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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

This word is used in different senses by Christians in the Apostolic Age. (1) St. Paul applies it to that spiritual ‘gift’ which enabled one to expound the unintelligible utterance known as ‘tongues’ (ἑρμηνείω [ 1 Corinthians 12:10;  1 Corinthians 14:26], διερμηνεύω [ 1 Corinthians 12:30;  1 Corinthians 14:5;  1 Corinthians 14:13;  1 Corinthians 14:27], διερμηνευτής [ 1 Corinthians 14:28]). (2) Later writers ‘interpret’ a foreign word by giving its Greek equivalent (ἑρμηνεύω [ John 1:42;  John 9:7,  Hebrews 7:2], διερμηνεύω [ Acts 9:36], μεθερμηνεύω [ Matthew 1:23;  Mark 5:41;  Mark 15:22;  Mark 15:34,  John 1:38;  John 1:41,  Acts 4:36;  Acts 13:8]). when Papias calls St. Mark St. Peter’s interpreter (ἑρμηνευτής [ Historia Ecclesiastica (Eusebius, etc.)iii. 39]), he may be supposing that St. Peter preached in Aramaic (or Hebrew) and that St. Mark translated the sermon to the Greek audience. This is historically improbable, however, and possibly Papias means only that St. Mark, since he composed his Gospel on the basis of St. Peter’s sermons, is thereby St. Peter’s ‘expounder.’ (3) In the sense of Scriptural exposition, the word ‘interpretation’ is rarely used in the NT. The meaning of ‘private interpretation’ in  2 Peter 1:20 (ἰδίας ἐπιλύσεως) is doubtful, though, in view of what follows, it seems to signify the prophet’s complete subordination to God’s will. In  Luke 24:27 (διερμηνεύω) direct reference is made to Christian interpretation of the OT books-a practice which was very general and very important in the apostolic period.

The OT occupied a unique place in the life and thought of the first Christians. St. Paul presupposed his readers’ acquaintance with its writings, which he assumed to be the final court of appeal in all argumentation. Apollos, whom certain Corinthians set up as St. Paul’s rival, was also ‘mighty in the scriptures’ ( Acts 18:24). OT language and thought are frequently appropriated by the NT writers. According to H. B. Swete ( Introduction to the OT in Greek , Cambridge, 1900, p. 381f.), there are 78 formal quotations in St. Paul, 46 in the Synoptists, 28 in Hebrews, 23 in Acts , 12 in John, and about a dozen in the remaining books. Even where formal quotations are lacking, OT phraseology is sometimes frequent ( e.g. Rev.). The early Christians, like the Jews, believed in the Divine origin and authority of Scripture. In spite of his breach with Judaism, St. Paul still held the Law and the Commandments to be holy, righteous, and good ( Romans 7:12), and he repeatedly affirmed that these things were written ‘for our sake’ ( Romans 4:23 f.;  Romans 15:4,  1 Corinthians 9:9 f.;  1 Corinthians 10:6;  1 Corinthians 10:11). Here he found a clear revelation of God’s purposes and an infallible guide for Christians in matters of conduct and doctrine (cf.  Romans 1:2;  Romans 3:4;  Romans 3:10 ff.;  Romans 4:3 ff.;  Romans 8:36;  Romans 9:6 ff;  Romans 10:6 ff.;  Romans 11:9 f.;  Romans 11:26; Rom_13:11; Rom_15:9 ff.;  Romans 15:21,  1 Corinthians 6:16;  1 Corinthians 9:8;  1 Corinthians 9:13;  1 Corinthians 10:18;  1 Corinthians 11:8 f.;  1 Corinthians 14:21; 1Co_14:34; 1Co_15:3; 1Co_15:45; 1Co_15:54;  2 Corinthians 1:20;  2 Corinthians 3:13 ff;  2 Corinthians 6:16 ff;  2 Corinthians 8:15;  2 Corinthians 9:9,  Galatians 3:8;  Galatians 3:16;  Galatians 3:22). The Evangelists saw in the OT foreshadowings of Jesus’ career and proof of His Messiahship ( e.g.  Matthew 1:22;  Matthew 2:5;  Matthew 2:15;  Matthew 2:23;  Matthew 4:14;  Matthew 8:17;  Matthew 11:7 ff;  Matthew 12:17;  Matthew 13:35;  Matthew 21:5,  Mark 1:2 f.;  Mark 4:11 f.;  Mark 11:9 f.;  Mark 12:10 f;  Mark 12:36,  Mark 14:27,  Luke 4:21;  Luke 7:27;  Luke 24:44,  John 12:38;  John 15:25;  John 17:12;  John 19:24;  John 19:28;  John 19:36). For Matthew OT prophecy is virtually a ‘source’ of information about Jesus’ career, as when  Mark 11:1-7, is made to conform to the first evangelist’s interpretation of  Zechariah 9:9 ( Matthew 21:1-7; see also  Matthew 1:22 f.,  Matthew 2:5 f.,  Matthew 15:17 f. etc.).

