A Compendium of Christian Theology

By William Burt Pope, D.D.,

Volume One

Chapter 4

The Canon: The Divine Rule of Faith

THE CANON: The Divine Rule of Faith



             Old Testament Ratified in New



             Earlier and Later History of Canon








             Introduction, History




Having considered the Faith as the revelation of God in Christ accepted by man, and the Divinity of its records as insured by their inspiration, it remains that we complete the discussion of the subject by making prominent the specific character of the Bible as the Canon or authoritative Rule of Christian doctrine and practice. Two different uses of the term will suggest a division. Objectively, the body of sacred writings was determined, under the guidance of the Divine Spirit, by the application of a Canon, or rule, to which they were found to be conformed: here we shall have the Canonical Scriptures.

Subjectively, under the illumination of the same Spirit, these tested Scriptures became the absolute and final standard within the Christian Church: here we shall have to consider The Rule of Faith and its interpretation as a Sacred Text.

The word kanónos, signifies literally a straight rod; and metaphorically a testing rule or the organ of the critical faculty in ethics, or art, or language. It is also, in a passive sense, used to denote that which has been measured and determined. St. Paul applies the term both actively and passively in the only passages where it occurs in the New Testament. 1 In the Patristic writings it is employed with reference to the Rule of the Church, the Rule of Faith, and the Rule of Truth; and the decisions of synods were called Canons. The derivatives of Canon were applied to the Scriptures before the term itself: they were Canonized Books, Libri Canonizati. Amphilochius, in a catalogue of the Scriptures (cir. 380), first adopted the word to signify the rule, or criterion, or standard, by which the contents of the Bible must be settled. From the time of Jerome it has been current and established in both senses, the one dependent on the other.

1 Gal. 6:16; 2 Cor 10:13-16.


The objective Canon is the collection of all the sacred writings of the two dispensations.

The Christian Church received the Canon of the Old Testament in its integrity from the Jewish, and that of the New from the Apostles, the Savior’s authority being the guarantee of both. It will be necessary first to establish these points by Scripture itself, and then to review the history of the formation of the entire Canon: examining briefly the subsequent variations of opinion as to its exact limits: both, however, only so far as they affect the Christian Rule of Faith.


The Canon of the Old Testament is ratified in the New, as containing the infallible and sufficient Oracles of God for the older dispensation: thus the Hebrew Scriptures, precisely as we now receive and hold them, are authenticated, and the so-called Apocryphal books are excluded. The collection of writings now called the New Testament also give indications of what might naturally be expected, that they would in due time constitute a new and supplementary Canon consummating the former.


We have the fullest assurance that the Old Testament, as we hold it, was accepted by our Lord. He refers to the ancient distinction of The Law, Towraah, containing the Pentateuch: The Prophets, Nabiy; and The Writings or The Psalms, zamiyr, the Hagiographa. The demarcations of these three departments were not precisely defined; but sufficiently to identify our present Hebrew volume as the same which Jesus had in His Land and bade His disciples’ study. The importance of such a supreme testimony cannot be exaggerated: it may be placed, and sometimes we must place it, in the stead of many other arguments.

1. This testimony excludes the apocryphal books: the three-fold arrangement is, in fact, recognized and admitted by some of these writings themselves, which shows that they were avowedly excluded from the Canon. The term APOCRYPHA came into use in the second Christian century, to designate books of hidden origin (occulta origo), or perhaps secret authority (secreta auctoritas); and certainly with the further meaning of spurious and heretical in opposition to the accepted writings of the Church. Whatever was the precise application of the plain Greek word, it implied an absolute authority in the collection from which they were excluded, and the reason for their exclusion. The New Testament never quotes or alludes to these books. It may be said that this is not a decisive argument, as several books of the Old Testament are equally unrecognized: but it must be remembered that when the Law, or the Prophets, or the Psalms are quoted, all is authenticated that these conventional divisions were known to include. It may be urged also that the Lord does not, any more than His Apostles, specify the exact number of books contained in these divisions: especially in the last, which was the most undetermined. But we have the sufficient evidence of contemporary Hebrews to supply that deficiency.

Josephus says: " We have only twenty-two books which are to be trusted as having Divine authority, of which five are the books of Moses. From his death to the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, the prophets, who were the successors of Moses, have written in thirteen books. The remaining 'four contain hymns to God, and documents of life for human edification." But thus we arc led to the next point.

2. This division seems to set its seal on the means by which the Old-Testament Canon had been arranged and ratified. Our Lord assumed, what St. Paul expressed, that to the Jews, as a people, were committed the oracles of God. By accepting these Scriptures, with their extant divisions, He silently confirmed a long history, most of the details of which are lost. It is evident in the current of Biblical history that there had been a gradual collection from the beginning. The Book of the Law was deposited in the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord. 1 This original was to be copied by every future king: and it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life. 2 Nevertheless, Josiah had not seen it when Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord; 3 though we know not in how many hands copies might have been found. For it had been enlarged by other writings, and autographs may have been circulated by Joshua, of whom it is said that he wrote these words in the book of the law of God, 4 and Samuel, who told the people the manner of the kingdom, and wrote it in a book, and laid it up before the Lord. 5 Hence Jehoshaphat sent out his Levites who taught in Judah, and had the look of the law of the Lord with them, and went about throughout all the cities of Judah, and taught the people. 6 Proverbs also were collected; as we read of the proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah, king of Judah, copied out. 7 One general Book seems to have been authoritative, of which the prophet spoke, Seek ye out of the book of the Lord and read. 8 But, until the Captivity, there was no distinction in the classes of writings. It was one volume that Daniel quoted, and Ezra and Nehemiah read before the people from morning until mid-day. 9 When the Jewish polity was reorganized there was a final revision. The universal tradition of the ancient Church assigned to Ezra, and the Great Synagogue, the function of arranging their Scriptures in their present form; the persecution of Antiochus, and the proscription of the sacred books, having given occasion to the fixing of the Canon. This question, however, must be studied in its appropriate literature. It may be admitted that the supposed Synagogue of Jewish tradition represents a succession of pious men from Ezra to Simon the Just, who was high priest after the death of Alexander the Great. The final revision and collection was not, on this supposition, finished in the time of Ezra. But the Savior’s authority gives a retrospective sanction to the final authentication, however it was accomplished.

1 Deu. 31:26; 2 Deu. 17:19; 3 2 King 22:8; 4 Josh. 24:26; 5 1 Sam. 10:25; 6 2 Chro. 17:9; 7 Pro. 25:1; 8 Isa. 34:16; 9 Neh. 8:3.


There is no plain declaration in the New Testament that the ancient Canon was to be supplemented by another collection of books: not only is there no plain declaration, but an almost total silence on the subject. When we remember how often the Old Testament refers to the Volume which was, from age to age, in course of enlargement, it seems an anomaly that there should be no similar reference in the New. We read of the Word of truth: 1 of the truth as truth is in Jesus; 2 of the new or better Covenant; 3 never of new Scriptures, certainly never of a new volume or collection Heb. of inspired documents.

But there are not wanting indications, to which reference has already been made under the Doctrine of Inspiration, that the design of the Holy Ghost included the formation of a new Canon.

1 Eph. 1:13; 2 Eph. 4:21; 3 Heb. 8:8.

1. Though the several terms by which the New-Testament Testimony writers were accustomed to describe their enlarged message do not expressly refer to a new Bible, they are such as to lay the foundation for it in due time. And it is certain that the individual writings of the Apostles were held in the congregations which received them to have equal authority with the ancient and accepted Oracles of God, and that the Catholic Church addressed by St. Peter reckoned St. Paul's writings as co-ordinate with the other Scriptures. 1 It is remarkable, further, that almost every writer gives somewhere or other a distant hint, and even more than that, of the permanent authority of his own contribution.

This needs no further illustration than it has received already. Looking back now, after the Canon has been ratified, we are bound to admit that these sayings are precisely what they might be expected to have used on the supposition that they calculated on their writings being consolidated into the unity of Scripture.

1 2 Pet. 3:16.

