History of Exegesis


Chapter CXXVII – History of Exegesis

The history of biblical interpretation is a history of misinterpretation as well. No book has been so much misunderstood and abused as the Bible. There are commentaries which shed light upon the Bible, and other commentaries which obscure the light of the Bible or pervert its true meaning. Christ charged the scribes of his day, that they “have made void the word of God, because of their tradition” (Matt. 15:6). They searched the Scriptures, and yet would not come to Christ (John 5:39-40). They built a stone wall around the law so that nobody could get at it and see it face to face. The same story has been repeated in the history of the Christian Church. The mediæval papacy erected hierarchical, patristic, scholastic, and ritualistic forts around the Bible. It required all the courage and energy of Luther, Zwingli and Calvin to storm these forts and to open the treasures of the divine book to the people. There is no heresy that has not been read into the Bible and defended by the Bible. All churches and sects of Christendom appeal to it alike for support.
It is one of the strongest arguments for the divine origin and imperishable value of the Bible that it has outlived so many attacks from without and so many misapprehensions from within. The Bible is no more responsible for its misinterpretations than Nature for the errors and contradictions of scientists. Man cannot fly on wings to the mountain-top of knowledge, but must slowly ascend it step by step.
The Roman Church maintains “a unanimous consensus of the Fathers” in the interpretation of the Bible, and uses the confusion among interpreters as an argument against the Protestant principle of the supremacy and sufficiency of the Bible, as a rule of faith. But the unanimous consensus of the Fathers is a fiction of the Council of Trent, which was not especially distinguished for exegetical and historical learning. The ancient Fathers are worthy of all respect, but they differed as widely and erred as frequently in their comments on the Scripture as the Reformers. The further up we go, the greater is the freedom and variety; as the oldest manuscripts of the Greek Testament present the largest number of textual variations. The ablest exegetes among the Fathers are the most independent. The growing principle of church authority and the narrowing orthodoxy imprisoned exegesis and kept it confined till the Reformation burst the chains and opened the prison door. The variety of interpretation is the inevitable result of freedom or the right of private judgment, and of the inexhaustible depth of the Bible.
There is, however, a steady progress and approach to agreement among competent scholars. The Bible languages, archaeology, history, and the principles of interpretation are now better understood than ever before. Exegesis has become almost an exact science in ascertaining the precise meaning of the biblical writers.

Chapter CXXVIII – Jewish Exegesis

Exegesis began among the Jews, to whom were given the Scriptures of the Old Covenant. The humble and believing souls who waited for the hope of Israel, derived from them spiritual nourishment and comfort; but the proud hierarchs and pedantic scribes searched only the letter of the Scriptures without seeking and finding the Christ to whom they bear witness (John 5:39). They obscured the true meaning by their traditions and made void the word of God. “Their minds are hardened: for until this very day the same veil remaineth unlifted; which veil is done away in Christ” (2 Cor. 3:14).
Nevertheless rabbinical scholarship has been of much use and is entitled to a respectful hearing in all matters which relate to Hebrew grammar and archaeology. In the middle ages, Jewish rabbis had the monopoly of Hebrew learning. They furnished the first grammars and dictionaries for the use of Christians. To the scrupulous care of the Masoretic scholars we owe the Hebrew text of the Old Testament.
Jewish exegesis may be divided into a pre-Christian and a post-Christian period.

Chapter CXXIX – Jewish Exegesis Before Christ

It began soon after the close of the canon. Ezra (B.C. 457), the priestly scribe, may be called the first biblical scholar. He collected and edited the books of the canon as far as they existed at his time. He was regarded as a second Moses and a restorer of the law. “He transformed the theocracy into a nomocracy,” and raised “the scribe” above “the priest.” He organized the synagogue-worship and the reading of Moses every Sabbath-day. He inaugurated the Midrash and the Targum, that is, the body of interpretation, which embraced the entire theological and literary wisdom of the Jews. (Ezra 7:6; Ezra 7:25; Neh. 8:7-8; Neh. 13:24.)
The Jewish exegesis referred chiefly to the law (Torah) and determined the individual and social duties and relations by deduction from the Pentateuch. It was divided into Halakha, i.e., “decision,” rule, legalized precept, and Haggada, i.e., “discourse,” narration, legend. The former was binding, the latter was not. The Halakha is compared to bread, the Haggada to water; the one to an iron fortress, the other to a flowery promenade within the fortress.
The interpretations were first propagated by oral tradition; after the time of Christ they were collected in the Mishna, i.e., Learning, Repetition (about A.D. 200 or 220), and the Gemara, i.e., Completion (A.D. 490). They together constitute the Jewish Talmud, or Doctrine (from למד, to teach).
There were two kinds of exegesis among the Jews.

  1. The rabbinical or literal exegesis was carried on in Palestine by the Pharisees. It excluded all foreign ideas, and was subservient to strict legalism and to carnal Messianic expectations, which formed the bridge between the past glory and the future hope of the Jews over the abyss of their present degradation. The spirit was sacrificed to the letter. Distinction of two senses, the proper or innate sense (sensus innatus, which is again either literal or figurative or mystical), and the derived sense (sensus illatus), obtained by logical inference or linked to the words by arbitrary combination.
  2. The Hellenistic or allegorizing method of Alexandria was borrowed from the Stoic and Platonic philosophers, who applied it to Homer and the heathen mythology to get rid of its incongruities, absurdities, and impossibilities. It began in the period of the Apocrypha (comp. Wisdom 18:24), and was completed by Philo, who died A.D. 40. He held the most rigid view of verbal inspiration, but depended on the Septuagint with its countless errors, and endeavored to harmonize the Mosaic religion with Greek (Platonic) philosophy by means of allegorical interpretation. He thought that Plato had borrowed from Moses. He sacrificed the letter to a foreign spirit. He distinguished between an exoteric and esoteric understanding, in other words, between the literal or historical sense and the spiritual or mystic sense. The latter out ruled the former. The Old Testament was turned into a storehouse of philosophical ideas, which more or less obscured or perverted the religious truths of revelation.

The allegorizing method exerted great influence on Christian exegesis, especially upon the Alexandrian school of Clement and Origen, and ruled for fifteen hundred years.
Examples of the allegorical interpretation of Philo:

  • Adam in Genesis is the lower, sensuous man, the ἀνθρωπος χοικός;
  • Cain, selfishness;
  • Abel, devotion to God;
  • Noah, righteousness;
  • Abraham, contemplation and knowledge;
  • Sarah, virtue;
  • Hagar, wisdom;
  • Moses, the prophetic spirit;
  • Egypt, body;
  • Canaan, piety;
  • the sheep is the image of the pure soul;
  • the ring-dove, the emblem of divine wisdom;
  • the house-pigeon, of human wisdom.

Generally Philo admits the literal sense in the Mosaic history, but sometimes, especially in the details, he denies it, where it seemed to imply materialistic, anthropomorphic, anthropopathic, or otherwise unworthy ideas of God. Thus, in the account of the creation, only the creative act is historic, not the details of the hexahemeron. The trees in paradise, the serpent, the expulsion from Eden, are only symbolic representations of the truths of a higher life. In such cases the allegorizing method approaches the mythical interpretation of Strauss, who denies the supernatural facts and admits only the ideas.

Chapter CXXX – Jewish Exegesis After Christ

  1. The Talmudic interpretation is a continuation of the Pharisaic, orthodox, traditional exegesis, partly slavishly literal, partly allegorizing. Overestimate of rabbinical learning. “Scripture is like water, the Mishna like wine, the Gemara like spiced wine.” “The Scripture is as salt, the Mishna as pepper, the Gemara as spice.” Among the chief Rabbis are Hillel (d. A.D. 8); Shammai (his rival); Johanan ben Zakkai (a pupil of Hillel); Aqiba (d. 135); Juda the holy (or simply the “Rabbi,” d. 200), who made Tiberias the metropolis of rabbinism and compiled the Mishna; Ashî (d. 427), who chiefly systematized and completed the Gemara. The Babylonian Talmud fills 2947 folio pages, and contains the theology, the law and the ceremonial of the Jews. It is a continent of rabbinical wisdom and folly.
  2. The sect of the Karaites (the Protestants of Judaism) rejected talmudic traditions and aimed at a more simple and spiritual view of the Old Testament.
  3. The grammatical school of the middle ages produced valuable commentaries, grammars, and dictionaries. It flourished in Spain, where oriental learning had taken refuge. It began to influence Christian exegesis in the fourteenth century.

