Index to this Study


A History of the Bible

Dr. William S. Sadler

5. Interpretations of the Bible

    1. ANCIENT PERIOD
  • 1. The Greek Septuagint was supposed to be translated by 72 separate men-when they came together, they perfectly agreed.
  • 2. Scripture was verbally inspired by God.
  • 3. There were two methods of interpretation:
    • a.Alexandrian. Philo. The allegorical method. The Hellenistic. Later on, the Stoic.
    • b. The traditional or literal Jewish method. The "chosen people."
  • 4. While in general accepting the Old Testament, Jesus dared to criticise it. He said he came to fulfill--not to destroy the Scriptures.
  • 5. In the Urantia Book, see Jesus' talk with Nathaniel, p. 1767-9.
  • 6. Jesus makes new interpretations of Scripture in his so-called "Sermon on the Mount."
  • 7. The book of Hebrews is a new interpretation of much Old Testament teaching.
  • 8. Early doctrines of the LAW and GRACE.
    2. SECOND CENTURY PROBLEMS
  • 1.The Jewish and anti-Jewish schools of interpretation.
  • 2.Tradition and authority:
    • a.Heretics--private teachings.
    • b.Authority of the church.
  • 3.Alexandria and Antioch:
    • a.Alexandria--Platonist.
    • b.Antioch--Aristotelian.
  • 4.Schools of interpretation:
    • a. Alexandria--allegorical (Philo).
    • b. Antioch--literal meanings.
  • 5. Origen leaned to allegory--Paul was a literalist, but dealt in types and anti-types.
  • 6. Jerome and Augustine:
    • a.Jerome -was Antiochean. Translated Hebrew Old Testament into Latin.
    • b.Augustine regarded the Septuagint as "inspired." Looked upon Jerome as a "forger." Followed Origen--allegorical.
    • c. Later, Augustine leaned more towards Antioch school.
    • d. Jerome was a scholar--Augustine a theologian. (One of the great debates of this time was whether God had hair and nails.)
    • e. Augustine published his "Christian Doctrine" in 397.
    • f. Augustine had much to say about figurative and literal language.
  • 7. In 450 Eucherius of Lyons published his handbook on interpretation, "Rules for Allegorical Interpretation."
  • 8. About the same time the Antioch Fathers published their "Introduction to the Sacred Scriptures."
    3. THE MEDIEVAL PERIOD
  • 1. It was the Gnostic literature that induced the Christians to complete their assembly of the New Testament.
  • 2. Vincent was a pioneer in:
    • a.Authority of Scripture.
    • b.Interpretation by the church--tradition.
  • 3. Both Benedict, the monk, and Gregory the Great moved away from the allegory school (Platonic-Philonic) toward the Aristotelian-Antiochean.
  • 4. During the Middle Ages they paid less attention to allegories. The dominant personalities were:
    • a.Gregory the Great.
    • b.The Venerable Bede.
  • 5. The theme was--the spiritual as opposed to the literal, with due respect to the church fathers.
  • 6. When the prodigal son returned to his "father' s house," the "versions" read: "returned to the church."
  • 7. But allegory persisted--the four wheels of Ezekiel's chariot were: the law, the prophets, the gospels, and the apostles.
  • 8. Even in the tenth century, the allegorical school of interpretation was beginning to give way to the historical.
  • 9. For four hundred years the tension between allegory and history increased.
    4. THE SCHOLASTIC AGE
  • 1. The scholastic era starts with the Franciscans at Oxford and their patron saint is Francis of Assisi.
  • 2. New attention is paid to eschatology and apocalypticism.
  • 3. This movement was at its height about A.D. 1250.
  • 4. Thomas Aquinas, probably the greatest Bible student of all time, was the center of this movement.
  • 5. There is a legend that he memorized the entire Bible.
  • 6. The movement was away from allegories toward spiritual interpretations.
  • 7. They went to absurd lengths in symbolism. In Mark 8:19, the 5,000 represent men and their five senses.
  • 8. This was the era of the universities.
    5. THE REFORMATION
  • 1. Luther
    • a. Denied that the Pope alone could interpret the Bible.
    • b. His great discussions had to do with "faith and works."
    • c. Said: "The Holy Scriptures can be interpreted only by the Holy Spirit."
    • d. Luther says: "Christ is the center of all Scripture."
    • e. Luther said his interpretation was "Gramatico-historical."
    • f. But he still clung to Origen's allegorical methods.
    • g. Luther liked "types"--Noah represents Christ.
    • h. Luther begins to create a systematic theology-doctrine. He very much disliked James and Revelation.
  • 2. Calvin
    • a. Calvin was the best Bible student of the Reformation.
    • b. In his "Institutes" he quoted the Old Testament 1,755 times; the New Testament 3,098 times.
    • c. He almost completely neglected the Song of Songs and Revelation.
    • d. He wanted to assert the infallibility of the Bible--but was compelled to admit minor errors.
    • e. Calvin was worried by the careless way Paul quoted Scripture. See Eph. 4:8. "When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men." This is Ps. 68:18, which reads: "Thou didst ascend the high mount, leading captives in thy train, and receiving gifts among men."
    • f. If the Bible was "inspired," Calvin thought Paul should have quoted the passage verbatim.
    • g. He thought the same about Heb. 2-.7 and Ps. 8:5.
    • h. Calvin thought II Peter was t'inferior"-but said it might be explained by Peter's writing it in his "old age."
    • i. Calvin interpreted the Bible, in general, in two ways:
      • (1)The sovereignty of God.
      • (2)Predestination of the "elect."
    • j. He did recognize the "Progressive Revelation" of God in the Bible.
    • k.He largely discarded allegory.
  • 3. Thus we have the three main divisions of Protestantism:
    • (1)Anglican--Catholic, except for the Pope
    • (2) Lutheran
    • (3)Presbyterian
    6. INTERPRETATION IN THE MODERN PERIOD: 1650-1800
  • 1. Rise of Biblical criticism, 1650-1800. There were three great groups of influence which led to a re-examination of the Bible:
    • a. The physical sciences
      • (1) Ptolemaic universe--demolished.
      • (2) Copernicus discoveries. (1473-1543) (The Pope denounced all of this.)
      • (3) Kepler. (1571-1630)
      • (4) Galileo. (1564-1642)
      • (5) Newton--gravitation. (1642-1727)
    • b. Textual study
      • (1) Valla's "Donation of Constantine."
      • (2) Philosophy of Bacon and Descartes.
    • c. Bibliolatry
      • End of making an idol out of the Bible. Recognition of the progressive character of revelation.
      • Liberation from the strait-jacket of orthodoxy.
  • 2. Cappel, in the sixteen hundreds, was the first textual critic.
  • 3. Erasmus (1516) had already pointed out how different manuscripts differed in text.
  • 4. John Mill (1707) began the search for original texts--he all but destroyed belief in verbal inspiration.
  • 5. The philosophers--Hobbes and Spinoza--attacked the idea that the Bible was "the word of God."
  • 6. The philosophers asserted that the Scriptures were "faulty, mutilated, and tampered with."
  • 7. In 1655 Peyrere said mankind had been created long before Adam. The Inquisition burned him at the stake.
  • 8. A generation later Richard Simon became the father of Biblical criticism. He concluded that the Old Testament did not have its present form until after the Exile.
  • 9. Richard Bentley (1699) was the father of the school of evaluating Scripture by "internal evidence"-as in the two stories of creation in Genesis 1 and 2.
  • 10. Johann Semler was father of the "historical method" of Bible criticism.
  • 11. Gotthold Lessing (1724-1781), a German critic and dramatist, a layman, wrote a book "Nathan der Weisel" in 1779. In this work he introduced a new idea--the difference between "the religion of Christ and the Christian religion." This is the identical teaching of the Urantia Book--the religion of Jesus contrasted with the religion about Jesus. Lessing's father was a Lutheran minister. He wanted his son to study theology. But he dabbled in theology, philosophy, and even medicine. He wrote numerous plays, but in his later years took to writing on philosophy and religion. This book on "Nathan the Wise" was a play dealing with three principal characters--a Jew, a Mohammedan, and a Christian. The government confiscated many of his books and he suffered petty persecutions. He was greatly interested in the early history of Christianity and in the philosophy of Spinoza. He never attached himself to any particular church or system of philosophic teaching.
  • 12. Bengel (1755) published his historical criticism of the New Testament. This book influenced John Wesley's "Notes on the New Testament."
    7. LITERARY AND HISTORICAL ACHIEVEMENTS: 1800 - 1925
  • 1. Schleiermacher dominated much of the thought of this era. While he rejected the uniqueness of the Bible he insisted on a Christo-centric faith.
  • 2. In 1864 his "Leben Jesu" insisted on getting religion directly from the living Christ.
  • 3. He resurrected the search for the historical Jesus.
  • 4. Strauss brought forth the idea that Mark's gospel was the foundation of the four gospels.
  • 5. Baur (influenced by Hegel's philosophy) brought forth the concept of Jewish Christianity in conflict with pagan Christianity---the result, Catholic Christianity.
  • 6. This was the era of the publication of dozens of lives of Christ.
  • 7. Harnack (1900) reduced Christianity to the religion of Jesus and that, in turn, to an individualistic harmony between man and God.
  • 8. Stated otherwise, Harnack asserted that the gospel was "belief in the Fatherhood of God and the infinite value of the human soul."
  • 9. Wrede claimed that Jesus never regarded himself as the Messiah. His followers invented the concept after his life on earth.
  • 10. Schweitzer reacted violently to this idea.
  • 11. During this era the German critics aroused new and great interest in the Old Testament and the early history of Israel.
  • 12. Archaeological discoveries shed new light on both Old Testament and New Testament translations.
  • 13. Tischendorf's discovery (1844) of Codex Sinaiticus shed much light an the Bible.
  • 14. Form criticism was coming into vogue. This pertained to the study of oral traditions, textual meanings, and comparative religion.
  • 15. They had deciphered hieroglyphics and they read cuneiform writing.
  • 16. The form critics called attention to the kerygmatic values, rather than the historical.
  • 17. The "higher criticism" of this era was the Graf-Wellhausen school.
    8. THE MID-CENTURY PERIOD: 1925-1950
  • 1. This period was characterized by a return to sanity--a more conservative and common-sense interpretation of textual criticism, historical, and form evaluation.
  • 2. There was an attempt to ascertain the theological intention of the Biblical writers.
  • 3. There was a final unraveling of the various strata of Biblical authorship.
  • 4. There was an improved attempt to find out God's purpose and the real history and destiny of mankind.
  • 5. From Amos on down through the prophets they looked for Yahweh's lordship over nature and history.
  • 6. They decided that the "suffering servant" of the Second Isaiah was the Messiah.
  • 7. Discovery of many new fragments of both Old Testament and New Testament led to improved textual criticism.
  • 8. Intensive study of the fourth gospel led to placing its writing early in the second century.
  • 9. Trend in the 1950s was toward the formulation of a Biblical theology.
  • 10. The total Scripture" school of interpretation:
    • a. Determination of the text.
    • b. Literary form.
    • c. Historical situation.
    • d. Author's meaning.
    • e. Relation to total context.
    • f. Background of origin.
    • g. Literal interpretation.
  • 11. "Higher criticism" has about run its course. Common sense has taken over the stage. The time is ripe for the real interpretation of the Urantia Book to appear.