2. No argument, however, is needed beyond that of analogy. A new covenant would require new oracles; the entire economy of the New Testament was only a resumption and continuation of the ancient plan. Christ came to fulfill the Law and the prophets, and to fulfill them by supplementing both their words and their writings. He Himself was in the new economy what He had been in the Old: the universal and omnipresent Revealer by His Spirit in His servants, the Spirit of the Christ, which was in them. 1 But He raised up a series of agents and writers who were the representatives and reproductions of those who formed the Old Testament, though with other names. They were Chroniclers, Prophets, and Lawgivers, just as of old time. There is a perfect continuity in the history of revealed truth; had its method been changed in the end of the world, the Savior would have told us of the change. The silence of the New Testament, or its partial silence, as to any change of the Holy Spirit's plan, has the force of a confirmation of the established method. As in old time the volume of the book was gradually enlarged, and not finally ratified until inspiration had ceased, so we might expect it to be with the new economy. The New-Testament Scriptures were circulated among the churches as the standard of their faith long, before the Spirit led the Church to set on them the seal of what we call canonization: to them, as to the Old Testament, all parties, orthodox and heretical, made their appeal.

1 1 Pet. 1:11.


The history of the completed Canon includes its gradual settlement during the first centuries, and the fluctuations of opinion in later ages. A fair consideration of these two subjects will lead to the conclusion that the same Spirit Who gave the Scriptures has watched over them, and secured their integrity.

The formation of the Canon runs through the entire ante-Nicene age. The fourth century closed before the faith and critical faculty of the Christian communities added our present New Testament in its integrity to the Old, the last lingering doubt as to any of the books having finally disappeared.

1. The first thing to be noted is the prerogative of the Church in regard to this. The Apostle tells us that unto the ancient people as such were committed the oracles of God: 1 a distinct testimony of great importance, if we mark the force of the term episteútheesan, and the Proóton, which introduces the sentence. There was a close analogy between the gradual acceptance of the new body of Scripture and that of the old. The ancient Canon was not fixed until the Spirit of inspiration had retired; it was the office of the Jewish Fathers to distinguish between the authoritative books and all others; the tests by which they determined the difference were, so far as we know them, the names and known inspiration of the writers, and the traditional consent of past ages. The final ratification was brought about by the pressure of persecution directed against the sacred writings; but there ought to be no doubt that this was under the special supervision of the Holy Ghost.

The parallel is so far complete. But there were some peculiarities in the case of the new collection. The Gospel was diffused over the world, and every church was the guardian of its own holy books, while every province of early Christendom had its own special selection of Scriptures; there were also numberless heresies, multiplying their spurious productions. These two circumstances tended to make the concurrence of the Christian Church in the final acceptance of the New-Testament writings a more remarkable fact than the unanimity of the Jewish Church in regard to the Old Testament. When the set time was fully come the same Spirit who closed the Old-Testament volume closed also the New.

1 Rom. 3:2.

2. The tests applied to the books circulated among the Christian congregations were very simple. The main criterion was their apostolic origin or authorization, that being the guarantee of their inspired character. In case of residual doubt, the common Regula Fidei, or rule of faith, was brought to bear, as also the testimony of the churches that held the several documents in question. It was the sure belief of the primitive Christians that the Lord gave to the Apostles alone authority to direct the faith of His Church, both by their words and by their written communications. Apostolic authorship or Apostolic authorization was all they demanded in the sacred writings: they looked simply for the signs of an Apostle, Tá mén seemeía toú apostólou. 1 Hence the writings of St. Mark and St. Luke were never even classed among the doubtful books: they were understood to have been written under the sanction of St. Peter and St. Paul. Of the genuineness of those which claimed to be directly Apostolic, and of the validity of such as claimed indirect sanction, their harmony with the common Rule of Faith, and the testimony of the individual churches, were subordinate and sufficient tests.

1 2 Cor. 12:12.

3. The result was the early division of the sacred books into two classes: those which were universally acknowledged as Divinely inspired, and those which were not at first generally received. The former, the HOMOLOGOUMENA, were, before the second century closed, the four Gospels and Acts, thirteen Epistles of St. Paul, the first Epistle of St. Peter, and the first Epistle of St. John. The ANTILEGOMENA were seven: not, indeed, rejected, but doubted about, and not at once received. The reasons for this suspended judgment are evident. Some were without the names of the writers, such as the Epistle to the Hebrews. Some were written to the Christian community in general, and were current at large, under the protection of no particular church. Others were addressed to individual men, and on that account incurred suspicion. A few were opposed to the views of some portions of the Church: such as the Apocalypse and the Epistle of St. James. It must be remembered that they were not spoken against, as the term Antilegomena might seem to indicate, but held in doubt only. In later times they have been termed DEUTEROCANONICAL, their authority being counted less than that of the other books.

4. There were a few small treatises that were very generally received in early times with a peculiar veneration: written, it was thought, by Apostolical men, or companions of the Apostles, such as Clemens Romanus, Barnabas, and Hernias. They were publicly read in some churches, and were copied into the earliest Codices, where they are still found, though only as appendages at the end. Their pretensions did not long survive the jealous ordeal.

5. In an altogether different class must be placed the many writings that make up the APOCRYPHAL Christian Books. Some of these were written in the interests of a Judaising Christianity, others with a precisely opposite tendency, and the remainder for the gratification of legend-loving curiosity. There were apocryphal gospels, acts, epistles, and apocalypses; but not one of them was ever found in any private or public catalogue of the sacred writings. It may be added that the apocryphal shadows of the New Testament are far inferior in ethical character to those of the Old, some of which are of the highest merit. The former, in fact, are either worthless or utterly unchristian.

6. Successive synodical decisions approximated more and more closely to the catalogue of holy books which we hold. They culminated at the Council of Hippo, and, four years afterwards, at the Third Council of Carthage, then under the influence of Augustine, in the Canon of the present New Testament. The persecution of Diocletian, in the beginning of the fourth century, led to the more careful scrutiny of what had, during the whole of the century previous, been called the " Evangelicum Instrumentum;" a term used by Tertullian, who also described the whole Bible as "Totum Instrumentum utriusque Testament." Only the pressing claims of other doctrinal discussions and decisions prevented the Council of Nicaea from accomplishing what was already virtually done: the task, that is, of defining the authoritative Canon of Holy Scripture.

7. The Old-Testament Canon was accepted and confirmed, as we now hold it, by many catalogues in the fourth and fifth centuries. The Alexandrian Church, represented by Athanasius, gives exactly our list of books: a remarkable fact, when we remember that the Greek version made in Alexandria had first given currency to the Apocrypha. But the study of Hebrew had declined: the Christian Church was contented with the Septuagint, enlarged as it was by apocryphal additions. The Hebrew Scriptures were too much left to the Masorites. Hence the New-Testament Canon was earlier and more unanimously settled in Christian faith and acceptance than the Old: even the Council of Carthage admitted, though with reservation, the Old-Testament Apocrypha.


Later opinion as to the Canon may be studied with advantage Modern and for warning.

Its outline, which should be filled up by a History. Careful study of the literature of the subject, is as follows: 1. The question of the Canon was long an open one in the mediaeval Church. The Council of Trent, in a decree passed by a Trent, few divines in 1546, followed an example set by the Council of Florence in 1441, and included nearly all the Apocrypha among the books of Scripture: a decree contrary to the former catalogues, which therefore many later Romanist divines have attempted to soften by distinguishing, in common with many of the Reformers, between a higher and a lower canonical authority.

2. The later Greek Church has always fluctuated in opinion on this question. After many attempts to mark off the Apocrypha from the Scripture proper, it coincided with the Tridentine decision at a Jerusalem, Synod held under Dositheus, in 1672.

3. The divines of the Reformation erred greatly on the side of laxity. Luther rejected the apocryphal books from the Canon, though he admitted them for edification. He separated the Antilegomena, especially Hebrews, Jude, James, and the Apocalypse, from the rest: applying to them a subjective standard, "their treatment of Christ," in which he pronounced them faulty; while the residue contained, in his judgment, " the kernel of Christianity." The Swiss Reformers more rigorously rejected the Apocrypha; and in this they have been followed by their formularies and the Westminster Confession. The Arminians received the Scriptures in full, though free in their judgments as to authorship.

The English Church in this, as in many other things, was guided by a spirit of conciliation. Its Sixth Article defines Scripture as "those canonical books of the Old and New Testament of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church;" it does not enumerate the books of the New Testament, and admits the public reading of some parts of the Apocrypha: " the other books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners, but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine." The Methodist communities everywhere reject the Apocrypha altogether, in common with the many bodies that accept the Westminster Confession.


