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and philology? And what riddle or oracle of Delphos could be more equivocal, or of more multifarious significancy, than the Bible, if such exegesis be admissible ? It is a miserable excuse, which interpreters make for themselves, that they render the Scriptures more edifying and significant by interpreting them in this manner. And are the Scriptures then to be made more significant than God has made them ? Or to be mended by the skill of the interpreter so as to become more edifying than the Holy Spirit has made them ? If there be a semblance of piety in such interpretations, a semblance is all. Real piety and humility appear to advantage in receiving the Scriptures as they are, and expounding them as simply and skilfully as the rules of language will render practicable, rather than by attempting to amend and improve the revelation which God has made."l
There is, however, one caution which it will be necessary to observe in the interpretation of allegories ; namely, that we do not explain one part literally, and another part figuratively.
Thus the whole of 1 Cor. iii. 9–13. is allegorical: a comparison is there instituted between the office of a teacher of religion, and that of a builder. Hence a Christian congregation is termed a building; its ministers are the architects, some of whom lay the foundation on which others build ; some erect a superstructure of gold and silver ; others of wood, hay, and stubble. The sense concealed under the allegory is apparent : a Christian congregation is instructed by teachers, some of whom communicate the first principles, others impart further knowledge ; some deliver good and useful things (the truth) while others deliver useless things (erroneous doca trines, such as at that time prevailed in the Corinthian church). That day (the great day of judgment) will declare what superstructure a man has raised ; that is, whether what he has taught be good or bad. And as fire is the test of gold, silver, precious stones, wood, • hay, stubble, so the great day will be the test of every man's work. Though the whole of this passage is obviously allegorical, yet it is understood literally by the church of Rome, who has erected upon it her doctrine of the fire of purgatory. How contrary this doctrine is to every rule of right interpretation, is too plain to require any exposition.
It falls not within the plan of this work to enumerate all the allegories occurring in the sacred writings; some have been incidentally mentioned in the present section ; yet, before we proceed to other topics, we cannot but notice the admirable allegorical delineation of old age by Solomon, Eccl. xii. 2–6. It is perhaps one of the finest allegories in the Old Testament; the inconveniences of increasing years, the debility of mind and body, the torpor of the senses, are expressed most learnedly and elegantly indeed, but with some degree of obscurity, by different images derived from nature and common life; for by this enigmatical composition, Solomon, after the manner of the
1 Professor Stuart's Elements of Interpretation, translated from the Latin of Eritesti,
80. Andover (North America), 182. 12mo. 2 Bauer, Herm. Sacr. pp. 221–226. Ernesti, Inst. Interp. Nov. Test. pp: 110, 111. Mori Acroases in Ernesti, tom. i. pp. 301-313. Glassii Phil. Sac., lib. ii. pp. 1294—1304. Ramiresii de Prado, Pentecontarchus, c. 28. apud Fabricii Observationes Selectæ, pp. 1734-179. J. E. Pfeiffer, Institutiones Herm. Sacr. pp. 740
oriental sages, intended to put to trial the acuteness of his readers. It has on this account afforded much exercise to the ingenuity of the learned ; many of whom have differently, it is true, but with much learning and penetration, explained the passage.
There is also in Isaiah (xxviii. 23—29.) an allegory, which, with no less elegance of imagery, is perhaps more simple and regular, as well as more just and complete in the colouring, than any of those above cited. In the passage referred to, the prophet is examining the design and manner of the divine judgments, and is inculcating the principle, that God adopts different modes of acting in the chastisement of the wicked, but that the most perfect wisdom is conspicuous in all; that he will, as before urged, * exact judgment by the line, and righteousness by the plummei ;” that he ponders, with the most minute attention, the distinctions of times, characters, and circumstances, as well as every motive to lenity or severity. All this is expressed in a continued allegory, the imagery of which is taken from the employments of agriculture and threshing, and is admirably adapted to the purpose.!
SECTION V. ON THE INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE PARABLES. 1. Nature of a Parable. - II. Antiquity of this Mode of Instruction.
