E. W. Bullinger
Part IIThe Words
No One Passage to be Interpreted
This Canon is laid down in the twentieth of "the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion" of the Church of England. That article treats of "The Authority of the Church." It says: "The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture that it be repugnant to another..."
With the claim here made as to "The Authority of the Church" we are not now concerned; but we cannot deny that, in the latter clause quoted, we have a very important principle laid down: a principle which we shall do well ever to bear in mind in our study of the "words which the Holy Ghost teacheth." This principle is true: because, as no one text is repugnant to another, it is clear that to explain one as being so repugnant, is what cannot lawfully be done. If one passage appears to be repugnant to others, then there is something amiss either in the translation of it, or in our understanding of it.
In either case it behooves us to examine it and see where the fault lies. The one, apparently more difficult passage, must be understood, explained, and interpreted by the others which are quite plain and clear.
If this method be not possible, then the difficult passage must be left unsolved for the present, with the prayer that God will, in His own time, bestow the needed grace and light. But in no case must we allow that one difficult passage to disturb all the others which are clear; nor must we give heed for a moment to any false teaching which Tradition may have founded upon its misunderstanding or perversion of that one passage, whether through ignorance or malice.
Without entering at all into the question of the interpretation of this Scripture, we would merely call attention to many other passages of Scripture which are perfectly clear and plain as to Man and Death, and to the condition of man "after death." These do not at all agree with what this Scripture seems to teach.
What then is our duty as humble students of, and firm believers in, the truth of all and of every part of God's Word? Are we to believe one and leave the others? Are we to explain the one to our own satisfaction, and then explain the others away? This is clearly impossible, though it is what the majority of Bible readers do!
If we cannot reconcile them, then let us wait for further light, and "with meekness, and all lowliness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love," "let each esteem other better than ourselves," and let us each suffer long with other fellow-believers, who think they see a way of interpreting all that is said on this subject in Scripture, in harmony with Scripture, and with satisfaction to their own consciences before God.
The same principle applies, of course, to other subjects.
These two passages furnish us with a valuable example as to how our Canon No. VII should be used.
It will be at once observed that these two passages appear to be repugnant to many other passages which speak of the eternal preservation of the saints, and which assure them that they can "never perish," and that nothing can separate them from the love of God (Rom 8:38,39). The many passages which speak on this wise are perfectly clear. The repugnance to them is contained in these two passages (Rom 14:15 and 1 Cor 8:11).
According to our present Canon we must not attempt to make the many yield to these two; but, if we can, we must find an explanation of them which shall put them in harmony with the many. If we cannot do this, then we must wait till further light can be obtained; or until such discoveries are made which will enable us to harmonize the two with the many. While we are thus waiting, we will say something which may tend to remove their apparent repugnance.
1. The number of various readings in the Greek, and the many conflicting expositions of the commentators, show us that some difficulty has been experienced in the Text, with which transcribers, as well as translators, have had to cope. Their struggles are all too painfully evident. There is scarcely a word in 1 Corinthians 8:11 which is not the subject of a various reading in the Greek.
2. We will first suggest what may prove a key; and then see whether the Structure of the two passages, and the Scope, will bear out and support it; or whether, on the other hand, they will condemn and overthrow it.
We suggest that the reading of the MS known as "D" should be taken as having been the primitive reading. Notwithstanding the fact that the numerical weight of the MSS is not in its favour, it is quite possible that the MS "D" may represent a reading more ancient than MSS which are themselves older.* (* On the whole subject of Various Readings, see Canon XII.)
3. There are two verbs which are much alike, and which, in fact, differ only in having one "l" instead of two ("ll"): apoluw (apoluo), and apolluw (apolluo).
The former verb is that which is written in the MS known as "D(2)."* It is called the Codex Claromontanus, and is now in the National Library at Paris (No. 107).** Tischendorf believes it to be of the sixth century, and Dr. Tregelles says "it is one of the most valuable MSS extant; none of the Texts published by Tischendorf is so important, with the single exception of the Palimpsest Codex Ephraemi."
