Hermeneutical Manual (eBook)

by Patrick Fairbairn

in ePub, .mobi & .pdf formats

Introduction to the exegetical study of the Scriptures of the New Testament

The alternative title prefixed to this volume has been assumed, rather than the simple designation of "Hermeneutics of the New Testament," chiefly for the purpose of indicating, that a certain latitude may be expected in it, both in regard to the range of subjects discussed, and in regard to the measure and method of treatment respectively applied to them. Works, indeed, could readily be named, bearing the title of Hermeneutics, which have taken nearly as much license in both respects, as I need to vindicate for myself in connexion with the present publication. But the term is strictly applicable only to such works as unfold the principles of Interpretation, and give to these a regular, consecutive, and scientific treatment. Of this sort is the comparatively recent work of Cellerier (Manuel d'Hermeneutique, 1852,) which, however objectionable in respect to the principles it occasionally enunciates, is one of the most systematic and complete in form,—treating, after a pretty long introduction, successively of the Psychological elements and aspects of the subject—the Grammatical, the Historical, the Scriptuary (or more peculiarly Biblical,) the Doctrinal. In this province, however, it is possible to sacrifice to completeness or perfection of form greatly more than there is any reasonable prospect of gaining by it. Higher ends have here to be aimed at than can always be reached by a rigid adherence to scientific method, or a close regard to artistic proportions. For, in a field so various as that of New Testament Scripture, so complicated, touching on so many relations, and embracing topics so diverse alike in nature and in importance, it often depends, not more, perhaps even less, upon the hermeneutical principles adopted, than upon the mode of applying these principles to particular cases, and passages of more peculiar difficulty, that solid footing is to be obtained, and satisfactory results accomplished. Accordingly, in those hermeneutical works, which take the more precise and scientific form, there is always what appears to me much needless waste in one direction, and ill-judged parsimony in another. Not a little space is occupied in announcing, or illustrating principles, which every one knows and admits, and which often have no special bearing on the interpretation of Scripture; while many of the points more peculiarly calling for elucidation are summarily disposed of, and left much as they were found. Even when the simpler elements of the subject are correctly enough stated, little often in connexion with them is properly wrought out; and unless the student of Scripture is content to take all on the authority of his Master, he will often feel as much at a loss as ever in respect to the things for which he more especially seeks the help of a qualified instructor. 

A work that is really fitted in the present day to serve the purpose of a proper guide-book, must undoubtedly so far possess a scientific character, that it shall exhibit an acquaintance with the several branches of learning and knowledge, which illustrate the language and structure, the incidental allusions, and the main theme of the sacred, books, and apply what it may thence appropriate in an orderly and judicious manner. If deficient in this, it fails in the fundamentals of the subject. But it should be allowed to move with some freedom in the selection of its topics, and in the relative care and consideration that it expends upon some of them, as compared with others. It cannot otherwise occupy, in a serviceable manner, the intermediate ground, that properly belongs to it, between Lexicons, Grammars, Books of Antiquities, etc., on the one hand, and formal commentaries on the other—turning, as it should do, to such account the materials furnished by the former class of productions, as may aid and qualify the student for an independent and discriminating use of the latter. This is the peculiar province and object of a Hermeneutical work on Scripture, and that will always come practically the nearest to the mark, which is the best fitted to place the student of Scripture in the position now indicated. 

In works composed with such an aim, there must ever be room for some diversity of judgment as to the subjects that should be brought into notice, and the degree of consideration respectively given to them. Different persons will naturally form their opinions from somewhat different points of view; and what will appear to some the fittest arrangement to be adopted, and the points most in need of investigation, may not always be regarded in exactly the same light by others. In this respect I have simply to say, that I have endeavoured to exercise an impartial judgment, influenced, no doubt, to some extent, by what my own experience, coupled with the general tendencies of the age, may have suggested to me as of importance. Throughout the volume prominence has been given to the connexion that subsists between the Old and the New in the Book of God's revelation, as well in respect to words as ideas; there being nothing more essential than correct views here to an intelligent reading of New Testament Scripture, or better fitted to serve as a safeguard against superficial and fanciful interpretations. This, also, has partly operated as a reason for introducing some of the dissertations which occupy the Second Part of the volume. The whole of these, however, have reference to terms and subjects, which must always engage the special attention of those who give themselves to the exegetical study of the writings of the New Testament. And they may further serve the purpose of exemplifying, as by a few testing cases, the principles and modes of inquiry, which it is the great object of the work to explain and recommend. 

