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Hermeneutics Unit Two

Hermeneutics Unit Three

Hermeneutics Unit Four

Hermeneutics Unit Five

Hermeneutics Unit Six



                     Trinity College of Biblical Studies-Free Online Bible College


A survey of hermeneutical theory discussing  how author, text, and reader work together as meaning emerges from a text. These insights will then be applied to the Bible, giving the student an interpretive strategy for exegete biblical texts and bringing their meaning into the modern world


This module will start by taking a general approach to the art of biblical hermeneutics, and will explore some of the factors that shape interpretation: the pre-history and writing context of an ancient text; the substance of the text, and its place within the biblical canon; the text’s subsequent use, both in and beyond the church; and the reader’s own conceptual, social and material environment and commitments. These general issues will be embodied in the study of the interpretation of a certain range of Biblical texts. Where appropriate, key developments in hermeneutical theory. In this regard, issues such as authority, meaning, genre, and the orality-textuality relationship will be discussed both generally and in relation to specific passages. The interpretive roles and rights of members of the class will be taken seriously, and we shall attempt throughout to connect the Bible to the current life and context of the Christian church, and to the broader disciplines of pastoral theology.

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On successful completion of this module students will be able to:-

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of a variety of hermeneutical approaches which relate Biblical Studies and Pastoral Theology.

  2. Demonstrate a critical awareness of a range of ways of interpreting a Biblical text, and in particular the set texts for the module

  3. Identify and consider how theological issues arise from a text, with reference to specific issues which arise from the set texts.

  4. Discuss critically the possibilities and difficulties of relating study of biblical texts to a twenty-first century context, and in particular a contemporary pastoral context, and discuss whether and how biblical texts and concepts can be interpreted in the twenty-first century.

  5. Discuss critically how the issues raised by the texts studied might be related to a twenty-first century understanding of Christian ministry, and to their own life setting.

  6. Demonstrate Expository Preaching

Assessment Method

3 Sermons with outlines

1. Salvation Sermon

2. Expository Sermon

3. A Theme of your own


Click on link for Commentary of the whole Bible

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Click on links to  Listen to Lectures

Listen now to 'Book of 1st Corinthians KJV Audio'Expository Preaching

Listen now to 'Book of 1st Corinthians KJV Audio'Expository Preaching 2

Listen now to 'Book of 1st Corinthians KJV Audio'Expository Preaching 3

Listen now to 'Book of 1st Corinthians KJV Audio'Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics

Listen now to 'Book of 1st Corinthians KJV Audio'Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics 2

Listen now to 'Book of 1st Corinthians KJV Audio'Grammatical-Historical Method of Biblical Hermeneutics

Listen now to 'Book of 1st Corinthians KJV Audio'The use of scriptures in hermeneutics Quotations

Listen now to 'Book of 1st Corinthians KJV Audio'The use of scriptures in hermeneutics Quotations 2

Listen now to 'Book of 1st Corinthians KJV Audio'Parables in Scripture

Listen now to 'Book of 1st Corinthians KJV Audio'Parables in Scripture 2

Listen now to 'Book of 1st Corinthians KJV Audio'The preservation of Old Testament Scriptures

Listen now to 'Book of 1st Corinthians KJV Audio'The Preservation of NT Scriptures

Listen now to 'Book of 1st Corinthians KJV Audio'Types in Scripture

Listen now to 'Book of 1st Corinthians KJV Audio'The Literal and the Figurative


D. R. Dungan
                                                          Hermeneutics: A Text-Book (1888)



      SEC. 1. OUR SUBJECT DEFINED.--Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation. It is derived from the Greek Hermes, the messenger of the gods and the interpreter of Jupiter. Every Hermeneus was, therefore, an interpreter, as he was supposed to inherit some of the mystic qualities of this god of philology, this patron of eloquence. Sacred hermeneutics is the science of interpreting the Scriptures. Exegesis (from ex, out, and egeisthas, to guide or lead), means to lead out. It is the application of the principles of hermeneutics in bringing out the meaning of any writing which might otherwise be difficult to understand.


      (1.) The Bible to be used as other books.--An interpreter implies a misunderstanding, between two parties, or, at least, a liability to such a misunderstanding. And it is at once objected that if the Bible is of God, it should be so plain that no one could misunderstand it; that, if God could give us such a book, and would not, He was certainly to blame. But if He would, but could not, He is not [1] perfect in wisdom or ability to execute. This logic is not good. We might as well say that if God is the Author of Nature, its meaning should be so apparent that all would perfectly understand it, and therefore, understand it alike. And yet we know that our scientists are quite disagreed about many things in nature, and that the great masses of men are in ignorance, almost from first to last, respecting the whole question. God has, therefore, made it necessary to study nature in order to get its lessons. Geology, astronomy, physiology, etc., etc., are known only to those who study them. It is reasonable, therefore, that He should make it necessary to study His word.

      (2.) The weakness is with, man.--Man is fallible, and his judgment is very imperfect. Nothing has ever been written which has been understood by all alike. (a) Our laws are made by, our wisest and most careful men; they are made with special reference to the people for whom they are intended, so that no man may be misguided respecting his duty, and no criminal go unpunished. And yet our shrewdest lawyers and ablest jurists are in doubt as to the meaning of much of our law. (b) Not only so, but the creeds that have been wrought out by the ablest and purest of men, are variously interpreted. Churches wrangle and divide over them. Leading divines differ widely as to the meaning of many of the articles, while the common people have not even the most indistinct idea of their original intent. We can not say that these were not plainly written, in the first place. And, perhaps for the first quarter of a century after any one of these was published, all parties were agreed as to the import of its articles. But age has come, custom has changed, religious sentiment has veered, [2] words and forms have become obsolete, or have changed their meaning: hence the many interpretations. Man misunderstands his fellow man, and even himself, and is competent to misinterpret the Lord also.

      (3.) God does not inspire the interpretation.--It is sometimes supposed still that the Holy Spirit directs men in their inquiries after truth, so that no hurtful mistake can be made. But we know that the very best of men differ very widely in their views of the word of the Lord. We know, too, that these men make their investigations a matter of daily prayer. And knowing that truth is never contradictory, that error is dangerous and injurious, that very pious men are permitted to blunder in reference to the meaning of the Scripture, we feel assured that, whatever helps the Lord may see proper to give His servants in their efforts to understand the Bible, he does not guide them by inspiration, or the mistakes which are now made would not occur.

      (4.) Divine wisdom has adopted the word-method of revelation.--This being true, it is implied that all the weaknesses which belong to such a medium of communication were adopted at the same time. There would be no reason in giving a revelation which would need inspiration to interpret. If the inspiration has to be given, there is no need of the word itself. The inspiration would make known all the truth as well without the word as with it. Indeed, it would be better to have the inspiration alone than to have a faulty word revelation, which might mislead those why have not the needed inspiration. While the word would be of no practical value whatever, it might do a great deal of harm. Better that God had never given it, since its only power is to deceive. But when He made choice between a [3] direct revelation to every one, and the selection of a few who should be the teachers of the many, He chose the latter. Hence to those whom He has chosen as His revelators, must we look for a knowledge of the divine will.

      It does not change the question to claim that a few men are now chosen to interpret that word. We must have some means of knowing that they are favored above the common people in thus being divinely endowed. And since those who have equal claims to a special call to this work differ widely respecting very important matters, we are incredulous respecting these exalted assumptions. The truth is, their claims are not sustained. Besides, there is no reason that God should give special inspiration to interpreters now. He has no other truth now to reveal, nor can He make it any plainer than He did when He gave us the Bible. The words of the men whom He now inspires, if there are any, are as difficult to understand as the words of the men He inspired eighteen hundred years ago. If we can not understand those, how shall we understand these?