Modern assaults upon the Canon are, to a certain extent, bound up with opposition to the Christian revelation generally; though they also originate a distinct branch of critical inquiry. The determination of what constitutes the canonical collection involves many questions, relating chiefly to the genuineness, integrity, and authenticity of certain particular books; the defense of which is of great importance, as the faith of the Church of Christ rests upon the unity of the Scriptures as one organic whole.


1. The broader question as to the existence of any authoritative Canon is not here involved. That is settled by the acceptance of the doctrine of inspiration: we are bound to admit the great mass of the Scriptures of both Testaments as given by God to His Church.

The question is not of the Bible generally, and as a whole; only of its limits. But both in the New Testament and in the Old there are some books which, as we have seen, have not always had an undisputed place. With reference to these especially, and as to one of the points in dispute with reference to all Scripture, the preliminary question must be asked and answered. First, it must be settled that the documents we hold are from the writers and times to which they profess to belong. This is a question of their GENUINENESS; and it concerns only the documents them-selves. It asks, with regard to all the books, and especially the contested ones, whether they were written by the authors whose names they bear. Then arises the important point of their INTEGRITY: making due allowance, that is, for the petty changes and interpolations of text to which all books are liable in course of transcription. Lastly comes the question of their AUTHENTICITY. This concerns the origin of the documents, as professedly from inspired men, and containing the oracles of God. It asks whether their claims are supported by those external and internal evidences or credentials which alone can sustain so high a pretension. It is obvious that these questions run into each other: hence, the term Authenticity, and the questions which hang upon it, may be reasonably made to cover the whole ground.

2. The study of this branch of theology involves the ordinary historical investigation by which literary claims are sifted.' But it is not limited to this: the Holy Spirit approves the books which are "generally received in the Church" by the impress of His secret and yet evident stamp. On the principles which we consider fundamental, these two must control each other, but the testimony of Christ and His Spirit must be supreme.

(1.) Whether as it respects the Old Testament or the New, every book and every fragment of every book must undergo the ordeal. This constitutes a distinct department of study, that of Historical Criticism: one of extreme difficulty, and not to be undertaken by any student who has not the means of prosecuting it thoroughly. Whatever confidence we have in our Lord's authentication of the Old Testament, and in the Church's settlement of the New-Testament Canon, the defense of every integral portion of the Bible is a necessity bound upon the theologian by the assaults of infidelity. It is not too much to say that every man set for the defense of the Gospel ought to have at command. The arguments which prove the genuineness and authenticity of every book; or, which is the same thing, the arguments which defend it against attack. Works known as Introductions to the Bible, or Biblical Dictionaries, or Histories of the Canon, furnish these in abundance, with all the argumentation for and against. But it must be remembered that, while every book requires its defense, the leading questions in dispute are really limited to a few vital points as to each Testament.

(2.) Nothing is more important than to conduct any such inquiries with a clear sense of its limitations. These are of two kinds. First, the inquiry into the genesis and gradual construction of the various pans of Scripture, especially of the Old Testament, is beset with the most formidable difficulties. Very much of the material for judgment is gone past recovery. Hence the hopeless contradictions and confusions, the helpless chaos of ever-shifting hypotheses, which are found in the writings of the modern disintegrators of the Bible. The field is to them literally one of boundless conjecture; and very often conjecture and evidence are to them interchangeable terms. Hence, also, it is evident that the defender of the Bible must not expect to be able to determine many of these questions and must be content to leave them unsettled. Secondly, we are not required, we are indeed not permitted, to engage in these inquiries as if the life of Christianity were in them. The authenticity of the Bible as a whole—which is, after all, inextricably bound up with its genuineness — involves the TESTIMONIUM SPIRITUS SANCTI, or that inward witness which it bears, and which witnesses with our spirits who read any part of it.

Hence, it may be laid down as a canon for the regulation of our confidence in the Canon that the Spirit of Inspiration is Himself the Divine Witness. As our Lord has ratified to us the older Scriptures, so the Holy Ghost has ratified us, in the Church and through the Church, the new Scriptures and the Bible as a whole. Criticism must bring its human evidence; but the supreme evidence is His. When it is said, however, that the Holy Ghost bears His witness to the Bible AS A WHOLE, this must not be misunderstood. He has in a remarkable way set His seal to the individual books, and especially to those which are most contradicted. The most vulnerable parts seem most amply defended. For instance, the Mosaic origin of the Pentateuch is very fully attested by the Savior and the Apostles: if we collect the quotations and references in the New Testament we shall find that the leading outlines of the history of the Five Books can be traced there. The events before Moses are referred to on his authority. And his account of the lawgiving, the wilderness, and all its events, the ritual economy of the tabernacle, the entrance into Canaan, and in fact the entire contents of the Pentateuch are accepted as of the Mosaic age and that of Joshua. The authenticity of Daniel has been assailed, the later part of Isaiah has been given to an anonymous author, the very heart of Zechariah has been taken from his prophecies: now these are the three portions of the Old Testament which the Savior has protected, next to Deuteronomy, with the utmost care. Among the books of the New Testament there are a few which criticism keenly assails; denying their apostolic origin and their inspired or authoritative character. It would not be true to say that these give in every case more abundant internal evidence for themselves; but certainly the Holy Ghost speaks through them to every rightly disposed heart. Who can resist the appeal of St. John's Gospel, the Pastoral Epistles, and the Epistle to the Ephesians, St. James, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the Second Epistle of St. Peter? This last document was perhaps most slowly of all admitted, for reasons easily traced; but no devout mind can read its first chapter without feeling that the writer is full of the Holy Ghost and not a forger assuming the Apostle's name, and pretending that he had been on the mount of transfiguration. Of course, this argument may be abused. But to us it is supreme as to the entire Bible which the Spirit gave to the Church.


The Canon of Scripture, as the accepted collection of sacred writings, may be objectively viewed as the Rule of Faith to the Christian Church, or the final and infallible standard of what is to be believed as necessary either to personal salvation or to the integrity of the Christian faith; and subjectively as a body of Divine documents which is to be studied with all human appliances under the teaching of the Holy Ghost


The plenary inspiration of the Scriptures implies their supreme authority, in every possible court, and at the same time justifies our appealing to their own testimony as to the bearings and extent of that authority. They everywhere speak as the final oracle of faith, duty, and hope, and reject every kind of co-ordinate standard. This high assertion of their claims is so set forth as to harmonies with the subordinate rules of faith or confessions adopted by the several branches of the witnessing Church, and with the exercise of private judgment: the supreme safeguard of the doctrine being the presence of the Holy Spirit as the effectual and sufficient Guardian of His Word.

1. Generally, the New Testament declares itself, as the consummation of Scripture, to be the STANDARD OF FAITH. Absorbing the Old Testament, or rather coordinating itself with the Old Testament, it declares by the testimony of one of the last and greatest writers that Every Scripture inspired of God is also profitable for TEACHING 1. . . that the man of God may be perfect. The man of God is here the Christian teacher, of whom it is said that his knowledge of the ancient oracles made him wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.2 The Apostles were to be guided into all the Truth; 3 into the whole compass of truth, as the truth is in Jesus.4 Hence the closing testimony in St. Jude is to the Faith which was once delivered unto the saints: 5 redelivered by its Supreme Authority to His new and perfect Church. The doctrine of our Lord is the RULE AND CRITERION OF MORALITY, and of all human duty. The Christian faith is the Christian law, and the Christian law is the Christian faith: Christ is the end of the law for righteousness; 6 and His whole economy has for its design that the ordinance of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 7 He is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life: 8 the truth being here in the centre. He summed up the Apostles' future teaching as all things whatsoever I have commanded you. 9 St. Paul knows no other ethics than what had been received and heard from himself, and bids his converts walk by the same rule, or kanóni, 10, 11 as the infallible directory and test of all obligation. And the book of truth and duty is also the CHARTER OF PRIVILEGES. It was with the widest possible meaning that Jesus said, All things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you: 12 the whole compass of the blessings dilated on in the Acts and Epistles is only the expansion of germs given in His promise. The New Testament is the book of the covenants of promise: 13 the new covenant between the Triune God and His people, ratified by the blood of Christ, announced in His promise, and conferred by His Spirit.

1 2 Tim. 3:16,17; 2 2 Tim. 3:15; 3 John 16:13; 4 Eph. 4:21; 5 Jude 3; 6 Rom. 10:4; 7 Rom. 8:4; 8 John 14:6; 9 Mat. 28:20; 10 Phil. 3:16; 11 Gal. 6:16; 12 John 15:16; 13 Eph 2:12.

