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A PRINCIPAL object of Notes on the Scriptures should be to render them more intelligible, and consequently more efficacious in promoting the spiritual welfare of inen. As this remark implies that the holy Scriptures, though a revelation from heaven, and intended to make us “ wise unto salvation,” need some help, in order to be thoroughly understood, it may be well to show why the Scriptures are not as readily and as well understood as books of our own time, on ordinary topics.
1. The Bible is a very ancient book. It was composed many centuries ago, in a part of the world very different from our own, and by men, the manners and customs of whose nation were also widely different from ours. If, then, we have no knowledge respecting the countries in which they lived, and of which their writings make very frequent mention; if we have no acquaintance with the history of the times in which they wrote; if we are ignorant of the domestic and social customs with which those writers were familiar, — we cannot fully understand their writings. We may, indeed, without this knowledge, understand much of what they have written; still, much will also be wholly obscure, and much will be incorrectly apprehended; and much, that is truly valuable and impressive, will escape our notice. Hence the necessity and the value of Notes, furnishing information respecting the geography and history of the countries mentioned in the Scriptures, and pointing out allusions to manners and customs differing from our own. These remarks apply to any ancient book, or to any book written in a foreign country, as well as to the Bible. When the different portions of the Bible were first written, there was no more need, to those for whom they were originally prepared, of special information on those points, than there is need to us of special information about the geography, history, manners and customs of our own country, or of countries which we are considerably acquainted with, in order to understand a book written by one of our countrymen. We possess this knowledge already; and the writer takes for granted that his readers have this knowledge. But let such a book continue in existence one or two thousand years, and be conveyed to a people occupying the other side of the globe, and then some special explanations would be necessary, in order that it might be thoroughly intelligible. Such explanations we actually find in the Bible itself. When Mark, who wrote his Gospel at some distance from Palestine, where Jesus and the Jews lived, had occasion to mention the Jordan, he added the word river, thus giving geographical information to his readers who lived at a distance from the scene of action. See 1: 5. An inhabitant of Palestine would not need to be informed that the Jordan was a river. When the same evangelist was about to relate the remarks of Jesus, which were suggested by the inquiry of the Pharisees concerning eating with defiled hands, he explains the ordinary practice among the Jews, which gave rise to the inquiry. See 7:3. Now, explanations drawn from the geography, and history, and practices of the country spoken of, are only an extension of what Mark has done; an extension because, the more distant are our times, and the more different our customs, the greater is our need of information.
And thus it happens that the very simplicity of the Scriptures renders explanatory Notes highly necessary. The Scriptures do not soar to abstract discussions. They deal with all orders of men, according to their circumstances, and hence contain countless allusions to existing matters and practices, which matters and practices need to be made known to us, who live in so distant an age, and are of so different habits.
2. The fact that our English Scriptures are a translation, renders Notes, in some form and to some extent, always requisite. It would be contrary to the universally acknowledged imperfection of human
beings, to expect that any translation could be a perfect representation of the original. Different degrees of acquaintance with languages and with general science, different degrees of experience and of skill in translating, of freedom from improper bias, and of other qualities, will, of course, lead to different results, in various passages of a translation, on the part of those who perform it. This is no less true of ordinary works than of the holy Scriptures. If, then, a person is able to illustrate some passage, by proposing a better rendering of the original than what we have been accustomed to, he may, certainly, with a becoming modesty and sense of his responsibility to God, endeavor to aid his fellow-men in understanding the oracles of eternal truth, by suggesting to them the results of his studies. Nor is there necessarily any pride in this. For while he may be able to suggest an improvement in one passage, he may thankfully acknowledge that there is no need of improvement in an immense variety of other passages; and while he feels at liberty to suggest a wellfounded alteration, in order to clear up a dark passage, he concedes to others the same liberty, and thankfully accepts from them their contributions to the same cause. Our translators themselves have set us an example of such a proceeding. While they have given, in the text, what they thought the best rendering, in certain passages, they have placed in the margin other renderings, which seemed to them worthy of consideration; and many of these marginal renderings are regarded, by competent judges, as preferable to the renderings in the text.