- III. Rules for the Interpretation of Parables. - IV. Parables, why used by Jesus Christ. - V. Remarks on the distinguishing Excellencies of Christ's Parables, compared with the most celebrat
ed Fables of Antiquity. A PARABLE (Παραβολη, from παραβαλλειν, to compare together,)? is a similitude taken from natural things in order to instruct us in things spiritual
. The word, however, is variously used in the Scriptures, to denote a proverb or short saying, (Luke iv. 23.) a famous or received saying (1 Sam. x. 12.3 Ezek. xviii. 2.); a thing gravely spoken, and comprehending important matters in a few words (Job xxvii. 1. Numb. xxiii. 7. 18. xxiv. 3. 15. Psal. xlix. 4. and lxxviii. 2.); a thing darkly or figuratively expressed (Ezek. xx. 49. Matt. xv. 15.); a visible type or emblem, representing something different from and beyond itself (Heb. ix. 9. and xi. 19. Gr.) a special instruction (Luke I Lowth's Prælectiones, No. 10. or vol. i. p. 220. of Dr. Gregory's. Translation.
2 A verbo napaballav, quod significat conferre, comparare, assimilare (ev. Mare iv. 30.) ductum est nomen napaboans ; quod similitudincm, collationem Quinctilianns (Inst. Or. I. v. c. 11 : 1. viii. c. 3. pp. 298. 302. 470.) interpretatur, Seneca (Ep. lix.) imaginem. Itaque collatio, sive, ut Ciceronis (1. 1. de Invent. c. 30.) definitione utamur, oratio, tern cum re er similitudine conferens, Græco nomine parabola appellatur. Eo sensu Christus (Marc. in. 23.) ev tapabodars locutus dicitur, quando per varias similitudines (v. 24–27.) probavit sc non Satanæ ope, sed altiore virtute dæmonia ejicere. G. C. Storr, De Parabolis Christi, in Opusc. Academic. Fol. i. p. e. The whole disquisition, to which this section is largely indebted, is well worthy of perusal. See also Rambach, Institutiones Hermeneut. p. 187. et seq. i J. E. Pfeitler's Instit. Hermeneut. Sacr. pp. 753_773. ; and Chladenius's Institutiones Exergeticæ, p. 190. et seq.
3 In this and the other references to the Old Testament in the above paragraph, the original is soo, (mashal) a parables
xiv. 7.); and a similitude or comparison. (Matt. xxiv. 32. Mark iii. 23.)"
According to Bishop Lowth, a parable is that kind of allegory which consists of a continued narration of a fictitious event, applied by way of simile to the illustration of some important truth. By the Greeks, allegories were called avas or apologues, and by the Romans fabula or fables ;' and the writings of the Phrygian sage, or those composed in imitation of him, have acquired the greatest celebrity. Nor did our Saviour himself disdain to adopt the same method of instruction ; of whose parables it is doubtful whether they excel most in wisdom and utility, or in sweetness, elegance, and perspicuity. As the appellation of PARABLE has been applied to his discourses of this kind, the term is now restricted from its former extensive signification to a more confined sense. This species of composition also occurs very frequently in the prophetic poetry, and particularly in that of Ezekiel.
II. The use of parables is of great antiquity. In the early ages of the world, when the art of reasoning was little known, and the minds of men were not accustomed to nice and curious speculations, we find that the most antient mode of instruction was by parable and fable : its advantages, indeed, are many and obvious. It has been remarked by an acute observer of men and morals, that“ little reaches the understanding of the mass but through the medium of the senses. Their minds are not fitted for the reception of abstract truth. Dry argumentative instruction, therefore, is not proportioned to their capacity: the faculty, by which a right conclusion is drawn, is in them the most defective; they rather feel strongly than judge accurately : and their feelings are awakened by the impression made on their senses." Hence, instruction by way of parable is naturally adapted to engage attention; it is easily comprehended, and suited to the meanest capacity; and while it opens the doctrine which it professes to conceal, it gives no alarm to our prejudices and passions ; it communicates unwelcome truths in the least disagreeable manner; points out mistakes, and insinuates reproof with less offence and with greater efficacy than undisguised contradiction and open rebuke. Of this description, we may remark, are the parables related by Nathan to David (2 Sam. xii. 1—9.), and by the woman of Tekoah to the same monarch. (2 Sam. xiv. 1-13.)