2. The Scripture everywhere appeals to itself for an end of all controversy. To the law and to the testimony! 1 was the ancient word in Israel. How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled that thus it must be? 2 By these words our Savior makes the Scriptures concerning Himself absolute in their authority. Apollos, like the Apostles, proved by the Scriptures that Jesus was Christ. 3 The Bereans were therefore more noble-minded than they of Thessalonica, because they searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.4 The peril of neglecting the great salvation hangs upon its having been spoken by the Lord, and confirmed unto us by them that heard Him. 5 There is a perpetual appeal from one part of Scripture to another part of Scripture: sometimes to reason, sometimes to heathen authors, sometimes to traditions; but always the Caesar to which it finally appeals is itself. The Savior refers to the Old Testament; the Apostles to Him and to them, St. Paul, in addition, to himself; and St. Peter to St. Paul. This has the force of a universal law within the Bible. And it cannot be denied that throughout the history of the Church from the very beginning all parties have implicitly or explicitly made the Word of God their last court of decision.

1 Isa. 8:20; 2 Mat. 26:54; 3 Acts 18:11; 4 Heb. 2:3.

3. Every other final authority is absolutely or by implication interdicted. Nothing can be more clear than that our Lord regarded the whole sum of religion as vitiated by infidelity to Scripture. In vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men: 1 where the Pharisees are a mirror in which later traditionalists are reflected. And again, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the Scriptures? 2

1 Mat. 15:9; 2 Mark 12:24.

4. The supreme authority sanctions, however, other inferior standards in the form of creeds. Those Rules of Faith which were constructed from the beginning were based upon the formulas of Scripture itself: expressing in compendium the belief of the Church.

But of these, in all their forms, earlier and later, the Bible is the test: the court to which they must finally be brought. This applies to creeds, catechisms, standards, and formularies of every description: of which more will be said hereafter.

5. The Rule also presupposes and harmonizes, as subordinate to itself, Public Ministerial Instruction and Private Judgment, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures are the textbook of a living continuous teaching which is an ordinance of God in the congregation: this may be and has been perverted; but it is nevertheless the appointed means in the Church for the continuation of the Apostles' doctrine. Moreover, the privilege, duty, and responsibility of private judgment are everywhere declared. The prophecies of God's Word are, indeed, not of private interpretation, 1 are not solved by themselves or any private solution— idías epilúseoos ou gínetai, —and this is true of all Scripture, which is not left without the interpretation of the Spirit Who gave it. Yet all believers must prove all things: 2 not only the Bereans, in process of conversion, but all Christians are responsible for the gift of reason, regenerate and sanctified to its highest use. Both, however, require the presence of the Supreme Interpreter. He still guides the living Church into the truth, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary; He is the teaching unction from the Holy One 3 imparted to every Christian; and the combination of the three—the sanctified individual judgment, the didactic ministry, and the Holy Spirit—gives its perfection to the whole theory of the Rule of Faith, which is one in the unity of these three. Revelation, Inspiration, Canon are also three-one in the unity of the ever-present and ever-living Spirit of the Truth. 4

1 2 Pet. 1:20; 2 1 Thess. 5:21; 3 1 John 2:20; 4 John 16:13.


There are two errors on this subject which are more or less prevalent. Rationalism, on the one hand, undermines the authority of God's Word: either by rejecting it as an external revelation, or by accepting it and making human reason the sole arbiter of its meaning.

Traditionalism, on the other, makes the Scripture only a standard parallel with the living tradition of the Church. Both, though in opposite ways, take from the Bible its dignity as the Rule of Christian Faith, and sever it from its connection with the Holy Spirit as it is the supreme instrument of His operation in things spiritual for ever.


The Rationalist method either makes human reason the substance of revealed truth, or the measure and arbiter of the meaning of Scripture. For, it is of two kinds: one renounces external and independent revelation altogether; another, that to which we now more particularly refer, accepts the Bible, but only as a republication of the oracles of natural religion, and makes the human understanding the sole, and, as it were, undirected instrument of its interpretation.

1. To the former the Scriptures are simply an historical record and register of the gradual development of the world's religious instincts. Evolution governs all things in the spiritual as in the physical domain; and the Old and New Testaments only mark the stages through which the spiritual faculties of earlier races had passed. In Jesus and His Apostles the religious consciousness of mankind reached a high point, but not the highest which it has to reach. The ever-developing reason of man must make their doctrine, has in all ages made it, the starting point for further evolutions; and the end is not yet. This theory for ever vacillates between Theism and Atheism, and has no place save among the enemies of the Christian Faith. Of this enough has already been said when discussing the evidences of revelation.

2. Rationalism proper accepts the supremacy of the Word as given by God for the regulation of the Church's doctrine, but insists that the human reason is the sole judge of its meaning. This spirit more or less pervades the Christian communities which have surrendered the doctrine of the plenary inspiration of the holy oracles. It has many shades and varieties of definition and expression; but these all unite in the view that the application of an honest and enlightened reason is alone required by Scripture when it teaches authoritative doctrine, enforces moral obligation, and promises privilege to the hope of believers.

3. It is obvious that this principle proceeds on a wrong estimate of the function of the human understanding, especially in relation to the Divine Spirit, its guide: supposing a Divine supervision of man to be admitted. It unduly elevates the power of reason, reason itself being witness. It is unreasonable to accept truth concerning the Infinite Being, and eternal interests, under the condition that it can be fathomed and perfectly understood: on this condition some of the most elementary facts of internal consciousness and external science must be rejected, for they are equally unfathomable. Hence, declining to accept heavenly guidance in an unknown region, the rationalist spirit must needs renounce the best, because the profoundest, parts of revelation. It forgets the true and noble function of reason: to be the minister of faith, which in all things knowable is in a certain important sense supreme. Reason must weigh the evidences presented for faith, and deduce consequences from what faith accepts; it must guard the result from the assaults of the spirit of rebellious and undisciplined unbelief, as well as from the perversions of overbelief and superstition. Carrying the subject into the region of Scriptural testimony, we find that the spirit of what we now call rationalism is constantly condemned. The same Word which from beginning to end honors reason by calmly reasoning with it, by appealing to its indestructible convictions and instincts, is most peremptory in defining the limits beyond which its province does not extend. The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.1 d even to the spiritual discernment itself there is a limit: For now we see through a glass, darkly. 2 Our utmost knowledge is partial: in the present life we knoio in part, ek mérous.3

1 1 Cor. 2:14; 2 1 Cor. 13:12; 3 1 Cor. 13:9.


The true doctrine opposes every notion of a co-ordinate authority in Tradition. This has a legitimate office which must be vindicated, while its perversion is condemned.

1. Tradition is paradosis, either oral or written. And it is obvious that it holds an important place in the economy of Divine revelation. St. Paul commands the believers at the outset of his writings to hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word or our epistle; 1 d not walking by these is walking disorderly. Hence it includes in its original use the delivery of all truth through human instrumentality to man. We owe to it the Scriptures, with that sacred traditional interpretation of their leading doctrines which we call the Analogy of the Faith; and we owe to it the preservation of many usages and practices which are not absolutely ruled in the Bible. Theology has never rejected or despised authentic and rightly understood tradition.

1 2 Thess. 2:15;3:16.

2. But the abuse of Tradition has always been the bane of doctrine, especially of all Christian doctrine. Reduced to an ecclesiastical theory, it has then two elements: Scripture and the oral tradition of the Church constitute a double Rule of Faith; and this necessarily requires as its final arbiter an infallible regulative authority in the Church itself.

(1.) The co-ordinate Rule is that of Oral Tradition, adding doctrines not contained in Scripture; or Development, expanding those revealed in germ. It has never been authoritatively settled what is the " Verbum Dei non scriptum," or what constitute the APOSTOLICAL TRADITIONS; but some of the leading Articles of Faith and practice are generally included. The hypothesis of DEVELOPMENT is only itself a modern development of the theory of Tradition: the principle by the operation of which the great distinctive errors of Romanism have been constructed into Articles DE FIDE and made binding. The "Ecclesia Docens" decides, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, when the hour has come for opinion to become dogma. The infallible Church is the Episcopate lineally descended from the Apostles; the Universal Church expressing its mind by councils; and latterly, as the last development of dogma, the voice of the Successor of St. Peter, speaking " ex cathedra," has been made the final arbiter of truth. This is the doctrine of Tradition as held in the Roman Catholic Church. Modifications of it are held elsewhere.

