The Respect Due In The Interpretation Of The New Testament To The Analogy Of The Faith, Or From One Part Of Scripture To Another; And The Further Respect To Be Had To The Religions Of The Ancient World, The True And The False.
Here our first line of inquiry shall be, into the relation of one part of New Testament Scripture to another—whether any respect, or, if any, what respect, should be had in our interpretations to what is called the “analogy” or “rule of faith”.
Exegesis of Rom. 12:6 – κατὰ τὴν ἀναλογίαν τῆς πίστεως
The expression, the “analogy of faith”, is derived from Rom. 12:6, where the subject of discourse is the exercise of spiritual ministrations or gifts, and where, in regard to the gift of prophecy, it is said, that they who possess the gift, should employ it κατὰ τὴν ἀναλογίαν τῆς πίστεως (according to the analogy of the faith), as some would render it;—and when so rendered, it becomes very nearly synonymous with “according to the rule of faith”. For analogy in such a connection can only be understood as denoting the common agreement, the standard χανων, or rule, which results from a comparison of one part of Scripture with another. And there can be no doubt, that the word αναλογια is sometimes so used; for it is defined, by the old lexicographer Hesychius, as “measure”, “canon”, or “rule”. Yet the sense, which is thus obtained, is not suitable to the connection in the passage before us, and is now generally abandoned by commentators, although it is still retained by Hodge.
When treating of persons, who do not merely pretend to possess, but who are actually endowed with, the gift of prophecy, an exhortation to use it in accordance with the great principles of the Christian faith seems out of place; for it were really no gift at all, unless it took of itself this divinely prescribed course. The “faith” here meant is to be understood, not objectively as a comprehensive term for the truths and doctrines of the Christian religion, but subjectively, for the internal principle of spiritual discernment and apprehension, on which the soul’s recipiency in respect to prophetical gifts, and fitness for exercising them, depends.
According to the measure or proportion—such is undoubtedly the usual import of αναλογια—of this faith, says the apostle, let each one prophesy, who is spiritually endowed for that work; let him ply his function, or give forth the instructions he has to communicate, agreeably to the light and strength enjoyed by him—not seeking to go beyond it, on the one hand, and not falling short of it, on the other. Understood thus, the exhortation comes to be much of the same import as that of Paul to Timothy, to “stir up the gift that was in him”—meaning, that he should not allow the spiritual endowments conferred on him to slumber, nor divert them to a wrong use, but should endeavor to bring them into full and proper exercise.
Some of the early Fathers make mention of a rule of faith (regula fidei), to which all teaching in the Church was to be conformed, or, if contrary to it, condemned. By this was originally meant, no specific creed or set form of words, but merely the general principles of the faith, of which various summaries are given by Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, agreeing in the main, but by no means altogether the same. Augustine, in his Treatise de Doc. Christiana III. 2, expressly defines it to be the sense or doctrine, which is gathered from the plainer parts of Scripture. Speaking there of the difficulties which the student of Scripture sometimes meets with in his efforts to ascertain the meaning, he says, “Consulat regulam fidei, quam de Scripturarum planioribus locis et Ecclesiae auctoritate percepit” (Let him rule the sense of the more obscure and difficult parts of Scripture by such as are of plainer import, and the common faith held by the orthodox Church). And should this prove insufficient, then, he adds, let him carefully examine the connection, and endeavor to get light to the particular text from what goes before or follows. The expression, however, of the “rule of faith” came by-and-by to be understood of the creeds publicly authorized and sanctioned by the Church; and in the hands of Vincent of Lérins it came to assume the form of an all-embracing principle of conformity—in the famous maxim, Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est (That faith which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all). By thus establishing universality, antiquity, and general consent as the great criterion of truth and duty, tradition was virtually exalted above Scripture—and the maxim has hence passed as a watchword among Roman Catholic theologians and their High Church imitators. In this sense the rule is, of course, rejected by all sound Protestant writers.
