Archive for category Jowett

To Read the Bible Like Any Other book: Before Jowett

Much has been made of Benjamin Jowett’s notorious or celebrated essay ‘On the Interpretation of Scripture’, in his contribution to the 1860 Essays and Reviews. There, Jowett urged that the Bible should be read as any other book, and once we do so we will discover that it is unlike any other book. His axiom, ‘to interpret the Bible like any other book’ has been celebrated by some (e.g., James Barr, “Jowett and the ‘Original Meaning’ of Scripture” Religious Studies 18 (1982): 433-37 and “Jowett and the Reading of the Bible ‘Like Any Other Book’,” Horizons in Biblical Theology 4/5 (1982-83): 1-44) and criticised by others (e.g., Walter Moberly, “‘Interpret the Bible like Any Other Book’? Requiem for an Axiom,” Journal of Theological Interpretation 4 (2010): 91–110). But while Jowett’s splash was the largest, he was not all that original in his contention. Moses Stuart, conservative American Protestant scholar who taught at Andover in the first half of the 19th century, published an essay in 1832 in which he asked, in the title question,”Are the Same Priniciples of Interpretation to be applied to the Bible as to Other Books?” American Biblical Repository 2 (January 1832): 124–37. He goes on to affirm that such principles are indeed to be applied to the BIble: “If the Bible is not a book which is intelligible in the same way as other books are, then it is difficult indeed to see how it is a revelation” (129). “If their [i.e., the Scriptures’] contents are peculiar, (as they are,) still we apply the same laws to them as to other books that are peculiar, i.e. we construe them in accordance iwth the matter which they contain” (137). And Stuart himself, early in the essay, presents his view as a commonplace since at least Ernesti. The essay is also remarkable for its invocation of the common sense realism that was so attractive to 19th century American interpreters of the Bible. Perhaps when read in the context of Anglican theology of the 1860s, and with the broad splash that Essays and Reviews made, Jowett’s dictum seemed radical, but viewed in the history of hermeneutical reflection, it is far from innovative.

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