Uses And Abuses Of An Important Principle Of Interpretation -- By: Anonymous
BSac 46:182 (April 1889) p. 304
Uses And Abuses Of An Important Principle Of Interpretation
It is an obvious principle of interpretation, that the known nature of the subject under consideration must inevitably modify the significance of the words used. The different shades of meaning conveyed by the word “bring” afford a familiar illustration. If a teacher asks a pupil to bring the book to him, the pupil takes it up by main force and transports it. If the judge commands the sheriff to bring the prisoner, it is not expected that the sheriff will take the prisoner up in his hands as the pupil did the book, but that he will simply make use of those motives of fear which ordinarily compel the prisoner to come into the presence of the judge. If the mother says to her son, “Bring your friend home with you to dinner,” the word suggests neither force nor intimidation, as in the other two cases. Thus, in this simple instance, is illustrated the subtile capabilities of language, and the fact that the known nature
BSac 46:182 (April 1889) p. 305
of the subject under consideration is an essential factor in determining the meaning of the words employed.
Under the influence of this principle the man of ordinary sense and candor has no difficulty in properly understanding the anthropomorphic language necessarily used when speaking of the attributes and actions of God. If we are to speak of God at all, we must speak of him “after the manner of men.” When the sacred writer says, that God has repented of having made man, the very nature of the case implies that he uses the language in such a modified sense as does not ascribe to God the fallibility and vacillation of an imperfect and sinful being.
When we pray that God will not lead us into temptation, our absolute confidence in the goodness of the Creator precludes us from implying that there is any danger that God will, from malice, plot our downfall as wicked men do. The petition can have reference only to those trials of character which may be incidental to a wisely planned moral system, and from which relief may be had beforehand, upon condition of cherishing the spirit of humble dependence which expresses itself in prayer.
Another legitimate and obvious application of this principle relates to the use of language which involves assumptions both of God’s foreknowledge and of man’s freedom. Such language, on the face of it, often seems to imply that God exercises arbitrary and absolute authority over the human will. But the ordinary common-sense of men precludes such an interpretation of the language, because all men have, at the bottom of their hearts, unwavering confidence in the wisdom and goodness of the Creator, and are, at the same time, equally sure of the freedom of their wills. When, ...
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