The New Testament abounds with similar examples. “By laying hold on the imagination, parable insinuates itself into the affections; and by the intercommunication of the faculties, the understanding is made to apprehend the truth which was pro- . posed to the fancy. 94. In a word, this kind of instruction seizes us by surprise, and carries with it a force and conviction which are almost irresistible. It is no wonder, therefore, that parables were made the vehicle of national instruction in the most early times; that the prophets, especially Ezekiel, availed themselves of the same impressive
1 Glassii Phil. Sacr. lib. ii. pp. 1304—1306. ed. Dathii. Parkhurst and SchleurBer in voce παραβολη.
2 Storr, Oposc. Acad. vol. i. p. 89. et seq.
mode of conveying instruction or reproof; and that our Lord, following the same example, also adopted it for the same important purposes.
III. Although a parable has some things in common with an allegory, so that the same rules which apply to the latter are in some degree applicable to the former; yet, from its peculiar nature, it becomes necessary to consider the parable by itself, in order that we may understand and interpret it aright.
1. The first excellence of a parable is, that it turns upon an image well known and applicable to the subject, the meaning of which is clear and definite; for this circumstance will give it that perspicuity which is essential to every species of allegory.
How clearly this rule applies to the parables of our Lord, is obvious to every reader of the New Testament. It may suffice to mention his parable of the Ten Virgins (Matt. xxv. 1–13.), which is a plain allusion to those things which were common at the Jewish marriages in those days: the whole parable indeed is made up of the rites used by the Orientals, as well as by the Roman people, at their nuptials; and all the particulars related in it were such as were commonly known to the Jews, because they were every day practised by some of them. In like manner, the parables of the lamp (Luke viii. 16.), of the sover and the seed, of the tares, of the mustard seed, of the leaven, of the net cast into the sea, all of which are related in Matt. xiii. as well as of the houscholder that planted a vine. yard, and let it out to husbandmen (Matt. xxi. 33.), are all representations of usoal and common occurrences, and such as the generality of our Saviour's hearers were daily conversant with, and they were therefore selected by him as being the most interesting and affecting.
If the parables of the sacred prophets be examined by this rule, they will not appear deficient; being in general founded upon such imagery as is frequently used; and similarly applied by way of metaphor and comparison in Hebrew poetry. Examples of this kind occur in the deceitful vineyard (Isa. v. 1-7.), and in the useless vine which is given to the fire (Ezek. xv. and xix. 10–14.); for, under this imagery, the ungrateful people of God are more than once described. Similar instances of opposite comparison present themselves in the parable of the lion's whelps falling into the pit. (Ezek. xix. 1-9.), in which is displayed the captivity of the Jewish princes; and also in that of the fair, lofty, and fourishing cedar of Lebanon (Ezek. xxxi. 3—17.), which once raised its head to the clouds, at length cut down and neglected :— thus exhibiting, as in a picture, the prosperity and the fall of the king of Assyria. To those may be added one more example, namely, that in which the love of God towards his people, and their piety and fidelity to him, are expressed by an allusion to the solemn covenant of marriage. Ezekiel has pursued this image with uncommon freedom in two parables. (Ezek. xvi. and xxiii.); and it has been alluded to by almost all the sacred poets.
2. The image, however, must not only be apt and familiar, but must also be elegant and beautiful in itself, and all its parts must be perspicuous and pertinent ; since it is the purpose of a parable, and especially of a poctic parable, not only to explain more perfectly some proposition, but frequently to give it animation and splendour.
