« ZurückWeiter »
1. Wholly spiritual or figurative; as Cocceius, and those foreign commentators who have followed his system, viz. that the Scripture is every where to be taken in the fullest sense it will admit; and in our own country, Dr. Gill, Dr. Hawker, and some minor writers.
2. Literal and Critical: such as Ainsworth, Wetstein, Dr. Blayney, Bishop Patrick, Lowth, and Whitby, Calmet, Chais, Bishop Lowth, Archbishop Newcome, Wall, Dr. Campbell, Dr. Priestley, and others. 3. Wholly practical: as Musculus, Zuingle, Baxter, Henry, Ostervald, Dr. Fawcett, the "Reformer's Bible," &c. &c.
4. Those who unite critical, philological, and practical observations such are the commentaries of Dr. Dodd, Bishop Mant and Dr. D'Oyly, Poole, Scott, M. Martin, Dr. A. Clarke, Mr. Benson, &c. on the entire Bible; and the paraphrases of Pyle, and of Mr. Orton, on the Old Testament; on the New Testament, Dr. S. Clarke and Pyle, Dr. Doddridge, Mr. Locke, Dr. Benson, Dr. Macknight; Mr. Gilpin on the New Testament, &c. &c.
A more correct classification of expository writings may be into scholiasts, commentators and paraphrasts: whose united design is, to lead their readers to the right understanding of the author whom they undertake to explain. Hence their province is, to illustrate obscure passages, to reconcile apparent contradictions, to obviate difficulties, whether verbal or real, and, in short, to remove every thing that may tend to excite doubts in the minds of the readers of the Bible.
II. Scholia, are short explanatory notes on the sacred writers; whose authors, termed scholiasts, particularly aim at brevity. In this kind of expository writings, obscure words and phrases are explained by such as are more clear; figurative, by such as are proper; and the genuine force of each word and phrase is pointed out. Further, the allusions to antient manners and customs are illustrated, and whatever light may be thrown upon the sacred writer from history or geography, is carefully concentrated, and concisely expressed : nor does the scholiast fail to select and introduce the principal and most valuable various readings, whose excellence, antiquity, and genuineness, to the best of his judgment, give them a claim to be noticed. The discordant interpretations of difficult passages are stated and examined, and the most probable one is pointed out. These various topics, however, are rather touched upon, than treated at length: though no material passages are (or at least ought to be) left unnoticed, yet some very obscure and difficult passages are left to be discussed and expounded by more learned men. Such was the method, according to which the antient scholiasts composed their scholia, for illustrating Homer, Sophocles, Aristophanes, Horace, Virgil, and other Greek and Latin classics: and the same mode has been adopted by those Christian writers who have written scholia on the Bible.1
1 Somewhat similar to Scholia are the questions or inquiries concerning particular books of Scripture, which were composed by antient ecclesiastical writers: they differ from Scholia in this respect, that questions are exclusively confined to the consideration of some difficult passages only, whose meaning was at that time an object of discussion while it is the design of Scholia to notice every difficult or
III. The various topics, which engage the attention of the scholiast, are also discussed, but more at length, by Commentators; whose observations form a series of perpetual annotations on the sacred writers, and who point out more clearly the train of their thoughts, as well as the coherence of their expressions. The commentator therefore not only furnishes summaries of the argument, but also resolves the expressions of his author into their several parts, and shows in what respects they agree, as well as where they are apparently at variance. He further weighs and examines different passages, that admit of different interpretations; and while he offers his own views, he confirms them by proper arguments or proofs, and solves any doubts which may attend his own interpretation. Further, a judicious commentator will avoid all prolix, extraneous, and unnecessary discussions, as well as far-fetched explanations, and will bring every philological aid to bear upon passages that are in any degree difficult or obscure. Commentators ought not to omit, a single passage that possesses more than ordinary difficulty, though the contrary is the case with many, who expatiate very copiously on the more easy passages of Scripture, while they scarcely touch on those which are really difficult, if they do not altogether omit to treat of them. In a word, it is the commentator's province to remove every difficulty that can impede the biblical reader, and to produce whatever can facilitate his studies, by rendering the sense of the sacred writings more clear and easy to be apprehended.