      The ancients supposed that they must look to the law and the testimony for a knowledge of the will of the Lord, and that the truth was to be had by the same methods of study that were applied to any other branches of knowledge.

      Ezra vii. 10: "For Ezra had set his heart to seek the law of the Lord and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments."

      Deut. xxix. 29: "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that. we may do all the words of this law." Nehemiah viii. 1-8 shows how they had to learn [4] the law, Ezra reads the law from morning till noon, and is assisted by chosen men, who go among the people and explain to them the meaning of any words which they did not understand.

      From Psa. i. 1, 2; xix. 7; cxix. 39-105 we shall get David's idea of coming to the knowledge of the will of the Lord. They must read that word, study it day and night, get all its precepts in the mind in this way, and then may they assure themselves that they have more knowledge than the ancients--than all their teachers.

      Jesus makes Abraham say to the rich man, respecting his five brothers: "They have Moses and the prophets; . . . if they hear not Moses and the prophets neither will they be persuaded, if one rise from the dead" (Luke xvi. 29-31).

      Paul holds this view of the question. He says to Timothy, that although he has known the Holy Scriptures from his childhood, which were able to make him wise unto salvation, he must study to show himself approved unto God, a workman that needed not to be ashamed, rightly setting forth the word of truth. Hence he must give attention to reading, to, exhortation, to teaching.


      (1.) A wrong interpretation is not the only cause of divisions.--That the followers of Christ should be one, does not admit of a doubt. Jesus prayed for the unity of all those who should believe on him through the word of the apostles. The apostles condemned divisions on all occasions; even in an incipient form, they were regarded as being carnal, and proceeding from hearts not [5] in unison with the will of Christ. Men who were division-makers were regarded as unworthy of a place in the church, and after the first and second admonitions were to be avoided. They were spoken of as not serving the Lord Jesus, but their own passions. But while we regard carnality, in the form of unsanctified ambition, as the great cause of the divisions that now serve to mar the beauty of Zion and destroy the peace and power of the kingdom of Christ, it is not the only cause.

      (2.) Selfish ambition can not be removed by rules of interpretation.--Even in the days of the apostles, in the presence of divine inspiration, in the presence of the divine authority which had been committed to the chosen twelve, ambitious men rose up to draw away disciples after them, ready to make merchandise of them. Even then the mystery of iniquity was secretly at work. The desire for place and power led men then to adopt the claim of sanctity, that they might gain a leadership which could come to them in no other way. It would be idle to undertake to prevent men from being hypocrites, from loving this present world, or from seeking their own, and not the things of Jesus Christ, by rules of interpretation. Sound exegesis can have but little effect on such conditions of the heart. But when we are not able to change the goods, we may do something in changing the market. A correct hermeneutics may do something toward rendering it impossible for these men to continue their work of deception. If we could bring all the followers of Christ to a common interpretation of the word of God, the power to create divisions would certainly be gone.

      (3.) All divisions, however, are not the result of ambition, carnality, or a sectarian spirit.--Among the purest [6] and best of earth, there are many differences of faith and practice. They can not be accounted for upon the basis of dishonesty, nor upon the ground of general ignorance, for these divisions in the church contain men of equal learning. Of course, many of these learned men were born in their particular views, and all their study in the Scriptures has been to sustain these tenets, and in their maintenance there may be the spice of dishonesty. Still, the unfairness that comes from the prejudice of early training will not account for the many conflicting faiths among the followers of Christ.

      (4.) The Bible is not at fault.--Skepticism to-day feeds and fattens on the divided state of the Christian world. It declares that the book which we regard as God-given is to blame for all this misunderstanding. Skeptics charge that the Bible either teaches doctrines which are contradictory, or that they are so obscure that a man is about as liable to make one thing of them as another. This we can not admit. If the Bible is of God, it does not contradict itself, nor is it so obscure in its teaching that those who are seeking the way of life can not understand it. We reason that God gave man such a book as he needed, and that man needed a book which, with honest effort, he could understand; hence, if the Bible is God's book, it can be understood by all those who wish to know the way of eternal life.

      (5.) The method of interpretation is to blame for much of the inharmony which now exists.--It is evident to every student of the times, that the great body of Protestant Christians want unity; that they deplore the divisions which now disfigure the church and retard the progress of the truth; that divisions are not sufficiently accounted for upon the basis of dishonesty; and we can [7] not admit that the Bible is at fault in the matter: hence there is nothing else that we can say but that our manner of interpreting the word of God is wrong. These facts compel the thought that he who can bring before the world a correct system of interpretation, will do more to heal the divisions than any other man of this century.


      (1.) A wrong interpretation is not the only cause of unbelief.--Much of the infidelity of the age is the result of impure hearts and bad lives. Many men have made themselves opposite to the purity of the gospel of Christ, and so have gone beyond the limits of the faith-condition of the mind. Men may cultivate distrust in their fellows till it is impossible for them to trust themselves to the virtue and honesty of any one. Skepticism is a plant that may be grown, nay, that is grown. It is suited well to a barren soil, and luxuriates in afoul heart. Many things are believed because men wish them to be true, while others are disbelieved for a like reason. In such cases, it would matter but little what the evidence might be, they would not accept of the gospel.

      (2.) But false interpretation is a strong support of unbelief.--Some one has well said that "the Bible is its own best defense." But in order that it may be any defense at all, its teachings must be understood; and this can never be without a correct knowledge of the principles of interpretation. Before we assume that Geology and Genesis are at variance, we ought to be absolutely certain that we have accurately interpreted both. For the want of a correct hermeneutics, men have imagined [8] that they have found discrepancies, and even palpable contradictions, in the Bible. They would find any other book equally contradictory if they should treat it in the sauce way. But men know that the laws of language must be observed in reading any other book. If they would use the same care and common sense when reading the Bible, infidelity would find no place to set the sole of its foot. Hence it becomes evident that a correct exegesis will greatly weaken the power of infidelity, if not utterly destroy it.


      (1.) Inquirers discouraged by the different answers given.--The question, "What shall I do to be saved!" receives so many different and conflicting answers, that the seekers after eternal life are confused and disheartened, and they do not know what to do. They are told that there is nothing they can do, that they must wait for the Lord to come and save them; and that they can not do anything that will conduce to their salvation. Others tell them that they can and must give themselves to Christ, that they may be saved; and that unless they do, they will certainly be lost. Still they do not tell them how to give themselves to Christ. If they are sent to the word of God to learn the way of life, they are not told how to read it or where to look for directions on the subject. They would be as apt to go to the book of Job as to the Gospels or the Acts of the Apostles, to find the way of salvation in Christ. If men were inquiring into any question of law or history, they would be told where they could get the desired information-what book treated on that subject. They would not only be pointed to the [9] book containing the desired intelligence, but to the chapter and section where the information might be found. If the Scriptures were studied in this way, there would be but little difficulty on this most important of all questions.

