« PreviousContinue »
ular creed. It is true, that we have many at least ingenious conjectures on the Greek Testament, which come not within this description. But even such conjectures should never be received in the text. If one kind were admitted, it might be difficult to exclude another, since the line of discrimination is not always apparent. Thus the Bible would cease to be a common standard; it would assume as many forms, as there are Christian parties. Now that edition of the Greek Testament, which above all others deserves the name of a critical edition, is founded on this avowed principle, Nil mutetur e conjectura.
I have been more diffuse on this subject, than the present Lecture would otherwise require, lest any one should have imbibed a prejudice against that branch of Theology, to which I have assigned the foremost rank.
Having thus properly prepared ourselves for the study of the Bible, and having procured the best critical editions of it, we may then proceed to its exposi. tion, or interpretation. For this purpose we must obtain a knowledge of various subjects, which have reference either to the Old or to the New Testament. We must study what may be comprised under the general name of Jewish Antiquities: nor must we neglect to obtain similar information in regard to other nations, who are recorded in the Bible, whether it relate to their civil, or.to their religious establishments. Thc state of literature, the peculiar modes of thinking, the influence of false philosophy, either on the Jews, or on their neighbours, we likewise subjects, which demand
our attention. A knowledge of history, as far as it regards the Bible, is also necessary, not merely to elucidate the historical, but to explain the prophetical parts. And, in aid of history, it is further necessary that we should understand biblical chronology, and biblical geography. On all these subjects we are so well provided with information, through the industry of our predecessors, in works hereafter to be mention. ed, that a knowledge of these subjects is more easily attainable, than the apparent extent of them might induce us to suppose.
But the qualification, next to be mentioned, as necessary for a good interpreter of the Bible is not of so easy attainment, namely, the knowledge of some fixed rule or principle, by which we may direct our judgments, amid the discordant interpretations of biblical commentators. That all men should agree in adopting one rule of interpretation, is no more to be expected, than that all men should agree in one religious creed. The very first principle of interpretation, namely that the real meaning of a passage is its literal or grammatical meaning, that, as the writer himself intended to apply it, so and no otherwise the reader must take it, this principle, from which no expounder of any other work would knowingly depart, is expressly rejected by many commentators on the Bible, not only among the Jews, who set the example in their Targums, but also among Christians, who have followed that example in their comments and paraphrases. It would be foreign to the present Lecture to discuss the question, whether it is allowable in our interpretation
of the Bible, to depart in some cases from the principle, just mentioned. But if it be allowable, this de. parture must be made at least with consistency; it must not be made, till the divine authority of the Bible is already established, for on that ground only can we defend the adoption of other rules.
Now we must learn to understand the Bible, before we can judge of its pretensions to divine authority. But if, while we are ascertaining the justice of these pretensions, we apply rules of interpretation, which, if applicable at all, can be applicable only, when those pretensions are confirmed, we are continually moving in a circle, and never find an end. It is not sufficient, that a proposition be true, to warrant our arguing from the truth of it: we must not only know it to be true, but we must be able to prove it independently of the proposition, to which we apply it. If in geometry the proposition, that the square of the hypothenuse equals the squares of the sides, would, though indisputably true, be thought absurdly applied to demonstrate the properties of parallel lines, because these properties must be established before that proposition can be proved, shall we argue less logically in our religious inquiries, shall we think it allowable, where our eternal welfare is concerned, to proceed less rigidly in our researches, than in cases of tempo. ral moment, or in matters of mere speculation? If it be true then (what no one will deny), that internal evidence is necessary to establish the divine authority of the Bible, if that internal evidence is nothing more, than the application of its contents to a particular oh.
ject, and this application requires, that those contents should be understood, it is manifest, that we must learn to interpret them, at least in the first instance, by the rules, which are applied to the interpretation of other works. Even if we admit that every word, as well as every thought, was inspired, yet as the object of revelation is not to perplex but to enlighten, we must still conclude, that the words, which are used in Scripture, are there used in the acceptation, which was common in the intercourse between man and man.
When by the means above-mentioned we have acquired due information in respect to any portion of Scripture, for instance, the Five books of Moses, or the Four Gospels, we are then qualified, if not to investigate for ourselves, at least to study the investigations, which have been made by others, in respect to the authenticity of those books, that is, whether they were written by the authors, to whom they are ascribed. This is the plain question, which we must ask before we go further, Did such a person write such a book, or did he not? It is a mere historical question, which must be determined, partly by external, and partly by internal evidence. But great confusion has taken place on this subject, by intermixing matter, with which it has no necessary connexion. When the fact, that the first of our four Gospels, for instance, was written by St. Matthew, has been once establish. ed by historical and critical arguments, (which historical and critical arguments must be applied precisely as we would apply them to a profane author) it will follow of itself, that the Gospel was inspired, when we come to the subject of inspiration, and shew, that the author, whose work we have already proved it to be, had received the promise of the Holy Spirit. But if we investigate the two subjects at the same time, if we intermix the question of inspiration with the question of authenticity, we shall probably establish nei. ther. In fact, the two questions are so distinct, that we cannot even begin with the one, till we have ended with the other. Before the point has been ascertained, whether this Gospel was written by St. Matthew, or by an impostor in his name, there is no ground even for asking, whether it was written by inspiration; for in the latter case it would not be Scripture. It is obvious therefore, that in our inquiries into the au. thenticity of the sacred writings, the subject of inspi. ration must be left for future discussion.
When we have established the authenticity of the sacred writings, that is, when we have established the historical fact, that they were written by the authors, to whom they are ascribed, the next point to be ascertained is, the credit due to their accounts. And here we must be careful to guard against a petitio principii, to which very many writers on this subject have exposed themselves, If we assert, that the narratives, for instance, in the New Testament are therefore entitled to credit, because the writers were prevented by divine assistance from falling into mate. rial error, we assert indeed what is true; but it is a truth, which we can no more apply in the present stage of our inquiry, than we can apply the last propo.