Rabbi Saadias Gaon (d. 942), Ibn Ezra (b. at Toledo, 1092, d. at Rome, 1167), R. Salomo Isaaki (or Rashi, erroneously called Jarchi, d. 1105), David Kimchi (or Qimchi, d. 1190), Maimonides (R. Mose ben Maimon, b. at Cordova, 1135, d. in Palestine, 1204), Abrabanel (1436–1507). Their commentaries are printed separately, and collected in the so-called rabbinical Bibles.

Chapter CXXXI – Epochs of Christian Exegesis

Christian exegesis has, like every other branch of theological science, its creative epochs, followed by periods of preservation and assimilation or transition.
The three prominent epochs are the patristic, the reformatory, and the modern.
The first is essentially Catholic (Græco-Latin); the second, Protestant and anti-papal; the third, critical and evangelical Catholic. The exegesis of the Fathers was matured in the victorious conflict with the heresies of Ebionism, Gnosticism, Arianism, Pelagianism, etc.; the exegesis of the Reformers in the conflict with the unscriptural traditions of Rome; the modern evangelical in the conflict with rationalism in all its phases.
The patristic and reformatory exegetes agree in being pre-dominantly doctrinal and practical, and devoted to the divine character of the Bible on a common theory of inspiration; the modern Protestant exegesis is grammatico-historical as well as theological, and explains the human as well as the divine side of the Bible. The older commentators move within opposite ecclesiastical and denominational channels; the best modern commentators rise above sectarian and polemical considerations to the comprehension of revealed truth in its comprehensive catholicity.
The mediæval exegesis is a continuation of the patristic; the exegesis of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is a development of the reformatory, with two branches, Lutheran and Reformed. The rationalistic exegesis lies between the second and third epochs, and prepared the way for the modern evangelical Catholic exegesis.

Chapter CXXXII – Patristic Exegesis. A.D. 100–600

The first use made of the Bible in the Christian Church was practical and homiletical. Then followed the doctrinal use for the refutation of heresies. The Old Testament was regarded as a preparation for the New, full of prophecies and types of Christ, in opposition to the Jews. The New Testament was vindicated against Ebionism, and the harmony of the two Testaments against Gnosticism. The fundamental truths were elaborated and supported by proof-texts. The grammatical sense was neglected. The Greek Fathers had the advantage of a knowledge of the original language of the New Testament; the Latin Fathers depended mostly on the faulty Itala and the improved Vulgata of Jerome; the Hebrew was understood by very few.  Allegorical fancies were freely substituted for sound expositions.
The most valuable exegetes among the Fathers are Chrysostom for his homiletical wealth, Jerome for his philological and archæological knowledge, and Augustine for his theological depth and spiritual insight.

  1. The Greek Exegetes. The founder of exegesis proper is Origen (180–254), the teacher of the catechetical school of Alexandria, a genius, a scholar, and an indefatigable worker. He wrote three kinds of commentaries: Annotations (σημειώσεις, scholia), Commentaries proper (τόμοι), and familiar Sermons (ὁμιλίαι, sermones, tractatus). He founded a theory of interpretation, based upon that of Philo and the Platonic trichotomy of σῶμα, ψυχή and πνεῦμα. He was a Christian Philo and a Christian Plato, or Platonic Christian. Viewing the Bible as a living organism of body, soul and spirit, he distinguished three senses: (1) the somatic, or the literal, historical; (2) the psychic, or moral (1 Cor. 9:9), and (3) the pneumatic, or spiritual, mystic, usually called allegorical sense (Gal. 4:24). He abandons the historical sense where it seemed to him inapt (anthropomorphic, anthropopathic), or morally offensive (ἄλογος, ἀδύνατος, containing σκάνδαλα and προσκόμματα). He mainly dwells on the spiritual or allegorical sense.

Two schools of patristic exegesis in the Oriental Church. (Comp. Schaff’s Church History, II. 793, 813 sqq.; III. 705 sqq.)

  1. The Alexandrian School followed the allegorical method of Origen. To this belong Eusebius (d. 340), Athanasius (d. 373), Basil (d. 379), Gregory of Nazianzus (d. 390), Gregory of Nyssa (d. 394), Ephraem Syrus (d. 373), Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444).
  2. The Antiochian, or Syrian, School was more sober, grammatico-historical, rationalizing, yet practical. Chrysostom, the prince of Greek pulpit orators and commentators, who explained in his Homilies most of the books of the New Testament, Diodorus of Tarsus (d. 394), Theodorus of Mopsuestia (called ὁ ἐξηγητής, d. 429), Theodoret of Kyros in Syria (d. 457).
  3. Latin Exegetes. Dependent on the Greeks, ignorant of Hebrew (except Jerome) and mostly even of Greek; hence worthless in matters of grammar and criticism, but rich in doctrinal and practical exposition.

Tertullian (d. 220), Cyprian (d. 254), Hilary (d. 368), Ambrose (d. 397), Pelagius (d. 420), Jerome (d. 419), the translator of the Latin Vulgate, Augustine (d. 430), Leo I. (d. 461), Gregory I. (d. 604), the last of the Fathers and the first of the popes.
The best patristic commentators admit the correct principle that we should first ascertain the historical truth and determine the spiritual sense in accordance with it, but they often mistake or pervert the natural sense and resort to arbitrary allegorizing. Origen, Chrysostom and Jerome resolve the collision between Paul and Peter at Antioch (Gal. 2:11–14) into a theatrical farce, and by trying to save the credit of Peter involve both Apostles in the charge of hypocrisy. The superior moral sense of Augustin protested against this monstrous misinterpretation, but his defective knowledge of the original led him into other errors; he even opposed from timid conservatism Jerome’s revision of the old Latin version, which teemed with inaccuracies. Pope Gregory—one of the best popes, but excessively credulous and superstitious—was the last of the Fathers who produced an independent exegetical work. His exposition of the book of Job (translated in 3 vols. for the Oxford “Library of the Fathers,” 1844) is useless as a commentary, as he knew neither Hebrew nor Greek, but valuable as a system of Christian morals (hence called Magna Moralia). He pursues the text in three separate threads, the literal, the allegorical, and the moral, for the edification of the Church. In the allegorical part he sets forth the life of Christ in the history of Job. The names of persons and things embody a spiritual meaning: Job represents Christ; Job’s wife, the carnal nature; his seven sons, the apostles or the clergy; his three daughters, the three classes of the faithful laity worshiping the Trinity; his friends, the heretics; the seven thousand sheep, the perfect Christians; the three thousand camels, the heathen and Samaritans, etc. He deemed the question of authorship to be of no more consequence than the enquiry about the pen of a great writer; for the biblical authors were only pens of the Holy Spirit. This is a fair specimen of patristic and mediæval exegesis.
We should guard alike against a Roman Catholic overestimate and a Protestant underestimate of the Fathers. Their exegetical writings contain a vast amount of “gold, silver, and precious stones,” but also of “wood, hay, and stubble” (1 Cor. 3:15). Even in the best of them we find profound views mixed with childish fancies. Luther spoke most disparagingly of the Fathers, except Augustin; Calvin knew them better and prized them higher; Anglican divines, especially of the high-church school, claim them for their via media between Rome and Geneva. Of all Protestant divines Bishop Christopher Wordsworth is the greatest admirer of the Fathers, and fills his commentary on the Old and New Testament with extracts from their writings, with a polemical aim both against Romanism and German Rationalism.