Yet there is also a sense in which it has been accepted by them, and has commonly had a place assigned it in the hermeneutics of the new testament. Ernesti, for example, thus writes of it in his Institutes:
“Analogy of doctrine or of faith, which is rarely defined with sufficient accuracy, depends not upon the system received by any sect of Christians, as unfair and ignorant men falsely assert; for in that case the rule would be variable;—nor on the mutual relation of its parts—just as legal analogy does not consist in the body of laws, nor in the mutual connection and dependence of single laws; nor grammatical analogy in the words themselves. But as grammatical analogy is the law and form of language established by usage, to which is opposed anomaly, that is, departure from the established usage and forms of speech; so the analogy of doctrine or faith rests upon the main points of Christian doctrine evidently declared in Scripture, and thence denominated by the Latin doctors, the Regula Fidei. To these everything is to be referred, so that no interpretation can be received, which is not consistent with them. Nor, as far as relates to matters of faith and practice, is the analogy of Scripture anything different from the analogy of doctrine.”
This is a very plain and reasonable account of the matter; although one may justly say, with Dr. Terrot, the translator of Ernesti, that the expression has not been happily chosen, and that it were better to say, Scripture, like all other books, ought to be interpreted consistently. When the analogy or rule of faith is mentioned as a standard or rule of interpretation, it naturally suggests something apart from Scripture— some sort of compend or exhibition of its leading principles; whereas all that is really meant, is, that one part of Scripture should not be isolated and explained without a proper regard being had to the relation in which it stands to other parts. This is a consideration, which must be taken into account generally, without respect to any peculiarity in the nature of the writings we have to deal with; but it should have place more especially in the interpretation of Scripture; for the Word of God must be consistent with itself, while the word of man may not.
“The books of Scripture were not handed down to us by chance or accident; neither are we to regard them only as a manual of sayings and examples, or as isolated relics of antiquity, from which no perfect whole, no comprehensive and finished plan, can be educed; but as a matchless, regular account of God’s dealings with man through every age of the world, from the commencement to the end of time, even to the consummation of all things. They indicate together one beautiful, harmonious, and gloriously connected system. For, though each scriptural book is in itself something entire, and though each of the inspired penmen has his own manner and style of writing, one and the self-same spirit breathes through all; one grand idea pervades all.” source
Thus understood, the principle of which we speak is not fairly open to the objection urged against it by Dr. Campbell in his 4th Preliminary Dissertation. He represents it as implying, that we have first somehow learned the scheme of truth revealed in Scripture, and that, with this previously arranged scheme in our heads, we then go to Scripture, not in order to learn the truths it contains, but in order to find something that may be made to ratify our opinions.
This is, no doubt, what has too often been done; and, whenever done, ought to be strongly repudiated by all who have a proper reverence for the authority of Scripture. But in its fair and legitimate application the principle has respect only to the more doubtful or abrupt parts of the Word of God, and simply requires, that these should be brought into comparison with the other and clearer statements contained in it; so that no erroneous or partial meaning may be imposed on them, and amid various possible interpretations such a one may not be adopted as would place them at variance with the fundamental truths and pervading spirit of Scripture. The selection of one or two examples will serve to exhibit more distinctly its true nature and proper application.
In Matt. 4:1, it is stated, respecting our Lord, that “He was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil;” while in James 1:13, the general principle is laid down, that God tempteth no man; and it is the plain import of what is taught in Scripture concerning God, that being Himself infinitely wise and good, He cannot take a course with His children which has for its object the enticing of them to sin. This general doctrine, therefore, so frequently announced, and so necessarily flowing from the character of God, must so far be allowed to qualify the statement respecting the design of our Lord’s being led into the wilderness, that we dissociate from it the idea, which we usually couple with tempting—that of an intention to draw into evil. The leading, on the Spirit’s part, into the field of temptation, was for the purpose of victory over sin, not of subjection to its power.