      (2.) Not only is the question of salvation involved, but the assurance of pardon also.--Persons who have had the same religious experience, differ widely as to the import of what they have heard, and desired, and felt. One believes he is a child of God, and no doubt lingers to chill the ardor of his soul. Another, who has had the same experience, hopes that he has a hope, but is only certain that he is not certain of anything respecting his standing with God. It is vain to say that this must be the direct teaching of the Holy Spirit, or that a Christian knows by his feelings just what his relations are with God. For if God taught one of these servants in this direct way, He certainly would not have left the other to grope his way in darkness, doubt and uncertainty on the same subject. The truth is, one has had the same joys and sorrows that are known to the other, and the reason that the one regards himself a favorite of heaven and the other is in doubt as to his standing with God, is in the creeds of the two men. They are equally good, equally pure, and have passed through the same repentance, and have the same trust in Christ as the only Saviour of men; in fact, there is no perceptible difference between them, except as by their creeds they have interpreted these sorrows and joys differently. And this difference of creed has arisen from the difference in their modes of interpretation. To one, these things have had one meaning; to the other, they have had quite a different meaning. Now, if it is God's will that one Christian should know his sins forgiven, [10] it is certain that it is His will that all His servants should rejoice because of like intelligence. Right methods of the interpretation of the Scriptures will certainly remove the trouble, and enable our joyous and doubtful brethren to see themselves in the same condition before the "one God and Father of us all." [11]



      SEC. 6. THE NEED OF UNDERSTANDING THESE THINGS.--If we know not the things that will help us, we shall not be likely to invoke their aid. No man searches for that of which he has no knowledge. If there are helps, let us know what they are, and how they may be obtained; and then we will strive for that ability which will enable us to what the will of the Lord is.

      SEC. 7. GOOD COMMON SENSE IS THE FIRST REQUISITE.--This is so self-evident that to present it further would be to waste time.

      (1.) This is a natural qualification, but it may be greatly increased.--Some one has said that if a man lack knowledge he can get it of his fellow-man; that if he lack religion, he can have it by going to God and asking for it; but if he lack common sense, he has nowhere to go. But this remark has in it more of wit than of truth. We are not all equally endowed, but almost every one has a talent, and if that be not hid in a napkin and buried in the earth, but properly employed, it will increase; if it shall only be put on interest, it will gain something. Common sense has its root-idea in the ability to discover harmony in the things which agree; and, conversely, to perceive unlikeness in opposites. To a [12] man devoid of common sense there would be no difference between Mohammedanism and the religion of Christ; between the law of Moses and the gospel of Christ; between Catholicism and any form of Protestantism. Equally hidden from him would be the truths in all these systems, for he would not be able to distinguish truth from error.

      It does not seem to be known that a man may be ostensibly learned in the abstract, and know but little of anything in the concrete. And yet it is true that he may give himself so entirely to the study of attenuated philosophy that he will almost cease to have any proper understanding of the events of life, and be quite incompetent to decide between one thing and another.

      If it be true that one may injure his mind by employing it only on subjects that are abstruse, it is just as true that the mind may be strengthened and benefited by proper use upon themes and duties that concern every-day life.

      (2.) The use of this gift in the interpretation of the Scriptures.--If we were speaking of the interpretation of law or the study of medicine, no one would call in question our position for a moment. To understand the propositions of any branch of science, all are agreed as to the absolute necessity of common sense. But there lurks in the popular heart the suspicion that, after all the less of real knowledge, and the more of the dreamy speculative qualities of mind are possessed, the more likely will the interpreter arrive at the meaning of the Bible. They forget that God gave this book to the common people, that He has filled it with the experiences of men, and that its writers have spoken to us not only of the things that constantly surround us, but [13] in the language which a plain people can the most easily understand. It is a book to accompany us through all the walks of life-to constantly show us the dangers on the one hand, and the way of safety on the other. In this book we are constantly dealing with those things that are in antithesis; in which are the deceptive tricks of the enemy of the race, put over against the truth of God; in which the way of truth is made plain by its contrast with the works of darkness. Hence the more the student will study plain questions, and the more he may know men as they are, the more likely will he be able to understand the word of God.


      (l.) It is not meant to say that unbelievers can not know anything of the claims of the word of God. They may know many things respecting the Bible. The Jews who did not believe in the divinity of Christ understood many things respecting the claims which he made. Indeed, if an infidel could not know such things, he would not be responsible. The ability which unbelievers possess to investigate these subjects, is the measure of their responsibility before God.

      (2.) And yet the condition of their mind is unfavorable to any thorough investigation, or any proper estimate of the claims which are made. To receive a letter from Jay Gould, and yet believe it to be from some one else, who had sent it out of mere sport, would not likely benefit the receiver. If he should read it, curiosity would have to incite to the effort; and as soon as the reader would be sufficiently amused, he would lay the epistle aside, with but little, if any, further thought. [14] The communication might be one of very great importance, and yet in a few hours he would know but little, if anything, of its contents. So it is with the Bible. The unbeliever reads it out of mere curiosity, or that he may find some fault with it, and the probability is that all he will be able to find in the volume will be a few things that, to him, are curious, or unreasonable. He remembers here and there a text from which he can make an adverse criticism, but as to making any thorough investigation into the teaching of that book, such an idea does not enter his mind. He is not in sympathy with its and in no way is he prepared to understand it.

      (3.) Faith, in the inspiration of the book will prompt the most patient and thorough investigation.--Not only so, but the thought that it contains a divine message for him, will help to a clearer view of its contents than could otherwise be had.

      SEC. 9. MENTAL INDUSTRY IS ESSENTIAL TO ANY PROPER INVESTIGATION.--Mary, who sat at the feet of the Master, and attended diligently to His teaching, may have been as industrious as her sister, but her industry was of a different kind. She employed the head and heart more in the acquisition of truth. The disciples, who did not always understand the parables of the Saviour, went to him afterwards and inquired about the meaning. It was their investigating spirit that made it possible for them to learn the deep things which the Master came to give them. Without this it would have been impossible for them to have graduated in His school. The Bereans are praised for this disposition of mind. "Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, examining the Scriptures daily, whether these things [15] were so. Many of them therefore believed; also of the Greek women of honorable estate, anal of men, not a few" (Acts xvii. 11, 12).

      There is no essential difference between the study of the Scriptures and the study of any other subject, respecting the mental outlay necessary to success. An occasional hour or lesson may accomplish something toward learning, but not much. With all the advantages given Timothy through the early instruction received from his mother and grandmother, and the assistance of the apostle Paul, still it was necessary for him to "study to show himself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed: rightly setting forth the word of truth." So we find in the efforts essential to a knowledge of the word of God, that, like obtaining knowledge of other things, the mind must be employed intently and continuously. There can be no substitute for mental industry. We must apply the mind and heart, or not know the things of God.

      SEC. 10. A DESIRE TO KNOW AND DO THE TRUTH, IS NECESSARY.--It can not be denied that the most careless and indifferent may learn something about the word of God. But they are not likely to learn much, nor to learn anything very well. Being without interest respecting its claims, or, it may be, set opposite to them, wishing not to find the truth, as almost anything else would comport better with their lives, the truth will not be found by them. It would be as difficult for such persons to see the truth, as it was for the priest and the Levite to see the man who had fallen among thieves. Or, if they should see, they would immediately look on the other side, and so pass on. For a moment they may behold their face in the divine mirror, but they go away [16] immediately, and forget what manner of men they were. The soil must be in keeping with the seed, or there will be but little accomplished by the sowing. There are men for whom the gospel of Christ has no more charms than pearls have for swine. There must be good ground; "such as have an honest and good heart, having heard the word, hold it fast, and bring forth fruit with patience" (Luke viii. 15). The test given by the Saviour is just to the point: "If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it be of God, or whether I speak from myself" (New Version). It is this willingness to do the will of God that prepares the mind for that effort which is necessary to understand the law of the Lord. In the Acts of the Apostles (xiii. 48), we have a picture. The Gentiles who glorified the word of the Lord, and were ordained to (determined for) eternal life, believed; and those who were opposed, remained in unbelief. Men can find what they look for, but what they do not want to see, it is difficult to make them understand. Hence if there be not a good and honest heart, there will be but little fruit from the sowing.


