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LIFE AND LITERATURE OF THE ANCIENT HEBREWS
THE BIBLE AS LITERATURE
The word “Scriptures” means writings; the word “ Bible," a transliteration of the Greek word “ Biblia,” means books. In both cases the plural form indicates the fact that from the earliest ages the Bible has been recognized to be, not a writing or book, but a collection of writings or books. When the singular form is used in the New Testament, the reference is generally, if not always, to a specific passage; when the writer is referring to the whole collection of the Old Testament, he uses the plural form. The Bible is a library of sixty-six different books, written by a great number of writers, writing for the most part without coöperation. These books have for convenience' sake been bound together, but for careful study they must be considered separately. This is not equivalent to the declaration that there is no other unity in this book than the mere mechanical unity made by the binder's art. That there is a real ethical and spiritual unity will appear all the more clearly from a study of them as separate books or writings; but that they are really, not merely formally or apparently, independent is the first fact which the student of the Bible must recognize. There is nothing new or startling in this assertion; it has always been known that the Bible is a collection of independent writings by different authors; but modern criticism is at once using this fact in its study of the Bible, and laying emphasis upon it as the result and by the methods of its study.
1 Illustrations of the use of the singular to denote a particular book or passage are afforded by Mark xii. 10; xv. 28; John vii. 38; x. 35; Acts vüi. 32; Rom. iv. 3; Gal. iv. 30; 1 Tim. v. 18. Illustrations of the use of the plural to indicate all the books of the Old Testament are afforded by Matt. xxi. 42; xxii. 29; Xxvi. 54; Luke xxiv. 27; John v. 39; Rom. i. 2; xv. 4.
Scientifie investigation of any subject may be said to consist of the two correlative processes of analysis and synthesis. By the first the object is separated into its several parts; by the second it is put together again into an organic whole. The Bible has always been subjected to these processes; but in the older form of study it was to a considerable extent regarded as one book, by one divine author, though divided into separate books, chapters, and verses for convenience of study. The analysis then consisted in this separation of the one book into separate books, chapters, and verses, and was a mechanical rather than a literary analysis ; the synthesis consisted in putting these verses together in new relations for the purpose of constructing a system of theology or perhaps of ethics. In this synthetic process little or no attention was paid to the fact that the Bible is a collection of books written by different authors, at different times, under different circumstances, for different purposes, and possessing different degrees of spiritual development. Sometimes the text was wrested from its context, and made to bear a meaning which it certainly did not bear in the mind of the original writer, as in the common citation of the verse, “ As a tree falls, so shall it lie,” cited as a proof-text against the possibility of a future probation;1 sometimes it was used to support a doctrine the opposite of that intended by the author, as in the not infrequent citation of the text, “Touch not, taste not, handle not,” as authority for total abstinence, when in the original it is quoted by Paul from ascetic teachers only for the purpose of condemning it, and the philosophy which he supposes it to represent. Occasionally
1 "It may be noted, as an illustration of the way in which the after-thoughts of theology have worked their way into the interpretation of Scripture, that the latter clause has been expounded as meaning that the state in which men chance to be when death comes on them is unalterable, that there is no repentance in the grave.' So far as it expresses the general truth that our efforts to alter the character of others for the better must cease when the man dies, that when the tree falls to south or north, towards the region of light or that of darkness, we, who are still on the earth, cannot prune, or dig about, or dung it (Luke xiü. 8), the inference may be legitimate enough, but it is clear that it is not that thought which was prominent in the mind of the writer.” The Cambridge Bible, Ecclesiastes, p. 206.
2 Col. ii. 21. See Alford's Greek Testament and T. K. Abbott's International Critical Commentary.
this use of texts regardless of their authorship and original intent led to amusing results. Many years ago, when this use of the Bible was more common than it is now, a Judge of the Supreme Court of New York said in a legal decision, “ We have the highest possible authority for saying “Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life.'” The next morning the New York“Herald” commented on this opinion substantially as follows: “We find that it was the devil who said, 'Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life: now we know who it is that our Supreme Court Judges regard as the highest possible authority.”
But this textual use of the Bible was by no means confined to misuses such as these. One has only to turn to any theological sermon of one of the older New England divines, such as Jonathan Edwards or Nathaniel Emmons, or to the collection of texts accumulated in footnotes in support of the articles of the Westminster Confession of Faith, or in such a Roman Catholic collection as Divine Armory of Holy Scripture,” to see that in this older method of Bible use no attempt was made to consider the comparative weight, the local meaning, or the original application of Scripture texts; all were treated as of equal value, and applied regardless of their literary significance and human authorship.1
i Thus the Divine Armory cites as authority for “ the noble lineage, immaculate conception, and virginity” of the Virgin