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tongues, to the terms employed in our own translation.
I hope I shall not be so far misunderstood by any, as to be supposed to insinuate, by this remark, that people ought to delay reading the Scriptures in a translation, till they be capable of consulting the original. This would be to debar the greater part of mankind from the use of them altogether, and to give up the many immense advantages derived from the instructions, contained in the very worst versions of that book, for the sake of avoiding a few mistakes, comparatively small, into which one may be drawn, even by the best. A child must not be hindered from using his legs in walking, on pretence that if he be allowed to walk, it will be impossible always to secure him from falling. My intention in remarking this difficulty, is to show first, that those early studies, however proper and even necessary in Christians, are nevertheless attended with this inconveni. ency,
that at a time when we are incompetent judges, prepossessions are insensibly formed on mere habit or association, which afterwards, when the judgment is more mature, cannot easily be surmounted ; 2dly, to account in part, without recurring to obscurity in the original, for the greater difficulty said to be found in explaining holy writ, than in expounding other works of equal antiquity; and, 3dly, to awake a proper circumspection and caution, in every one who would examine the Scriptures with that attention which the ineffable importance of the subject merits.
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But, in order to set the observation itself in relation to this fifth difficulty in the strongest light, it would be necessary to trace the origin, and give, as it were, the history of some terms, which have become technical amongst ecclesiastical writers, pointing out the changes which in a course of ages they have insensibly undergone. When alterations are produced by slow degrees, they always escape the notice of the generality of people, and sometimes even of the more discerning. For a term once universally understood to be equivalent to an original term whose place it occupies in the translation, will naturally be supposed to be still equivalent, by those who do not sufficiently attend to the variations, in the meanings of words, which the tract of time, and the alterations in notions and customs thence arising, have imperceptibly introduced. Sometimes etymology too contributes to favour the deception. Is there one of a thousand, even among the readers of the original, who entertains the smallest suspicion that the words, blasphemy, heresy, mystery, schism, do not convey to moderns, precisely the same ideas which the Greek words βλασφημία, αιρεσις, μυςηριον, oxioua, in the New Testament, conveyed to Christians, in the times of the Apostles ? Yet that these Greek and English words are far from corresponding perfectly, I shall take an occasion of evincing after.
The same thing may be affirmed of several other words and eyen phrases which retain their
currency on religious subjects, though very much altered in their signification.
7. The sixth and last difficulty, and perhaps the greatest of all, arises from this, that our opinions on religious subjects are commonly formed, not indeed before we read the Scriptures, but before we have examined them. The ordinary consequence is, that men afterwards do not search the sacred oracles in order to find out the truth, but in order to find what may authorize their own opinions. Nor is it, indeed, otherwise to be accounted for, that the several partizans of such an endless variety of adverse sects (although men who, on other subjects, appear neither weak.nor unfair, in their researches) should all, with so much confidence, maintain that the dictates of holy writ are perfectly decisive, in support of their favourite dogmas, and in opposition to those of every antagonist. Nor is there, in the whole history of mankind, a clearer demonstration than this, of the amazing power of prejudice and
It may be said, that interest often warps men's judgment, and gives them a bias towards that side of a question in which they find their account ; nay, it may even be urged further that, in cases in which it has no influence on the head, it may seduce the heart, and excite strenuous combatants in defence of a system which they themselves do not believe." I acknowledge that these suppositions are not of things impossible. Actual instances may be found of both.
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9 8. Thus the principal difficulties to be encountered in the study of Biblical criticism are six, arising, Ist, from the singularity of Jewish customs; 2dly, from the poverty (as appears) of their native language ; 3dly, from the fewness of the books extant in it ; 4thly, from the symbolical style of the prophets ; 5thly, from the excessive influence which a previous acquaintance with translations may have occasioned ; and, 6thly, from prepossessions, in what way soever acquired, in regard to religious tenets.
OF THE STYLE OF THE SCRIPTURE HISTORY, PARTICULARLY THE
From what has been evinced in the preceding
What can exceed the declarations, to this pur-