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I HAVE for some time thought, (though I was not at first aware of it,) that in a work of this nature it might be proper to say something, in a preliminary way, concerning the various kinds of interpretation of Scripture, and of the several names which they have or may go under. For it is obvious to observe, from what one frequently meets with, in conversing either with men or books, that great confusion arises from the want of proper distinctions between one kind of interpretation and another. Many are used to confound literal construction with figurative, or figurative with mystical, or one kind of mystical interpretation with another kind. Some are apt to confound metaphor with allegory; while others as much confound allegory with fable, or parable. I do not at present recollect whether any of our English writers have professedly handled this subject : among Latin authors, Glassius a is most considerable, and best known; though to scholars only, and not to all them. Him I intend for my pattern all the way, extracting from him what shall appear most useful, and improving upon it where I can,
• Glassius, Philolog. Sacr. part. i. lib. 2. tract. 1. p. 347, &c. edit. Lips. A. D. 1725
rendering the whole as clear and distinct as the nature of the thing, or my present conceptions of it, will permit.
Interpretation of Scripture, as I conceive, is most conveniently distinguished into three kinds, literal, figurative, and mystical ; though Glassius and others choose rather to make but two branches of the division, throwing figurative under literal, and comprehending all under literal and mystical. I shall hint something, as I go along, of their reason for doing it, showing withal why I cannot so well approve of it. In the mean while, I take leave to follow the threefold partition which I have mentioned, and shall now treat of the several parts in their order as I have named them.
I. The literal interpretation of any place of Scripture is such as the words properly and grammatically bear, or require, without any trope, metaphor, or figure, and abstracting from any mystic meaning: as for instance, “God 6 created the heaven and the earth.” The words mean what they literally import, and are to be interpreted according to the letter. Such literal meaning, when it contains some part of history, or of matter of fact, may be called historical, and often is so : and at other times, when it contains only some matter of doctrine, it might be called doctrinal ; though I know not whether such distinction has been commonly observed. However, it might not be amiss, for the sake of clear and distinct conception, to subdivide literal into its two main branches, as I have here done, into historical and doctrinal.
II. The figurative construction of any place of Scripture is the interpreting it, not by what the words would in themselves most strictly and properly import, but by what they really intend under a figure. For instance, « The wolf shall dwell with the lamb b."
Isa, xi. 6.