      (1.) As just seen in the previous section, the mind must be en rapport with the teaching to be received. But we now go further, and show that indisposition does not simply prevent the examination that is necessary to any thorough knowledge, but it is a condition that fences against the pure word of God. There are those who are competent to see in every remark that is made something that is unchaste. They can find double meanings to anything that is said. And they interpret actions in the same way. To them every word and act seen or heard is [17] prompted by motives that are sinister. The world is a mirror in which they see themselves, as they attribute their own motives to the acts of others. To the evil, all things are evil. Nothing is pure to the eye of lust. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God," does not have to wait till the day of judgment for its fulfillment. In all the bounties and splendors of earth, they can see the traces of the hand of a loving Father. But such views are never had by the impure. They do not like to retain God in their minds, and when they are compelled to recognize the Almighty, they make Him into the likeness of men, and of four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Any other thought is too high for them.

      (2.) We do not mean to say that such, men can not learn anything about the word of God, for this is God's way of making men better.--There is truth put within their reach, and which, if they will lay hold of it, will lift them up to that better condition, in which they can know more of God and of the beauties of his word. They may learn much of sacred history; they may understand the teachings of prophecy and the claims of the Messiah; they are competent to examine the claims made respecting New Testament miracles, but there are great spiritual truths that will not be recognized by them.

      (3.) It is possible for men to become so gross as to be removed even from the probabilities, if not from the very possibilities, of faith. I can not do better here than to quote a few passages of Scripture containing this thought:

      "For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers [18] after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables" (II. Tim. iv. 3, 4).

      "Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? and they killed them which showed of the coming of the Righteous One; of whom ye have now become betrayers and murderers; ye who received the law as it was ordained by angels, and kept it not" (Acts vii. 51-53).

      Here is both the teaching and the living picture of the ability to harden the heart against truth, until the soul of the soul is utterly destroyed.

"And unto them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which saith,
By hearing ye shall hear, and shall in no wise understand;
And seeing ye shall see, and shall in no wise perceive:
For this people's heart is waxed gross,
And their ears are dull of hearing,
And their eyes they have closed;
Lest haply they should perceive with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart,
And should turn again,
And I should heal them" (Matt. xiii. 14, 15).

      The import of this language can not be mistaken. The reason they were not saved was they had not turned to God, and the reason they had not turned, was, they did not understand with the heart; the reason they did not understand with the heart, was that grossness prevented them from considering the claims of Christ in any proper way.

      "How can ye believe, which receive glory one of another, and the glory that cometh from the only God, ye seek not?" (John v. 44).

      Here, even, the desire for the praise of men is presented as a barrier sufficient to prevent faith. [19]

      "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father it is your will to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and stood not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father thereof. But because I say the truth, ye believe me not" (John viii. 44, 45).

      It is plain that this was not the original condition of this people. Once they might have accepted the truth and been made free by it, but they had turned their hearts over to the control of the wicked one tilt they had become like him.

      With this evil heart in them, it would have been more agreeable for them to have beard a falsehood than a truth, and it would have been easier for them to receive the falsehood.

      "And then shall be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth and bring to naught by the manifestation of his coming; even he, whose coming is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders and with all deceit of unrighteousness for them that are perishing; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie; that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (II Thess. ii. 8-12).

      These persons were perishing because they believed a lie, and not the truth. This they did because they did not receive the love of the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. And because they would not have the truth, God turned them over to the falsehoods which they preferred.

      "But and if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled in them that are perishing: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn upon them" (II. Cor. iv. 3, 4). [20]

      The god of this world, in this text, was the riches, honors and pleasures of this life. These things become a god to man through the devotion which he chooses to render. And in taro for all this service, the worshiper has his mind blinded to all that is good and pure.

      In this way the Gentile world fell away from all that was pure and holy. Once they knew God, but they neglected his warship, and so went astray, step by step, till they reached the lowest possible spiritual condition (Rom. i. 18-32).

      Paul thinks it possible for those who have once known the truth, and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, to fall so far away that they can not be renewed again to repentance (Heb. vi. 1-6).

      (4.) Not only may men fall into evil thoughts and evil lives, and thereby destroy their disposition to receive the truth, and even go so far that they can not turn back again, but every degree in depravity renders it that much more difficult to accept of the pure, thoughts of the word of God.--There are carnal-minded church members, who are too gross in their hearts to know the height and breadth, and length and depth, of the riches and beauty and glory of the revelation which God has made to us.

      This proposition might be regarded as having been established already. Still it is proper to refer to a text or two--first to make the point still clearer; and second, to get the meaning of these passages clearly before the mind of the reader:

      "Now the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him, and he can riot know them, because they are spiritually judged" (I. Cor. ii. 14).

      This text has been a battle-ground, and as we enter it we announce our utter want of sympathy for either [21] party. The first and most common view of the passage is, that until a man is converted and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, he can not understand the word of God that this natural man is the unconverted man. The second view is much more reasonable: The natural man, is the man in a state of nature, and, therefore, without the revelation which God has given. And the reason that he can not understand the things of God is that he has not had a teacher, but with a teacher, he could know these things quite well enough. I do not accept the interpretation of either of these parties, for the following reasons:

      (a) Paul was not speaking to, nor of, men in a state of nature having never received revelation, or to whom it had never been offered.

      (b) He was not speaking to, nor of unconverted men, in antithesis to converted men.

      (c) The spiritual judgment is the antithesis, and the carnal judgment is that which naturally opposes it. Hence the conclusion is, that the word rendered "natural" would be better rendered carnal.

      (d) The reason that this natural man did not receive them, was not because he had never heard of them, but because they were foolishness to him. They could not be foolishness to a man who never heard of them.

      (e) The word psuchikos, here rendered natural, is better rendered carnal. It occurs five times in the New Testament: I. Cor. ii. 14; xv. 44, 46; James iii. 35; Jude 19. In the Corinthian letter, it is rendered in the Common Version by the word natural, but in the other occurrences, by the word sensual. The latter is its meaning in all of the occurrences, as will be seen by the opposing thought being that of spiritual purity. [22]

      (f) Paul was writing to church members, whom he denominated saints--those who had been set apart to the service of the Lord. Hence neither of the old interpretations can possibly be true.

      (g) He was condemning them for their carnality. In the third chapter he tells them that their divisions proved that they were carnal and walked as men. In the fifth chapter they are condemned because they had an incestuous man among them, who was living with his father's wife, and they did not mourn on that account, but were rather puffed tip. In chapters ten and eleven it appears that they had turned the Lord's Supper, on the first day of the week, into a kind of Sunday club dinner, and thus spoiled the occasion of all its sanctity. But they were not only impure in their practices; they were erroneous in doctrine. Some of them, as it will be seen in the fifteenth chapter, denied the resurrection of the dead. Their condition is well presented in the following chapter to that in which our text stands:

      "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ. I fed you with milk, and not with meat; for ye were not yet able to bear it; nay, not even now are ye able; for ye are yet carnal; for whereas there is among you jealousy and strife, are ye not carnal and walk after the manner of men? For when one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not men?" (iii. 1-4). [That is, are ye not worldly men, or men of carnal minds?]