God’s Care For His People
In the course of that temptation, Satan brought into remembrance a promise, contained in Ps. 91 expressing in the strongest and most comprehensive terms the charge, which the Lord gives to the angels over His own people, and the certainty with which, in consequence, they shall be kept in all their ways. But, in reply to the use made of this promise by the tempter, for the purpose of inducing our Lord to cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, He placed, not as an antagonistic, but as a restrictive consideration, the precept, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God”—showing that here, as in respect generally to the promises of Scripture, the whole is to be understood as bounded and qualified by the plain rules of duty—nothing promised is ever meant to supersede or disannul what has been commanded.
Peter the Rock
The special promise given to the apostle Peter, in Matt. 16:18, as to his being the Rock on which Christ should build His Church, is to be dealt with in a similar manner;—instead of being isolated, as is done by Romanists, and the meaning of its terms pressed to the uttermost, as if the subject of promise stood in no sort of connection with any other passages of Scripture, it ought to be viewed in connection with similar promises and statements made concerning the other apostles, according to which they were all to be, in an instrumental sense, foundation-stones and pillars, (Matt. 19:29; Gal. 2:9; Eph. 2:20; Rev. 21:14) and also with what Peter himself wrote in the latter period of his earthly labors, in which, for himself, and for all others, he denounces that spiritual lordship, which, on the ground of the original promise, has been attributed to him, (1Pet. 5:1-4) and gives to Christ the whole and undivided glory of procuring and distributing the blessings of salvation, (1Pet. 1:2-3, 2:3-6)
Take one example more: in Prov. 25:21-22, and again in Rom. 12:20, kindness instead of revenge is enjoined toward an enemy— giving him food when he is hungry, when thirsty giving him water to drink—by the consideration, “for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head.” Now this, if taken simply by itself, is capable of a two-fold meaning; it may mean, either thou shalt by these acts of kindness sorely aggravate the guilt and the doom of thine adversary,—or, thou wilt altogether destroy in him that which makes him an adversary—thy kindness, in recompense for his malice, will consume the spirit of evil that works in him, and win him to the position of a friend. If the clause were entirely isolated, either of these explanations might be adopted. But, surely, when we consider the whole tenor of the gospel of Christ—when we think even of what goes immediately before, of the benignant spirit and the active charities, which it is the object of the apostle to enforce, it is scarcely possible to doubt which of the two should be preferred. Could the apostle, as a sequel to such exhortations, and when seeking to have the disciples penetrated by a full sense of the mercies of God, have meant to ply them with the diabolical motive of deepening the guilt of an adversary, and rendering his doom more intolerable? No, we instinctively feel this could not possibly be; what he intended, must have been the practicing upon him of that noble and generous revenge, which should convert him from being an enemy into a friend.
These illustrations may suffice to show, in what manner, and within what limits, the principle of analogy, or, as it had better be called, the principle of consistency, in the interpretation of Scripture, may be applied. It undoubtedly requires to be used with caution, and in a spirit of fairness and candor—if it is to be turned to any valuable account, or even not abused to the support of dangerous error. The faith, according to which the sense of particular passages is determined, must be that which rests upon the broad import of some of the most explicit announcements of Scripture, about the meaning of which there can be, with unbiased minds, no reasonable doubt. And in so far as we must decide between one passage and another, those passages should always be allowed greatest weight in fixing the general principles of the faith, in which the subjects belonging to it are not incidentally noticed merely, but formally treated of and discussed; for, in such cases, we can have no doubt that the point on which we seek for an authoritative deliverance was distinctly in the eye of the writer.
The NT in relation to the OT
The principle of interpretation now considered has respect to the relation that one part of New Testament Scripture bears to another—the more difficult and obscure to the plainer and more explicit.
But there is another relation also that must be taken into account—the relation in which the writings of the New Testament stand to those of the Old. It is scarcely possible to throw this into a specific principle of interpretation; at least not further than that it must be remembered, we have in the New Testament a higher, but very closely related, exhibition of truth and duty; and consequently must have respect alike to the agreements and the differences subsisting between them. This relation, of necessity, exercised a very marked and important influence upon the writings of the New Testament—upon its writings, both in respect to ideas, and the forms of expression in which the ideas are clothed.