IV. A Paraphrase is an exposition of the same thing in other words: the paraphrast, therefore, differs from the commentator in this respect, viz. that whatever is fully explained by the latter in his perpetual annotations, the former expounds by rendering the whole discourse, as well as every expression, of the sacred writer in equivalent terms; so that what is obscure is thus rendered more perspicuous, in one continued and unbroken narrative. Provided the integrity of his author's sense be observed, the paraphrast is at liberty to abridge what is narrated at length, to enlarge on what is written with brevity, to supply supposed omissions, to fill up chasms, to illustrate obscure and apparently involved passages, by plain, clear, and neatly turned expressions, to connect passages which seem too far asunder, or not disposed in order either of time or subject, and to arrange the whole in a regular series. These, indeed, it must be admitted, are important liberties, not to be taken with the Scriptures by any paraphrast without the utmost caution, and even then only in the most sparing manner. Paraphrases have been divided by Professor Rambach, and other writers on the interpretation of the Bible, into two classes-historical and textual. In the former class of paraphrases, the argument of a book or chapter is pursued historically; and the paraphrast endeavours to give his author's meaning in perspicuous
obscure passage with brevity and perspicuity. Augustine, among other biblical treatises, wrote two books of Quæstiones Evangelica, on the Gospels of Saint Matthew and Saint Luke.
1 Rambachii Institutiones Hermeneuticæ, pp. 706, 707.
language. In the latter instance, the paraphrast assumes, as it were, the person of the sacred writer, closely pursues the thread of his discourse, and aims at expressing every word and phrase, though in circumscribed limits, yet in terms that are both clear and obvious to the capacities of his readers. Hence it would appear, that a paraphrase is the most difficult species of expository writing; and, as the number of paraphrasts on the Scriptures is, comparatively, small, (probably from this circumstance,) the ingenious classification of them proposed by Rambach is not sufficiently important to render it necessary that we should form them into a separate class of interpreters. It is of infinitely greater moment to Bible readers, when purchasing works of this description, that they select those which are neither too prolix nor too expensive, and whose authors avoid every thing like party-spirit; neither extolling beyond measure any thing antient, merely because it is of remote antiquity, nor evincing a spirit of dogmatical innovation; but who, "rightly dividing the word of truth," while they express themselves in clear and perspicuous terms, show themselves to be well skilled both in the theory and application of sound principles of scriptural interpretation, and who have diligently availed themselves of every internal and external aid for ascertaining the sense of the sacred writers.
V. Closely allied to commentaries are the collections of Observations illustrative of the sacred writings, which have been formed of late years, and require to be consulted with similar cautions, and in the same manner. These books of observations are either grammatical and philological, or miscellaneous; sometimes they discuss only a few passages which are peculiarly difficult and obscure, and some times they appear in the form of a grammatical and philological commentary, following the order of the sacred books. On this account as well as to facilitate reference, we have classed them with expositions of the Bible; of the best editions of all these, the reader will find some account in No. VI. of the Appendix to this volume, occasionally interspersed with concise bibliographical and critical observations.
VI. Opinions widely different have been entertained respecting the utility and advantage resulting from commentaries, annotations, and other expositions of the sacred writings. By some, who admire nothing but their own meditations, and who hold all human helps in contempt, commentaries are despised altogether, as tending to found our faith on the opinions of men rather than on the divine oracles: while others, on the contrary, trusting exclusively to the expositions of some favourite commentators, receive as infallible whatever views or opinions they may choose to deliver, as their expositions of the Bible. The safest way in this case, as in all others, is to take the middle path, and occasionally to avail ourselves of the labours of commentators and expositors, while we diligently investigate the Scriptures for ourselves, without relying exclusively on our own wisdom, or being fascinated by the authority of an eminent name.
The late eminent divine and theological tutor, Dr. Campbell, was
of opinion that the Bible should be first read and studied without a commentary; but his advice was addressed to students who were previously acquainted with the originals: and though the design of the present work is to facilitate to studious inquirers the understanding of the Scriptures, yet the author presumes not to suppose that his labours will supersede the necessity of commentaries; or that he can furnish them with all that information which renders such works desirable to the generality of Bible readers. A sensible writer has observed, that the Bible is a learned book, not only because it is written in the learned languages, but also as containing allusions to various facts, circumstances, or customs of antiquity, which, to a common and unlettered reader, require explanation. So far, indeed, as relates to the way of salvation, "he that runs may read :" but there are many important points, if not of the first importance, in which we may properly avail ourselves of the labours of inquirers who have preceded us; especially in clearing difficulties, answering objections, and reconciling passages which at first sight appear contradictory.
