Chapter II:45: The Means of Biblical Interpretation: The Analogy of Context

Therefore, so that at this point we might separate what is genuine from what is alien, in addition to the Analogy of Faith special attention must be given also to the Analogy of Context, lest the sense of Scripture be rendered vague, and whatever be inferred from whatever.  Thus the Theologian ought not to draw back in the exposition of the divine Law from the Rule of the Lawyers, law XXIV, de Legibus, book I, Digest,[1] chapter III, in which they state that it is not civil to judge or to answer, except with the entire Law considered, together with that one particular of it set forth.  The Jews also hold that those that do not consider what things have gone before and what things follow pervert the Scripture.  Likewise, AUGUSTINE notes that this is the fraud of the heretics, libro contra Adimantum, chapter XIV, opera, tome 8, column 93, that they pick out certain bits from the Scriptures, with which they would deceive the ignorant, not connecting what things were written above and below, by which the will and intention of the writer is able to be understood.  To this has regard the Consistency of any Exposition with the entire phrase, the things preceeding and followsin, in the time and place of the writing, according to the admonition of JEROME on Matthew 25:13:  “I always admonish the prudent reader:  that he rest not in superstitious interpretations and what things are said in an abbreviated fashion according to the will of imaginative men:  but consider the things prior, middle, and following, and tie together for himself the entirety of what things are written:”  especially also with the Scope/Goal of the one speaking, which in the exposition of Scripture CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA wills not to be neglected, in Johannem, book X, chapter II, opera, tome 4, page 861, in which he says, Οἶμαι γὰρ ἔγωγε τοὺς εἰς ἕκαστα τῶν λεγομένων συνιέναι ὀρθῶς, εἰς τὸν τοῦ θεωρήματος ἀποβλέπειν σκοπὸν, σὺν πολλῇ τῇ φρονήσει κατασκέπτεσθαι δεῖν, for I suppose, for my part, that those that wish rightly to understand anything that is said, must give attention to the purpose of the discussion, and ought attentively to consider the sense.  Thus, for example, when I read in Genesis 1:3 that God created Light, it is not repugnant to the Analogy of faith, by Light to understand metaphorically Angels, whom God also created, and most likely on the same day:  but this is repugnant to the Analogy of Context, which teaches that in that place Moses speaks concerning Light, properly speaking, in opposition to darkness.  WESSELIUS, in Oratione de Simplicitate prudenti in Oratore Sacro, pages 23, 24:  “Certainly to this Simplicity of Matters it is repugnant to conjoin in an Ecclesiastical sermon many sentences/opinions, if only they be true in themselves, and not contrary to the analogy of faith and of Scripture:  under this pretext, that all are true, and that the Holy Spirit foresaw the setting forth of them by various interpreters, and thus willed to furnish for us in one passage more than one truth; just as Augustine speaks unto this sense in the Libris de Doctrina Christiana, book III, chapter XXVII.  For all truth is not contained in each and every passage of Scripture, neither do words signify in every place what they are capable of signifying, but what they must signify in the individual Passages, according to the scope of the speaker and according to the connection of the words.  So that I might illustrate this matter with only one Example, I adduce the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:6, God said that Light should shine out of the darkness.  It is true that God had said; that the original, tangible Light should emerge from the abyss of darkness, the Light of His Word should go forth in the darkness of the world, the Light of Faith should arise in the darkened hearts of the Elect, and finally the Light of heavenly glory should shine after the darkness of death.  But all this variety of Light, corporeal and spiritual, is not on that account to be conjoined, nor is it understood by Paul, who beyond all doubt had regard to the original Light produced at the Beginning of the world.  For the Comparison of the Old Creation with the New is manifest in his words.”

[1] The Digest, or Pandects, was a compendium of Roman law, compiled at the command of Justinian I.