OT language serves other important purposes in the Gospels, God speaks in this language at Jesus’ Baptism, and again at His Transfiguration; it is used in the conversation between Jesus and Satan; and it furnishes phraseology for some of Jesus most forceful and solemn pronouncements, where sometimes the sound of Holy Writ seems to be prized above perspicuity ( e.g.  Matthew 10:35 ff.;  Mark 4:12;  Mark 12:36;  Mark 15:34). The history of the early community is also Scripturally authenticated ( Acts 1:20;  Acts 2:16 ff;  Acts 4:25 ff.). Thus the NT writers derived not only incidental and descriptive details, but on occasion more important features of their narratives from the OT. This was only natural, since these sacred books were believed to be inspired of God, profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and instruction, and able to make men ‘wise unto salvation’ ( 2 Timothy 3:15 f. cf.  2 Peter 1:19 ff.). Christians gave to the OT all the prestige it had in Judaism, believing that they, through their faith in Christ, had come into possession of the only key to all true interpretation.

The exact content and text of the first Christians’ ‘Bible’ are not known. They were doubtless familiar with the three-fold division of the Jewish canon-the ‘Law,’ the ‘Prophets,’ and the ‘Writings’ ( Luke 24:44[?]), but they probably did not discuss questions of canonicity. Their feeling of spiritual elevation left no room for such academic discussions. And in the portions of Scripture used individual choice seems to have had free play. The evangelists favour the Prophets and the Psalms, while St. Paul and the author of Hebrews cite mainly from the Pentateuch. But there is scarcely a book of the OT with which some NT writer does not show acquaintance. Obad., Ezr., Neh., and Est. are the only exceptions (according to Toy, Quotations in the NT , p. vi, n.[Note: . note.]1). Apocryphal books and popular legends are also used (cf.  1 Corinthians 10:4,  Galatians 3:19,  Acts 7:53,  2 Timothy 3:8,  Hebrews 2:2;  Hebrews 11:37,  Judges 1:6;  Judges 1:9;  Judges 1:14). Textual problems seem to have been ignored. Quotations are mostly from the Septuagint, though use of the Hebrew text has sometimes been supposed. This is very difficult, if not impossible, to prove, since we do not know the exact form of Greek text which a NT writer may have used. A part of the early community ordinarily spoke Aramaic ( Acts 6:1), but Greek writers naturally followed the Septuagintrendering, even when the original tradition was in Aramaic or Hebrew. In fact, there seems to have been little thought about slavish adherence to any text. Christians possessed a superior understanding, which allowed them to alter phraseology, to paraphrase freely, or even to cite loosely from memory.

Thus their methods were more spontaneous than those of scribism, yet the general character of their interpretation was predominantly Jewish. Its free handling of the text, its disregard for the original setting, its logical vagaries, its slight tendency to become artificial, were all Jewish traits. To illustrate from the NT,  Mark 1:2 f. changes the wording of prophecy and disregards its natural meaning in order to make the Christian application possible. A logical non sequitur is illustrated in  Mark 12:26 f., where an original statement about the historic earthly career of Abraham is made the basis for an inference about his future heavenly career. St. Paul’s argument from ‘seed’ and ‘seeds’ ( Galatians 3:16), his comparison between Hagar and Sarah ( Galatians 4:22 ff.), and his interpretation of the OT injunction against muzzling the ox ( 1 Corinthians 9:9 f.), all tend to become artificial. Christians appropriated and imitated Jewish Midrashim seemingly without hesitation, as when St. Paul made Christ the spiritual rock ( 1 Corinthians 10:4; cf. ‘Rabbah’ on  Numbers 1:1). They argued from word-derivation ( Matthew 1:21 ff.), and from the numerical value of letters ( Revelation 13:18; cf. article‘Gemaṭria’ in Jewish Encyclopedia ); and they freely employed figures, types, analogies, allegories ( q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ). They also copied the more sober type of Haggâdic Midrashim . Their emphasis upon the example of their Master, their preservation of His teaching, their harking back to the ancient worthies, are all in line with Jewish custom. The work of the NT interpreter is not so very unlike that of the ideal scribe of  Sirach 39:1 ff. Yet early Christian interpretation did not run to the same extreme of barren artificiality as that of the scribes, nor was it pursued merely for its own sake. As the handmaid of the new faith, it was subordinated to the consciousness of a new spiritual authority in personal experience, a fact which may explain why Christians were partial to OT passages dealing with personal religious life.

