Hermeneutics (from ἑρμηνεύω, to explain), the technical or scientific name of that branch of theology which consists in exposition in general, as distinguished from exegesis (q.v.) in particular. Reserving for the more usual and equivalent title INTERPRETATION (OF SCRIPTURE) the history and literature of the subject, we propose to give in the present article only a brief' view of those principles or Canons which should be observed in the elucidation of the meaning of the sacred text.
I. The first and most essential process is to apply the natural and obvious principles of a careful and conscientious exegesis to the passage and all its terms. This may be called the PHILOLOGICO-HISTORICAL rule. It embraces the following elements.
1. The diligent and discriminative use of an accurate and judicious Lexicon.
2. The painstaking and constant reference to the best Grammars.
A well-grounded knowledge of the language is implied in these prescriptions, yet the interpreter needs to confirm or modify his judgment by these independent authorities.
3. An intimate acquaintance with the archaeology involved, including geography, chronology, and Oriental usages,
4. The context should be carefully consulted; and the general-drift of the argument, as well as the author's special design in writing, must be kept in mind.
5. Especially is a cordial sympathy with spiritual truth a prerequisite in this task. A deep religious experience has enlightened many an otherwise ill- instructed mind as to the meaning of much of Holy Writ.
II. PARALLEL AND ILLUSTRATIVE PASSAGES from the same book or writer, or (if these are not to be had) from other parts of Scripture, are to be attentively considered, on the principle that Scripture is its own best interpreter. This is pre-eminently true of types, metaphors, parables, prophetical symbols, and other figurative representations. For this purpose "reference Bibles" alone are not sufficient: the examination should include an extensive comparison of doctrine, theory, and topic, as well as of example, fact, and expression.
III. When various meanings-are assignable to a given passage or word, that should be selected which is the broadest in its import — and application; if possible, one that is — INCLUSIVE of all or most of the others. This rule should especially be observed in expounding the language of Christ, of God directly, or the more cardinal statements of inspiration.
In prophetical and eschatological passages of Scripture especially must the fact be borne in mind that one event or circumstance is often made the type or image of another; the two being generally related to the same essential principle as proximate and remote, or as personal and national, or as temporal and spiritual manifestations of the divine economy. In some cases this-correlation runs through an entire piece or book, e.g. the Canticles and many of the Psalms. SEE DOUBLE SENSE (OF SCRIPTURE).
IV. The CONSENSUS of the universal Church in past and present time should have its due influence; not as being of absolute authority, but as an exponent of the aggregate and deliberate judgment of good and unprejudiced men. This will guard the expositor against fanciful subtleties and extravagant or dangerous impressions. To this end creeds, confessions, and articles of faith are useful, as well as the study of exploded or living- heresies, but more particularly a collation of the views of preceding commentators. In weighing none of these, however, is any superstitious reverence to be indulged, for the word of God itself is superior to them all, and it is not only possible, but certain, that in some points they have alike erred, as in many they have fluctuated or conflicted with each other. Even the objections and cavils of infidels and rationalists should not be overlooked, for "fas est ab hoste doceri."
V. Where different interpretations are possible, that must be selected which is most consistent with common sense. Especially must those be set aside which lead to a psychological or theological impossibility or contradiction. Such a principle we always feel bound to apply to the communication of a friend, and to every obscure passage in a rational writer. Interpreters, from overlooking this rule, have often increased rather than explained the difficulties of the sacred text. For example, to understand Paul as meaning in Ro 9:3 that he was willing to forfeit his title to eternal bliss, is to attribute to him a sentiment incompatible with mental and moral sanity; and to refer the preference in 1Co 7:21 to a state of slavery, is to outrage the spontaneous instincts of the human mind. VI. It will sometimes become necessary to modify our conclusions as to particular passages in consequence of the discoveries and deductions of MODERN SCIENCE. Instances in point are the theories respecting the creation and deluge, arising from the progress of astronomical and geological knowledge. All truth is consistent with itself; and although the Bible was not given for the purpose of determining scientific questions, yet it must not, and need not be so interpreted as to contradict the "elder scripture writ by God's own hand" in the volume of nature. In like manner history is often the best expositor of prophecy.