      The reason that Paul had not given them the higher spiritual instruction was, because they were not in a condition to receive it; and even then, when writing this letter to them, they were too low and carnal to receive the rich truth which otherwise they might have received long before. But in their then present condition, such lessons would have been wasted an them. [23]

      I lay it down, then, as being true beyond any possible doubt, that even Christians may be of the earth earthy, to that extent that they will be incompetent to get the grand and spiritual thoughts of the word of God. This will account, in part, at least, for the fact that the apostle John saw more in Jesus of Nazareth than any of the other writers of that most wonderful life. John had become more like the Master than any one else, and was, therefore, prepared to understand Him better.

      There is many a learned criticism that comes not near the truth because of the icy distance of the writer's heart from the subject on which be treats. On the other hand, the true follower of Christ finds the truth almost by intuition. The glory of heaven's richest revelation has been withheld from the wise and the prudent, and has been revealed unto babes. It is first a humble, willing heart, good and honest, that will be easily instructed in the way of life in Christ Jesus. Those eyes are best adjusted to the divine light, and therefore the better understand both the truth and Him who taught it.

      SEC. 12. A CORRECT TRANSLATION WOULD CONDUCE TOWARDS A RELIABLE EXEGESIS.-This is especially true with the ordinary reader. Indeed, it is true of ninety-nine out of a hundred of the whole number of the real students of the Bible, for they are almost wholly dependent on the received translation as a means of knowing what has been said to us by the Lord. There are many contradictions now found in the Bible, or the language which is tortured into contradictions, which a correct translation would entirely remove. There are many harsh and seemingly brutal things in the Bible that would be modified by a clear and just translation. There are statements, forms and phrases that occur to [24] the refined ear as vulgar, that would be shorn of all offensiveness by judicious rendition. There are many things which are exceedingly dark, which an accurate version would illuminate, and, in their place, give us the clear and beautiful truth of God.

      We do not mean to cast any reflections on the translators of King James. They did well: for the times and circumstances, they did very well. It should be remembered, however, that they labored under many difficulties that have been removed since that time.

      (1.) There are words anglicised and transferred into our version which ought to have been translated. And the failure in that respect has contributed very much to the misinterpretation that would long ago have given place to better views.

      (2.) Incorrect translations were retained for fear of injury to the long-standing customs and traditions of the church. There is no reason for the word bishop, the meaning of which never occurs to any one, when the word episcopos meant an overseer, and should have been so translated. It was wrong to give us Raster, in Acts xii. 4, when it should have been passover. The Accepted Version thus maintains an error that would have died out, but for the assistance rendered by a wrong translation.

      (3.) Many words have become obsolete since the translation of King James was made. Wist, and wot, and "we do you to wit," are expressions without meaning to us.

      (4.) Many other words have changed their meaning entirely. The word let, then meant to, prevent, to hold back, to restrain; now it has the opposite thought. Paul had desired many times to see the brethren at Rome, [25] but had been let. He informed the brethren of Thessalonica that there would come a great falling away, and that man of sin would finally be revealed, but that which then let would continue to let till taken out of the way. Such language is unintelligible to us. Prevent (from pre, before, and venio, to come) meant to come before, to precede, to anticipate. So David said: "My prayer shall prevent the Lord;" "my prayer shall prevent the dawning of the morning." And Paul gravely tells the brethren that those who shall be alive and remain to the coming of the Lord, "shall not prevent those who are asleep." The word conversation once related to action and its results, rather than the use of words by one person to another. Hence Paul says, "our conversation is in heaven." The meaning of the passage is easy, when we have it correctly rendered citizenship.

      We are in great need of a translation, not simply a revision. But while the world would not likely be willing to receive such a work, it would be better that all students should provide themselves with a copy of the Revision of the Old and New Testaments. Not that this work is faultless--that would be too much to expect of any human production--but because it is much better than the Common Version. The translators are equally learned with those of King James, and they have had many advantages which the former never possessed. While they have been too conservative in retaining many things that ought to have been removed, and while the Revision is marred by much of the bad grammar of the Common Version, still there are many valuable changes. And I think it is not too much to say, that in [26] many respects the Revision is the best work of the kind ever furnished to the reading world.


      (1.) No one is at liberty to suppose, from my advocacy of learning, that it can always be trusted. It can not take the place of good common sense, and certainly not of a true heart and that spiritual purity which is so greatly needed in order to understand the things that are freely given to us of God.

      (2.) There is an idea that learning is destructive of piety. But I know of no evidence of the correctness of that view. Of course, there are many men so engaged in their investigations of science, and even in their literary pursuits, that but little or no time is left for the cultivation of their hearts by the soul-stirring truths of heaven. Anything that will take up the mind entirely, will do that. Farming, merchandise, politics, anything, if it is sufficiently absorbing. Learning will do this no more than any calling which will elicit the mind and direct the energy of the man. But instead of learning standing in the way of faith and piety, it greatly aide it. The man of knowledge may lose his respect for many of the traditions of the fathers, but his faith in God and His word will not be injured thereby, but greatly aided.

      (3.) There is a mental drill in the attainment of knowledge that will greatly assist in preparing for that effort necessary to a full and complete investigation of the Scriptures.

      (4.) I would begin my recommendations respecting the necessary features of education, with the knowledge [27] of one's own vernacular. With us the English language is the great medium of knowledge. If our knowledge of that medium is defective, the benefits derived from its use will be greatly lessened. Most readers of the Bible, as before stated, are entirely dependent upon the English Bible, and all are more or less dependent upon it: Not only so, but the commentaries, lesson helps, and all the valuable suggestions. by way of essays, sermons, etc., come to us through the English language. Hence it is of great importance that we should have an accurate knowledge of our own language.

      (5.) A knowledge of the original languages in which the Scriptures were written, would be of great assistance in getting an accurate and intimate acquaintance with the Bible.

      There are many thoughts in the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures that can not be so clearly presented in any other language than that in which they were indited. In translating any boot; from one language into another, much of the beauty and strength is lost. The translator may be learned and faithful, but there are not the words to express those peculiar shades of meaning that belonged to the original. The peoples using these tongues have differed both in their thoughts and in their modes of expression, and it is therefore almost impossible to translate a book from one of these into the other, and retain the beauty and vigor of the composition. Other things being equal, the scholar in Hebrew and Greek is the better interpreter.