Chapter CXXXIII – Mediæval Exegesis. A.D. 600–1500

Mediæval exegesis is a repetition and continuation of patristic exegesis. The Schoolmen took the place of the Fathers, and analyzed and systematized their labors. Reproduction followed production. Exegesis became compilation. Commentaries were called “Chains,” binding the Fathers together as so many links.*
Chrysostom, Augustin, and Pope Gregory furnished the chief material. The favorite books were the Gospels and the Psalms.
In the Eastern Church the Greek language continued to be spoken; hence the superior value of the exegetical labors of Œcumenius, Theophylactus, and Euthymius Zigabenus.
The Western Church Christianized and civilized the barbarians of Europe, built convents, churches, the papal hierarchy and the scholastic systems of theology, engaged in the heroic crusades, organized monastic orders, and produced self-denying missionaries, holy monks, commanding popes and emperors, but neglected exegetical and historical studies. There was no taste for critical investigation. The eternal truths of the Bible, however, could not be forgotten, and inspired all the great enterprises of that period. They shone through the stained glass of Gothic windows; they were expounded in profound theological treatises, and expressed in heart-stirring hymns, like the Dies Irae, the Stabat Mater, and Jesu dulcis memoria. Biblical learning was the monopoly of the clergy. The laity could not read and were even forbidden to read the Bible by the popes, who yet constantly quoted, in support of their theocracy, the Old Testament and the words of Christ to Peter: “Thou art Rock;” “Feed my sheep.”
Exegesis was the slave of dogma, and was utilized for the support of the Catholic faith of the Church, handed down from the Fathers. It was based upon the distinction of a fourfold sense of the Bible, as expressed in the mnemonic couplet (attributed to Nicolas of Lyra):
Litera gesta docet; quid credas, Allegoria;
Moralis, quid agas; quo tendas, Anagogia.”
The first sense is the literal or historical (gesta docet); the other three are ramifications of the spiritual or mystic sense, and correspond to the cardinal Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love. The allegorical sense strictly so-called refers to faith (credenda); the moral sense, to charity or good works (agenda), the anagogical (uplifting, exalting) sense to hope (speranda and desideranda). Thus Jerusalem means, literally, the city in Palestine; allegorically, the Church; morally, the believing soul; anagogically, the heavenly Jerusalem. Babylon: the city on the Euphrates; heathen Rome; the enemies of the Church; eternal perdition. The exodus from Egypt: the historical fact in the history of Israel; the redemption by Christ; the conversion of the soul; the departure from this life to the heavenly world.
The fourfold sense was an expansion of the threefold sense of Origen. It was suggested by Augustin, and more clearly set forth as a hermeneutical canon by Eucherius (d. 450), Cassianus (d. 450), and Rabanus Maurus (d. 856). Dante (in the Convito and in a letter to Can Grande della Scala) defends it as applicable to his Divina Commedia. Savonarola’s sermons are full of the fourfold sense. Luther followed it in his first commentary on the Psalms (1513) before he became a reformer; he distinguished at times even six senses, and only gradually emancipated himself from the allegorizing method.
The mystic sense was the most important in the ages of faith and superstition. The commentators feasted upon the boundless wealth of revelation and derived from it lessons of holy living and dying. Even errors are overruled for good. Nevertheless this kind of exegesis turns the Bible into a nasus cereus, and makes it a slave of human caprices. By trying to evade difficulties, it creates new and greater difficulties. Starting from a profound reverence for the spiritual depths of the Bible, it destroys trust in its plain meaning. It substitutes arbitrary imposition for honest exposition. The Song of Songs and the Apocalypse even down to our day have suffered most from allegorizing commentaries, which fairly teem with pious sense and nonsense.

  1. Greek commentators: Œcumenius, bishop of Tricca in Thessalia (d. about 990), on the Acts and Epistles.—Theophylactus, archbishop of Bulgaria (d. 1107), on nearly the whole New Testament.—Euthymius Zigabenus, a monk near Constantinople (d. 1118), on the Gospels and the Psalms.—Nicephorus compiled an exegetical work from fifty-one writers. Chrysostom was the chief source. A series of Greek “Chains” on the whole New Testament was edited by J. A. Cramer, Oxford, 1838, sqq. in 8 vols.
  2. Latin commentators: Walafried Strabo or Strabus (abbot of Reichenau, d. 849), author of the Glossa ordinaria, compiled from Augustin, Ambrose, Gregory, Isidor, Beda, Alcuin, and Rabanus Maurus, with anonymous glosses,—the chief authority for the following centuries.—Anselm of Laon (d. 1117, not to be confounded with the more famous Anselm of Canterbury): Glossa interlinearis, next to the former in popularity, but defective and uncritical.—Cardinal Hugo de S. Caro (d. 1263): Postillæ in universa Biblia secundum quadruplicem sensum (Venice, 1487, 6 vols.). He wrote also a Latin Concordance and introduced the chapter division, which, like the versicular division of the sixteenth century, is unfortunately very faulty.—Thomas Aquinas, “the angelic doctor” and standard divine of the Roman Church (d. 1274), compiled a devotional and exceedingly popular commentary on the Gospels, called Catena aurea in Evangelia (English translation by Pusey, Keble, and Newman, Oxford, 1841–45, 4 vols.), and explained also several epistles of Paul. He was a great admirer of Chrysostom, especially of his commentary on Matthew. The monkish legend says that St. Paul appeared to him in a dream and told him that no one understood him so well; but he did not correct his errors. Thomas says that the name of Paul cannot be of Hebrew origin, because the Hebrew lacks the letter P, but it may be from a similar word and mean “wonderful” or “elect”; if it be from the Greek, it means “quiet”; if Latin, it means “small.” He proceeds to show from the Scripture that all these meanings suit St. Paul.

Other biblical scholars of less importance: Cassiodorus (d. 562), the Venerable Bede (d. 735), Alcuin (d. 804), St. Bernard (d. 1153; Sermons on the Canticles), Ruprecht of Deuz (d. 1135), John of Salisbury (d. 1182; on Paul), Albert the Great (d. 1280; on the Prophets, Gospels and Apocalypse), Bonaventura (“doctor seraphicus,” d. 1274; on Ecclesiastes, the Gospels of Luke and John, etc.).
John Wiclif (d. 1384), one of the Reformers before the Reformation, deserves mention as the first translator of the whole Bible (from the Latin Vulgate) into English.

