, but combined elements of both. He showed that vital piety is a matter of the heart, and consists in the consciousness of God in the soul, and, accordingly, is not attainable by reason, or dependent on human culture. But in his methods of interpretation, he followed mainly the ways of the rationalists. He treated the Old Testament as having no divine authority, but as historically important because of its relations to Christianity. His disciples branched off into different schools, and in their attitude toward evangelical doctrine were negative or positive, or followed a middle course between the two, and each school could appeal in defense of its positions to the teachings of the master whom they all honored. As exegetes, De Wette, Lucke, the Rosenmullers, Gesenius, and Ewald carried out the rationalistic tendencies of Schleiermacher. De Wette, however, deserves special notice as being unsurpassed in critical tact and exegetical ability by any biblical scholar of modern times. His views were formed tinder the influence of such theological teachers as Paulus, and are essentially rationalistic, but he rejected the naturalistic method of explaining miracles, and anticipated Strauss in many of the prominent positions of the mythical interpretation. But he showed greater regard for the religious element of Scripture, and never indulged in disrespectful insinuations hostile to its divine authority.
The German evangelical school of interpreters includes men of different shades of opinion, from the rigidly orthodox to divines of a free critical spirit, intent, like Neander, to know and maintain only essential truth. G. C. Storr, at the beginning of the century, was the leading representative of what is known as the old Tubingen school. He aimed to check the growth of rationalism by a purely scriptural teaching, but his method was unscientific in that he failed to give due prominence to the organic unity of the Bible, and rested too largely on isolated texts. Hengstenberg, professor of theology at Berlin, was recognized for almost half a century as one of the staunchest defenders of orthodoxy, but his tone and methods were highly dogmatic. Havernick, Bleek, Umbreit, Tholuck, Stier, H. Olshausen, Keil, Delitzsch, Meyer, and Lange represent the better class of the evangelical interpreters, and their varied contributions to exegetical theology are worthy of the very highest commendation.
Biblical exegesis in America
American scholarship has as yet produced comparatively little that bears favorable comparison with the great exegetical works of British and German authors. But the translators of Lange's Commentary, nearly all Americans, have exhibited therein an exegetical ability quite equal to those of the original writers, and, in some of the volumes, the additions made by the translators are the most valuable parts of the work. In the earlier part of this century Moses Stuart and Edward Robinson did more than any other two men in the United States to promote an interest in exegetical studies. The former published commentaries on Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Daniel, Romans, Hebrews, and the Apocalypse, all of which show the skill of a master, and have maintained, up to the present time, a place among the very ablest expositions of these books. But Robinson’s contributions to biblical literature were even more profound and valuable than those of Stuart. His translation of Wahl's Clavis Philologica was superseded by his own Greek and English Lexicon of the New Testament, a work that has had incalculable influence in directing the studies of theological students and ministers, and only now gives place to the admirable Greek‑English Lexicon of the New Testament, prepared by J. H. Thayer, another American scholar.
It is noticeable that the best modern American exegesis, while not less thorough and painstaking than that of Europe, is more conservative and evangelical. There is less tendency to speculate and build up theories and hypotheses. The intense utilitarianism of American life has doubtless begotten some measure of superficialness in scholarship as well as in other things, but it has also exerted a most valuable influence in preserving the theologians of the country from the wild and useless extremes of speculation, to which not a few in other lands have been carried away.