      (6.) A thorough drill in logic would greatly aid investigation in the Scriptures. This is true in the reading of any work of merit. [28] But it is especially true of the Bible. I once heard a man of prominence say that the Bible is not a book of logic, but of assertion. This, however, was a short-sighted observation. Even if the Bible were a book only of direct revelation, still the propositions made to men are to be understood by the rules of logic. There is no more direct assertion found in the Scriptures anywhere than in the teaching of the Master. He ever spoke as one having authority. And yet the strictest and closest logic is constantly observed. This was especially true in his many encounters, with the Pharisees and Sadducees. When he stood in a synagogue on the Sabbath day, and a man was there who needed healing, he said to them: "Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath day, or to, do evil?" They might have said it is lawful to do neither one. But they could not consistently do so. Help was needed, and it must be rendered or refused; hence a choice had to be made. Inactivity in the matter was an impossibility. When Peter had committed himself and the Master by saying that the Master paid tribute, Jesus said to him, "Do kings collect revenue from their sons, or of strangers? "Peter said, of strangers. Very well, then, said the Saviour, the son goes free. Nevertheless he sent Peter to take the fish. The blunder of this apostle was thus pointed out by the use of logic. Take all the conversations at Jerusalem; during the last feast that the Master attended, and his parables are full of logical acumen. He taught the Sadducees the resurrection, from the account of the burning bush. He went to the very root of the question, and showed them that they were fundamentally wrong. Men did not lose their identity by death, as they supposed, and therefore there would be a resurrection from the dead. But especially the [29] apostolic speeches and writings are full of logic. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, argued, from what they then saw and heard, from the language of the prophet Joel, and from the Psalms, and, having finished his quotations, he drew logical conclusions so strong and so just that the whole crowd were carried with him. And wherever the apostles went they argued before the people, opening the Scriptures and alleging therefrom that Jesus was the Christ, and that he must needs have died and risen from the dead; and their logic was faultless. Open to any of the epistles, and you will find them replete with the finest argument, and presented in the most logical form. Perhaps no more logical writing can be found anywhere than Paul's letter to the brethren at Rome. And if one is in need of the knowledge of logic, in order to comprehend the great speeches of Webster, Clay and Garfield, he will equally need that drill before undertaking to analyze the epistle to the Romans.

      (7.) A good knowledge of contemporaneous history will greatly aid in the study of the Scriptures.--For several hundred years before Christ we have history, more or less reliable, and with all the imperfections that gather about these productions, they greatly assist us in knowing just what was done, and hence just what was referred to by the divinely directed writer. Old Testament history is by no means well studied, without comparing the statements of the Bible with the best thoughts on Egyptology, and the most reliable records of the Medes, Persians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Syrians, Phœnicians, Grecians, etc., etc. And there are many things in the New Testament that will never be clear to the mind unacquainted with the history of the times. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote for those who were well acquainted [30] with the facts, and therefore they did not stop to explain many things which can not be understood by gas, except as we study history and come into possession of the facts before their minds at the time they wrote these accounts. For the most part they speak of Herod as if there had been but one. Of course, to those for whom these records were first intended, there was no need of anything further being said. But without the knowledge of history, we will not know whether the writer is speaking of Herod the Great, Archelaus, Aristobulus, Antipas, Philip, Agrippa I., or Agrippa II., and everything will be confused.

      (8.) A good knowledge of the lands of the Bible will render many things plain which, without such knowledge, would be dark.--The things that were said and done would have much more of meaning and interest to us if we knew where they were and at what they were looking when these things were done and sail. The allegories of the true vine and the good shepherd; the teaching of the Master on the great day of the feast; the directions to the blind man, "Go wash in the pool of Siloam," crossing the sea to the land of the Gadarenes, or coming through the midst of Decapolis; the teaching of the Master in the borders of the city of Cæsarea Philippi; the transfiguration that followed, are at least partially lost to us without a knowledge of the geography of the country. But while this is true in the study of the Gospels, it is especially true when we come to read the Acts and the letters of the apostles to the various churches. Every student of the Scriptures ought, therefore, to become familiar with all the lands mentioned in the Bible. In the study of Old Testament history, this is especially true. The forty-two encampments of the children [31] of Israel will never be understood without a good knowledge of the country through which they passed. Egypt, Sinai, the wildernesses of Paran and of Zin; the land of Edom; the mountain ranges; the land of the Amorites, of the Moabites, of the Midianites east of the Jordan, should all be known. The student will be well paid for all the time and energy expended in the study of Biblical geography.

      (9.) One should become as thoroughly acquainted as possible with the customs of the people during the times of the Bible.--Many things are perfectly inexplicable unless we are in possession of this key of knowledge. Words and ways are full of meaning to us when we know the customs of the people; whereas, without such knowledge, we would not be able to divine their intent.

      SEC. 14. WE SHOULD EXPECT TO UNDERSTAND THE BIBLE.--The Bible is regarded by many as a sealed book, and not to be understood, unless by some gift from God which shall make it possible, either because of some office, or on account of conversion. The ability to read it as any other book, and understand it by reading it, is not supposed to belong to unaided mortals. In another place we will examine the cause of this hurtful superstition, but fog the present we are content to say that we must expect to understand the word of God or our investigations will amount pious waste of our time. If we should read any other book in this way, no one would expect us to know anything about it when we had finished the reading. The words might be pronounced or heard, but no impression would be made on the mind. We would not be looking for anything, and, as a consequence, we would not find anything. [32]

      There are those now who regard the Scriptures as a mystery, and therefore not to be understood by the common mind. Indeed, they suppose that the Scriptures themselves teach that they are a mystery. On this account it is necessary to quote a few passages, that we may realize our privileges.

      "But abide thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a babe thou hast known the sacred writings which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. Every scripture inspired of God is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work" (II. Tim. iii. 14-16).

      The Scriptures which Timothy had known in his childhood were those of the Old Testament, which are much more difficult than the communications found in the New Testament. And these, too, as they were fulfilled in Christ, were sufficient to perfect the man of God, filling him with all needed truth.

      "How that by revelation was made known unto me the mystery, as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ; which in other generations was not made known unto the sons of men" (Eph. iii. 3, 4).

      Then again in the eighth and ninth verses:

      "Unto me who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery, which from all ages bath been hid in God, who created all things."

      Here it is evident that the most difficult things that had to be presented to the world--those which were more mysterious than any former revelation--were to be read [33] and understood by the whole church. Not only so, but Paul was commissioned to make all men see this mystery as he did.

      "And when this epistle hath been read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye also read the epistle from Laodicea" (Col. iv. 16).

      This letter to the brethren of Laodicea has been lost, but it was probably much like that which was sent to the church at Colossæ. We can not say that it is unusually difficult, and yet he who can read that letter and understand it, is able to read any of the letters of the apostle Paul. He supposed the whole church at Colossæ could hear and understand it, and that the church at Laodicea could do the same.

      "I adjure you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the brethren" (I. Thess. v. 27).

      Here, again, though the first of the apostolic letters, it is one of the most difficult. And yet Paul had no such thought as that the members of the church could not understand it. Indeed, the evident purpose of all the epistles was that they should be read to the whole church, and that the whole church, in this way, should be instructed in divine things. And yet there is as much skill needed in the interpretation of the epistolary communications as any other portion of the Scriptures, unless it be Revelation, or Ezekiel.

      Then let us remove the fog of superstition that has prevented so many from any proper investigation of the Scriptures, that all may know their rights to search this volume for themselves, and that they may understand it. Indeed, they should he made to realize that they are responsible for their ignorance. God has made a revelation [34] of His will to us, and if we do not avail ourselves of the privilege of reading it and of knowing its contents, it is our own fault. All should be made to feel that, under such circumstances, ignorance is a sin against God and ourselves.

      SEC. 15. THE BLESSING OF GOD IS NEEDED, AND MAY BE HAD FOR THE ASKING.--This does not mean that knowledge is to be had by asking alone, when there are other conditions of receiving it. But it does mean that God has promised to bless us in this respect as well as in others.

      "But if any of you lacketh wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him" (James i. 5).

