Page images

logy of the New Testament. Some modern writers, and particularly Kuinoel, have made an important use of these writings in illustrating the evangelists and epistles.

The Talmud, a word which comes from a Hebrew root, signifying to teach or indoctrinate, is the great repository of the doctrines and opinions of the Jews. There are two works which bear this name, the Talmud of Jerusalem, and the Talmud of Babylon; the former of which, according to Prideaux,' was completed after the beginning of the fourth century, and the latter after the beginning of the sixth. Each of them is divided into two parts, the mishna or text, which is common to both, and the gemara or commentary. The former of these comprehends the laws, institutions, and rules of life, which, in addition to those contained in their sacred scriptures, the Jews felt themselves bound to observe; the latter is made up of the notions of learned rabbins, some of which are as wild and absurd as the mind of man can ell conceive. The mishna is useful in elucidating many passages of the New Testament, where the phraseology is similar. The justly celebrated Lightfoot has availed himself of its aid in his valuable writings on the inspired text. It may not be amiss to observe, that the Babylonish Talmud is in much the greatest repute among the Jews, and is the one intended whenever they use the word.

Among the principal Jewish commentators from whom the modern expositor may derive aid, are Maimonides, Jarchi, Aben Ezra, and Kimchi. From the works of these, much light has been thrown on some parts of the bible by some continental commentators.

Of course no one would recommend a servile adherence to the Jewish commentators, or constant consultation of their writings, when studying the sacred text. It is not worth while to enter a wilderness, unless there is some treasure there which you cannot find in the


field. The rule laid down by Ernesti is a good one for the modern commentator to follow, in reference to consulting the writings of the rabbins. “We are to seek for help,” says he, “only in those cases where it is absolutely necessary; that is, where our knowledge of the Greek and Hebrew tongues does not afford us the means of ascertaining an easy sense, and one that corresponds with the context.” The same distinguished scholar has laid it down as a rule of universal application, that we are to look into the Jewish writings for our principal information in every thing that pertains to their sacred rites, forms of teaching, and speaking; especially in the Epistle to the Romans, which evidently shows

· Prideaux's Works, Baltimore ed. 1833, Vol. I. p. 269, and Vol. II. p. 350.

[merged small][ocr errors]

its author to have been brought up at the feet of Gamaliel. He ought to have said the same, more especially, of the Epistle to the Hebrews, in which the apostle (we have no doubt as to the writer of this epistle) makes a still freer use of his Jewish learning

Some very important thoughts on the utility of rabbinical literature to an expositor of the New Testament, may be seen in a discourse by the Rev. Dr. Blomfield, himself an able critic, entitled, “A Reference to Jewish Tradition, necessary to an Interpretation of the New Testament."

The importance of being acquainted with the opinions of the Jews at the time of our Saviour, may be seen in the fact, that much of the instruction given by himself and his apostles was intended to meet existing false doctrines, or to inculcate sentiments directly opposed to those generally held by the Jews. The first nine clauses, for instance, of the Sermon on the Mount, as recorded by the Evangelist Matthew, are all antithetic to notions prevalent at the time of its delivery, and their peculiar force and propriety cannot be seen by one who has not a knowledge of these notions. We must know the peculiar form of error which he was opposing, in order to catch the broad and glowing outline of the truths which he wished to establish in their minds.

Under this general division of our subject, we might proceed, did our limits permit, to remark on the value, to an expositor of the sacred writings, of an enlarged historical acquaintance with the ancient manuscripts. These he will have frequent occasion to consult, for a variety of purposes; and a knowledge of the time when and the circumstances under which they were made, he will find of no little practical utility. The business of collation may be left to other hands.

The modern expositor will of course not fail to avail himself of the labours of the distinguished Christian writers, who have composed or collected commentaries on the scriptures, since the time of the Christian fathers, both previously and subsequently to the reformation. The works of some of the reformers, particularly of Martin Luther and John Calvin, will afford him great assistance. The commentaries of the latter of these eminent students of the sacred text, have, in our opinion, seldom, if ever, been surpassed. For comprehensiveness, and strong logical consistency, we know not who has produced their equal. Nor was the German scholar less of a philologist than logician. He shows you his skill in biblical criticism, not by unfolding to you the process of his thoughts, in arriving at the meaning of a difficult passage, but by presenting you, as by a single stroke, with the original sense, both in its local and general bearings and connections. Scaliger said that no commentator

[ocr errors]

had better hit the sense of the prophets, than Calvin. His commentaries on the epistles, no one who has read them will pronounce otherwise than able. An edition of his writings on the New Testament has recently been published in Germany under the superintendence of Professor Tholuck, who we hope will be induced to bring out, as soon as possible, and in a convenient form, his commentaries on some of the most difficult parts of the Old Testament. Calvin on the Psalms, Isaiah, and Zechariah, would find a considerable sale, even in an American market.