Literature.-C. H. Toy, Quotations in the NT , New York, 1884, where earlier literature is cited; F. Johnson, The Quotations of the New Testament from the Old , London, 1896; A. Clemen, Der Gebrauch des AT [Note: T Altes Testament.] in den neutest. Schriften , Gütersloh, 1895; E. Hühn, Die alttest. Citate und Reminiscenzen im NT , Tübingen, 1900; W. Dittmar, Vetus Textamentum in Novo , Göttingen, 1903; E. Grafe, Das Urchristentum und das AT [Note: T Altes Testament.], Tübingen, 1907; P. Glaue, Die Vorlesung heiliger Schriften im Gottesdienste , i., Berlin, 1907; S. J. Case, ‘The NT Writers’ Interpretation of the OT,’ in BW [Note: W Biblical World.]xxxviii. [1911] 92ff. The more general treatises on Hermeneutics usually have a section on the apostolic period.

S. J. Case.

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [2]

The Bible is no ordinary book. It is the written Word of God, communicating God’s purposes to the people of the world. But since those purposes are based on God’s values, not the values of the world, only those whose minds are instructed by God’s Spirit can properly understand them. The Spirit of God is the true interpreter of the Word of God ( 1 Corinthians 2:10-12).

The work of the Holy Spirit

Just as the Spirit of God inspired the writing of the Scriptures in the first place ( 2 Timothy 3:15-16; see Inspiration ), so the Spirit helps Christians to interpret and apply those Scriptures ( 1 Corinthians 2:13). As they understand the circumstances in which the Holy Spirit inspired the original writings, the same Spirit can apply the meaning of those writings to them today. If Christians want the Scriptures to have a relevant message for them, their first duty is to find out what the Scriptures mean. God has given the Holy Spirit not to make Bible study unnecessary, but to make it meaningful.

To help Christians towards a clearer understanding of his Word, God has given to his church teachers, people specially equipped by the Spirit for this task ( 1 Corinthians 12:8;  1 Corinthians 12:28;  Ephesians 4:11-14; see TEACHER). Nevertheless, Christians have a duty to test what their teachers preach or write ( 1 Corinthians 14:29;  1 Thessalonians 5:21), and if they are to do this satisfactorily they must know how to interpret the Scriptures.

Background and purpose

Because the world of the Bible was different from the world today, readers should learn whatever they can about the geographical and social features of the Bible lands. In particular they must understand the historical setting of the books of the Bible. They will understand the messages of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament letter-writers only as they understand the circumstances in which the writers wrote. They will need to know who the writers were, when and where they wrote, and what purpose they had in writing (e.g.  Micah 1:1;  Micah 2:1-3;  Haggai 1:1-6;  1 Corinthians 1:1-2;  1 Corinthians 1:11;  1 Corinthians 5:1;  1 Corinthians 7:1;  1 Thessalonians 3:1-6).

Some books clearly announce their subject and purpose (e.g. Nahum; Galatians), but others require readers to work through the material to find its central theme (e.g. Ecclesiastes; Ephesians). They may also have to consider what sources the writer has drawn upon and how he has used them in developing his message (e.g.  Luke 1:1-4). As they understand a book’s overall purpose, they will have a better understanding of the stories and teachings within the book ( John 20:30-31).