It is, of course, necessary, in the first instance, that a correct apprehension be formed of the relation as regards the ideas involved in it, the ideas common to both dispensations; for the knowledge of the ideas bears on the foundation, and touches the ground and nature of every particular view that may be exhibited. This, however, is too wide a field to be entered on particularly here. If considered fully, it would require a discussion of the nature and principles of the typical connection between the law and the gospel, and lead to investigations fully as much connected with the dogmatical as with the exegetical departments of theology. So far, however, the relation must be understood, that it has to do as well with the agreements as with the differences between the affairs of the Old and those of the New Covenants. Indeed, if any distinction were to be made between the two, we should say, that the agreements ought more especially to be regarded, because they lie deeper, and concern the more essential elements in the two dispensations; while the differences are of a more circumstantial and formal nature. From the position of matters at the commencement of the New dispensation, more particularly from the determination on the part of many to exalt to an undue place the temporary and shadowy things, in which the Old dispensation differed from the New, it became necessary for the inspired writers of the New Testament to bring out with peculiar prominence the differences; with the view of manifesting the superior and more perfect nature of the work and economy of Christ. But they scarcely ever do this, without, at the same time, pointing to the essential agreements pervading both economies.
Now, it is in accordance with this twofold nature of the relation which subsists between the Old and the New in God’s dispensations, that the language of New Testament Scripture, in so far as it bears respect to the Old, is constructed, and ought to be interpreted. In the great majority of cases, the precise nature of the reference is manifest; we can see at a glance whether it is the agreements or the differences that are in view. For example, when our Lord is described by the Baptist as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world;” or when the apostle Paul says, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us,” the simplest reader will perceive, that there is an agreement or correspondence indicated between the sacrifices of the Old Testament and the one great sacrifice of the New—that what the lamb of atonement, especially the paschal lamb, was to the Israelite, as regards his interest in the blessings of the Old Covenant, that Christ now is to believers, in respect to the greater things of His redemption. No one can doubt, that like is compared to like; although, from the nature of the objects brought into comparison, differences of an important kind were necessarily implied.
But, in explaining the passages, we would naturally lay stress upon the resemblances between Christ and the Old Testament things referred to, and would only notice subordinately the points which distinguished the one from the other. In like manner, when, in Col. 2:11, the apostle calls baptism “the circumcision of Christ,” and, in Phil. 3:3, describes believers as ” the circumcision which worship God in spirit,” the meaning obviously is, that the essential design of circumcision, its real spirit and object, are attained in those who, as baptized believers, have entered into fellowship with Christ. So that it is the correspondences, which must again, in such passages, be brought out; it is these which must be rendered prominent; however, also, occasion may be taken to indicate the points, in which the new surpasses the old circumcision.
Again, there is another class of passages in which, with equal plainness, our attention is drawn to the differences subsisting between the New and the Old:—as when, in Heb. 8:2, Christ is called “a minister of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man;” and, in Heb. 10:20, where believers are said to enter the holiest of this higher tabernacle “by a new and living way”—in such passages, while the language bears distinct allusion to the things of the Old Covenant—expresses the New, indeed, under the form and aspect of the Old, yet it is for the purpose of showing the vast superiority of the New. So that, in such cases, it is the differences we are naturally led to think of—these now become the prominent things, and the resemblances fall into the background.