Chapter CXXXIV – The Period of the Renaissance

The Revival of Letters and Arts, which began in Italy and spread over Europe during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, roused the spirit of free inquiry, and promoted the cause of biblical learning by the cultivation of the original languages. The first-fruits were shown in the exegetical works of Nicolas Lyra and Laurentius Valla, the last in Reuchlin and Erasmus. The German Reuchlin and the Dutch Erasmus, called “the two eyes of Europe,” are the connecting links between the Renaissance and the Reformation, the one by his Hebrew, the other by his Greek learning.
The invention of the printing-press, the art-preserving art, gave wings to thought and prepared the way for the general circulation and use of the Bible among the laity as well as the clergy. The Latin Bible was the first large book that was printed (1455); but during the first half century of that art not a single new and important exegetical work appeared. The Church was silently gathering strength for a new productive epoch in biblical learning.
Nicolas of Lyra or Lyranus (“doctor planus et utilis,” born at Lyre in the diocese of Evreux in Normandy, about 1270, d. at Paris, 1340): Postillæ perpetuæ sive commentaria brevia in universa Biblia (first printed ed. Rom. 1471, 5 vols., and very often, last ed. Antwerp, 1634, 6 vols.). He was a Franciscan monk, and doctor of theology, and taught with success in Paris. He is “the Jerome of the fourteenth century,” and marks an epoch in the history of exegesis. His knowledge of Hebrew gave rise to the unsupported conjecture that he was the son of a Hebrew mother. He based his commentary on the original text, and first made use of Jewish scholars (especially Rashi); yea, he dared sometimes to prefer their explanations to those of the Fathers. He adopted the seven useless rules of Tichonius, and the traditional fourfold sense (in the preface), but maintained that the literal sense is the foundation, and should alone be used in proving doctrines. Practically he admitted only two senses, the literal (or historical) and the mystical (or typical and prophetical), the latter of which must be based upon the former. He complains that the mystical sense has been allowed almost to choke (suffocare) the literal. He followed the rule: “Scriptura loquitur secundum modum nostrum loquendi.” He wrote with great modesty, and submitted his works to the decisions of the Church; yet he quietly undermined the exegetical tyranny, and had considerable influence upon the Reformers. Hence the well-known lines:
Si Lyra non lyrasset, Lutherus non saltasset.”*
Laurentius Valla (Lorenzo della Valle, canon of St. John in the Lateran, 1406–57), the best Latinist and most independent scholar of his age, and the pioneer of historical criticism, who first disproved the fiction of the Donation of Constantine, prepared Annotations to the New Testament, which were published by Erasmus in 1505. He dared to criticise Jerome’s Vulgate and St. Augustin, and to doubt the traditional text. Bellarmin calls him a forerunner of Luther, but he was simply a skeptical humanist, destitute of religious sincerity and moral earnestness. He escaped punishment by a cynical submission to the authority of Mother Church and became a secretary of Nicolas V., the liberal patron of the Renaissance.
Jacques Le Fèvre (Le-Fèvre d’Etaples, usually called Faber Stapulensis, 1450–1536) made a new Latin translation of the Epistles of Paul with a commentary (1512), and the first French version of the entire Scriptures (the New Testament in 1523, the Old in 1528), which formed the basis of the translation of Olivetan (1535). He was a humanist and pioneer of French Protestantism, though he died in the Roman Catholic Church. His exegesis is uncertain and wavering between the old and new methods. He proclaimed five years before the Reformation the Protestant principles of the supremacy of the Bible and of justification by faith, and uttered, in his work on Paul, the prophetic word: “The signs of the times announce that a Reformation of the Church is near at hand, and while God opens new ways for the preaching of the Gospel by the discoveries of the Portuguese and Spaniards, we must hope that he will also visit his Church and raise her from the abasement into which she has fallen.” About the same time, he told his pupil, William Farel, the pioneer of the Reformation in French Switzerland: “My son, God will renovate the world and you will see it.”* He fled from persecution to Strassburg, but spent his last years in peace under the protection of Queen Marguerite of Navarre in her little capital at Nérac. There Calvin, on his flight from Paris in 1533, saw the octogenarian scholar, who, in prophetic vision, saluted the youth as the future restorer of the Catholic Church in France, and suggested to him to take Melanchthon for his model.
John Reuchlin (1455–1522), called “the Phœnix of Germany,” is the father of Hebrew learning in the modern Christian Church, though he must share this honor with Pellican. He learned the rudiments of Hebrew from John Wessel and from some rabbis. He paid ten gold pieces to a Jew for the explanation of a single phrase. On the basis of David Qimchi, he wrote a Hebrew grammar and dictionary (1506), from which the Reformers acquired their knowledge of that language. He was unduly addicted to the mysterious superstitions of the Kabala. He had to suffer much persecution from the intolerant champions of monastic obscurantism, but was supported by all progressive scholars.
Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466–1536), the prince of the humanists and undisputed sovereign in the realm of letters, published, from a few manuscripts at Basel, where he spent the best years of his life, the first edition of the Greek Testament (1516), which became the basis of the textus receptus and of the Protestant versions. He accompanied this work with a new and elegant Latin translation and brief Annotations, which had a large circulation and exerted an immense influence. He also began to publish, in 1517, Paraphrases on the New Testament (except the Apocalypse), in which he repeated the text in different words.* His object was practical as well as literary. He wished that the theologians might study Christianity from its fountain-head, and that the Scriptures might be translated into every tongue and put into the hands of every reader, to give strength and comfort to the husbandman at his plough, to the weaver at his shuttle, to the traveler on his journey. Tyndale echoed this noble desire when he said: “If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause the boy that driveth the plough to know more of Scripture than you do,” speaking to one of those ignorant priests who “prefer the laws of the pope to the laws of God.”
Erasmus lived and died on the threshold of the middle ages and modem times. Stunica said by way of reproach: “Erasmus lutherissat”; Erasmus replied: “Lutherus erasmissat.” He displeased both parties. The Romanists charged him with laying the egg which Luther hatched; the Protestants called him a traitor to the Reformation; but Zwingli and Melanchthon never lost respect for him and his eminent services. His work was a necessary literary preparation for the greater work of the Reformers. He raised Greece from the dead “with the New Testament in her hand.”

Chapter CXXXV – Exegesis of the Reformers

Humanism was an important intellectual factor in the Reformation, but could never have produced it. The deeper roots of this movement were moral and religious. The Renaissance was a revival of classical heathen learning, the Reformation was a revival of primitive Christianity. As the literature of ancient Greece and Rome preceded the advent of Christianity, so a revival of that literature preceded and prepared the way for a revival of Christianity. The Greek language furnished the key to both.
The Reformation of the sixteenth century, by raising the standard of the Bible, as the sovereign rule of Christian faith and life, in opposition to the yoke of papal and scholastic tyranny, kindled an intense enthusiasm for biblical studies. It cleared away the obstructions of traditional dogmatism and brought the believer into direct contact with the Word of God in the original Hebrew and Greek, and in idiomatic vernacular versions. It enabled him to drink from the fresh fountain instead of the muddy river, and to walk in the daylight of the sun instead of the night-light of the moon and the stars.
The Reformers were all in full sympathy with the spirit of the Bible, as witnessing, in unbroken harmony, that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of the living God and the Saviour of mankind. To them Christ was the beginning, the middle, and the end of the written revelation, yet not in the way of forced allegorical interpretation. They had a sound instinct for the natural grammatical sense and laid aside arbitrary allegorizing, though not entirely.
The Bible was made the chief object of theological study, and a book of the people as well as the clergy … Exegesis, heretofore confined to the Greek and Latin languages and to scholars, was carried on for the benefit of laymen as well as ministers. But it was also often abused for polemical purposes and made to promote disunion rather than union among Christians.
Luther is the prince of translators, Calvin the prince of commentators, among the Reformers. Melanchthon, Zwingli, Œcolampadius and Beza occupy, next to them, the highest rank as expounders of the Scripture.
Exegesis in the Lutheran Church.

Martin Luther (1483–1546) gave to the German people an idiomatic version of the Old and New Testaments (begun at the Wartburg, 1522, and finished at Wittenberg, 1534, last revision, 1545). It is his best and most useful work and an immortal monument of his genius, industry and piety. His commentaries on Galatians (which he called his “wife,”), Psalms and Genesis are original, deep, fresh and suggestive, but unequal and irregular. He often hits the nail on the head, but as often wanders away from the text, using or abusing it as a mere starting-point for polemical excursions against Papists and radical Protestants (Schwarm—und Rottengeister). He condemned allegorizing as a monkey-game (Affenspiel), but often resorted to it in Job, the Psalms and Canticles. He was at times slavishly traditional and literal, at times boldly independent and spiritual. He objected to some parts of the Bible (Esther, James, Hebrews, Apocalypse), and anticipated modern criticism, but had the profoundest reverence for the word of God in the Bible.

Philip Melanchthon (1497–1560) was a superior philologist and the best Greek scholar of his age. He thought in Greek, and could hardly write a letter to a learned friend without inserting a rare Greek word or phrase. He maintained the correct principles, that “the Scripture cannot be understood theologically unless it be first understood grammatically,” and that “the Scripture had one certain and simple sense” (una certa et simplex sentential) which must be ascertained by the laws of grammar and rhetoric. But he required piety as well as knowledge of the grammar. Diestel gives him credit for having clearly pointed out the unity of the sense of the Scripture under the influence of his classical studies. Yet his brief comments are meager and dogmatical rather than grammatical. His Loci theologici grew out of his lectures on the Epistle to the Romans.

Secondary Lutheran commentators: Bugenhagen (d. 1558), Brenz (d. 1570), Flacius, the author of the Clavis Scripturæ Sacraæ (d. 1575), Chemnitz (d. 1586), Chytræus (d. 1600), Osiander (d. 1604).

Reformed Church. The Reformed exegesis was less dogmatical and more grammatico-historical than the Lutheran.

John Calvin (1509–64) is the first commentator of the sixteenth century, and both for quantity and quality has no superior in ancient or modern times. This is the unanimous judgment of competent scholars of different schools (like Scaliger, Tholuck, Winer, Diestel, Meyer, Reuss, Merx, Farrar) and expository preachers (like Spurgeon, who calls him “the most candid” commentator and of “priceless value”). His knowledge of the Bible as a whole and in all its parts is amazing and unsurpassed. He combined all the hermeneutical qualifications: classical culture, knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, mastery of Latin and French, familiarity with the best of the Fathers, fairness, freedom from prejudice, exegetical tact, acute perception, sound judgment, lucid method, spiritual insight, and profound sympathy with the biblical authors, especially Paul. He commented on the most important books of the Old Testament, and the whole New Testament, except the Apocalypse. Diestel calls him “the creator of modern exegesis.” (See his Geschichte des A. T.’s in der christl. Kirche, pp. 267 sqq., and Schaff’s Church History 8:524–538.) A complete English translation of Calvin’s commentaries in 45 vols. was published by the Calvin Translation Society at Edinburgh.