Kind of literature

Among the many forms within the Bible are prose narratives, poems, wisdom sayings, laws, visions, letters, genealogies and debates. Readers must interpret whatever they are reading according to the kind of literature it is. People in Old Testament times recognized the differences between a teacher of the law, a prophet and a wisdom teacher ( Jeremiah 18:18) and interpreted their writings accordingly (see Law; Prophecy; Wisdom Literature )

Unless people are reading the Bible in the original languages (Hebrew in the Old Testament, Greek in the New), whatever they are reading is a translation (see Manuscripts ; Scriptures ). The words and expressions that the original writers used have to be understood in the context of their ancient cultures. Like other languages, the languages of the Bible contain idioms, word pictures and symbolism, and readers will misunderstand the writer if they interpret literally what he meant as a symbol or figure of speech.

In this respect it is particularly important to understand the features of apocalyptic writing (e.g. parts of Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah and Revelation) and the characteristics of Hebrew poetry (e.g. Psalms and many of the prophets). (For details see Apocalyptic Literature; Poetry )

Words and their meanings

Although readers must bear in mind such matters as background, purpose and literary form, their main concern is with the words themselves. This does not mean that readers must carry out a word by word study. In any language the unit of meaning will vary, depending on the style of the writer and the kind of writing. In some places much may depend on one or two words (e.g.  Galatians 3:16), but in others one central idea may be built up over several lines (e.g.  Psalms 118:1-4).

A word’s meaning is decided by the way the writer uses it in the sentence, paragraph or book, not by the way it developed out of other words in the long-distant past. A word may have different meanings in different contexts (e.g. ‘sinner’ in  Ecclesiastes 2:26;  Luke 7:39;  Galatians 2:15), and it is possible that none of these is directly related to the word’s linguistic origins (or etymology). Also, words change their meanings over the years. The meaning of a word in the Old Testament may be different from its meaning in the New, and different again from its meaning today (e.g. see Holiness ; Prophet ).

Progressive revelation

The writing of the books of the Bible was spread over more than a thousand years, and throughout that time God was progressively revealing his purposes. He made known his purposes for the human race not in one moment at the beginning of history, but stage by stage as he prepared people for the fuller revelation that came through Jesus Christ ( Hebrews 1:1-2;  1 Peter 1:10-12). There is therefore a basic unity to the Bible; it is one book. Although readers may understand each of the individual Bible books in its own context, they must also understand each book in the context of the Bible as a whole (see Bible ).

It is therefore important to understand where each book of the Bible belongs in the developing purposes of God. This is especially so in the case of Old Testament books.

By interpreting a book in relation to its place in God’s ongoing revelation, Christians will avoid two extremes. They will not treat the book as if it is merely an ancient document of historical interest, but neither will they try to ‘christianize’ the book by giving ‘spiritual’ meanings to its details. The Old Testament exists as Scripture in its own right ( 2 Timothy 3:15-16) and Christians should recognize this. But because of their knowledge of the New Testament, they may see added significance in the Old (cf.  Leviticus 16:1-28 with  Hebrews 9:6-14). (For further details see Quotations ; Typology .)

However, the Christians’ knowledge of the New Testament does not change the meaning of the Old. The Old Testament revelation might have been imperfect, but only in the sense of being incomplete, not in the sense of being incorrect. It was like the framework of a building still under construction. The fuller revelation in Christ does not correct the Old Testament revelation, but develops it and brings it to fulfilment ( Hebrews 10:1;  1 Peter 1:10-12).

Accepting the Bible’s authority

Even when readers allow for variations because of the progressive nature of biblical revelation, they will still meet cases where different statements or ideas appear hard to reconcile (cf.  Matthew 27:46 with  Luke 23:46; cf.  John 10:28 with  Hebrews 6:4-6). It is dangerous to ‘adjust’ the meaning of one or the other to force it into some neatly ordered scheme of theological interpretation that people have worked out. In reading the Bible Christians need patience. In some cases answers to problems may come later, as their understanding of the Bible increases; in others they may not come at all.

Christians must also respect the authority of the Bible. They must allow the Bible to say what it wants to say, regardless of what they would like it to say. They come to the Bible as those who learn, not as those who want to make it do things for them. Their first duty is not to bring isolated verses together to ‘prove’ their beliefs, but to accept the revelation in the form God gave it and to submit to its teachings. As they allow it to change their thinking and behaviour, they will have a better knowledge of the will of God and a greater likeness to the character of Christ ( John 13:17;  Romans 12:2;  Colossians 3:10;  Colossians 3:16-17).

