The Exegetical Texts

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Donald H. Gard, The Exegetical Method of the Greek Translator of the Book of Job - Persée

Obedient to the decree of the Council of Trent , he regards the Vulgate as the authentic Latin version, without neglecting the results of sober textual criticism, based on the readings found in the other versions approved by Christian antiquity, in the Scriptural citations of the Fathers, and in the more ancient manuscripts. With regard to the authorship of the Sacred Books, too, the exegete follows the authoritative teaching of the Church and the prevalent opinions of her theologians on the question of Biblical inspiration.

Not that these three questions concerning the Canon, the genuine text, and the inspiration of Sacred Scriptures exert no influence on Biblical exegesis: unless a book forms part of the Canon, it will not be the subject of exegesis at all; only the best supported readings of its text will be made the basis of its theological explanation; and the doctrine of inspiration with its logical corollaries will be found to have a constant bearing on the results of exegesis. The early Reformers were wont to claim that the genuine text of the inspired and canonical books is self-sufficient and clear.

This contention does not owe its origin to the sixteenth century. Augustine De doctr. Jerome ad Paulin. The exegetical results flowing from the supposed clearness of the Bible may be inferred from the fact that one century after the rise of the Reformation Bossuet could give to the world two volumes entitled, "A History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches".

A Protestant theologian , S. There is sometimes in such passages a fullness and a hidden depth of meaning which the letter hardly expresses and which the laws of grammatical interpretation hardly warrant. Moreover, the literal sense itself frequently admits other senses, adapted to illustrate dogma or to confirm morality. Wherefore, it must be recognized that the Sacred Writings are wrapt in a certain religious obscurity, and that no one can enter into their interior without a guide; God so disposing, as the Holy Fathers commonly teach, in order that men may investigate them with greater ardour and earnestness, and that what is attained with difficulty may sink more deeply into the mind and heart; and, most of all, that they may understand that God has delivered the Holy Scripture to the Church , and that in reading and making use of His word, they must follow the Church as their guide and their teacher.

Sense of Sacred Scripture

But it is not our purpose so much to prove the need of Biblical exegesis as to explain its aim, describe its methods, indicate the various forms of its results, and outline its history. Exegesis aims at investigating the sense of Sacred Scripture ; its method is contained in the rules of interpretation; its results are expressed in the various ways in which the sense of the Bible is wont to be communicated; its history comprises the work done by Christian and Jewish interpreters, by Catholics and Protestants.

We shall endeavour to consider these various elements under the four heads: I. Sense of Sacred Scripture; II.

Hermeneutics; III. Sacred Rhetoric; IV. History of Exegesis. In general, the sense of Sacred Scripture is the truth actually conveyed by it.

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We must well distinguish between the sense and the signification of a word. A good dictionary will give us, in the case of most words, a list of their various possible meanings or significations; but no reader will be tempted to believe that a word has all these meanings wherever it occurs. The context or some other restrictive element will determine the meaning in which each word is used in any given passage, and this meaning is the sense of the word.

The signification of the word is its possible meaning; the sense of a word is its actual meaning in any given context. A sentence, like a word, may have several possible significations, but it has only one sense or meaning intended by the author. Here, again, the signification denotes the possible meaning of the sentence, while the sense is the meaning which the sentence here and now conveys. In the case of the Bible , it must be kept in mind that God is its author, and that God , the Sovereign Lord of all things, can manifest truth not merely by the use of words, but also by disposing outward things in such a way that one is the figure of the other.

In the former case we have the literal sense; in the latter, the typical cf. Thomas , Quodl. Literal sense What is the literal sense? The literal sense of Sacred Scripture is the truth really, actually, and immediately intended by its author. The fact that the literal sense must be really intended by the author distinguishes it from the truth conveyed by any mere accommodation.

This latter applies a writer's language, on the ground of analogy, to something not originally meant by him.

About The Exegetical Texts

Again, since the literal sense is actually intended by the writer, it differs from the meaning conveyed only virtually by the text. Thus the reader may come to know the literary capacity of the author from the style of his writing; or he may draw a number of logical inferences from the writer's direct statements; the resultant information is in neither case actually intended by the writer, but it constitutes the so-called derivative or consequent sense.