But there are other passages, in which it is less easy to decide—passages, in which Old Testament language is employed, without any clear indication being given, whether the resemblances or the differences are more particularly referred to. For example, in Heb. 10:22, the apostle exhorts us to make a fiducial approach to the throne of grace, as persons “having their hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and their bodies washed with pure water.” Now, what is here meant by our bodies being washed? Corporeal ablutions [bodily washings] held an important place under the old economy; and continually, as the priests entered the sanctuary, they had to wash their hands and their feet at the brazen laver, which stood in the outer court. But what corresponds to this in Christian times? We have no external sanctuary, like that which existed in the Jewish commonwealth, and consequently no corporeal ablution to perform, when drawing near to engage in the worship of God. When, therefore, the apostle speaks of having the body washed with pure water, he must mean, not formally the same thing as of old, but something corresponding to it in nature—bearing the same relation to a Christian, that the other did to a ceremonial worship. And this is not far to seek; it is simply a freedom from all manifest stains and blemishes in the conduct. It was precisely these stains and blemishes, which were imaged by outward defilements on the body of one entering into the material sanctuary:—his washing of these off was a symbol of the separation, which then also had to be maintained by sincere and accepted worshippers, from all overt acts of iniquity. And now that the symbol has dropped, as no longer needed—now that the reality alone remains, it is of this reality that the language should be understood;—we are to regard the apostle as intimating, that along with a purged conscience, we must also have a blameless and untarnished life—and then, with the two together, we may draw near with confidence to God.
It is, therefore, to the resemblances that this expression also points. In explaining its import, we should endeavor chiefly to bring out the correspondence, that subsisted between the ritual service of the Old, and the spiritual worship of the New economy. This, obviously, cannot be done by exhibiting merely the ritual, on the one side, and the spiritual, on the other; for that would be to present a contrast rather than a resemblance. We must penetrate into the symbolical import of the ritual, and show, that in the outward action, in which it consisted, there lay concealed a spiritual element, for the sake of which it was required and done. So that it is not properly a contrast, to be put after this manner: Such an outward thing then, and such another inward now, or fleshly then, and spiritual now; but a similarity with a difference:— A similarity, since under both covenants alike freedom from open impurities is required of God’s acceptable worshippers— there must be clean hands, or a blameless life, as well as a pure heart; and yet a difference, since from the clearer revelation now made of all things spiritual and divine, and the abolition of the worldly sanctuary, the symbolical action has gone into desuetude [no longer used], and the naked reality is alone brought into view.
Let us still look at another example, and we shall thus more readily perceive the justness of the rule, which we are seeking to deduce for guiding our interpretations in respect to such portions of New Testament Scripture. In Rom. 12:1, we have this exhortation given by the apostle,
|Παρακαλῶ οὖν ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί, διὰ τῶν οἰκτιρμῶν τοῦ θεοῦ παραστῆσαι τὰ σώματα ὑμῶν θυσίαν ζῶσαν ἁγίαν εὐάρεστον τῷ θεῷ, τὴν λογικὴν λατρείαν ὑμῶν·||“I beseech you, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice2 holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”|
There is evidently a reference in the language to the ancient sacrificial worship; and, in particular, to the service of the whole burnt offering, in which at certain times an entire animal was presented upon the altar to God. The only question is, what is the nature of the reference? Is it by way of resemblance, or by way of contrast? If the apostle had stopped at θυσιαν— if he had said merely, “present your bodies a sacrifice,” the matter would have been quite plain; it would have been manifest, that the resemblance only was indicated. But he adds a series of epithets [adjectives], characterizing the nature of the service, which Christians are called to render; and these are usually regarded by commentators as expressing the kind of service, not positively merely, as to what it is in itself, but negatively also, as to what it is not, viewed in reference to the ancient ritual of Judaism. The λογιχην λατρειαν (the reasonable service) at the close, is in particular held to indicate this idea,— as in the following comment of Haldane:
“This evidently refers to the distinction between the service of the Jews by sacrifices and ceremonial worship, and the service of Christians. Sacrificial worship, and in general the whole ceremonial ritual of the Jews, was not worship according to reason. It is, indeed, reasonable to worship God in whatever way He prescribes; but had not man fallen, he would not have been required to worship by such ceremonies as the Jewish law enjoined. Sacrificial worship is not in itself rational; and was appointed by God, not for its own excellence, but from its adaptation to prefigure the good things to come.”
