Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Summary of Gerhard's Hermeneutic

Johann Gerhard summarizes (very briefly) the necessary tools for interpreting Scripture (Loci Theologici, loc. 2, De interpretatione Scripturae Sacrae, Cotta: Tubingen: 1762):

§ 71. Let us sum up our claims about the true interpretation of Scripture.
(1) In understanding and interpreting the Scriptures our mind is blind and lacking the light of the Holy Spirit.
(2) In addition to the inborn blindness of all men, some are blinded by their own wickedness and stubborn impudence even though the Holy Spirit opened or wanted to open their eyes.
(3) Because our mind is blinded there is need to implore the Holy Spirit’s light through prayer.
(4) Moreover, the Holy Spirit does not work this illumination of the mind apart from means, but it happens through the light of the Word when it is heard and meditated.
(5) The dogmas that are necessary for one to know for his salvation are laid out in proper, clear, and perspicuous words.
(6) From these the rest of the passages of Scripture are elucidated.
(7) This is why the rule of faith is assembled from the clear passages of Scripture, and one’s exposition of the other passages must conform to it..
(8) Even if we do not always arrive at the most proper and natural sense of every single passage, it is enough not to say anything contrary to the analogy of the faith when interpreting them.
(9) Nevertheless, it is still beneficial to interpret even the more obscure passages of Scripture rightly and skillfully. This will happen if we apply the suitable remedies for alleviating obscurities.
(10) In order to find these remedies, we have to seek out the sources of obscurity.
(11) Some passages of Scripture are obscure in themselves and when taken on their own, while others are so when compared with other passages—that is, when they seem to contradict other passages. The reconciliation of passages is a good aid for this kind of obscurity.
(12) Things that are obscure in and of themselves are discerned as such due to the subject matter or to the words. Having some certain axioms in every article of the faith brings relief to the obscurity of subject matter. These axioms should be followed as a guiding star.
(13) Obscurity on account of words is serviced by grammatical explanation of the vocables, rhetorical exposition of tropes and figures, dialectic observation of the order and circumstances, and finally  by a physical understanding of things in nature. It will prove especially helpful in all of these to wisely and carefully compare passages of Scripture where the same vocables and phrases are used, or even where different ones are used for the same things, or the same are used to express different ideas.

§ 72. Let this be said in general about the requisite means for legitimately interpreting Scripture. The supreme and authoritative interpreter of Scripture is, as we assert, the Holy Spirit. It is He who lays out the dogmas that are necessary for one to know for salvation in proper and clear words in Scripture. As for everything else in the Scriptures that is more obscure, to skillfully interpret them we need prayer, knowledge of the languages the Holy Spirit used as His amanuenses, to observe the order and circumstances in a given passage, to wisely and carefully compare passages, and above all we need to follow the rule of faith lest we say anything that is contrary to it when interpreting passages that are rather obscure.
(Translation © 2013 Joshua Hayes. All rights reserved.)


  1. No mention of church Fathers? As in, "this is also what the church has taught since before Holy Writ was canonized."

  2. As I said, this is a "very brief" summary. No one who has ever read Gerhard could accuse him of ignoring Patristic testimony. Even here though, don't overlook the importance Gerhard gives to the "rule of faith." He discusses this at length, especially from Irenaeus (see the preface to the Theological Commonplaces printed in the new volume to be release this summer.)

  3. Just saw your comment Reverend! Thanks for answering.

  4. Thanks for this Rev. Hayes. Can I post it on my blogger blog and link it to you?