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DISSERTATION THE FIRST.
OBSERVATIONS ON THE LANGUAGE AND IDIOM OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, ON THE DIVERSITY OF STYLE, AND ON THE INSPIRATION OF THE SACRED WRITERS.
THE LANGUAGE AND IDIOM,
If the words and phrases employed by the Apostles and Evangelists, in delivering the revelation committed to them by the Holy Spirit, had not been agreeable to the received usage of the people to whom they spoke, the discourses, being unintelligible, could have conveyed no information, and consequently would have been no revelation to the hearers. Our Lord and his Apostles, in publishing the Gospel, first addressed themselves to their countrymen the Jews; a people who had, many ages before, at different periods, been favoured with other revelations. To those ancient Jewish Revelations, now collected into one volume, Christians give the name of the Old Testament; and thereby distinguish them from those
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apostolical and evangelical writings, which, being also collected into one volume, are called the New Testament. In the latter dispensation, the divine authority of the former is presupposed and founded on. The knowledge of what is contained in that introductory revelation, is always presumed in the readers of the New Testament, which claims to be the consummation of an economy of God for the salvation of man; of which economy the Old Testament acquaints us with the occasion, origin, and early progress. Both are therefore intimately connected. Accordingly, though the two Testaments are written in different languages, the same idiom prevails in both; and in the historical part at least, nearly the same character of style.
9 2. As the writings of the Old Testament are of a much earlier date, and contain an account of the rise and first establishment, together with a portion of the history of the nation to whom the Gospel was first promulged, and of whom were all its first missionaries and teachers, it is thence unquestionably that we must learn, both what the principal facts, customs, doctrines, and precepts are, that are alluded to in the apostolical writings, and what is the proper signification and extent of the expressions used. Though the New Testament is written in Greek, an acquaintance with the Greek classics (that is, with the writings of profane authors in that tongue in prose and verse) will not be found so conducive to this end, as an acquaintance with the ancient Hebrew
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Scriptures. I am far from denying that classical knowledge is, even for this purpose, of real utility ; I say only, that it is not of so great utility as the other. It is well known that the Jews were distinguished by all Pagan antiquity, as a nation of the most extraordinary and peculiar manners; as absolutely incapable of coalescing with other people, being actuated, especially in matters where religion or politics were thought to be concerned, by the most unrelenting aversion to every thing foreign, and the most violent attachment to every thing national. We cannot have a clearer evidence of the justness of this character, than their remaining to this day a distinct people, who, though they have been for many ages scattered over the face of the earth, have never yet been blended in any country with the people amongst whom they live. They are, besides, the only wandering nation that ever existed, of which this can be affirmed.
§ 3. BEFORE the tribes of Judah and Benjamin returned from captivity in Babylon to the land of their fathers, their language, as was inevitable, had been adulterated, or rather changed, by their sojourning so long among strangers. They called it Hebrew, availing themselves of an ambiguous name '.
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* llebrew was ambiguous, as it might denote either the language spoken on the other side of the river (that is Euphrates, which is commonly meant when no river is named) or the lan.. guage of the people called Hebrews. Preface to Matthew's Gospel, $ 14, 15, 16, 17, 18,
It is accordingly always called Hebrew in the New Testament. This, though but a small circumstance, is characteristical of the people, who could not brook the avowal of changing their language, and adopting that of strangers, even when they could not avoid being conscious of the thing. The dialect which they then spoke might have been more properly styled Chaldee, or even Syriac, than Hebrew. But to give it either of these appellations, had appeared to them as admitting what would always remind both themselves and others of their servitude. After the Macedonian conquests, and the division which the Grecian empire underwent among the commanders, on the death of their chief, Greek soon became the language of the people of rank through all the extensive dominions which had been subdued by Alexander. The persecutions with which the Jews were harrassed under Antiochus Epiphanes, concurring with several other causes, occasioned the disper. sion of a great part of their nation throughout the provinces of Asia Minor, Assyria, Phenicia, Persia, Arabia, Lybia, and Egypt; which dispersion was in process of time extended to Achaia, Macedonia, and Italy. The unavoidable consequence of this was in a few ages, to all those who settled in distant lands, the total loss of that dialect which their fathers had brought out of Babylon into Palestine. But this is to be understood with the exception of the learned who studied the oriental languages by book. At length a complete version of the Scriptures of the Old Testament was made into Greek ;
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a language which was then, and continued for many
4. It will readily be imagined that all the Jews
In one view their Bible was more to them than ours is to us. It is religion alone, I may say, that influences our regard ; whereas their sacred book contained not only their religious principles and holy ceremonies, but the whole body of their municipal laws ?. They contained an account of their political constitution, and their civil history, that part especially which is most interesting, the lives of their Patriarchs, and the gradual advancement of that family from which they gloried to be descended ; the history of their establishment as a
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2 See Lowth, De Sacra Poësi Hebræorum, Præl. viii,