Zwingli (1484–1531), the Reformer of Zurich and German Switzerland, had superior classical culture, was a great admirer of Erasmus, copied the Greek text of the Epistles of Paul at Einsiedeln (1516, before he had heard of Luther), and studied the Scriptures with a reverent and independent spirit for the practical purpose that he might “preach Christ from the fountain.” He began with a continuous exposition of the Gospel of Matthew, while Luther and Melanchthon started from the Epistles to the Romans and Galatians. His commentaries on Genesis, the Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and several epistles, show sound common sense, sober judgment, and a preference for the simple, obvious sense, but are brief, fragmentary and immature. He died in the prime of manhood on the battlefield of Cappel.

John Œcolampadius (1482–1531), the Reformer of Basel, was the best Hebrew scholar of his age, and well acquainted with the Fathers. He wrote useful commentaries on Genesis and the Larger and Minor Prophets, and ably defended the figurative interpretation of the words of institution in the eucharistic controversy.

Theodore Beza (de Bèze, 1519–1605), the friend and successor of Calvin, combined rare classical culture with a rigorous theology. He edited several standard editions of the Greek Testament, a new Latin version, and a brief commentary (1565 sqq.), which were very popular in the Reformed Churches of the Continent, and especially in England during the reign of Elizabeth. He exerted considerable influence upon the Geneva English Version (1557), and the Authorized Version of 1611, not always for the best.

Minor exegetes: Martin Bucer (d. 1551), the Strassburg Reformer and mediator between Luther and Zwingli, at last professor in Cambridge; Pellican (d. 1556), a self-taught Hebraist, professor at Zurich, who commented on the whole Bible (1532–39, 7 vols.); Bibliander (d. 1564), likewise professor at Zurich, an Erasmian rather than a Calvinist; and Henry Bullinger (d. 1575), the friend and successor of Zwingli, and best known as the author of the Second Helvetic Confession (1566).

William Tyndale (d. 1536) deserves an honorable place among the primary translators and secondary Reformers. By his New Testament (1525) he shaped the idiom of the Authorized Version of 1611.  In his Obedience of a Christian Man, written in 1528 (ed. by the “Parker Society,” 1848, p. 303 sq.), he lays down his hermeneutical principles in the following remarkable passage: “The Papists divide the Scriptures into four senses, the literal, tropological, allegorical, and anagogical. The literal sense is become nothing at all, for the pope hath taken it clean away, and has made it his possession. He hath partly locked it up with the false and counterfeited keys of his traditions, ceremonies, and feigned lies; and partly driveth men from it with violence of sword: for no man dare abide by the literal sense of the text, but under a protestation, ‘If it shall please the Pope.’ The tropological sense pertaineth to good manners (say they), and teacheth what we ought to do. The allegory is appropriate to faith; and the anagogical to hope, and things above. Tropological and anagogical are terms of their own feigning, and altogether unnecessary. For they are but allegories, both two of them; and this word allegory comprehendeth them both, and is enough. For tropological is but an allegory of manners; and anagogical, an allegory of hope. And allegory is as much to say as strange speaking, or borrowed speech.…  “Thou shalt understand, therefore, that the Scripture hath but one sense, which is the literal sense. And that literal sense is the root and ground of all, and the anchor that never faileth, whereunto if thou cleave, thou canst never err or go out of the way. Neverthelater, the Scripture uses proverbs, similitudes, riddles, or allegories, as all other speeches do; but that which the proverb, similitude, riddle or allegory signifieth, is ever the literal sense, which thou must seek out diligently: as in the English we borrow words and sentences of one thing, and apply them unto another, and give them new significations.”

Chapter CXXXVI – Protestant Exegesis of the Seventeenth to the Middle of the Eighteenth Century

The seventeenth century is the period of Protestant scholasticism. It furnishes a parallel to the Catholic scholasticism of the Middle Ages, but is much richer in biblical learning. Its exegesis bears the same relation to the exegesis of the Reformers (henceforward revered as protestant Fathers) as the mediæval exegesis to the patristic. It has the prevailing character of reproduction, compilation, and confessional contraction. It was based on a mechanical theory of verbal inspiration or dictation, which was most minutely formulated, and acted as a check upon independent research. An infallible Book was set over against an infallible Church. The Protestant Confessions of Faith acquired the authority of Catholic tradition. Exegesis was controlled by dogmatic systems and made subservient to polemic confessionalism. The Bible was used as a repository of doctrinal proof-texts, without discrimination between the Old and New Testaments, and between the different books. A vast amount of patient, pedantic, antiquarian learning was accumulated. The exegetical compilations of Calovius and the Critici Sacri correspond to the Catenæ Patrum of the Middle Ages.
The Lutheran Church took the lead in Protestant scholasticism. She claimed the monopoly of orthodoxy or doctrinal purity, in opposition to Romanism and Calvinism, and assumed that all orthodox Christians are Lutherans, either consciously, or unconsciously under other names. Luther’s version of the Bible, which he himself had improved in every successive edition, became as unchangeably fixed as the textus receptus of the Greek Testament and as the Latin Vulgate. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and the prophets were pressed into the service of pure unmixed Lutheranism. Calixtus advocated a more liberal tendency on the broad basis of the œcumenical creeds, but was silenced as a dangerous syncretist and latitudinarian.

The Pietistic school of Spener and Francke broke down the dominion of scholasticism and symbololatry, laid stress on experimental piety as the key to the understanding of the Scriptures, and developed practical and devotional exegesis.

The best Lutheran commentator of the eighteenth century was Bengel, a pietest of the Swabian type. His hermeneutic principle was to exhibit the force and significance of the words of the text, so as to express everything which the author intended, and to introduce nothing which he did not intend. After Bengel the old Tübingen school of Storr and Flatt maintained a moderate orthodoxy against the rising tide of Rationalism which broke in with Semler and gradually flooded Germany.

The Reformed Church elaborated the same theory of a literal inspiration, as a bulwark against popery, and gave it even symbolical authority in the Helvetic Consensus Formula (1675), but only for Switzerland and for a short period. In other respects, she presents in the seventeenth century more life, progress and variety than the Lutheran Church.
Holland stood first in critical learning, archæological and chronological investigations, and produced, on the one hand, the rigid orthodoxy of the Synod of Dort (1620), and on the other, the liberal school of Arminianism, which emancipated exegesis from dogmatic domination and reintroduced through Hugo Grotius the Erasmian spirit of philological and historical interpretation. Arminianism assumed great practical importance in the revival movement of Wesleyan Methodism.
England was agitated by the conflicts between prelacy or semi-popery and puritanism, which stimulated theological activity and furnished the most interesting chapter in the contemporaneous history of Protestantism. The Episcopal commentators made large use of the Fathers of the undivided Church of antiquity. The Puritan (Presbyterian and Independent) commentators followed the principle that the Holy Spirit is the proper interpreter of the Scripture, and that the Scripture explains itself. The seventeenth century was the palmy period of Puritanism and the most fruitful of biblical study.
Lutheran exegetes
(1) The Orthodox School.

Abraham Calov, professor at Wittenberg (d. 1686): Biblia illustrata, 1672, 4 vols. fol., a dogmatico-polemical catena of Lutheran Bible learning, chiefly against Grotius.

Geier, professor at Leipzig (d. 1680); Psalms, Proverbs, Daniel.

Seb. Schmidt, professor at Strassburg (d. 1696): several books of the Old and New Testaments, and Collegium biblicum.

Sal. Glass, professor at Jena (d. 1656): Philologia Sacra, 1623, etc. Sensus duplex, literalis et mysticus; the former holding the priority of order, the latter of dignity.

Schöttgen (d. at Dresden, 1751): Horæ Hebraicæ et Talmudicæ, Dresden, 1733 and 1742.

C. Wolf, professor of Oriental languages in Hamburg (d. 1739): Curœ philologicœ et criticœ in Novum Testamentum, etc. Basil., 1741, 5 vols.

Christoph Starke, orthodox but not polemical, aiming at edification, like the Pietists (d. 1744): Synopsis bibliothecæ exeget., on the Old and New Testaments (German), Leipzig, 1733 sqq., 9 vols.; new ed. Berlin, 1865 sqq. Replaced by Lange’s Bibelwerk.

(2) The Pietistic School, aiming chiefly at edification. Collegia philobiblica. Methodism did for the Church of England, on a larger, more practical and methodical scale, what Pietism had done for Germany. Pietists and Methodists, originally terms of reproach for experimental Christians.