He adds, and certainly not without reason, that many commentators hesitated about adopting this explanation of the λογιχην under the impression, that it was disrespectful to the Divine appointments to have them represented as not rational. But might we not, on the same ground that is assigned here for the non-rational character of the Old Testament worship, also deny rationality to the New? For it, too, proceeds on a basis different from the natural and proper one; it is offered on the foundation of what has been done by another in our stead, while the original and strictly proper idea of sacrifice is that of a personal surrender and dedication to God.
We may feel the rather inclined to doubt the correctness of this mode of explanation, at least in the strongly antithetic form expressed above, when we look to the other epithets applied by the apostle to the sacrifice of Christians—“living”, “holy”, and “acceptable”.
“Living”, we are told, stands opposed to the dead sacrifices presented under the law, slain victims; but what, then, shall be put in contradistinction to the “holy” and “acceptable”? Were these epithets not applicable to the burnt-offerings of the Old Testament? On the contrary, they are precisely the epithets that are most commonly applied to them. The flesh of the sacrifices generally, as of everything laid upon the altar, was declared to be holy—in token of which the victims were required to be without any external blemish; while of every sacrifice offered according to the law the set phrase is, that it was an offering of sweet savor—in other words, acceptable to God. These two expressions, then, beyond a doubt, indicate a resemblance; and it would surely be somewhat strange—a confusion in the use of language we should not have expected in the apostle—if the one going immediately before them, and the other coming immediately after them, should have pointed to a formal contrast. Such a throwing together of agreements and differences in one continuous description, is in the highest degree improbable.
A good deal of this confusion imputed to the statement of the apostle, arises from the inadequate notions that prevail respecting the Old Testament sacrificial worship—as if the outward actions had formed the one and all of this, and there were no outgoings of spiritual desire and affection on the part of the worshiper accompanying them. According to the true idea, the outward service was merely the symbolical expression of what was thought and felt, done or purposed to be done, by the person who performed it. The sacrifice was in the closest manner identified with the sacrificer.
Thus, in the case of the burnt-offering, which is here more particularly referred to, the occasion of presenting it usually was, when an individual had experienced some great mercy, or felt upon his soul a special call to devoted gratitude and love; and his feelings in this respect were embodied in the offering—he expressed thereby his personal surrender to God, and the dedication of all he had to the Divine service and glory. Without this grateful feeling and purpose of devotedness on the part of the offerer, the offering would have been simply a piece of hypocrisy—a sign without any thing signified thereby.
The proper connection between the external and the internal was beautifully brought out by David in the fifty-first Psalm, when, after having expressed his deep contrition for past sin, and renewed the dedication of himself to God, he prays for fresh tokens of the Lord’s favor, that as the natural result of what was to be imparted on the one hand, and felt on the other, the Lord might receive and be pleased with sacrifices of righteousness, with the whole burnt-offerings that should be laid upon His altar. In offerings so drawn forth, and so presented, would there be no life? Could the service with any propriety be designated as a dead one? Assuredly not; the soul of the offerer was itself on fire with love and gratitude to God, and a spirit of life animated its movements, not the less that it had to express itself by means of slain victims laid and consumed upon the altar.
We entertain no doubt, therefore, that here also the direct and prominent thing in the apostle’s description (in Rom. 12:1) is a resemblance, and not a contrast. His object is, to show how those, who are partakers of the rich grace and mercy of God under the Gospel, may and should exhibit a substantial agreement with the service of the burnt-offering, which was wont to be rendered by such as had received peculiar tokens of the Lord’s goodness. They should present to God their bodies—i.e. the active powers and energies of their nature (for it is through the body that these come into operation)—present these as a sacrifice, living, holy, acceptable—a real dedication, instinct with life and purity, and on that account well-pleasing to God. On the same account also a λογιχη λατρεια, a reasonable service—not, however, in the sense of rational, as opposed to a former irrational service; but in the sense of spiritual,—a reasonable or spiritual service, in which the soul and conscience are exercised, and hence opposed to what is simply σωματιχη, corporeal or outward. In no part of the description is there properly a contrast marked between the Christian and the Jewish service; for, in the Jewish also, when rightly performed, there were the same spiritual elements, as in the Christian; there too the soul and conscience were engaged; the service was one of life and holiness, on the part of the worshipper, and on the part of God crowned with acceptance. Still, no doubt, a difference is implied, though not distinctly and formally expressed;—it is implied in the very prominence which is given to the spiritual elements of the service required, presented apart from any external accompaniments or outward rites. For there being so much of what was outward in the Old Testament service, it naturally tended to take off the mind to some extent from the more inward and vital part; the mind could, and doubtless too often did, view the sacrifice as something apart from itself—a thing done for one, rather than by him and with him:—While now, the temptation to a lifeless externality is in great measure removed, the service is of a strictly personal and spiritual nature, springing from the soul’s proper consciousness of grace and blessing, and appearing in the willing obedience of the members of the body, as instruments of righteousness unto God.
