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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Interpretation

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This word is used in different senses by Christians in the Apostolic Age. (1) St. Paul applies it to that spiritual ‘gift’ which enabled one to expound the unintelligible utterance known as ‘tongues’ (ἑρμηνείω [1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 14:26], διερμηνεύω [1 Corinthians 12:30; 1 Corinthians 14:5; 1 Corinthians 14:13; 1 Corinthians 14:27], διερμηνευτής [1 Corinthians 14:28]). (2) Later writers ‘interpret’ a foreign word by giving its Greek equivalent (ἑρμηνεύω [John 1:42; John 9:7, Hebrews 7:2], διερμηνεύω [Acts 9:36], μεθερμηνεύω [Matthew 1:23; Mark 5:41; Mark 15:22; Mark 15:34, John 1:38; John 1:41, Acts 4:36; Acts 13:8]). when Papias calls St. Mark St. Peter’s interpreter (ἑρμηνευτής [ Historia Ecclesiastica (Eusebius, etc.)iii. 39]), he may be supposing that St. Peter preached in Aramaic (or Hebrew) and that St. Mark translated the sermon to the Greek audience. This is historically improbable, however, and possibly Papias means only that St. Mark, since he composed his Gospel on the basis of St. Peter’s sermons, is thereby St. Peter’s ‘expounder.’ (3) In the sense of Scriptural exposition, the word ‘interpretation’ is rarely used in the NT. The meaning of ‘private interpretation’ in 2 Peter 1:20 (ἰδίας ἐπιλύσεως) is doubtful, though, in view of what follows, it seems to signify the prophet’s complete subordination to God’s will. In Luke 24:27 (διερμηνεύω) direct reference is made to Christian interpretation of the OT books-a practice which was very general and very important in the apostolic period.

The OT occupied a unique place in the life and thought of the first Christians. St. Paul presupposed his readers’ acquaintance with its writings, which he assumed to be the final court of appeal in all argumentation. Apollos, whom certain Corinthians set up as St. Paul’s rival, was also ‘mighty in the scriptures’ (Acts 18:24). OT language and thought are frequently appropriated by the NT writers. According to H. B. Swete (Introduction to the OT in Greek, Cambridge, 1900, p. 381f.), there are 78 formal quotations in St. Paul, 46 in the Synoptists, 28 in Hebrews, 23 in Acts , 12 in John, and about a dozen in the remaining books. Even where formal quotations are lacking, OT phraseology is sometimes frequent (e.g. Rev.). The early Christians, like the Jews, believed in the Divine origin and authority of Scripture. In spite of his breach with Judaism, St. Paul still held the Law and the Commandments to be holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:12), and he repeatedly affirmed that these things were written ‘for our sake’ (Romans 4:23 f.; Romans 15:4, 1 Corinthians 9:9 f.; 1 Corinthians 10:6; 1 Corinthians 10:11). Here he found a clear revelation of God’s purposes and an infallible guide for Christians in matters of conduct and doctrine (cf. Romans 1:2; Romans 3:4; Romans 3:10 ff.; Romans 4:3 ff.; Romans 8:36; Romans 9:6 ff; Romans 10:6 ff.; Romans 11:9 f.; Romans 11:26; Rom_13:11; Rom_15:9 ff.; Romans 15:21, 1 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Corinthians 9:8; 1 Corinthians 9:13; 1 Corinthians 10:18; 1 Corinthians 11:8 f.; 1 Corinthians 14:21; 1Co_14:34; 1Co_15:3; 1Co_15:45; 1Co_15:54; 2 Corinthians 1:20; 2 Corinthians 3:13 ff; 2 Corinthians 6:16 ff; 2 Corinthians 8:15; 2 Corinthians 9:9, Galatians 3:8; Galatians 3:16; Galatians 3:22). The Evangelists saw in the OT foreshadowings of Jesus’ career and proof of His Messiahship (e.g. Matthew 1:22; Matthew 2:5; Matthew 2:15; Matthew 2:23; Matthew 4:14; Matthew 8:17; Matthew 11:7 ff; Matthew 12:17; Matthew 13:35; Matthew 21:5, Mark 1:2 f.; Mark 4:11 f.; Mark 11:9 f.; Mark 12:10 f; Mark 12:36, Mark 14:27, Luke 4:21; Luke 7:27; Luke 24:44, John 12:38; John 15:25; John 17:12; John 19:24; John 19:28; John 19:36). For Matthew OT prophecy is virtually a ‘source’ of information about Jesus’ career, as when Mark 11:1-7, is made to conform to the first evangelist’s interpretation of Zechariah 9:9 (Matthew 21:1-7; see also Matthew 1:22 f., Matthew 2:5 f., Matthew 15:17 f. etc.).