      While the preacher then had to study to show himself approved unto God, that he might be a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly setting forth the word of truth, still this blessing is promised. And all we are authorized to say about it is, that while we use the means which God has provided for our education in divine things, it is our privilege and duty to ask that God will bless the effort. And we have God's promise, through an apostle, that he will do so. We may not know just how God will choose to assist us in learning his will, but his promise will certainly be kept. We may, in part, answer our own prayers, for the very hungering and thirsting for this divine knowledge will prepare us for a ready reception of the truth. [35]




      It is about as necessary to understand the things that prevent us from the investigation that would acquaint us with the word of God, as to know the things that will help, for even while we may be availing ourselves of assistance, we may be injured by many things that will so modify the favorable forces that we shall get but little benefit from them. We wish to know, therefore, the things that will hinder, as well as the things that will assist us to understand the word of the Lord.


      (1.) It is not meant to say that all desire to please the world is wrong; indeed, we are required to please our neighbor for his good. No real man of God can have any interest in offending. For when we have offended the world, we have lost our power with them to do good, at least to a degree.

      (2.) But it is the inordinate desire to please the world that hinders a right interpretation. Many men have been decoyed from the truth by popular applause. They have said something that sounded like heresy, and it received the approbation of persons of means and standing, and, desiring more approval, they ventured on more and graver utterances of the same kind. If they did not absolutely run away into heterodox woods, they at least climbed up [36] to the top of the orthodox gate-post, and gave a longing look in that direction. And for that look they received a benefit. And then with vanity on the one hand and flattery on the other, all sorts of doctrines have been preached, to tickle itching ears, and bring the rounds of applause for which a vain heart palpitates. To such men the word of God may never have been very precious, but the honor that comes from men continually lessens their feeling of loyalty to divine authority, until they are willing to preach anything, true or false, if it will only give them favor with the people. They become willing to sell their pulpit, and themselves also, to the highest bidder. And the bid from the ungodly becomes a bribe to blind them to the truth.


      (1.) This has been one of the great faults of the Catholic Church. In the decision of their councils, that the laity of the church should not read that book, lest they should reach wrong views, they have left it entirely to the control of those whose especial business it has been to furnish the people with a knowledge of heaven's will. This enables them to establish a monopoly of interpretation. So that, to the people, the Bible is not the book itself; but the meaning of the book, as interpreted by the priesthood, is to them the Bible. All the restraints are thus removed from these men, and they are at liberty to interpret the Bible in that way that will best suit their purposes. This kind of power is always dangerous, as well in this respect, as in any other.

      If, in answer to this, it shall be said that only the more ignorant of the membership of that church are thus prohibited, and that many of them are at liberty to [37] read the Bible, and that they are encouraged to do so, I am willing to grant that such is the case in some places, and especially of late. But this does not remove the correctness of our position nor the justness of our charge. Much has been done in opposition to the thought that the common people can understand the word of God; and in this way it has been kept from their hands.

      (2.) Our Protestantism is an improvement, perhaps, but not such an improvement as will give us any particular cause of boasting. The creeds that are in use have been made a long time, at a time when knowledge was lower and prejudices were higher than at present. And yet in the light of these catechisms we have been compelled to conduct our investigations. So it has not been, even to Protestants, so much, "What does the Bible say on the subject?" as, "What does the creed or catechism say?"

      (3.) There, has descended to us a kind of reverence for authority found in great names, that is very hurtful. These authorities have been canonized by us, and are not to be disturbed. This is partly because of superstition from which we are not yet free, and partly from laziness that makes us willing to accept statements, rather than look for the truth ourselves. In this way errors are handed down from one generation to another, for centuries, without having been suspected of being untrue. Some great man has made a hasty statement, which, at the time, he intended only to be understood as a kind of guess, and then it has been copied by one after another, till a dozen or twenty scholars can be quoted as holding that view; and this will be evidence enough for the faith of all the rest, for centuries to come.

      (4.) It is not intended to encourage disrespect [38] for candor and learning. Authors may be used as aids in study of the Scriptures, as well as in the study of any thing else, but it should be remembered that nothing but the word of God will do as a guide for the faith and practice of His people. We should accept of the assistance of these great men in getting that knowledge, but nothing more. Reformations have been checked, and really prevented, by too much reverence for the reformers. They have had but a single truth which they have urged before the world. That they saw with great clearness. On many other points they have been weak, like other men. But their admirers have stereotyped them as the sum of all intelligence, and refused to have any view of theirs called in question. This has resulted in making these men the standard of doctrine, and preventing the world from learning anything else than what they learned under the most difficult circumstances.

      SEC. 18. USING THE BIBLE TO PROVE DOCTRINES, IS A GREAT SOURCE OF MISUNDERSTANDING.--The Bible is not a book with which to prove doctrines; it is the doctrine itself. Almost anything can be proven to the man who wants to find the proof. It leads to a wrong use of the Scriptures, so that, instead of searching them for whatever they may contain, the doctrines have been first assumed, and then the Bible is compelled into some sort of recognition of the position. (See Dogmatical Method.)

      SEC. 19. MYSTICISM.--Spiritualizing the word of the Lord.--Instead of regarding it as a sensible communication from the God of heaven, it is turned into a kind of Samson's riddle, and made to say almost anything except that which it meant to say. (See Mystic Method.)

      SEC. 20. MAKING THE BIBLE MERELY A BOOK OF [39] WONDERS.--The disposition manifested in this does not differ greatly from that which guides in the Mystic Method. And yet it is so treated by many persons who have not the slightest idea that they are influenced by like motives and feelings. It is treated as a kind of mental and spiritual museum--a box of curiosities. Men who search for quaint texts, and Sunday-school teachers who have their scholars searching for some strange question, are constantly contributing to that kind of disregard for the word of the Lord, though they do not intend it. The school is asked to tell how many times the word girl occurs in the Bible, or what was the name of David's mother, or what man had twelve toes; and the energies and time of the scholars are taken up with such incidentals, to no profit.


      (1.) Reading from a sense of duty, or simply to have it to say that they have read it through. I have known persons who regarded it a duty to read the Bible through once a year, and having done this for a number of years in succession, they seemed quite fond of telling about it. This exercise will be something better than a pilgrimage to Mecca, but as a means of becoming acquainted with the Scriptures, it is very poor. If we should read any other book in this way, we would not be expected to know much of its contents. The mind must be fixed upon the thought and purpose of the work, with the intent of knowing what they are; and no more should be read than is understood, or at least partially digested.

      (2.) The Bible is read irregularly and without any system.--This is quite common in family worship. One time it is a Psalm; at another, it is a chapter from the [40] Gospels, or one from the Prophets. Something, of course, may be learned in this way, but not very much. Like the reading mentioned before, it leaves nothing except that which sticks to the mind of its own accord. It comes from the want of method, which will be more fully discussed in another place. (See Chapter on Methods.)

      (3.) Reading only favorite Scriptures.--This is pardonable, to a degree, in a hobbyist. A man who has a particular hobby to ride, may be expected to know but little of the Scriptures outside of the round of texts that can be made to harmonize with his doctrine. These he has thoroughly committed--at least, he has the places well marked, and quite well worn. Now and then I find a Bible owned by one of these men, and it is worn out at his favorite texts, and perfectly new everywhere else. But there are many others who treat their Bibles much in the same way. They have their favorite, chapters, which they read-again and again to the neglect of other and equally weighty Scriptures. If any other study should be pursued in this way, no one would expect anything to be gained by the effort. If a student should come into school and study only the chapters and sections in his book which he preferred, he would know but little more at the conclusion than at the beginning of his studies.