It would require a large volume to describe even briefly the contributions to biblical interpretation which have been made within the last half‑century. The breadth and thoroughness of biblical scholarship at the present time may be inferred from the fact that there are hundreds of modern expositors, little known and read, who are far superior in learning and methods of interpretation to any of the fathers or medieval writers. We mention with highest regard such names as Alford and Ellicott and Lightfoot of England, and Stuart and Edward Robinson and J. A. Alexander, of America; and yet we should remember that there are scores of exegetes now living who easily rank with these. The historical importance of Philo and Origen and Chrysostorn and Jerome makes them much more conspicuous than these later writers, but the intrinsic value of the expositions of Scripture produced by the moderns is immeasurably superior to those of the ancients. The rationalistic critics have done great service to the science of interpretation. The suggestions of Semler, the productions of Gesenius, the critical acuteness of De Wette and Ewald, and even the works of Strauss, and Baur, and Graf, and Kuenen, have given an impulse to the scientific study of the Holy Scriptures which has already produced inestimable gain, and which promises even better for the future. For scholarly and critical assaults upon their faith have only driven the friends of evangelical religion to a deeper and better study of their sacred books. The most accomplished scholars of the world are finding in the study and elucidation of the Bible a worthy and ennobling field of labor, and are devoting their lives to it with enthusiastic delight.
1. See Ginsburg, article Scribes, in Kitto's Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature.
2. Ishmael Ben‑Elisa's Commentary on Exodus 12‑23, called Mechilta (atlkm), an allegorical treatment of various Mosaic ceremonies, and is one of tile oldest specimens of formal Jewish exposition. Ishmael Ben‑Elisa tiourished about the close of the first and the beginning of the second century of our era, and was the author of several mystic treatises which are still extant. His Mcchilta with a Latin translation is given by Ugolino in the Thesaurus Antiquitatum Sacrarum, vol. 14, Venice, 1752. A German translation of numerous ancient Midrashim is given by Wunsche, Bibliotheca. Rabbinica; eine Samnilung alter Midrashim surn ersten Male ins Deutsche uboriragen, Lpz., 1830‑1881, 12 thin vols., 8 vo.
3. The remainus of this great work were collected and published in two folio volumes by Montfaucon, Paris, 1713. Revised edition by Balirdt, Lpz., 1769‑70, 2 vols. 8 vo. It is also published in vols. 15 and 16 of Migne's Greek Patrologiae Cursus Completus, and in two line quartos by Field, Oxford, 1875.
4. De Principiis, book 4, chap. 1, 11.
5. Origen’s works have been printed in many editions. The best is that of the Benedictines De la Rue, Paris, 1733‑59, 4 vols. fol. It is reprinted in Migne's Greek Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Paris, 9 vols. English translations of the De Principiis, the Contra Celsum, and several of his epistles are given in vols. 10 and 23 of the Edinburgh Ante‑Nicene Christian Library.
6. Eccl. Hist., book 6, chap. 3.
7. So stated by Theodore the Reader, as cited in Suidas' Lexicon (Kiister's ed. vol., 1, p. 593. Cambr., 1705), under the name Diodorus. Fragments of the commentaries of Diodortis are given in vol 33 of Migne's Greek Patrologiae Cursus Completus.
8. Theodore's Commentary on the Minor Prophets was published by Mai, in vol. 7 of his Patrurn Nova Bibliotheca (Rome, 1854), and by Wegner (Berol., 1834). Fragments of his other works are given by Fritzsche, Theod. Mops., in N. Test. Comm. (Turici, 1847), and Pitra, Spicil. Solesm. (Par.. 1854). See also Sieffert, Theod. Mops. V. T. sobre interpretandi vindex, (Regiem., 1827), and Kilin, Theod. Mops. und J. Africanus als Exegeten (Fr ib., 1880).
9. History of the Christian Religion and Church, vol. 2, p. 693.
10. The best. edition of Chrysostom's works is that of Montfancon, Greek and Latin, 13 vols., Paris, 1718‑38. Reprinted 1834‑39, and also in Migne's Greek Patrology, vols. xlvii – lxiv. An English translation of many of the Homilies is given in the Oxford Library of the Fathers, 1842‑53,
11. Comp. Rosenmuller, Historia, Interpretationis Libroruin Sacrorurn vol. 4, pp. 35‑142.
12. The best edition of Theodoret's works is that of Schulze and Nosselt, 5 vols., Halle, 1769‑74. See also Migne's Greek Patrologim Cursus Completus, Vols. lxxx‑lxxxiv.
