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INQUIRY WHETHER CERTAIN NAMES WHICH HAVE BEEN ADOPTED INTO MOST TRANSLATIONS OF SCRIPTURE IN THE WEST, COINCIDE IN MEANING WITH THE ORIGINAL TERMS FROM WHICH THEY ARE DERIVED, AND OF WHICH THEY ARE USED AS THE VERSION.
It was observed in a former Dissertation,* as one cause of difficulty in the examination of the Scriptures, that before we begin to study them critically, we have been accustomed to read them in a translation, whence we have acquired a habit of considering several ancient and oriental terms as equivalent to certain words in modern use in our own language, by which they have been commonly rendered. What makes the difficulty the greater is, that when we become acquainted with other versions beside that into our mother tongue, these, instead of correcting, serve but to confirm the prejudice; For, in these translations, we find the same original words rendered by words which we know to correspond exactly in those tongues, to the terms employed in the English translation. In order to set this observation in the strongest light, it will be necessary to trace the origin of some terms which have become technical among ecclesiastic writers, pointing out the changes in meaning, which they have undergone. When alterations are produced gradually, they escape the notice of the generality of people, and sometimes even of the more discerning: For a term once universally understood to be equivalent to an original term, whose place it occupies in the translation, will naturally be supposed still equivalent, by those who do not attend to the variations in the meanings of words which a tract of time often insensibly produces. Sometimes etymology contributes to favour the deception.
How few are there, even among the readers of the original,who entertain a suspicion that the words mystery, blasphemy, schism, heresy, do not convey to moderns precisely those ideas which the Greek words (being the same except in termination) μvsnov, βλασφημια, σχισμα, αίρεσις, in the New Testament conveyed to Christians in the times of the apostles? Yet, that there is not such a correspondence in meaning between them as is commonly supposed, I intend, in the present Dissertation, to put beyond a doubt. That there is a real difference in regard to some of those words, is I think generally allowed by men of letters; but as all are not agreed in regard to the precise difference between the one and the other, I shall here examine, briefly, the import of the original terms, in the order above-mentioned, that we
* Diss. II. Part iii. sect. 6.
may be qualified to judge how far they are rightly rendered by the words supposed to correspond to them, and that we may not be misled, by the resemblance of sound, to determine concerning the sameness of signification.
THE Greek word μvenpiov occurs frequently in the New Testament, and is uniformly rendered in the English translation mystery. We all know that by the most current use of the English word mystery (as well as of the Latin ecclesiastic word mysterium, and the corresponding terms in modern languages) is denoted some doctrine to human reason incomprehensible; in other words such a doctrine as exhibits difficulties, and even apparent contradictions, which we cannot solve or explain. Another use of the word, which, though not so universal at present, is often to be met with in ecclesiastic writers of former ages, and in foreign writers of the present age, is to signify some religious ceremony or rite, especially those now denominated sacraments. In the communion-office of the Church of England, the elements, after consecration, are sometimes termed holy mysteries. But this use seems not now to be common among Protestants, less perhaps in this country than in any other. Johnson has not so much as mentioned it in his Dictionary. Indeed, in the fourth and some succeeding centuries, the word pupov was so much in vogue with the Greek fathers, and mysterium or sacramentum, as it was often rendered, with the Latin, that it would be impossible to say in what meaning they used the words: nay, whether or not they affixed any meaning to them at all. In every thing that related to religion there were found mysteries and sacraments in doctrines and precepts, in ordinances and petitions: they could even discover numbers of them in the Lord's Prayer. Nay, so late as Father Possevini, this unmeaning application of these terms has prevailed in some places. That Jesuit is cited with approbation by Walton, in the Prolegomena to his Polyglot, for saying, "Tot esse in Hebraica Scriptura sacramenta, quot literæ; tot mysteria, quot puncta; tot arcana, quot apices;" a sentence, I acknowledge, as unintelligible to me as Father Simon owns it was to him. But passing this indefinite use, of which we know not what to make, the two significations I have mentioned are sufficiently known to theologians, and continue, though not equally, still in use with modern writers.
2. When we come to examine the Scriptures critically, and make them serve for their own interpreters, which is the surest way of attaining the true knowledge of them, we shall find, if I
mistake not, that both these senses are unsupported by the usage of the inspired penmen. After the most careful examination of all the passages in the New Testament in which the Greek word occurs, and after consulting the use made of the term by the ancient Greek interpreters of the Old, and borrowing aid from the practice of the Hellenist Jews in the writings called Apocrypha, I can only find two senses nearly related to each other which can strictly be called scriptural. The first, and what I may call the leading sense of the word, is arcanum, a secret; any thing not disclosed, not published to the world, though perhaps communicated to a select number.
3. Now, let it be observed, that this is totally different from the current sense of the English word mystery, something incomprehensible. In the former acceptation, a thing was no longer a mystery than whilst it remained unrevealed; in the latter, a thing is equally a mystery after the revelation as before. To the former we apply properly, the epithet unknown; to the latter we may, in a great measure, apply the term unknowable. Thus, the proposition that God would call the Gentiles, and receive them into his church, was as intelligible, or, if you like the term better, comprehensible, as that he once had called the descendants of the patriarchs, or as any plain proposition or historical fact. Yet, whilst undiscovered, or at least veiled under figures and types, it remained, in the scriptural idiom, a mystery, having been hidden from ages and generations. But after it had pleased God to reveal this his gracious purpose to the apostles by his Spirit, it was a mystery no longer.