“Was ist ein Pietist? der Gottes Wort studirt

Und nach demselben auch ein heilig Leben führt.”

Spener (d. 1705), on several Epistles. Francke (d. 1727): Manuductio ad lectionem S. Script.—Paul Anton (d. 1730), a voluminous writer on the New Testament.—J. Heinrich Michaelis (d. 1738): Notes on the Old Testament.—Rambach (d. 1735).

Joachim Lange (d. 1744): Licht und Recht, 1729 sqq., 7 vols.

The Berleburger Bibel, 1726–42, 8 vols.

Many works, mostly worthless, on the Apocalypse with a millennarian tendency.

(3) Johan Albrecht Bengel (d. 1752): Gnomon Novi Testamenti, Tübing. 1742 and often (also in English). He occupies a via media between orthodox Lutheranism and Pietism; sound in doctrine, reverential in spirit, acute in judgment, sparing in words, pregnant in meaning, a sober chiliast, upon the whole the best exegete of the eighteenth century. His Gnomon is truly a pointer or indicator, like a sun-dial. Farrar (p. 393) calls it a “mine of priceless gems.” It is one of the very few commentaries which, like Chrysostom’s and Calvin’s, have outlasted their generation, notwithstanding his faulty exposition of the Apocalypse, which was exploded June 18, 1836 (the supposed date of the destruction of the beast). A warning of humility and caution to lesser lights.
Reformed exegetes, partly (and mostly) orthodox Calvinists, partly Arminians. The former developed the dogmatic and practical, the latter the scientific and historical element, in Calvin’s exegesis.
(1) Dutch Reformed

(a) Orthodox.

Coccejus (Koch), professor at Leyden (d. 1669), wrote commentaries on most of the biblical books (Opera, Amst. 1675, 10 vols. fol.) and founded a biblical rather than scholastic theology and exegesis, on the basis of the idea of the Covenant of God with man in a gradual historical evolution: (1) the Covenant of nature and works, made with Adam in Paradise (imaginary); (2) the Covenant of grace and faith, after the fall, under three administrations, viz. before the law, under the law, under the gospel. Immense learning. Excessive typology substituted for the manifold mystic sense. The Old Testament theocracy made a picture frame of the Christian Church. “Verba S. S. significant id omne quod possunt.” Coccejus found “Christ everywhere in the Old Testament, Grotius nowhere.” Grotius, however, recognized messianic prophecies. On Ps. 15:10, he says: “Latet sensus mysticus … ut in plerisque Psalmis.” The covenant theology maintained itself in Holland till the eighteenth century.

Campegius Vitringa (d. 1722, at Franeker), a pupil of Coccejus, but more moderate, very learned and profound. His commentaries on Isaiah, Zach., Epp., Apoc., etc., are still valuable.

Jos. Scaliger, professor at Leyden (d. 1609), the greatest scholar of his age, master of thirteen languages, an admirer of Calvin, founder of the first system of biblical chronology, Thesaurus Temporum.—J. Drusius (d. 1616).—Bochart (d. 1667), on biblical zoology and geography.—Sal. van Til (d. 1713).—Reland (d. 1718) made an epoch in Palestine geography and biblical antiquities.—J. Marck (d. 1731).—Schuttens (d. 1750) was the best Arabic scholar of the eighteenth century.—Venema (d. 1787).

(b) The Arminian commentators were free from the dogmatic prepossessions and intolerance of orthodoxy, and prepared the way for grammatico-historical exegesis, but also for rationalism by their lower view on inspiration and indifference to doctrine.

Hugo Grotius (De Groot, d. 1645), a great scholar, jurist, statesman and divine: Annotationes on the whole Bible, 1641–44. Himself a layman, he wrote for laymen, from the standpoint of a statesman and historian. Illustrations of the Bible by parallel passages from the Greek and Latin authors and secular historians. Afterwards superseded by Wetstein. Grotius was called a papist because he would not denounce the pope as the antichrist of prophecy, and the Romish priests as ministers of antichrist.

Clericus (Le Clerc, d. 1736): Commentaries on most of the Old Testament books, and Latin translation of Hammond on the New Testament, with many additions.

Sim. Episcopius (d. 1643).—Phil. von Limborch (d. 1712).

(2) German and Swiss Reformed.

David Pareus, at Heidelberg (d. 1622): Commentaries on Gen., Min. Prophets and several books of the New Testament.

Joh. Piscator (Fischer), at Herborn (d. 1625), on the whole Bible, in 24 vols. 8vo, afterwards in 4 vols.

Tossanus (Toussaint), at Hanau (d. 1629), on the New Testament.

H. Heidegger, professor at Zürich (d. 1697): Exercitia biblica.

A. Lampe (b. at Bremen, 1683, professor at Utrecht, d. at Bremen, 1729) wrote a most learned commentary on John, 3 vols. 4to. He was a rigid Calvinist and yet a sweet hymnist (author of “Mein Leben ist ein Pilgrimstand;” “O Liebesglut, die Erd und Himmel paaret,” etc.).

John Jacob Wetstein (1693–1754, professor at Basel, deposed and exiled from his native city for heresy, 1730, then professor at the Arminian College in Amsterdam): Novum Testamentum Græcum, Amsterdam, 1751–52, 2 vols. fol. A herculean work of forty years’ labor, a thesaurus of classical, patristic and rabbinical learning in illustration of the text, and a quarry for commentators. As a textual critic he was inferior in judgment to the contemporary Bengel, but much richer in resources and collations. He introduced the system of citations of uncial manuscripts by Latin capitals (A, C, D, etc.) and of cursive manuscripts by Arabic numerals. His text (Elzevir) is superseded, but his notes of parallel passages are invaluable.

(3) French Reformed.

Lud. de Dieu (d. 1642).—Jaq. Cappelle, at Sedan (d. 1624).—His brother, Louis Cappelle, at Saumur (d. 1658).—Is. de Beausobre (d. 1738, at Berlin).

(4) English divines, of the Episcopal and of Dissenting Churches, rivaled each other in biblical learning and its application to the practical life of the Church, and produced more works of permanent homiletical value than those of the continent. The Puritan commentators excel in practical application and are rich mines for preachers. Spurgeon prized them above all others, and characterizes them pithily in his Lectures an Commenting and Commentaries (London, 1876). Farrar ignores them.

Henry Hammond (Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, d. 1660): Paraphrase and Annotations upon the New Testament, London, 1653 (best ed. 1702); also on the Psalms and Proverbs. Churchly and Arminian. (Spurgeon calls him “churchy.”)

Critici Sacri, compiled as an appendix to Walton’s Polyglot, under the direction of Bishop Pearson, and others, first edition, London, 1660, 9 tom., followed by two suppl. vols. and four more, called Thesaurus Theologico-Philologicus; best ed. Amsterd. 1698–1732, 13 vols. Contains extracts from Reformed and Roman Catholic commentators, viz. Erasmus, Seb. Münster, Fagius, Vatablus, Castellio, Clarius, Drusius, Grotius, Scaliger, Casaubonus, Capellus, and a few others. A huge cyclopedia of the wisdom and folly of commentators. (See a full table of contents of the several volumes in Darling’s Cyclopedia Bibliographica, pp. 815–820.)

Matthew Poole (Polus, Presbyterian divine, ejected for non-conformity in 1662, d. 1679): Synopsis Criticorum aliorumque S. Scripturæ interpretum, London, 1669–76, 4 vols. in 5 fol. (which is better than the incorrect Franc reprints of 1688 and 1712). A useful abridgment from the Critici Sacri, and many other commentators (including Lutherans), the names being marked on the margin.  Matthew Poole wrote also Annotations upon the whole Bible, 4th ed. London, 1700, 2 vols. fol.; London, 1840, 3 vols. imp. 8 vo; London, 1853. This is an English synopsis from Poole’s Latin synopsis and intended for popular use. The books from Isaiah to the end were done after his death by different authors. Spurgeon puts Poole next to Matthew Henry in value for practical use.

Joseph Hall (bishop of Norwich, d. 1656): Contemplations on the Historical Passages of the Old and New Testaments, in numerous editions, one at Edinburgh, 1844.