13. History of the Development of the Doctrine of the Person of Christ, div. 2, vol. 1, p. 29.
14. The best edition of the works of Ephraem Syrus is that of Assemanni in six vols., Rome, 1732‑46. Nine of the metrical homilies and thirty‑five of the Syriac hymns have been translated into English by Burgess: Select metrical Hymns and Homilies of Ephraem Syrus, London, 1853. See also Lengerke, De Ephraemi Syri arte hermeneutica, Konigsb., 1831.
15. The extant works of Hippolytus have been published in many editions, the best of which is, perhaps, that of Lagarde, Lps., 1858. An English translation is given in vols. 6 and 9 of the Edinburgh Ante‑Nicene Christian Library.
16. Jerome and his Times; article in the Bibliotheca Sacra for Feb., 1848, pp. 138, 139. The works of Jerome have been published in many forms; best edition, by Vallarsi and maffei in 11 vols., Verona, 1734‑42: reprinted, with sonic revision, Venice, 1766‑11. See also Mignes Latin Patrologiae Cursus Complenus, vol 22-33, Paris, 1845, 1846. The best treatise on Jerome is that of Zockler, Hieronymus, seiu Leben und Werken aus seinen Schriften dargestellt, Gotha, 1805.
17. Augustine's works have been printed in very many editions, the latest of which is that of Migne, in 15 vols. Paris, 1842. More sumptuous is the Benedictine. edition, in 11 folio vols. Venice, 1729-35. An English translation of his exposition of the Psalms and Gospels is given in the Oxford Library of*the Fathers, and his commentary on John, the work on Christian Doctrine, the Enchiridion, and numerous other treatises are published in Clark's Foreign Theological. Library, Edinburgh..
18. Comp. Meyer, Geschichte der Schrifterklarung seit der Wiederherstellung der Wissenschaften, vol. 1, pp. 109‑120.
19. The best edition of Lyra's Postillae is that published at Antwerp, 1634, 6 vols. fol.
20. Erasmus' works have been printed in many forms. The best edition is that of Le Clerc, in 11 vols. folio. Leyden, 1703.
21. Luther's exegetical works in Latin, edited by Elsperger, Schmid, and Irmischer, were published at Erlangen, in 23 vols. 12 mo, 1729‑44; in German, in vols. xxxiii‑Iii of his collected works as edited by Irmischer, 1843‑53.
22. Luther's Briefe, Sendschreiben u. Bedenken, ed. Do Wette, 2, 238. Comp. 2, 303,
23. Melanchthon's works, edited by Bretschneider and Bindseil, form 28 vols. of the Corpus Reformatorum. Halle and Brunswick. 1834‑60.
24. Calvin's works were published in 9 folio vols., Amsterdam, 1671 (best edition). A new edition, edited by Baum, Cunitz, and Reuss, is given in the Corpus Reformatorum, Brunswick, 1863‑87 (yet incomplete). Tholuck's edition of his New Testament Commentaries, in 7 vols. 8vo, is a very convenient one. English translation of Calvin's works in 52 vols. 8vo. Edinburgh.
25. The editio optima of Baza's New Testament was published at Cambridge (1 vol. foL, 1542), and contains his own new translation placed in a column between the Greek text on the one side and the Vulgate on the other. It is accompanied by a copious critical and exegetical commentary by the translator himself, and the commentary of Camerarius is appended to the end of the volume.
26. All the theological works of Grotins were published in three folio volumes at London, in 1679. His annotations, with a life of the author, are contained in the first two volumes. They also appear in the Critici Sacri.
27. The works of Cocceius were published at Amsterdam, 1676‑78, in 8 vols. folio, and in 1701 in 10 vols. folio.
28. History of the Church in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, vol. 1, pp. 259‑261.English translation by Hurst. New York, 1869.