It is noteworthy that we have the same confusion of readings in Romans 14:15 as well as in 1 Corinthians 8:11. This difference of reading, therefore, must have been introduced at a very early date. The one reading is mh apolutai (me apolutai), do not put away, separate not, do not put out. The other reading is mh apollutai (me apollutai), do not destroy.*
We will give the two passages separately, as the authorities are not the same for each. In 1 Corinthians 8:11 the reading "Do not put away" (or "put out") is supported by "D" (see above), and was the original reading of that MS; while the other reading is the subject of four various readings, showing the perplexity of the transcribers.
The question is, How did all these Various Readings arise? There must surely have been some ancient original authority which was copied by Codex D, and this may have been a reading older than some of the MSS which were written earlier than "D."
We are quite aware that this is conjecture; but it is not without foundation. It is not as though we invented the idea out of our own head. It is something more than that; and the difference between the two spellings, with "l" or "ll," is so slight, that an error once made might well come, by being copied and re-copied, to be the recognized reading. But, if originally an error, the fact of its multiplication has no bearing on the point, or weight in the argument.
There seems, then, to be room for another line of proof.
1. There is the whole analogy of New Testament teaching as to the eternal preservation of God's Saints to which these two passages seem to be repugnant. Indeed, it seems as though a Pelagian copyist might well be tempted to add another "l," when, by so doing, he could so easily obtain a proof of his doctrine.
2. Then there is the Scope of each of the two passages to be considered according to our first Canon. If one reading suits the Scope perfectly, and the other is quite out of harmony with it, that would be a very weighty piece of evidence, sufficient of itself to settle the matter.
To take 1 Corinthians 8:11 first, it is obvious that the Epistle is directed against the Divisions, Separations, Strifes, and Contentions of 1 Corinthians 1-3. Then, further, we have the truth of the one spiritual Body of Christ set forth, from which there can be neither amputation nor separation (1 Cor 12). The whole of this eighth chapter is directed as a warning against doing anything that would be a stumbling-block to a brother.
One point is dealt with concerning which enquiry had been made by the Saints at Corinth; viz., the eating of meat offered to idols, about which there were evidently differences of opinion likely to lead to, and end in, Division and Separation. These are dealt with, in the manner shown by the Structure: for we must apply our second Canon in order to find the Scope. Two points are treated of:
1 Corinthians 8
Things enquired of Paul.
1. The knowledge of different brethren (vv 1-8).
A. 1-. "Touching things offered to idols."
A. -7, 8. Concerning "a thing offered to an idol."
2. Liberty in the use of this knowledge (1 Cor 8:9-13).
E. 9. Care lest liberty to eat causes stumbling.
E. 13. Care lest liberty to eat causes stumbling.
Here, all seems quite clear. The abuse of knowledge leads to a bad influence on a weak brother, who is "put away" in consequence; and it leads also to trouble of the weak brethren, who have put him away. The fact that Christ died for such an one should be sufficient to make them use the care which is enjoined.
In Romans 14:15 the reading Do not put away is supported by the MS described above, known as D3 (the small numeral denoting the work of a corrector in Cent. viii.).
To find the scope of the passage in which Romans 14:15 occurs, we must, according to our Canon II, first find its place in the Epistle as a whole. If we do this we find that the member of which it forms a part deals with practical matters:
A. 12:1-8. Ecclesiastical.
From this it will be seen that our verse (Rom 14:15) forms part of our Ecclesiastical obligations, A (14:1-15:7) and may be thus expanded:
A (Rom 14:1-15:7)
A.D1. 14:1. Reception of the weak.
The scope of this member is at once clearly seen. And the place occupied by our passage is discerned. It is in the member E1, and the subject of it is Our exercise of self-denial.
It will be seen that the word "Destroy not" is altogether out of harmony with the whole scope of the chapter. Moreover, we have in verse 20 the correlative word to the one we suggest: viz., kataluw (kataluo), to throw down. The difference between apoluo and kataluo is at once seen. Apoluo is to throw out; kataluo is to throw down.*
"For meat do not throw down or upset the work of God" (v 20). What work of God? "God's building" (1 Cor 3:9). This is corrupted and defiled when we build any thing on to the one foundation. It is thrown down and injured to that extent, when we throw out, or put away, any weak brother whom God has built upon that foundation.
Thus we see that these two passages, which seem to be repugnant to many passages which are perfectly clear, are capable of an explanation which not only sets them in harmony with all the others, but shows that the explanation is in harmony with the full context and structure of both passages.
The word is not "Do not destroy": but it is "Do not put away," or "Do not separate."