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [3]

INTERPRETATION . This word and its cognates are found throughout the Bible with a wide variety in their use. 1. In the earlier stages of the history of mankind dreams were looked upon as manifestations of Divine intervention in human affairs, and it was regarded as of the first importance that their mysterious revelations should be explained for those to whom they were vouchsafed. From the story of Joseph we learn that a special class at the court of the Pharaohs discharged the function of interpreters of dreams (cf. ‘magicians’ [RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ‘sacred scribes’] and ‘wise men,’   Genesis 41:8 ), A similar body of wise or learned men is mentioned in the Book of Daniel, for the same object at the court of Babylon (  Daniel 2:2 ff;   Daniel 4:6 f.). The idea that dreams were a means of communication between the Deity and men was also current amongst the Hebrews from a very early date. In the NT we find that dreams occupy the place of direct visions or revelations from God, and no difficulty seems to have been experienced by the recipients as to their precise meaning (  Matthew 1:20;   Matthew 2:12-13;   Matthew 2:19;   Matthew 2:22 ).

2. Turning again to the history of Joseph, we find there an incidental remark which leads us to believe that there was an official interpreter, or a body of interpreters, whose work it was to translate foreign languages into the language of the court (cf. ‘the interpreter,’   Genesis 42:23 ). The qualification to act as interpreter seems to have been required of those who acted as ambassadors at foreign courts (cf.   2 Chronicles 32:31 ). That prominent politicians and statesmen had this means of international communication at their disposal is seen in the translation by the Persian nobles of their letter from their own language into Aramaic (  Ezra 4:7 ). As the Hebrew tongue ceased to be that of the common people, interpreters were required at the sacred services to translate or explain the Law and the Prophets after the reading of the original (see W. R. Smith, OTJC [Note: TJC The Old Test. in the Jewish Church.] 2 36, 64n, 154). In the NT, examples are frequent of the interpretation in Greek of a Hebrew or Aramaic phrase (  Matthew 1:23;   Matthew 27:46 ,   Mark 5:41;   Mark 15:22;   Mark 15:34 ,   John 1:38;   John 1:41 f.,   Acts 4:36;   Acts 9:36;   Acts 13:8 ); and in this connexion it is Interesting to recall the extract from the writings of Papias preserved by Eusebius, in which Mark is called ‘the interpreter of Peter’ (see HE iii. 39) a tradition accepted by Jerome and Athanasius. The most natural explanation is that which makes St. Mark’s Gospel the outcome in Greek of St. Peter’s teaching in his native tongue.

3. The function of the prophets is described as that of interpreters or ambassadors explaining to Israel Jehovah’s messages in terms suited to their capacity (  Isaiah 43:27 , cf. Elihu’s reference to the intercessory or ambassadorial work of angels in interpreting to man what God requires of him in the way of conduct, as well as explaining the mystery of His dealings with men [  Job 33:23 ]).

4. Frequent reference is made by St. Paul to a peculiar phase in the life of the early Corinthian Church speaking with tongues. Whatever may be the precise meaning attaching to this feature of Christian activity, and it is plain that in individual cases the practice gave the Apostle considerable cause for anxiety, one of the special spiritual ‘gifts’ to believers was the power of interpreting these strange utterances . The speaker himself might possess the gift of interpretation and use it for the benefit of the congregation (see   1 Corinthians 14:5;   1 Corinthians 14:13 ), or, on the other hand, he might not. In the latter event his duty was to keep silence, unless an interpreter were at hand to make his message intelligible to the other assembled worshippers (cf.   1 Corinthians 14:26 ff;   1 Corinthians 12:10;   1 Corinthians 12:30 ).

5. A somewhat ambiguous use of the word ‘interpretation’ occurs in   2 Peter 1:20 , where the writer refers to the expounding of ancient prophecies; ‘no prophecy of scripture is of private (RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ‘special’) interpretation.’ Two explanations of this passage are current: (1) the ‘interpretation’ is that of the prophet himself, who, because of his peculiar relation to the Spirit of God, uttered words the full meaning of which he did not comprehend; or (2) the word has a reference to the exegesis of the passage in question by individual readers. The present writer is of opinion that neither explanation does full justice to the author’s idea. If the word translated ‘private’ be confined solely in its meaning to the noun which it qualifies, we may understand by the phrase that no single event or result can be looked on as a complete fulfilment of the prophet’s message. It has a wider range or scope than the happening of any special occurrence, though that occurrence may be regarded as a fulfilment of the prophet’s announcement.