The Eastern Church maintains the Church's concurrent endowment of inspiration, but supposes that this was limited to the first ages: according to its teaching the double rule, Scripture and Tradition, was complete when its earliest and only Creed was authenticated. In a vague and indefinite form the same principle is inconsistently held by many divines in communions which owed their origin to a protest against ecclesiastical tradition as unduly paralleled with Scripture.

(2.) This theory loses sight of the true and most important office of Tradition, which is simply the human witness and guardianship of the Divine oracles; it dishonors the prerogative of the inspired writers, and builds, not upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, 1 t on the Church as their interpreter; it assigns-to the visible community the functions of the invisible; it affects the Faith with a character of changeableness, of which the fabric of Mediaeval dogmas gives ample proof; and, lastly, it is the object of our Savior’s warning denunciation, as represented in the Rabbinical traditions of His time. The tone and the terms in which our Lord invariably spoke of this superaddition to the one Rule of Faith ought to have secured His Church for ever against it. The Jewish Talmud was constructed on this principle; and there has been in long process of construction a corresponding Christian Talmud. The teachings of the Faith have been in it undergoing a process of steady transformation. The doctrine of the Atonement has been violated in the dogma of Transubstantiation, that of Original Sin in the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and that of the Spirit's supreme jurisdiction in the dogma of Pontifical Infallibility. This theory, in its modern form of Development, is hurtful to the simplicity and integrity of the truth; the Faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints: teé hápax paradotheísee toís hagíois pístei. 2 thin the ages of the Spirit's inspiring administration there was development on the grandest scale, and extending to all the leading doctrines of revelation: that principle is nothing less than an absolute law. But the province of development outside of the Bible is limited to non-essentials and the construction of dogmatic system: in fact, the term in this case is altogether misapplied.

Only in Scripture is there, strictly speaking, development of doctrine proper.

1 Eph. 2:20; 2 Jude 3.


The Bible, as the Rule of Faith, is the foundation of theology. It requires to be studied as a collection of documents, both Divine and human, containing the materials and the directory of theological science. The departments of this study are various. Biblical Criticism is that branch of general criticism which makes the determination of the Text its object. The province of Biblical Introduction embraces the substance and contents of the Scriptures as a collection of Divine-human literature. Sacred Philology has to do with the original languages in which revelation was given. Hermeneutics deals with the Bible as a text to be exegetically and theologically expounded. The general principles of these several branches of study must be briefly sketched, as laying the basis of the doctrinal system of Christianity; but they are here referred to so far only as they concern the fundamentals of the study of theology.


The term Criticism means the art and exercise of judgment, and has a wide application in regard to Scripture generally. But Biblical Criticism does not extend its range beyond the judgment exercised upon the verity of the text. Its aim is to give or restore the nearest possible approximation to the original words of the Scriptural Autographs, not one of which remains or has been the subject of direct historical testimony. In accomplishing this object Criticism is guided by certain objective aids and subjective canons more or less unanimously accepted.

1. Its external materials are the Manuscripts which remain and the earlier Versions, especially the former. The MSS. of the Old Testament are not ancient, dating no earlier than the twelfth century. The criticism of the Hebrew text is therefore limited in its scope; it has to depend much upon the early care of those to whom these Oracles were committed. But it has still a wide range, and has made great progress of late. The MSS. of the Greek Testament are more abundant, better authenticated, and in more perfect preservation than those of any ancient classics: including the Uncial, copies in Greek capital letters, and the Cursives in smaller type, they amount to nearly sixteen hundred.

The earliest of these are Uncials, and are of inestimable value in the archives of the Christian Church as the most venerable representatives of its holy books. The Alexandrian Codex, known as A, and now in the British Museum, dates probably about the beginning of the fifth century, and contains the whole of the Two Testaments, save the greater part of St. Matthew and a few leaves wanting elsewhere. The Vatican, or B, is the basis of the Vulgate, authoritative in Romanism; it is a century older than A, but is not so nearly complete in the New Testament. The Codex Ephraemi, or C, is a Palimpsest—that is, a manuscript written on a manuscript: two-thirds of the New Testament have been found underlying certain other writings on this parchment. The Codex Bezae, D, now at Cambridge, is probably of the sixth century, and contains only the Gospels and Acts. But Divine Providence has reserved for this age the discovery of an Uncial which is probably one of the oldest, certainly the most complete, of the early copies of Scripture. It is known as the Codex Sinaiticus, or Alef, and contains the complete New Testament. After these the Manuscripts, in the form of more or less complete copies used in various churches and of lectionaries, rapidly increase. Multitudes of these are lineally descended, as it were, from copies made in the first centuries but now lost; and it always remains a question whether they are not in many cases as fair representatives of the early text as those Uncials of antiquity which still remain. The tendency has been entirely to disparage them in comparison of the earliest Codices; but for this there seems no just ground. The early Versions are of great importance in Criticism. The Septuagint of the Old Testament is, on many accounts, the most important, as being so much used in the New Testament; but it is not the only one. Each century from the second to the seventh produced a remarkable version of the New Testament, appeal to which, especially to the Peshito, or Syriac, of the fourth century, affords valuable aid in the determination of the Text. The innumerable Quotations found in the Fathers of the first five centuries belong also to this branch, as they are very often free translations, or loose paraphrases of translations.

2. These manuscripts multiplied, and, more or less sinking in authority as centuries passed, are collated and thrown into Families or Recensions, according to the leading districts of early Christendom from which they sprang: a distinction, however, that has more historical than critical importance. Biblical Critics, by the use of certain canons the application of which requires the rarest judgment and experience, seek by their aid mainly to restore the text to its original state. They have to consider the probable causes of the Various Readings themselves: whether they have arisen through accident or by design. In the latter case, which is often to be suspected, they have to track the changes in the text to theological or other motives, and to estimate them accordingly. It is their task to weigh an endless variety of evidence in this sacred critical court; and, in coming to their decision on any controverted passage, they have to meet a multitude of conditions which demand attention. There are a few plain and reasonable principles which decide the great majority of cases: though their value is much contested among critics themselves; and their application to some residual difficulties is unsatisfactory. These canons are, for instance, that the shorter reading is more likely to be the right than one more diffuse, "brevis lectio praeferenda verbosiori;" that the harder or rougher is more probably authentic than the smoother, " pro clivi lectioni praestat ardua;" that a text is suspicious which manifestly favors orthodox dogmas. None of these canons is unexceptionable. And it remains that the settlement of the text is a task that demands the application of the keenest critical faculty under the guidance of a most sober judgment. It is the business or prerogative of only a rare order of scholars, but the results achieved by their labors are of universal interest and value.

3. The theological bearing of this science is obvious. Nothing is more important than the purity of the common standard of appeal in dogmatic discussions and decisions. And, apart from that, it is the instinctive desire of all who love the Scriptures to read them in their integrity: every evidence of sure advancement towards a unanimously accepted text is matter of deep joy to one who knows how much depends on the issues.

(1.) This must not be exaggerated. It may be assumed that the eternal verities of revelation have not been permitted by the Holy Ghost to depend upon any isolated passage of His own word, nor upon the absolute integrity of the text generally. The majority of the contested passages, interpolations, and varieties of reading are of no doctrinal weight. Not one of them affects the sole fundamental proof of any article of faith: for the reason that no article of faith rests upon the evidence of any one single text.

Hence, though the variations in the leading MSS. amount to scores of thousands— including all, from changes in letters up to whole paragraphs inserted or omitted, —they involve no question vital to Christian doctrine. We may hope to see a text which humanly speaking, shall be perfect or near perfection: known and read of all men. But no thought about the guarantees or the stability of the Faith need be bound up with our hope.