OT language serves other important purposes in the Gospels, God speaks in this language at Jesus’ Baptism, and again at His Transfiguration; it is used in the conversation between Jesus and Satan; and it furnishes phraseology for some of Jesus most forceful and solemn pronouncements, where sometimes the sound of Holy Writ seems to be prized above perspicuity (e.g. Matthew 10:35 ff.; Mark 4:12; Mark 12:36; Mark 15:34). The history of the early community is also Scripturally authenticated (Acts 1:20; Acts 2:16 ff; Acts 4:25 ff.). Thus the NT writers derived not only incidental and descriptive details, but on occasion more important features of their narratives from the OT. This was only natural, since these sacred books were believed to be inspired of God, profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and instruction, and able to make men ‘wise unto salvation’ (2 Timothy 3:15 f. cf. 2 Peter 1:19 ff.). Christians gave to the OT all the prestige it had in Judaism, believing that they, through their faith in Christ, had come into possession of the only key to all true interpretation.

The exact content and text of the first Christians’ ‘Bible’ are not known. They were doubtless familiar with the three-fold division of the Jewish canon-the ‘Law,’ the ‘Prophets,’ and the ‘Writings’ (Luke 24:44[?]), but they probably did not discuss questions of canonicity. Their feeling of spiritual elevation left no room for such academic discussions. And in the portions of Scripture used individual choice seems to have had free play. The evangelists favour the Prophets and the Psalms, while St. Paul and the author of Hebrews cite mainly from the Pentateuch. But there is scarcely a book of the OT with which some NT writer does not show acquaintance. Obad., Ezr., Neh., and Est. are the only exceptions (according to Toy, Quotations in the NT, p. vi, n. [Note: . note.] 1). Apocryphal books and popular legends are also used (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:4, Galatians 3:19, Acts 7:53, 2 Timothy 3:8, Hebrews 2:2; Hebrews 11:37, Judges 1:6; Judges 1:9; Judges 1:14). Textual problems seem to have been ignored. Quotations are mostly from the Septuagint , though use of the Hebrew text has sometimes been supposed. This is very difficult, if not impossible, to prove, since we do not know the exact form of Greek text which a NT writer may have used. A part of the early community ordinarily spoke Aramaic (Acts 6:1), but Greek writers naturally followed the Septuagint rendering, even when the original tradition was in Aramaic or Hebrew. In fact, there seems to have been little thought about slavish adherence to any text. Christians possessed a superior understanding, which allowed them to alter phraseology, to paraphrase freely, or even to cite loosely from memory.

Thus their methods were more spontaneous than those of scribism, yet the general character of their interpretation was predominantly Jewish. Its free handling of the text, its disregard for the original setting, its logical vagaries, its slight tendency to become artificial, were all Jewish traits. To illustrate from the NT, Mark 1:2 f. changes the wording of prophecy and disregards its natural meaning in order to make the Christian application possible. A logical non sequitur is illustrated in Mark 12:26 f., where an original statement about the historic earthly career of Abraham is made the basis for an inference about his future heavenly career. St. Paul’s argument from ‘seed’ and ‘seeds’ (Galatians 3:16), his comparison between Hagar and Sarah (Galatians 4:22 ff.), and his interpretation of the OT injunction against muzzling the ox (1 Corinthians 9:9 f.), all tend to become artificial. Christians appropriated and imitated Jewish Midrashim seemingly without hesitation, as when St. Paul made Christ the spiritual rock (1 Corinthians 10:4; cf. ‘Rabbah’ on Numbers 1:1). They argued from word-derivation (Matthew 1:21 ff.), and from the numerical value of letters (Revelation 13:18; cf. article ‘Gemaṭria’ in Jewish Encyclopedia ); and they freely employed figures, types, analogies, allegories (q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ). They also copied the more sober type of Haggâdic Midrashim. Their emphasis upon the example of their Master, their preservation of His teaching, their harking back to the ancient worthies, are all in line with Jewish custom. The work of the NT interpreter is not so very unlike that of the ideal scribe of Sirach 39:1 ff. Yet early Christian interpretation did not run to the same extreme of barren artificiality as that of the scribes, nor was it pursued merely for its own sake. As the handmaid of the new faith, it was subordinated to the consciousness of a new spiritual authority in personal experience, a fact which may explain why Christians were partial to OT passages dealing with personal religious life.

Literature.-C. H. Toy, Quotations in the NT, New York, 1884, where earlier literature is cited; F. Johnson, The Quotations of the New Testament from the Old, London, 1896; A. Clemen, Der Gebrauch des AT [Note: T Altes Testament.] in den neutest. Schriften, Gütersloh, 1895; E. Hühn, Die alttest. Citate und Reminiscenzen im NT, Tübingen, 1900; W. Dittmar, Vetus Textamentum in Novo, Göttingen, 1903; E. Grafe, Das Urchristentum und das AT [Note: T Altes Testament.] , Tübingen, 1907; P. Glaue, Die Vorlesung heiliger Schriften im Gottesdienste, i., Berlin, 1907; S. J. Case, ‘The NT Writers’ Interpretation of the OT,’ in BW [Note: W Biblical World.] xxxviii. [1911] 92ff. The more general treatises on Hermeneutics usually have a section on the apostolic period.

S. J. Case.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Interpretation'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/i/interpretation.html. 1906-1918.

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