J. R. Willis.

Webster's Dictionary [4]

(1): ( n.) The sense given by an interpreter; exposition or explanation given; meaning; as, commentators give various interpretations of the same passage of Scripture.

(2): ( n.) The power or explaining.

(3): ( n.) An artist's way of expressing his thought or embodying his conception of nature.

(4): ( n.) The act or process of applying general principles or formulae to the explanation of the results obtained in special cases.

(5): ( n.) The act of interpreting; explanation of what is obscure; translation; version; construction; as, the interpretation of a foreign language, of a dream, or of an enigma.

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [5]

Revealing the true meaning of supernatural dreams,  Genesis 41:1-57   Daniel 2:4 , unknown tongues, etc.,  1 Corinthians 12:12,30   14:5,13 .

For the right interpretation of the word of God, the chief requisites are, a renewed heart, supremely desirous to learn and do the will of God; the aid of the Holy Spirit, sought and gained; a firm conviction that the word of God should rule the erring season and heart of man; a diligent comparison of its different parts, for the light they throw upon each other; all reliable information as to the history and geography, the customs, laws, and languages, the public, domestic, and inner life of Bible times. Thus to study the Bible for one's self is the privilege and duty of every one.

King James Dictionary [6]

INTERPRETA'TION, n. L. interpretatio.

1. The act of interpreting explanation of unintelligible words in language that is intelligible. Interpretation is the design of translation. 2. The act of expounding or unfolding what is not understood or not obvious as the interpretation of dreams and prophecy.

Look how we can, or sad or merrily,

Interpretation will misquote our looks.

3. The sense given by an interpreter exposition. We sometimes find various interpretations of the same passage of Scripture and other ancient writings. 4. The power of explaining.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [7]

in - tûr - prē̇ - tā´shun  :

1. General Principles

Is a generic term and may refer to any work of literature. Referred specifically to the sacred Scriptures, the science of interpretation is generally known as hermeneutics, while the practical application of the principles of this science is exegesis. In nearly all cases, interpretation has in mind the thoughts of another, and then, further, these thoughts expressed in another language than that of the interpreter. In this sense it is used in Biblical research. A person has interpreted the thoughts of another when he has in his own mind a correct reproduction or photograph of the thought as it was conceived in the mind of the original writer or speaker. It is accordingly a purely reproductive process, involving no originality of thought on the part of the interpreter. If the latter adds anything of his own it is eisegesis and not exegesis . The moment the Bible student has in his own mind what was in the mind of the author or authors of the Biblical books when these were written, he has interpreted the thought of the Scriptures.

The interpretation of any specimen of literature will depend on the character of the work under consideration. A piece of poetry and a chapter of history will not be interpreted according to the same principles or rules. Particular rules that are legitimate in the explanation of a work of fiction would be entirely out of place in dealing with a record of facts. Accordingly, the rules of the correct interpretation of the Scriptures will depend upon the character of these writings themselves, and the principles which an interpreter will employ in his interpretation of the Scriptures will be in harmony with his ideas of what the Scriptures are as to origin, character, history, etc. In the nature of the case the dogmatical stand of the interpreter will materially influence his hermeneutics and exegesis. In the legitimate sense of the term, every interpreter of the Bible is "prejudiced," i.e. is guided by certain principles which he holds antecedently to his work of interpretation. If the modern advanced critic is right in maintaining that the Biblical books do not differ in kind or character from the religious books of other ancient peoples, such as the Indians or the Persians, then the same principles that he applies in the case of the Rig Veda or the Zend Avesta he will employ also in his exposition of the Scriptures. If, on the other hand, the Bible is for him a unique collection of writings, Divinely inspired and a revelation from the source of all truth, the Bible student will hesitate long before accepting contradictions, errors, mistakes, etc., in the Scriptures.