(2.) Still, there are some variations in the text of the New Testament which are of profound interest. These, amounting to some twenty or thirty, ought to be carefully considered by every student; for, though no vital doctrine depends upon them, their evidence has a peculiar weight, and the secret history, so to speak, of the variations involves questions of deep theological import. For instance, modern criticism very generally agrees to give up " The Heavenly Witnesses," 1 opposition to the Vulgate and the Roman Catholic decision; but the study of the question will show how clear and full was the doctrine of the Trinity when such an interpolation could be made current. The same may be said as to the question whether instead of GOD was manifest in the flesh 2 we must read WHO was manifest, and whether we must retain the church of GOD which He hath purchased with His own blood or the church of THE LORD. 3 with this is closely connected the most striking of ill variations: the God Only-begotten 4 instead of the Onlybegotten Son in St. John's Prologue. Other questions, such as the omission or retention of the Doxology in St. Matthew's version of the Lord's Prayer, have also their deep interest: as to this one in particular, there is good reason why we should incline to favor the cause of its retention, resting as it does on very strong arguments.

1 1 John 5:7; 2 1 Tim. 3:16; 3 Acts 20:28; 4 John 1:18

(3.) The Student may acquire sufficient skill to weigh well the arguments on both sides of these and similar leading points in the settlement of the text; and to come to a humble decision of his own. The peculiar and technical knowledge required in this study, and the variety of conditions that must meet in those who exercise authoritative judgment as to the Text, limit Biblical Criticism, so far as its processes go, to a select number. The results, however, as affecting theology, are open to everyone. All may weigh the evidences which others collect, and appreciate the judgments they themselves could not independently form.


BIBLICAL INTRODUCTION includes in its wide compass all that pertains to a knowledge of the Bible as made up of literary documents, and particularly as a collection of human literature. A certain amount of acquaintance, familiar acquaintance—the more intimate the better—with the fabric of Scripture is an obligation on the student of theology, especially the ministerial student.

1. The Bible as a whole is the history, the only history, of Religion, or of the relations between God and man, in the world. It contains the Chronicles of the One Kingdom, which has had three manifestations, ante-Mosaic, Hebrew, and Messianic; and of a fourth and final manifestation it contains an all-pervasive series of predictions. This is the bond of its unity, as one great Record of Prophecy and Fulfillment. The study of the volume, as unfolding one vast accomplishment now in process, and pointing to another not yet revealed, regards it as a complete organic unity, the bond of its perfectness being Christ and His kingdom.

2. But this organic unity may be resolved into subordinate Divisions. First, we have the several Great Dispensations already alluded to, and hereafter to be exhibited. These may be regarded in another form as the relation of the Two Testaments. The Old Testament— a name by which St. Paul almost seems to denominate the ancient volume, in the reading of the Old Testament1 — divides into the Law, or the historical basis; the Prophets, or the transition from the Law to the Gospel; the Psalms, or the devotional element for all ages.

The New Testament is distributed into the Evangelicum or Four Gospels, the Apostolicum or Acts and Epistles, and the Apocalypticum or Revelation. In more modern times, the Gospels are distinguished as Synoptical, or the Three which unite in one general synopsis of the Lord's ministry, and Johannaean; the Acts are regarded as transitional to the Epistles, and the several types of doctrine in the Apostolical Epistles and the Apocalypse are compared with the rest of Scripture. All these will be referred to in due course more fully.

1 2 Cor. 3:14.

3. But every book has its own appropriate field of inquiry, this includes the writer, date, circumstances, and design of each document; especially the analysis in relation to its connection with its predecessors and successors. The theological importance of this is great: an accurate knowledge, however general, of the scope of every document will generally furnish its best defense against attacks; it will throw light on its doctrinal character and bearings, and thus locate it in the system of Biblical theology. A clear view of the literary and other peculiarities of every book in the Bible is indispensable to the student: it is one of the elementary requisites in theological education; but, perhaps on that very account, there is nothing which is more neglected. No young minister, no candidate for the ministry, should think he has acquired the rudiments of his profession until he has established in his mind a nucleus of information concerning all the individual documents: a nucleus around which additional knowledge shall continually gather, until there is no part left in obscurity.


1. The Bible must be studied as from beginning to end historical. This is the law of its construction in all parts, even the prophetical. Strictly speaking, its history as such is that of the Chosen People alone, as the pre-ordained race in which God would manifest Himself in the Incarnate Son; and the methodical study of that history is one of the first theological obligations. As contained in Scripture, and confirmed by secular historians, it is the most trustworthy series of national annals, as it is in relation to the history of redemption the most important. From Abraham to Moses, or the Bondage in Egypt, we have the Patriarchal Age; from the Desert to Canaan, or from Moses to Samuel, the foundation of the Theocracy; from the times of Judges and Kings, the Division of the Nation, the Captivity, the period of the glory of Old-Testament Israel. After the close of the inspired history of the old covenant comes the great Interval of four hundred years, ending with the Incarnation, the Appearance, Ministry, and Rejection of the Redeemer, and the Dispersion of the Tribes among the nations of the earth as the consequence.

These are the critical facts in that sacred history which may be regarded as in a certain sense the central stream of all history.

2. These salient points regulate the Scriptural Chronology, which, as a science, is perhaps the most abstruse and difficult connected with the interpretation of Scripture. It involves a consideration of the several systems which are adopted for the arrangement of Scriptural dates, especially in the Old Testament: the Septuagint differing from the Hebrew, and the Rabbinical from both: while the principles which regulated the sacred writers are not yet precisely determined. The solution of many chronological difficulties may be sought in errors of transcription; but there is an uncertainty as to the use of numerals which still has to be cleared up: the key has yet to be discovered for the scheme of Moses and the earlier historical writers. If it should appear that the longer system in which the Septuagint and the Samaritan Pentateuch agree is the correct one, it will not be difficult to harmonies the Biblical Chronology of early times with all that sound science, the authentic annals of other nations, and even their traditions require. When we descend lower in the stream of history the chronology becomes more simple. There are a few prominent epochs, the dates of which may be regarded as fixed: the Exodus, the Building of the Temple, the Deportations, the Birth of Christ, the Pentecost, the Death of Herod, the Destruction of Jerusalem. It must be remembered that the Art of Verifying Dates is comparatively modern; and time must be allowed for the settlement of many questions. Meanwhile, and with regard to some epochs, a latitude must be allowed, the limits of which are not defined.

3. The Biblical Geography includes almost the whole earth, but more particularly that part of it which is the sphere of sacred history: the Holy Land, originally Canaan, which became the Land of Immanuel. This is not only very interesting in itself, but bound up inseparably with the interpretation of Scripture.

4. The Archaeology of the Bible is a peculiar department of its history: including the entire fabric of the ancient Economy, viewed as past and apart from its relation to the Gospel. There is a sense in which no jot or tittle is really obsolete: as it may be asserted that almost everything Judaic has outlived the changes of time. But with this we have not here to do. The Antiquities of Scripture have two ranges: one of greater importance, including the civil and political and religious constitution of Hebraism, as lying under and around the very foundations of Christianity; and the other pertaining to the people as a mere branch of the Semitic race, with social and religious usages that may be compared with those of other nations.

(1.) With reference to the former, the more essentially sacred of the antiquities of Hebraism, theological study has a wide scope. It includes the national tokens of severance from the world: the Covenant Signs, Circumcision, the Passover; with the earlier Tabernacle and the later Temple, and its interior symbolical structure as the dwelling-place of God among His people. Also the ceremonial of worship: the Levitical order; the High-priest-hood, with the relation of all other functions to it; the service and system of Sacrifice, the sin-offerings and thank-offerings, with their varieties; the Three Feasts, their history and meaning and typical significance; the One Fast; the Sabbaths and Sabbatic cycles; the New Moons; the voice of Prophecy, never absent; and the several methods of revelation, from Urim and Thummim, through symbols and visions, down to the Bath-kol which forms the transition to the next department.

(2.) There is also a post-Hebraic Archaeology belonging to the Judaism of the Interval, or, rather, to the time when Hebraism was passing into Judaism. In some respects the ancient Church appeared to greatest advantage after the Captivity: it inherited the past, by the lessons of which its chastisement prepared it to profit; it gave rise to many new institutions, some of which, specially sanctioned by our Lord, contained the germs of much that was incorporated into the Christian Church. It is hardly possible to study too carefully the annals of this Interval: for instance, the rise and history of the Sanhedrim; the constitution of the Synagogue and its order; the gradual ascendancy of Scribes, Rabbis, and other guardians of the law; the separation of the people into Pharisees and Sadducees and Essenes; and the new Festivals, such as the Purim, which our Lord approved, though not of direct Divine institution. A deep and peculiar theological interest attaches to this portion of the history of the great Preparations. The study of this period, as will be hereafter seen, never fails to be most amply repaid.