Of all these excellencies there cannot be more perfect examples than the parables which have just been specified: to which we may add the well-known parables of Jotham (Judges ix. 7–15.), of Nathan (2 Sam. xii. 1–14.), and of the woman of Tekoah. (2 Sam. xiv. 4—7.) The admirably devised parable of Nathan is perhaps one of the finest specimens of the genuine pathetic style that can be found in the Old Testament; and David's eager condemnation of the unsuspected offender at the same time displays a striking instance of the delusion of sin and the blindness of self-love. “He, who had lived a whole year in the unrepented commission of one of the blackest crimes in the decalogue — and who, to secure to himself the object for which he had coinmitted it, perpetrated another almost more heinous, and that with an hypocrisy suited to his character – he could in an instance denounce death on the imaginary offender for a fault comparatively trifling." -- " Seeing he sar not, and hcaring, he heard not ;" he immediately saw the iniquity and barbarity of the rich man's proceedings; his heart was in a
pent fired with indignation at the thought of it; “the vehemence of his re
sentment even over-stepped the limits of his natural justice, in decreeing a punishment disproportioned to the crime, while he remained dead to his own delirquency. A pointed parable instantly surprised him into the most bitter self-reproach. A direct accusation might have inflamed him before he was thus prepared; and in the one case he might have punished the accuser, by whom, in the other, he was brought into the deepest self-abasement. The prudent prophet did not rashly reproach the king with the crime, which he wished hiun to condem ; but placed the fault at such a distance, and in such a point of view, that he first procured his impartial judgment, and afterwards his self-condemnation : - an important lesson, not only to the offender, but also to the reprover.''1
3. Every parable is composed of three parts, 1. The sensible similitude, which has variously been termed the bark and the protasis and consists in its literal sense ; 2. The erplanation or nystical sense, also termed the apodosis and the sap or fruit, or the thing signified by the similitude proposed. This is frequently not expressed : for though our Saviour sometimes condescended to unveil the hidden sense, by disclosing the moral meaning of his parables (as in Matt. xiii. 3–8. 18—23. compared with Luke viii. 4—15. and Matt. xiii. 24–30. 36–43.); yet he usually left the application to those whom he designed to instruct by his doctrine. Of this description are the parables of the grain of mustard seed, of leaven, of the hidden treasure, and the pearl of great price (Matt. xiii. 31–33. 44–46.), between which and the kingdom of heaven a comparison is instituted, the mystical sense of which is to be sought in the similitudes themselves. 3. The third constituent part of a parable is the root or scope to which it tends.2
4. For the right crplanation and application of parables, their gencral scope and design must be ascertained.
Where our Saviour has not himself interpreted a parable, its immediate scope and design are to be sought with great attention ; this indeed will generally appear from the context, being either expressed at its commencement or at its conclusion; or it is sufficiently evident from the occasion on which it was delivered. More particularly, the scope of a parable may be ascertained,
(1.) From the clear declaration prefixed to it;
As in the parable of the rich glutton (Luke xii. 16—20.), which is prefaced by the following caution in verse 15. Take heed and bcrare of covetousness, for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of things chich he possesseth. Thus in Luke xviii. 2–8. the parable of the unjust judge is preceded by this declaration, which plainly points out one of its senses : He spake a paruhlé unto them, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint. And again, in verse 9. He spake this parable (of the Pharisee and publican, verse 10–14.) unto certuin which trusted in themselves that they were rightcous, and despised others.
(2.) From the declaration subjoined to a parable ;
Thus our Saviour concludes the parable of the unmerciful creditor, who would not forgive his debtor the minutest portion of his debt, though much had been forgiven him (Matt. xviii. 23–35.), by the following explanation :- So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye forgive not erery one his brother their trespasses. Similar declarations are annexed to the parables of the wedding feast (Matt. xxv. 13. Luke xiv. 11.), of the rich glutton (Luke xii. 21.), and of the unjust steward. (Luke xvi. 9.) The prophetic writings will furnish similar instances : thus Isaiah (v. 1—7.) having delivered the parable of a vineyard - planted with the choicest vines, and cultivated with the utmost care, yet which pro
1 Mrs. More's Christian Morals, vol. i. p. 108. 2 In parabolis, si integre accipiantur, tria sunt ; radir, corter, et medulla sive fructus. Radix est scopus, in quem tendit parabola. Corter est similitudo sensiħilis, quæ adhibetur, et suo sensu literali constat. Meilulla seu fructus est sensus parabolæ misticus, seu ipsa res ad quam parabolæ fit accommodatio, seu quæ per similitudinem propositam significatur. Glassii Philologia Sacra, lib. ii. pars i. tr. 2. sect. 5. canon 3. col. 488. (Lipsiæ, 1725.) It is not a little remarkable that the nine very useful canons for the interpretation of parables, by Glassius, should be altogether omitted in Professor Dathe's valuable edition of his work.