Biblical Exegesis

Finally, the literal sense is limited to the meaning immediately intended by the writer, so that the truth mediately expressed by him does not fall within the range of the literal sense. It is precisely in this point that the literal sense differs from the typical. To repeat briefly, the literal sense is not an accommodation based on similitude or analogy; it is not a mere inference drawn by the reader; it is not an antitype corresponding to the immediate contents of the text as its type; but it is the meaning which the author intends to convey really , not by a stretch of the imagination ; actually , not as a syllogistic potency; and immediately , i.

Division of the literal sense What has been said about the immediate character of the literal sense must not be misconstrued in such a way as to exclude figurative language from its range. Figurative language is really a single, not a double, sign of the truth it conveys. When we speak of "the arm of God", we do not imply that God really is endowed with such a bodily member, but we directly denote his power of action St. Thomas , Summa, I, Q.

This principle applies not merely in the metaphor, the synecdoche, the metonymy, or the irony, but also in those cases in which the figure extends through a whole sentence or even an entire chapter or book. The very name allegory implies that the real sense of the expression differs from its usual verbal meaning. In Matthew sqq. It follows, therefore, that the literal sense comprises both the proper and the figurative. The fable, the parable , and the example must also be classed among the allegorical expressions which signify the intended truth immediately.

It is true that in the passage according to which the trees elect a king Judges , in the parable of the prodigal son Luke sqq.

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  8. As such they have no meaning independent of, or prior to, the moral lesson which the author intends to convey by their means. It is easily granted that the mechanical contrivance we call a watch immediately indicates the time in spite of the subordinate action of its spring and wheels; why, then, should we question the truth that the literary device called fable, or parable , or example, immediately points out its moral lesson, though the very existence of such a device presupposes the use of a number of words and even sentences?

    Ubiquity of the literal sense The Fathers of the Church were not blind to the fact that the literal sense in some Scripture passages appears to imply great incongruities, not to say insuperable difficulties. On the other hand, they regarded the language of the Bible as truly human language, and therefore always endowed with a literal sense, whether proper or figurative.

    Moreover, St. Jerome in Isaiah , St. Augustine De tent. Gregory Moral. Thomas Quodl. Hence if these Fathers had denied the existence of a literal sense in any passage of Scripture, they would have left the passage meaningless. Where the patristic writers appear to reject the literal sense, they really exclude only the proper sense, leaving the figurative.

    The Exegetical Aim of Textual Criticism

    Origen De princ. But even in his case, attempts have been made to give to his words a more acceptable meaning cf. Vincenzi, "In S. Gregorii Nysseni et Origenis scripta et doctrinam nova recensio", Rome, , vol. II, cc. The great Alexandrian Doctor distinguishes between the body, the soul , and the spirit of Scripture. His defendants believe that he understands by these three elements its proper, its figurative, and its typical sense respectively. He may, therefore, with impunity deny the existence of any bodily sense in a passage of Scripture without injury to its literal sense.

    But it is more generally admitted that Origen went astray on this point, because he followed Philo's opinion too faithfully. Is the literal sense one or multiple? There is more solid ground for a diversity of opinion concerning the unicity of the literal sense contained in each passage of Sacred Scripture. This brings us face to face with a double question: a Is it possible that a Scripture passage has more than one literal sense?

    It must be kept in mind that the literal sense is taken here in the strict meaning of the word. It is agreed on all sides that a multiple consequent sense or a multiple accommodation may be regarded as the rule rather than the exception. Nor is there any difficulty about the multiple literal sense found in various readings or in different versions of the same text; we ask here whether one and the same genuine Scripture text may have more than one literal sense. Possibility of a multiple literal sense Since a word, and a sentence too, may have more meanings than one, there is no a priori impossibility in the idea that a Scriptural text should have more than one literal sense.

    If the author of Scripture really intends to convey the truth contained in the various possible meanings of a text, the multiple literal sense will be the natural resultant.

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