The Greek words αποκαλυψις and μυστηριον stand in the same relation to each other that the English words discovery and secret do. Muσrnoiov аπокаλupeν is a secret discovered, and consequently a secret no longer. The discovery is the extinction of the secret as such. These words accordingly, or words equivalent, as μυστηριον γνωρισθεν, φανερωθεν, are often brought together by the apostle to show that what were once the secret purposes and counsels of God had been imparted to them to be by them promulgated to all the world Thus they invited the grateful attention of all to what was so distinguished a favour on the part of heaven, and must be of such unspeakable importance to the apostate race of Adam. The terms communication, revelation, manifestation, plainly show the import of the term μvorηolov, to which they are applied. As this, indeed, seems to be a point now universally acknowledged by the learned, I shall only refer the judicious reader, for further proof of it from the New Testament, to the passages quoted in the margin,* in all which he will plainly perceive that the apostle treats of something which had been concealed for ages, (and for that reason called uvoτηolov,) but was * Rom. xvi. 25, 26. 1 Cor. ii. 7-10. Eph. i. 9. iii. 3, 5, 6, 9. vi. 19. Col. i. 26, 27.
then openly revealed, and not of any thing in its own nature dark and inconceivable.
4. If, in addition to the evidence arising from so many direct and clear passages in the writings of Paul, it should be thought necessary to recur to the usage of the Seventy, we find that in the prophet Daniel (ch. ii. 18, 19, 27—30, 47; iv. 9,) the word μvorηolov occurs not fewer than nine times, answering always to the Chaldaic N raza, res arcana, and used in relation to Nebuchadnezzar's dream, which was become a secret even to the dreamer himself, as he had forgot it. The word there is uniformly rendered in the common version secret; and it deserves to be remarked, that in those verses it is found connected with the verbs γνωριζω, φωτίζω, and αποκαλυπτω, in a way exactly similar to the usage of the New Testament above observed. It occurs in no other place of that version, but one in Isaiah, of very doubtful import. In the apocryphal writings, (which, in matters of criticism on the Hellenistic idiom, are of good authority,) the word μvornotov frequently occurs in the same sense, and is used in reference to human secrets as well as to divine. Nay, the word is not, even in the New Testament, confined to divine secrets; it expresses sometimes those of a different, and even contrary nature. Thus the apostle, speaking of the antichristian spirit, says, "The mystery of iniquity doth already work," 2 Thess. ii. 7. The spirit of antichrist hath begun to operate; but the operation is latent and unperceived. The gospel of Christ is a blessing, the spirit of antichrist a curse. Both are equally denominated mystery, or secret, whilst they remain concealed.
5. I shall be much misunderstood, if any one infer, from what has been now advanced, that I mean to signify that there is nothing in the doctrines of religion which is not on all sides perfectly comprehensible to us, or nothing from which difficulties may be raised that we are not able to give a satisfactory solution of. On the contrary, I am fully convinced, that in all sciences, particularly natural theology, as well as in revelation, there are many truths of this kind, whose evidence such objections are not regarded by a judicious person as of force sufficient to invalidate. For example, the divine omniscience is a tenet of natural religion. This manifestly implies God's foreknowledge of all future events. Yet, to reconcile the divine prescience with the freedom, and even the contingency, and consequently with the good or ill desert of human actions, is what I have never yet seen achieved by any, and indeed despair of seeing. That there are such difficulties also in the doctrines of revelation, it would in my opinion be very absurd to deny. But the present inquiry does not affect that matter in the least. This inquiry is critical, and concerns solely the scriptural acceptation of the word uvσrnρtov, which I have shown to relate merely to the secrecy for some time
observed with regard to any doctrine, whether mysterious in the modern acceptation of the word or not.
6. The foregoing observations will throw some light on what Paul says, (1 Cor. iv. 1,) of the nature of the office with which he was vested: "Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God,"ouкovoμovç μvoTηov Oεov, dispensers to mankind of the gracious purposes of heaven, heretofore concealed, and therefore denominated secrets. Nor can any thing be more conformable than this interpretation, both to the instructions given to the apostles during our Lord's ministry, and to the commission they received from him. In regard to the former, he tells them, "To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven;" no secret relating to this subject is withheld from you; "but to them it is not given,' Matt. xiii. 41; that is, not yet given. For these very apostles, when commissioned to preach, were not only empowered, but commanded, to disclose to all the world, (Matt. xxviii. 19; Mark xvi. 15,) the whole mystery of God, his secret counsels in regard to man's salvation. And that they might not imagine that the private informations received from their Master had never been intended for the public ear, he gave them this express injunction, "What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light; and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the house-tops." He assigns the reason, the divine decree; a topic to which he oftener than once recurs. "There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, and hid that shall not be known," Matt. x. 26, 27. Again-"There is nothing hid which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret but that it should come abroad,' Mark iv. 22. This may serve to explain to us the import of those phrases which occur in the Epistles, as expressing the whole Christian institution" the mystery of the Gospel, the mystery of the faith, the mystery of God, and the mystery of Christ;" mystery in the singular number, not mysteries in the plural, which would have been more conformable to the modern import of the word, as relating to the incomprehensibility of the different articles of doctrine. But the whole of the gospel, taken together, is denominated the mystery, the grand secret, in reference to the silence or concealment under which it was formerly kept; as, in like manner, it is styled the revelation of Jesus Christ, in reference to the publication afterwards enjoined.
7. I signified before, that there was another meaning which the term μvornoiov sometimes bears in the New Testament. But it is so nearly related to, if not coincident with the former, that I am doubtful whether I can call it other than a particular application of the same meaning. However, if the thing be understood, it is not material which of the two ways we denominate it. The word is sometimes employed to denote the figurative sense, as distinguished from the literal, which is conveyed under