In another respect, also, I am prepared for finding occasional differences between what has approved itself as right to my own mind, and what may appear such to some of my readers:—I refer to the explanation given of several of the more difficult passages of Scripture, and the exhibitions of Divine truth therewith connected. Here, again, there is room for a certain diversity of judgment, even among those who are agreed upon the plenary inspiration of Scripture, and the great doctrines of evangelical religion. And I am not so extravagant as to imagine, that on every point I shall carry the convictions of all, who may be at one with me in fundamental principles. It is possible I may find critics, who are disposed to look with so censorious a spirit and so unkindly an eye on what I have written, that they shall even try to represent me as at fault in regard to some of those evangelical principles themselves. This, I perceive, has been attempted in a certain quarter with respect to my last publication—Prophecy viewed in respect to its Distinctive Nature, etc.—and, as the work is occasionally referred to in the present volume, I may be permitted here to make a brief allusion to the subject. In Chapter IV. of that work, I treated of the bearing of prophecy on human freedom and responsibility, with a consideration of the question, how far it should be regarded as conditional in its announcements. I was aware, of course, that people would think differently respecting the mode of explanation I adopted: that to some it might appear more or less satisfactory, to others not. But a writer in the Journal of Prophecy (for July 1857) has chosen to represent me as giving expression to views essentially at variance with the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination, or the unconditionality of the Divine decrees. Nothing certainly was further from my own mind; neither there, nor in any other part of my writings, have I consciously given expression to a thought which was intended, in the slightest degree, to impugn the statement of doctrine on that subject, contained in the Westminster Confession, or the Articles of the Church of England, and not a few things that plainly enough point in the contrary direction. But the reviewer, of course, must have some way of making out his point; and, with the adroitness of a critic, who sets himself to damage the credit of a book, and its author along with it, he does so by imposing a sense upon my words which they were not intended to bear, and so bringing them in connexion with a subject that was not properly in my view. Prophecy, as he there views it, is identical with the Divine decree; so that a conditional element in the one comes to be virtually the same with a conditional ground for the other. The subject of discourse with me, however, was prophecy, simply as it appears in the written Word, as an objective communication to men. In handling this, I, no doubt, occasionally spoke of the Divine purposes; but of these, as is evident from the whole tenor and connexion of the discourse, not as formed in the mind of God, and determining with infinite and unerring wisdom the entire system of the Divine administration. I purposely abstained from entering upon this higher region, and confined my attention to the intimations of the Divine will as disclosed in the prophetic word—to these as coming into contact with men's obligations and responsibilities—and therefore, in a greater or less degree (for they differ widely in the extent to which they admit it,) tinged with that anthropomorphic colouring, which is required to adapt the communications of Heaven to the thoughts and feelings, the ever varying states and conditions of men. The subject, as presented by me, might be assigned to that species of accommodation treated of in Part I. sect. 5 of this volume, according to which, while the form given to spiritual things bears the variable type of what is human, there are not the less realities lying behind, fixed and immutable. And in the very brief and general allusion, which was made to the Calvinistic writers of a former age, nothing more was designed than to intimate, in the shortest manner possible—it was implied, indeed, rather than intimated—that the distinction (however expressed) between the secret and the revealed, or between the absolute decrees and the conditional announcements of God, did not, to my view, satisfactorily explicate the matter at issue. I thought so then, and I think so still, notwithstanding the advantage I have derived from the instructions of so learned a reviewer. To divide, as he and his authorities do, between prophecy, considered as equivalent to Divine decrees, and prophecy, as involving matter of commination or promise—the former absolute, the latter conditional—does not satisfy my "exegetical conscience," and I am afraid never can. It seems to me to introduce an artificial distinction into the prophetic word, which is not indicated in that word itself, nor admits of being properly drawn; and has the appearance, at least, of attempting, by the mere adoption of a particular phraseology, or by arbitrarily singling out portions of the same prophetic message, to tide over difficulties in interpretation, which attach to the subject as a concrete whole, as an objective communication addressed to the fears or the hopes of mankind. 