2. Special Principles

The Scriptures are a Divine and human product combined. That the holy men of God wrote as they were moved by the Spirit is the claim of the Scriptures themselves. Just where the line of demarcation is to be drawn between the human and the Divine factors in the production of the sacred Scriptures materially affects the principles of interpreting these writings (see Inspiration ). That the human factor was sufficiently potent to shape the form of thought in the Scriptures is evident on all hands. Paul does not write as Peter does, nor John as James; the individuality of the writer of the different books appears not only in the style, choice of words, etc., but in the whole form of thought also. There are such things as a Pauline, a Johannine and a Petrine type of Christian thought, although there is only one body of Christian truth underlying all types. Insofar as the Bible is exactly like other books, it must be interpreted as we do other works of literature. The Scriptures are written in Hebrew and in Greek, and the principles of forms and of syntax that would apply to the explanation of other works written in these languages and under these circumstances must be applied to the Old Testament and New Testament also. Again, the Bible is written for men, and its thoughts are those of mankind and not of angels or creatures of a different or higher spiritual or intellectual character; and accordingly there is no specifically Biblical logic, or rhetoric, or grammar. The laws of thought and of the interpretation of thought in these matters pertain to the Bible as they do to other writings.

But in regard to the material contents of the Scriptures, matters are different and the principles of interpretation must be different. God is the author of the Scriptures which He has given through human agencies. Hence, the contents of the Scriptures, to a great extent, must be far above the ordinary concepts of the human mind. When John declares that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to redeem it, the interpreter does not do justice to the writer if he finds in the word "God" only the general philosophical conception of the Deity and not that God who is our Father through Christ; for it was the latter thought that was in the mind of the writer when he penned these words. Thus, too, it is a false interpretation to find in "Our Father" anything but this specifically Biblical conception of God, nor is it possible for anybody but a believing Christian to utter this prayer ( Matthew 6:9 ) in the sense which Christ, who taught it to His disciples, intended.

Again, the example of Christ and His disciples in their treatment of the Old Testament teaches the principle that the ipse dixit of a Scriptural passage is to be interpreted as decisive as to its meaning. In the about 400 citations from the Old Testament found in the New Testament, there is not one in which the mere "It is written" is not regarded as settling its meaning. Whatever may be a Bible student's theory of inspiration, the teachings and the examples of interpretation found in the Scriptures are in perfect. harmony in this matter.

These latter facts, too, show that in the interpretation of the Scriptures principles must be applied that are not applicable in the explanation of other books. As God is the author of the Scriptures He may have had, and, as a matter of fact, in certain cases did have in mind more than the human agents through whom He spoke did themselves understand. The fact that, in the New Testament, persons like Aaron and David, institutions like the law, the sacrificial system, the priesthood and the like, are interpreted as typical of persons and things under the New Covenant shows that the true significance, e.g. of the Levitical system, can be found only when studied in the light of the New Testament fulfillment.

Again, the principle of parallelism, not for illustrative but for argumentative purposes, is a rule that can, in the nature of the case, be applied to the interpretation of the Scriptures alone and not elsewhere. As the Scriptures represent one body of truth, though in a kaleidoscopic variety of forms, a statement on a particular subject in one place can be accepted as in harmony with a statement on the same subject elsewhere. In short, in all of those characteristics in which the Scriptures are unlike other literary productions, the principles of interpretation of the Scriptures must also be unlike those employed in other cases.

3. Historical Data

Owing chiefly to the dogmatical basis of hermeneutics as a science, there has been a great divergence of views in the history of the church as to the proper methods of interpretation. It is one of the characteristic and instructive features of the New Testament writers that they absolutely refrain from the allegorical method of interpretation current in those times, particularly in the writings of Philo. Not even  Galatians 4:22 , correctly understood, is an exception, since this, if an allegorical interpretation at all, is an argumentum ad hominem . The sober and grammatical method of interpretation in the New Testament writers stands out, too, in bold and creditable contrast to that of the early Christian exegetes, even of Origen. Only the Syrian fathers seemed to be an exception to the fantasies of the allegorical methods. The Middle Ages produced nothing new in this sphere; but the Reformation, with its formal principle that the Bible and the Bible alone is the rule of faith and life, made the correct grammatical interpretation of the Scriptures practically a matter of necessity. In modern times, not at all prolific in scientific discussions of hermeneutical principles and practices, the exegetical methods of different interpreters are chiefly controlled by their views as to the origin and character of the Scriptural books, particularly in regard to their inspiration.


Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics , New York, 1884. Here the literature is fully given, as also in Weidner's Theological Encyclopedia , I, 266ff.