Chapter II:45: The Means of Biblical Interpretation: The Analogy of Faith

Unto this normative use of Scripture pertains the Analogy, both of Faith, and of Context.  The former expression is found in Paul, Romans 12:6, εἴτε προφητείαν, whether prophecy, that is, ἔχοντες/having, κατὰ τὴν ἀναλογίαν τῆς πίστεως, according to the analogy of faith:  by which the Apostle there understands either the quantity and Measure of faith granted to each one, or rather (because he had expressed this with another phrase in verse 3, μέτρον πίστεως, the measure of faith, which ἑκάστῳ—ὁ Θεὸς ἐμέρισε, God measured to every man), the Agreement with the certain truths of Scripture, confirmed by unbroken tradition; as Theologians take the word here:  the consistent harmony and agreement of all the heads of faith, exhibited in the more luminous sayings of Scripture, just as ἀναλογία/analogy means proportion to Mathematicians and Geometers.  And Theologians desire that before all things attention be given to this Analogy of Faith because of the Uniformity of the divine Word in the exposition of it, so that hence one might be able to be certain of the truth or falsity of an Interpretation in a general way:  for, as no truth is able to agree with what is false, so no truth is able to be inconsistent with another truth:  whereby, if the Interpretation of a Passage is inconsistent with the fixed doctrine of faith, it shall be repudiated as false:  thus the Analogy of Faith teaches, that God is Spirit; whence I know that, when in other Passages human members are ascribed to Him, this is to be understood improperly.  At the same time, this Rule of Interpretation is general, by which one is able to be certain of the truth or falsity of it in general; but not proper/particular, whence I might be made more certain that this is the genuine exposition of this or that passage.  For an Interpretation can be consistent with the Analogy of Faith, and yet be alien to the true sense of this or that passage:  whence it is not uncommon that six or seven true and orthodox Interpretations are given of one and the same passage, only one of which is able to be said to be genuine.

Chapter II:45: The Means of Biblical Interpretation: Scripture Itself

But for the Interpreter of the Scriptures attention is especially to be given to the Scripture itself, as the sole Rule and Guide Star of all true interpretation, and the true spiritual meditation of which to our AUTHOR is the Key of Knowledge, taken away by the Pharisees, Luke 11:52, namely, when they were teaching the people to adhere to the external husk of the Law, or were seducing their souls from the written Word to human traditions.

That regard to the Scripture itself is to be held as principal in the Interpretation of Scripture, is proven, α. from passages frequently adduced, Luke 16:29; 2 Peter 1:19, 20; etc.:  β. from the parallel with human writings, which, each and every one, generally have their own idioms, and they are not more successfully understood than if you learn to explain the phraseology of the author from diverse passages of him compared one to another:  γ. from the requirements of a norm, especially infallibility, perspicuity, since what things are in one place set forth more obscurely are more clearly explained elsewhere, ready application:  δ. to which many also refer Nehemiah 8:8, וְשׂ֣וֹם שֶׂ֔כֶל וַיָּבִ֖ינוּ בַּמִּקְרָֽא׃, which they then interpret: and by expounding the sense, they gave understanding through the Scripture itself, as JUNIUS and TREMELLIUS translate it; in the place of which others have, in the reading, in reading, in the midst of reading; while others also simply translate it, they caused to understand the Scripture:  consult VAN MASTRICHT’S Gangrænam Novitatum Cartesianarum, prior section, chapter X, § 20, page 127, in which he defends the first proposed version of this passage against the author of Exercitationis Paradoxicæ de Philosophia Scripturæ Interprete.  HILARY, de Trinitate, book I, chapter XVIII, opera, columns 776, 777, piously advises:  “For he is the Best Reader, who expects, rather than imposes, an understanding of the things said from the things said, and who carries away more than he brings:  neither does he force what he before the Reading presumed was to be understood to appear to be contained in the things said.  And so, when the speech shall be about the things of God:  let us concede to God the knowledge of Himself, and let us attend upon His words with pious veneration.  For He is the best witness to Himself, who is not known except through Himself.”