      There are a great many hindrances, which we will not now name, of the same kind. But let this suffice. Anything that will prevent thorough and continued study, will prevent knowledge, to the full extent of its influence. Whether we read hurriedly or slowly is a small matter, for each has some advantages; but the reading that is not pondered, is nearly worthless. [41]

      SEC. 22. INTERPRETING FROM SINISTER MOTIVES. (1.) This is frequently done to save property.--Being found in the possession of goods that it is not right for us to have, we begin to excuse ourselves by some peculiar theory on that subject. Then the mind is drawn out in the defense, not simply of the theory, but of the property which the theory protects. We did not first advocate slavery in this country, and then seek the slaves. The property came into our possession, we could scarcely say how. And rather than to let the servants go, the Bible was brought into the defense of the institution. Legislators make laws to shield themselves in the possession of property, and many interpret law for personal gain, or for protection in the business which they know to be ruinous to the people. Of course they will quote and apply the Scriptures in the same way. Many, perhaps, do no intentional wrong in the matter. They have simply permitted themselves to become blinded by their own interests. This desire for security in their business and property, colors all their interpretations and vitiates all their exegesis.

      (2.) A wish to do as we please; to continue our customs, or begin new ones which we prefer.--Many men to-day are in the condition of the prophet Balaam; they are very anxious to do and say whatever the Lord may direct, provided the Lord will direct them to do and say the things they prefer. When Judah heard that his daughter-in-law had played the harlot, he was so indignant that he wished her to be burned; but when she showed the cane and the bracelets, which he had left with her, there was a wonderful modulation in the tone. In the days of Christ, the Pharisees and lawyers were ready to lay grievous burdens on the shoulders of others, [42] but they were not willing to touch one of them with even a little finger. The rules they would make for others were strict, but those they would make for themselves would be quite different. So it has ever been with the world. I knew a man who had a hobby on marriage. He was of the opinion that no man could marry twice without being a polygamist--in heaven, if not on the earth. His wife might die, but that had nothing to do with it; if he married again he would be guilty of polygamy. You could not talk with him five minutes without having his hobby brought out and made to canter in your presence. But his wife died, and in less than a year from that time his theology changed on that point. Almost anything that men want to do, they can find some text of Scripture that will sound like giving it support. And it is exceedingly difficult to make any man see that he has been preaching that which is not true. He has posed before the people on that subject, and is not willing to incur the humiliation of saying, "I was wrong, and my opponents were right." The question, "How religiously dishonest can an honest man be?" is hard to answer. Whether this is the right way to state it or not, may be doubted; but one thing is certain--a man's wishes will blind his mind to the truth, if they happen to be on the contrary side. During the last war, good men would read the same dispatches, and reach opposite conclusions from them. During a political campaign they will do the same. We should be as far above such prejudice as possible.

      (3.) Sectarianism is responsible for much of the wrong interpretation that prevents the world from knowing the truth.--The desire to be with the successful party, furnishes a strong temptation to use the Scriptures so that [43] the party shall be approved. Indeed, the love of party will develop genius in its maintenance. In political matters, it is not strange that men will bend the truth for party purposes, and interpret all facts according to the interests involved. But that good people will i do this in matters of salvation, seems out of place. If we were listening to such a statement for the first time, we would not be willing to accept the charge without a wide margin on which to write exceptions. But facts are stubborn things; the world does very frequently subordinate the truth to the interests of sectarian preferences. It is possible for well-meaning people to be blinded by these things. They get into an argument, and are put to the worse; and, being sure that their position is correct, and yet not being able to make it appear, they are ready to seize any passage that can be made to do even temporary service. In their sober moments they would say that the interpretation of the passage in hand was not the correct one; but not seeing what else to do at the time, they give that exegesis to push back the opponent till they can have time to cast about for something better to say. But for the sectarian prompting, nothing of the kind would have occurred. Prompted by their love for their party, or, perhaps, what is worse, their hatred for the opposite one, they become willing that the word of God shall be misrepresented for the time. They find themselves in the heat of battle, and, anything then to win-at least, to prevent defeat. This interpreting the Bible for party ends is one of the greatest hindrances of to-day, to a correct knowledge of the revelation of God to men. How to avoid this, and yet retain the parties, is difficult to say. About all that we are now warranted in saying is, that it is needful to [44] put everything out of the mind but the desire to know the truth of God when we open His book. Let go, as far as possible, everything of self and sect, and free the mind and heart from every wish or interest that may, in any way, prevent the knowledge of the word and will of the Lord.

      (4.) Moral or practical atheism.--This is the disposition to do as we please about divine things. There is a feeling of indifference as to what God may have said on the subject. Men are ready to conclude that it matters little whether they do God's way or not. In their opinion, it will do well enough to obey the Lord in His commands, but it is not essential. If they do not prefer to do the Lord's way, He will accept them while they do their way. These persons may believe that there is a God; they may believe that He is the author of the Bible; but it has not entered their minds that it makes any particular difference whether they do His will or not. This is practical atheism. Like the Samaritans of old, they fear the Lord and serve other gods. With such views of the authority of Jehovah, it is not possible to have any correct understanding of the Scriptures. Everything is vitiated by such heedlessness:


      Whatever of desire there may be to do good, by bringing out the meaning of the word of God, is certainly laudable. Or if there be a wish to excel in this effort to benefit the world, it is to be allowed and encouraged; but when the ambitious mind has only in view the exaltation of self, the exegete comes to stand in the way of every other effort than that which he is making, and his thirst for distinction even prevents the acceptance [45] of the plain and simple truth of the gospel. Scientists do this, sometimes, and stop all investigation respecting everything on which they have pronounced. Lest they should not be regarded as the end of all wisdom, they go to work to destroy every hypothesis that, in any way, seems to call in question any position which they have taken. So do these, for the purpose of maintaining a reputation for independence of thought, adopt anything and everything that promises to bring them to public view. One man was capable of finding all the ordinances of the church in the book of Job. And all the quaint or curious things from first to last, have come from this desire for leadership. Hence they must find in the Scriptures what no one else has been able to find, or their claim to acuteness will not be well maintained.


      We have no objections to any investigation into the subject of science and revelation. But what we do object to, is the demand that Scripture interpretation must keep pace with the guesses of scientific speculators. Every new theory that is advanced demands a new hermeneutics. Words must he bent and shaded till they will fit the wards and cells of the new science.

      The old theologians took advantage of science, and declared that everything that did not accord with their interpretation of the Bible could not be true, and, therefore, should not be tolerated. This, of course, was very discouraging to scientific research. No man was at liberty to push his investigations beyond the creed of the church. All can now see the injustice and injury of such unrighteous jurisdiction.

      But in latter times it has been changed, so that the [46] scientist comes and sets himself up in a kind of espionage over the, interpreter of the word of God. These are both wrong, and both to be condemned. Before any man is ready to say that the Bible and science are not agreed, he should know two things: first, he should know all about the Bible; and second, he should know all about science. In the meantime, the best thing he can do will be to learn all he can of either one, or both.

      It is not to be denied that we may know some things, at least approximately, and that so far as facts have been really introduced and tested, we may be governed by them, just to the extent of our absolute knowledge. But no interpreter should trouble himself to make exegesis keep up with scientific hypotheses. Science has no more right to lord it over religion, than religion has to lord it over science. He who made the universe made the Bible, and when we come to understand them both, we will be delighted with their beautiful harmony. And it is, therefore, the privilege and duty of every man to push his investigations as far and as fast as he can. [47]


  Trinity College of Biblical Studies