It is further essential to the sacred commentator, that he be, in a greater or less degree, a theologian. By this we do not mean that he must be deeply read in what, at the present day, are termed systerns of theology, the less of which he knows perhaps the better, but that he should have carefully examined, for himself, the doctrines of the bible in their logical and practical connections, and have cemented them together in his own mind, if we may use the expression, by a general and consistent philosophy. Let not the reader be startled at the word philosophy in this connection. Every man who reads the bible understandingly must be able, in a general sense, to see the consistency, not only of one part with another, but also of each of its doctrines with the others; and that system of reason by which he vindicates to his own mind the consistency and unity of these doctrines, we call his philosophy. The interpreter should be able to see a unity in the principles of the word of God, and the general adaptation of all its truths to one designed result

. The more he knows of the character and ways of God, as they are revealed in his providence, the more likely will he be to put a right interpretation upon his written word.' The mind of the Eternal is one, whether it be disclosed in nature or in revelation; and the man that has studied it in the one, will more readily discover and understand it in the other.

The phrase, analogy of faith, is a good one, by which to express the unity of the system of religious truth contained in the bible, and should not be laid aside, simply because its meaning has been misunderstood, and its principles misapplied by certain writers.

The importance of attending to analogy of faith, in its proper sense, in interpreting different parts of the inspired volume, is too obvious to require consideration ; since if we take isolated passages by themselves, and construe them according to the strict, unmodified signification of the words, without any regard to what is taught in other passages, we might quote scripture by chapter and verse to support almost any error or imagination of our own. The German rationalist, who rejects the idea that the sacred writers were infallibly guided by inspiration, may con

sistently take the liberty to array some passages against others, in proof of the limited and mistaken views of the several writers; but the man that believes that it was the Spirit of God that dictated to them both how and what they should record, will not be satisfied that he has arrived at the true sense of a passage, till he can perceive, not only its local appropriateness, but its general bearing upon and its harmony with other apparently conflicting passages.

Some commentators have made strange work with scripture, by attempting to bring the sacred writings to their own standard of belief, or force them within the limits of their own previously formed creed. They have come to Paul, or John, or Peter, with a system of faith already matured in their mind, and with the adroitness of a barrister, who can use a statute for one purpose to-day, and, with as good a countenance, for its opposite to-morrow, have made the language of inspiration conform to their own preconceived and erroneous opinions. This has probably been the source of most of the doctrinal errors which infest the majority of commentaries. The writers have come to the book of God, not to learn from thence the beautiful and harmonious system of divine truth, which is there given to the world, but to find something there, by which they might corroborate the sentiments which they had previously imbibed, and which they now wish to defend. They have first built their house, and then sought the authority of inspiration as a rock on which it might stand. The interpreter who, at the outset, denies that the sacred writers were inspired, and so cares not what they teach, as he can correct their errors by his own reason, is certainly not less to be trusted for a true meaning of their words, than one who, though he acknowledges their infallibility, has equal or greater confidence in the infallibility of the creed he has formed without their aid.

Another requisite in the sacred cominentator, which should not be overlooked, is that he be well versed in the nature and laws of figurative language. No writers have made a freer or bolder use of the various figures of speech, than the sacred penmen. The bible was intended principally as a book of instruction ; but this did not prevent the writers from employing the language of a rich and glowing imagination, whenever their purpose could be better accomplished by it, than by the use of literal expression. They often choose to teach in symbols, because, by so doing, they are more sure to reach the heart. This is the case, not only in the Old Testament, but also in many parts of the New. The language of Christ and his apostles is often highly figurative, and must be interpreted accordingly.

[ocr errors]

Several reasons may be assigned, why the sacred writers so frequently employ figurative language to express truth, which we should choose to express by literal. From the country and age of the world in which they lived, and their general habits of life, their imaginations were naturally more vivid than ours; their language was less copious, and of course they were compelled to depart further from the literal meaning of words to express their thoughts; and besides, the subjects on which they treat, are, many of them, such as we are obliged to approach through the meaning of figurative language. All language, as metaphysicians tell us, has primary reference to sensible realities, and hence, when we speak of truths which cannot be directly apprehended by, nor communicated through the senses, we must do it by a new or figurative application of expressions already formed for a different purpose.

The writer who is accustomed to present his thoughts in a figurative style, and while he enlightens the intellect by direct and forcible instruction, quickens the imagination of his reader by beautiful and glowing images, we usually denominate poetic. And we cannot here refrain from saying that, in our estimation, no book is so full of deep and genuine poetry as the bible. We would not even except the immortal works of the father of Grecian song. We now speak, not so much of the poetry of words, as of thought. The sacred writers, whether they compose in prose or in verse, are accustomed to think in poetry. Imagination gives a hue to all their most common conceptions ; they live and move, not in the cold region of philosophy, but in the region of the poetic; they view and speak of things, as they appear to a plain, susceptible mind, trained in the school of nature and religion, and not as they are viewed and represented by one who has been taught to bring all creation into subjection to “cold material laws." This predominance of poetic feeling they could hardly avoid. They could not wander over the hills and bathe in the streams of their native Palestine, and tend upon their flocks, and gaze at night upon the full moon or twinkling stars, as they looked forth from the firmament in their beauty, and witness the frequent rush of the cataract from the mountains, without an excitement of their feelings. Their sensibilities could not sleep amid such scenes and objects to arouse them. Their habitual feelings must of course impress themselves upon their pages, where they now suffice to teach us, of a distant age and country, how coldly prosaic the world has become.

It is now generally admitted, not only that the sacred writings are vitally pervaded by a spirit of poetry, but that large portions of the Old Testament, in addition to the writings of David and Solomon, were originally and designedly composed

« PreviousContinue »