Chapter II:45: The Means of Biblical Interpretation: Learning

When thus by Prayers we have commended ourselves to God, and have brought a Spirit well disposed to the searching of the Scripture, our diligent Labor is additionally required in searching out the true Sense of Sacred Scripture.  To this end makes the collation of various Interpretation, ancient, indeed even Jewish, to be sought in their Targumim, but also the Interpretations of the Rabbis.  For the easier understanding of the Sense of the divine Word also makes the mind instructed in the Helps of human Literature, Philology, Philosophy, and History; yet in such a way that the authority of the sacred history always remains superior to foreign history:  and that we would not without great necessity gather out of foreign literature in the explanation of the Sacred Scripture, merely to show our erudition; but only for the illustration of Sacred Scripture does that store of erudition serve us.  Neither unwelcome, nor useless to read in this case, is the Oratio de Subsidiis Scientiæ Theologicæ, which the Most Illustrious VAN IRHOVEN[1] delivered in the year 1739, when he laid down the Magistracy of the Academy at Utrecht; inasmuch as he commends familiarity with Languages, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, other nearby Eastern; with the Antiquities of the Hebrew, Greeks, Romans, and other Nations; with History, Sacred and profane; with Chronology and Geography; with the Critics; with Philosophy, namely, Logic, Metaphysics, Pneumatics, Physics, Geometry, Ethics, Rhetoric; as eminently useful and altogether necessary for the Theologian and Interpreter of the Scriptures.

Just as also our AUTHOR among the other helps for Interpretation desires an investigation into the Original Languages, so that we might be able rightly to attend to the emphasis of the Original Expressions, which is often particular in them.  Indeed, Weigel strays a great way, who in Confessionibus, page 34, writes:  “True Theology is easy, and it does not require artes dicendi, the spoken arts, Grammar, Dialectics, Rhetoric, and Languages, as of no use, and the Apostles and Prophets were none the less Theologians without them.”  But the infused habits of the Prophets or Apostles greatly differ from our acquired habits.  And a distinction is also able to be made here between each private believer, and the public Interpreter of the Scriptures.  Our AUTHOR observes that many Anabaptists are also to be noted here with Weigel as despising the helps of Literature, Language, etc., in the Interpretation of Scripture, which has already been observed in Chapter I, § 32.  Consult also STEPHANUS GAUSSENUS’ de Studii Theologici ratione, pages 63 and following, who specifically on pages 66-72 contemplates this question, Whether Philosophy, or Human Arts, make rather for the use of Theology; and if either of these disciplines is to be omitted, which would appear to do less damage to theological studies by its absence?  Now, read BUDDEUS, Isagoge ad Theologiam universam, book I, chapter IV, tome I, pages 104-332, who differs from many, and practically all, concerning Theological Prolegomena.

[1] Willem van Irhoven (1698-1760) was a Dutch Reformed Minister and Theologian.  He served as Professor of Theology (1737-1740), and then as Professor of Church History (1740-1760) at Utrecht.

Chapter II:45: The Means of Biblical Interpretation: Piety

The requisite Means for the successful Interpretation of the Scripture are set forth by our AUTHOR.  Postively in § 45.  Negatively in § 46, 47.

He commends, and not without good reason, before all things Prayer to God, that He might be pleased to bless us with the illumination of the Spirit; since, as each one is the best interpreter of his own words, so God Himself, author of the θεοπνεύστου/ inspired Word through the Spirit, knows best how to teach and explain to us the intention of His own words through the illumination of the same Spirit, Psalm 119:18.  Now, James commends prayer as the proper means of acquiring and increasing saving wisdom, James 1:5, 6.  AUGUSTINE, book III de Doctrina Christiana, chapter XXXVII, opera, tome 3, part I, columns 48, 49:  “But also students of the venerable books are to be admonished, that is is principal and especially necessary, that they pray so that they might understand.  Since in these books, to which they are devoted, they read that the Lord gives wisdom, and from His presence knowledge and understanding;[1] from whom also they received that very devotion, if it is furnished with piety.”  Excellent prayers of this sort for asking the heavenly wisdom and grace of the Spirit, as especially necessary in the explication of the divine Word and matters of faith, are found at the end of book I of HILARY’S de Trinitate, chapters XXXVII, XXXVIII, columns 785, 786.

Our AUTHOR then requires a humble, teachable, attentive, and pious Spirit.  For a profane Spirit is to be kept far from the handling of the divine and most holy Scriptures:  a mind puffed up with an opinion of vain wisdom will likewise accomplish little here:  but the Spirit is to be imbued with a holy and filial fear of God, which teaches us to handle the writings of our heavenly Father reverently:  having been persuaded of our natural blindness in spiritual things we ought to lay our high spirits low, and in the full obedience of faith to submit ourselves to the divine testimony revealed to us in the Scripture, so that from it we might be instructed unto salvation[2] by the Lord through the Spirit.  Indeed, the great Teacher loves disciples of this sort, James 4:6; Psalm 25:9, 14; Isaiah 66:2; Matthew 11:25:  consult AUGUSTINE, de Doctrina Christiana, book II, chapter XLI, XLII, opera, tome 3, part I, columns 33, 34.