But this is not the place for minute or lengthened explanations on the subject. I wished merely, in a few sentences, to deliver my protest against a style of criticism which I hold to be essentially unfair, and which, if similarly applied to the sacred writers, might readily be made to turn one half of them against another. It is not likely that I shall refer to any thing of the same sort in future. No one, who reads with a candid and unbiassed spirit what is written in this, or in previous productions of my pen, can have any doubt that the great principles of the Reformed churches are therein maintained and vindicated. 

The Third Part of the volume, which is devoted to the quotations from the Old Testament in the New, occupies a larger space than I could have wished. But it relates to a branch of the subject which, in the present day, is of special importance; and I did not see how my main object could be served without taking it up in detail, and examining somewhat carefully the parts which are more peculiarly attended with difficulty. For those who would study the subject in its relation to Typology, and would trace the gradual evolution of the meaning of Old Testament Scripture, through the application of particular passages to the realities of the Gospel, I take leave to refer to the first volume of my Typology, and especially to the Appendix in that volume on this particular subject. 

P. F.

GLASGOW, May, 1858. 


Table of Contents



SECTION FIRST.—The Original Language of the New Testament

SECTION SECOND.—The Characteristics of New Testament Greek

SECTION THIRD.—Collateral Sources for determining the Sense, and explaining the Peculiarities of New Testament Scripture

SECTION FOURTH.—General Rules and Principles to be followed in the Interpretation of Particular Words and Passages

SECTION FIFTH.—Of False and True Accommodation; or the Influence that should be allowed to Prevailing Modes of Thought in fashioning the views and utterances of the Sacred Writers

SECTION SIXTH.—The Respect due in the Interpretation of the New Testament to the Analogy of the Faith, or from one part of Scripture to another; and the further respect to be had to the Religions of the Ancient World, the True and the False

SECTION SEVENTH.—The Relation of the Old to the New in God's Dispensations more exactly defined, with the view of preventing mistaken or partial Interpretations of such portions of New Testament Scripture as bear on it

SECTION EIGHTH.—On the proper interpretation of the Tropical parts of the New Testament

SECTION NINTH.—The Parables of Christ, their proper Interpretation and Treatment

SECTION TENTH.—On the Subject of Parallelism as bearing on the Structure and Interpretation of New Testament Scripture


SECTION FIRST.—The Two Genealogies of Christ, given respectively by the Evangelists Matthew and Luke

SECTION SECOND.—The designations and doctrine of Angels, with reference more especially to the Interpretation of passages in New Testament Scripture

SECTION THIRD.—On the Names of Christ in New Testament Scripture, and, in particular, on the use of Χριστός and Υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου

SECTION FOURTH.—On the Import and Use of certain terms, which express an antagonistic relation to Christ's Person and Authority, 

SECTION FIFTH.—On βαπτίζω and its cognates, with special reference to the mode of administering Baptism

SECTION SIXTH.—Import and Use of Hades, ᾅδης, in Scripture

SECTION SEVENTH.—On the Import and Use of διαθήκη in the New Testament

SECTION EIGHTH.—On the Import of certain terms employed in New Testament Scripture to indicate the nature and extent of the renovation to be accomplished through the Gospel, μετάνοια, παλιγγενεσία, ἀνακαίνωσις, ἀποκατάστασις

SECTION NINTH.—On the use of Paraskeuê and Pascha in St. John's account of our Lord's last sufferings; and the question therewith connected, whether our Lord kept His last Passover on the same day as the Jews


SECTION FIRST.—Quotations from the Old Testament in the New, considered in respect to the manner of citation

SECTION SECOND.—Quotations from the Old Testament in the New, considered in respect to the mode of application

APPENDIX.—The historical circumstances that led to Christ's birth at Bethlehem—Cyrenius and the taxing

By Topic


By Scripture

Old Testament









1 Samuel

2 Samuel

1 Kings

2 Kings

1 Chronicles

2 Chronicles








Song of Solomon


















New Testament







1 Corinthians

2 Corinthians





1 Thessalonians

2 Thessalonians

1 Timothy

2 Timothy





1 Peter

2 Peter

1 John

2 John

3 John



By Author

Latest Links