Now, from these examples and illustrations there is plainly deducible a twofold rule of interpretation in regard to those portions of the New Testament, which represent spiritual things in language derived from the relations and ritual of the Old. The rule is, that in those passages, which distinctly and formally exhibit the difference between New and Old Testament things, it is this difference, which ought to be rendered prominent in our explanation, yet not without also pointing attention to the fundamental agreement, which lies underneath the superficial diversity;—while, on the other hand, in those passages, which simply present Christian things under the form and aspect of those that belonged to the Old Covenant, it is the correspondence or agreement that should be mainly dwelt upon. The Old should, in that case, be exhibited as a lively image or palpable representation of the New—though a representation in an inferior line of things, and with comparatively inadequate results. In the former case, our object should be to unfold a marked and obvious difference with an underlying substantial agreement; in the other, to unfold a substantial agreement, though accompanied with formal and ostensible differences—such as necessarily pervaded the relations of an inferior and preparatory, to an ultimate and permanent state of things.
|Passage comparing OT with NT||Our preaching should…|
|Those passages which assert a difference between OT and NT.||…emphasize this difference while pointing out the substantial agreement.||“…our object should be to unfold a marked and obvious difference with an underlying substantial agreement;”|
|Those passages which represent NT truths using OT concepts and ideas.||…emphasize the agreement between the two.||“…[our object should be] to unfold a substantial agreement, though accompanied with formal and ostensible differences—such as necessarily pervaded the relations of an inferior and preparatory, to an ultimate and permanent state of things.”|
Christianity & False Religions
If now we pass, for a moment, from the true, to the many false religions of the ancient world, from Judaism to the endless forms of heathenism, we have to mark in Christianity toward them a relation of an essentially different kind— one simply of an antagonistic nature. The heathen religions of antiquity, therefore, had no direct or positive influence in molding the language of the New Testament, and imparting peculiar shades of meaning to its expressions. Yet the subject is not to be passed altogether unnoticed. For, though the respect had to heathen modes of thought and forms of expression is chiefly of a negative kind, yet even that is instructive; since it shows in what a different region the Christian religion moved, and what different elements it embraced from those, out of which heathenism was constructed. Amid the freedom, with which Christianity proceeded to diffuse itself in the world, and its adaptation to the modes of thought and forms of expression in current use, it still manifested a careful reserve in respect to all that savored of heathenism; it abstained from the use of such terms as had become associated with the false worship, or impregnated with the false notions, of the pagan world.
For example, in so far as the language of the New Testament bears respect to sacrificial usages, it borrows the terms it employs from the Old Testament, or makes use only of such as are common to the Septuagint and the writings of Hellenic authors. It refrains from employing such expressions as, though of similar import, had been linked to usages, which rendered them suggestive of the pollutions of idolatry. Of this description are περιχαθαρμα and περιψημα, which both bear, in the old lexicographers, the signification of ransom or sacrifice—the equivalents given are αντιλυτρον, αντιψυχον. The Septuagint also, at Prov. 21:18, has περιχαθαρμα διχαιου ανομος, “the wicked is a ransom for the righteous”. (see here) But as the words acquired this sense from the horrid custom of sacrificing criminals and worthless persons to make expiation for the state in times of public calamity, they are never used in the New Testament with reference to religious worship. The custom prevailed especially at Athens, where persons of a worthless caste were regularly kept against the occurrence of any plague or public calamity, and then thrown into the sea, in the belief that they should wipe off the guilt of the nation. Such persons were called χαθαρματα, περιψηματα, and other epithets of a like import. The terms are used only once in the New Testament: it is by the Apostle Paul, when speaking, in 1Cor. 4:13, of the indignities he had received; but it is in the original sense of sweepings, offscourings, or filth, the vilest portions of society.
