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BY A. B. HACKETT, PROFESSOR IN NEWTON THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY.
CHRIST PREACHING TO THE SPIRITS IN PRISON.1
BY REV. JAMES B. MILES, CHARLESTOWN, MASS.
This passage translated in the English authorized version stands: "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the spirit; by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison.”
Before entering upon a criticism on this text of scripture, we are constrained to remark that among obscure passages we think this may be set down as locus vexativissimus, or the place of all most difficult of satisfactory interpretation. In regard to it, pertinent are the remarks of Camerarius, a devout and learned man, and friend of Melanchthon: “Est hic unus ex iis locis sacrarum literarum, de quibus pietas religiosa quaerere amplius et dubitare quid dicatur, sine reprebensione: et de quibus diversae etiam sententiae admitti posse videantur, dummodo non detorqueatur kavÒ TOÛ TÒ
1 An Exposition of i Peter, iji. 18, 19. VOL. XIX. No. 73.
aútò opovelv, id est religiosa de fide consensio, neque aberretur ůtò tîs åvaloylas tîis tiotews.” This is, indeed, one of those places of the sacred scriptures concerning which it is devout piety to prosecute investigation, and to be in doubt what to say without blame, and concerning which even different opinions seem to be admissible, provided the canon of being like minded, that is, religious agreement in the faith, is not wrested, and we do not deviate from the analogy of the faith. It is hardly to be thought strange that the fiery Luther, baffled by the difficulties of this text, breaks out: “ By this penalty, so terrible, the apostle Peter seems also moved that, not otherwise than as a fanatic, he speaks such words as not even at this day are able to be understood by us.”
Of this passage the learned Dr. Brown of Edinburgh cogently says: “The observation of the apostle Peter respecting his beloved brother Paul is applicable to himself. In his Epistles there are some things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and the unstable wrest to their own destruction, and this is one of them. Few passages have received a greater variety of interpretation; and he would prove more satisfactorily his self-confidence than his wisdom, wbo should assert that his interpretation was undoubtedly the true one." But our task has not been simplified, but rendered tenfold more perplexing by this very variety of interpretation. The remark of that profound biblical scholar and holy man, Archbishop Leighton, seems to us quite just. “This place is somewhat obscure in itself, but as it usually happens, made more so by the various fancies and contests of interpreters, aiming or pretending to clear it. These I like never to make a noise of.” (Leighton's Comment. First Epist. Pet.) We have not the presumption to expect, from our present investigation, to reach conclusions respecting the meaning of this vexed passage which will be entirely satisfactory to all. And yet, the fact that many eminent scholars have failed in their attempts at an explanation should not deter even the humblest from an additional endeavor to ascertain its meaning. For the same inspired apostle who has left us this obscure text assures us that “ No prophecy
of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” And we shall not soon forget a favorite expression of a beloved theological teacher, who now no longer sees “ through a glass darkly," and who was himself a giant. He was wont to say: “A dwarf is not so tall as a giant. But then a dwarf standing upon a giant's shoulders can see farther than the giant himself." In harmony with this utterance is the memorable remark of Lord Bacon: “I have been laboring to render myself useless." The deep wisdom of these words time has proved. Truths which in Bacon's time must be defended by labored argumentation, in the march of intelligence have become axiomatic. In no department has progress been more marked than in that of sacred hermeneutics. What with the tomes that have been written in verification of the inspired text, in defence of the sacred canon, and in explanation of its words and phrases, the shelves of our theological libraries fairly groan. The battle in respect to the genuineness of the text seems to have been nearly fought through. Scholars, in all lands, and of all shades of religious belief, seem nearly agreed on this point. And interpreters, in successive centuries, availing themselves of the results attained by their predecessors, have been finding the key to the meaning of one and another obscure text, so that now few passages, comparatively, remain inexplicable; these few, let it be gratefully acknowledged, pertain not to the essential facts and doctrines of the gospel. Often has the Word of God been tried, and from each trial it has emerged with heightened lustre. All real advance in knowledge of the sacred languages, biblical criticism and antiquities, topography, oriental manners and customs, sheds light upon some dark places of scripture. We can have no doubt the day is coming in which the meaning of the passage we have under consideration, will become luminous. If our present effort shall direct to this scripture such attention and elicit such discussion as will in any degree remove its obscurity, our expectations will have been met.
Our first enquiry naturally is: What precisely are the inspired words that compose the passage whose meaning ire
wish to ascertain ? In the Greek texts most worthy of confidence, like those of Scholz, Lachmann, Griesbach, Tischendorf, and Alford, they are as follows: "Oti kai Xplotòs amag περί αμαρτιών έπαθε, δίκαιος υπέρ αδίκων, ίνα ήμάς προσαγάγη τω θεώ, θανατωθείς μεν σαρκί, ζωοποιηθείς δε πνεύματι, εν ώ και τους εν φυλακή πνεύμασι πορευθείς εκήρυξεν. Stephens, Beza, and the Elzevir edition insert the article to before Tveuuatı, but the best critics pronounce this reading void of authority. Have, now, our translators, not in one jot or tittle, changed the sense expressed by the Greek? We ask this question with feelings bordering upon reverence, for we believe our version, with comparatively few exceptions, faithfully renders the original. But this passage is one of the exceptions. The last clause of the eighteenth verse in the Greek reads θανατωθείς μεν σαρκί, ζωοποιηθείς δε πνεύματι. It will be observed there are no prepositions in the original and that the two members of the clause are antithetical. This is clearly one of the cases denominated, by Bishop Lowth, antithetical parallels. ζωοποιηθείς δε πνεύματι is set over against θανατωθείς μεν σαρκί και ζωοποιηθείς being contrasted with θανατωθείς, and πνεύματι with σαρκί. T'he conjunctive particles, uév in one member of the clause, and dé in the other member, establish the antithesis. Now the laws of the Greek language, in such cases, require us to give the same construction to the two Datives aveúuati and o apki. We violate no principle of grammar in using either in or by, or, in fact, any one of a large number of prepositions, with these Datives. For in Greek the Dative is very comprehensive, representing all that in Latin is denoted by the Dative and Ablative, and holding a relation to the tenor of the sentence not so close or essential as that of the Accusative or Genitive. (See Winer, Gram. of N. T., Vol. I. Sect. 31, where the subject of the Dative is treated exhaustively.) But wide as is the range of construction in respect to the Dative in the present instance, whatever preposition we use in one member of the clause, we must einploy the same, or an equivalent preposition, in the other member. If we translate θανατωθείς μεν σαρκί, "put to death in the