John Trapp (vicar of Weston-upon-Avon, 1611–69): A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, London, 1654, 5 vols. fol.; new ed. 1867. Original with much quaint wit and illustrative anecdotes. Spurgeon says (p. 7): “Trapp is my especial companion and treasure; I can read him when I am too weary for anything else. Trapp is salt, pepper, mustard, vinegar, and all the other condiments.”

Patrick, Wm. Lowth, Whitby and Lowman: A Critical Commentary and Paraphrase on the Old and New Testaments and the Apocrypha, London, 1679–94; ed. Pitman, London, 1822, 6 vols.; Philadelphia, 1844, in 4 vols. The New Testament with the exception of Revelation, by Whitby. Episcopalians and Arminians classed among the “Latitudinarians.”*

Matthew Henry (Dissenting minister at Chester, 1662–1714, the son of Philip Henry, who was deposed for non-conformity in 1662): An Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, London, 1705–15, 5 vols. fol., often republished in England and America (also condensed in Jenk’s Comprehensive Commentary). It is fresh, pithy, quaint, suggestive and full of spiritual wisdom and experience. It holds its ground to this day as the best practical and devotional commentary for English readers. Spurgeon advises ministers to read Henry “entirely and carefully through once at least” (p. 3). But we must not go to him for the solution of any critical difficulty.

John Gill (Baptist minister, d. 1771): An Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, London, 1728–67; again London, 1810, in 9 vols. 4to. A supralapsarian Calvinist, great rabbinical scholar, but very dry and diffuse. “The Corypheus of hyper-Calvinism.” (Spurgeon.)

John Lightfoot (professor in Cambridge, a member of the Westminster Assembly, d. 1675) must be mentioned here on account of his unsurpassed rabbinical learning made subservient to the illustration of the Scriptures: Horæ Hebraicœ et Talmudicæ in quatuor Evangelistas, in Acta Apostol., partem aliquam Epistolœ ad Rom. et priorem ad Corinthios, 1684, in 2 vols.; ed. Lips., by Carpzov, 1675, 1679; best ed. London, 1825. Lightfoot also largely assisted Walton in his Polyglot, and Poole in his Synopsis.

Joseph Caryl (one of the Westminster Puritans, 1602–73) wrote an Exposition of Job, with Practical Observations, in 12 volumes, 4to, which it required the patience of a Job to write, and requires as much patience to read. It is a Puritan parallel to Pope Gregory’s Job. An abridgment appeared in Edinburgh, 1836. Another colossal Puritan commentary on a single book is John Owen’s Exposition of the Hebrews, in 4 fol. vols., London, 1668–74, also in 7 vols. 8vo., ed. by Goold, abridged by Williams, 1790. The richest modern commentary, on the Psalms, of the Puritan type is Charles Haddon Spurgeon (d. 1892): The Treasury of David, London and New York, 1870 sqq., in 7 vols. It is a storehouse for preachers by the greatest of modern preachers. We mention it in this natural connection by anticipation.

Philip Doddridge (an eminently pious Independent divine, d. 1751): Family Expositor of the New Testament, London 1736, 6 vols., and many other editions. Sound judgment and taste, devout spirit, excellent practical observations.

Thomas Scott (Calvinistic Episcopalian, 1747–1821): The Holy Bible, with Explanatory Notes, Practical Observations, and Copious Marginal References, London, 1792, and often since; best ed. London, 1841, in 6 vols. The favorite commentary of low-church Episcopalians of a former generation. Much esteemed and used chiefly for its practical value.

Adam Clarke (a Wesleyan minister and scholar, 1760–1832): The Holy Bible, with a Commentary and Critical Notes, London, 1810–23, 8 vols.; best ed. London, 1844, 6 vols. imp. 8vo. Replete with antiquarian but not always accurate and apposite learning, practical piety, defective in taste and judgment. A curiosity shop. The model commentary of the Methodists, and more used by preachers than any English commentary, except, perhaps, Matthew Henry.

Bishop Lowth, of Oxford (d. 1787), opened the understanding for Hebrew poetry and may be called in this respect the English forerunner of Herder: De Sacra Poesi Hebræorum (1753); Commentary on Isaiah (1779).

Chapter CXXXVII – The Commentators of the Roman Catholic Church in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

The Roman Church cares more for the teaching priesthood and the sacraments than for the Bible; while Protestantism makes the Bible the chief means of grace and nourishment of piety.
The Council of Trent laid chains on progress in Biblical learning by raising the Latin Vulgate (even without a critical text) to equal dignity with the Greek and Hebrew Bible, and forbidding all departure from an imaginary unanimus consensus patrum, as the ne plus ultra of exegetical wisdom.
Nevertheless there were several learned commentators, especially among the Jesuits, who were ambitious to defeat the Protestants with their own weapons of learning and energy.
François Vatable (Vatablus, professor of Hebrew in Paris, d. 1547), the author of learned annotations to the Old Testament, the first edition of which was condemned by the doctors of the Sorbonne. (Paris, 1545, 2d ed. 1584; also in the Critici Sacri).
Maldonado (or Maldonatus, a learned Spanish Jesuit, professor at Paris, d. 1583), on the Gospels, Psalms, larger prophets. His commentary in quatuor evangelistas was reprinted, Mogunt., 1841–45, in 5 vols. 8vo.
Em. de Sa (a Portuguese Jesuit, 1530–96): Notationes in totam S. Scripturam, Antw. 1598.
Cardinal Robert Bellarmin (1542–1621), the greatest champion of Romanism versus Protestantism, wrote a Latin Commentary on the Psalms, which was translated by the Ven. John O’Sullivan into English, London, 1866. Spurgeon (p. 81) characterizes it as “popish, but marvelously good for a Cardinal. He is frequently as evangelical as a Reformer. He follows the Vulgate text in his comment.”
William Estius (b. in Holland 1542, studied at Utrecht and Louvain, professor in Douay, d. 1613): Commentarius in Epistolas Apostolicas, 3 vols., 1631. One of the best works of the kind, endeavoring to find out the literal meaning; Augustinian in spirit.
Cornelius à Lapide (von Stein, a learned Jesuit, professor of Hebrew at Louvain, d. 1637): Commentaria in Vetus et Novum Testamentum (exclusive of Job and Psalms), Antw. 1616–27, 12 vols. fol., and in many other editions. Gives the literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical sense; full of patristic quotations, allegories and legends.
Richard Simon (1638–1712), is the founder of biblical Isagogic by his critical histories of the text and versions of the Bible.
Augustin Calmet (a pious and learned Benedictine, abbot of Senones in the Vosges, 1672–1757): Commentaire littéral sur tous les livres de l’Ancien et du Nouveau Testaments, Paris 1724, 8 vols. in 9; several editions. A work of great learning and value. Translated into Latin by Mansi, Lucca, 1730–38, 9 vols. The same author wrote a Dictionary of the Bible (English ed. by Charles Taylor and Dr. Robinson), and Biblical Antiquities.
Minor commentators: J. Mariana (d. 1624); Escobar Mendoza (d. 1609); Jac. Tarinus (d. 1636); Menochius (d. 1655); J. Hardouin (d. 1729).
To these orthodox writings must be added two exegetical works which were condemned by the Roman Church as Jansenistic or Quietistic.
Pasquier Quesnell (a half-evangelical Jansenist, b. at Paris, 1634, exiled 1681, d. 1719): Le Nouveau Testament avec réflexions morales sur chaque verse, etc., 1687; Amst. 1736, 8 vols. 12mo; English translation, London, 1719–25, 4 vols. The Gospels also separately edited by Bishop Wilson. Much admired for spiritual unction and rich piety.
Mme. Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Mothe-Guyon (1648–1717): La Ste. Bible avec des explications et réflexions qui regardent la vie intérieure, Col. 1713, 20 vols. The work represents her fervid, but eccentric, mystic piety of disinterested love. Quietism was condemned. She recanted thirty articles which were drawn from her writings. She led an exemplary Christian life, like Bishop Fénelon, her friend.