The common term for the altars on which the heathens offered their victims, might have been thought less objectionable for Christian uses. This term βωμος; yet it occurs only once in the whole of the New Testament; and on that solitary occasion it is employed, not of a Jewish altar, or anything corresponding to it in Christian times, but of the heathen altar, with its inscription to the Unknown God, which Paul found at Athens. The term uniformly employed in the New Testament, whether in a literal or a figurative sense, is θυσιαστηριον:—an evidence of the care with which the sacred writers sought to keep the true religion at a distance from all contact, even in name, with idolatry.
In the use also of δαιμων, and its compounds, we see a similar instance of the wisdom and the propriety with which the speech of the sacred writers were guided. The word had become thoroughly inwoven with the ideas and the worship of heathendom; and as the evil, as well as the good—bad, and malignant, not less than gracious and benign divinities, were embraced in the religions of Polytheism, so the word δαιμων extended equally to both. It was in that respect a word of indifferent meaning. The whole religion of the Greeks and the Romans might be called, and, indeed, was familiarly called, demon-worship, δεισιδαιμονια. It could not, therefore, be counted a reproach, it might rather be esteemed an honor for anyone to be spoken of δεισιδαιμονεστερος; it simply marked him out as peculiarly given to the worship of the gods. And when Paul, in the Areopagus, applied that epithet, at the commencement of his speech, to the men of Athens, inferring their title to it from what he had observed of their altars, there can be no doubt that he meant to indicate nothing that should prove offensive to them. He merely intended to express the fact, that they were, in their own sense of the matter, a very religious people. And it is certainly a somewhat unhappy turn that is given to this, the opening part of the apostle’s address, in the authorized version, when he is made to say, that he perceived “they were in all things too superstitious.” Had such been the native import of his language, the apostle would have been guilty of the misdemeanor of creating a prejudice against himself at the outset—a fault, we may be sure, he did not commit at any time, and least of all in that which is, artistically considered, the most perfect of all his recorded discourses.
There is another instance of a like use of the word—though in this case really misapplied—in Acts 25:19, where Festus says of the case of Paul to Agrippa, that it touched upon questions περι της ιδιας δεισιδαιμονιας; it should have been rendered, “concerning their own religion,” to give the fair impression of what Festus actually meant; since, speaking as Festus did to Agrippa, a professed Jew, he never could have intended to stigmatize the worship which was paid by the king and his countrymen as a superstition, in our sense of the term. It was, however, a wrong term to apply to the religion of a Jew, and in making use of it Festus spoke from a merely heathen point of view. The Jewish religion was a θεοσεβεια, a reverential fear and worship of God, but not a δεισιδαιμονια, a religious homage to the divinities. In the Jewish sense, demon-worship was devil-worship—abominable idolatry. And hence δαιμονια was the common term employed to designate the malignant powers, that so often held possession of the bodies and souls of men at the Gospel era. Hence also the term ευδαιμονια, which so frequently occurs in heathen authors to express human happiness and prosperity, is never—because it indicates prosperity as the gift of the divinities—similarly employed in the New Testament. Not even once is it used there to express, in any way, the blessedness enjoyed by God’s people.
These examples may suffice, as the subject they are brought forward to illustrate is rather negative in its bearing on the interpretation of Scripture, than of a positive description. They are signs, impressed upon the language of the New Testament, that the religion of the Gospel has no proper affinity to that of heathenism, and convey a silent protest against all pollutions of idolatry.