[1] Proverbs 2:6.

[2] See 2 Timothy 3:15.

Chapter II:44: The Object of Interpretation: the Whole of Scripture, Part 5

Before all things, the exposition of Controverted Passages is not to be neglected, so that they might be useful for the silencing of adversaries, Titus 1:9; 2 Timothy 2:16, 25. For this is to do what is no less useful than to deliver Systematic Theology:  for this has likewise been done of old, and yet remains especially necessary.  As long as errors do not cease, the solid refutation of the same is not to be forgotten.  In the midst of a time of peace, arms are still to be handled, lest we become unaccustomed to them.  How much more when we see ourselves surrounded on all sides by enemies, who never cease to oppose true doctrine; moreover, new arms are constantly being forged, with which they might rise up against us:  against whose darts our soul is hence to be fortified.

Chapter II:44: The Object of Interpretation: the Whole of Scripture, Part 4

In particular our AUTHOR maintains that the Prophecies are to be contemplated with diligence, according to the admonitions of the Lord, Matthew 24:15, and of His beloved disciple, Revelation 1:3; by which appointment the Obscurity that obtains in certain and many Prophecies ought not to discourage us; since, on the other hand, this furnishes an argument to whet our diligence, while frequent meditation upon the prophetic Writers gradually makes those things easier that at first appeared to be impossibly difficulty, Daniel 12:4:  consult CARPZOV’S Introductionem ad Libros Propheticos Veteris Testamenti, chapter I, § 23, pages 65, 66.

Nevertheless, in the Prophecies that contemplation must be coupled with all prudence, that is, lest we be completely in those Prophecies with the neglect of the more necessary doctrine and practices, or we mold the Prophecies according to our pleasure, or we draw all thing to hypotheses once assumed by us, for example, Periodic hypotheses, concerning which see below, Chapter XXXII, § 29-31.

Chapter II:44: The Object of Interpretation: the Whole of Scripture, Part 3

Whether the yearly explication of the Dominical texts be altogether abrogated, as was done in a great many of the Reformed Churches of France, Scotland, the Netherlands: or the abuses originating in the Papacy be excised, but the use of explaining the Dominical texts in an annual course be retained in some measure, as was done in the Protestant Church throughout Germany, England, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Hungary, in which regions something was conceded to the rudeness of the people, with the integrity of the Word preserved, no less than the liberites of the Pastors and Church.  Indeed, with the Integrity of the Word preserved, because in other sermons the Pastors declare to the people the whole Word of God in the Old and New Testaments in order, although one be allotted to the Dominical texts, of which sort something also obtains in some of our Churches. With the Liberty of the Pastors and Church also preserved:  because thus they are not bound to them, indeed, as often as they please or the circumstances require, either they may put other texts in their place, or they may augment the same texts by the addition of what precedes or follows, or diminish.