Chapter CXXXVIII – Rationalistic Exegesis, from the Middle of the Eighteenth Century to the Present Time

A radical revolution in theology, similar to the political and social revolution in France, threatened to undermine the very foundations of Christianity since the middle of the eighteenth century. Its phases are Deism in England; Deism and Atheism in France; Rationalism and Pantheism in Germany.
Reason was raised above faith and made the judge of revelation; the Bible treated as a merely human production; its inspiration denied; its genuineness questioned; its doctrines assailed; its merits reduced and measured by the standard of a utilitarian morality. The supernatural and miraculous is the chief obstacle. The older, deistic Rationalism of Paulus (called rationalismus vulgaris) explains the miracles of the gospel history away as natural events, which the disciples misunderstood; the modern, pantheistic Rationalism of Strauss and Renan resolves them into myths and legends which arose in the religious imagination of a later generation.
Rationalistic exegesis, like Pharisaism of old, but from an opposite point of view, diligently searches the letter of the Bible, but has no sympathy with its life-giving spirit. It investigates the historical and human aspects of Christianity and ignores or denies its divine character.
The mission of Rationalism is chiefly negative and destructive. It was justifiable and necessary just as far as the human authorship and literary form of the Bible were neglected by the orthodox exegesis in its zeal for the eternal truths. It was a reaction against bibliolatry and symbololatry. It emancipated the mind from the tyranny of dogmatic systems. It aimed at a true historical understanding of the literature of the Bible in its origin and gradual growth. It achieved great and lasting merits in grammatical, critical, historical and antiquarian research. It forms a transition to a new age of faith in harmony with enlightened reason and fortified by critical learning.
The latest form of the supernaturalistic school of Germany, in its attempt to defend the faith against rising opposition, made concessions to the enemy and gradually approached Rationalism.

J. David Michaelis (Prof. in Göttingen, d. 1791): Introduction to the Bible, and Translation with Com. on the Old and New Testaments, etc.

J. A. Ernesti (Prof. in Leipzig, d. 1781): Institutio interpretis N. T. (5th ed. 1809).—Morus (d. 1792).

J. G. Rosenmüller (d. 1815): Scholia in N. T. (1777, 6th ed. 1831).

E. F. C. Rosenmüller (son of the former, d. 1835): Scholia in V. T., 1788–1835, 24 tom.—Also Kühnöl, see below.

Johann Salomo Semler (Prof. in Halle, d. 1791), the father of German neology, educated in the school of Pietism, to which he adhered in what he called his “private piety,” but, carried away by the revolutionary spirit of the age, yet at last afraid of its consequences, unsettled the traditionary notions of the canon, distinguished the Bible from the word of God contained in it, and introduced the accommodation theory, which tries to explain the Bible from the notions and prejudices of the times and peoples in which it originated. He left no school or permanent work, but scattered the seeds of doubt in every direction. And yet he opposed Lessing and the Wolfenbüttel Fragmentist. His style is prosy, inelegant and intolerably prolix.

The most distinguished Rationalists in the field of biblical learning.

G. Eichhorn (in Götttingen, d. 1827): Hist. Critical Introduction to the Old and New Testaments (4th ed. 1823, 5 vols.); Com. on Revelation. He is sometimes called the founder of higher criticism, but was preceded by Semler, as Semler was preceded by Richard Simon.

E. G. Paulus (Heidelberg, d. 1851): Com. on the Gospels, and Life of Jesus. The natural explanation of the Gospel miracles, ably refuted by Strauss.

H. W. Gesenius (Prof. in Halle, d. 1842): Hebrew Grammar (25th ed. by Kautzsch, 1889); Dictionary (11th ed. 1890); Thesaurus (completed by Rödiger, 1829–58, 3 vols.); Com. on Isaiah (1829), etc.

F. A. Fritzsche (Prof. in Rostock and Giessen, d. 1846, a thorough classical philologist and investigator): Latin Com. on Matthew and Mark (1826–30), and Romans (3 tom. 1836–43).

Chris. Kühnöl (or in Latin Kuinoel, Prof. in Giessen, d. 1841): Latin Com. on the New Testament (Lips. 1825–43). A rational supernaturalist.

Aug. Knobel (Prof. in Giessen): Com. on Pentateuch, Isaiah, etc.

Hitzig (Prof. in Zürich and Heidelberg, a most learned and acute critic), and nearly all the other contributors to the Exeg. Handbook on the Old Testament (later edd. by Dillmann and others).

De Wette (Prof. in Basel, d. 1849, whose religious heart and fine taste were in advance of his skeptical understanding)*: Introduction to the Old and New Testaments (1817; 8th ed. by Schrader, 1869); Com. on the Psalms (5 edd.); Exeg. Handbook on the New Testament (1835 sqq. and posthumous edd. by various writers, a model of comprehensive brevity and sound judgment); Biblical Dogmatics (3d ed. 1831); German Translation of the Scriptures (3d ed. 1839). He belongs to the school of Schleiermacher in a wider sense.

The older Tübingen school, represented by Storr (d. 1805), Flatt (d. 1821), the younger Bengel (d. 1826), and Steudel (d. 1837), as also the isolated Knapp in Halle (d. 1825), Hess in Zürich (d. 1828), manfully and faithfully defended the sinking ship of biblical (not churchly) supernaturalism in the midst of the raging storms of Rationalism. (Not to be confounded with the modern Tübingen school headed by Baur.)

J. G. Herder (d. 1803 at Weimar), one of the German classics, a man of almost universal genius and taste, more poet than divine, neither orthodox nor scriptural, yet deeply religious, a harbinger of a brighter era in theology, kindled enthusiasm for the sublime beauties of the Bible (especially by his Geist der Hebräischen Poesie, 1782), and led a rising generation to the portal of the temple of inspiration. His influence is felt on many Rationalists, as Eichhorn, De Wette. In Ewald has arisen a new Herder with less poetry but more learning.

Chapter CXXXIX – The Swedenborgian Exegesis

Emanuel Swedenborg, the Swedish seer or visionary (1688–1772), in extreme contrast with the skepticism and infidelity of his age, came out with a new revelation and theory of Scripture interpretation, but exerted no influence on the regular course of historical development. He stood outside of the main current of history.
He distinguishes between the literal or natural, and the spiritual or celestial sense. “All and every part of the Scripture, even to the most minute, not excepting the smallest jot and tittle, signify and involve spiritual and celestial things.” (Arcana Cœlestia, I. No. 2.) This deeper sense is in the literal as the thought is in the eye, or the soul in the body, but was lost until it was revealed to Swedenborg. His allegorizing is arbitrary and fanciful, often ingenious, often absurd. Examples: The first chapter of Genesis, in its spiritual sense, represents the regeneration of man; the six days, the successive stages of regeneration; Adam in paradise, the oldest church; the four rivers in Eden, goodness, knowledge, reason and science. All the geographical and personal names of the Old Testament are filled with mysteries. In this respect he goes further than Philo and Origen in their allegorical method, but differs entirely in the application, and especially also in his views of the canon.
With an ultra-supernaturalistic inspiration theory Swedenborg unites a rationalistic view on the extent of the canon. He rejects from the Old Testament the Solomonic writings and Job; from the New Testament he excludes the Acts and Epistles, especially those of St. Paul, from whose doctrine of the atonement and justification he entirely dissents. Even in the remaining books, the Gospels and the Apocalypse, he admits only the words of the Lord or of an angel, as strictly divine, while the words of an apostle or evangelist reflect the limited knowledge of enlightened men and have only one sense, the literal.
The exegesis of Swedenborg is original, but critically and theologically worthless, and hence ignored in commentaries. Arcana Cœlestia (Com. on Genesis and Exodus), London, 1749 sqq. (ed. Tafel, Tüb. 1833–42. English translation in 10 vols., New York, 1870). Apocalypsis explicata secundum sensum spiritualem, 3 vols. (English translation in 6 vols., published in London and New York by the Swedenborg Publication Society).

Chapter CXLII – Hints for Exegetical Study

  1. Read first the Scripture in the original text, with nothing but grammar, dictionary and concordance, and a good version (the Anglo-American revision).
  2. Ascertain the meaning for yourself as nearly as you can.
  3. Then, use the best grammatico-historical commentary within reach, to aid you in the solution of difficulties. Too many commentaries are embarrassing and misleading to the beginner.
  4. Consult other commentaries, doctrinal and homiletical, as you have need, but do not make yourself the slave of any.
  5. Apply your whole self to the text, and the whole text to yourself. (“Te totum applica ad textum: rem totam applica ad te.” Bengel.)
  6. Never lose sight of the practical and spiritual aim of the Bible.
  7. “He rightly reads Scripture who turns words into deeds.” (St. Bernard.)


Philip Schaff, Theological Propædeutic: A General Introduction to the Study of Theology (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1893), 199–233.

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