Further, "the Bible is a large book, and we are under no small obligations to those who have collated its different parts-the New Testament with the Old, the prophetic with the historical books, &c.; and to reject their assistance, in making the Scriptures their own interpreter, is to throw away the labours of many ages. As well might we reject all our historians, and insist on believing nothing but what we derive immediately from state papers, original records, or other documents, on which all history is founded." Once more, "the Bible is intended as a directory for our faith and practice. Now to have an experienced friend who has long been in the habit of perusing it with patient study and humble prayer,—to have such a friend at hand, to point out in every chapter what may be useful or important, and especially to disclose its latent beauties, may be no less desirable and useful, than it is, when travelling in a foreign country, to have with us a companion who has passed the same route, and is acquainted both with the road, and with the objects most worthy of notice. It is granted, however, that there are extremes; and that it is no less wrong to place implicit confidence in commentators, than it is to treat them with contempt: to derive advantage from them, we should treat them as commentators only, and not as inspired writers."
VII. The use to be made of interpreters and commentators is twofold:
FIRST, that we may acquire from them a method of interpreting the Scriptures correctly.
It is not sufficient that we be enabled rightly to understand the Bible ourselves, but it is essentially necessary that those who are destined for the sacred office should be able to explain it with facility, and also to communicate its sense and meaning with perspicuity to others. As, however, this faculty is not to be attained merely by studying rules for the interpretation of the Scriptures, habitual and constant practice must be superadded; and it will further prove of singular advan tage to place before us some good expositors, as models for our imitation. In order to accomplish this desirable object, we must not accumulate and read every inter
1 The Christian Reader's Guide, by Thomas Williams, part i. p. 82.
preter and commentator indiscriminately, but should select one or two, or a few at most, of acknowledged character for learning and piety; and, by frequent perusal of them, as well by studying their manner of expounding, should endeavour to form ourselves after them, until we are completely masters of their method. But the reading of commentaries will further assist us.
SECONDLY, to understand whatever passages appear to us to be difficult and obscure.
It is not to be denied that there are many passages in the sacred writings both difficult and obscure, in consequence of the various times when the different books were written, the different topics of which they treat, and their allusions to antient customs, &c. The helps, by which most of these difficulties may be removed, have already been stated in the course of the present work. But we cannot suppose that the solitary and unassisted researches even of the most learned expositor are adequate to the removal of every difficulty, or to the elucidation of every obscurity, or that he is not liable to mistake the sense of the sacred penman. By the united labours, however, of many learned and pious men, of different ages and countries, we are put in possession of accumulated information relative to the Bible; so that we may derive large accessions of important knowledge from the judicious use of the writings of commentators and expositors.
VIII. In order, then, that we may avail ourselves of their valuable labours to the utmost advantage, the following hints are submitted to the consideration of the reader.
1. We should take care that the reading of commentators does not draw us away from studying the Scriptures for ourselves, from investigating their real meaning, and meditating on their important contents.
This would be to frustrate the very design for which commentaries are written, namely, to facilitate our labours, to direct us aright where we are in danger of falling into error, to remove doubts and difficulties which we are ourselves unable to solve, to reconcile apparently contradictory passages, and, in short, to elucidate whatever is obscure or unintelligible to us. In the first instance, therefore, no commentators should be consulted until we have previously investigated the sacred writings for ourselves, making use of every grammatical and historical help, comparing the scope, context, parallel passages, the analogy of faith, &c.; and even then commentaries should be resorted to only for the purpose of explaining what was not sufficiently clear or of removing our doubts. This method of studying the sacred volume will, unquestionably, prove a slow one; but the student wil proceed with certainty; and, if he have patience and resolution enough to persevere in it, he will ultimately attain greater proficiency in the knowledge of the Scriptures, than those who, disregarding this method, shall have recourse wholly to assistances of other kinds. From the mode of study here recommended, many advantages will result. In the first place, the mind will be gradually accustomed to habits of meditation: without which we cannot reasonably hope to attain ever a moderate, much less a profound knowledge of the Bible; secondly, those truths will be more readily as well as indelibly impressed on the memory, which have thus been "marked, learned, and inwardly digested" in the mind by silent thought and reflexion;— and, thirdly, by pursuing this method, we shall perceive our own progress in sacred literature more readily, than if (like idle drones in a bee-hive) we devour and exhaust the stores provided by the care and labour of others.1
2. We should not inconsiderately assent to the interpretation of any expositor or commentator, or yield a blind and servile obedience to his authority.
The canon given by Saint Paul (1 Thess. v. 21.) — Prove all things, hold fast that which is good, is therefore particularly worthy of our notice: for, since ne man is an infallible judge of the sense of Scripture, not only the expositions given by commentators ought to be carefully examined, but we should also particularly investigate the proofs by which they support their interpretations, uninfluenced by the celebrity of their names, the semblance of ingenuity and novelty, the ap
1 Bauer, Herm. Sacr. p. 302. Steph. Gausseni Dissertatio de Ratione Studii Theologici, pp. 25, 26. Dr. Henry Owen's Directions for young Students in Di vinity, p. 37. 5th edit.