Our English translation possesses many acknowledged excellences, and is worthy still to continue a light to our feet, and a lamp to our path. Yet, in various parts, it needs elucidation. This arises both from some of the principles which regulated the translators, and from the changes which, since their day, have come upon the meaning of some English words, and from the circumstance, that some other words have become obsolete. The great attention, too, which has been paid to manuscripts and editions of the Greek Testament, since our translation was made, confers a great advantage on a student of the present age. Without enlarging on these topics, suffice it to say, that frequently our translators paid more attention to the idiom of the original Greek, than to that of their own language;
that is, their translation is, in some instances, too literal. illustration, I refer to John 3:21— “He that doeth truth, cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” Now, to the mass of readers, the expression wrought in God is surely an unusual and unintelligible one. As to changes that have taken place in the meaning of words, I need only instance in the words prevent (meaning, in scriptural use, to be before, to go before, to anticipate), and conversation (meaning conduct). As to critical editions of the Greek Testament, it is only a Greek scholar that can rightly estimate the difference between a modern critical edition and the edition which was the basis of our English version.
3. In the Scriptures there is a great variety of composition. To say nothing of poetry and prose, there is narration of facts, there is statement of moral precepts, there are trains of argument, there are discourses and conversations. Now, while, in historical narrations, there is seldom any difficulty in perceiving the connection of one part with another, the case is very different in a course of reasoning or conversation. Careful study is often necessary to discover the precise point to which the argument or conversation is directed, and to perceive the transition from one connected thought to another, as well as references to facts and opinions that were at the time well known, but which may not now be familiar to the mass of readers. The aid of a judicious Commentary is here important. And if, in reading the Scriptures, more aid of this sort is required than in reading some other books, one reason consists in the fact, that on account of our habitual reading of the Scriptures from childhood, and on account of the nature of the subjects presented in the Scriptures, we are too prone to read without reflection, and to pass over difficulties without noticing them.
But Notes on the Bible need not, for ordinary purposes, be very diffuse. They should relate to passages, phrases, and words, that really require elucidation; while those parts of the inspired volume that are already plain, should not be enfeebled by the interference of human paraphrase. It is too common an error in Commentaries, that they overlay, or crowd out, the word of God, and make the word of man too conspicuous. There is often a profusion of remarks, pious
indeed, but not needed for elucidation, or for impression, and even hindering the reader from making his own reflections. It too often happens, that while some passages not peeding elucidation are encumbered with remarks, the really obscure passages are left in their obscurity. Nor can I think it judicious to bring before the mind of an ordinary reader the great variety of opinions which have been expressed of certain passages. Such a course confuses the mind, and spreads over the whole volume of inspiration an air of uncertainty.
There may, however, in a book of Notes on the Bible, be too little, as well as too much. In the following Notes, I have endeavored to avoid prolixity, and yet not to pass over without explanation passages that really need explanation. I have also taken for granted, that a reader of this book will desire to search for himself; and have therefore frequently, without quoting the words, made references to such passages of Scripture as confirm the views I have expressed, or as may lead the inquirer to form an opinion for himself. A person who may use this book, either for personal information or for enabling him to instruct others, must submit to some labor. Frequently, passages of Scripture, as above stated, are merely referred to; and the benefit to be drawn from these passages will require that they be examined. Particularly will this be found necessary in the case of a Sabbath school teacher, or the leader of a Bible class. If such a person depends on this book as a help, he will not find his work all done for him here; but he will find, I trust, materials afforded him, by which he may do his work himself.
Such is the nature of the work I proposed to myself in this book, that I have not felt at liberty, even if I had been disposed, or able, to indulge in flights of fancy, or to seek any rhetorical excellence, beyond a perspicuous and simple statement of facts or opinions. Nor have I made many moral reflections. Sometimes I have suggested topics of pious meditation and of useful practical remark. At other times, I have not done so. I have been guided in this matter by the nature of different passages, and by the impressions on my own mind. An account of deeply interesting events, or of conversations, I was unwilling to interrupt; yet in such passages I have made occasionally a passing remark of a practical nature. The hints and topics for reflection, or for remark, which I have suggested in the course of the