(3.) Many topics of Archaeology are subordinate, though such only in a relative sense.

The interpretation of the New Testament requires an accurate and seasonably applied knowledge of the manners and customs of the ancient people: their mode of life, domestic architecture, merchandise, agriculture, festal and funereal rites, social habits, music, literary methods, style of writing, and forms of public and private instruction. The Commentaries furnish generally such information as the expositor or preacher requires; but the student should not be entirely dependent on incidental reinforcements of his memory. He should aim to be well read and at home in all these branches of sacred knowledge.

5. The Natural History of the Bible includes all that remains: that is, the world of nature in which Scripture lives and moves. It has its own comprehensive range, not to be studied as in the light of modern physical science, but not without its interest even in this respect.

The Fauna and Flora of the Biblical records, as very faithfully depicted in the best Introductions and Monographs, have a theological as well as a general value: almost every fact will, somewhere or other, be found to affect the interpretation or illustration of New-Testament doctrine; and the importance of everything must be measured by its subservience to this object.


The study of Scripture in its original languages lies at the foundation of theology. The text of revelation is in two tongues, each of which has its varieties and peculiarities. A certain knowledge of these is indispensable to the finished theologian, though neither his practical knowledge of the Bible nor the value of his pastoral ministry is dependent on a minute and thorough acquaintance with them.

1. The Old Testament is written in Hebrew, with the exception of certain Chaldee fragments. 1 There has always been, and still is much discussion as to its relation to the original speech of the one undivided race of mankind: as also with regard to its affinities with what is inexactly called the Semitic stock of languages: the Aramaean, divided into Syriac and Chaldee; the Samaritan, a mixture apparently of Hebrew and Aramaean; and the Arabic, with its cognate Ethiopia. The profound study of the Old Testament requires that these Semitic dialects should be included: the Aramaean branches, because of the Chaldee portions of the Old Testament and the vernacular speech of our Savior’s time which glimmers occasionally in the Gospels, and the important Peshito-Syriac version; the Arabic, because of its value in the determination of many Hebrew roots. But after all it is the pure Hebrew which is indispensable: not only for the sake of the Old Testament itself, but also because the New Testament is so much colored by direct quotations and indirect tones of speech.

1 Dan. 2:4 to end of chap. 7, Ezra 4:8 to 6:18; 7:12-26; Jer. 10:11.

2. The Greek in which it has pleased the Holy Ghost to enshrine the New-Testament Scriptures is the later classical dialect, the Koinh. This is its foundation; but it is deeply affected by the Jewish-Hellenistic dialect, with more or less infusion of Hebraisms in style and words: in some parts being no other than Hebrew thought in Greek clothing.

The Alexandrian age was the link between the Oriental and the Western style; hence the Septuagint Version, the Apocrypha and Philo, are important helps for the study of sacred Greek To this must be added a certain new and peculiar phraseology and turn of expression which the new ideas of Christianity introduced. Taking all these things into account, we may say that the language of the New Testament is a distinct study, requiring its own apparatus of philological appliances and aids.

3. The two sacred languages, as they may be called, are in our days better understood, and the aids to their acquisition are more abundant, than in any former age. The Lexicons, Grammars, and Concordances of the Hebrew and the Greek are so accommodated to the student's necessity, that he may with ordinary diligence acquire at least a practical and working knowledge of the original Scriptures. A profound knowledge is possible only to few; but none who lay early their foundations need be without such an expertness in the use of the instruments of sacred philology as will enable them to appreciate the exposition of guides more learned than themselves. It is of great importance to be clear on this point. The noblest results of modern learning are found in Commentaries on the Bible. These are often in conflict on some critical points of exposition; and the reader is necessarily thrown on his own judgment. And that judgment he will be able to form if he habitually makes the originals his study, according to his best lights. And, apart from this, a very moderate acquaintance with the Greek Testament especially will bring the words of the Holy Ghost much nearer than any translation even the best can possibly do.


There is a distinct science of Hermeneutics: that is, of the principles which are applied in Exegesis, the exposition and interpretation of Scripture. The science is an exceedingly extensive one, but its theological application rests on a few general principles, as simple as they are important.

I. The history of Biblical Hermeneutics in the Christian Church may be studied with advantage. There have not been successive schools; but the several schools have been marked by the preponderance of the allegorical or mystical, the ecclesiastica, or traditional, the literal or purely historical and rational principles more or less marked in every age. The earliest principle of interpretation that affected theology was that of the Alexandrian school, which always tended to the allegorizing method, as inherited from the Jewish Cabbala. It did not altogether neglect the grammatical interpretation of the "body" of Scripture, but paid more attention to the moral exhibition of its "soul," and most of all to mystical or anagogical uses for the initiated or teleioi. It is obvious that no definite or coherent system of dogmatic theology can be based on this principle of exposition, however rich it may be in results when duly controlled. During the Middle Ages this method more or less continued; but it was still more characteristic of those times that the exposition of Scripture was fettered by ecclesiastical bonds: first the Regula Fidei, or rather the Rule of the Church, directed it; independent research was checked; and Commentaries mostly took the form of Catenae, or Synopses of Patristic exposition, down to the Council of Trent. Meanwhile a free, historical method had here and there always-existed: especially in the early school of Antioch, and among the rationalist Schoolmen, such as Abelard. This has never been absent as a protest of learning against the excesses of the two other principles. Since the Reformation these tendencies have been perhaps more marked than before: the last, especially, has found its expression in the Rationalist exposition of modern times. It is now the highest aim of this science to combine the three: giving the profound spiritual sense, the traditional interpretation of the Church, and the scientific study of the text, their respective rights.

1. Hence we may reproduce these several methods and apply them to the general laws of Hermeneutics. The grammatical study of the plain text answers to all that was sound in the historical school; the observance of the analogy of faith displaces the ecclesiastical principle, the analogy being to a great extent the internal Biblical tradition itself as maintained in the purest traditions and exegesis of the Christian community; and dependence on the Holy Ghost, the interior Teacher, preserves the best secret of the allegorical or mystical school without its errors.

2. At the root of all lies the grammatical or literal interpretation: what is meant when it is said that the Bible must be interpreted like any other book. The Lexicons give the meaning of the words; the Grammar, their right construction; and the Concordance, the several writers' distinctive phraseology. The student of Scripture, like the student of any ancient classics, has the key which enables him to understand what the Bible says, and what it means so far as the literal meaning goes.

3. It may be safely said that a very large proportion of the difficulties, harshnesses, and even apparent discrepancies of the Bible vanish before an exact application of the rules of grammar as to cases, prepositions, moods and tenses, especially of the Greek. Very much depends upon the simple grammatical meaning of the Aorist in those two correlative passages: Even so death passed upon all men, because all sinned; 1 and if One died for all, then all died.2 Modern commentaries yield ample evidence of this; as also the gradual improvement of our translations of Scripture. Further illustrations need not be given here: they will constantly occur in the development of our doctrine. But the fact cannot be too emphatically stated, that a grammatical and minute interpretation of the plain text is a great step in the understanding of the far larger portion of the Word of God.

1 Rom. 5:12; 2 2 Cor. 5:14.

4. The peculiarity and abundance of the figurative character of that text makes no essential difference: it belongs to universal grammar; and, though Biblical figure has its peculiar laws, obviously it also is amenable to a simple literal interpretation. The simpler tropes—by which, as the word tropos signifies, words or extended terms are merely turned from their natural meaning according to a general habit of mankind—abound in the Bible, as in all Oriental books. The Simile, or pure comparison; the Metaphor, which is the simile without the link of comparison; and the Metonymy, or Synecdoche, which describes an object by some of its relations or parts, all have the same meaning as in other literature: this is true even of such metaphors as I am the true Vine, 1 or The Lord God is a sun and shield; 2 and of the metonymy in They have Moses and the Prophets, 3 or We are the Circumcision. 4 The Scriptures, in fact, adopt these figures into their ordinary language to a very large extent. In some instances, it is undoubtedly important to distinguish between the figure as to be understood literally, and the figure as to be figuratively understood: a distinction on which hangs much theological discussion, as, for instance, in relation to the institution of the Eucharist. In the words This is My body which is given for you, and this cup is the New Testament in My blood, 5 we have metaphor and metonymy or synecdoche united. And, however true it is that something infinitely beyond grammatical interpretation is needed here, still the simple grammar itself goes far towards the right meaning. The same may be said of the more extended tropes, such as Allegory, Parable, and Symbol, which must have, whatever else they have, their natural interpretation. Allegory, as the expansion of Metaphor, has always a real history at its basis: as in that of the Vine brought out of Egypt 6 and St. Paul's allusion to Agar and Sarah. 7 The relations between the history and the veil that hides it require careful study in the light of analogy hereafter to be considered. But, supposing the key necessary to its theological solution found afterwards, the simple grammatical exposition of the trope remains. So of the Parable. —Our Lord's peculiar, affecting, and, it may be said, unshared method of teaching, — which is the Simile expanded. It has its one great point of resemblance, and always its subordinate accessories; but the relation between these must be carefully studied first as a mere parable before higher principles are brought in.