In various ways this is rightly done: only let it ever be for the sake of the progress and edification both of the teachers and of the learners.  Among the particular Questions set forth at the General Synod of Middelburg in 1581, the Twentieth was this:  Whether it is expedient to explain the Dominical Gospels before the people? Response:  It is better that an entire Book of the Old or New Testament be explained, than this or that part of it:  yet with this prudence applied, that Books be selected of the sort that most suit the Condition of the Church.  VOETIUS, Politicæ Ecclesiasticæ, part I, book II, tractate II, chapter III, page 607:  “In the selecting of texts to be explained the Preacher is to have regard for the necessity and present state of his Church.  For he ought to know what exhortations, what corrections, what didactic instructions, what consolations, what reproofs, are even now required by these.  Beyond this necessity it appears to be intended, and in our well constituted churches observed, that entire books, or at least whole chapters, be explained in continuous order.  To bind themselves and others to the Dominical texts perpetually breaking into the order, appears less advantageous.  For the whole counsel of the Lord is not able to be set forth to the Church by occasion of those texts:  unless against the art and method of preaching one should wish to wander about, and to bring not a few doctrines to the text rather than bring them from the text.  Finally, whoever the author of those sections may have been, it is not able to be denied that other texts to be set forth to the hearers upon the pretext of sounder sermons could have been selected, and could have been partly added to, partly substituted in the place of, those already selected.  I judge that it is not at all suitable to these things, that Preachers in whatever parts of the world, and at whatever time, be bound to the explanation of those dominical texts, even indeed on those state Lord’s Days; when the present posture of affairs and of Churches appears to require other texts, and other tracts.  Apart from the fact that among the dominical texts some occur, the explication of which ought to be dischared not so much in one, as in two, three, or more Lord’s Day meetings.  Finally, this inconvenience appears to follow from this postillophagia, that such Dominical Sermons constantly breaking in upon the order fosters ignorance and idleness among both the Preachers and the Hearers:  as experience has proven:”  see what addition things follow there.

Chapter II:44: The Object of Interpretation: the Whole of Scripture, Part 2

Now, those postillary Readings and their yearly repetition was received by the common consent of the Church, so that the rude common folk, who were not able to read Scripture, nor to preserve it in memory, might thereby more easily learn the History of Christ and some principal testimonies concerning the articles of Faith and Christian duties toward God and the neighbor.

But in this way the Reading of the Bible gradually fell into disuse, and the attentiveness of those learning, together with the diligence and progress of those teaching, was necessarily much diminished; while the Ministers considered nothing, but acquiesced in those Readings and Homilies.

It is certainly superior, therefore, that the explication be extended to the whole Scripture, whether the Books in their entirety be expounded in continuous order, or a text be select from here or there according to the time and emergent circumstance, with the rule of the maximum edification of the Church always in view. Thus, α. Paul led the way, Acts 20:27.  β. To this end the entirety of Scripture was committed to writing for us, Romans 15:4.  γ. And the explication of the entirety of Scripture furnishes for us eminent and most ample uses, 2 Timothy 3:16.

Chapter II:44: The Object of Interpretation: the Whole of Scripture, Part 1

On the Object of Interpretation, to which our AUTHOR now comes, he maintains that it is to be extended to the Whole Scripture, not restricted the Gospels of the Lord alone, or some Pericopes of the Gospels and Epistles, wont to be read aloud and explained on the Lord’s Day, and making a circuit yearly, as the same in many Calendars also are wont to be assigned to particular Lord’s Days. That is, when in the primitive Church the Sacred Books in their entirety were wont both to be read and to be explained by the Bishops in order, yet with particular texts selected on the feasts of Christ’s Nativity, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost:  certain Pericopes were chosen from the Gospels and adapted to certain times of the year; until Charlemagne near the beginning of the Ninth Century appointed Paul Warnefridus the younger, first Deacon of Aquileia,[1] whnce he is called Paul the Deacon, and finally a Monk Monte Cassino; until, I say, he appoint him out of the Homilies of the Fathers to subjoin to particular texts what thing make for their explication; which he furnished in a book that thence was called Homiliarium/Homiliary:  from which time today’s division of the dominical texts was established, and the practice grew, that in the place of Sermons anniversary Lectiones/Readings of those Homilies, taken by Paul from the Fathers and arranged under the particular texts, were subjoined to the texts read aloud, whence his work is also called Lectionarium/Lectionary; and also Postillarium/Postillary, because those homilectical, or explanatory, Readings were called Postils, by a word barbarously constructed from post/after and illa/ those, since they were following post illa, after those things that had been read aloud from the Sacred text.  But what is set forth in writing, that today’s division of those Gospel Pericopes is attributed to JEROME, does not approve itself to Critics of keen judgment:  see SPANHEIM, Historia Ecclesiastica, Century IX, chapter XIV, § 7, columns 1414, 1415; RUMPÆUS, Commentatione critica ad Novi Testamenti Libros, § XXXIX, pages 176-201; BUDDEUS, Isagoge ad Theologiam universam, book II, chapter VIII, § 10, tome 2, pages 1640-1645a.

[1] Aquileia is a town in northeastern Italy.