CHAP. 23.--RULE REGARDING THE NARRATIVE OF SINS OF GREAT MEN.
33. And when he reads of the sins of great men, although he may be able to see and to trace out in them a figure of things to come, let him yet put the literal fact to this use also, to teach him not to dare to vaunt himself in his own good deeds, and in comparison with his own righteousness, to despise others as sinners, when he sees in the case of men so eminent both the storms that are to be avoided and the shipwrecks that are to be wept over. For the sins of these men were recorded to this end, that men might everywhere and always tremble at that saying of the apostle: "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."(5) For there is hardly a page of Scripture on which it is not clearly written that God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble.(6
CHAP. 24.--THE CHARACTER OF THE EXPRESSIONS USED IS ABOVE ALL TO HAVE WEIGHT.
34. The chief thing to be inquired into, therefore, in regard to any expression that we are trying to understand is, whether it is literal or figurative. For when it is ascertained to be figurative, it is easy, by an application of the laws of things which we discussed in the first book, to turn it in every way until we arrive at a true interpretation, especially when we bring to our aid experience strengthened by the exercise of piety. Now we find out whether an expression is literal or figurative by attending to the considerations indicated above.
CHAP. 25.--THE SAME WORD DOES NOT ALWAYS SIGNIFY THE SAME THING.
And when it is shown to be figurative, the words in which it is expressed will be found to be drawn either from like objects or from objects having some affinity.
35. But as there are many ways in which things show a likeness to each other, we are not to suppose there is any rule that what a thing signifies by similitude in one place it is to be taken to signify in all other places. For our Lord used leaven both in a bad sense, as when He said, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees,"(1) and in a good sense, as when He said, "The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened."(2)
36. Now the rule in regard to this variation has two forms. For things that signify now one thing and now another, signify either things that are contrary, or things that are only different. They signify contraries, for example, when they are used metaphorically at one time in a good sense, at another in a bad, as in the case of the leaven mentioned above. Another example of the same is that a lion stands for Christ in the place where it is said, "The lion of the tribe of Judah hath prevailed;"(3) and again, stands for the devil where it is written, "Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour."(4) In the same way the serpent is used in a good sense, "Be wise as serpents;"(5) and again, in a bad sense, "The serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty."(6) Bread is used in a good sense, "I am the living bread which came down from heaven;"(7) in a bad, "Bread eaten in secret is pleasant."(8) And so in a great many other cases. The examples I have adduced are indeed by no means doubtful in their signification, because only plain instances ought to be used as examples. There are passages, however, in regard to which it is uncertain in what sense they ought to be taken, as for example, "In the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red: it is full of mixture."(9) Now it is uncertain whether this denotes the wrath of God, but not to the last extremity of punishment, that is, "to the very dregs;" or whether it denotes the grace of the Scriptures passing away from the Jews and coming to the Gentiles, because "He has put down one and set up another,"--certain observances, however, which they understand in a carnal manner, still remaining among the Jews, for "the dregs hereof is not yet wrung out." The following is an example of the same object being taken, not in opposite, but only in different significations: water denotes people, as we read in the Apocalypse,(10) and also the Holy Spirit, as for example, "Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water;"(11) and many other things besides water must be interpreted according to the place in which they are found.
37. And in the same way other objects are not single in their signification, but each one of them denotes not two only but sometimes even several different things, according to the connection in which it is found.
CHAP. 26.--OBSCURE PASSAGES ARE TO BE INTERPRETED BY THOSE WHICH ARE CLEARER.
Now from the places where the sense in which they are used is more manifest we must gather the sense in which they are to be understood in obscure passages. For example, there is no better way of understanding the words addressed to God, "Take hold of shield and buckler and stand up for mine help,(12) than by referring to the passage where we read, "Thou, Lord, hast crowned us with Thy favor as with a shield."(13) And yet we are not so to understand it, as that wherever we meet with a shield put to indicate a protection of any kind, we must take it as signifying nothing but the favor of God. For we hear also of the shield of faith, "wherewith," says the apostle, "ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.(14) Nor ought we, on the other hand, in regard to spiritual armor of this kind to assign faith to the shield only; for we read in another place of the breastplate of faith: "putting on," says the apostle, "the breastplate of faith and love.(15
CHAP. 27.--ONE PASSAGE SUSCEPTIBLE OF VARIOUS INTERPRETATIONS.
38. When, again, not some one interpretation, but two or more interpretations are put upon the same words of Scripture, even though the meaning the writer intended remain undiscovered, there is no danger if it can be shown from other passages of Scripture that any of the interpretations put on the words is in harmony with the truth. And if a man in searching the Scriptures endeavors to get at the intention of the author through whom the Holy Spirit spoke, whether he succeeds in this endeavor, or whether he draws a different meaning from the words, but one that is not opposed to sound doctrine, he is free from blame so long as he is supported by the testimony of some other passage of Scripture. For the author perhaps saw that this very meaning lay in the words which we are trying to interpret; and assuredly the Holy Spirit, who through him spoke these words, foresaw that this interpretation would occur to the reader, nay, made provision that it should occur to him, seeing that it too is founded on truth. For what more liberal and more fruitful provision could God have made in regard to the Sacred Scriptures than that the same words might be understood in several senses, all of which are sanctioned by the concurring testimony of other passages equally divine?
CHAP. 28.--IT IS SAFER TO EXPLAIN A DOUBTFUL PASSAGE BY OTHER PASSAGES OF SCRIPTURE THAN BY REASON.
39. When, however, a meaning is evolved of such a kind that what is doubtful in it cannot be cleared up by indubitable evidence from Scripture, it remains for us to make it clear by the evidence of reason. But this is a dangerous practice. For it is far safer to walk by the light of Holy Scripture; so that when we wish to examine the passages that are obscured by metaphorical expressions, we may either obtain a meaning about which there is no controversy, or if a controversy arises, may settle it by the application of testimonies sought out in every portion of the same Scripture.
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