The Symbol, which is an indefinite trope that pervades Scripture, ranging from a word or a number up to actions with complicated scenery, has its own laws, which form a deeply interesting and important branch of sacred Hermeneutics; but these laws do not in any case dispense with the literal meaning.

1 John 15:1; 2 Psa. 84:11; 3 Luke 16:29; 4 Phil. 3:3; 5 Luke 22:19,20; 6 Psa 80; 7 Gal. 4.

II. The Analogy of Faith suggests a second canon of interpretation which applies to Scripture as different from all other writings. This is a wide term, and includes, in fact, three ranges of application: first, the close observation not only of the writer's context but of his general strain of teaching, as he is one representative of the inspired doctrine; in connection with that, perpetual reference to the universal harmony of Scriptural truth, as given by one inspiring Spirit; and, finally, the appeal to the principles of the Faith as held by the Catholic Church from the beginning.

1. Each inspired writer has his Charisma or Gift, his own style of phraseology and of theological thought. For instance, while the inspired Apostles can have but one doctrine of Christian Righteousness, St. Paul and St. James are instructed to present it under a different aspect; as each also employs the term Law with his own distinct shades of meaning. Now it must be a canon that the interpretation of both be harmonized by understanding each according to the analogy of his own general teaching. The rule applies with great force to the New Testament: St. Paul uses many elect words, such as Grace, Law, Reckon, in his own way; St. John has his terms also, such as Heart for Conscience; and the law of analogy requires that this key be applied to every discussion of the meaning of these writers respectively.

2. The same holds good throughout the Bible, whether of the Old Testament or of the New. There is an analogy of Scripture: a rule or standard of doctrine, pervading the entire oracles of God; and all exposition must be faithful to it. This must govern the interpretation of the Divine Word as being a gradual development of one harmonious Truth: there is one doctrine of the Trinity, of the Person of Christ, of Sin, of Redemption, of Faith and Works, of the Holy Spirit's influence, of Immortality; and all these are in harmony with the one keynote of the whole, the Reconciliation of God and Man in Christ. The application of this canon is in one sense exceedingly difficult, in another it is exceedingly easy. But, difficult or easy, it is an inexorable law, that the exegesis of every sentence of Scripture must accord with its own supreme Rule of Faith. Christ is everywhere. And, although the searching of the Scriptures in order to find the testimony of Jesus in them may be and has been carried to excess, it has been so only in the case of those who have not qualified this canon or guarded it by the direct application of the others.

3. Once more, there is what may be termed, adopting St. Paul's expression, the Analogy of the Faith—katá teén analogían teés písteoos 1 —which is really the analogy of Scripture as confirmed in the catholic belief of the best ages and of the purest confessions of the Church of Christ. This canon is of great importance, if rightly applied and duly guarded in the application. It regulates, of course, only the exegesis of passages which involve fidelity or unfaithfulness to the leading principles of the Gospel: these have been held in every age by the Catholic Body, and their interpretation ought to have great weight with us. The earliest creeds declare their belief in the leading doctrines; their almost unanimous exposition of these has come down in a pure tradition; and he is the wiser as well as the more modest interpreter who gives their testimony some weight at least. This, however, leads at once to the third canon, on which finally depend the life, truth, and security of Biblical Hermeneutics.

1 Rom. 12:6.

III. The Holy Spirit's immediate presence in Holy Scripture— both as its Defender and as its Interpreter—is in this science both a law and a guide of interpretation: as such it is the corrective of the subjective spirit, whether mystical or allegorical or rationalistic. The Inspiration of the Bible is its Guardian also.

1. He is the Expositor within the Scripture itself; He ex-pounds the Old Testament by the New: type by antitype; and ancient text by new style and form of quotation. Nothing is more profitable to the human commentator than to follow in the steps of the Divine: marking diligently how He expounds the ancient oracles in the new ones, and faithfully making His methods theirs for the exposition of both.

2. He continues His interpretation in the Christian Church, and to the minds of all who steadfastly believe in the reality of His presence and guidance. He preserves the regenerate spirit in its true and deep sympathy with the written Word; or, in His own better language, gives the spiritual sense and discernment on which the right understanding of Scripture depends. Its truths are spiritually discerned. 1 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things. Moreover, it is not fanaticism to believe that He answers every suppliant, especially every minister responsible for the teaching of His people, who consults the Oracle in simple prayer. In ancient times the Lord gave counsel to the leaders of the congregation who inquired at the high priest's breastplate of judgment. 2 The Christian Revelation has abolished the typical symbols of Urim and Tlummim; but it has given us the reality of their Doctrina et Veritas, their Revelation and Truth.3 And none ever sought or shall ever seek this Oracle in vain. For our encouragement it is written: Ye have an unction from the Holy One.4

1 1 Cor. 2:14,15; 2 Num. 27:21; 3 Exo. 28:30; 4 1 John 2:20.


The result of all these is Exegesis, either pure exposition of the text or applied in the pastoral teaching of the ministerial functions; Biblical Theology, or the systematic construction of Scriptural doctrine, as such, and in its purely Scriptural forms and arrangements; and Dogmatic Theology, containing the analyzed results of all later definitions and developments.

I. Exegetical theology is the fruit of the application of Hermeneutics in particular, and generally of all Biblical study, to the theological interpretation of the text. Of course, there are commentaries which deal only with its grammatical rendering; but with such we have nothing to do: the very word, in its Greek form of exegesis or in its Latin form of exposition, signifies more than that. It is the drawing out and presentation of the sense.

1. As such it occupies a large and abundant place in Christian literature: ranging from monographs on detached passages and paragraphs, through expositions of the several books, up to commentaries on the whole of Scripture. There cannot be much doubt that the best and purest exhibition of Christian truths is to be found in books devoted to the direct exposition of the Sacred Word; but the value of these books is generally in the ratio of their concentration, and the richest products of modern exegesis are the result of earnest and learned labor on individual documents or on the writings of individual men.

2. Exegesis is applied in Practical Theology: the most important being that which takes form in the ministry of the Word, or the pastoral teaching of the congregation. The principles that govern the application of Hermeneutics to preaching belong to Homiletics: which in modern times has been made a distinct science, aiming to guide the Christian Pastor in the best methods of unfolding the mysteries of the Faith to his flock, and of preaching the Gospel to those who are without.

II. Biblical theology is the noblest superstructure erected on the foundation of Hermeneutical science proper.

1. It arranges systematically, and in its unity, the boundless variety of truth which in Scripture is presented under a process of development, at sundry times and in divers manners. 1 Its systematic arrangement, however, aims rather to exhibit the stages of development than the final results: though not excluding the latter. It is occupied with the relations between the theology of the Old Testament and that of the New: a subject of ever growing interest. It deals also with the various schools of teaching and thought into which the inspired writers may be distributed. Hence it is dispensational theology: exhibiting the doctrines of every economy as it expanded the heritage of truth dispensed to its predecessor. Especially in the New Testament it has an ample field: showing the variations and harmonies that may be observed among the various writers. Hence it presents the development of Christian Doctrine in its course of various but orderly disclosure from Genesis to Revelation.

1 Heb. 1:1.

2. Biblical theology lies at the foundation of Dogmatic, giving it its security and its strength. From age to age Scriptural doctrine has assumed in the Christian Church new forms of statement, arrangement, definition, and terminology. When the development of Divine doctrine ceased, the development of human dogma began. Doubtless one and the selfsame Spirit has presided over both though His presidency has not been of the same kind. But the sole guarantee for the soundness of our Systematic Theology, through all its branches, is its fidelity to the exposition of the Word of God as the only standard of truth, the only RULE OF FAITH.